Sunday, December 28, 2008

The difference between a dead duck and. . .Mike Shanahan

I'm a Broncos fan from way back when, so I am very saddened at the predictable performance they put up tonight against San Diego. Predictable in that I figured the Broncs would get rocked. The Chargers are a much better team than are the B-men, and when the game matters. . .well, I think we know who isn't "quite" ready for the prime time.

I'm also a current resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so the news coverage tilts heavily towards the Cowboys. I have a hard time digesting it all, since I have hated them as long as I can remember--but at least their locker room does make for some interesting stories.

Anyhow, a quick study of comparisons for these two teams:

Both teams had a chance to get to the playoffs with a road victory against a bitter foe; neither team showed up.

This, after both teams had a chance to clinch a playoff birth AT HOME last week, but failed to deliver (the Cowboys forgot how to tackle in the 4th quarter, the Broncos were killed by the inability to cash in in the red zone--which, not surprisingly, bit them in the but tonight when they had a chance to make a game of it at the end of the first half).

Both teams had some form of "collapse": The Broncos will be the first team ever to squander a 3-game lead in the division with 3 games to play; the Cowboys were widely regarded as one of the best 3 or 4 teams in the league at the start of the season.

And both teams have a coach that will be back next year, if you believe what Jerry Jones said this week AND if you know anything about Mike Shanahan.

But I'm not buying it.

Shanny will be back, for sure--young roster, can score points by the barrelful, revered as a near deity in Denver. He'll be back--hopefully with SOMEBODY who can coordinate a defense this time. Seriously, when was the last time we had a "D" that could stand up to a physical team? Even the success of Plummer's last full season ended up with a D-line that was too easily mauled by the Steelers. And watching our front 7 get abused every game for the last 2 years makes for some unpleasant weekends!

But Wade Phillips has no business being back at Cowboy camp next year, guarantees from ownership be damned. 2 years, no playoff victories (heck, only 1 appearance), and a total loss of control in the locker room. No, the way I see it, he was coaching for his job today.

And he forgot to bring the team along with him.

I think that says just about everything that needs to be said.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

As probably just about everybody knows, we are fast approaching Christmas day.

Now I'm not going to hit you with a lecture on the meaning of the day. You can get that in plenty of places from people more capable of relating the information to you than I am.

But I will say this: even if you don't believe that Jesus Christ is our savior, you have every reason to celebrate this day.

Because undoubtedly somebody you have or will encounter draws hope and inspiration from the story of Jesus. And because of that inspiration and that sense of working towards something "more" than material wealth on this earth, they will help make the encounter a pleasant one.

That story that inspires so many throughout the world started with the miracle birth of Jesus (Truly, isn't any non-problematic birth a miracle?). And although it isn't a perfect calendar anniversary, we Christians celebrate that birth every December 25th.

So if you've ever been wished a blessed day by a total stranger. . .if you've ever had someone say that you'll be in their prayers. . .or if you've every been left speechless by an act of kindness, you have probably been "touched" by the hand of God and His son Jesus, even if you refuse to believe they exist or that they have any meaning in the world.

So celebrate, knowing that even if the day doesn't have spiritual meaning to you personally, it does have meaning to enough people to give everybody a little hope of better days ahead.

And Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Does anybody know what's going on?

All right, I'll give credit where credit is due: Senate Republicans, thank you!

And I'll blast away when the situation deserves it: President Bush, if you use TARP funds to keep the UAW afloat, shame on you. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

To me, here's the operative question about any bailout activity: where's the market for recovery?

In the auto industry, I don't think there is one for the Detroit 3.

Here's why: everybody and their dog who was so inclined to get a new vehicle got one in 2002, when you could literally get a new car for zero down and zero percent interest. And heck, I bet more than a few households got two new cars during that timeframe.

So fast forward to 2008: in the middle of this recession, what are the chances that people are going to want to trade in their perfectly good 6-year old car for a seemingly neverending car payment?

I don't pretend to think that I speak for everyone, but I know that as much as I would love to upgrade my car (really, I could use some better gas mileage), I'll pay the extra dough in gas if it saves me a car payment. And our family vehicle, which is practically a different generation of minivan due to numerous upgrades now available on the market, is going to be driven into the ground before we replace it. That's how much I want to avoid a car payment during these tough economic times.

So even if GM and Chrysler find a way to stay afloat AND make quality cars that are competitively priced. . .I just don't think there are enough people out there to buy 'em to help the company become solvent.

It's just money being thrown away.

Just like TARP.

Can you believe we're almost through the first $350B of TARP? Do you feel stimulated?

Has there been a huge uptick in activity in your local real estate market? Heck, has there even been a foundation laid for better real estate days ahead?

I know that TARP wasn't designed SPECIFICALLY to help homeowners. . .but I'm pretty sure that most people in the U.S. thought that homeowners would get some benefit from it.

Again, it comes back to markets. TARP was supposed to provide funds to creditors, the goal of which was to loosen up a stagnant credit market. A downstream goal of all this was to get money into the hands of interested real estate buyers, thereby helping to get movement in that market.

