Monday, August 31, 2009

Free speech in America?

By Donald Sensing

Not anymore:

“I just returned from a rally for health care reform held at North High School in Denver. As Erin and I were entering the staging area we were approached by people carrying clipboards. We were told we could not enter without signing our name and address on the form. I asked why they needed this information and was told they must know who was entering the area.This was a tax payer supported high school property hosting public speakers and I was being denied entry unless the clipboard form was completed. I was very uncomfortable with this request and remained outside the chain link fence to listen to the speakers. The first speaker was my very own repesentative, Ed Permutter who thanked all who had signed the clipboard form and stated that all these signatures would go on to to Washington showing support of the Obama Health Care Plan. I could not believe what I heard. Never was it stated that this form was a support of the health care plan. I just wonder how many people were dooped into signing this when they do not support the bill or do not know enough about it to make a decision.People carrying signs supporting the bill were permitted entry with their signs, those opposing had to remain outside.

Whether you support this bill or not please ask yourself……do I live in a free country where all are welcome to a public forum without restriction? Can a petition obtained with deception go onto Washington in support of a bill that no one can understand? Do our elected officials respect the wants of the people or are they ramming their agenda down our throats?"
The question pretty much answers itself. Read the whole thing.

How to get Youtube vids to begin at a selected point

By Donald Sensing

In my post about how GPS-enabled realtime traffic information will uncongest roads only until most people have them, I used a Youtube clip from "The Truman Show" to illustrate my point. Originally, I just posted the clip and noted that the segment concerned began at 2:25.

But there has to be a way to get the Youtube clip to begin playing at 2:25. I know there is because I've seen it done on other sites. (Reminds me of the time a Baptist minister was asked whether he believed in infant baptism. "Believe in it!" he exclaimed. "Why, I've seen it done!")

And with some minor tweaking of the embed code, Youtube clips can be so embedded. As in:

As you see, the clip started playing at 2:25, just like I wanted. Here's how to do that.

The original embed code, copied from Youtube, was,

<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

And here is the modification, with the mods boldfaced:
<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

Here is what the new elements mean:

"en&start=145" indicates the numbers of seconds from the clip's beginning to start playing when the "play" arrow is clicked by the viewer. I wanted the clip to start at 2:25, hence 145 seconds in.

"&fmt=13" sets the quality standard of the video playback. Higher numbers yield higher quality.

"&fs=1&autoplay=0" means that the clip will not begin playing as soon as the code is loaded. If you want the clip to autoplay, change the 0, which means off to 1, which means on.

Or you can browse over to and use the wizard there. I did at first, but found that the site's regenerated embed code was about 13-15 seconds off for the desired start point and eliminated some of the options, such as fullscreen playback. But it did tell me the coding to include, so I thank its author.

To get a video on Youtube's site to begin playing at a certain point, do this. Example, I want the same Truman Show clip to begin playing at 2:25 but don't want to embed it here, I want to link to Youtube's page with the clip instead. The URL for the clip is:

To make it play starting at 2:25, I append "#t=2m25s" to the URL thus:

Try it and see.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How Obama will kill the welfare state

By Donald Sensing

Is this, in Barack Obama's mind, a bug or a feature? Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, associate professor of economics at San Jose State University, explains how the financial policies of the president will inevitably lead to the end of the American welfare state.

What will ultimately kill the welfare State is that its centerpiece, government-provided social insurance, is simultaneously above reproach and beyond salvation. Fully-funded systems could have survived, but politicians had little incentive to enact them, and much less incentive to impose the huge costs of converting from pay-as-you-go. Whether this inevitable collapse of social democracies will ultimately be a good or bad thing depends on what replaces them.
Unforttunately, what seems to be the intended replacement of the welfare state is the "statist" state.
The president believes that a select group of affluent, highly educated technocrats — cosmopolitan, noble-minded, and properly progressive — supported by a phalanx of whiz-kids fresh out of blue-chip universities with little or no experience in the marketplace, can direct our lives far better than we can ourselves. By “better” I do not mean in a fashion that, measured by disinterested criteria, makes us necessarily wealthier, happier, more productive, or freer.

Instead, “better” means “fairer,” or more “equal.” We may “make” different amounts of money, but we will end up with more or less similar net incomes. We may know friendly doctors, be aware of the latest procedures, and have the capital to buy blue-chip health insurance, but no matter. Now we will all alike queue up with our government-issued insurance cards to wait our turn at the ubiquitous corner clinic. ...

So we move at breakneck speed in order not to miss this rare opportunity when the radical leadership of the Congress and the White House for a brief moment clinch the reins of power. By the time a shell-shocked public wakes up and realizes that the prescribed chemotherapy is far worse than the existing illness, it should be too late to revive the old-style American patient.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Marxism: the opiate of intellectuals

By Donald Sensing

"Marxism will always be the opium of the intellectuals. It has too much appeal to their vanity and petty grievances not to be." Here's why.

Wait until everybody has one

By Donald Sensing

Remember Yogi Berra's old quip about a popular restaurant? "Nobody goes there anymore because it's always so crowded."

Autoblog says that, "GPS systems with real-time traffic can save drivers four days per year, cut emissions by 21%."

In Los Angeles, the 101/405 interchange is so congested that in 2002 it was determined that 27,144 hours per year were wasted trying to get from one freeway to the other. That's over 1,100 days. Per year. Not only does that number sound wildly low, but we guarantee it's gotten worse in the last seven years. Much worse. But according to a new study, GPS-systems with real-time traffic info can save American drivers four days a year of being mired in lousy traffic.
But drivers with real-time traffic reporting are saving time only because they know the uncongested routes and very few other drivers do. Once a majority of drivers become so equipped, then the uncongested routes will congest real fast, and the jams will be back on, just more widely dispersed. Once a route is indicated as open, it will fill up fast, like the road in this clip:

Evenn so, there will likely still be a net savings of time. But the real problem will come as drivers seek ostensibly open routes increasingly distant from the original one. The time will come when an alternate route that saves 15 minutes today will become so used that it will save only six or seven minutes. But wait! The GPS will find yet another alternate that will save another three our four on top of that. It will range even farther afield, though, and will likely pass through residential areas. Commuters in a hurry don't mix well with residential roads.

So eventually the presumed alternate routes will be so crowded that no one will drive on them anymore.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You're sick? Good luck.

By Donald Sensing

A comment left on Meg McArdle's post on "The Magic of Europe," in which Meg claims that health care is better overall in Europe than here. The commenter responds:

Maybe if you're poor, definitely not if you've got any money. My wife and I have developed an expression: If you're not sick enough to go to A&E (the emergency room), you're well enough to wait and see an American doctor. Every encounter with our British GP has been met with "Yep, you look sick alright. Good luck with that." I went to the after hours GP once because I had strep throat so painful that I couldn't sleep for two days. The doctor looked at my throat. Didn't test me. Said I "maybe" had a "mild case" of strep throat and should go home and gargle salt water.

We have had good experiences when we can get past the first line of doctors though. Recently our son had a 104 degree temperature. (If you don't have a child to test this on, at this temperature they have to basically be kept naked and wiped with a damp rag constantly, or else they'll have seizures. If you're lucky, they'll just pass out.) We took him to the British GP who said he "seemed" sick, but given his non-specific symptoms there wasn't anything he could do. He told us to come back in three days if he still had a fever. We went to the base clinic the next day. They had us go immediately to the childrens' ward at the NHS hospital. The doctors and nurses there actually seemed concerned, and took great care of us until he got better.
But don't worry, American nationalized health care will be completely different.

