GOP confronts another failed tax experiment in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — When the GOP took full control of Oklahoma government after the 2010 election, lawmakers set out to make it a model of Republican principles, with lower taxes, lighter regulation and a raft of business-friendly reforms.Conservatives passed all of it, setting in motion a grand experiment. Now it’s time for another big election, but instead of campaigning on eight years of achievements, Republicans are confronting chaos and crisis. Agency budgets that were cut during the Great Recession have been slashed even deeper. Rural hospitals are closing, and teachers are considering a statewide strike over low wages.“I’m not scared to say it, because I love Oklahoma, and we are dying,” said Republican state Rep. Leslie Osborn. “I truly believe the situation is dire.”Oklahoma’s woes offer the ultimate cautionary tale for other states considering trickle-down economic reforms. The outlook is so grim that some Republicans are willing to consider the ultimate heresy: raising taxes to fund education and health care, an idea that was once the exclusive province of Democrats.“Without new recurring revenue, we can’t fix these problems,” said Osborn, who was ousted as chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations and Budget committee for her outspoken support of tax increases.The crisis has also placed the oil and gas industry, a sacred cow in Oklahoma, in an awkward spot since it sought the huge tax cut that is one of the biggest factors in the budget mess.Gov. Mary Fallin and GOP leaders have been unable to reverse course because of a constitutional quirk that says any tax increase needs a three-fourth’s majority vote of the Legislature. Despite broad GOP support for tax hikes, a small number of fiercely anti-tax Republicans have joined with the minority Democrats to derail attempts to raise revenue. Democrats complain that most of the tax plans unfairly target the poor.While state leaders bicker over how it went wrong and what to do about it, a half-dozen Republicans are jockeying to succeed Fallin, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.Although the candidates represent different wings of the party, all of them agree about the depth of the problem. And while none of them want to use the word “tax,” several talk about replacing some of the revenue that has been cut in recent years. That replacement money could scarcely come from any other source except taxes.The only GOP candidate for governor who openly advocates for a tax hike is Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, an accountant and former chairman of the state Republican Party. He’s been particularly critical of the Legislature’s decision to make permanent a generous tax incentive on new oil and gas production. Fallin signed that bill just before the price of oil plummeted in 2014. The price drop dealt another major blow to the energy-dependent economy.The drilling industry now pays an effective tax rate in Oklahoma that is far lower than in any other state, a factor cited by the teachers threatening a strike.“We’ve got to face the truth,” Jones said. “We need somebody who’s willing to tell the truth about how we got here, where we’re at and has a plan to get out.”Since 2009, more than two dozen state agencies have seen their budgets slashed by more than 30 percent. The cuts have been especially painful in public schools, where funding has dipped since 2015, even though enrollment has climbed by about 10,000 students statewide.Teachers are in shorter supply too. There are about 1,500 fewer teachers in Oklahoma than in 2010, according to a recent study, and nearly 20 percent of districts have shifted to a four-day school week to save money.The GOP made massive gains in the 2010 midterm elections, flipping 20 legislative chambers nationwide and netting six Democrat-held governor’s offices, including Oklahoma’s. Those victories offered the opportunity to put into practice tax-cutting economic theories that Republicans espoused for decades.In some cases, the experiments proved successful, particularly in Indiana and North Carolina, where the rate reductions were gradual, said Scott Drenkard of the Washington-based Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank that promotes simple and transparent tax policies.But in other places, where the effort was especially zealous, notably Oklahoma and neighboring Kansas, Republican leaders were forced to backtrack. Kansas lawmakers had to reverse most of the cuts last year after the state struggled to balance its budget.Still, those running to replace Fallin are forced to tiptoe around the tax question as they reach out to GOP voters who may be fiercely opposed to any measures that raise taxes.“I’m opposed to tax increases, period,” said Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who resigned from Fallin’s cabinet after she unveiled her tax plan. Despite his tough anti-tax talk, Lamb has left the door open to removing some exemptions and deductions from the tax code.Longtime Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who has overseen a transformation of the state’s capital city funded in large part with a 1-cent sales tax, says he doesn’t have much of an appetite for tax increases.“It’s never been my first instinct,” Cornett said.Political newcomer Kevin Stitt, a Tulsa businessman who has poured more than $1 million of his own money into his campaign, is also hammering an anti-tax message on the stump.“I don’t buy the dialogue that just raising taxes is the right thing to do, because I don’t think the government knows how to spend money better than us,” said Stitt, the founder of a mortgage company who is making his first run for public office.Other anti-tax GOP candidates, Tulsa trial attorney Gary Richardson and fiery pastor Dan Fisher, have argued that government waste and corruption is the cause of the revenue problems. They have called for audits of state agencies.Those positions don’t sit well with many teachers and state workers who are counting on policymakers to increase funding and salaries.“It’s the idea of having support and resources,” said Billy Elles, a speech and debate coach at Westmoore High School who moonlights as a waiter at Outback Steakhouse. “I’m tired of having 34 students in a classroom. I’m tired of buying my own copy paper and my books.”Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy .Sign up for the AP’s weekly newsletter showcasing our best reporting from the Midwest and Texas: http://apne.ws/2u1RMfv .

