Sunday, December 31, 2006

Natural Disaster & Telecom

This past week when news broke over the underwater earthquake south of Taiwan, the immediate thought was to human life and physical property. Then to a possible tsunami. Then to loss of voice and data communications. Even before I heard about the outage, I knew something was up with the Internet. The sites I was trying to access in SE Asia were not accessible. It seemed strange that so many servers would be down in so many countries. And these were major servers. It was not until I hit a major U.S. news site that the dots were connected.

A number of years ago, I was in New Zealand. It was during that period I found out how "isolated" certain countries were -- not necessarily by physical location but by communications. Laying cables on the ocean floor, connecting nations and continents, is not something we can take for granted.

We have become very very reliant on Internet access. For many, Internet access is more important than traditional voice. This is especially the case with international communications. A break in a major undersea telecom cable can have a long-term impact on a whole region's ability to communicate. Fixing or by-passing a cable like this is not simple task.

Carrier networks and the public Internet are designed for redundancy in mind. Alternative path and non-terrestrial means certainly help. However, capacity is still a limiting factor.

With all the the investment into Asia and the interdependencies of economies, this will have a ripple effect. Certainly the carriers have been considering these types of outages. The business case to add additional capacity is not simple. This will change some assumptions built into spreadsheets. But it takes time to plan, deploy and implement.

What does this mean to the average business? It can mean a delay in parts and products from Asia. It can mean missing or slower communications for critical applications. It can have an impact to the bottom line due to fewer sales.

While these types of issues are difficult to predict, acts of nature and how they can impact our everyday business are certainly risks we should consider on a more general basis. These acts include local, regional, national and global issues. Face it, we have a global economy -- good or bad. Given this, we need to think globally even if our market is only local.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Two Leaders: One Honored, One Not

Today, we witnessed the state funeral of President Gerald Ford and the execution of Saddam Hussein.

Ford is remembered as a fair and honorable fellow. He appeared to have few enemies. Hussein was the opposite - a murderer, thief and despot. Both leaders of nations -- one will be remembered fondly, the other with hate.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

West Point Cadet


I have a nephew that just got accepted to West Point. We are all very excited for him.

I was talking to my wife about what it means to go to West Point -- that's its not something one does for a parent, for the prestige, for the "free" education. Cadets are trained to lead soldiers in some of the harshest and life-threatening situations humans confront.

Then I read his acceptance letter. It congratulates him on his acceptance pending scholastic and physical fitness. But the bulk of the letter was more of a statement as to what this commitment means.

Cadets are soldiers, first and foremost. Sure they will get a good traditional education but they will also get educated on military science. They want career soldiers -- commissioned officers but soldiers none-the-less.

I think he is going in with eyes wide open. I am proud of him and wish him the very best.

Gerald R. Ford, 38th President, Dies


Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr., 93, our 38th president, died on Tuesday at his home in California.

I remember quite vividly Gerald Ford, first the Vice President and then as the President. He was the only President not directly elected by the people. Richard Nixon's elected Vice President was Spiro Agnew. Agnew resigned amidst a tax evasion charge (he pleaded no contest) and for charges associated with accepting bribes and kickbacks. Ford became the VP on 6 December 1973. When Nixon resign in the wake of the Watergate affair, Ford became the President.

He served for 2 1/2 years. Some of the things he did were:
-- End the U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam.
-- Helped mediate a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Egypt.
-- Signed the Helsinki human rights convention with the Soviet Union.
-- Traveled to Vladivostok in the Soviet Far East to sign an arms limitation agreement with Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet president.
-- Sent the Marines to free the crew of the Mayaguez, a U.S. merchant vessel that was captured by Cambodian communists.
-- Dealt with with an inflation rate of 12%.
-- Dealt with energy shortages, price increases and long gas lines.
-- Dealt with Democrat majorities in both the House and the Senate.

But he will be remembered primarily for is pardoning of Richard Nixon after the Watergate break-in and cover-up, on one hand, and the effort to bring America's faith back into the White House, on the other.

Prior to the pardon, Ford enjoyed a huge favorable rating. Afterwards, he fell to almost Bush-like lows. He overcame Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination in 1976 but narrowly lost the general election Jimmy Carter that November.

I think most Americans would gladly take Ford over Carter. Look at them after their time in office: Ford lead a respectful life; Carter has shown everyone what a fool he is.

Ford will not go down as a great President, but not as a bad one either. He was more of a caretaker; and he did a good job in that role.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

NFL Fantasy Comes to an End

Just finished my first fantasy NFL season. I did this one with my sons, my brothers and a few others in Columbus. Ohio. We did it on Yahoo!

During the regular season, our team had the second most points but we only barely qualified for the playoffs (top six qualify and we were sixth).

We started out with two QB from the draft -- Daunte Culpepper and Byron Leftwich, both finding themselves on injured reserved and out for the season. Within a few weeks, both were dropped and free agents picked up -- Philip Rivers and eventually Jay Cutler and Alex Smith we added.

From the running back position, we did okay with Tiki Barber, Chester Taylor and Kevin Jones. Due to injuries to Taylor and Jones, we picked up their backups -- Artose Pinner and Arlen Harris. They were nothing to brag about. We had Cedric Benson for most of the season but never started him.

At the wide out position, we started Torry Holt and Andre Johnson almost every game. They did okay. We occasionally started Reggie Brown or Eddie Kennison, but they would only get a few points.

From the tight end position, we started Chris Cooley most games. We picked up Owen Daniel for a few weeks -- one week he was one of the league's highest point makers.

For a kicker, we had Josh Brown. He was average.

For a defense, we started out with Carolina, but they stunk! So we played the free agent market and the match-ups. We used Seattle, Denver, and Buffalo and seemed to do okay most of the time (except for the last game where Buffalo only earned us one point).

We finished our 12-man league in 4th place after the playoffs, losing in the semi-finals and in the 3rd place match. Two of my brothers faced each other in the championship: DKH beat CRH.

It was fun. We'll have to do it again next year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

No Recourse for Wrongly Charged

It has always bothered me when the media destroy wrongly-charged individuals in prominent or newsworthy crimes. Consider two of the latest:

-- Tom Stephens in the Ipswich prostitution murders.
-- Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, three lacrosse players from Duke wrongly accused of rape by a stripper and supported by the District Attorney Mike Nifong.

These individuals' names have been dragged through the sewer. The road they have back, if possible, is long and rough.

It is a sad fact they have no recourse. The media have no scruples. They will do anything for a story, caring less if it is true. We just hope we never get our 15 minutes of fame -- they will screw it up and give you a label you probably do not deserve and if you do, probably less than 50% accurate.

Salvation Army Bucket - Two Cities "Give"

Albert Mohler wrote: "20/20" put a Salvation Army bucket at the busiest location of Sioux Falls and San Francisco. What happened? Here's the report: "Well, even though people in Sioux Falls make, on average, half as much money as people in San Francisco, and even though the San Francisco location was much busier--three times as many people were within reach of the bucket--by the end of the second day, the Sioux Falls bucket held twice as much money."

The Beatitudes come to mind:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

There's no "blessed are the selfish" or "blessed are the self-centered." This goes to the point that liberals are typically less religious and less compassionate than their conservative brethren. We know too well that liberal compassion is helping the less fortunate and downtrodden with other peoples' money.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Democracy vs Authoritarianism in Latin America

The Latinobarometro presented its 2006 Report [in Spanish] in Santiago on 8 December and its main conclusion were presented by The Economist magazine.

Uruguay is the most democracy-favoring nation whereas it neighbor Paraguay is the least.


Column Translation
1-Democracy has its problems but it is the best system.
2-Confidence in the democracy [is required] to become a developed country.
3-Democracy creates conditions to prosper.
4-It is possible to become rich if you are born poor.

The biggest issues in Latin America have been either a) unemployment and poverty or b) crime and public security. Latinos are more optimistic about their future and their economies than they have been in years.

In general, people in Central America lean more to the political right than their South American counterparts.

