Saturday, January 23, 2010


...and to the point:


Corporate citizenship

Many moons ago, I worked in a non-U.S.-based multinational corporation's Washington, DC, office, doing so-called "government and public affairs." In addition to monitoring the federal and state governments, the office's principal focus was to implement the company's corporate citizenship program, under which we made focused contributions of cash and product to worthy organizations and developed a grassroots network of support throughout the communities in which we had facilities. As a rule, the company tried hard to be a "good corporate citizen" of those communities, and the nation as a whole.

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down a decision [PDF] in a case known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Since I'm not a SCOTUS wonk, I won't go into the case's background or the Court's holding. What I will do, however, is note two things.

First, the go-to site for all things SCOTUS is the SCOTUSblog. It has comprehensive coverage and analysis of all events surrounding SCOTUS, including the Citizens United decision.

Second, the decision in Citizens United essentially enhances a corporation's "personhood," making such an entity a "more-equal" citizen. (Although the case has been before the Court for some time, given the right-wing hacks who hold a majority of its seats, the decision's holdings should come as no surprise.) The decision is widely expected to open up the floodgates to relatively unregulated spending on political ads (speech) by corporations and other entities as long as the entity doesn't interact directly with the political campaign.

I think this is a very bad idea. It's not like one of the problems in this country is there's too little money in politics. To the contrary: In my experience, politicians of every stripe spend way too much of their time seeking campaign contributions from PACs and individuals. And now, corporations. It would be naive in the extreme to think this hasn't tainted our political discourse in the past, and won't to a greater extent in the future.

Various political actors, including the White House, have decried the decision and stated they will explore ways to negate or overturn it. Since Rethuglicans basically control Congress these days and are expected to reap the most benefits from the decision, good luck with that.

In my view, the solution here is public financing of elections. By this I mean using state and federal taxpayer funds to pay for election-related political speech. Yes, such a move would be complicated -- where, for instance, do you draw the line preventing someone with no intention of legitimately running for office from establishing a campaign and seeking funding? -- but the alternatives are much worse.

The company for which I worked on corporate citizenship -- which didn't even have a PAC, as I recall -- preferred in part to build support of policies supporting its commercial endeavors at the grassroots level, knowing well-informed citizens advocating on its behalf was more productive to its long-term interests than shoveling huge amounts of cash into the political process. That's the way it should be.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Time to kick some ass

Watching the complete and total collapse of the Democratic party after some attorney general no one outside Massachusetts has ever heard of lost a special election would be comical if it weren't for the episode's impact on future elections. Why should I or anyone else send money to or vote for a group of people who can't seem to plan for certain contingencies? It's about leadership, and I'm not seeing any.

There are two scenes in the George C. Scott masterpiece Patton of note. The first is the opening, when Scott, as Patton, stands before a huge American flag. He notes Americans will not stand for losers:
Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed.
That's as true now as it supposedly was during WWII.

The other scene comes up during the Sicily invasion, when "Patton" summarily replaces a commander with his immediate subordinate, giving the new guy a set amount of time to accomplish a task or else he'll find yet another leader.

The punchline is the American electorate has spent more than a decade watching Rethuglicans find a way to implement their agenda in Congress with vote margins much narrower than those enjoyed today by Dems. Now, they are watching the party fall into complete disarray with its signature issue, health care reform, over Scott Brown's election. It's ugly, it's unseemly and it's not the least bit confidence-inspiring. More important, it will lead many on-the-fence voters to conclude Dems don't stand for anything if they can't finish this job.

There are times when leaders need to kick a little ass to get things done. Whether it's Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and/or Barack Obama, they need to get their shit together, come up with a plan and implement it. And it needs to be done before Obama's State of the Union address next week.


[Edited to correct a couple of typos, and later to correct image URL.]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day trip

I'm spending most of the day here today:

U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.

Should be fun, and it looks like the weather will cooperate.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's really simple

Here we are, on the morning after Martha Coakley lost her bid to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate, poised to "welcome" Rethuglican Senator-elect Scott Brown. One of the macro outcomes is Dems lost their supermajority in the Senate and now will have to contend with a cohesive, obstructionist minority with enough votes to prevent anything except their fascist agenda.

If, like me, you thought the Senate was the place where good policy went to die, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

The last several months have produced little short of dithering and delay on health care reform (HCR), arguably the centerpiece of the Dems' agenda. Except for Obama's inexplicable admonition to seek a bipartisan bill in the Senate, HCR could have been done before the August recess. They had the votes, the momentum and the opportunity, but it all was squandered.

Now, the focus on bipartisanship may mean all that effort will have been wasted. There are some paths to an HCR bill remaining, but all of them require Dems to forego some of their expressed priorities for the legislation while manipulating the process. It will require Dems to forge ahead as the majority party while the media and Rethuglicans wring their hands over the raw exercise of power.

Since the idea of Dems simultaneously bucking both the media and the opposition have proven rare since early 2009, I'm not optimistic. We'll see.

