Assorted Links 8/17/09

Larry Reed’s 3 Lessons of Freedom We Are In Danger of Forgetting
“1. Government can provide you with absolutely nothing except that which it has first taken from somebody else.
2. A government big enough to give you want you want, is big enough to take everything you have.
3. A free people are not economically equal, and an economically equal people are not free.”

  • Understanding Congressional Budgeting and Appropriations, September 9, 2009
  • Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, September 11, 2009
  • How to Find, Track, and Monitor Congressional Documents: Going Beyond Thomas, September 15, 2009
  • Congress in a Nutshell: Understanding Congress, September 16, 2009
  • Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, September 17, 2009
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, September 23-25, 2009
  • Obama’s Montana town hall not quite the ‘Wild West’ – “Barack Obama’s town hall in the Bozeman, Montana area is not as ‘bold’ of a trip into the Wild West as described by Politico’s Carole E. Lee this morning. Bozeman, Montana is a college town with many resident yuppies and is a home for multi-millionaires looking to buy their own piece of the West. [Montana’s] Gallatin county was blue enough to support Barack Obama in the 2008 election and over 70% of voters supported Democratic Senator Max Baucus.”
  • Firefox extension liberates US court docs from paywall – “A new Firefox extension created by the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton aims to tear down the federal judiciary’s PACER paywall. It uploads legal documents to a freely accessible mirror that is hosted by the Internet Archive.”
  • The worst health care reform ever? – “Perhaps Turkmenistan takes the prize:”
  • FDIC Bank Failure Update – “The FDIC closed five more banks on Friday, and that brings the total FDIC bank failures to 77 in 2009. The following graph shows bank failures by week in 2009. The pace has really picked up recently, with the FDIC seizing almost 5 banks per week in July and August, and with 4 1/2 months to go, it seems 150 bank failures this year is likely.”
  • Coolest Map of Bank Failures You’ll See All Day – “From The Wall Street Journal. You can really tell when WaMu went under.”
  • More Than 150 Publicly Traded US Banks Are In Serious Trouble – “This analysis by Bloomberg is based on some fairly modest economic assumptions. Most of the banks in question are state and regional banks that have not enjoyed the largesse of the Fed and Treasury like the free-spending, Wall Street money center banks, who are sharply curbing lending and raising rates on credit cards and other revolving debt aggressively even for customers with excellent credit and no history of non-payment.

    As you might suspect, even the worst of the banks with large percentages of non-performing loans all claim to be ‘well capitalized’ by regulatory standards. If as indicated more of the smaller banks fail, we will be left with a few, larger, more potentially lethal financial institutions.”

  • Boycott Obamacare. Girlcott Whole Foods! – “Dear Olivia Jane: You and many readers of Daily Kos are furious that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey expressed–in the pages of the Wall Street Journal–his opposition to greater government involvement in health care.”
  • How American Health Care Killed My Father – “Insurance is probably the most complex, costly, and distortional method of financing any activity; that’s why it is otherwise used to fund only rare, unexpected, and large costs. Imagine sending your weekly grocery bill to an insurance clerk for review, and having the grocer reimbursed by the insurer to whom you’ve paid your share. An expensive and wasteful absurdity, no?

