Saturday, May 26, 2007

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Increasing polarization between those who want to bring the ground troops from Iraq either immediately or say they want a time-table for withdrawal and those who want to stay the course and say a time-table tells the insurgents that they are winning alienates the American people who have conflicting feelings about the war. This polarization is exploited by candidates for President who play to their respective bases. Political posturing makes compromise difficult.

It is now indisputable that Saddam Hussein, his sons and his Baath party administration used rape, torture and murder to tyrannize the Iraqi people. Saddam behaved as if he still possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction after using nerve agents against the Iranians and the Kurds. After the first Gulf War, the U.S. encouraged the Shiites to rise up against Saddam and he put down this rebellion brutally. It was for this crime that he was hanged.

Hailed as liberators when we deposed Saddam, our attempt to be an occupying army has not gone well. Some of our children, parents and spouses have come home in boxes. Others have been severely wounded to come home to Walter Reed and other Veterans Administration hospitals that have poorly served them.

In the 24-hour news cycle, we have become so sensitive to immediate gratification. We think American losses as staggering but they pale in comparison to losses in World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War. Iraqi civilians are killed in droves by what has been called a sectarian civil war but there are so many factions, it is more properly understood as civil strife. If we pull out of Iraq, this killing will intensify as rival militia death squads round up the usual suspects.

Only former Wisconsin Governor and presidential candidate Tommy Thompson has proposed a reasonable Iraq policy. First, the people of Iraq need to vote on a referendum if the U.S. military should stay or go. If they no longer want us, we should go. Second, Iraq’s 14 districts should elect governments so Iraqis will gravitate to Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish areas. Third, Iraq’s oil revenue should be divided between the federal government, provisional governments and the Iraqi people, like in Alaska.

In the early going, Thompson has self-destructed in remarks about gays and Jews. He will not be considered a running mate by a Republican nominee because he has yet to hit double-digits anywhere outside Wisconsin. It is more likely that Thompson will remain in the more lucrative private sector and asked to lead international and domestic missions.

The Iraqi parliament is already wrestling with the future of oil revenue distribution because Iraq’s current oil wells are in Shiite and Kurdish areas and pipelines are frequent insurgent targets. Polarization is even more dramatic in Baghdad than in Washington and compromise is just as elusive.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Expectation of Privacy vs. Duty to Warn

Those of us who have worked in full-service and self-service copy centers are expected to guard the privacy of customer documents.

After all, we would want people to guard our Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and trade secrets. I have often told those copying sensitive documents not to leave the copies face up, leave the originals on self-service copy machines or shred accidental or bad copies. It is not permissible to make color copies of money, bonds, stamps and ID cards or any copies of copyrighted material to which the person who seeks copies does not own the rights.

I have seen otherwise sensible people succumb to variations of the Nigerian Bank Scam, faxing their Social Security Numbers and bank account information to claim international sweepstakes they never entered or biting on the potential of getting rich with the help of a person they have never met in the Ivory Coast. If I see them about to do this, I feel a duty to warn them.

There were two cases in which I absolutely refused to help persons and warned them that what they were seeking was illegal. A foreign friend and naturalized citizen wanted help making two-sided color copies of airline tickets, which is sort of like making two-sided color copies of money. Hispanics who barely spoke English wanted my help scanning a vehicle title and changing the Vehicle Identification Number. Squealing to the authorities never entered my mind.

The six who conspired to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey ordered a VHS tape of people shooting guns and making jihadist statements converted to a DVD. When the employee who was charged with making the copies realized that these were potential terrorists, he contacted the authorities. Thus began a 16 month FBI surveillance of the Fort Dix Six.

Some employers would not celebrate this tip or guard the worker’s identity, as this particular employer did. Some employers would look for an excuse to terminate this worker for not guarding customer confidentiality.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wisconsin: A One-Plate State?

At the Joint Finance Committee, a motion to make Wisconsin join the list of one-plate state passed 9-6 yesterday. It made less news than issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants.

