Google+ Followers

Friday, December 02, 2011

Don’t Come to the Dark Side - Acquisition Lessons from a Galaxy Far, Far Away


 This article is not only fun to read but I think it will add to your understanding of how the Pentagon has gone wrong with some of its project thinking.


by Lt. Col. Dan Ward, USAF















After watching the climactic battle scene in Return of the Jedi for the first time, my 8-year-old daughter said, “They shouldn’t build those Death Stars anymore. They keep getting blown up.” She may be a little short for a stormtrooper, but the kid’s got a point.

Yes, the Empire should stop building Death Stars. It turns out the DoD shouldn’t build them either, metaphorically speaking. What sort of system fits into this category? I’ll resist the urge to give specific examples and instead will simply point out that any enormous project that is brain-meltingly complex, ravenously consumes resources, and aims to deliver an Undefeatable Ultimate Weapon is well on its way to becoming a Death Star, and that’s not a good thing.

Why are Death Stars a bad idea? The main objections fit into two categories: operational and programmatic. The operational shortcomings of the Empire’s doomed battlestations are well known and widely mocked. Their programmatic shortcomings are less well known but worth considering. We’ll take a look at both categories.

Death Star Operational Assessment

Introduced in Episode IV, A New Hope, the Death Star makes an impressive debut when it vaporizes the planet Alderaan—the one and only time it fires its main weapon. Shortly thereafter, the entire station, with 1.2 million people on board, is destroyed by a single shot fired by a half-trained Jedi. That’s what we call a critical vulnerability, and it’s the subject of relentless fan disdain. The second Death Star’s performance in combat was even less impressive. Despite being much larger than the original one, it was dispatched by the rebels before firing its planet-busting laser even once. So much for being “fully operational.”

To be sure, the Death Star is primarily a weapon of intimidation rather than something to be used all willy-nilly. Even the Evil Empire didn’t want to demolish more than a handful of planets. So the fact that the Death Star only ever fired one shot may not be that big of a deal. However, the fact that the stations kept getting blown up is a big deal indeed. It’s hard to be intimidating if you’re a smoking cloud of debris.

One might wonder how such an ostensibly powerful weapon could have such a consistently poor track record and such a gaping weakness. Despite the opinion of certain critics, these shortcomings are not a cheap plot device by a lazy writer. In fact, the Death Star’s combination of inadequacy and vulnerability may be the second-most realistic aspect of the entire saga.

Build Them, Do Not

From a design perspective, a system as enormously complex as a Death Star is more than any program manager or senior architect can handle, no matter how high their midi-chlorian count is. There is bound to be an overlooked exhaust vent or two that leads directly to the reactor core. That is just the sort of vulnerability an asymmetric opponent can exploit. In my professional engineering judgment, a flaw of this type was inevitable. As C-3PO would say, the possibility of building such a large and complex system without overlooking something critical is approximately 3,720 to 1! The resulting error may not be as dramatic as George Lucas envisioned, but even a malfunction in the life support system or navigation software can be pretty exciting in its own way.

Death Star Programmatics

The Death Star’s lackluster contribution to the fight is reason enough not to build one, but serious problems emerged long before it was declared operational. In Return of the Jedi, viewers gain a fascinating insight into the programmatics of Empire acquisitions. In the single most realistic scene in the whole double-trilogy, Darth Vader complains that the second Death Star construction project is … behind schedule. In fact, much of the drama in Episode VI revolves around this delay.

Consider the implications of pop culture’s most notorious schedule overrun. In the Star Wars universe, robots are self-aware, every ship has its own gravity, Jedi Knights use the Force, tiny green Muppets are formidable warriors and a piece of junk like the Millennium Falcon can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But even the florid imagination of George Lucas could not envision a project like the Death Star coming in on time, on budget. He knew it would take a Jedi mind trick beyond the skill of Master Yoda to make an audience suspend that much disbelief.

Even worse, it turns out getting a moon-sized project back on track requires the personal presence of a Sith Lord. Let me assure you, if your project’s success depends on hiring someone whose first name is Darth, you’ve got a problem. Not just because Sith Lords are make-believe, but also because they’re evil.

I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This


If you count the 14 hours I spent rewatching all six movies, I did way more research for this article than any other project in recent memory. During the phase of research that did not involve popcorn, I was surprised to discover several blogs and published articles praising Darth Vader for his programmatic prowess.

You’d think it would go without saying that Vader is not a great example of anything other than redemption. From the time he puts on that black helmet until his (spoiler alert!) heart-warming death scene, he’s a complete baddie. And yet, it turns out many fans have drawn unfortunate lessons from this character.
An article in Project Magazine titled “If His Day Rate Is Reasonable, Get Darth Vader” commended Vader’s ability to turn around an ailing project. Another program management professional wistfully wrote, “If only most project managers could have the presence and command the respect that Darth Vader did…” Um, have you seen these films? I don’t think we really want PMs to walk around in capes and black armor. Sure, I’ve known people who thought they were on par with Vader, but I assure you, his path is not one we should follow. I’m pretty sure it leads to suffering.
A few writers praised Vader’s strong communication skills, pointing out that he conscientiously “ensured the Emperor was kept up-to-date with regular progress reports.” In a similar vein, I’m told Mussolini kept the trains running on time. Even if that were true (and it’s not), it doesn’t make him a good role model.

More than one writer inexplicably complimented Vader’s leadership style, conveniently overlooking his use of telekinetic strangulation as a primary motivational approach.  One misguided soul described Vader as “an authoritative figure who commanded respect.” A more accurate description might be “a murderous tyrant who commanded obedience.” There’s a difference.

Happily, a blog commenter with the unlikely nom de net of Luke had the wisdom to point out, “All projects developed by Dark Lords will end up like the Death Stars.” By that I presume he meant “glowing fields of space junk,” but it’s possible he also meant “over budget, behind schedule and blown-up before Act II.” Online Luke is probably right: Dark Lords build Death Stars. I suspect the inverse is also true—building Death Stars makes program managers end up like Dark Lords. If so, that’s one more reason not to do it.

