Monthly Archives: February 2015

IRS steals widow’s savings

Theft by government: The IRS has seized nearly $19,000 of a widow’s savings because it didn’t like the manner in which she deposited it in the bank.

After [an October policy change that was supposed to stop most of these kinds of cash confiscations], federal prosecutors in Iowa agreed to return money the IRS seized from two people accused of structuring, including a restaurant owner who had $33,000 taken and a doctor who fought to get back $344,000 in earnings from his medical practice. But prosecutors declined to drop the civil forfeiture case over $18,775 the IRS seized from [the widow Janet] Malone.

Instead, they added a misdemeanor criminal charge last week alleging she willfully violated the law, after her husband had been warned about the practice four years ago. Malone is expected to plead guilty next week and let the government keep the money, under a plea agreement filed Monday. The charge carries up to one year in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Note that in every one of these cases, no actual crime was every committed. The money was earned legally. The only issue was the manner in which the individuals deposited the money. The IRS didn’t like it.

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Rosetta preps for close fly-by of Comet 67P/C-G

Single frame image

Cool image time! In preparation for a close fly-by of Comet 67P/C-G on Saturday — where it will zip past the comet less than three miles above its surface — Rosetta has eased away to a distance of about 60 miles, allowing its navigation camera to snap its first single frame image since the spacecraft’s initial close approach last summer.

The image brightness has been adjusted to make the plume more obvious. Also, if you look closely at the full resolution version of the image, it is possible to see the dusty material that forms the coma surrounding the nucleus.

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The last two satellites in Russia’s missile warning constellation have failed.

In January the last two satellites in Russia’s ballistic missile warning system shut down, with the first of the next generation replacement constellation not scheduled to launch until June.

“Oko-1 was part of Russia’s missile warning system. The system employed six satellites on geostationary and highly elliptical orbits. The last geostationary satellite got out of order in April last year. The two remaining satellites on highly elliptical orbits could operate only several hours a day. In the beginning of January, they also went out of order,” Kommersant said.

The new generation early warning satellite Tundra was planned to be launched in 2013. However, the launch was postponed several times as the apparatus was not ready to be put into operation, sources in the aerospace industry told the daily.

Increasingly I am reminded of the Cold War, when our competition was the bloated, inefficient, and poorly managed Soviet Union. The communist nation was definitely a threat, as they got a lot accomplished through sheer brute force and determination. Their long term problem was that it was an amazingly inefficient system, guaranteed to eventually fall apart.

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Europe test flies its engineering prototype space plane

The competition heats up: Europe today successfully launched and landed its Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) space plane.

More details here. And here.

As of 9 pm (Eastern) Wednesday the recovery ship was still “hurrying” to reach the ship, which was being held afloat with “balloons.” Update: The spacecraft has been retrieved.

This prototype is not full scale. It is only about 16 feet long, and was built as a testbed. Whether Europe follows up with a full scale version remains completely unknown. I am skeptical, as this program reminds me of many deadend NASA experimental programs like it, used to try out cool engineering technologies as well as provide pork to Congressional districts without any plans to proceed to the real thing. In the case of IXV, the Italians got most of the pork.

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Unions discover Obamacare sucks

Finding out what’s in it: Because of required Obamacare regulations and taxes on their union health plans, the unions representing workers at 29 west coast commercial ports are now threatening to strike and shut the ports down.

Obamacare imposes a 40 percent tax on health benefits deemed too generous by the government. Health benefits exceeding $10,200 a year in value for individuals or $27,500 for families are defined as “Cadillac” plans and are subject to the tax. Health benefits for longshoremen exceed $40,000 per employee, meaning the union would be served an enormous tax bill when the penalty is imposed in 2018. The longshoremen’s contract expired in July, 2014 and contract talks have stalled, in large part, over whether workers or employers will pay the new Obamacare tax.

But hey, these unions voted for and continue to support the Democratic Party without question, even as the Democratic Party continues to block any repeal or changes to Obamacare. To these union leaders, it all must be Bush’s fault!

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The sideshow of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress

The report notes the increasing flood of Democrats who say they will boycott Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress next month. It also makes this cogent point:

In a sane world, as soon as Netanyahu expressed an interest in speaking, Boehner and McConnell could have responded to both the Prime Minister and our President and said it was a fine idea, set up a time and moved forward. If Obama didn’t want this to be a mess and conceivably even find a way to turn it into an advantage, he could have extended an offer to meet privately with Bibi before the speech or even show up at it with him. That would have presented a unified front between two allies for the rest of the world and the whole thing could have been a done deal by now. There’s nothing remarkable about a world leader making a speech in Washington. It’s pretty much what the place exists for.

While the House Republicans have worked this event for their own political advantages, their invitation to Netanyahu did no harm to American interests or our ally. Obama and the Democrats however have done everything they can to push back politically, even though their push back apparently threatens our ally while damaging our interests in the Middle East.

To put it another way, ask yourself whose actions are doing real harm to the diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel? Who is rejecting an ally and refusing to talk or listen to him?

