Thursday, March 31, 2011

GE's tax bill - storyline vs. reality

There's been a big fuss in the left blogosphere, and some parts of the mainstream press (though strangely, not on NBC News1) this week over the fact that GE, after exceptions and credits and incentives and what-not, paid $0 in nominal federal taxes last year. Here is the fundamental fact that this discussion ignores:
Corporations do not pay taxes. People do.
Every tax is paid by a person. It might be collected from the corporation by the government, but it is paid by an individual person.
Corporations do not pay taxes. People do.
Taxes are paid by shareholders in reduced dividends or lower capital gains. Or the are paid by employees in reduced wages or lost jobs. Or they are paid by consumers in increased cost. Or they are paid by sub-contractors and suppliers in lost business. But in the end, the tax burden is not borne by a corporation. It is borne by a person.
Corporations do not pay taxes. People do.
Corporations can be tax collectors for the state, but the tax payers are individual people, and it is pointless to discuss corporate taxes without recognizing and acknowledging that. It is the single most relevant factor in any discussion of corporate tax rates.
Corporations do not pay taxes. People do.
Any discussion of "corporate taxes" which does not start with that understanding is a discussion rooted in fantasy rather than reality.

Does that mean that GE's nominal rate of 0% is fair or right? No. There are many other corporations whose shareholders and employees and customers paid more in taxes than GE's did, and the crony capitalism which is going on between big businesses and the government with regards to the tax code is an abomination, this time to the benefit of GE's stakeholders, employees and customers. But it's pointless, useless and counter-productive to a) pretend that we're "shocked - shocked!" that a major corporation took advantage of all legal means of limiting its tax liability and b) imagine that we could solve budget problems by increasing "corporate taxes."

1 - GE owns NBC. It would be slanderous, of course, to suggest that the editorial judgement of the non-partisan, objective news professionals at NBC might be influenced in any way, however slight, by that connection.

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This concerns me

ESPN predicts the 2011 baseball season, and each of their 45 analysts picks the Red Sox to win the AL East. I like the Red Sox, I think that they've put together an excellent team, and I think that they're the favorites to win the East. I also believe in the wisdom of crowds. But unanimity of opinion among "experts" always makes me nervous, and this case is no exception. I'd love to have seen a few of those guys pick the Rays or the Yankees. There's a bit too much knee-jerk "they added Crawford and Gonzalez - they'll be AWESOME" going on instead of real analysis. A repeat of last year's injury scenario, for example, or a continuation of the Josh Beckett glide path to retirement, and they'll be less of a juggernaut than we're expecting.

I'm still picking them, of course, but I'd feel better if some of those ESPN guys were on the Yankees...

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Speaking truth to power

Not one of these is my rep, but I love this letter from the House GOP Freshmen to Harry Reid...
Mr. Reid,

We the undersigned call on you and the Senate to pass a long-term Continuing Resolution; a resolution that hears the calls of the American people and makes reasonable, responsible spending cuts.

Mr. Reid, your record on spending in the Senate is one of failure. You have failed to pass a budget, failed to restrain spending, and failed to put our country on sound fiscal footing.

We do not accept your failure as our own.

The American people did not send us here to fail. Make no mistake: any government shutdown is the result of your lack of leadership. America has a $14 trillion debt and you offered a mere $6 billion in cuts. The House heard the calls of the American people and offered $61 billion in cuts, but the Senate has not sent us a Continuing Resolution in return.

We have received nothing from the Senate except denials of the dire straits of our nation’s fiscal health.

The House of Representatives is accomplishing what we were elected to do. We’ve cut spending. We’ve terminated wasteful programs. We’ve funded the government.

Mr. Reid, we are letting you know that we will rally on the Senate steps every day until you pass a long-term Continuing Resolution. We call on all Americans to join our fight in restoring our country’s fiscal health.

The House of Representatives is doing our job, Mr. Reid. The Senate needs to start doing theirs.

Mr. Reid, it’s time to pass a bill.

Bound together and determined,


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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

George W. Bush is not the enemy...

...and all cultures are not equally worthy of respect. And, while I feel obligated to acknowledge that not all Muslims, or even most, believe in this, it is the Muslim community that needs to fix it, and until it does, until the clerics who recommend this kind of behavior are ostracized instead of revered, the deference it warrants, and should expect, is limited.

Only 14, Bangladeshi girl charged with adultery was lashed to death
Many months later on a winter night, as Hena's sister Alya told it, Hena was walking from her room to an outdoor toilet when Mahbub Khan gagged her with cloth, forced her behind nearby shrubbery and beat and raped her.

Hena struggled to escape, Alya told CNN. Mahbub Khan's wife heard Hena's muffled screams and when she found Hena with her husband, she dragged the teenage girl back to her hut, beat her and trampled her on the floor.

The next day, the village elders met to discuss the case at Mahbub Khan's house, Alya said. The imam pronounced his fatwa. Khan and Hena were found guilty of an illicit relationship. Her punishment under sharia or Islamic law was 101 lashes; his 201.

Mahbub Khan managed to escape after the first few lashes.

Darbesh Khan and Aklima Begum had no choice but to mind the imam's order. They watched as the whip broke the skin of their youngest child and she fell unconscious to the ground.

"What happened to Hena is unfortunate and we all have to be ashamed that we couldn't save her life," said Sultana Kamal, who heads the rights organization Ain o Shalish Kendro.

