Saturday, March 28, 2015

Every Tax Loophole Is Sacred

I really don't know why the Republicans are being so blatant about showing their true colors. It can only be from the belief that they are untouchable by the little people. And there isn't much in recent experience that shows that they are wrong.

Some examples:
In: Tax loopholes for the super-wealthy, like inheritance tax shelters, special depreciation for corporate jets, and a lower tax rate for hedge fund managers.
Out: More than $1 trillion for basic economic security for low- or modest-income families -- things like unemployment insurance, basic nutrition assistance, help with child care, and Pell grants for college.
In: Hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate tax giveaways, like incentives for shipping American jobs overseas and reincorporating in a foreign country, and special breaks for coal, oil, and gas companies.
Out: Roughly $400 billion to provide health insurance to low-income families and nursing home care for seniors through Medicaid.
In: Insurance companies once again denying coverage for preexisting conditions and charging women more for health care.
Out: The health insurance that 16 million Americans have gained through the Affordable Care Act -- plus no-cost preventive care, such as cancer screenings and annual wellness visits, and subsidies to help people with modest incomes afford coverage in health reform's marketplaces.

Magicians And The Art Of Manipulation

Think about  the ways you may have been manipulated without even knowing it. And then think about how you might avoid it.

Solar-assisted, volcanic-composite sailing yacht

If I ever win the lottery (assuming that I ever actually play it), I'll take one of these.  It has a super-strong, hydrophobic, UV- and heat-resistant, fireproof and acid proof hull.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Building the Labor Force

As American manufacturing looks for a new generation of skilled workers, Volkswagen may have found a solution, classic German apprenticeship.

Making Choices

There is actual science supporting the best method of making a choice. When we place all the options on the table at once (simultaneous choice), we can become overwhelmed by the possibilities. When we use the A-B method (sequential elimination) in which we start with a choice between just two alternatives then comparing that choice with another alternative, and repeating until all choices are evaluated, we tend to hang on to an earlier, poorer choice just because we have invested decision energy into it.

The best way is to divide the array of choices into sets of four. Then look at each set and select the best of the four. Next take the winners of the first pass across all the sets, regroup them into sets of four and repeat the process until a final winner is determined (sequential tournament). It's easier to evaluate the best in a set of four and we don't get overly invested in a decent choice and miss the best choice.

If I Had a Hammer...

When faced with an intractable problem, this man dedicated his entire life to the solution. He worked 22 years to cut a road through a mountain so his fellow villagers would be spared a 45 mile hike around it to the next village. He did it with a hammer and chisel and daily effort.

There are lots of problems out there that seem so big that there is a temptation to give up. This example shows that by consistently moving in the right direction over time, big solutions can happen. Quite inspiring.

More Gecko "Glue"

The gecko adhesion method can actually be turned off and on. This enables equipment to more easily and precisely move small, delicate parts. It probably has implications for even larger applications.

What's Really in the Iranian Nuclear Deal

Jame Conca explains what's really in the Iran Nuclear deal and why we just need to get it done. Key Points:
  1. Nuclear deals with Iran have worked. They are no longer enriching above 5%. No additional centrifuges have been installed. Work has stopped on their heavy-water reactor. IAEA has full access to inspect.
  2. Those who expect Iran to completely abandon nuclear energy are completely unrealistic (or actually have other hidden agendas).
  3. A nuclear agreement does not require Senate ratification. Some of our senators are not the sharpest crayons in the box.
  4. Iran is already a signatore to the NPT. This propose agreement just imposes some additional requirements.
  5. Iran really wants an agreement because sanctions are hurting them.
  6. The best way to keep Iran from misbehaving is to bring them closer, not push them further away.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Obamacare Doomsday Cult

The Obamacare Doomsday Cult can't admit that it is wrong. All their fears have failed to materialize. They are victims of the phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance.
The way cognitive dissonance works is that when people are confronted with information that contradicts either their beliefs or actions, they feel discomfort. To feel better, they either have to modify their beliefs and actions, or find some way to discount the disconfirming information. And the more effort someone invests in a particular action or idea, the greater the lengths they will go in crafting justifications to ease their discomfort.
Indeed, committing to a specific ideology can make it much harder to see facts clearly, let alone acknowledge them. Aronson noted that it’s especially hard for people who spent the last five years opposing a specific policy. “These guys are so committed to the belief that Obama can’t do anything right, and that Obamacare is socialism, that it would be very, very difficult for them to examine the data objectively," he said. "I think that’s what’s wrong with politics, that’s what’s wrong with ideology, that’s what’s wrong with politics that are ideologically driven.”

