Saturday, December 31, 2011

OCCUPY THE WHITE HOUSE

Has anyone in the conservative spectrum thought about the best campaign slogan for Republicans?  And one that will backfire on the protestors and their Democratic allies.  How about this:
OCCUPY THE WHITE HOUSE
Vote Republican

Horse meat on the dinner table soon? … Only if you can get past the smell

As part of the spending bill signed by President Obama last month, the 2007 funding ban for USDA inspections of horse meat processing plants was allowed to lapse.  With USDA inspection allowed, the door is now open to reviving the horse meat trade.  It hasn’t received much play in the press, but animal rights activists are fuming on the blogs, with derogatory remarks about eating Man-O-War or National Velvet.   But they need not be worried.  There is a reason it won’t catch on – Smell. 

In the late 1940s, after my sister was given a pet cocker spaniel for her birthday, horsemeat became part of his life.  The vet had great disdain for canned dog food and suggested hamburger or ground horsemeat.  As hamburger was pricey, horsemeat was affordable and available at the local butcher shop.  So my mother opted for horsemeat.  And I was called on to cook it.  All three pounds of it.  All I can say is it has a unique odor when cooking and it is not pleasant.  And you will never forget it. 

That happened when several years later the family took a weekend trip to the Poconos in Pennsylvania and had trouble finding a place to eat.  In desperation we stopped at a seedy hamburger joint along the road.  And there it was, the same odor.

Much has been made that the French consider horse a delicacy.  But for me, there isn’t enough garlic in the world to mask that smell.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why Government can’t run a business ... The Postal Service vs (gulp) The NY Times

The United States Postal Service has spread the alarms.  It has run through a $12 billion federal loan that has kept itself afloat for the past two years and it is now looking for a bailout.  It cites declining revenues because of the internet, the inordinate cost of its pension program and the inability to control labor costs because of no-layoff provisions in its union contracts. It wants to cut service to 5 days a week, possibly more and it is planning to slow the delivery of first class mail.  It has talked about reductions in force of 120,000, but that is probably more of a scare tactic to pressure Congress into approving emergency funding and granting relief on pension obligations.
 
The plight of the Post Office and how it is handling its fate stands in stark contrast to that of another private sector group – the newspaper industry.  Both are suffering from the effects of internet competition.  Both deliver product daily.  Both are unionized.  Both prefund their pension plans.  And both are declining industries.  Yet, by and large, newspapers and newspaper groups have kept their heads above water, the Post Office has not.  And newspapers have succeeded with far greater rates of revenue declines.

Part of the reason for newspapers resiliency is they have their backs against the wall.   They have to solve their own problems.  Going to the government trough for a bailout is not an option.  It would forever compromise their integrity and believability.

I picked the New York Times as an example, not because it is my favorite paper, it is not.  But it is representative of the newspaper industry.  It has no broadcast subsidiaries and virtually all its revenue is from newspaper circulation, advertising and more recently internet ads and fees.  But the decline in revenue at the Postal Service is nowhere near that of the Times.  In the past 5 years, the loss of revenue at the Times has been triple that of the USPS (almost 27%, as opposed to 8% ).  Even looking at the 2008 – 2010 year comparison (peak revenue for USPS was 2008) the Times revenues losses were more than double the Postal Service (22.9% vs. 10.5%).

Despite this adversity, the Times is profitable (by a smidgen) and the USPS is facing an $8.3 billion loss.  Interestingly, the Times lost money in 2006 and has actually improved its performance.  In the same year USPS was well in the black (by its accounting procedures) and is now threatened with insolvency.

Now, why has the Times shown success and the Postal Service not?  The Times as most other newspapers has taken aggressive action to control costs.  It has reduced force and renegotiated labor contracts.  It has sold its broadcasting operations to bolster its cash position.  It has outsourced its newsstand sales and bought out its employees to do so.  But most of all it has been facing reality.  Contrast that to the USPS which recently negotiated its labor contracts with raises it can’t pay.  It has lobbied Congress for relief and in general has simply ignored the problem.  And it has dug itself into a hole.

The whole mess is an example of the inability of government run enterprises to adapt rapidly to threats.  The meddling of Congress is one reason.  They refused to approve a rate increase last year the Rate Commission requested.  They prefer wasteful Post Offices where they should be either be replaced with private contract operations or simply shut down.  They must get out of the way.  The example of what the NY Times has accomplished should be used as a model for mail delivery.  Nothing should be sacred, be it privatizing major delivery functions, hiring consultants to eliminate inefficiencies, and most of all getting out of the mode of government workplace comfort.  Newspapers are reacting to the threat of extinction and making progress.  The Postal Service looks for largesse, our largesse.

New management with backbone is the only answer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why LightSquared is more than cronyism … It’s about safety

The recent revelations by Eli Lake at The Daily Beast that a four-star Air Force general was pressured to alter his testimony to favor Light Squared, revealed a new case of cronyism in the White House.  Now a second individual has now come forward to say he too was urged to parrot OMB suggested text in his testimony - that the OMB wants expedited testing for frequency interference.  He refused to do so out of safety concerns.  From The Daily Beast: 
The four-star Air Force general who oversees Air Force Space Command walked into a highly secured room on Capitol Hill a week ago to give a classified briefing to lawmakers and staff, and dropped a surprise. Pressed by members, Gen. William Shelton said the White House tried to pressure him to change his testimony to make it more favorable to a company tied to a large Democratic donor.

The episode —confirmed by The Daily Beast in interviews with administration officials and the chairman of a congressional oversight committee —is the latest in a string of incidents that have given Republicans sudden fodder for questions about whether the Obama administration is politically interfering in routine government matters that affect donors or fundraisers. Already, the FBI and a House committee are investigating a federal loan guarantee to a now failed solar firm called Solyndra that is tied to a large Obama fundraiser.