A Jedi Craves Not These Things

Now, the commentaries I quoted were surely at least partially tongue-in-cheek. However, there seemed to be a sincere underlying belief in many cases that a) the Death Stars were awesome engineering projects and b) Darth Vader was a good leader who got stuff done. I can excuse enthusiastic fanboys and fangirls for holding these beliefs, but as professional military technologists, we know better.

Consider the fact that even the Empire, with all its vast resources and the full power of the Dark Side, could only build one Death Star at a time. Building two at once was clearly more than it could handle. This reminds me of Norm Augustine’s famous prediction that at some point, the entire DoD budget would purchase just one aircraft for all the Services to share. The Empire apparently arrived at this singularity long, long ago. I’m not convinced this achievement represented real progress.

The truth is, Death Stars are about as practical as a metal bikini. Sure, they look cool, but they aren’t very sensible. Specifically, Death Stars can’t possibly be built on time or on budget, require pathological leadership styles and, as we’ve noted, keep getting blown up. Also, nobody can build enough of them to make a real difference in the field.

The bottom line: Death Stars are unaffordable. Whether we’re talking about a fictional galaxy far, far away or the all too real conditions here on Planet Earth, a Death Star program will cost more than it is worth. The investment on this scale is unsustainable and is completely lost when a wamp-rat-hunting farmboy takes a lucky shot. When one station represents the entire fleet (or even 5 percent of the fleet), we’ve put too many eggs in that basket and are well on our way to failing someone for the last time.

The answer isn’t to build more, partly because we can’t and partly because the underlying concept is so critically flawed. Instead of building Death Stars, we should imitate the most successful technology in the saga: R2-D2.

The Droids We’re Looking For

My extensive research uncovered an interview where George Lucas identified R2-D2 as “the hero of the whole thing.” I found this comment startling at first, because in all my boyhood hours of playing Star Wars, nobody ever wanted to be an astromech droid. We all wanted to be Luke. And yet, a closer look at the films shows Artoo has an impressive tendency to save the day, in scene after scene. Whether it’s repairing the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive, destroying a pair of Super Battle Droids, conveying a secret message to old Ben Kenobi or delivering Luke’s light saber at the critical moment on Jabba’s Sail Barge, he’s always got a trick up his proverbial sleeve.

When a young Anakin snuck Padme off Coruscant and reassured her by saying “Don’t worry, we have Artoo with us,” he was not being ironic. No other character, biological or mechanical, is quite so dependable. If I was assaulting a Death Star in an X-wing fighter, you bet I’d want a good R2 unit on board.

Our Only Hope

Yes, there are plenty of flaws in the Star Wars films—I’m looking at you, Jar Jar Binks—but casting R2-D2 as the hero isn’t one of them. Just as the Death Stars’ vulnerability and inadequacy are perfectly realistic, the superior operational performance of a simple droid corresponds to real-life experience. Time and again, war-winning weapons tend to be simple, inexpensive and small.

An astromech droid’s simplicity makes it reliable, and its long history of use in battle makes it robust and widely useful. Consider Artoo’s restrained design. He doesn’t have fancy language processors; beeps and squeaks suffice. He doesn’t have arms or even a face. Artoo is pure function. He has no unnecessary features, no superfluous parts. He’s not even very tall, proving once again Yoda’s dictum that size matters not.

Consider this: A Death Star is an Empire weapon that aims to intimidate opponents into submission. Droids are Republic technology. They don’t intimidate anyone. Instead, they earn their keep by being useful and practical. Droids are about finesse, while Death Stars are about brute force. And given the current world situation, finesse is clearly what we need.

Droids aren’t expensive; their requirements aren’t overstated. One might argue that a droid can’t do what a Death Star does, but then again, the Death Stars didn’t do very much when all was said and done. In the final accounting, a droid like Artoo does more than it was designed to do, while a Death Star ends up doing less. Much less.

If you want to keep your limbs intact, let the Wookie win. And if you want to develop and deliver effective weapon systems, build droids instead of Death Stars. The key is exercising design restraint, focusing our requirements on the essential requirements rather than the endless list of desirements, living within our budget and resisting the temptation to extend the schedule. Sure, it’s hard to tell the Emperor no when he insists on building yet another Death Star, but since the Force is imaginary, chances are good you won’t get zapped with lightning for suggesting an alternative approach.

There are all sorts of ways to simplify a design, to reduce a set of requirements to the bare minimum, to make sure we build what we can afford. Don’t believe such a thing can be done? That is why you fail. But those who do believe will find the system they built just might be “the hero of the whole thing.”

Lt. Col Dan Ward is a branch chief in the Science, Technology and Engineering Directorate, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition (SAF/AQRT) . He holds degrees in systems engineering, electrical engineering, and engineering management. He is Level III certified in SPRDE, Level III in PM, and Level I in T&E and IT.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Vets Day


Veterans Day Honors Service, Sacrifice

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2011 - Until the 1960s, veterans groups used the red poppy as the symbol of Veterans Day. In Great Britain, it still is.

The symbol comes from a poem, "In Flanders Fields," written by Canadian doctor John M. McCrae in 1915.

The first two verses of McCrae's three-verse poem read:

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

"We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields."

McCrae tended to the first victims of a German chemical attack on the British line at the Belgian town of Ypres during World War I.

The fields of Flanders, where some of the most horrific battles occurred, are now dotted with cemeteries filled with the war dead. If you fly across France and Belgium, you can still see the remains of the trench systems of the war.

The Great War of 1914 to 1918, called the first modern global conflict, was an enormous divide for the world. Millions of service members died in the conflict. Millions more civilians were also killed or died of disease.

It truly was a world war. Troops fought in Turkey, the Balkans, East Africa and the Middle East as well as in Russia and France. The war caused the Russian czar to fall and allowed Vladimir Lenin to build what would become the Soviet Union.

On Nov. 11, 1918, that war came to an end. At 11 a.m. the shooting stopped. A war that saw 20,000 British "Tommies" die in 20 minutes at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, was over. The war that saw 1,384,000 French "poilus" die, ended in the trenches that extended from Switzerland to the Belgian coast. Americans, who joined the war in 1917, lost more than 100,000 soldiers in the fighting.

