Monday, October 28, 2013

Benghazi Facts That Make You Go "Hmmmm...."

While watching the Walking Dead last night, I happened to take a peak at my G+ feed and saw the buzz of activity over a 60 Minutes report on Benghazi that includes more than a year of investigative reporting. There was a sense that this was going to be a 'gotcha' angle to the story. I was expecting a new memo being discovered, a shadowed person speaking through a voice changer that makes them sound like the villain from Saw, they would tell the public about the origin of the stand down order before being flown to a second world countries consulate. I hoped for something that would make this story really gain the legs it's so rightfully deserved.

But the report does little more then tell us what we've known since those terrible attacks over a year ago. The big reveal was an interview with a British security officer who used a pseudonym of Morgan Jones who revealed an interesting fact in that he noticed the black flags of al Qaeda flying openly in the streets of Benghazi. 60 Minutes was able to confirm this in a later cable from Chris Stevens: "the al Qaeda flag has been spotted several times flying over government buildings."

Beyond that this story didn't add a whole lot to what we already know, lots of online chatter, open threats, numerous opportunities once again missed to foresee these attacks and nothing done either prior or during the attack in order to save American lives. No real new information about where President Obama or then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were the night of these attacks and any indication as to whether they heard earlier warnings but ignored them. And how the entire narrative of blaming an anti-Islamic YouTube video ever got started.

Now many of us are left debating if CBS was just feeding us what we wanted in a ratings grab, or if the totality of the lies coming out of the administration finally dawned on members of the media, maybe it was intentionally lacking any new revelation to allow Press Secretary Jay Crney the line of "We've already discussed this in great detail", or perhaps they are now joining the President in not learning about items until the media reports on them, and since 60 Minutes is part of the media, they got lodged in some horrible math paradox of which came first, the report or the knowledge that there was a report. Either way after a year long investigation many of us are still left unsatisfied in accounting for the mistakes that cost lives.

Morgan Jones from The Walking Dead
Wait a minute, Morgan Jones? But I was just watching the Walking Dead, this sh*t just got weird....

maybe it really was zombies...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

NFL Headlines

Back by popular demand (of my Wife), here are your week 7 NFL headlines:

After seeing an episode of Castle, Carrie Underwood reconsiders her claim that "Al and Chris are the best on TV"

House Majority Speaker John Boehner weighs in on Redskins name controversy, asking why a sports team hasn't been called he 'Orangeskins' yet.

Single Decent drive by New York Giants proves to be too much for Minnesota Vikings to handle.

In an effort to steal more screen time, Ray Lewis tasks Steve Young to fly ahead to the City for the next 'Battle of the Unbeaten' game.

San Diego considers name change to 'Powder Blues' resulting in over 6,000 pieces of hate mail from outspoken Smurf community.

After Denver's first and only Loss, Payton Manning claims he has the rest of the NFL "Right where he wants them."

Despite the Packers arriving for the game in vintage uniforms, Browns remain the undisputed champion of most boring jerseys.

After sending nine pro bowlers to Hawaii despite a four win season last year, Chiefs quoted as expecting to send no fewer then their entire first and second string to this years Pro Bowl.

God answers Tim Tebow's prayers to hurt every quarterback on a team that would even remotely consider signing him. Tebow remains unsigned.

Patriots fans write in droves to Commissioners office about the use of obscure rule after loss to Jets. NFL office to file all complaints between existing folders for 'Tuck' and 'Irony'.

Florida passes anti-bullying law at request of thin skinned Jaguar players.

49ers fail to raise Titan's players ire with the game time taunt "Who's an immortal mythological God-like creature now?"

Ahead of next Sunday night's game, NBC plans to air 10 minute tribute to the Packers Championship teams, followed by a 12 second documentary labeled "Great Moments in Vikings Playoff history".

Eagles fans on the look out for potential third 'Quarterback of the Future' of the season.

Colts improve to 5-2, clinch AFC South.

Referees from around league to convene at the End of Thursdays Panters/Bucs game to determine if they could beat Tampa Bay if given the chance.