Now the Pentagon has been raising concerns about a new wireless project by a satellite broadband company in Virginia called LightSquared, whose majority owner is an investment fund run by Democratic donor Philip Falcone.

LightSquared hopes to become a satellite based phone operation similar to land based cell phone service providers.  It seeks to use additional unused frequencies adjacent to the GPS band that currently provide a buffer to GPS service.  Interference from LightSquared satellites could degrade GPS service both for civilian and military users.  The majority owner of LightSquared is hedge fund manager Phil Falcone who between himself and his wife have been heavy contributors to the Democratic Party (over $60,000 last year).

But this meddling is far more than crony capitalism it’s about threatening the integrity and safety of the GPS system.  GPS has grown from its infancy as navigation system to pilot sailboats or to guide you to Aunt Katie’s house in rural Vermont. With accuracy improvements, it can now position anyone consistently within 3 feet, anywhere in the world.  Because of that accuracy it is now being used by aircraft to conduct precision approaches to weathered in airports without ILS.  Down the road air traffic control will become GPS based, rather than ground radar based, as will collision avoidance systems.  In the future GPS will be used to help drive your car autonomously (hands-off or driverless).  Google is currently testing a fleet of autonomously driven Priuses in the Bay area (using backup drivers) and soon will be testing them in Nevada, driverless.  The DARPA Grand Challenge conducted in the 2004 to 2007 period proved that driverless cars can operate safely even in an urban environment.  And farm tractors will soon be doing the same thing.  It is the very accuracy and dependability of this system that will be applied to yet undreamed of applications. 

The administration and the FCC should refrain from reducing safety margins for this irreplaceable system.  The recent case of the North Koreans jamming a US intelligence plane’s GPS navigation system, forcing it to cut short its mission shows that the system is fragile.  We should be working on hardening it, not putting it in jeopardy with risky, self serving actions.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bloomberg warns of riots … Is he actually encouraging “US Days of Rage” riots in NYC tomorrow?

Matt Drudge’s red and bold headline screams about Mayor Bloomberg’s prediction of civil insurrection by disaffected youth against the government.  But is Bloomberg actually encouraging, rather than predicting, disruptive behavior on the eve of the US Days of Rage protest led by former SEIU official Stephen Lerner?  Surely the mayor is aware of Lerner’s plan and background. 

The US Days of Rage is scheduled as a “nonviolent” protest outside the JP Morgan Chase headquarters
 tomorrow, Saturday, September 17.  It has been organized by Lerner, a far leftist, to bring down Wall Street and the banks and ultimately collapse the economic system of the US.  Lerner has been an acolyte of Andy Stern who resigned the presidency of the SEIU in March, 2010.  Lerner left the union seven months later.  Neither the Days of Rage nor Lerner’s incendiary speech at Pace University in March (see below) have been reported by the legacy media.  Only The Blaze (Glen Beck) and Fox News have given it coverage.

Lerner’s March 19 speech at Pace University is a call to destroy the capitalist system (audio and text from the Blaze here).  The initial plan was to mob the JP Morgan Chase shareholders meeting in May to demand social justice.  That failed because the meeting in Columbus Ohio was held at a motel surrounded by a moat.  The intended tactics there and presumably Saturday are to encourage mortgagees and student loan recipients to withhold payment to force JP Morgan to renegotiate or eliminate their loans.  Cities would follow with the same tactics, forced by the unions under the threat of a strike, to blackjack JP Morgan to write down municipal debt and free up funds for union employee wages.  From the Blaze:

And so the question would be, what would happen if we organized homeowners in mass to do a mortgage strike. Just say if we get, and, and, if we get half a million people to agree, we’ll all not, we’ll agree we won’t pay our mortgages, it would literally cause a new financial crisis.

There are four things we can do that could really upset Wall Street. One is if city and state and other government entities demanded to renegotiate their debt because they’re paying too much interest. And you might say, well why would the banks ever do it? Because they, the cities and counties could say we won’t do this and this in the future with you if you don’t renegotiate the debt now. Meaning, about a third of bank profits generate from dealing with cities and states. So we could leverage the power we have of government to say we won’t do business with you, JP Morgan Chase, anymore unless you do two things: you reduce the price of our interest, since your interest rate is down; and second, you rewrite the mortgages for everybody in the community so they can stay in their homes. We, we could make them do that.

The second thing is there’s a whole question in New York now about austerity and student’s rates and the question of the debt structure. What would happen if students said we’re not going to pay? It’s a trillion dollars. Think about your …sweeping that debt, a trillion dollars from students debt?

There’s a third thing that we could think about, what about if public employee unions, instead of them being on the defensive, put on the collective bargaining table when they negotiate they said we demand as a condition of negotiation that the government renegotiate, we want, we believe in good financial management. It’s crazy that you’re paying too much interest to your buddy the bankers. It’s a strike issue for us. We will strike unless you force the banks to relieve the debt of the city. I’m not going to go through all the detail except to say there’s extraordinary things we could do and if you add on top of that, if we really thought about moving to the kind of disruption in Madison, but moving that to Wall Street and moving that to other cities around the country where we basically said you stole $17 trillion, you’ve impoverished us and we’re going to make it impossible for, for you to operate.

Lerner continues

The folks that control this country care about one thing: how the stock market does; how the bond market does; and what their bonus is. So I think we weed out a very simple strategy: how do we bring down the stock market, how do we bring down their bonuses, how do we interfere with their ability to, to be rich. And if we don’t do, and that means you have to politically isolate them, economically isolate them and disrupt them. So, it’s not all theory, I’ll do a pitch.

