Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Waiting for Philadelphia

Posted by John McHale

I never fly to visit my parents for Christmas as I figure the five and half hours it takes to get there by car is the same if I fly. This year I tried flying ... and I've been sitting at the airport for two hours with two more to go as my flight is delayed almost three hours -- because of the Philadelphia connection.

Not complaining, but wondering why one city is the center of so many flight delays. I really don't mind delays, as much as I travel I'm used to them -- but what is up with Philadelphia?

I've even heard pilots mumbling four-letter words about getting stuck with the Philly route. Are they unorganized there? Or is it a lack of runways? It can't always be the weather ...

I really don't know. If someone out there does, please tell me.

Anyway, it's a cold, but sunny day and the Internet here is free and I am finally on vacation.

I hope you are too.

Enjoy your holiday.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ah yes, now I remember...

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

Now I remember why I do not often travel. It can be a living nightmare. I know people say that; I say that quite often, in fact, but I really, truly mean it this time, from the depths of my being.

I was a victim in an armed robbery once (stay with me, I promise there is a point to this tangent), when I was in my early twenties. After the terrifying ordeal, I sat in the safe confines of a NH state trooper's vehicle, recounting the event three times: verbally while the officer took notes, verbally while being recorded, and then committing the harrowing tale to paper in my own hand.

I recall it now like it happened last week, and the worst part of it for me was the complete and utter sense of helplessness. Two men held guns to my head while I knelt on the cold, hard floor of a convenience store covering my face with my hands, so as not to see the man who I thought was surely going to end my life.

I feared for my life then, but what was most frightening to me was that at that moment I had absolutely no control over what happened to me. I felt and witnessed a similar helplessness rampant at the Northwest Airlines areas of multiple airports this week. (Now I know why it has earned the unfortunate "NorthWORST" moniker.)

I am no shrinking violet; rather, I have been described as "outspoken," "strong," and at times, "resilient." Yet, a--let's say--less-than-helpful Northwest agent/supervisor (P. Freeman in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you know who you are) let me know that, in no uncertain terms, she was in control of my destiny that rueful day. She was without question the worst airline representative I have encountered in more than 20 years--no small feat. She reveled in her power over travelers from all walks of life, who were forcibly corralled and slowly shuffling along like farm animals being led off to slaughter.

What did this agent do with her power over the 20 or so of us unfortunate enough to be ushered into her line (by pointing at us with two fingers and grimacing, mind you)? What she did for me, specifically, was reduce me to tears, opt against re-routing my checked luggage, rule out the meal vouchers other agents were handing to stranded passengers, and put me on "puddle-jumpers" to such fun locales as Newark after a nice, lengthy stay in lovely Minneapolis, where the temp was a balmy two below zero. Little did I know, that was just the beginning.

I had no way of knowing that I had just embarked upon a trip that would involve: four airports, three delayed flights, two hours sitting on the tarmac, one cancelled flight...and a partridge in a pear tree. Wait, I'm not done: add to that one long stint in a holding pattern, ridiculously long lines, numerous phone calls, several pathetic (but not apathetic) agents, watching Monday Night Football among stranded travelers in Newark, and luggage that has yet to rear its head--all to get from one coast to the other. It was not even accomplished in a full day.

This agent who I thought hailed straight from Hades is not alone, sad though it may be. I would not be writing this blog if she was acting alone. No, I'm sorry to say, there are many others like her who seem bent on making travelers' lives miserable during their commute.

I have long witnessed the same horrible distemper and subsequent mistreatment by TSA personnel, who often don't even use words, opting instead to point at us and then at the spot where they want us to be. Many airline and airport personnel do not even deem us worthy of eye contact. Who thought I would miss the days when they barked commands at us, rather than pointing at and directing us with two fingers? Not me.

Most times these days, travelers are reduced to the stature of a preschooler upon just entering the airport. Perhaps that was an unfair analogy--after all, even preschoolers get a free snack.
When did things go awry? We are the customers. We spend the money that pays their salaries. What happened to "the customer is always right"? Are we not entitled to friendly, helpful customer service? What happened to this industry? When they put someone through hell, why don't they feel compelled to make things right or, at the very least, pretend to care? No wonder few people list "travel" as one of their favorite hobbies. I have had it with planes. Bring on the trains and automobiles.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fighting over journalists

Posted by John McHale

Ok, maybe not fighting but sponsoring companies of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) were flipping coins to see who got which journalist at their table at the AIA Year-End Review and Forecast luncheon last week at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

BAE Systems beat out DRS Technologies in the very hotly contested McHale sweepstakes. Gotta love America -- where else can you find multi-billion dollar companies flipping quarters to hob nob with disheveled tech writers.

Seriously, it was a good event. I was covering it for Avionics Intelligence, our new website and e-newsletter that covers aviation electronics.

The AIA forecast was remarkably positive for the next year, predicting growth of 4.8 percent in 2009. I've been hearing good vibes from my defense contacts as well. They say their backlog is all set for next year and that they barely have time to field all the orders coming in for military electronics.

It is a much rosier view than that of my brother, who is in private equity. He fears unemployment may hit 12 percent by June.

If the other markets tank, I hope our industry can hold steady till the business cycle turns.

In aviation a lot will depend on how the global economy holds up as much of the backlog for commercial aircraft comes from foreign orders.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Living like a pioneer in the wake of Northeast ice storm

Posted by John Keller

I've got an overwhelming desire to wear solid colors, suspenders, and a tall, wide-brim hat after spending the last few days without electricity after last Thursday's ice storm that has paralyzed large chunks of the Northeast.

That was Thursday. Today is Sunday, and the local power utility says we'll be lucky to get our electricity back by next Wednesday. Lucky. I gotta tell you I'm not feeling all that lucky.

I'm writing this from the office in Nashua that, thankfully, has power. A colleague just sauntered in -- toddler in tow -- who said, "I'm just here to get contact with the outside world."

The power went out Thursday night as my wife and I sat up most of the night listening to trees snapping and limbs breaking that sounded like gunshots, and electric utility circuit breakers giving way that sounded like grenades. Flashes of lightning in the distance lent to the feeling of being in a war zone.

The sight outside on Friday morning was more of the same. Trees were across the road outside, which had taken down the electric, telephone, and cable TV wires of several neighbors. Near-panicked motorists were just trying to find a clear route out of the neighborhood.

I'm glad I have a chain saw, because I put it to good use Friday and Saturday -- first helping to clear my street, then to get downed trees out of the yards of two neighbors, and finally to start cutting up the limbs and trees littering my yard and threatening my ugly brown shed.

At least the electric wires are still connected between my house and the physically intact (I think) power line that runs down the street. Neighbors were not so lucky. One big tree sheared off the wires to a neighbor's house but left the connections into the house. A friend a couple of streets over had falling trees snap a power pole in two, ripping off all the wires to her house and taking the electric meter with it.

We're going to be hunkered down for a long while. We have heat from the wood stove, thankfully. The big problem is water. We have well and septic, and no power means no water. We're hauling buckets for flushing and buying water by the gallon when and where we can find it.

I got a refresher course last night in the joys of taking a sponge bath from a pan of water heated up on the stove (at least the gas stove works). I suppose it could be worse.

I'm not missing television. I do miss the Internet, I have to admit. But when we're warm, it's not so bad to enjoy the calm, golden glow of candlelight. We have a hand-crank radio we used last night to listen to A Prairie Home Companion. My wife said, "I feel like we're back in the '30s."

