Monday, July 16, 2007

I've Got a New Blog

The Pentavirate hasn't really panned out as well as I foresaw but I'm not really ready to give up on it yet, either.

Nevertheless, I've started a new personal blog at I hope you enjoy it. I'm starting out with some interesting For Sale By Owner stuff and moving on from there. Check it out and enjoy.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

I've moved!

I've moved to a new blog! I've joined up with 4 other great writers to start The Pentavirate. Please come check us out. We've gone beyond just politics to bring a much more divirsified range of topics. Enjoy it!

Friday, January 28, 2005

This Just Seems Very Wrong

Yesterday I came across something via slashdot that was very disturbing. National Geographic has an article about doctors using stem cells to fuse DNA of humans with animals thus creating different hybrid human-animals known as chimeras (taken from Greek mythology of an animal that has a lion's head, goat's body, and a serpent's tail).

Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University in 2003 successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs. The embryos were reportedly the first human-animal chimeras successfully created. They were allowed to develop for several days in a laboratory dish before the scientists destroyed the embryos to harvest their stem cells.

In Minnesota last year researchers at the Mayo Clinic created pigs with human blood flowing through their bodies.

And at Stanford University in California an experiment might be done later this year to create mice with human brains.

Scientists feel that, the more human-like the animal, the better research model it makes for testing drugs or possibly growing "spare parts," such as livers, to transplant into humans.

Watching how human cells mature and interact in a living creature may also lead to the discoveries of new medical treatments.

While I understand the potential benefits, this of course introduces a plethora of ethical dilemmas. What are the limits? How human is human? At what point do we grant rights? It's definitely something that's going to be at the forefront of debates very soon.

Mixed Feelings On Palestinian Election

The Washington Post is reporting that 3/4 of the open seats in the recent local elections have gone to the Hamas political group. Hamas is considered by the US government as a terrorist group and is responsible for most of the terrorist acts enacted against Israeli civilians. When I first read this, I was truly disheartened. This announcement seemed, to me, to push back any possibility of peace coming to this area.

But towards the end of the article was a quote that encouraged me:

"I am sure this democratic process will diminish the influence and effect of these religious parties, but we have to get them into the political system, and then they will have to act according to the rule of law and democracy, and that will be a great achievement not only for Palestine, but for the whole region," said Raji Sourani, a human rights activist in Gaza.

This has a ring of truth in it and I sure hope it turns out to be the case.

Sen. Harry Reid's Staffer: A Real Class Act

A staffer for Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid, decided to do his own little protest on the West Front of the Capitol. The Washington Times has the story:

About 20 minutes into Mr. Bush's speech, Mr. Ackerman, 36, and another man held up a sheet that said "No War." According to a Capitol Police report, Mr. Ackerman and another suspect "were blocking the view of the audience, and they were engaged in a verbal dispute with members of the audience."

The report states that Capitol Police officers told Mr. Ackerman and the other suspect to relinquish the sign or be arrested, but that "neither complied and both were placed under arrest." The report did not name either suspect, although Mr. Ackerman's identity was confirmed with the Capitol Police.

I understand not agreeing with a president's policies but is it really appropriate for a staffer for a US Senator to stage a public protest during the inaugural address? What does this say about the Senator he works for and represents? There is this concept of "time and place". Imagine what would have happened if a staffer of Sen. Trent Lott or another Republican had done the same thing during Clinton's inaugural address. Somehow I don't think a little blurb in the Washington Times would be the only place you'd find the story.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

AP: Support For Iraq War Waning

Or that's what the AP would want you to believe. Today the AP has released a poll and rather than simply printing the findings of the poll, they take the opportunity to editorialize on it.

According to the poll, 53% of Americans now feel that the creation of a stable democratic Iraq is unlikely compared to 43% who still believe it will happen. This is down from last April when 55% of Americans polled felt it was likely. Support in every demographic has slid. Specifically mentioned was those who make between $25,000 and $50,000.

Other groups that showed a significant decline were those with incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 a year, young men, those without college educations - groups very likely to know people serving in Iraq.

