Thursday, November 30, 2017

New Mexico - Gangs, Recidivism and Arable Land

New Mexico Prisons
A Perpetual Challenge
The "engines of the free market" have been "unleashed" for quite a while now.
Corporate prisons? Yawn.

ALEC NM has not been much of a friend to the rehabilitation efforts one might assume were underway in New Mexico prisons. This should not surprise anyone. Recidivism among convicts turns out to be a profit center -- "career opportunity" -- for both gangs and prison guards. MeanMesa has posted on this topic previously: Fixing New Mexico's Prisons and Budget/MeanMesa .

However, a few recent thoughts on this subject have presented an interesting confluence of problems and solutions possibilities. There is little justification for once more painfully establishing the "failure state" of the current situation with New Mexico's State Prison system. Simply stated, a very reasonable metric to apply to such a system's performance is found in the dismal record of the number of inmates who return after completing their incarceration.

If this number were to be decreasing, it would be convincing evidence that the process was working successfully. The number is not decreasing. Sometimes statistics can be quite stubborn.

Still, quite removed from the "prison rehabilitation problem," New Mexico hosts a completely different challenge on another front. The state is a massively gross importer of food. Aside from the obvious threat to social sustainability, the level of importing such a large percentage of the food consumed in the state directly acerbates the local economy in a variety of ways.

Here, we can focus on a single, specific factor which "looms large" in this predicament. Soils.

Although New Mexico has an abundant supply of "available farming land" in terms of physical area, the State has wide spread, serious, "arability problems." Most of the land which is "available" physically has such poor soil conditions that actual farming possibilities are sorely limited. In terms of agricultural science this is well documented.

Further, the "reclamation" of this land to an arable state is an expensive, labor intensive process, offering a ready explanation for the reason very little has been done. New Mexico soil, generally, suffers from some common problems. While water access has been a constant challenge to agricultural expansion for years, the soil, itself, offers its own set of serious difficulties. Primary among these, while not delving too deeply into soil chemistry specifics, are the wide prevalence of hardened clay and silt soils with very low amounts of lighter organics.

MeanMesa's Solution Concept
 Prisoner Rehabilitation and Land Reclamation Possibilities

It turns out that two of the factors mentioned above may, actually, combine to provide this "confluent possibility" to greatly increase the size New Mexico's arable and available farming land. Naturally, there are more critical restraints than the simple work required for reclamation, itself. No doubt, first among these is money. Neither the State of New Mexico nor individual farming enterprises are particularly eager to make an investment of this scale justified by the rather long term and somewhat conditional business prospects of increasing arable land reserves.

But....what if some of these "expense parameters" could be mitigated by some relatively innocuous changes in the State's business practises? The always attractive possibility of "killing two birds with one stone" might be waiting right before our eyes. Let's focus on the extensive labor costs and stubborn soils conditions. Granted, progress on these two parts of the problem will still leave the financial challenges, but a functionally viable solution may still remain.

How could this work?

1. Begin by selecting some State land with enough available water but with soil conditions which cause it to not be arable. These parcels of land could be targeted as potential "pilot projects" to test both the political and the agricultural viability of the project. Even the drilling new water wells -- sponsored by State funding -- might fit into the idea in some cases.

2. Develop an appropriately scaled supply of organics from both existing community policies and new plans which could further expand the collection such material. Albuquerque currently produces large quantities of this type of material through its Solid Waste Management, but this amount could be increased if resources were allocated. The amount of organic material required to adjust the arability of the land in the selected parcels would be significant, probably larger than the amounts currently being produced.

3. The infrastructure requirements for the project will also need to be addressed. There needs to be a "lay down and storage" area near the communities collecting the organic refuse. Transportation to the selected "target" parcels would need to be organized, and, in some cases, this might require the construction of roads [gravel access roads - not highways] needed for trucks to deliver the refuse to the parcels.

Additionally, it will be necessary to provide the equipment required for the land reclamation. This might require some heavy equipment for a short duration, but the bulk of the reclamation work could be undertaken with much smaller equipment.

The parcels selected for reclamation might also require some building construction. If the prisoners involved in the program were to "live on the land" in a sort of minimum security incarceration, structures for this purpose might also be required. [Such facilities would not require additional, new prison construction. Think of a more or less self-sustaining "work camp" with food and supplies transported to the site from existing prison facilities.]

 4. Prisoners currently incarcerated in State Prisons would have to compete to receive consideration for participating in the program. MeanMesa suggests that offering an alternative to prison incarceration will provide a strong incentive, making a transfer to a work camp something many currently incarcerated prisoners would desire.

A typical reclamation program could easily require a multi-year effort with a constant, continuing necessity for reclamation work. Behavior stipulations once a prisoner was transferred, while perhaps less formal than during incarceration, would still be strict. Infractions would result in a return to prison incarceration.

Technical direction for the reclamation would be provided by New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources staff along with agricultural expertise from departments of the State colleges. Importantly, the program would require adjustments to the original plan as specific challenges emerged during the reclamation process.

