Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Home Schooling

There are reported to be between 1.9 to 2.4 million children in the US who are home schooled.

Now (hat tip to Instapundit) we have a German couple seeking political asylum in the United States because they fear oppression in their home country, where home schooling has been illegal since 1938 (for the youngest of you, that was back when Nazi Germany was swallowing Austria and the Sudetenland part of Czechoslovakia).
MORRISTOWN, Tenn. - Homeschooling is so important to Uwe Romeike that the classically trained pianist sold his beloved grand pianos to pay for moving his wife and five children from Germany to the Smoky Mountain foothills of Tennessee.

Romeike, his wife, Hannelore, and their children live in a modest duplex about 40 miles northeast of Knoxville while they seek political asylum here.  They say they were persecuted for their evangelical Christian beliefs and homeschooling their children in Germany, where school attendance is compulsory.
As noted, home schooling in Germany is a pretty limited option.
Germany's approach to homeschooling is starkly different to the U.S. and other European countries.  Homeschool students have been growing by an estimated 8 percent annually in the U.S. and as of 2007 totaled about 1.5 million.

Only about 500 children in Germany are taught at home, experts estimate.
The Romeike family comes from Bietigheim-Bissingen, in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, in Southwest Germany.  Bietigheim-Bissingen is a city about half the size of Lowell, and not far from the American community of Kaiserslautern (K-town).

I sure hope our system grants asylum to this couple and their children.  We are still a nation where people who want to be a little freer come to exercise that freedom.  I like that about our nation and am proud to be an American because of it.  We aren't perfect, but we work at providing people with the freedom to nudge us along toward that ultimate goal.

Regards  --  Cliff

Monday, March 30, 2009

Names and Addresses

Left in Lowell has provided us with the names, addresses, and in most cases, phone numbers for the members of the Lowell City Council.  The link is here.

Lynne also provided a link to Lowell's "E-Gov," where you can send an EMail to one or more or all of the members of the City Council.  That is here.

Also, Mimi provides the two missing phone numbers.  CC R. Elliott (978) 937-8165; CC K. Broderick (978) 937-0545.

Remember, these are phone phone numbers, so be polite and be quick.

Very nice.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS:  You don't have to agree with Lynne on the issue of the Arena to take advantage of this fine offer.  The Arena is a difficult call and there are differing views. Lynne obviously thinks the deal under consideration is dumber than dirt and wants everyone to call the City Council and tell them to just say no.  Flip side is that a better deal is going to require an investment of time and effort that may just not be available at this time.  A down turn is not a good time to make a big dollar decision.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Happy Times

I am going to have to ask my Parish Priest about this Boston Globe article, "BC Students move Ayers event."  I missed it, while noting the Yvonne Abraham column to its left and the wonderful picture of Jordan Tsavalakoglou and his shop below it.  My wife pointed it out to me.

Mr William Ayers talking about "The State of Democracy in America"?  This is like asking an German U-boat captain to talk about the state of travel by boat on the North Atlantic during World War II.

Regards  --  Cliff

The New Kindle

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, had this to say about the Kindle 2, a wireless device for reading books, etc:

SO I’VE HAD MY KINDLE 2 for about a month now, and I’ve read quite a few books, both fiction and nonfiction on it, as well as the Financial Times, which I subscribed to, and InstaPundit.  What do I think?

Reading a book on the Kindle is every bit as engrossing as reading a book on paper.  I’ve enjoyed the stuff I’ve read just as much, and it’s just as easy.  In dim light it’s better — you can boost the text size to read in light that would be too dim for a small-print paperback.  Reading the FT is fine. Reading InstaPundit . . . well, it’s okay.  I don’t think the blog translates as well to the Kindle. You can follow links, but you often wind up on a website that doesn’t display very well on the Kindle.

Using it in public places — cafes, restaurants, even once at the car wash — I’ve been surprised that most of the people who approach me to ask about it are women.  (I’ve noticed this with the little netbook computers, too.)  Women aren’t generally that interested in gadgets, but the Kindle is one they like.  “It fits in my purse,” is a common remark.  It’s perhaps a coincidence, but every one of these women has had an iPhone already — was that some sort of “gateway gadget?”  The Kindle 2 does seem sort of Apple-like in design.
I gave (my wife and I gave) a Kindle2 as a birthday present earlier this month.  Perhaps the recipient will be bold enough to actually post a comment to this post, expressing his opinion.

Regards  --  Cliff

Request for a Tax Increase

The New York Times, in its "Week in Review" section, had an interesting item, with a request for a tax increase.

What attracted me to this OpEd was the graphic that went with it, five white and blue lines on black sketches of public transportation vehicles in New York City, viewed from the top with the roofs cut away.  Inside is show the passengers on a single trip, with notes.  The passengers are circles with an "x" in them.  Nearly each human being was provided with a short note about him or her (bus drivers were shown, but no notes provided).  Here is a PDF of the artwork.

The words to go with the sketches lay out the situation with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). As the OpEd says:
... the Metropolitan Transportation Authority faces a $1.2 billion deficit. And on Wednesday, the M.T.A. ratified a doomsday plan to increase the fare for a single ride by 50 cents, to $2.50, and to eliminate or reduce service on 100 bus and five subway lines.
Thus, the need for a fare increase or for a tax increase, either for the City of New York or the State of New York.  The other option is for the Federal Government to print money.

Per Wikipedia (explained here), the MTA is a large operation, averaging 11,000,000 passengers on weekdays.  Its toll bridges and tunnels carry some 800,000 vehicles on that same average day. It is a big operation.

Assuming that some of the 800,000 vehicles carry more than one person, the deficit looks to be about $100 per passenger. That would be about 40 cents per work day.  As is usually the case when I read the news, the numbers bother me.  If it really is 40 cents a day (given the $1.2 billion number is correct), why 50 cents a ride increase?  I sent the MTA an EMail.  My reference number is "090329-000050".  I am guessing that means I am the 50th EMail inquiry today.  If I get an answer I will post it as a "Comment."

I am sympathetic to the two authors, Miranda Purves and Jason Logan.  The current economic crisis (I can't bring myself to call it a "Depression" just yet, but it is one very serious "Recession") will not turn around quickly if it becomes harder for people to go about their daily tasks or travel around their locale to find work.  On the other hand, someone has to pay. In the case of the MTA, that would be "rate payers," those who own property, as the story itself says.

Being a mayor or governor in these times is tough.  It is a period of testing.

Regards  --  Cliff


Douglas Sussman, Director, Community Affairs, responded to my EMail at 0750 this AM and said he would try to get me an answer from the experts.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Comments on the Economic Crisis

A friend of mine, Charlie Spika, sent this along,with a note:
Mr. Daniel Hannan is a Conservative in the mold of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.  I sincerely hope he will soon become the next British Prime Minister.
Charlie spent several years living in the UK, working with the Brits.

The title of this "You Tube" (3:28 Minute) clip is "Daniel Hannan MEP:  The devalued Prime Minister of a devalued Government."  Mr Hannan is a little rough on his own Prime Minister, during the Prime Minister's visit to the European Parliament, on 24 March of this year.

The one thing this does bring up is the question of the best path out of the current economic crisis.  MEP Hannan says a Government can not spend its way out of such a situation. In fact, his nation, the UK, did not try to do so in the 1930s.  The result was that while there were pockets of poverty, the nation as a whole was on its feet by 1935.

Frankly, I don't know what will work and what won't work.  Ten years from now, if we do a good analysis, we will know.

Regards  --  Cliff

Mexico and Hezbollah

Back to Professor Skip Bacevich and his point about Mexico.

Here is an article in The Washington Times, "Hezbollah uses Mexican drug routes into U.S."

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a serious problem.  Hezbollah (remember, they run southern Lebanon) uses Latin America as a place to earn cash to finance their activities.  Interestingly enough, their sponsor, Iran, is being chummy with both Venezuela and Nicaragua. Here are the first three paragraphs of the article:
Hezbollah is using the same southern narcotics routes that Mexican drug kingpins do to smuggle drugs and people into the United States, reaping money to finance its operations and threatening U.S. national security, current and former U.S. law enforcement, defense and counterterrorism officials say.

The Iran-backed Lebanese group has long been involved in narcotics and human trafficking in South America's tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.  Increasingly, however, it is relying on Mexican narcotics syndicates that control access to transit routes into the U.S.

Hezbollah relies on "the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts as the drug cartels," said Michael Braun, who just retired as assistant administrator and chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
It is kind of a longish article, but interesting.