Vikings coaches admit a coin flip was used to determine the Vikings starting quarterback this week, Cassell called 'shirts' Freeman never showed up. Vikings decide no one deserved to play QB Monday night.

Falcons say of single score win against 0-7 Buccaneers "This is the kind of win you can hang your hat on." Team proceeds to not prepare for next week.

Ravens front office desperately looks for loopholes in Joe Flacco's contract.

Andrew Luck and Archie Manning to appear in upcoming paternity test episode of 'Murray'.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Engineer Jokes

Time again for a random post weekend. Heard a couple good jones last week and decided to add those to some other ones I'd heard over the years, plus a few other ones found in the seedy underbelly of internet webstes that probably haven't been updated since 1998. Enjoy!

  • An engineer, an architect, and a statistician are out hunting. A wonderful 10 point buck appears 50 yards before them. The engineer shoots at a deer and misses 5 feet to the left, the architect steps up, aims, and takes a shot and misses 5 feet to the right, the statistician jumps up and yells “We got ‘em!”
  • A priest, a doctor, and an engineer are golfing, and are stuck behind the slowest foursome in history. They watch the foursome in front of them play, and their ineptitude is unbelievable. Shanks into the woods, worm-burners, slices, hooks, you name it. The course manager comes along, and the three men start to complain to him about the golfers up ahead.The manager explains, "Those are four blind firemen. They all lost their eyesight while saving people from a fire in our clubhouse last year. We let them play for free whenever they want." The three golfers now feel a little remorse for mocking the firemen and start to discuss amongst themselves. "I'm going to go back to my church and say a special prayer for those men tonight," remarks the priest. The doctor responds in turn, "I have a couple ophthalmologist friends...I'll call them tonight and see if there's anything they can do for them." The engineer looks out in front of him and says. "Why can't these guys play at night?"
  • A physicist, a mathematician and an engineer stay in a hotel. The engineer is awakened by a smell and gets up to check it. He finds a fire in the hallway, sees a nearby fire extinguisher and after extinguishing it, goes back to bed. Later that night, the physicist gets up, again because of the smell of fire. He quickly gets up and sees the fire in the hallway. After calculating air pressure, flame temperature and humidity as well as distance to the fire and projected trajectory, he extinguishes the fire with the least amount of fluid. At last, the mathematician awakes, only again to find a fire in the hallway. He instantly sees the extinguisher and thinks, “A solution exists!”, and heads back into his room.
  • A group of engineers have formed a new band called 999MB, but you probably haven't heard of them since they don't have a gig yet. (Ok, that's an old IT joke, but it's still pretty funny)
  • An engineer, a scientist, and a philosopher are hiking through the hills of Scotland. On the top of a hill they see a black sheep. “What do you know,” the engineer remarks. “The sheep in Scotland are black.” “No, no”, protests the scientist. “At least one of the sheep in Scotland is black.” The philosopher considers this a moment. “That’s not quite right. There’s at least one sheep which is black from one side.”
  • How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb? No one knows, everyone else just assumes it's magic.
  • An optimist sees the glass half full. A pessimist sees the glass half empty. An engineer sees a glass twice as big as it needs to be.
  • An Engineer gets home from work and sees a note on the fridge from his wife. "This isn't working, I've gone to stay with my mom". he opens the fridge and checks the light, then grabs a beer and feels that it's cold. The engineer thinks to himself. "The fridge works fine"
  • An engineering major sees classmate riding up on a new bike and asks when he got it. "I was walking back from the computer lab when the most beautiful woman I had ever seen rode up on this bike, stopped, took all her clothes off and said to me 'Take what you want!'" "Good choice," the friend replies. "The clothes probably wouldn't have fit you."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

To The Victor

It appears that in the eleventh hour of the treasury department expending it's 'extraordinary measures' that the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders have reached a final agreement on a deal to reopen the government and extend its borrowing authority into February, with final passage looking increasingly possible by this evening.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, announced the completion of the agreement shortly after noon, and the Senate Republicans who had led the push to shut down the government unless President Obama’s health care law was gutted conceded defeat and promised not to delay a final vote.

