Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Your Brother’s Keeper

While perusing CNN’s website I always learn something new or find out something I really didn’t want to know but probably should know. Today I learned some selfish soul decided his own agenda was worth much more than any human life. He didn’t even know who he was putting at risk, but he knew the risk existed. So now he sits in an Atlanta hospital as the first United States citizen put in forced medical quarantine in forty years. What was this guy thinking?

According to CNN this man knew he had tuberculosis and boarded an airplane for Europe anyway. He was told he should not fly on an airplane. Forget the idea that it is some superpower strain. Tuberculosis alone is a serious problem for most human bodies. The weak strains can be beaten by most people, but they require medical attention. God forbid some soul should have additional problems weakening their immune system.

Once in Europe our government contacts him and tells him to go to a hospital. Instead, knowing our government wouldn’t let him on a plane back to the United States, he catches a plane to Canada. Why? He was afraid he wouldn’t get good medical care in Italy. What? Then why did he fly to Italy when he was ill? Because he wanted to get married. What about his fiancĂ©? It would seem he didn’t care about her either. The story doesn’t say if she already knew about the tuberculosis. If she did then this woman seems to be desperate to find a husband. You say it was love. Love can wait for a cure. Better yet, if she didn’t care about herself then maybe she should catch a plane and come to his isolation ward in the United States for the marriage. At least they can celebrate their love without risking the health of others.

Our government found the infected individual in New York and actually flew a government jet to pick him up and take him back to Atlanta so he can be treated. Evidently the flight was gratis thanks to the United States taxpayers. He is in Grady Hospital. I bet the poor souls of Fulton County are paying that bill. Thankfully the government posted a security guard at his door to prevent another egotistic self indulgence. So now we have two very happy self-centered individuals in Atlanta while a random number of hapless human beings are wandering around the planet with a possibly incurable disease.

Personally I am a big proponent for personal freedom and minimizing government intervention into our lives. I personally don’t like seatbelt laws because the law seems to only protect the person not wearing the belt. Of course the taxpayers may have to cover the medical bills if the violator is injured. It would be easier just to tell the insurance companies they don’t have to cover someone’s medical bills if they are not wearing a seatbelt. Then we argue it is inhumane to let the poor soul suffer or die. Economics determines patrolling our streets for seatbelt violations is cheaper than paying the medical bills for individuals who don’t wear seatbelts and don’t have insurance.

The case of our world traveling disease purveyor is clear-cut. We require intervention when egocentric individuals create a serious risk to others. In that respect our government becomes our brother’s keeper. Our mere existence requires self government. Our self government is reasonable until greed intervenes, but that is another discussion about how we can never reach utopia.

Engineers tend to view the world in monochrome. Every decision is “yes or no.” Maybe my writings have taken the edge off my engineering thought patterns. Better yet, hopefully my experiences provide wisdom for sound reasoning. Either way, my opinion of the individual in question hasn’t changed. Now he is reaping the harvest of his self indulgence. Unfortunately, a lot of other people are paying the price.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Whose Job Is It Anyway?

The United States is fighting a prolonged war in Iraq. It isn’t a skirmish. It isn’t an exercise. War wasn’t declared by Congress, but that hasn’t mattered since World War II. Presidents simply deploy our precious firepower at will and in many cases end up getting us into a quagmire. I’m not ready to debate the war and I fully support our troops. I think anybody who doesn’t support these men and women hasn’t got a clue about the value of our freedom. The troops are putting their lives on the line for us.

My problem is with our leadership, and I am not going to point just at the Oval Office. Today a story on CNN tells us about a new Hillary Clinton biography that reveals an interesting fact about our senators. The Washington Post reported this fact in 2004 but I wasn’t aware of the fact until today. I’m not sure why this fact isn’t plastered everywhere because it says something important about our “employees” in both the House and the Senate.

The Washington Post reported that 94 of our United States Senators did not read the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Evidently anyone reading the report “had to go to a secure location on Capitol Hill.” It seems only six Senators and a handful of Representatives thought a document concerning our potential plummet into war was worthy of personal review. Folks, this is a bipartisan problem.

Some of those who want to defend their lack of attention say they were briefed on the report. Briefed? We are about to put thousands of our precious sons and daughters on the front lines and they are only worthy of a briefing. I’m sorry, but what are the American people paying these people in Washington to do? I’m sure most didn’t just get briefed on the potential legislation for their last pay raise. My Daddy always said “read the document before you sign the paper.”

Now that we have invaded Iraq and dug through the remains we discovered the report was incorrect. It is very possible that someone reading the report would be mislead. I think we have discussed the problem with the report and our pre-war intelligence problems thoroughly. The focus is not on the content, but on the idea that we never even considered the content.

