Saturday, March 31, 2007

Immediate Action Against Iran

On 23 March when 15 British soldiers were captured and taken hostage by Iran, two thoughts came to mind:

1) Why didn't the soldiers fight to the death and avoid capture at all costs?
2) Why didn't the British retaliate immediately with force?

In today's media climate, allowing this to go on for days and days, probably weeks and weeks, it gives the Iranians (or whomever it will be the next time) ample time to politicize and market their message. They will use all the propaganda they can to spin this in their favors -- not for the westerner world but for their middle eastern neighbors.

The U.N. will get involved. That means nothing -- a useless organization in these incidents. (The UN's best role is feeding the masses, providing clean water and trying to get medical care to the third world).

Given the communications and surveillance powers the British have, they should have nailed the enemy immediately. This is going to go on and on. The western militaries have become impotent, unable to fight modern warfare.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Cold War Back On?

Joel Brenner, the head of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, has said that Russia had fully restored its espionage capabilities against the United States.

Although Mikhail Gorbachev was in the right place at the right time, Vladimir Putin has never been a friend of the U.S., though he is cordial. There is Russian animosity toward the U.S.'s foreign policy because it operates unrestrained with other world powers.

There has been and probably will always be a distrust between the two nations. America continues to expand its colonialism, resented by Russia, among others. Russia and much of the world like the freedom and economic opportunities the American way facilitates, but they hate many of the results of that freedom.

Many of us have learned the hard way that what works for America does not necessarily work for other nations. Too bad many of our leaders still think that the American capitalist blueprint is to be copied nation after nation.

Culture determines every nation's destiny. What they do with democracy is their business.

Though not a xenophobe, America should always do what's in our best interest, not what's in the best interest of others. Foreign policy is selfish in nature. Compromise is a necessary evil but only if we get more than what we give up.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Politician History Litmus Test

I am constantly amazed at the political divide within the U.S. The most recent division started with Bill Clinton. His party-hardy attitude, immaturity, lack of respect for the office, and ignorance of history, was endearing to many, offensive to other.

In 2000, Al Gore was more of the same when he ran against G.W. Bush. Neither could be accused of being a scholar. Apparently half the nation favored the Clinton-Gore and their liberal ways; half did not. This carried on in 2004 in the face of John Kerry. I personally think Gore and Kerry are some of the biggest dolts in the modern era and lacking in the morality category. And although I am not a big Bush fan, his core values are his endearing attribute.

It has been a long time since I have been impressed with a politician, regardless of their political persuasion. Too many of them are educated in law. Too few of them understand history and economics.

One political litmus test for me is the history test. I want a leader that understands the history of this nation, the history of other nations, and has a good understanding of human behavior over the centuries.

I firmly believe that if we elected politicians that understood history, we would not be the international predicaments we find ourselves in today.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

War Spending Bill and PORK

Our two-part form of government requires compromise. In order to build a constituency for some vote, supplemental items are always tossed into the mix. This is corruption but it is generally acceptable, assuming it is kept under some control. The pork in the current House and Senate war spending bill have reach epic proportions.

House lawmakers voted 218-212 in favor of the pork-laden bill mostly along party lines, despite the guarantee of a White House veto.

Michelle Maklin has comprise a list of pork included in both in both houses' bills...

In the Senate...
$1.5 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers for recovery along the coast, including funding for Hawaii for an April 2006 flood;

$850 million for Department of Homeland Security grants ($625M for rail/transit grants, $190M for port security grants, and $35M for urban area security grants);

$660 million for the procurement of an explosives detection system for the Transportation Security Administration;

$640 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program;

$425 million for education grants for rural areas;

$388.9 million for a backlog of Department of Transportation projects;

$165.9 million (including $60.4 million for salmon fisheries in the Klamath Basin region) for fisheries disaster relief;

$75 million for salaries and expenses for the Farm Service Agency;

$48 million in disaster construction money for NASA;

$25 million for grants through the Safe and Drug Free Schools program;

$25 million for asbestos abatement at the Capitol Power Plant;

$24 million to sugar beet producers;

$22.8 million for geothermal research and development;

$20 million for reimbursements to Nevada for “insect damage;”

$12 million for Forest Service money requested by the president in the non-emergency FY2008 budget

$3.5 million for guided tours of the Capitol;

$3 million for sugar cane; and

Allows the transfer of funds from holiday ornament sales in the Senate gift shop.
In the House version:

$500 million for emergency wildfires suppression; the Forest Service currently has $831 million for this purpose;

$400 million for rural schools;

$283 million for the Milk Income Loss Contract program;

$120 million to compensate for the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the shrimp and menhaden fishing industries;

$100 million for citrus assistance;

$74 million for peanut storage costs;

$60.4 million for salmon fisheries in the Klamath River region in California and Oregon;

$50 million for asbestos mitigation at the U.S. Capitol Plant;

$48 million in salaries and expenses for the Farm Service Agency;

$35 million for NASA risk mitigation projects in Gulf Coast;

$25 million for spinach growers;

$25 million for livestock;

$20 million for Emergency Conservation Program for farmland damaged by freezing temperatures;

$16 million for security upgrades to House of Representatives office buildings;

$10 million for the International Boundary and Water Commission for the Rio Grande Flood Control System Rehabilitation project;

$6.4 million for House of Representative’s Salaries and Expenses Account for business continuity and disaster recovery expenses;

$5 million for losses suffered by aquaculture businesses including breeding, rearing, or transporting live fish as a result of viral hemorrhagic septicemia;

$4 million for the Office of Women’s Health at the Food and Drug Administration; and

A minimum wage increase, which is the subject of separate legislation.
Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi can only get the votes by adding in all of this pork. I can only guess how much arm twisting and soul selling has gone on behind closed doors.

