In early 1991, I was sent (along with a whole bunch of other people) to the Middle East, where we helped General Schwarzkopf send the Iraqi Army squealing and screaming out of Kuwait with their tails between their legs. It was an interesting time, a pretty intense time for about 100 hours, then pretty dull for the rest of the deployment.
While I was over there, I was a headquarters platoon leader for an Army Medical company. One of the treatment platoon leaders was a little spitfire of a lieutenant, with a personality far larger than her 4’11” frame.
As I got to know 1LT Travers, I learned several things about her. I learned she liked to hunt and fish; I learned she liked cold beer, straight whiskey and big-bore handguns.
I also learned that she had more physical and emotional courage than anyone I had ever met, and that she had more balls than most men I knew. And, as the time went on, I realized she was probably the sweetest gal I was ever going to run across.
So when the deployment ended, I asked her to move from where she was living in Kansas up to Colorado with me. The year after that we got married.
That was twenty-five years ago today. She hasn’t changed a bit, other than a few (very few) gray hairs. She’s still a little spitfire. She still has a huge personality, enormous physical and emotional courage, and she still is the sweetest gal I’ve ever run across. And I still love her more than life itself.
Happy silver anniversary, hon. Let’s shoot for another twenty-five!
As we perhaps draw thrillingly/terrifyingly closer to discovering life elsewhere in the universe, the chorus of people warning us to be careful what we wish for is growing louder. Most famously, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has argued for hitting the brakes, reiterating as recently as 2016 his concern about seeking alien contact in his comments about possibly life on Gliese 832c: “One day, we might receive a signal from a planet like this. But we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.” For example, European germs were deadly for the natives and some fear that could happen to us.
Astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell, however, disagrees with all of this. From his perspective, things are considerably less scary than many think. In an article recently published on Literary Hub, he offers a host of comfortingly solid arguments for why we should stop worrying.
The one argument you don’t see in the article is an obvious one: Intelligent life that arose on another planet is likely to be so wildly, unimaginably different than us as to make any kind of social interaction impossible.
That doesn’t make for good sci-fi, of course; my own first major work of science fiction centered around a first-contact scenario and a resulting interstellar conflict between humanity and an alien race. Now, in this scenario the two species were similar enough to make social interaction possible; bilateral, senses in the head, communication primarily through spoken language, same senses, similar home planets.
But as a sci-fi buff and a cosmology hobbyist – and a trained biologist – I knew I was using a massive amount of literary license.
If there are any intelligent, star-faring races in our immediate stellar neighborhood, it’s more likely that they are ignoring us either because we’re just too primitive to be interesting, or they are so biologically and socially… well, alien, that they might not even recognize us as life.
I’m not sure which scenario I find more interesting.
California is considering a single-payer health care plan. All California residents, regardless of legal status, would be entitled to a free health care ride; no treatment denied, no deductibles, no nothing, no kidding. Only catch: It will cost more money than the Golden State has. Excerpt:
California has been considering a single-payer healthcare plan. S.B. 562, the “Healthy California Act,” is currently in committee, and today the numbers came out on what it would cost to actually make this plan a reality.
According to analysis of the bill, it would cost a cool $400 billion to provide for the healthcare of all California residents. S.B. 562 would cover residents in California regardless of their legal status. If the bill were enacted, healthcare would be entirely free and there would be no deductibles, co-pays, or premiums–entirely free care.
One tiny, insignificant detail: there’s no way the state can afford this. California would have to raise an additional $200 billion in tax revenue just to pay for the Healthy California Act, although there’s nothing in the bill that would create a tax that to actually raise the money to pay for the care. It was suggested that a 15 percent payroll tax would provide revenue for the bill.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cost is being labeled as the “biggest hurdle” to universal healthcare coming to California.
California is already circling the fiscal drain. There’s an old saying: “When you’re in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging.” California seems determined to trade in the shovel for a big damn Armageddon-style drilling machine.
If the California GOP has any brains – and mind you this is an organization that has managed to utterly marginalize themselves in a state that went overwhelmingly for Ronald Reagan in 1984, and for George H. W. Bush in 1988 – (well, those seem recent to me, anyway) they’ll grab on to this bigly. If this bill passes – and I wouldn’t be surprised if it does, the California Legislature doesn’t appear to have any grasp of fiscal reality – it’s only a matter of time before their new entitlement explodes.
That’s when the California GOP better damn well have a plan ready, something fiscally responsible to pitch to the voters, something that will save the Golden State from fiscal ruin.
You know – something like the House GOP in the Imperial City were busy preparing in the seven years since Obamacare passed. Remember that plan? The one they had seven years to prepare?