I'm not sure how they can make that assumption. I'm not in that demographic yet I know many people, including family members, that are serving in the military in the War on Terror. How was this assumption reached? Or was this more to try and introduce the idea that the military men and women and their friends and family are the ones that are turning on the conflict in general. Little editorials sprinkled here and there introducing a bias in the article.

And that's the point. Like I posted about before, the media keeps pounding and pounding on the negative aspects of what is going on in Iraq and has successfully begun to erode public support for the war. If we heard every day, over and over, when each person in this country was killed in a car accident and kept track of the death toll on the streets and if we were pounded on about the horrible effect cars were having on all of our lives, sooner or later it would erode the public support of cars. That's what is going on with our coverage in Iraq. Unlike with cars where we can see the benefit in our every day lives to balance out negative press, we can't easily see the positive coming out of Iraq allowing us to have a balanced perspective of our progress over there. The AP even admits it though they probably didn't realize it.

The steady news reports of violence in Iraq have taken a toll.

If a person took time on the internet, they could find the positive stories too, but most people do not have the time to do that and only get what they see on the 6:00 news or in stories from the AP.

After spending most of the whole article talking about the pessimism of the country concerning Iraqi democracy and stability they throw in as an aside this little piece of information almost at the end of the article:

Even though Americans are becoming more pessimistic about Iraq's future, support for the troops remains high. A majority still supports keeping troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized, despite the worries.

"We can't pull out now, not after all those guys have died," said Janice Shinn, a Republican-leaning postal worker from Pedricktown, N.J. "But we have to see it through. We can't just leave like we did in Vietnam."

...and people don't understand what we mean by a media bias....

Monday, January 24, 2005

Social Security Is In Trouble: Raise Taxes Of Course.

Is raising taxes the only answer our government knows to solve a problem? Today the AP is reporting some possible solutions to the Social Security crisis according to Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) the chairman of the House tax-writing committee. His answer to the current problem with Social Security is to implement a "value added tax." What is that?

Thomas mentioned the valued added tax, a kind of consumption tax. It is, in effect, a sales tax imposed at each level of production of goods and services.

Yeah, that's the ticket. Let's tax companies to save Social Security. Here's how law-makers think: If you tax companies, than the general public will never see it and won't be up in arms about the tax hike. Social Security will be saved for another 20 or 30 years and everyone's happy. After all, corporations are evil anyway just out to steal your money. They deserve to be taxed more.

Here's what they don't tell you: If a companies taxes go up, that becomes an extra expense. Do companies just eat expenses and make less money? Sometimes. It depends on what the competition is doing and charging. If an expense is across the whole industry, all it does is it gets passed down in the price of the product. What happens when most every industry in the country gets this new expense? The price of most every product will go up. That's called inflation. So who, in the end, pays for this tax increase? The people do, it's just not as obvious as a hike in the payroll tax percentage. People's paychecks may be the same, but we will all be poorer because each dollar will buy less.

Social Security is broken. It's been bandaged before and they're trying to bandage it again. Eventually, you won't be able to bandage it anymore and it will be scrapped. Why not scrap it now?

Now I'm going to do some math. Numbers very easily get errors, so if anyone sees a problem, please let me know.

When I usually get a statement from Social Security, it basically tells me that I can expect about $1000 monthly payments when I retire (in about 40 years). Now let's calculate what someone would get should they invest the money they put into Social Security. We'll assume a $50,000/year income for 40 years. I'm also assuming that the Social Security portion of the FICA withholding is about half so 7.5%. (Don't forget that you're employer also pays 7.5% towards your FICA.)

Annual Income: $50,000
Monthly Income: $4166.67 ($50,000/12)
SS portion to invest: $312.50 (7.5% of $4166.67)
Time until retirement: 40 years
Return on Investment: 3% (A very modest return)
Value of Investment at retirement: $288,930.56 (Using Future Value function in Microsoft Excel)
Divided Monthly for 20 year: $1203.88 per month.

That's $200 more per month than Social Security will give you. Granted there are some problems with my numbers, but I've stated my assumptions. This also assumes that at retirement, the whole nest egg is pulled out of investment and just divided into payments for the next 20 years. If only the monthly portion was pulled out and the rest left in the investment, it'll increase even more.

