Atomic Labs Across the U.S. Race to Stop Iran

Interesting article in the NY Times about how scientists in nuclear research labs in the US aided the negotiations with Iran

It was over one of those dinners in Vienna last summer that several of the experts began wondering how they might find a face-saving way for Iran to convert its deep-underground enrichment plant at Fordo, a covert site exposed by the United States five years ago, into a research center. That would enable Iran to say the site was still open, and the United States could declare it was no longer a threat.“The question was what kind of experiment you can do deep underground,” recalled a participant in the dinner.

Source: Atomic Labs Across the U.S. Race to Stop Iran – NYTimes.com

Middle East Friendship Chart

Slate has a great interactive chart showing friend/ambivalent/enemy status between middle eastern countries. In the interactive version you can click on each cell and see the explanation.

Examples such as:

Graphical version

Ranking friendliness

Taking a -1, 0, +1 to rank the entities it seems Iraq is the only country with a surplus of friends and the US isn’t looking as bad as you’d think:

  • Al-Qaida: -10 (friends with no one)
  • Egypt: -6
  • Hamas: -3
  • Hezbollah: -2
  • Iran: -2
  • Iraq: +1
  • ISIS: -12 (everybody’s enemy)
  • Israel: -6
  • Palestinian Authority: 0
  • Saudi Arabia: -3
  • Syria: -5
  • Turkey: -4
  • US: -1

Making it friendlier?

If we ignore Al-Qaida (no one’s friend) and ISIS (everyone’s enemy) the results become a little more positive but still not an outpouring of friendship:
– Egypt: -4
– Hamas: -2
– Hezbollah: 0
– Iran: -1
– Iraq: +3
– Israel: -4
– Palestinian Authority: 2
– Saudi Arabia: -1
– Syria: -3
– Turkey: -2
– US: +1

End of the Universe

I was under the impression that the Universe would expand, contract, big bang, expand, contract, etc. Apparently there are competing theories where things just fade away. Dark Energy seems to account for the theoretical change.
Anyway, here’s a video explaining the competing theories:

And of course you need a song for that:
R.E.M. – It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)http://assets.bop.fm/embed.js

Corporate Taxes: Maybe not so high

So you think US corporate taxes are too high? It’s holding back the economy? Here is what poor General Electric has had to pay.

Grab 0011

What’s that right most graph? “Effective Tax Rate”: aren’t those numbers negative? What, US taxpayers paid them money? They most have declared heavy losses. What, they made billions of dollars every year for the past seven years except for 1 year!
Corporate welfare at it’s best!

Death’s in Guantanamo

In the Vietnam war, 144 POWs died. According to documents released to the ACLU there were 190 deaths of detainees in the War on Terror (not all at Guantanamo).

… a detainee was killed by an unnamed sergeant who walked into a room
where the detainee was lying wounded “and assaulted him … then shot
him twice thus killing him,” one of the investigating documents says.
The sergeant then instructed the other soldiers present to lie about the incident.
Later, the document says an unnamed corporal then shot the deceased
detainee in the head after finding his corpse.

It’s horrific that for decades we thought of the treatment of POWs in Vietnam as the epitome of brutality but more prisoner’s died in our custody than in Vietnamese custody!
The defense department defends it as not being as bad as it sounds and that people have been convicted of murder:

The Defense Department disputes the allegations, saying it
takes detainee treatment seriously.

Some history:

Guantanomo

More on Stuxnet Worm and Iran’s Nuclear Research

Last month there was an article about a virus that targetted Iran’s Nuclear Research. There’s a little more on Stuxnet worm in the NY Times.
From Stuxnet Worm Used Against Iran Was Tested in Israel:

The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.

Wealth and Income Distribution

I keep having trouble getting my head around how wealth is distributed in America — or maybe just that I don’t seem to explain it well enough to other people. There’s an article, “Who Rules America: Wealth, Income, and Power“, that looks into the details. Most of the data is only up to 2007 but the suggestion is that things have gotten worse since the recession:

So far there are only tentative projections … there has been an “astounding” 36.1% drop in the wealth (marketable assets) of the median household since the peak of the housing bubble in 2007. By contrast, the wealth of the top 1% of households dropped by far less: just 11.1%. So as of April 2010, it looks like the wealth distribution is even more unequal than it was in 2007.

The following shows how wealth is distributed but it’s a little misleading if you don’t read the labels. The “pie” is all wealth but each slice represents a different percentage of households. For example, the big slice represents 1% of households (about 1.1 million) and all the other slices represent about 109 million households.

WealthDistribution1

Another way of looking at similar data is this chart that summarizes a survey asking people how they think wealth is distributed and also how they think the ideal should be shaped. The top most bar represents how wealth is actually distributed. Note that the bottom 40% of households don’t even show up in the top most bar:

Actual estimated ideal wealth distribution

In case you are thinking this is normal, the article includes this information over time and things are only getting worse.

Federal Deficit Research

Some research notes on the Federal Deficit

FedDeficitReasons1

New Revenue: The plan, which relies on roughly equal parts revenue increases and spending cuts, proposes removing the cap on the employer side of the payroll tax, which raises about $76 billion in 2015; imposing a new fee of $5 per barrel on foreign oil imports, to raise about $22 billion; and applying a new surtax of 2 percent to adjusted gross income above $1 million, and an additional 3 percent to adjusted gross income above $10 million, to raise about $29 billion. These increases would raise federal revenue to about 19.8 percent of GDP, which is higher than it was under the Bush administration, but lower than when President Clinton brought the budget into surplus.

Spending Cuts: The plan also lays out about $128 billion in total spending cuts in 2015, including about $60 billion in defense spending cuts, $35 billion in tax expenditures (which are essentially spending programs that are administered through the tax code), and $12 billion in non-defense discretionary cuts. The plan would also cut $3.8 billion from in agricultural subsidies and index all relevant federal programs to the chained Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers, which would result in “slower increases to those aspects of the code that are indexed.”

grab-001.jpg

  • From the Congressional Budget Office is this report with the following chart showing how Medicare costs are going to drive future budget problems:

CBOProjection.jpg

  • The NY Times has an interactive application to let you play with federal budget numbers (check the boxes to enact it). I don’t quite agree with the it. For example, eliminating ear marks would not reduce the deficit. Also, the consequences are not identified such as how many people people would be affected. Heather Thorn explains why it’s not so easy (e.g. “yes, balancing the budget is easy. Provided you never need to run for election yourself.”)

  • Here is an older calculator that lets you fix the budget entirely by assuming our per capita health care costs match other industrialized countries.