THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 564 March 30 - April 30, 2009
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March 30, 2009
Government Motors has changed CEO's.
Will we continue to have an automobile industry in the US? Who will be in command of it? Will it make cars people want to buy, or will it make stuff people have to be coerced into buying through regulations and "incentives" (read high taxes on competing products)? It's a new ball game, and I don't think anyone knows where we will be going with this. And you ain't seen nothing yet.
In the past we have used regulations to export jobs and change the character of American industry. As an example, a lot of stuff -- consumer goods -- is made of plastic using injection molding. It is very nearly impossible to operate an injection molding machine in the United States. There are just too many environmental regulations, permits, and pollution abatement costs. As a result we have exported that industry in its entirety, and you won't find much made in the USA with that technology.
What, then, do we make in the US? More to the point, what should we be making? And who should decide this?
There are several possibilities. There's the capitalist system in which the market makes that decision, largely through experiments. We seem to be in the process of abandoning that decision process. It's not clear what we will replace it with.
We note that the auto industry got something under $20 billion in taxpayer money. This is no small sum, but it's pretty small potatoes compared to the TARP funds, and positively tiny compared to what's been shoveled into the financial products industry. Apparently the government intends to keep the financial products industry going in the US at all costs.
Earth Hour Report: Apparently Las Vegas turned out a lot of the glitter (although apparently not in the casinos). Reports are that Al Gore turned off some of the spotlights that usually illuminate his mansion, but not the driveway spotlights.
More later. It's time for our walk.
I was told that by someone who ought to know, but it could well be wrong. The neat thing about a public log book is that someone will correct me.
Whether in the specific case of injection molding the regulation are that severe may well be questioned; but the general case isn't unclear. I don't know how many of Phillips Plastics products are made in the USA, but I do know that it's nearly impossible to have a Chinese product free household. For a good part of this Century the US economy was supported in large part by buying consumer products from China, with many of the products paid for by the profits of financial products. This wasn't sustainable, and won't be again. My point was and remains that while there are lots of ways to make money, the route to sustainable wealth is to make things. Selling services, and particularly financial services, can be highly profitable, but at bottom an economy based on selling each other financial products is like an economy based on taking in each others' washing.
My major point remains: we have to figure out what it is we ought to be making in this country. Someone is going to make that decision; the question is who? And once areas are identified, the best thing the government can do is find out how to get out of the way; that may require research into how to make things without harming the environment; and that kind of research may well be a very legitimate activity of government, which was the real point of my musings. The free enterprise system is one of our best engines of wealth creation. Unregulated free enterprise generally has unpleasant consequences. Over regulation leads to low productivity or job export.
And some regulations are explicitly designed to make it very difficult for anyone new to enter the industry.
Apologies if I misled anyone.
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|This week:||Tuesday, March
Tomorrow is April 1. Some people are turning off their computers while it's still March, because the Conficker Worm is expecting an update on April 1. Several million machines are estimated to have been infected by Conficker.
There's a lot of panic out there. For more details, see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29956746/ which has a more calm approach. There is no need to panic.
The important thing is to make sure your Windows system has the latest updates installed; if you have any doubts -- or you have some older machines that you haven't turned on in a while -- this would probably be a good time to be certain. No one knows what instructions Conficker will receive tomorrow, but infected machines will obey them.
Security expert Rick Hellewell adds:
Note POINT FOUR and what follows it. This is important. Note also that Microsoft will be putting out an "important" update today, and if your automatic update installation schedule is set to update tonight, this will be waiting for installation.
Julie Woodman sends this reminder:
Those were heady days. See also
For the first picture anyone ever saw of the Earth and Moon together.
On plastics and the economy, see mail.
Rick Hellewell adds this note:
Bob in New Zealand:
People whose mail bounced (very partial list)
Robert Whitaker formerly of AOL
Neal Pritchett formerly of Earthlink
For details on SAS Conference http://www.space-access.org/
April 1, 2009
I do not do April Fool jokes.
I got a late start and I have a medical appointment. Tomorrow morning I am going to Phoenix for the Space Access conference, which means doing preparations. I have to get the column done. I have to keep this place going so you'll continue to subscribe and renew.
