Blue Cross Blue Shield pulls out of Obamacare in Minnesota

Finding out what’s in it: Blue Cross Blue Shield has decided to stop selling health insurance through Obamacare in 2016.

“Based on current medical claim trends, Blue Cross is projecting a total loss of more than $500 million in the individual [health plan] segment over three years,” the insurer said in an emailed statement. The Blues reported a loss of $265 million on insurance operations from individual market plans in 2015. The insurer said claims for medical care far exceeded premium revenue for those plans

Gee, too bad no one said that this law was unworkable and was going to cause big losses in the health insurance industry. Oh wait… Didn’t most tea party and conservatives say that repeatedly? And loudly? And were ignored pointedly by Democrats?

Ceres’s brightest spot

Brightest Spot in Occator Crater on Ceres

Cool image time: While I was in Washington the Dawn science team released a very nice close-up image of the bright spots inside Occator Crater on Ceres. On the right is a cropped version which focuses solely on the central brightest spot. The spot appears to overlie a central dome with a depression in the middle. Other data says the spot is the low area in the crater, and the linear cracks that radiate away as well as in concentric rings around the spot suggest that this central area has subsided, causing those cracks.

Make sure you look at the full image, as it includes the other smaller spots that are also inside Occator.

Data manipulation at U.S. Geological Survey science lab

A federal lab has been shuttered after an investigation revealed almost 20 years of data manipulation and scientific misconduct.

The inorganic section of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Energy Geochemistry Laboratory in Lakewood, Colo. manipulated data on a variety of topics – including many related to the environment – from 1996 to 2014. The manipulation was caught in 2008, but continued another six years.

“It’s astounding that we spend $108 million on manipulated research and then the far-reaching effects that that would have,” Rep. Bruce Westerman said at a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing. “We know how research multiples and affects different parts of our society and our economy and … if you’re working off of flawed data it definitely could be in a bad way.”

The inspector general report [pdf] is very vague about the specific acts of data manipulation and misconduct, which is not surprising since this specific inspector general has herself been accused of “politicized IG investigations, pulling punches in trying to avoid upsetting political appointees.”

From what I can gather, the results from a mass spectrometer, used to identify the chemical make-up of samples, were repeatedly faked by the individuals who operated it. The research “predominantly affected coal and water quality research and related assessments.” It is however unclear whether politics played a part in this misconduct, or whether it was merely incompetence. I suspect the former, especially because the Obama-appointed inspector general went out of her way to avoid describing the misconduct in detail, and because it continued for so long, even after it was first discovered in 2008.

Russia looks to reduce Proton launch costs

The competition heats up: Russian officials are considering developing a new variant of the Proton rocket that would cost less to launch and thus make the rocket more desirable in the increasingly competitive launch market.

They have not made a decision yet. As the article notes,

[G]iven the extended length of time required for even less radical upgrades of Proton and the official Russian strategy to phase out the vehicle in favor of Angara-5, it is unclear whether it would be possible to justify the Proton-Light development effort. A number of previous proposals to change the shape and size of the Proton-M rocket were deemed too expensive more than a decade earlier in the rocket’s operational career.

Science elites move to block UK exit from EU

A statement today from the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society, reacting to yesterday’s vote to leave the European Union, calls for the government to do whatever it can to nullify that exit.

Professor John Zarnecki, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, commented: “We must remember that whatever happens, science has no boundaries. It is vital that we do not give the message, particularly to our younger colleagues, in the UK and beyond that our country is not a good place in which to do scientific research, however uncertain the economic and political environment is.

“I have been privileged during my career to have worked in a research environment in Europe which has had few borders for either people or ideas. We must strive to make sure that these rights are not taken away – this would be enormously to the detriment of UK society.”

The statement includes a laundry list of benefits that membership in the EU brings scientists, including lots of funding to pay the salaries of these scientists. The statement also insists that all these benefits must be maintained, despite the will of the electorate.

While many of these benefits (easy travel between nations) are beneficial and a reason to have a European Union, the electorate understood that the benefits have been increasingly outweighed by the heavy regulatory burden imposed by the EU, with no democratic recourse allowed.

