Assorted Links 6/7/10


Richard Feynman on Bigger is Electricity!, from the BBC TV series ‘Fun to Imagine’ (1983)

  • Capitol Hill Workshop, June 9-11, 2010
  • Wi-Fi Classroom – How to Find, Track, and Monitor Congressional Documents: Going Beyond Thomas, June 24, 2010
  • Wi-Fi Classroom – How to Research and Compile Legislative Histories: Searching for Legislative Intent, June 25, 2010
  • Drafting Effective Federal Legislation and Amendments, July 21, 2010
  • Preparing and Delivering Congressional Testimony, July 22, 2010
  • Advanced Federal Budget Process, August 2-3, 2010
  • Advanced Legislative Strategies, August 4-6, 2010
  • Mark Twain on Copyright – “Remarks of Samuel Langhorne Clemens Before the Congressional Joint Committee on Patents, December, 1906 (Mark Twain on Copyright)”
  • 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.”

  • The Hard Truth About Residential Real Estate – “Anyone who believes that housing is on the rebound, and that now is the time to buy, should take a very hard look at the numbers I dredged up for my spring lecture and luncheon tour.

    There are 140 million personal residences in the US. Today, there are 19 million homes either directly or indirectly for sale. According to a survey by Zillow.com, a real estate appraisal website, 5 million homeowners plan to sell on any improvement in prices. Add to that 4 million existing homes now on the market, 1 million new homes flogged by companies like Lennar (LEN) and Pulte Homes (PHM), and 1 million bank owned properties. Another 8 million mortgage owners are late on their payments and are on the verge of foreclosure, bringing the total overhang to 19 million homes.

    Now, let’s look at the buy side. There are 35 million who are underwater on their mortgages and aren’t buying homes anytime soon, nor are the 35 million unemployed and underemployed. That knocks out 50% of the potential buyers.

    Here is where it gets really interesting. There are 80 million baby boomers retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day. Assuming that they downsize over time from an average 2,500 sq ft. home to a 1,000 sq. ft. condo, and eventually to a 100 sq. ft. assisted living facility, the total shrinkage in demand is 4.3 billion sq.ft. per year, or 1.7 million average sized homes. That amounts to a shrinkage of aggregate demand for a city the size of San Francisco, every year. You can argue that the following Gen-Xer’s are going to take up the slack, but there are only 65 million of them with a much lower standard of living than their parents.”

  • Buy Vs. Rent – “Rent in Manhattan: Home prices there are way too high, says Trulia. (Ditto San Francisco.)

    Buy in Miami. And Phoenix. And Las Vegas. And most of the other places that have been flattened by the crash. Homes there are cheap compared to rents.

    The cross-over point is about 15 times annual rent, the company believes. In other words, as a rough rule of thumb, homes are probably fairly valued in a city when they cost about 15 times a year’s rent. So, for example, if you’re paying $10,000 a year to rent a place, think twice about buying a home that costs more than $150,000. Dean Baker, economist at the Washington, D.C. think-tank The Center for Economic and Policy Research, came to a similar conclusion in research on the subject in recent years. Fifteen times is the historic average, he said.”

  • DOD’s Guns Versus Butter Debate – “The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s Todd Harrison has a new paper out warning that DOD is fast approaching a difficult choice: either fund the people or the weapons they operate, it will soon reach the point where it can’t do both.

    Harrison has been warning anybody who will listen about the labor cost challenges at DOD for some time now. Last fall, he wrote a piece warning that DOD potentially faces a GM sized fixed labor cost problem, necessitating a massive increase in federal dollars, a ‘bailout’ in essence.

    His latest paper lays out what he calls DOD’s internal ‘guns versus butter’ debate. The butter includes pay and benefit increases that have what economists call ‘stickiness’: they are almost impossible to rollback. The increase in pay and benefits that congress allots DOD each year will crowd out investment in research and new weapons.

    First a sense of the scale of the problem: with some 2,250,000 people on the payroll, DOD is the single biggest employer in the U.S., public or private sector. In fact, DOD has more people on its payroll than Wal-Mart (1.1 million) and the Post Office (600,000) combined. The size of the payroll means any changes, even seemingly minor year-to-year increases in pay or benefits, have an outsized effect on the defense budget because of the compounding and cumulative effects of pay hikes.

