Friday, September 30, 2011

How Primaries Should be Done.

There are some people out there that think Primaries should be open.  In effect, they want to allow Democrats to vote on who the Republican Candidate should be, and vice-versa.   I used to disagree with this idea, for several reasons. First, once you do that, there is less need/benefit/advantage to actually joining a political party.   Second, some might sabotage the opposing party - for example a bunch of Democrats could all vote for a Republican they think they can beat - such as Sarah Palin that no serious person thinks can win against Obama. .  Of course that might backfire if they turn around and win.  Thirdly,  it is the Republican's (or Democrat's) Primary, not the country's primary, why should anyone that is not a member of that party be allowed to vote?  We don't let Coke vote on who's going to run Pepsi!  The same goes for the other way around ( Republicans voting in a Democratic primary).

My solution is simple - give the party members extra votes and opposing members less.  This gives clear advantages to joining a party, makes sabotage much more difficult, and recognizes whose primary it is.  I am not saying that this should be a law, just that both parties should do this.  In fact, I think that if one party would do it and the other refused, the party that took my advice would come ahead - with more 'electable' candidates.

The way I see it,  a Democrat voting in a Democrat Primary should get 3 votes.  An independent gets 2 votes while a member of any other political party gets 1 vote.   These ratios are not set in stone - and can be altered.  If you still have fear of abuse, you could start it off at 6 votes for a Democrat, 1 vote for an independent and no votes for the Republicans. 

Similarly, the GOP could give the GOP members 3 (or 6 or whatever) votes, independents 2 (or whatever),  and Democrats 1 vote (or whatever) etc.etc.   I suspect that Obama still would have beat Clinton using this methodology.  The GOP really disliked her - more than any planned attempt to sabotage her would have helped- and now they are wishing she had won.  So would have McCain - despite the rhetoric both were relatively moderate candidates as opposed to the rather radical ones we are currently seeing in the GOP partisans.

But it does do three things.  First, it discourages extremes.  Suddenly there is some cost for going to extremes. Second, it encourages more electable candidates.  It doesn't just weaken the radicals, but it empowers the main stream candidates.   Isn't that a great phrase "Main Stream"  it is so much better than moderate which the extremists have used as an insult.   It isn't.  Moderate/Main Stream means more people agree, whereas radical/extreme means LESS people believe it.   Thirdly, and most important, it discourages mudslinging.   If you attack the other party, as opposed to promoting your own ideas, you lose out.  So the rhetoric would shift.   That alone would be a major benefit.  Less mud thrown makes for a better election, a more civil country.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Obama: Success or Failure?

Let's look at what Obama has done in his 3 years:

  1. Killed Osama Bin Laden.
  2. Ended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (which Clinton created and grew to hate.)
  3. Passed a massive healthcare bill that both Clintons failed to create (pre-existing conditions, child coverage, Medicare "donut hole", increased eligibility for medicaid, etc. etc. etc.)
  4. Ended the Iraq war and began the pullout
  5. Credit Card bill of rights and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  6. Fully funded the Veterans Administration,
  7. Reduced our Nuclear spending - in part by completing START Treaty obligations before they were required by the treaty.  What a great idea.   Do it early and save some cash.
  8. Helped Libya's revolution succeed with real military aid (air support) without putting hundreds of American troops in Libya.
  9. Ended the DOJ's corrupt and illegal hiring/promoting/firing  practices (which under Bush were) based on which political party people belonged to (all new hires have to sign a pledge not to do this - so everyone knows it is illegal instead of pretending "oh, thats not legal?")
  10. Raised fuel standards for cars and light trucks
  11. Required that at least 10% of US electricity be from renewable sources - as of 2011, it is about 11%: 6% hydroelectric + 3% wind + another 2% from a combination of solar, biomass and geothermal.  Most of this was from strong growth in Hydro and wind

Some of you are going to say that Bush should get at least some of the credit for Obama's #1 success - killing Bin Laden.  Maybe that's true (I disagree.  If Bush 'helped' he helped to the extent that it took 10 years to find Bin Laden.  Finding him after 10 years is a failure.   Finding him in less than 3 years is a sucess).  But Bush is definitely responsible for creating Obama's major "failure" - the Recession.

Note the recession is technically over, according to economists.  But it's not back to normal either.    Yes, that's a big one in my mind bigger than any but the top 4 Obama successes .   However, if I had a choice of having Osama Bin Laden still alive but the economy thriving, I would rather take the situation as it is now.  I bet a lot of other people - Democrat and Republicans - would keep it the same as well.

But the economy is also the one thing that presidents don't really have a lot of control over.  Presidents can't go on a hiring spree to give everyone government jobs.  They can't even pass laws - Congress does that.   They can push and scream and yell at Congress plus they can propose laws and carry them out quickly or slowly.  They can hire the right/wrong people and put them in charge of our financial policy - such as raising/lowering money supplies and interest rates charged to banks, but that only has so much of an effect.   Basically, if the problem wasn't stupid Federal policies in the first place, there is not much they can do.

