JCL Blog

Are Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Liu Xaiobo Safe?

What do you get when you combine governments that oppress their citizens, the unrepressable nature of free speech, the Nobel Peace Prize, and citizens that are committed to freedom?  A very interesting week in the news.

Manning, Assange, and Xaiobo are probably safer in jail than they would be if released.  Accidents happen frequently and these three courageous men would be in danger of falling prey to an accident if not under the protection of their captors.  Their captors are obligated to keep them alive by the bright light we are all shining on these events.  I shudder to think of what would happen if that light went out.

Our mistrust of government, the foundation of our constitution, is what makes our country resistant to the corrupting influence of power.  If we are going to prevail as a nation it will be because we support people who are willing to put themselves in harms way to end a war or end a governments oppression of their own citizens.

The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war we have ever fought.  

If you are interested in this subject, here are a few links you may want to follow:

Bradley Manning Wikipedia Page

Daniel Ellsberg Wikipedia Page

Daniel Ellsberg Speaking in Bradley Manning's Defense

Wikipedia Page on Article Three of the Constitution

Huffingtong Post on Liu Xaiobo 

New York Times on the Nobel Prize 

New York Times on Keeping Secrets Wikisafe


The Media Mob and Middle School

Often these days I find myself in the situation of explaining grown up things to my middle school aged daughters.  Now that we are beyond the delicate issue of procreation, long considered by me as the highest hurdle, I realize sex was a chip shot when compared to explaining politics and the media.

Today's opt out fiasco is a great example.  I challenge anyone to defend a national call for citizen action that intentionally makes the job of protecting us from suicidal terrorists more difficult.  If you think you are up to the task -- try your arguments out on a room full of 7th graders.  

Yes, we all know that many security measures are more show than anything else, but is it rational to try to mobilize the people of our nation against the TSA?  Like everyone else I am crossing my fingers that the crazy anti Americans don't figure out how to exploit this event.  If they do, our hysterical media mob will have one more reason to think about their real responsibilities.  (But they will probably blame the TSA anyway).

Two weeks ago the Chinese decided that Americans were so lame that they could drive a submarine up to Los Angeles and shoot off an ICBM.  We were either too embarrassed, or too incompetent to do anything about it -- or maybe we put all of our effort into burying the story.  Either way, when North Korea saw that the Chinese were right, they decided to fire artillery at a South Korean positions.

If anyone out there has any suggestions about how I can explain to my kids that our leaders are actually trying to do the right thing -- I am all ears.

Sarah Palin vs Tina Fey for President

The New York Times is all about Sarah Palin today with a good post from Frank Rich and the cover story in the Magazine both proclaiming that not only could she run for the highest office, but she could be a contender!

Given the following she has on social media, and the fact that she is getting paid millions to campaign in her TV show where most competitors have to pay for TV ads -- she does seem formidable even if her competence makes it hard to think she could win.

What to do?  Let's get Tina Fey to run against her!  Tina has all of the same assets and she would probably be a better president.  Not only that, it could really confuse the electorate.  Imagine the 18% of voters that think Obama was not born in the US -- trying to remember which one was which.  The debates would be awesome.  Tina could employ spies to figure out what Sarah was going to wear, dress the same, and siphon off half of the Tea Party votes.

Next I have to figure out what country to move to should Sarah Palin actually win.  Any suggestions?


Driving Less

I just cannot shake this gas price thing.  I took the data from NationMaster and converted a few of the notable countries to cost per gallon at the pump:

Some people say that we have so much money in America that even if we doubled the gas price, consumption would not change.  I think we should give that a try.  We currently use 378 million gallons of gasoline per day so a $3.00 per gallon gas tax (in addition to current taxes) would raise $137 Billion in tax revenue each year.  Sure, maybe our consumption would go down -- which would also be good  -- so let's call it $100 Billion.

