Friday, October 20, 2006

Great news all around...

So after this week's reports of significantly higher than expected increases in oil consumption this past month after oil prices dropped, comes OPEC's decision to....cut oil production by even more than expected, while expressing interest in potential future cuts.

This is bad news all around. Stabilized international prices have receeded from their record levels, which may have to some extent desensitized Americans to high oil prices, or at least given us the impression that it's something to weather. Increasing demand and decreasing supply. Effectively, this will strengthen the OPEC/Russian chokehold on American policy, while at the same time taking more American dollars. Most import, and I think, disheartening, are the stark increases in demand. These are, I should note, increases over past baseline measures, not a by-month result of dropping prices. Weaning Americans off of oil is becoming both more difficult and more pressing at the same time.

What to do with my life?

This really seems like it would be a pretty interesting (and increasingly important) area of law to get into...

George Walker Bush, environmentalist.

The White House has a transcript of Bush's remarks at a conference on renewable energy. He's sure saying the right things. It's really a bloody shame that he isn't/hasn't followed through. I'm not going to hold my breath on it either, but at least the administration seems to be able to visualize reality.... Maybe it was the change of CoS?

Check it out...

...My worry is, however, that a low price of gasoline will make it complacent -- make us complacent about our future when it comes to energy, because I fully understand that energy is going to help determine whether or not this nation remains the economic leader in the world. We're doing fine now. We've got a really strong economy, and in order to make sure it's strong tomorrow we need to make sure we work on how we use energy.

Energy is -- look, let me just put it bluntly: We're too dependent on oil. We are a -- (applause.) And see, low gasoline prices may mask that concern. So, first, I want to tell you that I welcome the low gasoline prices, however it's not going to dim my enthusiasm for making sure we diversify away from oil.

We need to diversify away from oil for economic reasons. We live in a global world. When the demand for oil goes up in China or in India, it causes the price of crude oil to rise and, since we import about 60 percent of the crude oil we use, it causes our price to go up, as well, which means the economy becomes less competitive.

And then, of course, there's the national security concern for oil. Why? Well, we get oil from some countries who don't particularly care for us. They don't like what we stand for. They don't like it when we say, for the sake of peace, let us work in a way that we don't develop nuclear weapons, for example.

I spend a lot of time on national security issues, which you expect your President to do. And a lot of times those national security issues are involved with countries that have oil.
That was just the nice rhetoric though. The policy sustance of the speech was

1. Make the Research Tax Credit permanent.
2. Batteries/Electric cars/hybrids/fuel cells
3. EthanolEthanolEthanolEthanol (it was Missouri after all)
4. Nuclear, clean nuclear
5. Drill the Gulf, mine more coal, LNG
6. Token attention/joking about solar and wind.

And once again the president bragged about being a C student.

1 sounds good, 2 is way overhyped, although electric cars and hybrids are fairly good. 3, what a joke. Marginal EROI, still high carbon emissions. I'm a big big fan of Nuclear, especially the Megatons to Megawatts program, buying Russia's loose nukes for civilian generators, so I'm quite keen on 4. 5 is just forestalling the inevitable with no reduction in emission, arguably the greater problem than peaking oil production. And, while wind and sun are too variable to solve our energy problems and have their own EROI issues, it seems like they deserve more than token joking attention.

We'll see where this goes...

The limits of diversity

Via The Immigration Blog comes this post about a new study done by well-regarded Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam.

Apparently Putnam delayed the release of his findings (more about them below) until he could find a suitable solution the problem. His solution?
“What we shouldn’t do is to say that they [immigrants] should be more like us. We should construct a new us.”

This definitely throws a bit of a wrench into the whole European unassimilated Muslim populations discussion. As a side note, I've recently re-started doing debate (Parli) and this is going to make for a great bomb to drop in general, with or without his solution.

The implications of this directly on the European assimilation question are that democratic and humanist traditions and social structures will have to be edited accommodate the beliefs of new populations, especially Muslims. And since there is strong extremist contingent, somehow Shari'a law must be integrated. I think that that is both misguided and a hard sell. In this case, the "new us" most likely needs to mean a strengthened resolved to promote the Western liberal tradition and culture, and an adaptation of our knee-jerk idolization of diversity'. Not that there is a particular problem with diversity, but the questions that are being posed of western culture demand that rather than just accepting different points as valid, they be subjected to the same scrutiny, and often rejection, which our own philosophers face.

Onto his actual research. Immigration Blog quotes The Financial Times as saying,

"The more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone, from their next-door neighbor to the mayor.
Adjusted for class, income and other factors, they showed that the more people of different races lived in the same community, the greater the loss of trust."

Quoting Putnam,
“The only thing there’s more of is protest marches and TV watching."
In a certain sense, the combination of the homogenizing cultural influence, and the active positive recognition and promotion of 'diverse' culture is incompatible. Cultural groups that have been propped together by society find themselves under assault when placed in contact with others, most notably, I would think, western humanism. It's one thing to describe a culture as valid and entirely another to accept its premises, yet our thinking tries to have it both ways.

In terms of the safe homogeneity, one need only look at urban communities to see this. Some of the most vibrant urban areas are those that retain a strong cultural identity. To retain that identity, one suspects that, at the least, there is a certain predominance of a distinct culture, which creates a positive bond between people, drawing them out into the streets and community, and creating an interest in their interaction with others. That is, it furthers their 'stake' because suddenly they gain an interest in the way the community interacts. Communities then become self-policing, which dramatically increases their safety and is self-perpetuating -- it reinforces their coherency. People can trust living in their neighborhood and so venture out of doors into that community, and away from their television sets.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Backyard unindustrializing

Via The Oil Drum comes this extensive writeup of Ontario's plan for "Standard Offer Contracts", modeled in a way off of the European Renewable Energy Tariffs plan. While the write up is pretty critical, I really like the general idea of encouraging small scale (i.e. residential level) energy production. Unfortunatly, for the reasons the article notes, this plan doesn't really do it. The required investments (1000s in monitering tech) will probably still leave it only available to mid/high level producers. But the idea is definitly an avenue worth exploring in terms of future policy.


