I had a unique experience this week. That was the opportunity to fly with a very unique military unit. Unique in the sense that they’re the only one like it in the US military. I’m speaking of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, known as the “Hurricane Hunters”, based at Keesler AFB in Biloxi MS.
The opportunity was one I just couldn’t pass up, so on Tuesday, I and a few other bloggers from as far away as Chicago, hooked up with the 53rd for a 3 hour flight in one of their 10 WC-130J “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft.
Of course we were first initially briefed on the history and capabilities of the squadron. The squadron is comprised entirely of Airforce reservists. Yet they carry a full mission load. So in addition to their monthly training and their 2 week annual training, these folks average 120 more days of active duty time a year.
That’s a lot of time away from home for a part-time job. But they obviously love it. The pilot of our flight had been doing it for 17 years and the AWRO (Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer) said she’d been bashing her way into hurricanes for 23 years.
The normal crew for a hurricane mission is 5 (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, AWRO and loadmaster). Depending on the length of the mission, which can last up to 12-14 hours, they may take a second crew with them.
Do they actually penetrate the hurricane? Yes. In fact they fly right through it, from side to side, through the eye. Last year during the hurricane season, they made 162 flights through the eye of hurricanes.
Their work normally begins with a low-level investigation. Naturally forecasters are intersted in what effect the storm is having at sea level. So, if its a tropical storm, they may begin looking at it at 500 feet. As it becomes a hurricane, they step their approaches up. A Cat 1 may see them go in at 1,500 feet and so on.
They never go higher than 10,000 feet, even though these storms may be as high as 50,000 feet. That’s because of icing primarily and lightning strikes secondarily. Icing begins at about 14,000 feet. So while they’re equipped to do deicing, it puts the aircraft at further risk that is just not necessary to do the mission.
When Katrina was building, these folks were flying through her at 10,000 feet and sending invaluable information back to forecasters. Obviously their work has helped both forecasters and meteorologists learn a lot about the behavior of these storms. But more importantly, the Hurricane Hunters have helped sharpen landfall forecasting by 30%. What that means is when you see a storm track which shows where the hurricane might make landfall, it’s a 30% smaller footprint than it would be without the information the squadron provides forecasters.
It is estimated that it costs $1 million to evacuate a single mile of coastline. That reduction of 30%, depending on where the storm is forecasted to go, can mean eliminating the need to evacuate 50 to 100 miles of coastline. Or more simply said, because of that, the cost of all the missions they’ll fly in a year are normally paid for by the savings produced by one mission.
Their area of operations is from the international date line west of Hawaii to the Atlantic ocean. That is a huge AO. Additionally they fly winter storm missions as well. In all a most impressive group. If you’re interested, you can read more about them here.
Having taken the 3 hour flight (a simulated mission and a low-level pass over New Orleans), I’m now on a list to fly into an actual hurricane with them. That’s just too cool. So, with hurricane season starting on June 1st, I’m standing by and hoping for an opportunity (they said it could take up to 3 years) to snag one this year.
Update: I forgot to mention that there was TV media on the flight as well, and this was headlined as the “first blogger flight in the history of the Airforce”. So we were as much the story to them as the flight was to us. Here’s a local TV station’s treatment of the story. I don’t know who the “Bruce McSwain” guy is, but what is he says is true.
[Photos by Cindy Morgan]
Bizarro world continues unabated. The logic behind this assertion is … uh, “subtle” to say the least (my emphasis):
First, on “constitutional dictatorship,” there is, somewhat surprisingly, Minnesota, where Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a favorite of the Repblican right wing (assuming there is anything else than a right wing in the GOP these days) is apparently going to use all of his powers under the Minnesota have exercised such powers, but Pawlenty’s exercise in unilateral government seems to be of a different magnitude. Perhaps we should view Minnesota as having the equivalent of a Weimar Constitution Article 48, the “emergency powers clause” that allowed the president to govern by fiat. Throughout the 1920s, it was invoked more than 200 times to respond to the economic crisis. Pawlenty is sounding the same theme, as he prepares to slash spending on all sorts of public services. The fact that this will increase his attractiveness to the Republican Right, for the 2012 presidential race that has already begun, is, of course, an added benefit, since one doubts that he is banking on a political future within Minnesota itself (which didn’t give him a majority at the last election; he was elected, as was Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, only because of the presence of third-party candidates). One might also look forward to whether he will refuse to certify Al Franken’s election to the Senate even after the Minnesota Supreme Court, like all other Minnesota courts, says that he has won. Whoever thought that Minnesota would be the leading example of a 21st-century version of “constitutional dictatorship” among the American states?
