Monday, July 28, 2008

Stuck on Stupid

Neal Boortz whines about the mortgage bailout

Neal ... you are totally missing who is really being bailed out here.

The reason a bailout is needed is not because we feel sorry for all of the home owners that made bad decisions and now can't pay their mortgage bill. If it were just the consumers that were effected, there would be no bailout.

Since you don't get it .... the reason we are doing a mortgage bailout is to save the other people that were impacted that we can't let fail: namely the banks that offered the mortgages, the investors that loaned the monies to the banks, and the companies that bought or secured what is now bad debt. These are the people that are really being bailed out.

The primary blame for this mess lies with Congress. They created a regulatory environment that allowed this problem to happen in the first place. The secondary blame lies with the banks and lenders .... "Hmmm, let's see ... your credit record is spotty at best. Wait, I know what we can do. We'll lend you at least 100% of the value of the house and consolidate all of your other outstanding debts into your monthly house payment as well. Oh and to save you even more money, we can do this with a variable rate loan". Duh!!!!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Energy Rebate Checks?

Obama supports energy rebates to put a few dollars in the pockets of all Americans.

Well isn't that special.

My first question is how this meaningfully differs from the approach of offering a "gas tax holiday"? My second is how either of these approaches provides a meaningful solution to managing the cost of energy?

So far both the Democrats and Republicans have completely failed to do ANYTHING. What we need from the President and the 435 members of congress -- and particularly McCain and Obama -- is leadership. Instead of looking for problems, look for solutions. Instead of spending money with pandering programs like Energy Rebates and Gas Tax Holidays, invest in solutions that will provide long term value and benefits to our nation.

The focus on short term problems is great for the news cycle but will never result in addressing the world-wide need for energy. The idea that a country founded on the principles of capitalism and a market economy would subject company CEO's to public scorn because they had the gall to earn a profit margin of 8.5% is unbelievable. Congress should be called to account for their actions (and lack there of) rather than trying to shift the blame to someone else.

If we focus on the solutions to the cost of energy, then finding reasonable alternatives to our current course becomes much simpler. The core problem we have is that demand is out pacing supply ... so here are some rocketsciencesque approaches to addressing the issue:
  • Find more supply of the fuels we currently use the most of. Here are a couple places you might want to look: ANWR and of the coast of Florida. It isn't like we don't have any more oil or gas reserves available. While not perfect, the oil companies have proven that they can develop oil fields without destroying the environment.
  • Expand the types of energy creation we have available. Solar, wind, hydro-electric, and nuclear are all viable sources of energy. Solar, wind and hydro-electric are all renewable / clean sources of energy. Folks like T. Boone Pickens have ideas and vision for addressing some of America's energy needs. Rather the spending money pandering, invest some of those dollars in people like T. Boone Pickens.
  • Stop standing in our own way. The fact that we haven't built a new refinery in over 30 years is contributing to the lack of supply for processed crude. Refinery's are great except for the smell of sulphur down wind. Wind mills are great except they kill birds. Hydro-electric dams are great except they kill fish. Nuclear is great except for the spent fuel rods. Rather that bending entirely to the pure environmentalist point of view (which is what we have been doing), we need to use some common sense and balance environmentalism with economic considerations.

It really isn't asking to much to expect our candidates for president to do more than perform vote buying exercises. Both candidates tell us that they are agents for change. How about showing us some leadership for a change.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Stuck on Stupid

How do you make sense of people that have lost all touch with reality?

  • Overheard comment. "Either the government can pay for it, or we can pay for it.". Hello. Who exactly pays for the stuff the government pays for? Oh, that's right. That would be us.
  • The real role / value of big business. Socialism / communism alive and well in the United States. This guy is positively sickening.

Airport Security

Do you ever wonder if you are getting your money's worth for the dollars being spent by the TSA to make flying more secure? Does the $4.9 billion proposed for 2009 make us safer than we on September 10, 2001? How much liberty do you need to give up to make flying safer?

If you look at TSA results since 2001 we have been able to enjoy air travel without planes intentionally flying into buildings, blowing up midair, or experiencing other terrorist threats (that we are aware of). But still, when you look at the process you have to wonder, is this because TSA is on the ball or because planning and executing a 9/11 type event takes a lot of money, planning and preparation, and dumb luck.

