Monday, April 30, 2007

As Health Plan Falters, Maine Explores Changes
ORTLAND, Me., April 23 — When Maine became the first state in years to enact a law intended to provide universal health care, one of its goals was to cover the estimated 130,000 residents who had no insurance by 2009, starting with 31,000 of them by the end of 2005, the program’s first year.

...So far, it has not come close to that goal. Only 18,800 people have signed up for the state’s coverage and many of them already had insurance.

“I think when we first started, in terms of making estimates, we really were kind of groping in the dark,” said Gov. John E. Baldacci, who this month proposed a host of adjustments.

... And there is John Henderson, 42, of Auburn, who enrolled in DirigoChoice in 2006 for about $90 a month while working at an L. L. Bean warehouse, a job he kept to 20 hours a week so his income would qualify him for such a low rate.

But he dropped the plan this year when rates increased by 13.4 percent on average. Mr. Henderson, who has diabetes and is currently jobless, said he had stopped once-regular doctor’s appointments and some medications that “I have just no hope of affording.”

Ms. Schneider’s group is suing the state insurance commissioner for approving the rate increase.

An Anthem spokesman, Mark Ishkanian, said the increase was necessary because medical claims of DirigoChoice customers were “substantially higher” than anticipated, about double those of non-Dirigo plans. One reason for the higher expense was “pent-up demand” by enrollees who had been deferring visits to doctors while they were uninsured, Mr. Ishkanian said. Another was the richness of the coverage, which enrollees used for treating long-held conditions or mental illness, he said.

Ms. Riley said the state was surprised that more than half of DirigoChoice enrollees qualified for the highest subsidy, 80 percent, which meant the program has been more expensive for the state.

She said Maine also expected more small businesses to enroll in DirigoChoice. But many businesses found that the program requirements of enrolling 75 percent of a firm’s employees and paying 60 percent of the cost were too expensive.

“If they weren’t able to afford insurance before, they’re unlikely to be able to afford Dirigo,” said Kristine Ossenfort, senior governmental affairs specialist of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.....

Climate change hits Mars
Mars is being hit by rapid climate change and it is happening so fast that the red planet could lose its southern ice cap, writes Jonathan Leake.

Scientists from Nasa say that Mars has warmed by about 0.5C since the 1970s. This is similar to the warming experienced on Earth over approximately the same period.

Since there is no known life on Mars it suggests rapid changes in planetary climates could be natural phenomena....

Monday, April 23, 2007

How to Stop the Next Campus Shootings
...Five years ago Peter Odighizuwa a 43 years old Nigerian student killed three faculty members at Appalachian Law School Dean with a semi-automatic handgun, but before he could wreak further carnage two students fetched weapons from their cars, challenged the murderer with guns levelled ,and disarmed him.

When the mass murder session began in the engineering building the police cowered behind their cruisers till Cho Seung-Hui finished off the last batch of his 32 victims, then killed himself. Then the police bravely rushed in, started sticking their guns in the faces of the traumatized students, screaming at them to freeze or be shot. Similar timidity was on display in Columbine, where Harris and Klebold killed students in the library over a period of 15 minutes and then committed suicide. The police finally mustered up the nerve to enter the library over two hours later.

Years ago campus police were greeted as a welcome alternative to regular cops hassling students and creating trouble.. But now they mostly are regular cops, hassling students, dishing out speeding tickets like the one the Virigina Tech campus police issued Cho. They were good at spotting a car going a few miles over the limit, bad at protecting the campus from a smouldering psychotic.

The Virginia Tech terrible massacre should prompt a radical review of the utility of SWAT teams which now infest almost every community in America. Each time there's a hostage taking or a mass murderer on the rampage, one sees the same familiar sight: overweight SWAT men, doubled up under the weight of their costly artillery, lumbering along in their body armor and then hiding behind trees or cars or walls while the killer goes about his business. SWAT teams perform most efficiently when shooting down unarmed street people menacing them with cellphones.

The answer is to disband SWAT teams and kindred military units, and return to the idea of voluntary posses or militias: a speedy assembly of citizen volunteers with their own weapons. Such a body at Columbine or Virginia Tech might have saved many lifes. In other words: make the Second Amendment live up to its promise.

In 2005 I listened to some earnest ACLU type at a meeting in Garberville, an hour from where I live, deliver a judicious speech about Taser guns--a new toy for the cops, whereb y a person can be zapped with 50,000 volts. The ACLU guy was torn. On the one hand, he reasoned that the Taser -- being purportedly, though not actually non-lethal -- is better than a 12-gauge or high powered rifle. On the other hand, there is the possibility of "improper use". His answer: more regulation. He didn't entertain the actual course of events, namely that Tasers have now been added to the means whereby the police can kill or terrorize people and that regulation will be zero.

