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Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Best and Worst Performing ETF's, Courtesy of ETF DATABASE and SEEKING ALPHA

Michael Johnston lists '2010's Worst 10 ETFs', excluding " all leveraged and inverse funds, as well as any ETFs that began trading during the year " :
10. iPath EUR/USD Exchange Rate ETN (ERO) -9.0%
9. ELEMENTS S&P CTI ETN (LSC) -10.1%
8. iPath Dow Jones-UBS Cocoa ETN (NIB) -12.9%
7. MSCI Italy Index ETF (EWI) -14.8%
6. MSCI Spain Index ETF (EWP) -20.5%
5. S&P Global Clean Energy ETF (ICLN) -28.0%
4. Market Vectors Solar Energy ETF (KWT) -28.2%
3. PowerShares Global Wind Energy Portfolio ETF (PWND) -36.5%
2. United States Natural Gas Fund (UNG) -44.4%
1. iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX) -72.9%

Jared Cummans lists the 'Top 10 Equity ETFs of 2010 ':
10. First Trust Internet ETF (FDN) +38%
9. PowerShares Dynamic Leisure & Entertainment Portfolio (PEJ) +42%
8. iShares MSCI Chile Index Fund (ECH) +44%
7. PowerShares Dynamic Networking (PXQ) +46%
6. Global X/InterBolsa FTSE Colombia 20 ETF (GXG) +50%
5. HOLDRS Internet Infrastructure (IIH) +53%
4. iShares MSCI Thailand Index Fund (THD) +53%
3. iShares MSCI All Peru Capped Index Fund (EPU) +57%
2. Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ) +60%
1. HOLDRS B2B Internet (BHH) +72%


Can't get enough info or opinion on ETF's ? Check out 2 additional articles by Michael Johnston, '10 Big ETF Stories From 2010' and '10 New Year's Resolutions for ETF Investors'.

Forgot someone on your Xmas list ? Here are some suggestions...

from THE DAILY BEAST's
Gallery of Bacon-Lover Gifts.
For the man who has everything ?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Shaving and Driving Don't Mix, Florida Incident Shows

Matt Gutman's March 2010 report on ABC.COM  merits reproduction in its entirety, purely in the interest of promoting traffic safety, of course.

***

Cops: Woman Crashes Car While Shaving Her Privates

Ex Husband Allegedly Held the Wheel While She Shaved, Neither One Noticed SUV in Front of Them
March 11, 2010—

Megan Barnes
Internet punsters are celebrating Megan Barnes as Florida's "Pubic Enemy," others are chattering about her "razor sharp focus."

The 37-year-old Barnes catapulted to instant fame for an alleged multi-tasking mash-up that earned the bottle-blonde's mug shot a spot on hundreds of Web sites.

According to a startled Florida Highway Patrol trooper, Barnes was shaving her bikini area while driving south on the famed Overseas Highway when she crashed into the rear of an SUV March 2.

In the police report obtained by ABC News, the trim job was apparently essential because the arresting officer, trooper Gary Dunick, said the Indiana native told him she was heading to Key West visit her boyfriend.

"She said she was meeting her boyfriend in Key West and wanted to be ready for the visit," Dunick told the Key West Citizen.

It gets weirder. In order to pay full attention to her sensitive regions, police say Barnes enlisted her ex-husband, Charles Judy, who was riding shotgun, to hold the wheel.

Yes, her ex-husband.

Their tag-team driving went awry when an SUV driving in front of them slowed to turn. Barnes' 1995 Thunderbird smashed into it. Two of the SUV's passengers suffered minor injuries, police say. Barnes shouldn't have been driving that Thunderbird, since she had been convicted the previous day for driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license.

According to the arrest report, it was the sixth time her license had been suspended.


Mad Musical Meanderings of the Blogger DJ Through the 70's and 80's

Badfinger - Baby Blue
Badfinger - Day After Day
Badfinger - Come and Get It
Todd Rundgren - Hello It's Me
Todd Rundgren - I Saw the Light
Todd Rundgren - We Gotta Get You a Woman
Steely Dan - Ricky Don't Lose That Number
Steely Dan - Parker's Band
Steely Dan - Your Gold Teeth
Steely Dan - The Boston Rag
Steely Dan - Bodhisattva
Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way
Fleetwood Mac - Bleed to Love Her
Fleetwood Mac - Big Love
Fleetwood Mac - Hypnotized
Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing
Dire Straits - Going Home ( Local Hero Theme)
Dire Straits - On Every Street
Dire Straits - Callin' Elvis

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Iraq PM Wants US Out by 2011

In the WSJ, it was reported that "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country's security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq's security, sovereignty and unity."

Really ?

Well then, I say, let's pull our troops out today, and let Maliki and his so-called government sow the whirlwind. We should not ask any US soldier to shed a drop of blood for this lot.

COLD COLD NIGHT - HOT HOT MUSIC from the Blogger DJ

Buster Poindexter - Hot Hot Hot
Rod Stewart and Joss Stone - Hot Legs
Katy Perry - Hot 'N' Cold
Glenn Frey - The Heat is On
Martha & the Vandellas - Heatwave
Buffalo Springfield - Hot Dusty Roads
Asia - Heat of the Moment
Kool and The Gang - Too Hot (live)
Van Halen - Hot For Teacher (HQ music video)
Avril Lavigne - Hot (Oficial Music Video)
John Barry - Body Heat (Film Score)
Steve Miller Band - Livin' In the USA

Ford's New Fuel Economy Wrinkle Now On North American Models

The Auto Stop-Start System will be available on "conventional North American vehicles ", reports Robert Daniel in MARKETWATCH.
The technology, which turns off the engine when a vehicle stops, is currently available on the Ford Fusion and Escape hybrid vehicles and on some conventional Ford cars in Europe.
According to Ford, the system not only improves the fuel economy of gasoline engines between  4% and 10%, but also eliminates emissions when the vehicle is stopped or otherwise stationary.
“In city driving when the vehicle is stopped, the engine restarts the instant the driver’s foot leaves the brake pedal,” Ford’s statement said.
For both hybrids and conventional vehicles, when the Auto Start-Stop system kicks in and the engine is off, all accessories, including the heater and air conditioner, work as they normally do, Ford said.