So, a bunch of us around the country are thinking about who would be a really good company to hate? We decided that would be JP Morgan Chase.

Lerner’s use of the term “Days of Rage”, the Weatherman inspired riots in Chicago in1969, does not appear to be a call for a peaceful protest.  Lerner, reportedly has been a guest at the White House on 4 occasions, two of them more than ceremonial functions.  Keeping company with folks like that throws a bad light its current occupants.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pulling the R lever in NY-9

The most important fact that has Democrats in Washington quaking in their boots, is that thousands of Jewish voters discovered last night they could pull the R lever and not be struck by lightning.

Monday, September 12, 2011

“When you’ve lost the New York Times …”

Sunday’s NY Times opens a subject being whispered in the halls of Democratic power.  Will a second run by a severely weakened President Obama destroy the party as it did for the 12 years following Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan?  Is the war of 2008 now lost?  Blame is put on his lack of resolve for liberal ideas, namely killing the EPA’s new ozone dictates, his lack of aggressiveness and of course the economy. 

In English spoken west of the Hudson, it’s called panic. 

Democrats are expressing growing alarm about President Obama’s re-election prospects and, in interviews, are openly acknowledging anxiety about the White House’s ability to strengthen the president’s standing over the next 14 months.

Elected officials and party leaders at all levels said their worries have intensified as the economy has displayed new signs of weakness. They said the likelihood of a highly competitive 2012 race is increasing as the Republican field, once dismissed by many Democrats as too inexperienced and conservative to pose a serious threat, has started narrowing to two leading candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, who have executive experience and messages built around job creation.

Democrats have been deluding themselves in the past nine months that the massive losses they took in 2010 were just a fluke.  The race for Weiner’s Brooklyn/Queens seat is proving them wrong.  There, the central issue is Obama himself because of his treatment of Israel. Polls are now trending to the Republican candidate, and even if the Democrat manages to hold it, it would be a humbling win. The district is a 2 to 1 Democratic and heavily Jewish, one that would normally go at least 60/40 in their favor.  Democrats are very vulnerable especially in the Senate next year, where 23 seats they own or control are up for grabs, versus 10 for Republicans. 

While the Times bemoans the threat Obama presents to the party next year, it doesn’t say how to get to there from here.  That is, who tells Obama he should step aside?  Bill Clinton?  No way, with the presumptive candidate his wife.  Jimmy Carter?  Give me a break!  For good or bad, Democrats will have to stick with their man.   

Republicans could create a little mischief if they wanted.  And that would be to convince either Rasmussen or Gallup to do public polling of Democrats to see who would be the best nominee, Hillary or Obama.   And keep doing it each month.

Now that would cause ruckus!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Anthrax lawsuit against the federal government gets a boost from DOJ gross incompetence

There are times when government agencies exhibit sheer idiocy and ineptness.  That happened this summer when Justice filed papers that, if true, undermines the entire FBI case against Fort Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins in order to win a lawsuit brought by the family of Bob Stevens, the first anthrax victim following 9/11.  Bob Stevens was the photo editor of The Sun, a subsidiary of American Media (AMI) located in Boca Raton, Florida.  He died after inhaling spores from a letter mailed to AMI containing powdered anthrax.  The family is suing the government claiming negligence in the way anthrax was handled at Fort Detrick, resulting in Steven’s death.  The case is now proceeding after the FBI closed its investigation last year declaring Ivins the sole culprit.

What DOJ is claiming is the now deceased Dr. Ivins did not have access to the specialized equipment used to dry the cultured spores in order to weaponize it (make into a fine powder), this to absolve the Fort Detrick command that employed Ivins.   Nice trick!  The problem is access to this specialized equipment was the linchpin in the case to prove Ivins was the sole perpetrator.  The government simply can’t have it both ways.  That was the reaction of the Stevens’ family lawyers and congressional critics.  Mercifully the federal judge handling the Stephens case has allowed it to be amended by Justice lawyers, though it totally undermines its case.  What is ironic is the unamended filing is probably accurate, but Justice is hoist in its own petard and doesn’t want anything to throw doubt on the FBI’s case against Ivins.

Bruce Ivins, a scientist at Fort Detrick, became the prime suspect after almost 7 years of massive FBI efforts to nail Dr. Stephen Hatfill, another scientist at the facility.  The FBI threw the kitchen sink at Hatfill, having him fired from his job, lifting his security clearance, blackballing him from other employment, releasing confidential information to the press and exerting relentless pressure on him.  Throughout his investigation, Hatfill was both cooperative (he voluntarily allowed the FBI to search his home and computers) and resilient (he consistently proclaimed his innocence, volunteered for polygraph tests and took his case to the public).   Eventually the FBI tired, and in late June 2008 settled a lawsuit that gave Hatfill a $5.8 million settlement.  In the meantime the FBI had begun pursuing Bruce Ivins with the same vicious treatment.  However Ivins did not have the fortitude of Hatfill to stand up to it.  He was emotionally fragile and ultimately committed suicide in late July, 2008 shortly after being told he would be indicted.  Now the FBI had their man and unlike Hatfill, he couldn’t fight back.  He was dead.

The FBI’s case against Ivins was weak.  It was based solely on circumstantial evidence.  It based its case on the similarity of the anthrax strain he was working with to the strain found in the letters mailed shortly after 9/11, a fact disputed by an independent National Academy of Sciences study.  The FBI claimed drying equipment used to weaponize anthrax was available to him, others said it wasn’t. Ivins was a vaccine specialist seeking methods to immunize populations against anthrax, not weaponize it.  His experience and expertise wasn’t there. But the FBI was desperate to close out the case.  It was an embarrassment.  It had cost over $100 million, the most expensive case in the Bureau’s history.  The lifeless Ivins was convenient fall guy.

