Thursday, December 30, 2010

Un-spinning debt and taxes

George Curry makes a pass at correcting some popular misconceptions but can't resist the urge to spin a few things himself. It should be clear that Bush was not responsible for the 2001 recession. However his handling of it increased the national debt, gave a windfall to the wealthy, and did nothing to increase jobs. By the same token, the higher taxes under Clinton provided a real improvement to the government balance sheet and didn't hurt the economy. The tech bubble grew and burst regardless of the tax structures. In my opinion the wealthy are their own worst enemies. By amassing and holding great wealth they eventually tend to stifle broad economic growth. It takes the government to pry that wealth out of their hands and inject it back into the economy where it does good for everyone rather than the few. A proper tax structure can recover amassed wealth who no longer can possess it since they are dead and can encourage the kind of private sector spending that keeps an economy strong.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

IRS Audits Jump By 11 Percent

It's about time. The number of audits collapsed under Bush. Tax laws
need to be more than polite suggestions.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What to put in a space capsule

When the nerd herd at Space-X considered what was to be the payload of their first orbital capsule it could only have been cheese--a tribute to the classic Monty Python sketch about a cheese shop that has no cheese.

What to do with an MRI scanner

Capture the moment of birth, of course. By the same token, putting an MRI scanner on the human sex act actually provided researchers with information they hadn't known before.

Seeing things differently

This bit of research shows that liberals and conservatives actually literally see things differently. This leads one to the conclusion that one's political tendencies are more nature than nurture. It would follow that the problems brought upon us by conservatives will always be with us regardless of the logic and strength of the arguments against them.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Moving Forward

Here we are at a celebration in honor of the efforts made by many in working and supporting the local Democratic Party and it candidates.

What is your reason for doing that?

We have organized ourselves together not simply to win elections, however nice that would be. No, there are some fundamental principles which I think we all share that bring us together. I want to focus on just two of them.

First and foremost is the principle of democracy.

In times past, this has been so fundamental that no one gave it much thought as an issue. But today we may at be one of those cusps of history when something as fundamental as democracy itself may hang in the balance. Major corporate interests are now using their financial power to influence voters to vote to help those corporate interests at the expense of our nation as a whole. Our courts are now controlled by people who believe that corporations have the same constitutional right to free speech as natural persons. It is perfectly legal to broadcast outright lies as if they were legitimate news items. The number of truly independent news sources has dwindled to almost nothing. How can we expect to have effective political discourse in this country when all of the reporting is controlled by corporate interests whose primary motivation is profit rather public service?

As democrats we have to believe in the value of democracy. The first principle that governs what issues and candidates we support has to be, “Does this improve or hinder effective democracy?” Right now there are many issues in the political landscape that can be rated by that standard. In today’s situation, we now have to fight to have our democracy restored.

Second, common cause. We are all in this together. For each person who has success in life, our country is better. For each person who deprived of opportunity, our country is worse. We are part of one society and we have moral obligations to one another. We have watched as the vibrant middle class is being destroyed. Wealth has become more powerful than the voice of the people. And it looks to me like the political servants of the wealthy just don’t care how many people have to suffer just as long as they get richer and richer and richer. The under classes are only there to manipulated and exploited. As long as they can get more and more stuff, no one else matters. We are on the way to having two countries, one for the rich and one for the rest of us.

So democracy and common cause. These are what we should be fighting for. And it’s from these two principles that everything else we do must follow.

Elections generate a sense of urgency and money is spent and issues are debated in advertisements. After the elections, those who have worked so hard want to do nothing more than relax. But if we are going to build a more democratic electorate here in Benton County, we must get back to work as soon as we are mentally and physically able.

We are in a fight and what are we going to do about it? My time is limited so I’m just going to mention a few things but there are more.

Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participation sport. When we elect officers next month we can’t walk away and expect those officers to do all the work. We should show up to support them and hold them accountable.

We need to define a new creature. A democrat is not seen as a true Eastern Washington citizen. Instead we are seen as west-side infiltrators. We need to define ourselves as a different type of democrat. One who is seen as a true easterner.

We need to learn to talk differently. This is the old framing game. We need to rise above tit-for-tat knee-jerk reactions. There are reasonable people out there. We have to peel them away from their fear and misconceptions without apology.

We should expose the suffering that is around us. The opposition has worked hard to channel that suffering toward forward the opposition’s agenda. We need to help the sufferers organize so that they can forward an agenda of their own. That would the democratic thing to do. We need to ask ourselves how we can connect better with the working people as well as the unemployed. Too often the party is seen as the tool of elite environmentalists. We should be showing how sound environmental policy is good for workers, their families, and their futures.

We cannot aggravate political divisions with anyone to the point where civil war becomes an option. We also have to guard against being held hostage by that idea. We have to conduct ourselves in ways that disarms those in the opposition who fight to win at all costs. This may be difficult but it isn’t impossible.

Learn to actively proselytize. Align with the truth and publicize the truth. Strictly avoid lies of convenience. They will always eventually backfire. Trust that the truth will eventually win. We must be unrelenting. It’s not because we want to win (this isn’t a sporting event). The fate of our nation hangs in the balance.

What sort of future are we headed for? Are we really all in this together? Or are the rich, powerful, and privileged a special class who is protected from the consequences of their actions?

We are not in this game for an “I told you so” at the end. Being silent and just letting things play out is not an option.

There are no guarantees except one. If enough of us do nothing all, our fears will come to pass. What follows are some things we can do.

Rocking the boat. (from Meryl Runion)
Rock the apathy boat. If someone says they don’t care about politics, rock the boat. Saying you don’t care is like saying you don’t care about how you are allowed to live, what you’re taxed and how those taxes are spent. Not caring about politics is like writing a blank check and giving it to a stranger. It’s like letting your neighbor decide who gets to have your power of attorney over your affairs.

Rock the futility boat. Nothing will ever change. That is a self-fulfilling prophecy. This thing called democracy that we have as our number one principle depends on an informed, engaged population. Despair is not an option.

Rock the unknowable boat. There’s so much spin that it’s hard to tell what is true and what isn’t. If enough people decide that the truth can’t be ferreted out, liars can take over. They don’t have to convince anyone that they are right. All they have to do is create doubt. It is a pass for those who don’t want the truth to be known.

Rock the misinformation boat. I believe it was Mark Twain that said, “A lie can get around the world before the truth can get its shoes on.” The liars are motivated. The truth-tellers need to be just as motivated. The next time you get a bogus email, try sending a correction to 30 of your friends. Speak up or the liars will have the floor.

Rock the immediate gratification boat. We need to take a longer view, longer than the next quarterly earnings like a corporation and longer than the next election. Too many citizens think that as long as the TV works and there’s beer in the fridge, everything in just dandy. Start talking about 7th generation sustainability. Is this just a short-term, feel-good fix? Or is it a permanent change that will take a while to get into place but will last forever?

Rock the “they’re all the same” boat. Some people say that it doesn’t make a difference who is in power. Point out how it made a difference when Bush was in power. We need to tell our friends that if they are upset about the bad things that have happened it is their fault. It’s my fault. It’s your fault. We didn’t speak when we should have. We didn’t seek out the truth when we should have. We left a lie unchallenged. Because people are suffering, politics makes a difference.

Rock the “we can’t talk about it” boat. You’ve probably heard it said that a relationship is only as healthy as the things you can talk about. The same is true for a nation. The things you don’t want to talk about are probably exactly the things you need to be talking about. Strong ideas should be able to stand scrutiny. If someone says that a topic shouldn’t be raised it most likely is because there’s an idea there that is weak and needs to be disposed of.

There are boats that need to be rocked and if we don’t rock them, the people who want to take over the system for their own specific interest will rock them in their direction. Don’t be shy.

