Monday, December 5, 2011

Last Call

NASA's Kepler planet-finding project has hit pay dirt, and planet Kepler-22b looks like it would probably a great place to vacation.

NASA has found a new planet outside Earth's solar system that is eerily similar to Earth in important aspects.

Scientists say the temperature on the surface of the planet is about a comfy 72 degrees (22 Celsius). Its star could almost be a twin of Earth's sun. It probably has water and land.

It was found in the middle of the habitable zone, making it the best potential target for life.

The discovery announced Monday was made by NASA's Kepler planet-hunting telescope. This is the first time Kepler confirmed a planet outside Earth's solar system in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold habitable zone. This is the region around a star where liquid water, a requirement for life on Earth, could persist. The planet is estimated to be 2.4 times the size of Earth, which would make it the smallest found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star like our sun.

Twice before astronomers have announced planets found in that zone, but neither was as promising. One was disputed; the other is on the hot edge of the zone.

I'm sure if we behave ourselves, the GOP may let NASA exist long enough so that we can build a really big slingshot to lob a rock with a digital camera strapped to it at Kepler-22b.  Unfortunately, we're going to have to end Social Security and breathing in order to do it...unless we can convince the job creators that the planet's rich in Unobtanium.

The six-legged tigers and giant blue cat people may object, however.  Or the legion of dormant, life-hating robots.  Or the weeping angel statues everywhere.  Or the deadly plants.  Or the viruses.  Or...well, there's got to be a catch, dammit.

Will To Powerless

George Will goes into full Village scold mode, not only calling health care reform "Obamacare" in his column over the weekend but blaming it and other "government regulations" for every single unemployed and underemployed American as he bravely defends CEO Andy Puzder of fast food chain Hardees' and Carl's Jr. from the unending terror of having to provide actual affordable health insurance options to its California employees.

Puzder laughs about the liberal theory that businesses are not investing because they want to “punish Obama.” Rising health-care costs are, he says, just one uncertainty inhibiting expansion. Others are government policies raising fuel costs, which infect everything from air conditioning to the cost (including deliveries) of supplies, and the threat that the National Labor Relations Board will use regulations to impose something like “card check” in place of secret-ballot unionization elections.

CKE has about 720 California restaurants, in which 84 percent of the managers are minorities and 67 percent are women. CKE has, however, all but stopped building restaurants in this state because approvals and permits for establishing them can take up to two years, compared to as little as six weeks in Texas, and the cost to build one is $100,000 more than in Texas, where CKE is planning to open 300 new restaurants this decade.

CKE restaurants have 95 percent employee turnover in a year — not bad in this industry — and the health-care benefits under CKE’s current “mini-med” plans are capped in a way that makes them illegal under Obamacare. So CKE will have to convert many full-time employees to part-timers to limit the growth of its burdens under Obamacare.

In an economic climate of increasing uncertainties, Puzder says, one certainty is that many businesses now marginally profitable will disappear when Obamacare causes that margin to disappear. A second certainty is that “employers everywhere will be looking to reduce labor content in their business models as Obamacare makes employees unambiguously more expensive.”

I'm thinking if your business model has 95% turnover in 12 months baked into an industry where the average employee doesn't earn a living wage and are basically subject to indentured servitude, the problem isn't "government regulations" at all.  Will dismisses that little fact, however.  Think about that.  If you get a job at a Hardee's, there's only a 5% chance you will still work for the company a year later.

What kind of business model is that where that exists, where 95% of your employees are gone after a year?  Furthermore, what kind of person believe that to be a good thing?  George Will, apparently.  He's had his job for quite some time, from what I understand.

A bit too long, if you ask me.  The larger problem of course is that Will wants to draft every unemployed and underemployed American into the "war on job-killing regulations" when the reality as to why our economy is shot is that the people at the top designed it to churn through people at an alarming rate.  Without the stability of a dependable job at a iving wage, no wonder we're falling apart.

If you wonder where the American middle class went to, they got shoved into the economic fast food meat grinder.  If only we could make these employees actual indentured servants, America's middle class would be so much more vibrant!

We Don't Need No Education, Part 2

The "Republican conservative libertarian" fascination with limiting higher education only to those who can either earn scholarships or to the moneyed elite who can pay cash for it is actually really simple when you realize that they view education as a finite resource that's being wasted on the non-elite.  Having more people with college degrees means more competition for the best jobs, and well, pulling up the ladder after you is so much easier.

