Little David's Theory of How God Created the Universe

I first put this theory on a blog that is now deceased, and I want my theory to live on.

I want to put forth how I think the universe was created, how God did it.

Since the universe was created black holes have formed.  As our universe goes on, these black holes continue gobbling up all matter that falls within their gravitational field.  Even smaller black holes get absorbed into another larger one over time.

Think about times beyond your comprehension.  Think about after all the suns in our universe have burnt out.  The universe will consist only of a few drifting black holes and a very few stubborn suns formed by matter that escapes the incredible gravitational fields from all the black holes.

Over time, smaller black holes keep getting absorbed by larger ones.  God only needs be patient.  Once all the black holes, and all the matter in the prior universe, is again gathered together in the black hole that is finally large enough, a new universe is created.

I will claim some of credit for this theory for myself, but the only credit I deserve is that God chose me to be the vessel that delivered it.  To God alone belongs the glory.

I encourage discussion on this theory from amongst the learned, but I might have little patience for fools.


I guess I am going to have to refigure out how to run this little blog.

As I age, it is so hard to figure all of this stuff out.


I am a Blue Dog Democrat

I am a Blue Dog Democrat.

I have been looking at recent political elections trying to find a Republican I could vote for.  Every time I look closely at the Republican candidate in elections where I can cast my vote, I find evidence of support for the BIG THING that causes me to be a Democrat.  It seems every Republican is trying to destroy the American Way.

As an example:  Republican George Allen is running against Democrat Tim Kaine for one of Virginia's seats in the US Senate.  I do not agree with Tim Kaine on everything, however George Allen supports a flat tax.  He is in favor of destroying the progressive nature of the federal tax system (what little there is that is left which is still progressive) hence trying to destroy the American Way.

I have decided that when I cast my vote in November, I am going to cast a straight party line ballot with all the Democrats getting my vote.  I do not support everything the Democrats end up doing, but at least they are not trying to destroy the American Way.

Too bad we can not come up with a viable, moderate, third party.  When I look at all the alternate party choices available today, they all end up being extremists who are unhappy for one reason or another that the two existing dominant parties are not extreme enough for them.

OK, we have a two party system.  I have to choose between the lesser of two evils.  Well, in my estimation, the Democratic Party is the lesser evil and they win my support.  At least they are not trying to destroy the American Way (as I define it).  It is going to be my goal to work within the party to get as many moderate Democrats elected as possible, however even if the candidate is a bleeding heart liberal they are going to get my vote.

I am going to proudly say from now on that I am a Democrat and that I am proud that I am.  I will probably add that I am a Blue Dog Democrat, and I am proud of that as well.


A Good Plumber

I woke up yesterday morning needing a good plumber.  I had just got back home from 4 weeks on the road.  My wife had already departed for her chemotherapy treatment.  I had slept in catching up on the sleep I needed after all the time on the road.

I needed to find a good plumber.  I wondered how could I find one.  My wife had made suggestions, and I could always just look in the Yellow Pages.  No, I thought to myself, I needed a good plumber and I needed one quick.  I prayed to God to help me.  I could do this myself, but I was having difficulty concentrating on the task with all the other worries I had.

Suddenly thoughts flooded my mind on how I was to find a "good" plumber.  I was to go to a church and seek him there.  I decided I had better take a shower and get cleaned up first, but no, it was almost as if God was instructing me to go now, go quickly.  Which church Lord, which specific one should I go to?  The answer I got was that the choice was mine, choose any.  I decided to go to the closest one nearby that I knew how to get to.

Off I went on my mission from God.  My mind was racing as I pulled into the parking lot.  After some difficulty, I located a parking spot I was allowed to park in close to the church office.  I walked up to the door, but the door was locked.  Off to the side, I noticed an intercom box with a camera.  I pressed the button.  The lady answered on the other side of the intercom: "We do not have money to give you and we can't help you."

I was thinking that this was not a good start.  I pressed the button again.  "Yes?" was what I got back.  "Look," I said, "I am not here for charity."  I grabbed my wallet and opened it up for her to see the money inside.  "I am not homeless, I have money.  I am not asking for charity.  Do you have a sense of humor?"  "Yes." was the reply I got.  "Do you believe in miracles?" I asked.  The answer was "Yes".  "Well it is a miracle I am here.  And I am also trying to create another miracle, I am trying to find a good plumber.  I just need a referral. I can pay them."

I ended up being allowed inside the door.  What ended up happening is that I was handed the Yellow Pages.  As I opened up the Yellow Pages they handed me, I spoke:  "I need help.  I prayed to God and God sent me here."  From behind me I heard someone say "Whatever".  I broke into tears and handed the Yellow Pages back and rushed out the door.  Still trying to choke back the tears I jumped into my car headed for home.  I was thinking why did God send me there, why was it so important for me to go there if the answer to my problem was not there to be found.  Why God, why?

As I started to cross the parking lot, I spied a man resting under a shade tree on the property.  I parked my car and went up to the man and asked him "Do you know a plumber that could use some work?"

To make a long story short, I ended up finding a good plumber.  I am not impossible to please, but I am pretty hard to please, and the plumber I found was perfect.  Praise God.  Why was it important that I listen to God and go immediately without first taking a shower?  Because the man resting under the tree would have finished his rest and been gone if I had taken the shower.  God sent me to the church, and while the answer to my needs was not to be found inside that church, the answer was found at the location I chose to go to resting under the shade of a tree there.

How good was the plumber that God helped me find?  When the plumber told me how much he was going to charge, I told him I was not going to allow him to do the job for that price.  If he was going to get the job, he was going to have to be willing to be paid more.  Praise God.  


Male Homosexuals and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Recently I was banned from a local blog, with the blog administrator implying it was due to my being a bigot. What was my bigotry? I was arguing that Male homosexuals suffer from sexually transmitted diseases at a far higher rate then the population at large.

Is one really a bigot for believing this? Let me point out to those unaware that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that "In 2008, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 63% of primary and secondary syphilis cases in the United States. MSM often are diagnosed with other bacterial STDs, including chlamydia and gonorrhea infections." Now note that is the percentage of total number of cases not the rate of infection. This means that MSM are 63% of all infections while they are a only a small fraction of the total population so the rate of infection is huge.

Now why is this? I am not sure why, there are conflicting explanations (studies) for why this is so.

Here is the definition of the word bigot on Dictionary.com: "a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, esp on religion, politics, or race".

So my question is, just who is the bigot? The one who points to the facts (as reported by a reputable source) or the one who is intolerant of hearing the facts because they threaten their ideas or point of view?


Health Care - Too Little Too Late

I have an idea for where I think the national health care debate should be heading. Too little too late.

My idea (or belief) is that every citizen should enjoy the right to a basket of health benefits that are proven to be cost effective and nothing more. Every citizen gets basic health care coverage no matter who they are or how able they are to otherwise pay for it. If they want better coverage then that, they purchase supplemental insurance.

I understand that my idea is going to please few. Some Republicans will say this will be rationed health-care and my response is that any citizen can avoid the rationing by enrolling in a supplemental coverage plan. Some Democrats will say it does not go far enough and that every citizen must have the right to an expensive heart transplant and my response is that we need to cut costs and can not afford to provide the latest, greatest and most expensive health care treatments to all of our citizens since health care costs already are bankrupting us.

I was motivated to make this posting by this Associated Press piece which appeared on the PilotOnline website.

In general, this piece reports that action on a national health care plan is falling along party lines. If anything is going to be done, it is dependent only on agreement by the Democrats as all of the Republicans are going to remain lockstep in opposition.

Well my opinion is that there are enough moderate to conservative Democrats in the one party majority to represent the interests of every reasonable citizen in our nation. The Republicans are being totally unreasonable in their stance. After all, we need to do something. It was not that long ago that Republicans held all the reigns in both houses of Congress as well as in the Oval Office and during this time period nothing was done. Now that they are in minority they suddenly have all these great ideas that for some reason did not come to fruition while they were in power.

Personally, what Congress is considering does not match my own ideas of that which would be perfection, but at least it is something. I am in favor of something because it is better then nothing. If that which is done turns out to be less then perfect, well then we can fine tune it or completely abandon it and start over later. However, as far as I am concerned, doing nothing is not an option and that is where I see the Republicans lining up in favor of once again.


My E-Mail to Bob Tata


I hope this is not premature, but I am fairly confident that by the time you read this you will have been swept back into office.

Let me explain who I am and what my agenda is.