Update: Check out this very pointed column noting the different reactions of the President and the Democrats to two identical invitations from Congress: “A Jew and a Catholic were invited to Congress…”

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Obama administration stonewalls IRS investigation

Working for the Democratic Party: The Obama administration has denied an entire freedom of information request from the web news outlet The Hill in connection with the IRS scandal and the administration’s harassment of its political opponents.

The Hill asked for 2013 emails and other correspondence between the IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). The request specifically sought emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner and Treasury officials, including Secretary Jack Lew, while the inspector general was working on its explosive May 2013 report that the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” to review the political activities of tax-exempt groups.

TIGTA opted not to release any of the 512 documents covered by the request, citing various exemptions in the law. The Hill recently appealed the FOIA decision, but TIGTA denied the appeal. TIGTA also declined to comment for this article.

This denial is essentially another example of the Obama administration defying the law, as they really don’t have any right to refuse to release these documents. The Freedom of Information law was expressly written to force government agencies to release documents in these kinds of circumstances, not hold them back.

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Cholesterol warning about to disappear

The uncertainty of science: The federal government is about to withdraw its half-century old warning against cholesterol in the diet.

I think the key quote from the article was said by Walter Willett, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health:

There’s been a shift of thinking.

I’d call that statement a bit understated.

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Brian Williams is no exception, he is the rule

Lying journalists like Brian Williams are the standard in today’s mainstream media.

Whether or not the entertaining Williams keeps his job, we have a media establishment overrun with serial distorters, gotcha artists, exaggerators and liars. And whether Williams stays or goes, people will continue to report low levels of trust in journalists. That’s because the problem is far bigger than the occasional Sabrina R. Erdely, Stephen Glass or Brian Williams.

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A drone that flies in a protective cage wins million dollar prize

The competition heats up: A privately developed drone called Gimball that flies inside a protective cage so that it is not harmed by obstacles and is also not a threat to nearby humans was named the first prize winner, worth $1 million, in a United Arab Emirates (UAE) dorne competition.

Amazing video of the working Gimball drone prototype below the fold. It is a brilliant concept, and is without doubt going to revolutionize the use of drones in numerous ways. Expect all drones to soon have similar protective cages as well.
» Read more

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New ebola drug appears somewhat effective

Drug trails in Guinea of a new ebola drug suggest that it might have some positive effect on mortality.

A researcher who had seen the data and asked not to be identified told Science that favipiravir did not help all of the patients treated with it at two trial sites in Guinea. In a subset of trial participants who had low levels of Ebola virus in the blood, however, the mortality was just 15%. In similar patients who entered the centers earlier and did not receive favipiravir, mortality was 30%.

The trials with this drug are being conducted without a control group, which makes it harder to pin down the cause of these results. The article also describes several other drugs being readied for testing, some of which are expected to be more effective.

The trials, however, are faced with two issues. First, the easing of the epidemic is making it more difficult to do the studies. And second,

So far, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where Ebola is still infecting dozens of people a week, have refused invitations to join the study. Their main stumbling block is trial design. ZMapp will be the first Ebola treatment that will be tested against a placebo control. “I think that’s the only way to tell whether these drugs are safe and effective,” Lane says. The governments of Guinea and Sierra Leone, as well as Doctors Without Borders, which runs Ebola centers in those countries, have for ethical reasons been reluctant to participate in treatment trials that use a placebo.

The moral dilemma of doing drug tests where some patients get a placebo has always been a problem for medical research. It is therefore not surprising to see it here as well.

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All things go for test flight of European space plane prototype

The competition heats up: A Wednesday test flight of Europe’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) is right now on schedule.

IXV, a test of gliding space plane engineering, was originally going to fly last year but got scrubbed because of political maneuverings within the European Space Agency.

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Staples cuts hours to avoid Obamacare

Finding out what’s in it: Staples has implemented a strict policy that requires its workers to work less than 25 hours per week or be fired in order to avoid Obamacare.

The company claims this policy has been in place for years, but I suspect this is not quite true. What is true is that Obamacare has significantly crippled American industry by imposing such oppressive costs and regulations on growing businesses that businesses have been forced to stop growing in order to survive.

But don’t worry. Just days ago the Democrats in Congress stood firm and once again voted in unison in favor of keeping Obamacare the law of the land. No repeals of any kind if they have they way!

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Eleanor Powell – Hula

An evening pause: From Honolulu (1939). What I like about this is that everyone involved has no worries about offending anyone. They are free to take the native cultural music of Hawaii and embellish it as the whim takes them. They were free (to repeat that forgotten word) to be as creative as they like. The result is a pretty hot dance number.

Hat tip Edward Thelen.

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Ratings plunge for network news shows

All three networks have lost significant viewers since it was revealed that NBC’s lead anchor, Brian Williams, routinely embellished or lied in describing past events in his life.

Not surprisingly NBC has lost the most. However, the reason all three networks have been hit can best be illustrated by this quote at the link by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough:

I’m just hopeful, because I can’t be objective here, I’m hopeful that when all of the madness that’s going on, investigations that need to be going on, when the fury dies down and when we get through the storm and the decision is made to judge what Brian Williams’ future should be, that that decision will be based on the entirety of his career and not on one or two or three mistakes.