Finally, one thing I found interesting was that when they were asked who they have trust in, the top vote getters were the church and television; the least were political parties and their congresses. Television? Boy, do they have a long way to go.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pro Bowlers 2006-7

AFC PRO BOWL ROSTER
-------------------
OFFENSE
Wide receivers - Andre Johnson, HOU, Chad Johnson, CIN, Marvin Harrison, IND
Reggie Wayne, IND
Tackles - Willie Anderson, CIN, Jonathan Ogden, BAL, Tarik Glenn, IND
Guards - Alan Faneca, PIT, Will Shields, KC, Brian Waters, KC
Centers - Jeff Saturday, IND, Nick Hardwick, SD
Tight ends - Antonio Gates, SD, Tony Gonzalez, KC
Quarterbacks - Peyton Manning, IND, Carson Palmer, CIN, Philip Rivers, SD
Running backs - LaDainian Tomlinson, SD, Larry Johnson, KC, Willie Parker, PIT
Fullback - Lorenzo Neal, SD

DEFENSE
Defensive ends - Jason Taylor, MIA, Aaron Schobel, BUF, Derrick Burgess, OAK
Interior linemen - Richard Seymour, NE, Jamal Williams, SD, Casey Hampton, PIT
Outside linebackers - Adalius Thomas, BAL, Shawne Merriman, SD, Terrell Suggs, BAL
Inside linebackers - Al Wilson, DEN, Zach Thomas, MIA
Cornerbacks - Champ Bailey, DEN, Rashean Mathis, JAC, Chris McAlister, BAL
Strong safeties - Troy Polamalu, PIT
Free safety - Ed Reed, BAL, John Lynch, DEN

SPECIALISTS
Punter - Brian Moorman, BUF
Placekicker - Nate Kaeding, SD
Kick return specialist - Justin Miller, NYJ
Special teamer - Kassim Osgood, SD

NFC PRO BOWL ROSTER
-------------------
OFFENSE
Wide receivers - Torry Holt, STL, Steve Smith, CAR, Donald Driver, GB, Anquan Boldin, ARI
Tackles - Walter Jones, SEA, Jammal Brown, NO, Chris Samuels, WAS
Guards - Shawn Andrews, PHI, Steve Hutchinson, MIN, Larry Allen, SF
Centers - Olin Kreutz, CHI, Matt Birk, MIN
Tight ends - Alge Crumpler, ATL, Jeremy Shockey, NYG
Quarterbacks - Drew Brees, NO, Marc Bulger, STL, Tony Romo, DAL
Running backs - Frank Gore, SF, Tiki Barber, NYG, Steven Jackson, STL
Fullback - Mack Strong, SEA

DEFENSE
Defensive ends - Julius Peppers, CAR, Will Smith, NO, Aaron Kampman, GB
Interior linemen - Kevin Williams, MIN, Tommie Harris, CHI, Kris Jenkins, CAR
Outside linebackers - Lance Briggs, CHI, DeMarcus Ware, DAL, Julian Peterson, SEA
Inside linebackers - Brian Urlacher, CHI, Lofa Tatupu, SEA
Cornerbacks - Ronde Barber, TB, DeAngelo Hall, ATL, Lito Sheppard, PHI
Strong safeties - Adrian Wilson, ARI, Roy Williams, DAL
Free safety - Brian Dawkins, PHI

SPECIALISTS
Punter - Mat McBriar, DAL
Placekicker - Robbie Gould, CHI
Kick return specialist - Devin Hester, CHI
Special teamer - Brendon Ayanbadeho, CHI

(Tennessee, Detroit and Cleveland are not represented this year, all to frequently especially for a Browns fan. Putting Tony Romo on the roster is pathetic seeing he only played eight games, two still to come.)

Strike

Bribe Payers' Index

Despite anti-bribery legislation, companies from the leading exporting nations still routinely pay bribes in developing countries.

Overseas bribery by companies from the world's leading exporting nations is common despite strong anti-bribery laws. The Bribe Payers Index (BPI) survey examines the propensity of companies from the 30 leading exporting nations to bribe abroad.

-- Worst Bribers 30-21: India, China, Russia, Turkey, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Africa, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Korea.

-- Middle 20-11: Italy, Hong Kong, Israel, Mexico, Portugal, France, UAE, Spain, Singapore, Japan.

-- Least Bribers 10-1: Belgium, USA, Netherlands,Germany, UK, Canada, Austria, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland.

I don't think any of this comes as a surprise.

Who's Protecting This Guy & Why?

The National Archives Inspector General Paul Brachfeld reported that former national security adviser Sandy Berger removed classified documents from the National Archives in 2003 and hid them under a construction trailer. This apparently did not come up in his trial.

Berger plead guilty to unlawfully removing and retaining classified documents, was fined $50,000, ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, and was barred from access to classified material for three years.

Regardless of this man's past duties, and credentials, the law is the law. He probably cannot be charged again with this latest finding but this guys is a thief. He got off with a slap on the wrist.

SE Asian Tsunami Funds Availability

Of the 2.2 billion dollars donated to the Red Cross worldwide in the aftermath of the southeast Asian tsunami two years ago, about $1.3 billion has not yet been spent. Of the 50,000 homes promised by the Red Cross, just 8,000 had been finished.

According to the United Nations Department for Aid and Development, of the $6.7 billion pledged, about a tenth has yet to be delivered, and only $3.4 billion has been spent thus far.

-- China offered $301 million, but has thus far delivered just $1 million.
-- Spain pledged $60 million, but came up with less than a million.
-- France said it would give $79 million, but delivered just over a million.
-- Kuwait had pledged slightly less than $10 million, but has given none.
-- US has given about 38% of the money it promised,
-- EU owes about $70 million.
-- Britain owes $12 million.

Large agencies -- private or public -- rarely seem to be able to do what they say. When individuals donate many and see it not used or used for questionable purposes, that compassionate giving diminishes.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Iraq Study Group: Deal with Israel to Solve Iraq?

The Iraq Study Group report asserts that, "the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless [it] deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict". (see page 39, Section 4. The Wider Regional Context.)

Who really believes that if there were peace between Israel and the Palestinians that the Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq would stop murdering each other?

Increased U.S. involvement in the Israel-Palestinian conflict makes no sense. The West probably cannot do much to appease the Arabs -- they are their own worst enemy. Rather, the West will ask Israel to make more concessions. Unfortunately, they are concessioned out.

Palestinian society is socially, culturally, and financially bankrupt. IMO, they are hopeless. Their incessant education is focused on the misguided belief that the Jews are responsible for all the world's ills and should be annihilated by any means including suicide bombing.

When the so-called experts add irrelevant recommendations based on unrelated topics, it gets to the point where the whole document must be questioned. Why not blame starvation in Africa on Israel? This ISG report is anti-semetic at its core.

Why don't they suggest going door to door in every home in Iraq and clean out the weapons, the insurgents, the criminals? The Nazis did it in France. The Allies did it in Germany. This war needs more Sherman and Patton and less McClellan and Chamberlain.

For some interesting background details and good Israeli sites see FLAME and BitterLemons.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Illegal Immigrat Roundup

I like the fall-out from last weeks illegal immigrant round-up at six meat-processing plants. There are apologists claiming "we cannot break-up families," "these people perform jobs Americans don't want" and "the economy will be impacted if we don't allow these people to continue in their jobs."

There are many reasons why the government needs to clamp down on illegal immigration; but identify theft is a key one. Despite your opinion of illegal immigration, ID theft cannot be defended.

A neighbor of mine manages a business that hires construction workers. They require a SS number verification prior to employment. He told me one time he ran into a Mexican he wanted to hire but his SS number was invalid. He apologized and returned within 30 minutes with one that worked. Hired; he met the government mandate.

If you bring your family to America illegally with the goal of creating a better life and you get caught in the process, you should pay the price. You steal identities, expect free health care, free schooling, in-state tuition, think you have diplomatic immunity, you should pay the price for your arrogance. You broke the law. That's the risk you weighed when you came to America illegally in the first place.

Although this is just a drop in the bucket, it should be a step in the right direction. However, the government has no serious plan or program to really address the problems. They will only go for these headline-grabbing actions and provide lip-service to immigration control.

The government, through the Constitution, has the responsibility to control immigration:
Article I, Section 8:
-- To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces
-- To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions
Article IV, Section 4
-- and shall protect each of them against Invasion
This invasion requires regulation and enforcement, not token laws and enforcement.

Bowl Games - Watch at Your Own Risk

College Bowl Games Set to begin. If you oppose the surfeit of bowls and desire a D1 playoff, don't travel to or watch them. Watch them and you encourage the current practice of rewarding mediocrity.

This crap about conference whatever's 5th place team playing conference loser first or second place team is just a formal attempt to "allow" people to travel to a specific location and play a meaningless football game, after a 4-5 week layoff.

