Jackson County Opinions...

JULY 24, 2002



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 24, 2002

Gene Makes Him
Susceptible To
Wild Goose Chase
I have a weak gene, apparently from my mother's side of the family, that makes me susceptible to irrational ideas and wild goose chases. So it was not out of character a couple of months ago when my son Steven proposed a Road Trip to St. Louis for a Cardinals baseball game that I signed on.
The concept was simple. We'd leave on a Thursday morning for a Thursday evening game against the Cubs, stay with my cousin in St. Louis, and drive home Friday morning.
Things began to unravel immediately. The Cards-Cubs evening game was sold out. We had to settle for the Cards-Giants day game.
Then I got the brilliant idea to stop on the way back in Kentucky at a beekeeping supply company, a move that would add 120 miles to our return trip and move us from the Interstates to two-lane highways.
The air conditioner quit on Steven's car, which we had proposed to take, last Tuesday afternoon. As we were looking for a relay to test, we heard a hissing sound. It was a faulty valve stem on the front tire. So, we had to take my aging and creaky Chevy S-10 pickup.
Surprisingly, we made the 640-mile drive in good time without major incidents, arriving in St. Louis before supper. The meteorologists predicted 95-degrees for Thursday. Game time was at 12:40 p.m.
We had an early breakfast, got a short tour of the city, visited the Arch and then my cousin deposited us at about 11:00 at Busch Stadium to watch batting practice.
By the time we got inside, the rain started. We saw two Cardinals hit before they rolled off the batting cage, covered the infield with the tarpaulin and delayed the start of the game for an hour. When the game started, the players got in an inning and the bottom fell out again. All I could think of was driving 640 miles for a rain-out. But 44 minutes later, action resumed. The Cards won in a pitching gem by Matt Morris.
After supper, we began our trip home, stopping a couple hours out of St. Louis at Carbondale, IL, for the night. The next morning we drove 500 miles of two-lane roads through southern Illinois, across Kentucky and through Tennessee to Chattanooga, all occasioned by a visit to the Walter F. Kelley Co. in Clarkson, KY, which cost us 120 miles and five hours to save $13 in shipping.
A word about Kentucky. Stay on the interstates. One state highway we had to travel for more than 100 miles often had no center line. At one point, it forked and there was nothing to indicate which fork constituted the state route. Many of our county roads are better roads than this “highway,” which passed through countless consecutive hamlets too small to warrant even a Hardee’s.
Was it worth it?
Yeah, actually. Steven and I found we could (reasonably well) co-exist for endless hours in a small space, the visit with my cousin and his wife, though short, was a lot of fun, the Cardinals won, the showers, though delaying the game, cooled the temperature to the mid-80s and the drives through the cornfields of southern Illinois and the Sequatchie Valley in Tennessee were wonderful.
Next: the Cubs in Chicago?


Editorial
The Jackson Herald
July 24, 2002

Parents should get involved in
child’s education
It is an exciting time for students, parents and educators. As another school year rolls around, parents should be attending open houses, meeting principals and teachers and finding out all they can about what is expected of their child.
Teachers have been busy preparing for the influx of students. And students are filled with excitement, apprehension and even fear about school.
The most successful ingredient in a successful school year is parental support. Teachers are given the important task of educating the youth of today. But they can’t do it without the help of parents. Children are the framework of our future and teachers need support in preparing them for what is ahead.
Parents need to get involved through parent-teacher organizations, field trips and volunteering. Keeping in contact with teachers will also help their children.
Too often teachers are taken for granted. Some parents are quick to attack a teacher instead of offering support. Everyone is encouraged to join together this year to make it a successful year for all involved.
Parents can also serve as role models at home through encouraging education. Reading aloud to children and offering advice on school projects will provide children with a good basis for being a successful student. Parents can also set a good example by reading themselves. This will show children that even adults enjoy a good book and learning about new things.
A new school year also means that those big buses will be back on the roads. Motorists are reminded to take extra care when driving. Children will be on the roadway early in the morning waiting for buses so everyone should look out for them.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 24, 2002

