Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug the Incompetent

I like most of what Director Peter Jackson has done with the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) series, and part 1 of The Hobbit is entertaining. But part 2, The Desolation of Smaug (DOS) has so many special effects that it becomes cartoon-like in parts. When action laced with special effects is piled too high the "willing suspension of disbelief" cracks and crumbles. This is a real problem with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Peter Jackson really, really wants another LOTR epic. So, he forces Tolkien's The Hobbit into the LOTR mold. Yes, there are aspects of the story that fit with LOTR, but The Hobbit is not merely the prelude to LOTR. Tolkien's The Hobbit is an adventure story with fun as well as exciting and scary moments. The point of the story is getting to the Lonely Mountain, getting rid of Smaug and getting back the treasure and dwarf kingdom Smaug has stolen.

Tolkien's drawing of the dwarves' escape in barrels with Bilbo atop
Problem 1. Special Effects Overkill
At times it felt like one was watching a Bugs Bunny/Yosemite Sam cartoon. When Legolas (imported into DOS along with the barrel escape fight) moves down a raging river by jumping from one open dwarf barrel to another and shoots orcs with one foot on the head of one dwarf in a barrel and the other foot on the head of a dwarf in another barrel, it looks like Bugs Bunny anti-gravity moves. I started to laugh (but held it in so as not to spoil things for others in the theater).

Then there's the extended battle against Smaug at the end of the movie. I also had to quell laughter then--especially with the old box swiftly going down to the box rapidly coming back up switcheroo so Smaug misses on his fire breathing attacks. Smaug has so many misses he seems more like Yosemite Sam than a fearsome dragon. Nothing works for Smaug the Incompetent.

The ten dwarves use a gazillion different attack methods against Smaug one after another in the final minutes of the film. Though on the run for their lives, the dwarves manage to figure out counter attack after counter attack by using different aspects of the old mining machinery. The seemingly unending proliferation of special effect action yanked me completely out of the story. The only thing missing from traditional cartoon fights was to hit the dragon with a frying pan, have his head morph into the frying pan shape, and then have him shake it out to its normal shape. The prolonged special effects were a yawn--neither frightening nor adventurous.

Problem 2. Smaug the Slow and Stupid.
DOS's Smaug is pretty feeble. He can be stymied by ten dwarves and a hobbit. So, he gives up on killing them, all visible and basically in front of him for a good stretch of time, and goes to attack Lake-town. How lame is that?

This is the same Smaug who 1) destroyed a strong, thriving dwarf empire, 2) destroyed the rich, prosperous town of Dale, and 3) has held the Lonely Mountain and its treasure for two centuries. But, DOS's Smaug can't lay a finger on any of the eleven in the basically weaponless quest party.

Tolkien portrays Smaug as extremely dangerous, and more than a match for all fourteen of the quest party who hide themselves in the mountain and, except for Bilbo with his ring on, never dare to directly confront Smaug, let alone attack him.* Only fleeing into the mountain itself and shutting their escape door saves them from his fierce beating and fiery breath.

Problem 3. Tossing Light, Fun Elements.
To force DOS into the epic mold, Peter Jackson removes almost all the fun elements from Tolkien's wonderful story. There is no taunting of the spiders in this movie. Gone is the clever introduction by Gandalf of the thirteen dwarf house guests to the not so social Beorn. DOS includes only a very shortened version of the long, witty conversation between Bilbo and Smaug. These episodes in the book lighten the story and bring fun into it.

There isn't much merriment in DOS. There's a hint of charm in the back and forth between Tauriel and Kili at the beginning of their DOS-invented romance. The romance does not improve Tolkien's story, but it does improve Jackson's movie. There needs to be something light in DOS.

Problem 4. Portraying Use of the Ring.
DOS also has problems with filming Bilbo with his ring on. To show Bilbo with the ring on Jackson uses a semi-monochrome Bilbo in an out-of-focus bubble. That doesn't work well with extended shots, so most of Bilbo's conversation with Smaug is done with Bilbo sans ring.  (Tolkien's Bilbo always has his ring on when talking to Smaug because the dragon is deadly dangerous.) In DOS Smaug can easily kill the visible Bilbo, but doesn't.

I feel bad for Peter Jackson and this movie project. His previous tellings of LOTR and The Hobbit, part 1 had some flaws but were never boring or cartoonish. The Desolation of Smaug, however, cannot overcome its cartoon-like torrent of special effect fighting and consequent dumbing down of opponents like Smaug. Unfortunately, The Desolation of Smaug goes on my do-not-see-again list.
*From The Hobbit, "Inside Information", p. 231:
"The dragon came. They had barely time to fly back to the tunnel, pulling and dragging in their bundles, when Smaug came hurtling from the North, licking the mountain-sides with flame, beating his great wings with a noise like a roaring wind. His hot breath shrivelled the grass before the door, and drove in through the crack they had left and scorched them as they lay hid. Flickering fires leaped up and black rock-shadows danced. Then darkness fell as he passed again. The ponies screamed with terror, burst their ropes and galloped wildly off. The dragon swooped and turned to pursue them, and was gone.

"'That'll be the end of our poor beasts!' said Thorin. 'Nothing can escape Smaug once he sees it. Here we are and here we shall have to stay, unless any one fancies tramping the long open miles back to the river with Smaug on the watch!'"

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas! A Cappella: It Came upon the Midnight Clear

Merry Christmas! It Came Upon the Midnight Clear from a local high school a cappella choir celebrating the birth of the Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Will President Obama Have to Pay the Tobacco Surcharge on His Health Insurance Premium?

President Obama signed up for Obamacare today.

One key question is whether he still uses tobacco and will have to pay a substantial premium surcharge of up to 50%. Byron York:
Critical that Obama really has quit smoking. If not, insurer 'can charge a tobacco surcharge of up to 50% of your total premium…'
The President said in September that he quit cigarettes six years ago. But, as of four years ago he said he still had occasional failures.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sound of Music Live! vs. Sound of Music Movie

My last post comparing the 2013 stage version (Live!) with the 1965 movie version was based more on performance differences than script content.

I want to add a bit more on the storyline. The movie makes a number of subtle changes and a few clear plot changes in the stage script.

1. The Baroness. In the movie she is a self-centered conniver and somewhat mean-spirited. She plans to get rid of the children by sending them to boarding school as soon as possible after she and the Captain are married. She also confronts Maria with Maria's love for the Captain and the Captain's love for Maria in order to push Maria into emotional crisis which causes Maria to leave.

In Live! Elsa does neither of the above. She is much more personally appealing. The sort of person the Captain might really be interested in. The break up between Elsa and the Captain comes because Elsa values self-interest and compromise even with the Nazis. The Captain despises the Nazis and will not compromise with them. They both realize this difference is a marriage deal breaker.

2. Rolfe. In the movie Rolfe betrays the family to his Nazi superiors when they are hiding in the abbey. Just before the Captain and Maria's return from their honeymoon he shows himself much more interested in serving with the Nazis than seeing Liesl privately. How that change occurred from the young man who is deeply in love and sings "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" is never explained.

