Eu-phor'-ia: a feeling of well-being or elation.
Much has been written and spoken about the results of the last election and why it happened. Certainly it was one of the most unusual in modern history considering the extremity of the nationwide political realignment at multiple levels of government. Something drastic must have happened to cause this upheaval. Well, of course there is the Recession. The economy is always a major political driving influence. Yet, there have been recessions in the past, many of which had political repercussions, but not like this one.
What was different this time was the unipolarity of government in place at the time. Yes, it all started under Bush, but there was a Democratic Congress at the time, hence the argument that it's all Bush's fault lacks credibility. Since 2008, government was solidly in the hands of one party, executive and legislative. You can argue all you want that without trillion-dollar stimuli, it would have been worse, but it's so bad that that's hard to imagine and harder to sell. It is what it is, a mess, and the Democratic government's policies did not fix it.
What we did get from the Dems is a bunch of massive social legislation to fix things that, while not perfect, were not crying for reconstruction. However, that's what we got while unemployment soared and stuck. What also rankled was the way it was done, largely behind closed doors and under the table. The arrogance of thinking that they could fix everything--or most everything--in a few years led to their downfall. The frog jumped.
Lord Acton observed eons ago that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." I would substitute "arrogant" for "corrupt", the latter being probably a bit strong. I think lots of folks, lots and lots, suddenly looked up and said, "Whoa! What's happening here? Everything is changing so fast and it scares me." The result was a sort of popular revolt, typified by the fatally disregarded and reviled Tea Party movement, which was to most folks obviously not a bunch of lily-white red-neck racists. The underestimating was truly bi-partisan, to the dismay of more than one career Republican. You can disdain Sarah Palin all you want, but she is an influence and much of the proletariat likes her. Arrogance, again.
So, the sleeping lion woke up and roared, and career politicians fell like the blackbirds from the sky. Both parties should beware because, like it or not, Sarah and the Tea folks are not going away for quite awhile. The economy is changing permanently and so is the political landscape. Those disenfranchised pols waiting for the dust to settle to come back to the trough better be prepared for a very long wait. Whether this is all good is arguable, but in my humble opinion and from long experience government-watching, I think it was necessary. The arrogance of our "public servants," an oxymoron if there ever was one, had gotten out of control and had to be reined in for the good of the Republic. Lord Acton would be pleased.
The road ahead is not as smooth as the Republicans in their new-euphoric confidence think it will be. The party is heavily split between Tea-Party idealistic conservatives and the entrenched, more pragmatic old guard, and there is still a left-wing president firmly entrenched for most of two more years. I think William Shakespeare's, "... a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" may apply for quite awhile. Eventually, however, it may all shake out and at least a bit of humility permeate the alabaster halls of government. It may actually in a small way begin to resemble Honest Abe's government of, by and for the people. Wouldn't that be nice; haven't seen that for awhile.
But beware, the lion is still awake.
There have been a number of issues, other than politics, that I wanted to comment on but do not justify a solitary post. Therefore, I am publishing four of my priceless opinions in a single post. (Sorry about the long delay since the last posting. Things have been a bit hectic.)
1. Green Goddess. Well, it's now been two years of our esteemed president's effort to create so-called green jobs. Approximately $90 billion in economic stimulus funds have been expended into clean-energy technologies, including weatherization, wind, solar power, advanced automotive battery technology and others. President Obama pledged to create 5 million "green collar" jobs during the election campaign. ( I know, another campaign promise!)
To date, the White House admits that only 225,000 jobs have been created and that's by their numbers. That figures out to $400,000 per job, not much of a return on investment. The problem is as I have stated in previous blogs. In comparison to fossil fuels, solar, wind and biomass are woefully inefficient and costly. The reason is deceptively simple. Energy creation requires heat, and the best way to create heat is to burn something containing lots of carbon, like coal.
Solar power relies on silicon solar cells in various configurations. Their efficiency is generally low--less than 25%--even the new thin-film silicon cells. The solar cell relies on the photoelectric effect, where photons of light knock electrons loose in a silicon semiconductor. Most of the photons miss and the electrons struggle to pass out of the silicon chip into an external circuit. This is a messy business electronically, with lots of energy wasted. Wind is unreliable except on the top of Mount McKinley and biomass is a poor source of combustable carbon. (Yes, it creates its own dreaded carbon footprint.)
If your goal is to create jobs, there are much more productive ways to do that. If your goal is to throw away borrowed taxpayer-obligated money, then it's a pretty efficient process.
2. Raptor. I noted in a prior blog that the Obama administration had canceled the F-22 Raptor, the best multi-role fully-stealthy fighter in the world, at 186 aircraft, less than half the projected USAF needs. Because of the unique nature of this marvelous aircraft (It incorporates specialized antennas imbedded in the wings to intercept radar waves and redirect them harmlessly into space), resumption of production would not be feasible.
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley has recently announced that the F-22 tooling would be purchased from Lockheed-Martin at an unspecified cost. However, lest anyone be misled, this will not allow resumption of production. There are specialized production techniques and skills that are/will be gone. This tooling purchase will allow only limited production of replacement parts--not all, like those wings--to sustain the fleet past the 2020's. The Rand Corporation has estimated production restart costs at $17 billion to $18 billion, clearly prohibitive.
Both China and Russia are frantically developing their own stealthy fighter aircraft. I am not aware of any production limitations in their programs.
3. Scan Me, Harry! I have previously commented on the problems associated with the full-body scanners being expeditiously installed under TSA mandate in airports throughout the country. There have been medical commentaries warning that the backscatter X-Ray radiation employed is not as harmless as the TSA says. It is ionizing radiation and can damage cell DNA in and under the skin, increasing the risk of melanoma.
No foreign nation is instituting the kind of program we are. Italy, for example, has decided to drop their scanner use in its airports. Israel is laughing at us. But now, there is another fly in the soup. It turns out that Michael Chertoff, former Homeland Security (HSA) Secretary, who strongly promoted the purchase and installation of these scanners, may have had a little conflict of interest. What our crack investigative media failed to point out was that Mr. Chertoff has a security consulting firm, the Chertoff Group, that worked closely with RapiScan, one of the only two manufacturers of these scanners.
In addition, L3 Communications, the other manufacturer, employs Linda Daschle, the wife of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, as a lobbyist. Also, eight members of Congress own stock in L-3. The largest Congressional stockholder is John Kerry, who owns somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million of the stuff. All have denied any undue influence.
Public service has its rewards.
4. Irony. Finally, somewhat unnoticed was the fact that this last weekend, specifically January 22, was the 40th anniversary of the issuance of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion on demand. Since that time many millions of babies have been aborted. In 2005, according to the CDC, 800,000 legal abortions were performed, most by Planned Parenthood at $400 a pop.
It absolutely amazes and confounds me that a pregnant woman can walk around proudly wearing a T-shirt with a big arrow pointing down at her belly, with the caption, BABY IN HERE! Yet, if the baby is not wanted, it is a non-entity that can be killed and discarded. I have referred to this as magical thinking, and that it certainly is. (I am not going to comment on the "Philadelphia Horror." I don't have the words to decribe this abomination. Google it if you want to read the story.)
But to the irony. Our esteemed daily newspaper on Sunday, January 23rd, one day after the Roe v. Wade anniversary, initiated a new feature series on infant mortality in the inner city, entitled "Empty Cradles." In the extensive coverage the writers bemoaned the fact that 501 babies died in Wisconsin in 2009. This is sad and certainly justifies attention. The newspaper is to be commended for its concern. But, I'm sorry, beginning this series--"Empty Cradles"-- within one day of the Roe v. Wade anniversary strikes me as huge and tragic irony.
In ancient times, folks conducted transactions via the barter system. If a vegetable farmer wanted a couple of chickens for soup, he found a chicken farmer and traded something he had--a bushel of potatoes--for the chickens. This generally worked but was cumbersome. Going shopping with bushels of potatoes could lead to back strain.
Hence man invented a "medium of exchange"-- money. The chicken farmer would establish a price for his chickens. The vegetable farmer sold his potatoes at market for a price and could then buy the chickens with easily-carried money. (Some money was not so easily carried, but it was still better than potato bushels.)
The money represented value: chickens, potatoes, birdhouses, whatever. It was a medium of exchange with no significant intrinsic value. In addition to produce, it came to represent skilled labor. People would build something and be paid for their efforts. Companies were formed to produce merchandise which would be sold at market. The tradesmen and laborers who manufactured the goods were paid commensurate with their contribution to the value of the product.
Enter the profit system. Manufacturing facilities had overhead: building, tools, raw materials, etc. Also, administrative personnel who didn't actually build things were needed to manage finances and marketing. Thus, and this is a key point, the workers had to be paid less than the true value of their work in order to provide for this overhead. The difference was profit which went to pay for the means to manufacture. The compensation for the workers was determined by the value of his or her contribution to that product, less a profit margin. A limiting factor was the price placed on the company's product to make it competitive in the marketplace compared to competitors.
Union collective bargaining is an anachronism. At the dawn of the industrial revolution, unions were needed to counteract abuses by greedy robber-barons. Today, that is no longer the case in this enlightened society. The union practice of continually negotiating for higher pay for the same work ignores the real world of industry.
To increase wages without a corresponding increase in the value of the worker's contribution is economically unrealistic. It leads inevitably to a loss of jobs to automation and plain old belt-tightening. As a result, we have permanently lost jobs to foreign competitors who pay lower wages. The relationship should be obvious. Due to a great extent to union militancy, we have priced ourselves out of many manufacturing venues. (How many U.S. manufacturers of consumer electronic equipment are there?)
A gross distortion of the labor market exists in the area of government employment. In industry, the bargaining process with the unions is often constrained by the economic realities of the marketplace. When the Big Three automakers had the field essentially to themselves, the UAW was able to negotiate extremely generous wages and benefits for their members. When foreign competition became a significant factor, things got sticky. To their credit, the UAW recognized the problem to some extent and moderated their demands and even gave back some compensation. Not all unions did the same. (I remember a strike at a local packing plant--I think it was Patrick Cudahy--that went on for a very long time. Finally the company closed the plant and left. I recall a striker being interviewed and exulting, "We won!" But the jobs were all gone.)
Government has no constraints of profit necessity or marketplace competition. Consequently, the tendency is to acquiesce to union demands, reasonable and unreasonable. We see consequences of that today in our state government and its huge deficit. (Labor costs are not the only factor in the deficit, but they are a major one.) Collective bargaining involving government is an anachronistic misnomer. There was no real bargaining involved. At least until the state went broke.
Governor Scott Walker's proposal to terminate union collective bargaining, with some pragmatic exceptions, is simply a recognition of reality. Even though wages are technically still bargainable, severe constraints are being proposed such that little actual bargaining would be possible. Predictably, there is a huge outcry of gored oxen and the Gov. is being portrayed as some kind of heartless ogre.
Unions in general have become obsolete, constituting a self-perpetuating drain on workers' income through union dues to pay for their substantial administrative expenses. In the present highly competitive foreign-dominated marketplace, they are more the problem than the solution. Compensation should be determined by the real value of a worker's contribution to his employer's business, not his seniority or the strength of his union. Public employee unions are particularly unconstructive and unrealistic. In this instance, Gov. Walker is right on the mark.
On her TV show, Ellen Degeneres asked guest Aaron Rodgers what opposing players said to him during a hard-fought game. He answered, "They usually say something like, 'You're a bad player.'" Well, poor Scott Walker ran headlong, blindly into a "bad player" in the person of liberal blogger Ian Murphy who rather clumsily impersonated billionaire Republican-and specifically Walker-supporter David Koch. He asked an apparently clueless Walker a series of leading entrapment-questions and made several outrageous comments, all of which Walker incredibly responded to. The result is an embarrassing illegal tape of the conversation which has gone viral.
In Gov. Walker's defense, Koch, who was not known to him personally, was a staunch and generous supporter of the Guv during his campaign, and you do not bite the hand that feeds you, especially in politics. Hence, Walker appears to have tip-toed through this bizarre conversation, bending backwards to kiss up to his supposed benefactor. This is politics, folks. It runs on campaign money. Politicians from Obama to Bush to Doyle to Walker, et al, are very cognizant of the importance of financial support. Without it, no-one gets elected to major office.
If you listen to/read what was said, it is pretty obvious Walker was kissing the (ring) of Mr. phony-Koch, careful not to disagree or offend. Thus, when Murphy/Koch suggested the use of disrupters mixed in with the demonstrators, Walker responded that thay had considered that and discarded the idea, not as ethically and morally unpalatable, but potentially counter-productive. (I don't know for a fact that Walker would seriously consider hired guns to disrupt a generally peaceful demonstration, but what I know of him from a good friend who knows him personally, he's a pretty decent guy and definitely not stupid [except apparently on the phone].)
Likewise, the parting shot of Murphy/Koch about "crushing those (bleep)" and being flown to California for a "good time," something an experienced politician like Walker must know is clearly illegal, should have, in the eyes of numerous pundits, engendered an outraged response on Walker's part. Instead, it elicited a wishy-washy: "All right, that would be outstanding." What should he have said? "Listen, David, that is illegal and unethical, and I resent your language and insulting invitation which I summarily reject!" Uh, right.
Not in this day and age of money-soaked campaigns. As in all things, context is everything.
As Shakespeare said, "'Tis a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
P.S. Don't bother trying to phone Governor Walker. I understand he's not taking any more calls.
Well, sportsfans, the other shoe has dropped and it's a 13-EEEE. Gov. Walker's proposed biennial budget bill is certainly a doozey. Already the gored oxen are screaming, predicting doom, gloom and disaster. One is reminded, however, that you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.
Many on the left and even considerable folks on the other side voted in 2008 for Barack Obama for president. Some because he was a liberal, some because of his race but many because he ran on a platform of Change--change from the status quo with which many were uncomfortable. They weren't sure exactly what Change meant, but felt that something was awry in government and were willing to vote for "anything else."
Many of those reasonably moderate folks are disappointed in what they got, which was an orgy of deficit spending, grindingly brutal unemployment (Yes, I know; it's Bush's fault.), and a monstrous, problematic and controversial government health care program.
I think that disappointment and lingering unease with runaway "fix-it-all" government carried over into the 2010 election which gave us a Republican state government replacing the prior Democratic hegemony. Scott Walker was fairly easily elected as someone who would shake things up, with a reputation for staunch, unblinking fiscal conservatism. Folks felt this was what we needed in Wisconsin. Well, we got it.
I'm not going to go through the proposed budget item by item. Actually, our often-maligned (by me) daily newspaper did an admirable job in the Wednesday (March 2) edition of summarizing its contents and implications. As the newspaper noted, it certainly shakes things up. But, what did you expect? Scott Walker simply has done what he said he would do: balance (nearly) the state budget for the first time in recent memory.
The screaming is fully understandable. Many governmental elements are significantly impacted, including a number of sacred cows. The problem is for years--decades--we have been boiling the frog. Unboiling him is not easy. Bureaucracies created ostensibly to "fix" problems have been layered one on top of another, all with constituencies, manned by public sector union members and fully committed to the basic two rules of the bureaucracy: 1) Preserve the bureaucracy and 2) Expand the bureaucracy. (There is no third rule.) They will not go down easily, but go down they must if we are going to stuff the government tiger back in his cage.
Public sector unions are a very large part of the problem. These are the folks that staff the bureaucracies, including education which is a huge bureaucracy. I have noted previously that public sector unions are a different breed from unions in general. Their existence makes no logical sense and constitutes a fiscal nightmare. Private unions negotiate with an employer who holds the survival and success of the company uppermost and negotiates tough to limit payroll and benefit costs to sustainable levels. It's typically a close-to-even fight, sometimes temporarily favoring one side or the other.
Public sector unions collect huge sums of money in dues which they spend supporting politicians, mainly Democrats by at least a 10-1 ratio. A number of Democratic legislators owe a major portion of their campaign funding to these unions. (I guess a few Republicans get supported, but very few and mostly RINO's.) At the local level, party affiliations get blurred so the largesse goes to candidates sympathetic to the union(s). The effect is that contract negotiations are between powerful union representation and politicians beholden to the public sector unions for their jobs. Now the fight is uneven.
