Monday, October 18, 2010

Gridlock, sweet gridlock.

Barring a miracle of old testament proportions, on January 3, two thousand eleven, the next congress will be sworn in under new leadership. The House of Representatives will be in Republican control, and even if the Senate remains in Democratic hands, it will be by the slimmest of margins. With President Obama in the oval office for another two years, the next congress will be ruled by one principle; gridlock.

Now before you go getting in a huff, let me tell you why this is not such a bad thing. Gridlock means you have to have both side on board before anything is done. Gridlock means one side cannot push through its agenda unilaterally. Gridlock means the days of Democrats passing Cap and Trade legislation, or mandating twenty percent of America's green energy comes from recycling magic unicorn poop are over. Gridlock can be frustrating at times, but it is a real check on power.

Remember 1992? Remember when President Clinton, with a Democratic congress, governed way to the left in his first term and gift-wrapped both houses of congress back to the Republicans in 1994? For everyone who points to the Clinton era as proof that Democratic policies work, just remember who controlled the purse strings of the nation during those times. It was the GOP. Well, to be exact, it was the real GOP, the ones who actually knew how to cut spending and grow the economy.

All spending bills start in the House of Representatives. Whoever controls the House has control of the nation's checkbook. Remind me again who has been in control of the national checkbook since two thousand six? Oh yea, Nancy Pelosi. How has Nancy done with the national checkbook? Forget the checkbook, how about the nation's credit card? But, I digress.

As much as I like the thought of Nancy Pelosi getting her credit card yanked, here is the real problem with gridlock. Doing nothing isn't a real good option right now.

I know that Republican's will propose spending cuts, and probably pass them in the House. If they get through the rules and procedures of the Senate, they await a certain veto from President Obama. My prediction is the Republicans will pass legislation, President Obama will veto it and the GOP will try to run out the clock until the 2012 election, when they hope to gain back the White House.

I am not sure we can wait two more years to start tackling the structural problems that await the nation with Medicare, Social Security, other entitlement spending. In a year of voter anger, tea parties, incumbents going down to political novices, the only hope we have is the Washington insiders (in both parties ) start getting scared. When politicians have to worry about their constituents anger, that is a very good thing. Scared politicians can actually work through the gridlock to get things done if they know it's the only way to save their jobs.

So how will this new crop of Republican revolutionaries do? Time will tell. Establishment Republicans, like House Minority Leader John Boehner, will try to buy them off them with committee memberships and big offices to bring them into the fold. I hope these new Republicans rally behind new leadership, say Paul Ryan, or Eric Cantor. Republican retreads like Boehner are not the ones to bring independents and Reagan Democrats together with the Republican base to form a solid majority.

To win the back the White House in two thousand twelve, Republicans will have to walk the walk for the next two years. I hope they have comfortable shoes, they will need them.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Waiting in line, made faster by more lines? I'll explain

Most days I wander through my day oblivious to my surroundings. I know that is a shock to some of you, but I believe many of you do the same. In our modern world, we are constantly surrounded by technology, even if we don't realize it, and even if we hate it.

Having once been a working cowboy, (yes they make horses big enough to haul me around) I have met my share of people for whom anything with a microprocessor is a "gadget" and gadgets are not to be trusted.

A waterproof digital watch with an alarm clock and stopwatch function? No thanks, get that plastic piece of crap away from me. I have a Timex that I bought at a Sears ten years ago, it works fine. A smart phone? I wouldn't know how to turn it on. An iPad? I would never use it ( pssst, what's an iPad? )

Now some of this hostility and apprehension is warranted. When many of these technological breakthroughs came to the market, some we not ready for prime time. A bad first-experience with a gadget that was supposed to make life easier, or replaced something that worked well, leaves a bad impression.

No matter your comfort level with technology, you simply cannot escape it. As I said, it's all around us. The good news is, technology does make our lives better, and I can prove it.

Have you ever heard of Bernard Silver, or Joseph Woodland? I hadn't either until I started doing a little research. These two gentlemen have made an impact our lives in a very real way, and we don't even know who they are. The way we buy things, the way stores stock their products, the way business is done around the world is all made possible by their invention. So what did these guys invent? The barcode.

I know, how does that funny looking little line-thingy on a can of soup affect my life? In more ways that you can imagine. Let's go into a tech-saturated home for a minute. Let's say you want to order a new book or DVD online. You go to a website, buy the DVD, and in three days, or tomorrow if you want to pay the extra shipping, you can be watching your new DVD. Behind the scenes, that barcode is the key to you munching away on your popcorn as you enjoy Die Hard 7.

The retailer puts a product number barcode on the DVD and tracks how many are in inventory, how many are going out that day, how many they need to restock and by when. The warehouse guy pulls the order, scans the DVD, and packages it. The package now gets a new shipping barcode and heads down the road. The retailer, the shipping company, and even you, can track that package through the entire process. That shipping barcode will be scanned a dozen times in different local receiving centers, airports, regional shipping centers, down to the delivery guy, scanning it as he hands it to you while you're still in your slippers.