It was kind of a peaceful feeling. Lose power and water, and it brings your priorities into focus very quickly. Keeping wood for the fire close by is one. Finding water is another (our neighbors own a shop in town that still has water).

At least I don't have to worry -- for the time being -- of missing that e-mail or paying bills.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Quick turnaround in wartime

Posted by John McHale

Many of our stories this past year have covered how U.S. Department of Defense leaders are pushing aside funding for long-term programs to get equipment and technology into the field quickly to help the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan -- especially for technology to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Developing technology for mission critical applications is not typically done over night, and it taxes engineers to find a viable solution in a short time while still ensuring the reliability necessary for harsh environments

I had the opportunity last week to visit engineers at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando, Fla., to learn more about a quick-turn around effort they did for electronics aboard the U.S. Army Apache helicopter.

The Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) tasked the Lockheed engineers to design the Apache Video from Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Interoperability Teaming -- Level 2 (VUIT-2) program last year. Lockheed engineers completed the system in just over 10 months.

Production engineers in the Lockheed manufacturing facility told me it was the fastest they ever had to turn around a program from start to finish, but now they know they can do it. They said that the lessons they learned will he applied to other programs they are working on to possibly speed up the production cycle.

The VUIT-2 essentially enables video to be transferred to ground units for improved situational awareness. It will also be used in conjunction with unmanned aircraft, Lockheed Martin engineers said. The VUIT-2 does not interfere with the helicopter's avionics, which helped shorten the design cycle as well, they said.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Times are tough, pants are tight

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

When the economy turns south, most businesses reign in expenditures by curtailing travel. It is easy, however, to become cloistered in the office and detached from the industry. I know of what I speak, as I often and inadvertently find myself holed up in my Spokane office, conversing only by digital methods. A trip to I/ITSEC in Orlando, however, saved me from my Emily Dickenson-like existence and put me back in touch with the markets I so happily serve.

I noted a dichotomy in Orlando. On the show floor, enthusiasm, optimism, and hope for future technology advancements, profit increases, and budget expansions abounded. Outside the convention center, the mood was somber, even in a locale that boasts various family attractions. Sure, children cheered, "I'm going to Disney World," but parents' faces and audible sighs told another story. (Did you know that the entry fee for Universal is $75?!)

In the morning, I read of 20,000 jobs lost this week alone and unemployment rates reaching their highest level since 1974. I will admit that when I am working away in my office, this news elicits little response from me, other than a "huh." Out in the real world (if you can call Orlando that), however, the news made much more impact. En route to the convention center, I noted a baker's dozen signs hanging in merchant windows that read: "We are NOT hiring."

As I was sitting in the airport, I saw an interview with a man in Manhattan seeking employment. In the CNN piece titled "Sign of the Times," a middle-aged business executive wore a sandwich-board sign, the heading of which was "Almost Homeless." His story followed the eye-catching headline, and he told reporters, "I cannot afford pride; I need to care for my family."

All this put things into greater perspective for me, so I resolved to try and live on the cheap. I ate inexpensively at fast food restaurants, only to find that in many places, the "dollar menu" is no more. As I was tightening my belt, however, I noticed that everything else was tightening--not the least of which is the rest of my outfit. Alas, I must find other means of saving money during travel; after all, what do I gain in paying more for insurance premiums and health care as a result of saving a buck in a fast-food line.

I am interested in how you and your company are dealing with the declining economy. Let us know here, or in the Command Post online community. Here's to more prosperous times!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

IITSEC, fun show

Posted by John McHale

What makes the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (IITSEC) in Orlando, Fla., fun is the exhibits where you can refuel Air Force F15s in midair, test the avionics of other jet fighters, fire Javelin missiles, test your efficiency with a handgun or rifle, or even fire weapons for a gun boat in rough waters -- all on the show floor.

It's all simulated of course, but if you enjoy video games or really want to see how the military uses modern technology to improve training it's a show worth attending.

One of the hot areas for new training techniques is in dismounted applications such as urban warfare. For decades most of the military has trained for open field battles with large forces, but the scenarios in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed that paradigm.

Virtual reality system integrators are showcasing systems at IITSEC that enable soldiers to train in a computer generated urban environment, then review the performance for the point of view of each warfighter in the unit.

One company designing these systems is Atlantis Cyberspace, Inc., in Honolulu, Hi. Their booth is strategically located next to that of Military & Aerospace Electronics at booth number 1454.

See you at the show.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving thanks where it is due

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

I am not an historian, though I play one on the Mil & Aero Blog. I kid. I don't portend to know all that I should about history; I believe I have gained and continue to enhance a wonderful education, but I will admit to some pot-holes in my education when it comes to names, dates, and faces. I wrongfully assumed that getting the gist of important events in world history would suffice, but I often find myself wanting to know more these days. It should be of little mystery, then, why I researched the topic of Thanksgiving this week.

For instance, did you know: "In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that Thanksgiving should be a national observance. To some degree, this was a way to brighten the spirits of the American people, who were dealing with a great deal of difficulty and deprivation"? This information was gleaned from ehow.com, one of many online sites I use for rudimentary research on myriad topics.

Today, with terrorist activity apparent and threats looming, I hope that Thanksgiving gives you and yours some solace. Times are tough now, but no worse than during the Civil War.

Things in the global economy look bleak, no doubt. People around me are losing their homes. They are making sacrifices: giving up their cars, moving in with relatives or moving closer to work, opting out of the health-care system, staying put rather than traveling to visit family during the holidays (holiday travel this week is down more than 600,000 people, NBC Nightly News reports), removing meat from the nightly dinner table, and so much more.

At times like this, I know I can really use a holiday like Thanksgiving. I was raised to give thanks for all that I have daily, even when things look their worst; but, I must admit that at no other time do I reflect more on the positives in my life than Thanksgiving. (Stay tuned for my New Year's Eve "What have I done with my life for the past year?" reflections. It's a nail-biter.)

There is always something for which to be thankful. For me, today, an industry that works tirelessly to allay our fears, ensure our safety and security, and enable us to enjoy another day as free and unique individuals is at the top of my list.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Love covering space

Posted by John McHale

My favorite beat at Military & Aerospace Electronics over the years has been space, specifically NASA programs.

I'm in the midst of a feature on avionics for manned spacecraft and the main focus has been the Orion spacecraft and its state-of-the-art cockpit.

"The technology going into Orion is amazing," Rick Kasuda, Orion avionics and software director for Lockheed Martin, told me. This is the best technology astronauts have ever had in the cockpit and "quite different from what they had in the Space Shuttle," he added.

They will have a glass cockpit with very few switches and be able to see everything through the glass display, Kasuda said. The cockpit will also have its own local area network, he added.

The Orion spacecraft will function as a transport for crew and cargo as well as fly to the Moon, Mars, and dock with the International Space Station.

The Space Shuttle is scheduled to retire in 2010, but the Obama Administration may try to get one or two more flights out of it if they so choose.

Be sure to check out the avionics for manned space flight article in our January issue.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bright spots in bleak economy

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

At a time of recession, when a majority of businesses are slashing budgets, eyeing the bottom line, continually conscious of the dwindling profits, how is it that other companies are growing, acquiring other firms, and expanding their portfolio product and services? What are they doing right? A great deal, I can only assume.