The Germans had signed an armistice with the allies and to the generations of The Great War, Nov. 11 remains Armistice Day. For decades, veterans sold paper poppies to raise money for memorials and for the families of those who died in the war.

But The Great War was not, as President Woodrow Wilson hoped, "the war to end all wars." World War II rose from its ashes, and millions more died to stop the mad dreams of dictators from 1939 to 1945. The U.S. Congress changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all veterans after more blood was spilled during the Korean conflict to halt aggression.

Congress moved Veterans Day, along with most other federal holidays, to be celebrated on the closest Monday to the traditional date. But soon Congress reversed itself on Veterans Day because of public pressure to honor the powerful symbolism of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

This year, national observance of "11-11-11," will include a presidential wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery and ceremonies around the country.

Along with two world wars and Korea, Americans and their allies have fought and died in Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places.

Today, the United States' armed forces confront enemies around the world. U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen defend freedom on station wherever, whenever they are called.

Those serving today are ensuring that they do not ignore the final verse of McCrae's poem:

"Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."

Editor's Note: This is a slightly revised version of a story initial published by the American Forces Press Service in 2005.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fascinating Facts about the U.S. Constitution

Saturday, Sept. 17, is Constitution Day.  Constitution Day commemorates the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and the 39 statesmen who signed it that day in 1787.  

For more information and fun activities, go to www.constitutionfacts.com.


Fascinating Facts about the U.S. Constitution

The U.S. Constitution has 4,400 words. It is the oldest and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world."

Of the spelling errors in the Constitution, “Pensylvania” above the signers’ names is probably the most glaring.

Thomas Jefferson did not sign the Constitution. He was in France during the Convention, where he served as the U.S. minister. John Adams was serving as the U.S. minister to Great Britain during the Constitutional Convention and did not attend either.

The Constitution was “penned” by Jacob Shallus, A Pennsylvania General Assembly clerk, for $30 ($726 today).

Since 1952, the Constitution has been on display in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Currently, all four pages are displayed behind protective glass framed with titanium. To preserve the parchment’s quality, the cases contain argon gas and are kept at 67 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 40 percent.

Constitution Day is celebrated on September 17, the anniversary of the day the framers signed the document.

The Constitution does not set forth requirements for the right to vote. As a result, at the outset of the Union, only male property-owners could vote. African Americans were not considered citizens, and women were excluded from the electoral process. Native Americans were not given the right to vote until 1924.

James Madison, “the father of the Constitution,” was the first to arrive in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. He arrived in February, three months before the convention began, bearing the blueprint for the new Constitution.

Of the forty-two delegates who attended most of the meetings, thirty-nine actually signed the Constitution. Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts refused to sign due in part due to the lack of a bill of rights.

When it came time for the states to ratify the Constitution, the lack of any bill of rights was the primary sticking point.

The Great Compromise saved the Constitutional Convention, and, probably, the Union. Authored by Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman, it called for proportional representation in the House, and one representative per state in the Senate (this was later changed to two.) The compromise passed 5-to-4, with one state, Massachusetts, “divided.”

Patrick Henry was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, but declined, because he “smelt a rat.”

Because of his poor health, Benjamin Franklin needed help to sign the Constitution. As he did so, tears streamed down his face.

Gouverneur Morris was largely responsible for the “wording” of the Constitution, although there was a Committee of Style formed in September 1787.

The oldest person to sign the Constitution was Benjamin Franklin (81). The youngest was Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey (26).

When the Constitution was signed, the United States’ population was 4 million. It is now more than 309 million. Philadelphia was the nation’s largest city, with 40,000 inhabitants.

A proclamation by President George Washington and a congressional resolution established the first national Thanksgiving Day on November 26, 1789. The reason for the holiday was to give “thanks” for the new Constitution.

The first time the formal term “The United States of America” was used was in the Declaration of Independence.

It took one hundred days to actually “frame” the Constitution.

There was initially a question as to how to address the President. The Senate proposed that he be addressed as “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties.” Both the House of Representatives and the Senate compromised on the use of “President of the United States.”

James Wilson originally proposed the President be chosen by popular vote, but the delegates agreed (after 60 ballots) on a system known as the Electoral College. Although there have been 500 proposed amendments to change it, this “indirect” system of electing the president is still intact.

George Washington and James Madison were the only presidents who signed the Constitution.

In November of 1788 the Congress of the Confederation adjourned and left the United States without a central government until April 1789. That is when the first Congress under the new Constitution convened with its first quorum.

James Madison was the only delegate to attend every meeting. He took detailed notes of the various discussions and debates that took place during the convention. The journal that he kept during the Constitutional Convention was kept secret until after he died. It (along with other papers) was purchased by the government in 1837 at a price of $30,000 (that would be $629,000 today). The journal was published in 1840.

Although Benjamin Franklin’s mind remained active, his body was deteriorating. He was in constant pain because of gout and having a stone in his bladder, and he could barely walk. He would enter the convention hall in a sedan chair carried by four prisoners from the Walnut Street jail in Philadelphia.

As Benjamin Franklin left the Pennsylvania State House after the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787, he was approached by the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia. She was curious as to what the new government would be. Franklin replied, “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.”

On March 24, 1788, a popular election was held in Rhode Island to determine the ratification status of the new Constitution. The vote was 237 in favor and 2,945 opposed!

The members of the first Congress of the United States included 54 who were delegates to the Constitutional Convention or delegates to the various state-ratifying conventions. The number also included 7 delegates who opposed ratification.

Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790, at the age of 84. The 20,000 mourners at his funeral on April 21, 1790, constituted the largest public gathering up to that time.

Vermont ratified the Constitution on January 10, 1791, even though it had not yet become a state.

The word “democracy” does not appear once in the Constitution.

There was a proposal at the Constitutional Convention to limit the standing army for the country to 5,000 men. George Washington sarcastically agreed with this proposal as long as a stipulation was added that no invading army could number more than 3,000 troops!

John Adams referred to the Constitution as “the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen” and George Washington wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette that “It (the Constitution) appears to me, then, little short of a miracle.”

The Pennsylvania State House (where the Constitutional Convention took place) was where George Washington was appointed the commander of the Continental Army in 1775 and where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. It was also where the Articles of Confederation were adopted as our first constitution in 1781.