So immediatly after defining a "New Direction" for the blog, I stopped posting. Well, lets try this again. We're going to have a conversation. I'm going to talk about things that are "interesting" to me. Anyone who bothers to stop by gets to sit around and listen. Now that's my kind of conversation. Although, I would encourage you to post comments, or send me emails, or whatever.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A new direction

This blog was started as an outlet, for me to just have those conversations I wish I was having, with everyone out there not listening. In the past week or so I've posted about everything from partisan politics to bloggy disputes to election year strategy to farm subsidies, pork, healthcare, etc. etc.

All these things I suppose I have some sort of interest in. However, posting on those issues usually takes the form of a rather shallow discussion, partisan pithiness, or generally uneffective contribution. As a result, I've become rather unsatisfied with the posts I've made thus far, and in the future, will be trying to make this a more focused and intelligent site. I'd like to concentrate on those areas where I have some background and knowledge, or at the very least, interest. While I feel sure that any number or 'off-topic' topics will continue to appear as suits my fancy, I'd like to try and make this somewhat of a source for intelligent analysis of Russia and its politics, and external affairs surrounding it, and health care and in particular industria/academic-application relationships. I also am quite interested in the political scene in Virginia (though, not as much so here in Washington State, where there seem to be few real debates, versus the vibrant Virginia political culture), civil liberties, and the state of government. Like I said, I don't doubt that there will continue to be any number of disparate topics (as come up on my RSS), but I'm hoping to refine this blog a bit more into something that people can reference both as a general observer, and as a resource on Virginia/Russia/Drugs and health/big government. We'll see how this turns out.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Travelling under the flag of Rome

Theres an old story about how Roman citizens could travel throughout the world with impunity, and safety. The retribution of Rome for an attack on one of its citizens was known to be swift and brutal. I guess that the Russian's, as they leap back upon international scene, are looking to take the same approach. Via RussiaBlog,

Russia’s response to the jihadists who murdered four Russian diplomatic workers last week in Iraq: “find and destroy”.

Not many people in the world are aware that since Putin was appointed President in 1999, Russia has revived its tradition of hunting down terrorists abroad. Given the traditional centralization of powers in Russia and the common national goal of revenge, there will be no Russian newspapers posting details about ongoing counterterrorist operations on their front pages, as happens with the New York Times in America. The Russian Duma is also not the U.S. Congress; Putin’s order “to kill” has elicited nary a word of dissent.

In 2002, Ibn Khattab, an Arab veteran of the Afghan war operating in Chechnya was killed by Russian forces. Khattab, who had been fundraising from the Persian Gulf states for the Chechen jihad, was poisoned by an under-cover Russian agent. Zelimhan Yandarbiyev, a Chechen terrorist leader who claimed to be president of the non-existent “republic of Ichkeria” was hunted down by Russian operatives in Doha, Qatar (the same country where the Al-Jazeera satellite news network is based). Yandarbiyev's car was blown up by two under-cover agents who were carrying Russian diplomatic passports. During this operation, Yandarbiyev’s twelve year old son was severely injured. The attack outraged the Qatari government and both “diplomats” were captured and sentenced to death. Later they were extradited back to Moscow, and the Kremlin promised to punish and imprison them. No one knows what has happened to the agents since, but rumor has it that they were secretly decorated for a successful operation.

This time Putin has made it very clear - he wants the people on the tape and their sponsors - dead. Some commentators have claimed that Putin is simply trying to boost his popularity after this tragedy. However, the Interfax news agency reports that Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Russian Federal Security Service, said that everything will be done to ensure that the killers "do not escape from responsibility." Patrushev also said that “this is not some random plan; this is a very clear order from the President which goes along with what we do here”.

Russia has a number of positions unpopular in the Islamic world, as well as a fundamental cultural and religious rift. However, it is allied with the premier state terrorism sponsor, Iran, so it has largely been spared the sort of attacks that the "Great Satan" and our cultural allies in Europe have been subject to. However, as Russia develops, it risks becoming more closely associated with those groups, and even Russia itself, traditionally Muscovite, associates itself with the European sphere. These connections, and Russia's western economic ties, may serve to make the country a more favored target among international extremists.

The litmus test

Count me in on Lamont,

LAMONT: Look, you want to boast about how many earmarks you bring to the state of Connecticut? Alaska gets 10 times what we do. We're not doing very well on that front. But more importantly, I think we should outlaw these earmarks.


LAMONT: Hear me out, sir. I think we should outlaw these earmarks. I think they corrupt the political process. I think they are written by lobbyists and they're wrong.

LIEBERMAN: Try to explain that to the (inaudible).

LAMONT: I think these things should go through the congressional process. Sir, you have been there for 18 years. You support the earmarks, you work with the lobbyists, and that's what needs to be changed.

LIEBERMAN: The earmarks are great for Connecticut.

Yea, that about says it all. He needs to go. It's not about Iraq, and for me its sure not about social security. It's not about his 'betrayal of the party' time and time again (although it says something about his ethics). It's about the fact that Lieberman stands for nothing. Except his own incumbancy.