One thing that we have to consider, if we think that Hezbollah (or Mexican drug cartels) poses a threat to our nation, is the issue of illegal immigration.  Illegal immigrants operate in the Underground Economy, outside the disinfecting light that shines on the above ground economy.  An Underground Economy of any substance encourages corruption, both private and official. Neither of those is good when fighting people engaged in human and drug trafficking.

Our present arrangement, arrived at by not being willing to compromise on any one approach, is achieving nothing and leaving us vulnerable.  Our children will look back on us and sigh in disbelief that we were unable to realize the danger and come up with a solution that was both equitable and effective.

Regards  --  Cliff

Ten Views on Obama Strategy for Afghanistan

Here is a column from this coming Sunday's Washington Post.  It provides ten snapshot views of the President's new Strategy for Afghanistan.

People include Thomas E. Ricks (former Wash Post military reporter), Andrew J. Bacevich (Army retired and Boston College), Representative and former Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, Sarah Chayes (Advisor to Commander of US and NATO Troops in Afghanistan), Gilles Dorronsoro (Scholar), Clint Douglas (Former Army and freelance writer), John Nagl (Army retired and Tom Ricks' boss), Thomas H. Johnson (NPS), Andrew Natsios (local chap makes good and teaches at Georgetown) and Meghan O'Sullivan (now at Harvard).

Here is a sample:
Ask yourself:  When it comes to American prosperity and security, which matters more--Afghanistan or Mexico?  The question answers itself.  So if the United States has billions of dollars lying idle that it wishes to invest in development and security assistance, why prioritize Afghanistan?
And here Representative Kucinich makes a good point:
As President Obama's plan takes shape, it must carefully balance the imperative to withdraw with the need to help the Afghan people.  The ultimate goal must be to bring our troops home safely -- and soon.
And this, which is the last paragraph:
While many of Iraq's lessons do not fit Afghanistan, the centrality of population security is one worth remembering as the president recommits America to solving the challenges of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This was going to be a short post, but then I had to add a quote, and then another...

Regards  --  Cliff

Bloggers Chided

Last evening, on "Beat the Press" the panel was talking about the 30 layoffs at The Boston Globe this week.  Truthfully, I missed it.  I am sure The Globe buried it, and my normal source for Globe news either didn't notice it or didn't bother to mention it.  But, she is distracted by developing a paper topic for her Continuing Ed course.

We can all scoff at the press, and talk about this or that fisking of The New York Times (or other news sources), but there are folks out there who already fear the "new media."

For example, the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, sees "powerful bloggers" as being responsible for the failure of the appointment of Chas Freeman to the National Intelligence Council.  This is from a transcript of a press conference held by Admiral Blair
On the Charles – on the Chas Freeman appointment, I am happy to say that looking around this room, there was pretty responsible reporting on Chas, but apparently you guys aren’t bloggers, as – (laughter) – or you guys aren’t as powerful bloggers as some that I discovered when I made the announcement.  I thought he was a good pick, I still think he’s a – still think he would have made a great National Intelligence Council Chairman, but it wasn’t to be, and so we’re – lesson learned, moving on.
I found this at Ben Smith's page on Politico.  Hat tip to Instapundit.

The problem with the analysis by Admiral Blair is that it is either blatant pandering to the MSM or it confuses the message with the political reality.  There is, of course, the John J. Mearsheimer view that it is all about a very powerful lobby.  Here is one version, from NPR's Web Site, of how these things get intertwined.

The problem is, making good intelligence assessments requires:
  • the facts,
  • an understanding of the facts,
  • the ability to do "lateral thinking" (thinking "outside the box"), and
  • the belief on the part of the political principals receiving the analysis that it is being provided by a fair-minded analyst
Which brings us back to blaming the blogs, rather than looking at Mr Freeman's previous comments and relationships.

I worry about the MSM going away.  I would missed it if it were to disappear.  That said, let us not blame "the blogs" for outcomes we don't like.  It is a free marketplace of ideas out there.  The blogs are part of that marketplace.

Regards  --  Cliff

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hanging on to History

I love history.  I have been taking history courses at UMass Lowell Continuing Education for several years and now my wife and I do it together.

But, there is a thing about history.  It can be a trap of bitterness.  I thought about this when I read the following two paragraphs by someone I know through the Internet:
Some years ago in Japan, I did a story on the revival of the Japanese camera industry, the first industry to produce a luxury good after the devastation of WWII.  In the course of the reporting, I asked a camera company executive why Japanese were so fond of cameras.  He explained:  "We Japanese are a retrospective people.  We look back into the past of our families, for instance, and we want a record of births and entering school and graduation and entering a company and marriage and on and on."  Then he looked at me and said:  "That's what makes us different from you Americans.  You Americans, you never look back.  Tomorrow is more important to you than yesterday."

The more I have thought about that, the more I think that Japanese taught me something profoundly true about my own country. We Americans never look back.  That is at once a strength and a weakness.  One of the strengths is that we don't hold grudges.  The weakness is that often we don't learn the lessons that history could teach us.
This are both good points.

As someone else in our EMail group noted, we fought the British twice and they are our strongest ally.  We fought the French once (informal war) and then went on to fight with them for their freedom twice in the last century.  We fought the Germans twice, but today see them as good friends, as we do the Japanese, who 65 years ago we detested.

Back when travel averaged only a few miles an hour, it was not so much of a problem that people would say, "Let me tell you about what they did to us back in 1310."  Today, when travel is so much easier and quicker (you can drive from Paris to Munich in about a day), that kind of thinking is dangerous.  For example, peace between Israel and Palestine will depend upon both sides being able to look forward, rather than looking back.

In Lowell we have many different groups that have come here and looked forward, helping to build and rebuild our City and launching us toward the future.  Let us hope that continues to be our path and vision.  Let us hope we can teach our children that "Tomorrow is more important to you than yesterday."

Regards  --  Cliff

Civil Society and AFPAK (or is it PAKAF?)

Juan Williams, who I think of as an NPR reporter, used the term "Civil Society" on FOX News just now, talking about some of the work being outlined by the Obama Administration for future policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, which the administration believes need to be treated as a unity from a US policy perspective.

The President said:
So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal:  to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.  That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just.
The Administration "White Paper" is here.&npsp; And, there is a mention of "civil society."
We must engage the Pakistani people based on our long-term commitment to helping them build a stable economy, a stronger democracy, and a vibrant civil society.
I wasn't enthused by Juan's picks for the final four, but I did like the rationale of one of the panelist--Charles Krauthammer, who picked four small school, because, as a Conservative, he believes "the meek shall inherit the earth."

Regards  --  Cliff

Med Evac

A quick shot.

Someone passed along this video from the San Francisco Chronicle.

The video takes 5:58.  The subject is an air evacuation mission from a Reserve Component stationed at Travis AFB, outside San Francisco, California.  They fly to Ramstein AB (The Stein) in Germany and then on to Iraq, back to The Stein to drop off and pick up wounded military members and then back to the States, where they drop the patients off at the appropriate hospitals.

This kind of thing makes me proud of the Air Force and the Reserve Component.

Regards  --  Cliff

Thursday, March 26, 2009

AIG Bonus Tax Vote--Fallout

I posted on the AIG Bonus issue previously ("AIG Bonus Tax Vote").

Since then, and not because of me, President Obama has done the right thing and said he would veto such a bill if it were to get past the US Senate. Did Representative Barney Frank really vote for this stinker?

Now we have the resignation EMail of Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president of the American International Group’s financial products unit (AIG FP). It was sent to Edward M. Liddy, the chief executive of AIG--the chap who testified before Congress the other day.

The day after Mr DeSantis' EMail appeared in the New York Times we had the Secretary of the Treasury saying that they want authority to regulate even more branches of the financial industry. Per the Washington Post we have this item:
In written testimony submitted today to the House Financial Services Committee, Geithner called for regulators to impose executive compensation standards on all financial firms. The guidelines would push firms to base pay on employees' long-term performance, curtailing big paydays for short-term victories.
As much as I would like to see executive compensation skewed in the direction of a focus on a firm's long-term performance, I worry about the Federal Government setting standards and limits directly. (If they incentivized Boards to do that, I think I might feel much better about it.) What I see is a long term trend where bright young men and women will not pursue jobs in the financial sector, but look elsewhere for the challenges and the compensation. While that might be good overall, it will mean that lucrative financial business might go to London or Paris or Zurich or Singapore.

The good news is that the DOW went up 175 today.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS: If you look at the written testimony from Secretary Geithner, you will notice that it appears to have 1.25 inch left and right margins, just like Microsoft Word has when it is first installed. I think that if the Obama Administration is really serious about "going green" they would encourage everyone to change those settings in M/S Word to 1 inch all around. On line it doesn't make any difference, but a lot of those people on Capitol Hill are old and probably have to hold the paper in their hands. The longer the document the more important it is to have good margins.