Imagine what would happen if the money was invested into something a little more aggressive. Let's assume an 8% return (very realistic in today's market). The monthly payment would be $4538.31 per month!

The other thing is that if you were to die before the money was used up you could leave it for your children. With Social Security, you're just out of luck.

So why are there so many against privatization? Set a cut off date for those that can participate in Social Security as is, for example, the age of 40. Everyone younger than 40 will put their Social Security portion of their payroll taxes into an IRA like fund allowing the person to invest it however they choose. This will not only increase the assets of the individual, but the influx of investors in the market will help the whole economy.

What if someone doesn't invest it wisely or is too aggressive and loses it all? The government won't allow them to die in the streets, of course. Turn it over to the welfare system. It's better for a few to end up in the welfare system than for every one of us relying on a check from the government as part of our retirement income.

If we need to raise taxes to get those last few through the old system, or better yet, cut spending, than so be it. In the long run, the whole country will be better off for it.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Good News From The Front

Tired of getting all bad news about the Iraqi war? LTC Tim Ryan is fed up. He wrote an op-ed for the outlining the obvious media bias to anything bad while completely ignoring the greater good going on in Iraq. This is definitely a must-read for everyone out there to help keep a perspective to what is happening in the Iraqi front of the War on Terror.

Here are some highlight quotes:

Television and newspapers spilled a continuous stream of images and stories about the destruction done to the sacred city, and of all the human suffering allegedly brought about by the hands of the big, bad Americans. These stories and the lack of anything to counter them gave more fuel to the fire of anti-Americanism that burns in this part of the world.....While the media was busy bashing the Coalition, Muqtada's boys were kidnapping policemen, city council members and anyone else accused of supporting the Coalition or the new government, trying them in a kangaroo court based on Islamic Shari'a law, then brutally torturing and executing them for their "crimes." What the media didn't show or write about were the two hundred-plus headless bodies found in the main mosque there, or the body that was put into a bread oven and baked....

The media allows the terrorist to use relatively small but spectacular events that directly affect very few, and spread them around the world to scare millions. What about the thousands of things that go right every day and are never reported? Complete a multi-million-dollar sewer project and no one wants to cover it, but let one car bomb go off and it makes headlines. With each headline, the enemy scores another point and the good-guys lose one. This method of scoring slowly is eroding domestic and international support while fueling the enemy's cause....

It appears many members of the media are hesitant to venture beyond the relative safety of the so-called "International Zone" in downtown Baghdad, or similar "safe havens" in other large cities. Because terrorists and other thugs wisely target western media members and others for kidnappings or attacks, the westerners stay close to their quarters.... A car bomb at the entry point to the International Zone one day, a few mortars the next, maybe a kidnapping or two thrown in. All delivered to the doorsteps of those who will gladly accept it without having to leave their hotel rooms — how convenient.... There is a transparent reason why the majority of car bombings and other major events take place before noon Baghdad-time; any later and the event would miss the start of the morning news cycle on the U.S. east coast. These terrorists aren't stupid; they know just what to do to scare the masses and when to do it. An important key to their plan is manipulation of the news media....

I have had my staff aggressively pursue media coverage for all sorts of events that tell the other side of the story only to have them turned down or ignored by the press in Baghdad. Strangely, I found it much easier to lure the Arab media to a "non-lethal" event than the western outlets. Open a renovated school or a youth center and I could always count on Al-Iraqia or even Al-Jazeera to show up, but no western media ever showed up – ever. Now I did have a pretty dangerous sector, the Abu Ghuraib district that extends from western Baghdad to the outskirts of Fallujah (not including the prison), but it certainly wasn't as bad as Fallujah in November and there were reporters in there.

The media is glorifying the bad and apparently ignoring the good which is nothing less than aiding and abetting the enemy. The constant negative coming from the American media is helping the terrorists spread their terror world-wide through very small actions on their part. There's no doubt that the enemy is leveraging them all they can. It's time for the American media to finally decide which side they're really on?

Updated 1/21: Chrenkoff tallies the numbers of good stories versus bad stories on a typical day.

