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The scourge of Government LobbyingIn the last (25 January 2013) issue of eNews, we discussed legalized bribery in America. Several eNews readers pointed out that congressional lobbying - the most blatant form of bribery - was not mentioned. This was simply because, with length restrictions; I had no room to do justice to that subject. So, here is the addendum.
Lobbying in the US has been interpreted by court rulings as "free speech" and is protected by the Constitution. But it is seen in a negative light by the American public and is indeed a blatant form of bribery.
Since the 1970s, lobbying activity has grown immensely in terms of the numbers of lobbyists and the size of lobbying budgets. It is subject to extensive and complex rules which, if not followed, can lead to severe penalties including jail.
Much lobbying is done by corporations. It happens at every level - federal, state, county, municipal, and local Government. In Washington, lobbying usually targets congresspersons, and there have been direct efforts to influence executive agency officials and Supreme Court appointments.
Lobbying is the third largest business in Washington, D.C., after government and tourism. The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750.
The amount that lobbyists charge their clients has increased by as much as 100 percent over the past few years. In an otherwise poor economy, few other businesses have enjoyed greater prosperity.
"K Street" located in Northwest Washington is a center for many think-tanks, lobbyists, and advocacy groups. However, since the late 1980s, many large lobbying firms have moved out and only a small fraction of top lobbying firms remain at K Street.
The lobbying boom was caused by rapid growth in government, and wide acceptance among corporations and other large organizations that they need to hire professional lobbyists to secure federal benefits. Lobbying blatantly causes policies to be instituted by bribery rather than sensible constructive agendas.
Is it possible to fund politicians without them being obliged to pander to those who fund them? As things stand, there is no serious debate on this subject. It's simply the battle of the richest.
What are the solutions? The general public needs to decide how they would like to see politicians funded, without excessive funding of propaganda and act on it. Currently NOTHING is being done to stop, or even curb, the practice.
Watch the Eddie Murphy movie, "Distinguished Gentleman". It shows what lobbyists and members of congress do openly and blatantly. It's supposed to be a comedy. But, is it?
Fracking - opportunity or threat?Hydraulic fracturing, "Fracking", is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth.
Horizontal and vertical drilling allows for injection of highly pressurized fracking fluids into the shale area. This creates channels within the rock from which natural gas is extracted at higher than normal rates. The drilling process goes down more than a mile into the Earth's surface, and then the well is cased with cement to ensure groundwater protection.
Fracking is a dirty industry and is inherently unsafe. The precise recipes for fracking fluids pumped into the ground (carcinogens and other weird stuff) are proprietary and confidential. Clearly there are serious risks of groundwater contamination.
In the US, thanks to aggressive lobbying with federal decision makers, fracking is exempted from the federal legislation that normally protects air and water. Recent attempts by federal agencies and lawmakers to improve oversight of fracking operations have been met with strong resistance from the gas industry and its defenders in the media.
The exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act is often referred to as the Cheney or Halliburton Loophole, because it was negotiated by then Vice President Dick Cheney with Congress in 2005. The industry is aggressively clamping down on local and state efforts to regulate fracking by buying influence and even bringing lawsuits to stop new regulations from being implemented.
Opponents point to potential environmental impacts, including contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, the migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, surface contamination from spills and the flowback and health effects. All of these things contribute to air and water pollution risks and devaluation of land, which turns local communities into "sacrifice zones". It's simply written off as "collateral damage".
Proponents of hydraulic fracturing point to the economic benefits from vast amounts of formerly inaccessible hydrocarbons which the process can extract. It introduces new industrial growth activity into the local communities.
Clearly energy price (with oil price a major factor) is a huge driver of the global macro-economy. Some think that fracking, with all its problems, can perhaps holds the global economy together long enough for cheap solar to take over by 2020. It's using "dirty tech" to hold off collapse and decline.
A member of the Association of Professional Futurists (APF) recently included this insight in the APF discussion list: "There's a kind of madness in civilization that makes us do things like fracking. Behind the madness is a collective method that trades smaller madness against larger un-seen ones."
Smart machines are elimination human jobsThe anticipated recovery has not brought the unemployment rate down significantly in the US and most advanced countries. The reason is that many manufacturers are driving to improve productivity through increased spending on automation because it's cheaper, and requires fewer people. So, regardless of how the economy fares, employment will not attain previous levels.
Two hundred years ago, 70% of American workers lived on farms. Automation eliminated all but 1% of their jobs, replacing them with machines. But, the industrial revolution created hundreds of millions of new jobs in entirely new industries. The erstwhile farmers started working in the factories that produced automobiles, appliances, televisions and other new-age industrial products. Successive new occupations replaced old types of work. Most people were working at jobs that farmers of the 1800s could not have imagined.
Today, that scenario is being repeated. 70% of today's occupations will steadily be replaced by automation. It is just a matter of time. This next wave of automation is centered around artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, cheap sensors, and the pervasive Internet.
Fast emerging intelligent automation will consolidate advances in already-automated industries and steadily affect all types of jobs. Robots able to lift large loads without getting tired will replace humans in all types of manufacturing, warehouse and repetitive work. Fruit and vegetable picking will be robotized - because new machines will be cheaper, more effective and less troublesome than humans.
