Friday, July 31, 2009

The Economy

The Employment Cost Index - June 2009, from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, is out.
Compensation costs for civilian workers increased 0.4 percent, seasonally adjusted, for the 3-month period ending June 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Wages and salaries--which make up about 70 percent of compensation--also increased 0.4 percent for the 3-month period ending June 2009.  Benefit costs--which make up the remaining 30 percent of compensation--increased 0.3 percent.
The bad news is that this is the lowest increase since they started tracking this "series," back in 1980.

The good news is that it is in positive territory.  As Bob Hatem said on "City Life" (Local Lowell Access TV), this recession is still a problem for the working person.  Further, he said that the Stimulus hadnn't worked.  That is one of the unresolved issues of the day.  Was Professor John Maynard Keynes correct the Government should spend the nation out of a slump.  Or was he wrong?

Perhaps the medical rule should apply, "First, do no harm."  Which is NOT an excuse to do nothing.  Extending unemployment benefits is one thing that should always be high on the list.

UPDATE:  I typed "City Lights," when I should have typed "City Life," as George Anthes, the show's host, kindly pointed out to me.  I have since corrected this error.

Regards  —  Cliff

Out Back Question of the Week

Who is in charge at the MBTA?

Note:  This could be a trick question.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Metropolitan Boston Transportation Authority.  Surprisingly, their entry on Wikipedia is not loading at this time.  I wonder if there is a problem with "corrections"?

Beer Fest Outcome

Law Professor Ann Althouse had what I thought was a good post on the Beer Fest on the White House lawn.  On the other hand, she got a lot of push-back on this in the comments.

My number one take-away on this is that one should always be polite to people in power, be they professors or police officers.  If they get out of line, bide your time and then use the power of the system to get them back in line.  Remember, your grade or your life could be on the line.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  And why was Vice President Biden there?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Competitive Intelligence

Hilary McLelland wrote a piece at Saratoga Media on Competitive Intelligence, where she talks about New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman and his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization.

The short piece, "Competitive Intelligence in a Global Communications Age," talks to information arbitrage and story telling as ways to help people understand this new and more diverse world we live in.  Information arbitrage refers back to the practice of people who would buy a currency in one market and sell it in another, based upon knowing that there was a difference in value. Or, it could be pork bellies. With information is it the same way. You have some of value and you recycle it to someone else, for whom it is of even greater value.

Might be worth a read.

Regards  —  Cliff

$6.9 Billion in Pork

That was basically the headline in this morning's Washington Post on line.  It has since been softened.  Now it reads "House Seems To Be Set on Pork-Padded Defense Bill."  This can't be ALL Representative Jack Murtha, Democratic House Member from Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District, can it?  That number would work out to $15,862,068 per member.  That is almost $16 million in pork for each and every man and women in the US House of Representatives.
Roughly $2.75 billion of the extra funds -- all of which were unanimously approved in an 18-minute markup Monday by the House Appropriations Committee -- would finance "earmarks," or projects demanded by individual lawmakers that the Pentagon did not request.7nbsp; About half of that amount reflects spending requested by private firms, including 95 companies or related political action committees that donated a total of $789,190 in the past 2 1/2 years to members of the appropriations subcommittee on defense, according to an analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit watchdog group.
This is the United States.  Citizens are allowed to petition Congress.  It is in the First Amendment.  And, if Joe Dokes, down the street, can call up Reg Niki Tsongas and give her (or, more likely, her staff) a piece of his mind, then so can Raytheon Corporation.  And, sometimes those individual citizens band together.
He [Rep Jeff Flake, R-AZ] noted that at least 70 of the earmarks are for former clients of the PMA Group, a lobbying firm close to appropriations subcommittee head John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) that is now being probed by the Justice Department and the House ethics committee.
The real way to clean this up is to vote out some of those who are bringing home the beacon.  Does anyone see that happening?  In my humble opinion, only when those Reps become a total embarrassment.

Regards  —  Cliff

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


My friend Richard, from Orlando, FL, sent me a URL for a petition to have the next US Navy Aircraft Carrier, presently unnamed, USS ENTERPRISE.

My friend Richard is a tad vociferous on this subject:
Currently, we name carriers after Presidents. This is an abomination as previously first line aircraft carriers were named after revolutionary war battles or after ships of the continental Navy.
But, he has a point.  We seem to have skipped over a fine tradition for political gain.  And naming ships after living people seems just plain wrong.  Naming should be like sainthood.  We need to give things a chance to settle before we turn the hagiographers loose to name things.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  Yes, I did sign the petition.

Pie Fight?

It looks to me that the Instapundit has been surfing Samizdata for new posts.  He had at least two today.  One, on the Maryland Pie Fight, I ignored, but when I saw it at Samizdata I read it.

The issue is Trans Fats.

Dale Amon leads off his post with the following:
After working over fourteen hours today, with perhaps three hours of sleep the night before, my boss on the DC consulting job took me out for dinner at a diner, nearly the only restaurant still open in Bethesda at that hour.  After dinner he asked for a Banana Cream Pie, his usual self-treat after this sort of marathon work day.  The night chef told us it is no longer available.  Montgomery County outlawed Trans-Fats and such pies are now contraband.  For a moment I considered asking if there was a back room where one could gorge on smuggled pies, but thought better of it.  Such secret places would be only for locals and those known to the Mafia, not for transient gypsy engineers such as myself.
He then goes on with the post, including a video insert.

And, it being Samizdata, the comments are fairly interesting without immediately degenerating.

Having had a piece of cheese cake for dinner this evening, I am not looking for the trans-fat police coming to a restaurant near me.  On the other hand, as one commenter (Ilamas) points out, if the restaurant had purchased the pie from some vendor they could sell it, in its original wrapping.
Not quite.  The diner is choosing how to comply with the county regulation.  Under the regulation, they can still serve the customer a banana cream pie containing any amount of trans-fat as long as it is served in the maker's original package and is labelled as specified.
On the other hand, I don't like banana cream pie.

Regards  —  Cliff

Monday, July 27, 2009

Two Quotes on Declaration of Independence

Earlier in the month I received an EMail with a number of quotations on our Declaration of Independence.  Two I especially liked I have copied here.  The first is from John Adams, in a letter to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776.
I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states.  Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph.
The second was given some 76 years later, by Frederick Douglass, in "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" (5 July 1852).
I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation's destiny; so, indeed, I regard it.  The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles.  Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.
I like the "ring-bolt reference.  To me it means a strong anchor.  I am sure for Frederick Douglass it also meant how slaves were chained down.  But, even so, he took the positive interpretation.  Great words.

Regards  —  Cliff

Dueling Blogs

In the past I have quoted from the Blog of the Director of the Congressional Budget Office.  The CBO is supposed to help keep the US Congress on the straight and narrow by giving them the "facts" of legislation.  The CBO, under the direction of Douglas W. Elmendorf, brings us such scintillating reports as "Additional Information Regarding the Effects of Health Insurance Coverage Specifications Reflected in the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act."  On the other hand, it is the place to go to get the facts.

I just found out this morning that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has its own Blog, with posts under the Director's name.  Here it is—book mark it!

The latest OMB post is a come back on the CBO post on the proposed IMAC. The IMAC is discussed by The Washington Post's David Broder here. In his own analysis, Slate's Mickey Kaus opines that Mr Broder is destined for an early trip to an ice floe.

But, as for "Dueling Blogs," how about this last paragraph of the OMB Director's blog post (linked above)
A final note is worth underscoring. As a former CBO director, I can attest that CBO is sometimes accused of a bias toward exaggerating costs and underestimating savings. Unfortunately, parts of today’s analysis from CBO could feed that perception. For example, and without specifying precisely how the various modifications would work, CBO somehow concluded that the council could "eventually achieve annual savings equal to several percent of Medicare spending...[which] would amount to tens of billions of dollars per year after 2019." Such savings are welcome (and rare!), but it is also the case that (for good reason) CBO has restricted itself to qualitative, not quantitative, analyses of long-term effects from legislative proposals. In providing a quantitative estimate of long-term effects without any analytical basis for doing so, CBO seems to have overstepped.

