Good Company

Good Company
Good Company

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sea Shepherds Get Tagged as "Pirates" - Remain Idiots at Sea

The up-to-now almost consequence free "international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization" Sea Shepherd International, better known on these pages as "Idiots at Sea" (see e.g, here), have a court decision identifying them as "pirates".

Which, in the great scheme of things, shouldn't be too surprising to the SSI, as it is a label they have long applied to themselves, see here, albeit as "pirates of compassion."

Did the 9th Circuit get it right? I think so. You can read about other views at Lawfare's Ninth Circuit Calls Sea Shepherd Actions “Piracy” and the links therein.

Oh, and "Captain" Watson - well, he is already on the run with two Interpol "Red Notices" against him (see Sea Shepherd leader arrested - attempted murder), as the SSI crowd seeks funding to find him a "safe haven":
There are two active Interpol Red Notices issued against Captain Watson at the request of Costa Rica and Japan. Underlying these notices are non-lethal acts in defense of marine life suffering from illegal shark fishing and whaling operations. The warrants are politically motivated.
You know, "attempted murder" is almost always "non-lethal" - otherwise the charge would be "murder."

Frankly, I have been surprised that the pursuit of this organization has not included charges of terrorism. Of course, that probably wouldn't go over well with some of the famous people who fund this piracy - since it could result in the seizure of their assets as supporters of terrorism (see here). Former Secretary of State Clinton suggested nabbing the assets of Somali pirates under some theory of law - one that could be applied to the assets of Sea Shepherds International, I suppose.

I wonder if SSI could be considered a "criminal enterprise?"

Even better is the possibility of civil law suits against SSI and its funders . . .

Paul Watson, Chief Idiot of the SSI, is unimpressed with the 9th Circuit ruling, as set out in 'Pirate' ruling irrelevant: Sea Shepherd:
SEA Shepherd founder Paul Watson has described a US judge's opinion that he is a "pirate" as one-sided and irrelevant.
Never heard the winner of a legal case complain like that.

The SSI press release on the ruling can be found here:
Clearly, this is a bad decision by the Ninth Circuit Court, but not unexpected,” said Scott West, Director of Intelligence and Investigations for Sea Shepherd U.S. “But it’s an opinion; everyone has one. We happen to agree with Judge Jones' very well articulated and reasoned opinion on the matter,” he stated.

“Beyond that, the vitriolic and grandstanding manner in which the Ninth Circuit rendered its opinion makes us seriously doubt their qualifications for making a just decision. This court is part of the problem, not the solution. Not only is there no room for such a biased and unprofessional legal opinion, they somehow have the audacity to throw a highly respected, honored judge — one of their own — under the bus in order to side with foreign interests. Is this a decision of an American court or have we somehow mistakenly landed in Japan?” West added.
Among other things, it brings up the "court of public opinion" always the last gasp of a loser. By the way, Scott West is an idiot - an appellate court opinion is not just like the opinion of the guy sitting on a bar stool next to you.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Somali Pirates: Rise and Fall of the Piracy Tide

Thanks to our friends at the IMB's Live Piracy Map, we have a chance to review the rise and fall of the Somali piracy tide.

What follows is a little over 7 year look at the impact of the pirates in the offshore Somalia region and in the Indian Ocean area writ large:

It took some time for the response to catch up with the threat to the sea lanes - for navies to deploy, to create a structure, to organize convoys, plan and carry out interdiction and for the use of armed guards on merchant ships to take effect.

A rather dramatic effect.

Will it last?

Let's hope.

For those of you needing a primer or refresher on sea lanes or sea lines of communications, you might go here or here or here from whence the following graphics on sea highways came:

Blue arrows point to major choke points

One day's ship traffic as seen from space

An overlay I created of pirate attacks on traveled sea lanes in Feb 2011

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Gasoline prices? "More regulation is, in fact, not always good"

Oil and Gas Journal editor speaks on the rise in the price of gas at the pump, which may become permanent. Watch this boringly titled piece "More gasoline price elevation due from Tier 3 regulation":

The regulatory scheme meant to assure air quality has long since passed the "low hanging fruit" and have now moved into the "great cost, low impact" zone.

