Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Climate Conspiracy

Conspiracy theories have become a hallmark of modern life. The modern conspiracy theory probably can be traced back to the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the belief that undiscovered gunmen actually killed the president. Another long lasting conspiracy theory is the belief in a government cover-up of an alien spacecraft’s crash in Roswell, New Mexico. More recently, conspiricists on the left and right have been busy promoting theories that the Bush Administration was complicit in the 9/11 attacks or that President Obama’s birth certificate was fake.

From time to time, however, proof of an authentic conspiracy emerges. This was the case with the recent publication of hacked emails from East Anglia University’s Climate Research Unit. After years of hearing about climate science being “settled” and that there was a scientific consensus supporting the belief in human-caused global warming, the leaked emails present a very different picture. Ironically, the story has received scant coverage from most media sources in spite of the implications to the upcoming Copenhagen conference and cap-and-trade debate.

The conspiracy was revealed when an unknown hacker penetrated the Climate Research Unit’s computers and forwarded thousands of documents and emails to a server in Russia. Shortly after, a link was posted to the documents along with the message “"We feel that climate science is too important to be kept under wraps. We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents. Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it" [1].

Global warming skeptics quickly learned that the documents revealed two important things about global warming proponents. First, much of the data that “proved” the reality of global warming was corrupt. As global temperatures flattened or declined in the years after 2000, climate scientists were at a loss to explain the lack of warming. For example, an email from Dr. Kenneth Trenberth, a scientist at the US Center for Atmospheric Research, said “This means we can't fully comprehend or understand exactly what is going on. We know that it cooled in 2008 but we are not 100 per cent sure why….”[1].

Second, the documents confirmed the belief that there was a widespread conspiracy to discredit dissenting scientists and deny publication of scientific papers that pointed out the flaws in global warming theory. Scientific journals rely on peer review of scientific papers to ensure their validity. The climate conspirators would use their status as article reviewers to prevent scientific journals from publishing articles critical of global warming theory. In one email, Phil Jones of East Anglia University writes of dissenting articles, "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow--even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!" [4].

In 2003, after a paper questioning the extent of warming in the 20th century was published in the journal Climate Research, Dr. Michael Mann, director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, sent emails to his colleagues to boycott the publication: "I think we have to stop considering 'Climate Research' as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal" [3].

The scientists also discussed ways to mislead opponents. In one discussion of the medieval warm period, a period of extremely warm weather from AD 800-1300 which led to an economic boom, Dr. Trenbarth suggested creating a blog on a neutral web site and then referring inquiries to his own blog [5].

The email trail extended as far as the White House itself. One email was authored by President Obama’s science advisor, Dr. John Holdren. Dr. Holdren had sent an email in 2003 defending Dr. Mann’s research. Dr. Holdren was working at Woods Hole Research Center at the time.

Since many of the scientists who contributed to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report were implicated in the email scandal, the conclusions of the report itself have been cast into further doubt. The inability of climate change scientists to explain the lack of warming also casts global warming and the need for expensive government programs to combat it into doubt. The Environmental Protection Agency has been on the verge of regulating carbon dioxide due to the conclusions of the IPCC report.

Global warming defenders have decried the leak of the emails claiming that not all emails were released; only those that were the most damaging. They do not, however, deny the validity of the emails.

Already, the release of the emails has sparked legal action. In Congress, Republican lawmakers have launched an investigation into the role of the implicated scientists in the formulation of the IPCC report. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has also announced the intention to sue NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies for failure to provide climate-related documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The obvious question is how the revelation of the climate fraud will affect the upcoming climate conference in Copenhagen and President Obama’s attempt to pass a cap-and-trade energy tax in the United States. Hopefully, diplomats and lawmakers will step back and examine the science on both sides of the debate before rushing into climate policies that would be potentially disastrous for the economies of the world.

Q: How many climate scientists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. There's a consensus that it's going to change, so they've decided to keep us in the dark.
-James Taranto


A complete database of the emails can be found here:
Secaucus NJ

Monday, November 23, 2009

Why the New York Terror Trials Are a Bad Idea

Attorney-General Holder recently announced plans to move the trials of several Guantanamo detainees, among them Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to New York City. The plan has drawn opposition from both sides of the political spectrum and is a bad idea for several reasons.