    Is this really a big problem for our health-care system? Well, for every two doctors in the U.S., there is now one health-insurance employee–more than 470,000 in total. In 2006, it cost almost $500 per person just to administer health insurance. Much of this enormous cost would simply disappear if we paid routine and predictable health-care expenditures the way we pay for everything else–by ourselves.
    . . .
    The unfortunate fact is, health-care demand has no natural limit. Our society will always keep creating new treatments to cure previously incurable problems. Some of these will save lives or add productive years to them; many will simply make us more comfortable. That’s all to the good. But the cost of this comfort, and whether it’s really worthwhile, is never calculated–by anyone. For almost all our health-care needs, the current system allows us as consumers to ask providers, ‘What’s my share?’ instead of ‘How much does this cost?’–a question we ask before buying any other good or service. And the subtle difference between those two questions is costing us all a fortune.
    . . .
    For fun, let’s imagine confiscating all the profits of all the famously greedy health-insurance companies. That would pay for four days of health care for all Americans. Let’s add in the profits of the 10 biggest rapacious U.S. drug companies. Another 7 days. Indeed, confiscating all the profits of all American companies, in every industry, wouldn’t cover even five months of our health-care expenses.
    . . .
    The net effect of the endless layers of health-care regulation is to stifle competition in the classic economic sense. What we have instead is a noncompetitive system where services and reimbursement are negotiated above consumers’ heads by large private and government institutions. And the primary goal of any large noncompetitive institution is not cost control or product innovation or customer service: it’s maintenance of the status quo.
    . . .
    Keeping prices opaque is one way medical institutions seek to avoid competition and thereby keep prices up. And they get away with it in part because so few consumers pay directly for their own care–insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid are basically the whole game. But without transparency on prices–and the related data on measurable outcomes–efforts to give the consumer more control over health care have failed, and always will.
    . . .
    By contrast, consider LASIK surgery. I still lack the (small amount of) courage required to get LASIK. But I’ve been considering it since it was introduced commercially in the 1990s. The surgery is seldom covered by insurance, and exists in the competitive economy typical of most other industries. So people who get LASIK surgery–or for that matter most cosmetic surgeries, dental procedures, or other mostly uninsured treatments–act like consumers. If you do an Internet search today, you can find LASIK procedures quoted as low as $499 per eye–a decline of roughly 80 percent since the procedure was introduced. You’ll also find sites where doctors advertise their own higher-priced surgeries (which more typically cost about $2,000 per eye) and warn against the dangers of discount LASIK. Many ads specify the quality of equipment being used and the performance record of the doctor, in addition to price. In other words, there’s been an active, competitive market for LASIK surgery of the same sort we’re used to seeing for most goods and services.
    . . .
    Technology is driving up the cost of health care for the same reason every other factor of care is driving up the cost–the absence of the forces that discipline and even drive down prices in the rest of our economy. Only in the bizarre parallel universe of health care could limiting supply be seen as a sensible approach to keeping prices down.
    . . .
    A wasteful insurance system; distorted incentives; a bias toward treatment; moral hazard; hidden costs and a lack of transparency; curbed competition; service to the wrong customer. These are the problems at the foundation of our health-care system, resulting in a slow rot and requiring more and more money just to keep the system from collapsing.

    How would the health-care reform that’s now taking shape solve these core problems? The Obama administration and Congress are still working out the details, but it looks like this generation of ‘comprehensive’ reform will not address the underlying issues, any more than previous efforts did. Instead it will put yet more patches on the walls of an edifice that is fundamentally unsound–and then build that edifice higher.

    A central feature of the reform plan is the expansion of comprehensive health insurance to most of the 46 million Americans who now lack private or public insurance. Whether this would be achieved entirely through the extension of private commercial insurance at government-subsidized rates, or through the creation of a ‘public option,’ perhaps modeled on Medicare, is still being debated.

    Regardless, the administration has suggested a cost to taxpayers of $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. That, of course, will mean another $1 trillion or more not spent on other things–environment, education, nutrition, recreation. And if the history of previous attempts to expand the health safety net are any guide, that estimate will prove low. ”

