Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jail Time

I’m a little upset, as I know most of you are about the state of the economy, and it has nothing to do with that fact that I find myself unemployed for the second time in as many years plus one. The economy runs in cycles. It goes up, it goes down. Just does. People who think they can regulate away economic cycles are as misguided as those who think they can stop cyclical climate variations, and in many cases, they’re the same people. Take a second to look at the national debt clock. http://www.usdebtclock.org/ The numbers are so large as to be beyond our understanding. But you don’t need to be put off by all the motion. There are a couple of them that are still within the understandable limits of us mortals. The national debt is so large that if every single taxpayer were sent a bill for their share it would be for over $111,000.00. You’re going to have to spot me on this one because I don’t have it this week. The picture’s a little brighter if you look at the per citizen figure. It’s only a little over $39,000.00. My 13 year old son was a little dismayed to hear this. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the sum of all of the goods and services produced in a single year. The ratio of national debt to GDP is over 85%. The yearly interest alone is nearing 50% of our yearly federal revenue. Think about this in terms of your personal finances. Let’s say you’re making $40,000 a year. You’re monthly pay is about $3,300. When you open your credit card statement you find that the interest this month alone is $1,666. Half of everything you earned gone just to pay the interest on what you owe. What would be your course of action in that situation? Just keep borrowing, and then go out and buy a new entertainment system? Ask the boss for a big raise. Or stop the spending and start paying down the debt? There’s only one thing that’s sure to work.

For many years I’ve been a proponent of putting the Congress on paid administrative leave. What we would do is meet them at the Capitol when they show up for the beginning of the session, swear in the new members, hand them their certificates, take the class pictures, hand them their paychecks and then send them home. They could go and do whatever they wanted for the rest of the session. Sell used cars or magazines door to door. Whatever. The object of the exercise is to get them out of the Capitol so that they can’t spend anymore of what the taxpayers don’t have any more of, and that’s money.

For years, the Congress has been involved in what can only be described as theft by deception and we, you and I, and all the rest of America, have been complicit. We watched as they took borrowed money from the treasury for projects that would make their constituents somewhere in another part of the country happy but we turned a blind eye because our own representatives got us a little something in return, with borrowed money again of course. And so it went in their little club of 535 souls, all working in a bipartisan manner to assure their re-elections and our nation’s eventual bankruptcy.

And so now it’s 2009 and the government induced collapse of the housing market and the subsequent collapse of the economy as a whole are met with what? More government intervention. First it was a $787 Billion “Stimulus Package” that had to be passed “RIGHT THIS MINUTE” or the world would come to an end. Not four weeks after the new President took office, two days after the 600 plus page bill was made available to Congress members and the general public the bill was approved (unread) by the House and Senate. The President promptly sat on it for three days before its signing.

In the midst of the economic turmoil that has become 2009 on the heels of their success with the stimulus came the “Cap and Trade” legislation gushing up in the House of Representatives like CO2 from a shaken hot soda. They passed it on a close vote (219 – 212). The Senate, heeding the Presidents own words that “my plan would necessarily cause utility rates to skyrocket”, and mindful that there are elections next fall, demurred, and has yet to take the legislation up.

And that brings us to the biggest, the most audacious, the most dangerous and the most expensive plan of all, and once again we’re being told that failure to act right now, at this moment, will lead to certain disaster. The plan is to re-form the entire health care system. One sixth of the entire economy. Not to fix what’s wrong with what we have, but to completely re-form it. The cost will be well over $1 Trillion and is paid for by accounting tricks and new taxes and fees. BUT, and this is a mighty big but. Democratic Senators, Representatives, and the President himself are still claiming that services will actually be better and costs lower. So here’s my plan: I propose an amendment to the bill that comes out of House / Senate conference committee that will allow the members of both houses, the President, his staff and cabinet the opportunity to do what the signers of the Declaration of Independence did, and that is to “pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” that this bill will universally increase the quality of health care services and lower their costs. If it does not it is my proposal that everyone previously listed be placed in a federal prison for a term equal to the number of years that they served in their respective positions and required to forfeit one years salary. This determination will be made not this year, or after the 2012 elections or the 2016, but in the year 2020. It’s time for our elected officials to be made to face the fact that when they make mistakes with huge amounts of our money bad things happen. We already know that they have no honor. Let’s see if they’re willing to put their lives and fortunes on the line.