UPDATE: Nice following editorial "Fright in perspective":
Fright is the go-to tool of environmental activism. When pressure groups want to stifle something—oil well drilling, pipeline construction, whatever—they first arouse fear about the activity among local populations. Then they besiege public officials with their coalition of the frightened.
Industrial societies must be able to assess the industrial activity central to their progress with informed judgment. Those too easily frightened lose that ability and too readily foreswear work.
Rumors of ghoulies and ghosties have long been used to keep people scared - and under control.
If you don't think so, try telling the "true believers" you are a man-made global warming agnostic.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

On Midrats 2-17-13: Episode 163: February Free For All

Join us at 5pm 17 Feb 13 for Episode 163: February Free For All :
Change is in the air as we look at sequester, a new SecDef, France in North Africa, preparing for the last fighting season in Afghanistan, and what looks like a long decade of budget stress.

Is this a pivot-point of opportunity, or just a winter of our naval discontent?

No guests, no set agenda - open floor and open phones. No one but Sal from "CDR Salamander" and EagleOne from "EagleSpeak" for the full hour. If there is a topic you want discussed, call in or roll it in to the chat room.
Listen live (or pick it up later) here or even later from our iTunes page.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Move Over Iran, I've Got A Super Airplane, Too!

Iran recently announced a really, really, really special new airplane that boggles the mind. In fact, it is so technologically superior that many so-called Western "experts" who have worked in the airplane making business cannot figure out how it can propel itself off the ground, or as one source puts it US defense experts unimpressed by alleged Iranian Qaher-313 stealth fighter:
"Anyone can build a mock up. I will believe it's a real jet when I see it fly," Gunzinger says. "Even if it does make it off the ground, I doubt that it will have stealth characteristics."

Goure agrees. "It looks like a prize in a Cracker Jack's box," he says.
Yes, it's a Prize!

Well, I have a prize, too!

Here is a really real pilot standing next to my Super Airplane which I built in my den secret development base deep within a super secret location.

It took some time to perfect those reverse wings, but it was worth the effort, just ask the folks at Grumman who brought out the X-29.

Of course, my cockpit control are more like that of the X-29, instead of the off-the-shelf stuff the Iranians used in their plane. I think mine looks cooler and less like Piper Cub controls.

X-29 Cockpit

Iran F-113 Cockpit with secret source of instrument revealed.

Piper Cub Controls (those were simpler times)

You want flying pictures? Well, here's a really cool photo of the Iranian plane (just ignore the jealous allegations of Photoshoppery made at places like this):

And here's an image, just as real as the Iranian's, of my plane flying:

My plane over NYC

Grumman X-29 Flying (which has little to do with this post, but looks cool)

State of the Union

I hear the president gave a speech last night.

What I've read looks like lecture leftovers.

As a pre-Valentine's Day treat, my wife and I opted for fresh food at a local restaurant where the entertainment was a harpist.

Playing jazz.

The wine was good, the company excellent (just the two of us) and the meal was just right.

Had a good time.

Without a lecture.

And the harpist?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Navy Playing with the Stiletto

U. S. Navy photo

Well, there is this image from here of the M Ship Company's Stiletto "boat" doing stuff with the Navy.

You might remember Stiletto from an earlier post of mine A real littoral combat ship goes to sea with an Army crew or perhaps the discussion of the hull form from Sunday Ship History: Hickman's Sea Sleds .

Be that as it may, the U.S. Navy is playing with Stiletto as set out here and here:
The Stiletto Maritime Demonstration Program kicked off its first Capability Demonstration with the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) off the Virginia coast near Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va.

The demonstration provided NECC Sailors — and 15 industry partners — an opportunity to evaluate products in a realistic maritime environment.