So far the approach has been primarily focused on the addressing passenger security and reacting to new ideas that the nut cases (dangerous nut cases, but nut cases not the less) come up with. It seems the results are mixed at best:
  • Nail clippers as a weapon. Because the 9/11 terrorists used box cutters as part of their attack things like nail clippers were banned. This resulted in tons of lost stuff but there is no indication that it has made flying any safer. Truth is, just about anything can be used as a weapon, it isn't hard to conceal items with sharp edges that don't beep, and there is no monitoring for someone trained in martial arts ("these hands are registered with the FBI as lethal weapons").
  • Scanning is more art than science. The idea that we can take a fully loaded suitcase or computer bag, run it through a scanner, and catch everything that falls onto the exception list is dreaming. An Inspector General report from 2005 discusses some of the issues but the real problem is that scanning by itself is not a complete solution. I'm sure I'm not alone as someone that has unintentionally had stuff pass through security. What do you do when liquids (neatly packed in a 3-1-1 quart size bag) pass through screening without raising an eyebrow? You simply pick up your bag and continue on before any one takes another look at the x-ray machine.
  • Some folks are more equal than others. What do you make of it when TSA agents reporting for duty are not required to walk through an x-ray machine? How about pilots that are allowed to bring bottled water through with no questions? Sure, the expectation is that these folks are known entities that have gone through a extensive pre-screening. The problem is that these lapses in security represent holes that can be exploited.
  • The magic 4'S. Things have lightened up significantly since the early days following 9/11 but the idea that we rely on random selection to catch bad guys is a huge problem. There is definitely a need for randomness in security but it should be in conjunction with more educated selections. Yes, this means that we should be doing some type of profiling / passenger interactions to focus the selections.

These are just some of the problems with the passenger screening process. While the front door -- passenger screening -- may be slightly ajar. The back door -- air freight -- is left wide open.

Creating a totally secure environment for air travel is a challenging goal and probably one that is unattainable and undesirable if it were. The impacts of cost and loss of liberty would simply out weigh the value of security. Still, the TSA could get a lot more bang for our buck by eliminating window dressing for security, removing political correctness from the screening process, and using a lot more common sense.

As a follow-up item / reference, the TSA has a blog site -- the Evolution of Security -- that provides some excellent information and commentary.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

The Declaration of Independence posits that we are endowed with "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". For many Americans, these are big words with deep meaning. The challenge is that most of us don't seem to know what they mean.

From my son's fifth grade democracy field trip where we learned that "pursuit of Happiness" allowed you to ignore the rule of law to Thom Hartmann's idea that "Life" equates to socialized medicine we have it exactly wrong. Fortunately I was able to have a reasonable heart to heart with my son and explain how the pursuit of Happiness works, but there were probably 4 or 5 folks listening Thom that may have bought into his views.

If we start with the point made in the Declaration that Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are inalienable rights. These are rights that the government neither grant nor take away. But wait, it gets better. The Declaration of Independence was a letter to King George letting him know that his approach for ruling the colonies wasn't acceptable. As you scan through the Declaration there are a number of complaints and concerns raised but not once in the document does Thomas Jefferson assert or complain that the right of health care is not being provided.

There may be valid reasons that we should look at revising the health care delivery system in the United States but the word Life in the Declaration of Independence isn't one of them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why Flying Isn't Hard

It is amazing the amount of babble that you hear when it comes to flying: the planes are too full,
the tickets cost to much, security is to hard to deal with, there is no customer service, etc., etc. etc.

There was a time when crossing the United States was a big deal.

To get started, you needed to sell, throw out, or simply leave anything that didn't fit into your covered wagon. Then you needed to be able to dedicate six plus months to the trek. Once you started there was no guarantee you'd make it across at all, let alone alive. Challenges included getting lost, starvation, Indian attacks, disease, and the weather.

The speed and safety of the crossing improved significantly with steam locomotive but it could still be a perilous trip. The passenger train of the day was not designed with all of the creature comforts you might desire. Seating was cramped, air conditioning non-existent, and windows often needed to closed to avoid the cinders from the boiler. Boiler explosions and train derailments were common dangers that could leave you stranded, injured, or dead.

All of which brings me to the challenges of flying. Everyday ten's of thousands of people are flying across the United States. The typical environment includes air conditioning, a padded seat, something to eat / drink, and a bit of entertainment. Statistically, flying is the safest way to travel.

But my goodness, you should hear people whine when their plane is delayed, when the plane is cramped, or their luggage is misplaced. In 232 years, we have become a nation of total babies.

Come on people, SUCK IT UP.