The result has been wage and benefit excesses that severely strain budgets at all levels of government. Public sector unions have acquired great power and accumulated large membership because of their success in negotiating attractive wage and benefit packages. Thus we have created the proverbial 600-pound tiger, out of his cage and devouring taxpayer money at an ever-increasing clip.
The party line being played out in the Madison protests is that it's all about workers' rights--more specifically union workers--and the middle class. In truth, it's all about union power and sustenance. Walker's proposals will substantially curtail the influence and income of the several public sector unions, mainly the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SIEU), along with the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) teachers' unions. By way of illustration, the compensation of the heads of these unions is as follows.
- AFSCME head Gerald McEntee: $480,000, having grown steadily at 4% per year
- SIEU head Mary Kay Henry: over $306,000
- NEA head Dennis Van Roekel: nearly $400,000
- AFT head Randi Weingarten: $428,284
The assets of these unions ranges from $78 million (AFSCME) to $216 million (NEA). They have as many as 31 employees earning over $200,000 per year (NEA).
(These data are from the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity as reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 3, 2011.)
These unions contribute huge sums to overwhelmingly Democratic election campaigns by as much as 99% over Republican. The unholy alliance is obvious. As Marquette Professor Walter Farrell used to always say, "Follow the money." And that is what is at stake here.
In politics, nothing is as it seems. The hue and cry over "workers' rights" is nothing but a smokescreen for union preservation and political benefit. The demonstrators, while largely sincere, are simply dupes of the entrenched union/political gravy train.
Governor Walker's budget is the first real attempt to deal with the fiscal problems of this state in a realistic and honest manner. It is undeniably ugly, but that is what it will take to merely begin to disassemble the monstrous fiscal House that Jack Built that has become Wisconsin's fiscal and bureaucratic ravenous 600-pound tiger. Scott Walker is the first politician to try to stuff that baby back in his cage. The proposed budget is undoubtedly not perfect or even universally fair, but it is a responsible start. Legislative debate, hopefully bipartisan if they ever come back, will help to iron out some of the kinks.
Walker deserves a lot of credit for having the guts to take on the tiger, the first executive in my memory to do so. Sadly, I doubt that he'll get it.
There has been a lot of talk, some of it quite loud, over the last month--actually 25 days--about rights and freedoms. We are being deafened by screams that the Walker budget Repair Bill's section restricting collective bargaining by public service unions is an attack on freedom and the middle class; that it violates hard-won union rights. Harsh accusations indeed. But, what are they really saying?
There are several categories of rights. There is, of course, the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the United States. Things like the right to bear arms, right of privacy (oops, that's not really there), among others. These rights are essentially cast in stone and can be undone only by constitutional amendment. Constitutional rights do not seem to be at issue here since none of them appear to infringed by Gov. Walker's bill.
There are God-given rights, like the right to life and free will. I'm not sure what the others are, but lots of folks refer to them. Walker seems to be safe from these also, whatever they are.
Then there are legal rights, those bestowed by legislative action. Ah, now we seem to have something. There was legislation passed some years ago that established collective bargaining for public service unions. However, that was a legal right created by a law. Such a right can then also be removed by legal action, which is the present case. These are equivalent actions, neither superior in any way to the other. What a legislature bestows it can take away, no foul.
O.K., what about those freedoms that the evil Republicans are taking away from us, the middle-class public. Certainly not the freedom of assembly or freedom of speech. Those are also in the U.S. Constitution, but seem to be safe from right-wing predation. Then there is: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It may be argued that the "pursuit of Happiness" (sic) and maybe even some Liberty is being infringed, but this is from the Declaration of Independence which, while a worthwhile sentiment, does not have the force of law. Also, I don't think the writers of the Declaration had public service union collective bargaining rights in mind.
The bottom line is, it is difficult to identify any real freedoms or rights that are being infringed, except the right of unions to fleece the public. Oh yes, the recent ongoing circus in Madison and elsewhere, like Illinois, is only and solely about the union right to collect dues and entice membership by negotiating rather generous benefits from strength gained through political contributions to those with whom they are negotiating. It is not about workers' rights, which are not being infringed or taken away. The majority of public service workers who do not belong to a union seem to be doing quite well on their own. Union workers will still have jobs with decent wages and reasonable benefits, and somewhat greater job security, compared with the rest of the employed folks.
So, all the noise, largely created by union agitators, professional demonstrators who seem to show up at every public protest, retired teachers with nothing better to do and college students who seem not to have to attend classes, is about the public service unions, not the workers. It's about union power and money, nothing else.
It is unfortunate that the Republicans had to resort to separating out fiscal elements from the bill to pass it with a simple majority. Interestingly, this tactic was advanced by none other that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who dared them to do it in a speech about a week ago. Personally, I'm impressed by the intestinal fortitude displayed by Governor Walker and the Republicans, who were under unprecedented pressure from the unions, both locally and nationwide.
Unfortunately, it isn't over yet. I have heard that national unions and/or union sympathizers have allocated $30 million to fund recall campaigns against eight Republican senators. How's that for outside interference in state affairs?
The Wisconsin Taxpayers' Alliance in two recent bulletins clearly and succinctly outlines the fiscal games played by the last two administrations to balance a hopelessly out-of-balance budget with non-GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) tactics, creating a massive structural deficit. Walker is the first governor in quite awhile to address Wisconsin's budget problems head-on without gimmicks.
The only way to balance the budget without dumping the deficit onto taxpayers is to cut spending. That he is doing to the accompaniment of the deafening roar of a chorus of gored oxen. I for one respect him for his honesty and courage. Way to go, Scott!
As I'm sure everyone knows, there has been a catastrophic earthquake centered off the northeast coast of Japan measured at 9.0 on the Richter scale. This is one of the strongest quakes in history, eclipsing the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake which registered 7.9. Since the Richter scale is a base-10 logarithmic, the Japanese quake was more than100 times more powerful the famous Frisco quake.
The Earthquake: This earthquake created a 20-30 foot tsunami that created even more damage than the quake, since the Japanese have designed their buildings to withstand earthquakes. The purpose of this post is to provide some accurate information on this event that seems to be lacking in our news media. Some of this information is based on Alert Bulletins from Stratfor.com, an accepted reliable source.
First, a few words about plate tectonics. The crust of the Earth is made up of several huge tectonic plates that move, probably due in part to cooling and to rotation dynamics. The plates tend to move in an east-west direction. The largest of these plates is the Pacific plate that covers most of the Pacific Ocean. It extends from the coast of the United States to nearly Japan and Indonesia. This plate is moving in a westerly direction, butting up against a leg of the North American plate off the northeast coast of Japan. These plates are pushing against each other, which causes one plate to slide under the other, pushing it up. When stresses build and sudden relative movement occurs, the result is an earthquake.
This movement results in extremely sudden lifting or sinking of the crust. When it occurs under water, this displacement creates a huge swell that expands from the epicenter at incredible speeds, as much as 500 mph. In the open ocean, this swell may be only a few feet high, but when it encounters land, the water underneath is slowed by friction and lifted, resulting in a towering wave--a tsunami--causing massive destruction. Water traveling at high speed is like steel, irresistible.
NOTE: Since the U.S. west coast (California, etc.), is at an angle, the plate movement is sliding. Thus, California quakes are the result of slippage, not one plate pushing under the other (subsidence) as in the Pacific Rim. In South America, the plate movement is pulling apart.
Sadly, the Japanese were well-prepaered to deal with large earthquakes, even one as monstrous as this one. Many buildings held up only to be toppled by the speeding wall of water. The great loss of life and incredible damage was due mainly to the towering tsunami, for which there was no protection.
Nuclear Power Plants: This is a bit mysterious because one would expect the Japanese to have designed carefully to protect against damage from earthquakes and consequent tsunamis. Yet, at least three nuclear power plants are in trouble and one, the Fukishima Daiichi plant in Okuma, is in dire straits. Although there are conflicting and confusing reports coming from Japan, and altogether too much uninformed media reporting and speculation, it appears that the Fukushima plant withstood the earthquake but not the massive tsumani for which it was not designed. In my opinion, this was shortsighted as the two often go hand-in-hand. First, though, let's review nuclear power plant design and operation.
Reactor Design: The reactor core (or pile) consists of nuclear fissionable material, usually a radioactive isotope (variant) of uranium (U235), inside a heavy confining vessel called a containment structure or dome. In the Japanese design, this dome is made of 6-inch thick steel. A byproduct of the fission process is plutonium (Pu239), also a radioactive isotope.
Graphite control rods are inserted into holes or spaces in the pile to absorb nuclear radiation (neutrons). The rods are raised and lowered to maintain the chain reaction in equilibrium. Circulating water (raised to its boiling point or beyond) cools the pile and provides the heat energy to drive turbine generators. The cooling water also functions to moderate the nuclear reaction by absorbing neutrons.
There are two major types of nuclear power reactors. One is the pressurized water reactor (PWR) where the cooling water is highly pressurized, raising its boiling point. In this design, the water used to cool the pile does not boil and create steam. Steam is created in a separate steam generator outside the containment vessel and used to power turbine electric generators. The cooling water also is employed to control the nuclear pile by absorbing neutrons, but is not the primary control mechanism. (See my blog post "Oil and Nukes", August 4, 2008, for a more detailed description of the PWR reactor design.) This is an important distinction. Most U.S. nuclear power reactors are the PWR design.
Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) Diagram
The Japanese reactors, on the other hand, are boiling water reactors (BWR), where the cooling water is allowed to boil, creating steam voids. This accomplishes two purposes. It eliminates the necessity of a separate steam generator and it increases the range of nuclear pile control possible with the cooling water alone. (Steam voids absorb little radiation. The more steam the hotter the nuclear reaction.) In fact, cooling water/steam is the primary method of control in a BWR, while control rods perform this function in a PWR. The BWR design also employs control rods, but they are used more to fine tune the pile activity.
A salient and unanswered question in anything I have read is why the Japanese reactors at Fukushima Daiichi--there are six reactors in the plant--were not immediately shut down--called "SCRAMMING"--when the earthquake hit. The control rods in these reactors are electrically activated, which system failed when power was lost due to the tsumani and backup power also failed. This also disabled the cooling water pumps, eliminating that method of control.
In modern reactor design (the Japanese reactors were built in the 1970's), power failure results in immediate, mechanically-actuated, full insertion of the control rods, SCRAMMING the reactor and shutting down the nuclear reaction. If this is not done immediately, loss of cooling water circulation due to pump failure may result in heat-induced distortions that jam the rods, preventing shutdown. This is apparently what happened in Japan, for reasons I find mystifying. I understand that all U.S. reactors employ automatic power failure SCRAMMING. (Due to operator error, the Three Mile Island reactor was allowed to overheat, jamming the control rods and resulting in a partial meltdown.)
Present Status: As previously stated, there are conflicting reports. The latest information I have indicates a dire situation that is getting worse. Despite frantic efforts by the Japanese to contain the situation at the Fukushima plant, it appears to be deteriorating. Several explosions have occurred in the plant, damaging at least two of the reactors. It is possible that the reactor No. 2 containment vessel was damaged, but that is presently not confirmed.
Steam pressure is rising to dangerous levels in at least three of the reactors, requiring venting radioactive steam into the atmosphere. While this is spectacular, it is not particularly dangerous as the radioactivity level of the steam is low and it dissipates rapidly. So long as the containment dome is not breached, the danger from radiation is minimal except in the immediate vicinity. However, there are credible reports that the containment vessel at reactor No. 2 may have been damaged. If this damage constitutes a breach--and this is not clear--substantial radiation exposure is likely.
There have been at least three explosions, but they do not involve radioactive material. The high temperatures and superheated steam inside the containment vessel result in accelerated electrolytic corrosion, breaking down the water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen--the well-known electrolysis process. The oxygen is absorbed in the corrosion process but the hydrogen accumulates. As it is vented along with the very hot steam, it strikes the oxygen-rich atmosphere and explodes. These explosions are outside the pile containment vessel and would normally cause only building structural damage.
There are reports of widening and increasingly elevated radiation levels downwind of the plant, causing widespread evacuations. So far, the levels are not lethal but are potentially harmful. Also, workers are being evacuated from the Fukushima plant. This suggests at least a partial breach which is not good news. Should efforts to cool the pile or piles at the facility fail, the radioactive cores, having lost all cooling, will melt and create pools that could reach temperatures of 1000's of degrees. This is the classic meltdown which, if there is accompanying fire which is likely, could spread significant radioactive smoke over a wide area. This now would look more like Chernobyl than Three Mile Island.
That this potentially is a disaster of unprecedented magnitude is clear. The key is containment breach combined with fire. Despite hyperactive media speculation, we in the U.S. are not in danger of radioactive fallout. We are 7000 miles away from Japan, and any radioactive smoke will have long dissipated on its way across the Pacific, despite prevailing winds. In Japan, the potential is much more scary. If the worst happens with the Fukushima Daiichi plant--containment breach and fire--then Japan will be a long time recovering. They will need our prayers.
Finally, let me reiterate that all U.S. reactors incorporate fail-safe nuclear pile shutdown features that obviate anything like what is happening in Japan. I truly am surprised at the apparent short-sighted design of their plants. Our are designed and configured to withstand any conceivable terrorist attacks, which would serve well in the event of a natural disaster.
Obama, the French, the English and some unspecified Arab countries (are there any left with governments?), with the strangely enthusiastic acquiescence of the UN, have launched a military attack to establish a no-fly zone (at first) against the legal government of the sovereign nation of Libya in support of a ragtag, polyglot bunch of rebels who were getting the stuffing beat out of them by government forces. Question: WHAT IS OUR INTEREST IN LIBYAN AFFAIRS??
We get not one drop of oil from the 2% of the world's supply produced by Libya, although the Europeans get much of their oil from there. Are we once again saving their bacon? The nonsense about humanitarian purpose to prevent evil Muammar Gaddafi from massacring innocent civilians--well actually they're rebels trying to bring down the government--is an obvious smokescreen for something else. But frankly, I have no clue what that is, except for a nagging and scary suspicion. (Later.)
First, let's dispel the fiction about an international coalition with the French, English and unspecified Arabs--who at last call seem to be wimping out--sharing the load of this no-fly zone establishment, involving bombing and cruise missilling Gaddafi's military installations. No one but us has the capability and equipment to do this, so 90% of the load will be on us--our aircraft, our cruise missiles, our precision munitions, our ISR capability.
The problem with this is our air strength is stretched to--and in some cases, beyond--the breaking point, due largely to extreme overuse in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars following Kosovo. Our attack aircraft are on average over 26 years old and well beyond their design lives, except for the F-22 Raptor procured at half the needed quantity and then procurement was canceled by Obama. Our tankers are 50 years old and our tactical airlift (transports) are too few and in some cases (e.g. the C-130 Hercules other than the J-model) as much as 60+ years old. Tanker maintenance on our ancient workhorse KC-135's is becoming a serious problem due to fatigue-related deterioration.
So now we add Libya to the Obama war catalog. We are indeed nuts, or are we? Some conservative commentators have suggested that Obama does not like the military and is not supportive of American exceptionalism and superpower status. The main reason for that status is our military which is unparalleled in its capabilities and skill. The Defense Department budget has been cut by the Administration, with the Air Force taking the brunt of the cuts. If the purpose is--and I'm not saying it is--to cut us down to size by degrading our military strength through overstress and overuse, then this is the way to do it.
Finally, if we succeed in bringing down Gaddafi's government and driving him from the country, who or what takes its place? Are we embarking on yet another exercise in regime change and nation building, on top of Iraq and Afghanistan? How long is this going to take? Another 10 years? How many of our boys' lives will be lost to Gaddafi's supporters gone underground like Saddam's in Iraq while we nation build, which will require boots on the ground? And has anyone noticed how fast this all happened??