Regards  —  Cliff

  OMB is part of the Executive Branch, with the Director of the OMB, Mr Peter Orszag, reporting to the President.  Wikipedia entry for Mr Orszag is here.
  Independent Medicare Advisory Council, a five member board to be appointed by the President, with the approval of the Senate to five year terms and modeled on the BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.  The CBO Post appears to be this one.
  Mr Kaus cites the Lucianne dot Com blog, but I couldn't find it in a quick search.  My original link was from Instapundit.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


We haven't heard from Perry de Havilland in a long time. He is one of the commentators at Samizdata, a somewhat libertarian blog site with contributors from both the UK and the US.  Mr de Havilland reports from London.

I bring up his recent blog post because we have been discussing, here in Lowell, the question of the anonymous blogger.  On the Richard Howe blog I today come down on the side of allowing anonymous bloggers and anonymous comments, but believing when the time comes to stand up and be counted, the virtuous will so stand up.

One of the advantages of anonymous blogging and commenting is that it allows some to cut through what Mr de Havilland calls the "meta-context."  Mr de Havilland argues that that "meta-context" tends to be controlling in the background of discussions and keeps everyone on the same sheet of music.  He then goes on to attempt a fisking of an article in The New York Times on ethics and the debate on health care reform.

Regarding the NYT article and its author, Mr Randy Cohen, I would say that he should not blame Mr Thomas Jefferson for the US Constitution, as Mr Jefferson was not there.  I would further point out that there is someone to control the debate in the Senate and it is called out in the US Constitution.  It is the Vice President.

But, back to anonymous bloggers.  I see them as a way to cut through the "meta-context" and expose the real under-core of what is going on.

Regards  —  Cliff

Lighter Than Air

I saw an EMail that talked to the US Army asking to reprogram some funds (a couple of million here and there) to begin a program to acquire an airship to provide long term persistent surveillance in places like Afghanistan. This is to jump start the FY2010 Budget, which includes big money for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs.
This total includes an $80 million investment in the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV), an unmanned hybrid airship that will fill a critical gap in CENTCOM’s long-term airborne surveillance capacity.
Basically, the Department of Defense Comptroller, Mr Robert Hale, sent the four key Congressional Committees a proposal to shift some $3.8 billion within the FY 2009 budget to meet higher priority needs.  Amongst those was a proposal for the Army to set up a "rapid-acquisition" program to field a hybrid airship—a Long Endurance Multi-INT hybrid air vehicle (LEMV).  One assumes "Multi-INT" means multiple types of sensors. In a place like Afghanistan this would be a big step forward in surveillance capability.

Here is one option, complete with a one minute video of the Lockheed version in flight.

Not that it would be might first choice for logging flight time, but it might be interesting for a while.  Landing it seems to be a bit of a challenge.

Regards  —  Cliff

Is This Correct?

My buddy Bill, over in Chelmsford, sent along this comment:
In the early 1800s de Tocqueville studied America and how officials are elected, etc.  His conclusion was that America was gambling on having educated voters.  I think we are losing that bet.  First, almost nobody votes, educated or not.  Second, voting is driven by "what's in it for me" issues rather than the good of the country.  Finally, the "political system" is no longer something that is intended to help "the people" and is something that politicians use to provide a high-income job which requires not work but only the ability to hold an opinion.
As I recall, a few weeks ago, someone in The Lowell Sun said that the majority of voters in local elections are the members of unions of Government Employees.  I thought that was a little cynical.  Maybe not.

In the interest of full disclosure, my Father was a Federal and then a (California) State Civil Servant.  My two Brothers spent many years as Federal Civil Servants and one still is—the other quit after becoming a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and then declining to leave California on a mandated career broadening assignment.  I have respect for the hard work and ingenuity of Civil Servants.

On the other hand, we do have this problem of low voter turnout and response of government to our current economic situation.  Further, for some of us there does seem to be some "featherbedding," as with Police Details.  (My question always is, if it requires Police, why aren't they assigned to the job off the duty roster rather than being "hired" by the contractor?)

Today I went out to lunch with my wife and the Greeter at the door said that she just didn't understand politics.  I am ashamed to admit that I did not have a good compelling short answer for her.  Has it all become too esoteric and thus it has lost the normal voter?

Let us hope not.

Regards  —  Cliff

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Retirement Age

The Archdiocese of Boston has announced that as of 1 August they are raising the retirement age of diocesan priests from 70 to 75.
Under a new policy that will go into effect Aug. 1, archdiocesan priests will be expected to remain in active ministry until age 75, five years beyond the current retirement age of 70.

In an email sent to all priests of the archdiocese, Father Richard Erikson, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, explained that the amended policy states that “priests are normally expected (health permitting) to remain in active ministry, as pastor, parochial vicar, or special assignment, until the age of 75.”
Given the improving health of all of us and the needs of the diocese, this seems like a reasonable move.

On the other hand, why does the Deacon Program still have the age limit it does?  Should we not be taking advantage of faithful Catholic men to help out our existing force of Priests by making more Deacons available to do weddings and baptisms and to do visitations to the sick and the shut in and do some administrative work in the Parish?

Maybe Seán Cardinal O'Malley will get around to that.

Father Thomas S. Foley Episcopal Vicar for Parish Life and Leadership points out
“Priests do not really retire from priesthood.  They become senior priests.  We do use the word retirement because that is common language but priests are still priests and if they are able, they wish to stay in ministry and we certainly want to encourage that.”
Regards  —  Cliff

Better Streets

I had occasion to be on Lincoln this week and found a long section to have been recently and nicely paved.

My thanks to T J McCarthy and his crew from the City of Lowell.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  To get ahead of any commenters, yes I am buttering him up.  I live on a street also.  So do you.

VP Biden on Russia

The Wall Street Journal requires you to register to access material, so giving you a link will not do you much good, I wouldn't think.  I am skipping that move and just giving you the article title, reporter and the lede.  Then a short comment.
JULY 25, 2009
"Biden Says Weakened Russia Will Bend to U.S."

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview that Russia's economy is "withering," and suggested the trend will force the country to make accommodations to the West on a wide range of national-security issues, including loosening its grip on former Soviet republics and shrinking its vast nuclear arsenal.
Can you imagine Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's reaction to this?

Can you imagine Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's reaction?

This is what the Kennedy School of Government is for.  This is what some think tank at Johns Hopkins is for.

I am betting this is even more undiplomatic than the Secretary of State's comment, while in Asia, no less, about the DPRK being like unruly children.

I am hoping this is just the result of a sirocco passing over DC and having a temporary adverse impact on personalities.

Regards -- Cliff

  Is that actually a double negative?  Opinions are welcome.

California's Problems

I used to be a resident of Huntington Beach, Orange County, California. All my adult life, until I moved to Lowell, Mass, I was a California Resident.

I voted in Huntington Beach, always by absentee ballot.  I learned to flying in Orange County, at an airport that no longer exists—turned to residential housing.  Before I was a resident of Huntington Beach I was a resident of Long Beach.  California was a wonderful, magical, place and I could have gotten my college degree for the costs of the books and the gas to drive to class.

In those days 1,000 people a day were leaving California and 3,000 were moving in.  It was the place to be.  No longer.  As Representative Tom McClintock notes, 2/3 of a million people net left California last year.

We may have to wait a hundred years to understand what happened in California.  However, by reading today's headlines we know that what is happening is not good. At this link is an article in The Orange County Register that talks to Representative McClintock's analysis of the situation.

Here is his summary of the situation:
To understand how these policies can utterly destroy an economy and bankrupt a government, you have to remember the Golden State in its Golden Age.

A generation ago, California spent about half what it does today AFTER adjusting for both inflation and population growth.
And yet, we had the finest highway system in the world and the finest public school system in the country. California offered a FREE university education to every Californian who wanted one. We produced water and electricity so cheaply that many communities didn’t bother to measure the stuff. Our unemployment rate consistently ran well below the national rate and its diversified economy was nearly recession-proof.
His analysis of the situation is summarized in this paragraph:
One thing – and one thing only – has changed in those years: public policy. The political Left gradually gained dominance over California’s government and has imposed a disastrous agenda of radical and retrograde policies that have destroyed the quality of life that Californians once took for granted.
His summary of the situation is correct.  He may be right or he may be wrong in his analysis of the problem.  However, the important point is that if he is correct, then we have to ask ourselves if we are headed for the same problem in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and in the nation as a whole.

We need a good, intelligent, debate on this question. 

