Odds and year ends

It’s all about the Benjamins for the Democrats and their cronies in Maryland.

I’ll start with the lighter stuff as we pass Christmas and begin the last lap of “the holidays.” Of course, TV will still have all the Christmas-theme commercials through New Year’s Day.

News item: Leading this season’s greetings (Baltimore Sun, December 20, 2005)

The slug line says a lot: Without using public funds, Ehrlich sends the most holiday cards among U.S. governors. While I wasn’t on the card list myself, it is amazing that Governor Ehrlich sends out 40,000 cards. My simple math tells me that 8 of every 1,000 Maryland residents gets a card from the governor. May not seem like much but honestly, how many of you know the governor of your state that well?

Best thing is that unlike previous administrations (according to the Sun article), these cards are paid for through private donations and not out of the public till. What the Sun doesn’t tell you (but I will) is that the last four administrations in Maryland were all Democrats. But I’m sure the Democrats complain about somebody buying influence by paying for the Governor’s Christmas cards and placing a little bit lighter burden on the taxpayers.

News item: Spend surplus on new schools, advocates say (Baltimore Sun, December 23, 2005)

Speaking of a burden on the taxpayers, here is this story as I see it. Instead of lessening the property tax burden on those who have chosen to invest in the state, the Democrats want to spend even more money on building schools. Their lackeys at Progressive Maryland claim that 35% of the people surveyed want to build new schools, while only 20% or so want a tax cut. What I’d like to know (and I haven’t been able to locate the survey online to answer this) is whether this question was asked after they were asked if they agreed with the statement, “Maryland’s schools are overcrowded, many are dilapidated, and too many students are forced to learn in temporary trailer classrooms. We should use most of the surplus to build and repair schools.” Obviously that’s a leading question, so you get 75% of the people saying yes.

The order of questioning is important, particularly if they asked this one after the school one: “(Do you agree with the statement) Tax-and-spend liberal Democrats in Annapolis have been overspending for years. Now that there is finally a budget surplus, lawmakers should give taxpayers long overdue tax relief.” People aren’t going to want to appear greedy after saying they were in favor of building more schools (because it’s for the children, you know.) So that only had a 55% agreement. (56% if you count me.)

There is at least a $600 million surplus. If the Sun figures are correct, Ehrlich could completely erase this year’s state portion of the property tax burden on everyone (13.2 cents per $100 of assessed value) and still have some money left over. That would put $528 million back into the hands of property owners and still leave a small surplus. Obviously the Democrats would rail about “tax cuts for the rich.” But money would return to the state with additional sales tax revenue and just maybe a few thousand new jobs created.

I don’t want to come off as saying that new schools are unnecessary after a period of time. But, honestly, is a Taj Mahal-like school building really more conducive to learning than a good teacher? All a primary school for 300 kids in 6 grades really needs are 12-14 classrooms (which includes 2 for special ed), a gym, a media center, rooms for a science lab, art, and music, office space for a few staff, and a cafeteria. That and be well-designed for expansion. I honestly believe that no primary school should be larger than about 450 kids.

The other thing I’d like to know is whether any new school construction would have a provision to save taxpayers money by waiving the (so-called) “prevailing wage” requirements. Ohio did this with their school building program.

And of course, every other advocacy group wants a cut of this rapidly-shrinking surplus. A group called Advocates for Children and Youth wanted $400 million for schools PLUS $375 million for other social programs.

But you can’t pay big money for schools without getting the teachers’ union seeking a piece of the pie, to wit:

News item: Support builds for better pensions (an AP story in the Daily Times, December 26, 2005)

The teachers’ union wants another $480 million a year for their pensions, although they would generously share about 1/3 of that for other state employees. They whine about the measly pensions that Maryland teachers get, and in raw numbers they are right: it’s about half of Pennsylvania’s average and roughly 50% less than the averages in Delaware and Virginia. An average Free State teacher’s pension is only 36% of their salary, which is tied for the bottom with Hawaii’s average.

But, and this is a big but, Maryland teachers contribute just 2% of their pay toward their pensions. (Hawaii contributes none, but it’s a far smaller state.) While the teachers are willing to kick in another 3% of their pay, they also want to change the multiplier rate to a retroactive 2 percent – an increase of almost half over the current 1.4%.

I actually participated in Ohio’s system for a very short time, back in 1991 when I taught one section of AutoCAD for one semester at Owens College (about 12 hours a week.) It seems to me that I had a lot more than 2% taken out, even then. I recall my rebate being over $100 when I dropped out of the system shortly after leaving Owens, but my salary there was a low four figures.

I’d be curious to know what TB thinks about this one.

News item: Democrats target Ehrlich vetoes (Baltimore Sun, December 11, 2005)

In a nutshell, here is the Democrats’ idiocy Governor Ehrlich properly vetoed:

1. The “Fair Share Health Care” bill, aka the Wal-Mart bill. Bad legislation to target one successful (and non-union) business. The proponents speak of “fairness” but forget that it works both ways.