Common and central themes I have noticed among those technology firms in the mil-aero industry that are flourishing, even in the wake of what might be another economic depression (Curtiss-Wright and Kontron immediately come to mind), include: acceptance, partnership, and planning.

At a Kontron-hosted event this week, Norbert Hauser, vice president of global marketing at Kontron admitted that company management and personnel expect a decline in business over the next six to nine months, due to continued economic decline across the globe; yet, he and his colleagues also anticipate a full recovery, and more. They are realistic about attainable goals in the near term, accepting of situations outside of their control, and bullish on the future. I find it admirable.

At the same time, successful firms such as Kontron are investing in partnerships--not only with other, complementary industry vendors, but also with the user community. Executives continue to forge relationships with industry innovators, and to connect with systems designers and systems integrators seeking sound products and advice in these especially uncertain times.

Finally, executives at these organizations are proactively planning for the future. They have a roadmap in place and, when the global economy improves, they intend to act--deliberately and with precision.

For more executive-level insights, news, and announcements, be certain to visit the Defense Executive section of Milaero.com daily. Additionally, let your peers in the industry know what changes you have instituted to see your firm through trying economic times by commenting below or starting a discussion in the Command Post community (http://community.milaero.com/).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Will democratic administration be good for defense electronics funding?

Posted by John McHale

Walking the show floor at MILCOM 08 in San Diego the last three days I sensed a good deal of optimism among exhibitors and attendees about defense electronics funding under a Barack Obama administration.

The consensus is that while a democratic administration will likely cut back on boots and bullets, they will also be prone to spend more on technology for C4ISR, or command, control, communications, computers, surveillance, and reconnaissance, applications to remain vigilant without putting troops in harm's way.

Unmanned systems, already a decisive force on the battlefield, should proliferate even more under this scenario, which is good news for our community.

One of the members of our Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum advisory board also pointed out to me that the Bush/Cheney administration killed more programs than the Clinton administration.

He said that a democratic administration is more likely to scale back production rather than kill an entire program. Killing programs also means eliminating jobs on a large scale, something a democratic administration might be loathe doing in this economic climate.

The optimism is good news, but it's still a guessing game as to where Obama will make his cuts in defense and he will make them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The past is present as U.S., allies gird for battle with Somalia pirates on the high seas

Posted by John Keller

There's a new presidential administration in Washington. The United States is locked in a global military and cultural struggle with Islamic extremists. Piracy on the high seas around the continent of Africa is a gathering menace to international maritime commerce, and the navies of the United States and other nations are under increasing pressure to intervene and put a stop to this scourge of the seas, which exists with backing of radical Islam.

Quick question: does this description refer to the year 1802, or 2009?

Answer: both.

Two months ago Somalia pirates commandeered a Ukrainian freighter off the Horn of Africa that contained 33 Russian T-72 main battle tanks and ammunition in its holds.

Just this week, Somalia pirates lurking off the east coast of Africa seized a Saudi Arabian supertanker loaded with 2 million barrels of crude oil worth an estimated value of $100 million. Also this week, just north of the supertanker attack, pirates hijacked a Hong Kong cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden loaded with 36,000 tonnes of wheat bound for Iran.

The latest news reports today have further reports of high-seas buccaneering exploits -- this time off the West Coast of Africa, as a Danish freighter with oil exploration equipment aboard was held for 30 hours by pirates near Nigeria.

Astoundingly, more than 200 years later, incoming U.S. President Barack Obama will face many of the international piracy issues that Thomas Jefferson faced.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, entered office after the 1800 election with piracy off the coast of Africa as one of his top international affairs and national security priorities. The so-called Barbary Pirates were attacking ships in the Mediterranean off the coast of Tripoli, stealing cargoes, and pressing ships' crews to convert to Islam or die.

Jefferson had to do something about it, and he turned to his nation's glittering new warship USS Constitution, a 44-gun frigate that had first put to sea in 1798. By 1803, Constitution was the flagship of the U.S. Navy's Mediterranean fleet, and went into action against Barbary pirates who were demanding tribute from the United States in exchange for allowing American merchant vessels access to Mediterranean ports.

The American warship blockaded African ports and bombarded fortification until Tripoli, Tunisia and Algeria agreed to a peace treaty.

Today, it's as though we're entering a new golden age of piracy -- except this time the hunting grounds are primarily the seas off eastern Africa, not the Caribbean; the prizes are oil tankers and cargo ships, not Spanish galleons loaded with gold; the perpetrating cutthroats this time are not British and French expatriates, but are poor Somalis; and the weapons of choice are not cannons and cutlasses, but are fast speedboats and machine guns.

Thomas Jefferson would not let crimes of piracy stand against the U.S. and its allies. Barack Obama will soon have some choices to make. The USS Constitution put to sea to do battle against those who would exploit international shipping.

Today the U.S. Navy stands ready add more ships to the fight for international maritime commerce off the African coast. We'll see if the new President Obama gives the order.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Outlook for U.S. military combat aircraft through the next decade

Posted by John Keller

U.S. military leaders will face many hard choices over the next 10 years when it comes to planning for military combat aircraft fleets as we move toward the second decade of the 21st century. Money is tight, the economy is bad, and U.S. bank and industry bailouts are placing more intense demands on the taxpayer's dollar than ever before.

One survivor of the military aircraft budgetary battles to come, I believe, will have to be the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. I know what you're thinking: some aircraft programs on the drawing board will have to go; there just isn't enough money to fund everything in the old reliable run of combat aircraft.

This is all-too true, but the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the hot chick jet fighter that has to be part of the mix. Without it, U.S. air forces will have to come up with brand new designs to streak through the skies like a zipfy, and there just isn't enough time or money left to do that.

I've read speculation that the F-22 Raptor might be the preferred aircraft over the F-35, and that just might turn out to be the case. I have to admit that historically I've been pretty poor at predicting aircraft winners. Granted, the F-22 is one of the most formidable combat jets in the world today, and it's a tempting proposition to transform it from a pure air-superiority fighter into a combination fighter-bomber like the Navy's F/A-18 Hornet.

Still, we've got to take a hard look F-22. It's design is 20 years old, it's a remanent of the Cold War, and it's designed from the ground up to take off and land on long runways. There's no version of the F-22 designed to operate from unimproved landing fields or from aircraft carriers like the F-35.

Moreover, a lot of the Pentagon's aircraft eggs are in the F-35's basket. By 2019 the lion's share of the military aircraft budget will be for the F-35, say analysts at the Government Electronics Industry Association (GEIA) segment of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va. Nothing else comes close -- not the F-22, not the F/A-18, not even the KC-X next-generation mid-air refueling tanker.

By 2019, the F/A-18, and the F-16 will be very long in the tooth. The F-15s will be gone. We've already seen retirement of the Navy F-14 Tomcat fighters. If this country wants to maintain a credible combat aircraft presence in the world, the F-35 will be one of our last options -- that is, unless the U.S. wants to ditch manned combat aircraft altogether and rely on unmanned combat aircraft.

I don't see manned combat aircraft going away anytime soon. We won't see that until all the flag officers in the Pentagon who once were fighter jocks are retired and nestled quietly into nursing homes.