That would not quite pay for the interest on the national debt ($164B), but it would pay for the State Department ($51B) and HUD ($47B).  See the Wikipedia page on the 2010 budget here

Hanging Out with Nambia and Bangladesh

In the event you are interested in knowing where we stand on gasoline taxes and the resulting price at the pump, there is a great website that you should check out called NationMaster.  There you can see a chart comparing us to all other nations.

It turns out that in America we pay 77% of the worldwide average price for gasoline.  Sounds pretty good until you look more closely and see who we are hanging out with on the list:

It seems like the weaker the government, the lower the gas price.  Gotta keep the people happy I guess.  All of the way at the bottom are Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, and Turkmenistan.  At the top are Uruguay (who da thunk), the UK, Israel, and Argentina.  They pay 2X the worldwide average, or 3X what we pay.

If they can do it -- why can't we?

Book Review: The Frugal Superpower by Michael Mandelbaum

We have spent all of our money and no longer have the ability to project power to all four corners of the globe.  We probably knew this was coming because it has happened to every world dominating superpower to date.  We inherited the role as the protector of the free world when the sun set on the British empire.  For a time we shared the responsibility with the USSR, the protector of the not free world, but on November 9, 1989 the job became all ours.

As Lord Acton pointed out in 1870, the Pope is not immune from fallibility.  If the Pope is not, we are probably not either.  Lord Acton is the guy that first said:  "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  

Michael Mandelbaum does a very good job of surveying our current situation and placing it in the context of recent history.  His authority on the subject comes through in the writing as well as in his BIO (Yale, Cambridge, Harvard, professor at Johns Hopkins, 10 books...), he keeps to the point, and offers one simple solution:  Increase the tax on gas in the US.

Imagine that, we have a very complex problem that threatens our role on the world stage, and probably our quality of life, and it very well could be fixed with one easy to implement policy.  


Here are some other reviews:

The Washington Times

The Guardian

10 Reasons to Listen to This American Life 9/10/2010

Sorry to be tardy to the party, but I just today listened to the 9/10/2010 episode of This American Life, titled Right to Remain Silent.  Here are 10 reasons you should listen too.


  1. If you have ever had a bad customer experience at an Apple store.
  2. If you are looking for real life examples of the impact of the Patriot Act on average Americans.
  3. If you are wondering if you can be arrested for posting a joke on Facebook (that you thought was private).
  4. If you want to know if you should fear the police.
  5. If you need some good examples on how performance measures induce the wrong behavior.
  6. If you are wondering if there is anyone left that is trying to do the right thing.
  7. If you think crime is really going up in NYC -- despite the "statistics".
  8. If you think the decline in investigative reporting is important.
  9. If you want to restore your faith in America (because WBEZ and Ira Glass were able to produce this show without fear of going to jail).
  10. If you are looking for a reason to support public radio.


I could go on and on, just listen to it and let me know what you think.

American Jobs

Robert Scoble has a good post this week about keeping jobs in America.  He is absolutely right.  

Every single person in our country should be thinking about the balance of trade.  Each month we send away 40 billion dollars of our money.  This means we buy $40B more in goods from other countries than they buy from us.  This is not sustainable, and we all need to be thinking about it.

The trick of course is to create products in our country that can compete while paying a wage that can support the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed.

Thomas Friedman has a good piece on China vs the US in Jobs associated with climate change.  Here is a good quote:

So while America’s Republicans turned “climate change” into a four-letter word — J-O-K-E — China’s Communists also turned it into a four-letter word — J-O-B-S.

One of these days our elected leaders should probably stop crabbing at each other and get down to work.

What I am Remembering About 9/11

Sometime in the 90s an unhappy rich guy in Saudi Arabia assembled his followers and said something like this:

We have few men and little money.

But we are smart and resourceful.

With careful planning and committment to our plan -- we will change the world.

And so he did.

He flew airplanes into the World Trade Center.

We responded just as he predicted.  We attacked Afghanistan and Iraq causing loss of life on a significant scale.  We spent enough of our credibility and money to seriously diminish our ability to influence the world for a long time to come.  

