Saturday, April 30, 2016

Natural Weekends

Our neighbor Cyril was up in the oak tree yesterday, nibbling on the spring flowers that the oak produces, some of which will eventually form an acorn for squirrels to hoard in the fall - the oak provides food in both spring and autumn.

And, no, don't worry, we haven't individually identified and named each squirrel in our yard - they are all called "Cyril the Squirrel".

Friday, April 29, 2016

New Moon Found Circling Kuiper Belt Dwarf Planet

The Kuiper Belt is an area beyond Neptune that hosts a number of dwarf planets (a status poor Pluto was reduced to back in 2006). In 2005, a small one of these dwarf planets was discovered and named Makemake after the Easter Island god of fertility. Now, astronomers have discovered, with the help of the Hubble telescope, that Makemake has a small moon which they have named MK2. It is hard to believe that the first Kuiper Belt object (excluding Pluto) was only discovered back in 1992 and now up to 1,000 more objects have been found in that region.

Bridgeport City Council Gets Budget Adviser

It is nice to see that my hometown Bridgeport City Council is hiring an outside budget adviser, although it seems a bit surprising that this was not already in place. I would think that most city and town councils would have some trouble with the arcana of the various programs within a typical municipal budget. And, in these days of tight budgets, it seems it would be especially important for council members to not only ask the right questions but get some answers as well - let's hope this consultant is worth it. As always, I rely on Lennie Grimaldi and his Only In Bridgeport blog for most of my information on Bridgeport politics.

Getting To Universal Coverage

One of the signature proposals in Bernie Sanders' campaign is universal health care coverage, or "Medicare For All" as he likes to describe it. While the actual cost of bringing Medicare For All to fruition has been a subject of some debate during the campaign, the political hurdles are also enormous.  The lobbying power of the big pharmaceuticals, insurance companies, hospitals, and doctors together create a roadblock to most healthcare reforms.  The incentives, or some may say, giveaways, to insurers, hospitals, and pharmaceuticals were what allowed Obamacare to pass in the first place. And, as we can see from this latest story about even Democrats lining up against a perfectly reasonable effort to eliminate the financial incentives for doctors to prescribe the most expensive drug when a cheaper alternative is available, the lobbying power of these interest groups is immense. And, in this case, if I am reading it correctly, the big pharma and doctors are on one side and hospitals and insurers are on the other - even when the interests of these groups somewhat diverge, it is almost impossible to get reforms implemented.  And let's be clear, when we say lobbying power, we mean campaign contributions and/or media campaigns.

As it seems all but certain now that Sanders' will not be the Democratic nominee, the path to universal coverage would seem to be disappearing, although the issue will continue to be brought to the fore by Sanders and other progressives, especially focusing on the broadly popular idea of allowing the government to negotiate drug prices.  But the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may offer a slightly different path to universal coverage as it allows states to experiment with providing their own insurance plans.  Vermont had initially planned to provide a single payer option by setting up the state-run Green Mountain Care. But Democratic Governor Shumlin killed the program before it even got off the ground over concerns over cost. In Minnesota, there is a bill to have the state offer a Basic Health Plan (BHP) that would compete with other insurance plans offered under the state's ACA marketplace MNSure. As currently constructed, this new state plan would require a waiver from the federal government, but, if allowed, would offer exceedingly good coverage for the current price of a Silver Plan which, over time, could become the single-payer option for those who lack access to employer-based insurance plans. And in Colorado there is a measure on the ballot this November that would create a public health system that guarantees universal coverage.

As expected, insurance and pharmaceutical companies are already lined up in opposition to all the above programs. And conservatives worry that the costs will be overwhelming.  But, eventually, some state is going to have a single-payer option and when that happens, we will have a real-world example here in the United States that will give an indication of what those costs really are - it just may not be the way Bernie and his supporters wanted to get there.