Most obviously, the show trial is a bad idea because it is unnecessary. The detainees have already admitted guilt. KSM in particular has repeatedly confessed his role in planning the 9/11 attacks and has indicated his desire to be executed so that he can become a martyr [1 ]. As radio talk show host and author Michael Medved put it, “Normally I don’t agree with giving in to the demands of terrorists, but when they demand to be executed, that is one demand that we should give in to” [2].

The detainees were set to receive fair trials from military tribunal. A military trial would have saved the government millions of dollars. A criminal trial in the civilian justice system will be expensive, especially in light of the runaway spending habits the Obama Administration has already exhibited. A civilian trial will mean that the government must pay for civilian lawyers, court costs, and security in expensive New York City. A military trial could have been conducted on a secure military base with military lawyers at minimal cost.

Security is also a concern. It will be very difficult to provide security for the courthouse and for all the people involved in the trials. Securing the area will likely involve a huge disruption of buildings and streets surrounding the courthouse as well. In an era when one terror plot after another is being discovered – or carried out – a huge, well publicized trial will provide a tempting target for both homegrown radicals and international terrorists.

A show trial will necessarily be covered in-depth by the media. This media coverage will grant the defendents a golden opportunity to espouse their radical anti-American views and claim abuse at the hands of the United States. Likely defense strategies will involve claims of torture and attacks on US foreign policy. The defendents have already announced their plans to plead not guilty in order to justify their actions as a reasonable response to American actions abroad [3]. This publicity can do nothing but harm the United States and will likely serve to radicalize more Muslims and inspire them to carry on the jihad. Justice does not require that the US give terrorists a media soapbox from which to address the world.

There is also a question of jurisdiction. These detainees are not US citizens, they were not arrested in the United States, and their crimes were not committed in the United States. Most of the detainees were captured in Afghanistan. KSM was captured in Pakistan. None of the detainees were directly involved in the 9/11 terror attacks or any other attacks on US soil. Instead, they planned and supported attacks on the US and other countries from bases in other countries.

As noncitizens, the detainees are not entitled to the protections of the US Constitution. As illegal combatants who were not members of an organized national army, they are entitled to only limited protection under the Geneva Convention. To move military prisoners from a war into the civilian criminal justice system is unprecedented. In World War II, prison camps in the continental United States housed German and Italian prisoners-of-war. These POWs were not granted habeas corpus and were not allowed to challenge their detention in US courts.

Additionally, since these prisoners of the War on Terror were captured by the military, the standard of proof of guilt is different that what is required for arrest by a civilian police officer. For example, a defense attorney might object because soldiers never advised the detainees of their Miranda rights. It may also be difficult for a prosecutor to show enough evidence to a jury to assure a conviction without compromising intelligence sources. Rules are very different for soldiers and police officers because they serve different roles.

Along the same lines, if US soldiers are required to abide by civilian standards in order to protect prosecution in future cases, the result will be more dead soldiers and more terror attacks. Applying peacetime civilian standards to soldiers in combat will mean that more terrorists go free. If more terrorists remain on the loose, it means that they will be free to attack US soldiers abroad or civilian targets here at home. It might also mean that US forces are less likely to take prisoners in the future if it becomes apparent that lawyers are intent on forcing the release of terrorists based on legal technicalities.

In some cases, civilian criminal courts are an appropriate venue for trying terrorists. For example, when a terrorist is a US citizen he has a constitutional right to a trial by jury. Likewise, a foreign terrorist who is apprehended within the US by civilian authorities can correctly processed in the civilian criminal justice system. However, it is gross mistake to place foreign terrorists and guerillas, captured abroad, into a criminal justice system better suited to dealing with common murderers and burglars.