I am one of your constituents who happens to be a self employed truck driver. As such, I find myself in agreement with the trucking industry's position on how increased revenue for transportation funding should be accomplished. I will site my understanding of the ATA's (American Trucking Associations), the OOIDA's (Owner Operator Independent Driver Association) and the VTA's (Virginia Trucking Association) as relevant to prove this extreme majority viewpoint within the industry. It is our viewpoint that increases in fuel taxes are the fairest, most efficient method of raising increased revenue. When you collect the money through tolls, you have a whole lot of overhead to pay for to get the revenue.

In the past, I communicated with you how I am extremely opposed to tollways. In your response to me you effectively communicated back how difficult it would be to meet our region's needs for transportation improvements without including tolls.

I am hopeful that instead of spinning our wheels for the next several years on what to do about the transportation we can see some progress. Instead of partisan bickering, perhaps we can get something in motion.

There seems to be fairly broad Democratic support for an increase in the fuel tax with broad Republican support for increased use of tolls. I suggest that we pursue a grand compromise. Increased fuel taxes to fund maintenance and limited improvements on existing highways and freeways with tolls to fund new major projects. I do not think such a compromise is in the best interests of our region's citizens since they will be expected to pay both the increased fuel taxes and the tolls, but if compromise is necessary and that is the only way forward, so be it.

However, if you and the Republican Party insist on putting tolls on existing freeways let me warn you that my industry (I am not their spokesperson, how I am fairly confident I am correct) and myself personally will attempt to defeat every effort. First off, McDonnell's plans to put tolls on I-85 and I-95 at the North Carolina state line is unlikely to receive federal approval and end up just being another case of our spinning our wheels without making any progress. Second, it is my hope that portions of my industry that have deeper pockets then me will oppose the effort even if federal approval is received. Third, I intend to personally do everything I can to thwart such an effort even if the movers and shakers within my industry decline to do so.

I am extremely hopeful that you are the type of person who can provide the leadership required to get us over the hump. It is my understanding that you seriously considered retiring from politics. You would not be the type of person to run scared from threats to run you out of office. I know you do not do it for the money, because the paycheck really just is not there to adequately compensate you for the demands placed on you. You have all the attributes necessary to be the leader who is unafraid to reach out across party lines to find a solution to this problem. I noted with approval that you must have used your seniority to gain a seat on the Transportation Committee and I am hopeful you retain that seat.

I wish to disclose that I am intending to publish the contents of this letter to you on my blog. While my blog gets few visitors, my communications will be publicly available for anyone to see. Any response I receive might be published as well.

I also wish to state that I have never made even a dime in political campaign contributions to Bob Tata to date. I also do not think any future contributions are forthcoming in the near future. In this slow economy, combined with the bad luck I have been experiencing, I am worried about just keeping my business solvent as well as food on the family table.


Virginia's Attorney General Race

While surfing the web looking for information concerning Virginia's upcoming elections, I happened upon a voter guide page at the Richmond Times-Dispatch website that compared positions of the two candidates running for Virginia's Attorney General seat.

I wish to point out that on several positions Ken Cuccinelli's answers to questions start with something like: "As Attorney General, I would no longer have a vote on that issue, and thus, my position on it really doesn't matter." (Please note, this was not an exact quote.) I guess that is fair for most of the issues the questions asked about, but I am extremely concerned about this type of answer being given on one of the issues.

On the issue of transportation, the candidates were asked:
How should Virginia fund transportation?
Ken Cuccinelli's response?
As Attorney General, I would no longer have a vote on transportation issues, and thus, my role would be rather limited. However, voters can certainly examine my record as a state Senator, where I have long worked on this issue.
What? The Attorney General does not have a role to advise the Governor and the Legislature on whether or not solutions being considered are legal or not? Haven't we learned any lessons from past failed attempts to resolve our transportation problems where the courts had to tell us that the proposed actions were illegal (unconstitutional)?

It dismays me that anyone seeking to run for the office of Attorney General does not understand the responsibilities of the office he is running for. Now I realize that the office of Attorney General does not pay a very big salary, however I am sure the candidates are aware of how much the job pays. If either of them are unwilling to fulfill all the duties of the office because it just doesn't pay enough, well then please do not seek the job.

I am going to point out that the guy running for the office of Governor of Virginia who currently has a significant lead in the polls (that would be Bob McDonnell) has put forth a plan which includes trying to do some things that have very serious constitutional issues included in them. Bob McDonnell has a plan to put up toll booths and collect tolls at the North Carolina state line on I85 and I95. First off, this action would require federal approval and it is doubtful federal approval would be forthcoming. Second, even if federal approval is received, certain segments of our society are going to take the matter to the courts with the position that such action amounts to a thinly veiled attempt to tax interstate commerce and such action is unconstitutional.

We have already wasted enough time where our representatives in Richmond have only come up with plans that the courts had to get involved in and point out that whatever is proposed must be legal. In other words, we can not just do whatever we want without considering whether or not it is constitutional.

Whomever we end up electing might have an opinion that the courts may or may not agree with. However, do we really want to elect someone to the office of Attorney General who does not even understand that it is his responsibility to have an opinion on the issue? That part of his job is to advise the Governor and the Legislature on whether or not proposals pass constitutional muster?

Sigh. Looks like we are going to be in for another few years of inaction on solving our transportation mess. Not only is McDonnell leading in the polls for Governor, Cucinelli is leading in the polls for Attorney General. Not only are we going to have a Governor with a plan for transportation that includes specifics that are just downright foolish, that Governor is going to have an Attorney General who does not even understand it is part of his job to tell the Governor when he is playing the part of the fool.


Healthcare Reform Impasse

Today, Sept 8th 2009, the Virginian Pilot reports, in a piece written by Bill Bartel that my representatives in Congress are returning to Washington after a 40 day recess with their opinions largely unchanged on how to proceed on health care reform.

My fear is that the large scale opposition to health care reform will result in Congress doing nothing. I am not exactly sure how it would be best to proceed, but I am certain that something needs to be done. I will not criticize too loudly a go slow approach, as long as going slow does not end up turning into foot dragging with nothing being accomplished.

Right now a possible impasse is whether or not reform must include a public option. One side says they will not vote for it if the option is included, while the other just as vehemently claims they will not vote for reform if the option is excluded.

Just about everyone claims that they support trying to reduce health care cost increases. Seems to me that it is not impossible to find common ground as at least both sides claim to have common goals.

One idea for a compromise that has been floated is to include a public option only if after a few years, steps taken to reduce health care costs are unsuccessful. If costs can be reduced without the public option, then why must it be included? On the other hand, if steps to reduce the cost curve without the public option are unsuccessful, then why not give the public option a try?

Now I am not so naive as to think that such a compromise would be acceptable to everyone. Extremely significant opposition will remain. However I think that such a compromise could satisfy enough of our representatives in Congress to gain passage and break the impasse.

Something needs to be done; spiraling health care costs are threatening to bankrupt our nation while failing to provide coverage for too many of our citizens. Yes, perhaps many who lack coverage only have themselves to blame. However many lack coverage through no fault of their own.

Perhaps Congress can not get a perfect bill passed and signed by the President in its first attempt. OK, after we watch the results for a few years, we can always come back and tweak or even overhaul the entire thing. I will find it intolerable if opposition to health care reform is used as an excuse to do nothing. Even if it is only possible to start with modest reforms, then let us start with that. One thing is certain, we know from experience that the way our society funds health care is no longer working.

If modest changes are all that can be accomplished then let us give those a try to see if they are enough. If those who now resist broader changes are so sure these reforms are unnecessary, let us see if they are correct. If they are that confident that they are correct, perhaps they will agree to consider other more sweeping ideas if steps already taken are not enough.


Majority Rule in the Senate on Health Care Reform?

From the New York Times comes this editorial titled "Majority Rule on Health Care".

The piece discusses how difficult it might be to get a broad health care reform bill through the Senate if traditional Senate rules are followed.

The editor argues:
The Democrats are thus well advised to start preparing to use an arcane parliamentary tactic known as “budget reconciliation” that would let them sidestep a Republican filibuster and approve reform proposals by a simple majority.
I wish to point out that part of the reason that independent, moderates were willing to vote for Democrats recently was because of Republican leadership in the Senate threatening to use the Nuclear Option to win their way. I will speak up that my vote was strongly influenced by my disgust at Republicans being willing to throw Senate tradition into the trashcan. I will be no less disgusted by Democratic attempts to do the same.

