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Odds and Ends

Lots has happened and I’ve not kept this blog updated on things. I’ll try to make up for a little bit of that now.
The Dems are being rocked by scandals; remember the role Foley’s unwelcome texting played in the GOP problems of 2006? There is a perfect storm of circumstances brewing, perhaps portending a big Dem loss in November. Still, we must be vigilant.
Gov. Patterson has announced he is suspending his election campaign following allegations he improperly interceded in an assault case on behalf of a close aide. Remember Patterson succeeded Spitzer after it was revealed he had encounters with prostitutes.
Charlie Rangel’s problems continue as the House ethics committee released its first report concerning allegations that junkets he attended were paid for by lobbyists and corporations in violation of ethics rules. Investigations are still under way regarding income from his Dominican villa and un-reported income on financial disclosure forms. I saw a snippet of Rangel’s conference yesterday where he in essence blames his staff. Remember, Rangel chairs Ways & Means, which has oversight on tax laws. I have never liked Rangel; he always seemed slick, and his push for Federal funds for City College of New York (which then named a building after him), was slimy.
Desiree Rogers- the social secretary who was blamed for the Salahis crashing the White House state dinner for India – has ‘quit’.
Biden’s gaffe at the ‘Health Care summit’ while the microphone was still on, Harry Reid’s comments about abusive men… the joy just keeps piling up!
Nancy Pelosi is in denial as well; she still claims she is overseeing the most ethical House ever. If by ethical you mean locking out the Republicans, looking the other way when members from your own party misstep, enjoying perks for yourself and your family, wantonly spending taxpayer money and using parliamentary tactics for situations that they weren’t intended for then yes, the House under your leadership has been VERY ethical.
In a piece of good news that followed the terrible announcement about the cancellation of NASA’s programme to return to the moon, it looks as if progress in some areas is coming from the private sector. If things pan out, the VASIMR rocket has the potential to ferry humans to Mars in only 39 days. Hope springs eternal; Mr. Man and I want to go in to space, dammit!

Tuesday January 19….

A day of reckoning… fingers and toes crossed for Scott Brown in MA!
Top sites to check for news on the results:
Fox News
Ace of Spades (Ace is on the ground in MA at the Brown campaign)
Hot Air (Lots of traffic today, may take a second to load)
Michelle Malkin

Current Events

Two important things in the news-
Haiti is still suffering from the aftermath of the 7.0 earthquake earlier this week. They are still working hard to pull people from the rubble, and although we now have troops on the ground that are creating order and organising efforts, the need is great, many people have lost what little they had, and more supplies and personnel are needed.
Mr. Man and I donated to ‘The Haitian Health Foundation’, a charity that Bill O’Reilly supports. There are many good organisations, but when he said that most of the money received goes directly to help people, I was interested and decided to take a look. They service families in very poor mountain areas in particular, with 92% of donations going to help the people. This is great, because it is direct; we have sent $3 billion dollars in aid to Haiti over the past two decades, and most of it has gone to lining Baby Doc & Aristides’ pockets. Donate to the Haitian Health Foundation (or other charity), if you can.
We also donated to Scott Brown, and his campaign for the Senate seat in Massachusetts. Scott is an eminently likable guy, well spoken, affable, bright; he’s been in the military for thirty years and is still in the National Guard. He doesn’t come off at all like a smooth politician, but just a decent, pretty average American running for public office. We like that, and think he many have national potential. Martha Coakley, his opponent, appears to be nothing more than a hack, who let a connected criminal go free without bail after raping a two year old with a curling iron, while keeping Gerry Amirault behind bars, even though there is good evidence he was railroaded and didn’t get a fair trial. Coakley wasn’t interested.
Scott’s got some great ads, and the momentum is definitely in his favour – go to his website here for more information.