The Democrats are more fearful of President Bush than they are of an al-Qaeda ran government in Iraq. The Democrat Party is the part of defeat, surrender and selfishness.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

U.S. Businesses and Iranian Sanctions

As I was reading the article in today's Wall Street Journal entitled Sanctions Test U.S. Firms, I kept thinking about how high-level government policies have little regard for business. This is one very unique difference between America and most other nations.

Take some of the major economies in the world -- Russia, China, France, Germany. They operate under the premise that what is good for home-grown businesses is good for the nation.

This is the main reason why these nations constantly vote against U.N. sanctions of the world's problem children -- North Korea, Syria, Iran. They count on large financial returns due to their large contracts within these nations. They have a vested interest to keep the borders and commerce open. The U.S. federal government, on the other hand, could care less, seemingly.

If you look at the numbers, in 2000-2002, American businesses were doing around $25 million in business with Iran (not much). From 2003-2006, the number has been around $100 million (again, not much but decent). So General Electric, Dresser-Rand, Halliburton, Overseas Shipholding Group, Natco Group, Flowserve, Xerox, etc., will need to wind down their Iranian operations. Most have significant contracts in the energy sector and will probably attempt to fulfill them.

The main argument against these companies is that they help these problem nations build huge oil revenues which they use to fund terrorism. The argument goes on...if American firms do not do the work and receive the revenue, the Chinese, Russians, French and Germans will.

I am not sure sanctions ever do what they are intended to do. Those making the policies rarely suffer; their peasants are the one who pay the price.

At the highest levels of government, egos rule. They do what is best for their power and personal wealth, not what is best for their nations.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cuban Oil and the American Embargo

Petroleum geologists predict that there are around 4.6 billion barrels of oil off the Cuban coast. However, the U.S. oil companies cannot play ball.

The Cuban embargo has been in existence for 45 years. Times are different. Soviet-style communism has failed. Cuban communism, and the associated embargo, has brought only poverty to the heart of the Caribbean.

The Cuban force in south Florida is a political force. But I cannot wonder if this policy against Cuba needs to be rethought, whatever the catalyst may be.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Air-Travel Pact Yields Consumer Options

This past week, the European Union transport ministers unanimously backed an agreement with the U.S. that opens transatlantic air travel to more competition.

Airlines are very protective of their gates and have enjoyed borderline monopolies in certain cities and airports. With this new deal, European carriers will have greater access to other E.U. cities as well as U.S. cities. Likewise, U.S. carries wiill have greater access to European cities.

London's Heathrow will now be accessible to Continental, Delta and Northwest, impacting British Airway's stranglehold on that airport. Aer Lingus and British Midland appear to be winners. The biggest loser might be Alitalia, a struggling carrier now will face strong competition in Milan and Rome.

The U.S. will treat E.U. carriers as if they are from one nation, not 27.

This will provide more flight options and competitive pricing for air-travel. A win for capitalism; a loss for government-regulated socialism.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Murder at Cricket's World Cup and Sport Passion

For most Americas, the World Cup of Cricket is a non-event -- few even understand the game and could care less about the competition. Unfortunately, it has become front page news in most nations with the Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer's murder in his hotel room on Sunday after the team's World Cup shock defeat to Ireland.

The match eliminated Pakistan from the Super 8 (the final eight teams remaining in the competition). For a nation like Pakistan, that was a devastating blow.

Sadly, the logical conclusion is that the murder was related to the loss. Time will tell.

I consider myself a die hard fan of many sports. But I know my limits. I don't bet. I did not even pick an NCAA basketball bracket, though I follow it very close. I do play fantasy NFL with my brothers and do play fantasy EPL. The former is for camaraderie; the later forces me to follow the English game from afar.

I am passionate about a handful of teams and tend to get ill when they lose tough games -- especially when they have highly competitive teams. So if you want to know my mood after one of my team's big game, it is directly proportional to the outcome.

In order of passion...

-- Ohio State football
-- Cincinnati Reds baseball
-- Cleveland Browns football (pure misery)
-- Liverpool soccer
-- Detroit Red Wings hockey
-- Minnesota Vikings football
-- Minnesota Twins baseball

Friday, March 23, 2007

Democrats and the Surrender Bill


This is about as a disgusting of a process I have seen in a long time. The House passed a $124.3 billion war supplement that includes a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The vote was 218-212.

HR 1591 includes funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus billions of dollars of non-war spending -- PORK!!!! It requires the withdrawal of the majority of the U.S. force in Iraq by August 2008 (just before the November general election -- go figure).

They went through all of this effort knowing that the President will veto it and there are not enough votes to overturn the veto.

The Democrat proposal is a defeatist bill. The Democrats have become the Surrender Party. Some of the idiots stated that when they voted for the war, they did not vote to engage in a civil war. Shows how stupid those congressional reps are -- they don't understand 20th century history and politics. Only an idiot would have thought that we'd have been out of there in a few years. We have idiots on both sides of the aisle.

Our administration already is conducting a war with at least one hand tied behind his back, not it looks as if the war will be fought on a gaming station by politicians (not military leaders) who give their enemies their strategies and tactics.

Federal Prosecutors and Subpoenas

Although the Senate and House Judiciary committees issued subpoenas for the testimony of Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and deputy White House counsel William Kelley, I really can't see those individuals appearing before those committees.

No crime has been committed. Executive privilege will trump these subpoenas.

The Democrat plan is to get these individuals under oath, drill them for hours if not days and hope they can get them on some perjury charge. They succeeded with Scotter Libby. The Bush administration had better fight this with all its power.