Bangladesh is considered a democratic and moderate Muslim country, and national law forbids the practice of sharia. But activist and journalist Shoaib Choudhury, who documents such cases, said sharia is still very much in use in villages and towns aided by the lack of education and strong judicial systems.


Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public.

Hena dropped after 70.

Bloodied and bruised, she was taken to hospital, where she died a week later.

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Videos - Soldiers marching

Here are the members of B-Company, 3-10 Infantry, marching as recruits for the last time to Baker Theater for graduation ceremonies, 3/24/2011.

2nd Platoon takes the stage and each soldier announces him or herself.

(Most of my readers will be interested in the solder at about 3:40 into the video.)

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Historical blindness

(...or why children should be seen and not heard...)

Several years ago, after watching a movie about the Israeli raid on the Entebbe airport, I wrote about the way that we tend to develop blind spots in relatively recent history, that make it difficult for us to discuss current events intelligently.
There are blind spots in the educational process, no matter what type of schooling you take, whether you're in the public schools, or private schools, or, like my kids, schooled at home. There's a transition period that you live through in your youth, that you live through but never learn. It's a period that is current events when you're too young to care, and not history yet when you begin to study history.

My youngest brother, who's now in his early 30s, has been working his way through college over the past decade-plus. He's also hung a lot of sheet rock and siding, covered a lot of roofs, and pulled a lot of lobster traps. Last fall, he was talking about one of his classes where a professor had been talking about the Berlin Wall, and one of the girls in the class, probably 19 or 20, had interrupted with "you keep talking about a Berlin Wall. Is this a figurative expression, or is there a real wall?" And, of course, to anyone who was of age after before 1990, it sounds like an absurd question. But if you were five years old in 1990, you weren't paying much attention to current events when the Berlin Wall fell. The Berlin Wall wasn't news when you were studying Current Events. And it was too recent to have been integrated into your history curriculum. So you've got a massive blind-spot, a perspective on the world that is un-impacted by what was a seminal event to someone just 10 years older.
I was struck by this same phenomenon again when a much younger cousin posted - un-ironically - a link on facebook to an article that is breath-takingly preposterous to anyone who grew to adulthood in the late 70s or early 80s. She's not entirely to blame - you don't know what you aren't taught - but when you don't know what you're talking about, you can end up saying some pretty stupid things. As can be seen in the story she linked. This article attributes the current "wave" of anti-Muslim bigotry to the "overwrought Reagan/Bush-era pop culture that first equated 'terrorist' with 'Muslim.'"
Why do so many like King see extremist acts by non-Muslims as mere isolated incidents that "make no sense to talk about," yet see extremist acts by Muslims as a systemic problem worthy of military invasions and now congressional witch hunts?

The short answer is 9/11 -- but that's oversimplified. Anti-Muslim sentiment was embedded in American society well before that horrific attack stoked a bigoted backlash. The real answer is connected to overwrought Reagan/Bush-era pop culture that first equated "terrorist" with "Muslim.”
[LB - Yes, that good old Republican control of Hollywood has been a problem for a long time, hasn't it? If there's one thing Reagan and Bush were known for, it was their iron-fisted control over the entertainment industry...]

As film scholar Jack Shaheen discovered in his book "Reel Bad Arabs," roughly a third of the most blatantly anti-Muslim films of the last century were made in the 1980s alone. These movies used sporadic atrocities committed by individual Islamic extremists (the Lebanon bombing, the Berlin bombing, etc.) to demonize all Muslims. Consequently, Hollywood's go-to villain in the 1980s became the Muslim terrorist -- whether it was "Iron Eagle's" unnamed Middle Eastern country or "Back to the Future's" bazooka-wielding Libyans.
There's so much wrong there that it's difficult to know where to start. It really isn't worth the effort to try to correct it - better to just dismiss it out of hand. The author may be a bright young man, he may have a future as a writer, but he don't know what he don't know.

But I do want to make a couple of observations.

The first is relatively trivial. I haven't read Jack Shaheen's book "Reel Bad Arabs" so I can't comment on whether there's some truth and accuracy to it or not. But having looked at Amazon's site for it, and having wracked my own brain for portrayals of Muslims in 1980s movies (and I saw a lot of them), I strongly suspect that, rather than an actual analysis of portrayals that revealed a bias, his "scholarship" represents a thesis in search of supporting evidence, to be noted whenever and wherever possible, no matter how tenuous1. I strongly doubt that he "discovered" anything other than support for his own pre-existing bias.
"The Protestants hate the Catholics,
and the Catholics hate the Protestants,
and the Hindus hate the Muslims,
and everybody hates the Jews..."

- Tom Lehrer, National Brotherhood Week (1965)
Secondly, while I would never deny the presence of anti-Muslim2 bigotry in this country, I am skeptical that it is a major problem. (In fact, William Bennett wrote about this just yesterday.) I see no evidence of persecution, there are no "pogroms" or mosque-burnings. I believe that you have to stretch the terms to declare that there's a wave of "anti-Muslim bigotry" in America right now.