I also wish to point out that some of the Democrats elected to the Senate were elected because they were moderates are even somewhat conservative. While some of us independents were disgusted with the Republicans, our willingness to vote for the alternative was because they were not liberal extremists. If the Democratic leadership in the Senate now finds a way to cut those we voted for out of the decision making, we might now become just as disgusted with the Democratic Party.

I know that in the past, when I was more willing to vote for Republicans, I was not voting for the extremist partisanship that resulted. When the Republicans attempted to carve out the influence of moderates and conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh started preaching against them I was motivated to revolt. Within the Democratic Party I found fertile grounds to plant my seeds within the party's new willingness to embrace moderates.

If the Democratic Party now insists on attempting to sidestep the power of the moderates who's election they supported, I might have second thoughts about the wisdom of my vote.

If the Democratic members of the Senate who I voted for (Mark Warner and Jim Webb) support this dirty trick I am going to find it more difficult to vote for their reelection.

I joined the rebellion and the revolution. I am wondering if I need to start having second thoughts about victory.

The NY Times editor argues that:
Delay would be foolish politically. The Democrats have substantial majorities in the House and the Senate this year. Next year, as the midterm elections approach, it will be even harder for legislators to take controversial stands. After the elections, if history is any guide, the Democratic majorities could be smaller.
OK, just how deep do Democrats want the election losses to go? Just how many independent, moderate voters do they want to alienate? Perhaps I am unusual as a voter in valuing the traditions of the Senate, but I doubt I am completely alone.


Taxes going up?

In the Washington Post appears an article by Lori Montgomery which reports that the Obama administration is considering going back on a campaign pledge to not raise taxes on the middle class.

First off, let me state that it is my opinion that the pledge was broken for the 1 in 5 American citizens who smoke when taxes were increased by about 60 cents a pack early in 2009. For example, I estimate that taxes on my family (my wife and I both smoke) went up by almost $1000 a year as a result. (When I have made this claim in the past, it was pointed out to me that I also benefited from the payroll tax decreases enacted as part of the stimulus bill. However I am self-employed and due to the method by which my earnings are structured, I do not qualify for as large a payroll tax decrease as the average citizen. Also, the payroll tax decrease is only a one year temporary tax decrease while the increased cigarette taxes are permanent.)

Second, let me state that I consider myself a fiscal conservative. As such, I am not opposed to some increase in my taxes to help balance the budget. I would not object to a reasonable tax increase as long as any tax increase was progressive in nature (little to no increase on the lower class, some increase for the middle class and a larger increase for the upper class) and all citizens were expected to pay what I describe as being their fair share depending on their annual income. What I object to is when my family is forced to endure targeted tax hikes (like the cigarette tax) which the majority of citizens manage to escape. In fact the cigarette tax hike is actually regressive in nature because, as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports, the lower a person's income the more apt it is for that person to be a smoker.

Why is such a tax increase necessary or justified? Well, as the Washington Post piece points out, it is highly unlikely that we are going to be able to eliminate the large deficit only through spending cuts. While I believe some spending cuts probably would become politically palatable, possibly even necessary as part of some grand compromise to eventually balance the budget, I believe that demands by some that we balance the federal budget only through spending cuts are unrealistic and unreasonable.

There are even some grounds for reasonable concern that the government projections for future deficit spending are grossly underestimated. On the Below the Beltway blog appears an article authored by Doug Mataconis that briefly explains some of the problems with the figures the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is forced to use for its projections. I will point out that there also are problems with the figures used by the Concord Coalition to come up with their own deficit predictions. These predictions appear as a foil to counteract the CBO's rather rosy outlook. However these predictions include:
...that all expiring tax provisions (including those from 2009 stimulus package) are extended...
It is pretty unlikely that the expiring George Dubyah Bush tax cuts for the wealthy will be extended. Also, while perhaps it is possible that the Social Security payroll tax decreases might be extended for another year, or even two, if the economy does not quickly recover, it is highly unlikely this temporary tax cut will become permanent due to the challenges the Social Security system already faces. Both of these tax cuts involve significant sums of revenue.

Let me state that I think the reality lies somewhere in the middle. Not as rosy as the CBO projection nor as dire as the Concord Coalition's projection. But if reality is somewhere in the middle, then future reality is intolerable.

Quoting from the Washington Post piece I linked to earlier:
"If you rule out inflating our way out of the problem and defaulting on the debt, there are two ways: Cut spending or raise taxes," said William G. Gale, an expert on fiscal policy at the Brookings Institution. With more than 80 percent of federal spending devoted to politically untouchable programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he said, "it's going to be really hard to make significant headway on the spending side. So that means you've got to think about taxes."
So I am willing to pay my fair share of tax increases to balance the budget. While I am in favor of a progressive tax code, I do not think it is reasonable nor advisable to raise taxes on the wealthy alone. The middle class needs to pay its fair share of any tax increases as well. If one is in favor of a progressive tax system like I am, then increased taxes on the middle class is part of the equation.

I am also going to state that with the approximately $1,000 increased taxes on cigarettes my family already pays, I think my middle class family is already paying at least a significant portion of its fair share. Obama broke his campaign pledge to my family with one of the first pieces of legislation he signed into law. I do not think that is unreasonable for the 21% of middle class Americans (as reported by the CDC) who smoke to demand that we see a reduction of, or credit for, the increased tobacco taxes we already pay. While the 80% of Americans who do not smoke might not have a problem with increased tobacco taxes, I think the 20% who do might form a high enough percentage of the electorate to affect future election results.


Gay Marriage and Polygamy

The New York Times, in a piece written by Jo Becker, is reporting that powerful conservative attorney Theodore B Olson is attempting to challenge the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8. Proposition 8 added the ban of same-sex marriage to the California State Constitution.

The article reports that Ted is going to attempt to work off the 2003 Lawrence vs Texas federal Supreme Court decision which established that: “Texas had no rational basis to intrude into private sexual behavior protected by the Constitution’s due process clause…”. Now, such a decision about private sexual behavior probably could be stretched to include behavior that involves more then two consenting adults.

Since Mr Olson is going to argue that since the Lawrence decision established that private gay sex is a protected right, then California must demonstrate that it has a rational basis for discriminating against a class of citizens simply for engaging in that behavior.

Couldn’t the same argument then be made for polygamy? If it is OK to engage in sex with different partners (as long as all participants are consenting adults) in private, shouldn’t they too then be allowed to get married?

I know that the gay community hates it when attempts are made to connect polygamy to gay marriage, but the connection remains. If the line can not be drawn against gay marriage, then just where can the line be drawn? In fact, those who “unofficially” engage in polygamy (they have only one official wife and a few girlfriends - nothing illegal there) are already starting to make these types of arguments.


Social Security Going Bankrupt?

The sky is falling, Social Security is going bankrupt. (Please note that was sarcastic.)

(See here) on the MSN Money website where an article, written by Bill Fleckenstein, appears which attempts to fuel the panic over the solvency of Social Security.

Bill, in a good impersonation of Chicken Little, makes statements such as:
The public pension system's trust fund could go into the red in the next year, far sooner than expected.
Those who've been paying attention have long known there is no money in the Social Security Trust Fund -- it's all been spent.
And again:
As I've already noted, there is no money in the Social Security Trust Fund -- just IOUs from the government to itself.
And then he quotes from a piece that he links to written by Allen Sloan that:
The cash that Social Security has collected from my wife and me and our employers isn't sitting at Social Security. It's gone. Some went to pay benefits, some to fund the rest of the government. Since 1983, when it suffered a cash crisis, Social Security has been collecting more in taxes each year than it has paid out in benefits. It has used the excess to buy the Treasury securities that go into the trust fund, reducing the Treasury's need to raise money from investors.
OK, have you got that? There is no money the the Social Security Trust Fund, evidently Bill wishes everyone to think they need to panic because the Trust Fund is just going to be left holding a bunch of worthless IOU's.

Well, according the Social Security Administration (SSA) the Trust Fund has 2.4 trillion dollars invested in Treasury bonds. Are these bonds worthless? Well conservative investors do not think so. It was only a few months ago that investors thought the Treasury bonds were so safe they were willing to accept a negative return on their investment just to have somewhere safe to park their capital. What would Bill have the Trustees of the Trust Fund do? Put the money in a mattress? Perhaps he thinks the money would be better invested in the stock market or in mortgage related securities?