Simulated small boat threats pass by the high-speed experimental boat Stiletto so Sailors assigned to Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) can observe new technologies in a relevant maritime environment. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
The Stiletto Maritime Demonstration Program team launches and 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boat from the high-speed experimental boat Stiletto. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
So, what's it doing? Testing concepts spelled out by NAVSEA here:
Rapidly transition advanced technologies to higher Technology Readiness Levels through flexible installation and demonstration in maritime operational environments

Transition ship, air & land-based C4I capabilities to small craft to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness
Data links to offboard sea, air, and land assets
Leverage existing Stiletto sensor, computer, and network
Unmanned / Autonomous asset launch and recovery
Reduce crew injury and fatigue
Small boat launch and recovery operations
That "unmanned/autonomous" stuff? From the right hand side of the page, "Launch and Retrieve 11m RHIB, UUVs, UAVs." Which explains the photo below, showing a UAV launch/retrieval system mounted on the stern:

Probably won't get a photo of the UUV thing.

More from the RFI for this "capability demonstration":
Stiletto, a maritime demonstration platform, serves as a technology demonstration tool for industry, Government, and academic organizations. It provides an opportunity to learn and to improve systems as they function in an at-sea environment and raise a system’s Technology Readiness Level (TRL). The Stiletto program’s physical infrastructure consists of the high speed Stiletto craft with a Command Information Center (CIC), Launch and Recovery (L&R) for an 11M Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), arch space for sensor installation, flight deck for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) L&R, and electronic network infrastructure with wide band satellite communications (SATCOM), along with an 11M NSW RIB with unmanned capability. Both the craft and its systems were designed to be flexible, modular, and re-configurable to enable near “plug-and-play” installation. The Stiletto crew includes engineers and technicians with expertise in multiple maritime technology areas. The crew can provide engineering assistance to integrate systems aboard the craft and to help develop demonstration plans to achieve technical goals.

Electronics Technician 2nd Class Jason Rhodes, assigned to Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, gets familiar with technology controls and interfaces of the high-speed experimental boat Stiletto. (U.S. Navy photo)


Friday, February 08, 2013

On the Feb 10, 2103 Midrats: Episode 162 - Air Diplomacy, Air-Sea Battle, and the PAC Pivot

USAF photo
Please join CDR Salamander and me on February 10, 2013 at 5pm Eastern U.S. for "Episode 162: Air Diplomacy, Air-Sea Battle, and the PAC Pivot":

As we shift from ground combat in Asia and reset to a more natural position of a naval and aerospace power, are we thinking correctly on how to best leverage our resources and strengths?

Photo: Lockheed Martin
How should we be using sea power and air power to create the right effects during peace, yet be poised to have the best utility at war?

Are there concepts, habits, and systems that have had their time and should be moved aside for newer tools and ideas?

Photo: MDA
Our guest for the full hour will be Dr. Adam Lowther, Senior Fellow at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, DC.

He is the author of numerous books and articles on national security topics and previously served in the US Navy.
Join us live if you can here or download or listen to the show later here or on our iTunes page here.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Blizzard Possiblity

Good golly - if you live in the threat area,please take some precautions to get ready for a blizzard - and lessen your chances of freezing in the dark without food and water - Winter Storm Nemo:
The heaviest snow totals by early Sunday morning are expected in New England from coastal Maine to Connecticut, as well as the Adirondacks of Upstate New York, where over one foot of snow is expected! Some locations, particularly in coastal New England, may top two feet of storm total snow!
Gotta! Love! The exclamations!

Food and water for five days, a heat source that won't kill you . . . and is not dependent on the grid. LED lights. Batteries. A crank type radio.

Hunker down. Stay off the roads.

Be smart.

The Voter ID Debate Part 2

As set out in a previous post here, the local Federalist Society hosted a discussion of the pending North Carolina voter I.D. law which is an attempt to make sure the person in the voting booth is who they say they are.

I attended the sometime testy discussion, as did Barry Smith, a reporter for Carolina Journal Online (CJO), who filed an report of the event, "Voter ID Under Microscope At Raleigh Forum"

Who is in that voting booth?
Is adopting a law requiring photo identification for North Carolinians to vote a common sense solution to voter fraud that has become – unnecessarily – highly politicized?

