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Not My Definition of Charity September 30, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Corruption, Government, Politics.
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OK, I just don’t know how to express what I feel about this little cesspool written about by the Washingon Post. I strongly suggest you read the whole article. So let’s just list the highlights, shall we?

  • Charles Reichers is appointed to a Bush Administration job with the Air Force and gets a “fake” job with an Air Force contractor while awaiting confirmation. Reichers himself admits that this job required no work on his part.
  • This contractor, Commonwealth Research Institute, and its parent company, Concurrent Technologies, are both listed with the IRS as tax exempt charities.
  • Neither company is apparently doing anything different from what other companies that pay their taxes do for the government or anyone else for that matter.
  • It has received over $100,000,000 in earmarks.
  • Jack Murtha, the representative for the area where the company is based just arranged a $10 million earmark for the company for fiscal 2008.

Charity?? I don’t think so. I think this whole thing and this company just don’t pass the “smell test”.

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Lies, damned lies and economic statistics September 30, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Uncategorized.
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Angry Bear and The Big Picture both post about this Bloomberg article. Basically it calls the government on using questionable methods when coming up with the CPI. The numbers don’t even come close to accurately accounting for some of the biggest costs of living for the average American. It doesn’t reflect medical costs or housing costs realistically at all.

Another Thing to Doubt September 30, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Business & Society, Environment, Government.
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There are questions about whether the EPA is doing its job and if it is even capable of doing so since the agency currently has fewer investigators than the number called for by law. And that number is only 200 investigators for the entire country. The questions come about because of a drastic drop in prosecutions. According to the Washington Post article prosecutions, convictions and new investigations are all down by a third. From to the article:

The number of civil lawsuits filed against defendants who refuse to settle environmental cases was down nearly 70 percent between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, compared with a four-year period in the late 1990s, according to those same statistics.

“You don’t get cleanup, and you don’t get deterrence,” said Eric Schaeffer, who resigned as director of the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement in 2002 to protest the administration’s approach to enforcement and now heads the Environmental Integrity Project, a watchdog group. “I don’t think this is a problem with agents in the field. They’re capable of doing the work. They lack the political support they used to be able to count on, especially in the White House.”

Of course the management of the EPA says that everything’s OK. Nothing’s wrong. Move along. But…

The slower pace of enforcement mirrors a decline in resources for pursuing environmental wrongdoing. The EPA now employs 172 investigators in its Criminal Investigation Division, below the minimum of 200 agents required by the 1990 Pollution Prosecution Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush.

The actual number of investigators available at any time is even smaller, agents said, because they sometimes are diverted to other duties, such as service on EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson‘s eight-person security detail.

Johnson, President Bush‘s chief environmental regulator, foreshadowed a less confrontational approach toward enforcement when he served as the EPA’s top deputy in late 2004. “The days of the guns and badges are over,” Johnson told a group of farm producers in Georgia the day before Bush won reelection, according to a news account of the speech.

The counter-argument cites some statistics to prove that current policies are really very effective. But given what this Administration has done in terms of the environment and scientific research in other areas I’d really like to see a serious outside investigation before deciding whether things aren’t as bad as the Post article makes them look or if in fact it might be worse.

Of Course the Socialists Aren’t Coming! September 28, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Government, Health Care, Politics.
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Of course that’s not what the New York Times OpEd piece is titled. It is in its way more accurately titled The Socialists Are Coming! The Socialists Are Coming! to highlight the empty rhetoric that is used in attacks on any government involvement in health care…except for the avoidance of attacks on those programs that would crucify them politically like the VA or Medicare.

I particularly like the last paragraph, which points out what I consider to be a basic truth of the debate:

The take-home message for voters is this: Look behind the labels to judge health care proposals on their merits. Whenever you hear a candidate denounce something as a step toward socialized medicine, it probably isn’t. More likely the politician is demagoguing the issue or is abysmally ignorant of the inner workings — and real, not ideological, failings — of the country’s multifaceted health care system.

But is it an Election? September 24, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Politics.
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So…the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are neither happy with states that are playing games with primary dates. It would appear that the Democrats are deeper into this problem, though. They’ve told their fellow party members in Florida that they’ve just gone too far by moving their primary all the way to January 29. And now supposedly the Florida Demorats are thinking of suing the national party. Reportedly this law suite will accuse four other states of conspiring to violate minority rights by convincing the national party to ignore the results of the primary held on the date that the national Democratic party doesn’t like. They will claim that this is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

 But this raises an interesting question. Does the Voting Rights Act cover primaries? A primary is, after all, the selection of a candidate by a political party. Parties and their internal functions are not mentioned in the Constitution at all. So I consider this a serious question.

Seeing in the Dark September 22, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Education, Science, Technology.
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That is the title of a show on PBS I had DVRed and watched this afternoon. It is Timothy Ferris‘s ode to amateur astonomers and it is a wonderful show. One part of it was about the Bisque brothers, who founded a company called Software Bisque that produces astronomy software and equipment for the enthusiast. What they did in the show that I thought was so great was to set up for relatively little cost a good small scale setup that mirrors something I knew was either already out there or could be done. This was set up at a location that had electricity and a web connection in a good viewing location with minimal light pollution. Using the internet connection and a good amateur scope with special remote contol capability and a good CCD camera you have a telescope that can be used for good viewing from anywhere on the planet. I’ve always thought this would be a great thing to have. But what it would be really good for is if you could have a network of them accessible on a rental basis to people who were interested and most especially to schools. If you want to captivate the imaginations of young people nothing does it so well for so many as the kind of images you see from space. Look at how much of the public is captivated by the images from the Hubble telescope. Can you imagine the reaction of kids who could see fabulous images from space that they can have a part in creating?

