Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Update On Online MBAs - Detours

Those who have been following along since mid-2006, are aware that I am earning my Master of Business Administration at the University of Houston at Victoria. That is actually a bit of a mis-statement though, since in actual fact I am taking almost all of my courses online. Just to catch up, here are the courses I have taken so far and their resulting grades (UHV uses only A/B/C/D/F for graduate classes, no ‘+’ or ‘-‘ grades):

FALL 2006
Accounting 6351 – Financial Reporting and Analysis ******** B
Economics 6351 – Economics for Managers *************** A
Business 6351 – Business and Society ******************* A
[][] Semester GPA 3.66 [][]

(SPRING 2007 cancelled due to cancer treatment)

Accounting 6352 – Strategic Cost Management ************ A
Management 6351 – Management & Org. Behavior ********* A
Quantitative Analysis 6351 – Statistics & Research Methods ** A
[][] Semester GPA 4.00, running GPA 3.83 [][]

FALL 2007
Management 6354 – Leadership & Organizational Change **** A
Management 6355 – Operational Management & Comp. ***** A
Marketing 6352 – Strategic Marketing Management ******** A
[][] Semester GPA 4.00, running GPA 3.89 [][]

Economics 6361 – Managerial Economics
Finance 6352 – Financial Management
Management 6352 – Management of Information Systems

Assuming I pass the Spring 2008 classes, that will fulfill all of my core requirements except the Capstone course which includes the case competition, and three remaining concentration classes in Accounting.

That’s where things get sticky. If you have not earned your Bachelor’s degree yet, I strongly urge you to stop and think – HARD – about what you want to do for a living, because – no matter what your counselor or advisor tells you – your undergraduate studies will have a great deal indeed to do with what you can do later on. In my case, I was somewhat less than industrious at Baylor as an undergrad, and so in my Junior year I discovered that I was in no way ready to graduate. I scrambled around for answers, got some really bad advice from BU’s advisors, and left the place in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.

Fast forward to today. In my work at four companies over 24 years, I have discovered that I love Accounting. I mean sure, there’s parts of it that a boring, but on the whole it’s just what I want to do. There’s analysis, there’s the clean fact that numbers are non-political and objective, and with Sarbanes-Oxley, accountants are far more appreciated than ever before. So, I thought about things for a long time and decided I wanted to earn my CPA license. But, given my work background in Business Management, it just made sense for my to go after the MBA with a concentration in Accounting, rather than first go for a Masters in Accountancy. UHV’s Strategic MBA offers a quick MBA in that respect, and I thought it would be simple.

Ahhh. But Life always hits you upside the head every now and then. Two of the Accounting courses in the Accounting section have undergraduate prerequisites; Advanced Auditing and Advanced Taxation. I am hardly complaining about that; it just makes sense to prove competency in the basic skills before taking on the advanced work. However, the prerequisites are not offered online. The only way to take them is to actually apply and register at one of the other universities in the UH system, and take those classes in person. The problems get even stickier when I realized that those prerequisites also have prerequisites, and worst of all those courses may not be taken concurrently, and they are presently not offered at all in the summer. So, to take those courses, I would have to register for Intermediate Accounting II in the Spring of 2007, follow it with Intermediate Accounting III in the Fall of 2007, follow that with the next course in Spring 2008 and finally take the graduate level courses in the Fall of 2008. Since I planned to get my MBA in the Spring of 2008, this was a real problem, especially since the school offering the first course in the Spring of 2007 filled all its evening classes before I knew about this specific requirement.

This is where that 24 years of experience comes in. The nominal way to earn the MBA with a concentration in Accounting, is to take the core courses plus four Accounting concentration courses. However, I found out that it was also allowable to earn an MBA with a concentration in Accounting by taking the core courses, three Accounting concentration courses, and one additional course in Finance or Economics. That is why Managerial Economics is on my Spring schedule; it’s allowed as a replacement for one of the Accounting courses, though it won’t add to satisfaction of the course requirements for my CPA. Besides the two Accounting courses I have already completed, UHV offers five other Accounting courses at the graduate level: The Auditing and Taxation courses which require special pre-requisites, but also International Accounting, Selected Topics in Accounting, and Contemporary Issues in Accounting. If I take those last three plus Managerial Economics and the Capstone course, I can still get my MBA with a concentration in Accounting, and worry about the other courses post-graduate in preparation for my CPA exam. The hitch, of course, is when and how those courses may be offered, so I will have to wait and see how that shakes out. In case you think this is just a bit ‘iffy’ and is dependant on luck, I agree, but the situation is the best I can make of it right now.

