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February 9, 2009
I suspect the "executive salary" problem could be greatly reduced with a couple of new corporate governance type regulations.
1. Executive salaries must be made available to all shareholders.
2. Any salary above <some value> must be approved yearly by shareholders.
3. Any performance bonuses above <some value> must be based on performance measured over a five year period.
I think you might see some significant reductions. :-)
Michael J Smith
The CIA thinks that the biggest threat of a new serious terrorist attack comes from Great Britain:
"They believe that a British-born Pakistani extremist entering the US under the visa waiver programme is the most likely source of another terrorist spectacular on American soil. <snip>
The CIA has already spent 18 months developing a network of agents in Britain to combat al-Qaeda, unprecedented in size within the borders of such a close ally, according to intelligence sources in both London and Washington. <snip>
The British official said: "The Americans run their own assets in the Pakistani community; they get their own intelligence. There's close cooperation with MI5 but they don't tell us the names of all their sources.
"Around 40 per cent of CIA activity on homeland threats is now in the UK. This is quite unprecedented." <snip>
And we do understand that targeting UK citizens of Pakistani extraction to require visas before entering the US would be wrong, of course.
In medical anthropology, Disease is what's not right with you. Illness is the social experience of disease. It involves support by others. Sickness is what your culture does to you that triggers the disease.
The NHS attempts to cure disease, but is not interested in healing illness or remedying sickness. If you have something incurable, you're on your own. This nurse was trying to address the illness, not just the disease. The difference between the two is the theme of the film, Philadelphia (1993).
We have been having a bit of a snowstorm here. The transportation agencies have used up 80% of their salt and grit supply. No letup in sight. The Transportation Secretary has suggested that motorists "stop whinging". <http://tinyurl.com/aqgvna> <http://tinyurl.com/abr73q> <http://tinyurl.com/aqgepp >
'Soviet' Britain--49% of the economy is state spending. In Northern Ireland, it is 77.6% of the economy. Labour likes to spend money; however, I'm not sure an economy based on non-productive government spending has any staying power. <http://tinyurl.com/dblytd>. The French President, Sarkozy, is also dubious about Britain: <http://tinyurl.com/dazyhp > <http://tinyurl.com/ctbg97> <http://tinyurl.com/danrrg>
-- Harry Erwin, PhD "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." (Benjamin Franklin, 1755)
Russian factories return to Soviet-style bartering.
-- Roland Dobbins
Perhaps we need to learn how to do that. Inflation is coming.
Re: Governments and People
Saturdays column - wow, you sound really depressed, and your arguments sound like you really think loosening restrictions and regulations right now on investments and company management is the right thing to do, right now.
I find myself, as usual, in partial agreement. Yes, ultimately, you are correct. There is no doubt about it. However, over the past few years, the slave traders have invaded the market, and are looking to set up shop. Well, figuratively speaking. :)
It needs to be checked and brought under some kind of control, because the people "at the top" are basically out of control. Some of them at least, appear to believe they are above the law - or that social and ethical mores are alright for the "little people", but just not something that applies to them.
This is a nasty trend in our society - perhaps the barbarians *are* at the gate, and they are *us*. But in any case, since we are not a society where little things like stealing your life savings cannot be settled within the code duello, the only possible check on them is government.
Seems to be some kind of cycle. <shurg> It will pass, and we will go right back into another 'boom cycle'. Then the whole sorry mess will repeat, but hopefully, with a little higher baseline.
In other words, a bit of spending right now is probably not going to hurt us in the long run, and may indeed, be very beneficial to us. I do not know, and neither really does anyone else. The very rich don't really care - this will not affect their lifestyles much, if any at all.
The working people like you and I are the ones that are going to take the biggest share of pain anyway, so why not at least get a few new roads, and maybe - just maybe - a few nice clean nuclear power plants out of the deal?
See - there *is* a bright side to every issue!
Not so much a column as a ramble; it was as much a mood piece as anything else. And I'd go for borrowing money for nuclear power plants. Oh boy! Would I! But I do not think that will be in The Largest Appropriation in the History of the World.
“We’re moving precipitously close to what I would call a savior-based economy.”
-- Roland Dobbins
Perhaps we need a savior that we can believe in.
Actually, were we all to believe, the economic problems might just go away. Alas, that is not likely.
I have heard the term shovel ready project ad whatever. It is assumed to mean that some worker will stick a shovel into the ground the day after the federal check arrives in the mail. But I have this perverse notion that after the check arrives it will take three months to bid out the project. Do you know anything? (Well, of course you know something. I was only refering to this question.)
