Friday, July 31, 2009

Profits aren't evil; they are necessary and beneficial.

Last week at his press conference, President Obama said that taking the profit motive out of health care would incentivize the private sector and "be a good thing."

Uh, if you take the profit motive out, then no one will want to provide health care. Profit motive is what runs the world; it is why businesses exist; it is why I go to work in the morning. And profits have all sorts of beneficial results. Indeed, Stephen Carter, a Yale law professor, had a great editorial on this subject yesterday in the Washington Post. The key portion (in my opinion):

Flash back three years. In 2006, Exxon Mobil announced the highest profit in the history of American corporate enterprise. Politicians and pundits stumbled over each other to call for an investigation and for some sort of confiscatory tax on the money the company earned. Profit, it seemed, was an evil, but large profit was even worse.

Today, the debate on the overhaul of the health-care system sparks a shiver of deja vu. The leitmotif of the conversation about the coming shape of health insurance is that the villain is the system of private insurance. "For-profit" firms come under constant attack from activists and members of Congress.

Profit is the enemy. America could be made pure, if only profit could be purged.

This attitude was wrong in 2006. It is wrong now. High profits are excellent news. When corporate earnings reach record levels, we should be celebrating. The only way a firm can make money is to sell people what they want at a price they are willing to pay. If a firm makes lots of money, lots of people are getting what they want. To the country, profit is a benefit. Record profit means record taxes paid. But put that aside. When profits are high, firms are able to reinvest, expand and hire. And profits accrue to the benefit of those who own stocks: overwhelmingly, pension funds and mutual funds. In other words, high corporate profits today signal better retirements tomorrow.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

So a cop, a professor, the Vice President, and the President are having a beer...

President Obama's Teleprompter has posted an interesting description of the beer police officer Sgt. Crowley and Professor Gates shared with our President and Vice President on its blog. It sounds like it may have been a little contentious:

So Big Guy, Skip, Joey B and I got together with Jim Crowley this evening for
Festivus's airing of grievances (since Big Guy celebrates Kwanza, he adheres to
the Festivus in August tradition). The difference this time was that we aired
national grievances about race, name-calling, and Big Guy's refusal to man up
and chug a full-bodied beer.

You'll see me in the picture over Crowley's right shoulder. I was there in case talk turned to the Boston Red Sox, and Big Guy needed to pull something out of thin air. The discussion went pretty much as planned, until the conversation turned to the Michael Vick situation. Crowley thinks Vick shouldn't be let back in the NFL, and Biden thinks Vick should be forgiven. Crowley was insistent and Biden told Crowley, "Hey, don't make a federal case out of it."

And Crowley said, "Well maybe I should."

Then Skip, who'd fallen asleep about a half hour earlier, woke up and said, "Wait,
I'm the one making a federal case."

Joe had lost interest and went to play on the swing set, Crowley left in a huff, and Big O and Skip went to Hell Burger for dinner to show they could eat blue collar food at white collar prices. Toes was pretty annoyed by all of this, since nothing was done today on health care, Russia, Iran, Syria or stimulus. So all in all, a good day for America.

Here is what I find most interesting about this whole brouhaha: the men who had the power in this incident were both African-American, President Obama and Skip Gates, and the man with everything to lose was white, Sgt. Crowley. Sometimes progress comes in weird forms.

Update: There is another police officer, Sgt. Leon Lashley, who was also at the scene of Gates's arrest. Interestingly, Sgt. Lashley is an African-American, who in sticking up for his friend Sgt. Crowley after the President said (without admittedly not knowing the facts) the Cambridge police acted stupidly has now been labeled an "Uncle Tom" by some. It would be nice if the races of two friends wasn't an issue for anyone. Unfortunately, that appears not to be the case, and Sgt. Lashley sent a letter to the President tonight:

Cash for Clunkers, or why I don't want government-run health care

This article about our federal government's new Cash for Clunkers car-rebate program highlights one of several reasons why I don't want a government-run or single-payer health care system: the dealers who are participating in the program- and giving buyers $4,500 in cash or rebates on new cars- have no idea whether or when some mid-level bureaucrat will approve the reimbursement of that amount:

Scott Lambert, vice president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, said he was "astounded" to learn at a meeting Tuesday representing about 150 Minnesota dealers that not one has had a deal approved.