5. Once reclamation had been substantially accomplished, the now arable land could be leased or sold to agricultural interests by the State. The economics involved in such a program could -- especially after some experience with initial projects -- become an expense/revenue neutral State project. Much of the expenses for the first, pilot project would not become recurring expenditures because much of the equipment and infrastructure would have already been purchased and would be available for use on new projects. 

6. Politics. The New Mexico State government is famous for resisting most new ideas. This is especially the case with the State's dismal prison system. Further, the current occupants of the Round House seem even more reluctant to consider any plan of action which actually requires directly engaged, legislative management. New Mexico State legislators seem curiously fearful of such undertakings. Designed well, this particular project might very well "survive" the customary dose of this automatic "negative thinking." It would require some stalwart determination and impressively high quality leadership, but it can be done!

Our fellow citizens who are currently behind bars deserve our very best efforts.

Can This Include An "Abstract Possibility"
Creating more than arable land

In many cases the current prison residents have been "in route" to incarceration for major parts of their lives. The environment in which they lived has been "border line criminal" for so long that such lives gradually became "normal."

Worse, time spent incarcerated in prison has often been a continuation of this same "life style." Equally unfortunate, once released from prison -- not withstanding the major efforts of the State and others to alter this life-style -- far too many, understandably, return to "what they know." [The MeanMesa blog article cited at the beginning of this post discusses New Mexico's high prisoner recidivism.]

However, MeanMesa suggests that spending some time on one of these land reclamation projects -- beyond the bars and constantly laboring on the land -- might possibly introduce a very beneficial shift in this troublesome "normal" for many of these individuals. Of course there is the "educational" opportunity to learn new work, but this more abstract possibility might offer an avenue toward more or less permanently altering that destructive "normal" into something far more promising.

Convicts released after a stint on one of these reclamation projects would not, necessarily, seek a crime free future life as agricultural workers, but, just possibly, they would have been exposed to the healing force of great nature itself.

That prospect is a very tempting one.

A very new experience for New Mexico convicts. [image]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Not So Secret Facts" About the Opiod Epidemic

Trump and Sessions Announce Their Plan For
"Totally Crushing the Opiod Epidemic"
Setting Ourselves Up
for Another "Clear Miss"
None of this worked before, so we should immediately repeat everything.
The definition of the fanatic is
 "when everything is failing, redouble your efforts!"

The immediate social/cultural acknowledgement of the shocking, new population of opiod addicts "suddenly" discovered amid the [self-described] "normal folks" has elicited a quite understandable reaction. This reaction is, well, understandable for three reasons. 

First, it is superficial. Far from being a criticism of modern western life and values, this superficiality is very much to be expected. The social culture of the west is very visibly dedicated to the reduction of shocks. The culture, itself, not only insulates the nation from such shocks, it also develops in individuals -- in their own psychology -- an ability to "insulate themselves" from the realities what they are seeing. Most of society remains quite convinced that both the problems the opiod addiction causes and the problems which have caused the opiod addiction are, somehow, comfortably distant from them as they pursue their lives.

"Those people have problems that I don't have. [The reasons behind this conclusion are truly unsettling.] All it has to do with me is the unfortunate possibility that one of those addicts will steal the radio out of my car."

Head for North Dakota! [chart/US Senate]
Second, it echoes a deeply held although largely un-examined, intuitive insistence that such matters are "issues of control" or, perhaps more accurately in the current crisis, lapses in the social exertion of appropriate control. Very predictably, as public discussion of the opiod crisis reached its current fervor, all the "usual suspects" [excluding the doctors, of course] were immediately selected for blame and controlling the bad behavior of them was touted as a possible means of controlling the "out of control" opiod use.

Law enforcement promised increasingly aggressive policies for "rounding up" drug dealers. The President immediately launched a public education "advertising" campaign to more "correctly" inform the young about opiod dangers. Laws were proposed and implemented to limit the production of the drugs by manufacturers. Voluntary campaigns to "clean out that medicine cabinet" were launched.

Third, Americans have been "contaminated" with the implied idea that "things will return to normal" if the matter is just given time. Granted, Americans have never really been particularly "sharp" when it has come to combating such challenges, and various ideas in previous efforts have never been particularly effective. The continuing attraction of this litany of "tried and true" methods is now presenting an even more destructive alternative to facing facts and getting to work on the "causes and conditions" which have ushered this latest challenge into the headlines.

It will be a "breathtaking step," indeed, if the US social culture actually "grabs this problem by the neck."

Happily, such a reassuring outcome is quite possible if the social response is a rational one. Step One will be to permanently disabuse ourselves of this troublesome, inertial collection of "mistaken certainties."

Such "solutions" are "inertial" because they continue to, seemingly, automatically present themselves as "suggestions" based on what we perceive as fundamentals of our social culture. 

So, the very first part of this is to be absolutely convinced that society's first impulse to solving the epidemic will be, essentially, useless. We must begin by scratching out all these unworkable, automatic solutions.

The list of "scratched out reasons:
[MeanMesa only offers seven, but if your favorite isn't here, don't be concerned. There are thousands -- probably just as many as there are opiod addicts.]