Attorney-General Holder and President Obama’s plan for show trials in New York City is a bad idea on many levels. It will be expensive, dangerous and embarassing to the United States. It will waste millions of dollars in a time when our national treasury is already depleted. It will attract terrorists to the cameras like moths to a flame. It will provide a means for the terrorists on trial to broadcast their views to the world and recruit more disaffected Muslims. Finally, it is legally questionable and completely unnecessary. It grants unprecedented rights to illegal combatants and sets a frightening precedent for how the US will handle terrorist trials in the future. Such decisions by President Obama and the members of his administration cannot help but have a negative affect on the prosecution of the War on Terror and consequently make us all less safe.

November 23, 2009
Enroute to White Plains NY
2. As heard on the Michael Medved radio show. Available on podcast at
3. “Lawyer: 9/11 Suspects Won’t Deny Roles,” USA Today, November 23, 2009.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Are Insurance Companies Evil?

Activists on the left have recently denounced insurance companies as evil. Some believe that health insurance companies are evil because they profit off the misery of others. Charges have been made that health insurance companies make money by denying medical benefits to their policy holders and that they, and the Republicans, actually want people to die so that they can make more money. This is similar to the claim a few years ago that oil companies were evil because they made “obscene profits” as oil prices reached record highs.

Like the charges against the oil companies, the charges against the insurance companies are patently false and do not stand up to logical evaluation. In the first place, health insurance companies cannot and do not force anyone to buy their service. For each and every policy holder, the decision to do business with their insurer was entirely voluntary. Even in the case of people who participate in health insurance plan chosen by their employer, the decision to participate is still a voluntary choice by the employee. If the employee does not like the health insurance company that provides their company’s group plan, they have the options to either not buy health insurance at all or to select an individual health insurance plan of their own choice.

Health insurance companies do not make money by denying care. Health insurance companies make money by selling policies. If a health insurance company continually denies care that should be provided under the terms of their policy, people will exercise their option to buy a policy from another insurer. They also have the option to sue the insurer for breach of contract if the insurer does not follow the terms of the policy. In general, health insurance companies want to be seen as “a good neighbor,” as one insurance company slogan says. Companies do not get a reputation as a good neighbor if they are constantly losing lawsuits from their insureds.

What about the claim that health insurance companies are evil because they profit off the misery of sick and dying people? The purpose of health insurance companies is to make a profit. If a health insurance company does not make a profit, they will not stay in business. A health insurance company that is no longer in business can provide medical care for no one.

Granted, some companies do abuse their customers. We have all heard cases of insurance companies who improperly deny coverage or cancel the policies of sick customers. These cases, while rare, are serious. In many such cases, the insurance company attracts the attention of regulators or legislators who help to rectify the problem. Additionally, the company also attracts unwanted negative publicity which invariably hurts their bottom line. An insurance company cannot operate this way indefinitely and stay in business.

Insurance companies are held accountable by numerous parties. First and foremost is their customers. If an insurance company has poor customer service, their customers will go elsewhere. No one is required to deal with any particular insurance company or even to buy health insurance at all (yet). Second, insurance companies are held accountable by their shareholders. Negative publicity and poor management adversely affect stock prices and investment values. Shareholders can also vote with their feet. If a company has a poor record of paying claims and is financially unsound, they can also be rated poorly, which affects their ability to sell policies. Finally, if an insurance company breaks a contract or violates the law, they can also be held accountable by the courts or government regulators.

Some people in the public discourse today, seem to believe that profits are unethical in general. In truth, the desire for profits encourages people to make wise choices. A company cannot be profitable without a buyer for their goods or services as countless businesses from General Motors to the US Postal Service have discovered. However, if a company does not make a profit, it cannot stay in business. Furthermore, the lure of profits draws more companies into the business, increasing competition and driving down costs for consumers.

Businesses don’t necessarily set out to do a public good, yet that is precisely what happens. Business owners do not open their business to provide jobs for their fellow citizens, yet that is the result of a successful business. Business owners do not open their business out of an altruistic need to provide people with their wants or needs, yet that also happens. Businesses are not created to pay taxes to the government, yet, if the business is successful, its taxes do support the government.