Scarborough reveals that he is willing to excuse lying by a news anchor. To him, finding out that Williams was a liar is “madness.” He also reveals that, in his television new community, such behavior should be excused, and that it isn’t that unusual and should in fact be tolerated.

As I’ve said many times before, if you depend on the media for your news information you are not only uninformed, you are misinformed. The entire Brian Williams story only provides further evidence of this.

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What happens if Homeland Security shuts down?

Not much it appears.

Salmon and a few other conservatives are the only ones saying it publicly so far, but the reality is that a department shutdown would have a very limited impact on national security. That’s because most department employees fall into exempted categories of workers who stay on the job in a shutdown because they perform work considered necessary to protect human life and property. Even in a shutdown, most workers across agencies, including the Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Customs and Border Protection, would continue to report to work. Airport security checkpoints would remain staffed, the Secret Service would continue to protect the president and other dignitaries, the Coast Guard would stay on patrol, immigration agents would still be on the job.

Indeed, of the agency’s approximately 230,000 employees, some 200,000 of them would keep working even if Congress fails to fund their agency. It’s a reality that was on display during the 16-day government-wide shutdown in the fall of 2013, when national parks and monuments closed but essential government functions kept running, albeit sometimes on reduced staff.

In other words, the cries of disaster, mostly from Democrats and from a few in the wimpy Republican leadership, are the same bull we heard prior to sequestration and the previous government shutdown. From a political point of view, the Republicans have nothing to lose politically by letting this agency run out of funds, and everything to gain.

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Falcon 9 launch scrubbed

Due to a variety of unresolved but apparently relatively minor issues SpaceX has decided to scrub today’s Falcon 9 launch.

They will try again tomorrow.

More details about the scrub here. The main problem was apparently a failure at an Air Force radar facility for tracking the rocket during launch.

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“The fiddling with temperature data is the biggest science scandal ever.”

Link here.

This is a nicely written review of some of the research that Steven Goddard, Paul Homewood, and others have done to uncover the wholesale and unjustified adjustments to the surface temperature data that have been done by scientists at the Goddard Institute of Space Studies and at NOAA. Essentially, the warming of the past half century has been faked by artificially lowering the recorded temperatures of the past while artificially raising the recorded temperatures of the present.

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Weather 90% go for Falcon 9 launch today

The weather looks almost perfect for tonight’s Falcon 9 launch.

The Falcon 9 will put a solar observation satellite into orbit. While many left wing media outlets will wax poetic about this is Al Gore’s satellite, it is hardly that. It might have been built initially under his misguided idea of creating a propaganda satellite to take daily images of the Earth (images that are essentially of little use for climate studies), DSCOVR has been very carefully redesigned to give it a real purpose, monitoring the solar activity of the Sun and providing a replacement/back-up for ACE, which is now more than a decade overdue for replacement.

The Falcon 9 launch will also attempt again to land intact its first stage on a floating barge. If this attempt succeeds the entire future of space travel will be reshaped.

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IRS re-hires employees it fired for being tax cheats

According the IRS inspector general, the IRS has re-hired hundreds of employees that it had previously fired for misconduct, including many whose misconduct included cheating on their federal taxes.

But don’t worry, the IRS will be fair and non-political when it targets political groups. It will easily be able to resist pressure from politicians who demand the tax agency destroy their opponents. How could it not when it is clearly such an upstanding honest government agency?

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Plumes and dust surrounding Comet 67P/C-G

Plumes and dust

Cool image time! A new navigation camera mosaic from Rosetta shows both a clear plume rising out of Comet 67P/C-G as well as a “large number of small white blobs and streaks in the image are likely specks of dust or other small objects in the vicinity of the comet.”

The fact that, unlike previously, they did not have to significantly overexpose the image to bring out the plume and dust illustrates the increasing activity at the comet.

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NASA safety panel questions safety of SLS

NASA’s safety panel has issued a report questioning the safety of the early launches of the Space Launch System (SLS), partly due to the very low launch rate and the lack of any planned unmanned test flights for the rocket’s upper stage engine.

“The ASAP and the Agency remain concerned about risks introduced in the currently scheduled frequency of SLS/Orion launches, ” according to ASAP’s 2014 Annual Report. “The plan indicates a launch about every 2 to 4 years. This would challenge ground crew competency. The skills, procedures, and knowledge of conducting the launch, mission, and recovery are perish-able. The ASAP believes that an extended interval requires the relearning of many lessons and skills, in contrast to Apollo and Shuttle, which had a relatively steady cadence.”

No space project can accomplish anything with launch rate this slow. Not only does this increase the risk that inexperience will cause errors, the long time gaps make it difficult for the project to get anything done.

And then there is NASA’s idea that it can put humans on this rocket without any previous launch testing of the rocket’s upper stage or the capsule’s life support systems. Why should NASA’s rocket get a pass on this kind of testing when the agency is demanding that the private companies do it?

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