Martin Luther King: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Mass flu vaccine production

This technique of using bacteria to grow flu vaccine allows mass production to be ramped up quickly and doesn't depend on a massive supply of fresh eggs. It also provides vaccine for those who have egg allergies.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Chart of U.S. taxes

There's a chart in the linked article. But the points it makes are so good I have to quote them here.
This chart should be ingrained in the mind of anybody who cares about fiscal policy. The main things to note:

•Federal taxes are the lowest in 60 years, which gives you a pretty good idea of why America’s long-term debt ratios are a big problem. If the taxes reverted to somewhere near their historical mean, the problem would be solved at a stroke.
•Income taxes, in particular, both personal and corporate, are low and falling. That trend is not sustainable.
•Employment taxes, by contrast—the regressive bit of the fiscal structure—are bearing a large and increasing share of the brunt. Any time that somebody starts complaining about how the poor don’t pay income tax, point them to this chart. Income taxes are just one part of the pie, and everybody with a job pays employment taxes.
•There aren’t any wealth taxes, but the closest thing we’ve got—estate and gift taxes—have shrunk to zero, after contributing a non-negligible amount to the public fisc in earlier decades.

If you were structuring a tax code from scratch, it would look nothing like this. But the problem is that tax hikes seem to be politically impossible no matter which party is in power. And since any revamp of the tax code would involve tax hikes somewhere, I fear we’re fiscally doomed.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Expiration of Tax Cuts

The Democrats should be reminding folks that the expiration of the tax cuts is a law passed by Republicans. They are the ones responsible for this strange law and Democrats should give them the credit for it. Again and again.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Low Hanging Fruit

In the list of greenhouse gases there is one that has been unnoticed until recently. Certain anesthetic gases warm the planet as much as 1 million cars. Equally effective and less damaging alternatives are available. It should be easy to make the switch.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Problem of Big Banks

If we want to have a strong economy and an efficient banking system we need to break up the big banks and establish some strict regulations
What can be done to remedy the situation? After the Great Depression and the passage of Glass-Steagall, the largest banks had to spin off certain risky activities, and this created smaller, safer banks. Taking similar actions today to reduce the scope and size of banks, combined with legislatively mandated debt-to-equity requirements, would restore the integrity of the financial system and enhance equity of access to credit for consumers and businesses. Studies show that most operational efficiencies are captured when financial firms are substantially smaller than the largest ones are today.
These firms reached their present size through the subsidies they
received because they were too big to fail. Therefore, diminishing their size and scope, thereby reducing or removing this subsidy and the competitive advantage it provides, would restore competitive balance to our economic system.

Honoring the Constitution?

Why is it the people who talk the most about honoring the Constitution are making plans to destroy it? Because it's their standard practice to say one thing and do another.

Arsenic Bacteria With DNA

Other findings have pointed to the possibility that life may not only be common on earth-like planets but practically inevitable. Here on our own planet is an example of how life might evolve under conditions very different from our own.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Klein Gets It

A columnist finally sees the error of his ways. Joe Klein confesses that his past support of Social Security privatization was a really...bad...idea.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


This McClatchy poll indicates that the mandate claimed by the Republicans on key issues just doesn't exist.

E-ink on paper

I love my Kindle but I'm looking forward to its obsolescence.
"It is pretty exciting," said Steckl. "With the right paper, the right process and the right device fabrication technique, you can get results that are as good as you would get on glass, and our results are good enough for a video-style e-reader."

Steckl imagines a future device that is rollable, feels like paper yet delivers books, news and even high-resolution color video in bright-light conditions.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What the Secret Donors Want

You heard about all the secret donors to the US Chamber of Commerce. What do they want and why do they want to be secret?
According to tax records unearthed by Bloomberg News, the health insurance lobby secretly gave $86.2 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009 to try to prevent the health care bill from becoming law. The huge contribution — 40 percent of the chamber’s spending for that year — allowed the group to run ads against the bill without tainting the insurance industry, which was negotiating with Democrats on the bill at the same time.
Keeping donors secret allows corporate interests to advertise for what they want without the public being able to see their self-interest in action. Since when is it a good business model to do things which the public finds objectionable?

Why Do They Want to Destroy the Country?

Paul Krugman casts a look forward to the spring government shutdown.
The fact is that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it’s doing the governing. And that party now controls one house of Congress, which means that the country will not, in fact, be governable without that party’s cooperation — cooperation that won’t be forthcoming.
We must keep asking our people why we give power to folks who are willing to sacrifice the good of the country for their own selfish interest?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nuclear Energy Factoid

Commercial power reactors do not lead to nuclear weapons. No state that has nuclear weapons got there by starting with commercial reactors. To produce electricity economically you want to burn the fuel as long as possible. The longer the fuel is in a reactor, the more plutonium 240 is produced. Plutonium 240 is very dangerous to fabricate into weapons because it is too fissionable. it goes critical too easily. When weapons-grade plutonium is produced from reactors it is done by taking the fuel out after only a limited amount of time. The short-exposure fuel has much higher fractions of plutonium 239 which is what constitutes weapons-grade material.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why is Palin still in DWTS?

OK. It was a bit of a mystery why Bristol kept her spot on Dancing with the Stars despite being at the bottom of the judges ratings week after week. Mystery is solved. It seems Palin fans have been
gaming the system. It's ABC's error but it took Palin fans to shamelessly exploit it to an astounding degree. Sad, really.

A Fair Trade

Labor is serious enough about the debt problem to see it as a fair trade to accept the tax cut rollback on the middle class in order to eliminate the budget-busting tax cuts on the well-to-do. Do we have the moral courage to fight for what is right at the risk of getting something that is a little less than right?

As we enter the deficit debate

Let's identify were the debt comes from. Since Republicans are mostly responsible for the debt, they should either lead the way in doing something about it or get out of the way for more serious people to do the job.

Ezra Klein makes the case that root cause of the current debt crisis is the crashed economy. Fix the economy and you can fix the deficit.

A consensus of four decades of scientific literature

It's warming up. Yep, it really is.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What Got Done in the Last Two Years

1. American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. At least 800,000 jobs were created or preserved.
2. Created more private sector jobs in 2010 than Bush did in all 8 years.
3. Boosted private sector space programs with stimulus funding.
4. Financial reforms including a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
5. Law to require financial agencies to verify applicants credit history, income, and employment status.
6. Prohibited banks from proprietary trading.
7. Allowed shareholders to vote on executive pay.
8. Cut medicare prescription drug costs by 50%.
9. Provided $12.2 Billion in new funding for Individuals With Disabilities Education Act
10. Extended Benefits to same-sex partners of federal employee
11. Appointed more openly gay officials than any other president in US history
12. Reversed 'global gag rule', allowing US aid to go to organizations regardless of whether they provide abortions
13. Gave the FDA the authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of tobacco for the first time
14. Signed New START Treaty - nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia
15. Increased average fuel economy standards from 27.5mpg to 35.5mpg, starting in 2016
16. Restored basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers
17. Provided the VA with more than $1.4 billion to improve services to America's Veterans
18. Provided health care to 11 million children, 4 million of whom were uninsured
19. Repealed restrictions on stem cell research
20. Stimulated nondefense scientific research by $18 billion.
21. Signed law to stop fraud and wasteful spending in defense procurement.
22. Issued order to close Guantanamo Bay.
23. Stopped torture by the CIA.
24. Established the Credit Card Bill of Rights
25. Prevented health insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
26. Allowed children to be on parents' health insurance until age 26.
27. Tax cuts for small business to help pay for health care for their employees.
28. Tax credits for 29 million people to help pay for health care.
29. Expanded Medicaid for those with incomes up to 133 percent of federal poverty level.
30. Required disclosure of how much of health insurance premiums actually go to claims.
and there's more.

No Fight, No win

If you can't get the goods, you would be better off having a good fight.

