Best and Worst States for Freedom


I saw the new study of the freedom index from George Mason Unversity’s Mercatus Center. The study ranks freedom based on three factors

  1. Fiscal Policy (35.3%)
  2. Regulatory Policy (32%)
  3. Personal Freedom (32.7%)

Based on this study, top 10 states in terms of personal freedom are:

  1. North Dakota
  2. South Dakota
  3. Tennessee
  4. Pennsylvania (tied for 3)
  5. New Hampshire
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Idaho
  8. Missouri
  9. Virginia
  10. Georgia
  11. Utah

The bottom 10 states are

  1. New York
  2. California
  3. New Jersey
  4. Hawaii
  5. Rhode Island
  6. Illinois
  7. Maryland
  8. Vermont
  9. West Virginia
  10. Mississippi

I took the numbers and looked at the list from other view points. The states with the least individual state and local tax burden. Freedom rank in parenthesis:

  1. South Dakota (2)
  2. Oklahoma (5)
  3. North Dakota (1)
  4. Tennessee (3 – tied)
  5. Alabama (18)
  6. Montana (12)
  7. New Hampshire (4)
  8. Idaho (6)
  9. Texas (14)
  10. New Mexico (21)

And the highest state/local tax burden

  1. New York (50)
  2. Hawaii (47)
  3. New Jersey (48)
  4. Maine (39)
  5. Vermont (43)
  6. California (49)
  7. Wyoming (36)
  8. Wisconsin (38)
  9. Rhode Island (46)
  10. Connecticut (40)

I started looking at the numbers and saw the figures for income. While that might be an interesting number to post, it does not tell who is best off financially, as many high income states are also high taxation and/or high cost of living states. To determine the best state to live in financially, I took total income minus tax burden and compare to the cost of living. Doing a simple calculation, I find these states to be the best, financially, to live in.

  1. Virginia (8)
  2. North Dakota (1)
  3. Wyoming (36)
  4. Illinois (45)
  5. Nebraska (22)
  6. South Dakota (2)
  7. Massachusetts (30)
  8. Colorado (19)
  9. Kansas (26)
  10. Washington (29)

And these are the 10 Worst states to live in financially

  1. Hawaii (47)
  2. Alaska (13)
  3. Maine (39)
  4. Vermont (43)
  5. California (49)
  6. Rhode Island (46)
  7. Mississippi (41)
  8. Arizona (11)
  9. Oregon (28)

I did this again by taking the cost of living and figuring out the income necessary to live in the state and ended up with a nearly identical list. On the top list, North Dakota and Wyoming changed places, South Dakota dropped to 12th place and Washington to 11th and Minnesota and Connecticut made the list. On the bottom Mississippi and Arizona changed places.

From the figures, the states with the lowest tax burdens are generally the states with the most freedoms. I don’t know whether a case could be made that more taxation brings on more legislation to reduce freedom or not (the data is inconclusive), but it makes sense: when government taxes more, it has to find ways to spend the money, and at least some of that will be in the form of regulation (which also brings in more money to the state).

But this does not mean you are always the best off financially in the states with the most freedom, although the states with the worst freedom ranking are represented fairly heavily in the 10 worst states to live in financially, so there appears to be more of a correlation to a lack of freedom and financial woes.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld

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State of the Union: Make Minimum Wage a “Living Wage”?


One of the things stated in Obama’s State of the Union focused on the minimum wage.

“Tonight, let’s declare that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty — and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.”

As he went on, he further declared:

“Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.”

First, I think we need to understand what a living wage is. Do you mean the minimum wage should be a wage where you can pay all your bills? Pay all of your bills without assistance? Pay all of your bills, plus be able to buy food that is properly nutritious and not leading to obesity? Migrate you to where you live above the poverty level?

What is A Living Wage?

Without a proper definition of what a “living wage” is, we have no foundation for a logical conversation on the subject, which means we are going to get into emotional bias baiting. According to wikipedia:

In public policy, a living wage or subsistence wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet basic needs (for an extended period of time or for a lifetime). These needs include shelter (housing) and other incidentals such as clothing and nutrition. In some nations such as the United Kingdom and Switzerland, this standard generally means that a person working forty hours a week, with no additional income, should be able to afford a specified quality or quantity of housing, food, utilities, transport, health care, and recreation, although in many cases child care, education, saving for retirement, and less commonly legal fees and insurance may cost a family more than food, utilities, transport, or health care.

This is also fairly useless, until you can put actual numbers on quality and quantity, so wikipedia continues:

In addition to this definition, living wage activists further define "living wage" as the wage equivalent to the poverty line for a family of four.

Now, something w)e can talk about. The US poverty level for a family of four is $23,800 (2012 numbers). If we take 40 hours a week for 52 weeks (2080 hours), the hourly for this level is $11.08. If the employer does not offer time off (vacations, holidays, and sick leave), the worker will need $12.16 to stay above the poverty level. If we want to include the cost of healthcare, we have to add another $8 for family coverage, when using the current cost of employer sponsored family health coverage in America, so a living wage is around $20 per hour if you have the person pay for their own healthcare as part of a living wage (NOTE: According to the IRS memo on PACA (aka ObamaCare), the cost of a minimum plan will be $20,000 (page 56), so the living wage needs to be about $22.50 if PACA is the measure).

NOTE: In later portions of this entry, I will focus on $12 an hour, as that is a nice round figure that best fits the living wage definition, sans full cost of health coverage.

Is this feasible? Before we can have that conversation, we need to at least examine the economics of such a policy. We should also ask the question if minimum wage was meant to support a family and maybe if assuming it was is a good policy.

Economics 101

Let’s understand economics first. Money, by itself, is worthless. You have to get this concept down before you can go any further. A dollar is worth the faith you and other Americans put into it. This is especially true now that the dollar cannot be turned into gold or other precious metals, but even gold is only worth what people think it is worth. In fact, this is core tenant of capitalism.

The natural tendency here from some is “that is why capitalism is bad”, but I am not speaking of a capitalistic system, but natural human capitalism. It is an ingrained moral concept that when somebody gives you something, sans a special occasion, you feel some obligation to give something back. This is true whether or not you live in a capitalistic society. Ever hear the term ‘”Calling in a favor”. While a “favor” is not money, it is a form of currency, and people are expected to pay in kind for favors. This many not apply to all gifts and all people all of the time, but if you disagree examine whether you have ever had a situation where you gave and gave and got nothing in return. Did you feel cheated? If so, the concept holds true. If not, you are not in tune with the majority of people.

What ultimately has value is the products or services money can buy, not the money. So, if we want to know if someone is poor or not, the monetary amount they make is a good indicator the moment it is discovered, but a poor indicator the next year and possibly even the moment it is published. This is why the poverty level rises (and theoretically falls).