This whole things should fizzle if the wussy Republicans would fight back like men. In 1993, Janet Reno dismissed all 93 U.S. Attorneys. No investigations took place. No demands for her resignation were made.

Looking across the MSM rags and sites, this topic has already been relegated to last week's news.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Are Other Countries Really Better?

This week, US News and World Report has a cover story entitled How They Do It Better. The premise is that we can learn a lot from other countries.

I have spent time in around 25 other countries, from Asia/Pacific to Europe, from the Middle East to South America. Every once in a while, I'll notice things that I prefer -- things that I wish existed in the US.

Let's look at what the story highlights and what I think about them...(longer than my normal entry, sorry)

-- No pavement markings and signs for drivers is being tried in Ipswich, England. They claim no driving rules allow people to act more responsible. Where libertarianism seems ideal, it is more chaos that utopia. It might work in a few self-disciplined area, but does not universally workable.

-- Cycling in Germany and Holland works because things are closer together and surface is flat. If cycling was not promoted in Holland, traffic would be some of worst in the world. What I encourage cities, counties and states to do is to make wider roadways to accommodate cyclists. People that have more than 5-10 miles to commute are not going to ride even if the weather is appealing. Cycling to/from work is ideal in close proximities, where the weather cooperates, and the roads encourage it. Utah is a terrible bike state.

-- Since 1958, 440 baseball players made it to Major League Baseball from the Dominican Republic. Who cares. That's all they have to hope for. The number that fail to make it dwarf those that make it. That's the way it is in any sport.

-- Bogota, Colombia offers high-end public transit via buses. Public transit can only exist if it is subsidized. If a city is laid out where the public options work, the people will use them. Good public transit reduces congestion, pollution, parking problems but none of them can survive on their own (without government assistance).

-- In Finland, driving fines are based on personal income. They call them graduated traffic fines. The intent behind traffic fines are to change driver behavior and improve safety. However, most communities use them as funding sources. Ditto for Finland -- more money for the social government machine. They just have clever way to "sell it."

-- Ryanair out of Ireland is more no-frills than Southwest and JetBlue. If the market will support another airline with less frills than our current bargain airlines, go for it. No free peanuts, soda, or DirectTV. If the price can be cut enough and safety demonstrated, it'd "fly."

-- Smart phones that allow you purchase goods in public; e.g., vending machines, are popular in Japan and South Korea. It is only a matter of time before it finds its way to American cities. I can see the day where people go out on the town with a phone and driver's license. (Look for phones with a pocket.)

-- In France, a meal is more than a way to fill your pie hole. A meal is a cultural event. For most Americans, it is get in, eat, and get out. In France (most of Europe), meals, not the actual eating part, can take three hours. Conversation is crucial. I like the idea of people actually talking to each other. America has gotten away from this. Europeans have not.

-- Bathrooms are becoming high-tech in Japan. I don't really care about having high tech in the bathroom. But what I do like are privacy stalls. In America we have these stalls that have these 12 inch gaps between the floor and the division panels and open above the wall to the ceiling. In most European washrooms, each toilet is like a small room just for that toilet. I am all for keeping smells and noises somewhat confined.

-- Auzzie schools are big into sun-protection for outdoor activities. Their "no hat, no play" policy seems a bit excessive. Are they really outside that long? If you got fair skin, parents should put sunblock on their kids before sending them to school.

-- Japan offers smaller portions. America does serve bigger portions. A small is a medium, a medium is large, a large is extra large. The argument goes, I guess, that people tend to eat what is on their plate. I am not a big fan of government telling us how much to eat. I am seeing more people eat until they are full and are not worrying about leaving food on the table.

-- Hosting a meal is an honor in Afghanistan, like it is in most third-world nations. People will save for months and years to serve a great meal. I have been the recipient of this generosity. I felt guilty. I am just glad we do not have this custom.

-- Finnish students are brightest. America has a long way to go in the education arena. Our biggest education problems are social -- too many students get away with going the bare minimum. Most of this starts at home. Fewer people enter in the education profession because the pay is so poor. Good teachers make learning fun. There are just too many poor teachers.

-- In Germany, prostitutes are being retrained by the government to work with the elderly, not sexually but in a healthcare and convalesce manner. There are lots of happy elderly men in Germany -- an extra 5 euros will get them more than a sponge bath.

-- Sweden is the sex education leader. They start the education at a very young age. They claim teen pregnancy and STD are the lowest in the world, and that sexual activity starts later in life. I really don't mind solid sex education provided there's not a liberal agenda. It needs to encourage abstinence on the basis of science -- psychology, physical and societal.

-- They take naps in Taiwan. These are not five year olds, but adults in the workplace. This is a cultural thing. If it is done, it needs to be done a little less public. I don't want to be forced to change my behavior because someone nearby is snoozing.

-- In Japan, they have the students participate in the janitorial duties. This reduces overall janitorial expenses, engages students in physical work, and encourages them to not mess and clean as they go. If a guy urinates all over the toilet seat or on the floor, he might aim better if he knew he'd be cleaning it later that day.

-- Holland has the most liberal drug policy in the world. They treat drug abuse as a disease and not a crime. Instead of putting drug users in prison, they put them in treatment. I have not studied this much but the relationship between crimes, addicts and government's role is interesting. The government needs to look at cost to society -- economics as well as culture.

-- In Singapore, you litter, you pay. We need to provide more public receptacles. Fines for littering exists, but maybe they are not high enough. We have some trashy roadways. I think clean-up duty as a penalty is better -- pay for the privilege of picking up trash.