"We had dealers representing 1,500 to 2,000 transactions," he said. "We asked how many had a deal approved yet, and not one hand went up." Lambert said the government has created a program that's "so big and cumbersome that it can't find a way to accept anything. We're sending in good, reliable deals."

It's nerve-racking for the dealers, he said, because they have given the customer $4,500 and now the dealers need to be reimbursed.

Moe Lane, of, notes "that the program started on July 1, they only published the actual rules Friday, and they’re still working out how to get the dealers their money."

Now, Cash for Clunkers is a temporary program that will run out by November 1 or whenever the government has given out a total of $1,000,000,000.00 in rebates, so it won't ultimately deter some aspiring, talented young car dealer for entering or staying in the car business. But a federally-controlled or single-payer health care system would presumably be permanent, and a half-ass, undependable payment system will drive potential, talented young doctors from the medical profession, at a time when several areas of the country are already experiences significant shortages in physicians.

On a separate note, Cash for Clunkers is billed as a "green program" that will help the environment. Can anyone explain to me how destroying functioning automobiles while encouraging the former owners of those cars to purchase newly-built vehicles helps the environment? It seems to me that the program actually promotes unnecessary waste since the car that are being destroyed would normally go into the used car or parts markets.

Update II- Cars for Clunkers: Well, this is not an encouraging development. The government just announced that it is suspending the program as of midnight tonight. Why? Well, there is a significant backlog in payments, and the government may have already exceeded the $1 billion allotted for this program:

A survey of 2,000 dealers by the National Automobile Dealers Association found about 25,000 deals had not yet approved by NHTSA, or nearly 13 trades per store. It raised concerns that with about 23,000 dealers taking part in the program, auto dealers may already have surpassed the 250,000 vehicle sales funded by the $1 billion program.
Update II- govt.-run health care: For those of you who think that the proposed "public plan" is simply meant to compete with private health insurers and is not designed to eventually become a government-run single payer plan, I offer you Representative Barney Frank (D-4th Dist. MA), Chairman of the House's Financial Services Committee:

Update III: Okay, Cash for Clunkers has now provided another reason for being against government-run health care: the federal government is not good at allocating resources or determining what market demand might be. The federal government is suspending this program, even though it was supposed to run through the end of October, because demand was much greater than anticipated and the program is already out of money: "The government suspended the explosively popular "cash for clunkers" program, fearing it would go broke before it could pay what it still owes dealers for a huge backlog of sales, according to congressional offices and a dealer group."

Timothy Geithner's Housing Crisis

A very funny clip about the housing crisis and Timothy Geithner's role in it:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Home Crisis Investigation
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Obama as a racist.

A follow up on my last post, in which I mentioned that I am not a big fan of Glenn Beck's Shtick- he apparently also called President Obama a racist yesterday. (Video is here). Umm, yeah, I think Obama is a terrible president for a myriad of reasons, but I have not seen any evidence that he is a racist. So why don't we just stick with disagreeing about Obama's policies and actual statements. You know, the things that we can verify.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Obama in his own words

Okay, first, a disclaimer. I am not a Glenn Beck fan. His shtick is too over-the-top for me. But I also think that people in the press also unfairly malign the man and that he occasionally raises some very good points. One of those points is that while the press and his campaign generally cultivated the view during last year's presidential race that candidate Barack Obama was politically moderate, his roots, associates, and actual words showed him to be very left of the mainstream. I think the video below, if you filter out Beck's delivery, does a good job of highlighting some of that radicalism.

From my perspective, Obama's past words raise questions about his true intentions on a myriad of issues, such as health care. For example, why does he feel it is so imperative that Congress vote right now on legislation that is over 1000 pages long and that no member of Congress could possibly have read? Such a position seems inconsistent with ensuring that the legislation actually does what President Obama claims that he wants it to do, namely lowering costs and increasing access. Instead, his actions suggest, at least to me, that his interest lies in gaining power and not bettering the health care system.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Getting Ready for the President's Health Care Presser

This made me laugh. It came from Jim Geraghty of National Review Online and is a "Strawman Bingo" card for the President's health care press conference tonight. I have no doubt that President Obama will fill the board pretty quickly.
On a related note, I keep hearing President Obama make various promises about what the current health care legislation will do: lower costs, increase coverage, allow you to keep your current plan, ya da, ya da, ya da. But how can he make these promises, when no one in his administration participated in drafting any of the current legislation before Congress, and President Obama has admitted he is unfamiliar with certain critical provisions in the current House bill? I don't think an honest person could. But that is just me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Please don't die Mr. President.

