Wednesday, December 31, 2008

No Ceasefire?

Yesterday from the Bush Administration, re Gaza,
Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe said of Gaza (Bush couldn’t comment, he was busy clearing brush), “We don’t just want a ceasefire for the sake of a ceasefire..."

Even from an administration that started a war of choice against a nation that was no threat to us and that had done no harm to us, a war that has cost the lives of tens of thousands and made millions homeless, that is an incredibly stupid statement.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Out of Town

Out of town and using an unfamiliar keyboard, but...

Just about every one of the blogs on my reading list is all agog about the news that teens who take a pledge not to have sex before marriage do so at the same rate as those who don't take the pledge. I have no opinion on that subject. (Teens and pledges. I have many opinions on sex.)

We are visiting friends in NC, and Mo is a Philadelphia Eagles fan so he and I were both happy yesterday. Four times over, actually, as not only did our teams win and move on to the playoffs, but both teams won big and both teams rather humiliated teams that we particularly enjoy seeing humiliated. How sweet it is.

North Carolina, by the way, has one whole hell of a lot of trees.

Update: Tuesday evening
No pictures of the trees. Two reasons. a) We didn't bring a camera, digital or otherwise. b) The trees are mostly leafless and uninteresting. There are a lot of them, but they are much more interesting in summer and even more interesting, way more, in fall.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Greetings

new ownerTo all who have been with me this past year, please accept my very best wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a Happy and prosperous New Year.

I will be away visiting family, so I will be online but blogging will be light until after the first of the year. The things that will be "On My Mind" will be more fun than politics. Do bear in mind the house above will have a new occupant in less than a month.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oaths of Office

Every time I click a link and read a post at Daily Kos I remember why I took that site off my daily reading list long ago. A poster there the other day insists that Obama should fire Fitzgerald and rehire him, pursuant to his (Obama’s) oath of office.

The “fire and rehire” bit is based on the tradition that all Attorneys General tender their resignation when a new president enters office, and that Obama should accept the resignation and then reappoint him. First, that is not “fire and rehire,” because he would not have done the firing. Second, if he wants to keep Fitzgerald, he can merely not accept the resignation.

Then he quotes Article II, Section 3 of the constitution and claims that it requires Obama to prosecute people in the Bush Administration who have committed acts which are against the laws of this nation. I’ll underline the part that he claims is grounds for that requirement.
…he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

That requires a particular type of conduct of the current president, and of the people answering to that president. It does not say that the current president shall examine all of the acts of man that occurred before he took office and take action for wrongdoing that occurred before his responsibility to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” went into effect.

I do believe that the actions of the Bush Administration should be investigated; and that if any actions by any member of that group are found which were in violation of our laws then criminal prosecution should be rigorously pursued. That investigation should include everyone, up to and including Dick Cheney and George Bush.

I think it would be a very real shame if Obama does not do this, and it would be to some degree a breach of his promise to those who elected him, but I do not think that such a failure would be a violation of his oath of office. That claim is just plain silliness.

Chargers Update

Headline in the San Diego Union-Tribune today,

"Confident Chargers focused on postseason."

Now that is exactly how you blow the big game before you even go on the field. That is how you lose games you are expected to win.

But, when you read the article, it turns out there is nothing there that justifies the headline. The writer, Kevin Acee, writes that the players are feeling confident. At the beginning of the article he makes some allusion to "It might all be for naught," but it is unclear what that is in reference to. There is not one quote from a player or coach speaking about postseason. The quotations are players saying that now that the team has won three games in a row, the last one over a quality opponent at Tampa, the team feels more confident.

The article is, in actuality, gibberish. You can read it here and see what you make of it, see if you think the headline is pertinent.

To me the players sound appropriately confident and ready to go out and win the last game of the season. They sound like a team that has just won three games in a row, the last one against a quality opponent and on the road. They sound like a team that just might be winners.

Monday, December 22, 2008


From three games behind with three to play, the Chargers now find themselves facing Denver next Sunday to decide the division title. Yesterday, at least, they earned it. They played with an intensity that has been missing all season and, even when trailing by three points, there was no doubt that they were going to win. Wow.

With the exception of the defensive secondary, which could not find its collective ass if you gave it a mirror on a stick, the Chargers were awesome. As to Eric Weddle, “Hey, Eric. That guy running toward the goal line… You’re supposed to follow him. He might be a pass receiver.”