Meanwhile, we now realize that we are the pawn in the war Osama bin Laden was really fighting -- between moderate and extreme factions of Islam.  Say what you will about Osama bin Laden but it does appear that he is a smart guy who is committed his cause.  A formidable opponent even thought we spend more on defense than all of the other nations combined.

We should never forget 9/11.  For the innocent people we lost there.  And for the way were drawn in to a fight we did not understand, and had no hope of ever winning.  Time Magazine has a good piece on this today.  I hope we can follow through and withdraw.




Confidence in Effective Government Regulation

There are too relatvely boring stories in the NY Times today that when taken toghether tell a somewhat interesting tale.

Andrew Pollack's piece titled: Modified Salmon Is Safe, F.D.A. Says and Joe Nocera's take on net neutrality with the title: The Struggle for What We Already Have.

I wonder how many readers really think genetically altered salmion is safe enough to feed their kids.  I guess not many.  The FCC's ability to regulate the internet? -- just as shaky.   And the SEC doesn't do much to build the credibility of federal agencies.

It is a miracle the FAA keeps the planes in the sky.  I suppose the highly visible planes falling from the sky scenario is what makes the price of buying the FAA beyond the reach of the hired guns in Washington.  You can bet they are trying everything they can.

So I for one do not believe that the FDA knows any more about the long term effects of the altered salmon than they do about the long term effects of the growth hormones in our beef.  Best to eat as little of that stuff as possible.

Whether or not the FCC gets some regulations to enforce against Comcast -- I am pretty sure Comcast is going to be managing my network traffic however they want.

Here is another post I did a few weeks ago on net neutrality.


More on Buying American

Here are a few more thoughts on each individual taking responsibility for their share of the trade deficit.  There are three main parts of the trade deficit - exports (things we make that people in other countries buy), imports (things we buy that are made in other countries), and domestic consumption (things we both make and buy).  

Domestic consumption is what I did when I bought a Jeep.  I know there are parts in the Jeep that invariably are made in China, but let's not let get dragged down that rabbit hole just yet.  Domestic consumption is not as good as exporting something, but a lot better than importing something, so if we have to consume, let's consume the things we make.

The argument against domestic consumption for the sake of domestic consumption (or avoiding imports) is that it dulls our competitiveness.  If we all just buy products made in America, because they are made in America, our manufacturers will get soft and lose their edge.  This also happens when domestic consumption is boosted by tariffs or other protectionist measures.

So the main measure of the health of our industries is not the extent to which our products compete for the domestic market, but the extent to which our products compete abroad.  

What about the labor union part of my last post?  The labor unions are better positioned to make a difference in the trade deficit than any other group.  If the unions spend all of their energy holding onto the past -- including onto benefits earned in the past from companies that cannot possibly sustain them -- it will deal American manufacturing a double blow.  Once for holding us back and once for not moving us forward.

Conversely, if the labor unions used their relationships with the workforce and employers to invest more in building the workforce of tomorrow -- we could prevail.  Sure it takes less workers to load a ship with a crane instead of by hand -- but we can afford to pay the crane guy many times the amount a manual laborer would command.  Sure it takes less workers to build a car with robots, but the robot operators and repair people make many times what the old assembly workers got paid.

We could dominate the next century of manufacturing as long as we invest in the right places and the labor unions are the key.

In the end it all boils down to the trade deficit.  We are surviving now because we can finance our trade deficit ($50 Billion per month).  Every time we dig that hole deeper we get weaker, and less likely to be able to continue to finance it.  Let's make products that compete on the world market, and also buy them at home.

Our New Car

After driving my wife's last car into the ground we broke down and bought a new one this week.  Thinking that everyone in our country ought to make purchase decisions with the balance of trade in mind, we committed early to buying an American car.  

After driving all kinds, we settled on a Jeep Liberty.  It is an awesome car, just big enough but not too big.  Just tough enough but not too tough.  

There were a few revelations during the process:

The process at the car dealership (Bellevue Chrystler Jeep) was awesome.  Our salesperson, Joe Langhans took great care of us -- and once we decided to buy -- we were done in under 2 hours -- awesome.  Of course I was prepared for the worst -- but it did not even come close to happening.  I recommend Joe and his dealership highly.