Then there's this report from England: "The babies born in hospital corridors: Bed shortage forces 4,000 mothers to give birth in lifts, offices and hospital toilets."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Inglorious Basterds" FAQ

By Donald Sensing

Q: Having hauled in $38 million its opening weekend, does that figure mean that "Inglorious Basterds" presages a resurgence of World War II movies?
A: Nope. This is not a World War II movie. It is a movie set in World War II, using principal figures of the war, but the main characters are fictional and so is the story line. The story line is very fictional, actually.

Q: Yes, but the movie is all about killing boatloads of Nazis, right?
A: First, make sure you pronounce the National Socialist party members correctly, Pitt-like. It's "Naaht-sees," not "Not-zees." (I might point out that Churchill often called them "Nozzies.") However, yes, though not a boatload but a theater load. That's what makes the movie ahistorical, because nothing like the final sequence ever came close to happening in the real war. Once you see it, you'll understand. (For that matter, "The Dirty Dozen," starring Lee Marvin, was a much earlier Nazi-killing fantasy that one "Inglorious" reviewer reminds us, "isn’t exactly a sober-minded PBS documentary.")

Q: Isn't the movie incredibly violent and gruesome?
A: Yes and no. There are a small number of sequences where the Basterds scalp dead Naahtsee soldiers, shown with a detail not seen before on the screen. But "Last of the Mohicans," starring Daniel Day-Lewis, had a couple of similar scenes. There's a Naahtsee guard taken out by throat slitting, but no more bloodily than the two such scenes in "Braveheart," starring Mel Gibson. The final, climactic sequence is neither as violent nor lengthy as that of Sam Peckinpah's, "The Wild Bunch." Moreover, there is practically no combat action apart from snippets of Joseph Goebbel's premiere screening of his propaganda film, "Nation's Pride," in the theater of the climactic sequence (a film within a film, I guess). Most of the violence, even by gunfire, is not very red.

Q: Why have some critics said the movie drags and, said Kenneth Turan, is "unforgivably leisurely, almost glacial"?
A: Probably because Weinstein & Co. first marketed the movie as an action thriller, which they fortunately abandoned as the release date grew nearer and began emphasizing the humor of the film, of which there is quite a bit. (This is not a comedy, it's just got a number of funny scenes.) The marketing may have left previewers unprepared for several long sequences where the action is basically all dialog and body language. In my view, this makes the movie all the better because the screenplay is incredibly well written. In fact, absent these dialogical sequences, the movie would be much less compelling. They are intense and very suspenseful.

Q: Austrian actor Christoph Waltz has gotten overwhelmingly positive reviews as "Jew Hunter" S.S. Oberst Hans Landa. Are his plaudits earned or overboard?
A: Absolutely the finest performance of the movie is Waltz's. In fact, Waltz ironically uses the superb screenplay to turn out perhaps the best and most dimensional Nazi villain in moviedom, certainly rivaling Ralph Fiennes' portrayal of concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth in Steven Spielberg's, "Schindler's List." If there is any screen Nazi displaying the "banality of evil" of Nazi power, then Waltz plays him. He should get a Best Actor nod (his character is really the main male role, not that of Brad Pitt.) One thing that struck me as real Tarantino artistry: in none of Waltz's scenes is there any soundtrack other than dialog - no music, no sound effects except the sound of something actually happening onscreen. The effect is chilling and very effective.

Q: Does the movie ever cue the audience that this is not a historical film, but a highly fictional, if not actual fantasy, film set in a specific historical time?
A: Well, the movie's opening screen displays the words, "Once upon a time," so yeah. It's followed by spaghetti-western music in the very first sequence as Landa's car appears in the distance, a deliberate tribute to Sergio Leone but gratingly out of place with Naahtsees and French countryside. Also, the introduction of the character Hugo Stiglitz is one big major clue. Another is casting Martin Wuttke as Adolf Hitler, right. There are any number of actors who could be made to resemble Hitler more closely (i.e., David Bamber of last year's "Valkyrie"). Churchill also makes a brief appearance (not identified as Winston, though) and the resemblance is only barely adequate for the audience to figure out who it is supposed to be.

Q: Worth seeing?
A: Yes, but understand that this is not a war movie and will not teach you anything about World War II. It's always entertaining, often funny and usually gripping. I should add that while the movie plays with you in its Naahtsee-killing fantasy, it never portrays Nazis' murderousness of Jews as anything but what it was.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Here's a vote getter

By Donald Sensing

How to destroy your base of support among retired voters:

WASHINGTON – Millions of older people face shrinking Social Security checks next year, the first time in a generation that payments would not rise. The trustees who oversee Social Security are projecting there won't be a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the next two years. That hasn't happened since automatic increases were adopted in 1975.

By law, Social Security benefits cannot go down. Nevertheless, monthly payments would drop for millions of people in the Medicare prescription drug program because the premiums, which often are deducted from Social Security payments, are scheduled to go up slightly.
It's well known by pollsters and campaign architects of both parties that the older a citizen is, the more likely s/he is to vote. Retirees have already been vigorous participants in townhall protests this month. The news that their social security payments will lose purchasing power will certainly do nothing to bring them back into the fold.

Fighting Fire with Fire

By Daniel Jackson

Over the last few days, the war of words between Israel and Sweden over the latest blood libel (i.e., that the IDF harvested body parts from dead Gazans) has been escalating. Last week, defense minister, Ehud Barak, informed the Swedish foreign minister of Israel's displeasure.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday informed Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt that he expects the government of Sweden to denounce "the scandalous report alleging IDF soldiers snatched organs from Palestinians."

Barak stressed that the claims made in the article by tabloid Aftonbladet are not legitimate, but rather "a despicable libel, which is unacceptable also in a democratic atmosphere of freedom of speech."

Swedish officials, however, have kept silent about the story--perhaps a belated lesson learned about free press and editorial cartoons. Still, this story is over the top and a statement of such from some appropriate official, such as the Royal Pooper Scooper, would not be too much to ask.

Ilya Meyer, in an op-ed article in the Jerusalem Post, suggests that there is more to the story than a simple resurrection of medieval blood libel.

A worrying pattern emerges of governmental, church and trade union involvement in officially-sanctioned demonization of Israel.

This is no one-off phenomenon. Rampant Swedish media distortion and the tacit and blatant anti-Semitism expressed in various Swedish governmental and quasi-governmental organizations can be charted with the utmost clarity in an NGO Monitor report "A Clouded EU Presidency: Swedish Funding for NGO Rejectionism."

THE RESULTS of media distortion and constant demonizing of Jews and Israelis are felt in Sweden all the time - most recently Saturday in a soccer match involving Jewish youth club IF Hakoah, in which spectators raced onto the pitch during and after the match to assault the Hakoah players for the crime of being Jewish.

One problem, however: at this particular match, none of the Hakoah players happened to be Jewish. Not that it mattered in a climate of hate cloaked in government silence.

Other aspects of Swedish silence that are equally worrying if one steps back and examines the broader canvas. Sweden is one of the world's largest per capita donors to Palestinian Arab welfare. This funding comes in the form of tax revenues paid dutifully by hard-working Swedes lucky enough to still have a job, to the tune of about of 700 million kronor per annum and increasing yearly.

And despite the millions that he takes from Swedish citizens to give to Palestinians, [Swedish Foreign Minister Carl] Bildt deliberately chooses not to condition these payments on the Palestinians' release of the only Jew in the Gaza Strip: the young Gilad Schalit who was captured by Hamas 1200 days ago and has since not been allowed contact with his family, legal representation or visits by the Red Cross - itself a gross violation of his human rights.
Indeed, it would appear that part of Swedish official policy is financial support to organizations that routinely deseminate outlandish claims.