They won on the road while Denver lost at home. They will be playing after a three game win streak, while Denver will be following two losses. They are all pretty much healthy while Denver is crippled by injuries. The game is at Qualcomm Stadium, the Chargers’ house.

Oh oh, trouble. The Chargers have a bad habit of reading all of the stuff that is written about them, and then expecting the next opponent to swoon at the mere sight of them upon entering the field of play. They are especially prone to doing that when the game has national coverage.

This game was originally scheduled for the 8:00pm game but a few weeks ago, when the Chargers were looking like schmucks, it was rescheduled to afternoon and a “better” game put in it’s place. Within minutes of Buffalo beating Denver that was reversed, so the Bolts will be on NBC at 8:00pm Eastern time.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Staking a claim

Molly napping"You thought you were going to mail this sweater somewhere? I don't think
  so. This is my nap spot."
      (Click image for larger view.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

On Picking Warren

I am trying to maintain a positive attitude about our next president in the face of his pick of Rick Warren to be part of his historic inauguration, but I just simply cannot consider it with anything other than serious disappointment and misgiving.

John Harwood on Countdown claims that because we like so many of the things that Obama is doing that we must therefor accept without complaint everything that he does. We should not complain about his pick of Rick Warren because he is getting the troops out of Iraq, cutting taxes on the middle class, etc.

While actions do exist within a pattern of the whole, I do not agree with Harwood. To me each action must stand on its own merits as well as being seen within the context of the pattern.

"We must learn to disagree,” Obama says, “without being disagreeable.” And he then picks a person to give the invocation who compares gay marriage to incest and pedophilia; who compares abortion to the Holocaust. Rick Warren disagrees in the most disagreeable terms imaginable.

“We must have a policy of including everyone,” Obama says. Rick Warren preaches exclusion of an entire class in the most disagreeable terms that one can think of and Obama, in the name of inclusiveness, gives him a world platform.

But perhaps this should not surprise us. Barack Obama says he supports equality for gays and lesbians, but he has told us that he would exclude them from the equality of marriage based on his own personal religious definition of that word. He does not care how you or I define it, or how they define it, or how any other church defines it; he would base that exclusion on his definition. He has repeatedly dodged the question of how he intends to deal with the issue of gays serving in our military.

There is an old saying that goes, “Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.” Perhaps, with this action, we just learned something about Barack Obama that we did not really want to know.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Torture Debate Again

Unbelievably, we are having the “torture debate” yet again. We simply cannot seem to put this filthy mess to rest, and the media keeps dredging up filthy pieces of garbage who continue to advocate heinous behavior in the name of “keeping America safe.”

Watch yesterday’s Hardball segment. The filth that is spewed by Smerconish is offset by rather profound wisdom from Christopher Hitchens.
Hitchens tells of England in World War 2, when London was being bombed into rubble every night by the Germans and when British interrogators were fired and court martialed if “you so much as raised a hand.” He goes on the say that the expectation was that some of the Germans would come over to the British side.

Smerconish says no limits, “Bring out the blowtorch. They have made it plain that they are not going to play by the rules, so why should we?”

Well, because we are not animals.

Treatment of others is not about who they are, it’s about who we are. I do not threat other people kindly and well because they are good people, I do so because I am a good person. If I deviate from that treatment then I am no longer a good person. The same goes for nations. We are a nation that has laws. If we permit the violation of those laws it does not matter why we did so, we no longer are a nation that has laws.

All of the arguments about whether or not torture works, the arguments about what will happen to our soldiers if we torture captives, about whether or not we are making the enemy fight harder or fight to the death, are irrelevant. All of them are entirely valid, but we do not need them. One argument, and one argument alone is sufficient; we do not torture because we are who we are.

Michael Smerconish is an evil piece of filth. He makes himself so with this discussion. I have disagreed with Christopher Hitchens many more times than I have agreed with him, but during this segment I wanted to jump through the screen and shake his hand as he advocated that evil in defense of freedom is not acceptable.

Robert Kennedy Jr. wrote on this in 2005 in the LA Times. Read the column. He starts with our nation’s beginning, when the British were torturing and hanging captured revolutionaries, and our fighters did not respond in kind. British captives were treated in a humane manner throughout the entire Revolutionary War.
The fact that the patriots refused to abandon these principles, even in the dark times when the war seemed lost, when the enemy controlled our cities and our ragged army was barefoot and starving, credits the character of Washington and the founding fathers and puts to shame the conduct of America's present leadership.

