Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Sad Tale of the Crusader






"Sometimes we are penny wise and pound foolish..."


Before I start, a bit of disclosure. I worked on the Crusader Program from the time it was known as AFAS (Advanced Field Artillery System). Even though my background is Navy, and most of the programs I have worked on have been Navy related, I understood the need for this advanced ground system for the United States Army.
 
In battle, a game changer, a force multiplier, is often a very effective artillery system. It has been that way for many years. The United States has an adequate system in its inventory, known as the M109A6 Paladin. This system can fire one 155mm round per minute at a range of 30km. Not bad. However, not good enough. It was dated and could not compete with systems being developed in other countries.

Enter this new program called AFAS. It was Paladin on steroids. Like Paladin, it would use a 155mm round. Unlike Paladin, it could fire 10 - 12 rounds per minute, and send them 40km down range. It was faster and more maneuverable. In addition, it had an amazing plus. Due to a very sophisticated on board fire control computer, it could fire 8 rounds per minute at different azimuths, which would allow them to detonate on target simultaneously. This made the lethality of the AFAS unbelievable.

In the mid 90's it was full speed ahead for the Army. AFAS was now given the name Crusader, and advanced development had been given the green light. Teams consisting of many big defense contractors were formed, and money from Washington was pouring in. The program was given a $11B budget and most everyone wanted a piece of the action.

However, development problems continued to plague this very technical program. After sinking $2B into development, the Defense Department saw the hand writing on the wall. On May 8, 2002, the Secretary of Defense cancelled the program. The remaining $9B which was to be spent on Crusader, would now be reallocated to other programs.

This program is a classic example of the disconnect between need and execution. Right now, we would love to have a group of Crusaders near the DMZ in South Korea. After Desert Storm, we knew the limitations of the Paladin. Those limitations still exist. We had our chance to develop a system which would have served us well into the 21st century. I met some of the smartest people I ever worked with on Crusader. But now it is gone, the people are gone, and the chances of seeing something like this again in our lifetime is zero.

The next time someone tells you there is no waste in the Pentagon, remind them of Crusader. There are many more programs with tales like Crusader, but this one is fresh in my memory and experience. We can do better, we must do so much better.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Sore Toe

 
 


"Forgive and forget? Fat Chance!"
 
 
A few weeks ago I had an ingrown toenail which infected my big toe. It was very painful to say the least. My neighbor had come over to borrow a tool. As we were going downstairs to get the tool, he stepped on my sore toe. I screamed out in pain and then called him an ugly name. He said he was sorry, but I did not believe him, and it sure did not accept his apology. He left with neither of us saying goodbye and maybe we will never speak again. That is fine with me, because what he did out of carelessness, is beyond forgiveness.
 
Okay - the only thing which is true from this story is I did have an infected toe. The rest I made up just to make a point. How many times do we hold things which we should not? How many times do we let another's transgression, intentional or otherwise, turn into a seething or hatred? How many times do we choose not to forgive just because, well, just because.
 
It has often been said that hatred is the battery acid of the heart. Often times, an unforgiven act can manifest itself into a feeling of ill will, or even hatred. A big problem is this - hate is a reverse emotion. Hate affects the "hater" much more than the "hated". Hate and  a lack of forgiveness can eat you up on the inside, even leading to psychosomatic illnesses.
 
The Holy Bible is very wise on the issue of forgiveness. When someone asked Jesus how often we should forgive, He replied "70 x 7". Before you think "only 490 times?", remember this. With the math skills 2,000 years ago, 70 x 7 might as well be infinity. That was the point. There is no limit on how much we should forgive.
 
The Lords Prayer also has a message on the importance of forgiveness. "Forgive us our trespasses (sins) AS we forgive others". Not "because", not "if", but "as". As we forgive, we are forgiven.
 
During this season of Lent, especially during Holy Week, what a wonderful time to empty our hearts of unwanted baggage. The freedom one feels upon forgiveness is a gift we can give ourselves. If you need forgiveness, ask for it. If you need to forgive, do it. Most of all, if you need to forgive yourself for something long overdue, do it now. To hold it in, to not release it, will bother you much more than a sore toe. What a great and blessed way to celebrate Easter! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The REAL War on Women

 
                             
 

 

 
"I am proud to stand with the millions of women and men who recognize that our government should legislate according to the reality of our lives - not for ideology"
 
Sandra Fluke


I had not planned to address this issue today. There is just so much more to talk about right now. However, in the morning paper there was an excellent article on the Muslim Brotherhood's war on women. In know, that is a term from last fall when the Republicans also waged a "war on women" by balking at offering free birth control. In fact, Sandra Fluke received her fifteen minutes of fame by going in front of Congress and begging for free birth control so she could...well, you know.

I think the most unfortunate part of the Sandra Fluke episode was the amount of undeserved traction it received. Part of it was due to the slip of the tongue that Rush made on his show when he referred to Ms. Fluke as a "slut". Oh boy - the Left was of and running with that one. Rush apologized, but the damage was done. Rush, who has been branded as the spokesman for the Conservative Right, was called "out of touch" and a front line soldier in the Republican "war on women".

The truth is, Ms. Fluke has it pretty darn good living in America, even if she has to pay a $15/mo co-pay for her birth control pills. Lets pretend we are now living under Sharia Law with the Muslim Brotherhood running the country. Recently the United Nations issued a draft proclamation concerning the status of women. The Muslim Brotherhood did not like it. In fact, the Brotherhood argued that, if approved, it would “lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies.”

