Monday, December 28, 2009

Scientists Perfect Thought-to-Speech Algorithm



Scientists implanted electrodes inside the speech motor cortex of a paralyzed 26 year old's brain, allowing him to speak via electronic assistance.

Previous direct brain communication technology has focused on typing individual letters. The new technique translates the sounds of speech directly, allowing patients to merely think of saying the word and the computer translating it with a latency of 50ms, a speed on par with a healthy human being.

Signals collected from an electrode in the speech motor cortex are amplified and sent wirelessly across the scalp as FM radio signals. The Neuralynx System amplifies, converts, and sorts the signals. The neural decoder then translates the signals into speech commands for the speech synthesizer. Credit: Guenther, et al.

This technology is being developed by Frank Guenther of the Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems and the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Boston University, as well as many more academics and firms

[PhysOrg via Gizmodo]

Iran: The Camera Phone is Mightier than the Sword





Iran is hurtling toward civil war, with the general populace finally fed up with the incompetent and often violent leadership. During the many protests, dissidents are being imprisoned, beaten, and tortured.

In the past, we would likely not learn of the government putting down the uprisings until months or years after the fact. However, in today's constantly connected world, we are learning about these events as they happen, through picture messaging and services like Twitter.

Watching your continuing coverage of the people of Iran continuing their fight for freedom I was struck, and touched, by the presence, in every picture, in every piece of footage, by the universal presence of cellphones and cameras. No matter how chaotic, no matter how frightened they may be, the protesters held their phones high. Not a brave few but a brave many pressed into the violence, stood right next to the regimes thugs and pointed their cameras. It seems like the ultimate act of defiance; no matter how you try to shut us down or shut us up, we will expose you. You can kill us, but the world will know that we never stopped fighting.

I urge you to continue to use your platform to show us this incredible fight. Before this started, the people of Iran seemed alien and vaguely threatening. Now, I see a young woman, veil shoved back and cellphone in the air, and this lefty atheist woman sees a sister clear across the world.

The government of Iran cannot brutalize its citizens without the entire world knowing about it in real time, thanks to information technology. I always knew the Internet was a game-changer, but I had no idea it could actually save lives.

The Web empowers people in a way never possible before. Keep snapping those pictures, people of Iran, we are behind you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We Want These Guys Running Health Care?

Veterans still waiting for GI Bill payments

WASHINGTON - Universities and colleges are still waiting for tuition payments for thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who attended school last fall under the new GI Bill, leaving the veterans panicked that they'll be unable to return to class in January.

Veterans Affairs Department officials promise to get them back into the classroom. The VA says the number of veterans with claims unprocessed is now fewer than 5,000 — down from tens of thousands — and the goal is to have them all processed by the end of the year.

"We continue to work on a daily basis with schools to make sure that no student is denied attending class as a result of delayed tuition payments," Katie Roberts, a VA spokeswoman, said Tuesday. "It's a top priority for VA to make sure that students can focus on their studies rather than their bank accounts."

And that's just a small part of the VA. Wait till the government is running the entire health care system.

[via evil muppet]

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Senate Health Care Bill Will Bankrupt the US

This bill is a disaster of epic proportions, and will quickly bankrupt the United States.

Our current annual deficit is $1.4 trillion. The latest Health Bill is estimated to cost $871 billion over ten years. However, this hides the true cost as many of the bill's measures do not go into effect until 2014. If one calculates the ten year costs from 2014-2023, the bill's price tag jumps dramatically to $2.5 trillion.

Liberals would like you to believe that the bill will actually reduce the deficit. This relies on nearly half a trillion in Medicare cuts, which even honest liberals will tell you will never happen. Medicare is already underfunded, paying about 80% of what a private insurer will pay, and any further cuts to Medicare will certainly put thousands of doctors out of business.

And what about the ever spiraling cost of health care and insurance premiums? The CBO estimates that individual insurance plans will increase 10-13% over what they would be if we simply did nothing. The bill attempts to cover up these costs with subsidies for around half of those subscribers, which avoids the root problem altogether, and the other half of the individual market will just be stuck with massive, unsubsidized increases.

Prices for health care itself will also skyrocket. Massachusetts has already implemented similar reforms and has seen its health care costs increase much faster than the national average. I don't know if the CBO is even accounting for this form of accelerated inflation, but we will all be paying for it soon.

If you need more proof that costs will rise faster, you need look no further than Econ 101: Supply and Demand. With 31 million new people gaining or being forced to buy insurance, the demand for health care will drastically increase. The supply, however, will not. Any freshman economics major can tell you that when demand increases faster than supply, price goes up.

The brilliant lawmakers in Washington have decided to pay for some of this reform with new taxes in the middle of the worst recession in decades. I do not need to explain how billions in new taxes will hurt our economy, especially those at the bottom. Luckily, we won't have to pay for all of it as much of it will be paid for by borrowing.

China is already asking questions about the solvency of our reform plans, as they will be the ones paying for it. Not only will this bill bankrupt us, it will put us further under China's thumb.

Some of those dollars will not even go to reform. Billions in spending were written in for no other reason than political bribery. Ben Nelson's home state, Nebraska, will get $45 million. For Louisiana, another $100-300 million. For Florida, $5 billion. These votes have been bought and paid for, by which I mean bought by Democratic power players and paid for by you and me, bi-partisanship be damned.

Not only will this health bill bankrupt our nation, it will also trample our rights. Many states are challenging the constitutionality of an insurance mandate, and they are making a strong case.

It's probably why a majority of Americans do not want this reform.

Merry Christmas, America, you're about to get the worst health care reform in history.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blizzard Dumps Snow on Copenhagen as Leaders Battle Warming

This year, give the gift of Irony.

Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- World leaders flying into Copenhagen today to discuss a solution to global warming will first face freezing weather as a blizzard dumped 10 centimeters (4 inches) of snow on the Danish capital overnight.

“Temperatures will stay low at least the next three days,” Henning Gisseloe, an official at Denmark’s Meteorological Institute, said today by telephone, forecasting more snow in coming days. “There’s a good chance of a white Christmas.”

Delegates from 193 countries have been in Copenhagen since Dec. 7 to discuss how to fund global greenhouse gas emission cuts. U.S. President Barack Obama will arrive before the summit is scheduled to end tomorrow.

Denmark has a maritime climate and milder winters than its Scandinavian neighbors. It hasn’t had a white Christmas for 14 years, under the DMI’s definition, and only had seven last century. Temperatures today fell as low as minus 4 Celsius (25 Fahrenheit).

DMI defines a white Christmas as 90 percent of the country being covered by at least 2 centimeters of snow on the afternoon of Dec. 24.

[Bloomberg via Pat Brown]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How the Constitution Took Our Freedom

In the 18th century, many felt the Constitution was a massive expansion of government power. They may have been right.

When viewed objectively, the very words of the Constitution reveal its true purpose. Constitutionalists often cite Article I Section 8 as proof of the limits on the powers granted to the federal government, but let’s not forget what that section actually says. It begins,

“The Congress shall have the power to…”

What follows is a long list of powers that the central government did not previously have. Each subsequent section of the Constitution invests power in the one of the three branches of government. Nowhere in the document are these powers limited, except for the short (but nevertheless important) list of exceptions contained in Section 9.
The expansion of power provided by the Constitution is one I had never considered, but one we should take a hard look at considering the runaway growth of everybody's favorite federal government.