I think you will find that the environmental regulations alone will delay projects by three months; as far as I can tell, very little of the money appropriated in The Enormous Bailout Bill will be spent in 2009 at all. Except to lawyers and intellectuals to prepare reports and paper, and to civil servants to process it. I would very much like to be proved wrong.
February 10, 2009
I am becoming very, very, frightened. It is getting beyond scary, and is now passed. Health care reform in the stimulus bill:
--- The bill’s health rules will affect “every individual in the United States” (445, 454, 479). Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system. Having electronic medical records at your fingertips, easily transferred to a hospital, is beneficial. It will help avoid duplicate tests and errors.
But the bill goes further. One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and “guide” your doctor’s decisions (442, 446). These provisions in the stimulus bill are virtually identical to what Daschle prescribed in his 2008 book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.” According to Daschle, doctors have to give up autonomy and “learn to operate less like solo practitioners.” Keeping doctors informed of the newest medical findings is important, but enforcing uniformity goes too far.
Hospitals and doctors that are not “meaningful users” of the new system will face penalties. “Meaningful user” isn’t defined in the bill. That will be left to the HHS secretary, who will be empowered to impose “more stringent measures of meaningful use over time” (511, 518, 540-541) ---
It gets worse...
What can we do?
See comments in View. I am hearing a number of radio comments on this that seem somewhat far out; what we need to do first is READ THE DARNED BILL.
I share many of your doubts about the stimulus bill and will offer one specific comparison that I think is interesting.
Eliminating our dependence on imported energy sources is a key--- perhaps THE key---to future prosperity. How much does it cost?
The USA currently has roughly 100 operating commercial nuclear power plants. To generate the energy equivalent of all our imported oil (about 10 million barrels of oil/day) would take about 700 new ones.
The first such plant might cost $20B, but I agree with your estimates that the 5th one, and all the subsequent ones, would cost roughly $1B apiece. So, the 700 plants would cost about $800B. What would be the return on investment?
Well, we import roughly 10M barrels of oil/day, so at $75/barrel, that's $0.75B PER DAY, or $274B/year.
So, assume that the $800B estimate is wrong, that the cost is twice as great, or $1600B, then we're still looking at a payback time of less than 8 years.
Not a bad investment, but it would really be much better than that.
I don't pretend to understand economics, but I do understand one point very well: Supply and demand curves are non-linear. A 10% reduction in demand will cause much more than a 10% reduction in price, and vice versa. So, if US imports of oil start to decline, the global price of energy will fall dramatically, and that is the key to worldwide recovery.
This project would take some years to get underway, but the effect on our economy would, in the truest sense, be stimulative. Once it started to pay dividends, the effect would compound. This could be even be packaged as "green jobs" since nukes produce no CO2.
And, this doesn't have to be entirely nuclear; the big idea is to produce domestic energy in ways that make economic sense and keep that $274B/year in the USA. That's like the whole stimulus package every 3 years.
Unfortunately, nothing like this is going to be done. I fear we are in for a long, painful time.
I have said for years that we ought to invest in US energy rather than fight foreign wars. We could have done this for the cost of the Iraqi war -- which I said at the time before the invasion. Now we're in Iraq and we need to get out as gracefully as possible; and we need to invest in domestic energy.
We need energy. The key to economic growth is reliable cheap energy.
Great news on the checkup. We struggled with you to an extent while the drama unfolded last year. Of course you did quite well describing what was going on and will be a great book when you get around to The Mask on the Wall.
Shovel ready is a strange term. Sounds like something will happen when the President signs the bill. Of course there are things like appropriations and authorizations which take time. And the agencies in charge will have to decide a lot of stuff and that will take time. But what will happen will be anticipation on the part of the markets and that will begin soon, probably has already begun. The optimists will look to the future and try to predict what will happen in the rest of the year, quarter by quarter. And people who invest in equities are eternal optimists, except for the bulls, so there will be a lot of positive to just getting something out of the door. It doesn't really have to come true. Congress will take all the credit and none of the blame if things go wrong. The Executive branch will get all the blame if things don't work like Congress dreams they should. So all is well inside the beltway; SNAFU.
Your Iron Law Demonstrated...
...to the ultimate degree. The C-Span clips, presented by Dvorak and Horowitz on the Feb 9 podcast, are more extensive than those presented by the alphabet "news" shows.
An SEC regulator essentially invoking the 5th Amendment? I won't ask the rhetorical question, "what have we come to?" The question is, "what is going happen to us?" I suspect, not much good.