Far from being "free speech in action," Sweden's anti-Israel hatred is too often subsidized by the government. A recent report by the respected NGO Monitor shows that the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Diakonia, the multi-national NGO Development Center (NDC), and the Swedish Mission Council (SMR) fund 20 major NGOs that "routinely accuse Israel of 'genocide', 'ethnic cleansing', and 'apartheid', and some compare Israeli military and political officials to Nazis." As Professor Gerald Steinberg puts it, "The path from this demonization to the blood libels of Aftonbladet is short and direct."
So, what's to be done?

Well, I guess one can only fight fire with fire. First, there is a devasting look into the trade secrets of Swedish lox making. In a revealing article in Ynet News, worthy of the genre, Uria Asor investigates the horrific practices of the Swedish lox industry.

OSLO – Gravad lax – or pickled salmon – is one of the most popular Scandinavian dishes. Its preparation process is simple and quick, and its ingredients are seemingly identical everywhere: Salmon fillet, salt, sugar, oil, and herbs.

However, despite this, those in the know and lox connoisseurs have been claiming that the Swedish gravad lax tastes differently than the Norwegian, Finnish, and Danish variety. “The Swedish variety contains some sort of slight sourness, “ says Danish Chef Richard Muller Holstrum. “I was never able to detect its source.”

However, Ynet’s special investigative report has revealed, for the first time, what may be the secret ingredient in Sweden’s gravad lax. The horrifying findings indicate that the source is fungus removed from the feet of innocent Norwegian fishermen.
The problem is that Swedish salmon just can't cut the mustard in the international salt cured fish market.

In the 1950s, ... Sweden faced a sharp decline in pickled salmon exports, mostly because of the growing competition against Norwegian salmon. Secret experiments and taste tests performed by Swedish scientists finally identified the secret ingredient that would give Swedish salmon the edge: One gram of fungus taken from human feet for every 100 grams of gravad lax.

Residents of east Norway villages, known for not changing socks for long months, were therefore an obvious target. And so, Sweden established the Strumpor Stinkande elite unit, responsible for fresh supply of stinky human feet for the Swedish salmon industry.
In KNEW there was something wrong with foreign made lox. I just KNEW it!

But this is small change compared to the truly horrific proportions some will go to demonstrate their outrage with offical Swedish complicity.

Thousands of Israelis on Sunday signed an internet petition calling for a consumers' boycott on Swedish home products retailer IKEA, as well as other companies from the Scandinavian country, including vehicle maker Volvo, Absolut Vodka, and fashion chain H&M.

The petition was initiated following a Swedish newspaper report accusing Israel Defense Forces soldiers of harvesting Palestinians' organs.

The website which published the petition explained that "after the anti-Semitic publication and the blood libel against IDF soldiers, and the refusal of Sweden's foreign minister and prime minister to condemn this report, there is no way that we can continue buying products made in Sweden. Don’t settle for signing the petition. Real action is needed."
Now, THIS really hurts. A Volvo I can do without. But, I was just thinking I need some more shelves for my IVAR bookshelves and planning a trek to the Netanya IKEA.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Debt to infinity

By Donald Sensing

Now the White House says that its previous 10-year deficit projection of $7.1 trillion was too low. The new projected figure is TEN trillion dollars.

Thanks to, some visualization of the holes that the administration is intentionally digging in which to bury the American economy.

First, here is $1 million, packaged in 100 packets of $100 bills, each packet having 100 of the bills. Hence, each packet is $10,000.

Next is a stack of $1 billion, which in this picture is 10 stacks of $100 million each.

Next we'll look at ONE TRILLION dollars. This is that number we've been hearing so much about. What is a trillion dollars? Well, it's a million million. It's a thousand billion. It's a one followed by 12 zeros.

You ready for this?

Note the tiny red-shirted figure at the lower left. Note also that each pallet is double stacked.

That's as far as Pagetutor went. But let's visualize the new, White House projected deficit, ten trillion dollars. You'll have to keep paging down.

And remember, this is the amount that the White House itself says we'll be buried under.

Update: Harvard economics Prof. Greg Mankiw points out that the federal debt today, the product of 43 previous administrations, stands at $7.4 trillion. That is to total accumulated from George Washington's inauguration in 1789 until the last day of George W. Bush's term - 220 years. And the Obama administrations plans to more than double that amount in only 10 years.

Friday, August 21, 2009

NADA says Cash for Clunkers should be ended now

By Donald Sensing

The National Automobile Dealers Association says that the "Cash for Clunkers" program is so poorly run that it should be shut down immediately. Despite Transportation Dept. Secretary Ray LaHood's promise that all dealers submitting valid applications would be reimbursed.

However, the NADA said, in its statement, that the group had “confirmed elsewhere” that dealers would not get paid if cash ran out.
Although, according to press reports, Secretary LaHood stated today that “there will be no car dealer that won’t be reimbursed,” NADA believes that this is based on DOT’s view that sufficient funds remain available. It is important to note that NHTSA has confirmed elsewhere that if the program’s money runs out before a dealer is reimbursed, that dealer will not be paid.
In a survey of nearly 800 dealers,

97% of dealers who responded, say the government is not reimbursing fast enough
13% of dealers have dropped out the program because the government is not reimbursing fast enough
87% percent of dealers are concerned the money will be exhausted
3% of CARS program deals have been reimbursed
66% of dealers have not received one payment from the government
25% of dealers are experiencing severe cash flow problems that require short-term loans to alleviate ...


“The lack of cash is killing us,” one dealer said in the survey. “The lack of any kind of feedback from the government for the rebate applications is appalling.”

“My office manager got so fed up last week, she threatened to quit.”

“As I stated when the program first started, do not roll out a program until all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. That is just good business 101.”

“We stopped because we have only gotten two payments out of 120,” another dealer said. “They keep rejecting for various reasons, and the process is entirely too slow.”

“As a dealer, I would just as soon this program had never been approved despite the sales,” one respondent said. “It is a nightmare for all of us"
Index of related posts.

Well, ask and ye shall receive: "Obama admin. to end cash for clunkers on Monday."
"It's been a thrill to be part of the best economic news story in America," Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "Now we are working toward an orderly wind down of this very popular program."

Through Thursday, auto dealers have made deals worth $1.9 billion and are on pace to exhaust the program's $3 billion in early September. The incentives have generated more than 457,000 vehicle sales. Administration officials said they have reviewed nearly 40 percent of the transactions and have already paid out $145 million to dealers.
Well, the the wind down of the C4C program turns out to be "orderly," it'll be the only orderly thing about it.

So the feds have paid out 4.83 percent of claims so far. That means that a dealer that sold 50 cars, averaging $4,000 "rebate" per car has loaned $200,000 of its own money to the government but has received only $9,667 back. And that equation explains why dealers were dropping out before now.

Tiny Titans

By Donald Sensing

Wow, NFL players sure are getting small!

Recorded at the August 15 Titans preseason game during halftime.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If federal debt was a sports car

By Donald Sensing

Imagine for a moment that the debts run up under our nation's presidential administrations is a sports car. How long would it take you to drive coast to coast, with the car's speed analogous to the rate of increasing federal debt?

Believe it or not, from 1900 to the end of G.W. Bush's administration, you'd only have made it halfway. And Bush drove it faster than anyone else.

But by the end of the Obama administration (assuming two terms), you'd drive all the way to the other coast.

Dealers opting out of Cash for Clunkers

By Donald Sensing

The federal government is so slow sending the Cash for Clunkers welfare rebate checks to dealers that a lot of New York dealers are opting out of future C4C deals.

A New York dealership group says hundreds of its members have left the Cash for Clunkers program, citing delays in getting reimbursed by the government.