Any rights that Ms. Fluke has as an American would be out the window. The clock would be turned back to the stone ages. Free birth control would be the least of her worries. In fact, the article in the paper this morning went on to address the birth control issue:

"Other criticisms seem more retrograde. Still others are flat-out brutal. The Muslim Brothers object to the idea of “granting girls full sexual freedom” and to raising the legal marriage age, which in some countries is as low as 15. They believe that providing contraceptives to adolescent girls is dangerous, and that granting “equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships” is reprehensible."

How else would life be under the Muslim Brotherhood? Hold on - it get worse. As the Supreme Court debates the validity of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), the Muslim Brotherhood has a different angle on homosexuality as well as other topics:

"They believe, of course, that granting “equal rights to homosexuals” and “providing protection and respect for prostitutes” are terrible ideas. They are shocked by the argument that wives should have the right to file legal complaints against husbands for rape. They raised objections to the idea that men should share in housework and child-care responsibilities, and that men should no longer be allowed to decide whether their wives travel, work or use contraception."

This is just the "official" response to how women should be treated under Sharia Law. There are also the unofficial stories of stoning, child brides and mistreatment. This is not the life that Ms. Fluke would enjoy.

My advice to Ms. Fluke is this - get down on your benders and thank the good Lord you live in a country such as ours. If you feel the need for sex outside of procreation, most insurance policies will cover the majority of the cost for contraception. Your fifteen minutes is up now Sandra - please sit down.

Monday, March 25, 2013

You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up!

 
 


"and then there is crazy..."


Oh, boy! I would love to start this off by saying this was my latest attempt at satire. Or, this article is being written with my tongue stuck firmly in my cheek. Unfortunately, it is neither. This is straight out of the courtroom. It is yet one more example of what happens when our judicial system takes liberties with something they know nothing about.

Administrative Law Judge Barbara Neilson’s has ruled starting in the 2013-2014 school year, Social Studies and American History will be taught not the way it was, but rather the way some in the Minnesota Department of Education think it should be. Many of us have been alerted by Education Liberty Watch - however, with the Left leaning Department of Education having the backing of the Governor' office, the State House, the State Senate and the Judiciary, it was an up hill battle.

So what has changed? First off, schools will no longer be allowed to teach the concept of American exceptionalism. That is a big mistake, made out of ignorance of the term. Many on the Left who hate this term believe it has to do with conceit or arrogance. That could not be further from the truth. It has to do with our form of government, and the magnificent results we have because of it. We believe compared to all other forms of government, ours is exceptional. I guess the new curriculum will teach kids we are all evil, corrupt invaders and there is nothing exceptional about us. We are watching revisionist history unfold right before our eyes.

The next thing to get "deep sixed" is the fact our system of government was born with the idea our rights come directly from God. Sorry for the fact it is true, but it is. If the Department of Education was more concerned about learning our true history rather than how to stop a bully, they might understand this most important concept. The connection between our rights and our Creator is riddled all throughout our founding documents, including the Federalist Papers. With the new curriculum, we will learn that our rights come only from the Federal Government. John Adams must be spinning in his grave.

Had to save the best for last. We will now teach we live in a democracy rather than a republic. Excuse me? Did I fall asleep and miss something important? Our country was founded as a republic - some even refer to it as constitutional republic. I have never heard it referred to by any historian (worth a salt) as a democracy. It was set up as a republic for a reason. In a true democracy, everyone would vote on everything. Ergo, nothing would ever get done. Our founding fathers were much smarter than that. I guess the Minnesota Department of Education is even smarter than our founding fathers.

My kids have long since graduated from high school. If they were just starting out, they would not be attending this failed government school system. I would like to say this is all make believe, just sometimes you just can't make this stuff up.

The Right or Wrong Side of Everything

 
 


 
“DOMA, folks, is on the wrong side of history”
 
Senator Robert Wyden (D- Oregon)
 
 
 
Did you ever wonder why or how people end up in a certain political party or philosophy? Mostly, it because they believe their views are on the right side of history. For example, some on the Right may think the Left many times practices secular, revisionist behaviors. On the other hand, some on the Left may think the Right are inhabited by old white guys who are Troglodytes, stuck in the 1950's. And every year, those two viewpoints keep drifting further, and further apart from each other.
 
My opinion on this does not really matter. However, I have some observations. My belief is the great dividing line is nothing more than moral relativism. In particular, the moral relativism of two of our cornerstone documents - the Holy Bible and our Constitution. Many on the Right believe these two documents are sacrosanct; many of the Left believe these are "living documents" that can change with the times.
 
Who is right on this issue? Let us first look at the Bible. Many on the Left point to the inconsistencies in the Old Testament. Many Bible scholars agree the characters portrayed in the Old Testament were less than perfect. The series The Bible (Now on the History Channel), does a good job in showing many of the heroes of the Old Testament as flawed - as flawed as many of us are today. However, there is nothing flawed about the New Testament. The New Testament reconciles the Old Testament. If you believe what the Bible says in the New Testament, that "every word in God breathed", then the Bible stands on its own authority. If you do not believe that, the Bible becomes just a book of stories.
 
Our Constitution was written to be a very simple document. Unlike today, where bills have to be hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages long which very few can understand, our Constitution was purposely made to be short and sweet. It did have provisions to be amended, and has been so in our history. However, with or without the amendments, it is fairly straight forward. So much so, that even the least educated among us can understand its meaning. For those who believe this document was created to be timeless, it stands on its own authority. Those that believe it to be dated, or even obsolete, it is just an old yellow piece of parchment paper.
 
Okay, I lied. I do have an opinion on this issue. I believe that God's law trumps man's law. I feel strongly about absolute truth. The enemy of absolute truth is moral relativism. The laissez-faire, do your own thing, philosophy never leads to good outcomes. We need a strong moral compass to keep us pointed in the right direction. I believe in hating the sin yet loving the sinner. I don't believe in the parsing of words to justify bad behaviors. For example, murder is murder, regardless of the age of the person or fetus.  I believe marriage is for man and woman and yet I believe in the civil rights (civil unions) for all people under our Constitution.