Consider some of these market-oriented bowls:

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Northern Illinois vs. TCU
Dec. 19, 8 p.m., San Diego

Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas
BYU vs. Oregon
Dec. 21, 8 p.m., Las Vegas

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Rice vs. Troy
Dec. 22, 8 p.m. - New Orleans

Papajohns.com Bowl
South Florida vs. East Carolina
Dec. 23, 1 p.m. - Birmingham

New Mexico Bowl
New Mexico vs. San Jose State
Dec. 23, 4:30 p.m. - Albuquerque

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Tulsa vs. Utah
Dec. 23, 8 p.m. - Fort Worth

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Hawaii vs. Arizona State
Dec. 24, 8 p.m. - Honolulu

Motor City Bowl
Middle Tennessee vs. Central Michigan
Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m. - Detroit

Emerald Bowl
Florida State vs. UCLA
Dec. 27, 8 p.m. - San Francisco

PetroSun Independence Bowl
Oklahoma State vs. Alabama
Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m. - Shreveport

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
Texas A&M vs. California
Dec. 28, 8 p.m. - San Diego

Texas Bowl
Rutgers vs. Kansas State
Dec. 28, 8 p.m. - Houston

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl
Clemson vs. Kentucky
Dec. 29, 1 p.m. - Nashville

Brut Sun Bowl
Oregon State vs. Missouri
Dec. 29, 2 p.m. - El Paso

AutoZone Liberty Bowl
South Carolina vs. Houston
Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m. - Memphis

Insight Bowl
Texas Tech vs. Minnesota
Dec. 29, 7:30 p.m. - Tempe

Champs Sports Bowl
Purdue vs. Maryland
Dec. 29, 8 p.m. - Orlando

Meineke Car Care
Navy vs. Boston College
Dec. 30, 1 p.m. - Charlotte, N.C.

Alamo Bowl
Texas vs. Iowa
Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m. - San Antonio

Chick-fil-A Bowl
Georgia vs. Virginia Tech
Dec. 30, 8 p.m. - Atlanta

MPC Computers Bowl
Miami vs. Nevada
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. - Boise

Outback Bowl
Tennessee vs. Penn State
Jan. 1, 11 a.m. - Tampa

AT&T Cotton Bowl
Auburn vs. Nebraska
Jan. 1, 11:30 a.m. - Dallas

Toyota Gator Bowl
West Virginia vs. Georgia Tech
Jan. 1, 1 p.m. - Jacksonville, Fla.

Capital One Bowl
Arkansas vs. Wisconsin
Jan. 1, 1 p.m. - Orlando, Fla.

Rose Bowl
USC vs. Michigan
Jan. 1, 5 p.m. - Pasadena

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Boise State vs. Oklahoma
Jan. 1, 8 p.m. Glendale, AZ

FedEx Orange Bowl
Louisville vs. Wake Forest
Jan. 2, 8 p.m. - Miami

Allstate Sugar Bowl
Notre Dame vs. LSU
Jan. 3, 8 p.m. - New Orleans

International Bowl
Western Michigan vs. Cincinnati
Jan. 6, Noon - Toronto

GMAC Bowl
Ohio vs. Southern Miss
Jan. 7, 8 p.m. - Mobile, Ala.

Tostitos BCS Championship Game
Florida vs. Ohio State
Jan. 8, 8 p.m. - Glendale, Ariz.

Fighting & Spiting Punishments

Over the weekend, we see two of the latest examples of gutter behavior from our "so-called" professional athletes.

-- The Denver Nuggets and NY Knicks got in an on-court brawled Saturday resulting in Carmelo Anthony getting a 15 game suspension, while Nate Robinson and J.R. Smith got 10 each and both clubs were fined $500,000.

-- Terrell Owens (Dallas Cowboys) spits in the face of DeAngelo Hall (Atlanta Falcons), and gets fined $35,000.

Every major league sports league should have a rule that states a player is automatically suspended one full year for their first spitting offense, forever for a second offense.

Regarding the girlie-like NBA sissy fighters, the fines are appropriate. Why anyone watches the NBA is beyond me.

What if any one of us did this at our job?

You can take the man out of the ghetto but you cannot take the ghetto out of the man.

Taxes and Surrendering U.S. Passport

I have never been in the situation of living and working abroad and being forced to pay taxes in my country of residency plus my country of citizenship.

America is one of the only developed country that taxes its citizens while they are earning overseas. These people are also taxed in the countries where they reside. The later is expected, the former is not.

Due to this tax burden many American expatriates face, there is an increase in demand from citizens to renounce their U.S. citizenship on purely economic grounds.

To date, the Internal Revenue Service has tallied 509 Americans who have given up their citizenship.

Certainly most of these people have weak ties to the U.S. and typically have dual citizenships. But I do wonder about the logic behind the law that says expats should pay U.S. taxes for money earned abroad. Especially in those cases where it is clear that the U.S. citizen is more non-American than American.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

You Are Wealthy

Capitalism is hard. Getting ahead takes lots of work and incredible determination. Whether we deem our self a success or failure, if financial wealth is measured, just about everyone of us is considered wealthy.

The Helsinki-based United Nations University's (spit) World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) states that if you have assets exceeding $61,000, then you are among the richest 10% in the world. If your assets exceed $500,000, then you are in the richest 1% in the world. There are 37 million in this category.

On the other hand, 1% of the global wealth is held by 1.8 billion -- a quarter of the world's population. The richest 2% hold half the world's wealth.

Why is it we feel we can never get ahead? How many of us are content with our financial status? When you consider the numbers, despite our insecurities, we are very wealthy.

anonymouse.org

For a couple of years, I worked for a Web filtering company. It was during that time I learned about anonymous Web sites that could be used to hide the source -- the browser's PC.

Anonymizers are slow but do provide someone the ability to surf the net somewhat anonymously. Certainly these are browsing options for those who reside in countries where the government controls one's Internet destinations -- China, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia.

Individuals working for companies that filter outbound Internet traffic, that do not implement filtering policy on anonymizer sites, allow access to sites or site categories the company thinks it is restricting.

However, good software should be able to parse the URL and see the "hidden URL." For example, if I go to Google from Anonymouse.org, the link is: http://anonymouse.org/cgi-bin/anon-www.cgi/http://www.google.com/webhp?hl=en.

It is a tough battle to keep ahead of all the possible proxy sites, but good software can identify the embedded sites and control according to desired policy.

I like Internet freedom. But there is a place in business and at home for controlling access to content that is deemed inappropriate.

Friday, December 15, 2006

NATO, Part Deux

In 2005, the US spent twice what the other 25 NATO members contributed to NATO defense spending.

The evolving purpose of NATO now states it purpose is to address terrorism and the spread of WMDs. The 10-15 year NATO plan is outlined in their Comprehensive Political Guidance document.

The 20,000-man NATO Response Force is suppose to be the go-to "special forces" team that will go anywhere and do anything at the drop of a hat.

One really has to question this UN-like subgroup. The big Europeans -- France, Germany, Spain, Italy and UK -- have limited interest in spending on NATO defense. They have too many social programs at home to fund. And besides, they will bank on the US to bankroll the who mess.

The whole concept of teaming up with France or any other European nation (less the UK) on some joint military force, under the guise of NATO, is funny if it weren't so sad.

The EU has its own plans to create an EU military. I'd say let them and let's figure out how to build a more self-serving and more economical fighting force under US commanders.

A Third Military Front?

There is no formal government in Somalia. But there are those there that would like to create an Islamic "Republic." The northern Puntland region is nearing sharia law.

Despite an arms embargo, the waring parties are finding plenty of weapons. Skirmishes are popping up all over the place. And Ethiopia is right in the middle of it.

Ethiopia has its own Christian - Muslim balance that if fighting escalates in neighboring Somalia, it can spill over into the homeland.

The fear the West has is if the Islamic tribes are able to unite, they can mount a fierce battle against most foes.

The West cannot permit the formation of a Taliban-like government in the horn that will provide safe harbor to al Queda. This is worth watching because this has the making of a third military front.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Afghanistan Poppy Crop

Since 2001, the opium production in Afghanistan has been escalating. From nearly zero in 2001 to over 6100 metric tonnes in 2006 (a 49% increase over 2005). It was low in the mid 80s and rose until 1999 and then fell-off completely in 2000. Afghan opium makes up 90% of the global opium supply.