In reality it is unlikely either Ivins or Hatfill were involved in the plot.  Far more likely it was the work of Islamist terrorists.  The text of the letters was anti Israel and anti US, consistent with the rhetoric of extreme Islamists.  Except for the letter to Boca Raton, all letters were addressed to the same two power centers that were the targets of the hijacked jets, New York and Washington.  The postmark dates on the letters suggests a preplanned, coordinated effort to extend the terror campaign.  They were mailed precisely one week after 9/11 (first batch to ABC, NBC, CBS, NY Post and AMI/Boca Raton postmarked 9/18) and the second batch precisely 4 weeks after (Senators Daschle and Leahy to Washington postmarked 10/ 9).

The Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale area was the final staging area for the hijackers in the two months prior to 9/11.  There was contact between two of the hijackers and the wife an AMI editor (not the anthrax victim Stevens).  She rented an apartment to them.  The targeting of AMI may have been more about bad blood than an ideological target.

Both the Justice Department and FBI have not covered themselves in glory.  They have tried to manufacture facts to fit its preconceived notions.  They have been intellectually dishonest.  They have wasted money when the answer should have been, “we don’t know.”  The FBI has ruined the life of Steven Hatfill and was probably the major factor in the suicide of Bruce Ivins, both individuals likely innocent.  It is still living down the major scandal of its crime lab.  And it lives with the legacy of fingering and harassing an innocent man in the high profile Atlanta Olympics bombing case.  It is a shadow of the organization J. Edgar Hoover founded.  It should hang its head in shame.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Will Obama admit his policies are failing as Lenin once did? Will he declare a New Economic Policy?

After Lenin seized power in the USSR in 1917, he instituted a repressive policy of seizing industry, farms, banks and almost all productive enterprises (without compensation), a policy called “War Communism” (essentially communism as we know it today).  It was an unmitigated disaster.  There were famines, diseases and a general breakdown in production.  Because of these failures, in 1921 he ordered a major change called the New Economic Policy (NEP) which allowed significant private ownership for small business and gave peasants a share of their output. This rapidly improved the economy that had been devastated by WWI and his earlier policies.  I am definitely not a fan of Lenin, but he had the wisdom to realize his original policies were unworkable.

With the miserable failure of President Obama’s jobs program in the past two and a half years, will he have the courage of Lenin to admit his policies are a mistake?  Will he see the wisdom of capitalism and its ability to generate jobs?  Or will he wallow in his ideology and watch the country tank, while blaming his opposition?

I’m not optimistic.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Russia gets the offshore drilling jobs … US sits on its duff.

Today, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced Exxon Mobil has been awarded exploration rights in the Russian Arctic superseding efforts by BP and Rosneft the Russian state owned oil company.   This amazing coup gives the US based company the rights to the highly lucrative offshore fields.  Russia gets Exxon Mobil’s offshore drilling expertise and a massive investment.  From the NY Times:

The agreement seemed to supersede a similar but now-defunct partnership that Russia’s state oil company, Rosneft, reached with BP earlier this year. The deal announced Tuesday replaces BP, the British oil giant, with its American counterpart and introduces some differences in the geopolitical bargain.

Where BP had swapped stock, Exxon agrees to hand over to Rosneft unspecified assets elsewhere in the world, including some that the Texas-based company owns in the deepwater zones of the Gulf of Mexico and onshore in Texas.

In the announcement of the arrangement, coming after a surprise signing in the Russian resort town of Sochi, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin described a sweeping global alliance — and a potentially vast investment by Exxon in the Russian Arctic.

Mr. Putin said the total investments envisioned under the agreement could reach $500 billion, including a direct investment of $200 billion to $300 billion. It was unclear what the timeline would be or whether this included the value of asset swaps.

Contrast Exxon Mobil’s fate to Shell Oil which has Alaskan offshore exploration and drilling rights.  It has already invested nearly $4 billion in exploration, including $2.2 billion for the federal lease and was turned down for production by a fly specking EPA. Contrast it to Conoco which is being held up by the Corps of Engineers that won’t allow it to build a bridge and road to its lease in the Alaskan National Petroleum Reserve to get machinery in and a pipeline to get oil out.  And there is the granddaddy of all regulatory foot dragging, the deep water oil fields in the US Gulf of Mexico.

Tens of thousands of high priced American oil field jobs sit idle because of this administration.  They will remain so until it comes to its senses.  Putin will create jobs in Russia and get reelected to the Russian presidency in 2012.

Obama will not.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Peggy Noonan and whether Obama should run for a second term

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan takes a look at President Obama’s Martha's Vineyard vacation and speculates on his thoughts in view of declining poll numbers, and disillusionment among his supporters.

How could he not be depressed? He has made big mistakes since the beginning of his presidency and has been pounded since the beginning of his presidency. He's got to be full of doubts at this point about what to do. His baseline political assumptions have proved incorrect, his calculations have turned out to be erroneous, his big decisions have turned to dust. He thought they'd love him for health care, that it was a down payment on greatness. But the left sees it as a sellout, the center as a vaguely threatening mess, the right as a rallying cry. He thought the stimulus would turn the economy around. It didn't. He thought there would be a natural bounce-back a year ago, with "Recovery Summer." There wasn't. He thought a toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball struggle over the debt ceiling would enhance his reputation. The public would see through to the dark heart of Republican hackery and come to recognize the higher wisdom of his approach. That didn't happen either.