The next time you wonder of you are on the right side of an issue, ask yourself this one simple question: What does your gut say? If it feels right at your core, if it feels right in your soul, it is most probably right. If you need to convince yourself, or justify your feelings or actions, it is probably not. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, this is how I decide on which side of the great divide I make my stand.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

ObamaCare Flatlined....

 
 


"Oops! While we were not looking, I think the patient died..."
 
 
 
Long after we are no longer around, business schools and universities will be teaching about the events which shaped the 21st century. I am convinced one of the main topics will be "What in the world killed health care in the United States?"  And with that introduction, will come the sad and tragic tale of ObamaCare.
 
I have believed since day one, ObamaCare would not only fail, but also be riddled with unintended consequences. Oh yes - throw in a large measure of lying to the public to boot. Many times when someone buys a large item, they do not read the fine print on the agreement. "Buyer's remorse" often follows. In the case of this gargantuan bill, which is over 2,500 pages long, very few (if anyone) read it before passage. In fact, the now famous quote from the Speaker of the House (back then) was "We need to pass it so we can understand what is in it". Well, Miss Nancy - we did pass it, and now understand what is in it - and it stinks.

What some don't understand about this bill is basic economics. Putting it bluntly, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. When you insure hundreds of thousands of uninsured people, put "kids" on their parents insurance policies until age 26, mandate coverage for pre-existing conditions, those costs need to go somewhere. One of the cornerstones of health "reform" was suppose to be cost containment. That seems to have been lost in the rush to pass the bill. So with costs going up, number of people needing coverage going up, the cost of care  allocated for each person will go down. The unintended consequences? Fewer primary doctors will be around in the next few years. They will not be able to make enough money to pay back the enormous loans required to get through medical school. Translation? Rationing.

One of the things which is almost amusing on how ObamaCare is turning out is the insurance companies. I heard Democrat after Democrat on the floor of both the House and Senate, talk about how this bill was going to "stick it" to "big insurance". Even the President chimed in on this one. Right now the insurance companies are crying all the way to the bank. Their profits are in the 15% to 20% range, and the extra costs are being passed on to - you guessed it - us. Some people have been advised by their insurance providers their rates will double next year. Even though we were "promised" our rates would go down if we passed the bill.

This past week, it was reported another 180 pages of regulations were added to the over 20,000 pages already in existence. These were all prepared by unelected representatives, and will be ancillary to the statutory bill itself. Therefore, even regulatory, they will have the power and effect of law. Nobody has had the time nor patience to read tens of thousands of regulations. Plus, the law (and regulations) is to be enforced by the ever expanding IRS.

Many think all this has been done by design to make the system fail (Cloward–Piven strategy?). Once it fails, the benevolent government will step in and impose single payer health - just like in Europe. We don't care that single payer has turned health care in Europe into something slightly better than third world. The most important thing is the United Nations will look as us as "world citizens" because we chose the denominator rather than the numerator.    
 
 
 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What kind of Evil is this?

 
 


"Lord you seem so far away,
A million miles or more it feels today"
 
Don Moen
I Will Sing
 
 
 
After the tragedy and carnage which recently took place at Sandy Hook, I thought we had seen the true personification of evil in the young man who killed those innocent women, children and babies. As numb as most of us were following this horrible event, I did not think it possible I could be sickened to the same degree again. However last week, something equally as horrific happened. Two young thugs in Georgia, using a stolen hand gun, robbed a woman pushing a baby carriage. When the woman told these thugs she had no cash, they wounded her and then shot her baby in the face. 
 
When I heard this on the news, I was so upset I almost vomited. I could not believe what I had just heard. My first thought was "Oh Lord, what kind of evil is this, that roams our streets today?" Then it dawned on me. This is not a new evil, this is an ancient evil that has been around since time began.
 
I remember hearing the worst trick Satan ever played on mankind was convincing us he does not exist. We recently saw it in Sandy Hook. When many were clamoring to have guns outlawed, others were saying this was an act of pure evil. For those who do not believe in the power of good and evil, it was like listening to a fairy tale. The fact is, evil has been with us since Cain killed Able. It has been with us in the past, is with us now, and will be in the future.
 
For some time now, I have  been troubled by the increase in infanticide. To some, life has become so cheap, that God's creation can be killed at any time from conception on. Once we made the decision to end life in the womb, I feel we crossed the Rubicon. To some, the difference between a late term abortion and terminating the life of a baby is a distinction without a difference. To others, taking a life, regardless if in the womb or not, is murder.

As evil continues to roam our land, it convinces us not only that murder is not murder, but also life is cheap. So cheap, we can take someone's life if we feel that person has "disrespected" us. So cheap, that disagreements which at one time were handled by verbal arguments or even fists to cuffs, are now resolved with a gun. What has happened where we can no longer look at each other as brothers and sisters, as a part of God's magnificent plan?
 
I believe the best way to counter the evil which plagues us, is to remember this most vital fact about our fellow man:
 
You are…a child of God,
made in the image of the Most High….
and I will respect you as such.
You are uniquely made, without duplication, without equal.
You are the pinnacle of creation given absolute dominion over all creatures that wander the land, fill our skies and swim in countless seas, lakes and streams.
You are the one who the Maker of all things, great and small, has known since before time began. Every hair on your head is numbered and your name, your purpose, has been determined before the fall of man.
You are important and unique. In the vastness of creation you are very small, yet you play an incredibly vital part of God’s rich plan.
Yes, you are a child of God, our Heavenly Father - and I will respect you as such.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Party Gone Wild!