Employment Up, Productivity Down - A Theory

A front page article in the NY Times today proposes three theories as to why productivity seems to be lagging even as employment is increasing.  I have no data to support this, only anecdotal evidence (but isn't that the prerogative of a blogger), but it certainly supports the theory of what the Times calls the "low productivity worker".  I'd prefer to frame it in a slightly more positive way. As firms laid off more and more people in 2008 and 2009, the remaining workers were asked to assume many more roles - sometimes doing jobs that had been handled by two or three people earlier. These remaining workers put in longer hours to keep up with their increased workload. In white collar jobs, their pay remained stagnant despite the increase in responsibility and productivity. Many of my friends who kept their jobs over the last seven years have been working harder than ever for virtually the same amount of money and have come, quite frankly, to despise the jobs they have.  But, until recently, there was nowhere else to go, no other jobs out there, so they just hunkered down and survived.  But now, as jobs start opening up and voluntary quits are back to their pre-recession levels, employers have to reduce the workload for the employees they have or they will leave, and so are gradually moving back to more reasonable staffing levels. You would expect some small productivity gains from this rehiring activity, but not much, as the job was already getting done adequately. But I think it is a little harsh to say that these new hires are "low productivity" - it is better to view it as some balance returning to the lives of the super high productivity workers that remained during the recession.

Anyway, just some evidence-free anecdotes in support of a theory...

Thursday, April 28, 2016

No Water For Venezuelan Electricity

This article about the collapse of electricity production in Venezuela focuses on the corruption and economic mismanagement in that country.  But it is yet another example of climate change fostering food, water, and related crises that lead to political instability.  Corruption and economic mismanagement are relatively common across the world's political landscape - just look at the turn to austerity in Europe and the US.  But not having enough water for a dam that has been creating electricity since the late 1960s is rather uncommon - unfortunately, it is something we will see more and more of in the coming years.

Stanely Cup Update

Last night, the Nashville Predators scored two first period goals, survived a crossbar on an open net in the second period and a post in third, and hung on to defeat the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 in game 7 of their first round series.  The Predators defense and goaltending was solid, holding Anaheim's sniper Corey Perry to no goals in the series, and John Gibson's less than stellar play in the first two games immediately put Anaheim behind the eight ball. This was another game 7 defeat for the Ducks, blowing a 3-2 lead in the series, and another early round loss for their coach Bruce Boudreau whose job is probably in jeopardy as a result.  This is also another loss for my first round predictions and it means that the three favorites to make it out of the West and to the Finals, the Ducks, Blackhawks, and Kings, have all been defeated in the first round. And it leaves me with one last second round prediction:

San Jose Sharks defeat Nashville Predators - Sharks have been under the radar with no pressure all season and the Preds have just endured a seven game slugfest with the Ducks.  The prior playoff experience and depth that San Jose has should be able to get them over the finish line in a long, tough series - perhaps another seven games.

Just as a note, the Islanders started off round two last night by beating the Lightning 4-3, chasing a horrible Ben Bishop, as Thomas Greiss continued his superb play.  Just as I predicted - NOT!

I'll check back in at the end of this round, if not sooner.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Astrophotography Adventure (cont'd) - Getting Better

I was pretty happy with my last attempt at astrophotography using my iPhone through the Starblast 4.5.  There were still some focus issues but using the low boost on ISO in NightCapPro really helped improve the photos I got of the Moon.  So it was back out for another attempt - this time I was not only going to image the Moon but also see how this new set-up would work on Jupiter.  Well, I am really pleased with what I got - so happy I even tried a little post-processing with GIMP. I only used the Brightness/Contrast, Curves, and Unsharpen Mask features for processing. Here are a couple of Moon shots with ISO probably all the way down to 32 and exposure time of around 1/200. Unfortunately, it looks like there was a little dust on the iPhone lens on the Moon shots. The original image is on the left and the post-processed image on the right:

And here is another set:

And I'm also really pleased with how the pictures of Jupiter turned out. Using the Low ISO Boost  and setting the exposure time of about 1/50 to 1/80 second worked out very well.  Additionally, I used the NightCapPro magnification to increase the size of the image.  Again, the original is on the left and the processed image on the right. If you look carefully, you can also just make out one of Jupiter's moons to the right of the planet in both these photos:

All these photos were taken using the 7.5mm eyepiece with a 2x Barlow on the Starblast 4.5 inch, giving a magnification of just under 140x. If you want to know the equipment I am working with, you can read all about it in my original astrophotography post here. Now that I've become more familiar with NightCapPro, I think the next step is an attempt at Saturn, which is not as bright an image as the Moon or Jupiter; that will probably mean more tweaking the settings on NightCapPro. I'd also like to try to capture M42, the Orion Nebula, as that will test out the High ISO Boost and 15 or 20 second exposures. We'll see how those come out in future posts...

Carly and Cruz - Perfect Together

I'm not quite sure CruzCarly! is going to be what it takes to stop the Trump train. In fact, I'm pretty sure it won't. Though I am sure Carly will make the most of her next few weeks in the spotlight. But has there ever been a potential Presidential/Vice Presidential combo that is more disliked by the people who know and work with them than these two?

Stanley Cup - Second Round Predictions

The second round of the NHL playoffs begin tonight as well as the deciding game 7 of the final first round matchup between the Ducks and the Predators.  You can see the (mediocre to poor) results of my first round predictions here. After reviewing that, you may choose to ignore these second round predictions:

Pittsburgh Penguins defeat Washington Capitals - The Penguins come out of the prior series with boatloads of confidence while the Capitals had trouble scoring toward the end of their series with the Flyers.  Both teams have superstar forwards - Crosby and Malkin for the Pens, Ovechkin and Kuznetsov for the Caps - and a superstar defenseman - Kris Letang for the Pens, John Carlson for the Caps. The Caps probably have the edge in goal as Braden Holtby has been superb all season long and the Pens may be relying on backup Matt Murray. But the aforementioned Kuznetsov was not a factor in the prior series. This has all the makings of a classic seven game series.

Tampa Bay Lightning defeat New York Islanders - Islanders rely heavily on John Tavares while the Lightning have scorers up and down the lineup.  Ben Bishop looks like he is at the top of his game so Thomas Greiss will have to maintain his superb play to keep the Islanders in this series. Just don't think the Islanders have enough to get this done.

St. Louis Blues defeat Dallas Stars - Stars defense and goaltending are always suspect and Brian Elliott looks solid in net for the Blues. Elliott and the St. Louis' defense should be able to hold Dallas scoring in check just enough to get through this series.  Never count out a big letdown by the Blues having finally gotten by Chicago - but I just don't see it happening.

San Jose Sharks will face the winner of tonight's Ducks-Predators game.  I'll let you know what I think after I know the matchup. Whoever they face, the Sharks will have had plenty of rest.

Enjoy the games!!

Trump and Clinton Near Nomination

The results are in from the "Northeast" primary and, as expected,  Trump and Clinton both had resounding wins across the region.  Trump swept all the five states (CT,DE,RI,MD,PA) and, at this point, seems to have won virtually all the delegates, with the Kasich-Cruz combo only managing to win 6 delegates outright.  This puts him ever closer to being able to get over the 1,237 delegate threshold and secure the nomination outright.

Hillary Clinton won four out of the five states, losing only in Rhode Island.  Bizarrely, due to the crazy nature of delegate apportionment (that's a whole post in itself), she still managed to win more delegates than Sanders in that state.  These results pretty much lock up the nomination for Clinton but the strong showing by Sanders across the board in these states show he and his supporters will be a force to be reckoned with in the Democratic Party going forward.

Here in Connecticut, the results were in line with what I expected. It was a rout for Trump but Kasich did about 4% better than the polls indicated. And Hillary's strength in the big cities and among lower Fairfield County Democrats were enough to provide about a 4% win.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Stanley Cup - First Round Recap

The first round of the NHL playoffs are nearly in the book with only one matchup remaining to be decided in a game 7 on Wednesday night between the Anaheim Ducks and the Nashville Predators. But, as the second round also begins on Wednesday for some teams, it's time to recap the first round and compare the results to my predictions:

Washington Capitals defeat Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 as predicted. The Caps were dominant in the early games in the series but the Flyers put Michael Neuvirth in goal for Game 4 and he nearly turned the series around.  Washington should be concerned going forward by their lack of scoring late in this series.

