Friday, December 25, 2009

Tis the Season

With all the holiday philosophy being tossed about this time of year perhaps it's time to bring to mind three goals that will truly make this a world worth living in.
1. Environmental sustainability
2. Population stability
3. Ending extreme poverty

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yellowstone in Washington?

A recent gravitational study shows that the Yellowstone magma plume is much deeper than originally thought. It also indicates that same plume may have been the source of the Columbia River flood basalts some 17 million years ago.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wondering

I'm just wondering what it is that the climate change deniers really want? Do they want to just continue consuming fossil resources until there is nothing left when we have what it takes to develop either renewable or much more plentiful resources? Do they want to keep running up greenhouse gas concentrations until it is too late? Or do they want other people to change but for them to just keep consuming and polluting just as they always have?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

50 reasons

A British newspaper published a list of 100 reasons why global warming is natural. The New Scientist website takes a look at the first 50 of those reasons. They are all bogus. There's no reason to think the last 50 are any less bogus.

Bachmann Invokes 'Charge Of The Light Brigade'

This really par for the course. She likens her crowd of supporters to the heralded Light Brigade. During the Crimean War a snafu sent a detachment of British cavalry against a well-entrenched artillery position. The artillery tore them to shreds. But maybe that's what she expects from her people. To ride without question into the valley of death in her name and be annihilated. Sounds about right for people like her.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Look at Climate Change

It turns out that a great number of climate change criticisms that have been gaining popularity of late in the wake of email scandal are themselves highly suspect. Given the slippery nature of making predictions about the climate future, the best way to improve the model is to subject them to rigorous criticism. Unfortunately, when the criticism is so flaky it just lead the climate change folks to do work that is less than the best.

Sensing without nerves

Some people who don't have the typical nerve endings in the skin to sense pain, heat, and pressure seem to be able to live a fairly normal life. That's because a second sensory system is in play. It turns out the nerves in blood vessels and sweat glands that we thought only regulated things actually contribute to sensation. This may be the mechanism involved in unexplainable pain conditions like migraines and fibromyalgia.

Al Franken

In a bit of video watch Al Franken in action. He calls John Thune (R-SD) to task for completely misrepresenting the facts about the health care bill. Minnesota has a damn fine senator there.

Rick Warren

Rachel takes a look at the celebrated Rick Warren. On the one hand he says:
During the whole Proposition 8 thing, I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop 8 was going.
But there's that pesky tape in which he says:
Let me just say this really clearly, we support Proposition 8, and if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8. So, I urge you to support Proposition 8 and pass that word on.
So much for his respect for the truth.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Palin And Huckabee Will Never Be Serious

Isaac Chotiner points out the obvious reason why neither Palin nor Huckabee should ever be let near the White House. The reason they are popular with much of the grassroots is that they quite happy in their ignorance.
"The first problem with this argument is that, er, Palin is unlikely to become a policy wonk because she is not very smart. What's more, Douthat's argument is tautological. Sure, it would be nice for the GOP if Palin and Huckabee were interested in policy. But if they were interested in policy, then they would not be so appealing to the GOP base. In other words, the problem is that a large part of the right has no interest in a policy wonk, and sneers at intellectuals and elites and the types of people Douthat would like to see running the party. A candidate who was interested in learning the ins and outs of the welfare state and health care policy is unlikely to ever achieve Palin/Huckabee levels of popularity with the grassroots."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Paul Krugman Debunks the Debt Scare

While the Republican chicken littles are trying to scare us into not finishing the job on getting employment back up Paul Krugman bursts their bubble.

The way out of Afghanistan

As President Obama ponders what to do with the mess that is Afghanistan it seems that a way out has been placed at our feet. In 1993 Greg Mortenson was lost in the Karakoram mountains after having failed in his attempt to climb K2. Dehydrated atd disoriented he stumbled into a village that was about as remote as one can get. While he recovered overnight the villagers sent word to where the rest of his team were waiting in vain for him in another village miles away. As he waited for his comrades he watched a group of children practicing their multiplication tables by scratching figures in the dirt with sticks. They were so eager to learn that they worked hard to show progress to a teacher who could only see them a couple of times a week. He had wanted to place an amber necklace on the top of K2 in memory of his deceased little sister but the mountain attempt had failed. Now he could see a bigger and better memorial in front of him. He was going to build these earnest children a school. To make a long story short that school was just the start of an amazing adventure that has now empowered hundreds of villages in Pakistan and, yes, Afghanistan to take charge of their future by giving their children a basic education.

We have all heard about well-meaning, do-gooder efforts at "helping" the less fortunate that have become disasters. But almost miraculously, Greg seems to have come upon a formula that actually works. It has two key features. He goes where a relationship has been established. No just dropping out of the sky. The leaders of the village provide resources and manpower to build the schools and other projects. The sweat equity makes all the difference in the world. And he focuses on educating the girls. They tend to stay in the villages and pass what they learn to future generations more effectively than the boys.

So I invite you to check out the Central Asia Institute and learn more about it. Greg has a new book called Stones Into Schools coming out at the beginning of December. I think it will show a genuine way to final peace in Afghanistan and many other troubled places in the world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Texas outlaws marriage

In their zeal to ban gay marriage in Texas the lawmakers manage to ban all kinds of marriages. Par for the course I say.

Prelude to the Coming Abortion Nightmare

The Stupak amendment could very well end funding for medically indicated abortions across the board. It's too bad we can't make two sets of laws, one for the folks who want to turn back the clock to the days when every pregnancy could be a threat to a woman's life and another set for the rest of us. In the recent fooforall about the permit for a local Planned Parenthood clinic one woman testified that the life of her unborn child was so important that she continued her pregnancy against her doctor's recommendation. I'm sure she had insurance that covered the heroic medical care that kept her and her baby alive. That unborn child was more important to her than being a live mother of the two children she had already. I think that was a stupid choice but I didn't try to make laws that deprived her of that choice. But these anti-abortion activists are making laws to deprive others of the kind of choice they themselves are permitted to make. They want to deny funding for certain medical procedures with which they don't agree. By taking these procedures off the table they are making sure that only the rich can have them. The rest will just have to suffer and potentially die. Somehow that doesn't seem very "Christian" to me.

It Ain't Just CO2

While working to reduce CO2 and methane emissionns is commendable, there are a number of other industrial chemicals that could strongly contribute to global warming.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Human-sensitive street lights

In Toulouse a form of street light has been installed that dims when no one is around and brigtens up when a pedestrian comes in range. Lights like this could also go far to reduce the light pollution that hides the stars in even modestly-populated areas. One downside I can see is what happens when there are problems with the sensors. I've seen many current street lights with maladjusted photocells that turn off the light when a pair of headlights go by. Maintaining the infrared sensors could become a headache.

An Icon of Environmentalism, Talks About Nuclear Power

Stewart Brand, who founded the Whole Earth Catalog, makes the case for nuclear power being green. The only major counter argument is that current plant designs are a multi-billion dollar gamble for utilities. It's time for the technology folks to create smaller plants that don't require as much upfront investment.

The US may be the Saudi Arabia of coal but coal has very real problems when compared to nuclear:
The waste from coal means gigatons of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. There is also the fly ash, slurry, and all the rest of the stuff. The sheer quantities get to be overwhelming. Eighty rail cars a day of coal, each one weighing a hundred tons goes into a 1-gigawatt coal-fired plant, and that multiplies to 19,000 tons of carbon dioxide, every day. Compare that to one year of a 1-gigawatt nuclear plant, which puts out 20 tons of very dense nuclear waste that goes into dry cask storage. You know exactly where it is and you monitor it, and it's not doing anything bad. That's a pretty strong contrast
.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bluechel calls Bob Parks on his racism

Republican Bob Parks has embarrassed Kennewick in the past with his veiled racism as demonstrated by his preference for English only government and measures to make it illegal for undocumented aliens to live in Kennewick. His opposition,Cathy Bluechel, will stand for none of that. That makes it easy for me to endorse her for Kennewick City Council and easy for me to send her a check. I encourage you to do likewise. Such blatant racism should not be tolerated and is sufficient cause in my mind to boot Parks form office.

