Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankfully, All's Well For Us

Where were you when Paris was terrorized? That may well join others on the list of famous "where were you" questions--when JFK was assassinated, when man first walked on the moon, when the World Trade Center was destroyed.

I was at home, and more than a little nervous. Beautiful wife Sandy, son Lee, and Lee's fiancĂ© Karen were in Europe to visit family in Germany, tour favorite places in Austria, and attend a special birthday party for Karen's mother, Ilse. Fortunately, nothing on their agenda took them to Paris. Nevertheless, as reports continued to appear of threats and discoveries of new terrorist plots my concerns deepened.

As things turned out, I had nothing to worry about. All the travelers said they had a great time renewing acquaintances with favorite people and places while fueled by liberal doses of schnapps and pretzels. Sandy had an unusual fall on an escalator in the Munich airport, but she somewhat miraculously emerged with only bruises and no pains. The only other problems were minor frustrations with needs to modify parts of the travel plan to avoid delays at borders caused by refugees.

Some of the hosts expressed worry about how I was faring as a solo act back home in Michigan. They should have known all was well. One of my responsibilities was caring for Pearl, who emerged
Pearl resting from guard dog duties.
as a fearless sentinel after years as a mere lap dog. When someone or something got too close to our house one night, Pearl routed the intruder with a chorus of strident barking. That may have been a first. Previously, she was known to emit various grunts, snorts, and snores, but never a real bark.

An event in the latter part of the travel scenario caught my attention. Shortly before the travelers started their journey home the U.S. State Department declared a world-wide travel alert. I was relieved when Lee phoned to tell me their 10,000 mile trip was going to end at our front door in about an hour.

Our reunion didn't quite happen on schedule.When the travelers arrived an hour and a half after his call, Lee appeared somewhat shaken. "What happened?'

"I hit a deer out on the highway," he said. The site of the collision was less than a mile from our home.

Years ago, I was a passenger in a sedan that hit a deer. The front end of the car was seriously damaged. A wrecker hauled it away for major repairs. A conservation officer hauled the deer carcass away the next day. There is nothing unusual about seeing dead deer on the sides our highways in southwestern Michigan, especially this time of year when the hunting season is under way and the animals are moving around during the  rut.

I expected really bad news. However, Lee took some evasive actions and the collision was a glancing blow. The deer limped away. The car showed no signs of significant damage.

Although some horrific things have happened in other places, our little family has much to be thankful for this year. We'll be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow. . . right on schedule. Best holiday wishes to you and yours.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Bad Approach to Our Potholes

After several years of wrangling and the decisive defeat of a referendum, our Michigan legislators enacted a program designed to fix our deteriorating highways, roads, and bridges. Everyone agrees the infrastructure needs work. No one seems to agree the new program is a good answer to the problems.

The financing is far from what our accountant governor sought. Big tax collections for repairs are deferred for years into the future. Despite some smoke and mirrors, the program includes substantial tax increases, to the dismay of many of our Republican legislators. Democrats are expressing general dislike for a major part of the plan that will cut other important programs in the future should the economy fail to grow to unlikely levels.

Yet I've not heard a lot of complaints about one feature of the plan that I find worthy of scorn. The good guys among Michigan vehicle owners are going to be penalized for their efforts.

Our state has above-average rates of health problems, such as asthma, associated with air pollution. Sensible people would think our political leaders would be doing everything possible to clean up what we breath. Not so, it seems.

Vehicle registration fees will increase 20 percent starting in 2017 under the new plan to bring in additional revenue for infrastructure work. No problem there, BUT owners of electric or hybrid vehicles with pay $30 to $200 more than owners of comparable gas guzzlers. The tab for those who prove their concern for air quality by what they buy and drive will total about $216 million of the $400 million provided by registration taxes.

Supposedly, this unequal registration taxation is to level the field because the electrics and hybrids obviously use less gasoline and therefore pay a smaller part of the taxes collected at the pump than do other vehicle owners. That is true, BUT shouldn't the goal be to discourage gas usage, thus conserving a nonrenewable resource (oil) while helping to reduce air pollution? Of course it should.

In California, a state long concerned about poor air quality primarily due to motor vehicles, a better approach to registration fees is in place. Owners of electric vehicles pay about 6.5 percent less than owners of other vehicles, or about $20 less per year for a modestly priced new car. This is the right way to go; our Michigan legislators have chosen the wrong way.

(Disclosure: The Geezer's vehicle is an elderly Pontiac that runs on gasoline.)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Will Detroit Lions Fans Fire the Owner?

In a National Football League season that began with optimism, loyal Detroit Lions fans once again have descended deeply into doom and gloom.

Avid team backers have a standard answer when questioned about their favorites: "Same old Lions." The "same old" Lions franchise goes way back. Its last NFL title was won in 1957. Since then, the team has won only a single playoff game. Fans have been treated to just one winning season in the past 14 years.

Halfway through the current campaign, the Lions have lost seven games and won one. In effect, their season is over. Only a highly unlikely miracle would get them into the playoffs.

Ford family members (yes, the auto guys) have owned the club since 1963. They have long been accused of having too much patience with inept team management. Response to the current losing season, however, has been anything but patient. Family actions are bordering on firing everybody. And a Lions fan, probably with tongue in cheek, has launched a movement to fire the Fords.

When the Lions record hit 1-6, Head Coach Jim Caldwell fired three top assistants. After a disastrous seventh loss in the league's annual game staged in London, England, Martha Firestone Ford fired the team president and the general manager. Caldwell has been spared, perhaps because he is a new guy in the organization or because there aren't many folks left to fill in as head coach should he be sacked.

Fan Jeff Tarnowski last month announced it was time to can the Fords. He started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise $1.4 billion to buy the Lions. CBS Sports reported initial enthusiasm was high, but initial contributions didn't measure up. Early donations totaled $930. Tarnowski says he will give the money to charity if a purchase fails to materialize.

Tarnowski has a way to go. Michigan's population is about 9 million. One amateur accountant calculated it would take a donation of $150 for every man, woman, and child in the state to raise enough cash to make a serious offer for the Lions.

Would the Ford family accept a serious offer? Not a chance. Martha Firestone (yes, the tire guys) Ford is 90 years old, but she is said to be very energetic and dedicated to changing the Lions losing ways. Forbes magazine says she is worth  $1.38 billion, so a shortage of personal cash is not a problem. Mrs. Ford's four children are vice chairmen of the team, and one is being groomed to assume the owner role.

William Clay Ford bought the Lions for $4.5 million 52 years ago. The club may have lost games, but it undoubtedly made big money over the years. The team has produced a tidy return on Mr. Ford's investment. Win or lose, Lions ownership will continue to be a family affair. The team will be playing at Ford Field for a long time to come.