Name Change

Reporters Scott Wilson and Al Kamen of The Washington Post yesterday (Wednesday) told us that the Pentagon is putting the kibosh on terms such as war on terror and long war are out.
In a memo e-mailed this week to Pentagon staff members, the Defense Department's office of security review noted that "this administration prefers to avoid using the term 'Long War' or 'Global War on Terror' [GWOT.]  Please use 'Overseas Contingency Operation.' "
But, it is DC, so we have Mr Kenneth Baer, an OMB spokesman, saying
There was no memo, no guidance.  This is the opinion of a career civil servant.
I wonder what that means?

The article goes on to note that in February the International Commission of Jurists urged the Obama administration to
drop the phrase "war on terror."  The commission said the term had given the Bush administration "spurious justification to a range of human rights and humanitarian law violations," including detention practices and interrogation methods that the International Committee of the Red Cross has described as torture.
Maybe.  But, I don't think so.  I think blaming Jack Bauer would be more likely closer to the truth.

On the other hand, here is commentary by John Nagl, a retired Army officer and a knowledgeable person in the field.  He is the author of the well received Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife:  Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam.  From the same Wash Post article:
John A. Nagl, the former Army officer who helped write the military's latest counterinsurgency field manual, said the phrase "was enormously unfortunate because I think it pulled together disparate organizations and insurgencies."

"Our strategy should be to divide and conquer rather than make of enemies more than they are," said Nagl, now president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense policy think tank in Washington.  "We are facing a number of different insurgencies around the globe--some have local causes, some of them are transnational. Viewing them all through one lens distorts the picture and magnifies the enemy."
And what does "Contingency Operation" imply?  Per the DoD Dictionary, here is the definition of a "contingency."
"Definition: (DOD) A military operation that is either designated by the Secretary of Defense as a contingency operation or becomes a contingency operation as a matter of law (10 USC 101(a)(13)).  It is a military operation that a. is designated by the Secretary of Defense as an operation in which members of the Armed Forces are or may become involved in military actions, operations, or hostilities against an enemy of the United States or against an opposing force; or b. is created by definition of law.  Under 10 USC 101 (a)(13)(B), a contingency operation exists if a military operation results in the (1) callup to (or retention on) active duty of members of the uniformed Services under certain Enumerated Statutes (10 USC Sections 688, 12301(a), 12302, 12304, 12305, 12406, or 331-335) (2) the callup to (or retention on) active duty of members of the uniformed Services under other (non-enumerated) statutes during war or national emergency declared by the President or Congress."
It should be added that "contingency operation" has specific meaning and force of law in the legal area--with respect to 1) the triggering of UCMJ jurisdiction, and 2) the triggering of certain federal acquisition authorities, among other things.

But, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Regards  --  Cliff

Flag Men Again

Matt Murphy has an article in today's Lowell Sun on a new report on savings to be achieved--or not--by replacing police details with civilian "flaggers."

Question 1, Matt. Is flaggers a real word?

The article cites a report from Auditor Joseph DeNucci's office.

Question 2, Matt. Shouldn't The Lowell Sun have provided a link for us with the "on line" edition?

The report from Auditor DeNucci's office says that the saving are not as great as predicted by Governor Patrick's office.
Based on our analysis, EOTPW’s estimated annual cost savings projections of between $5.7 and $7.2 million by replacing police details with flaggers and other traffic control devices are overstated.  Only 11% of EOTPW’s estimated savings would be realized by replacing police officers with flaggers.  This is based on our study of contracts which reveals it is a reduction of overall man-hours, whether police or civilian, which accounts for $4.4 to $5.6 million of our revised, adjustment downward of EOTPW’s estimated savings of between $5,015,000 to $6,350,000.
Did that say that the Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works (EOTPW) confused the savings from using civilians with the savings from working less hours?  Mixing those two savings was sloppy on the part of EOTPW.  It appears potentials savings is under a million dollars.  That said, if it was all about money, it would be worth it.  We could use that money up here for our school system in Lowell.

Appendix D of the report from Mr DeNucci's office cites 24 representative cases where someone on a police detail was able to use his or her training and authority to
intervene in life saving situations, apprehending known felons with outstanding warrants, mediating domestic violence situations and taking into custody murder and rape suspects.
These were not all the cases and only represented those noted during the period of the audit.

This raises two interesting questions.
  1. Who was watching the work while the person on police detail was off doing important police work?
  2. If this is really police availability, should it not also be paid official duty?
I bring this up because I believe that while every other state is able to use civilians as flag-persons, the special situation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts demands police providing traffic control at work sites along our roads and highways (this is a reversal of my previous position)*.  Until we are able to massively rebuild our roads, they will present unique problems for those who work along them.

This, in turn, says that Police Details are inherently police work and should not be treated as off-duty work on the part of police.  Thus, City and Town police departments need to allocate this work as part of the normal shift assignments.

That said, we need to ask ourselves about how we get from where we are to where we need to be.  By making these details official police business, we will be initially increasing the duty day of all police.  Eventually, we need to reduce police work days and work weeks to reasonable hours.  These are men and women who are armed and providing for our safety.  They need sufficient rest between shifts.  We have learned that particular lesson with aircrews and with physicians.  The macho view of going long shifts just results in mistakes, often fatal mistakes.  Do you wish for your airline pilot or your surgeon to have just come off spending four or five hours doing flag duty for the last couple of days, on top of normal flying or cutting?

But, as police details are pulled into the local police departments as legitimate and necessary police work we need to help those policemen and policewomen who have come to depend upon paid detail work as part of their annual income.  We need a stabilization fund that will allow us to bridge this gap.  The last thing we need is a member of a police department who is financially in over his or her head.  To be subtle about it, highly sophisticated cartels are spreading north out of Mexico, looking to corrupt our police.  We need to fight that any way we can.  I know the police in Lowell are clean, but what about the ones in "X"?

Some common sense and political courage is in order here.

Regards  --  Cliff

* That said, I still think modifying the gas pump handles is over the top.  I am open to data to the contrary.

Great Letter to the Editor

On Monday The Boston Globe published an Editorial on future defense spending "Gates Against the Complex."  In this editorial The Globe argues that that it is time to drop weapons systems and bases that supported the Cold War.

This followed an article by Reporter Bryan Bender on Secretary of Defense Gates' work inside the Pentagon to trim defense spending.  Using the normal procedures of anonymous sources (people with agendas, but lacking the fortitude to stand by them in public), the report sketched out what is expected to be the path of future procurement.  With the cost of personnel now up around 60% of the Defense Budget, new acquisition becomes even more the target of defense cuts.  The Secretary is supposed to be meeting with his Combatant Commanders (the four-star war fighters out in the field) soon to discuss the future.

One of the points in Reporter Bender's article is the resistance of Senators and Members of the House to cuts of programs that mean jobs in the district or state.  Look at what happened when the Navy was talking of cutting DDG-1000.  Senator Kennedy, and others, spoke up and the Navy ordered another hull.  This is an important program for Raytheon, amongst others.  Here is the push trumpeted on Senator John Kerry's web site.

Today there were three Letters to the editor on the subject of the Editorial. Here Sayre Sheldon of Natick, president emerita of Women's Action for New Directions, a national women's peace group, says we all have to stand together if we are going to end this sort of thing.  She also credits Representative Barney Frank for being against Defense bloat.

Then there is the letter from Richard B Olson, of Provincetown, who argues that we will sell the F-22 Raptor "to regimes in the Middle East or elsewhere where they might fall into hostile hands."  He then argues that we will then have to acquire an even better fighter, keeping the arms race going--an "arms race--with ourselves."

And, in the middle, a long letter by yours truly, saying that acquisition should be based upon a strategy and asks for the Globe's strategy.

We need a conversation, but I haven't found the venue where it is being conducted.

On a side note, we lost an F-22 today, and the pilot, out at Edwards AFB.  In the article is this short paragraph
Lockheed Martin says there are 95,000 jobs at 1,000 companies connected to the F-22,
You can safely bet that those 95,000 jobs are spread across more than half the States in the Union.  Maybe even more than half the Congressional Districts.

Regards  --  Cliff

Out Back Question of the Week

Which political appointee here in the Commonwealth just asked for a pay cut of one-third (from $175,000 to $120,000)?

We know how she got the post.  Bob's your uncle.

UPDATED  New salary corrected from $150,000 to $120,000.  Thanks to Kad Barma for noting the error.

Also, answer Sunday evening.

