Sunday, September 25, 2011

Off the Grid

I am off for a few days in the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies, and their Montanan cousins.  By definition then, posting will be rather minimal, and even then it will likely be by my Droid.

Until then . . .

Friday, September 23, 2011

Republican Debate (Fox/Google) – Nothing Much (Update: Bryan Preston on Texas DREAM Act)

For those of you tuning into the debates expecting high entertainment, there isn’t much to report.  But for those of you looking for edifying moments that pin down the candidates and the issues in an understandable form, there isn’t much of that either.  This third of the recent trifecta of the quick turn-around face-offs is a reminder that debates are thankfully only one of the avenues we use to arrive at our conclusion of who to vote for.  I love irony, but not this much: I can safely say that the high point of the evening was former Governor Johnson’s (and why again is he still running?) remark about his neighbour’s dogs creating more shovel-ready jobs than Obama.  The now nine candidates (far too many for this venue; the number needs to be winnowed as soon as possible) have been arguing with each other, but not really debating to reach a conclusion.  (Full disclosure: I was on a formal debate team early in my academic background.) 

In that respect, I would have to say that the winners of the debate last night would have to be Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, as they seized the subjects and made their points in a sharp, succinct manner that was clear, easily understood, and engaging.

Romney still portrays himself as a quasi-wonk with an entertaining style, yet he persists in changing the point of the questions and attacking the others (almost exclusively Perry) about points that bear no relationship to reality.  He will often state positions that Perry is supposed to have taken in his book, which aren’t there.  (I’ve perused the book again since the debates have started up, and I can’t find what he’s talking about.  If anyone can pin down these sections, let me know.)  Perry is starting to respond with attempted quotes from Romney’s book, and Perry at least seems to make an effort to be accurate in this rapid forum, such as citing a line from Romney’s hard-cover edition that was later deleted from his paperback.  Romney is so comfortable with the idea of enjoying the others attacking the front-runner that he was taken off guard when Cain criticised him about Romney’s stance on the tax code.  Romney tried to waffle on the question about Obama’s ideas being socialist, talking about European countries having parties that mirror those positions (that’s the transitive property at work here, Mitt – the ideas are socialist).

Rick Perry did himself no favours in this debate, handing in a mediocre response involving a hypothetical crisis in Pakistan (he introduced India into the topic, but he must be careful on that score), and stumbling through an attempt to explain Romney’s waffling on a variety of issues.  Perry needs to up his dosage of vitamin B complex, it would seem, as he wearies of the rapid-fire banter as time goes on.  He could have better handled the question of state college tuition rates for established children of Illegals (his stance would work better in the general election), but took a step to clarify it by stating that the bill passed the Texas legislature by 177 to 4, showing the enthusiasm for the idea in a place where actual reality impinges on the topic.  (Incidentally, how many other states have this programme?  My wife, who works with many college students, reminds me that Oregon requires a mere one year of residence, and then a student of any extraction, no matter what the country, is eligible for in-state tuition rates.)  Both Romney and Santorum tried to attack him about subsidizing college education for Illegals, but Perry passed up the chance to explain that the students are not receiving any money, only paying rates lower than students who are not residents of the state (along with requirements that the student attend high school in Texas for at least three years, graduate from high school, and be in the process of acquiring US citizenship).  Perry’s book also explains his stance about Romney’s copping to Obama’s Race to the Top school initiative, as it says that Texas education is doing just fine (or better) without it, the book explains the strings attached to the federal programme, and he states categorically that Texas’ education of its children is not for sale.

Johnson is as bewildering and uninspiring as ever.  Bachmann did nothing to help her cause, as she perplexingly responded that a taxpayer should keep “every dollar” of his income, and she gave up a very weak excuse for her Gardasil comments at the last debate (saying in effect, ‘I made a point of quoting some unknown woman several times on several different networks, but it wasn’t me who actually said that Gardasil causes retardation.’).  As last time, Paul and Huntsman added nothing new. 

Santorum had some interesting moments, advocating a strong American presence in areas of the world that have an impact on our national interests, stating that public-employee unions should be disallowed from bargaining for wages and benefits (agreeing with figures like FDR and Samuel Gompers), and putting a good spin on the subject of the now-defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for homosexuals in the military (it shouldn’t be an issue – one’s sexuality and how that is dealt with should be a private matter, for both homosexuals and heterosexuals).  But he came off poorly in his strident argument with Perry about education for children of Illegals, and both Bret Baer and Chris Wallace had to intervene to call him off before he began practically speaking in tongues.

We can now turn to the regular aspects of the campaign before showtime comes again next 11 October on Bloomberg at 1700 PT.

Update:  Bryan Preston of Pajamas Media provides a more detailed argument of the unique situation in Texas as it pertains to education of the children of Illegals, and much more:
[B]eing an economic powerhouse and sharing 1,200 miles of mostly river border with a corrupt, failing state wracked by a drug war have made Texas more of a magnet for illegal aliens than ever before. . . . [I]llegal aliens cost Texans hundreds of millions of dollars per year, in everything from K-12 tuition to medical costs.  Illegal aliens also skew the state’s educational and crime statistics.  The porous border increases the threat of drug violence and terrorism, as Hizballah is known to be operating in Mexico and may be aiding the drug cartels.  Border cities like Laredo and El Paso live with the ever-present threat that Mexico’s violence may spill over the border, as it has a few times already. The costs to the state are enormous, and the federal government has for decades left us to fend for ourselves.  In a post-9-11 world this is unacceptable, but neither President Bush nor President Obama took border enforcement as seriously as the issue deserves.  President Obama has gone out of his way to insult Texans and loosen border enforcement to appease the likes of La Raza.