I stand ready to hear the excuses. Who read the report? I have been searching for that answer. The story on CNN suggests that Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain did not read the report. It also reveals Senator Christopher Dodd did not read the report. Both Senators John Edward and Joseph Biden claim to have read the report. I searched the Washington Post website and didn’t find the list of six.

But I did find a list of senators who voted against the “war resolution” on the Village Voice website:

Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Robert Byrd (D-WV)
Lincoln Chafee (R-RI)
Jon Corzine (D-NJ)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Mark Dayton (D-MN)
Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Bob Graham (D-FL)
Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Jim Jeffords (I-VT)
Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Paul Sarbanes (D-MD)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Paul Wellstone (D-MN)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)

But if only six read the report, then many of these didn’t know what they were voting against. Maybe they just didn’t trust the CIA.

My only advice to the politicians and political commentators: don’t use this information against one side or the other. It seems most everyone was guilty. Don’t sling too much mud as it may come back and hit you in the face.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Government Tax Increases

Folks, I never paid city income taxes until I moved to the Ohio. It seems that requests for additional taxation is on every ballot. Don’t miss a vote or you will pay. I already pay 2% of my gross (no deductions) to the city. Now the school system wants to add 1% more to the tax. Of course they like to use the term “levy” thinking it doesn’t sound like tax. A tax is a tax no matter how you dress it up.

A tax increase is a paradigm. We are sold the idea that tax increases will increase our standard of living. I’m not sure if that argument holds water. For example, if the government gets 30% of my income and I get a raise of 5% then the government gets a raise. 30% of my raise goes to the government. Do they want more?

Let’s work the numbers further. Johnny makes $50,000 per year. Gotham City gets 2% of that $50,000 or $1,000. Johnny gets a 5% raise. Johnny now makes $52,500 and Gotham City gets $1,050. Gotham City got a raise because Johnny got a raise. If Johnny’s raise met the cost of living then Gotham City met the cost of living. Why would Gotham City need another 1% if their expenses went up the same percentage as Johnny’s raise? If Johnny’s raise didn’t meet the increased costs, then either Gotham City can’t manage their money or their population doesn’t get appropriate pay. It may be time to change government.

But it is a different department wanting the raise. What happened that they need the raise? I can use the same argument. They may argue that their other income is property taxes. Is property value truly going up? If so, then the government is doing their job and they got a raise. If not, then its time to change government.

The balance of the general populous’ income verses expenses becomes part of the complex equation in the control of inflation, deflation, recession, depression, and expansion. All of these terms are slung around by politicians like ticker tape parades. But do the politicians really mean what they say? Or do they even know what the terms mean? Maybe the politicians only understand what the people want to hear for the next election.

Some people will argue that the government may undertake a new project. Some projects may include infrastructure upgrade. Some projects may be some defense move for our country. Some projects may be a waste of money on a crazy project that lines pockets of lobbyists or friends. Unless we have undergone a major catastrophe, which is extremely rare, then we should easily be able to balance the budget by moving funding around. That strategy currently doesn’t work because it doesn’t get politicians reelected.

It is past time that the citizens communicate the limits and reverse the strategy. We should demonstrate that increasing the spending without balancing the budget means the politicians won’t get elected or keep their easy ride. Only then will we see the termination to the endless upward spiral of taxes to fund the upward spiral of government spending.

Unfortunately, I am thinking that our Republican friends can not be called Conservative according to current economics. Maybe we can still call them Republicans. The Democrats now have a chance if Democrats can understand the majority of citizens can not tolerate a heavier tax burden. It is a true opportunistic year for an Independent candidate.

Every day I hear news that the economy is expanding. Who are they asking? Ask the people losing their jobs. Ask those families losing their homes. For now I am in search of a Conservative hero whether that person be Republican, Democrat, or Independent. I have yet to see anybody who can wear that title.

Updates Hot Off The Press

The Verizon / Vonage Story
It seems the Supreme Court has issued a new ruling that may help Vonage and dim Verizon’s hope of squashing VoIP as I discussed in a previous issue. But nevertheless, the lower courts are not going to allow Vonage to have the original case retried based on this ruling. In my opinion the lower court is not listening to their leadership. One might suspect other influences, but I would hope justice reminds blind.

The Imus Firing
Don Imus has not and will not be able to fully vindicate himself. However, he has shown that CBS Radio asked for controversy in his contract. A copy of the contract was released and Imus has retained an attorney to sue CBS Radio for a portion of his contract. One wonders how CBS Radio will dig themselves out of this hole. Will those protesters return now that we have a new view of the CBS Radio / Don Imus relationship? Maybe CBS Radio needs to review their priorities in gathering money and their attorneys need to rethink the possible implications of contracts leading to style of show content. Maybe we Americans need to rethink our strategy on what we allow on OUR airwaves. I maintain my opinion that we need to put elbow grease into our scrubbing of media content.

