17 December 2008

Free choice with fries...

If anyone doubted the Labor Agenda and its potential negative impact on our economy, you need do nothing more than read Andy Stern's anti-McDonald's missive.  McDonald's is a large company which provides solid entry level jobs, decent benefits and flexible working arrangements for its employees.  No one is forced to work there - there are a host of entry level positions available - not as many with flexible hours though.  McDonald's offers management training, ownership opportunities and contributes of strong social programs across the country.  They are many of our first experiences of work. 
What the SEIU is trying to do is bully McDonalds employees into becoming a member of their union.  The disparity of CEO pay to base employee compensation is a matter for a responsible compensation board and the 770x multiple is misleading as it takes into account stock options (which may be worth zero at any given moment).   McDonald's provides simple food (one can make any case about nutritional value - it's about OUR choices) that people want.  I would be very interested to know exactly what benefits SEIU would offer organized members.  It was partly labor's intransigence which led the United States automobile industry, textile industry, steel industry and electronics industry overseas. 
Will their efforts cripple McDonald's as well?

From: Michael Whitney-SEIU.org [mailto:info@seiu.org]
Sent: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 2:47 PM
Subject: Go to McDonald's tomorrow at noon

McScrooged: Talk To McDonalds Employees Dear,

Last week we told you that McDonald's wasn't lovin' free choice at work. Several thousand of you stood up and told the company what you think about their efforts to stop their employees' free choice.

Now we're kicking our campaign into high gear. We want to speak directly with McDonald's employees about what it's like to work for a CEO who is paid 770 times what his workers earn, leaving working families with barely enough to afford the "Dollar Menu."

We're organizing events at McDonald's locations around the country for TOMORROW at NOON. Can you take an hour tomorrow to go to your local McDonald's to educate McDonald's employees about free choice?

Click here to find an event at a McDonald's near you and RSVP now.

If you can't find an event near you, you can plan your own - it's easy, quick, and we provide all the materials you need.

According to published reports, the fast food giant is organizing its store owners to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act. McDonald's has reportedly even formed an "internal response team...to actively participate in the opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act."

The Employee Free Choice Act gives workers the free choice to join unions so they can bargain for better wages, benefits, and retirement security. But it's apparent that McDonald's doesn't want its employees to see any of that.

It's time for McDonald's to give workers more of the wealth they help create, and it's up to us to tell them how to do so.

Find or plan an event at a McDonald's near you TOMORROW at NOON to tell employees why they need free choice at work. Click here to RSVP.

Thank you for your support of McDonald's employees and workers everywhere.

In Solidarity,

Michael Whitney
Change that Works

1800 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

10 December 2008

Protect your Visa card online...

My father will be 80 years old this year.  He was born in 1929, prior to the stock market crash.  He has lived through an extraordinary life and continues to do so.  I can truly say that he is someone whom I admire deeply and would list as my top hero.  It is, perhaps, with age that we appreciate the contribution of our parents to who we are.  One thing I admire about my father is his ability to connect with people.  He carries with him some surprising biases, but he maintains a courtesy and civility to everyone which (I think) truly reflects his feelings.  This courtesy, alas, also extends to the internet. 
A couple of years ago we set him up with a computer.  He is interested in genealogy and we though this may be a good way to get him moving on his projects.  Like me, my dad has a variety of interests and often starts projects with good intentions, only to see them idle on a shelf.  Family history has remained a constant, if inconsistent, pursuit.  In his introduction to the internet, he has met every Nigerian bank officer, deposed dictator, European heiress and other e-mail persona hucksters and con artists care to offer.  I am not sure he has a skeptical bone in his body.  Worse, these e-mails are becoming more sophisticated.  Social engineering techniques and phishing sites are creating more compelling messages designed to part us from our identity, cash or both!  
The message below arrived in my inbox today and I though of dad.  Aside from the horrible English, the message appears legitimate - save that any contact from your Visa card would have at least two or three personal identifiers.  My dad is not alone, there are a host of individuals on the net who - with complete innocence - respond to suspicious e-mails and enter far too much information on websites.  Who we are is one of the last elements that remains protected.  Even the Lifelock CEO, who promotes his program by using his social security number, has found himself the victim of fraud and deceit.

From: VerifiedbyVisa [mailto:protect@protectvisa.com]
Sent: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 2:33 AM
To: undisclosed-recipients
Subject: Protect your Visa card online with a personal password
Importance: High

Protect your Visa card online with a personal password


Create an additional password to protect your existing card for online purchases

We are proud to announce that Visa Europe in association with all European and U.S. banks launch a new campaign against online fraud and reward all participants with a 50,00 Euro bonus just for enroll and secure your card. Your personal bonus code is VISA-884AM-4423-2008 ( after you use the code please delete the email or keep it private, conform our privacy  and policy you cannot use your code twice, for more info please visit our Privacy and Policy )

Please enroll now by clinking the Global Visa Site select your country and follow the easy steps for a better security on your card.


