Monday, June 28, 2010

China's a winner, Toronto is trashed during G20 summit

The G20 summit in Toronto ended on Sunday after tulmultuous negotiations inside, and even more tumultuous stand offs outside. U.S. President Barack Obama challenged China's commitment to "rebalancing the world economy," but ultimately the U.S. was declared a loser in the talks and China a winner.

Meanwhile, Toronto was turned into a huge mess as, outside the talks, rioters set police cars on fire and police batoned reporters. Yikes! Guess even in Canada, there's clashes between police and the people - maybe something Chinese people ought to think about before emigrating there, eh?

Our sister site Torontoist has amazing pictures of the event (that's where these pictures came from!). If you're interested in what happened outside the meeting, that's definitely something to check out.

Other News on China and the G20

■Beijing agreed to set the strongest yuan exchange rate in years, saying it would put the central parity rate to 6.7890 to the dollar, the strongest level policymakers have set since the country unpegged the currency in July 2005. However, analysts said the move did not signify a major shift.

■Besides the exchange rate, the U.S. and China also clashed over North Korea. Obama accused China of "willful blindness" over the DPRK's suspected sinking of a South Korean warship in March. China seems to not have said anything in return.

■Developed economies agreed to give more voting power to emerging economies in the International Monetary Fund. According to the Pittsburgh G20 summit, this would shift the power dynamic towards emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and Russia by around 5%. The complete agreement should be ready by the next G20 summit in Seoul, and must be ratified by all of the IMF's 187 member countries by January 2011.

By Elaine Chow

24-Week Old Fetuses Cannot Feel Pain

Fetuses aged 24 weeks or less do not have the brain connections to feel pain, according to a working party report published this week by the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

Its conclusion is the latest to challenge the rationale for a law introduced in the US state of Nebraska in April. This law, which bans almost all abortions beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, was introduced primarily on the grounds that the fetus feels pain.

The report, which reviews recent scientific literature on the subject, also concludes that the fetus

is sedated throughout pregnancy by chemicals such as adenosine contained in the amniotic fluid that surrounds it.

Pain-free existence

Because the fetus is unable to feel pain before 24 weeks, no pain relief is needed for medical procedures up to that time, including abortion, the report concludes. This reverses the position the RCOG took in its previous report on fetal pain in 1997, which supported the use of analgesia.

“We have now advised that analgesia is not indicated up to 24 weeks,” says Allan Templeton, chairman of the working group that produced the report. He adds that administering painkillers carries risks of harming the fetus.

The report concludes that fetuses under 24 weeks must be pain-free, because at that age the wiring doesn’t exist to send pain signals from nerves around the body to the cortex, the area of the brain where pain is experienced. At which later point such connections form is unknown, so analgesia should still be considered after 24 weeks, the RCOG says.

When Nebraska legislators debated the state’s new abortion law, it was claimed that fetuses must feel pain because they have the same reflex reactions to pain as children and adults. Templeton dismisses this reasoning. “There are indeed reflex responses, but in our view, because the nerves are not wired up to the cortex, they are reflex actions without experience of pain,” he says.

The report notes that the same reflexes are seen in seriously malformed fetuses that have no brain at all, and therefore can’t possibly experience pain.

Pain signals

Templeton says the working party rejected the claims of Kanwaljeet Anand of Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee, who contends that young fetuses can feel pain in a more primitive part of the brain called the subcortex, which receives pain signals before the cortex has been wired up.

“Our scientists say there’s no evidence that the subcortex can provide for the pain experience,” Templeton told New Scientist. Anand’s evidence is widely cited by anti-abortion groups.

Templeton says that Anand’s evidence comes mainly from observations of responses in babies born prematurely, and that it cannot be assumed that these are expressions of pain, rather than painless reflex responses.

“Anand’s conclusions apply only to neonates,” Templeton says. “He has written opinions about how that might apply also to fetuses, but it’s not evidence, it’s opinion.”