You know, True Believers, I think we may be fucked.
The premise of the Article I Project is simple: the federal government is broken, and congressional weakness is to blame.
The authors of the Constitution made Congress the most powerful of the federal government’s three co-equal branches. Congress was designed both as the most powerful and the most accountable to the people.
But over the course of the twentieth century, and accelerating in the twenty-first, Congress has handed many of its constitutional responsibilities to the Executive Branch.
Increasingly harmful federal laws are written by people who never stand for election, via processes contrary to those provided for in the Constitution, and, indeed, with the explicit purpose of excluding the American people from the decision making process and shielding policymakers from popular accountability.
But there’s good news: what a weak Congress has broken a strong Congress can fix.
The constitutional powers necessary to put a representative, accountable federal government back to work for the American people are still right there in Article I, ready to be reasserted.
Now, I’m sure Senator Lee has the best intentions in mind for this proposal, and yes, he is absolutely correct in describing the unconstitutional power grabs by the Executive branch.
But I think he badly underestimates the resistance to such a proposal, not only from the Executive branch but also from Congress. Why?
Because executive overreach is a knife that cuts both ways.
It’s becoming less and less important which of the major parties holds Congress, and more and more important which party holds the Imperial Mansion. Handing one man that much power goes much farther to ensure that his party’s agenda will hold sway.
There are two things you can count on in politics: 1) Congress will never vote to strip themselves of power, and 2) political parties will never vote to make it more difficult to seize and hold power.
Government will never vote to neuter itself. Once any branch of government seizes power, they will fight to hold it. That’s how we came to be in our current predicament.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK’s left-wing Labour Party, has just released a bat-guano nutty manifesto that, if enacted, would take the United Kingdom straight back to the lackluster Seventies. Excerpt:
Jeremy Corbyn will take Britain back to the 1970s by nationalising industries, forcing wage caps on businesses and giving huge power to the unions if he gets into power, a leaked copy of Labour’s draft manifesto reveals.
The 43-page document, obtained by the Daily Telegraph, shows that Mr Corbyn plans to nationalise energy, rail and mail and will introduce a 20:1 pay cap for businesses.
The manifesto says Mr Corbyn is committed to achieving a “nuclear free world” and is “extremely cautious” about using Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
The Labour leader will only send the armed forces into combat if “all other options have been exhausted”, the copy of the manifesto states.
It also says that Labour will rule out a “no deal” Brexit and refuse to set a migration target, in a move that is likely to drive away its traditional supporters who voted Leave in the EU referendum.
The party will also create a Ministry of Labour to hand more power to trade unions, stating: “We are stronger when we stand together”.
Pay bargaining and increased unionisation across the workforce will also be introduced according to the draft plan.
The party will fund its socialist agenda though a huge programme of increased tax and £250billion of borrowing over the next decade with more spending on education and health and big levies on business and industry.
Here are some of the crazier aspects of his tax plan:
Income tax hikes for those earning more than £80,000 a year
Ensuring 60 per cent of the UK’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2030
Fines for businesses that pay their staff high wages and a business levy on profits
Companies with government contracts would only be allowed to pay their highest earner 20 times more than the lowest
These far-left policies (and let’s describe them in a whisper, lest the cabal of nutbars running California overhear us and think these proposals are a good idea) would send the productive and a whopping big chunk of Britain’s successful businesses (read that: employers) running for the hills, or for Ireland, or wherever the grass is greener and the politicians less greedy.
Fortunately for Britain, it looks like the Tories have a pretty good grip on Parliament for the moment. But read these looney-tunes policies and remember them, True Believers, because we have plenty of our own nutty pols who would love to make these things the law of the land here.
Sitting here on our little blue ball, it’s hard as hell to get even a little understanding on how vast the cosmos actually is. Now, it turns about that our own galaxy is linked to its smaller satellite galaxies by an enormous magnetic field. Excerpt:
For the first time, astronomers have detected a magnetic field associated with the Magellanic Bridge, the filament of gas stretching 75 thousand light-years between the Milky Way Galaxy’s nearest galactic neighbors: the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC, respectively). “There were hints that this magnetic field might exist, but no one had observed it until now,” says Jane Kaczmarek, at the University of Sydney, and lead author of the paper describing the finding.
“Not only are entire galaxies magnetic, but the faint delicate threads joining galaxies are magnetic, too,”said Bryan Gaensler, Director of the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto, and a co-author on the paper. “Everywhere we look in the sky, we find magnetism.”