2. A bill allowing voters to cast their ballots up to a week before Election Day. Can you say electoral fraud? Sure you can. I don’t buy the higher turnout argument because now it’s fairly easy to get an absentee ballot. If I can make time to vote because it’s that important to me, others can sacrifice as well.

3. Increasing the state minimum wage $1 to $6.15 per hour. So, when the inevitable uptick in the unemployment rate comes of this, I’ll bet the Democrats blame Gov. Ehrlich for messing up the economy instead of their support of this artificial wage increase that squeezes business.

4. A juvenile justice bill that simply seems to create more red tape and regulation.

5. A bill that allows same-sex partners to make medical decisions for each other. Just another step toward legalizing gay marriage. But the Ehrlich administration claims they’re seeking a compromise, which means that he only gives away 3/4 of the store instead of 100%. Much like most other liberal programs, get the camel’s nose in the tent and pretty soon you have a humped roommate.

It’s going to be very interesting in Annapolis about two weeks hence. That’s going to really kick off the 2006 campaign. Ironically, Governor Ehrlich will be at a fundraising disadvantage for the 90 days of the legislative session as he cannot raise money during that period, while his Democrat opponents can. But he does have the advantage of a late primary (Maryland’s primary is in mid-September) so both Martin O’Malley and Doug Duncan can beat each other up all summer – unless the powers that be in the Democrat party convince one to drop out, or the Democrats game the election cycle and move the primary back to June.

But the Democrats would NEVER change the rules in the middle of the game, would they?

The Empire writes back

Been sitting on this letter for a week or so as other items I see in and out of the news took precedence. But a week ago Saturday I got my reply to my letter to Congressman Gilchrest. I was shocked that it wasn’t a form letter, to be honest. It did look like he took the time to read it and understand my arguments to some extent.

So, to place it in context, I’ll put my letter in first. I’m surprised I didn’t put in on ttrwc, but I would have wanted to reshow it anyway with the changeover.

November 10, 2005

To: Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest

Re: HR 4241, Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 – provision for ANWR drilling

Congressman Gilchrest:

I was disappointed to read that you were one of 25 “moderate” Republicans who have threatened to hold up a bill that would begin a much-needed process of cutting federal spending because of its provision to begin drilling for oil in a small portion of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

It is only a short-sighted few who are opposed to beginning the process of oil exploration and recovery in this area. Meanwhile, a broad coalition of native Alaskans, energy experts, union workers, and a large swath of the general public frustrated with the rising cost of gasoline support taking advantage of a domestic oil supply. While the stocks of oil in ANWR certainly won’t be enough to fulfill all of our energy needs, it can serve as a bridge to a time when we will find alternative sources of energy. Your support of HR 6 earlier this year, while unpopular with a vocal minority of constituents, was a step in this direction.

However, the reality is, even with measures you’ve supported (such as raising the fuel economy standards for automakers) America finds itself in the dangerous position of having foreign oil producers supply a growing portion of the market. While Canada is a steady friend, the rest of our top 5 suppliers (Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia) contain anywhere from an unofficial to state-sponsored disdain of American policies and values.

Personally, I would like to see more done in the way of extracting oil from shale domestically and using more nuclear power to generate our electricity rather than a growing dependence on natural gas. For the foreseeable future, though, we are in a position where oil is the lifeblood of our economy. Thus, I urge that you rethink your opposition to ANWR drilling as part of a balanced and forward-looking total energy policy.

Additionally, I hope I can count on you to support the aim of the overall bill, which is to cut federal spending to reallocate those resources to victims of this year’s hurricanes. It is a prudent thing to cut the unnecessary to fund the priorities – hopefully it will also spur a look at where our priorities are set.

Sincerely,

Michael Swartz
Salisbury

And he wrote back:

December 6, 2005

Dear Mr. Swartz:

Thank you for your interest in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, HR 4241. This bill is commonly referred to as the “budget reconciliation” bill and was passed on the House floor on November 18, 2005.

I opposed the inclusion of language in HR 4241 authorizing oil and gas development in ANWR, in part, because ANWR is the largest area of unspoiled wilderness in the US. Among other wildlife species, it is home to the Porcupine caribou herd, and provides critical calving habitat for them. Exact oil reserves available on the refuge are unknown, but the median expectation projected by the US Geological Survey is about 10.3 billion barrels of oil. While this would imcrease US domestic production of oil, market analysts predict it could have only a minute impact on US energy prices.

This is because the US is the largest consumer of petroleum products in the world, using fully a quarter of annual globa supplies. Yet, we own only about 3 percent of total global oil reserves. In addition, many market analysts and geophysicists tell me the US either has or will soon peak in its available supply for oil production – meaning that supplies on the downside of that peak will never be able to meet emergency needs for oil in the future. The US currently imports 60% of its oil, and our demand for oil is projected to increase over 30% in 2025, especially in the transportation sector. Therefore, it seems unlikely that domestic oil production can meet even a small fraction of US oil demand in 7-12 years – when ANWR supplies may be available should development begin now. Our thirst for oil and the very small portion we own will continue to sustain significant oil imports and volatile prices until we can meaningfully replace it with renewable and alternative energy sources.