Rhode Island was the only state not to send delegates to Philadelphia in 1787. At that time the state legislature was controlled by the agrarian party and was fearful that a stronger central government would demand that debts be paid in specie (hard money). It was the last state to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790 (over a year after President George Washington’s inauguration) by a vote of 34-32.

The delegates were involved in debates from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. six days a week with only a 10 day break during the duration of the convention

The Constitution contains 4,543 words, including the signatures and has four sheets, 28-3/4 inches by 23-5/8 inches each. It contains 7,591 words including the 27 amendments.

The Constitution was ratified by specially elected conventions beginning in December 1787. The order in which the thirteen states accepted the new constitution was Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island.

Daniel Webster (1782-1852), of Massachusetts, has been called the “Expounder of the Constitution”.

From 1804 to 1865 there were no amendments added to the Constitution until the end of the Civil War when the Thirteenth amendment was added that abolished slavery. This was the longest period in American history in which there were no changes to our Constitution.

The text of the Constitution was printed by John Dunlap and David Claypoole in Philadelphia to then be sent to the various state constitutional conventions for debate and discussion.

As evidence of its continued flexibility, the Constitution has only been changed seventeen times since 1791!

The main reason for the meeting in Philadelphia was to revise the Articles of Confederation. However, the delegates soon concluded that it would be necessary to write an entirely new Constitution. They agreed to conduct the meetings in secrecy by stationing guards at the door to the Pennsylvania state house. When one delegate dropped a convention document, Chairman George Washington replied, “I must entreat the gentlemen to be more careful, lest our transactions get into the newspapers and disturb the public repose.”

At the time of the Constitutional Convention Philadelphia was the most modern city in America and the largest city in North America. It had a population of 40,000 people, 7,000 street lamps, 33 churches, 10 newspapers, and a university.

The median age in America by the end of the 18th century was 16 years of age (today it is around 34 years of age), 19 of every 20 citizens lived on the land, and 70% of the land was worked by its owners (30% by tenants).

The national government spent $4.3 million during the first session of Congress from 1789-1791. During the last year that George Washington was President of the United States (1796-1797), the entire cost of running the federal government was $5,727,000.

The election of George Washington as the first President under the Constitution was not really “unanimous”. In actuality, two electors from Virginia and two electors from Maryland did not vote. New York was entitled to eight electoral votes but the state legislature could not decide how these electors would be chosen, so the state of New York officially did not vote for the President. The electoral vote in 1789 should have totaled 81 but only 69 votes were cast.

James Madison of Virginia was responsible for proposing the resolution to create the various Cabinet positions within the Executive Branch of our government and twelve amendments to the Constitution of which ten became the Bill of Rights.

Although the United States Treasury Department stopped distributing currency denominations of $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 in 1969, for all intents and purposes the production of each stopped after World War II. However, these notes are still legal tender and may be found on rare occasions in circulation. James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” is on the $5,000 bill.

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin observed the symbol of a half-sun on George Washington’s chair and remarked, “I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

Benjamin Franklin made a suggestion at the Constitutional Convention that the sessions be opened with a prayer. The delegates refused to accept the motion stating that there was not enough money to hire a chaplain.

Of the fifty-five delegates who attended the convention 34 were lawyers, 8 had signed the Declaration of Independence, and almost half were Revolutionary War veterans. The remaining members were planters, educators, ministers, physicians, financiers, judges and merchants. About a quarter of them were large land owners and all of them held some type of public office (39 were former Congressmen and 8 were present or past governors).

William Few of Georgia was the only member to represent the yeoman farmer class which comprised the majority of the population of the country. Nineteen of the members who were chosen to represent their state never attended a meeting.

Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania was known as the “Sage of the Constitutional Convention.” He was also the mediator at the convention and often counseled that “we are here to consult, not to contend”.

George Washington and James Madison were the only Presidents who signed the Constitution.

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts was opposed to the office of vice president. “The close intimacy that must subsist between the President and Vice President makes it absolutely improper.” However, he put his feelings aside and became Vice President under James Madison!

When Paul Revere learned that Sam Adams and John Hancock were reluctant to offer their support for the Constitution during the ratification fight, he organized the Boston mechanics into a powerful force and worked behind the scenes for the successful approval by the Massachusetts convention.

The only other language used in various parts of the Constitution is Latin.

The term “others” is used in the Constitution to categorize ethnic minorities.

Four of the signers of the Constitution were born in Ireland.

John Tyler was the first Vice President to assume the responsibilities of the Presidency upon the death of William Henry Harrison in 1841. There was nothing in the Constitution that provided for the vice president to BECOME the president. Article II, Section 6 of the Constitution states that: “In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President...” The Article did not state that the vice president would BECOME the President! Tyler immediately began to refer to himself as the President with no actual Constitutional authority to do so, and every succeeding vice president in the same position did the same. It was not until the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was passed in 1967 that the vice president technically BECAME the president. This amendment legitimatized Tyler’s unconstitutional assumption!

During an event to celebrate the Constitution’s Sesquicentennial in 1937, Harry F. Wilhelm recited the entire document through the newly added 21st Amendment from memory. He then obtained a job in the Sesquicentennial mailroom!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

True But. . . (ouch)




I'm a federal employee and I've done well in my career. I'm a person who is motivated by providing for the betterment of others. Not making any claim of having the moral high ground here. It is just how my bio/emotional system fits into a natural social composite. What I am posting here is an Column from Gov.Exec.com's Pay and Benefits Watch. I know there is a lot of truth here and I know there are lots of points for dispute. However, it is hard for the public that feels it pays our salaries to think they pay us more than they themselves are worth. It is a debate that only erodes the confidence in Civil Service as a calling. But, I am posting this because it presents the dilemma of over simplification when it comes to human welfare. – CPD

The Real Gap
By Andrew G. Biggs and Jason Richwine

Editor's Note: This edition of Pay and Benefits Watch is a guest column and does not reflect the views of Government Executive.

Federal employees are still smarting over President Obama's two-year pay freeze, but for some Republicans a mere freeze is not enough. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, promises to eliminate tens of billions of dollars from the budget, and federal workers will not be immune.

Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management argues that feds actually deserve a raise, not a pay reduction. OPM's 2010 annual report says federal employees earn less than their private sector counterparts, noting the pay gap grew from 22 percent in 2009 to 24 percent in 2010. This is surprising, given that federal employees received a 2 percent pay increase from 2009 to 2010 while economywide wages fell by 1.5 percent during that period. Nevertheless, public sector unions cite this data to dismiss claims of federal overcompensation.

Is the overpaid federal worker really just a myth? Not according to academic research. Economists have studied federal pay since the 1970s, and their methods and conclusions differ markedly from those of the government. Economists use statistical techniques that account for differences in workers' age, education, experience, gender, race, marital status and other characteristics.

Those studies generally have found a federal pay premium in the range of 10 percent to 20 percent, according to the 1999 Handbook of Labor Economics. A private sector worker earning $50,000 per year, for example, might receive $55,000 to $60,000 per year as a federal employee. The largest premiums are for lower-skilled employees, with smaller benefits as education increases. Interestingly, foreign studies also have found pay premiums for their government employees, suggesting government's weaker budget constraints allow public sector pay to rise above market levels.

Using the Census Bureau's 2009 Current Population Survey, the authors calculated an average federal pay premium of 12 percent over comparable private workers. Other studies tackle the issue from different angles, such as following the same workers over several years. Economists have demonstrated that private workers who switch to federal employment enjoy a substantial boost in wages.

In addition, feds quit their jobs at much lower rates than private sector workers, implying that civil service positions offer better compensation, job security and benefits. These retention rates persist even with the federal retirement program's shift away from a defined benefit pension structure, which was believed to account for low quit rates.

Why is this research so inconsistent with claims that federal workers are underpaid? Because economists compare similar workers, while OPM looks at similar jobs. This seemingly minor distinction between personnel and positions actually is important.

To estimate pay gaps, OPM surveys nonfederal positions, assigning each job a grade level based on its description and level of responsibility. A partner in a law firm might be classified as a GS-13, for example, while a junior clerical worker might be a GS-8. Compared to private jobs at the same assigned grade level, federal jobs seem to pay less.

One problem with this method is subjectivity: How can we be sure a particular private sector job is equivalent to a GS-9 rather than, say, a GS-8? And even if two jobs' responsibilities seem similar, how do we account for differences in job security, benefits, flexibility and myriad other factors that affect salary demands?

And there is a larger problem. According to the Congressional Budget Office, federal workers tend to be less educated and experienced than private workers at the same occupational level because the government hires people at higher grades and promotes them faster. A senior accountant at a federal agency, for example, might qualify only as a junior accountant in the private sector. This is why federal jobs seem to pay less, even while federal workers are paid more.

The federal pay system requires fundamental reform, starting with objective analysis from independent economists. Excessive salaries might be only a small part of the government's budgetary shortfall, but their existence implies government is not serious about fiscal belt-tightening.

Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jason Richwine is a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

As Mentioned Yesterday - Electric-vehicle chargers arrive at Nashville hotel

Federal grant money will pay for 2,500 devices in TN, most in homes


ECOtality unveiled its first public electric-vehicle charging station Monday at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. The California company, a partner with Nissan, plans to have about 2,500 charges installed in Tennessee by year-end, most in the residences of people who have bought the Nissan Leaf or other qualifying vehicles.

Nissan’s electric-vehicle-charging partner unveiled a charging station in Nashville on Monday at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, the first of a network of public chargers the company intends to have in place in Tennessee by the end of the year.




California-based ECOtality Inc. has a contract to install residential, commercial and public chargers in six states under the federally funded EV Project, which uses grant money to pay for the manufacture and installation of the devices.





By year’s end, ECOtality will have about 2,500 chargers installed in Tennessee, although most will be at the residences of people who have bought qualifying electric vehicles such as the new Nissan Leaf, the company said. The grant will pay for the chargers, which cost up to $2,000 each for a residential installation.





The Loews site has four chargers in the hotel parking garage in spaces marked for “Electric Vehicles Only,” and since they were turned on late last week, “We’ve already had two Leafs come in to recharge,” said Loews manager Tom Negri.





While there is no cost to use the Loews chargers, the garage’s parking rates run as high as $4 per half hour, so the chargers are most likely to be used by electric-vehicle drivers who are guests of the hotel, ECOtality officials said. Some local rental-car companies have placed orders for the Leaf, and it’s expected that some renters would be out-of-town visitors who would stay at hotels that have chargers available, said Stephanie Cox, ECOtality’s area manager for Tennessee.




Depending on the state of charge in a car such as the Leaf, the vehicle could be recharged at one of the company’s BLINK public chargers in one to three hours, she said. The company also will install fast chargers along the interstates connecting Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga to accommodate travelers. Those can top off a Leaf battery pack in a little more than a half-hour.




Lebanon-based Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores has agreed to install the fast chargers at some of its interstate highway locations, and others will be positioned at places such as fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, ECOtality said.




The slower chargers will be installed at “restaurants, malls and shopping centers — places where people might stay for up to three hours,” Cox said.




But most charging will be done overnight at home by owners of the Leaf, the new Chevrolet Volt and other electric cars, ECOtality said. The company already has installed about 1,200 home chargers in the areas where the Leaf is on sale. Besides Tennessee, that includes California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Texas and the District of Columbia.




Ease 'range anxiety'




The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides most of the electricity in Tennessee, can handle charging “millions of cars” in the overnight, off-peak hours without affecting reliability, said James Ellis, senior manager of transportation and infrastructure for the federal utility.




The public chargers, which are expected to be used mostly during the day, will “help relieve range anxiety” felt by electric-vehicle operators, he said.




The Leaf can go up to about 100 miles on a full charge, but when its batteries run down, it must be connected to an external charger, unlike the Chevrolet Volt, whose small gasoline engine onboard can recharge its batteries.




Operating a car such as the Leaf costs about 3 cents a mile under TVA’s current power rates, Ellis said.




Besides qualifying for free home chargers, early Leaf buyers can get up to $10,000 in federal and state tax rebates toward the car, which begins in the low $30,000s. The federal credit is $7,500, and there is a $2,500 Tennessee credit for the first 1,000 electric-vehicle buyers.