Shut up and Drive

Not really policy related (althouh some cities are involving it in cellphone bans), but heres this,

"While it is no secret that operating a cell phone behind the wheel can be dangerous, it is often thought that there is less risk if drivers use a hands-free cell phone. New research shows that driving using a hands-free cell phone is just as risky as using a handheld cell phone. In fact, it is comparable to driving intoxicated!

Researchers from the University of Utah have found that drivers who use both handheld and hands-free cell phones are as distracted and impaired as drunk drivers. According to the research, drivers who use cell phones are more likely to delay braking and get into accidents. The study is being published in the journal Human Factors: The Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society."

And then some statistical results,

"The researchers found that the participants who talked on a handheld or hands-free cell phone drove slightly slower, had a 9% slower reaction time when stepping on the brakes, were 24% more variation in their following distance, and had a 19% slower reaction time when resuming normal speed after braking.

By contast, the participants who were intoxicated drove slower and more aggressively than the cell phone users. These drivers followed the car in front of them more closely, hit the brakes only 4 seconds before a collision could occur and hit the brakes with 23% more force."

Get off the damn phone and drive.

Help, I'm on fire!

Apparently, the Bush administration has managed to create a whole bunch of new flaming liberals. Like me. And Andrew Sullivan. To quote,

I'm for balanced budgets, low taxes, cuts in entitlements, welfare reform, more military manpower, privately run healthcare, free speech, religious liberty, a stronger commitment to Iraq, and gun rights. I'm against affirmative action, federally-funded abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, protectionism, hate crime laws, the Medicare prescription drug program, pork barrel spending, torture, an untrammeled executive, and censoring anyone anywhere to appease Islamist extremists. And, according to Ponnuru, no "serious" conservative regards me as a conservative any more. What does that tell you?

Pretty much my feelings, but count me double on free speech and against a unitary executive.

By the way, here's the quote from Ramesh Ponnuru on Sullivan:

"Since another panelist had quoted one of his sermons as evidence of intra-conservative strife, I also observed that I know no serious conservative who considers him a conservative. I am prepared to believe that there are a few misguided conservatives, unbeknownst to me, who do consider him a fellow conservative. But even if that's true, it would not change the fundamental accuracy of my statement that Sullivan's pronouncements are not good evidence of intra-conservative strife."

I guess I don't really consider Sullivan 'conservative', to be honest. More like reasonable. He is, for instance, no Hugh Hewitt, or Jonah Goldberg. Luckily for him, I'd say. Sullivan can be irritatingly preachy at times, but all in all, pretty good.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hitch on Putin

Before going off on Iraq/Iran some more (when was the last time he did anything else??...oh yeah!) Hitchens has this quote, which really sums up a lot. Russia has been nothing but trouble, and it’s about time our foreign policy addressed this more thoroughly. And if Bush thought he was reading Putin's soul right, his literacy problems are even worse than the left likes to joke.

Out of a thesaurus of possible nominations, one would have to select George Bush's remarks about Vladimir Putin as the stupidest utterance of his entire presidency. Impressed beyond words by the fact that Putin was wearing a crucifix that had belonged to his mother and was thus a man of faith, our chief executive then burbled like a schoolgirl and said that he had looked into the man's eyes and knew he was the one to trust. (I have not checked, but surely someone can discover how many times Putin has worn that crucifix since. It could be a sort of emblem of the fatuity of the "faith-based.") Since then, Putin has been noticeable for his efforts to protect Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il, the Iranian mullahs, and the Sudanese racist cleansers from any concerted action by the United Nations and has instructed his troops in Chechnya to behave in a manner that would cause a storm of international outrage if emulated by coalition forces in Iraq. In response, Chechen insurgents have committed atrocities, such as the seizure of the Moscow theater or the Beslan school hostage-taking, which nobody would be so crass as to blame on the lack of vigilance of the Russian security services.

The Chechen situation and Russian actions have been ridiculous. A passable brief history of the conflict which goes back to the Muscovite imperial expansion (they've literally been fighting for 250 years) and most Americans know far too little about can be found here at Wikipedia. Among other highlights, in the 1940's the entire Chechen population was forcibly relocated to Siberia and the Kazakh steppes. This not only permanently embittered the current generation, which grew up in exile, but galvanized the population. Where other peripheral Russian ethnic groups have assimilated more to the Russian national identity, the Chechens have no such objectives, they want the independence they've been fighting for hundreds of years, and this is not the sort of conflict where a brokered peace will be successful with anything short of independence (something Russia will NEVER give, because it would signal the end of the Russian imperial age, and the dissolution of massive swathes of territory, including many of its regions richest in resources).

Killing us softly...

With its (great) lines...the West Wing was one of, I felt, the most enjoyable shows to watch on T.V.

Actually, that’s false, since I've watched less than 10 episodes of it on T.V. But it was one of the most enjoyable things to watch on T.V., albeit via DVD. I don’t really watch any shows. I’m too boring for that.

But I got it wrong according to Gene Healy. In fact, I probably hate America or something.

Apparently, it’s also the main reason why I think David Addington and Karl Rove are saints. And why I love Dick Morris so much...
I knew there was something weird about the show. Now it turns out, it’s been brainwashing me all along into believing government was a clean, saintly enterprise. Most sinister of all,

The West Wing was, above all, a Valentine to power. And despite the snappy repartee and the often-witty scripts, it was a profoundly silly show. It managed — in 21st century America — to be markedly less cynical than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

And that was by design: Sorkin and the show’s other writers and producers repeatedly spoke of their desire to renew “respect for public service” and to combat a culture of cynicism about politics. But is that really a pressing problem in modern American life? Are we too cynical about politics these days? Or not cynical enough?