The deal, with the government shutdown in its third week, appears to yield no concessions to the Republicans. The only item offered was some minor tightening of income verification for people obtaining subsidized insurance under the new health care law. Basically more red tape in a system that appears more like a mummy playing for a Cincinnati baseball team then a well constructed benefit to anyone.

It is important to once again review the principals behind the decision to allow a government shut down in the first place to better understand what this proposal means for the country. First off, this was a Republican endused shut down, trying to say the democrats caused this is like swinging your fists in the air in front of you while walking towards your younger sibling shouting "I'm swinging my arms around like this, and if you get hit, it's your own fault." It was a principled stand that I supported to try and shed some light on all the issues facing the country that where not only not getting fixed by any action in congress, but getting much much worse through the enacting of the American Care Act, aka Obamacare;

These problems are not new, we've been experiencing them either since the recession of 2008 or since the healthcare law has been passed. These along with so many other issues (Benghazi, NSA wiretapping, Guantanamo Bay) appear to be valid topics for discussion, but never at a time when the other side of the negotiating table hold any cards for which to actually have any leverage.

Think about this pattern, the Snowden release of NSA programs is a prime example, the story breaks on on June 5th and the public is appalled, two days later, Obama addresses the issue and explains that this can be up for debate in do far as what trade offs for security and privacy are acceptable. This debate never happens! A stupidly acting police officer at Harvard can get a summit at the White House but this issue is only deserving of a press conference and then is effectively deemed closed by this administration with a subtle 'I Got This!'.

Fast forward to July 23rd, no national conversations have occurred over the NSA issue, it has faded from the media spotlight with no changes, no resolution, no nothing. In an effort to strengthen their hand, propose a halt to the funding of all NSA gathering of this metadata. A specif, targeted bill that would effect nothing other then this program that is supposed to be up for debate, the White House response? "This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process."

The Press Secretary is saying debate in Congress is not informed, open, or deliberative.

This approach is used over and over again. Call is punting, call is dodging, call is waiting for the next scandal to come along and distract us all from the current debacle we are in. We seem to be incapable of discussing jobs, the budget, the debt ceiling, anything!  And when the opposition party tries to press the issue, what are the terms that this President uses?

He calls them deadbeats. He calls them arsonists, he calls them hostage takers, he calls them terrorists.

Now he wins, now he gets a huge bump in the debt ceiling and he gets to reopen the 14% of government that was closed, he gets to keep his law and this government just the way it is. He offered nothing as a concession, nothing as a reform, nothing that even acknowledged that there is a problem in the first place. No spending cuts, no jobs programs, nothing to spark the economy on this premise that he will not negotiate until we reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. Sure, he says that once we allow him to spend a trillion dollars more then we take in that he is open for some debate. Debate what? He now has his healthcare reform, he has his de facto budget. We are going to be near tied for the largest revenue year in American history and we still can't get the deficit down to the levels from any year under the Bush Administration.

The decision to shut down the government was an attempt to get this administration to acknowledge that things are bad and only going to get worse with the healthcare overhaul. This attempt failed. We got caught up in WWII memorials and WIC checks. It becomes about the pain here and now rather then the pain of our economic condition that we appear to have grown a thick skin to. Pain that seemed to be intentionally made more poignant by extraordinary actions from this administration.

His objective wasn't to make people not like the shutdown, it was simply to distract us yet again, to not worry about the hurt from the poor economy, or the sticker shock felt from Obamacare, it was meant to make us believe the issue was the shutdown and nothing more. And it worked. Now we have no solutions and the republicans have no leverage.