The president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association says about half its 425 members have stopped offering rebates from the program because they can no longer afford them.
Mark Schienberg says the group's dealers have been repaid for only about 2 percent of the clunkers deals they've made, leaving many short on cash.
But discontent is not just in New York.
"A number of dealers have floated $100,000 to upwards of $1 million or more" on the clunkers program, said Bill Sepic, president of the Wisconsin Automobile & Truck Dealers Association.

Dealers say they want to see at least some sign that they will be able to recoup that money. Still others need the money to pay bills and meet payroll.

"This is not a Wisconsin problem," Sepic added. "This is going on across the country.
According to the terms of the C4C program, dealers advance the car buyer the amount of the "rebate," which varies from $3,500-$4,500. Then the dealer begins a "bureaucratic nightmare" application process to the CARS agency to get reimbursed. The application the dealer must submit is 20 pages long!

Like I said before on this and other administration programs: Don't worry - Obama's healthcare will be a model of clarity and efficiency. (How long will we and doctors wait to be paid?) So will cap and trade, you betcha.

Update: Arizona auto dealer owner Don Chalmers makes a good point about the reimbursements coming so slow.
Dealers across the state are owed more than $3.6 million, according to a dealers' group which says that so far Uncle Sam has only written three checks totaling about $14,000. ...

"I pay my bills," Chalmers said. "If I was three weeks or four weeks late on paying my taxes I suspect that they would be in my office real quick.

"We just expect the same sort of courtesy and treatment from the federal government."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Your medical benefits are taxed

By Donald Sensing

One of the trial balloons the Obama administration floated in the healthcare insurance issue was taxing the dollar value of employer-provided health insurance. However, they beat a fast retreat, not because the proposal didn't make sense (that benefit is, after all, part of an employee's total compensation), but because the unions said they'd have none of that.

But that fact is that your health insurance benefit, employer-provided or not, is already taxed indirectly by the federal government. Econopundit has the data, though his focus is less on taxation than insurance-company profits.

Here are two telling charts. First up, revenue, income and taxes:

Note that Wellpoint and Aetna each paid about $800 million in corporate income taxes. Humana, being smaller, paid about $350 million. Where did the money to pay those taxes come from? From your premium payments, that's where. Like any other business, the health-insurance companies charge their customers an amount that will, in aggregate, cover their expenses, including taxes. As I have written somewhere before, in a free-market, consumerist society, ultimately all taxes are paid by individuals. The money businesses use to pay their taxes comes from our pockets. It's a sort of reverse value added tax.

So (work with me here) if the healthcare companies were not subject to those taxes, they could reduce premiums by those amounts - good for employers and employees alike - and still maintain their same obscene profit margins.

Oops, did I say obscene profit margins?

Four percent! That's just over half the margin of Exxon-Mobil, IIRC, and not even a third of Apple Computer's margins. Heck, the grocery store I worked in as a teenager had a profit margin several points higher than that.

So what is driving high medical costs, since the insurance companies' profit margins aren't?

1. Lack of insurance options for consumers. The Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Progress found in 2006 that price gouging (padding margins, in other words), can occur only where "insurance industries [are] exercising monopoly power. We find that states with more concentrated insurance industries actually have lower premiums." Which is to say the obvious: industry competition drives down consumer costs.

2. Skyrocketing malpractice premiums, paid not only by doctors but by all hospitals and medical institutions.

Like physicians, hospitals also must purchase medical malpractice insurance that covers their staff plus any physicians employed by the hospital. Hospitals report that the growing premiums are cutting into their operating budgets and threatening to drain money away from other areas of the hospital. The survey shows that hospital medical malpractice insurance premiums, as a portion of total hospital operating budgets, have nearly doubled in the last four years.
In fact, 10 percent of the costs consumers pay for medical care goes directly to pay medical malpractice premiums.
According to Towers Perrin, a global professional services firm, malpractice litigation costs $30 billion a year and has grown at more than 10% annually since 1975. But that's less than half the story. To avoid being sued, doctors use excessive tests and other procedures to avoid lawsuits, and stay out of certain areas of medicine. The result is higher costs for medical care.

The 1,000-plus page health-care bill under consideration in the House of Representatives mentions the word "malpractice" only once, on page 263, in the context of "malpractice geographic indices" for determining physician reimbursements for Medicare services. Yet crafters of the health care bill cannot find a single section to limit costs of lawsuits.

Rather, Democrats have sponsored three bills to broaden the scope of malpractice suits.
In today's WSJ, Harvard Prof. Martin Feldstein writes how the tax structure related to health insurance and care warps the costs.
[H]ealth-economics experts agree that private health spending is too high because our tax rules lead to the wrong kind of insurance. Under existing law, employer payments for health insurance are deductible by the employer but are not included in the taxable income of the employee. While an extra $100 paid to someone who earns $45,000 a year will provide only about $60 of after-tax spendable cash, the employer could instead use that $100 to pay $100 of health-insurance premiums for that same individual. It is therefore not surprising that employers and employees have opted for very generous health insurance with very low copayment rates.

Since a typical 20% copayment rate means that an extra dollar of health services costs the patient only 20 cents at the time of care, patients and their doctors opt for excessive tests and other inappropriately expensive forms of care. The evidence on health-care demand implies that the current tax rules raise private health-care spending by as much as 35%.

The best solution to this problem of private overconsumption of health services would be to eliminate the tax rule that is causing the excessive insurance and the resulting rise in health spending. Alternatively, Congress could strengthen the incentives in the existing law for health savings accounts with high insurance copayments. Either way, the result would be more cost-conscious behavior that would lower health-care spending. ...

Like virtually every economist I know, I believe the right approach to limiting health spending is by reforming the tax rules.
There are, of course, other cost drivers. But these three facets are the most significant contributors to rising healthcare costs for patients.


1. No, I am not actually proposing that healthcare insurance companies be exempt from paying taxes like every other corporation does. I am merely pointing out that we consumers pay taxes on the dollars we use to pay our co-pays, then those dollars are taxed again as corporate earnings. This means that we medical consumers are spending between $1.40-$1.80 to get one dollar's worth of care.

2. The total amount of medical malpractice awards amounts to a tiny fraction of the total healthcare costs of the country. Even if you could by fiat reduce malpractice awards to zero, total healthcare spending would decrease by a barely noticeable amount. But that's not the point. The deleterious impact of high malpractice premiums is their effect on hospitals' and physicians' budgets, of which they consume a large and increasing percentage. This is money better spent on providing better care or reducing costs than on insurance.

Update: Well, the cat's out of the bag: "Video: Dem wants to eliminate private health insurance altogether."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"How can you have a better heart?"

By Donald Sensing

Michael Yon:

Members of the U.S. 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment closed space with the enemy, apparently killing at least ten. Corporal Benjamin Kopp was shot and evacuated to Germany, then back to the United States, where he died just over a week later on 18 July. Benjamin was 21 years old and at the very tip of the spear. If not for such men, we would be at the mercy of every demon.

Benjamin Kopp and his comrades were delivering the latest bad news to the sort of people who harbored the terrorists who attack innocent people around the world every day, and who attacked us at home on 9/11. Ranger Kopp was a veteran with three combat tours. He knew the risks, yet continued to fight.

Benjamin was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates quietly attended the funeral, as did my good friend, Colonel Erik Kurilla, the new commander of Ranger Regiment, where Kopp served until America lost one of its finest Sons.