Regards  --  Cliff

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Microsoft Project 2007

My wife is taking a history course at UMass Lowell, looking at the Holocaust.  The Professor's term is "the twisted road to Auschwitz." A good term.  It comes from historian Karl A. Schleunes.

And, there are a lot of threads, including the German T4 program, that killed thousands of the disabled--people characterized as "Useless Eaters."  This was a Euthanasia Program that took 70,000 lives, regardless of race, creed or class.  There are the various starts and stops in programs to marginalize the Jews, before the Germans got down to killing 6 million.  Then there is the whole GeneralPlanOst, which would have displaced or killed up to 40 million people.  That is 40 as in forty.

How to capture all this and lay it out and see the interconnectedness? Having used Microsoft Project at work, I thought it would be a good tool.  My wife could get a copy through the University for one year for $80.  If it turned out to be the Cat's Meow, we could buy a full up copy.

The program arrived yesterday and I installed it on my wife laptop this evening. Then I tried to set up a simple set of activities, like the timeline of major foreign affairs and wartime events (Munich, War with Poland, Attack on France, Attack on USSR, etc).  Another timeline for the Anti-Jewish efforts--Nuremberg Laws, Assassination in Paris, Krystallnacht.  Not perfect--it cascades down, for instance--but it seemed to me to be easier than doing it in Powerpoint.

My problem was that Microsoft Project only runs from 1 January 1984 to the last day of 2049.  I dummied the data up by projecting it forward 100 years, but still, it looks funny and the days of the week are off.

My first question is why?

My next question is if there is a patch out there to overcome this.  So, of course I went to the Microsoft Help facility.  Nothing in Help itself, so I went to the Microsoft home page. What a rat's nest of misdirection.  I kept looking for a phone number to call and could not find one, although there were statements that it existed.  Finally, I followed the line toward contract help services, which could cost up from $250 a day. A non-starter.  I want to talk to someone before I offer to fork over that kind of money.

So, I am (1) unhappy with Microsoft Project and believe I was sold a poorly designed product.  Put another way, the people that wrote the requirements live in a small cage and are unable to think about the larger uses to which their product could be adapted.

And, I am (2) very unhappy with customer support from Microsoft.  Sure, Microsquish makes pretty good and pretty robust products, but customer support leaves a lot to be desired.

If anyone out in the real world has a work-around (besides my bumping everything forward a century), please let me know--crk@theworld.com.

Thanks and Rant Off.

Regards  --  Cliff

Campaign Donations Next Year

There is commentary from Law Professor Glenn Reynolds on political donations from Wall Street (and businessmen at large) to the flock of politicians on Capitol Hill. It is in Forbes. When you click on the link here there may be a short advert that pops up before the Column.

The first paragraph reads:
An honest politician, as an old saw has it, is one who stays bought. If this is true, then we have the most dishonest bunch of officeholders ever, and it may lead Wall Street to reconsider its donations in the future.
Then he lists some of the donations:
"Some of the AIG donations to lawmakers include Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., $103,100; then-Sen., now President Barack Obama, D-Ill., $101,332; then-Sen., now Vice President Joe Biden, D-Del., $19,975; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., $59,499; former Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., $35,965; Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., $11,000; and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., $24,750."
Worse, Professor Reynolds notes that it appears Senator Dodd can not be bought, he can only be leased.

This doesn't even count Senator Chris Dodd's wife being on the board of directors of an AIG subsidiary for four years. She didn't make a fortune, but given Senator Dodd's position on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, it is at least tacky.

Congress is about legislating and listening to constituencies. Working people are a constituency. A subset of that constituency is the businessmen (and women) who are key to making key resource allocation decisions that make the economy go. They too are a constituency. They have every right to petition Congress and make contributions. It seems Congress took the money and then abandoned those who contributed, but are not willing to give the money back.

Here is the end of the column:
Politicians are already gearing up for the 2010 election season. That means many of the same members of Congress who are currently running with the lynch mob will be back in search of more contributions soon enough.

Perhaps folks in the financial industry should tell them no and consider donating to candidates who believe in free markets--and who possess a bit of backbone--instead. If incumbents' offers of "protection" are illusory, you might as well support people who believe in what you do. A Congress with a sense of decency and a respect for markets would be better protection than the questionable gratitude of politicos anyway.
Regards  --  Cliff

Blog Lunch

Actually, more like a late morning coffee.  Next time I am ordering a sandwich right at the beginning.  But, I did get to have lunch with my wife.

As Greg Page, The New Englander noted, there was a small luncheon meeting of a few of the local Lowell bloggers.  Present were Greg Page, Dick Howe, Tony Accardi, Jackie Doherty and me.  I learned a couple of things.

As Greg mentioned in his post, we got the quick rundown on Twitter.  We also learned that Tony teaches a class on "citizen journalism," which he promotes on another name, which has slipped my mind.  Middlesex.

We all marveled at the number of blogs in Lowell and how the blog "Lowell Handmade" keeps a running list of local blogs and what they have posted most recently. As Tony Accardi points out this blog is a service to the community at large.

We also agreed that putting up a good blog post can take some time out of the day.  That is because of concern for getting the words right (I will be checking with my wife on some English when she gets back from her music duties today).  And, there are the links, when appropriate. Finally, there is the concern that we say the right thing.  As the dustup, mentioned here and here, over The Sun's editorial on the School System shows, getting it right and conveying it right are important.  The fact of blogger fatigue got mentioned. It seems easier when there is a team doing it, as with Dick Howe's blog or Left in Lowell.

Greg Page says that he skips those blogs that talk about "dear diary" stuff.  And rightfully so.  But, maybe not so for all.  The term blog comes from Web Log, which is sort of a diary.  It is like Facebook, at least as I understand Facebook, which is limited, although my middle Brother just linked up with me last night.  (I was surprised that he was that far along technologically.  His Daughter must have shown him how.)  A blog can be a way to keep in touch. For some, a blog is still that and my hat is off to those who blog to keep in touch with family and friends.  But, with the overwhelming number of blogs out there, it is necessary to pare down the information.

And, we talked about the demise of newspapers. I am not looking forward to that.

The large number of blogs in Lowell is a comment about the residents of Lowell as being on the leading edge.  It also raises the question as to how we can foster this trend and help make our work force, our students, and our overall citizenry even further out on the leading edge.  In the new economy, that will be important.

Regards  --  Cliff

Monday, March 23, 2009

This country wasn't built from Washington

I have been on Marc Cenedella's EMail list for several years.  Mr Cenedella is the founder and CEO of "The Ladders," a placement firm.  I can't recall how I got on the list, but didn't opt off, in case I needed help getting a job due to being laid off.  On the other hand, I am on their free "basic" service plan.

Since I moved here I have been lucky and have not needed to find a new job.  Normally I just delete the Cenedella EMails when I see them.  This time I didn't.  Maybe it was the subject line--"Who's Going to Fix this Mess?"

At any rate, he went to a conference over the weekend and ran into Arizona Senator Jon Kyle.  So, Marc says:
Senator Kyl, who's going to fix this mess?
You know the answer:
You are.
Then the specifics from Senator Kyle:
  1. Get involved politically. Whatever party you're in, get active.
  2. Get involved through civic groups. Whether you're a CPA, or a member of the bar, or a concerned tech executive, or just a patriotic citizen from Boston (Manchester, NH), get active through your civil, professional, or industry associations.
  3. But most of all, Senator Kyl urged, don't wait for Washington.   This country wasn't built from Washington, and it sure isn't going to be saved by Washington. It's going to be the efforts, and the toil, and the work, of the real leaders of the country - people like you who can make a difference every day by making your companies and your communities stronger and better.
As Marc Cenedella said in his EMail:  "Well, folks, that seemed like pretty good advice to me, so I wanted to share it with you."

I loved the line:  "This country wasn't built from Washington, and it sure isn't going to be saved by Washington."  Washington will play a key role, but in the end it will be all of us who will make the difference.  It will be our collective courage and fortitude that will bring this crisis to an end.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS:  For those of you who subscribe to the formula known as the Newspaper Party Naming Convention (NPNC) with regard to political party association of those mentioned in news stories, no, Senator Kyle is not a Democrat.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dodd Man Walking

Here is the picture.

I am sure we have all heard of the various "Tea Parties" going on around the nation.  Well, maybe not.  It seems that even with hundreds (in a few cases thousands) turning out at individual events they are only getting local coverage.  The "Instapundit," Law Professor Glenn Reynolds blogs about them every week.  Here is one such blog post and here is another on the 4,000 in Orlando this weekend.

Don Surber blogs here about Connecticut.