That character of our nation was preserved through the death of millions in many wars, large and small, foreign and domestic. It survived Pearl Harbor. It survived famine, pestilence and financial ruin. It was not the events of 9/11 that brought it down, it was the heinous leadership that this nation suffered following that day that brought it down.

That we can even have this argument, let alone that the argument persists, reveals that we are not the nation we once were.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Anybody got ark plans?

floor beforeThe movement of the rain almost due north, and our house is right about where the little "+" is. It has been pouring since 4AM or so, adding to the almost 1.4" we got yesterday Monday.

Staying home to admire my floors today is a good plan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why did we pick that?

Once in a while for the past few years I have been idly asking myself why we would pick such a dark color grout for our tile floors, not really thinking all that much about it, but…
floor beforeWell, the short answer is: we didn’t.

The slightly longer answer is: this is what happens when you live in a climate where winter is about three hours long, and summer is so mild that you never run your air conditioning. Your windows are open all the time and lots of dirt blows in.

I had the people in from Stanley Steemer to do the bedroom carpets today, and the young man waxed very enthusiastic about their tile cleaning service. He was very persistent without being at all pushy, very cheerful about the whole thing, and kept telling me how happy I would be if I would let him clean my tile floors. He really conveyed an enthusiasm, a sense that he saw an opportunity to do something that would make a person’s life better, and I finally succumbed.
floor afterWell, I think I’m glad I did. I’m staying home tomorrow and just sitting around looking at my floors.

1800 Pennsylvania Ave.

I’m surprised David Schuster actually gets the address of the White House right; but then he receives some help on that from MSNBC, since it is the name of his show.

And yes, I got the address wrong. Kudos to David Schuster.

Yesterday he was blathering on about the insult to our president when an Iraqi newsman threw shoes at him, as if our news media has never insulted that office or its occupant at all, and reported a related incident where crowds threw rocks at our passing troops. He repeated that maybe that was going to become a new trend, where Iraqis threw rocks at our troops.

Juan Cole at Informed Comment, whose blog seems to be well-named in this case at least, got it right. Iraqis threw shoes at our troops.

Schuster is as determined as the RNC to make something out of Obama’s connection to the present Illinois governor. He keeps droning on about how the media would not continue to harp on this if Obama would simply admit that he spoke to Blagojevich and divulge what he said, and then the press could move on to more important things.

Actually, the press can move on to more important things.

It makes perfectly good sense for Obama to decide not to release anything until he has everything, which is precisely what he said from the very start is what he intended to do. If he released a partial list of “who shot John” David Schuster would be on him like white on rice demanding, “Why did you leave this conversation out?”

Having accumulated the information, Obama is holding it at the request of the prosecutor and Schuster thinks he should not do that. Of course, if he released it Schuster would explode in righteous indignation over Obama having jeopardized the investigation.

Schuster also said at one point a few days ago that there is no problem with someone simply going to the press and telling them what went on in the Grand Jury room, that the prosecutor could not tell them not to do that. He should tell that to the people who are presently in jail for going to the press and telling them what went on in the Grand Jury room which is, in fact, illegal.

I was at home and not wearing shoes as I watched, so…

As a side note, Cole reports in that same post that, "Iraqis are deeply suspicious that the US military will not honor its obligations under the Status of Forces Agreement." General Odierno may have contributed to that when he actually said that we would not do so, stating that we would almost certainly maintain troops in their cities past the July 2009 deadline despite the agreement. When asked about the agreement, he repeated that decisions would be made by American military commanders based upon "conditions on the ground."

Barack Obama has so far not commented on Odierno's statement.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

At Kansas City

The Chargers lead the league in allowing opposing tight ends to catch passes. Tony Gonzales, tight end for the Chiefs, leads the league among tight ends in catching passes. Want to hear my prediction? Guess what; even I don't want to hear my prediction, and I'm the one making it. Chargers, oddly, are favored by 5+.

The Chargers have to win today to... No, forget the playoffs. We have to win three games in a row to finish without a losing record. Even that feat will not have us finishing with a winning record.

