Archive for April, 2009

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THE NICE GUY WINS

April 29, 2009

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More often than not, when pundits and op-ed writers gather to discuss political and policy issues, things get heated, people talk over each other and no one can make their point without interruption. Then along comes this calm, distinguishable voice that has been waiting patiently to speak. It emerges with cool intellect, witty humor and the reasonableness that has long since escaped the conversation.

Gene Robinson is a writer that makes reading enjoyable and informative.

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No bluster, no ranting, just common sense thinking. Yes, he leans progressive. But based on the 2008 election results, he’s in good company. He is not vitriolic towards those with opposing views – a refreshing quality in this age of television, radio and print blather.

Often times he has good things to say about the “opposition” and offers very good ideas for keeping the conversation rational among all that are gathered – a rare talent indeed. Gene’s “centeredness” is not unlike that of our President’s.

Thoughtful words – both written and spoken – expose his true understanding which is cleverly expressed.

And then there’s that whole Pulitzer Prize thing.

Gene Robinson was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on April 20, 2009 for his coverage of the 2008 Presidential Election. This is stellar accomplishment considering how many people were reporting during this amazing time in our nation’s history. His commentary was insightful and at times, prophetic.

The very next day, he published “When Slapped, Slap Back” – good commentary on how he thought that President Obama may have been a little too nice with some of our not-so-friendly leaders at the Summit of the Americas. I use this illustration to show that Gene will constructively criticize when he feels that it adds to the conversation.

Please take the time to read some of his work. Regardless of where you stand on the issues – you will not be disappointed.

Thank you, Gene, for being one of the very few voices of reason in this 24/7 say-and-do-anything-to-get-attention age of media. You have certainly earned the recognition.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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IF YOU CAN’T DAZZLE ‘EM WITH BRILLIANCE…

April 26, 2009

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You may remember the saying, “If you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle ’em with bullshit.” I remember trying the BS portion of this “strategy” in high school on essay exams when I thought the teacher wasn’t thoroughly reading each paper. I’m nearly certain it never worked.

Unfortunately, the BS portion has been successful for Republicans – until the 2008 Presidential Election. However, since the inauguration of President Obama, it has been a monumental failure.

I’m not sure if people are finally starting to see through their tactics, or if there are simply more of us now demanding the nuance that has been painfully absent in politics and policies over the last decade. Either way, the Republicans are desperate to redefine themselves in what they are calling “Re-branding.”

Many corporations have used re-branding to revitalize their image. They create a new marketing plan which is usually followed by new products, fresh ideas and new business concepts.

The Republican Party thinks it can do the same thing with one big difference: They intend to use the same ideas that have failed to address the real needs of this country for nearly 30 years.

And the name for their “new” idea? The National Council for a New America, headed by none other than John McCain. And his is not the only “fresh face” in this new council. There’s also Mitt Romney, Dick Army, Haley Barbour, and many more. They have also recruited not-ready-for-prime-time Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and Rep. John Boehner’s (R-OH) echo chamber, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA).

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This is stupidity on steroids.

The NCNA will be answering to congressional members such as John Boehner and Mitch McConnell – two leaders that helped the Republican Party to lose BIG in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

One additional “new” face is… Newt Gingrich. (Eye roll, please.)

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His website, www.AmericanSolutions.com shows a 12-step plan for revitalizing our economy. It’s basically two words: Tax Cuts. The rest is fluff. No nuance. No substance. It’s similar to what he espoused 15 years ago, when he was Speaker of the House and concocted “The Contract with America.”

Much like Barney Fife, the Republicans are about to shoot themselves in the foot.

An old man who used to come into the little pub I owned years ago once told me, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit, no matter how much mayonnaise you put in it.”

Words to live by.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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CO2 and DINOSAUR FARTS

April 23, 2009

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Unlike many in my generation, I’ve lived in the same city all of my life, so I have first-hand knowledge of the changes in climate here. The summers seem slightly warmer and the winters much milder than 30 years ago. Obviously, there is nothing scientific about my “findings.” According to my mother, when I was born there was 13 inches of snow on the ground.