It is no different for insurance companies. The insurance company is in business to make money for its owners and shareholders. In the course of making money, they also provide medical care for their policy holders. They also provide jobs directly for their underwriters, adjusters, actuaries, and support and management personnel. Indirectly, insurance companies help to provide jobs for physicians, nurses, and their staffs.

Insurance companies are not inherently evil. However, like any human endeavor, they are tainted by human frailties. Insurance companies serve a valuable role in society by spreading the risk of an expensive illness or injury among thousands of policy holders. Without insurance companies, thousands of people would not be able to afford advanced treatments that save or prolong their lives.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Unmentionable Fact About the Ft. Hood Shooter

On November 5, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan arrived at the Soldier Processing Center in Fort Hood, Texas. Maj. Hasan was an army psychiatrist whose job was to help soldiers deal with the stress of combat. This day, however, he sat at a table and mumbled a prayer to himself according to witnesses. A few minutes later, he jumped up, shouted, “Allahu Akbar,” and pulled out a .357 Magnum pistol equipped with laser sights. At that point, he began a shooting rampage in which he fired over 100 rounds and killed thirteen people, wounding 38.

Government spokesmen and news organizations make little mention of the obvious fact that Maj. Hasan’s Muslim faith is the likely motive for the attack. Maj. Hasan was of Jordanian descent who claimed that he was discriminated against because of his Muslim background. Other acquaintances claim that Maj. Hasan was a vocal opponent of US foreign policy who brought many of his personal problems upon himself. Regardless, Maj. Hasan was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan soon.

It is believed, but not yet confirmed, that Maj. Hasan had authored internet blogs likening suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save their buddies. The postings, under the name NidalHasan, also compared Islamic suicide bombers to Japanese kamikazes and stated that they died for a cause, “to help save Muslims by killing enemy soldiers” [citation]. Even though Maj. Hasan may not have been involved with terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, his actions qualify him as a homegrown terrorist.

Though the investigation is ongoing, it is likely that Maj. Hasan’s belief that the US is waging a war against Islam played a prominent role in his decision to kill his army comrades. Even though authorities downplay the shootings as not a terrorist incident, Maj. Hasan is the latest in a growing line of Muslim-American threats to national security.

In 2002, former soldier John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo terrorized the District of Columbia and surrounding areas in a series of sniper attacks that left ten people dead. At Muhammad’s trial in 2006, Malvo testified that the pair planned to shoot as many as six people a day for thirty days and to attack school children and police officers with bombs [citation]. They also planned to set up a terrorist training camp in Canada for young homeless men, who would then spread out across the United States “to shut things down” [citation]. John Muhammad is scheduled to be executed on November 10, 2009. [I have a personal link to this series of attacks. I was working in the DC area as a First Officer with Atlantic Coast Airlines during John Muhammad’s reign of terror.]

The night before the Iraq War began, another Muslim soldier in the US Army also attacked his comrades at their camp in Kuwait. On March 23, 2003, Sgt. Hasan Akbar, of the elite 101st Airborne Division, tossed a single hand grenade into each of three tents occupied by officers. The attacks killed one soldier and wounded fifteen others. As with Maj. Hasan, Sgt. Akbar opposed US foreign policy in the Middle East. He wrote shortly before the attack that “I may not have killed any Muslims, but being in the army is the same thing. I may have to make a choice very soon on who to kill” [citation]. Sgt. Akbar was sentenced to death in 2005.

On July 28, 2006, Naveed Afsal Haq entered the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Armed with two pistols and a knife, Haq grabbed a fourteen-year-old girl and forced her to use the intercom to ask to have the door unlocked. Once inside Haq walked through the offices shooting at workers inside. One woman was killed and five others were wounded, including a woman who was about twenty weeks pregnant. Haq stated that he was angry at Jews, Israel and the United States government for the war in Iraq. In spite of this, the FBI said, “There’s nothing to indicate that it’s terrorism-related” [citation]. Haq’s first trial resulted in a hung jury due to claims of mental illness and a second trial began in October 2009.

