Friday, December 26, 2008

Enviromentalists Cause Havoc on Seattle Streets

The weather outside was frightful for many in the Pacific Emerald City this past week. The roads were icy enough for Nancy Kerrigan to do a triple axle. The cars were slipping around the roads like Sunday at a NASCAR event. Every other level-headed city official would have used salt on the roads to help de-ice the roads and make them safer, but not the geniuses in the Washington city.

Environmentalists have convinced the city council to stop throwing salt on the streets out of fear of it spilling off into the Puget Sound. Since the Sound is full of salt water, it confuses me as to why it's bad to add salt to salt water. I guess too much salt would cause it to become like the Dead Sea, devoid of life because of too much salt. However, the amount of salt that could possibly run-off into the Puget Sound from salt that is put onto the roads a few days a year isn't enough to deaden the Sound. Diane Spector, a water-resources planner for Wenck Associates, which evaluated snow and ice clearance for nine cities in the Midwest, confirmed that using salt periodically will not have a lasting effect on the environment as long it is not used too often or too much.

What do they use instead of salt? They use sand. However, other cities are starting to move away from sand because it backs-up the sewers, goes into waterways, creates air pollution, and costs even more to clean up than salt. In fact, Ann Williams, spokeswoman for Denver's Department of Public Works, admits that they never use sand because it "causes dust, and there's also water-quality issues where it goes into streets and into our rivers." They don't even use enough sand to provide adequate traction, according to experts.

In addition to sand, they
use the method of "snow-packing." This is where they compact the snow and make it a harder surface to drive on, rather than melting it.

What is the result of using the less-efficient method of "snow-packing" and sand? According to the state patrol, they responded to 157 collisions Sunday in King County (Seattle). Troopers also responded to another 312 disabled vehicles.

Between noon and midnight on Saturday alone, the State Patrol responded to 246 collisions and disabled vehicles in King County. Of those mentioned, 179 occurred between 5 p.m. and midnight, when it would be the iciest.

"It's tough going. I won't argue with you on that," said Alex Wiggins, the chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transprtation. "We're sensitive about everything we do that impacts the environment." If that is so, why are they using an element that is more environmentally destructive than salt especially when the salt is more effective? The amount of accidents and broken down cars on the side of the rode around Seattle is just ridiculous. Driving around in icy conditions is dangerous enough. Do we really need to use an inferior product to keep our families safe while they are driving this holiday season? The accidents luckily didn't result in any deaths, but it could have been a very different story.

Friday, December 19, 2008

To Bail or Not to Bail: A Motor City Tale

President Bush has ok'd a $17.4 B bailout package for GM and Chrysler earlier today. Ford pulled out of the bailout for now. Pres. Bush thought that the economy is too fragile to let those two huge companies fail. He went against the Senate Republicans who were opposed to it.

Much has been said over the last few weeks about the Big 3/AWU bailout. Everything from planes, trains, and automobiles have been discussed. The emergency room doctors are doing all they can to keep the patients alive. GM, Chrysler, and Ford have all been shot in the assault on our economy. So far, Ford is in critical but stable condition. GM and Chrysler, on the other hand, are in the Intensive Care Unit. They have massive internal bleeding and are beginning to bleed out, and they are desperate for a blood transfusion.
Should we give them just the transfusion, or should we do the surgery to stop the bleeding? That is the dilemma that is facing Drs. Pelosi, Reid, and Bush right now in Washington.

To bail or not to bail? That is the question that has plagued Washington for a few months now. Who do we bailout? Where do we draw the proverbial line in the sand? The Republicans want to draw the line at the automotive giants. The Democrats don't seem to know what a line is. The $14 B bailout is needed to keep GM and Chrysler from going into chapter 11 bankruptcy. There are those "Chicken Little's" that say that Ch. 11 bankruptcy would spell doom for the Big 3 and the US economy and that people wouldn't buy cars from a company that goes into ch. 11. There are, also, some that say that the bailout would spell doom for our country by raising the national debt and taking us one step closer to bankruptcy as a nation.