I believe the old saying is, "the ball is in your court" Mr. President. Now, what is your plan?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Drive the Debate Back to Obamacare

The debate in Washington carries on. Although a deal on the debt ceiling may be fast approaching, word is that it is meant only as a deal that buys more time for the continuing resolution and funding for the American Care Act to continue. The debate needs to be swung back from the terrible side effects of a government shut down and returned to the reason for it, attempting to repeal the American Care Act. To this end, I present this essay as an argument to why having stringent criteria for the insurance industry renders the industry inept and incapable of solving the original problem America had with healthcare, the cost.

Many reports say that young, healthy people must enroll in the American Care Act (ACA) health exchanges to cover the cost of insuring people that are disproportionately sicker. It’s the corner stone of how insurance works. Charge everyone roughly the same rate for access to basically the same product. The people who use it less will subsidize the people who use it more.

The problem with the ACA or Obamacare is that the application of this perfect world scenario, as with many policies that look good on paper, is entirely impractical in practice.

In our present economic state, not only are many young people (and proportionately healthier) either unemployed or underemployed, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that people under 40 owe 67% of the roughly $1.4 trillion that Americans owe on school loans. That’s on top of an average of several thousand dollars of credit card debt. The ACA is predicated on people who can scarcely afford the extra cost to subsidize care for small percentage of people that can neither afford insurance but also require large sums of money for their care.

In the present insurance system, younger, healthier people can purchase insurance for cheap, very cheap, and that money in premiums which rarely goes directly to healthcare for the insured can then be transferred to the populace that needs, helping subsidize their expenses so that premiums can be held below what the market would otherwise dictate. In a truly free market, people who do not need a lot of health care coverage would not be willing to spend a lot on health care coverage. The presented solution in the ADA? Force them to spend a lot.

Thus enters the government and the exchanges, forcing the disparity of premiums paid for by a healthy person and an unhealthy person to shrink to next to nothing. The trade off for the healthy is that they are now covered for a plethora of expensive drugs, services and procedures (i.e. birth control) that do very little to curb human behavior but pass more of the expense to people who would otherwise not need these services. Again, the government is dictating the conditions of which these 'markets' work.

This makes the health exchanges entirely non-progressive. The people in the equation that are spending much more now then they have in the past, people who can't afford more coverage and people that don't need more coverage. A 40% 'Cadillac' plan taxes and other provisions will help people who spend more money on health care coverage spend less. Even though in the current system that is money they freely hand over into the system.

The Government solution? Tax the rich more through a progressive tax code, then subsidize the poor who can't afford their new plans. Creating the criteria and ground work for an insurance industry that offers basically the same coverage, excludes no one, and allows money to walk from the wealthy down to the poor.

Many people, such as Jon Stewart, would look at this and cheer. Now insurance is little more then a middle man from the organization who is controlling the flow of money and dictates the criteria of care. Why not drop the failing insurance aspect of healthcare and convert to a single payer system? We'd save 10-15% and I'm sure the million or so employees of the industry would find new work in no time. Perhaps not a nightmare scenario if you have no problem handing over an entire industry to congress and whomever is in the White House at the time. Insurance is only a good deal when it actually works like insurance. Using insurance to pay for routine care and predictable healthcare needs makes it no longer insurance, but cost pooling. And once we change to a single payer system, it is almost impossible to go back.

Another flaw is that, by design, the ACA uses insurance to pay for routine healthcare services and distorts price signals and increases costs through layers of administration. ObamaCare’s requirements that insurance pay for even more routine care, especially for those who don't need it, than before codifies the fundamental flaw in the “insurance” (actually cost-pooling) “market” that we have today.

Instead, ObamaCare exacerbates and mandates everything that’s wrong with our current system while attempting to transfer costs in the exact wrong direction, from old and rich to young and poor. This is both extremely inefficient and completely unfair. The only thing that would make this worse is if Congress attempted to raise the fines for opting out enough to actually cover the enormous shortfall young people opting out in droves would create. Adding another dimension to the great scale that must find balance for an optimal and well funded healthcare system. 

