Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The End...


"This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end"
The End
The Doors
One of my funny lines so far this year was this: A friend of mine asked if I wanted to see the movie 2016. My reply was "Heck no! I saw 2012 and it scared the hell out of me!" The joke was of of course, 2016 is a political movie, and 2012 is about the end of the world - yet one more movie about the end of the world.

Soothsayers and prophets have been around since the beginning of time. Many of which always have had some dire prediction for the future of mankind. There was an ending, and the ending was usually not pretty. The most famous prognosticator of all time was Michel de Nostredame (Nostradamus). He was a French seer who was best known for his book Les Propheties (The Prophecies), which was first printed in 1555. Today, many still swear by his predictions - others thought many were so obscure they were subject to interpretation. The only good news that came out of Nostradamus was no real end date for the world. His predictions went out as far as 3797, but no mention that would be the end.

In my lifetime, I think the most important prophet was Jeane Dixon. She was a modern day astrologer and psychic and gave advise to such political leaders as Richard Nixon and Nancy Reagan (when she was First Lady to President Ronald Reagan). I became aware of her was she (and other psychics) predicted in April 1969, a huge earthquake would rock the West Coast causing California to slide into the Pacific Ocean. As a young man living in Minnesota, one would think "who cares?".  My problem was this - I was going to San Diego to start boot camp in April 1969. The strange part of this story was during my second day in  boot camp, there was an earth tremor. Don't think that Jeane's prediction did not enter my mind during that tremor!

Today, we have the Mayan Calendar issue. For some reason, their calendar ends on December 21, 2012. Even though nothing was predicted for that day, modern day alarmists have told us it would be the end. Polar shifts, earth crust displacement, asteroid impact and even an alien invasion are the most common theories. Could this be the end? Who knows. All I know is this - we are planning for a family Christmas and beyond.

So on this Halloween, when I ponder "the end" of everything, I remember the old adage in which I try to live my life: "It is not the amount of years you have to live, but rather the amount of life put into those years". The end will come when the end will come. Until that day, I will live for today and plan for tomorrow. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Cold Warrior


"Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war"
Julius Caesar

I am a retired Cold Warrior. I served during the Cold War, I lived during the Cold War, and I worked for defense contractors during the Cold War. Much has been told about the brave men and women who fought the "hot" wars for our country. The bravery and valor of these folks were many times unmatched. However, very little has been told about our Cold Warriors. Their battles were much different than our combat forces, yet also important.

First and foremost, before the story even begins, I need to get this on the table - Ronald Wilson Reagan played his hand during the Cold War just about a good as anyone could. More on this later.

The Cold War started just about as quickly as World War II ended. In fact, some of the historians believe the distrust between the United States and Russia started before Germany even surrendered. However, most historians agree the start date of this protracted conflict started in 1947.

Many Cold Warriors spent their military careers playing a life and death version of cat and mouse. It did not matter which service one was in - many served by air, sea, under the sea, or even on land. The Cold War affected the vast majority that served between 1947 and 1990.

Tom Clancy was the first to shine the light of truth on the technical aspects of the Cold War. Countless others wrote fictional and non-fictional accounts of the non stop cat and mouse dueling that took place between super power military forces as well as agencies such as the CIA, NSA, FBI, GRU and KGB.

Some of the most interesting interactions in the Cold War took place between the navies of the Soviet Union and the United States. The United States had it's ballistic fleet of Ohio Class submarines, each equipped with D5 SACE missiles. These were constantly tracked by Soviet attack submarines, such as the very fast and capable Alpha Class. On the other hand, the Soviets also had their ballistic fleet of "boomer" submarines, fully equipped with MIRV ballistic missiles. This included the monster of the fleet, the Typhoon Class. Each of these were tracked by our Los Angles Class attack submarines. In this high tech game of cat and mouse, one misstep, one mistake, one trigger happy ship captain could have led to the Cold War becoming very hot in a flash.

Terms like TACTASS, SURTASS, SOSUS, LAMPS and MAD became part of the lexicon with U.S. Sailors. Mk-48 Torpedoes and P-3 Orion ASW aircraft were also part of the mix. We were at war with an enemy which distrusted us and much as we distrusted them. Not a shot was fired, and yet battle lines were formed all over the globe. We were in a tinder box and walked a tight rope every day of the year.

One very important note about our Commander in Chief in the 80's. Ronald Wilson Reagan had no fear of the Cold War and knew the United States had the will and the resources to end it. I worked on many of the programs in the 80's which were cutting edge technology programs specifically aimed to bring this conflict to an end. My opinion is we hit the Soviets with the trifecta of programs which spooked them and they knew they could not compete with. Those programs were the Cruise Missile, Pershing II Missile and Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). Star Wars and the Pershing II were never deployed - they did not need to be. It was a poker hand played on a global stage with the utmost of cunning. Nobody really knows if the Star Wars "shield" would have worked or not - the important thing was that the Soviets thought it might, and that was all it took. The Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Empire dissolved, and the rest is history.

The Cold Warrior is now gone, faded into history. All we have left are the memories of that most critical of times. As the world tilted towards mutually assured destruction, it was only the skill and acumen of our politicians and Cold Warriors which kept us safe. The foe was vanquished, and the world goes on. Many stories, many, many stories on this victory will never be told - but trust me, they are there.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Jungle


"The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo."

Desmond Morris

Back "in the day", when I was in High School (and they taught real literature), one of the most profound yet depressing books I read was Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. The book, which took place at the turn of the 20th century, was centered in the city of Chicago. It was dour and depressing and was written to be so. Not knowing much about Chicago when I was that young, the book painted a picture which stuck with me for years.