In Live! Rolfe starts to betray the family in the abbey, but when he sees Liesl, he can't go through with it. This is much more in line with the character of a young man in love who is torn between young love and the lure of serving with the Nazis.

3. Maria. At the end of the movie Maria is basically a follower. She has almost no initiative. The Captain makes all the important decisions including the need for the family to flee and that the children can make it over the mountain. She does plead with Herr Zeller that the night air is not good for the children's voices and helps the children keep calm and quiet, but that's about it.

In Live! the Captain also comes to the fore, but Maria has some important input. First, she interposes with the Nazi delegation to suggest that the Captain cannot go immediately to accept his commission with the Nazis because he needs to sing with the family at the festival. Further, when the Captain is unsure about whether the children can make it over the mountain, Maria encourages him that they can make it. The Live! Maria shows some of her leadership skills and strong character in the last part of the play even though the Captain dominates in action and decision making.

4. The Mother Abbess. Not much difference here, but because Maria and the Mother Abbess sing "My Favorite Things" as a duet, Live! gives the bit of information that the Mother Abbess was also raised on the mountain and shows a more complex person who has a fun side along with her seriousness and spiritual devotion.

Most of the changes that the movie made from the play script were for the worse in terms of character development and plot line.

In general terms, the movie is superior on showing more development of the children's character (their playing with the Baroness after Maria has left and visit to the abbey to try to see Maria) and more development in the romance between the Captain and Maria when he declares his love to her. It also has the gorgeous Austrian scenery. And, of course, it has the great Julie Andrews.

Live! has the stunning photography of high-definition video even though it is trained on stage sets rather than real Austrian natural beauty. And, of course, it has the up and coming Carrie Underwood.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Sound of Music Live!: A Hit!

Last updated 12/19/13.

A hit--at least for me.

For one thing this is the first time I've ever gotten to see a professional performance of "No Way to Stop It" which is one of my favorite Broadway songs both because it has such a great backwards message and is so singable. Before this I could only imagine what was going on when Theodore Bikel, Karl Kasznar and Marion Marlowe were singing it on my Broadway cast album from the late '50s/early '60s.

(with Stephen Moyer in this song is Laura Benanti and Christian Borle)

After watching The Sound of Music Live! from about the halfway point on television this last weekend, and all through today via the NBC online link, the whole cast is growing on me.

Audra McDonald blew me away in "Climb Every Mountain". I actually applauded after her performance. But, at first I thought Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer were slightly wooden. Now I am coming to appreciate their performances. [Update: Indeed, Underwood's tinge of seriousness or reticence in the beginning dovetails perfectly with Maria's transformation to a serious, quick thinking diplomat at the end of the story when she deflects the Nazi demand that the Captain immediately report for duty and supports and encourages the Captain that they can make it over the mountains with the children. Underwood's slight wooden seriousness lays the groundwork for the improbably demur, quiet, thoughtful Maria at the end of the movie.

Underwood's Maria is less joyful and exuberant than Julie Andrews' Maria and has a streak of seriousness that is clear from the beginning. Since Maria is both joyfully spirited and thoughtfully serious, the different blend the two actresses give is intriguing. I had never really thought about the improbability of Maria's transformation in The Sound of Music before comparing Andrews' performance to Underwood's.

Oh, and as for singing quality: that Underwood goes toe-to-toe with McDonald in the "My Favorite Things" duet and comes out nicely shows that her first-rate singing talent transfers to Broadway seamlessly.]

It's super hard to compete against Julie Andrews. She was a one-off great. But, if you take another great, Ethel Merman, she wasn't terrific at acting, but could belt out a song like no one else. It was magical to hear her sing. Who cared about her acting?

Underwood and Moyer are pleasing enough in both acting and singing. Maybe in the ballpark with Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel. I only saw Martin as Peter Pan on television, and she was good, but not one-off great. Underwood and Moyer are also in the ballpark with Christopher Plummer (especially given that Plummer was dubbed because his voice* wasn't up to Julie Andrews' quality).

It's hard (and maybe not fair) to compare a movie or even a Broadway stage play with a one time live performance. No retakes** as in the movies and no performance after performance to hone one's character and presentation as in a Broadway play.

I give this not only a one time viewing thumbs up, but I think I'll buy the dvd and watch it at least another few times--though probably not as much as I've watched Julie Andrews' Sound of Music. [Update: Then again, the stunning visual quality of high-definition, makes Live! so much easier on the eyes even though the video is of sets rather than real mountains, fountains and houses as in the movie.  I already like watching the singing episodes better.]

Thanks to Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer and the rest of the cast for making a fun, uplifting performance that has some serious subject undertones and giving us the pleasure of Rodgers and Hammerstein again.
*An audio tape of Plummer singing Eidelweiss was dubbed on to the movie scene in this version. So, you can hear how his actual singing voice would have sounded in the movie.

**Maybe this is reflected in versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. In terms of Cinderella performances, Julie Andrews' one time live performance did not seem to me quite as good as Lesley Ann Warren's movie version. In terms of singing, Warren's "My Own Little Corner" seems the more haunting and textured of the two.

UPDATE: I couldn't resist another song:

Monday, December 16, 2013

6 Heroes Who Died October 18 to December 11, 2013

October 18 - Sgt. Lyle D. Turnbull, 31, of Norfolk, Va., died in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, from a medical emergency. The cause of his death is under investigation.

October 20 - Lance Cpl. Christopher O. Grant, 20, of Richwood, La., died while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

November 3 - Sgt. 1st Class Forrest W. Robertson, 35, of Westmoreland, Kan., died in Pul-E-Alam, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire.

November 13 - Staff Sgt. Richard L. Vazquez, 28, of Seguin, Texas, died in Kandahar, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his unit was attacked with an improvised explosive device while on dismounted patrol in Panjwai, Afghanistan. 

November 17 - Staff Sgt. Alex A. Viola, 29, of Keller, Texas, died in Kandahar, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his unit was attacked with an improvised explosive device while on dismounted patrol.

December 11 - Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez, 19, of Fairhaven, Mass., died while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

As of mid-December, 2013, 2,293 members of the U.S. military have died since the start of the Afghanistan War on October 7, 2001. More than 70% of these deaths have happened during the Obama administration.

NY Liberals Astonished that Obamacare Targets Them

Because of Obamacare's individual mandate, many New York professionals are discovering that elections have consequences.  They will no longer be able to get special group rates. They will have to buy as individuals and "accept higher deductible and co-pay costs or inferior coverage."
Many in New York’s professional and cultural elite have long supported President Obama’s health care plan. But now, to their surprise, thousands of writers, opera singers, music teachers, photographers, doctors, lawyers and others are learning that their health insurance plans are being canceled and they may have to pay more to get comparable coverage, if they can find it.

They are part of an unusual, informal health insurance system that has developed in New York, in which independent practitioners were able to get lower insurance rates through group plans, typically set up by their professional associations or chambers of commerce. That allowed them to avoid the sky-high rates in New York’s individual insurance market, historically among the most expensive in the country.

