moldybluecheesecurds 2

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Are we human or economic tools?

I just read this essay on the decline of labor unions (and middle class living standards) by David Morris. 
In the last generation, US unions have shrunk in size and influence, largely as a result of a withering attack by corporations and Republicans.  And with that shrinking influence has come a corresponding decrease in the standard of living of most Americans.  Indeed, as we shall see, the correlation between the strength of unions and the strength of the middle class is so empirically strong it might well be considered causal.

What bugs me the most is that the decline of unions has been a deliberate strategy of large corporations and the Republican Party, and that their demise undermines the middle class.  I understand that corporations might like to see us all as little cogs in their profit machine, but it's disappointing to see a political party also selling us out.

Bad-faith-based legislating

This would almost be comical, but it's just sad:

While most observers were focused on debates over private-school vouchers and the end of traditional teacher tenure rules, the House GOP leadership quietly killed most of a bill to create a statewide rating system to identify high-quality early-ed programs, steer the fragile families that rely on public child-care subsidies toward them and reward providers that deliver top results.

Authored by Rep. Jenifer Loon, an Eden Prairie Republican, the bill was revenue-neutral, meaning its implementation would not cost a cent, and it enjoyed the backing of Dayton, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and pretty much everyone on the political continuum between them.

It did not, however, have any friends on the religious right, which declared it an attempt to usurp the rights on Minnesota parents by placing their children under the authority of a nanny state. The Minnesota Family Council and Education Liberty Watch lobbied against the measure, arguing among other things that the government has no business telling parents how to parent.
Government does have a business making sure taxpayer money is spent wisely, however.  It's sad to see that the religious right prefers to have low income parents make "faith based" rather than "fact based" decisions about their children's education.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Our food supply at risk because we're killing the bees

A humorous, short video explaining the mysterious colony collapse disorder that's killing bees, and how the American fascination with a perfectly manicured lawn (or crop) is contributing.

Hat tip Minnpost.

New airport scanners not a major health risk

I've written about airport security before and how these new scanners are a form of security theater.  However, at least one knock against them - high radiation doses - is not true.

Monday, March 28, 2011

U.S. Corporations Disgust Me

GE pays no taxes | Eric Black Ink: "

Did you perchance read the front-page piece in the Friday New York Times about GE’s taxes? It’s very long, exhaustive and a masterful piece of reporting by David Kocieniewski that must’ve taken months. I highly commend the full read if you have an hour, but if not, the main point is made in the first three short paragraphs:

“General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.
The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.
Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.”

This is the kind of crap that makes my blood boil when we run massive government budget deficits and then talk about how we can cut payments to the elderly. We have a revenue problem.

I think I'd rather GE pay their taxes than make my parents work an extra five years into their retirement.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This is MY governor

“Every one of those dollars that is cut takes away something that means something to someone’s life,” he said. “These decisions are not just about dollars and cents, they’re about our values and priorities, our values as people individually and our collective values as a society.”
As for Republicans’ flat refusal to consider his plan to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans, “all of these draconian measures that are being considered or enacted now are being driven, at least by the majority view, that we cannot raise taxes one dollar on the wealthiest people in the state,” Dayton said. “That priority, protecting the richest people in Minnesota, the highest income earners, the top 5 percent, to pay one dollar more matters more than everyone else paying higher property taxes.”
It also “matters more” to Republican legislative leaders than police and fire departments, public libraries, school integration, special education, public transit, higher education tuition or health care for the elderly, he said. “It’s just a sheer denial of reality” that amounts to “social and economic Darwinism,” Dayton said.

Why Gas Prices are High

From one of my favorite writers, David Roberts at Grist:
Into this fog last week came a beam of light in the form of an extraordinary speech from Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), which didn't get the attention it deserved. Bingaman is not normally a talky guy. He's not a McCain or Lieberman, on Sunday talk shows so often they keep toothbrushes in the green room bathrooms. Nor is he given to grand political gestures. He's cautious by temperament (to a fault, I'd argue). Despite his reticence, though, he is among the very few senators who actually understand energy.

Apparently, he finally had enough of the overheated, unmoored ideological fantasies that pass for public discussion of gas prices. So he dropped some knowledge.

First, he explained that the price of gas follows the price of oil. Then he explained that the price of oil is set on the global market. It is largely unaffected by domestic policies like EPA carbon restrictions and Gulf oil permitting. It is only barely affected, and only at the margins, by U.S. supply, which flows from just 2 percent of the world's reserves. (After all, U.S. production has been rising even as oil prices rise too.) The price of oil is shaped by supply constraints in petrostates, demand growth in developing countries, OPEC policy, and unrest in the Middle East. None of those, you'll note, take place in America.