The real determination of whether you are poor or not is whether or not you can purchase food, shelter and clothing, not whether you have $10,000 or $100,000.

Economics also tells us that prices rise when costs rise (this will be important in a moment). And human nature tells us a good percentage of people will eventually give up if they feel there is no way to get ahead. The second topic here is important when we understand a national economy. National economies are based, in simplistic terms, on the Gross Domestic Product, or the fruit of the labor of all of the workers. The more people who are productive, the better everyone, or nearly everyone, is. This is not important to the minimum wage topic directly, but it does deal with the getting ahead topic, which is a motivation for a minimum wage as a living wage.

One other thing we have to realize about economics before moving on is the price of goods is based on a few factors. First, there is supply and demand. When supply is high and demand low, prices drop and vice versa. Second, we have to understand that there is a minimum threshold a price can drop for a business. This is a moving target, to an extent, as businesses can find ways to become more efficient and save costs, but when you add the cost of employees, raw materials, utilities, supplies and waste, there is a bottom line to what a product costs to produce. To remain in business, you have to pull in more money than the product costs. This is not true for all products, as a company can lose on one product, but make money on another (a good example is gaming consoles, which are sold at a loss, but the loss is made up in the licensing fees for games).

Should the Minimum Wage Support a Family as a Living Wage?

This looks like an easy question, but in reality it is a hard question. To answer, we have to determine if families are being supported by minimum wage. If not, then why set the bar there (more on this as we move forward)?

I can only find statistics from the 90s. According to this statistic, only 5% of low wage, low-income workers have chidlren. Of these 61.8% remain on a low wage for extended periods of time. The bar was set at $7.50 and the current minimum wage is $7.25.

From the stats, it appears people with families are not the primary recipients of minimum wage in the United States. And, if true, then minimum wage, as a living wage for families, is not a good goal, as it is not helping those whom we state need help. In fact, it may be hurting some of them (if we don’t change certain factors of our society, that is).

The importance of this question comes out in the next section, as raising the minimum wage has consequences. These consequences are understood when we truly embrace the idea currency is only worth the faith people have in it, or in concrete terms, currency is only worth what it will buy.

Where Do You Stand?

Before getting into the raising of the minimum wage, we should look at where you are, as you are more familiar with your own salary. Here is a chart of the averages, distilled from this article (the poverty level was confirmed against HHS stats).

Class

Min

Max

Poverty

$0

$23,500

Lower Class

$0

$32,500

Lower Middle

$32,500

$60,000

Middle

$60,000

$100,000

Upper-Middle

$100,000

$150,000

5% level

$150,000

 

1% level

$250,000

 

Raising the Minimum Wage

Whether the “living wage” figure is $12 an hour or $22 an hour is inconsequential. Not in the sense of making it work for a “living wage”, but because that figure will constantly rise if a living wage is defined as keeping people above poverty. What is important is how a living wage keeps one above the poverty level.

Let’s say tomorrow we raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour. What are all of the things that would happen.

1. Workers below $12 an hour would get a raise to $12 an hour. But the raise would be uneven, as shown in the chart below:

Before – hourly Before – yearly % above min wage After % raise To match % above min – hourly To match % above min – yearly
$7.25 $15,080 0% $12 65.52% $12 $24,960
$8 $16,640 10.34% $12 50% $13.24 $27,542
$9 $18,720 24.14% $12 33.33% $14.90 $30,984
$10 $20,800 37.93% $12 20% $16.55 $34,427
$11 $22,800 51.72% $12 9.09% $18.21 $37,870

Let’s explain the chart. The before shows what the person makes today (hourly and yearly). The % above minimum wage is how much the person makes above the current minimum wage, so the person making $7.25 (the current minimum wage) is at 0%, while the person making $11 is 51.72% above the minimum wage. The third column sets that each person will make a minimum of $12 after the law passes. The Percentage Raise column shows how much of a raise the person will get, as a percentage. And the last two columns show how much a person would need to make to keep the same percentage above minimum wage he/she had prior to the new law going into effect.

It is implausible to think that the person making $11 an hour currently will go to $18.21 per hour, or $37,870 per year, after the new law is passed. While he will likely get a raise, it will more likely cap much lower (perhaps $15 per hour). As a result, he is economically worse off than he was before the new law passed. In reality, the only person who seems to benefit fully is the person at the bottom of the run. And he is not that well off, as we will see.

As we move up into salary, we will eventually reach a level where few, if any, workers get a raise. For example, the person making $50,000, roughly the current median income for a family of four, is unlikely to see much of a raise, if any, if the minimum wage is raised to $12 an hour. Why? Because they are not seen as affected (and because businesses cannot absorb that much cost – next point).

But, let’s look at the person who makes $12 an hour today (approximately $25,000 per year). He, and his family, are above the poverty level. When the minimum wage rises, let’s say he gets a 10% raise to $13.20 per hour, or roughly $27,500 per year. he seems pretty good off, right? After all, he is 20% above the poverty level with his new raise (8% above prior to the raise). This will be important later.

2. Business have to respond to the new expenses. This initially hits businesses that hire a lot of minimum wage workers, as the cost to make products goes up instantly. There are a couple of ways businesses can respond:

a) eat the rise in cost and operate on a lower profit – this is only feasible in certain situations.

b) Raise the price of goods – This effectively makes everybody’s money worth less than it was before the law.

c) Become more efficient – While this is occasionally a good thing overall, the most common immediate savings come from figuring out how to get the job of 10 people done with only 8 or 9.  Or jobs are shipped offshore, where they are less expensive.

As you can see, a raise in the minimum wage most often leads to rising costs of goods and loss of jobs. A business can certainly absorb a 1% cost, especially if their competition eats the cost, but it is extremely unlikely a company can bear a 60% increase in employee costs (a company with mostly minimum wage workers). But companies with non-minimum wage workers are not free, as the cost of the goods and supplies they use also rise when the companies employing minimum wage workers rise. The percentage is not across the board, but it is higher than half the increase. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say the cost of goods, overall, only rises 20%. The following chart shows the average cost of some items and what they would cost with a 20% increase (this assumes no business will use the government mandated rise in costs to make more profit)

Product Current Price (2012) Price after 20% increase
Loaf of Bread 1.88 2.26
Gallon of Milk 2.79 3.35
Pound of Bacon 4.48 5.38
Dozen Eggs 1.54 1.84
5 lb bag of Sugar 2.42 2.90
5 lb Bag of flour 2.98 3.58
Pound of ground beef 4.78 5.74
Pound of grapes 1.98 2.38
Toilet Paper 3.96 4.75
Chicken Soup (Can) 1.75 2.10
Gallon of Gas 3.91 4.69

This chart was pulled from The People’s History (and is used as an example of increases, not a firm measure of correct prices).