We will likely never again find a product so diverse and flexible – for energy and many other uses – than petroleum. The US must seriously invest in development and delivery of affordable, reliable energy from more diverse sources and must reserve its small supply of oil for the many other applications for which it is now or may be used – including roads, plastics, chemicals, and other products. I will continue to do all I can toward progressive energy policy that supports a wide range of alternative energy sources.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Sincerely,

Wayne T. Gilchrest
Member of Congress

Now, I did a little research on oil awhile back for a ttrwc post. By the time ANWR comes online, we’ll probably be consuming about 23 million barrels a day.

If you assume that ANWR does have the 10.3 billion barrels Rep. Gilchrest cited, that works out to 447 days’ worth of oil. I think this is the figure the anti-ANWR people cite. There are two problems with this assumption though. Number one is that it’s not a given that ANWR would be our sole source of oil. If I go under the assumption that the ANWR reserves per day would be depleted at the rate we import from our largest current foreign supplier (Canada’s 1.616 million barrels per day) then the figures grow to 6,374 days (or about 17 1/2 years.)

The second faulty assumption is that there’s only 10.3 billion barrels of oil in ANWR. We have no way of knowing this without further exploration. The current “best guess” ranges up to 16 billion barrels of oil that’s recoverable under current technology. There’s certainly nothing to indicate that the ANWR oil can’t be double or even triple this best guess – at best case it could last 40 years.

One other issue I have with Rep. Gilchrest’s logic regards the pristine environment, calving habitat, etc. When exploration is only going to take a small fraction of ANWR’s total area (the reserve occupies basically the entire northeast quadrant of Alaska) I think the caribou can find many a place to have little caribou. To hear environmentalists talk, oil drilling in ANWR would place derricks as far as the eye can see, and that’s simply untrue. For those of you familiar with Maryland, think of something that takes up the area of 2 of the 23 counties and imagine how small of an area that really is compared to the state as a whole. That’s at the high end of estimates for the oil industry impacted area.

As I stated in my letter to Rep. Gilchrest, we do need to explore other avenues of filling our energy needs. I’ve cited a couple that, while they’re not strictly renewable, they are certainly plentiful or very efficient given the amount of material used. There’s merit to continuing research into hydropower, wind, and solar energy, but I believe that research into those avenues are best conducted by private entities. The X Prize is one example – the incentive of $10 million to develop a renewable space vehicle was a very good one, and one that is evolving into other areas.

Once again, capitalism at work – it’s a beautiful thing! So let’s get to work in ANWR and continue to fuel the engine until we can use our ingenuity to figure out a better way.

Late edit: Here’s a photo of the ANWR area.

Isn’t that majestic scenery beautiful? Look at all the caribou!

The battle is joined

Looks like it’s time for the fight to begin. January 11th is just around the corner, and that’s the start date to our 90 days of lunacy known as the General Assembly session. At or near the top of the list is going to be the vote on overriding Governor Ehrlich’s veto of the so-called “Fair Share” bill.

I was reminded of this yesterday listening to the radio. I was working out and minding my own business when I heard a commercial. (Hopefully the link works, it’s the actual .mp3 file.) And it just so happens that Delegates Bozman and Conway are MY delegates.

So I laughed to myself and said, “well well well…looks like it’s time to take the fight to them.” Step number one is right here, I dashed off a letter to the Daily Times. As always, we’ll see if they have the balls to print it.

Yesterday I was listening to the radio and a commercial came on asking me to thank Delegates Bozman and Conway for their support for “fairness” – that concept being determined by their support of a particular piece of legislation.

After listening to that, I said to myself, “ok, the battle is joined now. It’s going to be the special interests and the money that they all but coerce out of their workers to put ads on the radio, against me and my words that I type on my computer and hope to have placed in the paper.” Luckily, I know that common sense and right are on my side.

Here’s why. When they speak of “fairness,” they forget to tell you that this bill is written against one particular multibillion dollar entity. Just one. It would be as if the rest of Maryland decided to levy a tax against the citizens of Salisbury for a real or perceived advantage they have over the remainder of the state.

In fact, their commercial never cites the entity by name, nor does it reveal the true source of the funds behind buying its time on the radio, simply billing itself as “Maryland for Health Care.”

Well, I live in Maryland and I’m for health care too (is there anyone who’s not?) But I’m not for using the power of the legislature for gaining an unfair advantage at the expense of a successful company. As a resident of their district, not some far-off national concern coming into Delmarva with slickly packaged radio ads, I strongly encourage Delegates Bozman and Conway to reconsider their previous stance and uphold Governor Ehrlich’s veto of “Fair Share.”

And I wonder what I’ll be doing this Friday afternoon when I get off work. Think I have a phone call or two to make. That’s step two.