While it will probably have no impact on Representative Barney Frank, current events are starting to impact the poll numbers of our neighbor, Senator Chris Dodd.  That and his special home loans and his cottage in Ireland.  Flip-flopping on who gave AIG a hallway pass on the bonuses didn't help either.

But, back to the Press.  If they won't cover the Tea Parties, why would such people buy the newspapers?  This is not a good situation for the Press in the US and thus for Democracy in the US.

Regards  --  Cliff

Have You Visited Ann Althouse?

This is about Law Professor Ann Althouse and asks "Why Do Liberals Hate Ann Althouse?"

Do they? Or is this just one of those things?

The comment comes from "The Guy Patriot." Here is a sample from his post:
The thing I don’t get about this hatred of Althouse is that she is kind of like the South Park of blogging.  She’s witty, directing her snark at pretty much anything she finds amusing*.  Is is that leftists in the blogosphere today are so humorless so self-righteous that they can’t abide the least bit of mockery, criticism or a combination of both?

Or, maybe it’s since they don’t have George W. Bush to kick around any more, they’ve decided to start going after prominent blogresses?

Perhaps it’s something else.  Maybe [Ezra] Klein has a case of ADS (Althouse Derangement Syndrome), a syndrome afflicting partisans who can’t understand how a blogress can gain a following without subscribing to any ideology.

*Regardless of political affiliation.
I like the Althouse Blog because it is interesting and witty and far ranging and seems like what I would like out of a Law Professor, if I had a Law Professor.

I just hope the "New Fairness Doctrine" doesn't include Bloggers.

Regards  --  Cliff

Iraq, Six Years On

This weekend we note the sixth anniversary of the US attack on Iraq.  There were two commentaries that I found of interest.

The first commentary is by MSNBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel.  It is titled "Analysis:  The sixth war in Iraq."  It can be found here.  I found his tracing of the six stages of the war to be interesting and informative (the original, on line, has more detail for most of the bullets).
  • War One: Shock and awe (March-April 2003)
    The first war was the ferocious 21-day drive to Baghdad. It was the “left hook” as U.S. troops crossed the berm in Kuwait, swerved into Baghdad and seized the airport.  U.S. troops pushed into the center of Baghdad, and Saddam’s government simply was no more.

  • War Two: Nation-building (2003-2004)
    For a year Iraqis waited while the new U.S. administration in Baghdad tried to rebuild Iraqi society, purging Saddam’s Baath Party and dissolving the army.  It was a peaceful time, but it was disastrously mismanaged.

  • War Three: Insurgency (2004-2005)
    Iraqi Sunnis, the backbone of Saddam’s regime and security services, lashed out in the spring of 2004.  Sunnis had waited peacefully for a year—confused but seething in quiet—as the U.S. administration in Baghdad bungled its attempts at nation-building. By the spring of 2004, many Sunnis decided they’d had enough.

  • War Four: Civil war (2006-2007)
    After two years of abuse from Sunni radicals, Iraqi Shiites started to fight back.  From 2004 through the end of 2005, many Shiites sat quietly as Sunni radicals killed Shiite religious leaders, bombed Shiite pilgrimages and husseiniyat (small Shiite mosques) and carried out suicide massacres in Shiite neighborhoods.  But in February 2006, Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq went too far.  The radical group destroyed the Shiite “Golden Mosque” in Samarra.  The mosque is linked to the Shiite savior, the Mahdi.  It is the place where many Shiites expect the Mahdi to emerge from his Divine Occultation and redeem the world in a similar way that many Christians see the Second Coming of Christ.

  • War Five: The surge (2007-2008)
    Sometime in mid-2006, the Bush administration decided to change course.  Despite public assurances from the White House that the war was going well—and attacks on journalists who claimed otherwise—President Bush and several of his military and political advisers came to the conclusion that more troops were needed, along with a new strategy under a new commanding general, David Petraeus.  In February 2007, Gen. Petraeus (then Lt. Gen. Petraeus) took command in Iraq and implemented what came to be known as “the surge.”

  • War Six: The exit (2009-2011)
    President Barack Obama set a course to end the war in Iraq. Elected with a promise to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq in 16 months, Obama modified a plan worked out at the end of the Bush administration.
The second item is by Fouad Ajami, writing in The Wall Street Journal, "Obama's Afghan Struggle."  Mr. Ajami is a professor of Middle East Studies at The Johns Hopkins University and has associations at Stanford University. (I don't have a link to the full article and after considering just publishing the whole thing rejected that idea on the grounds that there might be a copyright in there somewhere.  While I think current copyright laws cover way too long a period, I would think from Friday to today is a reasonable time period to honor.  The article is in the Friday, 20 March 2009 edition.)

Here is the last paragraph from Professor Ajami's opinion piece:
George W. Bush answered history's call -- as he saw fit.  The country gave him its warrant and acceptance, and then withdrew it in the latter years of his presidency. Say what you will about his call to vigilance, he had a coherent worldview.  He held the line when the world of Islam was truly in the wind and played upon by ruinous temptations.  He took the war on terror into the heart of the Arab world.  It was Arabs—with oil money, and with the prestige that comes with their mastery of Arabic, the language of the Quran, among impressionable Pakistanis and Afghans—who had made Afghanistan the menace it had become.  Without Arab money and Arab doctrines of political Islam, the Taliban would have remained a breed of reactionary seminarians, a terror to their own people but of no concern beyond.  It thus made perfect strategic sense to take the fight to the Arab heartland of Islam.  Saddam Hussein had drawn the short straw.
I like the last sentence, in that it is like my summation, which uses the Goldilocks theme—Libya was toooo small and Iran was toooo big, but Iraq was juuust right.

From the long view of history, it is much too early to say that President Bush has been vindicated in his selection of Iraq as the place to take down an ugly regime.  Lets check back in 20 years.  It is possible another strongman will be in power in Iraq, and we won't be interested in contesting that usurpation of power.  At its best it may not be Switzerland.  The closest things to a friendly democratic state in the Middle East are Israel and Turkey and in Turkey the military is the protector of the Constitution and a couple of times has done that through a coup.  On the other hand, any democracy is a step in the proper direction. While there may be inadequate democracies, there are no good dictatorships.

Regards  --  Cliff

Saturday, March 21, 2009

AIG Bonus Tax Vote

I admit to be all over the place on the bonuses to AIG Executives.  The company is costing us taxpayers Hundreds of Billions of dollars.  On the other hand, CEO for $1 pa Edward Liddy tells us that they have recovered a Trillion dollars of the bad assets.
... thus far, the company's financial derivatives had been reduced from $2.7 trillion to $1.6 trillion.
I do recognize, however, the outrage on the part of the American People.  I feel some of it mayself, as does my wife.  I also recognize that when there is outrage there needs to be leadership.

The US House of Representatives have passed a bill to take back the bonuses in the form of a tax. It is titled "To impose an additional tax on bonuses received from certain TARP recipients."  There is a lot not to like about this bill. There is a need for lots of leadership.  I don't feel that leadership knowing that Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is in charge.  The Gentleman from NY has his own tax problems.  And, having Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank demanding that CEO Liddy "name names" doesn't make me feel good either.

Here RTO Trainer, at Protein Wisdom Pub, makes a couple of points. (Hat Tip to Instapundit.)  I am not a lawyer, but expect that if this is in left field some lawyer will send me an EMail or Comment. But, for the time being, this give me pause.  Note the reference to Pastor Martin Niemöller's poem in the blog post title.
"They Came for the AIG Bonuses, but I was not an AIG Employee…"

Forget for a moment that the legislation to tax back the bonuses from AIG is a Bill of Attainder.

Forget that Bills of Attainder are prohibited by the Constitution.  That part is of course easy to forget ... Congress gave up on it long ago.

Forget that its also unconstitutional as an illegal taking and a violation of due process.  But there I go harping on that irrelevant old document again.

If this passes, its death knell.  If Congress suddenly discovers that it can take away money that they decide that someone doesn’t deserve, if we let them get away with that, there’ll be no stopping them.

All that will be necessary is to gin up the necessary “outrage” that someone got more than they should have.

Even if you agree that the AIG folks don’t deserve the money, this is not the way to handle it.
Here is the link to who voted for and who voted against HR 1586. Amongst those voting no were Franks--of Arizona.  Sadly, our own Representative, Niki Tsongas voted in favor.

I hope the US Senate, and our two Senators in particular, vote this bill down and send the problem back to the Lower House for them to try another tact.

Regards  --  Cliff

Bob's Your Uncle

One of the things I like about Wikipedia is that it explains a lot of things that otherwise pass me by.  I lived a year in the UK and never understood "Bob's Your Uncle."  Perhaps it was the place I was assigned, where things were not obvious and no one was suggesting they were.  Then, last night, watching an episode of "Dangerous Davies," I heard the expression again and immediately recognized it and wondered what it really meant.

