Evansville Courier & Press. March 24, 2014.
The Big Bang, and then what?
Astronomers with reasonable certainty have measured the age of the universe at 13.8 billion years and posited its creation when a pinpoint in a vast void suddenly and violently exploded in an event we have come to know as the Big Bang.
But then what?
After nearly four years of building a telescope at the South Pole, where the frigid dry atmosphere offers few distortions, and three years of painstaking analysis of data from BICEP2 (an acronym for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization), a team of top astronomers led by John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics believe they have found the answer.
What happened next goes by the pedestrian name “Cosmic Inflation.” In the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, gravitational waves blew outward, through a “soup” of random particles, at speeds sometimes exceeding the speed of light. One scientist called the theory of Inflation “the most important idea in cosmology since the Big Bang itself.”
After 380,000 years, according to the astronomers, the soup, roiled by the gravitational waves, cooled enough to form atoms, which coalesced into stars, then galaxies and finally planets. Since then, the universe has continued to expand outward in the form as we now know it - or think we know it.
The evidence the astronomers sought, and other teams of scientists are trying to confirm, is described as ripples in the fabric of space-time that show up as specific patterns of light waves within the glow left over from the Big Bang. Kovac called it “the smoking-gun signature of inflation.”
Inflation was first hypothesized in 1980, but the BICEP2 elevates that to a testable theory and opens up a vast new field of astrophysics. The discovery also adds additional proof to a much older theory, Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity first propounded in 1916.
Einstein would have been immensely pleased, although perhaps not surprised, by this discovery, which like his own theory answered one big question but raised a thousand new ones.
The Journal Gazette. March 23, 2014.
Lawmakers’ vow on jobs partly filled
Ask any Hoosier what should have been the top priority for the just-ended session of the Indiana General Assembly and the answer would undoubtedly have been jobs. Did lawmakers deliver?
Yes. No. Maybe.
Success in job creation is easy to claim while failure is easy to deflect. Republican leaders point to business tax cuts they believe will spur investment and, in turn, hiring. They can’t lose - if the jobs don’t follow, they can find a scapegoat in the national economy. If hiring increases, they can claim full credit by pointing to bills that cut taxes on businesses.
For a true “jobs bill,” you can look to House Bill 1002, which authorizes release of up to $400 million for transportation projects, available to leverage up to $1.6 billion in work through federal funding. The first $200 million will be released immediately, with the second installment contingent on the state’s budget picture in December.
Conservatives like to say that government doesn’t create jobs, but in highway funding, it certainly does. The legislation will create thousands of construction jobs directly and indirectly support more through improved infrastructure.
It’s tougher to classify Senate Bill 1, which reduces the corporate income tax rate to 4.9 percent over six years, as a jobs bill. While the state is on track to have the second-lowest corporate tax rate among the states by 2022, Indiana already had one of the most business-friendly tax environments in the nation. The legislation also gives counties the option to exempt all new business equipment from the business personal property tax and to offer “super-abatements” for certain projects, prompting some local government officials to suggest that Indiana counties are set up for a tax-cutting competition.
What legislative leaders describe as an opportunity to attract jobs in many cases could turn out for local government officials to be a curse. Reducing business personal property taxes, on top of the property tax cuts and circuit-breaker provisions already in effect, could harm their capacity to offer features that attract and retain jobs: high-quality schools, sound infrastructure, parks and other quality-of-life amenities. …
The jobs promise is an easy one for legislative candidates to sell, but a better goal is improving Hoosiers’ lives. By that measure, lawmakers did good work in finally strengthening the state’s lax child care regulations. Thirty-one children have died in child care businesses since 2009. …
Each session is defined in some way by what lawmakers did not do. This year it did not send a same-sex marriage referendum to voters, instead prolonging the debate for another session. Count it as another success for jobs. While the controversy is hardly helpful in attracting or retaining young people, at least it avoids the costly contest between opponents and supporters.
A successful session? Depending on your view of Indiana’s progress, you could say that it was.
South Bend Tribune. March 21, 2014.
Helping students pass a critical financial test
Indiana University’s statewide effort to educate students on college debt and how to make wise decisions when it comes to paying for college is showing clear signs of success.
Fewer IU students are borrowing to pay for their education, and those who do are borrowing less, according to recent studies. Nowhere is that more evident than at IU South Bend.