Health Care Q & A for the Open Minded

People have a lot of questions and comments regarding opposition to or support of, a government make-over of the health care system. I’ve compiled the most common of these and posted some articles and thoughts on them.
Comment: “Insurers are just greedy companies”, “Insurers charge too much for coverage”.
Answer: Last year insurance companies posted profits of 2.2%, but generally profits average about 6%. Network equipment manufacturers, railways, Tupperware and Molson beer posted higher profits. Health insurance ranked #35 on Forbes’ list of top industries. Drugs and medical supplies both ranked in Forbes’ Top Ten.
(Source: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20091025/D9BI4D6O1.html )
Comment: “Insurance companies only care about profits and so they deny people treatments they need”.
Answer: Medicare is the largest denier of claims in the medical system at 6.85%. Aetna is a close second with 6.8%. The next highest was BCBS Anthem with 4.62%. The remaining companies all averaged under 4%, with the lowest being United Healthcare at 2.68%, according to the AMA, which supports Obama’s health care plan.
(Source: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/368/reportcard.pdf )
Followup: “But Medicare has a lot of subscribers”
Reply: True, but this a percent. Medicare denies a higher percentage of their subscribers than private companies. United Healthcare, which had the second most subscribers, has the lowest rate.
Comment: “According to the studies, other countries who have single payer systems have better healthcare”, “Regular checkups guaranteed by a single payer government run system means people get diagnosed earlier because they can go to a doctor whenever they want”.
Answer: It depends on what you use to rank healthcare. The WHO study focused on a handful of criteria, including ‘responsiveness’ (the US ranked #1). The criteria did not focus on survival rates and favoured single payer systems because it included factors such a government contributions to health care.
Lancet, the renowned journal of medicine, used different metrics. American women have a 63% chance of surviving 5 years after a cancer diagnosis, where European women have a 56% chance. For men the numbers are more stark; in America you have a 68% chance of surviving 5 years after a diagnosis compared with Europe’s 47%. Patients have a better chance of surviving 13 of 16 of the most common forms of cancer if they are treated in the United States as opposed to anywhere else in the world. For 5 cancers, survival rates top 90% in the United States; Europe has one (testicular), which hits 90% survival.
‘Guaranteed’ health care doesn’t appear to translate to quicker diagnosis and more successful treatment. In the United States, 84% of women aged 50-64 get mammograms regularly, which is higher than Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain.
According to the Annals of Oncology, the countries with the best access to drugs are Switzerland, Austria, France and the United States.
(Sources: http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/Centers/healthcare/opinioneditorials/WhatsNotWrongwithHealthCare.html
http://www.ncpa.org/pub/ba596
http://www.greenwichtime.com/ci_13247035?source=most_viewed )
Comment: “Overall care for everyone is better under a single payer system”, “Under a single payer system treatment is just as good as under private insurance”.
Answer: See the statistics above. Single payer systems, where supposed baseline treatment is ‘guaranteed’ does not increase survival rates or guarantee that preventative care (such as screenings), will be accessible in a timely manner to everyone.
Comment: “This bill will make health care cheaper for everyone”, “This bill is deficit neutral”, “This bill will reduce our deficit”.
Answer: The current Senate bill relies on huge cuts to Medicare, a large tax increase (including an increase in the Medicare tax), fines, and a lack of Medicare payout adjustment for doctors (which is anticipated to be in a second bill, thus negating it’s negative deficit impact), in order to get the ‘deficit neutral’ or ‘cutting the deficit by 100 billion’ numbers (depends on which version of what Congressional bill you cite). Let’s examine this in detail.
According to the CBOs own breakdown of the ‘manager’s amendment’ (the non-legislative outline on the bill) in the Senate, the ‘deficit reduction number’ is achieved through taxation of people with current plans, fines for non-adherence, and “…$108 billion in net savings from other sources”. It is unclear how these ‘savings’ are achieved when you are ostensibly adding millions to the rolls, because in addition to the current medical infrastructure, a new government agency will have to be created and maintained. New enrollees who would be entitled to participate in Medicaid would have 100% of the costs paid by the government for two years and afterwards at a rate of 90%. (Currently the Federal government pays 57% of the cost of Medicaid benefits).
From the CBO, “…Beginning in 2013, insurance policies with relatively high total premiums would be subject to a 40 percent excise tax on the amount by which the premiums exceeded a specified threshold. That threshold would be set initially at $8,500 for single policies and $23,000 for family policies (with certain exceptions); after 2013, those amounts would be indexed to overall inflation plus 1 percentage point.” In other words, if the family policy that you have has a yearly premium of $30,000 that your company pays (not difficult to imagine… that’s $2500 a month for a family), you will be taxed at a rate of 40% of the difference, which would result in $2800 of additional taxes per year. Currently medical costs outstrip inflation, so the built in adjustment (inflation + 1%), doesn’t seem realistic. Unless we spend more money than we are now, we cannot both insure more people and guarantee them the same great medical care people receive now. So we can either insure ‘everyone’ (even this bill doesn’t do that), and there is rationing or reduced services, or we can try to maintain the same standard of care, and the deficit will go up. So most of the main selling features – that the bill isn’t detrimental to the economy or deficit and won’t impact the middle class or hurt small business – is incorrect. Many people have what are considered ‘Cadillac’ plans. Most labour union members (some unions have managed to get an exemption from this health care plan tax provision), and people working for large companies (most of whom are middle class), would be dramatically affected adversely by this bill.
Shortly after the initial CBO announcement, they altered their statement and added that there had been a double-count, which made the bill appear to be deficit negative or neutral when in fact it is not and either Medicare services will be substantially impacted or Medicare will stay as is and the deficit will spike.
(Sources: http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/108xx/doc10868/12-19-Reid_Letter_Managers.pdf
http://cboblog.cbo.gov/?p=448
http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/ID/217331 )