I don’t know who Sandy Levin, the author of the above screed, is but I have to believe he has become lost in his own rhetoric. We are honestly being asked to accept the premise that a Governor, using his constitutionally-approved and legislature-granted powers, is somehow a “dictator” for … slashing spending in a time of budget shortfalls?
Gov. Tim Pawlenty promised Thursday to bring Minnesota’s deficit-ridden budget back into balance on his own if the session ends Monday without an accord, using line-item vetoes and executive powers to shave billions in spending.
Pawlenty held out the possibility of a negotiated agreement, but said he was prepared to use vetoes, payment suspensions and so-called unallotment to cut the two-year budget to $31 billion. That’s about $3 billion smaller than the slate of spending bills sent to him.
The move infuriated Democrats who run the Legislature. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis dubbed Pawlenty “Governor Go It Alone.” Pawlenty shot back that without the step Kelliher would be “Speaker Special Session.”
“There will be no public hearings. There will be no public input. There will just be a governor alone with unelected people whispering in his ear of what to cut and what not to cut,” Kelliher said, calling it “bullying.”
Apparently this is exactly what Levinson and the Minnesota left want us to believe — i.e. that using duly constituted powers is the equivalent of behaving as a dictator. How utterly ridiculous.
If this were a situation where the governor was unilaterally deciding to burden the taxpayers more, or he was singling out a particular group of people to bear the brunt of arbitrary government rules, I could see where the dissenters here would have a point. If the executive branch suddenly declared, without any legislative input, that English was the official language of Minn. and no other languages would be recognized anywhere in the state upon penalty of law, then, legally granted powers or not, I would understand and support Levinson et al.
Instead, the perfectly preposterous idea that balancing a state budget, using the very powers granted the governor to accomplish the task, is now deemed the equivalent of the Weimar Republic emergency powers (you know, the ones that allowed Hitler to declare himself supreme dictator over Germany).
To be sure, the focus of this vitriolic (and, I’d say, hysterical) attack on Pawlenty stems from his threatened use of “unallotment” powers:
The procedure exists under state statute, and “the first prerequisite to unallotment is that the Commissioner of Finance ‘determines that probable receipts for the general fund will be less than anticipated, and that the amount available for the remainder of the biennium will be less than needed.”
Then the ball is in the governor’s court:
“After the Commissioner of Finance determines that the amount available for the biennium is less than needed, the governor must approve the commissioner’s actions before the commissioner can either reduce the amount in the budget reserve or reduce allotments.”
The Legislature is consulted but does not have any power or ultimate say in the governor’s actions. The process starts at the beginning of the next fiscal biennium, which means that Pawlenty won’t enact anything until July 1. And what he’ll do is anyone’s guess.
“Depending on what he does with line-item vetoes, I figure we’ll see anywhere from a half a billion to $2 billion in unallotments,” Schultz said. “It’s unprecedented in dollar amount and in willingness to use it.”
Is it good policy or politics?
Schultz points out that unallotment is on the books for “emergency conditions” in which “the Legislature can’t do its job,” such as a budget forecast that comes out when lawmakers aren’t in session.
But in Schultz’s opinion, Pawlenty is “creating the emergency conditions that allow him to use it.”
“He appears to not want to negotiate in good faith,” Schultz offered. “Working with the Legislature is supposed to be a cooperative venture, not a take-it-or-leave-it one.”
The problem, of course, is that the legislature keeps sending a bill that proposes more spending than Minnesota’s revenues will allow. Because the governor and the legislature can’t agree on identifying new revenue sources (e.g. Leg. wants to tax the rich, Gov. wants to borrow against tobacco settlement), then the two sides are at an impasse. Despite what some might say, a proposed $3 billion deficit with no budget alternative in place does represent a fiscal emergency. After all, the money has to come from somewhere, or the services (giveaways, or whatever) will have to be cut, and the government may be forced to shut down. Why that doesn’t represent a fiscal emergency of the very type contemplated by the unallotment statute remains a bit of mystery for us less hysterical folks.
Jumping out the weeds, and regardless of how one might view the necessity of spending more or less via the Minnesota budget, I am simply flabbergasted that anyone could possibly suggest that forcing the government to spend less is in anyway, shape or form equivalent to dictatorship. To accept such premise is accept the idea that government spending is the sole source of freedom. I categorically reject any such notion. And if dictatorship is to be defined as standing in firm opposition to it, then sign me up.
I hesitate to call it bankruptcy when it is really a sham of a bankruptcy. In fact, it is the same sham that Chrysler has undergone:
The government previously indicated that it planned to take at least 50 percent of the restructured company, and likely would take the right to name members to its board of directors, as it has at Chrysler, where the government will control four of nine seats.
