Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Elections hint at problems for Dems

Democrats are still celebrating the victory of Terry McAuliffe over Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, but the elections on Nov. 5 should ring alarm bells for the Democratic Party. Chris Christie’s resounding victory in New Jersey showed that Republicans can be competitive in blue states while McAuliffe’s margin in Virginia was much narrower than expected.

The McAuliffe campaign raised and spent far more than Cuccinelli. Politico reports that McAuliffe outraised Cuccinelli by almost $15 million. The funding disparity meant that Cuccinelli was not able to air campaign ads in the final two weeks of the campaign.

The Republican Party has been criticized for not providing support to Cuccinelli, but the Politico article points out that the Republican National Committee spent $3 million on the Cuccinelli campaign while the Republican Governor’s Association spent $8.3 million. Dick Morris points out that Republicans tried to aid Cuccinelli when the race became competitive in late October, but at that point it was too late to buy air time for ads.

A bigger problem than the lack of money from political groups was Cuccinelli’s lack of fundraising prowess. The Cuccinelli campaign raised only $11.7 million compared to McAuliffe’s $28 million. The Washington Post notes that businessmen who previously supported Republican Bob McDonnell backed McAuliffe this year, making it difficult for Cuccinelli to raise funds.

The bad news for Democrats is that the mountains of cash that McAuliffe spent barely eked out a victory, even with a Libertarian candidate drawing Cuccinelli voters by a margin of two to one. As previously reported by Examiner, McAuliffe’s double digit lead in mid-October had all but evaporated by the end of the month. The likely reason for McAuliffe’s difficulties was the steady stream of bad news relating to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Unless a dramatic change occurs over the next year, Obamacare may prove to be a drag on Democratic candidates in next year’s midterm elections.

Voter demographics in the Virginia race are also troubling for Democrats. Strategist and pollster Dick Morris points out that a major question in surveying the race was whether turnout would mirror 2012 or 2010. Exit polls show that turnout closely resembled the off-year election of 2010. The surge of minority Democrats that propelled Barack Obama to two election victories in Virginia did not materialize when he was not on the ballot in either 2010 or this week.

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post agrees. “A Republican looking at these numbers should feel disappointed by last night's election but hopeful about next year's,” he says, noting that the core demographics of Obama’s electoral success, women, minorities, and young voters, all decreased as a percentage of the electorate, as did the percentage of Virginia voters identifying as Democrats.

With Barack Obama off the ballot, his ability to get out the vote is considerably curtailed. Obama’s ability to rally voters may get worse as his approval rating drops with disappointment in Obamacare. A Gallup poll from Nov. 5 showed Obama’s approval rating at 39 percent, a historic low. If the makeup of voters in 2014 resembles the electorate in Virginia from this week, the Democrats may suffer a defeat similar to the 2010 Republican congressional landslide. Democratic hopes for winning control of the House are in jeopardy and with 20 Senate Democrats up for reelection Republican control of both houses of Congress is a very real possibility.

Chris Christie’s victory in New Jersey presents a different set of problems for Democrats. Although Christie is reviled by Tea Party Republicans as a “RINO,” the New Jersey governor has proven adept at reaching into traditional Democratic vote strongholds.

Exit polls from New Jersey show that Gov. Christie made deep inroads into Barack Obama’s core constituencies. Christie won women voters by 15 percent even though the Democratic candidate, Barbara Buono, was a woman. He also won Hispanic voters outright with 51 percent (compared to Buono’s 45 percent). Although Christie did not win the black vote, at 21 percent his percentage of the black vote was almost two-and-a-half times greater than Cuccinelli’s (eight percent).

Some Republicans would charge that Christie’s success is a result of abandoning traditional conservative principles. Christie claims to be a conservative and John Nichols wrote in The Nation that he is right. According to Nichols, Christie cultivates a moderate image to appeal to New Jersey’s voters, but his policies are in line with other Republican governors.

Nichols details how Christie has enacted Wisconsin-style “austerity” in New Jersey and clashed repeatedly with unions. He pulled the state out of a regional carbon emissions program, scaled back renewable energy targets, and vetoed a plan for early voting. Christie’s record on social issues is also conservative. He is pro-life and defunded Planned Parenthood from the New Jersey budget. He also vetoed New Jersey’s gay marriage law.

