Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cease & Desist

Just in the past week or two I have seen a rash of articles regarding a growing number of states that are using the 10th Amendment to declare sovereignty from the federal government, including Washington, New Hampshire, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, California, Georgia, and Texas to name a few.

The 10th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

While these declarations of sovereignty are obviously intended to remind the Federal government of its limitations under the Constitution, what is less clear is how the Federal government will react to these assertions and what the long term ramifications will be for the United States.

It may wind up to be nothing more than macho posturing, and if that’s the case, then all well & good. But the fact that we would even be at a point where macho posturing is deemed necessary speaks volumes about the current state of our country.

If it’s not just posturing, however, it certainly makes me more than a little uneasy to think of where it may lead.

Here’s several of the articles in question:

Eleven States Declare Sovereignty Over Obama’s Action
States prepare to combat stimulus strings
21 States Claiming Sovereignty
Firestorm Brewing Between U.S. States and Federal Government

Pop Goes the Weasel

I started working for VERITAS Software (now part of Symantec) in February 2000. I wanted to get a piece of the “high life”; to make some serious money like everyone else was at the time.

In the year before my arrival, the stock had split 3 times, and when I got my initial stock grant of 600 shares I expected that to continue. Their stock was trading at around $260 a share at that point, and by the time my first week was over, I had already “made” over $10,000.

And then the dot.com bubble burst. - POP! -

I never did get to “cash out” that initial 600 share grant.

In October 2005 I quit the company, we sold our house, and moved to Liberty, KY. Our departure was timed perfectly; we sold our home for over 2-1/2 times what we had bought it for only 6 years before. Within just the next few months, property sales in Florida started to turn down.

- POP! -

I never had a lot of money in the stock market, but in the summer of 2007, I sold off every share and option that I had left. In October 2007, the stock market peaked at over 14,000 and has now dropped by almost 50%.

- POP! -

Less than a year ago oil reached over $145 a barrel. Now it is trading at less than $40.

- POP! -

In each of these cases – the dot.com bubble, housing boom, stock market, and oil – prices experienced a rate of increase that rose faster & faster until the rate of increase reached an almost vertical pitch (check historical graphs if you don’t believe me). And in each case, just like an airplane trying to fly straight up, they stalled and then came hurtling back down.

So what's next?

Well, I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d be watching our entire healthcare system very closely. From pharmaceuticals to health insurance, the costs – and profits – are rising at an ever increasing rate. Faster & faster. Higher & higher. Sound familiar?

Health care costs to top $8,000 per person

If that rate of increase ever nears vertical, you may want to watch for falling objects. Just listen for the “pop”.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Viva la France!

Oldest joke in the world: How many Frenchman does it take to defend Paris?

Nobody knows.

I rarely have anything nice to say about France (and who even talks about Greece these days?), but I'm seriously going to have to rethink my position.

While Americans continue to lay down like patsies in front of anything that can't be stopped from the couch with a remote control, it's pretty cool to see that the French (and let's not forget the Greeks) are at least standing up and saying, "You know what guys? Back off."

I just finished reading Bernard Cornwell's new book Agincourt, a fictional account of one of the most lopsided defeats the French ever suffered at the hands of the English. I wish them better luck in this battle:

The European Commission was foiled Monday in its bid to force France and Greece to allow genetically modified maize from US biotech giant Monsanto to be grown in their fields.

Monsanto's MON810 strain is the only genetically modified crop approved in the European Union but last year France suspended its cultivation, invoking a "safeguard clause".

Greece used the same legal provision in 2006 and has extended it since then.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has said the maize is safe and there is no scientific evidence to justify the bans.

Without a solid mandate the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, will refer the matter to EU ministers to decide whether France and Greece should fall into line and allow the GM crop to be sown.

Gotta love that last part, "decide whether France and Greece should fall in line". Here's the whole article: EU foiled in bid to force France, Greece to allow GM crop

Friday, February 13, 2009

No Way Out

I know some of you may get tired of me talking about my novel What So Proudly We Hailed, and I know that every time I do it seems like a plug for the book (which it is), but sometimes I just can’t help it.

I am no prophet, but I continue to see things happening in our world that are eerily similar to what takes place in the book. Instead of making me feel triumphant for my “visionary realism” however, it just scares the hell out of me.

Humor me for just a moment and read the following passage from WSPWH that was written 2 years ago:

The HMO’s, for instance, who ran the country’s healthcare system wanted to know how well you were taking care of your body. What did you buy at the grocery store? How much of it did you get, and how often did you go back for more? How many hours were you at the health club? Did you eat fast food? Did you smoke? Did you drink? Were you complying with your individual health mandate – making your scheduled doctor’s appointments, getting your vaccinations on time, and taking your prescribed meds?

There were risks that had to be managed and profits that had to be maximized, and now that your life – and the way you lived it – was an open book that could be studied and compared and analyzed down to the smallest detail, your individual risk and profit potential could be adjusted accordingly. And just like that, healthcare premiums began to shoot up.

