Mars On A Dime

Extra Mile
According to the Wall Street Journal that compares with $671M that it cost NASA (which arrived just 3 days earlier than India’s) and the European Space Agency’s mission that cost $386M in 2003,



But aside from the Indian’s being able to achieve a Mars mission at a tenth the cost of what we did, BBC reported that they also did it $26M cheaper than even the cost of the science fiction movie Gravity with Sandra Bullock about the International Space Station. 



While we clearly go the extra mile and are able to do great things–why does it always cost us so much to get there?



Perhaps, you can say that we are somehow more diligent or careful in our work (i.e. putting a premium on safety) or that it’s just the higher cost of labor in this country or that we are early innovators and incur the costs of research and development that others than leverage. 



However, even though we are considered a very wealthy nation, it is fair to ask whether we are managing our wealth with discretion and an eye to the future or do we just take it for granted and are wasteful with it?



With a $3.9 trillion federal government budget (note, this is a full 21% of the entire U.S. economy/GDP), we are talking about some serious money, and we should be getting the most for it.



Unfortunately, the gravy train extends from certain “Beltway Bandit” contractors–e.g. remember the $640 toilet seats, $7,600 coffee makers, and $436 hammers uncovered by the Project on Government Oversight–and apparently all the way to mission Mars. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Money, It’s Something

Poverty

Just an observation today about there being so much poverty in the Nation’s capital and around the country.

Homeless, hungry, and sick people on the streets in one of the richest countries in the world.

Yet, we have trillions going overseas to fight wars with seemingly little to no tangible benefits.

And so much ostensible waste with pork barrel politics, inefficiencies, and failed projects.

A relative joked with me the other day saying, “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor as long as you have money!”

Here we borrow money ($17.6 trillion ) and print money and the Federal Reserve buys debt ($4.1 trillion ) to keep interest rates low and the economy churning.

People from real estate mogul, Donald Trump to Economist, Robert Wiedemer, who predicted the last recession, are warning of dire economic consequences because of these short-sighted policies.

So do we have real money to continue to burn or is it smoke and mirrors and as Wiedemer says, “the medicine will become the poison”–what do you think?

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

We’re Not Deadbeats

We're Not Deadbeats

Good book review in the Wall Street Journal on America’s Fiscal Constitution by Bill White.

The main idea is that we have gone from a nation where fiscal discipline and paying off ones debts was a valued tradition to one now where excess rules and profligate borrowing runs through our veins.

Both personal and national debt were viewed as a means of last resort and not something to be proud of, but rather as something done out of necessity to get through tough times.

On a personal level, we only borrowed what we needed and we payed it back on time or even early. Poverty was just one step away or even akin to servitude.

Similarly, on a national level, public debt was viewed as a safety net to preserve the union (i.e. war), territorial integrity (e.g. Louisiana Purchase), or in a severe recession (i.e. to maintain the government’s ability to spend in the short term).

The best option was seen as “pay as you go,” with the alternative, under limited circumstances, to “pay as soon as you can.”

However, the value placed on self and national discipline and sufficiency was replaced with elements of entitlement, greed, and waste.

The problem is once you have inequity in the system, then people feel the unfairness of it all, and give up caring about the system itself and just want to get what they see as their fair share.

Some politicians cater to these feelings of relative deprivation and are no longer viewed positively for fiscal constraint and ensuring our economic security, but rather “politicians gain favor by spending money without having to raise unpopular taxes.”

In essence, the government can give people more now, and they don’t have to pay for it until future generations–hence the ability to buy citizen’s political consent and even win elections by increasing the treasure chest even temporarily.

No, this is not China raising the fortunes of the middle class to keep the Communist Party in power, but rather this is us in the U.S. of A racking up tens of trillions of dollars in debt to keep people happy now (forget the future generations, let them fend for themselves).

Shake hands, kiss babies, and hand out dollar bills–give me, give me give me!

What has happened to us fighting hard and driving into the future on our own feet–together in strength and not as a debtor nation getting handouts from anyone that will lend us.

Soon, the Fed will be raising interest rates, and with a greater and greater national deficit to pay on, interest payments have the real potential to spiral out of control and leave our economy in shambles.

