America the Undertaxed

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The most important debates in U.S. politics today center on the cost and the role of government. Cutting taxes, limiting expenditures, and reducing debt have become the chief concerns of Republicans, whereas Democrats generally seek to preserve or even expand government spending and are willing to raise taxes to do so. The looming expiration of the George W. Bush tax cuts at the end of 2012 and the economy’s weak recovery give these debates special urgency, as decisions made in the next few months are likely to shape the nation’s economic, social, and political trajectory for years to come.

Behind each party’s position lies not only a particular collection of interest groups but also a story about what the government’s role in the U.S. economy is and what it should be. Democrats think Washington can and should play a more active part, using taxation, regulation, and spending to keep the economy growing while protecting vulnerable citizens from the ravages of volatile markets. Republicans, in contrast, think Washington already does too much; they want to scale government back to liberate markets and spur economic dynamism.

When mulling these stories, it can be useful to put U.S. fiscal policy in perspective. Compared with other developed countries, the United States has very low taxes, little redistribution of income, and an extraordinarily complex tax code. These three aspects of American exceptionalism deserve more attention than they typically receive.

Politicians both sides of the aisle have a certain responsibility for this inequity – though only Republicans have turned a selfish grasp of unfairness in taxation into ideology.

Evolutionary theory’s always-welcome “crisis” — more data!

Those who believe that a supernatural being created the universe have never posed an intellectual challenge to evolutionary theory. But creationists, whether biblical fundamentalists or believers in “intelligent design,” do pose a threat to scientific thinking. Indeed, creationism’s insidious genius lies in its ability to reinvent evolution in its own image as a dogmatic belief system – and thus the antithesis of science.

The creationists are right about one thing: contrary to the impression given by much popular writing on the subject, the theory of evolution is in crisis. But this is a positive development, because it reflects the non-linear progress of scientific knowledge, characterized by what Thomas Kuhn described in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as “paradigm shifts.”

For the last 70 years, the dominant paradigm in evolutionary science has been the so-called “new synthesis.” Widely publicized in recent years by Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, the new synthesis unites Darwin’s theory of natural selection with Mendelian genetics, which explains heredity.

The current crisis in evolutionary science does not imply complete rejection of this paradigm. Rather, it entails a major, progressive reorganization of existing knowledge, without undermining the fundamental tenets of evolutionary theory: organisms alive today developed from significantly different organisms in the distant past; dissimilar organisms may share common ancestors; and natural selection has played a crucial role in this process…

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Quadrocopter swarm puts on choreographed light show

Many see small quadrocopters as the future of surveillance, aerial photography, warfare and even construction, but a new demonstration involving a world record-setting swarm of 50 quadrocopters has shown the aircraft can also pull off some pretty impressive dance moves…

The aerial display was put together by a team from Austria’s Ars Electronica Futurelab and Germany’s Ascending Technologies GmbH. The Ars Electronica team was responsible for creating the computerized choreography and equipping the standard model Hummingbird quadrocopters supplied by Ascending Technologies with special radio receivers and modified firmware. The vehicles were also equipped with LEDs to put on an eye-catching nighttime display.

Way cool!

Coppers jail Charlotte, NC activist for being on terror “watch list”

James Ian Tyson wants the people of Charlotte to know: “I’m a local Charlottean, I’m a farmer, I’m a carpenter, I’m a family member and a community member. I am not a terrorist.”

The 27-year-old was arrested Sunday and charged with driving with a revoked license. He was jailed on a $10,000 cash bond.

The police officer who arrested him wanted Tyson to remain behind bars during the Democratic National Convention, according to a court document.

The officer informed the magistrate that Tyson was on a terrorist watch list.

Tyson told the Observer Tuesday he was shocked to learn that he was on a terrorist watch list…“They have no reason to have me on that list,” Tyson said. “I haven’t done anything remotely criminal involving politics.

No one knows how you get on this list … or the accountability process or, most importantly, how they get off this list…”

The U.S. government does not reveal the names of people on the watch list, according to the Department of Homeland Security…A 2009 audit, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, found a high error rate among the FBI’s terrorist watch list…

Tyson said he believes his arrest was intended to keep him from speaking out against climate change during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Experience in the civil rights movement throughout America – but especially in the deep South – reminds us that the Police Red Squads of World war 1 never went away. They were significant in maintaining the blacklists of the McCarthy Era. They have always been near and dear to the hearts of those who would institute a police state to keep people in line.