[via Matt Hoagland]

Energy-efficient Traffic Lights Can't Melt Snow





The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again!

MILWAUKEE – Cities around the country that have installed energy-efficient traffic lights are discovering a hazardous downside: The bulbs don't burn hot enough to melt snow and can become crusted over in a storm — a problem blamed for dozens of accidents and at least one death.

"I've never had to put up with this in the past," said Duane Kassens, a driver from West Bend who got into a fender-bender recently because he couldn't see the lights. "The police officer told me the new lights weren't melting the snow. How is that safe?"

Many communities have switched to LED bulbs in their traffic lights because they use 90 percent less energy than the old incandescent variety, last far longer and save money. Their great advantage is also their drawback: They do not waste energy by producing heat.

Authorities in several states are testing possible solutions, including installing weather shields, adding heating elements like those used in airport runway lights, or coating the lights with water-repellent substances.

Short of some kind of technological fix, "as far as I'm aware, all that can be done is to have crews clean off the snow by hand," said Green Bay, Wis., police Lt. Jim Runge. "It's a bit labor-intensive."

This is mainly for the Global Warming folks who want to reform our vast energy economy using the power of the government. In this example, changing something as small as the type of light bulb in our traffic lights can cause headaches and, in limited cases, injury and death. All from our choice in lightbulbs.

[via Instapundit]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Disgusting Amount of Wealth Launches Mankind into Space



Recently, Sir Richard Branson has put his ridiculous wealth to a most laudable goal: space travel. His latest company, Virgin Galactic, plans to fly people into space and back again for a paltry 122,000 British pounds, or approximately $200,000. He unveiled his spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, last week.

SpaceShipTwo, the descendant of 2004's SpaceShipOne which won the X-Prize for the first private human space flight, flies to 52,000 ft (16 km) while strapped to an airplane, then releases and uses rockets to zoom out of the atmosphere to an altitude of 110km.

SpaceShipTwo can hold 2 pilots and 6 passengers, and its trajectory allows for about 6 minutes of weightlessness for those onboard before returning to Earth.

Though the flight is short, 300 passengers have already bought their tickets, while thousands more have expressed their interest.

Many of my friends on the Left seem to believe that the uber rich should be taxed at a far higher rate than your average person. While such a system may take the tax burden off of the working man, it must be weighed against the opportunity cost of lost investment. Wealthy people often make their wealth by investing wisely in things other people want, thereby using their obscene amount of money to provide for the needs and wants of their fellow man, at a small profit of course.

Branson's Virgin Galactic is a great example of how wealthy private citizens can use their ridiculous wealth to benefit mankind by pushing the boundaries of science and technology. If a person like Branson is taxed too heavily by his government, then he will not be able to make the $400 million investment needed to get a project like this off the ground, and humanity will have to wait until the government deems it feasible to take on space travel again, which considering our budget problems will not happen any time soon.

But this brings me to my next point, the point at which I must applaud our government's decision to practically starve NASA for funding. Initially, I was for increasing funding for space projects, but upon reflection I see the change I want happening before my eyes. When the government fails, the private market comes in to give people what they want. And people want space travel.

The government space program peaked in the late-60s, early-70s with the Apollo Program and the moon landings. Since then, there has been very little progress in this domain by NASA. Sure, we have the ISS, but we've stopped moving the ball forward.

While SpaceShipTwo is still early in the testing phase, SpaceShipOne stands as a proof of concept, that private entrepreneurs can and will take humanity into space, assuming they aren't taxed out of trying.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Something Wrong with Islam

After the bombings in Baghdad on Tuesday, I placed the blame at the feet of Islam. Many find this distasteful, as there are many Muslims who are good, peace loving people. However, I believe there is something distinctly different about the Muslim religion that is creating a very violent sub-culture.

I can't put it any better than Dr. Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-American ex-Muslim:

"We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people."

She concluded, "Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them."

After her interview on Al Jazeera, Dr. Sultan was excoriated by Syrian clerics, who called her a "heretic and infidel who deserves to die," and she has since received numerous death threats.

You cannot look at me with a straight face and tell me there is not a deep and widespread problem with Islam. I know there are many great people who follow the teachings of Mohammed, but there are plenty, including those in high positions of power in the mosque, that are poisoning their people with violent rhetoric.

There can be no progress if we accept this kind of behavior as the norm. Most of what I do with my writing is call people out when they do something wrong, and this is no different.

There is no excuse for killing innocent civilians. It's time to grow up.

Lawyers, Judges, and Facebook

The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee is discouraging judges from being Facebook friends with lawyers.

When judges “friend” lawyers who may appear before them, the committee said, it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, since it “reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer ‘friends’ are in a special position to influence the judge.”

This seems a little overblown to me, I have hundreds of Facebook friends, yet only a handful I would consider real friends.

Luckily, the opinion of this committee is only advisory, and not legally binding.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Problem is Teacher's Unions

Despite measurable success, a federally funded school voucher program in Washington D.C. is about to die.

"Effectively, Congress's failure to act to reauthorize this program will send well over 1,000 children to failing and, too often, unsafe schools," the letter states. "That result would, in our view, constitute a moral failing of the highest order on all of our parts."

Children in the short lived program are more advanced in reading than their public school peers by an average of 3 months, according to the Department of Education. Yet this program is being cut. Who could possibly be against a program that increases student achievement? It could only be a teacher's union.

"The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher ('DC Opportunity Scholarship') program," Van Roekel wrote in a March 5, 2009 letter. "We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress."

The Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics recently released data showing that the NEA topped the chart as the number one national donor during the 2007-08 election cycle, shelling out $57.6 million in combined federal and state contributions. The American Federation of Teachers was number 25, with more than $13 million in contributions.

Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency put this in perspective, writing that the NEA's and AFT's 2007-08 contributions meant that "America's two teachers' unions outspent AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined."

Vouchers are the best things going in public education, yet the teachers unions oppose them. Sorry kids, we failed you.

[thanks Pat]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Comcast Buys NBC from GE




The future of television content distribution is happening inside Comcast. They know that owning the content they broadcast is good business, as it cuts out several layers between production and broadcast. That's why they bought a struggling NBC.

In a joint statement announcing the agreement, Brian L. Roberts, the chief executive of Comcast, said the deal was “a perfect fit for Comcast and will allow us to become a leader in the development and distribution of multiplatform ‘anytime, anywhere’ media that American consumers are demanding.” The deal’s genesis lies in frequent flirtations over the last several years between Comcast and General Electric, although serious talks began in March. For Comcast, the purchase is the realization of its long-held ambition to be a major producer of television shows and movies.

Key words: anytime, anywhere. This is the future of television, where having TV means being to watch a show anytime, and anywhere, and this acquisition brings us one step closer.

This announcement comes in the wake of Comcast's recent PR problems, where they have been repudiated for data caps and prejudicial traffic shaping.

We shall see if the Net Neutrality proponents' doomsday scenario comes true, and Comcast begins slowing competitor traffic to boost the ratings for NBC. Something tells me they're smarter than than to attempt maneuver like that, as the public eye is squarely focused on their ethics, as well as their network.

Peace in the Middle East

More violence in Baghdad, a big one this time. In an effort to lighten the mood, a joke:

In Jerusalem, a CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Wailing Wall to pray, twice a day, everyday, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Wailing Wall and there he was!

She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview.