    Do not be the next victim and fight with us against credit card fraud. 

  • The overwhelming amount of deception and trickery on the web is not simply confined to attempts to steal your identity.  A host of individuals who promote their own agenda or worldview make their home in the ether, complete with seemingly authentic endorsements, credentials and "facts".  Most recently, Deepak Chopra quoted Wikipedia for a count of civilians killed in the Iraq war.  Never mind that this figure is hotly debated by expert agencies, to quote Wikipedia is akin to saying;
    "I heard it from my cousin's, brother-in-law's step sister."   
    There is a lot of good research and information on Wikipedia, but all of it must be validated and no one will take a Wikipedia reference as a valid source.  No matter your cause, you can find support on the web.  Denizens of Lemuria among us, Chemtrails, Illuminati control of the banking system, suppression of real news (Ken McCarthy's BrasscheckTV is a purveyor of such bunk), anti-Vaccination / Autism adherents (Jenny McCarthy is a dedicated mom and a passable actress - but she is no scientist), and the list goes on forever.  In fact, take this challenge.  Make something up.  Google it.  I would be willing to bet that your neophyte idea is on the web - even if only in satirical form. 
    Trouble is, like these compelling e-mails, it takes time, energy and a skeptical approach to sort the truth from the lies.  Most people either don't care, don't have the time or skills to dig a little deeper.  Do you read all the terms on that credit card application you just filled out?  Do you realize the introductory rate is null and void if you are more than 15 days late on a payment?  Do you know the new rate will be the maximum allowed by law, sometimes as high as 31% APR? 
    Read the fine print.
    Check the sources.
    Dig a little deeper.
    Know the bias.

    02 December 2008


    Famed author and thinker Sixpack Chopstix, also known as Deepak Chopra, has been featured on a number of television shows (including CNN and Larry King) saying that the attacks in Mumbai are the product of America's war on terror.  To this I politely offer to Mr. Chopra, you are out of your mind.  The tension between India's minority Muslims and their Hindu cohabitants has been simmering since prior to America's existence.  This greatest divide crystallized in the separation of Pakistan and India and the battle over Kashmir.  The brutal attacks were not against American interests, only icons of Indian prosperity.  Hotels, train stations, a hospital and other "quality of life" targets.  These are classic soft targets easily placed at risk by even the smallest group of attackers.  Think about how American schools "lock down" every time there is an armed crime in their vicinity.
    Truth is, I like Deepak.  I like his philosophy and his beautiful ability to convey complex ideas.  I have heard him speak in person several times and own a couple of his books, even getting a few autographed.  Most of what he offers is "quantum flapdoodle", a coined phrase courtesy of Richard Feynman.  But I take it metaphorically.  Deepak may believe in all the things he says and writes, but I view his work as a message that we are all interdependent in this world.  Connected in our lives here on spaceship Earth. 
    The assault on Mumbai is a perfect example.  This was an attack by the ignorant and hateful on all that humanity hopes to achieve.  India may still be a terrifically poor nation, but it has a spirit and vitality to it unmatched on the planet.  It is a nation struggling to get better.  The terrorism of the past few days was designed to throw it back to a darker period of caste segregation, religious persecution and intolerance.  For those readers who subscribe to a post-modernist, relativist view of our world, I ask this question.  What, exactly, was the grievance of these attackers?  They left no note, no manifesto of concerns and to date no one has claimed responsibility.  Even the Muslim Council of India has asked that their bodies not be buried - in recognition of their heinous crime. 
    There is evil in the world.  It is bred in fear, ignorance and intolerance.  It feeds upon hateful ideology and is spread by gullible people willing to carry a satchel charge into a hospital or an automatic weapon into a train station.  It must be met with defiance and determination.  It can be co-opted but it must be crushed.   

    19 November 2008

    The spiel...

    I am on the list for GM suppliers.  I found this message very interesting.  Much like the financial crisis, little is understood about the problems plaguing the automotive industry.  Like it or not, a sizable portion of our economy relies on this industry.  We depend on it for mobility, jobs and upstream and downstream industries.  I thought it best to share to give some additional insight as to how our nation relies on the free flow of capital.

    From: GM Supplier Discount [mailto:GM_Supplier_Discount@email.generalmotors.bfi0.com]
    Sent: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 10:02 PM
    Subject: An urgent message to GM suppliers

    Because our futures are linked, I want you to know that General Motors is doing everything possible to deal with the impact the financial crisis is having on the domestic auto industry. Yet despite our successful efforts to restructure, reduce costs and enhance liquidity, we are facing an uphill battle with the current administration and Congress in securing a bridge loan.