Monday, September 28, 2009

PNNL scientists develop new anti-virus technology

The folks at PNNL in Richland have developed a new style of anti-virus techniques based upon searching and swarming ants.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Energy and Hastings

Dear Rep. Hastings: If drilling for oil is the solution for our energy problems why is the United Arab Emirates looking to build nuclear power plants?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Bush EPA Legacy

Coal companies pollute with impunity because Bush's EPA refused to prosecute clear violations. Him and his supporters should be jailed.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What is LFTR?

Kirk Sorenson gives a excellent presentation that is packed with good facts about the promise of thorium-based nuclear reactors. It's a technology that has been successfully demonstrated then ignored because of bureaucratic in-fighting.

Nuclear Power Talk at WSU

Roger Reynolds presents a talk on the fuel cycle, current reactor designs, and the next generation of designs. Open to the public. Friday at 12:10 at the West building of WSU Tri-Cities, 2710 Universty Drive, Richland.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Why the public option matters

Krugman makes the point that in order for health care reform to work there has to be an individual mandate, everyone must be covered. If there isn't a public option we will all be forced into the hands of private insurers that generally burn 30% of the money in overhead and profit-taking.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A prescription for hospitals

An article in the Boston Globe lays out a way for hospitals to run like a Toyota manufacturing plant. Patients, staff, and doctors at Cincinatti Children's Hospital love it.
Good flow keeps costs down and customers happy.

In hospitals, nobody expects - or even wants - “fast” care, but everyone in the building benefits when the flow of patients from one part of the system to another is smooth. Backups in one part of the hospital can cause backups in others, leaving, for example, patients sitting for hours in the waiting room or highly trained surgical teams cooling their heels with no patient. A smoothly flowing hospital saves time and money, but it also reduces stress on the staff and the risk of mistakes.

Unfortunately, the typical US hospital is a model of bad flow: The average emergency room wait, for example, is four hours. The problem is actually quite simple, Litvak says. Nearly every department is run separately, making today’s hospital a nest of competing kingdoms rather than a smooth-running, cooperative organization. Hospitals often have limited power over doctors, who can schedule patient appointments without regard to the hospital’s needs. Effectively, one of the most important industries in America is in the hands of people who, for all their talents, have little expertise at running a business.

As a result, Litvak says, American hospitals only think they’re overcrowded because they have a chronic problem managing their flow. Patients simply pile up at certain times. In 2006, for instance, US hospitals were typically only 65 percent full, far less crowded than the 84 percent occupancy in Britain and the 90 percent occupancy of Canadian hospitals. But when US hospitals get much more than 65 percent full, the whole system starts to become stressed. Then, to boost their capacity, hospitals expand, at an average cost of $1 million per new bed.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Mixing Solar with Coal to Cut Costs

We can improve the efficiency of coal plants (more power for less emissions) by adding a solar booster to the preheaters. Currently coal plants must siphon off part of their steam to preheat the water for the boilers thereby reducing their overall efficiency.

And now we bring you...

Steel 'Velcro'. It's able to support enormous loads when pulled in the plane of the sheets but can be easily separated without special tools. I wonder where this could start showing up.

The Cost of Health-Care Reform

The cost of health-care reform is roughly equivalent to the cost we incurred when we got the inheritance tax cuts. Ezra Klein:
The difference between doing this right and doing this wrong is, in other words, about $30 billion a year, or $300 billion over 10 years. To put that in perspective, many of the legislators who are balking at the cost of health-care reform voted for the Kyl-Lincoln bill to reform the estate tax at a cost of $75 billion a year, or $750 billion over 10 years. You can make health-care reform work at a price tag that legislators are, in theory, willing to bear, at least when the tag is attached to tax cuts.

Bad History Curriculum

Conscientous educators may need to find a way to replace textbooks produced by national companies. When Texas sets the standards the result is sub-par history textbooks with a distorted view of recent events.

Recession turns the corner

According to the Washington state economist the leading indicators have turned around. The surprising part is that the overseas economies are blazing the trail to recovery ahead of the US rather than the other way around. It will be interesting to see what Paul Krugman has to say about this.

And guess what? He agrees. I'm sure glad the adults were in charge on this one.

Tea Party Time

So there's going to be another TEA party rally Saturday 9/12 from 1-4 at John Dam Plaza in Richland. Who's up for a little counter-demonstrating? It's going to be a regional thing with TEA nuts coming from Walla Walla and Moses Lake.

Banned in Utah

This video raised a stink in Farmington, Utah, when it was shown in school. Way to support your overwhelmingly elected President, folks. And I suppose that service to the community is a bad idea if a black Democratic president recommends it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Affordable Health Choices Act and the 4th CD.

America’s Affordable Health Choices Act would provide significant benefits in the 4th Congressional District of Washington: up to 15,200 small businesses could receive tax credits to provide coverage to their employees; 8,600 seniors would avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D; 1,500 families could escape bankruptcy each year due to unaffordable health care costs; health care providers would receive payment for $114 million in uncompensated care each year; and 118,000 uninsured individuals would gain access to high-quality, affordable health insurance. Congressman Doc Hastings [supposedly] represents the district.

• Help for small businesses. Under the legislation, small businesses with 25 employees or less and average wages of less than $40,000 qualify for tax credits of up to 50% of the costs of providing health insurance. There are up to 15,200 small businesses in the district that could qualify for these credits.

• Help for seniors with drug costs in the Part D donut hole. Each year, 8,600 seniors in the district hit the donut hole and are forced to pay their full drug costs, despite having Part D drug coverage. The legislation would provide them with immediate relief, cutting brand name drug costs in the donut hole by 50%, and ultimately eliminate the donut hole.

• Health care and financial security. There were 1,500 health care-related bankruptcies in the district in 2008, caused primarily by the health care costs not covered by insurance. The bill provides health insurance for almost every American and caps annual out-of-pocket costs at $10,000 per year, ensuring that no citizen will have to face financial ruin because of high health care costs.

• Relieving the burden of uncompensated care for hospitals and health care providers. In 2008, health care providers in the district provided $114 million worth of uncompensated care, care that was provided to individuals who lacked insurance coverage and were unable to pay their bills. Under the legislation, these costs of uncompensated care would be virtually eliminated.

• Coverage of the uninsured. There are 140,000 uninsured individuals in the district, 19% of the district. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that nationwide, 97% of all Americans will have insurance coverage when the bill takes effect. If this benchmark is reached in the district, 118,000 people who currently do not have health insurance will receive coverage.

• No deficit spending. The cost of health care reform under the legislation is fully paid for: half through making the Medicare and Medicaid program more efficient and half through a surtax on the income of the wealthiest individuals. This surtax would affect only 1,820 households in the district. The surtax would not affect 99.4% of taxpayers in the district.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Is ‘Peak Oil’ Is a Waste of Energy?