This academic year, the number of IU South Bend student borrowers has decreased 17.4 percent to 5,308 compared with 2012-2013. Borrowers have $20.5 million in loans, which also is down 20.2 percent from 2012-2013.
The university’s strong outreach effort is a key reason for the improved financial status of students.
Two years ago, IU established MoneySmarts, a website that offers financial literacy training. And each spring, every IU student receives a letter clearly stating the estimate of total education loans.
In addition, each newly enrolled student at any IU campus is required to take an online tutorial on budgeting for college and details about student loan debt. Each student also is assigned a financial aid adviser.
Students also can take a one-credit, five-week class titled Collegiate Personal Finance that teaches students about taxes, borrowing, investments and loan repayments, among other financial topics.
These many offerings ensure that students are given ample opportunities to learn about financial aid and how it will impact their lives as they begin to pay off loans.
It is critical that students understand the cost of an education, especially in today’s economy when a college degree is the best path to future success. Students need to know how to balance paying back loans with other costs in life such as food, clothing, rent or a mortgage.
Other colleges, both public and private, would benefit by adopting some of the approaches IU is taking to educating students about loan debt.
Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. March 18, 2014.
Legal questions, legal answers
When the Republican-dominated Indiana General Assembly earlier this year passed a bill trying to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, many saw it as a small-minded, homophobic, even hateful attack on gay couples and a deprivation of civil rights under the constitution.
And it was.
But now, in the afterglow of the (thankfully) just-ended 2014 version of the Legislature, that action looks more much like a positive step, because of what it forestalled.
It’s positive, not because it discriminates against same-sex couples - which it does, and we surely don’t favor that - but because the matter of defending gay marriage bans is increasingly becoming moot, so fast are moving the currents of public opinion and judicial action against those bans. …
Before the constitutional amendment issue can move to a public referendum in the future, a bill must pass during another two-year session of the Legislature. The current two-year session is 2013-14, so the next such session is 2015-16. If the exact same language that passed this year were again to pass in 2016, a referendum on the amendment could then go on the fall 2016 ballot. That is a gubernatorial and presidential election year.
But do the Republicans, who presumably will be trying to re-elect a sitting Republican governor and to elect a Republican presidential nominee to reclaim the White House, want a same-sex marriage amendment referendum on that ballot? Probably not.
It’s not just that. From 2013 to 2014, the level of support among Indiana Republicans for the marriage amendment waned significantly. The matter still easily passed both houses of the Legislature, but by changing a sentence of the bill from what had passed in 2011, perhaps Republican opponents also were invisibly scuttling movement toward a constitutional amendment.
One hopes that was more than political gamesmanship, that in fact some legislators had rethought the measure and found it to be based on discrimination and intolerance.
We also take seriously that some of the leading Republican thinkers - such as Sen. Luke Kenley - really were concerned that the ban not become part of the constitution, that having a state law banning same-sex marriage should suffice for those who oppose such marriages.
But whether the matter is a law or part of the constitution is a distinction without much difference - because either or both would likely soon be ruled unconstitutional by a state or federal court, perhaps even by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Virginia, for instance, a lawsuit is challenging that state’s constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 2006. That state’s attorney general, a Democrat, has refused to defend the commonwealth in that case and has stated his support for same-sex marriage. So making the matter a constitutional amendment does not protect it from being ruled unconstitutional. Arguments in that case are tentatively scheduled for May.
Virginia’s is far from the only suit. Federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma - hardly hotbeds of liberalism - have struck down gay marriage bans. And about 12 states are seeing federal lawsuits against such bans, according to USA Today, while 17 states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.
Indiana is now home to at least five such federal lawsuits, all filed in the last two weeks. One came from the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, and another from a national pro-gay advocacy group, Lambda Law - sponsored on its website by such mainstream companies as Microsoft, Toyota, American Airlines and Mercedes-Benz. An earlier federal suit, filed March 7 in downstate Indiana, represents four same-sex couples. In each case, complainants seek to force the state to legalize same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages from other states, where such marriages were legal when they were performed.
Filing lawsuits, of course, does not throw out old laws. A court must be convinced, and the inevitable appeals must be defended and won.
But, even as many still oppose gay marriage on religious grounds, it is increasingly obvious that, on legal grounds, such prohibitions are wrong and violate our fellow citizens’ civil rights to full family lives.
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