I do understand that the government has been using the Social Security surplus collections we have experienced in the past couple decades to fund deficit spending in other areas of government. However the bonds issued to the Trust Fund are no more worthless then the bonds issued to other investors. The decision to invest the surplus in government securities might have been an extremely conservative approach, but it turns out to perhaps have been the safest choice as evidenced in the recent collapse in the value of many other investments.

I also understand that if nothing is done, somewhere along the line the Trust Fund will run out of reserves (currently the SSA projects 2037, however this projection might not have yet been adjusted to account for the drastic drop in receipts due to the current economy). However in the meantime, it has 2.4 trillion dollars invested in some of the safest assets on our planet to draw on. What have we been saving all that extra money for all these years past if we were never going to be allowed to draw from these savings when we needed them?

Bill seems to think that it is a catastrophe if the SSA ever has to start drawing on the savings. That 2.4 trillion is not enough and we need to continue rack up never ending surpluses until the end of time.

Now I agree that something needs to be done to ensure Social Security remains solvent after 2037. But I wish to point out that even if nothing is done the system could remain solvent beyond 2037 by reducing payments to 76 cents on the dollar. However such a drastic reduction in benefits for future retirees while current retirees see zero reduction in payments seems a little unfair to me, so I am in favor of a better solution.

What is a better solution? Well I guess that is open for debate. Perhaps it should include some reduction in benefits, some increase in the age at which retirees qualify for Social Security payments and some type of increase in taxes such as raising the maximum amount of employee earnings that are subject to the social security tax (currently set at $102,000). However one thing I am personally going to demand is that any plan includes at least an eventual drawing on the over 2.4 trillion dollars currently invested in the Trust Fund.

If we are never allowed to draw on the trillions we have invested, wouldn't then our continuing to invest in anything be extremely foolish? Certainly some point in the future can be pointed to where the invested assets available would reach zero just at the point that enough baby boomers have passed on so that after-wards the system is in equilibrium or perhaps once again showing a surplus.

I will agree with Bill that the sooner the changes are made to the system the better. For every year we delay coming up with a better solution the more radical the changes necessary become to avoid a drastic decrease in promised benefit payments. However it is my opinion that starting to draw on the surpluses we have accumulated is actually a good thing. Social Security is supposed to be self funding and not for profit. It would be wrong headed to demand that Social Security is never allowed to draw on invested capital and must continue to expand on the 2.4 trillion already invested on in to infinity.

Why in the world did we invest all that money if we are never allowed to draw on the investments we made?


Alternative Theories for Global Warming - Snowball Earth?

Global warming is a threat?

OK, I will admit that greenhouse gasses are a threat to our species. But why must we limit our thinking to such a short term threat?

Scientists seem to generally accept that our planet more often then not experiences ice ages then it deals with warm global temperatures.

While in the short term, global warming is going to cause discomfort to mankind, the real long term threat facing our species are the ice ages.

Science Daily reports on research into how changes in our planet's axis and orbit effect climate. The piece reports that major climate shifts are:
...ultimately linked to slight shifts in solar radiation caused by predictable changes in Earth's rotation and axis.
I have even heard that some researchers think that at one point our entire planet was completely covered with ice. Such an event was caused by the tectonic drift which caused our continents to group together disrupting oceanic currents along with the axis wobble and changes in our planets orbit coming together to cause what they call Snowball Earth.

There are many other theories out there about how relatively recent abrupt changes in environment might have been caused by cataclysmic game changers like comet or meteor collisions with our planet as well as massive volcanic eruptions caused by tectonic plate movements. However one thing is generally agreed upon by almost every researcher. Planet Earth spends more time in ice ages then it does in temperate or even warm climates.

Perhaps our species will be intelligent enough to avoid otherwise possible extinction through our better now understood knowledge of how we can affect our planet's climate. Perhaps with our understanding of greenhouse gasses we can mitigate the effects of global cooling. Quoting the Science Daily piece:
Sometime around now, scientists say, the Earth should be changing from a long interglacial period that has lasted the past 10,000 years and shifting back towards conditions that will ultimately lead to another ice age...
What is the bigger threat to our species? Global warming or global cooling? I guess it depends on whether you want to think short term or long.

President Obama and Signing Statements

The New York Times reports that President Obama is continuing the practice of issuing signing statements when he signs bills passed by Congress into law. Such statements instruct the Executive Branch on how to interpret certain provisions in the bills, and when they should not only be subject to interpretation but when they can be outright ignored.

How convenient. If you do not like something passed by Congress, the President can amend the legislation into something he likes or delete certain aspects completely with the stroke of a pen.

Now, I understand that President Obama is using this tactic far less often then President George Dubyah Bush. However I would have to consider myself a hypocrite if I condemned Dubyah's usage (which I did) and then say it is OK when the tactic is used by Obama.

I also understand that Obama most times is using signing statements to protect Executive Branch powers when Congress is, in his opinion, trying to tiptoe over the line separating the powers of the branches of government. However he could veto the entire bill based upon his objections as specifically allowed in the constitution. If Congress then overrides his veto, he could then delay enforcement of the bill by the executive branch, if he thinks some measures are unconstitutional, until the issue is decided by the Supreme Court.

I seem to recall that at one time our government tried to give the President the power of the Line Item Veto. The Line Item Veto would have given the President the power to sign into law bills he generally agreed with but where he disagreed with certain aspects, or line items, of the bill. Those line items he disagreed with he could selectively veto before signing the bill; placing into law only those specifics he agreed with. Problem was the Supreme Court decided the line item veto was unconstitutional.

Well signing statements seem to be an attempt to do an end run around the Supreme Court decision. Instead of vetoing certain line items, the President just issues a signing statement saying certain line items will be ignored. How convenient it must be for our dictator, err President, that while defending the powers of his office he can ignore the powers of both the other branches of government.


Reply from Glenn Nye

I have received a reply from Glenn Nye to my email to him. I must say I am impressed by how quickly I received this reply.

August 5, 2009

Dear David,

Thank you for contacting me with your suggestions for reforming our health care system. It is helpful to learn the views of my friends and neighbors in Tidewater, and I appreciate having your input.

Our country is facing a growing health care crisis. The cost of health insurance is skyrocketing while the average American is seeing their income stagnate. Many Virginia families are caught in the middle, they cannot afford health insurance yet do not qualify for Medicaid. Both the health of our citizens and the health of our nation are at stake, and we must take action. However, it is important that we also make the necessary reforms to the system and get health care reform right.

I recently spoke with a 20-year Navy veteran from Virginia Beach, who told me about his daughter's struggle with just this. When she was just 3 years old, she was diagnosed with cancer and continues to take expensive medication to keep the disease in remission. She is now a college student working toward her teaching degree. Since he is a military retiree, his daughter is currently covered under his TRICARE until she graduates. But after that, as she begins her teaching career, the current system makes it essentially impossible for her to find her own insurance that will cover the cost of her medication, because of her pre-existing condition. Stories like this are all too common and I will not support any health care reform legislation that does not include a provision to cover those with pre-existing conditions.

You will be pleased to know that the insurance companies are realizing they must make concessions in the health care reform discussion. In fact, the largest association of insurers, American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), has come to understand that they must include those with pre-existing conditions and now support a pre-existing condition provision in the upcoming health care reform legislation.

Medical care in the U.S. should be the best in the world, and to this point, it has been difficult to get an open and honest discussion of the facts. However one thing is certain, too many Americans are either uninsured or underinsured and Congress must act soon to provide the necessary catalyst we need.

Congress is currently working to totally revamp our health care system and I believe there are several key components this reform must contain to be successful: it is absolutely imperative that any health care plan must reduce costs for families and small businesses, allow Americans to keep their existing plan, choose their doctor, maintain Medicare benefits, accept those with preexisting conditions, and not strip any servicemember or veteran from their TRICARE or VA benefits.

It is unacceptable that more than forty-six million Americans do not have health care coverage. However, we must fix our current system before we add more people into it, which will only exacerbate our current problems. We need to fix current utilization, create real money saving efficiencies, and through a coordinated effort we must incentivize health and preventive care rather than sick care. Additionally, we must focus on improving our long-term and in-home care programs within Medicare. These programs are critical to providing consistent care and ensuring the high quality of life we all want for our aging population. To accomplish this we should look at the experiences of other countries when making future choices, along with finding the appropriate mix of public and private involvement that will best serve all Americans. Only then can we provide access to all Americans.

Like you, I believe that increasing access and the size of risk pools will help drive costs down. This includes not only the young and healthy, but those with pre-existing conditions.

