Alfred Nobel, Nobel Prize and Irony

As most of the readers must know, Alfred Nobel invented Dynamite. What you might not know is he also owned “Bofors,” a major armaments manufacturer, which he had redirected from its previous role as an iron and steel mill.

According to Wikipedia, “The erroneous publication in 1888 of a premature obituary of Nobel by a French newspaper, condemning him for his invention of dynamite, is said to have brought about his decision to leave a better legacy after his death.The obituary stated Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”) and went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”[

Dr. Nobel didn’t, clearly, change his entrepreneurial activities before he died in 1896, eight years after the publication of the erroneous obituary. Instead, in his last will he decides to bequeath much of his enormous fortune to the five Nobel Prizes. One each in Physical Sciences, Chemistry, Medical Sciences, Literature and Peace (a new one has been added in Economics). The Peace Prize “is to be given to the person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity, in the suppression or reduction of standing armies, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace congresses.”

Bofors is still, to this date, one of the largest arms manufacturer in the world.

I am surprised that not too many of the talking heads or the pundits point-out the base irony fundamentally present in the Nobel Peace prize. Nobel, the merchant of death, and Peace is an oxymoron. And to me, it does little but expose the hypocrisy of human kind that money collected by creating and selling Dynamite is used to award the most prestigious “Peace Prize.” Not sure how Dr. Nobel could write “…suppression or reduction of standing armies” and not see the naked irony of it all. I forget the author’s name but she hit the nail on the head when she said, in a matter of fact manner, “the beauty of childhood is that it is not afflicted with hypocrisy yet, the very cornerstone of adulthood is hypocrisy especially the hypocrisies that the self doesn’t even see.” A very important goal of mine is thus to stay a child in this context.

It is good that President Obama has pledged to donate the prize money to charity.

My opinion, and I know President Obama did not apply for the Prize, President Obama doesn’t deserve it and it is going to be nothing but an impossible standard to meet when he ends up making tough decisions on Afghanistan, Iraq and may be Iran. Oh, and I don’t think he will make the easy decision on the domestic front — Gun Control — that 540 Mayors just petitioned him for. Isn’t that ironic: acting on gun control can taken away some “business” from Bofors reducing the Nobel families fortunes and may be their ability to dish out the Peace Prize (hey! I can dream, can’t I?).

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Bankers robbed the banks

Wasn’t it only in October ’08 that we all were told to believe that the whole financial system had collapsed/was on the verge of collapse and that we need to shell out $780 billion of tax payers money to the exact same bankers has cost us upwards of $5 trillion to-date (per President Obama on the Letterman Show)?

So what happened?

Goldman Sachs (GS) reported $3.4B in profits for the 2Q09. GS plans to pay $18B in total compensation to employees averaging a staggering $600K/employee.

However, Unemployment is still at 16.5% (including semi-employed and people who have given up looking for a job).

That’s what happened.

People are so worked up about the Health Care reform when what we are talking about is A) keeping people alive/healthy which will “actually” benefit the economy B) saving the long term “social” model (yes, social) of Medicare, Medicaid and VA that will not survive unless we control cost and C) most importantly, making it affordable to buy insurance for individuals.

That to me is completely misplaced anger. We all have reason to be angry, reason to feel disoriented, reason to feel like we’ve been had and reason to lose trust. But directing it at Health Care reform is not only wrong it is a disservice to the country. It is much better to focus on reforming our Financial Industry and I contend, the only way to do that by reforming our election campaign finance – remember that issue that was hot before the 2008 elections and oh yes, also before the 2004 elections? Though, I must admit right on the outset that I am not very hopeful that either can happen.

However are some plausible ways to make a dent:

1. Make Banking boring —  Banks should, asPaul Krugman points out, return to being “boring” and provide money at reasonable, conservative rates to support the rest of the society to invest, innovate and develop “real products” not consider credit default swaps as a product….ever! In effect, behave like a Utility Company….like they use to back in the 50s and 60s.

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Health Care Bill — Where is the reform?

Don’t let anyone fool you — Health Care reform is essential. Why? Because from spending 1 out of $20 on health care in 1960 we have arrived at a point that we are spending 1 out of every $6 on health care now. And of course, this cost is expected to sky rocket. President Obama is right — exponentially growing health care costs, completely independent of making health care universal, will sink the American economy.

Strangely enough though, the current bill being considered by the House of Representatives is not about reform driving cost down and funding universal health care but universal health care without any meaningful reform. 

