Archive for February, 2013

Mitt Romney thought so. The Surpreme Court has said yes. Now a Montana GOP legislator has proposed to allow them to vote in municipal elections. Although it looks like the bill is not going anywhere for now, Montana, which until last June had a state law limiting corporate political spending that had been in place for over 100 years (overturned by the Supreme Court), is now toying with making corporations voting members of society.  I’m sure there is quite a clamor for that bill in some circles in Montana so don’t be too sure this won’t crawl out of the dark place it is hiding in right now.

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I live in the Village of Maple Bluff, which abuts Lake Mendota on the west and is otherwise entirely surrounded by the City of Madison, the capitol of the State of Wisconsin. Maple Bluff currently has about 1350 residents I’m going to be posting a few photos of the village from time to time. They’ll probably be “contra-seasonal” (at least during the depths of the winter.

I hope you enjoy seeing them.

Posted: February 28, 2013 in Miscellaneous

As I sit here in Wisconsin with its current pattern of snow more or less every day this photo is a great comfort to me:)

Salty Palette

yeah...

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I am a sucker for science - Here is NASA's eXtreme Deep Field image containing 5,500 galaxies

I am amazed by what science has brought us. I can’t get on an airplane without being thrilled that we are able to fly. Giant televisions that almost instantaneously bring events from around the world into our homes via a satellite that is in a geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the earth are mind-boggling. “Telephones” with hundreds of apps that can do everything from telling me the price of gasoline at a hundred stations in a 50 mile radius, to playing my own personal radio station, to letting me shop or blog when I have a free minute, are astonishing. But for me, the most mind-blowing of all are the instruments that peer into the night sky to show us and tell us things about a universe that is unimaginably vast.
Last fall, astronomers at NASA assembled ten years of exposures (over 23 days of exposure time) taken of a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field photo. The resulting image is called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF. The XDF is a window into the universe that is roughly 1/100th of the size of the full moon. This photo of a tiny dot of what looks to the human eye as an empty part of the night sky contains over 5,500 galaxies spanning back 13.2 billion years. What remarkable genius and dedication it has taken to bring us this knowledge.
It disturbs me greatly that while we have achieved the near miraculous through science, we now seem to be turning our back on it as we cut funding for basic research and development, we embrace views that have not withstood the test of the scientific method but instead are really nothing more than faith pretending to be science, and worst of all, we are not encouraging our young people to study science, nor are we adequately rewarding those who teach it nor, in fact, many of the scientists themselves.
I am not a scientist so I have no skin in this game, but it seems to me that we should, to borrow a metaphor, be dancing with the one who brought us and because we are not, the dance may be ending earlier and on a sourer note than many had been expecting.

Fed Chairman Bernanke gave his semi-annual report to Congress on the state of the economy on February 26-27th. He had a number of very interesting things to say. First of all he pointed out that “significant progress has been made recently toward reducing the federal budget deficit over the next few years. The projections released earlier this month by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) indicate that, under current law, the federal deficit will narrow from 7 percent of GDP last year to 2-1/2 percent in fiscal year 2015.”  This means that we are already on the right track toward reducing the federal deficit. Are we all the way there yet? No. However, as Bernanke also pointed out, the job market remains weak. He noted in particular that “About 4.7 million of the unemployed have been without a job for six months or more, and millions more would like full-time employment but are able to find only part-time work. High unemployment has substantial costs, including not only the hardship faced by the unemployed and their families, but also the harm done to the vitality and productive potential of our economy as a whole. Lengthy periods of unemployment and underemployment can erode workers’ skills and attachment to the labor force or prevent young people from gaining skills and experience in the first place–developments that could significantly reduce their productivity and earnings in the longer term. The loss of output and earnings associated with high unemployment also reduces government revenues and increases spending, thereby leading to larger deficits and higher levels of debt.

Bernanke expressed concern about the automatic spending sequestration scheduled to begin tomorrow.  He cited CBO’s estimates that indicated that sequestration will slow economic growth by about 0.6 percentage point this year. According to Bernanke, “Given the still-moderate underlying pace of economic growth, this additional near-term burden on the recovery is significant. Moreover, besides having adverse effects on jobs and incomes, a slower recovery would lead to less actual deficit reduction in the short run for any given set of fiscal actions.”

In his testimony, Bernanke stated that while the sizes of deficits and debt matter, “not all tax and spending programs are created equal with respect to their effects on the economy. To the greatest extent possible, in their efforts to achieve sound public finances, fiscal policymakers should not lose sight of the need for federal tax and spending policies that increase incentives to work and save, encourage investments in workforce skills, advance private capital formation, promote research and development, and provide necessary and productive public infrastructure. (emphasis added) Although economic growth alone cannot eliminate federal budget imbalances, in either the short or longer term, a more rapidly expanding economic pie will ease the difficult choices we face.”

Bernanke’s testimony makes it clear that the Fed Chairman believes that the cuts that are coming as a result of sequestration will do significant harm to a still vulnerable economy. He understands (unlike the Radical Republicans in Congress) that any deficit reduction must combine both increased taxes and spending cuts. As important, he understands that cuts to programs that are investments in our future growth (education, R&D, public infrastructure) are pennywise but pound foolish.

Wagon Wheel

It is a cold, snowy, windy day here today and this is more or less the way I am feeling.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the current media criticism among progressives in the U.S. about what is called “The Doctrine of False Equivalence.” It is the tendency of the media to “split the difference” between two points of view, whether or not one point of view is, for example, rationale and the other is not. An example of the doctrine goes something along the lines of: Obama says “50 + 50 is 104.” The Radical Right says, “No actually 50 + 50 is 104,000.” The press says they are both stretching the numbers.