Archive for April 2010

The Council has Spoken: April 30, 2010

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Wolf Howling -The Roots Of Slavery & The Races Hustlers’ Holy Grail – Reparations

Noncouncil: Wretchard/Pajamas MediaThe Washington Monument Submitted by JoshuaPundit

Full voting here.

“Powerpoint makes us stupid.”

That’s what General James N. Mattis, Joint Forces Commander in Afghanistan has to say about the Microsoft presentation software. The Daily Mail reports that many in the military agree with Mattis. Another general, Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, banned the software while on duty in Iraq, saying “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” he told the New York Times. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

I’ve believed for a long time that another commonly used Microsoft product, Project, a project management tool, is just as bad. The software forces project managers to fit their projects into an artificial paradigm at the core of the software that is created by software engineers. This paradigm is based on the thinking of software engineers instead of project managers but forces the latter to conform the engineer’s idea of what good project management requires instead of the other way around.

Similarly, my examination of electronic health records (EHR or electronic medical records EMR) systems finds that many of the systems are not organically derived from the practice of medicine but are built around accounting or database requirements, with the needs of medical professionals only added later. This creates software that a software engineer or account might feel comfortable with and intuitively understand, but that feels clunky and counter-intuitive to a medical professional.

Socialism = Cannibalism

Eat the rich. Three words expressing the belief that all our economic problems can be solved by soaking the rich. So I decided to take a look and find out exactly how tasty they are.

Using Forbes’s Richest People in 2009 I filtered out the 100 wealthiest Americans and calculated their total net worth: $661 billion. Many on the list are household names. Bill Gates tops the list, followed by Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet and Oracle’s Larry Ellison. The Walton family pops up high on the list as does New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Google’s Sergei Brin. Other names appearing in descending order: Democratic Party owner top contributor George Soros, corporate raider Carl Icahn, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Obama supporter and friend David Geffen, Ross Perot, Rupert Murdoch, and near the bottom, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ralph Lauren and Oprah Winfrey with a net worth of only $2.7 billion.

For accounting and Excel geeks, the mean net worth of the top 100 Americans is $6.61 billion; median net worth is $4.0 billion.

There are 300 million Americans give or take. If we ruined all these men and women and spread their wealth evenly across America, each person would receive a bit over $2,200. That happens to approximate what Americans spent per capita on food in 2008. So stripping the top 100 of all their wealth would feed Americans for a year. That sounds tempting to some, I’m sure. Personally, I wouldn’t shed tears seeing the Limousine Liberals on the list like Brin, Soros and Winfrey brought back down to earth. Americans could then take the money they had spent on food and used it to pay off 2/3s of their credit card debt – which in Feb 2010 totaled $858 billion. Or they could pay off a third of their credit card debt and buy Greece with the rest, which has a total outstanding public debt of $406 billion. They would then have room on their credit cards for air tickets to the Aegean Islands, giving them much needed vacations.

The problem starts the following year after Americans have come back from the Mediterranean with bellies bloated on Souvlaki and ouzo hangovers. Their credit card bills will be worse than the previous year thanks to interest, and there will be no Oprah to entertain housewives and slackers in the afternoon.

There is always the next 100 richest people. Let’s eat those!

But immediately we run into an obvious problem: the next 100 wealthiest Americans have a combined worth of “only” $190 billion. This cohort includes Ted Turner, Mark Cuban, and Donald Trump. While seeing The Donald actually work for a living and risk getting fired might be entertaining, it would only net each American $633. Americans lose that between sofa cushions each year. That may be an exaggeration, but it’s roughly what the Bush Tax Cuts netted. Do you remember what you spent your Bush Tax Cut on?

The basic problem with “eating the rich” is that there are so few of them compared to us. So far we’ve digested just 200 Americans, but there are 300 million of us. There simply isn’t enough rich to go around and make a difference in our lives – and that’s without taking into account the damage to society caused by our wealth redistribution exercise.

Societies that have indulged in wealth redistribution do not make the poor wealthier; they inevitably make the poor poorer. After the Chinese communist revolution in which the communist redistributed wealth, 30 million people starved to death. In the Soviet Union, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn believed the redistribution of wealth from wealthy peasants (kulaks) killed as many as 60 million. In both cases that wealth did not end up with the people anyway; it paid for dakhas and filled Swiss bank accounts for the Soviet politburo members, and became the basis for the manufacturing empire of the Chinese Communist party. So wealth redistribution kills millions, impoverishes hundreds of millions more, and replaces one extremely wealth group with another. Yet this is what socialists hunger for?