I won't lie to you. I am not a big fan of President Obama, especially as it relates to his handling of the economy and his views on health care and taxes. Even so, I say what follows with all sincerity: I pray to God every night for his health. Because, if he croaks, Joe Biden will become president, and then we will just be f*%ked.

I would like to think that the author of this NY Post opinion piece, which highlights Biden's propensity for gaffes, shares my views. My favorite parts:

The "gaffes," as we call unscripted thoughts, come delightfully often with Biden. The latest: Speaking before the AARP, Biden aarped up a peculiar formulation to explain the need to borrow 3.2 bejillion dollars in order to transform the American health care system, preferably by next week. He said people ask him "What are you talking about, you're telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt? The answer is yes, 'I'm telling you.'"

[H]ow does this fit with Biden's other summer misstatements? Let's take a quick review.

Iran. Earlier this month George Stephanopoulos asked Biden if the US would stand in the way of Israel decided it was time to take out Iran's nuke program. Said the Veep: "We cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do ... if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country."

True. But wrong! The sensible thing is to say: "We are seriously concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions, and strongly support serious efforts to be concerned, in coordination with allies whose serious efforts are concerned with -- hey, is that a mushroom cloud on CNN? Turn the sound up." Everyone knows Iran will give up the bomb, but in their own way: by putting it on a rocket and waving safe journey, Allah-speed. As the saying goes: If you love something, set it free. If the US isn't going to stop them, shouldn't Israel have the right to?

But that's not the official line, so YANK went the collar. Administration officials explained that the Vice President was using secret reverse-talking, and the allies remain committed to a sustained effort to frown and grip the podium while hoping there's no follow-up questions.

Swine Flu. Should we panic? "I would tell members of my family -- and I have -- I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now," Biden said, adding, "When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft." This statement was so true it was
retracted by the end of the day. When the experts -- i.e., cable-news reporters
on the medical beat -- start talking about Pig-Pandemic bringing down human
civilization, everyone's first reaction is to stay away from planes and trains. But a Leader is supposed to say something calming, like "if you're taking a flight full of feverish travelers back from Cancun, don't lick the tray tables."

The Economy. Also in early July, Biden said "We misread how bad the economy
was." This one is a bit different to explain away, since the administration billed itself as having super-genius comprehension of the problem and the necessary solutions. Now, many suspect, President Obama finds himself staring at a portrait of FDR, murmuring "Help me, Obi-Wan. You're my only hope."

What Biden meant to say, in his puckish way, that they misunderstood what an economy is, and how it works. Piling up a mountain of proposed taxes, mandates, regulations, do-nothing programs and pork unseen in such dimensions since Pink Floyd floated a dirigible pig over an outdoor concert might, in fact, prevent recovery.

My favorite Bidenism from those set forth above is his peculiar theory on the need to spend more money to avoid bankruptcy. It has been my experience that simply spending more money tends to increase, not decrease, the odds of a bankruptcy.

But the author missed the biggest Bidenism of all time. In a speech last week in Virginia, Biden claimed that that the stimulus was creating jobs "everywhere I go:"

"To those who say that our economic decisions 'have not produced jobs, have not
produced and simply have not worked' I say, take a look around," Biden will say
while visiting Cantor's home district.

"I say, 'Don't let your opposition to the Recovery Act blind you to its results. Come see what I see everywhere I go: workers rehired, factories reopened, cops on the street, teachers in the classroom, progress toward getting our economy back on the move.'"

Apparently, the Administration does not let Biden venture far from the metropolitan D.C. area because where I live, more workers are being laid off and factories closed.

Stimulus funds are literally paying for pork, plus some cheese and a dumb waiter.