So, why mention all this? Well, I started writing about my MBA studies as a sort of journal for anyone who might be in something like the same situation, so I owe it to you to note the squirrely things, like previously unmentioned requirements and the need to be creative in planning your degree route, never trusting anyone else for your own results. No matter your accomplishments, you have to have educational certification for certain opportunities, and an MBA is a powerful tool in certain situations, provided you plan things properly. That planning, however, includes thinking out what you will do with your degree, and therefore making sure you get the specific credentials for your desired position is critically important. Not every school is really interested in working with the student to help them get the right degree, and many schools are still very-much hidebound to the way they have always done things, so there will be situations where what makes sense has nothing to do with what is required of you. Fortunately, if you have had enough experience in the real world, you will already be familiar with similar chaos in working conditions.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Mitchell Report – Witchhunt, Anyone?

“At best, the article is an example of irresponsible reporting. At worst, the “facts” reported were simply manufactured.”

- Judge Edward C. Voss, United States Magistrate Judge for the District of Arizona, in an order to unseal the “Novitsky Affadavit”.

I don’t like Roger Clemens all that much. He’s an amazing athlete with Hall of Fame credentials, and I was glad to have him play for the Astros for a couple seasons, but he can be a jerk at times and he’s never been much of a team player that I can see. But with that said, I don’t jump to conclusions when unsuported allegations are made, even against him. I do not accept the Mitchell Report at face value, and neither should you.

I was surprised when the Mitchell Report came out. Not about what it said, but by the public reaction. I mean really, what did you expect it to say, especially given the way in which the “investigation” was conducted? I hate the gratuitous use of steroids and completely agree they should be banned from professional sports, if for no other reason than the fact that kids copy what they see their heroes do. But at the same time, the presumption of innocence is - or should be – a hallmark of American justice. What happened with the Mitchell Report, is that a variety of people made accusations against other people, without the persons accused being allowed to cross-examine their accusers or even state their side of the story.

The media didn’t help things, either. For example, ESPN gushed with excited anticipation about the report, as a preview of the report said “the big questions have been whether the final report would name names, and how many names would be named, and how important the names would be.” The reader may note that ESPN was not at all concerned with the lack of any proof; the accused would be presumed to be guilty. Investigative journalism ended with the prospect of a juicy scandal.

That’s why I noted Judge Voss’ order. Back in 2006, the LA Times ran a story which accused Roger Clemens of using “performance-enhancing drugs”. The accusation was based solely on the report that Clemens was named in an affadavit to the court made by Jason Grimsley. The Times specifically wrote “Grimsley told investigators
that Clemens used athletic performance-enhancing drugs.” The order by Judge Voss observed that a “review of the disclosed affidavit proves that the Times never saw the unredacted affidavit. Roger Clemens is not named in the affidavit and Grimsley makes no reference to Roger Clemens in any context. At best, the article is an example of irresponsible reporting. At worst, the “facts” reported were simply manufactured.”

Judge Voss went on in a footnote to show just how far off the Times was in its claims. He wrote “This conclusion is almost inescapable. The Times article lists six players purportedly named in the affidavit. Actually, the affidavit names only two of the six and as to Tejada, the Times quote relates to alleged anabolic steroid use which is incorrect. The reference in the affidavit is to amphetamine use.”

Now I’m no expert on the fine differences between understandable error and deliberate defamation, but this sure seems to cross that line. Again, I have no special appreciation for Mr. Clemens, but the LA Times story certainly shows a climate that can only be called hostile. The Mitchell Report merely reflects that same environment on a much larger scale – the nation wants athletes punished, and all they need is an accusation, never mind the proof. Anyone who wants to get down to the truth of the matter with regard to Major League Baseball and the use of drugs, needs to understand that the Mitchell Report has no real value in that search.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The American Imperative

The mainstream media was long ago identified as an enemy of the Conservative Movement in the United States. So it should be no surprise that whenever an opportunity arises to disrupt the Republican Party to the advantage of Liberals, the media is quick and eager to assist in that mischief. This, in sum, is the media’s reason for their fascination with Congressman Ron Paul’s candidacy, the perverse hope that casting him as a true Conservative will split the Republican vote and assist the Democrats’ candidate in claiming the White House.

There are many reasons to reject Ron Paul’s claim to the nomination, but the man has been successful in fooling people into thinking his positions reflect a well-considered plan and a solid grounding in historical Conservatism. In actual fact, Paul’s positions are na├»ve and contrary to proven historical precedents, but they are at least illustrative in how people can fail to understand basic lessons from History and Ethics. For this article, I focus on one volatile yet essential lesson, America’s duty regarding the War in Iraq.