James M. Reynolds
Border lawsuit by illegal aliens
Dramatic Rise In Sea Level And Its Broad Ramifications Uncovered
Scientists have found proof in Bermuda that the planet's sea level was once more than 21 meters (70 feet) higher about 400,000 years ago than it is now.
Obama: "And, in fact, there are several who’ve suggested that FDR was wrong to interfere back in the New Deal. They’re fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago."
-- Roland Dobbins
Indeed. I've been saying something of the sort for some time now. There were some good outcomes in the New Deal, and we do not know what might have happened without it: the nation was in a very bad state and there was revolution in many places around the world -- but we can certainly see that some of what was tried did not work. Surely we can learn from that?
I thought you might find this article interesting, as they put forth the exact argument you have made for a while now. We need cheap energy.
I thought it was very well written and makes some really good arguments.
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
February 11, 2009
I had errands all day. I will put up a lot of mail tomorrow. Apologies.
February 12, 2009
Disturbing news from England:
This morning I was discussing the history of computing with my seniors, and I explained what Alan Turing was trying to do with his Turing Machine--automatically prove theorems like a mathematician would. "You know how to prove theorems, don't you? They teach that in geometry." Blank looks. "You have taken geometry, haven't you?"
"That's ninth grade math, isn't it?"
So I investigated this further with them and discovered that university-bound students in the UK don't take geometry, trigonometry, or advanced algebra, let alone calculus. They also don't take a foreign language, or high school science, or much of anything outside their two A-level specialities. This lack of education makes it very hard to discuss applications of programming with them.
-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw> Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>
Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for Western Civilization as it commits suicide. That didn't change with the end of the Cold War.
"John Maynard Keynes famously said that all governments would need to do to cure a Depression would be to stuff jars with money, bury them in old coal mines, fill the mines with garbage from the nearby towns, and then announce that they'd done that. Free enterprise would take care of the rest. People would go mine those jars, and spend the money, and this wouldn't compete with more legitimate and needed activities like producing cars or weaving cloth or even building roads."
Either Keynes was ignorant of the history of gold and silver rushes or he was counting on ignorance in his readers. Digging up buried money was precisely what the old time gold and silver mining rushes were about. And a powerful mechanism they were to depopulate local productive industries and also create raging inflation.
The US Government helped by setting up local assay offices and mints in all major gold and silver areas to coin mined metal into money. "Money" was literally being dug out of the earth in chunks without any increase in available goods and services. Available goods and services grew scarcer due to the diversion of capital and labor to mining activities.
And large scale social debauchery (alcohol and opium, gambling, white slavery prostitution, banditry and violence) always accompanied the general monetary debauchery, just as we see around us today. Think Tombstone or Deadwood.
Contrary to modern urban legends it is eminently possible to inflate gold and silver based specie money.
"President Obama is scheduled to visit Fort Myers (Florida) on Tuesday to promote his economic stimulus plan. But residents here tend to view it as the equivalent of an herbal remedy — it can’t hurt but it probably won’t heal. Instead, in church groups and offices, people call for “industry” and repeat one telling question: “What do we want to be when we grow up?”
These former construction workers get it. See how educational economic hard times can be? Now they just need a leadership that both gets it and is competent to lead the way to it. This rules out virtually all current personnel in both major parties.
I think Obama's $500k executive pay cap for federal bailout recipients was too generous by half. And I didn't read about any limits on reimbursable expenses such as traveling first class, staying in rooms higher than Motel 6 level or eating above the McDonald's drive through prices. The rules were and are simple. Earn a stable profit without catastrophic losses requiring taxpayer bailouts and the sky is the limit on salaries and executive jets.
The NYT has an interesting concurrent piece:
"You Try to Live on 500K in This Town"
Here's the point. Once the Lehigh Acres experience hits home in Manhattan a lot of things will become clearer and simpler.
Having had to travel at government rates, I can tell you that I felt I was making a contribution; I sure didn't have any luxuries. If I were in a business that required me to do that often, I would probably get in another business. At one time I had a million mile club membership, all at steerage rates, but traveling steerage wasn't then the undignified cattle truck ride it is today. And Motel 6 doesn't have high speed Internet connections.
I did stay at what used to be a Travelodge (it's a Crowne Royal now) and that was more than adequate. And we ate at a local Vietnamese restaurant, and in the conference center cafeteria, and that was all right. But if I had to fly steerage very often I would simply not fly at all. The flight crew tries, but they can't make it pleasant.