We are already overcommitted around the world. I 'm beginning to think we should let the world take care of itself, bring everyone home and let other countries take care of their own affairs. If human rights are violated, why is that our problem? Let the UN do it if they're so concerned, but without us. Why do we need to prop up other nations with our foreign aid money? Let them sink or swim on their own. (Humanitarian aid in the event of a natural disaster is an exception.)
We don't need anyone. Repeat, WE DON'T NEED ANYONE! We have everything we need right here at home if only we have the sense and will to use it. Let's junk NAFTA and set up tariffs that level the playing field of workers' wages. If the WTO doesn't like it, tough. We really don't need BMW's. If you don't want to build it here then pay the tariff.
Yes, that's isolationism. I think it just may be an idea whose time has come.
"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date that will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan. ... I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."
Anybody remember that? I do. My parents and I listened to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt speak those words on a small RCA Victor table radio on our kitchen table, on December 8, 1941. I was eight years old, but I can still hear those words, words which embarked the United States on the terrible and ultimately victorious voyage that was World War II. For the record, the Congress immediately and unanimously voted and issued the requested Declaration of War.
That was the last official Declaration of War issued by any Congress of the United States. Since then we have engaged in ten wars, not all of which were called wars--like Harry Truman's Korean "police action"--but all involved the U.S. military in a deadly shooting conflict against a designated enemy. When you go into another country, on ground or in the air, and kill people toward a geopolitical end, in my book that's a war. The ten, according to my memory, were/are Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Somalia, Panama, Iraq 1, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq 2 and Libya. None was accorded a Congressional Declaration of War.
The U.S. Constitution explicitly states in Article One, Section Eight, that "Congress shall have the power .... to declare war." No mention is made of the President having like authority. The purpose of this requirement, of course, is to put the imprimatur of the citizenry, via its representatives as opposed to a single individual, whose sons and daughters will be placed in harm's way, on this fateful decision. It also empowers the Commander in Chief to employ the military with the full authority of the country behind him or her.
All U.S. wars prior to Korea were sanctioned by a Congressional Declaration of War. President Truman broke that precedent by entering the Korean conflict under the disingenuous cover of a "police action" authorized by the United Nations, one which cost 54,000 American lives and over a million total dead. Since then, no American president has seen fit to request the Constitutionally-required formal Declaration of War.
During the Cold War, President Richard Nixon asserted the authority to initiate hostilities without the prior approval of Congress, using the necessity for an immediate retaliatory response to a nuclear attack as justification. In response to this and quite likely also Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Act, which limited the power of Presidents to engage the U.S. in hostilities without Congressional approval or Declaration of War under the aegis of the United Nations or other specious justification.
It stated that the President could initiate hostilities only upon the approval of Congress except in the case of a national emergency created by an attack on the U.S. In that event, the President had to notify Congress within 48 hours of initiating the armed response and that the commitment of armed forces was limited to 60 days without specific Congressional authorization or Declaration of War. Nixon vetoed the War Powers Act as an infringment on presidential powers but the veto was overridden. The Act stretches the Constitution by not requiring a formal Declaration of War. In fact, it likely is unconstitutional since it changes a specific Constitutional requirement by simple legislation rather than the prescribed amendment process.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson had previously stretched the Constitution by using the Gulf of Tonkin incident where, in August of 1964, North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked a U.S. destroyer, to initiate an armed response. No casualties were inflicted but LBJ nevertheless petitioned Congress for authorization to respond to this specific incident, which was granted. The eventual result was, as we know, the six-year Vietnam War which cost 58,000 American lives and the lives of millions of Vietnamese. There was no Declaration of War and no specific authorization for extended hostilities. (Congress did fund the war, which I suppose could be considered de facto authorization if you're desperate for a justification.)
Precedent being established for going to war without a formal declaration, all Presidents since then have engaged in foreign wars under the War Powers Act, seeking only Congressional authorization--in many cases after the fact. Until now.
President Obama committed U.S. military forces to armed action in Libya against the government forces of Col. Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi without the benefit of any Congressional action, and it is even in doubt that Congress was notified of the action either prior to or within 48 hours. Also, it should be noted that the 48-hour delay is intended solely to allow the President to respond to an attack or impending attack without delay. The Libyan intervention was hardly in that category.
It is rumored--I cannot verify this, although I tend to believe it--that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton replied to a reporter's question with a statement to the effect that the administration did not need Congressional authorization and that as Commander-in-Chief, President Obama could do whatever he wished. Apparently, UN Security Council authorization was all that was necessary for the U.S. to go to war.
So now, the U.S. Constitution, even as unconstitutionally (probably) modified by the War Powers Resolution, is irrelevent to this administration. It was stretched unrecognizably by previous administrations, but this is the first time even the stretched version has been ignored in favor of a United Nations resolution.
Ask yourself what is the supreme law of the land in these United States? Is it the U.S. Constitution or the United Nations?
The frog is boiled.
I received this over the Internet from a friend. I don't usually do this, but in this instance I couldn't resist. I have nothing to add by way of comment, except to assure you-all that it's all true and it predates the 50's. Also, I think things had already begun to change in the 70's. I know, because I am a contemporary of the "older woman."
The Green Thing In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren't good for the environment. The woman apologized to him and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day." The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. The former generation did not care enough to save our environment."
He was right, that generation didn't have "the green thing" in its day. It was called "reality" in those "olden" conservation days of the 50's, 60's and 70's
Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.
But they didn't have "the green thing" back in the day.
In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.
But she was right. They didn't have "the green thing" in her day.
Back then, they washed the baby's diapers because they didn't have the throwaway kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts of electric power. Wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.
But that old lady is right, they didn't have "the green thing" back in her day.
Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house--not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn't have electric machines to do everything for you.
For entertainment they talked, read books or played games. Sometimes they listened to the radio. They didn't have a PC with a Pentium Northstar and 100 GB of disk to run game disks. No plug-in Nintendo or X-Boxes either.
When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam peanuts or plastic bubble wrap. Brown grocery bags were saved. The brown wrapping to mail a package was the backside of the paper bags used to bring home the groceries. The brown bag paper bag had other uses. It was used as construction paper and other needs. Hardly anyone purchased "brown paper"
Back then, they didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.
But she's right, they didn't have "the green thing" back then.
They drank from a fountain or a glass when they were thirsty instead of using a paper cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water. They refilled their writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.
But they didn't have "the green thing" back then.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school, walked or rode the school bus (rural only) instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.
They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
Most people did not have air conditioning in houses, offices, or cars. Millions of kilowatts saved.
But she's right, they didn't have "the green thing" back then, but they used less energy and went through less raw materials than the green thinking people will ever do.
But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn't have "the green thing" back then?
(Full disclosure: I am the proud father of two adopted daughters.)
There was a time when a pregnant woman would say that she was carrying a baby, from the moment she learned that conception had taken place. She didn't say, "I'm carrying a zygote."--or "blastocyst", or "embryo". She didn't even refer to that little life within her as a "fetus". It was a baby, a human, living baby. Whether or not the pregnancy was planned, or even wanted, it was a baby.
However, when abortion was legalized early in 1973, the language changed. Refuge from reality was taken in Latin, insulating us from recognizing the truth: that pregnancy from the beginning is the miracle of creating a new human life. We could not recognize that in the atmosphere of legalized abortion, lest we acknowledge that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, otherwise categorized by society as murder.
Early in 2011, this mechanism was amply illustrated by actress Nicole Kidman and her husband Kieth Urban, who happily announced the surrogate birth of their baby girl, Faith Margaret, expressing gratitude to their "gestational carrier." One marvels at their linguistic creativity. Personally, I would have preferred "surrogate mother." I wonder how many of you mothers out there would appreciate being referred to as "gestational carriers."
Some medical authorities some years ago, advocating the legalization of killing newly-born handicapped children, described them as "radically defective neonates." That's about the pinnacle of dehumanization, on a par with describing brain-damaged individuals as being in a "persistent vegetative state." I guess relating a severely injured or handicapped person to vegetation or "radically defective" shields us from the reality of dealing with a human life.
Personally, I'm much more comfortable referring to babies, mothers, parents and grandparents rather than the more politically-correct modern terminology of fetus, neonate, gestational carrier and vegetable. By dehumanizing the language, we enable magical thinking whereby we can choose a convenient rationalization rather than face the hard reality of the vicissitudes and necessities of life and the attendant responsibilities.
In 2008, there were 1.21 million abortions, down a bit from the peak of 1.6 million in 1990. Since Roe v. Wade there have been about 50 million abortions. In 2008 36% of abortions were to white women and just over 50% to black and Hispanic women. Nearly 60% were to college-educated women, which calls into question the commonly-cited element of poverty as a driving factor.
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated during a speech some years ago, "It is a small leap in logic to go from taking life in the womb to taking life outside of the womb." Abortion-rights advocate Naomi Wolf has written, "... the pro-life slogan, 'Abortion stops a beating heart,' is incontrovertibly true." Fellow supporter Camille Paglia wrote "I have always admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful."
Recent figures from Planned Parenthood reveal a booming business. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) performed 332,278 surgical and chemical abortions in 2009. At the same time, there was a 25% decline--7,021 recipients--in prenatal services and adoption referrals, of which only 977 mothers received the latter, a 59% drop from 2008. At an average of $400 a pop, that's a net income from abortions of about $133 million. Not bad for a public service organization that receives taxpayer subsidy.
Finally, we have the replacing of the term "abortion" with the neutered term "pro-choice". "Choice" is a nice-sounding term; in this freedom-loving nation we are all in favor of "choice". But in a civilized society, our choices are of necessity limited. We cannot "choose" to burn down the house of a neighbor who annoys us. We cannot "choose" to drive 90 mph in a school zone because we're late to work. Also, we cannot "choose" to take another human life. Except in the latter case, there is an exception and I don't mean self-defense. Under Roe v. Wade, a human life can be taken for a variety of reasons other than to save the life of the mother, i.e. self defense. I won't bother to enumerate them as they are ludicrously varied, vague and rationalized. You've undoubtedly heard them all.
I close with a posthumous tribute to Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionist and founder of NARAL ( National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League), who estimated he had performed 75,000 abortions in his medical career. In 1979, he quit his practice and strongly and actively opposed abortion for the rest of his life. He was the producer of the lauded and reviled--depending on your orientation--film Silent Scream, which depicted ultrasound images of a pre-born baby trying to escape an abortionist's instrument. Dr. Nathanson died February 21st at the age of 84, a testimony to the miracle of redemption.
First off, some basics. I have no doubt Osama bin Laden is dead as a doornail and that the Seal team did it. I also believe that the mission was to kill him on sight, period, along with anyone who got in the way. There is no way the U.S. wanted him back here on trial in NYC with a dozen ACLU lawyers defending him and ranting about warrants. I also believe there was virtually no resistance and what "firefight" there was was pretty much unidirectional. I also believe there was no concern for collateral damage which is why the lady doctor was killed in the--again--unidirectional "crossfire". The evidence for this is that only two weapons were found, a pistol and an AK-47, and only the AK-47 had been fired--once, apparently by one of the two men--one who was the famous courier--who were also killed.
Many heads are spinning, mine included, with the blizzard of changeling accounts from the administration issued by various spokespeople and finally POTUS himself. Hence the first question. If the White House was intimately involved in this operation, as we are led to believe by the Prez and others, why all the tangled accounts? One might think they were caught with their pants around their ankles. Actually, I believe that is exactly the case. I don't believe for a minute that this was a White House-directed operation. From the beginning, I just did not see this as an Obama-like operation; it is just out of character for our fledgeling president.
So, what is "the rest of the story?" Well, the honest answer is I don't really know. However, I recently received via email a detailed account of this operation over the printed "signature" of a retired Marine Colonel with the unlikely name of Adolf P. Sgambelluri, who really exists and who runs a private intelligence service based in Guam, called Investigations Agency International Corporation. It is quite a story which, I must admit, rings true for me although I am unable to authenticate it fully to my satisfaction. I checked the IAIC web site and could not find a reference to the report, which bothers me.
In summary, the account claims this was a CIA operation planned under the authority of Leon Panetta, supported by Hillary Clinton (SECSTATE), Robert Gates (SECDEF), Gen. David Petraeus and (Director of National Security-DNS) James Clapper throughout. The White House, in the person of Senior Presidential Advisor Valerie Jarrett, opposed this operation from the git-go. President Obama was only peripherally aware and was very much uninvolved until the operation was underway. The initial plan was to bomb the compound but was changed to a manned assault to minimize possible collateral damage since the occupants of the compound, other than bin Laden, were not known.
Our esteemed President, predictably, is parading around the country giving campaign speeches with OBL's body draped around his shoulders, taking, or at least implying, full credit for "getting the guy that previous administrations couldn't." Way to go, Rambo!
With respect to the Pakistani government's involvement, or lack of same, there is simply no credibility to the idea that they were completely unaware of this white-elephant fortified villa in the midst of a military community. They knew he was there and purposefully turned a blind eye, if in fact not proactively providing cover. However, since we need them, they will get nothing more than 40 lashes with a diplomatic wet noodle. Ah, the exigencies of international power politics.
There has been much speculation as to how much intelligence was obtained through CIA "enhanced" interrogation of al Qaeda-related captives at overseas detention centers. I suspect that certainly some intelligence was so obtained from the likes of "20th hijacker" Mohammed al-Khatani, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Zacarias Moussaoui, which aided in the identification of bin Laden's trusted courier, Abu Ahmad al Kuwaiti, which eventually led to bin Laden's villa at Abbottabad, Pakistan. How much intelligence and how useful is debatable, but certainly most of the key intelligence was obtained by the CIA, and from whom else would they have got it? However, I am not among those who would give George W. Bush the major credit. That belongs to the CIA under Obama appointee Leon Panetta, who incidently has proven to be a very effective DCI (Director of Central Intelligence).
The assassination of Osama bin Laden without a doubt is a good thing and brings some degree of closure to the 9/11 World Trade Center outrage. At the same time, it appears pretty certain that Osama was essentially irrelevent to the operations of today's decentralized al Qaeda. I get the picture of a disenchanted, sick old man sitting nearly alone in a huge fortified mausoleum, playing at plotting nostalgic 9/11-style terrorist attacks on the "Great Satan."
It's just too bad that the issue has to be confused by spin and obfuscation in an attempt to gain maximum political mileage from a very well executed CIA wet operation, with a major salute to the Navy Seal team who actually did the dirty deed. It's comforting to know that in that foggy world across the Potomac, we still can plan and pull off complex clandestine operations.
Of course, only by keeping the Obama White House largely in the dark.
There have been numerous media references questioning the purpose of the recount in the Supreme Court (WI) race between JoAnne Kloppenburg and incumbent David Prosser. I have to admit similar confusion. Everyone seems to agree that there is no chance of shifting the election results back to Kloppenburg.
However, I have a principle that says, in politics, if something doesn't make sense, you aren't looking at it from the right perspective. In other words, everything makes sense to someone.There is a second principle I subscribe to that states that nothing in the realm of politics is as it seems. Applying these principles and taking as wide a perspective as possible, a sensible scenario began to take shape. I now believe it is the only credible explanation of the thinking behind this seeming exercise in futility.
Kloppenburg's people have alluded to the possibility of a court challenge to the validity of the election. This seems to also have the chances of the proverbial snowball in that hot place. Well, maybe not. Recall that a Madison judge, Maryann Sumi, has already ruled against the acceptance of Gov. Walker's budget repair bill based on open meetings requirements. Her final judgement may go either way, but seems to be leaning in favor of the plaintiffs. Thus, the bill, which eliminates most public service union collective bargaining rights and which is considered a dire threat by organized labor, my very well be invalidated.
The Waukesha County recount has been greatly delayed, mainly due to questions raised by the very expensive team of lawyers in the Kloppenburg camp. In fact, a very large sum has been spent, most likely from union dues, in support of this recount, and continues to be expended. The idea that this is all being done in a clearly futile effort to reverse the election results is simply not credible.