The United Auto Workers retiree health fund is set to own as much as 39 percent of the restructured GM, in exchange for giving up its claim to at least $10 billion that the company owes it. Yesterday, the union announced that it reached an agreement with GM that will reduce the company’s labor costs.
Still unknown is what part the Canadian government might play in the ongoing GM restructuring.
GM operates several plants north of the border. The Canadians agreed to invest about $3.5 billion in the Chrysler restructuring and control one of the nine board seats.
Sound familiar? So government will now have 5 of 9 board seats, the union has a huge share of the company and bondholders?
The chief obstacle to an out-of-court settlement for GM remains: There has been no agreement between the company and the investors who hold $27 billion worth of GM bonds.
Under orders from the Obama administration, GM has offered to give the bondholders a 10 percent equity stake in the restructured company in exchange for giving up their bonds.
That’s the offer made and, as you might imagine, bondholders are resisting this. That, of course, gives the administration the same excuse it used to take Chrysler to bankruptcy under its apparently newly written rules which gave government the lion’s share of ownership.
As you might imagine, not everyone is happy. And since this “bankruptcy” is now being politically managed, more politicians are getting into the act.
For instance, on the subject of cutting Chrysler dealerships:
There are also challenges outside court. Chrysler has moved to close 789 dealerships on June 9. But Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) has introduced legislation that would withhold federal funding if the automaker does not give dealers an extra 60 days to close down operations and sell remaining inventory. Her amendment has won the backing of a number of other senators.
Should such legislation pass, you can expect something similar with GM.
And some Democrats aren’t particularly happy either:
Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said he hopes to meet with White House officials today to discuss changing Chrysler’s bankruptcy plan and GM’s future. Conyers did not outline what he wanted, but a nine-person panel he assembled for a hearing yesterday offered a hint. Liberal consumer advocate Ralph Nader, a conservative Heritage Foundation analyst and minority auto dealers all criticized the automakers’ restructuring.
Conyers and other committee members attacked the administration for abusing bankruptcy laws, unfairly eliminating dealerships and jeopardizing consumer safety.
Yup, looks like the political bureaucracy is kicking into high-gear and you can just imagine how well this is going to work out, can’t you? That and the fact that contracts will never be viewed in the same light again have to make you fear for our economic future.
First they came after the smokers. But I didn’t say anything because I don’t smoke. And then they came after the soda drinkers, and I didn’t say anything because I rarely drink soda.
But then they came after beer, but I couldn’t do anything because the precedent had been set (with apologies to Pastor Martin Niemöller).
Yes, sinners, you are going to pay for health care. You and the evil rich. “Sin” taxes are seemingly the chosen method of this administration for paying the bill for the upcoming health care debacle.
Consumers in the United States may have to hand over nearly $2 more for a case of beer to help provide health insurance for all.
Details of the proposed beer tax are described in a Senate Finance Committee document that will be used to brief lawmakers Wednesday at a closed-door meeting.
Taxes on wine and hard liquor would also go up.
Apparently they’re still discussing sugary drinks as well (although it seems diet drinks are not yet on the table) because, you know, obesity is a problem and since government will be paying for all of this (can taxing Oreos be far off?).
“If you make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year, you will not see a single dime of your taxes go up. If you make $200,000 a year or less, your taxes will go down.”
Unless, of course, you’re a smoker, a fattie or a boozer (or, heaven forbid, all three).
Apparently the Fed has decided that their doubling of the monetary base in the last 7 months has done so fantastically, that they’re ready to do more of it.
Some Federal Reserve officials are open to raising the amounts of mortgage and Treasury securities purchase programs beyond the $1.75 trillion that they have already committed to buying, according to minutes from the Fed’s April meeting.
Please pay no attention to the inflation lurking behind the curtain. Our benevolent overlords have everything under control. So, why more monetary loosening.
Officials, meanwhile, projected an even deeper recession than they expected three months earlier and a more sluggish recovery over the next two years as labor markets remain under pressure.
Huh. So much for that “turned the corner’ crap from last month. But that’s OK. because, you see, if you’re in the middle of a bursted bubble cused by overly loose monetary policy in the first place, then the way to get back on track is an even looser monetary policy. That’ll fix you right up, you see.
At least, that’s what the Harvard econo-boys tell us. And they are, of course, the Best and Brightest.