Or is it an effort that would put an undue burden on North Carolinian's’ right to vote, a burden that would disproportionately affect the poor and minorities?

Both views were put forth Wednesday during a panel discussion on voter ID sponsored by the Raleigh Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society.

Two proponents of voter ID laws – John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky – took the position that such laws protect the integrity of the ballot and do not pose an undue burden on a citizen’s right to vote.

Two opponents of such laws – Bob Hall and Allison Riggs – disagreed, questioning the need for such a law and arguing that it, along with other changes to voting laws, would make voting less accessible.

Von Spakovsky and Fund argued facts, often referring to the situation following Georgia's passage and implementation of a voter ID law (minority participation up in subsequent years) and questioning the assertions of Hall and Riggs that the law would exclude certain classes of people.

As mentioned in the CJO piece, Hall went on a little trip down memory lane back to the bad old days of the 1960's (I think) when the exclusion of black voters at the hands of the majority Democratic Party affiliated local governments was a disgrace. 50 years later- well, Mr. Hall's best argument was that most voting fraud occurs in absentee balloting and that he was unclear on how a voter ID law would change that. That is a very good question.

Ms. Riggs disputed some of the statistics cited by Fund and von Spakovsky and kept arguing that a law that required citizens to have to travel up to 90 miles round trip to the place to get a valid voter ID was unduly burdensome on the poor and etc.

All of which prompted me to wonder why the organizations fighting voter ID so hard are not out there spending money and time to make sure each voter living so far from his or her local elections office is not provided with transportation and assistance to get the documents needed to get a voter ID (like birth certificate, for example).

Mr. Hall suggested at one point some sort of polling are "affidavit" in lieu of voter ID in which a person would swear under oath they are who they say they are. Now, let's see, I come into vote fraudulently in the name of a dead person (for example) - and then, falsely swear that I am that dead person so that I can vote. How on earth are we going to track down who was that person committing the fraud? Seems like a bad idea to me.

Mr. Fund suggested that mandating voter ID was actually doing a "favor" those who currently lack a photo ID since it could open up the world of travel, access to government buildings, bank accounts and government services that require such an ID. I kept wondering how a plaintiff who lacked an ID could get into a federal courthouse for a hearing since all courthouses now seem to require a photo ID (as do most state courthouse, too) which may explain why such plaintiffs are hard to find.

It all continues to point out the difficult balancing act between the state's power to set the rules on voting (there is no federal voting "right")to insure voting integrity (one living person, one vote, one time per election) and insuring that all eligible voters can cast votes.

Ms. Riggs used the term "cost-benefit" during her time in favor of fewer controls (as in "too little fraud to justify this "high cost" effort to mandate IDs") - which was countered by a member of the audience suggesting that the countering of legitimate votes by fraudulent votes was also destructive to the "right to vote."

John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky have a book on voting issues Who's Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk.

Fish Stories Part 2: World Aquaculture Background

The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization reports at Fisheries and Aquaculture:
Fish harvest in China -Courtesy of FAO Aquaculture Photo Library
Aquaculture, probably the fastest growing food-producing sector, now accounts for nearly 50 percent of the world's food fish.
The two leading aquaculture nations are China and India.

Naturally, there are concerns that aquaculture (both inland (freshwater) and "mariculture"(ocean/littoral) be conducted in an environmentally sustainable/responsible/friendly manner - as the World Wildlife Foundation argues in the following video:

As set out in FAO's THE STATE OF WORLD FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE 2012 (pdf),at number page 3, Asia accounts for 2/3 of fish consumption with Africa last on that list. From that same reference:
Bangladesh Carp Harvest -Courtesy of FAO Aquaculture Photo Library
"Capture" refers to non-farmed fish. Inland refers, essentially, to freshwater fish, marine to saltwater fish.