Ditching the Chamber

If you're a responsible business owner who wants to pay your employees well, pay your fair share of taxes, respect the environment, or make sure your employees have affordable healthcare, isn't it time to find another voice than these creeps?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

BP Culture of Neglect

This is what happens when the teeth of regulators get pulled. There is nothing to stop a corporation from spiralling down to a profound culture of neglect.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nuclear Energy Factoid

Journalists that write that a tiny speck of plutonium inhaled into a lung will certainly cause cancer are wrong. It's also wrong to say that a small amount of plutonium introduced into a water supply would endanger large populations. Health physicist whose job it is to deal with radiation exposures say that plutonium is no worse than other more common naturally occurring elements like radium and thorium. In order to receive a dose of plutonium with a toxic effect one would have to be within a few meters of the source. Further away and wind and air turbulence would rapidly dilute any aerosol. As far as water is concerned, plutonium would settle out quickly in any body of water and the gut doens't absorb plutonium very well anyway. Out of 26 workers who were exposed to plutonium during the days of the Manhattan Project only one developed a cancer that could be related to his exposure. Most lived quite well into their eighties. Oil fields and coal minest are much more dangerous.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Defending Income

Bring that money back home!
Congress could declare all personal assets hidden in tax havens as de facto tax evasion. Forcing this money into the open and back onshore would generate tens of billions in tax revenues that would fall exclusively on the richest fraction of Americans. Meanwhile, Republicans would look foolish trying to argue that taxing funds already held offshore would hurt U.S. job creation.

Silver Lining to Citizens United Decision

Could lifting the lid on campaign financing be a good thing? If the
left stays upfront about its financing and the right chooses to hide,
the fact of that hiding might be good political fodder. Unlike the right, progressive donors are not afraid to be counted. We don't fear hypothetical attacks. We are already under assault.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Climate Skeptics Embrace Green Energy

Even for climate change skeptics, a green energy industry is a good thing.

Life? Easy. Complex Life? Not so much.

Before I've noted that life itself may be inevitable given earth-like conditions. Now this article proposes that complex life may indeed be quite rare. That's because somewhere in the past one primitive organism captured another and turned it into a power supply. Once freed from producing its own energy, the organism became free to kick evolution into high gear.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bogus Talking Point # 1

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the recession.
In this Business Week article the author refers to a Federal Reserve report that lists 5 causes of the crash. None of those causes were action by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As the housing bubble grew, their position in the market became smaller and smaller. Most of the market was going to private institutions. It seems that the loans being generated failed to meet Fannie and Freddie standards. They can't take subprime loans by law. As they watched their market share fall they eventually began to play follow the leader by relaxing their requirements where they could. And in the end they were forced by market pressure to take loans that never should have been taken by anyone.

Without common sense regulation it is the nature of markets to have boom and bust cycles. The root cause is the human factor in that any manager who acts responsibly while the competition appears to be making huge profits as it heads toward a cliff finds himself without a job. In our system, profits are rewarded and prudence is usually punished.

Why is the press doing such a poor job?

Here are 9 stories that are not receiving enough press attention.
1. The high amount of mortgage fraud that led to the recession
2. The way accounting tricks were consciously used to give the appearance of higher profits leading to higher bonuses.
3. The lack of prosecutions for any of this fraud.
4. The second level of fraud caused when bad ethics made it impossible for firms with good ethics to compete.
5. The fraud in the foreclosure processes.
6. The massive coverup of losses on bad assets.
7. The absence of effective regulation even now.
8. Thue shaky positions of state and local governments and how bad the shortened stimulus is slow the recovery, employment, and vital services.
9. The acceptance of massive long-term unemployment.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Picturing the Sun

This picture is remarkable because it was taken by looking down toward the center of the Earth...using neutrinos.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Man-made disasters

The worst man-made disaster was the chemical explosion at Bhopal. It killed 3,849 outright and left 100,000 disabled. Yet no one has called for a moratorium on building chemical plants. Dam failures in the US has killed more people outright than Chernobyl did.

If you want to protect yourself from radiation, stop smoking. Living next to a coal plant will give you more radiation than living next to a nuclear plant.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Today's Nuclear Energy Factoid

Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Electricity Production
In grams CO2 equivalent per kWh.
Natural Gas........688

Monday, October 04, 2010

What Movie Are They In?

They think it is "Birth of a Nation". But it really is "Citizen Kane"

Arguably, this shouldn't be surprising. Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Tax Receipt

Ezra Klein looks at what your tax dollars really get you.

Do What Is Right

Andrew Sullivan on Obama's speech:
I do not believe for a second that the GOP of Palin and Boehner and Beck and DeMint represents anything but more debt, more war, more social division and more denial about the deeply serious problems this country faces and the profound dangers that are metastasizing in the world. I have no love for the Democrats but I do fervently believe that this president's record is far better than many now fashionably claim, that his inheritance was beyond awful, and I am not giving up on this president's immense task now, and neither, in my judgment, should any of those who voted for him in 2008.

Could the stimulus be a success?

By any number of measures, the stimulus is proving successful. It has efficiently met its goals and even done more than originally planned. So can we stop talking about it as if it were evil incarnate? No. That would be just too rational.

TARP may have been a good investment

It's working out better than expected and may have even made a profit for the taxpayers.

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center receives LEED recognition

Right here in southeastern Washington we have a green energy leader/.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is Rome Burning?

Here's a short discussion of a couple of interesting graphs/. The writer is concerned that unlike previous recessions, this one has some serious structural impediments to recovery. But the bad news is that those impediments are not being taken seriously.

Money can buy you happiness...

But only up to a point. So you might as well pay taxes with it.
Comparing people's happiness against income, the researchers found that the more money people earned, the higher their overall life satisfaction. But people's day-to-day emotional state rose with average annual income only until about $75,000, after which additional income made no further difference

Friday, September 10, 2010

Looking Ahead

What can we expect if the Republicans get to set policy?
if Republicans regain power, they will surely do what they did during the Bush years: they won’t seriously try to address the economy’s troubles; they’ll just use those troubles as an excuse to push the usual agenda, including Social Security privatization. They’ll also surely try to repeal health reform, which would be another twofer, reducing economic security even as it increases long-term deficits.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Nanotechnology as a Water Filter

High volume and low cost water filtration is possible thanks to nanoparticles imbedded in simple cotton fabric.

The Real Sarah Palin

A reporter goes looking to write about the real Sarah Palin that the media seems to delight in persecuting. What he finds, despite his best intentions, isn't a pretty sight.

Self-healing concrete

With a little help from bacteria concrete can repair its own cracks.

Full silicon solid state circuits

I think this could be huge. These circuits are much smaller and can be stack into 3-D structures. The effect being used has been seen before but was considered to be flaws causing wafers to be scrapped.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chile's and Social Security Privatization

When you hear of some folks touting the success of Social Security privatization in Chile, remind them that it didn't work so well. The people in power kept their government version and foisted the private version onto everyone else. Are the Republicans taking their models from Pinochet? Figures.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stimulus is Working

From Reuters:
CBO said the stimulus increased the number of full-time equivalent jobs by up to 4.8 million
The program is working. Now, will the critics leave off? I rather doubt it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Germany is an example of how a heavily regulated economy is weather this economic storm quite well.

Monday, August 23, 2010

No one likes the nice guy

A WSU study finds that being helpful doesn't alway help.
Parks and Stone found that unselfish colleagues come to be resented because they "raise the bar" for what is expected of everyone. As a result, workers feel the new standard will make everyone else look bad.

Could this help explain what conservatives don't like about liberals? They set the bar just too damn high.

Bush Tax Cuts - Time to Go

Do we want to be effective or just line the pockets of the powerful?
But it’s hard to think of a less cost-effective way to help the economy than giving money to people who already have plenty, and aren’t likely to spend a windfall.

No, this has nothing to do with sound economic policy. Instead, as I said, it’s about a dysfunctional and corrupt political culture, in which Congress won’t take action to revive the economy, pleads poverty when it comes to protecting the jobs of schoolteachers and firefighters, but declares cost no object when it comes to sparing the already wealthy even the slightest financial inconvenience.

Billionaires against Obama

The TEA partiers and other Obama haters wouldn't be effective at all if it weren't for the really big money that is behind them.
The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry-especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers' corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a "kingpin of climate science denial." The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies-from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program-that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On the Elections

The recent primary results show that we Democrats have a tough task ahead of us before November. Our candidates will be out-spent and out-shouted as we go into the general election. Our main and most effective weapon will be our own voices. We need to not be bashful about raising those voices. And we have a powerful message to share. We must remind everyone that the policies of the opposition are proven failures. During the Bush years lowering taxes on the rich did NOT produce jobs. Decreasing regulations brought about this Republican Recession that now dogs our citizens. All the ideas that Republicans are using to influence voters have been tried and all of us are paying the price for them to this very day.