The left complain about SWAT teams, but doesn't see that the progressives bear a lot of responsibility for their rise. If you confer the task of social invigilation and protection to professional janissaries--cops -- and deny the right of self and social protection to ordinary citizens, you end up with crews of over-armed thugs running amok under official license, terrorizing the disarmed citizens. ...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military
WITH GOD ON OUR SIDE One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military By Michael L. Weinstein and Davin Seay shines a klieg light on one of the most elite educational institutions in the world. The United States Air Force Academy which, from its inception has attracted the best and brightest, producing outstanding leaders not only in the military but throughout American society.

Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and his family have a long tradition of service in the United States armed forces. However, Weinstein is now waging a different kind of war. With support at the very highest levels, evangelical groups within the military believe that, serving your country requires the priorities of the military personnel to be, in the words of the Officer’s Christian Fellowship: “ a spiritually transformed US Military” literally “with ambassadors for Christ in uniform” and “empowered by the Holy Spirit.” Weinstein and other American patriots see the evangelicals’ intrusion into military operations and affairs as an affront to the Constitution they were sworn to uphold – and a violation of this nation’s traditionally sacrosanct separation of church and state.

Ten thousand cadets and staff at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, open up their federally-funded newspaper and see an a solicitation signed by hundreds of Academy senior officials and their spouses unabashedly proclaiming, “We believe that the only real hope for mankind is Jesus Christ!” Cadets are bombarded with official command “encouragement” to see the movie The Passion of the Christ at local movie theatres, and stridently sectarian fliers are strategically placed at every cadet’s seat for three straight days in the Academy dining hall. The Air Force Deputy Chief of Chaplains tells a New York Times Reporter, in a front page story, that it is now official U.S, Air Force policy to “Reserve the right to evangelize the un-churched.” (Who exactly are “the un-churched,”and who decides?).

These disturbing developments have been a call to arms for Mikey Weinstein, a US Air Force Academy honor graduate, son of a US Naval Academy distinguished graduate, father of a current Air Force Academy cadet and father and father-in-law of two recent Air Force Academy graduates, and the founder and outspoken president of the Military Religious Foundation of America. Weinstein sees the invasion toward a fundamentalist Christian-based religious based US Military as an abomination against the Constitution and its bedrock principle of separation of church and state. ...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why So Gloomy?
April 16, 2007 issue - Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over. There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true. What of it? Recently many people have said that the earth is facing a crisis requiring urgent action. This statement has nothing to do with science. There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we've seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe. What most commentators—and many scientists—seem to miss is that the only thing we can say with certainly about climate is that it changes. The earth is always warming or cooling by as much as a few tenths of a degree a year; periods of constant average temperatures are rare. Looking back on the earth's climate history, it's apparent that there's no such thing as an optimal temperature—a climate at which everything is just right. The current alarm rests on the false assumption not only that we live in a perfect world, temperaturewise, but also that our warming forecasts for the year 2040 are somehow more reliable than the weatherman's forecast for next week....

...In many other respects, the ill effects of warming are overblown. Sea levels, for example, have been increasing since the end of the last ice age. When you look at recent centuries in perspective, ignoring short-term fluctuations, the rate of sea-level rise has been relatively uniform (less than a couple of millimeters a year). There's even some evidence that the rate was higher in the first half of the twentieth century than in the second half. Overall, the risk of sea-level rise from global warming is less at almost any given location than that from other causes, such as tectonic motions of the earth's surface....

...Indeed, one overlooked mystery is why temperatures are not already higher. Various models predict that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere will raise the world's average temperature by as little as 1.5 degrees Celsius or as much as 4.5 degrees. The important thing about doubled CO2 (or any other greenhouse gas) is its "forcing"—its contribution to warming. At present, the greenhouse forcing is already about three-quarters of what one would get from a doubling of CO2. But average temperatures rose only about 0.6 degrees since the beginning of the industrial era, and the change hasn't been uniform—warming has largely occurred during the periods from 1919 to 1940 and from 1976 to 1998, with cooling in between. Researchers have been unable to explain this discrepancy.

Modelers claim to have simulated the warming and cooling that occurred before 1976 by choosing among various guesses as to what effect poorly observed volcanoes and unmeasured output from the sun have had. These factors, they claim, don't explain the warming of about 0.4 degrees C between 1976 and 1998. Climate modelers assume the cause must be greenhouse-gas emissions because they have no other explanation. This is a poor substitute for evidence, and simulation hardly constitutes explanation. Ten years ago climate modelers also couldn't account for the warming that occurred from about 1050 to 1300. They tried to expunge the medieval warm period from the observational record—an effort that is now generally discredited. ...

...Moreover, actions taken thus far to reduce emissions have already had negative consequences without improving our ability to adapt to climate change. An emphasis on ethanol, for instance, has led to angry protests against corn-price increases in Mexico, and forest clearing and habitat destruction in Southeast Asia. Carbon caps are likely to lead to increased prices, as well as corruption associated with permit trading. (Enron was a leading lobbyist for Kyoto because it had hoped to capitalize on emissions trading.) The alleged solutions have more potential for catastrophe than the putative problem. The conclusion of the late climate scientist Roger Revelle—Al Gore's supposed mentor—is worth pondering: the evidence for global warming thus far doesn't warrant any action unless it is justifiable on grounds that have nothing to do with climate....