Oil ETF's or Oil Stocks a Better Investment ?

In his SEEKING ALPHA blog, 'Oil ETF vs. Oil Stocks? No Real Choice for Individual Investors', "TraderMark" cites the common problem of commodity ETF's, namely
they deal in contracts that must be rolled out each month and hence cause a lot of dislocations in price, and thus the investor does not get the bang for their buck.
An example is the popular United State Oil Fund (USO) :
...while crude oil is up some 14ish% for the year, USO has returned 0%. Hence, in this case there really is no choice in the "do I buy the commodity or the stock?" debate if you are not an institutional trader who has access to the commodity pit itself.
Even so, the blogger prefers purchasing ETF's rather loading up one's own basket of oil industry stocks. But which ETF's ? That is the question.
Now, not all ETFs are made the same and the oil space is no different -- many times you will see ETFs top loaded with the big boys like Exxon (XOM), Chevron (CVX) and a few other huge integrated companies. Rather than go that route, a far more inclusive ETF would be something like SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production (XOP)... [XOP] is not concentrated in a few mega cap names, and indeed the top 10 holdings only make up one-third of the entire portfolio. You even have some refiners thrown into the mix for a truly broad exposure to the sector. XOP is also liquid with some 3.6 million units trading each day, unlike many other sector specific ETFs.

For information on XOP's performace as of 11/30/2010, click here.

Why Are Crude Oil and Gasoline Going Up ?

It's not because of dwindling inventories or burgeoning demand, explains Dian Chiu, in her article, 'Outlook 2011 for Crude Oil and Gasoline: Escalator Up and Elevator Down'.  

First, refineries recently drew down crude inventories not to meet demand, but as part of their "year-end strategy to minimize potential taxes on year-end inventory."

Second, there are ample supplies of oil, with OPEC spare capacity double the level of 2007, and world oil inventories " at 20 days worth of demand, up from 14 days in November 2007 ".

Third, two previous times when gasoline cost $3 or more per gallon, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, not only was U.S. unemployment rate at 4.6% and 5.8% respectively, but "there was actually a global supply crunch due to robust (pre-crisis) global growth."

So with demand depressed due to the global slowdown, why are oil and gasoline heading higher ?

Chiu explains that QE2 - the Fed’s second round of Quantitative Easing--has stoked inflation concerns, which, among other things, "have driven investors to plow money into the commodities and stocks at a record pace."

The result ? Equity and commodity markets are currently artificially bootsed by QE2 and therefore "largely detached from the market demand and supply factors, where traders / speculators will run the show, at least through 2011."

Chiu foresees more downside than upside for oil in the near term, based on a number of factors, including

    * Slowing growth in China and India, both of which have enacted measures to fight inflation and which " would crimp growth as well as oil demand in both countries, the major growth engine of the world. "
    * Skyrocketing oil prices, which " could trigger a global recessionary cycle "
    * Worsening of the European debt crisis
   
But Chiu admits that if the global economy picks up steam, that, combined with inflation worries and QE2 could drive crude to $110 to $115 a barrel --and gasoline at between $3.70 and $3.80 a gallon--by the late 1st early second quarter of 2011.
Right now, speculative longs are dominating the crude market with hedge-funds and other large speculators. Long positions outnumbered short positions by 205,890 contracts in the week to Dec. 14, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
Whenever you have an over-bullish market like this, it sets up for increasing risk and huge swings, particularly for crude oil, as it is one of the most widely traded and speculated asset classes in the world. Liquidity could only drive prices up to a point as there is no real strong demand to support the lofty $100+ crude price levels, but plenty of land mines to spook an exit en masse.
So, expect volatility to be the major theme in the New Year with crude oil taking the escalator up, but the elevator down, and a couple of $12-$15 moves in both directions along the way.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

BLACK SWAN - So bad it's good ?

That's what Kirk Honeycutt of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER seems to be saying in his review of the new film by Darren Aronofsky.

Some excerpts [emphasis mine] :

" The movie combines horror-movie tropes with The Red Shoes, All About Eve and every movie about show business that insists you don't have to be crazy to become a star but it doesn't hurt either. The movie is so damn out-there in every way that you can't help admiring Aronofsky for daring to be so very, very absurd.

Swan is an instant guilty pleasure, a gorgeously shot, visually complex film whose badness is what's so good about it. You might howl at the sheer audacity of mixing mental illness with the body-fatiguing, mind-numbing rigors of ballet, but its lurid imagery and a hellcat competition between two rival dancers is pretty irresistible. Certain to divide audiences, Swan won't lack for controversy, but will any of this build an audience? Don't bet against it.

Aronofsky, working with an original script by Andres Heinz that later was rewritten by Mark Heyman and John McLaughlin, never succeeds in wedding genre elements to the world of ballet. The film takes its cues from "Swan Lake" itself as demons, doubles and death dance in Nina's head. She can only approach perfection by becoming the dual character she plays -- the innocent and the evil.

Portman, who has danced but is no ballerina, does a more than credible job in the big dance numbers and the tough rehearsals that are so essential to the film. In her acting, too, you sense she has bravely ventured out of her comfort zone to play a character slowly losing sight of herself. It's a bravura performance.