Like a credit card with interest payments that eclipse the principle borrowed, soon you are in over your head and there is nowhere to go but Chapter 11.

We’re not an inherently debtor nation, and we sure don’t want to be a deadbeat nation–isn’t it better to have what we really have financially and be who we really are and value?

Let’s leave our children and grandchildren economic and national security and not a towering pile of shameless debt, from mom and dad with love.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

What A Waste Of Coin

What A Waste Of Coin

Coming to work this week, I saw a penny on the ground…then another…and another.

I saw people passing the money, and instead of picking it up, they kicked in off the curb.

That’s even worse than throwing them into the fountain where at least you might get some good luck from it.

Thus, the state of our minting of coinage–it’s essentially worthless.

After getting a pretty basic Venti Java Chip at Starbucks for a whopping $5.45, I quickly calculated, I would need 545 pennies,109 nickles, 54.5 dimes, or 21.8 quarters o pay for this–how ridiculous!

And uh, how many of these would you need to pay someone one hour at the new proposed minimum wage of $10.10 if you did it in coins?

Otherwise, I could just give them a credit or debit card–yes, sort of a no brainer, right?

Why do we keep making coinage that no one wants or needs in the digital age?

We have direct deposit for payroll, automatic deductions for many expenses, online banking, ecommerce , credit and debit cards, paypal, and even bitcoin…let’s just be honest and admit it, traditional money is basically obsolete.

At Starbucks, I see many people now just use their Smartphone App to pay and get rewards–another advance.

Someday soon, we will have embedded chips that simply add and deduct payments as we go along and live life–it’s really not all that complicated.

The funny thing also is that it costs more to make many coins then their intrinsic worth–and hence the drive towards making coins with cheaper materials.

According to Business Insider, in 2012, a penny cost 2.4 cents to make and a nickle 11.2 cents–quite a losing proposition.

While there truly are some valuable coins out there and I appreciate that there are many coin lovers and collectors–numismatists–perhaps there are alternate hobbies to consider.

A colleague once told me that “If you watch your pennies, the dollars will follow”–and that may be some good investement advice, but in a 24/7 society and after decades of inflation, there isn’t enough time or room to collect all the pennies we would need to make much of a difference.

ABC News reports that while our northern brother, Canada, got rid of the penny in 2012, we still make something like 5 billion of these useless things a year.

Full disclosure: my first job in Washington, D.C. was for the U.S. Mint, and while there were good things about it, I could never feel good about the mission–it just had no purpose. 😉

All Opinions my own.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Maura Teague)

What Would MLK say?

What Would MLK say?

Bloomberg BusinessWeek writes about how Congress orders NASA to complete a testing tower for rocket engines at Stennis Space Center that is no longer needed, since the rockets themselves were cancelled.

The price tag of this tower is $350M!

But not to worry because NASA caught in this muddle says they will maintain the tower in case it’s needed in the future at a cost of just $840,000 more a year.

Why does this happen?

Pork barrel politics, where the the Congressmen and -women (in this case of Mississippi) don’t want to lose out on the federal spending, so they make deals whereby they get what they want and others what they want for their home states–even if the taxpayers end up getting little to nothing.

Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal that while public servants are “expected to be less selfish than the average Joe…they are [actually] the locus of selfishness.”

She writes, “there isn’t a staffer on the Hill who won’t tell you 90% of members are driven by their own needs, wants, and interests, not America’s.”

Essentially what Noonan describes is a broken political system, where we elect individuals as politicians to represent us, but they take our vote of confidence and their elected office platform and instead use it to vote either for what they think should be done–not what their constituents think or want–or they work the system in order to make themselves look good and line up votes for their next run at office.

Either way, we don’t get representation of the people, for the people, with big picture strategic decisions for the future of the nation, but rather we get narrow thinking and voting driven by self-centered thinking of what’s in it for me (WIIFM).

Freedom is not free, especially when we make bad decisions to fund testing towers that are no longer needed or bridges to nowhere.

How we fix this is by having politicians with a genuine vision of where we need to go, anchored in the thinking of the people they represent and a foundation of integrity.

