Assorted Links 3/23/10


Richard Feynman on Fire

  • Word Workshop: Writing for Government and Business: Critical Thinking and Writing, April 15, 2010
  • Word Workshop: Writing to Persuade: Hone Your Persuasive Writing Skills, April 16, 2010
  • Media Relations for Public Affairs Professionals, May 4, 2010
  • Advanced Media Relations, May 5, 2010
  • Public Affairs and the Internet: Advanced Techniques and Strategies, May 6, 2010
  • Crisis Communications Training, May 7, 2010
  • Persuading Congress: Candid Advice for Executives – “Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, is a very practical book, packed with wisdom and experience in a deceptively short and simple package.

    This book will help you understand Congress. Written from the perspective of one who has helped put a lot of bills on the president’s desk and helped stop a lot more, this book explains in everyday terms why Congress behaves as it does. Then it shows you how you can best deploy whatever resources you have to move Congress in your direction.”

  • Churchillania – “Lady Nancy Astor: If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee!

    Churchill: And if I were your husband I would drink it! ”

  • It’s NOT a Health Bill, NOT a Medicare Tax and It Can’t Possibly Cost Only $940 Billion – “In fact, new spending is negligible for four years. At that point the government would start luring sixteen million more people into Medicaid’s leaky gravy train, and start handing out subsidies to families earning up to $88,000. Spending then jumps from $54 billion in 2014 to $216 billion in 2019. That’s just the beginning.

    To be unduly optimistic (more so than the CBO), assume that the new entitlement schemes only increased by 7% a year. At that rate spending would double every ten years — to $432 billion a year in 2029, $864 billion a year in 2039, and more than $1.72 trillion by 2049. That $1.72 trillion is a conservative projection of extra spending in one year, not ten. How could that possibly not add to future deficits?”

  • ObamaCare: To Pass Or Not to Pass – “I have told my Democrat friends–yes, I have many–that they are missing the simple fact that people are really scared today. The economy is nowhere close to recovering and, in some places, may be getting worse. Millions of people have been unemployed for a very long time and untold millions more live in fear of it. Spending, deficits and debt have grown beyond the hypothetical world of economists and into a realm that the average person understands. Against this, the Democrats are now steaming towards the greatest expansion in government ever and, more importantly, into the part of our lives that commands our deepest fears, our health and mortality. That they have done so in an openly corrupt manner, with side deals, special exemptions, special interest favors and patronage (a judgeship, really?), betrays a contempt for the legislative and political process that is almost unfathomable. Worse, they raise the specter that the government is an interest, separate, distinct and opposed to the people.
    . . .
    And off a cliff is exactly where the Democrat party is going. In 1994, the party lost 54 seats in the House, losing control for the first time in 40 years. 54 seats is my opening bid for November 2010. They will lose that amount if ObamaCare somehow fails tonight. If it passes, their losses will be much worse in the House (hell, I’d take odds on a 100 seat loss) and they likely will lose the Senate as well. Worse for the parties future, they will be decimated in state house races, which is critical to the future of they party. The winners of these races will draw new legislative districts next year. A GOP rout in statehouses could doom the Democrats for a decade.
    . . .
    That said, the political animal in me is hoping they find 216 votes. A victory for ObamaCare tonight, It will spark a public revolt that will wipe clean the progressive agenda for at least a generation. In battle, it is critically important to have clarity; to understand the fight you are in. If the Democrats pass ObamaCare tonight no one will have any doubts about the battle ahead.”
  • Now we know we’re off Barack Obama’s radar – “George W. Bush ignored the region, say his detractors. What about Obama?

    The President’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, stumbled through a prepared script yesterday. But he put the situation aptly: ‘The passage of health reform is of paramount importance and the President is determined to see this battle through.’

    In other words, Obama’s domestic push to pass a watered-down version of health reform in the US congress so he can chalk up a legislative victory after a year of bumbling comes first. The message to Indonesia and Australia could not be clearer.

    Gibbs even omitted Australia as he read from his script that Obama expected to visit Indonesia in June.

    He later issued a ‘clarification’ that added Australia.”