Nothing worked! And nothing's going to work. He's the smartest guy in the room, but he's got the reverse Midas touch. Everything he touches turns to—well, unsatisfying outcomes.

In a stinging rebuke of the president, Noonan points out his policies and initiatives have turned into abject failures.  And she chides him for tone deafness for choosing Martha’s Vineyard for his vacation getaway, a summer hangout for the well heeled establishment elite, at a time of the nation's suffering. 

But the article is more than failures and vacations.  It questions whether Obama should continue to seek a second term.  Indeed the subhead of the op-ed is, “Is his visit to Martha's Vineyard a sign that he's giving up?”  She concludes her article with an ominous series of statements which are in reality questions for Obama to answer: 

In early 2010 this space made much of the president's pre-State of the Union interview with Diane Sawyer, in which she pressed the president about his political predicaments. He said: "I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president." I thought at the time: He means it, he can accept being a one-termer.

Maybe he's feeling it now more than ever.

Maybe it means not much will change in terms of his leadership between now and the election.

Maybe he'll be as wilted next year as he was this week.

The question of whether Obama will or should run is the great unspoken among influential Democrats.  It goes beyond whether Obama can win.  It goes to whether Democrats might lose the Senate on top of the White House.  Jimmy Carter’s landslide loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980 cost Democrats the senate.  Already senate Democrats are fearful that Obama is sucking the oxygen from big hitter contributors by maxing them out, leaving nothing available for their war chests.  Nothing is worse than finding yourself short on funding and having the President's coat tails dragging you down at the same time.  It's lose/lose however you look at it.

No Democrat would dare to challenge Obama for the nomination.  Democrats almost never take on an incumbent president of their own party, and it would be political suicide to challenge the first ever African American president.  For Obama not to run for a second term, the decision would have to come from him, as it did with Lyndon Johnson in the spring of 1968.  Still, it could come at the urging of highly trusted confidantes as happened with Nixon. 

Whatever the outcome, Peggy Noonan, in her excellent article, has opened the door on a previously taboo subject.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Is Rick Perry really the Marlboro Man?



















Do looks help in Presidential elections?  Many women would say yes about Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jack Kennedy and the opposite for John Kerry and Michael Dukakis.  Certainly Richard Nixon was no looker, but he managed to beat Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern neither of whom were movie star figures.

Now comes Rick Perry who has the rugged western good looks of the Marlboro Man.  Will he make ladies’ hearts go pitter patter?  My wife thinks so.  No matter what, good looks don’t hurt.

Friday, June 24, 2011

BATF Acting Director Melson resisting efforts to step down…Eager to testify

The LA Times is reporting this incredible story in this morning’s edition.  Melson's resignation was rumored a week ago, last Friday and expected to take place Monday, then Tuesday then in the immediate future.  The delay seemed to some to indicate his handlers at Justice might be having trouble convincing him he should fall on his sword to protect Attorney General Holder.  Rep. Issa has publicly stated Justice had to know about the Fast and Furious program, since they had to approve the funding for it.  .  

Here is some of what the LA Times is reporting.

The acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is strongly resisting pressure to step down because of growing controversy over the agency's surveillance program that allowed U.S. guns to flow unchecked into Mexico, according to several federal sources in Washington.

The story continues with this quote from one of the Times’ sources:

"He is saying he won't go," said one source close to the situation, who asked for anonymity because high-level discussions with Melson remained fluid. "He has told them, 'I'm not going to be the fall guy on this.' "

This story appeared to be dying down, but it will be front and center in the national news media.  It will be interesting to hear Holder's reaction.  Remember he testified under oath he had no knowledge of the gun running program until it was reported in the media.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jon Huntsman the new Ronald Reagan? Hardly

Am I the only one who thinks Jon Huntsman is a plant? 

Huntsman chose Liberty Park to announce his candidacy, the same place Ronald Reagan chose to launch his campaign as the nominee of the Republican party in September 1980. His Casper Milquetoast announcemant speech at Liberty Park simply can't compare Reagan's and is the same recipe for defeat John McCain gave us. And it's no coincidence, John Weaver Huntsman's top political advisor is a former McCain campaign team member. 

Soon you will see the NY Times declaring Huntsman the second coming. A drumbeat from the rest of the legacy media will follow. The horribly skewed NY Times/CBS poll will declare Huntsman a front runner. But even worse, his campaign has the earmarks of recent congressional campaigns of Democrats running as  "Tea Party" candidates.

Fortunately he doesn’t have the time or organization to make a dent in the Iowa caucuses. But in New Hampshire, an open primary state, Democrats will cross over and vote for him in the Republican primary in an attempt to torpedo viable conservative contenders.

Huntsman probably never listened to Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Liberty Park. If he had, he never would have given the speech he gave. The Statue of Liberty was simply a nostalgic backdrop. Mistakes like that are more indicative of Democrat research, not of conservative Republicans who bathe in the glories of Reagan’s speeches.

Huntsman has no organization to speak of, nor a fundraising operation. He evidently feels he can rely on the support of the press to develop a following. No Republican in his right mind would ever conceive of doing that. My personal opinion is Huntsman’s support comes not from the right, but from the left. 

What we don't need to do is listen to the editorial voices of the NY Times to select a Republican candidate.  They don't have the best interests of the Republican party at heart nor will any ever vote for one.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is Todd Palin trying to look like John Kerry?

I was struck by the similarity of Todd Palin's new look to John Kerry.  Gone is the prominent beard, replaced by a two day stubble.  But it's the hair.  The hair has all the appearances of a younger John Kerry.