New Video From JibJab

For those who remember "This Land" from JibJab, they have a new one out. Check it out at

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Tax Cuts Just What The Doctor Ordered For An Ailing Economy

In my last post I talked about the pushes the government can do to help create an environment where the economy can thrive. Apparently, in spite of democratic opposition, tax cuts have once again encouraged just that kind of environment.

Lawrence Kudlow writes in the Washington Times:

A supply-side tax-reform movement, a shrinking budget deficit, new-found spending discipline, and a determination to confound conventional wisdom by reforming Social Security has George W. Bush's second term off to a roaring start — even before he is officially sworn in.

3 times now in American history have we cut taxes. The first was with John F. Kennedy. The second with Ronald Reagan. The third with George W. Bush. Each time the economy has benefited and so does the coffers in Washington.

Unknown to most, because the media seems unaware or partisan, the federal deficit is rapidly decreasing as tax revenues are pouring in. The tax cuts have increased general spending and more importantly increased investment bringing in even more profits which are then taxed at a higher rate.

Once again supply side economics has shown itself to be the champion.

The Economy Is Good But Not Great - The Government's Dirty Little Secret

We've heard from a lot of sources, especially from sources that support the Bush administration but also including independent analysts as well as Allen Greenspan, that the economy is in full recovery and frankly they're a point. GDP is expected to increase by 3.5% to 4.7% depending on who you ask. The Federal Reserve says that "inflation and longer-term inflation expectations remain well contained." Everything is looking peachy except for one thing: Jobs. Jobs just haven't increased at the rate so many expected. There's little doubt that the Bush tax cuts has helped push the economy in the right direction, but they've fallen short of their expectations when it's come to job recovery.

Now this brings me to the government's dirty little secret. They don't control the economy. This may come as a shock to most people, but the government has very little control of the economy. Now this hasn't prevented many presidents from taking credit when the economy is good and it hasn't prevented many presidents from being voted out of office when the economy is bad. The truth is, the government can do little more than give light pushes in a general direction.

Now I'm not saying that over the long term a government can't grind an economy into the ground or encourage it to new heights. The government's best role is in creating an atmosphere where the economy can thrive and the United States is one of the best atmospheres in the world for an economy to thrive.

The Federal Government can only do two things with regards to the economy: Tax and Spend. During a recession, if a government decreases taxes and increase spending, these two acts can, in the short term, increase the amount of investment and spending done by businesses and consumers and provide work for companies.

The Federal Reserve has two things it can do: Change the amount of money that is in the economy and change interest rates. During a recession, if the Federal Reserve decreases interest rates and increases the amount of money in the economy (by printing money and/or buying T-Bills), these two things encourages businesses and people to spend and invest more whether it is in a new home or in new machinery or a new factory.

These things that the Fed and the Government can do is nothing more than encouraging the economy to improve.

During the 2000 recession, the federal government has decreased taxes and increased spending (thanks in part to the War on Terror). The Federal Reserve has lowered taxes (I'm not sure what they have done with regards to the money in the economy). The result? People have bought homes and cars like crazy. Businesses have invested more and purchased new capital. These things have increased our GDP and the stock market is on a positive trend. Usually in this situation, when businesses have more money, they also hire more people and invest in human capital as well, which they have, just not as much as expected.

"On Jan. 2, 2004, The Wall Street Journal reported that 54 economists it surveyed believed that 'rising corporate profits and steady economic growth are expected to prompt companies to hire workers more aggressively in the months ahead....'

This economic recovery is creating new jobs (and 2004 was the best year since 1999), but it's not creating enough new jobs to support a full recovery from a recession. And no one — not private-sector economists, not academic economists, not Council of Economic Advisors economists — had forecast such a scenario."

So whose fault is it? Nobody really. Congress and the president have done everything within their power. Allen Greenspan has done everything within his power and they've gotten results but they cannot force businesses to hire. They can encourage it but they can't force it.

And this is my main point. My grandmother told me once, "Never take too much credit or blame for what your kids do." Likewise, the Federal Government and the Federal Reserve, despite what they would have you believe, can't take too much credit or blame for the economy. They have done well to push it in the right direction, but we should think twice about hammering them when the recovery isn't perfect.

(the numbers and quotes taken from an article written by Susan C. Walker)