So the banks have their money. . .but the problem is that nobody can get a loan. Gone are the days of 100% financing, so now buyers have to have something to put down to get into a house. Gone too are the days of people having equity in their current house that they could use to help "upgrade" into another house. AND with the market having lost so much value in the last 5 months, there aren't a lot of people out there with money saved up to put into a house note.

So, to recap: plenty of inventory, complete with some pretty good deals out there in certain places, and some good rates to be had. . .and yet still no activity.

That's because there are no buyers.

$700B spent on making the banks feel better about the bad loans they were forced to make. . .and not a lick of improvement to the economy.

There may be government actions that can help in this situation. Check that, there ARE government actions that can help in this situation. But the answer has got to be as direct to the source of the problem as possible. "Trickle down" doesn't work, remember? Isn't that what the Dems would have you believe?

SO. . .if the problem with the real estate world is foreclosures, then the government--if it has to do anything--should only consider helping those in closest danger of losing their homes. And not through any intermediary, such as the mortgager: either the money goes straight into the pockets of the distressed homeowner, or it doesn't go.

AND. . .with the auto industry, IF something just has to be done, then it should only address the problem of the UAW. That is the one element of the Detroit 3 that is costing them the chance to be competitive--anything else is just window dressing. If the UAW won't make concessions, then the government proposes a situation whereby Uncle Sam pays the $30-odd an hour difference between the UAW workers' pay and the non-union pay in the plants down south. Let Congress vote on the bill, and let the people hold the representatives responsible for their vote on that ridiculous piece of legislative garbage. I have a funny feeling that the House's desire to do "something" for the Detroit 3 would change dramatically if the legislation was crafted in terms that actually describe how the only beneficiary of the deal would be the UAW. But let's face it, that IS the only party that makes out in any bailout deal.

And that's why there should be no deal. And that's why there should be no tapping into the second $350B of the TARP until a plan is identified to get the money to actual homeowners.

Yes, the government can help here.

I just don't think they will.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

a foreseeable unintended consequence?

You know, ever since I became informed of how the government's dealings in 1999 effected the housing crash of this summer, I have been a big believer in the government keeping their hands off the economy.

Of course, the government has done the exact opposite.

SO now I'm in the business of predicting the fallout of the government's moves to bail out every Tom, Dick and Harry with a sad story--even if that story is about the failures of the beggar's own management.

And here's my prediction if the bailout for the big 3 moves forward: foreign-owned car companies will eventually close their plants in the U.S.

Why would they keep them open? They has worked under the same MARKET as have the big 3, and somehow they have found success. In a truly capitalistic economy, Toyota and the others would be rewarded with a diminishing competitive pool. And I'm sure that somewhere in the front offices of these companies, their strategy was always to drive some of Detroit out of the playing field.

And now the U.S. government won't let that happen.

So why play on our field when it's so slanted against their interests?

It's amazing how that conversation has yet to see the light of day in all these bailout talks. . .

Friday, December 05, 2008


All right, let's get down to business.

I don't pretend to know all things, but I do know one thing: the status quo isn't working. Looking for solutions from within the beltway has as much chance of working as does asking an addict to stop taking their poison while offering him those same drugs at half price. DC is a herd mentality, and its one of those herds that attack their own in order to prevent any lone wolves from rocking the boat. Now if the herd leaders were acting in the interests of "we, the people", then such an arrangement would be ideal. Unfortunately, such is rarely the case. But I digress. . .

You see, the point of this post is SOLUTIONS, not identification of problems. We've got more than enough people to do that, and honestly their "contributions" aren't really contributing to the betterment of society. And while I most humbly submit that maybe my proposed solutions aren't the fix to what ails us, if we can even get a DIALOGUE going about something as simple as IDEAS, then we're a lot better off than we are now. Solutions don't have to come from politicians--in fact, the best ones rarely do. SO, to that end:

I. Education (might as well start off big): First of all, you must understand that I am of the mind that kids will learn, EVEN IF OUT OF BOREDOM, provided they are predisposed to listen in the first place. To me, good behavior is the absolute must in any educational environment, and this is the one area in which the parents are THE MOST CAPABLE to help (especially at a younger age)--and parental involvement is a MUST to improving our education. Secondly, I firmly believe the following truth: parents are either conditioned to caring about their kids. . .or they aren't. Those that already care aren't the problem--they already teach their kids things like manners, and respect, and honesty because it helps their everyday involvement in the kid's life to be less stressful. But not every parent "cares"--that's probably too harsh of a word, but I'm not into splitting hairs here--and these parents are the ones that need to get on the program.

How do we do that? Easy: make it about $$$. We each get a child tax credit right now, right? How about revoking the credit for any child that, absent diagnosed physiological or psychological disorder that cannot be treated medically, causes disruption or exhibits unacceptable behavior in PUBLIC (or public-funded) schools? (Children of private schools are already costing their parents money, and misbehavior there runs its own financial risk) There would obviously have to be some system set up that makes the "punishment" mandatory--not unlike mandatory sentencing rules--so that every parent KNOWS what the school system expects from the students, and teachers and administrators wouldn't have to wrestle with the potential financial fallout of their discretion.