But under the Affordable Care Act, they will be treated as individuals, responsible for their own insurance policies. For many of them, that is likely to mean they will no longer have access to a wide network of doctors and a range of plans tailored to their needs. And many of them are finding that if they want to keep their premiums from rising, they will have to accept higher deductible and co-pay costs or inferior coverage.
[emphasis added]
Further, plans that meet the standards of Obamacare are being canceled to prevent them from "[s]iphoning" people from the new health exchanges and driving those rates up. In other words, though previous plans paid for by these New Yorkers meet and exceed Obamacare standards, New York state forced cancellation of the plans so that policy buyers would be forced to underwrite health exchange insurance rates in paying higher rates and having higher deductibles and receiving poorer coverage.
But while those policies, by and large, had been canceled because they did not meet the law’s requirements for minimum coverage, many of the New York policies being canceled meet and often exceed the standards, brokers say. The rationale for disqualifying those policies, said Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was to prevent associations from selling insurance to healthy members who are needed to keep the new health exchanges financially viable.

Siphoning those people, Mr. Levitt said, would leave the pool of health exchange customers “smaller and disproportionately sicker,” and would drive up rates.
[emphasis added]
The sad thing is that it's not just New York's professional and cultural elite who will have to pay higher prices for worse health coverage. Most of the country will. Obamacare is built on jacking up health care insurance rates on the 80%+ who have health insurance in order to cover the 30 million previously uninsured who will receive healthcare at subsidized rates or for free.

H/T Rush Limbaugh

Friday, December 13, 2013

Palin Weighs In On Budget Bill And Republican Lies

Representative Paul Ryan's budget bill "raises taxes and increases spending". Sarah Palin:
No one can argue with the fact that Paul Ryan’s compromise budget bill raises taxes and increases spending. Show me one Republican who got elected on that platform. Spare America the Orwellian word games. If the government is taking money out of your pocket to fund its growing Big Brother operations, it’s a tax. Whether money is taken from you via your phone bill, your airline ticket, or your income, it’s a tax. If politicians can’t be honest about this, it’s time to go home.
. . .
The Political Establishment will no doubt tell us that a budget battle will distract us from the fight against Obamacare. But that excuse is just the latest variation in the Establishment’s old canard that they’re keeping their powder dry for the next big battle which never seems to materialize because they’re always too busy waving the white flag and following the path of least resistance until election day.
Really, how different is it to lie about keeping your healthcare plan or lie about decreasing spending and not raising taxes? Or how about "if you like your military retirement plan you can keep it".

Rep. Ryan is a big disappointment. How lame is the following?
In a last-ditch effort to gather support for the measure as debate came to a close, Ryan declared, “I was part of the last presidential election. We tried defeating this president. I wish we would have.

“Elections have consequences. [T]o really do what we want, we’re going to have to win elections.”
Rep. Ryan doesn't think winning the House has consequences or his own election as U.S. Representative has consequences. Apparently only winning the White House has consequences.  But, even had he and Mitt Romney won the White House, the Democrats would still have controlled the Senate and could have blocked any budget deal. Seems like for Ryan elections have good consequences for Republicans only if they control both houses of Congress and the Presidency. What kind of leadership is that?

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Obamacare Creates Tax/Penalty Dangers for Poverty Stricken

Last week commenter 1pdxchris asked the Oregonian's Brent Hunsberger what would happen if a person under guessed their next year's income in getting Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) subsidies. Hunsberger published his answer today. You'll have to pay back any credits you didn't deserve.
"We're really nervous for people," said Rob Justus, executive director at CASH Oregon, which provides free tax-preparation help for low-income Oregonians. "They could, more out of a desperate sort of guess, really screw themselves over. We're really fearful, especially with a lot of the folks we're working with who are in poverty."

Why the concern? Cover Oregon's mailing will provide your estimated Advanced Premium Tax Credit (APTC). For most taxpayers, it'll be based on the household income reported on your 2012 tax return, said Leslie Smith, Cover Oregon's online trainer.

But if the estimate you provided on your Cover Oregon application for your 2014 income is 10 percent higher or lower than your actual 2012 income, the exchange will rely on your 2014 estimate to calculate your credit, Smith said. The exchange will ask you to submit documentation within 90 days supporting your 2014 estimate, she said.
No word on if there will be penalties to pay for the taxes you owed not being paid on time. However, the helpful advice to avoid bad financial news is either to take no subsidy or less subsidy than you think you deserve. In other words, you would be wise to act as if ACA/Obamacare subsidies had never been passed.
How do you protect yourself? If your income fluctuates a lot from year to year – as it might for Realtors or other self-employed individuals – you can hold off on receiving the credits until you file your 2014 return. That's rough, though, if you don't have enough monthly cash flow to cover the full insurance premium.

You can also apply only a portion of your credit against your premium.
A further suggestion is that the poor get a tax preparer to help--if one can be found.
Still unclear? Who can help you decide how to apply the credit? That's a bit tougher. Insurance agents aren't licensed to give tax advice.
. . .
Many tax advisers aren't up to speed on the act yet. If they are, and they bill by the hour, they don't want to charge individuals who largely can't afford to pay for the advice.

"Many preparers don't want to be involved in that because you have to bill out a lot of time for people who can't afford it," Baldwin[*] said. "Next year when you have to reconcile it, it's even more work. It's not going to be very pleasant."
How about charitable help? Problems there too. "CASH Oregon, which provides free assistance at 130 sites statewide, won't be up and running until January." Further, as quoted above, the CASH Oregon director is "fearful" of effects on the poor of claiming ACA/Obamacare subsidies.

And though H&R Block has a website to help estimate tax credits, it has information on less than half the plans available. Hunsberger found that instead of giving a choice of 80 plans from 10 providers that Cover Oregon gives, H&R Block gave a choice of only 33 plans from 2 providers--a 60% reduction in choice.

So, ACA/Obamacare is not only forcing people to buy medical coverage with bells and whistles they don't want, but making tax filing time so complex that even the poorest among us will need professional tax help to avoid "really screw[ing] themselves over" in receiving health care subsidies.
*From Hunsberger's article:
"I was astonished at what level of work they're going to expect people to do," said David Baldwin, an accountant and member of the American Institute of CPA's tax resource panel committee. "It's going to be hard to implement for someone who can't afford to pay someone to do their own taxes."

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Subsidies and Penalties for Obamacare only to Apply in States with State Run Exchanges?

From Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in the Wall Street Journal:
While the president's health law is vast and extraordinarily complex, it is in one respect very simple. Subsidies are only to be made available, and tax penalties for not signing up for health insurance are only to be assessed, in states that create their own health-care exchange. The IRS, however, is attempting to enforce tax penalties in all states—including Oklahoma and the majority of the other states that have declined to create their own exchanges. Citizens and businesses in these states must use the federal exchange instead.

The distinction is critical, because under the terms of the law it is the availability of government insurance-premium subsidies that triggers the penalties against businesses if they fail to provide their employees with health insurance that the administration deems acceptable.
H/T Byron York

Update: Here's the Cato Institute's take on the issue.

