Sunday, December 23, 2012

Darkened Cities

Thierry Cohen Photography has a book out and exhibit in Paris that closed yesterday. Pictures of cities if they didn't have lights, including the night sky we'd see. Amazing stuff.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Antitrust was defined by Robert Bork. I cannot overstate his influence.

WonkBlog wrote ‘Antitrust was defined by Robert Bork. I cannot overstate his influence.’ "Barak Orbach is a professor of law and director of the Business Law Program at the University of Arizona. He has written extensively about the influence of legal scholar and appeals court judge Robert Bork, who died Wednesday, over the field of antitrust law, the part of the law concerned with keeping businesses competitive and preventing monopolies. While Bork is primarily remembered by the public for his failed Supreme Court nomination in 1987, academics focus on his role in transforming how the U.S. treats mergers and monopoly prevention. "

More Seriously About the NRA's Press Conference.

In How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown? "Slate partners with @GunDeaths for an interactive, crowdsourced tally of the toll firearms have taken since Dec. 14."

Screen Shot 2012 12 21 at 5 02 06 PMStop The Shootings has more. The data is hard to come by. Two years ago the NY Times wrote N.R.A. Stymies Firearms Research, Scientists Say.

"In the wake of the shootings in Tucson, the familiar questions inevitably resurfaced: Are communities where more people carry guns safer or less safe? Does the availability of high-capacity magazines increase deaths? Do more rigorous background checks make a difference?

The reality is that even these and other basic questions cannot be fully answered, because not enough research has been done. And there is a reason for that. Scientists in the field and former officials with the government agency that used to finance the great bulk of this research say the influence of the National Rife Association has all but choked off money for such work."

More recently JAMA wrote Silencing the Science on Gun Research. As Kevin Drum wrote "The conservative war on reality continues apace. If you don't like what's happening in the real world, simply defund anyone who tries to report on it. Mission accomplished!" in Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts says: "The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world — by far. And it has the highest rate of homicides among advanced countries. And yet, gun crime has been declining in the U.S. Firearm murders are down, as is overall gun violence – even as gun ownership increases. Read our Analysis for more insight on what these statistics mean."

Mother Jones offers, A Non-Gun-Owner's Guide to Guns.

WonkBlog explains, The NRA wants an ‘active’ mental illness database. Thirty-eight states have that now.

There was Disbelief in some quarters after NRA calls for armed guards at every school, blames movies

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the press conference "A Shameful Evasion Of The Crisis Facing Our Country".

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said armed guards are not the solution to ending school violence. “I don’t necessarily think having an armed guard outside every classroom is conducive to a positive learning environment.”

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said "‘‘What they announced today is not a plan, but a ploy to bring more guns into our neighborhoods. I don’t believe the answer to gun violence is more guns.’’

The New Republic has particularly good commentary in The NRA's Emperor Has No Clothes.

Having Fun With the NRA's Press Conference

The NRA held a press conference today that will probably end up being the worst of the year

The NRA provided a pdf transcript of LaPierre's remarks. WonkBlog has a nice summary of the policy recommendations, Six ways the NRA would deal with gun violence.

Basically they want armed guards in every schools. "With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can’t afford to put a police officer in every school?" FYI, at first glance he's right, there are about 100,000 public schools in the US, at $50K a year for a guard, that's $5 billion. The annual US foreign aid budget is a little under $30 billion. So even if they need 2 per school, the math works. Of course the aid does go to preventing people from starving and to eradicating disease and building up economies to make the world safer.

Here's some slightly different math saying it would come to $18 billion and "An annual license fee of about $75 per gun should adequately cover the expense of the NRA's proposal to put armed police officers at every K-12 school in the US."

He also says there should be a national database for the mentally ill and blames hollywood for movies and the violent video game industry.

Greg Sargent says the NRA resorts to its usual tricks: Obfuscation and distraction. "Keep in mind that all of this is deliberately designed to serve an overarching strategic goal — distraction. The NRA absolutely must keep the focus off of the problem of easy gun availability, and what can be done about it, for as long as possible."

Still it's so easy to have fun with this idiocy.

Igor Volsky pulls The 10 Craziest Quotes From The NRA Press Conference.

Gawker points out, While the NRA Was on TV Talking About the Need for More Guns Some Guy Was Walking Up and Down a Road in Pennsylvania Shooting People

Chris Hayes was pretty shocked by the press conference on twitter. Some of his better tweets and retweets:

NRA about to propose it seems, putting armed guards outside every school. This. Is. Horrifying.

Totally reasonable, sober proposal: a secret service detail for every school child in America. #omfg

TSA EVERYWHERE! #newnraslogans

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre at one point said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Hayes' comment: Good guys w/ guns vs bad guys w/ guns is, ironically, the moral cosmology of a small child.

Useful reminder: The first person Adam Lanza murdered owned a bunch of guns.

Some others:

Chase Mitchell: Just want to point out the NRA's plan to stop school shootings is literally the plot of Kindergarten Cop.

Seth Meyers: NRA: If we banned schools there would never be another school shooting.

Michael Ian Black: Oh cool, George Zimmerman is going to be protecting my kids in school.

Michael Ian Black: When somebody shoots up a dentist's office, they'll be advocating for armed dental hygienists.

Bob Schooley: If only Ft. Hood had armed, trained security personnel.

Ana Marie Cox: WHY STOP AT ARMED GUARDS IN SCHOOLS? That's the question. Personal security, around the clock, for everyone, everywhere. It's our only hope.

Ana Marie Cox: LaPierre insisting that this armed-guards everywhere strategy is "proven." And it's true military states have lower rates of street crime.

Catherine Rampell: N.R.A. Calls for Armed Guards in Schools to Deter Violence there was an armed guard at Columbine.

Lawrence Lessig: Ah yes, the problem isn't the 2d A, it's the 1st A. "NRA blames Hollywood

Alex Bowles follows: Meanwhile, back in Canada—where you find all the same movies and games—the most violent thing to happen regularly is hockey.

Jay Rosen: Exact quote just now from the NRA press conference. "This is the beginning of a serious conversation. We won't be taking any questions."

Ezra Klein: So tracking private gun sales is an unconscionable assault on liberty but we can have a national database of the mentally ill.

I will point out that he edited that for maximum effect. The full statement by NRA President Dave Keene at the end of the conference was: "This is the beginning of a serious conversation. We won't be taking questions today but, Andrew Arulanandam, our public affairs officer, is here. We will be willing to talk to anybody beginning on Monday."

Matt Seaton: This NRA presser is not train wreck. It's an asteroid impact. Media profs will be teaching it for years as epic 'how not to' do crisis comms

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Best Nature Pictures of 2012

The Big Picture collects Best nature pictures of 2012. "This is a compilation of images in which photographers have captured the beauty of our world, along with great moments among the living things we share this planet with. Most are from the reoccurring photo gallery The Natural World, in which photos of animals and our environment are selected from the many wire service photos moved throughout the year from all over the world. Many great photos of animals are taken in zoos, but this entry mostly shows creatures in their own habitat. -Leanne Burden Seidel (53 photos total)"

Insanely stunning photos. You've got some pollen on your butt...

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Choose your own fiscal cliff adventure!