Contact G. Chambers Williams III at 615-259-8076 or cwilliams1@tennessean.com.





Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thorium Challenges Nuclear Norm


TVA's Watts Bar nuclear plant runs on conventional solid radioactive fuel. Advocates for thorium molten salt reactors say their core cannot melt down, and is designed to shut down automatically in an emergency.

This article was in the Tennessean Opionion section. I've seen this claim before. Just posting it for your pondering on our energy issues. Note also that some hotels in Nashville are installing chargers for electric cars. Bet you never thought about that did you local gas stations? - CPD


Molten salt reactors safer, cleaner, cheaper

11:03 PM, Jun. 13, 2011

Written by
Robert Orr Jr.
Filed Under Opinion
Opinion Tennessee Voices


In her article in the May 8 Tennessean, “Advocates Want Reactors to Use Alternative Fuel,” Anne Paine quotes Paul Genoa, director of policy development at the Nuclear Energy Institute: “There’s a huge investment and infrastructure in this country that goes back 50 years. You don’t just walk away from that and try the shiny new toy, even if the shiny new toy might work better.”

The “shiny new toy” is the thorium molten salt reactor (TMSR).

Mr Genoa’s use of the words, “might work better,” is misleading. In the 1950s, while Adm. Hyman Rickover was building his solid fuel uranium reactor that would power the Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine, scientists at Oak Ridge were designing a strategic bomber powered by a tiny, 3-foot-diameter molten salt reactor. The atomic bomber never flew, but the research was a complete success.

Research on molten salt technology continued until 1969 when it was, basically, put on the shelf, where it remains. The reasons had nothing to do with the brilliance of the reactor design, which performed flawlessly for 17,000 hours.

Indeed, if TMSR technology had been chosen in the 1950s as the path to the future, there is no chance that today there would be a groundswell of people like me and many others advocating a change to solid fuel reactors. The thorium community recognizes that the continuing disaster at Fukushima, Japan, is the wake-up call for a change in technology going forward, and we believe that it should be TMSR technology. As director of policy development for the NEI, Mr. Genoa should welcome, rather than pooh-pooh, a frank discussion of our ideas.

Let me count the ways TMSR is superior to current solid fuel reactors:

1. Molten salt reactors burn thorium, an element three to four times more abundant than uranium. America has already enough to power the country for centuries. Only 10 percent of the uranium we use is mined in this country.

2. Only a tiny fraction of uranium produces power, so it must be enriched, which is very expensive, while 100 percent of thorium is usable without enrichment.

3. TMSR fuel is a mixture of nuclear fuel and very hot molten fluoride salts, a liquid like water. TMSR cannot melt down, because it already operates in a molten state.

4. TMSR operates practically at living-room pressure. Solid-fuel reactors operate at thousands of pounds of pressure, hence their huge, expensive containment structures.

5. TMSR is “walk-away” safe. If anything goes wrong, even with no power or personnel, it will shut itself down automatically.

No disposal problem

6. All current solid-fuel reactors have to be shut down periodically to refuel after only 4 percent of their fuel energy has been used. TMSR is over 99 percent efficient and can be refueled while it is making electricity. Its long-term waste is measured in pounds, not tons, and is harmless in about 300 years, not 300 centuries.

7. The 96 percent of the fuel that current reactors do not burn ends up as very toxic radioactive waste with its vexing disposal problem. That waste can be burned in the molten salt reactor, as can plutonium from decommissioned weapons.

8. TMSRs are small, modular and can be manufactured on an assembly line, loaded on trucks, taken where they are needed and practically plugged in.

9. TMSR does not contribute to proliferation, and terrorists won’t care.

10. TMSR emits no greenhouse gases or other environmental pollutants.

I was privileged to address the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future in Washington May 13. I praised Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander’s “Blue Print for 100 New Nuclear Reactors in 20 Years,” but I lamented that he calls for more solid-fuel reactors. Mr Genoa should join with Sen. Alexander, TVA and the thorium community to take a close look at the “shiny new toy” that is TMSR. It satisfies every wish in the senator’s blueprint better than any other technology in existence.

In his plan, Sen. Alexander asks rhetorically, “Isn’t it time we got back in the game?” The Chinese have already answered that question for themselves. Their answer is TMSR. What will ours be?

Robert Orr Jr. of Franklin is an attorney who advocates for the development of thorium as a source of fuel.

Monday, May 02, 2011

For a Second I though I Was Hearing General/President Eisenhower

From NPR

This year the U.S. is expected to spend $700 billion on defense. That's twice what was spent in 2001, and as much as is spent on the rest of the world's militaries combined.

Defense is the U.S. government's biggest discretionary expenditure, but given the level of the national debt — and the drive to reduce government spending — calls are louder than ever to find cost savings.

Ret. Army Col. Douglas Macgregor says there are ways to reap major savings when it comes to defense. He recently wrote about the subject in an article titled "Lean, Mean Fighting Machine" for Foreign Policy magazine. He tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered, that the U.S. simply cannot afford "wars of choice."

"Emphasis on choice," Macgregor says. "If you look at all of the interventions that we have launched since 1945 — beginning with Vietnam in 1965 and moving forward — none of them have changed the international system at all, and none of them have directly benefited us strategically."

World War II was the last military event that really had a strategic global impact, he says. "Americans need to understand that these wars of choice, these interventions of choice, have been both unnecessary, counterproductive, strategically self-defeating and infinitely too expensive for what we can actually afford."

A 'Somewhat Radical' Plan

Macgregor recommends swift reduction of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that's just the beginning. In a plan he acknowledges as "somewhat radical," he proposes a 40 percent reduction of the defense budget in just three years. Forcing the Pentagon to adapt to a drastically smaller budget, he says, will streamline the organization.

If you look at the Soviets, the Royal Navy, British Army and various other military formations over the last couple centuries, Macgregor says, "what you discover is that most innovation — and the most positive change, an adaptation to reality — occurs not in a flood of money, but in its absence.

"That's when people have to sit down and come to terms with reality, and realize that they cannot go on, into the future, and do what they've done in the past," he says.

The nature of warfare has changed, too, he says. With new technology and different players, things can be done in other ways — and more cheaply.

