Thursday, 14 July 2011

08:55 – I’m still working heads-down on the biology book. Right now, I’m entirely rewriting a lab session on DNA analysis by gel electrophoresis. The original lab session was all for real: real DNA, real restriction enzymes, real agarose gel, real gel electrophoresis setup and power supply, and so on.

The problem was, doing it for real is expensive, time-consuming, and takes a lot of page count to write up. It simply wasn’t worth the costs in terms of money, lab time, and page count for the educational benefits it provided. So I decided to rewrite the lab session to separate dyes rather than DNA fragments on a food-grade agar gel bed, and to use a home-made gel electrophoresis apparatus with 9V batteries instead of a $400 commercial apparatus. The concepts are the same, the learning experience is quite similar, the resulting gels are extremely colorful, and all of the specialty items needed are inexpensive enough to include in the kit.


The gloves have finally come off, with the Democrats and Republicans making it clear that they really, really hate each other’s guts, as if that wasn’t already clear to anyone who was paying attention. The Republicans refuse to budge on increasing taxes–which is bad enough; they should be insisting on reducing them–and want to make actual spending cuts, but only small ones. The Democrats insist on increasing taxes and increasing spending. They’re both our enemies, but the Republicans are slightly less our enemies, at least economically, than the Democrats.

We are currently taxing at a rate of 15% of GDP, and spending at a rate of 25% of GDP. Obama cynically promises $3 trillion in spending “cuts”, all of which are in the future, constitute reductions in proposed spending increases rather than actual cuts, and will never take place, in return for “only” $1 trillion in tax increases, all of which will certainly occur, and sooner rather than later.

The fundamental problem is that the federal government spends an incredible $125 billion per month more than it takes in. That’s more than $400/month for every man, woman, and child in the country. And when you consider that half the population pays zero (or negative) federal income taxes, that means that the average actual taxpayer’s share of federal deficit spending is probably more than $1,000 per month. Every month.

Meanwhile, Obama cynically warns that the government may not be able to pay Social Security recipients if the borrowing limit is not increased, and claims that we won’t be able to pay interest on our debt, thereby damaging our credit and setting off an economic apocalypse. The reality is that the US won’t be able to pay all of its bills, but which bills we choose not to pay are still within the control of the government. So, as usual, the government threatens not to pay the important bills. Sound familiar?

Every time money is tight, government threatens to cut spending on the things people want to spend money on, while leaving untouched the things that people don’t want to spend money on. When municipal budgets are tight, for example, the mayor and city council cut fire and police and garbage service–the things that people really want–while refusing to cut costs in areas that the taxpayers don’t much care about.

Meanwhile, the federal spending categories that should be cut with a meataxe aren’t even mentioned. Why, for example, are we wasting many billions of dollars every month on completely useless items such as the UN, foreign aid, the IMF, NATO, TSA, and so on, not to mention the huge costs of maintaining military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?

As someone said, we don’t have a tax problem, we have a spending problem. It’s long past time that we decided how much we can afford to spend, and then prioritize what to spend it on. The problem is that it’s in neither party’s perceived interest to address the problem seriously. The Republicans want Obama and the Democrats to be crushed at the polls in 2012, so passing any kind of increase in the borrowing limit that puts off the crisis is the last thing they want to do. The Democrats can’t afford to make any serious spending cuts, because their core constituency is made up of government employees and union members, both of which will suffer badly if rational steps are taken to address the spending crisis.

This is not going to end well. So far, the war is one of mere words, but it could easily devolve into real class warfare. Both sides perceive this issue as existential. And in a fight for survival, things can get very ugly very fast.