A taxing challenge: Even experts can't agree when preparing a sample tax return
In 1913, the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, which spells out the U.S. tax code in all its riveting detail, was 400 pages long. In 2007, it contained 67,204 pages.

As the tax code turns ever more unwieldy, deciphering it has become more art than science, tax experts say.

With the April 17 deadline approaching, USA TODAY decided to test this theory by asking three veteran tax pros — two enrolled agents and one certified public accountant — to prepare a tax return for a hypothetical family, the Baileys....

...All the preparers came up with varying results....

Justice's Holy Hires
Monica Goodling had a problem. As senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Justice Department liaison to the White House, she no longer seemed to know what the truth was. She also must have been increasingly unclear about who her superiors were. This didn't used to be a problem for Goodling. Everything was once very certain: Her boss's truth was always the same as God's truth. Her boss was always either God or one of His staffers.

Last week, through counsel, Goodling again refused to testify about her role in the firings of several U.S. attorneys for what appear to be partisan reasons. Asserting her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, she somehow thought she might be on the hook for criminal obstruction. Then on Friday, she resigned, giving no reason.

A 1995 graduate of Messiah College, an evangelical Christian school, and a 1999 graduate of Pat Robertson's Regent University Law School, Goodling is an improbable character for a political scandal. Her chief claim to professional fame appears to have been loyalty to the president and to the process of reshaping the Justice Department in his image (and, thus, His image). A former career official there told The Washington Post that Goodling "forced many very talented career people out of main Justice so she could replace them with junior people that were either loyal to the administration or would score her some points." And as she rose at Justice, a former classmate said, Goodling "developed a very positive reputation for people coming from Christian schools into Washington looking for employment in government, always ready to offer encouragement and be a sounding board."

Start digging, and Goodling also looks to be the Forrest Gump of no comments: Here she is in 1997 fielding calls from reporters to the admissions office of Regent's School of Government. Asked whether non-Christians were admitted, she explained that "we admit all students without discrimination. We are a Christian institution; it is assumed that everyone in the classes are Christians." Here, in 2004, she's answering calls at the Justice Department about whether then-Deputy Solicitor General Paul D. Clement knew about the abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison when he told the Supreme Court that the United States does not torture. Said Goodling, in lieu of taking the Fifth: "We wouldn't have any comment."...

...Jeffrey A. Brauch, the law school's dean, urges that students reflect upon "the critical role the Christian faith should play in our legal system." Jason Eige (Class of '99), senior assistant to Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, puts it pithily in the alumni newsletter: "Your Résumé Is God's Instrument."...

Monday, April 09, 2007

War protesters withhold taxes
SAN FRANCISCO — Dorothy Hansen used to pay her taxes faithfully every year — until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Since then, the 87-year-old Sebastopol, Calif., resident has stopped filing her income tax returns to show her disapproval of the war.

"I am very sure that I don't want to have any part in killing people, and I certainly don't want a part in any wars that do just that," Hansen said.

With the tax-filing deadline a little over a week away, some Bay Area residents are using it as an opportunity to protest the war by withholding their tax dollars to fund it.

Known as war tax resisters, they consider it an act of civil disobedience. Some withhold only a symbolic portion of what they owe — $10.40, for example, to represent the 1040 tax form — while others, like Hansen, refuse to pay anything. Many will redirect their tax dollars to a charity.

The risks can be costly if a resister is caught. The Internal Revenue Service recently increased the penalty for people who fail to pay their taxes to $5,000 from $500. Some resisters have had their wages garnisheed or property seized.

"There is no law that permits taxpayers to refuse to file a tax return or refuse to pay their taxes based on an estimate of what the government spends on programs or policies with which they disagree on moral, ethical, religious or other grounds," the IRS said in a prepared statement. "These frivolous positions are variations of arguments taxpayers have made in the past about religion and taxation, and that courts have repeatedly rejected."

The IRS added that by not paying what they owe, tax resisters place an undue burden on the people who file their taxes legitimately....

Teenage Holy War
..."When you enlist in the military, there's a code of honor," Luce preaches, "same as being a follower of Christ." His Christian code requires a "wartime mentality": a "survival orientation" and a readiness to face "real enemies." The queers and communists, feminists and Muslims, to be sure, but also the entire American cultural apparatus of marketing and merchandising, the "techno-terrorists" of mass media, doing to the morality of a generation what Osama bin Laden did to the Twin Towers. "Just as the events of September 11th, 2001, permanently changed our perspective on the world," Luce writes, "so we ought to be awakened to the alarming influence of today's culture terrorists. They are wealthy, they are smart, and they are real."...