In 2001, the Texas legislature and Gov. Perry passed the Texas DREAM Act.  There were only four dissenting votes in the legislature, but the measure has now become a football in the presidential campaign.  The Texas DREAM Act is not like the national DREAM Act that the Democrats keep pushing, and which deservedly keeps failing. . . . The Texas DREAM Act deals narrowly with a subset of the illegal aliens living here who were brought across the border as children by their parents, and who have been here for years and stayed out of trouble.  Having grown up in Texas, they are essentially Texans and only know the Lone Star State as their home.  Texas’ DREAM Act gives them in-state tuition rates at Texas public colleges and universities.  The fact that they shouldn’t be here because their parents broke the law and continue to break the law is countered by the fact that they are here – the question then is, what does the state do about that?  With no national will to deport en masse, and with no Washington will to do anything but decrease border enforcement for political reasons, what do states like Texas do?
 He goes on with an excellent explanation of the problem, including:
There aren’t any perfect answers to the border but there is an obvious answer: Enforce the entire border as a national security priority.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rasmussen: Perry & Romney Closing, With Others Fading Back

The latest Rasmussen poll of likely voters has the race tightening between Perry at 28% and Romney at 24%, but the changes in both of their tallies comes not from each other but from the other candidates falling further behind, with Gingrich now in third place but with only 9%, then Bachmann continuing to fall, now to 8%, followed by Cain (7%), Paul (falling to 6%), Santorum (3%), Huntsman (2%), and McCotter (1%).  Those undecided come in at 11%.

Speculations about these numbers as they currently stand?  Despite all the recent action, it is still (comparatively) early in the campaign and the numbers can be volatile, particularly with the idea that the candidate third in line is 'Undecided'.  The race is clearly coalescing to one between Perry and Romney, with Perry still in a slight lead with a nod to the margin of error (but that could also mean that his lead is somewhat greater too).  Romney has gained on him from his previous dearth of 11 points, but Romney has done nothing particularly positive in the interim, focused as he has been on taking on Perry instead of remembering that Obama is the real problem.  Romney’s talking points in and out of the debates have been almost exclusively against Perry, with little said about his own record other than gauzy references to how he has been a businessman and not a ‘career politician’ (though, as I’ve said before, not from lack of trying).

Romney is not one to take chances (e.g., his refusal to say anything at all about the budget debate between Obama and the congressional Republican leadership until after its conclusion).  There is a certain impatience and veiled insouciance in his hope for Perry to make some major gaffe, but he is taking Perry’s adequate yet less than stellar performances in the opening debates for what he can get, and has stepped up his focus on him.  Today, Perry released a terrific and edgy video contrasting Obama with himself, and Romney immediately fired back an attack against Perry.  Romney’s polished preparation of some years against Perry’s heartland candor is currently working in Romney’s favour, but at some point he is going to have to make a solid case for himself as opposed to being the anti-Perry.

The debate tonight, then, is likely to set the pace for a while, whether Romney keeps up his so-far successful nipping at Perry’s heels and numbers, or whether Perry establishes himself as the alpha male on the dais.

For those others remaining, there is the bloc clustered around the upper single digits (and all within the margin of error), and there is the group of those I would categorise as dead yet not fallen over: Santorum, Huntsman, and McCotter.

Santorum seems to really want to believe that his declaration of being a ‘winner’ (citing his two victories in races for the US Senate) can be safely delivered without the audience remembering that he was blown out of the water by 18 points in his last run against Bob Casey.

Huntsman wants to come across as cool (obscuring his moderate to left tendencies), but instead strikes the audience as aloof and unapproachable.  Neither Santorum nor Huntsman connects well with the voters.

McCotter (God bless him) is bright and has a wickedly dry wit, but is too new and detached.  He is way out of his element.

Among the also-running, Gingrich’s slight increase in standing reflects his commanding presence and devilishly snappy comebacks – one of the major crowd-pleasers during the debates and he takes to heart his role as referee to remind some of the candidates that the main purpose of this exercise is to take out Obama (to use a union phrase, now declared oddly innocuous and ignored by most of the MSM).

Bachmann continues to decline, and is now staking her campaign only on Iowa.  She is losing staff, not the least of which is veteran campaign manager Ed Rollins, and she has taken to attacking not just exclusively Rick Perry, but now his wife.  Surely she knows how desperate this looks (since the Merck/crony/Toomey accusation is falling apart), but it’s also hypocritical.  If she can last up to Iowa, I’d be surprised.

Cain is as delightful and witty as always, with ideas of substance.  He appears to be resigned to running for a position in Perry’s cabinet.

Paul’s crazy-uncle act is starting to wind down, along with his numbers.  His latest bone-headed move is to stand at the podium of the Christian Science Monitor beside Dennis Kucinich, and announce that he would consider Kucinich for a cabinet-level position, as if to put a fillip on his "it's-all-our-fault" attitude to foreign policy.