Now I'm not talking about the kid that acts out once and goes to the Principal's office. I'm talking about the kid that is busted with a weapon on school grounds (it may be a "one-time" thing, but it's a whopper of a one-timer!). I'm talking about the kid that seems to start a fight every week. I'm talking about the kid like what I see at my local elementary school, where there's a 5 or 6-year old boy who literally DOES NOT listen to the teachers. He doesn't sit with the class in their assigned location in the morning meeting area; he sometimes doesn't go with the class when they leave that area. I once had to intervene on behalf of the kid (as much as it hurt me to do it) because one of the teachers was trying to physically pull the kid to his proper location, and I felt that the teacher needed to know that dealing with the stubborn kid wasn't worth their job. This kid, this 5 year old kid, has absolutely NO respect for any person of authority. Now I hold out that maybe there's a legit medical reason for his uncivility (hence the caveats above)-- but absent that, this kids' parents need to be taken to task for raising a kid so clearly unaware of authority. Not only is he set up for failure, but I can only imagine what his presence and likely disruptiveness in the classroom means to the productivity of the teacher's efforts with the other kids. It's unacceptable, and the problem lies at the home, not in the school.

Our tax dollars should be devoted to making kids knowledgeable and capable of thinking for themselves--not to taking qualified educators and turning them into babysitters or behavioral scientists. So let's get back to the business of having teachers teach. And when a student isn't helping promote the right environment for the teacher. . .well, than that kid is at least helping to increase the amount of tax dollars that the school district gets.

Local boards would be charged with defining the parameters of this punishment, so there will be the ability for a populace to shape the rules for their school district. School administrators would hopefully have very little input to the decision matrix (the more automatic the system, the easier it is to administer).

I know from experience that people don't like having money taken from their pockets. Trust me, even if it doesn't get desired results every time, it definitely gets attention--and maybe "attention" is all that is needed to get parents involved in their child's in-school behavior.

next up (separate post): housing reform.

UPDATE: I should have warned you--or you should know by now--I normally "rush" these posts to print and therefore frequently have "writer's remorse". Obviously, education reform needs to entail more than just an added behavior incentive. There's got to be. . .you know. . .education.

Of the current "system", I like the idea behind vouchers, but feel it is but a band-aid trying to stop the damage from an open-chest wound. I don't like standardized tests EVERY year, or every two years or whatever. I think there should be one test, to be taken at any point in high school: life skills. Can you do basic math? Can you read to a suitable comprehension level? Do you understand what your signature means on a contract? Do you know what a contract is? And by "basic" and "suitable", I mean enough that passing the test means that you have the skills to contribute to society should you choose to do such.

So what about curriculum checks? You know, making sure our schools are teaching interested learners the right stuff to go to secondary education and the like? Well, here I think the federal government needs to set a nationwide "baseline" for curricula, with state governments in charge of overseeing compliance. "High school graduates" should have at least passed an algebra class in math; should have completed at least one 8-page research paper (written in English) for a passing grade in English; have finished basic civics and American History classes; have passed a life science class and had a brief intro to chemistry and physics--things like that. But please note that a "high school graduate" is not necessarily a kid who's ready for college--he or she is a kid that has the opportunity to exercise the freedom that comes with being 18 to choose a path for themselves. And if college is that path. . .well, they MAY have a little work ahead to get themselves ready for that journey, just like some kids under the current system.

By the way, if you have completed the requirements for a "high school graduate" in your state before your senior year in high school but after your 16th birthday, you can still graduate then, if that is your choice. My hope is that a lot of disinterested students would cease to occupy a place in the schools and strike out to earn a paycheck, paying early dividends to the state income pool (the added benefit would be that 11th and 12th grade classes would be populated mostly by students who realize the worth of their education, which pays huge benefits to the school as well). Children who took advantage of an "early graduation" option would NOT be eligible for unemployment or any other welfare-related product, in an effort to "drive" them towards jobs. Once a student pulls out of "high school" as a graduate, he or she can't go back--the free ride education is over. But if more learnin' is what a kid is looking for, then there's always community colleges and on-line classes to be taken. A path for EVERYONE--with the decisions made by the students, NOT the government.

The goal of our education system should be to make young adults--18 year old adults--possessed of enough knowledge and analytic skills to figure out on their own what they want to do with their lives. The government can't "mandate" that on anybody, and the system becomes too large and unresponsive when we try. Not everybody should receive a "college lite" education from their parents' tax dollars. Of course, there are those who will get that, complete with AP courses and the such to earn real college credit, and that is a service that needs to be continually offered--but that isn't right for everybody.

I "might" be exhausted on this front now. . .but we'll see what I think of over the next couple days before I write this off as complete.