The reason they hunger for it is simple: socialists want to get rich. Sure they want to give it to “the people” but they’ve convinced themselves that they are “the people” so they take the money from others and keep it. In most societies this is called “robbery” but in western Europe, Latin America and among American leftists this is called “socialism.” Today in the United States the head of the teacher’s union in New Jersey pulls in half a million a year – in a state with an median income of less than a tenth that. The average hourly wage and benefits of public employees is 45% higher ($39.66) than private sector employees ($27.42). it’s also nearly impossible to fire a public employee while private sector workers can be terminated at will. Even watching porn at work wasn’t enough to can a single SEC employee caught doing so. Federal employees, like those SEC porn connoisseurs, make even more. Nearly $120,000 a year.

That raises yet another problem with socialism: once you start stealing from those that have more than you, you quickly reach a point where you have more than someone else. It then becomes quite difficult to keep it and requires a complex and expensive state security apparatus to prevent you from getting on someone else’s “menu.”

So how is this better than the system we have today?

I cringe when I see movie stars make more for a movie than an entire platoon of Marines will make in their working lives. I mutter under my breath when I see a CEO drive a company into the ground and walk away with millions. But I don’t shoot farmers and steal their cattle just because I’m hungry – and neither should socialists.

The Council has Spoken: April 23, 2010

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Wolf Howling - Thoughts On Britain, Colonialism, and Multiculturalism

Noncouncil: Caroline Glick - The strategic foundations of the US-Israel alliance Submitted by Right Truth

Full voting here.

Clinton Holds Tea Party to Higher Standards Than Islam

I’m not sure what it is about Democratic presidents being unable to keep their mouths shut after they leave office. Reagan never gave his opinions about events after his time in office, and neither did Ford. George HW Bush only surfaces from retirement to push for aid projects in Haiti and elsewhere. George W. Bush has disappeared completely, leaving the defense of his legacy to Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Dana Perino.

But Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter just can’t keep their traps closed. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s Carter ran his own shadow diplomacy, continuing his failed presidency by undermining Clinton and Bush administration efforts in North Korea, Syria, Iran, Venezuela and elsewhere. Clinton himself has emerged as Obama’s champion ever since Obama neutered Hillary in the 2008 Democratic primaries. On the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, Clinton has even continued to use the terror attack against domestic opposition, just as he did 15 years ago.

What I find particularly disturbing is the ease in which Clinton uses an attack like Oklahoma City to smear anyone who disagrees with him and by association, the Democratic party, in order to silence them. Contrast this approach to that taken by Obama and the Democrats towards the Muslim world. In his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in June 2009, Obama said, “The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism—it is an important part of promoting peace.” Clinton himself has bristled at people identifying “the forces of radicalism and terror” with Islam.

Yet Clinton has no difficulty with lumping in Timothy McVeigh – whose actions, lest we not forget, were motivated by Clinton’s heavy-handed siege of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco Texas two years before – with anyone who disagrees with the government today. ”But remember, words have consequences as much as actions do, and what we advocate, commensurate with our position and responsibility, we have to take responsibility for. We owe that to Oklahoma City.” No, we owe the victims of Oklahoma City a fair accounting of why they died, and their deaths had nothing to do with the grassroots tea party movements of today.

Yet while Clinton, Obama and the mainstream press have no problem linking every politically motivated incident with their political opponents, they have not held Muslims to the same standards. Even during his own administration that averaged over one terrorist attack a year perpetrated by a Muslim, Clinton and his administration never dared equated the actions of the radicals with the broader religion they claimed to be acting in the name of.

