a True American Icon

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Neil Alden Armstrong, the first human to set foot on another celestial body, passed away Saturday from post-surgical complications. Lieutenant Armstrong flew 78 combat missions over Korea in 1951, resigned his commission and attended Purdue University, graduating in 1955 with a 4.9 GPA and a degree in aeronautical engineering.

Upon graduating from Purdue, Mr Armstrong decided he wanted to be an experimental engineering test pilot, and joined the (at that time) NACA High Speed Test Flight Center at Dryden Station, Edwards Air Force Base [CA]. From there, he was assigned to the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland [OH], where he began working at Lewis Field in March 1955. By July, he was back at Edwards, where he was tasked to fly chase planes for test flights, and flew highly-modified B-29 “mother ships” that dropped experimental rocket planes. He graduated to flying X-1B super sonic test vehicles, and eventually piloted X-15 hypersonic test beds, in which he became one of the first people to technically reach space (attaining an altitude of 207,500 feet in 1962) in X-15 No 3. He reached a top speed of Mach 5.74 (4,000mph) in X-15 No 1.

In March of 1962, Mr Armstrong was selected as one of six pilots for the Boeing X-20 Dyna Soar, a military space plane designed to be launched atop a ballistic missile and glide back to Earth, landing like an airplane. It was an early iteration of what would become the Space Shuttle. The program was canceled before one was built, but the assignment brought Mr Armstrong to the attention of (by then) NASA’s astronaut program, which asked him to join the “second nine,” crew of astronauts.

Mr Armstrong was mission commander aboard Gemini 8, which rendezvous and docked with an Agena third stage, the first docking of two spacecraft. In December 1968, Mr Armstrong was informed that he was slated to be mission commander for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission. During the July 16 1969 launch of Apollo 11, Mr Armstrong’s heart rate reached a maximum of 110 beats per minute – very characteristic of his calmness under pressure.

Neil Armstrong uttered two of the most memorable statements to come out of NASA: “Houston, Tranquility Base here … the Eagle has landed,” and, of course, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

After Apollo 11, his last space flight, Mr Armstrong served for a year as Deputy Associate Administrator for aeronautics for the Office of Advanced Research and Technology, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), taught aerospace engineering at Cincinnati University for eight years, served on the accident investigation boards for Apollo 13 [1970] and Challenger [1986]. He served on the boards of Marathon Oil, Learjet, Cinergy (Cincinnati Gas & Electric), Taft Broadcasting, United Airlines, Eaton Corporation, AIL Systems and Thiokol, retired as chairman of EDO Corporation in 2002.

On August 7, Mr Armstrong underwent surgery to repair blocked coronary arteries, and died of complications on August 25. He was 82 years of age.

The Apollo 11 crew members were each awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Langley Gold Medal and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Mr Armstrong was awarded Robert H Goddard Memorial Trophy, the Sylvanus Thayer Award, the Collier Trophy, and the Congressional Gold Medal. He was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame. A lunar crater [31 miles from Tranquility Base] was named in his honor, as was asteroid 6469.

A high-velocity test pilot, always the pioneer and explorer, Neil Armstrong became an American icon. The unassuming, “aw shucks” kind of person who reached the pinnacle of his field, and always looked at it as “just doing my job,” rather than the paradigm-changing accomplishments that they were.

All Things are Possible …

All Things are Possible

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All things are possible with a robust, growing economy. Without it, few good things are.

We need an economy that grows faster then population just to tread water – that’s not politics, it’s arithmetic. We need a private sector that grows faster than government to provide productive jobs – that’s not politics, it’s arithmetic. We need a tax base that grows faster than deficits – that’s not politics, it’s arithmetic. We need a stable currency to preserve the wealth that we earn – that’s not politics, it’s arithmetic.

“The economy” is business activity … people working to provide goods and services that other people want to buy. Each of those marketplace decisions (people buying something) represents a supply chain of other people working to produce goods and services that the end seller needs to produce his product; and each of those transactions represents similar supply chains, and so forth. Increasing business activity, in other words, is an economic multiplier that increases other business activity.