Thirdly, even if there were, the idea that the generic throw-away terrorists in Back To The Future3 are somehow responsible is beyond laughable. (You don't suppose that the producers made them Libyan instead of, oh, Swiss, is that Libya was in the terrorism business in the early 80s, do you?) To buy that line of "thinking," you've got to say that current American attitudes toward Muslims are more heavily influenced by a few old movies than by
  • 2001 - 9/11, NYC and the Pentagon hit by Islamic terrorists
  • 2000 - US Cole heavily damaged by Islamic terrorists in Yemen
  • 1998 - US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania destroyed by Islamic terrorists
  • 1996 - Islamic terrorist explode a truck bomb at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia where US military personnel were stationed
  • 1995 - Car bomb in Riyadh set off at US military headquarters by Islamic terrorists
  • 1993 - First attack on the World Trade Center in NY by Islamic terrorists
  • 1988 - Islamic terrorists blow up a plane traveling from Frankfort to NY over Lockerbie, Scotland
  • 1986 - Libyans bomb a German disco frequented by US military personnel
  • 1985 - Islamic terrorists linked to Libya take the cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean, kill one American. Hezbollah hijacks a flight from Athens to Rome and kills a Navy Seal
  • 1984 - Islamic terrorists explode a truck bomb outside the US Embassy annex in Beirut, Lebanon. Later that year, more Islamic terrorists explode a car bomb at the US barracks in Beirut killing 241 American military personnel. Later that year, Islamic terrorists explode a car bomb at the US Embassy in Kuwait
  • 1979 - Islamic revolutionaries take the US Embassy in Tehran, holding 52 hostages for 444 days.
One could keep going, of course. Munich. Entebbe. Countless incidents in Israel. This is all relevant, because, while many of the "incidents" could be classified as "isolated incidents," they are all related to an ideology, to a religion which divides the world into the Dar al-Islam and the Dar al-harb - the House of Islam and the House of War. There is a common driving force behind all of those events. And when you don't recognize that, you end up saying stupid things.

Things like Americans are anti-Muslim because of Back to the Future.

1 - It seems to me that Hollywood's "go-to villains" are, and have been for a long time, white business executives, politicians and out-of-control military officers.

2 - Or anti-Black. Or anti-Jewish. Or anti-female. Or anti-male. Or anti-White...

3 - The "terrorists" in that movie were a plot device. They were on screen, or mentioned, for less than two minutes total. The "villain" was a white male.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

One more from Graduation day...

Skyping with his siblings.  He spent much of the day visiting and playing chess with them...

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Boston Globe - Varitek’s battery recharged

You can trust the Boston Globe and the rest of the mainstream media because they have all of those layers of fact-checkers and editors...
Varitek still has not given up on the idea that his time as a starting player has come to an end.
Hmm... I don't think that actually says what he thinks it says...

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The official portrait

A phone call this morning, as our Soldier has arrived at the site of his next assignment.

Shortly after arriving at Fort Leonard Wood for the start of Basic Combat Training.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Graduation day

Bravo Company, 3-10 Infantry, graduates at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, on 3/24/11.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Family Day... Fort Leonard Wood, MO, for Company B of the 3-10 Infantry. 3/23/2011.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sin in haste...

[Starbucks chief executive Howard] Schultz supported the law as he watched his company's health insurance tab...surmount its coffee bill.

Repent at leisure...
But he told The Seattle Times in an interview published Tuesday that he's now worried about what happens when it takes full effect in 2014...the health overhaul law's employer requirements will impose "too great" a pressure on small businesses...
Obamacare. The "I told you so" of all "I told you sos." The gift that keeps on giving.

I'd feel a lot more sympathy for Mr. Schultz if it hadn't been so freakin' obvious up-front that this was a terrible, horrible, awful, very bad idea. But hey, it was gonna help keep his costs down, right?
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract

I continue to hope that we can un-ring that particular bell in 2013, but what a mess.


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Friday, March 18, 2011

A little perspective, please...

The budget story, as told by the Washington Post.
The Senate approved another stopgap budget bill Thursday that would keep the federal government open until April 8. The measure, which had already passed the House, is expected to be signed by President Obama on Friday.

The bill would cut $6 billion in federal spending. That makes twice this month that lawmakers from both parties have agreed to slash billions from the budget.

$6 billion! Woo, baby, that's a lot of money, right? And it was what, $10 billion1 last time? So we've cut $16 billion out of the budget so far? That's sure a lot of money, all right. They sure are slashing that budget.

Or not.

Let's step back, just a bit, and see what that "slashing" really amounts to. In order to do this, let's consider what the budget is that they are "slashing" from. The OMB estimates are that the Federal government will take in $2,173,700,000,000 ($2.1 Trillion) this year, and that the Federal government will spend $3,818,819,000,000 ($3.8 Trillion). That $16,000,000,000 looked pretty big a minute ago, but maybe not quite so much now. In fact, $16 billion is less than one half of one percent of $3.8 trillion. (Anyone out there think that losing one half of one percent of their income would require "slashing" their budget?)

But that can still be a little hard to conceptualize. So let's put together an example. Let's talk about my friend Sam. My friend Sam has worked hard, but he's spent more than he's taken in. He bought more house than he needed, he bought more car than he needed, and he's run up a lot of debt on his credit card. Last year he made $49,747.53 and spent $79,500.69. Obviously, his debt went up, and, with it, so did his interest expenses. This year, he expects to make $50,000 and spend $87,841.45. Yes, he's going to spend a lot more than he makes. But Sam thinks that everything in his budget is important, from the house and car payments, to the $225 per month cable bill, to the $14 per week that he spends at Starbucks. His financial adviser explained to him that he could not continue spending that way, but he didn't much want to hear it. His financial adviser continued to press him, and finally Sam agreed to slash his budget. Every Sunday, he buys the Sunday New York Times and walks to McDonalds, where he eats a couple of egg McMuffins and drinks coffee while working on the crossword puzzle. He agreed to give up that indulgence, saving a total of $7.08 per week, or $368.04 per year.