1. There are too many opiod pills being manufactured, and they're too profitable.
2. People lack the education needed to consider them dangerous.
3. People don't even know that the pills they have discovered to be so pleasant are addictive opiods.
4. Not enough people are in jail to frighten others from indulging.
5. Doctors continue to prescribe opiods for too many conditions.
6. Insurance companies continue to be too eager to pay for opiods.
7. We may as well throw in "peer pressure," because we always throw in "peer pressure."

However, not only will these typical "social responses" to the epidemic crisis be painfully ineffective, there are, still another two "flies in the ointment" -- temptingly expensive [and profitable] mass incarceration schemes and government support for elaborately expensive, yet barely effective treatment centers.

Trump has already made it clear that he will not be spending huge amounts of federal tax money on the matter. While the current "hue and cry" is that such expenditures for treatment facilities should be rapidly expanded, such expenses might under cut the President's "tax cut fantasies."

Further, although the "gnome-like" Attorney General will undoubtedly "drink deeply" from the chalice of a wide new variety of prosecutions and incarcerations [his own ugly addiction], most likely the final "accomplishment" of Session's bizarre obsessions will turn out to be a windfall of convicted citizens marching off to the corporate prisons.

Although private prison corporations are eerily generous with their "campaign contributions," treatment facilities are not. Both choices seem to produce roughly the same, sparse benefits.

So, Why Are So Many People Continuing
 to Become Opiod Addicts?
Clearly, we could make some real progress if folks quit getting addicted.
For this, we need to understand what the addicts
 are looking for or "finding" in the opiods.

The unsettling nature of the epidemic arises from two angles. First, there is the absolutely frustrating question of exactly what to do about it as an epidemic. Second, there is the equally -- for more or less, "normal" citizens, at least -- frustrating question of why it is "happening." Another academic "nature or nurture" debate probably won't help much. "More religion" and "more baseball teams" haven't  seemed to improve things, either.

This is individual. And, in fact, the very possibility that the "cause which causes" opiod addiction is such an individual matter is precisely why the epidemic is so unsettling. The addiction epidemic eludes any reasonable, generalized cause which might offer a convenient explanation in the same way the problem eludes any similarly generalized solutions.

Nonetheless, there is, actually, a body of thought which can answer the question -- "Why are so many people continuing to become opiod addicts?" posed above. These valuable ideas are to be found in an unlikely -- yet highly accessible -- place. Let's get more specific.

What AA's Basic Text Says About Addiction
The 1930's fundamentals about alcohol addiction
 can speak directly to the causes
 of the 2017 opiod  addiction epidemic.

The basic text which serves as the basis for the AA recovery program can be found in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, and is readily available -- in a searchable format -- at Alcoholics Anonymous/ANON Press. While this basic text includes a significant number of questionable [and often obnoxious...] deferential references to  the Dominionist Catholicism which was popular in the early 20th Century and so attractive to AA's founder, Bill Wilson, it also contains some very valuable and thoughtful conclusions about addiction which can be applied to the current opiod addiction crisis.

First, let's look at what AA's basic text says about the "spiritual malady" which so destructively distorts the thinking of an untreated alcoholic.

AA's "Spiritual Malady"

Resentment is the "number one" offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically. In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry. In most cases it was found that our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened. So we were sore. We were "burned up."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 64]

With this in hand we can draw a few, useful conclusions about why people find opiods [Add any additions you like -- alcohol, heroin, cocaine, etc.] so attractive.

1. Most opiod addicts were already "set up" psychologically to become addicted before they ever indulged in opiods.
2. Whatever the "reason" was to begin taking opiods, a quite different "reason" then developed to continue taking opiods in an addictive pattern later.
3. The detrimental effect of having a "spiritual malady" becomes the on-going "thought" mechanism which  not only initially introduced but also continually reinforces the addiction.

How does this "spiritual malady" affect the thinking of an alcoholic or an addict? 

Perhaps the best way to consider the question is to imagine a "contaminant" which introduces destructive suggestions as the addict forms thoughts. The socially puzzling aspect of the epidemic lies with the fact that these "spiritual malady" contaminants actually have little to do an immediate, over night descent into substance abuse.

Instead, these contaminants groom one's experience [the experience of "being me"] into a painful, yet frightening, synthetic, collection of presumptions. Examples are in order.

"Spiritual Malady" Presumptions

1. I am not competitive. I simply don't have the capacity to function well. I will fail.
2. The reality around me is not fair. The decks are stacked against my ever succeeding.
3. Reality is dangerously unpredictable. Unseen dangers are lurking all around me.
4. The opinions people form about me are hopelessly bad. The best way I can deal with this is to lie or exaggerate. I need to try to "mold" what people are thinking about me into something I can survive. I need to constantly pretend that I am "better" than I am.
5. The people around me seem to have it all much easier than I do. Many of them are quietly working to make my life and unpleasant and empty as possible.

Of course, there can be many more such examples, but the point here is that with such presumptions "coloring" every thought so darkly, any relief which might accompany addictive substance abuse seems like an almost perfect opportunity to improve what "life feels like" for the potential addict.