“In general, we don’t know how such vast magnetic fields are generated, nor how these large-scale magnetic fields affect galaxy formation and evolution,” says Kaczmarek. “The LMC and SMC are our nearest neighbours, so understanding how they evolve may help us understand how our Milky Way Galaxy will evolve. Understanding the role that magnetic fields play in the evolution of galaxies and their environment is a fundamental question in astronomy that remains to be answered.”
Visible in the southern night sky, the LMC and SMC are dwarf galaxies that orbit our home galaxy and lie at a distance of 160 and 200 thousand light-years from Earth respectively.
Think about those distances. 160 thousand light years is 9.405801e+17 miles – that’s 940,580,100,000,000,000 miles.
That’s a pretty good hike.
Our Milky Way galaxy contains somewhere between 100 and 400 billion stars. Moving out past the Magellanic clouds, we have the Local Group, a group of 54 galaxies with a gravitational center somewhere between our galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy. The galaxies of the Local Group cover about 10 million light years, and are bound together by a webbing of hydrogen and a few single stars.
The Local Group is part of the Virgo Supercluster, a massive structure of 100 groups of galaxies like the Local Group, and spans about 33 megaparsecs – that’s 110 million light years.
The Virgo Supercluster is part of the Laniakea Supercluster, which contains about 300 to 500 clusters the size of the Virgo Supercluster, and spans 160 megaparsecs, or 520 million light years. And the Laniakea Supercluster has as its cosmic neighbors the Shapley Supercluster, Hercules Supercluster, Coma Supercluster and Perseus-Pisces Supercluster.
Problems closer to home occupy most of our waking thoughts and that’s as it should be, but once in a while a little cosmic perspective is in order.
Could President Trump end up being known to history as The Great Deregulator? It’s possible. Excerpt:
Few things have mattered more to libertarian policy activists over the past half-century than deregulation. Rolling back government restrictions on individual and corporate behavior, breaking up state-backed cartels, getting bureaucrats out of the price-setting business, and allowing private entities to compete for services routinely monopolized by government—these have long been fundamental goals of libertarian organizations including Reason Foundation, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that publishes this magazine and engages in public policy research that promotes choice and competition. The reasons for eliminating federal regulations can be many: Well-intended rules frequently result in harmful unintended consequences, time and money directed to compliance or workarounds could often be better spent elsewhere, and one-size-fits-all decrees from Washington rarely incorporate the kind of local knowledge that individuals and companies possess about how their own business works best. Libertarians have made these arguments early and often to every new president, but since the deregulatory salad days of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, few administrations have applied these insights into their policy making.
But as the initial shock of the 2016 election results gave way to the normal D.C. stuff of transition teams, Cabinet nominees, and policy rollouts, the city’s libertarian policy wonks began to rub their eyes and adjust to a surprising new vision: a Trump administration that was stocking up on faces who have long worked to expand freedom by contracting the regulatory state.
“I don’t think that we ever envisioned that we would be supplying staffers to this semi-free market, semi-populist president,” Frayda Levin, board chair of Americans for Prosperity and a Reason Foundation donor, told Politico in December. “But we’re happy that he’s picking people who have that free market background, particularly because on many issues, he is a blank slate, so anybody with expertise is in an amazing position to shape his agenda.”
I voted for Trump, like many other libertarians, mostly for one reason: Supreme Court picks. His appointment of Neil Gorsuch validated that decision, and it’s likely he’ll get to appoint at least one more justice, leading to a right-leaning Court for quite a while to come. But any deregulation that the Trump Administration comes up with is icing on the cake.
Fans of Imperial regulation of, well, almost everything, have been shitting their pants at almost every Trump tweet and off-the-cuff comment since he was inaugurated, and it’s been a thing to see.
Full disclosure: My consulting business predominantly helps companies deal with their Imperial regulatory burden – and, yes, the irony of that is not lost on me. So I’ve got a pretty good idea of what the regulatory burden costs companies. (I’ve been in the industry damn near 30 years; I don’t come cheap.) If President Trump can eliminate, say, 25% of the regulatory burden on businesses, watch for an economic explosion.
And if that happens, watch for President Trump to cruise to re-election in 2020.
Puerto Rico, America’s own little Caribbean paradise, is broke. But plenty of the fifty states aren’t far behind. Excerpt:
The study by Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Joshua Rauh, “Hidden Debt, Hidden Deficits,” is an update of a report issued last year. It should sound an alarm across the U.S. about the growing crisis of underfunded pensions at the state and local level. Instead, sadly, it will likely be ignored.
To put it bluntly, America’s pension systems are being mismanaged, which is hitting state and local budgets hard.