Paul’s Foreign Policy is predicated on a historical model which has failed many times before; the immediate and total abandonment of alliances and defense treaties signed with allies across the globe. Paul’s contention is that American military presence outside our national borders constitutes a provocation to other nations and non-government forces, and that we can correct our National Debt in large part by decimating our military in size and capability. An impotent America is the cure for the world, says Paul.

Radical as this sounds, it is aligned with a certain mind-set, which often shows up in debate about the morality of the Iraq War. Philosophers, who by the nature of their work have little practical comprehension of the realities of war and conflict, separate moral arguments about War into three broad groups; those who argue War may be pursued if it achieves desired gains at an acceptable cost, those who argue War may be pursued if it can be defended as “Just”, and those who argue that War is never a valid action, always something to be avoided at any cost. These positions could be interesting to discuss, but they all share one critical flaw – they presume that War is an action which may be judged impartially by the “international community” or some similar body (“International Law” is another popular term) which carries the authority to punish those nations and leaders who pursue a war judged to be wrongful. In actual fact, the “international community” is, in this context, a purely hypothetical construct with no true substance. Where a body of nations exists which could fill this role, there is always a specific leader, one nation which directs the course of that group. Napoleon was defeated by a coalition of nations, but that coalition was led by England. World Wars One and Two were clearly and plainly fought by many nations, but won by the United States’ leadership. Half the world fought off the Soviets, but again it was America which led the fight. For nearly all of America’s history, when the world is in direst need it callls for American help, and American arms. This is the American Imperative, the clarion call to lead the world. To say anything else is to ignore the lessons of two centuries.

Consequently, whether a war is moral and just or immoral and unjust is decided not by the world as a whole, but by America. We have the leadership and set the course in motion, and it is the American people who will punish a leader or reward him for his decisions. It sounds arrogant to say so, but on this point the opinion of the rest of the entire world is plainly irrelevent to the matter. This fact is why the debate over a war is especially strong and so often divisive; people sense the significance of our decision and defend their position with every weapon at hand. This is also why personal attacks are so common in this debate – advocates of a position excuse slander against leaders, even the most false and defamatory statements and attacks, as necessary in the pursuit of a “greater good”, even if the true character of that ideal is never scrutinized to verify its claims.

Paul’s arguments against the U.S. involvement in Iraq follow this wholly subjective course. Paul contends that the United States chose to invade a sovereign nation on no just cause, and therefore that only abandonment of the nation is an acceptable course of action. He is not merely wrong in his assumptions, but his chosen position would be catastrophic for all parties concerned. First, to cause. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 because of a number of provocations, including Iraq’s refusal to honor the terms of the 1991 Cease-Fire from the first Gulf War. Iraq turned back and even physically threatened weapons inspectors, they moved materials and documents to hide them from discovery and inspection. Iraq fired on Coalition aircraft monitoring the no-fly zones to which Iraq had agreed in 1991. Iraq’s intelligence service attempted to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush, likely with the approval of strongman Saddam Hussein. Iraqi intelligence had connections to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing through Ramzi Yousef. Saddam used chemical weapons at least twice on civilian populations in Iraq. Biological weapons were tested on prisoners at least six times in various locations in Iraq. Any of these constituted a basis for action, and together they demonstrated a regime in clear and continuing defiance of the sovereignty and security of its neighbors and its own citizens. The WMD question is hardly the sole basis for the invasion, although it must be noted that at the time of the invasion, the consensus of every major intelligence agency with whom the U.S. had friendly relations, was that Iraq was developing WMD and would use such weapons without moral restraint.

It may be said simply, that the second Gulf War occurred because America did not finish the first one properly. The reader will recall that the first Gulf War ended with the United Nations pressing for the United States to allow Iraq to simply return to the initial position, providing no penalty for invading Kuwait in the first place. Had the U.S. occupied Iraq then, the present war would not have been needed. Forseeing the inevitable objection from the Paulites, that Saddam would have been dealt with by his neighbors had the United States not intervened, again History proves that claim a lie. Just after Saddam claimed top power in Iraq, he began a war with Iran which killed literally millions of people and lasted throughout the 1980s. The United States tried to stay out at first, but no Middle East state intervened to end the war or stop the war. The 1990 invasion of Kuwait was deplored by all the Gulf states, but again none of them made a move to stop Saddam until they first demanded American intervention, and had the U.S. declined to intervene there is no evidence they would have “taken care” of Saddam. No one but the United States had the means or the resolve to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. After the 1991 cease-fire began, Iraqi forces crossed the border into Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and Iran and Syria on a number of occasions, but again none of those nations did anything about it for years, instead depending on the United States to take action. Indeed, American involvement in the 1990-1 Gulf War began not with the actual invasion of Kuwait but the official request from Saudi Arabia for U.S. troops to defend their borders.