How evil! Restoring respect for public service? Showing that you could, in fact, do it right (despite the sparse accomplishments of the Bartlett admin) ? Why, they're undermining good old fashioned American Cynicism! But, ya know, being even more cynical about government probably would help ridiculously low election turnout numbers....

Ya, I'm pretty sure that a bit of better feeling wouldn't hurt.

I also really suggest reading that David Addington article. Yea, its a puff piece, but it's like reading an entertaining wanna-be insider-y biography, of the most evil guy in the world.

Up up and Away

Health costs via CQ:

June 29, 2006 -- The "typical American family of four" will pay an average of $13,382 for medical services in 2006, up 9.6 percent from 2005, according to a study by the consulting firm Milliman.

The study, part of the second annual Milliman Medical Index, examined average costs in five areas for a family covered by an employer-sponsored PPO. The five areas include inpatient services, outpatient services, physician care, pharmacy costs, and other services, such as ambulatory care, medical equipment, private nursing, and home health costs.

The study found that, over the last five years, increases in medical costs in each category varied each year. Outpatient care, for example, experienced a 12.6 percent increase over 2005 rates, yet trended downward in the previous years. Physician care remains the largest area of medical costs at $4,793, or 36 percent of total costs, according to the study. When combined with outpatient care, however, inpatient care costs make up 46 percent.

Cost sharing, or the amount patients pay at the point of service, also has increased along with medical costs, the study says. Of the $13,382 annual cost in medical services, a typical family will pay $2,210 in out-of-pocket costs. But increases in consumer cost-sharing have not matched increases in medical costs, the report notes. Out of the total costs, employers will pay $8,362, or 62 percent, while employees will pay $5,020, or 38 percent—$2,810 in payroll deductions and $2,210 in cost-sharing.

The study notes, however, that costs are dependent on many factors, such as age, geographic location, and health, as well as which services different health plans cover.

Employer sponsored health care

Via Kaiser Health Daily Report:

"Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance in the United States -- Origins and Implications," New England Journal of Medicine: In the first of two articles for NEJM, David Blumenthal, director of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, examines employer-sponsored health insurance in the U.S. and the challenges it faces. Blumenthal looks at the emergence of employer-sponsored health insurance, its effects of on the U.S. health care system, trends in employer-sponsored insurance, approaches health care providers are taking to correct problems they encounter and the future of the system. According to Blumenthal, although employer-sponsored health insurance has proved beneficial in many areas, it has been unable to slow increases in health care costs and seems unprepared to do so in the future (Blumenthal, NEJM, 7/6).

I'll have to check it out. I'm definitely torn on the endgame for health care policy, between private market driven dynamics and government dealing with all the externalities.

"It's about oil"

Or at least, this point definitely is. It's all about access to the emerging Kazakh/Caspian/Azeri oil. Since the United States doesn't have a natural foothold in the region, and Afghanistan is a little unstable for shipping oil (not to mention having to involve Pakistan in it...) the best route is to send it through Georgia. Normally, Russia would be highly competitive here, but thanks to the unrest in Chechnya/Dagestan, the Trans-Caucasian routes are basically blocked, forcing Azeri oil to be shipped all the way around the Sea, making it pretty difficult to export. This is good news for the United States, a strong realpolitik move right out of the book of a Kissinger. Pretty bad news that America is actually having the brains and guts to play this hand for Russia. And it comes right on the heals of world's hottest politician/Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko throwing another blocker in their export possibilities (and effectively cutting off Europe.

Look like us, think like us.

Racism, plain and simple.

Free tradin up

From the Insurance Newscast (today's link, permalink) comes this gem, which should serve as a rebuke to protectionists and demonstrate that trade doesn't serve as a race to the bottom, but a competitive mechanism to actually raise conditions for the general populace. Mandates can only be counted on to the extent that the source of power behind them is allied with the populace.

Lenovo Establishes Supplemental Retirement Plan for China Employees

BEIJING--(BUSINESS WIRE)--July 5, 2006--At a press conference held in Beijing today, Lenovo Group announced the establishment of a supplemental retirement plan for its employees in China. Lenovo is the first Chinese company to register its corporate pension program with China's Ministry of Labor & Social Security and one of the first in China's IT industry to establish a corporate pension program for its employees.

"We are very proud to be among the first to offer leading-edge retirement benefits to our employees in China," said Ezra Singer, Lenovo Vice President of Compensation & Benefits. "This is a key milestone for our China employees and marks the continued evolution of Lenovo as a truly world class global organization as well as the strong relationship and deep commitment we have to our employees worldwide."

Lenovo's supplemental retirement program for its China-based employees is a defined contribution plan, funded by joint contributions from both the Company and its employees. It is unique in China for two reasons: first, Lenovo provides additional payments based on each individual employee's years of service with the Company; and second, the amount of company match is based on Lenovo's performance and its achievement of certain financial goals.

Mr. Singer added, "The key to Lenovo's success has been - and will continue to be - our employees. The unique structure of this new plan places a focus on employee retention while emphasizing Lenovo's existing high performance culture. We believe it will further enhance our employees' commitment to Lenovo while helping us attract and retain the best talent in the IT industry."