Reforming our health care system is one of my top priorities in Congress, and I am convinced that we can develop a high quality system that remains fiscally responsible and does not increase the deficit. As Congress considers health care reform, I will make certain to factor your recommendations into my decision making.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact my office on this issue. I am proud to serve Virginia's Second Congressional District, and I am committed to working hard for you. If you would like more information about other issues I am working on in Congress, or if you would like to sign up to receive my monthly e-newsletter, I encourage you to visit my website at www.nye.house.gov.


Glenn Nye
Member of Congress
For the most part, I am going to allow this reply to speak for itself, however I will say that I am heartened that Glenn Nye seems to share my concerns.

I am also going to add that while Glenn's being part of the Blue Dog caucus was not addressed in either my own email or Glenn's reply, his involvement with the caucus is something that I applaud. I am confident the Blue Dogs will be working both out front and behind the scenes to ensure the final result is fiscally responsible.


Scuderi Engine

Just yesterday I posted an article that where I reported that University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have been researching a diesel cycle engine that lowers emissions and increases fuel economy by 20% which is achieved by fast response blending of gasoline and diesel fuel.

Today I found out about potentially even more impressive research on the Scuderi engine. (See here) an article that appears on the Fleetowner website (hat tip to Sean Kilcarr, Senior Editor Fleetowner magazine) that reports on the engine design's potential as it applies to diesel cycle engines. The Scuderi Engine is a design of a split cycle, internal combustion engine invented by the late Carmelo J. Scuderi. The Scuderi Group, founded by Carmelo's children, is working on development of the engine.

Quoting from the Fleetowner piece, Sal Scuderi, president of the Scuderi Group claims his new engine design offers several improvements, including:
  • Improved fuel efficiency by almost one third vs. today’s gasoline and diesel models
  • Emit 80% fewer emissions than today’s gas and diesel engines
  • Provide significantly more power than a conventional engine
I think the Scuderi engine offers superior potential for the trucking industry, because, again quoting Sal Scuderi:
We estimate that this design can lower the cost to build diesel engines by as much as 40 to 50%.
These cost savings are realized through the elimination of the need for Exhaust Gas Recirculation, turbocharging*, exhaust treatment and half the fuel injectors as compared to a traditional diesel engine. Additionally, the engine probably will also have a savings in the weight of the engine and reduced maintenance costs.

Recent reports indicate the Scuderi Group now has cleared a hurdle by successfully running a prototype engine.

* Some reports indicate that the final design might include turbocharging to obtain maximum performance, efficiency and emissions reductions.


Gasoline-Diesel Cocktail

I am going to point towards something interesting I recently noticed as I surfed the web.

It seems that lower emissions from diesel engines do not always have to come at the expense of reduced fuel mileage.

I wish to point out how attempts up to now to meet improved emission standards for diesel engines have resulted in greatly reduced fuel economy by these engines. They might emit reduced nitrous oxides and particulates, but they consume greater amounts of fuel and add to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

But (here) the ScienceDaily web site reports that University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have come up with an alternative. Blending gasoline and diesel fuel in diesel cycle engines results in lower emissions and an increase of 20% in fuel economy. Quoting from the article:
These dramatic results came from a novel technique Reitz describes as "fast-response fuel blending," in which an engine's fuel injection is programmed to produce the optimal gasoline-diesel mix based on real-time operating conditions.
(Please note that Rolf Reitz heads a University of Wisconsin-Madison engine research group.)

Now hopefully we truck drivers can get the diesel engine manufacturers to apply some of this new technology so we can get better, not worse, fuel economy out of the new engines we have to put in our new trucks.


My Email to Glenn Nye

In Response to a recent communication I received from Glenn Nye's staff on the issue of health care I sent this response:

I understand the Blue Dogs' concerns about rural health care needs and the need to control costs.

I hope you also understand the need to include that pre-existing health care conditions also need to be included in the requirements for solving our national health care problems.

I do not understand how this problem can be solved without including everyone in our society being required to contribute toward the care of the elderly and the diseased. As long as the young and healthy are allowed to opt out up to the point they become sickly, health care coverage will still be unaffordable in one way or another.

I am not going to demand anything other then what you (we) come up with includes coverage for pre-existing conditions. I am going to watch closely to see if the solution you support meets the common sense test of actually solving the problem without making the problem worse.

Please be aware I am posting this communication on my blog, and that any response I receive from you might also be posted.
Let's see what we hear in response.

Goodlatte: We Need Commonsense Health Care Reforms

There is a guest post on the Bearing Drift blog by Rep Bob Goodlatte (R-VA06) about his ideas on how to improve our health care system.

While Bob includes a few ideas on how to improve health care for American citizens which are worthy of consideration, I wish to point to the absence of ideas on how to solve one very large and difficult problem.

What about the problem with lack of coverage for pre-existing conditions?

I wish to give an example of how this is a problem. I heard about this example on NPR (National Public Radio). I tried to find a link to the program where I heard this, but could not locate it. A gentleman was laid off from his job and had exhausted his continuing cobra health care coverage. He obtained health care coverage through a private insurance company for a few months at a time, and at the end of each covered period he would obtain a few more months of coverage through the same insurance company. The reason he only obtained short term coverage was because he was continuing to search for employment, and he had hopes of obtaining cheaper coverage through a new employer.

During one of the periods he was covered through this private insurer, he was diagnosed with having a serious medical problem that would require expensive treatment. However the insurance company denied coverage because they determined the problem was pre-existing. They went back in their files and discovered that this gentleman had had a medical test done while covered by them under a previous policy. While his medical care providers did not catch it, that results of that medical test indicated he already had the problem at the point the test was taken.

Why should this be a problem? Because after the test was performed the policy he had then expired and he obtained coverage under a new policy. Since the problem existed prior to his obtaining the new policy, the problem was pre-existing and not covered under his new policy.

Now the gentleman is facing the choice of either living with the problem or financial ruin paying for treatment.

I believe I could give other examples of how the difficulty in getting coverage for pre-existing conditions is indeed a problem for many American citizens. I would imagine that most Americans know a friend or relative who faces such a problem because it is so pervasive in our nation's health care system.

Problem is that you just can not mandate that all insurers must provide coverage of pre-existing conditions at the same price level as others without them unless you require every member of society to obtain coverage. If individuals are still allowed to decline medical coverage, the young and healthy will often still decide to stick with pay-as-you-go health care and only opt for medical coverage after they have been diagnosed with something that is going to require expensive treatment. Costs for medical care insurance will go up for everyone covered.

Unless the burden of providing for the treatment of serious medical problems in our society is spread out amongst all the members of our society, including the young and the healthy, then the costs of providing coverage to those seeking it is going to go up. We will not have solved part of the problem for why our current way of doing things no longer works.

There might indeed be problems with the health care proposals winding their way through Congress which are largely being supported by Democrats. However at least the Democratic proposal seems to attempt to address how solve the pre-existing condition problem. I have yet to hear a serious proposal from Republicans on how to address this very real and very difficult problem.


Blue Dogs and Health Care

Recently, there has been much consternation about how the Blue Dogs are putting up roadblocks towards Barack Obama's desire to pass health care legislation.

Part of what the Blue Dogs demand is increased cost savings with another demand being that rural health care providers are not short changed in a new system like they are in Medicare.

What really upsets me is when the base of the Democratic party objects to including Blue Dogs' concerns in the health care legislation.

Eileen Levandoski at vbdems.org provides such an example. In a piece she titles "This is a catastrophe we must address NOW!" she objects to the cost increases necessary to meet Blue Dogs' demands. Cost is an issue, and she objects to the cost increasing aspects of what the Blue Dogs want. Please note the YouTube video she links to. It provides an example of rural citizens who are in high need of health care services.

Ahem. Does anyone notice a problem here? Unless the Blue Dogs' concerns are included in the proposed health care proposal, the health care package might not pass. If the health care package does not pass with Blue Dogs' concerns being addressed, the rural citizens health care needs that she points to are not going to be addressed anyway.

By the way, I can only speak with limited authority. My self claimed authority only comes from listening as I travel in rural areas as I travel around this nation. From what I know, rural areas are increasingly finding it more difficult to obtain any health care because there are no health care providers to deliver the services.

I find it amazing that Eileen would use as an example of such a segment of our society that needs health care to support her position that Blue Dogs must be opposed. The Blue Dogs are actually the ones standing up for the people she points to as an example. If she opposes the Blue Dogs, she actually wants to leave these people without health care.