But see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123431293649170767.html about the Traders, who some say deserve being declared Outlaws and left to private enterprise; someone would find a way to harvest their usable organs.
Another Dalton Minimum?
Dr. Pournelle --
Jager and Duhau's work suggests we could be in for a cold snap, starting after 2014. While not as bad as a Maunder Minimum, a Dalton Minimum would still be unpleasant.
Forecasting the parameters of sunspot cycle 24 and beyond C. de Jager, S. Duhau in "Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics", Vol 71 (2009)
From the abstract:
Solar variability is controlled by the internal dynamo which is a non-linear system. We develop a physical–statistical method for forecasting solar activity that takes into account the non-linear character of the solar dynamo. ... We find that the system is presently undergoing a transition from the recent Grand Maximum to another regime. This transition started in 2000 and it is expected to end around the maximum of cycle 24, foreseen for 2014, with a maximum sunspot number Rmax=68±17. At that time a period of lower solar activity will start. That period will be one of regular oscillations, as occurred between 1730 and 1923. The first of these oscillations may even turn out to be as strongly negative as around 1810, in which case a short Grand Minimum similar to the Dalton one might develop. This moderate-to-low-activity episode is expected to last for at least one Gleissberg cycle (60–100 years)."
(full article available at http://www.icecap.us/ under the Feb. 7, 2009 heading "Another Dalton Minimum Possible")
What Things Cost in Ancient Rome.
---- Roland Dobbins
And we PAY these fatheads...
They destroyed Bombay Duck, formaggio marcio; heaven only knows what else - and now Tocai, one of the finest of all Italian wines in my opinion.
--- Italy's Final Tocai Wine Harvest
Sunday October 8, 2006
As of March, 2007, Italy's tocai wine can no longer be called tocai. The European Union has ruled that as of next year tocai (Tokaji) can only be produced in Hungary. Even though Hungary's wine is a sweet dessert wine while Italy's is a dry white wine, the powers that be believe only one EU wine should be called tocai, tokai, or tokaji. ---
I lived and worked in Italy, Milan, for many years when I was young and bubbly, and it was here I learned about food, cooking and wines. Tocai was one of my all-time favorites. These last few years in Maryland I have been wondering why I could no longer find it.
Friulano - now THAT rolls off the lips!
Lawrence - whose lips are (almost) speechless
"Under the first view, the prices of a defined set of "toxic assets" have been driven below their long-run value and in some cases have become impossible to sell. The solution, many suggest, is for governments to make a market, buy assets or insure banks against losses. This was the rationale for the original Tarp and the "super-SIV (special investment vehicle)" proposed by Henry (Hank) Paulson, the previous Treasury secretary, in 2007.
Under the second view, a sizeable proportion of financial institutions are insolvent: their assets are, under plausible assumptions, worth less than their liabilities. The International Monetary Fund argues that potential losses on US-originated credit assets alone are now $2,200bn (€1,700bn, £1,500bn), up from $1,400bn just last October. This is almost identical to the latest estimates from Goldman Sachs. In recent comments to the Financial Times, Nouriel Roubini of RGE Monitor and the Stern School of New York University estimates peak losses on US-generated assets at $3,600bn. ...
Personally, I have little doubt that the second view is correct and, as the world economy deteriorates, will become ever more so. ... The new plan seems to make sense if and only if the principal problem is illiquidity."
If you don't properly identify the problem, your solution will not help. So, where is our effort to study the situation and deterimine the real problem, so if we recover, we aren't going to do it again later? Surely this much money is worth a week of planning, especially since it appears little of it will be spent in the next year anyway.
Re: Vote Without Reading?
You write: "How any Senator can vote for something that's as potentially revolutionary as this may be without understanding what he is voting for is way beyond me. That is the height of irresponsibility, and I mean that word quite literally."
Why would it be surprsing? These are the people who voted incandescent light bulbs out of existence without realizing it.
Congress has, over the years, ceded more and more of its power to the Executive Branch. It's the Executive Branch bureaucracy that runs the country now; they're the FDA, the FAA, the FCC, FBI, DHS, DOT, DOD. All Congress does anymore is, basically, issue position statements; everything else about the laws is left to the bureaucracy to interpret and enforce as it sees fit.
-- Mike T. Powers
Jerry, you wrote: ``We have long gone past the point at which every Senator and Congressperson needs to be aware of the details of every piece of legislation. That's to some extent what Committees are for. ''
I work for a legislature, and I understand the need for committees to hash out the fine details of bills. I understand that staffers summarize many bills for their legislators, so that the legislators can make an informed decision on matters of secondary importance to their constituents. Given all that, I would say that if a body politic has reached the point that elected representatives vote on bills for which they have not read even a summary, representative democracy has become a transparent fiction. I wonder how long we will maintain that fiction?