-- Cobblestone roads with drainage holes throughout are being used in Europe. Why not combine stones with dirt in some roadways sounds interesting (in places that do not need snow removal)? I might just be more economical also.

-- In Norway, they give 53-weeks of maternity leave at 80% pay and a guaranteed job upon return. Paternity leave is moving to ten weeks. Paid vacations are five weeks a year. The work week is 37.5 hours (that means 130.5 hours a week not working). Grants are given if one parent stays home with a child between 1-2 years of age. Wow!

All of these issues address the age old questions: How much government is too much? How much government is not enough? I am a capitalist. I am a conservative. I firmly believe less government is better. I put more faith in people, less in government programs and services.

Europeans, especially those in the north, have a high living standard. They are as socialistic as it gets. Everybody is mediocre by design. For some cultures, this works. However, I like the notion that everyone can be exceptional if they will earn it. America encourages and must encourage hard work. We will always be the hardest and smartest workers in the world because of our system and culture.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Clash of Cultures


For centuries, the Muslim world and the Western world have clashed. In tends to come and go but it is always there. Presently, it is as strong as it has been in my lifetime.

The number of Muslims with an unfavorable view of the U.S. is rising. This is more pronounced with the younger generation that the older.

Muslim men and women in Muslim nations favor a sharia-based government than a non-sharia one. You wonder if the women who where questioned actually said what they thought? Gallup pollers stated that the male relatives insisted on listening in and correcting the replies. I really don't think the women are as ignorant as the poll suggests. Would any half-way intelligent woman prefer a Taliban-like government?

Although the actual percentages are small, the number of people who approve of al-Qaeda and terrorist acts against America is nearly 80 million, that's a huge number.

The western world encourages freedom of religion. The sharia world would kill those that do not convert. This is indeed a clash of cultures. There more terrorist acts that get committed, the greater the anger.

I am one that believes that violent conflicts between the west and the Muslim world are inevitable. However, more people seem to believe that we can find common ground. That is wishful thinking, not realistic.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Public-Sponsored Sports

A few months back, I wrote about public funding of a professional soccer stadium here in Salt Lake. After the city of Sandy and Salt Lake County said no thanks, the governor got into the fray this past legislative session.

The funding plan diverts $35 million in county hotel taxes to buy land, upgrade parking and improve infrastructure for a $110 million stadium near 9400 South State Street in Sandy. The venue is scheduled to open in summer 2008. This was done despite a 65 percent disapproval.

Why do they do this? It must have something to do with legacy. After Huntsman is old and gray, he'll tell his grandchildren, "I was the one who brought professional soccer to Utah and gave them the stadium."

I am a big soccer fan but I do not think public money should be used for professional sports. If an investment is worthwhile, the business people will fund it. If a businessman can get the government to fund it, why not?

Look at what's going on in London. They won the 2012 Summer Olympics Games. I was in the area last year when the announcement was made. Rah rah and all that. Originally, they made the petition knowing that 50 percent of the cost would be covered by taxes. It has now increased to nearly 70 percent. Ten billion pounds is the latest expectation. And this is for sports few people even care about.

Londoners will be paying higher property taxes to help. But how are they going to cover these huge over-runs? Why the lottery, of course. Yea, let's get the poorest people in the community to buy more lottery tickets. London, England, the UK -- oh how far you have fallen.

Next question: Why would anyone want to host the Olympics? They are real cool and all but financially, they are a disaster. Poor sap who gets the 2016 Olympics.

Friday, March 16, 2007

China and Private Property


Just so we are clear: despite China's 10% annual growth, China is a communist nation. Everything of any value belongs to the government. The government is not the people, it is the Communist Party. So when we read and hear about China recently enacting its first law to protect private property, one needs to question what this really means.

I am not sure what the Chinese dream is but one thing it has not included is a home that can be called one's own.
The new law on property rights which is mainly intended to reassure the country's fast growing middle class that their assets are secure. Three years ago China added a clause to its constitution saying that private property was “not to be encroached upon”. But efforts to translate this into law have aroused unusually fierce and open debate about the direction of China's economic reforms. Chinese leaders are now struggling to silence it.
For years, the Chinese have been leaving the countryside for the urban manufacturing jobs. Landownership will motivate the farmers to build efficient and profitable farming operations. But I doubt the government is going to allow the peasants to actually own the land and control the production. Communism and collectivization are one and the same, and that's China.

Ownership implies individual rights. If the government wants the land, then individual rights be damned. We have this here in the U.S. after 2005's eminent domain Supreme Court wrongful ruling. The Chinese legal system is not going to be overhauled anytime soon. Although public dissent is more tolerated, the government still puts these down quickly, especially those occurring in rural China.

There are two revolutions going on in Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's and President Hu Jintao's China -- the Wen-Hu state investment revolution and the Wen-Hu property revolution. As government investment and ownership in industry increases, so does private investment and ownership. As private ownership increases, the demand for funding and for collateral also increase. It seems to be working for the time being but these two models are on a collision course.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Libby Crime


Michael Barone wrote a real nice oped piece on the treatment and coverage of two "crimes" -- Scooter Libby and Sandy Berger.

Berger removed (and destroyed) on multiple occasions some classified documents from the National Archives under the direction of Bill Clinton as he prepared for his 9/11 testimony. The motivation and crimes were never really uncovered. Berger was fined $50k and asked to perform 100 hours of community service.

Libby was found guilty on four of the five counts with which he was charged: two counts of perjury, one of obstruction of justice, and one of making false statements to federal investigators. The initial motivating factor of U.S. Attorney / Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was to get Libby on unauthorized disclosure of CIA employee Valerie Plame Wilson's identity. Turns out this information was disclosed by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to newsman Robert Novak.