Meanwhile, the DoL reports that weekly claims for unemployment for last week were revised upwards to 643,000, but this week’s numbers were only 628,500. So, that’s a nice little downward tick. Except that we’ve got all those upcoming claims from shutting down car dealerships for Chrysler and GM. Let’s call that 2,000 dealerships with an average of–I’m just spit-balling, here–25 persons per dealership left unemployed. Let’s call it 50,000 new claims ahead.
David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser talking about the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice and the Constitution:
President Barack Obama began interviewing potential Supreme Court candidates Tuesday, while a senior White House official defended the president’s stated preference for a nominee who will give the powerless “a fair shake.”
White House adviser David Axelrod said the U.S. Constitution, like any document of its vintage, must be subject to interpretation in a modern context.
“Fidelity to the Constitution is paramount, but as with any document that was written no matter how brilliantly centuries ago, it couldn’t possibly have anticipated all the questions that would be asked in the 21st century,” Mr. Axelrod said.
Barack Obama, today, talking about the prisoners at Gitmo and the Constitution:
But I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we hold in this very hall – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights –are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality and dignity in the world.
I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents. My father came to our shores in search of the promise that they offered. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn of their truth when I lived as a child in a foreign land. My own American journey was paved by generations of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words – “to form a more perfect union.” I have studied the Constitution as a student; I have taught it as a teacher; I have been bound by it as a lawyer and legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never – ever – turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.
Per Obama’s speech, the Constitution apparently “anticipated all the questions that would be asked in the 21st century” when it comes to Gitmo. Yet there’s Axelrod, claiming it doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to the job description or duties of a Supreme Court justice and implying we must turn our back on it for “expedience sake” and redefine the job (give the “powerless” a “fair shake” – the job of the legislature).
So, which is it?
The Heritage Foundation breaks ‘cap and trade’ down to 10 points you may want to consider:
1. Cap and Trade Is a Massive Energy Tax
2. It Will Not Make a Substantive Impact on the Environment
3. It Will Kill Jobs
4. It Will Cause Electricity Bills and Gas Prices to Sharply Increase
5. It Will Outsource Manufacturing Jobs and Hurt Free Trade
6. It Will Make You Choose Between Energy, Groceries, Clothing, and Haircuts
7. It Will Be Highly Susceptible to Fraud and Corruption
8. It Will Hurt Senior Citizens, the Poor, and the Unemployed the Worst
9. It Will Cost American Families Over $3,000 a Year
10. President Obama Admitted “Electricity Rates Would Necessarily Skyrocket” Under a Cap-and-Trade Program (January 2008)
So, what can you expect when they realize that number 8 makes it a very regressive tax?
That’s right, a subsidy will somehow become part of the arrangement. And who pays subsidies? What those who they arbitrarily determine can “afford” them.
Therefore, in addition to this:
Be prepared to actually pay more than that for those who can’t “afford” it (8), unless, of course, cap and trade has helped you achieve number 3.
Is it too big to fail? Megan McArdle believes the possibility certainly exists (I mean was Arnie really in DC yesterday just to see the sights). Says McArdle:
If the government does bail out the muni bond market, how should it go about things? The initial assumption is that they’ll only guarantee existing debt. Otherwise, it would be like handing the keys to the treasury to every mayor, county board, and state legislature, and telling them to go to town.
But once the treasury has bailed out a single state, there will be a strongly implied guarantee on all such debt. So you don’t give them the keys to the vaults, but you do leave a window open, point out where the money’s kept, and casually mention that you’ve given the armed guards the week off.
Of course the right answer is not to bail out either. Failure is a great teacher. And then there’s the moral hazzard angle.
But in this day and age, that’s approach is almost unthinkable apparently. Government, as we’re being told, is the answer to everything.
My fear, based on what the federal government has done to this point, is they’ll “hand the keys to the treasury” on both the muni bond market and the states (with bailouts). They have no business doing anything in either place, but we’ve already seen that the arbitrary assessment that some entity is too big to fail apparently takes priority over economic law.
Once a single state is bailed out, there is nothing to stop other states from making a similar claim on the treasury.
Should such a thing happen in either case (or both), Federalism, which is on its last legs anyway, will be officially dead.
The expected happened:
California voters soundly rejected a package of ballot measures Tuesday that would have reduced the state’s projected budget deficit of $21.3 billion to something slightly less overwhelming: $15.4 billion.
The defeat of the measures means that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature will have to consider deeper cuts to education, public safety, and health and human services, officials have said.
Propositions 1A through 1E – which would have changed the state’s budgeting system, ensured money to schools in future years and generated billions of dollars of revenue for the state’s general fund – fell well behind in early returns and never recovered.
