Friday, July 10, 2009

Hello, everyone. Hope everyone is well on this Friday. The weekend is almost here and we hope the weather will be nice and seasonable. Which it hasn't been lately.

A couple of items caught my attention, and irritated me mightily, in the news over the last couple of days. The first involved a story on MSNBC which claimed that the leading contender among the plans for health care reform is one based on the Massachusetts plant: everyone pays--or else. In other words, everyone would be required to have their own health care plan (which would include employer provided programs, if offered). Those who can't afford the plans could receive government help to pay for it. I can see this working about as well as the legal mandates that all drivers carry auto insurance. How often have we heard about drivers without insurance (or with inadequate insurance) who have been involved in accidents? Furthermore, it doesn't involve the problem of the insurance companies cherry picking the potential customers and leaving the sickest or most needy for the government to pay for (or to die, whichever comes first.) Also, I haven't seen any mechanism that will bring down medical costs. I know that the insurance companies, the hospital associations and others have publicly announced their willingness to shave costs over the next decade but I have also noticed that there is nothing to compel them to follow through. A number of writers have noticed that these kinds of promises have been more honored in the breech than in the performance in the past. In other words, as soon as the heat was off the promise was quietly forgotten. All this plan does is ensure the future profits of the insurance companies and by extension those of health care providers while doing little to ensure the availability of health care for all of us. Lets go in a different direction.

The second story came out of the recently announced intention of various banks to refuse to accept the State of California's IOUs. Evidently someone (sorry, can't remember who) with the Federal Government floated the idea of creating an exchange on which these pieces of paper could be traded. I can just see how that will play out. As people get desperate for spendable cash to meet their bills (unless you think the grocer, gas station attendant, doctor, or mortgage holder will accept them) they will be forced to sell them for a fraction of their face value to people who will be able to hold them until California (hopefully) will be able to redeem them and then cash them in at full value for a hefty profit. So, you tell me: who gets screwed here? The Feds have refused to bail out California--a decision I do understand. But I cannot see that the Feds should create a system that will gouge ordinary people to enrich those who don't need enriching. I am especially puzzled since so many of the economic pundits have been crying about the lack of consumer spending and its effect in deepening the recession. All this idea would do is reduce consumer spending even more.

We have heard a fair bit on the news about the 'cyber attacks' launched against U.S. and South Korean web sites over the last week. When I first heard the stories a couple of questions came to mind. First, could they really reliably trace the attacks to North Korea. I don't expect the normal standard of proof required for a criminal conviction--beyond a shadow of doubt. But I rather doubt even the more lenient civil standard (preponderance of the evidence) could be proven. I remember the attacks on Latvian sites a little over a year ago which the Latvian government claimed came from Russia. That charge was never proven and criminal elements might just as well have been responsible. Second, even if we can prove that North Korea was responsible, what can we do about it. Well this little article, which has been making the rounds on the internet along with others in the same vein, sums up the situation very neatly. Even if we can make the case we have very few effective responses available to us.

However, this op-ed piece in the Korea Times sums up the problem very well. A successful attack could be devastating on so many levels (financial, military, political, social) because we are so dependent on computers and computer networks. So much of our information, our business, our banking, our control systems are computer based. The notion of cyber attacks have made their way into fiction but reality has been slow to catch up here. Over a decade ago I saw an episode of 'Diagnosis Murder' in which a serial killer used his hacking skills to find his victims and then to harass a lead investigator going so far as to hack into a traffic control computer to manipulate the traffic lights as she was crossing the street. The latest Jeffrey Deaver paperback 'The Broken Window' takes that notion and puts it on steroids. It is a good read especially for Lincoln Rhyme fans.

Time to go and get some piecing done. Bye for now.

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