Archive for January, 2012

Fact Checking on the Debt

January 22, 2012

Funny how Internet communication helps certain things take on a life of their own. The past couple of days, for instance, I kept bumping into a chart that was making it’s way around Facebook. This chart purported to disclose the percentage rise in national debt during the tenures of the various presidents from Reagan to Obama.  It is a surprising chart, as it shows the debt went up 189% under President Reagan and ended attributing only a 13% rise to President Obama. I knew the graphic lied, of course. I just couldn’t put my finger on how it’s author was spinning his message. But I did observe commenters-of-the-liberal-persuasion adopting an “I knew it!” stance about this little piece of “information”.  I decided to research the numbers myself and I was, in fact, surprised by the real data. Incidentally, I also found out where the bogus chart came from.  I’ll share that presently.

The Treasury Department has a feature on their website called “The Debt to the Penney” at which you can examine the total public debt numbers they report from fiscal year 1997 onward.  More recent data can be examined at a daily interval.  On that same page is a link for historical data. The plot below is my own, assembled from the data I collected there.

A high-resolution PDF version is available here: Debtplot

I superimposed the inauguration dates for all the presidents from Truman on, though the financial data doesn’t start until 1960. I recognize that theoretically the Congress is in charge of the budget, but at least the presidents give some context while looking at the data.  I find it easier to remember the period based on the occupant of the White House. Now, I promised to explain the source of the suspect chart that started this investigation. Turns out it came from Nancy Pelosi. The chart was apparently presented when Obama had been in office almost exactly one year. So obviously his percentage contribution looked better than predecessors who served eight-year terms. If you have the stomach for it, one can find a more updated version of the graphic in question .   Seems they are still trying to get mileage out of it.  I would, in closing, point out a few things I observed from studying my own graph:

  1. I have told you where to get the data. You can check this for yourself. In fact, I recommend it for the mathematically inclined.
  2. The rate of increase during the current presidential term is the steepest on the graph (by far). Given enough time, that slope will result in the highest percentage to date.
  3. The current President / Congress may be accelerating toward the abyss with more vigor, but it started getting out of control way back there.
  4. Budget changes during the tenure of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich only (temporarily) reduced the rate of increase in debt. The debt was not reduced.
  5. Our government is totally out of control with our credit card.

Eviction Notice

January 14, 2012

I hope I have successfully and finally served the eviction notice. I don’t wish to be heartless, but it came down to she or me. In this post, I am going to describe how I went about it. If some of you have the same trouble, maybe my experience will help you.

Before I waste the time of any budding landlords, let me confess that my tenant was a little gray mouse that had taken up residence as a squatter in the heater of my 1996 Toyota Rav-4. I saw her scurry across my garage only once, but she is one very industrious rodent. I have spent two full afternoons in the last month working at reclaiming the function of my heater. A working heater is essential in Winter in Iowa, if only for the defroster.

Apparently, there are no mice in Japan, or the Toyota design engineering team would have known to exclude my mouse from the mechanism. As having to do this job twice shows, they also didn’t make it easy to permanently resolve the problem. On the first attempt, I cleaned out the nest packed into the blower and heater core enclosure. This work took about three hours of standing on my head, under the dash. Once the blower ran smoothly, instead of like a washing machine spinning with a basket ball, I set about prevention.

Removing the blower assembly isn’t too hard. First, remove the glove box. This task is accomplished by opening the box and squeezing the sides in to get the back stops past their blocks. Then tilt forward to expose and remove two screws. Don’t take the screws out of the hinges, but the two at the end of the bar the hinges are attached to. The bar fits over a couple of plastic guide pins to make reassembly easier.

With the glove box out of the way, the blower assembly is removed with just three screws. I used a flat head screw driver. Something about those screws didn’t quite match my #2 Phillips. You will probably have to flex the corner of the plastic dash to get the blower past it. Squeeze the catch on blower wiring harness to unplug it. Having the blower completely out of the way will aid in cleaning, etc.