"I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN. Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wall and praying?"

"For about 60 years."

"60 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?"

"I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the hatred to stop and I pray for all our children to grow up in safety and friendship."

"How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?"

"Like I'm talking to a fuckin' wall."

[Thanks Glas]

The Buck Stops Here

I'm done beating around the bush. The reason health care is so expensive is because of our government subsidized employer based insurance. This is the root of the problem and must be attacked if we wish to see any real change.

Some history first: during WWII, wages across America were frozen, forcing businesses to get creative in luring the best talent. Many opted to offer health care insurance in lieu of a higher salary, and people for the most part liked it. Soon, a great number of people were insured through their job, and the government, seeing the people cared for, cemented the system into our society with a tax exemption on insurance premiums for those who got insurance through their job.

This system worked for a while, and many Americans were able to get health care when they needed it. However, the problems of such a system soon became apparent.

Due to a lack of incentive to find a less expensive doctor (hey, insurance is paying the bill so who cares?), price inflation in the health sector exploded. Now, costs are prohibitive to anyone who doesn't have insurance. So uninsured should just buy insurance, right?

Strangely, the government tax exemption applies only to insurance through an employer, not individual policies. So those people who don't get insurance through work are at an immediate disadvantage.

Further, the employer based system has segmented the market and created small, disconnected risk pools that exclude individual policy holders. This means individual policy holders, in addition to paying taxes on their premiums, must also pay a higher premium from the beginning.

The problem only goes deeper from there. Our current insurance model is severely disjointed; insurers may only compete in one state, and in many cases, this has created state monopolies. In NC, for instance, Blue Cross/Blue Shield owns 73% of the health insurance market. Insurers like BC/BS can use their monopoly position to squeeze hospitals for lower prices. Hospitals then pass this cost to the smaller insurers, hurting their ability to compete. Hospitals also pass the cost to the uninsured, making already expensive care even more unaffordable.

Liberals will often tell you that to bring costs down we must give people preventative care, that we can stave off expensive procedures with preventative measures. While partly true, this only treats a symptom of a very sick system where costs are still out of control

Don't get me wrong, preventative care is important, but the best preventative care anyone can do is to get exercise and not smoke. If we allow the market to work (and it does work, just look at the rapid decrease in prices of procedures not covered by insurance), then going to the doctor and getting medicine when you're sick will be cheap for everyone, or better yet, you can get a checkup before you get sick.

We cannot continue this game of "pass the buck" forever. Middle class Americans pass the buck to insurance companies who pass it to health care providers who pass it to small insurers, or to uninsured Americans. And now Americans, via the government, are trying to pass it to wealthier Americans through higher taxes. But we all know what happens when you try to pass the buck to the rich and powerful: they pass it right back to you and me.

So how about we stop thinking about ways to bandaid our horribly broken system and instead reform it from the beginning, where it all started: employer based insurance.

After that, we need only allow nation wide competition, you know, what we have for virtually every other business, and it seems to be working.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Public Enemy Number One: The Federal Reserve



If we were in 1792, we would be calling for Ben Bernanke's head.

Ben S. Bernanke doesn't know how lucky he is. Tongue-lashings from Bernie Sanders, the populist senator from Vermont, are one thing. The hangman's noose is another. Section 19 of this country's founding monetary legislation, the Coinage Act of 1792, prescribed the death penalty for any official who fraudulently debased the people's money.

The article goes pretty deep into the history and machinations of our monetary system.

It's time to audit the Fed. Why is this even up for discussion? It is Congress's duty to coin money, but that job has been passed to the Fed, and our money supply is essentially controlled by a presidential appointment and his banker cronies.

Even Woodrow Wilson, who signed the 1913 Federal Reserve Act into law, later regretted his decision:

I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.

The real tragedy is that so many Cassandras have tried to warn us, but have been ignored. Now we're paying the price for the hubris of 1913.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Congress Rips Bernanke a New One



Ben Bernanke, Fed Chief, is up for confirmation again. Most believe he will be reconfirmed, but members of Congress are taking this opportunity to verbally tear him apart before they give him a pass.

Members of the Senate Banking Committee signaled at a hearing that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is likely to be confirmed for a second term as head of the central bank. But that may come at a steep cost -- lawmakers said the Fed had "failed" or done a "horrible job" as a regulator and suggested they would push ahead with a proposal that would strip much of its regulatory authority.

...

Mr. Dodd's Republican counterpart, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, said he has traditionally held the Fed in "very high regard" but that the central bank's actions over the last year has eroded his view.

"I fear now, however, that our trust and confidence were misplaced," Mr. Shelby said.

...

"You are the definition of a moral hazard," said Sen. Jim Bunning (R, Ky.), a long-time Fed critic. "I will do everything I can to stop your nomination and drag out this process as long as I can."

Under Bernanke's watch we have not only seen the collapse of our entire banking and financial markets, taking us to the brink of full economic depression, but we have also seen the coffers of America pillaged to save greedy bankers from their own mistakes. And he is likely to keep his job.

I'm wondering exactly what it takes to get fired over at the Fed.

Men, the Gender Wars Are Over — We Won

Confidential Memo

To: All Men

Re: Operation “Feminist Movement”

Men, our long twilight struggle with the opposite sex is over. Our victory is total.

Can you believe the way things used to be? Remember when our fathers and grandfathers would drag themselves to mind-numbing jobs every day, having the sole responsibility for the feeding, clothing, and housing of their entire family?

And things were no easier before marriage, when men’s quest for sexual satisfaction was all too often hampered by the widespread moral code which taught women not to give out the “milk” for “free.”

Well, that state of affairs just wouldn’t do. So we men came together and did what we do best — formulate and implement a plan. First step, design the perfect world, the perfect male world. We decided such a world would consist of two things: less responsibility and more — and no-strings — sex.

Brothers, have we succeeded.

Rove Supports Obama

Karl Rove writes in support of Obama's Afghanistan surge. In other news, a freak blizzard in hell has caused numerous delays and power outages.

President Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday night deserves to be cheered. Over the objections of his vice president and despite opposition from his political base, the president is sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight terrorists.

...

Only a failure of presidential nerve or an unwillingness to make further midcourse corrections as the need arises will keep Mr. Obama from achieving the goals he has spelled out.

Victory can still be won. It won't be quick and it won't be easy, and it will take active leadership from Mr. Obama. But it is now within his grasp.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Not to Belabor the Point...

But this Senate Health bill is just godawful.

CBO found that premiums in the individual market will rise by 10% to 13% more than if Congress did nothing. Family policies under the status quo are projected to cost $13,100 on average, but under ObamaCare will jump to $15,200.

...

So the bill will increase costs but it will then disguise those costs by transferring them to taxpayers from individuals. Higher costs can be conjured away because they're suddenly on the government balance sheet. The Reid bill's $371.9 billion in new health taxes are also apparently not a new cost because they can be passed along to consumers, or perhaps will be hidden in lost wages.

...

Moreover, CBO is almost certainly underestimating the cost increases. Based on its county-by-county actuarial data, the insurer WellPoint has calculated that Mr. Baucus's bill would cause some premiums to triple in the individual market. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association came to similar conclusions.

One reason is community rating, which forces insurers to charge nearly uniform rates regardless of customer health status or habits

...