  • Health Costs Squeezing DoD Budgets – “As the body politic passionately debates the rising costs of healthcare and what to do about it, the country’s largest employer is already feeling the pain. Even though the Obama administration is spending record amounts on defense, DOD’s budget is being squeezed by rising healthcare costs that will increasingly crowd out funding for weapons systems, according to number crunching done by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.”
  • Obama Names Tyson “Townhall Healthcare Debate Czar” – “In keeping with his tradition of naming czars–individuals with extraordinary skill sets in their given field of expertise–to oversee crucial policy areas, President Obama has named former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson as his new ‘Townhall Healthcare Debate Czar.'”
  • Giving Money to Poor People – “In theory, the $175MM given to New Yorkers ($200 per child) will alleviate malnutrition, perhaps pay for shoes, school supplies, a crock pot. In practice, videogames:”
  • Cash for Clunkers Pays 10X Market Rate for Greenhouse Gas Reduction – “The Cash for Clunkers (a.k.a. C.A.R.S.) program is a car industry bailout dressed-up as a green initiative. The University of California’s put some numbers to the boondoggle. According to a study by UC Davis transportation economist Christopher Knittel, Uncle Sam’s taxpayer reach-around is paying 10 times the ‘sticker price’ to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. At least.”
  • The Treacherous Path for Housing – 42 Percent of California Mortgages with Negative Equity: $1 Trillion in Mortgages Submerged Underwater in California. $3 Trillion in U.S. Mortgages Underwater and Risking Foreclosure. – “$1 trillion in California mortgages are underwater and swimming in the Pacific Ocean. $3 trillion in U.S. mortgages are in a negative equity position. What this means is borrowers owe more than their home is worth. A few research papers have shown that the number one factor in determining potential foreclosure is being upside down on a mortgage (job loss is up there as well). ”
  • Armey: No Client Asked Me to Leave – “Former Rep. Dick Armey said he resigned from DLA Piper because ‘I could see that this fight was bringing innocent people in harm’s way.’ In an interview with The National Law Journal Friday evening on his way to give the keynote speech at an Atlanta rally against Democratic health care plans, Armey said he had been growing increasingly concerned by commentators who linked his campaign through nonprofit FreedomWorks to his work at DLA Piper.”
  • Stuff Journalists Like: #46 Stephen Colbert – “Stephen Colbert There is a rift dividing journalists, one that is threatening to rip the journalism world apart. No, it’s not Craigslist or hyperlinks. Those are doing more than just mere threatening journalism. For the most part, journalists live and think as a collective unit. They all prefer sans serif fonts, the Firefox browser and 100 percent voted for Barack Obama. But lately there is an issue that journalists can’t agree on: who they like more — Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart. Every journalist wishes he or she could get their own Colbert bump.”
  • CPSIA Update: Safe Vitamins Versus Safe Books and Baubles – “Today marks the effective date for the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s lower standard for lead content in children’s products, dropping from 600 parts per million (ppm) of lead to 300 ppm as of August 14. (CPSC release, earlier post, more from Overlawyered. Good AP story.)

    However, as a number of Consumer Product Safety Commission votes on petitions for exemptions have shown (books, and beads and crystals) the ban really affects products that could conceivably permit ‘any’ absorption of lead. That makes the effective standard 0 ppm. As in zero.
    . . .
    So the FDA regards it as acceptable for vitamins to contain extremely small amounts of lead, vitamins that children actually eat.

    But products that children may occasionally touch with their hands must not have any lead in them—ANY—thanks to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.”

  • Keynes and Penn Spread Teller’s Wealth Around! – “Samuel Adams once expressed opposition to the redistribution of wealth stating: ‘The utopian schemes of leveling, and a community of goods are as visionary and impracticable as those which vest all property in the Crown, are arbitrary, despotic, and, in our government, unconstitutional.'”
  • Who’s Un-American? – “I also agree with Thomas Jefferson, who wrote that ‘When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.’ In my lifetime, I can’t recall our politicians ever really fearing the people. This past week is about the closest to genuine trepidation by our ruling class that I’ve ever witnessed, and a recent poll suggests that independent voters have more sympathy for the protesters than the politicians.”

Retro-Nose: Cuckoo’s Nest II: The Housing Denial

  • Teslas Look Sexy in Drag – “Four Teslas under the Christmas tree sounds like a gearhead’s episode of Sesame Street, but it’s just what we’ve found on YouTube. Grapevine murmurings and viral video of Roadsters hitting the dragstrip are emerging online, even though it seems like only yesterday when the balls-to-the-wall EV went into production.”
  • KozyFill – “Automatic bird bath filler”
  • COOKING FOR ONE. – “I’m Al, filling in for Herb, who they tell me is responding to external stimuli again, so good job there Herb. We’re all about cooking things guys like to eat, and today we’ve got a real treat for you.”
  • The case against vitamin D2 – “Why would vitamin D be prescribed when vitamin D3 is available over-the-counter?”
  • Weekly wrap: Florida’s population shrinks – “Florida, which has always struggled to manage its growth, has stopped growing. University of Florida demographers said Friday (Aug. 14) that the state lost about 50,000 residents between April 2008 and April 2009. It was the first decline in 63 years.”
  • DOJ Doesn’t Believe $80,000 Per Song Unconstitutional Or Oppressive – “First, what’s stunning is that the brief claims the awards are perfectly constitutional because it is not ‘so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense [or] obviously unreasonable.’ Really? It seems that an awful lot of people find the idea of being forced to hand over $80,000 per song without any evidence that it was ever actually shared by anyone is severe and oppressive to the point that it’s disproportionate to the offense and quite obviously unreasonable. I mean, this is a woman who wanted to listen to her favorite bands, and she now has to pay nearly $2 million. How can anyone claim that’s not ‘severe and oppressive’ in relation to the actual ‘harm’ done?”
  • How to stop bullies – “They recommend a strategy developed in Norway that engages the whole school community in identifying and suppressing bullying.”
  • New York Times op-ed urging “Getting Smart on Crime” – “Today’s New York Times included this op-ed by Charles Blow titled ‘Getting Smart on Crime.’ Though the piece cover a lot of ground that should be familiar to regular readers of this blog, these excerpts (and the chart reprinted here) seemed worth emphasizing:

    Much of the rise in the prison population was because of draconian mandatory sentencing laws that are illogical — sociologically and economically.