Variants of the F-35 will be able to take off from runways, aircraft carriers, and unimproved landing fields. Some variants will be able to take off and land straight up and down. These aircraft can dogfight other high-performance jets, as well as deliver precision-guided munitions, fly reconnaissance missions, and take out enemy radar and communications.

Do we really want to kill the F-35 and start over from scratch? This aircraft has been in development since the 1980s. If we start over now no new combat aircraft would be ready until probably after 2030. A lot can happen in the world between now and then.

I don't think it's worth the risk.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Freedom isn't free, but the free market economy should be

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

Just when I thought it was safe to come out of hiding and take in various media (newspapers, periodicals, television, blogs, etc.) following the recent election, I am reminded that I am bitter about the bailouts -- so much so, in fact, that I need someone to enlighten me.

This free market economy isn't free. Throughout my life, and for as long as I can remember, relatives, teachers, government officials, bosses, and others have extolled -- heralded, even -- the values and benefits of the free market economy. I have heard capitalism and the free market economy likened to Darwinism. To apply that comparison to the proposed bailouts of today: If a company, such as GM for example, isn't fit to survive (e.g., went on making large, gas-guzzling SUVs despite the price of oil and gas doubling and consumers driving less and trending toward compacts and hybrids), should not nature just take its course? Why should we sink in good money after bad to prolong the inevitable?

At the same time, Pentagon officials are urging the incoming president to reduce defense spending. Let me get this straight: We should not spend money on our security and defenses, but we should invest taxpayer money on golden parachutes, extravagant spa retreats, and bloated salaries for ineffectual executives "working" (I use the term loosely) at U.S. banks, automakers, and more. Heh?

I do not easily and callously part with my hard-earned money. As a result, I cannot sit idly by and watch the government act recklessly and without forethought with my money (and everyone else's). I wrote my representatives in Congress.

If you share, even the tiniest bit, in the outrage I feel, write your congressmen and congresswomen. It takes little time; simply visit https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml. I did (and by that I mean: voiced my outrage), and I hope you are moved to do the same.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thank you to those who serve

Posted by John McHale

At Military & Aerospace ElectronicsA we are fortunate to be able to cover the men and women who sacrifice to protect us and our country.

On behalf of my colleagues I say thank you to all veterans and those still in uniform for your service. It has been an honor to work with you over the years. The technology and engineering marvels we write about on our website and magazine cannot outshine your courage.

I also want to recognize the veterans who have been part of our staff over the years I've been with the magazine. Our current Publisher, Ron Mastro, served as a sonar man for the U.S Navy in the 1960s and our late Sales Manager, Jerry Boyle served in the Marine Corps during World War II.

Jerry worked selling advertising space until he retired at 81. He died six months later. I never met a harder worker. He was a true example of the greatest generation.

Most of all I thank my grandfather, Albert Volpe, who served during World War I, my Irish uncles who served and died in World War II, and my cousin Steven Caucci, who lost his life in the Vietnam War.

I don't remember meeting Steven; I was quite young when he died. My mother and he were close and she speaks of him often. It meant a lot to me to find his name on the Wall in Washington.

The Vietnam Memorial, the Korean Memorial, and the World War II Memorial are all quite moving in their own right. Please visit them if you haven't already.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Distractions done, camaraderie and change to come

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

Another election through, well wishes pour in from various parts of the globe, and the general populace seems energized. No matter how you might personally feel about the election results, one thing is clear: the president elect has his work cut out for him. So do the people fortunate enough to inhabit this great land.

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, in an interview on Oct. 29 with (now President Elect) Barack Obama, pointed out that the country wasn't in as poor shape as it is now when he began his campaign roughly two years prior.

"Two years ago, when you started this journey," said Stewart, "the country wasn't necessarily in the shape that it is in now, is there a sense that you don't want this?" that you may look at the country and think, 'You know, when I thought I was going to get this it was a relatively new car, now look at it!'"

At the same time, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour summed it all up as "the inbox from hell" for President Elect Obama.

It isn't just his inbox, however; we as a people and a country united have a great deal of work to do.

According to reports, President Elect Obama told McCain, who phoned to congratulate him on his victory, that he was eager to sit down and talk about how the two of them could work together. He also pledged to work with and listen to those who cast their vote for McCain. Hopefully members of the GOP accept the hand extended to them.

Said Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy of the election results and Obama's victory: "They heard his call for a new generation of Americans to participate in government and were inspired. They believed that change is possible and voted to be part of America's future."

We all have a hand in the future of the United States of America. With the elections, and hopefully the biased and biparisan attitudes, behind us for now, many are optimistic and anxious about working to solve the problems that plague this country.

President Elect Obama, in his speech Nov. 4 to a crowd of roughly 240,000, said it best (and eloquently): "While the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress."

Let us all get back to work, together.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election night

Posted by John McHale

I just finished voting for in this year's election. It only took five minutes and I kept thinking of the line from Chevy Chase in one of those Vacation movies: "Look, Russ! No lines!" Chevy wasn't referring to voting precincts though.

I was really expecting an hour wait, but it was smooth and over in five minutes. Unlike this photo of voters waiting in line outside a polling station in Georgia this morning. (Associated Press/John Amis)

There were other things to vote for besides McCain or Obama. As a former New Hampshire resident I was pleased to mark yes on lowering the income tax in Massachusetts. I do miss the freedom from income tax that I enjoyed in the "live free or die" state. Hopefully the rest of the Massachusetts commonwealth will vote to lower it too.

Aside from taxes another issue that is important to me is free speech. Both candidates would seem on the surface to be big First Amendment guys, but are they really?

McCain was well known for his campaign finance reform, which some say limits free political speech. Obama has been criticized for shutting down access to any journalists who don't endorse him or are skeptical of his policies.

It looks as if Obama will win so hopefully that was just campaign tactics and not signs of things to come. I hope he is also against the "fairness doctrine" that some of his colleagues in Congress are hoping to pass as a way of limiting conservative talk radio.

I myself don't listen to political talk radio, I prefer music or Howard Stern for some laughs, but either side should be able to express their views without those in power limiting their speech.

I'm also a big fan of just changing the channel if I don't like something on television or elsewhere. Live and let live.

This is where Republicans have been guilty of overreaching to limit speech; looking to censor radio and television programs that inlcuded subject matter, which made them uncomfortable.

One claim of censorship that rings false is that President Bush was some sort of fascist, crusading to put down any and all dissent. I think that claim is ridiculous. All you have to do is turn on your T.V. or open a newspaper to see criticism of our sitting president. It's everywhere. Can you imagine that in Russia or China? Never.

Maybe I'm biased as a journalist, but I see nothing more important than freedom of speech. My favorite phrases from the Constitution come from the First Amendment.

"Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..."

Good night.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Super Tuesday treats (this blog entry is not about politics)

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

I am done with politics, for now anyway. After Sen. Obama's 30-minute TV special tonight, I will no longer subject my eyes, ears, and mind to political fodder. I encourage you to get out and vote...and then reap some rewards. In addition to reveling in the satisfaction of having done your civic duty, you can gain other rewards for voting this coming Tuesday. No kidding.

Companies such as Ben & Jerry's and Krispy Kreme are rewarding voters with their highly regarded confections. Show your "I voted" sticker after leaving the polls at either locale (during certain hours), and gain a free scoop of ice cream or a free doughnut. The free doughnut is star-shaped, with patriotic (red, white, and blue) sprinkles, no less! More than 21,000 Facebook users have confirmed that they will participate in the after-poll, ice-cream party. Chick-fil-a is offering a similar voter special, I hear.