I have said before that I consider Rasmussen to be the most accurate poll, and I am glad to have these results before the Fox News/Google debate tonight.  The static around Perry should be intense, and I expect to see some movement after tonight.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Greenland Is Not Melting

The global warming crowd has pulled another stupefying blunder in an increasingly frantic attempt to show the world that there actually is a global climate crisis.  They propose yet again that reality has no place in the argument.

The recent entry, as reported by the Guardian, no less, is the publication of the [London] Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, which shows Greenland with land on the east and south coasts emerging from the ice sheets that cover the vast majority of the huge island, reflecting a significant change from the 1999 edition of the atlas.  The new edition shows that some 300,000 square kilometers, or 15%, of the ice cover has been lost in the last twelve years.
"This is concrete evidence of how climate change is altering the face of the planet forever – and doing so at an alarming and accelerating rate," said the publishers of the atlas, HarperCollins, in information given to the media last week and reiterated by a spokeswoman on Monday.
That would be alarming evidence indeed . . . if it were true.

In a letter to the editors of the Times Atlas, [researchers at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge] agree that the Greenland ice cover is reducing but at nowhere near the extent claimed in the book.  "A 15% decrease in permanent ice cover since the publication of the previous atlas 12 years ago is both incorrect and misleading. . . . Recent satellite images of Greenland make it clear that there are in fact still numerous glaciers and permanent ice cover where the new Times Atlas shows ice-free conditions and the emergence of new lands."
Other researchers backed the Scott team.  "Although many of these regions have decreased in area and thickness over the past decade(s), reported in many recent scientific papers, the misinterpretation of enormous losses of glacierised area from these maps is far off the range in measured losses," said Hester Jiskoot, a glaciologist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.
"A number like 15% ice loss used for advertising the book is simply a killer mistake that cannot be winked away," said Jeffrey Kargel, a senior researcher at the University of Arizona.
The editors of the atlas, though, will not take the imposition of facts lying down.
A spokeswoman for Times Atlas defended the 15% figure and the new map.  "We are the best there is.  We are confident of the data we have used and of the cartography.  We use data supplied by the US Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado. . . . Our data shows that it has reduced by 15%.  That's categorical," she said. . . .
The NSIDC said it was investigating the claims made by the Times Atlas.  The row echoes a 2010 flare-up, when the UN’s climate science body admitted that a claim made in its 2007 report – that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035 – was unfounded.  The claim was not based on peer-reviewed scientific literature but a media interview with a scientist.
At the Guardian’s conservative competitor, The Daily Telegraph, columnist/satirist James Delingpole simply could not resist the temptation, saying that the atlas
has decided to take its new role as cheerleader for Climate Change alarmism a step further.  In its upcoming 14th edition, unconfirmed rumours suggest, it will completely omit Tuvalu, the Maldives and major parts of Bangladesh in order to convey the "emotional truth" about "man made climate change." . . . “Why would a government lie about something as serious as climate change? . . . I hold a doctorate in Cambridge in Climate Change and Sinking Islands Studies so I know what I'm talking about. . . . [The editors] understand that maps based on accurately recorded geographical features belong in the Victorian age of child chimney sweeps.  What we need now is maps that change the world, transforming into something which it isn't actually yet but might be one day if we don't act NOW!"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Obama Keeps Sinking

The latest McClatchey-Marist Poll out today continues to bang a minor chord on the lower register of the political piano, joining with the CBS/NYT Poll of a few days ago (and that one from Obama's friends, no less).
The president’s job approval rating, his favorability, and his rating on the economy have hit all-time lows.  To compound matters, three in four Americans still believe the nation is in a recession and the proportion who thinks the country is moving in the wrong direction is at its highest point in more than a decade.
According to this McClatchy-Marist Poll, the president’s approval rating is at 39% among registered voters nationally, an all-time low for Mr. Obama.  For the first time a majority – 52% – disapproves of the job he is doing in office, and 9% are unsure.
“President Obama needs to reboot his presidency,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.  “Although numbers like these typically spell doom for an incumbent’s re-election prospects, the Republicans in Congress and eventually his GOP opponent could still provide Obama with running room.”
Translation: he’s doomed, unless the Democrats can successfully demonise the Republican opposition, or they hope that the Republican lead has a melt-down moment, like insinuating ('I didn't say it - someone else did!') that Gardasil causes mental retardation, or making a statement like 'I was brainwashed in Viet Nam'.  (That was the other Romney presidential contender.)

Sure, people can say that Reagan and Clinton pulled out of the slump to be re-elected, but in both cases the economy and national outlook was on the up-swing.  Not so here, with no end of the bad news in sight (on practically any topic, much less the economy).

