Thursday, November 11, 2010

Obama to GOP governors: No train, no federal funds

Obama to GOP governors: No train, no federal funds: "Excellent. While there may be valid criticism of a 79 mph train in this day and age, the idea of a train in Ohio still makes sense. As someone who lived in the Buckeye state and who has used the Amtrak trains in the northeast plus the European rail system, I'm a big supporter of using trains. It's amusing to see the Republicans have the nerve to still ask for the money even though they do little besides complain about federal spending.
The Obama administration has a message for Republican governors who campaigned against the president's high-speed rail program: Build the trains or give back the money.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday rejected a request from Gov.-elect John Kasich in Ohio to use the $400 million in federal funds pledged to that state's train project on other projects like road construction or freight lines.

'I would like high-speed rail to be part of Ohio's future,' LaHood wrote. But if the state won't go forward, it's necessary 'to wind down Ohio's involvement in the project so that we do not waste taxpayers' money,' he said.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Simple Look at Income Inequality -- MoJo

"If you look at the raw CBO figures, they show that a full tenth of the national income has shifted since 1979 to the top 1% of the country. The bottom quintiles have each given up a bit more than two percentage points each, and that adds up to 10% of all earnings. That 10% has flowed almost entirely to very tippy top of the income ladder."
The CBO data is only as recent as 2007, but the trend is clear. Every since the Reagan Era, and except for periods of recession, the bust of the tech bubble, and the recession that followed it and the fall of The Twin Towers, the top 1% of earners has taken the money and run. Ever since  labor lost big in the strike of the air traffic controllers, the middle and lower classes have been losing ground while the ultra-rich have prospered beyond the dreams of Midas himself. Only the top 5-to-1% have managed to improve their income situation over the same period, and not nearly as well as the top 1%. 

And yet the conservatives want to continue this trend, indeed, they demand it, not realizing it is the single most important factor contributing to the deficit, poverty, the decay of our schools and infrastructure, and the dissolution of the middle class.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Concerned in New York -- the State

Like many of my peers in the state of New York, I voted in a primary yesterday (I know, it wasn't that big a group of my peers, but there were still surprisingly many of us). This was the first time we voted on the new optical-reader voting machines. These are the ones the state finally accepted after blocking the originally planned touch-screen machines which had no paper-trail whatsoever. So now we have a physical paper ballot that is scanned and tallied by a computer. No big deal, right? At least there is a paper-trail, right?

Here's the thing: I signed the registry book, then was handed a paper ballot with a couple of electoral races printed on it. I could either fill in a circle with one of the special markers available, or write in a name if I didn't like the pre-printed choices. All well and good so far. Bear in mind that these ballots are, of necessity, anonymous. Hence there is no way of verifying later how I myself voted should anyone want to. And why would anyone want to? Let me explain.

After I fed the marked up ballot into the machine, the reader checked to see if it could discern my choices, and since it could, it accepted the ballot and indicated on a small LCD screen that my votes were accepted. Thank you very much. Now, move along citizen, nothing more to see here. Well, what did I expect? The reader accepted my ballot, job done, what's your problem? Here it is:

I did not get a receipt nor any sign whatsoever that the reader recorded my votes the way I had cast them! Nor could anyone, from this point on, determine if my vote was counted properly except in the event of a manual recount! But suppose there was no official reason for a recount? If there was no result too close to call nor within the 1% difference that would trigger an automatic recount, there would be no need to verify the optical-reader's resulting counts. And unless this is done, at least on a suitable number of randomly chosen and purposely unexpected (to avoid a potential fraud perpetrator from simply avoiding mucking around with those particular) machines, there would be no way of knowing if someone had "hacked" any machines, thereby rigging an election.

Since exit polls are no longer considered "valid indicators" of election fraud*, how would we know that any election was not electronically rigged? Even computer experts cannot know, because the companies that make the electronic voting machines (most of which have Conservative CEO's and a few of which have already been shown to have little regard for the sanctity and need for accuracy of elections in a democratic nation) refuse to allow the experts to review their source code on the grounds that such code needs to be secret to protect said companies' intellectual property or, ironically, for the sake of security.

 Now, I'm not saying that I suspect fraud in any of the New York primaries this year. I think that the optical readers, with their paper ballot audit trail, are a much better solution to the electronic voting "problem" than any machine that has no paper trail at all. I still see a potential for election fraud in these systems, however, due to the lack of validation of the electronic votes themselves. Only in the event of a manual recount would we know for sure whether the electronic ballot totals were consistent with the physical ballot totals, and manual recounts are both rare and usually only performed if the election results were deemed too close for certainty.