I made a comment during the purchase process that Americans should buy American made cars and the reaction:  Republicans think like that but not Democrats.  Hmmm.  I had never thought about it that way before.  Today Rham Emanuel and our President are getting blasted for saying not very nice things about the UAW and its products.  Maybe a little leadership will bring the D's back to buying our cars.




Waste Wipes Out Stimulus

David Brooks has a good post in the NY Times yesterday where he compares the strategies of the US (big stimulus) and Germany (small stimulus) and the outcome: US not recovering and Germany growing big time.  I would add one thing:  stimulus spent in a wasteful way doesn't do any good.  In fact it does harm because it increases the deficit and debt load.

Germany spent its money and energy stimulating the production of products other countries want like machine tools.  We spend our money and energy propping up failed banks and expanding benefits for the unemployed.  While the comparison of the size of the stimulus is one data point, how it is invested is the other.  

We all should be watching the trade deficit as the most important measure of our success.  It measures how successful we are as a country producing products and services that other countries value enough to buy.  Right now our trade deficit is increasing -- so whatever stimulus money is making it past the bankers is being spent to buy products made elsewhere.

Electronic Pearl Harbor could do 1 trillion dollars damage

If you want a quick and high quality update on the state of cybersecurity you should watch this episode of Ideas In Action.  Thousands of companies have been compromised, our government is spending billions, but are we doing enough?  Do we think there is a real threat?

If foreign governments are gaining access to our computer networks and stealing everything from designs of weapons systems to the formulas for drugs, is it an act of war?

Earlier this year I was at a conference where a cyber crime panel proclaimed that 50% of all credit cards are compromised and the banks know it -- but they don't want to say anything for fear it would destroy the marketplace for credit card services.  These compromised credit card numbers are routinely sold on the black market for 10% of the available balance.  So whoever is buying them plans to use them.  

Just yesterday I wanted to send some iTunes money to my daughter and found that Apple no longer does email iTunes gift cards -- I suspect because of the fraud.  

Many experts are waiting for the cyber crime equivalent of Pearl Harbor to wake up America and bring about the changes necessary to secure our systems from attack.  

We probably should all be thinking more about this.

The People Have Voted: Wall Street Still Not Safe

In our country government is less powerful than business.  This is probably the most visible in the military industrial complex, but there is evidence that the lobbyists call the shots in other areas as well.  A few months back I wrote in this post that Wall Street would not be regulated until it decided it was in its best interest to be regulated. 

Since then our representatives in Washington passed the financial reform bill in an effort to manage the forces that lead to the last melt down and possibly prevent a repeat.  During July, the very month the legislation passed, individual investors took $15 billion more out of equities than they put in, and so far this year, the total cash flow out of the stock market has been $33 billion.   The people are voting with their wallets and the verdict is that the stock market is not safe for the individual investor - reform legislation or not.  

If you don't know who the sucker is at the poker table -- it is probably you.  A couple more years of this and the Wall Street firms may just start asking for real reforms to reassure the public that the market is regulated and safe.

Another Golden Age?

A golden age is rarely appreciated in the present tense.  This could be because a golden age only becomes a golden age once the not fun parts are forgotten, and the memory of the fun parts expanded.  It is unlikely that early pilots and passengers were lamenting the end of the golden age of flight as the FAA was created.

54 years passed between the Wright Brothers first flight in 1904 and the creation of the FAA in 1958.  I doubt any of it was really the golden age.   Just last month the Wall Street Journal had this article on the Golden Age of Flight and how it may not have been so golden.  As someone who has gone through the process of getting a pilot's license, I am quite glad for the 50,000 people who work for the FAA and have experienced first hand how they make flying safer and more efficient.