Comment:
“People go broke and lose everything because of paying for health care!”
Answer: Some of the studies citing this have been controversial, because of allegations that if ‘medical bills’ is listed by the debtor as one of the reasons for filing bankruptcy, they are counted as a medical bankruptcy. In truth, among people filing for bankruptcy who cite ‘medical bills’ as a contributing factor, the medical bills account for between 12% and 13% of the debt they owe. In an article in Health Affairs magazine, researchers state that a more thorough examination of a 2005 study regarding this exposes that in bankruptcy, medical costs play a part in only 17% of cases (and predominantly affect the poor), a far cry from the 50% – 62% figure many studies have touted.
(Sources:
http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/short/25/2/w74
http://www.american.com/archive/2009/august/the-medical-bankruptcy-myth )
Comment: “There is no alternative”, “The other side doesn’t have any solutions”.
Answer: That’s not accurate. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about fixing health care and then followed it up with an extensive interview with Reason (Whole Foods offers a terrific plan for its employees; Mackey practices what he calls ‘conscious capitalism’).
In 1977, the Heritage Foundation published a study that examines in detail the factors that drive up cost and what effect government intervention has on inflating the cost of health care (see link below). The notion that ‘the right’ hasn’t thought about health care until the Democrats brought it up is fallacious.
More recently, at a 2007 symposium, Grace-Marie Turner – an advocate for free market solutions to health care– discussed President Bush’s health reform initiative, which would have given tax credits in order to make health care insurance more affordable, (a family without insurance would see their taxes lowered by $3350), while allowing people more input into their treatment. Suggestions by ‘the other side’ generally focus on competition, tort reform and reduction of administration cost by removing expensive compliance requirements.
Competition keeps prices lower. Case in point… federal employees have access to over 280 plans from across the country to choose from; average Americans should have that kind of choice. While health care costs for private sector workers rose in 2006 by 7.7%, 63% of federal employees enrolled in FEHBP saw no increase in costs, while the remainder saw an average increase of 1.8%.
In the 1970’s, malpractice insurance had increased in cost by 600% over 3 or 4 years, and it has continued to play a huge factor in expenses doctors incur. While some claim that other, non-physician factors (such as the bottom line of an insurance company and anticipation of future claims), contribute to this increased cost and there is some evidence for that, there is no doubt that a huge factor is the risk insurers feel they incur when they cover a physician. The St. Paul insurance company stopped offering physician malpractice insurance because they could no longer afford to. An indirect result of the disproportionate increase of malpractice insurance for some specialties (such as Ob-Gyn), has resulted in fewer doctors specialising in that field.
The lack of variety within and competition between plans, mandates that require minimum coverage for medical costs (even so-called ‘catastrophic plans’ aren’t allowed to cover just dire medical emergencies, in other words), regulation/litigation and government social programmes that cover tens of millions of Americans have conspired to give us a quasi-privatised insurance system with varying rates of reimbursement and coverage, higher costs, disparate levels of quality and a lack of portability. Far from reducing costs, the new health plan, which guarantees insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions, will not bring in the much-needed low-risk subscribers (who would reduce the cost of insurance rates in general), because the bill would allow you as one expert put it, ‘…to sign up in the ambulance on the way to the hospital’, while fines for not having health insurance begin very low compared to the cost of signing up for a plan. The proposals are really a panacea, and when examined, fail to solve the very issues that are claimed to be at the heart of the health care insurance ‘problem’, while introducing more regulation, which always increases costs.
Free-market proponents, including some Republican members of Congress, have seen difficulties with business as usual in healthcare, yet the easy-to-implement solutions they proffered were rebuffed in the past despite the fact that the process and debate surrounding them enjoyed a great deal more transparency than the current bills being considered in Congress. The greatest risk isn’t of inaction, but of doing something that is both monumental and wrong, and not easily rectified. We can ill afford to institute a costly programme that won’t fundamentally solve what ails the system.
(Sources:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204251404574342170072865070.html
http://reason.com/archives/2009/12/15/whole-foods-health-care
http://reason.com/archives/2009/07/30/the-myth-of-free-market-health
http://www.heritage.org/Research/SocialSecurity/bg11.cfm
http://www.heritage.org/Research/HealthCare/hl1019.cfm
http://www.heritage.org/Press/Commentary/ed101206c.cfm
http://www.heritage.org/Research/HealthCare/bg2239.cfm
http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=4968&type=0
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0843/is_2_28/ai_84236557/ )