The report argues that pain responses may begin to develop only after a baby is born, and no longer sedated in the womb, and that this may explain why neonates experience pain differently to fetuses. “It is only after birth, with the separation of the baby from the uterus and the umbilical cord, that wakefulness truly begins,” it concludes.

LeBron James, The Chicago Bull?

I always love an anonymous source as love as the next curious onlooker.

The LeBron James sweepstakes will kick off in Ohio on his home turf Thursday as five teams — the Chicago Bulls, the Miami Heat, the Knicks, the Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers — travel there in an attempt to woo James away from the Cleveland Cavaliers, an executive of one of the teams in the hunt said Saturday.

But the meetings might not be much more than a formality. The executive, who did not want to be identified discussing a player who is not yet a free agent, said he had gathered from discussions with his fellow N.B.A. executives that James was strongly leaning toward joining the Bulls in tandem with another free agent, Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors.

“I think it’s a done deal,” the executive said. [NYT]

Read the full article at New York Times

Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in Gaza: medics

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories — A Palestinian fighter was killed and two other people were wounded on Monday in clashes with Israeli forces east of Gaza City, according to Palestinian medics.

Hospital medics said they had received one body. There were reports that another two people were wounded but ambulances were not immediately able to enter the area of the clashes.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said forces had targeted "a militant who fired an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) at IDF (Israeli military) soldiers" near the border, adding no soldiers were wounded in the incident.

The armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a small leftist group, claimed the attack and said one of its fighters had been "martyred."

The Hamas-run Gaza Strip has been mostly quiet since the end of a massive 22-day Israeli military assault in January 2009, though there are still occasional clashes along the border.

46 States Facing Greek-Like Budget Crisis

It's not just California, Illinois, and New York.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 46 states are facing a severe "Greek-like" debt problem.

Even as the U.S. appears to be on the mend -- gross domestic product has climbed three straight quarters -- finances in Arizona, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and other states show few signs of improvement. Forty-six states face budget shortfalls that add up to $112 billion for the fiscal year ending next June, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research institution. State spending is 12 percent of U.S. GDP.

A failure to bail out the states will result in a slashing of GDP, and naturally more job losses.

While the whole "Greek-like" concern sounds a bit overdramatic, this issue of the states is clearly among the more pressing short-to-medium-term questions facing the economy. Regardless of the shape of the recovery ("V", "W", "square-root shaped" etc.), it's obviously not been robust enough to return state tax revenues back to pre-bust levels. In many cases, it's not even close.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put out this chart, just looking at the jobs picture:

Paul Krugman: The Third Depression

A failure of policy, in particular a "stunning resurgence of hard-money and balanced-budget orthodoxy," increases the likelihood that we are headed for a third depression:

The Third Depression, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Recessions are common; depressions are rare. As far as I can tell, there were only two eras in economic history that were widely described as “depressions” at the time: the years of deflation and instability that followed the Panic of 1873 and the years of mass unemployment that followed the financial crisis of 1929-31.

Neither the Long Depression of the 19th century nor the Great Depression of the 20th was an era of nonstop decline — on the contrary, both included periods when the economy grew. But these episodes of improvement were never enough to undo the damage from the initial slump, and were followed by relapses.

We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense.

And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world ... governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending. ... After all, unemployment — especially long-term unemployment — remains at levels that would have been considered catastrophic not long ago, and shows no sign of coming down rapidly. And both the United States and Europe are well on their way toward Japan-style deflationary traps.

In the face of this grim picture, you might have expected policy makers to realize that they haven’t yet done enough to promote recovery. But no: over the last few months there has been a stunning resurgence of hard-money and balanced-budget orthodoxy.

As far as rhetoric is concerned, the revival of the old-time religion is most evident in Europe, where officials seem to be getting their talking points from the collected speeches of Herbert Hoover, up to and including the claim that raising taxes and cutting spending will actually expand the economy, by improving business confidence. As a practical matter, however, America isn’t doing much better. The Fed seems aware of the deflationary risks — but what it proposes to do about these risks is, well, nothing. The Obama administration understands the dangers of premature fiscal austerity — but because Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress won’t authorize additional aid to state governments, that austerity is coming anyway, in the form of budget cuts at the state and local levels.