Michael Lynch argues in the NY Times that Peak Oil may be one of those ever-receding mirages. But even if that is true, oil is not an infinite energy source. Nor is it carbon-neutral. Yet a comparatively low price for oil may buy us more time to move to more sustainable energies but at the price of continuing CO2 buildup.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dr. Dean Ornish: A Pox on Both Your Houses

In this article Dr. Dean Ornish makes a good stab at finding the middle ground that the health reform opposition has, so far, been able to offer up. Basically it is a healthy dose of preventative medicine expenditure.

Planned Parenthood and the Pasco Planning Commission

There's at least one member of the Pasco Planning Commission seeking election to the city council. Todd Samuel knows that a successful no-vote to the Planned Parenthood clinic could be the kind of thing to win him that seat with the Pasco voters.

Unfortunately, the only grounds the commission has for a no-vote are not legal. To proceed would be to invite a losing and potentially costly lawsuit.

Don't you just hate that?

McMorris Rodgers and the Right Way

Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers writes in a Tri-City Herald article that health care reform must be done the right way. Her desire is that consumers have more options and that government-run health plans not dominate the insurance market.

She was willing to stipulate that that government options -- Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare and the Veterans Health Administration -- make up about half of the medical coverage in the United States, with the other half falling to the private sector.

Several people were on hand to dispute her view at the meeting.

I think Cathy has missed the real point and is just trying to find some way to justify her good-political-soldier opposition to the public option. The lack of competition isn't the problem. Currently insurance companies are competing by trying cherry-pick the pool of clients. They are protecting the interests of their shareholders by only covering people who can pay high premiums and make few claims. There is no profit to be made by accepting low income and high risk customers. There is nothing the government can do to make it any easier for insurance company to get into this business.

In the end she has no alternative to offer folks who would have to opt for public coverage other than to just continue watching the insurance industry ignore their needs.

By having a public plan we can eliminate medically-induced bankruptcy. We can provide insurance for people who insurance don't want.

By not having a public plan we can either continue to let people go uninsured (this is not a moral option). Or we can force insurance companies to cover less-profitable customers by regulation. Cathy can either be immoral or suffer unpleasant regulation.

What's a good Republican to do?

For a good play-by-play of the meeting see Michelle Dupler's excellent liveblog of the meeting.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Representative Richard Hastings Speaks to TriCity Chamber of Commerce

[Editor's comments are in brackets]

He opened with a comment about the Snake River dams. Many in Idaho want the lower Snake River dams removed. Hastings will say no every time he can. There is a NOAA plan that has been brokered amongst almost all the interested parties: the tribes, hydropower producers, and hatcheries. It is called the 2008 biological opinion. Yet a few environmental groups oppose and have taken it to court and it looks to stay there for a while. Meanwhile salmon stocks continue to decline. The judge has doubts about the plan since it was produced under the Bush administration. [This is reasonable given how generally disconnected from reality this administration tended to be.] Before he proceeds he wants the Obama administration to weigh in. Hastings thinks that since the plan was produced under the Bush administration, it should be good enough and is afraid that Obama may take things in a completely different direction. [Like a good Republican his starting point is absolute distrust of Obama and then forward from there. So naturally he would like the case to just go ahead without hearing from Obama.]

The first national issue he brought up was the size of the federal deficit. [This is the current biggest thing on the right-wing talking points.] He proposes a formula in which there is a limit on the federal budget based upon a percentage of the GDP. He disagrees with basic Keynesian economics and believes that government spending should be limited more when the economy contracts. [This is disingenuous because he has supported irresponsible tax cuts when the economy was booming. He wasn't concerned about deficits then.]

The next is cap-and-trade as an energy policy. The fact that it is a method of taxation is what really bothers him. [Now what about those irresponsible deficits?] In the Northwest the major carbon emitter is the transportation system so the weight of cap-and -trade taxes would fall on inefficient fuel burners. [I presume that since most of his base tend to drive gas-guzzling SUV's this would seem like a burden on his constituency.] Then he drifts from cap-and-trade to energy policy. His favorite energy issue is to increase domestic drilling in ANWR, the outer continental shelf, and in the inter-mountain West. Bush moved to open up the OCS for drilling and Obama has put the brakes on that and on more intermountain exploration. [There seems to be no concern on his part about the actual goal of cap-and-trade, CO2 reduction.] He also sees this as another issue on which to bang his taxation drum. Doesn't think it is good for a recovering economy.

And finally to the last issue he addressed in his remarks, healthcare.
Hastings acknowledges that the bills remain works-in-progress but his position is simple. He is unequivocally opposed to this round of healthcare reform. He sees it as a direct path to a government-run healthcare system. The current system is good and only needs a few tweaks. Americans are living longer now than we ever expected. As a principle he thinks that there should be a strong relationship between doctor and patient without any third party between them. [He seems oblivious to how private insurance interferes with that relationship.] He says that if government gets too much involved in healthcare it will eventually evolve into the hated single-payer system. Hastings' rationale for opposing the public insurance option is that he doesn't think that the government has the experience necessary to be an insurance company. [Despite the federal employee insurance plan, the VA, and Medicare.] He is not comfortable with the uncertainty of the final cost figure. [Uncertainty about the cost of war didn't bother him a bit.] Hastings thinks that the size of the deficit should preclude a major effort like healthcare reform. [I guess he would rather pay later since healthcare costs are going to continue to go up with the status quo.] Half of the money needed for healthcare reform will come from increasing taxes on the richest 1% of the country. He interprets that to mean that businesses will be taxed more. It goes without saying that defenders of business find it synonmous with defending job production. The other half of the funding needed is to come from the reduction of waste and fraud. He doesn't like to see dollars wasted. [Except for the occasional completely unnecessary war.]

Hasting then launched into a discussion of the Medicare reimbursement rate formula. The current formula over-reimburses for urban areas. Since urban areas have more representation in the House this formula is unlikely to change. The proposed public healthcare option will use the same rates as Medicare. But the current Medicare rates lead doctors to limit the number of Medicare patients they have. With the public option even more providers will take a Medicare-like hit.

Hastings next point is a scenario in which those who opt for private insurance are forced to keep that insurance for 5 years. [This is a dark-side interpretation of the agreement with the insurance companies that prevents them from gaming their customers (dropping the risky ones for example). It also provides some stability for the insurance companies as things evolve to their final form.] Hastings is of the opinion that private insurance companies do a good job of delivering healthcare. Since it looks like a great number of people like the idea of a single payer system he assumes that it is quite likely that people will gravitate toward the public option. Instead he thinks it better for people to have many choices. He supports tax breaks to help people pay premiums. [Individuals may have choices but those are limited by what they can afford. The less money the fewer the choices. With the current system its businesses that get the choice since employees must take the insurance their employer provides. The tax break point assumes that people have money coming in to pay those premiums.] Hastings also wants doctors to be protected from frivolous lawsuits.

Hastings is not interested is reasonable debate on healthcare issues. Instead he sees the disruptions made by the hyper-vocal minority as the sort of debate that is useful.

Basically he feels no urgency to address healthcare issues and would like to defer it as long as possible. He makes noises about bipartisanship but the only bipartisan offer he has is to do nothing. He thinks the voice of the hyper-vocal misinformed minority is the true voice of the people. [He is happy to pay lip service to the will of the people as long as the people are properly subservient to the corporate power structure.]

Now some questions.
Q: What will be the impact on the elderly from the proposed healthcare reform?
A: Medicare is a reasonable system and people like it. But 90% have supplemental insurance to pay what Medicare doesn't. A bad thing in the proposed plan is the euthanasia program. [Hastings is a Deather.]

Q: Has the focus on the deficit been lost?
A: It looks like the focus is elsewhere. [Like avoiding a catastrophic depression.] He speaks of the current deficit as if it was Obama's idea since it took a big jump on his watch. The Bush deficits were not bad because they weren't as big as what has happened lately. [There is a question of sanity here. There is selective deficit outrage and no appreciation of the deregulation and lax SEC that were major contributing factors to the economic meltdown.]

