Wednesday, February 13, 2013

THE SECOND TERM Whatever comes of the President's State of the Union speech in a few hours there seems evidence that the President's second term already has signs of his intentions. There is evidence of the Obama that some people hoped for in the first term and were disappointed when he did not fulfill their wishes. Among the first term priorities, if not the first priority was re-election. That produced the kinds of political restraints that disappoint ardent followers of ideology. The second term based on conventional wisdom has a two year window before the mid-term elections and the last two years are lost to lame duck disease. There may be another scenario. Perhaps the President has calculated that he has nothing to lose by challenging conventional wisdom. He has a light breeze at his back with an economy that is in slow recovery, but recovery is key. Fiscal cliffs and short term "kick the can down the road" solutions abound, but there are also solid signs of progress. Reduction in health care costs is a big deal. Deficit reduction attendant to health care and military spending cuts are a big deal. Both of these events are happening quickly and in the face of political headwinds. Fortunately for the President the Republicans have thus far been their own worst enemies. Their obstructionist tactics, so successful during the first term, are less successful if not failed efforts thus far in term two. Cuts in military spending alone are worth watching closely. These cuts hold the greatest promise for real change. If they can be accomplished in the obvious areas of political spending spread across the Congressional map to shore up so many districts and embellish the record of the sponsoring Representative, then there is the promise of real change without necessarily harming the military establishment. The end to weapons development that no one wants, least of all the military. The closing of redundant bases. Watch for Naval expenditures. Ships have long lead times and particularly high costs. The F-35 to the tune of 2500 orders? There is talk of halving that order, and even then , 1250 fighters? Really necessary in this day and age. Is that number likely larger than the total number of fighter planes of all potentially significant adversaries. We are not alone. There is a NATO. There are the Middle Eastern "allies", themselves well equipped with fighter aircraft. The impact of all this on the US economy. It could be significant. But what if the civilian economy rebalances, however slowly? What if real jobs continue to grow and the US finds its growing export footing and entrepreneurial leadership? And lest we forget, we live in a globalized economy where many US companies are invested around the world and less dependent on domestic growth alone. Lots of what ifs. But the charm and challenge of the Presidency is decision-making. Obama shows evidence of accepting his biggest asset: no need to worry about re-election. But what about the D party and 2016? If the President's bets pay off. If the economy continues to grow. If the second term is not lame duck at all but has the signs of bold policy steps, what greater gift could the outgoing President give his party? Pie in the sky? Glass overfull? Too many optimistic assumptions? Possible. But looked at from a Presidential perspective, this second term might be based on a different set of assumptions by President Obama. He is a noted lone thinker. He listens to those close to him, and then synthesizes. He may have decided that what some may consider "bold", others "foolhardy", yet others "risky" as his opportunity to follow his vision. What a grand luxury.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A CAUTIONARY TALE There is a gremlin in my life. This Gremlin’s principal occupation has been the esoteric skill to know when I am traveling and where. With that knowledge the Gremlin then arranges for the plane I am on to be parked at the farthest gate from the main terminal. The day of the year, the season, the hour, the airport, the continent, the century is no obstacle to this Gremlin. Take Beijing Capitol airport in China. A monstrosity of modern design built to accommodate the Olympic traffic. Beijing Capitol Airport has reached the top ten among international airports based on traffic. Woe be to the traveler who flies there. The place is big enough. Far too big. Distances rival mini-marathons. Day or night, even in the wee hours when there is little traffic at the airport, my flight, irrespective of airline, is parked at the outer reaches of the airport. It happened at 02:00 one morning. Surely there would be empty gates close to the center of the terminal. And indeed there were empty gates, by the dozens. I counted them as we taxied by to our destination at the end gate. I suppose there is some solace knowing you will be way out there. My hometown airport, Shantou, newly built, has, like many Chinese airports been built with the future in mind. There are many more gates than flights at this stage of development. My Gremlin thinks is a grand opportunity to do its thing. I frequently take a late flight from nearby Guangzhou that lands at 11:55pm. Invariably we are parked at the farthest gate. Odd too, because the early morning flight to Guangzhou at 07:30, the reciprocal number of the incoming flight, often leaves from a gate next to airport security. I suppose they move the plane from the night before; or switch aircraft. Makes perfect sense. Why would an airline use the plane from the last flight in the night before as the plane first thing out in the morning to the same destination? Foolish me. Stick with me in case you find a way to avoid this Gremlin because the Gremlin acquired a new skill this morning. I was scheduled to take my daughter to the airport in Seattle at 06:15. Knowing my penchant for zombie behavior in the wee hours, I prepared everything I needed the night before. Clothes laid out. Gym bag with clothes and wallet and phone and e-reader inside. And my car keys were placed in the side pocket of my warm-up suit; the usual spot. You’re getting the picture? Up and at em at 05:45. Glass of OJ placed the night before on my desk to wet the whistle. Contacts installed, teeth brushed, clothes on and….. OOOOOOPS. No car keys. “I never lose my car keys”. I am not the misplacing or losing kind. I forget lots of stuff. Anniversaries, birthdays, why I crossed the room, items three and four on the shopping list I should have made but said to myself the fateful “I’ll remember”. But car keys. Never forget….that I can recall. I wore clothes with a total of six pockets. Gym, shorts, warm-up jacket, and down vest, each with two pockets. Checked em all. Twice, then three times. Checked inner pockets where I never put keys. Suppressed panic. “This morning of all mornings when daughter needs to get to the airport.” Check last night’s clothes. Trousers. Different down vest. Nada. Nothing. Curses and mutters when I realized the little bastard, the Gremlin was taunting me. It had been weeks since I flew and the Gremlin was clearly using this pretext to keep its skills honed. “Drive the poor SOB nuts because he won’t be thinking of this.” My mind raced. Alternate plans. “Borrow” my host’s car. He’s fast asleep so can’t ask him permission. He’s a good fellow and understanding. Thank heavens a solution. I’m early. Once more through all the clothes and all the pockets. Desperately reworking in my mind every step I took last night after I put my car to bed. Can’t be in the car, otherwise I couldn’t have locked it. Checked anyway. Car locked. Checked under the bed. Keys might have dropped on the floor. Found someone’s glasses. Not mine. Looked inside shoes and under chairs. Checked every corner of every room I had been in. Nada. Zilch, Niente. Started up friend’s car. Gas gauge close to empty. Can’t make the airport on fumes. I’ll make it to daughter’s house and we’ll use her car. Plan C or D by now. That Gremlin just sat there grinning silently. GOTCHA….again. Daughter had a spare key for my car. WHEW. Last time I checked, 8 years ago, a new key for a VW was $135 dollars. I can imagine what it costs today. We made the airport with plenty of time to spare, then I back-tracked. Leave daughter’s car at her house. Keep her keys. Pick up friend’s car, put gas in, and return to friend’s house. Its just 07:30 and he’s still asleep. Another WHEW. My clothes now bulge with my spare car key, my daughter’s car key to be returned later, my friend’s car key and, and, and, what the hell is this in the right hand pocket of my warm-up suit. My original car keys. By now the Gremlin is rolling on the floor laughing its fool head off. It’s sneering at me. GOTCHA GOTCHA GOTCHA. Have you ever done this: I pulled the keys out, looked at them as if I had never seen them. I put them back into the pocket where I found them. I pulled them out and did it again; just to be sure they wouldn’t disappear again. Forewarned is forearmed. The next time you are parked at a far gate, think for a moment: this may be only the beginning of your woes. Cheers peter