  • Risky Business: Stuyvesant Town and Public Sector Pensions – “NPR reports the financial collapse of the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village renovation and the massive unfunded debt in state pensions are intertwined. When the backers of the $5.4 billion high-profile Manhattan real estate venture declared bankruptcy in January part of the reason was the collapse of California’s pension system, CalPERS, which had invested $500 million in the deal. When CalPERS assets were slashed after the financial markets tanked, California suddenly found itself with a $59 billion unfunded pension liability. Florida’s pension system also put money into what became the biggest real estate debt collapse in U.S. history.”
  • Public Pension Deficits Are Worse Than You Think – “Pension plans for state government employees today report they are underfunded by $450 billion, according to a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. But this vastly underestimates the true shortfall, because public pension accounting wrongly assumes that plans can earn high investment returns without risk. My research indicates that overall underfunding tops $3 trillion.”

Underfunded Pensions, Pension Dumping, and Retirement Security
Underfunded Pensions, Pension Dumping, and Retirement Security

Compiled by TheCapitol.Net
Authors: Patrick Purcell, Jennifer Staman, Kelly Kinneen, William J. Klunk, Peter Orszag, and Bradley D. Belt

    Although the PBGC’s liabilities are not explicitly backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government, Congress could face political pressure to bail out the PBGC at taxpayer expense should the agency become financially insolvent.

2009, 319 pages
ISBN: 1587331535 ISBN 13: 978-1-58733-153-4
Softcover book: $19.95
For more information, see 1534Pensions.com

  • If Past is Prologue When it Comes to Guesstimating Actual Health Care Costs, Well, it Was Nice Knowing You All… – “Not sure it’s relevant but there’s a fun fact: In 2007 dollars, households headed by people between the ages of 65-74 clocked in with a median net worth of $239,400 dollars and those headed by someone 75 or older boasted $213,500. The median net worth for all American households? $120,300. (See table 4.) Maybe old folks are only so rich (relatively and on average) because they don’t have to shell out for health care they way they used to in the pre-Medicare world. Or maybe they’d still be rich even if they’re retired and paying full price for health insurance (and cups of coffee! and movie tickets!) like they used to. And the way that younger and poorer folks are going to have to once that individual mandate kicks in.

    All of which is a way of saying: The future just ain’t turning out the way it was supposed to.”

  • Make spending discretionary for taxpayers, not politicians – “According to a 2003 survey by the Federation of Tax Administrators, 41 states and the District of Columbia fund some government programs through voluntary contributions made on the state income tax return. The FTA survey indicates that in most cases, taxpayers make these contributions in addition to their tax liability. For example, Virginia’s law allows up to 25 choices (some of which are government programs and some of which are private organizations) on its income tax return. Under the Virginia program, if a program does not receive at least $10,000 for three consecutive years, it is dropped from the program.

    Imagine what would happen if the federal taxpayer had that discretion. The tide might start to recede just a little bit. To make it recede even more, let’s add one more element. It is probably too much to ask to allow taxpayers to have this power over all discretionary spending, but we could at least apply it to new spending. No annual increase, no new programs, and no earmarks unless taxpayers voluntarily contribute the money right after they have learned how much they must pay in non-discretionary taxes.”

  • The Meaning of Statistical Significance – “In economics and most of the social sciences what a p-value of .001 really means is that assuming everything else in the model is correctly specified the probability that such a result could have happened by chance is only 0.1%. It is very easy to find a result that is statistically significant at the .001 level in one regression but not at all statistical significant in another regression that simply includes one additional variable. Indeed, not only can statistical significance disappear, the variable can easily change size and even sign!

    A highly statistically significant result does not tell you that a result is robust. It is not even the case that more statistically significant results are more likely to be robust.”

  • Hot News Is Back: Court Blocks Website From Reporting The News – “In the last few years, there’s been a push by some companies to bring back the immensely troubling “hot news doctrine,” that appears to violate everything we know about the First Amendment and copyright law. Basically, the “hot news doctrine” says that if someone reports on a story, others are not allowed to report on their reporting for some period of time — on the theory that it somehow undermines the incentive to do that original reporting. Last year, we wrote about the very troubling implications of allowing the hot news concept to stand. Beyond the free speech implications, it also has the troubling quality of effectively creating a copyright on facts — which are quite clearly not covered by copyright. On top of that, it’s not necessary in the slightest. As anyone who is actually in the online news business knows, getting a scoop gets you traffic — even if others report the same thing minutes later. Being first gets you the attention. You don’t need to artificially block others from reporting the news.”


