Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Wow!  Talk about Hatred!

John Hawkins over at Right Wing News has rounded up some of the most vicious, hateful, venomous crap ever spewed forth outside of a combined Nazi/KKK rally, courtesy of those friendly folks at Democratic Underground.

Yep, that's the kind of message that'll win over the independent voters at the center.

Posted by Rich
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Some People Never Learn

As I was browsing through my e-mail last Saturday, a title leapt out at me. "You're famous again for being wrong!"

Odd way to start a letter, but then I saw who it was from, and all was clear. Yep, Mike Fumento sent me a Christmas card.

For those who weren't around last summer, Mike and I went a couple of rounds on SARS and the Atkins Diet, culminating in a rather spectacular meltdown by Mike, as documented here.
I excerpted a couple of the choicer insults and posted them over to the left as an ironic trophy, then forgot the whole thing.

Until Saturday.

Here's what he wrote:
Hey Rich,

SARS and your know-it-all attitude have come back to haunt you. See the bottom of this column.

Of course, I realize that to a true blue blogger such as you any traffic is good traffic. But to those of us who occupy the real world and not the blogosphere, looking like an idiot is not a pleasant experience. So while you bathe in the glory of increased hits, other people are going to be laughing their heads off at your "East Tennessee perspective."

Have a nice day!

Michael Fumento

Oh, and don't bother trying to yank your comments from your archives. I made a snapshot. Your shots that fell on your own bow are part of history!

Now, everybody knows I enjoy a good dustup, so I went over to Mike's place to read his latest column, and found that once again, he gets it wrong. The main thrust of Mike's argument is that this current flu season is serious, but not that big of a deal, and is being overhyped by the media and the CDC, a standard Fumento target. But, as usual, his argument is filled with misleading information, selective citations, and a disregard for facts.

He starts by claiming that the CDC has "arbitrarily" declared the flu an epidemic, and then defines epidemic as "higher than usual rate." This definition is fine as far as it goes, but he leaves out an important part; time. As his provided link shows, an epidemic is a higher than expected number of cases during a given time. This is crucial to our understanding of what an epidemic is, and whether or not the current flu season qualifies.

For example, 10 deaths of flu in a large town in January might not be considered an epidemic. The same number deaths in June would be. The CDC classifies an epidemic not just by number of deaths, but by when they occur as well.

Next Fumento hauls out a graph from the CDC, and claims that it shows that this season is the same as the 1999-00 season, and therefore there is not an epidemic. This comparison fails for a number of reasons.

First, as you look at the chart, you see that the flu season started much earlier this year, and that flu rates are running as much as 500% higher than the same time last year, and 250% higher than the same time for the 1999-00 flu season.

Next, we see that the shape of the curve is different. Comparing 1999-00 to 2003-04, the curves are diverging. The rate of increase in flu cases is higher now than in 1999-00.

Next, even though we are about 2 weeks ahead of the 1999-00 peak, we've already exceeded that peak by about 0.3%. I know that seems small, but it becomes important in a minute.

Finally, we have to discuss the overall shape of the curves. Note the sharp drop in the 1999-00 curve. That drop is the result of two factors. First, the vulnerable population is limited, and unless the strain is particularly virulent, exhausted fairly quickly in a large outbreak. Second, vaccinations begin to take hold, reducing the vulnerability of the general population. This year, as Mike points out, the vaccine will be only partially effective in preventing this year's dominant strain. Not only did this contribute to the early start to the season, it also means that we can expect a more gradual tapering of the rate of increase of new cases, rather than the sharp drop we've seen in the past.

So, let's add up these factors. The dominant strain is a Type A strain, one of the more virulent; the vaccine is only partially effective at limiting the spread of the flu; supplies of the vaccine are, for all intents and purposes, exhausted; and we've already observed more cases and higher rates of infection when compared to the last Type A flu outbreak. Take these factors together and you have a strong case for predicting an epidemic.

In fact, the article Mike cites spells it out for us.
The number of deaths caused by pneumonia and influenza is just under a statistically determined "epidemic threshold." But, she (Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said, from a practical standpoint, "it's safe to call it an epidemic."

Now, let's go to the CDC, and see what the most recent numbers are.

Looking at this chart, you can see several interesting things. First, the curve has broken, showing that while the rate at which new flu cases are reported is still increasing, the rate of that increase has slowed. Also, you can see that we haven't peaked yet, and that the peak will be significantly higher than 1999-00. And finally, you can see that the break is nowhere near as sharp as 1999-00, which indicates that the rate of flu may continue to increase for a few more weeks, instead of dropping off sharply, leading to a significantly higher number of cases. My prediction has been born out by the actual numbers.

But is it an epidemic?