As reported by many news organizations in April and May of this year, current tax rates are the lowest they have been in 60 years. The idea that higher taxes are going to strangle businesses is simply not true. Any business that is so on-the-edge that a bit more in taxes is going to kill it already has a failing business model. People in the top income bracket are getting a freer ride now than they have in decades. During that time, the real earnings of middle-income have been in decline. Contrary to the Republican line, the real engine of economic growth is middle-income spending not high-income spending.

State government spending primarily represents our human obligation to one another. We must work together to provide a good education to our children, to provide the infrastructure businesses need to flourish, and to be a backstop to our most vulnerable citizens. When Republicans talk about cutting state spending, they are actually talking about shirking our moral obligations.

At the Federal level we are in an unfortunate situation in which the financial system has become paralyzed (thanks to excesses produced by ill-considered deregulation). When private sector activity dries up, the economy collapses unless some other economic activity comes in to take over. This is what happened in the Great Depression and it is what is happening now. It was the massive spending of World War II that finally ended that era. Thankfully we have avoided the worst effects of the Great Depression. And it will require the discipline of continued spending to bring us out of the Republican Recession. No one wants to waste money so we can have a discussion of what constitutes appropriate spending. If we are wise, we can direct spending to infrastructure and initiatives that prepare us for future robust growth. That growth will erase the debt we are incurring. When businesses spend to grow, it’s called investing. The same should apply to government spending now. But spend we must until the ravages of deregulation have been healed.

We must remind voters that regulation wasn’t dreamed up out of thin air to harm business. Every regulation was enacted to mitigate a problem. Remove the regulation and you are allowing that problem to return. Perhaps regulation can be more streamlined or more effective. But the need for it is certain.

The Republican attacks even extend to Social Security. Yet they can offer no alternative that is better. Whatever they do offer is only worse and, given their track record, much worse.

As Democrats, we have a fight on our hands. But it is a good fight. It is a fight worth fighting. We have a message worth sending. We have a moral obligation to raise our voices and speak out. The facts of history are on our side. Let us not be found wanting in our energy or effort at this critical time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eating Local

It seems that eating local isn't necessarily the best thing.
The best way to make the most of these truly precious resources of land,
favorable climates and human labor is to grow lettuce, oranges, wheat,
peppers, bananas, whatever, in the places where they grow best and with
the most efficient technologies - and then pay the relatively tiny
energy cost to get them to market, as we do with every other commodity
in the economy. Sometimes that means growing vegetables in your
backyard. Sometimes that means buying vegetables grown in California or
Costa Rica.

Eating locally grown produce is a fine thing in many ways. But it is not
an end in itself, nor is it a virtue in itself. The relative pittance of
our energy budget that we spend on modern farming is one of the wisest
energy investments we can make, when we honestly look at what it returns
to our land, our economy, our environment and our well-being.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Social Security Defense

Paul Krugman explodes the myth that Social Security will be in trouble or will be a problem for the federal budget. The boomer fix is in. Middle and lower income folks have been paying higher FICA taxes for a few years building up a surplus. That surplus is held in treasury bonds. As those bonds get cashed to pay for the boomer benefits taxes collected from high income folks will provide the needed cash. All those folks raising alarms about it are simply trading in manure.

Update: It would be interesting to press those who wish to do away with Social Security on what exactly do they propose as an alternative. Not one of them will be better, most of them worse.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Peak of the Laffer Curve

The Laffer Curve has been so abused to justify ruinous tax cuts. Here is a modest proposal to actually use it. Raise taxes to the point where genuine adverse effects become apparent. Then back off. At that point we shall have a well-funded government able to properly regulate the markets to everyone's genuine benefit.

The Devil We Know

In true human fashion it seems we tend to readily accept death and disease from carbon-based energy production rather that rationally understand the real risks of radiation. We swim in a sea of natural low-level radiation all about us but blanch when someone talks about simply adding a few more insignificant drops to that sea.

Want Certainty? Cap Carbon.

If the uncertainty in coming regulations is holding back investment, doesn't it seem rational to stop hindering those regulations and get them in place so certainty, investment, and profits can be restored? Employment is recovering in the banking and health care industries because regulation has been settled. Shouldn't we do the same for industry?

Cancer and Fructose

In addition to being a fattening agent, in now has been confirmed that cancers really like fructose such as the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Iraq war wasn't worth the cost

Many of us had that figured out/ back when it all began.

Ovulating women and sexier clothing

It's not the men they are trying to impress. They just want to outdo
the other women
. For me this explains why many women seemingly obsess
about how they appear to other women.

Judge Walker's and Prop 8

The overturn of Prop 8 has been precisely written to withstand a Supreme Court challenge. I find it really interesting that the defense was so weak that there are simply no grounds on which an effective appeal can be mounted.

Artificial life forms evolve basic intelligence

It's really basic intelligence. Essentially there is a natural selection for entities that can remember. But, cool nonetheless.

Quality of life

Another reason to jettison that extra weight. Not only does obesity
decrease life expectancy it also decreases the quality of that life.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reader Info

For the few out there who actually read this blog, you may notice that "new" posts may appear with old dates. This happens because it is easier to collect links as draft postings than it is to actual edit them into a good post. I apologize for the inconvenience.

The Way Educational Financing Should Work

Peer-to-peer lending is an interesting model that may be worth trying.

Is deflation here?

Paul Krugman has warned us about the liquidity trap and deflation. When
there is no inflation the incentive to spend now is reduced. With
deflation today's money will buy more in the future so better to save
than spend. As a result an economy can contract. Is that already upon

Four-leaf clovers for everyone

Now that the gene for four-clovers has been discovered everyone can be lucky.

Organic agriculture better at controlling pests

In a comparison of organic and conventional methods it turns out that organic methods are better at longterm pest control that conventional methods.

You Can't Rely on Your Brain

A study has shown that small perturbations
in a single neuron can cascade everywhere.

"This rapid amplification of spikes means that the brain is extremely
'noisy' -- much, much noisier than computers. Nevertheless, the brain
can perform very complicated tasks with enormous speed and accuracy, far
faster and more accurately than the most powerful computer ever built
(and likely to be built in the foreseeable future). The UCL researchers
suggest that for the brain to perform so well in the face of high levels
of noise, it must be using a strategy called a rate code. In a rate
code, neurons consider the activity of an ensemble of many neurons, and
ignore the individual variability, or noise, produced by each of them."

Multicellular life two billion years ago

This is fascinating. Instead of only 600 million years the threshold for
multicellular life is 2.1 BILLION years ago. That's a shift of 1.5 billion
years. It opens a whole new window on the study of how life evolved.

How asbestos causes cancer

It has always been a mystery how exactly asbestos caused cancer. The fibers cause cells to die but typically dead cells don't produce tumors.  It turns out that the chemicals produced by the 'resultant inflammation causes the cancer'.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Immigration Overhaul

Securing the border first is the same thing as saying let's do nothing. Republicans are set to shoot down meaningful immigration reform while hoping to be able to continue to beat up Democrats for its absence.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Six intuitions you shouldn't trust

From the book The Invisible Gorilla these are the most common intuitive errors.

inattentional blindness (failing to see things that are in plain sight);
the belief that our memories are more reliable than they are;
the tendency to think someone is competent if they are confident;
the illusion of knowledge (we know much less than we think);
the assumption that things that occur together must be causally related (think MMR vaccine and autism);
and the increasingly popular notion that cognitive exercises make us smarter (in fact, physical exercise has a much stronger effect).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pain in the Fetus

The Nebraska law that restricts abortions at later than 20 weeks is on shaky ground scientifically. The nerve structures to feel pain just aren't connected up until 24 weeks.

Teen Drinking and Parenting Styles

It seems that parenting style can be a predictor of teen drinking behavior. It doesn't affect whether they will drink or not but it does affect when they say enough. Teens whose parents' style is high on accountability and warmth don't drink much. But when parents demand high accountability without warmth they drink more. Same thing applies when there is no accountablity but plenty of warmth.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cantwell et al and Energy Proposals

Maria Cantwell uses a video to outline her energy proposals.