Update:  Looking further into the poll turns up stronger numbers:
By a margin of 49 percent to 36 percent, voters said they definitely plan to vote against Obama, according to the poll.  Independents by 53 percent to 28 percent said they definitely plan to vote against him.
With that sentiment permeating the electorate a little more than a year before the general election, most Americans think Obama won't win a second term.
By 52 percent to 38 percent, voters think he'll lose to the Republican nominee, whoever that is. Even among Democrats, 31 percent think the Republican nominee will win. . . .
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas continues to lead the field of announced candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, supported by 30 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.  He was followed by former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts with 22 percent and Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota with 12 percent.
Others trailed in single digits: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had 7 percent; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had 6 percent; business executive Herman Cain had 5 percent, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania had 2 percent, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah had 1 percent.
Some statistical considerations: the overall poll had a total of 825 respondents (n), but only 317 of them described themselves as Republican or Republican-leaning Independents.  The poll says that the margin of error (ME) overall is +/- 3.0% (which I still hold as optimistic; I'd like to see a higher 'n' for that margin), but for the Republican results the ME increases to 5.5%.  Since the poll is skewed so much to the left, it makes the despairing numbers for Obama even darker.

Note also that these are registered voters, not likely voters (as in Rasmussen, which incidentally has Obama's approval index for today at -21%).  Voters disillusioned with an incumbent are more likely to vote for the opponent, or not vote at all, giving more weight to the opponent's numbers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Army Captain Will Swenson Belatedly Recommended for Medal of Honor (Update: More Questions, No Answer)

The story of the Medal of Honor recipient Sgt Dakota Meyer, USMC is steadily yielding more information, including the fact that another participant of the battle at Ganjgal, Afghanistan in September 2009, has been previously passed over entirely for recognition.  This would appear to be retaliation for his ‘frank and candid’ assessment of the refusal of higher headquarters to provide fire support for US and Afghan troops in danger of being over-run in a well-executed Taliban ambush that lasted over six hours.  The small US and Afghan elements were entering the village in the early morning hours to speak to the elders about police patrols when they were hit by a force estimated now to be 100 to 150 Taliban fighters from well-prepared and dug-in positions.

Captain Will Swenson, USA, a Ranger School graduate attached to 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at the time, fought alongside Sgt Meyer as well as then-1st Lt Fabayo and SSgt Rodriguez (both Marines and both later recipients of the Navy Cross for their actions in the battle), as they entered the kill zone several times in efforts to extract the US and Afghan troops, wounded and dead, and fight off the Taliban in the U-shaped ambush.  Swenson also manned a radio and repeatedly called for artillery and air support, both available, but after only a few artillery shells, all support ceased.  The investigation revealed that the under-manned and complacent Tactical Operations Center (TOC) many miles away was generally ill-advised about the operation and decided that responding as Swenson called for would place the villagers in danger, as well as other troops with whom they did not have direct contact (in the benighted estimation of the headquarters).  Swenson and others described seeing villagers (including women and older children) running ammunition to the Taliban fighters, and there is a photo showing some teenagers rolling large rocks onto the road in an effort to prevent the US vehicles from manoeuvring.  Sgt Meyer has stated that he knew the general location of  the three Marines and one Navy Corpsman who unfortunately turned out to be KIA - that was why he was trying to fight through the village and ambush to get to them, along with Swenson.

After sustaining heavy casualties for nearly two hours, some helicopters arrived to provide some limited aid.  They were delayed because the TOC would not send help nor did it notify higher headquarters of the firefight.  Other helos were called back because the correct procedure was not followed.

A copy of the investigation has been obtained by Military Times (additionally, a sanitised executive summary can be read here), and some of the more public comments of CPT Swenson have been determined to be
When I’m being second-guessed by higher or somebody that’s sitting in an air-conditioned TOC, why [the] hell am I even out there in the first place?  Let’s sit back and play Nintendo.  I am the ground commander, I want that f—er, and I am willing to accept the consequences of that f—er. . . .  I always get these crazy messages saying that, ‘Hey, brigade is saying that you can’t see the target.’  Brigade, you’re in Jalalabad.  F— you, you know?   I am staring at the target. ... I just get the craziest things on the radio sometimes.  Just people second guessing.  If I am willing to put my initials on it, I understand the importance of making sure the rounds hit where they are supposed to hit.  I understand the consequences of civilian casualties. 
Among those who have worked with him and know him well (throughout this web log, for example), Swenson has a reputation of not suffering fools gladly.  He has been an officer oriented to the field and not staff work, focused on the mission and his men.  Apparently on more than one occasion, his field prowess has been overlooked while he was criticised for his haircut (from the photos, within regs but barely).  Swenson is not the sort of person who would be labeled a political ticket-puncher.  He left the Army last February and is residing in Washington state, and is currently ‘unavailable for comment’.

One of the major tenets I learned during my military career was that the purpose of higher headquarters is to support lower headquarters and their troops.  This is the essence of accountability – whatever mission is assigned to the lower echelons nevertheless remains the responsibility of the original commander too.  There should be a militarily reasonable chance that the assigned unit can accomplish the mission, particularly supported and coordinated by the commander’s staff in the rear.  Too often have I had conversations of this sort (though certainly not to the degree of the situation like Swenson’s) where the main purpose in the mind of the Bunker Buddha on the other end of the radio was to make sure that we knew that he was the one in charge, not that he was there for support.

This glaring omission of ignoring Swenson’s actions has percolated outside the immediate command.  More light was brought to bear after the comments of the equally blunt Sgt Meyer, who said the lack of some sort of valour award for Swenson was “ridiculous”, adding, “I’ll put it this way.  If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be alive today.”

