Thursday, December 30, 2004

Science Fiction

The recent tragedy in southern Asia was truly nightmarish. One commentator likened it to the recent science fiction film “The Day After Tomorrow”: “We never thought it could really happen.” Friends of the Earth director, Tony Juniper, points out that “here again are yet more events in the real world that are consistent with climate change predictions based on the most up-to-date scientific models.” His co-hort, director of Greenpeace UK, Stephen Tinadale, observed that “no one can ignore the relentless increase in extreme weather events and so-called natural disasters.”

There was a tsunami that destroyed coastlines in Hawaii in the ‘40s and on July 9, 1958 another tsunami measuring 1,700 feet tall (that’s 56 times higher than the one in southern Asia) wrecked Lituya Bay, Alaska. These tsunamis were caused by undersea earthquakes. Global warming, if it were a reality, does not cause or lead to earthquakes. Making this claim is fear-mongering, job security, and a means to insure ongoing fundraising. The mantle of the earth is a patchwork of tectonic plates. They move. They ‘crunch’ against each other, causing earthquakes. This has been going on since there has been a solid surface to the planet. It is completely natural and totally unrelated to humanity or technology. But this tsunami in Asia fits “the most up-to-date scientific models.”

This past summer saw a series of devastating hurricanes and the ‘greens’ said, ‘we warned you.’ However, global warming does not cause hurricanes. Those who really understand global warming theory, like Tindale and Juniper, knew that, but they did nothing to correct the misinformation. The theory goes that the greenhouse gases trap solar radiation causing heat, which melts arctic ice, raising and desalinizing the oceans. The Gulf Stream, which distributes warmth along its route, is disrupted by the influx of fresh and cooler arctic water, leading to a global cooling and a modern ice age (according to a study by University of Colorado reported in Nature). Put very simply, hurricanes are created by effects generated from the heat of both warm water and warm air. If global warming were a reality, we would expect fewer hurricanes or none. But the hurricanes fit “the most up-to-date scientific models.”

These out-of-control greenhouse gases are supposed to be destroying the ozone layer and have created at least one ozone hole. Firstly, there is no ‘ozone layer,’ it exists in the air from ground level to the edge of the envelope, though it is more prevalent in the air between 10 and 40 kilometers above ground. Ozone is created naturally by the action of solar radiation on oxygen in the air. If you test for ozone in Antarctica during the winter, when the revolution of the planet hides Antarctica from the sun causing a ‘night’ all winter long, you will find depletion or a hole. If you test in summer, when the sun shines, you don’t find a hole. Care to guess what season the study proving an ‘ozone hole’ was conducted during? Curiously, that little detail is left out of the presentation of the data. The naturally occurring annual ‘ozone hole’ over Antarctica was first studied in 1956-57. This is significant because we are told CFCs have caused the hole and they weren’t commonly used until well after that first study. Another detail is that CFCs are heavier than air and do not float very high into the atmosphere. But the ‘ozone hole’ fits “the most up-to-date scientific models.”

Shishmaref is a village about 100 miles north of Nome, Alaska, on the Bering Strait and CNN (among others) recently reported that this “Alaskan island falls victim to global warming” as it sinks below rising ocean levels. While it makes great headlines, this is sheer fabrication. A study of the annual mean temperatures in Nome from 1907 through 2001 proves it was colder in 1999 than it was in 1907. A visual study of the island itself clearly shows the cause of the erosion ~ and it’s not rising tides, but rather the completely natural phenomenon known as ‘longshore drift.’ The east coast of England has for centuries been troubled by longshore drift and whole villages have been washed away. The peninsula of Spurn Head in Yorkshire and the island of Findhorn on Moray Firth in Scotland exhibit the same symptoms Shishmaref does and no one suggests global warming. But Shishmaref fits “the most up-to-date scientific models.”

Arctic ice melt and rising sea levels is an anchor of the global warming theory and there have been numerous reports of the rising tides and evaporating arctic ice just this past year. Greg Holloway, Canadian specialist in Arctic Ocean Science, noted that “it’s more complicated than we thought.” While satellite photography and declassified U.S. submarine studies show a loss of surface ice in the last 20 years, Holloway found the missing ice by following the 50-year cycle of Arctic wind patterns. “The submarine sampled ice during a time of oscillation of ice toward the centre of the Arctic,” explains Holloway. “They went back during a time when ice was oscillating to the Canadian side.” The International Panel on Climate Change preferred the study based on flawed data and disregarded Holloway’s results. Arctic ice melt fits “the most up-to-date scientific models.”

An unamed environmentalist attending the recent EU Climate Summit noted that we ‘are experiencing the hottest summers since 1500.’ This claim begs the question: which industry caused the heat in 1500? The claim also buttresses the position of scientists like Robert Essenhigh, Ohio State Professor of Energy Conservation, who suggest that what we call global warming is “a natural geological process” of temperatures rising and falling in trends measured in geologic time, not decades, or even centuries. Frederick Seitz and 18,000 other members of the National Academy of Sciences observed that “research data on climate change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful. To the contrary, there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful.” But harmful greenhouse gases fit “the most up-to-date scientific models.”