And that’s what an average guy thinks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tiger Woods

I’ve decided to write down a few thoughts about Tiger Woods. I know. I know. Blah blah blah. Everyone has stuff to say about Tiger Woods. Well, I’m not like everyone else. I don’t slow down when I pass a traffic accident...... but I DO try to catch a look as I drive by.

So. Tiger Woods. Womanizer? I don’t really like that term, and I don’t really know what it means anyway. What he is is a personable, good looking, famous, rich young man who likes the company of women. He’s a lot like me; except for I’m not nearly so rich, young or famous. He likes the way they look, they way they smell, the way they feel, the sound of their voices, and the way they react to the things HE says and does. AND he’s able to pay for those pleasures.

Why then, given that he was living in what seems to have been a bachelor’s paradise prior to 2004 did he marry Elin Nordegren? She surely fits the profile: white, blonde, very pretty, great figure........ but it doesn’t appear that she was a party girl which makes her a stand out in what now looks to be a crowd. Instead she was working as a nanny, or au pair if you prefer, for a married colleague of Tiger’s.

What we all have just been witness to may have simply been the result of five million years of evolution. On a subconscious level, way back in his lizard brain, Tiger Woods may have simply been selecting a mother for his children. And once the DNA is replicated.... then what? In most relationships (he said as if he knew of what he spoke) the passionate, unstable love of mutual discovery gradually gives way to the steady, secure love of mutual support. In this case that doesn’t seem to have happened. At least not for Tiger. Maybe he gets enough support from his “posse” that we hear so much about. Perhaps Tiger Woods is just an explorer, a man always on a quest for new challenges, a discoverer of love, Ricky Nelson’s “Travel’in Man” of golf.

Whatever the reasons, the deed(s) is(are) done. Elin Nordegren will move back to Sweden with her children. Tiger will not protest as this would make him look like even more of a clod than he already does and damage his brand even further, and as this may have been the subconscious intent all along. After a suitable period of “mourning” he will resume golfing and “dating”. He will be photographed (sans party girl) at cordial family outings with the children and his endorsements will gradually come back.

In the end (in a couple of years) this whole business will be just a sad chapter in the life of another sports personality that we’ve all read and are ready to forget.

And that’s what an average guy thinks.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I was recently on a road trip to Chicago and something that struck me is the number of SUVs on the highway, and the way they’re all starting to look the same. Essentially they all look as if manufacturers started with the perfect SUV and then started trying to make it look like something out of a kids Christmas Hot Wheels kit. The Perfect SUV, of course, was the Jeep Cherokee which was manufactured up until 2001 in pretty much its original form. But then things sort of went off track. First manufacturers made them look like they had actually taken a full sized “blow up” Cherokee and just over inflated it giving it a much rounder appearance. Then they gave them a more car like hood and front end, like true SUV people WANT to drive something that looks like a car. Next someone in the design division decided that SUV people shouldn’t have the advantage of all that superior visibility (why should they want to see what’s going on around them) so they pinched the top and back down and made the windows smaller. To make up for the loss in interior space they just made them wider increasing the weight and power requirements.

This brings up another issue that amazes me somewhat, and that’s “size creep”. We all need to realize, that it takes years of design and development work to bring a new vehicle to market and then to change them to fit market demands. It just strikes me as interesting that nearly ALL of the compact SUVs that have come to market seem to be growing. The models are introduced and then, after the Jeep example, a “Grand” version is marketed which is invariably larger. Size does seem to matter sometimes. First it was the Explorer, then the Expedition, and the EXCURSION which of course came standard with a built in cell phone with the numbers of numerous “on the road’ gasoline tanker services already programmed into the speed dial. Who knew that gasoline would go to four bucks a gallon? And along the way, as they were getting bigger, they were getting nicer, more comfortable and complicated. Heated leather seats, individual DVD players for passengers, moon roofs so that you could SEE the great outdoors without actually exposing yourself to it.