    That's why we need your help now. Simply put, we need you to join us to let Congress know that a bridge loan to help U.S. automakers also helps strengthen the U.S. economy and preserve millions of American jobs.

    Despite what you may be hearing, we are not asking Congress for a bailout but rather a loan that will be repaid.

    The consequences of the domestic auto industry collapsing would far exceed the $25 billion loan needed to bridge the current crisis. According to a recent study by the Center for Automotive Research:

    • One in 10 American jobs depends on U.S. automakers
    • Nearly 3 million jobs are at immediate risk
    • U.S. personal income could be reduced by $150 billion
    • The tax revenue lost over 3 years would be more than $156 billion

    Discussions are now underway in Washington, D.C., concerning loans to support U.S. carmakers. I am asking you to support this vital effort by contacting your representatives.

    Please take a few minutes to call your representatives by dialing 1-866-471-5332. Just state your name and address, and your message will reach your legislators. You can review a script that will help you state your support at gmfactsandfiction.com. Under the "Mobilize Now" section, click on "I'm a Supplier." If you would rather e-mail your representatives, use the link "I'm a Concerned American."

    Please share this information with friends and family using the link on the site.

    Thank you for helping keep our economy viable.


    Troy Clarke

    The marks of General Motors, its divisions, slogans, emblems, vehicle model names, vehicle body designs and other marks appearing in this email are the trademarks and/or service marks of General Motors Corporation, its subsidiaries, affiliates or licensors. ©2008 GM Corp. Buckle up, America!

    General Motors Corporation
    100 Renaissance Center
    Detroit, MI 48265

    17 November 2008

    None dare call it Conspiracy...

    My good friend (okay, she’s a blog –bug) Lana Walker has made good on a little wager we had in February.  During the cold, dark winter of the primary season our wager consisted of her assertions that the media was “blocking” information on Ron Paul and that once the election was over a huge public backlash would ensue.  Who would have guessed that the global economy would be on the brink of collapse due to actions taken by the Carter administration in 1977?


    Well, I simply made the assertion that no conspiracy existed.  I follow a simple rule, no secret can exist which is known by more than one person.  The alternate corollary is that the ONLY way to keep a secret between two people is to make sure one of them is dead.  In the interests of fair play, and full disclosure, my predictions are here.  What was my killing line? 


    There is a real risk the economy will improve


    I think I need to return my MBA.  Clearly, I don’t know what I am talking about.  But enough about me, let’s talk about conspiracies.


    These are the stuff of legend, whether it is the uncaring gods, toying with our lives, or the hidden puppet masters of a clandestine world government, we love to imagine someone has got their hand on the tiller.  The internet is a rich feeding ground for all the various fantasies of the population of the planet.  You can find conspiracies about almost anything.  There are Coca-Cola plots, sinister “chemtrails” saturating our atmosphere, Lemurian myths, Big Pharma (or oil, or the military industrial complex, or the RIAA, or anyone!) working to suppress the “true” nature of whatever it is someone is supporting.


    There are NO areas exempt from good on a little wager conspiracy theories.  I would submit that most organized religion is an extrapolated form of conspiracy theory.  However, that’s beside the point.  The reality is that conspiracy theories are just that, guesses and predictions to explain circumstances and situations.  They may be driven by a kernel of truth or they may simply be paranoid delusions brought about my mental illness.  What has proven itself time after time is that they simply don’t exist. 


    Some more astute readers will Google various “true” conspiracy theories and present them, smugly, as fact.  The CIA’s MKULTRA mind control experimentation is credited by many to be proof that these things exist.  The reality is far from compelling.  It represented a small program, sanctioned by the government, in which individuals were subjected to LSD and other drugs in the quest for a perfect truth serum or mind control chemical.  The project was indeed secret, however, its overall influence was small.  Finally, its eventual discovery and exposure eliminates the underpinning framework that conspiracists promote, that these programs are “undiscoverable”.


    Whatever your take, I would encourage you to apply Occam’s Razor to the posits of anyone promoting an alternate view to current events of contemporary history.  First ask yourself, which is the most likely occurrence?  Second, how likely would the alternate possibility be able to remain concealed from view?  Finally, what motivates the promoter of these views.  A frank and objective answer to each of these questions will guard you against falling for most of the ensnaring hogwash running rampant in our society.


    Now excuse me, I need to order one of those  free Amish Heaters!

    11 November 2008


    The Valour-IT Veterans Day fundraiser, a friendly competition among blogs, will run through November 27, 2008 (Thanksgiving). At the urging of Boston Maggie, I am signing up on the Navy team!