[Mila] Kunis makes a perfect alternate to Portman, equally as lithe and dark but a smirk of self-assurance in place of Portman's wide-eyed fearfulness. Indeed, White Swan/Black Swan dynamics almost work, but the horror-movie nonsense drags everything down the rabbit hole of preposterousness. "

Robotic Weaponry & Military Systems Update - from Jane's

Hummingbird to fly with novel combined payload

Boeing's Frontier Systems subsidiary will undertake planning, payload integration and air vehicle modifications to support an operational demonstration of a combined imaging and signals intelligence (SIGINT) payload aboard the A160T Hummingbird rotary-winged unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) [emphasis mine]. The USD12.8 million contract was awarded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on 7 December

Picture perfect: military investment in new systems exploit battlefield imagery

The concept of a technology driven 'surveillance society' - which started to get under way in the mid-1970s to counter terrorism and organised crime in heavily populated urban environments - is being re-invented on the battlefield. Its military manifestations include sensor-equipped watchtowers, aerostats, fast jets or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other piloted fixed-wing airborne sensing platforms ranging from the US Air Force (USAF) U-2S to the US Army Constant Hawk and US Marine Corps (USMC) Angel Fire, which possess long-range high-definition video imaging capabilities; high-volume data-storage capacity; and long endurance

BQM-47 target drone flies under software control


Northrop Grumman has test-flown its BQM-74E aerial target equipped with the company's Programmable Autonomous Waypoint Navigation (PAWN) software. Conducted in October and November 2010 at the US Naval Air Warfare Weapons Division test range at Point Mugu, California, but not announced at the time, the trials fulfilled all of the programme's flight-test requirements

Kadet plans range of unmanned aerial vehicles

India's Kadet Defence Systems is leveraging its experience producing aerial target vehicles (ATVs) in the development of two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which, according to the company, will be complete in 2011. Kadet Chief Executive Officer Avdesh Khaitan told Jane's that by mid-2011 the company will be poised to offer its range of UAVs for military and homeland security employment, in a market dominated by medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) and high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAVs supplied by Israeli manufacturers
   

Christmas Carols and Hymns #12 - Silent Night

Click to listen
Silent Night
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Christmas Carols and Hymns #11 - Joy to the World

Joy to the World
Joy to the world! The Lord is come: Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and heaven and nature sing!

Joy to the world! The savior reigns : let men their tongues employ .
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy!

He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, and wonders of His love.

Christmas Carols and Hymns #10 - Once in Royal David's City

Click to listen
Once in royal David's city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor and meek and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.

And through all
His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly mother,
In whose gentle arms He lay.
Christian children all should be,
Mild, obedient, good as He.

For He is our child-hood's pattern,
Day by day like us He grew,
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew,
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him, but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
When like stars
His children crowned,
All in white shall be around.

Christmas Carols and Hymns #9 - O Come All Ye Faithful

O come all ye faithful joyful and triumphant
Oh come ye O come ye to Bethlehem;
come and behold him born the King of angels;
O come let us adore him Christ the Lord.

God of God light of light
lo he abhors not the virgin's womb;
very God begotten not created:
O come let us adore him Christ the Lord.

Sing choirs of angels sing in exultation
sing all ye citizens of heaven above;
glory to God in the highest:
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

See how the shepards summoned to his cradel,
leaving their flocks, draw nigh with lowly fear;
we too will thither hend our joyful footsteps;
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given;
word of the Father, now in flesh appearing:
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Christmas Carols and Hymns #8 - Christ was Born on Christmas Day

Click to listen
Christ was born on Christmas Day
Wreathe the holly, twine the bay;
Christus natus hodie;
The Babe, The Son, the Holy One of Mary.

He is born to set us free,
He is born our Lord to be,
Ex Maria Virgine,
The God, the Lord, by all ador’d forever.

Let the bright red berries glow,
Ev’ry where in goodly show,
Christus natus hodie;
The Babe, the Son, the Holy One of Mary.

Christian men, rejoice and sing,
‘Tis the birthday of a King
Ex Maria Virgine;
The God, the Lord, by all ador'd forever.

Sing out with bliss,
His name is this: Immanuel!
As twas foretold in days of old,
By Gabriel.



RESONET IN LAUDIBUS (same melody) :


Resonet in laudibus,
cum jucundis plausibus.
Sion confidelibus
apparuit quem genuit Maria.

Pueri concinite
nato regi psalite,
voce pia dicite
apparuit quem genuit Maria.

Hodie apparuit in Israel,
sunt impleta quæ prædixit Gabriel.
Eia, eia.
Virgo Deum genuit,
quod divina voluit clementia.
   
Let praises ring out
and joyful acclaim:
the one whom Mary bore has appeared
to the faithful in Zion.

Let all sing together to the boy,
strike the harp for the newborn king,
speak with a holy voice:
he has appeared whom Mary bore.

This day appreared in Israel,
what Gabriel foretold has been fulfilled.
Eia, eia,
A virgin has given birth to God,
as He wished in His divine mercy.

Christmas Carols and Hymns #7 - While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks at Night

Click to listen
While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around
And glory shone around

"Fear not," he said,
For mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind,
To you and all mankind."

"To you in David's
Town this day
Is born of David's line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign
And this shall be the sign."

"The heavenly Babe
You there shall find
To human view displayed
And meanly wrapped
In swathing bands
And in a manger laid
And in a manger laid."

Thus spake the seraph,
And forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God, who thus
Addressed their joyful song
Addressed their joyful song

"All glory be to
God on high
And to the earth be peace;
Goodwill henceforth
From heaven to men
Begin and never cease
Begin and never cease!"

Christmas Carols and Hymns #6 - In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christmas Carols and Hymns #5 - In Dulci Jubilo

In dulci jubilo Let us our homage show;
Our heart's joy reclineth in praesepio
And like a bright star shineth, Matris in gremio.
Alpha es et O, Alpha es et O.

O Jesu parvule! I yearn for thee alway!
Hear me, I beseech thee, O puer optime!
My prayer let it reach thee,/ O Princeps gloriae!
Trahe me post te! Trahe me post te!

O Patris caritas, O Nati lenitas!
Deeply were we stained Per nostra crimina;
But thou hast for us gained Coelorum gaudia.
O that we were there! O that we were there!