Solar Furnace
A High-Tech Entrepreneur
On the Front Lines of Solar

  • Online Checking: Are the Lower Fees Worth the Hassle? – “The majority of Americans have checking accounts at traditional banks with branches. But as concerns over new fees rise and brand loyalty sours, many are finding that the best deals for checking accounts can be found at other places, such as online banks or brokerages.

    Making a switch could trim hundreds of dollars a year in fees on everything from ATM withdrawals and monthly maintenance charges to penalties for hitting a low balance and ordering checks. Such costs have been on the rise for more than a decade and show no sign of letting up, according to a recent study by Bankrate.com.

    Most checking accounts offered through online banks and brokerages such as Charles Schwab Corp., ING Direct, Fidelity Investments and Ally Bank have no monthly maintenance fees or minimum balance requirements. They offer Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. protection, most waive fees on ordering checks and most charge little or nothing for withdrawing money abroad.

    Most online banks also impose low or no overdraft fees–a major source of revenue for traditional banks, though new laws will restrict how they can charge such fees. They also allow consumers to dip into savings accounts to meet the difference when an account runs low, rather than pay a fee to a bank if an account is overdrawn.”

  • Guess Who’s Turning 100? Tracking a Century of American Eating – “From meat and potatoes in the early 1900s to deli-prepared rotisserie chicken and Asian pasta salad today, the answer to the age-old question, ‘What’s for dinner?’ has shifted in response to a variety of events–rising wages, nutritional discoveries, wartime rationing, and more women working outside the home, to name a few.

    Now in its centennial year, ERS’s food availability data set provides a unique window into how the U.S. food supply responds to political, social, and economic forces, along with ever-evolving technoloical advancements. By measuring the flow of raw and semi-processed commodities through the U.S. marketing system, ERS’s food availability data reveal the types and amounts of food commodities available for consumption.
    . . .
    During the first half of the 1900s, the most significant changes among food crops were the substantial declines in availability of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and flour and cereal products. Availability of potatoes and sweet potatoes fell from 213.2 pounds per person in 1909 to 114.4 pounds in 1959, while availability of flour and cereal products dropped from 300 to 147 pounds per person. An improved ratio of wages to food prices allowed many to diversify their food spending beyond flour, potatoes, and meats. Greater purchasing power, coupled with increased availability of fresh fruit and vegetables over the winter and growing vitamin consciousness, led Americans to spend a larger portion of their food budgets on milk, cheese, fruit, and vegetables.

    In the second half of the century, Americans enjoyed ever-more varied, year-round, fresh produce options, thanks to a growing global food market. Kiwi fruit from New Zealand, grapes from Chile, brie cheese from France, and shrimp from Thailand are now grocery store staples.

    Flour and cereal product availability grew as well. Between 1972 and 2008, per capita availability of flour and cereal products increased from a record low 133 pounds per person to 196.5 pounds. The expansion reflects ample cereal stocks, strong consumer demand for a variety of breads, growing popularity of grain-based snack foods and other bakery items, and increased eating out that includes products served with buns, dough, and tortillas.
    . . .
    Chicken availability over the past 100 years illustrates the effects of new technologies and product development. Increased chicken availability from 10.4 pounds per person in 1909 to 58.8 pounds in 2008 reflects the industry’s development of lower cost, meaty broilers in the 1940s and later, ready-to cook products, such as boneless breasts and chicken nuggets, as well as ready-to-eat products, such as pre-cooked chicken strips to toss in salads or pasta dishes.

    Broilers were first marketed in the 1920s as a specialty item for restaurants. By the mid-1950s, innovations in breeding, mass production, and processing had made chicken more plentiful, affordable, and convenient for the dining-out market and for cooking at home. Media coverage of health concerns associated with total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in the last quarter of the 1900s may have contributed to a rise in chicken tacos and turkey burgers.
    . . .
    Over the past 100 years, agricultural policies have contributed to changes in the availability of different commodities. For example, Americans have always had a sweet tooth, but how that craving is satisfied has changed. The sweeteners category in the availability data include use of sugar and syrups at home, as well as in processed foods and beverages. Sweetener availability stood at 83.4 pounds per person of sugar, molasses, honey, corn syrup, and other syrups in 1909. In the first half of the 20th century, molasses was one of the “three M’s” in Southern sharecroppers’ core diet–meat (salt pork), molasses, and meal (cornmeal).