Reflections on the Midwest
OMAHA — Nebraska in the summer is hot. It was 103 degrees last weekend in the Cornhusker State. That makes sitting in a hotel meeting room a little more acceptable; what could you do outside that would be enjoyable in that kind of heat?
But I did escape the hotel comforts for a while during this trip to the Midwest. Visits in the afternoon to two command centers, one military, the other transportation, gave me a different perspective on this city in the Heartland.
At the Union Pacific train command center, a long room is encased in a steel and cement bunker designed to withstand any kind of weather, even a category five tornado. Inside the bunker is a long array of desks and computer boards from which most of the train traffic west of the Mississippi is controlled.
Watching a color representation of the various train tracks, a series of operators communicate with trains on the tracks, directing them for a wide variety of conditions. If a track is being repaired, for example, the command center will idle trains on the track until the work is done.
A few miles away, we visited another bunker that is even more protected than the Union Pacific train command. On Offutt Air Force Base sits the U.S. Strategic Command Center, better known by its acronym USSTRATCOM.
It is from this bunker in Nebraska that the command and control over all U.S. nuclear forces on land, sea, air and space is given. It is also where President Bush went on Sept. 11 last year following the terrorist attacks.
Although Bush’s actions on that day are controversial, a trip inside this command center made things a little clearer for me.
From that center, communications are established with all U.S. forces world wide. Although designed during the Cold War to monitor potential Soviet attacks, the center is changing its role now to monitor threats from other forces as well. Through USSTRATCOM, orders to all nuclear forces would be given during a time of war.
The room is set up with three tiers of long tables and chairs with each seat having its own secure phone. On a wall in front of the room are eight large screens. Behind the seats on two glass-enclosed levels are the computer and control centers that actually monitor events in the world. A studio in one corner controls what is displayed on the screens, from the weather conditions to projections of where a nuclear attack might take place.
The USSTRATCOM is, in essence, a huge secure communications network that allows those in control of our military, including the president, to get up-to-date information and to issue orders in times of war.
In those first few hours of 9-11, no one knew exactly what was taking place. Even those at USSTRATCOM viewed the first plane’s crash into the Trade Towers as an accident and it wasn’t until the second crash that they really knew a planned attack was taking place.
In the mayhem that followed, it does make sense that the commander-in-chief would go to such a command center to get intelligence and updated information.
Interestingly, this isn’t the only such command center we have. On the runway outside the bunker are large airplanes that have duplicate command and control equipment so that if the base in Omaha were disabled, orders could be given from an airborne command. In addition, another duplicate set of communications equipment is on a dozen or more large tractor-trailer trucks that can be deployed to remote locations for duty.
And outside Washington DC is another underground bunker similar to the one in Omaha that is another backup system. It was to that command bunker that some in Congress went on 9-11.
Because of the increased security at military bases, the USSTRATCOM is now closed to the public. Our group of journalists, thanks to the efforts of Nebraska political leaders, was the last to be allowed in for a tour.
Here in Jackson County, we are largely isolated from the impact of a local military base. Our economy is not tied to a base and we probably don’t realize the impact such facilities have, some good, some perhaps not so good.
But Omaha seems to have a strong relationship with its base and has been able to maintain a strong, diverse economy. It is a financial crossroads for the Midwest and is a major transportation link.
The only thing about the area that was disconcerting is everyone said I talked funny.
But I don’t think it was me who had the accent.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
July 24, 2002

Make Penalties Severe To
Cut Corporate Crimes
Stock prices continued to fall like a skydiver without a parachute early this week, chasing stock prices to their lowest level in years and leading investors and even non-investors wondering what is going on.
Some call it an "adjustment" after the excessively high stock prices of the 1990s, some call it a crash and others (mostly those selling stocks and mutual funds) say it's a great time to take advantage of some underpriced stocks. And while the market professionals caution that "the market always comes back," or that the declining prices are "paper losses," the fact is, investors have lost trillions in 2002 alone.
While the economy has been slow, the difference between a depressed market and a scary market can probably be blamed on the loss of confidence investors have in the companies on which they have put money. Enron, WorldCom, Bristol-Meyers, Xerox and other major firms have already been identified as having falsely inflated corporate earnings (and thus corporate value). The public feels that other companies will doubtlessly come forward with similar revelations and investors are jumping ship.
This week, Congress is struggling with ways to prevent such financial shenanigans in the future. "Excessive" corporate pay and stock options are among the proposed cures. Certainly the stock options are a major factor in the deliberate misrepresentation of corporate finances.
But what to do? As long as the directors and executives of publicly traded companies have stock or stock options in the companies they direct, there will be pressure to maintain or increase the value of that stock. In a culture where even the best companies seem obsessed with quarterly returns, executives with thousands of shares of stock in the companies they manage have a strong self-interest in keeping stock prices high. That interest, as we have seen, sometimes takes precedent over the long-term health of the company as officials spend more time trying to convince investors that their stock is a good buy and less effort tending to the fiscal stability and long-term future of the company.
As long as company officials can enrich themselves by inflating the value of their stock, we will see cases where investors lose millions as CEOs and other top company officials bail out before the truth hits the market. Yet, stock and stock options remain the best incentive for management to build a company and keep it viable – and for employees to work hard to make the company prosper.
If greed is to be tempered by legislation, the legislation must provide punishment enough to make the risk of getting caught untenable. Company insiders who misrepresent (or allow to be misrepresented) a company's financial status should be subject to fines at least equal to what they stood to gain, prison time and civil liability. It's time to make those directors truly personally responsible to stockholders and to the law.
Yes, the market will recover, but in the meantime, millions of Americans have lost hundreds of billions of dollars, much of it because a handful of companies have been found to have played loose with accounting practices. Futures have been dimmed, if not ruined. For every Enron or WorldCom seeking bankruptcy protection, there are hundreds of thousands of citizens whose personal finances have been devastated. Congress will serve us best if it passes legislation making the penalties for such malfeasance so great that no director or officer of a publicly traded company will dare accept a financial statement without question and no accountant will be willing to hide assets or liabilities.
Without such stern measures, the investing public – which includes most Americans – will have no confidence in corporate America. And confidence is what drives the American economy.


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