Ubi sunt gaudia, if that they be not there?
There are angels singing - Nova cantica,
And there the bells are ringing In Regis curia:
O that we were there, O that we were there.

In dulci jubilo Let us our homage show;
Our heart's joy reclineth in praesepio
And like a bright star shineth, Matris in gremio.
Alpha es et O, Alpha es et O.

Christmas Carols and Hymns #4 - Good King Wenceslas

Click to listen
Good King Wenceslas looked out
on the feast of Stephen,
when the snow lay round about,
deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shown the moon that night,
though the frost was cruel,
when a poor man came in sight,
gathering winter fuel.

Hither, page, and stand by me.
If thou know it telling:
yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?
Sire, he lives a good league hence,
underneath the mountain,
right against the forest fence
by Saint Agnes fountain.

Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
when we bear the thither.
Page and monarch, forth they went,
forth they went together
through the rude wind's wild lament
and the bitter weather.

Sire, the night is darker now,
and the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer.
Ark my footsteps my good page,
tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master's step he trod,
where the snow lay dented.
Heat was in the very sod
which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor

shall yourselves find blessing.

Christmas Carols and Hymns #3 - A Maiden Most Gentle

Click to listen
A Maiden Most Gentle
A maiden most gentle and tender we sing
Of Mary the mother of Jesus our King
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.

How blest is the birth of her heavenly child
Who came to redeem us in Mary so mild
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.

The archangel Gabriel foretold by his call
The Lord of creation and Saviour of all
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.

Three kings came to worship with gifts rich and rare
And marveled in awe at the babe in her care
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.

Rejoice and be glad at this Christmas we pray
Sing praise to the Savior sing end-lessly
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.
Ave, Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Carols and Hymns #2 - Sussex Carol

Click to listen
On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King's birth.

Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad?
Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad?
When from our sin he set us free,
All for to gain our liberty.

When sin departs before his grace,
Then life and health come in its place;
When sin departs before his grace,
Then life and health come in its place;
Angels and men with joy may sing,
All for to see the new-born King.

All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night;
All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night;
"Glory to God, and peace to men,
Now and forever more. Amen."

Christmas Carols and Hymns #1 - Adam Lay Ybounden

Click to listen
Adam lay ybounden,
Bounded in a bond;
Four thousand winter
Thought he not too long.

And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took,
As clerkès finden written
In their book.

Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne had never Our Lady
A-been heavené queen.

Blessed be the time
That apple taken was.
Therefore we moun singen
Deo gratias!

The World in 2020 : Poorer, Depopulated, and Rudderless ?

Based on current trends, that's what Gregory Copley foresees in his recent Global Intelligence Report analysis, 'The Shape of the World in 2020 ', excerpted below, emphases mine.


In some respect, historical trends have given populations in modern societies excessive trust in the ability of their institutions to remain operational, untended by their populations. As a result, governments have grown larger and less efficient, and have arrogated to themselves more and more of the resources of societies, thereby inhibiting productivity. At some point, those societies, when beleaguered and impoverished, lose faith in the institutions of governance and leadership succession.

It is possible that the end of the second decade of the 21st Century will see exactly that tipping point, at which faith — a psychological attribute — disappears, and either rigid reaction or anomie and chaos intervene. This forecast is based on the existing performance of most governments of modern economies, but reactions of their societies will vary based on their individual natures, their reserves of wealth, and the degree to which government and leaders can adapt radically to reignite and impart purpose and prosperity to their societies.

At present, in 2010, we see no major societies prepared to take such radical steps to reverse trends of social distrust in systems, and, indeed, the accumulation of laws and customs actually makes such radical action infeasible or unlikely, except in the event of major external threat, such as war.

But there are other trends which will help determine outcomes over the coming decade, particularly the suddenness with which changing demographic patterns begin to bite. We can see, for example, the impact which the La Niña floods had in skewing the population dispersal patterns in Pakistan, the country with the highest level of population growth and the highest rate of urbanization. Now, the agricultural productivity of rural areas has been damaged by the flooding and more people have moved to the cities, substantially decreasing the per capita productivity there.

However, in most modern societies the peaking of population growth rates, and the move toward sudden population declines, will occur possibly within the coming decade. Population levels in a number of major nations are presently not sustainable by replacement births, and it may be that we begin to see areas gradually depopulate, reducing the demand for real estate, which has been the modern basis for wealth measurement and currency value.
The last such major depopulation occurred with the great plague which followed the globalization of Genghis Khan in the 12th and 13th centuries, but at that time abstract value — such as portable wealth, expressed in currency — was not so dependent on real estate, and particularly highly-valued urban real estate.

So the world in 2020 could see a significant decline in the availability of capital (in real terms; the availability of printed, inflated money will not be meaningful); in the mobility of societies and their ability to access goods not produced within easy reach. All this will occur unless radical steps are taken to revive real productivity and the self-reliance of societies.
And such radicalism is possible only through leadership. It is that which we await.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

" Oprah 1 Literature 0 " declares Hillary Kelly in her NEW REPUBLIC piece

...aptly titled, 'Bad Expectations'.

Oprah recommended curling up with a cup of hot cocoa to two Charles Dickens novels "for the holidays". And those novels were, drum roll please... Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities !

Geez Louise ! What was Oprah thinking ? Well you might ask.

As Ms. Kelly sees it... 