Well, there's one more chart we need to look at; the mortality rate chart. This one tells us whether we are in an actual epidemic or not, not arbitrarily, but by statistical analysis of deaths related to flu/pneumonia.
A couple of quick observations about the chart. Note that the seasonal norm and the epidemic level vary over time and track with each other. That's why it's important to include time in the definition of epidemic, and why Mike's contention that the 1999-00 chart and this year's chart are identical is bogus.

Now, look closely at the last weeks of 2003. You can see that last week we were rapidly approaching epidemic levels, and this week, we crossed it. Based on the information we had, it was fairly easy to predict that this would happen, and it wasn't arbitrary at all, as Mike suggests.

But we really need to look at one more thing, something that shows just how wrong Mike is. Mike is telling us that there is no epidemic because the current curve is tracking the 1999-00 curve, but the 1999-00 curve resulted in epidemic flu conditions for most of a year! Look at the other end of the curve, for weeks 0-20 of 2000. The mortality due to flu peaked at 11.3%, well above the epidemic levels, and remained above the seasonal norms for most of the year, spending a significant amount of time above epidemic levels, even during the summer months. Add in the factors we've discussed for this year, the early start to the season, the weakened ability of the vaccine to protect against infection, and the fact that we're already exceeding 1999-00 levels and the only reasonable prediction to make is that this season will be significantly worse than 1999-00.

In other words, an epidemic.

PS: My mail program marked the e-mail from Mike as spam.

Smart program.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, December 29, 2003

And That’s All for Today, Kids!

Since I tend to write long form, instead of short comments, I'm toying with making Shots more of a column than a blog. I'm looking at a 3 day a week posting schedule, writing Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights, posting the following mornings.

Obviously, I'm already running behind. But since it's not like I'm actually getting paid for this stuff, I guess it's all right just this once. Anyway, here's a teaser for Wednesday's excursion.

One of my more volatile commentors and all around snarky kind of guy has returned from my past in an unprovoked attack on my honor and intelligence in an attempt to either bolster his own traffic, or as a display of some deep seated insecurity on his part.

Or it could be that he's just a pompous ass.

In any case, his identity and my response will both be here on Wednesday.

Posted by Rich
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I’m Part of a Hive Mind?

Steven Den Beste explores the blogosphere as a source for superhuman intelligence.

No, really.

And he makes a good point, although now I'm forced to contemplate my own position in the signal/noise spectrum.

In an unrelated post on a related idea, the Daily Pundit is shifting his format to one that's really exciting, combining existing features of the blogosphere in a new way. If his plan works, his blog may be the first incarnation of Den Beste's supermind. At the very least, it will be an interesting experiment in the ability of the blogosphere to report news, rather than just comment on it.

Posted by Rich
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Howard Dean:  A Catalog of Contradictions

I've taken some of those quizzes where you elect the statements that you agree with, and it tells you which candidate you are most similar to. Oddly, my results were:
  • Unnamed libertarian
  • George W. Bush
  • Howard Dean

Now how in the heck can Bush and Dean be ranked so closely together like that?

Well it depends on which quotes from Dean you use to put together a platform. Dean is a walking catalog of contradictions. At one time or another he's been in favor of just about everything. He was against the war in Iraq, against going after Hussein, but happy when he was captured, except that it really didn't make a difference in our security. He blasts Cheney for crafting an energy policy behind closed doors while he pulled the same thing as governor of Vermont. He says he doesn't want to run a Southern Strategy based on guns, God, and gays, yet announces on Christmas Day that he is going to run on God after all; at least in the South. (Of course, it's hard not to question his sincerity when you find out he broke with his religion, not over ideology or doctrine, but over the location of a bike path.)

He claims to be against terrorism, but says we will not target states that sponsor terrorism, only those that have actually merged with a terrorist organization, whatever that means. He's also recently stated that we shouldn't pre-judge Osama bin Laden's involvement in 9/11, despite the fact that bin Laden has publicly admitted to taking part in the operation! Dean has flipped so many times on so many issues that Steve Murphy, Dick Gephardt's campaign manager said
"You never know what Howard Dean is going to say. If you don't like it, just wait a little while, he'll change it."

Joe Lieberman quipped that while most campaigns have a rapid response team, "Howard Dean has a rapid retraction team."

A spinal condition spondylosis kept Dean out of Viet Nam; another one, spina absentia may keep him from the White House. He's reversed course so abruptly so many times his followers must be suffering from political whiplash.

Dean's response to these attacks? He's complaining that the DNC should make the other candidates call off their attacks, and go ahead and give him the nomination, including a not-so-veiled threat if he doesn't win the nomination.
"If we had strong leadership in the Democratic Party, they would be calling those other candidates and saying, `Hey look, somebody's going to have to win here,' " Dr. Dean, the former governor of Vermont, told reporters trailing him as he campaigned through central Iowa. Referring to one of Mr. McAuliffe's predecessors, he added, "If Ron Brown were the chairman, this wouldn't be happening."