A couple of other important tables from the FAO 2012 report:

India Fish Harvest- Courtesy of FAO Aquaculture Photo Library
China, India, Vietnam,Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Thailand lead the world, with China far out in front. Norway is the sole Western nation in the top ten.

The leading fish produced in China, India and Bangladesh are varieties of carp, often considered a "trash" fish in Western cultures:
Production of freshwater fishes has always been dominated by carps (71.9 percent,24.2 million tonnes, in 2010). Among carps, 27.7 percent are non-fed filter-feeders and the rest are fed with low-protein feeds. Production of tilapias has a wide distribution, and 72 percent are raised in Asia (particularly in China and Southeast Asia), 19 percent in Africa, and 9 percent in America. Viet Nam dominates production of omnivorous Pangasius catfishes although there are other producers, such as Indonesia and Bangladesh. World production of Pangasius catfish may be understated
because booming production in India has yet to be reflected in statistics. In 2010, Asia accounted for 73.7 percent of the production of other catfish species, America took its share to 13.5 percent (with channel catfish production), leaving 12.3 percent of production in Africa (dominated by North African catfish). Carnivorous species such as perches, basses and snakeheads accounted for only 2.6 percent of all freshwater fish produced in 2010.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Fish Stories: A New EagleSpeak Series on Aquaculture

Back in August 2012, I decided I would work on a new series concerning aquaculture. Events, however, intervened (as events are wont to do). 

Now it is time to really kick off this series.

What follows is a re-posting of that earlier post:

There are billions of people on this planet and they need to be fed.

We farm the land and we provide grains and animals for harvest. But those grains and animals are land, feed and water intensive.

Animals produce waste and methane, one of those "greenhouse" gases.

Yikes, Malthus seems to be rising from the grave. Except, of course, that there may be some more efficient ways to feed the masses before we turn to Soylent Green. This is the first post in a new series of posts about aquaculture, which may be one of those ways.

If it seems strange to find this topic on a maritime security blog, well, food security is one aspect of national security and protecting the delivery of food from the sea - that's a maritime security issue.

Let's begin then, with a video that the National Aquaculture Association has kindly given me permission to embed - a primer on aquaculture, if you will:

The Voter ID Debate

In a couple of days the local Federalist Society is hosting a lunch time panel on "The Impact of Voter ID in North Carolina."


Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow/Manager, Civil Justice Reform Initiative, The Heritage Foundation
Bob Hall, Executive Director, Democracy North Carolina
Allison Riggs, Staff Attorney, Voting Rights, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
John Fund, National Affairs Columnist, National Review

Democracy North Carolina is one of those "impartial" entities that doesn't seem to have a good handle on what either "nonpartisan" or "impartial" means. By way of example, here's a "Voter ID Fact Sheet" that they have on their website:

Now, lets just do a little fact check - read the part under the section title "Hidden Costs." Yes, the very first sentence reads:
Even if voters who currently lack ID were given free ID, they still have to pay for the legal documents needed to get ID, such as a birth certificate or social security card. (emphasis added)
Say, just how much did you pay for your Social Security card?

Last time I checked, those things were free.


A gift from the the American people to me and to you.

So, now, here's a question we lawyers always hope to ask of the other side, "Well, now, Mr. DNC, if you got this major fact wrong on your little "fact sheet" why should we trust the rest of your stuff?"

Southern Coalition for Social Justice also opposes Voter ID's,
We strive to link claims for minority representation with claims for fuller participation by all citizens. For example, voter ID requirements hinder effective participation by numerous groups, including the elderly and persons with disabilities.
How exactly do voter ID requirements do that?

I really want to know.

I will be attending this event.

I'll let you know if my questions get answered.

Oh, and that goofy "driver's license" at the top? One of the accepted forms of identification needed to use the UNC - Chapel Hill Health Services Library.

One more thing. Wait until these folks face the direct deposit mandate and need a photo id to start a bank account.

