Recently, our local newspaper has been publishing more columns that are critical of current administration practices.  Here are two of three that appeared in tonight's Huntsville Times. 

Bush on Saddam and Kim
by
Richard Reeves

1/20/2003

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Washington -- "Time is running out on Saddam Hussein," said the president of the United States, turning toward television cameras last Tuesday. "He must disarm. I'm sick and tired of games and deception."
    It was quite a moment. He seemed less the president than plain old Goeoge W. Bush, as if he took all this personally. This is the man who had said, not on television, but in an interview with Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, "I loathe Kim Jong Il."
    Not that I disagree. I loathe the North Korean dictator and am sick and tired of the Iraqi dictator. But I don't take their malice personally. And I don't have an army, a navy and air force. I prefer a president like Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said first that what he hated was war itself.
    In this frenzied capitol, there are not many people who believe that the U. S. is not going to war . "It's quite amazing, isn't it?" said on important correspondent. "Everyone outside Washington seems to think that there will not be a war. but everyone here knows there will be."
    Why is that?
    "Because we know Bush wants a war."
    This is a scary place. Not many people here believe Bush when he says he sees war as a last resort. From here, Bush, the impatient, Bush, the hater, seems ready to go to war no matter what happens---as if sending thousands of soldiers far from home out there in the desert is reason enough to attack. Words, as we know, are not the president's strong suit. He actually seems to have little use for them. One example is news conferences. Basically he dose not have them, the actual number being seven in two years.
    So he does not like reporters; that sentiment more often than not comes with the office. But he is not saying much even to his own people. He was contemptuous when he was asked, again by Woodward, whether he talked with staff and advisers about what he was doing.
    "Of course not," he said. "I'm the commander. "See, I don't have to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody has to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
    There are words he likes; "commander" is one. Even his weird talk, the jumbled stuff, is sometimes revealing. Exactly a month before taking office,, after the chaos of vote-counting in Florida, the new president-elect talked of the job this way:
"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier. Just as long as I'm the dictator."
    That is from one scary Texan. There is some kind of anger in the man alone, hostility that sometimes seems barely under control---as if he were, in street language, being "disrespected".
    I  came across a newspaper clipping I had stuck in my pocket last July when I was passing through Fredericksburg, V. I always get the paper there because I love its name, The Free Lance-Star. The clipping was a column by Donnie Johnston, who covers the Culpepper area, that began
    "Well here we go again. President Bush is getting ready to stir things up with Saddam Hussein.... From what everybody says, he's a cussed sort with a mean streak a yard wide.  ...But Saddam has never spit in my face, kicked my dog, or insulted my wife, and as long as he stays on his side of the pond, things are going to be just fine. ... Mainly, the people in my neighborhood don't like Hussein because the Bush family doesn't like him. ....
    "The truth is, I don't think the Bush family has ever quite forgiven Saddam for not getting killed in the Gulf War. His survival seems to have irritated the family to no end."
    Johnston proceeded to to say that maybe bush and Saddam could duke it out themselves. "They could square off in the grove of trees out behind my barn if they like and get this settled once and for all.  .... That way a lot of innocent people on both sides wouldn't wind up getting killed.
    I kept Johnston's column for laughs. But I'm not laughing now. This has gotten too personal for me.


Our 257,000-mile Integra
    As I've mentioned previously, the 1987 Acura Integra in our garage has 257,000 miles on it, and we drive it everywhere, including long trips. It's utterly dependable.
Experiences with U. S.-Built Cars
    Over the years, I've had a lot of experience with U. S.-built cars, beginning with the Model A back in the 30's (as a passenger, not an owner).
    For years after Ruth and I married, we owned Detroit-built cars. They were all the same. They were plush and dependable when they were new, but they soon wore out. Detroit had a name for it: "planned obsolescence". Parts wore out and cars broke down frequently once they reached 60,000 or 70,000 miles. The best tires were good for about 20,000 miles. That wasn't necessary, but it forced you to buy a new automobile every few years, and made them more money.
Michelin Introduces the 40,000-Mile Steel-Belted Radial
    A break came when Michelin began delivering 40,000-mile steel-belted radials. They cost more, but they were worth it. In addition to their steel-belted protection against blowouts, and their longer tread life, they had better traction on wet pavement than Goodyear, Firestone, or Seiberling.tires. People migrated toward them and later, toward Bridgestone, and away from U. S, tire manufacturers.
Mercedes and Volvo Build a Better Mousetrap
    A similar break came when Mercedes and Volvo began selling cars in the U. S, marketplace. These cars could last 200,000 to 300,000 miles. The Big Three saw to it that protective tariffs were enacted by Congress to double the prices of these super-cars over what they cost in their countries of origin. That way, U. S. carmakers could continue their practice of milking the American consumer. But it became evident that much-longer lived cars could be built economically, and that Detroit deliberately wasn't doing it.
Followed by Japanese Cars
    In the early 80's, I began to buy Japanese-made cars. They were smaller and less comfortable than U. S.-built cars, but they lasted longer, and they used less fuel than U. S.-built cars. There was some pressure to "Buy American", but, considering Detroit's policy of "planned obsolescence, I figured that we were supporting a habit. As long as we were willing to buy inferior U. S.-built cars, Detroit wouldn't have much incentive to build better automobiles. Also, Detroit was beginning to compete in a world marketplace, and if they turned out seriously-shorter-lived cars than overseas automakers, they were going to lose out overseas in the long run.
    It could be argued that Japan enjoyed lower labor costs, but that argument was nullified by the latter 80's. (Actually, the Japanese have outpaced the U. S. in automation and robotics by a factor of many-to-one.)
Chrysler-Built Products
    During the 1970's, we bought a little second-hand boat with a Chrysler outboard motor. It kept breaking down, so we traded it in for a larger, brand-new Chrysler outboard. It broke down just as often. Finally, in disgust, we bought a boat with a Mercury outboard motor. It worked for years, and never had to be repaired.
    Our house came with a Chrysler air conditioner. It lasted half as long as most air conditioners.
    Chrysler closed its operations in both areas soon after we had our experiences.
    In the meantime, durability ratings were rising for U. S.-built cars, although continuing to trail Japanese, Swedish and German cars. Mechanics said that U. S.-built cars were getting more reliable.
    Several years ago, we had a friend who worked for Chrysler. She bought Chrysler automobiles at a discount. I asked her if they were getting more reliable, as I had heard. She said, "Bob, this is my last Chrysler, discount or no discount. I have lots of trouble with my Chryslers. We just don't build them well. I see it every day on the production line."
    Over the past few years, I've watched my sister and my brother-in-law buy new Buicks. They have breakdowns and other troubles with them even when they're fairly new.
    This may provide some personal background for the following article. I think the author is trying to perform a service by pointing out a dangerous trend:  that U. S. automakers market share is dropping rapidly within the U. S. If that's true within the U. S., think what must be happening outside the U. S.! (This is where I think Bush administration's dismissal of global warming is going to lead to high costs in the future, as the rest of the world marches to a different drum than ourselves.)