But as this process drags on, the HCR bill becomes more diluted and convoluted. All of this is happening in public, leaving even casual observers to conclude of the last 13 months that Dems aren't up to the task of governing. Since the Rethuglicans demonstrated their inability to govern over the preceding eight years, that kinda, sorta leaves us in a bad place.

Last night, a close friend expressed the optimistic view that Dems will eventually pull this out, their incompetence notwithstanding. I guess that depends on what your definition of "this" is. He also maintained the Dems collectively want to do the right thing and enact legislation embodying good policy, for the benefit of the citizens. I think it's all relative: More Dems want to do the good-policy thing than do Rethuglicans, but by no means do a majority of Dems feel that way. Thus, we get lousy outcomes.

My bottom line is that these outcomes -- which basically continue the status quo and prevent anything but progress in its smallest increments -- are what is desired by our elites. As a whole, these are smart people, even though they do things which appear often to be at odds with their expressed goals. Reduce all of these events -- the delays, the bipartisanship, Lieberman/Nelson, etc. -- to their simplest explanation, and we're left with this:

This is the outcome sought by those in positions of power. It's really that simple.

And, yes: We are that screwed.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Not a bug

I've lost track of where my views fall in the political spectrum. I'm decidedly anti-Republican, but not necessarily pro-Democrat. Basically, I'm fed up with both parties' corporatism and aww-shucks inability to govern in a fashion remotely responsive to anyone except the monied interests. As this blog develops, I'll write more on this theme.

But today, there's a special election in Massachusetts to fill the late Ted Kennedy's seat. Set against the backdrop of health care reform (HCR), the race takes on excessive significance for a special. If the Dem, Coakley, loses, passing HCR -- something I support, however imperfect it is -- becomes infinitely more difficult, if not impossible.

The idea of a Dem losing a special in the race to replace Teddy would have been unthinkable only a few months ago. Yet, here we are.

There are any number of people and institutions to blame if Coakley loses and HCR falls through. For one, Coakley turned out to be a miserable candidate: She's yet another entitled Villager apparently unable to do the hard work necessary to achieve the position to which she aspires. For another, it appears Dems were asleep at the wheel: Only a few days ago did it apparently dawn on them there was a real chance they would lose and that HCR hung in the balance.

And to me, that's one of the real issues with today's Democrats: They're simply too slow to realize and capitalize on their opportunities. You'll never see an extra-chromosome Republican of the likes we're saddled with these days accept underachievement in such a race.

The special today in Massachusetts is one of those lost opportunities. They deserve to lose, and if the Rethuglican weren't such a whack job, I might even be agnostic in this race. But -- regardless of Coakley's shortcomings -- HCR and the rest of the Dems' agenda for 2010 -- hinge on her being elected. That alone makes me a Coakley supporter and, if you vote in Massachusetts, I urge you to vote for her, even if you have to hold your nose with your other hand.

Sadly, the Dems' ongoing and systemic failure to use the opportunities given them leads this observer to conclude it's exactly the behavior they desire. To the Democratic leadership structure, these failures aren't bugs. They're features.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Today in aviation history

According to the New York Times, on January 18, 1911, "The first landing of an aircraft on a ship took place as pilot Eugene B. Ely flew onto the deck of the USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco harbor."

Of course, never having been there before, Ely requested progressive taxi instructions, earning him the ground controller's wrath.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Teh Google knows what you want

This is just too funny:

Google, sex, and matrimonial bliss.


Farewell, Loran

A Northstar M1 Loran navigator
For some reason, Loran-C has been the red-headed sibling of electronic navigation systems for some time now. I vividly recall a House appropriations committee staffer chortling about zeroing out funding for it one year in the mid-1980s. Wiser heads prevailed (I helped).

Of course, GPS is far superior, but Loran still has its uses and, just as important, there's still a number of receivers/navigators in use out there, every day. They just became boat anchors.

Back in the 80s and mid-90s, Loran was the hot lick in personal aviation. It was rare to find it used to shoot instrument approaches, though they were certified. Instead, it was primarily used as its acronym implies: for LOng RANge navigation, from Point A to Point B. For many hours, I flew using a Northstar M1 unit in a friend's Cessna. Though is was a bit susceptible to precipitation static (the airplane lacked static wicks), it was generally a rock-solid device and system.

In recent years, Loran was discussed as a back-up system for GPS. We can debate whether it would be suitable as a back-up, but the fact is there are few alternatives to GPS. When it comes to usability by the huge installed base of consumer GPS receivers, there's nothing. Instead, Congress and the administration saw fit to save some $36 million by terminating the Loran program.

$36 million. That's not even a drop in the bucket. Meanwhile, there's no back-up/alternative to GPS, unless you're in Russia and have a GLONASS receiver.

This is progress?


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Just what the world needs...

...a new blog.


Many reasons for starting this blog, not least of which is I often feel too stifled when trying to voice something via my normal outlets. So, rather than push those envelopes, I decided to create another one.

This will be a blog about politics, personal aviation, writing, vintage motorcycles, tech and other stuff, as I see fit. At least in the near-term, I will be anonymous. Posting will be infrequent, but hopefully at least daily, and perhaps much more frequently.

The horror!