Monday, September 24, 2012

Form Follows Function: An Energy Strategy

Form Follows Function: An Energy Strategy        
Tony E Hansen 
29 August 2012 

The phrase “form follows function” comes primarily from architecture, but we can see applications in music, literature and software development.  This primarily suggests that the shape of the building or “form” should be based upon the “function” or purpose where ornamentation varies in consideration to the proposed function.  In the recent few weeks, we have seen considerable attention paid to mining and to wind farms by the different political campaigns.  Both have said, rhetorically, we should have an “all of the above” approach, but those approaches tend to favor one form of energy generation over another.  Both proposals will mean a measure of jobs and technology that will be created (or not) at the expense of others as part of their proposal.  What we need to is to consider what form is following which function of energy policies both from the past, the present, the proposed and the potential future of each.  

Author Tim Berglund, in a keynote address, suggested that form and function are important to considering how we build things.  He seems to agree with the notion that we build things to a form that is prevalent, but then at some point, we become that form.  Then, someone comes along and introduces a twist on the idea. Then, we get another “form” where new designs and new innovations spur from that idea.  Until that twist, we are beholden to the limits of the current form and the functions therein.  Yet, there has to be willingness in the environment that fosters new ideas because reverting to an old idea is 1) based upon the paradigms of its time, 2) those paradigms may not exist anymore, and 3) the old idea may not be appropriate for the future.  We can think of many applications of this, but we can see this principle in the energy strategies, both historic and proposed. 

First, let us review what each party is proposing and then we can consider what has been the rule of policy for the past century in order to envision what is possible in the future Romney wants to end tax breaks for wind energy, wants to remove safety regulations, and wants to promote the coal and gas industries, which is primarily been our energy policy for the last several decades. That innovation stinks like the old and stale “form” of the past century without doing anything to reduce consumption.  That policy was written by the oil and coal companies, especially since Reagan’s term. Obama wants, however, to expand tax credits for renewable energy, to expand all domestic generation, and to promote new efficiency standards to bring down overall energy usage. 

If we follow the old “form of energy production in comparison to computer industry over the past few decades, we see drastically lower innovation in the energy industry in favor of milking the current profit models using aging infrastructure. The computer industry went from large, inefficient, and room-sized units to small compact handheld devices with an exponential increase in more computing power. This old form of energy policy does not value dynamics and competition while lining the pockets of the Koch brothers and other Romney friends. Those people (and unfortunately, society at large) have become (or been beholden to) that limited “form.  In contrast, Obama seems to be pushing towards a more opportunistic model (form) where everything is more competitive against each other with the idea that competition spurs innovation If the society does eventually become the “form” by adopting the opportunistic approach in energy production, then we may discover more opportunities in other areas as well.  

The libertarian side of me thinks we should eliminate all government subsidies including corporate welfare and let the markets decide which will flourish. This might work but the market forces have been rigged to support the entrenched (e.g. Koch brothers and friends). The progressive side of me wants more emphasis upon sustainable energy with a strong focus upon eliminating our dependence upon foreign resources while reducing pollution. This might favor more diversified portfolios of Mr. W. Buffet (via MidAmerican Energy) and the so-called Pickens Plan. 

The truth is that the oil, coal and gas industries have already enjoyed many tax breaks to encourage the widespread use of these fuels as part of that old “form. Only recently, thanks in part to Obama, have we seen government promotion of alternative energy. There is clear political and financial motivation that favors West Virginia mines to be promoted over Iowa wind turbine plants. Further, the money trail leads back to a specific profit formula that relegates our energy industry to stagnate innovators as well as America to be reliant upon that stagnation. Since there also is no incentive to make the mines better or safer, that seems to be a lose-lose proposition.  As well, the lack of interest in new forms locks us into the mindset of the current or past functions and forms. Imagine what is possible if we could power devices over the air instead of wires. 