Okay, I am blatantly ripping this off from Drudge, who has links to all of these items on his front page right now. Again, I am sorta lazy. And the fact that our federal government is literally spending millions of dollars in stimulus funds on pork, as well as a dumb waiter and some processed cheese, is just too humorous to pass up. Here are project descriptions (as they appear on and funding amounts for some projects that are receiving federal stimulus funding:

1. HAM, WATER ADDED, COOKED, FROZEN, SLICED, 2-LB, funding amount $2,531,600;

2. 2 POUND FROZEN HAM SLICED, funding amount $1,191,200;

3. RECOVERY ACT-PROJECT 630A4-08-406, REPLACE AND UPGRADE THE DUMBWAITER, funding amount $351,807;

4. MOZZARELLA CHEESE, funding amount $1,562,568;

5. PROCESS CHEESE, funding amount $5,708,260; and

6. CANNED PORK, funding amount $16,784,272.

In fairness, here is the US Department of Agriculture's response to Drudge. It notes that at least some of this "pork spending" is actually food that is being purchased for local food banks that serve the poor: "The Recovery Act funds referenced in press reports allowed states to purchase ham, cheese and dairy products for these food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries that provide assistance to people who otherwise do not have access to food."

Apparently, the USDA does not appreciate Drudge's sarcasm, or is it a sense of irony. I always get the two confused.

Most. Transparent. Administration. Ever. Or not.

On the campaign trail last year, then candidate Obama promised that his administration would be the most transparent administration in the history of the United States. Now, he is president and apparently having second thoughts on his pledge. Instead of releasing updated budget numbers in mid-July as has traditionally happened, President Obama has made the brave and bold decision to delay releasing what will likely be a very, very bad report until after Congress leaves for its August break. Why, you might ask? Because releasing that data now would likely kill his dream of "reforming" health care. From the AP:

The administration's annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack
Obama's budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his
efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through

The release of the update — usually scheduled for mid-July — has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town Aug. 7 on its summer recess.

The administration is pressing for votes before then on its $1 trillion health care initiative, which lawmakers are arguing over how to finance. The White House budget director, Peter Orszag, said on Sunday that the administration believes the "chances are high" of getting a health care bill by then. But new analyses showing runaway costs are jeopardizing Senate passage.

"Instead of a dream, this routine report could be a nightmare," Tony Fratto, a former Treasury Department official and White House spokesman under President George W. Bush, said of the delayed budget update. "There are some things that can't be escaped."

Hope. And Change. Or not. By the way, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says that the current legislative proposal on health care would explode the already, exploding federal deficit: "According to CBO’s and JCT’s assessment, enacting H.R. 3200 would result in a
net increase in the federal budget deficit of $239 billion over the 2010-2019 period."

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air offers his analysis:

Obama cannot afford to have another report hit the street showing that he has miscalculated — again — the extent of the deficit, just as he proposes a deficit-busting program. The White House has instead iced the report to keep people from seeing just how badly Democratic spending has dented the budget, and how revenues have not recovered despite their predictions of growth by Q2. They want to hold off those numbers until Obama has a bill he can sign on his desk, by which time it will be too late.

Consider this: if those budget numbers looked good, would the White House postpone revealing them? Obama could use all the good news he can get at the moment, especially with two big-spending bills stalling in Congress. If the deficit looked better than their May predictions, or even if it looked the same, those numbers would have
already hit the front pages of newspapers across America and every network news
broadcast, with the message that the worst has passed.

This is a shell game, a 3-card Monty being played by the Obama administration. They are withholding data that rightfully belongs in the public square, so that the electorate can inform themselves of the nation’s fiscal standing before Congress votes to spend more of our grandchildren’s money. Perhaps the news media might remind Obama of this during his prime-time presser on Wednesday.

To the Moon.