Oh, as if it wouldn’t be patently obvious, “Maryland for Health Care” is a front organization for the Service Employees International Union. I suppose the SEIU decided that the United Food and Commercial Workers had put enough money into lobbyists and political contributions to the Democrats in Annapolis so it was their turn.

It’ll be a story to follow as the time gets closer. We’ll see if Maryland really wants to punish achievers, wipe out Somerset County’s bid for 800-1000 jobs, and show that special interests run the state. Considering which party has a stranglehold on the General Assembly, it’s pretty obvious what the answer will be. Even so, I’m not going to just sit idly by without making my feelings known. It’s time to fight.

Green day

This is the editorial I referred to in my last post. It came to me in an e-mail I regularly get at work, which links to Architectural Record. As an architect, I probably should read the magazine more, but I have more mudane things to do like actually serve my clients. And honestly, I try not to think much about work at home – there’s office time and afterwards there’s ME time.

But I’ll have to give you a bit of personal background before I continue with this story.

When I was in Ohio, I went through all the testing and became a registered architect. So every two years, the state of Ohio sends a reminder notice to me that I have to renew my registration in order to legally practice for another two years (within the state of Ohio.) Despite the fact I live in Maryland now, I’ve opted to retain my Ohio registration – never know what can happen in life. (I also can continue to claim reciprocity as I work on getting registered here in Maryland.)

Anyhow, the state of Ohio, in its infinite wisdom, decided to kowtow to lobbyists from the American Institute of Architects and other interested groups who stand to gain from such regulations and adopt a mandatory continuing education policy, effective with this year’s renewal. So in order to maintain good standing with the state of Ohio, I have to complete 24 hours of continuing education in the next two years. (Fortunately, I’ll be able to use those hours concurrently for my Maryland registration once I get it since their requirements are similar.)

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some benefit to continuing education. But, honestly – have brick, steel, wood, and concrete changed that much in the last 20 years? Arguably, adopting a new building code every few years requires some study, but they retain 80-90% of the old code for the new one.

So what does the industry use as filler material for these hours? Primers on “sustainable” or “green” architecture, of course! That’s the AIA’s pet project, as evidenced by this article.

Thus, seeing it on the Sweet’s website piqued my interest. (Sweet’s is a company that compiles various product catalogs and annually publishes a multi-volume set of them, arranged by product. They were bought out by McGraw-Hill several years ago. McGrawHill also publishes Architectural Record.) I laughed out loud when I saw this though:

By now, you know the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) as the originators of the LEED program, which certifies that completed buildings meet a list of stringent criteria, from appropriate building materials to the disposal of construction waste. The program is generating its own energy, and although relatively few buildings [see Record, June 2005, page 135] have achieved LEED certification yet, and some have thrown up their hands and dropped out (the New York Times headquarters, for example, which folded its formal LEED program, if not its commitment to building green in the face of Manhattan’s unrealistic costs), projects in the pipeline are increasing.

So the New York Times, which probably made a huge deal out of becoming a “green building” participant, is given a pass because of “Manhattan’s unrealistic costs.” I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not just Manhattan that has unrealistic costs for green architecture.

Currently I have a project under construction that is attempting LEED Silver certifiication. That means they have to attain 33 points on a scale of 69. Some of these are common sense and good economics (like energy-efficient heating systems), but others are completely esoteric. (Here is the entire LEED 2.1 Green Building Rating System, it’s a 75 page .pdf file.) All of this to get 8% of your building cost back at some future point before 2011. But my bet is that it’s going to cost 10% or more to get this tax credit. We were pretty close on the calculations and that was before the owner decided to make a boatload of changes to the building. Hell, they STILL are and the building’s about 55% enclosed.

What sticks out to me above all else is that there has to be a tax credit to make these things happen. Just like too many other things, the government has to stick its nose into the market because it’s supposedly for our own good. I will grant that it’s the state government that’s doing it, so it’s the proper venue; but to me if there was a big demand for it people would naturally do this on their own, rather than create a lot more paperwork for everyone (particularly the contractor.)

And it leads me full circle to continuing education. Again, something for my own good, but let me be the judge of what’s good. I can do a lot more good to my employer restudying the code book on my own to verify the building is safe and sound as designed than spending unbillable time learning about another government boondoggle.

News digest #1

It’s a potpourri of stuff tonight. A bunch of stuff that piqued my interest in the last week, mostly culled from CNS News and AgapePress via www.gopusa.com. Basically, GOPUSA is a sort of internet newspaper with conservative news and commentary. And it’s upfront about it – the tagline states “Bringing the conservative message to America.”

News item: ADF battles Georgia county’s ‘Christmas’ ban in schools. ADF is the Alliance Defense Fund.

Money phrase: ADF attorney David Cortman says Jackson County officials have completely eradicated Christmas from the public school system.