Two years before the FAA was created, Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act into law. This kicked off what may have been the largest public works project ever:  $25 billion for the construction of over 40,000 miles of interstate highways.  These interstate highways, along with most other roads, in our country are highly regulated, and for good reason.  It does not take much imagination to realize that without standardization of the vehicles, regulation of speed and safety, enforcement of HOV lane use, and regulation of oversize loads, few of us would be able to rely on these highways for safe travel or commerce.

Even with the Federal Highway Administration, some processes associated with the governance of the interstates is cumbersome.  A quick look at the page on Wide Loads reveals that each individual state controls wide loads differently.  Making the moving of a mobile homes across the country quite a project -- even without having to worry about being chased by a tornado.  Making wide loads difficult may in fact be a good thing.

The roads in our country work because everyone drives on the right hand side of the road, cars are generally six feet wide and 15 feet long, weigh under 8,500 pounds, have four whees, bumpers that work and so on.

This brings us to the internet.  As far as I can tell, there is no regulation of the internet at this time.  Any computer connected to the internet can manage traffic any way it wants and any traffic on the internet can do anything it wants.  This works more or less because the internet has many routes from point A to point B and if one route does not work, another one will.  The size and number of the routes is always expanding as more fiber, routers, and computers are brought online every day.  The volume of data being moved on the internet is expanding even faster as we move from a time dominated by text to a time dominated by images, audio, and video.  

The belief that all network owners treat all traffic the same is illogical.  Network owners are free to manage their networks and they most certainly do.  The FCC has no way to know if a preference is given to some of the packets, and even if it did, it has no laws to enforce to ensure that the internet is being administered in a neutral way.  We must by now realize that some regulation is necessary.  In 2006 John Dvorak wrote in PC Mag about the end of the Golden Age of the Internet stating that a combination of factors is bringing the free for all to an end.  Whether or not as cranky as John Dvorak, I suspect even casual users of the internet have experienced the negative impact of either poor or inadequate regulation.

Just this week, Google was widely castigated for its negotiations with Verizon and subsequent recommendations to the government about the regulation of the internet.  They clarified their intentions in this post on Net Neutrality.  I think they are on the right track.  The internet will become regulated at some point and Google, and others in our industry, should use whatever means available to bring about a regulatory structure that works.

Without it, we will have a very real Tragedy of the Commons with everyone driving a wide load truck and no one getting anywhere.

Those of you that are interested in more reading on the topic should check out this post by Doc Searls.

I Bet Mark Hurd Wishes Women Would Get Off the Elevator Too

Harry Truman reportedly would get off an elevator if a woman got on it.  I don't think it was discrimination, but rather he thought it too great a risk to be in a confined space without others around where he would find himself in a he said, she said situation.

Yesterday's widely covered resignation of Mark Hurd from HP due to legations of poor judgement in the context of mixed gender relations demonstrates that some sixty years and several waves of liberations later, the interaction of men and women in the workplace is still complicated and explosive.

As the father two incredible daughters, two individuals that are every bit as capable as any male, my response to the Hurd incident is disappointment.  I am disappointed that one of the best performing CEOs in the tech industry got into this situation, and I am disappointed that my daughters may still have to deal with high profile men that will get off the elevator in fear instead of treating them as equals.

Here is the incendiary part:  that still nameless woman, who when exposed to Mark Hurd's poor judgement did not get off the elevator herself, but instead continued to dig the hole deeper and then file a harassment case -- has participated in setting back the march towards gender equality -- no matter how justified she might be.

Here is some of the coverage in the NY Times and WSJ.

Re-Entering Civiliziation

I have been out on vacation for the last couple of weeks and to my surprise was able to just about disconnect from the news stream.  Today I am reconnecting through one of my favorite activities -- reading the Sunday NY Times.  This has sparked a string of maybe a dozen blog post ideas, some of which I will just rip out here and then come back and dig into deeper in the days ahead.

What is China Going to do in Afghanistan?

China is not even in Afghanistan!  Well, the British were there a hundred years ago, and it contributed to their fall from world leadership, the Russians were there in the '80s and it drained their coffers, and we are getting humbled there now as detailed in the Wikileaks story of last week.  So could it be that China's rising star will land there next?