In real dollars, if you currently pay $100 a week for groceries for your family, the new cost will be $120 per week, or an extra $1040 per year. Just to stay even on groceries alone, you would need to get a 50 cent raise. Here is an easy chart to determine what you would have to make at different percentage rises in the cost of goods, just to maintain your current standard of living.

Current

10%

15%

20%

25%

30%

35%

$25,000

$27,500

$28,750

$30,000

$31,250

$32,500

$33,750

$30,000

$33,000

$34,500

$36,000

$37,500

$39,000

$40,500

$35,000

$38,500

$40,250

$42,000

$43,750

$45,500

$47,250

$40,000

$44,000

$46,000

$48,000

$50,000

$52,000

$54,000

$45,000

$49,500

$51,750

$54,000

$56,250

$58,500

$60,750

$50,000

$55,000

$57,500

$60,000

$62,500

$65,000

$67,500

$55,000

$60,500

$63,250

$66,000

$68,750

$71,500

$74,250

$60,000

$66,000

$69,000

$72,000

$75,000

$78,000

$81,000

$65,000

$71,500

$74,750

$78,000

$81,250

$84,500

$87,750

$70,000

$77,000

$80,500

$84,000

$87,500

$91,000

$94,500

$75,000

$82,500

$86,250

$90,000

$93,750

$97,500

$101,250

$80,000

$88,000

$92,000

$96,000

$100,000

$104,000

$108,000

$85,000

$93,500

$97,750

$102,000

$106,250

$110,500

$114,750

$90,000

$99,000

$103,500

$108,000

$112,500

$117,000

$121,500

$95,000

$104,500

$109,250

$114,000

$118,750

$123,500

$128,250

$100,000

$110,000

$115,000

$120,000

$125,000

$130,000

$135,000

3. The numbers in poverty increases

If the cost of goods goes up 20%, we can assume the poverty level goes up by around the same amount . This is largely to make things easier to visualize, as the actual percent rise is likely to be within a reasonable deviation of this percent. The new poverty level goes up from $23,050 to $27,660.

Now, let’s note a few things.

A) The minimum wage worker is now below the poverty level, as he is making $12 an hour or $24,960.

B) Our family of 4, who was above the poverty level by 8 to 10% is now below the poverty level. And this assumes no greedy corporation further raises prices to make a bigger profit. It is merely a consequence of raising the minimum wage.

NOTE: This assumes prices will only rise 20%. In reality the prices will rise much higher, perhaps as much as 50 – 60% (maybe even the full 65% suggested). If the price goes up 50%, the poverty level will be around $34,500 and it will be around $38,000 if the prices go up 65%. What this means is a family that was 65% above the poverty level before the law is now in poverty. And this is just based on the changes in the law.

Consequences

The point here is not that we should not do anything to the minimum wage, but rather that we have to look at the bigger picture. As soon as we start tying the minimum wage to a standard, like a living wage, everyone is affected. This is true because a dollar is only worth what it buys. If the price of goods goes up, the value of the dollar goes down. If you change the minimum wage, especially drastically, you will see the price of good go up. And everyone will be hurt.

Some will be hurt by losing their jobs, as companies try to avoid raising prices drastically. The good side is the efficiencies that will come out of it, but it comes a huge price. A 65% increase in minimum wage costs are likely to reverberate with layoffs in many companies. Some will be hurt by price increases. The more we try to tie minimum wage to the poverty level, the more people sink into poverty. And this will happen if even corporations decide to lower their profits. The picture below shows the median income of the United States to be roughly $50,000.

Today, the median band is more than 2 times the poverty level. With a 20% increase in the cost of goods, they are only 80% above the poverty level. And with a 65% increase, they will only be 30% above the poverty level. But this only shows part of the story.

Now, let’s move back to the different family examples we have looked at. With only a 20% increase in prices and the corresponding 20% increase in the poverty level:

  • The person who started in poverty at $7.50 an hour is still in poverty at $12 and hour, although not as deep.
  • The person who started barely in poverty at $10 or $11, is now deeper in poverty.
  • The person who started at $25,000  and got a 20% raise to $27,500 was upper lower class, but is now is in poverty.
  • The average family, who was making $50,000 per year, who was in the middle of the middle class, is now lower middle class.

If the prices go up 50%, the reverberations hit even higher, as middle class families making somewhere in the upper $40s are now in the lower class. And the poverty level rises to more than $35,000 for a family of four.

And, if the minimum wage is tied to the poverty level, it takes years, or decades, to stabilize. The end result is a good portion of the middle class disappears, with the majority of the members becoming members of the lower class.

Summary

Once again, I am not stating nothing has to be done, but rather that we have to decide if we want the resulting society that comes from such a shift? The net result is the middle class shrinks when you raise the minimum wage. We end up with more people in poverty, at least until we can equalize the wage. The first few years will be a nightmare.

This means we are going to have to rely more heavily on the upper class, but history has shown us governments are bad at doing that, except in times of revolution (where they often kill a good portion of the wealthy, only to make a new upper class).

I did not even touch on what can happen to government roles if we continue to have entitlements. At some point, it becomes palatable to live on assistance rather than continue to work hard to rise above a tide that keeps coming in. Eventually it will equalize, but how many will give up. We can then look at the vultures that prey on society. If prices rise faster than salaries, which is going to happen at the lowest levels of society and reverberate up into the middle class, more and more people will look for alternative ways out, which will be a wonderful ground for the hucksters that sell financial snake oil.

My point is Obama’s idea of tying minimum wage to a “living wage” will only work if a) we accept the pain of such a move or b) it is done slowly, and probably both.

The serious question we have to answer is this: If the minimum wage is not the salary for most families, is it logical to reduce the size of the middle class, push more people into poverty and increase the unemployment rate to attempt to solve the “minimum wage” problem? or is there a better way? Thus far, modern government has not shown itself to be very adept at actually solving the real problem.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twittter: @gbworld

Sandy Hook Illustrates Many Problems in America


These days, I normally stay away from blogging about societal woes and stick to my core of technical subjects. But there are times when an issue illustrates a problem in our society with such clarity, I feel the need to

In we look at things objectively, the Sandy Hook massacre is an anomaly. While incidents like this are more prevalent than 30 years ago, they are still rare events. Sandy Hook is a horrific anomaly, as it reaches deep inside each of us to a place where the fear stifles our thinking, as nobody wants to think their children are in danger when they go to school.

When something horrific happens, we want a solution, preferably a fast solution. But rather than accept there are multiple ways to attack a problem, we glom onto the first solution that we see as sensible. We ignore the fact that our bias often dictates what is “sensible”. And we start looking for silver bullets, despite the fact silver bullets only kill werewolves and werewolves only exist in the dark corners of our imagination.