According to Saidanvar Shohumorov, Deputy Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, "production of opium-based drugs is the only profitable article of Afghan export. Export of heroin will earn traffickers $36-30 billion in 2006."
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, World Back and IMF, "opium GDP" is estimated at 27% of the total economy. This tends to push up the exchange rate making non-opium production noncompetitive.

The U.S. spent $600 million on anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan in 2006. They will spend more this next year. The Office of National Drug Control Policy head John Walters announced that Afghanistan's poppy crops will be sprayed with herbicides in an effort to put a crimp in the country's booming opium and heroin trade. But then we hear the Afghan government is not all that enthusiastic about spraying, so they may not "go along" with the plan.

The Afghan farmer does not make much money. They do not operate in an open market with competition. They are told what to grow, when to grow it, where to grow it, and how much they will get paid. This is a tightly controlled black market controlled by criminals. This is not a fair, open market.

It is a culture of corruption. The farmers will never be given a chance to grow alternative crops unless they have a true market for those other crops.

Affirmative Action

I've never be a fan of affirmative action. Many government agencies have backed off over the past decade or so. So it was interesting to see the freshmen enrollment in the University of California since the AA program ended in 1995.

In 1995, there were about 8000 Asians, 8000 Whites, 3500 Hispanics and 1000 Blacks. In 2005 there were about 1200 Asians, 10000 Whites, 4500 Hispanics and 1000 Blacks.

Hispanics and especially the Asians are well represented and seem to be flourishing. The Whites are holding their own. The problem appears to be with the Black community.

I have always felt that the lack of education and the subsequent higher paying jobs in the Black community had nothing to do with potential or intelligence but everything to do with culture and crappy leadership.

All the programs in the world are not going to solve this discrepancy. This problem must be solved in the families and communities, not by government programs. It all begins by turning off the TV or stereo and gathering around the kitchen table and having a parent help a son or daughter with their homework. The fact that there are few male role models doesn't help either.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Seven Primitive Survival Shelters That Could Save Your Life

Interesting snapshots of primitive survival shelters.

-- Body-Heat Shelters
-- Quintze Hut
-- Open Shelters
-- A-frame
-- Enclosed Shelters
-- Wigwam
-- Salish Subterranean Shelter

Middle-Class Insecurity

I came across a booked by Jacob S. Hacker called The Great Risk Shift.

The premise is that more tax breaks and individual accounts to encourage personal saving and investment will not provide strong guarantees of economic security to ordinary Americans. Because of the future financial demands on American families, few will be able to maintain an appropriate standard of living.

He states, the “Ownership Society” is akin to throwing a lead weight to a drowning man, on the assumption that now he will really have an incentive to swim.

He also states that the chance of an average worker facing a 50% or greater drop in family income over time has risen from 7% in 1970 to 17% in 2002.

I do not find these trends alarming. Concerned yes. I thing the biggest cause is health -- people unable (physically or mentally) to hold down a better job, year after year.

Most people earn more year by year. A 50 year old should be earning more than a 30 year old. Eventually, our earning potential diminishes. That's given.

Capitalism is hard. Socialism is easy. Capitalism rewards effort, smarts, creativity. Socialism rewards existence.

Most people make it. Some do not. Is this reason to create safety nets for all? Some safety nets are warranted. However, taking money from someone and giving it to another, just because someone else thinks that the other person is more deserving than the one with the money is pure socialism. This is the underlying premise of the Democrat Party, a premise I strongly disagree with.

Burqa Bans

Muslim women's face coverings, be they burqas or niqabs, are certainly a key aspect of their religion. However, if an individual needs to be identified for security purposes, those religious requirements get trumped.

European are battling this problem. America will be doing so shortly.

Consider the comments in a December issue of The Economist:

-- the veil shows a refusal to integrate into the broader society.
-- the veil shows the Islamic oppression of women.
-- the veil is an affront to a secular society.
-- the veil can be intimidating in the schoolroom and court.

A government need to be in the business of what people where or don't where. Although each of these points can be argued but when security is the issue, we need to know who is behind that cloth.

NATO Concerns

I bet most people, if polled, would think either a) America is the sole force in Afghanistan, b) the UN is the fighting force in Afghanistan, or c) the fighting force in Afghanistan is a coalition of the willing.

It is kind of a trick question because the answer is "none of the above" but does include a bit of "b" and "c". The fighting entity in Afghanistan is under NATO leadership (via a U.N. mandate). And many NATO countries are beginning to weaken their commitment. Shocking [sic].

President Bush went to Latvia in late November with his main objective being to get other NATO countries to step-up their troop commitment. Bush is having a tough time getting 2200 additional troops, from a pool of 2.4 million.

Afghanistan is a hard place for foreign troops to succeed -- reference the British in the 19th century and Russia in the 1980s.

The quarrel and motivation behind the Afghanistan conflict is very different than in Iraq. Failure in Afghanistan would bring back the Taliban and provide safe-haven for al Qaeda. It would embolden the jihadists globally.

NATO is appealing to Europeans because of the protection is gives them -- America being the key underwriter. However, they are unwilling to pay the tough price of committing their men and money.

We are involved in a global war, a third world war. Too many people, including American, fail to understand and accept this fact. Until we collectively do, the eventual battle that will need to be fought will get more costly in terms of men and money.

Wall Street Setbacks

Over the past couple of months, perhaps due to year-end stories, the reports on Wall Street's competitive position in the global exchange market has suffered.

No longer is Wall Street the de facto market for all-things-financial. Perhaps the biggest sign is in the initial public offerings (IPOs) area. According to The Economist magazine, the U.S. trails London and Hong Kong as the preferred IPO market.

Global competition is strong. There are viable options for both U.S. and non-U.S. companies for their IPOs. European, including eastern Europe, and Asian firms like the idea of staying closer to home to conduct their business, all other things equal.

Once interesting factor business must weigh are the security and audit requirements found in the Sarbannes-Oxley act. The costs associated with being SOX-compliant are not small. Whereas the spirit of SOX might be good the details and scope may be a bit overboard. If it scares smaller, public companies out of the U.S., then one needs to look at the practical aspects of the mandate.

Other factors causing companies to look elsewhere for their financial assistance include:

-- Shareholder rights vs board rights; US gives shareholders less power.
-- Regulator overkill with too many bureaucrats wanting to provide their stamp of approval and to share in the fees [spoils].

Competition is good for all. It is the capitalist way. However, the U.S. is getting bit with its over-regulation and associated higher cost to conduct business. There are smart people in this country and they will get our capital markets back into a competitive position.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Our Biggest Problem [Tragedy]

All of us would probably have an opinion when asked : What is the greatest problem we face today -- our country's, our planet.

Some would say the war against terror. Others would say the war in Iraq or Middle East stability. Some might say global warming, poverty or gap between rich and poor, or the over dependence on oil. Some might say crime. I say unrestricted abortion.

Ever since Roe v. Wade in 1973 (at least for America), the practice of abortion on demand has been epidemic. In America, there are over 1 million abortions performed annually. Add this to the world, and the numbers are staggering.
"Women must have control over their own bodies."
-- "Safe and legal abortion is every woman's right."
-- "Who decides? You decide!"
-- "Abortion is a personal decision between a woman and her doctor."
-- "Who will make this most personal decision of a woman's life? Will women decide, or will the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington?"
-- "Freedom of choice -- a basic American right."
As David Kupelian writes in his book The Marketing of Evil, "in one of the most successful marketing campaigns in modern political history, the "abortion rights" movement -- with all of its emotionally compelling catchphrases and powerful political slogans -- has succeeded in turning what was once a crime into a fiercely defended constitutional right."

First, abortion is not a constitutional right. If you'd ever read the document, you'd find it no where, even on a stretch. (Likewise is the premise that we are entitle by the Constitution to privacy.)

From the 1960s, there has been an a deliberate plan to legalize abortion and to make it an acceptable form of birth control. From Lawrence Lader and Bernard Nathanson and the early days of NARAL, they created a myth that legalizing abortion was merely helping those being doing so illegally, often in unclean locations. The number of "back alley" abortions was in the low hundreds annually -- certainly the exception and not the rule.