Vaccine News

By modifying the genome just a tiny bit a flu vaccine has been made that contains the complete set of proteins of the virulent form. But the scrambling is sufficient to keep it from being infectious. As a result the immune response is precise and robust.

Advances Using Carbon Nanotubes in Lithium Batteries

It seems that carbon nanotubes can greatly boost the capacity of lithium batteries.

Something New in Air Conditioning

By combining evaporativy cooling and dessicants a new method of cooling air promises an energy saving of 90 percent. That's right, effective cooling using only 1/10 the energy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Personality and Political Preferences

There has been much written about this subject but here is one more instance in which one's politics tend to be a result of one's personality traits. It also explains why conservative/liberal tension tends to appear in all political systems over time.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Memorial Thoughts

Last weekend there was much talk of honoring the servicemen and women who have made so many sacrifices for the rest of us. If we wish to truly honor them we should make sure we are a nation that is worthy of that sacrifice. While it is well and proper to send them to harm's way to protect citizens, allies, and innocents but we should not ask them to sacrifice to merely protect American greed. If our military must protect our access to foreign oil and we consume so much more than our moral share of that resource, we, as a nation, need to make some changes. Americans don't have an inalienable right to force our notions of government onto others however much we ourselves may revere those notions. And we do not honor our military by asking them to participate in forcing those notions onto unwilling people.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Atty. Tom Roach on Immigration

There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country now. This is equivalent to the entire population of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho combined. Our economy needs unskilled and semi-skilled workers. Any immigration reform should have a way to keep them in the work force else our economy will suffer significantly.

Tom is an attorney whose complete practice is immigration. He has clients from 122 countries but 60 to 70% are from Mexico. He does more immigration work than anyone else he knows of in Washington and Oregon. His clients include Buddhist monks and mail-order brides. Typically there are 3 new clients each day. Most Mexican clients are from the states of Jalisco, Michoacán, and Colima.

Who are the legal immigrants to the United States? Approximately 940,000 legally immigrate to the U.S. per year. Of these 400,000 are immediate relatives of American citizens (spouses, parents, and children). Another 226,000 are immigrants sponsored by families but not quite a directly related. Refugees come at the rate of 120,000 per year. Skilled, professional, and other priority workers come at the rate of 135,000 per year (think college-educated Orientals and Indian subcontinent). The quota for unskilled workers is 5,000 per year. Then there is a lottery that allows 55,000 others to come in. The key statistic is that quota for unskilled workers. There is a demand for 500,000 unskilled laborers in our country and a legal supply of only 5,000. Something has to give.

The presentation is in 3 parts: how we got here, myths, and what to do now.

So how did we get into our current situation? Historically the U.S. has had an unemployment rate of 4-5%. In real terms this can be considered full-employment. There are always seasonal workers who collect unemployment between jobs: fishing crews, construction crews, etc. There are also those who are affected by normal shifts in labor demands due to productivity improvements, etc. In 1986 there was a broad amnesty that allowed 4-5 million undocumented workers to get green cards. That didn’t affect the unemployment rate. Until the recent recession, 11 million undocumented workers had no affect on the unemployment rate. The recession brought the unemployment rate to 10%. And yet American citizen are rarely taking jobs at the low end of the food chain. It makes better economic sense for them to ride out the downturn with unemployment benefits. With the downturn, the number of undocumented workers has dropped to 7-8 million.

There are a number of myths that need to be addressed.
Myth: Illegal aliens take jobs from citizens. The statistics above disprove that.

Myth: Illegal aliens don’t pay taxes. Actually they pay more than their share of taxes. They pay sales taxes. They pay property taxes if they own real estate or through their rent if they don’t. If they are working with a falsified Social Security number, the employer pays all the proper withheld tax for them, (income tax, FICA, Medicare, etc). But because the Social Security number is invalid, they can’t file an income tax return and get a refund. Nor can they collect Social Security benefits. They can’t collect welfare or Medicare without a valid number. The Social Security Administration receives $345 billion a year on invalid numbers. That’s free money to the SSA and the rest of us. Medicare receives $1.5 billion a year of undocumented money. Since they can’t file an income tax form, they can’t receive the Earned Income Tax Credit. They pay and pay and pay but receive little benefit for it.

Myth: They don’t learn English and don’t assimilate. This is partially true but it is not unique to Hispanic immigrants. There are 2 Catholic churches in Walla Walla just about 2 blocks from each other. One of them is there because the Italian immigrants back in the day didn’t want to learn English so they had their own Italian-speaking congregation. The language problem is common to all first-generation immigrant groups. There were areas in Texas where children could grow up speaking German or Czech and never need to learn English until they left home. But the second generation is fully assimilated AND they are bilingual.

Myth: They don’t contribute to the economy and just get welfare. See above. No valid SSN, no welfare. An employer can pay a worker with a fake SSN but that worker can not collect welfare with a fake SSN. The welfare agencies verify the number. On the other hand they provide needed labor and they buy goods and services. They are firmly embedded in our economy as contributing members.

Myth: People should just get a work permit and come here legally. With a demand of 500,000 and a legal supply of 5,000 this isn’t going to happen.

What are the possible solutions to illegal immigration?

One solution might be impenetrable border security. Remember that even the Iron Curtain had its share of escapees. Do we want to have an Iron Curtain at all our borders? It would be expensive and not completely effective. At some point there gets to be a diminishing return. What is the reasonable price to pay to keep one illegal alien out? What does that illegal alien cost us by coming in? We may actually benefit from him. We need to have reasonable border security but nothing is perfect. If we expect better security we need to address the forces that tend to push people across a border. No one leaves their home to go to where life is worse. The number of border patrol agents has double to 20,000. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has limited man-power to go into business and audit their workforce. Economic conditions have had the biggest impact on illegal immigration. It was down by 1 million people last year. A tight border has an unintended consequence of restricting a natural back flow of people to their home country. It makes it so hard to get in that they don’t dare go back even if they want to. Border security is helpful but not a complete solution.

Legalization for the people who are here could be part of the solution. But it needs to be effective, fair, and efficient. We are talking about a number equal to the entire population of the three Northwest states here. It is a massive undertaking. It also needs to be fair to the folks who are legally standing in line outside the country. We don’t want there to be an incentive to go around the normal system. It needs to honor the hard work of contributing individuals and it needs to be properly punitive to the bad actors.

Social Security verification by employers should be mandatory with due consideration of the amnesty process. It would be counter-productive to deny a job to someone who should they were willing to play by the rules even if the administrative process could not keep up. Many current illegal aliens came in legally and have over-stayed their visas. Strong verification would remove the incentive for this.

Our quotas should reflect economic realities. If we don’t allow the demand for unskilled workers to be satisfied legally, we are providing an incentive for employers and workers to circumvent the law.

Now we have some questions and comments from the floor.

A commenter noted that some short-sided economic policies by our country have exacerbated disruptive situations in Mexico. Under NAFTA cheaper American agricultural products in Mexico have depressed the market so much that Mexican farmers can no longer compete. So they have to move to U.S. to work for agricultural firms here.

The presence of a large number of Irish and Canadian illegal immigrants is not seen as a problem because they blend in to American society easier.

The drug trade through Mexico supplying American users is destroying the fabric of Mexican society in many areas.

The people are not coming here on a whim. They are willing to risk their lives out in the desert to get here.

Question: How can people get away with an invalid SSN?
Our current law doesn’t require employers to verify SSN, only record it on a form. This has evolved into a don’t-ask-don’t-tell arrangement. Because workers were needed, the 1986 law was intentionally crafted with this huge loophole. Congress was able to appease the economic interest with this. And the federal government is happy to take the extra tax revenue it brings. If we instantly required verification it would be an economic disaster. In this way we all share some of the blame. We don’t want to pay more taxes and we don’t want to have to buy $2 apples.

Comment: Amnesty is a slap in the face to the people who are legally waiting their turn.
Yes, it is. It was in the 1986 amnesty. Any solution should make a distinction between a short-term work permit and a permanent green card and the people currently in line should not lose their place.