I think that the problem is not that our country has become too complicated, but that our government has undertaken too much. And, of course, most of the folks we elect to office already are or soon become irresponsible elitists, more interested in advancing their own interests than their country's. The lack of character in our elected representatives probably explains the governmental overreach.
Despair is a sin, but I'm not sure I can think of a better feasible alternative.
Reading List for Fully Civilized Adults
You recently wrote: I am not making light of your request. There are certain books that everyone needs to have read before they become fully civilized adults, and our universities are no longer addressing that. Some of them are well known. Others, like Parkinson's Evolution of Political Thought and Pratt's Battles that Changed History are a bit obscure and not likely to be on any random egghead list.
My comment: How many of these books do you expect to be read by the same group who have no use for algebra? It appears to me that you have established quite a barrier to entry into the group of fully civilized adults.
Actually, most of the books I recommend are accessible to at least 60% of the population. I do point out that The Federalist Papers, now considered too difficult for undergraduate Political Science 101, were originally published as letters to the editors of newspapers. I suspect that most of those who read Madison did not do algebra; I'm not certain that Madison could, although Jefferson almost certainly did know algebra and geometry.
And perhaps I should have said "Those who aspire to positions of leadership among fully civilized adults" and perhaps I should have placed more emphasis on being well rounded. Still: I don't recommend books that are way over the heads of those who vote. I don't insist that everyone read Macaulay's five volumes although those who do will profit from the month or two that may take. But I do point out that Pratt's Battles That Changed History was a popular book and sold quite well in its time, and Barzun's Teacher in America is accesible to any high school student.
I don't mean to further intellectual arrogance and elitism. I do say that those who can become familiar with the jewels of Western Civilization will be better off for having studied them -- and that the Republic would be a great deal better off if we had more letters to the editors of our papers written by Publius.
Equal protection of the laws (?)
"The story does tempt one to the old sentence of Outlawry: "You are no longer under the protection of the laws. Whatever is done to you is no crime, and no one may be charged with any crime for doing you harm, taking your property, or damaging your goods, nor may you seek recompense in the courts." Free Enterprise and human perversity would see to the rest. No bounty necessary."
Dear Dr. Pournelle:
Perhaps I am misunderstanding your point here (I certainly hope so!), but...are you actually advocating declaring people to be outlaws simply because they are nasty and vile? So much for the Constitution, I guess: that whole business about equal protection, trial by jury, no person to be deprived without due process...boink! Out the window, because we are offended by people who have raised conspicuous consumption to a high art!
Now, perhaps you are merely idly speculating, or paraphrasing the ideas of others. But you certainly don't seem offended by them or fearful of their consequences. So I don't think I'm wrong in attributing those sentiments to you: though, of course, I hope I am.
Leaving aside the question of "Who decides?", in which I would have thought you, of all people, would take some interest (I can think of plenty of offensive people *I*'d like to outlaw!), surely a man of your great historical learning can see that that way lies anarchy, warlordism, dictatorship?
There was a time when you feared proscription and saw it as a harbinger of the end of days. Now, apparently, you have sold out to the most vulgar sort of populism: kill the aristos! Put their heads on pikes and parade them!
I seem to recall a series of such incidents in the French and the Russian Revolutions. I'm sure there have been plenty of others before, between, and since. For a man who repudiates Jacobinism, you seem very quick to embrace it when your own sensibilities are offended.
Very respectfully, David G.D. Hecht
Come now. First, note that I said "the story does tempt one" which is hardly serious advocacy; and second, note that it is a sentence; meaning that there has to have been some kind of trial and conviction. Actually, outlawry was originally a sentence imposed on fugitives from justice, who had been ordered to pay weregild or some other fine for a crime against the community, and those who were accused of crimes but fled the jurisdiction or simply vanished; and there were other conditions.
I think your leg came off in my hand. Apologies. I probably ought not try to do this at night after sending in a column.
Bad News (12 Feb mail)
"Under the first view, the prices of a defined set of "toxic assets" have been driven below their long-run value and in some cases have become impossible to sell.”
I don’t understand. I would love to buy something with a price below its long-run value. Warren Buffet has grown rich(er) with that concept. Please, would someone please start a fund that buys toxic assets for prices less than their values; I would love to invest in that fund. Bernie Madoff: the invitation does not apply to you.