Additionally, there have been several cases of Muslim members of the US military who were accused of spying for the terrorists. Senior Airman Ahmad Al Halabi pled guilty to lesser charges after being accused of illegally taking 200 hundred documents from his job as an Arabic translator at Guantanamo Bay in 2003. In 2004, Specialist Ryan Anderson of the Washington National Guard was charged with attempting to pass information about weapons systems and military organization to al Qaeda. Anderson, who also calls himself Amir Abdul Rashid, was court martialed and sentenced to five consecutive life terms. Also in 2004, Captain James Yee, a Muslim US Army chaplain, was accused of espionage after a customs agent found a list of Guantanamo detainees and interrogators in his belongings. Due to mishandling of evidence, the charges were reduced and later dropped. Yee received an honorable discharge and later became a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention and cast a nominating ballot for Barack Obama. Yee had worked with Airman Halabi.

There have also been numerous cases of American Muslims traveling to countries such as Afghanistan and Yemen to take terrorist training. John Walker Lindh was captured with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in 2001. Many terrorist cells broken up in the United States since 9/11 have included American Muslims who had made trips to the Middle East for training.

Not all, or even most, Muslims in the United States support terrorism, but these cases should raise concern that there may be a considerable number who do and who are willing to take action to support their beliefs. In 2007, Pew Research polled Muslim Americans and found that five percent of American Muslims had a favorable view of al Qaeda. A further 27 percent responded that they did not know or refused to answer the question (Inside the Revolution, p. 144). Further, when asked if suicide bombings against civilian targets were ever justified, thirteen percent indicated that suicide bombings were justified “sometimes (7 percent), often (1 percent), or rarely but not never (5 percent).” An additional nine percent refused to answer the question. The numbers increase for Muslims between 18 and 29 years old. These younger Muslims also tend to be more radical and more religiously observant.

Estimates of the total Muslim population of the United States vary widely, but approximately 1.5 million seems to be an accepted figure [citation]. This means that as many as 75,000 Muslim Americans have a favorable view of al Qaeda and a further 405,000 are unsure or refuse to answer. Additionally, some 195,000 Muslim Americans believe that suicide bombings against civilian targets are justifiable with an additional 135,000 refusing to answer. Other polls show that these percentages are even higher in other countries.

The good news is that the vast majority of American Muslims are law abiding citizens who abhor terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. The bad news is that it only takes a small group of radicals to kill a large number of innocent people. We have seen the havoc and chaos that a single killer can cause. If even a small percentage of the pro-terrorist American Muslims ever choose to take violent action on behalf of their beliefs, a few hundred or a few thousand homegrown terrorists could bring the United States to its knees with random shooting attacks or suicide bombings in shopping malls, stores, amusement parks, churches, restaurants, or any of scores of unprotected potential targets. A logical course of action for al Qaeda or other terrorist groups to would be to infiltrate American mosques to recruit, indoctrinate and train local Muslims for local attacks. This is the course that has been taken in other countries.

It is vital that the United States take steps to minimize the risk of homegrown Islamic radicals. It is absolutely not necessary to deport or intern Muslim Americans as we did to the Japanese-Americans in World War II. Muslim Americans are Americans and should not be subjected to any sort of second-class status or religious harassment.

On the other hand, the FBI and other counter-terror organizations should investigate mosques that preach anti-American zealotry. In other countries, radical imams have used local mosques as centers for recruitment and propaganda, often using Wahabi Muslim materials provided by Saudi Arabia. Radical Muslims have similarly infiltrated US prisons. The religious freedom of Muslims to worship in the US should be protected vigorously, but that freedom does not extend to subversive activities such as planning terror attacks.

The worst thing that we can do in the wake of the Fort Hood massacre is to pretend that Maj. Hasan’s religion had nothing to do with his actions. To ignore the threat means that other homegrown terrorist plots will hatch into bloody action. Denial of the threat does not mean that it will go away.
An ironic aspect to the Fort Hood shooting is that the victims, while trained by the government to wage war against terrorists, were defenseless to rules against carrying weapons on military bases. Much the same as the way the anti-gun rules at Virginia Tech ensured that Seung-Hui Cho would meet no resistance, Maj. Hasan had nothing to fear from his highly trained, yet unarmed, victims.