Are you Dying to Upload Your Brain?

Cryonics — freezing humans for later revival — has been a staple of science fiction for ages. Maybe you want to be cured of something presently incurable or you just want to see the future. Of course, ignoring the problem of why anyone wants to thaw out a 500-year-old person, no one has a proven technology for thawing out one of these corpsicles. You are essentially betting that science will figure that out sometime before your freezer breaks down. A new startup called Nectome funded by Y Combinator wants to change your thinking about preservation. Instead of freezing they will pump you full of preservatives that preserve your brain including fine structures that scientists currently believe contain your memories.

In Syria, at least 100 killed in attacks as more people flee

BEIRUT (AP) — Airstrikes in Syria killed more than 100 people Friday as civilians fled besieged areas for the second straight day. Syrian government forces stepped up their offensive in the rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, capturing a major town and closing in on another under the cover of Russia’s air power.The majority of the deaths occurred in eastern suburbs of Damascus, known as eastern Ghouta, where government forces have been on a crushing offensive for three weeks capturing 70 percent of the once besieged rebel-held area. The weekslong violence left more than 1,300 civilians dead, 5,000 wounded and forced thousands to flee to government-controlled areas.Friday’s staggering death toll came a day after Syria passed the seven-year mark in its relentless civil war that has killed some 450,000 people and displaced half the country’s population.The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government and Russian forces have been bombing rebel-towns areas outside Damascus throughout Friday, killing 64 people in Kafr Batna and another 12 in Saqba. The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group reported 61 fatalities in Kafr Batna.Later Friday, government forces captured the town of Jisreen, closing in on Saqba from the east, north and south, forcing opposition fighters to retreat west. The Syrian government is determined to seize Kafr Batna, Saqba and the rest of the besieged eastern Ghouta region from rebels.The Observatory said Turkish shelling and airstrikes have killed another 27 people in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in north Syria where Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters have been on the offensive since Jan. 20. Turkey is getting closer to capturing the main town in the region, also called Afrin.“If the world does not move, Ghouta will be exterminated,” said Siraj Mahmoud, a Civil Defense member in eastern Ghouta.The attack on Kafr Batna was with cluster bombs, napalm-like incendiary weapons, and conventional explosives, the Observatory said.Photos and videos released from the area showed charred bodies covered with sheets lined near what appeared to be shops.The assault was part of an indiscriminate campaign by President Bashar Assad’s forces to retake the town and the rest of the enclave from the rebels.A medical charity supporting hospitals in the Ghouta region, the Syrian American Medical Society, said doctors in Kafr Batna were treating patients for severe burn wounds. The charity said earlier in the day that it recorded 40 casualties on Friday.Oways al-Shami, a spokesman for Syrian Civil Defense, said the airstrike targeted a market and a nearby residential area where scores of people have gathered. He said people were in the market to buy bread and vegetables at the time of the strike.Dr. Zouhair Kahaleh, in the nearby town of Arbeen, said “the medical situation is catastrophic. We can’t stay in this situation for long.” He said the streets are closed, and “we can’t treat some of the cases here. It’s a major challenge to reach the wounded because of the intensity of the airstrikes.”Kahaleh said some operations have had to be postponed indefinitely because there are no specialized doctors in other area, which cannot currently be accessed.Exhausted and shell-shocked civilians streamed out of eastern Ghouta for the second consecutive day heading to buses arranged by the government to transport them to a center for identification and relief.A man interviewed on state-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV said he had gone two days without food. Others said rebels hoarded food and humiliated civilians, even shooting people trying to leave.The U.N. has warned of a malnutrition crisis in eastern Ghouta, which human rights groups have blamed on the government’s strangling blockade.Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Russian military and the Syrian government would extend the “cease-fire” in Damascus’ rebel-held suburbs for as long as it takes to allow all civilians to leave the area. Lavrov spoke in Kazakhstan where he met with the foreign ministers of Iran and Turkey over the situation in Syria and the three agreed that there can be no military solution to the conflict, according to Syria’s state news agency SANA.In northern Syria, where Kurdish officials said Turkish shelling and airstrikes killed at least 22 civilians on Friday in the town of Afrin, the Turkish military urged civilians to leave and Syrian Kurdish militiamen to surrender to besieging Turkish forces.The media office for the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led and U.S.-backed force that operates in the Kurdish autonomous region in the north, also said that at least 30 were wounded in Friday’s attacks.Victims lay dead on the streets in pools of blood, according to a video posted the Observatory, which monitors Syria’s seven-year civil war and which put the death toll at 18. Different casualty tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of big attacks.Since their January offensive began, Turkish forces have nearly encircled Afrin in an effort to drive the Syrian Kurdish fighters from the town and surrounding region. Residents say they are facing bread, water, and electricity shortages.The Observatory and activists reported seeing hundreds of civilians filing out of Afrin to neighboring villages on Thursday and Friday, looking for relief. Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to still be inside.Earlier Friday, Turkish aircraft dropped flyers in Arabic and Kurdish on Afrin, asking residents to stay away from “terrorist positions” – a reference to the Syrian Kurdish fighters – and to not let themselves be used as “human shields.”The leaflets claimed that civilians seeking to flee Afrin would be guaranteed safety by the Turkish military and urged Syrian Kurdish fighters to “trust the hand we extend to you.”“Come surrender! A calm and peaceful future awaits you in Afrin,” the leaflets read.Thursday saw the largest single-day exodus of civilians in Syria’s civil war. The government offensive has pushed further into eastern Ghouta, chipping away at one of the largest and most significant opposition bastions since the early days of the rebellion – communities where some 400,000 people are estimated to be holed up.Since mid-February, Syrian troops have targeted Damascus’ sprawling suburbs with shells, airstrikes and, at times, even toxic gas, according to opposition medics.Last weekend, Syrian troops divided the enclave into three sectors, isolating the major urban centers and enabling a swift advance. On Thursday, men, women and children emerged from Hamouria and nearby opposition towns, carrying mats and other possessions that sometimes poked out of suitcases.Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