Thus to Wikipedia, where it is laid out in all its historical context.
Bob's your uncle is a commonly-used expression known mainly in Britain, Ireland and Commonwealth countries.  It is often used immediately following a set of simple instructions and carries roughly the same meaning as the phrase "and there you have it"; for example, "Simply put a piece of ham between two slices of bread, and Bob's your uncle."
But, where did it come from? Is it another one of those expressions that was potty humor and then became acceptable? Wikipedia to the rescue, and a fascinating story it is:
It's a catch phrase dating back to 1887, when British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury decided to appoint a certain Arthur Balfour to the prestigious and sensitive post of Chief Secretary for Ireland. Not lost on the British public was the fact that Lord Salisbury just happened to be better known to Arthur Balfour as "Uncle Bob."  In the resulting furor over what was seen as an act of blatant nepotism, "Bob's your uncle" became a popular sarcastic comment applied to any situation where the outcome was preordained by favoritism.  As the scandal faded in public memory, the phrase lost its edge and became just a synonym for "no problem."
Kad Barma will like this.  Arthur Balfour is the man who gave us the Balfour Declaration.

I think we should consider adopting this expression here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (I can't just say Commonwealth, as I was born in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and have two sons, and families, living in the Commonwealth of Virginia).

Just as Arthur Balfour's appointment to Chief Secretary for Ireland was all about nepotism and helping the favored move along, so it is on Beacon Hill, inherited from our British ancestors.  Bob's your uncle.

Regards  --  Cliff

A Good News Story

This item out of today's Boston Globe is a good news story.  And, on page 1.

Lieutenant General Richard Trefrey is a very active 84 year old member of the Army Family.  After retiring from the Army as a three-star General he then went on as a civilian to head the Army Force Management School.

About the award, The Globe reporter writes:
The award in his name will be given to soldiers and civilians who "exemplify [General] Trefry's ethos and lifetime of extraordinary and selfless service to the Army" and who have "significantly impacted the Army at large through a longstanding commitment to innovation and leadership," according to the citation.
My wife and I were at a large picnic at the Trefrey home in Prince William County, Virginia, last summer.  They have a large back lawn.  He and his wife were gracious host and hostess to about 100 people whose common link is the Internet.

Individuals like Dick trefrey are what makes our government work.  They foster the civil society side of the nation.  Congratulation and thanks.

Regards  --  Cliff

Martha Coakley Stumbles

I dislike it when things like this happen. Since I never remember how to spell schadenfreude I have to look it up. Looking up a word you can't spell is not always easy, especially for those of us challenged in the spelling area.

That said, the ruling of Lowell Superior court Judge Jane Haggerty in the UMass Lowell Dorm case does bring on that feeling of schadenfreude.  The hat tip goes to my wife, who pointed out this article in today's Lowell Sun.

Unfortunately, the ruling is not going to magically provide those needed dorm spaces.

Contracts are important, but for Attorney General Martha Coakley to insert herself into this when she did and the way she did seemed like a little much at the time.  The original story broke in the 18 August 2008 edition of The Sun.

And then there is this article by Jennifer Myers about a week ago in The Sun, about Westfield State College being able to go forward with a like project.

I know it isn't true, but from time to time I get the feeling that the politicians down in Boston (including those running the larger UMass Presidency) think of UMass Lowell as just another ...

Maybe just best to quote the first comment on the article in The Sun, from Thumb of Chelmsford:
so all Martha did was make sure ULowell has to waste more money putting kids up in hotels.  Great job.  Maybe it's time to tackle the corruption in Boston and stay out of the area.
That assessment works for me.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS:  I wish Journalist Jack Minch had provided a link to previous articles in this article on line. Maybe I ask too much.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Israel vs Iranian Nuclear Capability

Most of us are aware at some level that Israel is very concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Israel's concern is heightened by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad making comments about Israel not having a right to exist and denial of the "Holocaust." Of course, Iran talks to the plight of the Palestinians vis-a-via Israel.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, has a long and detailed report on the various aspects of this problem.  The report, by CSIS Senior Associate Abdullah Toukan, can be found here.

I would like to tell you I have read it in detail, but I have just skimmed it.  There is, however, a typo on slide 37, last line.  It should be GBU-10, vice GB-10.  GBU stands for Guided Bomb Unit.  BLU stands for Bomb Live Unit.

Is an Iranian nuclear weapons capability an existential threat to Israel?

If so, what right does Israel have to deal with that threat?

Regards  --  Cliff

Iraqi Political Alliances

Iraqi elections were held some six weeks ago in most of the Provinces and should be help in the Kurdish region in May.  Parties are maneuvering and forming alliances.

An associate wrote an EMail about someone he knew who was originally from Iraq and recently returned for a two week visit with the family and is now back in the States.  To paraphrase the EMail:
The person just got back from a visit to his/her middle class Shi'a family and told me almost exactly the same thing "Y" said in an earlier EMail--issues of political alliances being formed is old news.  The returning person would be amazed that anyone thinks this is news.  The biggest problem in Baghdad these days is the horrendous traffic jams.  One comment was it felt strange because for two weeks they did not hear a single explosion.

Maliki is very popular among nearly all groups and classes (remember when the US Iraqi gurus were depicting him as inept, a loser, weak, etc.).  The traveler commented that the greatest proof of how things have changed is that the Iraqi penchant for continous complaining now centers on shopowner rudeness, poor service in restaurants, social climbing neighbors, etc.
I don't take this to mean that things are perfect, but things are moving in the proper direction.  I retain hope and look for continued change.  Let us hope that we manage our troop draw down in a way that enhances the changes for long term political success for the Iraqis.

Regards  --  Cliff

Who Is Responsible?

Lorelei Kelly is, in the words at the "Huffington Post," a national security specialist focused on helping citizens and elected leaders "reframe" security for the challenges revealed by 9/11.  She directs the National Security program at the American Progressive Caucus Policy Foundation--an organizational hub between the new progressive movement and its elected leadership in Congress.  In three words, a liberal blogger.  But, that is not condemnation--just orientation.  Remember the OODA Loop.

And, I think that Lorelei is a wonderful name.  Like Clifford, a wonderful name, but seldom given.  Maybe that is part of its charm.  But, on to the subject at hand.

In her most recent post on the Huffington Post, Ms Kelly, on the anniversary of our invasion of Iraq, talks about the failure of the Congress and the People with regard to our military.
Now that America's exit from Iraq is on the horizon -- we need to begin the long overdue conversation about how we got ourselves into this war.  Beyond blaming the Bush administration and the neo-cons. Fingering them is the easy part.  We need to talk about the civic and cultural reasons for getting into Iraq, because it will reveal a new way for Americans to understand national security.  Blame the Bush administration.  Fine.  Blame the media.  Okay.  But "we the people" need to take a few hits as well.
I think she left out the US Congress, which has the responsibility to declare war and to fund the military.

My take on the whole question of Bush and Iraq is that if people are unhappy, they need to replace their elected representatives in the US Congress.  Our Democracy is endangered by those 535 (soon to be 537 if they ignore the US Constitution) legislators on Capitol Hill who duck the hard choices and then join the throng in saying how bad it is.  That said, I will stipulate that there were folks who voted authority to President Bush to go into Iraq who thought it was the right thing to do.  The problem is, war is like child birth.  The outcome is never guaranteed.

But, back to Ms Kelly, here is the end of her post and her punch line:
As a culture, we have loved the military to death.  When we're scared, we love it even more. Our elected leaders, in response, offer inadequate critical decision making about the institution, how to respect it professionally by keeping it out of politics, by keeping it out of civilian tasks and by developing alternatives now that the world has changed.  The military is the consummate planning organization -- it has known for a long time that the world has changed -- but lacked the civilian leadership to fundamentally shift how we match means to ends, and tactics to strategy.  Today is the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war.  If we Americans truly value the lives sacrificed there -- we will require that our elected leaders -- at long last -- create and fund a security strategy that keeps us safer, costs less and restores the boundaries of a healthy civil-military relationship.
She is so correct here.

Regards  --  Clifford

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Out Back Question of the Week

Not a person, but a term.  What is the collective name being used to describe the various protests that have been happening around the country to protest the Obama Administration's bailout and stimulus plans?

Looking ahead to 15 April we have this:
"The goal is to get the message across to our leaders in (Washington) D.C. that we don't want to be overtaxed or these porkulus bills," said Glenda Neill, president of the Madison Republican Women's Club during its Wednesday lunch meeting at the Madison Radisson.  "Right now [protests] are planned in 150 cities across the country. Three are planned in Alabama - in Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile."
It is a term that should be familiar to folks from around the Boston area.