In a 2008 paper in the peer-reviewed Forum for Health Economics and Policy, [economists] found that state community rating laws raise premiums in the individual market by 20.9% to 33.1% for families and 10.2% to 17.1% for singles. In New Jersey, which also requires insurers to accept all comers (so-called guaranteed issue), premiums increased by as much as 227%.

If only we could come up with a real plan that actually reduces costs!

According to CBO, the relatively modest House GOP bill would actually reduce premiums by 5% to 8% in the individual market in 2016, and by 7% to 10% for small businesses. The GOP reforms would also do so without imposing huge new taxes.

Question

How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect?

-Milton Friedman

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Quote

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.

Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage.


-Likely more than one author

Not To Mince Words

But a government takeover of health care will make health care worse. A recent survey of cardiologists and cardiovascular ultrasound technicians found that if Medicare payments are cut to pay for the Health Care Bill, 87 percent may stop accepting Medicare patients, reduce staff or shut down their practices completely.

The survey showed that for the echocardiography service providers affected most directly by the PFS payment cuts, the actions currently being considered most often are:


  • 64% would delay the purchase of echo equipment;
  • 56% would lay off sonographers or other staff;
  • 53% would reduce staff salaries;
  • 47% might reduce staff benefits, such as 401K programs or healthcare;
  • 23% would refrain from accepting Medicare patients for any services;
  • 19% are considering closing a satellite office(s) or have already closed a satellite office(s); 60% of these are located in rural areas.


For those echocardiography service providers who will be indirectly affected by the payment cuts (those who receive payment through the Hospital Outpatient Payment System), the survey showed anticipated outcomes would include:


  • Increased workload (74%)
  • Longer wait times for patients (67%)
  • Lengthened turnaround time for reports (44%)
  • Increased overtime for staff or the need to hire additional cardiac sonographers (43%)

Echocardiography is but one of the countless components of our health care system that will be negatively impacted by the current health care legislation up for debate.

Billboard Fail



The live Twitter feed on the billboard seemed like such a good idea. The general manager and news director of WPMI, the NBC affiliate, have been suspended.

The Best Laid Plans

The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes even in a tropical paradise:

The island of Kiribati began to subsidize coconut harvesting in the hopes of encouraging fishermen to switch to the coconut trade and thereby help preserve Kiribati’s reefs from the ravages of overfishing. But as NPR reports, the plan backfired: with more money coming in, coconut harvesters worked fewer hours, which left more time for their favorite leisure activities — including fishing, which increased 33 percent since the start of the program. Says one researcher who studied the unintended consequences of the subsidies: “It hit us like a bumper sticker saying — a bad day fishing is better than a good day working.”

Fishermen 1, Government 0, Tax Payers lose

Monday, November 30, 2009

Make a Right at the Next Recession

Recessions are no fun for anyone, especially for the party in power. Ross Douthat looks at how our current recession could push voters rightward if Obama and the Democratic Congress continue to flounder.

Meanwhile, the regions hardest hit by the current downturn are places where liberals have dominated for generations, and where government is overextended already. (Of the 10 “States in Fiscal Peril” featured in a recent Pew report, nine went for Barack Obama in 2008.) Even if the residents of California or New Jersey or Illinois wanted further expansions of government, there isn’t any revenue to finance them.

So voters are turning rightward instead. In New Jersey, a recent Quinnipiac poll found that 61 percent of voters favored laying off state workers to reduce the current budget shortfall; only 23 percent favored raising taxes instead. Nationally, the percentage of Americans who say that government is doing “too much” hit a 10-year peak this fall. In 2007, 69 percent of the public said that government should guarantee universal health care; now that number is down to 47 percent.

I think we'll be seeing a Republican landslide come 2010.

This Is Universal Health Care

There's a reason why I oppose universal health care, and it isn't because I'm a heartless bastard. It's because I know government health care will be vastly inferior to what we have now in many important ways.

For example, an inspection of one of Great Britain's NHS hospitals revealed some disturbing results:

That report, published yesterday, noted that: "In the accident and emergency department we … saw floors that were stained with blood and other fluid spillages and black dirt had accumulated in the corners of the bay areas. Six out of 12 privacy curtains we checked were soiled, some with blood spatter." Patient trolleys had side rails that were "marked and sticky". In A&E inspectors found "a trolley mattress with a hole in the cover; we asked the nurses to check the mattress and it was found to be badly soiled and to have a foul odour. In all, 12 mattresses were checked by trust staff and 11 were stained through to the foam."

The Patients Association said clinical safety problems were widespread within the NHS. Katherine Murphy, the charity's director, said: "The evidence was there but not acted on. That is completely unacceptable."

This is unheard of even in the worst hospitals in America. But the lack of incentive and poor management in the NHS has led to potentially deadly consequences, consequences I would like to avoid.

I'll take my hospitals clean and private, thanks.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Real Cost of Obamacare

The Democratic health care bill now winding its way through Congress is purported to cost a mere $1 trillion, but the true cost is hidden by legislative gimmicks.

One gimmick makes the new entitlement spending appear smaller by not opening the spigot until late in the official 10-year budget window (2010–2019). Correcting for that gimmick in the Senate version, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) estimates, “When all this new spending occurs” — i.e., from 2014 through 2023 — “this bill will cost $2.5 trillion over that ten-year period.”

Another gimmick pushes much of the legislation’s costs off the federal budget and onto the private sector by requiring individuals and employers to purchase health insurance. When the bills force somebody to pay $10,000 to the government, the Congressional Budget Office treats that as a tax. When the government then hands that $10,000 to private insurers, the CBO counts that as government spending. But when the bills achieve the exact same outcome by forcing somebody to pay $10,000 directly to a private insurance company, it appears nowhere in the official CBO cost estimates — neither as federal revenues nor federal spending. That’s a sharp departure from how the CBO treated similar mandates in the Clinton health plan. And it hides maybe 60 percent of the legislation’s total costs. When I correct for that gimmick, it brings total costs to roughly $2.5 trillion (i.e., $1 trillion/0.4).

When we correct for both gimmicks, counting both on- and off-budget costs over the first 10 years of implementation, the total cost of ObamaCare reaches — I’m so sorry about this — $6.25 trillion. That’s not a precise estimate. It’s just far closer to the truth than President Obama and congressional Democrats want the debate to be.

Six Point Two Five trillion over ten years. And here I thought we were trying to reduce costs.

[Cato via Glas]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Quote

When is modern science going to find a cure for a woman's mouth?

-Dr. Leo Spaceman

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ah, The Onion


Obama Bucks




Found this, thought it was funny.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Is this a baby?


Federal Government Wants Subway Safety Oversight

The Obama administration will propose that safety regulations for subways and commuter trains be put under the jurisdiction of the federal government. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

China: Bow Down To Your Lender

China is now using its role as our lender to influence the terms of our health care reform:

In a July meeting, Chinese officials asked their American counterparts detailed questions about the health care legislation making its way through Congress. The president’s budget director, Peter R. Orszag, answered most of their questions. But the Chinese were not particularly interested in the public option or universal care for all Americans.

“They wanted to know, in painstaking detail, how the health care plan would affect the deficit,” one participant in the conversation recalled. Chinese officials expect that they will help finance whatever Congress and the White House settle on, mostly through buying Treasury debt, and like any banker, they wanted evidence that the United States had a plan to pay them back.

Who would have thought health care reform could become a national security issue?

The Chinese are getting skeptical about our ability to pay them back. Perhaps they will need to teach us a lesson in capitalism, which would be ironic to the max.