All scientists do not agree with global warming theory. In fact, the essence of science is disagreement, i.e. the concept of questioning, studying, and re-questioning until the truth is revealed as scientific fact. The Earth is round. Though you can’t see it, air is there. Gravity exists. Global warming is still at best a theory and one that is still hotly debated despite the carefully crafted appearance of unanimity. The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine sponsored a petition in 1998 stating that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the forseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” This petition was signed by 17,000 scientists. The Meteorologisches Institut der Universitat Hamburg surveyed 400 international environmental scientists and found 67 percent did not subscribe to global warming theory. More than 19,000 scientists signed the ‘Leipzig declaration’ proclaiming “the scientific basis of the 1992 Global Climate Treaty to be flawed.”

Stephen Schneider is a biological sciences professor at Stanford who sums up the case for global warming protagonists nicely: “We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.” The problem with global warming theory is that “the most up-to-date scientific models” are flawed. Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick reviewed the original data used by Michael Mann that forms the basis for global warming theory and found “numerous errors in the data”. Further, after correcting the errors, “the most up-to-date scientific model” showed no significant climate change whatsoever. Untold billions of currency have been lavished on measures to alleviate global warming symptoms. When global warming is finally debunked and it’s advocates discredited, that funding will dry up, the grants to the environmentalists will be withdrawn, the donations to the activists will cease. The tried and true adage - ‘follow the money’ - applies. But that doesn’t fit “the most up-to-date scientific models.”

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Reporters You Have

A few weeks ago, we heard about the Dec 8th town-meeting style Q&A in Kuwait where Spc. Thomas Wilson asked Sec Def Donald Rumsfeld, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” Rumsfeld’s response, “You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have,” has earned him no end of recriminations. It’s a great story: evil corporate-CEO-type taken down by the lowly noble grunt, reminiscent of David and Goliath. The problem with this simple tale is that it is not true. Sure it happened, but there’s so much more to the story.

Many of you may already know that Wilson’s question was a put-up-job. He and another soldier were planted in the audience by a reporter, Edward Lee Pitts. Pitts knew that the Q&A was for soldiers and, while reporters were welcome to attend, the press would not be allowed questions. Pitts sought out willing accomplices, rehearsed the question, then (in his own words) “went and found the Sgt. in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.” The nobility of Mr. Pitts pales a bit when it becomes clear that he has “been trying to get this story out for weeks - as soon as I found out I would be on an unarmored truck.”

Of course, the violation of journalistic ethics - creating a story, instead of reporting - is less important than the fact that our soldiers are unarmored. Or would be if that were true. Senator Dan Burton reported that of 19,000 Humvees in Iraq, only 4,000 were unarmored. The Army’s combat systems development and acquisition team reports that of the 830 vehicles in the 278th Regimental Combat Team (that would be Wilson’s unit), all but 20 had been armored before the Dec 8th Q&A. In a Pentagon briefing that has gone almost unreported, Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Speakes further explained that the orders for the armoring of those last 20 vehicles had already been given and the armorers “completed those 20 vehicles in the next day.” In other words, 97% of the vehicles had been armored and the rest were scheduled before Wilson asked his question and done the day after.

The reporting of this event makes Rumsfeld appear cavalier about the plight of our soldiers, which appearance the press is all to happy to fabricate and present, but is also not true. The Sec Def spoke both before and after his ‘sound byte’ about the problems surrounding the issue. Part of what he said was that it is “not a lack of desire or money but a logistics... physics problem.” Reporters aren’t interested in the finer details, usually because those details would support Rumsfeld and Bush. Ballistic glass is one of the ‘logistic/physiscs’ problems: four sheets of glass glued together, very thick and heavy but still as clear as normal windshield glass, it holds up against bullets and the shrapnel thrown up by roadside bombs. According to Rep. Duncan Hunter of the House Armed Services Committee, ballistic glass is just too heavy for the window frames of the military vehicles to support.

The press is also loathe to report on the Supplemental Funding Bill. You remember that one, the one that was ‘voted for, but then voted against’. That bill included the funding for the up-armoring costs. So when people tell you they did not support the bill, but still support the troops, don’t you believe it. The media also has notoriously short memory. It is almost as if reporters suffered from Alzheimers. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) remembers and reminds us, “eight years of Bill Clinton decimated the military to almost half of what it was in 1990.” Under Clinton, military “modernization stopped,” funding was cut back, and personnel diminished. Over the eight Clinton years the Army lost 4 active and 2 reserve divisions, the Air Force personnel dropped by 30%, the Navy went from 393 ships to 316, and the Marines lost 22,000 troops. Vice President Al Gore described his military as the “strongest in the world” despite the fact that the Pentagon gave 60% of the training schools and 20% of active divisions their lowest ratings for readiness.

Serving with Spc. Thomas Wilson in the 278th Regimental Combat Team is medical platoon leader Second Lt. Lance Frizzell. Frizzell tells a different story than Wilson. Frizzell posts a blog to the internet (http://iraq.billhobbs.com/) and had this to say about the armor issue: “One point overlooked by the (main stream media) in the furor created over ‘hillbilly armor’ is what would happen if the 278th hung out in Kuwait for an extended period of time waiting for official up-armor kits. Here’s the answer: The units we are scheduled to replace would be stuck in Iraq waiting to be relieved.” Frizzell goes on to point out “it’s time for these guys to go home. It’s time for us to take their place. Period.” As a soldier and medic in the field, Frizzell has a better frame of reference than even embedded reporters and has said, “Most soldiers I talk to say the worst thing about being deployed is nothing you personally experience over here, it’s the worry your family goes through.”