The abortion marketing movement was effectively carried out by the "healthcare profession." Abortion clinics and those so engaged were in the business of abortion. Their counseling was not to dissuade a woman or to present her the facts in a clear manner, rather to help them justify the action. They wanted their money. Cash ruled the game -- paid upfront and under the table. Women were never told about the process. They were never allowed to see the developing fetus or hear its heart. The fetus was never referred to as a fetus, baby or given any human characteristics. That's be bad salesmanship. The woman would have no idea about what their "doctor" and "nurses" were actually doing or would do.

Why do doctors do abortions? Some do it for the money. Some for the health of the mother, they say. These same people would be doing the goose-step in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s. They have become hardened or truly unaware of the fact that they are literally murdering a human being. They see it as nothing more than removing an appendix or some minor, safe surgical procedure. Witness a D&E. Look at a bag of discarded fetuses.

Regardless of the procedure, it is murder. And we have allowed this to occur by the millions every year all over the world. Deaths due to terrorism, the war in Iraq, the violence on the metro streets cannot compare. It is more akin to the various genocides that have taken place throughout history.

Abortion is seer barbarism and brutality. Abortion mocks the Declaration of Independence. All men are created equal only if they are born to mothers who want them. Certainly, fetuses are totally dependent on their mothers. Newborns and toddlers are also -- they could not survive without a caring adult.

Kupelian makes a few interesting conclusions:

-- With the nation embracing the notion of total sexual freedom, and sex without consequences is a top priority, then abortion simply has to be an option, no matter what.
-- With abortion being accepted as a fundamental American right, supported by the law, legal must equate to moral.
-- Pro-choicers are victims of sophisticated marketing campaigns designed to appeal to their deepest feelings about freedom and equality while simultaneously hooking them through powerful appeals to their selfishness.

Will we as a society ever repeal this "right?" Will we ever stop the killing of the unborn? Will those engaged in the practice ever come to the realization of their sins? I can only have hope. And my hope is that more people will become educated and realize that abortion is not the answer to their "problem." Although it is unlikely the courts will help, through education and self-control, we can work on both the supply and demand sides of the abortion equation.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lost and Found in Minnesota

From 1991 until 1996, my family lived in Minnesota -- just north of the Twin Cities. I have not been back since we moved. That changed this past week.

For those of you who have never been to Minnesota, that's too bad, because it is a great state. I love its climate, natural beauty and culture.

Obviously, people who don't like winter would not fair well. But for the locals, they take great pride in their extremes. Nothing better than skating or playing hockey on the local town, outdoor "rink" -- usually nothing more than a grass field flooded, frozen and light by ad hoc lights. You'll find a smaller versions in many neighborhoods.

It was around zero degrees F when I arrived but warmed to an unseasonable 47 degrees F on the weekend. Lately, the snow has been sparse. Instead of a white landscape with cross-country skiers and snowmobiles all over the place, they have a brown, rustic image. The number of ice houses on the lakes are few in number. For a Minnesotan, this is not good. Commerce depends on the deep freeze and the white stuff. When you invest in a $10,000 snowmobile, some new skis, and a new ice house, you want to use them.

Minnesota is a beautiful state. Although it is mid-west, it has something that most of the mid-west lacks: 10,000 lakes. From small backyard ponds to massive lakes full of Walleye and Lake Trout, the land speckled with blue water and the call of the loon just can't be beat.

Finally, the culture. Yes, they have TV programs and books about how to talk Minnesotan. But their manner of speaking is refreshing -- especially those from the northern iron range. They are some of the humblest people out there.

I was invited to attend a pot-luck supper in the Rush City Catholic Church. They welcomed me with open arms. One elderly man, when he found out I was from Salt Lake City said he went to residency with a guy from Utah who he said was some big shot in the LDS Church. Nelson was his name, yea, Russell Nelson.

One thing I noticed and mentioned to my host: where are all of the families. There were retired people and widows. I saw one family with younger children. Other than them, there was no one under 40. My host said it was a huge concern. Not only do they lack a growing parish, they lack donation. Tough to get significant donations from people on social security.

If you ever get a chance to move to or visit Minnesota, go for it. The Church is strong. They have a temple. And they have the Vikings, Twins, Wild and T-wolves.

It sure was fun to go back to some of my roots.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Troy Smith Wins Heisman


To the surprise of no one, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was a runaway winner Saturday night of the Heisman Trophy award.

Smith received a record 86.7% of the first-place votes. His point total of 2,540 places third in Heisman history behind Simpson (2,853) and fellow Southern California tailback Reggie Bush, who had 2,541 last season.

Arkansas running back Darren McFadden finished second, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn was third and West Virginia running back Steve Slaton was fourth.

Troy Smith's story from a lower class Cleveland home environment with a single mom to the top college award and a chance in January to win a national championship is heartwarming. His maturity and subsequent professionalism is second to none.

The seventh Heisman Trophy to a Buckeye -- Les Horvath (1944), Vic Janowicz (1950), Howard Cassady (1955), Archie Griffin (1974 & 1975), Eddie George (1995) and now Smith. This ties USC and Norte Dame for seven winners, although OSU only has had six actual winners.

Go Bucks!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Baker Botts -- The Hidden Agenda

It bothers me that the co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, James Baker, runs a law firm that represents the Saudi government against 911 victim lawsuits.
Baker's law firm, Baker Botts, was founded by Baker's grandfather, James A. Baker, and has offices in Houston, Washington DC, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Baker Botts is the legal council defending the Saudi Arabian government in a lawsuit filed by families of those killed and injured in the 9/11 attacks. Affidavits and copies of cancelled checks suggest that Saudi Arabian Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have funneled millions of dollars to assorted Islamic charities that U.S. officials and others suspect have covertly financed the operations of al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups.
The term judges use is recuse -- excusing themselves from a case they may have direct or insider involvement with one or more of the parties. I certainly think that terrorism in the Middle East and the war in Iraq have a major involvement with Saudi Arabia. Baker should have recused himself.

The more I think and read about the ISG, the more I question the motives. It seems to me that the outcome -- the document -- is merely a pro forma set of recommendations based on preconceived strategies and tactics.

The American government -- our elected officials -- have no interest in doing what is in our nation's best interest. They only care about power and wealth. Sold their soles, every one of them...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Iraq Study Group

The ISG released its recommendations on Iraq today. Their main points are that the current U.S. policy in Iraq is not working, called for an urgent diplomatic attempt to stabilize the country and allow the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by early 2008.

The Iraq Study Group (ISG) was launched on 15 March 2006 at a meeting on Capitol Hill. It was created at the direction of a bipartisan group of members of the U.S. Congress. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) was the leading supporter of the group’s creation. Its co-chairs are former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III (R) and former chairman of the House International Relations Committee Lee Hamilton (D). The other ISG members are Lawrence S. Eagleburger, former U.S. Secretary of State; Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Senior Managing Director, Lazard, Freres & Co. LLC; Edwin Meese, III, former U.S. Attorney General; Sandra Day O’Connor, former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice; Leon E. Panetta, former White House Chief of Staff; William J. Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense; Charles S. Robb, former U.S. Senator; Alan K. Simpson, former U.S. Senator -- five Democrats and five Republicans.

The of the 79 recommendations, the report recommends that President Bush put aside misgivings and engage Syria, Iran and the leaders of insurgent forces in negotiations on Iraq's future, to begin by year's end. It urges him to revive efforts at a broader Middle East peace. Barring a significant change, it warned of a slide toward chaos.

The reports went on to say there is significant underreporting of the actual level of violence in the country. It also faulted the U.S. intelligence effort, saying the government "still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias."

On the highly emotional issue of troop withdrawals, the commission warned against either a precipitous pullback or an open-ended commitment to a large deployment.

"We should seek to complete the training and equipping mission by the end of the first quarter of 2008."

The commission recommended the number of U.S. troops embedded to train Iraqis should increase dramatically, from 3,000-4,000 currently to 10,000-20,000. Commission member William Perry, defense secretary in the Clinton administration, said those could be drawn from combat brigades already in Iraq.

One wonders how a politically motivate group is able to make unbiased recommendations? President Bush is stubborn in his determination to win, and that is a good thing. However he does need to look at other options, including diplomacy with Iraq's neighboring states.

The best thing about this report is it provide a fresh look at a problem with no apparent or quick solution.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Big Money vs Level Playing Ground

In the world of sports, there are the haves and the have not. The Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Braves all spend big money. Some have one or two players making more money than the entire payrolls of other teams, like Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Minnesota. There is a payroll tax for those teams that spend over some predefined amount, but the penalty is not overbearing.