January 25, 1993, four days after Clinton was inaugurated, Mir Aimal Kansi, a Pakistani national, fires an AK-47 into cars outside of CIA Headquarters, killing 2.
February 26, 1993, first World Trade Center bombings by a conspiracy of 5 groups: Jamaat Al-Fuqra’/Gamaat Islamiya/Hamas/Islamic Jihad/National Islamic Front.
June 1993, a plot hatched by Omar Abdel-Rahman to bomb New York landmarks including the Lincoln Tunnel and UN Headquarters was foiled. March 1, 1994, Rashid Baz guns down a Hasidic seminary student in Brooklyn.
October 27, 1994, Clinton speaks to the Jordanian parliament in Amman, stating “We respect Islam” and careful to separate the actions of Islamic radicals from the religion itself.
November 7, 1995, 5 Americans die in bombing in Riyadh Saudi Arabia.
June 25, 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Dharan Saudi Arabia by Hizballah, kills 19 American servicemen, a Saudi and wounds over 200.
February 24, 1997 Ali Abu Kamal kills a Danish tourist and wounds several others in the Empire State Observation Deck.
February 23, 1998 Osama Bin Laden issues his “fatwa” demanding all Muslims “kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—[for it] is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it…”
August 7, 1998 al-Qaeda bombs American embassies in Nairobi Kenya and Dar es Salaam Tanzania, killing 225 and wounding more than 4000.
September 21, 1998 President Clinton affirms the peaceful nature of Islam and separates it from the actions of a few in his speech to the 53rd UN General Assembly, stating “A quarter of the world’s population is Muslim—from Africa to Middle East to Asia and to the United States, where Islam is one of our fastest growing faiths. There are over 1,200 mosques and Islamic centers in the United States, and the number is rapidly increasing. The six million Americans who worship there will tell you there is no inherent clash between Islam and America. Americans respect and honor Islam.”
September 23, 1999 Deputy Secretary of State Ronald E Neuman says in a Georgetown University speech that there there is “no inherent conflict between Islam and the West.”
December 14, 1999 Ahmed Ressam is arrested and confesses to planning to bomb Los Angeles International Airport as part of the 2000 Millennium Bombing conspiracy.
March 17, 2000, Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright in remarks to the American-Iranian Council states unequivocally that there is “no inherent conflict between Islam and the United States.”
October 12, 2000 USS Cole is attacked while in the port of Aden, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39.

Around the Muslim world there are madrassas and mosques brainwashing tens of thousands in the duty of Muslims to kill Americans and Jews. Newspapers and state-owned press in Muslim nations regularly print and broadcast anti-Semitic and anti-American messages. What do we call these nations like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia? Allies and friends.

But a fat man in Boca Raton and a bunch of well-educated citizens worried about government interference in their lives and massive debts their children and grandchildren will be responsible for, who are these people called? Enemies and racists.

Clinton, Obama and the Democrats need to treat their own family, friends and neighbors with the same respect they treat Muslims abroad. Instead of demonizing Tea Party members, they should listen to them. Just as the liberals wonder “what have we done to make Muslims hate us,” they should ask themselves “what have we done to make Tea Partiers protest against us.” If it’s good enough for the “religion of peace” it should be good enough for the party of tea.

The Council has Spoken: April 16, 2010

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: American Digest - The Barrel of GoogleRands

Noncouncil: The Winds Of Jihad - Fitzgerald: The New York Times, and That Business At the Cathedral In Cordoba Submitted by Wolf Howling

Full voting here.

A Bit of History Slips Quietly Down the Yadkin River

I lost a good friend died last week. He was an old man who grew up in the town I live in. He played in the fields and hunted in the woods. He even got his hair cut under a tree that I own before he joined the army and left town, returning over fifty years later to live out his days with his new wife and old memories. He taught me the history of this sleepy little hamlet along the Yadkin river, and helped my son buy his first shotgun.

He died last week, and his ashes will be buried under a tree that he once played under as a boy. He was a good, honest man, and is deeply missed.

The Mythical Primary Care Doctor Shortage

I’m a little leery about proclamations in the media about shortages. Shortages occur when supply cannot keep up with demand, and in a free market true shortages are brief. Remember the Wii shortages a few years back? People were snapping the video games up and selling for a tidy profit on eBay. But the shortage lasted only a few weeks. After Christmas 2006 Nintendo had produced enough to meet demand and now one can find the console just about anywhere, often for a discount.

In a free market anything that is experiencing a shortage becomes more expensive because demand outstrips supply. Ask Debeers. They control an entire industry by keeping supply below demand. As individuals try to get am item experiencing a shortage, they are willing to pay more for it. Others do the same, and the price rises. A shortage only ends when the supply outstrips demand: either the supply is increased or the demand is decreased. Oil at $140/barrel won’t last because oil substitutes like ethanol and oil-from-shale become viable at that price point. They siphon off demand for oil which then leads to an overhang of supply. The scramble by buyers to pay more than others becomes a scramble by sellers to sell for less than other sellers, and the price falls.

Although labor is not a commodity like oil, gold or bushels of corn, it is subject to free market principles. In autumn 2001 in the depths of the 9-11 Recession, a lobbyist group for the tech industry convinced Congress that there was a labor shortage in IT workers. They did this to encourage Congress to allow in foreign workers on the H-1b visa. Because visa stipulations made it difficult to switch jobs while on the H-1b, employers were able to hire foreign workers at a fraction of Americans.