    You may go to the fundraiser site (Fundraiser Home) to donate on behalf of your favorite service. Connectivity is critical to the morale of the troops and families who support them in theater.

    Go Navy!

    05 November 2008

    This is Sparta...


    NAVADMIN 318/08








    America 1, Media 0...

    One hundred and thirty-six million American citizens cast their vote for the next president of the United States. Unlike the election of 2004, their votes were each cast for a candidate, rather than characterized as against. Each vote represented the manifestation of what those individuals believed was right for the country.

    Our process then distills these votes into an electoral representation and allocates them to the various candidates.

    President-elect Barack Obama will serve as the 44th President of the United States. I am disappointed that my candidate, Senator John McCain did not win, but I am overjoyed by the process. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the energy and enthusiasm of the voters was inspiring. There was engagement in our political process, an engagement repeated more than 136,000,000 times across the nation.

    As a dear friend, and fellow servant of the Constitution, Mud-Shark commented.

    WE win.

    That’s the collective WE. The American people, not the special interests, the unions, the corporations (although they are representations of the people) won last night.

    So who lost?

    The media.

    For days and weeks they pandered to our most base instincts. There were cries about underlying racism, the Bradley effect, and general stereotyping of the American public and by extension the voter. There were continuing vilifications of the usual suspects (the present administration, big business and Wall Street).

    And yet, at the end of the day – none of that was real or true. The people made their choice regardless of race or gender. Notwithstanding Tina Fey’s deadly interpretation of Governor Sarah Palin, tens of millions of Americans made their choice in her favor. Joe Biden’s repeated gaffes were overlooked as even more people voiced their confidence in his running mate.

    But what is different about this election from previous? In 2004 we reelected George W. Bush over John Kerry. In 2000 Al Gore was beaten in an electoral showdown. It was a tough process, requiring the exercise of contingencies almost never used. Nonetheless, it was the process and subsequent analysis by numerous investigations revealed no wrongdoing or illegal activities.

    The country will rally around the new President in 2009 because that is the right thing to do. There will certainly be those who continually cast criticism on his administration, but that is expected in the give and take of politics. What will NOT happen is the ridiculous disavowals which took place after 2000 and 2004.


    Frankly, the members of the Republican party are better losers. It is my contention that they acknowledge their duty and commitment to our election process. We did not see this in 2000 or 2004. A cottage industry arose to denounce the elected President as “illegitimate”. This was wrong. It reflected poorly upon us as a nation and flew in the face of the covenants upon which our country is founded.

    One of my good friends still clings to this belief. That somehow the process was “hijacked” in 2000 and 2004. That the electorate was “fooled” or manipulated by the machinations of Karl Rove. When Barack Obama thanked his campaign strategist in his acceptance speech, should we infer nefarious activity behind the scenes?


    Barack Obama ran a relentless, efficient and effective campaign. End of story. His message convinced more of America than John McCain’s. Voters may be driven by self-interest (who isn’t), under- or mis-informed at times, but they are not stupid. They never have been. We didn’t suddenly send the population of the United States off to college at the end of 2004 in order to prepare them for this election.

    What is equally disturbing is an opinion voiced by Citizen Prime this morning. She was worried that if the election were close (McCain popular versus an Obama electoral), there would be civil unrest. Sadly, many people probably believed that this was possible.

    Who led us to these terrible stereotypes of our fellow citizens?

    It is the media. In their quest for the most sensational, salable story, they will latch onto the most base and low view of our society. The adage of “if it bleeds it leads” was coined in newsrooms across the country. Despite the peripheral reporting of extreme events, the candidate’s campaigns were focused, fair and tough.

    I ruefully shook my head to listen to the collective media pundits’ professed surprise that everything went as smoothly as it did. That somehow we overcame the worst traits they attributed to us to make our choice. Miraculously, they mused, America had lived up to its founding father’s expectations.

    What self serving bullshit.

    We live up to our ideals every four years. The smooth, non-violent transfer of power is a process which has served the Republic for more than two centuries. The rules don’t change.

    It’s time we recognize that as a people.

    Country first.

    04 November 2008


    At last.

    At long last.

    The day many Americans have waited for since 2000. Today is the de facto day when the current administration cedes control of the government to its successor. No matter who wins (disclosure – I voted for McCain) there will be substantial change in Washington, DC.

    I think the campaigns were conducted well. I think the media slant towards Obama was disgraceful. There will be an endless series of post mortems on this election, some of which will be very good and useful. Many of which will be partisan whining or gloating. I shall avoid the latter.

    CBS has posted a few questions to ponder about the election. I do not intend to watch anything on television about the race tonight. I will prefer to read about it on the morrow in The World’s Worst NewspaperTM, also known as the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The new President and almost certainly overwhelmingly Democratic controlled congress will step into a number of challenges.

