Thursday, September 30, 2010

Conflicting Views of the Healthcare Plan

     Recently a friend told me she didn't understand why so many people are opposed to President Obama's healthcare plan, especially since it was one of the major programs he championed during his highly successful campaign. I told her that the main reason is because it has been so rigorously badmouthed by the conservative right (along with every other program the President has presented). Joseph Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
     A major objection voiced by the party of “no” is that requiring everyone to have health insurance is unconstitutional – the government cannot force people to buy something they don't want.
     There is one major argument that says it can: all states require that drivers buy liability insurance to protect the innocent driver from incurring expenses which are not his fault. It's an easy step to apply the same logic to health insurance – through either higher medical fees, charity, Medicaid or other fund the public always pays the medical costs of the uninsured.
     As of September 20th attorneys general from 20 states have brought suit attempting to block implementation of the program on constitutional grounds. Undoubtedly this case will reach the Supreme Court, and given the Court's conservative makeup at this time, it is impossible to predict what will happen.
     Perhaps the biggest problem with understanding the program is that the administration has done a poor job of explaining just what is in it. According to the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll, only 43% of those surveyed support the new legislation while 45% give it an unfavorable review.
     Yet when questioned as to individual items in the bill, the results were dramatically different. Observe the favorable/unfavorable answers when asked about the following provisions taking effect in the next year:
     Guaranteed issue for children – 72/19, tax credits for small business – 71/11, no cost sharing for preventive services in new plans – 70/11, no recission except for fraud – 68/15, gradually close Medicare “doughnut hole” - 64/14, high-risk pool for individuals with pre-existing conditions – 61/20, giving government the power to control the Medical Loss Ratio (the amount of dollars an insurer spends on medical care divided by the total premiums) – 57/21, eliminate caps on lifetime benefits – 56/26, allowing dependents to remain on parents' insurance until age 26 – 53/26, Federal reviews of health plan premium increases – 49/27, and limiting increases in Medicare provider payments – 43/34.
     The Limbaugh/Palin/Beck contingent screams “socialism” at the very thought of giving the government any control whatsoever of the health insurance industry. But to me, the only purpose of health insurance is to pay one's medical bills. Why should I care whether the organization issuing the check is an insurance company or the government?
     The healthcare plan we got is a compromise; the duplication of functions coupled with the cost of enforcing the law is unbelieveable.
     Someone once said that a camel is a horse put together by a committee. Imagine a camel with the hind legs of a giant frog and the wings of an eagle; that would not be as big a freak as what finally emerged from Congress. But it's probably the best we can get.

******
     A second problem brought on by our language is the impression that we are an entity separate from nature. Although we are different from any other natural entity by virtue of our use of language, we are as deeply imbedded otherwise as a mountain stream or a deer. Anything that exists, even a merest wisp of existence in far off space, is a part of nature.
     Summing Up – The Spirit Runs Through It.


     The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

For Richer, (Not) For Poorer

     In 2001 the Bush administration passed an income tax bill which lowered the tax rate for all taxpayers. The lowest tax bracket was decreased from 15% to 10%, and all other brackets were decreased by 3 percentage points except for the highest one, which decreased 4.6 points. In addition, all taxpayers that filed a return for the year 2000 received a rebate ranging from $300 for single filers to $600 for married couples. Capital gains taxes decreased from 10% to 8%. Child care credits were increased, and the exemption for the Alternative Minimum Tax was increased. Additional adjustments were made in 2003. In order to get the bills through Congress, President Bush agreed to let them expire on January 1, 2011.
     Now there is a huge disagreement in Congress – Republicans want to extend the rates, etc. for all taxpayers, and Democrats want to extend them only for families with income of more that $250,000 ($200,000 for single taxpayers). The Republicans are saying that if rates are not extended for everyone, they will not allow them to be extended for anyone.
     In 2009 President Obama got a bill passed which gave $250 to 52 million persons on Social Security, and provided for tax credits of $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples. For 2009 the credit increased takehome pay by an estimated $13 per week and about $7.70 per week for 2010. The credits phased out completely for individuals with taxable income over $100,000 ($200,000 for married couples). As with President Bush's taxes, these credits end on December 31, 2010. Note that all the breaks are for people in the lower and middle income brackets.
     This situation begs the question: If, as the Republicans claim, lower taxes are such a wonderful thing, why is there absolutely no mention of extending President Obama's tax reduction? I can think of five reasons:
  1. Takehome pay for married individuals will decrease by approximately $7.70 per week, and it will appear that President Obama is responsible for the increased taxes.
  2. President Obama's breaks were originally included in that politically extremely incorrect word: stimulus.
  3. There are no breaks included for higher income taxpayers.
  4. Our representatives are in the higher brackets.
  5. Lower and middle income taxpayers do not make big campaign contributions.
         Just who are these people representing?
    ******
         Physicists tell us that the only thing we know about nature is what we say about it. Our static construct, language, even the language of mathematics, is no longer adequate to explain today’s physical world.
         Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.