Since the Internet Bubble burst in 2000, IT salaries were declining naturally because there were fewer positions open for qualified candidates. In addition many technical staff had gotten into IT to meet the demand for the Y2K Bug and had lost their jobs after the work dried up in early 2000. Add in the offshoring boom which further decreased the number of open positions, and you have a “perfect storm” that changed the IT sector in the United States forever. IT salaries have yet to stabilize and won’t until the number of people leaving the field outnumber those entering it on visas or through graduation from CompSci programs. The IT industry got what it wanted: an underpaid overqualified labor pool.

We are hearing the same drumbeat of shortages when it comes to Primary Care Physicians. “Experts warn there won’t be enough doctors to treat the millions of people newly insured under the law. At current graduation and training rates, the nation could face a shortage of as many as 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges,” an article in the Wall Street Journal reports. Yet in the same paper, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich reports “Among those with jobs, more and more have accepted lower pay and benefits as a condition for keeping them. Or they have lost higher-paying jobs and are now in new ones that pay less. Or new hires are paid far lower wages than the old.” Interestingly, Reich was one who accurately predicted the collapse in tech wages and the danger posed by labor importation as early as 1995.

Allied Physicians, a doctor placement firm, lists average salaries for doctors by specialty. After residency training is complete, Family Practice primary care physicians without obstetrics earn the second lowest of the salaries surveyed. Even when obstetrics is included, the bump in pay does not match the skyrocketing malpractice claims which can drive up premiums from an average of $6000 a year to $64,000 or more. Add in the average medical school debt of $156,000 and one can see why doctors are voting with their feet to move from low paying, high malpractice insurance coverage specialties to high paying relatively low cost malpractice insurance specialties.

So where is the shortage in primary care physicians if their salaries are so low? If demand for their service outstrips supply, prices should rise, right? Based on the salaries, there is no primary care doctor shortage. Pumping out more med school graduates or worse, importing physicians from abroad by relaxing training standards, will simply force more primary care physicians into other specialties faster. It will not expand the pool of primary care physicians.

If primary care physicians are so important, they should be paid better. That means increasing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for primary care physicians to match those of the better paying specialties. Since private insurance follows Medicare’s lead, and reimbursement rates are set by Congress, then the solution lays with our elected representatives.

Unfortunately for doctors, they don’t have the same pull as the unions or the ABA, so the mythical shortage may become a reality unless they take action. Or start visiting SEIU union halls for their health care.

The Council has Spoken: April 9, 2010

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Bookworm RoomRedefining the word racist so that it suits ME

Noncouncil: Cato Unbound – The Rise of the New Paternalism Submitted by The Glittering Eye

Full voting here.

Raising Cash by Libeling the Military

I thought Wikileaks was above anti-American propaganda. Looks like I was wrong.

The Rot at the Heart of the Roman Catholic Church

The rumors about the priests were always there. The first one I heard said that one of the priests of my parish was a little too close to the rectory housekeeper, although proof was never offered. The rumors accelerated at the all boys prep high school run by the Jesuits that I attended. How many of the rumors were due to boys questioning their own sexual identities versus the priests pursuing theirs remains unclear a quarter century later. I can state for a fact that I was taught by gay priests, but that doesn’t make them pedophiles and given the gravity of the charge I am leery of saying that my high school was some pedophile’s dream. If it was I never saw it, but the rumors never disappeared.

It seems that the Catholic church has been under a cloud of suspicion since Sinead O’Connor stood up on Saturday Night Live on Oct 3, 1992 singing “War” and ripping a photograph of Pope John Paul II on live television. Americans went nuts destroying her records and pretty much ending her career on this side of the Pond. Her motive behind the performance was to protest the Catholic church’s stonewalling of pedophile scandals that were just beginning to surface in O’Connor’s native Ireland. O’Connor took the stage and thought the SNL audience and American public were familiar with the scandals, but she was wrong. It would take nearly a decade before the scandals erupted stateside, costing the church $2 billion in payments, tarnishing its reputation and threatening its existence.

Since then the scandals have continued and now threaten the legitimacy of the current pope Benedict XVI. Documents are surfacing that allege the pontiff as Cardinal in 2001 wrote a directive ordering cases of child molestation be kept secret. Worse, the pope is being accused of shuttling a known pedophile from one parish to another while Archbishop of Munich between 1977 and 1982. The Vatican has asserted that the secrecy directive was nothing more than some bureaucratese that didn’t exclude reporting of pedophiles to the police; a former deputy to the pontiff has fallen on his miter and accepted responsibility for the shuttling of the child molester.