None of these "ideas" are present in words. Further, MeanMesa sees no observable correlation between "more church" or "more Bible" and any remedy for the "spiritual malady." [Consider the use of the term: "spirit" in the following two examples. It was a very spirited horse. and The Arctic explorer lost his spirit after a time.] Predictably, these are the approach deeply embedded in the AA program of recovery, but the results seem to be very clearly, dangerously temporary.

"Feels like?" Addiction is almost entirely emotional. It has everything to do with "feeling bad" and then, "feeling better." All the "reasons" which are offered as a "good reason" to not use substances or become addicted are intellectual reasons which are being "pitted against" emotional "reasons."

People with the "spiritual malady" actively contaminating their minds are, almost always, quite unhappy. Their lives as they picture themselves in this way are miserable, although after the condition has continued for a long time, not even the sufferer may really notice. Addicts become completely identified both with the on-going "unpleasantness" of every moment spent being simply sober and the somewhat "more pleasantness" of every moment spent being loaded -- again, on anything.

It is important to note that the paragraph [above] describes an addiction while it is in its somewhat still successful, preliminary state. Addiction rarely remains this "workable" for long -- usually just long enough to convince the sufferer that it will remain "workable" for far longer than it will.

It actually might, but "that solution" will have nothing in common with all the ideas we "scratched out" earlier in the post. We must begin with the conclusion that addicts -- and potential addicts -- are afraid that they really aren't going to able to make it through life. Again, this fear doesn't manifest itself in an internal "discussion." It is emotional. The reason that it seems so mysterious is that it resides far from intellectual observation. 

It is not merely a fear of spiders, dentists and clowns. Even an addict quite willing to discuss such fear finds it quite beyond what can be said with words. Nonetheless, for alcohol and drug dependent mentalities the terror is real -- and dangerous. Interestingly, when the effect of the "spiritual malady" are unleashed on a human's thought process, the result is a person who actually finds a synthetic type of "relief" in substance abuse.

Unhappily, addiction almost always goes "right off the cliff" once this "discovery" is made, and from there it always gets worse, never better. The addiction inevitably requires more and more of the abused substance, while the "relief" gained by using the substance diminishes daily.

So, How Do People Wind
 Up With the "Spiritual Malady?"
It would probably really help with the crisis
 if people were able to be a little "happier."
Unhappily, "being happy" may sometimes be even
 more difficult than "being addicted."

Because alcoholism and drug addiction have become such expensive problems for the social culture, no effort has been spared in the myriad of investigations and research programs seeking to reveal the cause. It is worth a moment to "size up" this massive expense. The economic impact of thousands of dead opiod addicts is already impressive, but there is much more damage than just the funerals. When considered as a grisly aggregate of all the addiction "going on" currently, all the missed work days, all the incipient health problems, all the misery imposed on families, friends and bosses and all the massive "economic activity" of addicts -- of all sorts -- seeking to purchase prohibited or regulated drugs in a crime ridden market completely detached from the general economy, the problem has, understandably, attracted plenty of very aggressive research efforts through the years.

However, these investigative efforts have yet to constructively answer the "cause question." In fact, MeanMesa has seen only one "explanation" which 1. seems to make sense, and 2. seems to offer any type of workable counter measure as a solution.

There is a great deal of research targeting the consequences that maternal drinking during pregnancy can have on the fetus. These investigations extend to both the physical and mental effects on fetal health. Here are a couple of excerpts from the reports describing these conclusions. [There are plenty more available on your GOOGLE.]

Fetal exposure to excessive stress hormones in the womb linked to adult mood disorders

[Excerpted. Visit the article National Institute of Health/gov]
Elevated levels of maternal pregnancy specific anxiety early in pregnancy were independently associated with lower scores on the BSID at 12 months. These associations could not be explained by postnatal maternal psychological stress, stress related to parenting, prenatal medical history, socioeconomic factors or child race, sex or birth order. These data suggest that maternal cortisol and pregnancy specific anxiety have programming influences on the developing fetus. Prenatal exposure to the same signal, cortisol, had opposite associations with infant development based on the timing of exposure.

The Timing of Prenatal Exposure to Maternal Cortisol and Psychosocial Stress is Associated with Human Infant Cognitive Development

[Excerpted. Visit the article here/SCIENCE Daily]
Adverse environments experienced while in the womb, such as in cases of stress, bereavement or abuse, will increase levels of glucocorticoids in the mother, which may harm the growing baby. Glucocorticoids are naturally produced hormones and they are also known as stress hormones because of their role in the stress response.

"The stress hormone cortisol may be a key factor in programming the fetus, baby or child to be at risk of disease in later life. Cortisol causes reduced growth and modifies the timing of tissue development as well as having long lasting effects on gene expression," she will say.

 A more fundamental model for the development of addiction. [MeanMesa]
A less scientific description of this "fetal cortisol syndrome" -- as it relates to potential addiction in later life -- may be helpful. This model is quite subjective, strictly representing a not particularly scientific or empirical, possible theory about how the "spiritual malady" might first be introduced into a person. It is, very likely, already present when a potential addict is first born.

