Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Definition of War

Merriam-Webster defines war as:

1 a (1) : a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations (2) : a period of such armed conflict (3) : STATE OF WAR b : the art or science of warfare c (1) obsolete : weapons and equipment for war (2) archaic : soldiers armed and equipped for war; 2 a : a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism b : a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.

I have heard various people, politicians, and talk-show hosts maintain that the United States is not in a state of war, whether it was against Saddam's Iraq or the threat of al-Quada. According to the definition above, they are technically correct. However, I don't think that the people affected by September 11, 2001 would agree with that kind of logic.

The fact is that a terrorist organization hijacked 4 planes, crashing them into buildings occupied by ordinary citizens, our military headquarters, and possibly the seat of our government. Their aim was to cause as many casualties as possible, and create chaos within our government and financial institutions. Another intent of their actions was to inconvenience every citizen that they did not kill by interupting the airlines, and increasing the security measures that were implemented after these attacks.

There is no doubt in my mind that the United States and/or the Western world is in a state of war with a movement that has no country in which to call home (although there are countries that support them). The definition that Merriam-Webster uses does not adequately describe the state of conflict that the modern world finds itself in. War is traditionally fought between two or more nations - today's war is now being fought between nations and groups of terrorists who are nothing more than thugs and hate groups.

These terrorists range from disgruntled political groups to religious zealots (and I think some of them are a little of both). Hezbollah and Hamas have the mission statement to distroy Israel. I understand that al-Qaeda was originally started by bin Laden to protest the Saudi kingdom's close ties with the United States, and now supposedly has added a "religious" angle to strike against the American infidels. Radical Islamic countries (like Iran) & clerics stir up their people into religious fervors to reclaim Islamic lands and to turn the world into one of where Islamic law prevails.

There is more to the struggle against these groups than just 9/11. The United States has been attacked before by these groups. The attack on the Marine barracks and US Embassy in Beruit in 1983 has been linked to Hezbollah. The bombings of the USS Cole and other embassies, nightclubs of where US servicemen and civilians gather, and other various acts of terror not reported (because they are not spectacular enough for the evening news) are just scratching the surface of the danger and horror these groups represent.

No, this isn't a war by the dictionary definition - this is a battle, a fight to the finish, one of where it's either going to be us or them that will prevail. If they win, think of the consequences of losing all the freedoms that we enjoy in this country - freedom of speech, of religion, of dress (within reason), of trial by a jury of our peers, and other rights guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. If we win, we keep those freedoms.

Because of this struggle to keep our way of life guaranteed by the principles that this country is founded upon, I believe that the definition of war should include the conflicts between nations (governments) and terrorist groups. This is a battle for survival, is it not? That's usually what wars are ultimately fought for - the loser loses their country and/or way of life.

And now something to ponder...

The fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is less than two weeks away. Is the world a safer place? In some respects I think so. Plots have been foiled, but attacks have also been carried out against other countries. Thankfully, no other attacks have occurred here in the United States, and I pray that our law enforcement & intelligence agencies keep up their excellent work. But that is no consolation to the thousands of victims of these groups.

Take time to pause & reflect during the time leading up to 9/11, and count your blessings that we live in the greatest country on Earth, despite it's faults. We enjoy rights and freedoms that no other country even dares to grant its citizens. We enjoy standards of living that even most of our poor would be the wealthy in other countries. We have the opportunities, if we take the risks, to be able to succeed (or fail) through hard work, perseverance, and sometimes, luck. For the most part, our medical system can't be beat. So the next time you want to grouse & bitch about this country as a whole, remember the previous statements, and thank God that you live here instead of there. Because if you lived there, you wouldn't be reading this, and that's why we must win the battle (or the war) against terrorism.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Defeating Terrorism - Part 3

This is the third part of a series that will explore what needs to be done in order to defeat terrorism.

Security

The 9/11 Commission recommended, wisely, that the Federal government take care of these border security problems to ensure the safety of our country - Jack Kingston

I heard an interesting but disconcerting fact a couple of days ago: On the Canadian / US border, the US Border Patrol will accept over 6000 forms of identification for admittance to the United States. Who can reasonably be expected identify a valid ID from so many documents? Not your average person!!

Security of the borders is not an immigration issue. Rather, it is an obligation of our elected officials mandated by the Consititution to secure this country from its enemies. And we have enemies in spades!