But werewolves sell, as the Twilight saga shows (and so do vampires, of course). We all would like to be able to find a beast with an Achilles heal that can be slain with a simple solution. Sandy Hook, and Adam Lanza, are not these mythical, easily identified beasts, however, so any quick solution is more likely to have as many negative consequences as positive outcomes.

Solving the Problem

Thus far, the solutions for this problem have centered around three supposed ills: guns in America, mental health coverage and parenting. While all of these sound good, we have to look at the implications and ensure we are solving the problem in a reasonable manner, both in its effects on liberty and costs, monetary and societal. I will cover each of these topics.

Banning Guns

With guns, the belief is more control will solve the problem. But there are gun laws in Connecticut, which leads some to believe an outright gun ban in America is the solution.

Australia has been named as the sterling example of gun control’s effectiveness. People cite reductions in gun suicides and homicides. Examining the Australian statistics, the effect of gun banning has been most effective on suicides. The homicide numbers are down, but not enough to be statistically significant. So Australia is not the sterling example it is paraded to be when we look at homicides. In addition, the culture is different in Australia than it is in America. Even if Australia had statistically significant results, it might not work as effectively here.

We also have an issue with a pesky little thing we call the 2nd Amendment, which states the right to bear arms shall not be infringed. There is an acceptance of regulation in the Amendment, but regulations that ban bearing arms would not pass a Constitutional challenge.

One thing that cannot be argued is guns are very effective killing tools. It is much easier to aim at someone many feet away and pull a trigger than it is to get close enough to kill them with a knife. It is also much easier to kill many people, as it is harder to get close enough to disarm a person with a gun. We also have a psychological factor that perhaps if we keep our distance we won’t get shot, so we do not take the chance.

But if we focus on gun banning to stop another Sandy Hook, we ignore the real problem with guns. Madmen shooting up schools, malls and movie theaters comprise an extremely small portion of the gun homicides in America. The core of the gun problem exists in the inner city and is fueled largely by gang rivalries, drugs and societal unrest. Banning guns does nothing to solve these problems. And while we use the numbers to support stopping another Sandy Hook, the majority of us simply avoid the hot spots and live a very safe life.

Guns deaths are a symptom of a larger disease. We can alleviate the symptom through radical gun control measures, but it will not cure the disease. And disease finds a way to spread. As examples, think of ATM robberies, carjackings and armed robberies of convenience stores, all of which are far more common than Sandy Hook type incidents. A large reason why ATM robberies, carjackings and convenience store robberies are more common is the likelihood of engaging with an armed populace is very low. While a gun ban may reduce Sandy Hook type incidents, as the weapons were all legally obtained, it will also create opportunities for the spread of the larger disease.

We also have to take in account that without guns people still find a way. Adam Lanza killed 26 people with a few guns. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 using a bomb made of fertilizer and kerosene. Jim Jones killed 914 people by convincing them to drink cyanide laced grape kool aid. On 9/11, boxcutters were used to hijack planes, which were used to kill over 2,000 people. All far more horrific, and yet still anomalies.

I can agree with a change in gun policy in the United States, provided we do not trample on the 2nd Amendment (or bring the Amendment up to a vote to abolish it, if you feel that is a better solution). But I also think we have to look at the larger disease and stop tiptoeing around it because parts of the disease may fall on our sacred cows.

Mental Health

The next item on the list is mental health. There are those stating mental health coverage would solve the issue. While we can certainly advocate better mental health coverage and treating mental health diseases in a similar manner as other health concerns, the problem is not that simple.

The first problem is it is hard to single out mental health. We can certainly see that people have certain issues, but the question of whether the issue is enough to warrant treatment is a hard assessment, one which the average citizen is not qualified to make. Can you tell the difference between someone who is having a pity party and someone who is clinically depressed? Perhaps in extreme cases, but even the mild cases can lead to very radical circumstances.

Even trained professionals often have a problem diagnosing when something is a problem. My wife told me about a lady whose husband woke up one morning, reached over like he was getting his slippers, grabbed a gun and shot himself in the head in front of her. She was a trained mental health professional who realized he had some issues, but did not see them as suicidal issues.

So, do we assess everyone? Only people with issues? Only people with severe issues? Adam Lanza’s issues, as described, don’t sound like someone about to go off the deep end and shoot up a school, so this means you have to either assess everyone or at least anyone with any issues, no matter how small, which means nearly everyone. The majority of us will be found fine, even if we have issues, as life presents all of us with issues from time to time.

That leads to the second problem: expense. Now some may say we should not think of costs, but the reality is the bill has to be paid. Unlike most diseases, we don’t have a good grasp on mental illness. There are some illnesses we can medicate, but we don’t have a cure that is even remotely solid. And most of the “cures” we do have rely on the individual to have the discipline to keep up with his medication (using “his” here as most mass murderers are male). Since the medications have side effects, the mentally ill person will often skip meds when he feels good, thinking he will recognize when he is not feeling good. Unfortunately, the very organ that causes his disease is the organ making a decision whether or not he is ill.

The tough reality is even doing the most radical, and expensive, course may not stop these types of incidents from happening. Should we do more? Certainly.

Parenting

The last area that has been slammed is bad parenting. Of the three, I see bad parenting, or the lack of parenting, as a problem closer to the disease. I am not convinced that bad parenting alone causes mentally ill adults to go on a killing spree, but it can certainly be a cause. I am not sure what to think with Adam Lanza, however, as I currently have low confidence in the reports.

The problem with focusing on parenting, however, is any push we have to protect society takes away parental rights. Worse, we end up with more parents as victims than we do with people who are saved from our actions. In addition, we often give passes to the parents who are the most likely to end up with kids in these situations because they fit another protected class of people. Instead, we focus on smaller groups that are easy political targets.

How did we get here

It is a rather simple formula. First, you have a media hungry for viewers. To get more, you either have to be first or the best. You also have a public hungrily looking for answers and willing to accept the first “reasonable” answer, or one that passes their filter. Add these together with the human desire to make sense of things and wrap bad things up quickly, and we have a knee jerk reaction.

The Media

Let’s look first at the media. The media is searching for content to pull people to their site. The money proposition is a bit different for different news organizations, but advertising revenue is the primary focus. More hits equals more money from ads. To get more hits, you have to be the first with the scoop or have the best coverage. It is often easier to “be the first”.

How do you scoop the other media sources? You cull the blogs and look for a story angle that will pull in viewers. How do you know the blogs are reporting valid information? You wait until you find it on more than one blog and then report it.

The problem with this formula is blogs often copy from other blogs, so you may really be talking one source. But the fact that you have multiple websites using that one source, most often without attributing it to the other blog, it appears as if you have multiple sources to confirm. This covers the media, as they can state they have properly vetted the story, but it does not make it true.

