Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cogitations from Today's Paper

One of the good things about getting older is the sense of perspective you get for news and events; being older also tends to develop a healthy level of skepticism for what you read -- and don't read -- in the news. Here's some examples.

Pay to Play

The first item is this article from today's WSJ on the looming bankruptcy of commercial lender CIT: "CIT Staked All on Government Aid". What caught my eye was this sentence:
CIT had been trying for months to improve its connections in Washington. It spent close to $90,000 last year on lobbying, and $60,000 in the first quarter of 2009. It brought onto its board of directors former Congressman Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican.
I see a couple of troubling things here. It used to be that for a business to be successful, it needed to do a couple of things -- like provide a product or service people were willing to buy, provide good customer service, maybe do a little advertising to develop awareness of their brand and their product or service.

No more. Now, in order to be successful, a company has to have the *blessing* of who knows how many beauracrats running the plethora of various governmental agencies in Washington. It's one thing to need licenses, permits, and permissions from the government to run a nuclear power plant; it's another to require the permission of numerous government agencies to run a small business.

What's even more offensive here is that the government does not confer their *blessings* equally. No, you need to have the right "connections" in Washington. To do that, you need to spend obscene amounts of money on lobbyists who can provide you access to lawmakers who (in exchange for ... ?) then confer those blessings.

We call people who require payoffs in exchange for permission to conduct business mobsters, and their business is called a "protection racket". But, in Washington it's called "connections" and the payoffs are called "campaign contributions".

Guess the Political Party

The next story that caught my eye was this one about the financial problems in yet another big city: "Philadelphia Halts Payments in Crunch".

What makes this story intersting is not what's said in the story, but what's not said. The story is about Philly Mayor Michael Nutter's whining that the Pennsylvania legislature hasn't raised taxes to help bail him out of the City's financial mess.

Hmm. It's not mentioned in the story, but I wonder what political party this mayor might belong to? Let's check wikipedia.

Gosh -- he's a Democrat! In fact, so was his predecessor (John Street), and so was Street's predecessor (Ed Rendel), and so on and so on. In fact, there have been an uninterrupted line of Democrats as Mayor in Philadelphia back to 1952.

That's almost a sixty year legacy -- of failure. You can see this track record in just about every other large American city. But the mainstream media very conveniently ignores it. But facts are facts and, as John Adams said, "facts are stubborn things".

The stubborn fact here is that Democrats have been in charge of a lot of major American cities for the past 50 years and have largely managed to turn them into crime-infested, business-hostile, crumbling wastelands.

Think I'm exaggerating? Let's look at a couple of others (in no particular order):

Chicago: Exclusively Democrat Mayors since 1931 (78 years)

Detroit: Exclusively Democrat Mayors since 1962 (47 years)

Boston: Exclusively Democrat Mayors since 1934 (75 years)

Pittsburgh: Exclusively Democrat Mayors since 1934 (75 years)

Washington D.C.: Exclusively Democrat Mayors since 1975* (34 years)
* before '75, D.C. was administered by the a board appointed by the President of the U.S.

A Tragic Combination: Dangerous Pets and Human Stupidity

In the News Briefs section, there was a blurb about a new effort in Florida to track and eliminate non-native snakes (like pythons) from the Everglades. It seems that these snakes are becoming a threat to native species and humans. The tragedy that triggered this scrutiny occurred earlier this month when a pet Burmese python *escaped* from its cage and killed a two-year-old girl.

I use the word escape loosely though. Many stories simply reported like this:
Lt. Bobby Caruthers of Sumter County Sheriff's Office said the python was a family pet that apparently broke free from inside a glass aquarium in the home's living room.

The snake then made its way into the girl's bedroom and apparently strangled her in the middle of the night, according to authorities.
I looked at a couple of places though and found the background to be much more disturbing. This 12-foot long python was "secured" in its enclosure with a quilt laid over the top which was tied down. How hard could it be for a 12-foot snake to push its way past a blanket?

"Escape" implies some effort was necessary to effect the release. In this case, it took no effort for this snake to "escape" its enclosure thanks to the galactically stupid owner; unfortunately, his stupid led to the death of a little girl.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Problem with Big Government is in the Little Details

There was an enlightening article in the WSJ last Friday that has gnawed at me all weekend. The article was about how the State of California has sent letters to hundreds of the vendors who provide goods and services to the State asking them for a 15% price cut in order to help the State reduce its costs. It was not an especially momentus article, but there were certain things about the story that really stuck with me.
Meridian Food Services owner Rebecca Kitchings received a fax from the state's Department of General Services Wednesday night.