Reporters are perfectly within their rights to pose tough questions to people like the Secretary of Defense. But asking a hard question is quite a bit different than engineering a news event. Worse still is when the information reported to the readers at home is purposefully inaccurate and slanted to serve political goals. Many of the reporters who hog-piled onto this story have behaved shamefully, but because there are few who hold them up to the light, they get away with it. Our soldiers deserve the best in both equipment and support; it is reprehensible that they get used as fodder for the political machine.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Merry PC-mas!

Merry PC-mas! ‘Tis the season to be jolly, but not too jolly lest ye upset someone who does not care to participate in your festivities. This is one of my favorite PC-mas songs:

rest ye merry gentlepersons
Let nothing you dismay
Remember
was born on some day
To save us all from bad choices
When we had gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy!
O tidings of comfort and joy!
From our PC Parent
A special winged-being came
And unto certain farm-animal technicians
Bro't tidings of the same
How that in some city was born
The child of by name

Before you laugh, remember that it might hurt my feelings, so take care that I can’t see or hear you when you do it and that no one else can either, because they may tell me.

Ridiculous as this may seem, it may well come to pass. A few weeks ago I was watching Hannity and Colmes on Fox News. [aside: yes, I watch Fox and you should consider if you have ever actually watched it to decide for yourself, or just taken someone else’s opinion that it’s bad.] The show focused on the recent Cupertino, CA scandal. The guests included a representative from the Atheists of Silicon Valley and Michael Newdow, who some may recognize as the man leading a challenge to having “God” in the pledge of allegiance.

The atheist was trying to make the point that there is no place for God in our government. He was asked about the references to God in the Declaration and he claimed that the Declaration of Independence is not a founding document as it was written years before the government was formed with the ratification of the Constitution. As expected, he used the “separation of church and state” clause of the Constitution as his argument. When pressed he had to admit that the phrase never appears in the document. He tried to recover lost ground by suggesting that it is alluded to and buttressed his point with Jefferson’s personal letter that actually does use the phrase. He was asked about the next part of the statement and said, “that is a separate clause.”
Michael Newdow is fighting “for his daughter” so that her religious freedom is not infringed. His position is that she should not have to say “God” in the pledge. The fact that she likes the pledge as it is and attends church regularly is immaterial to her estranged father. Newdow’s claim was that religion is “divisive” because not everyone in the country believes in God and, for example, is offended by “In God We Trust” on our currency.

Alan Colmes rose to the defense pointing to the fact that the Constitution does not mention God, except in an offhand way in the First Amendment. Alan was asked where he thinks blessings come from, because, it was pointed out, the preamble of the Constitution includes the phrase “Blessings of Liberty.” He was caught in the conundrum. The founders may have been deists, as some argue, but that still means they believed in something and ‘blessings’ derive from some power greater than man.

Where is the divisiveness that gives rise to this myth? It seems to me that the divisiveness stems from the throats of that small segment pressing their views on the rest of society. It should be noted that altogether, a recent study determined, those opposed to “God” in school, on money, and in government amounts to about 8% of the population. I would suggest that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” means what it says: there will be no church of the United States. How that is separated from it’s rejoinder, “or prohibiting the free expression thereof,” is beyond me unless what you want to do is prohibit people from freely expressing their religion.

The Salvation Army does wonderful social good and helps many people. In an effort to avoid contributing to religious divisiveness Target and Toys-R-Us have barred the bell-ringers from their doorsteps. Who is Ebenezer Scrooge here? The church goers trying to help their fellow man or the politically correct? How is it divisive to display nativity scenes? The Grinch would be comfortable and feel at home in the ACLU and the atheists trying to steal Christmas from this country. Another important pillar of this country is ‘rule by majority’ which doesn’t mean the minority is oppressed. Far from it, the majority is required by law to protect the rights of the minority, but not at the cost of their own. This seems to be something we’ve forgotten.

December is a wonderful time of year. It opens with Hannukah, includes Christmas, and New Years. All three are celebrations thousands of years old. Contrary to popular opinion, the Mayo Clinic and other researchers have found that suicide rates do not rise during holiday celebrations when people are far too busy “because it may be easier to repress troublesome thoughts during these times of greater social interaction." This is not a season of divisiveness but rather a season where many people gather together and celebrate our common brotherhood irregardless of nationality, creed, or race. Happy Holidays “and God bless us everyone.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Patriot Games

Jessica Quindel, University of California at Berkley, believes that “Patriotic songs may exclude and offend people because there are so many people who don’t agree with the songs.” Last Saturday, I anti-war protestors in West Lebanon, NH purporting that “Peace is Patriotic”. I thought that perhaps I was unfamiliar with this new use of the word, so I looked it up. Webster’s New Riverside Dictionary defines a patriot as “someone who loves and defends his or her country.” Both the protestors and Quindel are emboldening our enemies, the terrorists, by reinforcing their image of Americans as limp and afraid of the sight of blood. The dictionary defines “consciously and purposely acting to aid the enemies of one’s own country” as treason. It’s really just that simple. Before you shout “McCarthyism”, consider that history has proven McCarthy right - Russia released KGB documents naming the communist agents who had been working in the United States, many of whom were Americans recruited by KGB agents. History has also proven that the Viet Cong were funding and directing some leaders of the anti-war movement in America in the 60s. We also know now that the ‘allies’ who opposed military action in Iraq were paid to do so by Saddam Hussein.