This picture from AP was taken at the Rolling Thunder event in Washington DC, where Sarah Palin was an instant draw.  It is part of her bus tour of the Northeast (Blue state country) that began in Washington and will end in New Hampshire.

 And she is driving the media nuts.  There are no press releases. No one to tip the press where she is planning to be.  When they ask, she tells them to check her website. To add confusion, she is being intentionally deceptive.  This from CNN today:

Sarah Palin pulled a clever bait and switch on reporters in Gettysburg on Tuesday, as her "One Nation" bus tour rolls into its third day.

The Palin family and a few members of her staff snuck out of their hotel early, leaving their flashy bus behind in the hotel parking lot to give reporters chasing her the impression that she was still readying for the day.

As members of Palin's advance staff began to roll out luggage to the bus on Tuesday morning, a crush of media and tourists gathered to meet the potential presidential candidate on her way out of the hotel.


But CNN was soon tipped off that Palin was long gone, off to visit the Civil War battlefields and onward toward Philadelphia.

So the media assumes the role of the paparazzi, following her every step and trying to anticipate her every move and giving her far more publicity than she would ordinarily get. And they wonder if they are being duped.  Of course they are. 

Attention media: She is playing mind games with you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

At the NY Times, the left hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

 Media Post News reports today that the target figure for Times “pay to play” for online content (300,000 subscribers) is inaccurate according to the Times digital head Martin Nizenholtz.  According MPN, he stated, “I don’t know where that number comes from.”

Well it came from the NY Times.  Again from Media Post News:

Actually, the figure first appeared in a highly reputable source that often serves as the basis for news that shows up all over the place -- the pages of The New York Times. Staci Kramer, reporting in PaidContent, takes care to point out that Niesenholtz knew that fact, and that his comment referred to the "company executives" who "privately" gave the 300,000 figure to reporter Jeremy Peters.

At the NY Times shareholder meeting two weeks ago, CFO Janet Robinson touted the fact that in three weeks time they had signed up 100,000 paywall subscribers, which gave the appearance they were well on their way to hitting the announced 300,000 target.  What she neglected to say was the Lincoln Division of Ford, a regular advertiser, had contacted about 200,000 of the Times’ heaviest digital users to offer them free unlimited access to the Times for the balance of the year.  Nor did she say what the arrangement was between Lincoln and the Times.  Felix Salmon at Reuters wonders too.

Seems the Times wants to move the goal posts a bit.

See also my Island Turtle article:  Is the Washington Post about to spoil the NY Times big payday?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sleeping Air Traffic Controllers and the Battle for the Shop Floor

At Washington Reagan National Airport in late March, a sleeping controller failed to respond to two airliners seeking to land shortly after midnight.  The resulting publicity broke the silence on a long festering problem between the FAA and the air controllers’ union NATCA.  That there is a culture of sleeping on the job.  It is banned by long existent regulations, but ignored by the controllers especially on the midnight shift.  This is now the battle for control of the “shop floor.”  From an AP report dated April 18:  

It has been an open secret in the FAA dating to at least the early 1990s that controllers sometimes sleep on the job….

Much more common is taking a nap on purpose, they said. On midnight shifts, one controller will work two positions while the other one sleeps and then they switch off, controllers said. The unsanctioned arrangements sometimes allow controllers to sleep as much as three hours or four hours out of an eight-hour shift, they said.

The FAA does not allow controllers to sleep at work, even during breaks. Controllers who are caught can be suspended or fired. But at many air traffic facilities the sleeping swaps are tolerated as long as they don't affect safety, controllers said.

"It has always been a problem," said former controller Rick Perl, who retired last year.

In 1991, a Denver television station caught controllers leaving a regional radar center during midnight shifts to sleep in their cars, sometimes for as long as five hours. A former internal watchdog at the Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo, recalled her office investigating a similar incident in Texas during the early 1990s.

The problem of tired controllers was raised by the National Transportation Safety Board after a 2006 crash of a regional airliner in Lexington, Kentucky, that killed 49 of the 50 people aboard.

The lone controller in the airport tower was wrapping up a schedule that compressed five eight-hour shifts into four days. He cleared a regional jet for takeoff and failed to notice the plane make a wrong turn onto a runway that was too short.

The board cited pilot error as the cause of the accident, but noted the controller had slept only two of the previous 24 hours. (emphasis added)

Part of the fatigue problem is the way controllers schedule themselves, often trying to cram 5 shifts into 4 days to enjoy a 3 day weekend.  But in doing so, they schedule the night shift, the one most susceptible to drowsiness, only 8 hours after prior shift and at the end of the string of 5 shifts.  From the Washington Post:

One of the most popular schedules is known as the 2-2-1. Under it, a controller begins the workweek with two evening shifts, does a quick turnaround to a pair of day shifts and then does another quick turn before an overnight shift.

Those quick turnarounds — usually just eight hours — have been blamed for controller fatigue, but the 2-2-1 is favored by many controllers because it compacts their workweek and creates a weekend of at least three days.

Under the new guidelines, which took effect over the weekend, air traffic controllers are guaranteed (sic) a minimum of nine hours off between shifts, an increase of an hour over the previous policy.

The changes also include a ban on trading shifts with other controllers unless the minimum between shifts is met; prohibited swapping of regular days off in some circumstances; and an extension of the hours a manager is on duty until 1 a.m.

“We expect controllers to come to work rested and ready to work and take personal responsibility for safety in the control towers,” LaHood said Sunday. “We have zero tolerance for sleeping on the job.”

LaHood’s final remarks hit the point.  It is the responsibility of the individual controller to get enough sleep.  If the  schedule  he chooses precludes enough sleep or he simply fails to get enough sack time and reports to work fatigued, he should take himself off duty.  That’s what airline pilots do. 

