Friday, May 31

Tesla Motors pays off its government loan…nine years early

MSNBC's Lawrence O’Donnell: "It turns out that if you give a bunch of intelligent innovators the seed money to conduct innovative research, the innovators will sometimes successfully innovate."

Full story (MSNBC)

Thursday, May 30

Michele Bachmann's legacy: Lies

Charles M. Blow writes in the New York Times:
"Bachmann built her celebrity on being acerbic and excessive, on throwing out accusations that she could not back up, on floating ideas that had no basis in fact. It worked for her, making her a household name and the butt of running jokes.
"There seemed to be nothing that she wouldn't say — and that her supporters wouldn't applaud her for saying — so long as it was mixed with nationalistic catchphrases like 'Constitution,' 'founders' and 'traditional,' and attacks on the president.
"The problem is that much of what she was saying — aside from not making sense — was simply false.
"According to PolitiFact, of the 59 statements by Bachmann that the site has checked since 2009, 44 (a whopping 75 percent) were mostly false or worse. A quarter met the criteria for the site’s worst rating: Pants on Fire. Ten percent were deemed half true, seven percent mostly true and only eight percent unambiguously true.
"According to The Washington Post fact checker:
"'Bachmann is not just fast and loose with the facts; she is consistently and unapologetically so. No other lawmaker earned as high a percentage of four-Pinocchio ratings as Bachmann — and she earned an average of more than three Pinocchios as a presidential candidate.'
"Four Pinocchios is The Post’s worst rating.
"The Associated Press has said that it had to put a quota on the number of statements by Bachmann that they would fact check during the presidential race, presumably to conserve resources."
Bachmann Bows Out (NYT)

Wednesday, May 29

Seems like a bad idea: Texas bans fire codes in the majority of its counties

Texas state law forbids 173 of Texas' 254 counties from adopting a fire code, based on population. Within those counties:
  • 150 have no full-time fire departments.
  • 137 have companies that use hazardous chemicals covered by a mandatory risk-management plan.
  • 47 have companies that use chemicals the U.S. Department of Homeland Security considers risks for terrorist or criminal misuse.
  • 26 have industries that rank among the top 100 toxic air polluters in Texas.
  • An undetermined number have chemicals that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says pose severe risks to workers and the public.

Tuesday, May 28

Deans vs Profs

"'Across U.S. higher education, nonclassroom costs have ballooned, administrative payrolls being a prime example. The number of employees hired by colleges and universities to manage or administer people, programs and regulations increased 50% faster than the number of instructors between 2001 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Education says. It's part of the reason that tuition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen even faster than health-care costs.'
"That is to say, students have faced rapidly rising tuition costs not due to large increases in the cost of instruction, but mostly due to the dramatic, rapid growth of the university bureaucratic class, which offers nothing of obvious worth to the education of their universities' increasingly cash-strapped and indebted students."
Profs are fighting the wave of online learning by attacking the innovators, but the real reasons that universities are pricing themselves into extinction is the bloat at the top.

Friday, May 24

PBS drops a documentary called "Citizen Koch" because they feared the reaction of billionaire sponsor David Koch

From the Colbert Report:

PBS is one of the few truly great American institutions, and its cost is a drop in the bucket of the U.S. budget. The more that it must rely on private sponsors to survive, the more its quality and independence of programming will suffer.

Thursday, May 23

The freedom to believe, or not to believe, is a birthright of every human being

John Kerry, speaking at an event marking the release of the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report:
"…freedom of religion is not an American invention. It's a universal value. And it's enshrined in our Constitution and ingrained in every human heart. The freedom to profess and practice one's faith, to believe or not to believe, or to change one's beliefs, that is a birthright of every human being. And that's what we believe. These rights are rightly recognized under international law. The promotion of international religious freedom is a priority for President Obama, and it is a priority for me as Secretary of State. I am making certain, and will continue to, that religious freedom remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement."
Secretary of State John Kerry: Freedom to 'Not Believe' is a 'Birthright of Every Human Being'