Just one week ago I heard on the radio that sheriffs in Texas are warning about Middle-Eastern men learning Spanish and sneaking across the border. Is there any doubt that some of these people are terrorists? Not in my mind.

For us to be safe, the United States must regain control of its borders NOW!! It doesn't do any good to track down people if they can cross the borders almost at will in order to evade the authorities. Our elected officials must get off their collective butts and produce the funding & manpower to secure this country from maniacs who wish to do us, the citizens of this country, great harm. A few suggestions, of course...

1) Seal up the borders so that even a jack-rabbit can't get through without being observed and apprehended. Electronic surveillance only goes so far - we need people out there that can take quick & decisive action and nail these people before they can do anything.

2) To exit or enter the country, restrict the number of documents allowed from 6000 to 1. Yes, I'm talking about every US traveler to a foreign land uses a passport leave and re-enter the country. Yes, they can be expensive, but if you really want to go to Canada to smoke those Cubans, you had better get one. And most countries in the world will insist that you have one.

3) Monitor the ports, airports, and any other places of entry into this country for people and/or materials trying to sneak in. Restrictive & time-consuming - yes. Necessary in this world - I think so, considering the consequences.

4) Use the intelligence that has been gathered to protect ourselves from the plans of these terrorists. Implement new security protocols when new avenues of attack are discovered ahead of time instead of after. For instance - cockpit doors being more difficult to enter from the passenger compartment was put into place after 9/11, not before.

Now I know that I'm not a security expert, but it seems that the above should be a minimum to keep the bad guys out. At least that's what my common sense is telling me...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Business Buzzwords

CNNMoney recently asked readers to write in about the business buzzwords they found most annoying. Here's the results:

  • New paradigm and its evil twin, "paradigm shift"
  • On the same page. 78 readers wrote to say they would be happy never to hear anyone say this again. Ever.
  • Value proposition. "What is this exactly, and why does everything have to have one?" wonders Valerie.
  • Core competencies. "If I hear the head of my division use this phrase one more time, I'm going to throw something at him," writes Jim. "Something heavy." Yikes. Division heads everywhere, you've been warned.
  • Bottom line when it refers "not to an entry on a financial statement but to a conclusion the speaker wants to force you to accept."
  • Shooting someone an e-mail or firing off an e-mail
  • A challenge or an issue, when what the speaker really means is a problem
  • No-brainer
  • "At the end of the day..." to start every other sentence
  • Hit the ground running.
  • Touch base
  • Going forward, as in, "Going forward, let's try not to use so many dumb clich├ęs." Wonders Dave M: "What else would we do? Go back in time?" As if!
  • Win-win.
  • Mission-critical. Some hate this expression because it is frequently used to imply that one person's contribution to a project is less important than someone else's. Others, meanwhile, just think it sounds pretentious when businesspeople talk as if they were flying the Space Shuttle.
  • Thought leader.
  • Reference used as a verb, as in, "Please reference page 12 in your training guide."
  • Ping, as in "I'll ping you on this when I hear back from legal."
  • There is no "I" in "team." Some are so weary of hearing this, they've taken to snapping, "But there is an 'M', and look! An 'E'!"
  • Radar screen, as in, "I'd like to get on your radar screen for a meeting next week." Asks Oliver, "What are we, air traffic controllers?"
  • Bleeding edge
  • Keep me posted
  • Circle back, as in, "I'm just circling back to you on this."
  • Cheerleader, as in calling oneself a cheerleader for a project or goal at work.
  • One off. This is a comparatively new figure of speech frequently used to mean "privately," as in, "You and I will talk about this one off, after the meeting." It is also apparently why, according to many readers, nothing gets decided in meetings anymore.

Anyone have their favorite buzzword?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Defeating Terrorism - Part 2

This is the second part of a series that will explore what needs to be done in order to defeat terrorism.

Intelligence

As demonstrated just this past week, intelligence can play a key role in defeating terrorist acts. The interception of terrorists with plans to bring down as many as ten planes on trans-Atlantic flights should prove the worth of such information.

Intelligence can be obtained in a variety of ways. Satellite observation, electronic signal interception (radio & Internet), banking records, phone records, and informants (among others) have all been used by this country and others in cooperation to gather intelligence on terrorist activities. This information reveals the who, what , and where of the terrorist's activities. This results in finding out who the leaders are, where they might be along with their supplies, what their plans are, and when is the best time to find them at certain places before they commit their horrific deeds.