Marine General John Allen, top commander in Afghanistan, took a personal interest in the firefight and re-opened the record.  “Given the four-star general’s personal interest, sworn statements attesting to Capt. Swenson’s valor were quickly found.”  It was General Allen, not anyone in the Army chain of command there, who recommended Swenson for the Medal of Honor, overcoming the silent objections of those who felt that Swenson exceeded his place by pointing out the "negligent" leadership that "led directly to loss of life on the battlefield".

Further details about Swenson’s role in the fight will be forthcoming, but it is rewarding to all of us that someone such as this receives recognition despite the efforts of the political creatures who haunt the ranks of the military.

Update:  Welcome, fans of Ruptured Duck, and I appreciate the recognition.  I'm a fan of yours as well.

Update:  The case still continues without resolution but the clock is ticking.  The investigation just results in more questions.

Update:  Finally, Captain Swenson is to receive the Medal of Honor.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Obama Hits New Disapproval Record – CBS/NYT

A new poll out by CBS and the New York Times shows Obama at a record high 50% in disapproval and a record low 43% in approval.
The poll also found that 39 percent of Americans say the economy is fairly bad, and another 47 percent say the economy is very bad – the highest percentage since April 2009.  Meanwhile, 13 percent say the economy is fairly good and just one percent say it is very good.
In addition, 72 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track – the highest percentage so far since the president took office.  Just 23 percent think the country is currently in the right direction. . . .
In addition, for the first time, more Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the president than a favorable one – 39 percent have a favorable opinion, while 42 percent view him unfavorably.  Eighteen percent are undecided.
These are records for this poll – Rasmussen, for example, has previously scored lower, but his current approval index of -19 is still in the ballpark.

The election is still over a year away, but the trend is still solid against Obama.

George Will on Obama's Electoral Skills

The great George Will makes the following observation on Obama's powers of political suasion on today's This Week on ABC:
He went to Massachusetts to campaign against Scott Brown; Brown is now a senator.  He went to New Jersey to campaign against Chris Christie, who’s now governor.  He went to Virginia to campaign against Bob McDonnell, who’s now governor.  He campaigned for the health-care plan extensively, it became less popular.  He campaigned in 2010 for the Democrats, they were shellacked.  He began, in a sense, his presidency flying to Copenhagen to get Chicago the Olympics; Chicago was the first city eliminated.  There is no evidence that the man has the rhetorical powers that he is relying on.
I would like to see more of this trend, as others have recognised.  When Air Force One touched down at Austin's Bergstrom Field in August 2010, Governor Rick Perry tried to hand Obama a letter (eventually passed to Valerie Jarrett) to "again request sufficient federal resources to combat the increasing violence" from the drug cartels on Texas' border (the letter can be seen here), but Perry's Democrat opponent in the gubernatorial election at the time, Bill White, was nowhere to be seen, claiming a schedule conflict.  A Democrat candidate for one of the more important offices in America can’t make time to be seen with Obama, but Perry can?  White, the former mayor of Houston, went on to lose the election anyway, of course.  He may be a failed candidate for governor, but he isn’t a fool.

The Rich Want to Pay More Taxes - 'Give It a Rest'

Terry Wogan of the Daily Telegraph works both sides of the Atlantic by taking on equal poseurs of economic enlightenment: Robert Swannell of Marks & Spencer and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, both of whom complain that they are taxed too little.
The idea was raised by the old Sage of Omaha himself, Warren Buffett, a man rich as Croesus, who has reached a stage in life where he realises that he can’t take it with him, but has so much that he can’t get rid of it fast enough.  He wants to pay more tax to the United States, and, as is always the case, wants everybody else to make the same noble gesture, to help the country get back on its feet again.
Now, if I, a former mere bank clerk, know that this is a piece of window-dressing, you can bet Warren and the M and S bloke know it too.  Whatever their generous contributions to their nations’ exchequers, in the context of our economy, and the huge American one, the effect will be as a duck farting in thunder.
Pay more tax?  Give it a rest.  Not just punitive rates of income tax, we’ve got road tax, council tax, stamp duty, inheritance tax.  Even the good old bank deposit account, where we put aside for a rainy day what’s left after the first moiety of taxation, and then find ourselves taxed again on the interest.  By all means, pay more tax if it makes you feel better, but spare us the grand gesture.
I am still awaiting (as is the IRS) the results of the case concerning tax disputes from Berkshire Hathaway for the last decade (see link above).  Mr Buffett needs to make up his mind.

UK: Wind Power Is Pipe Dream

As a continuation in my series on the empty (and increasingly ruinous) promises of green energy, today's Daily Telegraph has another brief editorial on the fatuous wind energy plan in Britain, and the subtitle catches the synopsis succinctly: "The Government's policy on renewable energy is based on dogma not evidence."
[W]ind does not blow at a constant rate, which makes it unreliable as an energy supply.  There is no way to store the surplus electricity produced when there is too much wind; and when there is no wind, there is no electricity from wind turbines. . . . Because the electricity it produces cannot be stored, one wind farm has been paid more than £1 million simply to ensure that it does not produce electricity for eight hours.  The company profiting from this lunatic process is not British, but foreign – in common with most of those firms operating wind farms in this country.  That would not be of any concern were these companies actually adding to our prosperity, but they are not: they are destroying value rather than creating it, a process only made possible because the Government takes our money and gives it to them.  In return, taxpayers face higher electricity bills and an economy that is damaged because its costs have been artificially inflated by the decision to use wind as a principal source of power.  It is a ludicrous situation.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Perry and Gardasil: Safe, Proven, Effective, Legitimate

The last Republican debate, the CNN/Tea Party/Strange Bedfellow event in Tampa, Florida last Monday, brought up an opportunity for Michele Bachmann (in particular) and Rick Santorum to add to the assault on front-runner Rick Perry, on the topic of his attempt in 2007 to add a drug called Gardasil to the mix of standard inoculations for school-age children.  Gardasil has been shown to be particularly effective in preventing Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a leading cause of cervical cancer and the second most common form of cancer in women.