If the Plame "outage" been a crime, Fitzgerald could have wrapped up his investigation with an indictment of Armitage on the first day of his investigation since it was Armitage who revealed her name and Fitzgerald knew it.

Key to the Libby hoopla was Joseph Wilson's anti-Bush diatribe (which is the standard Democratic rhetoric): Bush lied his way into the war in Iraq. Specifically the claims are that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger; that Wilson was sent to Niger by Cheney to investigate; and that his wife recommended him for the position. These all proved to be Wilson lies according to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Fitzgerald pursued an investigation into nothing of substance. His case was based entirely on a hatred of Libby with a hope that after hours of under-oath drilling, Libby would contradict himself and other witnesses. His goal was to get perjury, obstruction and lying charges and convictions, which he did. Libby is now a convicted felon for having a faulty memory.

Consider the following comments:
A Libby juror stated: “I will say there was a tremendous amount of sympathy for Mr. Libby on the jury. It was said a number of times, ‘What are we doing with this guy here? Where’s Rove? Where are these other guys?”’ Collins said. “I’m not saying we didn’t think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of. It seemed like he was, as Mr. Wells put it, he was the fall guy.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “the testimony unmistakably revealed — at the highest levels of the Bush administration — a callous disregard in handling sensitive national security information and a disposition to smear critics of the war in Iraq.”
I can understand the anti-Bushies doing this -- they prey on the ignorant and leverage the biased media -- that's a given. But I wonder if the jurors really understood what the trial was about. It was not about outing a CIA operative. That issue went away months ago. But the jurors keep referring to that.

Libby was guilty of being a Republican, just like Rush Limbaugh (prescription drugs) and ex-Rep Tom DeLay (campaign finance). Berger was treated like a Democrat, just like Rep. William Jefferson (bribery) and Senator Harry Reid (land swindle).

Democrats are better at witch hunts and writing history than the Republicans.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sacking of US Attorneys

These ankle-biting stories are getting bothersome. All they do is give the media something to talk about, a way to sell ads and periodicals, and the opposing party a chance to beat down their foes. It helps the Dems more so because they have the bulk of the media on their side..

Last year the Justice Department dismissed eight US attorneys for what they initially described as performance-related reasons. Democrats counter that it was for political purposes. It appears that lack of loyalty to the administration was a factor in some of the dismissals. So what. President Bush has clearly stated they serve at his discretion.

This goes for all Presidents. Presidents have done this in the past. They will do it in the future. What is strange is that sacking of eight of the 93 U.S. attorneys is a high number. As members of the executive branch of government, they serve under the President. These jobs are not lifetime appointment.

There was talk of sacking all 93 U.S. attorneys in 2004. White House attorney Harriet Miers raised the idea with an aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. This would have started the president's second term with a new team of U.S. attorneys. They could focus on the administration's key policies and emphasis.

Alberto Gonzales is under increased pressure to resign. He state that he “was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.”

It appears the Administration did not handle the sackings that way they should have. it bothers me that people get sacked over politics. However, if the attorneys are playing politics, then they got what they deserve.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Halliburton C.E.O. to Dubai

Halliburton is energy services company. More and more of its business is in the Middle East and Africa. So when they decided to move their CEO from Houston to the United Arab Emirates, it did not strike me strange. However to others it did.

I see this as a 100% business move. If it makes business sense to move its headquarters to the Middle East, then why shouldn't they?

Loser Clinton's comments that there is evidence about their misuse of government contracts and how they have cheated the American soldier, cheated the American taxpayer, they have taken money and not provided the services said Clinton, has nothing to do with their relocation. If those claims have merit, then why doesn't the federal government do something about it?

Michael Savage claims that it is a security problem, a la Dubai Ports World. If the federal government outsources energy work to any third party, that third party must meet the security requirements for the job. He always talks about the almighty dollar. Well Michael, when you run a company, especially a public company, you are responsible to maximize wealth to the stakeholders. Figuring out the best ways to reduce expenses, reduce taxes, avoid burdensome regulation, etc., relocating to the UAE sounds like a good decision.

Finally, with the anti-local-energy powers in the government, they have basically ran the company off. Our government is creating barriers for business to succeed -- extra expenses and hurdles that can be avoided in other countries. These types of relocations will become more common. Over time, with unfavorable business conditions, American will begin to lose its competitive advantage. It happened to the British empire, it is starting to happen to America.

The only bad thing is having to live in Middle East. Having been once, not on my list of places to live. Nothing alluring about UAE. Where do you ride mountain bikes? Where do you ski? No freshwater lakes. No hikeable mountain ranges. Deep sea fishing in the Persian Gulf does not sound appealing. Might be some decent scuba diving though. The life's the Muslim's lead, IMO, are as boring as it gets -- apartment living, crappy TV and radio, etc.

Hope he likes living in Dubai. I wouldn't.

Monday, March 12, 2007

...We Will Follow Socialism


"Those who want to go directly to hell, they can follow capitalism. And those of us who want to build heaven here on earth, we will follow socialism." - Hugo Chavez, Trinidad, Bolivia, 11 March 2007.

And where has socialism ever succeeded? Chavez's anti-American rhetoric is getting tiresome.

Socialism and its comrade communism benefit the most destitute for about five minutes. Once basic food, clothing and shelter are provided, that's it. Those just above destitute now have reached the apex of their lives. They will work, and work and work, and stay exactly there -- basically surviving.