So that's my issue with the optical scanning machines. They seem to be incorruptible, their paper ballots instilling a false sense of security, but they most definitely are not. States that use machines that have no paper-trail are even more susceptible to fraud.

 What could we do to make voting more secure and verifiable? We already have systems that are in use every day that are both secure and verifiable. They are called ATM's. For that matter, electronic gambling machines -- the so-called video slot machines -- are more secure and verified than any of the current electronic voting machines available. Even internet transactions can be more transparent and secure than the current generation of EVM's. Any of these technologies, properly designed and applied, would be a vast improvement of the current crop of EVM's as we know them.

I personally think that  voting in America should be convenient, secure, accurate, and verified. Hell! I think it should be required by law of all citizens as it is in some countries that put a higher value on the democratic process than on, well, money or even sports.  Instead, ever since Election Day was allowed to be a "floating" holiday, convenience of voting has decreased. I think that we should be able to vote from our cell phones or from our computers or even home phones using secure transaction technology that we already know and trust when using online banking. Such systems are extremely difficult to hack, and, should they be so hacked, are quick to be corrected due to the application of  stringent auditing techniques.

We as a nation need to be vigilant and demanding of our most precious rights and freedoms, especially concerning the requirements of a functioning democracy. Electronic voting machines, as they are currently designed and implemented, are a threat to the foundations of the democratic process. We must demand transparency and verifiability in our voting methods, or we will be open to corruption of the electoral process upon which we depend.

*See federal vs. state elections in Ohio in 2004, where exit polls agreed with "actual" results on all local elections but wildly disagreed with most of the federal results. Some polling districts reported thousands more total votes than there were registered voters.  Also see federal elections in Florida in 2000 Remember how some media outlets originally called that election for Gore? That's because the exit polls in Florida showed Gore winning by a significant margin at that point in time. We can only wonder what the state's results might have been if the major broadcasters hadn't made such an announcement before the western part of the state, which was in a different time zone, had closed their polls. There would not have been time for the Republicans to pull out all the stops in the panhandle and swing an (artificially close?) election for their candidate. Even so, it's another question of what might have been if Gore had simply invoked his Constitutional right to request an official recount of the entire state of Florida rather than his at first tentative request for recounts of only certain districts where it was thought that he would most likely gain votes in a recount.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Immigrants good, CEOs bad: two new reports confound conventional wisdom

Immigrants good, CEOs bad: two new reports confound conventional wisdom: " Two new reports combine to present a picture of how our economy works sharply at odds with the rightwing narrative of blaming immigrants and praising the rich as "creators of wealth" who need hefty tax cuts in order to continue "creating wealth" for the rest of us. It should come as little surprise to progressives that this last claim is pure bunk, that CEOs are rewarded for cutting jobs, not creating them. But the news about immigrants may surprise even those who read Open Left regularly. (More below.)

Immigrants expand the productive capacity of the economy, according to a new report from the San Francisco Federal Reserve, based on analysis of state-level data.

Meanwhile, the 17th annual executive compensation survey from the Institute for Policy Studies 'CEO Pay and the Great Recession,' shows that CEOs of the 50 firms that have laid off the most workers since the onset of the economic crisis took home 42 percent more pay in 2009 than their peers at S&P 500 firms.

From the IPS press release:

'Our findings illustrate the great unfairness of the Great Recession,' says Sarah Anderson, lead author on the Institute study. 'CEOs are squeezing workers to boost short-term profits and fatten their own paychecks.'


In contrast, it turns out that immigrants serve as a medium- and long-term stimulus to the economy:

The Effect of Immigrants on U.S. Employment and Productivity

By Giovanni Peri

The effects of immigration on the total output and income of the U.S. economy can be studied by comparing output per worker and employment in states that have had large immigrant inflows with data from states that have few new foreign-born workers. Statistical analysis of state-level data shows that immigrants expand the economy's productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization. This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker. At the same time, evidence is scant that immigrants diminish the employment opportunities of U.S.-born workers.