But, one must exercise caution. This also happens on the other side of the aisle. We have to be honest when we are proven wrong and move forward with the truth, whatever that happen

Monday, March 09, 2015

Colin Powell For Fixing Voter ID Laws

Collin Powell's advice for fixing restrictive voter ID laws is to organize and make the effort to get voters to the polls under the new laws and the lawmakers out of office. That sounds well and good, but such advice would not have worked in 1965. It took a federal law to effectively enfranchise citizens who were systematically blocked from voting.  Then, the voting restrictions were peculiar to a set of states. Today, we have a situation in which a portion of those with national power find it within their interest to block voters who have historically supported their opposition.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has not been reauthorized. Reauthorization would limit the ability of the power bloc to restrict opposing voters but other ways have been invented which exploit both inadequacies in the law and loopholes that have been torn in the law by complicit court decisions.

It's time to take a broader look at voting rights beyond our history that hinges primarily on race. The Voter ID people have undertaking their work under the gauzy banner of an unproven voter fraud problem while publicly admitting that what really matters is restricting the ability of certain groups of opposition voters to vote. That canard could be completely neutralized by a movement for laws that ensure that no identifiable class of citizens have their right to vote encumbered or abetted more than any other identifiable class of citizens. Things like age, affluence, disability, access to transportation, access to polling places, etc., should not be a factor in one's capability to vote.  If jurisdictions are prevented from enacting such laws, redress should be sought in the courts.  If courts fail to support these constitutional rights, then it would become necessary to organize non-violent social actions to galvanize popular support for whatever is needed to protect the will of the people, be it constitutional amendments, vociferous public debate, public demonstrations, targeted economic disruption, or what-have-you.

This is the one fundamental right that is the foundation of our democratic republic and those who wish to restrict it must be held to account.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Christian" Cry-babies

This article leads with the idea that Stutzman could lose her home and life savings. It doesn't mention that the Washington AG made a quite reasonable settlement offer. Stutzman is risking all that loss because she refuses to acknowledge that she broke the law. It's all your fault that I'm hitting myself in the head with this hammer and I'll keep doing it until you let me do what I want. These people are the saddest examples of Christianity on the planet. They can't see that the law isn't anti-Christian, it's anti-discrimination. Their problem is they interpret their faith in such a way that not only is discrimination allowed but actually commanded.

Inflation Is Dead

Now that inflation is below 1 percent in the U.S., U.K., Europe, China, and Japan don't you think it might be time to enact some progressive policies that increase economic activity by putting more money into the hands of the less fortunate.

Lies in the Media

This piece in the Washington Times about the ACA does not get a single fact correct. The truth is pretty much the reverse of everything that is said here.

It's a Zap Plug

They have finally built an engine that uses lasers as the ignition source. They are not only more precise but it is possible to have multiple ones per cylinder such that fuel is exploded more completely with each stroke.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Problem with Free-market Health Care

A genuine free market depends on the consumer having the choice to buy or not to buy should the price be unaffordable. This isn't true with health care. But the libertarian, free-market purist can't see thate. “People could die and that’s OK”, is how they look at it.

Cold-hearted, bastards!

Nuclear Power as Renewable

I've often referred to nuclear power as a renewable. Here's why. You can recycle 80% of the uranium in spent fuel, much less mining is needed. Furthermore, a breeder program can produce more fuel than it consumes. With appropriate safeguards and new reactor designs it is possible to fuel a plant once and have it operate for the rest of its lifetime with no additional refueling.