Dr. Dean also implied that many of his supporters, particularly young people, might stay home in November if another Democrat's name ends up on the ballot.

"I don't know where they're going to go, but they're certainly not going to vote for a conventional Washington politician," he said.

Though Dr. Dean has repeatedly said he would back whichever Democrat wins the nomination, he said Sunday that support was "not transferable anymore" and that endorsements, including his own, "don't guarantee anything."

In other words, if the DNC won't make the other candidates play nice, Dr. Dean may take his ball and go home.

Are petulance and pandering indecisiveness qualities that we should look for in a President?

So, do we know what Howard Dean actually stands for?

Well, here's some quotes from an interview on Chris Matthew's Hardball (Caveat: These views may change abruptly depending on public reaction, as demonstrated above.)

On civil unions vs. marriage for homosexuals:

There is no inequality of rights in the state of Vermont. We chose not to do gay marriage because there were many people who felt that marriage was a religious institution, and churches ought to be able to make their own decisions about who gets married and who doesn’t. But we felt it was really important to do equal rights under the law for every single American, and Vermont is the only state in the country where everybody has the same rights as everyone else.I agree completely

On the war in Iraq:

Kerry, Gephardt, Lieberman, Edwards and Wes Clark at first, all of us were in favor of this resolution that was a preemptive unilateral attacks on Iraq. I was not. What the...? Freudian slip? (snip) If I came to a different conclusion than they did, given the amount of trouble we’re now in Iraq, given the fact that al Qaeda is in Iraq now and it wasn’t there before, it seems to me that their kind of foreign policy experience is not the kind we want in the White House and mine is. Problem: al Qaeda was in Iraq; and we're succeeding in ending the terrorist threat. Hussein is captured, and the people of Iraq are enjoying freedom for the first time in over three decades. Everday, it looks more like going in was the right thing to do. Dean still believes it was wrong. DO we want a President who will allow a threat to remain simply because the UN refuses to recognize the threat?

On campaign finance reform:

Well, actually, I abandoned the system not because we could afford it, but because we could beat George Bush that way. It's not about principle. It's about winning.

On the Middle East peace process:

The first thing I’m going to do if I get to be president of the United States is call Bill Clinton and ask him to go to the Middle East and represent me so we can have the presence of an American president trying to bring peace to that region. Didn't he already have eight years to bring peace to the Middle East? Why should we think he'd have any success now?

On where Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden should be tried:

[W]e are allowing the Bosnian war criminals to be tried at The International Court in The Hague. That suits me fine. As long as they’re brought to justice and tried, and so far we haven’t had to have that discussion because the president has not been able to find either one of them. It doesn't suit me just fine. Let the Iraqis try Hussein, but Osama comes here to answer for his crimes. And under no circumstances should either go to the Hague, since they could die of natural causes long before ever coming to trial.

On media regulation:

[W]e’re going to break up giant media enterprises. That doesn’t mean we’re going to break up all of GE.

What we’re going to do is say that media enterprises can’t be as big as they are today. So much for a free and unfettered press. Regulation will inevitably descend to filtering content.

On labor and federal 'right to work' laws that allow workers the choice of whether to join a union or not:

I hate right to work laws. Let me tell you why. It’s OK to be forced to join a union. The union is out there negotiating for your wage increases. Why should you get a free ride? Why should I pay dues to support an organization that will use those dues to promulgate policies and ideologies I despise?

Dean goes further on his website:

As President, I would vigorously enforce worker protections in federal law. I would appoint a Secretary of Labor who is a real friend of workers. I would appoint men and women to the National Labor Relations Board and the federal judiciary who will interpret federal labor laws broadly to protect the rights of workers.

Dean also proposes the following:
  • Ban on captive audience / mandatory anti-union meetings. Under current law, employers may schedule meetings that employees MUST attend at which employers advocate against formation of a union. Federal law should ban such practices.
  • Ban on one-on-one anti-union meetings. Current law permits employers to pull individual workers off the job to attend one-on-one anti-union propaganda sessions. Such inherently coercive one-on-one meetings should be banned as an unfair labor practice.
Obviously in the pocket of labor, Dean wants mandatory union membership, while making it easier to form a union, and supressing the employer's right to promulgate their position.

On North Korea:

Well, first of all, we’ll have bilateral negotiations with the North Koreans.