Shovel Ready My Ass

The $787 billion dollar Stimulus Bill is doing nothing and I couldn't be less surprised. Take California for example:

Figures from the California Department of Transportation show that, as of late October, over $2 billion in federal highway funds had been allocated to the state when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February. Of that sum, only $837 million had been awarded in construction contracts. Even more surprising, only $51 million, or about 2.5 percent of the total, had actually been disbursed. Given all the talk when the ARRA was passed about the many projects that were “shovel ready” and primed for construction, this is perhaps a bit disheartening. After all, this spending was pitched as a way to pump immediate life into a collapsing economy.

The Stimulus is a complete failure. Actually, it's worse than a failure, since it's pushing capital to be invested inefficiently.

We would be better off and in less debt if we had just done nothing.

Why You've Never Heard of the Great Depression of 1920

How Warren G. Harding turned a recession around in 1 year.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Market for Education

Skilled teachers have taken to selling their lesson plans online to earn extra cash.

Kelly Gionti, a teacher at the High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice in Manhattan, has sold $2,544 worth of unit plans for “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Great Gatsby,” among others, helping finance trips to Rome and Ireland, as well as class supplies.

Margaret Whisnant, a retired teacher in North Carolina, earns an average of $750 a month from lessons based on her three decades of teaching middle school classics like “The Outsiders,” enough to pay for new kitchen counters and appliances.

Lisa Michalek, 40, who taught for six years in Rochester and now works for Aventa Learning, a for-profit online education company, said she spent about five hours a week tweaking old lesson plans and creating new ones, like an earth science curriculum that sells for $59.95.

“I knew I had good lessons, so I thought, ‘Why not see what other people think of it?’ ” Ms. Michalek said.

After $31,000 in sales, she has her answer.

It's impressive, even in a completely government run enterprise, that a free market can still pop up to improve lives.

Even though this practice is win-win, school officials look upon it with disdain.

A high school English teacher in upstate New York said her bosses barred her from selling plans used in her classroom; she spoke on the condition that she not be named.

Beyond the unresolved legal questions, there are philosophical ones. Joseph McDonald, a professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University, said the online selling cheapens what teachers do and undermines efforts to build sites where educators freely exchange ideas and lesson plans.

“Teachers swapping ideas with one another, that’s a great thing,” he said. “But somebody asking 75 cents for a word puzzle reduces the power of the learning community and is ultimately destructive to the profession.”

Apparently making money in exchange for quality work is "destructive." And here I thought it was a good thing that good teachers were making extra money, other teachers had access to high quality lesson plans, and kids were learning more.

Shows what I know.

[NYTimes via StormD]

Can Someone Tell Me

What the FDA actually does?

WASHINGTON — Federal health regulators have found tiny particles of trash in drugs made by Genzyme, the second time this year the biotechnology company has been cited for contamination issues.

The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that bits of steel, rubber and fiber found in vials of drugs used to treat rare enzyme disorders could cause serious adverse health effects for patients.

Despite those problems, the FDA said the products would remain on the market, because there are few alternative treatments.
The FDA has an annual budget of $3.2 billion, plus Cato's estimated societal cost of $49 billion, and it can't even keep garbage out of our medicine.

What are we paying for exactly?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Evil/Genius: Verizon Wireless

Have you ever noticed the button on Verizon phones for Get It Now or Mobile Web? It's the large button in the middle of the D-pad or some other prominent location, and you're always hitting it accidentally.


Well, every time you hit it, if you don't have a data plan, Verizon charges you $1.99 for use of its data network. Multiply that small charge by the thousands of people who accidentally hit that button, and you've got a $300 million business, according to an anonymous Verizon employee:


"The phone is designed in such a way that you can almost never avoid getting $1.99 charge on the bill. Around the OK button on a typical flip phone are the up, down, left, right arrows. If you open the flip and accidentally press the up arrow key, you see that the phone starts to connect to the web. So you hit END right away. Well, too late. You will be charged $1.99 for that 0.02 kilobytes of data. NOT COOL. I've had phones for years, and I sometimes do that mistake to this day, as I'm sure you have. Legal, yes; ethical, NO.

"Every month, the 87 million customers will accidentally hit that key a few times a month! That's over $300 million per month in data revenue off a simple mistake!

"Our marketing, billing, and technical departments are all aware of this. But they have failed to do anything about it-and why? Because if you get 87 million customers to pay $1.99, why stop this revenue? Customer Service might credit you if you call and complain, but this practice is just not right.

"Now, you can ask to have this feature blocked. But even then, if you one of those buttons by accident, your phone transmits data; you get a message that you cannot use the service because it's blocked–BUT you just used 0.06 kilobytes of data to get that message, so you are now charged $1.99 again!

"They have started training us reps that too many data blocks are being put on accounts now; they're actually making us take classes called Alternatives to Data Blocks. They do not want all the blocks, because 40% of Verizon's revenue now comes from data use. I just know there are millions of people out there that don't even notice this $1.99 on the bill."
Very clever, Verizon. Glad I'm not on your network anymore.

[Pogue @ NYTimes via Gizmodo]

Value of the Dollar




I posted something similar before, but this graph goes even further back in time, showing what happens to the value of a currency when it is no longer backed by a tangible asset. It isn't pretty.

Coolest Thing: Let's See a Robot Do THIS



I guess some of us still have an advantage over those metallic beasts. By "some of us" I mean not me.

[via Gizmodo]

Robot Apocalypse: Swordplay, eh?



This menacing robot brandishes a toy sword after practicing Tai Chi.

[via Gizmodo]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's Bubble Time

Here we go again:

In the last eight months, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen from its March 6 low of 6470 to over 10290 today, a gain of roughly 59%. The Nasdaq Composite Index and the S&P 500 Index have likewise increased about 71% and 65%, respectively, since early March. Are we looking at the restoration of legitimate values or the emergence of disastrous new asset price bubbles?

The answer would seem to lie in whether the Fed's money machine is fueling an illusory recovery that is only manifested in financial markets as opposed to the general economy. The FOMC's own report acknowledges that economic activity remains weak, household spending is constrained, and businesses are still cutting back on fixed investment and staffing.

The Fed's 0% interest loans to banks are contributing to yet another massive bubble, though instead of real estate, this time its the stock market.

The game is rigged to blow, get out while you can.

[via WSJ]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Health Bill's Medicare Cuts are Wishful Thinking

The Democrat Health Plan now working its way to the Senate is being marketed as deficit reducing, despite its $1.2 trillion price tag. The plan will be paid for by increased taxes and reduced Medicare payments.

Specifically, the plan calls for $426 billion in spending cuts and $572 billion in taxes, and is projected to net a $104 billion deficit reduction over 10 years.

The proposed cuts are likely to be short lived, as Congress has a history of proposing Medicare spending cuts, then abandoning them as medical interest groups turn up the heat.

Under both Democrats and Republicans, Congress repeatedly has waived curbs it has tried to place on spending. It has given back other savings from the 1997 law to hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and other providers, most notably in 1999. More recently, Congress has twice switched off a cost-saving trigger that was contained in a 2003 bill establishing a Medicare prescription-drug benefit. Congress also frequently has waived budget resolution limits, as well as pay-as-you-go rules requiring offsets for tax cuts and entitlement spending.

Since 1997, Congress has passed five Medicare spending cuts, only to repeal all five shortly after they went into effect.