There is already extensive artificial intelligence in many machines, though it may not be called that. Any job dealing with lots of paperwork will be taken over by machines, including a lot of medical routines. Even surgery will become increasingly robotic - not because it's cheaper, but because machines are more effective and reliable, and can do more than most human doctors.
All routine information-intensive activities will become automated - doctors, lawyers, architects, reporters, even computer programmers. The switch to intelligent machines will be everywhere. It's already begun.
To better understand the impact of technology on jobs, the Associated Press analyzed employment data from 20 countries and interviewed economists, technology experts, robot manufacturers, software developers, and workers who are competing with smarter machines. They found that almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000. These are jobs that are the backbone of the middle class in developed countries - Europe, North America and Asia.
In the United States, half of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession paid middle-class wages; the numbers are even more grim in Europe. A total of 7.6 million mid-level jobs disappeared in those countries from January 2008 through June 2012. Those jobs were replaced, in most cases, by machines and software that can do the same work better and cheaper.
The questions remain: Where will new middle-class employment emerge? Or, will the middle-class simply disappear?
Everything connected via smartphones & tabletsFor several years now, we've discussed the Pervasive Internet and the Internet of Things (IoT) - a world where nearly everything will be connected to everything else. In the past, this was just an idea. But now, it is starting to emerge almost everywhere. It's becoming reality.
More and more connected things are accessible via smartphones and tablets. This is because hardware intelligence by itself is useless without being connected for display and control by the user. Connected gadgets can be modified, programmed and used to display and control most of the variables in the environment. The hardware used to be a stand-alone device. But it becomes vastly more useful when connected.
These smart connections are expanding rapidly in the realm of smart health and personal sensors. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) the pavilion for the smart/connected health area was huge - body sensor products gathered information that was displayed with smartphone apps. The hardware was more than just hardware.
This is where most technology applications are headed. Because of the rapid worldwide adoption of smartphones and tablets, they function as the device to display, interact and record almost everything. The hardware is made smarter through the connections and applications that add value.
The addition of intelligence to vehicles has already started happening and within just a few years from now, cars will contain more than 50% more smarts than they did just five years ago. As we have discussed, the cars of the future will indeed be able to drive themselves.
Similar changes are also happening in other aspects of our lives - in factories, transportation, school systems, stadiums and other public venues. Embedded processing is everywhere.
The pieces of the technology puzzle are coming together to accommodate the Pervasive Internet sooner than most people expect. Just as the Internet phenomenon happened not so long ago and caught like wildfire, the Internet of Things (IoT) will touch every aspect of our lives.
Are you ready for it?
Post-PC EraIn recent years, everyone has recognized that the era of the personal computer (PC) is over. The shift from PCs to post-PC devices is a lot more than just replacing desktops and notebooks with smartphones and tablets; it's a shift in how we interact with technology.
What we are seeing is not the death of the PC, but the gradual erosion of its importance; a shift in focus away from traditional systems and onto newer devices. PCs are giving way to post-PC devices like smartphones and tablets. Raw horsepower and terabytes of storage have given way to low power consumption and cloud storage.
The shift from PCs to post-PC devices is the change in how people interact with, and even bond with, electronic devices. Recent studies have shown that most children spend more than 25% of their time on their smart-phones. The post-PC devices are more intimate, and far less likely to be shared with others. Most PCs have several users; a tablet or smartphone usually has only one.
Raw horsepower is no longer important. Processors are now so powerful that even inexpensive gadgets are powerful enough to handle most tasks. So power and performance have now been sidelined. Rarely do people talk about smart processing and gigahertz anymore.
Low energy is the new benchmark. The drive for higher performance has been replaced by the push for longer battery life. People now want devices that will last the entire day. As much efficiency as possible is being squeezed from the hardware. The post-PC era demands devices that are small, cool and quiet.
In the old days, it cost a lot to add megabytes of storage - and it was never enough. Today, you can add super-fast solid state storage to a PC for about a dollar per gigabyte. But local storage requirements are actually falling as more and more data is being pushed into the cloud.
And there's more to cloud storage than just cheap storage. The Cloud offers a convenient solution to syncing data across multiple devices. So, when you get a new tablet or smartphone, your contacts and messages magically appear. Your home or office can be anywhere.
eFeedbackBob Fritz [firstname.lastname@example.org] felt that my article about bribery in Congress did not provide solutions. He sent this list:
Here is my list of solutions:
"Unfortunately, we'll never get the ruling class, who masquerades as public servants, to consider such restrictions on their ill-gotten gains."
"For a 'Snowbird' like me, paperless is really great since I have most everything in both places. I do, however, still have to screw my mailbox shut up North when I head South to prevent the USPS from delivering mail that is supposed to be forwarded!"
"The courses I have taught were less formula-driven than some in engineering, math or science, but required a good deal of student interaction along with consultation from the instructor.
"Some of those who were least ready for a final MBA concentration course came to mine and were outraged when they received poor grades for inadequate performance.
"I understand the value of using such tools and use them in my own company's training programs. But, I believe that seminars lose a lot in the absence of face-to-face meetings.
"Perhaps I'm just an old traditionalist, but until there are better communications platforms, I think I'll stay with a preponderance of real-interaction rather than the cyber variety."
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