Only in America! Enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you voted your conscience, as well as a tasty treat. No tricks, just treats -- finally a harrowing political season pays off for Joe the Voter!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Troops trending toward McCain

Posted By John McHale

If you haven't seen it yet, the Army Times released a poll that showed military personnel support Sen. John McCain over Sen. Barack Obama 68 percent to 23 percent in next week's presidential election.

The Army Times notes that this was a poll of career officers and does not represent the military as a whole. The selected group was much older. Brendan McGary, Army Times staff writer reported on the poll.

According to McGary's story it was a "voluntary survey of 4,293 active-duty, National Guard, and reserve subscribers and former subscribers to Army Times, Navy Times, Marine Corps Times, and Air Force Times."

Does that mean that this sampling is made up of independent/swing voters or life-long conservatives who always vote republican regardless of the candidate?

In other words if Obama had identical views to McCain on the national defense and Iraq, but still differed on the economy, would they results still be the same?

According to McGary's story Iraq was the third most important issue, with character being number one. In 2004 the same Army Times poll had Iraq as the number one issue, McGary reports.

That year the same poll had Bush with similar numbers to McCain this year. He had 68 percent and John Kerry had 19 percent, according to the article.

The poll is just a small sampling to be sure, but a much different picture to the country as a whole.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mil-aero side effects

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

Some friends, colleagues, and I took in Iron Man on DVD the other night. It is not uncommon that a group of friends, having just watched a flick together, would deconstruct it, explore its nuances, ponder its lessons and potential applications to real life, and so on. When those people work in or have experience with the military and aerospace industry, however, it can be an entirely different ballgame.

Iron Man in this environment was followed by intellectual and impassioned discussions on International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), electro-optics, electronic warfare (EW), radar, high-performance computing, intellectual property, and more.

Like most journalists my age, I have covered several industries; but, I must admit, none have lent to so much heated and thought-provoking debates as the mil-aero market. I love it!

In fact, tell me what you think about Iron Man: Would today’s ITAR prevent our best weapons technologies from reaching the hands of terrorists/those who would turn them against us? Are the primes’ engineers and scientists at risk of abduction? If so, should they, and the intellectual property they possess in their mental Rolodex (the comprehensive knowledge and proverbial filing cabinet in one's brain), never leave the country? What do you think of how vendors and contractors serving the military market were portrayed in the film?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Recommending "Jawbreaker"

Posted by John McHale

Over the weekend I finished "Jawbreaker," a book on CIA efforts in Afghanistan to defeat Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. It's the personal account of Gary Bernsten the CIA's field commander in Afghanistan following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He co-wrote the book with Ralph Pezzullo.

It reads like a thriller novel, a quick-paced page turner, even though we basically know the outcome -- the U.S. succeeds brilliantly in defeating the Taliban but still doesn't get bin Laden.

Bernsten hits hard with his criticism of President Clinton, former CIA Director George Tenet, and the bureaucracy of the "seventh floor" at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., for failing to act years before the attacks and for not doing everything to get bin Laden afterwards.

He was particularly harsh on Tenet for closing CIA operations in Afghanistan and other unfriendly countries prior to Sept. 11, 2001

Bernsten said he was chosen to lead the Afghanistan operation because he was aggressive and took opportunities to attack the enemy rather than wait for permission from above.

This characterized by his response to an Army Maj. Gen who wanted to drop pamphlets to Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the mountains of Tora Bora encouraging them to surrender.

He said "don't drop the leaflets or invite them to negotiate! They came to fight, didn't they? So let's oblige them. No damn leaflets! Let's fight the war!"

After cornering Al Qaeda in the mountains, Bernsten wanted 800 Army Rangers to block bin Laden's entrance into Pakistan. He was refused after repeated requests. U.S. military leadership wanted to leave it to the Northern Alliance forces to hunt bin Laden down.

In the book Bernsten says that the U.S. head of Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Tommy Franks, testified before Congress maintained that this was the right decision.

Bernsten disagrees saying that the biggest failure of CENTCOM leadership came at Tora Bora when "they turned down my request for a battalion of U.S. Rangers to block bin Laden's escape."

Today, Bernsten says that bin Laden is hidden in the mountains of Pakistan, but that he can still be taken if "we're creative, aggressive, and not afraid to take risks."

CIA censors felt various parts of Bernsten's book were risky, redacting a good chunk. These sections are marked by black lines in the book.

While the censors did black out quite a bit of text from the book, it's understandable wanting to keep a lid on their intelligence gathering methods. However, it seems ridiculous to black out material that was already publicly released in news reports and other books as Bernsten points out in the text.

That said, it's a bit of stretch to claim it's "the book the CIA doesn't want you to read," as the publisher does on the back cover.

I read it and I don't think CIA censors are losing sleep over that fact.

I also feel Frank Rich of the New York Times was stretching things a bit with his quote on the back cover, that reads "this honest account doesn't do the president any favors."

That is unless Rich was referring to President Clinton, who Bernsten criticized strongly for mild responses to the attack on the USS Cole and our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

Bernsten was quite complimentary to President Bush for his willingness to fight.

Jawbreaker is available on www.amazon.com.

I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A time to remember, hopefully fondly

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

In three weeks, the 2008 U.S. election will be over. Huzzah! I am looking forward to it with great anticipation. I fear that much of what has transpired over the past few months, especially the last couple weeks, has left me a bit more cynical. It is crazy how politics can bring out the worst in people. I feel the need to explore some potential positives.

Bob Schieffer, television journalist with CBS News and moderator of the final debate of this election season, called this the "most exciting campaign in history."

It is a historic event, no doubt.

Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chairman, Commission on Presidential Debates, speaking before the debate (as televised by C-Span), called this a historic election because it will result in "either the first African American U.S. president or first woman U.S. vice president."

"In just 20 days, citizens will cast their vote -- the most important right and responsibility of free citizens," said Paul Kirk, co-chairman, Commission on Presidential Debates. "The stakes could not be higher, the issues have seldom been more complex, and voter interest has seldom been more intense." He went on to cite that one of the reasons that Hofstra hosted the debate is “because we want an informed citizenry... One could argue, that the debates could not be more important.”

"This is a history-changing moment," said Stuart Rabinowitz, president, Hofstra University. "Our mission is to not only teach our students, but inspire them to be participants in the democratic process..."

I applaud those ideals, and the conduct of the tens of thousands of students who quietly, thoughtfully, and respectfully attended these debates.

Let's find some more positives.

Have you been to both candidates' Web sites? I must admit, they are among the most advanced (dare I say "coolest"?) in the history of U.S. elections.

Am I grasping at straws, here? What good have you seen throughout this electoral process?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Phillies up 3 games to 1!

Posted by John McHale

Phillies vs.. Dodgers for the National League pennant may not be as mythic as Red Sox vs. Yankees, or even Phillies vs. Mets, but it brings back a lot of memories for any baseball fan that grew up near Philadelphia in the 1970s -- when the Dodgers regularly kicked our buts in the playoffs.

So please allow me to prematurely gloat. It would be our fist pennant since the early 1990s when Joe Carter and the Blue Jays robbed John Kruk and company of a World Series title.