What follows is an inescapable conclusion (my emphasis):
But what can Congress do to help ease the burden of high prices for U.S. consumers, when oil prices are determined mostly outside our borders? I think a realistic, responsible answer has to be focused on becoming less vulnerable to oil price changes over the medium- and long-term. And we become less vulnerable by using less oil.
That's it. That's the crux of the matter. If we want to solve our problems with oil, we have to use less of it. That simple truth is what centrist Democrats generally refuse to tell their constituents.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Public Broadcasting Should Not Compete with Private

A great article:
The problem I see with Robert's thinking is it puts NPR and PBS into the "marketplace of ideas," a mythological space where news competes successfully with sex, violence, drama and comedy —  the four horsemen of entertainment that have come to pass for "the right stuff" of commercial success. I use them successfully as a screenwriter, but they don't belong as a part of news.

It is a mistake to use market economics as the sole arbiter of value in public broadcasting. There is no "marketplace of ideas" — it's a marketplace of emotions, and the confusion of the two is hurting democracy as the fourth estate is forced to compete with entertainment and, quite naturally, resorts to the emotional strategies of a) comedy and b) outrage as packaging vehicles.

The purpose of news is not to tell us what we want to hear or what stimulates us or what reaffirms our views, as Hollywood already does quite successfully, but to tell us what we don't necessarily want to hear but ought to know about anyway. This is not something that is as broadly commercial, but in a democracy it is vitally important.

U sexuality prof. wins fight: Apple pulls app | Glad to see that Apple's guidelines can be used by the forces of good, too. No more app suggesting that being gay is a perversion!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nuclear Chain Reaction Demonstrated With Mouse Traps and Ping Pong Balls (Video)

mousetrap chain reaction imageNuclear Chain Reaction Demonstrated With Mouse Traps and Ping Pong Balls (Video): "
Image via YouTube video screengrab

With all eyes on the news from Japan, it's easy to get frightened or confused about what exactly is happening. Luckily, TreeHugger Mike has been keeping us updated on a daily basis on everything we need to know. But sometimes it's interesting to get right down to the basics, to the things we can't remember from high school physics classes. And that includes how a nuclear chain reaction actually works. Read the full story on TreeHugger"


If the state has to balance a budget like a family, does this GOP proposal in Minnesota mean I'm supposed to go raid my kid's piggy bank to pay the bills, or steal from a neighbor?

Monday, March 21, 2011

What we can learn from Japan's nuclear accident

Two good articles.  First, on the high risks.

An earthquake-and-tsunami zone crowded with 127 million people is an unwise place for 54 reactors. The 1960s design of five Fukushima-I reactors has the smallest safety margin and probably can't contain 90 percent of meltdowns. The U.S. has six identical and 17 very similar plants.

Second, on the economics.
Instead, Americans should abandon nuclear power for its prohibitive and uncompetitive costs.
The wildly escalting costs of nuclear plants under construction in the U.S. are a perfect example. A pair of proposed nuclear power plants in Florida have "overnight" costs of $3,800 per kilowatt, but since nuclear power plants actually take eight years to construct, the total estimated project costs are closer to $6,800 per kilowatt (kW) of capacity. This figure is reinforced by an estimate for Progress Energy's two new units ($6,300 per kW, $8,800 per kW), and Georgia Power's new plants ($4,000 per kW, $6,335 per kW), both still incomplete.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What We Give the Wealthy to Screw the Middle Class

Source: Center for American Progress

Minnesota's tax system becoming more regressive | Stories

Minnesota's tax system becoming more regressive:

High-income Minnesotans continue to pay lower overall tax rates than everyone else, according to a new tax incidence study released today by the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

The overall state and local tax burden averaged 11.5 percent of income in 2008. The state's highest-income taxpayers — the 10 percent of households earning more than $130,000 — paid an effective tax rate of 10.3 percent. The remaining 90 percent of low- and middle-income households paid a substantially higher effective tax rate of 12.3 percent.

Overall State & Local taxes Minnesotans paid in 2008
Source: Minnesota Department of Revenue

A copy of the study is available here. [PDF]

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Increase proposed for motor vehicle filing fees | Political Agenda

Increase proposed for motor vehicle filing fees | Political Agenda: "It's obviously not a tax increase, because GOP lawmakers are behind it. But Minnesota residents would pay more in filing fees for car license renewals and title transfers under a bill moving through the Legislature."

Politics has really jumped the shark. Republicans recognize you can't balance a budget that is negative $5 billion without revenue, but they senselessly eschew taxes.

You might as well call this "GOP lawmakers propose fee tax increase."

Legislative Irony

"That's the difference between him and me," he added. "I'm not looking for anything bigger or better. I just want to work hard, do the right thing for Minnesota as a senator, and then return home to enjoy beautiful Lake Ida with my wife and family." 

A Republican state senator in Minnesota, shepherding legislation to allow new coal plants to be constructed and to exempt ethanol plants from environmental review.