Update: Monday morning
Everyone is excited that the team came from behind to win, but no one stops to ponder that the team spent the great majority of the game trailing a team that has only won twice this season. I think the excitement may be a bit misplaced.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Nation in Fear

Last fall Paulson went to Congress with this tale of impending doom that had the people in the room leaving, literally, ashen faced in fear. A bill had to be passed within days, he said, or our nation would face a financial crisis that would make 1929 look like a proverbial walk in the park. Most of Congress, including the Democratic leadership, bought his story in its entirety and made preparations to pass the bill that Paulson presented to them and told them was the only possible solution.

To their credit, a few members of that body asked questions and even had the temerity to offer alternative solutions. Paulson treated them like naughty children and told them their solutions would not work. The maverick members managed to get some conditions imposed on the largess that Paulson was insisting upon and the bill, hugely unpopular with American citizenry, passed.

Then it turned out that everything Paulson had been saying was wrong. Things went bad, but not in the manner and not to the depth that Paulson predicted, and not for the reasons that he had given. The money was not spent the way he insisted was essential, in fact it got spent the way that the maverick members of Congress had suggested and which Paulson had told them would not work. Whether Paulson was pulling a huge con game, or whether he simply didn’t have the faintest idea what he was talking about, whether he has been the stupidest or the most dishonest Treasury Secretary in recent history, may never be known. In all honesty, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is this.

Congress, with a gun held to its head, passed a bad bill which has harmed rather than helped this nation. They blindly reacted to fear. We’ve been here before, and it led us to a disasterous war in Iraq.

First it was mushroom clouds. Then it was financial meltdown 1929 style. Now it is millions of jobs and a sacrosanct industry disappearing overnight. The mushroom clouds turned out to be false fear. The financial meltdown turned out to be a false fear. We have yet to find out about the millions of jobs disappearing in the aftermath of an auto industry meltdown.

Congress failed to pass this bill, but for the wrong reasons. It bought the fear lock, stock and barrel. The Democratic leadership did everything possible to pass this bill, because it was in thrall to the fear this time, just as it has been in the past. “The auto industry will collapse and this nation cannot survive without it.”

“But,” you claim, “it isn’t just the government. Everybody is saying it.”

At first it was only Bush and Company hyperventilating about the mushroom clouds, and then every news medium and pundit was screaming Iraqi Armageddon. At first only Paulson had the vapors about financial meltdown and the American people were inundating their representatives with advise against any bailout. Then media and pundits took up the hue and cry and in a matter of days, “everybody” was screaming about approaching financial doom. It has always been, at first, just the government advertising the fear. But always, always, fear spreads like wildfire.

The Bush Administration should go down in history as having fundamentally changed the character of a nation. From the nation that won World War II, we have become the world’s most fearful nation. No other nation in the world has news media whose headlines as consistently scream fear and disaster as ours. No nation has a legislative leadership whose decisions are as consistently motivated by reaction to fear. No nation has a public whose requirement of its leaders is first and foremost to “keep us safe” from threats, mostly nonexistent.

Our national anthem ends with the phrase, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Our freedom is being eroded, and bravery is now essentially limited to less than one percent of our men and women, those who serve in the military. Beyond them I think this country is notable only for its cowardice.

We have become a nation of cravens, cowering in our foxholes, bleating at our leaders liberties be damned, just bail us out of our problems and keep us safe.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Where is the Marine Corps?

San Diego’s largest landfill, quite near the Marine Corp air station at Miramar, is filling up and the city is negotiating with the Corps to raise the maximum height of it by twenty feet. The negotiations were suspended last Monday when a F/A-18 fighter crashed into some homes near the base. I understand the suspension, as the same people are involved, flight safety personnel, and the fighter crash certainly has priority.

The man whose wife, mother-in-law and two daughters were killed in the crash is facing costs to bury them and, according to his pastor, is worried about being able to pay those costs. He also needs to fly family members from Korea and is worried about meeting those costs too, as well as housing them while they are here. His church is seeking donations.

Many people are being kept away from their homes; quite properly so, as the site is still very hazardous. One of them is known to us, a man named Robert Johnson. He and his family are being helped by the Red Cross; are being put up at a different hotel each night and given coupons for restaurant meals. They have been provided with bare minimums for personal needs, and they have no car since theirs was destroyed by the plane crash.