Prioritizing Spending Cuts

Most of the current U.S. military effort and strategy is either self-defeating or simply unnecessary, he says. "It's spending that we don't need."

That call catches ears these days, as Congress and the Obama administration battle over spending cuts. Those cuts are often aimed at domestic programs, but Macgregor says any hope for implementing his proposal requires that the U.S. reconsider its priorities.

"We have to deliver the services that were promised under Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security," he says. "We cannot honor those obligations ... without reducing defense and reorienting our defense posture to a world that's very different today than the one in which most of these forces were created and invented."

Profiting From Military Industries

Military and the private defense industries in America are enormous, providing millions of jobs across a lot of states. That makes many members of Congress even more reluctant to scale back on the military budget — particularly at a time when the nation is looking to create jobs, not cut them. Macgregor says creating prosperity shouldn't depend on military profits.

"What we have right now are very powerful military bureaucracies tied to the defense industries that want to stay in business." They're larger than we need, he says, but congressional interests see military budgets as a way to sustain prosperity by redistributing the income from those industries.

"This is an enormous problem," Macgregor says, "but we've got to deal with it, because we can't afford it, and it will ultimately consume us over time."

Despite these challenges, Macgregor says his proposals do have some support on Capitol Hill. "That's very important," he says, "because I think there are Democrats and Republicans who can agree on these things."

Like Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Ron Paul (R-TX), Macgregor says — two people on opposite ends of the spectrum in domestic terms but who have come to similar conclusions on foreign and defense policy.

"And they are not alone," Macgregor adds. "There are many, many, many more. I think we will see more in the future as it becomes clear that we cannot deal with the domestic problem until we deal with the foreign and defense policy problem. That has to come first. Then we can begin talking seriously about what we have to do to restructure the debt."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sad Facts of Politics and the Human Endevor

I shamelessly grabed this from NPR's web site. I've tried to reproduce it here as it is on there site, but if you want the original then click here.

Cosmonaut Crashed Into Earth 'Crying In Rage'10:50 am

March 18, 2011
by Robert KrulwichEditor's Note: We received many comments on this post. Krulwich responds here.

So there's a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he's on the phone with Alexei Kosygin — then a high official of the Soviet Union — who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die.



RIA Novosti/Photo Researchers Inc.
Vladimir Komarov's remains in an open casket


The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won't work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, "cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship."

This extraordinarily intimate account of the 1967 death of a Russian cosmonaut appears in a new book, Starman, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, to be published next month. The authors base their narrative principally on revelations from a KGB officer, Venymin Ivanovich Russayev, and previous reporting by Yaroslav Golovanov in Pravda. This version — if it's true — is beyond shocking.


RIA Novosti /Photo Researchers, Inc
Gagarin (left) and Komarov out hunting

Starman tells the story of a friendship between two cosmonauts, Vladimir Kamarov and Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space. The two men were close; they socialized, hunted and drank together.

In 1967, both men were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn't back out because he didn't want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.

The story begins around 1967, when Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union, decided to stage a spectacular midspace rendezvous between two Soviet spaceships.

The plan was to launch a capsule, the Soyuz 1, with Komarov inside. The next day, a second vehicle would take off, with two additional cosmonauts; the two vehicles would meet, dock, Komarov would crawl from one vehicle to the other, exchanging places with a colleague, and come home in the second ship. It would be, Brezhnev hoped, a Soviet triumph on the 50th anniversary of the Communist revolution. Brezhnev made it very clear he wanted this to happen.

The problem was Gagarin. Already a Soviet hero, the first man ever in space, he and some senior technicians had inspected the Soyuz 1 and had found 203 structural problems — serious problems that would make this machine dangerous to navigate in space. The mission, Gagarin suggested, should be postponed.


He'll die instead of me. We've got to take care of him.


- Komarov talking about Gagarin
The question was: Who would tell Brezhnev? Gagarin wrote a 10-page memo and gave it to his best friend in the KGB, Venyamin Russayev, but nobody dared send it up the chain of command. Everyone who saw that memo, including Russayev, was demoted, fired or sent to diplomatic Siberia. With less than a month to go before the launch, Komarov realized postponement was not an option. He met with Russayev, the now-demoted KGB agent, and said, "I'm not going to make it back from this flight."

Russayev asked, Why not refuse? According to the authors, Komarov answered: "If I don't make this flight, they'll send the backup pilot instead." That was Yuri Gagarin. Vladimir Komarov couldn't do that to his friend. "That's Yura," the book quotes him saying, "and he'll die instead of me. We've got to take care of him." Komarov then burst into tears.

On launch day, April 23, 1967, a Russian journalist, Yaroslav Golovanov, reported that Gagarin showed up at the launch site and demanded to be put into a spacesuit, though no one was expecting him to fly. Golovanov called this behavior "a sudden caprice," though afterward some observers thought Gagarin was trying to muscle onto the flight to save his friend. The Soyuz left Earth with Komarov on board.

Once the Soyuz began to orbit the Earth, the failures began. Antennas didn't open properly. Power was compromised. Navigation proved difficult. The next day's launch had to be canceled. And worse, Komarov's chances for a safe return to Earth were dwindling fast.

All the while, U.S. intelligence was listening in. The National Security Agency had a facility at an Air Force base near Istanbul. Previous reports said that U.S. listeners knew something was wrong but couldn't make out the words. In this account, an NSA analyst, identified in the book as Perry Fellwock, described overhearing Komarov tell ground control officials he knew he was about to die. Fellwock described how Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin called on a video phone to tell him he was a hero. Komarov's wife was also on the call to talk about what to say to their children. Kosygin was crying.

When the capsule began its descent and the parachutes failed to open, the book describes how American intelligence "picked up [Komarov's] cries of rage as he plunged to his death."

Some translators hear him say, "Heat is rising in the capsule." He also uses the word "killed" — presumably to describe what the engineers had done to him.

Americans Died, Too

Both sides in the 1960s race to space knew these missions were dangerous. We sometimes forget how dangerous. In January of that same year, 1967, Americans Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in a fire inside an Apollo capsule.



NARA
The Nixon White House prepared this letter in the event that American astronauts did not survive the Apollo 11 mission.