These people have no hope. But they do get to see giant murals and statues of the leader that makes all of this possible. They are to worship the all-might dictator -- the omnipotent ruler. He does not suffer. He flourishes. He leads a life of privilege and debauchery. He keeps the masses at bay. This is Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Rafael Correa (Ecuador).

All is not well with our southern brethren.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

NCAA D1 Hoops

Bracketology complete. Initial rounds set. Seeds determined.

Number one seeds: defending champion Florida (29-5), North Carolina (28-6), Kansas (30-4) and Ohio State (30-3), the top-ranked team in the nation.

Number two seeds: Wisconsin (29-5), UCLA (26-5), Georgetown (26-6) and Memphis (30-3).

I am not passionate about basketball, as in years past. As a teen, I'd played 2-8 hours a day for about 6 years. I guess my interest in the game has wained.

I do like to watch the D1 tourney. It is an exciting tourney. Like most, I always pull for the underdog. That will be the case in all games except OSU.

Go Bucks!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

ICC Cricket World Cup

Games on. Sixteen teams begin the journey to see who will claim this year's (every 4th year) world champ of cricket. The competing nations are:

--Australia, South Africa, Scotland, Netherlands
--Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Bermuda
--New Zealand, England, Kenya, Canada
--Pakistan, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland

I first experienced cricket in Australia a few year back. I went to a 50-over international between Australia and New Zealand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Luckily for me, I had a Auzzie colleague that sat with me and provided me with the match details and strategies.

Although there is a bat (flat hitting surface) and ball (single seam), similarities to baseball are a stretch. If you are one of those who says baseball is boring, then cricket might not be your game either. For the sixteen teams in this Cup, those nations, as well as their ex-pats, will be riveted.

There is a tremendous amount of strategy in the game -- more so in test cricket than what we'll witness in the West Indies for the next few weeks. However, this World Cup format will bring out the best in skills of the batsmen, the bowlers, the fielders and the player placement. No room for error; every ball counts.

I find on-field, player placement most alluring. Knowing your bowler and the strengths and weaknesses of the batsman, fielders can be place in some of the strangest formations. There is indeed sanity to the apparent madness.

Although cricket is a tough game for an American with no Commonwealth roots to follow, Direct TV and the Internet have brought this wonderful game and Cup closer to us Yanks. Although I am not going to pay Direct TV the $200 for the ICC Cricket World Cup video package, I will be monitoring every match on a daily basis.

The Auzzies are favored to repeat. Ozzie ozzie ozzie, oi oi oi.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bush in Latin America

The drive-by media claims Bush's trip to Latin America is merely a lucky diversion from this week's events in Washington -- the Scooter Libby verdict, the firing of eight federal prosecutors and the conditions at Walter Reed Hospital.

Six plus years ago, Bush, due to his Texas roots, was to be the Latin American President. However 9/11 changed everything for him. While he was focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, Hugo Chavez and his communist cronies in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua were off badmouthing America and Bush in specific.

Bush's selected countries of visit -- Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico -- are some of the more important countries to America (or at least to the Bush Administration).

In Brazil, it is ethanol and biodiesel. We will soon start to hear the DBM and their environmentalists cohorts mounting their "save the Amazon" crusade. The evil business horde who realize they can grow cash by tearing down the rainforests will be the bad guys because of U.S. policy, so they'll say.

In Colombia, it is all about drugs, namely the war against the cocaine cartels. This is not a good thing for the libs, as they are the main consumers of the coca plant.

In Mexico, it is all about immigration. This is one of Bush's weakest policy, in that he is not against the current open border, enjoying the cheap labor, assuming that it is impossible for terrorists and their associated technologies to enter through official land ports and unofficial dessert crossings. (His homeland security port bill was for sea ports only, not for land ports.)

A few years ago, when I traveled in Latin America, our dinner discussions would revolve, in part, around politics. A common theme was finance. Every time a U.S. President went to Latin America, he discussed some grandiose program that would be funded by the US, IMF and World Bank. These countries would assume heavy debt. Corruption would divert the monies to the corrupt. The people would not benefit from the programs, in fact the debt burden would make them worse off.

I laugh at the protesters in Latin America -- the students, environmentalists and lefties waving communist flags -- shouting anti-imperialist, environmentalism and anti-Iraq slogans. (Why would someone in Brazil care about U.S. policy in Iraq?) Pick the country, the street protesters are the dregs, dolts and non-producer of society -- the liberals.

America should do what is best for America. First and foremost, partnerships with other nations should be established for selfish economic and strategic reasons.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Multi-Level Marketing

Utah County is the U.S. mecca for multi-level marketing companies. Mormons must feel that because they live righteous lives including paying their tithing, they are entitled to wealth beyond measure. They are gullible to a fault.

I admire the excitement the management teams have for their products and for the financial potential individual contributors can realize.

The biggest issue I have is that those selling the products have bought into a bunch of false hype. Whether it is legal services, cosmetics, alarm systems or nutrasuticals, the end consumer gets ripped off. Lets take the nutrasuticals market.

Those peddling the products talk about all of the benefits of a daily regiment. However none of them have any scientific proof that people taking those regiments and their products are any more healthy than those that don't.

They have done no independent testing -- no longitudinal testing following scientific processes and procedures.

They sell via the MLM model because if they put it in the stores at their high prices, it'd never sell. They need the direct touch by individuals that have bought in to the system. In fact, I don't think many of the sale reps actually believe the products do what they say they do, they just see it as a way of making money. Namely getting other lackeys to sell the product as subordinate members of their selling team.

Anytime I hear a product is marketed via an MLM organization, I shy away. It is over priced. I am paying way too much in sales commissions. There is no evidence that that product does what the sales and marketing messages claim.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Nation's Transportation System

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has released a new document entitled “Transportation – Invest in Our Future: Future Needs of the U.S.Surface Transportation System.” The report is the first of six being prepared to assist the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.