Let's first look at what chapter 11 is and is not. It doesn't mean that the company is going out of business. Chapter 11 will enable the companies to reorganize its debt and renegotiate its contracts. The company will still exist.

One major argument for the bailout is people would be scared to buy from a company under going chapter 11. They are scared that, if the companies go under, there will not be anyone to fix their cars that are still under warranty. There have been some polls that seem to confirm this theory. A recent Fox poll said that 59% of people would not buy a car from a company in bankruptcy. If people really understood what chapter 11 bankruptcy really is, they would not fear buying from companies in chapter 11. Perhaps Congress should use the money that they want to give the companies to insure the warranties of the people that buy the new cars. If people weren't afraid of being left out in the cold with their warranties when one or all of the Big 3 folded, they would not be so reluctant and would be more likely to buy the cars.

Another reason some give to them a bridge loan is that there the effect on all of those people that is currently being employed getting layed off would be catastrophic to the entire US economy. They have a point with this argument. It would have a disastrous impact on the entire country, if they went down. However, under chapter 11, they wouldn't totally dissolve. They would just restructure how they operate. A few might be layed off, but not the amount of what is being floated around. Filing for ch. 11 doesn't automatically mean that the collapse of the company is inevitable. There have been other companies that filed for chapter 11 that didn't collapse. Texaco, Delta, and Continental Airlines all filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy over the years. (Continental has filed twice.) They are all still around and profitable today.

One thing that a ch. 11 bankruptcy would do is make any contracts null and void, including the contract with the United Auto Workers. I believe that is the real reason why the union and the Democrats that are in their pocket are so against filing for Chapter 11. The UAW doesn't want their contracts to be voided. They know that they got a sweetheart deal that they could not get again. They were able to get the Big 3 to start a Job Bank program, which is a program that guarantees laid off workers would still receive full pay and benefits from the company until they find another job or they find another position for them. These workers could receive funds from the program for up to two years for doing nothing. According to research done in 2005 by The Detroit News, 12,000 laid off workers from the Big 3 plus Delphi Corp. were still receiving regular paychecks and benefits for doing nothing. How could they expect the companies to be financially viable while being dragged down by all that dead weight? The four auto companies above combined spent over $4 B on this program alone.

According the Heritage Foundation's research, the Big 3 pay their employees over $70 p/ hour including current wages and future benefits like retirement pensions. About $30 of that is current cash wages, plus an additional $10 a hour on average for overtime pay. The rest, which comes to about $31 p/ hour, is for medical, dental, and life insurance and unemployment and retirement benefits. On average, all other private sector workers makes about $25 p/ hour. That is a $45 a hour difference. No company can afford that. To contrast their foreign counterparts that have factories in other parts of the country, especially the South, they pay the people just over $40 p/ hour for current and future benefits, and they are doing much better financially than Detroit.

The Legacy benefits are also a problem for the Big 3. These are the health benefits and pensions for current retirees. Retirement pensions alone cost them an additional $31 p/ hour per current active worker.

The GOP was wanting the UAW to make concessions that would make sure that both companies would be viable in the future. They wanted the union to discontinue the job banks program and make their pay more "competitive" with other auto companies across the country. The UAW knew that the administration wouldn't let the companies file ch. 11, so they would not agree to any significant changes. They said that they would temporarily suspend the job banks program for 1 year and little else. The Republicans wanted more concrete changes. Most of the Republicans that were against the bailout represent states in the South where unions don't have a hold on the foreign automakers in those right- to-work states. They see how well that those companies operate and would like the Big 3 to become more like them, so they can stay in business for a long time and keep Americans employed.