With energy, we have been using the same relative techniques for decades.   Our society has become beholden to that form while limited to the functions and capabilities of these technologies. If we mean to have the economy of the future, we cannot continue to limit ourselves in this respect. As well, reverting to old ideas is completely contrary to finding new, or better, ones.   With that old form, we will never be more than what we were, and we will never discover what we could be.  If we want a competitive economy, we have to “think differently” and beyond what we know today because the paths to the past only lead us backwards  

Religion of Anger

Religion of Anger

Tony E Hansen
13 Sep 2012

There is at least one item that one should shy away from discussing when in civil company: religion. Assuredly, someone will offend someone else’s different religious belief or opinion.  Yet, the reason that people make this claim is that religion tends to be a deeply personal aspect. The lightest comment by one can be an instant slap-in-the-face insult to another.  The world seems ever more leaning towards finding the insult than light conversations. Considering how easy it is to offend someone here in America on the topic of religion, no one should be surprised that a video insulting Islam would be met with violence. With the recent riots in the Mideast provoked by extremist Christian elements, I could only think of how angry religion has become these days.

There always has to be someone that wants to push the boundaries of what is acceptable and make the rest of the group look bad. The extreme religious factions here in America have made business more difficult and tourism more dangerous for all Americans.  Foreigners have to be thinking how will America insult someone today instead of being that “beacon of light” and hope. Yet, there is something similar of both the crazies in Florida who promoted the crap that provoked the radical violence in the Islamic world as well as the crazies who sought violence as the primary reaction to them. Both follow an almost “demonic” kind of reasoning that insults modern religions. Both disregard any sense of security and justice for the rest.

Despite teachings of compassion and love as the basis for modern world religions, or even their foundations in the golden rule (do unto others as you would have done to you), we see instantly angry reactions from religious folks in all stripes without haste. Religion has turned first to anger “to fire first and then ask questions later.”  These people are rejecting the fundamental teachings and instead worshipping their anger and hatreds.  The promotion of this aspect of humanity is a sacrilege and an admonishment of the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed, the Buddha, and the many other reverences around the world.

One does not find the merits of organized religion when people (extreme or mainstream) disregard the basic tenets of their religious doctrines.  Instead of promoting the compassion and tolerance of those peaceful doctrines, these people focus efforts to incite riots, destruction and violence at everyone’s expense and regardless of considerations.  Those people disregard facts and any notion of tolerance. They become fodder for spewing hate and more anger within the extreme elements that promote the worst of humanity (those anti-Christ-like ways.)

Unfortunately, these people will also wallow in the misery of their hatred and anger. These people will not find peace regardless of how many are killed or of how many lives are ruined. They are exhibiting actual "gluttony" and “greed” to have all people believe in their perspective of God and religion. These people can be guaranteed to turn blind eyes to genocide and even actively participate in the holocausts.

These elements of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and others welcome shallow showmanship with a disregard of others with the loudest inconsiderate boasts. The Buddha teaches, “the shallow is easy to embrace, but the profound is difficult; that to discard the shallow and seek the profound is the way of courage.” I am not saying that all showmanship, like say Tim Tebow, is destructive because seeing someone who believes in their convictions clearly lets people know what they believe. Yet, showmanship, especially the extreme kind, is clearly at odds with Matthew 6:5, the Buddha and the Qur’an because real faith is within the self that can help guide one’s actions.  Further, consider James 1, "You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness." The Qu’ran (3:134) suggests that those, “… who restrain anger and who pardon the people - and Allah loves the doers of good…

The quick, knee-jerk anger is denounced both in the Bible and the Qur’an, but you would never know that from Robertson’s CBN, Fox or Al-Jazeera reports.  It is almost like these guys are helping to incite the violence in order to have something to report.  “One tin soldier” cannot compete with the constant baiting these shallow “news” outlets and the extreme religious people project. As Dave Mustaine sings, "Ask the sheep for their beliefs, 'do you kill on God's command?'"

The majority of all people do not hold these extreme views or the anger that has been on display. What we need is to reject the religion of anger and be each other’s keeper. To respect each other means not to force others to believe one way, but to allow people to believe. That is the essence of “freedom of religion.” To have faith is to let go of perceptions of truth, to not be idolatrous to that perception, and to let the truth reveal itself. If we base our faith and beliefs in anger, then our religion is anger, hatred and negativity. The religion becomes nothing of what the good people have taught us. If we are more concerned about others’ beliefs, we are foregoing growth in ourselves.  Be willing to speak about your religion and how it enables you, but also be mindful that religion is deeply personal that can be easily insulted.  Steer the discussion away from heated anger and into how we share common interests, both in the spiritual and the physical.  Maybe then we can live in each other’s neighborhoods, and maybe then we can walk in other countries without fear some jerk at home is going to create more anger of religion.