So, what is really going on here. I have considered the options and have concluded that only one scenario makes any sense. The major issue here is not the election of JoAnn Kloppengurg to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That is clearly a done deal for the incumbent, David Prosser. The real issue is the collective bargaining issue in Scott Walker's so-called budget repair bill. This legislation, while passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, is under a legal cloud due to an action in the Dane County court of Judge Maryann Sumi. The Walker folks and the Republican legislators have clearly ticked her off by defying her original injunction against implementation of the bill, an unwise tactic.
Walker's bill clearly diminishes the power of the public service unions who are presently the only shining star in the union firmament. If Walker succeeds in pulling their teeth, other states are poised to follow Wisconsin's lead, potentially creating a domino effect across the nation. Since these unions are stalwart Democrat supporters, there is clearly much at stake for many players. I believe this is the real issue in the Kloppenburg election affair.
The original concept was to bounce Prosser and replace him with a Dane County liberal, thus shifting the present 4-3 conservative tilt on the Supreme Court to liberal. The budget repair bill issue will likely end up before the Supreme Court, especially subsequent to a decision unfriendly to the Walker camp by Judge Sumi. The hope was that the now-liberal Supreme Court would support the lower court's decision.
When the election results tilted markedly to Prosser's side by a clearly unsurmountable margin, the plan changed from the defeat of Prosser to neutralization of the Supreme Court. Here's how. The unions and the Democrats who need them would demand a recount. Kloppenburg was simply the means of implementation. (I suspect JoAnne was promised future support of some sort.) The tactic was to create a delay by demanding a futile recount, dragging it out as long as possible and establishing the basis for a further delaying court challenge of the inevitable result.
By delaying the official certification of the re-election of David Prosser to after August 1st, the end of Prosser's term, the court would be short one conservative justice, creating the potential of a 3-3 deadlock on the budget repair bill issue, which would then affirm the lower court's decision and presumably invalidate the passage of the bill.
The second element in the plan is the recall efforts against Republican senators. If enough of them succeed, and it would take only three, the Senate would switch to Democrat control, effectively blocking re-passage of the budget repair bill and preserving the status quo. Thus, Governor Walker's attempt to weaken the power of the public service unions would fail and other states presumably would be discouraged from trying the same thing.
The only fly in their ointment is the fact that at present only six Republican recall petitions have been certified along with three Democrat. If this holds, then the Democrat-union coalition would need to win half of the Republican recall elections and all the Democrat recalls, or the equivalent, to flip the Senate, which is not impossible but a bit unlikely. Therefore, it is possible that they will not pursue the court challenge to the election recount as being too much of a long shot.
One can only hope.
NOTE: The last paragraph (not the one-liner) was significantly edited to correct an error on my part. Sorry for any confusion.
Memorial Day 2011
Today, Memorial Day, 2011, our daily newspaper printed a tribute to the ten Wisconsin servicemen who lost their lives this past year in action. All were killed in Afghanistan, a war which today makes no sense. There was a time when that God-forsaken hostile place sheltered al Qaida, the attackers of our World Trade Center twin towers, costing nearly 3000 civilian lives. Since that initial action, al Qaida has not been a significant presence. Our military is fighting and dying against the Taliban, an indigenous Afghani tribal sect, who never did us any harm. To prolong this killing ground is an insult to the courage and sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform.
Yet, they fight on, obeying orders issued by a political entity across the ocean. This is the lot of the soldier, to obey without question. The tragedy of history is that old men--some not so old--initiate wars but it's the young who fight and die in them. It's called duty.
So, on this great, sad holiday, here is a tribute to their courage and love of country, right or wrong, for which they fight.
Thank you, heroes now and past; God bless you all. And to the fallen, rest in peace and honor. You will not be forgotten.
Some of you may remember seeing this--I reprint it every Memorial Day--but I believe it is the best tribute to the courage and character of the American military that I have ever seen. It is especially appropriate on this the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States of America.
Normandy American Cemetery Memorial (cemetery in distance)
This is a speech given by President Ronald Reagan in Normandy on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, June 6th, 1984. In the audience were surviving members of the Second Ranger Battalion who in the face of withering fire had climbed the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc at Omaha Beach, where a German artillery post had been emplaced to direct deadly fire down on the landing American troops. Had this position not been neutralized, the tenuous U.S. beachhead might well have been wiped out, seriously endangering the entire D-Day invasion.
Lest we forget ……
The Boys of Pointe du Hoc
We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied peoples joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history. We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon.
At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting only 90 could still bear arms. Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are the men who in your lives "fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor."
I think I know what you may be thinking right now, thinking "we were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day." Well, everyone was. Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren't. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him. Lord Lovat was with him, Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, "Sorry I'm a few minutes late," as if he'd been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he'd just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken. There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.
All of these men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland's 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England's armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard's "Matchbox Fleet" and you, the American Rangers.
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith, and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge, and pray God we have not lost it, that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all know that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.
The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought, and felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m.; in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell. Something else helped the men of D-Day: their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: "Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do." Also that night, General Matthew Ridgeway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee."
… We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We've learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.
… Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgeway listened: "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee."
Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.
Thank you very much, and God bless you all.
For me, this is a tricky post to write. As a rule, I am opposed to boycotts for any reason. They are often based on incomplete and exaggerated information, are usually ineffective except for the protestors who get pictures published in news media and have little or no lasting constructive effect. The latter is true because corporations have personalities, generally set by the CEO. These personalities will not be changed by a one-time event like a boycott, even if it is successful in changing a specific policy. Eventually, the corporation will revert to character and continue to perform in its typical fashion.
However, there are issues that press my hot button, and this is one of them. There is a growing boycott effort within the pro-life movement against Pepsi--more specifically, PepsiCo--involving the employment of Senomyx Corporation, an established biotech company, for high-tech taste testing. The products involved are flavor enhancers which serve to increase the effectiveness of flavors. The problem is, Senomyx tests the effectiveness of these flavor enhancers via a Frankensteinian method utilizing kidney cells from an aborted baby. The baby was aborted in 1970 and his or her kidney cells "harvested". These cells were then isolated, replicated and cultured in a growth medium. They are designated HEK293, for Human Embryonic Kidney, the 293rd attempt to successfully establish the cell line, which persists to this day.
It must be clearly understood that PepsiCo does not employ anything from an aborted baby in its products. It only employs a corporation to test its products that employs a cell line derived from an aborted baby. Also, Senomyx provides services utilizing HEK293 to many other companies. (I was unable to identify any of them as the boycott effort involves only PepsiCo at the present time.)
To provide a clearer understanding of the situation, I will attempt to explain the process employed by Senomyx.
(This illustration was obtained from a blog post by Dr. Gerard M. Nadal and the following technical discussion draws on information from that post.)
The green parallel lines represent the cell walls of the tongue's taste buds that interact with food and beverages to create the sensation of taste. The purple "signaling agnoist" represents the food molecule creating the taste sensation. It mates with a cell receptor designed for that type of molecule. The receptor is triggered to carry this agnoist response inside the taste bud cell, interacting with a series of proteins, called "G-proteins", to producing responses within the taste bud cell, producing several processes that generate nerve fiber impulses that the brain interprets as a certain taste. (I am not going to try to explain these processes in detail, even if I could.)
HEK293 allows Senomyx to generate the protein responses that simulate the taste bud's response to various "flavor enhancer" agnoists without the use of actual taste bud cells. (I suppose they're to hard to replicate, or something.) Senomyx does this for a number of corporations, including PepsiCo and Campbell Soup which dropped Senomyx after being notified of the negative response in the pro-life community. (Interestingly, both PepsiCo and Campbell's are Nestlé companies.) PepsiCo has specifically refused to drop Senomyx, which is the crux of the protest action. In fairness, Campbell Soups has little competition; Pepsi is in a knock-down, drag out battle with Coke that they are losing.
Now to the ethics. Yes, it was only a single aborted baby over 40 years ago. The problem is the slippery slope. As Dr. Nadal points out, the use of this type of biotech testing is very common. It is inconceivable that HEK293 is the only cell line being so utilized, obtained from other aborted babies. Senomyx seems to be a very successful company and certainly has imitators, or soon will have.
How many aborted babies will be used to provide the commercial means for profit? The use of human remains, especially from a controversial and--to many--abhorrent process like abortion, for commercial benefit and profit is at best ethically questionable and at worst, criminal. The critical question is, where does this stop?
At least embryonic stem cell research has the claimed potential--I have my doubts--for major human benefit in the cure of spinal injury, Parkinson's and other debilitating conditions. Soft drinks, soups and other foodstuffs, many of the junk food variety, suffer mightily from a lack of comparable benefit. (For the record, PepsiCo also produces Frito-Lay, Tropicana, Quaker and Gatorade products.)
The use of aborted baby parts for flavor augmentation frankly leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Maybe this is one boycott I will support.
I deliberately wrote my previous post on the use of aborted baby tissue to test soft drink flavor enhancers in a low key without the outrage I actually felt to see what kind of response, if any, I would get. The response was at best tepid and limited to a very few commenters, two of whom always find something to criticize in my writing. Some mocked my position, something I'm used to; others posed hypothetical boycott scenarios, as though that were the main point of the post (which it was not!). No-one expressed any real concern over the issue of desecration of aborted babies and the commercialization of this heinous practice.
For me, and for others--not apparently readers of this blog--abortion is a very emotional issue for reasons that I think are well known. Yet, no one at all seemed to think the crass commercial use of parts of an aborted baby was much of a deal. The reason, I think, relates to a larger problem in our society today.
It is almost universally asserted that abortion is a very complex issue. In truth, we are told by politicians, ethicists, scientists, the media and academia that most major issues facing society are complex, often too much so for us poor common folk to understand. I maintain that this is a ploy to gather power into the hands of government and others in positions of authority or influence, and to convince us that we need them to guide our thinking. The fact is, most issues facing society are actually relatively simple if one addresses them objectively without intimidation.
Just look around you at the major issues facing us (other than political campaigns that are totally built on lies.) Global warming: too complex for you to understand so take the word of the experts. Poverty: too complex to understand the social scientists (and politicians, the experts on everything) tell us, so leave it to them to propose solutions, e.g. the "Great Society." Wars in general have causes too complex for us so trust the politicians who start them to make the decisions, lately without even Congressional sanction. Abortion: it's a complex issue so let medical authorities, social scientists, activist judges and Planned Parenthood/NARAL set the policy.
I am not going to propose the "simple solutions" to these issues and others like them, which would lead me far afield. The fact is this concept of unfathomable complexity has two very unfortunate consequences to our society. One, it creates the environment for a class of self-styled experts and "folks smarter than us" to whom we must turn for guidance. This elite class then sets the moral and ethical climate for society. In effect, tells us common folk what to think.
The reason this tactic succeeds is to a great extent the minimization of morality and ethics. Morality has become relative, which essentially downgrades it to a preference instead of a guide. Without the guide of a fixed set of moral principles we are left to look outward for guidance in difficult issues. So we let others define ethics and morality instead of the historic Judeo-Christian ethic that we used to have.
This largely started, as I recall, after World War II in the late 1940's and early 50's. A major impetus was something called "the Playboy Philosophy" as promoted by Hugh Hefner and his very successful soft-porn magazine. The Playboy philosophy basically advocated the unbridled pursuit of pleasure without regard to the moral standards of the time. "If it feels good, do it." I remember this time quite well and assure you Hefner's influence was major, notwithstanding that today this senile old fool is a late-night joke.
Human beings do not like to be told what they should not/cannot do. Hefner opened the floodgates of baser instincts and the concept of universal moral principles was left broken in the dust. This hedonism expanded into the "let it all hang out" philosophy of the 60's, which persists in a somewhat muted form today. Hence, morality and its handmaiden, ethics, died and our society was left morally adrift and bankrupt, as it is to this day.
The second consequence of the abdication of moral self-discipline by society is that it fosters avoidance of responsibility, a hiding place. If we do not have the societal tools to deal with moral issues and leave the decisions and policy to others wiser than us, then we don't have to be concerned with what others do so long as it does not affect us directly. After all, morality is relative so who are we to judge? Anyway, stuff like that is too difficult to deal with and we're busy indulging in--in the words of the old Pete Seeger folk song--"The mania for owning things."
So, when we are faced with the issue of trivial commercialization of aborted baby parts, we don't have to be concerned. After all, it happened to maybe only one baby and it was decades ago. Anyway, we harvest organs from donors, don't we? What's the difference? The difference is an organ donor makes a conscious decision to donate his body parts after death. The aborted baby did not have the chance to make a decision. That's called desecration. But then, that's a moral judgement and we don't do that anymore, do we?
The net result of all this is an inward focus on material things and personal gratification/pleasure. Oh, we talk the good game of concern for our fellow man, but it's just talk, the more abstract the better. Why should we be concerned? The elitists who have taken over our moral conscience will take care of the problem so we don't have to be bothered. Even those few of us who volunteer for the public good often do so for ulterior reasons. I know some folks who volunteer at a soup kitchen or the like; they always find a way to let others know of their compassion. Sports figures show up at hospitals to visit sick kids, but always with news cameras along. Others sponsor charitable events, also with attendant news coverage.
There is one exception I know of that's worth mentioning. George and Laura Bush frequently show up at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to personally greet troops returning from Southwest Asia. George shakes their hand and Laura hugs them. There are no news cameras or other news coverage. There is one camera, but it is for the purpose of providing memento photos to the troops.
What is missing from society today is judgement based on essential moral and ethical principles. We view events from a distance, read about them in the paper or see them on TV, and perhaps even express some anger or shock, but in truth we really don't care, at least not after 24 hours. So, bad stuff happens and we are indifferent. Even the Tea Party movement is concerned primarily with their pocketbooks, not morality and ethics. And politicians?--forget it!
Sadly, many of us really don't care what happens to people outside of our personal circle. When unborn babies are killed by the millions, we say, "Oh, we're against abortion, but it's such a complex problem." And when a company uses kidney tissue harvested from a baby aborted three years prior to Roe v. Wade to test soft drink additives, we can't find it within ourselves to condemn this practice.
So, continue on your merry way, folks. Worry about your 401K and that roof leak. Don't bother going to church but be sure to claim a religious affiliation. Over 90% of Americans profess a religious belief but only 17% attend church or synagogue, so you're in good company. Heaven forbid God should enter the picture.
Profess compassion and concern, but don't miss that Brewers game! Leave the sticky stuff to others better equipped to handle these complex issues. Enjoy your things: your ATVs, your snowmobiles, your RV, your boat(s), your vintage Corvette, your Beemer and all those other toys stuffed in your 5-car garage complex. Above all, don't be judgmental because morality is relative and ethics are situational.
After all, it was just one baby.
Wednesday's (6/22) newspaper carried a story that reinforced the premise of my last post (Something is Missing), that as a society we have lost the sense of morality and ethics as guiding principles. The story described the disparity in income between corporate CEO's and the rest of us. This disparity has increased manyfold over the years. The average CEO compensation today is over $10 million, contrasted with an earlier generation where it was only (!) $1 million. A former CEO of what is now Dean Foods was quoted as being dismayed at the wealth of company heads compared to the workers.
Clearly, the CEO of a corporation deserves significantly greater compensation than line workers, based on his greater responsibilities. The article raised the question of how much is enough and what is the justification for today's astronomical CEO compensations. I think the answer is that as a society we have lost sight of what is ethical and moral, right and just, replacing them with whatever the traffic will bear.
For the last 24 years of my employment, I worked for the JCPenney Company Catalog Division, designing and building control systems for their distribution centers. One time I visited the JCP headquarters in the Penney Building in New York City. During a break, I was taken on a tour of the executive offices on the 47th floor. I was shown the board room with its 36-foot mahogany table made from a single piece of wood. I saw some offices of senior management that were large enough to hold a 9-hole golf course. Didn't get to see the CEO's office, occupied at the time by William Howell. But I did see the original office of James Cash Penney, still preserved as it was when he retired. It was small, furnished in ladderback chairs, a small two-person couch and a simple blond wood desk smaller than mine back in Milwaukee. He had a window behind the desk; mine was bigger. There was a nice area rug on the floor, doubtless from Penney's. My office was carpeted. Don't misunderstand, I was just a first-line department manager.