Verizon Versus Vonage

Everyone who has hardcore interest in Voice Over Internet Protocol, VoIP, has probably heard about the now infamous challenge of Verizon on Vonage’s technology. Many VoIP forums are hot with up-to-the-minute news on the case with both the pro Vonage and anti Vonage crowd contributing. I feel there is a lot more riding on this case than just a matter of Vonage’s technology selection. Vonage doesn’t really use their own technology in many cases and rely on others for their interconnection to the traditional telephone service network, known as PTSN. In fact, a company called Level 3 Communications provides the interconnection to many of the VoIP providers.

While I may not be fully versed in the technical issues from the case I feel like the issue at hand is quite evident, Verizon wishes to corner the market. Don’t forget that Vonage is a combination of two old players in the telephone markets: Bell Atlantic, a baby Bell left over from the AT&T breakup, and GTE, a major provider that held monopoly markets where AT&T didn’t reside. Both of these companies enjoyed a monopoly status even after deregulation. They originally had to carry their own competition over their networks, retaining a cut of the income rather than losing the whole customer.

VoIP changed that world for the traditional telephone companies. It gave customers an option that may or may not ride on the existing telephone infrastructure depending on the routing of the call. Some VoIP customers may choose to use DSL has a interface to the Internet, carrier of VoIP. But many customers have turned to other types of Internet connections. The most challenging to the phone companies is the broadband connection provided by cable companies.

A friend of mine in North Carolina told me years ago that he believed cable companies held the key to the future. I didn’t understand at the time. Now I do. Most of the cable companies entered the Internet revolution by installing equipment to carry high speed Internet networking connections into the home. At first this increased communication capability gave the companies ability to better control their cable television controls. Next they found additional income in providing a high speed Internet connection to their customers. Now they were competing and if you notice their customer service got better. The final step came with the advance in VoIP technology and the cable companies began to provide their own digital telephone service.

But the cable companies didn’t get a free ride. A deregulated Internet meant customers used the data in ways they wanted. With that capability came the independent VoIP providers who simply provided the hardware. The actual data signal carried across the very data connection being provided by DSL and broadband cable. The technology now had the bandwidth to provide a quality voice connection. Another option is fiber or FIOS, which is growing but lacks infrastructure to have significant impact at this time.

One of the more aggressive of these companies was a VoIP upstart known as Vonage. Vonage doesn’t carry all the fancy features, but they provide one of the more reliable systems. They are also more economical, introducing their costs at fifteen dollars per month less than the cable companies. Vonage also found a niche in creative advertising, a trait that has greater affect on customer loyalty than most would think. Other companies compete in this arena such as Packet 8, SunRocket, and ViaTalk. But Vonage grew rapidly and soon felt they could convert to a public company. That decision ended up placing several bumps in the road that are being felt throughout the industry.

VoIP is still a young technology, even today. The technology is not really regulated by most state utility commissions and wasn’t even taxed until recently. As the technology evolves and grows the government has now found their way to cut into the profits and taxes, fees, and levies now apply. But what about the traditional phone companies? As people become comfortable with the new technology and equipment they are leaving traditional companies in large quantities. The traditional phone company has finally lost control and is subject to opinion about customer service as much as the cable companies.

I believe history will show that Verizon’s former Bell Atlantic was watching this technology early and probably wisely tried to corner the market. They believed by patenting technology that was common and easily becoming adapted for commercial use they could protect themselves. Now that the prediction has become reality it has become time to act. Verizon had to find a test case to see if their poison pill would give them the advantage they lost through legal monopolies.

Vonage, by being one of the biggest VoIP independent companies, provides an easy target. The IPO stumble only helped Verizon’s strategy by attacking the company while it is weak. If they win this battle then going after the other independent VoIPs will be an easy step. I am not clear how they will approach their cable brethren, but don’t discount their plans. Vonage is the test case to provide legal precedence and is only the start.

Now you see why I think the Vonage is not what the root cause of Verizon’s actions. It is only a stepping stone. I believe Verizon is seeing how far their gamble on patenting a small but quickly expanding technology will pay off. Do they really have grounds for the patent? I am not a patent expert, but I find it hard to patent such versatile and open technology. Otherwise Excel would never exist as Lotus would still provide the only spreadsheet and potentially be independent company. Microsoft didn’t introduce word processors, spreadsheets, or drawing software until other companies had long introduced such programs.

Verizon proclaims their technology and claims to be protecting their engineers. I feel the truth lies more in protecting their business. A business they could have easily saved by preparing for what they correctly predicted in a different manner. Using their vast government subsidies collected over the years they could have highly invested in VoiceWing and easily squashed the competition. Instead they intend to use our public court system and roll the dice. Let’s hope the courts rule in favor of the technology and, thus, in favor of the people.