Monday, February 04, 2013

West Africa Pirates: French tanker, 17 crew grabbed off Ivory Coast

Reported as Pirates seize French tanker, 17 crew off Ivory Coast
Suspected Nigerian pirates have hijacked a French-owned Luxembourg-flagged tanker along with its 17-member crew off Ivory Coast, Ivorian officials and the International Maritime Bureau said on Monday.

The Gulf of Guinea area is second only to the waters off Somalia for piracy and there has been a spate of violent attacks in vessels in recent days, prompting the bureau to issue a security alert for the region.

The Gascogne was the second vessel to be seized off Ivory Coast in less than three weeks and the first to have been taken so far from shore.
© Victor Cadelina, Jr.

From the ICC IMB Live Piracy Map, a couple of images of the location of this most recent attack (Map1) and the Gulf of Guinea attack this far in 2013 (Map 2):

Map 1

Map 2

An interesting comparison of West African pirates to those operating off East Africa (read Somalia) at West African piracy: different but the same…. which links to :
Reports from East African (Somali) piracy hijackings typically describe hostage situations lasting for long periods of time to negotiate ransom. One rarely hears about attempts to monetize the ship’s cargo. West African pirates, however, often target oil tankers—both to seek ransom and to discharge the liquid cargo for black-market sale. While successful capture may take days instead of months, pirates reportedly engage in more gratuitous violence while forcing crews to cooperate in vessel movement and product discharge against their will.

While government structures are stronger in West Africa compared to East Africa, alleged government and commercial corruption provide intelligence to pirates while inadequate counter-piracy laws complicate prosecution. Insufficient regional cooperation among Nigeria, Togo and Benin thwart interdiction of pirates in multi-jurisdictional waters. Since hijackings take place both within national territorial waters and beyond, the legal distinction between armed robbery and piracy complicates prosecution, too. West African piracy more resembles transnational organized crime with more sophisticated vessels and weapons compared to that of East Africa.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Unable to attend the 2013 USNI West Conference and Exposition in San Diego last week?

Well, you might have missed some really good information - except that you can still view some of the key presentations and panels by watching them on USNI's YouTube page and get a summary of each day's summary here.

Almost like being there except you miss the giveaways at the vendor's booth.

Also, given that Midrats has Super Bowl "Best of" going this Sunday, it's a way to get your "talking 'bout National Security" fix.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Time to Change This Problem: "Sandy Created a Black Hole of Communication"

Interesting article from Jim McKay at Emergency Management "Sandy Created a Black Hole of Communication", especially on the absence of certain "self-help" organizations that might have been useful in the pre-disaster hours:
Adam DuBrowa/ FEMA
The lessons from Sandy have been repeated over and over: Communities should be prepared to be self-sufficient for close to 10 days. That means having food, water, batteries and flashlights, among other things. Batteries were especially important during Sandy or perhaps more importantly, ways to charge them.

The challenges of Sandy emphasized the need for community leaders to become informed about how their communities can help themselves during disasters. Questions about to what degree local, state and federal agencies are responsible immediately following a disaster and which agencies or levels of government were responsible for certain services was a source of confusion for some communities.
She said that although the community understands what a nor’easter is, many residents were still at home waiting for a knock on the door. “You’re looking at a community that, from what I could see, didn’t have a strong CERT [Community Emergency Response Team],” Thompson said. “There was no FEMA, no Red Cross, no [Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster], no CERT. I don’t know who they thought was coming.”
.... “The public has a general misconception of what FEMA does,” she said. “They believe FEMA is going to come in and help in a physical way. And they don’t recognize the responsibility of the local and state [agencies] as far as who provides things.”
Under $10 radio
There's a lot of stuff in the article, but one of the keys is that people need to have radios (talking AM and FM type) that can be powered by cranking and/or solar cells. I have suggested before that a priority ought to be placed on getting small radios out to the afflicted area as soon as possible after a disaster - see "Radios for Peace" and Great minds and Communications.

The local government or the state or, as a last resort, the federal government needs to set up a broadcast channel to get useful information out to the areas affected, with translators for those communities that lack English skills (the acquisition of which really ought to be encouraged amongst our population).