The last time I saw extremely large amounts of snow was the “Blizzard of ’78” when much of Ohio was hit with a HUGE storm. There were areas that received several feet of snow. It is still very vivid in my mind. I was performing in a band called “Reflection” at the time and we had to travel back to Columbus from an engagement on the coast of Lake Erie that cancelled two days in due to the weather. The following year, we had two-digit sub-zero temperatures for 21 consecutive days in January, but hardly any snow.

Since that time, I can’t recall a winter that has been as severe as those two. This past winter, I saw the temperature fall below zero for two or three days with minus six being the lowest temp of the season on January 16th.

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I am the first to admit that I know very little about Global Warming. I’ve watched some specials on it, read a few articles and listened to Al Gore. If you would like to read the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, be my guest. Based on my extremely limited knowledge, I believe there are shifts in our climate. I’m still not completely convinced that all are man-made, although some reasonably current evidence seems to be leaning strongly in that direction.

Since this latest report was released, there have been some absurd comments coming from politicians who appear to know even less than I do about the subject.

Here’s Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH).

Apparently, Rep. Boehner doesn’t know the difference between exhaling and flatulence. (Insert joke here)

Fortunately for him, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) also had a flatulent response.

It’s time for prayer: God; please guide me away from all the fart jokes that are, at this moment, saturating my brain. Amen.

There’s nothing more to say.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

 

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REMOVE ALL DOUBT

April 20, 2009

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Some of us are old enough to remember when the Lipton Tea Company introduced the “FLO-THRU” tea bag. It was unique because it had four sides instead of two and you could see through it.

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Much like that tea bag, it was easy to see through these “Tea Parties” on April 15th.

These events were neither spontaneous nor created at the grassroots as was reported on FOX News. They were sponsored by very wealthy people like Former House Speaker Dick Army (R-MS) and his organization, www.FreedomWorks.com

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and by Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and his organization, www.AmericanSolutions.com.

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In Dick Army’s case, he was serving his corporate clients.

They were also sponsored by FOX News – regardless of what they said – under the guise of “news coverage” with extensive interviewing of Gingrich, Army and many others who were scheduled to speak on April 15th. It was wall-to-wall coverage on all of their shows.

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They used advertising time to promote these events. Some of their commentators spoke at these “Tea Parties.” In other words, they were funded, in part, by FOX News. THAT is sponsorship.

People at the gatherings looked foolish trying to tell reporters what the “Tea Parties” were about. “It’s about our taxes going higher!” “It’s about the bailouts!” “It’s about big government!” “It’s about our country becoming a fascist country!” “It’s about the government spending our money!” “It’s about maybe seceding from the union because we don’t like the government telling us what to do!” “It’s about what he just said!”

If any of these statements were true, these events would have taken place when George Bush handed out what he clearly stated was “…700 billion dollars in taxpayer money…” in September, 2008.

There were others that thought it was about abortion,

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immigration,

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Christianity,

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ACORN,

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and even the American Revolution of the late 1700s.

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Apparently, many did not get the memo.

This was not about big government, higher taxes or bailouts. Taxes under Ronald Reagan were higher than they are now – for everyone. Obama’s tax plan reduces taxes on those earning $250,000 or less. My guess – and I’m being generous – is that 99% of the attendees have annual incomes that are far less than $250,000.

It was not about socialism, communism or fascism. It’s doubtful that anyone in the crowd could give you a clear definition of any of these terms. I hesitate to think how much more foolish they would have appeared had they tried.

Nor was it about a growing debt or deficit spending. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who attended, that understands the complexities of our government’s financial system.

No, this was about something very different and no one told the truth.

Instead, they hid behind their statements of “coded” rhetoric like the ones above and those that I wrote about in The Ostrich Syndrome and in my pre-R&O entry, Faith Trumps Fear.

Take a look at some pictures that you probably didn’t see in the mainstream media:

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The man in the above video does not know the definition of fascism.

Let’s be honest: he and everyone else using this rhetoric didn’t have the courage to say what they really meant: “I’m here because I hate the fact that a BLACK man and his BLACK family are living in the WHITE House!”