A plan that cuts Medicare spending by half a trillion dollars is wishful thinking. Do not be fooled.

Five Dollar Economics

It is standard liberal dogma to believe that capitalists are greedy pigs who will squeeze consumers for every last cent just to make a profit. While some may be, the smarter ones know better.



Stuart Frankel is one of those smarter capitalists, and to boost sales at his Subway store in Miami he decided to give his customers a deal: a footlong sub for $5.

For Frankel, the biggest surprise from his $5 promotion was that his profit margins didn't decline. Many promotions are so-called loss leaders designed to draw customers in the hope they'll buy higher-margin items alongside the featured special. That's one reason most offers have a time limit. Frankel's food costs did rise as a percentage of sales, but that was offset by the overall boost in volume and the increased productivity of his employees, who had less down time. Even after adding two new staffers, Frankel made money on each $5 sandwich.

The free market responds to good deals, and rewards those who give them. Walmart is another great example of a business that exists to give people low prices, and they are now the largest retailer in America. Watch how fast Walmart spreads.

There is tremendous profit in saving consumers money. Markets must be kept as free as possible to allow this phenomenon to continue.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Communism vs. Capitalism



Experiment over.

Screw Net Neutrality, The Internet Regulates Itself



Yesterday, I came across a story about Comcast, the nation's 2nd largest cable provider. The story surrounds a Comcast FCC filing concerning a bandwidth throttling scheme to slow down bandwidth hogs in order to preserve the network for other customers.

Its network throttling implements a two-tier packet queueing system at the routers, driven by two trigger conditions.

Comcast's first traffic throttling trigger is tripped by using more than 70 per cent of your maximum downstream or upstream bandwidth for more than 15 minutes.

Its second traffic throttling trigger is tripped when the Cable Modem Termination System you're hooked-up to – along with up to 15,000 other Comcast subscribers – gets congested, and your traffic is somehow identified as being responsible.

Tripping either of Comcast's high bandwidth usage rate triggers results in throttling for at least 15 minutes, or until your average bandwidth utilisation rate drops below 50 per cent for 15 minutes.

Basically, if you max out your bandwidth for over 15 minutes straight, Comcast will slow you down. That's trigger one. Trigger two occurs when your actions on the internet are congesting your local node. After both triggers, you will be slowed down for 15 minutes.

The blogosphere, on a hair trigger after Comcast's last foray into throttling, spread this story like wildfire after it popped up on Slashdot. Cooler heads paid attention to the date of the original story, which was nearly a year ago.

This system, launched in January of 2009, replaced Comcast's old tactic of using forged TCP packets to throttle upstream P2P traffic for all users, all the time. The new system is actually an improvement, but Comcast's beating yesterday continued.

Electronista joined in, posting a story proclaiming Comcast's throttling as new. They amusingly linked to the Inquirer without giving Slashdot any finder's credit, or noticing the story's ripeness. Pretty soon even our forums started to fill up with posts from confused Comcast users (1, 2) suddenly outraged by a year old change. At this point, entire legions of Internet users were outraged by -- a twelve month old improvement.

To refresh for those who apparently haven't been paying attention: Comcast's old network management techniques included booting users off the network for excessive consumption without defining "excessive," and forging TCP packets to screw up everybody's upstream connections. Comcast's new throttling system was implemented in January of 2009 and combines a clear 250GB month cap with a throttling system that only temporarily targets heavy users on congested nodes.

The reason we don't need any new Net Neutrality legislation is because we are perfectly willing and able to regulate ISPs ourselves.

Comcast's last attempt to throttle their network was a violation of existing law. Their recent throttling scheme, though actually an improvement, still elicited a strong, if somewhat misguided, backlash.

Comcast is in good company though, as they are not the only ISP to feel the sting of consumer scorn. Time Warner Cable attempted to roll out a new tiered pricing scheme, but was thoroughly rejected by consumers.

Consumers are paying attention. They will take the necessary steps to ensure no company hinders the Internet. And they will do a better job of it than the government.

Existing legislation has proven sufficient for the FCC to regulate the internet. I'm going to agree with the Father of the Internet and say we need no new Net Neutrality laws at this time.

Monday, November 9, 2009

America the Beautiful

I post a lot of negative stories on here, so here's something inspiring for you.



Behold, the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. In the background is the Hoover Dam.

More images here.

[via Gizmodo]

The Man Who Predicted The Depression

The Great Depression and our current Great Recession were both predictable and preventable, at least if you're Ludwig von Mises:

The 1920s were marked by the brave new era of the Federal Reserve system promoting inflationary credit expansion and with it permanent prosperity. The nerve of this Doubting-Thomas, perma-bear, crazy Kraut! Sadly, poor Ludwig was very nearly alone in warning of the collapse to come from this credit expansion. In mid-1929, he stubbornly turned down a lucrative job offer from the Viennese bank Kreditanstalt, much to the annoyance of his fiancée, proclaiming "A great crash is coming, and I don't want my name in any way connected with it."

We all know what happened next. Pretty much right out of Mises's script, overleveraged banks (including Kreditanstalt) collapsed, businesses collapsed, employment collapsed. The brittle tree snapped. Following Mises's logic, was this a failure of capitalism, or a failure of hubris?

Mises's solution follows logically from his warnings. You can't fix what's broken by breaking it yet again. Stop the credit gavage. Stop inflating. Don't encourage consumption, but rather encourage saving and the repayment of debt. Let all the lame businesses fail—no bailouts. (You see where I'm going with this.) The distortions must be removed or else the precipice from which the system will inevitably fall will simply grow higher and higher.

The system we have today is destined for failure. Our government thinks it can just do more of the same and achieve a different result.

With interest rates at zero, monetary engines humming as never before, and a self-proclaimed Keynesian government, we are back again embracing the brave new era of government-sponsored prosperity and debt. And, more than ever, the system is piling uncertainties on top of uncertainties, turning an otherwise resilient economy into a brittle one.

The take away from all this? Stay out of the stock market.

Millionaires in Congress

A new report finds that of the 535 members of Congress, 237 of them are millionaires.

That’s 44 percent of the body – compared to about 1 percent of Americans overall.

CRP says California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa is the richest lawmaker on Capitol Hill, with a net worth estimated at about $251 million. Next in line: Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), worth about $244.7 million; Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), worth about $214.5 million; Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), worth about $209.7 million; and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), worth about $208.8 million.

I find it hopelessly ironic that the 5 4 of the 5 richest people in Congress are Democrats. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

It's funny how the people most able to directly help the poor refuse to do so, and instead wish to pass the check to taxpayers. Hey Kerry, instead of supporting this draconian health reform, why not use a few thousand dollars and buy insurance for a poor family?

But that's not even the best part:

Some lawmakers have profited from investments in companies that have received federal bailouts; dozens of lawmakers are invested in Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.

I'm sorry, but HOW THE FUCK IS THIS LEGAL? This country is being bankrupted so our "representatives" can profit on their investments? This is torch and pitchfork stuff here.

This only reaffirms my belief that government debt is bad, and government involvement in the marketplace is worse.

[Politico via rastian77]

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Limiting Services Raises Prices

In New York City, if you want to drive a taxi cab, you have to buy a permit. These permits, or "medallions," are in short supply, and there are actually fewer medallions in NYC today than there were in 1937.