Q: The majority of Americans want universal insurance and access. Do you support that?
A: People have universal access to insurance now [as long as they can pay for it and are able to shop for it. He ignores the people insurance companies exclude.] People have universal access to medical care if they go to emergency rooms. [Ignores the waste of ER resources and the potential for preventative care. Also ignores the fact that ER bill for such services and can force people into bankruptcy.]

Q: When are we really going to get out of Iraq?
A: We need to be successful against these radical Islamist terrorists. [Who were not in Iraq until we destroyed it.] The Middle East is safer with Saddam gone. [It's safer with Bush gone, too.] We really need to be successful in Afghanistan as well. It is in our interest to destroy the Taliban and rebuild the country. Short answer: who knows? [Hastings has the typical hyper fear about terrorists.]

Q: What if we go to a single-payer system and it doesn't work?
A: Hopes it doesn't come to that. Having choices is more important than actually getting healthcare for everyone. The worst case is that we get a system like Canada's. There would necessarily be some rationing of medical care.

At the end it was announced that Hastings had received the 2008 Spirit of Enterprise award from the US Chamber of Commerce for his support of issues friendly to business.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Get the facts

With all the misinformation being spewed by reform opponents here's a nice one-stop page for a Health Insurance Reform Reality Check.

Best Health Care in the World

We know we have the best health care system in the world when a right wing activist has to solicit donations for his medical expenses because he doesn't have insurance. Not to mention the hustling for a dandy out-of-court settlement in a frivolous law suit.

The wing nuts have a deep appreciation for the flaws in our system because they spend plenty of time trying exploiting those flaws for personal gain.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Government Isn't the Problem

The reason today's healthcare insurance works as well as it does is because of government interference. Reform just cuts out the expensive, profit-sucking middleman.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Markets Not Healthcare Solution

Paul Krugman on why markets can't cure healthcare.
There are two strongly distinctive aspects on health care. One is that you don’t know when or whether you’ll need care — but if you do, the care can be extremely expensive. The big bucks are in triple coronary bypass surgery, not routine visits to the doctor’s office; and very, very few people can afford to pay major medical costs out of pocket.

This tells you right away that health care can’t be sold like bread. It must be largely paid for by some kind of insurance. And this in turn means that someone other than the patient ends up making decisions about what to buy. Consumer choice is nonsense when it comes to health care. And you can’t just trust insurance companies either — they’re not in business for their health, or yours.

This problem is made worse by the fact that actually paying for your health care is a loss from an insurers’ point of view — they actually refer to it as “medical costs.” This means both that insurers try to deny as many claims as possible, and that they try to avoid covering people who are actually likely to need care. Both of these strategies use a lot of resources, which is why private insurance has much higher administrative costs than single-payer systems. And since there’s a widespread sense that our fellow citizens should get the care we need — not everyone agrees, but most do — this means that private insurance basically spends a lot of money on socially destructive activities.

The second thing about health care is that it’s complicated, and you can’t rely on experience or comparison shopping. (“I hear they’ve got a real deal on stents over at St. Mary’s!”) That’s why doctors are supposed to follow an ethical code, why we expect more from them than from bakers or grocery store owners.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

39-days to Mars

A two stage ion engine currently under development could take us to Mars. It would also be useful for moving satellites around and pushing threatening asteroids out of Earth's orbit. To get to Mars it would need a nuclear power plant on board since the sun's power would just not be enough.

Fears about health reform costs are a mirage

Timothy Noah points out that the $600 billion dollar price tag for healthcare reform is not that big of a deal. The Health and Welfare Committe does not have the jurisdiction to propose any taxes to offset the costs. However there is a reasonable amount of taxation that could easily offset the costs.
"The health insurance exclusion is regressive, since people making more money tend to receive the most generous health benefits. On the other hand, eliminating the exclusion entirely would increase the tax liability of people earning less than $50,000, as a percentage of income, much more than it would people earning more than $200,000, assuming both groups received health insurance through their employers. A reasonable compromise, therefore, would be to maintain the exclusion for people earning below a certain amount (say, $50,000) and reduce it for people earning more. In the March 17 New Republic ('Tax My Health Benefits, Please'), Cohn noted that a tax scheme along these lines, proposed by Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, would raise 'more than $700 billion over ten years.' If included in health reform, such a plan would net the feds a $100 billion surplus during the next decade. As a side benefit, it would exert some pressure on health insurers to lower premiums."

The Impotence of a Republican Congressman

doc Hastings demonstrates the impotence of being a good Republican foot soldier congressman in a congress controlled by the Democratic Party. He has to take hat in hand and curry support from a Democratic congressman in order to secure funding for the Hanford cleanup.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

American Mullahs

If you are looking for fundamentalist secret organizations with the goal of seizing absolute power in America you need look no further that the Family at the C Street House.

Maddow Demolishes Buchanan's Surreal Facts About America's Racial Past

Oh, what hubris! That people like Pat Buchanan can take their load of horsesh*t on the air with the likes of Rachel Maddow and expect to make points is truly amazing. Rachel deftly shows that Pat's position is basically a racist, self-serving mirage that tells us more about Pat than about the real world.

UNDERESTIMATING OBAMA

Deanie Mills has a good article about the continuing trend to underestimate Obama. I think "we ain't seen nuthin' yet"
"He ran to govern.

Governing is tense and messy but good governing gets results. Those who underestimate Barack Obama do so because they are writing a dramatic narrative in their heads that he does not fit, and so they dismiss him.

But Barack Obama has thrown out that old construct and shuffled the entire medium, hurling it into a fresh, new, 21st century story, a story in which all the senses are engaged at all times, the action is fast, the results, unexpected.

In that story, history is respected, but not relived.

It's kind of like the difference between, say, an old Vaudeville variety show...and Cirque de Soleil."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mass 'Kiss-In' Protest At Mormon Temple Leads To Confrontation

Hyper-sensitive positions seem to always lead to unintended consequences. If the original security guards had simply treated the same-sex kissers as they would have treated any other amorous couple there would have been no headlines. Instead they handcuffed them and through one of them to the ground. Now they have mobs of same-sex kissers and unflattering headlines to deal with.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Paul on Goldman Sachs

Op-Ed Columnist - The Joy of Sachs - NYTimes.com: "The bottom line is that Goldman’s blowout quarter is good news for Goldman and the people who work there. It’s good news for financial superstars in general, whose paychecks are rapidly climbing back to precrisis levels. But it’s bad news for almost everyone else."

Planned Parenthood clinic update

The Pasco Planning Commission kicks the Planned Parenthood clinic decision down the road. Sadly it isn't because they are concerned about the merits of the case. It's because they are looking for some sort of legal cover for the decision they are about to make. Their own biases as well as the preponderance of testimony they have received about the permit leads them to think that protesters will make the site inappropriate due to its proximity to a school. Rick White, the city's community and economic development director, told the commission that a previous court case made the issue of potential protesters insufficient grounds for denying a permit.

It appears that the courts have already ruled against the bullying tactics employed by the planned parenthood opposition. The opposition has made it clear to the commission that if the permit is granted, they will protest. Thankfully the court has made it illegal for the commission to cave to the threats of the protesters. It's no wonder these people want to destroy the courts. They view their religious conviction as a higher standard than our country's legal system. Said legal system seems to always get in the way of their efforts to shove their particular religious views down the throats of the populace.