For an example of what happens when the United States stays out of a conflict, the reader need only consider the cases of Rwanda and Bosnia. In both cases the United States was persuaded to allow the countries in the immediate area to address the crisis, but nothing happened, except that a lot of innocent people got raped and murdered, and the nations of Rwanda and Bosnia ceased to exist in any normative sense. As much as we may dislike the phrase “world’s policeman”, absent American intervention the condition becomes much like neighborhoods where the police are known to be missing. In the end, if the United States does not protect the world, no one does. The United States eventually did get involved in both Rwanda and Bosnia, but well after many casualties were sufffered. There can be no question, at all, that American action is literally the life-and-death decision for many millions of people in dozens of locations.

Paul also makes the mistake of judging American actions as unilateral actions, with no consequence except immediate response to our acts. The fact that the United States prevents aggression from certain groups, and establishes accountable government where such would otherwise not exist, is well beyond rational dispute, so it should be understood that, aside from the direct interests of the United States, if the U.S. were to remove its troops from their commitments, the regions concerned would immediately lose stability and the welfare of the people in those areas would be imemdiately imperiled. Again, we can see this in Iraq. For all the noisy speeches made by Democrats, it is well understood by all that if the United States had not removed Saddam, Iran would have invaded Iraq at some point and seized the land and resources as its own – the fate of the Iraqi people would be grimly bloody. If the United States were to remove troops from Iraq prior to the stablization of the government (the military matters are proceeding well just now), again this would invite incursion by avaricious forces in Syria and Iran. For all the whining about the cost and the cause of the war, the decision is clear – support the U.S. mission and establish a truly functional Arab democratic republic, which would create impetus for the entire region towards stability, representative government, and economic prosperity, or else desert our allies and abandon precedent, treaty, and commitment, and see the enemies of freedom and democracy set upon these places like jackals on their prey. It really is that simple.

I now come to the basic question of American self-interest. That is in no way a bad thing, you know, especially if you understand what Globalization really means in practical application. Leaving aside labels of ‘Superpower’ and the like, there is no country in the world, indeed in History, to match the present power and influence of the United States. That, to put it bluntly, is one of the big reasons why some folks hate America – they resent America’s stunning success and wrongly believe that the destruction of America would benefit their own position, when in fact the opposite is true. In Economics, for example, nations often find that there are certain things they do well, and certain products where they make the best. This has limited value in a pre-Globalization economy, because you are trading like products between economies. In the Global economy, nations seek to export services and products where they excel and have surplus, for services and products where they have need. While the specific cases vary in success and it takes some tweking to get the balance right, the general effect of Globalization is to raise the standard of living and trade levels for all participating countries. They quite literally live better in a Global economy than they could on their own.

The same effect occurs in military and political matters, as well. Alliances based on common goals and mutual interests allow the partipatory nations to protect themselves more effectively with less expense of resources. The political sphere is somewhat less effective, as nations tend to take a more proprietary view of their policies, but even there nations find that open dialogue benefits everyone, even when there are sharp disagreements. This is one reason why France is closer to the United States in spirit and policy, than it was in 2002.

America is the quintessential Global partner, the sole nation which posseses abundant wealth of resources, population, services, military ability, and political influence. Accordingly, those nations which work with the United States will profit by it, while America’s enemies will generally suffer from their own spite. The disbursement of American forces exist not only to advance American diplomatic objectives and to maintain peace in sensitive regions, but also to protect American ventures throughout the world. It is therefore the most rational course for an American leader to advance American interests through the maintenance of U.S. bases and force projection. Again using Iraq as an example, if the United States were to abandon the region, Iran’s inevitable invasion would lead to Persian control of oil supply throughout the world; gasoline prices would quickly reach $10.00 a gallon and the American economy would fall into serious recession within four months, quickly followed by European and Asian markets.

The abandonment position embraced by Ron Paul, and to a lesser extent by foreign policy beginners like Barack Obama and Duncan Hunter, is to my mind sufficiently serious to disqualify a candidate from any further consideration. While I like neither of them overall, I am satisifed that both Senator Clinton and Senator McCain understand the American Imperative, and I support Giuliani and Romney in part because I am confident they support that imperative. The other candidates may well find that the survival of their candidacy depends on showing their own comprehension of and dedication to American supremacy on all counts and in all theaters of conflict.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Not the Usual Suspects


President Shaw merely said the word, and heads started nodding. All but two.