I addressed the debate performance aspects previously, but I want to also add to the topic in terms of the technical aspects of the Gardasil vaccination, since Bachmann has opened the can of worms of the ‘vaccines are poison’ and/or the ‘vaccines are a government plot’ conspiracy theories, a variation on the ‘fluoride weakens your bodily essence and is a communist plot’ meme of the John Birch Society from the 1950s and 60s – and beyond.  (Bachmann’s stated opposition, including trying to validate a (shall we say) 'unsubstantiated' claim of Gardasil-induced mental retardation, apparently saved Ron Paul the trouble.)

Gardasil, developed by Merck & Company, passed the rigorous testing of the FDA (some would say too slow) and was approved in June 2006, and recommended, along with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), vaccination in females aged 11 and 12 nation-wide, before they became sexually active (since it is not effective against an existing infection).  The New England Journal of Medicine stated in 2007 that:
Gardasil was nearly 100 percent effective in preventing precancerous cervical lesions caused by the strains that Gardasil protects against.  (It provides protection against two strains known to cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers and two strains known to cause 90 percent of all warts.)  Future I studies found that Gardasil is also highly effective in preventing precancerous lesions that occur on or in the vagina, anus, and vulva.  Gardasil's effectiveness increased when given to girls and young women before they become sexually active.  Gardasil is less effective in preventing precancerous lesions in women already exposed to HPV strains 16 and 18, since you cannot vaccinate against an infection that is already present.
To that end, Governor Perry issued an executive order in 2007 to add Gardasil to the list of standard inoculations of schoolchildren in Texas, and mandated all Texas girls be vaccinated prior to admission to the sixth grade, and allowed parents to opt out of the inoculation for religious or philosophical reasons.  The Texas state legislature objected to the governor’s mandate (in lieu of legislative discussion), and overturned the order by a veto-proof margin.  Perry subsequently issued another mandate to rescind his previous one, and has spoken repeatedly on his procedural mistake:
I signed an executive order that allowed for an opt-out, but the fact of the matter is I didn’t do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry.  I hate cancer.  Let me tell you, as a son who has a mother and father who are both cancer survivors. . . . And this HPV, we were seeing young ladies die at an early age.  What we should have done was a program that frankly should have allowed them to opt in, or some type of program like that, but here’s what I learned – when you get too far out in front of the parade they will let you know.  And that’s exactly what our legislature did.
A principal reason for his action for making it mandatory is that, besides the life-saving issue, insurance companies would not cover the total $360 cost (in three injections) if it were optional.

Much has been (and is being) said about some kind of cronyism in the action (note: Merck had no competition for this drug.), but I would refer you to an article in Politico by Ben Smith, reporting on his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for some 700 pages of e-mails on the subject – there was no evidence of Merck trying to affect the process and they found that Perry was “largely absent from the internal discussions”.  This would likely include the allegation that his former Chief of Staff, Mark Toomey, was instrumental in the decision.

Instead, it is likely that Perry’s wife Anita had some influence.  She has an MS degree in Nursing from the University of Texas and 17 years experience in surgery, pediatrics, intensive care, administration, teaching, and as a consultant.  She was also a keynote speaker at the Women in Government conference in 2005 on the subject of cervical cancer prevention and elimination.

As of this month, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 41 states and DC have enacted legislation to require, fund, or educate the public about the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer, and 20 states have enacted it, including Texas.

(H/T to Pesky Truth)

Update:  This CNN report of 25 October 2011 has the CDC now recommending that young boys be vaccinated against HPV, using Gardasil or the newer Cervarix.

Additionally, Perry's action in mandating the Gardasil inoculation in 2006 was partially the result of the fact that the state would have to wait for over a year to obtain legislative agreement, since the Texas state legislature meets for only 140 days every two years.

On a related note, Michele Bachmann's home state of Minnesota requires a series of vaccinations in children, starting from infancy and continuing throughout school years, against Hepatitis B infection.  Hepatitis B is most commonly spread through sexual contact. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nobel Prize Physicist Disputes Global Warming Stance, Resigns

Dr Ivar Giaever, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1973, has abruptly resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) in dissent for the Society's insistance that evidence of anthropogenic (man-made) global warming is "incontrovertible".  The succinct subject line of his e-mail to the APS left nothing to doubt: "I resign from APS".

The claim by the APS stated that "the evidence is incontrovertible" that man's actions have led to global warming, thus creating the conundrum of the use of such a concrete term in dealing with what is supposed to be a theory, which at the very least is a violation of the scientific method.  The use of the term was immediately controversial, yet the Society added an addendum to the statement to reinforce the view: "The word 'incontrovertible' ... is rarely used in science because by its very nature, science questions prevailing ideas."

