Monday, July 23, 2012


All of sudden I'm seeing articles and videos about thorium, a radioactive metal once considered for nuclear power plants but rejected in favor of uranium. This article from Popular Mechanics actually has the best executive summary. A snippet, with my highlights:
Three to four times more plentiful than uranium, today's most common nuclear fuel, thorium packs a serious energetic punch: A single ton of it can generate as much energy as 200 tons of uranium, according to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carlo Rubbia. In the mid-twentieth century, some U.S. physicists considered building the nuclear power landscape around thorium. But uranium-fueled reactors produced plutonium as a byproduct, a necessary ingredient for nuclear weapons production, and uranium ended up dominating through the Cold War and beyond. 

In a traditional light water reactor, uranium-235 interacts with uranium-238 to produce plutonium-239 as a byproduct—a radioactive isotope that can be used for weapons. But when thorium is used instead of uranium-238 as a fertile material to kickstart nuclear fission, the thorium eventually "becomes uranium-233, which fissions almost instantaneously in the reactor, generating other isotopes that make power," Grae says. That means usable weapons-grade nuclear material is not produced, which would theoretically eliminate some security issues now associated with nuclear plants. Grae also claims thorium-powered light water reactors produce a much smaller volume of waste products that decay to relatively safe levels in just six to seven hundred years.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aurora, Colorado

Roger Ebert in today's NY Times:
Immediately after a shooting last month in the food court of the Eaton Centre mall in Toronto, a young woman named Jessica Ghawi posted a blog entry. Three minutes before a gunman opened fire, she had been seated at the exact place he fired from.

“I was shown how fragile life was,” she wrote. “I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.”

This same woman was one of the fatalities at the midnight screening in Aurora. The circle of madness is closing.
I've given up on gun control. There are valid arguments against gun control, but the loony bin is overflowing. This is partly the fault of gun control advocates, who think there's no valid reason to want a gun, so don't understand why anyone would resist gun control. It's certainly the fault of the American Rifle Association, which created and encourages the stereotype of the gun owner as a paranoid fetishist.

It's not going to be resolved in my lifetime.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thanks, Senator McCain

Wow! Somebody in the GOP is finally standing up to the nut cases.

There is still a large group of Americans who think Joseph McCarthy was a patriot. 

Why Won't Romney Release His Tax Returns?

The contemplation of Romney's refusal to release tax returns left out an obvious and likely possibility:

In one or more years he paid no taxes at all, or ridiculously low taxes, on significant income. We'll call that one the Leona Helmsley Defense.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Romney and the Middle Class

The Tax Policy Center has released it's analysis of Romney's tax plans and Ezra Klein at the Washington Post created a little chart to compare Romney's vision to Obama's:

The numbers along the bottom are the income quintiles: lowest 0-20 percent, etc. The last two bars represent the effect on the top 1 percent and the top .1 percent. You're going to have to click on the chart to make it bigger in order to read it. Among the many jaw-dropping aspects of Romney's plan, please notice that taxes on the lowest 20 percent will increase.

Mike Lux at Crooks and Liars:
As someone in Romney’s opposing camp, I am enjoying the spectacle [of the increasing call for Romney's tax records]. But this whole mess with Romney and his financial secrets reminds us again of a bigger, deeper truth: the rich - at least people who got rich the way Romney did - really are different than you and I. The story of how Mitt Romney got so wealthy, and then how he hid all that wealth and avoided taxes on it, is also the story of the modern decline of America’s middle class.
Right around the time Mitt Romney went into business in the early ‘80s was the moment when, aided directly by Reagan administration policies and the kind of corporate sharks Romney became, the middle class in this country began to decline in size, strength and prosperity. Mitt Romney and his fellow Wall Street sharks became so stunningly wealthy precisely because most of the rest of us got poorer. The working and middle class in this country got laid off, down-sized, out-sourced; their wages went down or flat, their out-of-pocket health care costs went up, and their pensions disappeared; the price of energy and groceries and other necessities went way up; and when the bubble caused by the out of control speculation of Wall Street burst, their one remaining asset - their homes - lost much of its value.
Meanwhile, the guys like Romney who were doing the out-sourcing, lay-offing, wage and benefit-slashing, and financial speculating got filthy rich, and then because of our unprogressive tax laws and because they used Cayman Island and Swiss bank accounts to hide their money, they paid a smaller share of their taxes than those hard-pressed folks in the middle class. [Bolding and paragraph structure courtesy of me.]
Back in January, Romney gave a different view of things:
According to Mitt Romney, the nation's growing focus on income inequality is all about envy.
"You know, I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare," the leading Republican presidential candidate said Wednesday on The Today Show.

Obama on the Right Track

Two good current ads from the Obama campaign:

For days we've been reading that the Bain attacks are working, so it's no wonder that, despite Romney's demand for an apology (which would apparently remove forever the possibility of Obama being called a "great" president), the Obama campaign is not backing down. I was worried when I saw Krugman's VSPs (Very Serious People) again missing the forest for the trees.

Paul Krugman:
A lot of people inside the Beltway are tut-tutting about the recent campaign focus on Mitt Romney’s personal history — his record of profiting even as workers suffered, his mysterious was-he-or-wasn’t-he role at Bain Capital after 1999, his equally mysterious refusal to release any tax returns from before 2010. Some of the tut-tutters are upset at any suggestion that this election is about the rich versus the rest. Others decry the personalization: why can’t we just discuss policy?