    1) The conflict in Iraq is almost done, it appears we have been victorious. How do we manage this transition properly?

    2) Afghanistan requires more attention and non-military support – including a lot of diplomatic support from Pakistan.

    3) Iran remains troubling, although there may be more posturing here than credible threat. They have been hit by oil price collapse and the dearth of capital.

    4) The economy. This elephant in the room is an unbelievable item to tackle. Some changes seem easy – fix mark to market accounting. Other challenges are much more daunting – how to revise the tax code fairly. Senator Obama’s plan, as is, will make things worse.

    5) The environment. Some would classify me as an AGW denialist. I have personally spoken to real climate scientists who are convinced of AGW (anthropogenic global warming) and others who are more reserved. Bottom line, maintaining our environment is critical to our survival – fishing grounds, potable water and the like are essential. A sound energy policy (alternate fuels, nuclear power, R&D credit) is a key component to this issue.

    6) Everything else. These include health care, immigration and foreign issues like Russia and Africa. We need to allocate the appropriate resources in these areas. Health care needs support (McCain’s tax credit is preferable to Obama’s bureaucracy) in the area of funding, tort reform and more preventative approaches. Immigration requires a flexible policy, acknowledgement of illegals in country (some type of amnesty / path to citizenship / guest worker) approach.

    Russia may solve itself via the economic crisis and their misstep in Georgia. Africa requires some UN / US involvement which would include armed forces. Diplomacy has failed in the Congo and Sudan. Millions of innocent people are at risk and must be protected.

    Other than that, the next four years should be a cake walk!

    I will also admonish those whose only existence seems to be to decry the present administration to take a step back and take an objective look. There is much to fault the current administration for in its tenure. But a lot of the criticism is either erroneous or undeserved.

    At least after today I can talk about it in the past tense.

    28 October 2008

    Best day ever...

    I was just a number.

    That number was seven hundred and forty-five to be exact.

    I stood in the West Atlanta recreation / senior center gymnasium and stared up a bleachers full of people. People just like me. Citizens. They were old and young. There were the well dressed and shabbily attired, some with children in tow. They read newspapers, books, talked on cell phones and chatted quietly. That quiet chatter collecting to become a buzz among the concrete walls and parquet floors.

    I was also not like them. I was number 745 for advance voting. But I was also the only white male in the African-American audience at that early hour of the day. Scarcely a person paid me any attention as I crossed the open floor and ascended the bleachers to sit and wait for my number to be called.

    If this was advance voting, I mused, then election day will be chaos.

    But the scene was far from chaotic. As I perched on the backless benches, I asked what number we had reached. The answer came quickly from a petite woman calling up to the stands,

    “If your number is from 85 to 115, please form a line down here”, gesturing to the top row of the bleachers. She then disappeared around a wall. I stared at my near three quarters of a thousand number and then at my watch. This would require patience.

    A ring of my cell phone alerted me to a call from Citizen Prime. She was on the north side and also seeking to perform her patriotic duty (no, not paying more taxes). I told her about my number and we collectively groaned. It was likely that our respective votes would cancel each other out, but the effort was required.

    The morning dragged on and soon figures were visible on the far side of the gym. They carried in box after box of potato chips, granola bars and cases of water. One by one, the waiting voters walked across the vacant gym and retrieved a bag or two of chips and a water. An enterprising little girl, no more than five years old, made several trips across the floor delivering her bounty to a variety of people seated in the bleachers. Finally, her mother was called to vote and, lifting her daughter on high, ended her first job as a waitress.

    The mood in the gym was electric. These were people on a mission. They were poised to deliver their opinion in the action of their vote. A woman back and to my left had the lucky number of 999. There was no way she would be deterred from her duty. Asking my seatmates if they would like some water or chips, I made my own trek to the oasis of Frito-Lay. Upon turning about, I was stunned to note that the population of the gym had seemingly doubled in the last two hours.

    I climbed back to my perch, continuing to exchange pleasantries with my seatmates, an older woman, a well dressed young man and a dapper lady in a rhinestone banded fedora who proclaimed herself to be 57, although she looked ten years younger.

    We never traded names. Each person was content to clutch their secret prayer, as if en route to the wailing wall. They were eager to cast it into the electronic ether and await the deity’s answer.

    At long last, around 1:30pm, my set of numbers was called. Obediently, I lined up and presented by credentials to the poll worker. Why people complain about picture IDs is beyond me. There was no one in that hall who didn’t have one form of acceptable ID. After our initial vetting, we were ushered into the halls of the senior / recreation center.