It would be good for the nation if the several political parties started a serious dialogue about this.  There are a lot of issues to explore.  For example, with India and China on their way to being major economies and not showing any interest in Climate Change, what is the smart path for us, given that we are in a world with global economic competition?  What is the best way to overcome the competitive disadvantage we find ourselves in due to how we provide health insurance?  What is the smart future of infrastructure?

And, of course, it would be great to see people debate with facts and figures.

Good luck to us.

Regards  —  Cliff

  In some ways they already live with it every year, via flooding and devastating storms.
  When Europe produces an Airbus the cost of the workers' health insurance is borne by the taxpayers, thus giving them a legal subsidy.  On the other hand, a Boeing passenger jet includes the cost of the workers' health insurance in the price tag.
  If your normal response is "high speed rail" you need to update it to say, "real high speed rail, not what AMTRAK and Michael Dukakis are talking about."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

City Manager Stability

The other day my wife, Martha, asked me about City Manager turnover.  Her point was that when she was growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin, there was basically one city manager, Joe Lustig, who served for 25 years.

While Janesville is only 60,000 people, it is a lot like Lowell.  The official website says:
The City of Janesville operates under the Council-Manager form of government. The Janesville City Council has seven members, who are elected on a nonpartisan basis and represent the city as a whole. Council members serve two year, overlapping terms and are non-salaried.
Well, one thing is different.  Even though they meet weekly, the City Council members are not paid.

Being the "blow-in" that I am I have only been here for fifteen (15) years. In that time we have had Richard Johnson (resigned 24 August 1995), Brian Martin (resigned June 2000), John Cox (resigned 31 July 2006) and Bernie Lynch (Incumbent).  So, four City Managers in 15 years, vs 25 years for one City Manager.  This is about the value of continuity.  Long term planning works when there is some degree of continuity.  If Lowell is to proper in the future, we need long term planning.

Today someone told me that the City Manager of (dreaded) Cambridge has held the position for 24 years.  Turns out that City Manager Robert W Healy has been on the job for 28 years and a few days.

In the Air Force, Wing Commanders normally last about two years.  In the late 1960s the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing (Bitburg AB, FRG) had five during the three and a half years I was there.  During that time some wag made the comment that he was tired of OJTing Wing Commanders.  I am feeling the same way about City Managers.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Thanks to Dick Howe's blog and his stats on elections.
  On the Job Training

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Out Back Question of the Week

Yes, Greg Page nailed the question from last week.

For this week, what was the City Council Vote two years ago to suppress the Primary Election?

For bonus points, who introduced the resolution in 2007?

For discussion, do we see this as sound fiscal decision-making or does it sound like an effort to suppress challengers?   Remember, we are in a fiscal crisis, notwithstanding the general inaction on the part of the City Council with regard to our City Budget (savings over the City Manager's budget of $295 million (see page 30) is, so far, about $130,000).

Regards  —  Cliff

  Former City Manager Jim Sullivan made this point during his presentation to the City Council on 14 July 2009.  This is not the first time Mr Sullivan has made this point.  Mr Sullivan could be wrong, but betting against him is not the smart move.

Eliminating the Primary

While I expect everyone knows this, but just in case, the City Council voted to eliminate the primary.

Here is an extract of some of the comments, provided by Mr Dick Howe.

There is a scheduled sub-committee meeting this coming Tuesday, at 1730, to discuss a charter change to modify our primary election requirement.

This issue is not yet settled.

My own opinion is that in a Democracy process is important and this ad hoc suspension of the rules to save $40,000 (the Mayor's guess) doesn't reach the bar. We should be encouraging people to vote, not looking for ways to eliminate opportunities to vote.

Regards  —  Cliff

Al Gore, Call Home

It doesn't prove a thing, but in its own way the fact that Nashville, Tenn, broke another low temperature record is amusing.
When the temperature at the National Weather Service station dipped to 58 degrees at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, it wiped out the previous record low for the date of 60 degrees, which was set in 1877.

NWS forecaster Bobby Boyd noted it was the third consecutive morning when Nashville either tied or broke a daily low temperature record.
And, in the complicated way that nature works, this could be the result of "global warming," although it might also be a side effect of the frosty relationship between a couple of our Lowell City Council members.

Regards  —  Cliff

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Debt Clock

Here is someone's version of the US debt situation.

I would have lumped Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid together, but that is because a lot of people still think that "Defense" is half the federal budget, as it was back when Dwight D Eisenhower was President.

Hat tip to the other Cliff.

Regards  —  Cliff

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fixing Traffic Lights

Back on 3 July 2009 I blogged on the traffic lights at the end of the Lowell Connector, where it merges with Gorham Street.  The problem is that at one point the three red lights each had a strobe to make you aware that you need to pay attention.  Very effective, as you can see further down Gorham Street, at the intersection with Union.  At that point it really stands out at a location where it is usually straight through.

At the time of the last blog post I noted I had previously called the City about the fact that for two of the three lights the strobe portion was burned out.  But, and this is no surprise, this is a Commonwealth issue and not a City issue.  So, on or about 3 July I called the State, but nothing seems to have happened.

This Sunday morning I ran into T J McCarthy, who said to call the Mass Highway District Four (4) office, down in Arlington.  I did what I was told and talked to a gentleman who said he would pass this to the people working the Lowell area.

So, it is back to the observation mode for a couple of weeks. If nothing happens, I will see if I can get an appointment with the District Highway Director, Ms Patrica A Leavenworth, PE, to talk about this.  I will then report back.

However, what I don't know is how long to wait.  If you have a thought, please drop me a comment (look for the "Comments" word at the end of this post).


Regards  —  Cliff

Voting Problems in Lowell

Dick Howe, over at his Blog, talks about getting out the vote as a way to get elected to the City Council and School Committee.

Taking off an article in today's Boston Globe, he puts down some steps for people to turn out the vote, which is key to the challengers getting elected.

Regards  —  Cliff

Kindle Scandal

Eugene Volokh has just weighed in on the Amazon Kindle scandal. This is a subject that I blogged here.

To me, as a layman, a Volokh opinion is almost as good as a US Supreme Court opinion.

The summary is that it is a mixed bag and Amazon needs to fix its software.

Hat tip to Instapundit.

Regards  —  Cliff

Rep Jack Murtha

Sticking with The New York Times theme, the second editorial on Sunday was about Representative John Murtha (D-PA).

It seems remarkable that The New York Times would even mention corruption in the Democratic Party and even more remarkable that they would mention a Representative from a district that is in "flyover country". (Speaking of the District, Wikipedia says of the 12th that it is "heavily gerrymandered, and they are not wrong.)

It isn't like Representative Murtha didn't start out on the right foot.  He served in Korea as a Marine and also served in Viet-nam.  In fact, he was the first Viet-nam vet to serve in Congress.  He helped save the economically depressed District by his position in Congress, even ensuring the Penn Traffic Department Store became the Intelligence Center for the War on Drugs.

Somewhere it began to fall apart.  From being the winning coach he became the coach who was cheating to win. It is sad, really.  Now The New York Times is calling for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to press a "full-scale ethics inquiry."  The editorial board has its reasons.
If not, the Murtha money trail could lead them back to the minority.
So, it isn't about right vs wrong.  It is all about the Republicans.

UPDATE  (Hat tip to my Brother John, who teaches some ethics at DAU.)

The FBI is now on the case.

Regards  —  Cliff

  For Greater Lowell, think Bon Marche but with more floors. As a side note, my Father's Step Father, Elit Felix, used to work at Penn Traffic, in the credit department.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Afghanistan and Pakistan

Tom Friedman, writing in his column in The New York Times, asks "Teacher, Can We Leave Now?" His answer is a firm "No."

What he is talking about is the United States.  The thrust of his answer is that part of the answer to the war against extremism is education.

The author quotes one authority as saying:
that since 2007, the Taliban and its allies have bombed, burned or shut down more than 640 schools in Afghanistan and 350 schools in Pakistan, of which about 80 percent are schools for girls.
One way to think about it is to ask oneself if one's own daughter should be free to do what she wants and wear what she wants and marry who she wants?  Those are the kinds of issues that are being confronted in Afghanistan and Pakistan today and the "Taliban and its allies" have been working to keep females at home and under the thumb of their male relatives.

We worry about Judge Sotomayor using the term "wise Latina."  How lucky we are that such is the question, rather than if we should risk a female child having acid thrown in her face on the way to school.  If we can, let's continue to help out.