While presidents get the blame for the economy, they can't really do all that much about it.   

People are going to look back at Obama and say he was one of the better presidents.  In his first term, he did 4-5 very difficult, very important things, plus about 6-7 easier, but still important things.   He only failed on the one thing he didn't have much control over - the economy.

Obama has not done a bad job.   The Republicans may not like a lot of what he has done ( of the 11 good things, I can see them hating #s 2,3, and 5, and not liking 9,10 and 11, but that still leaves 1,4,6,7, and 8 that they wanted done ), but the things the GOP dislikes were Democrat priorities and the Democrats are all glad he did them.  Quite a few of the people that voted for him wanted those  list items the Republicans hate.

By any reasonable standard, Obama has done both America and the DNC proud.   The people that voted for him got about as good as can be expected.  Yes, the people that voted against him dislike the things he did - that is why they voted against him.   Obama is a clearly successful President, not a failure.  He did most of the big things he wanted to do.  The one main thing he hasn't done, well, it's pretty impossible for a President to do - at least not without a lot of luck.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why Obama is still going to win the election

First, several republicans (Bachmann, the queen of lies, in particular)  have mentioned that Obama is in a worse position than any other president.  They say he has lower approval ratings than any other president.  It is not surprising that republicans think that because most likely, Obama has the lowest approval ratings among REPUBLICANS than any other Democrat president. They talk to their friends and they all hate him, so they think everyone hates him.

But is wrong.  His approval rating is at 40%, as compared to Clinton's low of 37% (in his first term) Reagan's low of 35% (again in his first term), and Truman.

They continue to think that the Recession will kill Obama's second term.

Second, the major way the Recession has affected people is unemployment.  But first of all unemployed people vote DEMOCRAT.  They don't believe the GOP when they say they are protecting Job Creators,  they believe the GOP is protecting rich people and destroying the social programs that the unemployed people depend on. 

Thirdly, blacks have a much higher unemployment rate than among whites people.  Black people are not going to vote Republican, even if Cain wins the primary (something very unlikely).  In addition, they are not going to stay home - they are going to go out and vote for Obama. 

Neither are gays going to forget the man that ended "Don't Ask Don't Tell".

Once again, in order to win, you need to get your base to vote, the independents to vote for you, and your opponents base to stay home.

High unemployment, particularly among blacks, is NOT going to get Democrats to stay home.  Nor will it get unemployed independents to vote Republican.     The best the GOP can hope for is that white unemployed independents will stay home. 

Talk about "Job Creators" is not convincing.  It doesn't work on independents - all it does is assuage the conscience of Republicans.

The Republicans have worked hard to ensure that their own base will show up, because they know for a fact that the Democrat's base will also show up.   This election is going to come down to the independents, not the bases.

Independents think the Tea Party is a joke.  They think the Republicans have been taken over by it.   Most independents that are unemployed will vote Democrat (or stay home).    The more power the Tea Party exhibits, the larger an effect this will cause.

Employed independents will not be concerned about fixing the economy.   The republicans hope to get their votes by promising low taxes.   But the more people talk about a bad economy (which the Republicans keep talking about), the harder it is to make that promise. 

In addition, usually the GOP tries for the "We will protect you from the big bad world".  But the T Party has destroyed that motif.  It costs money and the GOP has bowed to pressure to stop spending.   Worse, Obama caught and killed Bin Laden, ended the Iraq war AND managed to help out Libya without an army on the ground (sailors off shore are not as big a deal - they are always off shore).  So the GOP has had to give up their main counter and try some new ideas.

I can't see those new ideas working.    The claim of "we promise to be more fiscal responsible, and this time we REALLY mean it even though we didn't the last time" just doesn't cut it.

The Democrat's promise of "We won't let you starve or die from a paper cut" is a much better bit of propaganda. 

Romney is the only GOP candidate with a chance of beating Obama, and he won't make it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Jewish Politics in the USA.

For a long time, Republicans, mostly Christian, have been trying to get the Jewish vote. They do pretty well with the extreme orthodox sects, that are of course ultra-conservative. These are people that don't like homosexuals, don't like modern culture, and don't trust outsiders.   But not many Jews are Orthodox.  Among the much more populous Conservative and Reform Jews, the Republican message has fallen flat.

The reason is simple.  When talking to Jews they talk only about international politics and ignore domestic issues.   Israel has existed for only about 63 years, and has proven itself reasonably good at defending itself.  Yes, it needs USA support, but it doesn't need a lot of USA support. 

Jews have had about 2,000 years of persecution, mainly from Christians, while Muslims have (excluding the past 63 years) for the most part, left us alone.   Islam didn't accuse us of killing Jesus (funny how Rome/Italy never got the blame for that) and didn't accuse of blood libel.  The Spanish Inquisition did not start until after the Christians took over Spain, the Muslims left us mostly alone.