Yet the effect of Corporal Kopp did not end on the battlefields of Afghanistan; he only regrouped and continued to serve. Corporal Kopp had volunteered as an organ donor and his heart was transplanted. Two days after most people would have died, Benjamin Kopp’s heart was transplanted into Judy Meikle. According to the Washington Post, Meikle said, "How can you have a better heart?" said a grateful Judy Meikle, 57, of Winnetka, Ill., who is still recovering from the surgery. "I have the heart of a 21-year-old Army Ranger war hero beating in me."
As with everything Michael posts, read the whole thing, which is mostly about the Brits in Afghanistan. They are still fighting our common enemy and still dying, too. And Michael's photos are stunning.

But if Bush had done it . . .

By Donald Sensing

Imagine the frothing furor that would have erupted from the media if the G.. W. Bush White House had tried to pull this stunt:

The president recently wrote a 1,200-word essay titled “Why We Need Health Care Reform.” It was not distributed by the White House press office or issued as a press release. It was, instead, made available exclusively to The New York Times Syndicate.

On Monday, papers around the country received an offer to buy the president’s words through a special arrangement with the syndicate. The Post-Star and other papers with fewer than 50,000 subscribers, for instance, could have the president’s essay for the special price of $125.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Make that "only" 40 percent

By Donald Sensing


Forty percent of the messages on Twitter are "pointless babble" along the lines of "I am eating a sandwich now," according to a study conducted by a US market research firm.
Be interesting to compare Twitter's pointlessness index with that of ordinary, spoken conversation.

Yet another Brett Favre comeback?

By Donald Sensing

Oh, jeepers, say it ain't so, Joe: "The vibe at Vikings camp: Favre could come back."

After visiting the Vikings for two days, I am convinced — positively convinced — that Brett Favre will soon have talks with the Vikings to return to the team and could be joining them for this season after all. If my instincts are correct, all those purple Favre jerseys will have a home on Minnesota store shelves.
Brett, go back to school and learn another trade. You were a great quarterback, really. Were, that is, were.

Advice to Republicans

By Donald Sensing

An open letter to Michael Steele and other Republicans

For some reason, Republicans seem to be feeling pretty good these days. I have to wonder why. Yes, there has been significant, and perhaps yet decisive, pushback by the general public (a.k.a. "voters") against the Obama administration's far-overreaching plan to control one-sixth of the economy, in addition to the slices it has already swallowed. People are awakening to the fact that Health Care Is the Door to Controlling Everything about the way we live day to day.

But I would advise Republicans that there is no real reason for you to rejoice in headlines like these:

"GOP thinks the unthinkable: Victory in 2010."

"Obama As A One-Termer?"

"Rasmussen: For First Time in Over Two Years, GOP More Trusted on Health Care"

Why should these kinds of stories cause Republicans no real comfort? Let me channel Han Solo:

Don't get cocky, kid.

The fact is that the tea partiers and the townhall protesters are not turning out to support the Republican party. Most definitely, they are against the Democrat party or, since these protests occurred with full energy and numbers in heavily Democrat districts, an awful lot them are Democrats or voted that way last year.

No indeed, Michael Steele and company, you have not made legions of new converts. In fact, hardly any. Do not count me as one. George W. Bush killed my Republicanism, and that before the '04 election. Well before that year's election, I made it clear on my first blog (reposted here) that I could not endorse GWB for reelection.

Big-government activism has come to define the governing philosophy of both parties today. The rising tide of big government has swamped us, held only temporarily at bay by the levees of the Reagan years. (And not really even then, since non-defense spending rose during the Reagan administration.)

Because the present-day Republicans and Democrats are both big-government activists, they have a foundational philosophy that is the same:
America is a problem to be fixed, and Americans are a people to be managed.
I predict that the Bush administration will be seen by freedom-wishing Americans a generation or two hence as the hinge on the cell door locking up our freedom. When my children are my age, they will not be free in any recognizably traditional American meaning of the word. I’d tell them to emigrate, but there’s nowhere left to go. I am left with nauseating near-conviction that I am a member of the last generation in the history of the world that is minimally truly free.
I voted for Bush in '04 only defensively, considering that his opponent was empty of both suit and moral character.

Then we come to 2008's race for the White House. John McCain. John McCain? Were you serious? I know his personal narrative simply buries Obama's but it didn't matter. Once Obama got the nomination, you should have known that voters were not going to care about comparing narratives. I readily admit, too, that it would have been an uphill fight for any Republican nominee against the first black nominee for the office. And yes, even so, it was still a real election race until the economy went deeply south just two months before the election.

But McCain? Two words: McCain-Feingold. This act, which George Will accurately called, "The Incumbent Protection Act," ("the most pernicious -- and for incumbents, the most audaciously self-serving -- law ever enacted to abridge First Amendment freedoms") cemented McCain as just another turf-and-privilege-protecting pol. And if that means stomping on First Amendment rights, well so be it:
"I would rather have a clean government than one where quote 'First Amendment rights' are being respected that has become corrupt," McCain said. “If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government."
But enough about McCain, let's talk about . . . Sarah Palin. Nice lady. A looker and all that. But why why why was she the VP candidate? And to think that many of your party, Mr. Steele, think that Sarah Palin should be the 2012 nominee! Since I already wrote what a laff-riot that idea is, I'll not belabor it here.

I should inform you, Mr. Steele (and especially Senators Alexander and Corker and Representative Blackburn), that I have never voted for a Republican for governor of the great state of Tennessee. Frankly, you've raised up only "so what" candidates for the office since Winfield Dunn, and he left office more than 30 years ago. Your most recent candidate for the office was Jim Bryson, a very good guy whom I knew for awhile. He is a man of admirable personal qualities, personal moral rectitude and uprightness - but governor? Surely he was only a sacrificial lamb your pols threw out there to be devoured (as he was) by incumbent Democrat Phil Bredesen, who did garner my vote - and the way Bredesen cleaned Jim's clock was so dignified, so civilized, that I have to think Jim almost didn't mind.

Simply out, your party is leaderless, especially ideologically leaderless. What does the Republican party stand for? Darned if I know. Oh wait, yes I do, I already mentioned it: Big Government. Just like the other guys.

It was not I who first characterized your party as one of big-government conservatism. Except for the self contradiction of the phrase, it's quite true. Does your party stand for limited government any more? Of course not. With every Democrat proposal to clamp more jaws of regulation and control on Americans, Republicans respond only that the bite of your counterproposals won't be as hard. But yours will still bite. Not for nothing are Republicans often called, "Democrats Lite."
What were you all doing during the six years when Republicans held the presidency and both houses of Congress? Where was your principled vision then, while government was growing at rates not seen since the Johnson administration? Once you were in power, you paid no attention to the voices for limited government within your own party. We were shuffled off to the side, while you taxed and spent like drunken sailors on leave. Now that you’ve lost the election, you want limited government again. Forgive me if I’m somewhat skeptical.
What you don't seem to understand, Mr. Steele et. al., is that the tea partiers and townhall demonstrators are tired of being bitten. They want the government to stop gouging out the raw flesh of their freedom. And they know that the Republican party has gouged them just as surely, though perhaps not quite as deeply, as the other party.

No, Mr. Steele (if I may permitted the editorial we), we do not support the Republican party in Obamacare or cap and trade or any other program in the news today. We just are deeply fearful of the practically provable desire of the Democrats to micromanage our daily lives. But don't you take comfort that this paves your way in 2010. It doesn't.