 
 

 
"We will party like there is no tomorrow (and at this rate, there might not be)..."


Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, along comes another whopper. First we had the higher tax on top income earners, then the idea of a "temporary tax" to fix school funding and soak the rich further, and then the additional, regressive tobacco and alcohol taxes, which range from the very high to the obscene. It was as if there was no limit, no stopping this tax and spend juggernaut. Last election cycle the Republicans allowed their majority to slip through their fingers. So along with us, they are just spectators to this DFL supported financial blood bath.

Getting back to being safe going into the water. Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL District 59), and Representative Melissa Hortman (DFL 36B), recently decided it was not enough to let them eat cake - they wanted the frosting also. Together they introduced an annual $332M transit tax to fund a bevy of transportation projects. This would be split $300M for the metro and $32M for the rest of the state.

In the world of "La-La Land", Representative Hortman must well thought of. When asked why in the world we needed to fund more bike and walking trails, she responded as follows:

“Across the state, people want more options and support investment in public transportation. And they want bicycling and walking to be part of that investment,” a news release quoted Hortman, the chief author of the bill in the House. “This bill is an opportunity to solve problems for Minnesotans, creating a more competitive, healthier state.”

Forget the fact the unelected Met Council already has an annual budget of $700M. This additional annual tax will be funded by an additional 3/4 cent sales tax, and a $20 vehicle excise tax. This additional money would be allocated as follows:
  • 41.5 percent to the Metropolitan Council for bus transit;
  • 41.5 percent to the Counties Transit Improvement Board;
  • 7 percent to cities in the metro area to provide transit service and provide increased access for transit riders, pedestrians and cyclists through projects such as sidewalks, bike routes or shuttles;
  • 7 percent to counties in the metro area for the same use as cities and
  • 3 percent to the Metropolitan Council for regional bicycle, trail and pedestrian infrastructure and maintenance.
The moral of this story is this - if you don't like one party rule and having your pocket picked constantly, remember elections have consequences. Or you can just say, "Party on Dude!"

The Party of Know

 
"A rising tide lifts all boats"
 
 
 
How in the world did the Republican Party get such a tawdry reputation? How did the "Party of Know" become the "Party of No"? How did the Republican Party become associated with the party of old white guys? Is there anyone else sick to death of hearing the term "re-branding"?
 
My belief is this - when the Republican Party sticks with conservative principles, they are fine. It is when they try to walk the tightrope between conservative and Democrat they get in trouble. The Republicans will never outspend the Democrats, so when they try, their base erodes.
 
If the Republicans stick with conservative values, there is NOTHING wrong with the message and "re-branding" should never be mentioned again. Somehow, through constant revisionist history (mostly taught in our public schools), Republicans have become known as the oppressors of minorities, instead of promulgating policies of liberation. The conservative message always has been, and always will be equal opportunity. That message has been hijacked by the Democrats to be "equal outcome". That has never been a part of our national fabric and it darned sure is not in our Constitution.
 
When Ronald Reagan first became Governor or California, he hit the welfare roles hard. He found out it was bloated with "free loaders" and many who needed help, were not getting enough. Then Governor Reagan kicked out the free loaders and juiced up the assistance to those who needed the help. This is exactly the way people who practice conservative values operate - with compassion, not tolerating waste and fraud.
 
This last election, African Americans voted for Democrats almost as a block - way over 90%. In addition, the growing Hispanic vote went for Democrats by over 70%. There is nothing in the conservative message which should be offensive to either Blacks or Hispanics. Republicans who practice conservative values do not believe in the establishment in a permanent underclass. Yet, with the Democratic policies we have had since the 1960's, that is exactly what has happened. We are way overdue to a change.
 
As a Conservative, my advice to the Republicans is this - get back to your conservative roots. It is a tried and true philosophy. Get back to your roots, message the principles correctly, and the voters will come. If you continue to become "Democrat Lite", you will only end up becoming the Whigs.






















































Thursday, March 21, 2013

Truth to Power!

 
 


"The TRUTH....shall set you free...."
 
 
Our state's newest on-line magazine, minndigest.com, has a weekly column called Truth to Power. As many things as I like about this new magazine (and there are many) I really love the name of this column. In its profundity, it says much in so few words.

Not too long ago, I was in a meeting with some like minded folks. Towards the end of the meeting we went around the table to voice what was important to each of us going forward. When it came to my turn, I said "veracity". I am tired of being lied to, having the truth torted, the facts mixed or even revised. I want the truth, and I want candidates who tell nothing but the truth.

Today's media reminds me of a song which came out a few years ago. The group, Casting Crowns, recorded this song called the Voice of Truth. From that song, here is one of the verses:
 
"Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth"

Even though this song refers to divine truth, the same can be said for truth in human terms. Many today are seekers of the truth. They have seen lies shined up to be made to look like truth, but they are still lies. Again, the Holy Bible talks about this strategy being used against mankind since day one. Lies are evil - truth is not.

Back to the simplicity of Truth to Power. This title could have been Truth through Power or Power to Truth. True power and truth are joined at the hip. Power can also be obtained from the misuse of truth, but it will never be true power. Truth IS power, and true power is truth. We must all of us be seekers of the truth and be ever vigilant for counterfeits. Truth, liberty and freedom are first cousins. So are deceit, lies and tyranny.

The next time you hear something from a politician or a mouthpiece in the media, put on the truth meter. Do your homework. If it does not pass the "smell test", it probably is not truthful.
Veracity will lead to trust. However, even with trust, dark forces will attempt to take truth and tarnish it to look like lies. Lies will then be presented as truth. Stay alert. Real truth will always be under attack by the forces which detest it.