Oprah’s approach to her Book Club is all about herself. Her recent announcement contained not a word of reasoning or insightfulness about Dickens’s work; instead, she explained her reason for picking two of his novels by shouting, in a lame attempt at literary humor, “Cause it’s the best of times!” Just as she deems her “favorite things” worthy of an annual consumer-fest, she happily pushes to her audience of millions whatever books she herself wants to read.
Light Reading ?
Making the situation all the more appalling, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities could not be more different. Focusing on wildly different themes and set in two distinct historical periods, scholars do not even regard the books as being of the same caliber—Great Expectations is often considered the far superior work.Reading them in conjunction imparts no nutritional value. This whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.
Even more confusingly, Oprah’s comments about Dickens making for cozy reading in front of a winter fire misinterprets the large-scale social realism of his work. It stands to reason that her sentimentalized view of Dickens might stem from A Christmas Carol—probably his most family-friendly read and one of his most frequently recounted tales. But her quaint view of Victoriana, as she’s expressed it, belies an ignorance of Dickens’s authorial intentions. Indeed, both A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations are dark and disturbing, with elaborate ventures into the seedy underbelly of London and the bloody streets of Paris. How can we trust a literary guide who, ignorant of the terrain ahead, promises us it will be light and easy [emphasis mine] ? 
Great Expectations ? Really ?
Since its inception in 1996, the Book Club has carved its niche among readers by telling them that the novel is a chance to learn more about themselves. It’s not about literature or writing; it’s about looking into a mirror and deciding what type of person you are, and how you can be better. While a generally wrongheaded view of novels, this notion is all the more frustrating when the club delves into the true classics, with their vast knottiness, glorious language, breathtaking characters, and multi-faceted, mind-twisting prose. None of that matters in Oprah’s view of books, since reading is yet another exercise in self-gratification. “If you have read him, what do you think Dickens might have to share and teach those of us who live in this digital age?” the Book Club’s producer, Jill, asks on Oprah’s website. This is the Eat, Pray, Love school of reading. 
Wonder what Oprah would recommend for Travel Books ? Mutiny on the Bounty and Heart of Darkness ?

U.S. Muni Default : the CBO Thinks the Unthinkable

Bruce Krasting's provocatively titled 'CBO Recommendation to Munis - Default!' focuses in on one of the more disturbing segments of the Congressional Budget Office's December 9 report, 'Fiscal Stress Faced by Local Governments', and summarizes:
What are the options for a cash strapped muni? Unlike state borrowers, munis can go bankrupt. (More than half have laws on the books permitting a chapter filing - including key ones.) The CBO report provided an excellent set of reasons for munis to default:
Benefits of Bankruptcy
* One key advantage of bankruptcy is the “automatic stay,” which is issued by a court and prevents creditors from taking action against the municipality and its officials without approval from the court.
* Another important advantage of bankruptcy is that courts can implement a restructuring plan without the consent of every creditor.
* The bankruptcy process may also allow a municipal government to reduce its labor costs by facilitating the consent of employee unions to changes in labor contracts.
* While a stay is in place, bondholders cannot force municipal officials to raise taxes in order to make debt-service payments.
Over the past 30 years, of the 18,400 muni borrowers only 54 have defaulted on their debt. An admirable track record - one that is unlikely to be continued over the next few years. Not a pretty picture for a muni investor. To top it off, BABs [Build America Bonds] (the last pillar of support for munis) is gone. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some big muni became the Greece of America in the near future

Green Energy ETF's On Your Wish List ?

Then read Tom Konrad's illuminating (pun intended) SEEKNG ALPHA article, 'Identifying the Best Clean and Renewable Energy ETFs', which focuses on the following funds:
  • iShares S&P Global Clean Energy Index ETF (ICLN), which tracks a global index of clean energy companies.
  • First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge US Liquid (QCLN), which tracks an index of clean energy companies that are publicly traded in the United States.
  • PowerShares Clean Energy (PBW), which tracks an index of US-listed companies engaged in the business of the advancement of cleaner energy and conservation.
  • PowerShares Global Clean Energy Portfolio (PBD), which tracks an index of global companies engaged in the business of the advancement of cleaner energy and conservation.
  • Powershares Cleantech Portfolio (PZD), which tracks a global index of cleantech companies.
  • Van Eck Global Alternative Energy Fund (GEX), which tracks an index of global alternative energy companies
His conclusions :
For traders speculating on short term gains in Clean Energy, the Powershares Wilderhill Clean Energy ETF (PBW) is the best vehicle due to its high liquidity.
For longer term investors, ETFs are my third choice as a method for investing in Clean Energy, after individual stock portfolios and actively managed mutual funds. Mutual funds may cost more, but provide as much --or more-- diversification, and have performed better (even after the higher costs) for as long as most Clean Energy ETFs have been in existence. For investors with the time or an advisor willing and able to work with individual stocks, stock portfolios offer both lower costs and the potential for better performance through better sector allocation and active management.
Interested in more detail ? Check out related articles by Konrad :

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gates Will Leave U.S. Military Unready for 21st Century