Robert is retired Navy and has spent many hours this past year volunteering as a docent at the USS Midway Museum.

Where the hell is the Marine Corps public relations? Why are they not stepping in to take care of these people?

There can be no question of liability; there is no question it was a Marine Corps jet that caused the loss that these people have suffered. The Corps should have been on the scene within hours telling people that they would be taken care of in every way possible, and if that is being done there is absolutely no sign of it. The flight safety personnel are preoccupied right now, but the Corps has a staff of people who have no job other than public relations, and they are dropping the ball altogether here. What do that have on their plate right now that is more important than this?

It is time, past time, for the Marine Corps to step up.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Terrorist Thinking

Much is being made of the terrorists in Gitmo deciding on November 4th to plead guilty and seek to be put to death. Nobody has offered a really satisfying explanation for that action, and especially not for the date, but I think Mike German, author of “Thinking Like a Terrorist” might be able to do so. Having just finished his book I’m going to offer the conclusion that I draw based on what he offers in it.

So long as Bush, or someone with a Bush mentality, is in office these men are being held as political prisoners and are regarding themselves as martyrs. There is, in their minds and (to them) in the minds of their followers a sense of nobility in their captivity and impending death. As soon as Obama is in office they will be moved into a normal justice system where they will become not martyrs, but criminals. They will be put on trial not for their ideology as they are now, but for their actions, which are common, heinous crimes against humanity.

They want the issue to be their ideology, not their actions.

The book is pretty interesting reading although, like many of this genre, the meat is in the first few chapters. After that it delves into mundane detail about what a multitude of subchapters of various terrorist groups did throughout history. Sort of, “I’ve said everything I have to say, but nobody is going to pay $24.95 for twenty-two pages, so…”

Terrorists, he tells us, always write a manifesto detailing their cause. We did that in 1776 and called it our “Declaration of Independence.” Instead of bombing British tearooms, though, we called them out and met them on battlefields at Lexington, Concord, Yorktown and other places, so we did not become terrorists.

Terrorists always have a cause, and sometimes that cause is quite legitimate. That doesn’t make their actions legitimate, and this is the great pitfall of our reaction to terrorist acts. Why one does something does not justify the crime in a civilized world.

The very use of the term “Radical Islam” is a setback to our efforts to deal with the problem. The people we seek are Muslims. But we are not seeking them because they are Muslims, radical or otherwise; we are seeking them because they committed crimes against humanity. “Radical Islam” is not a threat to us; people who set off bombs in our cities are a threat to us.

German suggests that we need to change our approach from “declaring war,” to fighting crime. Declaring war is counterproductive, whether that war be on nations, groups or ideology. He points out the success that the FBI has had against domestic terror groups using a crime-fighting approach but, since he is writing mostly about his own experience and research, doesn’t delve into the success the British have had with that approach recently with international terrorism.

I would suggest we need to change our rhetoric as well, and in two respects. First, we need to quit dignifying these acts by using terms like “war” and “terror” and simply call them what they are; crimes. Secondly, we need to cease adding fuel to the fire by stressing the threat on a daily basis. These criminal groups pose no more threat to us than do drug sellers, for instance, or any other criminal gang, who kill many more people in this nation every year than do “terrorists.”

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Chargers Overconfident?

Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes today that the San Diego Chargers players may have approached the season with a little bit too much of a cocky attitude.
But there is a pervading feeling in the locker room that the Chargers were doomed in large part by overconfidence.

Well, duh.

Those of us who know a lot less about football than NFL head coaches are supposed to know have been well aware that Chargers players had an unwarrantably high opinion of themselves since, oh, maybe the second game of the season. We have observed repeatedly that the players wearing lightening bolts have seemingly expected opposing teams to faint at the mere sight of their awesomeness. Opposing teams have been somewhat less impressed, and have whupped up on that awesomeness in a thoroughly embarrassing manner.

So how is this attitude problem, and its persistence for no less than twelve weeks, not a massive coaching failure? How, in the face of such a total failure to correct such horrendous attitude problem, is Norv Turner assured of another year as head coach of this team?

Inquiring minds want to know.

The Shinseki Appointment

I have avoided commenting on Obama’s cabinet appointments to this point, other than to express my dismay at his choice for Secretary of State, but some recent commentary on his selection of Eric Shinseki for VA Secretary compels me to weigh in.