As the years went after the venue of The Jungle, Chicago's reputation did not improve. Whereas Sinclair pointed out the dire condition of the meat packing industry as well as the low value of human life for those working in it, Chicago in the 30's and 40's were notorious for prohibition, crime and most of all, corruption. Elliot Ness, Al Capone and Frank Nitti are names from that era which have become part of our lexicon.

However in the 60's is when the Chicago legend of corruption really came to light. The phrase "vote early and vote often" goes back to the 1800's and was first spoken in Europe. However, it has become synonymous with voting in Chicago under then Mayor Richard Daley. The slogan "the city that works", even though its origin is unknown, nevertheless has also been tied to Chicago. The picture was painted - tough mayor, tough political machine, and virtually a one party rule.

Today, we might wonder how the "city that works" is really working. In October of this year, the Weekly Standard had this to say about our "Windy City":
"The pathology of gang violence is not the only crisis facing Chicago and its mayor, Rahm Emanuel. There is also the matter of how to meet pension obligations which “could reach $1.2 billion by 2015, the mayor's office says. That's equal to 22 percent of the city's annual budget, or about the amount spent each year on salaries for the entire police department. To cover that bill without cutting basic city services, taxpayers would have to pay 150 percent more in property taxes — an option Emanuel has called ‘unpalatable’ and ‘absolutely unacceptable.’”
Mayor Emanuel recently settled a strike by the city's teachers by giving them a nice raise. This, in spite of the demonstrable failure of the teacher's to do what they were already being paid very handsomely to do, namely educate the city's children.
So: Unsafe streets. Uneducated children. Unpayable bills. Still, one feels a certain amount of sympathy for Mayor Emanuel who has inherited a city where, for as long as anyone can remember, one-party rule has been in place with the public sector unions and the ruling political machine joined happily at the hip."
Wow! That was harsh. Lets do some more fact checking. This month, Chicago recorded its 400th homicide this year - up 25 percent from the same time last year. An OpEd earlier from Chicago earlier this year said the following: "Among what are considered Alpha world cities, Chicago has the highest murder rate -- higher even than the Third World metropolises of Mexico City and Sao Paolo." Yikes! I think I know what the problem might be - gun control. Obviously Chicago is the wild, wild west with people buying guns on every corner. Lets get some stronger gun control and the problem will go away.

Listen to this from the Encyclopedia of Chicago: "Since the early 1970s, Chicago and its suburban municipalities have taken a national lead in enacting firearms control legislation."  It is not just the city of Chicago, but also the surrounding suburbs. My feeling is as follows - no other place on this planet demonstrates better the negative correlation of gun violence and gun control than Chicago.

Last season one of the cable channels put on a mini series called Boss. It is the story of a modern day mayor in Chicago. It will filled with cronyism, corruption and betrayal. Even though it is on again this season, I had to quit watching as it is the most depressing story of Chicago since The Jungle. Some things, some cities, never change...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

...and if he wins?...


"To the victor go the spoils..."
Senator William Marcy

An old saying goes as follows: "When you are in a ditch, the worst thing you can do is keep driving".

Lately, I have been thinking the unthinkable. With weekly and daily polls showing the distance between the two candidates being razor thin, the outcome could be a "jump ball". Many had said the October debates would tell the tale of the tape. That did not appear to have happened. As hopeful that I am Mr. Romney will be our next president, I have to face the reality that our current president might get a second term. 

Frankly, I am amazed the race is as close as it is. Romney should be leading by 20 points or better. This first term was a mess and the second term promises to be worse. Leadership has been non-existent and our National Debt is on the verge of ruining the country. Simpson-Bowles, which was suppose to address our chronic debt problem and give us a good start on fixing it, was ditched by the person who authorized it in the first place. The fiscal cliff is two months away and the only action by the President is a threat of a veto if any resolution does meet his redistribution philosophy.

So what will the next four years look like if he is re-elected? My predictions are as follows:
  • The House will stay under Republican control with a large majority. The Senate will remain (barely) under Democratic control. Gridlock will dwarf the gridlock we had the first term.
  • The murders in Benghazi will haunt this Administration for quite a while. This story has legs and much more is going to be learned and then told in the near future. The second term will have a "Watergate" type of haze hanging over it.
  • Fast and Furious is far from being dead. The hearings will continue and the truth will come out. This could end up with the top tiers of the Justice Department either being under indictment or resigning. Stay tuned on this one.
  • The fiscal cliff will happen and there will be a chorus of teeth gnashing and hand wringing. The country will be thrown back into recession and the President will try to blame Congress. The "blame game" has run its course - consequently, the majority of the country will now blame the President. Poll numbers will tank in January and February.
  • With the election over and the candidate of choice re-elected, Iran will be emboldened to show the world it is within an eyelash from the nuclear club. Israel, knowing that our Administration will not support it, will attack Iran early in 2013. Oil futures will go through the roof and we will be paying over $5/gal, which will deepen the recession.
  • There will be three retirements on the Supreme Court and will be replaced with three left of center activist ideologues, which will change the tone of the court for decades.
  • The National Debt will be $20T by 2016 and our dollar will continue to be devalued.
  • Millions of Americans will realize the true cost of ObamaCare and suffer "buyer's remorse". There will be unanswered calls for significant changes to the law.
  • With the "war on coal" continuing and no new nukes built, the price of electricity will skyrocket.
There are more, but I wanted to keep this brief. Four more years will be more of the same, and worse. History will judge this President harshly, as it should. We are much more of a divided country than we were four years ago, and four years from now it will be worse. We have a strong, resilient country that can survive many hardships and calamities. However, I don't know if we can survive four more years of this.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Detroit - America's "Showcase"...

"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of."

It is a beautiful city. It is a great place to raise kids and has job opportunities a plenty. It is a place to take foreign visitors when they visit America. It is fun to show how American ingenuity and manufacturing come together to produce products which are coveted by the world. Every Sunday night we would see a new commercial on T.V. with Dinah Shore sitting on a brand new Impala singing "See the USA, in your Chevrolet...". Yes, Detroit is truly an American success story.
Whoops! Wrong year - sorry. That was Detroit in 1959. How good was Detroit? During Khrushchev's historic visit to American in 1959, the mayor of Detroit wanted him to visit Detroit to show how "capitalism really works". I don't think we would do that now. Today, how bad is Detroit? There is a YouTube video comparing Hiroshima and Detroit.  The town which was all but wiped out by an atomic bomb, today is a busy metropolitan city. Detroit, on the other hand, once a center of American manufacturing success, looks like it just got nuked.

What happened? How did we here? How did Detroit become the "hollowed out" city it is today? The Detroit Free Press had an editorial in February of this year which addressed part of the problem:

"We've got a baby problem in Michigan. Too many babies are born to immature parents who don't have the skills to raise them, too many are delivered by poor women who can't afford them, and too many are fathered by sorry layabouts who spread their seed like dandelions and then wander away from the consequences. Last year, 43 percent of the babies born in Michigan were to single mothers. And even though Medicaid pays for birth control, half of the babies born here were to mothers on welfare. Eighteen percent were born to teenagers who already had at least one child. And nearly 1-in-5 new babies had mothers with no high school diploma."

Then there is this from a 2009 article in the Grand Rapids Examiner:

"To get into competitive shape would require major changes in the US auto industry, as far as outsourcing non-core capacity items, eliminating waste and unnecessary processes on the manufacturing floor to drive down production costs would be required to make Detroit lean and effective competitors. Since unions do not thrive in efficient and effective environments, as such a workplace is not conducive to their funding, the UAW and Teamsters would become one of the biggest hurdles Detroit faced in upgrading to compete in the 21st century."

Next we have the tax situation. In 2011 the Detroit Free Press addressed the issue head on:

"Pay more. Get less. That's the social contract Detroiters endure with city government.
They pay more kinds of taxes, at higher rates, than any other citizens in Michigan.
And the services they receive in return -- police response and fire coverage, public education and lighting -- are shoddy and embarrassing. In most cities, taxes foot the bill for services, and in the most popular big cities -- Chicago, New York, Los Angeles -- it's common to pay more because of the amenities and social and cultural benefits of city life. But in Detroit, our extreme tax rates have the opposite effect. Sky-high taxes help drive people and businesses out, yielding less of the revenue needed to deliver quality services, which encourages more people to leave. It's a destructive cycle that's driving the city's livability index into the ground."

Finally, lets not forget corruption or inefficient government. This year we had the indictment of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former Detroit City Council member Monica Conyers (She is the wife of Democrat Congressman John Conyers, the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee). In May of this year, the American Interest reported the following:

"The latest scandal, which leaves even hardened observers of the abysmal Democratic machine that has run the city into the ground bemused, involves a real estate firm which gave the felonious mayor massages, golf outings, trips in chartered jets and other perks as this enemy of the people went about his hypocritical business of pretending to care about the poor while robbing them blind. The firm, apparently run by a sleazy low class crook named by the reprehensible Kilpatrick to be the Treasurer of what was left of Detroit’s finances, used Detroit pension funds to buy a couple of California strip malls. Title to the properties was never transferred to the pension funds, and they seem to be out $3.1 million.  Overall, a Detroit Free Press investigation estimates that corrupt and incompetent trustees appointed by Democratic officials over many years in Detroit are responsible for almost half a billion dollars in investments gone wrong."

One last word about the former Governor, and darling of ABC talk shows, Jennifer Granholm. One of the local Detroit commentators had this to say about Ms. Granholm: "... those of us in Michigan forced to live under her for eight years of misery. She was the worst Governor in contemporary Michigan history, overseeing record numbers of lost jobs, closed factories, and people moving out of Michigan in droves."

In conclusion, what happened to make Detroit look like Hiroshima right after the war? 1) 43% of all children born out of wedlock and then into a life of poverty 2) Union greed and intransigence destroying the once powerful auto industry 3) Confiscatory city and state taxes and 4) Corrupt and inefficient government. Sorry Detroit, you deserved better. Chicago, don't rest too easy - I have not forgotten about you and your turn is coming up soon.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Unnatural Incursion(s) over Washington DC...

“The more I see, the less I know for sure.”

John Lennon
In July of 1952, I was barely out of diapers as I was only two years old. The Cold War was just getting started and overall life was very good in the United States. We were at peace and felt good about it. Life was so tranquil it was almost boring - that is until July of 1952 when the strangest of events, witnessed by hundreds, occurred over our Nation's Capital.

I have reported on another strange event which happened in Los Angles right after the start of World War II. That event, like this one, remains unexplained until this day. The Washington Post reported the incident this way:

"Military secrecy veils an investigation of the mysterious, glowing aerial objects that showed up on radar screens in the Washington area Saturday night for the second consecutive week. A jet pilot sent up by the Air Defense Command to investigate the objects reported he was unable to overtake the glowing lights moving near Andrews Air Force Base... " We have no evidence they are flying saucers; conversely we have no evidence they are not flying saucers. We don't know what they are," a spokesman added.
Two other radar screens in the area picked up the objects.An employee of the National Airport control tower said the radar scope there picked up very weak "blips" of the objects. The tower radar's for "short range" and is not so powerful as that at the center. Radar at Andrews Air Force Base also registered the objects from about seven miles south of the base. A traffic control center spokesman said the nature of the signals on the radar screen ruled out any possibility they were from clouds or any other "weather" disturbance. "The returns we received from the unidentified objects were similar and analogous to targets representing aircraft in flight," he said. The objects, "flying saucer or what have you, appeared on the radar scope at the airport center at 9:08 PM. Varying from 4 to 12 in number,the objects appeared on the screen until 3:00 AM., when they disappeared.
Wow! Think about that. For hours there were unidentified craft buzzing our Capitol. Radar at Andrews AFB clocked their speed at up to 7,200 mph. It is a good thing that happened in 1952 for if it happened fifty years later, things would have been different. Wait a minute - it did happen fifty years later - almost 50 years to the date. It was reported by the Washington press as follows:

"In the early morning hours of Friday, July 26, 2002 NORAD radar scopes displayed a slow moving mysterious object in the Washington D.C. area. The object did not respond to communications. As the result two F16 jet fighters were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base to investigate the object. According to NORAD when the jets were launched from Andrews the strange aircraft faded from the radar screens. The jets then returned to base. However, witnesses tell a different story. The loud rumble of the jets flying low (below cloud ceiling of 6,000 feet) woke several people. Witnesses saw a mysterious blue light flying ahead of the jet fighters."
As with many of us, there is an awareness that something is happening in our skies. It has to be, as there are hundreds of now well documented incursions in the skies all over the world. Our government owes us answers. If these are experimental military craft, tell us. If they are swamp gas, northern lights or other natural phenomena, tell us. Finally, if these "lights" belong to something other than a terrestrial source, please tell us - we can handle it. Failure to disclose something which have been visible to so many (including myself) does nothing but foster distrust in government.

Something Evil This Way Comes...

"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

Albert Einstein

I can feel it. It is as discomforting as it is unsettling. It consumes my daytime musings and then disturbs my nighttime rest. When thinking about it too long or too much, it causes a queasiness in my stomach and a unnatural tingling in my skin. I sense it is on the horizon and will be upon us soon. There is no place to go, there is no place to hide. What is coming  is evil. Not the personification of evil, but evil itself.
I have borrowed the idea for the title from the Ray Bradbury book Something Wicked This Way Comes. I felt this would set the tone like no other phrase could. The evil that approaches has nothing to do with the season of Halloween, nothing to do with the growing darkness of the fall season. The evil which approaches will turn love to hatred, interest to apathy, citizenship to insularity. 

I had written about this before. I have never been more concerned about a major election in this country. It has nothing to do with who wins - it has to do with the aftermath. I am very concerned that we might have a repeat of the last election - "We won, you lost". As poorly as that was received four years ago, it would be catastrophic today. Our great Republic has become bifurcated between winners and losers, red and blue, rich and poor, makers and takers and so on. Our tax code has become nothing more than a weapon of legalized theft as the wealthy have become eschewed by those who are not. In short, we are a mess.

The evil coming will cloud our perspective, muddy our history. Values which made our country great will be replaced with selfish entitlements to things of which there are no claim. "Hard work will pay off" has been replaced with "Where is mine?". Facts have become ignored or interpretive as the numbers which describe our dire financial condition have become meaningless. Yes, evil is coming, and it is looking for fertile ground in which to dwell.

Years ago, when the Cold War was young, then Premiere Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union told us they would "bury us". While most took this as a nuclear threat, Khrushchev later went on to explain it would be the ever growing conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie that would be our undoing. Even though spoken almost sixty years ago, Khrushchev was describing the fertile ground that evil was looking for. We were warned, we have seen this coming as a slow motion juggernaut for decades, and now it is almost here.

Yes, evil is upon us. It can only be defeated with the goodness in our hearts which allowed us to forge this great country by living E pluribus unum  (Out of many, one). To forget that, to reject that in favor of tribal rivalry, makes us no different than countries wrought with sectarian violence. We owe our forefathers better, we owe our children better, we owe ourselves better.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Humpty Dumpty


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again
This is a story about a modern day Humpty Dumpty. As in the poem, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. In the modern version, the character of Humpty Dumpty is played by the United States economy. Many thought the great fall happened in late 2007. My feeling is the fall was really a slow motion tumble which started long before 2007. Again, just like in the poem, it is looking doubtful that all the king's horses (policies) and all the king's men (bureaucrats) will be able to put our Humpty Dumpty back together again.

So what really has happened to our world class economy? When did the slow motion crash really start. Some say in the 1970's when many of our factories started to either shutter or outsource. The Becker-Posner Blog points out the following: "Manufacturing employment as a fraction of total employment has been declining for the past half century in the United States and the great majority of other developed countries. A 1968 book about developments in the American economy by Victor Fuchs was already entitled The Service Economy. Although the absolute number of jobs in American manufacturing was rather constant at about 17 million from 1969 to 2002, manufacturing’s share of jobs continued to decline from about 28% in 1962 to only 9% in 2011."

As the above shows, the relative growth in manufacturing is in decline even though the people employed in that industry has stayed constant. I worked in manufacturing most of my career, ranging from clean room to heavy. Every manufacturing company I worked for is no longer in the business. They have gone away, been sold or merged. The manufacturing company my father worked for is also no longer here. The remains are someplace overseas, owned by a foreign country.

So besides the decline in our manufacturing base and the increase in the service sector, what else changed which led to the 2007 crash? Many say the "gutting" of the Glass–Steagall Act, when in 1999 President Clinton signed into law the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Glass-Steagall has been around since the 1930's and was put in place to keep the banks in check. After 1999, with the "fire wall" down, banks were allowed to go hog wild and get into all kinds of different investments. Pandora's Box had been opened and something bad was about to come out.

And what spewed out of Pandora's Box was the evil offspring of Barney Frank (D-MA) and the Frannie and Freddie lending institutions - NINJNA Loans. To refresh memories, NINJNA was a colloquialism which stood for "No Income, No Job, No Assets". In a November 2011 article from the Washington Times, it was summed up this way:

"In a nutshell, the much-maligned Bush Administration recognized the Fannie-Freddie problem early on. Slowly, relentlessly, from the 1980s on, mostly Democrat-controlled Congresses pushed both quasi-governmental entities to prod banks into ever more liberal loan policies that would allow less and less qualified loan applicants to obtain mortgages and—often for the first time—purchase housing, regardless of whether they were financially able to carry their mortgages.

The problem became acute in the early 2000s as lower and lower down payments and “liar loans”—loans that required little if any substantiating documentation—became the norm. The Bush Administration—along with eventual GOP presidential candidate John McCain—tried to put an end to these practices, but to no avail. Frank, the Democrats, and a substantial number of incredibly stupid Republicans steadfastly opposed legislation geared toward heading off the already-gathering fiscal storm."

The rest is history. Many smart folks believe that Barney Frank was the one who started the avalanche - the one who pushed Humpty off the wall. To offset the title wave of revisionist history that comes out from the Left, I want to sum up what I believe caused the great crash that is reshaping our economy:
  • Our manufacturing base has been shrinking for decades - not just under the G.W. Bush era.
  • Glass-Steagall was repealed under the Clinton Administration, not under the G.W. Bush Administration.
  • The NINJNA loans fueled the toxic mortgages which the repeal of Glass-Steagall allowed to contaminate our banks. Even though this came to a head under the G.W. Bush Administration, it really started in the bowls of the Democratic controlled House in the 80's.
Humpty Dumpty is broken - and Dodd-Frank will do nothing to fix it except make more lawyers rich due to excessive regulation on our financial system. The next time you hear someone tell you that G.W. Bush caused this mayhem in our economy, politely (or not), share the facts as they are well documented. To fix Humpty we must first be truth tellers and then problem fixers. Failure to do so will leave Humpty in needed repair with important pieces still missing. And all the king's horses and all the king's men won't be able to put Humpty together again.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Not Enough Tea in China...


"We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven't had any tea for a week...
The bottom is out of the Universe."
Rudyard Kipling
Damn it! I am soooo sick of the rich not paying their "fair share"! They have been screwing us for years by sucking up all the tax benefits and allowing the middle class to sink further into the abyss. If they could just not be so stingy and pay a wee bit (or a lot) more, our financial troubles would be over! New bridges, new highways, new everything and a chicken in every pot. Okay, tongue is now out of cheek. Lets do some fact checking to see if the rich are getting away with murder or if they are indeed pulling the cart for the rest of us.

I really hate to mess this up with some facts from 2002, but I feel I must. The following facts I pulled out of a "right wing hate blog" - the United States Treasury:
  • The top 5 percent of taxpayers paid more than one-half (53.8 percent) of all individual income taxes, but reported roughly one-third (30.6 percent) of income.
  • The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 33.7 percent of all individual income taxes in 2002. This group of taxpayers has paid more than 30 percent of individual income taxes since 1995. Moreover, since 1990 this group’s tax share has grown faster than their income share.
  • The top 50 percent of taxpayers by income pay virtually all individual income taxes. In all years since 1990, taxpayers in this group have paid over 94 percent of all individual income taxes. In 2000, 2001, and 2002, this group paid over 96 percent of the total.
Oh-oh. These facts don't back up my assertion the rich are getting a free ride. Never mind - I found some much more current data (2007) on the same site (Treasury) that should back up my claim of rich people free loading:
  • The top 1 percent: They paid 40.4 percent of total reported income taxes, an increase from 39.9 percent in 2006, according to the IRS.
  • The top 5 percent: They paid 60.6 percent of the country's total reported income taxes, up from 60.1 percent a year earlier.
  • The top 10 percent: They paid 71.2 percent of the nation's income taxes, up from 70.8 percent a year earlier.
  • The top 50 percent: They paid 97.1 percent of the nation's income taxes, up from 97 percent a year earlier.

Okay enough already about those grey poupon eating, coupon cutting plutocrats. Lets check out the working class to see how they are doing:
  • The bottom 50 percent: They paid 2.9 percent of the nation's income taxes, down from 3 percent a year earlier.
Enough already! These facts don't mean anything! I will go to a former ABC guy who I think is very smart for the answer. In April of this year, John Stossel addressed this issue and came up with a surprising statistic:

"But it’s a fantasy to imagine that raising taxes on the rich will solve our deficit problem. If the IRS grabbed 100 percent of income over $1 million, the take would be just $616 billion. That’s only a third of this year’s deficit. "

These facts cannot be true. We have heard for years now from the Progressives our problem is nothing more than a redistribution issue. Even our Commander in Chief has said that (once again) this weekend. If our President says this is true, it must be true!

I give up! I really thought I could fix this by getting the rich to pay their "fair share". What I have found is this - if the rich paid their "fair share", they would be paying a whole lot less than they are paying now. I guess there is really not enough tea in China to fix our problem. Could it really just be the spending?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Who REALLY Killed our Golden Goose...

"Thinking to get at once all the gold the goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find – nothing"

I have been thinking quite a bit of late about the financial mess we are in. Not only the size of the mess, but more importantly why more people (especially the young) are not screaming bloody murder. Our "entitlements", which are at the heart of our financial mess, truly make up the proverbial Golden Goose. My objective in this article is to find out who killed (or cooked) our goose.

One of the reasons I was so against the recently passed health care plan, it was just another entitlement. It was ironic as we were discussing the pros and cons of the Affordable Health Care Act (ObamaCare), the press was disclosing information the Social Security and Medicare fund were even less solvent than what we had thought a few short years ago.  What I found most interesting was that both of these funds had been set up to succeed, and yet many times "patches" had to be put in to guarantee solvency. I decided it was time to do some research of my own and find out just what happened.

In April 2012, the WSJ published the following: "Social Security’s trust fund could be exhausted three years sooner than predicted last year. The combined assets of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance trust funds will be exhausted in 2033, according to the Social Security Board of Trustees. At that point, there should be sufficient non-interest income coming in to pay about 75% of scheduled benefits. Over (the next) 75 years, the trust funds would need $8.6 trillion in additional revenue, in present-value dollars, to pay all scheduled benefits."

When the Social Security Act was first established in 1935, there was some debate in Congress this new law might be Socialism. Putting that debate aside, it was a great system. The average life expectancy for a male back then was 58; for a female, 62. If you could just beat the odds and outlive the average, at 65 you could start to draw Social Security from this fairly stable and well funded account. However, if you died earlier than 65, and contributed in to Social Security your entire working life, too bad, so sad. If you were single, all the money you kicked in would go to someone else, not of your choosing. If you were married, your surviving spouse would get a percentage of your benefit until death. Then, assuming there are no minor children, any unused benefit would go back into the fund to be used for someone else, not of your choosing. It was a great system if you had longevity in your genes - if you did not, the fund looked a bit like Socialism.

Today, thanks in large part to a multitude of medial and pharmaceutical advances, people are living longer, much longer. That is the good news and the bad news. Good for us, bad for the rapidly shrinking Social Security fund. Couple that fact with the decline in our birth rate. Then add in the fact that many people utilize the fund when they have contributed very little to nothing, such as older immigrants and SSI (disability) recipients. Finally, for good measure lets not forget the politics. The employee portion of the Payroll Tax (the only funding vehicle for Social Security) has been cut in half as a "tax cut" to help the Middle Class. Mix all these ingredients together and you come up with the perfect storm for a huge crash.

Hold on - it gets worse. In April of this year, the Daily Finance published the following:
"The news for Medicare is even more dire. Its trust fund will run out of money in 2024 under current projections. That's the same as it was last year, but fully five years earlier than estimates from two years ago."  2024 is less than 12 years from now. We are so impregnated with this program, that all major insurance companies offer nothing but "gap insurance" when you are 65 or older. If we lose Medicare with no acceptable and affordable replacement, we all are collectively "screwed".

Medicare, which became law in 1965, was to be funded in a similar fashion as Social Security - the Payroll Tax. As with Social Security, the biggest enemy of Medicare is math. Currently there are almost 50 million people enrolled in the program. It is estimated by 2030 there will be close to 80 million. As with any equation, in order to get valid results you need as many constants as possible. The fly in the ointment in the Medicare as well as Social Security equation is the birth rate. When both of these programs were conceived in the 1930's and then the 1960's the birth rate was much higher than the 1.9 it is today.

So who killed our Golden Goose? We all did. Many of us have practiced benign neglect for decades as we have known these programs lie somewhere between a Ponzi Scheme and Socialism. Neither of these programs are sustainable. All the sophism and deceit can no longer outrun pure math and statistics. Even knowing what we know about entitlement programs, in 2010 we added the grand daddy of them all - ObamaCare.

So this our sad good bye to our faithful companion, our savior from financial ruin in our elder years. You were with us in our entire working life, we believed in you, we cared for you, and we fed you countless billions of dollars. We will miss you our faithful Golden Goose - but not that much, as you were never real in the first place.


"Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle won"
Duke Of Wellington

Not to be too much of a soothsayer, I will make the following prediction - On November 7th we will all wake up and the world will still be here. Baring a protracted result such that we had in 2000, either we will have a President Romney or the second term of a President Obama. As a nation, we will survive November 6th. Beyond that day, the question is this - can the Commander in Chief also become the Healer in Chief for a very fractured nation.

People may disagree on who will come out on top in this election. However, one thing most agree on is the margin of victory will be razor thin. This country is split about as even as one could imagine. The question I have been wrestling with is this - will the half the support the losing candidate be able to live with the outcome? If power is still divided between the Executive and Legislative Branches, will anything get done? Will the dislike for each other's policies evolve into a visceral hatred for each other? As a nation, can we survive this election? Or are we going to devolve into an ungovernable mob.

If one was a conspiracy theorist, one could take extreme discomfort in the fact that our government has purchased over a billion rounds of ammo for most every Federal agency. Between the ammo, the armored personnel carriers and the drones, it almost looks like our government is preparing for war. My question is "against who?".

Back to the Healer in Chief. Our last two presidents promised us they would "change the tone in Washington". Each said he would be a "uniter" and not a "divider". The first was mistaken and the second was untruthful. Whoever wins, we need a leader who will be the President of the United States of America, not just of a constituency, race or religion. We live in a pluralistic society and need to be governed as such. To keep dividing us by income, race or class will lead to a result so bad, we might never recover.

In the next four years, it will be very possible to see three openings on the Supreme Court. As the years have gone on, and the courts have become much more entrenched in judicial activism, the composition of the highest court has become almost as important as who is in charge of the Executive Branch. If after the election the country is not yet healing, picking an ideologue for the first Supreme Court opening could be the proverbial "match in the gas can". Yes, I am talking riots in the streets - European type riots.

Finally, the financial solution to the debt crisis will take the utmost in political acumen and cooperation. Our debt crisis is bipartisan in nature - we all created it and we all need to solve it. To keep blaming the other side and attempting to stick one group of people with the fix will not work. FIX the tax code. ALL need to have skin in the game. ALL need to pay something in taxes. Failure to handle this is the most sensitive and skillful of ways could rupture the country wide open.

As I said in the beginning, we will survive election day. My question is will we survive the aftermath.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

One Small Step for Man; One Misstep for Mankind...


"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings"
High Flight
John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Not too long ago, we marked the 40 year anniversary of mankind's first landing on the Moon. This event, like the day President Kennedy was shot, the attack on 9/11 or Pearl Harbor is etched into our memories like a bookmark on a computer. If you asked someone of the appropriate age, most could tell you where they were and what they were doing the moment Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon and uttered, "One small step for man and one giant leap for mankind".

Those were wonderful days for not only the United States, but also the world. In the early 1960's, President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. Our technology was minimal at best. We had successes with the Mercury and Gemini Programs, but this was different. To propel three human beings out of low Earth orbit, send them hurtling towards the Moon in a space capsule hooked up to a LEM (Lunar Excursion Module), land, explore, and take off (with no problems) was almost more science fiction than science. However, as a nation, we mostly agreed that this was worth the investment and the risk. During that time, there were some, but not many, protestations saying that we should feed the hungry or ameliorate poverty rather than explore a dead rock 240,000 miles away.

After the first landing, this was a time of a national victory! We did it by using less technology than most of us have in today's cell phones. We used spit, chewing gum and a whole lot of national resolve to be the first to plant our feet, our flag on something other than Earth. By the way - forget all the crap that the Moon landing did not happen - it really did. We had the technology in 1969 (barely) to do it and we do today. We had nothing to gain by staging this event at a Warner Brothers back lot to fool gullible, tax paying Americans.

With all this being said, what is now our national purpose in space? Quite simply, the past 40 plus years since 1969 have betrayed Neil Armstrong's infamous words. We have not done the "giant leap for mankind" - quite the contrary, we have done practically nothing in the colonization of the Moon. In fact, other than bringing back some moon rocks, we have done little. All of our successes in space (which have been many) have been adjunct to the success of the past lunar landings.

Recently, we lost Neil Armstrong, our greatest space pioneer. In addition, one by one, we had the entire space shuttle fleet retired. Now they all sit as museums at different locations throughout the country. If we need to go up to the International Space Station, we need to hitch a ride on a Russian rocket. Unbelievable.

In the business world, questions on return on investment or value proposition are frequently asked. In other words, it would be paramount on the part of NASA to explain (in simple terms) to the United States taxpayers what we hope to gain by going back to the Moon. For example, does it make sense to establish a Moon base where low gravity experiments can be conducted that would yield results not obtainable on Earth? Does it make sense to this Moon base to be "bunkered in" to offer more safety (from radiation and fast moving space junk) than the International Space Station? Is there mining for much needed minerals that we can economically harvest and bring back to Earth? Anything else?

Forty years ago it was good for our national soul to do the almost impossible. Today, it is imperative that we do the practical. Many have asked "wither NASA?". I too, have wondered what we are gaining by each unmanned probe, each shuttle flight. Other than the Hubble, I have trouble seeing the tangible results. If we are gaining value, it is incumbent on NASA to explain to us what that value is and how we are going to utilize it. Don't get me wrong - I am not against the exploring space - I am for it. I just want NASA to do the right thing and show us a path rather than a dead end like we experienced in 1972 when the last LEM left the surface of the Moon and slipped into history rather than science.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The TRUTH about Pig Tails...

"...we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful."
Margaret J. Wheatley

Now that I have attempted to shine the light of truth on wind turbines, and the folly of that technology, I thought it was now time to drag the truth out of the curly little florescent bulbs, better known as "pig tails".

So why are we changing over to these CFL (Compact Florescent Light bulbs) anyway? EngeryStar defines the reason as follows:

"Switching from traditional light bulbs (called incandescent) to CFLs is an effective, simple change everyone in
America can make right now. Making this change will help to use less electricity at home and prevent greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global climate change. Lighting accounts for close to 20 percent of the average home’s electric bill. ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy (electricity) than incandescent light bulbs, last up to 10 times longer, cost little up front, and provide a quick return on investment."

Sounds innocent enough - so what could possibly be the problem? We all know the aesthetic difference between incandescent bulbs and the CFLs, but is that the biggest problem? No - they are toxic. I have read many articles where government agencies have tried to put "spin" on the mercury issue, but the bottom line is this - they are toxic, they contain mercury.

In 2011 the EPA published the following guidelines should you accidentally break a CFL in your house:

Before Cleanup
  • Clear room of people and pets
  • Open a window or door to ventilate the room for 5-10 minutes
  • If on, shut off the central HVAC system
  • Gather cleanup materials

During Cleanup

  • Collect broken glass and visible powder
  • Contain glass and powder (in a glass jar with lid or sealable plastic bag)

Hard Surface Cleanup

  • Scoop glass/powder with paper or cardboard
  • Use duct tape or something sticky to grab remaining glass/powder
  • Wipe the surface clean with damp paper towel or moist wipes
  • Place everything in jar or plastic bag
  • Place outside in trash or protected area for proper disposal

After Cleanup

  • Avoid leaving bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors
  • Place bulb materials and debris outside in trash or other protected area
  • Wash hands with soap/water after disposal outside
  • Naturally ventilate room for several hours
  • Leave HVAC system off while ventilating room
Therefore, if you break a CFL, it will be like having your private household Chernobyl. EnergyStar does admits that CFLs contain mercury. They also recommend because they do contain mercury, they be properly disposed of. However (EneryStar continues), because the use of CFLs will reduce the amount of energy produced by coal fired power plants, the net addition of mercury to the environment will be less. Seriously? Do they really think we are that stupid? What if your power source is nuclear, natural gas or renewables? Then all additional mercury to the environment is a very bad thing.
My conclusion on CFLs is this - they are a solution looking for a problem. Incandescent bulbs may not be efficient, but they are not toxic. How about LEDs? Will they be better for the environment? Maybe not. LEDs are very expensive to purchase and are laden with lead, arsenic and a handful of other chemicals that have been linked to different cancers, neurological damage, kidney disease, hypertension, skin rashes and other serious illnesses. I am sure in the not too distant future we will come up with a safe, suitable, more energy efficient light bulb to replace the long standing incandescent. Until that time, I am very happy with affordability and soft glow of my incandescents as well as the ease and safety of their disposal.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Speaking Customer


"Rule 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, re-read Rule 1"

Stew Leonard

Once in a while (okay - quite often), I get to vent in one of my postings. Today I am going to address one of my biggest pet peeves - customer courtesy. In my lifetime, I have seen this attribute go from common to rare.

I started working retail in 1966 when a brand new Montgomery Wards opened up in my home town. I was hired to work on the dock and a stock boy in the Paint Department. It was a great experience. Many times when I was stocking shelves, I would observe some of the more experienced sales people deal with customers. I learned quite a bit. One day, the Department Manager asked me if I would like to do some selling as well as stocking. I jumped at the chance. He told me "First and foremost, remember your manners. Treat each customer with respect, just like you treat your parents".

One Saturday  morning, a customer came in and was madder than a wet hen. He had bought some paint and it did not meet his satisfaction. One of the part timers named Tony immediately went up to him and allowed this man to yell, complain and vent for a good five minutes. Once the customer was done and catching his breath, Tony, with a big smile on his face, apologized for the dissatisfaction and then told him "Now, lets fix this so you walk out of here happy and satisfied". After the man had left, I asked Tony how he did it - how he could stand there and let this man get in his face and yell at him. Tony replied he knew the customer was probably at fault. He probably did not apply the paint the correct way. However, if he told that to the customer, that customer would probably never come back. "First, I kill people with kindness. Then I solve their problem". The whole time Tony was fixing this man's problem, he was also talking about different application techniques that worked for him. In other words, without the customer realizing it, Tony was not only solving his problem, but also training him on how to use the product correctly.Everybody won. The customer left happy and Montgomery Wards kept a customer.

The years went on. Most of my jobs in industry were customer related. I prided myself in my customer skills and every year tried to do better. As good as I thought I was, towards the end of my career, I learned to get a whole lot better. A director I worked for at one of my final companies had a mantra which he pounded into his team that dealt directly with clients. "When you are with client, you need to speak customer, and only customer". In other words, listen with your ears instead of your mouth, be your customer's problem solver, and most of all, your customer's solution. In addition, no matter how many different clients you may be serving at one time, each one needs to feel that he or she is the only one.

When my wife and I worked in a liquor store while in college, the man who was the owner/operator told us in different words to "speak customer". This little specialty liquor store was more like the bar in Cheers than an off sale store. People loved coming in, many greeted by name, and most left with product as well as a smile. People were treated with respect and gratitude, no matter the size of the purchase. Customers felt not only like customers, they felt like friends.

Today, we see a much different attitude. Many times when my wife and I have been out to eat, we have been referred to as "guys" (my wife is not a guy!). "Please" and "thank you" are spoken infrequently, and "service with a smile" is rare. Often when I buy something, instead of "thank you", I get "there you go". Sometimes when the young clerk hands me the receipt I say "thank you" and the clerk says "you bet" or something of that nature. The clerk is suppose to thank me for shopping!

I am a "sir", not a "guy" or a "fellow". I would like to be treated with the same respect that I treated customers with when I was "in the business". I have thought of maybe doing some consulting or training on customer satisfaction issues - including first contact. It is needed as I think this might be a dying skill today. As one of my managers told me once, "The customer may not always be right, but he or she is always the customer, and should be treated as such". Amen to that!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Primary Colors

Don't worry - this is not about the Joe Klein book, Primary Colors. That book was a fictional novel of politics that purports to describe real life characters and events . Many thought it was about Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign in 1992. No, this story is much more benign. It is the story of my history with the YMCA and how the "Y" has morphed into something the founders could probably not have believed.

I am calling this article Primary Colors as for many years, these colors were proudly displayed at most every YMCA to describe the Association's core values. The core values are:
  • Honesty
  • Respect (yellow)
  • Caring
  • Responsibility
Some YMCAs added a fifth color, purple, which stands for Faith in God. However, some of the more "PC" cities nixed that one as they "did not want to offend".

My history with the YMCA began in 1956. When I was a young six year old lad, my Father got us involved in a local YMCA program called "Indian Guides". This was a program to encourage fathers and sons to do fun things together. Our neighborhood group formed a "tribe" and everyone took an Indian name. Our group was the Mandan Tribe and my name was Little Wind (my dad was Big Wind).

When I was in the fourth grade, I joined Gra-Y. Gra-Y was an after hours program where a YMCA youth worker would visit a school to organize activities such as bombardment, kick ball and other fun games. After grade school came Junior High. No worries - the YMCA had a program for that also - Jr. Hi-Y. Again, it was similar to grade school as it was for after hours activities. However, the activities were more advanced (football, softball and basketball). Finally, there was Hi-Y where clubs would form in high school and engage in fun young adult activities. Sometimes there would be a joint (before the word became a dope word) get together with a Y-Teens (girls YMCA) group from another school. It was a great way to have some good, clean fun and meet kids from around the city.

Over the years, I grew into manhood, got married, and had kids. I changed but not as much as the YMCA did. The YWCA diminished as the YMCA grew. The Young Men's Christian Association started to lose its meaning. "Young", "Mens", and "Christian" all went out the window. It was now just an association. Since there really was no more YWCA, both my girls were involved in YMCA camping programs. I was on the Board of Directors at one camp and two branch locations. I saw the YMCA transform from a programs oriented association that I grew up in to nothing more than an expensive health club. The cooperation and association with local schools conducting after hours programs had long since ended. Prayer and devotions at meetings were now rare, sometimes even taboo (don't want to offend anyone).

So where is the YMCA today? The bold, primary colors which stood for strong values are now gone only to be replaced by pastels. I will always have good memories of the YMCA and YWCA form my youth, when both associations were program based and dedicated to faith based youth development. I still go to a YMCA health club, a very expensive health club, three times a week. That is the extent of my current involvement. Some say we outgrew the YMCA as it was - I say we outgrew the values which allowed primary colors to act as a beacon attracting youth from near and far.