While still in the womb, a fetus can "inquire" about the nature of the external world into which it will be born. Of course, this "inquiry" quite removed from being a "warm conversation" with one's mother. The entire affair is to be conducted chemically, and the "language" of the conversation will be relayed to the fetus through changes in the chemistry of the uterus.

If the mother is stressed, her hormonal cortisol levels will express this to her fetus. The "answer" to the fetus' question about the nature of the world will reflect the mother's view of that world. Further, the "mother's view" will be expressed to the fetus in her cortisol levels. The fetus will receive this "communication" through the mother's placental connection.

When communicated in this way, that is with a "high stress" hormonal cortisol level, the "answer" the fetus receives is that the world into which it will arrive once born, is a "stressful," "frustrating" or "threatening" place. At least, it may be clear that the fetus' pregnant mother might find it so.

This is curiously consistent with the false presumptions presented in the case of the "spiritual malady." There are no words, books, studies, conclusions or the like to which this child, once born, can attribute these depressing inner suspicions about the world. Nonetheless, they are well established as subtle "thought contaminants" as the child develops into maturity. 

They are far too subtle to be objectively contradicted by an adolescent who happens to be entirely prepared to experience the "relief" to be found in a whiskey bottle floating around a party or with something found in the family's medicine cabinet.

A "Solution" That Almost No One Will Like

It's hardly "rocket science." There are, indeed, factors and conditions which can lead to a satisfying and happy life. This idea applies across the field, certainly to both stressed, pregnant mothers and subsequently, to their opiod addicted children. However, rather than making the creation of these positive conditions a high priority, Americans seem obsessed with transforming the conditions of life into a coarse, frightening, brutal experience.

Of course, this strange approach seems to encompass almost everyone here, sooner or later. There are, certainly, very visible alternatives to this model. Here are some examples: World's Happiest Countries/CNN

With thousands of dead opiod addicts now strewn across the country, it is clearly time to question our fundamentals.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Toyota Picks Canada For New Plant

Workforce Education Matters
There actually IS a connection between literacy and ball bearings.

MeanMesa has always suspected that manifesting painfully visible ignorance has been considered a "badge of legitimacy" among the stubborn, stalwart denizens of the old Southern State Confederacy. In fact, these drawling red states' "basket case" economic priorities have made annual cuts to education spending a de rigueur mandate which must be embraced with every annual budget plan.

Yes, constituencies in this condition are dependably more tolerant of class driven poverty and state level corruption, but when held up to the Japanese measure of the productivity expected from an auto factory worker, the educational failure begins to emerge rather quickly. When the economic penalties of the dismally non-competitive US health care system are added to balance, the tempting incentives to build manufacturing plants in these "low wage" regions evaporate like a mint julep abandoned in a Mississippi heat wave.

Even Japanese roosters will, eventually, come "home to roost."

Please take a minute to read through the following New York Times article. [Visit the original article here: Opinion - Toyota Moving Northward/NYTIMES]

Modern American politics is dominated by the doctrine that government is the problem, not the solution. In practice, this doctrine translates into policies that make low taxes on the rich the highest priority, even if lack of revenue undermines basic public services. You don't have to be a liberal to realize that this is wrong-headed. Corporate leaders understand quite well that good public services are also good for business. But the political environment is so polarized these days that top executives are often afraid to speak up against conservative dogma.
Instead, they vote with their feet. Which brings us to the story of Toyota's choice.
There has been fierce competition among states hoping to attract a new Toyota assembly plant. Several Southern states reportedly offered financial incentives worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
But last month Toyota decided to put the new plant, which will produce RAV4 mini-S.U.V.'s, in Ontario. Explaining why it passed up financial incentives to choose a U.S. location, the company cited the quality of Ontario's work force.
What made Toyota so sensitive to labor quality issues? Maybe we should discount remarks from the president of the Toronto-based Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, who claimed that the educational level in the Southern United States was so low that trainers for Japanese plants in Alabama had to use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech equipment.
But there are other reports, some coming from state officials, that confirm his basic point: Japanese auto companies opening plants in the Southern U.S. have been unfavorably surprised by the work force's poor level of training.
There's some bitter irony here for Alabama's governor. Just two years ago voters overwhelmingly rejected his plea for an increase in the state's rock-bottom taxes on the affluent, so that he could afford to improve the state's low-quality education system. Opponents of the tax hike convinced voters that it would cost the state jobs.
But education is only one reason Toyota chose Ontario. Canada's other big selling point is its national health insurance system, which saves auto manufacturers large sums in benefit payments compared with their costs in the United States.
You might be tempted to say that Canadian taxpayers are, in effect, subsidizing Toyota's move by paying for health coverage. But that's not right, even aside from the fact that Canada's health care system has far lower costs per person than the American system, with its huge administrative expenses. In fact, U.S. taxpayers, not Canadians, will be hurt by the northward movement of auto jobs.
To see why, bear in mind that in the long run decisions like Toyota's probably won't affect the overall number of jobs in either the United States or Canada. But the result of international competition will be to give Canada more jobs in industries like autos, which pay health benefits to their U.S. workers, and fewer jobs in industries that don't provide those benefits. In the U.S. the effect will be just the reverse: fewer jobs with benefits, more jobs without.
So what's the impact on taxpayers? In Canada, there's no impact at all: since all Canadians get government-provided health insurance in any case, the additional auto jobs won't increase government spending.But U.S. taxpayers will suffer, because the general public ends up picking up much of the cost of health care for workers who don't get insurance through their jobs. Some uninsured workers and their families end up on Medicaid. Others end up depending on emergency rooms, which are heavily subsidized by taxpayers.
Funny, isn't it? Pundits tell us that the welfare state is doomed by globalization, that programs like national health insurance have become unsustainable. But Canada's universal health insurance system is handling international competition just fine. It's our own system, which penalizes companies that treat their workers well, that's in trouble.
I'm sure that some readers will respond to everything I've just said by asking why, if the Canadians are so smart, they aren't richer. But I'll have to leave the issue of America's comparative economic performance for another day.
For now, let me just point out that treating people decently is sometimes a competitive advantage. In America, basic health insurance is a privilege; in Canada, it's a right. And in the auto industry, at least, the good jobs are heading north.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Imagining NASA With A Real Budget - ROSS 128B