Opponents worried that law enforcement needs two license plates so that they can see from the front if a driver is wanted or a car is stolen. Rep. Kitty Rhodes said it made possible phoning in tips when a driver was driving erratically due to drunkenness or other possible distractions. Proponents said it could save money.

Current one-plate states include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

Of course, Wisconsin would move to a one-plate state after I moved here from living in a series of one-plate states and had to sink bolts into my front bumper because the holes on the bumper did not match the holes on the license plate.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The New New New Chrysler

News that Daimler Benz is selling money-losing Chrysler Corporation to private investment firm and turnaround expert Cerberus Capital Management fills me with mixed feelings. Chrysler lost about $2 billion last year. Cerberus will pay $7.4 billion for the company. Cerberus turned around the Merwin’s department store chain, Air Canada, GMAC, and the car rental firms Alamo and National. They have lave slashed employees and brought companies out of bankruptcy. This is their biggest deal yet.

I lived in Michigan for about 25 years. Everyone knows people who work for the Big Three or for the industries that supply them and decisions made by management and the United Auto Workers dominate Michigan news. Employee ownership plans means that Dearborn is full of Fords, Flint is full of Buicks and Lansing is still full of Oldsmobiles. The Detroit Red Wings have a wheel on their jerseys. The Detroit Pistons are named for an engine part.

The old Chrysler Corporation meandered from building muscular cars to building big, bloated gas-guzzling boats when the OPEC embargo nearly killed it. The New Chrysler was bailed out by federal loan guarantees and headed by Lido Iacocca when Chrysler introduced the K Car and the Minivan. The new New Chrysler was created by Daimler Benz acquiring Chrysler. Now the acquisition by Cerberus is the new new New Chrysler. I was hoping Detroit financier Kirk Kerkorian would buy the corporation.

Daimler ownership has been a mixed blessing. Chrysler and Jeep make distinctive vehicles with superior engineering. They are more fuel-efficient. Unfortunately, the best Chrysler executives retired or were forced out by Daimler. The time from concept to development became longer, not shorter, and the company became less nimble. Many were suspicious the Germans were running Chrysler into the ground because their focus was on making and selling Mercedes Benz models. Daimler selling Chrysler to Cerberus Management is an admission that they made a mistake when they acquired Chrysler. Good riddance to Dieter Zetsche.

I have owned four Chryslers which are a microcosm of the company. The best was my first car, a 1966 Chrysler Newport. My first car after college was a 1977 Plymouth Fury, which was a Wisconsin Department of Transportation car my father bought at a state vehicle auction. Even though the energy-saving speed limit was 55 mph, I would often cruise at 85-90 mph with the assistance of a radar detector. People thought I might be a state trooper because they drove Plymouth Furies and they all slowed down and moved to the right lane. The transmission let go near Elkhart, IN, in a driving rainstorm and the car was never right after that. When I sold it, I had owned it less than four years. In movies from that era, like the “Blues Brothers,” the appearance of late 1970s Plymouth Furies means a car pile-up is coming.

I bought a 1992 Dodge Spirit in 1997 because it was cheap and had low mileage. It got nearly 30 miles per gallon of gasoline. I totalled that car in an accident in 2000 and the insurance settlement was more than I owed. I replaced it with a 1995 Plymouth which was cheap, had been a fleet car and had low mileage like the Spirit. Like the Spirit, it was a newer version of the K Car. This car has needed one major repair after another. Gas mileage is about 25 miles per gallon but it fell as low as 10 miles per gallon before another major repair. I’ve taken to calling it the Disclaim. When I am rid of it, it will be the Exclaim. I hope to never own another Chrysler. Mail offering special financing on new Chryslers goes straight into my recycling bin.

My parents and I have mostly owned General Motors vehicles. My children have only owned General Motors vehicles. My next vehicle will probably be made by General Motors.

Friday, May 11, 2007

“A Nation’s Horse” II

NBC, having produced “Barbaro: A Nation’s Horse” and lined up advertisers, showed their documentary Saturday, May 5 in prime time.