Tampa Bay Lightning defeat Detroit Red Wings 4-1 as predicted.  Tampa Bay was just too fast and too good up and down the lineup. Special mention needs to be made of Jonathan Drouin who requested to be traded from Tampa, was sent down to the minors, and then returned to the Lightning just before the playoffs and was a dominant force in this series. Also, it seems, a sad goodbye to Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings who looks like he will be heading home to Russia - one of the all-time greats.

Florida Panthers lose to New York Islanders 4-2 - prediction incorrect.  The Islanders playoff experience from last year paid off for them this year as they won 3 games in overtime and the other three games were essentially one goal games as the Panthers scored an empty net goal in Game 2 for a 3-1 win. Reilly Smith was excellent for Florida, in the playoffs for the first time in four years and only the second time since 2000(!), but the difference in this exceptionally tight series was the outstanding play of Thomas Greiss in goal for the Islanders.

New York Rangers lose to Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 - prediction incorrect. I thought Lundqvist in goal and the forward depth of the Rangers would be the difference - boy was I wrong!  The goalie combo of Jeff Zakoff and Matt Murray for the Penguins were the equal or better of Lunqvist. The Ranger forwards disappeared, despite Rich Nash, the perennial disappointment, showing up with 5 points in the series. Eric Staal, who the Rangers brought in from Carolina for a Stanley Cup run, had no points and was deficient defensively. But deficient defensively applied to the whole Ranger team as they allowed 11 goals in the last two games. It may be time to break up this Ranger team and rebuild (they have traded away all their draft picks over the last few years chasing the Cup) and let Lundqvist go to a team that really has a chance to win it all.  Pittsburgh will be going into the next series firing on all cylinders with utmost confidence.

Dallas Stars defeat Minnesota Wild 4-2 as predicted.  Minnesota just didn't have enough firepower early in this series and Dallas is a scoring machine. Unfortunately, with the Dallas defense, there is no such thing as a safe lead as they nearly blew a four goal lead in the third period of the final game before just hanging on to win.

Chicago Blackhawks lose to the St. Louis Blues 4-3 - prediction incorrect. The Blues erased a decade of frustration by finally winning a first round series and a game 7 decider. The series was as bruising and tight as we thought it would be, with six out of the seven games being decided by one goal, two of them in overtime.  As if to just toy with the emotions of Blues' fans in game 7, Troy Brouwer needed three tries to put the go-ahead goal into a virtually empty net mid-way in the third period and then the Blues survived a double post shot from the Hawk's Brent Seabrook, beating Brian Elliot in the final minutes. But Elliott in goal for the Blues was probably the difference in this incredibly exciting and hard-fought series.

Los Angeles Kings lose to the San Jose Sharks 4-1 - prediction incorrect.  Just like the Blues, the Sharks finally beat the Kings and put years of frustration behind them.  Martin Jones was Jonathan Quick's equal in the net for the Sharks and the Kings' undermanned defense had no way to stop Joe Pavelski who had five goals in the series. San Jose finally played to their potential in the post-season and thoroughly dominated L.A. in all categories.

As mentioned earlier, my prediction of the Anaheim Ducks defeating the Nashville Predators remains to be seen as we await game 7 on Wednesday night.

There was some great hockey and a number of really good series here in the first round. And it's only going to get better in round two.  I'll have my predictions for that round later on.

Affinity Candidates - Not!

Usually, neighboring states have some affinity for a Presidential candidate from a state next door - Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire and came very close in Massachusetts. But not so with this Kasich-Cruz dalliance which may already be falling apart.  Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, is supposedly abandoning his neighboring state of Indiana because Cruz has a better chance to win.  And Cruz, Senator from Texas, is abandoning his neighboring state of New Mexico because Kasich has a better shot there. On the other hand, maybe the voters in those states already know plenty about their neighbor next door...