Here’s a Glen Beck Tea Party organizer in a bar, talking about the communist infiltration that’s been going on for years in our country and telling people to take their kids out of college. This is exactly what we don’t need in this country: more uneducated people. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts he barely finished high school.

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Take a close look at the signs in the pictures. Listen to the rhetoric in the videos. The truth always reveals itself, no matter how hard people try to hide it. Do you see any people of color? No. Not even the head of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, was invited to speak. Plenty of other elected Republicans and Republican commentators spoke. Why not Steele?

Those who attended these events were duped into believing that these demonstrations were about “…the high taxes under the Obama Administration.” The truth is the only taxes that are going up – and not until 2011 – are the taxes on very wealthy people, some of whom help to orchestrate these events. This “hoax” was propagated through fear, to manipulate the Low Information Voter into doing the dirty work so that the “organizers” could maintain their distance from the hate-filled signage and foolish statements.

This was vintage FOX News. It scared people into thinking that they are going to lose their “freedoms” or their “money.” They baited the very same people they misinform everyday into gathering with insulting signs and incendiary words about the President of the United States and then exploited them on their network. These folks couldn’t articulate – with any semblance of cognition – a cohesive reason for their presence. They couldn’t discuss policy – they don’t know enough about it. They don’t even know the meaning of some of the terms they used. They were just regurgitating what they heard on FOX News. It’s sad to know that in the 21st century, there is still 1/10 of 1% of the population that can be drawn in to this idiocy like moths to a flame.

Mark Twain once said, “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Too late.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

 

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AMERICA CAN DO THIS

April 16, 2009

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I can only imagine what it would take for me to again purchase a car built by an American auto manufacturer. So who better than me to make the case for how I can be won back.

As I was putting the final touches on my previous R&O, The Ostrich Syndrome, I accidentally stumbled on what I think is the way for the American auto manufacturers to win back America. I was writing about the new style of cars that were created in the mid-60s, first by Ford with the Mustang and then by Chevrolet with the Camaro. These cars revolutionized the American automobile industry back then – and that’s EXACTLY what has to happen – again. This time, however, the circumstances are different.

Before we get started, here’s a brief pictorial history of the cars I’ve owned since I was old enough to drive. The first three pictures are not the actual cars, but very close. I took the rest of the pictures of my cars, first with a $15 film camera (you’ll be able to tell because the focus is horrible) then with a decent Minolta film camera and the one I own now with my Blackberry.

My first car came from my parents – a 1965 Pontiac 4-door sedan. I purchased it through our bank, with my mother co-signing the loan for the car to be put in my name. I was around 18 years old at the time. My payments were $77.47 a month for three years. The loan included $600 for my first stage amplifier.

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After I came back from the Jesus Christ-Superstar tour in the winter of 1971, I drove the Pontiac until the following spring. I then purchased a 1966 Mustang from Dane Donohue, who played Jesus in the show.

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It was a 6-cylinder with quite a few miles, but lasted until the fall of 1973. Not having a lot of money, I managed to find a 1961 Comet for next to nothing.

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After several months of driving a car that was probably unsafe to drive when I bought it, I purchased my first new car: a 1974 Chevy Impala. It had a V8 which made it nice for towing the large trailer I used for hauling band equipment. It was not without its flaws, but doing much of the light mechanical work myself, I was able to get 130,000 miles out of it.

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Ten years later, it was time to buy another new car. I purchased a 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Since I wasn’t towing a large 12×6 trailer at the time, the smaller size was not a problem.

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It was with this car, that I learned how much the American auto industry was duping car buyers.

At 27,000 miles, I took the car in for a front-end alignment to a shop that I had done business with ever since my first car purchase in the late 1960s. After they finished the alignment, the mechanic told me that many of the front-end parts would probably have to be replaced before the next alignment could be done. I learned that the suspension on my V8 Cutlass was the same as the 6-cylinder Cutlass. In addition, the front-end design on most GM cars had not been improved at all in 15 years. In most instances, the only thing that changed on GM cars was the exterior and interior designs. Mechanically, they had remained the same since the early 1970s.