Below is a snapshot of the state of America's transportation system. The focus is on future requirements and obviously a plea for funding.

--Highway Investment. In 2005, highway capital investment was $75 billion, $33 billion or 45 percent of the total in Federal assistance, and $42 billion from the state and local level.

--Transit Investment. In 2004, transit capital investment was $13.2 billion, $5.2 billion or 40 percent of the total in Federal assistance, and $8 billion from the state and local level.

--Construction Costs. Between 1993 and 2015 highway and transit construction costs will have increased 70 percent.

--Restore Purchasing Power. To restore the program’s purchasing power, Federal highway assistance will have to increase from $43 billion in 2009 to $73 billion in 2015, and transit assistance will have to increase from $10.3 billion to $17.3 billion.

--U.S. DOT 2004 Conditions and Performance Report (C&P). Based on 2002 data, Highways “Cost to Improve” estimate is $118.9 billion, Transit “Cost to Improve” estimate is $24 billion.

--C&P Report Estimates Adjusted for Inflation. Adjusting U.S. DOT’s 2004 “constant dollar” projections to “years of expenditure” dollars yields the following estimates for 2007:

--Highways. The “cost to improve” highways and bridges in the United States to the levels needed in 2007 is estimated at $155.5 billion.

--Transit. The “cost to improve” transit in the United States to the levels needed in 2007 is estimated at $31.4 billion.

--Freight Rail. The “cost to maintain freight rail’s current market share,” in 2007 is estimated at $12 billion—$2.75 billion annually in public support and $9.25 billion annually in railroad private capital investment.

--Intercity Passenger Rail. The “cost to bring 21 intercity passenger rail corridors to a good state of repair,” is $3.3 billion in annual rail capital investment.

--Population. Between 1955 and 2005, the U.S. population grew by 130 million to 295 million. Over the next 50 years, it is expected to grow by 140 million to 435 million.

--Vehicles. In 1955, our highways carried 65 million cars and trucks. They carry 246 million today, and that number is expected to reach nearly 400 million by 2055.

--Travel. Highway travel in the United States measured in “vehicle miles traveled,” increased from 600 billion in 1955 to 3 trillion in 2006. FHWA forecasts that it will grow by 2.07 percent per year through 2022. Travel may exceed 7 trillion vehicle miles by 2055.

--Truck Freight. Truck tonnage is expected to increase 114 percent between 2004 and 2035. Trucks are expected to carry 79 percent of total tonnage.

--Rail Freight. Rail tonnage is expected to grow by 63 percent by 2035. Rail is expected to carry 13 percent of total tonnage in 2035, down from 14 percent in 2004.

--Truck Traffic. Today’s Interstates carry an average of 10,500 trucks per day per mile. By 2035, this figure will increase to 22,700 trucks per day, per mile. Today only 30 miles on the Interstate carry more than 50,000 trucks per day per mile. By 2035, that number may reach 2,500 miles.

--Trade. Trade as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased from 13 percent in 1990 to 26 percent in 2000, and is expected to reach 35 percent by 2020.

--Container Cargo. U.S. container traffic increased from 8 million units in 1980, to 42 million in 2005. By 2020, container volume is expected to hit 110 million units.

--Interstate Highways. The 47,000-mile Interstate Highway System contains only 1 percent of total U.S. highway miles, but carries 24 percent of all traffic and 41 percent of large truck traffic. Interstate vehicle miles traveled are expected to double from 690 billion in 2002 to 1.3 trillion 20 years from now.

--Tolls. In 2005, tolls generated $7.75 billion in receipts which represented 5 percent of highway revenues. There are 4,630 miles of toll roads in the United States in 25 states.

--Global Competition. China is building a 53,000-mile National Expressway System which, when complete in 2020, will rival the 47,000-mile U.S. Interstate System. India is building a 10,000-mile national expressway system. Europe with a population of 450 million is spending hundreds of billions of euros on a network of highways, bridges, tunnels, ports, and rail lines.

When it comes to commerce, having a modern, reliable and properly sized transportation system is one of the biggest roles the federal and state governments can play--must play.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A World Lit Only by Fire

I just finished a book called A World Lit Only by Fire (W. Manchester). Not intended to be a detailed history of the times, rather commentary on specific event that shaped an era.

It is an informal history of the European Middle Ages. Divided into three sections, the first briefly covers the fall of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages and the plague of that era. It then gets into the Church discussing the Borgia family, the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther, Erasmus, the rise of humanism, Michelangelo, Da Vinci and the life and decisions made by Henry VIII. He concludes the book with a section on Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his global circumnavigation.

Manchester made some interesting comments toward the end about heroism. He claims that although Magellan was not the wisest or the most gifted of his era, he was the most heroic.

-- Heroism is often confused with physical courage.
-- Heroism is not impulsive but always deliberate, never midelness.
-- Leaders backed by blind masses are seldom valiant.
-- The hero acts alone, without encouragement, relying solely on conviction and his own inner resources.
-- Indifferent to approval, reputation, wealth or love, he cherishes only his personal sense of honor, which he permits no one else to judge.
-- He pursues his vision single-mindedly, undiscouraged by rejections, defeat, or even the prospect of imminent death.

Most of the great achievers do not meet the hero test. So many of them were creepy people -- terrible husbands, father, sons, friends. Their accomplishments were selfish and driven by worldly wealth and acknowledgment.