Bush did tell the UAW that they must stop the job banks program and become more competitive with their counterparts, but Obama could reverse that in one month as he takes office. Obama was quoted as saying, "The auto companies must not squander this chance to reform bad management practices and begin the long-term restructuring that is absolutely required to save this critical industry and millions of American jobs that depend on it." Anyone else catch that he only mentioned that the companies must change and not anything about the UAW needing to change, too? That doesn't make me feel too good about him keeping the demands on the union intact after he takes office. They need to force the union to accept a new agreement with the auto companies that would make it possible for the companies to survive.

I'm not saying that GM, Chrysler, and Ford are innocent in their financial difficulties. No one put a gun to their head to accept the UAW's demands. They were arrogant enough to think that they would always dominate the market before the rise of foreign automobiles. The CEOs of the companies insistent on pushing SUVs and trucks on a public that was starting to lean towards more fuel efficient models. They refused to listen to their customers, and it cost them many loyal customers. This summer's gas spike cemented the gas guzzlers fate.

The government deserves some blame, too. They put strict guidelines on what Detroit could make. Some regulations are needed, but they went overboard on some things. The Democrats' refusal to drill more offshore, in Alaska, and the Rockies has helped bring down Detroit.

There needs to be an overhaul on how the industry operates. They need to put more fuel efficient and alternative fuel cars on the market, and they renegotiate the contracts they have no matter how hard the UAW and their supporters in the government whine and resist. To let them crumble would devastate the economy, but throwing money at them and letting them stay the course that has led the to the brink of bankruptcy would be even worse. This would be increasing our national debt for nothing. Giving them a bailout without strings attached that would make the company financially viable is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound to the aorta. It is useless and the patients will die anyway. It would just delay the inevitable. We should help Detroit but only if they will help themselves.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gov. Blagojevich Receives Odd Birthday Present

Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois received an early birthday present from US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, silver metal bracelets. Gov. Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested early tuesday morning, the day before the governor's 52nd birthday, for corruption and a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy which included trying to sell-off Obama's vacated US Senate seat to the highest bidder. This is just another instance of the wide spread corruption of the Chicago-style political machine that has become all too commonplace in Illinois. The governor had approval ratings as low as 4% in mid-October. Not even President Bush (in the teens) or the Democratic lead Congress (9% earlier this year) has had ratings that low, ever.

Blagojevich was elected with the campaign promise to "clean up corruption" from George Ryan's, republican, previous gubernatorial administration in Illinois. Yet, the level of corruption in Blagojevich's administration is "staggering" according to Fitzgerald. The US attorney went on to call his actions a "political corruption crime spree," and said Blagojevich's "conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave."

He was allegedly looking for potential replacements to Obama's vacated seat to give him financial compensation for the appointment to the US Senate. He said the seat "is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing." He even contemplated giving the seat to himself. He was quoted saying: "I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain." He went on to say that if he receives nothing of value for the seat, than he will keep it. He was allegedly looking for money that would be put into his re-election campaign, a high-paying job for his wife or him after he leaves office, and/or a nomination into a cabinet position in the Obama administration in exchange for an appointment into the Senate. He did everything but put the appointment on eBay to make a profit on his position.

Also, in a move that would make Nixon proud, Gov. Blagojevich blackmailed the Tribune to fire certain columnists that wrote unfavorable things about him like possible impeachment. The governor allegedly told the Chicago Tribune's editorial board that if they would fire those writers, then he would approve state financial assistance and approval with the sale and operation of the Chicago Cubs baseball team or Wrigley Field, which are both owned by the company.