H/T WSJ commenter Teresa Rich

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Good Tidings and Great Joy: A Good Mix for a Christmas Read

Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas
by Sarah Palin

Update: signed first edition for only $13.92 (with free shipping for a $25 order) at Barnes and Noble while they last.
ISBN-13: 9780062315656
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:11/12/2013
Edition description: Signed

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Broadside Books (an imprint of HarperCollins publishers)
First Edition edition (November 12, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0062292889
current Amazon price: $13.79 hardcover

Audio CD
Publisher: HarperAudio; Unabridged edition (November 12, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0062305921
current Amazon price: $18.71

The subtitle of this book is “Protecting the Heart of Christmas”. One might say, “protecting the nation's well-being”.

In a fast read, popular style Governor Sarah Palin describes public and commercial assaults on the Christmas holiday as well as making a case for its value to a democratic republic like the United States. Along the way she sprinkles in stories from her childhood and adult Christmas celebrations.

The easy case for Christmas as important to the nation’s well-being is it’s national economic value. The United States retail economy depends heavily on Christmas shopping for its profitability.
“The day after Thanksgiving is called ‘Black Friday’ because it’s frequently the first time the stores are no longer “in the red” for the entire year. Christmas helps to employ millions of people and props up our entire retail economy.” (p. 56)
Anyone who has ever looked for a job knows that the Christmas season provides lots of new, though temporary, opportunities.  And the amount of money pumped into the national economy can be gauged by one’s own Christmas spending for gifts, food, decorations, cards--not to mention travel.

But, important as they are, economic benefits are a sidelight for Palin. In a shorthand version of her presentation in America by Heart (pp. 181-232), Palin shows that America’s very government depends on a religious people to function. Chapter 5 (“Bad News, Good News”) presents the core of Palin’s argument.
   “When John Adams wrote, ‘Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is whole inadequate to the government of any other,’ he understood that a healthy republic, and indeed, all healthy governments, are grounded in moral principles that we learn through the philosophical and religious forms of reasoning.” (p. 143, cf p. 132)
Palin argues that the sort of tolerance and inclusiveness that refuses to mention Christ or Christianity is in reality an assault on faith.  The stores and corporations substituting “Seasons Greetings” for “Merry Christmas” and public schools substituting “Winter Break” for “Christmas Break” are teaching the public at large and students that “Christ” and “Christmas” are not good words to use in public. They offend. That religion and faith are private issues to be hidden from public sight.
   “Our children are growing up in a culture where faith is regularly stigmatized. Through their word choices, our educators relentlessly tell us that some religions are worth honoring while others must be suppressed, mentioned mainly in the home. Kids get the message.” (p. 135)
Palin describes our society falling into deeper moral decay.
   “But we don’t have to go all the way to California for examples of moral decay. Just flip on the television, take a walk around your kids’ school, or--if you’ve got the guts--scroll through kids’ text messages. The coarsening of our culture is evident everywhere, and we now have a generation of young people being raised in a culture where our Judeo-Christian heritage is mocked and reviled. Where we can’t even say ‘Merry Christmas.’ The very notion that we have a Judeo-Christian heritage is under attack.

   “I’m not talking about the nuances of theology or the differences between denominations. I’m talking basic stuff like the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments’ prohibitions on stealing, killing, and lying, and so forth. And sexual morality? The two words don’t seem to go together anymore.” (p. 146)
Palin cites the 50 million babies the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates have been killed since Roe v. Wade in 1973.
   “Our nation actually uses the power of the state to protect the ‘right’ to kill children in a mother’s womb--for any reason or no reason at all. Do we worship ourselves so much that another human has to die for our personal convenience? A culture that reveres our Creator and respects the sanctity of innocent life does not condone killing its own children.” (p. 147)
Faith is not only a building block for society, it offers:

1. “a check on the power of the state” because “[w]hen we dictate our own morality, we are capable of anything.” (p. 148)

2. “an amazing force for good in our culture,” e.g., the antislavery movement led by evangelicals like William Wilberforce, and the civil rights movement led by Baptist minister Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (pp. 148-149)

3. the source of “values” and how we look at ourselves (pp. 150-155)

Palin notes that the liberal vision is that “people are good, and institutions like the church or the traditional family are actually oppressive”. By contrast, conservatives “believe that people aren’t that great to start with. And without faith and family to guide us and reinforce values that often go against our self desires, we’ll drift toward our own destruction.” (p. 152)

The view that people are not basically good-hearted, but prone to selfishness and faction (Federalist 10 and 51), is basic to our constitutional structure. That’s why there are checks and balances “because people can’t be trusted with power. And because we’re not that great we need constant reminders of our need for God.” (p. 154)

Palin’s presentation of these truths is mixed with the fun of her own Christmas memories and lots of examples in government, public school and corporate policy of avoiding not only the central story of Christmas but even the very mention of the word “Christmas”.

Good Tidings and Great Joy is both light-hearted and serious--a good mix for a Christmas read.

Oregon's Medicaid Leaves Many in the Cold: No Spinal Surgery, Back Pain or Allergy Treatment

The Oregonian's Brent Hunsberger reports that Oregon's one-size-fits-all Medicaid will cover childhood dental care for elderly people with no children. Also, if you are a smoker or obese, you will get treatment and counseling.  But, tough luck if you have severe spinal problems, back pain or allergies. A panel decides what gets covered and what doesn't. Hunsberger sets up a silver lining assessment:
Their [older people with no children at home] concerns about the Oregon Health Plan [Oregon's Medicaid] might be slightly misplaced. It offers the same 10 essential health benefits that private insurance does – preventive care, mental health services and childhood dental care among them.
. . .

The plan also has prioritized health services that it can afford to cover.
But, the cloud is still there.
A panel of providers determines [covered treatment], based on prevalence of the disease and other factors. If your condition isn't on it, the plan won't cover it. Spinal surgeries and treatments for allergies and back pain, for instance, aren't covered, [Christine Senz of Tuality Health Alliance] said.

"Sometimes it seems really, really arbitrary," Senz says. "But it's all based on science and outcomes and actuarial outcomes."
Maybe it seems arbitrary because it doesn't conform to normal American needs. Webmd says 55% in the U.S. have allergies. Less than 2/3rds that number (36%) are obese. 116 million Americans have chronic back pain. Only about 1/3rd that number (43.8 million) use tobacco.  But, of course, you can die from the effects of tobacco, whereas you will only have severe daily suffering if you have chronic back pain.

Even Medicaid's one-size-fits-all treatment is iffy. It is only available if you can find a doctor/medical facility in your area to treat you. Since Medicaid pays only a third of what standard insurance pays, it can be a challenge* to find anyone in your area who will provide your "10 essential health benefits".
Access might be another issue. Medicaid pays doctors about one-third what commercial insurance pays for the same services, said Christine Senz, chief operating officer of Tuality Health Alliance, a Hillsboro-based provider network that includes Tuality Community Hospital. So, to make sure they bring in enough revenue, doctors often limit the number of Medicaid patients they'll take.