Waste and Corruption are the Same Thing

Following this thought, if we were to assess corruption by a the single measurement of money wasted, the US would be the most corrupt country on the planet.  The big numbers of course are: $1T on military spending and unneeded wars, $1T on the half of healthcare that makes our system cost twice as much as the next one on the list and without any incremental benefit, $1T of bail outs of banks and other institutions that don't reform, and $500B in trade deficits created by buying more from others than we can convince them to buy from us.   I am not sure how to parse the interest we pay on past debts, and undoubtedly there are many smaller numbers to add up.  So let's just call it $5 trillion wasted every year -- no one can top that!

The Internet as Border Town

From the NY Times piece on Mexico today: "In 1958, Orson Welles used the border as backdrop for his classic noir film “Touch of Evil.” (“This isn’t the real Mexico,” says the character Mike Vargas. “You know that. All border towns bring out the worst in a country."  

The story goes on to list all of the bad stuff you can do in Tijuana -- all of which you can get on the Internet quite easily: porn, sex, gambling, danger... maybe not drugs so much but I am sure if you looked hard enough you could.

Apple and Facebook are underway building the new AOLs to protect us from our attraction to a quick trip across the border for a little fun.

Alarming the Alarmists

The BP oil spill may have been avoided had the crew not disabled the alarm.  When was the last time you got up to see if the neighbors home or car alarm actually meant there was a robbery underway?  Not a day goes by without someone trying to tell us that we should pay more attention to the global temperature alarm.  Our economic indicators for GDP and unemployment are at a constant full volume. Now that we are so overloaded with alarm inputs -- how are we possibly going to focus our attention on the important things?

Often vacation is referred to as slowing down.  This high temperature re-entry into the news atmosphere leads me to believe that my vacation somehow released me from the usual confines and now I am returning to earth. 

The Demise of Large Top Down Organizations: Will China Be the Exception?

Sometime during World War II the large centrally controlled organization started to be undermined by the rise of smaller autonomous actors.  While the Americans and the Russians are still arguing over who won the war, everyone agrees that the Germans and the Japanese lost.  And they were defeated by a scattered array of small semi autonomous units from an informally coordinated group of Allies.  D day and Hiroshima were big institutional operations for sure, but the Allies made it happen, and the coordination was minimal or ineffective. 

Ever since then the large organizations has been on the decline. The world was re-ordered and marshaling the resources of an enterprise has been in rapid evolution from centralized to decentralized.

I bring this up now because evidence of this evolution is presented to us every day.  From our ineptitude in every war since WW II, to our inability to manage healthcare cost or quality, to the steady decline in the effectiveness of our education system, or our failure to regulate the financial markets and the protection of the environment, top down administration on a large scale is failing and doing so quite spectacularly.

I have a hard time imagining that China can be exempt from this trend away from large centralized institutions.  One significant contributor to their demise is their ability to deceive themselves about reality.  I don't know about Hitler, but the Japanese Emperor clearly was not getting accurate information towards the end of the war.  Later, the fall of the USSR was sudden and dramatic because those in power were deceiving the public and probably themselves too.  It would be interesting to look into how well China is doing in assessing the effectiveness of its policies.  When in complete control of the information, changing the results reported is often easier than changing the actual outcomes.  

This will be an interesting area to watch.


Seven Years to the Next Bubble Bursting?

I have posted several rants in the past about Wall Street and Washington, so now that the reform bill is reaching what appears to be its final form I suppose I should follow up.

As with just about anything anymore, these complex problems seem to require complex fixes.  I thought putting Glass Stegal back in and putting greater restrictions on publicly traded companies that trade for their own account would do the trick -- but hey -- I am definitely not an expert.

Here is a good article by Gretchen Morgenson from the Sunday NY Times that more or less boils it down.

Some good parts, some bad parts, but in the end there are still going to be banks that are too big to fail.  So set your alarm clock for seven years from now and hold on for the next round of the roller coaster.