None of this is directly linked to President-elect Obama. US Attorney Fitzgerald has said that the Presisdent-elect is not a subject in this investigation at this time. However, there are some discrepancies between what those in the transition team say about how much contact Obama has had with the governor and Obama himself. Obama said that there has been no contact between him and Blagojevich and no conversation with him about his successor. On the other hand, David Axelrod said two weeks ago that there had been discussions between the two about the Senate vacancy, and there is a picture of him with the governor talking on December 2nd. Obviously, the Obama team is trying to distance themselves from the governor. According to various reports, they haven't been known to be very close over the years, so there doesn't seem to be any deep connections between the two. I believe that the Obama people may have been in minimal contact with the governor about the vacancy, and they didn't have any active part in the conspiracy. There is evidence coming from the wiretaps of Blagojevich's phone conversations that Obama wouldn't give anything more than "appreciation" if the president-elect's pick was chosen. The Illinois governor reportedly didn't appreciate the gesture. "They're (Obama's team) not willing to give me anything except appreciation (for picking Obama's choice of replacement candidate). [Expletive] them.", said the governor on one of his wiretapped phone calls. Now on one hand, this quote seems to indicate that Obama isn't guilty of participating in the governor's alleged crimes, but on the other hand, how do they know that Obama wouldn't give them anything but appreciation, if they had no contact whatsoever as Obama claims. The question is probably not did Obama actively participate, but rather how much did he know about what Blagojevich was doing? Was the president-elect aware of his activities but was too complacent to do anything or even care? If the Obama team did know, why didn't they report it to the authorities?

In addition to the previous charges, the governor has, also, been accused of making organizations and businesses, including Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, contribute to and/or hold fundraisers for his campaign fund in order to receive public financing for various projects.

There needs to be a major house cleaning in Chicago. The political environment of the "Windy City" is toxic. It almost brought down the Obama campaign in the primary. Whether it is Bill Ayres, Rev. Wright, Tony Rezko, etc., there has been widespread corruption in the Chicago machine. The "I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine" mentality has led the city and the state as a whole to be one of the dirtiest, if not the dirtiest, in the game.

Friday, December 5, 2008

'Tis the Season to be Offensive

The holiday season has arrived and so has the contempt for religion. In the land of legal, nude bike riding, there is a new holiday display at the state capitol of Washington that isn't so jolly. Freedom From Religion, an atheist group, put up a display next to a Christian nativity scene and a "holiday" tree in which they make controversial statements about religion in general.

The placard says, "May reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." They go on to also say that the winter solstice is the real reason for the season, and they plea that we need to keep church and state separate. This is offensive to the majority of Americans who believe in one religion or another. No matter if you are a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Scientologist, this an attack on the core beliefs of your religion.

Someone needs to give organizations like Freedom From Religion a copy of the Bill of Rights because I don't think that they have ever read it. It doesn't say "freedom from religion" or "freedom of speech except for religious content". It says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech". That means no matter how much they don't like it, we can talk about religion anywhere that we see fit even in schools. I'm not saying that they don't have a right to say what they believe, but they should be tactful. They could have said something like "Just be good for goodness sake". That would have been fine. However, they had to belittle and demean other religions. Why is there such hatred for the religious in this country? We were founded on Judeo-Christian principles. The attacks need to stop.

Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington could have asked them to tone down the offensive rhetoric without trampling on their freedoms of religion and speech. That was not the time or the place for such divisive language. By saying that religion "hardens hearts and enslaves minds", they spew hateful and discriminatory speech against the religious people of this great nation. You wouldn't see a tribute of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, next to a tribute of Martin Luther King on MLK day, nor would you see a NAZI swastika next to a menorah celebrating Hanukkah.

Freedom From Religion co-president, Dan Barker, says, "Our members want equal time not to muscle, not to coerce, but just to have a place at the table." Whatever...They don't just want a place at the table. They, also, want a megaphone to make fun of all those that disagree with them at that table. What the display portrayed wasn't just their beliefs, but an attack on other's beliefs. Even many of the liberals that usually champion atheists and the overblown separation of church and state, like David Goldstein, agree that the way it was worded was way over the top.

Gov. Gregoire needs to take down the display and ask them reapply a display that isn't such a huge embarrassment for the state. Like many left-wing ideas that are said to be made not to offend some, they actually offend many. The state of Washington has become a rising hotbed of left-wing lunacy for some time now. They are starting to rival San Francisco in stupidity. We need to send a letter or call Olympia and tell the governor that such offensive language doesn't belong in the public square.