         The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    It's Not Just Semantics

         It seems there are two competing definitons for the term “small business”; to no one's surprise the Democrats are using one and the Republicans are using the other. For the convenience of anyone who doesn't know which party he prefers, here are the definitions:
    1.) A small business is a business which is not very large, e.g., a corner grocery, a machine shop with a couple of employees, a mom and pop enterprise, etc. Most Democrats use the term in this context.
    2.) A small business is a business which operates as a pass-through tax entity, e.g., most of the businesses in def. 1.) plus most mega-farms, some manufacturing firms, and practically all high-tech and professional firms. These organizations use the individual proprietorship, partnership, S-corporation, limited-liability company (LLC), etc. tax reporting format. Under this definition the business could have anywhere from one to thousands of employees. For example, with over 163,000 employees worldwide, the eighth largest privately owned firm in the United States, PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP, is a “small” business.
         The advantage of operating as a def. 2.) enterprise is that profits are not taxed to the business, but are “passed-through” to be reported on the owners' individual tax returns. Because corporations pay tax on their earnings, and owners pay tax again on the dividends they receive from the corporations, the overall taxes are considerably less for a pass-through entity than they are for a corporation.
         At present our representatives in Washington are trying to decide whether or not to let the tax breaks passed under king George return to their prior levels. President Obama prefers to let them go back up for families earning over $250,000 per year ($200,000 for individuals), and remain at the lower levels for taxpayers earning less than that. The Republicans want to extend the breaks for everyone.
         Here is where the above definitions come into play. The Republicans cite studies which show that under the President's plan roughly half of “small business” earnings would be affected, which is true.
         On the other hand, the Democrats maintain that only about 3% of households which report “small business” income would be affected by the increased tax rates, which is also true.
         Let me give you an example:

         Suppose 100 families report a total of $10,000 of small business income. The Republicans, using def. 2.) above, correctly claim that $5,000 (50%) would be affected by the President's plan. Using def. 1.) the Democrats say yes, but that would be only 3 families (3%). The families paying the increased rates would have average incomes of $1,667 – the average income of the other 97 families would be about $52!

         Presently the Republicans are threatening to block any bill which does not extend the lower rates for all taxpayers - if the higher-income taxpayers do not get the break, no one does. I expect they will get their way – after all, mega-campaign contributions are on the line.
         I am more than a little troubled by the idea of the lower-income families having to pay ransom to those with higher incomes, but it looks like that is what is happening. It seems to me that the greater the advantages one's country has given one, the more one should be willing to give back.
    ******
         Einstein fine-tuned the old constructs with his theories of relativity. Since then, the universe is understood to consist of an infinite number of point/events. Between point/event A and point/event B are an infinite number of possibilities. Light is both a particle and a wave, electron orbits are not real — only probability functions — and if we know the position of a particle we can’t know its velocity and vice versa. In some situations, the law of identity and the law of the excluded middle do not apply.
         Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