Speaking of terrorists, Shirley McLaine had a solution which she pronounced within days of 9/11, “Melt their weapons, melt their hearts, melt their anger with love.” She wasn’t alone, either. Richard Gere suggested we view the terrorists “as a relative who’s dangerously sick and we have to give them medicine, and the medicine is love and compassion.” The rubble of the WTC was still smoking and bodies were still being unearthed when these comments were made. Sheryl Crow at least waited a couple of years before explaining the problem to us, “war is based in greed and there are huge karmic retributions that will follow. I think war is never the answer to solving any problems. The best way to solve problems is to not have enemies.” The Nobel Peace Prize Crew has been waiting on Crow’s doorstep, but she’s “in a bar...drinking beer at noon” watching good people working.

Chevy Chase thinks, “sometimes socialism works...Cuba might prove that.” Steven Spielberg met Castro and thought it was “the eight most important hours of [his] life” and Naomi Campbell believes that Castro is “a source of inspiration to the world.” My father escaped from Castro’s revolution and I can tell you that only someone insulated by birth in a democracy could say such things. Like me, Andy Garcia is the child of Cuban escapees and feels his roots: “I obviously think about going back all the time, but it’s like asking a Jew to go visit Nazi Germany...I hope that one day democracy will exist and [Castro] will no longer be there.” Gloria Estefan is a Cuban emigre, the daughter of a political prisoner, and warns “Fidel has control over the money, over the people, he runs an oppressive and terrorist government.”

On the flipside, John Malkovich told Playboy, “America is crippled by fear. Twenty percent of the population is part of what’s known as the religious right and is crippled by the word ‘f**k’. Then there’s the Tipper Gore crowd. If Dr. Dre writes a song about bitches and whores, they don’t look for the genius in the work. America is a big, wild country where lots of bad things come to pass, and from the minute my children were born I was determined that they not grow up there.” Malkovich’s contributions to America (The Killing Fields, Empire of the Sun, Dangerous Liasons, The Sheltering Sky, Shadows and Fog, Beyond the Clouds, Being John Malkovich, and Shadow of the Vampire) no doubt, include some excellent acting, but consider the messages he promotes in these films. Johnny Depp commented on Columbine: “I mean, little kids going into school and shooting up their pals and killing people...I have a little girl who’s almost two years old. I don’t want her to grow up with that kind of thing in her brain.” However, Johnny had no qualms about making his ‘big break’ in Nightmare on Elm Street or returning in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and it was ok to expose everyone else’s kids to From Hell or Secret Window. “I think the US is terrifying and it saddens me,” Tom Cruise says, “You have only to look at the state of affairs in America. I do worry about my children. As a parent you are always concerned. I just want them to be in a place where they are going to be strong enough to be able to make the right choices.” Of course, Tom’s a paragon of responsibility in Risky Business and Cocktail and abhored the violence of Mission Impossible I and II. Robin Williams’ quote speaks for itself, “we’re raising a nation of overweight, unintelligent people.” He’s only outdone by Roman Polanski (convicted pedophile avoiding US extradition and prison in France), “Normal love isn’t interesting, I assure you it’s incredibly boring.”

Our intentions don’t matter nearly as much as our actions do. Many people want to be judged not by their performance, not by the end results of their actions, but by what they intended, what they meant to do or say. How would the anti-war protestors respond were I to punch one of them in the nose? Would they embrace me with love and understanding? I think not. Would they excuse my behavior or call the police? America’s a nation founded on principles. A small but loud group has made it their life’s work to reverse those principles. There are countries that embrace their views, but rather than emigrate to one, they twist the words of our founding documents, insert their own meanings, and subjugate the majority to the will of the minority. The patriot works from within the system to elicit change, the enemy works from within the society to subvert the system. Patriots may not like what the system is doing but still support it. Though I believe their statements are untrue, unfounded, and irresponsible, I would still defend the right of the anti-war protestors to protest.

John Dickinson attended the early Continental Congress. He represented Pennsylvania along with Ben Franklin. Dickinson spoke eloquently and fought hard against rebellion and independence. He believed separation was wrong and reconciliation was possible. When the Declaration was approved and came for signing, he could not in good conscience sign it. He did not go into the street with a placard declaring “Peace is Patriotic”, but rather left Congress to join the army. He did not join the Red Coats and fight to maintain English sovereignty. Despite believing the colonials would be defeated, he joined the Continental Army and fought for his country. THAT is patriotism.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Peace is not Patriotic

Recently, my family had occasion to be shopping in West Lebanon, NH. There was a group of war protesters on the side of the road. Five or six people carrying placards and standing in a small field of signs with slogans such as: “war is not the answer”, “how many must die”, and the obligatory “peace is patriotic”. I have never understood such outrageous balderdash. What an absolutely foolish notion! While it is politically correct to validate everyone’s feelings, I do not subscribe to the PC doctrine, but rather to the doctrine of fact and truth. Webster’s New Riverside Dictionary defines a patriot as “someone who loves and defends his or her country.” Clearly the protesters do not fit this definition. In fact these people are supporting the terrorists and our enemies. Many will not like what I just said, but that’s tough. Refute the point or remain quiet.