This startup promises to preserve your brain for uploading, after they kill you

“What if we told you we could back up your mind?” asks start-up Netcome. According to MIT grad and co-founder Robert McIntyre, he has state-of-the-art technology to preserve your brain in a near-perfect state for scanning in the future once that technology is invented. Thing is, they have to start the preservation process while you’re still alive. They’re pitching the company at Y-Combinator’s “demo daysnext week. Already 25 people have signed up on the waiting list. From Antonio Regalado’s feature in Technology Review:

No Man’s Sky as a Commodore Amiga slideshow

No Man’s Sky is a beautiful game of interstellar exploration: something about its epic psychedelic wonder stays with you even after you’ve internalized its procedural patterns. Blake Patterson wanted to see how well a classic Amiga 1000 would render some of its scenery. Granted, an Amiga isn’t going to counting frames by the second, but it was the first machine to offer thousands of colors on-screen at once and its peculiar pallete trickery gives NMS an even weirder look.

Investigating a reasonable way to convert the images, I discovered a fairly amazing Java-based application known, colorfully, as “ham_converter” which uses extremely optimized algorithms to get the most out of the Amiga’s bizarre HAM mode. The results, rendered in a 320×400 pixel interlace (and a 4:3 aspect ratio), are well beyond the quality that I recall seeing my Amiga 2000 generate with early, basic HAM converter programs, rendering MCGA images to the screen in HAM mode back in the early ’90s. In fact, they are so good that their shockingly high quality takes a bit of the “retro” out of this post; the images look a little too good! And, just to let you know this wasn’t just a click-and-drag process, the systems involved in the conversion were: a gaming PC [specs] able to run the Java app, an iMac [specs] not able to run the Java app (apparently) but also running an FTP server, an accelerated Amiga 2000 [specs] with a LAN connection and a floppy drive (and an FTP client), and the Amiga 1000 [specs] with a floppy drive, SCSI hard drives, and no LAN connection. Getting data to and fro was … involved.

Review: Lynx Sonoma smoker makes the perfect turkey

Every year we invite a bunch of friends over for Christmas dinner. We always have oven roasted turkey. But for 2017, I was given a loaner unit of the Lynx Sonoma Propane Gas Smoker, so I decided to smoke the turkey this time. The smoker sells for about $3200. It arrived on a truck. It’s made of stainless steel and looks beautiful. It weighs 250 pounds, and wasn’t easy to roll across the lawn because gophers have turned it into Swiss cheese. After I got the metal beast settled on the back porch, I opened the instruction manual.