Let this be a "Warning to Republicans- We are Not Doing This for You!" In fact, sometimes it's hard to take you seriously.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

As I predicted - green shoots of resistance

By Donald Sensing

There are "green shoots" that what I predicted almost a month ago is starting to happen. Here is what I wrote on July 20:

We may get a [healthcare] bill of some kind, but if so it will be a greatly watered down version of the Obama plan. That won't make it better, of course, but it won't be Obama's, either. After that, he'll have not much truck with Dems in Congress, who will enjoy the freedom of running away from the White House, even to the point that in some tossup seats next year, we'll see some Dems running against Obama as much as their Republican opponents.
Now consider:

"White House appears ready to drop 'public option'"
WASHINGTON – Bowing to Republican pressure and an uneasy public, President Barack Obama's administration signaled Sunday it is ready to abandon the idea of giving Americans the option of government-run insurance as part of a new health care system.

Facing mounting opposition to the overhaul, administration officials left open the chance for a compromise with Republicans that would include health insurance cooperatives instead of a government-run plan. Such a concession probably would enrage Obama's liberal supporters but could deliver a much-needed victory on a top domestic priority opposed by GOP lawmakers. ...

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that government alternative to private health insurance is "not the essential element" of the administration's health care overhaul. The White House would be open to co-ops, she said, a sign that Democrats want a compromise so they can declare a victory.
The idea that the "public option," or government-run health insurance, is not an essential element to Obama's healthcare is simply ludicrous. Obama has been on record for years as not only urging a public option, but arranging things so that there is nothing but a public option, a.k.a. "single payer" health insurance. In the bill that Obama urged and the COngressional Democrats tried to get passed before their August recess, the public option of was the very core of the legislation. And it was written so that someone could get put on the public option without consent, and once there would be forbidden from getting off.

So for Sebelius to say that the public option is "not the essential element" of the administration's plan is for her to spin like a top.

Then we come to this news nugget about "Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), a leading Blue Dog Democrat," who today said this on CNN, according to The Hill's Blog .
I can tell you, I've laid down my set of principles, so I will not force government-run health care on anyone. ... You should be able to keep the insurance you've got today, if you like it, and always choose your own doctor. No federal funding for illegal immigrants or for abortion, and no rationing of health care.
Just yesterday, Ross got a standing ovation when he bragged about standing up to President Obama and Nancy Pelosi.
Is Ross's stance the green shoots of a trend? We'll see.
Update: "What Secretary Sibelius meant to say . . ." The Atlantic:
An administration official said tonight that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "misspoke" when she told CNN this morning that a government run health insurance option "is not an essential part" of reform.
Trial ballooning or real backtracking? With these folks it's hard to say. as Gerard Van der Leun has said, "I try to get more cynical every day, but I just can't keep up."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

But they'll get healthcare management right, fer sher

By Donald Sensing

Remember the hundreds of billions of dollars of "stimulus" the administration is supposed to be pumping into the economy? It's barely a trickle: "Pace of stimulus spending plummets."

Stimulus bill spending has slowed to a trickle, despite President Obama's June order to his Cabinet to speed it up.

The average stimulus spending per week has dropped severely, to just $4.2 billion over the past month from $9.7 billion during the prior four months. The government spent $2.9 billion in the week ending Aug. 7.

Taxpayer groups say the numbers show spending decisions are random and prove that the $787 billion stimulus program has had no effect on the economy.

"This is a typical bureaucracy. They don't operate in an efficient way. They can't operate in an efficient way and make an impact," said Leslie Paige, media director for Citizens Against Government Waste.

The spending has slowed despite Mr. Obama's declaration in June that he was "not satisfied" with its pace, and his demand that his Cabinet secretaries accelerate the distribution of stimulus funds.
But don't worry, be happy. They'll get the management right on the more than $2.2 trillion Americans spend annually on health care. You betcha.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Proofs of God's existence

By Donald Sensing

Endnote added 8/14

Many years ago I was on an online religion forum (so long ago that the Internet really wasn't yet there) where a self-described atheist said that he would believe in God if only some evidence existed.

I replied, "Since the universe already exists, you either have to accept the universe itself as evidence or admit you are asking for evidence greater than the universe."

In classical theological philosophical terms, my response was related to the "argument from cause," sometimes called the cosmological argument. This argument observes that the universe exists and something must have caused it to exist, and this "Unmoved Mover," as Aristotle put it, is God. Aristotle's reasoning was picked up by Aquinas and by Moses Maimonides, the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period. Maimonides offered several arguments for God's existence, all of them some variation of a cosmological argument.

Another argument in favor of God's existence is called the ontological argument. This argument attempts to prove God's reality basically by arguing that the term, "God," is nonsensical unless it has an existing referent rather than an imaginary one.

Probably the most famous proponent of the ontological argument is Anselm of Canterbury, 1033-1109. Ontological arguments
proceed from premises which are supposed to derive from some source other than observation of the world — e.g., from reason alone. In other words, ontological arguments are arguments from nothing but analytic, a priori and necessary premises to the conclusion that God exists.

In his Proslogion, St. Anselm claims to derive the existence of God from the concept of a being than which no greater can be conceived. St. Anselm reasoned that, if such a being fails to exist, then a greater being — namely, a being than which no greater can be conceived, and which exists — can be conceived. But this would be absurd: nothing can be greater than a being than which no greater can be conceived. So a being than which no greater can be conceived — i.e., God — exists.
(Anselm's contemprary, Guanilo, argued in reply that Anselm's argument was absurd. As Anselm had cited the Psalm 14, "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God," Guanilo snarkily titled his essay, "Reply on Behalf of the Fool," but though it was clever, it did not actually address Anselm's argument since Guanilo apparently misunderstood what Anselm was getting at.)

Closer to our own time, Charles Hartshorne presented the ontological argument this way:
1) God can be analytically conceived without contradiction.
2) Therefore God is not impossible.
3) By definition God cannot be contingent.
4) Therefore God is either necessary or impossible.
5) God is not impossible (from 2) therefore, God is necessary.
Now, in this argument, "necessary" does not mean "required." A necessary entity's's existence does not depend on something else. "Contingent" means that the entity's existence depends on the prior existence of something else.

In the ontological argument, God's existence is not dependent on any other thing. As Anselm pointed out, if there is an entity, however powerful, whose existence is contingent on something else, we would definitionally say that entity is not God. It would fail to be that "than which no greater can be conceived." Non-contingency is one of the key points in the very idea of God.

Over the centuries, many philosophers have tried to knock down the ontological argument, but, as atheist Bertrand Russell observed, it is much easier to say that ontological arguments are not valid than it is to explain why.

We reason that a non-contingent entity is possible. But we observe that contingent entities actually exist. The contingency of the things we encounter in everyday life is empirically self evident.

In my undergraduate days, one of my philosophy professors observed that the cosmological argument and the ontological argument together made an extremely powerful case for the existence of God.

William Lane Craig recently put the cosmological argument this way, which I am paraphrasing. Suppose you are walking through the woods and come upon a perfectly spherical, transparent ball a couple of feet in diameter. You would not decide the ball was a necessary entity - that it existed without dependence on any other entity. You would immediately think it is a contingent entity, that its existence and location did indeed depend upon something else. "Who made it? How did it get here?" are entirely reasonable questions because it would be impossible to declare, with any sort of intelligence, that the ball simply popped into being in and of its own. No one would or could claim that the ball created itself.

And, says Craig, if you expand the ball so that it is the size of the universe, the problem does not change.

So why are we so willing to assume that the universe itself simply "big banged" itself into existence when we deny that anything else does so? And if the universe simply appeared, just popped into being, why do other such appearances not happen routinely? Why, for example, don't spherical balls (or whatever) just pop up in my front yard or yours from time to time?

But they don't. In fact, the entire universe itself consists only of contingent events that bring forth only contingent entities. But somehow, we are nonetheless willing to say that the universe is necessary, that it exists independently of other another entity.