I, for one, am thankful that the establishment clause continues to be protected.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

House health plan is out

The House health plan presented today shows a great deal of promise.

Healthcare Expert Stuart Altman speaks in the Tri-Cities

When Richard Nixon made the first national foray into health care he chose an economist who knew little about health care to head the effort. That person was Stuart Altman.

Dr. Altman opened his remarks by describing himself as a radical moderate and noted that his remarks would probably support whatever bias any member of the audience may have had when they came in. At the time that Nixon appointed him to that commission health care spending was 7.5% of GNP. The thinking was that if it got above 8% the nation would be in trouble. The spending is now at 17.5%. Is there a correct answer for what the spending should be? Should our spending be limited? There is no right answer and anyone who tells you they have the answer is stupid. But there is no doubt that this level of spending is causing problems.

Healthcare has been an issue for a long time. Truman ran on a platform plank of public healthcare. He won but he was never able to bring that policy into fruition. Nixon almost got a public healthcare policy in place but was side-tracked by a third-rate burglary and the public embarrassment of Congressman Wilbur Mills. Bill Clinton tried it. Clinton’s original plan was undercut by a person Altman chooses to call Rasputin. Altman’s team proposed a plan that would cover everyone plus prescription drugs but would cost at that time $100 billion. Clinton’s jaw dropped. Rasputin countered that he had a plan that would cost nothing. But Rasputin’s plan would be a radical change to the way healthcare was paid for and delivered. Altman objected that people would not accept such a radical change. Altman’s days in the Clinton administration were terminated.

Now we have a new president who has made healthcare a key priority. Altman was one of Obama’s advisors during the campaign. There should not be 50 million people in this country with no healthcare coverage. But there are some big obstacles to changing that.

There are three major options:
1. An all-government program like the systems in Europe on Medicare here.
2. Restructure the current mixed system and make it work better.
3. Eliminate the tax exemption on employer-provided insurance and provide tax credits for people to buy their own insurance.
Altman thinks that most Americans prefer option 2. This is the sort of thing that has been proposed by both Obama and Hilary Clinton.

There is a precedent for this kind of plan in the state of Massachusetts. There are critics of this kind of plan at both extremes so that is an indicator that it is a decent moderate choice. In Massachusetts, that moderation was arrived at as a compromise between the Republican governor Mitt Romney and a Democratic legislature. In the plan everyone has a share of the responsibility, be they the government, individuals, or employers. It was a shift from a subsidized safety net to universal insurance. The idea was to get everyone covered then decide how much to pay for that coverage. At the state level there is an advantage that isn’t available at the national level. Much of the money the state was able to use came from the federal government. At the national level there isn’t a higher power that can assist in the funding.

Obama has already made some down payments on a mixed plan. SCHIP was funded. Money has been provided for health information technology. Money is proposed for research on effectiveness. (What most people don’t realize that is that governmental regulatory bodies are not tasked to determine what products are cost effective. They only determine whether the product works or not. They don’t determine whether products make economic sense. Effectiveness research takes that next step to determine whether the cost of the product is justified by its effectiveness.) Money is proposed for the unemployed and the disadvantaged on Medicaid.

But when Obama came to Washington the pressures came to bear. Massachusetts was able to get a compromise. Such a compromise just may not be possible in D.C. $2.5 trillion is being spent each year on healthcare. Over the next ten years that number will be over $30 trillion. This is a great deal of money with which to work. Adding the uninsured is not going to break the bank. There are those who advocate single-payer. There are those who advocate an individual mandate. The problem with an individual mandate is how to deal with the individuals who refuse to get insurance. Obama would like to avoid that issue. Because employer-provided insurance is not considered as income for tax purposes there is an incentive to overuse the insurance. Furthermore, a number of unions have negotiated contracts in which they have accepted lower wages in exchange for secure healthcare.

The two most contentious issues are whether to create a public plan to compete with private insurance and how serious should we be about cost containment. Altman considers the public plan in competition to be a distortion and distraction from a more important issue. He thinks that getting universal coverage is much more important. Serious cost containment is going to hurt some powerful lobbies. It will be difficult to achieve.

Cost containment has several issues. Why should the government be stuck with paying for the high administrative costs in the private system? What exactly is government going to pay to providers? Currently the government tends to only pay 70% of what private sources pay. How will that shortfall be made up?

Already the original proposals have morphed. Original the people who qualified was a limited set. Now the proposal has been extended to everybody. There are a number of other versions going around the Hill. The Ways and Means Committee has a plan that requires everyone one to be in it. Ted Kennedy has a plan that defers the payment level decision to the administration. Some are championing a plan based upon Group Health of Puget Sound.

Whatever happens, the fact is that providers now lose money on Medicare and Medicaid patients. Currently that money is made up by private payers. So either the Medicare and Medicaid payments must go up or the quality of care must go down.

In 1983 Medicare was changed from cost-based to diagnosis-based payments. The cost-based system was good for small rural hospitals but the diagnosis-based system hurt them. Many began to close. Altman was interviewed on the TODAY show to defend this. There were cases where the extra travel required resulted in unnecessary deaths. He was asked, “Why are you killing people in America?” He went back to Washington determined to fix the problem. That fix was the Critical Access Hospital program. The diagnosis-based system with Critical Access Hospitals has become a gold mine for consultants because it is so complicated that specialized knowledge is needed to use it smoothly. Today hospitals have a difference of opinions on public plans. Some will do well and others will not.

A real question is, “Why are costs raising so much?” Are we just using too much care? Altman’s basic answer is that we just pay more than other countries pay. Obama’s proposals will not be successful in serious cost containment because they are political plans. All the options may make slight improvements in costs but there is no “silver bullet” out there. All the ideas have some merit but there is no big idea that will solve the problem. The basic way to spend less money is to have the discipline to just spend less money. That is what other countries do. They set the budget for healthcare and the system simply has to live within that budget.

Altman’s Law is this. Most every major healthcare constituent group favors universal coverage and healthcare reform BUT if the plan deviates from their preferred approach they would rather stay with the “status quo”.

He believes that we will eventually do something but it will fall short. Some will not be covered and costs will continue to go up. The big debate will be about expanded and modified Medicare. The status quo on Medicare is not sustainable. We will have to either cut it, make people pay more, cut payments to providers, and/or make rich people pay more. If we significantly improve the delivery system and reduce the demand on Medicare we can maintain the quality of care. We must wean ourselves from fee-for-service and get to a state of integrated and coordinated care. Currently providers get paid more for doing more. Systems are encouraged to aggressively compete against one another instead of collaborate well. We need to pay them more for doing less if doing less gets the job done. We need to be willing to pay more for appropriate care instead of paying more for just any care at all. In the end the healthcare communities need to come up with their own solutions.

This concludes Altman’s formal remarks. Additionally in the handout materials there are the following points.

There are 4 options for changing the payment system:
1. Bundled or Case Payments
2. Significant pay-for-performance add-ons or penalties
3. Value-base payments
4. Permit wider use of “gain-sharing” between hospitals and doctors
The following payment reforms are likely to be in the Congressional bill:
1. Bundled payment for acute and post-acute care
2. Penalties for excess re-admissions
3. More extensive pilot or demonstrations for bundle payments including ambulatory care (with special emphasis on chronic conditions)
4. Extra funding to expand primary care workforce
a. Medical Home
b. Additional funding for primary care residencies

Questions and Answers
Q: Will taxing healthcare benefits reduce costs?
A: Economists like this because it makes sense in free markets. But healthcare doesn’t always behave according to free market rules.