Under $20 radio
For information about CERT, see here. People who are used to being catered to by their government are always in trouble with the fan gets hit.
“The preparedness materials say you should have batteries and radios, but when we arrived seven days after the storm struck, those batteries are dead,” Thompson said. Preparing for three to five days is old, and “educated” people say be prepared to be self-sufficient for 10 days," Thompson said.
Under $2 radio
Self-powered radios can be inexpensive - here's one from Radio Shack for $19.97American Red Cross Microlink FR170 Emergency Radio and a place where you can buy a radio-flashlight combo for under $10 in bulk.

Further, if you really want to go cheap - there are these ear-bud, 2 AAA battery FM radios (with light, too!) for under $2 in bulk. I got one of those once as a gift from an organization for which I do some work on occasion. It worked fine. In fact, several year later, it still works when I remember to put in batteries. And those are "retail" prices, too, so I suspect there are even cheaper paths to follow.

Federal Budgeting: "The fiscal grand canyon"

Andrew Samwick is a professor of economics at Dartmouth. While I don't  agree with everything he has to say, I do greatly respect his opinions. One of latest of these is from the Jan 6, 2013 op-ed pages of the NY Daily News: "The fiscal grand canyon", which I suggest you read in its entirety. However, there is this section I wish to highlight (emphasis added):
There are only three ways across the fiscal canyon.

First, we could address the growth in the mandatory outlays directly.

Doubtful. We have had more than 15 years of advisory councils and special commissions studying Social Security reform. All of their recommendations have fallen on deaf ears. With health care, the Congress and Presidents have intervened more often than not to increase spending — on Medicare prescription drug benefits, on Obamacare’s expansions of coverage and in delaying the implementation of the “doc fix.”

With the transition of Baby Boomers from workers supporting these programs to beneficiaries collecting from them, future prospects for reform are even more unlikely.

Second, we could cut discretionary spending to make room for the growth of mandatory outlays. Also doubtful. If Congress and the President lost their nerve to implement the 10% cuts to discretionary outlays that were part of the fiscal cliff, how would they summon the will to do the much larger cuts required to offset the growth of Social Security and Medicare?

And even if they could, the relative sizes of mandatory and discretionary outlays mean that we could cut discretionary outlays to the bone and still not make enough room for the growth of mandatory outlays.

Third, we could — drum roll — actually have the courage and fiscal sense to raise revenues to pay for the growth of mandatory outlays. Sadly, the fiscal cliff drama showed how little political will there is in Washington to allow revenues to increase relative to their current levels. All our elected officials could manage was an increase for some of the households with incomes above $400,000 back to levels that prevailed before the Bush tax cuts. Just a drop in the bucket.
My quibbles with the piece include disputing the assumption Professor Samwick makes when he writes about the deficit issue being a " . . . fiscal canyon between the government we all asked for and the government revenue we’re generating to pay for it."

"We all asked for?" I don't remember asking for a lot of the "entitlement programs" - in fact, I specifically argued against "Obamacare," believe Social Security discourages savings and punishes higher income earners (yes, I would get rid of it as currently funded) and believe that the federal income tax should be replaced by the "Fair Tax" so that wage earners get to keep their wages and our economy could boom by getting the IRS/tax law stuff out of the way.

It seems to me that the entitlements issue is not being driven by what "all" of us want or need, but rather what will generate votes for many of those we send off to Congress and the "don't raise taxes" issue covers a chunk of the other elected official - which is why reform is so darn hard and there is this "fiscal grand canyon." However, when nearly 50% of the population is not paying income taxes it does seem that the income tax paying crowd properly might object to losing more of their hard won income to pay for programs that are perpetually demanding more and more (how long, exactly, are we going to wage a "war on poverty?").

So, let's go back to the first point that he dismisses - that " we could address the growth in the mandatory outlays directly." Is he really saying, "It's all the whining that makes this impossible?" Good gosh - time to throw out the wimps in office and get some people in there with more than getting re-elected on their minds.

The good professor's current blog can be found here.