Tuesday, April 17, 2012

25th Anniversary of MTCR

The following is a press release from the US Department of State:

Formed by the (then) G-7 industrialized countries in 1987, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is an informal political understanding among states that seek to limit the proliferation of missiles and related technology; it is not a treaty. Since its creation, 27 additional countries have joined the MTCR, and many other countries have adhered unilaterally to the MTCR Guidelines or otherwise control exports of MTCR Annex items.

Originally focused on restricting exports of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and related technology, the Regime expanded its scope in 1993 to cover unmanned delivery systems capable of carrying all types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) -- chemical, biological, and nuclear. In 2002, the MTCR Partners (members) made terrorism an explicit focus of the Regime. Both of those steps were in direct support of the WMD nonproliferation objectives of the Biological Weapons Convention, Chemical Weapons Convention, and Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The MTCR seeks to limit the risks of proliferation of WMD by controlling transfers that could make a contribution to delivery systems (other than manned aircraft) for such weapons. More broadly, the MTCR Guidelines (export control policies) and Annex (list of export-controlled items) have become the international standard for responsible missile-related export behavior. The MTCR and its Annex were implicitly endorsed in UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 of 2004, which affirms that the proliferation of WMD delivery means constitutes a threat to international peace and security and requires all UN Member States to establish domestic controls against such proliferation. The MTCR Annex also forms the basis of the list of missile-related items prohibited from being transferred to Iran under UNSCRs 1737 and 1929, and to North Korea under UNSCR 1718.

Over the course of the Regime’s 25-year history, the efforts of MTCR member countries have reduced the number of countries possessing missiles capable of delivering WMD, the global inventory of such missiles, and the number of countries interested in acquiring such missiles. The establishment by MTCR member and adherent countries of missile-related export controls has significantly reduced the availability to proliferators of support from the countries possessing the most and best technology. The export controls, information-sharing, and patterns of cooperation fostered by the MTCR also have resulted in the interdiction of numerous shipments of equipment intended for missile programs of concern. All of these measures have made it more difficult, time-consuming, and costly for proliferators to produce or acquire WMD capable missiles.

As it has done since 1987, the United States will continue to work through the MTCR to reduce the global missile proliferation threat by restraining the missile-related exports of an expanding number of countries and by increasing the pressure on proliferators to abandon their missile programs. The United States continues to encourage all non-member countries to support the MTCR’s efforts and to unilaterally abide by MTCR standards in the interest of international peace and security.

The MTCR currently has 34 members: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Liberal Education Still Important

With all the talk today about education, no one talks about the importance of a liberal education.  Despite the Conservative hatred of the word liberal, it means "free."  It is the education that free men should have in order to be able to govern themselves.  In the old days, when voting was limited to white men who owned land, they were the only ones who needed a liberal education.  Now that everybody can vote, everybody needs a liberal education.  We were close to that goal in the 1960's with the rise of cheap state universities and community colleges, but as governments have gone bankrupt, that ideal has disappeared.

Instead of seeing education as a resource that should be widely available, it is a commercial enterprise that is expensive, even for no-name colleges and universities.  Thus it has become all about money, not about learning.   All the students and the professors care about are salable skills.  Universities have become trade schools rather than centers of learning.

The Denver Post ran a front page article on higher education Sunday, but it was all about money -- funding for education.  Doing a search of the page, I did not find a single reference to the liberal arts, which was the most important role of a university a few decades ago, and certainly a hundred years ago.  Higher education has changed, and not for the better. The "bottom line" was that it's looking more and more like the State of Colorado will soon quit funding higher education entirely.

Romney VP Hopefuls Are Fiscal Failures

Two frequently discussed vice presidential hopefuls for presidential candidate Mitt Romney are Rob Portman and Mitch Daniels.  Both were the principle budget strategists for George W. Bush as heads of his Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was head of OMB from 2001 to 2003; Ohio Senator Portman was OMB director from 2006 to 2007.

Daniels oversaw the post-9/11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq without raising taxes.  He publicly estimated the cost of the Iraq war at $50 to $60 billion. A recent Brown University study has estimated the direct cost of the Iraq war at around $750 billion.  Wikipedia says that on Daniels' watch, the US went from a budget surplus of $236 billion to a deficit of $400 billion.  Wikipedia says that on Portman's watch the US public debt increased by $469 billion.

Both of these Republican budget directors follow in the footsteps of David Stockman, Reagan's OMB chief from 1981 to 1985.  Stockman successfully led the fight for Reagan's huge tax cuts, but after cutting revenues, he was unsuccessful in cutting federal expenditures, thus beginning the series of huge budget deficits that persist to this day.  Stockman doubled the national debt from $1 trillion to $2 trillion during his tenure.  The current national debt is about $15.5 trillion.