It was left to a civilian police officer, Sgt. Kimberly Munley, of the Fort Hood Police Department, to protect our soldiers. Sgt. Munley, a true hero, shot Maj. Hasan as he was on his rampage, saving the lives of countless others. Sgt. Munley was also wounded in the attack.

In light of the ongoing threat of terrorists and other violent crime, it is time to rethink anti-gun laws. Americans have a need - and a right – to be able to protect themselves.
Rosenberg, Joel C. Inside the Revolution. Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, IL. 2009,2933,572574,00.html
Villa Rica GA
November 9, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Pilot's Perspective On the Northwest Laptop Incident

There has been much discussion recently of the unfortunate Northwest Airlines crew that became distracted and flew 150 miles past their destination. The crew flew for 78 minutes without talking to air traffic controllers (ATC) and only became aware of their mistake when a flight attendant called to ask when they would arrive.

Northwest Airlines Flight 188 was enroute from San Diego to Minneapolis (MSP) when the incident occurred. While the Airbus A320 cruised at FL370 (37,000 feet), the crew apparently took out their laptop computers and became engrossed in a program that helped them submit bids for their monthly schedules. At some point, they missed a call from ATC telling them to change to the next sector’s frequency. When they missed the frequency change, they soon flew out of the range of the transmitter for the frequency they were listening to.

This is not unusual in itself. There have been several instances in my flying career in which I have suddenly realized that I have not heard an ATC transmission for some time. It seems to be especially common in the western states where there are fewer controllers covering larger areas, but it does happen in the east at times.

The standard procedure in the case of lost contact for ATC is to attempt to contact the aircraft on the emergency frequency, 121.5 MHZ. This is commonly referred to as the “guard” frequency. For years, the FAA has encouraged pilots to monitor this frequency on backup radios. In addition to providing an alternate method of ATC contact, it also allows pilots to listen for aircraft in distress that might not be heard by ground stations.

If the aircraft cannot be contacted on guard, ATC expects it to follow a predetermined route and altitude. When the pilots realize that they are out of contact, they normally take steps to find the appropriate ATC frequency for their area and reestablish contact.

In the case of the Northwest crew, the problem was that they were so engrossed in their computers that they never realized that they were out of contact. They should have realized that something was wrong as they drew closer to Minneapolis with a clearance from ATC to start their descent into the airport. Since the autopilot flew the airplane 150 miles past MSP without drawing their attention away from their computers, it is apparent that they were not paying much attention to the airplane or their location. This is why they are currently in trouble with the FAA.

It is tempting for pundits to say that the pilots should have no distractions in the cockpit. This is also unrealistic. A flight from San Diego to Minneapolis can take three to four hours depending on a number of variables such as aircraft speed, wind speed at cruising altitude, weather, and other air traffic. Some flights can be even longer. The aircraft that I currently fly has transcontinental range. A trip from the east coast to the west coast, slowed by westerly winds, can take as long as six hours.

Even though the flight might take several hours, the pilots are not constantly working. The busiest times of the flight are the takeoff and climb phase and the descent and landing phase. It typically takes about half an hour to take off from the airport and climb to cruising altitude. Similarly, it takes about half an hour to descend and make an approach and landing at the end of the trip. That leaves several hours of cruise flight in which the pilots have little to do except talk to ATC, monitor the autopilot’s flying, and monitor the aircraft systems. Since many of these flights are just one part of a long duty day, often with little rest, and are frequently made on “the back side of the clock,” when people are normally sleeping, the long periods of inactivity at cruise flight can easily lead to mind-numbing boredom and drowsiness.

Boredom and drowsiness are more than just an annoyance. In extreme cases, pilots can nod off to sleep. In other cases, this fatigue can negatively affect the ability of pilots to perform their jobs. Studies in pilot fatigue show that the effects of pilot fatigue can cause slow reaction times and lead to degraded decision making. To keep themselves sharp, it is not uncommon for pilots to bring distractions into the cockpit.

