Archive for June, 2011

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The President’s Campaign Speech Yesterday: Class Warfare Again

June 30, 2011

Obama sez I can nawt has my G650?

OK, I know that politicians are guilty of this all the time. For years they have played one group against another. They learn it as little kids. My wife says children are born innately knowing how to do three things: unscrew Oreos, eat Jello, and play one parent against the other. I’ve never seen a reason to argue any of those points with her.

Obama is a master of this, though, and he is finding new and bizarre ways to do it that have to even make his supporters scratch their heads. His campaign speech – excuse me, press conference – yesterday, was a case in point: and that doesn’t even include using the term “busted transmission,” which has to be a first in Presidential rhetoric.

You learn that stuff at Harvard.

Now you moderate fence-sitters are going to say, “Bit look here, Stimps, you know the corporate jet owner thing was just an example. He wasn’t saying that if he didn’t take more money away from corporate jet owners there wouldn’t be money for college scholarships. It’s all one pot of money, right? Same thing with tax breaks for oil and gas companies and medical research grants; those just happened to be in parallel in the speech as examples.”

Let’s look at that for a moment. Why did he choose, out of all the possible places revenue could be generated, corporate jet owners, oil and gas companies, and millionaires and billionaires.

Here’s a good example: back in 1990 Congress passed a 10 per cent luxury tax on all boats built in the US that cost over $ 100,000. It almost killed the boat-building industry in the US. Those with the money to buy boats at that price level either didn’t buy or bought overseas. The tax brought in very little money, and thousands of jobs were lost, particularly in the Northeast. The tax was lifted in 1993 after intensive lobbying by the industry, and luckily most of the skilled labor was still available and many of the buyers were willing to buy, so the industry was able to bring itself back up.

Why did Congress respond so quickly? The jobs were being lost in the northeast, in a liberal part of the country. (This was before the takeover of Congress by the Republicans in 1994.) There was also a lot of work done by a few very, very energetic members of the industry to get the information into the hands of the Congressmen.

Most of those boats were owned by individuals. They were used for vacations, not business, the majority of the time – not that many didn’t have a significant role in business as well. Corporate jets are a bit different. Very few are owned by individuals. Even Steve Job’s jet is owned by Apple, not by Steve. OK, Rush owns his, but the vast majority are owned by companies or by fractional ownership companies like NetJets. The are simply too expensive to maintain.

The point of a company having a private jet is to save time. Time is money. If an important person in the company has to be somewhere, and has to waste most of a day flying commercial, his time is wasted. You can’t get it back. If you are paying him millions of dollars a year, having a jet to fly him to his destination when he needs to go makes more economic sense. That’s why fractional ownership has been growing. Companies that couldn’t afford a jet because they wouldn’t use it enough could buy enough time for their needs.

Here’s where Obama’s example breaks down. Tax them heavily and the companies dump their jets. The jet manufacturers (in the US, Bombardier, Gulfstream, and Cessna, and foreign-owned but built here, Embraer and Hawker Beechcraft) took a huge hit a couple of years ago when Obama targeted the companies with private jets. In fact, the CEO of Cessna took him to task publicly for it. They would again. We would probably see one or two of these die off, and the companies would eventually buy from a foreign company like Dassault. Honda is even working on fielding a small corporate jet.

Gain – limited tax money, for a year or two. Loss – long term US job loss. Nice work, ace. Not even including the loss of productivity of the folks who are supposed to be using the jets.

And as Rush pointed out, who has the biggest corporate jet of all? A Boeing 747, at his beck and call any time he wants? But he needs it, and flies all over the world with it. How many trips has he taken?

Let’s look at the other side of his little examples. Why is the Federal government giving college scholarships, again? Where is that in the Constitution? How do I apply for one of those?

Research is a slippery beast. For example, when NASA says they are working on a new rocket, they do some in-house design studies, maybe, then do a request for proposal and see what LockMart and Boeing come up with. Those research costs are covered in the cost of the vehicles when the government buys them, unless they pay for a study up front. They do pay for a bunch of those. A lot of that money goes to colleges. It’s one of those “drop in the bucket things, though. The National Science Foundation, for example, had a FY2010 budget of $ 6.87 billion. I know, a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon we’re talking about real money – Barry Goldwater – but it’s like a school district threatening to cut music and sports if they can’t pass an operating levy. Hit the hot-button things, not the things that really cost money and might be more difficult to tackle. NASA’s whole budget is $ 18 billion a year. Cut the whole thing and it wouldn’t help the deficit one damn bit. We’re talking long-term solutions, not the nickel and dime things.

I’m not saying there isn’t waste and there aren’t things the government does that are pointless and stupid money-wasters. There are bundles of them. But it’s like saying we’re going to skip lunch today because we’re going to be foreclosed on…the problem is way over the five bucks for that sandwich at Subway.

All you get by using the kind of examples Obama used is a sense of us versus them…the rich guys versus we regular folks. But every time he says he’s going to raise taxes on the rich, using his definitions of “rich,” companies hunker down. They don’t invest and they don’t hire. That’s what’s killing our economy now. The Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads is the threat of taxes, especially on small businesses, on top of the health care stuff and the piling on of rules, restrictions and policies various agencies put in place without Congressional approval.

But Obama is going to clear all that away. Right. Let me know when that happens. Let me know when drilling the the Gulf and in ANWR starts up in earnest. Let me know when the shale oil fields get going.

I hate this us against them crap. He might be able to use it to win, but it will be bringing our destruction. See my previous post about Atlas not shrugging…businesses will move out of the US to countries that will not tax and regulate punitively. This country was founded on that…giving us the freedom to do what we want without arbitrary government interference. When our government turns into King George, you’re going to see a bunch of businesses move out of here. That scares me more than a nuclear-armed Iran, and that scares me a lot.

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Green Lantern, the debt ceiling, and smart Presidents

June 29, 2011

I think we’re going to see “Green Lantern” this weekend. I’m not mentally prepared to see downtown Chicago get stomped in “Transformers.” GL has received really poor to lukewarm reviews, so I’ll probably like it. Remember, my favorite adventure movie of all time is “Armageddon.”

No, seriously…I thought it was pretty darned perfect. Great lines, great adventure, great special effects for 1998, a love story, truly excellent casting…loud noised and explosions. What’s not to like?

We’ll see about “Green Lantern.”

This debt ceiling thing probably sounds really stupid to the average American. It’s sort of like when all your credit cards are maxed out, and another “pre-approved” one comes in the mail, you max out that one, too. The Republicans on the budget committee are saying no, and that it would be a good idea to cut back on expenses.That’s not popular with the folks in the family who ran up the debt in the first place, but it has to be done, or you’re going to lose the house at some point. All this political maneuvering and pontificating is a waste of time…I think the general public figured you guys out a long time ago, they are ignoring you now. Remember, this is a country where “American Idol” is a big hit, not the miniseries on the life of John Adams.

We’re paying you to take care of our money and our country wisely. You’re not doing it. We should fire those who aren’t. That’s about it.

How smart does a President need to be? Michele Bachmann is the latest Republican Presidential hopeful to get picked at for little misstatements about history. Personally, I wish a Presidential candidate could learn to not say that one extra sentence – it’s the one that gets them into trouble – but is that more important than her thoughts about the Federal Reserve? Or Afghanistan? Or Iran? How about promoting using the shale oil in Colorado? I want the President to be able to comprehend these things. Herman Cain is the only one I’ve heard who said he didn’t have enough information on international politics to make an intelligent decision, because he didn’t have access to the classified intelligence the President and the senior staff have. That’s a smart response. I want to hear candidates talk about their beliefs about liberty, what America means to them, the Constitution and how it applies today – important stuff. Not this slippery stuff designed to pander to whichever group they are speaking to.

If the media were responsible (yep, sure!) they would be asking for those kinds of answers, to get a picture of what the candidates stand for. No candidate other than a sitting President knows what it’s like to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. We knew what Thomas Jefferson stood for. We knew what Abraham Lincoln stood for. I’m not sure we exactly knew what FDR stood for, completely, before he got into the White House. We certainly knew what Reagan stood for. (As I’ve posted before, read his radio speeches from the few years before he ran for President in 1980. You’ll learn everything you needed to know before he ran.)

I guess I don’t need a President with an IQ of 150. I do want one with honesty, integrity, a willingness to work for all the people. I want one who loves this country and believes in it as a special place, an exceptional place in the world. The President needs to understand the issues…but then he or she needs to be able to make judgements based on character. That’s what seems to be missing.

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A clearheaded description of our current manned space program…

June 28, 2011

Nothing like this coming soon... (hat tip to Sven Knudson at ninfinger.org)

Paul D. Spudis has written a piece that sums up neatly where our current manned space program is going, or rather not going. (Hat tip to Mark Whittington.) He argues that the Shuttle, while not the best system, is a working system, and one that delivers large crews and large payloads – something none of the commercial follow-ons will be able to do. It can also serve as a “space garage” for satellite repair, can deploy satellites too delicate to be launched on their own, and manipulate (using its articulated mechanical arm) large objects in the vicinity of the ISS – or anywhere else, for that matter.

He doesn’t mention, but assumes, that NASA is also shortsighted enough that no manned presence other than the ISS will be needed in the future. That is shortsighted at best and it may be that the US government will be buying living space from another country, like China, or from commercial entities like Bigelow Aerospace.

Bigelow Aerospace will be there, even if the US government isn't.

I confess the “space garage” point was one that I missed in the past. I guess I figured it would be possible to do things in microgravity on the outside without a stable base, but thinking about it, I can see why having a way to hold a satellite or other piece of equipment in a fixed position would be immensely valuable. To do that you need a massy vehicle, not an enlarged Apollo capsule. The Shuttle, for its clunkiness, fit the bill perfectly. The Jenkins book on the Space Shuttle history called it “the truck that flies” and that’s probably a more apt description than I would have thought.

But we’re operating NASA on a tenth of the budget we once were, and expecting what we used to. Congress and the President are in a battle over what should be our manned role in space: the President seems to think there shouldn’t be one, and various Congressmen with aerospace companies in their districts and states are fighting to maintain the jobs there. Now isn’t a particularly good time to lose more high-tech jobs. These folks aren’t going to be finding private-sector employment quickly.

I’m not arguing for NASA as a Federal jobs program. Even with my libertarian leanings, I realize there are some things that can’t be done on the cheap, or need long term investment that a company can’t handle – and the benefits will be for us all, not just for Lockheed Martin or Boeing. Apollo was ten years and $ 300 billion in today’s money. That’s not chump change, but it paid itself back time and time again in all sorts of ways. If you’ve read any of my posts you know I advocate for commercial space all the time, and with far fewer restrictions than the US government places on companies trying to get into the business. But Spudis makes an excellent point:

“What we learned then was that spaceflight is difficult, unforgiving and expensive.  While one could argue that Shuttle is an inherently flawed transportation system, it still is a working system it works because we expended the time, experience and money needed to make it work.”

Unfortunately, that won’t be true for much longer. The work is being done right now to gut the orbiters now for museum display. Could they be put back together to fly? I doubt it. And there is little chance of any change before a change in Presidential administration, of course.

The Air Force has this little beast:

X-37B

We don’t really know what they are using it for. It’s unmanned, and it’s not big enough to be used to haul much. It does demonstrate that Boeing can build new space planes, though. We could have a new, improved shuttle, if we were willing to pay for it. Maybe not this, yet:

From "Autumn Rain" by David Williams

But at least closer. I think part of the problem is that the manned space folks in NASA have been so fixated on the Shuttle and the ISS – understandably, since it’s taken over a decade to get the ISS built – that they haven’t been able to sell Congress on what comes next, sort of like the post-Apollo letdown. We all know that it’s difficult and expensive to get into space, and it takes more than an election cycle to do anything. That means that we need a big, but achievable goal. The Moon doesn’t work – as Obama said, Buzz has already been there. (Apparently once Lewis and Clark got to the Pacific Ocean and came home, nobody else followed.) Mars seems pretty far away to most people. I think people today think a Mars mission is less doable, not more, than they did in 1970. (I have no data to support that conclusion, however.)

How do we capture the attention of America so that we force our Congress to take us back into space?

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Atlas isn’t shrugging; he’s moved out of town…

June 23, 2011

Monty Perelin has a piece in The American Thinker that is pretty disappointing, and yet if you have been looking at any of the economic and business indicators over the last couple of years it won’t be surprising.

The premise of the piece is this: In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s producers move to Galt’s Gulch when the government makes business conditions impossible for them. They have no place else to go, because in Rand’s world every other country is socialist.

In our world, that’s not true. There are lots of socialist countries, but there are others that are becoming more and more favorable to business, especially to entrepreneurs. Perelin specifically mentions Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Monte Carlo, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands.

Now personally I’m not crazy about living in Hong Kong or Singapore. “I’ve never been to Belize.” (“Ocean’s Eleven” reference.) I was just in the Bahamas, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I would expect I’d feel the same about the other islands and Central American countries. Australia and New Zealand, now, maybe that would be different, especially if I had a lot of money I was trying to keep and a business I was trying to keep going – and I knew that the US government was going to punitively tax and regulate my business to death.

The point is: lots of folks probably will be willing to move if the stakes are that high. And there is nothing I can see in our economic future here in the US that would make it possible for me to convince one of these businessmen to stay.

Let’s say that we elect a “moderate” Republican to replace Obama in 2012. There is nothing in the statements I’ve heard from the candidates so far – except for Herman Cain – that makes me think any of them would push for radically better business conditions. That’s the problem with a Huntsman, or a Romney, even. They are still too entrenched in the old-school way of running the government. Tweak some policy here, adjust some legislation there – but don’t make any sweeping changes that might upset the status quo.

How do we stop the bleeding of businesses and entrepreneurs? I agree with the article that we have to make those sweeping changes. It’s just going to be such an uphill battle getting a Herman Cain or other pro-business candidate through the primary process successfully, when the system is set up to give us a John McCain. Once we get that far, I think the general election would be much easier, actually.

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The solar system’s magnetic “foam zone”

June 23, 2011

Old and new ideas of the sun's magnetic field - click for larger view

Voyager 1 and 2, launched in 1977, are still sending back data, over 9 billion miles from Earth. Beginning about 2007, they discovered something odd: large bubbles of magnetic force.

These bubbles are apparently created by the sun’s magnetic field as the sun rotates. Lines of magnetic force cross and reconnect and sometimes reorganize themselves into “bubbles,” some a hundred million miles wide.

It was previously assumed that the sun’s magnetic field would cleanly curve around and return to the sun. The new data indicates otherwise. Some scientists believe these bubbles may be trapping some of the incoming cosmic rays that are trying to enter the solar system.

I don’t know how strong these fields are. I do know that most of the plans for interplanetary and interstellar spacecraft have included some kind of magnetic shielding, first for protection from solar flares and other dangerous in-system radiation, and second from cosmic rays. Some have postulated the use of Bussard ramjets using a magnetic ramscoop (as Larry Niven has often demonstrated in his fiction) for interstellar travel. Such a magnetic chaos zone could cause serious problems with ramscoops, couldn’t it?

Bussard ramjet

It’s crazy enough if gravity becomes unpredictable between solar systems, as Dr. Travis Taylor and John Ringo propose in the truly excellent hard science fiction novel “Vorpal Blade,” but now if magnetism is chaotic out there as well…we’re gonna have lots of trouble getting out of Dodge…

(Personal ego note: Yes, the character Jeff Waggoner in “Vorpal Blade” is named after me. It’s a long story,and not all that interesting. However, he in no way resembles me, thank God! And he got eaten by a demon dog. Ick.)

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Israel as the next world oil superpower

June 23, 2011

Israeli self-defense missile battery

I read an article the other day by a fellow named Lawrence Solomon about the oil shale deposits in Israel. The Shfela basin, west of Jerusalem, is estimated to contain 250 billion barrels of oil…Saudi Arabia is estimated to have reserves of 260 billion barrels.

It’s tied up in oil shale, but by using a new process using heated rods driven into the shale, only 25 square kilometers will be required for the oil field, with minimal environmental damage. The process was developed by Harold Vinegar, who used to be Shell Oil’s chief scientist.

This is a game-changer. The primary reason for the Western nations to play nice with the Arab states has been because they needed the oil – Europe far more than the US. Sorry, but that’s the truth. Otherwise, no one would bargain with a group such as OPEC. Now there might be a new major player in the oil business in the Middle East.

On the one hand, I think this is wonderful. A stable government with deep oil reserves anywhere in the world should be a positive thing. But…

What’s the reaction of all these new reactionary governments that are growing right now in the Middle East when Israel starts shipping oil? I don’t see Syria, Libya, Egypt, or Allah forbid, a mob-ruled Saudi Arabia standing for that as long as they have militaries. They already hate Israel on general principles. If they become a competitor for the only real source of income of those countries, Israel becomes more than an irritant – it becomes a real economic threat.

I hope the “foreign policy aides” to the Republican candidates are studying this, because at best one of them will have to advise a new President on how to handle a new, hot war in the eastern Mediterranean.

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Only in America: Deep-Fried Kool-Aid

June 23, 2011

I kid you not. Who knew? Here’s the story.

Obviously, no further commentary is required.