Ann Althouse has an extract from an article in the Jerusalem Post on treatment of young people in Iran, to include those young women who have received a death sentence.
In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin, he explained. Therefore a "wedding" ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard - essentially raped by her "husband."
Here is the original article.

Regards  —  Cliff

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Will Biden Make the Ticket in 2012?

This is not a question about should he be on the Ticket, but if he will be on the ticket?

What prompted this was looking at the Drudge Report this AM and seeing another Bidenism:  "We Have to Go Spend Money to Keep From Going Bankrupt."  The source was a CBS News Web Page. This one reminded me of the line from Viet-nam—"We had to destroy the village to save it."

In this news story the Vice President asks:
"Would they not give a tax cut to 95 percent of the American people? Would they sit back and do nothing as our economy collapsed?"
Of course I would love to give a tax cut to 95 percent of the American People, assuming we are really saying 95% of the American Federal Taxpayers. The only problem is, of those who file, most pay little or no tax. This 95% number is meaningless.

The Biden line
"I ask those critics.... Would they not help the states prevent lay off thousands of teachers, firefighters, cops?"
is great, but our economy is about more than teachers, firefighters and cops. It is about workers who provide the economic base to support those teachers, firefighters and cops.  What are we doing to help them, and thus help all of us?

I don't dislike Vice President Biden. He seems a nice enough chap and the way he held his family together after his first wife's death is an example to all of us. That said, he isn't my favorite left wing politician. For instance, I would pick Neil Kinnock over Joseph Biden.

Then there is the theory he is the Al Gore of unemployment. Per this post, where he goes to tout the success of the President's stimulus plan unemployment figures then go up.

The LA Times, which I do not consider a friend of Republicans, has been picking on the VP. Here is an extract from a recent column on the VP:
Loyal Ticket readers know that, as a patriotic duty, we monitor the longtime senator's schedule with a close eye for detail because, after all, this man is only a heartbeat away from having to give a toast at a G-8 summit. We've especially noted Biden's innumerable "private meetings" that are closed to the press because, well, they're private.

And we've wondered aloud how this Democratic VP's private meetings with unnamed people on unnamed subjects differs from the private meetings with unnamed people that his evil predecessor had that got so many Democratic senators and representatives worried about nefarious secrets.
I think it is time for the Obama Administration to track down where then VP Dick Cheney used to hide out and send the current VEEP there and keep him there.  Then, in 2012, nominate a new VP, maybe Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Regards  —  Cliff

Big Brother and Kindle

Big Brother is late, but he has phoned in and told us he is still coming.

Per this Blog Post at Balkinization, Kindle has reached out and deleted two books from those Kindles that had dowloaded them.  In so doing, they did refund the customer's money.
The New York Times reports that found out that the publisher of Kindle versions of George Orwell's books 1984 and Animal Farm decided that it didn't want to give the rights to a Kindle version.  So used its wireless connection to each Kindle to delete copies on various owners' Kindles and refunded their money.  You see, because of the wireless connection, knows what books are on your Kindle and it can delete them or modify them at will.
As the Blog Post author points out, this raises again the whole question of "tethered appliances."  Tethered appliances are things where some of the software is stored "off device" and you call for it when you needed it.  Examples include the iPhone and, as I recall, a move by Microsoft to have minimal PCs with the Microsquish Office being on a central server, accessed over the internet.  One person who worries about this seems to be Jonathan Zittrain, who has a blog and a book.

I am not angry about this, but I am disappointed.  It is like the $140 book.  There seems to be a certain desperation out in the publishing world and it is leading to bad decisions and dumb decisions.

Someone I know via the internet has a workaround.  This person does not use Amazon's WhisperNet, but rather downloads from Amazon directly to his computer.   Then writes the file to the Kindle.  And never turns on the Kindle WhisperNet access to the internet.  This person notes that when you open up the WhisperNet you are not only downloading what you want but may be getting additional downloads, which you don't want.

But, Amazon has reacted quickly to the outrage this deletion of downloads seems to have caused and promises to do things differently in the future.

And a hat tip to "Dean."

Regards  —  Cliff

  He was expected in 1984.
  I just love the irony.
  Clausewitz tells us first reports are always wrong. A more recent report suggest that the Publisher never had the rights to give to Amazon.  That isn't good management practice.
  Older web page with a discussion of Whispernet.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer Reading

Here is something from the BBC.

A list of books for summer reading from the Tory foreign affairs spokesman Keith Simpson. The Tories are the "conservatives" in the UK, Labor is the historically socialist leaning party and the LibDems are sort of in between.

The BBC reporter, Terry Stiastny, had this to say:
I asked Mr Simpson why no fiction featured on his list - say, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall with its tales of Tudor politics and intrigue?

Mr Simpson says he did consider that - and that he is halfway through the novel himself - but he believes that his colleagues would think telling them what fiction to read was "a great impertinence".
I love the British.  Mr Simpson is correct.  It would be "a great impertinence."

The two books that caught my eye were:
  • Lords of Finance: 1929, The Great Depression - and the Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamad, and
  • Keynes: The Return of the Master by Robert Skidelsky
Regards  —  Cliff

Out Back Question of the Week

Last week the question was about who is Andy Sheehan.  The answer is that he was our Assistant City Manager and he was let go when the City Council voted to cut the money for his salary, reasoning that they weren't really firing him, just cutting his salary to zero.  I wonder if Andy had been George Patton rich and had said he would do the work for free what the City Council would have said, on the floor of Council Chambers.

This week the question is, how did the Lowell City Council split on Councilor Jim Milinazzo's motion. This is not easily answered by checking Wikipedia.

Regards  —  Cliff

What Are They Thinking?

Per The Lowell Sun, the publisher McGraw Hill, is laying off 550 people—about 2.5 percent of its work force.  Granted, some of those cuts (85) are in the area of financial services, but still, it is in publishing that the big hits came.

The reason I bring this up is that Amazon sent me an EMail today, asking me to consider a book, Helmuth Von Moltke: A Modern Biography.  Most of you don't know who Helmuth von Moltke is and you (rightly) don't care.  I care because I am about to take another German history course at UMass Lowell night school and Helmuth von Moltke, as Chief of the Prussian General Staff, influences history in the 1860s and 1870s and beyond.  Here is the blurb on the book:
This detailed and comprehensive book offers the first modern biography of Helmuth Von Moltke, a major progenitor of the processes modern great powers use to engage in large-scale warfare. Drawing upon the author's own previously published works, "Moltke, Schlieffen and Prussian War Planning" and "Moltke and the German Wars, 1864-1871", it also contains original research.  The volume suggests that the General Staff was a pioneer of what became known in the twentieth century as 'operations research', establishing some of the framework for the modern economics of transportation.  However, Moltke was much more than just a Prussian soldier and strategist.  He was a best-selling author (travel writings, love letters), pioneer cartographer (Asia Minor, Rome, Silesia), dedicated lover and devoted husband, legislator, linguist, family leader, music lover, and spa devotee.  "Helmuth Von Moltke" will appeal to students of military history and strategy, as well as historians of nineteenth century Germany.
I would love to have this book, but I am not going to pay the $127.85 that Amazon is asking.  Yes, that is one hundred and twenty-seven and pocket change.  The good news is that it is down from the market price of $140.00.

Yes, professors of history might assign the book, which is hardcover and only 240 pages, but in doing so they are continuing a scam.  This is way too much money to pay for a book.  It is time to think seriously about what our costs of higher education are doing to our economy and to our incentives.

Please don't even think about purchasing a copy at that price for me for Christmas.

So, to wrap it up, Routledge Press seems to have developed a strange business model, where they ignore the concept of the law of supply and demand.  Put another way, they should be figuring that I am not going to be be their customer at these prices, but they might have seduced me into a purchase at $29.99 or $9.99 on the Kindle (or even $12 on the Kindle).

Regards  —  Cliff

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Light Fixtures

When I arrived in Lowell some fifteen years ago this month I began an odyssey of replacing light bulb sockets.  These were light sockets in lamps that had traveled with us over much of the world, with both 110 and 220 volt power, alternating, so to speak. 

In the beginning I put it down to old age.  While I had replaced a few sockets over the years, perhaps now they were all worn out. Then it became an epidemic and I wondered what was wrong with either (a) power in the Northeast or (b) the quality of the products being sold at Home Depot.