Dr Giaever makes a valid comparison with real science:
In the APS it is ok to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?
 He further adds:
The claim (how can you measure the average temperature of the whole earth for a whole year?) is that the temperature has changed from ~288.0 to ~288.8 degree Kelvin in about 150 years, which (if true) means to me is that the temperature has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this 'warming' period.
Such statements typically result in the speaker of such heresy being excommunicated from the scientific community, but fortunately Dr Giaever's standing can insulate him to some degree, and serve as an inspiration to others.  The news report above provides some added detail:
Giaever earned his Nobel for his experimental discoveries regarding tunneling phenomena in superconductors.  He has since become a vocal dissenter from the alleged “consensus” regarding man-made climate fears, Climate Depot reported, noting that he was one of more than 100 co-signers of a 2009 letter to President Obama critical of his position on climate change.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CNN Republican Debate: Bachmann Jumps the Shark

Work has a way of interfering with the role of the Commentariat.  I was able to watch the CNN debate last night but I am trying to work through the interferences to be able to post my impressions.

The debate was preceded by the news that former candidate and former Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota had endorsed Mitt Romney, followed in short order by the endorsement of Rick Perry by Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.  Overshadowing the Pawlenty endorsement was the background item that the Romney campaign had agreed to pay Pawlenty's campaign debts, “which somewhat devalues the power of Pawlenty's endorsement.”

The principal impression that I am left with is the exchange between Bachmann and Perry on the Gardasil or HPV vaccination that Perry tried to institute in Texas in 2007.  Bachmann has practically collapsed in the ratings since her win in the poll at Ames, Iowa, and the simultaneous entrance of Perry into the race, which shot him to the top of the pack in short order.  Bachmann then, more than the others who attacked him, had to make the most of this debate.  (Since the Gardasil topic is growing out of proportion, I will have posted a more detailed description of the original issue.)  Even with the information that was available to the public from the first debate involving Perry, it was clear that Bachmann, through her demeanor, tone, and choice of value-laden terms, was making a desperate move in trying to take him on.  (Which was just fine with Romney.)

Bachmann was led into the exchange by the moderator, Wolf Blitzer, who spoke of the “little girls” involved in the programme, and asked Bachmann to reply as “a mom”.  If I were a cynic, it would look like a set-up, and Blitzer didn’t ask Perry or the others to reply ‘as dads’.

Bachmann picked up on Blitzer’s description immediately: “I’m a mom.  And I’m a mom of three children.”  (Odd – during this campaign she has said she has five children.  I have to assume she was saying that she has three daughters and she was rattled.)   She then railed about “innocent little 12-year-old girls forced to have a government injection” despite the fact that Perry had just finished saying that the parents had an opt-out provision, so she knew that her use of the word “forced” was wrong.  (Of course, Perry has been saying this for some time, so Bachmann is showing willful ignorance of the answer.)  She then went on to compare the Gardasil programme to Obamacare.

The “forced to have a government injection” argument falls fatally flat in the face of all the other accepted programmes of this sort that were set up in the same way.  You have no argument against injections against HPV (known to be a cause of cervical cancer – the second most common type of cancer in women) when you have no objection to inoculations against mumps, or measles, or rubella, or diphtheria, or pertussis, or tetanus, or hepatitis, or polio, or smallpox, &c, &c.

She went on to call Gardasil a “potentially dangerous drug” despite the reports on its incredible safety record in an exhaustive series of tests by the CDC, and after approval by the FDA.  She then linked it – somehow – to Obamacare calling for the “morning-after abortion pill”.

For the sake of argument (and only for its sake since we would intrude into areas of privacy), one might ponder whether Bachmann has withheld a proven guard against cancer from her children, or any of the other ‘mandated’ vaccinations, simply because they were a required government programme.

Her next step was to rail against the “millions and potentially billions of dollars” that were made by Merck, the maker of Gardasil, as a result of Perry’s attempt (as if businesses somehow should not make a profit).  But the Texas legislature, objecting to the governor’s mandate instead of legislation, voted to overturn the programme by a veto-proof majority, and Perry acquiesced by realising his error.  (He has admitted this, repeatedly.)  So Merck did not make Bachmann’s claim of an obscene profit because the programme was never instituted.

She accused Perry of instituting the programme in exchange for campaign contributions from Merck (some few thousands out of a total Perry campaign fund of some $30 million, with Merck contributions to politicians across 40 states amounting to about $2.5 million from 2000-2006).  He was offended at the absurdity, but she replied that she was “offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice”, again deliberately ignoring the fact that they did have a choice, in a programme that was never instituted anyway.

Her conduct on stage was bad enough, but Bachmann topped that after the debate, when she really shifted gears into demagoguery overdrive.  She related to Fox News how a mother had approached her after the debate.  "She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter."

What?!  That’s incredible – literally.  Does Bachmann have the name of this woman?  Can CNN’s world-renowned investigative skills check through the list of attendees and find this person – I mean, this is really big news.  Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.  Absent this woman stepping forward with anything resembling evidence of the claim, and certainly absent any meaningful attempt to track down the source which led to this wild accusation, leaves Bachmann looking like the desperate rumor-monger that she looks like now.

