Sunday, November 11, 2012

What earthquakes can teach us about elections - A professor who has correctly forecast the winner of the popular vote for eight straight elections says he sees elections the way geophysicists see earthquakes — as events fundamentally driven by structural factors deep beneath the surface, rather than by superficial events at the surface. He came to this idea after happening happening to meet a Russian geophysicist. They got to talking about earthquakes and asked themselves whether elections might follow the same principles as earthquakes.
"Everything we know about elections, we've already stolen from geophysics. Tremors of political change, seismic movements of the voters, volcanic elections, political earthquakes. It's all geophysics anyway." Rather than think of elections as battles between liberals and conservatives, or even between two candidates, he decided to test the idea that elections follow earthquake principles: You either have stability, or you have upheaval.
Translated to elections, if the incumbent party in the White House kept the White House after the election, that meant you had stability. If the incumbent party lost, that meant there was upheaval — an earthquake. He analyzed presidential elections between 1860 and 1980. Over that 120-year period, he looked for markers of stability and markers of upheaval.
Much of what he found is intuitively obvious: When the country was in recession or there was a foreign policy disaster during the tenure of the last administration, the incumbent party was likely to lose. When there was a major domestic or foreign policy success, the economy was doing well, or an incumbent president was running for re-election, the party in power tended to hold on to power.
In every election between 1860 and 1980, when the answers to six or more of the 13 questions he devised went against the party in power, there was an upheaval — the challenger won. He applied the model to subsequent elections. Starting in 1984, the model has correctly predicted the winner of the popular vote in every election — sometimes months or even years before the election takes place.
His model raises questions about the way the media cover campaigns and the way candidates run for office because it suggests that the ups and downs of horse-race coverage, gaffes and ad campaigns may not be as important to the outcome as most people believe. "Primarily, elections are responsive to these much deeper forces. Focusing on the campaign is like focusing on the froth of the wave, instead of the wave itself."
The model actually shows the American political system in a positive light. Basically, it suggests good governance tends to get rewarded. If a party is in power, it doesn't need to have a perfect track record to keep the White House. It can afford as many as five strikes against it — any more, and there is an earthquake and the challenger wins. Before the 2012 election, his model showed the answers to only three of the 13 questions — he calls them "keys" — turning against Obama: One was the long-term state of the economy. A second was the fact that the incumbent party in the White House had taken a shellacking during the previous midterm elections. The third was that Obama's sizable disapproval ratings meant he could not be considered a once-in-a-generation charismatic leader.

**If not us, who?
If not now, when?**
John F. Kennedy

Live Seismograms - Worldwide (update every 30 minutes)

This morning -

Yesterday -
11/10/12 -

11/9/12 -

Central Burma rocked by strong earthquake, casualties reported. The 6.8-magnitude quake hit some 120km (70 miles) north of the second-largest city of Mandalay, at a depth of just 10km. A bridge under construction collapsed in the town of Shwebo, closest to the epicentre. In Mandalay, terrified residents dashed out of their homes for safety, fearing more tremors.
The earthquake hit at 07:42 local time (01:12 GMT). Fve construction workers who had been working on the Radana Thinga bridge near the town were missing after "a huge steel beam fell into the river". Residents in Mandalay described panic in the streets as they fled the shaking buildings. The earthquake - which was felt as far away as Bangkok in neighbouring Thailand - was followed by two strong aftershocks. Earthquakes are relatively common in Burma. In March 2011, at least 75 people died when a powerful earthquake hit Burma near the borders with Laos and Thailand.
UPDATE - 12 dead. The earthquake struck northern Burma, collapsing a bridge and a gold mine, damaging several old Buddhist pagodas and leaving as many as 12 people feared dead.

U.S. official backs studying quake risks at nuke plants - Recent earthquakes demonstrate the need for the nation's nuclear industry to re-evaluate the geologic hazards facing power plants, a process that has already started, the new chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said this week.

No tropical storms.

New Jersey Residents Suffer Cold and Dark as Many Still Lack Power After Storms.


Will Extreme Weather Continue In The Northeast? - First there was Superstorm Sandy, one of the strongest storms to affect the northeast on record. Then, a powerful November nor’easter bringing the season’s first snowfall with winds matching Sandy’s power blow for blow. There are not many times in recent memory where a hurricane was followed by a nor’easter.
AccuWeather’s Senior Meteorologist says we have not seen anything like this in the past 20-30 years, but if it were going to happen, this is the time of year it would occur. Lately, conditions have been perfect for an explosive weather pattern. “First of all, we have the time of the year where we have the warmer tropical air interacting with the colder air into Canada. Secondly, we have blocking where storm systems which usually just move out to sea can move up the coast.”
The weather has taken it’s toll on millions of people in the Northeast. Luckily, it looks like the weather will be providing a much needed break. “I think this weather pattern is going to be changing over the next couple weeks,” he says. “I think it will relax as we get into December....Late December into January is where I think we have to watch out. I do believe the blocking that we have seen along the east coast, while I think it will disappear in the coming weeks, it may reemerge for the middle of the winter.”