OK, OK, they might still be able to get at health care. As long as they are willing to travel a couple hours to get it and do not have a problem with contributing to greenhouse gas emissions while they travel.


Cell phone use, the experts agree

The experts agree. After a study of both truck drivers and smaller vehicle drivers, Virginia Tech seems to agree with most of the conclusions I came up with based only upon experience.

This study was comprised after observation of over 6 million miles of observed behavior of drivers. Let me first state that 6 million miles is better then 4 times my own personal experience. Let me also state that anyone agreeing to observation of their driving habits were already on their best behavior unlike my rather less limited personal observations might be based upon real life experience.

But I am going to applaud the general results of the result of this study that was achieved by mere egg heads that do not have my experience. While I can quibble about some of the conclusions, I am amazed at just how accurate the results were.

I am going to add my support with what I call one of the most obviously correct conclusions of the study. Let me quote:
"Talking/listening to a cell phone allowed drivers to maintain eyes on the road and were not associated with an increased safety risk to nearly the same degree," the institute said. "These results show conclusively that a real key to significantly improving safety is keeping your eyes on the road."
Amen, hallelujah. While my efforts to keep my eyes on what is going on if front of me might be condemned by many as too apt to ignore that which that which is going on behind me, I am never going to condemn situational awareness. However I am going to insist that those who might condemn my own driving is less then perfect (eyes front) must agree that eyes kept anywhere on the road is better then eyes kept on the cell phone while they texted or dialed.

I will continue to insist that these experts observations about how a truck driver's performance on lonely stretches of highway, particularly late at night, might have been improved by engaging in cell phone conversations was not obvious. I can not accept that their observations does not match my experience.

The problems with cell phone usage is when drivers engage in using them during the most demanding needs for their attention. I would describe this as being during rush hour traffic in urban areas. From my experience (only 1.5 million miles) this is the greatest problem.

The eggheads conclusions might not be perfect, but the conclusion is not too far off the bulls eye.


Cell phone safety

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about a NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) study on the effects on roadway safety of cell phone use.

I attempted to obtain a link to an article I read that reported a conflicting finding. The article reported that a study of how cell phone usage by truck drivers affected the safe operation of their vehicles came to a surprising conclusion. Cell phone conversations added to the safe operation of the vehicles driven by the truck drivers. I emboldened the word conversations because other aspects of cell phone operation led to less safe driving. Try as I might, I could not find the article.

Now first let me give you the set up. About a dozen truck drivers agreed to have video cameras placed in their trucks that both recorded their actions within the truck and provided views for what was going on outside their trucks (how did they react to traffic).

First off, I am fairly certain that these truck drivers were always on their best behavior. There is nothing that is going to motivate squeaky clean behavior and performance better then realizing someone is constantly observing what you do. As a result, the observed behavior might not have been genuinely typical.

But the study indicated that cell phone conversations, as well as conversations on a CB (citizen's band) radio actually improved the performance of the studied truck drivers.

While I can not provide a link that reports on this study, I can believe the results of the study. I am a truck driver, and my experience seems to match the results.

But as I said, I am willing to bet the truck drivers were on their best behavior. I would imagine they did not use their cell phone in heavy urban traffic but only used it while traveling on less demanding rural stretches of roadway.

The study came to the conclusion that the performance of truck drivers that engaged in cell phone conversations or use of a CB radio's performance improved because it was less likely for them to exhibit drowsy related performance while engaged in a conversation.

My experience is that while on that lonely stretch of highway is when I face the highest risk of drowsiness. While my experience with a cell phone is limited, I have considerable experience with a CB radio. One way to fight the boredom that increases the risk of inattentiveness due to fatigue, is to get a conversation going with someone, anyone, on the CB.

Now this study also contained another conclusion which leads me to believe the results they obtained are valid. Despite the positive benefits to attentiveness they observed from conversations on a cell phone, they observed that driving performance was extremely decreased when these truck drivers attempted to dial or text on their phones. This observation seems to pass the common sense test for me. While engaged in dialing or texting these activities compete for where their eyes must be.

I am going to add a statement of opinion here that is not supported by any study they I know of being conducted. I would put forth that use of a CB radio, even in the most demanding urban, congested traffic conditions continues to increase the safety factor. The truck driver never has to take his eyes off the road and he at least sometimes gets advanced warning of challenging road conditions ahead of him.

I am going to add that observing the performance of truck drivers is not really a fair comparison, and that the sampling of truck drivers observed might not have been nothing but the best truck drivers available. The truck driver with a poor attitude would never have agreed to have his actions monitored that closely. The drivers who agreed to be monitored probably had enough confidence and experience that they felt they had nothing to fear from observation.

Perhaps studies based on the cream of the crop are not completely valid. I will note that even the performance of the best of the best declined while texting or even dialing on their cell phones.

My personal observations of even four wheelers while talking on the cell phone seems to at least somewhat match the study's observations for truck drivers. My own personal observations for four wheelers are that when they attempt to talk on their cell phones in heavy traffic is when they are most apt to become a safety hazard. Unfortunately, this seems to be when they are most apt to talk on their cell phones. They just got off work, they are on their way home, and they are checking to see if they need to stop for a loaf of bread en route.

Poll Discrepancies

I noted something interesting in an Associated Press piece that appeared on the MSNBC website.

The piece reports widely different, perhaps I should say even conflicting, results achieved by pollsters on the question of whether or not American citizens continue to support our nation's war efforts in Afghanistan.

The first poll, by the Pew Research Center, was conducted May 18 to June 16, with a margin of error in most countries of 3 to 4 percentage points. (Please note the "most countries" tag is due to this poll actually involving reports of public opinion within several nations.) The results? 57 percent of American respondents favored keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan while 38 percent said they should be withdrawn.

The second poll, by AP-Gfk, An AP-GfK poll, was conducted July 16-20, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The results? 44 percent favor the war and 53 percent oppose it.

So in a period of just two months, these polls report a shift away from firm majority support to a slim plurality of opposition. Even if one takes the margins of error into account, this reported change is not explained.

There was the time period difference of when the sampling was taken. If one looks at when the polls were started, this difference is as large as two months. Has anything been happening during that time that would cause a wild swing of public opinion? There has been the relentless reporting of casualties in Afghanistan, with the death toll rapidly rising. As the Associated Press piece reports:
The new U.S. emphasis on Afghanistan has raised the level of fighting — and in turn, the number of casualties. July is already the deadliest month of the war for both U.S. and NATO forces with 63 international troops killed, including 35 Americans and 19 Britons.
However during this time political leadership within America has been speaking out in support of our war efforts in Afghanistan with little political opposition coming from either of the two major parties.

Now I understand that within two months, some people are going to change their mind. In all wars, over time, support tends to slip as the public starts to become war weary. But we have already been at this war for some time, and I do not think the passage of an additional two months alone explains thing.

I understand that polls can constructed so as to be push polls. The polling questions can be constructed so that they shape your opinion even as you are asked to give your opinion. However these types polls normally are being conducted by organizations who have something to gain by a certain result. I am not aware of the two organizations which conducted the above polls having ulterior motives on the above issues or for having the reputation for engaging in push polls.

I am aware that poll researchers report greater difficulty in polling due to changes within society. As more and more citizens shift to cell phones, it is getting harder and harder for pollsters to achieve representative samples of society. I know that it is extremely rare for my own family members to be consulted for our opinions on polls. Perhaps the explanation in our case is that we use an answering machine to screen our calls even though our family remains firmly dependent on a land line.

Whatever the explanation for the disparate results, I think these results point to at least one thing. The method of coming up with the claimed margin of error on polls needs to be adjusted. While I am not an expert on statistics, I believe I understand the justification for the claimed margin of error. As long as your sampling size is large enough, it should become increasingly statistically unlikely the sampling is wrong as the number sampled increases.

Perhaps the formula for determining margins of error was arrived at by analyzing poll results taken back in the good ole days. Back before cell phones and when it was still highly unlikely for citizens to even have an answering machine to screen calls. Back in those days, pollsters were probably more likely to be rewarded with a representative sample of society for their efforts. Nowadays, because along with advances in technology making it more difficult to contact many segments of society, citizens have become jaded with the advent of large scale telemarketing which even the "Do not call list" hasn't solved. I would imagine that back in ancient times, people were more willing to engage with a pollster and perhaps even flattered that their opinion was being asked for. Nowadays, citizens are more apt to be skeptical. When someone asks for their opinion, the defenses go up with the question "OK, what are you trying to sell me?" being in the back of their head.