During the American Revolution a group of patriots were meeting in Congress. They were debating the merits of rebellion, the ability of the “rabble” we called an army to battle the Red Coat machine with any hope of success, and the nature of what the colonies might become if independent. There was little agreement on any issue and a lot of ‘horse-trading’. When it came time to sign their declaration it was decided no one could remain in Congress who did not sign. “We must all hang together,” Franklin is supposed to have said, “or we most assuredly will hang separately.” What is less well-remembered is the patriotism of John Dickinson of Pennsylvania at that moment. Dickinson opposed separation from England and had fought long and hard in Congress against it. When the vote went against him, he did not go to the streets with a “give peace a chance” placard. John Dickinson left Congress and joined the army - no, not the Red Coats - though he disagreed with the rebellion, he joined the rebel army to fight for his country.

The ‘peaceniks’ are never required to support their position. I’d give my eyeteeth for a reporter to pass on the touchy-feely, emotion-soaked, soft-ball observations and opinion-laden story-telling when reporting on a rally or protest, and instead ask the attendees what they stand for, what they stand against, and how their ‘love-in’ actually changes anything in the world. The undeniable and provable fact is that reports of these people reach the enemies of America, give them energy and embolden them to continue. Bin Laden believed, because of these people, that Americans would ‘roll-over’ in the wake of 9/11, and Hussein believed that America would never have the stomach to face bloodshed. Which is exactly what the protesters are proving.

The logic these people use is staggering. By their own rationale, we would be still be shouting “God save the Queen!” We would have respected the right of southern states to secede and form their own nation; I mean, it was only a war for market share and cheap labor, right? Kaiser Wilhelm wasn’t a threat to the United States, we should have minded our own business. Nazi Germany never attacked Americans, quite the opposite: Hitler wanted peace with the United States. So what that he was exterminating Jews, minorities, and the mentally retarded - it was a German or European problem! Of course, they never follow their logic through to it’s obvious resolution, perhaps because to do so would make their position untenable - I don’t know.

“Peace is Patriotic” is pretty much the same as saying “doing nothing is patriotic.” Worse, it amounts to saying “allowing genocide, rape, theft, and crime is patriotic” and I don’t believe they believe that, but how else does one describe Hussein’s Iraq? Many claim that we are the aggressors because we haven’t found any WMDs, to which I ask, where was it stated that that was our reason for going to war? Everyone believed he had them. The flouted UN resolutions authorized military action. The broken cease-fire agreement of 1991 authorized military action. The cynics point to oil as the cause for war, they have it and we want it. But that’s not what events have proven. We aren’t taking the oil, we’re looking to Anwar to produce our own. What has become clear is that the allies who opposed military action did so for oil. In fact, if it weren’t for France, Germany, Russia, China, and UN officials (among others) doing illegal under-the-table sales of military hardware for oil, in contravention of the Oil-For-Food, this war would have been much shorter, less costly in lives and money, and the reconstruction would probably already be complete.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Myth-Information

Myth-Information

This country is facing it’s greatest challenge ever and it’s not terrorism. Nor is it the Federal deficit that we’re indenturing our children with. What we’ve sold our children’s children into servitude to is Social Security. For decades we have been told that the Social Security system is broken and must be fixed, but cowardly politicians have consistently played a fast-and-loose shell game with it. Congress just passed the Medicare Modernization bill with the Prescription Drug Benefit to placate and secure a voting block. Social Security/Medicare is not a “third rail”, but rather a downed power line and we’re all in for a shock.

Myth-tory

President Roosevelt created Social Security some seventy years ago and used the template laid out by Chancellor Bismark of Germany in the 1880s. The system provided a safety net for people unable to provide for their own costs resulting from sickness, accident, and old age. It was unrelated to any insurance or savings program. It’s called a pay-as-you-go system where workers pay into a fund that pays out to beneficiaries. There is no contractual right to funds “contributed”, but there is a legal right to benefits and there is no choice but to participate. Social Security is funded by payroll taxes and taxes on benefits. Medicare funding is more complex, combining payroll taxes, taxes on Social Security benefits, premium payments, and general revenue transfers. Early on, 12 workers paid benefits for one recipient. Today, each recipient is paid for by 4 workers. When it started the combined employer/employee payroll tax amounted to $60 per year.

De-Myth-tifying the Numbers

That $60 per year has become $13,400. In 2004 there are 156 million workers paying benefits to 47 million retirees, survivors, and disabled. The survivors and disabled make up about one-third of recipients. The tax revenues of Social Security are predictable and stable, amounting to about 12.71 percent of payroll in 2004 and projected to rise to 13.39 percent by 2080. Social Security expenditures are also fairly predictable: people will retire at given points in time and begin drawing out their benefits. As such, it is clear that by 2018 the expenses of Social Security will exceed the revenues. It hasn’t always been like that and the surplus revenues have been ‘saved’ in a Trust Fund. The Trust Fund is not a savings account, nor was it invested in financial assets. In fact, the fund was raided by both Republicans and Democrats and exists now as an accounting notation (read an IOU).