That was a tough loss, with Mr. Carter hitting a Series-winning homer off of Mitch Williams.

While this year's team is not as entertaining as those guys, it has tons of talent and reminds me of the World Series champs from 1980s, led by Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton.

Ryan Howard has Schmidt-like power and the starting pitching is tough.

Some of my friends probably wonder where my enthusiasm is coming from, since the last Phillies game I went to was in Veterans Stadium and I've been quite obviously assimilated into Red Sox nation after living in New England the last 15 years.

Yet, hearing long-time Phillies announcer Harry Kalas do the intro on Fox for Game 1, and seeing highlights of Tug McGraw jumping off the mound in 1980 reminded me of where my roots lie.

I was in sixth grade back then -- horrible at baseball -- but totally caught up in Phillies hysteria.

Twenty-eight years later I am again.

Go Phillies!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A few thoughts from AUSA

Posted by John McHale

The Association of the U.S. Army's (AUSA's) annual meeting continues to be one of the best and biggest defense technology exhibitions on the calendar, but I don't think it's getting any bigger -- square-footage wise.

Attendance seemed slightly less, probably due to the poor economy, but the word on the show floor this week in Washington was that the exhibit space at AUSA is frozen till 2011 because they've maxed out the bottom floor of the convention center.

Not surprising when the prime contractor booths are 100-by-100 feet -- needed if you're going to roll out multiple tanks and other armored vehicles.

I'm not complaining, I love the event. On one floor you can pretty much get briefed on technology for practially every Army platform. It's a must attend for a magazine that covers defense technology.

I just have a couple of questions that have nothing to do with technology...

What is the fixation on Chuck Norris mythology in Armed Forces bathrooms in Iraq?

Gen. David Petraeus opened his speech on Iraq operations with the best Chuck Norris lines he read on bathroom walls...

My favorites were "Chuck Norris doesn't breathe he holds air hostage," and "Chuck Norris isn't a bad actor because he's not acting."

For more on this Chuck Norris phenomenon, visit

They are funny.

Speaking of celebrities, rumor was that comedians Dennis Miller and Bill Maher were walking the show floor too... Bill Maher at an Army show? Weird if true.

I have just one more comment on the show... There's no clapping after speeches in press conferences. You know who you are.

Taxpayers unwittingly fund excess

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

How very nice of us, hard-working American taxpayers, to treat AIG officials (like Martin Sullivan to the right, who continues to pull a million-dollar salary as a consultant to AIG) to a week-long spa retreat. Oh, I am sure they needed and deserved it, right? Indeed. And how moral and ethical of AIG bigwigs to treat themselves to a $5 million bonus and $20 million golden parachute on the backs of hard-working Americans. I am disgusted -- nay, repulsed -- that greed continues to be rewarded at a time when middle-class and working-class folks, such as Addie Polk (a 90-year-old Ohio woman who attempted suicide when her house was foreclosed upon), are stressing and distraught over how they will survive in the days and months to come. If anyone deserves an all-expenses-paid, money-is-no-object spa retreat it is us on "Main Street," who continue to make sacrifice after sacrifice in our own lives in the name of survival.

As much as I want to continue to slam and damn those benefiting from recent bailouts -- after all, more than enough ammunition exists -- I would rather spend my time and energy in celebration of us: the majority of the nation who give up nights and weekends without complaint in support of our industry, the end users we serve, and the American Dream. My hat is off to you all.

I do, however, want to play a bit of the devil's advocate and note that European government officials readily admit that they serve the will of the people; for, if they do not, the community will band together and rally in the streets to have their voices heard. Perhaps we need to band together and remind our public servants of their duty -- we do pay their salaries, after all.

Let your voice be heard. Post your comments here or online at the Command Post community.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Business as usual

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

I am so sick of sensationalism and biased political and economic reporting that I am hesitant to read the paper or watch the news anymore. I do, mind you, lest I miss out on a nugget of information that would actually have a perceivable impact on daily life. Even online blogs (yes, even the Mil & Aero Blog) and journals that I love to read daily are wrought with partisan or even jargony communication on today's biggest news stories: the bailout and tonight's vice presidential debate. I had just decided to become "Courtney Unplugged" (unplugged and free from online, email, print, and telecast bombardments) for a day, when I came across "Ignore the Economics and Move on as Best You Can," a blog entry by Dr. Joe Webb (http://members.whattheythink.com/allsearch/articleerc.cfm?id=36198).

In his blog, Dr. Webb, a respected analyst in the print/graphics communications industry, says:

"What is really quite amazing are the claims that the markets stopped working, which is how the whole disaster occurred. Well, that's wrong. The markets are working. Markets punish bad behavior, ruthlessly. Any of the plans proposed end up dragging the problems out further. Regulations designed to protect the market end up creating disequilibriums. Now that there is fear in the market again, the chances for rational behavior have actually improved. Flooding the market with money created the problem, and now we're supposed to believe that flooding the market with money will solve it."

His blog -- essentially about getting on with business and life -- hit home for me. I have had it with the sensationalism that bombards us at every turn. After all, somehow (heavy sarcasm) we muddle through despite being "on the brink of another Great Depression," in "very dire" circumstances, etc. Thanks, but no thanks, Chicken Little. We -- in the military and aerospace industry especially -- are resilient...even if those who have made millions and billions on Wall Street are not.

Long live the rugged, proactive, level-headed mil-aero market! Now switch off, unplug (from everything except milaero.com), and get on with it. That's what I am going to do anyway.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Get it done already

Posted by John McHale

Watching the political shows this morning all I saw was the blame game and partisan bickering from Congress for why they failed to pass the economic recovery package for bailing out Wall Street.

This is getting ridiculous.

I refer to both parties. They claim lack of leadership from President Bush and the Wall Street elite caused the current crisis, but their behavior demonstrates they lack the responsibility or wisdom to fill that alleged gap.

A colleague of mine made an interesting point this morning when he said if this happened a year ago and not a month before an election, it probably would've passed already. It makes one wonder if the esteemed members of Congress are voting based on what will get them re-elected or what is best for the country.

Based on that thought I find it ironic the one "person" not ever running for office again is the only who has offered a solution -- President Bush. His proposed $700 billion bailout even goes against the small government mindset of his party. He and his administration may be at fault for some of this, but give them credit for risking political fallout to fix it.

President Bush's approval numbers remain low, but as a Wall Street Journal editorial put it today: "Congress is living up to its 10 percent approval rating."

Anyway, yesterday's stock market nose dive affected everyone including defense market giants. For example Boeing was down $2.85 a share, closing at $55.47; Raytheon was down $2.36, closing at $53.70; Northrop Grumman was down $1.41; closing at $61.59; and General Dynamics was down $3.52, closing at $71.40.

I don't know that we are technically in an economic recession, but it's hard to see us avoiding it.

That said I believe a recession or depression is much more personal. I'm reminded of Ronald Reagan's line when running against Jimmy Carter: "a recession is when your neighbor loses his job, a depression is when you lose your job, and a recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."

Yeah, it was a campaign slap against Carter, but the other part is very true. Quite a few of my friends are already in their own personal economic depression and this week only made it worse.

So get it done Congress.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bailouts and pirates and bombs! Oh, My!

Posted by John Keller

We do live in interesting times, whether that's a curse or not. U.S. government leaders just this morning reportedly reached an agreement to bail out the embattled U.S. financial system for about $700 billion. Meanwhile, if you thought pirates were just something out of the movies, think again. And how safe are we if international terrorists want to take a shot at influencing the U.S. elections?