Question: What is stopping some of this common-sense legislation?
As you can see this is an easy issue about which to get people stirred up and it is always in someone’s interest to stir the pot. The problem is political courage. These ideas are not new. Most of these ideas passed a Senate vote 62-36 in 2006. But whenever reform is being discussed legislators receive constituent messages that run 100-1 against it. That really makes it hard for them to vote for it. To get the legislation passed we really need to generate a grass-roots groundswell. They need the political coverage.

Question: What about the issue of naturalized children of illegal aliens?
This would be another massive cost of across-the-board deportations. The government does not have authority to deport citizens. The government would have to find foster homes for 5-6 million children.

One commenter recounted the case of her husband. He came to the country with his parents as a 2-year-old. He knows no other home country. In 1986, they did everything they were supposed to do to make things right. But somehow the agency or their lawyer forgot to dot an “i”. Recently after filing some claims having to do with a heart condition he popped up as deportable. Immediately he was shipped to Mexico where he knew no one and had no resources, with a heart condition, no less. This is an example of the suffering that is going on today under the current law. Tom said he had 400 cases like this in his office. One local attorney recently had his license revoked because he was taking fees for immigration cases and not doing the work. The law is written such that deportations can be done with no appeal and no recourse.

Another commenter noted than the normal legal process can be expensive. Yes, it can be around 1/8 of a person’s annual income. In defense of the cost he noted that people are willing to much, much more than that just to be transported into the country by a coyote.

Tom had some comments about the Arizona law. He noted that under that law even a Native American to whom we are the immigrants could be jailed. He also noted that the language of the law is so vague that it is unenforceable in practice. Any officer who used it ran a real risk of having his case thrown out costing taxpayers money and exposing his employer to punitive lawsuits.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

60 Minutes and BP

The 60 Minutes report on BP and the Deepwater Horizon is scathing. And there may be a worse scenario with the Atlantis rig just waiting to happen. This should be the Chernobyl of drilling on the continental shelf.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Transmission of the Future?

A clever infinitely variable geared transmission concept makes its debut. Could this be the transmission of the future? With two spinning shafts driving the relative speed of a central and planetary gear the transmission can smoothly go from full forward to full reverse and everywhere in between without disengaging. Like most strikes of genius its simplicity makes one wonder why it hasn't been thought of before.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reality vs. the TEA party

It seems that the TEA party complaints about taxation is just so much stuff. Tax bills in 2009 are the lowest they have been since 1950. Now only if we could return to that level of sanity.

What this really says is that there is plenty of room to increase tax revenue to pay off the large national debts that are the rightie's latest cause celebre. So people, just stop being a waste of good oxygen.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Didier Mis-step

Clint may be an OK farmer but he doesn't know much about intellectual property. He's been using a Rolling Stones song on his website without permission. He has probably received their cease-and-desist letter by now.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Communication and Conservation

In a game lab setting it was found that shared resources (such as a commons or marine fishery) were most sustainably managed when to harvesters could communicate with each other and establish shared rules.
When given a chance to communicate, however, participants improve their joint outcomes greatly -- and the effect is lasting even when communication is no longer possible, she says, adding, that being able to use costly fines against each other did not improve harvest output.
It was also found that the whole sustainable system broke down when only one or two players ignored the rules.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Creationists should take cover

We now have clear evidence that life started by itself. When the right chemicals are present life is inevitable just like any other chemical reaction. All life on this planet is based on the same precursor molecules that can spontaneously arise.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Even the deep teems with life

Ocean depths that lack oxygen have been found to be full of other kinds of life forms. Some may contain the oldest DNA an the planet. It should also change our view of what we put into the deep ocean.
"Samples taken from the deep seabed have revealed an astonishing variety of life. 'Far from being a lifeless desert, the deep sea rivals such highly diverse ecosystems as tropical rainforests and coral reefs,' said Pedro Marinez Arbizu, one of the scientists working on the Census.
'Given these new insights, we cannot possibly use the deep-sea floor as a waste dump or subject it to unlimited resource extraction without massively impacting the marine communities living there,' Dr Arbizu added."

Friday, April 16, 2010

The March to Oppression Begins

Nebraska's new law moves back the threshold for abortions to 20 weeks. This is aimed squarely at one of the few doctors who performs late-term abortions. It expected that the cases generated by this law will thread their way up the appellate chain until in lands in the Supreme Court. The No-choice people are hoping that Roe v. Wade will be overturned and they can regain control over women and their reproductive decisions.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Black Hole in a Lab

This is rather cool. Using a charged carbon nanotube an atomic 'black hole' can be simulated. An atom spirals toward the tube until an electron tunnels into the tube. At that point the resultant ion is repelled away. In a real black hole a mass is accelerated as it orbits closer and closer to the event horizon. Eventually tidal forces causes it to disintegrate and a portion crosses the horizon. The remaining portion has enough velocity to escape. As black holes accumulate matter they also radiate much of it away.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A New Yucca Mountain Alternative

Now that we have the drilling technology to go to 5 kilometer depths, disposing of radioactive wastes may be as simple as drilling deep holes into the bedrock. A hole 5 kilometers deep could store 2 kilometers worth of waste and seal it with a 3 kilometer plug. At that depth things don't move for millions of years. That's plenty of time for the waste to decay back to background radiation levels.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

When Your Strongest Criticism Is a Lie...

it might be time to give up. Paul Krugmans destroys Douglas Holtz-Eakin's alternate universe and closes with this:
That said, we do learn something important from Holtz-Eakin’s article. If this is the best critique a conservative budget wonk can come up with – if deliberately misrepresenting how the legislation works is the only way to make it seem irresponsible – then the bill must be pretty sound in fiscal terms.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Into the Desert

How long are the Republicans going to be the party of NO? How long are they going to wander in the desert of irrelevance before they decide they would really rather have a hand in being a government? How many jurisdictions will be taken by Democratic candidates because the Republicans have nothing substantive to offer?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

GOP's Waterloo

The Republicans were right about Health Care Reform being a Waterloo. According to David Frum it's a Republican Waterloo. Republicans could use more smart people like David. Here it is in David's own words.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Clean hydrogen fuel from sound

This is cool. This is amazingly simple. I wonder how this would play out economically.
A team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison made crystals of zinc oxide that, when immersed in water, absorb vibrations and develop areas of strong negative and positive charge. These charges rip apart nearby water molecules, releasing hydrogen and oxygen gas.
The new materials could be used to develop systems that generate hydrogen from the noise of anything from machinery to crashing waves

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Policy Bombers

As the final days of the health care reform process wind down it seems that once again the desire to do good is being held hostage by those few who think one good triumphs over all others. I'm talking about the no-choice anti-abortion folks. These are the folks who think their particular view on abortion merits federal sanction. They are willing to let real and meaningful health care insurance reform go down the tubes if there's any chance that it might even indirectly make it easier for a woman to exercise a reproductive choice that runs counter to their particular viewpoint. Even the Catholic bishops support universal health care. Much has been said about how the no-choice crowd is willing to vote against their own self interests to elect no-choice legislators.

Faith and perserverance can be good things but this is a case where the dark side of faith comes into play. A basic attribute of a strong faith is that it, almost by definition, defies reason. It's the belief that's important and the facts just don't matter.

People who are unaffected by reason are as difficult to counter as a suicide bomber. There is no consequence that will dissuade them. Not their own self interest. Not even the prospect of a health care system that does a poor job for the most vulnerable and cost too much for us all. Nothing. Nada.

So what do we do? There may be other strategies but the one that comes to mind is to vigorously challenge any candidate or public official who professes an unreasoning faith. Make it clear that anyone who professes a level of faith on this issue or any other that is impervious to reason is unfit for public office. Real facts and real consequences just don't matter to these people and the coming disaster is certain.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

For the Record

Every now and then one needs to take the time to separate the BS from the beeswax:

Lie: Democrats are jamming through a government takeover of healthcare that would slash Medicare benefits.

Truth: Health insurance reform as proposed takes over nothing. Savings in Medicare will make it stronger without cutting benefits.

Lie: Health care legislation is stuffed with sweetheart deals for lawmakers.

Truth: The President's plan has removed any special deals from the legislation.