I didn’t want to give up on GM, so I decided to trade in my Cutlass on a newly re-designed 1986 Oldsmobile Toronado. I went to the dealership to take a look. After being shuffled from salesman to salesman, all of whom did not seem to think I was serious about buying a new car (maybe it was my long hair) I finally got fed up. If they weren’t interested in selling me a new car with a two year old trade-in in immaculate condition, then I wasn’t going to beg them. I hopped into my Cutlass and drove straight to the Toyota dealership down the street a few miles.

My first Toyota was a 1986 Celica GTS Coupe.

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During this time, I also found a great deal on a 1978 Corvette in excellent condition that was all-original with only 29,000 miles on it.

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I sold it three years later having only added 6,000 miles to the odometer.

I kept the Celica until I purchased a 1992 Camry. By this time, I was hooked on Toyotas for all the well-known reasons. This car had a powerful 6-cylinder which made pulling my 5×8 trailer a breeze.

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I traded the 1992 for a 1994. Although they look identical, the 1992 was a very dark blue, and the 1994 was jet black.

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Then along came the all new Toyota Avalon in 1995. The dealership really wanted to move these new cars, so they gave me an incredible deal on an Avalon.

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In mid 1997, I was at the dealership getting an oil change. While I waited, I wandered around the new car lot. There was a new Avalon that had been sitting on the lot since the previous time I was in for an oil change (about 3 months). A salesman approached me and asked me to make him an offer. I told him that my Avalon was barely two years old and that I doubted that he would agree to any offer I might make. He said, “Try me.” The car retailed at nearly $31,000. I told him I would buy the car for $26,000 out the door – not a penny more. He shook his head and said, “I doubt my sales manager will allow that much of a drop.” I agreed and walked back to the service area to see if my car was done. I wasn’t there 3 minutes when the salesman came in and said, “Deal.”

So, I went to get the oil changed on my 1995 Avalon and came home with a 1997 Avalon. My wife, Lonna, just shook her head in disbelief saying that maybe she should start taking care of the oil changes on our cars.

We all know that didn’t happen.  🙂

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I kept this one until I traded it in for a 2000 Avalon.

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This picture was taken late in 2008. The car had 100,000 miles on it at the time. I’m still driving it. Other than routine maintenance, I’ve had virtually no problems with this car or any of the Toyotas I’ve owned. BTW – All of the Toyotas have been purchased at the SAME dealership. The Oldsmobile dealership that I left was out of business before Oldsmobile was no longer being made.

Now it’s time to get creative. Allow me to re-invent the American car manufacturer. Because I’m most familiar with their cars, I’ll use GM for this R&O.

Here’s the 4 BIG steps that I believe need to happen in order for America to take back the lead in this industry.

STEP 1: Create a new corporation, with a new vision and a new mission. This includes changing the name. Why? The General Motors brand has been associated with poor reliability for far too long to recover. Regardless of advertising campaigns, better mileage vehicles, better warranties and the like, GM will never have the reputation it once enjoyed before the foreign auto manufacturers stole the limelight. The brand needs to dissolve – especially in the minds of the consumer.

STEP 2: Eliminate the individual brands. Cadillac, GMC, Chevrolet and Pontiac are all inextricably tied to GM’s unreliability. Many have similar, if not identical parts. It’s very costly to maintain the large “family” of cars, and does not serve a purpose.

STEP 3: Eliminate the brands within the “family” of cars for the same reason as Step 2.

STEP 4: Focus development of new vehicles in these areas:

1.) Exterior and Interior Styling and Ergonomics
2.) Superb reliability
3.) Fuel Efficiency with Superb Performance

Exterior and Interior Styling and Ergonomics
You might wonder why I’ve put this at the top of the list. GM has always lagged behind the foreign manufacturers when it comes to contemporary styling. It is hopelessly bound to a look that gave them huge sales – in the 1960s! Since those “glory days,’ they have not shifted their basic concept about styling. New models get hamstrung with outdated, ridged exterior body lines and interiors that focus on racing-style gauges instead of clean, smooth and well-placed instrument panels and controls. The look is bulky – inside and out.