I hope a coal plant shits in your lake.

An inspiring speech by a Wisconsin farmer

Hat tip: Gawker

Friday, March 11, 2011

People Said Stuff, Reports New York Times

A great analysis of the harm done by modern media when it's objectivity results in "he said, she said" reporting.

"At House EPA Hearing, Both Sides Claim Science."
And it's true! Both sides did claim science. For paragraph after paragraph, Broder dutifully transcribes who said what, this side's scientists and that side's scientists, this guy's zinger and that guy's zinger. At no point in the story is there a hint that there might be facts of the matter behind the dueling quotes, that one set of assertions might be supported by more evidence than the other, that one set of scientists might have more credibility than the other. At no point in the story is there a fact about the world -- the only facts are that people said stuff.

David Roberts, the author, goes on to note that a new study provides evidence to back up the claim that this kind of reporting reduces reader's understanding of the subjects being discussed. 

What's the truth?  The media doesn't often help you find out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sheer legislative madness

Congressional Republicans have a bill to prevent the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions, purely because they don't accept the science of climate change. The anti-truth forces are running the U.S. House:

For Congress to intervene in the scientific determinations of a public health agency is, as far as I know, unprecedented. You might think there would be urgent and compelling reasons for politicians support such a radical move. But you'd be wrong. The arguments Republicans have used in favor of it are transparently absurd, and only getting more so.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Republican class warfare

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Crisis in Dairyland - For Richer and Poorer - Teachers and Wall Street
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Teachers make too much (average $50,000) and must take pay cuts to balance budgets (Wisconsin state budget).
Households making $250,000 a year are "near poverty" and can't afford the expiration of the Bush tax cuts (Federal budget).

Republicans: inconsistency enough to smash the middle class.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Costco Pulls Threatened Fish from Stores

Costco Pulls Threatened Fish from Stores: "The retailer says it will not sell Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, Chilean sea bass, grouper, monkfish, redfish, swordfish, bluefin tuna or other at-risk species until a sustainable source can be identified."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A+ for Hape Toys (and Educo)

We got my son a play kitchen for his first birthday, but one of the doors warped before it was a year old and no longer closes.  I took a chance and emailed Educo (subsidiary of HAPE International) asking if they would replace the door.

Within 48 hours I got a reply that, yes, they would!

That's good service.  And it's a great toy.

Proud to be #3 for all these years

Thanks, Rick.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Supreme Court: Corporations do not enjoy personal privacy rights | Business Agenda

Supreme Court: Corporations do not enjoy personal privacy rights | Business Agenda: "

Corporations do not enjoy a right to personal privacy that would prevent disclosure of certain embarrassing documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Class warfare - a study in irony

  • In 2001, a 10-year tax cut for millionaires costing the middle class $700 billion.
  • In 2011, a 2-year extension of that tax cut in the face of a $1.5 trillion deficit.
  • A financial crisis caused by rich bankers playing funny with money, none of whom go to jail, but who the middle class bails out to the tune of $700 billion.  
  • In three years, Wall Street profits rise 720%, while unemployment doubles and middle class home equity falls by 35%.
  • Corporations pay just 10% of federal taxes (down from 30%) while income taxpayers (the middle class) contribute 40% (up from 10%).  And the rich pay half what they used to in income taxes on their highest dollar.
  • A governor takes a 20 minute phone call from a rich donor (he thinks) while ignoring phone calls from elected legislators.
But class warfare?  Only happens when teachers want to keep their union so that their hourly wage barely scrapes past the federal minimum. 

Dear rich people, Fox News, and Republicans.  I'm a middle class warrior, and my class is out to take our money back.  See you in Madison.

Rationality and guns

I heard that someone recently got shot at a gun show.  The gun libertarians will suggest that the solution to shootings is to arm more folks, so that people can defend themselves.  This idea makes sense if only we can assume that people who shoot people are rational, and therefore deterred by the idea of armed victims.  Since the death penalty doesn't deter crime, why would gun proliferation?

One other thought.  If we have a goal of reducing violence, whether committed by nutters with guns or gun accidents, then gun proliferation doesn't help us much there either.  I haven't seen the firearm yet that can return a bullet back to the gun.  Having guns available to respond to violence is only an answer if you like vengeance.  And the proliferation of weapons only makes it easier to have accidents. 

When it comes to public policy, I'm fairly agnostic about firearms legislation.  I think people should have to have a permit for a firearm (just like a car!) and that weapons of mass destruction (e.g. automatic weapons and large magazines) should be restricted or banned.  But I'm tired of fighting with people who think that guns will solve all their problems.

Maybe what we really need is mandatory gun violence insurance.  Buy all the guns you want, but you have to carry liability insurance for each one, just like a car.  There's a novelty.