So this is what his budget looks like - income, expenses, and expenses after "slashing" his budget.

That $368.04 cut out of proposed spending of $87,841.45 is the same .42% cut that they're "slashing" the federal budget with. Multiply all of those dollar amounts by 43,474,000 and it's no longer my friend Sam's budget - it's my Uncle Sam's budget.

Have they "slashed" the Federal budget? Not by a long shot. Is $16 billion a lot of money? Not in the context of a $3.8 trillion budget. Can we continue to spend this way without a catastrophic economic collapse?

It's hard to see how...

(H/T - I got to the Post article from Dan Mitchell's post, which makes the same point that I made, without using a fictional friend or a colorful chart...)

1 - I'm not sure, and, since it just doesn't matter, I'm not going to look it up, just going to go with it. It's the right order of magnitude and it's all in the noise anyway...That's really the key point here.  Despite the cries about draconian cuts, none of what's been done, none of what's been proposed, even begins to start to approach addressing the problem of addressing how to approach the problem.  We're thousands of dollars in debt and they're crying about pennies.

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Why 2012, despite Barack Obama's fevered dreams, is not like 1996

More from that John Fund piece I quoted earlier:
President Obama has apparently decided to borrow some political plays from Bill Clinton, who after his party's defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections began running ads attacking Republican plans to reform Medicare. At the same time, Mr. Clinton focused on a series of granular policy initiatives—promoting school uniforms was one memorable example—that were politically safe and popular with independent voters. Mr. Obama appears to be following the same strategy—offering little in terms of policy substance, remaining disengaged in budget negotiations and waiting for Republicans to present a target for him to shoot at.
One can understand the Obama White House leaping to this analogy, grasping at it like a drowning man clutching at a life preserver. But the differences between the two situations are different enough that the comparison doesn't really work.

  1. Obamacare - Hillarycare was defeated, Obamacare passed. Bill Clinton didn't have a massive government program hanging over everyone's head, being fought over in the courts, causing costs to rise, and great difficulties for many, with benefits for few. Obamacare is a cudgel that the Republicans can, and will1, use against Obama in 2012 that they did not have against Clinton in 1996.
  2. The stimulus - Not only was the economy not terrible in 1996, it appeared to be better than it had been in 1992, that is, that "Clintonomics," however one wants to define that, was working. Obama is going to face re-election in an economy that's not only down, it will have been down significantly for his entire first term, with a massive increase to the debt that was supposed to have fixed it and in fact made it worse. (Even worse for him is that, in addition to making the economy worse, it appeared to make the economy worse. Politicians can get away with doing things that hurt the economy but appear to make it better or even things that help the economy while appearing to make it worse, but the stimulus failed on both counts.)
  3. The deficit - The Federal budget deficit was a problem in 1994, and helped the Republicans get elected, but it was an addressable problem at that point. Social Security was still a net positive (shouldn't have been, but that's the way they used it) and things were close enough to in control that two years of a Republican Congress could get it headed in the right direction on a reasonable trajectory. It's an order of magnitude worse now, and the problems with entitlements are now 18 years further along and more intractable. And the public awareness of it, and concern about it, has multiplied over that stretch, as millions of people "took to the streets" at Tea Party rallies to fight against Leviathan in Washington.
  4. Unemployment - Clinton took office as the Bush recovery was taking off, and it increased when the Republicans took over in 1994. When Americans went to the polls in November of 1994, the unemplyment rate was 5.4% and dropping. When they go to the polls in November of 2012, the optimistic projections are that it will be 7.7%.
  5. The Congressional opposition - In 1994, the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. And they let it go to their heads. Newt Gingrich is a very smart guy, but he's bombastic and easily caricatured, and mis-read the extent of the "mandate" that the Republicans had. That's not the case this time. Boehner is a low-key adult. The leadership has idea men, but no bomb-throwers. And they have the historical perspective that wasn't available to Gingrich.
  6. The Presidential opposition - Bill Clinton ran against Bob Dole. Whoever gets nominated in 2012 is not going to be Bob Dole.
  7. The President - This is the big one. Bill Clinton was likable2, with a passionate need to be liked, warm, friendly and hands on. Barack Obama is historic, aloof, cold, distant and detached. Bill Clinton understood that, regardless of what he would have liked to do, philosophically, with the Presidency, he was going to be better liked, and re-elected, if the American people were happy with the economy and the country's situation. Barack Obama is intent on re-making the country. Clinton's reluctance to do big things abroad caused problems down the road, but he was hands on, and managed to keep big negative things from happening. Obama has allowed the narrative to take hold that he's utterly clueless about what's going on.
It's easy to understand why the White House would look to the 1996 election as a model for their 2012 re-election campaign. But it's also easy to see that that's a model that is unlikely - extremely unlikely - to work...

1 - This is the single biggest obstacle to a Romney presidency. And I'm a guy who likes Mitt, and thinks he may be just what we need in this situation. But if he doesn't completely disown Romneycare, "it was an experiment in the state, it was an attempt to do something, it failed miserably at the state level and is even worse at a national level," he'll never get out of the primaries.

2 - Not by everyone. I can't stand him. But by enough. And he certainly qualifies for the label "likable."

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If we get the government we deserve, what did we do to deserve this?

From John Fund, we get an indicator that the Democrats learned a lot from the November election, and are committed to seriously addressing the issues facing the nation.