The Status of the Social Security and Medicare Programs report states “Since neither the interest paid on the Treasury Bonds held in the HI and OASDI Trust Funds, nor their redemption, provides any net new income to the Treasury, the full amount of any required Treasury payments to these trust funds must be financed by increased taxation, increased Federal borrowing and debt, and/or a reduction in other government expenditures.” Current recipients will take $12.7 trillion more out of the system than they will pay in taxes. Workers coming into the system in the foreseeable future will ‘contribute’ about $800 million more than they get in benefits. This leaves the Treasury holding the bag for $11.9 trillion.

The expenditure of Medicare is expected to be 2.69% of GDP in 2004. However, people live longer and medical costs increase each year. By 2022 Medicare will be 5% of GDP and estimates suggest 8% of GDP by 2038. Like Social Security, Medicare funding will not keep up. It will absorb 65% of it’s funding in 2004, 50% in 2019, and exceed 70% by 2042. We can expect participants in the system now to take $6.2 trillion and future participants $10.3 trillion more than the fund will have.

That shortfall will have to be covered by the general fund revenues. By law, the Federal government will have to transfer 3.6% of Federal income tax revenues to the system to cover the 2004 debt. In 2010 we can expect 8.6% of income tax revenue to be shunted to Social Security/Medicare and 50% by 2030. By 2070 Social Security/Medicare will gobble up all projected tax revenues in addition to the payroll taxes and other taxes already earmarked for it and leaving nothing to pay for any other Federal program.

Myth-takes

Our European cousins are usually held up as exemplars of social responsibility. European governments provide “them with better health, longer lives, higher literacy rates...and...annual four-week paid vacations.” But at what cost? Germany’s Federal Labour Agency reported on Dec. 2, 2004, “Germany’s unadjusted unemployment rate [at] 10.3%.” Financial Times reported France’s unemployment at 9.9% on Dec. 8, 2004. That same day the International Herald Tribune reported that “France’s unemployment insurance system has a cumulative debt of E10 billion, or $13.4 billion.” In fact, in the EU unemployment has been over 8% since 1990. How do you fund payroll-funded Social Security with such unemployment? Our European cousins are finding out that you can’t. Europeans pay exorbitant taxes, too. In Germany, Bloomberg reports, “Schroeder’s government has lowered taxes [and] cut welfare payments.” The sleight-of-hand tactic of pointing across the puddle is disingenuous. Notice no one who makes the case moves to Europe.

Myth-ing Links

It is clear that Social Security/Medicare is broken. It should be clear that the system is fundamentally flawed. There are an estimated 20% of recipients who really don’t need it and approximately 50% of all current retirees have employer-sponsored pensions. This system is unsustainable and can’t be mended. The only other option is to fix it. Solutions include: 50% increase in taxes, 33% reduction in benefits, Federal borrowing ballooning the national debt, 20% cut across the board in all government programs, or do something different such as personal retirement accounts.

Martin Feldstein, Harvard economist, estimated in 1997 a net benefit between $10 and $20 trillion to the economy if payroll taxes for Social Security were privately invested. Lower income workers would receive higher returns from private investment than they ever will receive from Social Security benefits. All variations on personal retirement accounts include provisions for covering current recipients and transitioning over. 20 other nations have privatized their Social Security systems and would not consider returning to one like ours. 10 other nations are currently considering their own transitions.

On School Indoctrination

What a time of year it is! Busy, busy, busy. All that Halloween candy is just about gone. We’ve just (barely) survived an intensely divisive election season. We’re slogging through the post-election armchair-quarterbacking rife with opinions and dire prophecies. We were allowed to celebrate Thanksgiving again this year. It looks like we can still have Christmas in our homes. “God bless us, everyone.” Am I still allowed to say that?

Sure, it’s a joke, but in all seriousness, the answer isn’t funny, for in many places I am not allowed to say it. At the East Manatee Freedom Elementary School, Principal Gary Holbrook has nixed Santa, Frosty (and any other snowman), Rudolph, and even snowflakes, “...trying to be respectful of everyone.” His peer at nearby Braden River Middle School, Anthony DiBello, says “You won’t see any Christmas trees around here, we keep it generic.” In Manatee County all principals received a letter from the Anti-Defamation League, approved by school officials. The league is a group dedicated to defeating antisemitism and other discrimination and their “letter suggests ways to keep the holidays out of classrooms”. I have to wonder if the Vatican sent a similar letter would it be promulgated as policy or filed in the nearest ‘circular-file bin’. Such a letter might even provoke an outcry from offended school officials and perhaps litigation from the ACLU. Back in October, Puyallup (WA) school district informed parents that the school district would not observe Halloween. Karen Hansen spoke for the district, “Witches with pointy noses and things like that are not respective symbols of the Wiccan religion and so we want to be respectful of that.”

Principal Chuck Fradley at the Braden River Elementary School, adjacent to the Middle School, is having a Christmas tree, he says “You don’t want to take it away.” He should be commended for his courage. In every school across the nation children are expected to learn about Kwanzaa, a celebration invented in 1966 to promote the traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement. Call me intolerant, but I think Christmas handles those values quite nicely while still managing to be inclusive of all races. Creating a ‘celebration’ out of wholecloth for a specific group of people based on their ethnic origin is the very definition of racism. Ben and Sherry Burkhart have a child in Glenallen Elementary School (Sarasota) and note that “if students sing about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, they should be allowed to sing about Jesus, too.” Sherry Burkhart goes on to say she’s “just tired of Christianity being politically incorrect.” The state code for education in California requires 7th graders to learn the 7 Pillars of Islam and to experience it by kneeling and bowing to Mecca five times before they can pass to the 8th grade. In New Jersey, Shiba Pillai-Diaz taught 7th and 8th grade English until she was fired for refusing to remove a photo of George Bush from an American History display or add a photo of John Kerry. Steven J. Williams was a fifth grade teacher, until recently, in Cupertino, CA who taught about the references to God in our history and founding documents. It wasn’t a problem until earlier this year when the district decided “to uphold the First Amendment which mandates the separation of church and state” and would rather go to court than allow a teacher to teach.