Items that were reported in the major media that we now know to be false:

  • Adam Lanza’s mother was a teacher at the school – she was unemployed. This does not mean she was never a teacher or a teacher’s aide (as some sites reported), but it appears nobody in the school knew who she was, so this was not recent.
  • The principle buzzed Adam Lanza into the building (recognizing him, since his mother was a teacher) – Police have now reported he blew out the security glass with gunfire.
  • Victoria Soto had a conversation with the gunman, telling him her students were in the gym, and he shot her in the face – This is much like the Cassie “she said yes” Bernall myth from the Columbine massacre. It does appear Soto tried to protect her students, but the story here has reach legendary proportions.

The Public

This problem is exacerbated when we can further link the story to our perception of ills in society. The Duke Lacrosse team and George Zimmerman come to mind. If the evil was perpetuated due to racism, we have an even bigger story. The Duke Lacrosse team case has now been shown to be a complete fraud perpetuated both by the woman accusing them of rape and the district attorney using the team as a means to get re-elected (he was, in the end, jailed for hiding evidence). Looking the latest evidence in the Zimmerman case, it appears he is telling the truth, after a rush to judgment.

We, the public, want Adam Lanza to be a weird loner who is insane, because that makes us feel safer. We want a teacher who was a hero of legendary proportions, because that makes us feel better about people. But we also want an immediate solution that stops the problem from every rearing its ugly head again. And these desires fuel the media.

The Solution

I am not certain there is one solution. The core problem is a societal issues that runs much deeper than a single point solution.

Attacking the problem from the gun direction may reduce the likelihood of another Sandy Hook, but as a single solution it will restrict freedoms and reduce the likelihood law abiding citizens will be able to protect themselves in adverse situations. We can outlaw “assault weapons” again, but assault weapons were not used in this tragedy. Gun control may be part of a solution, but it is focused more on symptoms than the disease, so I would not expect gun control, as a total solution, will work.

Attacking the problem from a mental health direction will most likely be either expensive and/or ineffective. As a society, we should do something about mental illness, but we should do it because it is the right thing to do, not to solve problems like Sandy Hook. If we are looking at mental health as the silver bullet to stop these mass murders, we are more likely to find it solves nothing.

Attacking the problem from the parenting aspect will be slow and we will have to get beyond our sacred cows. We have to start regarding the family as a very important aspect of parenting and work to avoid single parent situations, as there are ample studies to show the correlation of societal problems and single parent homes. This is not stating single parents are bad, as that is not the case, but rather that we, as a society, need to do something to strengthen the family. The problem here is we don’t want to touch the single parent problem, as it is more common in the inner city, and we don’t want to appear racist. But, this is where a great majority of our problems exist. Until we are willing to identify the problem, we won’t solve it.

Summary

There are a couple of things to consider.

  • Mass murders of this type are the exception, rather than the rule. We should focus on the rule, not the exception, as societal sickness is a bigger problem than a set of events.
  • There are no silver bullets, as there are no werewolves. Focusing on a single problem in society often fails to solve both the problem and the disease.
  • We have to take in account the effects of any changes we feel might solve a problem, to ensure we are not creating other problems.

Sandy Hook was a tragedy. As the father of four girls, I am heartbroken for the parents of the children who were murdered in cold blood. I also feel heartbreak for the father of the murderer, who must be agonizing over how his child got to this point. And I feel for people all over America who are in shock and want the problem resolve.

But I also realize we cannot completely prevent these types of incidents, no matter how much we spend to try. I know that removing guns from everyone is an unrealistic goal and most of the people who would give up their guns are not the problem. I see that mental health is a certain need, but there is no plan that would be feasible that can solve the problem. And I see that parenting, while an issue, must be addressed in light of the complete picture.

We live in a society that has illnesses we don’t want to address, as we fear the backlash. We live in a society where reasoning skills and compromise are neither taught nor lauded. We live in a society where we value our bias so deeply we are unwilling to see people with a different set of thoughts and beliefs as anything other than wrong. And we live in a society that wants instance solutions.

We need to take a deep breath and look at the entire problem. We also need to mourn with the people in Sandy Hook and give them our support and look at the problem when the grief is over.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld

FTC Nails Pomegranate Juicemaker for False Claims That Don’t Appear False


I found this one interesting. From the beginning of the press release … er … article (could not be a press release, right?):

“Administrative Law Judge D. Michael Chappell ruled on May 17, 2012 that some POM Wonderful ads are deceptive. The company’s ads claim that POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and POMx supplements can ‘treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.’ ”

So the background is POM made a claim that their products can treat, prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction. The FTC sued them for deceptive advertising and the standard they needed to uphold their claims was “competent and reliable scientific evidence”. Sans this, the complaint would be upheld and the FTC would win.

POM has conducted 10 clinical trials on their pomegranate juices and supplements (http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=POM+Wonderful).  Of course, these might be bogus, since they used hack institutions like John Hopkins, UCLA, University of Michigan, etc. And additional studies by the National Cancer Institute, MD Anderson, Sloan Kettring, etc. are also obviously slanted and cannot be used as proof (even though these institutions also study the seems to have a great case here.

If I move to peer-reviewed journals, there are only tens of thousands of hits, with thousands for heart disease and prostate cancer (along with other cancers) and quite a few hundreds on erectile dysfunction. Obviously, there is not enough evidence, cause an effective food or supplement would have millions of studies. After all, Zytiga, a new FDA approved drug has a bit over 700 scholarly articles (roughly the same as pomegranate and erectile dysfunction) and roughly 2500 if the word abiraterone, the chemical name for Zytiga (significantly less than the number of hits for Pomegranate and Prostate cancer, but who’s counting).

Zytiga is the obvious safe choice for discriminating patients, as the only major complications are hypertension (high blood pressure), fluid retention, weight gain, adrenocortical insufficiency (problems with adrenal glands) and hepatotoxicity (kills your liver). The non-safe choice, drinking pomegranate juice, is far worse, as drinking it in higher amounts might cause weight gain, according to various sites. Weight gain is far worse than heart attack in my book.

Here are a few links to journals with research on pomegranate (hack journals , of course):

A Google scholar search reveals more than 51,000 hits for pomegranate. If you go to more specific searches on pomegranate reveal more than 4,600 hits for cardiovascular, more than 3,000 for pomegranate and prostate cancer, and more than 700 hits for erectile dysfunction. Of course, since many, if not most, of these are peer reviewed journals and studies by government agencies, so they MUST be biased and unreliable (bad science like all peer-reviewed journals).

Let’s dig a bit deeper into our government, okay? Certainly they have something to say about how bad Pomegranate juice is for you. I mean, they couldn’t be saying something like pomegranate juice helps with medical conditions, right?