It didn’t even matter if you didn’t like it. You were part of the healthcare system and all of your assets were electronically held by your bank; you didn’t get a bill, it was just automatically deducted from your account. You couldn’t opt out.

Do you understand? You could not opt out.

There was no way to say ‘no’.

Now read the following selected passages from this CNET article dated February 10th (emphasis mine on bolded sections): U.S. stimulus bill pushes e-health records for all

What didn't come up during the president's first press conference was how one section of the convoluted legislation--it's approximately 800 pages total--is intended to radically reshape the nation's medical system by having the government establish computerized medical records that would follow each American from birth to death.

Billions will be handed to companies creating these databases. Billions will be handed to universities to incorporate patient databases "into the initial and ongoing training of health professionals." There's a mention of future "smart card functionality."

Yet nowhere in this 140-page portion of the legislation does the government anticipate that some Americans may not want their medical histories electronically stored, shared, and searchable. Although a single paragraph promises that data-sharing will "be voluntary," there's no obvious way to opt out.

The databases will, "at a minimum," include information on every American's race and ethnicity. They will be used for "biosurveillance and public health" and "medical and clinical research," both of which raise privacy questions. They will become part of a "nationwide system for the electronic use and exchange of health information."

Plus, the federal government will use its vast purchasing power--think Medicare and Medicaid--to compel adoption of e-records that meet government "standards and implementation specifications."

Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. says he believes PPR "is right to be concerned that the Senate bill would allow for the commercialization of confidential medical information. It changes the incentive structure in data collection."

The bill punishes physicians who are not "meaningful users" of a government-certified e-record database, and specifies certain procedures and information exchanges that will "satisfy" the requirement.

Starting in 2015, government reimbursements to physicians who are not participating in the federal e-record effort will begin to decline.

Am I wrong to be unsettled? What really scares me is when I think of how I ended What So Proudly We Hailed. If our future is even remotely similar, God help us all.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trust Me

Okay, raise your hand if you trust the government or corporate America.

Seriously, we joke about the corruption of our political leaders & "captains of industry", but do we really feel that way? Are they really not to be trusted, or are we just kidding around? Realizing the kinds of private information that are being asked of us, we might want to give it a little more thought.

Not all of these stories are about the U.S., but hey, let's not be isolationists. It is a New Global Order after all. I'll let them do the talking today:

Genetic mapping of babies by 2019 will transform preventive medicine
Every baby born a decade from now will have its genetic code mapped at birth, the head of the world's leading genome sequencing company has predicted.

Personal genome sequencing, however, will raise legitimate concerns about privacy, “Bad things can be done with the genome. It could predict something about someone — and you could potentially hand information to their employer or their insurance company,” said Dr Flatley. “Legislation has to be passed.”

Complete genetic privacy, however, was unlikely to be possible, he added. “People have to recognise that this horse is out of the barn, and that your genome probably can't be protected, because everywhere you go you leave your genome behind.”

Mexico 'to fingerprint all mobile phone users'
Under a new law published on Monday and due to be in force in April, mobile phone companies will have a year to build up a database of their clients, complete with fingerprints. The idea would be to match calls and messages to the phones' owners.

The register, detailed in the government's official gazette, means new subscribers will now be fingerprinted when they buy a handset or phone contract.

Sure, the Googlebots know your deepest secrets - but it's worth it
I use Googlemail for my e-mail. As is the case for millions of others, it is the hub of my online existence.

I have just sent myself an e-mail saying that I wanted to buy a new bed. Within four minutes this link appeared in the small ad box at the top of my inbox: Tempur-Pedic Mattress Sale: Get Free Delivery, Free Pillows, No Tax & Much More.

What has happened is that Google has digitally "crawled" my inbox, noted that I was writing about beds, and sent me a targeted advert. To some this is very scary. Google knows what I am writing about all the time. In theory, it knows that I have just been to the doctor for a check-up.

I have made peace with myself over Google's "invasion of my privacy" because of the service it provides.

Google is watching
'THERE was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment . . . It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time."

That quote from George Orwell's "1984" becomes increasingly prescient in light of developments in eavesdropping, pioneered by Google. Recently the company launched a service called Latitude, which allows consenting users to monitor each other's whereabouts. It's the company's latest snooping tool, the most controversial being the Street Views photographic mapping service.

When I tried Street Views by entering my address, I was surprised to see that with a single click a truly Orwellian image popped onto the screen: my house, my car, the newspaper in the driveway. I could zoom in for a clear view of the open window on the second floor and the handy drain pipe that potential burglars might use to reach that window when no one was home.

Existing law makes distinctions between public property and private property; between public figures and private individuals. Yet in the Google Universe, these boundaries become fuzzy.

"Fuzzy boundaries". Nice. I have to believe that you can do just about anything when you have fuzzy boundaries. And if something can be done, history has shown that it probably will be.

Good thing we trust these people.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Blaine, Inc.

Years ago when I was a sales manager I had to deal with a lot of problems that my team would present to me. Most of the problems brought to my attention were from sales reps who were not meeting their goals. No surprise there; salespeople who are doing well are usually the first to claim all credit for their accomplishments, while those who are not are quick to shift the blame away from themselves.