Lenovo has selected corporate pension service providers Ping An Endowment Insurance Company, China Merchants Bank and Harvest Fund Management Company Ltd. to serve as trustee, custodian and investment manager, respectively, of the new plan.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On Santa Rosa

I did a ton of research on this, looking into pretty much everyone's contribution history that I could track down, and it looks like its probably a non-story, at least from the Vail side. I think they're probably pretty sincere. The most public family member is Nita Vail, who chairs the California Rangeland Trust, which is basically a holding group for cattle ranches (it was started by the California Cattleman's Association). She was also the assistant Secretary of Ag. and Environmental Policy under Gov. Wilson. The farming stuff is "Vail and Vickers", and seemingly lacks a Vickers. Tim Vail and Will Wooley are the notable names there. Nathan Russell Vail is the one politically involved as well as civicly. Not sure that theres a pattern to his donations other than like the NRCC. Nita and Nathan Russell both are on the advisory board of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation.

Theres random ties to Kemper and Bedford corps, who give basically all their money to R's, but all in all it seems a little thin to me. The family seems to have a sincere interest in keeping their land.

Heres a bill from 1997, where Don Young, who this article makes mention of their visiting worked w/ California lawmakers to try and help them.

Another story on it, with some more interesting facts, and this ridiculous quote...

"What better way to give back to veterans than the opportunity to hunt big game on an island at no cost?”

A story on CRT run by Nita Vail, and of some interest.

And heres Vail's contributions, 2000-2006





National Cattlemen's Beef Assn

here we go...

It looks like folks on Kos had latched on to bits of this before...

I think that I can answer their question. While I basically came up with nothing from MUM, the folks that run the business, the Vail family behind it, well, thats a different story. I don't claim to be that great at tracking the money, but the family has given thousands to the NRCC. I originally couldn't find anything from Timothy. It looks like brother Nathan Russell Vail handles that aspect.



04/24/2000 500.00 20035793056

05/08/2000 300.00 20035793056



01/17/2000 300.00 20035462750



02/03/2003 250.00 23990563773



11/23/2001 250.00 22990316638

12/24/2001 250.00 22990316638

03/11/2002 250.00 22990670469

05/13/2002 250.00 22991307753

11/04/2002 500.00 22992966096



02/20/2001 500.00 21990305285

02/23/2001 300.00 21990305285

03/27/2001 1000.00 21990305285

05/13/2002 1000.00 22991308559



05/14/2004 250.00 24961675812

That totals 5150 between 2000 and 2004.

There are many many Vails (and some Vickers) in the immediate region, its hard to tell who might be involved with the family.


Its surprising that the report didn't seem to look into this angle at all (if nothing else, scandalous by implication).

Gordon and Wayne Long run Multiple Use Managers, which operates hunting in parks.

On March 8, 2005, Gordon Long made his first political donation in the past 6 years to the NRCC ($500)

On 6/20/2003, Wayne Long donated $1,000 to the NRCC

More on the story, looking at another person involved, from The Hill.


Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter is messing with a National park, again. I just went to Rainier this weekend. It was gorgeous. And broke and in disrepair. I mean, I feel for disabled vets and everything, but is sponsoring disabled hunting trips really a policy initiative we need to be pushing forward right now. Unfortunatly, alot of this is probably driven by a pretty moronic and warped view of nature...emphasized by this fellow:

Doug Warren, an official with Paralyzed Veterans of America, said Santa Rosa would provide a uniquely contained environment for disabled veterans, and questioned the need to remove the animals. "It adds so much to have them here," he said. "Otherwise, what are you going to look at?"
Well, how about...

"Over 2,000 species of plants and animals...One hundred and forty-five of these species are unique to the islands and found nowhere else in the world."

"Marine life ranges from microscopic plankton to the endangered blue whale"

"Archeological and cultural resources span a period of more than 10,000 years."
Here are some more detailed island-by-island suggestions.

High mountains with deeply cut canyons give way to gentle rolling hills and flat marine terraces. Vast grasslands blanket about 85 percent of the island, yet columnar volcanic formations, extensive fossil beds, and highly colored hill slopes are visible. Rocky terraces on the west end provide superb habitat for intertidal organisms. Harbor and elephant seals breed on the island's sandy beaches. On the eastern tip of the island, a unique costal marsh is among the most extensive freshwater habitats found on any of the Channel Islands. The entire island is surrounded by expanses of kelp beds. Consequently, its surrounding waters serve as an invaluable nursery for the sea life that feeds larger marine mammals and the sea birds that breed along the coastal shores and offshore rocks of all the Channel Islands.

Santa Rosa has several rare plants, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. It also is home to the endemic island fox and the spotted skunk. The sandy beaches and cliffs are breeding and resting areas for sea birds and seals and sea lions. Archeological and paleontological sites are abundant on the island. In 1994, the world's most complete skeleton of a pygmy mammoth, a dwarf species related to the Columbian mammoths, was excavated on Santa Rosa. Today, paleontologists continue to discover more sites with the remains of these Pleistocene-era animals.

What to Do

Hiking, camping, attending naturalist-led hikes, kayaking, fishing, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, surfing, boating and wildlife watching are frequent activities. Along with a ranger one may explore tidepools and midden sites (Chumash trash heaps).

zooming in

Heres more about Dr. Stossel.

Site is a pretty cool feature, actually.


Yesterday was the 4th and since I really only blog in the office and I wasn't working, obviously, low on posts (none). Today, I've actually had (gasp) work to do (more than exceedingly rare), so I put together a big presentation this morning. There is a bit news, however, this morning. Namely, I got a response (which I'm quite excited about) back from Dr. Thomas Stossel, who wrote this editorial in the Post that I linked to here. Admittedly, I was more than a little unfair to him, failing to really put any consideration into the article besides lumping it into the typical science/industry mold. I inquired with him looking for more information on the questions he raised, as well as soliciting his response to this series that ran in the Seattle Times last year. Below is his response, along with links to those documents (when available) that he refered me to.