Articles in the science journals Science and Nature, here, here, and here, also note the distress and opposition by scientists to yesterday’s vote.

This unwillingness of the elite community to accept the will of the public is part and parcel to the same bubble I found in Washington when I attended the CNAS conference. Unfortunately, I see no evidence of a willingness in the elite community to bend at all to the will of the general public, meaning that we can only expect the conflict between the top and the bottom to intensify in the coming years. The question will be whether our institutions of democracy will be able to withstand that battle, especially when those in power continue to find their power being attacked from below.

UK votes to leave EU

The revolt continues: The voters of the United Kingdom tonight chose to leave the European Union.

The EU was a great idea, unfortunately spoiled in the past few decades by a crushing regulatory bureaucracy unaccountable to anyone, which is why every single time the question has been put to the voters in recent years the voters have chosen to quit the EU.

The unrest among American voters, fueling the success of outsiders and the defeat of incumbents in recent elections, is based on similar issues and dissatisfactions. I thus expect similar surprises here come November. This essay expresses these circumstances here in the states quite nicely:

This is not about ideology. If people trusted elites and institutions they defend to look out for them, in a non-ideological sense, the breakdown of our systems would have been mitigated or confined. The fact that it is so sweeping is due to a generation of elites who didn’t do their jobs well, or pretended things weren’t their job for too long.

We have breakdown, chaos, and upheaval in our politics today not because the people are “insane”, as Rauch writes, but because they are sane. They know the leadership class which held power for the past generation has not looked out for them. Don’t blame a people for turning on elites who thought they knew better but proved over and over that they didn’t. It is thoroughly rational to want something else instead. Even if that something else turns out not to deliver either, at least you know it’s not the same as what’s failed. [emphasis mine]

Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same failed thing over and over again, even though it is proven to never work. This what our elites have been doing for the past three decades. The voters, however, are increasingly showing that they are not insane, that they want to try new things. Kudos to them!

Hubble lives on!

NASA has extended the contract with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland to operate the Hubble Space Telescope for another five years, through 2021.

Launched in 1990 and repaired for the first time in 1993, Hubble appears likely to operate for more than three decades, a stunning record for any spacecraft.

Colorado university investigates professors for noting alternative opinions

Fascist academia: Two professors at a Colorado university are under investigation for mentioning to students the existence of opposing viewpoints.

Two professors at the University of Northern Colorado were investigated after students complained that they were forced to hear opposing viewpoints. The complaints were made to Northern Colorado’s “Bias Response Team,” an Orwellian office on campus that asks students to report their peers and professors for anything that upsets or offends them. When the news outlet Heat Street made an open records request for some of the complaints, it discovered that two students had become so upset about having to hear an opinion they disagreed with they filed reports with school administrators.

And rather than telling the students to buck up because they might hear those opinions outside of college or on the news or in the media, the schools told the professors to stop teaching that there’s an alternate viewpoint. [emphasis mine]

In both cases the professors were not advocating the alternative viewpoints, only teaching their students that those viewpoints exist. To the students and the university, even this was unacceptable.

There is no way you can have a free and open society if the people running the universities consider it unacceptable to even mention the existence of alternative points of view. Be prepared for worse things in the coming years, as these coddled close-minded students take the reins of power. They won’t be satisfied with merely shutting up their opponents. They will want to eliminate them entirely.

Saturn from Cassini

Saturn's rings

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution to post here, shows how, because of the seasonal tilt of Saturn, the shadow of its rings is now cover much of the gas giant’s southern hemisphere.

When NASA’s Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn 12 years ago, the shadows of the rings lay far to the north on the planet. As the mission progressed and seasons turned on the slow-orbiting giant, equinox arrived and the shadows of the rings became a thin line at the equator. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 16 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken in red light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on March 19, 2016.

We will continue to get from Cassini increasingly beautiful images of Saturn and its rings as the spacecraft positions itself better for its final flight down into the planet’s atmosphere.

Hubble spots new dark storm on Neptune

The Hubble Space Telescope has imaged a developing new dark spot storm on Neptune.