As a matter of history, James Cash Penney founded his first store in the small town of Kemmerer, Wyoming, in 1902. He called it the "Golden Rule Store," from the Biblical golden rule of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The store prospered because, in that near frontier, his was the first and only general store that didn't charge whatever the traffic would bear, but rather just a fair price for his merchandise. He and his store prospered.
In 1913, the JCPenney Company was founded and adopted at its first convention, something called "The Penney Idea." It went like this:
1 "To serve the public, as nearly as we can, to its complete satisfaction."
2 "To expect for the service we render a fair renumeration and not all the profit the traffic will bear."
3 "To do all in our power to pack the customer's dollar full of value, quality, and satisfaction."
4 "To continue to train ourselves and our associates so that the service we give will be more and more intelligently performed."
5 "To improve constantly the human factor in our business."
6 "To reward men and women in our organization though participation in what the business produces."
7 "To test our every policy, method, and act in this wise: 'Does it square with what is right and just?'"
This "Idea" was and is still posted on the walls of many offices--mine included--in the form of a nice plastic plaque. Unfortunately, as is the case with most retail businesses, those enshrined principles of Mr. Penney are not very well applied today. In fact, among Penney associates, those black plastic plaques are generally considered a wry joke.
We're back to the idea of whatever the traffic will bear, with no consideration of "what is right and just." The same principle apples to CEO and other senior management compensations, which by an honest appraisal are often simply obscene. The reason for this is the "golden principle" of our society today, which is to get as much as one can, whatever it takes, with no consideration of the morality and ethics, even to the extent of accumulating wealth far in excess of any concievable need or use. Money and possessions have become a badge of honor or, even more sadly, a symbol of ascendency over others.
Old JC must be spinning in his grave.
Today is the 4th of July, or more often just "the 4th." The newspaper refers to it as "the 4th" in story after story about celebrations, beach parties, backyard barbecues, countless fireworks displays and endless parades. Only on the calendar is it called by its real name, Independence Day, the day on which we commemorate the birth of freedom in this country. On this day in history, July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved, signed by 56 members of the original Congress--about a month later according to historians. It contains one of the clearest and most forthright statements of basic human rights ever penned:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Yes, we are indeed a free country, arguably the most free on this Earth, with guaranteed rights that establish that freedom. A huge price was paid for freedom 235 years ago. Many the Founding Fathers ended up badly, broken men and in an early grave. We fought two World Wars to preserve that freedom, with horrendous loss of life. Even today our military is fighting and dying in Southwest Asia for something, I'm not sure what. I hope it is to defend our freedom but it's a little hard to tell. We also fought a terribly costly Civil War to preserve our Union, a tragedy out of which grew the powerful, prosperous and beautiful nation we live in today.
I fear that many fail to appreciate the miracle that is the United States of America and how fortunate we are to be living in this marvelous experiment in free society. For example, I walk around the neighborhood each morning. There was a time, sadly long ago, when on this day the whole block would be festooned with red, white and blue. Today, there were eight houses displaying the flag, four on permanent outdoor flagpoles, one (mine) permanently on a house-mounted pole and three others put up just for the day. That which we take for granted we are in danger of losing.
Some of that early freedom has been lost to a self-serving, elitist know-it-all government, at both the national and state levels. This is sad. We have surrendered it in exchange for protection and security. We ignore at our peril the words of historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote in his classic "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire", referring to the city-state of Athens:
"In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."
Freedom is a rare and precious possession. So few in this world have our freedom of action, enterprise, expression and worship. We live under a democratic form of government where our political leaders are answerable to us, despite the masters of spin at work in Washington and Madison. Complacency is our enemy, as Gibbon suggested. Freedom is not free; it requires constant attention, defense, effort and sacrifice. We are an independent society, where we are at least in part our own masters. However, today I fear that independence may be in jeopardy from a ruling class that thinks it knows best.
So, on this holiday, let us remember that its name is Independence Day, not to be lost in the smoke of fireworks and charcoal. The price of freedom is vigilance and independent thought. There are many who would create dependence and security in exchange for power over our lives. Let's not let that happen for, just like ancient Athens, it would mark the end of our precious and costly freedom.
Have a Happy 4th of July and remember Independence Day!
"Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war" --Julius Caesar, Act 3.
(Disclaimer: I filched this quote from a column by Leonard Pitts, a liberal but articulate and intelligent columnist who I read regularly and with whom I sometimes even agree, at least in part.)
I have been agonizing for some time over what subject(s) to write a post about and find myself transfixed in the headlights of a veritable witches' brew of rancor, accusations, demogogeury, protests, recalls real and threatened, lying campaign ads, riots and now, mass-murder terrorism in that bastion of liberal benevolence, Norway, of all places. I have no idea where to start, partly because this extremism is unprecedented, at least in my long recollection. I do have a strong feeling, though, that all this cacophony is merely symptomatic of a larger problem. So, I'm going to try to address that basic.
Somewhere, we have lost a sense of decorum, of respect and--yes--nobility. Every disagreement becomes a cause for violent response. We can't lose gracefully but must go down in bloody combat. When have you heard someone say, "Why, yes, you're right, Senator."? People fight like rabid dogs over pieces of ideological meat. Even in this blog, I constantly battle to keep the discourse civil, with limited success.
The reason is, I believe, that we, at least some of us, have lost respect for each other as, for the most part, decent human beings with whom we happen to disagree. At the root is a loss of morality and positive values. As an employee of mine once said, "It's all awful!"
Christianity teaches us to "turn the other cheek." This Biblical exhortation has been widely misinterpreted and may be poorly translated from the original Hebrew. A better translation, according to Clark, is: "Do not repel one outrage by another." Meaning, he that does so makes himself precisely what the other is, a wicked person. The Jews always thought that every outrage should be resented; and thus the spirit of hatred and strife was fostered.
Some may disagree, but morality in our society is largely based on Judeo-Christian ethics. Morality is the basis of our values, which control our conduct. Respect for others is a moral precept, as are tolerance and empathy. Present day rancor expresses little if any of these. You liberals out there, what is your opinion of Governor Scott Walker? You conservatives, what do you think of President Barack Obama? Is there any respect, tolerance or empathy in your reaction?
So, what happened to us over the years? Where did decency and love for our fellow man (even those with whom we disagree) go? I believe it went the way of morality. When I was in grade school, we were taught moral principles. We were taught respect for others and for authority. Over the years it trickled away, much like the boiling of the frog. I believe this de-emphasis was all part of a general purging of Judeo-Christian principles from public education. Maybe even the pseudo-scientific religion of Evolution was a factor, in that it is totally incompatible with the Christian philosophy.
Despite the philosophers among us, Humanism is not a substitute for moral structure. Left to ourselves, we are not very nice people. That is why we have, or had, a societal and religious set of rules and standards, some codified into law, to keep us civil and safe. Based on the 60's ethos of "Let it all hang out," much of this structure has gradually eroded, leaving society much the coarser. If we eliminate interpersonal morality, the result is inward-focused selfishness and disregard for others. Tell me that is not the basis of much of what bothers you about our present social structure.
Christianity has no lock on morality. Most major religions, even Islam, espouse moral conduct. This country is largely Christian, at least according to polls, which establishes it as the appropriate source of moral teachings. The Hebrew Yeshiva is equally moralistic. In fact, the sole repository of moral teaching today is the parochial school system. (I include all religious-based schools under the label "parochial".) Unfortunately, these last bastions of gentility, virtue and human ethos unfortunately constitute only a minor part of the public education system.
William J. Bennett wrote a book on education--The De-Valuing of America: The Fight for Our Culture and Our Children (1992)--wherein he warned that the elimination of morality education in our schools would result in the creation of a generation of monsters. That's a bit excessive, but we have seen an alarming rise in juvenile lawlessness and inappropriate behavior over the past 20 years. Without morals, conduct becomes driven by self-gratification and anger.
Much of our public education system has descended into chaos itself, reaping the whirlwind of the elimination of morals, respect and self-discipline from the curriculum. Unguided self-expression is not a useful tool for function in society or in the classroom. I don't advocate the teaching of religion in the public schools, but ethics and morality instruction based on Judeo-Christian principles certainly could be structured acceptably, even for the ACLU. I'm not holding my breath.
Until we begin again to respect each other and teach our children to sympathize, empathize and appreciate our fellow man, not just in high-sounding rhetoric or soup-kitchen volunteerism but in real interpersonal relations--yes even with politics--the dogs of war will feed ever more ravenously and our society is in real danger of descending into chaos. Bennett's prediction may yet be realized.
It need not be.
Threee years ago I was asked to join a group of community bloggers by Lake Country Publications (LCP). The purpose was to create a forum for the exchange of opinions and ideas which would be an asset to the community newspapers published by LCP. I thought this was a great idea and gladly joined. Initially, things went very well. I wrote some blog posts and got a limited number of generally responsible comments. Some were supportive and many were in disagreement, but all were civil, articulate and thoughtful. Even the notorious Picard brothers were civil while casting aspersions on my intelligence and knowledge. That was O.K., because my ego is secure and hide nearly impenetrable. It was fun.
Then things began to deteriorate. Comments from a very few commenters became insulting and abusive towards me. I didn't much like this, because comments like these are generally devoid of any useful intelligence, hence dull and boring. However, I tolerated it because I promised an open forum so, although we had the power in those days, did not block or edit any comments except for asterisking an occasional profanity. Times have changed
Now there are many more comments, often upwards of 100, relatively few of which address the subject matter of the blog post and instead engage in a war of words among commenters. Personal commentary, insults and sarcasm abound with no useful content. Many are a mystery to me because they involve other blogs which I do not have the time to read. It seems that lots of folks want to take out pent up anger on others. Most of the more vociferous hide behind pseudonyms, apparently inducing some sort of mob mentality. You know, the folks who yell "Jump!" at some poor soul on a ledge.
The result of all this toxic nastiness, which apparently is pervasive and much worse on other blogs than mine, has been the loss of some bloggers and the driving away of commenters and potential commenters who do not want to put up with the nastiness and abuse. This pains me as it limits the discourse to a few voluble commenters who engage in long, inscrutable wars of words with each other and sometimes me. I understand that on other blogs the battle has degenerated into personal threats. The response of LCP and Journal Intreractive, the administrator of the blog site, is to ban certain commenters and re-institute an after-the-fact ability to take down objectionable comments. The net result is a confusing mess.
All this is, in my opinion, symptomatic of a much larger societal problem. There has been an almost complete loss of decorum and civility in public discourse, particularly in the political arena but also in the business world and personal relations. No-one can disagree calmly and rationally any more. Disagreements degenerate into vicious arguments and invective is flung back and forth like bricks. Political discourse is a sick joke, fraught with lies and insults. Campaign rhetoric has degenerated from simple misrepresentation into vicious lies and personal attacks with no regard for the truth. The guiding principle has become to win at any cost and by any means, tactics formerly restricted to world wars.
The danger of this "end justifies the means" mentality is a total disregard of the harm those "means" may create. In both political and corporate worlds, and sometimes the personal, the goal obscures the harm done to the innocent bystanders. This "blinder action" is evidenced by many professional politicians obsessed with power and the mania for re-election, as well as corporate leaders who are obsessed by becoming richer than the other guy to often the detriment of their companies. There certainly are exceptions, perhaps many, but there are enough self-motivated opportunists to create a lnasty societal crisis.
Just one example of political obfuscation and chicanery. We have heard unending warnings about the coming insolvency of the Social Security System. It will presumably go broke in 30 or so years. Yet, what is never mentioned is the fact that the Treasury owes the Social Security Administration about $3 trillion--that's trillion, 12 zeros--which should go a long way toward fostering solvency for the forseeable future. Unfortunately, Treasury is overdrawn on its credit card and can't afford to pay off those pesky l.O.U.'s. Hence the crisis.
Great use is made of oft-repeated generalities, like Republicans hate old people and children, and love rich corporate fat-cats and oil companies. Democrats are lap dogs of the unions, and pander to illegal immigrants and the homeless to buy votes. Both of these simplistic misrepresentations are repeated so often that a regrettable number of folks believe them. The word "hate" is used with disturbing frequency, a pejorative that should be reserved for the likes of Adolf Hitler.
The result of all this is a toxic atmosphere that threatens to choke off civility, decorum and basic morality, replacing them with a menacing coarseness that turns us all inward and selfish. The reasons may be complex but generally revolve around the de-emphasis on Judeo-Christian morality and rules of conduct. If you object to the religious reference, use your own source of civil conduct. In any event, there is precious little of it in the public or private arenas.
The implication is the end of communication and with the end of communication, the demise of rationality. A society taken over by the irrational cannot function for long. If we cannot communicate with each other, the result is incomprehensible babble or, worse, red-eyed anger. Ask yourselves, are we not frighteningly close to this today? Our poor little blog is a microcosm of our very ill society. A toxic atmosphere will eventually destroy those who breathe it in.
Is it too late for us? I'm not sure. I have had some success in encouraging a degree of civility on my blog. The unfortunate consequence frequently has been a descent into incomprehensibility and confusion, at least for me. I don't know how to revive morality in a society. It must of needs start with the young, but that means the public schools, largely a lost cause. We need something to blast us out of our uncivil rut, and I don't know what that might be.
I do sense an increasing number of folks are uncomfortable with the situation. Perhaps that's a glimmer of hope. I hope so.
Now that most of the recall dust has settled and the Democrats got their two ounces of flesh, perhaps it is time to try to cut through all the apoplectic rhetoric and take an objective look at the whole mess. It all started with Governor Walker's widely scoffed-at campaign promise to get rid of the state's $3 billion structural deficit and balance the budget. Past governors had promised to do so and failed, balancing the budget as constitutionally required using accounting tricks in violation of generally accepted accounting practices (GAAP) and/or one-time transfers of funds, leaving a structural shortfall for future administrations to deal with.
Walker apparently had worked out a plan prior to the election which he promptly implemented upon taking office. This plan attacked the major expense of salaries and benefits, especially of teachers, by cutting benefits, requiring greater employee contributions and limiting the bargaining power of the public service unions, especially again the teachers. Despite hyperventilating screeches to the contrary, I don't believe his purpose was union busting, rather it was merely to clip their wings so they could not block salary and benefit limitations and reductions.
Some may disagree, but union-busting per se would seem to be of little benefit to Walker or the Republicans in general. Most public service unions have an unfair bargaining advantage in that their bargaining counterparts are political entities subject to lobbying and campaign contribution pressures. The police and fire unions may be an exception by virtue of the Police and Fire Commission which is not elected. (As a matter of fairness, I disagree with Governor Walker's excepting them from the budget reconciliation process.)
Aid to education has in the past been the 800 pound political sacred cow. Because of the amount of state school aids, any realistic major budget adjustment would of necessity involve goring this sacred cow. Since 75% of education cost is salaries and benefits, these would have to be addressed in any attempt to balance the state's budget. Hence the need to curtail the power of the teachers' unions who would have violently objected to, and blocked, any attempt at salary and benefit reductions and/or contribution increases.
Walker's budget cuts school aids $800 million, a major chunk out of the deficit. In order to avoid significant damage to educational areas, Walker came up with the budget reconciliation act, which established methods whereby school administrations could reduce payroll costs to compensate for the school aid reductions.
Of course, the sacred cow bellowed long and loud. The public service unions, teachers' especially, reacted violently with a ludicrous display of raucous and obstructive protests in Madison, and 14 brave Democrat Senators ran and hid in Illinois to block passage of this legislation. After some admittedly questionable legislative maneuvering, the budget reconciliation act was passed, as it must if Walker's budget-balancing effort were to succeed.