Wonkblog has a calculator, Choose your own fiscal cliff adventure!. "Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out a path forward using this calculator. First, identify which aspects of the fiscal cliff’s tax increases and spending cuts you would allow to go forward, and which you would cancel. Then, pair it with other deficit-reduction policies you want to enact to start bringing deficits down even without the pain of an immediate austerity crisis. Then, add in any stimulus measures you might want to cushion the blow of deficit reduction and try to get the economy on track."

Here's my fiscal cliff solution .

Back to the Grind: George Howell Coffee

Boston Magazine wrote Back to the Grind "Nearly two decades after selling his iconic Coffee Connection chain to Starbucks, George Howell is about to attempt a comeback. Can the café visionary retake the coffee world, or has his time passed?"

I live in walking distance to his current cafe and I go all the time. They usually do tastings Monday evening at 6:30p and George usually starts with a brief presentation on some aspect of coffee (it's mostly training for the staff but others are welcome).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Most Popular Explainers of 2012

The Most Popular Explainers of 2012 "We're pretty well-known for our how-tos here at Lifehacker, but from time to time we also like to break down complicated subjects and just explain how things work—and maybe offer a little info on how to use that information. Here are our best explainers from 2012."

Unofficial FIrefly Lego Set

Custom LEGo "From the creative mind of Designer Thomas Lockwood comes a masterpiece of design, function, and fun.  A true Browncoat's dream come true, the Firefly Serenity Playset is the set that never was meant to be.  This set has everything you want in a toy: Immediate recognizability, features to play with, spectacular part usage, and model accuracy & proportion.  It all comes together to make this building toy a playable set with an eye towards hours of fun (in building and playing).

This playset has an interesting history.  Originally the design was put up on the LEGO CUUSOO site with the possibility of becoming an actual LEGO branded product with a required 10,000 votes.  After just a couple of months, in what must have been some sort of speed record, all votes were obtained and success seemed imminent.  Much to the chagrin of supporters everywhere, the playset did not pass LEGO's review, despite recognition, praise, and visibility from a bunch of websites,, retweets from 3 of the show's actors & Grant Imahara.  That was the end...or so everyone thought.

Steps have been taken to ensure that this model finally will be available for all.  While not an official LEGO set, this is being provided as a service to find & source all the bricks required to put this together, along with the instructions and a few other surprises.  Spend your time building the model, not sourcing and waiting for all the parts to come.  Instead, get a box of parts in the mail, ready to build."

Best Astronomy Images 2012

I've probably posted most of Phil Plait's Best astronomy images 2012 already, but if you like this, you should really go look at them all.

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"Every December I pick my favorite images from the previous year to display, a task that is extraordinarily difficult. I always wind up with a list of about 60 or 70, and I have to cull it down mercilessly. Such is the case this year again, and I could pare it only to 21, a score and more of gorgeousness for you to soak in. I choose the pictures not just for their beauty but also because they are interesting, and different—ones that stand out from the crowd somehow. I usually put them in order with my favorite one last, but this year I just can’t. I’ll let you know my favorite when you get to it—I expect you’ll agree—but other than that it’s just a dead tie."

The Curious Case of the Silent Filibuster

Newsbound explains The Curious Case of the Silent Filibuster "Our latest explainer takes a close look at the changing nature of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. We describe why today’s filibusters don’t require senators to talk for hours on end, explain how these ‘silent’ filibusters have become more common in recent years, and lay out some of the Democrats’ proposals to reform the Senate rules and restore some productivity to the chamber."

I learned a few things.

Space Station Tour

Bad Astronomy wrote Video Tour of the International Space Station "Space Station tour: Commander Sunita Williams shows you her orbiting home"

He wrote: "When I clicked this, I figured I’d watch for a minute or two … and found myself watching the whole thing, because it was simply fascinating." and that was absolutely true for me too.

Some things I learned:

The exercise bike isn't firmly attached to the wall to prevent forces from being exerted on the structure of the station.

There's marshmallow fluff on the ISS.

Spacesuits weigh about 300 lbs.

There's a wide variety of toilet paper.

Everything looks like a mess (but probably is very well organized).

The seats in a Soyuz capsule are hand molded to each individual.

The Brain: The Charlie Brown Effect

The Brain: The Charlie Brown Effect "A comic book artist-turned-neuroscientist says the images in Peanuts tap 
the same brain processes as sentences."

A Visual History of Nobel Prizes and Notable Laureates, 1901-2012

A Visual History of Nobel Prizes and Notable Laureates, 1901-2012 "Visualized for each laureate are prize category, year the prize was awarded, and age of the recipient at the time, as well as principal academic affiliations and hometown. Each dot represents a Nobel laureate, and each recipient is positioned according to the year the prize was awarded (x axis) and his or her age at the time of the award (y axis)."

I don't know why it's on an angle.

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I've read a lot of articles about the tragedy in Newtown CT and about possible policy implications. I don't have a firm opinion yet. The policy changes I think are reasonable, probably wouldn't have done anything to stop what happened in this case. I still think they're good ideas but there's a lot more I feel I need to learn before I'm firm in my beliefs. That said, here are some articles I've found very informative and interesting.

Paul Waldman: Ten Arguments Gun Advocates Make, and Why They're WrongDo Armed Civilians Stop Mass Shooters? Actually, No. "Five cases commonly cited as a rationale for arming Americans don't stand up to scrutiny."

Constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar: Putting the Second Amendment Second

WonkBlog: Everything you need to know about the assault weapons ban, in one post ""

WonkBlog: How the U.S. gun industry became so lucrativeHow Walmart Helped Make Newtown Shooter's AR-15 the Most Popular Assault Weapon in America

Jill LePore: Trayvon Martin and America's Gun Laws

Nate Silver: Party Identity in a Gun Cabinet

Erik Larson from 1993: The Story of a Gun

The 15 Most Dangerous People in the World

Danger Room lists The 15 Most Dangerous People in the World " Cheap videos in California help spark riots in Cairo. Lynchpins of the Middle East now rant about 'Planet of the Apes' in public, and Iranian generals trash-talk David Petraeus over SMS. The world has gone a little haywire — sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Here are our choices for the 15 people most responsible for making it that way."

Outrageous HSBC Settlement Proves the Drug War is a Joke

Matt Taibi often goes too far for me, but I think he's dead on with this piece Outrageous HSBC Settlement Proves the Drug War is a Joke

"[Assistant Attorney General Lanny] Breuer this week signed off on a settlement deal with the British banking giant HSBC that is the ultimate insult to every ordinary person who's ever had his life altered by a narcotics charge. Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), Breuer and his Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a 'record' financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank."

"Though this was not stated explicitly, the government's rationale in not pursuing criminal prosecutions against the bank was apparently rooted in concerns that putting executives from a "systemically important institution" in jail for drug laundering would threaten the stability of the financial system…It doesn't take a genius to see that the reasoning here is beyond flawed. When you decide not to prosecute bankers for billion-dollar crimes connected to drug-dealing and terrorism (some of HSBC's Saudi and Bangladeshi clients had terrorist ties, according to a Senate investigation), it doesn't protect the banking system, it does exactly the opposite. It terrifies investors and depositors everywhere, leaving them with the clear impression that even the most "reputable" banks may in fact be captured institutions whose senior executives are in the employ of (this can't be repeated often enough) murderers and terrorists. Even more shocking, the Justice Department's response to learning about all of this was to do exactly the same thing that the HSBC executives did in the first place to get themselves in trouble – they took money to look the other way."