The idea that the most powerful nation on the face of the world is somehow going to be blackmailed if we don’t agree on the size of the table, which is essentially what the present argument is about, is ludicrous. This president has wasted 15 months, or more, doing nothing about the fact that North Korea is almost certainly a nuclear power, that we can’t tolerate North Korea as a nuclear power. We need to work with the Chinese, the Japanese, the South Koreans. Make up your mind , sir! Is it bilateral talks between the US and North Korea, or multilateral talks, involving the China, Japan and South Korea? Considering that the multilateral approach is the one being pursued by the Bush administration, what precisely would you do differently? Appeasement was already tried by the Clinton Administration, and it failed miserably. What do you have to offer that's different?

More from his website:

On taxes:

Good jobs are the result of sound fiscal policies, progressive tax practices, and practical, necessary investments in our communities. To this end, I will propose the repeal of every last dime of the Bush tax cuts.'Every last dime?' Even the dimes that went to the low income families who now pay no taxes, or actually get money back due to the Bush tax cuts? That's not very progressive, is it?


On minimum wage:

If elected, he promised to raise the national minimum wage to $7 per hour, up from $5.15.

"Our philosophy is give the working people a little more money and they might be able to go down and spend something on Main Street," he told the audience of labor and African American activists here in Detroit. So, he'll take money away from them by repealing the Bush cuts, which kepp minimum wage earners from paying taxes, force employers to pay them more, then collect a part of the increase in new taxes. What a guy!

After looking at his positions and policies, we clearly see the biggest Dean contradiction of them all. Dean and his supporters claim that he isn't really all that liberal; that he's really a center left candidate.

Posted by Rich
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We’re back!

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, and enjoyed the holiday! I know I did, although I'm glad to come back to work and get a little rest.

It was a very busy week, including shopping, wrapping, more shopping, more wrapping, tiling a floor, painting walls, putting up molding, and that's not to mention cooking, eating, cooking some more, snacking, and watching football every now and then.

But now it's time to get back to business, go back on my diet, and resume a normal life. At least, as normal as my life ever gets!

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, December 28, 2003

They Got Another One!

The Beagle 2, Europe's first mars lander, is still silent.

Now y'all are gonna think I'm paranoid, but if we can send probes to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, not to mention clear out of the solar system, and still maintain contact with them for years and years, long after we thought they'd crap out on us, then why in the world do we keep screqwing up the relatively short trip to our next door neighbor? I mean, it's simply ridiculous, like saying we can drive a car blindfolded from Maine to California with no problems but can't cross the street to get the mail.

Should we believe that we every space agency on the planet keeps making stupid mistakes like inadvertantly using the wrong measuring scale on one calculation out of millions? That there's something about a Mars mission that makes highly qualified engineers mysteriously turn into incompetent hacks?

Nope, there's a simpler explanation.

The Martians are just better at shooting down UFO's than we are.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, December 19, 2003

Those lovable lefties!

Some members of the party of tolerance, often act more like a rabid dog or a spoiled child than reasoning adults.

Here's an example:

Animal rights advocates will single out small children at performances of "The Nutcracker'' in the next few weeks by handing out fliers saying "Your Mommy Kills Animals'' to youngsters whose mothers are wearing fur.

"Children can't look up to a mom in a battered-raccoon hat or a crushed coyote collar,'' said Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "Maybe when they're confronted by their own children's hurt looks, fur-wearers' cold hearts will melt.''

But wait, they aren't done scaring the poor kids yet:
And the sooner she stops wearing fur, the sooner the animals will be safe. Until then, keep your doggie or kitty friends away from mommy - she's an animal killer.

Courtesy of John Hawkins, here's the flier itself, as depicted on the PETA website.

Yeah, that'll sure win friends and influence people. And lest you think I'm tarring the left with a fringe brush, consider the case of this guy, who made some comments at a lefty website, and had his comments pulled, and his IP banned. (hat tip, Instapundit)

No big deal, you say, DU pulls this kind of stuff all the time, but they're whackos, not mainstream dems.

Well, this wasn't DU, but the official DNC blog. Hard to claim that they are on the fringes of the Democratic Party.

Terrorizing children for their parent's behavior and ruthless suppression of dissent; where have we seen this before?

Oh yeah, I remember now. China. North Korea. Soviet Union. Iraq. Nazi Germany.

Posted by Rich
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Deconstructing Wesley Clark

As mentioned earlier, last week I went to see Wesley Clark speak at a rally here in Knoxville, and as promised, here is a complete deconstruction, some would say demolition of his platform.

The biggest thing that struck me during his speech was that he barely mentioned Iraq at all. In fact, if I remember correctly, he never even said the word "Iraq." In his introductory speech, David Keith alluded to Clark's toughness, and that was really as close as they got to the issue, which is odd, since Clark's military background is supposed to be his greatest campaign strength. But we'll discuss that in a little bit.