And neither group is living in the real world.
About those tax returns:

And I especially liked this one:

Why is Romney refusing to release more than his most recent tax returns? I've come up with four possible explanations, though I expect there are more.
He's hiding something that would be very bad for his campaign. The most obvious explanation, though even Krugman couches it with an adverb: "[Romney is] evidently afraid to let voters see his tax returns." Let's call it the Willie Sutton defense.

He's hiding something that would be injurious to himself in the business world, by either tipping his hand on investments or showing himself to be duplicitous to his partners or others: the Unregulated Business defense. Since Romney has already released his 2010 tax returns, the "tipping his hand" part seems unlikely.

He strongly believes his personal privacy is very important, and should not be compromised in order to run for political office. Let's call this one the Candide defense.

There's nothing there. He's just waiting for the attacks to peak, then he'll release his tax returns to show that his detractors are just a bunch of fruit cakes. The Obama's Birth Certificate defense.
If the reason he's reluctant to release the tax returns is related to the Candide or Obama's Birth Certificate defense, we should expect them to be released fairly soon. He's taking a beating.

If the reason he's holding back is either the Willie Sutton or Unregulated Business defense, we'll probably never see them.

Can you think of another reason he won't release his tax returns? Let me know if you can, but be sure to give the defense a name.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Some Good Zingers

Although the Tea Party crowd claims the Founding Fathers as their political ancestors, their sense of American History is based on fantasy.

Benjamin Franklin:
"All the property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it. "
James Madison:
"There is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by … corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses."
Thomas Jefferson:
"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." 
Hat tip to Hullabaloo and Andrew Tobias.

Tobias then quotes a reader, Mike Martin:
The Republicans trumpet their anti-tax message cloaked in ‘Tea Party’ garb as if the Boston Tea Party was a tax protest. Read the history: the British government had just LOWERED the tax on tea when the protest occurred. The issue was not the tax requirement, it was that only licensed tea merchants could sell tea, which undercut both John Hancock’s commercial empire and the widespread smuggling of tea. But perhaps more importantly, after the American Revolution they formed a government without a strong power to tax. After the Shay anti-tax rebellion, George Washington and others held the Constitutional Congress with the Shay’s rebellion as the clarion call for a stronger central government. In other words, the United States of America, the government formed under the U.S. Constitution, was formed precisely to COUNTER an anti-tax rebellion. So the existing Republican Party forms its foundation on opposition to the United States of America and its Constitution: they regularly claim that government is the enemy of the people … ”
 Mike Martin has it absolutely correct.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Musical Interlude

I used to own the album shown in this video. It's a bootleg copy of a Bob Dylan recording session. But I lost it in a one of Chicago's wonderful floods.

And I always loved this particular cut of the album. Dylan was going to sing it on the Ed Sullivan show, and Ed was cool with that, but the CBS lawyers freaked out, and said he couldn't sing it. Dylan walked off the set, and never appeared on the show.

Listening to it now, you might wonder what the hubbub was about. Funny how often that happens.

It's a very funny song, and it makes fun of a bunch of people who – decades later – look absolutely ridiculous. Sort of like Republicans today.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Education of Judge Richard Posner

Back in 2009 we alerted you to the fact that one of the "intellectual giants" of the conservative movement, federal circuit court judge Richard Posner, had become a Keynsian.

It's taken three years, but Posner kept thinking:
Posner expressed admiration for President Ronald Reagan and the economist Milton Friedman, two pillars of conservatism. [Give him time; give him time.] But over the past 10 years, Posner said, "there's been a real deterioration in conservative thinking. And that has to lead people to re-examine and modify their thinking."
"I've become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy," he said. [Editorial note: That was 32 years ago.]
Posner, who was appointed to the appeals court by Reagan, speculated that the leaks about the deliberations over the national health care law — which are apparently designed to discredit Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion upholding the law — would backfire. "I think these right-wingers who are blasting Roberts are making a very serious mistake," he said.
"Because if you put [yourself] in his position ... what's he supposed to think? That he finds his allies to be a bunch of crackpots? Does that help the conservative movement? I mean, what would you do if you were Roberts? All the sudden you find out that the people you thought were your friends have turned against you, they despise you, they mistreat you, they leak to the press. What do you do? Do you become more conservative? Or do you say, 'What am I doing with this crowd of lunatics?' Right? Maybe you have to re-examine your position."


Amy Sullivan in The New Republic online:
A Republican state representative in Louisiana now says she was confused when she enthusiastically supported Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher bill to fund private schools. From the Livingston Parish News (free registration required):
"WATSON — Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools …
'I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,' Hodges said.
Hodges mistakenly assumed that 'religious' meant 'Christian.'
HB976, now signed into law as Act 2, proposed, among other things, a voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups …
'Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,' Hodges said. 'We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.'"
I love that line about mistakenly assuming that “religious” meant “Christian.” It happens to so many people…

The Meritocracy at Work

Q.  How do you build your tax-sheltered IRA to a value of $100 million when the annual contribution is limited to $6,000?

 A.  Be Mitt Romney.

Monday, July 02, 2012

A New Blog

I've started a new blog that I'm calling Down the Rabbit Hole. It's where I'll be putting the little stories I discover when researching 19th century photographs. The first post is up.

If you're interested in those things, you might want to subscribe or sign up for the RSS feed, so you don't have to check it all the time.