The Obama White House is sharing its internal polling with private Democratic audiences to explain its remarkable detachment from the federal budget debate on Capitol Hill. White House aides say that the polling shows the public isn't focused on the battle over continuing resolutions to fund the government and is confused by the details.

That inattention will allow Democrats to delay responding to GOP demands for spending cuts until House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan reveals the GOP's spending priorities for next year's budget in early April. "That's when we jump 'em," a Democratic strategist told me. "There will be Medicare cuts and other things we'll be able to talk a lot about."
Nice, serious, adult approach, huh?

OK, the child-like faith in the infinite money tree that's apparently going to fund all of their plans is rather amusing, but, at some point, don't they need to actually face the facts? If the hole that you're in is too deep, you can't solve your problems by standing still, but at a minimum, don't you at least need to stop digging?

I have some more thoughts on the Fund piece, but I'm going to break them into a separate post...

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fukushima follow-up

I wrote, the other day, about the coverage of the ongoing events at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, and I was ... not complimentary of the media. I linked a couple of pieces indicating that, as bad as the situation was, it's unlikely to be catastrophic (in life or death terms - it's obviously catastrophic financially). And I sent that piece, and those links, off to a friend of mine who is a nuclear scientist, a very smart guy who knows all about this stuff, to ask whether those assessments were correct. I need to leave out his name, but he gave me permission to post this response.
You are absolutely right about the confusion and misinformation coming from the media… In fact, I did not know if I should laugh out loud or cry when I was watching the garbage coming from media over the weekend. Later on Sunday I got an e-mail from American Nuclear Society which gave exactly the information that you found in the first link. This was the first time I could piece together what happened and I used this together with information on this particular plant design to prepare a presentation on this event for my colleagues. This link contains more factual information that you could obtain from all US journalists combined. The journalists do not know what they are talking about…

Regarding the development at Fukushima, the situation is serious and still developing. The description given in ANS link is about Unit 1. Unit 3 had similar developments. Explosion of hydrogen/steam mixture released from reactor vessel damaged the roof of the reactor building. This is a relatively weak structure, which serves as a secondary containment. The reactor vessel and the main leak-tight containment that surrounds the reactor vessel were not damaged. However, fuel in both units was damaged and probably partially melted, as indicated by presence of hydrogen that is generated by steam/zirconium reaction if temperatures go above 1200C. TEPCO claims that both units are now under cold shutdown, i.e. being cooled, so they should not be releasing any significant radiation.

Unit 2 is of larger concern because the loud noise that was heard at the bottom of the plan was likely steam or H2 explosion that damaged the suppression pool. The suppression pool has connections to the main containment, so radioactivity can leak out of the containment. But if they keep the core under water, I would not expect very large releases.

Unit 4 is of even bigger concern because, although it was shut down and did not have any fuel in the reactor vessel, it has a lot of spent fuel in the reactor cooling pool and it looks like they must have lost cooling there and boiled off enough water to uncover the fuel rods to generate hydrogen that caused the explosion that took out the roof. So it is critical that they keep cooling this pool, because it has an open path to the environment.

So this is roughly the story as I see it now based on information I could gather. Situation is developing and there is a lack of information to be able to piece together a more accurate picture or any predictions. But clearly, this is not a Chernobyl type and radiation levels are much, much smaller than at Chernobyl. For example, at one point they claimed 400microSievert/hr. To put this number in some perspective, I had a radioactive stress test done at Boston with technicium 99m, and I went after the test to the MIT reactor to measure the levels and every inch of my body was shooting out 500microSievert/hour.

It is a complex situation and it would require whole lecture, but I hope this brief description will help out...
He also sent me another link, to a blog by another nuclear engineer, walking through the events at Fukushima in plain English. It is both fascinating and reassuring. I recommend reading it all, but here's his takeaway:
The reactors were designed 40 years ago, and in 2008 were certified for ground motion corresponding to about a magnitude 6.7 earthquake right under the plant.[11] The reason this ground motion was selected was that Japan’s regulatory agency expected (rightly so!) that a ground motion stronger than that had a chance of happening only once in 10,000 years. We lost the statistical gamble on that one. But here’s the amazing thing: the reactors did exactly what they were designed to do: and so did the other nuclear units all over Japan. Only 7 of the 55 units in Japan [7] had any trouble shutting down, and they were the ones closest to the epicenter. And the trouble wasn’t even in the reactor, or the containment structure, or the piping – all of these things performed exactly as designed! The trouble was the tsunami that took out the fuel supply for the backup diesel generators. Let’s recap with a statement from Steve at Neutron Economy: “What this proves is that in the very worst scenario - a once-in-a-lifetime earthquake beyond the design basis - that the systems can safely contain the integrity of the reactor, particularly with well-trained personnel”. [5]


Damage from the earthquake and tsunami includes a fire at an oil refinery that is still burning; breaks in a hydroelectric dam, explosions in natural gas systems, and tons and tons of battery and gasoline spills. There is damage to the environment and danger to people from every form of energy that we use today.

So nuclear’s looking pretty good, right now. Fear aside, I think we’re going to end up with the least damage to life, health, and the environment out of all the energy sources in use in Japan. (Except solar.)

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Are Christians Obsessed With Gays and Abortion?