As background, for any who may not recall, as Chief of Staff of the Army General Shinseki testified before Congress that he believed that “several hundred thousand” troops would be required to control Iraq in the aftermath of invasion. He was publicly mocked and humiliated by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz for this statement, and retired shortly afterward. He was not, as many commentators including Keith Olbermann have stated, fired by Rumsfeld. His retirement, however, was well ahead of schedule and was clearly coerced. None of the civilian military leadership attended his retirement ceremony, a serious insult.

Both Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have commented that George Bush tacitly admitted that Shinseki was right when he initiated the “Surge,” which demonstrates the degree to which both of them enjoy engaging in idiotic hyperbole. The 30,000 troops that were sent in that escalation are miles from the “several hundred thousand” that Shinseki said would be needed, and do not even remotely represent a validation of this fine general or any degree of repudiation of the humiliating treatment which he was afforded.

Chief of Staff of the Army is a huge administrative job and, as such, may
be one of the very best backgrounds for Secretary of the Veterans Administration. Eric Shinseki is not a self serving political general, but a career general in the best sense of the term; dedicated to his service rather than to himself. That is born out by his silence since his retirement, and it is precisely what the job requires today. Rachel Maddow asked if his low profile persona was sufficient to the task of pressing for the resources needed by the VA, and I would suggest that it is precisely what is needed.

Finally, I do wish that the media would make an effort to distinguish between the administrative problems of the VA bureaucracy and the superb quality of the VA Medical Service today.

After Vietnam the VA medical facilities attained a reputation as hellholes of the worst sort, and quite deservedly so. Under the direction of Kenneth W. Kizer, beginning in 1994, the VA Medical Service has made one of the greatest turnarounds in modern history, and it is now one of the finest medical systems in the entire world. You will hear many veterans complain of difficulty getting into the system, but you will hear no complaints from veterans presently being served by the VA Health Service in any of its facilities.

The first thing needs to be dealt with, and Eric Shinseki is an excellent choice to deal with the administrative problems facing the VA. This nation has done things that need to be corrected, but we need for the media to acknowledge the things that we have done right as well.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Fiscal Expansion

Paul Krugman, in the New York Times on Dec 1st op-ed column,
One more thing: Fiscal expansion will be even better for America’s future if a large part of the expansion takes the form of public investment — of building roads, repairing bridges and developing new technologies, all of which make the nation richer in the long run.

But is “fiscal expansion” in the form of subsidizing the production of automobiles, which are sold by the expedient of increasing consumer debt, good for the nation in the long run? I doubt seriously that it can be argued that producing expendable goods and increasing both federal and consumer debt in the process is “making the nation richer in the long run.”

And don't accuse me of favoring white collar over blue collar; I was against the Wall Street bailout, too. I am opposed to the whole business of politicians prating endlessly about how bad things can get and passing measures in panic mode for the sole purpose of averting disaster. That is the antithesis of leadership. I am totally in favor of Obama's modality of proposing solutions, and of the "New New Deal" which he proposes and which Paul Krugman endorses.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Dec 7, 1941

Dec 7, 1941
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Chargers Win One

One of our local sports writers was so giddy over the Chargers actually winning a game that he gave an "A" rating to our quarterback, who only completed 45% of his passes. Of course he may have been doing some comparison to the combined Oakland quarterback rating of 27. I thought if you managed to avoid fainting at the line of scrimmage you got a 32 rating. Apparently not.

The Oakland running backs were falling over their own downed linemen, thereby creating something I have never actually seen before; a football team that literally cannot get out of its own way.

Well, what the hell, it's a win.

Bullying Congress

I don’t know why I watch Hardball, really. I kind of like Chris Matthews, but the things I learn on that program aren’t really things that are much worth knowing, and Chris is sometimes a bit of an idiot.

He’s all over Sarah Palin, just thrilled to death with the prospect of her future as the leader of the Republican Party. He thinks she will be the next Republican presidential nominee; says she’s really smart (?) and that she has “star power.” He opined that “Goldwater did it, Nixon did it, she can do it.” Um, those two guys were presidential candidates who came back to get nominated, not vice-presidential selections.

And, “she’s really smart,” he says? I think he’s been feeling too many thrills up his leg.