Predictions of doom were predictable and immediately forthcoming. Education was being "gutted" at the expense of "the children." State aid cuts to municipalities, especially Milwaukee, were "a catastrophe" that would require massive layoffs, park closings and service cuts. The sky was falling and there was no king to run and tell.
Very quietly and with little media coverage, nothing fell from the sky. School districts who had not been so foolish as to sign union contracts before the reconciliation act was in force actually came out pretty well. Many came out ahead on the deal. Unfortunately, MPS was not one of them, having signed prior contracts with their teachers' union. I find this mystifying as I cannot figure out the advantage of having done this. In fact, in several school districts, teachers are finding a closer and more cooperative atmosphere with their districts as a result of the union being out of the picture. Fancy that.
Even the City of Milwaukee's staunchly Democratic Mayor Barrett has discovered, much to his political consternation, that the city will come out $11 million to the good as a result of budget reconciliation savings. Hizzoner, when asked if Governor Walker deserved credit for this "windfall", replied that was a "false question." Anybody know what that means?
The net result of all this is the $3 billion structural budget deficit has been eliminated. Even the very conservative (small "c") Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance is impressed with this accomplishment. The sacred cows are still bellowing, the unions are still fighting Walker with their dues money and the Democrats are still seething. However, the fact remains, the Wisconsin state budget is balanced without a structural deficit (costs put off until the next biennium), in accordance with GAAP and no increase in taxes. To be fair, there are some modest fee increases and tax "adjustments", but the average Wisconsin taxpayer will see no increase in his taxes. Walker has done what several previous governors failed to do. So far, he is getting no credit. But then, that's politics, Wisconsin style.
But the sky isn't falling.
A friend recently jumped on me with the question, "Why are we sending foreign aid to China?" She had apparently seen a report on FoxNews about this and was understandably indignant. (I don't as a rule watch the FNC due both to lack of time and interest.) I responded to her with skepticism, suggesting the report must be incorrect based on my long-standing plausibility criteria concerning news reports. It made no sense for us to send monetary aid to a nation to whom we owe trillions of dollars. I said I would check it out and get back to her.
Well, I did, and lo and behold, the report is true. According to Wikipedia, we supplied $1.2 billion in direct and indirect aid to the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 2003. The numbers are a bit confusing because some of that "indirect" aid involves contributions to UN programs that aid China and support for a Peace Corps operation there. (What are they doing, teaching them to grow rice?) Direct monetary aid is considerably less, with $275 million sent since 2001, $65 million in 2009. Some of this money goes to expanding Internet coverage. That's right, that's the thing the PRC government shuts down every time something embarrassing happens.
While this is not much in comparison to President Obama's budget deficit, one has to question why we are doing this at all. It's not as though they're a third world nation in need of sustenance. Our esteemed secretary of State, Mrs. Bill Clinton, aka Hillary Rodham, justifies this expenditure of scarce U.S. money as providing us with "influence". Oh good! That explains our great success in influencing the Chinese government to improve its human rights performance.
Other government spokespersons have claimed this is a holdover from previous government policy. O.K., then I wonder how many more of these "holdovers" are sitting out there fleecing the American taxpayer?
Perhaps in the interest of fairness. I should put this in context. Apparently, total foreign aid to China from all countries, specifically Japan, England, France and Germany plus us, was $2.65 billion. I guess we're getting off cheap. Apparently we have no corner on stupidity.
I called the dear lady and apologized for my skepticism. It made her day.
This is another in a series of posts addressing problems with our society today. I think many folks are concerned with the way things are and are going, what with huge deficits and debt, joblessness, civil unrest like the Madison teachout, race-involved mini-riots and politics in general, but don't really understand what's going on and what to do about it.
The recent recall elections, blaming selected legislators for necessary budget resolution actions that pinched the unions, were labeled the most negative on record, with 95% of ads sliming the opponent, 99% of Democrat ads and 89% Republican, so both contributed. Add to that joblessness and economic malaise and you have a witches' brew of problems with no apparent solutions.
I think part of the problem is the "blame game," where others are blamed for our own shortcomings. The Obama administration still blames the Bush tax cuts "for the rich" for a major part of our deficit problems. This in spite of the fact that Bush's rich-folks tax cuts--to those making over $250,000--amounted to only 15% of the total reduction, $81.5 billion, according to CNN Money. The remainder of the $544.3 billion in tax cuts went to the middle class, which Obama retained.
A little closer to home, a recent article in our daily newspaper described the tragic death of a 22-year old man who was having a pool party at his parents' home with one other young man and three young women. To liven things up, he and his friends concocted a party punch consisting of 190-proof alcohol (95% CP) mixed with Red Bull and Gatorade. This is apparently a popular mixture in some circles. The son became smashed, experienced rapid heartbeat, probably aggravated by the Red Bull, jumped in the pool swimming frantically in an apparent effort to "work it off," passed out and drowned. His parents were home at the time and were well aware of what was going on.
The mother is now spearheading a campaign to outlaw the sale of 190-proof booze in Wisconsin, blaming it in major part for her son's tragic death. (By the way, this stuff has been around forever as a punch additive. It used to be called 191-proof rum, which was a joke.) I don't mean to minimize this terrible tragedy, but shifting the responsibility to the alcohol is a cop-out. The parents condoned this crazy booze bash, were well aware of their son's drunken state and did not in any way supervise what was going on in their backyard. Also, the participants in this insanity were all over 21 (presumably) and responsible for their own actions. People who do crazy things, especially where alcohol is involved, often are victims of--or the cause of--tragic consequences. Blaming a bottle of booze simply shifts the responsibility to an inanimate object and solves nothing.
Until we begin to take responsibility for our actions, accepting the blame for our mistakes and mending our ways, we will continue to deteriorate morally as a society. Blacks blaming Whitey for their problems leads only to more problems instead of a solution. Democrats blaming Republicans, and vice versa, for the country's ills again is futile and unproductive and obviates any possibility of resolution. Blaming greedy corporations and CEO's for our economic ills shifts the focus away from government policies that were and are largely to blame for our present economic crisis.
The blame game guarantees a continuation and exacerbation of our problems. Until we--and that's a collective "we"--learn to quit throwing bricks and start accepting responsibility, and start communicating, the downward spiral of our society will continue.
Harry Truman had it right: "The Buck Stops Here!"
I'm sure lots of folks have or will comment on this the tenth anniversary of what happened on September 11, 2001. This is perhaps a different look.
I was getting off the elevator at Moreland Medical for a routine cardiologist appointment when a lady getting on asked if I had heard what happened to the World Trade Center in New York. I said no, I hadn't and she told me that an airplane had flown into one of the towers. I said something about how terrible and went on to my appointment. Not until I was driving home with the radio on did I realize what had happened. I was in disbelief, followed by intense anger.
Today, there is a tendency to view 9/11 as a great tragedy. This is the wrong word. It was an outrage of Biblical proportions. Yes, there were literally thousands of individual tragedies, but the event was a pure, unprecedented outrage. The target was civilians; not one active member of the military was targeted in the World Trade Center by our enemy. The Pentagon was also attacked, killing a few military among many civilian employees.This enemy, militant Wahhabist Islam in the personage of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda, in total violation of the Geneva Conventions, simply decided to attack and kill American civilians for reasons of pure hate and nothing else. Sadly, this heinous act was justified by him in the name of religion.
This enemy wears no uniforms or other identification and represents no nation. He represents a religion--actually a distortion thereof. He operates completely outside the Geneva Conventions that address military combat. In the past, wars began with one nation's military attacking another's. Civilians were not the target and the Conventions were adopted to insure this. For the first time in history, to my recollection, a combative entity preferentially targets civilians. In the past civilian deaths in war were considered "collateral', regrettable victims of attacks on military-industrial targets. Not here. They (we) were the primary target.
This is new ground in war, and war this is, make no mistake. Militant Wahhabist Islam considers us obstructive infidels and thus legitimate targets for elimination. In a grotesque distortion, we in the West are impediments to Islamic expansion (Jihad) and thus are legitimately subject to death. (Note that I am not indicting all of Islam, only the extremist militant Wahhabi version.) Thus, this confrontation is with an enemy who is not subject to any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions subscribed to by nearly all of the civilized world. (There are two Protocols added in an attempt to cover "insurgents", but most nations, including the U.S. have not signed them.)
As a result of the outrage of 9/11, we embarked on a war with Afghanistan and its Taliban government that unwisely sheltered al Qaeda's headquarters. This attack was certainly justified, but al Qaeda is long gone and in disarray, and we're still fighting the indigent tribal Taliban under some misguided idea of nation building. This makes no sense. What makes even less sense is the expansion of our military actions into Iraq, where we still are, and now Libya which is completely senseless. There was some justification, largely mistaken as it turned out, for deposing Saddam Hussein. Libya is completely irrational. At least we finally got bin Laden, after he became isolated and essentially innocuous.
We are wearing out our military, especially our absolutely crucial air power, to depose a dictator who foreswore terrorism many years ago and posed absolutely no threat to us. The whole business has spiralled out of control, all initiated in response to 9/11. I maintain this militaristic nonsense dishonors the memory of that outrage.
Anger at our sworn enemy, a radical sect of Islam demanding fundamentalist Islamic theocracy and implementation of draconian Shari'a law, a system totally anathema to our concepts of freedom and democracy, is certainly justified. No moral code requires one to allow another to destroy him. However, we must be careful not to swing too wide an arc with our sword. There are over a billion Muslims in the world. Many are misguided into disliking us, even vehemently, for reasons that I think even they do not clearly understand. Perhaps it is a ridiculously long-lived resentment of the Crusades of the 13th Century, or perhaps simply a fear of a competing religion. However, this is not hate and is not a justification for reactionary fear and hate. Hate is a serious word regrettably all too thoughtlessly employed.
So, if some Muslims do not condemn the 9/11 outrage to our satisfaction, this is not justification for anger or--that word again--hate. We certainly should be vigilant and impersonally suspicious of young Mid-eastern men entering our country, and observant of suspicious activity. Fairly-applied profiling is simply prudent given the nature of terrorism. But, over it all we should be tolerant and above all, fair. Muslims too have a right to be here, so long as they are peaceful as the overwhelming majority are. So, amidst the outrage, let us remember the priniciples of Christian morality.
In that vein, I would like to close by quoting a familiar prayer, at the risk of offending some of you fine reader/commenters. Believe it or not, I subscribe to it completely while still being outraged and angry at what happened ten years ago on September 11, 2001, a day that will--and should--live in infamy.
Let us not, however, let that evil poison our outlook on our life and time. Recall the words of Desiderata: "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O devine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
In the news lately has been fairly extensive coverage of the tragic crash of an unlimited racer at the Reno Air Races. The crash killed several spectators and sent many to the hospital. I am always amazed at the incompetence of news reports concerning aircraft accidents. While there is no shortage of knowledgeable authorities on aviation, reporters seem to never avail themselves of this resource and persist in publishing ignorant reports of accidents. This is an attempt to correct some of the misinformation, misconceptions and clueless comments concerning this accident.
My qualifications for this critique are an 11-year Air Force career, 4 years active duty as a jet fighter pilot and 8 years in the Reserves flying C-130 tactical transports. I have maintained a strong interest in aviation and am a long-time member of the Air Force Association. I am also an engineer with a background and continuing interest in avionics and aviation. When it comes to flying, I think I know what I am talking about.
Something about the Reno Air Races. These are long-standing competitions going back at least 30 years, the only unlimited-class races left in the country. While there are other air races, the unlimited class, which is the premier event, features essentially any propeller-driven aircraft regardless of power and speed. It is dominated by modified World War II fighter planes, mostly P-51 Mustangs and F8-F Bearcats, with an occasional P-47 Thunderbolt. These planes are souped up and reach speeds in excess of 500 MPH around a closed pylon course. Practically any modification compatible with safety is permitted.
The races take place on a former Air Force base to the west of Reno in a town called Stead. The base configuration allows close spectator viewing on the former aircraft parking ramp. The closest spectator bleachers are reserved for VIP's. This may be unwise, but the safety record of the Reno Air Races is excellent. This is the first incident in my recollection where spectators were injured.
The aircraft involved in the crash was a heavily-modified P-51 Mustang named Galloping Ghost. It has competed for years and once dominated the race. The last few years it has not won. The owner and pilot, 74-year-old Jimmy Leeward, has competed in air races, especially Reno, for many years. Stung by the defeat of Galloping Ghost, mainly by a Bearcat, Leeward had reworked Ghost, upgraded the power and made some structural changes to reduce drag. He had high hopes of retaking the unlimited crown this year. Leeward was highly respected in the racing fraternity and a very active member of the Experimental Aircraft Association of Oshkosh fame.
Fairly early in the race, Ghost was doing well but suddenly, just after passing the VIP bleachers, pitched straight upward, stalled (lost flying speed), nosed over into a dive and plowed nearly vertically into the concrete ramp near the bleachers. The aircraft completely disintegrated, hittiing the ground at a speed probably well over 200 MPH, creating a large crater. The explosion and debris reached the stands and caused extensive injuries to the VIP spectators. Leeward was of course killed.
Media speculation has centered on an observed small part of the plane that fell off during the vertical ascent. The guess is it was an elevator trim tab. Media reports have described it as a "piece of the tail that helps the aircraft maintain lift." This is flat wrong. Anyway, it reportedly broke off after the P-51 pitched up so could not have been the cause.
Now we have to talk about aerodynamics--how an airplane works. This will refer to the type of vintage aircraft involved, not more modern planes. There are three control surfaces on a plane that control its movement in the air: ailerons, elevator(s) and rudder (vertical stabilizer). The ailerons are small panels at the trailing (back) edge of the wings, one on each side. They move up and down in response to cockpit control ("joystick") movement in opposition: one moves up and the other swings down a like amount. This controls the aircraft's roll motion and is the primary factor in turns. (No, it's not the rudder.)
At the rear of the plane are horizontal and vertical surfaces that form the tail, the horizontal and vertical stabilizers ("rudder"). At the trailing edge of the horizontal stabilizer is a panel, sometimes split in two halves on either side of the rudder, that moves up and down in response to joystick movement to control the pitch of the aircraft, causing it to climb or descend. Elevator upward movement creates a downward force on the tail, causing the aircraft to nose up.
The rudder is not a primary control surface; its purpose is to "coordinate" turns and correct for engine torque. Simply, it keeps the aircraft turning smoothly and evenly. (Certain landing procedures use the rudder to twist the aircraft horizontally, called a "skid" or "slip". This is not pertinent here.)
Now to the famous trim tab. As aircraft speed increases or decreases, the air pressures on the control surfaces vary. This tends to push them up or down, requiring the pilot of counteract this pressure with the controls. This would require constant force on the joystick during flight, which can be fatiguing and is not conducive to precise aircraft control. So, at the trailing edge of each of the control surfaces is a very small panel that can be adjusted up or down from the cockpit, usually by a 4-way switch on the top of the joystick. By adjusting these tabs--usually electrically--the control forces can be neutralized. These tabs do not in any way contribute to lift or primary aircraft control. There is no way the loss of a trim tab would have caused this accident. Pilot Leeward would have easily counteracted any control pressures resulting from such an incident.
So, what do I think happened? Realize this is pure speculation, albeit not completely in the dark. The NTSB will take a year to analyze this and probably come up with some unlikely scenario indicting the FAA. (That's another story.) Galloping Ghost went completely out of control beyond the ability of an experienced pilot to cope. The only failure that would cause the aircraft to pitch straight up would be a failure of the elevator system. Leeward lost complete control of the aircraft, although it did appear near the end he made some attempt to pull out. If so, I have no idea how he did this.
I believe the elevator control surface suddenly slammed full up, which would have pitched the aircraft violently upward. Originally, most WW II aircraft control surfaces were actuated by steel cables. If an elevator cable broke under the pressures of extreme high-speed maneuvering, that could have caused the problem. It is not unlikely, however, that Leeward had modified Ghost with modern hydraulic actuators, which opens up the possibility of a hydraulic valve failure. A broken elevator hinge might also be a possibility, but the pitch-up seemed too smooth for that. Bottom line: elevator failure causing a full nose-up maneuver uncontrollable by the pilot. What part specifically broke is impossible to pin down.