But it's especially baffling behavior coming from a law professor, even if he is Glenn Reynolds.
This is a simple case of inflation: When you artificially pump up the supply of something (whether it's currency or diplomas), the value drops. The reason why a bachelor's degree on its own no longer conveys intelligence and capability is that the government decided that as many people as possible should have bachelor's degrees. 

There's something of a pattern here. The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we'll have more middle class people.

But homeownership and college aren't causes of middle-class status, they're markers for possessing the kinds of traits -- self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. -- that let you enter, and stay in, the middle class.

OK, yes, people apparently exist who have college degrees and lack positive work ethic traits and critical thinking skills, Glenn Reynolds is apparently proof of that, but the notion that college is not a cause of middle-class status clearly never tried to get a job with a middle-class wage and benefits in an economy where there's five or six applicants for every available job.

That's okay, he's got a solution for that.

Another response is an increased emphasis on non-college education. As the Wall Street Journal has noted, skilled trades are doing quite well. For the past several decades, America's enthusiasm for college has led to a lack of enthusiasm for vocational education.

That may be changing as philanthropists ranging from Andy Grove of Intel to Home Depot's Bernie Marcus work to encourage the skilled trades. We need people who can make things, and it's harder to outsource a plumbing or welding job to somebody in Bangalore.

Of course, the thing about skilled trades is that they require skill. Even with training, not everyone makes a good welder or machinist any more than just anyone can become a doctor or lawyer.

Which is funny, because these skilled trades require training and education.  Most of all, they require an investment of money.  That's a nasty catch-22, because saying "Go to trade school" is in many cases tens of thousands of dollars over 2-4 years, just like regular college.  Since trades like electrician and plumber and carpenter are in demand, trade schools can charge more tuition when their programs are in demand.  Wow!

What's really going on here of course is that a stupid, pliable populace is key to making Republican ideals work, chief of all the notion that financial success is free market tautology: if you were meant to be successful, you'd be successful already.  If you're not, you need to "work harder".  

Also note how Republicans want to rid the country of trade unions.  God forbid machinists, mechanics, plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, etc have a union.  They might make enough money to enter into middle-class status.

Whenever anyone advocates making education more difficult to obtain, they're doing so for their own benefit, not for yours.  Republicans tend to have this problem, making education, voting rights, contraception and abortion, etc. as limited as possible.  They understand all too well that these things are keys to maintaining a working middle-class.  By doing everything they can to limit who has access to those, they secure more resources for themselves.

After all, if voting, a college education, and being in control of your own reproductive system didn't matter, why are Republicans trying to take all three away from as many people as possible?  They say "There's declining power in the market for a degree.  This is because too many people have them.  If we make it harder to get a degree, the cost of getting one will go down."

All that means of course is that Republicans flunked Macroeconomics 101.  Since when did limiting a finite resource make the price of that resource decrease?

Why, that's easy to sell to an uneducated public that doesn't have college degrees, yes?

By the way, the wealthiest 1% of Americans?  They are educated.

Apart from their bank accounts, Gallup finds education to be the greatest difference between the wealthiest 1% of Americans and everyone else. The Gallup analysis reveals that 72% of the wealthiest Americans have a college degree, compared with 31% of those in the lower 99 percentiles. Furthermore, nearly half of those in the wealthiest group have postgraduate education, versus 16% of all others.

So yes, there's a definite reason they want to make college student loans harder to get, so that only the rich can go to college and graduate school.

We don't need no Department of Education...

Dirty Play At Church

Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church isn't so hot on free will when it comes to race. A vote had been enforced banning interracial couples from being members of the church. The article quoted below also states that the vote wasn't taken when the full body was present to vote. Some church members tried to use religion to enforce their bigotry and they almost succeeded.

So let me make sure I am getting this straight: a handful of bigots took it upon themselves to banish members from a church based on their race? Oh not quite, I see the difference. It only matters when the other part of the equation is white. So if the black folks mind their place and keep to themselves the church has no problem with their existence. How sad and how wrong that is.

The only ray of hope is that when the vote was taken by all members who wanted a voice, it was repealed. Yay, mixed race couple can again bask in God's light with Gulnare Baptist's approval. What is sad is that it ever came up for vote in the first place. It's gross to me that those who would exclude people from a place of worship based on the race of their partner are still allowed to be in the church. The people who broke the trust of their fellow members, the ones who brought shame to their church, the idiots who do not understand God's promise to love each of His children equally.