In North Carolina, I imagine you still can get on such a list for insisting that Black people really do have a right to vote. Add in current – but not more sophisticated – demands for equal opportunity for members of the Gay community, reproductive rights for women [without prior approval of husbands or preachers], recognition of climate change, agreeing that smoking causes cancer – and you’re bound to be in trouble with the good old boys of North Carolina.

No one in government ever felt we should track antibiotics in the meat we eat – WTF?

The numbers released quietly by the federal government this year were alarming. A ferocious germ resistant to many types of antibiotics had increased tenfold on chicken breasts, the most commonly eaten meat on the nation’s dinner tables.

But instead of a learning from a broad national inquiry into a troubling trend, scientists said they were stymied by a lack of the most basic element of research: solid data.

Eighty percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States goes to chicken, pigs, cows and other animals that people eat, yet producers of meat and poultry are not required to report how they use the drugs — which ones, on what types of animal, and in what quantities…

Advocates contend that there is already overwhelming epidemiological evidence linking the two, something that even the Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged, and that further study, while useful for science, is not essential for decision making. “At some point the available science can be used in making policy decisions,” said Gail Hansen, an epidemiologist who works for Pew Charitable Trusts…

But scientists say the blank spots in data collection are a serious handicap in taking on powerful producers of poultry and meat who claim the link does not exist.

The Food and Drug Administration has tried in fits and starts to regulate the use of antibiotics in animals sold for food. Most recently it restricted the use of cephalosporins in animals — the most common antibiotics prescribed to treat pneumonia, strep throat and urinary tract infections in people.

But advocates say the agency is afraid to use its authority. In 1977, the F.D.A. announced that it would begin banning some agricultural uses of antibiotics. The House and Senate appropriations committees — dominated by agricultural interests — passed resolutions against any such bans, and the agency retreated…

Regulators say it is difficult even to check for compliance with existing rules. They have to look for the residue of misused or banned drugs in samples of meat from slaughterhouses and grocery stores, rather than directly monitoring use of antibiotics on farms. “We have all these producers saying, ‘Yes, of course we are following the law,’ but we have no way to verify that,” said Dr. Hansen…

All the “heroes” of both parties have walked away from any responsibility to get this sorted.

RTFA. More details – leading to the conclusions you must expect. Congress represents moneyed interests, corporate producers, before they ever consider the American families that voted them into office. Corruption has always been endemic. Nothing has been done or is being done to press the regulatory agencies into doing their job – or mandating cooperation from the corporations making their profits from protein that walks around.

One more of those issues we may see dealt with if and when we have sufficient leverage in Congress and the White House to get it done. If you believe. If you live long enough.

Radical bi-directional flying wing design gets NASA funding

A team that has created a supersonic jet design resembling a flying shuriken has been awarded a $100,000 grant from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program to continue development of the aircraft. Aside from looking suitably futuristic, the concept plane’s four-pointed star design serves a practical purpose. By rotating in mid air, the plane can transition between broad-wing subsonic and shorter wingspan supersonic configurations…

“No matter how fast a supersonic plane can fly, it needs to take off and land at very low speed, which severely hurts the high-speed supersonic performance for a conventional airplane,” said Ge-Chen Zha, a professor in the University of Miami’s College of Engineering and principal investigator of the project. “The SBiDir-FW removes this performance conflict by rotating the airplane to fly in two different directions at subsonic and supersonic. Such rotation enables the SBiDir-FW to achieve superior performance at both supersonic and subsonic speeds…”

The aircraft would rotate into supersonic configuration by folding winglets attached to the end of the wings in subsonic configuration. Folding them up again would see the aircraft rotate back again to subsonic orientation once again. The engine pod on the back of the aircraft would also be rotated when switching modes…

“I am hoping to develop an environmentally friendly and economically viable airplane for supersonic civil transport in the next 20 to 30 years,” said Zha. “Imagine flying from New York to Tokyo in four hours instead of 15 hours.”

Yup. I can imagine all of that. Building an airplane that can do that will take many millions of dollars – but, then, this may end up being the essential shape that makes it possible.