"As a result of the government's investigation, HSBC has . . . "clawed back" deferred compensation bonuses given to some of its most senior U.S. anti-money laundering and compliance officers, and agreed to partially defer bonus compensation for its most senior officials during the five-year period of the deferred prosecution agreement."

He then compares the penalty of the executives (though only the second part of it) to those suffered by non-violent small amount drug users. It seems a very fair point.

"They're now saying that if you're not an important cog in the global financial system, you can't get away with anything, not even simple possession. You will be jailed and whatever cash they find on you they'll seize on the spot, and convert into new cruisers or toys for your local SWAT team, which will be deployed to kick in the doors of houses where more such inessential economic cogs as you live. If you don't have a systemically important job, in other words, the government's position is that your assets may be used to finance your own political disenfranchisement.

On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won't be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid. You will be treated with more deference and sympathy than a junkie passing out on a subway car in Manhattan (using two seats of a subway car is a common prosecutable offense in this city). An international drug trafficker is a criminal and usually a murderer; the drug addict walking the street is one of his victims. But thanks to Breuer, we're now in the business, officially, of jailing the victims and enabling the criminals."

If you want something (slightly) calmer on the topic William Black has three pieces: Why Did Obama and Cameron Save a Criminal Enterprise Like HSBC?, Did Obama and Cameron Require HSBC to Aid the Prosecution of Tax Frauds? and 4 Insane Ideas Behind Obama's and Cameron's Decision That HSBC's Officers Should Be Immune From Prosecution

Saturn Splendor Seldom Seen

A Splendor Seldom Seen "NASA's Cassini spacecraft has delivered a glorious view of Saturn, taken while the spacecraft was in Saturn's shadow. The cameras were turned toward Saturn and the sun so that the planet and rings are backlit. (The sun is behind the planet, which is shielding the cameras from direct sunlight.) In addition to the visual splendor, this special, very-high-phase viewing geometry lets scientists study ring and atmosphere phenomena not easily seen at a lower phase."

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Best and Worst Science Fiction/Fantasy Movies of 2012

ion picks the Best and Worst Science Fiction/Fantasy Movies of 2012. I've seen all but number one on their best list and basically agree with what they have to say. I've only seen 4 on their worst list (Cloud Atlas, Prometheus, The Bourne Legacy and Dark Shadows) and also agree with them.

The Value of Demos

When I learned a2 + b2 = c2 I never thought of it like this:


100 Riffs (A Brief History of Rock N' Roll)

Soundslice is a site that does guitar tab transcriptions (I think). I came across it from this 13 min demo, which is fun in it's own right, 100 Riffs (A Brief History of Rock N' Roll).

CHART: All the fiscal cliff offers and counteroffers

CHART: All the fiscal cliff offers and counteroffers "It can get a bit tough to follow President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner’s back-and-forth debt deal negotiations, so we thought we’d put together a simple chart to explain how the two sides’ positions have evolved as the talks have progressed."


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?

Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times, Do We Have the Courage to Stop This? "IN the harrowing aftermath of the school shooting in Connecticut, one thought wells in my mind: Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars?"

Gruber has a inboard of other good articles.

ProPublica has a good list of older articles. "In the wake of last week's shooting in Aurora, Colo., we've taken a step back and laid out the best pieces we could find about guns. They're roughly organized by articles on rights, trafficking and regulation."

Global mortality and causes of death visualised

The Guardian as a really interesting infographic, How do people die? Global mortality and causes of death visualised.

"What diseases and injuries cause the most death and disability globally? Compare how each cause affects specific age groups or regions in terms of death and disability. You can change age group or region, year, and metric to view results for absolute numbers, rates, and percentages. You also have the option to further explore each cause group and view specific diseases, injuries, or risk factors - click the navigation buttons at the top of the chart to use it"

You can look at the data a bunch of different ways but this was most interesting to me:

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Think you know all there is to know about paper snowflakes?

If you like math and have kids (or are a kid) and want to go crazy, then watch the video io9 points to, Think you know all there is to know about paper snowflakes? You pitiful, pitiful fool..

Google Maps for iPhone

Ars Technica says Google Maps for iPhone shows Apple how to do mapping right. Everything you wanted to know about Google Maps for iPhone including the less than easily discoverable "don't send my location info to Google" setting.

Here's a hack to Get Siri to use Google Maps for directions.

2012: The Year in Volcanic Activity

In Focus shows 2012: The Year in Volcanic Activity "Out of an estimated 1,500 active volcanoes around the world, 50 or so erupt every year, spewing steam, ash, toxic gases, and lava. In 2012, active volcanoes included Guatemala's Volcan de Fuego, New Zealand's Tongariro, Russia's Plosky Tolbachik, Chile's Puyehue, Italy's Etna, and a new island appearing in the Red Sea. In Hawaii, Kilauea continues to send lava flowing toward the sea, and locals living near Mexico's Popocatepetl continued to deal with ashfalls. Collected below are scenes from the wide variety of volcanic activity on Earth over the past year. [39 photos]"

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Standing and Delivering

Linda Greenhouse wrote a fascinating article Standing and Delivering about the Supreme Court's granting of the Defense of Marriage Act cases. She suspects it has far reaching and unexpected implications.

7 Secret Ways America's Stealth Armada Stays Off the Radar

Danger Room describes 7 Secret Ways America's Stealth Armada Stays Off the Radar. "But in addition to shaping and RAM, the Pentagon's current stealth planes -- the B-2 Spirit bomber, the F-22 Raptor fighter, the RQ-170 Sentinel drone and the in-development F-35 Joint Strike Fighter -- boast other, lesser-known qualities that help them avoid detection. (We left the Army's stealth helicopter out of the discussion owing to a lack of information.)

These other stealth enhancements include: chemicals to eliminate telltale contrails; sophisticated, untraceable sensors and radios; specially designed, hard-to-detect engine inlets; radar-canceling paint; and cooling systems for reducing a plane's heat signature. All of these evasion methods have been disclosed by the Air Force, although sometimes in scant detail."

Everything you need to know about Chained CPI in one post

Everything you need to know about Chained CPI in one post "All told, chained CPI raises average taxes by about 0.19 percent of income. So, taken all together, it’s basically a big (5 percent over 12 years; more, if you take a longer view) across-the-board cut in Social Security benefits paired with a 0.19 percent income surtax. You don’t hear a lot of politicians calling for the drastic slashing of Social Security benefits and an across-the-board tax increase that disproportionately hits low earners. But that’s what they’re sneakily doing when they talk about chained CPI."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Neon Green Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle

Zeitgeist 2012

Google's Zeitgeist 2012 "2012 was a year of big moments, from global games to historical elections and everything in between. With this site, we've analyzed over one trillion queries to showcase what the world searched for."

I predict next year will be topped by searches about Kate Middleton's baby.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tim Cook's Freshman Year: The Apple CEO Speaks

BloombergBusinessweek has a nice interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook, Tim Cook's Freshman Year: The Apple CEO Speaks.