I reprint Meghan McArdle's post from this morning entitled One Small Step for Man... . Why? Well, one, I agree with her sentiment for the most part (see explanation below) and wonder why we have not sent astronauts to Mars or beyond. And, two, I feel sorta lazy. Here is Ms. McArdle's post:
If you're like me (and I know many of you are), you grew up reading the
science fiction of the 1940's and 1950's, promising a quick and rapid expansion
into the solar system, and not too long thereafter, the galaxy. Your young
mind tried, and failed, to fathom the vastness of the empty gulfs between the
stars. But there was one thing you knew: you wanted to go.
During the incomprehensibly lengthy interval between you and adulthood, man
would surely prepare itself to go to Mars and beyond, and you were going to be
among the pioneers.Four years before I was born, man
walked on the moon for the first time
, the most magnificent single feat our
little tribe of East African Plains Apes has ever managed. Now we don't
even do that. What happened to the dream? Government mismanagement,
yes, but something more than that, too, some failure of imagination and
will. I hope that by the fiftieth anniversary some people, somewhere, will
have regained the momentum that pushed mankind into our first tenative baby step
towards the stars.

I too was born four years after the Apollo XI and shared the same sense of youthful amazement concerning space exploration. I think that we (or more specifically, the U.S. government and NASA) have failed to move beyond the moon or to even return to the moon because most of our governmental institutions, including NASA, no longer attract individuals who have the imagination and intelligence necessary to achieve such goals. Indeed, I think that humans will return to the moon and travel beyond in the coming years, but the new explorers will be private astronauts employed by companies such as Scaled Composites and its partner Virgin Galatic or SpaceX.

Friday, July 17, 2009

We Choose the Moon - Apollo XI 40th Anniversary

The JFK Presidential Library has a very cool website that celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo XI lunar landing and the fulfillment of JFK's promise to land a man on the moon by the close of the 1960s. It is currently running a real-time interactive recreation of the mission and has great archival photos and videos. Very cool.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Comments on Sonia Sotomayor

I don't know enough about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to offer a truly informed opinion about whether or not she should be confirmed as a justice. But I have been troubled by some of her publicized statements, namely her repeated statement to the effect that a "wise Latina" would reach a better decision than a white man and her comment that federal appellate courts make public policy. Yesterday, she offered explanations on both of these issues.

As to the "wise Latina" comments, I find insufficient her ex post facto explanation that she made a bad play off of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's assertion that a wise old woman and a wise old man should be able to reach the same legal conclusion in the case. According to Sotomayor, "My play...fell flat. It was bad, because it left an impression that I believed that life experiences commanded a result in a case, but that's clearly not what I do as a judge." As Eva Rodriguez of the Washington Post notes, it strains credibility to believe that Sotomayor just realized that her words left the wrong impression because she made essentially the same comment in several speeches over multiple years. I agree with Rodriguez's conclusion that Sotomayor's "explanation came across as dodgy at best and disingenuous at worst."

Update: Senator Lindsey Graham apparently did not find Sotomayor's explanation of her "wise Latina" comment very convincing either:

Graham: Do you understand, maam, how if I said anything like that, and I justified it as saying I was trying to inspire someone, they would have my head?

Sotomayor: I can understand how it could be hurtful, particularly if read in isolation.

Graham: I don't know how you can justify — if I said that because of my experience as a Caucasian male I am a better person to represent the people of South Carolina, and my opponent was a minority, it would make national news, and it should. I am not going to judge you based on that one statement... I just hope you appreciate the world we live in, and how you can say something like that, meaning to inspire someone, and still have a chance to get on the Supreme Court. Others could not, if they had said anything remotely like that statement. Does that make sense to you?

Sotomayor: It does.

Graham: Some people deserve a second chance if they misspeak... If people come to that conclusion based on this hearing, then already some good has come out of this.

Hat tip to Jim Geraghty.

Further Update: Sotomayor's current explanation of her "wise Latina" appears to contradict at least one of her speeches that included that term:

JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, NOW: “The Words I Used, I Used Agreeing With The Sentiment That Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Was Attempting To Convey." (Judge Sotomayor, Remarks, Confirmation Hearing Of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, 7/14/09)

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR, THEN: “Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases
. . . .I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement . . . Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” (A Latina Judge’s Voice, 13 Berkeley La Raza L. J. 1 (2002), and “Raising the Bar,” talk to La Raza at Boalt Hall, October 26, 2001).

Additional hat tip to Mr. Geraghty.