"We need your help!" said the letter. An attached worksheet invited the Riverside-based contractor to list ways she proposes to cut the costs of her $15,000 contract to supply cornstarch to prisons.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Ms. Kitchings said in an interview. "It's a contract. If something happened to my company and I said, 'I mis-bid that and I need another half a penny,' they'd say no way."
Great point by Ms. Kitchings. Anyone who has ever worked on a government (state, local or federal) can recall just how unforgiving they are. Your bid is three minutes late? Too bad, you're disqualified. Made a mistake in your pricing. Too bad, you should've been more careful. Going to be one day late in performing the contract. Too bad, get ready to pay a hefty penalty.

Now, however, the State is in a financial crisis -- of its own making -- and they come crying to the hard-working vendors (who've already been bled dry by the State through their onerous contracts and pricing) and want them to foot the bill to bail the State out.
Among the contractors who got these letters are food companies, information-technology contractors that provide computers for state offices, and others. Mr. Lamoreux said companies that got the letters include Western Blue Corp., a technology consulting firm, and VanWrite, a consulting firm that trains employees on writing, for example, memos and emails.
This was the real "money quote" of this article for me. The State is actually paying a consulting firm to teach State employees how to write memos and e-mails. EXCUSE ME?? Talk about government waste. How many private employers could afford to stay in business if the people they hired didn't even know how basic communication skills?

What really frosts me is the hypocrisy and arrogance of politicians (everywhere, not just in California) who threaten to close parks, lay-off police, release criminals from prison, etc. because they don't have enough money.

OK. I understand that times are tough and government needs to cut back if they can't raise taxes. But, how about saving money by dumping these wasteful things like paying a consultant to teach state employees how to write memos and e-mails.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Dems Steal Another Election

You've got to give them credit, they've got the guts to lie, cheat and steal in order to take elections they lost at the ballot box. And why not? they must ask themselves. The Republicans are too gutless to stand up to us.

They're right. Unless and until the Republicans realize they're in a street fight, they'll keep having elections taken from them. I'm reminded of the classic lines by Sean Connery's character (Malone) in the movie 'The Untouchables':
Malone: And *then* what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way. Because they're not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead.

Ness: I want to get Capone! I don't know how to do it.

Malone: You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. *That's* the *Chicago* way! And that's how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?

Here's a good editorial on this topic from today's Wall Street Journal:

The 'Absentee' Senator

Franken wins by changing the rules.

The Minnesota Supreme Court yesterday declared Democrat Al Franken the winner of last year's disputed Senate race, and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman's gracious concession at least spares the state any further legal combat. The unfortunate lesson is that you don't need to win the vote on Election Day as long as your lawyers are creative enough to have enough new or disqualified ballots counted after the fact.

Mr. Franken trailed Mr. Coleman by 725 votes after the initial count on election night, and 215 after the first canvass. The Democrat's strategy from the start was to manipulate the recount in a way that would discover votes that could add to his total. The Franken legal team swarmed the recount, aggressively demanding that votes that had been disqualified be added to his count, while others be denied for Mr. Coleman.

But the team's real goldmine were absentee ballots, thousands of which the Franken team claimed had been mistakenly rejected. While Mr. Coleman's lawyers demanded a uniform standard for how counties should re-evaluate these rejected ballots, the Franken team ginned up an additional 1,350 absentees from Franken-leaning counties. By the time this treasure hunt ended, Mr. Franken was 312 votes up, and Mr. Coleman was left to file legal briefs.

What Mr. Franken understood was that courts would later be loathe to overrule decisions made by the canvassing board, however arbitrary those decisions were. He was right. The three-judge panel overseeing the Coleman legal challenge, and the Supreme Court that reviewed the panel's findings, in essence found that Mr. Coleman hadn't demonstrated a willful or malicious attempt on behalf of officials to deny him the election. And so they refused to reopen what had become a forbidding tangle of irregularities. Mr. Coleman didn't lose the election. He lost the fight to stop the state canvassing board from changing the vote-counting rules after the fact.

This is now the second time Republicans have been beaten in this kind of legal street fight. In 2004, Dino Rossi was ahead in the election-night count for Washington Governor against Democrat Christine Gregoire. Ms. Gregoire's team demanded the right to rifle through a list of provisional votes that hadn't been counted, setting off a hunt for "new" Gregoire votes. By the third recount, she'd discovered enough to win. This was the model for the Franken team.

Mr. Franken now goes to the Senate having effectively stolen an election. If the GOP hopes to avoid repeats, it should learn from Minnesota that modern elections don't end when voters cast their ballots. They only end after the lawyers count them.


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