He had one of the auto executives on and asked him if the company could assure that it would be able to repay a loan. The exec gave a pep talk about the importance of car companies; didn’t even pretend to answer the question. To me that means that, no, that cannot be even remotely certain of repaying the loan. Chris Matthews just thanked him and moved on to the next question.

Which brings me to the title of this post. The auto makers are doing the same thing to Congress that Paulson did.

“Armageddon is coming and you need to do what I tell you, precisely the way I tell you to do it, within days, or the world as we know it will end. I am the only one who knows the solution, your solutions will not work, and if I try to explain things to you your head will explode because you are entirely to stupid to understand these high principles. Shut up and do as I tell you, right now.”

How do we know that a bailout loan is the only workable solution? Because the auto executives say so. How do we know that Chapter 11 bankruptcy is not viable? Because the auto executives say so. How do we know that millions of jobs depend on the auto companies? Because the auto executives say so.

Well, everybody is saying these things now, but they got them from the auto executives and are taking them as gospel.

Congress caved to Paulson. They put some lipstick on Paulson’s pig, but it was still a pig when they served it up. Interestingly, the $700 billion that Paulson said it was imperative to spend buying toxic debt to avoid Armageddon was not spent the way Paulson claimed was essential. Half of it was spent in a different manner, a manner that Paulson said would not work. The outcome has hardly been pretty, but it certainly has not been the financial meltdown that Paulson predicted.

Congress will cave to the auto executives as well. They are busily lipsticking the pig, but they will serve it up in the end. Congress has proven that it cannot think for itself, and it cannot or will not act independently. It will do whatever it is bullied into doing.

So they will get the loans and build the cars, and then what? The cars will go where, exactly? Nobody is buying cars, not Detroit cars certainly, but not any brand in any quantity. With unemployment projected to continue increasing for up to a year, who is going to be buying these cars?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Conrail Them

We’ve been here before; the auto industry is not the first industry “too big to be allowed to fail.” In early the 1970’s our railroad industry was crumbling; tracks in disrepair, rolling stock crumbling, and operations outmoded beyond comprehension. They claimed their problems were due to competition factors beyond their control, and to some extent that was true. The Interstate Highway System had moved freight into trucks and the airlines had moved passengers into the air. Still, there were clearly management issues which exacerbated the problems and they were functionally bankrupt and on the verge of closing down operations.

Rather than throwing huge amounts of money at those who owned and mis-managed the railroads (Republicans weren’t in power yet), the government took steps to actually solve the problem.

First, the government nationalized passenger operation under Amtrak in 1971, since airline travel had impacted that business such that even profitable railroads in the West were losing money on it. Amtrak remains a government sponsored entity today.

As to the failing Eastern railroads, the government formed a national, government owned and funded corporation to take over the failed railroads. Consolidated Rail Corporation, known as Conrail, absorbed selected failed and failing railroads and began operation in 1974, operating as a private company, but owned by the US taxpayers.

Initial investment was minimal; the railroads voluntarily moved themselves into Conrail since the alternative was simply closing down and selling their equipment as scrap.

Conrail operated at a loss for quite a few years, losses which the taxpayers absorbed, but almost immediate improvement was seen in its operations. Infrastructure repairs were undertaken, new locomotives and rolling stock began to make appearance, and trains began rolling at higher speeds and with improved safety records, all within a very short time of Conrail’s beginning.

By the late 1990’s Conrail was operating at an excellent profit, and the system was broken up and sold off to private railroads, mostly Norfolk Southern and CSX. Exact figures are hard to come by, but as best I can tell, taxpayers absorbed $2.2 billion in operating losses, realized something in operations revenue for about ten years, and then received $1.9 billion when Conrail was sold off.

As a net result of the Conrail enterprise, the taxpayer is out very little (if any) money, and we have today a modern, thriving and profitable railroad industry built on the ashes of a failed and crumbling predecessor.

General Motors has a negative net worth of $60 billion and it cannot meet its financial obligations this month. This company is not going to go bankrupt, it is there already. This company is not sinking, it is resting solidly on the bottom. With all this negative worth, and stock value totaling an absurd $3 billion, it expects the taxpayer to lend it $18 billion. That is madness.

We should do a Conrail on the auto industry. Form a government owned corporation, staff it with competent management (from Japan maybe), and fold all three big automakers into it. Run it until it is making money at a level sufficient to have returned the taxpayer losses, and then sell it to the highest bidder.

