What now for U.S. Graduate STEM Education?

Final Update: What Became Law

Dec. 22, 2017

You can love or hate the tax overhaul that Congress passed and the President just signed into law, but there is one thing to celebrate in the bill. More specifically, there is something NOT in the bill worth celebrating: changes to qualified tuition waivers. These changes did not survive conference committee, and were not made into law.

I would like to extend my personal thanks to Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) for hearing the voices of his constituents and leading a group of at least 25 House Members in a “Dear Colleague” letter railing against such changes to graduate education support in the U.S.

Update: A Look at the Final Senate Bill

Dec. 3, 2017

The U.S. Senate, shown in session (1999). Early this morning, the Senate passed their version of tax reform, but the bill was not available in its final form in Congress.gov. An earlier version of this post drew conclusions based on what was sent to the Senate floor, not what survived their process. That is not amended in this blog post.

Based on comments from some people (thanks!), I had to revisit my consideration of the Senate bill passed on Saturday morning because the text I had access to was merely the one that was sent to the floor of the Senate on Nov. 28… it was far from the one finally voted on. In a sense, this demonstrates the ridiculousness of the procedure used to reset tax policy by this government: a bill, drafted within 48 hours by markup and amendment, voted on before anyone could read it or score it, and not even available on the standard congressional bill recording systems for the public to consider. But, I digress.

One commenter sent me the link to the bill [1], merely a scan of text. I had to run it through optical character recognition [2] to convert it to searchable text. This allowed me to look for mention of the provisions striking text or subsections from U.S. Tax Code section 117, the one dealing with qualified tuition reductions and qualified scholarships.

What did I find when I searched? Nothing. Indeed, the final draft of the Senate bill does not appear to touch at all this section of the U.S. Tax Code. So, my original post really still only applied to H.R. 1 as passed by the House of Representatives. 

There is still the conference process and reconciliation of the bill between the two houses of Congress. It’s possible these provisions could come over from the House version of the bill. Now is the time to contact your members of Congress to influence this process. But be vigilant. This Congress is clearly willing to make sweeping policy changes under cover of darkness in very short periods of time. The average American citizen’s window of influence is small, and rapidly closing.

Here is the text of the Senate version of the bill, as recovered from the scanned document by OCR. Beware! OCR is NOT 100% accurate and words and meaning may have been changed by this process. The Senate should not rush such large bills before they can be placed into their public accounting system, so I wouldn’t have to do inaccurate things like this just to search the bill.

[1] https://www.budget.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/TAX%20SUBSTITUTE.pdf

[2] https://askubuntu.com/questions/267920/how-do-i-convert-a-scanned-pdf-into-a-pdf-with-text#612182

Continue reading “What now for U.S. Graduate STEM Education?”


Senator Orrin Hatch recently said, “I grew up in a shack with a Meadow Gold Dairy sign for a wall. I worked as a janitor to pay for law school. I believe in opportunity because I’ve lived it.

And that’s what we’re going to deliver with #TaxReform.”


He is right. With the GOP plans in both the House and Senate, most Americans again will surely be guaranteed a house with at least one wall made from a disused sign, and that they will have to work a low-wage job just to scratch out enough money to afford a higher education.

Thank you for accidentally being honest in a poorly written tweet, Senator Hatch.

The only opportunity delivered by the GOP tax plans to most Americans is the opportunity to lose more wages to taxes.

Draining the Brain

A healthy human brain depicted on the left, and an Alzheimer’s addled brain depicted on the right. The American Political Brain is in the throes of a neuro-degenerative disease that will leave us less innovative, less competitive, and unable to made decisions based on reliable evidence.

The most definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease, a severely degenerative disease of the brain, is an autopsy. Of course, the symptoms show up earlier – memory loss, personality changes, physical changes, and differing degrees of diagnosis are achievable with cognitive tests and scans of the brain. But distinguishing Alzheimer’s from other neuro-degenerative diseases of aging is still a difficult medical challenge. All such diseases do have one thing in common: they ravage the mind of the afflicted, ruining that life and the lives of those around them, until there is no more of the original person left. There is only the burden of intact memory born by those who remember the person, and the emotional and financial hardship, born out of love and devotion to the person, in caring for that person whose brain is utterly savaged.

When Donald Trump ran for President, he famously promised to “drain the swamp” – the swamp being Washington D.C. and the metaphor intended to convey that he will remove corruption and gridlock (due to entrenched interests) from government. It is the height of delicious irony that the claim of D.C. being built on a swamp is an utter myth, based on a tiny drop of truth (a very small part of what is now D.C. was once marshy land), and yet forms the basis of a (hollow) political slogan.

While Trump has failed to do what he pledged – in fact, he introduced even more special financial and business interests into D.C. while actively encouraging and cultivating petty partisan deadlocks and even rifts within his own party – he has succeeded in doing something else: draining the political brain of the United States.

The symptoms are apparent, but I fear America will only realize the extent of the degeneration when the Trump administration is a by-gone era and an autopsy of his legacy reveals the extent of the disease. I fear we may learn that this singular act of depleting the nation’s science policy capabilities also destroyed America’s competitiveness and leadership in the world, at the same time making it impossible to even sustain the innovation economy required to achieve his isolationist “America First” policy platform. But as with the Alzheimer’s patient, the most definitive diagnosis would come too late to save the patient or the family. Can we as a nation reliably diagnose the illness now, and rush to treat?

Unlike Alzheimer’s or other neuro-degenerative diseases, Americans have a chance to prevent the disease from spreading by engaging their representative lawmakers and arguing loudly and publicly for the brain drain to stop.

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The Sign of Four Estates: The Week in Review, April 30 – May 6, 2017

Jodi and I pose in front of the U.S. Capitol Building. We had just emerged from a memorable and excellent visit with Texas Congressman Peter Sessions’ office.

This week Jodi and I left for Washington D.C. on Monday for an event at the Canadian Embassy on Tuesday night. She had been invited to attend an evening celebrating science in Canada, especially Nobel Prize-winner Art McDonald and projects at SNOLAB, that nation’s premiere underground science facility. In addition, Jodi and I hit Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with staffers from Congressman Sam Johnson and Congressman Pete Sessions’ offices. We returned to Dallas early Thursday morning, in time to attend a very special event at SMU later that night: a dinner with the Board of Trustees at SMU where faculty receive the University’s top research and teaching distinctions. This was yet another whirlwind week in a semester of whirlwind weeks… but at least, this time, I could spend it with Jodi.

Continue reading “The Sign of Four Estates: The Week in Review, April 30 – May 6, 2017”