Richland’s Areva and Bill Gates

Terrapower is collaborating Areva in Richland to test fuel designs for its new type of reactor. Other SMR outfits have also been in contact with the company. Eastern Washington may be getting into the SMR game with or without the encouragement of our state government.

Advances in Carbon Sequestration

If we simply must burn natural gas, at least we are getting better methods of capturing the CO2 it produces. This one uses a cheap compound found in every kitchen.

Minimum Wage Increases and McDonald's

Don't let the "job-creators" get away with it. This analysis explains that there are many components to product costs and often labor isn't the major one. Everyone understands when costs go up for such things as transportation and high rent and we adapt to that. The small bump caused by a minimum wage increase can easily be accepted when we consider the benefit it gives to a great many hard-working people. Furthermore, more money to the less-affluent class generates an instant economic boost because that money goes back into the economy immediately.

10 States With the Worst Taxes for Average Americans

In the 10 States With the Worst Taxes for Average Americans, guess which state is the worst of the worst?
Washington’s score of -12.6% was the worst in the nation. The poorest 20% of families paid nearly 17% of their income in state and local taxes, the highest such rate nationwide. With the wealthiest 1% of state households paying just 2.4% — nearly the lowest such rate — Washington’s tax system helped widen the income gap more than any other state. Washington’s poorest residents paid nearly seven times what the wealthiest 1% paid as a share of income, one of the highest such ratios nationwide. While Washington’s tax code is considered by many to be among the nation’s most unfair, residents are better-off financially than in many other states. A typical household earned $58,405 in 2013, one of the higher household median incomes. And while 15.8% of Americans lived in poverty that year, 14.1% did in Washington.
Perhaps our legislature should do something about this. An income tax to replace sales tax perhaps?

No Big Bang?

By looking at quantum theory, some physicists have arrived at a  quantum equation that predicts universe has no beginning.

In cosmological terms, the scientists explain that the quantum corrections can be thought of as a cosmological constant term (without the need for dark energy) and a radiation term. These terms keep the universe at a finite size, and therefore give it an infinite age. The terms also make predictions that agree closely with current observations of the cosmological constant and density of the universe.

Closing in on the Stradivarian Secret

Researchers use X-ray and CAT scans to reveal the secrets of golden age violins. It seems the key is the shape of the sound hole and the stiffness of the wood in the backplate.

Nuclear Energy Aids Biodiversity

When combined with other renewables, nuclear energy protects biodiversity by reducing the carbon footprint of energy production.

"When compared objectively with renewables, nuclear power performs as well or better in terms of safety, cost, scaleability, land transformation and emissions," says Professor Barry Brook, Chair of Climate Change at the Environment Institute for this study, and now Professor of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania

Monday, February 02, 2015

Who Has Late Abortions -- And Why? | David A. Grimes

In the conservative hyperventalation about late-term abortions it's nice to  have some facts about the object of the discussion.

Late-term abortions are very rare. Only 1% of abortions happen after 20 weeks, Sixty-three percent happen before 8 weeks when the embryo can't even be seen with the naked eye.

Frequently, restricted access to health care is a major contributing factor as well as poverty and a young age of the mother.

Severe fetal abnormalities can not be diagnosed until later in the pregnancy. Most women elect to abort children whose lives after birth would be subject to extreme suffering.

In fact, the increased legal restrictions on abortion have resulted in an increase in more late-term abortions.

Labyrinths as crucibles of life

The science on the origins of life continues to advance. Eventually, many religious traditions will have to evolve as well.

Secede! Yeah, sure.

It would be nice if our district were represented by genuine publec servants. Instead, we have these clowns. With the state in fiscal crisis, they want to waste time and money on stuff like this.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Flowers and Cakes

In an attempt to show that the pro-gay folks are just discriminatory as the anti-gay "Christians" a guy in Denver has filed a lawsuit because a baker wouldn't decorate a cake with "God Hates Gays" written on the top.  This might make sense if Stutzman of Arlene's Flowers fame had refused to provide flowers to a wedding spelled out "Christians Suck". But she didn't. Actually it makes the point against Stutzman by showing how out-of-line her objection to do business with a gay couple actually is by comparison.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Voter ID Laws Make Fraud Worse

Current voter ID laws laws only suppress one form of fraud but do nothing about other forms of fraud. In a close election, such a fraud suppression bias could produce a fraudulent election result. But then, I suspect that is what the supporters want. They want to be able to win elections they might otherwise lose by suppressing valid voters that tend to vote against them.