In a 9-6 vote last week, church members backed a proposal to bar interracial couples from becoming members. The vote stemmed from a visit in June by the white daughter of a church member and her fiance, who is from Zimbabwe, to sing a hymn.

Stepp said the Sandy Valley Conference of Free Will Baptists on Saturday declared the initial vote, in which not all members of the church participated, null and void, the Associated Press reports.

He says he informed church members Sunday about the conference's decision and proposed the new resolution to promote "peace, love and harmony."

This story hits home for me for many reasons. I see racism everywhere and the shady ways in which it rears its head. I am also from an area where religion is used to bully and mistreat anyone who believes differently. It's not just a snob thing, it affects every part of life in a small town. I remember when our local mechanic had to move away from the area after a "discussion" with a local pastor, who then told his church to unite and stop using his services. Several folks felt bad about it, but they starved a man out of town because he stood up and said no to their stupidity, politely and courageously.

From the racist church to controlling which businesses church members can visit, none of these scenarios are rare. They're not at all special. They're the manifestation of racism, hatred, the need to control and the desire to make everyone see things your way. That isn't religion, that's a gross abuse of mob mentality. Right now there are thousands of examples just like this going on in small towns all over the U.S. We have a long way to go. Removing a ban on interracial couples is a good start. Putting a ban in place that forbids mistreatment of people regardless of race or gender would be even better.

Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Calling Teacher "Cute" Leads To Suspension

A Gastonia mother says her son was suspended for calling a teacher “cute.”

Chiquita Lockett said her 9-year-old son, Emanyea, spent the last two days at home.

Lockett said the principal of Brookside Elementary called her Wednesday to say the incident was a form of “sexual harassment.”

Emanyea told Eyewitness News a substitute teacher overheard him tell another student a teacher was cute.

Then he was suspended.

“It’s not like he went up to the woman and tried to grab her or touch her in a sexual way,” Lockett said. “So why would he be suspended for two days?”

It's a fair question.  Is that all the little boy said?  Even if it isn't, his mother needs to have a clear understanding of what he said so she can help him  understand.  If "cute" really led to this, there is a problem.  It's perfectly natural for little kids to adopt crushes on "safe" adults, and "cute" is a safe word for a little boy to use.  We can't expect kids to be politically correct, their unfiltered view of the world keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously.  If this is all an overreaction, what has he been taught?

Mind The Gap, Part 2

The gap between the rich and poor increasing isn't just a problem in the US, but it's getting worse worldwide as well as we get the latest Gini coefficient numbers from the OECD.

The gap between rich and poor is widening across most developed economies as skilled workers reap more rewards and top executives and bankers benefit from a global job market, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said.

The average income of the richest tenth of the population is now about nine times that of the poorest tenth, the Paris- based OECD said today in a report. The gap has increased about 10 percent since the mid 1980s.

Mexico, the U.S., Israel and the U.K. are among the countries with the biggest divide between rich and poor, while Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Czech Republic are among those with the smallest gap. The earnings multiple is 14-to-1 in the U.S. and Israel, compared with about 10-to-1 in the U.K., Italy and Japan and 6-to-1 in Germany and Denmark.

“The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said in a statement. “This study dispels the assumptions that the benefits of economic growth will automatically trickle down to the disadvantaged and that the greater inequality fosters greater social mobility.”

The OECD used a “Gini coefficient,” or standard measure of income inequality that ranges from zero to one. At zero an entire population would have identical incomes, while at one all income would go to one person. The coefficient stands at about 0.316 today, up 10 percent since the mid-1980s.

The Gini coefficient numbers for the US itself are pretty grim according to the OECD: in 1985 that number was 0.34, as of 2008 it's up to about 0.38. The more detailed US data is just depressing.