Now before any Liberal (and other assorted moonbat) readers of this post get their panties in a twist about "illegal surveillance" and other related subjects, lets get something straight - we give the government far more information on our tax return than what they would find in any investigation of terrorist activities (unless you are a terrorist). The intelligence activities discussed here are focused on overseas phone & bank accounts, and target non-citizens of the United States, and as such, the the best of my understanding, do not fall under United States criminal codes. Past practices of intelligence gathering have been far more intrusive to the United States citizen, and some would say, Draconian in nature (think of Hoover and the Cold War). Finally, I did a post on the NSA's activities that involved communications intelligence on foreign nationals.

Just as important is the control of information that is released about what threat has been found and how it was discovered. This supplies the terrorists with knowledge so that they can change their habits or activities to avoid being discovered. Thus, the activities surrounding the gathering of information must be kept secret

Unfortunately, our media has not helped the effort in keeping intelligence activities undercover. A post written back on 2/3/06 titled Media for Who? explored this topic with events leading up to that time. Among the more recent disclosures by the media include the tracking of overseas banking records and pattern recognition of phone records. There is evidence that after this information was made public, the terrorists that were being tracked changed their habits, cleaned out their bank accounts, changed to untraceable cell phones, and disappeared.

Let's see if we can do this the smart way...

Intelligence on terrorists can be gathered without violating anyone's "rights," either real or imagined. The perfect example of this is pattern matching. Any data can be analyzed without identifying tags. If a pattern emerges, then a warrant can be obtained (if necessary) to match the data with a name/address/phone number. There are other methods, some hi-tech, some not so hi-tech, which would also provide information, but will not be presented here (how do I know you're not a terrorist?).

Intelligence can also be shared between countries. This has been done between the United States and Great Britain for years. Other countries like Pakistan have also forwarded information that has resulted in arrests & convictions.

All of the above cannot be effective if our enemy knows what we are doing. The old adage "Loose lips sink ships" is very appropriate. Our media must learn to not disclose information that can be used by the terrorists. This includes what programs our intelligence agencies are using, and what methods are being employed to obtain information. However, I begin to wonder if they will ever exercise self-control.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The State of Education

With school starting up in about a month, I thought it was time to post this one...

Before I go on, I want to publically state that I absolutely admire teachers and school systems that do not sink to the status quo, but encourage their students to achieve excellence in their quest for an education. To the rest of the teachers & school systems that constantly lower standards so that more students will graduate high school, but cannot fill out a simple job application, shame!!

Consider, if you will, the following letter to the soldiers serving in Iraq (punctuation & grammer have been kept intact):

Dear Soldiers,

I hope that yall find that Osama bin ladin because he did stuff that I could not imagin so you might think I'm stupid but I made it to forth grade so I mak A's and B's to there.

You friend, Bowen

The above was among letters from children collected by a teacher in Pontotoc, Mississippi. This letter, along with others, are to be published in a book.

And if the above wasn't enough, consider the comments made by Bill Gates in a speech last year to a meeting of state Governors:

When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education - and we looked at the damaging impact that has on their lives - we came to a painful conclusion:

America's high schools are obsolete.

By obsolete, I don't just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded - though a case could be made for every one of those points.

By obsolete, I mean that our high schools - even when they're working exactly as designed - cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.

Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today's computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. It's the wrong tool for the times.

Our high schools were designed fifty years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting - even ruining - the lives of millions of Americans every year.

Today, only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship.

The other two-thirds, most of them low-income and minority students, are tracked into courses that won't ever get them ready for college or prepare them for a family-wage job - no matter how well the students learn or the teachers teach.

This isn't an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system.

Let's be clear. Thanks to dedicated teachers and principals around the country, the best-educated kids in the United States are the best-educated kids in the world. We should be proud of that. But only a fraction of our kids are getting the best education.

Once we realize that we are keeping low-income and minority kids out of rigorous courses, there can be only two arguments for keeping it that way - either we think they can't learn, or we think they're not worth teaching. The first argument is factually wrong; the second is morally wrong.