Hey! Some Respect Please!

 

 
"I get no respect. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest"
 
Rodney Dangerfield
 
 
 
As much as I miss Ronald Wilson Reagan, I am happy he is not with us right now to see the demise in our world standing. President Reagan had "street cred" with the world. Whether is was real or bluster, the world knew with the "Gipper" behind the wheel, you better not mess with the US of A.
 
Flash forward to today. We are in the second term or the finger wagging, letter writing era. If you do something wrong, we are going to get really, really mad, and we might not talk to you for awhile. Okay - we are not that mad, as we will continue to send you foreign aid, paid for by money we don't have. Are you burning our flag? It is okay, it is just a piece of cloth. Here is another check, and there will be more coming.
 
Right now we have a little "punk kid" telling us he is going to nuke us. Really? And what was our response? Nada, nothing. President Reagan would have told this kid something like this, "Look kid, I know your country looks very dark at night. If you launch anything at anyone, I will make your county glow (in a bad way) for decades". And that would have been the end of the bluster because he knew Reagan would have done it.
 
In the 80's when Libya was feeling it's oats and challenged our President not to cross the "line of death", what did the "Gipper" do? Crossed the line with guns blazing from our F-14 fighters, showing Libya just a small measure of America's air power. What did we hear from Libya after the attack? Not much.
 
Now our current "finger wagging" President is in the Middle East trying to get the stalled "peace" talks going again. How much respect does Hamas have for our leader? While in the West Bank, Hamas decides to launch some missiles at Israel. No respect what-so-ever. What the President should tell Hamas is this - one more missile, no matter the size, and not another dime in aid. Period. End of story.
 
Last summer the President told us if Syria uses chemical weapons, it will be crossing a "red line" (I think that means something in politico jargon). The week we find out Assad has probably has used not only cluster bombs, but also some kind of chemical agent on his own people. It is bad enough we stood by and watched 70,000 Syrians get slaughtered, but now this? Our current response? "We are looking into the use of chemical weapons. If it is true, it might be a game changer". If you listen closely, you can hear Assad shakin' in his boots.
 
To garner respect on the world stage, you don't need to be a "bad ass". Many years ago, the singer Rick Nelson was asked why he took so many self defense classes. His response was he wanted to be known as a "nice guy that can be tough". That is the was we were known under President Reagan. Now, similar to how we were thought of prior to World War II, we are just a paper tiger.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I would like my money's worth please!

 
 
 


"A penny saved is a penny earned..."
 
For those who are sensitive, please cover your ears. I am about to speak a form of heresy. It is nothing against anyone's faith - that is, unless you worship at the alter of the Department of Education. I have thought about this for a while, and finally have the guts to put pen to paper. To a large degree, education is a waste of time, a huge waste of money.
 
Before you either de-friend me or write me a nasty e-mail, let me finish. In our current system, we are wasting boatloads of money. This money we waste on education could be spent on roads, bridges, help for the poor, you name it. We spend hundreds of thousands in Minneapolis alone on kids who either don't want to learn, or are just itching to drop out.  Each year, we continue to spend over $20k on students who just don't care. Well, I care. I am helping to pay the freight.
 
In the world of business, once money is poured into a venture, progress is constantly tracked. Check points are set up, milestones established and periodic reviews are held. If the venture is turning into a "dog" it is either fixed by major corporate surgery, or is "deep sixed". No company who wants to stay in business would not continue to invest in something which does not yield positive results.
 
My solution to this problem is very simple. Private schools with sterling graduation rates and high test scores have shown us time and time again they can do it by spending less than $15k per student. I would put every school in Minnesota on notice - you have only $15k per student to spend, and graduation rates need to be at least 90%. Failure to do so will result in the school be de-certified. The parents can then enroll their kids in a private school.
 
I know to many this sounds harsh. However, it is the only way to fix a very broken system. This is a huge chunk of our state budget every year, and the results are abysmal. Do I want kids educated? Absolutely! But I want it done the right way. School choice is a great way to start. No more pouring our money down a rat hole. Schools - perform with an affordable budget, or go away. Times a wasting, and time is money. Our young people are way too important to be pawns in this Education Minnesota sink hole. 
 
 


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

No, it is really not that "hunkey dorey"...

 
 






 

"Sometimes behind every dark cloud is another dark cloud..."



A friend of mine, who I respect as a stock picker, recently told me he had NEVER seen a bigger disconnect between the value of the stock market and reality. Right after he told me that I thanked him many times over. Our record highs on the Dow have the most to do with the Fed and least to do with the financial metrics of the country. I have been saying this for a while now, and many people have looked at me like I need a drug test.

One of the smart people I like to follow is the "Dr. Doom" of economics, Nouriel Roubini. He is referred to as "Dr. Doom" because he is sometimes one of the few making the clarion call for sanity on our economy. His voice is often drowned out by the chattering class gushing over the fact the Dow is at record highs (for no good reason what-so-ever). Roubini has been warning about the dangers of the Quantitative Easing (QE) "Forever" initiated by the Fed. We are in danger of a great many harms from this policy, Roubini states, the least of which is creating "zombie" banks and corporations. A "zombie" institution is a term coined in Japan. It is used for a company or bank which is hollowed out and held up only by cheap cash or credit. Nothing good can come from this in the long run.

In the midst of all the celebration with the market, we seemed to have forgotten the ye old debt issue. Ahhh, the debt. If I just don't think about it, it will go away. The President himself has recently said the debt does not really matter, we don't have a debt crisis. We all know the President has been rock solid and consistent on this issue (not!). Who can forget that now famous speech by this young, very inexperienced senator from Illinois who rose on the Senate floor to say the following: “Mr. President, I rise today to talk about America’s debt problem. The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills.” So as of today, the national debt clock continues to spin, the Fed continues to print money, and there is no plan to fix this thing.