ROSS 128B [image/SCI-NEWS]
How Are We Humans 
Doing With Space Exploration?
We've made some serious progress, 
but the further we go, the bigger the dreams become.

MeanMesa, no doubt just like most other Earth based creatures, has always gazed at interstellar distances with a very cloudy view of "what's possible." Setting aside the super light speed science fiction of the Enterprise, any distance greater than, for example, New Horizon's 3 billion mile junket to Pluto seemed to be permanently lodged in the realm of wishful thinking. [Voyager 1 finally exited our solar system after only 35 years at 39,000 mph.]

While promising visitors to the blog that this post will not plunge headlong "into the weeds" with way too many numbers for "palatable reading," ride along for a few minutes while we examine an "interstellar possibility." It may well be time to update our basic presumptions about a few exciting astronomical things. Let's take it "by the numbers."

1. Humans have been steadily working on rocket propulsion systems every day since Voyager 1 was launched in September, 1977.

2. Humans have been building spectacular advances to telescopes, too. These would be both elaborate terrestrial telescopes and quite impressive space telescopes.

3. Humans have been toiling diligently to reduce the cost of all parts of space exploration and exploitation.

Unhappily, there is also a fourth item which we will need to add to the list.

4. Humans have not begun to consider -- as reasonable -- space exploration projects which take a lot of time to complete. Recent probe missions have had notably longer duration than earlier efforts, but these extended duration journeys have been times in years so far. 

Although it spent a decade in orbit once it arrived, the Saturn probe, CASINI, took seven years to reach its destination. GALILEO took around eight years at 108,000 mph to reach the gas giant, Jupiter [Galileo/WIKI], and the more recent Jovian probe, JUNO, took five years at a slightly faster 164,000 mph.

In terms of typical, human appetites for "instant gratification," all these projects were reasonable enough to garner economic and political backing. In fact, a [discouragingly] small number of humans actually found these projects to be quite exciting -- even if it meant waiting for a while for the color pictures.

Since we have managed to "mature" this far, could we consider going a little further?

Time for a Paradigm Shift
Buckle up your seat belts.

An Interesting New Engine

Returning to the list above, we really have been creating some quite impressive new rocket propulsion systems. [Relax. MeanMesa isn't lurching into a wild narrative about the possibilities of an FTL drive. That discussion will have to come later.] There has been a literal "flurry" of designs for these new rocket motors, and to make the point here, we can look at an example. Take three minutes to watch a video explaining this engine.

The Aneutronic Engine [screenshot/YOUTUBE]
Aneutronic Nuclear Fusion Reactor Continuous Ion Thruster in Fusion Plasma Propulsion Engine
A Hybrid Aneutronic  Deuterium Tritium Engine Might Make Interstellar Travel Possible

A few of the video's high points are very interesting. One claim made is that this engine could propel a probe to Jupiter in 3 months. That's just enough information to allow us to make a few rough calculations.

The distance between Earth and Jupiter is around 365 million miles at its closest and 600 million miles at its most distant, so we can average things a bit to arrive at 483 million miles. Perhaps this was about the distance the Aneutronic engine claimed it might travel in 90 days. A quick bit of arithmetic tells us that this would be done at an average speed of about 5.4 million miles per day, or about 224,000 mph.

Of course, that 90 days might include some "speeding up" and "slowing down" time, so we don't need to be "overly precise" at this stage. [Such an engine could be safely launched from Earth because no neutrons are emitted. It also wouldn't violate the international treaty to not use radioactive nuclear things in space. Here's another link about the engine: Fusion Thruster for Space Travel/SPECTRUM]

Okay. This might be somewhat interesting, but what about the "paradigm?"