Wednesday, May 22

Arizona state lawmaker quotes Carl Sagan instead of praying before session

This is great - Arizona State Rep. Juan Mendez (D) used the time ordinarily allocated for prayer before the House of Representatives' afternoon session to instead speak to more humanist ideals:
"Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask you not to bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people of our state.
"This room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my Secular Humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love.
"Carl Sagan once wrote, 'For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.' There is, in the political process, much to bear. In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our Constitution and for our democracy - and let us root our policy making process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or non-belief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona."
Atheist State Lawmaker Quotes Carl Sagan Instead of Doing Prayer Before House Session

Tuesday, May 21

Let the flip-flopping begin: Will Oklahoma senators who opposed federal disaster relief now ask for it?

"As frantic rescue missions continued Monday in Oklahoma following the catastrophic tornadoes that ripped through the state, it appeared increasingly likely that residents who lost homes and businesses would turn to the federal government for emergency disaster aid. That could put the state's two Republican senators in an awkward position.
"Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, are fiscal hawks who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country. They also have opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief."
Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, Face Difficult Options On Disaster Relief

Monday, May 20

Disturbing: Hospitals and Patient-Dumping

Phillip Reese and Cynthia Hubert in the Sacremento Bee write:
"Years before a Las Vegas psychiatric hospital bused a homeless, schizophrenic man to Sacramento without arranging contacts or a plan for care, a different hospital ditched Gabino Olvera on Skid Row in Los Angeles.
"Olvera, homeless and paraplegic, still dressed in his hospital gown and connected to a catheter bag, was found dragging himself along a gutter in 2007.
"The case and others like it motivated the city of Los Angeles to adopt one of the toughest 'patient-dumping' laws in the nation.
"'It's just an abhorrent practice,' said Gil Cedillo, a candidate for Los Angeles City Council and former state senator who played a role in shaping his city's law. 'You can't just take someone from a facility and dump them downtown.'
One wonders just how common this practice is. The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services maintains a list of patient-dumping cases that have been settled here. This seems to me to be just one more symptom of a health-care system in serious need of reform.

Friday, May 17

Money must serve, not rule.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has applauded Pope Francis for condemning the growing income inequality in the world:
"In a major speech at the Vatican on Thursday, Francis said the global financial system has worsened poverty while benefiting the wealthy few. 'While the income of the minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority of the majority is crumbling,' Francis said.
"Sanders commended the pope. 'At a time when the gap between rich and everyone else is growing wider, at a time when Wall Street and large financial institutions are exerting extraordinary power over the American and world economy, I applaud the pope for speaking out on these enormously important issues,' Sanders said.
"The pope's comments on the financial crisis were made in remarks to ambassadors presenting their credentials at the Vatican.
"'The majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences … People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way,' the pope said."
Sanders praises pope's condemnation of 'cult of money' (Burlington Free Press)

Thursday, May 16

Evasion Tricks for Potential Whistleblower

Living under the rule of an Obama administration extremely aggressive on attacking loose-lipped do gooders, the following tips may prove handy for the whistle-blower who wishes to stay anonymous. Plus, they're kind of cool to know.

The top 0.5% of the global population holds over 35% of global wealth

Excessive income and wealth inequality constrains global economic growth:
"Recent work has shown that prolonged periods of steadily rising output are associated with more equality in income distribution. In other words, more equal societies are more likely to achieve lasting growth."
Stability and Growth for Poverty Reduction (IMF)

Wednesday, May 15

There is a surge in misuse of nonprofits to hide political spending, and the IRS should do more, not less, scrutinizing of such groups

Arn Pearson writes in The Guardian:
"The recent IRS admissions about the use of 'tea party' or 'patriot' labels to flag applications for nonprofit status for additional scrutiny raise serious questions about political bias, and should receive a thorough and independent investigation.
"There is rightly a growing call for House and Senate hearings to answer those questions, but any investigations must delve deeper into the bigger problem facing our democracy after the Supreme Court's decision in Citizen United: the dramatic surge in the misuse of nonprofits to hide political spending by billionaires and corporations from American voters, and the lack of any meaningful enforcement response."
The IRS should do more, not less, scrutinizing of political groups