Switching gears back to the IPS report, the figures show that although over-all CEO pay is down slightly from pre-crash highs, the compensation level remains far higher than in previous decades:

And yet, the Right continues to rave on about illegal immigrants being the problem and CEOs the saviours! Talk about a non-reality-based belief system! We are truly in the world portrayed in Orwell's 1984 when so many citizens are convinced that their corporate overlords are beneficent and that their brothers and sisters in poverty are the enemy.

Progressive Breakfast: Yes, They Want To Kill Social Security

Not Even Hiding It Anymore.

New Alaska Senate nominee Joe Miller tells CNN he wants to end Social Security. 'CNN's JOHN KING: How about an American born tomorrow or born the day after Joe Miller was sworn in in Washington? Would that person perhaps grow up in an America where there is not a federal Social Security program if you got your way? JOE MILLER: Absolutely.'

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Will Perpetrators of Financial Crimes Ever Face Justice?

Will Perpetrators of Financial Crimes Ever Face Justice?: "

Some will rob you with a six gun and some with a fountain pen - Woodie Guthrie

Like mushrooms popping up in a damp basement, a slew of court settlements have been registered recently involving the big banks and their role in the financial crisis. An informal review of settlements over the last two years reveals about 16 multi-million dollar payouts from the big banks amounting to some $1.6 billion in fines and restitution and $13 billion in buybacks of auction-rate securities that were represented to be as safe as cash.


Incompetence and Indifference Allows Elites to Avoid Accountability

In these cases there is no jury. The judge acts as a stand-in for the public interest. While we can hope that judges are getting tougher on these settlements, the whole process lets the people who committed the crimes avoid the public rage and personal accountability that helps to deter future crimes.

Recently, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan sharply questioned one settlement with Barclays Bank telling government lawyers that the public might see the settlement as a 'free ride' and noted that 'requiring banking officials to stand before federal judges and enter pleas of guilty might be a powerful deterrent to this type of conduct.'

But now, two years after Wall Street's fraudulent and reckless behavior collapsed the economy, costing average Americans trillions in lost wages, savings and housing wealth and throwing eight million people out of work and some six million families out of their homes, not one Wall Street banker or predatory lender is behind bars.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New planetary system discovered

New planetary system discovered: "Astronomers have discovered an Earth and Neptune like planetary system that orbits a star that is similar to our own Sun."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Robert Lanza, M.D.: What Happens When You Die? Evidence Suggests Time Simply Reboots

Robert Lanza, M.D.: What Happens When You Die? Evidence Suggests Time Simply Reboots

I've never been able to put into words what Dr. Lanza does so eloquently here. Can't wait to get the book. What a wonderful way of thinking about life and death and the universe(s).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Vandals hit at least five Dem offices nationwide, threaten to ‘assassinate’ children of pro-reform lawmakers.

Vandals hit at least five Dem offices nationwide, threaten to ‘assassinate’ children of pro-reform lawmakers.: "

Yesterday, ThinkProgress reported that several Democratic offices around the nation had been vandalized in the days surrounding the House health care vote. Vandals have struck the Tuscon office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), the Monroe County Democratic Committee headquarters in upstate New York, Rep. Louise Slaughter’s (D-NY) Niagara Falls office, the Knox County Democratic headquarters in Ohio, and the Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters in Wichita, KS. The local Rochester ABC affiliate now has more information on the upstate NY vandalism, including an assassination threat against the children of lawmakers who voted for health reform:

No one was inside when the brick was hurled through the Democratic Patry Headquarters on University Avenue. Attached was a note quoting conservative Barry Goldwater: “Exremism [sic] in defense of liberty is no vice”. [...]

[Rep. Louise] Slaughter has been at the center of the push for reform. Last Thursday she received a chilling recorded message at her campaign office. “Assassinate is the word they used…toward the children of lawmakers who voted yes.”

The FBI is now investigating.

Pictures of the note attached to the brick thrown at the Monroe County Democratic Committee headquarters:

Mike Vanderboegh of Sipsey Street Irregulars is taking credit for inspiring the vandalism, saying that he’s urging people to break Democratic offices’ windows. He insists that he’s not advocating violence. (HT: BruinKid)


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Introduction to Extra Dimensions. (arXiv:1003.1698v1 [hep-ph])

Introduction to Extra Dimensions. (arXiv:1003.1698v1 [hep-ph]): "

Extra dimensions provide a very useful tool in addressing a number of the
fundamental problems faced by the Standard Model. The following provides a very
basic introduction to this very broad subject area as given at the VIII School
of the Gravitational and Mathematical Physics Division of the Mexican Physical
Society in December 2009. Some prospects for extra dimensional searches at the
7 TeV LHC with $\sim$1 $fb^{-1}$ of integrated luminosity are provided.