I am at least more wary of believing the results of polls when I hear them. The results from the above two polls helps to explain why.


G.O.P. Debate: A Broader Party or a Purer One?

On today's New York Times website an article appeared (see here) which outlined the debate going on within the Republican Party about how to recover from recent electoral losses and the defection of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party.

Of all the quoted opinions contained in the article, I am going to lift two. Those of Senators Lindsay Graham and Jim Diment, both Republicans from South Carolina. I pick these two quotations because both come from dark red South Carolina and I think it is appropriate to point out how two men hailing from the same state have such differing opinions.

These quotes are:
Senator Lindsay Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said: “We are not losing blue states and shrinking as a party because we are not conservative enough. If we pursue a party that has no place for someone who agrees with me 70 percent of the time, that is based on an ideological purity test rather than a coalition test, then we are going to keep losing.”
Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said ideological purity was the road to success. “The best way to get to 60 is to have a core group of Republicans who really do what they say and stand for their principles,” Mr. DeMint said.
I believe these two opinions accurately represent the two sides of the debate currently underway in the GOP.

First let me explain where my comments are coming from. I describe myself as a moderate. Many conservatives dismiss me as a liberal and many liberals label me a conservative. It is for this reason I describe myself as a moderate. With some of my opinions, I agree with the left and with some I agree with the right. Often I sit in the middle and would rather see compromise then an all or nothing victory by either side.

So where would I like to see the Republican Party in the future? I'd like to see them head in the direction of nominating more candidates that I would consider voting for. I would hope they would come to me rather then heading further to the ideologically pure right. I want choices when I go to the ballot box, and I would rather not be forced to always vote for the Democratic candidate.

Now let me explain that I understand that I am never going to get everything I want in a candidate unless I were to run for office myself. My opinions are so varied, that it is highly unlikely that a candidate will always agree with me. I also am not claiming to be the voice of the moderate voter. I will state that if another voter has opinions diametrically opposed to mine, that this voter too is a moderate because that voter will have a variety of opinions.

I view very favorably someone who has a variety of opinions. If someone always agrees with the most extreme portions of their party on everything, that person is unacceptable to me. I realize that both parties are going to have some of "those types" serving in government because both parties do contain sizable numbers of voters who prefer them as representatives. However, I do not want to see these types representing me.

But what does a voter like me do when faced with candidates for office, both of whom are what I would call extremists? When the Democratic nominee is from the far left and the Republican nominee is from the far right? How do I choose whom to vote for then? Do I just abstain? Maybe, depending on the candidates, some of my opinions are more important to me then others. However I am also then strongly influenced by which party is most inclusive of moderate voices in other races for other offices, in races in other districts, and in races throughout the nation. In other words, if I vote to add one more vote up on Capitol Hill to one party or the other, are there enough moderate voices within that party so that I can at least hope someone will still be open to debate and help keep things from spinning out of control?

It is my hope that the Republican Party seeks to appeal to more moderate voters by broadening its appeal rather then narrowing its focus by fielding only ideologically pure candidates. I hope the party changes and comes to me rather then narrowing its focus and trying to force me to come to it.

I believe the recent successes of the Democratic Party are at least partially due to the signaling by party leadership that they valued and welcomed moderate candidates who often disagreed with majority of Democratic party members and that if these candidates were elected they often might vote against party leadership in order to represent the opinions of those who elected them. I do know that is how the Democratic Party increased its appeal me, an independent voter.

The Democratic Party has been so successful with me, that I have considered abandoning describing myself as an independent, and affiliating myself with the Democrats (although I would describe myself as a Blue Dog Democrat). However I think it is better and safer for me to continue to stick with being an independent. I value my freedom to vote for what I consider to be the best candidate no matter which party that nominee runs under. I do not want to have to deal with being described as being disloyal for sometimes voting for the nominee from another party. However if it looks like the Republican Party is going to circle the wagons around the extreme right wing core? Well then I might be forced to abandon my independence, become more active in the Democratic Party and just do my best to ensure the Democrats nominate as many moderate candidates as possible. (Since I live in Virginia where independents are allowed to vote in whichever primary they wish, I can do some of that already.)

As far as I am concerned, the choice is up to the Republican Party. If the wagons are tightly circled, that will send to me a strong signal they do not want my vote, and if they do not want it, they are not going to get it.


Tax Rate Debate

Due to concerns about President Barack Obama's intentions to raise taxes on our wealthiest citizens, there has been a lot of discussion in the media, on blogs and on talk radio about how such tax increases would affect small businesses. Today the Washington Post website had an example (see here) from which I intend to lift this quote:
Other business owners are also nervous. Jim Murphy, president of EST Analytical in Fairfield, Ohio, which sells analytical instruments to environmental testing labs and pharmaceuticals, said his company is struggling in the sluggish economy. But if profit returns to pre-recession levels -- about $455,000 -- Murphy said his accountant estimates that Obama's proposals could add $60,000 to his $120,000 tax bill.

"The misconception is that guys like me take [our profits] and put it into our pockets," said Murphy, who employs 47 people. "But the money the company earns in a given year is used to buy additional inventory so we can grow and hire." A 50 percent tax increase, he said, would be "really painful."

The above serves as an example where small business owners sometimes try to mislead the public when discussing this issue. I have to think that this must be deliberate. Surely Mr Murphy is not so ill informed about how the profits of his company are figured and how the bottom line is arrived at that he must pay taxes on.

Mr Murphy is not paying taxes on his companies gross profits, at least not to the feds (he may be paying local taxes on gross receipts, but that is not a federal tax). The money that is "used to buy additional inventory so we can grow and hire" is deducted from his gross profits and he and/or his company (it depends on how his business is organized which entity pays the taxes) would only pay taxes on net profits. Thus if Mr Murphy's company plows 100% of his gross profits back into the company, he would end up with a federal tax bill of zero. That's right, he would not owe a dime in taxes so he would have completely escaped Barack Obama's proposed tax increases.

Mr Murphy attempts to call this into question by directly stating: "The misconception is that guys like me take [our profits] and put it into our pockets." But the only profits he pays taxes on are those he puts into his pocket. Anything reinvested in the company is an allowed business expense which is deducted from the gross before taxes are paid.

Now there are some genuine arguments that can be made for why increasing taxes on small businesses would be undesirable. (The strength of these arguments could be debated as well.) However fabricating outright false arguments in an attempt to mislead those who do not know any better does nothing to win the debate.

Actually, it could be argued that increasing taxes on net profits could motivate additional reinvestment of gross profits back into the company in order to escape the tax increase. Perhaps Mr Murphy is not smart enough to figure out how this might be so, but if he seeks the advice of a competent tax accountant he might come to understand how it works. A good accountant can also offer him advice on how to structure his company so as to minimize his tax exposure.

I am self employed (a small business) and I know that I enjoy many tax advantages that most average citizens are unable to take advantage of. Perhaps I just have a better tax accountant.


Who Pays Unemployment Taxes?

Recently while I was trucking in Pennsylvania, the subject of unemployment taxes came up on my CB (Citizen's Band) radio.

A trucker was grousing about how he did think it was fair that he had to pay unemployment taxes to provide benefits for all the unemployed. He thought it was just another form of welfare. I made the contention that it was only employers, not employees who paid unemployment taxes. Another truck driver chimed in that he had his pay stub handy and it clearly showed withholding for unemployment.

With some exploration, I found that both of these truckers were local drivers who resided in Pennsylvania. I then stated that this was something new to my experience. I had always assumed unemployment taxes were paid only by employers and the expense hidden from employees (it is still an expense to the employer - an expense for each employee he takes on), but perhaps Pennsylvania was different. I stated that I did not think this was true in most states. None of the truckers listening to the conversation from other states contradicted me.

I was motivated to do a little research on the internet. After starting my search using Google, I was not coming up with any real pages that solved the mystery for me. In fact, one website I visited claimed it was illegal to withhold money from employee paychecks to pay for unemployment compensation insurance. It seemed like most of the sites I visited were guilty of the same assumptions I had made. If unemployment is paid for in their state entirely by the employer, then this must be true in all states. Remembering that www.ask.com allows queries in plain language, I expanded my search there.