It worked for the railroads. It saved railroads and saved railroad jobs.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Economic Wierdness

The government is making plans for a stimulus that includes spending a ton of money to create jobs. Seems the government considers jobs to be really important; a priority with which I happen to agree.

So the automakers appear in Washington with their plans, appealing for loans; plans which include laying off thousands upon thousands of workers. Their plans also include closing several thousand dealerships, which means many more thousands of jobs lost.

Am I the only one who sees insanity in this?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Producer Economy, Part Two

I wrote a post yesterday about this nation's economy and, based on the comments, I didn't make my point very well. My point wasn't about buying American vs. foreign products. I see no great value in the former or detriment in the latter. "Not that there is inherent superior value to things that are made in this country," I said in that post.

The point I wanted to make was about policy makers not paying attention. It was about policy makers still saying that it is acceptable for this nation's economy to be based on consumption; that the purpose of building bridges etc. is to create jobs for the purpose of refueling the engine of consumption.

Policy makers seem to think that jobs do not exist for the purpose of making things, but that they exist for the purpose of getting money so the job holders can buy things. But jobs do not exist just to fuel the engine of consumption and most people, I think, want their job to be more than just a way of making money.

So in part it's about policy making, and in part it's about perception of the jobs themselves. And the comments are about buying American products.
I appreciate all comments, especially positive ones as these were, but buying American was not what I was talking about. In fact, I was kind of suggesting we should not be buying at all for a while.

Sometimes I try to keep my posts too short, and sometimes apparently I don't write as well as I think I do.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Zippo Lighters

When I was ten or eleven my brother hit me in the head with a hockey stick and gave me a concussion. (It wasn't on purpose, or at least he claimed it wasn't.) I was taken to the hospital and was being kept awake, and of course I was pretty scared. I wanted to go to sleep, but what I really wanted was my Dad. Finally somebody came in and told me I could go to sleep, but I couldn't do that. I struggled and struggled and kept myself awake. Then I heard a Zippo lighter click shut in the hallway outside. I knew that was Dad's lighter, he shut his lighter with a special click. I heard the Zippo click shut; Dad was here. I was out, never even saw him enter the room.

Amazingly, Zippo lighters are still being made today, in Bradford PA. They are completely unchanged from the one that my father clicked shut in that hospital hallway more than fifty years ago.

A Producer Economy

I have been reading as many advisories as I can on how we need to proceed to restore our economy. There seems to be consensus that a jobs plan, one rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, is needed. There certainly agreement on economic reform. Other means seem to have less of a solid consensus, but there is one thing I have not seen suggested by even one single pundit, economist or legislator.

Not one time have I seen it suggested that we even attempt to return this nation to being a producer nation instead of a consumer nation. Not one place have I seen a suggestion that we need to recreate the industries, other than automobile, that manufacture the things that American consumers buy.

In the political campaigns there was rhetoric about “exporting jobs” and “shipping jobs overseas.” That rhetoric didn’t include any specifics about bringing back the jobs that had already been exported. In all of the current discussions about the economic recovery, however, the discussion of manufacturing jobs, other than auto, has been noticeable by its absence.

Not that there is inherent superior value to things that are made in this country, but there is value in having the jobs that manufacturing in this country can provide. Buying does not provide jobs; manufacturing provides jobs as well as products that Americans buy.

So that when I buy a toy for my kid it says, “Made in USA.”

So that when I buy a television it says, “Made in USA.”

So that when I buy a part for my car, not the car itself, but a starter, or a windshield wiper it says, “Made in USA.”

So that when I put on my shirt in the morning it says, “Made in USA.”

Maybe restoring our producer economy cannot be done. Maybe the foreign competition has labor costs that we cannot meet. Maybe we are not innovative enough, or smart enough, or we just don’t care enough to overcome that deficit. But we are not even trying. No one is even suggesting that we try. It seems sufficient that we manufacture automobiles from imported parts, and that we import everything else.

It used to be that “third world” countries were considered inferior because they could not manufacture, and they had to import manufactured goods from us. Now those same countries are providing the manufactured goods that we are importing. We don’t seem to feel that makes us inferior.

I don’t think we are inferior. I think we can be a producing nation, or at least I don’t know why we can’t. I don’t understand why we are not making the effort.

There’s something uncomfortable about being a “nation of consumers.”