Lie: The Republican health care plan is good.

Truth: Republican alternative allows insurers to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and to drop coverage for people who get sick. More people would be left uninsured by 2019. Democratic plan reduces more deficit than Republican plan.

Lie: Reconciliation is controversial.

Truth: Virtually all past health care legislation in the past 30 years has been passed by reconciliation, SCHIP, Medicare, etc. Republicans have used reconciliation 3 times as much as Democrats. Of the 22 times it has been used, Republicans used it 16 times. Reconciliation votes have almost alway been highly partisan. Republican reconciliation wins include $1.8 trillion in Bush tax cuts. (Health care reform will cost $950 billion over 10 years.) McConnell, Craig, Grassley, McCain, and Cornyn praised reconciliation when it was used for Republican legislation.

If we don't do everything in our power to challenge the lies we can share the blame for what we get. So keep spreading the word.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Nuclear Power is Natural

Two billion years ago in Gabon uranium-rich rock and water found itself in an appropriate arrangement to create a natural nuclear reactor. It appears that the reactor was critical for a few hundred thousand years. Sixteen other sites have been found around the world where similar things have happened and there may be many more. Somehow the "waste" leftovers from those natural reactors managed to stay securely ensconced in the geologic formations in which they formed for the two billion years since without harming the planet. It looks like long-term high-level storage has already been demonstrated.

Honesty Breaks Out

Former Assistant Education Secretary Diane Ravitch has changed her tune on No Child Left Behind. She began looking at the facts after advocating the program for years and broke out in a fit of honesty.
'The basic strategy is measuring and punishing,' Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. 'And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there's a lot of cheating going on, there's a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it's actually lowered standards because many states have 'dumbed down' their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are.'
The program isn't working and something better is needed.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Jacques Besnainou at the Richland ANS

Jacques Besnainou,CEO, AREVA North America

Jacques is a personable fellow with a good sense of humor. He tries to convince us that his accent isn't really French but rather a strong Joisey accent since he first lived there when he came to the States.

Reviving the nuclear power industry is key to true energy security. When France faced the problem of energy security they decided to go nuclear as fast as they could. Rather than developing their own unique designs they decided to adopt the best available existing technology. That was the Westinghouse PWR design. Now France has the opportunity to return that gift to the US. (Jacques then goes into a short commercial for AREVA.)

AREVA intends to be the full-service nuclear provider from mining, through power generation, to recycling and decommissioning. Nuclear energy is not renewable but it is recyclable and sustainable. The once-through system just doesn't make sense. AREVA has been recycling nuclear fuel for 20 years. Recycling isn't new. France built almost 60 power plants based on the Westinghouse design. Now they are building their own EPR design in Europe and expect to be building them soon in the US. When construction starts on the US plants AREVA will have benefited from lessons learned from EPR projects in 3 other countries. They expect the US plants to be on-time and on-budget. They have invested $200 million in the first EPR plant in the US at Calvert Cliffs. Construction is expected to begin in 2012.

AREVA is also investing in renewables with biomass, wind, and solar business units. The 5MW M5000 wind turbine is the largest yet built. It is planned for offshore wind farms.

There are 543 nuclear plants worldwide. Both India and China are building them as fast as they can. In India they are using the power for desalination of water as well as electricity because of the need for fresh water there. The issue of nuclear waste has a solution.

Since it takes 10 years to build a nuclear plant things must be done in such a way that it garners bipartisan support. One can't risk a change in the White House that shuts down the construction.

The nuclear industry needs to be transparent. Our past relationship with the defense industry as tended to generate a closed culture. Those days are gone. Anne Lauvergeon has turned a medieval fortress into a mansion full of windows. In the interest of transparency they installed streaming webcams in the La Hague recycling plant so the world could watch what went on there. Pretty soon no one ever used the cameras because it was boring. In public relations and politics you don't get to choose your opposition. You have to deal with whomever comes along. The nuclear industry needs to be ready to constructively engage with the opposition so both sides can learn. Many in the environmental movement have changed their mind about nuclear power. AREVA now maintains a weblog in which criticisms can be openly discussed. Nuclear energy is cool now.

Nuclear energy jobs are real domestic jobs over the long term. You can outsource a power plant. By the same token, nuclear expertise can provide jobs for Americans around the world.

AREVA is making major investments in the US nuclear industry. They are building a fabrication facility for large steel components at Newport News. They are building an enrichment facility in Idaho. And they are building a Mixed-Oxide fuel plant in South Carolina. When they started doing these things they found that the pool of nuclear-qualified suppliers has dried up over the years. Now they are having vendor fairs in order to attract new vendors into the nuclear industry supply chain.

Nuclear power is CO2-free, power secure, and creates jobs, jobs, and more jobs.

The ANS needs to be the ambassadors for nuclear power. We need your knowledge to be shared. The public needs to hear the facts. Nuclear advocates need to be open to questions and readily engage in the public debate. Relationships need to be built with all the stakeholders.

John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things.” The facts are on the side of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is carbon-free. 75% of the carbon-free energy now produced in the US is nuclear. Nuclear energy is domestic energy security. You don't have to fight wars in foreign countries for it. We can't talk about energy-independence without including nuclear. Nuclear energy is competitive. Once a plant has been built it becomes a cash machine. The costs of nuclear power do not fluctuate like volatile fossil fuel markets. France is making money because it has the energy to sell. Nuclear power supports growth because it creates jobs. Unions understand this and support nuclear power. Investments in nuclear power create investments in the supply chain economy. The nuclear safety record is impeccable. Nuclear safety is not theoretical. It has been demonstrated. Nuclear power is available 24/7.

If we want a future for our children we need to develop nuclear power. The US can regain its lead in this industry but we can't wait on the sidelines too long.

And now some questions from the audience.

What is the future of French recycling? Is it just MOX or will there be a full plutonium cycle?
France is saving its recycled plutonium as a resource to be used in a coming generation of fast reactors. France is currently working on a fast reactor design jointly with the US and Japan. It will be about a 1200 MW plant.

Will this policy carry over to the US?
The US needs to make its own decision. The mood is improving on Capitol Hill. The light-water reactors of today can be a bridge to the future fast reactors.

How does France handle its own nuclear opposition?
There isn't much. France really has no alternative but nuclear. But safety is paramount.

AREVA mines around the world. Will it ever open mines in the US?
The old ways of mining produced some problems with the tailings. Modern methods do not have that problem. If demand is strong enough AREVA might mine in the States but they currently have plenty of uranium sources elsewhere.

What is the future like in Europe?
When Russia stopped natural gas deliveries a while back many countries sat up and took notice. UK authorities were in contact with AREVA right away. EDF is now the major electrical utility in southeastern England. Italy shut down all their plants after Chernobyl. Now they are planning new ones. Sweden has decided that they are going to need 20 nuclear power plants. Finland has decided it needs more, too. When Germany wanted to close out it's nuclear power it found that it was impossible. At 30-40% of the supply there was no alternatives available. They are extending the licenses of the existing plants. The US has done a similar thing. Because new plants could not be built, licenses of existing plants have been reviewed and extended. Europe is coming back to nuclear.
What is the trend for smaller plants?
AREVA is developing a 1000 MW model and a smaller BWR model. The market demands robustly safe plants today.

What is the new facility in Virginia?
The Newport News plant will produce heavy components. It takes top-flight welding techniques to build these things and the work force there have them. The plant will open in 2014.

Are reactors planned for large commercial shipping vessels?
Not right now. If oil prices looked like they were going to permanently go up, shipping vessel reactors might be feasible.

What is the French waste experience?
Recycling reduces the high level waste by a factor of 5. The LLW at La Hague is really small. All sample results from stations around the plant are posted on the web for all to see. Recycling is not expensive. Less than 2% of the cost is due to recycling expense. AREVA is ready to build a recycling plant in the US under proper conditions. It would be a really large plant. The vitrification experience gained at Hanford will be helpful. Vitrification optimizes the final storage space. France is building a geologic repository east of Paris in a clay formation. It will open in 2020. It is designed such that waste can be retrieved for 50 years if it turns out there is a better way to handle it.