I wanted to remove the lower half of the plastic housing that goes around the heater core. However, there are screws in the back – way up behind the heater core assembly. I could see them with my mirror, but staring at them fiercely didn’t make them come out.  It’s probably just as well.  It would have been even harder to wish them back in.  I can only assume the proper disassembly procedure starts with “remove dash”.  Removing the dash definitely would have exceeded the time I had to devote to the task.  Instead, I cleaned out the intake side of the heater core though the hole left by removing the blower motor ballast resistor assembly. This resistor is inserted into the airflow for cooling. Removing it left a hole just large enough to insert the narrow crevice tool for my shop vacuum.  Some careful fishing with a hooked piece of coat hanger wire mostly did the trick.  A pen light will help you see into the hole while you fish.  There are some cables or tubing on the intake side of the heater core, so be a little careful.

I had hoped to access the heater’s outside-air intake port by removing the plastic grille at the base of the windshield. I removed the windshield wiper assemblies and then the grille. I found, unfortunately, that the port going into the heater is not accessible. (One can see it with a flashlight, but it is at the end of a long sheet metal tunnel on the firewall.) You unthinking vehicle designers take note: applying a screen over that intake would have been easy before the firewall was all welded up. I decided to screen the four topside holes underneath the grille, on the possibility the rodent was making ingress around the over-sized holes for the wiper shafts. So, I’m telling you now; that exercise is a waste of time. Water has to drain from that channel somewhere. The hole must be at least large enough for a cold mouse.

Tearing into the heater was enough work that I admit to a sense of dismay when the unbalanced blower recurred.  Only a couple of weeks had passed, and I still had sore knees from kneeling beside the passenger door all afternoon to access the heater.  As I repeated the under-dash headstand today, I was a little faster and smart enough to dig out some knee pads.  The nesting material was different, but just as problematic for the heater. As I redoubled my efforts to find a way to prevent recurrence, I noted the damper to select inside or outside air closes pretty tightly. Henceforth, I resolve not to park unless I return the damper to the inside-air setting. However, that opens the intake to the interior.  I have seen evidence that mice can get into almost any car interior. To address that problem, I screened the cabin intake on the heater assembly. Compared to the outside intake, the cabin intake is (almost) easily accessible. The screen I used is 1/4” hardware cloth.   Screen with larger holes won’t keep the mice out.  I attached it by passing U-shaped pieces of galvanized steel wire around the plastic lattice that forms the face of the intake (from inside the blower housing).  I held the apex of the U tight to the lattice and bent the wire over the screen.  Nylon tie wraps would be easier, but I wanted to make sure it was gnaw proof.  You may notice from the picture that I used a couple of small cable ties to hold the screen in place so that I could use both hands to work with the wire.

Make sure the wire is not protruding on the inside, as the damper needs to be free to close off this intake completely.  Once you are satisfied with the screen, reinstall the blower and the glove box.

Of course, only time will tell if I have been successful at enforcing the eviction.

Grassley Town Hall – Vinton IA

January 12, 2012

This afternoon, about sixteen of us were able to participate in a town hall meeting with our own Senator Grassley in Vinton Iowa, at the City Hall. Senator Grassley was actually fifteen minutes early and eager to hear input from his constituents, in spite of the fact that the day was blustery and we have had the first significant snow fall of the season. He had evidently kept his schedule all day, in spite of the weather. At times visibility was poor, because of the blowing snow. We thank the Senator for his dedication and his commitment to visit us in all ninety-nine Iowa counties every year.

I will try to relate the various speakers intent (as best I remember).

The first man to engage Senator Grassley had his attention before the official start time for the meeting. He asked about  some legislation for the use of natural gas as motor vehicle fuel and also about the potential for the Keystone pipeline project, that hopefully should allow Canadian Oil to flow to refineries in Houston. The pipeline query reflected, I think, the question that most thinking people are pondering; why not run a short pipeline to North Dakota and build a new refinery? The Senator related a pragmatic answer. It is easier to build a 3000 mile long pipeline than it is to face environmentalist obstructionism in court over the construction of a new refinery. He quoted a statistic that I can’t recall exactly, but the gist is that we have a lot fewer refineries than we used to, doing the same job, because it is easier to ad capacity to an existing refinery than to fight the environmental obstructionists in court.

The second speaker was a man who represented himself as a small businessman with thirty years worth of entrepreneurship behind him. I think he intimated that he had four or five employees at various times. He wanted to tell the Senator that he had come to the conclusion that Congress kept demonstrating an addiction to spending all our money and asking us to “pony up” more. He wanted to communicate that he had concluded the only way to get the government under control was to starve it. Therefore, he said, though he would like to come out with a lot of new endeavors/products that instead he will do his best to see that he has zero tax liability related to his efforts.