Our schools are doing a wonderful job of indoctrinating children into multi-culturalism, but are failing to actually teach. In the fervor for multi-culturalism, the education system is failing our culture, ourselves, and our children. Imagine how much time was wasted in Manatee and Puyallup discussing the ins-and-outs of this “respectful” policy. Meanwhile, the Program for International Student Assessment study was testing our 15-year-olds’ ability to apply math to real-life problems. Out of 39 countries participating in the test, American students placed 24th. The Center for Education Policy director, Jack Jennings, notes that PISA only tests real life skills as opposed to calculus and algebra, the real brainy math. I know I’m comforted knowing graduates can do calculus but can’t balance their checkbook. Or I would be, if they actually could. The fact is, they can’t. Ron Morvai, Mansfield Senior High School principal opines, “math is not easy or fun...Math requires students to be disciplined in the learning process.” Morvai’s peer at the Mansfield Christian School, Cy Smith, blames parents and observes, “we may not demand enough of our students.” Tressa Reith is the principal at St. Peter’s High School and said, “when we have areas that require focus and concentration, we see kids sometimes become impatient.” Michelle White is a student at Ocean Springs High School (MS) whose mother teaches first grade. She comments on her mother’s challenges: “Most of her students are failing, and it’s not her fault. It’s a lack of parental involvement, and the children don’t have the money to be on the medication they need to be on.”

A Dec 6th report found that the number of schools failing to meet No Child Left Behind minimums this year has doubled. On the plus-side, the report shows that in at least 32 states schools meeting the minimums have increased, but the fine print notes that the improved test scores are the result of a dispensation of leniency from the US Dept of Ed and not really better students. 77% of schools in both Florida and Alabama, 49% in Hawaii, 46% in New Jersey, 44% in South Carolina, 36% in Alaska, 28% in Oklahoma and 25% of schools in Delaware have failed to provide the basic skills mandated in NCLB. How does this happen in a school system where teachers are in the classroom for six months out of nine and for the balance have in-service days honing their skills or no-school days (we can’t call them holidays)? Milwaukee, Madison, and Racine (WI) released hundreds of students from classes to participate in Wisconsin Citizen Action Fund’s get-out-the-vote program going door-to-door or manning phone-lines reminding people to vote. (They all winked at WCA’s endorsement of John Kerry.) This was teaching civics. Front page of the Eagle Times Nov 28, 2004 was a report about “Connected Math”, which, according to Don Hart, principal of Claremont Middle School, “is helping students connect math to real life.” Maybe in the classroom, but not in the real world. “Connected Math”, the article later reveals, is really “New Math” which has been pushed by the education system for nearly 20 years.

John McClaughry, President of the Ethan Allen Institute, wrote in this very paper (Nov. 24, 2004), that “sixty percent of all state and local government employees [in Vermont] work in the K-12 public educational system.” McClaughry goes on to say, “Nationally, public education employment relative to population grew by six percent. In Vermont it grew by 30%.” And our students do no better for it. The solution is not more money as a court panel in New York seems to think. They were already spending $10,469 per student per year four years ago! The National Center for Education Statistics reports that Vermont ranks 28 out of 50 for teacher salaries. The State Teacher/Staff FTE & Salary Reports note that “in FY 2002 the statewide average teacher salary is $39,165.54. In comparison, the US Census of 2001 reported the median income for a two income family at $51,407. The teacher earns 72% of the two-income family. At the risk of being a Neanderthal (for recent graduates, that’s a pre-historic man), the solution is to do what we know works. Keep teachers in the classrooms for the school year. Scrap the “Connected Math” and ‘Social Studies’ programs and return to the basics. They worked for me and I’ll wager for most people reading this. Stop excusing failed curriculums by blaming parents and medicating students. Insist that the education system do better with what it has. I was not born a Yankee, but the Yankee ethic works: “Use what you have to make it work.”

Friday, December 03, 2004

Separation Anxiety

In the national (if not global) post-election counseling session to relieve the Post-Election Stress Trauma there is a lot of hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing, and blubbering going on. Many people are whimpering in abject depression and pathetic ire about “Biblical Morals.” The saddest part is that most don’t have a clue what a “biblical moral” is, so they make weird and obtuse statements about them. What may be sadder still is that the analyses are showing religion really didn’t play that great a role in this election. Values, yes, but religious values, no. Are values “more important than the deficit, healthcare, our schools, and even the war”? It’s a simple-minded question. The answer is, of course! Without a solid foundation a house will not stand, and values are the foundation of any civilization. It is our values that are the underpinnings of all social issues. What this election tells me is that Americans are rousing and speaking out against the dissolution of the moral fabric of their country. If you’re feeling left out or passed over, then perhaps you should examine your philosophies. Ours is a country that is at high risk of losing it’s way.