As a Californian how do you feel about Pelosi's mouse getting 30 Mil in the stimulus package? Of course if he's endangered he may need the stimulus. (ouch) I was gratified to hear Pelosi state that she had nothing to do with it.
First I heard of it! But then there's a lot in that bill that no one has ever heard of. There is no single elected official who has read all of it, and there are many elected officials who have read none of The Largest Appropriation Bill in the History of the World.
Problems & Solutions
"If you don't properly identify the problem, your solution will not help. So, where is our effort to study the situation and deterimine the real problem, so if we recover, we aren't going to do it again later? Surely this much money is worth a week of planning, especially since it appears little of it will be spent in the next year anyway."
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet State struggled for many decades with a chronic agricultural crisis. At various times this problem and possible solutions for it were more widely discussed in the Soviet mass media than the real estate crisis is in our media today.
The answer to us in the West was always obvious: allow private farming and private food markets. And this answer was actually known to the nomenklatura of the Soviet Union. At least following Stalin's time they were well aware of the great disparity between production from state-owned lands and the tiny private private plots allowed to the collective farm peasants. They consciously suppressed discussion of this. Anyone publicly proposing this solution was fired, professionally ruined, ridiculed by the mass media, shunned by the community and even committed to mental institutions and jailed.
Today food is plentiful in Russia. And the monolithic Communist Party and Soviet state are no more. The Communist nomenklatura understood far more than the agricultural problem and solution. They also understood the true basis of their own political power. Politicians who accumulate great power always do. They therefore banned discussion of solutions that identified their policies as the source of the problem and their removal from power as the effective solution.
Surely nothing like that is going on here and now though? We're far too socially advanced for that, aren't we?
Well -- yes.
Damned Statistics and the Recession
Apparently immigrants are taking jobs from UK citizens. <http://tinyurl.com/au4jd8 >
The academic experience of emigration. <http://tinyurl.com/brldsg>
Deliberate inflation of the UK money supply planned. <http://tinyurl.com/datx9n >
-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw> Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>
Subject: Enough already!
The electronic medical records system will be modeled on the one already in use at the VA hospitals. As a patient there, I can assure you that it works very well, saves a lot of confusion, and money and there are privacy protections in place. Your old pal, Newt Gingrich, was the first prominent politician to urge this system be emulated nationwide. Enough with the fear mongering.
Likewise, lets clarify that in order to stimulate the economy money has to be spent. Tax cuts are simply another way to spend by not collecting money due the government. Characterizing a stimulus bill as a spending bill, as if that were a bad thing, is to fall prey to a failed ideology. The President is a very plain spoken man who doesn't hesitate to point out such things. The Republican rhetoric has sunk below useful debate to embarrassing posturing. Obama's theory is that we should do something, even if it might be wrong, in preference to watching the entire country go to Hell so we can enjoy the wreckage and don sackcloth and ashes for our sins.
I know that Newt initiated this: I was his advisor at the time. That does not mean that concern about nationalizing health care is fear mongering. The demand for a free good is infinite, and there will be rationing no matter what you like; and reading the essays of those who seem to be in charge of this changeover does not reassure me.
Data compatibility is not the danger. National health care is the concern. And since you have no more idea of just what is in the Stimulus Bill than I do, you are operating from a position of trusting not only the good intentions but the competence of people in your party. I can hope you are correct but national health care does not seem to work well in most places that it has been tried.
As to Do Something Just In Case It Might Work, again I refer you to the New Deal where much of this was tried, and abandoned by some of its architects. And again I point out that you know no more about what is in that Stimuls Bill than I do, and both of us know about as much as any of those who are voting for it.
If asking what the hell we are getting into is Republican Rhetoric, then I think we need more of it.
Kindle two audio function
Amazon.com is trying for an end-run around copyright similar to what Google tried with their massive library copying project. Audio rights are sold separately and are derivative regardless of the quality of the rendition. Like Google , they are working on the theory that it is easier to seek forgiveness than permission or that the cost of a lawsuit in Federal Court (the only place where a copyright action can be brought) is an effective barrier. This is why the statutory penalties are in the law. One might not spend $45 to register a short piece such as a magazine article, but a book of any size has to be deposited with the Library of Congress anyway, so one might as well do the registration at the same time and put it under the law. Registration is public notice and defacto ownership of all rights including audio. $150,000 is enough cause to bring a suit.