I believe that it is neither intellectually coherent not congruent with empirical science to think that the universe, which consists solely of contingent entities and contingent events, is even so somehow itself necessary rather than contingent. No, the universe itself and entire must be seen as empirically contingent; its existence depends on another entity. Since it is possible for God to exist as a necessary being, as explained above, the existence of the contingent universe means that God is also required.

Therefore, God exists.

However, I must side with Maimonides that arriving at this conclusion shows only that a creator exists, which we call God, but it tells us nothing about the nature of that God. For that more is required. Another post, perhaps.

Endote: Reading the comments makes me conclude that I should clarify what exactly is meant by "proof" of God's existence. In the parlance of philosophical inquiry, "proof" is not mathematical certainty, such as "proving" a theorem of geometry. It is a series of statements, establishing propositions that are true or agreeable within rationality (that is, postulates or conjectures that a reasonable person would assent could be true even if not inarguably so) that lead to a logical conclusion that establishes a proposition which has the force of rational argument behind it.

In this way, philosophical proof is akin to the standard of legal proof in civil lawsuits, where the defendant may be found liable based not on "beyond reasonable doubt" (as criminal trials require), but on "preponderance of evidence," meaning that it is more reasonable than not to find in favor of the plaintiff.

When I formally studied the history of the church I was surprised to learn that it took hundreds of years for Europe to become evangelized. We tend to think that because the Roman empire was Christian (well, nominally) when it fell that its successor duchys and kingdoms also were Christian. Well, tweren't so. They remained, north of Italy, mostly nature-god pagan except for large areas of France. As late as 1000, a third of Europe (perhaps as much as half) was still pagan.
It is in that light that much of medieval Christian scholarship should be viewed. Anselm not only propagated the classical ontological argument, but also the "satisfaction" theory of atonement, which holds that human sin (begun by Adam and Eve) constitutes a debt to God that the human race, on its own, cannot repay; the debt is wiped clean by God through his human embodiment in Jesus.

But Anselm's argument, though examined by the Christian literati of the day, was not mainly intended for them. After all, they already believed in God. It was intended to help persuade the still-pagans not so much that Christianity was true, per se, but that it was reasonable. That is, that it was internally coherent and made sense, even if one didn't accept it. (The same task had confronted the church fathers in the face of Roman persecution, who fled Hebraic theology of Christian faith, which they were little versed on anyway, to embrace Platonism as a way to persuade that Roman authorities that Christian teaching actually could make sense within the existing Greek-Roman world view and cosmology - so please stop killing us. Unfortunately, they didn't but the Greek philosophical overlay upon Christian theology still plagues us.)

It's really in that light that Anselm's ontological argument is best understood - as another brick in the wall of reasonableness of believing God exists rather than an attempt to "prove" he does as we moderns understand "proof."

A podcast of William Lane Craig's presentation, followed by two attempted rebuttals, is here, recorded at a formal philosophy conference.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Who is Hillary mad at?

By Donald Sensing

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dressed down a questioner in the Congo yesterday for asking about Chinese influence in the region. Specifically, he asked, "What does Mr. Clinton think, through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton?"

She replied quite testily.

But is she actually upset with Bill? Okay, well yeah, like that would be a surprise. The real question there is whether there is a time shen she's not upset with Bill. No, Gerard van Der Leun gets it right:

[I]t is beginning to dawn on Hillary just how deeply and badly she was pwnd by Barack Obama into taking on a role that has about as much real power these days as the Queen of England. Come to think of it, at least the Queen gets some respect.
Back in November by colleague Daniel Jackson wondered why on earth Hillary would accept the SecState slot.
What is going on here? Has the office of Secretary of State turned into position requiring over zealous school marms? It stretches credulity that Senator Clinton would give up an assured slot of power and opportunity in the Senate for the chance to appear shrill and useless for the foreseeable future.
And so it has come to pass.

However, it was reported last night that Mrs. Clinton approached the young man, a college student, to make nice with him afterward, which was decent of her. And, as it turns out, the student did not ask what the translator said, according to ABC's Jake Tapper.
Apparently the translator made a mistake and the student had wanted to know what President Obama thought of the deal. A State Department official tells ABC News the student went up to Clinton after the event and told her he was misquoted. No immediate word yet how Clinton responded.
Meanwhile, hubby Bill is celebrating his birthday in one of the toniest joints in Las Vegas:
Turns out Mr. Clinton decided to celebrate his 63rd birthday with a dinner at one of this city’s hottest – and most pricey – restaurants: Craftsteak at the MGM Grand hotel. How pricey? The 8-ounce wagyu New York strip steak goes for $240. (Potatoes and other sides are extra.)
Sure beats the Congo.

SEUI calls for drowning out voices

By Donald Sensing

Yesterday, the two leading Democrats of the US House said that "Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American" in the townhall meetings being held by Congressional representatives.

Well, "physician, heal thyself." Or, as another sage put it, Why do you see the piece of sawdust in another eye and not notice the wooden beam in your own eye?

Here is a memo promulgated by SEIU Local 2001 of Stamford, Ct, italics added.

Agenda: Congressman Jim Himes (D-4), who has already been hard at work organizing his peers in Washington DC for health insurance reform, will speak and listen to our concerns.

Action: Opponents of reform are organizing counter-demonstrators to speak at this and several congressional town halls on the issue to defend the status quo. It is critical that our members with real, personal stories about the need for access to quality, affordable care come out in strong numbers to drown out their voices.
Screen grab, click for larger image:

The commentary writes itself.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dissent no longer patriotic

By Donald Sensing

Remember this screech from a few years ago?

By now there is widespread coverage of the op-ed piece in USA Today by US Representive Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Majority Leader, and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House, on the topic of health care insurance reform (note that they've changed the name of their program, rather like "global warming" got morphed to "climate change.")

I bet that Hoyer and Pelosi sure wish they'd insisted they would write the headline. The editor saw straight through to the main point, headlining the piece, "'Un-American' attacks can't derail health care debate." Key graf, referring to the townhall meetings where Democrat representatives have been hotly pressed by their constituents over the proposed legislation:

These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views — but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades.
Funny how dissent is patriotic when Democrats do it but un-American when anyone else does it.

But it neither starts nor ends with Hoyer and Pelosi.

"'Shut up,' he explained."

"First Amendment rights for me but not for thee" seems to be the operating principle here.

Yeah, yeah, great job, now shut up about it already

By Donald Sensing

A Scots sniper shot and killed a "high profile Afghan drug baron dead during ferocious fighting, notching up the longest range confirmed kill in Afghanistan."

Corporal Christopher Reynold ... waited on a shop rooftop in southern Afghanistan for three days to take out the top-level Taliban commander - called Musa - who co-ordinated dozens of attacks against British and US soldiers.

Cpl Reynolds, of 3 Scots, The Black Watch, has already killed 32 other Taliban fighters during some of the hardest fighting of the Afghan campaign.
Said Reynolds,
"He had been given a lead sleeping tablet. I was quite proud of that shot - it is the longest recorded kill in Afghanistan. I am going to use that fact as a chat-up line in the pub when I get back home."
But enough already:
Lance Corporal David Hatton, 20, from Castlemilk, serves alongside Cpl Reynolds.

He said: "We had been in position for three days when he made that shot. I was the spotter on that job and I was giving him the information about the target.

"He did a top job that day - but we are all sick about him going on about it and telling us what a great shot he is."
It's easy for us colonials to forget that the UK is still fighting in Afghanistan, too.