Today I went to McKittrick Industrial Supply, on Fletcher Street.  I figured that if anyone had high quality parts, it would be McKittrick.  The gentleman who waited on me said that the problem was across America.  Apparently I arrived in Lowell at about the time American industry gave up and the market went to Mexico and China, per the sales clerk.  We both agreed it was a bad thing.

So, instead of thinking that the problem was like Obama Health Care, where the old folks are just going to have to crawl out onto the ice, it is more like the A(H1N1) Flu Pandemic we are now experiencing.

I believe, deep in my heart, that I would be willing to pay more for better quality.  Apparently those wholesaling lighting fixtures don't believe that.

I hope things change back to the way they were, but in the mean time, I have a couple of light fixtures to fix.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Germany, England, Italy, Philippines, as well as Florida, Alaska, Pennsylvania, and Virginia
  Note that the link is to the Day by Daycartoon, which can be a little edgy.

Funky Winkerbean Story Line

Does anybody still follow the Funky Winkerbean comic strip?

One of the original characters, now in her forties, showed up yesterday as a TV reporter.  Today we find that she is in Iraq, trying to track down the Army Press Liaison.  The Press Liaison is either dodging her or all the press.  That is not clear at this point.

The Character is Cindy, second row down, third person in, at this location.

What makes this intriguing is that perhaps the author, Tom Batiuk, from Akron, Ohio, is going to address the issue of the press and the military.  My own understanding is that sometimes reporters, especially free lance reporters, don't like to "embed" with US units, due to the difficulties of so doing.  Reporter Michael Yon is one of those who has noted the problems of "embedding" with US units.

Frankly, from a military point of view, embedded reporters are a good deal.  They help the military tell its story.  In fact, IMHO, if the US military is doing the job right, all reporters doing factual reporting are going to contribute to the mission.  If bad things happen, exposing that to the air is the best disinfectant.  As Richard Nixon could have told you, covering up is the wrong way to go.

Regards  —  Cliff

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

So What's the Plan?

Yesterday Boston Globe weekly columnist James Carroll stepped into the nuclear weapons swamp.

Building on the recent death of former Secretary of Defense Robert S McNamara, and using the imagery from Moby Dick, Mr Carroll talked about nuclear weapons and how they are our obsession.  After condemning President Obama for timidity in Moscow, he ends up his column with this paragraph:
The president is responsible for his choices, but something else is at work. That the timid nuclear agreement he achieved in Moscow last week, protecting thousands of nukes for years, was nevertheless denounced as sell-out shows the problem. The great white whale of American militarism thrashes on. Robert McNamara, in his long agony, was the prophet of our unfinished task.
OK, so I get it.  Mr Carroll doesn't like nuclear weapons.

The problem with Mr Carroll's approach is that he condemns nuclear weapons but doesn't put forward a plan to make them go away.  He doesn't answer the hard questions.  Those hard questions turn on the fact that in a world where the big boys have hundreds of nuclear weapons having one or two may be of value for deterrence purposes or defensive purposes, but doesn't offer an offensive edge.  However, when we "eliminate" the nuclear arsenals, having one or two nuclear weapons makes a big difference.  Here are some questions that need answering before we go to the "zero" option:
  • What do we do to verify that one or more of the current nuclear powers doesn't hide five or ten?
  • How do we bring along the aspiring nuclear powers?
  • How do we know that there aren't some stray bombs out there with some nation unknown or some transnational group?
  • How do we prevent someone from making new, albeit crude, nuclear devices?  Especially considering that there are all those nuclear power plants out there.
We can talk about enforcement and nuclear power plant security, but look at how timid we were about backing up UN inspectors WRT Iraq and what a mess it was once someone actually did.

We need some serious thinking about this.  While it might be nice to remove the nuclear overhang, it is not going to be easy and it could lead us into places we would rather not be.

Regards  —  Cliff

  I think I have asked this before, but can't The Boston Globe afford to add Mr Carroll to their EMail roster?  Can't Mr Carroll move into the late 20th Century and allow readers to send him EMails?
  The US, Russia, Great Britain, France, China (mainland), India, Pakistan and Israel.
  That would include North Korea and Iran and perhaps others. Once there was Libya and South Korea and South Africa.  Brazil thought about it, as did Japan.
  Did all the nuclear weapons left over from the demise of the Soviet Union really get policed up?

Good Approach

Ms Sherry Swezey, of Littleton, yesterday provided a good approach for all of us, in her letter to The Boston Globe.

Regards  —  Cliff

Happy Bastille Day

I know that the US has an on-again/off-again relationship with France.

But, this is Dastille Day, the 14th of July!

France was there to help us during the Revolutionary War—they helped us gain our independence.

We were there for them during World War I and we helped liberate France from the grip of Nazi tyranny in 1944.  They stood with us sufficiently in the Cold War.

I will admit that their revolution, which helped free all of Europe from the grip of a previous form of tyranny, but was plenty messy. Several hundred thousand died before it was all over and that doesn't count those who died while Napoleon Bonaparte was leading the French Army. But, the idea of freedom did spread with the French Army.

This is a good day to salute France.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Well, easy to say Nazi tyranny, but perhaps more accurate to say German tyranny.

Monday, July 13, 2009

This says it all about PPT

Professor T X Hammes wrote an article for Joint Forces Quarterly about why Microsquish PowerPoint Presentations are a bad forum for decision making.  Someone then made a PowerPoint presentation of the article.

I think the first Gulf War was the first time that PowerPoint like presentations became a tool in the decision making process, although vu-graphs had been around for a long time, and their use was even taught at Staff College, when I attended in 1974.

Regards  —  Cliff

  No, I didn't read the article, I reviewed the PowerPoint presentation.

The VP

From a blog site I have not seen before, Below the Beltway comes this comment on the role of Vice President Dick Chaney in the newest CIA flap.  The blogger, Doug Mataconis, writes:
I’ve written before — here and here — about Cheney’s assumption of Vice-Presidential powers that were not only unprecedented but which, according to Law Professor Glenn Reynolds a/k/a Instapundit, may very well be unconstitutional. So, in some respect, the news that Cheney was giving direct orders to the CIA to withhold information from the people’s representatives in direct violation of the law isn’t all that surprising. The fact that it’s not surprising, though, shouldn’t making any less shocking.

The original has several embedded links
I am with those who believe the Vice President's place is in the Senate, unless and until the President is incapacitated.  The ability of the Vice President to smoothly assume the office of President is facilitated both by his being in the loop (see Vice President Harry Truman and nuclear weapons) and by his distance from the President (compare the transition of Vice President Gerald Ford compared with what it might have been with someone who was as deeply involved in the "plumbers" as was President Nixon).

One of the things I would do if I could, would be to change the process by which Vice Presidential candidates run for office.  That is to say, I would separate the President and the Vice President on the ballot.  That would increase the workload on the voter—having to make an additional mark, but I think it would be worth it.  And, I think it would be consistent with the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution. Being elected in his or her own right would give the Vice President a certain Independence, which might help identify the fact that he or she is not the "Assistant President," but rather is part of the operation of the US Senate and available to fill in for ceremonial purposes from time to time and as President when the President is incapacitated (see the Twenty-Fifth Amendment).

I would hope that such a move would also return us to the time when the Vice President was nominated by the Party Convention and not just handed to the Convention by the Presidential Nominee.  I am saying, I would like to see a second horse race.  An open convention.  In 2008 we might have seen the Democratic Convention nominate Senator Clinton for VP, rather that Senator Biden.  The only down side to that would be if President Obama had then nominated Senator Biden to be Secretary of State

It is to be acknowledges that candidates in the past have had great power over who was nominated, although they sometimes exercised it in an indirection way, as with President Franklin Roosevelt's famous comment, "Clear it with Sidney." The Sidney in this case was labor leader Sidney Hillman, who was opposed to the nomination of James F. Byrnes, of South Carolina, to replace Henry Wallace on the ticket for the fourth election.

The result of this change might be that the American People, in their wisdom, might elect a President from one party and a VP from another.  So be it.  It is the right of the People to pick their leaders.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Hat tip to the Instapundit.
  Does anyone even use "flap" these days?

Twitter and Teens

There I was, following a link from Instapundit on Vice Presidents and their role in Government, when I found myself at this site, looking at an article on Twitter and Teenagers. Granted, it is out of the UK, but still, an interesting take.