As I listened to him, I thought of the statistics that say that corporate America is flush with cash, but is sitting on it, because of uncertainty in the actions of the government. I thought also about the fact that I filed an unemployment claim on Tuesday, for the third time in the last two years. This in spite of the fact that I am a highly qualified electrical engineer with extensive experience managing teams in high-risk startup companies. The “occupy” movement folks look at this statistic and conclude that we need to get the government to straighten it out by legislating a redistribution of wealth. I look at it and conclude that the government needs to get the hell out of the way. If it did, the entrepreneur who was speaking to Senator Grassley, would see profit for his efforts. He would be motivated to do what comes naturally to him. He would happily pay taxes on his increase. We would all be a lot better off.

A fellow from the local rural electrical coop thanked the senator for going to bat for them on a financing initiative, but was careful to point out that the transaction did not add to the national debt, because it paid back more than was borrowed.

I can appreciate the validity of such an arrangement for a profitable rural electrical coop, if not for the likes of a company like Solandra who had no real prospects for profitability.

My daughter brought a question to the Senator, expressing dismay at the illegal use of “recess appointments” by the Obama administration to instantiate various bureaucrats to serve his purposes, bypassing the Constitutionally-mandated approval by Congress. Senator Grassley told us that he had hand delivered letter to the Attorney General for a judgment on the matter. The short story is that the legal department of the Attorney General’s office sided with the White House. (1)  Are we surprised? Senator Grassley is the ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee. Yet, since the Republican party is not in power in the Senate, He is effectively unable to call the White House to account. We either need to fix this in November, or We the People need to find a way to demand an account before then.

Finally, another man and myself each raised questions about counter-terrorism section of the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act of 2012.  I have noted a lot of Internet traffic, asserting that the act has gutted our Constitutional rights to due process. The other fellow seemed to be settled that this assertion was correct. My own question was that I had read the bill, and it seemed to me the section in question went out of it’s way to reassure that American citizens were not normally subject to it’s provisions: look in particular at Subtitle D, Section 1021 (e).

I wanted to get the senator’s opinion about this legislation. I believe our elected representatives thought their assertions that their intent was not to change the law as it applied to citizens was good enough. However, Senator Grassley did point out a case of an American citizen participating with some German operatives to perform sabotage on American soil during World War II. Their discovery resulted in the the American being handled, and eventually executed, as an enemy combatant, along with his German counterparts. Therefore, I suppose, there is some precedent for denying due process to American citizens. That horse, apparently, is already out of the barn.

Somewhere in the mix, the Senator talked about his investigation into the “Fast and Furious” gun-running operation by the Attorney General’s organization and the resultant murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry by one of those same weapons. It seems clear that lies have been uncovered. Still, no real accounting has occurred. Along the same vein and interspersed in the entire interchange was an attitude that was exemplified by the T-shirt one patriot was wearing: “Anyone but Obama in 2012”. My wife (and several others) expressed to Senator Grassley her dismay that it seemed no one could successfully hold the Obama administration to account on any subject, not to the will of the people, not to the Constitution, and not to criminal law.

So to my wife’s question: “What can we do?”. Senator Grassley advocated as much involvement as one can muster; contacting representatives, letters to the editor, getting friends involved, participation at the local level, etc.

We would add prayer. We need to be consistently enlisting the aid of the Sovereign of the Universe. He hears, and He cares.  This week, I read something that made me think.  If I don’t pray like it matters to me, why should it matter to God?





Santorum Voted for What? (Gasp!)

January 7, 2012

As one who has spent some time investigating the text of various bills that come up in Congress for a vote, I would offer one bit of insight into the inevitable attacks aimed at the various Presidential candidates over their voting records.  The attackers invariably fail to mention that (if the bill was even read) the members of Congress had to weigh the pros and cons of the total bill. I don’t think anyone can find any significant bill that has been voted on in years that didn’t contain a dizzying mix of unrelated issues, pinned on the coat tails of some piece of “critical legislation”. Take, for example, the latest defense appropriations bill that contained the language to allow/require the military to effect indefinite detainment of certain American citizens without due process. We will never get our country back until we can put a stop to the intentional obfuscating procedure of being able to amend a bill with unrelated items.  We don’t need line-item vetoes, as much as we need single-issue legislation.