From the National Cancer Institute: 

“A study of 13 pomegranate compounds showed some were able to slow the growth and spread of prostate cancer cells and to cause cell death. Higher doses were found to be more effective.”

“Three types of prostate cancer cell lines were treated with either pomegranate extract, pomegranate juice, or two of their bioactive compounds. ALL (emphasis mine) pomegranate treatments were shown to increase cell death and decrease the spread of cancer cells, with higher doses found to be more effective.”

“Other studies in cancer cell lines found that the anticancer activity of pomegranate included effects on certain enzymes and pathways involved in cancer, such as the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system.”

But this is the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and not the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and agencies should only trust their own research, even if they don’t research medicines or food. Unless, of course, the research they are trusting is about claims on medications, then they should trust all research, right?

So who is Administrative Law Judge D. Michael Chappell? He MUST be an independent legal authority with no ties to either the FTC or POM, right? If not, he might be biased in one direction or another, which would seem almost unfair to opposing side. Well, a bit of investigation reveals him to be a completely unbiased employee of the FTC, so I am rolling with him all the way … just like the media that published the FTC press release as an authoritative source of information. Hey, if it is press released, it has to be right? And there is no bias against farmers, food, etc. in the government, right?

If it seems like I am a bit underwhelmed by our government, you hit the nail on the head. With the revolving door between various agencies and the industries they watchdog, and the history of going after food while giving “medicine” a relatively free ride (could be due to many federal employees being former {drug, food, ?} company executives/researchers/etc.), I am a bit leery when I see the FTC going after a food for false practices (at least they did not state “water can prevent dehydration” was a false claim, as the European Union did last year), so they have that going for them.

As an aside, here is a particular egregious revolving door case:

In order for the FDA to determine if Monsanto’s growth hormones were safe or not, Monsanto was required to submit a scientific report on that topic. Margaret Miller, one of Monsanto’s researchers put the report together. Shortly before the report submission, Miller left Monsanto and was hired by the FDA. Her first job for the FDA was to determine whether or not to approve the report she wrote for Monsanto. In short, Monsanto approved its own report. Assisting Miller was another former Monsanto researcher, Susan Sechen. Deciding whether or not rBGH-derived milk should be labeled fell under the jurisdiction of another FDA official, Michael Taylor, who previously worked as a lawyer for Monsanto.

Really? She writes a paper to get recombinant growth hormone approved for use in cattle and then gets to approve the research? Obviously no conflict of interest there, right? And I want the fox to guard my henhouse and should have a bridge to sell you later on today. Bleh!

Am I stating you should drink lots of pomegranate juice? Certainly not! Am I stating you should not take drugs if you have heart disease, prostate cancer or erectile dysfunction? Not at all! I am stating that POM’s “false claims” appear to have plenty of evidence behind them. And I would rather drink pomegranate juice than take a load of drugs (one for the cancer, another for the hypertension caused by the cancer drug, and another for the erectile dysfunction caused by the previous 2 drugs, and others to halt the liver damage, etc.).

And, yes, I am being a sarcastic snit at this moment.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld

The George Zimmerman Case (Trayvon Martin)


I had my feelings the media rushed to judgment in this case from the start. Whether it was NBC doctoring of the non-emergency call from Zimmerman to police, for which a producer was fired. Or all of the media ignoring the first witnesses description of Trayvon Martin on top of Zimmerman beating him (this video was shot the day after the incident, with interview portions shot either that night or the night after):

John witnessed Trayvon on top of ZImmerman

The case was just too tidy and easy to wrap up in a little bow. Life is generally messier.

Just recently, I got a chance to look at the CNN transcripts of the Bail Hearing (1, 2, and 3) to see what evidence was presented in the bail hearing. I am a bit shocked at how little evidence one of the investigators who signed the probable cause affidavit actually had (probable cause to arrest ZImmerman on second degree murder, that is). It makes me wonder if there is really much evidence at all to support the charges. And, if not,

In transcript 2, Zimmerman’s Attorney questions Gilbreath, one of the investigators who determined there was probable cause to arrest Zimmerman for second degree murder. The basics of the story are:

1. George Zimmerman profiled Trayvon Martin.

O’MARA: That he had an ice tea and a bag of Skittles, that he walked back into the gated community, he was on his way back when he was profiled by George Zimmerman. If I say to you the word peanut butter, what do you think?
GILBREATH: Jelly.
O’MARA: OK, Moe, Larry and —
GILBREATH: Curly.
O’MARA: OK, when I say the word profiling, what do you think?
GILBREATH: I believe you’re applying a predetermined thought pattern to a set of circumstances.
O’MARA: No other word comes to mind when I say profiled to you?
GILBREATH: I gave you my answer, sir.
O’MARA: OK, I appreciate the answer. Did you consider it to be some specific type of profiling?
GILBREATH: No.
O’MARA: Why did you use the word profiling rather than noticed, observed, saw, or anything besides the very precise word profiled? And by the way, was that your word?
GILBREATH: I don’t recall. This was a collaborative answer — excuse me, collaborative document.

From the examination, the investigator admits there is no evidence of profiling. George Zimmerman may have profiled Trayvon Martin, but may have just called because he saw someone suspicious, as he contends.

2. George Zimmerman confronted Trayvon Martin.

O’MARA: Zimmerman confronted Martin, those words. Where did you get that from?
GILBREATH: That was from the fact that the two of them obviously ended up together in that dog walk area. According to one of the witnesses that we talked with, there were arguing words going on before this incident occurred. But it was between two people.
O’MARA: Which means they met. I’m just curious with the word confronted and what evidence you have to support an affidavit you want in this judge to rely on that these facts with true and you use the word confronted. And I want to know your evidence to support the word confronted if you have any.
GILBREATH: Well, it’s not that I have one. I probably could have used dirty words.
O’MARA: It is antagonistic word, would you agree?
GILBREATH: It could be considered that, yes.
O’MARA: Come up with words that are not antagonistic, met, came up to, spoke with.
GILBREATH: Got in physical confrontation with.
O’MARA: But you have nothing to support the confrontation suggestion, do you?
GILBREATH: I believe I answered it. I don’t know how much more explanation you wish.
O’MARA: Anything you have, but you don’t have any, do you?
GILBREATH: I think I’ve answered the question.

From the transcript, the investigator admits he does not know if George Zimmerman confronted Trayvon Martin or the other way around. We know George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin. From the tape, we know he followed him at least until the investigator told him not to. Some suggest he stopped running after that, evidenced by the change in his breathing. After that point, either Zimmerman confronted Trayvon Martin or Trayvon Martin confronted George Zimmerman.