And finally – my wife was surprised by the interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, aired the next morning, of Robin Roberts talking to former First Lady Laura Bush and Nancy Brinker about the new ‘Pink Ribbon, Red Ribbon’ initiative, a combination of such groups as the George W Bush Institute, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the State Department.  This is a large attempt to attack the high incidence of cervical cancer and AIDS in Africa, “that 6.6 million people receive life-saving medicine”. 

That’s great news.  Tell me, what type of life-saving medicine is being used to combat cervical cancer?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remember, Remember, 11 September

Today is a day of remembrance, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Towers and the Pentagon, and the counter-attack of the brave citizens on United Flight 93, sacrificing themselves to kill the attackers on the flight and foil their plan to destroy their target, likely the US Capitol building.

It is fitting to keep in mind those innocents who died that day, and the brave people that died or were injured while doing their utmost to rescue them despite overwhelming odds.  I tire though on the focus seen today on all the stories of how other people were affected, in the ‘where were you?’ and ‘how did that make you feel?’ questions, seeming to make the focus on the entire nation as a collection of victims, even people who had no real connection to the attack.

I would rather focus on those who have endeavored since then to eliminate the world-wide threat of Islamic Supremacism – those uniformed troops, and all the others who support them and augment them, who have taken and continue to take the fight back to the enemy, wherever they may be, because as George Orwell said, “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

Understanding the enemy is fine, and our civilized response must be foremost, but compassion for your enemy only goes so far.  A fanatic has already forfeited his chance for our overweening forgiveness of his errors, since he has neither need nor value for such thoughts and actions.  There is a point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue, and there are times when the old ways are appropriate.

“It is better to avenge a friend than to mourn him long.” --Beowulf

Perry on Social Security: Romney Agrees (So Does Palin)

I am returned from my sojourn to the leeward side of the Cascades, from a meeting of some great conservatives amidst the vistas of the high desert of eastern Oregon, which I prefer to call Greater Idaho.  I return to find that the main political news still revolves around Rick Perry’s campaign, as it should.  He is the clear frontrunner and thus is the main target of anyone and everyone who has something to lose.

The current main attack on Rick Perry involves his stand on Social Security, which he strongly reiterated (lest anyone doubt) at the goading of the MSNBC moderators at the last debate at the Reagan Ranch.  Some have leaped on Perry’s declaration that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie” for the younger generation – which it is.  (We have known this at least since George W Bush brought it up in 1999.)

Mitt Romney, running a sudden second place after Perry’s entrance to the field, scrambled for some traction by declaring that Perry is "committed to abolishing Social Security" and tha he "Believes Social Security Should Not Exist", and his campaign has even sent out a flier making the absurd accusation that he "wants to kill Social Security".

Governor Perry, of course, has said nothing of the sort:
I am going to be honest with the American people.  Our elected leaders must have the strength to speak frankly about entitlement reform if we are to right our nation's financial course and get the USA working again.
For too long, politicians have been afraid to speak honestly about Social Security.  We must have the guts to talk about its financial condition if we are to fix Social Security and make it financially viable for generations to come.
Romney, aghast at the notion that Perry dare touch that third rail of Social Security reform, stated during the debate, “Under no circumstances would I ever say, by any measure, it’s a failure.  It is working for millions of Americans.”  He should perhaps consult his own notes, such as this from his book of last year:
Let’s look at what would happen if someone in the private sector did a similar thing.  Suppose two grandparents created a trust fund, appointed a bank as trustee, and instructed the bank to invest the proceeds of the trust fund so as to provide for their grandchildren’s education.  Suppose further that the bank used the proceeds for its own purposes, so that when the grandchildren turned eighteen, there was no money for them to go to college.  What would happen to the bankers responsible for misusing the money?  They would go to jail.  But what has happened to the people responsible for the looming bankruptcy of Social Security?  They keep returning to Congress every two years.
True, Romney did not specifically mention the words, but he described a Ponzi scheme nonetheless, other than the fact that we cannot put Congress in prison for a criminal act.  (This is much to the chagrin of Mark Twain: “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”)  When Romney has changed positions as much as he has, he needs a staff to help keep him straight on these things.

Perry's staff added more specifics to Romney's position-of-the-moment:

One example cited from Romney's book, No Apology: "To put it in a nutshell, the American people have been effectively defrauded out of their Social Security."
"In his book, Romney compared Social Security to a fraudulent criminal enterprise," Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said, charging that the ex-Massachusetts goveror "ran from his position" at the debate.
"His evolving and inconsistent position on this important issue is curious, but unfortunately not unusual," Sullivan said.
To make matters worse for Romney, now Sarah Palin has weighed in on Perry's position, and on his side:
What Rick Perry was trying to say [in the debate] I believe is that there needs to be reform.  Status quo is not acceptable because these programs are he's saying reform is necessary and we either reform these programs ourselves or the world capital markets will reform them for us.
Why stop there?  Nobel Prize Economist Paul A Samuelson, a Keynesian, called Social Security a Ponzi scheme in 1967, and described it as such even earlier.

Perry has done it again: he sucks in the opposition, then delivers the blow.  He still needs to lay out the manner of the reform that he wants to see – and he will – but the argument is shaping up in his favour and is being controlled by him.