News out of Washington early this morning has it that we have a financial bailout deal. We'll know by tomorrow if this urgent, fast-track plan to spend nearly a trillion dollars to buy bad loans will go very far in calming out turbulent investment markets. Keep an eye on the stock markets when they open Monday.

I'm still skeptical that this is the best way out of the mess we're in.

The bailouts ...

In particular I'm worried about how this hugely expensive plan will influence U.S. defense spending over the next couple of years. It's bound to put a squeeze somewhere. We'll have to borrow a lot of money to keep defense spending even close to current levels, which is what I think will happen.

I made a prediction in a blog last week that the bailout plan might about clean out existing government cash supplies, leaving us to rely on foreign lenders to pay for things like military spending, roads, and other things American citizens expect.

I was quoted in the Wired Danger Room Blog last week predicting that NOTHING will be left for defense spending after the bailout. What I REALLY meant to predict was that no ready cash will be left, and we'll have to borrow what we use to pay for military equipment, operations, and salaries. I know it's one of the last refuges of scoundrels to claim that I was quoted out of context. My wife always tells me I should be careful what I say. Maybe I should listen to her.

I know it's meant at least somewhat in jest, but I keep thinking about the so-called Birk Economic Recovery Plan that's been making the rounds on the Internet. This plan suggests that instead of giving close to a trillion dollars to the banks, the government ought to split up that bailout money among taxpaying U.S. adults. This would enable them to pay off their mortgages, buy cars, and save for their kids' college ... that is, solve the financial mess, take care of ordinary folks, and let the weak-sister banks go out of business. Yeah, I don't suppose something like that could ever work.

The pirates ...

Now to other news of the weird, piracy on the high seas appears to be on the rise ... except they're using machine guns these days instead of swords and pistols. Somali pirates in an attack the other day off the Horn of Africa took a haul that would render Capt. Jack Sparrow speechless. The pirates took a Ukrainian freighter that, much to their delight, contained 33 Russian T-72 main battle tanks and ammunition in its holds.

Think anyone in the world might want to buy some tanks and ammunition? Me, too, and I'll bet those pirates are taking bids right now.

We'll see of the pirates get a chance to move their armored booty, however. The Russians are not too happy about this, are sending at least one warship to the area in attempts to recover the armored combat vehicles and perhaps punish the pirates.

The U.S. Navy apparently is getting in on the act, too. The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Howard (DDG 83) reportedly is keeping an eye on the ship containing the stolen tanks. We'll see who prevails in this standoff over the next couple of days.

I wouldn't bet on the pirates, however, unless they're very sneaky and resourceful. The Howard is an Aegis destroyer with surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, antisubmarine rockets, torpedoes, Phalanx close-in weapons systems and a five-inch rapid-fire deck gun, as well as electronic warfare countermeasures, decoys, passive detection systems, and a hull-mounted sonar. Plus, it can steam faster than 31 knots -- more than a match for a Ukrainian freighter.

I know members of the U.S. military have been brushing up on their foreign language skills lately. I wonder how you say "Avast, ye scurvy craven dogs -- prepare to be boarded," in Arabic?

... and the bombs

This just in: have anything important on your calendar for October 7? If you do, you might think about how to reschedule. Reports are floating around out there that we might be in for another terrorist attack that day.

A private research firm called the Northeast Intelligence Network says that Tuesday, October 7, is a likely day for potential attacks on New York and/or Washington, and that attacks might involve nuclear weapons.

Yes, I know. Some folks out there believe the Northeast Intelligence Network is a bunch of kooks, but take a look at their reports and judge for yourselves. Might international terrorists want to try influencing the U.S. elections, which will be less than a month away from 7 Oct.? They did it in Spain, and they might try it here, too.

I know I'm sounding alarmist, and maybe I am. I do know that I'll feel a lot better if we can make it to Thanksgiving without any major disasters.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Get out of your comfort zone

Posted by John McHale

We finished a one-day advisory council meeting yesterday in Amsterdam for our Avionics show and I am feeling energized by it... and no, not just because I was in Amsterdam.

I tease my brother in the investment trade about wasting money to fly across the Atlantic for a one day meeting then flying back. Why do that when you can call, email, video conference, etc.? The digital world makes it so much easier to stay at your desk.

Or as they said in my Dale Carnegie classes, to "stay in your comfort zone."

The investment guys say it's because the deals they do are so big, the airfare is a pittance. Wish that were the case for me...

Regardless, the meeting I had with the council members shows that digital tools -- while amazingly helpful to my job -- can never replace the quality of face-to-face discussion.

What they can do is make us more prepared for the meeting. I was impressed how each council member was well versed on the more than 70 abstracts we evaluated, which they received only a few days earlier.

Digital communication made that possible and made the meeting smoother through electronic spreadsheet and video tools. It enhances face-to-face meetings but can never replace the value of personal contact.

There's a reason corporate coaches tell people to make eye contact in an interview, it shows trust and gives the perception you have nothing to hide. You can't look someone eye-to-eye in an email and video conferencing isn't the same as sitting across a table.

I'm reminded of an airline commercial from about 10 years ago. In it a small company's president is lamenting the loss of his biggest customer, who said nobody ever came to see him.

So the president started handing out airline tickets of course, and telling everyone they need to get out and see each customer in person, so they know they're not forgotten.

Yes, it's a clever way to promote an airline, but its message about the value of face-to-face meetings is right on.

Whether you're in sales or journalism, get out of your comfort zone and meet your source or client in person at a show, at their company, or just for a drink. It's worth it, and it's why I think trade shows and conferences are here to stay.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Financial meltdown and bailout: how much is left for defense spending?

Posted by John Keller

The long-term influences of the September Wall Street financial meltdown and subsequent government bailouts have yet to be fully perceived, much less felt or understood. Right now, the week after the Lehman Brothers investment company went bust and Merrill Lynch sold itself off just to survive, many of the Wise Men in business, government, and academia are in a state of mumbling shock.

Among those Wise Men who have been called on the carpet to explain this sad state of affairs are U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., called these gentlemen in to a hearing before the Senate Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. Senator Dodd chairs the committee.

Picture a tattered, dust-covered survivor of the 9/11 Twin Towers attacks stumbling down a rubble-strewn Manhattan street and you get an idea of the condition of the U.S. financial system. I see a headline in The Wall Street Journal -- THE WALL STREET JOURNAL! -- that reads "The End of Wall Street."

Isn't that as if we were to see a headline in USA Today reading "World ends today." As for myself, I can scarcely characterize the magnitude of last week's financial collapse. A lot of people smarter than I are in the same boat. Nevertheless, I hear commentators on the radio say what we're seeing now in the investment markets is even more momentous than the stock market crash of 1929 that led to the Great Depression.

Is anyone else out there getting just a bit apprehensive?

Financial experts who keep an eye on U.S. military spending and the defense industry have been warning for years that rising federal costs for so-called "non-discretionary spending" on things like social security, Medicare, and interest payments on the national debt threaten to squeeze the federal budget such that current levels of defense spending cannot be maintained for long.

These stark warnings started coming long before Congress and the administration began discussing spending as much as a trillion dollars -- A TRILLION DOLLARS! -- to bail out struggling financial institutions in part by using taxpayer money to buy up as many as a million home mortgages at or near default.