Jobs Bill and Facebook

I am worried that there is some connection between the recently passed Jobs bill and the Facebook IPO.  Facebook has been the poster child for huge IPOs that give preference to insiders.  Facebook was limited by the old restrictions of privately held companies.  It's not clear whether the new Jobs bill will change its situation. It may be too big, maybe not.  It's already in the situation where the number of shareholders of record is limited, but the actual number of shareholders is much higher.  Goldman Sachs counts as one shareholder, but it can hold shares for its preferred clients, raising the total well beyond 500 or whatever the limit was.  Even if this law does not directly affect Facebook, it will affect new IPOs, and while it may marginally aid new businesses, it will enormously aid rich Wall Street insiders.  At the same time, as the NYT article points out, it may increase the risks of bad investments in questionable companies by small, unsophisticated investors.  I would like to know what Elizabeth Warren thinks about the bill.  Is it good for America?  Is it good for the middle class (or what's left of it)?  Or is it just good for the super rich, especially those who live in Silicon Valley?  Unfortunately I do not trust Obama to do what is best for the middle class (and the country).  He has sold out to the super rich.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Sen. Bill Frist and Denver Hospitals

I have been upset for some time about HCA's takeover of a number of Colorado hospitals.  HCA is owned by the Frist family, whom Sen. Bill Frist represented in the Senate.  Health care is a mess; hospitals are making fortunes, and Bill Frist's is one of them.  Rather than using his expertise on health care to improve it while he was in the Senate, he used it mainly to enrich himself and his family.  Although he was Senate leader, he is remembered mainly for his provide-medical-care-at-any-cost argument to keep Terri Schiavo alive.  Frist is an example of what is wrong with the American health care system, and he was a leader in the Senate.  What is good for his wallet is not necessarily good for the country.

Now, Frist's for-profit HCA plans to take over many of Colorado's not-for-profit hospitals, creating concerns that the hospitals will no longer be run for the public benefit.

On the other hand, a Catholic-conected hospital systsem, SCL, plans to expand in Colorado, raising questions about whether the hospitals taken over will provide for the full range of women's health services that they provide now, since the Catholic church opposes contraception, abortion, etc.

Bernanke Lectures Aimed at Ron Paul

Fed Chairman Bernanke's lectures at George Washington University are aimed at Republican candidate Ron Paul, who represents a significant strain of thought about the Federal Reserve.  Paul believes that the Fed is evil because it interferes with the free functioning the American economy and most often encourages inflation.  Paul would like to see the US return to the gold standard.  Bernanke's first lecture dealt extensively with the issue, in particular recalling William Jennings Bryan's speech about "the cross of gold" on which the rich were crucifying average workers and farmers.

Bernanke correctly asked why the world economies should be restricted by the amount of gold that is mined around the world.  It's clearly better to have a money supply that can be managed to correspond the amount of goods and services being produced that the amount of gold being mined.  On the other hand, Paul is right that an irresponsible Fed can allow or encourage detrimental policies which might well increase inflation (or create deflation).  In an ideal world, however, the US would have a competent Fed which would maintain a proper money supply to facilitate growth and full employment.

One problem these days is that the US has no fiscal policy.  Congress is dysfunctional.  Republicans refuse to raise taxes; Democrats, to cut expenditures.  So, the full burden of trying to manage the American economy falls on the Fed, with some help from the Executive Branch, depending on what it can do by executive order, by the Treasury selling bonds, etc.

But Paul's gold bugs don't trust bureaucrats.  They would rather have the economy controlled by external forces, rather than the government.

I prefer to have Bernanke try to manage the economy rather than leave it hostage to South African gold miners.

Republicans Not Saving Money

In a legitimate debate about health care, Democrats would want single payer system assuring coverage for everybody.  Republicans would want a system that reduced costs.  What actually happened with Obama Care, however, was that the Republican insistence on using private heath insurance companies actually increased costs by increasing the power and profits of  insurance companies without reducing doctors' or hospitals' costs.  A single payer system would have given the government leverage to bring down costs; whether it would have actually done so will never be known.  Congress was quick to restore doctors' Medicare fees to the old, higher level when they were in danger of being reduced by some of the automatic budget reductions.  

Some doctors refuse to accept Medicare patients because Medicare pays less than private insurance.  If Congress had passed "Medicare for everybody," however, doctors would have had less opportunity to earn the high rates they currently do, although for the doctors who treat the richest "one-percent" price is irrelevant.  

In a New York Times report on the richest one percent,they found that after a general category called "managers," physicians made up the next largest portion of the one percent, with those working out of their own offices earning the most. Almost none of these rich doctors work in a world where fees are set by a free market; they are either paid by insurance companies or the government, in both cases with fees set in advance.  A patient who walks in the door of a doctor's office has no bargaining rights.  The doctors make sure up front that they are will paid.

The Republicans did nothing to insert free market principles in the health care law.  If anything, they strengthened the hands of the doctors in negotiating with the insurance companies and the government, assuring that the most expensive health care in the world will become even more expensive.