Saturday, August 22, 2009

SAR # 9234/Weekender

Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet.


Real Money: Trillions. Health care will cost trillions! Well, at least a trillion. But that's over 10 years, only about $100 billion a year. That's about what Iraq has cost us every year since we went to that party, about what Afghanistan goes for now. If we cut out invading countries in the name of democracy, maybe we could tend to our folks – in the name of democracy. But the GOP loves war and war profits. And it loves health care profits. What it doesn't care much for is people. So let's keep on keeping on.

Because We Can: The US dropped in on a Pakistani village yesterday, killing 12 – mostly women and children. Drones take the guilt out of it.

The Group: Twenty-one percent of Americans believe in witches, 21% believe they can talk to with the dead and 21% have confidence in congressional Republicans, but I repeat myself.

Whose Recovery? The stock market class – the upper 10% - are doing fine and will soon be doing better. But the middle class is sliding into the depths: some have lost their jobs, many have lost their homes, millions are running out of unemployment benefits and no longer have any health insurance. Hope is in pretty short supply, too. And the poor are still poor. The US is fast becoming a third world nation, with extremes of income, health, and living standards. But the market's up.

Bribes Work: Existing-home sales rose m/m as first time homeowners were lured into debt by the careful waving of $8,000 in incentives and 3% down payments. This doesn't help the mid-to-high priced market.

Fairly Unbalanced: Losing GOP Presidential candidate John McCain will be on TV for an hour Sunday, telling Obama what the people want. Gee, I thought they made it pretty damned clear that what they wanted was not John McClain.

It's a Dead Budgie: Folks are suing JP Morgan Chase because their access to home equity loans has been cut off. They feel this is discrimination, just because their homes have fallen in price and they have no more equity is not a valid reason for the bank to stop lending them money.

Asked & Answered: Is End of Recession Near? No, not even close.

Too Much of a Good Thing: In 2001 83% of Americans supported the war in Afghanistan. Now only one out of three still thinks it is a good idea and 57% say it has gone from bad to worse. And it has. Obama’s irrevocable commitment to the war will give McChrystal more time and more men even though he knows “military power alone will not win this war.” Neither will clicking your heels, Mr. President.

Strategy and Tactics: Our strategy in Iraq is to call the complete failure of the Petraeus/Odierno surge a “tactical issue.” Some say Iraq is full of corruption, cronyism, nepotism, and greed. And the Iraqi's aren't much better.

Overkill: As though the worldwide race to supply the cheapest labor were not debilitating enough, robotics continues to improve – if being able to do low-level human tasks is improvement.

Insurance Scam: The FDIC “insures” about $5 trillion with a piggy bank that had but $13 billion in it on March 31st – and has since bailed out 56 banks at a cost of $16 billion. Don't worry, your savings are as sound as the federal government.

One Less Worry: Stop worrying about approaching 'peak oil', it's come and gone. We've been on a plateau since 2005 and are about to fall off the edge. The recession has driven demand down less than 3% - that's about the average rate of world-wide production decline from existing fields. The doubling of oil prices so far this year – with no expansion in consumption – is the message. Push will come to Shove when the economy tries to pick up again.

Civilization is an intensely fragile construction, built on little more than belief.”

Another quote from Uncivilization. Go read the whole thing.


Jim said...

I always love the current crop of "peak oil aware" articles. They are finally beginning to "get it" (because it's here!!), but their context is "oil prices are going to skyrocket again when the economy (and hence demand) picks up."

News flash: they're going to go up regardless (or at least wacky things are going to start happening, financial shenanigans aside)....because production will begin falling. They now seem to realize we're at peak, but think we're going to be on plateau indefinitely!! Well, I guess they'll figure that out when it starts happening.....

Bill said...

The world will soon have a very rude awakening regarding the ramifications of peak oil. The US and UK governments' willingness to trade the Lockerbie bomber for Libyan oil and gas contracts is a harbinger of more nefarious things to come.

K Ackermann said...

I love syncronicity.

I ordered a copy of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, just a couple of days ago.