2010

Here’s to hoping that 2010 is a better year than 2009, and the X’s are better than the zeds, decade wise.
Personally the zeds were a mix of good and bad, mostly bad. Mr. Man and I got engaged and married, which was wonderful, but we had multiple family deaths, serious family illnesses, the death of a childhood friend of mine; our first pet, Klaatu, was diagnosed with FeLV and died a year later and our beloved cat Mutex 2 years later squeezed out a window while we were away at my father in law’s funeral and we never got him back. People spotted him – he’s a very unique looking boy, a pure bred – and we think someone took him and kept him. A ‘lost’ family member of mine died, and sweetie broke a bone, 9/11 happened, the market declined, a handiman cheated us and took off. So there’s been a bit of loss, disappointment, sadness over the past decade, mingled with the happiness of starting our lives together, with the joy our other boys (cats), have brought us, with the excitement of going back to school.
What the X’s bring us (as in the Roman numeral X), I don’t know. Anyone who has read this blog knows I worry about the future; I don’t want the government making decisions for me and my family about our health, and I want the fruits of our labour to be preserved so we can enjoy them. Mr. Man especially has worked extremely hard and he deserves to enjoy what he has earned. I just want people to leave us alone, so we can live our lives the way we want to. If we’re not hurting anyone, if we’re just decent, hardworking people (which I think we are), I don’t want the government, or anyone else, to control my life. That’s not wrong; that’s what you come to expect in a free society, but each day it appears the control we have over our own lives is slipping away. That’s why I believe this decade will be an important decade in determining the face of this country for the rest of this century.
We can chose the path where we each feel we have a right to exert control over one another’s destinies or the path where we allow others to enjoy their own life as they see fit. One path leads back to the principles of our founding, while the other leads to European style socialism, where everyone’s life is the business of, and owned by, the rest of the community and individuality is lost. It’s clear which one I choose, and I urge everyone to put aside their partisanship and political affiliations and honestly ask themselves a simple question: Do you want someone dictating a large part of your life? Congress changes hands, politicians and bureaucrats come and go. Acknowledging this, do you, personally, want someone in government to tell you what to do? To own your time? To force you to spend your money a certain way, to restrict what you earn, what you can own, what treatments you can get? Do you want some bureaucrat, regardless of party leaning, to be able to punish you if you don’t obey some edict?
That’s what it comes down to – control. That’s what all this legislation is; the framework to control how much we make, what we can spend our money on, what services are available to us. If you can’t see that’s what cap & tax and healthcare are, you’re deluding yourself, and I wish I could help you. If you know that what’s really going on is a power play and you’re okay with it, then I invite you to live in someplace more socialist, like Europe, and leave America to the rest of us; there’s only one of us, and plenty others that follow your ideology. If you know this play for control is for real and it repulses you, but you can’t bring yourself to break away from your party allegiance, then I urge you to think about it privately, and thwart these measures with whatever means your courage can muster.
Here’s to 2010 being the year where freedom shakes free of its bonds and is renewed.

Possessed Cat Makes Freaky Noises – Watch more Funny Videos

When Times Are Tough…

When a normal person encounters some difficult financial times, they retrench. They curb spending, perhaps try to refinance with lower payments, trade in that new car for a used one, take a second job, eat out less. They shouldn’t spend money they don’t have; that’s an invitation to bankruptcy, poverty, eviction.
If you’re the Federal government, you pass bills that authorise a 10% spending increase during a recession, (well above simple inflation), when unemployment is double digits. If you’re the Federal government you continue your porcine ways and funnel federal money to needless things. If you’re the Federal government you raise the debt ceiling and print money and spend spend spend. The rules of finance and economics still apply, but being the government with the people as your ATM, you are heedless of that fact and engage in reckless behaviour.
Shovel ready projects are absurd; they are busy work, they aren’t long term. Mr. Man saw one on our road trip this past summer; it was a widening of the road between a small town in New Mexico (I believe it was Farmington) into another small town in Colorado (I think that was Durango). The existing pavement, which we traveled on as they widened the road, was in great condition and even with the construction delay the traffic was light. These shovel ready projects are sound and fury signifying nothing. There are a panacea for an administration that is failing about in waters well over its head.
See here, here and here.