"They often close to Medicaid or Medicare patients before they close to commercial patients," Senz said. "Certainly access is a problem."
What a deal: ten essential health benefits (which may or may not cover what you need most) coupled with difficulty in finding someone to actually treat you. Showing up at the emergency room when you have problems does not sound like such a bad alternative.
*From a 2010 study:
Sixty-six percent of those who mentioned Medicaid-CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) were denied appointments, compared with 11 percent who said they had private insurance, according to an article being published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

In 89 clinics that accepted both kinds of patients, the waiting time for callers who said they had Medicaid was an average of 22 days longer.
From a New York Times article published Thursday:
. . . [I]n just five weeks, millions of additional Americans will be covered by [Medicaid], many of them older people with an array of health problems. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that nine million people will gain coverage through Medicaid next year alone. In many of the 26 states expanding the program, the newly eligible have been flocking to sign up.
But, doctors are not accepting lots of new patients. Specialists are especially difficult to schedule.
On top of that, only about 57 percent of doctors in California accept new Medicaid patients, according to a study published last year in the journal Health Affairs — the second-lowest rate in the nation after New Jersey. Payment rates for Medicaid, known in California as Medi-Cal, are also low here compared with most states, and are being cut by an additional 10 percent in some cases just as the expansion begins.
. . .
Dr. Paul Urrea, an ophthalmologist in Monterey Park, said he was skeptical of “blue-sky scenarios” suggesting that all new enrollees would have access to care. “Having been in the trenches with Medi-Cal patients who have serious eye problems,” he said, “I can tell you it’s very, very hard to get them in to see those specialists.”

Dr. Urrea said that when he recently tried to refer a Medicaid patient with a cornea infection to another eye specialist, he was initially informed that the specialist could not see the patient until February. “And this is a potentially blinding condition,” he added.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Taking Greed to a New Level: The Oregon State Lottery

MaxRedline has a first rate post up on the Oregon Lottery. He traces the development from focus on betting as entertainment to betting targeting people addicted to gambling.
When voters passed a measure allowing Oregon Lottery, the only items under discussion were scratch-off tickets, with proceeds to be used for "economic development". But the door was now opened, and as government agencies generally do, the Lottery Commission expanded. They introduced Keno, and then video poker. Even so, the stakes were relatively low, perhaps $5 for Keno, and the same for video poker. And then they expanded video poker: suddenly, the machines were able to accept bills from $1 to $10, and then to $20. But of course, slots were completely out of the question, as the approved measure specifically banned "casino"-type games.

Evidently, the Agency found a way around that, even as they further modified their machines to accept $100 bills. And of course, the money now goes to almost anything except economic development; tv ads show "restored" steams and habitat, done with Lottery money. It's become a giant piggy-bank, and the state's grown utterly dependent upon the money stream generated by a small group of videogame campers, pouring money in just for the high.
The result is ruined lives and a state community now dependent on feeding people's vices in order to pay for lots of different public programs. Max:
Marriages are ruined, lives are destroyed; destitute, some people become suicidal, yet the Oregon Lottery works very diligently toward a goal of ever-increasing cash extraction. What at first seemed fairly innocuous, and perhaps even helpful, has morphed into something that is so perverse that the sole justification for its continued existence is the desire of politicians to build monuments to themselves. And ya can't do that without money.
Public greed is not that much different than private greed. Except that it can affect a much bigger public at a much deeper level with no prospect of the community stepping in to stop the personal destruction.

Kudos to the Oregonian and Harry Esteve for doing real shoe-leather reporting on this and publishing the incriminating results for current Oregon state policy.

Friday, November 22, 2013

50th Anniversary of the Death of C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis (Hans Wild, Life Magazine)
The passing of C. S. Lewis was not much remarked at the time because it happened the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lewis' death is still overshadowed by that sad event.

Here's Lewis on how we should treat other people.
"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization-–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit-–immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."
(from The Weight of Glory)

Democrats Break 200+ Year Old Senate Rules; Will They Rescind Just Before Losing Power?

Update: Prof. William Jacobson makes a case for the upside of the fall of the filibuster.

This makes the Democrats two for two in blowing up liberal pet causes in just five years. First Barack Obama blew up the politics-is-ugly-with-so-much-money-involved by being "the first candidate ever [since the mid-1970's] to opt out of public financing in the general election". So much for campaign finance reform (which gave the Democrats an edge because union volunteers were not counted as money donations).

And now down goes the filibuster.

This does not count ramping up the use of drones, continuing to enforce the Patriot Act without major changes, vast expansion of presidential power, expansion of government spying, using the IRS against political opponents, and Guantanamo Bay still open for business.

Liberal Dana Milbank:
“Congress is broken,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday before holding a party-line vote that disposed of rules that have guided and protected the chamber since 1789.

If Congress wasn’t broken before, it certainly is now. What Reid (Nev.) and his fellow Democrats effectively did was take the chamber of Congress that still functioned at a modest level and turn it into a clone of the other chamber, which functions not at all. They turned the Senate into the House.
One wonders if the Democrats will rescind the rules change just before losing power saying (tongue in cheek) that they realize their mistake. That will force the Republicans to vote the nuclear option back in.

H/T Byron York

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

150,000 Oregonians Have Health Care Plan Cancelled by Obamacare; Cover Oregon Enrolls Zero in New Plans

About 150,000 Oregonians have had their health care plan cancelled. They may soon be joined by another 193,000 on small-employer plans. But, Oregon, a supposedly "cutting edge" state both in government healthcare and technology, has not managed a single enrollment under its Affordable Care Act state exchange Cover Oregon. This despite receiving nearly 25,000 nine to 19 page paper applications
With its online insurance marketplace out of commission and unavailable to the public indefinitely, the state has resorted to urging would-be subscribers to fill out applications that are between nine and 19 pages long by hand, said Michael Cox, a spokesman for Cover Oregon.
. . .

Nearly 25,000 individuals and families have so far submitted hard-copy applications, Cox said, with nearly two-thirds of those applicants eligible for Medicaid, a federal-state healthcare plan for the needy.

But none of those applicants has actually been enrolled, with manual processing of the paperwork slowing the process dramatically.
The Associated Press reports that 70,000 have enrolled in Oregon's Medicaid plan through an easy seven-question enrollment process. However, for those who do not qualify for the easy Medicaid sign up, health care in Oregon for the uninsured is not yet available.
For consumers, the application process can be long and frustrating.

"I've been trying since the very first day of October just to try to find out the coverage I could get," said Donna George*, 43, a bookkeeper from Bend, Ore., who's been uninsured for three years.

When the online system wouldn't work, George submitted a paper application Oct. 7 for herself and her husband. Finally, on Nov. 12, she received an enrollment packet that tells her how much of a tax credit she'll receive and lays out her coverage options. She's now waiting to meet with her insurance agent to pick a plan and return the forms.
* Interesting that the Associated Press has managed to find an Oregon resident negatively impacted by the Cover Oregon fiasco. To date, Oregonian reporters have not been able to find anyone like Donna George to interview.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oregon Drops from Middle of States to Bottom Third in Per Capita Income

The University of New Mexico's Bureau of Business and Economic Research has compiled statistics on per capita personal income by state from 1990 through 2012.