Clark opened as expected, by attacking President Bush, claiming that the economy has lost jobs under the President's leadership. As is usual for the opposition party, he failed to note that the recession began prior to Bush's election, that jobs are actually on the rebound, spurred on by the Bush tax cuts, or the newest information that suggests that unemployment, which peaked at a relatively low for a recession 6.2%, was actually overstated, as new enterpreneurial startups were not captured in the data. But then again, you don't expect a guy who's running for president to say anything good about the incumbent.

What you do expect, however, is a coherent plan for his administration, and Clark completely failed to deliver one, delivering instead a liberal wish list, much like a kid going to Santa with his Christmas list, and about as grounded in reality.

First, he plans to raise the income of every family by $3000.00. But he provided no details on how he planned to do it.

Next, he plans on cleaning up the environment. Again, no details on how he plans to do it.

Third, he's going to send 1 million more kids to college. Again, no details on how he's going to do it.

Fourth, he's going to lift 2 million kids out of poverty. Again, no details on how he's going to do it.

Fifth, he's going to provide access to affordable health care insurance for everyone. On this one, Clark does appear to give some details, but appearances can be deceiving as we are about to find out.

During his speech, apparently ad libbed since it' not in the prepared transcript, Mr. Clark said he wanted to give every American the same healthcare benefits he had while in the military. Since many of you have not been in the military, let me give you a few details on what this actually means.
  • NO choice of doctor.
  • Complete coverage while within the system for the primary; limited coverage and availability within the system for dependants and retirees.
  • Tons of red tape and virtually no benefits if you receive care outside the system. (My ex-wife and I had two of our kids outside the military system. We received no reimbursement.)
  • Most services provided by nurses, medics, or Physician's assistants.
  • Required treatments may not be available within the system and may be outsourced, at the patients expense. My ex-wife checked into the Naval Hospital in Bremerton, WA for a kidney stone that wouldn't pass. The Naval Hospital transferred her to the Army Hospital in Tacoma WA, who sent her to a private clinic in Seattle for the removal. We paid the full bill for the private clinic, even though our choice at the time was to use the military hospital, since we couldn't afford the private clinic.
  • Care ranges from adequate to sub-par, particularly for the enlisted guy, (read "average citizen") although VIP's may do better.
  • Physician pay significantly below average, resulting in talented physicians going elsewhere, leaving only the truly dedicated or the mediocre to remain in the system.

    I'll let you decide which is more prevalent, but I'll tell you a personal story. A guy fell down a ladder (navy lingo for very steep staircase) and lay stunned at the bottom. A sailor found him, asked him if he could get up. The guy tried, but couldn't move his legs and seemed disoriented. The sailor stopped him and called away a medical emergency. The highly trained emergency response team showed up and assessed the situation. The sailor gave them the pertinent information, at which point the PA asked the fallen man to try and stand. The man tried but still could not move his legs. The PA then grabbed the injured man's hand and tried to haul him to his feet! Eventually, they brought down a back board and strapped the poor fellow to it and Started to haul him out of the hole. I say started because the only strap they tightened correctly was, you guessed it, the chin strap. He dangled off the board by his neck until the concerned sailor yelled at the PA. They lowered the poor bastard down and refastened the straps, and hauled him off to medical. Fortunately for the injured man, his spinal cord was pinched, not severed, and after a couple of weeks, he was walking again.

    I was the concerned sailor who called away the medical emergency.

    I've also seen misdiagnoses galore, and at least one instance of an allergic sailor, clearly designated as such in his medical file and on his dogtags, nearly given a fatal dose of penicillin during assembly line style vaccinations.

That, folks, is military health care in a nutshell, and Clark's use of it as a basis for his health care plan only serves to reinforce a basic truth of life:
There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. The more they promise to give you, the more they take away in return.

Clark went on to designate a three pronged approach in his healthcare plan.

First, he's going to concentrate on prevention. He wants to give everyone access to preventive checkups, and diagnostic screenings to catch disease early, and hold down long term costs. In the military model, this is accomplished by making such checkups mandatory. You can be subject to disciplinary action if you don't go to an assigned physical. The civilian equivalent could be something like denial of coverage if you failed to get standard screenings done.

Is that really going to appeal to most people?

Second, he wants to guarantee health insurance coverage to everyone to the age of 22.

And third, he's going to give extra assistance to what he calls "vulnerable citizens", those between jobs and low-income families.

Now, if you've been adding in your head, you can see that his health care plan alone is going to cost billions of dollars. How does he plan on paying for it? By revoking the Bush tax cuts on everyone making over $200,000 per year. Just for fun, I went to the IRS page and checked out just how many people were making over $200,000, and how much they were paying in taxes. It turns out that in 2001, after the first round of Bush tax cuts, there were about 2.6 million returns filed with an AGI of $200,000 or greater, representing about 2% of all returns filed. They paid $336 billion in taxes, or 41% of all income taxes collected by the IRS in 2001. Yep, 2% of taxpayers, those Mr. Clark wants to raise taxes on, paid 41% of all taxes collected.