Regards  --  Cliff

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Free Speech

Free Speech is critical to a functioning democracy.  Every jerk out there has the right to say what he or she thinks, as long as they are not shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater, as the saying goes.  But, the more sensitive among us are concerned about "hate speech."  In this case it was posters that showed a woman in a burka with an AK-47 in one hand and a baby with a simulated bomb in the other hand and the words along the top of the poster saying:  "What did she teach her child today?"

The Campus Newspaper, The Diamondback, captured one student's outrage about the posters:
"There is a difference between free speech and hate speech," said government and politics and Spanish language and literature major Sana Javed, who helped to organize Palestinian Solidarity Week.  "They were an irrelevant commentary on Islam, but we were talking about politics."
One wonders what "government and politics major" Sana Javed thinks of the First Amendment? Her last quote in the student newspaper is:  "We want a campus of tolerance."

Here is the line from University of Maryland Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement:
There's such a thing as free speech.  But when you post things anonymously and make others feel threatened, that's not free speech.
This whole episode is discussed by Law Professor Eugene Volokh, at this location.  Responding to what he calls the "customary quote about the 'difference between free speech and hate speech,'" Professor Volokh writes:
No, there is no such difference under First Amendment law.  Nor does First Amendment law draw a distinction between "commentary on Islam" (or Christianity or Judaism or atheism or whatever else) and "talking about politics," since much commentary on religion is commentary on politics.
Free speech doesn't mean I have to agree with you, or you have to agree with me.  Lets get a grip, please.

Regards  --  Cliff

Who is Watching the Watchers?

A question posed by the Roman poet Juvenal.

I am sure it is just a quirk, but I think that changing the name of the GAO from General Accounting Office to Government Accountability Office was a major mistake.  The Constitution of the United States makes the US Congress the Government Accountability Office.  Those 535 (soon to be 537 if we don't wake up) legislators on Capitol Hill are charged with Legislating and the power to legislate is the power to investigate.  So, I am hoping our Congresswoman is reading and taking a note to fix the name of the GAO.

At any rate, someone I know found a bit of irony in a recent report out of the GAO. This person will remain anonymous, except to a few who will say, that is .... So be it.  If the New York Times can do it in violation of their own policy, I should be able to in compliance with my own policy.  Be warned, it is all inside baseball (DoD Acquisition) from here to the bottom.

PUBLIC LAW 110-181, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, contained, among many, many other provisions, SEC. 813. COMPTROLLER GENERAL REPORT ON DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE ORGANIZATION AND STRUCTURE FOR MAJOR DEFENSE ACQUISITION PROGRAMS, which required, in part, ". . . Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General of the United States shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report on potential modifications of the organization and structure of the Department of Defense for major defense acquisition programs."

As a result of the above requirement, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued GAO-09-295R, "Defense Acquisitions:  Perspectives on Potential Changes to Department of Defense Acquisition Management Framework."  The report was dated February 27, 2009.

The irony is that the Comptroller General, who has been critical of Department of Defense Acquisition for failure to meet cost, schedule, and performance requirements on acquisitions, appears to suffer from the ailments that it claims for DoD.  P.L. 110-181 became law on January 28, 2008, which means that the GAO report was required to be submitted no later than January 28, 2009.  The report, a mere 25 pages in length [CRK Notes that the person writing is generous--there is a lot of fluff in the report and 16 pages, filled with notes, is closer to the truth], and presumably based on a good deal of prior GAO work, was almost a full month late.  My initial scanning of the report makes it unclear as to whether even the "threshold" requirements for the report(i.e., ". . . feasibility and advisability . . . at a minimum . . . .") were met.  As GAO made its response overly complex, relying on narrative alone and not providing a simple tabular summation, a more detailed review (OT&E) will be needed to assess meeting the requirements.  There is no way to tell how GAO did against cost goals, but we can only surmise, based on performance against the other two key parameters . . .

Two additional thoughts.

The report, on page 4, states:
COCOMs are responsible for conducting combat operations and, ultimately, ensuring that the warfighter has the capabilities needed to defeat threats.
That is half correct and half wrong.  The Combatant Commands, the warfighting organizations such as US Central Command or US Pacific Command, are the ones to conduct combat operations.  The Service Chiefs were excluded from that by law 50 years ago, including the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Ensuring that the warfighter has the capabilities needed to defeat threats is the job of the Services--by law.  They are to "Organize, Train and Equip." (e.g., Title 10, Subtitle B, PART I, CHAPTER 307, § 3062).  The Services have the long term view that ensures that procurements that will take ten or 15 years to field are fielded. There is insufficient cohesion within a COCOM to do that.  People come and go, but there is not coherent, consistent cohesion, no loyalty to the COCOM.  The loyalty is to the Service.  The GAO is just wrong here.

As an additional comment on the COCOMs, if things have not changed, and I suspect they haven't, the COCOM Integrated Priority List (the IPL, pronounced EP-L) is not prioritized.  It wasn't when I was on the Joint Staff and all my begging didn't change a thing.  It probably isn't now. Integration of the IPL--forcing people to make choices, would go a long way toward improving the system.

The second thing is that JCIDS will not work until the Services and the Combatant Commands develop an effective system of comparing capabilities.  In saying that I acknowledge that I am part of the team that developed such a system and the Joint Community took it on board and promptly trashed it.  Mark me down as biased.

Regards  --  Cliff

AIG Bonuses

Who IS responsible for AIG being able to pay those bonuses?

Here, from the "National Review On-Line" is one version:
Well, Chris Dodd.

From page H1412 of the Final Stimulus Bill, “SEC. 111. EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION AND CORPORATE GOVERNANCE:

'(iii) The prohibition required under clause (i) shall not be construed to prohibit any bonus payment required to be paid pursuant to a written employment contract executed on or before February 11, 2009, as such valid employment contracts are determined by the Secretary or the designee of the Secretary.”

This amendment provides an exception for contractually obligated bonuses agreed on before Feb. 11, 2009, which exempts the very AIG bonuses Obama is condemning every single chance he gets.  The amendment is in the final version and is law.

That's the amendment that Dodd got placed in the Obama stimulus bill.
But, here is Gleen Greenwald (on St Paddy's Day) saying it was all Geithner's fault.
That is simply not what happened.  What actually happened is the opposite.  It was Dodd who did everything possible -- including writing and advocating for an amendment -- which would have applied the limitations on executive compensation to all bailout-receiving firms, including AIG, and applied it to all future bonus payments without regard to when those payments were promised.  But it was Tim Geithner and Larry Summers who openly criticized Dodd's proposal at the time and insisted that those limitations should apply only to future compensation contracts, not ones that already existed.  The exemption for already existing compensation agreements -- the exact provision that is now protecting the AIG bonus payments -- was inserted at the White House's insistence and over Dodd's objections.  But now that a political scandal has erupted over these payments, the White House is trying to deflect blame from itself and heap it all on Chris Dodd by claiming that it was Dodd who was responsible for that exemption.
Frankly, my instinct is to go with those who blame Senator Dodd.  He is the one who had the cosy relationship with Countrywide.  However, going to Glenn Greenwald's source, Jane Hamsher at "Fire Dog Lake," one wonders.  And, one commentor suggests we look for Rahm Emanuel's fingerprints on this.

Too hard to tell, but it is ugly.

My friend Jeff thinks the AIG CEO should have stiffed the executives, let them sue, let the courts give it to the plaintiffs and then cut their salaries for the year, until things turn around.

Of course, that brings up the question of the role of the Board.  Shouldn't the reform of this Recession be about the Boards of Corporations learning to be responsible?

UPDATE:  Senator Chris Dodd admits he put the provision in the bill, at the request of a Treasury Department official (anonymous official in the CNN report).
"The administration had expressed reservations," Dodd said. "They asked for modifications. The alternative was losing the amendment entirely."
They all look guilty.

Regards  --  Cliff

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I was put up to this post by a fellow employee where I (sometimes) work. "Dear Blog Leader," he wrote. He sent me the link to an article on someone fired for a post on Facebook. Since I am going in to play poker tomorrow at noon, I figured I better get on with it, in my own roundabout way.

The Lowell Sun had an article today on how older people are now going to Facebook, the on-line social networking service.  I would like to link to the article, but being one of those older Facebook users, I am unable to find the piece on line.  Incidentally, it was only when I signed up for Facebook that they noticed this graying of the service.  I distorted all the statistics.