    I was greeted with the sight of rooms of seniors, talking and waiting for various services – flu shots, financial counseling and a voting. The staff moved smoothly among the eldest and exhibited quiet respect for people who had likely stood on the front lines of the battle to secure the civil and voting rights for the bulk of citizens here today. One older gentleman sat directly across from the entryway and looked each of us in the eye. His navy blue ball cap proclaimed “World War II” veteran.

    He looked each of us over as if weighing our worth to cast a ballot. I felt a moment of utter transparency as I passed in front of his gaze. I acknowledged his service with a brief nod. I could sense that he expected me to carry out my task with seriousness and reverence for the actions of all those before me.

    I arrived at the terminal where my registration was verified and accepted the small yellow card which was my key to vote. I stood next to one of my seat mates, number 736. As I approached, I could see over his shoulder that he had selected Senator Obama. He was a young, earnest man – about thirty. Married, he had taken this day to vote – Tuesday’s were his days off and he wanted to insure his choice was counted.

    Smiling, I stepped up to the touchscreen display. The ballot was full. President, congress, senators, a host of judges and a variety of funding initiatives for various purposes, all stared at me in LCD illumination. I consider myself well informed. But I confess, some of the names and slots were mysterious.

    Most disappointing to me were the number of unopposed seats for various positions. My personal nemesis, Congressman John Lewis, sat unchallenged on the screen. In an act of sheer frustration, I wrote in my own name to oppose him.

    At last I touched the green CAST YOUR BALLOT square. With a sharp click, the yellow card popped out of the machine. It was a far less satisfying sound than the sliding lever pulling back the curtains surrounding voting machines of yore. Machines I only saw with my mother as she dragged me along to vote in Florida so many years ago. She always seemed satisfied as we walked into the autumn sunshine – ever present in Florida.

    Now I walked out into the sunlight. My own inner spiritual citizen refreshed by a seemingly simple process which transpires, like clockwork, every four years. Simply basking in the glow of fellow citizens exercising their right replenished my own faith on our nation.

    It was the best day ever.

    20 October 2008

    A tale of two citizens...

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

    I travel a fair amount. It is a benefit and curse. I truly prefer the comforts of home and family, but relish the exploratory feelings and experience of travel. As I sat down on the outbound and inbound flights over the past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with two citizens of this nation. Two citizens who represent, I think, the wide gulf among the political views of the country.

    These citizens are alike in many ways. They will have an impact on our nation and come from two of the battleground states. One, a MIT educated mechanical engineer starting his first real job. The other is a college educated, professional mother of two who runs her own business and works in the PR field.

    As I sat down on the flight from the relative chaos of Atlanta Hartsfield, I noted a young man making his way down the aisle, sweeping his eyes along the seat row numbers for his place on the packed airliner. He had a youthful, grunge style beard topped by an unruly mop of black hair. Had he been clean shaven, he would have looked about fourteen. He wore a large scale Obama t-shirt, one of the ones with his picture emblazoned upon on it in Warhol style.

    Lo and behold, this young, pale kid was going to sit next to me. Sliding in next to the window, he looked about with the eagerness of someone who still enjoys air travel. I scanned him for some opportunity to talk with him, that didn’t start with;

    “So, you’re an Obama supporter, eh sonny?”

    Looking him over carefully, I noted my opening. There on his right hand, looking like a Super Bowl championship ring was the golden beaver. For the uninitiated, the mascot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a beaver. It is displayed on their rings prominently and referred to as the “golden beaver”. MIT is one of the top technology schools in the nation. It’s students have contributed to the innovation and growth of our nation in every major field of science.

    As it turned out, this young man was a mechanical engineer, as am I. We engaged in the sort of discussion that only engineers, upon discovering their commonality, can. I learned that he was newly employed by Johnson and Johnson in their surgical tool design division. He was one of the few, bright handpicked graduates to enter the J&J management development program. He was an intelligent guy with a wide range of interests. We talked about his motorcycle, his love of rock climbing and his recent prize possession, a Volvo C30, five cylinder turbo he bought directly from the factory in Sweden. He traveled there, bringing along his mother, and then drove to Denmark where his father resided.

    He was excited to be in his new career and loved what he was doing. Although he expressed some dissatisfaction with the social scene in Cincinnati, he was engaged in trying to improve his lot. Traveling home for the first time in more than a year, he was looking forward to doing some scuba diving and an early Thanksgiving dinner with his family. As we got around to politics, he described himself as a social and fiscal liberal. The son of a described “hippie” mother, he seemed comfortable with the promise of a better world, without really worrying about the details.