Hollowed out cities like Detroit will continue to go belly up, or be on the verge of it. Promises made of huge pensions and buy outs are now found to be folly. There is a ticking timebomb in our country that even the bravest is afraid to report on. Buckle up for this one - In November 2012 in the WSJ, Cox and Archer reported on the issue of our true debt:


"The actual liabilities of the federal government—including Social Security, Medicare, and federal employees' future retirement benefits—already exceed $86.8 trillion, or 550% of GDP. For the year ending Dec. 31, 2011, the annual accrued expense of Medicare and Social Security was $7 trillion. Nothing like that figure is used in calculating the deficit. In reality, the reported budget deficit is less than one-fifth of the more accurate figure."

The unsettling fact of this quote is some (much smarter than I) have said this number might be low. If you take into effect ALL the promises made by the Federal Government outside of entitlements, the number could be over $130T! And that does not even address the problems of the cities (Detroit?) and states (California?).

So the next time you are watching the Lap Dog Media tell you everything is "hunkey dorey", remember this - many times before a plane crashes the ride is very smooth. Facts belie the lie - things are so not "hunkey dorey"...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Excuse me - where is my free lunch?

 
 


"Free - my favorite four letter 'f' word"
 


Excuse me - I have to get the door. I think it is reality knocking. Now that the 2008 and 2012 elections are over, all the promises have been made, we are now finding out the truth. And so far, the truth ain't pretty. Many promised us if we just pass this marque legislation on health care, all the inequities, all the injustices of the past will be made whole. Those who have never had health care, will now have it. In doing so, the big plus up is everyone's health premiums will be going down. Nobody really knows how Congress did it - the point is, they told us they did. We just needed to pass the bill so we can understand what is in it.
 
Some of the "nay-sayers" were against this historic piece of work. They said if you gave a bunch of stuff away for free, someone would end up paying the freight. The "nay-sayers" also said with more people using the system, and the reimbursement rates to doctors going down, rationing will occur. The reason? Fewer doctors will find the practice lucrative if the money is not there. In addition, one of the biggest cost drivers which was suppose to be taken care of (excess malpractice litigation) remains untouched. More costs, less revenue always equals "good-bye".
 
Then there is the "shell game" with the dollars. We are already collecting taxes to fund this behemoth, yet the "benefits" will not kick in until 2014. Hundreds, maybe thousands have lost their jobs in the medical device industry due to the 2.3% tax. What many (who have never worked in the real world) don't understand about this tax is this - it is a tax on revenue and not profit. If your profit after taxes in normally 5% and this tax on revenue is 2.3%, your profit after taxes gets cut in half. What goes? Usually people, as that is a companies biggest expense.

Okay - so what. I don't work in the medical device field, so these unexpected costs will not affect me. That is until you look at your health care premiums for this year. Oh-oh, did President Obama tell us a whopper on this one? We were told that this program, with all the reforms, will drive down the cost of everyone's premiums. Again, the "nay-sayers" said if we add people to the insurance rolls for "free", the costs need to be dealt with somehow. And that somehow is passing the costs on to the paying customers. For many, the Affordable Care Act has become the Un-Afforable Care Act. Even teachers, who have long supported this president, are getting a huge case of sticker shock when they see their new premiums.

The law is the gift that keeps on giving. The only problem is the gifts are lumps of coal. After passing this massive law which is over 2,500 pages long of golblety-gook, the ancillary regulations are now being promulgated. No worries mate, there are only 20,000 pages of them and more are being written every day. The law itself was passed by a group of back room legislatures, most of whom never read it, and the mountain of regulations are being put together by unelected bureaucrats.

So don't spend too much time looking for that free lunch which was promised. It is not there. Maybe our parents were right - there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What a piece of work is man...




"What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How infinite in faculties
In form and moving"
What a piece of work is man
Hair
Last week I had one of those "old man" things - an ingrown toenail. It got infected and puffy, so I took care of the toenail and dressed the wound. Despite my care, the toe really started to heal itself. The white blood cells rushed to the wound and started killing any germs that got inside the body. All this before I even knew I had a problem. I did not tell my white blood cells what to do - they did so because my body (like all of ours) is wired that way. Thanks to our autonomic nervous system, our hearts keep beating and our lungs keep filling with air. Our bodies just do what needs to be done to keep us going. Scientists fully understand how the autonomic nervous system works - they just have yet to understand why.
Recently, I read an article about a huge leap in technology that could be coming in the next five years. The article states we might have a PC or a mini computer which is so powerful, so fast, it could almost duplicate the human brain. However, one scientist admitted that even if this could happen, there are still nuances and same very low power requirements the human brain has that computers will have trouble matching.

Let that sink in for a minute. The following was taken from The Human Brain website and I think it sums up this wonderful organ we all have:

"You have been entrusted with the care and feeding of the most extraordinary and complex creation in the universe. Home to your mind and personality, your brain houses your cherished memories and future hopes. It orchestrates the symphony of consciousness that gives you purpose and passion, motion and emotion."

Our "on-board computer", our brain, which weighs only 3 pounds and has 100 billion nerve endings is the "wonder of the universe" And yet it is something most of us take for granted. From the time we come out of the womb, the "hard disk" starts recording. Even before the time your first breath is taken, the heart is beating under the direction of the autonomic nervous system. 