Two years later, when Americans landed on the moon, the Nixon White House had a just-in-case statement, prepared by speechwriter William Safire, announcing the death of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, had they been marooned or killed. Death was not unexpected.


AFP/Getty Images

Valentina Komarov, the widow of Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, kisses a photograph of her dead husband during his official funeral, held in Moscow's Red Square on April 26, 1967. But Vladimir Komarov's death seems to have been almost scripted. Yuri Gagarin said as much in an interview he gave to Pravda weeks after the crash. He sharply criticized the officials who had let his friend fly.

Komarov was honored with a state funeral. Only a chipped heel bone survived the crash. Three weeks later, Yuri Gagarin went to see his KGB friend. He wanted to talk about what happened. As the book describes it:

Gagarin met Russayev at his family apartment but refused to speak in any of the rooms because he was worried about bugs. The lifts and lobby areas were not safe, either, so the two men trudged up and down the apartment block's echoing stairwells.

The Gagarin of 1967 was very different from the carefree young man of 1961. Komarov's death had placed an enormous burden of guilt on his shoulders. At one point Gagarin said, "I must go to see the main man [Brezhnev] personally." He was profoundly depressed that he hadn't been able to persuade Brezhnev to cancel Komarov's launch.

Shortly before Gagarin left, the intensity of his anger became obvious. "I'll get through to him [Brezhnev] somehow, and if I ever find out he knew about the situation and still let everything happen, then I know exactly what I'm going to do." Russayev goes on, "I don't know exactly what Yuri had in mind. Maybe a good punch in the face." Russayev warned Gagarin to be cautious as far as Brezhnev was concerned. "I told him, 'Talk to me first before you do anything. I warn you, be very careful.' "
The authors then mention a rumor, never proven (and to my mind, most unlikely), that one day Gagarin did have a moment with Brezhnev and he threw a drink in Brezhnev's face.

I hope so.

Yuri Gagarin died in a plane accident in 1968, a year before the Americans reached the moon.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony's book is Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin (Walker Publishing 2011); Yaroslav Golovanov's interview with Yuri Gagarin was published in Komsomolskaya, Pravda, June 11, 1989. Venyamin Russayev's stories about Gagarin and Komarov appeared in 2006 in Literaturnaya Gazeta and were republished on several websites.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Bush and Egypt - Take What You Hear With A Grain of Salt

There is a movement afoot to make Bush Jr. look better than his Presidency warrants. It's going to be contentious because of the veil of secrecy the Bush Administration placed on every syllable of his years in office. Ironic actually. Trying to make a man who hid the truth about everything and distorted what managed to slip out, has to be a Herculean effort. It is also going to be tough to keep the record straight since so many have been brainwashed with the propaganda. Yesterday I had a fella in the office tell me they really did find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He preceded to go on about how Huckabee is going to be good for America. Tells you a lot about who was talking to me.


Here is an effort to shake the keep the truth out of new pro-Bush propaganda.

THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - February 3, 2011

Media Enable Former Bushies To Rewrite History On Bush Egypt and "Freedom In The Arab World" by: Julie Millican Media Matters

Several Bush administration officials have looked to the recent crisis in Egypt in another attempt to rehabilitate former President George W. Bush's image. In a January 30 Washington Post op-ed, former Bush national security advisor Elliott Abrams argued that the "Egypt protests show George W. Bush was right about freedom in the Arab world," claiming that the demonstrations prove Bush's "freedom agenda" was right about those dastardly Arab dictators.

Never missing an opportunity to attack Obama and defend Bush, Fox News hosted Bush's former press secretary Dana Perino to back up Abrams charges.

But was Bush the champion of democracy in Egypt? Hardly. Indeed, he was one of Mubarak's biggest cheerleaders.

Let's take a look at the facts. Abrams twice cites a November 6, 2003, speech Bush gave on democracy in the Middle East as proof that Bush was way ahead of the game in calling for freedom in Egypt. In fact, in that very speech Bush declared that Egypt "should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East." From the speech:

BUSH: The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East. (Applause.) Champions of democracy in the region understand that democracy is not perfect, it is not the path to utopia, but it's the only path to national success and dignity. [George W. Bush White House Archives, 11/6/03]

And, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Here's a sampling:

- Bush praises Egypt's progress on "democratic reform." During a 2008 visit to Egypt, Bush repeatedly praised President Mubarak for his leadership in "the freedom and justice movement" and declared that the United States' friendship with Egypt was "one of the main cornerstones of our policy in this region, and it's based on our shared commitment to peace, security and prosperity." He further stated:

BUSH: [Egypt is] an important stop for me because the United States has a longstanding friendship with Egypt. It's important for the people of Egypt to understand our nation respects you, respects your history, respects your traditions and respects your culture. Our friendship is strong. It's a cornerstone of -- one of the main cornerstones of our policy in this region, and it's based on our shared commitment to peace, security and prosperity.

BUSH: I also talked about Egypt's role in the world. Egypt is an important nation -- that sends a clear signal. People watch Egypt. I appreciate very much the long and proud tradition that you've had for a vibrant civil society. I appreciate the fact that women play an important role in your society, Mr. President. I do so because not only I'm a proud father of two young professional women, I also know how important it is for any vibrant society to have women involved in constructive and powerful ways. And I appreciate the example that your nation is setting.

Progress toward greater political openness is being led by the Egyptians themselves, by pioneering journal- ists -- some of whom even may be here -- bloggers, or judges insisting on independence, or other strong civic and religious leaders who love their country and are determined to build a democratic future.

Because of the predominate role you play, and because I strongly believe that Egypt can play a role in the freedom and justice movement -- you and I have discussed the issue, you have taken steps toward economic openness -- and I discussed that with your Prime Minister -- and democratic reform. And my hope is that the Egyptian government will build on these important steps, and give the people of this proud nation a greater voice in your future. I think it will lead to peace, and I think it will lead to justice.

Our friendship with Egypt is deep and broad. Egypt will continue to be a vital strategic partner of the United States. We will work together to build a safer and more peaceful world. And, Mr. President, I thank your leadership on the issue of peace and security. [George W. Bush White House Archive, 1/16/08]