Dear Mike,
Thank you for your interest in our Washington Post piece. It is the latest emanation of my night job of taking on what I refer to as “the conflict of interest cult.” I attach my other efforts, which to some extent address your question regarding the articles to which you referred. If you can stand it, I recommend slogging through the somewhat longer article that I just sent to Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. It addresses why you can’t compare doctors (clinicians and researchers) defining what is “healthy” (an opinion) with SEC regulators with investigatory powers.
The cult, which has had nearly 20 years of unopposed airtime, has so successfully brainwashed the media that almost anything and everything is now an alarming conflict. For some reason the link to the Seattle Times piece only gave me fragments, but I got the gist which falls under one of the cult’s rubrics, namely that a conspiracy of companies and their thralls engage in “disease-mongering.” A particularly mendacious example appeared a few weeks ago in the New York Times accusing the Hypertension Society of this activity (dropping the acceptable blood pressure level to accommodate increased use of anti-hypertensives). Reading between the lines, activists or people with grievances in the Society alerted the reporter who based the entire piece on the money without making any effort to address the science (which, of course, is much more difficult, not to mention boring).
Regarding Viagra-mongering, I can’t help noting the irony that it is the same folks who think Bill Clinton got a bum rap over Monikagate who are suddenly prudes when it comes to how we define ED! And my colleagues who are apoplectic over the idea of intelligent design as the explanation for biological species (as well they should be) are eager to design society in general and medicine in particular “intelligently.”
Disease mongering is in my opinion largely a cultural issue, and it is not the responsibility of the drug industry to change our culture nor is it the only actor “mongering” in society. Alternative medicine, the health and fitness industry (providing a lot of business for orthopedists and physical therapists), not to mention the voluntary health organizations are all into it. The American Cancer Society (which I dearly love, as I am an ACS Professor) nevertheless wants you to worry about cancer cradle to grave, get every test and indulge in every treatment. There is no support group, as far as I know, for stoics.
My goal now is to stop being the lone lunatic taking on the cult. I hope that more credible physicians and medical researchers will start fighting back.
Thomas P Stossel, MD
American Cancer Society Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Co-Director, Hematology Division
Brigham & Women’s Hospital
1 Blackfan Circle, Karp 6
Boston, MA 02115
Tel 617 355 9001
Fax 617 355 9016

Mere Magazines
(WSJ Dec. 30, 2005)
Witch Hunt (Feb. 21, 2006)
Here is a link to a journal locator page with a paper which he sent me, and which unfortunatly I can't add to the blog. He also sent a recently submitted article from "Perspectives in Bioloy and Medicine", and a chart purporting to show...I'm not exactly certain what yet. Anyway, before writing anything more about this, I think I'd best take the time to read everything he sent. Hopefully that will be done this afternoon.

Monday, July 03, 2006

In any camp...

It should hardly be a surprise that Obama is reaching out to 'christains'. As with any categorization, not everyone is of one mind, as this article aptly demonstrates. The congregation I grew up in was easily one of the most 'liberal' that I could imagine, full of those for whom the sentiments expressed in Obama's speech are instinctive.

Decided or no?

Rather interesting language on this piece from the other side of the pond, no?

Is 'casting doubt' the new 'imminent crises' in coverage of global warming, with journalists desperate to gin up an original story on the subject?

Bad apples

This is just one more worm that the Democrats are going to have weed out if they hope to be a party that manages to stand for, and win, anything. The best way is a clear cut denunciation of the actions of folks like him, William Jefferson (check, mostly), Jim Moran, etc

And if you'll please refer to slide 3...

For anyone that might be confused about Ted Steven's description of the internet, heres a helpful explanation of just how the internet works...

Ted Stevens needs to develop some integrity and keep his promises.

Activist Rock

Via instapundit, the "best song about agricultural subsidies you'll ever hear!" Not that it has all that much competition, or anything...


American companies (Google, Yahoo, etc.) need to face consequences for facilitating this sort of thing...


I guess I missed it, but apparently this excellent, scandal focused (well, it's not like we would read anything else) reporting on subsidies is going to be a great big feature series in the post. Maybe that means lawmakers will like, do something about it? Nah...

None the less though, here's the 2nd part in what looks to be a multi-part series. And it too has all sorts of exciting tidbits (and personal interest bits) about just how much money is getting leached away...

Clearly, the program is succeeding...

"payments for corn alone have grown, from $1 billion for the 1998 crop to $4.3 billion for last year's, even though the average price farmers received for a bushel has remained near or above the government floor for the past five years"

Welfare Statism, (not) working hard

Great article from the Washington Post, drawing attention to one of the most ludicrous parts othe federal budget: farm subsidies.

Money quote:

"I don't agree with the government's policy," said Matthews, who wanted to give the money back but was told it would just go to other landowners. "They give all of this money to landowners who don't even farm, while real farmers can't afford to get started. It's wrong."
On the substance:

Most of the money goes to real farmers who grow crops on their land, but they are under no obligation to grow the crop being subsidized. They can switch to a different crop or raise cattle or even grow a stand of timber -- and still get the government payments. The cash comes with so few restrictions that subdivision developers who buy farmland advertise that homeowners can collect farm subsidies on their new back yards.

The payments now account for nearly half of the nation's expanding agricultural subsidy system, a complex web that has little basis in fairness or efficiency. What began in the 1930s as a limited safety net for working farmers has swollen into a far-flung infrastructure of entitlements that has cost $172 billion over the past decade. In 2005 alone, when pretax farm profits were at a near-record $72 billion, the federal government handed out more than $25 billion in aid, almost 50 percent more than the amount it pays to families receiving welfare.