Peace be unto you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How to Corrupt the Government Insurance Programs

How to Corrupt the Government Insurance Programs

Tony E Hansen
12 August 2012

With the addition of Paul Ryan to the GOP Presidential ticket, we now have a clear choice between visions of the two major candidates.  We can see a clear divergence of political philosophies that could shape the future of our country, just in the way that New Deal policies have shaped the past half century.  While cost structures for Social Security (SSA) and Medicare (HMS) could use some attention, we have to seriously consider the possible consequences to Mr. Ryan’s proposal for overhaul of those programs.
According to his proposals in Congress, Mr. Ryan wants the private sector to take over SSA and HMS. In his theory, this will save the Federal government the costs of handling these programs and leave more money for the HMS and SSA beneficiaries (otherwise known as the American people). 
We have to remember that SSA, HMS, and workforce benefits were set up to combat poverty, especially for the elderly. They were set up exclusively for the elderly to keep private companies in business for the rest of the population.  As well, people are not prohibited from using other retirement savings. SSA and HMS programs, however, are designed to be stable and conservative investments to keep the funds at or above inflation with the idea that no one should be using the money on risky investment schemes that could ultimately rob Americans of their elderly livelihood. The people that manage SSA and HMS are not allowed to defraud the beneficiaries or use their money for risky schemes, hedge funds, or the like. Also, people are given a single entity from which to claim benefits, and there is little-to-no confusion as to the rules since they are equal across all plans and beneficiaries.  This is meant to promote faith in the funds being there for the beneficiaries when they retire. 
A side benefit (whether a good thing or not) of the SSA and HMS funds is that the federal government can borrow against its own funds rather than from foreign entities (see the Clinton years). Consider how this is similar to where people today can borrow against their Roth or 401K retirement accounts where they are essentially loaning to themselves from money they have in bank. There are rules to this, but essentially, these same people could instead borrow from a loan shark and pay relatively high interest rates to someone that is not even a friend. By borrowing against your own savings, you are repaying your own capital.
The intent here is not to debate whether My Ryan’s characterization of the Social Security program as a Ponzi scheme is accurate.  The program’s intended design, however, is that millions of Americans pay into a retirement savings for themselves with an expectation that it remains as part of their retirement income. The GOP has been licking their chops at the prospect of getting capitalist hands into the money pot that is SSA and HMS. Just think of the tremendous amounts of capital that the United States could reap in revenue from aggressive (e.g. risky) forms of investment using the trillions of dollars from those accounts. If one can invest $5000 and get a modest 6.25% return that is roughly an average of $325 per year. If one can invest say $5 trillion and get that same return which is roughly $325 billion and suddenly, California no longer has a deficit issue?  Yet, that 6.25 % return is a great day if the investment is sound and in actual capital, but we all know what happens when people are given a bunch of money and told to create profit (e.g. Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Madoff). Odd, consider that people were giving money to a man named Madoff that actually “made off” with their money and left the beneficiaries penniless.
That is precisely what we can envision with the Ryan-Romney plan for SSA and HMS. We all know "why" because that is what caused the crashes in the Great Depression, 1980s and 2000s: greed.   Private investors will be granted access to this huge mountain of cash with the idea that these "qualified" people know how to capitalize.  These people will then design complex instruments, funds, ETFs, bonds, derivatives, transaction fees, balloon profits, and this will be backed by the full faith of the federal government (see Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). They will sell to beneficiaries that they can maximize their return using these complicated or expensive instruments, and supposedly, with the assurance of the federal government, the money will be safe. One firm will be able to handle the retirement account differently than the other, and thanks to the recent ruling by the Supreme Court with respect to the Affordable Health Care Act, people can be compelled to pay into the system or fear a tax penalty. That is until the next bailout is needed from the American people to re-fund the eventually destroyed SSA and HMS systems. Then, while the Americans are wondering what happened to their retirements, the fat cats that engineered the schemes will be able to continue living the high-life and toasting their “success”. 
We have a clear choice between the Obama and Romney teams, and the future of SSA and HMS are at the heart of the difference. Further, the collapse of the entitlement programs will mean a collapse in the American markets and financial system that will paralyze the global economy where 2008 will seem like a bad fart.  I may have painted a dire prediction of privatization of those funds, but given the recent balloon and bust of the mortgage crisis, can we seriously expect something different than this? Can we risk losing our retirements? That is a recipe to corrupt our government insurance programs.