These excuses ring should ring hollow to anyone who is familiar with politics, especially hierarchical non-democratic bureaucratic institutions. First, the directive fits with the Wall of Silence the Roman Catholic church has employed over the decades when faced with accusations of priestly misconduct. Secondly, underlings regularly contact their bosses when they find trouble. It’s basic CYA. This behavior eventually lead to Nixon in Watergate 37 years ago, and it threatens Pope Benedict today. Similar questions could even be raised. What did Benedict known and when did he know it? Luckily for the Pontiff, as the head of a non-democratic sovereign state there is no way for him to be impeached nor even a public inquiry be launched to force the Vatican to divulge its records.

The problem goes way beyond one pope, though. For 1,400 years the church has demanded priestly celibacy. Although couched in Scripture, the likely reason behind this demand was the consolidation of wealth. If priests had children, they would inherit wealth, not the Church. The vow of celibacy was not about sex, it was about the preservation of money and power. For most of its history the vow begot countless bastards, as priests, bishops and even popes ignored it; but from Rome’s viewpoint these illegitimate children didn’t matter. They had no property rights and were therefore not a threat to the Church’s wealth. Things would have continued well had there not arisen an uppity and dour-faced German priest named Martin Luther.

The Protestant Reformation exposed the hypocrisy of the Church’s actions, and ever since the church has struggled to reconcile its teachings with its behavior. Instead of ending the celibacy requirement during the Reformation, the church clung to it and created a culture of secrecy and lies to hide its failures. Such a culture became the perfect ally for men who desired sex with children. This culture would remain if the Pope decreed that those within the holy orders could marry, so repealing the canonical laws demanding a celibate clergy would not end the sexual abuse scandals. I’m not sure how this culture can be destroyed without taking the church with it.

And that’s the problem Roman Catholics face today. Their church has become so rotten over the ages that it is difficult to know where to begin to fix it. As an ex-Catholic and Benedict XVI supporter myself, I am disappointed to learn the truth about the church and its leadership. I long ago turned my back on my religion even though I continue to appreciate the Catholic heritage that has brought great beauty into this world and brought solace and hope to the faithful. But what can the faithful due today to reform their church?

Update: 4/9/2010
A church document bearing then Cardinal Ratzinger’s signature resisting the defrocking of a known child molesting priest.
Ratzinger Protects Abuser

Easter in the Bible Belt

The Easter holiday reminded me that I live in the Bible Belt. For the past few weeks the church boards have all been proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and over the past few days the spirit has crept on to restaurant and hotel signage as well. Christ is Risen! proclaimed the Wendy’s restaurant in Jonesville. On the other side of the interstate the Holiday Inn’s sign had the same statement on one side of the sign and a cutesy quote about the Easter Bunny on the other. Easter greetings were repeated on the signage of numerous businesses. The spirit continued over at the local Wal-Mart, where the cashiers bid everyone good-bye with a hearty “Happy Easter” even when the store was open on Easter Sunday.

After I returned some poorly performing Chinese goods I wasn’t offended when the cashier handed me my cash and wished me “Happy Easter.” I even wished her a Happy Easter in return. I didn’t feel like I was having Christianity forced onto me. I chose to live here, and “here” is a well-worn notch in America’s Bible Belt. It’s culture is as foreign to me as any I’ve lived in. I have lived in some very unusual places for a kid from the Midwestern suburbs, and in each I followed the local customs. In Tanzania I avoided eating in front of others during Ramadan, and threw a big feast at Eid. In Japan I removed my shoes when necessary and never felt put upon when doing so. I even bowed towards the neighborhood shrine whenever I passed it going to work or coming home. Did I believe in the minor god it was dedicated to? No, but doing so showed the locals that I respected them even though I didn’t share their beliefs.

While I am not a Christian and am agnostic on the best days, I am not offended by the signage or the religious good-byes. This is the American South, and I respect its history, its culture and its people even though I personally do not share many of its values. At the same time my own beliefs and values are so well-considered and deeply held that I am not worried that they will somehow change because of gas station signs proclaiming “He Is Risen.”

The Council has Spoken: April 2, 2010

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Colossus of RhodeyThe inanity of the rest of the West

Noncouncil: The Doctor is In – In the Doldrums - Submitted by American Digest

Full voting here.