         The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Size Matters

         Recently I purchased a Philips “GoGear,” a gadget that holds music and/or pictures. It is 1-1/2” x 2-1/2” x 1/2” in size, and holds up to 900 songs or 1,500 pictures. If you have read previous entries in my blog, you know of my interest in music. I don't have 900 songs in it – yet - but I do have almost 800. Younger readers probably would not recognize the artists in my collection.
         The GoGear not only holds the songs - they can be replayed either in the order they were entered into the device, or by individual selection. One can also replay them in random order, or by artist, album, or individually tailored playlist. The gadget cost me $40 at Walmart.
         Now I am telling you this because the device is an example of the rapidly increasing amount of information which can be stored in smaller and smaller volumes. When I was young (a contemporay of Alley Oop), a collection of 900 songs would have required a minimum of 450 “records.” Assuming each record was 1/4” thick, the stack would have been over 9 feet high and 10 inches in diameter.
         Miniaturization is the buzz word of the day. We know the Air Force has been sending miniature unmanned planes (drones) into combat zones. But the Pentagon is also developing smaller drones which mimic insects. Some resemble a dragon-fly in appearance and size; they can hover outside a window, observe what is happening in the room, and report back to their controllers. Even smaller ones have been developed that can enter a building and fly from room to room, reporting all events within range of their sensors.
         Although the word is out that the Pentagon is developing “micro-dust,” progress on the project is a closely guarded secret. Theoretically, a minature drone or a passerby could unobtrusively deposit thousands of tiny sensors on an individual or a vehicle; thereafter every movement of the target could be followed. Suspected terrorists, beware.
         It has long been a rule of thumb that the amount of stored information per square unit roughly doubles every 18 months. With many gigabytes (billions of units of information) now available on tiny chips, the limit of chip storage, at least as presently configured, will be reached in the not too distant future.
         But not to worry, configurations utilizing 3-dimensional chips are now in the works, and even that is not the limit. Information storage utilizing molecular physics and even quantum mechanics is in the development stage.
         I suspect it will not be too long before a budding Einstein will know everything there is to know about nothing at all.
    ******
         Eventually men began to detect interactions among the components of the universe; interactions that could be described in the language of mathematics. New constructs, the laws of nature, redefined the old constructs. Planets followed regular orbits, velocity and acceleration could be described precisely, electricity and radiation were discovered; the world bustled with activity.
         Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

         The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Liberals - Get Enthusiastic

         The primary election season is over, and experts are scratching their heads as to what the effect will be on November 2nd. Two months ago the Republican party had stood to gain many seats, possibly enough to gain control, in both the House and the Senate. However, with the nomination of Tea Party candidates in Nevada, Kentucky, Alaska, Colorado, Florida and Delaware, no one is sure how this shift to the very far right will affect the voters.
         Not all Republicans, including most of the party leaders, are enamored of the Palin/Limbaugh/Fox line – will those voters stay home on election day, or will they reluctantly decide to vote the party ticket regardless of who the candidate is?
         Meanwhile the Democrats believe that the further to the right the Republicans move, the better their own chances. I am not sure if that is true, but they have their own problem: so far their members appear unenthusiastic about the election. Will the apparent turmoil within the opposing party stir them to action on election day? If so, they stand a chance of retaining control of Congress; if not, their chances range between slim and none.
         What makes the outcome of the election difficult to predict is that no one knows how many Tea Party members there are. Polls indicate that 20% of Americans approve of the movement, but will that translate into votes? Pollsters know that in all elections there is a fairly large number of voters who do not decide how to cast their vote until they step into the booth.
         Personally I do not understand why any member of the working class would vote for a conservative. I can only attribute it to the fact that they have been swayed by the hype put out by the Republican Party.
         Call it “trickle down” or “supply side” or “voodoo” economics, it means that the non-rich wind up with whatever is left after the really rich have taken out whatever they want as their share. The haves don't create jobs, they create income for themselves. If you doubt it, call any customer service hot-line, and check out the accent. Is someone in the Far East doing a job that an American could do?
         Last month the Democrats had to agree to cut costs somewhere in the budget in order to get a few Republican votes for a bill which would prevent nationwide firing of schoolteachers and firefighters. Did Congress cut their own salaries and perks, non-essential military projects, or wall street bailouts? No, they cut $12 billion from the supplemental nutrition (food stamps) program. I rest my case.
         Democrats, Independents and other middle-of-the-road voters, get out there on November 2nd and vote.
    ******
         Taken together these two principles brought order out of chaos. They refined the principle of classification — the capability of distinguishing between animal, vegetable and mineral, and between the various species. “Things” were classified according to their “natures” and “attributes.” It was the nature of fire to burn, smoke to rise and water to flow. Grass had the attribute of greenness, the sky had the attribute of blueness and rocks had the attribute of hardness. The subject/predicate structure of language was fixed.
         Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

         The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Obama Is About To Take The Wrong Fork In The Road