    Like many engineers, I think he expected people to approach problems rationally, without being swayed by outside, irrelevant influences. When he learned that I was in the Navy, he asked me if I supported McCain because he had been in the Navy. And this is when it struck me, his vote was a vote of affiliation. He seemed to support Obama not from some deep alignment with his policies, but from a feeling of affiliation. Obama’s Ivy league academic credentials, his message of hope and change resonated with this young man without really connecting on policy.

    There was no real thought as to how an Obama presidency might affect him, his career or his future potential. Senator Obama's initiatives will have an impact on all of these elements. It may prove to be especially hard on his company's surgical tool division. It was ironic that Jake the Engineer’s company was manufacturing all these components in Juarez, Mexico. A fact possibly affected by Obama’s promise to unilaterally rewrite NAFTA at the behest of his Union supporters. Additionally, I expect his career in Johnson and Johnson will likely be very successful, at which point he will cross the $250,000 mark in income (most directors in major corporations can earn this amount in salary and bonuses). It is there he will find himself with a significantly larger tax burden, which he will seek to reduce - substantially. Finally, the impact of the Obama adminstration will likely be negative to J&J’s surgical division with a possible reduction in innovation and growth as the healthcare market is regulated by the government.

    On the return trip to Atlanta I staggered through the narrow aisle of the MD-88 looking for my middle seat. The plane was loading horrendously slowly and the woman ahead of me slid her rolling bag smoothly into place and slipped gracefully into her window seat. I took note of her fluid movements and pegged her as a veteran traveler. Looking at the row sign, I also realized that she would be my seat mate. With decidedly less grace, I landed in the middle seat while at the same time praying to the airline gods to make sure the size of my aisle partner was not overwhelming.

    Prayers answered, once again I tried to determine if there was a way to open a conversation. I had my new book, The Strongest tribe, by Bing West, but was too tired to read. And then that magic moment of Chopra synchro-destiny occurred. She pulled out her phone. It was a Sprint update of my own HTC model. I leapt on the opening and we chatted about phones. She immediately demonstrated a fairly hardcore approach to selecting her phone and I found her rational style refreshing.

    As we talked, I learned that she had served as a public relations manager for Chrysler and ran with the corporate wolves in Michigan. We talked about energy policy and the various approaches underway to address the challenges in the world. She was well versed in policies and shared with me her occupation was as a freelance public relations expert working on a number of projects.

    What was most compelling was her personal story of she and her husband’s (a mechanical engineer who had been an electrician in the 1990s before returning to college to obtain his degree) experience with buying, owning and operating a business. The business was a Goodyear tire and auto center. They had ten employees and felt confident in their ability to succeed in a growing area of the nation. They provided employee family health insurance, solid benefits and service to the community. As she described it, she and her husband thought themselves the “smartest people on the planet”.

    Then the housing crisis hit and one by one the builders stopped their developments and abandoned the area. Their business began losing money and they applied for a catastrophic SBA loan to carry them through the hard time. What they were told was that since they were “coping” there would be no loan. They sold the business at a terrible loss and were forever soured on government intervention in the market.

    They picked up the pieces and carried on, providing for their two daughters and retooling their plans. She was adamant in her opposition to Obama and support for McCain. The toll from Obama's plans upon her liveliehood was that she was expecting, as a small business owner, (making less than the much bandied about $250,000 per year) was going to be crippling to her plans for growth.

    She was also fierce in her abhorrence of the media’s complete support of Senator Obama without any real scrutiny and she was frustrated with Senator McCain’s inability to successfully explain his plans – which even Consumer Reports indicated as superior to Obama’s (the healthcare portion). Naturally, her position and contacts afforded her some access to people and information the typical citizen would not have. But we now live in a remarkably more transparent world. Anyone with the will and wit may distill the truth from a myriad of suspiscious claims.

    I found the conversation invigorating and oddly parallel to that on my outward bound flight. My spouse, Citizen Prime, in her own world view, would immediately attribute this to some universal force providing me with this opportunity. In this instance, I may agree with her.

    Jane the Publicist and Jake the Engineer represent two distinct spectrums of thought in America. One is the unbridled optimism and expectations of someone just beginning their journey as a citizen (I don’t consider college students full citizens as they typically do not pay taxes – citizens in training would be a better moniker). That is the model put forth by Jake the Engineer, or more appropriately Jake the Idealist. He lives in the world of the theoretical, where the ideals of the nation are enshrined. In his world, all things can be solved with the right application of government guidance and human acceptance. He has yet to face a crisis in which his worldview is challenged.

    Jane the Publicist, or Jane the Pragmatist, carries those ideals as well. They have been tempered with having to raise a family, meet a payroll and deal with the myriad crises of real life. Some of which include being laid off from a supposedly “secure” corporate job. Jane wants to improve her life and have a positive impact on as many people around her as she can. She wants to be fair and provide incentives and support for her employees. She expects those who work for her to pull their weight in order to share in the reward. It is a reasonable and typical independent American philosophy.