David French, the the director of the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, has an excellent piece at this morning on the topic of Christians, priorities, and the culture war.
How do those numbers stack up with leading Christian anti-poverty charities? Let's look at just three: World Vision, Compassion International, and Samaritan's Purse. Their total annual gross receipts (again, according to most recently available Form 990s) exceed $2.1 billion. The smallest of the three organizations (Samaritan's Purse) has larger gross receipts than every major "pro-family" culture war organization in the United States combined. World Vision, the largest, not only takes in more than $1 billion per year, it also has more than 1,400 employees and 43,000 volunteers.

And I don't begrudge them a single dime. In fact, I'd say our relative priorities are just about right. When you see World Vision efforts on the ground in Africa, you see they are often standing as a firewall between life and death, hope and despair. Samaritan's Purse and Compassion International are likewise standing in the gap for the "least of these," living out the pure religion that scripture commands.

So given these realities, what is our real "obsession"? Historically, monetarily, and with our time and lives today, it is serving our fellow man. We fight the culture war, but largely as a defensive struggle—fighting against changes instigated by the Left, like legalized abortion, the redefinition of marriage, and attacks on the basic free speech rights of Christian parents and students. Do critics expect no opposition to such cultural change? Do they believe any such opposition is inherently illegitimate?
I think that the highlighted quote in that last paragraph is vitally important. The "culture wars," to the extent that they exist, are instigated and promulgated from the left. There is no fight from Christians to oppress homosexuals; there is a fight from the left to redefine the institution of marriage. The "prayer in school" movement is a response to the attempt, from the left, to criminalize religious speech. The fight against abortion is a fight against killing babies, instigated by a fight from the left to enshrine it as a right.

But I don't know any Christian who is "obsessed" with any of those issues to the exclusion of helping feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the sick and spread the Gospel...

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Leiter Side of Union Thuggery

"Collective bargaining" is outrageous because it is an affront to democracy: a system of collusion between politicians and unions, which cuts out the taxpayers whose money they are spending.


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When Rail Becomes Ridiculous

Excellent piece by Megan McArdle on the attempt to create high-speed rail lines - with tax dollars - in places where high-speed rail lines don't make sense.
I often find it hard to convince environmentalists that I really am a rail buff who likes dense, walkable development, and the planet. If that's so, they ask, why do I spend so much time harping on the problems with high speed rail?

My answer is that I wouldn't harp on the problems if the advocates of high speed rail advocates wouldn't make such glaring mistakes. Like, say, the Tampa-to-Orlando high speed rail project...

So basically, the feds wanted to spend $2.6 billion, plus any cost overruns or operating costs, to put in a train for which there was no evident demand. Why? Because they didn't have any better options, and they wanted to build a train. The California High Speed Rail project, following similarly sound reasoning, is going to start out in California's not-very-populous Central Valley, because . . . it's easier to get the right of way. Never mind that there aren't any, like, passengers.
It's a good, and informative, read.

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Quote of the day

Don't know where it's from. Don't know who coined it. I saw it on John Cornyn's facebook post. And I love it.

President Obama suffers from Deficit Attention Disorder

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American Nuclear Society Backgrounder on Japan

With the anti-Nuke contingent1 already using the situation in Japan as a political card in the fight against more nuclear power plants in the US, this American Nuclear Society Backgrounder on Japan is a useful contribution to the public debate.
To begin, a sense of perspective is needed… Right now, the Japanese earthquake/tsunami is clearly a catastrophe; the situation at impacted nuclear reactors is, in the words of IAEA, an "Accident with Local Consequences."

The Japanese earthquake and tsunami are natural catastrophes of historic proportions. The death toll is likely to be in the thousands. While the information is still not complete at this time, the tragic loss of life and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami will likely dwarf the damage caused by the problems associated with the impacted Japanese nuclear plants.
You can count me as someone who thinks that the United States needs much more nuclear power, not less. And this once-in-a-millennium event in Japan changes my position not a whit...

Oh, and here's a little more perspective.
The comparison to Chernobyl remains popular, but is also good way to identify if someone talking about Fukushima knows what they hell they are talking about. If someone suggests any comparison between the two based on the current data, they are an idiot - not an expert.

Here is how to put Fukushima in the context of Chernobyl. The radiation levels at Chernobyl were of the order of 30,000 roentgens per hour near the plant.

30,000 roentgens is 3,579 sieverts. One million micro sieverts to one sievert. Doing a little quick math, if we are comparing the magnitude of radiation levels coming from 'meltdown' at the Fukushima power plant to the 'meltdown' at Chernobyl we get 1 / 3,579,000

Again, doing the math, a relative comparison suggests Fukushima is 0.00002% of the Chernobyl levels of radiation. These 'meltdowns' have nothing in common, unless you believe .000002% - below the mSv of a CT scan - is a public health threat.
It's obviously far from an ideal situation. It's conceivable that it can get worse. That said, it's pretty likely that, as scary as the words "nuclear plant meltdown" are, as paranoid as people tend to be about nuclear power, this is not an event that is going to cause much (any?) harm to many (any?) people.

1 - For some reason, there's a large overlap between that group and those who are opposed to coal and oil energy, too, because of the "carbon footprint." I suspect that they'd all poo-poo accusations that they want people living in the dark ages, without electricity and transportation, but that seems to be the inevitable logic of their position.

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Writing in Cold Blood About Itamar

Claire Berlinski, Writing in Cold Blood About Itamar...
This story is above all about murder. They were children and they were murdered. Two more children were orphaned. The children were targeted deliberately. This was a premeditated murder--not a crime of passion or self-defense--and it was a psychotically savage crime. Anyone who in any way tries to rationalize or minimize this or to suggest that this is a fitting punishment for anything needs to go out and look at a three-month-old baby and ask himself what it would take to climb over a fence, climb in a window, and cut off that child's head. If that act seems an "understandable" reaction to a political grievance to him, I don't think we can have much of a conversation.
You all know what she's talking about of course.