I have never seen any pilot use a laptop computer in flight, but other distractions are more common. Some pilots bring reading material, DVD or MP3 players, crossword puzzles or Sudoku, or paperwork such as schedule bids or chart revisions. Even if pilots bring nothing extra into the cockpit, most airliners are equipped with an ADF radio that can pick up commercial AM radio broadcasts. Having something to focus on actually helps pilots keep their minds sharp and reduce fatigue on long flights.

Try to imagine sitting in a small room with another person for four hours. You cannot get up and walk around. You can’t watch television. You can’t take a nap.
You can’t do anything except monitor a few screens and gauges or talk to your seatmate. Now imagine that you do the same thing several times a day and as many as twenty days a month. That situation is similar to sitting in a cockpit at cruise for an airline pilot.

To the confinement is added the problem of airline crew schedules. As airlines lay off (furlough) their employees, the remaining crews fly tougher schedules. The FAA allows airlines to schedule their crews with as little as eight hours of rest. This means that the crew has only eight hours to travel from the airport to the hotel, eat, sleep, shower, dress, and travel back to the airport to start their next day of flying. While airline crews are limited to eight hours of scheduled flying per day, their duty day can last as long as sixteen hours (unless further limited by union contract or company policy).

These problems are compounded by jet lag as the crew crosses multiple time zones (in both directions) and the fact that a crew can have their schedule alternate between extremely early and late flights, which makes it difficult for one’s body to adjust and causes sleep problems. The FAA and airlines would take a dim view of pilots reporting to work after drinking alcohol, but the Federal Aviation Regulations regarding crew rest and airline scheduling policies ensure that many crews report to work with the physiological equivalent of several stiff drinks.

The FAA investigation may ultimately reveal that some or all of these factors were involved in the Northwest crew’s problems. Regardless of the circumstances of this particular flight, the issue of fatigue and boredom is one that many crews face on a daily basis in the real world of jet aviation. Congress and the FAA should not hastily make rules to ban all diversions from the cockpit in cruise flight. Such a rule would be unenforceable and unnecessary. If puzzles and electronic devices are banned from the cockpit, there’s always the ADF.

Palwaukee, IL
November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"It's NOT healthcare, stupid!"

During the 1991 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton famously displayed a sign in his campaign headquarters that read, “It’s the economy, stupid.” This sign served to remind Clinton and his staff of what was important to their campaign and keep them on message. Ultimately, Clinton convinced voters that he could bring the country out of the recession caused by President George H. W. Bush’s tax increases.

Now that he is in office, President Barack Obama could use a similar sign to remind him of what is important, not to his campaign, but to the country. Obama’s sign could easily read, “It’s not healthcare, stupid!”

Currently, the United States faces two major crises. The first and most obvious is the economy. The second is the threat that the US faces from radical Muslims, both in the form of terrorist groups and rogue nations. Obama’s response to these twin crises has been to focus his administration’s efforts over the entire summer of 2009 into an overhaul of the US healthcare system. Healthcare reform is necessary, but should have a much lower priority given the current world and national situation.

President Obama’s efforts to reform healthcare are likely having a negative effect on the economy. After the dramatic increase to the federal deficit caused by the stimulus package passed in February 2009, Obamacare is now being estimated to cost $1.5 trillion. This will ultimately mean that Americans will either pay more for their health insurance or receive coverage that is not as good as what they have now or both. It is increasingly likely that many of Obama’s promises on healthcare, from allowing people to keep their old plans to being cost neutral to not having taxpayers fund abortion, will not be kept in the final version of the bill.

In the meantime, speculation as to what will be included in the final version of the bill is working against the markets attempts to spur an economic recovery. As business owners see the prospect of numerous government mandates and taxes, they elect to delay investment and hiring decisions. Few want to make long-term plans in a business climate that involves the possibility of drastic and negative changes to government policy.

To help the United States recover from the current recession, President Obama should take steps to reassure the business community and spur investment. One quick and easy way to do this would be to enact a corporate tax cut rather than a tax increase. By allowing business owners to keep more of their own money, rather than sending it to the IRS, President Obama would ensure that businesses would have the money to hire more workers, expand their operations, and provide capital for investment in businesses that drive the economy. Such tax cuts, even if only a temporary basis, would help jumpstart the economy.