But we see an awful lot of Christians out there quoting the bible at us, telling us that because their priest, pastor, minister etc. tells them that abortion is murder, that it should be illegal.  Tthere is no Pope telling us that abortion is wrong.  Sure, some of think it is, but we don't base it on a religious position.  Then the Christian politicians start preaching religion to get elected.  They complain about "prayer in school" being illegal, saying that the Constitution doesn't say "separation of church and state", sometimes while holding prayer rallies, or even promoting christian based anti-gay treatments.

We are not afraid of Muslims pushing Sharia law on us, because we don't see that happening.  To my knowledge it hasn't happened anywhere in America.  But we do see Christians trying to use the New Testament to push Christian based laws on us all the time.   Sure, it's not particularly strong, not particularly intrusive, but it happens.   Every time a politician brings up Jesus, we hear it and remember.   Then there is the entire "War on Christmas" campaign, where they try to force us to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays".  Funny, if it is a war on Christmas, where are the Jews objecting to people saying "Merry Christmas"?   We don't see a war on Christmas, we see a war on us.

I'm just one Jew, and not a particularly religious one.  I can't speak for everyone.  But from this Jew's perspective, the Republican party is squarely against Judaism in America.  They support it outside the country, but not inside.  They preach against the First Amendment.  They are trying to establish this country as a Christian Nation.   They want to use their bible to determine what is legal and what is illegal, exactly the way they (falsely) accuse Islam of using Sharia law.   Frankly, the Republican party ignores Judaism with regards to all of it's domestic agenda.  Strong support for Jewish ideas in the foreign agenda (i.e. supporting Israel) just does NOT make up for treating us so badly on the domestic agenda.

In addition, every once in a while I see the GOP acting like France pre-World War II.  France complained about the influx of Jewish illegal immigrants, the Republicans talk about Mexican immigrants.  Stories of military court martials for terror defendants remind me of the Dreyfus affair.  Sure, they may be guilty - but why not give them the full protections we give serial murders that rape and kill children?  Just maybe they are innocent and the military doesn't want to admit they got the wrong guy.  

I am American first, Jewish second.   I am not Israeli at all.  I care most about how you treat me here in MY country.  I do care about Israel, but the second you push your religion on me I start worrying about you. You want to get Jews to vote Republican again?  Fine.  Make the following changes:

  1. The most important thing is to enforce "Separation of Church and State"  Yeah, I know it isn't in the Bill of Rights, but it is in the founders other writings.  They meant it and it is very, VERY important to Jews.  When you attack Separation of Church and State, you scare Jews.
  2. So the GOP needs to yell at any politician for bringing up his Jesus.  Don't treat it as a bonus, act like it doesn't matter.  Because when you act like being a good Christian makes you a better candidate, I hear "being a good Jew makes you a bad politician".   If you must say something, say you are a "strong believer in the power of God, but that religion is a personal matter". You mention Jesus or Christian, or anything else specific to your religion, you send a message that you don't want my vote.
  3. Stop using religion as an argument indirectly.  That is, when some random yahoo tries to quote the bible as an argument for politics, don't put him on the news.   Instead give air time to the guy who uses logic.  Fox is the right arm of the GOP, even if they don't want to admit it, so get control of your arm.
  4. Stop trying to pretend that Christians are being persecuted.  You have no idea what real persecution is.   Being told to say "Happy Holidays" is not being persecuted.  Persecution is about theft, vandalism, assault, rape, murder, and being forcibly identified/labeled.
  5. Instead of saying things like "No Sharia Law", say things like "No Religious Law".  That simple change makes you far more likable.  We now the difference between those two statements, and it is damning.  We look at you and say "He wants to do to me what he is accusing them of doing."
  6. Forget about stopping the constructions of Mosques.  Every time you do that, I cringe and think of Jewish Ghettos.  If you want to put people in concentration camps, you first need to round them up and preventing them from building houses of worship wherever they want is as great way to do that.  If you want to give Muslims extra scrutiny, I hate to admit it, but Jews probably won't object.  But when you have yahoos trying to stop Mosques from being built, that is a clear violation of the First Amendment and Jews don't like it.
  7. Stop having idiots say things like "Islam is not a religion, it is a political plot".  We heard people use that same logic against Jews before, and not just in the 20th century. 
  8. Start complaining when military officers push Christianity on their privates.  We hear the stories, and it doesn't sit well, even if the officers only push religion on 'atheists' and leave the Jews alone.   We don't care, stories about anyone pushing religion on anyone make us sit up and pay attention.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Economists, Irrational Economies and Secret Assumptions

Here is a great video of Stephen Dubner ("Freakonomics") talking about the limits of social science experiments.  Specifically he showed that studies of charity change depending on how the question is framed.  That is, if you pay a college student $10 and then tell them they you have an extra $10 they can distribute among themselves and another anonymous person, they tend to give on average $3 to the other person and keep $7..  But if you tell them they can take give some of the money none, or even take  $1 from the base $10 from the other guy is supposed to get, then they tend to give $1.50. (Note, what happened was much more people gave nothing, it was not simply the people that gave $0 now taking $1.)