Below is a chart of Oregon's fall from 26th in 1990, rise to 22nd from 1995 to 1997, and drop to 33rd in 2011 and 2012. That means Oregon has dropped from a middle of the pack state to a bottom third state in per capita personal income.

source: University of New Mexico, Bureau of Business and Economic Research (

Washington is the only one of Oregon's neighbors to better its ranking rising from 16th in 1990 to 12th in 2012.  California dropped four positions from 8th in 1990 to 15th in 2012.  Both Idaho and Oregon dropped seven positions.  Idaho went from 42nd in 1990 to 49th in 2012.

Biggest drop is between 2007 and 2008, but the decline has continued through 2012.

Interesting that Governor John Kitzhaber (Dem.) has presided over the best years (1995-1997) and the worst years (2011-2012).  Governor Ted Kulongoski (Dem.) was governor when the big drop occurred between 2007 and 2008.

Newspaper Photographers Down 43% Since 2000; Reporters Down 32%

Pew Research Center reports on newspaper layoffs since 2000.

The rate of decline has accelerated in the last three years.
Data from the last three years alone further highlight this job insecurity. From 2010 through 2012, ASNE recorded an 18% reduction in full-time photographers, artists and videographers. That compares with a negligible job loss (0.2%) among copy and layout editors and online producers.  And it is three times the rate at which reporters and writers lost their jobs (6%).

Obamacare Dramatically Penalizes Childless/Empty Nest Marriages (and Gay Marriages Too)

Update: Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 69% of Oregon families consist of adults with no children. That's 1,631,500 Oregon adults with no children. The national average is 66% of families with adults only.

Obamacare substantially penalizes married couple only families. Given modern American marriage patterns, this includes many young/young middle-aged marrieds who have not yet started a family or are not planning to have children, and almost all older marrieds since their children have moved out. It also impacts most gay marriages--which, for obvious reasons, tend to be childless.

From The Atlantic:
Any married couple that earns more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level—that is $62,040—for a family of two earns too much for subsidies under Obamacare. "If you're over 400 percent of poverty, you're never eligible for premium" support, explains Gary Claxton, director of the Health Care Marketplace Project at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But if that same couple lived together unmarried, they could earn up to $45,960 each—$91,920 total—and still be eligible for subsidies through the exchanges in New York state, where insurance is comparatively expensive and the state exchange was set up in such a way as to not provide lower rates for younger people. (Subsidy eligibility is calculated using a complicated formula involving income in relation to the poverty line, family size, and the price of plans offered through a state's marketplace.)
The couple cited in the article were looking at health insurance costing $9,248 a year. Married they could receive no subsidy. Single, living together, they could receive a $3,964 subsidy and "possibly even be eligible for Medicaid, thanks to their uneven individual earnings that year."

There is also a "marriage penalty" in the tax code, but it is much increased under Obamacare.
"In the tax code, you have a different set of tax rates for married couples that mitigates the marriage penalty to some degree," says Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who has been writing about the marriage penalty in health reform since 2010. Under Obamacare, however, there are "dramatic" penalties that are "substantial—particularly with couples in the upper age range," he says.
H/T Byron York

Friday, November 15, 2013

Merkley Promised You Can Keep Your Insurance and Is Now Supporting Legislation to Reverse Cancellations

Senator Jeff Merkley is co-sponsoring legislation to allow policy holders to keep health plans cancelled by Obamacare regulations. Good for him.

About 150,000 Oregonians have had their policies cancelled. Four years ago Merkley promised that "those who like their insurance get to keep it."

Byron York points out that lots of people, including reporters knew this promise was bogus. But, they allowed the claim to be repeated and cemented in as a means to pass the bill in the one-sided (only Democrats), back door (reconciliation on an old bill) way.
All during the debate, Democratic officeholders, aides, policy wonks, advocates and sympathetic journalists all knew coverage cancellations would be coming as part of Obamacare. Of course, the president knew, too. When Obama made the keep-your-coverage promise, over and over, those Washington insiders accepted the untruth as a necessary part of the process, something Democrats had to do to pass their bill.
But millions of Americans didn't get the memo and took Obama at his word. And now that the promise has been proven false, the president is trying to recover his credibility — his desire to do so was painfully evident at his long and sometimes rambling news conference Thursday — and his party is searching for cover.
Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes says Senator Jeff Merkley admitted he "failed to understand" the grandfathering provisions of the law when he voted for it.
In a telephone interview, Merkley said that he and other supporters of the 2010 law failed to understand that it didn't have strong enough "grandfather" provisions ensuring that people could keep policies that existed at the time.

"It was a significant failure to understand that the grandfathering had this flaw in it," said Merkley, "and now that it's recognized, we've got to fix it."

The senator added that "we just didn't fully understand" that during the three years before the new law went completely into effect, many people would migrate to other coverage or be forced off these grandfathered plans.
The Oregonian has no clear reporting on Merkley's position on President Obama's allowing extension of cancelled policies for a year, but national outlets indicate Merkley continues co-sponsoring legislation that attempts to fix, rather than delay, grandfathering failures.

Interesting that Senator Ron Wyden is not quoted as promising that Obamacare would allow people to keep their coverage and has not yet supported reversal of the cancellations. An article in the Statesman Journal says Wyden:
hasn't signed on to any of [the bills to fix Obamacare] yet. Spokesman Ken Willis said in an email Wyden is "looking at all proposals" but will wait to see if the federal exchange's technical problems are fixed by Nov. 30 as Obama has said. Wyden isn't up for re-election until 2016.
To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, knowing you will be up for re-election in a year concentrates the mind wonderfully. That has happened for Merkley, but Wyden, elected in 2012, has another 5 years to go.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Obamacare Will Hurt More Than 41% of Currently Uninsured or Individual Market Insured

Byron York reports that a sizable proportion of people entering the healthcare exchanges, the very people who are supposed to gain most from Obamacare, will actually be hurt by it.
So, of 29 million people who might enter the Obamacare exchanges, about 17 million would be eligible for subsidies. That's about 59 percent who would be eligible for taxpayer-paid assistance, versus 41 percent who are not. That's a majority on the subsidy side, but not a huge one. Then figure that some of those who are eligible for help will only be eligible for very small subsidies. For example, a family of four in St. Louis, Mo., with one parent who earns $48,000 and another who earns $37,000 would be eligible for a subsidy -- all of $13 per year to pay for an $8,088 policy -- that is virtually no help at all. (The numbers come from the Kaiser Foundation's online subsidy calculator.)

Out of the 59 percent who are eligible for subsidies, then, some portion will receive subsidies that do not cover the increased cost of their new coverage. For them, Obamacare will be a net loss. So, it's unlikely Obamacare will actually help the full 59 percent of those eligible for subsidies by Kaiser's estimate. The bottom line is, Obamacare could very well hurt substantially more than 41 percent of the people who are currently uninsured or purchase coverage on the individual market. That's not exactly making the system work "better for everybody."
Compare this with Oregonian reporter Nick Budnick's "good news" assessment that less than half of the 400,000 Oregonians expected to benefit from Cover Oregon exchange subsidies will get subsidies.
Nearly 190,000 Oregonians could qualify next year for federal tax credits to bring down health insurance costs by using the state's health exchange.