Why the wrong turn in policy? The hard-liners often invoke the troubles facing Greece and other nations around ... Europe to justify their actions. And it’s true that bond investors have turned on governments with intractable deficits. But there is no evidence that short-run fiscal austerity in the face of a depressed economy reassures investors. ...

It’s almost as if the financial markets understand what policy makers seemingly don’t: that while long-term fiscal responsibility is important, slashing spending in the midst of a depression, which deepens that depression and paves the way for deflation, is actually self-defeating.

So I don’t think this is really about Greece, or indeed about any realistic appreciation of the tradeoffs between deficits and jobs. It is, instead, the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times.

And who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Second Amendment Case; Affirms Right to Self-Defense as Applicable to the States

In McDonald v. Chicago, Case No. 08-1521, the United States Supreme Court today issued a landmark decision interpreting the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as being applicable to the States, which means on a practical level that the fundamental right to self-defense and the right to bear arms allows one who may lawfully own a gun to use it to protect one's home, self and family. This important decision has relevance for business lawyers and their clients as well as every person who seeks to exercise their God-given right to defend themselves.

The High Court's opinion is available here.

The syllabus of the decision as provided by the Court provides as follows:

Two years ago, in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. ___, this Court held that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense and struck down a District of Columbia law that banned the possession of handguns in thehome. Chicago (hereinafter City) and the village of Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, have laws effectively banning handgun possession by almost all private citizens. After Heller, petitioners filed this federalsuit against the City, which was consolidated with two related actions, alleging that the City’s handgun ban has left them vulnerable to criminals. They sought a declaration that the ban and several related City ordinances violate the Second and Fourteenth Amend-ments. Rejecting petitioners’ argument that the ordinances are un-constitutional, the court noted that the Seventh Circuit previously had upheld the constitutionality of a handgun ban, that Heller had explicitly refrained from opining on whether the Second Amendment applied to the States, and that the court had a duty to follow established Circuit precedent. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, relying on three 19th-century cases—United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, Presser v. Illinois, 116 U. S. 252, and Miller v. Texas, 153 U. S. 535— which were decided in the wake of this Court’s interpretation of theFourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause in the Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded. JUSTICE ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court.

For background information on the case, here is a useful overview from the Cornell Law Institute.

By Francis G.X. Pileggi

Chris Brown finally gets his Michael Jackson tribute at BET Awards 2010. Amazing? Yes! Appropriate? Hmmm...

As far as I’m concerned, there’s only been one Michael Jackson tribute. Tonight (June 27) Chris Brown finally got his shot at paying homage to his fallen idol, Michael Jackson, at the BET Awards 2010. Jackson’s brother Jermaine introduced Brown, who popped up on stage in a blue shirt, black slacks, white socks, and Jackson’s trademark black loafers. It was a spot-on pull from Jackson’s look at 1988′s Grammy Awards.

He started of performing Jackson’s Bad smash “The Way You Make Me Feel” and then changed into a sequined black jacket and donned a glittered white glove for Thriller‘s “Billie Jean.” Brown’s obviously the only singer capable of doing Jackson’s moves justice. He popped, spun, and moonwalked as the “King of Pop” did for decades.

The performance’s most touching moment came when Brown started to sing Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” Within a few lines he got too choked up to finish the track, bursting into tears. Because last year’s BET Awards happened just days after Jackson died, they were not able to put together a proper tribute to the legend. At this time last year Brown was also dealing with the repercussions of his assault charge for violence against his ex girlfriend Rihanna. Even though a Chris Brown tribute to Jackson seemed obligatory, I’m not too sure it would’ve been appropriate for the embattled talent to make the awards ceremony. A year later, people may still question BET’s rationale.

Did you see Brown’s tribute? You glad he got to perform for Michael? How did he do? Weigh in below.