Ailes was one of the nodders. “It makes sense, Mr. President” he said.

“With Iraq now stable, the mullahs have to be sweating out what would come next. And Governor Reynolds never minced words about his opinion of the regime in Iran.”

“Sorry, but no. Iran was almost certainly not behind this.”

Everyone turned back to the head of NSA.

“No comm chatter” he said, pointing a finger up. “No evidence of special training in the last three months, or –“ cutting off Ailes, who was about say something – “any support activity in Iran that matches the profile.

“No cash flow from Iran to D.C. in the past two weeks, and we know this team was here that long.”

Shaw looked at Ailes for confirmation, who nodded. “We think the hit team was in D.C. for the last part of the election, so they’d need a safe house somewhere close.”

NSA continued.

“Also, the President of Iran has to know the payback on this. In fact, I would not be surprised to see a hit on the President of Iran in the next few days.”

Everyone in the room stopped.

“Explain” ordered Shaw.

“Mister President”, said NSA, “this was meant to destabilize the United States. They did not go after you, or all the candidates, just the one they were sure would win.

“But that by itself will not have the kind of effect needed to make a difference. But a lot of people will think of Iran as being behind this assassination, and some would expect you to go after Iran in retaliation. Killing their President would be easy to sell to the Middle East as an American action, and that would pay off in a lot of ways that the plotters could take advantage of.”

“Well, that’s a real problem, then” nodded Shaw. “So, what do we do? Send a message to Iran warning them to take care.”

“We can’t do that” warned SecState. “They’d just take that as a threat, and their President would not believe you, anyway.”

“OK” said Shaw. “Frank? I need a plan on what our options are, if someone whacks the President of Iran. Who benefits, who blames us and how we prove we’re clean.”

Chairman JSC nodded.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Gordian Inquest

President Robert Shaw stared grimly down the table.

“Seems like we have a lot of questions, but damn few answers a day after the murder of Don Reynolds and his people.

“Perry, I want to know who’s our suspects.”

Perry Ailes was the head of FBI, and nominally in charge of the investigation. Jack Hill was still angry that the Secret Service was not running the case, but Ailes was already running LEGATTs in a dozen cities around the globe, showing resources everyone knew would be critical to the task.

“Mr. President, we’ve got some information, but nothing definitive” said Ailes.

“Understood” replied Shaw, “but you’re leaning somewhere for starters. Let’s hear what you are looking at.”

“Obviously, this was a conspiracy,” began Ailes, “which for some reason seems to have focused solely on Governor Reynolds and Ms. Green. We have found no evidence of a conspiracy to kill either Mr. Jordan or Ms. Connolly, possibly because Reynolds led in the polls ever since the conventions.

“We’ve run into problems with the shooters, as well. Five men, one woman, Middle Eastern in appearance, though witnesses said their English was European.

“The team was a suicide crew, we are sure. The van was clean of papers, and besides the phony ID’s there was nothing to trace, not even the normal pocket litter. They burned prints off their hands and palms with acid, but we’re doing sub-cutaneous tracking to try to raise something. Homeland is working TSA tapes to find entry points, starting with Dulles and working up the coast, but so far no video. Autopsies underway, but early signs are poor; nothing in the stomachs but bread, amphetamines and caffeine. No tattoos, even the dental work appears minimal. We have some scars which could give us leads, but so far the team appears brand new to us, someone we’ve never seen.”

“What about pre-hit chatter” asked Shaw.

NSA answered, “Only what we expected right after the election, and nothing at all from known Al-Qaida spots.”

“Al-Qaida”, repeated the President. “Well, we’re all thinking it, so let’s talk it out. Is this an Al-Qaida hit?”

“No” said three people at the same time. Shaw looked surprised.

“That’s pretty strong: he observed. “OK, why not Al-Qaida?”

“First, Mr. President, Al-Qaida has effectively been disintegrated” said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “They can’t even issue a press release with an official spokesman, they have to use the FDM.”

“FDM?” asked the Secretary of the Interior.

“Favorite Dead Martyr” explained the President, “since AQ still uses Osama-bin-mashed-to-jelly for their videos.

“General, I hope you have not forgotten that John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln AFTER Lee surrendered. Losing a war does not mean they stop going after folks.”

“I know that, Mr. President” replied the Chairman. “But this is a serious operation, something well beyond the ability of Al Qaida.”

“Besides,” interjected NSA, “we’ve heard nothing to show Al Qaida was training for anything like this. This team stayed under the radar right up the attack. Mister President, this was state-sponsored.”