That's less than half the state's previous estimate. But in an odd twist, that's actually good news because it reflects lower premiums in Oregon than in most other states.
. . .
The Kaiser report estimates that 187,000 Oregonians are eligible for tax credits, half the projection earlier used by the exchange of 400,000-- prepared by the group Families USA.
And, of course, none of this touches on the impact of people being dumped on the individual market when the employer mandate kicks in and employers start to cut the employee work week to 29 hours to avoid the mandate.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Oregonian Not Able to Find Needy Oregonian Affected by Cover Oregon/Obamacare Debacles

Even though Oregonian front page coverage of Cover Oregon problems include an October 8th article, Oregonian reporters and photographers have yet to find a single Oregon resident worthy of front page coverage who has been or might be negatively impacted by the new mandates or Cover Oregon and Obamacare's roll out problems.

October 11, 2013 Oregonian front page article
Contrast this with the Oregonian front page photo and story on the sad impact of the federal government shutdown in October.  The October 11th Oregonian carried the story of how "Oregon officials, people in need worry about social programs that rely on federal money".

But no front page coverage of Oregonians seeing their healthcare rates skyrocket.  This even though reporter Nick Budnick admitted "this is a confusing and chaotic time" in response to one commenter who was told she would have $550 more per quarter added to her "tuition" costs unless she could prove she had health insurance that met the university's criteria.  In his defense, Budnick did ask the commenter to contact him.  But apparently no one at the Oregonian thought to contact students or anyone else about what the new mandates might mean before commenter Peggy2012 posted about her experience.

I personally know six people who have had plans cancelled and will have to pay significantly more for healthcare coverage or who are young, needy, do not currently have healthcare coverage and will have to find some and find a way to pay for it.  But, the folks at the Oregonian apparently struggle to find any Oregonian negatively impacted.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Alliance for Audited Media No Longer Providing Clear Newspaper Circulation Information

Alan D. Mutter of Newsosaur reports that the Alliance for Audited Media is no longer providing even ball park accuracy in newspaper circulation numbers.
Owing to a series of changes adopted by the industry-funded organization over the years, publishers no longer have to provide a five-day average of daily circulation. They also have the liberty of counting a woman who reads the paper in print, on her office computer, on her personal laptop, on her tablet and on her smartphone as five separate subscribers.

Some newspapers take advantage of these options and others do not, eliminating seemingly forever the possibility of comparing apples-to-apples data across the industry – or even from year to year for the same publication, if it changes its reporting standards over time.
Andrew Beaujon at Poynter tries to stitch together a patchwork quilt comparison of September 2014 numbers with September 2013 for some major U.S. newspapers.

1. USA Today total circulation is up 67% to 2,876,586 which includes 1,545,364 in digital circulation, but print circulation is down 19%.

2. New York Times circulation is up 14% to 1,897,890, including an 18% rise in digital circulation.  But, it saw a 2% drop in Sunday print circulation and a 6% drop in weekday print circulation.

3. Wall Street Journal circulation fell 4% to 2,273,767.

4. Washington Post circulation rose 19% to 800,643.

An important sidelight is that circulation revenue at the New York Times has passed advertising revenue.  Beaujon continues:
Circulation revenue long ago passed advertising revenue at the New York Times Co. It was up nearly 5 percent in the third quarter and is up 6.5 percent for the first nine months of 2013. Advertising revenue is down by nearly the same percentage over the first three quarters.
Circulation revenue now accounts for 56% of New York Times total revenue.

Newsosaur notes that ad revenue is down only for newspapers (-5.5%) from a year ago for the first half of 2013--not for TV (+6.4%), magazines (+0.4%) or radio (0%).

First half 2013 total for digital advertising is up 18% to $20.1 billion.  This is more than double the estimated $8.6 billion for print newspaper advertising.  TV advertising for the same period is about $18.4 billion, magazine advertising $9.4 billion, and radio advertising $4.3 billion.
Newspaper Association of America revenue reports can be found here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fox News Prime Time Program Shifts Pay Off

In the two weeks since Fox News has switched Greta Van Susteren to an earlier hour, Sean Hannity to a later hour, and inserted Megan Kelly after Bill O'Reilly, all prime-time slots have had better cable news viewing percentages.

Ratings in % of cable news viewers (P2+):

. . . . . . . . . . 09/30 . . . . . 10/07 . . . . . 10/14
Bret Baier . .  45.3%  . . . . 46.5%  . . . . 47.6%
Greta . . . . .  43.3%  . . . . 48.8% . . . .  46.9%
O'Reilly . . . . 54.1%  . . . . 58.2%  . . . . 62.2%
M Kelly  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  52.3%  . . . . 54.7%
Hannity  . . .  42.3% . . . .  48.5%  . . . . 49.1%

Besides raising her viewer percentage from her later time slot, Greta Van Susteren, who took over Shep Smith's 6:00 pm slot, raised the ratings in his time slot too.  Smith's 09/30 had 44.6% of viewers, and Greta has raised it 2 points to 46.9%.

Megan Kelly, who took over Sean Hannity's slot, raised ratings of the 9:00 pm slot 12 points, from 42.3% to 54.7%.

Sean Hannity, who took over Greta Van Susteran's slot, raised 10:00 pm ratings almost 6 points from 43.3% to 49.1%.

Bret Baier has seen a 2 point rise, and Bill O'Reilly gained 8 points.

Overall, Fox News has raised its prime time rating 9 points from 46.3% on 09/30 to 55.4% on 10/14.

The Fox News gain seems to have come from CNN as the senior cable news has dropped 10 points from 20.2% on 09/30 to 10.2% on 10/14.

MSNBC has stayed basically the same with a prime time rating loss of about half a point from 23.9% on 09/30 to 23.5% on 10/14.*
*The other 10% to 18% of prime time cable news viewers watch Fox Business Network, HLN or CNBC.

Update: 10/14 percentages have been corrected.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

25 Heroes Who Died August 20 to October 13, 2013

August 20 - Master Sgt. George A. Bannar Jr., 37, of Orange, Va., died of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire in Wardak Province, Afghanistan.

August 23 - They died in Haft Asiab, Afghanistan, from wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device during combat operations. Killed were:
- Spc. Kenneth Clifford Alvarez, 23, of Santa Maria, Calif., and
- Pvt. Jonathon Michael Dean Hostetter, 20, of Humphreys, Mo.

August 26 - 1st Lt. Jason Togi, 24, of Pago Pago, American Samoa, died in Hasan Karez, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device.

August 28 - Sgt. 1st Class Ricardo D. Young, 34, of Rosston, Ark., died in Farah Province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire.
- Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, 24, of Staten Island, N.Y., died in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, small arms and indirect fire.

August 31 - Staff Sgt. Joshua J. Bowden, 28, of Villa Rica, Ga., died in Ghazni, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire while on dismounted patrol.

September 5 - Staff Sgt. Todd J. Lobraico Jr., 22, of New Fairfield, Conn., died from wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

September 13 - Staff Sgt. Robert E. Thomas Jr., 24, of Fontana, Calif., died at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, of wounds suffered during a non-combat related incident on April 21, 2013, in Maiwand, Afghanistan.
- Staff Sgt. Randall R. Lane, 43, of Indianapolis, Ind., died in Kabul, Afghanistan, from a non-combat related illness.