“Teachers are not allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas’ [and] they’re not allowed to wear any pins or angels or crosses or clothing that has any religious connotation or affiliation,” Cortman explains. “They can’t have a Christmas party — they have to call it a ‘winter party.’ They can’t sing religious songs. In fact … they actually censored the word ‘God’ from the song.”

Now I cited this because there was a comment I left on Crallspace where he talked about the “so-called war on Christmas.” Just more proof that anything Christian in schools is being eliminated. Tyranny of the minority.

Here’s a link to that story, by Jim Brown of AgapePress.

News item: Kyoto Protocol declared ‘dead’ at UN climate conference.

Money phrases: “Kyoto is absolutely dead,” said David Ridenour, vice president of the D.C.-based conservative group, National Center for Public Policy Research.

Ridenour, who questions the alarmist scientific basis behind Kyoto, accused the industrialized nations that ratified the protocol of hypocrisy, for only verbally supporting the emission reduction goals.

“They’re hypocrites, those countries who say ‘we have to have the [Kyoto emission] targets, but we are not going to meet them.’ You have 11 out of 15 of the E.U. (European Union) nations that had increases in CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions. So whether they admit it or not, Kyoto is dead,” Ridenour said.

Not surprisingly, seeing their dreams go up in smoke, environmentalists deny this:

“Kyoto is alive and well, thank you very much,” said Catherine Pearce, the international climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth International.

“These kinds of comments just come from the United States actually and it’s driven by the White House who actually wants to see this process die,” Pearce told Cybercast News Service.

And:

“Kyoto is alive and kicking. This conference is proof of that,” said Kaisa Kosonen, the energy campaigner for the European-based Nordic division of Greenpeace.

“I still have high hopes,” Kosonen added, while warning that the U.S. was playing a destructive role at the conference.

“The U.S. has done its best to sabotage everything. [But] you have to differentiate the Bush administration from the United States,” she said, noting the many U.S.-based groups in attendance critical of the Bush administration’s climate policies.

All you need to know about the Kyoto Protocol is that 11 of the 15 EU countries increased their emissions, and the goal of Kyoto was to restore the pollutants to 1990 levels. Ain’t gonna happen, unless all industry and progress in Europe cease. Even our Senate knew this was a turkey, which is why they rejected it on the order of 97-0.

The link to the story, by Marc Morano of CNS News, is here.

And if you don’t believe the whole global warming scare isn’t just a ploy to extract wealth from the industrialized countries to the forces of global governance, read this.

News item: ‘Are you better off this holiday?’, Democrats ask.

Money phrase: (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi promises that a Democrat-controlled House will offer a “real energy plan that focuses on lowering high energy costs and developing new, cleaner technologies like hybrids, conservation, and renewable resources.”

She said Democrats will offer a “real prescription drug benefit that lowers out-of-pocket expenses and guarantees benefits, not one written by the pharmaceutical companies,” and she said Democrats will challenge the Bush administration’s “incompetent and dishonest foreign policy.”

Pelosi notes that Democrats need only 15 seats to regain a majority in the House: “Then the People’s House will be a place that is truly befitting of the holiday spirit — where we care for all people, and do the things necessary to make us stronger today and in future generations.”

Oh, such fun with this one!

Nancy, your idea of lowering high energy costs would be a freeze on gas prices and windfall profit taxes on oil companies. Then, when supplies dry up and there’s long gas lines because the oil companies can’t make money on their product, you’ll blame them for creating shortages in the market. Not only that, oil supplies that are tappable and refinable sit unused because of moratoriums on additional exploration (such as in ANWR) and the building of new refineries.

High energy costs are cyclical in some respects as markets fluctuate and stabilize. This also covers some of the “new, cleaner technologies” – if not for the governmental subsidies on some of those, they would never see the light of day. Just naturally build a market for it – if it’s as good as advertised, entrepreneurs will come. Oh yeah, Democrats don’t believe in personal initiative, just engorged government.

Bloated government will also be their “solution” to the “problem” of prescription drug access. I think it was a huge mistake to add prescription drug benefits to Medicare. The system of private insurance and subsidies by drug companies to poorer patients wasn’t broken, so no “fix” was necessary. Again, the Democrats’ solution will likely either drive up taxpayer costs or drive down pharmaceutical company profits, with a lack of new research being one possible effect.

Incompetent and dishonest foreign policy? That’s code for pulling out of Iraq. Nancy, I know it and you know it, quit bullshitting us and just say it. It’s easy, you can even do this in San Francisco, where they’ll cheer and throw flowers at you. Just walk to a microphone, get the network news cameras rolling, and say, “I want us to abandon our Iraqi mission and let the insurgents retake the country. Let Saddam Hussein reclaim what was rightfully his until we took it by force. In fact, we owe him compensation for killing both of his sons.”

We know you want to, grow a pair and do it.

And I liked the fact that the word “Christmas” did not once escape her lips. She’s into the “holiday” spirit as well, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

She did say one true thing. Read the phrase again, “Then the People’s House will be a place that is truly befitting of the holiday spirit — where we care for all people, and do the things necessary to make us stronger today and in future generations.”