Essential Star Trek Novels That Even Non-Trekkers Should Read

ion listed Essential Star Trek Novels That Even Non-Trekkers Should Read. "For those of you who look down on media tie-in novels — you should know that these tie-in novels have a long and sometimes illustrious history. Here's our article about the large number of great science fiction and fantasy authors who've chosen to write tie-in novels over the years. In any case, here are some truly rewarding Star Trek novels — including quite a few written by Hugo or Nebula winners."

I had only a few Star Trek Novels as a kid but the first two on the list (Spock Must Die and Planet of Judgement) were among them. I haven't read the rest and I'm curious if any of you have and found them good.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Jon Stewart on Mitch McConnell's Self-Filibuster

Amazon To Collect MA Sales Tax Next Fall will begin collecting taxes in Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick says - ", the huge online retailer, will begin collecting Massachusetts sales tax on purchases made by Bay State customers, starting next fall, Governor Deval Patrick’s office said Tuesday."

It will cost, but it's only fair. More fair would be if all online retailers paid sales tax. Though I'm not sure how that should work. Where the products ship to was my first thought but that fails for buying services and is a little odd for gifts. Address of the buyer makes more sense, though I could then see a nice industry of credit cards with addresses that are PO Boxes on Caribbean islands. With online statements the street address registered with a credit card seems vestigial.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Changing Structure of Prices since 1960

Brad DeLong didn't have much to say in this post The Changing Structure of Prices since 1960 but I found the graph interesting:


Rise of the Robots

Krugman on the Rise of the Robots

"Catherine Rampell and Nick Wingfield write about the growing evidence for ‘reshoring’ of manufacturing to the United States. They cite several reasons: rising wages in Asia; lower energy costs here; higher transportation costs. In a followup piece, however, Rampell cites another factor: robots.

Robots mean that labor costs don’t matter much, so you might as well locate in advanced countries with large markets and good infrastructure (which may soon not include us, but that’s another issue). On the other hand, it’s not good news for workers!"

A 3D printer that manufactures new cancer drugs with drag-and-drop DNA

This seems pretty crazy, from ion A 3D printer that manufactures new cancer drugs with drag-and-drop DNA.

"Researchers from Parabon NanoLabs have developed a new drug for combating a lethal brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme. But what makes this particular drug unique is that it was printed — molecule by molecule — using a DNA self-assembly technique. And even more remarkable is that the DNA was custom designed with a drag-and-drop computer program. The breakthrough will not only drastically reduce the time it takes to both create and test medications, it will also open the door to completely novel drug designs."

World's Biggest Tsunamis Threaten Hawaii

The title of this article seems a bit extreme, but this new study is fascinating (and scary). World's Biggest Tsunamis Threaten Hawaii

"It's almost unimaginable: a tsunami more than 1,000 feet (300 meters) high bearing down on the island of Hawaii.

But scientists have new evidence of these monster waves, called megatsunamis, doing just that. The findings were presented here yesterday (Dec. 5) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Unlike tsunamis from earthquakes, the Hawaiian tsunamis strike when the island chain's massive volcanoes collapse in humongous landslides. This happens about every 100,000 years, and is linked to climate change, said Gary McMurtry, a professor at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu."

Into The Vault: The Operation To Rescue Manhattan's Drowned Internet

The Verge had a good story, Into the vault: the operation to rescue Manhattan's drowned internet. Some details and lots of pictures of Verizon's efforts at repairs after Hurricane Sandy.

"Levendos explains to me that before crews could even begin removing water, they needed to repair ground-level fuel pumps to feed backup diesel generators on the upper floors. Two mobile generator trailers were brought in, and they remained in use when I visited, as local power utility Con Ed worked to reconnect the building to the grid. Workers then used trucks to pump dry air through the copper wiring — a job that’s typically handled by air pumps in the basement that were rendered useless by the storm surge. It was too late for the decades-old copper wiring, which was submerged for the better part of two days. After crews sent test signals into the copper, Levendos says he was 'left with the conclusion here that much of what is around me has been destroyed.'

Miles of copper is ruined not only in the cable vault at Broad Street, but also at 20 or so manholes around the area. Even worse, paper insulation in the copper wiring sucks water through the cabling from capillary action, destroying cabling even in dry areas. Levendos says it’s 'far too tedious, time consuming, and not effective of a process to try and put this infrastructure back together,' so Verizon’s taking the opportunity to rewire with fiber optics instead. Service has been restored to FiOS customers for over a week — unlike copper, fiber optics aren’t damaged by the water. As part of this process, crews have already pulled fiber up the major corridors — including Water, Broad, and Pearl Streets — to ultimately connect the fiber network to buildings."

A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy

I finally got to Warren Buffet's op-ed from a couple of weeks ago, A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy. It's very good, particularly the beginning:

"Suppose that an investor you admire and trust comes to you with an investment idea. ‘This is a good one,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘I’m in it, and I think you should be, too.’ Would your reply possibly be this? ‘Well, it all depends on what my tax rate will be on the gain you’re saying we’re going to make. If the taxes are too high, I would rather leave the money in my savings account, earning a quarter of 1 percent.’ Only in Grover Norquist’s imagination does such a response exist."

British have invaded nine out of ten countries - so look out Luxembourg - Telegraph

British have invaded nine out of ten countries - so look out Luxembourg. "Britain has invaded all but 22 countries in the world in its long and colourful history, new research has found."


Trends in U.S. Military Spending

The Council on Foreign Relations posted Trends in U.S. Military Spending "The following charts present historical trends in U.S. military spending and analyze the forces that may drive it lower. These charts draw on data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Both data sets include spending on overseas contingency operations as well as defense. This distinguishes them from data used in the U.S. budget, which separate defense spending from spending on overseas operations."

There are a lot of good charts here, the first one is telling:


This one is perhaps too busy, but it's a summary of three charts that they described previously:

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And some perspective:


Many more on the page.

The single best graph on what’s driving our deficits

The single best graph on what’s driving our deficits

"That’s all of the federal government’s spending in three graphs. The top graph is health care, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. The middle graph is Social Security. And then there’s literally everything else: Defense, education, infrastructure, food safety, R&D, farm subsidies, the FBI, etc.

What these three charts tell you is simple: It’s all about health care. Spending on Social Security is expected to rise, but not particularly quickly. Spending on everything else is actually falling. It’s health care that contains most all of our future deficit problems. And the situation is even worse than it looks on this graph: Private health spending is racing upwards even faster than public health spending, so the problem the federal government is showing in its budget projections is mirrored on the budgets of every family and business that purchases health insurance."

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Earth at Night

This is the APOD: 2012 December 7 - Earth at Night "Explanation: This remarkably complete view of Earth at night is a composite of cloud-free, nighttime images. The images were collected during April and October 2012 by the Suomi-NPP satellite from polar orbit about 824 kilometers (512 miles) above the surface using its Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). VIIRS offers greatly improved resolution and sensitivity compared to past global nightlight detecting instrumentation on DMSP satellites. It also has advantages compared to cameras on the International Space Station. While the space station passes over the same point on Earth every two or three days, Suomi-NPP passes over the same point twice a day at about 1:30am and 1:30pm local time. Easy to recognize here, city lights identify major population centers, tracking the effects of human activity and influence across the globe. That makes nighttime images of our fair planet among the most interesting and important views from space."