September 19 - Sgt. William D. Brown III, 44, of Franklin, N.C., died in Laghman Province, Afghanistan, from a non-combat incident. The soldier's death is under investigation.

September 20 - Spc. James T. Wickliffchacin, 22, of Edmond, Okla., died at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol during combat operations in Pul-E-Alam, Afghanistan on Aug. 12.

September 21 - They died at Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with small arms fire while conducting range training in Gardez, Paktia Province, Afghanistan. Killed were:
- Staff Sgt. Liam J. Nevins, 32, of Denver, Colo.,
- Staff Sgt. Timothy R. McGill, 30, of Ramsey, N.J.,
- Spc. Joshua J. Strickland, 23, of Woodstock, Ga.

September 22 - They died as a result of an MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter crash while operating in the central Red Sea. Killed were:
- Lt. Cmdr. Landon L. Jones, 35, of Lompoc, Calif., and
Jonathon S. Gibson
- Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan S. Gibson, 32, of Aurora, Ore.  The Oregonian reports:
Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Shelby Gibson, 32, who formerly lived in Aurora, and Lt. Cmdr. Landon L. Jones, 35, of Lompoc, Calif., were reported missing after an MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter crashed while trying to land on the deck of the USS William P. Lawrence, a guided-missile destroyer, authorities said.

Three others aboard the helicopter were rescued from the sea.

The cause of the helicopter is not believed to be linked to any hostile activity.

Gibson joined the Navy in 1998 and worked as an aviation operations technician. Kelly Gibson of Aurora, his stepmother, described Jonathan as a dedicated family man known for being athletic, having a sharp sense of humor and showing a strong sense of duty.

She said he lived with his wife, Christina, and two children, Kaylie, 6, and Alexander, 4, in the San Diego area.

Gibson spent much of his childhood in Kentucky with his older brother, James, and their birth mother. He moved to Oregon to live with his father, Scott Gibson, after graduating from high school and enlisted soon after that.

His father’s serving in the U.S. Army was a big influence on Gibson, his stepmother said.

“We found out about this on Sunday and we’re all still very much in shock,” said Kelly Gibson. “He loved his job and his family very, very much.”

Gibson was nearing the end of a nine-month deployment to sea, his stepmother said. He planned to become a flight instructor and spend more time with his family. 
September 26 - Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Baysore, Jr., 31, of Milton, Pa., died in Paktya Province, Afghanistan, from wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire during combat operations.

October 5 - Lance Cpl. Jeremiah M. Collins, Jr., 19, of Milwaukee, Wis., died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
- Spc. Angel L. Lopez, 27, of Parma, Ohio, died in Zabul province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire.

October 6 - They died in Zhari District, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device.  Killed were:
- 1st Lt. Jennifer M. Moreno, 25, of San Diego, Calif., 
- Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins, 25, of Carlisle, Pa., 
- Sgt. Joseph M. Peters, 24, of Springfield, Mo.,
Cody J. Patterson
- Pfc. Cody J. Patterson, 24, of Philomath, Ore.  KPTV reports:
Pfc. Cody Patterson was 24 years old.

He was killed Sunday in the Zhari District of Afghanistan, where enemy forces used an improvised explosive device, DOD officials said. The Los Angeles Times reports the Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, and that two suicide bombers were involved.

Patterson was born in Corvallis and graduated from Philomath High School.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army, completed basic training as an infantryman in Fort Benning, GA, and then graduated from the basic Airborne Course there. He went on to graduate from the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, and then was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment as a rifleman.

This was Patterson's second deployment to Afghanistan.

The commander of his regiment, Col. Christopher Vanek, said Patterson had "a limitless future."
"He would have been successful in whatever path he had chosen in life," Vanek said. "He chose to serve his country by volunteering for the most difficult and challenging duties of a United States Army Ranger."

Patterson, who was awarded several medals, badges and service ribbons during his time in the Army, was posthumously awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Purple Heart and NATO Medal.

Patterson is survived by his mother, Nancy Wilson, who lives in Corvallis; and his father, Randy Patterson, and sister, Taylor, who both live in Philomath.
Pfc. Patterson was one of the military heroes whose family was denied military benefits by the Obama administration Department of Defense under the government shut(slim)down. A private charity, Fisher House Foundation, stepped in to supply needed funds to the military families. KOIN:
As if grieving isn't hard enough for his family, the federal government shutdown -- stretching into its second week -- is taking another toll. This week his family learned that not only is their beloved 24-year-old gone, but so are his military death benefits -- at least for now.

"[It's] very disrespectful," said Arlene Walters on hearing the news of the shutdown's impacts on the U.S. military's death benefit. "My husband says it's the lowest you can get."

Her son, Staff Sgt. Donald Walters of Salem, was killed in Iraq in 2003. She is saddened to learn that soldier's promised death benefits are on hold due to the government shutdown.

"I would be very disgusted with the government," she said. "What if we say we're not going to fight if they're not going to respect us when they die?"

Normally soldier's families receive a $100,000 death benefit within 36 hours to help pay for the funeral costs and the cost of flying families to be there when the bodies of their loved ones are returned to U.S. soil, according to a CBS report. All U.S. military members killed overseas are flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware "for processing," according to the Associated Press.

Private charities have stepped forward to cover expenses for families like Cody Patterson's -- as Congress scrambles to reinstate the military benefit. At last word a bipartisan group of senators is asking the defense secretary to restore death benefits for families.
October 13 - Staff Sgt. Patrick H. Quinn, 26, of Quarryville, Pa., died in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when the enemy attacked his base with small arms fire.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Shutdown Becoming the New Sequester?

Remember the dire predictions about what would happen to life when the sequester hit?

Well, here we are seven months later, and life has not come to a halt after the March 1st sequester kicked in. There hasn't been a great(er) recession and, except for visits to the White House, life doesn't seem to be much affected.

The government shutdown is beginning to look the same.  Hours from a week of federal government shutdown, the consequences are hard to see on the personal level. (No one in my extended family has felt even a twinge of impact except my brother, a federal employee, who has gotten a week of what will be paid vacation as the President and Senate leadership have changed their minds and agreed with House leadership on approving paying them retroactively in piecemeal legislation.)

Ira Stoll of the New York Sun writes:
The government “shutdown” is starting to feel a lot like the sequester — a lot of alarmist warnings that the sky is going to fall, followed by business pretty much as usual.

That’s not to minimize the genuine inconvenience or worse for those government employees who have been furloughed, or for cancer patients involved in clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health, an institution that House Republicans voted to fund but that Senate Democrats are holding hostage.

For most of the rest of us, it turns out that the government can “shut down” and life goes on pretty much the same as it did before. Now there’s a valuable insight that it’s almost worth having the government shut down to discover.
Every day that passes without dire consequences--or any consequences--makes the politicians and media who hyped a disaster look like liars or fools.

It is a "valuable insight" that "the government can 'shut down' and life [go] on pretty much the same as it did before". Add to that the insight that politicians and big media have their own agenda which too often doesn't line up with the truth, and you have a valuable learning experience for the American public.