The People’s House? Is that like the People’s Republic of China, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (what we know as North Korea)?

Where we care for all people? Is that to read, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”?

By “us” does she mean Americans, or the Democrat party? We already had a president or two who came up with hundreds of government programs that maybe were well-meant at the time but have become like a pack of rats – ugly, pesky, and damn hard to kill off one at a time. They’ve already trumped up charges to get rid of the exterminator that’s in Washington, and a renewal of the Democrat-controlled Congress will be like giving fresh garbage to those rats who are always looking for the easy meal.

Here’s a link to that story by Susan Jones of CNS News.

I hate it when this happens. I had one more item in mind, but the link doesn’t work. Oh well, it’s a blog post for another day. This item bears some relation to the environmentalist items I led off with, but on a personal level. So I suppose I’ll stop here with this post, I have another post to write tonight since something VERY interesting came in the mail for me today.

Late edit (12:20 a.m.) The second post will keep until tomorrow, or actually, later today.

Caveat emptor, part 2

It seems to me that sometimes we as consumers have become way too driven by price. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, but cheap needs to be good too.

I was talking to a friend of mine last night about where she works. The company she works for is a rather large, publicly traded company that manufactures various items for the healthcare field. One thing she’s had to do is watch as component production is being sent away from Ohio to factories in Mexico and China (mainly China.)

Now, I’m as much a free trader as anyone. I do think having free trade will help everyone in the long run. But one of her complaints about the factory in China is that they do not produce the quality of items needed to manufacture the items they assemble here in the U.S. So there’s a percentage of the items that have to be rejected. The problem she noted is that you just can’t get money back from China (for their rejected product)…what they offered is a slightly larger production for the same price. So basically you’ll get more crappy items from them in the hopes that the increase in sheer numbers will make enough product that meets standards.

It’s a problem that I see becoming worse, not just her company specifically, but in general. Her company is already suffering as their sales projections are down to what they were three years ago. The company’s stock is taking a beating too – in an era of rising prices and the Dow flirting with an all-time high, their shares are down almost 35% from their 52-week high. While they manufacture a product that should be very popular, I wonder perhaps if people have noticed the lack of quality in their product and begun to shy away from it.

I’ll set aside my mistrust of China as a trading partner for the moment to argue along another avenue. Consider the true cost of cheap and unskilled labor. Unskilled labor is fine for making and doing many simple things. But when you have a product that depends both on stability of structure and electronic components working properly, perhaps a little higher skill level is demanded.

We talked about her looking for a new car. One that she’s not going to consider was one that she drove for awhile, and that was a Kia. She just didn’t think Korean cars were made as well, but there were design elements she did like in them. I also have some experience with Kia, but my car was a Ford Festiva (which Kia actually made under the Ford name.) For the first 50,000 miles we loved that car – in fact my wife and I bought another one used as a second car when my old Chevy Sprint gave out. She drove the white one (an ’89) we bought used and I drove the red one (an ’88) that we bought new.

But the last 49,500 miles I had that Festiva were really hard on it. Three times the plastic door handles broke. The mechanism holding the driver’s side mirror in place broke after I bumped it one too many times walking by. The gasketing on the sunroof got loose and soon the handle broke. Brakes and muffler rusted out. I will say that the engine and transmission were fairly decent in it but it got to a point where the car wouldn’t start on damp and cool days. Plenty of those on Ohio.

I understand that it was a relatively inexpensive car. But one would think that a company wanted to have a product that was made inexpensively, but well. (By the way, we traded the other Festiva in for a Jeep Cherokee. Bought it new in 1994, my stepdaughter finally totaled it a year ago. Not her fault, it was the deer’s. The Jeep was falling apart as well, but the car was over 160,000 miles.)

It seems to me that sometimes we as consumers have become way too driven by price. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, but cheap needs to be good too. How many of you have had a product made by a company that you associated with quality and you end up throwing it out after two years because it’s stopped working? And how many times was it “Made in China”? Sometimes you don’t have a lot of choice, but do you ever stop and think why that is?

Let’s go back and examine the case of my friend. Somewhere along the line, the buyers and beancounters at her company found that it was cheaper for a plant in China to make their components and ship them across the Pacific than it was to make them in Ohio or even another state. Obviously, it was a price-driven thing. But it seems like the quality of the work suffers. Honestly, a worker in China is most likely not very educated or skilled with the exception of making whatever widgets the state-backed factory is putting out.

More importantly, what incentive does this factory have to create a quality product? They know that a Chinese worker is going to take his meager wages and not complain, for fear that either another willing worker will come along, or worse, he might be sent to a labor camp and work at the point of a gun. So it’s obvious that they can supply Americans with all the cheap products they’ll ever want to buy (and do, like it or not.) All Americans seem to want is a cheap product – almost so cheap that they don’t care about tossing it out a couple years later, then buying yet another one and the cycle starts over. It used to be called “planned obsolescence”, now it’s called “modern life.”