If you had not done the second two experiments, it looks like people are generous - they are giving $3 for no reason.   But if you allow the possibility of  'theft', the truth comes out.  Dubner stated that the charity was an an attempt to seem nice to the experimenter, and by 'not stealing' they look nice so they did not need to give.

My point here is that how you phrase the question dramatically affects how people react, and is part of the experiment.  It is not something you can 'write off' as irrational.

Back in 2010, Laurie Santos gave a talk about a similar issue  She compared monkey economies to humans (Video of a talk she gave) and declared the monkeys irrational for the choice they mad - which happened to be very similar to the choice people made in similar experiments.

In it, she failed to realize that the monkeys were smarter than the economists.   Specifically, she said that a brown capuchin monkey was irrational when it demonstrate loss aversion vs risk adverse, the same way that humans do.

The monkey version is comparing a choice of two scientists that displays 1 grape.  One guy half the time gave just the displayed grape and the other times gave 2 bonus grapes, for a total of 3.   The other guy always gave a single bonus grape (2 total).  In either case, the monkey averaged 2 grapes over the long term.   The monkeys usually took the safe bet of 2 grapes.  This is called risk adverse behavior.  The monkeys don't like to gamble.

But when you switch from the experimenters showing 1 grape (and giving extra) to instead showing 3 and sometimes taking them away, you get a different result.  In that case one guy always  took away 1 (leaving 2) while the other guy half the time took none (leaving 3), and the other half took 2 (leaving 1).  Here, the monkeys have radically different results.  Instead of being risk adverse, most monkeys are "loss adverse", preferring the risky potential of 3 grapes even though they might get stuck with just one.

Ms. Laurie Santos says this is irrational, as the monkeys treat loss different from gains, when in reality  the end result would be the same    In addition, she notes that humans act the same way the monkeys do  (If you switch out $1000 for the grapes, humans are more likely to gamble if they think they already own the money rather than if it is presented as a bonus).  She thinks this is an indication that humans have in built evolutionary flaws that screw with our ability to do economics.

But she is wrong.  The monkeys are smarter than she is.  

As Dubner said, how you present the choice affects the results.  It's not irrational, but affects us in logical, rational ways.   We are not trusting fools that believe what the experimenters say.   We live in the real world and we use clues from presentation to make our decisions.  These clues work.  I don't ride in cabs that reek of alcohol, even if the driver swears he is sober.   In social sciences, you are NOT measuring just what you want to measure, there are always a lot of extraneous variables.  In this case:
  1. The monkeys don't know the odds are the same.   They do NOT know that you have artificially set the chances for loss to be the same as the chances for gain.  Even assuming they can do the math and figure out that the odds are the same, it doesn't matter.  Why ?  See point 2 below.
  2. To quote every single mutual fund performance sheet: "Past performance is no guarantee
    of future results." 
    Things change.  People lie.   Ms. Santos, despite being well versed in monkey psychology does not realize this - at least she doesn't account for it.  The monkeys do not trust that the guys to keep acting the same way.
  3. The monkeys are not looking at the odds, they are looking at the MORAL CHARACTER.  They are not confronted with scientists offering risk/rewards scenarios.  They are confronted with humans - some of whom are nice and give 'tips', others of whom are nasty and steal.  
She did not set up an experiment where  the monkeys are calculating odds and rate of return.  Instead she set up an experiment where monkeys are deciding who to trust.
    Monkeys, like humans, treat tippers differently than we treat thieves.  When given a choice between someone that randomly tips well but sometimes tips nothing or a consistently average tipper, the monkeys (and I) would rather go with the guy that tips consistently average.  But that same rule does not apply to thieves.  Monkeys, like humans, would rather deal with someone that sometimes does not steal from them at all, even if when he does steal, he steals a lot, rather than the guy that always steals a little bit. 

    What does this have to do with politics?   It explains a lot of the hard to figure out stuff.   It is why the Republicans keep trying to say "Job Creators" rather than "Wealthy".   They tried to influence the voters.  It is why the Obama Health Care bill  described itself as "tax penalties for not having health insurance" rather than a tax hike that is exactly countered by a 'tax deduction for having health insurance'.  The Democrats did not want to admit they were doing a tax hike with an exactly equal tax deduction, because then the Republicans would have said TAX HIKE and left the rest out.

    But in a system where we make the rules, past performance may be no guarantee of future results, but it is a strong guide.  When it comes to taxes and economics, we need to look at what happened before.   As in Bush's tax cuts destroyed the surplus that Clinton created.   Look at the math  while spending has gone up, the truth is that the growth is relatively minor while the recession caused a huge drop in tax receipts.

    While character is important, it is not the only thing.  We need to look at the math as well as the intentions.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    Bad Journalism

    Routinely, journalists try for sensationalism.   The News business has become more about the business and less about news.   Walter Kronkite was a man known for being trustworthy, now we have people known for being nasty.