So what people are driving now in models from Acura to Kia are not Sport Utility Vehicles anymore. Gone is the sport (who’s gonna take their Acura out in the woods?). Gone is the Utility (Who’s gonna throw a sheet of ¾ inch AD plywood on top of their Mercedes?) What we’re left with is just a vehicle. A BTSW (big tall station wagon)...... with lousy visibility and poor fuel economy at that. May as well call it what it is.

And that’s what an average guy thinks.

Friday, December 11, 2009

One Trillion

I have some problems with the health care reform legislation that is currently being debated in the Senate. The fact that it’s meant to move the nation closer to Socialism is primary I suppose, and that it is intentionally over 2000 pages in length in order to keep people from being able to know and understand what’s in it. I don’t like the fact that it was designed to tear down and completely restructure a system that, while flawed and in need of reform, at least fits the national culture. I don’t like the fact that the new system is now being put together as if by a committee of tailors, each with a different sense of style and ideas about what the garment should look like. There is no pattern or plan, and what should be undertaken with all caution and an eye on the future is being rushed in order to take advantage of the political moment. But as much as all my other problems, I am troubled at the cost: over one Trillion dollars. And that’s a conservative estimate that relies on a whole slough of assumptions all converging to the same point at the same time. If past experience with Medicare is any indication, the costs could be off by as much as a factor of ten. But however educated that guess, it’s still just a guess. What is not a guess is the one Trillion dollar number now in front of us. People have grown used to hearing the numbers: Millions (Lottery); Billions (Oprah, Gates, Buffett), but the only place you hear the term Trillions of dollars is when you talk about the US economy. I think people would be well served it they knew just how big a number one Trillion is. So to that end I have compiled a list of references just to put a Trillion in context.

We begin with a simple unit of measure that everyone can appreciate: the Dollar bill. You’ve seen it before. It has George Washington on the obverse (face side) and a big ONE, the pyramid and the eagle on the reverse (other side). It’s 6 inches long, 2-1/2 inches wide, and 43/10,000 of an inch thick.

One Trillion of anything is one million piles of one million each.

One Million one dollar bills weigh 2,202 pounds. One Trillion Dollars collected all together would weigh over two Billion pounds and take a fleet of 55,065 semi tractor trailers to haul it.

Laid end to end One Trillion Dollars would stretch 94,696,969 miles. This is a distance three million miles farther away than the sun. So far that it would take light 8-1/2 minutes to make the trip.

That distance 94,696,969 miles would take you from the Earth to the moon and back 198 times. You could travel around the Earth 3,809 times.

If you were to neatly stack One Trillion new bills, it would make a stack 67,866 miles high. Carefully lie it down and it would wrap the Earth 8-1/2 times.

If you wanted to cover some of the Earth, you certainly could. One Trillion Dollars would cover a square area 61 miles by 61 miles. 3,736 square miles.

You would have to flood a regulation NFL football field (excluding end zones) to a depth of 30 feet and 8 inches to accumulate One Trillion Drops.

And finally:

If one day you turned your kitchen faucet on full flow and then got distracted........ you could leave the house, go to college, complete your degree, date, marry, start a family, get divorced, date, re-marry, start another family, and 9-1/2 years later when you went back to your house, you would be there in plenty of time to shut off the water before One Trillion drops had gone down the drain.

I’ve composed this blog to try and illustrate the magnitude of one small piece (one trillion) of what I consider to be the main problem that our nation faces today, and that is runaway entitlement spending. Our legislators, for as long as I can remember, have pandered, wheeled and dealt, and greased the ways for their own political ambitions without regard for the future. Sometimes the spending has been done with the best of intentions, but still with no regard for the true affordability of the “project”. And now my son and daughter along with you and I, and your sons and daughters, as citizens, owe over $39,000 to the national debt. In a few years when they begin their working lives that number will suddenly jump to the $111,000 the each tax “payer” now owes. It saddens me to know that in 5 years no matter what we do this number will be much higher.