The report dismisses Twitter and talks about teenagers using texting and the chat feature of Wii as the way teenagers communicate electronically.  Here are the lead paragraphs (and you have the link above):
A research note written by a 15-year-old Morgan Stanley intern that described his friends' media habits has generated a flurry of interest from media executives and investors.

The US investment bank's European media analysts asked Matthew Robson, an intern from a London school, to write a report on teenagers' likes and dislikes, which made the Financial Times' front page today.

His report, that dismissed Twitter and described online advertising as pointless, proved to be "one of the clearest and most thought-provoking insights we have seen – so we published it", said Edward Hill-Wood, executive director of Morgan Stanley's European media team.
One interesting thing is that this is a teenager providing a research note.  That should be a spur to other teenagers who think they have an insight into something.  Truth does not belong solely to old people or people with PhDs.

I don't use Twitter myself, but do usually scan the Tweets when I visit the Richard Howe blog site.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Which I will blog about, since I think it is an important issue.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cap and Trade

This is one of those things that should scare us. Not to sound like columnist Jeff Jacoby in today's (Sunday's) Boston Globe but the mere size of the new "Cap and Trade" bill is scary. 

Thanks to reporters David A. Fahrenthold and Steven Mufson of The Washington Post we have a discussion of the "Cap and Trade" bill recently passed by the US Congress. Here is the scary quote:
It runs to more than 1,400 pages, swollen with loopholes and giveaways meant to win over un-green industries and wary legislators.
How can anything that the 535 (536 if you count the VP) couldn't have read before they voted for it be a good piece of legislation.  Granted, it is double spaced and single sided, but still, if shrunk down onto their Kindles it would still be a hefty read.

The question of interest to all inquiring mines is "What will all this change cost, and who will pay?"

Per the reporters the Environmental Protection Agency and the Congressional Budget Office are saying that it will be less than 50¢ per household per day. In English, that is just under $183 per year. The conservative Heritage Foundation is doing with $11.78 per day, but that includes the escalation in cost as the law tightens its grip on emitting industries as time goes by. That works out to about $4300 per annum. OK, lets go to the CBO letter to Congress:
On that basis, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the net annual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion—or about $175 per household. That figure includes the cost of restructuring the production and use of energy and of payments made to foreign entities under the program, but it does not include the economic benefits and other benefits of the reduction in GHG emissions and the associated slowing of climate change. CBO could not determine the incidence of certain pieces (including both costs and benefits) that represent, on net, about 8 percent of the total. For the remaining portion of the net cost, households in the lowest income quintile would see an average net benefit of about $40 in 2020, while households in the highest income quintile would see a net cost of $245. Added costs for households in the second lowest quintile would be about $40 that year; in the middle quintile, about $235; and in the fourth quintile, about $340. Overall net costs would average 0.2 percent of households’ after-tax income.

19 June 2009 letter from CBO Director Douglas W. Elmendorf to Congressman David Camp, Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
On the plus side, we will reap the benefits of a cleaner environment. On the negative side, this might well drive jobs overseas. Jobs that go overseas are jobs that our relatives, friends and neighbors are not working at.

Here is the "off the wall" quote for the article:
Who loses in these compromises?

The federal government.
Does anyone in the MSM understand that the Federal Government is merely an entity of the People? Does anyone in the MSM understand that if "The People" all said "we want a new Federal Government, now" the current one would cease to exist? For sure there would be a mad scramble to create a new one (and a lot of people would get hurt in the process). I am NOT advocating that we all stage a sit-down strike against Washington. I am, however, pointing out that who gets hurt is "The People." The Federal Government is merely a machine for getting our collective work done at the national level (and too often the local level).

When our Senators and Representatives trade away some aspect of a bill to get votes from some particular Senators and Representatives (in order to get a majority), it is the rest of us who suffer. In the end, with a bill this size, we probably all get stung to some degree. One of the ways we get stung is that a herd of lawyers (or is that a horde of lawyers?) is turned loose to figure out how to extract the most benefit for those who can afford lawyers.

The other side of the coin is that the accountants will also be turned loose and in those industries where there is forward thinking leadership the accountants will e made to find good investments in Research and Development that will yield new processes and new industries and we might all benefit from that. On the other hand, I am an optimist.

Here is the "good news" from the Wash Post article:
How will the world view this?

This might be the most surprising answer of all: A bill swimming in bureaucratic minutiae might make its biggest impact as a broad-stroke idea, a symbol that the United States is serious about climate change.

"It really sends a signal to the international community that one of the largest emitters means business," said Elizabeth Perera of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group. If that persuades other large-scale polluters such as China to set their own emissions standards, Perera said, the world might get the major reductions that scientists say are needed.
We can hope, since nations like India and China are big pollutors.

Regards  —  Cliff

  In reporter Jacoby's article he quotes US House Majorty Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) saying:  "If every member pledged to not vote for it if they hadn’t read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes."  The best we can hope for is that the syndicate that is the office of each Congressperson is going over this stuff and advising the principle as to what it says.
  Which is why, I believe, all legislation needs to have a sunset clause. It it is important enough to pass it is important enough to relook in five or ten years and repass.
  My son, the lawyer, says it is "school of lawyers," like it is a school of sharks.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Six and the Milinazzo Motion

Perhaps depressed by the thought that prosecutors are not prepared to deal with the Lowell City Council's action in violation of the rules of our Plan E Government, City Councilor Jim Milinazzo has filed a motion for Tuesday's City Council meeting.  The idea of the motion is a request for an independent investigation into last month's vote to eliminate the assistant to the city manager position.

I went to the Lowell City Web Page to look at the agenda, but the last one posted was for 23 June 2009.  Maybe when it breaks John McDonough will EMail it out to some of us.

My question is, why would any of "The Six" vote for this motion?  Perhaps to clear the air and move beyond this issue before November.

Hat tip to Mimi over in Left in Lowell.

Regards  —  Cliff

Out Back Question of the Week

The Out Back Question of the Week is local.
Who is Andy Sheehan and what does he have to do with Lowell's Plan E Form of Government.
The information is out there.

Regards  —  Cliff

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Saving Plan E Government

Mimi, over at Left in Lowell has called me out on the issue of the City Council voting to cut City Manager Bernie Lynch's Assistant, Andy Sheehan.  She may not have meant to target me specifically in her blog post, "Leaders who do not Lead," but I took it as a challenge—especially considering that I have been thinking about this since the Gallagher / Donoghue OpEd in The Lowell Sun earlier this week.  That would be former Lowell Mayor Eileen Donoghue and former School Committee member Michael Gallagher.

Over at Dick Howe's blog we have a rundown on the applicable law.
Massachusetts General Laws chapter 43, section 107 prohibits a city councilor from taking part in any manner in the removal of an employee of the city from that employee’s job.  Violation of this statute is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of up to $500.  Furthermore, immediately upon conviction of such a violation, a councilor would be removed from office and “shall never again be eligible for any office or any position, elective or otherwise, in the service of the city
Then the distinguished attorney goes on to say why the DA will walk away from this one.  At this point there are seven comments on the Blog Post.

The consensus from Dick Howe's Blog is that this has to be dealt with in November.  Unfortunately, the half-life of a political memory in the US is about 90 days and it is almost four months to the election.

But, still, I wonder.  If this violation of the principles of Plan E is allowed to stand, then what? Is this self-limiting or is it going to following the laws of life and evolve?  Of course, if we vote out the violators, we may have cauterized this thing, but maybe not.

Maybe this is something for Martha Coakley to look into. She is the Commonwealth's Attorney General. She found time to step on UMass Lowell's attempt to obtain student housing. Why can't she find time to do some intimidation of the Lowell City Council?  I postulate three reasons:
  1. She doesn't think she has a case, or
  2. This isn't about getting a step up on Marty Meehan, or
  3. Notwithstanding the claims of this being a non-partisan form of government, this is all about Democrats taking care of Democrats.
I reject Option C, which leaves only the first two and I am going with Option B.

This episode reminds me of our School Superintendent going up against a certain member of the school committee, only in reverse.

The list of who voted to eliminate the funding is not presented directly in any place I looked.  And maybe that is a good thing.  One mistake is not a reason to vote someone out—we should vote on the "whole man" basis.  But, we should be paying attention to this issue.