Everyone who understands the importance of education; everyone who believes in equal opportunity; everyone who has been elected to uphold the obligations of public office should be ashamed that we are breaking our promise of a free education for millions of students.

For the sake of our young people and everyone who will depend on them - we must stop rationing education in America.

I'm not here to pose as an education expert. I head a corporation and a foundation. One I get paid for - the other one costs me. But both jobs give me a perspective on education in America, and both perspectives leave me appalled.

When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow. In math and science, our 4th graders are among the top students in the world. By 8th grade, they're in the middle of the pack.

By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations.

We have one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world. Many who graduate do not go onto college. And many who do go on to college are not well-prepared - and end up dropping out. That is one reason why the U.S. college dropout rate is also one of the highest in the industrialized world. The poor performance of our high schools in preparing students for college is a major reason why the United States has now dropped from first to fifth in the percentage of young adults with a college degree.

The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind.

What has happened to the billions upon billions of dollars literally given without question to the education lobbies? We certainly are not getting out money's worth, so where is it going? I think I know...

Take, for instance, the Mission Statement at my son's high school:

"The mission of ABC High School is to teach for understanding so that all students learn for a lifetime. In this task, a positive learning environment will be continually promoted, evaluated, and adjusted in order to provide opportunity for achievement and self-esteem."

Awwwww - doesn't that just give you a warm feeling? They care about your child's self-esteem, will not bruise his or her ego, and make sure that the environment that they will (hopefully) learn in will be encouraging. What about being held to an educational standard? Oops, can't do that - it's not in the mission statement! But I digress...

Here in Michigan, the charter school & private school initiatives were met with great opposition by the teacher's union, stating that these schools wouldn't live up to their expectations. In fact, the reverse was true - students were learning and excelling.

The problem is that there have been low expectations of the students for so many reasons, and to expect them to learn by osmosis is ridiculous! No wonder many colleges now offer remedial classes in English & Math.

Teachers Unions hold our children hostage, but that is not the fault of the teachers. Teachers want job security (who doesn't?), but the Unions have a lot of power in protecting those teachers who are ineffectual or do not teach the subject at hand (remember the geography teacher by the name of Bennit who went on a rant in Colorado?) After all, who wants to oppose a group of people making statements that the extra funding is "for the children"?

The curriculum and grading system has been skewed to the politically correct of where failing students do not receive a failing grade so that their feelings would not be hurt and their self-esteem lowered. Anyone who looks at a Bell curve knows that some will fail, some will pass, and some will excel. Those who fail or are failing need help, and not drag down the rest of the class with them.

The point is that the public school systems have been reduced to glorified baby-sitters where they are afraid of not passing students who don't measure up. Having sat through many individual parent-teacher conferences, most of the teachers that I have met are more concerned with keeping order and a positive atmosphere than they are about teaching the subject. Even then, because of lawsuits & whatever, the standards of passing are reduced to the point of where almost everyone passes providing they make an effort (like showing up & putting their name on the test paper - I kid you not!!) The result is that these children go through their school life getting their ego stroked, never really being held to a standard, and when they don't measure up in real life, take the classic "it's not my fault" mentality, and blame someone else for them not succeeding. Sound familiar?

The simplified solution is for there to be a national standard for both students and teachers. For the students that don't pass, they should be held back a grade or go to a remedial or summer school to catch up. For the teachers that don't measure up, then the standard 3 strikes and you're out policy should apply - get your act together or find another job. For those students that pass, then they advance to the next grade. For those teachers that pass, they keep their jobs. For those students that excel, then financial credits toward a college education could be the reward. For teachers that excel, pay raise and/or extra funding for their class/school. And to prevent any "cheating," an independant board to conduct the testing and evaluations. (And yes, I do understand Mr. Gate's position on getting the minority & poor educated. This should not only be a concern, but a priority. How else can the cycle of poverty and ignorance be broken? It will be achieved by effort, not by throwing more money at the problem.)

Parents - encourage & help your children to learn and meet your children's teachers. Teachers - raise your standards no matter what your districts say your minimums are. School administrators - don't settle for mediocracy, but encourage your students and your teachers toward excellence. Just remember - Today's students are tomorrow's leaders (and caregivers!).

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Defeating Terrorism - Part 1

This is the first part of a series that will (hopefully) explore what needs to be done in order to defeat terrorism.