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And while I usually find these videos not all that informative, this one is short and pointed out some interesting things in the image that might well have missed…

The History of Film by HistoryShots

The History of Film by HistoryShots "This graphic chronicles the history of feature films from the origins in the 1910s until the present day. More than 2000 of the most important feature-length films are mapped into 20 genres spanning 100 years. Films selected to be included have: won important awards such as the best picture Academy Award; achieved critical acclaim according to recognized film critics; are considered to be key genre films by experts; and/or attained box office success."

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Drone Strikes: Map Shows Pakistan Drone Strikes

Cleaning out the bookmarks, this is from slate in October, Drone Strikes: Map Shows Pakistan Drone StrikesScreen Shot 2012 12 08 at 2 59 37 PM copy

"In June Slate published a map, based on data from the New America Foundation, showing the locations and kill estimates of reported drone strikes in Pakistan, where most of the drone strikes occur. Since that map was published, the media have reported 22 more, for a total of 284. The map above includes these additional strikes."

Friday, December 07, 2012

Jon Stewart and Chris Christie

After Hurricane Sandy hit NJ Governor Chris Christie got a lot of press for saying nice things about Barack Obama and how he helped the relief effort. Jon Stewart did a great bit showing Christie just a week or two before saying Obama is “blindly walking around the White House looking for a clue…he’s like a man wandering around a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership, and he just can’t find it.”

Last night Stewart had Christie on, and to Stewart's credit, he brought it up with Christie. Unfortunately it took until the third (and unaired) segment to get an answer. Here's that third part and it's not a bad conversation, though it still skirts around the tone of politics too much.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The United States (Code) is on Github

The United States (Code) is on Github "When Congress launched in beta, they didn’t open the data. This fall, a trio of open government developers took it upon themselves to do what custodians of the U.S. Code and laws in the Library of Congress could have done years ago: published data and scrapers for legislation in Congress from in the public domain. The data at is published using an ‘unlicense’ and updated nightly. Credit for releasing this data to the public goes to Sunlight Foundation developer Eric Mill, founder Josh Tauberer and New York Times developer Derek Willis."

Mitch McConnell Filibuster's His Own Bill

You can't make this shit up. Debt Ceiling Bluff Called By Harry Reid, Leaving Mitch McConnell To Filibuster Himself "A move to embarrass Democrats backfired on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday as the Kentucky Republican proposed a vote on raising the nation's debt ceiling -- then filibustered it when the Democrats tried to take him up on the offer."

2012: The Year in Photos

From In Focus: "2012 was an eventful year, from big events like the London Summer Olympics and the U.S. presidential race, to regional conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, to smaller issues closer to home. Reverberations from last year's transformative Arab Spring still heavily affect Syria and Egypt; and the slow recovery from the recent global economic crisis brought bitter austerity measures to parts of Europe, leading to widespread protests. Collected here is Part 1 of a three-part photo summary of the last year, covering its first four months. Be sure to see Part 2 and Part 3. The series totals 135 images in all."

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Why the GOP Won't Admit Supply-Side Econ Has Failed

Mark Thoma has an excellent essay, Why the GOP Won't Admit Supply-Side Econ Has Failed. I'll just quote the middle:

"In fact, the Bush tax cuts can be thought of as a loan from the Social Security Trust Fund that was supposed to be paid back with the revenues from higher economic growth, a loan that is presently in default.

To see this, recall that the government began intentionally collecting a surplus from the Social Security program beginning in 1983 in order to prefund the retirement needs of baby boomers. The idea was to run a surplus for several decades while the baby-boomers were still working to get ready for the deficit years the system would experience after they retired.

The revenue from Social Security over and above what was needed to fund payouts reduced the overall government debt and allowed taxes to be lower than they could have been without these surplus funds. For example, the surplus that Bush inherited from the Clinton administration was largely due to the Social Security Trust Fund, and Bush argued it would be better to give this surplus to the private sector through tax cuts than to leave it in the hands of the government.

But it wasn’t better. The income of the wealthy grew as they pocketed the tax cuts, but workers experienced stagnant wages, a recession that hit working class households particularly hard, and intense pressure to cut important social programs."

Green Grow the Grassroots

In Green Grow the Grassroots Krugman points out that Dick Armey getting an $8 million buyout to leave FreedomWorks kinda is at odds with the idea that The Tea Party is a real grass-roots movement.

Three-Card Budget Monte

Krugman nails in Three-Card Budget Monte, I'll just quote the whole thing:

"It goes without saying that the Republican “counteroffer” is basically fake. It calls for $800 billion in revenue from closing loopholes, but doesn’t specify a single loophole to be closed; it calls for huge spending cuts, but aside from raising the Medicare age and cutting the Social Security inflation adjustment — moves worth only around $300 billion — it doesn’t specify how these cuts are to be achieved. So it’s basically the Paul Ryan method: scribble down some numbers and pretend that you’re a budget wonk with a Serious plan.

What I haven’t seen pointed out here is the longer arc of GOP strategy. Does anyone recall how the Bush tax cuts were passed? The 2001 cut was passed based on the claim that the government was running an excessive surplus; the 2003 cut on the claim that it would provide an economic boost. Then the surplus went away, and the economy did not, to say the least, perform very well.

So now we face a substantial long-run deficit largely created by those tax cuts:

And the GOP says that because of that deficit we must raise the Medicare age and cut Social Security!

Oh, and for all the seniors or near-seniors who voted Republican because you thought they would protect Medicare from that bad guy Obama: you’ve been had."

The Full McConnell

Krugman on The Full McConnell.

"In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mitch McConnell finally mentioned a few sort-of specifics about what spending cuts the GOP wants: raising the Medicare age, charging higher premiums to affluent Medicare recipients, and changing the price indexing of Social Security. But how much does all this amount to?"

"So, if we take all of McConnell’s ideas together, we get a bit more than $300 billion. Getting this would, by the way, impose substantial hardship – seniors would be forced into inferior private insurance, and there are good reasons to believe that the true inflation rate facing seniors is actually higher, not lower, than the CPI. Still, what we’re looking at overall is a saving equal to only about one-fifth of what Obama is proposing to raise by higher taxes."

"This is pathetic – and these people are definitely not serious."

Later he reiterates, It’s Health Care Costs, Stupid.

"The point is that if you want to control Medicare costs, you can’t do it by kicking a small number of relatively young seniors off the program; to control costs, you have to, you know, control costs. And the truth is that we know a lot about how to do that — after all, every other advanced country has much lower health costs than we do, and even within the US, the VHA and even Medicaid are much better at controlling costs than Medicare, and even more so relative to private insurance."

"But even as Republicans demand “entitlement reform”, they are dead set against anything like that. Bargaining over drug prices? Horrors! The Independent Payment Advisory Board? Death panels! They refuse to contemplate using approaches that have worked around the world; the only solution they will countenance is the solution that has never worked anywhere, namely, converting Medicare into an underfunded voucher system."

Cliff Notes on the Three Real Perils Ahead

Sometimes Robert Reich goes a little too far for me and sometimes he just nails it. Guess which category this falls into? Cliff Notes on the Three Real Perils Ahead.

The child poverty cliff.

Between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of American school-age children living in poor households grew from 17 to 21%. Last year, according to the Agriculture Department, nearly 1 in 4 young children lived in a family that had difficulty affording sufficient food at some point in the year.