New images obtained on May 16, 2016, by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope confirm the presence of a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune. Though similar features were seen during the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune in 1989 and by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994, this vortex is the first one observed on Neptune in the 21st century. The discovery was announced on May 17, 2016, in a Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) electronic telegram by University of California at Berkeley research astronomer Mike Wong, who led the team that analyzed the Hubble data.

Democrats perform sit-in in Congress to protest 5th amendment of Bill of Rights

The fascist Democratic Party: For the past two days Democrats have been holding a sit-in protest in Congress against the idea that American citizens should have the right to due process before their rights under the Bill of Rights are denied.

Not 24 hours ago, Senate Democrats had the chance to vote on a bill that would have given them the core of what they want, namely, DOJ power to block gun purchases by anyone on a terror watch list. All they had to do was make a simple concession to due process by requiring the feds to go to court and show their work, proving to a judge within three days of the attempted purchase that the person on the list was actually dangerous. Too many innocent people have been put on watch lists erroneously to grant the federal government power to strip them of their rights with no judicial safeguard. That was the Cornyn bill; it died in the Senate, 53/47, when Democrats refused to give it the 60 votes it needed for cloture. The left killed the bill only because it provided due process to gun owners. [emphasis in original]

Previously the Democrats introduced a constitutional amendment to nullify the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, and this protest not only demands a nullification of the fifth amendment and due process, it is focused on nullifying the second amendment as well.

But I have been told I shouldn’t call these fascists fascists, because it might hurt their feelings. Well, I hope I hurt their feelings bad, along with the feelings of anyone even thinking of voting for them in the future. If you do, you are enabling the rise of oppression, and should be ashamed of yourself.

SpaceX’s first stage teaches them how to land on Mars

The competition heats up: This update on the status of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule also provides this interesting detail about the engineering knowledge gained from the company’s effort to vertically land its Falcon 9 first stages:

The company is also using the propulsive landings as a way to practically and physically test landing systems in a near-Mars atmospheric environment. “Earth’s upper atmosphere is also a really good analogue for Mars’ atmosphere,” noted [Garrett Reisman, Director of Space Operations]. “When you get up high enough, the density and consistency of the atmosphere is very similar to what you face during Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) on Mars. So every time we land, we take one of these rockets and we perform hypersonic retrograde propulsion, the data from which we’re sharing with JPL because it’s the first time this has ever been demonstrated on a major scale.”

To this end, Reisman pointed out that the Falcon 9 first stage landings are really serving as test beds for the EDL systems of eventual Mars missions. “Every time you see one of those rockets coming back, not only is it enabling a whole new paradigm for launching things into space, but it’s also bringing us one step closer to Mars.

As for Dragon, it now appears the company wants to do a full unmanned demo flight to and from ISS before it performs its launch abort test. They will then follow this with a manned demo mission to ISS. All three flights are planned for 2017.

Sierra Nevada prepares for Dream Chaser glide tests

The competition heats up: Sierra Nevada now expects to deliver its refurbished engineering test prototype of Dream Chaser to NASA for new glide tests in August.

“Our version of the shuttle Enterprise is about to be finished for its next phase of flight tests,” [said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president.] “Somewhere in the August time frame, it’s going to be shipped off to California, to the Armstrong [Flight Research] Center and to Edwards to be in Phase 2 of flight testing, which is going to be really fun and exciting.”

Sirangelo said lessons learned from the atmospheric flight tests will be applied to the development of the orbital test vehicle, which is now being outfitted in Colorado. That test vehicle, in turn, will blaze the trail for the spacecraft that will carry cargo for NASA under the CRS-2 contract. “We are looking to be launching on time, which is about three years from now, in the second half of 2019,” Sirangelo said.

They get this cargo version flying successfully, and they will certainly get a contract to build a manned version.

California bills man for rescuing family

Fascist California: A man pulls a family trapped in an overturned car and the local authorities in California then bill him $143 for doing their work.

It makes no sense, and neither does the explanation offered by those authorities.

Cosumnes Deputy Chief Mike McLaughlin tells CBS Sacramento that, though DeAnda’s situation is unique, issuing first-responder bills is just standard practice for his district. “We’re obligated to provide the same level of service, the same billing, the same everything — for every patient we encounter,” he said.

What a crock. They are simply incompetent, and probably mistakenly recorded the man as one of the victims, and then charged them all for work the man did.