Rare is the true hero. In the political world, by definition, there are no heroes. Anyone wanting to run for office is selfish by definition. Their lives are spent doing whatever they can to win the admiration of others. There are exceptions. They are rarely found in the House, less so in the Senate, rarely as Governors. Because of G.W. Bush's rise to power with a silver spoon in his mouth, he has many of the qualities of heroism Manchester describes. Time will tell if his convictions in the war against terror and in Iraq will label him as a hero. Despite all of the things I dislike about him, his determination and single-mindedness is to be admired.

Monday, March 05, 2007

China's Military Buildup

China has been increasing the amount of yuan it spends on defense. In 2000, they spent just over 100 billion yuan (1 billion yuan = $129.1 million). In 2007, they expect to spend around 350 billion yuan (around $45 billion). Their spending has increased 18% over last year. Concerned? Not really.

China is spending around 1% of its GDP on defense; the U.S. spends around 4% of GDP. Other nations spend much more than 1% of its GDP on defense. So although the amount is large, it is not as significant as some might think, or what China could be spending.

The key issue with China and their military deals with Taiwan. With a large portion of their military focus and strategy dealing with keeping the renegade province part of the PRC family, Taiwan's future actions will dictate how those defense monies will get allocated.

If Taiwan succeeds in declaring independence, it will look for support from the other nations, namely the U.S. If the U.S. supports its independence, then the 18% annual growth in defense spending will increase and become focused on getting Taiwan "under control." If anyone gets in their way, then that nation becomes an enemy.

I do not think the U.S. is willing to engage in a pan-Pacific battle with China of Taiwan.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Eritrea

The Horn of Africa continues to intrigue me. Strategically located along the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, comprised of a mix of Muslims and Christians, and historically a clan-like form of localized governments.

Ethiopia is the Horn's most dominate player. Using its force in the Somalian conflict, it has establish its role as a strong neighbor, imposing its will.

Eritrea, which fought a war against Ethiopia in the late 1990s, has been helping the Muslims in Somalia. Although it has tried to assert itself as a peacemaker in Darfur, it has sidled up with Iran and Libya. It is one of those countries that is opportunistic -- befriending anyone it feels will help in the short term.

I can help but think that there is potential there for an al-Qaeda safe haven some day.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Guaranteed Health Care

According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, a majority of Americans say the federal government should guarantee health insurance to every American, especially children, and are willing to pay higher taxes to do it.

The NY Times articles goes on to claim that Americans are willing to pay as much as $500 more in taxes a year and forgoing future tax cuts to guarantee health insurance for all.

Health insurance is one of the biggest scams in American business. Too many of us believe it is an entitlement or a right provided by the Constitution.

Health insurance is a perk businesses offer their employees. It is part of their compensation package. Because everyone else offers it, businesses feel they need to do the same in order to compete for those finite and qualified human resources.

A much better plan for the individual and the employer is catastrophic insurance programs coupled with healthcare spending accounts and some prescription plan (which might just bet Walmart). Catastrophic plans cover, after the large deductible, those rare health cases that the average person cannot afford -- cancer treatment, heart surgery, and any extended hospital stay.

Businesses would incur less cash drain if they contributed a quarter of what they pay out in subsidized healthcare insurance payments for their employees. In fact, they could pay for every minor medical expense employees incur and come out ahead.

Americans have been sucked into this healthcare drain. Those with insurance feel obligated to use the system when they really don't need to. Does a 35 year old man need to go to the doctor for the flu? For a head or chest cold? Of course not but since it is free or because it is only a small co-pay, he does it. The doctor then tells him he is sick and prescribes some medication. Out of pocket expense for the sick: $25-50. Doctor and pharmacy billing: $hundreds. What for? A medical condition every person who has ever lived experiences repeatedly.

This week, I spoke to a young, married husband and father of three. He works for a small business (<10 people). They do not offer health insurance. He self insures himself and pays for a catastrophic policy ($5000 deductible). He bets on himself. Instead of paying $700-1000 per month for some traditional health insurance plan, he keeps that money in his pocket. He invests it. He is young. His family is young. They don't go to the doctor for every sniffle or flu symptom. If he needs medical care, he pays for it out of his pocket.

This NYT poll is based on leading questions, like most polls. The goal of the poller in this case is to get people to say they want federal healthcare for all. Socialized medicine has been a disaster in every country that has it. It will be a disaster here for everyone except the most impoverished -- those that have nothing are always better off, in the short-term with at least something. It is communism at its finest.

Liberals want people to be indebted to the government. I want people to detach themselves from government slavery. Bet on people, not on government. For those truly unable -- mentally or physically -- to care for themselves, they are the exception not the rule.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

You're Welcome

Rhetorical question: what do you say when someone thanks you for something you did or said? "You're welcome," right?

Why is that for the past few years, almost everyone responds to a "thank you" statement with "thank you?"

In some cases, the response is "no, thank you," like trying to one-up someone.

Proper protocol is when you are thanked, you acknowledge this with a proper response. That response is "you're welcome." You did something to warrant the compliment -- you did them a favor or performed a valuable service.

Next time you listen to an interview on TV or radio, count how many people respond to a "thank you" with a "thank you." You'll be surprised how few respond with "you're welcome."

Hogzilla


We can't seem to catch Bigfoot but some guy in Georgia certainly did find a decent sized hog.
Bill Coursey killed a very large free-roaming hog in his neighbor's yard in southern Fayette County, Georgia, on the afternoon of January 4, 2007. The hog measured 9 feet in length, and weighed in on a certified truck scale at 1,100 pounds. At that size, the animal dwarfs the vaunted "Hogzilla," recognized by Safari Club International as the North American free-range record hog.
That's going to be one big BBQ spit.