Yet federal programs to help children and lower-income families – food stamps, aid for poor school districts, Pell grants, child health care, child nutrition, pre- and post-natal care, and Medicaid – are being targeted by the Republican right. Over 60 percent of the cuts in the GOP’s most recent budget came out of these programs.

The baby-boomer healthcare cliff.

Healthcare costs are already 18% of GDP. Between now and 2030, when 76 million boomers join the ranks of the elderly, those costs will soar. This is the principal reason why the federal budget deficit is projected to grow.

But we can’t avoid the fact we have the most expensive and least effective system of health care in the world that’s spending 30 percent more on paperwork and administration than on keeping people healthy. The real healthcare cliff can only be avoided if we adopt a single-payer healthcare system.

The environmental cliff.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide jumped 3 percent in 2011 and are expected to jump another 2.6 percent this year according to scientists, putting the human race perilously close to the tipping point when ice caps irretrievably melt, sea-levels rise, and amount of available cropland in the world becomes dangerously small.

Yet Republicans (and their patrons, such as Charles and David Koch) continue to deny climate change. And the Administration is no longer pushing for a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax.

'Necessary,' 'Proper,' and Health Care Reform

'Necessary,' 'Proper,' and Health Care Reform by Andrew Koppelman.

I haven't read this yet, but the abstract looked interesting (to me at least).

"Chief Justice John Roberts argued, in NFIB v. Sebelius, that the Affordable Care Act exceeded Congress’s commerce power. The individual mandate to purchase insurance was not authorized by the Necessary and Proper Clause, he reasoned, because it involved a ‘great substantive and independent power.’ He did not explain how one could tell what constituted such a power. This limitation was worked out in more detail by amici, and Roberts may have been gesturing toward their argument. This essay will look to the antecedents of Roberts’s argument to try to make better sense of what he said. This strategy will fail. There is no way to make this argument look good. It is a placeholder for a raw intuition that the law’s trivial burden on individuals was intolerable, an outrageous invasion of liberty, even when the alternative was a regime in which millions were needlessly denied decent medical care."

The Fiscal Cliff

I caught up on a weeks worth of political feeds. WonkBlog is as usual the best. Here are posts explaining the cliff, negotiations and proposals.

The White House’s fiscal cliff proposal.

Obama to GOP: I’m done negotiating with myself.

"That’s what you’re really seeing in this “proposal.” Previously, Obama’s pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House’s belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn’t, the media would side with them, realizing they’d sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don’t believe that anymore.

Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don’t negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don’t like the White House’s preferred policies, let them propose their own. That way, if the White House eventually does give in and agree to some of their demands, Republicans will feel like they got one over on the president. A compromise isn’t measured by what you offer, it’s measured by what the other side feels they made you concede."

The best idea in American politics: Kill the debt ceiling begins with a good explanation of Obama's opening bid, particularly relating it to the Budget Control Act of 2010.

"That gives the structure of the White House’s proposed deal an evident symmetry: Republicans won in 2010, and they leveraged that win to secure the roughly $1 trillion in cuts in the Budget Control Act. Democrats won in 2012, and they intend to leverage that win to secure the roughly $1 trillion in revenue from the expiration of the high-end Bush tax cuts. After that’s done, the White House is proposing another $600 billion in spending cuts and another $600 billion in tax increases. Add in the $1 trillion or so in expected savings from ending the wars, and you’ve got about $4.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. Add in the savings on expected interest payments and you’re at almost $5 trillion. Subtract the White House’s stimulus request, and you’re somewhere a bit north of $4.5 trillion. That’s their opening bid. "

"But that’s not all: There’s also a proposal to end debt-ceiling crises forevermore. The idea comes from a most unlikely source: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), who proposed in July 2011 to permit the president to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling unless Congress affirmatively voted to stop him. And even if Congress did vote to stop him, the president could veto, and then Congress would need to overturn his veto."

How Obama would cut Medicare spending in a deficit dealHealth cuts copyBoehner’s new counterproposal.

Boehner’s latest tax offer is $150 billion less than he offered in 2011.

"Boehner’s offer from a year ago was meant to be roughly equal to the cost of letting the high-income Bush tax cuts lapse in 2013. But because we measure these things in the “10-year budget window,” the revenue was measured from 2012-2021. Thus, the revenue target Boehner was trying to reach included 2012, which was a year when the tax cuts were expected to be kept in place. So though the offer was for a 10-year plan, he was really offering revenue equal to only nine years of letting the tax cuts lapse. That reduced the total revenue he had to raise. Now, since he has to pay for the expiration of the tax cuts for the full 10 years, a revenue offer equal to the cost of the high-income tax cuts needs to raise about $950 billion, not $800 billion."

Boehner tries to call a mulligan.

"It is not surprising that Boehner wishes he could go back in time and accept the president’s offer from 2011, or fight for the compromise Bowles outlined before the supercommittee. Those are, from his vantage point today, quite good deals. But elections have consequences, and the consequence of this election is that those offers are no longer on the table.

Instead, we are likely to see a slow process of Bowles-style, split-the-difference compromise. Boehner is now at $800 billion in revenues, and the White House is at $1.6 trillion. If the two sides end at $1.2 trillion, that would be about what most in Washington are expecting. Similarly, Boehner is at $900 billion in mandatory spending cuts, and Obama is at $600 billion. if the two sides end at $750 billion, that wouldn’t be such a surprise. "

Today in ‘fiscal cliff’: This is what progress looks like.

"President Obama says it’s “out of balance.” The Heritage Foundation says it’s “preemptive capitulation.” But the reactions on both left and right drive home the fact that House Speaker John Boehner’s proposal to stop the “fiscal cliff” marks some progress in the ongoing negotiations, ending the standoff that’s been casting gloom over Washington over the last few days."

"On spending and entitlements, it’s not entirely clear what Boehner is asking for, aside from a $900 billion target, as simply raising the Medicare age, for instance, wouldn’t save nearly enough money. But the few details that Republican aides offered—notably, on background—have already prompted some signs of movement on the Democratic side. Despite earlier calls by Democrat leadership to take Social Security out of the discussions entirely and leave Medicare and Medicaid largely intact, House Democratic Whip House Steny Hoyer (Md.) told reporters Tuesday morning that Boehner’s proposals to limit the growth of Social Security benefits, raise Medicare premiums for the wealthy, and raise the Medicare eligibility age are a part of the negotiations."

The GOP’s bizarre ‘doomsday plan’.

"Republicans are seriously considering a Doomsday Plan if fiscal cliff talks collapse entirely. It’s quite simple: House Republicans would allow a vote on extending the Bush middle class tax cuts (the bill passed in August by the Senate) and offer the President nothing more: no extension of the debt ceiling, nothing on unemployment, nothing on closing loopholes. Congress would recess for the holidays and the president would face a big battle early in the year over the debt ceiling. Two senior Republican elected officials tell me this doomsday plan is becoming the most likely scenario.

Today, the New York Times adds more detail, including this quote from Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-TX): “There’s always better ground, but you have to get there.” In this case, the “better ground” is exchanging the threat of a congressionally induced recession for the threat of a congressionally induced global financial crisis. That’s better ground?"

"Meanwhile, Republicans will be threatening not just to take us over the fiscal cliff, which will already have happened, but to trigger a financial crisis by breaking through the debt ceiling. And they will be doing all of this after having lost an election. And for what? Because they want deeper Medicare cuts that they refuse to publicly specify? "

Today in ‘Fiscal Cliff’: If the GOP folds on taxes, what would Dems give up in return?.