    A prime example of this was a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

    It compares the death rates from vehicles, drugs and firearms.   Firearms has a slight rise, and the vehicle death rate has a large drop.  Drug deaths rose dramatically from 2000 to 2006, but since then they began to drop slowly.   More importantly, since 2006, the vehicle death rate dropped about 20%  bringing it down below the death rate for drugs.  The story should obviously be either about drug deaths leveling off, ceasing their huge clime, or about vehicle deaths dropping like a stone.  

    Then click on the story for the chart (,0,5517691.story
    So, what is the headline?
    "Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in U.S., data show"

    They are so caught up in telling a story about drugs, that in reality is 5 years old - and no longer true.  So they ignore the real story - that drug deaths have leveled off, even began to drop, while vehicle deaths are practically disappearing.

    It's not just an isolated case.  We've all seen the "horrible storm coming" stories that turns out to be nothing.  The same thing happens too often with regards to politics.  They talk about the guy yelling the stupidest, most ridiculous thing, ignoring the guy making sense.   You want to know why politics is so crazy?  At least a third of the reason is that media encourages it.  Not the politicians, not the voters, but the media.

    This goes for the smaller media just as much as the big ones.  And it works on both sides.  Fox does it, but so does CNN.

    Doing this drives up ratings, but down trustworthiness.     Its just another form of the "Tragedy of the Commons".  That is where you have a resource that everyone can use, so no one maintains it.   In this case, the resource is trustworthiness.

    Like most Tragedy of the Commons, capitalism is the cause, not the fix.    I love capitalism, it is a great system, but it is not perfect. There are things it can not do, problems it creates, and this is one of them.  Anyone that tries to use capitalism within a family - having a wife charge her husband for chores, having the children pay for their dinner - etc. is committing a horrible offense against nature.  Similarly, a church whose prime goal was turning a profit is not a good idea.  Nor should police departments be about writing tickets.

    Apparently, journalism is another case where capitalism does not work.  News is not just another way to make money, anymore than Religion, or marriage is.   I don't have a sure fire way to fix it, but I have some suggestions.  Maybe expanding the Pulitzer prize in some way - giving $10k to the finalists and $100k to the winners.  Now that we are depending more and more on the internet, perhaps some kind of Pulitzer Prize link systems where if you read one Pulitzer Prize winning website, it will direct you to another randomly chosen one.  Something that will encourage people to go to the best news sources as opposed to simply the most profitable.

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    What Freedom is About

    Ron Paul, a libertarian disguised as a Republican, recently said that freedom is about taking risks.

    Ron Paul is wrong.   Totally and completely wrong.

    George Washington did not rebel against Great Britain because King George was stopping him from putting all his money in junk bonds.   Abolitionists did not demand freedom for the slaves because the masters were not letting them get drunk.    The Allies did not fight against the Axis powers because they wouldn't let them drive too fast.    My ancestors did not flee communist Russia because they forced healthcare on us.

    No.   In all of those cases, freedom meant freedom from a TYRANT, not freedom from a nanny state.   If freedom was about taking risks, no one would want it. 

    Freedom is about doing what we want to do, not ignoring safety.   Yes, when you do what you want that come with additional risks, but the risks are the costs we pay to get freedom, not the goal.  More importantly, sometimes those costs are too high, and we give up the freedom.

    The honest truth is that the majority of Americans are not libertarians and do not want total freedom.

    We want police to stop us from doing stupid things - like drinking and driving.
    We want the EPA to stop people from putting lead in gasoline - because lead causes nerve damage.
    We want the FDA to make the use of addictive substances such as Meth illegal.

    Why?  Because those risks are too high for the amount of freedom.  So we give up the freedom because of the risks.   Moreover, it's not just the risks.   It's also the arguments.

    Freedom and peace are opposites.  The more we have of one, the less we have of the other.  The peace we get from agreeing to things a set way means we give up the freedom to do it the way we personally like (but others hate).   Freedom to play music at all hours will piss your neighbors off, and that creates strife (less peace).  Freedom to paint your house any color may lower property values.

    People don't always agree as to how much freedom we want.  Some people want more.  I myself am willing to give up the freedom to play loud music at 3 AM, but am not willing to give up the right to paint my house whatever color I want it to be.

    That why not all local governments have the same rules.  We get to pick how much government we want.   That's the beauty of having local governments.  But some things can't be left to local governments.   We found out the hard way that single nation can not let individual states decided about slavery.  Run away slaves caused too much problems, let alone the moral outrage that Slavery was legal in America.

    Here are some good reasons why freedoms need to be curbed for an entire nation, as opposed to just a local government:
    • Shared resources.  Water does not respect local boundaries  Water used upstream is not available downstream.
    • Shared dangers.   Diseases and pollution don't respect local boundaries either. If an epidemic starts in Texas, it can easily spread throughout the country.  Pollution from coal plants in Ohio can affect the air in New York. 
    • Economies of Scale.  Many items, whether we are talking about an emergency reserve fund for disasters, a Coast Guard, or the FBI, are cheaper to do for a larger area.
    • Business consistency.  It is easier for a large business to operate the same across all areas rather than conform to different local regulations.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Molten Salt Reactors - the solution to our power question.