Uncivilisation was a very interesting piece of writing in itself, but as a manifesto, its rather vague.

I wish I could write.

Everything alive is subservient to the biosphere. We think it ends with self interest, and we believe in free will because it puts us in control. We assign names to our behaviors that contradict our notion of free will. Love is a favorite concept to explain away our appearent disregard for self interest. Why would we sacrifice ourselves for our children? Why, for love, of course.

No. Sorry. We do it because it is in our genes. We are programmed to thrive. All species are programmed to thrive. Sex feels great because it induces us to breed. After the act is over, something is needed to nurture our offspring, and love/compassion/whatever is there to fill that period. After that, our ability to reproduce withers away, and we may as well be food for the young.

There. I think that was in the spirit of Uncivilisation.

Great links and topics again.

Bill said...

Real Money: First of all, Congress can't mandate universal coverage without amending that bothersome document called the Constitution; it violates the Commerce Clause.

Moreover, any tax that seeks to impose policy that goes beyond the limits of the Commerce Clause is also unconstitutional. Simply put, individual mandates are unconstitutional, regardless of whether they’re explicit or buried in tax policy.

See this Washington Post article by former Department of Justice attorneys David Rivkin and Lee Casey:

Second, perhaps the biggest canard in the entire healthcare reform debate (perpetuated by the MSM and blogs like this one) is that the Republicans have offered no ideas of their own.

Here's an excerpt from the moderate blog, Jazz Shaw (

Rep. Paul Ryan introduced H.R. 2520, The Patient’s Choice Act, on May 20 of this year. It was immediately referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, along with two others, where it languishes to this day.

There are quite a few reasons for that, not least of which is the fact that it was developed and introduced by Republicans, but because it also includes some common sense proposals which are essentially anathema to Democrats and liberals in general. You can read the entire bill here yourself. Coming in at less than 300 pages, in the rare instance that a member of Congress actually chooses to read a bill, it will at least take less time than the 1,000+ pages of the various Democratic versions.

What’s included? First, Title 1 is based entirely on a concept which most Democrats seem to back… focusing on incentives for preventative medicine and healthier lifestyles. Title 2 deals with one of the great problems in health insurance, allowing for state based health care exchanges and federal incentives for multiple states to band together, crossing state lines, to offer more choices. And the state based exchanges would be charged with providing group rates to people across a multitude of circumstances to reduce rates.

Title 4 provides for supplemental health care assistance to low income families, along with both tax credits and advancement vouchers so they can purchase health insurance through these group plans. Limits are also placed on excessive premium charges by private insurance companies.

Why won’t this ever see the light of day? (That is, aside from the fact that the GOP suggested it.) Among other reasons, because Titles 4 and 5 also include fiscally responsible proposals which too many Democrats despise. First, they mandate means testing for the direct government assistance in the form of grants and advancements which would cover every American citizen who can truly not afford health insurance. Why this is such an abomination to my liberal colleagues I will never understand. Also, Title 6 has a provision to encourage the reform and limitation of frivolous lawsuits which, along with other waste and abuse, drives up costs across the board.

K Ackermann said...

Damn! Now you've got me thinking...

A huge number of species exist at a level in the biosphere where food basically flies into their mouths. They don't need to adapt to a wide ranging environment. They breed in prolific numbers, and when it gets too hot or cold, or food stops flying into their mouths, they die. Their sensors... er, senses are developed enough to avoid moving abjects, etc, or they may have one outstanding sense they use to advantage, but not much more. Nearly all behavior is instinctive.

Then, as you move 'up' the taxonomy, the higher species have much greater adaptability to their environment, and the processing power hooked up to keen sensors is greater and greater.

Memory augments the processing power. It allows for much greater efficiency. Knowing where the watering hole is, is much more efficient than searching for a watering hole.

Instinct is like a hard-coded program on a ROM chip, but memory is like, er... a RAM memory chip that can store new programs as learned.

One thing all the species have is some kind of pattern-matching machinery that takes input from all the sensors, and tries to generate symbols from the list of symbols within perception. Something not previously percieved is assigned the default symbol of dangerous until it can be mapped to a series of other symbols that may not represent danger.