"Democrats won’t compromise on tax hikes for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. And there are signs that this hard-line strategy may be working: Today, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) became the latest Republican to say that he’d be open to increases in marginal tax rates to raise revenue.

It isn’t the first time that Coburn, a Gang of Six member, has bucked GOP orthodoxy on taxes. But he joins the growing ranks of conservatives who say that it’s not worth the fight on upper-income tax rates, signaling that Republicans may ultimately concede the issue to Democrats.

As that reality has begun to sink in, there’s been a lot more talk about about how Republicans can best position themselves and what they might demand in exchange for increases in tax rates, assuming that they have lost that battle. That raises the question of what Democrats would be willing to concede in return."

There are other plans on the table too:

Bill Clinton’s people brought down the deficit once. Now they’re trying to do it again..

"On Tuesday, CAP unveiled a tax reform plan written by a rogue’s gallery of Clinton vets, including former treasury secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, deputy treasury secretary Roger Altman, White House chief of staff John Podesta, commerce secretary Bill Daley and others. Summers and Daley, as well as report co-author and CAP president Neera Tanden, all held high-ranking posts in the Obama administration.

The $4 trillion deficit-reduction plan the group came up with raises $1.8 trillion in new revenue through tax reform, $1.5 trillion through enforcing existing budget caps, and $485 billion in cuts to Medicare and defense spending. It adds $400 billion in stimulus and infrastructure investments meant to help growth. If implemented, that proposal would get debt-to-GDP down to 72 percent in 2022, or about where it is today. The importance of that measure is highly questionable, but insofar as one wants deficit reduction, the plan accomplishes that goal. The Medicare and defense cuts come from existing CAP plans, but the tax stuff is all new."

11 shocking, true facts about Simpson-Bowles.

"An important fact to keep in mind in the coming days: “The Bowles plan” that Speaker John Boehner endorsed is not the same as “the Simpson-Bowles plan.” Indeed, it’s not even the plan supported by its apparent namesake, Erskine Bowles, who insists that he was simply sketching out the evident middle ground between the members of the supercommittee.

The Simpson-Bowles plan — which Erskine Bowles does actually support — occupies strange territory in Washington: Almost every politician professes to admire it, almost none of them are willing to vote for it, and almost none of its supporters know what’s in it. So here, with an assist from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, are a few facts to keep in mind about the Simpson-Bowles plan. And while you’re reading this list, remember: Simpson-Bowles is a centrist proposal."

Here are the three that really jumped out at me:

"2) There are a lot of tax increases in Simpson-Bowles. $2.6 trillion over 10 years, to be exact. That’s more than President Obama ever proposed. It’s way more than the Republicans have ever proposed. It’s $1.8 trillion more than in the “Bowles plan” that Boehner is proposing. Think about that: To follow the Simpson-Bowles recommendation on taxes, you’d have to take the $800 billion Boehner is proposing and then raise taxes by more than the $1.6 trillion Obama is asking for."

"8) Simpson-Bowles cuts security spending by $1.4 trillion, not including drawing down the wars. That’s far deeper than what’s in the law now, far deeper than anything the White House or the Republicans have proposed, and deeper, I believe, than the sequester cuts that so many think would devastate the military."

"9) The Social Security changes. Simpson-Bowles makes three main changes to Social Security. It increases the taxable maximum on income to 90 percent of all income, which raises $238 billion over the next decade. It uses a different measure of inflation to slow cost-of-living adjustments. It raises the retirement age to 68 in 2050 and 69 in 2075"

A few things to keep in mind when you hear all these plans.

I think Ezra Klein is the only journalist that writes (and interestingly) about budget baselines, but that's exactly what he does in The GOP’s hidden budget advantageRaising Medicare’s age: Saves feds $5.7 billion, costs you $11.4 billion.

" If the Medicare age were raised, the thinking has gone, the 3.3 million 65- and 66-year-olds would still be guaranteed access to health coverage through the tax subsidies. The lowest-income seniors — those earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty line – would qualify for Medicaid.

That’s the upside. Health care economists see a number of downsides, too. For one thing, Medicare tends to be a pretty efficient program. Its costs have grown slower than private health insurance plans. The Center for Budget Priorities and Policy estimates that, while the federal government would save $5.7 billion, the rest of the health care system would end up spending $11.4 billion more to provide those same benefits."

NewImageThe reality of tax reform: Less charity, smaller homes, higher state taxes. "The term ”base-broadening, rate-lowering tax reform” has the advantage of vagueness: No one knows what it means. But the practical definition, at least the one that’s emerging in the ongoing “fiscal cliff” negotiations, is tax reform that limits itemized deductions among high-income taxpayers. And as former OMB director Peter Orszag points out, 90 percent of the value of those deductions comes from just three categories: “taxes paid (mostly state and local taxes), home-mortgage interest and charitable contributions.” So when we say “base-broading, rate-lowering tax reform,” here’s what we’re really saying: Tax reform that’s paid for by cutting tax breaks for charities, homes, and state and local taxes."

IMF: Budget cuts hurt growth a lot. But tax increases barely matter..

"A new study (pdf) by the International Monetary Fund raises a further warning flag for fiscal cliff negotiators in the U.S. In what it bills as the first-ever study of its kind, the fund analyzed decades of data on the world’s major industrialized countries to estimate how changes in government spending or revenue affect economic output."

"Given current circumstances, with a U.S. economy that is growing but still trying to make up lost ground from the 2008 crisis, a one dollar change in government spending could knock as much as $1.80 in output from the economy – what fund researchers called a “statistically significant…and sizeable” outcome.

One brighter spot that could also influence negotiators: the growth impact of a tax hike is estimated to be negligible. The list of measures that automatically become law absent an agreement include both spending reductions and tax increases. While the spending cuts would comprise a heavy drag on growth, the fund paper suggests that a one percent rise in tax revenue would knock just 0.1 percent from gross domestic product."

“Person of the Year” Nomination for Higgs Boson Riddled with Errors

Scientific American points out, Time's “Person of the Year” Nomination for Higgs Boson Riddled with Errors "Under ordinary circumstances, we would be all for the elevation of the Higgs to ‘Person of the Year’ status, if only to further honor the heroic efforts of thousands of scientists and engineers who made the discovery possible (more on that below). But Time’s nomination threatens to do more harm than good. Every single sentence in Time’s nomination contains at least one serious error. The magazine scores a perfect five for five."

Skynet Countdown

Lots of story lately about drones.

iRobot Founder Now Building Tiny Hovering Drone Spies.

The first is Ease, or “Extreme Access System for Entry.” Really, it’s a tiny hover-bot designed for “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.” And it’s small enough — it only has a 1-foot diameter and a height of 16 inches from top to bottom – to fly through windows and maneuver through buildings with its ducted fan engine. In a video released by the company, the Ease can be seen hovering through an abandoned-looking building to a psychedelic funk soundtrack. It can also theoretically stay in the air forever.

The reason is that instead of communicating wirelessly, the drone receives instructions and power through a microfilament cord of spooled copper the width of a fishing line and connected to the robot’s ground control station. And because it’s plugged in directly, the Ease drone should be harder to hack than other drones.

