Drivin' With Your Eyes Closed

That's a Don Henley song off the 1984 album Building The Perfect Beast. And while it's a song about love rather than finance, it perfectly describes the situation yesterday with the bungled Congressional vote on the Wall Street bailout (or "rescue plan," if you prefer). I talked to one of my Republican co-workers last night who was ecstatic about the measure going down to defeat. I was less sanguine about it. To me, it seemed that those who opposed it were saying something akin to "I don't like the way they've been driving the car, so let's take our hands off the steering wheel and close our eyes. The car will right itself." And what happens then to those of us who are riding in that car called the American economy?

And you're drivin' with your eyes closed,
Drivin' with your eyes closed,
Drivin' with your eyes closed,
You're gonna hit somethin',
But that's the way it goes...

I can understand the temptation to say, "Screw those golden parachute bastards on Wall Street," but unfortunately, Wall Street and Main Street are joined at the hip. If you have money in a retirement account, you just got a trickle-down screwing yesterday along with the golden parachute bastards when the market tanked. And the golden parachute bastards can probably make up for it by having champagne and caviar for breakfast only three times a week instead of every day. You'll feel it a lot more than they will.

It's like a flea on an elephant's back saying, "I don't care if something happens to the elephant. I'll be fine." Right. You don't even want to know how much money you lost yesterday in your 401K or TSP. It would just piss you off.

Was the Wall Street bailout the right plan, or even a good one? Perhaps not, but unfortunately, we're in a situation that more than one legislator (and more than one pundit) has described as a "crap sandwich." It's bad, but it appears to be better than any alternative that's likely to come down the pike. It certainly seems better than just closing our eyes and continuing to drive, hoping that we won't hit anything.

There were a lot of people who opposed the bailout as bad policy. I think, however, that may have been short-sighted of them. If the failure to pass the bill drives the economy over the cliff, both Democrats and Republicans will continue to point fingers at each other, but it's you and I who will pay the price.


PETA, Ice Cream and Unintended Consequences

It's bad enough that so much corn is being turned into ethanol to burn in our cars that it's driven up the cost of food for many of the world's neediest citizens. But now we have the boobs at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) coming up with a suggestion for ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's that is even more udderly ridiculous: Use human breast milk to make their ice cream instead of cows' milk. All I can say is "Ick."

Not to milk the silliness too much, but have they thought about the unintended consequences if someone should implement their idea? Taking away corn that should be some Mexican peasant's tortilla is bad enough, but taking away human milk that should be nourishing a baby in order to make ice cream? And how much milk is used in ice cream? Probably more than would be available if Ben & Jerry's took all of the milk from every lactating woman in America. Cows make far more milk than women can, which of course is why children drink cows' milk after they are weaned from their mothers.

Fortunately, Ben & Jerry's gave the proposal all of the consideration it deserved and then made the following statement: "We applaud PETA's novel approach to bringing attention to an issue, but we believe a mother's milk is best used for her child."

And so common sense has prevailed in this case. Hooray! We don't have to change brands.


This and That, #3 From Slackerville

There's an old Peanuts comic strip that was one of my favorites, featuring Snoopy lying around and saying, "There's no use doing a lot of barking if you don't have anything to say." So I haven't been doing too much barking lately. But this morning, it's time to get back in the swing of things.

I've spent a lot of my free time recently playing Spore, the new computer game that came out a couple of weeks ago. The blurb on the back of the box says, "Your Personal Universe in a Box." That's really not too much of an exaggeration. You start off as a single-celled organism, and have the choice of being a herbivore or a carnivore to start off. The decisions you make early in the game have consequences as the game advances. The game is a lot of fun and like most good games, will eat up enormous amounts of time if you allow it to.

I watched the beginning of last night's game between the Orioles and the Yankees on ESPN. It was the last game ever at Yankee Stadium, with the team preparing to move across the street to its new ballpark next year. As a baseball fan, I appreciated the history of the team and the Stadium when I went there in June. You don't have to be a Yankees fan to do that. However, I'm not sorry that they won't be making the playoffs this year for the first time since 1993. Go Tampa Bay Rays!

I saw in the newspaper that Sarah Palin drew a crowd estimated at 60,000 to a speech in The Villages, north of Orlando. That's a large crowd for a vice-presidential candidate. She's going to be in Naples for a couple of fund-raising appearances in early October, but they're both for the deep-pockets crowd. If you don't have $1,000 to plunk down for the party, you're out of luck. It's not a surprise, really; Naples is the home of the extremely wealthy, and the Republicans tend to view it is a piggy bank.