Key findings:
  • The wealthiest Americans have collected the bulk of the past three decades’ income gains. The share of national income of the richest 1% more than doubled between 1980 and 2008: from 8% to 18% [Table 9.1]. The richest 1% now makes an average US$1.3 million of after-tax income (compared to US$17,700 for the poorest 20% of US citizens). During the same time, the top marginal income tax rate dropped from 70% in 1981 to 35% in 2010.
  • The rising incomes of executives and finance professionals account for much of the rising share of top income recipients. Moreover, people who achieve such a high income status tend to stay there: only 25% drop out of the richest 1% in the US, compared to some 40% in Australia and Norway, for instance. 
  • The main reason for widening inequality in the US is the widening wage gap. The gap between the richest and poorest 10% of full-time workers has increased by almost one third, more than in most other OECD countries.

    So that's what 30 years of Republican economic policies have brought us. Clinton tried to fix it, balanced the budget and even cut spending. Then Bush 43 wrecked it all to hell.  As a result we have one of the most unequal economies in the world.

    The "rising tide lifts all boats" theory of the Bush 43 years may have been the biggest scam in economic history.  It didn't lift "all boats".  80% of the entire country's income gains went to the TOP ONE PERCENT in that time period, and that's because we cut taxes in half on them.

    We've been rewarding the "job creators" for three decades now, and especially the last decade.  The result?  A near second Great Depression as we went back to the inequality levels of the Gilded Age of the 1920's.  That's what Republican policies have wrought so far. Now they want us to cut spending on social programs and lower taxes on the rich and on corporations even more, quite literally they want to increase our income inequality by a massive factor.  This will be "good" for the country.

    It's ridiculous.  No thinking American should buy this snake oil, because we have empirical proof it doesn't work. And yet, here we are.

    Mind the gap, lads.

    The Kroog Versus The Village Idiots

    If there's one voice in the Beltway Media that regularly calls out the Villagers for what they are, it's Paul Krugman.  I actually kind of fear for his job this time, because this time he's gone and told the unvarnished, raw truth about the political media, point blank.  His employers, co-workers, and colleagues are not going to be very happy facing this particular column on the pernicious "both sides are equally to blame for the partisan rancor in Washington" garbage.

    They're not.  The fact that we have a NY Times columnist actually saying this is in an of itself amazing.

    All indications are, however, that Campaign 2012 will make Campaign 2000 look like a model of truthfulness. And all indications are that the press won’t know what to do — or, worse, that they will know what to do, which is act as stenographers and refuse to tell readers and listeners when candidates lie. Because to do otherwise when the parties aren’t equally at fault — and they won’t be — would be “biased”.

    This will be true even of those news organizations specifically charged with fact-checking. Yes, they’ll call out some lies — but they’ll also claim that some perfectly reasonable statements are lies, in order to keep their precious balance. This is already happening: as Igor Volsky points out, one of the finalists for Politifact’s Lie of the Year is a Democratic claim — that Republicans want to abolish Medicare — that happens to be entirely true.

    This will not be a fun year.

    PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" rating for the DCCC's claim that the Republicans voted to end Medicare is precisely true, and PolitiFact ignores the facts.  Not only that, it of course makes their short list of "Lie of the Year" as Volsky points out.  Here's how PolitiFact defends their judgment:

    The Republican proposal will end the aspect of Medicare that directly covers specific services, such as hospital coverage. "It's as if you took the Office of Faith-Based Partnerships and ended the faith-based portion of it, but continued to call it faith-based," said Jesse Ferguson of the DCCC. "There is no doubt that Medicare -- a health insurance program for seniors --  would end under the House Republican plan and, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office, health insurance costs would rise for seniors."

    Democrats, including Obama, have said the plan would end Medicare "as we know it," a critical qualifier. But the 30-second ad from the DCCC makes a sweeping claim without that important qualifier.

    The "as we know it" makes it a Pants on Fire lie, when PolitiFact concedes that the GOP proposal they voted on earlier this year would end hospital coverage for seniors.  PolitiFact in fact goes out of their way to find fault with this ad and paints it as not only a completely false claim even though they admit that several points that the Democrats make are partially correct or in the case of guaranteed hospital coverage, fully correct.

    But the ad is judged as a blatant, "Pants on Fire" lie.  Krugman simply gives voice to the obvious fraud here.  PolitiFact had to have something on the Democrats or they'd lose their "credibility".  Being regarded as "liberal" is worse than telling the truth as a political media fact-checking outfit.  Amazing how that works, almost laughably so.

    It's the worst-kept secret in Washington, and yet it takes Paul Krugman to actually name the demon. And he's right:  the best part is we have another 11 months of this to go.


    Related Posts with Thumbnails