Christie’s conservative record is not perfect, however. As the L.A. Times pointed out on Nov. 5, Christie his support for in-state tuition for illegal aliens will trouble the right. He also dropped a state appeal to a New Jersey Supreme Court decision that allowed marriages to proceed and signed a bill banning gay conversion therapy. Christie also has a mixed record on gun control. Many Republicans will not easily forget or forgive Christie’s “bro-mance” with President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Nevertheless, a Gallup poll from June found that Christie is the most popular Republican politician. The poll found that Christie had approval ratings of greater than 50 percent with members of both parties as well as the public at large. No other Republican topped 50 percent outside the party. Even if Christie is not the Republican nominee in 2016, his success shows that Republicans can win in blue states without abandoning their principles.

Taken together, the two elections this week portend a difficult future for Democrats. President Obama’s legacy, the problem-ridden Affordable Care Act, could spell disaster for many Democratic candidates just as the president becomes unable to help them.

Originally published on Elections Examiner

Pilots face increased risk of skin cancer

“I’m referring you to a dermatologist,” the doctor said. “It’s probably nothing, but I don’t like the looks of this mole on your back.”

My employer’s insurance company was requiring employees to get preventive physicals. After the revelation of my mother’s sudden diagnosis with colon cancer a few months earlier, the idea of a physical to get a clean bill of health actually sounded like a good idea. With no health complaints, I didn’t expect any problems to arise. After all, I was seeing an AME twice a year for my first class physical and if there were any serious problems, he would have found them. Right?

I didn’t hurry to the dermatologist. I had a few moles, but didn’t really worry. They weren’t irregular and they didn’t get larger. A couple of months later, I found time to make the appointment.

When the doctor looked at the mole on my back, a mole that my AME had seen at least 12 times, he promptly announced, “We’re going to take that off right now.” He said that the small, black mole could be an early stage of melanoma. Literally before I knew that he had removed it, the mole was gone and I was going home to wait on a biopsy.

As I waited, I learned that there is a strong link between pilots and skin cancer. In 2000, Yahoo News reported on an Occupational and Environmental Medicine study that found that airline pilots have up to 25 times the normal rate of skin cancer. The most common type of cancer among pilots was malignant melanoma. Melanoma represents about ten percent of skin cancers, but accounts for 75-85 percent of skin cancer deaths. The scientists at the University of Reykjavik in Iceland who authored the study found that Iceland Air pilots flying international routes had skin cancer rates 15 times higher than expected. For pilots who typically flew across more than five time zones, such as flying from Iceland to the United States, the rate was 25 times higher than expected.

There have been a number of similar studies, the most recent published in 2009 in Occupational Medicine surveyed members of the Air Line Pilots Association in the United States. Many of these other studies also show an elevated skin cancer risk for pilots, but not as high as the University of Reykjavik study.

It seems to be common sense that pilots would be at an increased risk for skin cancer. Pilots spend a lot of their working lives in the sun. Airports are almost devoid of shade and the sun can beat down mercilessly on a pilot performing a preflight inspection. When pilots are flying, they are above much of the atmosphere that protects surface dwellers from harmful solar rays. Few, if any, airline pilots slather on sunscreen before climbing into the cockpit.

As with the general population, there are other factors that lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. These risks apply to pilots as well. The Skin Cancer Foundation lists five factors that increase the risk of melanoma. First, both blistering sunburns as a child and cumulative exposure to the sun can increase risk. The more moles a person has, the greater the risk of melanoma. Dysplastic nevi, atypical moles, can be precursors to skin cancer. People with fair skin are more prone to skin cancer. A personal or family history of skin cancer also means an increased risk for future cancers. People with weakened immune systems, from chemotherapy or HIV/AIDS for example, also have an increased risk. As with other types of cancer and heart disease, smoking also dramatically increases the risk of skin cancer.