At this moment we don't yet know exactly how the federal government is going to do this, but here's something we do know: all that non-discretionary federal spending -- or the money government has to pay whether anyone likes it or not -- is about to get a whole lot bigger.

My big question in all this is how much "discretionary" money will be left for defense spending, homeland security, subsidies for developing renewable energy sources, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, building new roads, and anything else?

More to the point, after the big upcoming Wall Street bailouts, how much will be left? Is that a fair question? My guess is NOTHING. As per usual, the federal government will proceed not on the basis of the money it has, but on its ability to borrow more, and more, and more money from foreign countries.

Now's where I start to get really nervous. Say you're a bank, and one of your clients just borrowed a bunch of money for home improvements. That client has been making his interest payments just fine, but he's come back several times to borrow more money. He can still make his interest payments, but it's a struggle. Paying back any of the principal on the loans is out of the question.

As the banker, what are you going to say when that client comes back for another loan? You might not say no, but what do you think of that client as a credit risk?

Well, the other countries that are lending the U.S. government money have to be entertaining the same thoughts. How good a credit risk is the United States of America anymore? Ever wonder why the value of the U.S. dollar keeps going down, and the cost of crude oil has started going up again? Well, look no further.

If we keep going down this path, sooner or later the folks overseas who are lending us money are going to stop, because we're too big a risk. At what tipping point will this happen? More to the point, at what stage will leaders in the U.S. Congress and the administration realize that maintaining some semblance of financial credibility is a core matter of national security and international relations?

We've come to this: paying our own bills and carrying our own weight is not simply A matter, but THE central matter of U.S. national security and international relations.

We continue to borrow money from Gulf states in the Middle East, and from China. When Iran gets on its feet, are we going to go hat-in-hand and ask them for a loan, too?

This nation has a great history, which has been my great pleasure and inspiration throughout my entire life to read about, absorb, and reflect on. I still get a great feeling when I think about the great American triumphs at places like the North Bridge at Lexington, Gettysburg, and a little town in Belgium called Bastogne. I think of how the United States helped rebuild a flattened Europe after World War II, and helped bring about an end to the Cold War.

Looking forward, it can be difficult to maintain a sense of optimism. Our investment system right now is flat on its back, the U.S. government is deep, deep, deep in debt with only more debt on the horizon, and our military is stretched thin and in need of rebuilding. How are we going to pay to fix all this?

In my nightmares, the United States as I know it at some moment in the future will not be defeated militarily ...

... but will simply be asked to leave.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bitter about the bailouts

Is it the U.S. government's responsibility to bail out businesses on the brink of bankruptcy? Just this year, the federal government has bailed out AIG, Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae.

Michael A. Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times sums up recent months as follows: "The federal government has put up nearly $30 billion to avert a major financial default by the investment bank Bear Stearns; committed to investing up to as much as $200 billion in preferred stock of the loss-plagued finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and at least $5 billion in their mortgage securities; and agreed to provide an emergency loan of $85 billion to American International Group Inc. in return for an ownership stake of as much as 80 percent in the stricken insurance giant."

I think it is not the government's responsibility, and it is just bad business. I could understand the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac transaction given its repercussions on homeowners under their umbrella and the present status of the housing market; however, I cannot help but be disgusted that the government is now, essentially, in the real-estate business.

I think these bailouts set a bad precident, and in some cases rewards high-paying executives with potentially bad business practices. Hiltzik perhaps says it best:"critics contend that bailouts often encourage bad behavior by relieving underperforming industries of the consequences of their ineptitude."

Others in the know anticipate that more and more corporations will soon approach the government, hand extended.The government should be a helping hand to its beleagered citizens (kids and seniors without food, heat, and healthcare), not rich executives who gambled and lost in the corporate world.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Beating the airlines

Posted by John McHale

Let's take a break from blogging about Sarah Palin and the election and talk about air travel headaches.

I do a lot of travel for my job and think I've developed the patience necessary when dealing with the expected flight cancellations and delays, accepting that I can only do so much. I figure writing complaint letters and filing lawsuits will get me just as much satisfaction as losing my temper with airline staff at the ticket counter.

In other words, nothing.

Yet, today I read a story today about a guy who actually sued Delta for canceling his flight and won!

It was an article on CNNMoney.com titled "A Flier Strikes Back" by Telios Demos.

According to Demos' article a passenger had his flight canceled due to weather and was told it wouldn't be refunded because weather delays are not Delta's fault.

However, the passenger, Mitchell Berns, "checked the National Weather Service report. It said snow that day was expected at five the next morning -- hours after his flight was scheduled to land."

The article went on to state that Berns eventually filed a small-claims suit against Delta, and the court ruled in his favor when Delta did not show up.

Where was this guy when I was sitting on the tarmac a couple years ago for five hours at JFK due to thunderstorms? The airline, JetBlue, apologized profusely, but all we received was free animal crackers. It could have been worse; at least with JetBlue we were able to watch satellite television for five hours...

However, on the same trip I was delayed four hours returning from Raleigh/Durham, and this time JetBlue gave us vouchers for a free flight. That impressed me.

British Airways (BA) was a little skimpier than JetBlue. They only gave out food/drink vouchers worth 5 British pounds for a canceled flight I was on -- but you had to ask, BA didn't announce it. A friendly BA frequent flier clued me in to this.

Skimpy, yes, but I enjoyed the free pint of Guinness.

According the AOL piece Berns only had to pay $15 and have a "working knowledge of English" or Spanish to file the claim.

I should mention that the passenger in the article is an attorney, but anybody can file a similar suit.

In the article Berns said "The lesson is, don't let them bully you with bogus cancellations."

Just something to think about next time you find yourself stranded at the airport.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A market view of media bias over vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin

Posted by John Keller

Yeah, I know. We're all sick of hearing claims of media bias when it comes to Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. I'm starting to get my fill of it, too -- and by way of full disclosure, I'm a big Sarah Palin supporter.

I'm not getting too worked up about bias involving Gov. Sarah Palin. First, the media are defeating themselves by showing their hands. Credibility in the media, in general, is at historic lows, and I have a suspicion we are seeing the last gasps of this dinosaur we've come to know as the mainstream media. Besides, taking shots just makes people like her more.

Some of the attention Palin has been getting lately is just downright funny, no matter your political persuasion. Did you see Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live last night? I think the SNL Palin portrayal was spot-on. Take a look below if you don't believe me. Global warming "is just God huggin' us closer." Let's vote right now.

I have a feeling, however, that attacks on Sarah Palin from the national press are going to start dwindling out, particularly if the McCain-Palin ticket keeps rising in the polls. Folks in the press aren't stupid, really (just STOP that now!). They know that if McCain wins, they'll need access to Palin for their stories after 4 Nov.

I'm guessing that Palin's people are keeping score; she's flexing that velvet-gloved mailed fist, and the worst offenders in the media risk getting themselves frozen out -- at least for a time -- if Palin takes office as vice president.

No one in the national press wants to be in Vice President Palin's doghouse for long. Those folks will watch the polls and keep their fingers in the wind; if they see the Obama-Biden ticket on a long downward slide, then almost overnight look to see the national press as Palin's best friends.

It's funny how things work. Press bias is temporary. Keeping themselves in the game is forever.