In any of these scenarios though, there is one key element that is missing. None of these issues actually do anything to lower the overall cost of healthcare, the ACA simply transfers the burden of deciding who pays how much for what level of care out of the hands of the people and free markets, and fully into the hands of the government. And anyone who thinks that government efficiency can drive the cost down, I ask you to look at local property tax rates now and 100 years ago, states sales taxes now and then, federal income taxes. Government does not find the cheapest way to do anything, they are experts in finding new things that we can't live without, usually something that has such little demand that it can't exist as a private enterprise, and then charging everyone for it, regardless of who it benefits. The savings of removing insurance from the equation will be replaced with and expansion of the IRS, and premiums will simply become another tax

Imaging it, every hospital, every doctors office, every medical researcher at the behest of one government, there would be no profit in medicine, and without profit, the desire to create a new drug, a new life saving device, falls to those altruistic few. It's not that the government does not give dollars to research and development of new medical technologies, but we would forfeit almost all the sources of advancements that aren't funded by the government. You think that the lack of research occurring during a shutdown is frightening, In a shutdown occurring in a single payer system, all research would cease. 

Meanwhile, payouts for Medicare are dropping, funding for Medicaid is being pushed on the states who can't afford it. Hospitals and doctors offices can't afford to take too many patients with government coverage. Fewer doctors are becoming available as the number of people with coverage increase.

That is what is lost in the current battle in Washington, while pictures of war vets going through barricades and park rangers closing, well, everything. The topic that Ted Cruz spent 20 of his 21 hours addressing has been lost, and unless we can find a way to dictate the debate and steer it back to this topic then the goal of preventing the transfer of our entire healthcare system over to one entity will be lost.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013

In the waning hours of the day, with my wife calling me to bed, I pounded out a letter to my local congressman, Bruce Braley, to give him a piece of my mind about the current federal shut down. You may notice a bit of rosy-ness and cordial that I use when addressing a member of congress, but can you pick up on the pseudo trick question in reference the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013.

I know the bill was a sham, despite it's name and its promise to hold congresses feet to the fire when it comes to passing a budget that would have avoiding this whole shutdown debacle, the act has no teeth. The net effect of it is that their pay is held in escrow until such a time as a resolution is passed that funds the government for 2014. With no real stipulation that it needs to be a complete budget, so they could even claim that the resolution allow active military to get paid will suffice. My attempt was to get an explanation in the fullest from Rep. Braley's office on how they can pass a bill with such a misleading name and how he can justify voting for it.  The explanation to which I will gladly share once it comes in.

On open letter to Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA)


I would first like to start off by thanking you, your vote on H.J Resolution 73 for continuing authorization for the National Institute of Health was a bold move for you by not allowing these political games to get in the way of what is right for the country. It took some courage for you to break ranks of 85 the percent of the Democratic caucus that voted against this bill and I wanted to let you know that I appreciate it.

My question for you today, however, is one concerning the enforcement of a current law that is on the books, specifically, the 'No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013'. Signed into law on February 4th of this year. As I'm sure you are aware, this act was intended to put Congress on notice to pass a budget for fiscal year 2014, which began last week, or suffer the self imposed consequence of going without pay.

Did I miss an aspect of this bill? Did congress somehow fulfill it's end of this bill's deal to pass a budget for fiscal year 2014 without actually passing a budget? All I hear in the news today is how congress is one of the few entities that is truly exempt from furloughs and cuts during the federal shutdown. Or is there an aspect of this law that renders is toothless and a congressional gimmick that was never really intended to hold congress accountable for failing to keep the government moving along?

On the topic of keeping the government operating, any further insight that you can offer me, as a constituent, as to the current climate in the House of Representatives and what your plan is to help bring this current locking of horns in congress to an end.

For my part, I feel that too many debt deals and temporary. Solutions have been used to kick the can of our fiscal spending down the road. With the understanding that any form of a grand bargain is not practical both from a time constraint point of view and an ability to enforce any agreement long term, I personally feel that there are too many dangerous 'land mines' in our current system that need to be addressed to avoid a long term dilemma. I will not spend the time going down the list of arguments against the American Care Act as I'm sure you have heard them all before, but suffice to say that I feel that program will not be soluble long term and major steps need to be taken to correct some of the obvious errors that where written into it. To this end, I would ask of you, as my representative, to vote against any legislation and forces the enforcement of this law on to any unwilling citizen for at least the duration of one year, and to use that time to debate in honesty a plan to correct the many issues with this legislation.