But wait, there's more! While those who made less than $200,000 paid an average of 8-12% in income taxes, those making over $200,000 paid an average of around 24% in income taxes. Those evil rich bastards not only paid more than anybody else, they paid a significantly higher percentage of their income.

But wait, there's still more! (And this sounds the death knell for Clark's health care plan). If Clark rolls back both Bush cuts for everyone who makes more than $200,000 per year, and if the economy roars along, then, based on the difference in collections from 2000-2001, we can expect to see an increase of just $83 billion. (This ignores the negative effect of inflation and the dampening effect on the economy of the tax increase, and is therefore a slightly optimistic projection.)

OK, Clark claims the he's going to provide access to affordable health insurance to every American, and guarantee coverage for every child until they are 22. (A 22 year old is still a child? Welcome to the nanny state. Check your autonomy at the door.) By his numbers there are 44 million Americans without health insurance. Simple division shows that it works out to $1886.36 for each person without insurance.

Does anybody know where I can get a year's coverage for $1,900? I'm paying (my contribution plus the company's contribution) close to $850 per month for family coverage, which would work out to about $3400 per person for a family of 3.

Why is it that some folks refuse to do simple math?

You can check all my numbers here, at the IRS website.

By necessity, Clark's health care plan alone is going to necessitate monstrous tax increases, and not just on the wealthy, as well as cuts in other areas, and that's not mentioning his plans to raise family income, send kids to college, etc.

it's all pie in the sky folks, smoke and mirrors, and the people backing him are hoping we're dumb enough to buy it again.

Here's another example of sizzle masquerading as steak. On his website, Clark wants us to hold him accountable to specific goals that he promises to reach at the end of his first term.
I, Wesley K. Clark, promise to show the leadership to achieve the following five goals by 2008, while reducing the budget deficit each and every year, and to ask the American people to hold me accountable for meeting these goals:

The typical family's income will increase by $3,000.

I will put in place policies that will prevent 100,000 premature deaths from environmental causes by 2020.

1 million additional students will enroll in higher education.

2 million children will be lifted out of poverty, bringing the poverty rate to lowest on record.

30 million people who currently lack health insurance will get it.

That's pretty cool, right? I mean he's got numbers and everything. No way to weasel out of that, right?


1 million more kids in college. OK, more than what? Current enrollment? In that case, population increase will have you there without having to do anything. Or more than what is projected currently? Projected by whom? Ask the same questions about family income. $3000 more than today, or $3000 more than as currently predicted under the Bush plan. Specific goals are meaningless unless they are referenced to a concrete starting point. But again, the Clark campaign is hoping we aren't smart enough to catch that.

Well, OK, you say, but Clark's strength wasn't domestic policy anyway. We like him because he has the military background to take on Bush over the handling of Iraq.

Ok, so why didn't he talk about it? Why isn't he running on that?

Maybe, it's because he knows that if he does, his early removal from command of the NATO forces in Kosovo will come up. There are only two reasons for an early relief at his rank. Either a senior officer suddenly dies and must be replaced, and he's the only guy for the job, or the officer being relieved, for whatever reason, is deemed as no longer able to carry out his duties effectively.

That's it, no other explanation exists, and since nobody died, and Clark wasn't promoted, we can only conclude that the latter explanation is accurate. Adding support to this theory, is the infamous attempt by Clark to order NATO troops to attack Russian troops, and his direct superior officer, Gen Hugh Shelton, who said that Cark had issues with integrity and character, and that those issues led directly to his removal from command and early retirement.

Despite these lurking issues, Clark has spoken out recently on defense, and the US military.
Well, if I were president right now, I would be doing things that George Bush can’t do right now, because he’s already compromised those international bridges. I would go to Europe and I would build a new Atlantic charter. I would say to the Europeans, you know, we’ve had our differences over the years, but we need you. The real foundation for peace and stability in the world is the transatlantic alliance. And I would say to the Europeans, I pledge to you as the American president that we’ll consult with you first. You get the right of first refusal on the security concerns that we have. We’ll bring you in. [Emphasis mine]

Wow. He's going to give Europe the authority to tell us whether or not we can react when our security is threatened, and the right to dictate how we respond, if they allow us to respond.

So, to sum up his candidacy, his platform is the worst sort of cotton candy, all fluff with no substance; the only area of his platform that is fleshed out at all will bankrupt the country (and still fall short); and his foreign policy consists of the stated goal of handing over our security to Europe, which in light of his performance under fire in Kosovo may not actually be a bad thing if he were to become president.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Return of the King

As I said earlier, I went to the midnight showing of The Return of the King last night, along with my kids. As a consequence, I got about 3 hours of sleep before coming in to work this morning.