Among pilots, flying at higher altitudes and the higher latitudes near the poles presents the greatest risk. According to the Health Physics Society, the amount of cosmic radiation at the poles can be two to three times greater than the radiation at the equator. This is because the Earth’s electromagnetic field helps to block this radiation. The field is strongest at the equator and gets progressively weaker towards the poles. Science Daily notes that the radiation is on par with an x-ray or CT scan, but frequent exposure by flight crews that fly hundreds of hours each year can lead to increased effects. Solar storms, like the one that diverted flights in 2012, also mean increased dosages of radiation. The ionizing radiation of solar flares cannot be avoided by flying at night or wearing sunscreen.

Robert Barish, a physicist and author of “The Invisible Passenger: Radiation Risks for People Who Fly,” told Science Daily that professional flight crewmembers are exposed to more radiation than any other occupation, even nuclear plant workers. “People who work in the nuclear power industry on an average basis are getting 1.6” [milliSieverts of radiation per year], he said. “There are people who fly in airplanes who are getting 2 or 3 or 4 milliSieverts per year. So they are truly radiation workers.”

The fact that the University of Reykjavik study examined Iceland Air pilots who customarily fly in far northern latitudes may explain the extremely high incidence of cancer among these pilots. Flying at high altitudes near the North Pole for the long time periods associated with oceanic flights, Iceland Air pilots would be subject to all of the highest risk factors associated with skin cancer.

Other factors might be at work as well. Several of the studies indicate that some of the increased risk for pilots may be due in part to disturbed sleep patterns. “The excess of malignant melanoma among those flying over five time zones suggests that the importance of disturbance of the circadian rhythm should be taken into consideration in future studies,'' Dr Vilhjalmur Rafnsson said on Yahoo News. Rafnsson speculated that the disturbance of circadian rhythms could affect the production of melatonin by the body.

The American Cancer Society notes that recent studies have shown that low melatonin is linked to higher risks of some cancers, but that some studies have shown that melatonin supplements were beneficial to cancer patients while others show that it made no difference. Melatonin is available over the counter as a natural sleep aid. According to the FAA website, melatonin “appears to be beneficial in alleviating jet lag” and its use “is not proscribed” but “care should be taken to avoid entering duty status with any residual effects.”

Pilots are not the only people at risk from high altitude radiation. Flight attendants and frequent flyers share the same risk factors. Travelers who fly more than once or twice per week are at the greatest risk according to Science Daily. Occasional airline passengers or general aviation pilots who typically fly at altitudes of less than 6,000 feet do not have an elevated risk.

The risk of radiation is not limited to skin cancer. As far back as 1992, the FAA published a report, “Radiation Exposure of Air Carrier Crewmembers,” that addressed the possibility of genetic defects to a child whose parent had been exposed to high altitude ionizing radiation. The unborn child of a pregnant woman who is part of a flight crew is at the greatest risk of severe health problems ranging from mental retardation to childhood cancers. Women are also at high risk for breast cancer according to WebMD.

To minimize their risk of skin cancer or other radiation-induced problems, pilots should follow the prevention guidelines of the Skin Cancer Foundation. Avoid sunburns by wearing hats and sunglasses and seeking the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (Indoor tanning booths are also bad.) Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 for everyday use. For extended outdoor activity, SPF of 30 or higher should be used. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours (or immediately after swimming or sweating). Self inspections of your skin on a monthly basis and yearly medical checkup are also recommended.

Pilots can also avoid taking heavy doses of solar radiation by flying at lower altitudes or taking more southerly routes (in the northern hemisphere) to remain at lower latitudes. An FAA report, “What Aircrews Should Know About Their Occupational Exposure to Ionizing Radiation,” sets a recommended maximum level of radiation and gives estimated dosages for a number of typical flights.

My dermatologist also recommended Heliocare, an oral over-the-counter sun protection supplement available on Used with sunscreen, Heliocare helps to prevent sunburns and repairs previous sun damage to skin.

In the end, my skin story has a happy ending. The biopsy revealed that the mole was not a melanoma, but an atypical mole. Nevertheless, I will have several smaller moles removed as well and will incorporate routine visits to the dermatologist into my health care routine.


Originally published on Aviation Examiner

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Shutdown legacy, Libertarian spoiler may sink Cuccinelli in Virginia

In Virginia’s gubernatorial election today, current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is expected to lose to former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe. Virginia, a hotly contested state in recent presidential elections, is an important prize for both parties. The state was reliably Republican until recent years when Virginians voted for Barack Obama twice.

