Thursday, December 31, 2009

Positive Airport Security Measures

Despite all of the hand waving and blame avoiding after the foiled Christmas Day terrorist attempt on Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, we should take some solice in the existing airport security measures.

Terrorists are down to stashing bomb-making materials in their underwear. If these body-scanning devices become ubiquitious, will terrorist be limited to inter-body stashing means?

After all is said and done, the airport security means work for the most part. The problem in this case is that the information regarding this terrorist was not properly correlated by the agencies that should have correlated it.

A father sharing his opinion about a son is a rare event and one that merits further investigation. It seems the CIA did its part in communicating this to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). (I am sure the NCTC claims they did not get it soon enough.)

Connecting the dots is tough to do. It goes against each agency's natural instincts. The agencies have done a decent job protecting the nation against terrorist attacks since 2001. Do they have issues? Certainly. Is it perfect? Far from it. But the men and women mean well and seem to be heading in the right direction. They can anticipate most of the means of a terrorist attack but they cannot stop them all.

Their task is to understand the risks and to make conscienious efforts to minimize them. It is unworkable to eliminate all risks -- the costs and delays would be enormous if attempted.

Although many say it was 'systemic failure' that allowed the Christmas Day airline plot to occur, one dilligent man acted and stopped it. Sometime the policies cannot address everything and it comes down to seat-of-the-pants action by people not employed by a government. Thank goodness for the ability to think and act freely, without being told what to do.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Airliner Bomb Plot -- Existing Policies Fail, New Bad Policies Created

The Christmas day airliner bomb plot by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, from Nigerian, trained in Yemen, is a perfect example of a broken system. Every thing should have been in place, from a policy perspective, to have intercepted him before he boarded the plane.

On a Northwest flight from Amsterdam, 20 minutes prior to landing in Detroit, Abdulmutallab tried to ignite a just-assembled-bomb based on PETN. A fellow-flier recognized the activity and pounced on the terrorist.

He was able to smuggle the chemicals inside his underwear, circumventing traditional physical inspection/screen mechanisms. However, there were other things -- flags -- that should have forced the authorities to pull him aside for further investigation:

Flag 1 - he was on a terrorist watch list (not on the no fly list)
Flag 2 - he paid for a one-way ticket with cash
Flag 3 - he had no checked luggage

There is no real issue with any one of these but collectively, they should raise concern.

It has been my experience that these flags are well known and established within the various national homeland security agencies. The problem, like most issues with bureaucracies, is execution. The policies exist, but the execution of the policies is lacking.

What happens next? Over-reaction from governments and airlines. Investigative committees and immediate status reports. Political opportunism. Political spin.

Hearing that the TSA is asking airline passengers to sit in their seat one hour before landing -- no bath room visits, no electronics, no knitting -- is expected. It is unreasonable and will do little if anything to thwart an attack. It is as stupid as forcing people to take their shoes off before passing through security -- all because one terrorist tried to bomb a plane with supplies hidden in his shoes. What happens if someone tries this with materials smuggled in their rectum?

The answers to these issues are not privacy-stripping policies. The answer are solid investigation, risk assessments and policy enforcement. Most of the TSA reactionary policies add delay and costs, but there is no evidence that any of this will make us safer. Government serves itself, not the people. Government will react, showing the people they are doing something, whether it works or not.

The government is always trying to address the last issue -- fighting the last war -- with reactionary solutions. Some things they should do, they will not do because it is not politically correct. For example, on the list of things to track, a person's nationality and religion should be considered as part of a collective. Just because a person is a male Muslim should not force any action, but add this to a long list of other things like past travel records, method of payment, baggage, flight plans, destination (hotel, family, friends), validated purpose, etc. Why we fail to acknowledge that almost every terrorist that has committed terrorist acts against America is an Islamic extremist is beyond me.

So we will have full-body ex-rays and will be forced to hold it for an hour or more prior to landing -- this after the airline feeds and hydrates us for the previous hours. Likewise, any heroic effort like was demonstrated on the Christmas day Northwest Flight 253 will not be allowed, according to the TSA, because you cannot leave your seat prior to landing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Health Bill Becomes a Pro-Abortion Bill

A health care bill (aka: socialize medicine) coupled with health insurance (aka: the public option) is a dream come true for most Democrats. When government funded abortion is added to the mix, liberals are seeing the realization of a life long fantasy.

Only an idiot would have thought abortion would not be included in this bill. Any anti-abortion Democrat will mind their position in the party -- shut up and vote yes.