The pattern matcher is something wickedly complex. Try to imagine you could control the color of your skin cells. Now try to imaging projecting from your back, the view you are seeing looking straight ahead. In other words, try to make yourself look invisible from behind, because that is what the octopus and flounder basically do when they want to be invisible, and they do it fast. With just a glance, out pattern matcher can take in a 'scene' and assign a hundred different symbols from a huge collection of symbols that represent the scene. It's some kind of giant inference engine.

Now what might separate man from the animals is that we can drive our pattern matcher not just from sensory input, but from symbols already laid down in memory.

We can run simulations using known symbols, which is essentially what imagination is all about. We can find patterns of patterns, which is what abstracting is all about - you just substitute the terms. Rock smash nut, rock smash head.

All species are subservient to the biosphere, with thriving being the goal. To do this, individual gain must be realized - eat or be eaten. In our case, our feed-foreward-augmented pattern matcher is finding no end to conceiving and realizing gain - gain also being the prevention of loss.

We may be pathological. We may simply be unable to stop terminal behavior that produces short-term gain. We perceive short time very well, but long time means nothing to us. 100 years may as well be 1-million years if 100 years is how long we are told our actions will take to destroy us. It is beyond our ability to simulate to the point of empathy.

K Ackermann said...

Bill, I'm a liberal, and I like thinking clearly and on simple terms.

I ask myself, am I more likely to die from some enemy aggressor, or from a car accident/heart attack/cancer?

I choose the later, and that leads me to the conclusion that health care should be every bit as important as national security, of which we spend $700 billion per year on - or as much as the rest of the wold combined.

Then I ask, do I want someone with a profit motive making descisions on what treatment I get, vs someone with no motive? The responsibility of private insurers is first and foremost to their shareholders, and don't forget that.

The overarching theme of the constitution is to promote the public welfare. It trumps all other themes in it.

CKMichaelson said...

KA Your 7:36 comment ends with the best arguments possible for the SPUHC plan. And your comment abvove that (7:35) the last paragraph puts thy finger on the overarching reason we are failing all of our bit tests.

K Ackermann said...

the last paragraph puts thy finger on the overarching reason we are failing all of our bit tests.

We just can't seem to climb out of the hole. It looks so easy too.

I've written some righteous rants against the government, but I also know the US has had a reputation for doing big things - things initiated and run by the government.

We built a nuclear bomb from first principles and in secret in just 3 years.

When Sputnik was launched in 1957, all we had was some booster technology for missiles. We put a man in space in 1961, and a man in orbit in 1962. There is a big difference between launching a missile, and launching a man.

In 1956, the Interstate Highway system bill was signed, and by 1965, we had 20,000 miles of high-quality, 4-lane highway built.

Today, about the biggest thing the government has mustered is the Cash-for-Clunkers program, and it could only keep that going for a few days before it overwhelmed the capability of the country.

fajensen said...

Strategy and Tactics:

Its funny how we always manage to install the most corrupt, incompetent and in the case of Georgia even lunatic people whenever we try a "regime change". Could it be that we like the people who are most similar to ourselves the best?

Apparently most of the Iraqi parliamentarians living in Denmark where living off social security and just plain forgot to declare their Iraqi income to the IRS ;-)

"Irakisk imam snyder i skat"

Bill said...

If you haven't already, watch the documentary, King Corn; it's available from Netflix. Then explain to me how government's agricultural agenda promotes public welfare.

How does no tort reform promote public welfare? And how does Obama's secret deals with the likes of Billy Tauzin and God knows who else promote public welfare?

I think our invasion of Iraq was ill-conceived, as is our Afghanistan folly. Can anyone explain our strategy and, if so, how it is being reflected by the tactics on the ground?

I am an independent who pulled the Democrat lever in 2006 in the belief that bipartisan control in Washington is the best chance we have as a country. The Republicans ran amok from 2000-2006, and the Democrats are doing it now. Politicians are children who must be supervised. The best way to accomplish that, at least in my mind, is to NEVER give either party control of both the executive and legislative branches.