Q: Much of the private costs are in administration. Explain how we could recover those costs without a single-payer system.
A: Insurance companies are often bad actors. Generally the government should be able to administer thing cheaper. But there may be problems with a government system as well. With Medicare a person gets Cadillac care for Chevy prices. The real answer is to get tougher on the insurance companies.

Q: If drug makers can’t make money, how will we be able to fund new drug research and development?
A: Drug companies also skew their development toward profit-making drugs instead of needed niche drugs that may not be as profitable. Altman acknowledges this as a tough problem.

Q: There are revolutionary plans than can be quite cost-effective.
A: It’s my contention that any revolutionary plan will not be adopted.

Q: What are the future and political challenges of Medicare managed-care systems? Oregon has an efficient system. Can that be duplicated elsewhere?
A: That apparent efficiency is a political fluke. Politicians from Washington and Oregon noticed that Florida was receiving really high payments because of the large number of procedures being done there. They banded together and got a special political dispensation to get more money from Medicare. In typical bureaucratic behavior, areas with high efficiencies are exposed to being cut more than areas with low efficiencies.

Q: This sounds like we are just arguing about different ways to pay the same sets of bills. When will we get more serious about prevention?
A: We should be paying for things that actually make us healthier instead of for just procedures.

Q: If we were able to match the Massachusetts program on a national scale could we achieve the same kinds of statistics?
A: I don’t know. The experience just may not transfer. And there are some real problems with the Massachusetts system that may not be reflected in the statistics. One of those is a real shortage of primary care physicians.

Q: What do you think of the plusses and minuses of the Maryland system?
A: Maryland is the only state with an all-payer regulatory system. It is a complex system that has some problems. There is much friction between hospitals. It does enable the state to get more federal money. But it does generally work. However, the complexity of it all keeps plenty of consultants in business.

End of presentation.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Benton County suffers Republican Incompetence

As if the incompetence and irrelevance of the Republican party at the national level isn't enough, a couple of our local Republican county officials cook up a crazy scheme to achieve the consolidation of the local crisis center. Brad Peck seems bent on taking money from the struggling transit system with any convenient excuse. He was shot down in the past when he wanted to take the money for the Franklin County jail. And thankfully he was shot down again this time for wanting to take public transportation money for the Crisis Center. What is with this guy and his new wannabe jerk, Jim Beaver? It's not bad enough that Republicans are always looking for ways to destroy needed government services by starving them of funds but they are willing to take the funds that have been approved by the taxpayers for a given purpose and use them somewhere else.

There seem to be two classes of Republicans: those who live such a life of wealth and privilege that they have no need for public services and those who cluelessly use public services without understanding that taxes are required to provide them. They are like John Boehner who thought the government had deserted him when we he was on welfare and food stamps.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Differences Between Embryonic And Reprogrammed Cells

A recent study has shown that there are molecular differences between embryonic stem cells and skin cells that have been reprogrammed to be pluripotent. But whether the differences matter is yet to be shown.

Holmquist praised by contractors association

State Sen. Janea Holmquist(R-Moses Lake) is a friend of business wallets across the state. A stalwart opponent of collective bargaining for childcare workers, paid family leave, and business and income taxes. And a big friend of business. That's sad for the voters in Moses lake.

Hanford for mercury storage?

DOE to consider Hanford for mercury storage. Public meeting from 5:30 to 9:30 PM at the Clarion Hotel in Richland on July 28.
DOE website at www.mercurystorageeis.com.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Competition in Health Insurance?

Paul Krugman notes that in an article by digby that the opposition to a government healthcare option is being led by congressmen from states where a single company has an essential monopoly.
"So here’s a suggestion: while the opponents of a private plan say that they’re trying to defend market competition, what they’re actually doing is defending lucrative local monopolies."
I think we need to shed some sunlight on the real issue here. So-called competition in health insurance is currently a charade. Government competition and/or stricter regulation is needed.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Planned Parenthood in Pasco

At a recent hearing before the Pasco, Washington, Planning Commission there was testimony concerning the opening of a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city. The site is adjacent to an elementary school playground on on side and a major arterial street on the other. The purpose of the clinic is to provide reproductive health care as well as information and education. Abortions will not be provided at the clinic.

These are the arguments for the clinic.

  • Franklin County has an excessively high rate if STI’s and teen pregnancies.
  • County spends tax-payer dollars to deal with STI’s and unintended pregnancies.
  • There is a need for better access to reproductive health services. It is a 1.5-2 hours bus ride to other office. Much of the target clientele have transportation issues.
  • Proposed site on major street with easy access by foot or bus.
  • Services are provided regardless of patients ability to pay.
  • No plans for controversial birth terminations. That is not a current need.
  • Pasco teens are not getting good reproductive health information.
  • Despite the news splash, violent attacks on clinics are very rare.
  • Property values near the Kennewick clinic have gone up
  • La Clinica and Miramar don’t provide all the same services and when they do they cost more.
  • If PP were going into a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood no one would care.
  • Existing community health organizations don’t have the fund to provide the services PP does.
  • The people who use the services are not well-represented at the hearing
  • Not everyone has decent parents who can deal responsibly with sexual health issues
  • The arguments against the clinic are based on myths.
  • Religion should not govern the making of public policy. We don’t live in Iran.
  • Most family-provided sex education is poor. Most kids think they invented sex.
  • Absence of PP denies many people of the choices provided by law
  • PP is there when churches and parents are not.
  • PP is another source of safe and appropriate healthcare
  • It’s the protestors that cause problems at PP clinics, not the clinic.
  • PP gives people the tools to make their own best choice.
  • People who are claiming to be godly are being hateful and judgmental.
  • If permit is denied, the bullies win. Decision makers show their cowardice.
  • Abstinence is included in comprehensive sex education.
  • PP educators are trained how to communicate in an age-appropriate manner
  • Abortion not needed in Pasco. Education is needed.
  • Absence of PP services harms women. Women are people too.
  • People are more concerned about property values than providing needed services to their community.
  • Contraception is given to those who are or are about to be sexually active. Without it there will simply be more people having unprotected sex.

Arguments against PP clinic:

  • Location near a school is inappropriate.
  • PP activities are against scripture.
  • Parents should teach children about sex
  • Logic doesn’t matter. Bible (the way I read it) is more important.
  • Young people should be completely subject to their parents
  • PP treats patients poorly
  • PP activities cause future guilt in patients.
  • Women that get pregnant should always attempt to give birth
  • Teenagers should always have their babies
  • PP building was a part of school district a decade ago. People might still thing it is.
  • If permit is approved there will be no chance to stop abortions at the site later
  • PP near a school is a danger to the children
  • Comprehensive sexual education doesn’t work
  • PP will attract protestors endangering nearby children (repeated many times)
  • Sex education is an encouragement to engage in sex
  • PP not needed. La Clinica provides the same services
  • PP will reduce property values
  • PP is there to indoctrinate children but the reproductive counseling given by religious groups is not indoctrination.
  • Morning-after medication is abortion and shouldn’t be used
  • Protestors have a constitutional right to harass reproductive health clinics
  • All health-related issues for minors should be handle through their parents.
  • Healthcare for minors should not be confidential.
  • There is discrimination against people with large families.
  • Teen pregnancy should not be seen as a problem
  • It is appropriate for people to have many children and struggle with the hardships that come with them.
  • If PP is approved voters will show their displeasure at the polls
  • In Las Vegas there are a number of PP clinics. When PP goes into a neighborhood it becomes a ghetto.
  • In the nearby school there are children who have do-not-approach orders against past family members. The publicity generated by protestors will expose those children to maybe having their picture on public display.
  • God doesn’t want PP clinics
  • A position against PP is the only moral position that is OK.
  • The planning commission should go beyond it legal responsibilities and just say no to PP because it is the right thing to do.
  • The presence of protestors will be detrimental to the businesses.
  • The presence of protestors will keep people from buying houses nearby.
  • I’ve got gross-out pictures of aborted fetuses
  • All PP does is perform abortions
  • Church is the answer to educating children properly
  • I don’t need a reason to be against PP. I just believe because that’s what my spiritual leaders tell me to do.
  • PP services not needed. Catholic family services are sufficient.
  • High teen pregnancy rate is because of media images not lack of education
  • High teen pregnancy rate is because abortions are easy to get
  • It doesn’t matter what other services PP provides. If they do abortions they should not be allowed to exist.
  • Grace Clinic and churches provide the same services as PP. PP not needed.
  • Abortions are coming to Pasco
  • One woman risked her life to continue a pregnancy that was destroying her kidneys. After child was born she was able to get dialysis and eventually a kidney transplant. It was a risk worth taking.
  • Protestors will make too much noise
  • Another woman refused the abortion option and gave birth to a Down’s syndrome child. Child died at age 15 but it was worth it to her.
  • We need a growing population
  • If people are opposed to PP then it shouldn’t go in. No matter what.
  • Protestors will require more expense from law enforcement
  • Contraception is wrong.
  • Abortion has terrible consequences
  • PP does not provide adoption services
  • Abortions endanger public health.
  • I feel guilty about talking my wife into an abortion.
  • Children shouldn’t know about such things as PP.
  • PP increases number of teen pregnancies
  • PP employees are prejudiced about their support. Christians who oppose are not prejudiced.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