But, there are other issues with Facebook, such as who owns the content.  Here I was more successful in finding a link.  The Lowell Sun today tackled the question of who owns the content after it is posted.  Initially, in a 5 February 2009 revision to the terms of Service, it was Facebook.  Now we have Mark Zuckerborg, CEO of Facebook, saying of the new policy
It reaffirms that users, not Facebook, own the content they share through Facebook services and that Facebook's permission to use that content expires when users delete the content or terminate their accounts.
That is good news.

But, what you write on Facebook is open for all to see.  You can bet your bottom dollar that those doing hiring at companies with an Internet connection are checking on Facebook to see who you are, who you display to the world as yourself.  While not a Human Resources quotation, this sentence from the unlinked article puts the point well.  Associated Press writer Beth Defalco quotes her Grandfather:
I don't browse Facebook much, but I see that it is a way to get to the nitty-gritty of a person's character.
There you have it.

And, you can get fired for what you put on Facebook.  On Fox Sports News there is this article (updated 10 March 2009), "Eagles sack worker for online comment."  The gist of it is that
Dan Leone, a game-day worker at Lincoln Financial Field, told The Inquirer he was fired after posting an angry reaction to the news that fan favorite Brian Dawkins had left the Eagles to sign with the Denver Broncos.
That would be The Philadelphia Inquirer.  Their 9 March 2009 article is here.

If this post on The Inquirer web site is to be believed, the Eagles have been heavy handed before, getting a radio personality suspended for two days for calling Eagles security "Nazis."  Frankly, it is unlikely they are real Nazis.  If they were, there would have been war crimes trials and hangings, or if they really were Nazis, cyanide pills tucked in the rolls of fat.  But, they aren't.  On the other hand, that WIP should roll over for the Eagles management is a sad commentary on the MSM.

So, should employers be scanning Facebook to see if they like the cut of your jib?  I don't think so.  It smacks of the kind of paternalism that moves us toward a nanny state.  Sure, companies can be concerned that you are going to come into the office and do something terrible, but where is the line drawn?  Are they going to be getting with AOL and checking your private EMails?  That isn't your company's job.  That isn't even the job of the FISA Court.  And the FISA Court goes back to 1975 and the Church Committee in the US Congress, that investigated domestic spying, which we decided is against our Constitutional Rights.

All that said, using Facebook is one of the many ways to keep in touch with friends and far flung relatives.  But, it is a tool open to abuse. One needs to use some caution.

Information wants to be free.  The original micro-economic meaning of that expression was re-spun by the leader of the GNU project, Richard Stallman.  (Or maybe I am taking the term further than Mr Stallman would take it.  My view is that information does not wish to be locked away, but to be out there, doing good. In a free society, information, especially information the hand of Government touches, needs to be accessible to the citizenry.)

But, the fact is, Information also needs to be prudent.  Or, at least those who generate information need to be prudent--and those who have the power to hire and fire need to show self-restraint before they go peeping in their neighbor's window.  And the neighbor ought to know when to pull the shades.

Regards  --  Cliff


Columnist Alex Beam talks about bystanders in the G Section of today's Boston Globe.  Titled "The BSO's tainted donor," the item talks to philanthropists who have had questionable relationships in the past.  In the Beam column the focus is on the the late Florence Gould.

Mr Beam's column, written in the form of an informative book review, starts with professor Jeffrey Mehlman and his article on former BSO conductor Charles Munch's activities in wartime Paris, but moves on to Frederic Spotts' recent book, The Shameful Peace:  How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation.

There is no getting around the fact that the Germans occupied Paris from the Summer of 1940 through to the Summer of 1944.  Probably many, in the beginning, thought it was the end of the world and decided to make a deal with the devil in order to survive.  They went from bystander to collaborator--collaborator to some degree.  Two of my artistic favorites, Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf, were so compromised.

I hear from time to time the term innocent civilian.  Innocent children I believe, but if one follows the Declaration of Independence, there are no innocent civilians.  That doesn't make it easy.  We should all hope to be Corrie ten Boons, but who knows how one will act in the event?

But think how terrible the event was.  Six million Jews killed and plans to kill all the Jews in Europe--eventually in the world.  This kind of a campaign is something that should not be tolerated.  And if you think killing 12 million Jews would be bad, what about the other 30 million people to be displaced or murdered under Generalplan Ost.  When we think of the Holocaust we should remember that if the Allies hadn't stopped the German War Machine, the killing would have just gotten worse, and for those who were judged to be not "Aryan," it would be in line for eventual extermination.

It is for this reason that we need to think about those who are our artists and intellectuals and rich donors, but who let themselves be compromised.  Columnist Alex Beam offers no solutions and neither do I.  However, I do believe that in times of trouble each of us should work to be as close to a responsible citizen as possible, be it New Orleans during Katrina or Paris during the WWII Occupation.  Some will fail and some will succeed.  It is incumbent upon those who fail to admit the same and to honor those who succeeded, sometimes at the cost of their own lives.

There are no innocent bystanders

Regards  --  Cliff

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Climate Change

In the "Ideas" Section of today' Boston Sunday Globe is a set of letters on Climate Change, focusing on an opinion piece by Roxanna Robinson and another by Jeff Jacoby.

I would like to first focus on the letter by Professor Gordon Aubrecht, of Ohio State University.  Professor Aubrecht teaches physics.

He raises the question of trade offs.
What if the professional climate scientists are wrong? We'd lose some money, several trillion dollars, but this is not a global tragedy.

And what if the climate "creationists" are wrong?  The consequences of doing nothing are incalculable.  Can we afford to take such a chance?  I sure don't think so, and I would think anyone who buys homeowner's and car insurance would see the point.
That is a fundamental question.  What are the consequences of each of the several policy choices before us? This is, in the end, not a scientific question, but a moral one.  Further, the data to help us understand the implications of doing nothing or doing this or that have not been presented to the public.  (And the use of the term "climate 'creationists'" leaves a little bit to be desired. We should be trying to keep this at a higher level.)

We have been told by many that climate change is bad and we need to do something.  We have been told that the seas will rise, but we don't know the implications of such a change in sea level on the world as a whole--and we don't know the costs to the global population of changing how we now allocate resources.

But, then the next letter, by Grandmother Susan Shamel, of Bedford, raises the question of social justice squarely:
Rocky Anderson, former mayor of Salt Lake City, and a speaker at the event, raised the issue of equating climate change to human rights abuse.  Billions of people now obtain fresh water for drinking and crops from melting glaciers in the summer. When these glaciers are gone because of the ongoing effects of global warming, we will indeed be facing a human rights issue of horrendous proportions.
I wonder about the "billions of people" statistic, but it is the correct kind of question.  It is, however, one that seems to default to stopping, or slowing, or mitigating the impact of humans on the planet.  One has to be careful with statistics.  Ms Shamel dismisses "a paltry 3 inches" of snow.  However, having lived in the DC area, three inches of snow is a lot and really fouls up traffic.  DC is not Massachusetts.

The problem for me is that it is not inherently obvious, as it seems to be for most people, that climate change is bad.  Further, I expect that efforts to control the climate will have some, but not drastic, impact upon those of us with a "Western" life style and standard of living.  On the other hand, I worry that it will a major negative impact on those trying to drag themselves out of the Third World into the Second, enroute to life as lived in the First World.  If each of us gives up a dollar a day to fund actions to control the climate, it will be noticed.  If one is living in Bangladesh or Burkina Faso a dollar a day will have a major impact.  My worry is that by us changing what we do, we could impact what happens in the Philippines, or Malaysia or Guatemala.  If we stop purchasing products from those places we dump many people back into serious poverty.

At the political level, if we impose treaties on developing nations to make them conform to our sense of what is environmentally acceptable, what will be the outcome for them?

Look at the reaction to the announcement of an inexpensive domestically produced car for India. Note at the bottom of the article that environmentalists are concerned.  This item in The Guardian is more frank.  While the person behind the project wants to get families off motorbikes and into small cars, the environmentalists are appalled at the idea of the congestion and the emissions.

But, that is India. What about places where people live in more primitive conditions.  Will slowing down the West help them or hurt them.  Are they more concerned about increases in skin cancer from a changing atmosphere or about malaria and other strange and debilitating diseases.

I am waiting to see someone do an analysis that shows the puts and takes on this.  What is the global balance sheet on climate change?  Will opening up growing seasons in Canada and Russia produce more food, to help feed the hungry?  Some would claim that half of global mortality is due to hunger.

At this point in the discussion, those who wish to take action on climate change bring to mind H L Mencken's law--"For every human problem, there is a neat, simple solution; and it is always wrong."

We need some data!

Regards  --  Cliff