Archive for April, 2012

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Damn Obama, you scary

April 28, 2012

Here’s a somewhat frightening report by Kimberly Strassel in the WSJ. Read the whole thing.

Strassel: The President Has a List

Try this thought experiment: You decide to donate money to Mitt Romney. You want change in the Oval Office, so you engage in your democratic right to send a check.

Several days later, President Barack Obama, the most powerful man on the planet, singles you out by name. His campaign brands you a Romney donor, shames you for “betting against America,” and accuses you of having a “less-than-reputable” record. The message from the man who controls the Justice Department (which can indict you), the SEC (which can fine you), and the IRS (which can audit you), is clear: You made a mistake donating that money.

Are you worried?

Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” appalled the country for the simple reason that presidents hold a unique trust. Unlike senators or congressmen, presidents alone represent all Americans. Their powers—to jail, to fine, to bankrupt—are also so vast as to require restraint. Any president who targets a private citizen for his politics is de facto engaged in government intimidation and threats. This is why presidents since Nixon have carefully avoided the practice.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I for one have had enough of The Cult of the Presidency.

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Industrial bots

April 28, 2012

If you’re interested in heavy industry, here’s an interesting video about how a Mercedes E-class auto is built. Lots o’ robotic action going on.

I came across this in a post titled Feed The Monkey at Sippican Cottage. The gist of that post, as I took it, was useful work is nitpicked to death by Those Who Would Regulate.

Maybe so. I’ve often thought we have entirely too many people who want to manage, mostly by virtue of their credentials (as opposed to their acumen) — relative to the number of people who actually do useful work with their knowledge.

But what struck me about this clip was the amazing amount of skull sweat that had obviously gone into building this factory. Watch the robot set the dashboards and then back itself out of the vehicle, without leaving a mark on the piece or the vehicle. It takes an incredible amount of thought to design a robot that will do that. I’m sure it took a team of people to design that machine.

And it takes a fair amount of thought and concentration just to get the robot adapted to a particular task – after the robot itself has been designed and built. There’s a lot to understand about how an industrial robot controller works before you can actually put one to work. Getting the robot to move heavy things is pretty easy; getting it to move heavy things without damaging them or damaging other things is an entirely different kettle o’ fish.

Of course the Germans aren’t the only ones doing this. The Japanese are no slouches when it comes to automated manufacturing. Here’s a snippet from a Wikipedia article about "Lights Out" manufacturing.

FANUC, the Japanese robotics company, has been operating a “lights out” factory for robots since 2001.[7] “Robots are building other robots at a rate of about 50 per 24-hour shift and can run unsupervised for as long as 30 days at a time. “Not only is it lights-out,” says Fanuc vice president Gary Zywiol, “we turn off the air conditioning and heat too.”

I’ve been working with a FANUC ‘spider robot’ the last few months. It’s like the two in the center of the frame in this video. (They’re M-1iA models.)

It looks like the robots in the video are using Fanuc’s built-in machine vision system to see the things they’re picking up (when the red light appears). Our team used a custom, hyperspectral vision system to find particles and pick them out of a stream of material on a conveyor belt. But the end result is fairly similar.

These robots move pretty quickly: they’ll pick three particles per second. That may not sound like much until you calculate that it’s nearly 11,000 particles per hour — for however many hours you want to run them.

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In a New York minute

April 27, 2012

Here’s an interesting proposal at the American Enterprise Institute’s The American. It’s not much longer than this excerpt so RTWT.

Would You Settle Your Claims on Social Security for 80 Cents on the Dollar? (I Would)

Current headlines read: “Social Security’s Financial Forecast Gets Darker”; “Stress Rises on Social Security.”

Well, yes: but who is surprised?

Certainly not young people, who are rightly skeptical about whether Social Security in the future will be able to give them back the money it takes from them today.

The problem is pretty basic: According to the new calculations of the Social Security Trustees’ 2012 Report, Social Security’s future costs are a lot bigger than its future income. […]

Many observers, considering this insolvency, quickly conclude that you must force Americans to either pay more in Social Security taxes or mandate a cut in their benefits.

But there is another, voluntary alternative. Give people a choice? Imagine that!

I have previously asked, “Would you settle your claims on Social Security for 83 cents on the dollar?”—and answered, “I would—in a heartbeat.”


And here’s another interesting alternative for reforming Social Security. This one’s longer but packed with interesting details so it’s worth your time too.

Social Security by Choice: The Experience of Three Texas Counties

Stock market volatility remains one of the primary objections to switching from the current pay-as-you-go method of funding Social Security benefits to a system of prefunded personal retirement accounts. However, three Texas counties that opted out of Social Security 30 years ago have solved the risk problem.

Galveston County opted out of Social Security in 1981, and Matagorda and Brazoria counties followed suit in 1982. County employees have since seen their retirement savings grow every year, including during the recent recession. Today, county workers retire with more money, and have better supplemental benefits in case of disability or an early death. Moreover, the counties face no long-term unfunded pension liabilities.

If state and local governments — and Congress — are really looking for a path to long-term sustainable entitlement reform, they might consider what is known as the “Alternate Plan.”

The Alternate Plan. The Alternate Plan does not follow the traditional defined-benefit or defined-contribution model. Rather, employee and employer retirement contributions are pooled and actively managed by a financial planner — in this case, First Financial Benefits, Inc., of Houston, which both originated the plan and has managed it since inception.

Like Social Security, employees contribute 6.2 percent of their income, with the county matching the contribution (Galveston has chosen to provide a slightly larger share). Once the county makes its contribution, its financial obligation is done. As a result, there are no long-term unfunded liabilities.

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We’re Number 1!

April 1, 2012

A post at the Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry blog.

No Fooling: U.S. Now Has Highest Corporate Tax Rate in the World

This April Fool’s Day, the joke is on all of us. That’s because as of April 1, the U.S. now has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world.

Remember this the next time you hear some political genius going on about the patriotism of companies that don’t "invest in America."

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