Sotomayor's explanation of her public policy comments was much more convincing, and I believe it properly notes the different roles of the federal district courts and appellate courts. According to Sotomayor:

I was focusing on what district court judges do and what circuit court judges
do. And I noted that district court judges find the facts, and they apply the
facts to the individual case. And when they do that, they're holding, they're
finding doesn't bind anybody else. Appellate judges, however, establish
precedent. They decide what the law says in a particular situation. That
precedent has policy ramifications because it binds not just the litigants in
that case, it binds all litigants in similar cases, in cases that may be
influenced by that precedent.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Our economy is in the crapper and likely will be for some time

Last month, I started to feel better about our economy's prospects. This month, not so much. Why the change in perspective? Well, I keep reading articles like this one by Mort Zuckerman, which is happily entitled, "The Economy Is Even Worse Than You Think." In it, Mr. Zuckerman provides a list of 10 items to support his article's title:

-June's [unemployment] total assumed 185,000 people at work who
probably were not. The government could not identify them; it made an assumption
about trends. But many of the mythical jobs are in industries that have
absolutely no job creation, e.g., finance. When the official numbers are
adjusted over the next several months, June will look worse.

- More companies are asking employees to take unpaid leave. These people
don't count on the unemployment roll.

- No fewer than 1.4 million people wanted or were available for work in the
last 12 months but were not counted. Why? Because they hadn't searched for work
in the four weeks preceding the survey.

- The number of workers taking part-time jobs due to the slack economy, a
kind of stealth underemployment, has doubled in this recession to about nine
million, or 5.8% of the work force. Add those whose hours have been cut to those
who cannot find a full-time job and the total unemployed rises to 16.5%, putting
the number of involuntarily idle in the range of 25 million.

- The average work week for rank-and-file employees in the private sector,
roughly 80% of the work force, slipped to 33 hours. That's 48 minutes a week
less than before the recession began, the lowest level since the government
began tracking such data 45 years ago. Full-time workers are being downgraded to
part time as businesses slash labor costs to remain above water, and factories
are operating at only 65% of capacity. If Americans were still clocking those
extra 48 minutes a week now, the same aggregate amount of work would get done
with 3.3 million fewer employees, which means that if it were not for the
shorter work week the jobless rate would be 11.7%, not 9.5% (which far exceeds
the 8% rate projected by the Obama administration).

- The average length of official unemployment increased to 24.5 weeks, the
longest since government began tracking this data in 1948. The number of
long-term unemployed (i.e., for 27 weeks or more) has now jumped to 4.4 million,
an all-time high.

- The average worker saw no wage gains in June, with average compensation
running flat at $18.53 an hour.

- The goods producing sector is losing the most jobs -- 223,000 in the last
report alone.

- The prospects for job creation are equally distressing. The likelihood is
that when economic activity picks up, employers will first choose to increase
hours for existing workers and bring part-time workers back to full time. Many
unemployed workers looking for jobs once the recovery begins will discover that
jobs as good as the ones they lost are almost impossible to find because many
layoffs have been permanent. Instead of shrinking operations, companies have
shut down whole business units or made sweeping structural changes in the way
they conduct business. General Motors and Chrysler, closed hundreds of
dealerships and reduced brands. Citigroup and Bank of America cut tens of
thousands of positions and exited many parts of the world of finance.

- Job losses may last well into 2010 to hit an unemployment peak close to
11%. That unemployment rate may be sustained for an extended period.

You should read the whole thing. It's good stuff. The kind of stuff that makes me want to curl up in my bed with a bottle of scotch.

The Health Care Debate: Cost Containment v. Innovation

Glenn Reynolds, who is a law professor at the University of Tennessee and blogs at, wrote an interesting opinion piece on the current healthcare debate for the Washington Examiner a couple of days ago. His main concern is that a national healthcare plan will squash innovation in the name of cost containment:

President Obama talks about the importance of prevention in a way that suggests
that when people have heart attacks it's their own fault. But my wife, a longtime vegetarian and marathon runner, had a freak heart attack at the age of 37.

It wasn't from too many Big Macs. After some rough patches, she's now
doing well, thanks to an obscure and expensive anti-arrhythmic drug called
Tikosyn, and an implantable cardioverter/defibrillator. Not too long ago, she'd
have been largely bedridden. These medical innovations made the difference
between the life of a near-invalid and a life that's close to normal.