En'Wezoh Wins

A young man who was a hot-shot at Kamiakin High School becomes student president at Washington State. I'm looking forward to what he does politically after he graduates.

Anti-Choice Antics

Why is it that the same anti-choice crowd that wants to shove their version of "morality" down everyone's throat, so blatantly unethical in so many other things they do?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How the City of Kennewick wastes tax-payer dollars

Whassup with breaching a contract to the tune of $3 million? Who should have known better? The city attorney? City staff? The elected officials? How did this fubar come about?

Shared via AddThis

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bloom where you’re planted

My daughter gets a blurb in The Olympian and the Tacoma News-Tribune. She once prepared lunch for me by just walking around the neighborhood.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Non-toxic Pesticide

Some folks in Maryland have come up with a non-toxic termite killer. Basically it is modified glucose. The spray disables the ability of termites to fight infections so all the sprayed bugs eventually quickly die off from fungal infections.

Hmm

Noticing that all the federal government cars are GM reminds me of the James Bond movie in which all the cars were American Motors.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Supervolcano in Washington State?

A team headed by New Zealander Graham Hill traced the magma column of Mount St Helens 15 kilometers down to a pool that reaches to both Mt Rainer and Mt Adams. This thing is bigger than the pool under Yellowstone.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Origin of Life

The latest thinking seems to go towards life arising out of basic chemistry. Fundamental reactions create conditions for continuing reactions that are at the root of metabolism. Once these appear natural selection comes into play and the more successful reactions continue until eventually the collections of molecules get more and more lifelike.

This means that life isn't a unique accident but almost inevitable given the right conditions. We should probably expect to find life throughout the universe wherever it is possible.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Castration of the SEC

Under the Bush-appointed Chrisopher Cox, the SEC was like a hen house guarded by the fox. Anyone who was paying attention could figure out that one could do pretty much anything and the worst cases would get a mild slap on the wrist.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Reagan Did It

Krugman calls it the way it is. The root of today's economic crisis is clearly in the deregulation of the Reagan era.

Anytime anyone wants to talk about the quality of Republican governance, let's be sure we point out the absolute disaster it has turned out to be.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The People Are Wrong

A son defends his gay father's marriage.
If my mother and I can support the marriage of a man whose sexuality threw her life off course and jarred me into adulthood, then how is it that perfect strangers won't even do my father the courtesy of not going out of their way just to stand in his?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Torture for Propaganda

It is now clear that the Vice-President authorized torture against Kahlid Sheik Mohammed in order to get him to make a false confession that Al-Qaeda had a connection to Iraq. They needed that confession because they were already invading.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Where the Superbugs Come From

It seems that waste treatment plants can be enhanced breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And where does that water go? Back into our rivers and streams.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Republican Colors

Light is shed by "Joe the Plumber" on the kind of people that make up the (thankfully dwindling) Republican base. He persists in believing the myth that the Founding Fathers based the Constitution on Christian principles. Then he moves on to talk about individual freedom when what he really means is freedom to exercise his prejudice. He respects religious freedom only so far as it is Christian. He thinks taxes are fair only when it's the same flat rate for everyone. Regardless of the fact that the required rate would be crippling for poor people and windfall to the rich. Rationality isn't much of a concern for him. If something troubles him he just speaks to God and God just makes him feel better. His hero is his own pious father. He's a poster child for George Lakoff's strict father model of a conservative mindset.

Countering these kinds of folks is much like deprogramming victims of cults. They are so caught up in their belief system that straight-forward, reality-based arguments have no effect. These folks are like die-hard racists. You can not change their minds. All you can do is criminalize their destructive behavior and educate the next generation on genuine, reality-based, and rational principles. Until that happens the rest of us will just have to suffer the burden of their sins.

Today their disconnects from reality are obvious. We can only hope that they don't recover sufficient intelligence to do better at hiding their true colors.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why Arlen Specter Left

In a blast email sent out yesterday Michael Steele shows why Arlen left the party. It's clear that the Republican base that Steele sees as his audience is so far out of touch that their sanity is questionable. Steele is blind to the problems with the party that Specter notes. He can not see how far to the wing-nut side of the spectrum the Republicans have moved. Then he proceeds to demonstrate just that. Steele characterizes the Obama administration as "radical leftists". He calls Specter a "craven politician desperate to keep his Washington power base". He refers to Obama's agenda as a "destructive agenda of income redistribution, health care nationalization, and a massive expansion of entitlements". He even references Benedict Arnold.

I can only hope that more of the thinking Republicans will see what their party has become and either correct its course or leave it to sink in its own bile.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Irony's a Bitch

The deliciousness of this is just too rich!
"But the political faction screeching about the dangers of the DHS is the same one that spent the last eight years vastly expanding the domestic Surveillance State and federal police powers in every area. DHS -- and the still-creepy phrase 'homeland security' -- became George Bush's calling card. The Republicans won the 2002 election by demonizing those who opposed its creation. All of the enabling legislation underlying this Surveillance State -- from the Patriot Act to the Military Commissions Act, from the various FISA 'reforms' to massive increases in domestic 'counter-Terrorism' programs -- are the spawns of the very right-wing movement that today is petrified that this is all being directed at them."

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The End of Christian America

When America stops trying to act like a "Christian" nation all kinds of potential improvements lay ahead.

Consequences

Those idiots who spread the conspiracy theory that Obama was going to take away guns should be ashamed of themselves. It was that propaganda taking root in the Pittsburgh shooter that caused a horrible tragedy. Now in a classic case of unintended consequences the case for stronger gun control is much better.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Infinia on the national stage

CNN has a nice article about our local solar generating company. Infinia's first major client was the army since their generator was easy to move around and didn't give off detectable heat unlike a diesel generator. Now they have plans to mass-produce these little babies and sell them at $10K a pop. They hope to have 100,000 on the grid by 2010. To do this they need some big time suppliers. There just happens to be a few auto-industry suppliers out there looking for new work. It may be a marriage made in recession.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Winnable Afghan War

David Brooks thinks we can actually win in Afghanistan. I hope he is right. Not only for our sakes but for the people of Afghanistan.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Demise of God's Time

In the shadow of the recent time shifts we should note that it was the railroads that killed "God's time". Until people could move fast enough across the country that the difference between local noon and noon on a portable timepiece was noticeable only mariners appreciated how the zenith varied with longitude. It was tho railroads that established formal time zones so that clocks were uniform across a range of longitudes. In doing so genuine local time disappeared.