When I look at the nose of a 2009 Chevy Malibu, I see a truck, not a modern sedan.

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When I look at the nose of a 2009 Camry, I see a sleek sedan.

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Here’s the interior of the Malibu. It’s “busy” and lacks a 21st century “feel.” Note the chopped-up, thrown-together look. Even the steering wheel has many sections, as if parts of it were an afterthought. Also note the emphasis on the racing-style gauges.

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The Camry interior has smooth lines and a unified look and feel. All the parts seem to fit together seamlessly. The layout “flows.”

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The Malibu has the ridged look that I spoke about. Note the hard lines and wheel well emphasis.

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By contrast, here’s the Camry.

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Here are both from the rear. The differences are obvious. Also note that on the Malibu, the gasoline inlet door is on the opposite side of the driver. This is just stupid. If we drive on the right side of the road, we should be able to pull up on the right side of the pumps.

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Superb Reliability
This is obvious. Even if the GM cars had ultra-sleek styling inside and out, if they aren’t reliable, forget it. Only one American made car is in the top ten in reliability – and it’s not a GM car.

There are many reasons for this lack of quality, most of which have nothing to do with the workers and the factory managers. Until we get healthcare costs off the backs of the manufacturers the way all the other industrialized nations subsidize these costs for their car companies, we don’t have a chance at matching the quality AND being competitive.

Even if we were to start subsidizing these costs tomorrow, and the reliability was improved to Toyota or Honda levels in the next 2 years, it would take another 3 to 5 MORE years before reports of the improved reliability would reach the consumer. This is the one big reason I believe that the General Motors brand needs to go into the archives.

We have the knowledge, the skills and the technology to create automobiles as good as anything coming from Europe and Asia, but if we don’t level the playing field, it doesn’t matter.

Fuel Efficiency with Superb Performance
Simply building cars that can get 40 miles to the gallon is not going to be the answer for the American manufacturers moving forward. Yes, cars powered with solar energy, natural gas, electricity and hydrogen will go along way to move us away from fossil fuels. But if American manufacturers want to revolutionize the industry like they did in the 1960s, they need to do more than just catch up to their competitors.

We, as Americans, have always had a love affair with “cool” cars. In the GM line it’s the Corvette, and the “SS” cars like Chevelle, Camaro, Monte Carlo, Nova and even the Impala SS (the one that had the Corvette engine and drive train). If we want to become the auto manufacturing leader once again, we need to find ways to build cars with this appeal AND make them visually appealing, fuel efficient, reliable, affordable and high-performing.

Now, using a little vision and imagination, let me introduce a new American automobile manufacturer.

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The first car to roll off the assembly line will be the one that sets the trend for the entire line-up. It needs to have the WOW factor that makes people sit up and pay attention to the rest of the models. It has to make people say, “Whoa. I didn’t think that was even possible from an American car company!” About the only thing that it should have in common with other cars is that it sits on four wheels. It can be the sedan or the coupe. It better be fast and super fuel efficient (regardless of the type of fuel) and something that cannot be mistaken for anything else.

There is no shortage of great designers capable of creating a line of cars that are inspiring – inside and out. The challenge is engineering them to perform BETTER than any other car in their class – in ALL areas: fuel efficiency, power, handling, electronic wizardry, aerodynamics, etc.

I borrowed some designs to create this visionary car company.

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Hopefully, you get the idea.

A company that produces cars that look like these and can perform as good as they look would bring me back to the American car manufacturer. I doubt that I’m alone in my thinking.

Americans can build ANYTHING our minds can conceive. We can build a 100 mpg natural gas or hydrogen engine that can go 0-60 in 6 seconds. We can build electric cars that can travel 200 miles on a single charge and then shift to a natural gas engine until the battery can be recharged – by its engine or a standard wall outlet. If we want to once again lead the world in auto manufacturing, we have to create a new mindset around how to build the cars of the future.