Tuesday, May 14

Florida Republicans rejected federal money to provide health insurance to poor Floridians, while keeping their own premiums low

How's this for a scumbag move:
"Florida House Republicans last month loudly and proudly rejected billions of dollars in federal money that would have provided health insurance to 1 million poor Floridians.
"Quietly, they kept their own health insurance premiums staggeringly low. House members will pay just $8.34 a month for state-subsidized health care next year, or $30 a month to cover their entire family.
"That's one-sixth of what state senators and most state employees will pay, and one-tenth of the cost to the average private-sector worker, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"It's also less than the $25 a month House Republicans wanted to charge poor Floridians for basic coverage such as a limited number of doctor visits or preventive care."
House members say yes to cheap health insurance — for themselves (Tampa Bay Times)

Monday, May 13

Report finds colleges are charging low-income students higher prices, while discounting tuition for the wealthy

A new report by Stephen Burd of the New America Foundation documents the high prices poorer undergraduates are asked to pay at colleges, even as the same schools offer discounts for children of wealthier families to lure them to enroll.
"'With their relentless pursuit of prestige and revenue,' Burd writes, 'the nation's public and private four-year colleges and universities are in danger of shutting down what has long been a pathway to the middle class for low-income and working-class students.'" …
"'…it's more profitable for schools to provide four scholarships of $5,000 each to induce affluent students who will be able to pay the balance than it is to provide a single $20,000 grant to one low-income student.'" …
"There's nothing inherently wrong with handing out tuition breaks to the middle class, or even the rich. The problem is that it seems to be happening at the expense of the poor. At 89 percent of the 479 private colleges Burd examined, students from families earning less than $30,000 a year were charged an average 'net price' of more than $10,000 annually…"
How Colleges Are Selling Out the Poor to Court the Rich (The Atlantic)

Friday, May 10

When access to treatment doesn't improve health.

"Given this result, what is the likelihood that Obamacare will have a positive impact on the average health of Americans? Every one of us, for or against, should be revising that probability downwards.
Expanding health insurance does not guarantee improving health. It's simply not that simple.

Pat Robertson: False Prophet

Right Wing Watch dug up an interview before last year's presidential election where Pat Robertson told fellow televangelist Benny Hinn that Mitt Romney would defeat President Obama.

"Not only did God inform Robertson that 'Romney will win' but that he will be a two-term president who presides over a huge economic boom.
"Robertson even told Romney to save him a ticket for the inauguration: 'I told Mitt a long time ago, I called him and said listen, I've been in prayer and number one you’re going to win the nomination and number two you're going to win the general election, he said 'well what can I do for you,' I said give me a seat on the platform during your inauguration, give me a ticket to your inauguration.'
"'The Lord said he’s going to have a second term, I told him there will be to be trillions of dollars coming into the economy when you’re elected,' Robertson continued, 'the stock market ought to boom, everything ought to boom.'"
Pat Robertson, Who Said 'The Lord Told Me' that 'Romney Will Win,' Urges Viewers to Beware False Prophets (Right Wing Watch)

Thursday, May 9

Morality binds and blinds

"Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say."
'The Righteous Mind,' by Jonathan Haidt

Wednesday, May 8

Highly troubling: Report finds massive price-variations between hospitals for the same procedures