Cold Fusion?

Some new credible evidence of the existence of cold fusion has come around. This is verrry interesting.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fallible Pope

The Pope has proven to be fallible and tragically so. He is wrong about condoms and HIV. Dead wrong.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Last Will Be First

Edison lost out to Westinghouse in the AC/DC wars. Now it looks like DC may be coming back. HVDC is more efficient over long distances. In Edison's time there weren't transformer that could bring the high DC voltages down to what would be acceptable for home use. But HVDC is a perfect way to spread power over long distances. Just what you need for a constant supply of solar or wind-generated power.

Interesting New Capacitor

An advanced semiconductor construction technique opens the door to better capacitors. Good enough to serve as quick charging batteries.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Nuclear Obsolesence?

If Traveling-Wave Reactors can really be built before the Gen 3 reactors just going into construction, they could be the last light water reactors ever built. There are thorium designs similar to this that could be built as the depleted uranium stockpile are consumed. Who knows, maybe electricity will become to cheap to meter after all.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Evolution of the Wing

Another ID argument bites the dust. What could be the use of half a wing? It turns out early birds used their primitive wings to help them run up inclines and vertical surfaces by creating more traction. They used them as spoilers to produce downward force for their feet. If they were at speed the force of the air across their wings would enable them to run up vertical surfaces where their predators could not follow.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cantwell in Richland

Reflecting another of her new responsibilities, congressional oversight of the nation's nuclear sites, Cantwell will stop in Richland on Thursday to discuss accelerated cleanup efforts at the Hanford nuclear site. The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus bill, contains about $2 billion to speed the cleanup of the contaminated site and is expected to save or create 3,000 jobs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Fiscal Stimulus Will Pay For Itself

In a troubled economy tax cuts don't get spent. They get saved. Direct governmental spending increases incomes thereby increasing tax revenues. More people working increases demand and gets the economy growing again. More workers also reduces government expenditure on unemployment and food stamps.

Rural Stimulus

Here is what in the stimulus plan for rural areas (pdf). Let's hope it helps.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pakistan Gives Up Territory to Taliban

Pakistan recognizes the de facto control of the Swat Valley by the Taliban by making it official. Islamic law and the Taliban now are the official governing force there.

Swat was such a beautiful place when I visited back in 1984. It's sad to see it come to this.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Out of His Own Mouth

Doc Hastings spews crap again:
“The pain of the recession is being felt by families, small businesses and communities across our nation. With our state facing an unemployment rate of over 7 percent, our top priority must be stimulating the economy and creating jobs now. Unfortunately this bill is not about jobs – it’s about bigger government and more spending.

This bill will saddle our children and grandchildren with massive debt, while failing to provide the type of fast relief needed to help job-creating small businesses and struggling families.

Like many Americans, I don’t believe extra money for the National Endowment for the Arts, computer systems for federal agencies, the 2010 census or NASA climate change research has any place in a bill designed solely to create jobs and stimulate our economy.

We can do better. Providing tax relief to all Americans, holding the line on deficit spending and using taxpayer dollars efficiently is necessary if we want to get our economy back on track now.”

So let's get this straight. He voted against stimulus because the problem with the economy is that taxes are too high, the government is spending too much and tax dollars are not being spent efficiently.

Where was he as billions of dollars went down the rat-hole to contractors in Irag? Oh, that's right. He was cheering from the bleachers.

Puh...lease!!! Will no one rid us of this troublesome lapdog?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Undercover at Wal-Mart

Charles Platt goes undercover at Wal-Mart to find the real scoop on this retail behemoth. What he finds should serve as a model for real economic recovery in America.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Greenpeace takes on Areva

In its attempt to mobilize opposition to the new EPR reactor to be build in France, Greenpeace grossly misuses radiation data, again. They have such passion that it drives out all reason. By doing so they squander their credibility. Whatever good they intend to do goes right down the toilet.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Taliban grip expands in Pakistan

The Taliban may have in rough in Afghanistan but it looks like they may be on the way to becoming a major power in Pakistan proper. If they do, the war in Afghanistan could only be a prelude.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Spirit

One of the things that marks history-making leaders is how their leadership transcends the person themselves. In the history of war it comes to people like Cyrus, Alexander, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon. There seems to be something more present than just a supremely capable commander. The people who follow place a faith in that commander that gives a spirit to the troops beyond what is possible by a mere man. In war this spirit can make the numbers of the opposition meaningless.

The recent event of the absolutely peaceful gathering of 1.2 million people on the Washington Mall makes evident to me that a similar has happened to the person of Barack Obama. He has come to embody the power beyond his frame to contain the hope and faith of both folks who have struggled for generations and a new generation for whom the struggles are yet to come.

It is my prayer and hope that Barack and the people with whom he surrounds himself are sufficiently competent for this enormous load. And it is also my prayer and hope that we, the people, can recognize the limits of what one man can do. We need to individually respond to that Obama Spirit in ways that indeed make the incredible obstacles before us surmountable in the end.

Remember, Barack will be nothing but a footnote in history without the support of our own personal, individual energy and resources.

Fragile Food Supplies

Industrialization Of China Increases Fragility Of Global Food Supply:
"Experts predict that if China's recent urbanisation trends continue, and the country imports just 5% more of its grain, the entire world's grain export would be swallowed whole.

The knock-on effect on the food supply - and on prices - to developing nations could be huge."

TCH Report of our Inaugural Party

from Tri-Citians toast historic day (w/ video)

"I've never seen this many Democrats in one place in this county," joked David Chassin of Pasco while trying to squeeze through a crowd gathered at the Shilo Inn.

"They're not all Democrats," said Lyle Wilhelmi, 82, of Richland, who admitted he voted Republican lots of times years ago before moving from Oregon to the Tri-Cities. "I think some of them are Republican spies," he suggested.

But everyone there was focused on the 44th president.

Carol Moser, former member of the Richland City Council, led a toast for the crowd.

"This turnout is beyond our wildest expectations," she said.

Nathan Reyes of West Richland said he "woke up this morning feeling blessed (to have) an intelligent man as president who is going to fix our economy and everything that's crumbling under us."

Reyes' wife, Michelle, said she was encouraged by Obama's inaugural speech in which he called for Americans to work together regardless of color, creed, religion or politics.

"He wants to get us to a destination of change as a pragmatist," said Nathan Reyes' brother, Fitzgerald.

Arielle Eaton, 11, of West Richland, said she likes having a black president. "It's cool, and it's cool he's a dad because his kids get to live in the White House," she said.

Joel Staudinger, 11, of Pasco, said the new president is a good choice. "It's very good. He can turn the country around economically," he said.

"I think he's an organizer. He doesn't pretend to know everything, but he gets people together who do know," Wilhelmi said.

Michelle Reyes said President Obama offers change. "It won't be overnight, but it will be for the good. That's what I look forward to."

* John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald. com.

Mass Transit Convert

I have a long-time friend who works for Boeing in Seattle. He has driven the freeways to work for about 30 years. I now hear that he is riding the Sounder and he loves it! Instead of having to burn his time driving he has over an hour each day in which he can do whatever he wants be it reading, napping, or cruising the web.

The Video

The Address

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.