One last observation: the big, bold and successful government initiatives you described had bipartisan support. And other than the Manhattan Project, they had overwhelming public support as well.

K Ackermann said...

they had overwhelming public support as well.

That's very true, and a good point. They also had a media that reported facts, and didn't spin things one way or another. Media owership is a joke.

GE owns NBC. The same GE that was at $60 in 2000, and made enough stuff to ride out recessions until they got into finance. Then we find out the vaunted Jack Welsh, who wrote books that taught people to be like him, used to hit his quarterly numbers so accurately because he used GMAC as a buffer. It had all the nessessary qualifications for opaque accounting like all the banks have. That mighty symbol of American perfection is lucky to be trading at $14 dollars right now, with its BBB credit rating, or whatever it is. We have gone out of our way to improve the climate for these big companies, so why are so many of them doing lousy?

They own media, and we are to expect them to report independent of their own interest.

Yes, politicians are bad, but since Reagan, (and from here out) they are disasterous. Can you imagine them creating a highway system today? Or doing anything that promotes the welfare of the people? We have seen what promoting the welfare of corporations gets us - cheap crap from China. We've seen productivity soar, and wages stay stagnant. I was told with a straight face once that I was not reaping the benefits of the deregulated free market economy because I didn't shop at Walmart, and "probably" didn't plow all my money into the stock market. True on both accounts.

The last trade I put on was when Citi hit $13 dollars. I bought a small pile of put options at a $5 strike, never dreaming they would go in the money. I just wanted the compressed time action due to the crisis. I chickened out before they went into the money and sold them 5 days later for just shy of a 300% gain. If felt great using derivitives against them. Other than that, I would never go near a company with opaque accounting practices.

People fall like dominoes at the mere thought of a tax increase. It will ruin us, we hear. The fact is, taxes were lowest right before the great depression. Taxes were raised by both Reagan and Clinton during recessions, and we almost immediately pulled out of them. Bush cut taxes furiously for 8 years, and it did next to nothing except bouy the stock market. Taxes were the highest for the couple of decades after WWII, a period of remarkably stable and healthy economic activity.

I've never heard anyone say, "I almost made it big, but my taxes went up $200 and everything went to hell." All I hear now is, "I can't afford college. I can't afford medical insurance. I can't afford to eat right, buy gas, or go to a movie." It can't be taxes; if you have a lousy job, your taxes are not that high, unless they are local.

Here in Oregon, Intel makes a ton of money off of hard-working, decent people, but they don't pay a dime in taxes. In exchange, they get to build new plants in China.

As to tort reform... any company that is having repeated problems of losing suits in court, maybe ought to think about changing whatever it is they are doing. Companies have immense resources that go to great lengths to deny responsibility for a mountain of dead bodies, or a patch of scorched earth. If they can't win their case, then you have to believe justice was served.

What makes this an issue for you? I didn't even know what it was until a while ago, and then I looked it up and found that it was basically companies did not want to pay as much for doing bad things to people. One of the things claimed was that it makes our insurance more expensive, but why is that the victim's fault? So the company has to pay more for insurance. It's not your fault they maim or kill people. Why should you be affected at all? Your premium should not go up.

I forget where I saw it, but supposedly, the largest number of lawsuits against doctors are from insurance companies suing to not pay for services they feel were not required - they feel.

K Ackermann said...

Not GMAC, GE Capital. Duh!

CKMichaelson said...

KA gets the "full throated rant of the day" award. Amen and amen.

Anonymous said...

Not a rant, merely an observation about the conduct of our National Military Establishment and our foreign policy - if killing civilians with bombs is a terrorist act, then the largest terrorist organization on the globe is the United States government.

mistah charley, ph.d.

CKMichaelson said...

MC- True, but acknowledging that would mean actually looking at the story we tell ourselves about the goodness of America and the gentle rightness of our warriors. Why, one could fill a book with things that we're taught that simply are not so. We could call it "A People's History of the United States"...