With the assistance of Ask I came upon a page (see here) at the Business Owner's Toolkit website that yielded some light on the subject. Please note that the linked to page states that only two states assess unemployment taxes on employees, and these are New Jersey and Alaska. But what about Pennsylvania? At the bottom of this page is a graph that allows you to click on individual states to find tailored information about unemployment taxes for the state in which you do business. Clicking on Pennsylvania, I noted that, yup, there is withholding in Pennsylvania from employees checks for unemployment taxes. Clicking on all the rest of the states, I noted that two states, Alabama and Washington, allow withholding as an option (perhaps to force the employees to pay a portion of the employers taxes). Anyone want to place a bet that in these two "optional" states it will not take long before the withholding becomes the norm?

So there we have it. Three of fifty states have mandatory withholding from employees paychecks to pay for unemployment. An additional two states have this as an option for employers.

Perhaps we are starting to see cracks in the dam. With the current economy, most state's are finding it difficult to fund unemployment compensation benefits and they are looking for additional revenue. I will not be surprised if an increasing number of states resort to passing part of the burden onto employees as part of the solution to their deficit woes now that the first cracks have appeared in the dam. Those most capable of making campaign contributions are going to have the loudest voices in the debate, and they (the employers) are going to be arguing they should not have to shoulder the entire cost alone.


Driving Behavior

A few days back, one of the major national websites had a link to a discussion about people's pet driving peeves. The number of posts was enormous, but I read through a few dozen of them. There were a few posts about truck drivers as well as a couple from truckers. I was tempted to answer a few of them from a truckers point of view, but decided to skip it.

Now I wish to point out that unlike many (perhaps most) truck drivers, I actually have a pretty high opinion of how considerate the motoring public is towards trucks. Yes, there are inconsiderate drivers out there, but not enough of them that it is impossible for me to get into traffic from an onramp even during heavy traffic for example. Perhaps someone might want to argue that even a majority of drivers are inconsiderate, however I would counter that if this is true the minority of drivers who are considerate have such a large impact, that I have been fooled.

By the way, I have been driving a "big truck" (tractor trailer) for close to 12 years now and just recently passed 1.5 million miles of experience. Now I am not claiming to be "the" expert as a result, because there are many drivers out here with far more experience then I. But I do think that I have been at this long enough to claim to have an informed opinion.

But during these 1.5 million miles I have twice (you might be surprised only twice) run into outright jerks on the road. The first happened years ago and I won't go into it, but the second happened just yesterday and I am going to describe what happened.

I was traveling west on US-82 along the Southern part of Arkansas. It was a section of two lane road, well into dusk with a light rain. Speed limit 55 MPH (Miles Per Hour).

I was doing just a little bit better then the speed limit, but not enough that a state trooper would even blink an eye if I came across one. I came up on two four wheelers traveling about 45 MPH. No problem, I just followed at a safe distance and patiently waited for a chance to pass. When we came up on a long stretch of open highway with a break in oncoming traffic, I flipped on my blinker and moved into the left lane. I was heavy, grossing about 77,000 lbs, so it took me a while to accelerate. As I moved past the first vehicle in line, the lead vehicle accelerated as I pulled even with his back bumper. He sped up to 60 MPH. The vehicle following the first lingered back and I did not have a problem with the lead vehicle accelerating. If he was going to pick up the pace it would be OK with me and I'd just fall into line. I was going to be satisfied if he just maintained the speed limit.

As soon as I moved into the right lane, the lead vehicle started to slow down. There was now oncoming traffic so I did not have the opportunity to jump out into the left lane again. Following the lead vehicle, I slowed back down to 45 as we headed into a series of curves and hills where there was no opportunity to pass.

We came up on a long stretch of straight, rather flat road. I decided I was going to take advantage of the opportunity to try again. I once again flipped on my blinker, slowly moved into the left lane and started to accelerate. Once again the lead vehicle slowly accelerated along with me. This time I did not stop when we reached 60 MPH. My truck is governed at 82 MPH and I was going to take it to the limit if necessary. There was plenty of open highway in front of us without any sign of oncoming traffic. At 65 MPH the vehicle I was attempting to pass backed out of it and allowed me to go by. As I drew next to him he started driving halfway on the shoulder.

From this action I took it that perhaps he was just an inexperienced driver who was scared to have a large vehicle next to him. I kept my foot on the pedal to keep his suffering to the minimum amount of time necessary, slowing down only after I had cleared him. After I passed him he seemed to resume his 45 MPH pace. Poor guy, I thought, as he receded into the distance behind me.

I had only gone about a half dozen miles when I saw a pair of headlights approaching from the rear. As they drew near I recognized it was my "friend". For him to have caught back up with me as quickly as he was approaching he must have been going at least 65 MPH. "What the heck is he up to?" I wondered. I hadn't noticed a cell phone stuck to his ear when I passed him, however I thought that perhaps he had one of the hands free earpieces and had been engaged in a phone conversation. Perhaps he didn't want the noise of my big truck interfering with his conversation as I passed, which is why he had attempted to prevent me from doing so. Once he was done with the conversation, he picked up his pace. We came up on a section of highway with a passing lane on our side. I moved over into the right lane in case he wanted by. My friend accelerated and passed me.

He maintained his pace until the end of the passing lane and we entered a stretch of road where it would be unsafe for me to pass and then he slowed down to, you guessed it, 45 MPH. If we came upon a stretch where it would be safe for me to pass, he would speed up for a short time and slow back down once it was no longer safe for me to do so.

I was not going to develop a case of road rage and maintained a safe following distance. If he was attempting to try my patience he was going to fail the test. As long as he maintained at least 45 MPH I was just going to follow along behind him. If he tried to escalate things by slowing down even more I was going to find someplace safe to pull over and let him get on down the road.

He did always maintain 45 MPH and we ended up having quite a string of vehicles following behind us by the time he reached his destination. He pulled off at a Travel Plaza and guess what, no blinker. I noted the Travel Plaza had a few places for trucks to park and briefly considered stopping to have a word with him. I'd explain to him that it was unwise to attempt to antagonize a truck driver into road rage. If he ran into the wrong driver behind that very large, very heavy vehicle; a driver with a bad attitude to begin with and who was having a bad day on top of it all? Well he could end up having his very light, very small vehicle pushed off into the ditch.

I quickly decided it was not worth my time. It would just be wasted effort. If he was not smart enough to have figured it out on his own, I was not going to have much chance of convincing him. Besides, it was getting late and I still had quite a distance to cover to get to the truck stop where I was planning on spending the night. I needed to get there early enough I still stood a chance at finding a place to park.


Letter to Mark Warner on SCHIP funding

Here is a copy of what I sent Senator Mark Warner on the issue of funding the proposed expansion of SCHIP (States Childrens' Health Insurance Program).
First let me offer you my congratulations at your election victory.

I wish to discuss an issue that is very dear to me. This issue is the attempt to fund the proposed increase in SCHIP benefits at the expense of our state's economy.

It has been proposed that such an expansion should only be funded through an increase in the taxes on tobacco.

A large segment of your (our) state's economy is dependent on tobacco. I do not understand why Virginia's economy is expected to shoulder such an unfair share of the burden of funding the increase.

It is my expectation that you will be willing to represent all of the citizens of your state. I believe that you possess the power to stop the increase in tobacco taxes dead in its tracks by joining in a filibuster of the legislation until the increased tobacco taxes are removed.

While I am not a one issue voter, this issue is extremely important to me. I consider your actions on this issue to be a litmus test as to whether you are suitable to represent Virginia in the Senate.

Letter to Jim Webb on SCHIP funding

Here is a copy of what I sent Senator Jim Webb on the issue of funding the proposed expansion of SCHIP (States Childrens' Health Insurance Program).
First let me say that you enjoyed my vote when you were elected.

Second, let me state that in general I have been pleased with your service as one of my representatives in the Senate.

But I wish to discuss an issue that is very dear to me. This issue is the attempt to fund the proposed increase in SCHIP benefits at the expense of our state's economy.

It has been proposed that such an expansion should only be funded through an increase in the taxes on tobacco.

A large segment of your (our) state's economy is dependent on tobacco. I do not understand why Virginia's economy is expected to shoulder such an unfair share of the burden of funding the increase.

It is my expectation that you will be willing to represent all of the citizens of your state. I believe that you possess the power to stop the increase in tobacco taxes dead in its tracks by joining in a filibuster of the legislation until the increased tobacco taxes are removed.

While I am not a one issue voter, this issue is extremely important to me. I consider your actions on this issue to be a litmus test as to whether you are suitable to represent Virginia in the Senate. I wrote to you in 2008 about this issue, and the response I received from you was completely unsatisfactory.