" The Pentagon is not ready for the 21st century. But it’s not too late to change course ", So argues Jim Talent, in his piece, 'The Gates Legacy'.
...there is real concern in Washington over Gates’s leadership on other issues. It is understandable that he focused his efforts on Afghanistan and Iraq; defense secretaries have to pay attention to the wolf closest to the sled. But Gates is running the Pentagon at a time when other risks facing the United States have been growing while American power relative to those risks has been declining. A review of Gates’s record on issues other than Afghanistan and Iraq shows he has made some key mistakes that have worsened the trend. But he still has time before he leaves the Pentagon sometime next year to set the stage for a renewal of American power and a subsequent increase in the margin of safety for the United States.
The military is undeniably in a modernization crisis. The Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1916, the Air Force hasn’t been this small since Pearl Harbor, and the average age of the Air Force inventory is 25 years old. The Army needs to recapitalize equipment lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will need to replace most of its tracked vehicles over the next decade.
Appropriately, Gates has been vocal about his goal to reduce wasteful spending to save money for needed programs. But after nearly four years as defense secretary, spanning the Bush and Obama administrations, he has failed to make progress in solving the Pentagon’s major management issues. Growing military health care costs continue to eat up money desperately needed for modernization; Gates has made little effort and had no success at controlling those expenses. He complains about the spiraling cost of shipbuilding but has yet to find a solution.
Nor has Gates solved ongoing issues with the F-35, the Joint Strike Fighter developed for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. He believes he can use the F-35 as a substitute for the Air Force’s F-22 fighter that he killed, and for the Navy’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, whose production he wants to end. Whatever the merits of that decision, it means that virtually the entire strike fighter capability of the U.S. military depends on the F-35.
However, the F-35 program continues to be behind schedule and increasingly over budget; the Pentagon announced last year that the cost has grown by roughly $100 billion since 2002, much higher than original estimates. Gates has made a great deal depend on a deeply troubled program that his department can’t seem to fix.
Moreover, funding for the military would have been entirely consistent with the logic of the stimulus bill, which was to create jobs through government spending. Gates’s unwillingness to advocate using stimulus money to modernize the military may be remembered as one of the most consequential mistakes ever made by a secretary of defense. He can still recover, at least partly. By most estimates, there are up to several hundred billions of stimulus money still unspent. Understandably, House Republicans want to reclaim that money for deficit reduction. The administration will oppose that effort. Gates could propose as a compromise that a portion of the funding be used over the next two to three years to support basic procurement needs, like “resetting” Army and Marine Corps equipment and buying more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. After that period, it is reasonable to hope that the cost of Afghanistan operations will begin to come down. Part of the money currently spent there could be recaptured for modernization, which would allow room for the military to recapitalize while the defense budget still contributes to deficit reduction.
At the end of 2009, Congress created an independent panel to critique the Quadrennial Defense Review that the Pentagon issued in February of 2010. That panel was chaired by former secretary of defense William Perry, a Democrat, and former national security adviser Stephen Hadley, a Republican. Its members came from across the political spectrum. Most were appointed by Gates himself.
The independent panel issued its unanimous report on July 29. The panel recognized Gates’s dedication to the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq; otherwise its report only can be described as a polite but clear rebuke of his leadership.
The panel discussed the threats facing America, dismissed the Defense Department’s strategic plans as largely irrelevant to those threats, and comprehensively documented the growing gap between the actual strength of the military and the level of capability needed to protect America’s enduring national interests.
The panel sounds an extraordinary warning in the introduction to its report:
    The issues raised in the body of this report are sufficiently serious that we believe an explicit warning is appropriate. The aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition, and force structure.
Gates is nearing the end of his service as head of the Pentagon. The fewer battles he has left to fight, the less concerned he need be about political consequences. He still has the time to say that, unless Congress adds substantial funding to modernize the military and fully supports changes necessary to reform the Pentagon, no responsible secretary of defense can continue to guarantee American security within an acceptable margin of risk.
Such a statement by Gates would definitely not be business as usual in Washington. It would make him unpopular in the White House and with many in Congress. But it would end, at long last, the tortured rationalizations by which the Joint Chiefs try to reconcile the eroding position of their services with the decisions of their political masters. It would pave the way for an honest debate about the nature of the post-Cold War world and the sacrifices necessary to protect American security in the 21st century. It would be a huge service to whoever succeeds Bob Gates at the Pentagon. And in the most fundamental sense, he’d be doing his job.

2010 Election Wrap-up : GOP Gains at State Level Mean... What ?

In his CRYSTAL BALL article, 'GOP makes historic state legislative gains in 2010', Tim Storey declares :

Whether you call it a hurricane, a tsunami or a seismic shift, it was an historic election at the state level for the GOP. By adding over 720 legislative seats to their column in the past two years, Republicans easily cleared the 1994 expectations bar. In 1994, the last big wave election, they netted over 500 seats and the majority in 20 legislative bodies. There are now more Republican state legislators (3,941) than at any point since they held 4,001 seats after the 1928 election.

With bulked up numbers at the state level, Republicans are now in their best position for the looming redistricting process since the modern era of redistricting began following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Baker v. Carr in 1962.
Republicans gained legislative seats in every region of the country in 2010, led by the Northeast where they picked-up 229 seats. The numbers in the East are somewhat skewed by the New Hampshire House which has 400 members, allowing Republicans to gain 132 seats in the Granite State alone. What was probably most striking at the regional level was the symbolic tipping point that Republicans achieved in the South. For the first time since 1870, there are now more GOP legislators in the South than Democrats, punctuating a decline of Democrats in the region that has been steadily taking place since the late 1950s. Prior to 1994, only 16 years ago, there was not a single legislative chamber in the South with a majority of Republican members. Now, 19 chambers in the South belong to the GOP, including five which switched this year: the House and Senate in Alabama, the Louisiana House, and the House and Senate in North Carolina.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

THE SPACE SHUTTLE'S LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE a Must Read...

...for anyone interested in space exploration.

Some excerpts from this fine AVIATION WEEK article, by Frank Morring, Jr.:

There is a legacy in the work done on the shuttle program over the past 40 years that can be applied to whatever comes next in U.S. human spaceflight. Goetz says the computer models of engine conditions developed from the early days of trial and error on the SSME helped with more recent block upgrades in the engine, and will reduce the amount of trial and error needed on future engine developments. Materials work done across the shuttle stack will shape future developments, and the painful lessons learned from the accidents and other serious anomalies over the years do not need to be repeated.
But as NASA, the White House and Congress wrestle over the direction of the U.S. program, the edge in shuttle operations that has been honed over the past 40 years already is being lost.
Arnold Aldrich, an engineer whose career in human spaceflight ranges from Project Mercury through most of the shuttle program, including heading up its recovery after the Challenger accident, sees the shuttle as safer today than ever. Like many of his peers, including many of those still working in the engineering trenches at NASA, he has trouble understanding the current course change in U.S. space policy.
“With the termination of the space shuttle and the Constellation programs, the marvelously talented and experienced government/industry engineering and operations team for exploring space, which has been created and nurtured over the last half-century, should have a new national space exploration vision and program to apply its talent to,” Aldrich writes in an e-mail following up on a lengthy interview on lessons learned from the shuttle program. “It’s hard to understand the current administration laying off a large percentage of this workforce when the administration’s loudly proclaimed mantra is jobs, jobs, jobs. These are particularly good jobs, and the workforce comprises an indispensable national asset.”
Instead of its practice of developing space vehicles in fits and starts, he says, the U.S. would be better off if it followed the Russian model of building systems that are “very rugged and capable and proven over time” and then continuing to build on them. That approach, using shuttle components already proven in space, would serve well as NASA and Congress work out a way to move beyond low Earth orbit, he says.