Over a syrupy soundtrack was footage of Barbaro’s greatest wins, pulling up with a shattered leg in the Preakness, and slide from successful surgery to illness and death months later. Narrator Bob Costas, Roy and Gretchen Williams, trainer Michael Matz , jockey Edgar Prado and others must have called him a “special horse” and a “gifted athlete” at least 20 times. Barbaro was compared to Triple Crown winner Man O’ War.

It has been surprising to me how much interest has been expressed on websites about when the program would air on NBC and how many have tributes to Barbaro. It is such a relief that a DVD of this program is available from NBC Sports for only $19.95 so fans can beat a dead horse again and again.

The hero of this story is not Barbaro but Matz. Matz not only walked away from a fiery airplane crash but he saved three children in 1989. He went on to win a silver medal for equestrian jumping at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta and carried the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies. The documentary, because it was about Barbaro, does not mention it was the third Olympics and first medal for Matz, that the medal was a team medal shared with two others and said only he had retired from jumping to go into racing. Actually Matz was at the pinnacle of equestrian jumping; he was U.S. national champion six times and retired as the all-time money winner in jumping.

Captain Brian Freeman was not as fortunate as either Barbaro or Matz. A West Point graduate, Freeman trained with other Olympic hopefuls from the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. Freeman began as a bobsled brakeman teamed with Olympic medalists and then started competing in skeleton. He never made it to the Olympics and he never will. He retired from active service but his reserve unit was called up and sent to Iraq. At 32, he was killed in a firefight near Karbala.

A documentary of Freeman’s sports competition is not available from NBC Sports. However, it would not surprise me if “Seung-Hui Cho: America’s Killer” is in development for NBC’s Infotainment Division.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Graduating Class of 2007

Soon the University of Wisconsin-Madison will graduate its senior class. Drivers near campus will have to dodge young people in caps and gowns. Some of them will soon start good jobs or have been accepted to graduate and professional schools. Proud parents will be driving slowly around town and turning randomly because they are not quite sure how to get where they are going.

I understand their pride in their children’s achievement, mixing their memories of childhood and this new chapter in their lives. My older son is their age and looks forward to the adventure of a new job.

In addition to the Wisconsin alumni sticker on my car is a sticker that really stands out in liberal Madison. It’s not “Kerry-Edwards” or “Attack Iraq? No.” but here it seems to be just as political. It’s “Navy Dad.”

A math and science whiz, Jens Michaelsen is starting the fifth year of an eight-year commitment to service. After four years at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command – two as a student, two on staff – he will be flying to Pearl Harbor this month to serve on a nuclear-powered submarine. He is a Petty Officer Second Class, which makes him the equivalent of a Sergeant. Jens will be 22 next month; “Accelerate your life” is not just a U.S. Navy recruiting slogan.

My kids went to a high school in Michigan similar to Madison East. Inexplicably, Jens never sought admission to college in Michigan and rebuffed recruiting efforts by the University of Illinois. While in high school, I took him on campus visits to the University of Wisconsin - Madison and Auburn University. If he had gone to college, he would be graduating this year and it would be me driving around town slowly and turning at random.

Jens will have an undergraduate degree, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and can use his Montgomery GI Bill education benefits to attend graduate school. He knows that I now discourage him from going to the University of Wisconsin - Madison, despite the school’s leadership in Nuclear Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, because I perceive Madison as being hostile to servicemen and women.

We all empathize with those who have loved ones serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and we weep for those who are casualties. Calling for ground troops to come home is qualitatively different than opposing Selective Service registration and service recruiting, however. The 53 organizations in the Madison Area Peace Coalition, including Progressive Dane, think Jens was wrong to enlist. They want to keep military recruiters out of Madison’s high schools so other young adults don’t make his “mistake.”

Not every high school students wants to go or can afford college right away. Madison liberals seek to deny them the ability to choose the military as an option to minimum wage jobs and unhappy college experiences.