What does France do about proliferation possibilities?
France has not had any proliferation problems. If it can be done there it can be done here. When he was working with recycling his biggest worry was the transportation of material from the recycling plant to the MOX fabrication plant. It would have been better to have the plants next to each other.

Friday, February 26, 2010

James Inhofe on climate change

Basically James Inhofe can't dispute the scientific consensus on climate change with any rational argument. He rejects the consensus because of who supports it. If the U.N. supports it, it must be wrong. If the White House supports it, it must be wrong. If Hollywood figures support it, it must be wrong. His is an interesting world in which truth is not defined objectively but by who says it. If these same people reversed their positions, Inhofe would be psychologically bound to reverse his regardless of the fundamental reality.

Japan, here we come

Paul reads the tea leaves of the core inflation index to tell us that we are headed for Japan-style deflation.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Krugman on Globalization

Recent history has shown an seemingly inexorable increase in globalization of trade. Krugman points out that changing technologies and practices have resulted in ebbs and flows in globalization over time. Are there coming changes that could reverse the current trend?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Compostable plastics

In 2 to 5 years food packaging could be in a new class of compostable plastics that don't require lots of energy and water to produce like the biodegradable plastics of today.

Thankful to be Texas ex-Pat

As tough as it is to be a liberal in Eastern Washington, I'm glad I don't still live in Texas and have deal with this.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Walking the Fiscal Tightrope and Peacocks

Martin Wolf calls to task the deficit fear-mongers out there trying to stampede people into ending economic stimulus.
"Prof Ferguson is trying to frighten US policymakers out of sustaining or, better still, increasing fiscal stimulus, even though the true issue is longer-term sustainability. He also accuses opponents of believing in a “Keynesian free lunch”. Not so. The argument is, rather, that the benefits of the higher output today exceed the costs of debt service tomorrow.
Prof Ferguson believes instead in a conservative free lunch. This is the view that fiscal tightening today would have little effect on activity. Normally, when monetary policy has room for manoeuvre and the private sector’s borrowing is unconstrained, that is right. But, as Olivier Blanchard, chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, and colleagues note in a recent report: “To the extent that monetary policy, including credit and quantitative easing, had largely reached its limits, policymakers had little choice but to rely on fiscal policy.”"
We need to keep the stimulus tools at hand while keeping an eye on the future. We need to give the private sector the time it needs to heal. A key part of that healing process is to put appropriate financial regulation in place. We need to make sure that the banking shenanigans that got us into this mess are only history.

Here's some additional facts countering the idea that Obama caused the deficit.
(from the Center for American Progress)

The budget deficit in FY 2009 was a whopping 9.9 percent of GDP, the highest it has been since World War II. And that enormous deficit was caused as much by a dramatic decline in tax revenues as it was by an increase in spending. In fact, the size of the revenue decline was four times larger than all of the new spending initiatives started since President Obama took office. Tax revenues in 2009 were at their lowest levels since 1950. When revenues decline by 17 percent, as they did last year, deficits skyrocket.

President Bush inherited a record budget surplus when he took office. Yet he managed to turn that surplus into a massive deficit after repeatedly cutting taxes while prosecuting two wars and enacting billions of dollars worth of new spending programs without paying for any of them. By the time President Obama took office in January 2009, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting a budget deficit of $1.2 trillion for the year. The dramatic decline from record surplus to record deficit under President Bush resulted in a nearly $3 trillion increase in publicly held debt, the largest debt expansion in American history.

In fact, the incredible budgetary decline that took place under President Bush is responsible for far more of our current deficit troubles than any new initiative taken under President Obama. More than 50 percent of 2009’s huge deficit can be directly attributed to policies enacted by the previous administration, and that is not counting the 20 percent that was due to the economic disaster that began and gathered its momentum on President Bush’s watch. President Obama’s efforts to rescue the economy, on the other hand, are responsible for only 16 percent. Much more importantly, the long-term fiscal damage done by the Bush administration absolutely dwarfs any lasting effects of the temporary economic recovery measures taken under President Obama. The Bush-era tax cuts alone will add more than $5 trillion to the budget deficit over the next 10 years.

A deficit peacock is someone is more interested in scoring political points than actually decreasing the deficit. Do they only focus only on spending cuts, with nary a word about revenues? Do they offer easy answers and simple solutions? Are they in favor of actions that would actually exacerbate the problem? Do they blame all our woes on President Obama and neglect to even mention the previous eight years? If any of the answers are “yes,” then you’ve identified a deficit peacock.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Republican Roadmap Plan

Here is the latest Republican assault on common sense. From my admittedly cursory reading the piece consumes plenty of ink whining about how bad the situation is. But when one finally finds a paragraph that suggests a solution it turns out nothing other than basic Republican ideology. On health care, for example, the solution (as near as I can discern) is to expose patients to the true and complete costs of their care and let them decide what they can afford. In other words, let the market decide who gets care and who doesn't. It seems to me that the consequence of that approach will be nothing more than what we see in our emergency rooms today only on a much larger scale. People will avoid early intervention because it is too expensive and will only seek care much later when it is really too expensive, potentially fatal, and the costs are borne by everyone anyway. A form of this solution is already not working. Why would we want to expand that approach? There's no reason to believe that the Roadmap Plan has any ideas that are more intelligent in its other points as well.

How Christian Were the Founders?

Russell Shorto has a lengthy article about the battle being waged over how religion is to be included in future American history textbooks. There's some major conservative, fundamental (so-called) Christian players who are in a position to insert their peculiar interpretation of the Founding Fathers into what children are taught across the country. Their leverage arises out of the fact that the choices made for the state of Texas influence what the publishers print for the rest of the country. The only way this sad state of affairs will change is when the rest of the states muster the intestinal fortitude to refuse to buy books containing this narrow and patently inaccurate point of view.

After all, there is no reason to accept that these biblical-literalists have the final word on either religion or history. To let them establish the standard is to give our education over to an American Taliban of religious fanatics.

But let's set the argument about the past aside. What is the appropriate place of religion in our society for the future? It's a common thought that the fundamental basis of morality is found in religion. But the fact of the matter is that the morality has been brought into religion from the outside. It's we humans who have built up moral codes in various places and times and then attributed them to God or the gods as the case may be. The moral pronouncements of God would not be the least bit appealing if they didn't resonate with our own internal sense of justice and fairness. The reason there have been and continue to be such struggles over such things as gender equality or the place of homosexuals in society is because our sense of justice is in conflict with traditional religious morality. Eventually human-centered justice will prevail because tradition by it's very nature is, over the long run, malleable.

If we are all going to be able to live together as a united society there has to be a common moral code that serves as a check on our diverse religious codes. We don't allow murder in the name of religion. The boundaries between the jurisdiction of the common code and the religious will always be under constructive tension. A patient can refuse a life-saving blood transfusion if he has a religious objection against it but is it proper to refuse the transfusion to a child who has yet to develop a particular religious viewpoint of her own? Who should be the subject of prosecution in such a case?

Regardless of what was in the mind of the founding fathers we should be asking what makes moral sense today and tomorrow? Do we want to have a society in which women are second-class citizens as they were in Old Testament times? Do we want to have a society in which our beloved children who happen to be homosexual are prohibited from experiencing society's approval and support of their long-term loving relationships? Do we want to have a society in which there are different rules for the rich and powerful than there are for the disadvantaged? These are more important questions than whatever it was Thomas Jefferson or John Adams thought.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Confirmed Drilling Hazard in Indonesia

In Indonesia drilling can produce long range consequences. In this case a single bore hole started a mud volcano in 2006 that has displaced 30,000 people. And in still erupting with no sign of let up. The mud has now covered 3 square miles 20 feet thick. It may continue to erupt for decades.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sun-powered water splitter

Ponder this. What would it mean if we could use the sunlight to create a steady stream of hydrogen? This nano-particle charge device does just that at an efficiency of 60 per cent. And that's just the prototype. How much better can that get with some additional practical experience? I wonder if this might be the true path for solar-based power. If you are producing clean-burning fuel from the sun you don't have to worry about storing energy for when the sun doesn't shine. You are storing it automatically.