Without the humble barcode, the selection and availability of every product bought through a retail store would suffer and the price would go up. Efficiency is the name of the game in retail, and barcodes are a primary way to collect, track, sort and manage data. Not to mention how much they speed up checkout! Remember the clerks punching in the price of every item at the grocery store, if you are over 40 you do.

So how about the not so tech savvy guy? Well, that wheel bearing for your combine uses that same type of bar code to get from the factory where it's made to the John Deere dealer and into your hands just in time to finish the harvest. Not bad for bunch of little lines eh?

There are hundreds of technological breakthroughs we use in our everyday lives. Some you will never even notice, and some you say, why didn't I think of that.

So the next time you are in line at The Nugget and someone stops the process to write a paper check, and you start tapping your foot thinking this is taking forever, just think about Bernard Silver and Joseph Woodland. If not for them, a full basket of groceries used to take about five minutes to ring up, if the checker had fast fingers.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Facing the arithmetic

In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was in a terrible situation. The union army had suffered loss after bloody loss and the President had replaced the head of his army several times. Although the union army had vastly superior numbers, better material, and every other conceivable advantage, Lincoln could not find a general to defeat the enemy. After the disastrous rout at Fredericksburg, Lincoln confided to his staff, "No general yet found can face the arithmetic, but the end of the war will be at hand when he shall be discovered."

A case in point; General George B McClellan.

After losing the first major battle of the war at Bull Run, the dapper, highly educated McClellan was named General in Chief. He was the darling of the newspapers, brilliant when it came to organizational structure, and preparing his army for battle, there was only one problem; he was tentative in battle. Always overestimating the enemy's size and strength, he would vacillate and demand more troops and more supplies.

McClellan's failure in the Peninsula Campaign earned his demotion. He was replaced by a string of generals, who were in turn, soundly defeated by the confederates. Lincoln faced the unenviable choice of bringing McClellan back. McClellan reorganized the army and through incredible circumstances, and stout fighting by his men, defeated General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Antietam. With Lee's army in retreat, McClellan failed to pursue the confederates, and they escaped back to Virginia. McClellan could have won the war that day, but he did not, and the nation would suffer through three more years of bloodshed.

Lincoln understood that the war was not about gaining or holding territory, the war would only be won when the confederate army was defeated, down to its last man.

In 1864, Lincoln finally found the general who could face the arithmetic. Ulysses S. Grant was no one's idea of a Major General. At the start of the war, he was working as a clerk in his father's tannery shop in Galina Illinois. His early reputation was one of a hard fighting, simple man, who was prone to drinking. In Grant, Lincoln found the one general who knew how to win the war. Engage the enemy, never let him regroup, and use your superior numbers to the best advantage.

After taking overall command of union forces, Grant was defeated in his first encounter with Lee at the Battle of the Wilderness. The nation waited for another retreat back to Washington, but Grant would have none of it. The next morning, instead of retreating, Grant pressed on toward the confederate capital. He would simply fight the confederates on their turf and grind them into submission. He did.

I know what you must be thinking, “thanks for the ninth grade history lesson, but so what?” I want to talk about this November's elections.

I know who I am voting for and which campaigns I am going to contribute to, but similar to the two thousand eight election cycle, there will many, many new voters going to the polls this year. What will they be voting for, and more importantly, what will they be voting against? Just as people voted for change when they cast their ballot for Barack Obama, this year many will be voting for a change to something else. The Republicans in Washington are licking their chops, as they should be. If the GOP can't win the House this year, they should just go home.

Here is my question; are we going to be voting for the second command of George McClellan, or are we voting for U.S. Grant?

The Tea Party is filled with U.S. Grants. Sure, some of them have rough edges, and they do not have the polish of seasoned politicians, but that is the point. The GOP, and more importantly the nation, needs people who will stand up for the founding principles. Yes, these new Republicans will say some unflattering things, and yes, they will fall into traps set by the media, but they will press forward, always forward. The Washington Republican establishment had better start recognizing the tidal wave of anti-politics-as usual sentiment heading their way, or they will be looking for life rafts when it hits.

When the national party keeps backing the establishment, moderate, GOP candidates against this new breed of Republicans, they are showing how out of touch they are. If we lose a few seats this cycle by backing new blood, we lose them. The worst thing the Republican Party could do right now is to gain control of Congress with the same crew who spent their way right out of power.

There is a political storm brewing out there. This storm is tired of broken promises; it is tired of spending away our children's future. This coming storm wants smaller government, less taxes, and people who are willing to make tough choices, and stand behind them. They are looking for a government that can face the arithmetic.

Have no illusions, if the GOP gains control and actually propose spending cuts, the media and the Democrats will howl with disapproval. This new breed of Republican, the ones who have those Tea Party roots, they can take the heat. The moderate, milk toast, Washington insider Republicans will wilt under the pressure.

Midway through his command, Grant was labeled a butcher, a cold-hearted beast who cared little for the soldiers who were dying. The reality was this; Grant knew what had to be done to win. That is exactly what he did.

Let's vote for a few Grants this November.