I read this article in the New York Times yesterday about how Disney is planning on a reviving The Muppet Show characters in a major way. The most stunning thing for me was that many of the kids today had no idea who Kermit the Frog or Miss Piggy were! I guess that means I'm getting old. But as the article notes, they haven't been on the tube in more than a decade.


Not Looking Good For Coastal Texas

Watching the satellite images of Hurricane Ike, all I could think of was the book Isaac's Storm by Eric Larson, which was about the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 that killed 8,000 people. They're talking about a storm surge of up to 25 feet for Galveston when Ike hits. The seawall is only 17 feet high. There are a lot of people, perhaps thousands, who aren't planning on evacuating from Galveston Island, which strikes me as insane. I read a warning issued by the weather service which stated that anyone staying there faces "certain death." I don't know if that's hyperbole or not, but I think we are about to see some serious destruction along the Texas coast, and Galveston may get the worst of it.

Today's probably a good day to gas your car up, by the way, because there may be some serious damage to the oil refining infrastructure in south Texas from this storm. Don't be surprised if we're looking at $4.00 gas (or worse) again in a very short time.



Sarah Palin and the Peter Principle

You're probably familiar with the Peter Principle, which states that "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence." In other words, people get promoted on the job as long as they are performing their current job competently, but sooner or later, most of them are promoted to a job which they can't do well, and they stop getting promoted at that point. They have reached their level of incompetence and will rise no higher. The big question for all of us is what our own personal level of incompetence is. Selecting people to promote on the job is itself a job that is subject to incompetence.

Enter Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. There are some people out there who are dubious about whether she is qualified for the job of Vice President of the United States, based on her career experience. That leads to two questions: What, exactly, are the qualifications for that job, and are there any indications that she has already reached her level of incompetence?

The qualifications of the job of Vice President are actually quite simple: That person must be able at a moment's notice to take on the job of President of the United States.

The qualifications for that job are that the person who holds it must be a natural-born citizen of the United States who is at least 35 years of age and has been a permanent resident of the United States for at least 14 years. Until quite recently, it was also necessary to be white and male to even receive serious consideration for the job. Thankfully, that's now in the past.

The President is the head of the Executive Branch and makes thousands of political appointments (including the Cabinet, ambassadors and federal judges) with the advice and consent of the Senate. The President sets national policy in many areas, and while he or she doesn't write legislation, the President has the ability to veto legislation sent up by Congress. The President is the Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces of the United States, including its arsenal of nuclear weapons, and as head of government is the most public face of diplomacy in dealing with foreign nations, including the negotiation of treaties, which must be ratified by the Senate.

It takes a person of rather special temperament to make a good President, since the holder of that office will be subject to criticism of every facet of the job from day one. It takes a person with good management skills who can evaluate people and choose those with the proper skills to appoint to those thousands of government jobs which must be filled. It takes someone who is tough enough to stand up to both entrenched interests in Washington and to the machinations of both friends and foes abroad, and it helps if the President has a coherent plan for where he wants to take the nation during his or her term of office. It is, quite simply, the toughest job in the world, and there is some question as to whether anyone can really be completely prepared to do the job on upon taking office.

This brings us to Sarah Palin, who until Friday was almost completely unknown to most Americans. That will change. What we learn is that she started off as a concerned mother who joined the PTA to help improve her local schools, then was elected to the city council, and then became mayor of her small town in Alaska. She ran for Lieutenant Governor and lost, but then defeated the incumbent Republican Governor of Alaska in the party primary and beat back the Democrat challenger to be elected Governor of Alaska in 2006.

At each level of government, she has proven herself to be a competent advocate of honest government, opposing corrupt entrenched interests in both parties. She has shown herself to be capable as the chief executive of a state with a small population, dealing with budgets, policies and appointments, and as the old parable in Luke says, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." There's no reason to think that she has bumped up against the Peter Principle yet, any more than Barack Obama, John McCain or Joe Biden have.

So would putting Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency be a reckless gamble? No more so than putting Joe Biden there, since he has no executive experience at all. No matter whether we elect Barack Obama or John McCain as our next President, the winner will have a learning curve when he takes office. And whether it's Sarah Palin or Joe Biden in the understudy role, that person will have a learning curve as well.

P.S. If you'd like to get a good roundup of information about Sarah Palin, I'd highly recommend checking out BeldarBlog. Beldar has been making the case for Governor Palin as a good veep pick for John McCain since back in June; indeed, I found a lot of good information about her on his site back then. The more I read about her, the more impressed I am with her story and accomplishments.