So where are the craftsmen? Unfortunately, they don’t seem to exist here either. The work ethic isn’t being handed down from generation to generation like it once was. Seeing a man who loves his craft is more and more rare. Seeing a man who has no compunction with putting in an honest day’s effort and working hard to move up the ladder of success is rarer still. Today’s workplace is more in line with the Dilbert Principle.

Now, I’m not tooting my own horn here, but I do take some pride in my work. It’s discouraging to me to see a contractor mess it up. It really pisses me off when it’s my fault, like I forgot a dimension someplace. We do look out for each other’s work at my company, but sometimes there’s things overlooked. I do get lectured from time to time about checking over stuff and not guessing or using “standard” details. So I learn a bit every so often.

I just wish that people would do more of that in the stuff they buy. Not just big ticket items like cars, but some of the little stuff. Your TV should last more than 5 years. That digital camera you buy for $99 – if it doesn’t work in a year, you can go out and buy a new one, just pay attention to who made it and where it was made. Don’t repeat the same mistakes if you can.

Ford used to say “Quality is Job 1.” It seems like a hollow slogan sometimes when yet another of their cars is recalled. The other thing I noticed in the news lately is that when Saturns were first made, they were considered one of the better quality cars in America, and their plant was noted for its culture and not being like every other car plant. But GM recently decided to pull the plug on one of the plant’s assembly lines anyway.

My last observation is this. Once again, imagine the Chinese factory. It runs constantly, belching out who-knows-what types of pollutants, unencumbered by such things as safety regulations and minimum wage laws. Obviously, the American factory that is shuttered won’t pollute, nor will they see any workers injured on the job. But their minimum wage is now zero as they have closed due to foreign competition – a Chinese factory that can’t match theirs in the quality of work, but kills them in price.

But if we could free ourselves from the shackles of excessive regulation and put an attitude back in the American people that values quality as much as price, perhaps we can find an entrepreneur willing to work hard and get his hands dirty in restoring a valuable company name. Maybe we can get back workers who give a damn about the things they make, won’t accept any less than the best, and are genuinely pissed off when they find out what they made was defective. But making an honest mistake would be grounds for the company to be more careful with the products they make, not grounds for a lawsuit-happy trial lawyer to encourage a few people who claim to be harmed by the product to make their attempt at winning life’s lottery and extorting millions out of the company (of course, the shyster gets his cut too!)

Recently, some unions dropped out of the AFL-CIO and formed what they termed the “Change to Win Coalition.” I hope one of the changes that they make is being a little more willing to work with corporations on getting some of the onerous regulations the labor movement has sponsored and created off the books so we can change to win. I know we can compete with the cheap Chinese if Americans can promise quality and prove why it’s better to be good than cheap.

Print this.

It’s simply common sense, isn’t it?

I love it when people respond to my letters to the editor in the Daily Times here. This is what the poor uninformed chap wrote:

Support Gilchrest in his ANWR stance

Rush Limbaugh has been urging his listeners to put the pressure on Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md. 1st, and other Republication moderates who refused to vote for the budget reconciliation bill on Nov. 9 as long as it contained a provision opening the ANWR to oil drilling.

As a swing voter and environmentalist who visted Kaktovic and Arctic Village in 1996, I am happy to support a Republican congressman who recognizes the importance of a pristine area to the health of the ecosystem of the entire north slope and Brooks Range.

Contrary to a recent Daily Times letter to the editor, the coastal plain is not “barren,” but a great birthing ground for the nearly 200 wildlife species, including polar bears, musk oxen and caribou and more than 135 species of birds.

Granted, we are in an energy crunch and the price of gasoline and heating fuel has been rising. But drilling in the ANWR will not put oil in the pipelines for at least a decade, and will not produce enough to appreciably lower prices on the world market.

Opening the ANWR for drilling is a Bush plum for Young, Stevens and Murkowski, and the voters of Alaska who receive a monthly check from the oil bonanza fund — a fund that may soon be depleted.

Americans are being asked to sell a portion of their birthright for a mess of potage.

Gilchrest needs Delmarva’s support for his courageous stand on this sensitive issue. Conserve the environment — and turn off the radio when Limbaugh comes on. Let Rush know we can take care of our own.

Bill Horne

Salisbury

So this is what I wrote back. We’ll see if they have the guts to print it.

To the Editor:

Because Bill Horne’s letter of December 2 is the answer to mine, this is my counter to his.

It’s a very shortsighted position that he and Congressman Gilchrest agree on. While it’s admirable that he’s caring for the caribou and other wildlife species that inhabit the North Slope area, he’s forgetting the human costs that not having a dependable source of energy will extract on our economy. It’s a shame that we have waited this long to begin the exploration process on the North Slope because had we began when it was first proposed, the initial gallons of gasoline could have already been in our tanks.