New model for Enceladus’s subsurface ocean

A new model proposes that the subsurface liquid water ocean of Saturn’s moon Enceladus is possible only 3 miles below the surface near its south pole.

In order to reconcile the different constraints [created by the known data], the researchers propose a new model in which the top two hundred meters of the ice shell acts like an elastic shell. According to this study, Enceladus is made up successively of a rocky core with a radius of 185 km, and an internal ocean approximately 45 km deep, isolated from the surface by an ice shell with a mean thickness of around 20 km, except at the south pole where it is thought to be less than 5 km thick. In this model, the ocean beneath the ice makes up 40% of the total volume of the moon, while its salt content is estimated to be similar to that of Earth’s oceans.

Need I mention that this is only a computer model, and should therefore be considered with great skepticism?

Posted from warm and dry Tucson, Arizona, where I am home at last!

Russia in perspective

The coming dark age: This column today attempts to put the present economic shape of Russia into context with the rest of the world. Russia does not come off well.

According to the International Monetary Fund’s most recent data, the Russian economy is approximately the same size as Australia and slightly smaller than South Korea. As an exporter, it is now less important than Belgium, Mexico, and Singapore. And it is poor. The World Bank ranks Russia’s GDP per capita below Lithuania, Equatorial Guinea, and Kazakhstan. A larger proportion of its population lives below the poverty rate than in Indonesia, India, or Sri Lanka. It is ranked 67th in the world in the Global Competitive Index and 66th in the UN’s Human Development Index.

I find this news very disturbing and worrisome. As much as I might consider Russia a competitor to the U.S., I also want it as a nation to thrive, because otherwise it can only be a threat to the rest of the world. If Russia can’t figure out how to be a successful, competitive, and vigorous first world capitalist nation, it can only become something none of us will like. These are the same circumstances that made the rise of Hitler and Mussolini possible.

Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about Russia’s ability to turn things around. When they had the chance after the fall of the Soviet Union, instead of encouraging free competition, the people who remained in power divided the country and its industries up like Prohibition-era gangsters, and stamped out anyone who tried to move in on their territories with new ideas. Those people remain in power, and have acted to further consolidate their power by recreating the Soviet model of centralized control from the top-down.

Posted from Los Angeles Airport, a place where a tiny pre-made sandwich costs almost $15, probably because of high California taxes and regulations.

RINOs in Senate team up with Democrats for gun control push

Senate moderate Republicans are teaming up with Democrats to propose another gun control measure, aimed at disarming Americans instead of fighting Islamic terrorism.

Senate Republicans are expected to bring a bipartisan gun control bill to a vote this week despite opposition to the measure from the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups. The measure, spearheaded by centrist GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), would block people on two terrorist watchlists from buying guns.

Sources in both parties on Tuesday said the Collins legislation is gaining momentum — a sign that doing nothing to prevent terrorism suspects from obtaining guns is a problem for vulnerable Republicans in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting. While the NRA is opposed to the measure, Senate Majority LeaderMitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is more focused on protecting his vulnerable incumbents and keeping control of the chamber in November, according to Senate GOP sources. “He will not be dictated to,” one lawmaker said of the NRA’s efforts to pressure McConnell.

The Senate Democrat who launched last week’s filibuster on gun control depicted a vote on the Collins measure as a pivotal moment for the Senate, which on Monday rejected four other gun control bills. “I think you’re seeing in real time the vice grip of the NRA loosening in this place,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “This is a watershed moment whether this gets to the finish line or not. You have Republicans scrambling to try to find a way to remedy their no votes [Monday] night.”

Once again, the focus of these politicians is not on solving the problem, terrorism inspired or planned by Islam, but to attack and disarm the American public, the exact opposite of what needs to be done. When you are in a war, you don’t disarm, you arm yourself.

Russia plans 12 person lunar base by 2030

The competition heats up? Russia has announced plans to build a 12-person lunar base by 2030.

Color me skeptical. Since the late 1990s I have been reading these stories about ambitious Russian space plans, none of which has ever happened. In fact, they all remind me of the dozens of ambitious space plans announced by NASA over the years, none of which ever happened either. Typical of big government projects, they end up on the scrapeheap because government can’t do things quickly or efficiently.