We are living in a remarkable time. Depending on your point of view, it may be either transformative or catastrophic. Whatever your politics I beg of you to please pay attention to the numbers, to know just how astronomical they are. When you hear that the Senate has a One Trillion Dollar bill under consideration or that they plan to extend the national debt ceiling by One Trillion Eight Hundred Billion Dollars (increasing our credit limit) I beg of you to think of the numbers and ask yourself “can we afford this?” Ask yourself: “do I have the right to obligate my children and their children, and theirs to a lifetime of debt repayment?”.

And that’s what an average guy thinks.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

They're Coming To Take Your Church Bells Away

So here we are, in the Christmas season again. Time for Santa Claus and lighted trees and nativities to spring up at court houses all over the country. ACLU lawyers are still able to sleep, but only fitfully and only for another week or so.

I can’t help but wonder how long will it be before a serious effort is made to outlaw, make illegal, or make socially unacceptable the ringing of church bells in America because it “might” make some very small minority feel uncomfortable, or because it irritates the joyless? And just how much of a stretch can that be, because unlike with radio where the signal travels unheard and unseen on the public airwaves, from the sound of a bell, there is, quite literally, no escape. One has no choice but to hear it. One cannot, as with a display at the courthouse, turn away, cross the street or chose not to look. One cannot choose not to hear a bell.

And what to do about the omnipresent, architecturally significant churches in some communities? Some cities have made it a point of pride, part of their civic identity. (More churches per capita than anywhere else in the US) (that would be Christian Churches)

So do Muslim, atheist, Hindu, or Shinto minorities have a reason to feel uncomfortable with this public display of religion? And if so, do they have a right to some sort of relief from this sonic persecution?

And if they require some redress, if they require that for their peace of mind our church bells are silenced, will we then require the same public silence of our religious neighbors. Will we require that they refrain from the singing of prayers from their minarets? How colorless, and without texture will we be required to make American culture before they are satisfied?

But that's just what an average guy thinks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Road Are We On

Was up early this morning at the crack of dawn on the road to Chicago. Well, alright, it was more like the crack of 8:00 when we left the house. So we’re driving along, going South on I-94 East. Don’t ask. I really don’t understand it much myself. We drove under an overpass (never driven over and underpass) that was identified as Waukegan Road and suddenly I wondered if Waukegan Road actually went to Waukegan or near it or if it was just something that someone called a road that needed a name. You see this sort of thing a lot. A street or road name should tell you something about where you’re going. The name should make some sense to someone. Like the Old Chicago Road that appears in several places between Milwaukee and Chicago. It makes sense: a long time ago this was the road between Milwaukee and Chicago. It figures. A street name like Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee makes no sense. Even it ran all the way from the lake to Minnesota, it’s ALL in Wisconsin. Same thing with Michigan Avenue in Milwaukee. You CAN NOT drive from Milwaukee to Michigan on Michigan Avenue. You’d be crazy to try. There’s a lake. It’s deep in spots. The Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. Name tells you nothing. Doesn’t go anywhere NEAR a Kennedy, that much is certain.

Now you take the Egg and Butter Road East of Dodge City Kansas. It led out from the commercial center of the town into nearby farm country and farmers used it to transport eggs and butter to market. Every town has a Main Street. It’s the main street. The Bypass. Passes by the town if what you want is just to be on the other side. Fort Dodge Road goes from Dodge City to ........ Fort Dodge.

In Europe it’s totally different. You wouldn’t WANT for it to make sense. Take Italy for example. It’s well known, that all roads lead to Rome, and so if you were to name all the roads after where they went, why you’d have a lot of confusion. You’d have Rome Road, Rome Boulevard, Rome Avenue, Rome Lane, Rome Way, Rome Park Way, Rome Street, Rome Highway, Rome Strasse, Route de Roma, and of course the one exception: The Appian Way which of course was really the road from Brindisi to Rome. I suppose they could put a Rome Circle in as a bypass. But it’s no use trying to talk to them about it. I’ve tried. They just wind up gesticulating emphatically and finally zooming off on their Vespas in a cloud of dust.

But that’s what an average guy thinks.