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...” It does not say, as so many wish it did, that there is a “separation of church and state.” In point of fact, there is no instance of “the separation of church and state” in any ‘founding’ document whatsoever and exists solely as the result of moral relativists and activist judges. The phrase “separation of church and state” comes from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote. Thomas Jefferson, for those who don’t know, is credited with writing the Declaration of Independence and was the third President of the United States. On January 1, 1802, he wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut who were worried by rumors that the Congregationalist denomination was to become the national religion. Jefferson was assuring them that the First Amendment would defend the church from the state, so as to avoid another Church of England. Not one of the Founders failed to recognize the value of religion. The wording of the Amendment was carefully crafted so as to prevent the state from corrupting the church and leave it free to promote Biblical values.

In January 1844 the Supreme Court heard Vidal v. Girard's Executors. The case involved a school to be built without ecclesiastic involvement. The argument revolved around whether or not a layman could teach. The Supreme Court held that the church could be excluded, but that, "...there is an obligation to teach what the Bible alone can teach, viz. a pure system of morality." In June 1961 the Supreme Court heard Torcaso v. Watkins which focused attention on religious tolerance. The Court noted that, "Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others." In October 1961 the Supreme Court heard Engel v. Vitale. At issue was this prayer: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country." It was argued that the First Amendment prohibited public schools from engaging students in prayer, even when non-denominational. This was the landmark case which removed prayer from schools on the grounds that the Constitution prohibits any law respecting an establishment of religion.

Religion is a funny thing. There are many people in the country today who hold to alternative faiths: wiccans, new agers, pagans, just to name a few, even atheists. I include atheists because, despite what they’d like you to believe, atheism is probably the most fanatical fundamentalist religion of them all. At it’s simplest, Faith is belief without proof and the atheist must accept on faith that there is no God. The beauty of the system in the United States is that atheists are free to be atheists here. The weakness of our system is that atheists, and others, have been able to turn that freedom around and use it as a bludgeon against the predominant religion in this country and anything related to it.

The Boy Scouts of America have an oath to “affirm a duty to God” and be “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” They are not the Knights Templar or some other order of the Church. They are kids, boys, who work long hours to be the best that they can be, to be good citizens and supporters of their communities. A brother of mine was a Boy Scout and he was far from an altar boy. Being a good, civic-minded group isn’t enough these days. In Portland, Oregon, Nancy Powell (self-avowed atheist) has waged a 7-year legal fight against the Boy Scouts alleged the Scouts discriminated against her son. She is leading the charge against the school board to ban Scout literature (i.e. recruiting leaflets) from schools. By her side is ACLU legislative director, Andrea Meyer. In late November 2004, the Department of Defense caved to an ACLU suit charging the DOD with violating the “separation of church and state” specifically naming the Scouts as a religious group using Army bases (government property) for Jamborees and getting mentorship from military personnel.

Have you ever heard any court cases involving the display of a menorah or a Star of David? How about teachers protesting a classroom unit on Kwanza? It has become “de rigeur” for the lead-up to Christmas to see town after town be brow-beaten into removing Nativity scenes and crosses. This year Denver, Colorado has set a new low taking the 30-year-old traditional Parade of Lights and redefining it as an “international procession”. According to Michael Krikorian, a spokesman for Denver, the parade would not include “Merry Christmas” signs or traditional Christmas hymns. His explanation: “We want to avoid that specific religious message out of respect for other religions in the region.” It seems ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem “could be construed as disrespectful to other people who enjoy a parade each year.” To celebrate ethnic diversity the ‘Parade of (non-Christian) Lights’ will feature; German folk dance, a Chinese New Year Lion Dance (a ceremonial dance to bring good luck and dispel evil spirits), and the Two Spirit Society (a group dedicated to holy American Indians who also happen to be gay or lesbian). The Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada has been barred from the parade as it’s float would have “direct religious themes”.

The ACLU, atheists, the radical homosexual movement, and the proponents of moral relativism (such as people that see no difference between the US and the regime of Saddam Hussein) have waged a moral war. The battlefield is the United States Constitution. Victory will be an America where satanists are revered and pastors are reviled. It is already happening and this election was a clarion call. The American people are rousing and beginning to take back the country. “No law respecting an establishment of religion” does not mean there shall be no religion, does not mean that the state is anti-religion, as the ACLU would have us believe. Ask yourself, why does every state congress open with a prayer? Why were the ten commandments engraved in the Supreme Court? Why did the Founders, to a man, write that a government without religion would fail and be corrupt?

America is a profoundly religious country - even those of us who are not religious by nature. Our revolution was founded on the religious precept that “all men are created equal and endowed by God with inalienable rights”. The English had a revolution before ours which secured the aristocracy. The French followed our lead but their revolution was soulless, became a bloodbath, and failed. The Russians, the Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, one after another, each revolution founded on the primacy of man and floundered from a lack of God. God is intrinsic to freedom because God holds the ultimate accountability. Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. The Boy Scouts know this. The Church teaches this. When we walk away from our values (be they Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, whatever) we surrender our freedom. Perhaps not immediately; Jefferson wrote his “separation of church and state” letter in 1802 and it has taken us 202 years to get to here. Where will we be in another 200 years continuing down this road?