After a dead heat for much of the spring and summer, the race trended towards McAuliffe in late summer. Polling data archived on Real Clear Politics and the Wikipedia page dedicated to the race show polls split between the two candidates between January and July. In September, Mr. McAuliffe began to edge away from Mr. Cuccinelli and in October he picked up a commanding, often double digit, lead for most of October. In recent days, two polls have shown Mr. Cuccinelli closing the gap, but still trailing.

The most recent poll, released on Nov. 4 by Quinnipiac, found McAuliffe leading 46-40 percent with Libertarian Robert Sarvis at eight percent. Another recent poll by Emerson College released three days earlier showed McAuliffe with only a two point lead.

There are likely two big reasons for Ken Cuccinelli’s impending loss. The most obvious is Robert Sarvis, the third man in the race. Sarvis, a lawyer and software developer is Libertarian candidate for governor. According to Real Clear Politics, Mr. Sarvis has polled between four and 13 percent in recent polls. In many of the polls, if the Libertarian percentage were applied to Mr. Cuccinelli, he would lead Mr. McAuliffe.

Third party candidacies damage the party that they more closely identify with because they draw voters from the same pool. The Republican and Libertarian parties are both competing for voters who oppose the Democratic big government agenda, Obamacare, gun control, higher taxes, and a host of other common issues. Since the Republican Party has the largest base, the Republican candidate ends up being hurt by the Libertarian. The Emerson College poll confirmed that Sarvis was drawing support from twice as many Republicans as Democrats.

Libertarian candidates do not have enough support to win. Instead, they can only act as a spoiler to prevent Republicans from winning. Many third party advocates are fond of saying that “a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.” In reality, a more appropriate aphorism would be that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

The second factor that will likely cost Cuccinelli the race is the government shutdown. Cuccinelli’s dive in the polls coincided with the run-up to the government shutdown. At the same time, Democrats surged in generic congressional ballots and a number of polls reported Republican approval ratings at historic lows. Polling in Virginia shows that Mr. Cuccinelli’s resurgence began in late October after a compromise on Oct. 16 reopened the federal government.

The Virginia race was contentious from the beginning with McAuliffe reprising Barack Obama’s successful “war on women” strategy against Cuccinelli. For his part, McAuliffe has been plagued by a string of scandals relating to his business dealings with an electric car company that took federal money and allegedly received favorable treatment from the government. Over the weekend, on Nov. 3, President Obama visited Virginia to campaign for McAuliffe. Given the president’s recent low approval ratings and Obamacare’s continuing difficulties, the trip may be as likely to hurt McAuliffe as help him.

In a last ditch effort to rally support, Cuccinelli has attempted to turn the election into a referendum on the Affordable Care Act. CBS News reported that Cuccinelli, who led the more than half of the states in a lawsuit that challenged Obamacare, told supporters, “If you want to fight Obamacare, if you want to tell Washington that Virginians have had enough of Obamacare, then I need your vote.”

The election will likely hinge on turnout, which is expected to be low. According to CBS News, the state believes that turnout may be as low as 30 percent.

Originally published on Elections Examiner

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cognitive dissonance

As I get older and wiser (some would dispute the latter), it seems more miraculous that anyone could ever be saved.

As humans we are so set in our ways and committed to our rationalizations that it is amazing that God could ever change our minds about anything. Even in the face of overwhelming objective evidence, we choose to deny reality and have faith in our own baseless beliefs.

For example, a committed liberal can stare at figures of the mounting federal debt and still believe that Barack Obama cut spending. They can look at crime data and still believe that we need gun control. They can look at our ravaged economy and still believe that we need more entitlements and stimulus.

Conservatives do the same thing. Many still believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya or that the NDAA allows for indefinite detention of Americans, that Ted Cruz saved the Republican Party instead of splitting it.

If we can stare past mountains of evidence that are right in front of our eyes to cling to our erroneous beliefs, then how miraculous it is that we could ever be persuaded to believe the evidence of things not seen?

There, but for the grace of God go I.