    It is not a dissimilar view from Jake the Idealist. A view that he will likely share in a decades time.

    With Senator Obama we have an idealist – setting aside the burden you believe he carries to special interest groups. With Senator McCain we have a pragmatist – setting aside whatever connections you believe he has to the present administration.

    It is the individual who understands the balance between government facilitation and government control who I want leading the nation. I am just not sure if the rest of the country understands this choice.

    At least Joe the Plumber had the courage to ask the question, even if our media will not.

    14 October 2008


    I was lucky enough to have some free time in Washington, DC, this past Wednesday. The weather was beautiful and the mall was fairly empty. I traveled in the company of several business colleagues, many from outside the United States. Their mission was to see as much of our nation’s capital as possible.

    If you ever get the chance, take a foreign tourist through Washington. Their responses to the city are amazing. It is not simply the elegant design of L’Enfant or the magnificent WPA buildings, but rather their comments on the diversity within the city and the openness. Just the fact that all the Smithsonian museums are FREE was enough for a friend from the Caribbean.

    The capital takes on a whole new meaning when viewed through the eyes of a foreign visitor. I was particularly honored to hijack one mf my friends from Canada and take him through the National Archives. As we wound our way through the magnificent 1933 structure, we encountered the Magna Carta (ca 1297) and then the three crown jewels of our nation, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I jokingly pointed out that he could read the second amendment, in its original form, for himself – we have a running joke about Americans and their arms.

    I did not, however, spend all my time as tour guide. Being on my own in DC gave me a rare opportunity. I went to visit the Holocaust Museum. Perched one block back from the Mall, the museum has a Victorian fortress like feel to it. It is one of the newer national museums in Washington and reflects some of the most cutting edge elements of design and composition. On previous visits to the capital, I was in the presence of the Proto-Citizens and this museum is decidedly not for children. In fact, I would recommend no visitor make the trip until the middle of high school.

    I entered the building through the now ubiquitous security screening foyer. I was wanded, patted and scrutinized by several “special police”, essentially armed security guards – they are thick as flies in Washington. Upon entering the main hall, I was struck by the size of the museum and its initial emotional impact. The design recalls a factory from the period covered by the museum, essentially from 1933 through the end of the European portion of the conflict. One picks up an “identity card” from the bin adjacent to the elevator and proceeds to the fourth floor where the journey begins.

    I picked from the male pile. My chosen card reflected the story of a young Jehovah’s Witness from France. He was interned and survived the conflict. Many of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were rounded up owing to their refusal to swear allegiance to the Nazi state. The journey through the building opens with the rise to power of the NASDP (Nazi) party in Germany. In a chilling representation, one begins to feel the descent into collective madness which Hitler led the world.

    Moving slowly through the exhibits, the visitor is immersed in the events. Beset by photographs, first person testimonials and video, I could imagine the tightening circumstances for Jews within Germany. As one travels down through the halls, the scale of the holocaust becomes more horrible. And yet there are spots of human resistance, dignity and hope peppered in the overwhelming images of state sponsored evil.

    I will not burden you with the details of the museum; suffice to say that it is comprehensive and relentless. The facility was also hosting an examination of propaganda, as exemplified in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and a look at Darfur. Both displays are extremely relevant to our modern world circumstances.

    What I found most intriguing were the patrons of the museum. There were older people (folks who may have lived through the conflict that was World War II), there were younger groups (some clearly Jewish by virtue of their yarmulke) and then the most interesting of all, young military men. These young men were outfitted in what I would describe as typical off duty wear of American soldiers everywhere. Short cargo pants, polo shirts, running shoes and a gi-normous backpack (typically with a water bladder inside). These men moved quietly and reverently through the museum. They seemed most taken by the discussions and displays of the American military’s role in liberating the camps and the decision not to bomb the camps. It was in this persona, more than any other, that I felt compelled to visit this museum.

    At the conclusion of the tour is a large hall of remembrance. There the names of the primary places of lass were inscribed on the wall. Votive candles flickered in alcoves along the six sided room. An eternal flame burned along one side of the stone room. As I set alight one of the candles, I reflected on what role we have played as a military and a nation in the face of events like these. In almost every instance it seems like we have not done enough.

    And yet, I also take some heart in knowing that we have always done something. As a nation, we have struggled with the expenditure of our blood and treasure in service to the defenseless. But when unleashed, we have expended every ounce of each.

    The visit was sad and difficult. It was also necessary and uplifting. It buoyed me to know that humanity could act to save itself. That it can learn from its mistakes and that sacrifices made for one’s fellow human are never in vain.