The wildlife of the North Slope has been present there for untold generations while they were sitting thousands of feet above millions of barrels of oil. The wildlife of the North Slope will be there generations hence whether we drill for oil or not. Don’t let Mr. Horne convince you otherwise when the area that is to be used for actual oil exploration is to ANWR as Salisbury is to the state of Maryland. And even if there is the small chance of an oil-related accident that would create an environmental issue, nature has a very good way of cleaning itself up. We need only look at what the dire predictions that were aired in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill and the Iraqi-induced oil fires in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War have produced in reality, very little long-term effect.

I’m perfectly aware that someday we’re going to exhaust our oil supplies and we’ll need the ingenuity still present in the American people to solve the problem, much as we’ve solved problems in every field of science. But if the resources are there, they are accessible, and the benefits of using them outweigh the unlikely risks to wildlife to extract them, then I believe it’s time to go ahead and do so.

Mr. Horne and Congressman Gilchrest may feel they have a position that benefits all in the long term, but I strongly disagree. It’s long past time to start working on a real energy program that uses American resources and knowledge to cut down our dependence on foreign supplies. Drilling in ANWR is a necessary step in the right direction.

As for Rush Limbaugh, it’s nice to know he agrees with me on the subject.

Michael Swartz
Salisbury

It’s simply common sense, isn’t it? Ask yourself – what is more important and higher on the plane of existence – caribou or humans?

I liked another Daily Times letter I saw today, so I feel no need to respond – I’ll reprint it here instead.

It has been said, “We use the past to judge the present and to predict the future.” There is no other way. Of course “hindsight is 20-20.” If we knew what tomorrow would bring we would all be rich, but we don’t know.

Using the past as a guide we know what to expect from our associations. Often we would refuse to believe what our senses tell us. When we do, we usually suffer the consequences of our foolishness. Still, it is human nature to hope for the best. In our day, (I’m 76), we have witnessed the atrocities of Adolph Hitler, Stalin and others who desired world domination. More recently, Saddam Hussein.

I can judge by his past deeds that the world was a dangerous place with him in power. He was not the same as Osama bin Laden, but they were cut, as it were, from the same cloth. Hate, murder, intimidation and domination were their methods to achieve their aim, and still are.

On 9-11, the world was really no different from what it is today. Threats existed, but that’s all they were, threats. When we lost thousands of innocent lives to the vicious radical suicidal attacks on the World Trade Center we were suddenly in shock. We looked for someone to blame. Why us? We look especially at our leaders. What would we do?

Going back again to draw on the past, the date 1915; the Lucitania (sic) was sunk by a German U-Boat. Our president had, up till then, been reluctant to get into the war that was raging in Europe. Again, after that attack, America came together as only a committed and determined people can and we were victorious; again. Without our participation it is not difficult to see where we, and the world, would be today.

The same conditions existed when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Again, America came together to stand as a free people who refused to be cowered into submission by a terrorist attack. The past is a wonderful teacher. Today, we stand as a free people and witness the atrocities of terrorists who would cower us into submission and deny us the right to defend ourselves from the truth, justice and freedom that we so rightly desire; even that our forefathers died for.

To that end, we have again dispersed our young men to fight and die to defend our interest in other lands. Today, our troops are in the process of helping and training a people that has suffered from the tyranny of ruthless men. Helping them to stand on their feet so they can defend themselves while defending the freedoms of others; us in particular.

Where Iraq was a war of defending our interest, it has become a political whipping boy. I think it is disgraceful upon Americans as a people not to support the engagement that we are involved in and see it through to the finish so that our men have not died in vain. To do otherwise will only allow more attacks upon Americans as a people (upon our homeland) which will surely come, as it has in other lands. It has been promised to us, and I believe it will come unless we settle this thing now.

As the words of the song state: “I’ll gladly stand up, next to you and defend her still today. Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the USA.”

S. Lee Smith Jr.

Salisbury

Stand up and cheer for this man! That’s proof of the saying “age begets wisdom.”

Now I know that a lot of people don’t support our being in Iraq, most of them seemingly populate the partisan media. Sometimes I wish I could go out, knock them upside the head, and scream, “Don’t you understand! The jihadists want to kill us, kill our way of life, kill our great nation, all for the sake of building up a caliphate that would plunge us back into the Dark Ages! Listen to me, damn it! OUR side is the side of right. If they win, do you honestly think you’ll have a job? You’ll be the first to be stoned as the useful idiots.”

So spare me the bullshit as you snivel, “Well, I support the troops but I don’t support their mission…” You’re with us or against us. Black or white. Bitch all you want, Dan, about me being a so-called right-wing tool, but I’m right on this one.

And yes, my site is now officially capitalist. Since I listen to and read the stuff and I think it’s cool, more people should get it. Oh, and speaking of cool stuff, go listen to “Snowblind” by Black Sabbath and tell me that’s not the coolest drum song ever. Just mash those cymbals, Bill. (They just played it on the radio.)

All right, my ranting is through for tonight. It was a passionate post, wasn’t it?