 Section 1 — CBO Report

To build the case though, allow me to start with some key facts and data points from the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) “Long Term Budget Outlook” published in 2007 regarding Health Care:

1. On Total Health Care Spending

A> “Total spending on health care in the United States, including both private and public spending, increased from 4.7 percent of GDP in 1960 to 14.9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data are available.”  That is a greater than 300% increase in share of spending on health care obviously at a loss to other facets of life.

B> The report identifies the primary cause for this increase as, “Most analysts agree that the most important factor contributing to the growth in health care spending in recent decades has been the emergence, adoption, and widespread diffusion of new medical technologies and services.”

C> Other factors for cost increase identified in the report are rise in disposable family income, rise in insurance coverage and aging of the population.

2. On  Medicare Program

A> Overview of Medicare: “Medicare provides federal health insurance for nearly 43 million people who are aged (about 85 percent of enrollees) or disabled or who have end-stage renal disease. The elderly become eligible for Medicare at age 65; the disabled become eligible 24 months after their Social Security benefits start.”

B> Medicare is funded via various sources, payroll tax of 2.9% of taxable income, being a primary source. Think of it as money you are putting aside to be paid for medical care when you get old or, god forbid, disabled. CBO report also states, “As of June 2007, 18 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in private health plans under the Medicare Advantage program,” i.e. were paying additional for enhanced coverage.

C> In 2006, Medicare spending totaled $382 billion.

3. On Medicaid Program

A> Medicaid is a joint federal–state program that pays for health care services for a variety of low-income individuals. The program was created in 1965 by the same legislation that created Medicare, replacing an earlier program of federal grants to states to provide medical care to people who have low income. The federal government’s share of Medicaid’s spending for benefits varies among the states and currently averages 57 percent.

B> In 2006, the total spending was $160.9B and total beneficiaries were 60.9M people. Out of which children accounted for 29.5M – approx. 50%.

Section 2 — some more key data points:

1. Americans spend $2.5T (trillion) annually on healthcare.

2. Medicaid is only 6.7% of the total healthcare bill for USA and hence hardly the cause for the crisis.

3. Kaiser Health Tracking Poll from June 2009 finds, “Struggling to afford needed care — The survey continues to find that a majority of Americans (55 %) say that they or another member of their household have put off some sort of needed medical care because of the cost over the past 12 months. About 1 in 4 say they have skipped a recommended test or treatment, and a similar percentage have chosen not to fill a prescription. 26% say they or a family member had problems paying medical bills over the past year, similar to the proportion reporting problems in our April tracking survey. This number rises to nearly half (48 %) among those suffering health problems, and is nearly as high (43 percent) among the uninsured.

Section 3 — Key observations based upon the above data

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Sonia Sotomayor

I was quite excited at the prospect of  a second woman on the Supreme Court bench, a first Hispanic, a first Supreme Court judge from the Bronx projects — an out and out American success story. I thought her confirmation will provide the right representational balance at the highest court of the land.

But then a few news items about Ms. Sotomayor’s views have dulled my enthusiasm.

One of course being her comment that resulted in the Conservatives calling her a “reverse racist.” Her comment, made back in 2001, asserts that her experiences as a Latina woman might make her judgments more sound than those of a white man. Though I am not going to call her a racist but a comment like that shows, among other things, lack of sound judgement and bias.

A piece of writing that influenced  me more was an Op-Ed article written by Ilya Somin (Assistant Professor at George Mason University School of Law) for the LA Times.

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Obama’s turn-arounds

A sizable section in the left wing of the democratic party is all up in arms about a few recent Obama decisions that appear to be turn-arounds from campaign promises. I am in favor of the decisions.

Decision 1: Stop the release of detainee abuse photographs

Torture is a terrible thing. It was institutionalized by the Bush administration and untold number of innocent people got tortured. A rather sad and dark chapter in the recent history of the USA. However, all the people who are asking for the release of the photographs sit safely ensconced in the confines of our border and are out of harms way. They have no idea what their demands will result in for the brave Americans positioned in foreign countries.  It is purely for practical and pragmatic reasons I agree with President Obama — release of such photographs inflames anti-American emotions, is played to full advantage by Al Qaeda and its ilk, and will surely result in violence against Americans and justification for torture of captured Americans who had nothing to do with torture in the first place.

The best way to prevent such abuse from happening is to clearly define what torture is and starting from the highest office down state in unequivocal terms that such practices are banned. It is surely not to make the left wing feel happy but lose Americans lives in the bargain.