         Although people have rung in from all points of the political spectrum with complaints about President Obama, there is one big argument in his favor: he has kept his campaign promises. He promised a tax cut, and his stimulus package delivered a cut (conveniently forgotten by the opposition) of $282 billion over two years. He promised to get troops out of Iraq – only 50,000 remain. He promised to agressively advance the war in Afghanistan – he has done so. He promised to create a universal healthcare plan – there is no doubt that he has done that. And he promised to bring the parties together for peace talks in the Middle East – the talks began last week and are continuing tomorrow.
         But with all that, why has his approval rating sunk so low? As Bill Clinton said, “It's the economy, stupid.” Obama wasted a huge portion of his political capital on a stimulus that was way, way too small. I have written several times about the inadaquacy of the stimulus and the coming economic doubledip: 6/23 - Recovery or Doubledip, 7/12 - Ideology Trumps Reality and 8/4 - Brave New World(?).
         Now he is showing signs of going down another road which will not only fail to produce any new jobs, but will actually exacerbate the problem: he is proposing two tax cuts which will primarily benefit large corporations.
         First let me say that most large corporations are not short on capital – a look at the record will show that they are sitting on huge amounts of cash. And large corporations do not need cash to increase their hiring – they need customers.
         They are using their cash to buy automatic production equipment, robotics, numerically controlled machine tools, computer equipment and software, and what jobs they cannot automate they outsource to third world countries where labor is cheap. (By the way, soon you will not be able to tell where your customer service call is going – India has set up schools to teach their workers to speak with a middle-western American accent.)
         Obama's first tax proposal would permanently expand the tax credit for research and development, at a cost of $100 billion over the next ten years. I realize that we are falling woefully behind some other countries in R & D, and I know it is absolutely necessary to expand it in the longer-term, but it will do little to promote jobs now. A better idea would be use the money to teach more Americans the science and technology that would allow them to perform R & D jobs.
         His second proposal would allow companies to write off 100 per cent of their investment in new equipment from now until the end of 2011. In effect, he would pay them to continue automating jobs, and to export those jobs that cannot be automated!
         To promote jobs, he needs to promote cutomers, and the way to do that is to put money into people's pockets. Money needs to be spent on labor intensive projects: education, infrastructure, construction, etc. And a moratorium on payroll taxes would be wonderful.
         Focussing on the customer shortage would be far more beneficial than throwing more money at corporations. I know that getting another stimulus through Congress in an election year is tougher than pushing cooked spaghetti through the eye of a needle, but sooner or later it will have to happen.
    ******
         Such was the situation when the Greek philosophers and scientists came on the scene. These unbelievably brilliant men invented language constructs that we have been locked into ever since.
         What were these constructs? There were two: the law of identity and the law of the excluded middle.
         The law of identity was a huge step forward. Simply put, it states that a dog is a dog and nothing else; likewise a tree is a tree and a river is a river. Technically, A is A and not non-A.
         The law of the excluded middle states that a proposition is either true or false; there is no middle ground.
         Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

    The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Will The Real Believer Please Stand Up?

          As I mentioned in my posting of August 26, Americans always need to find some event about which they can disagree. Another such event has come along in the last week.
          Terry Jones, the pastor of a church with a congregation of about 50 in Gainsville, Florida, threatened to burn 200 copies of the Quran. He feels that this is an evil book - one which incites its followers to kill non-believers. (In that respect, it is similar to certain sections of the old testament.)
          As with the proposed civic center and mosque near ground zero in New York, there is no doubt that this kook has the right to do so, but having the right and doing the right thing are two completely different subjects. The trigger for his attitude is really the proposed center.
          I have always felt that if one does the same as one's opponents, one is lowering himself to their level, and this is one of those cases. Pastor Jones saw an opportunity to gain his 15 minutes of fame, and he has succeeded spectacularly. If he were a small boy, he would probably spend his time behind the barn organizing pissing contests.
          Although members of Jones' church originally supported his decision, some of them have reportedly backed away. According to late news reports, while they agree with the pastor that the Quran is Satan's product, they do not want to have their neighborhood considered to be Unamerican. Apparently they have come to their senses; no matter how much we disagree with someone's decisions or actions, he has the right to follow through on them.
          Also late news is reporting that the pastor himself has now promised not to burn the Quran “now or ever.” A wise move. It is fitting that he should make this announcement on 9/11, a day of mourning which will go down in history side by side with December 7, 1941.
          It is not unusual for a charismatic leader to inspire his congregation to believe something unbelievable. Consider Jim Jones, who led his 909 followers in suicide on November 18, 1978. Or the March 26, 1997 suicide of 39 members of the Heaven's Gate sect, who believed that they “were going to cast off their bodies to join a spacecraft of aliens that were hiding in the Hale-Bopp comet’s tail.” Consider also the Muslims who were praising Allah while crashing planes into buildings on 9/11, in the belief that they would receive 72 virgins as payment. (They probably would be better rewarded if they were to receive 72 experienced partners who know what they are doing.)
          I have come to believe that no matter how unbelievable or outrageous a ceremony or activity one promotes in the name of religion, he will be able to attract followers. Am I being cynical, or am I being realistic?
          I am so very thankful that we live in a country where one is allowed to do so if he desires.
    ******
          Among the Kuruvikkarans of Southern India, it was believed that the goddess Kali descended upon the priest, and he gave oracular replies after sucking the blood streaming from the cut throat of a goat.1
          Man Takes Control – The Spirit Runs Through It.