In the interest of helping everyone know who did what, here is the list of those who voted to "cut the funding" for the position held by Andy Sheehan:
  • Councilor Alan Kazanjian
  • Councilor Mike Lenzi
  • Councilor Rodney Elliott
  • Councilor Rita Mercier
  • Councilor Armand Mercier
  • Mayor Edward "Bud" Caulfield
But, we do need to ask about what they have done since that vote to redeem themselves.

Regards  —  Cliff

Smart Car Testing

My buddy, Neal, did some Colonel John Stapp like testing of a Smart Car about a week and a half ago.  He wrote up the results, which show his background as a pilot and also as a medical technician in his early years in the Air Force.  His report on the test is below:
Last Monday afternoon, while returning from Manchester via Rt 3A, with the assistance of a young 20-something lady driving a SUV, I conducted a technical review of Smart Car crash worthiness.  Conclusion 1 was immediate and unquestionable.  The SUV won hands down runnin'.  Conclusion 2 was interesting in re the construction philosophy behind Smart Car design. First, there is no true backend and so, when backended, as I was, there is no framework to be pushed into the passenger compartment.  Similarly, since the Smart Car weighs in at 500 lbs, the amount of energy actually sustained because of the crash is reduced by having the car use that crash energy to become rapidly mobile.  That leads rapidly to Conclusion 3.  As the front end and back end of the Smart Car are similar in both design and substance, one never need be concerned with having your car's engine sitting in your lap.  Our Smart Car very precisely contacted a double steel telephone pole. Now, the interesting thing about that phase of the research is that the passenger compartment was in pristine condition with the exception of a smoking air bag in my lap.  I merely reached down, unsnapped my seatbelt, and opened the door as though I was parked in a commercial lot.

The Cons sort begin here.  I think that Smart Car must have connections with Obama in that there is definitely a "shared burden" slant to Smart Car design.  Not hood or trunk DOES require one to then use one's body as part of the collision absorption process.  While this may vary from person to person, post crash analysis will always document some bodily compromise. In my case, aside from bruising to both ass cheeks and my tailbone of such magnitude as to make it look as though I soaked my butt in a vat of overripe blueberries, I also discovered that while a seat belt will definitely restrain you, in the process of doing so, it will impose a tissue compression injury of almost unique proportions and levels of pain.  Alas both of my kidneys were, as my trauma surgeon observed Monday night, significantly insulted.  Well, that is a euphemism for taking it in the shorts.  My left kidney immediately surrounded itself with a pool of blood while the right kidney was so confused that it just threw in the towel. After 4 days of lying flat on a hospital bed with a Foley catheter "draining me" while also receiving every three hour blessed interventions in the form of IV dilaudid, both kidneys have decided to stay the fight and hang with me for a few more years....but I had to sign a blood oath with them that we would NOT get another Smart Car.

The little girl driving the SUV told the police that she "had a lot of things going on in her life and wasn't paying attention." Of course she wasn't using her cell phone.  I told that officer that IF that were true, someone ought to give her some kind of medal as in her age group, she was probably the ONLY one in the state, if not the region, or even the nation that wasn't using their cell phone while driving.  I mean..."What are the chances????"

So, after the loss of a week, I am finally back home under enforced (well..and induced) bed rest.  When you take two oxycontin tablets every 4 hours, it' amazing how little importance all of those important things have.

I have made the decision that I am not ever again going to conduct first person vehicular structural engineering tests.

Let's help Neal persevere in his decision to avoid such testing in the future, by driving with care in New Hampshire.

Regards  —  Cliff


Yesterday, at around 1145 I was driving East on Route 133 and was about to fudge into the left lane to get around the numerous pot holes in the right lane by the Rite Aid Pharmacy (near where River Road branches off), when what did I see but patches.

I don't know if the thanks goes to Lowell or Tewksbury or the Commonwealth, but in any event—THANKS!

Good job.

Regards  —  Cliff

Out Back Question of the Week—Answer

Here is the location of last week's Outback Question of the Week.

The answer can be found on Michael Yon's blog post for today, Thursday, 9 July, located here.

The blog post has a picture of a beautiful young lady and the blog post is titled "Girl with no future."

So the answer to the question:
This cake will not be baked in 10 years.

Of what nation was he speaking and what did he mean?
The answer is Afghanistan and the fact that Afghanistan is not going to move into the twentieth century for quite some time.

That doesn't mean we give up and go home.  It does me we accept that what might work in helping our own Gulf Coast recover from a hurricane is not going to work as well and as quickly in Afghanistan.  But, still, we should hang around.  As reporter Michael Yon talks about a village of 20 where there is only one literate person, we should consider the impact of having four literate people.  People are not meant to be thrown away and as long as we are making some progress we should stick around.

There is a big argument out there in the Pol-Mil Arena about whether counter insurgency should be focused on the people or on the enemy.  I am one of those who thinks we should keep our powder dry, but work on helping the people achieve their potential.  But, that does mean helping to keep them secure from bandits and would-be revolutionaries.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Political / Military arena, combining military action and political action (to include diplomacy and political, sociological, psychological, economic, scientific, and other appropriate factors.  This is the heart of interagency coordination.

Palin, the Gift that Keeps on Giving

My buddy Bill, over in Chelmsford, sent along this thought...
Palin was criticized for lack of experience.  So, I believe she is leaving the Governor's office to look for a good CEO position where she will be mentored by a sympathetic board of directors.  Note:  I believe by law, she must be out of office for 6 months before taking a position that might involve contracts with the Government.  That avoids "the appearance of impropriety."  If she is successful, she will hand Romney his hat and show him the door.
The Democratic Party race for the Presidential nomination in 2012 is not nearly as interesting as the Republican race.  On the Democratic Party side you only have the President, the VP and the Secretary of State.

Regards  —  Cliff

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How is Sarah Trading?

The "In Trade" trading site shows that there was, net, not a big bump nor was there a big fall-off from the announcement by Governor Palin that she is stepping down from her office later this month.  This information and the trading status of other potential nominees by the Republican Party can be found here.

The contract ID of this contract is: 652756

Law Professor Ann Althouse reports the same thing and then mentions a Gallup Poll, which says pretty much the same thing.  For those of you living in terror of President Palin, the long nightmare is not over.

Regards  —  Cliff

Honduras Problem Doesn't Get Better

Here is Mary Anastasia O'Grady writing in The Wall Street Journal. Her article is titled "Honduras at the Tipping Point" and the subtitle is "Why is the U.S. not supporting the rule of law?"

Good question.

It is helpful to recognize that this isn't just about Honduras, but about Venezuela and about Venezuela's relationship with Iran and the whole drug issue.♠

Maybe there is a secret plan down in DC to solve this problem and not give a victory to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.  Maybe after SecState Clinton's meeting with ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya she will then broker a deal where Mr Zelaya goes into exile and we recommend that the Organization of American States recognize the democratic aspirations of the People of Honduras. 

I have my fingers crossed.

Regards  —  Cliff

♠  Does anyone think we are "winning" the long War on Drugs?
  Secretary of State.

Chelmsford Parade

My friend Richard dropped me an EMail yesterday.  He wrote to point out that there was some criticism of the Chelmsford Republican Town Committee in "BackTalk" in Tuesday's issue of The Lowell SunThe full list of Tuesday's "BackTalk" items can be found here.

The item in question is, I am sure, this one:
INAPPROPRIATE: The parade was very nice, but there was one inappropriate group. The Chelmsford Republican Party's display was strictly anti-President Obama and I do not think that was the place for it. We were celebrating Independence Day, not a political event.

Not exactly.

I am not from Chelmsford, but I have noted that the Independence Day Parade has always been open to a certain degree of partisan politics.  First of all you have the incumbents, up front.  Then you have the challengers further back.  When I was running against Representative David Nangle, back in 2002 and 2004, I marched in the parade.

I think that this year the Chelmsford Republican Town Committee entry consisted of a banner, a car and someone dressed as Abe Lincoln and carrying a sign.  The sign was definitely partisan.  It was slamming former Mass House Speaker Tom Finneran for the way he gerrymandered Chelmsford after the last census.

As you may recall, before 2002 Chelmsford had its own district (which it shared with Carlisle) and Representative Carol C Cleven was the State Rep,  (Yes, as of this AM the IT folks on Beacon Hill still have her web page up.  I guess they don't need the disk space.)