    Between 1924 and 1974, availability of sweeteners averaged 113.2 pounds per capita, not including the sugar-rationing World War II years. A variety of Government policies–investments in public research that raised yields for corn, sugar production allotments and trade restrictions, and subsidies for corn production–helped make corn sweeteners relatively less expensive than sugar. Food manufacturers responded by using the cheaper corn sweeteners, especially high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), in place of sugar in an ever-expanding array of processed products ranging from soft drinks and breakfast cereals to soups and spaghetti sauce. In 2008, HFCS accounted for 39 percent of the 136.3 pounds per person of sweeteners available for consumption.”

  • Fast Food That Won the West – “In 1946, when Judy Garland starred in a movie called ‘The Harvey Girls,’ no one had to explain the title to the film-going public. The Harvey Girls were the young women who waited tables at the Fred Harvey restaurant chain, and they were as familiar in their day as Starbucks baristas are today.

    In many of the dusty railroad towns out West in the late 1880s and early decades of the 1900s, there was only one place to get a decent meal, one place to take the family for a celebration, one place to eat when the train stopped to load and unload: a Fred Harvey restaurant. And the owner’s decision to import an all-female waitstaff meant that his restaurants offered up one more important and hard-to-find commodity in cowboy country: wives.

    It was a brilliant formula, and for a long time Fred Harvey’s name was synonymous in America with good food, efficient service and young women. Today, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone aware of the prominent role Harvey played in civilizing the West and raising America’s dining standards. His is one of those household names now stashed somewhere up in the attic.

    In ‘Appetite for America,’ Stephen Fried aims to give Fred Harvey his due, making an impressive case for this Horatio Alger tale written in mashed potatoes and gravy. Fred Harvey restaurants grew up with the railroads in the American West beginning in the 1870s, with opulent dining rooms in major train stations and relatively luxurious eating spots at more remote railroad outposts.”

  • Wheat Ridge High School Class of 1970 – “The reonion committee is working away planning the 40th reunion the weekend of August 13-15, 2010. Wheat Ridge, Colorado WRHS1970.com”
  • Common Market Food Co-op – “Common Market Food Co-op was a ‘new wave food co-op’ located at 1329 California Street in Denver, Colorado, from 1975 – 1980. It started as a buying club at the University of Denver in the early 1970s, and for a few years prior to moving to the old Safeway at 13th and California Streets, Common Market operated out of a small storefront on Champa Street.”


Constant Sorrow
from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

  • Naming and Shaming ‘Bad’ ISPs – “Roughly two years ago, I began an investigation that sought to chart the baddest places on the Internet, the red light districts of the Web, if you will. What I found in the process was that many security experts, companies and private researchers also were gathering this intelligence, but that few were publishing it. Working with several other researchers, I collected and correlated mounds of data, and published what I could verify in The Washington Post. The subsequent unplugging of malware and spammer-friendly ISPs Atrivo and then McColo in late 2008 showed what can happen when the Internet community collectively highlights centers of badness online.

    Fast-forward to today, and we can see that there are a large number of organizations publishing data on the Internet’s top trouble spots. I polled some of the most vigilant sources of this information for their recent data, and put together a rough chart indicating the Top Ten most prevalent ISPs from each of their vantage points. ”

  • Palm’s woes mount as its stock is devalued to $0 and unsold inventory estimates balloon – “Palm is at the edge of a precipice and needs either a miracle or a very wealthy suitor to save it from what appears to be inevitable self destruction. Anyone with a Pre or Pixi in good condition may want to box that puppy up and put it in a drawer as it may be a collector’s item someday. We’re half kidding. Kind of.”
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap S300m – ultracompact scanner – “Along with the previously reviewed Evernote, this ultracompact scanner is the best computer-related tool I’ve found in a long time. I’ve owned several flatbed scanners and an all-in-one printer-scanner-fax-copier. The S300 is so far out of their league it doesn’t seem right to call it a scanner. It’s more like a paperless life enabler.
    . . .
    It’s been a month. Stacks of disorganized and dusty papers have disappeared from my life, ready to be called up with a few keystrokes in Evernote or on my hard drive.
    . . .
    The ScanSnap is powered via AC or dual USB ports (one for data, one for power) for true portability.”

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Posted in: Caught Our Eye

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