In order to induce a recovery – defined as the private sector growing faster than government spending – you make it easier for firms to conduct business. We have the luxury of having, not only pent-up demand (as you always have coming out of a recession), but also pent-up capacity (businesses with the capital to increase production). The reason that business activity is still sluggish is the high degree of uncertainty in the air. There is no settled economic policy coming out of Washington. Managers aren’t going to hire when they don’t know what labor is going to cost next year; they’re not going to invest in plant and equipment if they don’t know what their taxes are going to be next year.

Three years after the recession is supposed to have ended, business has seen only increased regulation, higher costs of labor, and the promise of more of the same. There is a regulatory and fiscal cliff coming after the first of the year – over 130 new regulations mandated by Dodd-Frank haven’t even been written yet by Treasury; no one knows how many new regulations will be spawned by ObamaCare; the 2002 and 2004 Bush tax brackets are slated to expire January first; sequestration will gut the military and its support industries; trillion-dollar deficits out to the horizon will require heavy taxation of a shrinking tax base; and so on. The refusal to allow offshore exploration for oil and gas, the blocking of the Keystone pipeline, and the outright war on coal-fired power plants portend sharply rising energy costs. All of this produces a strong headwind against any actual recovery.

And then there’s that $16 trillion (and counting) debt; the loss of our triple-A credit rating; persistent 8+ percent unemployment exacerbated by a two-year amnesty for a million illegal immigrants and the return and mustering-out of thousands of our men and women in uniform.

Beyond the emergency banking bailout in 2008-2009 – mishandled as it was, it did stabilize the credit sector – if nothing else was done, we would be in recovery. Markets want to expand. It’s their natural state of being. None of the problems that caused the recession would have been addressed, but the recovery would be under way. Having said that, it’s obvious that what we’ve done isn’t working – nothing that caused the recession has been addressed and the recovery is being repressed. Regardless of good intentions, the remedies applied to the economy have failed. Our president had what turned out to be a two-year window of opportunity – he could have had a four-year window had his initial policies worked – which he chose to squander on implementing a sweeping revamp of the healthcare sector that he knew was wildly unpopular and totally unrelated to turning the economy around in the short term, which was the overriding mandate of his stewardship. He now has to answer for that.

HopeyChange Camp Pulls a Dan Rather

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We all remember that veteran CBS anchor Dan Rather threw his career away on a story “too good to verify.” Well, the administration that was going to “change the way Washington works” has done the same thing.

Priorities USA Action, an Obama SuperPAC run by ex-White House staffer Bill Burton, has alleged that a steelworker at GST Steel, a Kansas City company owned by GS Industries, which was bought by Bain Capital, that Mitt Romney’s handling of GST cost the man, Joe Soptic, his job, his health insurance, and his pension, and his wife died of cancer “shortly after.”

A sad tale to be sure. But Mitt Romney’s fault? Here’s the timeline: In April 1997, GST was on strike, shooting bottle rockets at guards, while negotiating for evermore benefits – labor costs spiked. By 1999 GS Industries was reporting $53 million in net losses. Mitt Romney leaves Bain Capital to take over the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games. Bain Capital buys GS Industries, intending to turn it around. In 2001 GST would become one of 31 steel companies that went bankrupt from 1993 to 2003. The American steel industry was falling victim to Asian companies that were automating (American unions still weren’t allowing ours to do so) and shipping better steel into the United States cheaper than we could produce domestically. GST’s pension benefits were passed on to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which covered their basic pension payouts. Mr Soptic’s wife, Ilyona, had health coverage through her job. In 2005, Ilyona was diagnosed with ling cancer, to which she succumbed twenty-two days later. Mitt Romney was organizing the Salt Lake Games when GST was shuttered, and Governor of Massachusetts when Ms Soptic was diagnosed. GST was the only of GS Industries plants that had to be closed, the others are still operating and now profiting.

When asked about these facts (the Washington Post gave the ad four Pinocchio’s, their “Pants on fire” rating for truthfulness in political ads), Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for President Obama’s re-election campaign, claimed to be unfamiliar with Mr Soptic or his story. That has now been shown to be patently false – Mr Soptic has appeared in two previous (unrelated) Obama TV ads (put out by Ms Cutter’s campaign), and a conference call from May has Ms Cutter talking to Mr Soptic about this very storyline of Romney’s mishandling of GST’s bankruptcy and being culpable in his wife’s struggles with her failing health.

The story is bogus and the denials lies. While this is probably commonplace for American politics today, Mr Obama promised to be a different – post partisan, open and honest politician. Like so much else he promised …