In New York, the ever-spiraling demand for taxi service, coupled with draconian limits on supply, has had predictable results. Corporate medallions, which permit the holder to operate a single cab, were selling for an eye-popping $760,000 in September. USA Today recently noted that medallion prices have risen 126 percent since 2004; Andrew Murstein, president of a firm that invests in medallions, reports that “it’s an industry that has always gone up. It has outperformed every index you can think of — the Dow, Nasdaq, gold, you name it.”

When the government throws up barriers to entry, like requiring permits or licenses for certain professions, it automatically raises the price for consumers. In some cases it may be necessary, such as limiting the number of cabs on the streets of New York to reduce congestion, but it must always be weighed against the certainty of price increases.

I'm looking at you, medical licenses.

Facts About Health Spending

America spends more than any other country on health care, and this spending rises every year. So here's a breakdown of our National Health Expenditure (NHE).

  • NHE grew 6.1% to $2.2 trillion in 2007, or $7,421 per person, and accounted for 16.2% of Gross Domestic Product.
  • Medicare spending grew 7.2% to $431 billion in 2007, or 19 percent of total NHE.
  • Medicaid spending grew 6.4% to $329 billion in 2007, or 15 percent of total NHE.
  • Private spending grew 5.8% to $1.2 trillion in 2007, or 54 percent of total NHE.
  • Hospital expenditures grew 7.3% in 2007, up from 6.9% in 2006.
  • Physician and clinical services expenditures increased 6.5% in 2007, the same rate of growth as in 2006.
  • Prescription drug spending increased 4.9% in 2007, a deceleration from the 8.6% growth in 2006.
  • At the aggregate level in 2007, businesses (25 percent), households (31 percent), other private sponsors (4 percent), and governments (40 percent) paid for about the same share of health services and supplies as they did in 2006.
Many people claim we need a larger government presence in health care to control costs, but the government programs of Medicare and Medicaid already account for 34% of all health spending, and costs continue to spiral out of control. In fact, spending by the government increases significantly faster than private spending.


We already have a third of our health care industry supported by the government, how much more do we need before we accept that more government is not the answer?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hope vs. Reality: The Economic Stimulus [UPDATE]



The graph says it all. Recovery Plan Fail. [via Innocent Bystanders]

GOP Announces Rival Health Plan

The number one problem with American healthcare is the cost. It's just too expensive. So what should we focus on? Maybe the cost?

Unlike the Democrats’ strategy of trying to provide near-universal coverage and force other major changes to the insurance system, the Republican approach is an incremental one with a different goal – controlling health care costs.

The bill does not aim to cover every person in America, nor should it. Our country cannot afford its current expenses, much less the extra trillion dollars for a new entitlement. The Republican bill is significantly cheaper.

The CBO put the price tag for the GOP plan at $61 billion, a fraction of the $1.05 trillion cost estimate it gave to the House bill that lawmakers are set to vote on this weekend. And the CBO found that the Republican provision to reform medical malpractice liability would result in $41 billion in savings and increase revenues by $13 billion by reducing the cost of private health insurance plans.

The CBO estimates that cost savings will translate into lower premiums.

According to CBO, the GOP bill would indeed lower costs, particularly for small businesses that have trouble finding affordable health care policies for their employees. The report found rates would drop by seven to 10 percent for this group, and by five to eight percent for the individual market, where it can also be difficult to find affordable policies.

The GOP plan would have the smallest economic impact on the large group market that serves people working for large businesses that have access to the cheapest coverage. Those premiums would decline by zero to 3 percent, the CBO said.

The Republican plan aims to lower costs through increased competition:

--Let insurers sell policies across state lines. That would loosen the strangling state-by-state regulations and unleash competition to drive premium prices down.

--Give people who buy insurance in the private market the same tax breaks as those who get it through employers. Now, employers that offer coverage get a tax break on the premiums they pay for employees. And employees don't pay taxes on the value of the coverage they receive. People who want to buy insurance in the individual market should get the same tax breaks. That would help millions of people acquire coverage.

--Expand the ability of small businesses, trade associations and other groups to set up insurance pools to offer coverage at more attractive rates.

--Control health costs in part by reining in the medical malpractice system that raises insurance premiums and forces doctors to order tests to protect themselves from lawsuits. Limiting certain kinds of damage awards would reduce spending on health care by about $11 billion in 2009, or about one-half of 1 percent, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. Think about that in human terms: Reform would save millions of patients the expense and trauma of unnecessary tests and procedures.

By allowing interstate competition between insurers and eliminating the tax advantage of employer based insurance, the GOP bill will open up a great deal of competition as quality insurers can compete across the country to increase the size of their risk pools, and their profits.

With the spotlight shining so brightly on insurance companies, they will have to compete on quality and price as they expand across the country. Integrated insurance and health delivery systems like Kaiser-Permanente come to mind as a possible model for much of the US.

The insurance market to date has almost completely stagnated. Most states have one or two large insurers splitting their entire market, and they use their monopoly power to edge out newcomers.

This is why it is so important to unleash large insurer vs. large insurer, to let them tear each other apart trying to grow their market shares.

We must also make sure to reduce barriers to entry where we can to allow newcomers to bring fresh ideas to the table.

This new plan from the GOP excites me for two reasons. One, it presents very reasonable ideas to greatly improve the existing system and control costs. Two, it shows the country that reform does not have to be a trillion dollar, 2000 page, bureaucratic expansion.

The bill is far from perfect, though. It will not cover nearly as many people as the Democratic House bill (3 million vs 36 million), as there is no mandate for coverage.

Also, the Republicans stopped short of ending the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies.

The GOP bill also has no provision against dropping coverage for pre-existing conditions. However I personally think this will become less of a problem with increased competition on the individual policy market.

Also I would rather see insurance premiums taxed at the same rate as other income. This could be done without raising total taxes (the last thing we want in a recession) by taxing insurance premiums while lowering the overall tax rate. This puts more pressure on insurance companies to do more with less, and ends the inflation-inducing tax-free premium.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was refreshingly candid in his summation:

"We do not attempt to cover 46 million more Americans. We will cover millions more Americans. We do not increase taxes. We do not cut Medicare and Medicaid. We dot not have mandates on individuals or businesses."

It doesn't go far enough, but the GOP bill is a good starting place, with affordable, common sense reforms.

Quote: George Orwell

Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

US Still the World's Largest Manufacturer

Reports of US manufacturing's death have been greatly exaggerated. Despite China doubling its market share in the last 10 years, from around 4% of global manufacturing (1995) to 8% (2005), the US has held steady at a little over 22% of the global market.

Total manufacturing output has been increasing steadily over the last 20 years, yet we never stop hearing complaints about jobs moving to China. While this is true in some cases, in many places automation and production technology are reducing the need for employees. In 1987, 16.5% of American workers worked in manufacturing. Now that figure is around 11%.

Look out though, as American manufacturing could be experiencing a renaissance as the falling dollar increases our global competitiveness. Companies who have offshored their production to save money many times find hidden costs through lower quality facilities and suppliers. These companies may see our current economic climate as an opportunity to bring those jobs back home.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

News Gangster Rap

Betting Against the Greenback II

India is also hedging against the US dollar, and has moved 2.3 percent of its reserve holdings into gold. This $6.7 billion deal to buy 200 metric ton signaled bullion markets yesterday, which have pushed the price of gold to $1084.50.