What was most frustrating to me, however, was that the majority of the “problems” that were used to explain away sub-par performance were also things that I could do absolutely nothing about, anymore than I could change the color of the sky.

“See, it’s that blue sky, Blaine. It’s killing me. I need the sky to be green.”

“But the sky is blue. I can’t do anything about that.”

“Yeah, I know. But if it was green; man, I’d be rocking. You’d see some sales then.”

In my efforts over the years to coach, mentor, & encourage, I came across an article that I shared with my sales team called “Ten Things Successful People Know That You Don’t”, by Marta Kagan.

I’m not sure how much of an impact it had with them (sometimes we only want the excuses, not the solutions), but I liked the bluntness of the article, especially the very first thing on the list:

You are the CEO of your own life.
You are completely responsible for the level of success that you experience personally and professionally. You are equally responsible for the lack thereof. Your success will be defined by the vision you create and the choices that you make to support it. There may be no such thing as "control" in this world, but there certainly is "responsibility." Take responsibility for your actions, your choices, your future.

You are the CEO of you own life. I’ve never forgotten that. I have, however, had to give it some additional thought in the years since I first read it, because although it’s easy to see how that statement fits into the secular world, I couldn’t help but wonder if it also fit into a Christian one. After all, if I’m the one in charge, where does that put God?

What I discovered is that not only does that statement fit into a Christian worldview, it actually applies to Christians even more than those who don’t believe in God at all.

There a lot of similarities between us and the CEO of a company. For instance, most CEO’s (not all, but most) have been placed in charge of an entity that they themselves did not create. They didn’t start the company, but they have been selected to run it.

I too, have been placed in charge of something that I did not create. My body, my mind, my soul; all of these things that make up “Blaine, Inc.” were created by God, not me. I’m not sure why God did that, but I would suspect that He had a reason.

A CEO makes decisions and sets the course for his company. What they’ll do, where they’ll do it, who they’ll do it with, etc. I too make those very same decisions about my own life, or at least, I have the opportunity to make them myself, even if I sometimes shy away from them. And I know that I can make any decision I want and God will not interfere. He has never once stepped in and said, “I’m sorry Blaine, but I’m not going to let you do that.” If that isn't full decision making authority, I don’t know what is.

A CEO has to be prepared to deal with things he did not expect. Natural disasters, a downturn in the economy, labor disputes, new regulations, a competitor that didn’t exist the year before; maybe even a new technology that will make his entire product line obsolete.

When these things happen, no one wants to hear an excuse from the CEO. People want to know what kind of forethought the CEO had done ahead of time, what contingency plans were put in place, or, at the very least, they want to see how his leadership will pull the company past whatever obstacle they are currently facing.

We too, have to deal with the unexpected. The death of a loved one. The loss of a job. A tree falling on the house. A bad car transmission. But this is also where we as individuals really do a pretty bad job of being a CEO, because how often do we face these problems and push through them, and how often do we instead embrace the excuse, pity ourselves, raise the white flag, and lament about what might have been?

If only my parents had been rich. If only I could have gone to college. If only I hadn’t married so young. If only the sky were green . . .

I would suggest that if we ran a company the way most of us run our own lives, we would have been fired a long time ago.

A CEO has customers that he must please. So do I. I have a wife and children. I have friends and family. People I work with, people in my community, people in my church. All of them depend on me to do certain things. When I am successful, they benefit, and when I fail, they suffer. It’s just that simple.

A CEO has shareholders. Ah, yes, shareholders. Thousands and thousands of shareholders who are the real owners of the company and who all have a vested interest in how well the CEO is running this company that they own.

I don’t have thousands of shareholders; I just have one. I may be the guy running Blaine, Inc., but make no mistake, God owns the company, and I have to believe that like any other shareholder, He too is also very interested in what I’m doing with it.

Finally, a CEO has to make a report. Every quarter he has to get on the phone with his shareholders and tell them how well the company did, and what the company will be doing in the next 3 months.

We too, also have a report to make to our shareholder, but this is where the similarities between an earthly CEO and us as individuals start to break down, because we only get to make one. There will be no “next quarter”. We will not have the opportunity to say, “Well God, you know it was tough down there, and I know I wasted a lot of opportunities, but I’ll tell you, I got a whole new plan this time. This time it will be different.”

It’s not going to happen.

I don’t know how Judgment works. I know that as a Christian – as someone who has accepted Christ as his savior – a place has been reserved for me in Heaven when I leave this earth. The Bible is very clear about that. There is no fine print. As for everything else? Well, I just don’t know.

But I do know this: On that day when I’m standing before God with my whole life spread out before Him, and all of the good things I’ve ever done are displayed on Table #1, and all of the bad things I’ve done are stacked up on Tables 2 through 67, I have to tell you, I sure would like there to be something worthwhile on Table #1. Something that would show God that, however much of my life I may have squandered, His investment in me was not a complete waste of His time.

You are the CEO of you own life. What have you done with it so far? More importantly, what are you going to do with it in the time that you have left?

One life. One report.