Beam-Weaponry and Robotic Military Systems Updates...

Here before we know it
...from Jane's[ emphasis below mine ].


Israel Air Force initiates drive to encrypt all of its UAVs

The Israel Air Force (IAF) will encrypt its entire fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to prevent Hizbullah and Hamas from intercepting surveillance footage, Jane's has learnt. The IAF  decision follows concerns that the two groups were obtaining advanced electronic intelligence, enabling them to intercept Israeli UAV transmissions.

UK to test wideband sonar on UUV for buried target detection

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is planning to test novel low-frequency wideband sonar technology from a man-portable unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) to investigate integration and operational issues for the detection of buried mine targets. As part of de-risking activity for a projected future Minewarfare, Hydrography and Patrol Capability (MHPC), the Defence Equipment and Support organisation's Programmes and Technology Group (PTG) is seeking to mature and demonstrate technologies appropriate to remote unmanned systems.

USAF announces unmanned systems SURGE


The US Air Force (USAF) is seeking to stretch the limits of endurance for small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS), announcing a new development programme called the Small Unmanned Renewable enerGy long Endurance Vehicle (SURGE-V). The goal of SURGE-V is to develop a small drone (weighing less than 9.1 kg) with enough power to stay in the air for at least four hours while performing loitering and search missions.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday Music Blast on a Cold, Cold Night

Tony Bennett - My Favorite Things (Live)
Vaughn Monroe - Let It Snow
Ella Fitzgerald - Let It Snow
Dean Martin - Baby It's Cold Outside
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan - Baby It's Cold Outside
John Coltrane - My Favorite Things (Stockholm 1961)
Eurythmics - Winter Wonderland
Doris Day - Winter Wonderland
Tony Bennett - Snowfall
Andy Williams - It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
Andy Williams - Sleigh Ride
Harry Connick Jr. - Sleigh Ride
Harry Connick Jr - Its Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

More on Silver Investing in 2011 from Peter Krauth in SEEKING ALPHA

Krauth believes that the current silver-cold cost-ratio--50 ounces of silver costing as much as a single ounce of gold ounce--will hold, or even decline, i.e., that silver will appreciate in value relative to gold.

That being the case...
If we use the current 50:1 ratio - and my expectation that gold will be trading at $1,900 an ounce by the end of 2011 - I believe we're looking at a target price for silver of $38 an ounce.
That represents a 33% return over the approximate price of $28.50 an ounce at which silver was trading at midday yesterday (Wednesday).
That's a target I believe to be very realistic, given the times.
Krauth also outlines different ways of investing in silver (e.g.,Physical Silver and Exhange-Traded Funds ((ETFs)) and Certificates.

With Friends like Hamid Karzai, Continued

Two articles in THE WEEKLY STANDARD illuminate why the U.S. doesn't need friends like Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

In "The Iran Connection", Stephen F. Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn question why U.S. Government officials, such as Undersecretary of State William Burns, find the truth--recently documented exposed by WikiLeaks--that Iran is supporting al Qaeda terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq uncomfortable to reveal publicly ?  

And in "WikiLeaks Doc: Catch and Release in Afghanistan", Thomas Joscelyn finds,again in documents leaked by WikiLeaks, evidence that the Afghan government " released dozens of Gitmo detainees, and many more from Bagram, instead of trying them."

Canadian HealthCare System : A Model of Corruption, too ?

Check out Lysiane Gagnon's column about the Quebec 'Cash for Care Scandal' in the TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL, which references revelations by the MONTREAL GAZETTE'S Charlie Fidelman.

Some excerpts :

The Quebec College of Physicians waxed indignant and launched an investigation on practices that are, in the words of its secretary, Yves Robert, “illegal,” “unethical” and “totally unacceptable.” The province’s Health Minister, Yves Bolduc, was startled: He said he’d never heard of patients bribing doctors for fast-track service. But in the medical community, some wondered how the minister, a physician himself, couldn’t have known what they describe as an open secret.
On the daily hot-line radio program at Société Radio-Canada, many callers – far from condemning those who bribed doctors – insisted they would do the same if it were the only way to ensure faster care for their loved ones. That doctors accept bribes is one thing, but isn’t it understandable that, when it comes to their own health or the health of a mother, a spouse or a child, people would use desperate tactics?
In a follow-up story, Mr. Fidelman quoted a “high-ranking physician who works with doctors at several Montreal hospitals.” According to the physician, “hush-hush payments run from $5,000 to $7,000 to jump the wait list into the operating room,” suggesting that “the practice of black market medicine,” as Mr. Fidelman writes, “is more widespread than initially suspected.”
Indeed, such is human nature. When an essential service is unreasonably delayed – when health care is rationed by a system that can’t meet the demand – people will try to force their way in.
The ultimate culprit is a system run by an outdated law. Fewer people would be tempted to bribe doctors if our health-care system was more flexible and more human.

Ghosts of Big Bangs Past ?

Ghosts of Big Bangs Past in the CMB ?
THE ECONOMIST reports :

" Dr. Roger Penrose, of Oxford University, believes that the Big Bang in which the visible universe began was not actually the beginning of everything. It was merely the latest example of a series of such bangs that renew reality when it is getting tired out. More importantly, he thinks that the pre-Big Bang past has left an imprint on the present that can be detected and analysed, and that he and a colleague in Armenia [ Vahe Gurzadyan of the Yerevan Physics Institute in Armenia ] have found it.