The Hoover study looked at 649 pension systems as of 2015. What it found was alarming. The average investment return for pensions was 2.87% for the year, while the discount rate — essentially, the expected investment return — was 7.36%. That means returns are 61% below expectations, a dismal performance to say the least.
This means that pension systems across the U.S. will have to do one of two things: Find more money to fund the expected payouts, or slash pension spending on future retirees — or some combination of the two. None of the choices is appealing.
Meanwhile these pension gaps pose a major threat to state and local fiscal health.
“While state and local governments across the U.S. largely claimed they ran balanced budgets, in fact, they ran deficits though their pension systems of $167 billion,” Rauh noted. “This deficit equals 18.2% of all state and local government tax revenue. … The deficits are large and the study reveals the fact that state and local government budgets are far from balanced when one considers pension promises.”
State public pension plans are now underfunded by nearly $5.6 trillion – an increase of almost $900 billion from State Budget Solutions’ (SBS) last comprehensive report in 2014. When state pension funds are examined through the lens of a more realistic valuation, pension funding gaps are revealed to be much larger than reported in official state financial documents. This report totals state-administered plans’ assets and liabilities and finds nationwide total unfunded liabilities to be $5.59 trillion. The nationwide funding level is a mere 35 percent, which is one percentage point lower than two years ago. Combined across all states, the price tag for unfunded pension liabilities is now $17,427 for every man, woman and child in the United States.
Now, keep this in mind: These pensions are paid with taxpayer dollars, paid to government employees who enjoy defined-benefit pensions and retained benefits far, far in excess of what almost anyone in the in the private sector can hope for today.
We are in a situation in this country where the ever-decreasing percentage of the productive are paying for ever-increasing coin and benefits for the unproductive. Granted, the government has to employ a certain number of people – but is there any reason that city, state and Imperial employees should enjoy such generous benefits when their employers make do with 401ks?
There is a principle in economics called Stein’s Law, postulated by economist Herb Stein: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” The current state of government employee pensions can’t go on forever. It will stop.
Question is, how far in debt will it drag us before it does?
J.D. Power, a top market research company well-known for tracking customer satisfaction, released a survey last week that found “customer satisfaction with airlines has reached its highest level ever, continuing a trend that now stretches five consecutive years.”
How could that possibly be, given the United Airlines (UAL) passenger dragged off a plane, the traveler nearly hit with a stroller on an American Airlines (AAL) plane, a California family thrown off a Delta (DAL) flight, a brawl at a Spirit Airlines (SAVE) counter, and several other recent incidents?
It turns out that those horror stories are more like shark attacks than bee stings — rare events that capture a huge amount of publicity because they are rare.
That hasn’t stopped some from using these anecdotes to depict the entire industry as indifferent, if not openly hostile, to the needs of their passengers.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that the “degrading treatment” of the United passenger “is the latest example of a major U.S. airline disrespecting passengers and denying them their basic rights.”
USA Today recently asked: “Can air travel get any more miserable than it already is?” to which it answered “yes.”
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank described the industry this way: “packed cabins; tiny seats; proliferating fees for food, bags and flight changes; boarding delays; higher fares; labyrinthine contracts; and routine overbooking.”
There’s a reason for this: Democrats, and most reporters, like government regulation and think the airlines need more of it. So every time something bad happens, they use it as the latest evidence that the government should step in.
Bear in mind here that the calls for more airline regulation aren’t just coming from Democrats or the political Left in general. Republicans have been threatening the airlines with the heavy hand of government regulation as well. And the GOP is (supposedly) the party of smaller government and less intrusive regulation, right?
I can and will only speak for myself in this matter as in many others, an act of circumspection that I wish many reporters and commentators would try to emulate; however, my experience with air travel has been pretty positive. There are a few folks that fly more than me, and a hell of a lot of folks that fly less, and I’m overall pretty pleased with air travel and with my airline of choice, the oft-maligned of late United.
The problem with a lot of the reaction on this is that too many folks are apt to make judgements based on insufficient data. Just as I have a preferred airline, I also have a preferred brand of automobiles; for forty-some years now I have been buying and driving Fords, and I’m pretty happy with them. But I would love to have a sawbuck for every time someone has told me how they once had a 1974 Pinto that was a lemon, and so they’ll never own a Ford again.
The same thing applies here. Stories of horrible customer service by the airlines are big news precisely because they are rare; the airlines service tens of millions of customers a year, and their overall track record is damn good. Never in the history of aviation has air travel been so cheap, so convenient, so available to the general public.
This is a case where a little perspective is in order.