    Since 2000, the cost to pay and care for one active-duty serviceman has increased 73 percent in real terms: from $73,300 to $126,800 today.”

  • Law entrepreneurs – “My presentation will continue my speculation, begun in Death of Big Law, on the ‘legal information industry’ that could develop in the aftermath of the demise of current models of delivering legal services. Consistent with the theme of the mini-conference, I focus on opportunities for entrepreneurship in this new industry. So the project might be especially intriguing for those, including the law school class of 2010, who might appreciate alternative employment opportunities.

    The paper begins by discussing the forces that are giving birth to the new industry: globalization, new information technologies, clients’ demand for cheaper law, and deregulation of legal services.

    I then examine some possible ways to tweak the existing industry model based on customized advice to clients. We can expect to see new ways to connect lawyers and clients, and ways such as outsourcing to substitute contracts for firms. Also expect new kinds of firms that can be sold to the capital markets and that combine law with other disciplines.

    Then I look beyond legal advice to refashioning legal information into products. Entrepreneurs might develop new ways to sell legal ideas, uses for contract templates, ways to standardize contract drafting, private development of new business associations, mechanized contract review and investments in legal think tanks that engage in research and development.

    The r & d idea could be of particular interest to law professors. I consider the potential for a law version of “Bell Labs” that could privatize some of the research now happening in academia. Good thing, too, because I’m not sure how much room will be left in the brave new world of legal information for research subsidized by law school tuition based on big law jobs that no longer exist.”

  • Our 1979: The Year That Was – “It has been sort of a topos to evoke the specter of 1979. I’ve done it repeatedly, as have other observers.

    Aside from the growing stagflation in the U.S. (I remember farming that year at the ending of an inflation-driven boom), that was the year that China invaded Vietnam. Muslims assassinated the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Russia later invaded Afghanistan. The world seemed to have become unhinged. And there was more still.

    The shah was abandoned and soon fell, amid American proclamations of support for him on Monday, and then denunciation of his dynasty by Tuesday, and yet more leaked reports on Wednesday of reaching out to Khomeini in Paris. Soon in his death throes he would jet the globe looking for a home and a doctor, as the U.S. let the phone ring when he called.

    Soon Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in Teheran from Paris and proclaimed an Islamic revolution. Iranian students (Ahmadinejad probably among them) stormed our embassy and took hostages. In no time Ramsey Clark was denouncing America on Iran’s behalf, and rumors abounded of Carter’s backdoor deal-making to get them home at any cost before the 1980 election. (In 1980 a humiliating and disastrous rescue mission would see imams desecrating American dead on worldwide television. I recall an odious Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhal, the hanging judge who sent thousands to the gallows, zipping open the body-bags to poke and probe the charred American corpses.)

    The Sandinistas also took over Nicaragua. Radical Islamists torched the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. I could go on, but you get the picture. In all these cases, a baffled Mr. Carter sermonized a lot, blamed a lot — and in the end retired to the Rose Garden or fought rabbits from a canoe. He seemed petulant that he had come into the world in divine fashion to save us, and we flawed mortals were unwilling to be saved by him. The so-called “malaise speech” summed up his disappointment in the rest of us.

    And after such a wonderful beginning…

    So 1979 followed two years of Carteresque utopian proclamations. Do we remember them all still? There was Cy Vance, in perfect aristocratic style, and in perpetual atonement for his earlier support of the Vietnam War, with his creased brow and sermonizing tone, bringing in the kinder, gentler order. He resigned over the failed hostage rescue, replaced by a stoic Ed Muskie. And there was Andrew Young at the UN trying to be a sort of proto-Barack Obama, reaching out to the radical Palestinians, and so on.

    Remember the commandments? No more inordinate fear of communism; human rights governing U.S. foreign policy; no more nuclear weapons housed in South Korea which was to be free of U.S. troops; outreach to the terrorist/rebel/reformer Mugabe, and so on.

    In other words, it took a flawed world about 24 months to size up the new idealistic administration, and to determine that it either could not or would not continue U.S. foreign policy of the previous three decades. Soon the more daring then decided to make ‘regional adjustments.’ Finally a panicked Carter was attempting everything from boycotting the Olympics and arming Islamists in Afghanistan to threatening to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East and restoring draft registration to reclaim lost U.S. deterrence.”