Decision 2: Has denied calls for investigating the last administration on torture

The noise to investigate past deeds has grown more shrill and people are not listening anymore to the thunderous warning of the impending category five hurricane.

We need to muster all our collective energy and focus them on the Economic, Jobs Market, Health Care, Climate Change and Geo-Political disasters at our hands.

I would love to learn how all the Bushies violated the law but these are truly unique times. I want to know about the past but not if I do not have a future.

Obama’s “real” agenda

Mr. Krauthammer, in his Washington Post article titled, Obama’s Ultimate Agenda writes, “Obama has far different ambitions. His goal is to rewrite the American social compact, to recast the relationship between government and citizen. He wants government to narrow the nation’s income and anxiety gaps. Soak the rich for reasons of revenue and justice. Nationalize health care and federalize education to grant all citizens of all classes the freedom from anxiety about health care and college that the rich enjoy. And fund this vast new social safety net through the cash cow of a disguised carbon tax.

Obama is a leveler. He has come to narrow the divide between rich and poor. For him the ultimate social value is fairness. Imposing it upon the American social order is his mission. ”

And to that I say……ummmmm…..and what’s wrong with that?

I urge you to read the full article. For, nowhere does he mention a logical, cogent thought as to why that is bad for the country? Which, is of course nothing but the people of America and it is indeed the people of America that Obama, even according to the incredulous Mr. Krauthammer, is trying to support.

Dyed-in-wool dogmatics like him belong in comics not in newspapers. Somehow to allow equal opportunity, education, energy self-reliance, and relief from anxiety regarding health coverage, food and shelter is implied to be evil!

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What do the people of the world think? – Part II

The Good — In Part I, published on Feb 23rd, we covered the nations with net positive results, i.e. countries viewed favorably by the world populace — at least the populace of the countries that the poll was conducted in.

The Bad — In Part II, I cover the nations with net negative less than 10 points, i.e. countries viewed unfavorably by the world populace but too badly.

The Ugly — In Part III, to be published at a later date,  I will cover the nations with net negative greater than 10 points, i.e. countries viewed  really unfavorably by the world populace.

So without further ado, Part II (China and United States):

Section 1: A re-cap on the poll. 

BBC World Service Poll in conjunction with Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland conducted  13,575 in-home or telephone interviews across a total of 21 countries between 21 November 2008 and 1 February 2009.

The poll asked if the individual’s view of a countries’ influence was “mainly positive”, “mainly negative” or “neutral?” The question was asked about 16 countries. 9 out of 16 countries had a net positive influence and 7 had a net negative influence per the poll (see graph below).

world-poll-2009

 Section 2: Comments on some of the countries with net negative scores.

Rank 10: China

 China is the country with the least net negative points — 1 point —  but has had a swing in the negative direction of 13 points compared to last year. Similar poll in early 2008 showed net positive of 12 points for China.

I believe Olympics has done more harm for China than good: firstly, it brought renewed focus to the annexation of Tibet and the continued supression of human, religious and other rights and secondly, the widespread coverage of pollution in Beijing laid bare the callous approach taken by the Chinese Government towards the environment, natural resources  and forced human migration. The tainted toys and milk scandal also must have contributed to the negative trend.

In general, the communist regime, its mind wash program that still continues via controlled media and demonizes other nations it doesn’t like and its overall cloak and dagger mode of operation leads many to not trust the Chinese establishment.

Rank 11: United States of America

The USA reduced its net negative points from 12 to 3 in one year (2009: 40 positive vs. 43 negative) .  Almost all of that positive bump can be attributed to the huge sigh of relief that emanated from across the globe as President Bush’s term ended. The mindless violence caused by US invasion of Iraq, its unwavering support of Israel despite its draconian measures against Palestinians in peace time and war time alike, and its interference in internal matters of many countries — mostly leading to negative affects — had left little trust for the Bush administration and its policies.

On the other hand, the humanitarian work done by the Bush administration in Africa, the humanitarian causes supported by the people of America at large, the spirit of innovation and the ideals of freedom, equality and prosperity (at least for those living in the US) always gets the USA some support in prosperous and poor countries alike.

I will be watching the 2010 report anxiously. For, despite Obama administration’s positive moves on a various fronts– from investment in alternative energy sources, closing down Guantanamo prison, separation of Science and Politics to withdrawal from Iraq and reaching out to Russia, Iran and Syria — it is the ominous global economic situation caused by, in many peoples minds, by US imposition of broken down form of capitalism on to the globe that will likely drive US popularity down. And I am sure there will be a real battering of American image if the recession continues for a long period of time or gets worse.