The farm payments have also altered the landscape and culture of the Farm Belt, pushing up land prices and favoring large, wealthy operators.
This is one of the most scandelous parts of this system. Giant food corps. like Tyson and Riceland Foods collect millions, sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Like Riceland, who has gotten 550 million in the past 10 years.

Money quote #2:
"This was an unintended consequence of the farm bill," said former representative Charles W. Stenholm, the west Texas Democrat who was once the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee. "Instead of maintaining a rice industry in Texas, we basically contributed to its demise."

"The farm policy we're pursuing now has no rhyme or reason, and we're just sending big checks to big farmers," said Gary Mitchell, now a family farmer in Kansas who was once a top aide to then-Rep. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the 1996 bill's House sponsor. "They're living off their welfare checks."
Nobody votes like farmers and old people:
"The strength of the farm lobby in this town is really unbelievable," Armey said. "I don't think there's a smaller group of constituents that has a bigger influence."
Read the whole thing. Houses sold based on the 'free government money', massive property tax breaks, etc. etc.

The program also looks to have given hundreds of thousands to a Republican (and Bush) donor in Houston. Just some pointless mean-spirited snark ;-). And to keep it by-partisan, as far as I can tell, this program is a lot Daschle's fault. One more reason he's a loser and has no business running in 2008.

Ink by the Barrel?

Or somethings along those lines. Anyway, it looks like the Bushies picked the wrong target (the whole press) to go after.

Some highlights from the response...

Keller on Face the Nation:
"I don't think the threshold test of whether you write about how the government is waging the war on terror is whether they've done something that's blatantly illegal or outrageous," Keller said. "I think you probably would like to know what they're doing that's successful as well."

Also, some great comments from the board on Meet the Press...

MR. SAFIRE: Let me respond to what Bill, to the point he’s making, that who elected the media to determine what should be secret and what should not?

MS. MITCHELL: Which is the fundamental point.

MR. SAFIRE: Right. And the answer to that is, the founding fathers did. They came up with this Bill of Rights beyond which the constitutional convention would not move unless there were a First Amendment to challenge the government...


MR. SAFIRE: ...just as the American founding fathers challenged the British government. Now it’s not treasonable, it’s not even wrong for the press to say we’re going to find out what we can and we’ll act as a check and balance on the government. Sometimes we’ll make mistakes. Sometimes the government will mistake.

MR. BENNETT: We need to get after those people, and one way to get after those people is to talk to the reporters who—with whom they spoke.

MR. SAFIRE: Oh, you’re saying “get after them.” That means threatening reporters, and threaten them with contempt and put them in jail.

MR. BENNETT: Absolutely, absolutely.

MR. SAFIRE: And that’s wrong.

MR. BENNETT: Why is that wrong, Bill? Why are they above the law?

MR. SAFIRE: Because they’re affected...

MR. HARWOOD: Because it’s a big step toward tyranny, which is what we’re supposed to be withholding.

MS. MITCHELL: Bill—Bill Safire, let me ask you a question about The New York Times. There are a lot of people who believe The New York Times, in doing this latest story, is motivated by an anti-Bush animus. Is The New York Times making a decision that is political rather than editorial?

MR. SAFIRE: The New York Times, like The Wall Street Journal, has a wall of separation between its editorial voice and its front page and its news coverage. And that’s always been the case. Now, does it always stay exactly the same? When you drive right down that road, is it always right? No, it changes. But in this case, I am certain, I’m really certain, that the editorial position of The New York Times about the war—which I completely disagree with—did not affect its coverage of the,of the news.

MS. MITCHELL: Let me, let me show you a Wall Street Journal editorial—a very unusual editorial—that was in the paper on Friday. It said that “The problem with The New York Times is that millions of Americans no longer believe that its editors would make those calculations in anything close to good faith. We certainly don’t. On issue after issue, it has become clear that The Times believes the U.S. is not really at war, and in any case the Bush administration lacks the legitimacy to wage it.” John, I don’t want to really put you on the spot here, but I am. Your paper’s news columns also ran this story, and here you have this editorial. It really is a really sharp conflict.

MR. HARWOOD: Couple of points on that. First of all, that editorial wasn’t kidding when they said there’s a separation between the news and the editorial pages at The Wall Street Journal.


MR. HARWOOD: Secondly, there is a very large gap between the ideological outlook and philosophy of The New York Times editorial page and The Wall Street Journal editorial page. There is not a large ideological gap between the news staffs of those two places, and why would there be? Some of the top people of The New York Times were hired from The Wall Street Journal. What I found shocking about the editorial was the assertion that The New York Times did not act in good faith in making that judgment. I don’t know anybody on the news staff of The Wall Street Journal that believes that. I certainly don’t.

Using any tricks

at their disposal, it seems.

Between this and questions about the ethics (industry response) of direct-to-consumer ads, pharma/doctor relationships, revamping the prescription drug corporate subsidy, etc. etc. one would almost think there was a coordinated campaign against PHRMA. It looks like the PR campaign is going to be one similar to global warming...discredit the 'science' behind the allegations?

Frankly, I think that this is a great issue for the Dems to grab and run with into November. Nothing quite says "culture of corruption" like a bill guarenteeing 1.2 trillion to industry pockets. An industry that is particularly lopsided in its campaign contributions...

The "post 9-11 worldview"???


This strikes me as, well, huge. If the Bushies were at work establishing the surviellance state before 9-11, well, that leaves very little in question regarding their view on the unitary executive, much of which has been airbrushed away as the result of a fundamental sea change after the terrorist attacks. I could go on and on about it, but thats the basic conclusion to be drawn, and it brings the administration's motives, across the board, into doubt.