  • How Free Explains Israel’s Flotilla FAIL – “The organizers of the “Free Gaza” flotilla spent almost nothing on their campaign. The government of Israel poured millions into its botched raid on the ships — and now is in a worse position than when the flotilla launched. How did it happen? Part of the problem is that the Israeli government never bothered to read Wired.

    Israeli commandos may not have known that members of the Free Gaza flotilla were carrying knives, guns and metal bars. But they should have known that many in the incoming flotilla were armed with cameras, cellphones, blogs and Twitter accounts. For a country so technologically advanced, and with such acute public diplomacy challenges, to fail so miserably at preparing a communications offensive over new media is a failure of strategic proportions.

    And it was all so utterly predictable. In his book Free, Wired editor Chris Anderson lays out a new media model that foreshadowed the flotilla meltdown.

      It’s now clear that practically everything Web technology touches starts down the path to gratis, at least as far as we consumers are concerned. Storage (unlimited email storage) now joins bandwidth (YouTube: free) and processing power (Google: free) in the race to the bottom. There’s never been a more competitive market than the Internet, and every day the marginal cost of digital information comes closer to nothing.

    How much money did it cost the organizers of the Free Gaza flotilla to get their message out across the world?

    Answer: Almost nothing. Turkish TV placed a camera on one of the flotilla ships and kept it on all the time to livestream events on the boat, while constantly placing activists in front of the camera to speak about their cause. The costs of a camera, some other technical equipment, and hosting of a website are negligible.”

  • Are Cameras the New Guns? – “In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.

    Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists.

    The legal justification for arresting the ‘shooter’ rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where “no expectation of privacy exists” (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.
    . . .
    When the police act as though cameras were the equivalent of guns pointed at them, there is a sense in which they are correct. Cameras have become the most effective weapon that ordinary people have to protect against and to expose police abuse. And the police want it to stop.

    Happily, even as the practice of arresting ‘shooters’ expands, there are signs of effective backlash. At least one Pennsylvania jurisdiction has reaffirmed the right to video in public places. As part of a settlement with ACLU attorneys who represented an arrested ‘shooter,’ the police in Spring City and East Vincent Township adopted a written policy allowing the recording of on-duty policemen.

    As journalist Radley Balko declares, ‘State legislatures should consider passing laws explicitly making it legal to record on-duty law enforcement officials.'”

  • The BP Oil Spill and at Least One Lesson Unlearned from Katrina – “Of course, we want this fixed now, stat. Nobody questions that. However, I don’t think you need to be a libertarian zealot to think that BP is in a much better position to plug this more quickly than the government. Just what information or ideas does the White House or Congress have to fixing this problem that they are withholding from BP? Just what relevant resources are owned and operated by the federal government that BP does not have? Frankly, I find Bill Nelson’s hubris disgusting at a time like this.”
  • One of the most touching ‘ads’ you will ever see – “One doesn’t think of emotion when watching ads regardless of how much spin advertisers might like to to wrap their usual dreck in. Nor does one think of seeing a homeless man as the center piece of an ad unless of course it is for some goodie two shoes charity.

    While Momentos might not be considered an ad in the typical sense it is one of those new style of ads that we are seeing in a growing number on the web. The only indication that it might even be an ad is that the televisions used are all LG’s but even then it is really a muted appearance.

    In truth this is a beautiful human moment that regardless of the fact that it is an extended advertisement for LG is touching and lets you forget that you are being advertised to. Nicely done.”

  • 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.”


DVP Remote App Keyboard works with New Roku Netflix App

  • Forget Noisy Blimps, Say Hello To the Airfish – “The next time you’re at a music festival and see a giant rainbow trout swishing around in the sky, there’s just a chance you might not be intoxicated. It might be scientists testing an airship that moves like a fish.

    The materials scientists from Switzerland call it the Airfish.

    The 8-metre-long helium-filled prototype glides through air as a fish swims through water – by swishing its body and tail from side to side. As well as moving more gracefully than a conventional blimp, the Airfish is also much quieter and cleaner because it doesn’t require the fume-belching engines and noisy propellers normally used for mid-air manoeuvres. As such, TV broadcasters might favour it for capturing aerial footage of music and sports events, the team suggests.”

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