The other new drone is the Parc, or “Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications.” Like Ease, it also hovers. But the Parc is designed to fly high and for long periods of time, and resembles a flying bug with four skinny legs and a quadrotor. The robot can hover at 1,000 feet while being powered — like the Ease — by a microfilament line.

Navy Preps Killer Drone for First Carrier Launch

"In a parallel series of tests this week, the sailing branch has taken huge steps towards deploying the first carrier-based robotic warplane. The biggest milestone will be the X-47B’s first at-sea takeoff, slated for sometime next year. In the meantime, the Navy and drone-builder Northrop Grumman are practicing steering the pilotless warplane around a carrier deck and launching it using a steam-powered catapult — standard equipment on all 10 of the Navy’s full-size flattops."

Black Hawk flies, lands and avoids threats - all without pilots at the helm .

"A specially equipped Black Hawk was recently used to demonstrate the helicopter's ability to operate on its own. In the first such test of its type, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research's Development and Engineering Center, based at Redstone Arsenal, flew the Black Hawk over Diablo Mountain Range in San Jose, Calif. Pilots were aboard the aircraft for the tests, but all flight maneuvers were conducted autonomously: obstacle field navigation, safe landing area determination, terrain sensing, statistical processing, risk assessment, threat avoidance, trajectory generation and autonomous flight control were performed in real‐time."

And hey, it looks like Skynet might soon be able to print it's own weapons…3-D Printed Gun Only Lasts 6 Shots. "A group of 3-D printing gunsmiths have taken another step toward making a gun you can download off the internet. This weekend, the desktop weaponeers took a partially printed rifle out to test how long its plastic parts survived spewing bullets. The result? Six rounds until it snapped apart."

And it's not just the US…Watch the First Flight of Europe’s Killer Drone Prototype

"The video above shows the first flight of the nEUROn, a drone with a 41-foot wingspan and an empty weight of five tons, which on Saturday launched from France’s Istres air base. The takeoff of the stealthy, batwing-shaped drone, jointly developed by six European countries, was nearly a decade in the making, and tests will continue in France, Sweden and Italy for years to come."

China Unveils New Killer Drones, Aims Them at Russia.

"This year, Beijing’s most prominent new drone is the dinosaur-named Wing Loong, or Pterodactyl, according to a round-up at Defense News. The drone is reportedly operational — China has previously shown only models of the drone — and closely resembles the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper, which the Pentagon uses to bomb insurgent hideouts in Pakistan. Few foreign journalists were reportedly allowed to see it, but photos and videos that appeared online prompted ace aviation journalist David Cenciotti to remark that the Wing Loong appeared “largely copied from the U.S. version.”

But a lot cheaper. The Wing Loong reportedly comes at a rather incredible bargain price of $1 million, compared to the Reaper’s varying price tags in the $30 million range. Now, a word of caution to potential buyers: What you’re getting for that price might not be very capable. But aside from price, the Wing Loong can also reportedly fly for about 20 hours, up to a range of 2,500 miles. It also packs four “hard points” for mounting a variety of laser- and precision-guided bombs."

Daily Show on Senate Not Ratifying UN Treaty on Disabled

The Sports Tax That Everyone Pays

Kevin Drum on The Sports Tax That Everyone Pays "The average household already spends about $90 a month for cable or satellite TV, and nearly half of that amount pays for the sports channels packaged into most services."

"Consumers should always assume that they're being ripped off if prices are hidden in some way. In the same way that hidden bank fees are generally good for banks but not so good for the rest of us, the current cable TV system is great for sports providers because it dulls the edge of market discipline, but not so good for the rest of us. The end result of a la carte programming would be more competition between sports providers, which would force them to offer better products, and it would also (probably) result in less money flowing into pro and college sports, which would be an almost unalloyed good. And people like my mother wouldn't be forced to pay $400 per year for programming they have no interest in, merely as the entry fee for having cable TV at all. It's time for a revolt, people."

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Why don't we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them?

I'm amazed that NOAA has a posting, TCFAQ C5c) Why don't we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking "During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms. Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems. Needless to say, this is not a good idea."

They then go into more details.

Fiscal Cliff Fictions: Let’s All Agree to Pretend the GOP Isn’t Full of It

Michael Grunwald has a nice editorial in Time, Fiscal Cliff Fictions: Let’s All Agree to Pretend the GOP Isn’t Full of It. "It’s really amazing to see political reporters dutifully passing along Republican complaints that President Obama’s opening offer in the fiscal cliff talks is just a recycled version of his old plan, when those same reporters spent the last year dutifully passing along Republican complaints that Obama had no plan. It’s even more amazing to see them pass along Republican outrage that Obama isn’t cutting Medicare enough, in the same matter-of-fact tone they used during the campaign to pass along Republican outrage that Obama was cutting Medicare.

This isn’t just cognitive dissonance. It’s irresponsible reporting. Mainstream media outlets don’t want to look partisan, so they ignore the BS hidden in plain sight, the hypocrisy and dishonesty that defines the modern Republican Party. I’m old enough to remember when Republicans insisted that anyone who said they wanted to cut Medicare was a demagogue, because I’m more than three weeks old."

Out of Eden - One Man, Seven Years, 22,000 Miles

Looking through the Harvard calendar I stumbled on this. "In January 2013, journalist Paul Salopek will start walking out of Africa, following the pathways of the first human migration about 60,000 years ago. Toting a small laptop and a satellite phone in his rucksack, Salopek will report on the major issues of our day – poverty, conflict, climate change, local innovations – from the ground level, living among the people he will cover from Ethiopia to Patagonia."

He's giving a talk tomorrow night, Dec 6th at 7pm. It's being live streamed here.

"After researching the project while on a visiting Nieman Fellowship last spring, Salopek returns to Harvard to talk about the why and the how of this ambitious undertaking and to share how the best of old and new media are merging in this experiment in slow journalism. A worldwide audience is invited to follow the talk — and then “walk along” — via the hashtag #outofedenwalk and on the project website, which will go live Dec. 6."

Dave Brubeck, Jazz Musician, Dies at 91

Been listening to his music all afternoon. Here's the NY Times obit, Dave Brubeck, Jazz Musician, Dies at 91.

Mr. Burns Explains the Fiscal Cliff

Monday, December 03, 2012

National Geographic Photo Contest 2012: Part II

The Big Picture takes it's crack at the National Geographic Photo Contest 2012: Part II. I posted the In Focus version last week. Stop what you're doing and go look at these photos.

"The National Geographic Photo Contest for 2012 ends today, November 30, but for procrastinators that thrive on deadlines, there’s still time to enter! The contest officially closes at 11:59:00 p.m. US Eastern Time. This post features another small sampling of the entrants. (We featured another selection in an October Big Picture post.) View galleries of the thousands of entrants, from which an overall winner and winners in each category of People, Places, Nature will be chosen."

Bp27 copy

How the Tax Burden Has Changes

Nice Infographic from the NY Times, How the Tax Burden Has Changed. "Most Americans paid less in taxes in 2010 than people with the same inflation-adjusted incomes paid in 1980, because of cuts in federal income taxes. At lower income levels, however, much of the savings was offset by increases in federal payroll taxes, state sales taxes and local property taxes. About half of households making less than $25,000 saved nothing at all. "