China announces four day launch window for Long March 7’s first launch

The competition heats up: China has announced that the first launch of its new medium-sized rocket, Long March 7, will take place between June 25 and June 29.

The rocket will carry the country’s second space station test module, and will inaugerate use of China’s new Wenchang spaceport.

Damaged Falcon 9 first stage returns to port

The remains of the damaged Falcon 9 first stage that tipped over during its barge landing last week returned to port this past weekend.

Video and images of it can be seen at the link, all of which suggest that there is a slight chance the engines might be salvageable. Regardless, SpaceX once again has valuable used space hardware that no one else has ever had which it can study to improve its future rocket designs.

The Think Tank Culture of Washington

On Monday I attended and gave a presentation at the one-day annual conference of the Center for New American Security (CNAS) in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the space policy paper I am writing for them, Exploring Space in the 21st Century.

CNAS was founded ten years ago by two political Washington insiders, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, with a focus on foreign policy and defense issues and the central goal of encouraging bi-partisan discussion. For this reason their policy papers cover a wide range of foreign policy subjects, written by authors from both political parties. The conference itself probably had about 1,000 attendees from across the political spectrum, most of whom seemed to me to be part of the Washington establishment of policy makers, either working for elected officials, for various executive agencies, or for one of the capital’s many think tanks, including CNAS.

I myself was definitely not a major presenter at this conference, with speakers like Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), and Senator Joe Reed (D-Rhode Island). I was part of a panel during one of the lunch breakout sessions, where approximately one third of the attendees came to have lunch while we spoke about space. I only had ten minutes to speak, and used that time to outline (1) the influence SpaceX is having on the entire launch industry and (2) the vast differences in cost, development time, and results between the Orion/SLS program and commercial space. Not surprisingly, the aerospace people from the big established companies appeared to be somewhat uncomfortable with what I had to say, though the Airbus people liked it when I made it clear I thought that the U.S. should allow foreign companies to compete for American business, including government launches.

Their discomfort was best illustrated by the one question asked of me following my talk, where the questioner said that I was comparing apples to oranges in comparing a manned capsule like Orion, intended to go beyond Earth orbit, with the unmanned cargo capsules like Dragon and Cygnus, that only go to ISS. I countered that though I recognized these differences, I also recognized that the differences were really not as much as the industry likes to imply, as demonstrated for example by SpaceX’s announcement that they plan to send Dragon capsules to Mars beginning in 2018. After all, a capsule is still only a capsule. The differences simply did not explain the gigantic differences in cost and development time.

I added that Orion compares badly with Apollo as well, noting that Apollo took about a third as long to build and actually cost less. I doubt I satisfied this individual’s objections, but in the end I think future policy will be decided based on results, not the desires of any one industry bigwig. And in this area Orion/SLS has some serious problems. I hope when my policy paper is released in August it will have some influence in determining that future policy.

My overall impression of CNAS, the speakers, and the people who attended was somewhat mixed. Having lived in the Washington, D.C. area from 1998 to 2011, when I attended many such conferences, I found that things haven’t changed much in the last five years. Superficially, everyone was dressed in formal business suits (something you see less and less elsewhere), and they also got to eat some fancy food at lunch.

On a deeper level my impressions were also mixed.
» Read more

UC-Irving bans Republican club for a year

Leftwing fascists: The administration of the University of California-Irving has suspended the student Republican club for a year because it didn’t like their political activism.

The UC Irvine Republicans have been suspended for an entire year after they informed the administration of their plans to schedule another event on campus withBreitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

Nearly a month after their initial event with Milo, entitled “Social Justice is Cancer,” the College Republicans were asked to attend a debriefing with the Director of Student Life & Leadership, Darlene Esparza, and Associate Dean of Students, Sherwynn Umali, to discuss the planning process of the event. During the meeting, College Republican President Ariana Rowlands raised the possibility of Milo’s return to campus.

Just four hours after the meeting, a UCI administrator sent the group an email to inform them they had suspended the club for an entire year.

Posted from fascist California, a liberal dominated state where free speech is okay as long as you only express leftwing opinions.

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