I did blog about this previously, here.

The problem for Speaker Finneran seems to have been that she was either (a) a Republican, or (b) too liberal.  Maybe both. At any rate, he broke Chelmsford up like a soda cracker into four districts, including two that are appendages of Lowell.  If you have ever lived in Chicago, you would think that someone was being punished for not going along,

Next came the non-partisan "Greater Lowell Tea Party."  Non-partisan in that it is not part of any recognized party.  Partisan in that it is concerned about some of the things going on in Washington.  Properly themed in that it takes one of the threads from our fight for Independence, The Boston Tea Party, and links it to today.

The best sign from that group was "Party like it is 1773."  There were a couple of signs opposing the current health care reform and some concerned with the way we are fighting the recession.  I expect this is what the writer was incensed about.  As for me, for most of the route I was carrying an American Flag, although I did help some lady by carrying her sign for about a quarter of a mile.

Then followed Sandi Martinez, who is running for State Senate from Chelmsford.  Somewhere in there was an SUV with stickers for Sam Meas,who is running to get the Republican Party nomination to run against Rep Niki Tsongas in November of 2010. Also, James Wojas was there. Mr Wojas is running as a challenger for Lowell City Council.  Why was he in Chelmsford?  I didn't ask him, but I assume it was because he figured folks from Lowell know a good parade when they see one and were in attendance.  Besides, he was Partying with his friends, like it was 1773.

So, there you have my take on it.  It wasn't the Chelmsford Republican Town Committee.  That said, there was a float raising concern about the direction of our Great Nation.  That seemed fair enough on a sunny but not too hot Independence day.

Regards  —  Cliff

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Governor Sarah Palin

This opinion piece by William Kristol, in The Washington Post this morning sums up my views on Governor Sarah Palin.
For psychological and sociological reasons too deep for me to grasp, a good chunk of elite America hates Sarah Palin and what they've decided she stands for. But if she wears their scorn as a badge of honor, comports herself with good cheer and personal dignity, studies up on national issues and takes the lead in selected debates on behalf of conservative principles against Obama administration policies, she has a shot.

If she's as foolish, erratic and even nutty as her critics claim, then of course she'll fail. If she performs well, she may succeed. If you have an anti-mainstream-media and anti-GOP-establishment bone in your body, it's hard not to root for her at least a bit.
What can I say? I was an anti-establishment insurgent when I ran for Student Body President at Robert A Millikan High School (Long Beach, California) in 1959.

But, looking at the Eugene Robinson column in the same newspaper, I thought his view was more confused that he thinks Governor Palin's is.  He says the reason the MSM follows Governor Palin is:
The first is fear -- not of Palin and her know-nothing legions, but of being painted as elitist and sexist.
I am not sure sexist exactly captures it, but the fact is the MSM keeps reporting on her because they are elistists and it is their form of a supermarket tabloid story.

Then you have WashPost columnist Richard Cohen, who basically thinks she would have been a worse President than your next door neighbor, if Senator McCain had won and then passed away.  But, then he goes on to trash several other Republicans by name and Republicans in general.  Interestingly, he skips Governor Bobby Jindal.

One question that jumped up in my mind as I read the Richard Cohen article was if the Vanity Fair plug was because he thought it buttressed his case or because it was paid for.  Given the recent problems The Post has had with $25,000 per person seminars where you can meet the stars of Washington, one can't be too careful.

In the end, I thought Mr William Kristol had the best OpEd.

Regards  —  Cliff

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reduced Nuclear Warheads

In tonights on-line edition of The Washington Post we hear that the President of the United States and the President of Russia have agreed to reduce nuclear warheads dramatically.  Per the newspaper article
"The joint understanding commits the United States and Russia to reduce their strategic warheads to a range of 1,500 - 1,675, and their strategic delivery vehicles to a range of 500 - 1,100," the fact sheet said.  "These numbers reflect a new level of reductions of strategic offensive arms and delivery vehicles that will be lower than those in any existing arms control agreements," the White House said.
Once the cheering stops, the question needs to be asked, how low is too low.

Put another way, what do we need to maintain mutual deterrence with Russia and China and still have enough warheads left over to deal with a rogue state?

As a point of reference, we needed two nuclear devices to push Japan to the point of surrender, after we had pummelled them severely and cut them off from all raw materials, including fuel and food.  Would a nuclear armed North Korea, attacking south with nuclear weapons in use be stopped by two nuclear weapons?

This is goolish to think about, but when moving toward a nuclear free world it is something to think about.  Put another way, how much punishment are some of these governments prepared to take to achieve their aims?

I hope we never find out.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  Over the weekend there was a little dustup over the White House saying that it didn't really need the Senate to ratify a nuclear arms agreement.  The White House later backed off to say that the President could "honor" such an agreement while waiting for Senate approval of the treaty.  The fact is, approval of treaties is not the job of the President.  It is the responsibility of Ted Kennedy and John F Kerry and 98 of their closest friends.

RIP Robert S McNamara

Dead at 93, Robert Strange McNamara.  Honest, that is his name.  He got his middle name from his Mother's side of the family. 

For those of us who served in the Armed Forces in the middle of the 1960s, and especially those of us who served in Southeast Asia, Mr McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, was not a well beloved character.&nsp; He was the focus of all our thoughts about what was wrong.

Mr McNamara has now gone on to his reward.♠

Secretaries of Defense are very important people and can adversely impact not only the development of the Armed Forces, but also our basic military strategy and also our national security strategy.

Regards  —  Cliff

♠  If anyone has a problem with this link, please submit a comment or EMail me at "crk" AT "". Use the @ for AT.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Dilemma?

On Wednesday, 24 June, Mr E J Dionne had an OpEd in The Lowell Sun, titled "The Liberals' Iran Dilemma." Given the Sun's two week rule,♠ I link to the story here, with a different title.

My problem is, what is the dilemma?  Mr Dionne makes it far too complicated.  As he says, the Democrats are playing the "Realist" game.
As a foreign policy realist, Obama knew that at the end of the current struggle, the United States would still have to deal with Iran on the issue of its nuclear program and other matters related to our "long-term interests."♥
As "realists," the Democrats should know that nothing is going to stop the Iranians on their path to nuclear power, unless it is a successful invasion (which I am not advocating).

What we know is that even if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the election fair and square, his distrust of democracy and the Iranian Election system was such that he rigged the outcome.  I am sure that President Obama's advisors understand what that is about.  Chief of Staff Rahm Emanual can explain it to him, based upon his (former Representative Emanual's) time in Chicago politics.

The US response should be very straight forward.  Cite the First Amendment to the US Constitution as explaining how we feel about protests, but say that Iran has to solve Iran's problems Iran's way.  What is so hard about that?  What dilemma does that pose?

On the other hand, Honduras does seem to be a dilemma.  What we have is the Honduran nation is trying to deal with a President who was out of control and acting illegally. At the same time, the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, opposes Honduras on this, as does Cuba.  That is to say, both are supporting ousted President Manuel Zelaya, perhaps because they like his style of governing.

Which is not to say that the Organization of American States isn't also backing President Manuel Zelaya.  I think the OAS is wrong to oppose Honduras on this, but perhaps the various nations are united in their general concern about governments being overthrown.

Meanwhile, back in Tegucigalpa, Honduras,
Things were fairly normal at the mall, except for very long lines at banks and at the United Colors of Benetton store, which was running out of white shirts. White is the color of choice of the anti-Zelaya forces, who turn out in huge demonstrations around the presidential palace.
We have this from The Los Angeles Times on Sunday.  It turns out that when I got up this morning to finish this post I put on a dress white shirt from last week to keep warm.  It turns out I am proudly part of the anti-Zelaya forces.

Meanwhile, the US Administration can't find a way to support the legitimate authorities in Honduras and still placate the Organization of American States.  Sadly, it appears as though we soft peddle our views when dealing with medium sized nations with nuclear aspirations, but bully little nations.

Regards  —  Cliff

♠  After two weeks articles drop out of The Sun's web page and move to their archive page.  It doesn't not appear the link follows.
♥  The fact is, no matter which man wins in Iran, we face a nation that is still strongly nationalist, strongly religious and strongly into nuclear weapons.  Our interest here isn't in who will give us the best deal.  Our interest is in democracy for the People of Iran, because we believe democracy, over time, gives everyone the best deal.