Monday, September 28, 2009

How will Sidewiki entries be indexed?

Will I be able to search for all entries by particular people on any page?

in reference to: Google Sidewiki (view on Google Sidewiki)
The preceding is a Sidewiki entry I entered on Google's intro Sidewiki page. I'm wondering how useful it will be. It's likely that pages will just be filled with comments that I won't be interested in. But if I can search for comments by particular people, that might be useful.

It's also interesting that Google's computing power seems to be growing much faster than the web itself. Google must store all these entries in its computers. It's an interesting way for Google to know what pages people are looking at.

Monkeys and Shakespeare

If you sit monkeys at a computer, will they type the works of the Bard? No, they will partially destroy the machine, use it as a lavatory and mostly type the letter 's'. It took university researchers one month and £2,000 of Arts Council England money to find this out.

Want to avoid cancer? Drive during rush hour.

From The Scientist
Short-term stress can actually boost the immune system and help reduce the number of skin cancer tumors in mice. …

Previous studies, including several from [the lab of Firdaus Dhabhar, the lead author of the paper and a neuroimmunologist from Stanford] have shown that acute stress can help fight infection and enhance immune function. But this latest paper, which appeared online at the journal's website ahead of print publication, is the first to demonstrate its effects on cancer. …

The researchers are currently trying to understand the mechanisms involved in the immune response, ensure there are no adverse effects of eliciting such stress in mice, and determine how best to trigger the protective aspects of short-term stress in humans.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The public option

David Cay Johnston makes a great point.
When it comes to insurance our Congress applies two standards, separate and unequal, one for property and a lesser one for people.

Unlike people without health insurance, homeowners have access to public option flood insurance.

Even those who fail to take personal responsibility to buy insurance to protect their property can get benefits, thanks in good part to politicians who are leading opponents of public option healthcare. …

In Mississippi the relief for flooded buildings came with a requirement that owners buy flood insurance. It went further, requiring a covenant be added to their property deeds requiring the current and all future owners of that property to maintain public option flood insurance.

There is another word for that: government mandated insurance. …

Congress is so generous in its subsidies for property that the public option for flood insurance even covers property built in flood prone areas. And you can literally buy insurance on the day of a flood in some cases, and 1 day before in others.

Along the Gulf Coast, on the barrier islands on the Atlantic, in below-water expanses behind river levees and in desert communities plagued by flash floods, our federal government is there using tax dollars to help take care of damaged property.

But people? Providing a public option so people can buy health insurance through the federal government is "socialism," according to Senator John Kyl, the Republican senator from Arizona, a desert state where flash floods are as permanent a feature of reality as sickness and injury. Will someone ask Kyl why he favors what he calls socialist policies for property, but not people?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Recession Is Over. Now what?

Peter Boone and Simon Johnson (right) have a column in which they make these two simple recommendations.
We should prohibit companies and senior managers in regulated financial industries from making donations to political campaigns. …

We should significantly raise capital requirements for the financial sector—and the bigger the bank, the more capital you should need. (Of course, this would discourage banks from growing too large.)
These would do a great deal to reduce the systemic risk big-finance poses for the rest of the economy. It certainly makes sense. Since finance is an infrastructure function, but since we run it as a for-profit operation, it should not be influencing the politics of how it is regulated. Similarly, because it is an infrastructure function, society depends on it. The larger it is, the safer we must ensure that it be.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Praise and blame: real or not?

Today's Tricycle Daily Dharma comes from this article by The Dalai Lama.
If we really stop to think about praise and criticism, we will see they do not have the least importance. Whether we receive praise or criticism is of no account. The only important thing is that we have a pure motivation, and let the law of cause and effect be our witness. If we are really honest, we can see that it makes no difference whether we receive praise and acclaim. The whole world might sing our praises, but if we have done something wrong, then we will still have to suffer the consequences for ourselves, and we cannot escape them. If we act only out of a pure motivation, all the beings of the three realms can criticize and rebuke us, but none of them will be able to cause us to suffer. According to the law of karma, each and every one of us must answer individually for our actions.

This is how we can put a stop to these kinds of thoughts altogether, by seeing how they are completely insubstantial, like dreams or magical illusions. When people praise us and we glow with delight, it is because we think that being praised is beneficial. But that is like thinking that there is some substance to a rainbow or a dream. However much benefit appears to accrue from praise and acclaim, actually there's none at all. However convincing it seems, it is as unreal as a magician's illusion.
He may be right, but he is ignoring the fact that we have built into us emotional reactions to how people view us. That's part of our evolutionary heritage. To say that we shouldn't care what people think misses a human element that is central to how we are. Our emotional reactions to other people are as real as anything in the world. To say that they are a magician's illusion ignores part of our fundamental nature. Perhaps we can stand back from our emotional reactions and see them as just that, emotional reactions. But to dismiss them as unreal is simply not correct.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Low-carb diets linked to atherosclerosis and impaired blood vessel growth

From HarvardScience
Mice placed on a 12-week low-carbohydrate/high-protein diet showed a significant increase in atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries and a leading cause of heart attack and stroke. The findings also showed that the diet led to an impaired ability to form new blood vessels in tissues deprived of blood flow, as might occur during a heart attack.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Men look at women. So do women

From a Harvard Business School study of Social Networks
The biggest usage categories are men looking at women they don't know, followed by men looking at women they do know. Women look at other women they know. Overall, women receive two-thirds of all page views.

Three cheers for judge Jed S. Rakoff!

A Federal District judge on Monday overturned a settlement between the Bank of America and the Securities and Exchange Commission over bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch executives just before the bank took over Merrill last year.

The $33 million settlement “does not comport with the most elementary notions of justice and morality,” wrote Jed S. Rakoff, the judge assigned to the case in federal court in Lower Manhattan.

The ruling directed both the agency and the bank to prepare for a possible trial that would begin no later than Feb. 1. The case involved $3.6 billion in bonuses that were paid by Merrill Lynch late last year, just as that firm was about to be merged with Bank of America. Neither company provided details of the bonuses to their shareholders, who voted on Dec. 5 to approve the merger.

The judge focused much of his criticism on the fact that the fine in the case would be paid by the bank’s shareholders, who were the ones that were supposed to have been injured by the lack of disclosure.

“It is quite something else for the very management that is accused of having lied to its shareholders to determine how much of those victims’ money should be used to make the case against the management go away,” [Emphasis added.] the judge wrote.

Bank of America has argued in its filings with the judge that it did nothing wrong in its disclosures.

The judge also criticized the S.E.C., which has been trying to step up the profile of its investigations unit. The judge quoted Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan” in the end of his ruling to say that a cynic is someone “who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

The proposed settlement, the judge continued, “suggests a rather cynical relationship between the parties: the S.E.C. gets to claim that it is exposing wrongdoing on the part of the Bank of America in a high-profile merger; the bank’s management gets to claim that they have been coerced into an onerous settlement by overzealous regulators. And all this is done at the expense, not only of the shareholders, but also of the truth.” [Emphasis added.]
Click the image and also see this about Judge Rakoff. He seems like a wonderful judge!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Adaptive Market Hypothesis

An article in today's NYT led me to Andrew Lo's 2005 paper on the Adaptive Market Hypothesis. It's a nice summary of what's wrong with the efficient market hypothesis (EMH) and how an evolutionary approach offers new insights into how markets behave. It doesn't contain any new investment strategies, but it's worth reading nevertheless.

One piece of evidence Lo offers against EMH is the following graph of the correlation of the S&P index from one month to the next. Since the EMH argues that all information is already priced into the market, any market movement must be due to new information. And since new information is essentially random, market movement must be a random walk. In that case changes in the S&P from one month to the next should be uncorrelated, i.e., a correlation coefficient of 0. Here's how it actually looks.
S&P monthly auto-correlation
First-order autocorrelation coefficients for monthly returns of the S&P Composite Index using 5-year rolling windows from January 1871 to April 2003. Data Source: R. Shiller,

As Lo points out,
As a measure of market efficiency (recall that the Random Walk Hypothesis implies that returns are serially uncorrelated, hence [the auto-correlation] should be 0 in theory), [the auto-correlation] might be expected to take on larger values during the early part of the sample and become progressively smaller during recent years as the U.S. equity market becomes more efficient. However, it is apparent … that the degree of efficiency (as measured by the first-order auto-correlation) varies through time in a cyclical fashion, and there are periods in the 1950's when the market was more efficient than in the early 1990's!

Two snow leopard cubs just moved into the LA Zoo.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hans Rosling on how the world is changing

and how GapMinder helps you see it.

Closing The Book On The Bush Legacy

Marc Ambinder in The Atlantic
Thursday's annual Census Bureau report on income, poverty and access to health care—the Bureau's principal report card on the well-being of average Americans—closes the books on the economic record of George W. Bush.

It's not a record many Republicans are likely to point to with pride.

On every major measurement, the Census Bureau report shows that the country lost ground during Bush's two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. …

That leaves Bush with the dubious distinction of becoming the only president in recent history to preside over an income decline through two presidential terms, notes Lawrence Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. The median household income increased during the two terms of Clinton (14 per cent), … Ronald Reagan (8.1 per cent), and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford (3.9 per cent). As Mishel notes, although the global recession decidedly deepened the hole—the percentage decline in the median income from 2007 to 2008 is the largest single year fall on record—average families were already worse off in 2007 than they were in 2000. [emphasis added] … "What is phenomenal about the years under Bush is that through the entire business cycle from 2000 through 2007, even before this recession … working families were worse off at the end of the recovery, in the best of times during that period, than they were in 2000 before he took office," Mishel says. …

Bush built his economic strategy around tax cuts, passing large reductions both in 2001 and 2003. Congressional Republicans are insisting that a similar agenda focused on tax cuts offers better prospects of reviving the economy than President Obama's combination of some tax cuts with heavy government spending. But the bleak economic results from Bush's two terms, tarnish, to put it mildly, the idea that tax cuts represent an economic silver bullet. …

The wretched two-term record compiled by [George W.] Bush on income, poverty, and access to health care should compel Republicans to answer a straightforward question: if tax cuts are truly the best means to stimulate broadly shared prosperity, why did the Bush years yield such disastrous results for American families on these core measures of economic well being?

Contraception is almost five times cheaper than conventional green technologies as a means of combating climate change

according to research published September 9.
Each $7 (£4) spent on basic family planning over the next four decades would reduce global CO2 emissions by more than a tonne. To achieve the same result with low-carbon technologies would cost a minimum of $32 (£19). The UN estimates that 40 per cent of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended.

The report, Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost, commissioned by the Optimum Population Trust from the London School of Economics, concludes that “considered purely as a method of reducing future CO2 emissions”, family planning is more cost-effective than leading low-carbon technologies. It says family planning should be seen as one of the primary methods of emissions reduction.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Runner Reported to Have Internal Male Sex Organs

Two Australian newspapers reported Friday that gender tests show [that Caster Semenya,] the world champion athlete, has no ovaries or uterus and internal testes that produce large amounts of testosterone. …

Semenya won the 800-meter race at the world championships in Berlin on Aug. 19 by 2.45 seconds in a world-record 1 minute, 55.45 seconds. Even before that, though, her dramatic improvement in times, muscular build and deep voice had prompted speculation about her gender. …

Some people may have the physical characteristics of both genders, a chromosomal disorder, or simply have ambiguous features. The condition is generally referred to as a sexual development disorder, and sometimes intersexuality. An older term for someone with both male and female organs is hermaphrodite.

Dr. John Park, a pediatric urologist at the University of Michigan, said a likely scenario is a condition called androgen insensitivity syndrome. The person is genetically male but doesn't develop external male genitals and appears to be female, or the person can have both male and female physical characteristics.
So this makes it difficult to decide who should be allowed to compete as a man and who as a women. But in her case, it seems fairly clear that she is more male than female and that competing as a female is not fair to the other competitors.

This also must be very difficult for her. She was raised a girl and apparently likes being a girl. Finding out about herself in such a public way must be very hard on her.

All that said, however, I don't understand the why some people are so insistent that she be allowed to continue to compete as a women. For example, here is a Yale professor.
"She's born a female, raised as a female through puberty. Whatever is found, with the exception of deliberate substance abuse, she's going to have to be allowed to compete as a female," said Dr. Myron Genel, a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Yale University who was part of a special panel of experts the IAAF convened on the subject.

Women like Semenya who are born and raised as females before the onset of puberty "should be allowed to compete in women's events, period, end of discussion," Genel said. He said there's a separate issue for people who change gender after puberty.
Why should she be allowed to compete as a woman? What if a male were raised as a female, etc. Would that qualify him to compete as a female? I don't get it.

Critter cams

Critter cams :The Scientist [11th September 2009]

Median family income declined in last decade

Daniel Gross - Slate Magazine points out that according to the
latest report from the Census Bureau on income, poverty, and health insurance … median household family income in 2008, at $50,303, was below where it was in 1998.
The table on p 29 shows the 1998 median family income to be $51,295 compared to the 2008 figure of $50,303 as Gross notes.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Crashed motorcycle as gravestone

I just started riding my bicycle around town. LA is not made for bicycles. It's a bicycle, not a motorcycle. Even so, I don't want a gravestone like this.
The crashed motorcycle decorates its last owner's grave at San Salvador's general cemetery September 1, 2009. The touristic police organizes night tours to promote culture and national history in what is called 'necrotourism'.

Facebook quizzes: What do they know about you?

If you are on Facebook, you've undoubtedly seen the quizzes that are so popular on the site. Perhaps you or your friends have even taken some.

These quizzes might be fun. But it’s shocking just how much of your information quizzes can access and how little Facebook does to safeguard that information.

That's why we've created our own Facebook quiz that demonstrates what could be revealed when you, or your friends, take any other quiz on Facebook.

Take our Facebook quiz and find out: What do quizzes really reveal about you?

We know it's a little weird to warn you about Facebook quizzes by asking you to take a Facebook quiz -- but at least you know who we are and that we have a real privacy policy that we're committed to upholding. Can you say the same for every unknown developer of every quiz you or your friends take?

Chances are you can't. Our quiz shows you firsthand how Facebook allows any quiz developer to access your personal information—including religious and political views, sexual orientation, pictures, groups, and posts. And how most of your personal information can be exposed even if it's your friend, and not you, who takes one of these quizzes.

If details about your personal life are collected by a quiz developer, who knows where they could end up or how they could be used. Shared? Sold? Turned over to the government?

It's time for Facebook to upgrade its privacy controls to give you control of your personal information.

Take our Facebook quiz and take action to protect yourself now.

Obama Must Tame Finance at G-20 Summit: Here's How

By Ann Pettifor from the Huffington Post.
We, the authors of the Green New Deal have three proposals to put on the table.
  1. President Obama must address the 'catch me if you can' issue. Banks, like Citigroup, now have branches spanning 140 countries with approximately 16,000 offices worldwide. Such a global spread enables them to dodge taxes and hide gains in tax havens. Tax havens are the banks 'get out of regulation free' card. Whenever the administration or Congress threatens to regulate banks and other corporations: they respond with 'we'll go offshore.'

    Well let them. But if they do, the answer is simple: the American legal system -- paid for by American taxpayers -- is under no obligation to enforce their contracts written from dubious offshore locations through American courts. Especially when their whole purpose is to undermine the tax revenues that keeps the American legal system and its courts -- and the rest of America's public services -- in operation.

    So at Pittsburgh, President Obama should issue this edict: You can lend, dear bankers, from offshore -- but the risk is yours and yours alone. American courts will not uphold or enforce your contracts -- unless you follow the example of millions of Americans -- and pay your taxes.

  2. President Obama -- for the sake of his own presidency -- has to make American banks accountable. That is entirely possible. The Green New Deal promotes a new form of accounting called country-by-country reporting. It would make a bank own up to where it is operating, how much profit it makes in each country in which it operates and how much tax it pays there. It's crazy we can't find this out now -- but we can't. So if we are to hold these organisations accountable to American taxpayers -- who, after all, bailed them out -- then President Obama must propose and enforce this new form of accounting.

  3. There is the proposal put forward by Britain's top regulator -- Lord Adair Turner. This is for 'living wills' for banks -- or wind-down plans in case they fail. 'Living wills' would unravel the structural complexity banks use to minimise taxes and provide greater clarity in their legal structures.
President Roosevelt was 'magnificently right' when he challenged and faced down Big Finance at the World Economic Summit of 1933. Once he did, the world changed, and global economic recovery took hold. President Obama has the chance to emulate his achievement by taming Finance at the forthcoming G20 Summit, and by obliging the sector to step down from its lofty perch as master of the global economy, to once again become its servant.

Only then can we hope for real economic recovery.

A greener, cheaper way to deal with garbage

By Daniel Gross - from Slate Magazine.
Early this decade, [BigBelly] founder Jim Poss, who had worked in the solar and electric-vehicle fields, was struck by the number of overflowing garbage cans he saw and the huge inefficiencies he detected in the carting business. Garbage cans are filled mostly with air and the trucks are expensive to operate—about $100 per hour, all costs considered. 'I figured there's a lot of inefficiency there. If you compact trash on site, you can make trucks and the people running them more effective.' Instead of spending money driving trucks around—burning gas and spewing carbon dioxide into the ozone—we'd all be better served spending the same money on efficiency-producing compactors. Especially if those compactors keep streets clean by trapping garbage inside them and can be powered by a free source of clean energy: the sun.

Poss started the company while getting his MBA at Babson College. A solar panel on the top of the container charges a battery, and when volume reaches a certain level, it starts compacting with 1,200 pounds of force, providing a 5-to-1 reduction in volume. 'On a busy day, it'll run for 15 minutes,' says Poss. Since the compactor fills up more slowly than a garbage can, it doesn't need to be emptied as often. Which makes it a potential money-saver when used in remote areas—like ski resorts and state parks—or in urban areas where volumes of trash require frequent pickups. Funded by angel investors at first, Poss has raised about $10 million in capital. He contracted with a firm in Vermont to manufacture the BigBelly and sold his first machine to Vail Resorts in early 2004.

Although it is made in America, BigBelly is reminiscent of a futuristic Japanese robot. Flashing lights indicate when it is full and needs to be emptied. Many are wireless-enabled, which effectively turns them into Twitterers—they transmit brief text messages to a centralized Web site to let owners know when compactors are full. Like many smart green products, they're not cheap—and they're much more expensive than the dumb product they're hoping to dislodge. It costs about $80 a month to lease a BigBelly, or from $3,000 to $3,900 to purchase one, though those buying in bulk get a discount.

As a rule of thumb, Poss says, if the installation of a BigBelly can save an hour of collection time per month on a garbage can, it pays off relatively quickly. "In a city that collects once per day, or in a park system where there's travel time of 10 to 20 minutes to reach a garbage can and they collect three times per week," it pays for itself in about three to four years. For a large-scale user who deploys them in a concentrated area, the savings can be greater. Earlier this year, Philadelphia leased 500 BigBellys and placed them downtown. In areas where the BigBelly operates, the city picks up the trash five times per week instead of 17. Poss says the city is saving $800,000 a year in labor and fuel costs and will save $12 million over the products' 10-year lifespan—without any reduction in service. Philadelphia has redeployed workers from collecting trash to recycling initiatives. "It's not a solution for every trash can in the world, but it is one for millions of trash cans in the U.S.," says Poss.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Top 1 Percent of Americans Reaped Two-Thirds of Income Gains in Last Economic Expansion

From CBPP.

“Two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households, and that top 1 percent held a larger share of income in 2007 than at any time since 1928, according to an analysis of newly released IRS data by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.

“During those years, the inflation-adjusted income of the top 1 percent of households grew more than ten times faster than the income of the bottom 90 percent of households.”

A nice example of real or feigned paranoi

Glenn Beck - has this to say.
Wednesday's health care speech doesn't matter because this administration is going off a blueprint they haven't revealed yet. And while we don't know what their grand plan is, it feels more and more like a plan designed by the Teamsters, the seemingly criminal elements that run ACORN or Hugo Chavez's regime.

And until we know where the people in Washington stand on the Constitution, nothing should pass.
Apparently he has a fairly broad following. I guess this country can commit suicide if it really wants to. Beck is willing to lead everyone off the cliff. What continues to amaze me is how influential he is. How can sane people take him seriously?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Unemployed get training to start their own businesses

From This seems like a great idea. Too bad it is not being used more widely.
A little-known program approved by Congress … gives the jobless [a] weekly cash benefit [like unemployment insurance] but also trains them to run their own business.
And the newly minted small-business owner gets to keep the profits, too.

The program is available in only eight states, mostly along the coasts. In Oregon, the recession brought one of the nation's highest unemployment rates — about 175,000 are getting jobless benefits. Interest in the program, one of the largest, has jumped by about 75 percent, bringing the yearly total of recipients to nearly 600.

'They can't buy a job, so they get to make one up,' says Pat Sanderlin, who runs the program. 'Right now, you've got people coming into this in survival mode.'

Maine and Washington, which added its program in 2008, report strong interest. …

Legislation ratifying the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement allowed states to offer such aid, an idea widely used in Europe and Canada. In the U.S., the idea's historians say, the late-Sen. Edward Kennedy and Oregon's Ron Wyden, then a congressman and now a senator, championed the program. …

Seven of the states that offer self-employment assistance started their programs in the 1990s, and the programs remain small, rarely approaching the federal limit of 5 percent of those drawing unemployment benefits in a state.

California once offered the aid, but state officials report there was little interest and the program lapsed in 1998. Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey say numbers are down. …

Maryland's program is expected to remain steady. Data from New York, the largest state with such a program, were unavailable despite multiple requests to the state Department of Labor.

States that offer the program say people start a great variety of businesses. Restaurants are common, as are landscaping services. Sanderlin says Oregon recipients are frequently high-tech workers who start Web design businesses. …

As part of the program, states screen interested applicants to select those likely to exhaust their benefits without regaining a job with wages. Typically, once workers are approved for the assistance, they must develop a business plan, and they get counseling and training.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Securitizing life insurance settlements

[Wall Street plans] to buy “life settlements,” life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash — $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to “securitize” these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.

The earlier the policyholder dies, the bigger the return — though if people live longer than expected, investors could get poor returns or even lose money. …

The proponents of securitizing life settlements say it would benefit people who want to cash out their policies while they are alive. …

What is good for Wall Street could be bad for the insurance industry, and perhaps for customers, too. That is because policyholders often let their life insurance lapse before they die, for a variety of reasons — their children grow up and no longer need the financial protection, or the premiums become too expensive. When that happens, the insurer does not have to make a payout.

But if a policy is purchased and packaged into a security, investors will keep paying the premiums that might have been abandoned; as a result, more policies will stay in force, ensuring more payouts over time and less money for the insurance companies.
So, the idea is for someone with an insurance policy to sell that policy for cash—thereby collecting at least part of the benefit while still alive. The buyer will then pay the policy premiums until the insured dies, at which point it will collect the settlement amount.

Sounds like a good idea. It may be the case that insurance companies will have to raise their rates because policies that might have been abandoned in the past will no longer be abandoned. Does that make this a bad idea? Abandoned policies are free money to insurance companies—and lost money to the policy holders who abandoned their policies. To the extent that the insurance companies shared that free money with their customers by reducing their rates, some customers got more insurance than they would have otherwise because other customers lost the money they paid on policies that never paid off. Why is that good? It just means that some customers were subsidizing other customers—and the insurance companies. If policies are never abandoned, then they will be priced more accurately.

If this catches on, insurance companies themselves will undoubtedly sell policies that can be cashed out early. I believe they already do, although perhaps they aren't widely used. In the future, perhaps every policy will come with an early cash-out benefit. Then the bankers will have to beat that amount.

That's good. It will pit the insurance companies against the bankers. What may not be good is that the bankers will not be the final buyers of these policies. The policies will be bundled into bonds, the owners of which will be the final buyers. And they won't be able to tell whether the policies they are buying are worth the premiums they are signing up to pay.

Presumably the insurance companies are the experts in that sort of actuarial analysis. They should always do better than bankers and bond purchasers. Of course some insurance companies will low-ball the early pay-out benefits. But customer-owned companies will probably do a fair job for their customer-owners.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A teaching moment

Tim Rutten of the LA Times has a column about the hysteria some people are raising about Obama's planned talk to grammar school children next week.
On Thursday, Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, accused the president of attempting to 'indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda.' According to Greer, 'the idea that schoolchildren across our nation will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run healthcare, banks and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other president, is not only infuriating but goes against the beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.'
This is a wonderful opportunity for Obama to talk about this sort of hysteria in general. He needn't address the hysteria the right wing is creating about health care specifically. But he should use this opportunity to help kids understand that sometimes people just get carried away by their paranoia. I hope he takes advantage of it.

In the process he might point out that Reagan and George H. W. Bush gave similar addresses with no one raising an eyebrow. The Democrats didn't complain about Presidential indoctrination then. But the Republicans are complaining now. The balance of paranoia is clearly over-weighted on the right. He should be clear about that and point out how much damage that sort of paranoia can do to the country.

This is not a matter of campaigning for specific programs. It's a matter of pointing out that paranoia can destroy a country. It's one thing to debate about policies. It's another to become so out of touch with reality that such a debate can't take place. That can destroy a civil society—and it is in the process of doing just that.