Sunday, January 28, 2007

Washington Comedian

It was Will Rogers who said, “It’s easy to be a comedian. You have the entire Government working for you.”

How can I say that? Well, the Senate just gave a vote of confidence to the new four star general David H. Petraeus, and wished him “God Speed,” and other things that would sound good in the Media, then set to work trying to cut his support out from under him while encouraging the enemy.

Of course, this betrayal was called “patriotic.”

Will Rogers was right.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nagging the Buggers

One of the more interesting parts of writing something original is doing the research. Yesterday I got a call from the NSA, a super-secret intelligence agency. They wanted to tell me about the work they had done in response to a request I made.

I have been writing about someone who was involved in the space program for two governments in the 1960’s. He died a couple of years ago and on his way out, he told me lots of things he had done. He was a very modest man whose life included huge achievements. I have come to realize that he wanted me to write about them, but he didn’t want to ask.

Before I write about anyone of the Cold War era , I consider whether his or her life involved secrets. Then I try to determine which agency might have information about him. I make my requests to the agencies first, because they take the longest. Usually, it is the FBI or the CIA. But I knew my subject reported to two intelligence agencies and that he was not allowed to tell one what he had told the other. I bet that one of them was NSA. And I bet right.

An acquaintance in a chat room had once worked with the NSA. He advised me not to “ping” the NSA. It was too late. I had already sent them a request fax. After all, they have a web site saying they have a Freedom of Information Office. So I requested information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). And several weeks later they called me.

A very nice lady told me that the person I was searching for had indeed been a contractor and told me which years. She added that they had destroyed his file twenty years ago and had nothing left but an indoctrination form with his signature on it. I was floored! I was sure the NSA would never admit to hearing his name uttered in their offices or even in the environment of Washington, DC. I thanked the lady and hung up the phone.

Then I thought about it for a moment. The word “contractor” almost sounded like my friend was hired by the agency for pay. He was an ex-army officer, a well-established professional man who didn’t need the money, and I knew he would never accept pay for assisting his government. So I called back.

This time, I startled the lady who had talked to me a few minutes before. I asked what a “contractor” was to them in the 1960’s. She stammered a bit but finally responded that he was not an employee, but was a person who was lent to them by another, er company.

I am working on the other, er, company for more information as this is being written. I hope they are just as helpful.

By the way—the Federal Government does not all throw away all copies of anything. It was only a few years ago that I wrote a book based on the files of the Secret Service from 1873. They were in a dusty corner of the National Archives. Maybe my great granddaughter will dig something out about this friend before she dies. She is two years old as I write this.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Homage to Writers

I can guess how they felt, the two teenagers who wrote me thank-you notes because I gave them copies of two of my books at Christmas time. The kids probably felt embarrassed at having to submit their writing skills to a man who writes books. But they did a good job.

The reason I know how they could have felt is that today I sent a letter to one of America’s finest writers, and I was very careful to be on my best writing behavior as I did it.

The author was Wendell Berry, and when he writes a book, it is immediately reviewed by the N.Y. Times and the L. A. Times. Wendell’s great-grandfather and my great-grandfather lived in the same town at the same time, and both seemed to have helped Gen. John Hunt Morgan (CSA) escape from the Yankees in 1863. We have been comparing notes for some time. (A bit of the story about my ancestor and President Lincoln’s dealings with him can be found on this web site in my Nov. 28 Post to this Blog.)

So, I was nervous about writing to Wendell. And I can say it here because I know he will never see this Blog; he is famous for avoiding computers. Well, maybe there is a crack in his armor. Most of his notes to me have been hand-written. But I noticed his last letter had been composed on a computer.

Maybe someday Wendell will become sloppy with the rest of us keyboard bangers.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Screwing the Stockholder/Citizen

It was about 1955 that a wonderful British movie was released in America. It was called, I’m All Right, Jack and its star was an unknown actor named Peter Sellers. He went on to great fame from this first movie.

The story was about a factory in England that was not doing well. Its owner had given up. He was retiring and moving to a nudist colony on the beaches, somewhere. As he left, he had his nephew, a bright and enterprising industrial engineer, try to modernize the business.

It turned out that everyone in the business had his fingers in the revenue stream—that is what the “I’m all right, Jack” expression means (I’ve been taken care of). So from the humblest hourly employee to the union steward to the managers, everyone was quite comfortable. And they all fought the young man as he tried to make the business profitable. No one would admit what he was doing, though.

By the end of the movie, the enterprising young industrial engineer had given up and also retired to the nudist colony to join his uncle. The corrupt business was a metaphor for British industry and its moribund economy of the times.

As a long-time employee of General Electric with three years on its corporate staff, I have seen the same “I’m all right Jack” attitude in various G.E. operations. And in quiet moments spent alone with people in other companies I have found the story to be similar in their experiences.

Why isn’t it all right to be “All Right, Jack”? It is because there is a group left out of each population of comfortable people—the stockholders. The people who are “All Right” are systematically screwing the stockholders! There is no one in the business who is looking out for its owner.

Extreme examples are General Motors and Ford, whose management slowly gave away their business to labor unions. Employee benefits are so huge that these companies cannot compete with manufacturers from outside the U.S.

Screwing the stockholder has become a standard practice in America. And the practice did not stop with industry. It went on to Congress, where the American public has become the stockholders with Congress as managers and professional bureaucrats as hourly workers. Slowly but steadily Congress and its helpers are screwing us stockholders (citizens). And there is no one who is looking out for us. Certainly it is not the media. The media “is all right, Jack.”

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Show-Biz Congress and Wages

Congresspeople seem overly worried about the “little man” these days. They want him to have a raise in wages. But they don’t want to pay for the raise. They want you and me to pay for the raise, as usual. So Congressmen will soon vote to raise the federal minimum wage. It is a perfect solution to a non-problem. It will not cost them anything, it will attract votes because of their compassion, and the raise will do no good at all. In fact, it may harm some of the “little people,” but it will look good and that is all that counts. It is simply a matter of putting on a good show; after all Congresspeople are in show-biz of a sort all the time.

Economics is a study of supply and demand. Economists know that when the price of something rises, people will use less of it. Raise the price of labor and fewer laborers will be employed. But more people will leave school to fill those higher-priced jobs.

The real reason for raising the federal minimum wage is that it pleases labor unions. And labor unions provide a great deal of money and other support for politicians in whom they are well pleased. Labor unions use the minimum wage to boost their demands for more money for the people they represent.

In the United States for the past 200 years there has been a steady increase in wages. Was this increase due to pressure from labor unions or people in Congress establishing minimum wages? Certainly not. The increase in wages has been due to a shortage in laborers in this country. That is why the United States is a country of immigrants!

There has been a steady pressure to bring in people from other countries to fill the demand for workers, because private individuals have created millions of jobs. Government wastes, private individuals create.

It is simple economics again—if the demand for something grows, the price you pay for it will rise. Labor is no exception.

Some say people in Congress are aware of the demand curve. I say they are too busy putting on a good act and too ignorant of economics to be aware of the most simple economic facts. They are better at dropping their pants than they are at dropping the price of something. They are better at posing and being “shocked and surprised” than they are at actually doing something useful.

Congress will no doubt pass an increase in the federal minimum wage very soon. And they will feel good, despite the damage they will have caused. But Congresspeople won’t know the difference and they will congratulate each other as if they did.

And we pay these people, the ruling class, huge sums of money to wander around blindly and do really dumb things!