China Delays About 200 Coal-Fired Stations

As an addendum to my post about renewables getting cheaper, I see that China has announced it is postponing or potentially abandoning plans for about 200 coal-fired power plants. Now, obviously this has probably more to do with the sagging Chinese economy than any environmental concerns.  But it is positive nonetheless, because the longer those plants are delayed, the cheaper wind and solar alternatives will become. And, when (and if) the Chinese economy has resurgence and power demands increase, those renewables may actually be the cheaper alternative.

Understanding Trump's Support

In a previous post on Understanding Trump , I promised to explore the reasons for Trump's resonance with the current electorate and how he has tapped into the justifiable anger of a significant number of voters.  The foundation of this anger can be summed in one simple graph tracking the inflation-adjusted hourly wages since 1964:

In 40 years, the inflation adjusted hourly wage has risen a measly 8% and is actually lower than it was 30 years ago.  The long held premise, at least when I was a youngster, was that wages increased as productivity increased.  But, as we can see, the link between those two broke sometime in the mid-to-late 1970s and the gap between those two indices has been growing ever since:

Now the reasons for this disconnect are multiple, but it is not unreasonable to believe that the major elements would be automation and globalization, specifically in the form of free trade.  Whatever the reasons, however, the benefits of increased productivity went somewhere and that somewhere was to the economic elites in this country:

As we can see, right about the time the gap between productivity increases and wages started to show up in the mid-to-late 1970s, the income gap between the top 20% of earners and the rest of us began to grow as well and has exploded when just looking at the top 5%. And, just as in the prior productivity chart, the gap continues to expand today, even after the Great Recession.

The theory of free trade is that it is a win-win for both parties - for the US, cheaper imports and expanded export markets more than offset the reduction of exports of goods that can now be made more cheaply overseas. And that is probably true. But the fact still remains that, within the US, there will be winners and losers and the losers have primarily been lower wage workers, especially in the manufacturing sector. The number of manufacturing jobs in the US has decreased by over 35% since the late 1970s and there is no sign that the trend will not continue.  The part of free-trade theory that conveniently gets ignored is that a portion of the increased benefits that accrue to the "winners" will need to be used, or redistributed, in other words, to help the "losers" adjust to the dislocation that free trade has caused.

Both parties were complicit in ignoring the redistributional element of free trade theory. For years, Democratic Party, the traditional home of these working class workers, supported these free trade deals that protect the various interests of big business while at the same time offering virtually no protections to the workers who were harmed. And, as wage stagnation and offshoring began to increase the pressure on these workers, they found the Democratic activists more focused on civil rights, equal rights, and the urban poor and the Democratic establishment focused on new found fondness for big business and its campaign contributions. Deregulation of the trucking and airline industries with no protections for the workers in those industries occurred under Jimmy Carter. The resulting competition forced many business to start offshoring or move their operations to Southern right-to-work states and started the decline of the unionized labor force. Democrats put up virtually no resistance as unions were decimated and manufacturing industries were gutted. And the rout of American manufacturing went into overdrive starting in 2001 with China's entry into the World Trade Organization. In addition, the Great Migration, the mass movement of poor, primarily African American, Southerners into the working class industrial centers had changed their communities radically - their initial immigration crisis, albeit internal. Nowadays, the immigrants are primarily Hispanic but the issues remain the same. With their wages stagnant, their jobs moving overseas, and their communities seemingly in decline, working class whites felt abandoned by the Democratic Party.