    If you have read my blog, you know I am a proponent of nuclear power.  Before I have talked about how coal is far worse than nuclear.     But another reason is that the newest designs are far better than the current ones.

    We are now using Generation 3 - the ones currently being planned are called "3+".  The next design is called Generation 4.   It is a radical change from Generation 3.  Generation 3 uses solid nuclear fuel (Uranium and/or Plutonium) physically placed together, with graphite control rods in between them to slow down the reaction.   Generation 4 takes the nuclear material (thorium)l, chops it up into small pieces, and mixes it with salt.  Then they heat up the salt so that it is molten and flows.

    Put enough of the molten salt in one place and you get a reaction.  If you keep it spread out, no reaction.  Being molten, to put enough in one place, you just pour it into a small container - ideally in the shape of a ball.   Or to keep it spread out, you can pour it into a web of small, narrow tubes separated by some lead.

    Best of all, they can put a refrigerator near the bottom above a drain.  With the refrigerator on, the drain is cold and the molten salt freezes into a solid plug, blocking the drain.  When you have a power failure (and/or a melt down), the refrigerator turns off, the salt plug melts, and the molten radioactive salt flow out into a safe drainage system that physically can NOT cause a melt down.

    Note, a meltdown is what caused all the serious problems with nuclear plants.   

    But there are some downsides.   First, it is not a very good 'breeder' plant.  So to make a lot of these plants quickly, you have to dig up and purify your fuel, instead of simply getting it for free from running the plant.  That also means you can't use it to make nuclear weapons.  Second, the plants need a lot more maintenance.  The salts can under certain circumstances form acidic gasses - some of which may be radioactive.   But as there is no heat buildup, there is never an explosion.  Just slow leaks of acidic gas, that in the worst cases might be radioactive.

    But this design does negate almost all of the problems that Japan had.  Their design needed people to keep it safe and no one wanted to send people into an unsafe area.

    The Molten Salt Reactor needs people to keep it working, but without people, it shuts down safely, automatically.  No water needs to be pumped to keep it safe.  Electricity is needed to keep it working, not to shut it down safely.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Why Partisan Politics is bad

    I am going to use a non-controversial issue as an example.  Well, at least it hasn't been controversial for a while.  The issue is "Tort Reform", which hasn't got a lot of press lately.

    Basically Tort Reform refers t to the laws about suing a company for damages.  Whether those damages be physical, pain & suffering, or financial.  

    Typically the conservatives argument against maintaining the current form are three fold:

    1. It is expensive (per wikipedia, Britain spends 85 pence in legal actions for every Pound of damages obtained).   Those legal expenses also gets pushed into healthcare by insurances rates having to rise to cover them.
    2. Some of the cases are frivolous/fraudulent
    3. It discourages no-fault insurance - so those that are injured by a true accident get no payment, while those that are injured by negligence get paid large amounts.
    4. It discourages innovative ideas out of fear of tort cases (I.E.  No weather control attempts by US companies because they are afraid that they will be sued for indirectly causing a hurricane. - Instead China leads the field Source )
    Liberals counter that:

    1. It is expensive because corporations/insurance companies act in bad faith, 
    2. Few cases are frivolous and fraudulent cases should be prosecuted, 
    3. No fault insurance prevents punishment, encouraging firms to re-offend 
    4. We need a mechanism to discourage dangerous ideas - and that truly innovative ideas should be made safe before we act on them.

    Liberals want more punitive damages and to make it easier to  sue, conservatives want less and to make it harder to sue.

    But what ends up happening is that both sides use this issue as a talking point.  It becomes a weapon to get  lobbying money from the public.  The GOP goes after insurance company money while the DNC goes after tort lawyers money.    This affects their proposed solutions.   Sometimes the various lobby's directly write the proposed laws.   So instead of the GOP vs the DNC bill, you get the Insurance vs. Lawyers Bill.

    Lets look at a logical way to deal with it, for all of those four issues.

    1. Expensive = required mediation.  Laywers can't talk to each other without a mediator present.  They get a quick and cheap hearing by one - cost to be split equally.
    2. The mediator can either a) Approve a settlement. b) Refer it to trial.  c) Declare that a case is either frivolous or being unfairly denied - requiring the offending party to pay double the mediator fee and if they insist on a trial, have penalty fees applies if they lose the trial. or d) Order a criminal Investigation if they believe either side is committing fraud. 
    3. Requiring all people to have health insurances takes care of most of this (Obamacare to the rescue) plus the mediator can give out penalties.
    4. Again, the threat of a law suit will still be there.
    Finally, one more idea to solve the problem.  The heart of the Conservative fear is greedy trial lawyers suing people that did nothing wrong (or demanding high reimbursement for low damages).   So reduce their payout.   Let the lawyers get 15% of any tort case plus expenses (including an hourly charge for their time in front of a judge - as long as the judge doesn't rule them excessive), while allowing the plaintiff to get quadruple  damages plus expenses.  This significantly reduces the incentive for greedy lawyers, without affecting the incentive to sue.   Greedy lawyers will only go after strong cases, while strong cases can still sue for massive damages.   We still get to discourage dangerous activities and encourage reasonable safety..