But the union philosophy differs.  Don Brown, retired controller from the Atlanta Center in his blog Get the Flick critiques the FAA’s decision to add a second controller to 27 towers on the slow mid shift.  It goes to the heart of the union’s sense of entitlement to set the rules.  It goes to the heart of who controls the shop floor. 

Assigning two people to one control position will revert to one person on position when they decide to split the shift in half. (One works the first half while the other sleeps and then they swap.) Even if you try to manage it, history suggests that at some point in time, the situation will revert to splitting the shift. It’s human nature. Besides, you would need to assign a manager to the shift if you wanted to “manage” the situation. In other words, another body that you don’t have….  The “best” way to manage the problem is to have three controllers assigned the shift. Two to man the position while the other rests. And yes, rest does mean sleeping. (emphasis added)

Military controllers don’t sleep on watch.  There, it is more than a firing offense.  It is a court martial offense.  Perhaps it is the mental discipline of the military controllers at Andrews AFB that caught the incorrect spacing of Michelle Obama’s aircraft when it was handed off from the Warrenton FAA (NATCA represented) center yesterday and ordered it to abort the landing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The FCC is up to No Good

Last Thursday, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial entitled “The FCC Muzzle” which spelled out the shenanigans the FCC intends to pull prior to next year’s presidential elections.  They seek to do an end run around the Citizen’s United decision and accomplish by regulatory fiat what Democrats in congress couldn’t do.  And that is to place requirements that top donors to organizations running ads be identified.  Current law requires only the organizations paying for the commercials to be identified.

In today’s politicized atmosphere, thuggish intimidation of Republican and conservative corporate support by leftists has become endemic.  It has reached absurd levels in Wisconsin where unions have threatened small businesses with boycotts if they don’t display signs supporting them.  The Journal’s editorial starts:

Congress tried and failed last year to limit corporate political speech in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, but the threat hasn't gone away. The new liberal hope is that the Federal Communications Commission will do the deed.

Liberal activists at the Media Access Project filed a petition last week asking the FCC to re-interpret decades of law to require that groups that run political ads disclose the names of their top donors. The 1934 Communications Act already requires any group paying for an ad—whether commercial or political—to disclose its identity as part of the ad. But liberals want President Obama's FCC to stretch this reading to require the on-air disclosure of any donor providing 25% or more of funding.

It continues with what the Journal considers the intent:

The goal here is to use "transparency" to intimidate businesses out of making political donations. Disclosure sounds good, but liberals have begun to wield it as a weapon to vilify business donors. Exhibit A was last year's smearing of Target Corp., after it donated to an independent group that ran ads supporting Minnesota GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. MoveOn.org twisted the contribution into a claim that Target was "anti-gay" and organized a boycott of Target stores. The company stopped donations.

When the Citizens United decision was handed down, Senator Schumer went berserk and promised legislation (Disclose Act) to reveal contributors.  It failed.  So now the FCC has been given the task to carry Schumer’s water.

This is not the first time the ruse of “transparency” was attempted to intimidate and pressure political supporters.  It happened before in the Deep South in the 1950s.  There are parallels to what happened then and what is being happening now. Fortunately the Supreme Court then put a halt to it in NAACP v. Alabama which recognized that confidentiality was needed to prevent intimidation.

I used that case to write a Letter to the Editor of the Journal.  It ran Monday (4/4/11):

Sometimes Disclosure Begets Intimidation

The threat of intimidation against contributors that would come from mandatory FCC disclosure rules would have a chilling effect on the political process ("The FCC Muzzle," Review & Outlook, March 31).

Such was the case in the racially charged atmosphere of the mid-1950s, when the state of Alabama refused to allow the NAACP to do business in the state. The central issue was a requirement to force the NAACP to turn over its financial records and a list of its members and agents to the state, which the NAACP refused to do. In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (NAACP v. Alabama, 1958) for the NAACP, citing the need for privacy and the ability to freely associate to advance its beliefs and ideals.

Other organizations have modeled themselves after the NAACP to protect their members and contributors, most notably the National Right to Work Committee and its legal arm, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. This is done to shield its members and contributors from union intimidation.

Crosby Boyd
Sanibel, Fla.

Will this deter the FCC?  Probably not.  Recently they simply ignored the ruling of the 10th Circuit that Congress had not  granted them authority over the Internet (Comcast v. FCC) and simply went ahead and issued regulations anyway.  Fortunately we have a Supreme Court that recognizes the importance of the First Amendment and its fragility.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Will a Stalemate in Libya lead to the Nationalization of Western Oil Companies?

The papers today were vey light on news from Libya so my guess is the polling numbers are not going Obama’s way. A week ago the rebels were marching west toward Tripoli. Gaddafi’s troops were in retreat and under attack from US fighter bombers. Cruise missiles were destroying Libyan air defenses. But the tide turned last Monday when Gaddafi’s forces repulsed the rebels at Sirte and retook the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Brega. Note: Brega currently is being contested by rebels but is still considered in government hands.

NATO has since taken operational command of combat operations and the US has announced it has withdrawn its attack aircraft and will restrict itself to only tanker, jamming and reconnaissance mission. NATO has said it will not arm the rebels and the President and Defense Secretary have publicly ruled out the use of ground forces.

So where does that leave the coalition? Not in very good shape. We backed a ragtag undisciplined group of rebels with no fighting experience and expected them to defeat a trained military. We expected a no fly zone to halt Gaddafi’s troops then stopped flying support missions ourselves. Neither battles nor wars are won by timid actions and this will unfortunately prove it.