Some Perspective

Yesterday was election day, and I am grateful for that. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.
Unfortunately in my state there is an election system for dummies. You can’t go to a polling place to vote; they’ve done away with it, and now mail you your ballots whether you like it or not. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Man and I had to go to a polling place set up for disabled people, because our ballots got wet in the mail and the envelopes are fused shut. So much for Washington states’ absurd new voting process. It’s obviously fraught with technical pitfalls, and with the shenanigans in the last two gubernatorial elections, I’m not confident in its security. Poll workers were found with stacks of ballots in their cars, and in 2004, Dino Rossi was leading until after a spate of recounts (including an extra one that should have been prohibited by law), after which Christine Gregoire was ahead and Dino caved. Yesterday at Bellevue City Hall it was almost comical; since we brought all our voting accoutrements including the ruined ballot envelopes, they said we could use them or do electronic. I love computers but love the tradition of colouring in a circle even more, so I opted for the paper ballot. Their solution to the ruined envelopes? Slice them open with a scissor, put the ballot in and sign a piece of tape and put it over the slit.
The precedent for recounts and bending of election rules has a long ignoble life, with one of he most egregious in recent memory being the replacement of of Bob ‘The Torch’ Toricelli with Frank Lautenberg in the 1994 New Jersey Senate race. After winning the Democrat primary, Torricelli was indicted on corruption charges, and against New Jersey law, Lautenberg was appointed to replace Toricelli on the ticket. The GOP complained, citing rules that prohibited such a change so late in the game. The NJ Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Dems, saying that it was an unfair advantage to the Republican, Doug Forrester. To that I say, well then, perhaps The Torch should have kept his nose clean, and when the scandal was brewing, perhaps the Democrats should have encouraged him to drop out of the primaries. The law also never cited exceptions to it, but one was created out of whole cloth anyway. Needless to say, Lautenberg won. Keep in mind how an alleged scandal around Ted Stevens (R), the former Alaska senator, cost him HIS job, but after the election and the charges were dropped, no one cared to see how a unsubstantiated charge of misconduct had given an unfair advantage to his opponent. It’s called stacking the deck, and brings me back to New Jersey.
I grew up in Jersey City, NJ, when it was still a truly incredible place, and I stayed there until shortly after my 18th birthday. I spent my entire life in a little house in a good section of the city, on a street filled with families from various ethnic backgrounds (Italian, Ukrainian, Polish, Irish, Indian/Hindu, Persian, etc). My best friends had names like Meetra, Christy, Carmina, and Maria, and were Hispanic, Persian, black. New York was two hops away; the first a short bus ride to Journal Square from the stop around the corner, the second the PATH train to WTC (World Trade Centre), or Christopher Street. Another train could take you all the way uptown to the museums, and my schools frequently had field trips to them. On the whole, I had a great childhood.
The world, however, changes, as much as we might wish otherwise on occasion. As I became older and inevitably took after school jobs, it was hard to not be aware of the gradual change in the city. Crime was up, it became more crowded. The refuse and vandalism you were accustomed to seeing on the periphery of your ‘good’ neighbourhood started encroaching into it. Houses that had been one family now housed two, in cramped quarters. Trees, like the lovely sycamores that dotted the street and proffered welcome shade during the summer began to disappear, and today, on my once tree lined street, they are few and far between, with ‘kerb cuts’ for carports replacing them.
Friends of mine probably wonder how I could possibly be a Republican. I have my flaws, but I don’t cheat or steal, do my best to be honest and am very loyal; I love animals and I donate to charities and am sentimental to a fault. How can I possibly be one of those hard edged, greedy and thoughtless Republicans? Aside from the fact that those stereotypes are a mischaracterisation of what Repulicanism stands for, there were two great influences in my life that have convinced me there is no other way to be. One is my father, and the other is New Jersey.
In other blogs, I’ve touched on my father’s experiences; his life under totalitarianism, friends dying or being led off to jails as dissidents, his time in a fascist labour camp, his fear of being detained that kept him from ever seeing his young sister again, or visiting Ukraine when his parents died. He felt that America, with its elections and focus on rights of the individual, (including the Second Amendment, which he said was key) was the bulwark that could prevent my brother and I from seeing the horrors he saw in Communist Ukraine. I know none of my liberal friends like to hear this, or care what my father saw or believe it even, but the philosophy behind socialism and communism is evil, and I know this firsthand, in my bones. I saw how it affected my father.