    But that won't happen.  Because the insurance companies are not really afraid of frivolous lawsuits, they are afraid of ANY lawsuits.  Similarly, the tort lawyers are not solely looking out for their clients, they are also concerned with their own livelyhood.

    So partisan politics stops us from looking at an actual fair way to solve the problem, instead focuses us on one side winning and the other side losing, even if a compromise would be in the best interest of all.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    What if the T Party Won

    Lets assume America undergoes a radical shift in politics and suddenly the T Party wins.  They get everything they ever wanted.

    American military gets a budget cut of 50%.   Medicare and Medicaid vanish away to be replaced with private insurance - if you can afford it.   Social Security stops taxing us, everyone over 55 gets the old plan, everyone under  that has paid money into it gets that amount back (let's be generous - with interest), instead of what the current plan says they get. 

    The Bush tax cuts (done during a war) are made permanent.

    We  still have a deficit.  OK, let's give them their remaining cuts.  Away goes the National Weather bureau, the EPA gets' its budget cut, the Department of Education goes away, etc etc.  (and there are  LOT of etc.).

    Well, first of all, America is no longer a Super Power.  In fact, China now becomes not only the fastest growing country, but also the one with the biggest military.  We still are richer than them, but not for long.  We can still use the threat of existing nuclear weapons to protect our actual territory, if not stop threats from growing.  Eventually we may have to nuke North Korea or Iran, but screw them.  Who cares if we get hit by trade sanctions, terrorism and have to suck up to China to protect us.

    You see, we will more important stuff on the mind.  There will be homeless old people wandering the street, begging for food.  Or just eating cat food in group homes.  That will lower property values, of course, but the poor will need place to live.  At least the seniors are healthy - because those that get sick die slowly in crappy hospitals.

    Those are definite.  We know they happened before - they were why we created those programs in the first place.  But there are a bunch of maybes.

    Maybe our education standards don't go to crap.   Maybe we don't run out of scientists and doctors because people that believe in creationism don't pass college level biology.   They certainly don't get hired by Monsanto to genetically design plants to withstand Roundup.

    Maybe the death rate for asthma skyrockets - not to mention cancer rates.   Maybe we don't overtake China - as having the most polluted cities in the world.   Maybe the corporations deny they are responsible and never have to pay for the damage that they do.  We just get a bunch of sickly poor people - because the rich move away from the states that let people pull that crap.

    But all that is small potatoes.  The real problem won't be pollution, or low education, or even the international situation.   Eventually, we will have a civil war.  Because the world I am describign is a world where America is no longer a super power in any way shape or form - and that won't sit well with the proud Americans I know. The people that raised me, raised me proud.  Immigrants don't come here to be second best, they came to be the best.

    We don't want to live cheap we want to live LARGE.  We want to be the heroes. We want to be betters, stronger, smarter and richer than other countries.

    That COSTS MONEY.  Being a world power is not cheap - but it is worth it.  Ask the Italians dreaming of Rome, the Iranians so desperate for Persia they put up with psychotic leaders, the British lusting for their lost Empire. 

    The T-Party wants to turn back the clock, restoring America to roaring 1920s - without America's social programs, civil rights, or strong military. But we can't turn back the clock, even if women, Jews, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics were willing to do it (and we are not).  We can however go forward. 

    Forward may not increase military spending, but it won't drop it significantly.  The same goes for social programs.   Just maintaining the current budget will be tough. 

    Saturday, September 3, 2011

    Partisan vs Politics and the Loyal Opposition.

    Every once in a while, someone will dismiss something as 'just politics'.  By that they mean it is not really going to effect their lives.  But politics is real and it does effect their lives.  What they usually mean is "it's just PARTISAN politics", as opposed to general politics.

    General politics, whether it is local, state, national is about three things:  1) What activities we want the government to charge fees/taxes for doing (and how much),   2) What activities we want the government to severely punish people for doing (and what that punishment will be - jail/torture/death),  and 3) What we want the government to do with the money it collects.  All three of those things are EXTREMELY important - at least if you don't want the government to tax you $150 for going to the bathroom, break your hands for saying "Recall Election", and buy underage sex slaves for all Congressman.  

    Partisan politics are generally not important.   Partisan means you are doing something for your faction, not for the good of the country.  Usually it involves Ad Hominem (attacking a person instead of his logic).

     There are two cases where Partisan politics becomes obvious:  The Flop and the Ignore.   The Flop is when a politician that has previously supported something (like say healthcare, GOP) proceeds to object to a plan that looks a lot like what they used to support because it is now being offered up by their opposing party, that is "partisan politics".   The truth is, if that person had been in power they very well might have made the same plan, or one very similar to it.