Additionally, President Obama should promise to veto any legislation that would place new and onerous restrictions and regulations on business. The government should seek to strike a balance between making it cheap and easy to do business in the United States and preventing fraud. The government should not try to micromanage private businesses.

The flat economy and steadily rising unemployment rates illustrate the fact that President Obama’s economic policies are not working. The stimulus bill did not only did not revive the economy, it eroded consumer confidence due to the widely held beliefs that such a large increase in federal debt will inevitably lead to a increase in taxes, a decline in the value of the dollar, or both. Obama’s focus on the creation of a vast new healthcare bureaucracy and carbon regulation have also led to a stagnation in the economy as business leaders take a wait and see attitude.

The combination of lower taxes and streamlining regulation has done much in the past to help economies grow, both in the United States and abroad. In our own history, such policies under Presidents Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush have caused rapid economic expansion. Other countries, such as Ireland and the former Baltic republics of the Soviet Union, have seen similar results with the enactment of low flat taxes.

Even more dangerous is President Obama’s neglect of the war against the terrorists. President Obama has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay detainment facility even though no credible plan for doing so has been revealed. Some terrorists, such as bomber of the USS Cole, have had the charges against them dropped. Others, including fighters captured on the battlefield, have been moved to the criminal justice system for trial. The civilian criminal justice is ill-equipped to deal with foreign paramilitary fighters due to rules of evidence that did not apply when they were captured and concerns about the release of sensitive intelligence information.

After the Gaza War between Israel and Hamas last winter, President Obama announced $900 million in federal aid to Gaza, even though Gaza is still ruled by the terrorist group Hamas. This money was pledged without preconditions that Hamas stop attacking Israel. In fact, the only country that President Obama has shown any interest in placing preconditions upon for aid or diplomacy is Israel. In May, President Obama demanded that Israel freeze expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Additionally, after vowing to fight and win in Afghanistan, as well as committing additional US troops to Afghanistan last spring, Obama has delayed for weeks his response to General McChrystal’s request for 40,000 additional troops. The request is similar to General Petraeus’ request for a troop surge in Iraq that was bitterly opposed by most Democrats, including then Senator Obama, and a majority of the US public as well. President George W. Bush bucked public opinion to send the additional troops, and, as a result, the war in Iraq is largely to considered to be a US victory.

As with the Iraq surge, most Democrats and a majority of the public now oppose sending additional troops to Afghanistan. President Obama must find the intestinal fortitude to go against public opinion to prevent a Taliban victory in Afghanistan. The Taliban would likely reopen Afghanistan’s terrorist training camps as well as stepping up the insurgency against the nuclear-armed government in neighboring Pakistan.

If that weren’t bad enough, the Obama Administration also doesn’t seem to take seriously the threat of Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons. Secretary of State Clinton has indicated the intention of the Obama Administration to let diplomacy continue as Iran plays for time by making agreements and then not following through with them.

Obama’s anti-Bush rhetoric and frequent apologies for America’s actions make it impossible for dictators such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to take seriously his deadlines and promises of action if Iran continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. To put it simply, Iran’s government does not believe that it will face severe consequences for continuing along the path to nuclear weapons.

Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons is a direct threat to the United States. As far back as the 1990s, Iran tested the capability to launch missiles from cargo ships, a tactic that would be useless against Israel. Iran has tested missile launch profiles that simulate the use of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warhead. Such a weapon could be exploded high over the United States to wreak havoc on our electrical power grids resulting not in the crash of all electrical and computer systems, but also mass starvation as transportation networks and food storage facilities lose power.

When considering the damage that the economy has already sustained and the possibility of severe, even catastrophic, terror attacks, it suddenly seems less urgent to ram through a massive expansion of the government healthcare bureaucracy. President Obama and Congress should set more realistic priorities. Their most important job is to protect the American people from foreign enemies and that should be their top priority.

Palm Springs CA
November 2, 2009