3. Analysis reveals that the voice crying for help is Trayvon Martin:

O’MARA: Witnesses heard people arguing, sounded like a struggle. During this time, witnesses heard numerous calls for help. Some of this was recorded. Trayvon’s mom reviewed the 911 calls and identified the cry for help and Trayvon Martin’s voice. Did you do any forensic analysis on that voice tape?
GILBREATH: Did I?
O’MARA: Did you or are you aware of anything?
GILBREATH: The "Orlando Sentinel" had someone do it and the FBI has had someone do it.
O’MARA: Is that part of your investigation?
GILBREATH: Yes.
O’MARA: Has that given any insight as to the voice?
GILBREATH: No.

There is no evidence that the voice crying for help was Trayvon Martin. It may have been, but it could have been George Zimmerman, as his family contends.

3. George Zimmerman started a fight with Trayvon Martin

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So do you know who started the fight?
GILBREATH: Do I know?
O’MARA: Right.
GILBREATH: No.
O’MARA: Do you have any evidence that supports who may have started the fight?
GILBREATH: No.

No evidence on who started the fight. It may have been George Zimmerman. It may have been Trayvon Martin.

Here is another interesting bit from the transcript:

O’MARA: That statement that he had given you — sorry, law enforcement that day, that we just talked about, turning around and that he was assaulted, do you have any evidence in your investigation to date that specifically contradicts either of those two pieces of evidence that were in his statement given several hours after the event?
GILBREATH: Which two?
O’MARA: That he turned back to his car. We’ll start with that one.
GILBREATH: I have nothing to indicate he did not or did not to that.
O’MARA: My question was do you have any evidence to contradict or that conflicts with his contention given before he knew any of the evidence that would conflict with the fact that he stated I walked back to my car?
GILBREATH: No.
O’MARA: No evidence. Correct?
GILBREATH: Understanding — are you talking about at that point in time?
O’MARA: Since. Today. Do you have any evidence that conflicts with his suggestion that he had turned around and went back to his car?
GILBREATH: Other than his statement, no.
O’MARA: Any evidence that conflicts with that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He answered it. He said no.
O’MARA: Any evidence that conflicts any eyewitnesses, anything that conflicts with the contention that Mr. Martin assaulted first?
GILBREATH: That contention that was given to us by him, other than filling in the figures being one following or chasing the other one, as to who threw the first blow, no.
O’MARA: Ok. Now, you know as one of the chief investigators that is the primary focus in this case, is it not?
GILBREATH: There are many focuses in this case.
O’MARA: That would be considered the primary, would it not, in your opinion, 35 years experience?
GILBREATH: I don’t know that it’s primary. It’s one of the concerns, yes.

And this

O’MARA: The injuries seem to be consistent with his story, though, don’t they?
Dale; The injuries are consistent with a harder object striking the back of his head than his head was.
O’MARA: Could that be cement?
GILBREATH: Could be.
O’MARA: Did you just say it was consistent or did you say it wasn’t consistent?
GILBREATH: I said it was.
O’MARA: Ok. Have you ever had your nose broken?
GILBREATH: No.
O’MARA: Have you ever had your nose fractured or broken.
GILBREATH: No.
O’MARA: You know that that was an injury that Mr. Zimmerman sustained, correct?
GILBREATH: I know that that is an injury that is reported to have sustained. I haven’t seen any medical records to indicate that.
O’MARA: Have you asked him for them?
GILBREATH: Have I asked him for them? No.
O’MARA: Do you want a copy of them?
GILBREATH: Sure.
O’MARA: I’ll give them to the state. It’s a more appropriate way to do it. If you haven’t had them yet, I don’t want to cross you on them.

This last part seems to fit the exclusive photo ABC news obtained:

And is seen in the video that ABC (and many other outlets) originally claimed did not show any injuries:

 

The state of Florida must prove the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt to convict George Zimmerman of second degree murder.

  1. The victim is dead
  2. The death was caused by the criminal act of the defendant;
  3. There was an unlawful killing of the victim by an act imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life.

Point 1 is easy to prove, as it is fairly evident Trayvon Martin is dead. Point 2 and 3 seem to hover around George Zimmerman starting the fight, for which the investigator has stated there is no evidence. Perhaps there is some evidence the investigator does not know about, but since he signed the probable cause document, it seems strange he is not able to definitively state there is evidence that George Zimmerman started the fight.

But, I am not certain even Zimmerman starting the confrontation is iron clad. In 1993, Eugene Baylis walked into a Colorado Springs bar on the corner of N Nevada Ave and E Filmore St to find a biker that he claimed shot him in the face with a pellet gun earlier that day. He carried with him an AK-47 and a 9mm pistol. After shooting the AK-47, he was knocked to the ground and the AK-47 was aimed at his face. The two holding him down stated they were going to kill him. So he pulled out a 9mm and shot the two guys on top of him. Jury decision: Self-defense.

Admittedly, that is a stretch and I was in Colorado Springs both when the shootings occurred and when the trial commenced. I was dumbfounded, but  the jury members questioned stated they agreed to the innocent finding because he was, at the moment he shot the two, fighting for his life. Now there seems to be even less evidence against Zimmerman than there was against Eugene Baylis.

I doubt the Zimmerman trial will go this way. But I believe it is going to be a long, hard ride unless there is more evidence than the investigator who signed the probable cause affidavit indicates. If this is all they have, I see no other way for this to turn out than Zimmerman being set free, unless the Prosecutors are really that good and the Defense attorney is not (he seems pretty sharp at this time).

Now, they could have chosen manslaughter, which has the following definitions:

Voluntary Manslaughter occurs when a person kills another in the heat of passion, without planning beforehand. The classical example is when a person finds their spouse having sex with another person and reacts immediately by killing.

Involuntary Manslaughter, also known as criminally negligent homicide, occurs when a death is an indirect result of recklessness or negligence. This occurs when a person runs a red light and hits another vehicle and a person is killed.

I think the state would have a better chance with manslaughter, but they either have to prove this is a heat of passion crime, which the evidence points against (unless there is more) or involuntary, in which they would have to prove negligence, which gets right back to proof that Zimmerman confronted Martin and not the other way around.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out and I would love to have all of the evidence the state has. I certainly hope it is more than the investigator is aware of, or this could be a travesty of justice like the Duke Lacrosse Team Case.

My main reason for this post was the media rush to judgment. I am not sure how it will turn out, but even a guilty finding does not acquit the media of such one-sided reporting. Just because you picked the right horse does not mean you accurately called the race.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld

TSA Scanners


There has been a lot of controversy over the new scanning procedures lately. And, like good stewards of the realm, the media has jumped into to protect the government “underdog” from the onslaught of the “ignorant Neanderthals” ignoring “good science”. The question, however, is whether or not we have properly labeled the sides.

There are two basic areas of concern for the masses who are against the new procedures. The first is health concerns over being scanned, primarily from backscatter X-ray radiation. The second is the privacy concerns.