Why the hell should a pacemaker implant cost $127,038 at one hospital, and $66,030 at a hospital across the street?
"For the first time, the federal government will release the prices that hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures. Until now, these charges have been closely held by facilities that see a competitive advantage in shielding their fees from competitors. What the numbers reveal is a health-care system with tremendous, seemingly random variation in the costs of services." …
"In downtown New York City, two hospitals 63 blocks apart varied by 321 percent in the prices they charged to treat complicated cases of asthma or bronchitis. One charged an average of $34,310; the other billed, on average, $8,159.
"Experts attribute the disparities to a health system that can set prices with impunity because consumers rarely see them — and rarely shop for discounts. Although the government has collected this information for years, it was housed in a bulky database that researchers had to pay to access."
One hospital charges $8,000 — another, $38,000 (Washington Post)

Tuesday, May 7

Nearly a quarter of the planet's youth (290 million) are neither working nor studying

"Official figures assembled by the International Labour Organisation say that 75m young people are unemployed, or 6% of all 15- to 24-year-olds. But going by youth inactivity, which includes all those who are neither in work nor education, things look even worse. The OECD, an intergovernmental think-tank, counts 26m young people in the rich world as 'NEETS': not in employment, education or training. A World Bank database compiled from households shows more than 260m young people in developing economies are similarly 'inactive'. The Economist calculates that, all told, almost 290m are neither working nor studying: almost a quarter of the planet's youth." …
"A clutch of academic papers, based mainly on American statistics, shows that people who begin their careers without work are likely to have lower wages and greater odds of future joblessness than those who don’t. A wage penalty of up to 20%, lasting for around 20 years, is common. The scarring seems to worsen fast with the length of joblessness and is handed down to the next generation, too." …
"The damage may be less in dynamic economies and greatest in stagnant ones where unemployment comes in long bouts—as in the swathe of countries around the Mediterranean. Spain, France, Italy and Greece have some of the highest youth joblessness in the rich world. Morocco, Egypt and other north African and Middle Eastern countries have among the worst rates in the emerging world. Though they are at different stages of development, these countries all suffer disproportionately from employment’s main curses: low growth, clogged labour markets and a mismatch between education and work." 
"Countries with the lowest youth jobless rates have a close relationship between education and work. Germany has a long tradition of high-quality vocational education and apprenticeships, which in recent years have helped it reduce youth unemployment despite only modest growth. Countries with high youth unemployment are short of such links."
Generation jobless (The Economist)

Monday, May 6

Open Letter from Gun Shop Owner to Wayne LaPierre

Mike Weisser, who owns the Ware Gun Shop in Massachusetts, has written an open letter to the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre:
Dear Wayne:
Sorry I couldn't make it to the annual meeting. I'm a Life Member and I try to get there every year. But this year is different. If I showed up you'd tried to get me to help you fight a "culture war." But if there is a war going on, you represent the wrong side.
I just watched your speech. I think it's time you dropped this nonsense about protecting our "rights." Be honest and tell it like it is. The reason you're opposed to background checks has absolutely nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It's about making it as easy as possible for everyone to own a gun. More guns means more profits for the gun companies, and that's who you really represent.
An Open Letter to Wayne LaPierre

Thursday, May 2

Jesus is very clear in his example: Put down your sword (gun)

For context, I quote part of Matthew 26 (NIV), where Jesus is arrested (betrayed by Judas), and a follower of Jesus attacks one of the arresting guards with a sword:
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him." 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him.
50 Jesus replied, "Do what you came for, friend."
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
52 "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"
We have all seen verse 52 used in support of gun control—and I agree wholeheartedly with this interpretation. There is no second-guessing Jesus' words here. But I want to extend this point a bit: When Jesus says, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" he is emphasizing to Christians, by example, that they ARE NOT to strike down other humans, rather THEY ARE TO LEAVE THINGS IN GOD'S HANDS.

If you are a Christian, and somehow think that you should be armed for self-defense or any other reason, you are living a life full of both irony and hypocrisy. Please, follow the teachings of Jesus, your exemplar.

Wednesday, May 1

The economic benefits of immigration

Economists have found that immigration has a positive effect on GDP for three primary reasons:
  1. Immigrants are not only workers but also consumers; 
  2. They have little direct impact on the wages of American workers, and
  3. Immigrants often complement, rather than compete with American workers.