Archive for August, 2009

Sometimes, small steps don’t work.

2009/08/23

President Obama appointed a blue ribbon panel to study our space program, and make recomendadtions to him.  Prior to this panel being formed, the Office Of Management And Budget stripped 3 billion dollars a year out of the proposed NASA budgets for the next few years, probably as a way of saving money during this economic crisis.

As a result, under the current budget numbers, NASA cannot do any space exploration.  There is barely enough money to keep the International Space Station in operation, and only for a few more years.  There is no money to develop any kind of new space craft, in spite of the space shuttle being scheduled for retirement next year.  The only way that Americans will be able to get to the space station is if they ride in Russian space craft.

Now, saving money is a good thing, and there are many ways that the US government could save money.  The money being taken away from our space program is only three billion dollars, a tiny fraction of the total US budget.  But that three billion dollars was all that had been allocated for building new rockets and space craft to take us to the Moon.

Space exploration is not like building a highway, where construction can simply be halted for years at a time.  Without continuous investment, the investment that we have already made becomes worthless, because it must be maintained.  If NASA gets rid of the International Space Station, and lets it fall into the ocean, they will have the money to begin building new space craft.  But there will be no where for those new space craft to go.  Even if new space craft were to be built in the next few years, there is no money to design and build equipment to use exploring the Moon.

Without investing in the future, it is unlikely that the future is going to be better than today.  We as a nation have several trillion dollars invested in various businesses, and our national government is now spending over one trillion dollars a year.  What is needed to fund a sound, practical program of exploration beyond Earth is a fraction of one percent of our budget, less than is spent on cosmetics in this country every year.

If we cannot resolve to spend a few billion dollars to expand the sphere of human activities, the United States is not going to be sending people into space much longer.  Other countries will be, but not the US.  More wealth than has been created in all of human history awaits us off planet, where energy and resources are free for the taking.   Don’t we want to be a part of that bonanza?

Even more importantly, the solutions to many of our environmental problems will not be found until we turn our eyes away from the Earth and look beyond it for what we need.  We do not have to figure out how to make steel without polluting the environment if we can figure out how to make steel outside the environment.

Health care, or wealth care? (Part two)

2009/08/14

Let us say that the unthinkable happens, and the United States adopts nationalized health insurance.  What will this mean?  For one thing, everyone will have to see a doctor at least once a year, and probably more often.  Regular check ups are the single best way of reducing health care costs, by catching problems early.  If a person is injured in an accident, at work, at home, commuting, or out partying, all of their expenses will be covered, including physical therapy.  Bankruptcies as a result of medical costs will cease, and case loads in Emergency Rooms will likely decline significantly.

Who needs the most health care?  The elderly.  As the emphasis in medicine shifts to preventative care from catastrophe care, the elderly will receive more care in terms of check-ups, tests, and evaluations.  Exercise and diet, along with social activities, will become medically directed, instead of individually initiated.  Health care will be about health instead of care.  The elderly are likely to gain in importance to the rest of us, because so many activities will be oriented around the them, because it is much easier to keep an elderly person healthy than it is to get them to recover after being seriously ill.

Extreme procedures, which can prolong life for a short time in an elderly person, or for many years in a younger person, will become rare, because few young people need extreme procedures, and we simply cannot afford to provide them to large numbers of people.  Quality of life will become more important than simply keeping a person alive a little longer, when they are unlikely to ever leave the hospital.  The elderly will be less likely to suffer from cross drug reactions, when a doctor monitors all of their care, instead of people being seen only be specialists.  Tests will become less common, as doctors opinions are not contradicted because of costs to an insurance company which threaten its profits.

Because the emphasis will be on preventing catastrophic illness, specialists will be in less demand.  Instead of expending huge amounts of resources to repair damage caused by lifestyle, huge amounts of resources will be spent changing lifestyles.  Most people have accepted that it is cheaper to wear a bicycle helmet than it is to hire a brain surgeon to repair the effects of a head injury.  Regular exercise is much cheaper than open heart surgery.  Preventing diabetes is much cheaper than treating it.

That isn’t the way things are right now because it is more profitable to deal with catastrophe than it is to prevent one.  Great strides are being made in the treatment of various disorders, but little progress has been made in learning how to get people to change their behavior to prevent the disorders in the first place.  If diabetes is becoming a national epidemic, shouldn’t we be focused on changing behaviors rather than accepting  higher disease rates?

Health care, or wealth care?

2009/08/10

As the debate intensifies regarding health care reform, keep in mind a few things.  Such as; a reasonable profit on the part of health care providers is to be expected.  Hospitals, clinics, and doctors have to be able to cover their expenses, and make a little profit.  Also, insurance companies have absolutely no part in providing health care.  And, insurance companies are involved in health care strictly to make a profit.  It is the insurance company profits which are at the bottom of the health care crisis, because the insurance companies make more profit the higher the costs of care go.  They operate on a percentage basis, charging a certain percentage of total costs.  The higher the costs, the higher their profit margin.  (Ten percent of 100 is 10,  ten percent of 1,000 is 100)

These profits are what many people are trying to protect, irregardless of the costs of care.  Nationalizing health care would eliminate the insurance industry’s involvement in the health care system, meaning no more profits for shareholders.  This is what the wealthy want to avoid at any cost.  They are not concerned with the availability of health care, its affordability, or its quality, because they can always afford whatever health care that they desire.  Their only concern is maintaining their dividend checks, the cash payment they receive from companies that they own stock in.

Health care providers have watched their profits shrink even as the costs of health care have skyrocketed.  How can this be so?  Because the insurance companies have been driving the increase in costs, not the providers.  Every insurance company employees its own claims adjusters, its own billing department, its own management staff.  Each and every one of these insurance companies must cover all of these costs, as well as making a profit.

There is going to be a lot of mumbo-jumbo, a lot of smoke and mirrors, a lot of misdirection in this debate.  Patients are not trying to change the way that they receive their health care, and health care providers are not trying to change the methods that said care is provided, but everyone is trying to cut health care costs.  Who is going to be on the defensive?  The insurance companies.

What are we going to spend?

2009/08/06

Repeatedly, I am seeing articles regarding the economy which refer to the spending of consumers being about 70 percent of the economy, and how the return of the consumer will bring back good economic times.  In other words, the economy is going to remain broken until everyone is spending more than they make, just like they used to.  What are we, the consumers going to spend?  Credit is no longer extended practically automatically if you have a Social Security number, and the credit limits have been cranked down to under 1,000 dollars for even top notch credit card holders.  Home equity loans have disappeared, the result of home values falling for months.  Income has not been keeping up with inflation for most people over the last te years or so, which means that people are actually making less than they were in the 1990’s.  So, what are we going to spend?

If the consumer does not resume his role as the driving force in the American economy, what is going to happen?  Well, first off, all the people who were making money managing the flow of goods from China to the U.S. are going to be hurting.  So are the people who made their money selling those Chinese goods to Americans.  As well as the people who transported those goods from the ships to the stores.  There will be fewer catalogs turning trees into wastepaper, fewer kiosks crowding shopping mall hall ways, and fewer truckload sales of everything from tools to ties.

Just maybe, we will begin to address the problems inherent in an economy that is dependent on people spending money instead of producing things of value.  Think of it!  The most important activity that Americans partake in is spending money!  If they don’t, empires will crash, the rich shall become destitute, and shopping malls will no longer be the American cathedrals.  So everyone is standing around on one foot waiting for consumers to get back out there and spend!  Spend!  Spend!

There are hardly any jobs that pay well anymore, because American business has taken their business out of America.  We are not supposed to research and develop, design, prototype, and build, we are supposed to BUY!  Buy with what money?