Health Concerns

Are we getting too much radiation when we submit to scans? The government states no. The amount  of radiation from a single scan is estimated at .05 to .1 mrem (micro rems), which is 1000 times less than a standard X-Ray. CBS News then states a variety of things that will give you more radiation.

  • Living in a city
  • Sleeping next to a partner
  • Flying
  • Drinking water

There are two problems with the comparisons. First, we have no choice over many of the activities that give us radiation. We can’t stop living on this earth or drinking liquids. But, we do not have to submit to scans unless the government forces us to do it to fly. Second, the amount of radiation is under debate.

The figure quoted is a whole body radiation estimate from the device. If backscatter used the same energy as a standard X-Ray, your full body would get the dose mentioned. But backscatter radiation is not equivalent, as it uses lower energy and does not penetrate the body. A group of scientists in California have estimated the amount of radiation on the skin is likely to be 20 times higher, if not more. Considering the limited depth of the X-Ray, I would not be surprised to find this concentrated area receiving much higher doses. Until there is a peer reviewed study, all figures should be considered suspect.

The government estimates 1 additional cancer death per 200 million scans, so there is an awareness of a risk, albeit a very minor risk (except to that one person?). One additional death means many additional individuals coming down with cancer. The question is how many additional cancer deaths if the radiation figure is off by a factor of 20 … or more?

There are also scanners that use millimeter wave technology, or radio waves. The assumption is these scanners are safer, as they do not use radiation. Probably correct, but there are detractors from this idea. Scientists in California have shown that while radio waves cannot knock DNA base pairs or sequences out of whack, like radiation, they can do other types of DNA damage, like ripping the DNA strands apart. The setup of the millimeter wave scanners are different enough they could not cause this type of damage, but are there other unhidden types of damage?

There is also a topic I have not seen covered by the media and that is the fact that the scanners are set a low resolution. This leaves an option of increasing resolution; perhaps not with the current machines (not sure), but what if we decide we need more? Increasing resolution means increasing the beam, which means increasing the risk.

The risk appears to be very low. In fact, I would agree with the apologists that it probably is low, but I question whether or not it is necessary. More about this in the section on Effectiveness and Reasoning.

Privacy Concerns

One image that is being bandied about the Internet is this one:


Click photo to read article on this photo

This is stated to be a TSA image reversed in Photoshop. The gun in the back gives it enough validity for the average person to buy into what I see as a ruse. The problem is neither of the technologies present would capture the hair. NOTE: The photo shoot these pix were faked from is available here (NSFW).

But, even with the scans not able to capture this good of a picture, the scans are good enough to capture some detail which could embarrass someone. TSA has stated the images cannot be saved and later disseminated, but there are scans from the same type of scanners, albeit NOT in an airport, that have been released on the Internet. These scans are low resolution, but the resolution can be turned up.

I personally don’t have a lot of concern on the privacy front. I already have people scanning all of my possessions and occasionally rifling through my possessions. If privacy was a major concern, I feel the people should have revolted a long time ago. I will once again ask, however, whether or not it is necessary.

Effectiveness and Reasoning

If you have not seen the video of Adam Savage speaking in Seattle, you should take a look. On a recent flight, he states he accidentally carried on two extremely long razor blades which were not caught by the scanners. Others are envisioning terrorists molding explosives to their bodies, which would be missed by the scanners.

This leads one to wonder if the device is effective. And, if not, why burden the public with any risk?

This is not really about safety, but the appearance of safety. Certainly, the scans do catch some things. But the scans are only as good as the scanner, and they miss a lot. I have made it through security with full bottles of water, although they did catch my slightly oversized tube of toothpaste once (God forbid someone walking on with really clean teeth).

What we are observing is security theater. Make it look good and hopefully you will deter enough people that mean the public harm. At the same time, you will keep the average member of the public feeling safe enough to fly and ensure we have an airline industry to get us to our destinations.

When the security theater is merely an inconvenience, then it is probably fine. The deterrent is probably worth an extra half hour, right? But when you add inconvenience to a 1 in X chance of cancer and potential invasion of privacy, is it still worth it? If it catches people who bring very large razor blades on planes, then we might say yes … but they missed that one. Maybe next time?

The sheeple of the United States have acquiesced to the scans overall. I talked to a gentleman in the Austin airport the day before Thanksgiving who was ridiculing anyone who would not walk through the scans. I presented him with some contrary evidence that was backed by scientists, so he probably thinks I am one of the idiots now. Then again, perhaps I gave him a bit of food for thought.

My Thoughts

I am not going to go through the scanners. I don’t feel there is a huge risk, but I don’t feel there is a need to burden myself with any additional risk, no matter how small. If I go through the scanner, the government won’t make my plane arrive 4 minutes faster to offset the additional radiation. And they can’t shield me from radiation in my home town, or wherever I visit. There are simply no ways to offset this additional risk through some type of radiation “trade”.

Until there is a peer reviewed scientific study of the scanners, it is unlikely I will ever submit. And, even then, I don’t need to risk being one of the 1 in 200 million, no matter how small that risk is.

If the scans stop terrorists from blowing up planes, perhaps they can be a good thing. To date, I have heard of no incidents where the scanners have caught anyone. And, if they do, I would like some evidence the person would not have been caught by other means already in place, however, before giving any stamp of approval to a scanner.

I have serious issues with the idea that a handful of people dying of cancer each year is worth the security theater and appearance of safety. Until we show a case where it works, and previous technology would not work, I don’t see my mind changing on this one. Even then, I have to question how many such attempts thwarted by the scanners equal the number of projected deaths.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld

A brief lesson on government


The left/right explanation is a bit weak and misleading, but the main idea that most forms of government cannot be sustained is telling. As you watch, you should also think about the expansion of government and how the rich get richer, no matter who is in power, and see if you don’t see something in common with what is going on how in this country.

Note that this is not a knock on a particular person or party, but rather a statement on how both parties are leading us down a destructive path (perhaps one faster, but both are creating populist type laws that go against the Constitution to “help” the “people”). And the people then knee jerk and do something like http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-june-14-2010/alvin-greene-wins-south-carolina-primary.

Actually, I think it is a bit funny that someone who did not campaign wins the primary. To me, it shows how sick we are of Washington. Whether the people of South Carolina purposefully sent this as a message, or simply did not care enough to research candidates, it is very telling of the state of Washington power at this time. It is also kind of funny watching Rawl, the expected winner, who is now challenging the primary results … not that the people voted (he got his clock cleaned with Greene taking almost 60% of the vote) but that there are anomalies in the vote (which have been present for ages and elected him last time). The Democratic party is asking him to withdraw and Clyburne is asking for a probe of the election. The lesson: Don’t upset the apple cart by voting for commoners?

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld