11/30/2008

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

If the top managers (say, ranked by salary) of GM, Ford, Chrysler, the UAW and each member of Congress who advocates a non-bailout bailout puts at least 25% of his or her net worth into common shares of the Big 2.5 then I, speaking strictly for myself, will support government financing. If not, then that's all anyone really needs to know about their prospects.

Any reader know how to push that idea up to Congress?

11/28/2008

Ronald Reagan - A Thanksgiving Remembrance


Today, I had the privilege of taking my children to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. During our time there, I was able to reflect about the Reagan Presidency and what he meant to our country. His true greatness is as evident today as it was on January 20, 1989, his last day in office.

Thanks to President Reagan, we won the Cold War. If you recall, just after he became President, when asked what his strategy was for winning it, he responded, “We win and they loose.” This response was simple, direct and, most importantly, effective. His decisions to oppose the nuclear freeze movement, deploy the Pershing Missile and undertake the Strategic Defense Initiative where major factors in bringing an end to the Soviet Union. He never had to apologize for being a strong anti-communist. Through his actions, President Reagan was responsible for the freeing of tens of millions of people across the globe (not unlike the current occupant of the Oval Office).

On the home front, Mr. Reagan cut taxes and occupied the nation’s highest office at a time of unprecedented economic growth. Reagan’s policies lowered interest rates and almost eliminate inflation. He also tried to control the growth of the federal government.

However, as a teenager during the Reagan years, I remember vividly his most important contribution to the history of our county - the way that he reinvigorated the nation at a time when we needed it the most. Coming out of a time when we were being embarrassed by the mullahs abroad, the failed military operation to rescue our hostages in Iran and the economic malaise at home, his never ending optimism in our country and us, the American people, reminded us that there is nothing that we as a people cannot achieve. The image of America as the shining city on a hill inspired an entire generation of Americans. This is why I know that we will resolve our economic problems. And, more importantly, this is how I know that we will prevail in the war on terror.

Of course, all of this has been written before. However, seeing it again today, and being able to share it with the next generation, reminded me that it is important that we all remember the lessons that our fortieth President taught us. Over this long Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful that I was able to live through those years. President Reagan will continue to inspire many of us. We will try to continue his work and to pass conservative principals on to those who come next. I hope that he is at peace in his final resting place knowing that he set the standard that rest of us will try to achieve.

11/25/2008

Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Rear on the Way Out


The Twentieth Amendment to the United States Constitution is clear, “The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January…” And, as President-elect Obama has indicated on numerous occasions, we only have one President at a time. Currently, that President is George W. Bush. However, there are growing calls on the left for either President Bush and Vice-President Cheney to resign or to be impeached.

At first, when you hear such non-sense, you just ignore it because it is so unbelievably stupid that responding to it only lends credibility to such craziness. Juan Williams made this point on the O’Reilly Factor on Monday night. However, this position has now been taken by news outlets that are considered part of the main stream media.

In op-ed today, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to impeach both the President and Vice-President. She claims that we need the Obama team in place for the sake of the economy. She also claims that the Bush administration is rolling out a bunch of new federal regulations that will need to be overturned once Mr. Obama takes office. And, finally, Mr. Bush must go before he pardons his entire administration.

Also, last week, Chris Matthews on MSNBC called for Bush to step aside because he and Mr. Obama were not working well enough together to solve the economic crisis (as if it can be solved by the government in the first place). Again, the same claim, “for the sake of the country.” Of course, the President-elect is a miracle worker.

When President Bush was re-elected in 2004, his final term in office went from January 20, 2005 to January 20, 2009. We are a nation of laws and everyone who voted to re-elect Mr. Bush (and those who didn’t) knew exactly when his term would end. There are no provisions in our constitution for a “recall’. Any voluntary resignation prior to the end of his term would be counter to our notion of the peaceful transfer of power between chief executives.

While this President remains in office, his is obligated by his constitutional oath to faithfully administer the office of President of the United States. As such, he must continue to promulgate new federal regulations that are consistent with that oath. It is obvious that Bush and Obama have many large philosophical differences (although, not nearly as many as those of us on the right would like). However, these difference are irrelevant to the way President Bush should conduct his office for the next two months. Mr. Bush was re-elected as a conservative. Anyone who thinks that he should not continue to govern in that way was asleep in November of 2004.

The Bush administration has bent over backwards in order to make the current transition a smooth one. This is typical of Mr. Bush’s graciousness. Remember, that at the urging of the Bush Administration, a new law was passed in 2004 that allowed the two major party presidential candidates to designate up to 100 people to received security clearances in advance of the election so that once the winner had been determined, his people could start the transition process on the day following the election. The President himself has ordered all members of his administration to fully cooperate with the transition process and, by all accounts, everyone has.

In large part, the calls for George W. Bush to step down are generated by Bush Derangement Syndrome. The left’s hatred of Mr. Bush isn’t even tempered by the election of Barack Obama. They feel the need to kick him in the rear as he departs the national political scene with the same personal grace that has exemplified his adult life.

The Constitution provides for the time that it does between the election and the inauguration for a reason – in order to provide for a smooth transition and allow the incoming members of the executive branch some time to get acclimated. A smooth transition of power is in the best interests of the country. You don’t have to be on the winning side in order to benefit from gracious behavior from both old and new.

11/24/2008

Luxury Without the Luxury


I am currently on vacation with my family in Southern California. We are staying in a very nice suite at a brand new luxury resort. Like most people, part of the luxury hotel experience for us is that we do not have to take care of most of our housekeeping chores. We don’t have to make the bed, empty the garbage, wash the towels or wash the sheets.

Well, after a full day out at an amusement park, we come back to our room around 5:30pm only to find the beds are unmade the garbage can is still full and the dirty towels are still in a pile on the floor. Housekeeping never made up the room. I, of course, thought that this was just an oversight by housekeeping – no problem at all, it happens. I figure I’ll call the front desk and they’ll send someone right over to make up the room.

So, I make the call and I’m told that while they are happy to send someone to take care of it, this is not their usual practice. Housekeeping only cleans and gives fresh towels daily if the guest affirmatively requests such service. Wait, I think that even a Motel 6 gives you fresh towels every day. Feeling about 99% certain as to the answer, I asked why this is the hotel’s policy. They told me it was their effort to make the hotel more “green”. I was right, I knew the answer. However, me being me, I said, “I see. Will you make up the room tomorrow too or do I need to call again in the morning?” I was assured that they would take care of it and I didn’t need to call again.

This is a major hotel chain gone nuts. Assuming that guests at a luxury resort would want to come back to unmade beds, full garbage cans and wet towels is out of line. A dirty hotel room with wet towels, garbage and unmade beds destroys the experience of, well, a luxury hotel. My wife would never let this happen at our house.

In a sane world, the resort’s policy would be that if a guest does not want the luxuries of a luxury hotel, he can opt out of the luxuries. He can tell the front desk don’t change my towels, I’ll use the wet ones. Don’t empty my garbage, I’ll let it overflow. Don’t make my bed, I’ll do it myself, just like when I’m at home. (Of course, this begs the question, why stay a luxury resort?)

I can’t help but wonder, how many of the guests who think that this policy is a good idea drive SUVs. Oh well, I’ll chalk this up to the fact that it’s California.

11/23/2008

Is the Press Freaking Us Out?

Here's an interesting link. It graphically represents the number of stories archived by Google News over the last eight years with the phrase "Great Depression" appearing anywhere in the body or headline. A few questions for consideration:
  • Does use/overuse of the term become self-fulfilling?
  • Is the press just calling 'em like they see 'em?
  • To get readers/viewers does each story have to be incrementally more sensational than the preceding one?
My view is that all three forces are at work.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do


More of "Do as I say, not as I do" from our friends on the left. I think that Presidential security should take precedence over almost everything else, so I think a limo that protects the President of the United States is perfectly appropriate, regardless of the miles per gallon. But, I also don't believe in man made global warming. I wonder if Mr. Obama will share his thoughts on this with the Secret Service. It will be interesting to see if there is any outrage from the environmental groups. Probably not, because, as we learned with President Clinton, as long as his "public behavior" is seen to further the agenda of the left, it doesn't matter what his "private behavior" is.

11/22/2008

The End

This article by Michael Lewis, the author of Liar's Poker and Moneyball, provides some perspective on the current carnage on Wall Street. Lewis' Liar's Poker, published in 1989, chronicled his experiences as a bond trader at Salomon Brothers (now owned by Citigroup) in the 1980's and how Salomon created the morgage backed securities market. Lewis says that when he published Liar's Poker he never imagined that the excesses he described in the book could continue for two more decades. In this article he discusses the experiences and viewpoints of a few people who foresaw the current mess and positioned themselves to profit from it.


http://www.portfolio.com/news-markets/national-news/portfolio/2008/11/11/The-End-of-Wall-Streets-Boom#page1

11/21/2008

Smokers for Obama?



Check out this story on MSNBarackObamaC.com. It's about "Wall Street banks" seducing otherwise benevolent state governments into securitizing their individual shares from the 1998 agreement with "Big Tobacco." Naturally Wall Street is greedy, tobacco manufacturers are scheming, state governors are well-intentioned rubes, and smokers are victims.

Let's ignore that. Of course Wall Street is greedy and state governors were just quietly going about the people's business when slick New York salesmen came and through sheer force of personality convinced those good public servants to sell bonds backed by tobacco settlements to unsuspecting grandmothers (who must turn to cat food since the bonds have lost value as victimized smokers are cutting back).

But I see something quite amusing in the above two maps. Map one is the electoral map for the 2008 election (from FiveThirtyEight.com). Map two is MSNBarackObamaC.com's analysis of states that have securitized their tobacco settlements. Pity those gullible governors accidentally screwing those bondholders. It's not a perfect match but the West Coast, Upper Midwest, mid-Atlantic and about half of New England voted for BHO and securitized their tobacco settlements. Don't worry, I'm not blaming BHO. He had nothing to do with it. I'm just amused by the rough symmetry of the HopeyChangies also tapping evil Wall Street to hose their own grandmothers.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Wednesday’s International Atomic Energy Agency’s report about Iran’s nuclear program should alarm everyone who cares about keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of third world dictators and terrorists. Since August, Iran has increased its stash of enriched uranium by over 30%. Analysts say Iran is enriching uranium at a pace that will allow them to produce enough fissile material for a crude nuclear bomb by early 2009.

To make matters worse, the IAEA also reported that there has been a complete breakdown of communication between them and the Iranian regime over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This, of course, makes the job of the already hapless UN agency even more difficult.

A defiant Iran brings up the most important question in national security today, “Where do we go from here?” President-elect Obama is faced with several choices, none of which are great. First, he can, as promised, open a dialog directly with the Iranian president (while others in his administration carry on lower level talks). Since the Europeans have been attempting to negotiate away the Iranian nuclear program for years, this seems unlikely to work. Also, remember that we have had some direct negotiations with the Iranian government over the past several years. Specifically, US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has met on several occasions with his Iranian counter-part. Again, there was no progress from these negotiations.

Second, Mr. Obama can take military action to destroy or significantly impede Iran’s ability to manufacture WMD. If this were to work, it would be our best option. Forever putting to bed the threat of this terrorist regime obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapons and, at the same timing, warning all other rogue regimes that the United States means business when it says that it will not tolerate nuclear proliferation.

However, as with all military operations, there are no guarantees of success and the ancillary consequences may not be good. Iran may have the ability to activate terrorist cells around the world (including in the US) to strike at US civilians, installations and interests. I do think that this threat is substantially less than the threat of a nuclear armed Iran. And, of course, it would result in increased oil prices.

There has also been some talk in the Israeli press recently that the Israeli’s are moving in the direction of a military confrontation with Iran over this issue. I, however, doubt that Israel will be willing or able to act. They have an upcoming election in February and it is unlikely that a lame duck prime minister who has shown no ability to manage international threats will suddenly decide to act.

A third approach is proposed by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL). Congressman Kirk (who happens to be my Congressman), proposes that we engage in a naval blockade of all Iranian ports. This would have devastating effects on the Iranian economy, especially in the energy sector. Despite being one of the world’s top oil producers, Iran has very little refining capacity and imports most of its usable oil via oil tanker. Congressman Kirk figures that a blockage will cause such an economic crisis that either the Iranian government will be forced to end its nuclear program in a verifiable way so as to end the blockade or it will be overthrown by factions who wish closer ties to the west in general and the US in particular.

This approach seems reasonable, but is not without its potential problems. The Iranians may activate their terrorist cells because they consider the blockage provocative (after all, under international law, this is an act of war). Oil prices would increase as well. Also, this too may not work. Then, we are left with either more talking or military action.

The final option is, of course, allowing Iran to possess nuclear weapons. Of all of the options, this is by far the worst. Nothing good will come from it!

As we approach inauguration day, President-elect Obama has some difficult choices to make. Let’s just hope that he has an effective idea for “Where do we go from here?”

11/20/2008

Rights?

I've gotten into all sorts of arguments, some heated some not, with all sorts of people over the years about the definition of "rights." My position is that I do not have a "right" to something that someone else has to provide for me. Everything, other than sunlight and air, has a delivery cost that must be overcome. Food, cars, air conditioning, education. Everything. Plenty of people disagree with me.

But can we agree that two seats on an airplane for the price of one isn't a right if you're fat?

Mr. Secretary - Don't Think So


I just love this picture and that's why I'm posting it. It brings back memories of a happier time for conservatives. If John Kerry can't become Secretary of State, why not make him chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He can bloviate from there. Remember, his wisdom in international relations and national security includes such gems as opposing deployment of the Pershing Missile and the development of the Strategic Defense Initiative (two of the major factors that led to the end of the Cold War), voting in favor of the nuclear freeze in the 1980s, and voting against the first Gulf War (which would have met his "global test"). Hey, all you have to do is add in splitting Iraq into three separate countries and he could have been Vice-President.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

On CNN this morning was a story about a poll testing knowledge of American history. I only caught one small part. The question was "Where does the phrase 'government of the people, by the people, for the people' come from?" The answer is The Gettysburg Address (yesterday was the 145th Anniversary of the speech, BTW). The following percentages of those who gave the correct answer won't surprise you:

Respondents: 21%

Elected officials: 23%

Then I heard the anchor say "Double that last number, 56% is how many respondents knew that Paula Abdul is a judge on American Idol." That's not a typo and she repeated it twice. "Double that last number, 56%..."

I weep for the future. Have a nice day.

11/19/2008

Neither Rain, Nor Snow, but Not at 5:00pm


Believe it or not, the United States Postal Service has ended its 5:00pm mail pick-up at all downtown Chicago office buildings. The last pick-up of the day will be at 3:30. They claim it is for budget reasons and Presidential security now that President-elect Obama is working in Chicago.

This makes no sense for several reasons. First, if it is really for security reasons, isn't the first mail pick-up of the day just as dangerous as the last? Hey, why not stop all Loop mail pick-ups and we can all feel really safe.

Second, if it is for budget reasons, why not cancel the first pick-up of the day. How can that cost less than the last?
The Postal Service is once again proving that government run enterprises cannot be competitive. When there is no profit motive, the customer's interests don't matter (as if you needed me to point that out in relation to the Post Office). Many businesses count on a 5:00pm mail pick-up to get important items out to their clients and customers. What are they suppose to do with the work that is completed between 3:30 and 5:00? I know, use private delivery services who are more reliable anyway. Does anyone think that Federal Express or UPS will cancel their final pick-ups of the day? I don't.

A Final Thought on GM (Hopefully)

What really strikes me is how quickly the press uses correct but incomplete information to build stereotypical narratives. Republicans/conservatives want to be "tough." Democrats want to be "helpful." The use of emotive language in headlines anchors the reader to a perspective (first impressions matter, right?) that fits assumptions and preconceived beliefs. In other words, the press perpetuates mindless debate.

Clearly I don't know what goes on behind closed doors in Washington, New York and Detroit but near as I can tell our Congress is trying to structure a vulture investment but it isn't a vulture investor. Successful vulture investing requires either one, but preferably all, of three things:
  1. The investee has some wildly unrecognized potential.
  2. The investor has some unique managerial ability.
  3. The price is so low even Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man could turn a profit.
Congress is undoubtedly powerful but it isn't organized to allocate finite resources and make profitable risk/reward decisions. It can lavish huge amounts of cheap capital on the big 2.5 and use the tax code to create the illusion of consumer affordability. Absent the pain of forced restructuring by markets how will the big 2.5 ever get to a sustainable, albeit smaller, size? This isn't an argument for letting Detroit collapse, but there must be an alternative between raging free marketism and central planning cognizant of the particular role of domestic automotive manufacturing.

Now I'm done. On to the next topic...

Not the Pittsburgh Pirates


It is hard to believe that in 2008, international commerce is once again being threatened by Muslim pirates. Nearly two hundred years after the US victory in the Second Barbary War, merchant ships on the high seas off the coast of Somalia are being held for up to $10,000,000 in ransom.

At first, as a defenseless new nation, the United States was unable to respond to the illegal acts of the Barbary pirates. President Washington instructed his Ambassadors to France and England (who happened to be Thomas Jefferson and John Adams) to meet with the ambassador to England from Tripoli, Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja. When the American ambassadors asked Adja why his government was hostile to the American ships, even though there had been no provocation, Adja responded by saying “It was written in the Koran that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.” Sound familiar?

With no seaborne military, our young nation decided that the only alternative was to pay financial tributes to the Barbary states. Despite these payments, the piracy did not stop. US ships were seized, their cargo was stolen and US merchant sailors were sold as Christians into slavery for Muslims. Finally, Congress acted and the United States Navy and the US Marine Corps were founded in response to the Barbary pirates and possible war with France. American victories in the First and Second Barbary Wars put an end to the practice of piracy in the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, it does not seem that the world has learned its lesson. As of today, no major naval power has taken action against the Somali pirates. Neither the US Navy nor the Royal Navy have indicated that they will stop this practice. As a matter of fact, US Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of the combined maritime forces, has said the merchant shipping companies are partially to blame for the latest incidents. He claims that they are traveling too close to the coast of Somalia. While this may be true, freedom of navigation in international waters is one of the main principals of international trade. This is similar to blaming a crime victim who was traveling through a bad neighborhood.

It is time for the civilized world to act. The major naval powers (meaning the United States and Great Britain) must stand up and say that freedom of passage in international waters is a right for all those engaged in legal commerce. Piracy will not be tolerated and those who engage in such activities will be held accountable. As the actions of the Washington administration proved, appeasement does not work. When will the world finally learn this lesson?
UPDATE: The Indian Navy, believe it or not, has engaged the pirates. It's amazing that a country like India will act, but that the US Navy and the Royal Navy are no where to be found.

11/18/2008

Gas Tax

A few questions:
  • Do you consider yourself a climate change activist?
  • Do you think a government lifeline to the Big 2.5 automobile manufacturers is a good idea?
  • Do you think domestic infrastructure spending should have a steady funding source?
  • Do you think our country should wean itself from foreign suppliers of oil?
  • Do you think our country should develop non-fossil fuel sources of energy?
  • Do you think our government has even a minimal role to play in developing non-fossil fuel sources of energy?
Answering yes to any one of those questions means you support, or at least should support, increasing the federal tax on retail purchase of gasoline.

And the AG is...


Shout out to Ned who correctly predicted this months ago. I was hoping for Jamie Gorelick because that would have given me lots to write about. Remember, there's nothing like a prosecutor who thinks that she should be empowered to investigate herself, just like good 'ole Jamie did as a 9/11 commissioner.

It's Their Turn

A lot has been said about the need for the American people to come together following the election. I, of course, agree with this sentiment for all of the obvious reason. However, I also agree with it for other reasons.

First, the winner should be give a chance to govern. There is always a chance that President-elect Obama is right on the issues and I am wrong. Of course I do not think that is the case, but he has earned the benefit of the doubt and we should see how things play out.

Second, the perpetual election cycle is not good for anyone (except those in the 24 hour news business). The cost in time, energy and money is substantial. It also has the effect of undermining those who are newly elected or re-elected, like a shadow government.

It is absurd that the media is hounding Gov. Sarah Palin about her plans for 2012. Many things can happen in the next four years and it seems to me to be more than opportunistic for her, or anyone else, to be positioning herself for the next big race. Gov. Palin is not the only one already jockeying for position. Gov. Bobby Jindal and Gov. Mike Huckabee are planning trips to Iowa in December. For what other reason would anyone want to visit Iowa in the winter?

During the last election cycle, Rep. Duncan Hunter (who was actually my first choice for the Republican nomination) announced that he was running for president prior to the 2006 mid-term elections. We all saw how far he got. Was he even invited to the debates during the primary season? Besides, those who start running extremely early should beware. Remember the front runners in the 2008 race? What happened to President Giuliani or President Hillary Clinton?

It’s important to remember that President Richard Nixon did not start his 1968 campaign until March of that year. Imagine a world where the presidential election cycle was only eight months long. This past cycle last nearly three times that long. The news networks would be forced to cover real news for a change.

All of this doesn’t mean that we should not provide a loyal opposition. When we believe that the new president is wrong, we should speak out. When we think that his policies will not be good for the country, we should tell him. However, let’s do it without the vitriol that was directed at President Bush.

Let’s give the winners a chance. Elections have consequences and those in power will be held accountable in the next election. But at least let them take office before we start it all over again.

11/17/2008

Everybody Owes Somebody

There's a famous saying in Chicago politics: "We don't want nobody that nobody sent." It traces back to a reply by a Chicago Committeeman to Abner Mikva, then a hopeful Stevenson volunteer who became member of the Illinois House, a member of Congress, a judge, professor and Clinton's White House Counsel. Generally it means that you have to be connected to be of use in Chicago politics and government.

The flip side is one gets nowhere in politics (pretty much in life actually) without owing somebody something. Writ large it's a, maybe the, fundamental flaw in our electoral politics. Running a campaign costs money, that money has to come from somewhere and that guy is going to want consideration. That nutty 1st Amendment roadblocks full publicly financed presidential campaigns as does historical aversion. Thomas Jefferson put it well: "To compel a man to furnish contribution of money to the propagation of opinions to which he does not agree is sinful and tyrannical."

Take a look at these letters from the Obama campaign to John Gage, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees (courtesy of the Washington Post). Each lists policy endeavors the recipient can expect from an Obama Administration. I'm very confident that:
  1. Some of those policies are simultaneously good for taxpayers and the union's members.
  2. Some of those policies are better for the union's members than taxpayers.
  3. None of those policies are better for taxpayers than the union's members.
So here's a documented example of payback in electoral politics. Support me during my campaign (with money or effort) and I'll pull some policy levers on your behalf once elected. Of course the letters don't contain an unambiguous quid pro quo, but if you're a grown-up you get the implication (do you think Obama wrote these letters himself or John Gage did and Obama's team signed off?). John Gage isn't malintentioned of course, but he keeps his job by improving the lot of his members, not by improving that of taxpayers (though certainly in some cases the former does result in the latter). Make sure to read this one, particularly the third paragraph. I love the reference to parking. Is that really a Presidential concern?

Will we ever know how many shadowy promises to less deserving contributors Barry or Johnny had to make? Probably not.

Madam Secretary


I'm not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but the thought of her becoming Secretary of State at the expense of John Kerry gives me a warm feeling this holiday season!!! Just imagine him going crazy behind the scenes. After all, he thinks he gave the President-elect his shot at the big leagues.

Is Sports Ilustrated the new NYT?

If you didn't read FiveThirtyEight.com during the election you missed great electoral analysis. The author readily acknowledged his preference for Obama but his work was objective, dispassionate and accessible. He wrote a short post today with some observations about the press. In particular, I noticed this passage:

"I have written for perhaps a dozen major publications over the span of my career, and the one with the most thorough fact-checking process is by some margin Sports Illustrated. Although this is an indication of the respect with which SI accords its brand, it does not speak so well of the mainstream political media that you are more likely to see an unverified claim repeated on the evening news than you are to see in the pages of your favorite sports periodical."

Assuming th author's assessment is correct (and I suspect it is) here's my purely speculative list of reasons why:
  • SI employees like their jobs more because sports is more fun to cover than politics/hard news.
  • SI has a narrower focus than large scale news operations, thus fewer serious competitors, thus less pressure to churn out stories quickly.
  • SI management has, over time, created a culture that cares about the product.
  • SI makes a lot of money, which attracts the best writers and editors.
This is hardly an exhaustive list and there are plenty of exceptions to each observation (that's why this is a speculative list). Love to hear additional thoughts.

11/16/2008

Common Sense from the Left

Fox News contributor and noted NPR liberal, Juan Williams, said today on Fox News Sunday that in order for any bailout of the auto industry to be effective in the long run, the union contracts must be redone. Wow, common sense from the left. Will Congress see the light was well? Let's hope so!

11/14/2008

Obamarama Bonus Time!!!!!

Let's make sure that they get the cash before January 1, 2009, before taxes go up!

Everyone's A Car Guy Today

Seems my couple posts on GM have really set off a firestorm of debate about the future of GM, Ford and Chrysler. The New York Times, The New Republic, The Cato Institute have all posted on the topic this week. I'm proud to have instigated such a robust national debate.

As I see it, this debate is taking two forms. One side says (kudos to readers who know the source) "They knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash." The other says the companies are well into a painful restructuring and with a little love (in the form of cash) they can reconstitute into viable businesses. Without that love (er, cash) the ripple effects will be nasty and brutish but not short (see a link at this post for access to labor cost data).

Without dwelling forever on this topic, how the competing political and economic forces in this debate are resolved speaks mountains about our country's economy for maybe the next 30-40 years (see this post about the Reagan/Volcker slaying of inflation, and how it impacted the next 30 years of life in America).

I, for one, buy the argument that letting these companies collapse is a bad idea, but in the absence of fundamental restructuring for the customer's benefit (instead of staying on life support for stakeholders) it's a giant waste of money and we should just let them implode.

All knowing? Heh.

Given just this small exchange, how the hell can it be said global warming is a fact? The amount of hubris required to state, unequivocally, that global warming is real and that humans are destroying earth is just absolutely stunning to me. I had no idea we were so smart! Er, wait, weren't we the ones who thought the earth was flat?

A Special Relationship


On this, the 60th birthday of Charles, Prince of Wales, heir presumptive to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it is a good time to examine the "Special Relationship" between the United States and the United Kingdom. The Special Relationship is, of course, born out of our common history, common language and common legal system. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, it has saved the world from tyranny and terrorism on countless occasions.

In World War I, it as the US and the UK that stopped German imperialism. In World War II, it was Churchill's vision and US determination that saved the world from fascism. In the first Gulf War, it was the US and the UK, with the help of an extended coalition, that prevented a madman from controlling the world's oil supply. Remember, it was the Right Honorable Margaret Thatcher that told President George H.W. Bush not to go wobbly. Then, once again, it was Tony Blair who first offered help to the US following the 9/11 attacks. Most recently, the burden of prosecuting the War on Terror has fallen mostly to America and England.

The next question is where do we go from here in order to insure that the world is safe for democracy. The best alternative is one proposed by Mrs. Thatcher - a free trading and security block of the English speaking countries. Certainly, this security block is already happening on a de facto basis. In addition to the US and the UK, the toll in blood and treasure for the various fronts of the War on Terror has fallen mostly on Canada and Australia (the Dutch and the Poles deserve some credit too).

This security arrangement should be formalized. It would be a much more effective military cooperative than the European Union. As we all know, the European Union cannot mount an effective military operation on its own. It made that perfectly clear when it was unable to intervene in the Balkans. The Balkans campaign had to be turned over to NATO (which really meant the United States). The Western World's four most effective militaries would stand as a major deterrent to the misadventures of tyrants around the globe. In addition, we would not have to cater to the hand ringing of the other European countries and the third world dictatorships who make up the majority of the United Nations member states.

Also, since free trade is what drives our economy, the English speaking alliance will expand our free trade agreements to countries that are already major trading partners. Britain and Canada are two of our top five trading partners. Expanding this to Australia, New Zealand and, possibly, India would create large new export markets for our goods and services.

As a birthday gift to the Prince of Wales, let's say good bye to the UN and its anti-American and anti-Semitic rants and hello to a military and economic alliance that has already saved the world. It will not only benefit us, but it will make the world safer and more prosperous!

11/13/2008

Wow

The Obama Administration takes power in about two months. High level appointees are required to answer these questions.

Good luck getting it done before Jan. 20, 2009.

A Little More On GM

In today's WSJ (link here for subscribers) proponents of a financing package for GM "have said they would seek to attach stiff conditions to a bailout package, including limits on executive compensation and additional requirements for the development of fuel-efficient cars. But they have stopped short of saying they would consider a management overhaul at the troubled Detroit auto makers or a massive cost restructuring" (emphasis mine).

I have a few, mostly rhetorical, questions:

Did executive pay and a product portfolio of fuel inefficient cars create GM's existential problem? Conversely, are lower pay and fuel efficient cars, by themselves, necessary or sufficient to get GM to sustainable profitability? If GM achieves sustainable profitability, will Congress involve itself in how the spoils are shared once the U.S. Treasury is made whole? If Congress doesn't promise to extricate itself from GM, won't management's decisions be influenced by its expectations of Congress' needs instead of customers' (e.g. they set aside capital for retiree benefits instead of R&D)? Will Congress' promises today be credible?

Thus the perils of political investing...

More of this to come?


President-elect Obama said during the campaign he would meet with Iran "Without preconditions". So, does this potential flip-flop portend a pragmatic Presidency, or is it just a one-off? Maybe the national security briefings he now receives are illuminating the folly of his pre-election position. Or maybe he never believed it in the first place but cynically said so just to get elected? I don't know. Whatever the reason, I see it as good news, though I suspect others in his camp will not. 

Media/Politcal Complex

Eisenhower's famous warning against the dangers of the military/industrial complex is well known. Something I've thought about, and with any luck will be the first to coin this phrase, is the media/political complex, in which partisan elected officials and members of the press corps routinely conspire (overtly and covertly) to reinforce one another's standing and legitimacy, and thus power and influence, under the cover of plausible deniablity. A reporter gets a juicy story from a key but quiet Congressional committee member, publishes it, her professional stature rises, she gets juicier stories and is beholden to the committee member at the start of the chain. Under her 1st Amendment rights the source is never revealed but the information has credibility because she has credibility. Access to information is currency in politics and this game is as old as the hills.

It's also a conduit by which falsehoods become truth. Take this example (disclaimer: I'm not a Sarah Palin apologist and could easily find a similar story exonerating a lefty). A fake source delivers a fake story to an overworked reporter, the story fits that reporter's preconceived notions and the narrative arc about the subject and off it goes. It's been repeated in hundreds or thousands of places (my family's dinner table for one) and one printed retraction can't possibly undo that (though MSNBC's retraction absolves itself, right?).

When reading the news it's helpful to remember Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crap.

They All Do Nothing


Everyone (meaning the NATO allies, Israel and most of the Arab countries) seems to agree that it is unacceptable for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Shortly after President Bush was re-elected in 2004, he said that Iran would not acquire or develop nuclear weapons on his watch. I chose to take the President at his word, but he has done nothing. And, of course, our European friends did what they do best – talk. They are all talk and no action about a lot of things, including preventing Iran from acquiring WMD. While the Bush administration said don’t do it and the Europeans talked, Iran continued its research and development into nuclear weapons and the missiles necessary to deliver them.

It has been reported on occasion and it is the conventional wisdom in predominately Jewish circles (in which I sometimes hang), that the Israelis would NEVER allow Iran to have nuclear weapons. However, Israeli actions don’t seem to match this rhetoric. I have reached the conclusion that Israel will stand by and let the most dangerous weapons ever developed fall into the hands of an Islamist regime that has as its head of state a man who is crazy even by their standards.

If the Israelis were going to take military action against Iranian nuclear facilities, it would seem logical to do it while they have a friend in the White House. George W. Bush has been the best friend Israel has ever had at 1600 Pennsylvania. President-elect Obama will not be the friend to Israel that Mr. Bush has been (Mr. Obama has been quoted as saying that the United States needs to take a more “balanced” approached to the Middle East peace process. That is code for being a Palestinian sympathizer.)

So why haven’t the Israelis acted. There can be only one of two reasons. Either they are unwilling to act (which defies all logic) or they are unable to act. My bet is, of course, on the latter. After the IDF’s poor performance in the Lebanon conflict in the summer of 2006, it is unlikely that the Israeli military has the ability to successfully end (or to significantly delay) Iran’s nuclear program.

It is amazing that the Kadima government was allowed to stay in power after such a humiliating defeat at the hands of a bunch of terrorists. Evidently, the Israeli public has lost its stomach for casualties just like we have, regardless of the cost of defeat. Should Kadima win the next Israeli election (currently scheduled for February 10, 2009), nothing in Tzipi Livni’s background indicates that she will take a strong stance against Iran. And, nothing that President-elect Obama has said indicates that we will act to terminate Iran’s WMD programs either.

Therefore, we are left with the probability of a nuclear armed Iran with the means to deliver these weapons. Either we have a state to state nuclear attack launched directly by Iran or an Iranian surrogate group (like Hezbollah) does the Iranian dirty work for them. In either case, if you think the financial crisis is a mess, just wait until the bombs go off in Tel Aviv, London or New York.

11/12/2008

President for Life


If you don't think that this change in the Russian constitution is meant for Vladimir Putin, just remember what John McCain said when he looked into his eyes, "I saw three letters, K - G - B."

Dictionary of Political Code Words and Phrases

I'd like to create a running Dictionary of Political Code Words and Phrases. My preference is that it's nonpartisan (i.e. code words all politicians like to use). Here's an example of a phrase and my interpretation/definition:

Doesn't Get It
e.g. "My opponent just doesn't get it. The people are hurting..."
Definition: The other guy doesn't agree with the self-evident intelligence of my opinion. Converse: My opinion is the correct one. If it wasn't, I wouldn't have had it.

Submit suggestions as comments and I'll aggregate in a periodically updated post.

Dead, Just Not Broke

What's the basic argument for government assistance to GM/Ford and Chrysler? As I understand it, a big chunk of Federal largess will keep those companies from imminent collapse. Upon collapse, it's a high probability that:
  1. The spillover will transform a nasty recession into a bona fide depression.
  2. The United States will irrevocably lose the anchor of its industrial base.
  3. The only American organizations that can plausibly mass produce an alternative to the combustion engine automobile will, also, irrevocably disappear.
Alternatively, sufficient cash will buy enough time for the industry to:
  1. Transition into profitable manufacturers of low-cost no/low emission consumer vehicles.
  2. Honor its financial commitment to its current and former labor force.
  3. Provide a healthy return to its financier, the United States Treasury.
  4. Attract fresh, rent-seeking capital to replace said financier.
Does that about sum it up?

Having only worked in small, entrepreneurial environments, I can't comment intelligently about how large organizations turn themselves around quickly. I'm highly skeptical it can happen while that organization is in the public eye and is run on behalf of stakeholders (instead of customers). Believing that stakeholders will temper their interests in a barely breathing company all for the greater good is, well, a figment in the imagination of those who don't believe in the profit motive. With each positive step the industry makes someone will agitate to monetize those small gains TODAY. The U.S. Treasury will want out, or the UAW will want to fund member benefits, or private shareholders will want a dividend, or management will want a bonus pool or, or, or, or. It took decades of denial, co-dependency and bloodless competition to get the industry where it is today: dead, just not broke (and if you work in business you know the difference). Dead, just not broke is exactly why there's still so much interest.

The politicians who'll drive (pun not intended) a bailout package are often derided as ignorant, crass opportunists, which is of course entirely true (I think Kissinger said it's the 90% of politicians that give the other 10% a bad name). Some are smart, most are dumb but they, like you and me, respond to incentives. They want to keep their jobs and not be hung in effigy or burned at the stake. Nobody who's in a position to stop it is going to allow these companies to collapse over night. The political and human fallout will be staggering and won't correct in the adult lifetime of anyone reading this.

So, what's a better option? First, dear readers, acknowledge that a bailout of some kind will happen. Acknowledge that it will have politically pleasing constraints on executive pay and shareholder disbursements. Acknowledge that it won't target the real cause: a cost structure designed for when the industry did make your father's Oldsmobile. Attacking the root cause is, politically speaking, the same as tossing people out on the street. Acknowledge that it's mostly just a transfer from the U.S. Treasury to the industry's retirees (and in fairness, would you like to be the one to cut them off?). There will be moving speeches about the future but there's just too much interest in keeping these companies on life support to allow room for innovation.

A serious plan would force a brutal restructuring and use government funds to alleviate the pain of transitionees who either didn't cause this or are too old/poor to absorb it (even in a recession the U.S. is plenty rich enough to afford it). A serious plan understands that nostalgia for a less complicated time isn't a worthwhile aspiration.

A Case for NATO



Prior to the August 7, 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, I believed that the NATO alliance was no longer a useful tool of US foreign policy. I came to this conclusion for several reasons:

o First, it was a relic of the Cold War and had very little utility for us after the fall of the Soviet Union;

o Second, the complete failure of our NATO allies (other than the Canadians, British and Dutch) to fight in Afghanistan;

o Third, the general decay of European military power since the 1970s, evidenced by the fact that no NATO member, other than the United States and the United Kingdom, has mounted a successful military campaign by itself since the fall of the French in Viet Nam (and remember, Her Majesty’s finest required the help of Uncle Sam in order to successfully defeat the Argentineans in the Falkland Islands War);

o Fourth, my general distrust of formal international alliances developed by the anti-American and anti-Semitic polices and actions of the United Nations.

I had opposed President Bush’s plan for an Eastern expansion of NATO to Ukraine and Georgia because I thought such expansion served no purpose and that it would only agitate the Russians. Prior to August, 2008, it was inconceivable that Russia would invade a neighboring country, particularly a country that was now a Western style democracy.

My analysis of NATO and the need for its expansion proved to be wrong. It is unlikely that Russia would have risked war with the entire alliance by invading Georgia, if Georgia had been a NATO ally. Under the basic principal of the North Atlantic Treaty that an attack on one member country will be deemed an attack on all member countries, the Russians most likely would have been dissuaded from their summer’s military adventure.

With the continued hostile rhetoric coming from the Kremlin, it is important that NATO expand quickly to include Ukraine and Georgia. This will act to prevent further Russian expansion to the west. Of course, President Medvedev and his band of former Communists will continue to make threats like they do regarding the deployment of our missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. However, there are very few, if any, actions that the Russians will be willing to take, in large part because of the NATO Alliance.

If NATO does expand to the former Soviet Republics of Georgia and Ukraine, it will be faced with several challenges. The most important being the willingness of our less than capable allies to abide by the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty in the case of another invasion by Russia. I hope and expect that they would. If they do not, it would, unfortunately, prove my original thesis. And then, the only bright spot in such a mess would be the fact that the United States does live up to its international obligations and, once again, we are the one standing alone in defense of democracy, this time in “New Europe”.

11/11/2008

The New Chairman?


Michael Steele is an effective spokesman for the Republican Party and conservative causes. Electing him chairman of the party would be good for the party and would help to put an end to the myth that the Republican Party is a party only for old white men.

Save Ferris

     Photo Courtesy of Luke Seeman

Sunday I ventured out to Northbrook, IL where I grew up (though I was born in West Virginia – I always say that because no one seems to ever know anyone who was born in West by God Virginia!) to check out and volunteer for a cyclocross race.

The race, called Save Ferris, was inaugural and took place in Wood Oaks Green Park. For those of you that don’t know, cyclocross is fall/winter racing on bikes similar in nature to the ones guys like Lance Armstrong ride, except they’re slightly more compact and have knobby tires. This is because cyclocross racing is done on grass, sand, mud, et al., and includes obstacles to overcome, usually by hopping off your bike, hoisting it on your shoulder and running or jumping over the obstacle.

Those who know me know that I used to race quite regularly, but over the past three years, I've whittled my racing career down to an invisible nub. There are several reasons for this and perhaps I’ll address this sometime in the future.  For now, I headed out to the race because my friend was promoting it and I had volunteered to work the race as he had done for my race earlier in the summer. I brought my gear along and left it in the car. It was dang cold out and there was a 40/60 chance I’d race. I had just been to a wine auction and dinner fundraiser the night before and I was really in no mood. But, we’d see how we go.

Volunteering by handling payouts (paying winner purses of previous races), I walked around the course and was totally intrigued. Cyclocross culture really has a life of its own relative to road or criterium racing. This was evident on the backside of the course where a few guys had brought a couch (one I’m pretty sure I would not let my wife sit on), set it out near the course and proceeded to inspire racers by playing the theme from Rocky on a banged up trumpet – over and over again. When riders tired of the horn (or perhaps the trumpeter did), they whipped out a bullhorn and started heckling riders instead. Visionary and quite unique.

Back at the start/finish line, I rung a friend and asked him if he wanted to come out and race too. Jay was just getting back in the swing of riding after a 20 year hiatus and he had ridden a cross bike exactly five times prior to Sunday.

“What race?” he asked.

“2:15 is 4a (beginners with more experience), 3:00 is 4b (beginners)” I told him if he didn’t show, I’d race the 4a, if he did, I’d race the 4b with him. Full disclosure, I am a cat 3 rider, but am in no shape to ride that kind of race, so I thought I’d race down. I figured Jay to say no and I’d have an excuse to not race at all. He rang me back later.

“Get ready to race at 3:00, I’m coming. I have no idea why, but I am.”

Now I had to race. I registered and the person, whom I know, that registered me, fell out of his chair. Another volunteer I knew pinned my number on my jersey. That was quite a feeling after a three year hiatus. Jay turned up, registered and we warmed up as best we could discussing the course and thinking about how hard this was going to be. Cyclocross is unique in that it is all out gut busting, heart in your throat racing at the start, then it gets harder. There is a whole line of cyclocross bikes called Redline, because the whole race you are redlined.

We lined up with 55 riders. The top 10 riders of the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series were called to the line and recognized. It is also a tremendous advantage to be at the front because the racecourse narrows at times and those choke points can make a huge difference. If you are 35th in line to get through a choke point, by the time you’re through, the first 15 or 20 riders are just gone. That’s it, just gone.

The promoter tried to do me a favor and had me called to the line 11th. I muttered something about home cooking and waved him off with a nod. It was extremely nice of him to do, but it wasn’t going to help me given my cycling shape.

The whistle blew and we were off. 20 seconds in (race was 30 minutes long in total) and my heart was in my mouth. Man, 29 minutes and 40 seconds more of THIS? I got to the first choke point well back as I had lined up well back. Worked my way through and around the course, listening to my heavy breathing and wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into.

OK first barrier, stairs on a sled hill. I hopped of my bike, hoisted my bike onto my shoulder and CRACK! I busted the bottle cages – both of them. Note to self, take off bottle cages for next race. I run regularly, so no problem. Halfway up the sled hill, on the bike and here comes a tricky corner, very, very slick. I manage to halfway negotiate it (see picture). I’m off and around the course, passing several people, and passed once.

Three laps to go. All is well until the tricky corner again. This time I lose it, I start to slide down the hill, turn my wheel up the hill, semi-recover and the start going down again, rather than across the hill. Oh bother. Coming my way is a rider ahead of me who negotiated the turn and was working his way down the switchbacks of the sled hill. I cannot stop, he does not see me. We collide, I pancake him. He goes flying, I stay erect. I entangle my handlebars in course tape. He, to his credit, gets up and keep riding. I hear it from the peanut gallery.

“Get off your bike dummy!”

“Next time I will!” I say. Negotiate the rest of the course. No worries, manage to catch one of the 5 or 6 riders who rode past me during my calamity. Such is cyclocross.

Two laps to go. I am dead tired. Two laps is always the worst as you know you still have one damn lap to go. Trick corner part III. I run my bike around the corner and absolutely no problem. I am lightly applauded like I would be after sinking a putt for bogey. Disdain for not riding the corner like a real man, but accorded a bit of respect for racing. I make it around again. Final lap. All is well. Back side of the course I come up to one final rider ahead of me. I make it my goal to beat him. As the course is very tight, I must bide my time. We finally get to an open space in the course and I gun it. Right past him like NASCAR. He swears out loud at his misfortune. He tries to catch me but to no avail. Race over. Thank God. I am very tired. I finish 33rd of 55. Had I taken the call up, I think I might have done better by ten places or so. The start is so critical. Regardless I had raced and it was exhilarating. Jay was dead too and finished a bit behind me. We both had a great time. 

To quote the immortal words of the Psychedelic Furs, “You can never win or lose if you don’t run the race.”

I am grateful to Save Ferris for the opportunity to race. When you get an opportunity to race, I suggest you do so.

 




Political Investing 101

Expect more of this as the Federal government finances more and more businesses that are where they are because of business model and/or operating model failures (investment banks, car manufacturers, mortgage lenders). If politicians finance a business the company will become a political rent seeker, not an economic one.

Last point: Rep. Cummings in the linked story asks AIG's CEO if "having received this assistance, which has been nothing less than a lifeline for AIG, you have decided to continue to hold corporate parties as if nothing has fundamentally changed with your business?" (emphasis mine). Will he, or Congress more generally, ask the same question of GM stakeholders seeking government financing? If anyone anywhere voted for me (hey, it's possible. My representative has created a vacancy by becoming WH Chief of Staff) I'd ask questions like these:
  • What fundamental changes have occurred in GM's business/industry since the last time this government financed an automobile manufacturer?
  • What cost structure gives your company the best probability of returning to sustainable profitability?
  • What elements of your company's prior structure (labor costs, manufacturing footprint, compensation plans, branding, distribution) will you keep and which will you jettison?
  • Of those you plan to keep, in what ways did they help your current predicament from getting worse and in what ways will they help your company improve?
  • Specifically, how will this financing package help your company transistion to sustainable profitability?
Anybody think those questions will get asked?

The Relationship to Watch

If readers really want to know how well President-Elect Obama's relationship with Senate Democrats is going, this is the relationship to watch. I'm married, I know these things. Spare me the sexism label (folks, a black guy won the election. Identity-based "isms" are like, so 90s). If Michelle Obama has a frosty relationship with Sen. Clinton it will will will pour over into the president's relationship with the Senate. It's just the way the world works. I can't prove it, but if you're married you know I'm correct.

Where Are Those Damn Oil Speculators?

As the price of oil settles around $60/barrel, I'm wondering what happened to those calls to reign in the speculators that prevailed when oil was at $140/barrel. Somehow, without the benefit of any misguided legislation clamping down on speculators, or a windfall profits tax on oil companies, the price of oil has fallen more than 50% since its high in mid-July.

The main reason for the precipitous drop is demand destruction, first from a change in consumer behavior that finally occurred when oil made its blowoff top this summer, and second (and more importantly) from the US and world economies falling off a cliff in the last few months. A secondary cause was the announcement by the Bush administration in July that the executive ban on drilling offshore was being lifted.

The collapse in oil is an object lesson that the price of oil (and other commodities) is not determined by the nefarious actions of speculators, or oil companies acting in collusion. It is determined by good ole supply and demand. And not just current supply and demand, but expectations of future supply and demand. The blowoff top in oil this summer finally changed the behavior of consumers and caused a significant reduction in miles driven this summer. The lifting of the ban on offshore drilling signaled to the markets that the US might finally get serious about tapping its unutilized oil reserves. And most importantly, the US and world economies falling off a cliff in the last three months caused a great reduction in current and estimated future oil demand.

This issue will probably be off the front pages for the foreseeable future now that oil is back to $60/barrel. But the next time oil skyrockets, prepare yourself for the same misguided calls to punish oil companies and speculators. Once again, the age old laws of supply and demand will be ignored by our economically illiterate political leaders.

Lies, Damn Lies and Polls

CNN Headline: Poll Finds Public Deeply Pessimistic

CBS News Poll: Americans Optimistic About Next Four Years

Explain to me again exactly why the major media has any credibility?

Tim Robbins Needs A Hobby

I'm all for voting, even though I live in a decidedly non-swing district in a non-swing state (Chicago, IL). I've voted regularly for Mayor Richard Daley even though his is the only vote that counts. I vote even though, as an objective matter (particularly where I live) it's the same thing as trying to be hit by lightning, twice. Many people have died and sacrificed to allow me to view voting as an entirely gratuitous matter, so I honor their efforts.

As a non-self-obsessed celebrity, someone who doesn't view my own pronouncements on all things great and small worthy of serious thought merely because I said them (an odd observation for a blogger, yes?) I can say with great confidence that this guy really needs to be busier.

Victim of His Own Success




To a large extent, President George W. Bush has been a victim of his own success. His administration’s prosecution of the War on Terror has been far more successful than is generally believed. This is primarily evidenced by the fact that there has not been an attack on the US homeland or a major US installation abroad since the attacks of September 11, 2001. I often ask critics of this president if they would have believed that there would not be another al-Qaida attack against us for over eight years. The answer is often "no, but…"

In politics, there is "no, but…" The person in charge (in this case, the President), is given the blame or the credit. It is amusing that his critics are more than willing to blame him for everything from the financial crisis to increased hurricane activity, yet they will not give him credit for keeping us safe from Islamic extremists.

The policies of this administration, including the terrorist surveillance program, disruption of the terrorists' financing system and the detainment of the most dangerous extremists, has, in fact, made us safer. The proof is the failure of al-Qaida and its allies to launch a successful attack against us.

This success has led to complacency among the American public about the nature of the threat of Islamic extremists. Therefore, the focus in the media and among the chattering class has turned to the areas in which this administration has not lived up to its promise. It clearly allowed Congress to spend too much. It never really worked hard for Social Security reform. The situation in Iraq following the capture of Bagdad and prior to the surge was poor, to say the least. Its handling of immigration reform was less than spectacular, and on and on it goes. But, none of this would be relevant if the threat of terrorists inside of our borders was perceived to be America's number one challenge.

President Bush is reported to believe that once President-Elect Obama receives a number of detailed presidential intelligence briefs, Mr. Obama will fully understand the nature of the threat that we still face from the Islamic terrorist groups. I hope that the president-elect reaches this conclusion. If so, we will see a change in Mr. Obama’s world view and he will, therefore, retain a large number of Mr. Bush’s anti-terrorist programs. This will, in part, help to vindicate the Bush administration on the single most important issue of our time.

11/10/2008

Origins

Welcome to our blog, Rightside Project. The purpose of this venture is to provide political and social commentary from the right side of the political spectrum. To get started, I thought it would be best to describe the origins of this endeavor.

Approximately 14 years ago, Chas Richardson, Craig Boals and I were employees of Arthur Andersen & Co. (yes, the same Arthur Andersen that met its maker due to the Enron case). The three of us would have weekly lunches at Perry’s Deli in downtown Chicago. The conversations usually centered around conservative politics and the misdeeds of the Clinton Administration. Shortly thereafter, Ned Hedley, then an associate at Mayer Brown & Platt, joined the group with additional insight and straight talk. Several years later, my friends, Todd Chalem and Stu Cohn joined us with similar insights. Finally, via email, Jon Knouse, also joined the witty repertoire.

Our lunches at Perry's continue on an almost weekly basis. Needless to say, the most recent election season provided us with a lot of material and concerns.

Each one of us will post on a regular basis and although we will post on many topics, we each have various specialties. I will concentrate on national security, foreign affairs and politics. Todd and Chas will concentrate on economics. Craig will concentrate on economics, foreign affairs and politics. Ned will concentrate on economics, legal issues (as a former federal prosecutor), foreign affairs and politics. Stu will concetrate on foreign affairs, national security and politics. Jon will concentrate on pop culture, sports and politics.

This blog has been discussed for a long time and with the encouragement of noted investigative journalist and author, Bethany McLean, we finally decided to make it happen. Bethany has indicated that she will occasionally post for this blog, which should add to our credibility.

We hope you enjoy our work. We are looking forward to providing you with entertaining and insightful commentary on the world around us.

GM: To Be or Not To Be

Any casual follower of business news knows that GM is at death's door. This once proud beacon of American industrial might has been sucked dry by decades of management that bought labor peace through contracts that are utterly unsustainable in today's hypercompetitive market. GM has a labor cost structure designed to succeed only if the company regains its global might which will only happen if all other automobile manufacturers simultaneously agree to close their doors and let GM have the whole industry to itself.

As our new administration contemplates a "loan" to GM to keep it afloat (let's face it folks, it's really a gift, not a loan, because it isn't getting paid back. Ever.) may I offer a small bit of advice? The government is almost certainly going to give GM $25 billion and then not: fire management, or remove the Board, dislodge the UAW, rewrite obligations to retirees, or change any of the controllable forces that contributed to the mess. How about this instead: give the roughly 100,000 retirees who still receive benefits $100,000 each to waive, irrevocably, the financial obligation GM has to them. Fire management, shrink the brand lineup, remove the Board, require labor contracts be no more, or less, generous than GM's competitors and start over with a near exclusive focus on highly fuel efficient vehicles. But please, don't do what you're probably going to do: loan the money and change nothing.

My first post


I am thrilled to be a part of this new venture!
Test