Sunday, May 31, 2009

May thirty-first

Yesterday the Obamas jetted off to Broadway to take in a show, and this morning their critics are in full cry.

My wife and I, over our morning coffee, talked about why our new first family's R&R always seems to kick up such a fuss. Even though I know it's due largely to a loyal opposition that's fresh out of substance, I suggested that it also might be because we're coming off a president that basically hunkered in his bunkers for eight years.

On further reflection, however, and after hearing Mrs. KintlaLake observe that George W. Bush was no less cloistered than his predecessors, it occurred to me that it's been more than 40 years since an American President spent this much time, official or otherwise, in public.

The Kennedy assassination changed everything. Memories of American life before that November day in Dallas are outside the experience of most people, including my wife.

I remember.

Personally, I'm okay with Pres. Obama's high profile -- he's doing what a leader should do. Spending a few (or a few hundred thousand) taxpayer dollars on transportation and security to whisk the first couple to New York City for a date every now and then is bound to provoke criticism, but it doesn't bother me one bit.

Our government is the servant of The People. It can't truly serve unless it's visible and, in my view, it serves best when it walks among The People -- even when it must be accompanied by a security detail.

So goes the nation
Nine years ago, General Motors common stock was worth almost $95. It closed on Friday at seventy-five cents a share.

At one time the world's largest industrial corporation, GM could boast more than 600,000 workers in 1979 and now employs just 74,000. Dozens of its plants are silent and dark. Billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars have been thrown at GM, and the company has pumped much of that money into its overseas operations.

From "What if GM Did Go Bankrupt?" in Business Week:
"...investors are clearly starting to ponder the unthinkable. The price of GM's credit-default swaps, which are insurance in case the carmaker can't pay back its loans, have soared in the past month. They now cost a premium of 12 percentage points of the value of the debt that they insure, four times what they cost in January. Few people believe that Washington would help bail out GM, as it did with Chrysler [in 1979]. Investors, suppliers, and employees, meanwhile, are starting to imagine how a GM bankruptcy would unfold and taking steps to defend themselves if it should happen. Some suppliers, for example, are trying to get shorter payment terms from GM in exchange for lower prices."
That article, by the way, was published in December of 2005.

Tomorrow, at long last, reality will bite -- hard. An already disemboweled company is about to become leaner. The auto industry's supply chain will shrivel, and the fate of GM's 500,000-plus retirees is about to serve as an inescapable precursor of what can (and likely will) happen to Social Security and Medicare.

None of us has ever seen anything like this.

I'm an occasional reader of Jim Rawles's SurvivalBlog. I don't adopt everything I read there, certainly, but there's no denying that it's among the most comprehensive repositories of citizen-survival information and opinions. It's worth a visit.

A recent guest article, "Creating a Crisis Decision Matrix," caught my attention. Basically, it takes a more structured, empirical approach to assessing one's personal preparedness, specifically what I called "The Lay of the Land" in a post last March.

This matrix is a useful tool. I recommend it.

By any other name
In and around our now-fallow garden plot, a handful of wild rose bushes are heavy with pink and crimson blooms. Yesterday afternoon my wife brought me a bouquet of the faintly fragrant flowers, gathered in a water glass she hadn't yet packed.

A few minutes later, she brought me a second bouquet, and then another. The third vase, which she placed lovingly on my desk, held a half-dozen tight pink buds.

When I stepped into my office early this morning and turned on the light, I saw that the buds had opened overnight -- in the dark.

On difficult days -- and these days surely are -- I'll make a point of remembering that.