Detroit Races Toward Its Demise
by
John Balzar
The Los Angeles Times

    A 300-mph, 10-cylinder motorcycle? It seems this clattering metallic nightmare stole the spotlight at the Detroit auto show.
    Spectators were said to be quivering, no doubt, even drooling, at the sight of it. From the photos, it looked to me like a waste-water turbine on wheels, but I confess that I parted company with the auto show crowds years ago.
    The ear-splitting detonations of the 500-horsepower engine apparently sent some spectators---chiefly those evolutionary throwbacks Homo holeintheheadicus---into full spin as their grabbed for their wallets with both hands.
    It wasn't enough to see and listen to this macabre "concept" of the future. They wanted to buy one right then: $250K. Yee-haw.
    Just think: At last a motorcycle that gets fewer miles to the gallon than an SUV! And loud enough to rattle dishes and frighten children all through the neighborhood.
    Here, friends, is the glorious metaphor for Detroit's demise.
    The Big Three rave along at 300 mph to being the Smaller Three.
    In case you missed them, 2002 automobile sales figures showed this: North American manufacturers provided an estimated $30 billion in sales incentives to push their iron and still lost market share.
    Qute a feat, if you ask me.
    How can this be happening?
    Well, consider the Tomahawk. That's the name Chrysler thought up when it stripped its Dodge Viper of ordinary things like a body, paint, bucket seats, seat belts and stereo CD player.
    The company bolted some handlebars across the engine and called it transportation. Just what we need, a gas-guzzling motorcycle that can go 40 percent of the speed of sound. What a concept!. Good thinking, Chrysler!
    You could say the about the 16-cylinder, 1,000 horsepower "concept" Cadillac that also set the motorheads buzzing at the car show. I added up the horsepower of all the cars I ever owned in my life, and I still came up short of a grand. Yet I haven't been late to work in years. Oh, well.
    Detroit simply cannot understand---or accept---that tastes are changing, and changing with the imperatives of the time. Hello, Gulf War? The Mideast? Oil? What in the world are these people thinking?
    Yes, there remains a market for the absurd, as anyone in California can attest. But with its troubles, you'd think Detroit would be absorbed with mainstream tastes, not the nitwit niches.
    I have seen a man riding a V-8 engine made into a motorcycle, and all I can say is he looked as natural as a fellow astride his washer and dryer.
    But of course, this is about image. The dreams that cars still, sort of, evoke. Detroit still argues against every advance in safety or mileage standards on grounds that consumers choose best. At the same, of course, the industry continues to spend millions trying to shape our taste so we'll choose big.
    It's not working. But the Smaller Three cannot break the habit of trying to compensate in torque and gross tonnage what they cannot hold onto in customers.
    So what is emphasized in the face of a looking war in the Middle East and rising foreign competition at home? More cylinders.
    Detroit is still foolishly glamorizing muscle---only now to absurd extremes. It's not spotlighting cars that people drive. It's hyping vehicles that shouldn't even be on the highway. Here is what GM says about the aggressive stance of its 3 Hummer: "Created to allow it to go places cars and trucks just aren't supposed to go."
    What a concept! Apply that standard to airplanes and we'd have submarines.
    My colleagues who cover the auto business note that Detroit commanded about 72 percent of the U. S. Market only six years ago. Last year, that share was down to 62 percent, and analysts say that the Smaller Three are looking at the possibility of dipping below 50% within five years.
    After that? Well, you have to wonder how far behind you can fall with 10 cylinders at Mach 4.


(The third article is entitled, "Eminems as dangerous as al-Qaida".)