Washington state's favorite senator demonstrates why he is o-so-qualified to deal with emerging communication issues of the 21st century. Via Wired...

"There's one company now you can sign up and you can get a movie delivered to your house daily by delivery service. Okay. And currently it comes to your house, it gets put in the mail box when you get home and you change your order but you pay for that, right.

But this service isn't going to go through the interent and what you do is you just go to a place on the internet and you order your movie and guess what you can order ten of them delivered to you and the delivery charge is free.

Ten of them streaming across that internet and what happens to your own personal internet?

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? "

Ya, try and puzzle out exactly what he's saying there...

Social Security is back

Well, after Bush reiterated his goal to social security in a speech last week, it looks like Josh Marshall is back on the war path, hunting down senators. His primary target of choice was '06 candidate and Cantwell challenger Mike McGavick. He even went so far as to place a bounty on his head.

Well, David Postman of the Seattle Times interviewed McGavick and came away with, what seem to me, to be some very straight answers. And good ones. But Marshall seems unimpressed.

To review, in his speech at the Manhattan Institute, Bush said,

"I addressed that issue last year, focusing on Social Security reform. I'm not through talking about the issue. I spent some time today in the Oval Office with the United States senators, and they're not through talking about the issue either. It's important for this country -- (applause) -- I know it's hard politically to address these issues. Sometimes it just seems easier for people to say, we'll deal with it later on. Now is the time for the Congress and the President to work together to reform Medicare and reform Social Security so we can leave behind a solvent balance sheet for our next generation of Americans. (Applause.)

If we can't get it done this year, I'm going to try next year. And if we can't get it done next year, I'm going to try the year after that, because it is the right thing to do. It's just so easy to say, let somebody else deal with it. Now is the time to solve the problems of Medicare and Social Security, and I want your help. I need the Manhattan Institute to continue to agitate for change and reform. You've got a big voice. You got creative thinkers, and if you don't mind, I'd like to put this on your agenda, and let you know the White House and members of the Senate and the House are anxious to deal with this issue and get it done once and for all."

First of all, the language strikes me as exactly the same used in raising purely political 'policy' issues, that of agitating, putting it on the table, and drawing lines between those who will and those who won't. Making it a moral issue. And just like last time around, Bush isn't selling any particular plan, which means this probably isn't going anywhere. Just like last time.

So, why keep hammering it? Well, for starters, it makes the Glenn Reynolds etc. of the world happy, giving them something to actually embrace the president for, rather than simply protect him as not that bad. It's perfect timing to throw a bone to the libertarian-minded republicans, since most aren't seeing much to like about this administration these days (lib-rs aren't fond of the surveillance state, in general).

Anyway, Marshall offered various items of value including "a special TPM 'Privatize This' t-shirt, a TPM mug and ... and a special place in our new TPM Hall of Social Security Heroes." Which he described as "really exciting stuff".

I guess all that excitement must have really gotten Postman interested (he certainly seems upset that his results didn't qualify as a 'straight answer'. He wants his mug! And the T-Shirt/enshrining probably wouldn't hurt...). Here’s what he got from McGavick. His 3 main points:

"1. He supports means testing, voluntarily at first but if people don't turn back enough money he'd support making it mandatory and creating income limits for benefits.

2. Benefit levels must be guaranteed for people at or near retirement age.

3. He wants a phased-in system of individually controlled, privately managed retirement accounts that could provide a higher yield than the government-run system, but would come with a lower guaranteed payment."

"Here are some details. On means testing, McGavick said that each year Social Security recipients would be given the chance to send money "back into the trust to extend the life of Social Security for the good of society." He said it should be promoted as a "patriotic endeavor." But if people weren't willing to give back benefits, he'd support mandatory means testing.

McGavick said that would save money at the front end of the transition to individual accounts. Bush, he said, "didn't do anything at the front-end to shrink the problem."

McGavick said he knows that people will refer to his talk of personally controlled accounts as privatization. He said financial institutions would be involved, but would not control, the investments. "I'm not turning it over to banks to run. I'm turning it over to the individuals for them to run." The accounts would be similar to 401 K programs, with investment choices "that could provide a higher yield than the current Social Security investment strategy." But with individual control would come a lower guaranteed benefit."

Frankly, that sounds like a promising, well-thought-out proposal, quite a bit better than I was expecting from this. But how about this money quote...

"President Bush said this week he's going to keep trying to change Social Security. But McGavick says he doubts anything will happen until after the next presidential election.

"I don't think there's enough juice left in this administration to push that through. That's just my own opinion.""

Ouch. But probably true. Anyway, McGavick sure sounds like he's thought this out a bit more than Cantwell, whose solution seems to be....throwing more money (that isn't there) at the program.

On Postman’s results, Marshall says....McGavick comes 'kinda sorta clean', and puts him down in favor of the 'Bush plan'. But did Bush ever have a plan? And did it make as much sense as McGavick's? Means testing? Appealing to American public patriotism and concern? What sounds to me like an opt-in risk taking system? The first two, and hopefully the 3rd, sure sound like things 'progressives' could get behind. And they should get behind them and get them. It would be a tremendous political and national achievement all around. Obviously the 3rd part is going to do little to solve the fiscal realities of social security, but it will probably make people less inclined to turn down the means tested reward. Maybe it's not a great idea, who knows. But I feel like if Republicans like McGavick can philosophically get behind means testing, then surely Dems can. Moreover, congressional disapproval ratings are disastrously bad for both parties, indicating, it seems, little faith in, and respect for, congress. Come on congressmen, let’s see you show some ego!