Of course, the word "redistribution" is an anathema to the Republican Party and, as the party of big business, it also overwhelmingly supported these trade deals. However, the Republicans managed to avoid the slow building anger of lower income wage stagnation by cleverly focusing that anger on "the undeserving poor". From Reagan's "welfare queens" to Mitt Romney's 47% comment, they were able to focus working voters on the idea that other people were getting a better deal than they were. And that message went hand in hand with the idea that government was the problem, because, clearly, the government was doing nothing to address the plight of these workers. Meanwhile, of course, the massive tax breaks to the 1% never managed to create the jobs that were promised - has there ever been a more appropriately named theory than the Laffer Curve, but that's for another day - and the profits from globalization also went to the very same 1%.

But, as is becoming increasingly apparent, the real game changer that allowed a candidate like Trump to emerge was the response to the economic crisis that began in 2008 and the government response to that crisis. TARP, the program that essentially saved the financial industry that had caused the disaster, was passed and signed into law by President Bush with the support of both Republican and Democratic elites. The very people that had caused the greatest collapse since the Great Depression were essentially being bailed out by the government, the very same government that had stood by and done nothing as the livelihood of working class workers was and is threatened. And, as we saw in the above graph on household income, very quickly the incomes of those very elites had returned to normal and continued to rise.

Now, voter anger was additionally directed at what Thomas Edsall calls "the undeserving rich", those beneficiaries of the bailout - (you should really read his whole article in entirety). And Trump has managed to capture both elements of this anger with the two pillars of his campaign - his attacks on free trade target the undeserving rich and the attacks on immigrants target the undeserving poor. That's why his lack of orthodoxy on conservative social values or his position on entitlements or his lack of policy specifics has not hurt him - his voters are far less concerned with those details than they are with the dual objects of their anger and Trump has become the perfect expression of their frustration.

Considering the trends for the last 35 years, the financial collapse of 2008, and the government's response to that collapse, it is not surprising to see significant support for Donald Trump.  What is more surprising is that it has taken over 7 years since that collapse for a demagogue like Trump to emerge and tap into the anger that those events created in the electorate.

Ospreys On the Prowl

It was such beautiful spring weather over the weekend, I was able to have the windows open and heard the piercing high-pitched whistles of the osprey pretty nearby.  Grabbed the camera and quickly went outside and got some nice photos of these gorgeous animals in flight, just circling overhead - so effortless on the wind.


Connecticut Polls Are Open

Polls are already open and will stay open here in Connecticut until 8pm tonight.  To find out where to vote, you can go to this site:

So get out and vote!

Monday, April 25, 2016

New Meaning for "Until the Cows Come Home"

I guess the phrase is taken more literally in Australia, at least by this cow.

Direction to the Universe??

For what it's worth, reports that the supermassive black holes that are in the center of most large galaxies, including our own, are all spinning in the same direction in a certain distant region of the universe. The team that made these discoveries ventures that this indicates "primordial mass fluctuations in the early universe".  Predictably, these fluctuations are not accounted for in current theories of the origin of the universe. As always in the field of cosmology, time for a rethink...

Elton Spitzer - the Man Behind WLIR

Sad to see the passing of Elton Spitzer, the man who operated WLIR-FM in its heyday in the 1970s and 80s.  For those of us lucky enough to live in the New York City area in those heady days, the importance of WLIR can not be overstated.  There was no internet; MTV did not launch until 1981 and that was on cable - and no one had cable; the only place to find out about new music was on the radio.  And for the most part, New York City radio was a desert. Because the market was so huge, no large station could take any risks. In the late 1970s, the station focused on punk and new wave music that the mainstream completely ignored and consistently highlighted local bands.  And in the early eighties, WLIR became the most influential station in the New York City area and, usually, one of the first stops for new bands coming to the US from Europe. Many artists got their first play on WLIR months before they ever broke out more generally. With Dennis McNamara as program director, classic DJs like Larry the Duck, DJ Andre, Donna Donna, and Malibu Sue, lots of local events, and the general fun that the station exuded, WLIR was the go-to spot on your radio dial. It all ended when the station lost its license in 1987. For those of you who still long for those days gone by, the station still lives on as the internet station

Stumping in CT

Three Presidential candidates were in our area for rallies over the weekend in anticipation of the Connecticut primary on Tuesday.  On Saturday, Donald Trump held a rally at the Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport and reassured his supporters that he will continue to be the Trump they know and love. On Sunday, Hillary was in town at the University of Bridgeport, holding a rally where she reiterated her message on jobs, equal pay and the minimum wage, and taking on the gun lobby, as she had done in her prior campaign events here in Connecticut.  Bernie Sanders was in New Haven on Sunday evening holding a rally on the Green where a reported 14,000 people showed up to hear his message on economic inequality and the rigged economy - just another indication of his unflagging support among Democratic voters even in the face of the daunting mathematical challenge of actually winning the nomination.