Or Canadians, too. And for the record, Cpl. Reynolds' shot, impressive as it was, is not close to the record sniper shot in Afghanistan or anywhere else. That distinction belongs to Canadian Cpl. "Bill," who wanted not to be further identified. Using a .50-caliber rifle (presumably a Barrett), he killed an al Qaeda fighter from 2,430 meters, or more than one mile and a half, during Operation Anaconda in 2002.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Saturday funnies: The greatest practical joke EVAH

By Donald Sensing

Because of the preparation and scope of participation, this has got to be the greatest practical joke ever played. You'll ROTFL.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Shabbat Shalom, Susan

By Daniel Jackson

When I was young, my father would take us cruising. We would load stores, secure our gear, cast off, and motor out of the harbor to the channel. There, we would come up into the wind, raise the main and genoa, fall off and gather speed. Then, we would cut the iron spinnaker. Silence--it was a magical moment shifting from the power of the engine to the force of the wind on the sail.

So, too, we prepared for Shabbat this week (and every week).

My wife is away for Shabbat so my son and I decided to send her Shabbat Shalom greetings from Efrat. As you can see, we are securing for Shabbat. We've stowed the telescope, the lab table, sawhorses, and swept up. Alright, I did cover up the meridian line. Again.

The Obama enemies list

By Donald Sensing

Back in the day, when a president wanted to compile a list of his enemies, he had to do it not much differently than the ancient scribes - laboriously by hand, only a little faster because of typewriters and memeograph machines. Tricky Dick Nixon, poor fellow, started off with a paltry 30 names, but through dint of studious devotion to enemy-identifying and intensive risk of writer's cramp, his staff was able finally to identify 30,000 enemies by name.

Beginners. Pikers. Rank amateurs.

Thanks to the blessings of modern technology, the White House can now compile an enemies list of millions of names - nay, tens of millions - simply by publishing a web page asking for electronic submissions to the list. If you're one of the three people in the country who haven't seen the page, it's still on the White House site. If no longer there, here's a screen cap. Key part:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to
No one at the WH is going to laboriously type submitted names to a memo to circulate on paper among the staff and into the Oval Office, as they had to do during the Nixon Dark Ages. Within milliseconds of receiving submitted emails, its sender and its subject are electronically sucked onto a master data file. I would guess that the filters assume that the rat fink's sender is a "friend" so his address is stripped out to an "allies" file, where it will await future mining for fundraising and further enlistment into Obama's astroturfing legions.

As for the subjects of the emails, those ratted out, if their email addresses are provided by the ratter they will begin receiving copious amount of White House propaganda press releases promoting The One's plans to control the American economy and drive private health insurance into the ground. And if that doesn't turn them or at least shut them up, perhaps more strenuous measures will be taken. After all, Nixon's plan for his enemies was to get the IRS to audit them, plus other measures. As Nixon's white-collar thug John Dean put it, they intended to "use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies."

But something like that could never happen again, right? Especially not with a pure product of Chicago politics in the Oval Office. Nah.

(Not long after the inauguration, I began to receive emails of press releases from the WH press office, and still do. Okay, fine, I've been blogging since 2002, been published in the Wall Street Journal, published and linked by RealClearPolitics and been an interview guest on The O'Reilly Factor. So, sure, if I was running the press office, I'd send releases out to every blogger and opinion writer I could.

(But at almost the same time I started getting releases from the White House Press office, I started getting releases from Prensa de la Embajada de la Republica Boliviariana de Venezuela, which is to say, from Hugo Chavez's propaganda office. Coincidence? Since I have written practically nothing about Chavez or Venezuela, it's a heck of a coincidence.)

Needless to say, had GW Bush's White House announced such an electronic name-hoovering scheme as Obama is doing, the Dems would have been out in the streets with torches and pitchforks and Congress would already be holding hearing even if the Reps were still in majority there. But from Congressional Dems? Only this.

So what is a Constitution-respecting American to do in the face of such despotism? The best suggestion I've seen is this,
I want everyone to forward all of your junk email to Also send link of idiot democrats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid recitng their talking points. Send any criticism of free speech to the site. We should make it useless by overwhelming.
But make sure you use a proxy server and an webmail account used only for this purpose.

John Hinderaker observes, "A secret and more or less permanent dissident database--in America! That's quite an accomplishment for an administration still in its seventh month. It seems longer, somehow."

Update: Camille Paglia writes, "I, for one, voted for Obama and continue to support him." Then,
The ethical collapse of the left was nowhere more evident than in the near total silence of liberal media and Web sites at the Obama administration's outrageous solicitation to private citizens to report unacceptable "casual conversations" to the White House. If Republicans had done this, there would have been an angry explosion by Democrats from coast to coast. I was stunned at the failure of liberals to see the blatant totalitarianism in this incident, which the president should have immediately denounced. His failure to do so implicates him in it.
Italics added. As Camille's bio shows, she is no member of the vast rightwing conspiracy.

Open Housing versus Judein Raus

By Daniel Jackson

Ultimately, the issue of Jews living in the Shamron, and other parts of Judeah and Samaria, hinges on the right of open housing. In the US, and in the rest of the so-called "free world", people are able to live where they choose, keep their residences habitable, and (subject to legal codes) make necessary modifications including expansions to their domiciles.

In the US, this right, along with eating at any lunch counter or riding in any bus or on any seat the person so chooses, was secured as law through the Civil Rights movement. Despite bombings and predatations by men in hoods committing terrorist atrocities, heroic men and women of all races and religions stood firm to win these rights, often with their life's blood. Rabbi Abraham Herschel walked arm in arm with Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., on occassion; the Holy Name was invoked on numerous instances to deplore the existence of a society that would exclude a person from the right to choose where to live, where to eat, how to vote, and with whom to congregate.

How ironic that under this administration the very policies that were decried as racist are now the essence of the new path to peace. It has an old ring to it--just remove the Jews--THEY are the problem. Once again, we here the sound of a Final Solution to the Jewish problem.

It is this outright turn around in the current State Department's blitzkrieg on individual Jews living in residences in locations such as the site of the Tabernacle near the town of Eli, that was the subject of a recent meeting in Kafar Giladi of some 250 rabbis. At the conclusion of the meeting, HaRav Shlomo Moshe Amar, Chief Rabbi of Israel and the President of the Rabbinical Court of Israel, wrote out by hand a personal appeal to the Rabbis and Dayonim of the US to step forward to do whatever can be done to change this position.

This is a copy of HaRav Amar's letter. A translation, courtesy of my son, follows.

Kefar Giladi in Eretz Yisroel.

In a meeting of rabbis in Israel that happened here, to the degree of our brothers, our beloved rabbis of America and Dayanim [rabbinic judges] and the administrators, Presidents [of Jewish organizations] of the Jews in America,

We have come to state our deep sadness, the sadness of the Land of Israel, not from the political or state side but from the side of Jewish Law, the Torah commands of all Jews settling in Israel. As we hear nowadays the US government is pressuring the Government of Israel to not let Jews living or building their houses in wide areas of Israel.

In a time where it is allowed that any person can live anywhere they want--all around the world--and here they want to make a state where Jews will not be allowed to live in it--even to expand places that already exist and that we really need. They are stopping them.

It's a shame and anger. We are asking from your place that you use your status and position to influence the ordained officials in the US to weigh the matter in a way of true democratic justice to keep in mind the Torah and Jewish Law that obligates the Jewish people.

We trust you that you will know to find the right manner and the true way to bring these things in a way that will be heard by the right people. We trust in God's Benevolence that the endeavor will not be turned back, Heaven Forfend, empty handed.

The irony is not lost that on the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb, which ended the global conflict of the post depression era, that the world is confronting another voice of war and genocide. Appeal was made, then as now, to the US goverment. In Israel, at Kafar Giladi, the prayer is that the appeal of the current will not also fall on deaf ears.