March 2010

In my most recent post – What Governments Do Well – I suggested that governments can usually be expected to make a hash of anything they attempt, and the bigger the ambitions the more spectacular the failure. As a rule of thumb, I think this is true, but occasionally governments – even multiple governments acting in concert – can achieve something miraculous and worthwhile.  This happened yesterday in Geneva, when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – a 27 km underground particle accelerator – combined two opposing beams of sub-atomic particles travelling at near light-speed in an attempt to simulate events that occurred in the nanoseconds following the Big Bang in which the universe was created. The particles collided at seven trillion electron volts (TeV), or half the collider’s design capacity of 14 TeV, and not only did the collision generate masses of useful data, it failed to produce a world-destroying black hole, as some observers had feared. [click to continue…]

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Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the strangest things. I should be like Dagwood and go down to the kitchen to make myself a sandwich, but instead I fire up my computer and start Googling. It’s less fattening, I guess.

I awoke last night wondering whether, in the wake of the Federal Government takeover of GM and Chrysler, the Feds were favoring their new subsidiaries when it came to buying government cars. Instead of returning to my vivid dream of being stranded on a desert island with a bevy of Singapore Airlines stewardesses, I decided to look it up. I couldn’t find any conclusive evidence one way or another, but I did learn a few interesting things.

One provision of last year’s Recovery Act (aka the “stimulus package”) was the Energy-Efficient Federal Motor Vehicle Fleet Procurement program, mandating the purchase of thousands of fuel-efficient cars from American car companies. I know, I missed it too the first time I read through the 1,400 page law. According to Edward Niedermeyer, writing on a blog called “The Truth About Cars,” a Freedom of Information Act inquiry to the General Services Administration revealed that as of June 2009 a total of 17,205 cars were purchased under the plan, of which 7,924 came from Ford, 6,348 from GM, and 2,933 from Chrysler. So there’s no indication the Feds bought more from government-owned GM and Chrysler than their relative market shares and/or production volumes would suggest. [click to continue…]

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Obamacare has passed, for better or for worse. Which it is, we probably won’t find out for several years. But it’s worth noting that one key to passage of the bill was the pharmaceuticals industry’s decision to support it. What do they get in return? Potential access to 30 million new customers, certainly. But also, as today’s Financial Times reports, “The industry won 12 years of ‘data exclusivity’ for biological medicines, protecting its most profitable drugs from lower-cost generic rivals; and rejection of a planned ban on ‘authorised generic’ or ‘pay for delay’ deals, by which companies can pay other manufacturers to defer the launch of cheaper versions of their medicines once the patents expire.” Somewhere in the 2,000 pages of legislation is almost certainly buried a raft of other special favors granted to other special interest groups, each one with a cost to both the government and the public. Can someone explain to me how this is supposed to shrink the deficit, as the Congressional Budget Office says it will?

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The business elite and the political classes are overjoyed by President Obama’s program to double U.S. exports over the next five years.  John Castellani, President of the Business Roundtable, says, “”Our member CEOs have long believed that to enhance economic growth and create more and better-paying U.S. jobs, business and government must work together to put domestic and international policies in place for workers and companies to compete in the global marketplace. The President is doing just that by mobilizing the government’s resources through the creation of his Export Promotion Cabinet and by promoting closer cooperation with the private sector through the new President’s Export Council, which will be led by two of our member CEOs, Jim McNerney, President and CEO of The Boeing Company, and Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox.” [click to continue…]

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CNN reported yesterday that China may be on the verge of  banning human consumption of dogs and cats and imposing fines of as much as 500,000 renminbi (about $73,000) on shops and restaurants that serve the meat and up to 15 days in jail for their customers. The ostensible reason is cruelty: the animals are treated horribly and confined in tiny cages in deplorable conditions. But this can’t be the real reason. Plenty of other animals are treated as badly, or worse. The life of a pig prior to slaughter is no picnic either. The real reason seems to be that given by a certain Professor Chang Jiwen of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, who is one of the law’s top campaigners. “Cats and dogs are loyal friends to humans,” he said. “A ban on eating them would show China has reached a new level of civilization.” [click to continue…]

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