I can also promise you that illegal immigrants will also be covered by this health care program, most without having to pay a cent.

Give away free stuff to the lower ranks of society, you have voters for life, generation after generation. Look at how African Americans vote. Hispanics are following suit. This has worked all over the third world for decades -- Chavezism at its finest is being realized in America.

While we all know we have runaway medical costs, creating a massive entitlement program couple with a certain degradation in the quality of health care for most (over time) is the wrong thing to do in a recession.

Whereas some will argue that federal government allowed us to avoid a depression with their TARP and stimulus programs, none of the programs are designed to build confidence in business opportunities.

The bottom line is that businesses are uncomfortable about the impact the health care entitlement will have on them.

I know from personal experience that in our business, 2010 is being forecast similar to 2009, not 2008; and even then, with some reservation. There is hope that we it will not be as bad as it has been in 2009. My opinion is that 2010 will be 5-10 percent below 2009. I hope I am wrong.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Health Care Bill: Political Suicide or Real Value

The reason I am not a liberal is because I do not think government is the answer to most of society's problems. What the federal government is best equipped to do -- military and certain infrastructure -- they are less than stellar. Why don't they do a good job? Because they have no competition -- no compelling reason to excel.

In this latest health care maelstrom, the motivation started off with coverage for those not currently being covered by medial insurance, for whatever reason. This new proposal is not going to cover all of those insured. This is axiomatic.

Sure, there will be some people that will benefit, though certainly not the majority. What it will do is provide less quality health care with conscious rationing, discourage Americans from going into medical practice (not a good personal investment to time and money give the potential return), create an insurance system that will not be competitively fair (if their costs are greater than their incomes, which will occur, they cannot go broke like real firms). It will offer coverage for abortions and other political sensitive procedures.

Most reasonable people understand this. Event he politician behind it. This is not about better health care, it is about control and power. Likewise, the debating process that has gone on this past few weeks is not legislation, it is closer to corruption.

What Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) did was nothing less than corruption: holding out for wording in the bill that would only benefit Nebraska.

Many representatives have conscientiously elected to vote against the wishes of their constituencies, even if it cost them their position. They are liberals first, representatives second. They are willing to commit political suicide for socialized medicine.

Last week, the bombastic President Obama had the audacity of claiming that if we don't pass this health care bill, the federal government 'will go bankrupt'. Certainly we have a problem with runaway health care costs, but this socialized health care bill is not the answer. You can be sure it will direct us toward bankruptcy or poor health care for the masses. It is an entitlement on par with social security, trumping even the current Medicaid and Medicare programs. Obama's waggish ways have grown old. His jeremiad is woefully predictable.

Elections do have consequences. The Democrats will pay a price in November, but there is little confidence the Republicans that will fill the void will be able to reverse socialization. It is a desultory discussion.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Artificial Carbon Market

Most markets, in the traditional sense, are dynamic and not completely controlled by governments. Corn, pork, orange juice, gold, mobile phones, irrigation sprinklers, furniture, financial loans depend on weather, natural resource availability, consumer demand and effective service. Government have some control but not total.

The carbon market is 100 percent controlled by governments. They say how much pollution is allowed and how much is not. They control the CO2 permits. You cannot touch and feel the carbon market like you can most other markets.

The UN's Copenhagen discussions and negotiations this week are more about control than global warming. Getting 125+ nations to agree on a carbon emissions program is completely unrealistic.

The wealthier nations should not pay for the the less-wealthy nations' emissions control efforts. The less-wealthy nations should not expect the financial assistance from wealthier nations (but it does not hurt to ask). Nations whose people are more worried about where there next meal is coming from are so far removed from the fact/fiction, man-made global warming discussion. It makes little difference to them and their lives.

With the goal of the Copenhagen conference to find a way to rein in global emissions, whatever is decided, enforcement is all but impossible.

If nations believe that reducing their emissions will better their world, then each should strive to do so independently. Just because developing nations spread tons of CO2 into their breathing air and sky does not mean that every other nation should do the same.

When it comes down to it, this is an economical decision, not a climate one. Each country will do and should do what is their individual best interest.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

National College Football Awards & Heisman Trophy

Every year, the National College Football Awards Association and a number of other sponsoring organizations give out a series of awards for the year's best college football players. This list is well beyond event he most die hard fans. This year's winners are as follows...

- Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player) - Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
- Biletnikoff Award (best receiver) - Golden Tate, Notre Dame
- Lou Groza Award (best kicker) - Kai Forbath, UCLA
- Ray Guy Award (best punter) - Drew Butler, Georgia
- Maxwell Award (best all-around player) - Colt McCoy, Texas
- Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback) - Colt McCoy, Texas
- Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) - Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
- Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back) - Eric Berry, Tennessee
- Doak Walker Award (best running back) - Toby Gerhart, Stanford
- Rimington Trophy (outstanding center) - Maurkice Pouncey, Florida
- John Mackey Award (best tight end) - Aaron Hernandez, Florida
- Bronko Nagurski Trophy (outstanding defensive player) - Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
- Rotary Lombardi Award (outstanding lineman) - Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
- Frank Broyles Award (top assistant coach) - Kirby Smart, Alabama
- Butkus Award (top linebacker) - Rolando McClain, Alabama
- Walter Camp Award (player of the year) - Colt McCoy, Texas
- Disney Spirit Award (most inspirational player) - Mark Herzlich - Boston College
- Campbell Trophy (Draddy Trophy) (player with the best combination of academics, community service, and on-field performance) - Tim Tebow, Florida
- Heisman Trophy - Mark Ingram, Alabama
- Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker) - Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

The media tends to focus on the Heisman Trophy. While it is nice, it is more of an offensive glamor shot. A player on a poor team has no shot. A player from a non-BCS school has almost no shot. A defensive player has no shot. An offensive lineman has no shot.

These awards are necessary so the media outlets have something to talk about. And the players deserve the accolades, but there is usually little difference between the winners and the non-winners.

Not to take anything away from this year's Heisman winner, Mark Ingram, but Ndamukong Suh, defensive end from Nebraska, was clearly the best all-around, most dominating player in the country. Problem is that many of the voters never saw him play, and Nebraska was 9-4 and not in a BCS game. Toby Gerhard, RB from Stanford, was the best skill offensive player in the country, but he played on Stanford, an 8-4 team and not in a BCS game.

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. But like many things, they evolve to suite the purposes of their supporters. I no longer watch the Award ceremony like I use to.

Realize also these awards are for college football. They have nothing to do with how they will do at the next level. Too often, they are over hyped and don't make it in the NFL (just look at the list of winners).

These awards are what they are: the voters for the awards' best guess at the best player for that designation given the voting guidelines. Someone's got to win; someone's not going to win. This gives us fans something to talk about, as worthless as that time is.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stimulus #3 As Bad An Idea As Stimuli #1 and #2

I guess those elected to serve in government roles feel that the only way they can be effective is to create new programs. Programs that by the casual observer mean well on the surface but do nothing but help the few at the exclusion of the many without an actual cost:benefit analysis.

The Obama administration is contemplating a third stimulus program. Apparently Nancy Pelosi-Bush's Keynesian program #1 ($165 billion stimulus in February 2008) and Pelosi-Obama's Keynesian program #2 ($787 billion stimulus in February 2009) were not enough. Obama is contemplating program #3, looking much like the previous two, mostly ladden with infrastructure promises, but with some potential. He is proposing a hiring tax credit, zero capital gains on new investments in smaller companies, and enhanced expensing for small business.

It is being forecasted that TARP will cost less than expected -- that we will recover more than anticipated (losing only $42 billion). The problem is that the deficit is the highest it has every been and these programs do nothing to address that. They just compound the problem.

As was predicted with both stimuli programs, legislators see it as a permanent funding measure. A strong economy is a good way to address the deficit but not if government continues to spend more than it takes in.

Keynesian spending might make theoretical sense but it fails on practicality.

There is little hope that things will get better anytime soon. There are too many negatives, most created by the federal government. Extraordinary debt, a huge pending health care entitlement program, a pending energy policy that will add enormous costs to everything, two foreign wars with no end in sight, a government that is not a friend of business and capitalism.

Most people work for other people. These "other" people will take business risks only if they have a favorable chance of a reasonable return. If they are unwilling to make the investments, then there are no new jobs for the average Jane and Joe.

The federal government caused the recession and continues to prolong it with its stifling policies. Cut taxes on every one, incentivize new investment, growth and expansion. Put the stops on the next generation New Deal/Great Society social programs. Hope will be less government and less threats that government will intrude on the forces of capitalism.

I feel they current leadership will not do what's right because they want to do what liberals have always wanted to do: build and expand socialism.

I just wish we had politicians that built their platforms on truly reducing the size and scope of government. It just won't happen in mass.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Beer Can Collecting

Talk about nostalgia, when I read the Wednesday, 9 December 2009, front page article called Behold the Beer Can, Its Beauty Faded In the Eyes of the Young in the Wall Street Journal, I reverted back to my mid-teens.