This leads me to something I’ve been wondering about for a while. What kind of small telescope could be built that would survive in space? Could you build a cluster of them? and then give remote control through a center here on Earth that would distribute this control and the images to schools? How much would it cost and how many could we build to make it as widely available as possible? Think of the possibilities.

Ouch! I feel sort of sorry for Rather but… September 22, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Technology.
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…bad reporting on science or technology always annoys me. I hadn’t even heard of this article because I don’t have HD-Net, Dan Rather’s new employer. But a blogger on Wired examines a piece that he did on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The article even has a stinker of a title, Plastic Planes. To use the word plastic to describe carbon fiber composites is inaccurate, to say the least. While there might be questions about these materials they have in fact been used in military aircraft and one has to wonder about claims that the stresses on a military aircraft are so radically different than a commercial craft that it raises significant safety questions.

Yep, lots of things change September 22, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Science.
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Even physical characteristics of things you wouldn’t think would change over just a relatively short time. But that’s what’s happening to the object that has served as our definition of the kilogram. That object is a cylinder of platinum and iridium that was cast 118 years ago. Unfortunately if you have an insistence on the utmost accuracy that cylinder has lost approximately 50 micrograms of mass since its creation. Science Daily notes the problem here and a proposed solution.

There’s the way it’s supposed to work and then there’s the way it works September 8, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Business & Society, Economics, Government, Politics.
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If you read blogs and hear the views of American political conservatives it’s hard to miss the philosophy that says that government should be limited and in the more extreme positions doesn’t believe in government social programs at all. This ideology says that people can and should take care of themselves. If something happens and they really do need help then private charities can and should be the ones to help. It derives from the refusal of these ideologues to consider government to be a worthwhile representative of the wish of the people to help their fellow countrymen. The idea is that the only people who can really decide the best way to help others are those who have the money. They might not phrase it so indelicately but that is what it comes down to. Keep the government out of it and as small as possible. But there’s at least one problem with this idea and it isn’t a little one.

The New York Times business section reports on the big charitable donations made by the wealthy in the U.S. Yes, some of the billionaires and multi-millionaires among us are donating very large amounts of money to charities. Well, they’re donating to organizations that earn the label of charity and give those who donate to them the appropriate tax deductions. They are worthwhile organizations of all kinds representing many worthwhile goals and endeavors. But the one thing that must not be forgotten when you hear the arguments concerning private charities taking care of the needy in the United States is that little of the charitable giving done by the wealthy goes to that kind of relief. It goes overseas to people who need it desperately, it goes to scholarship funds, it goes to worthwhile medical research, it goes to universities, it goes to libraries, it goes to symphonies, it goes to museums and it goes to other worthwhile groups and institutions. But not to the people in this country who need help.

Consider this from the article:

Roughly three-quarters of charitable gifts of $50 million and more from 2002 through March 31 went to universities, private foundations, hospitals and art museums, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Of the rest, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for half on the center’s list. That money went primarily to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries. Valuable as that may be, it also meant that the American public effectively underwrote several billion dollars worth of foreign aid by private individuals, even though poll after poll shows Americans are at best ambivalent about using tax dollars in such assistance.

In contrast, few gifts of that size are made to organizations like the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and America’s Second Harvest, whose main goals are to help the poor in this country. Research shows that less than 10 percent of the money Americans give to charity addresses basic human needs, like sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry and caring for the indigent sick, and that the wealthiest typically devote an even smaller portion of their giving to such causes than everyone else.

The emphasis is mine. Yes, less than 10% of money donated to charities in this country overall, not just counting the donations from the wealthy, go to the immediate needs of the less well off among our own countrymen. Is it really the belief of this brand of conservative that somehow should they succeed in eliminating the government programs they would like to see go away that this would magically change? Do they believe that we would somehow discover the magic key that would allow a capitalist system to provide 100% employment with all the jobs being good enough to put a roof over everyone’s head and keep food on the table for the least well paid among us? Is there any real proof to back up these kinds of beliefs? I have yet to see anything but blind faith in the power of the free market to solve problems being cited to back it up. And that’s not a faith I find particularly comforting.

Well, they won’t all be gone. September 8, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Climate Change, Environment, Good news and bad news, What a Century!.
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Not right away, at least. Well, not in the next 50 years or so. As we warm up the planet and melt the polar ice caps the current estimate is that by 2050 two thirds of the polar bears will be wiped out. Only two thirds of them. Gee, what might we accomplish by the end of the century?

To be completely honest, as sad as it might be, we can’t stop this from happening. But maybe, just maybe, if we can get started now doing not something but all of the somethings that it will take to solve the problem that humanity has created a few generations down the road if we can keep the species going in zoos and other types of preserves the population can be rebuilt. We can hope, can’t we?