An Interesting New [Newly Discovered] Planet, ROSS 128B

Well, thanks to these constantly improving, modern telescopes, we have also discovered a very interesting "Earth-like" planet, ROSS 128B. Although we have been discovering "Earth-like" exoplanets fairly frequently lately, this one is "special" because it is, apparently, significantly more "Earth-like" than those discovered previously. 

Here is an excellent article from TIME Magazine which details this discovery.

Scientists Have Discovered a New Planet Close to Earth. 
Here’s Why It's So Exciting. Nov 15 2017

When ROSS 128B is described as "more Earth-like," it's important to understand the difference. KEPPLER 186F was considered "Earth-like" when it was first discovered to be in an "habitable zone" in 2014, but KEPPLER 186F is not nearly as interesting as ROSS 128B. [KEPPLER Discovers Earth Sized Planet/NASA] And, KEPPLER 186F is 500 light years away. ROSS 128B is 11 light years away.

Even though the planet orbits its red dwarf star in 9.9 days, there is a tantalizing possibility that ROSS 128B may well have a 75 degree F surface temperature. THAT'S "Earth-like."

Now It's Time To "Mix It Up"
Watch out. Here comes the arithmetic.

The numbers aren't really all that tough.

The distance to ROSS 128B is 11 light years. Since a light year is around 5.9 Trillion miles, this means that ROSS 128B is roughly 65 Trillion miles from here.

The Aneutronic engine claims that it could reach Jupiter in 90 days. That suggests that the propulsion system could accelerate a probe to at least 224,000 mph. Because it would be constantly accelerating with its continuous ion thrust, MeanMesa assumes that an Aneutronic propelled craft could reasonably reach an even significantly faster speed on a long run through empty space -- after it had some time to really speed up -- eventually hitting a full velocity possibly as high as, say, 30% C [C = light speed].

Still, we can use the more conservative estimate from the video.

Distance to Ross 128B = 11 light years 
[11 ly X 5.9 Tn miles/ly = 65 Tn miles]
65 Tn miles / 225,000 mph = 29,000,000 hrs = 12,037 days = 33 years
Of course we would like to fly by ROSS 128B a bit more slowly than 30% C so our probe's science observatory would have a little more time to look at the planet. This would require some time to decelerate before its arrival. And, it will take 11 years for the data transmission from the probe to return to Earth...but...

If ROSS 128B looked promising once we had a better chance to observe it up close, we would have had another 45 or 50 years to keep working on an even better rocket engine. We might have even had time to straighten out our nutty political and economic priorities, too.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Coming Storm - Roy Moore, Reconciliation and Trump's Billionaire Tax Gift

Trump's "Tax Cut" for the Billionaires:
The Oligarchs' Plan to Snatch the Country
Catch Your Breath. We're Almost There.
Rats. The damned Russians only gave the GOP fifty-two Senators.
Mike Pence gets a "new lease on life" -- as long as he's obedient.

Now, fifty-two US GOP Senators should be enough to steal everything in the country which isn't "bolted down." Although during the Obama years the Republicans blocked every scrap of Democratic legislation possible with a "well polished threat" that they would filibuster it, a threat which would then require a 2/3 majority of currently seated Senators to pass it.

Tax cut trillions for the billionaires.
Where did that idea come from?
The "Swamp March"
However, even amid this blanket, partisan obstruction, there remained one, final option. In the Senate rules legislation which "theoretically" reduced the deficit or increased surpluses could be passed in reconciliation, and that type of legislation would require only a simple majority of at least fifty-one Senators. Further, if even that "lowered bar" remained "too high," the Vice President could step in -- as "President" of the Senate -- to "break the tie" and provide a "majority" to pass such a bill.

Since plenty of Americans are unfamiliar with the reconciliation process, MeanMesa provides the following, abbreviated explanation as found in WIKI. We can get into why this has become so desperately important later in this post.

[Excerpted. Visit the entire, original article here - Congressional Reconciliation/WIKI]

Although reconciliation was originally understood to be for the purpose of either reducing deficits or increasing surpluses, the language of the 1974 act refers only to "changes" in revenue and spending amounts, not specifically to increases or decreases. Per former Parliamentarian of the Senate Robert Dove:

  • [Reconciliation] was never used for that purpose. But in 1975, just a year after it had passed, a very canny Senate committee chairman, Russell Long of Louisiana, came into the Parliamentarian's Office, and he kept having trouble with his tax bills because of the Senate rules. People were offering amendments to them that he didn't like. They were debating them at length, and he didn't like that. And he saw in the Budget Act a way of getting around those pesky little problems. And he convinced the Parliamentarian at the time - I was the assistant - that the very first use of reconciliation should be to protect his tax cut bill.

The Byrd Rule (as described below) was adopted in 1985 and amended in 1990. Its main effect has been to prohibit the use of reconciliation for provisions that would increase the deficit beyond 10 years after the reconciliation measure. The removal of such provisions has been described as a "Byrd Bath."