It was worth it.

In a year of disappointing sequels, (Matrix Eroded & Matrix Revolting, anyone?) it was wonderful to sit down and see the end of a story, and not be left wondering "Is that all there was?" Where the Matrix sequels squandered the promise of the first movie, The Return of the King fully realizes the promise of the first movie. Granted there was much left out, some of which we can hope will be restored in the DVD version, Jackson does full justice to the Tolkien's tale with a movie that leaves us eager for more.

How soon can he start shooting on The Hobbit?

I'm not going to drone on and on about the movie, since most of you will be seeing it within the next day or two, regardless of what I write, but I do want to point out a few things.

"Scouring the Shire" is totally absent. Never scripted or filmed, don't expect it to show up on the DVD either. Considering that the events in that one chapter could make a movie on it's own, I understand the decision, although part of me really regrets missing it.

Shelob was magnificent. For one of the few times ever, I forgot I was watching CG magic.

Aragorn may be king, but Legolas is THE MAN! (You'll know what I'm talking about when you see it.)

In a like manner, Arwen may be prettier, but I'll take Eowyn over her any day of the week.

I want to live in Minas Tirith. If I can't, then I want to emigrate to New Zealand. Do they have blogs there?

Sam is the Hobbit's Hobbit. Without him, Frodo would have never even come close to succeeding.

Gandlaf swings a mean sword, but there were several parts of the movie where I heard Goose from Top Gun in the back of my head shouting, "Come on, Gandalf, do some of that wizard sh*t!"

If you liked the books, or if you liked the first two movies, you'll like this one. The only minor quibble, and it is very minor, is that the ending seems protracted, like the coda to the William Tell Overture. There are several scenes that feel like the end, but aren't, until you get to the one that is the end, but doesn't feel like it.

Posted by Rich
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Man Will Fly

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother's first flight, a small event that reshaped the world. The skill, patiaence and perserverence of two bicycle mechanics from Ohio shaped our world in ways they never even dreamed possible. There are rumors the President Bush plans to mark the occasion by announcing a new space initiative, which may include going back to the moon to establish a permanent presence, or possibly sending a man to Mars.

It sounds great to me. Technological innovation occurs best when it has a direction. Too often, our technology has advanced in order to make war more effectively. Wouldn't it be nice for a change to have the driving factor behind innovation be something peaceful?

There's one caveat, however. NASA should have as little to do with it as possible. The bureaucracy is too entrenched to allow true innovation.

Posted by Rich
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Yes, It’s 3:51 AM

and yes, I have to go to work tomorrow, and yes, I just got back from taking the kids to the midnight showing of The return of the King, and yes I'll probably be grumpy as all get out in the morning, and YES! It was worth it!

In one word: AWESOME, baby!

Okay, that was two words, but it's late and I'm getting a little punchy, so just get over it.


Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

NO effect?

We've heard for a couple of days now that the capture of Saddam Hussein won't have any effect on the violence in Iraq, since he probably wasn't running things from a hole in the ground. And there have been some attacks over the last 36 hours.

But, we now know that while he was found with only $750,000, one of the men aiding him was found with $2,000,000. Based on information gained at Saddams arrest, 2 high ranking officers in theresistance have been captured. And most telling, documents in Saddam's briefcase have identified 14 terror cells in Baghdad, each consisting of about 25 men. Many of those cells have been captured, and supply lines are being disrupted.

That's certainly not "No effect."

Posted by Rich
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Monday, December 15, 2003

It Must be Hard to be a Democrat…

I was sitting here, reading some of the coverage of Hussein's capture while waiting for my clothes to get done so I can put them into the dryer, and for fun, I started reading some of the lefty blogs, just to see how they were reacting. The results were depressing, but not unexpected. The overwhelming reaction was negative, ranging from downright despair over the dem's chances in the next election, to outraged disbelief, to simple resignation. These reactions aren't limited to just the fringe elements like DU, Hesiod, and Atrios, but can be found even in sane and intelligent blogs, like our own SKB, where the comments on his post announcing Hussein's capture create a perfect snapshot of the central problem facing dems today.

I mean, here we are, talking about a GOOD THING. In capital letters, a VERY GOOD THING! Saddam Hussein, the butcher, the monster, the guy responsible for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of deaths of innocent men, women, and children, has been captured alive. He's not some unidentifiable smear on some rocks in a cave in Tora Bora; he's not leading an underground resistance against America; he's not kicking back in some Syrian luxery hotel; he didn't go out in as a martyr in a blazing fury. He was caught in a tiny, dirty little hole in the ground, exhausted and broken from months of running; he didn't even put up a fight. Saddam, the man that once inspired terror for millions of Iraqis, now looks like Nick Nolte after a bad weekend.