But text to speech readers have been around for years. Mrs. Heinlein was using one in her last years because the system I helped set up for her that let her have huge letters on the screen was not good enough in her last years (fortunately she had a number of retired Navy people in her support group in Jacksonville). I will be having a discussion of this among my advisors, and the whole thing will be a big past of a Chaos Manor Reviews mailbag probably next week.
England and free speech. Its fall continues...
<"An anti-Islam Dutch politician vows to fly to Great Britain on Thursday despite a government ban on his entering the country, and he's daring the "weak and cowardly" British government to arrest him when he gets there.
"I'll see what happens at the border," Geert Wilders told Radio Netherlands on Wednesday. "Let them put me in handcuffs."
The right-wing lawmaker was invited by a member of Parliament to show his anti-Islam movie "Fitna," which calls the Koran a "fascist" book and accuses Islam of being a violent religion. He was told by the British Embassy in a letter Tuesday that he could not set foot in the country.>
And so it goes...
February 13, 2009
Subject: A very interesting interview...
"The Apollo launch complexes, built at such huge costs, sit on Cape Canaveral, slowly decaying back into dirt. Our abilities to repeat the feat get worse with every passing year. Worst of all, all that incredible effort, all that hard-earned knowledge, all those careers spent learning the skills, all those marriages, careers, and even lives sacrificed for the goal to make Apollo a success, are mostly gone. Most of us who worked on Apollo are either dead, retired, or senile now. The knowledge is gone, possibly forever. I'm one of the lucky ones; I was young enough when Apollo began to still be able to remember how to do it. Even so, too few remain who do. If, today, we were given another Presidential mandate to return to the Moon in another eight years, I don't think we'd have a snowball's chance in Hell of doing it. Even if we simply tried to build another Apollo/Saturn V system, with no changes at all, I still don't think we could do it. Apollo brought together thousands of the country's best minds, all concentrating on a single goal. It's the kind of thing that comes along only rarely in history."
"I hope I may be forgiven feeling a bit of personal loss as well. I devoted some good years to the effort of learning how to steer a rocket to the Moon and back safely. I still have that knowledge (much of which was never written down - we were too busy doing, to write) rattling around in my head. Over the last 30 years, I've hoped someone would ask me again to show them how to do it. No one has."
And there's some references to SF further on in the interview.
Why aren't ebooks taking off? Not enough pirates.
-- Roland Dobbins
That's certainly one view...
RE: Government Health Care
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
I’m a Canadian, and enjoy (?) socialized health care. For the most part I’m not a fan, and then my wife was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. The chemo treatments were covered, and so was the radiation. The steroids weren’t, nor are the lymphatic massages, but I also have a decent extended health plan through work, so that covered those costs. All in all, if we didn’t have health care, I would likely have lost my wife or my home, or maybe both. I’m glad I didn’t have to make the choice. As it is, she is now being considered a cancer survivor, and we still have our home.
When you’re _really_ sick, universal health care is a grand thing to have. However, it gets abused by people who aren’t really sick, which wastes resources, which end up costing a greater portion of the taxes then it should. The end result is, Canadians not only need a tax funded system, but an after market insurance plan for drugs, physiotherapy, chiropractics, orthodontics, prosthetics, dentistry and opthamology. Our “free” system combined with a full coverage extended health insurance ends up costing approximately the same as a full on insurance plan in the US does. But the poor are automatically covered.
I heard a comedian’s comment the other day about the Canadian system, and I thought I would pass it along as a warning for what apparently is to come in the States:
“Government health care is like a hospital gown, you only think you’re covered”.
I am certainly alive because of Kaiser. My Kaiser dues are paid by Medicare, because otherwise my dues would be far above what I could afford -- they became so the day I became 65 although I was no more nor less healthy that day than the day before. That has to do with the pool. And of course I would have, I guess, the VA to fall back on if I could not stay with Kaiser.
The health care dilemma is large and real.
The one thing we can be sure of is that demand for a free good is infinite: there has to be some cost sharing. In my case it's co-payments, and that seems to work fairly well. At least so far.
Tax Cuts and Healthcare
Francis Hamit wrote "Tax cuts are simply another way to spend by not collecting money due the government."
I am a life-long conservative, but I think that Obama's plan to spend money is at least worth trying. The problem with tax cuts is that it assumes that the people paying less in tax will spend that money instead of putting it in a mattress. Also, tax cuts tend to help the middle-class and up, and they tend not to be the ones first in line to lose their jobs. Spending on infrastructure is a great way to get the middle-class and down working, while actually getting something useful for the money. And every worker doing work is one less on the dole.