" The imprint in question is in the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This is a bath of radiation that fills the whole universe. It was frozen in its present form some 300,000 years after the Big Bang, and thus carries information about what the early universe was like. The CMB is almost, but not quite, uniform, and the known irregularities in it are thought to mark the seeds from which galaxies—and therefore stars and planets—grew.

" Dr Penrose, though, predicts another form of irregularity—great circles in the sky where the microwave background is slightly more uniform than it should be. These, if they exist, would be fossil traces of black holes from the pre-Big Bang version of reality. And i n a paper just published in arXiv.org, an online database, he claims they do indeed exist... "

Saturday, December 4, 2010

U. S. States Most LIkely to Default : Two Views

See the Bespoke Investment Group's overview ' State Default Risk Levels' in SEEKING ALPHA, and Business Insider's article, 'States Likeliest to Default' ' based on CMS's survey. 

Directly or indirectly, the issue of Credit Default Swaps (CDS's) arises in both article. What's a CDS, besides a 'Weapon of Mass Financial Destruction', to use Warrewn Buffet's phrase ? Click on this link to Wkipedia.  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dangers of ObamaCare-- A Warning from Nat Hentoff !

The article, ' Lame Duck Obama Still Clinging to ObamaCare ', originally appeared on the Cato Institute Website and was reprised in RealClearPolitics. The article is too compelling and important to excerpt, and so I have reproduced in its entirety, below, with my emphases added.

* * *


The progressive fracturing of President Obama's credibility in the midterm election results was caused primarily by the grim economy and also by the widespread fear of Obamacare - the rationing of our health care through government invasion of the doctor-patient relationship. This will be fully implemented by boards and commissions whose members have never seen those patients whose treatment is primarily government-funded - and often mandated.

If the Republican leadership of the House is unable to enact a veto-proof repeal of the core of Obamacare within the next two years - and if he is re-elected in 2012 - here is what awaits many of us, in addition to already rising insurance premiums and more businesses no longer sharing payment of their employee's health care.

At increasing risk is not just the elderly deemed by this government to have already lived enough years to justify expensive continued treatment.

Cato Institute health expert Michael Tanner explains how the survival of Obamacare can affect your survival, and mine, by deciding who "ultimately gets to make decisions about your life, about whether you're going to buy insurance or what kind of insurance you're going to buy (or be compelled by government to buy) what benefits it's going to have, what doctor you're going to see, what treatment that doctor's going to prescribe for you, what hospital you're going to go to, and how you're going to pay for it?"

In all of American history, this is the first time the national government will have the power to decide, in many cases, and a range of ages, how many of us will be permitted to go on living. Who will decide?

I expect that few of us, like many members of Congress, have actually read this law based on the Senate bill (2,409 pages) and the 153-page reconciliation package.
Moreover, I doubt that even many of Obama's citizen critics, including independent voters, know what was hidden beforehand in Obama's 2009 stimulus bill that includes the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (later superseded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute).

After being conceived in part by former Democratic senator Tom Daschle - who was to head Health and Human Services until his income-tax problems ushered him out of the federal government - Obamacare's unelected council sets the operating framework for Obamacare's health rationing.

Composed of 15 members appointed by the president, the Coordinating Council - along with the stimulus bill's additional National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (some of which may be ruled as too costly) - will review your doctor's diagnosis of the treatment for your condition with regard to the cost of government funds involved in that treatment.
There are, in addition, hordes of bureaucrats also involved in deciding your future on this Earth. As described by the firmly nonpolitical Congressional Research Service (Wall Street Journal, "Obamacare, for some," October 29), there is "a currently unknowable number of new boards, commissions and offices" in this "bureaucratic apparatus."
Adds this report: "it is currently impossible to know how much influence they will ultimately have" on who will live or die (sorry, I meant "expire"), thereby helping the government cut its deficit.

Wait a minute!

How come the Obama administration - which, according to that irritating Constitution, works for we, the people who put it into office - will not name these new boards and commissions, their members, and, specifically, the powers each has over our futures?

Will the new Republican leadership of the House, and its sizable minority membership in the Senate - demand this vital information be provided to us? Isn't it up to us to insist they do this?

There is so much more we need to know. Ardently defending Obamacare in the November 4 New York Times ("To save money, save the Health Care Act"), here is Peter Orszag (director of White House Office of Management and Budget, 2009-2010 and "distinguished visiting fellow" at the Council on Foreign Relations.") This is something I didn't know, and maybe neither did you. He writes:

"Perhaps most important, the legislation creates an Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel of independent medical experts who will look for more ways to improve Medicare's cost-effectiveness (with regard to your health care). Under the law, any policy that the board issues takes effect unless legislation to block it is passed by Congress and signed by the president." That looks like the only way to block it. But even if the president vetoes this blocking legislation, the Board's rules still apply.

Can you believe this: There is no judicial review!

But what if Barack Obama is re-elected in 2012 and the Democrats take over the House and Senate - voting, as before, in lockstep with the president on Obamacare, therefore killing any opposition legislation to what this Independent Advisory Board has decided, and what all those other boards and commissions conclude your life is worth, whatever your own doctor wants to do for, and with you, personally?

Would this still be America? Is it now?


The president, after the "shellacking" (his word) he took in the midterm elections, said he would negotiate with the Republicans to "tweak" Obamacare but would not "re-litigate" arguments over its fundamentals (New York Times, October 4).

And at a press conference, Obama said of what he regards as his signature achievement, "I say to myself, 'this is the right thing to do.'"

Mr. President, in the midterms, a majority of millions of Americans told you exactly the opposite. And even some Democratic candidates ran away from Obamacare. So, as you stand shellacked but unyielding, will the new Republican House majority agree with the majority of the people and begin to strongly bring our health care back to each of us and our own doctors?

Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, this is a question we surely ought to ask each individual in the new House majority, since some of our very lives may depend on the answer. Start now and keep on the case. It's your case.