We go through life, breath in, oxygen gets into our lungs, attaches on to red blood cells, nourishes cells and so on. Our cells split and reproduce, our wounds heal and our sweat keeps our body temp where it should be.  All without us doing a thing (consciously) to help it. Our food gets digested in our stomach and small intestine, our liver filters out all the crud we are not suppose to put into our bodies, and our large intestine and bowl...well, you know.

So the next time you think about your body, well -- really think about it. This magnificent machine in which we live is so complex, so wonderful, that scientists can only dream of duplicating  even a small part of it. Next time you wonder about how we got here, remember this - everything in or of our bodies has a very important reason for being the way it is. It is almost as if there was a divine plan for how we were made. Think about that as we approach Holy Week. 

Kids Shooting Kids



"My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever"
 
Chief Joseph Surrender Speech


There was yet again another very sad article in the hometown newspaper today. Although portraying an incident which happened a while ago, it was as timely as if it occurred yesterday. Another young black youth shot by another young black youth. It is an all too familiar tale of confusion, sadness and anger. The end result was two young lives changed forever, with dozens of other lives suffering collateral damage. I hope anyone who reads this article states in the strongest of all terms, "This is NOT okay with me".

Since 2001, over 100 kids have been killed in Minneapolis alone. The number of youths killed in Chicago by other youths is chilling. Cities have become war zones, and many of the victims are young.

After reading the article, I have more questions than answers. The young man who was the shooter bought a powerful handgun when he was only 14 years old. He was a kid growing up in a part of town which was in the grip of poverty and blight. When I was 14 years old, I grew up in a middle class family in the suburbs. The young shooter bought this .357 handgun along with six rounds (illegally of course) for $300. When I was 14, I did not even have $30, nor any idea of how to get it.

Both the shooter and the victim had very similar backgrounds. Both lived in Chicago, both in poverty, both being raised by a single parent, both families moving to Minneapolis to have a better life. Unfortunately, the die had already been cast - the gun was purchased by the shooter in Chicago before he left. Again, when I was a youth, my Mother knew how much money I had (not much), and what I spent it on. She knew my friends and what was in my bedroom. Trying to hide something from my Mother's prying eyes was a fool's errand at best.

Once the shooter had retrieved the gun from his "friend" in Chicago, it was not long before it was used. The irony (and there always is in a sad story such as this), is the shooter did not intend to shoot the victim. He was looking for someone else. By accident, both the 16 year old shooter and the 16 year old victim found themselves face to face. When the victim turned to walk away, the shot rang out. In broad daylight, in front of witnesses. Consequently, it only took four hours to catch the shooter. When caught and asked "why", the answer was "It was aim and shoot - just like in a video game".

This very sad tale, with a very sad ending is an example of the reality of unreality. The statement "It was just like a video game", speaks volumes. Life has become cheap, so cheap many today accept this outcome as the norm. As we have seen in Chicago, more youths die in the streets outside their homes than soldiers who die in the mountains of Afghanistan. As a society, we ALL need to believe what Chief Joseph said at his surrender - "My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." What is happening in Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, or where ever, is not okay. No more kids killing kids. No more - no more killing forever.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Monday to Sunday

 
 

"Don't put off to tomorrow what you should get done today..."


As I have gotten older, I find myself reading the obits more and more. As I graduated from high school in 1967, I find more and more of my classmates getting their names in that section of the paper that nobody aspires too. In fact, as the economists say, the number of classmates and friends who are showing up in the weekly obits are "increasing at an increasing rate". In my minds eye, these folks who are now leaving us are still the kids I knew in high school. Even though at reunions I see how they have aged, I still think of them as they were in 1967.

The suddenness of death some of them experienced recently brought me to this thought. On Monday morning, when people are not only planning their day, but also their week, how many think their name might end up in the obits on Sunday? I would venture to say very few. And yet, that is reality. A fall, a heart attack, an aneurysm, a car accident - many unexpected reasons why someone could not finish the week.

I have addressed the issue before on how important it is to go out clean. Unfinished business. Not with money, although that is also important, but with relationships. Recently, someone posted on Facebook the three things you should say every morning when your feet hit the floor are "thank you, thank you and thank you". And then go out and live the day with the vigor and passion each day deserves. A broken relationship can never be repaired if you are not here to repair it and lost opportunities can never be recaptured if you are absent. Even in the midst of sorrow, each day, every day is a gift to be lived with joy. The wise mentors who counseled us to live each day as if it was our last, knew what they were talking about.

My goal every week is always to meet someone new, learn something more about someone I know, and love the ones dear to my heart deeper than the week before. To serve more, expect less.  As my tomorrows become less, and my yesterdays become more, the value of each day increases. Most people will never have the opportunity to change the world. But every day, each of us can change just a little, a little bit at a time. And from Monday to Sunday, that is a good thing to put in our daily planners. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tell me something I don't already know!

 
 

 
"He may not always be right, but he is always the boss..."


Years ago, I worked for a General Manager who would invite you in his office to chat. The conversation would always start out by him looking you square in the eyes and saying "Tell me something I don't already know". This was very hard as this man did his homework and was well connected with the customer base. If you ended up telling him information which was redundant to what he already knew, the visit was very short.

Many times I was on the receiving end of one of those "short" visits. I would go back to my office feeling hurt, sometimes mad. I thought maybe an "atta boy" for some things I have recently done, or how are the wife and kids, or even some sports talk might be nice. Nope. It was all business, and if you did not expand his knowledge base, he did not have time to waste with you.

As the years have gone on, I have become the same way. Not in the way I deal with people - I have become the same way in how I want to get my information. I read or listen to  multiple sources for two reasons. First, I need to vet information I have recently obtained and second, I need perspective. After that, I really don't need to hear the same thing over, and over again. Today, more than ever, there are so many things going on which are so important, it is hard to keep up. Some people have just given up and tuned out. To me, that is a huge mistake. Many of the things which are happening right now are shaping the future - our future. We have to pay attention.