    On the sociological side, as the criminal justice expert Joel Dvoskin of the University of Arizona explained to me, data overwhelmingly support the idea that locking up low-risk, nonviolent offenders makes them worse, not better. ”

  • CPSIA: August 14 arrives – “On Friday several key provisions of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 took effect [CPSC release]. The permissible amount of lead in products dropped from 600 parts per million to 300 ppm, ensuring that more zippers, rocks, brass bicycle parts and other harmless items will fail; the new tracking-label mandate went into effect for newly manufactured kids’ goods; and penalties went way up, from a maximum of $8,000 per violation to $100,000 per violation and $15 million overall. ”
  • A review of Douglas Jewell’s Roadtrip – “When he was 20 years old, Douglas Jewell made a life list. He had decided to live an unconventional life, unencumbered by the traditions of what he saw as a materialistic, consumer-oriented society. So he put pen to paper and came up with 10 ambitions, most dealing with life experiences that he wanted to have. Now 58, he has accomplished eight of these goals.”
  • Eight screens, one e-book: What’s the lesson here? – “Behold–the Kindle, Sony Reader, iRex and five other machines–all displaying the same book!”

Luxury REO Tour
“we’re not fooling around with subprime crackerboxes anymore”

  • Print, beware! Publishers are “on the road” to pure digital – “Digital publishing and open access policies are changing the face of academic publishing, and many of the trends that develop here are likely to make their way into the larger publishing market. That’s what made news that broke earlier this year so striking: a leaked memo suggested that the American Chemical Society’s publishing wing was almost entirely abandoning print and would focus instead on digital publishing. Since then, however, the ACS said that it will continue printing ‘condensed’ versions of its journals for the time being.”
  • Coolest Stuff I Have Worked With In A While – “Electro-Luminescent wire.”
  • Print Isn’t Dying, Serious Journalism Is – “It’s a tired Silicon Valley drum beat: print is dying, blogs and Twitter are the future of news. Many in the business of blogging like to think that print ad revenues are declining and subscriber bases are shrinking because online media is vastly superior to those dinosaurs. This is one area where the evidence actually seems to suggest that the bloggers are justified.

    However, if you’re not so full of yourself that ‘citizen journalism’ seems like a revolution, you can understand the real reason that print is dying: newspapers’ shit is all retarded. ”

  • Plug that folds flat: Sleek new design for the laptop generation – “Over the decades, many of the appliances it powers have become slimmed-down, compact or flat. But the British three-pin plug has remained exactly the same size–very bulky. Until now, that is, as an enterprising design student has come up with a folding plug that tucks away snugly to a quarter of the size of a standard one. Its three pins can be folded flat and the sides turned-in.”
  • Netbook Roundup: 5 of The Best Netbooks On the Market – “We’ve done the research, and here is a look 5 of the best notebooks on the market.”
  • Netbooks With High-Res Displays–Are You Sure You Really Want One? – “I have used a lot of mobile devices with small screens, and I can tell you that using a small display with a high resolution screen can get tedious after a while.”
  • Debunking Netbook Myths and Misconceptions — The Straight NetScoop – “I can’t recommend the NC20 more highly (other than the fingerprint magnet glossy case– a pet peeve of mine).”
  • Bridge The Spiral, Don’t Crush It – “A standard hose clamp doesn’t work very well for clamping a spiral hose such as that found in dust collection systems. It has to clamp over one of the coils which can make a less-than-airtight connection. To solve this problem you can use a bridge hose clamp which has an offset connector that crosses over the coil without crushing it.”
  • P2Peer Education: Bringing Elite Education to the Masses – “Like so many other industries, early attempts at delivering online education have generally consisted of making available the same content that’s found offline. While this is a good start, the key to online education is amplifying the way in which we learn when we’re at school — from our peers.”

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