    The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    The Basis of Action

          As I mentioned in my posting of August 28, the difference between a fact and a belief is, “When an event, idea, system, theory, etc. is supported by evidence, we accept it as a fact; when there is no supporting evidence we have a belief. Notice: we accept facts, we have beliefs.” Today I want to further explore the relationship between the two.
          Facts can affect beliefs, but beliefs cannot affect facts. It is an asymmetric relationship: it applies in one direction only. Although it rarely happens, one's beliefs can be changed by facts. Here is a well-known example:
    Throughout the Middle Ages, Ptolemy, who died in 168 C.E. was considered the reigning authority on astronomy. His system explaining the movement of the heavenly bodies was based on the idea that the earth was the center of the universe, and everything else revolved around it. It was a belief held by everyone; the church in particular would allow no other explanation.
    Using his home-made telescope, in 1610 Galileo observed the four moons of Jupiter orbiting the planet. Under the Ptolemiac theory this was impossible. Upon publishing a paper suggesting that the earth really revolved around the sun instead of the other way around, the inquisitition ordered Galileo not to defend that position any longer.
    When he again published a book suggesting that the earth as the center of the universe was not the way things actually worked, he was tried and forced by the inquisition to recant his position. Additionally he was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. In 2008, 376 years later, the church rehabilitated Galileo by proposing to erect a statue of him inside the Vatican walls.
    (According to legend, even after his recantation, he muttered to himself, “But the earth does move.”)
           The point of this whole discussion is that the belief of millions of people for hundreds of years had absolutely no effect on the fact: the earth is not the center of the universe. Galileo accumulated evidence which established the fact. As a result, a revolution occurred in the study of astronomy.

          The second example illustrates that facts are waiting to be discovered – they are not created by scientists or anyone else.
    In 1948, scientists George Gamow, Ralph Alpher, and Robert Herman predicted that as a result of the big bang - a theory that was not widely accepted at the time - there should be a cosmic microwave background noise throughout the universe. Because there was no evidence to support the prediction, it qualifies as a belief.
    In 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson at Bell Telephone Laboratories were conducting experiments in radio astronomy and satellite communications. Their instrument had an excess 3.5 K antenna temperature which they could not account for. They had found the evidence establishing the fact of not only the predicted background noise, but also established the “big bang” theory as the current version of fact. (Note that scientific facts can change as new evidence is discovered.)
          The point is that until 1948 there was no belief one way or the other concerning universal background radition, but who can doubt that it was there throughout the 13.5 billion years of the Universe's existence? Acceptance came when evidence was discovered. Even if there had been no 1948 belief, the discovery of the evidence in 1965 would have forced its acceptance and raised the question, “What is causing it?”
          Examination of the examples leads me to the following conclusions:
    (1) Actions based upon facts lead to progress.
    (2) Unless one is attempting to accumulate evidence to convert a belief to a fact, one needs to be very, very careful when acting upon a belief.
    (3) Holding on to a belief which is contrary to the evidence is called insanity.
          Politicians, tycoons, religious leaders, etc., are you listening?
    ******
          Even then, the world was a magical place where anything was possible. Natural history as we know it did not exist. As illustrated by the examples in the previous chapter, rivers, mountains, gods and men were united in strange combinations. Even though the minotaur, the sphinx and the unicorn had never been seen, their existence was accepted without question.
          Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

          The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.