The Blob

Friday, August 06, 2004

Look! Up in the sky!

I have a great reason for going out at night this month. It's time for the annual Tears of St. Lawrence, better known as the Perseid meteor shower. And over the next couple of weeks, typically from the 8th to the 14th of August, if you look to the northeast at night, you'll be greeted with quite a show.

The best bet is to not just walk out into your back yard, but to pack the family and friends into the car and get away from city lights. And the Tears of St. Lawrence? Click on the link above to get the full story.

Rock on

Leave it to Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry to consistently come up with great stuff. His latest column, When in doubt, just play an E chord, is typical of his over-the-top insight. I'm always ranting on something here, so it's great to share something nonsensical for once. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Give Arnold a chance

Yesterday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger formally unveiled The California Performance Review, his plan to "blow up the boxes" of state government in a 2,500-page report that seeks to save $32 billion by streamlining bureaucratic agencies, eliminating more than 100 boards and commissions and overhauling state business practices.

Left-leaning Democrats like State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton wasted no time spewing FUD about something he had likely not even read, dissing it by saying, "They are clearly biting off more than anyone can chew."

If you're one of the recipients of the Gray Davis gravy train of political gifts to unions and special interests, you should be threatened, as what Arnold is trying to do is smash the status quo. It's ironic that the liberals running the state legislature are so threatened by the proposed changes, as they love to bill themselves at the party of change. In this case, it is the Democrats who are behind the ball. Being skeptical won't accomplish anything. In fact, it will only make things worse.

Is the Prescription for Change perfect? It's too early to tell. But then, no plan ever is. Yet, the Governor is leading by example, and challenging the politicians in Sacramento to take part in changing California for the better or get run over. And clearly, California government needs an overhaul. And the Governor is showing he can lead by taking bold initiative.

For example, ore than half of the savings would be extracted from the way state government operates - ranging from changes in how airline tickets are reserved for state workers to making better use of the Internet as a means of improving customer service.
The proposal also attempts to consolidate many of the state's computers and communications functions to avoid duplication and take advantage of outside contracts to squeeze savings out of the state budget. It would mean consolidating a number of departments and agencies. Jobs would be cut. Things would change. State employees would be forced to be accountable for their actions, something that we in the private sector live with daily. And (gasp!) public employees would have to embrace the concept of customer service.

As a taxpayer, I expect no less. That it took the action of the California Performance Review to prompt this debate is sad, as the Democratic led state legislature has failed the people of California.

I doubt that the plan is perfect. It concentrates much of the power of many agencies under the Governor's office, and that is something with long-term implications. But my initial reading greatly impressed me with the insight and fresh ideas that we never see come from Sacramento. It's about time.

This is but the opening shot in what will be a huge political battle. But I hope that for the first time, people in the state capitol will be forced to think about the state and its people in a new way. Right or wrong, I applaud Governor Schwarzenegger for thinking different and starting a debate on how the government of California can run itself effectively, instead of being the land of backroom deals and entitlement.

If you are a resident of California, I urge you to get involved. Visit the Web site of the California Performance Review and read the report. Let your thoughts be heard. This is an important time, and a great time to make a change for the better.

Please guys, cut the political BS

By now, you've probably read the stories on new warnings of possible future terrorist attacks on America, specifically important financial sites such as the New York Stock Exchange or the World Bank. That a combination of the Pakistani and U.S. military and intelligence services have recently been able to capture important al-Quaida operatives and retrieve a wealth of documents from their computers is crucial. But to hear politicians and pundits dismiss the recent security clampdowns in Washington and New York as unnecessary because much of the intelligence was supposedly old is patently ridiculous at best.

The New York Times published a very good story on this. It points out that new intelligence from other sources backs up what was originally discovered, and supports the need for heightened security at important financial locations in New York, New Jersey and Washington. What upsets me is that some critics of this are trying to use it for political gain, and are casting FUD on the extra security precautions as being politically motivated.

While Department of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge was a Republican appointee, I think he made it clear that his motivations are anything but political. When people's lives are at stake, when important institutions are threatened, that potentially hurts all Americans. I believe him when he expressed concerns with the threats. And so should the Democrats, pundits, journalists and other critics of the recent heightened security.

I am reminded of the criticism and pressure that NASA endured prior to the tragic launch of the Challenger space shuttle. In the days before the ill-fated launch, conditions at Cape Canaveral were unsuitable. The weather was unusually cold, with freezing temperatures. NASA officials tried to make that clear. Yet, the journalists peppered NASA with pointed questions on when the launch would take place. I believe that NASA launched Challenger in colder weather than should have been allowed, in no small part because of the pressure put to bear by journalists.

That's not to say that NASA was without blame. Anything but. Tragically, the facts bear this out. Yet the pundits and journalists pressured NASA to make a bad decision. But these same people feel no sense of guilt.

Cut to today. The intelligence community has fresh and solid evidence of terrorist plans in an advanced stage. While no one can say when the terrorist strike is planned, it's obvious that something may be afoot. That the White House went public on this is, in my opinion, a good thing, as it makes clear that al-Qaida's cover was blown, and the advantage of surprise may be lost. While that's good for some political points, to focus on this is trivial. What is important, and is something Mr. Kerry and the Democrats should acknowledge, is that the security of the United States is in everyone's interest. And the subject of a strong terrorist threat should stand above politics.

When our safety is at stake, I don't want my security put in play for some candidate's political gain, regardless of what party they're for. Our security is more important than politics. I hope those entrusted to be leaders clearly understand that.