I have seen the encroachment of liberalism as it marches towards communism by confiscation of property in New Jersey. The Democrat stranglehold on New Jersey has only become stronger over the decades, and the conditions have become worse, with corruption endemic and so commonplace as to be expected. Years after my father died, my mother, a poll watcher at the time, saw his name in the voting books with a signature next to it. She was told to ‘drop it’, when asked about it. Recently a bunch of Jersey City political leaders were arrested in a sting; they have ties to an organ black-market ring in New York. Anyone who knows anything about the conservation and rebuilding efforts on the Jersey City waterfront will tell you of back room deals that benefit developers and politicians but not the people. There have been a few Republican governors over the past 30 years or so- Tom Kean and Christie Todd-Whitman notably – but the local politicians are Democrats, Senators are invariably Democrats and Democrats are the rule in NJ politics, with Republicans being the exception.
In a state that has about 1/4 the land mass of Pennsylvania and 4 million fewer in population, New Jersey spends 4 BILLION more on government infrastructure than Pennsylvania. It is one of the most heavily taxed states, yet it is in shambles. The roads here in Washington state are far better, and Tonnelle Avenue, once a slightly dirty main thoroughfare, has decades of accumulated trash lining its sides. Shops that were occupied when I was a child are in disrepair, or empty, for rent. The Pulaski Skyway is rusting and the US1-9 exchange in Jersey City has crumbling concrete barriers. Buildings are dilapidated, pieces of land that were razed (sometimes destroying an historic building like the Lorillard Tobacco factory), aren’t developed and sit empty, with grass growing up between the pieces of rubble that are the only reminder that a structure once inhabited the space.
I don;t need to hear about California and its problems of overspending and high taxes; I’ve seen it and I’ve lived in it, in New Jersey. The crowding of neighbourhoods is due to the high property taxes; the neighbour next to my old house converted a garage shed next to a carport into an apartment (illegally). What we might pay in property taxes here for a $700,000 house, you pay for a $300,000 house in Jersey City.
Moving towards a more liberal environment, where government ostensibly supplies more services just creates a power class. Politicians are the new aristocracy in such an environment. Because government controls more and more, they fear the ire of their constituents less and less. Controlling someone’s income through confiscatory taxes is denying them their liberty and tipping the balance in government (and the politicians) favour, and this is exactly what America is NOT supposed to be all about. Our productivity should be the fuel for our life, not fodder for government spending.
Now Chris Christie is New Jersey’s next governor and I hope things change. Corzine raised taxes last year (during an economic downturn), and Christie has pledged to repeal them and go to work finding out how NJ can spend so much money with little to show for it. New York City – which also has a high tax rate – and New York state are looking at ways to bridge budget shortfalls. Paterson has suggested more taxes on so called ‘wealthy individuals’. Look for people to migrate to New Jersey if Christie keeps his promise and New York politicians keep theirs.
I guess it comes down to this; I don’t want to deny anyone the right to enjoy their life the way they want to. Buy your nice time share, send your kid to summer camp, buy a boat, retire early, start a business; I don’t care. But don’t tell me how to spend my money, or that I should prioritize some government programme or initiative over my family and my dreams. If something is important to you, donate your time and money to it, but don’t commit my resources and life; you have a right to neither. Liberals are quick to point to the failure of the war on drugs (and to a degree I agree with that sentiment), but they refuse to see that the so called war on poverty, which we have spent far more on, has done little to ‘cure’ poverty. I heard Rudy Guiliani say something profound when he gave a talk locally and I’ll paraphrase. He said he didn’t consider charity to be money you throw at someone without an idea of how they will get our of their situation. It is easy for us to throw money at the ‘war on poverty’ and think that’s enough. Money alone doesn’t solve problems. How many more decades or mismanaged government social programmes will it take? The only real cure for poverty is opportunity, but it requires you to take its hand when it is offered; no one can do that for you. A government that does everything for you will only guarantee you live as well as it thinks you should live, and to me, that’s not very good at all. That is why free enterprise, free markets and a classic Republican mindset, in the tradition of libertarians like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, is the only road for me.
Good luck, New Jersey. You’re in better hands now.