For the moment there's some discussion of sea level in mail. More later.
April 2, 2009
It turns out that there wasn't room in the small private jet going to Phoenix. Either Niven or I had to be left behind, an I'm so far behind that I urged Niven to go and leave me. My tax preparations are upon me, bills have to be paid, Rick Galloway has to fight a naval battle, the column has to be written. I'll try not to waste the time.
The LA Times Business section had a column on the
ratings firms today. It says what I have been saying for some time now. Note
that by law money a number of financial institutions cannot invest in
products below a certain rating -- and the ratings can only be given by
about four firms. Thus there's no way to bring in a new rating system, the
incomes of the ratings firms that rated real estate bubble inflated junk as
AAA and thus allowed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and other lending
institutions to count their mortgage backed derivatives as high quality
capital the same as US Treasure bonds, and thus allowed them to inject more
money into the real estate market thus keeping the bubble expanding and thus
leading to the crash --- a long sentence but it's a long chain of
consequences. And the point is that this rating system is unchanged and
unlikely to change. It's built into the law. See
Until we find some alternative to the present rating system -- which at the moment is solidified in granite by law -- we're going to have the potential for bad ratings inspiring bubbles. The system has bond funds paying the ratings agencies for ratings. "Here, I'll give you money. You give me an impartial rating. Of course if you give me a lower rating there are other agencies I can pay who I am sure could use my money..." This does not seem to me a way to guarantee impartial ratings...
The ratings companies say they have to charge for ratings or otherwise they could not afford to make the ratings public. They have to be paid by someone. I would think the obvious people to be paying would be those who are going to buy the products rated -- that indeed the notion of taking payments from those who benefit from higher ratings would be called kickbacks in other industries such as construction -- but I freely admit I haven't thought this all the way through. But surely there's a better system for determining which investments are safe for retirement funds and other "secure" and "conservative" investments than the one that is at present written into law.
Meanwhile, ugly truths emerge from the Stevens trial. The Attorney General's office is about to drop all the charges -- including the original charges that got a conviction -- of former Senator Stevens of Alaska; this on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct including quite possibly fabricated evidence and almost certainly withholding evidence. And apparently the judge who presided over the trial saw much of this coming but for reasons not yet explained didn't stop the mess before a jury convicted the Senator.
Now I am not big fan of Senator Stevens. I'm not an enemy either. I really know little about him. I do know that the balance of power in the Senate was upset by his conviction just before the election; the conviction caused him to lose. He was convicted of lying -- I don't know if under oath or in signed statements.
I'm not at all sure what to make of this. I don't know why someone in the Justice Department had it in for Stevens, or whether they were directed to be so by the Bush Administration (or why), or by whom those who acted improperly were appointed. There's a lot I don't know. But this case scares the hell out of me. The lesson was that if they -- whoever 'they' are -- are out to get you, you're going to be got. Ask Martha Stewart. Or the former senior Senator.
We have not heard the last of this story.
I just heard Rush Limbaugh tell the story of Queen Victoria and the finger bowl as if it happened to Queen Elizabeth II. I expect this will dominate the news for the next day or so. Sigh.
April 3, 2009
I am getting the column out and doing other stuff. Still trying to catch up.
The G20 conference was pretty well cut and dried to begin with so no surprises there. And the column is due...
If you need something interesting to do for about 20 minutes:
April 4, 2009
Working today. Here's an interesting item:
There are remnants of the old 1776 Mesa house in those photos, but not much. Everything seems to have been rebuilt, and Heinlein's bedroom/office/bathroom suite seems to have been torn out and rebuilt. There was no dining room in the old house, and there was no second floor or spiral staircase. That's all new. The view is still there, of course.
I have no idea of property values in Colorado Springs, but there's not much of Robert Heinlein left in that house other than the location.
April 5, 2009
I'll be late today. Readers will find this interesting as an insight into just who is running the country. I'll have more to say about this one on Monday.
If that's not enough, try this. Moyers isn't one of my favorite people, but the interview is interesting:
We're driving up to the high desert for our granddaughter's first birthday. Be back Monday afternoon.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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