We have better elections when all types fraud is suppressed to the same degree.

Radiation Doses

It seems that our ideas about what is safe and not safe about radiation needs to be rethought.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ten Secret Truths About Government Incompetence

Donald F. Kettl in the Washington Monthly talks about what we don't know about government.

  1. Government works better than most people think most of the time.
  2. Good management can't win elections but bad management can ruin presidencies.
  3. We don't distinguish between failures that have consequential impacts and those that don't.
  4. We say we want government run like the private sector but we expect government to meet standards to which the private sector couldn't come close.
  5. Much of the government work isn't done by the government.
  6. The problem isn't too many bureaucrats but too few.
  7. Half the time when it looks like the President's fault, the problems actually originate in Congress.
  8. Critics of government will create self-fulfilling prophecies by under-funding and sabotaging programs they don't like.
  9. Government can be improved very quickly but can be wrecked even faster.
  10. Presidents can make big gains if they pay attention.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

We Need a Stronger IRS

De-funding the IRS and complicating the tax code benefits tax cheaters and raises rates on the rest of us.
If Congress really wanted to lower tax rates, it would broaden the tax base by simplifying the tax code, and it would adequately staff the agency tasked with collecting taxes. In both cases, it has done the opposite. All of this means that our political leaders have not only improved the odds for getting away with (illegal) tax evasion; they have also created more opportunities for (perfectly legal, methodically planned) tax avoidance. Put these factors together, and higher statutory tax rates look inevitable.

Sensors for Extraterrestrial Life

Could a super-sensitive motion sensor be used to find extraterrestrial life?

"Wait a minute, Captain! I'm getting life-form readings from the surface of the planet!"

Sex and Poverty

Conservative policies lead to the conclusion that sex is only for rich people.:

the solution for low-income people is to never, ever have sex. So seems the logic behind many of these policies: If only we make it harder for people to have access to family planning services, and financially painful to raise children who predictably result from sex in the absence of those services, people who cannot afford to raise children will choose celibacy.

This, of course, is magical thinking. The belief that we can get entire classes of Americans to practice abstinence until they’re financially ready for marriage and children is a right-wing delusion on par with the left-wing delusions that go into socialism: Both rely on a fundamental miscalculation about human nature. If the socialists wished to legislate away self-interest, the moralists wish to legislate away libido.

Why We Should Tax The Rich At 90 Percent

A working paper by Kindermann and Krueger demonstrates how much better off everyone would be if we raised the highest income tax marginal rate to 90%. It would greatly reduce the tax burden on most of the people while placing it onto people for whom it would not be a burden at all.

Clearly, this makes too much sense to actually be implemented.

Films About Money

We the Economy has a nice set of short films about how modern economies actually work. Things like this should be part of our basic educational curriculum.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Why Roman Monuments Have Lasted So Long

Roman concrete is better than modern version and more friendly to the environment. They used volcanic ash and lime where we use Portland cement. The cement requires high temperatures to produce and has a large carbon foot print. The Roman concrete has a structure that quenches microfractures so it is actually more resilient than modern forms.

Wave-particle duality and quantum uncertainty are same thing

In the small world of theoretical physics, I think this is kind of big. The wave-particle duality in which an elementary particle behaves both like a wave and a particle is nothing more than an expression of the uncertainty principle. So the two spooky things about quantum behavior is actually one spooky thing.

Taking Jesus Seriously

If these 4 Teachings of Jesus aren't part of one's religious makeup, one should be cautious about calling using the term Christian.

1. Jesus is the Word, not the Bible.
2. Entrance to the Kingdom is by doing the will of God.
3. Condemnation is not Jesus's style
4. You must sacrifice yourself for the ones with whom you disagree the most.