In the NBA, NHL and NFL, they have salary caps. This tends to create a level playing ground. The champ from the previous year is no guarantee they will be contenders this year.

Look to European soccer (futbol). We have big clubs backed by big money: Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Manchester United and Chelsea. London-based Chelsea received a huge cash influx recently by Roman Abramovich from Russia. Chelsea has bought players and is buying a championship, or at least a top 4 finish in the EPL.

Now we have my team, Liverpool, looking to enter into the big money clubs. They were well funded anyway and now they are attracting the money of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the fifth richest person in the world.

I realize sports are big business. As such, money talks. If a league or sport does not place controls on investments in specific teams, there will always be the haves and the have nots.

As a fan of the game, I do not like to see the disparity in team payrolls. It is the have against the have nots. Over time, the have nots will have trouble increasing the fan base.

From the business side, if the owners can make it work, more power to them. My opinion would then be in the minority.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Six for ‘06

The Democrats have their contract with America -- A New Direction for America.
SIX FOR ‘06 - PRIORITIES FOR ALL AMERICANS, NOT JUST THE PRIVILEGED FEW

REAL SECURITY - AT HOME AND OVERSEAS
Reclaim American leadership with a tough, smart plan to transform failed Bush Administration policies in Iraq, the Middle East and around the world. Require the Iraqis to take responsibility for their country and begin the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2006. Double the size of Special Forces to destroy Osama Bin Laden and terrorist networks like al Qaeda. Rebuild a state-of-the-art military capable of projecting power wherever necessary. Implement the bipartisan 9/11 Commission proposal to secure America’s borders and ports and screen 100% of containers. Fully man, train, and equip our National Guard and our police, firefighters and other first responders. Honor our commitments to our veterans.

PROSPERITY - BETTER AMERICAN JOBS, BETTER PAY
Prohibit the Congressional pay raise until the nation’s minimum wage is raised. End tax giveaways that reward companies for moving American jobs overseas.

OPPORTUNITY - COLLEGE ACCESS FOR ALL
Make college tuition deductible from taxes, permanently. Cut student loan interest rates. Expand Pell Grants.

ENERGY INDEPENDENCE - LOWER GAS PRICES
Free America from dependence on foreign oil and create a cleaner environment with initiatives for energy-efficient technologies and domestic alternatives such as biofuels. End tax giveaways to Big Oil companies and enact tough laws to stop price gouging.

AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE - LIFE-SAVING SCIENCE
Fix the Medicare prescription drug benefit by putting seniors first by negotiating lower drug prices and ending wasteful giveaways to drug companies and HMOs. Promote stem cell research that offers real hope to millions of American families who suffer from devastating diseases.

RETIREMENT SECURITY AND DIGNITY
Stop any plan to privatize Social Security, in whole or in part. Enact real pension reform to protect employees’ financial security from CEO corruption and mismanagement, including abuse of the bankruptcy laws. Expand personal savings incentives.
This is the plan they hope to implement in their first 100 hours of Speaker Pelosi's new year. This is certainly an appealing plan for the so-called "ordinary folk" but weak on substance. It attempts to address the easy issues but nothing substantial like Social Security, Alternative Minimum Tax and immigration reforms.

They have all these plans to help the ordinary but have no plan to pay for it, unless it is through tax increases.

The Dems will also look at the farm bill, State Children's Health Insurance Programme, and No Child Left Behind -- require more money, more subsidies and fewer demands and accountability.

I think the grandiose plans from the new House Democrats will run into the veto pen of the Republican White House. It will be fun to watch.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Office Oath on the Koran

Dennis Prager, who is a Jew, was the first to bring this to my attention:
Keith Ellison, D-MN., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.
This is multiculturalism at its finest. It is Muslim favoritism. It is Muslim fear.

The process of taking the oath is part of the American culture. Caving in, in favor of Islam is not the American way.

America is and always has been a Judeo-Christian society. Our founding principles allow all men the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of their own conscience -- how, where, or what they may.

Is it prudent policy to allow the Koran to trump the Bible? For a Nazi, Mein Kampf might be preferred. For an environmentalists, perhaps The Monkeywrench Gang. Pick you favorite book. Or maybe its not a book. Perhaps it is an item.
When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11. It is hard to believe that this is the legacy most Muslim Americans want to bequeath to America. But if it is, it is not only Europe that is in trouble.
This might be a small item, but it could be the beginning of something that can rock the very core of our republic.

BTW, no Mormon I know would request the Bible be replaced by The Book of Mormon. (See Article of Faith #8.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Corruption Index

A couple of weeks ago in Guatemala City, the 12th International Anti-Corruption Conference took place. Ironically, it was held in one of the most violent cities in the world.

Their question was/is: why is corruption still blocking the way towards a fairer world? It must have been a fascinating exchange of information. Some of the key discussion areas were:
  • threats to global security posed by extensive corruption in the arms trade.
  • how corruption undermines international humanitarian assistance efforts in major natural disasters.
  • public and private sector policies and management strategies to reduce bribe-paying and bribe-taking.
  • corruption in politics.
  • the problems with political immunity.
  • the importance of information access and freedom of the press.
Related, the Transparency International publishes a corruption perception index by country:

Country - 2006/2005
-----------------------
Finland - 1/1
Iceland/New Zealand - 1/2
Denmark - 4/4
Singapore - 5/5
Sweden - 6/6
Switzerland - 7/7
USA - 20/17
Italy - 45/40
Turkey - 60/65
Brazil - 70/62
India - 70/88
Kazakhstan - 111/107
Nigeria - 142/152
Iraq - 160/137
Guinea - 160/na
Myanmar - 160/155
Haiti - 163/155

The corruption problem is rooted into a nation's or region's culture. Having a job to work on reducing corruption must be one of the most frustrating assignments in the world. Discouragement must weigh heavy. How do you change human nature?

One needs to look no further than the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Traditionally corrupt societies seem to possess more vice than virtue when compared to other countries. Thus, if able, it seems that government should create policies that favor the seven virtues: chastity, abstinence, liberality, diligence, patience, kindness and humility.

Sore Losers

Perhaps you have noticed -- I certainly have -- that when leftist lose an election, they have a tough time accepting the recounts.

Obviously, Al Gore in Florida in 2000 is most memorable; and Kerry in Ohio in 2004. But this year's Congressional race dispute in Bradenton/Sarasota is becoming old.

There have been 3 counts of the votes cast in Florida’s 13th Congressional district election, and Democrat candidate Christine Jennings is calling for another. Republican Vernon Buchanon has been named the certified winner and with each recount his lead is said to have increased.

And it is not just an American phenomenon. The 2 July Mexican presidential election was very close. And despite being sworn in today in Mexico City, the losing PRD presidential candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador and followers refuse to recognize the new president, Felipe Calderón. The PDR appears to favor a civil war than allowing Calderón to serve.

López Obrador has declared himself the country's “legitimate” president and has set up a parallel government to undermine Calderón's administration.

Why is this? Is there something inherit in those people that favor leftist politics that will not allow them to accept losing? It could never be the will of the people. It must be that that the deck is stacked against them or they are cheating.

My general conclusion is that if the left cannot win at the polls, they will try try to win at all costs; e.g., the courts, by hook or by crook.

Quit whinning and get on with life.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Secret White House Memo on Iraq Leaked

The New York Times released an internal, five-page classified White House memorandum written by U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley on 8 November. It raises doubts about Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's ability to control sectarian violence.

The memo suggests that if Maliki fails to carry out a series of specified steps, it may ultimately be necessary to press him to reconfigure his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by providing “monetary support to moderate groups,” and by sending thousands of additional American troops to Baghdad to make up for what the document suggests is a current shortage of Iraqi forces.

It is not a surprise that the Times would publish the text of the memo. Anything thing they can do to hurt the war effort, discredit the Bush administration and console the enemy, they'll do.

I also would assume that senior members of the White House would engage in open discussion about the Iraqi situation. There are bound to be dissenting voices -- voices that Bush opponents would love to exploit.

What strikes me strange is the leak of a classified document and that the Times has no problem with publishing it so everyone and anyone can read it. I propose the White House leaker and the Times writer, Michael Gordon, be arraigned on charges dealing with revealing national security intelligence. It'll never happen but I do not think anyone who engages in this should be given a pass.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cyber Monday

The concept behind Cyber Monday strikes me as a bit weird: people wait all Thanksgiving weekend and come to work on Monday and buy Christmas gifts online.