Leeward had made some modifications to the control surfaces as part of his attempt to reduce drag and obtain increased speed. He reportedly made them smaller. This could have caused increased stress during the race, but personally I think that is unlikely. I suspect the NTSB will not agree.
The saddest thing would be to dishonor Jimmy Leeward's legacy by cancelling the Reno Air Races. However, I'm afraid that is exactly what will happen as a result of a tragic accident caused by a mechanical failure.
Sometimes I think we try to be too safe.
Photos sent to me by an email correspondent strongly suggest another possible--I would say probable--explanation for the crash. If Leeward's seat had failed during a high-G maneuver such that the backrest broke at the bottom where it meets the seat and fell backwards with him tightly strapped in, his hand being on the stick would have pulled it violently back causing the aircraft to pull up with tremendous force. He would now be in a prone position, unable to reach the joystick controls.
At that speed, the stress on the elevator assembly due to the violent stick pull-back would have been extreme, possibly breaking off the trim tab. There would probably be no way Leeward could sit back up and regain control. He may have been able to raise his head for a moment which one photo seems to show.
This scenario is supported by the fact that one of the photos shows the Ghost in her final dive with no-one visible in the cockpit. (See photo below.)
(There is another photo which seems to show a broken seat flying through air at impact.)
Out of many, one; the de facto motto of the United States of America prior to 1956 appears on the Great Seal of the United States and on our currency. We've seen it so often it may have lost some of its meaning. This is a post on the exceptionalism of America. Some may have a problem with that, but I believe it is undeniable. I'm not going to dwell on individual accomplishments or--yes--failures. But there is something about this country that stands out from the international crowd. I'm going to try to define and explain it.
There have been two periods in my life, going back 70 years, that stand out as examples of the American spirit. Note what I said--"American spirit." I can't think of another nation to which you could ascribe a spirit.
The first was World War II. The absolute unity of patriotic spirit during that trying time had to be experienced to be believed. There was absolute unanimity of purpose and resolve. Sacrificies were made and deprivations endured that I doubt we would tolerate today. There were shortages of not only goods but food and fuel. We couldn't drive very far on our "A" gas ticket which limited the amount of gas we could purchase to a few gallons a month. There were food ration books, which limited many foodstuffs, especially meat. We collected and bought bonds. School children bought "War Stamps" to fill a book good for a $25 War Bond. We held paper drives and took our fat-cans to the butcher.
There was no dissent, with the rare exception of perhaps one or two reviled individuals. The soldiers were honored, and especially their families proudly displaying blue star pennants in their windows or, all too common, gold stars for the ultimate sacrifice. The media wholeheartedly supported the war effort, even suppressing bad news from the front. Hollywood pumped out patriotic war movie after war movie, without a single "Platoon". Industry converted to war production with amazing speed and ramped up to unprecedented production levels. And yes, there were legions of "Rosie the Riveter."
The American spirit prevailed in that war, not only protecting our shores but saving England and liberating Europe, at staggering cost. Just ask the French and view their American cemeteries. I'm certain that Hitler and the Axis, including the Japanese, never anticipated the courage, skill and tenacity with which we fought.
The second event, not on the same scale but equally impressive, was the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden expected his brilliantly-planned and coordinated attack would demoralize the morally corrupt Americans. He was wrong. We came together as a nation with fierce resolve to avenge the outrage and punish the perpetrators. Patriotism exploded across the landscape, with flags everywhere, on homes, vehicles and clothing. The result was the rapid destruction of the al Qaeda infrastructure in Afghanistan, never to be reconstituted. It was the beginning of the end of bin Laden's baby as a viable threat on the scale of 9/11. There were major terrorist attacks in other countries like Spain and London, England, but not on U.S. soil.
Since then there have been second-guessing and criticism, but that is the nature of our time. Maybe that's better than during the 1940's; maybe not. I think you can guess my opinion. The point is, as a nation we came together and fought back with an unexpected fierceness. The Spanish, when attacked were cowed and did what the terrorists demanded-withdrew their miniscule troops from Iraq. The British reacted with stoicism and characteristic "stiff upper lip," and beefed up security. No retaliation.
So, what is it about this country that's different. We are indeed a sleeping lion--Schlafenlöwe in German. There is a strength, a steely resolve, beneath the surface of our turbulent society. We may squabble among ourselves, but do not threaten our nation or the Löwe will awake angry as h___! Ask Adolf, ask Admiral Yamamoto, ask the ghost of bin Laden.
I begin this phase of my dissertation with--easy now, guys!--a quote from Dick Cheney during an interview with Rush Limbaugh. (Never let it be said I shrink from controversy.)
"[A] lot of people ... are blessed in a sense when they're born to wealth or privilege or have certain advantages as a result of who their parents are. I could never think of a greater blessing or a greater advantage than having been born an American. In our day and age we are uniquely blessed to live in this time, to be a part of the greatest nation on earth, the most remarkable democracy the world has ever known. We're not always right, we're not always perfect by any means, but our motives are pure. We embarked not on conquests of empire, but rather on bringing freedom to millions of others. ..."
Why is this? Why are we Americans exceptional? Longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer once observed that the American is unique in that he has unbounded confidence in himself to solve any problem. (Sadly, I think we've lost some of this, thanks to our budding welfare state.) When a Frenchman's car dies on the highway, he will sit quietly and wait for assistance. (This is before cell phones.) The American, on the other hand, will jump out and raise the hood, somehow confident that he can fix the problem even though he may know nothing about automobile engines.
We have an innate sense that we can solve any problem. Unfortunately, this has led to an excess of government programs and bureaucracies established to solve problems that somehow never seem to get solved. However, the attitude is still alive and well. This level of national self-confidence--some might call it arrogance--has carried this nation through many crises, from the American Revolution through a terrible Civil War, two World Wars, a couple of abortive exercises in how not to fight a war and, of course, the current threat engendered by Islamic terrorism.
America is unique in all the world in that we are a melting pot of ethnicities. No other country opened its arms to as many legal immigrants from other nations. We have English, Germans, Irish, Polish, Jewish, Hungarian, Russian, South American, Mexican, Scandinavian, Asian from several countries and certainly several others I have neglected. Each immigrant brought a special heritage with him or her--special talents, ideas and attitudes, strengths and wisdom--the best from their place of origin.
Just as a metal alloy is stronger than the individual components, this melding of diverse characteristics has resulted in a unified exceptionalism unparalleled in the world. Some may be uncomfortable with this idea and may even find individual events in our history which are not to our credit, but overall we are a good people with uncommon empathy for those less fortunate, endowed with unquenchable optimism. No country has helped in national disasters around the world more than us. No other country cares as unselfishly. We are almost without exception "firstest with the mostest."
So, take pride fellow citizens of this marvelous experiment in democracy. With all our flaws, we are a good people with uncommon strength as a nation. The present difficulties we are experiencing, regardless of their source, will be overcome. You may be pessimistic about our present leadership or the status of your 401K, or a myriad of other problems, but we will weather these storms as we always have. Because we are Americans.
As a consequence of a ridiculous war of words in comments and blog posts--other than this one--certain commenters have been banned by the blog administrator. They use the ID's bamaphd, sirlaughsalittle and spalin. There has been much discussion of phantom and duplicate ID's, threats and profanity, which interests me not at all. Frankly, I wish everyone would just use their names, but I understand the reluctance in the light of the present poisonous atmosphere.
You all know there have been some problems with uncivil comments on Eagle's Eye, but I believe we have established an atmosphere of at least some degree of mutual respect, such that the commentary recently has been almost always civil and devoid of direct personal insults. I congratulate my regular and occasional commenters for their compliance. For what it's worth, I am pleased.
Therefore, I am not in sympathy with the banning of the selected commenters. Banning cannot be isolated to selected blogs, so these folks are banned from all blogs, including mine. I do not want this, as I am determined to maintain an open forum for any and all ideas that are thoughtful and presented in a civil manner. I firmly believe that respect breeds respect in response. There has been a woeful lack of mutual respect in other areas of this blog site, with near disastrous consequences. I have avoided involvement, but would hope at some point everyone would step back, wipe the slate clean and start over. Wounds that fester never heal.
We bloggers all have a comment control page where we can accept or reject individual comments. Banned comments show up as pre-rejected. The blogger, I, can flip the status of individual comments. Therefore, I will as frequently as possible review this page and flip the pre-rejected comments from the village of the banned (assuming civility) so they will be posted. I think this is a pain in the ___, but it is the only way I can continue to maintain an open forum.
So, comment away, folks. Rest assured that your comments will appear, perhaps just a bit late.
It all comes down to respect, both on the LLC blogs and also on the broader political scene.
A recent article in our daily newspaper lifted largely from The NY Times lauds the "foreign policy achievements" of President Obama--apparently just him, not his administration. Included were the impending withdrawal of all troops from Iraq (yes, we're still there), success in Afghanistan (Really? The Taliban has been defeated?) and the crowning touch, the defeat of Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya, followed by his brutal mutilation and murder by victorious rebels. If you thought NATO did it, think again.
Not too long ago the U.S. dispatched five of our heavy--and very costly--strategic bombers, three B-1B Lancers (known affectionately as the "Bone" from B-One) and two B-2 Spirit "Stealth Bombers" non-stop from U.S. bases to Libya and return. Over Libya, they hit 150 targets with JDAM guided munitions. Each B-1B costs $283.1 million and each B-2 $1.01 billion. They were refueled by KC-135 tankers five times enroute. This, plus very intense reconnaissance coverage by E-8 Rivet Joint aircraft and innumerable UAV unmanned drones, along with close air support using U.S A-10 and F-16 fighter-attack aircraft, is heavy involvement in my book, and very costly.
Some years ago there was an organization (it might still exist) that advocated something called The New American Century. You may recall the organization; it was called the Project for a New American Century, or PNAC, and was the heart of the neo-conservative movement. It was founded by Bill Kristol and counted some very influential people as members. Its stated purpose was to encourage American adventurism around the globe, imposing democracy on undemocratic nations. The basis was the fact that we were the undisputed world superpower and had the military might to pull this off. They claimed it was our responsibility to spread democracy by any means necessary, because democracies are much less likely to start wars and the prospect for world peace would be enhanced. This was labeled Pax Americana by PNAC.
While the neo-conservative movement was widely reviled, especially by liberals, and its charter discounted as kookish, yet today we see substantial elements of the PNAC philosophy at work. American military presence is nearly ubiquitous in the world today. We are engaged in militaristic nation-building--an euphemism for democratization--in three countries: Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. We have military forces in a number of other countries such as Germany, South Korea and Japan, with a major naval presence in the Pacific to defend Taiwan from China. We are the core of NATO, whose original purpose to confront the Soviet Union is lost in the dustbin of history. I'm not sure what its purpose is today. We stuck our nose into Yugoslavia/Kosovo, deposing the dominant Serbs from an historic province in favor of Albanian drug merchants.
While our administration claims to be "drawing down" our forces, eventually bringing them home, the Air Force has been directed to establish by 2013 a 24/7 overflight and surveillance program using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper in a full-time 65-flight cover over Afghanistan. We don't have enough and are frantically building them and training controllers.
So, what is the purpose of all this? Iraq?: Supposedly being run by a democratic government, admittedly fractious, with substantial inter-tribal and religious sect conflict remaining. Iran is doing much mischief attempting to extend its influence into Iraqi political affairs. We defeated and killed Saddam Hussein and his Sunni government, admittedly brutal but undeniably strong, which was a bulwark against the Iranians. Now that's gone, replaced with a weak fledgeling democracy pretty much at the mercy of Iranian mischief.
Bush invaded Afghanistan to attack al Qaeda. They are long gone and have been for some time now. We are fighting the indigenous Taliban, for what reason I have no clue. They certainly pose no threat to the U.S. The same can be said for poor Moammar, who, while one of the many Middle East brutal despots, foreswore terrorism years ago and apparently kept his promise.
Now we have Uganda, with 100 U.S. "advisors" being sent by Obama to help the hapless Ugandan military defeat a small religious rebel group called "The Lord's Army" that is fighting the hard-line Islamic government. Hmmm. Where do I remember this "advisor" thing from? Oh yes, some small country in Southeast Asia back in the 1960's. That turned our well, didn't it? Don't even ask what our national security interest is in Uganda.
The bottom line is we have expended trillions of dollars fighting other nations and rebel groups around the world, along with defending even other nations with our military presence. Our military, especially the Air Force with it's 26-year-old fighters and 50-year-old refueling tankers, is being stretched to and beyond the limit while the administration is talking about cutting $400 billion from its budget. And none of this is directly related to the security of our nation. Honestly, what would be the effect on us if China gobbled up Taiwan and its Chinese population? My answer is "None".
So, I have become an isolationist. (Oh no, not that!!) We are expending massive resources for no discernible national interest. Heretically speaking, we don't need anyone! We are militarily secure from any international threat. A modest ABM system, the technology for which is available, would provide all necessary security from rogues like North Korea and even a nuclear Iran. We just let them know if they try to attack, we will incinerate them. And mean it!
I say let Germany, South Korea, Taiwan and even Israel defend themselves. I have no problem selling them whatever military hardware they might need, cash on delivery. We have more than enough resources like petroleum to provide for our needs, if we have the will to go and get it. We are blessed with total self-sufficiency in this great and wonderful nation. What we cannot do is support the national defense of our so-called allies, rid the world of its dictators and nation build willy-nilly any country whose policies or leadership we--or the UN--don't like. We have the means to protect ourselves against terrorism and retaliate massively and with deadly effectiveness against any aggressor.
Bottom line: pull the troops home, all of them. Cut off foreign aid--completely. Let the U.N. paddle its own canoe; we should resign and pull our 25% financial support. (They can keep the building.) Let the third world have it as their own little playground. They already do anyway. If we wish to support some humanitarian U.N. activities, we can do it independently. Certainly we would still respond to natural disasters as we always have done, but we cannot afford to do for the whole world; we're going broke trying.
Outside of some do-gooder handwringing and foreign weeping and wailing, I see no downside to this that we can't handle with little sweat. Economically, I suggest ground-levelling tariffs to equalize our production costs with the Chinese and Koreans so we are competing fairly. If the WTO doesn't like it, tough. If they don't want to buy our stuff, they can grow their own corn. This is the only way American industry can compete internationally and is the traditional purpose of tariffs. We'll manufacture and sell what we need, "Made in the U.S.A."
I'm sure some of you will have problems with this. There will be warts and ditches, but I really think everyone would be better off, especially us. The responsibility of a government is the welfare and protection of the nation, both for us and for other countries and governments. Let them paddle their canoes and we'll paddle ours.
There is a line from an old Kingston Trio song: "The whole world is festering with unhappy souls!" Sadly, this seems to represent the present day situation, locally--Wisconsin--nationally and internationally, even more than in 1959 when this song, "The Merry Minuet", was recorded. There are many unhappy souls in our world today. This is sad, as there is much beauty around us that often is lost in the Sturm und Drang of discontent and worse. The Desiderata says it well: With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Hopefully I can lighten the atmosphere just a little.
Well, here we are well into fall again. The tree colors are a bit past peak but still vibrant and intense. This beauty of Nature is around us all the time, not just during leaf turning time a few weeks each year. But this was a good one. I think we tend to take the beauty of our world for granted, not realizing what a miracle and gift it is.
I have in a previous blog discussed color and the miraculous process involved in creating it, so will not repeat except to reiterate that there is no practical purpose to most of Nature's colors except to pleasure us. There is no evolutionary impetus that can be assigned to the variety of beauty that surrounds us. Sadly, I'm afraid most folks do not notice or appreciate it.
Some of us think we have to travel to "see the colors," missing what is literally under our noses. The photos in this post were all taken this past week within two blocks of my home, two in my yard. Yes, Door County is spectacular, but even the small scenes of beauty always around us can pleasure the soul without burning a lot of costly gas.