Although a Mormon boy from Ohio, a friend and I were avid beer can collectors. He got me started. He had nearly 500 different beer cans. I built my collection to over 200.

I was probably 13-15 year old. I would make a point of digging through trash cans and dumsters in the large appartment complexes near my house. Saturday morning was a good collecting day, as was Monday, before the trash truck came.

Don't ask me why beer cans. It was actually a rather filthy hobby. The things we found in beer cans when we emptied and cleaned them of their content was rather disgusting.

I don't remember what I did with my collection. I can guarantee you that if I had it today, it would be worth something. I am not a pack rat, and tend to travel light. I just figured that it was stuff I really did not need; it would be too much hassle to deal with over the years as I moved all over the country.

I almost forgot about the hobby. The article made me remember it ... fondly, I guess.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Great College Football Games

In my opinion, today's conference championship games were as good of college football you could hope for. If you watch college football one day a year, this was the day.

In a snow storm in Pittsburgh, the #15 ranked Pitt Panthers (now 9-3) had the early advantage in this de facto Big East championship game. But after it was all said and done, the #5 ranked Cincinnati Bearcats (now 12-0) were able to pull it out. Despite 3 INTs, Tony Pike was able to throw 3 TDS passes including the game winner.

In the Conference USA Championship game in Greenville, NC, had #21 ranked Houston Now 10-3) playing unranked East Carolina (now 9-4). Despite over 500 years passing and 5 TDs, Case Keenham was unable to rally the troops and the Pirates beat the Cougars 38-32.

The game of the season, so they tell us, had #1 Florida (now 12-1) against #2 Alabama (now 13-0) in the SEC Championship in Atlanta. Alabama dominated; clearly the better team. They won going away, 32-13. Tebow (FL QB) was less than impressive. Ingram (RB - Ala) was very impressive. Alabama will now be ranked #1 and will play in the BCS Championship game in Pasadena on 7 January.

It looks like the Crimson Tide will be playing Texas in Pasadena. The #3 ranked Texas Longhorns (now 13-0) won with a last second field goal, 13-12, over the #22 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers (now 9-4) in Dallas. A defensive game from the get-go. Nebraska clearly has the best player in the nation in their defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh.

Taking place at the same time, the ACC Championship game was taking place in Tampa. It pitted #10 Georgia Tech (now 11-2) against unranked Clemson (now 8-5). This might have been the best game of the day. In a great performance, Tiger RB C.J. Spiller rushed for 233 yards and 4 TDs, but in a losing effort. The Yellow Jackets were able to score a game winning TD with less than 2 minutes to play; the Tigers were unable to answer, losing 39-34.

The BCS system is unfair and broken. But with games like this, I guess it does not matter. The bowl games, for the most part are anti-climatic, a road trip for the die hard fans. How does one tell which team is deserving of a shot at the championship game -- the one game? Alabama, Texas, TCU, Cincinnati, Boise State are all undefeated, yet only two can play in that one game. Texas lucked out -- Nebraska kicks off out of bounds, and latter horse-collars a receiver putting Texas in FG position. Then Colt McCoy had a brain cramp and almost ran out of time, even with a TO in his pocket. They put one second back on the clock (rightly so) giving Texas the shot at the FG attempt.

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat on display today. It was great not having a horse in the race; just watching was very entertaining.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A War to Win or Another Step into the Stygian Abyss

Obama was at his typical narcissistic best Tuesday night. We have waited months for his strategic direction for Afghanistan. A bombastic orator, he has dome something that might win elections but not translate into prudent governing.

When a politician tries to please everyone, he ends up pleasing none. Obama's home is in the hustings, not in actually making the tough decisions associated with position.

He did not mention victory. He sounded more like LBJ -- running scared, sounding like he wants success but presenting a coward's plan.

One cannot tell his opponent his strategy and hope to win. How do tell your opponent you will be done in 18 months and think that is a great idea?

It'll be 4-6 months to get the first new troops there and in 12-14 months start bringing them home.

We do not have the money. We never had the money. Afghanistan was a popular idea after 911 -- rah rah -- both sides of the aisle. Iraq was a so-called diversion.

Foreign wars with marginal strategic value are always bad ideas. They never end the way they were originally sold. They are hard.

Whatever we do in Afghanistan over the next 18 months will be okay in some ways but not worth the cost -- money, lives and opportunity costs.

This is another step into the stygian depths of a foreign quagmire, with Obama, the anointed one, leading the way.