Oh, you don't? You mean that wasn't headline news in the American media? I guess not.

"All the news that's fit to print" really means "All the news that fits [our storyline] we print." And if you print stories like this one, it doesn't fit with the storyline that it is Israel, and Israel's intransigence, and Israel's stubbornness, that's the source of all problems in the middle east, not the death cult known as Islam, and the evil anti-semites that use it to carry out an ancient race-war.

These people are the enemies of civilization. There is no room for this behavior in a civilized world.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

One morning in Venice...

Cast members of the All The World's A Stage Players production of The Merchant of Venice...

The Merchant of Venice, Antonio, flanked by his friends Salarino (L) and Gratiano...

And the reviews are in, and the critics are raving about a spectacular production. "The story and dialogue are a little weak," says one, "but the performance is amazing!"

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Monday music

Busy, busy, busy, so I'm going to start the week with a little music, for those of you who enjoy these. This is the Park Street Church Sanctuary Choir, on March 13, 2011. The Introit is one verse of "Come Christians, Join to Sing," and the anthem is "None Other Lamb."

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Friday, March 11, 2011


I don't have anything to say. How could you have anything to say? What is there to say?

The footage is overwhelming. As you watch the water move inexorably across the land, sweeping with it everything in its path, you realize that entire communities have just been removed from the face of the earth, as if they'd never been there at all. The only thing remaining of some of them is going to be the people who managed to get out, and the debris that washes onto shores when the waters recede.

It's a staggering, sickening sight. The only appropriate response for those of us to far away to help is prayer.

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All The World's A Stage Players present...

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Idle thought

I like facebook. But more than half of my facebook friends are leftists. I think I write and then delete far more things on facebook than I write and post...


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So, they've learned something from their teachers...

Now it's the Wisconsin high school students that are going to walk out...
In an effort to balance the importance of education with that of having our voices heard, we will walk out of class this Friday, March 11th before our last period of the day. We call for students all across the country to do the same and to take this opportunity to discuss not only the events in Wisconsin but the future of public education as a whole.
And how many of them will bring in phony doctor's notes on Monday?

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Gosh, who could have seen this coming?

In Health Law, Rx for Trouble
Patients are demanding doctors' orders for over-the-counter products because of a provision in the health-care overhaul that slipped past nearly everyone's radar. It says people who want a tax break to buy such items with what's known as flexible-spending accounts need to get a prescription first.

The result is that Americans are visiting their doctors before making a trip to the drugstore, hoping their physician will help them out by writing the prescription. The new requirements create not only an added burden for doctors, but also new complications for retailers and pharmacies.
Unintended Consequences. It's the law.

Really, I've reached the point of just laughing at this nonsense. Seriously, what else would you expect from a 2000 page bill which massively restructures 1/6 of the nation's economy, that required bribes to pass? Of course there are problems. Of course it's changing behaviors. Of course it's making things worse.

I have a serious question for those of you out there that supported this travesty of a monstrosity, and it's this - are you embarrassed yet? Or are you taking the (I'm sorry but) ridiculous position that "it was a good idea, a good bill, and they just need to work the kinks out"?

And this is obnoxious, but I told you so! And so did millions of others...

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From Milton Wolf's keys to God's ears...

"Obamacare is living on borrowed time, and even its most ardent supporters are beginning to realize it..."


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When you've lost the Boston Globe...

... you need to stop looking for victory and hope that you can get to defeat with dignity. At least, if you're a public sector union...
THE PROPOSAL by public-employee unions in Massachusetts to reduce health insurance costs for cities and towns may be a good-faith gesture, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Half measures can’t control soaring medical costs for public employees, which threaten to degrade basic municipal services for taxpayers across the state.

In a tacit acknowledgment that municipal health costs have become unsustainable...
I would never, ever have expected to read this editorial in the Boston Globe. Even if the Globe's editors can see the light, we may well be at the dawn of a new day.

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Open-air English class...

(Thanks Janet Quint Sanford, for posting the picture!)


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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Some of Obama's promises should have been broken...

... and this was one of them.
President Obama on Monday ordered that military commission trials be resumed at Guantánamo Bay.

The move represents a defeat for Obama, who pledged to close the terrorist detention facility in Cuba within one year of taking office. The president had hoped to hold trials in federal court for many of the detainees, but ran into stiff opposition from both parties.
It's nice to see that at least one in a while, occasionally, reality is able to beat him over the head strongly enough to trump ideology, even if only for a little while...

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Scott Brown is not perfect...

...but Ted Kennedy would never have proposed this...
Taxpayers are entitled to see exactly where their money is being spent and how much Uncle Sam borrows each year.

Under this legislation, every taxpayer who files an income tax return would receive an itemized receipt – similar to a grocery store receipt – from the IRS that lists where their payroll and income taxes are spent. The receipt would include key categories such as the interest on the national debt, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, national defense, education, veterans’ benefits, environmental protection, foreign aid – and, last but not least, Congress.

Taxpayers also would be directed to a website where they could get more detailed information on programs not included on the one-page receipt. Additionally, the receipt would provide taxpayers with the amount of debt per American – which currently is more than $45,000 - and how much new borrowing we put on the national credit card in the past year.