Current polling shows Trump with an overwhelming lead here in the Nutmeg state. But Connecticut has a closed primary which will keep disaffected Democrats and Independents from voting in the Republican primary. Because of that, and the fact that Kasich is probably the choice of the country-club Republican crowd, I would expect Trump to underperform and Kasich to overperform what the polls currently show. But it will still be a big win for Trump.

On the Democratic side, there is a real possibility of an upset here for Sanders.  Again, however, the closed primary will hurt him in that Independents can not vote, while Clinton will probably rack up big wins in the major cities, especially Bridgeport, Hartford, and Waterbury.  The fact that Hillary has made three stops here and the Big Dog (Bill Clinton) will be in Connecticut today indicate that the Clinton campaign thinks this is closer than the polls indicate.

An upset here in Connecticut, along with a projected win in Rhode Island, would be surely be enough to keep the Sanders campaign going strong. My belief is that Bernie should stay in it all the way to the end as the issues he is raising are important to the future of the Democratic party and the progressive movement as a whole. And, as the Times indicates today, he is already beginning to focus on shaping the agenda of the Democratic Party going forward.

And, personally, it's nice to be able to have a presidential primary vote that actually might have some resonance - usually, the battle has been won by the time Connecticut gets to vote! So make sure you take advantage of this opportunity and get to the polls tomorrow.

Reality Check - Are We Really Drowning in Debt?

In the prior Reality Check, I promised to discuss the potentially worrying trend lines in our national debt, the differences between the government and the family budget, and the reasons why balancing the budget and eliminating the debt is a political fantasy. This week we will deal first of these items - the seemingly alarming increase in national debt since 2000.

Let's start with the graph that is used to scare us all - the recent growth of our national debt:

As you can see, the tripling of federal debt from $5.8 trillion in 2000 nearly $19 trillion in 2015 sure makes it look like our debt is spiraling out of control. But, as we noted in our prior Reality Check, the important number is not so much the actual amount of debt but its relationship to GDP, with economists usually getting concerned with ratios over 60 or 70 percent. Now, GDP has actually increased by $7 trillion dollars since 2000:

So let's look at that critical debt-to-GDP percentage:

Our current debt to GDP ratio of around 100% is definitely above the recommended level and a source for concern, but not nearly as bad as the 120% at the end of World War II. Obviously, as with any budget, the two basic components are spending and revenue. So let's look at which of these elements as a percentage of GDP is driving the increase in debt since 2000:

As the graph shows, increased spending and reduced revenue are equally responsible for this explosion of debt. In fact, for the period of 2000-2007, it was actually reduced revenue that accounted for the growth in debt. And since 2007, reduced revenue and increased spending are both equally responsible, which is what you would expect during the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression as automatic stabilizers such as unemployment insurance increase spending while tax revenue decreases as the economy shrinks. And spending as a percentage of GDP has already fallen by nearly 5% from its peak in 2009. In fact, if we could have kept the same level of revenue we had in 2000 until today, last year's annual deficit would have been under 1% of GDP, well under the 2 or 3 percent that is recommended. As a percentage of GDP, spending is going down and revenue is going up - we are headed in the right direction.

In next week's edition, we will look at how we might begin to reduce the amount of debt outstanding, especially as a percentage of GDP. Obviously, we were able to do that after World War II and, although it seems to have fallen down the memory hole, we also did it in the late 1990s. So we can do it again.

That's just reality...