I appreciate your fair representation you have given us to date, and pray that a fair resolution to the current embattlement can be reached. I also thank you and your staff for your service and would appreciate an email response to my concerns above, thank you.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Race to the Bottom

Obama insisted today that Congress pass a bill that would prevent wide spread suffering for many Americans that both parties can agree to, and then He and congress can focus on the items which they disagree.

Wait-a-minute, that wasn't today, that was last summer when Obama called for an extension of the middle class Bush-era tax cuts while they continue to debate the merits of raising taxes on the upper class (fast forward clip to about 8:30 for the specific part I'm referencing). What happened today was a complete role reversal, when the Republican dominated House brought up a bill that would have funded  the National Institute of Health (NIH), which had to put on hold a series of medical trials for the treatment of cancer that has 200 children now waiting on potentially lifesaving care.

Upon passage of this bill in the House, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid was asked if he would have the provision brought to the Senate floor to be voted on. His response raised a few eyebrows.

“Why would we want to do that?”

He also threw in a cheap shot questioning the intelligence the reporter who would ask such a question, mumbled something about how they've already addressed this issue. Then tried to explain that the House of Representatives didn't have the right to decide what the government spends money on (Double Checking Article I Section 7 of the Constitution, yeah, they kind of do). He also tried to compare Federal workers taking unpaid leave with children dying of a terminal disease.

In summary, this was potentially the worst press conference by a politician in the history of press conferences held by politicians, and he got through all of these points in just over a minute.

When millions of Americans are at risk of seeing their tax rates raising to a level that was still, by Obama's own admission, lower then when Obama took office. The Republicans buckled, the President got what he wanted, and as we all know, no discussions ever arose after the great fiscal cliff deal of 2013 about lowering tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. We are still waiting for the economic boom this was supposed to usher in. However, when hundreds of suffering children are denied a potential life saving treatment, holding on to the principle that just last year, when the stakes where that much lower, THIS is when Democrats hold firm. Ironically enough in the name of healthcare reform. Couple this with the Honor Flight incident where the White House denied a request that would have classified the visit as a First Amendment demonstration and avoided the first in what is now becoming several embarrassing displays of power and ignorance. Who is causing the suffering now?

If the last election taught us anything, it's that no matter how bad things get, no matter how horrible this President fails, his constituents will never abandon him. I personally feel that he is now exploiting this fact. He knows that both sides will suffer from this fiasco. He is making the calculated move that all this pain, all this suffering, all this stupidity, will drag down the republican side much more violently then it will the democratic one. Let's call it year round negative campaigning. It may work too because people like you and I are getting sick and tired of all of it. All of it! And the side that pays attention and is disgusted with all of it is a lot less likely to vote incumbent in 2014 then the side that seems to blindly follow and point blame to only half of Congress.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Healthcare is Here!

Today is October 1, 2013, and, of course that means the so-called "ObamaCare" Healthcare.gov website is ready for business.


Allthough the government IT department knew this day was coming for years, and should have been able to get over the initial hump of traffic coming through today, some allowance and patience needs to be granted.

Your's truly had to wait about 20 minutes just to load up the registration page

The bigger question is, with the government shutdown going on across the nation, who is available to fix it? Surely the IT staff is not considered a critical staffing, wait when active military need a separate funding appropriation just to avoid the country being left completely defenseless from invaders, both foreign and from outer space.

With SNL doing jokes about the complexity of signing up for a healthcare plan through the exchanges, the timing of these website issues couldn't be worse. People are trying to punch in personal information and have no idea if it's getting through. Expect this launch to add fuel to the political fires of trepidation and fear about the governments ability to manage such a huge scale project.