ComScore Networks has predicted that online retailers on would ring up $599 million in sales on Cyber Monday, which is 24% more than recorded on that same day last year.

Shopping online is much more enjoyable than actually do the same thing at brick-and-mortar establishments -- at least for my wife and me, and apparently lots of others as well. Deals can be found, comparisons made, and long lines and hordes avoided.

But why is it people think they need to do this at work on that particular Monday? It sounds as if this has become another American entitlement. Another day to not put in a full day's labor for a full day's pay.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Marriage and Longevity

In the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly, they source a study "Marital Status and Longevity in the United State Population,"by R. Kaplan and R. Kronick in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The study was a comparison of the U.S. 1989 national health interview survey (NHIS) and the 1997 US national death index. From the abstract, the death rate for people who were unmarried was significantly higher than it was for those who were married and living with their spouses. Although the effect was significant for all categories of unmarried, it was strongest for those who had never married. The never married effect was seen for both sexes, and was significantly stronger for men than for women. For the youngest age group (19–44), the predominant causes of early death among adults who had never married were infectious disease (presumably HIV) and external causes. In the middle aged and older men and women, the predominant causes were cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.

Marriage brings sanity to our lives. We learn to honor and respect the opinions and lives of someone other than ourselves. Successful marriages require unselfish acts. Unselfish lives are lives dedicated to service. Those that serve their fellowman -- a husband or wife -- are going to enjoy a greater, more fulfilling life. They are less likely to engage in activities and behavior that are know to cut our lives short.

Security Breach at "TDF" Doping Lab

A breach in security can have a huge impact on the credibility of the organization. Consider the report last week that a hacker stole data from computers at the French anti-doping lab Chatenay-Malabry where tests are being challenged by American cyclist Floyd Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour de France.

The lab also admitted that it made an administrative error when it reported its findings on Landis' backup "B" sample. Floyd Landis has insisted he was drug free when he won the Tour de France. He said that a French laboratory "made some mistakes" when its results showed he had elevated levels of testosterone.

So we have an admitted error and a security breach at the lab associated with Landis' urine test that cost him his Tour win.The case against Landis is getting weaker by the day. This is not to say he was not doping. He does participate in a sport that is riddled with drugs and cheating. It is hard to take the side of the racers.

If this case were heard in an American court of law, a good lawyer would probably find him not guilt. However, this will not be an American court of law. The premise in this case will be guilty unless proven innocent. The governing body who removed Landis' title will not want to lose face and will see to it, within all their power, to make sure his title is not re-awarded.

We can learn a great lesson here: one mistake could be considered tolerable and can perhaps be "overlooked" but when the company's security is breached, it diminishing the credibility of the lab and brings into question their whole quality process. We appear to have a snowball effect going on here. This bodes well for the Landis camp.

A Quite Hurricane Season

It was a good year to have few Atlantic storms to hit the southeast U.S. The traditional hurricane season ends this week. The following numbers are certainly a blessing to a region that suffered so much in 2005:

9: The number of named storms in 2006.

17: The number of named storms predicted 31 May by a team at Colorado State University led by Professor William Gray.

45 mph: The wind speed when Tropical Storm Alberto hit the Florida Panhandle near Adams Beach on 13 June -- the strongest winds over Florida all season.

56 percent: The average homeowner rate increase Citizens Property Insurance Corp. requested even after no hurricanes struck Florida.

27 percent: The Citizens rate increase approved to start 1 January.

$100 million: Estimated damage in the U.S. from Tropical Storm Ernesto.

0: The number of storms that formed in October -- the first time since 2002 that no storms formed that month.

0: Category 4 or 5 storms formed in 2006 -- the first time since 1997.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Black Friday

Reading the news regarding the economics of the holiday shopping season, it forces us to think about how strange our economy has become.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has become a holiday in and of itself. Stores run ads to motivate shoppers to forsake sleep for long lines and a few deals. This year's Black Friday saw a 6% uptake in shoppers, for a total of $8.96 billion in one-day sales. Many believe the strength or weakness of this day will dictate the strength of the holiday buying season.

Retailers plan on the 4-5 weeks at the end of the year to judge their business success or failure.

It is a sad thing to think that a large portion of our economy is based on people buying presents for other people at the end of the year. Presents or gifts that when you look at them, are really useless.

What would happen if families limited their gift buying to a small gift per family member? No bought gifts for extended family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers? For one, it would bring the the focus of Christmas back on the Savior (except for the Liberals who'd want it eliminated because it has become a Christian religious holiday).

The "American Christmas" has become a pagan ritual for most, even for the religious. The spirit of gift-given has been corrupted by big business and marketing rubbish.

The economy will do just fine if we save more and become more frugal in our buying habits. We'll buy throughout the year more according to our needs and less on our wants.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Holy War

College football rivalries are great. Consider the big ones: Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, USC-Notre Dame, Florida-Florida State, Texas-Texas A&M, Army-Navy. Consider the regional ones: Oregon-Oregon State, Washington-Washington State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Arizona-Arizona State, USC-UCLA, Cal-Stanford, etc.

As a Buckeye, nothing is better than the OSU-Michigan. However, I am a Utah alumni and have lived in Utah for over fifteen years, and I really get into the Holy War: BYU-Utah.

Although I have been a Ute season ticket holder in the past, I have not been lately (can't devote the number of Saturdays required). I do however buy tickets to the Holy War.

Today's game was a typical up and down affair. It turned out to be a disappointing loss for Utah. Despite some questionable calls, Utah has no one to blame but themselves. I really dislike BYU; but they won fair and square.

When you look at how the game unfolded, Utah should have won. BYU had an anemic rushing game. But Utah had no pass rush. Utah could not get 6 inches on a critical fourth down. Utah made some major mistakes -- penalties and bonehead plays -- and BYU was able to take advantage of them. You'd think in college football that if a team needs to go the length of the field to win with in just over a minute, the defense, who has a 4-point lead, could stop them. Not Utah. Congrats to John Beck and his offensive line for giving him more than ample time to find his open receivers, including the game winning pass at the end of the game.

This one was painful.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Democrats' Economic Plans

The Democrats won the November mid-term elections. That's a given. We'll have to see how they react. They did not win a mandate. A more accurate assessment is that the Republican lost. Call it Iraq, Katina, spending or scandal, they blew it.

I doubt very much those people who voted for the Democratic candidate or some third-party candidate, understand what they put in power.

Just take a look at what the Democrats hope to accomplish in the next two years, just in the area of economics:
  • Raise the minimum wage
  • Restrain CEO pay
  • Strengthen union clout
  • Expand the earned-income tax credit
  • Roll-back the upper-income tax cuts
  • Raise taxes on dividends and capital gains
  • Increase grants to low-income college students
  • Cut interest rates on student loans
  • Expand public pre-kindergarten programs
  • Expand age-loss insurance
  • Revamp unemployment insurance program
  • Cover mortgage payments for "displaced workers"
  • Give cash to families whose income falls sharply
  • Provide universal health insurance
  • Allow small employers to buy health insurance from a government-sponsored pool
  • Provide universal 401(k) with government subsidies
This is pure socialism. Every one of these ideas or programs removes personal freedom and encourages government dependency (slavery). The underlying premises assumes that the government knows how to better run your life and spend your money than you do.

These are my one-line responses to each of these bad ideas:
  • We don't need a minimum wage at all; the market will dictate wages.
  • CEOs should make as much as their Boards want them to make; it they want to upset their workers, so be it.
  • Unions were important in 1930, they are no longer viable.
  • I am all for fewer taxes but do not like new programs to help those who don't pay taxes.
  • Taxes for all tax-payers and government spending needs to be reduced.
  • Taxes should be cut on dividends and capital gains to encourage investment.
  • If someone desires a college education, there is nothing in their way prohibiting them from achieving this goal; scholarships, grants and loans are plentiful.
  • The market should dictate student loan interest rates.
  • Expanded public pre-kindergarten programs is nothing more than government sponsored babysitting.
  • Expanded programs even for age-loss insurance are always a bad idea.
  • The current unemployment insurance program is not intended to be a status quo for our lifestyles; lose a job, find a new one.
  • The government has no roll in maintaining our lifestyle so having them pay unemployed workers' mortgages is not a role the government should play; can't afford a house, sell it and downsize.
  • Giving cash to families whose income falls sharply is called unemployment and it is fine as it is.
  • Universal health insurance paid for and managed by the government will be a disaster to our economy and our health.
  • Small employers can buy health insurance from a pool -- with other small businesses not the government.
  • We already have a universal 401(k) system we call IRAs; we don't need the government to subsidize them.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Motivation Behind the Jeffs Trial

The more I hear about the prosecution of polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs, the more I question the motives behind it.