Friday, December 12, 2014

US Navy successfully deploys laser weapon

This is just way cool! Watch the video of how the LAWS system on the USS Ponce can take out small threats like drones and small craft. What they don't say is how automated they can make it in terms of target acquisition. They show it being operated by guys with joysticks, but methinks they actually have a much better way of doing it than we are being told.

Russia's Nuclear Navy Legacy

Russia's legacy is a problem. It's been described as a floating Chernobyl. Russia is a story of what can happen with nuclear issues when safety is not the first and foremost concern.

It's interesting to compare this record to the USN record noted previously. This tells me that those who have concerns about the dangers of nuclear energy, have every right to be concerned. It also tells me that, with a proper safety culture, those concerns can be put to rest.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

It Takes Money to Save Money

Linda Tirado documents the plight of the poor. Not having money generates a vicious cycle. You can't get ahead because you don't have the resources to recover from any little thing that gets in your way. Every setback that would be minor for most folks, is a another major struggle for the poor.

Surely, our country can do better than this.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

How red wine prevents cancer

It seems that the resveratrol in red wine helps prevent cancer by killing damaged cells. If the damaged cells manage to live too long, they can become the seeds of the disease.

Renewables Won't Work

A couple of Stamford-educated Google engineers worked on the Google RErenewable energy simply won't work
. For the high energy demands of modern developed society, it just isn't enough. The estimates that it can work are typically back-of-the-envelope calculations that are much more simplified than the true big picture.
However, I doubt that nuclear energy was included in the RE column like it should be.

The Smart Mouse

They replaced the glial cells in a mouse with human cells. The human cells multiplied and overran the mouse glial cells. And it turned out that the mouse was smarter than the average, mouse. There's more to advanced brain function than just the neurons. Improved connection make for better brain function, even across species.

Sane Drug Policy

The Netherlands has a drug policy that encourages users to get help rather than fear arrest. There drugs are seen as a public health issue. And, guess what, the percentage of their population that have used marijuana and cocaine is far smaller than here in the U.S.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Basic income

Dylan Matthews takes another run at the universal basic income approach. It's a worthy effort but I don't think just giving people money is a real answer to the problem. All men (and women) may be created equal but by the time they get to life's economic starting line such is clearly not the case. Warren Buffet talks about the roots of his success being in that he won the birth lottery. He had good parents, good health, and was able to get a good education. If we really want to honor the "created equal" ideal, we need to find ways to level out the birth lottery playing field. The first goal of our welfare programs should be to improve the lot of children who have to run a race just to get to the starting line. This means food assistance, housing assistance, health care assistance, educational assistance, and guidance and counseling, and other sorts of things that help surmount obstacles. Another goal should be whatever aid is appropriate to individuals who are the least worthy to receive it. Even if a person has no ambition or is completely devoid of a work ethic, would it be moral to expect them to starve on the street?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Being Wrong

Paul Krugman notes that politics determines who has power, not who as the truth. One would hope that those in power would be operating on concepts based in reality. But history is replete with examples in which such was not the case. It will be interesting to see what history says about the 114th Congress.

Republicans predicted that deficit spending would lead to rising interest rates. It hasn't.
Boehner urged a slashing of spending. Government that have done that have depressed their economies.
At the state level, Republican governors have slashed taxes on the wealthy to stimulate growth. It hasn't worked.
They predicted that too few would enroll in the ACA for it to work, more people would lose insurance than gain it, and costs would soar. Instead enrollment was strong, many more people have insurance, and costs have moderated.
They are so very wrong about climate change and generations could suffer for that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Europe's Depression Worry

Like American workers, German workers have not had much of an increase in wages recently. Therefore, they aren't spending much money and their economy is stagnant. Government bonds have been selling at a negative yield. That means the German government actually makes money when it borrows. But still  the German government refuses to invest in badly needed infrastructure. Such an investment would stimulate an economy that badly needs it.

Fortunately, things are not quite that bad in the States. But the Republicans could make it so if they get the austerity they want.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Laser Weapons

A rap against laser/directed energy weapons has always been that they needed clear weather to be effective.  The latest laser from Boeing seems to have solved that problem. The solution has been demonstrated at low power. The next step is to take it to full power and see how it works against potential targets.