Subject: Shovel-ready projects
Cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald probably defines shovel-ready projects better than anybody else:
(for those who don't know, Stephen Harper is the current Canadian Prime Minister, also trying to pass a stimulus budget).
Jerry, Although I've been following the energy provisions of the stimulus bill fairly closely, I haven't had a chance to search for anything to do with health care. I share your concern that the stimulus bill would be a very poor mechanism for enacting permanent changes to our health care system, or to anything else, for that matter. If you are interested in wading through it, you can find the complete text of the latest version available--which does not yet include the House/Senate conference version--at www.govtrack.org <http://www.govtrack.org/> . They have a running update on the bill on their homepage, and their specific page for the bill is here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1
This page includes links to the text in several formats and a helpful tally of its current status. It also provides links to other sites tracking the bill, including the Library of Congress's "Thomas.gov" site.
Regards, Geoff Styles
Thank you. Not sure that anyone will read it, and it seems to change like dreams...
You may have heard that the cover of the 2/16/2009 edition of Newsweek shows red and blue hands in a handshake with the caption "We Are All Socialists Now."
Do you remember early in James M. Cain's novel SERENADE when the down-on-his-luck opera singer is making ends meet running a band in a Mexican night club until the authorities find he doesn't have the necessary papers? And he says:
"They threw me out, and then they had Socialism, but they didn't have any jazzband. Business fell off, and later I heard the place closed."
That's what the news reminds me of lately.
Best wishes, Mike
Subj: Stimulus: tax cutting vs spending
Francis Hamit thinks there's no difference between tax cutting and spending.
At least a few Republicans have pointed out that there is too a difference:
Money left in the hands of the taxpayers will be spent according to *their* judgments about what will best serve their interests.
Money extracted from the taxpayers and spent by the government will be spent according to the judgments of politicians and bureaucrats.
Consequently, preferring spending to tax cutting constitutes an implicit determination that politicians and bureaucrats are better able than the taxpayers themselves to decide what use of the taxpayers' money will best serve the interests of the taxpayers.
There's also the entertaining controversy among the Economists over which has the larger "fiscal multiplier", but that's somewhat more esoteric. I find it *especially* entertaining that Christina Romer, who chairs President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors, has reportedly published research indicating that the multiplier for tax-cutting is the larger multiplier.
Tax cuts vs. spending
The difference, and it's a big one, is that tax cuts allow people to spend the money where they want to. Spending bills allow the government to spend the money where it wants to.
All else being equal, history shows that the former tends to lead to better uses of the wealth than the latter.
Tax cuts are about economic growth. Spending is about political power.
Subject: Re: more stimulating discussion
Francis Hamit said that
Well, yes. But if we must Do Something Now, then this bill fails to meet that goal miserably. I have not read the bill myself, but every discussion of the bill that I have heard from people who have tried to do so concludes that most of the money will not be spent this year even if the bill were passed today.
Simply putting a moratorium on federal withholding (not just income tax) and self-employment taxes would get money into people's hands much more quickly than the stimulus bill. It would also have the virtue of putting the money into the hands of people who are legally employed. On a personal level, if the goal is to spend money, I would rather do it for myself than have the government do it for me.
So if it is critical to get money into the economy now, this bill won't do it. If it is not so critical, then why are the Dems in such a frenzy to get it passed before people get a chance to understand what is in it?
I suspect that it wouldn't pass at all if not now. If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly. Or not at all, but apparently 3 Republican Senators have decided that will not be an option.
Subject: You're not the only one
Your rather interesting idea about the government buying out mortgages has appeared somewhere else (read the penultimate paragraph):
Ahead of the curve again... let's hope your nuc power station idea starts spreading too.
February 14, 2009
Don't Celebrate Valentine Day in India
Packground: After the collision of the two communications satellites (one Soviet and defunct, the other Iridium and alive), Richard C. Hoagland, one time science advisor to Walter Cronkite, said that the odds against this being an accident are so high that we can discount that; there is a deeper and more purposeful explanation, which will be discovered later. Peter Glaskowsky comments:
The satellite collision
If Hoagland thinks that odds of "trillions to one" are a big deal, he isn't thinking about how many orbital crossings take place among all the satellites and bits of debris up there. This is like the situation with the Rhine ESP experiments you were just writing about.
Also, these satellites were in well-known orbits; being so large, they were both easy to track. The Iridium satellite was an active part of a communications network, and it's definitely gone now. If the dead Russian satellite had moved at all, a lot of people would have noticed.
I think Hoagland has simply become insane, which is what will happen to anyone who spends his whole life looking for conspiracies where none exist.
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