A person quite a bit younger than me recently asked me the best way to stay informed. Is it the internet, the television, the radio, or what. My answer was some of all of them. I read two to three blogs a day, watch both Fox News as well as MSNBC (remember... perspective), read the home town newspaper, and listen to the radio. I also read Drudge, The Blaze, Huffington Post and USA Today on-line. That is my normal diet. I also add in something new and different which is not news related. What I usually learn every day is how much I don't know.

Even though my visits to see my former boss were often painful, I am grateful to him for helping me expand my hungry mind. Every news consumer should act this way. If you are not learning something you don't know, you need to move on to something else. And that, is how we help inform the electorate. And that, is good for all of us.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

We all need to ask, "Is this okay?"

 
 


"One hundred years ago, we would teach more in an 8th grade education than kids today learn in high school"
 

Not to be cute, it does not take a rocket scientist to know how "dumbed down" our kids have become. Not all of them, just a very large and disturbing percentage of them. It seems like every month there is another finding or statistic which shows how we are failing our kids. And when we fail them, they fail school.
 
Before you consider me an alarmist, lets look at some naked facts. In November of last year, the New York Daily Post had this so say about how the kids in New York City are doing -  "Just 29% of public high school students in the city are prepared for college-level work..". That is not all - it gets worse. New York City schools are called "drop out factories". In 2011, 73,000 students dropped out of school just in New York City! Is this okay with us?

 In 2010, The National Right to Read Foundation reports the following:
 
"An incomprehensible 42 million Americans cannot read, write or perform simple math. Another 50 million Americans cannot read past the 4th grade level. 
 According to current estimates, the number of functionally illiterate adults is increasing by approximately two and one quarter million persons each year. This number includes nearly 1 million young people who drop out of school before graduation..."


If these statistics are true, the number of functionally illiterate people go up (as a percentage of our total population) by over 1/2 % a year. Is this okay with us?


The budget request for FY 2013 concerning the Department of Education is almost $80B. This includes funding for wildly unsuccessful "Race to the Top". However, when you look at the stats, most students are involved in a program called "Falling to the Bottom". What a waste of $80B! This is a broken system which continues to break our kids.

Lets look closer to home. In a September 2011 Star Tribune article, the following was reported:

"The Minneapolis School District  on-time graduation rate may appear to be 73 percent, but that is based on a formula that allows students six years or more to graduate.
Looking at the number of students who make it from freshmen to seniors in four years, the graduation rate was a much lower 49 percent for the Class of 2010."

Not bad considering we are only spending $23K per student. Only 3 out of 4 graduate in six years? Are you kidding me? Plus, what have they learned? Are they ready for college? Can they even read? We are failing our kids! Let me repeat - I don't care what race, religion or creed they are - we are failing our kids. Is that okay with us?

It is time to get mad folks. Get fired up. This is of the highest importance. We are failing our kids throughout the country and they will NOT be able to compete in a world market. By our benign neglect, we are creating a permanent underclass. This is the civil rights issue of our time. This can't be all right with us.


 

The Northern Lights Express

 
 

 
"On the road again -
Just can't wait to get on the road again"
 
On the Road Again
Willie Nelson
 
 
This is mostly for you anti-LRT people. As the saying goes, "you got nothing". If you think LRT or the Northstar is a boon doggle, those are minor league compared to this monster. Yes, this is truly the "train to nowhere". It is an express line from Minneapolis to Duluth with a viable purpose yet to be defined.
 
I went on the Northern Lights Express (NLX) propaganda website and pulled these wonderful factoids:
 
  • Spur approximately $2 billion in development along the 155 mile corridor
  • Encourage about 13,800 jobs
  • Provide an environmental sound alternative to automobiles that can be used for business and tourism
  • Offer 2 1/4 hour service between Minneapolis and Duluth with top speeds of 110 mph


What is not to love? This sounds like a great deal to me. My wife and I are frequent visitors to Duluth and the North Shore and always crab about the fact we have our car with us. It would be much better to take a train, get off at Duluth, and then walk up to Two Harbors, Split Rock or Grand Marais. I mean the car, it just gets in the way.

When we venture to the North Shore in the summer time, we are always amazed at the number of rigs pulling impressive toys. Because Superior is really an inland sea, many of the boats going up there are huge. Also, because it is a gateway to the BWCA, many are towing camping stuff and canoes. People are also pulling their fishing boats, trailers, fifth wheels, ATVs, and so on. Basically, all kinds of stuff you could not put on a train.
 
In 2009, a study was done to ascertain the true cost impact of construction. That was four years ago, and the costs then were expected to be $1B. I can't imagine what they are in 2013. No worries though mate - the powers to be also estimate there will be 3,000 daily riders on this train. Really? I would like to meet some of these 3,000 and ask them the purpose of going up to Duluth in early November with no car. Summer stuff is over, the leaves have fallen and the ski areas are not yet in their season. Anyway, even if you were going up to Duluth to ski, how in the world would you get from Duluth to Lutsen? Duh!

Being an old business guy, I always look at TCO (total cost of ownership). What are the annual operating costs? The annual maintenance costs? The costs to service the debt to build it? To make this line profitable and not to soak the taxpayers, I wonder how much a ticket would cost. Maybe $1,000? In the world of bad ideas, this is a whopper. Aside from the fact they are financial losers, I can see some logic in LRT, and some in Northstar. I can see no logic in NLX. The truly unfortunate part of this story is the Federal Government has already sunk millions into the study of this mess. Oh well, like many financial idiots who run the state say - "Its free money - it comes from the Feds!"