As weather patterns get unpredictable, nations must start budgeting for natural disasters. It's extreme weather season in Asia again. Deadly cyclones, blinding rain, floods and mudslides are becoming the norm from Nepal to Fiji. The world's policymakers must reflect on extreme weather patterns while budgeting their nations' finances.
In Thailand last year's floods caused losses of $46.5 billion. Reconstruction costs will reach at least $50 billion. In Pakistan widespread flooding two years ago affected 20 million people. Damages estimated by the World Bank reached $10 billion, with reconstruction calculated at $9 billion.
How can countries find funds today to build climate resilient roads, bridges, schools and other vital infrastructure to prevent losses tomorrow? How can they prepare for a time when the only certainty is uncertainty? One answer is more international finance under the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. This means that developed countries should take the lead in combating climate change and its adverse effects. They are more likely to have the technical and economic capacity to address climate change, whereas developing countries may not.
Another part of the answer lies in developing countries taking a look at how climate change is reflected in their own budgets and expenditures. While the world debates who should cover the costs of reducing carbon emissions or adapting to climate risks, developing countries themselves are responding to climate change by examining their own resources from their existing budgets. The UN Development Programme has begun work with some countries in Asia - Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, Samoa and Thailand - to help them to undertake a Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review. More than 20 countries sent representatives to a UNDP and World Bank workshop in Bangkok last week to learn how the approach works.
This means looking through the national budget to identify where climate change is already influencing allocations. For example, how much is being allocated to strengthen infrastructure so it is resilient to increased flooding? Or spent to adapt agricultural extension services to help poor communities in areas with increased risk of drought? Or to reform the energy sector to reduce carbon emissions? Traditionally, ministries of finance have not reviewed their budgets from a climate finance perspective. So, existing climate-related expenditures are not always evident or visible to national leaders, politicians and decision makers.
With a better understanding of how much and where existing national budgetary resources are going on climate change, more informed choices can be made about how and where to channel additional resources, or how to realign funds that are already being spent. For example, the Nepal climate expenditure review signalled the need to channel more funds to local agencies that are better placed to deal with climate challenges, rather than continue to channel most of the resources to national authorities. In Thailand, the climate expenditure review has helped to show how fiscal measures, such as a carbon tax, might be introduced to promote the government's energy conservation aims, and to leverage much needed private capital.
In all countries, these studies have pinpointed which sectors are receiving the most climate funding, and how much is coming from domestic versus international sources. They are also useful in charting trends like changes in the proportion of climate spending in overall public expenditure. These reviews can also help target increased international climate finance, by ensuring that it is better aligned with national planning and budgeting. One of the main criticisms of traditional overseas development assistance is that it is fragmented, of limited impact, and not sufficiently in line with national priorities. There is an opportunity to avoid these same mistakes in new international funds that will provide climate finance, such as the Green Climate Fund.
Climate expenditure reviews try to solve a common problem that ministers of finance face. How do you make sense of the need to resolve challenges that are going to affect peoples' lives in 40 years, by spending money now? Where does one spend, how does one find the money, and how is it put into normal national planning and budgetary processes? By building more climate resilient infrastructure today, countries can save money in the long run. International climate finance can help, as countries may not have the money up front. This type of international finance can assist countries as they realign their own budgets.
This is not only a matter of new funds changing hands, but also of realigning existing funds, of new ideas changing old ways, and ultimately, of investing today for a safer tomorrow. Global policymakers may not be able to change the climate, they could help countries build resilience to better deal with it.


US Drought Worsening, Wheat Crop Suffering - As the East Coast is still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, hot and dry conditions throughout middle America have been deepening, worsening the ongoing drought there, according to a new climatology report released Thursday. 60% of the land in the lower 48 states was experiencing some degree of drought as of Tuesday.
Drought Lives on in Beef Prices - The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Friday that after the worst drought in half a century, the corn and soybean crops are not quite as bad as feared. Production and yield estimates have been revised up from October. Soy and wheat prices fell as US forecasts eased supply concerns. Soybeans tumbled to a four-month low and wheat fell the most in a month after the U.S. raised its estimates for crop inventory including corn, easing concern over tight supplies following the worst drought since 1956.

Commercial barge traffic on a critical stretch of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis may be severely restricted or halted entirely next month as drought conservation measures stem the inflow of water from the Missouri River.


West Nile virus may be attacking the brain more aggressively - The West Nile virus responsible for more than 5,000 US cases this year may be attacking the brain more aggressively than previous years' strains. Two neurologists and experts said the cases they've seen raise the possibility that the virus has mutated. One has seen more damage in the parts of the brain that control speech and thought, and another has observed brain damage in young, previously health patients, which she hadn't seen before. "For the first time, we have radiographic evidence, clinical evidence of the virus attacking the higher cortical areas." 11 of the first 12 patients he saw this year at the Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson had more severe brain damage than in previous years. "I've been struck this year that I’m seeing more patients where the brain dysfunction has been very much worse." A CDC scientist said the agency hasn't noted this difference but acknowledged that the CDC does not collect the in-depth data needed to make this observation.