The only measure that voters approved was Proposition 1F, which will freeze salaries of top state officials, including lawmakers and the governor, during tough budget years.
Schwarzenegger, however, still doesn’t get it:
In a written statement Tuesday night, Schwarzenegger said that he believes Californians are simply frustrated with the state’s dysfunctional budget system.
“Now we must move forward from this point to begin to address our fiscal crisis with constructive solutions,” the governor said.
In reality it has nothing especially to do with the state’s “dysfunctional budget system”, but instead with the state’s profligate spending which has landed it in overwhelming debt. And the most “constructive solutions” would be to – wait for it – cut spending.
Why is it I have a feeling that such a solution will be mostly absent from whatever CA legislators come up with?
I love the way the Wall Street Journal starts this editorial about health care reform and rationing. It is something I’ve been wondering for some time here at QandO:
Try to follow this logic: Last week the Medicare trustees reported that the program has an “unfunded liability” of nearly $38 trillion — which is the amount of benefits promised but not covered by taxes over the next 75 years. So Democrats have decided that the way to close this gap is to create a new “universal” health insurance entitlement for the middle class.
In fact what they’re proposing defies logic. It is counter-intuitive (some wag said that “counter-intuitive” is the new “stupid”). I mean think about it – they’re essentially saying “we’ve run the 46% of the health care segment we have into $38 trillion of unfunded debt. The way to fix that is to give us the rest”.
But the bulk of the editorial is about who, under this new grand scheme the Democrats are proposing, will be making decision about how to treat you. And in this case one example serves to make the point:
At issue are “virtual colonoscopies,” or CT scans of the abdomen. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of U.S. cancer death but one of the most preventable. Found early, the cure rate is 93%, but only 8% at later stages. Virtual colonoscopies are likely to boost screenings because they are quicker, more comfortable and significantly cheaper than the standard “optical” procedure, which involves anesthesia and threading an endoscope through the lower intestine.
Virtual colonoscopies are endorsed by the American Cancer Society and covered by a growing number of private insurers including Cigna and UnitedHealthcare. The problem for Medicare is that if cancerous lesions are found using a scan, then patients must follow up with a traditional colonoscopy anyway. Costs would be lower if everyone simply took the invasive route, where doctors can remove polyps on the spot. As Medicare noted in its ruling, “If there is a relatively high referral rate [for traditional colonoscopy], the utility of an intermediate test such as CT colonography is limited.” In other words, duplication would be too pricey.
Consequently, because there might be a percentage of referrals (that Medicare assumes might be “relatively high”) which then require a traditional colonoscopy, no Medicare patients may have the virtual colonscopies even if they are quicker, more comfortable and, as with any invasive procedure, less dangerous.
Now I assume I don’t have to lay out all the implications of this to readers here – this is prefect example of precisely what opponents of government health care have been saying for years. And it certainly gives lie to the claims by some that all government wants to do is offer “insurance”.
Led by budget chief Peter Orszag, the White House believes that comparative effectiveness research, which examines clinical evidence to determine what “works best,” will let them cut wasteful or ineffective treatments and thus contain health spending.
The problem is that what “works best” isn’t the same for everyone. While not painless or risk free, virtual colonoscopy might be better for some patients — especially among seniors who are infirm or because the presence of other diseases puts them at risk for complications. Ideally doctors would decide with their patients. But Medicare instead made the hard-and-fast choice that it was cheaper to cut it off for all beneficiaries. If some patients are worse off, well, too bad.
One of the complaints about private health insurers is that patients resent someone group on high deciding what is best for them. That should be their doctor’s decision. Yet here is that complaint being sanctioned for the largest purchaser of health care in America – Medicare. And, as the WSJ points out, since private carriers usually adopt Medicare rates and policies, the virtual colonoscopy could be a technology which is “run out of the market place”.
Mr. Orszag says that a federal health board will make these Solomonic decisions, which is only true until the lobbies get to Congress and the White House. With virtual colonoscopy, radiologists and gastroenterologists are feuding over which group should get paid for colon cancer screening. Companies like General Electric and Seimens that make CT technology are pressuring Medicare administrators too. More than 50 Congressmen are demanding that the decision be overturned.
All this is merely a preview of the life-and-death decisions that will be determined by politics once government finances substantially more health care than the 46% it already does. Anyone who buys Democratic claims about “choice” and “affordability” will be in for a very rude awakening.
Is this how you want health care decisions affecting your life to be made? Political fights in Congress? Look at the financial health of the US government right now and consider the huge unfunded liabilities in front of it. What side do you really think such decisions will come down on – yours or the least costly alternative regardless of your individual need?
[HT: Anna B]