Do The Freakin Math

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently rely on limited evidence, personal experience, religious beliefs or gut emotions to determine solutions for complex problems. From immigration to global warming - taxes to terrorism - or health care to free trade - analytical study is rare. Science based policy making isn’t the way of Washington. And the consequences are catastrophic. Change is urgently needed. Just do the freakin’ math.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Buy gas, fuel terrorism

Dear Editor,

Bill O’Reilly provided a great service by first enlightened your readers about the refusal of US oil companies to investment in new refining capacity in our “totally dependent on oil and gas” nation (“Price on ‘full’” May 14, 2007.)

There is little doubt that these greedy companies are focused more on their own short term economic gain than the longer term economic security of our nation. But, Mr. O’Reilly is wrong in stating “The more you pay at the pump, the more money rolls into DC”. If he said the more you ‘buy” at the pump, he would have been correct. But the rise in gas prices currently have nothing to do with more gas taxes going to Washington. They should.

As O’Reilly admits “Appeals to conserve energy…won’t work” given that “we are an immediate gratification society”. That’s why an immediate gas tax is needed. Only when we feel a significant economic pain at the pumps will we take conservation serious. And if Uncle Sam is getting more petro tax dollars to invest in alternative energies the less money the oil companies will be getting. A higher tax could even be levied directly on the oil company profits unless they invest in new oil refinery upgrades. But, it is O’Reilly right wing advocates that have always ranted against the evils of taxes. Here is one case where an increase in taxes is vital to our national security given the propensity of the average American and the typical oil company to think only in the short term.

There is one additional economic factor that Mr. O’Reilly failed to mention that is far more important to “the treatment” of Americans than all the other factors he mentioned. Whatever price anyone pays at the pumps for oil and gas an rather large but indirect contribution is made to those who mean our nation serious harm. When we buy gasoline, we fuel terrorism.

Significantly increasing the federal gas tax may not lead to new oil refineries being built but it could generate the resources needed to wean our nation from our oil dependence, Given our own corporate and personal inability to do so it’s past time our federal government took this matter seriously. Any candidate for US President could demonstrate real political wisdom and courage by advocating such a tax increase in future debates. If they are unwilling to face political suicide for the survival of our nation, then they are unfit to be President in these increasingly troubled times.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

CATO values money more than lives.

Alan Reynolds needs to check his math when considering the numbers related to inevitable mass deaths from infectious diseases like Avian flu, a weaponized smallpox attack or something worse (The fear industry, May 6, 2007).

His first error is using past statistics to predict future death tolls. That’s like using pre 9-11 suicide airliner crashes to predict future death tolls from such tactics. Or, using pre 1981 statistics for predicting the future number of Americans who will die from some ‘new’ not yet identified acquired immune deficiency. Or, predicting New Orleans hurricane death tolls assuming pre Katrina conditions would last forever.

Pandemics, terrorist attacks and hurricanes happen. And as time progresses with the exponentially accelerating power of technology and mass movement of people, goods and bads…we must invest in preparing for the worst.

Unimaginable cost savings can be gained from investments in prevention even when threats aren’t imminent. In the early 1970s’ no American children were dying from smallpox. Still, the US invested federal dollars in the global eradication of this extremely lethal infectious disease. Since its eradication American taxpayers no longer had to vaccinate our own children and have since saved well over $600 for every one dollar invested in the global eradication effort.

Should the weaponized smallpox that the former Soviet Union created ever be released hundreds of millions of people could die. The Soviets bioengineered smallpox to be even more lethal than the original disease that killed three times as many people in the last 100 years than all the wars and revolutions of that same time period. Investing now in the creation of safe and effective smallpox vaccines is vital.

Over 60,000 Americans died last year in hospitals from infectious diseases they didn’t walk in with. A large number of these lives could have been saved if far greater investments were made in improving out nation’s Antibiotic arsenal. If Mr. Reynolds wants to save tax payers money he should consider advocating the end of federal funding for missile defense. The chance of such defense actually working is even smaller than the likely hood that some nation would commit suicide by launching one against us. And, then of course, there is the massive waste of federal dollars trying to stabilize a foreign region because we are dependent upon it’s oil. Massive taxpayer investment in alternative energies would yield even greater future savings in both dollars and lives.