Unity

The first item on the list that needs to be done is establish Unity. No, this is not holding hands, chanting "Oooooommmmmm" and being one with the universe. Rather, this is having a common national direction from the citizens of the United States and the elected representatives to our Government.

I look back to the days immediately following 9/11, where both political parties and the population were united in our desire to find, punish, & destroy the terrorist organization that inflicted such damage & casualties upon this country. I wondered at that time how long that desire, that single-mindedness was going to last. I didn't have to wait for long for the political opportunists to start their misinformation and spin campaigns.

What happened? Where did the desire, the "fire in the belly" go to? I have a few thoughts on this.

In one nutshell, the Democrat Liberals want power. They are desperate to show that the current Administration is inept, and cannot bring this war to a quick and successful conclusion. Of course, the Conservative Republicans want to hold on to the power that they have, and fight back with counter-claims that the opposition doesn't have a plan, as no idea what is at stake, and is out of touch with the wishes of the common man. It does not matter what facts have been presented or proven to show that (in my opinion) the current course of action is correct, the political war continues within our government. Political infighting is costly in more than one way.

In another nutshell, the average citizen has the attention span of a gnat. Our entertainment media has conditioned us to believe that crimes can be solved in an hour, Dr. Phil can mend a relationship in ten minutes, and a new American Idol can be selected in a matter of weeks. Mention that a war against terror will last years, and there is absolutely no comprehension. "Why can't we (the US) get this done & over with?" is the most common question I hear from various people.

Another nutshell is media related. Remember the videos of the first Iraq war? How many of us were facinated by bombs dropping on a certain building or bridge? How neat & clean was that? War in recent times has been shown to be relatively bloodless and extremely high-tech. I will be one of the first people to tell you that wars are far from bloodless, and technology has just made the battlefield all that much more deadly. Again, the general public has no idea that war involves bloody death until those pictures are shown on the nightly news (or every half-hour on CNN's Headline News).

The end result of the above examples is that our attention is diverted from the goal of eliminating terrorist threats to the United States and to the world. The more attention that is given to the political arguments & sniping and to the defense of those arguments is less attention given to defeating terrorist activities. For the average citizen to not understand that this war against terrorism is real and not a TV show subtracts from the long-term will to get the job done.

The problem is that this country is not fighting against another country as in World War II, but against a shadowy, unknown adversary who does not have a country. Rather, it is an ideology that most people have either no understanding of or faulty information about. It is incomprehensible for most people to understand that there are a bunch of radical people out there that want to destroy their way of life and them even after 9/11.

Bottom line: The politicians and the citizens of this country need to understand that this enemy will not go away by themselves. We must be committed from the highest government positions to the most humble citizen to defending this country from the threat of terrorism. And that is the first step in defeating terrorism.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Useless Nations

It is a little interesting that the United Nations is calling on the United States to intercede in the Israel / Hezbollah conflict. Why? Isn't that what they are supposed to do - intercede & be a mediator to nations or groups in conflict?

Apparently not. They have done nothing to mediate or otherwise take an active role in stopping the conflict. On the other hand, they like to send UN Peacekeepers (as observers) to these areas. And what do they do? Nothing except get themselves killed. They are not authorized to defend themselves nor to stop anyone from committing "war crimes" or some other nonsense. Indeed, in other areas of the world, these "Peacekeepers" are part of the problem. They have turned a blind eye to theft, rape, & murder, and have been known to participate in these activities. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The real theft is by the "representatives" to the UN. Kofi Annan's son has been implicated in the "Oil for Food" scandal, and he isn't exactly clean from this incident either. Other countries have used the UN as a front for their own illicit activities. That shouldn't be surprising since most of the representatives from these third world backwater nations are representing despots, dictators, and otherwise not very nice people. How many billions of dollars have gone into the pockets of our enemies?

What is also infuriating (at least to me) is that any time a problem comes up (like the Israel / Hezbollah conflict) is that they expect the US to come riding in like the good guy in the white hat to take care of the problem after they complain and condemn the US!

Personally, I think that the US should stay out of the negotiating business altogether. Let Israel finish the job of wiping out a common enemy. If the Useless Nations wants to broker a peace, let them do it on their own if it's so damn important to them.

After all, it will be good practice for them when Iran gets the bomb, puts it on a missle, and drops it somewhere in Europe because someone published another Mohammed cartoon...