The Painful Tale About Exactly How GOP
Molester, Judge Moore's Senate Campaign
 Has Turned the Trump Tax Cuts Into a 
Full On, Screaming, Senate Hair Burner
If this were fiction, it would be "over 18." Unhappily, it's not fiction.
MeanMesa suggests that we put Senate Leader,
 Mitch McConnell, on suicide watch.

The "high stakes" game presently being played out in the Senate, of course, is Trump's proposed tax
Why Republicans are already having trouble
 - even before Judge Moore -
with Trump's tax cuts. 
cut festival for billionaires. In its current form the tax cut plan would increase the national debt -- over a ten year period -- by $1.4 Trillion dollars [note: the estimate is far worse than this - see graphic]. To keep this monstrosity in the "reconciliation arena" the net effect of the giant debt increase has to be offset by a plethora of "cost reducing" measures such as cashing out current Medicaid expenditures, eliminating the current deduction for state and local taxes [the provision which targets blue states which 1. have higher taxes,and 2. didn't vote for Trump], eliminating deductions for child care, medical costs and a number of other benefits specifically benefiting middle class tax filers who itemize. 

Once all these middle class "deduction opportunities" have been removed, the Republicans will stumble along for a few months with both serious political problems and a Federal budget dilemma precipitated by the extreme economic stress resulting from the tax cuts. The traditional GOP "solution" for these pesky budgetary inconveniences will inevitably emerge as the "absolute necessity" of cutting Social Security and Medicaid expenditures.

However, the "flies get into the ointment" when one considers the current partisan split of the Senate.

Alabama Has Always Been
 a Delightfully Dependable,
Automatic Republican Elector Machine
The ultimate cracker, Beauregard Sessions, just simply has to be replaced by someone.
Happily, Alabama has a huge reserve of bigots and hillbillies,
 all waiting to become a Senator. Unhappily, the particular bigot the GOP has chosen
is, apparently, a self-confessed child molester so stinky that not even the
ridiculously self-righteous, GOP controlled Senate can "countenance the smell."

The terrifying result of all this is that Judge Roy Moore, the molester and candidate in the Alabama Senate run off election to replace Beauregard [now, Trump's bigoted AG], might -- possibly -- lose the election which was supposed to very dependably place another bigoted Republican in the Senate. At first this possibility was so remote that even the mention of it would send the incumbent, "battle hardened" Republican political hacks into a "knee slapping fit" of uncontrollable laughter.

However, only a few days after the public polling began to respond to the "molesting teen age girl" problem, the "outraged evangelical brain fever" started to take its effect of the Alabama poll numbers. What had been -- just before the "molestation" frenzy really grabbed a solid foot hold -- a predictably comfortable 48-42 [538]lead for Moore began to steadily evaporate. Today the Alabama Senate race is at a dead tie with Moore's numbers faltering further for every moment his "molestation habit" spends in the current news cycle.

The horrifying, gruesome reality of this is that Moore's opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, might become Alabama's Senatorial replacement for Sessions. When evaluating the "voting impact" in the Senate, such a victory would reduce the GOP grip on the body "twice." First, it would reduce the Number of Republican Senators by one, and second, it would increase the number of Democratic Senators by one.

The current fifty-two to forty-eight [46 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats] partisan split would "mutate" to an even more precarious GOP majority of fifty-one to forty-nine. This -- counting the emergency appearance of Vice President Pence -- would leave a two vote "free board" for Senate leader McConnell to deliver the tax cuts his bosses are demanding.

If two Republican Senators "spit out the bridle," and the billionaires don't get their trillion dollar "present," then following such a disappointment, those billionaires will, very likely, fulfill their threat to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in GOP "campaign contributions" for the 2018 midterm.

Now, as recently as five years ago the legislative -- or obstructive -- outcome of a 2 Senator majority among Republicans was as predictable as a new Swiss watch, but in these turbulent days that majority can disappear as quickly as old John McCain's "thumbs down" destroyed the last, and most vicious "repeal and replace" bill.

The "wishes" of the GOP "donors" might, possibly, be intimidating enough to keep all the elected Republicans "on the farm," but the growing possibility of an errant Congressman or Senator looms very large on the shadowy horizon in both Ryan's and McConnell's political fever dreams.

The question on the tax cut plan may be even less optimistic. The blue states the bill attacks so vehemently are not entirely Democratic -- there are plenty of "gated community" pockets strewn out among them, and those pockets have elected their own Republicans [Especially in the House of Representatives, but those "soon to be wounded by the tax cut bill, upper middle class wanna-be's" have been calling their House members and Senators, too. At the time of this post the bill's over all popularity was around 24%.]

Trump's tax giveaway can, actually, be passed with reconciliation. The scheme's final hurdle will focus on whether or not the GOP's traditionally unworkable proposition that revenues from the increased economic growth spurred by all the free money will off set such a huge debt explosion.

Finally, if the Republicans can successfully dump an additional $1.5 Tn atop the current $18 Tn national debt, the interest for the add on will amount to roughly $90 Bn. To see the relative size of this, the figure must be "expressed" in understandable terms. 

If a fully equipped high school could be built for about $3 Mn, that amount would build 30,000 of them.

Think about it.