The Ignoble Nobel

Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It is officially Upside Down Land ™.
What he won it for, I have no idea. Because he met with Iran, without preconditions, perhaps? Sean Hannity drilled home during the campaign that Obama said he was open to meeting without preconditions and took a lot of heat for it; people claimed that wasn’t what Obama meant. That may be, but it IS what he did. That whole civilian nuclear thing worked out really well with North Korea, didn’t it? It didn’t? Oh, fetch.
Part of the deal is that we allow Iran to ship fuel to Russia, who then enriches it to nearly 20% and ships it back to Iran, ostensibly for a civilian nuclear reactor programme. I am not an expert in nuclear reactor design, and the reference books I have are older, but I did find this article on the web about uranium enrichment for bombs and reactors, and it jives with my book at home.
Basically, standard reactors (Type I for instance, graphite or heavy water moderated), require uranium enriched to approximately 3%. (Fissile uranium isotopes make up only a fraction of a percent of the composition of naturally occurring uranium). Fast neutron reactors (a more advanced design) require 10% enrichment and above.
A nuclear bomb could be made with material with enrichment as low as 20%, but it would be prohibitively large, although I would add at that concentration, there is a potential dirty bomb scenario, I believe. In order to make an efficient nuclear weapon, you are looking at enrichment in the 80%-90% range.
At the recent talks with Iran, a deal was struck whereby Russia would enrich Iran’s 1500 kg of enriched uranium to 19.75%, which according to what I have read, is a higher enrichment level than they would need for a reactor, but not high enough for bomb grade. With the revelation of another Iranian secret site, I am not convinced that Iran couldn’t improve on the enrichment percentage. I don’t trust them, not when Ahmadinejad vows to wipe Israel off the map and Iran has supplied al Qaeda and the insurgents in Iraq with weapons. Colour me suspicious.
So is that what the Messiah won the Nobel Peace Prize for? Because you know, there are true heroes who deserved the award:

Potential laureates included Hu Jia, locked up since December 2007 after exposing government abuses and the plight of China’s AIDS sufferers, and Wei Jingsheng, a onetime electrician who spent 18 years in prison after brazenly challenging former leader Deng Xiaoping to bring democracy.
Huang Ciping, an engineer turned activist who is executive director of Wei’s Washington-based foundation, said that China “has come to such a turning point that the prize might have helped.”
“The Nobel Peace Prize committee has the full right to decide to give coal to those who suffer and struggle or to present flowers to the powerful,” she said.
But she said of the decision: “It is both a pity for the Chinese people and a danger to world peace.”

All this after Obama snubbed the Dalai Lama too.
I heard a commentator on Fox state it perfectly; a Nobel Prize seems to be awarded to those who diminish America’s standing in the world. Whether it’s Al Gore who pushes global warming and Kyoto, which would cripple our economy and damage our standard of living, to Jimmy Carter, who was highly critical of the US during Bush’s term, to Obama, who seems intent on emasculating America. As Mr. Man said last night, the Nobel Peace prize has become a barometer for whether you are doing something good; in other words, if you’re pushing for positive changes, don’t expect to win it.
Obama’s change (and the world’s applauding of it) is not anything I can believe in.

What Hockey Stick?

After some prodding (a lot, really), Briffa (a key figure in the climate debate; involved in the 2001 IPCC report), was forced to release the detailed data regarding the tree samples that he used in his data set. (These yielded a ‘hockey stick’ trend in temperatures).
The result was that only 10 post-1990 tree samples were used; not only is this sample set too small, but those 10 samples were hand picked from a larger set. Steve at Climate Audit found valid samplings from a nearby site and used them as another data point, in the tradition of previous data collections of tree samples (which he enumerates by way of comparison), and the results are staggering. When compared to the hand-picked core samples, there is no ‘hockey stick’.
If you’re interested in all the nitty gritty, visit Steve’s article at Climate Audit . Pay particular attention to entry #10 in the Comments section, which gives a timeline of events and a better synopsis than I am capable of!
Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the post.