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Monday, March 07, 2011



Park Street Church Sanctuary Choir, 3/6/2011

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

The bad guys win, and that's ... good...

This is what it means to have a nation of laws, not men1. A nation in which the rules protect even those who espouse different viewpoints. There may not be a more unlikeable, loathsome group than Fred Phelps and his "flock" at the Westboro (KA) Baptist (not really, because Baptists are Christians and these people aren't) (not-really-a) Church but free speech is free speech. As the SCOTUS ruled...
The First Amendment protects hateful protests at military funerals, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in an 8-to-1 decision.

“Speech is powerful,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain.”

But under the First Amendment, he went on, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Instead, the national commitment to free speech, he said, requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
If the first amendment doesn't serve to protect unpopular (in this case, utterly loathsome) speech from unpopular (despicable, heinous, irresponsible, vile) people, then it really doesn't serve much of a purpose. There's no cost to protecting, or even need to protect, popular speech. The Fred Phelps traveling road show is obviously an abomination, but as long as it sticks to speech, it's a constitutionally protected abomination. The court got this one right, even if no one likes this outcome.

1 - A title that we, unfortunately, far too seldom live up to.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

NY Times: Bush middle east policy vindicated

Ok, they didn't put it that way. But I will.

What the Times said was Libyan Arms Pact Reduces Qaddafi’s Power
In late 2009, the Obama administration was leaning on Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his son Seif to allow the removal from Libya of the remnants of the country’s nuclear weapons program: casks of highly enriched uranium.

Meeting with the American ambassador, Gene A. Cretz, the younger Qaddafi complained that the United States had retained “an embargo on the purchase of lethal equipment” even though Libya had turned over more than $100 million in bomb-making technology in 2003. Libya was “fed up,” he told Mr. Cretz, at Washington’s slowness in doling out rewards for Libya’s cooperation, according to cables released by WikiLeaks.

Today, with father and son preparing for a siege of Tripoli, the success of a joint American-British effort to eliminate Libya’s capability to make nuclear and chemical weapons has never, in retrospect, looked more important.
And why was that effort successful? Does anyone else remember this?
It received little notice at the time, but in an interview with the British Spectator in September, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (search) said Qaddafi had told him in a phone conversation that "I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."
I do. Libya is one of the collateral benefits of Iraq, and it's been obvious for a very long time. Back in 2005, when Chuck Hagel decided to hop on the "rush-to-defeat" bandwagon, I made this comment about what had happened in Iraq:
2 1/2 years ago, Saddam Hussein was in power in Baghdad. He was paying the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. He was providing a haven for some Al-quaeda members. He was shooting at US and British planes that were enforcing the UN no-fly zones. He had the largest army in the middle-east. He was taking UN Oil-for-Food money and preventing aid in the form of food and medicine from reaching his oppressed citizens. Now he's gone, his armies are gone, his sons are gone and the Iraqi people have elected a representative government that's making progress towards a democratic constitution. The influence of the actions in Iraq has caused changes in behavior - positive changes of behavior - in Syria and Lebanon and Libya.
So, yeah, I'm going to say "Bush policy vindicated."

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More Obamacare - Prof. Randy Barnett testimony

Georgetown Law Professor Randy Barnett has been, from the beginning, one of the most eloquent critics of Obamacare, and one of the first and most consistent holders of the position that the individual mandate is clearly unconstitutional. Today (or maybe yesterday) he posted his responses to some questions asked by Senators Durbin and Sessions. It's an interesting read.

Answers to Questions Posed by Senators Durbin and Sessions
c. In your testimony, you alluded to jury duty, selective service registration and several other actions the federal government requires of each individual citizen. You described these as traditionally-recognized requirements that were necessary for the continued function of the government itself. In 1792, the United States did not have a permanent standing army. Do you think service in the militia was among those traditionally-recognized requirements necessary for the continued function of government?

Without question, it was considered a fundamental duty of citizenship. Congress is now seeking to add an new and unprecedented duty of citizenship to those which have traditionally been recognized: the duty to engage in economic activity when Congress deems it convenient to its regulation of interstate commerce. And the rationales offered to date for such a duty would extend as well to the performance of any action, whether economic or not, when Congress deems it convenient to the exercise of its power over interstate commerce. The recognition of so sweeping a duty would fundamentally alter the relationship of American citizens to the government of the United States.
Read it all...

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

More on public sector unions (and why there shouldn't be...)

Excellent piece this morning in the Wall Street Journal.

A Union Education
For decades as the private union movement rose in power, even left-of-center politicians resisted collective bargaining for public unions. We've previously mentioned FDR and Fiorello La Guardia. But George Meany, the legendary AFL-CIO president during the Cold War, also opposed the right to bargain collectively with the government.

Why? Because unlike in the private economy, a public union has a natural monopoly over government services. An industrial union will fight for a greater share of corporate profits, but it also knows that a business must make profits or it will move or shut down. The union chief for teachers, transit workers or firemen knows that the city is not going to close the schools, buses or firehouses.

This monopoly power, in turn, gives public unions inordinate sway over elected officials. The money they collect from member dues helps to elect politicians who are then supposed to represent the taxpayers during the next round of collective bargaining. In effect union representatives sit on both sides of the bargaining table, with no one sitting in for taxpayers. In 2006 in New Jersey, this led to the preposterous episode in which Governor Jon Corzine addressed a Trenton rally of thousands of public workers and shouted, "We will fight for a fair contract." He was promising to fight himself.
Read it all.

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