Not investing billions more on biosecurity is worse than stupid. It’s suicidal. But in Reynolds own words it’s “irrelevant” if “these programs save even one life”. It’s the “millions spent” that bothers him. At least we are clear what he values. I thought the CATO institute values freedom. Freedom isn’t free. And, its certainly not worth much if millions of people are bleeding to death out of each of their bodies’ orifices.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Republican debate? RIght to life and to bomb.

Two thoughts emerged after watching the 10 Republican Presidential candidates debate last night on MSNBC.

First, even without Gingrich, Thompson and Hagel present on stage, the GOP has some formidable candidates for 2008. Agreed, its not that hard to be more impressive than the current clown in office but I’m guessing at least half of the GOP Presidential wanna bees have the capacity to sucker another half of the American public into voting the GOP ticket. Bush’s tragedy of errors may have destroyed the neoconservative movement but the GOP is alive and well.

The second thought is the profound hypocrisy that nearly all stage performers exhibited with patriotic and moral pride. Nearly all committing unequivocally to the diametrically opposed platforms of a “right to life” and an unabashed willingness to attack Iran because of its likely WMD program. For this moment I’ll overlook the possibility of them or a Democratic president making such a murderous mistake again… and focus on the absurdity of trying to hold both apparently contradictory commitments.

While ranting on about “the right to life” one candidate said “Life is the central issue of our day”. Another proclaimed “the most glorious day for America” would be the day Roe vs Wade is reversed. Huckabey declared our nation “is a culture of life.” And, in response to the Stem Cell question another candidate said he “Won’t create life to destroy it.” I’m guessing the creation of nuclear weapons to vaporize the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iranians is ‘still on the table’. The last candidate concluded with a Reagan quote, ‘Whenever there’s a question…ere on the side of life.” Bush must have been AWOL that day in Reagan 101 class. When Chris Mathews challenged the apparent inconsistence in dissing ‘Big government” but supporting a government ban on abortions I believe it was Tancrado who summed it all up saying “I support women’s rights but the right to kill another person is not a right I support.”

There’s at least one logical explanation for their ability to hold these seeming conflicting commitments of ‘right to life’ and the ‘right to shock and awe’. If they only value American unborn lives it’s all consistent. Unfortunately even that runs smack into their unyielding commitment to their “faith”. Assuming they are all Christians or Mormons (and not morons) that creates another problem. Most believers in Christ are NOT American.

Probably all candidates could quote the stats on how many abortions there are each day or year in the US (at least one did). Some might even know abortions numbers in other nations (except Israel – which is the largest recipient of US foreign aid and subsidizes abortions within Israel). Then, of course, there are the millions of other abortions caused by the trauma of pre-emptive war, genocide, malnutrition, starvation, preventable infectious diseases, rape, lack of pre-natal medical care, torture, slavery, or toxic waste. I’ll wager none of the candidates have these statistics in mind.

All are committed to ‘winning’ the war on terror…but when the most terrifying of all human experiences (the death of a wanted child) is not debatable, they easily ignore the fact that every day approximately 28,000 mothers and fathers experience the loss of such a life.

In post debate interviews one GOP candidate criticized the Democratic debaters by stating that “none of them” talked about the threat of radical Islamists. He’s wrong. Both Biden and Obama stated their commitment to this greater threat beyond Iraq, but is true that none of the GOP candidates mentioned the words ‘global poverty’ which is a far greater source of terror in the world. And, worse yet, none of the candidates from either party mentioned the most serious threat we face -- new and reemerging infectious diseases. The Bird flu will make 9-11 seem like a hangnail. I believe Newt may have mentoned this if he were at the debate. It is one of the top 4 issues on his platform of concerns.

A Right to life? Yes. And a right to all things essential to ensuring life. Water, sanitation, health care, nutrition, peace, peace keepers, justice, a clean environment and a basic education. There are some things worth fighting for. I’m still waiting for a candidate with the courage to speak truth to public.

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