With thanks to Sabine Hossenfelder, my favorite physicist (and blogger).

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Michael Tomasky talks about the Rahm bomb and "wisdom" in Washington

Michael Tomasky: The Rahm bomb: "

An astonishing piece of political journalism appeared in Tuesday's Washington Post. Not astonishing for the scoop or hard work it evinced, although the reporter, Jason Horowitz, is a very good one. Astonishing for how it may have gotten into the paper in the first place. For what it says about the feuds within the Obama administration. And most of all for what it tells us about how wisdom is defined in this town.


So I can't say that Emanuel planted it. But like the Milbank column, it has little scoops that seem to come either from Emanuel or people in his corner.
The gist of the piece: Emanuel understands Washington, and the rest of the White House people, including Obama himself, do not. Rahm knew how to deal with Congress. Rahm understood that trying to close Gitmo was lightning in a bottle.

He saw that giving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a civilian trial would unleash political fury. He wanted a smaller and more passable health bill and urged the ditching of the public option. And – this one is new, as far as I know – he happily chipped the stimulus down by $100 million at Olympia Snowe's insistence.

So here's the real import of all of this. The implicit message of this piece, from the headline on down, is that these Emanuel positions represent reason, common sense, wise judgment. Axelrod and the others are a bunch of lightweight dreamers.

Well, maybe. As I said when I discussed the Milbank piece, I do think that presidents need to surround themselves with people who aren't intensely personally loyal and who can exercise independent judgment.

And yet: you can call trying to close Gitmo and pass a major healthcare overhaul dreaming. But you can also call them fulfilling campaign promises. Trying to keep campaign promises isn't really a bad thing. Isn't it one of the constant complaints about politicians that they promise things and never deliver. Furthermore, substantively, most economists agreed that the stimulus was too small. So why was making it even smaller the better part of wisdom?


Obama needs an Emanuel-like figure around him. And he needs operate within political limits, at times. But at other times, he needs to do the right thing and not worry about what Lindsey Graham is going to say. Leaks like those in this article establish a narrative in which the right thing is by definition the naïve thing. That may be good for a certain category of Washington conventional-wisdom arbiter, but it isn't good for the country.

(emphasis mine)


Monday, March 01, 2010

Maybe we should call them "brown fuels"

Green fuels cause more harm than fossil fuels, according to report: "Using fossil fuel in vehicles is better for the environment than so-called green fuels made from crops, according to a government study seen by The Times."

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Extra Bonus Quote of the Day: "'If you think it's a socialist plot, then please drop out of the federal employees health program.'

-- Sen.Richard Durbin (D-IL), to Republican lawmakers at today's health care reform summit."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Message: we fixed it

Message: we fixed it: "

THE Obama administration has been pushing the following image out across the internet:

It's a brilliant image for them for a couple of reasons. It reminds voters of who was in charge when things fell apart. It shows a clear trend break around the time Mr Obama took office, implying that the new administration got things turned around immediately. And it uses the upward trend to mask the fact that these are still monthly job losses, November excepted. It's hard to argue with the strategy. Among the criticisms the administration has been hearing from strategists on the left is that Ronald Reagan survived a deep recession in his first term because he had a compelling narrative detailing who was to blame for the downturn and why. Mr Obama, they complain, has allowed himself to be saddled with the responsibility of much of the downturn's persistence. This is somewhat overstated; polls still show that most voters hold the Bush adminstration primarily responsibile for the recession.

But this is all positioning around the fringes of the broader political gyre that is the jobless recovery. One month of job creation in twelve is not good enough. Another year with employment above 9% will severely test the popularity of the president, which has so far proven surprisingly resilient. In the end, it's not about charts but about jobs, and the administration is finding it much tougher to create the latter than the former.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Can I retire to Canada? The EU?

Op-Ed Columnist - The Tea Party Teens -

This is the scary and dangerous result of the Rupert Murdoch-style propaganda-driven right-wing sensationalism that has taken over the majority of mainstream media outlets. Mega-corporations have taken over and then packaged the systematic destruction of democracy as "government" to be castigated and distrusted. A government "of the people, by the people and for the people" has become a scapegoat for all the failures of capitalist greed run riot.


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