The leader can create a shared vision by explaining why, what, and how and building a genuine consensus around it.

Selfishness is not an inherent trait of politics–it can be replaced by selflessness when the greater good of the nation is placed above any one “I”–whether that be a person, party, state, or special interest.

(Source Photo: here)

The Keys To Good Government

The Keys To Good Government

Peggy Noonan hit it right on the head in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The fear of giving up privacy, she said, is of a “massive surveillance state,” and this is not overblown.

The crux of this concern is that if Government (or I would add hackers) can intrude on citizen’s private communications and thoughts, then eventually people will self-censor.

No privacy does mean government control.

As Noonan makes clear, violations of citizen privacy is not just a threat to the Fourth Amendment protecting against unreasonable search and seizure, but is a bona fide danger as well to the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech.

People should not be afraid to think critically and creatively because of what the government may do to them (and their families) for disagreeing with fraud, waste, abuse, special interests, and stupidity.

Rather, politicians should fear being criticized and not re-elected for violating the duty to rule justly and as true representatives of the people.

However, when government and politicians can listen in, see, and know what the lawful opposition in thinking and doing, then they are given virtually absolute power.

And absolute power does corrupt absolutely.

We should not change our underlying values of freedom and become a nation of routine digital interrogation of everyday John Doe’s.

Terrorists, traitors, anarchists, and hostile nation states should be pursued and given no rest or privacy from our intelligence, law enforcement, and warfighters.

But well-meaning citizens should be free to think, feel, and say what they believe in the best interest of the country.

Upright citizen’s should never have to fear an unjust government, but rather corrupt politicians should be concerned about violating the fundamental rights of the people.

At least two keys to good government are privacy and free speech. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Empirical Perception)

Plenty Of Food For All

Bread

I remember as a teenager visiting, on occasion, the Catskill Mountain hotels for the holidays and watching not only the enormous amounts that people seemed to order and eat, but also the huge amounts that simply went uneaten and was discarded.

Taste from this dish…don’t like it, throw it out. Try that food…but your not in love with it either, into the trash as well. Like a smorgasbord or food orgy to end all others. 

Honestly, the waste from such hubris is disgusting especially with world hunger unbelievably still topping 925 million people or 1 in 7 worldwide. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (21 December 2012) reports that in India alone villagers average only about 2,000 calories a day–when less than 2,400 qualifies for government food aid. And “half of all children younger than three years old in India weight too little for their age; [and] 8 in 10 are anemic” (i.e. do not have enough healthy red blood cells).

Despite the mass poverty and corruption hindering people getting enough healthy food around the world, BBC News (30 November 2012) cites incredible statistics that “the average American family throws away 40% of the food they purchase–which adds up to $165 billion annually.” 

However, not all the food being thrown out is because of people acting like–I’ll just say it–like pigs, but because if not eaten right away, food spoils.

Food spoliage affects the taste, smell, and appearance of food and the pathogens involved can make people sick. So some food–not fresh anymore–really needs to get discarded. 

Now Texas Tech University has invented MicroZap a microwave technology that functions to pasteurize food so it stays fresh longer.

For example, MicroZap can kill mold spores in bread in about 10 seconds. Thus, normal bread which goes moldy after 10 days, can stay fresh instead for 60 days–and at the “same mold content as it had when it came out of the oven.”

MicroZap can also be used on eggs and meat to improve food safety by killing E. Coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. 

An additional benefit to MicroZap is that food manufacturers may not need all the additives and preservatives that get mixed in, as well as the other chemicals used to mask the taste of them. 

 Further uses for MicroZap include the washing and drying of clothes in hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers, and fitness centers to sterilize them and even kill superbug MRSA (in excess of 99.999%).

The application of microwave technology to food safety and to sterilizing laundry is exciting not only from the perspective of reducing illness and infection, but also in terms of cutting waste and reducing hunger and malnutrition. 

If we can cost-effectively deploy this technology to improve safety and reduce waste, and then redistribute food to those in genuine need, we can feed the world with the food we already have at our fingertips–and there can be plenty of bread for everyone. 😉

(Source Photo: Minna Blumenthal)