My mother had a hip replacement. Her hip didn't break - she basically wore it out
with exercise. When the pain got too bad, she got it replaced, and now she's moving around like before, only painlessly. Not too long ago, she would have been chairbound.

My father had prostate cancer; his doctor suggested waiting but on biopsy it turned out to be pretty aggressive. It was treated with radioactive "seed" implants. He's now been cancer-free for several years, without the side effects of earlier treatments -- or, worse, of cancer.

My daughter had endoscopic sinus surgery this spring. She had been sickly and
listless, complaining of constant migraine headaches, missing a lot of school, and generally looking more like a zombie than a teenager. Several doctors dismissed her problems, or prescribed antibiotics that didn't help much, until we found one who took the extra step.

A head CT scan done on a fancy new in-office machine showed a nasty festering infection, the surgeon cleaned it out, and now she's like a normal kid again. Before laparoscopy, her condition would probably have remained untreated, and she would have been another "sickly" kid. Better to be well.

The normal critique of socialized medicine is to point out that people have to wait a long time for these kinds of treatments in places like Britain. And that's certainly a valid critique. I'm sure my mom and daughter would still be waiting for their treatments, while my father and wife would probably be dead.

The key point, though, is that these treatments didn't just come out out of the blue. They were developed by drug companies and device makers who thought they had a good market for things that would make people feel better.

But under a national healthcare plan, the "market" will consist of whatever the bureaucrats are willing to buy. That means treatment for politically stylish diseases will get some money, but otherwise the main concern will be cost-control. More treatments, to bureaucrats, mean more costs.

Good news: The Pentagon is developing a robot that feeds, er, runs, on biomass

I would file this one in the "cannot end well" category- The Pentagon is working with a company to develop battlefield robots that are powered by biomass.
Robotic Technology Inc.'s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that's right, "EATR" — "can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable," reads the company's Web site.

Please note that the biomass the robot consumes to power itself will be "whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies." Much to my chagrine, the article does not say how the robot will differeniate between dead bodies and live ones. But it does mention that "Robotic Technology presents EATR as an essentially benign artificial creature that fills its belly through 'foraging,' despite the obvious military purpose." Essentially benign, except when you piss it off.

Hat tip to DrewM. at Ace of Spades, who suggests that "when Skynet becomes self-aware and we try and shut it off it will simply kill us faster so it can eat. Great." Not to worry though, Neo will eventually free humanity at the close of the 22nd century.

Depeche Mode is playing the Palms.

Now, this would make for a great evening- Depeche Mode is playing the Palms in Vegas on August 22. Unfortunately, I will have to convince my wife that Vegas and pregnancy mix well together. Any thoughts on how best to approach her?

Getting to know me.

Okay, since my blog is new and you may not know anything about me, I feel like I should tell you about myself. To that end, let me give you 15 random facts about me. All of the following items are true. I promise. (And, to those of you who are Facebook friends with me, yes, I did crib most of these from my Facebook page).

1. My wife and I purposely had our first date on February 15, 2006 even though neither of us had plans on Februrary 14. Our superior planning now allows us to skip the whole Valentine's Day thing.

2. We got married in June 2007 in Telluride, Colorado. We married ourselves on June 14 under Bridal Veil Falls (Colorado allows you to officiate your own wedding and still has common law marriage) and then had our "official" ceremony with our families and a few friends on June 16 on the back deck of the Hotel Columbia. Our parents don't know that the ceremony was just for their benefit. Please don't tell them (or let them that I have a blog on the internets). It would likely upset them.

3. My wife and I hiked the Grand Canyon during our honeymoon. It was an incredible, albeit not very romantic, experience. It was 133 degrees when we got to Phantom Ranch, where we camped at the bottom of the Canyon, and it was still over 100 degrees at 11 p.m. that night.

4. Our first child is due in mid-January 2010. We have tentatively named him "Bojangles." If you have any better suggestions, especially girl names, please feel free to share them.