It's not just in fall that the wondrous gift of Nature's beauty abounds. Winter's serene blanket of silent snow in its white purity is a pleasant and calming vista. Incidentally, did you ever wonder why snow is such a brilliant white? After all, it's just frozen water. Water is colorless as is ice. How does it get so intense white? I don't want to spoil the image, but it in itself is a miracle.
Snowflakes consist of relatively large spaces with arms containing various-sized elements. When sunlight, composed of all colors, strikes a layer of snow, some penetrates the surface and is reflected by precisely sized snowflake elements. All colors are reflected but mixed in the process, bouncing around inside the pile of snowflakes. This mixing of color wavelengths creates the white color, where just simple reflectance, as by a mirror or sheen of water, would appear clear and colorless. Now tell me that's not a miracle!
Winter also displays for us that most colorful of birds, the bright red Cardinal, who seems even more intensely crimson in winter. In spring, flowers, trees and plants awake and begin to bloom. The songbirds return and the drab Goldfinch regains his brilliant yellow and black plumage. In summer, everything is lush and green, and brilliantly hued flowers are everywhere. Farmlands come to life with the promise of bounty. Then we're back to fall.
I believe that beauty in Nature is a gift from God, who is not just the Master Designer but also a consummate artist. I believe that it exists only to pleasure us, a wondrous gift. The natural world would function just as well in shades of gray; the sky would still be there in its true color, the blackness of space. Yet it is a wonderfully pleasing blue--most of the time--a fascinating process in itself. The rainbow with its palette of primary colors has its scientific explanation as the prism effect of water droplets. This explanation defies reason because of the precision of the color separation and shape of the bow. I don't buy it.
So, regardless of whether or not you subscribe to the heavenly gift idea or prefer to believe in fortuitous evolutionary happenstance, beauty in Nature is a gift that we should spend much more time enjoying, perhaps forgetting our anger and resentments at least for a time. Would that the beauty of Creation uplifts our character and inspires greater civility. Then maybe some of the world's festering will begin to heal.
It is to hope.
As I'm sure most everyone knows, I'm a Conservative and lifelong Republican, having voted for just two Democrats in my entire voting life. Regardless of that rather obvious bias, the current Romanesque game going on in Wisconsin impels me--against my better judgement--to weigh in on this mess. Let me try to assure you that, regardless of party, I would find the current situation ludicrous in the extreme and dangerous in its implications.
The structure of a Constitutional Republic, under which we currently live, allows democratic control of government with some limitations. The latter are designed, in part, to avoid overreaction by an emotion-driven public. This is the reason for the Electoral College at the Federal level, to prevent an ill-considered knee-jerk reaction by the voters from causing irreparable harm. Defined terms of elected office are another check against intemperate public actions. Once elected, a political office-holder has a set number of years to prove him- or herself worthy of continued service via re-election.
In the rare event of the election of a scoundrel to office who engages in malfeasance, criminality or grievous moral torpitude, the mechanism of the recall was established, permitting removal of an individual so unfit for public office as to constitute an immediate danger to the public welfare.
What the recall mechanism was not intended for is the removal of an electee with whom some folks disagree or who legally establishes a policy with which some, or even much, of the electorate disagrees. What most definitely was not intended was to enable a special interest to impose its will upon a legislative entity or the public because of real or perceived disadvantage or impairment. Unfortunately, that is exactly what we here in Wisconsin currently face.
Despite all the sound and fury about school funding cuts and the loss of so-called democratic collective bargaining capability for public service unions, there is only one issue involved here. That is simply union dues.
Public service unions constitute a type of oxymoron in that their counterpart is an elected representation rather than a corporate entity. The latter has a vested financial interest and concern in any agreement reached with union representation. It will, therefore, bargain from the strength of corporate financial viability, holding firm against unreasonable union demands.
Public service bargaining on the other hand involves a political element with only indirect financial accountability--the nebulous concern for responsible expenditure of taxpayer funds. The government negotiator experiences no direct financial limitation and so is inclined to appease a voting constituency--the union membership--and give them what they want. This is the fallacy underlying public service union collective bargaining. The brew is further toxified by union political contributions which constitute a clear conflict of interest.
I'm sure most will recall that this all began with the proposal and passage of Act 10, Gov. Walker's mechanism for compensating for large cuts in the public education budget. The cuts were a necessary step in balancing the state budget against a nearly $3 billion structural and contemporary deficit which resulted from years of irresponsible budgeting by a number of administrations, not just Doyle's.
As the old saw goes, you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. In this case, limiting public service union power, especially the education unions, was essential since the members were not likely to quietly allow their incomes to be diminished by increases in pension and health care contributions, along with wage limits. The reason for eliminating most of the union collective bargaining power was the thought that they would oppose or simply attempt to reinstate or compensate for any pay-reducing changes through future collective bargaining agreements. This is a somewhat speculative but not unreasonable supposition.
Such a diminishment of union power, coupled with eliminating union dues payroll deductions and recertification requirements, will likely result in a significant decrease in union membership and concurrent loss of dues income. Since public service union membership is essential to the health of a union movement already crippled by the loss of manufacturing jobs, a traditional source of union participation, this move by the Walker administration constitutes a clear and present danger to the entire union movement, with the exception of the UAW and some other niche unions not dependent on public service membership. (Notice that the UAW has remained remarkably silent through this entire controversy.)
Thus, we have the single, overriding issue impelling all this recall activity. Yes, there is hand-wringing over education budget cuts, but that sky did not fall and does not appear in danger of doing so. The majority of school districts, those that did not foolishly enter into union contracts prior to the passage of Act 10, are coping quite well with the cuts to their budget. Unless I'm missing something, that leaves the union issue alone as the driving force behind this avalanche of recalls.
I maintain that this is a dangerous and financially wasteful misuse of the recall mechanism. Dangerous because of the precedent it sets, that any time a special interest with access to the media and sufficient funding sees itself harmed by some legislation, it will attempt to recall key legislators to reverse the policy.
This "recallodrome" presently in progress in Wisconsin may be entertaining to some, but I believe it to be a clear and present danger to the concept of a Constitutional Republic which has served us so well for so long. I would hope wiser heads prevail, but I see little evidence that this will occur. Pity.
Three new Chevrolet Volt electric/gas automobiles, the great white hope of GM and the Obama Administration that subsidized the Volt's development up to the hilt, recently caught fire during crash tests. Their lithium-ion battery packs burst into flame during the tests, creating minor consternation within GM which is frantically exercising damage control. This $41,000 vehicle is subsidized at about $8,000 a copy to get the price down(!) In addition, many $billions of taxpayer money (can you say that if it's all borrowed from China?) was "invested" in the development of the car and its battery pack.
Over two years ago, I wrote a lengthy blog post ("Batteries Not Included"--May 24, 2009) on the subject of electric automotive propulsion. (Some of the drawings are not reproduced in the archive version, for some reason.) In that post I discussed the heat problems inherent in large-scale lithium-ion batteries. Following is an excerpt from that prescient post. (Remember, it is dated 2009.)
There are three battery types in past, current and projected use for automotive propulsion: lead-acid, nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion (Li-ion). The first is the familiar storage battery presently in your automobile(s). The second (NiMH) is used by Toyota in their hybrid Prius and in all other present-day hybrids. The third (Li-ion) is largely in the developmental stage for automotive propulsion, although commonly used in low-power applications like laptop computers and cameras. Let's look at these three technologies
Small lithium-ion rechargeable batteries have been used for some time in laptop computers and other small electronic devices. They have performed well, except for an embarrassing problem with Sony laptops whose Li-ion batteries displayed a tendency to burst into flame. Sony determined that there was a defective lot from a Chinese manufacturer and recalled them all at considerable expense. The defect, in fact, was inadequate provision for heat elimination, a known problem with Li-ion batteries.
The advantages of Li-ion batteries include lighter weight, twice the efficiency and higher output voltage per cell--3.2 volts versus 1.25 volts--compared to NiMH. This is, of course, a great advantage for automotive propulsion where voltages in the range of 250v-500v are required. Another factor recommending Li-ion battery technology is the fact that it utilizes no rare-earth elements like the scarce (in the U.S.) Lathanium. All materials used in these batteries are fairly common. The disadvantages include an aging problem, where capacity decreases with time regardless of usage; heat sensitivity, reducing capacity; and safety issues including overtemperature (fire hazard) and overpressure (explosion hazard). These hazards require internal safety devices, which use up space and increase weight.
While progress is being made daily, there are still major development problems in creating a practical Li-ion automobile battery pack. There is, however, a frantic effort both here and in Japan and China to solve these problems because of the very substantial advantages of this technology. However, as of this writing, significant problems remain. How soon they will be solved to the extent that Li-ion batteries become practical for hybrid/electric automotive propulsion is impossible to tell at this time due to the secrecy surrounding much of the effort. My impression is the problems are very difficult and total solution is at least two years off. For now, NiMH is the only game in town, which has a Chinese name.
The internal electrodes of the Li-ion battery consist of a graphite anode and a complex two-layer cathode of lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2). The electrolyte is a lithium salt in an organic solvent. In the event of overdischarge, the LiCoO2 breaks down into lithium oxide (Li2O), which is irreversible and destroys the battery. This is one of the problems with Li-ion technology. There is research underway to develop improved electrode materials, especially for the cathode.
A word about the much-ballyhooed Chevy Volt hybrid slated for production on some unspecified future date. It is a simple gas-electric hybrid with electric propulsion primary. Its yet-to-be developed plug-in rechargeable Li-ion battery pack will provide about 40 miles of all-electric operation, supposed to cover most commutes. After that, a 1.4L 4-cylinder gas engine will kick in to charge the battery via a 53KW generator, allowing further travel. The battery alone drives the wheels through an electric drive motor. There is no connection between the gas engine and the wheels.
The gas engine-powered generator is not designed to recharge the battery pack. This will be accomplished by plugging the car into a wall receptacle overnight and drawing electric power from coal-fired power plants. (O.K., maybe windmills or solar cells on your garage roof.)
Inquiring minds among my esteemed readers will have been wondering what was the reason for the long, somewhat torturous development process for the Li-ion automotive battery. The reason lies in basic chemistry, a subject somewhat lacking in the halls of Congress and the White House.
Essentially, a chemical-electric cell generates electricity as a byproduct of an electrolytic reaction between two dissimilar metals or metal analogs. The chemical reaction, which converts one constituent "metal" to another compound, produces excess electrons which flow through an external circuit, running motors, lights and stuff. The battery is discharged when the donor metal is exhausted. The cells are recharged by pumping electricity through them, reversing the reaction and reconstituting the original components.
Chemical reactions of this type typically produce heat proportional to the intensity of the reaction. Most battery cells generate in the neighborhood of 1.2 to 2.0 volts. Higher voltages are obtained by stacking cells, which is then called a battery. Your car battery consists of six-2 volt lead-acid cells, making a 12-volt battery. The lead-acid chemistry defines the 2-volt characteristic output. All lead-acid cells produce 2 volts.
The nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery commonly used in hybrid automobiles produces about 1.25 volts per cell, requiring a large number to produce the typical 400 volts needed for electric automotive propulsion. The good thing is they produce little heat.
The Li-ion cell, on the other had, produces about 3.5 volts per cell, allowing for fewer cells and a smaller, lighter battery. The problem is, the more active chemical reaction that produces this higher voltage generates substantial heat. In small batteries for cell phones and laptops, dissipating this heat is not difficult. In a large automotive battery pack, it is a huge problem. Dealing with the heat problem was/is the major developmental stumbling block for the automotive Li-ion battery.
Obviously, GM thought their battery suppliers could solve the heat problem. There was a considerable shake-out of suppliers due to cost and development problems. They ended up with Li-ion cells made by LG Chem in Korea and assembled into the battery pack by GM. The pack has a sophisticated cooling system consisting of aluminum fin plates with a circulating dedicated cooling mechanism.
This is speculation, but I suspect the battery fires were caused by the crash tests disrupting the battery cooling system, resulting in a latent heat condition which raised temperatures to the flash point. I maintain this is a fragile arrangement in that the same thing obviously could occur in a relatively mild traffic accident. Personally, I wouldn't want to be anywhere hear a lithium fire. Better buy a Prius.
To paraphrase lines from a 50's Kingston Trio/Pete Seeger folk song: "Where have all the jobs gone? Gone to China every one. When will they ever learn; when will they e-ver learn?" There is a jobs crisis in this country, which comes as news only to those living under a rock. The current 8.6% official jobless rate is only the tip of the iceberg. Not counted are the many thousands who have given up searching for a job as well as those who have taken underpaying jobs just to have something coming in--the so-called underemployed.
There is a third category seldom mentioned: those who have accepted unemployment as a preferred lifestyle. They have decided that living on unemployment, which threatens perpetuity in this re-election driven political climate, is an acceptable lifestyle, having made the necessary adjustments. These folks, along with those who have given up the job search, threaten to create an underclass of the permanently unemployed. This is a substantial danger, as these folks contribute nothing to the economy while living off of it.
So, there is a problem, I submit a good deal larger and more dangerous than many think. In the current difficult economic climate, which shows little inclination to return to the happy-go-lucky days of yesteryear, we can ill afford a constant and increasing drain on our already strained economy. The world situation offers little hope as Europe is, if anything, in deeper doo-doo than we are.
To the real problem. For decades, the United States has been exporting jobs overseas, mainly to the Pacific Rim. The prospect of much lower labor rates and an increasingly competent workforce has enticed--yes--greedy corporations to export most of our manufacturing across the Pacific. An additional small amount goes to the African Third World and places like the Philippines and Indonesia.
Manufacturing in this country is a hollow shadow of what it once was. I don't think there is a single piece of consumer electronic equipment built in this country. The last U.S. television set manufacturer was Zenith, and they're long gone. Much of our automotive production is out-country in Mexico and Canada, thanks to that unmitigated economic disaster called NAFTA. The simple reason, of course, is the undeniable fact that we cannot compete in labor costs.
There is no way to compensate for a wage differential of $2 an hour (or less) versus $20. So long as U.S. manufacturers are expected to compete with foreign goods manufactured at one-tenth the labor cost, they will lose every time regardless of our superior technology and innovation. With the effective elimination of trade barriers due to the World Trade Organization (WTO), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, we are forced to compete on an impossibly tilted playing field, and we are failing.
There is only one solution to the American jobs problem, and that is to rebuild a manufacturing base around our huge reservoir of skills and technology. I'm talking about tariffs based on differential wage rates. If China manufactures with an average wage rate of $2 and hour, we erect a tariff barrier to Chinese goods the equivalent of $18 an hour, or whatever figure is realistic for the industry in question. The result of this policy would be dramatic in the extreme.
First, a U.S. manufacturing base would arise with unbelievable speed. We certainly can build HDTV sets as well and as good--if not better--quality as the Japanese (mostly built in China) and Koreans. The same is true in every other manufacturing industry decimated by unfair foreign competition, from clothing to microwave ovens. The tariff concept is inherent in the economic system created in the early days of our history. Tariffs were a legitimate mechanism for levelling the playing field against foreign competition, a problem that was recognized by our Founders.
Would there be repercussions? For certain. China's economy would plummet and the WTO would threaten an all-out trade war. Fine. Let's see who would win that one. Frankly, they need us more than we need them. Any loss in foreign sales would be more than made up domestically. Would prices rise? Definitely, but the benefit to our economy would, in my opinion, more than compensate. Anyway, it would be patriotic to swallow the price rise to be able again to buy American goods without a laborious search. Frankly, with our ability to produce with great efficiency, the increase might not be all that great.
Recently, a home builder decided to build a house completely with American-made materials, from the nails to the toilets. To his surprise, the cost increase was very slight and more than made up in better quality--his nail guns jammed less frequently. So, it can be done. We don't need them! There will be other obstacles, but I firmly believe we can overcome them all and return well-paying manufacturing jobs to the U.S.A., where they belong. We can do it better than anyone.
Am I advocating economic isolationism? Yes, indeed.
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