It will probably end up a stalemate, but with Gaddafi’s troops chipping away at the rebels in Benghazi. Likely they will simply drift away with Gaddafi and his family still in power. What the coalition never contemplated was the downside of not achieving victory.

Dictators, even benevolent ones, don’t take kindly to JDAMs landing in their sleeping quarters. It is likely Gaddafi is more than a little bit ticked at having his sleep disturbed followed by announcements from Washington, Paris and London that he must go. Will he retaliate? Of course he will. This is the Middle East.

The most vulnerable assets coalition countries have in Libya are its oil companies.  They include -- US: ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Hess, Occidental and ExxonMobil, UK: BP and Anglo Dutch Shell and France: government owned TOTAL. Oil likely will continue to flow, but not under the ownership of the western oil companies. Likely substitutes to operate nationalized facilities are Chinese and Russians operators who are ever willing to take advantage of western missteps.

Lesson for the future: There is no substitute for victory.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Florida High-Speed Rail … The Monster that just won’t die

Just as in the horror movies, where the best efforts of pitchfork armed citizenry and repeated mortal blows fail to subdue the local monster, Florida high speed rail still continues to haunt us. It just can't be killed. Governor Jeb Bush killed it in 1999. But the zombie came to life again in 2000 in the form of a constitutional amendment. In 2004 the voters again killed it.

But the monster still lives, courtesy of the Obama administration. The administration wants to make Florida a gift of $2.4 billion to begin the first leg of the system. This project is wrong because Florida will have to assume any cost overruns and operating losses of at least a billion dollars annually; it won’t save the traveler significant time; and energy savings will be miniscule at best. If Transportation Secretary LaHood thinks it is such a good idea, he should turn the program over to Amtrak and let it shoulder the long term burden. But he doesn’t. Like so many other federal programs, he pushes off these unfunded mandates onto the states.

Our new governor Rick Scott, like his counterparts in Ohio and Wisconsin, rejected the government's offer. Governor Scott is wrestling with a projected state deficit of $3.6 billion and adding a billion or so more each year just doesn’t compute. Still, a group of legislators from Tampa and South Florida are attempting to form an authority to keep the project alive but doubts remain that they can put a viable plan together. LaHood set a deadline for this past Friday (Feb. 25) but has extended it until March 4, a sign there may be problems getting parties in agreement.

Costs of High-Speed Rail

Back in 2000, a study was made on the costs of the full system (Tampa to Miami). It projected losses for the full system at $617 million to $1.6 billion (in year 2000 dollars). From the Business Wire:

[I]nternationally renowned public policy consultant and transportation expert Wendell Cox has released eye-opening costs and data regarding Amendment Initiative No.1, which Florida voters will decide on Nov. 7,[2000]. According to the report, the estimated cost to construct a high-speed rail system connecting the state's five largest metropolitan areas would be between $8.2 billion and $21.9 billion; take 20 years to complete; and cost Florida between $617 million and $1.6 billion in annual deficits once in operation.

It’s safe to assume we are talking a billion or more per year in current dollars.

Time of Travel

Existing airline travel scheduled times between Tampa and Miami/Lauderdale are in the in the 1 to 1:05 hour time frame, compared to an estimated 2:30 to 2:45 hour/324 mile train ride. The route is covered by American Airlines and “two bags free” Southwest Airlines. Interestingly, all five metro areas have made plans to co-locate their train stations with their airports to save on parking facilities, putting the time comparisons on an even footing.

Prices are unknown, but using Amtrak's Acela service between Washington and New York (225 miles) as an example, the fares vary between $139 to over $200 depending on time of day and demand. This is in line with American Airlines($118-163 economy saver, super saver fares) but higher than Southwest ($69-123 wanna get away fare) to nearby Lauderdale.

In the case of the private automobile, which has the advantage of portal to portal service, the time difference is insignificant. Using a hypothetical traveler going from downtown Clearwater (near Tampa) to the Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach and allowing for travel time to and from the airports, the time by train is 4:15 hours vs. 4:35 (MapQuest estimate) by car. And using your car saves renting one or using taxis at the destination. Conclusion: Air travel beats rail significantly in speed and cars, because they offer portal to portal service, are almost equal to high-speed rail.

Energy

On the energy side intercity trains have an advantage over cars. The most recent Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 29—2010 (Table 2.12, page 63 in the pdf version - for the wonks) shows Amtrak’s energy use at 2,398 Btu per passenger mile vs. 3,437 for cars, a significant advantage. But when the 324 miles of train mileage and the 275 road mileage are factored in for Tampa to Miami, the car passenger uses just 22% more energy for the trip. It must be noted that the Amtrak figures are primarily for trains limited to 79 mph. Trains, like cars and aircraft are bound by the same laws of physics and when you double the speed to 160 mph+, air drag and energy use increase exponentially. It is doubtful high-speed rail energy efficiency comes anywhere near standard (slow) speed passenger rail.

So, Governor, seize the wooden stake and drive it into the heart of this monster. And do it before dawn’s light.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Will the Great Lakes freeze over this year? How to keep track

Update: Information here is the latest published data as of January 23, 2011.
With the recent blasts of frigid air into the mid parts of the US, there is renewed interest in tracking ice conditions in the Great Lakes.

Here are some maps and links to make it easy to follow. Two years ago, three of the lakes froze over: Superior, Huron and Erie. Normally the maximum freeze extent comes at the end of February or the first week in March. The first two charts come from this website and are updated twice a week. The web address has changed from last year, as well as the method of accessing them. After opening the site, under Category click on Charts and then select East Composite or West Composite. In the right hand box, click on the bottom listing to get the most recent data.

Another chart can be found here. It covers all the lakes in a single view and contains temperature information of unfrozen areas.