5. I "auditioned" for the Chippendales with 5 other American college students on The Big Breakfast Show, a British morning television program that was sort of like a humorous Today Show, in the spring of 1993. We started drinking about a half hour before the show's van arrived to take us from our university down to the old mansion where the show was filmed in North London. The van picked us up at 5:30 a.m. Thankfully, the video of my audition is not yet one of the 300 or so clips from The Big Breakfast Show that is currently on You Tube. I will, of course, let you know if the video ever makes it to You Tube.

6. I shared a song book with Paula Yates, Bob Geldolf's (Boom Town Rats; Live Aid founder) now deceased ex-wife, during The Big Breakfast's closing sing-a-long that morning. I don't think I was the cause of their subsequent marital problems or the unfortunate heroin habit that she developed while dating Michael Hutchence (INXS), but I will never know for sure.

7. I have run 3 marathons- Chicago Marathon in 2002 and 2006 and the Marine Corps Marathon in 2008. I ran the first half of the 2006 Chicago Marathon and all of the Marine Corps Marathon with my wife. The Marine Corps Marathon is now one of my favorite memories with her.

8. My wife and I moved back to Fort Wayne live closer to our parents in March of last year and now live 10 minutes from both sets. We have actually enjoyed living this close to them and for reasons which I won't discuss here, it has been a been a blessing to be near them.

9. We have a dog named Chloe, who we think is part golden lab and part beagle, and a cat named Baxter, who is a Maine Coon. They actually came with my wife, and Baxter was not a fan of me for the first couple of years. I once woke up to Baxter chewing on my fingers. When I took them away, he shot me the look of death.

10. Our house is in the woods. We have a family of deer that goes through the yard every day. It is very peaceful unless Chloe notices them, in which case it becomes a half-hour bark fest.

11. I have skied since I was 6 years old, and my favorite place for skiing is Telluride. My family first skied in Telluride during the Christmas 1979 holiday when I was in second grade. On Christmas day that year, Telluride had 125 skiers. At the time, Telluride did not yet have any flushing toilets on the mountain, and I did not like their outhouses. I will let you guess how my day typically ended.

12. When I was 15, I got to ski for a day in Telluride with Franz Klammer, who won the gold medal in Downhill at the 1976 Winter Olympics. He was very cool and had the biggest thighs of anyone I have ever met.

13. My parents had my older sister Kim in 1967, me in 1971, and my little sister Lauren in 1986. When Lauren graduated from Florida State this past spring, my parents finally had their last child out of the house after 42 years. I am amazed by this fact, especially since my wife and I won't even celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary until I am 78.

14. I went deer hunting for the first time this last fall with my father-in-law. I had a clean shot at a buck, but since he was standing where I had last seen my father-in-law, I didn't take the shot (I figured accidentally shooting my father-in-law with a 12 gauge shot gun would make family gatherings very awkward). By the time I had another clean shot at the buck, he was running full speed towards the woods, and I missed. Hopefully, my hunting will be a little more successful next fall.

15. I think that last year's election proved South Park correct- every election comes down to a giant douche and a turd sandwich. (This is a reference to an episode from 2004, in which Stan refuses to vote for a new school mascot because its options are a giant douche and a turd sandwich. In attempting to get Stan to vote, Stan's father says, "Son, every election comes down to a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich, but you still have a civic obligation to vote.") To avoid offending anyone more than I already have, I won't say who I thought was the giant douche and the turd sandwich, nor will I announce who got my vote.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Welcome to Bru's Bits

During my senior year in high school, I wrote a weekly column for the school's newspaper called "Bru's Bits." Each column typically consisted of 5 or 6 pithy entries that covered school issues, politics, current events, and other random topics that interested me and likely no one else. In all honesty, Bru's Bits was filler so that my buddy, who served as the paper's front page editor, did not have to come up with a third "news" story every week. But it gave me a platform to express my thoughts and opinions on the news of the day at a time when such platforms were few and far between, an experience for which I have always been grateful.

Today,, Facebook, and Twitter provide everyone with a platform to express their views and thoughts. Unfortunately, all existing blogs and Twitter feeds suffer from one critical flaw: they do not always cover topics that interest me (and likely no one else). To correct this flaw, I have decided to reincarnate my old column Bru's Bits, updated for today's electronic age.

We'll see how long this blog lasts. It's not my day job, and I could well get bored. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy. Or don't. Whatever, so long as the posts interest me.