In April 2001, Jeffs married a 19-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl -- a first marriage for both. The girl apparently was forced into this marriage against her will, hence the cry of rape.

Hence, because of Jeffs' role, he is being charged
with two first-degree felony counts of being an accomplice to rape. However, the husband has not been publicly identified or charged with any crime.

So an accomplice deserves more attention than the actual "raper?"

The
attorney general's office is on a witch hunt. The state of Utah is condemning a culturally different religion -- the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

If the focus is on girls being forced into marriage -- which it should be -- I wonder how the Jeffs case will solve this problem?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Alexander Litvinenko's Poisoning

Russian Alexander Litvinenko, the 41-year-old former FSB top officer who defected to Britain in 2000, seems to have met the wrath of his fellow co-workers. He was poisoned with polonium 210, a radioactive element used as a trigger in nuclear weapons -- a chemical weapon that can cause a slow, painful death over the course of weeks or months, even with treatment.

Litvinenko has said he fell ill after meeting a source at a sushi restaurant in England while looking into the case of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. This Putin critic was gunned down at her Moscow apartment last month.

The Russian security service, the Federal Security Service or FSB, seem to have the motto: we get our man. Doctors say he has only a 50/50 chance of surviving.

UPDATE: sadly, he died early Friday morning, 11/24/06.

When you are an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin, accusing his FSB of blowing up an apartment block in 1999 so they could blame Chechen separatists and justify a new war in Chechnya, you'd better run and hide. Unfortunately, there appears to be no safe hiding place.

Of course, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) has denied the allegations about its possible involvement in the poisoning.

Morneau AL MVP

Hot dang! The Minnesota Twin first baseman Justin Morneau was named the American League Most Valuable Player. He hit .321 with 34 home runs, 97 runs scored and 130 RBIs.

He received 15 first-place votes, eight second-place votes, three third-place votes and two fourth-place votes for a total of 320 points.

Derek Jeter, the runner-up, received 12 first-place votes, 14 second-place votes and one fourth-place vote for 306 points. Boston's David Ortiz finished third with 193 votes, and Frank Thomas finished fourth with 174.

It was the 10th-closest AL MVP election ever. The closest was 1947, when Joe DiMaggio beat Ted Williams, 202-201. Last year, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez beat out Ortiz, 331-307.

Howard NL MVP


Phillies 1st baseman Ryan Howard was named the MVP of the NL with 20 first-place votes by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Howard defeated last year's NL MVP, the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, by a total of 388 to 347. Houston's Lance Berkman (230) finished third and New York's Carlos Beltran (211) finished fourth.

Howard becomes the second player in Major League Baseball history to win the Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards in consecutive seasons, following Cal Ripken in 1982 and 1983. Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) won both awards in their first seasons.

Not to take anything from Howard, I would have voted for Pujols. I thought he was the best player in the league and the best on his team, almost single handily assuring the Cardinals a spot in the playoffs, giving them the chance to win the World Series.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rangel and the Draft

Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY), the incoming Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, says he intends to introduce a bill in Congress to reinstate the military draft. His premise is that the fighting forces should more closely reflect the economic makeup of the nation. (He spoke about this back in 2003 also.)

Because those who make the decisions to go to war rarely have family members actually in the military, he feels it would give the war-makers second thoughts about entering into foreign conflicts. He says the current all-volunteer military is not sufficient enough to sustain the military challenges the U.S. is facing, including the potential military involvement in Iran.

Listening to the talk shows hosts, some feel the draft would be a good idea, claiming that we need more troops. Or the only way to get more troops is via the draft.

Rangle says we spend way too much on recruiting; money which could be better spent elsewhere.

There are things here on both sides that merit comment:

1) Although our young men and women could benefit from the training and discipline they would obtaining through military service, there is no real motivating factor to force the taxpayers to fund this.

2) There is no data that suggests that if we had more foot soldiers, we'd win the war in Iraq. Or if we have more troop, we could deal more effective with Iran, North Korea and the Middle East in general.

3) Whenever a politician say "that money could be better spent elsewhere," its time to grab your wallets. It is always a Democrat that knows how to spend your money better than you do.

4) We are fighting this war in Iraq with both hands tied behind our backs. We are fighting a political war at home. If we fought the war with our superior technology and without an anti-military reporter embedded in every platoon, we could quickly eliminate the problems. Fighting a war where the main objective is to avoid collateral damage is doomed from the start.

5) If the real war is militant Islam, then we should create a fighting force to address the enemy. If the battle is against nuclear non-proliferation, then lets fight that war. Another ten million foot soldiers are not the answer to either of these problems.

We have always fought the current war with the tactics and strategies from the last war. The days of redcoats, stormtroopers, and foxholes are past. Wars need be fought in a blitzkrieg style coupled with strong political engagement of those who will fill the leadership vacuum.

Whereas a draft might be an interesting social endeavor, it will not solve our foreign policy dilemmas.

Red flags go up whenever a Democrat proposes some pro-military action. The Democrats hate the military. They have from the 1960s and do so to this day. There is something Democratic in Rangle's motivation. And I can tell you that it does not have the country in its best interest.

Can you say Hitler's youth or communist youth indoctrination programs? If it's coming from a Democrat, that's the socialist leaning program they'd like to oversee.

Healthy Marriage

In this morning's Wall Street Journal, there was a cover page article entitled How a U.S. Official Promotes Marriage to Fight Poverty.

Dr. Wade Horn is the head of the federal Administration for Children and Families (part of the HHS). He believes that traditional marriage can have a positive impact on family economics. Congress has allocated nearly $500 million over five years for a whole range of welfare legislation. Any program that was not previously specified is devoted to his marriage promotion programs.

The idea that poverty has a lot to do with broken marriages has been around for decades. Back in 1965, 8% of children were born to unmarried parents. Today, nearly 33% are and 70% of black children are.

Study after study show children are better off in a two parent home -- a mother and a father. The children are less likely to be poor, drop out of school, become teen parents or get arrested.

Research suggests that marriage education works for middle-class white families. New studies will see if it works for poor, nonwhite couples.

As you can image, there are many opponents of using federal dollars for these pro-marriage programs. There is an opposition in all things; always has been, always will be. If the studies show that health marriage -- real marriage with both parties committed to honoring their vowels and going the extra mile to make it work -- does in fact help reduce poverty, there will still be detractors.

The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.

Marriage just works. It works on the spiritual, emotional and physical side; it works on the economic side as well. The scientific studies are nice and important for a government but for me, not exactly necessary.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Buckeyes Are Big Ten Champs!

Return Missionary

As a young man, I served a full-time LDS mission. I served for two years in the San Jose/San Francisco area as a Spanish-speaking Elder. Twenty some years later, our oldest son just completed his two year mission in Siberia.

Like most missionaries, he really grew to love the Russian people, the language and culture. The Church is growing in that part of the world. In his mission, one of around ten Russian missions, realizes around 180 covert baptisms a year -- on the high end of Russian missions.

Coming from that part of the world back into the land of plenty has been a cultural and emotion shock for him. He kind of walks around in a stupor -- not really sure what to do with himself.

I took him to the university he will be attending in January to go through orientation and to get ready to register and pay for his classes. It was all a bit overwhelming for him. He was not ready to select him classes -- he had not even been thinking about it. He does know what he want to study, which serves him well.

He was a bit frustrated and confused with the whole freshman scene. Most of the classes he wanted to take were full. He'll be forced to take general ed classes his first semester. He did however get some positive news when he took and passed the Russian language placement exam. The exam gave him 16 credits of "A" grade of first and second year Russian.

It is funny to watch these full-time missionaries return home. If they weren't a little weird, I'd question how faithful and hardworking they were.

His mother and I are so proud of him. He will look back on that part of his life with great love and pride. I also feel that his Russian language and cultural skills as well as his leadership experiences will serve him well throughout his personal and professional life.

Well done son.