Central banks, after many years of selling gold reserves, have reversed course and are rapidly driving up the price of gold with large purchases.

If you're looking to speculate on gold, China and the IMF are still likely to make large purchases of their own. Also, gold still provides a safe investment in uncertain times.

Betting Against the Greenback

Amid crushing federal deficits, zero-interest financial bailouts, and a struggling US economy, it is hard to find something to smile about, unless your Warren Buffet.

Warren Buffett has made what he calls an “all-in wager on the future of the United States”, spending $US26 billion on the rest of Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.

...

Burlington Northern is a proxy for the competitiveness of the US economy, since its main business is hauling coal and grain to the coast for export.

The latest Institute for Supply Management survey for the US, out yesterday, showed that the lower dollar is already helping: the manufacturing sector grew in October for the third consecutive month and at the fastest pace since 2006.

Buffet's strategy is two-fold: as the dollar falls, he protects his wealth by staying invested in inherently valuable assets. A wise move, but the really clever part is that the profits of Burlington Northern are tied directly to American manufacturing and export growth.

As the dollar gets weaker, Buffet's new acquisition does more business.

A shrewd move indeed.

Monday, November 2, 2009

There is Something Wrong with the Airline Industry: UPDATE




As an innovative move, United Airlines will boost revenue by doing away with seats completely and instead stack them like cordwood.

"Research shows that we lose millions of dollars each month by having them all sit upright in individual seats for the duration of the flight," said CEO Glenn F. Tilton, speaking to reporters at United Airlines' corporate headquarters. "However, if we were to remove these seats, we could just sort of stack them all in there, one by one, as they file into the plane."

"If a 747's maximum takeoff weight is 875,000 pounds, then we should be packing that plane with 875,000 pounds," Tilton added.

According to a press release, the company estimates that the new policy of simply arranging them in a towering mound will allow it to sell approximately 20 times more tickets per flight. In addition, executives claimed they would be able to eliminate the unnecessary cost of in-flight magazines, chairs, seat belts, blankets, bathrooms, headphones, and oxygen masks.

Haha, another good story from the Onion. Except The New York Times carried this story in April 24, 2006:

Airbus has been quietly pitching the standing-room-only option to Asian carriers, though none has agreed to it yet. Passengers in the standing section would be propped against a padded backboard, held in place with a harness, according to seating experts who have seen a proposal.

That the airlines are even considering such things is the result of several factors. High fuel costs are making it difficult for carriers to turn a profit. The new seat technology not only allows airlines to add more places for passengers, it also reduces a seat's weight by up to 15 pounds, or 7 kilograms, limiting fuel consumption. A typical seat in economy class now weighs 74 to 82 pounds.

I feel comfortable in the fact that Americans are far too lazy to put up with standing room only airplanes. [Times story via Nergol]

Friday, October 30, 2009

Coolest Thing I've Seen All Week

So exactly how big is a cell?

Hello America, Here is Your Health Care Reform



Weighing in at 19 pounds and standing 9 inches tall with 1,990 pages, coming straight out of Washington D.C., its YOUR HEALTH CARE REFORM!

The House health care bill unveiled Thursday clocks in at 1,990 pages and about 400,000 words. With an estimated 10-year cost of $894 billion, that comes out to about $2.24 million per word.

[...]

And for those who cry “read the bill,” beware. There are plenty of paragraphs like this one:

“(a) Outpatient Hospitals – (1) In General – Section 1833(t)(3)(C)(iv) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395(t)(3)(C)(iv)) is amended – (A) in the first sentence – (i) by inserting “(which is subject to the productivity adjustment described in subclause (II) of such section)” after “1886(b)(3)(B)(iii); and (ii) by inserting “(but not below 0)” after “reduced”; and (B) in the second sentence, by inserting “and which is subject, beginning with 2010 to the productivity adjustment described in section 1886(b)(3)(B)(iii)(II)”.

The section deals with “incorporating productivity improvements into market basket updates that do not already incorporate such improvements,” if that helps.

[...]

Republicans aide said a print-out of the bill weighs more than 19 pounds and stands nearly nine inches tall.

If there's anyone out there who thinks this is a good idea, please let me know in a couple years after you finish reading it. Full Text

There is Something Wrong with the Airline Industry

For anyone who has dealt with an airline before, this will come as no surprise.

My brother just dealt with an airline, and afterwards he sent me this email:


I recently booked a flight for a med school interview in New York, but I needed to cancel it.

Airline Operator: The ticket you wish to cancel is a non-refundable ticket, but you will receive an airline credit for the full ticket price of $89.60

Me: Oh...that sucks...but does the credit ever expire?
Operator: No, but when you choose to redeem the credit, you will be charged a re-booking fee of $150

Me: Wait, wait, wait...you're telling me that I can either forfeit the $89.60 completely, OR I can pay $239.60 and get ONLY $89.60 worth of value from it - is that correct?

Operator: umm... yes that sounds about right

Me: So I get to choose between the two STELLAR choices of letting the airline steal $90 from me, OR let the airline steal $150 from me? This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!

Operator: Sir, I apologize, but this is airline policy

Me: You know where you can shove that policy, don't you?

Operator: Yes sir, I do.

Me: Just so we're clear on that.

Luckily we have companies like Southwest putting pressure on the more expensive carriers, but this is just awful.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Google's Quest To Conquer the World

Step 1:  Make a Map.

Today, as soon as Google showed off its beta GPS navigator, the stocks of Garmin, TomTom and other companies in that industry fell into the toilet. It's hard to compete with free Google apps, but that's not why they're screwed...

TomTom owns Tele Atlas, who drives the roads of the world in order to make maps, and until recently was a major map provider for Google. Nokia owns the only major competitor, Navteq, who has also provided maps for Google. Look at Google Maps now, though, and you'll see that the entire US bears just one single copyright: Google's.

Street View wasn't just a neat way to get imagery to accompany the data already found in Google Maps. As it happens, it was a way to drive the same roads that were already in Google Maps, tracing them with Google's own road teams, and—through efficiency and brute force—do away with those costly map licenses. Google has mapped the US, and will surely map the rest of the world soon enough.

This is just a timely example of Google's monstrous growth, and the destruction it causes. Any business that trades in data or packages it for public consumption may one day face the same issues. It's not just whether or not to compete with the behemoth, but even whether or not to go into business with it. In either case, there is a chance of being destroyed.
Google entering a business is a good signal that it's time to pack it up and leave, or pray you get bought. As Google continues to conquer every facet of our lives. This blog is even served by Google.

I, for one, welcome our new nerdy overlords.

How the NFL is Changing Television



Despite my deep love of the NFL, I also know it is a money grubbing machine. However their greed, as it so often does, is leading them to innovate.

Their new service "NFL Game Rewind" allows fans like myself to watch every game from this season and last online, without commercials. The only limit is that you can't watch games live, and the system is off while live NFL games are being played. Other than that, it's the equivalent of having every game from this season and last on DVD.

All this, and the cost to me was a paltry $25. I believe this was a reduced, midseason rate, but regardless it is well worth it to a fan like myself.

As more and more media make the shift to the Internet I hope we see more innovation like we see in the NFL. I imagine they would stream games live, too, if they weren't hampered by their contracts with the major networks.

Cable companies fiercely resist customer demand to buy shows or channels ala carte, but the Internet may allow us to circumvent them completely.

All because greedy companies like the NFL want to make a few extra dollars.