    The "Ignore." is when when a politician that has previously attacked something (like Guantanamo Bay, DNC) suddenly becomes quiet when his own party starts doing the same thing.   The truth is, they were just using is as a weapon, they really did not see how to do it any better. 

    Partisan politics is not very interesting (with the exception of a good sex scandal).   It tends to be boring because most of it consists of rather stupid lies. Unless of course you belong to that faction.  Then you swear it is the most important thing in the universe.   

    But the rest of us know better.

    Real politics is about real disagreements on how to do things, as opposed to simply who gets the credit, or the discredit.  When someone says they are devoted to getting X done, even if their opponent gets the credit, that is real politics, without the slightest taint of partisanship.

    One of the problems I have had with the GOP is that they have become overtaken with partisan politics.  They vilify everything their opponents say and do - even when it is almost a carbon copy of what they said not that long ago.

    For example, one man said all of the following quotes -  "I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself. "

     "I favor the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it must be enforced at gunpoint if necessary.

    "It doesn't do good to open doors for someone who doesn't have the price to get in. If he has the price, he may not need the laws. There is no law saying the Negro has to live in Harlem or Watts."

    "It's difficult to believe that people are still starving in this country because food isn't available. "

    The Negro bit makes it obvious that they are a bit old.  But they still make a lot of sense.  Can you guess who said them?  A Democrat, a Republican, or maybe what the GOP calls a R.I.N.O (Republican In Name Only). 

    Need some help?  How about one more line:  "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall! "  Yes, Ronald Reagan said all of those things. 

    Won't catch a Republican saying any of that stuff now for fear of being called a RINO.    Similarly, Democrats don't object to the Guantanamo Bay or the loss of our rights in the name of Homeland Security- all for Partisan reasons.  To quote Benjamin Franklin (correctly): "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."     But the Democrats don't talk about it anymore.  Why?  Because of Partisan politics - the GOP (and the DNC to a lesser extent) are supporting their own personal agendas above the good of the nation.

    In the 1800 US presidential election, something most unusual happened - Vice President Thomas Jefferson defeated the existing President John Adams.   Back then, the Vice President was whoever had the second highest vote tally, not an add on selected by the presidential candidate.  This was the death knoll for the Federalist Party and began the rule of the "Democratic-Republican Party". (Note this political party eventually became the Democrats, even though at the time it held a point of view that was closer the current "Republican Party")   During this time, despite a hard fought partisan fight, between Jefferson and Adams, a new term came about: "Loyal Opposition".

    Loyal Opposition was originally created by the opposition (the Federalists) to show that while they dislike Jefferson, they were still loyal to both the Country and the political process.   Later, it became accepted as the norm.  It helped prevent extreme partisanship that can cause a Civil War for 60 years - despite clearly have dramatic differences that could not be solved without a Civil War.

    But the recent partisan politics is destroying the idea of the Loyal Opposition.   When the conservatives claim that the Democrats are Socialistic (we actually have one socialist - Bernie Sanders of Vermont - in Congress but he refuses to join the Democratic Party because he does not agree with their politics - The Democrats run candidates against him and fail to unseat him - as does the GOP), engage in treason, or call for "Second Amendment Solutions", they are not being a Loyal Opposition.  They are in fact engaging in Partisan politics to the extreme, just short of Insurrection.

    Look, part of the problem is that some really evil men have in the past claimed that they were just exaggerating and they did not really mean the obvious violent consequences of their untrue statements.   Then we found out that they were not exaggerating but were in fact hiding the true extent of their evil.   It is EASY to lie and say "I didn't mean it that way.", even when that is exactly what you meant.

    More importantly, politics evolve.  What you propose as a sneaky bit of propaganda, if it is successful, gets BELIEVED by the next generation.   That is part of the success of the Civil Rights.  We got people to publicly state that they believed blacks, Jews, women etc. were equal, even though they did not believe it.  This led to the next generation actually believing it - at least a little bit more. Go through 2 1/2 generations later and we had a fight between a black man and a white woman for the Democrat Presidential candidate - and the black man became President.

    That is the real danger with partisan politics.  When you lie about what you believe, calling it "an exaggeration", the next generation starts to believe it.  If the lie/exaggeration gets people elected, the next time they repeat the process, making the exaggeration even stronger.  And you are not going to like what they end up believing - because if it worked once, it will become VERY extreme until it becomes blatantly obvious false.

    That is the real secret to the rise of the Tea Party  For a long time the GOP claimed they were all about Fiscal responsibility and that the DNC were fiscally irresponsible. The GOP talked about how the DNC was wasting massive amounts of money on social programs that Americans did not want.  The people that started these lies knew they were lies but said them anyway as good propaganda.  They did not realize that their core constituents would believe them and eventually rise up and demand they take real action to fix the situation. 

    Right now the GOP is discovering what happens when the lie about the US budget becomes so obviously false.  They said we are wasting money and now the public is demanding we stop wasting it.  Cuts will be made and later the public will realize they were not cutting fat, but instead cutting muscle and even bone.  If too much damage gets done, it could kill the GOP and hurt America for a very long time.