Yamal: A “Divergence” Problem

by Steve McIntyre on September 27th, 2009
The second image below is, in my opinion, one of the most disquieting images ever presented at Climate Audit.
Two posts ago, I observed that the number of cores used in the most recent portion of the Yamal archive at CRU was implausibly low. There were only 10 cores in 1990 versus 65 cores in 1990 in the Polar Urals archive and 110 cores in the Avam-Taymir archive. These cores were picked from a larger population – measurements from the larger population remain unavailable.
One post ago, I observed that Briffa had supplemented the Taymir data set (which had a pronounced 20th century divergence problem) not just with the Sidorova et al 2007 data from Avam referenced in Briffa et al 2008, but with a Schweingruber data set from Balschaya Kamenka (russ124w), also located over 400 km from Taymir.
Given this precedent, I examined the ITRDB data set for potential measurement data from Yamal that could be used to supplement the obviously deficient recent portion of the CRU archive (along the lines of Brifffa’s supplementing the Taymir data set.) Hantemirov and Shiyatov 2002 describe the Yamal location as follows:
The systematic collection of subfossil wood samples was begun, in 1982, in the basins of the Khadytayakha, Yadayakhodyyakha and Tanlovayakha rivers in southern Yamal in the region located between 67°00 and 67°50 N and 68°30 and 71°00 E (Figure 1). These rivers flow from the north to the south; hence, no driftwood can be brought from the adjacent southern territories At the present time, the upper reaches of these rivers are devoid of trees; larch and spruce-birch-larch thin forests are located mainly in valley bottoms in the middle and lower reaches.
Sure enough, there was a Schweingruber series that fell squarely within the Yamal area – indeed on the first named Khadyta River – russ035w located at 67 12N 69 50Eurl . This data set had 34 cores, nearly 3 times more than the 12 cores selected into the CRU archive. Regardless of the principles for the selection of the 12 CRU cores, one would certainly hope to obtain a similar-looking RCS chronology using the Schweingruber population for living trees in lieu of the selection by CRU (or whoever).

“Apollo – Houston; you are go for landing”

Today is the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon.
So what?
That’s what a lot of people say. I’m not one of them.
I believe in the space programme completely. I think it is vital to our development as a country, as a race, to our very continued existence. If we inhabit just one planet sooner or later our species –as well as every other species on this planet – will be wiped out by an asteroid, gamma ray burst (GRB), or the death of the sun. The only life in the universe (as far as we know), could be gone then, forever. Mozart, Da Vinci, the Constitution, the bald eagle, all obliterated. That would be a shame.
As far as development as a country, the advantages of space exploration are obvious. If there weren’t any, why is it that China and Russia are still spending billions of dollars to try to achieve what we did 40 years ago?
I think the advantages to us as a race are patent as well, but here people try to disagree so I want to elaborate.
I believe a rising tide lifts all boats. The technology developed for the space programme – everything from cordless tools, new materials, research into health and the human body (especially in extreme environments); everything that was advanced and utilised, like Velcro and computers, were promoted and we have reaped the benefit. Technologically we took off in the 70’s and 80’s and we are still the technology leader because of the space programme and I believe that with my whole heart. The shuttle has continued that tradition with research in zero gravity on medicine, fire fighting, breeding of animals, and a whole host of other things.
But there’s something just as key but very often overlooked, although no less important… inspiration. It’s what makes men and women fashion rickety boats and travel from Cuba across rough waters, just for a shot at America. It’s what made Americans take arms up against tyranny, and what made people contrive crafty plans to cross a divided Berlin. And it is what made one quarter of the entire Earth’s population tune in to the Saturn V/Apollo launches more than 40 years ago.
Why do we live, sacrifice, thrive, survive? We have dreams. Why do we, as Hamlet put it, tolerate, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”? We believe. We believe that things aren’t hopeless, that most men are good, that hard work yields fair results, that risks can lead to reward, that by our efforts we can leave things a bit better than the way we found them.
Well what inspires us when things are difficult? Men of incredible courage. Men who risk their lives for freedom, who face daunting tasks with unblinking resolve, men who fail to take the easy, ‘safe’ route and instead opt for the magnificent, the Dream.
People talk of a will to live; we get the example of bravery and courage from people who do things we don’t have the stomach for. That’s okay; we appreciate and understand the sacrifice. I believe it was Frank Borman (Apollo 8, the first manned flight of the Saturn V/ Apollo vehicle), who said they figured they have a 1 in 3 chance of returning home without a problem and a 1 in 3 chance of never getting back at all, but this achievement, this advancement was ‘more important than our lives, our families… anything’.
Who would go to their job if they thought there was a 1 in 3 chance they’d die before they got home? Not too many of us, but we are better people as a race, as a species because we understand that people WILL take that risk to try and make life a little bit better.
We need to celebrate this, encourage this, revel in it; it’s a completely human trait. We need to cultivate it, rather than the self absorption and vapidity that percolates through the youth today and has translated into a disaffected culture who thinks little of greater things that could perform more ‘greater good’ works than all the government programmes in any country on the face of the Earth, combined.
I salute the Apollo 11 astronauts, and all the men of the Apollo programme, especially White, Chaffey and Grissom who gave their lives in the pursuit of the lofty, noble goal of space exploration.
May all of their sacrifice never be forgotten.
God bless them all.