That will be his enduring legacy.

But if you're a Democrat, this is bad news. Oh sure, they can squeeze out a few words like "Yeah, he's a monster and I'm glad he's gone, but...," and then they go on to tell us how this really isn't a good thing after all. Either Saddam really wasn't involved in the resistance, in which case, the violence will continue, or Saddam will now give up evidence that will make Bush look bad, or violence will escalate in retaliation for his capture, or any number of other gripes.

And as I was reading through this swill, it hit me that the dems, really through no fault of their own, are locked into the nasty role of being the eternal pessimists. Let's look at recent events:
  • Stock market breaks through to 10,000
  • Unemployment is going down
  • Net jobs are being created
  • We've found out that unemployment may not be as bad as thought, since there's been significant growth in entrepenuerial employment
  • Productivity is way up
  • Consumer confidence is up
  • A new expansion of medicare has passed, creating a brand new benefit

And now Saddam Hussein has been captured, bringing the war on terror a giant step forward.

Unfortunately for the dems, they've got to find a way to say that all of this is bad, otherwise, they stand no chance in the upcoming elections. If things are going so well, why would anyone vote to change Presidents? And so, they must make it seem like everything is going to hell, and they are the only ones who can turn it around.

This tactic isn't exclusive to the left; whichever party doesn't hold the White House will always work to make things look worse than they are. This week, during his stop in Knoxville (more about that later) Wesley Clark claimed that our health care system was in a crisis, and we had to act. 12 years ago, Bill Clinton made that same claim. A crisis that extends for more than a decade is not a crisis; it's a political ploy to create attention. But when you're trying to whip some energy into your campaign, you've got to look dynamic, ready to slay dragons.

Unfortunately for the democrats, it looks like Bush has the dragons under control, which doesn't leave them much to run on. So, while you and I can read about the capture of Saddam Hussein, dance a little jig, high five everybody in the room, and generally enjoy the good news, dems cannot allow themselves that luxury, and immediately have to calculate the political repercussions, and how best to overcome the impact of the news in order to further their own ambitions. Again, this isn't solely a democratic tactic; they just have the misfortune of being the party out of power at a time when nearly everything is going right for the current administration.

And it has to be depressing as hell. Every piece of good news is like a nail in the coffin of their hopes. That's got to be hard to take.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, December 12, 2003

The New Medicare

There are folks screaming about it. The AARP likes it. Some say it gives seniors new benefits; others that it benefits the health industry at the expense of seniors.

As for me, I was against the damn thing to begin with. It's not the government's job to buy my medicine when I get older. The fed is not my parent, and I am not a child. I neither expect nor want them to take care of me, particularly if it means I have to give up some of my freedoms in order to get that care.

And that's the decision you have to make everytime you take gov't assistance. Are you willing to trade your freedoms, your right to choose, in order to have Uncle Sam take care of you? If you are, then don't cry about it.

I'll add this. Nobody getting Medicare today grew up expecting for the gov't to buy them medicine. The possibility wasn't even a blip on the radar in 1940. (Hell, there wasn't even radar back then.) So why do they expect it now?

This new program is going to cost us 400 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

400 billion!

And folks are crying because it's not enough.

Basic math time: 35 million seniors 65 and over (Census data for 2000) divided into 40 billion (400 billion/ 10 years)comes out to $1,140 per senior per year.

That's why this isn't a job for the federal government folks. It's too damn big. Economies of scale only go so far before any savings vanish into bureaucratic redundancy and waste. Red tape is the only thing on the planet that grows faster than kudzu, and it wouldn't surprise me to find that after all expenses, that actual average benefit to seniors falls to $700.

If that.

This isn't just a bad implementation of a good idea, but a bad implementation of a bad idea. There's no way to do it right without bankrupting the nation. Just look at the headlines in today's Knoxville paper for a quick glimpse of the future. Under the moderate projection, TennCare is expected to take up to 36% of the state budget by 2008, sucking up 91% of all revenue increases over the 5 year period. TennCare, as it is now, will bleed the state dry within a few years. And don't even talk about raising taxes. More math indicates that you'd have to almost double current tax collections just to keep pace with the growth in TennCare, while also funding increases in other basic services, while adjusting for inflation. Sure, the folks in Crossville are willing to send in an extra $20 bucks or so for their school, but are you willing to face paying twice the taxes you pay now?

The report goes on to note that the drug benefit is expected to account for over half the growth in the cost of TennCare, which brings us back to the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

It simply cannot work. It's not feasible. But now, we're stuck with it. Expect to have that 400 billion figure grow substantially over the next 10 years, regardless of which party is in office. A dem will only accelerate the inevitable.

Posted by Rich
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