All this said, if someone wanted to give me a mint condition, all-original – or completely restored – 1959 Cherry Red Cadillac Convertible, I wouldn’t turn it down.  🙂

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Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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THE OSTRICH SYNDROME

April 11, 2009

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As we embrace the ninth year of the new millennium, we are experiencing inevitable and necessary shifts in our social, economic and cultural infrastructures. Many of us are thinking “out of the box” while others are trying to keep us in it. We are seeking new ideas that go beyond ideology and what’s been the norm in the past. We are questioning, and rightly so, our business and elected leaders and their collective authority. More importantly, we are not influenced nearly as much by the blather coming from some portions of the media. In other words: we’re waking up.

Some of us have been here before. As a musician and a teenager of the 1960s, I grew up during a time of significant societal changes. There were big changes in music: Elvis Presley’s restricted “moves” in his performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

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The “British Invasion” spearheaded by The Beatles.

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The anti-war protest songs of Buffalo Springfield and Sgt. Barry McGuire.

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The American auto manufacturers made big changes with a new generation of automobiles that revolutionzied the industry. Up until then, the family sedan dominated sales.

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Then, by simply changing the body styles of their mid-sized coupes, they introduced a never-before-seen style of American automobiles that took the country by storm.

Ford took their Falcon and turned it into the Mustang in 1964-65.

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A year later, Chevy followed suit with the Nova and created the Camaro.
Sales skyrocketed for both companies.

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Also, for the first time in my life, we as citizens started to really question our leaders, especially after the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The complacent living of the 1950s was quickly ending. We became more aware and less gullible. We began understanding how federal policies affected all of our lives – in this country and around the world. It was, to say the least, a monumental shift in this nation’s history.

There were those who said that because we were questioning “authority” our country was (to quote one of my relatives) “…going to hell in a hand basket!” They were happy with the status quo. I remember hearing “What’s wrong with the way things were when I was growing up?” They wanted America to be as it was portrayed on TV shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show.

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But the reality of America was far different. Once many of us became aware that there were aspects of American life that were not so pleasant for many of our citizens, we started re-thinking much of what we had been raised to believe. Leadership that opposed this new-found awareness stuck their “heads in the sand” when it came to addressing the large issues around our changing social environment. As far as they were concerned, the way things “used to be” is the way things should be – there’s no reason to change. Call it the The Ostrich Syndrome.

Since then, many of this country’s leaders have intentionally divided us along social, economic and cultural lines. Much of this division has been perpetuated by politicians, using variations of this “used to be” theme to get elected. It’s also been used by religious leaders to draw the line between “right and wrong.” This is why we often hear statements like “We’re losing the moral foundation this country was built on!” and “We need to get back to what made this country great!”

I’ve yet to hear anyone give a clear explanation for what is meant by these statements. For me, they have the sound of “coded” rhetoric. (Note to self: Make this a future rant.)

When I hear these and similar statements, it’s obvious that those who would lead us back are actually fearful of moving forward – a symptom of The Ostrich Syndrome. Their fears become religious mantras and campaign slogans, tapping into a narrow segment of our population. This segment doesn’t care about what is occurring beyond their personal lives. They don’t want to be bothered. If someone or something threatens to “disrupt” their tiny part of the world with the introduction of new social concepts, they become fearful, angry and defensive. Politicians, religious leaders and portions of the media have tapped into this fear with great success.

Yet, as I write this R&O, I see positive signs that we are finally starting to move away from The Ostrich Syndrome.

There is an interesting phenomenon occurring among those who want us “back in the box.” They are starting to say and do the most ridiculous and outrageous things imaginable to garner attention. In the past I’ve talked about Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, so we won’t go there.

But how about a new concoction of “crazies?”

Allow me to introduce you to the insanity that is Glen Beck.

Throw in a layer of Dick Cheney.

Add another one of Newt Gingrich.

And top off with Michelle Bachman.

Add sprinkles of your other radical “favorites” as desired. Allow FOX News to serve it and violá – a new “crazies” masterpiece that is guaranteed to satisfy even the most extreme elements in the Republican Party.

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Why all this angry, fear-mongering, attention-seeking behavior? They’re losing ground! Most Americans have moved beyond this lunacy. The “crazies” are pulling out all of the stops in a last-ditch effort to remain relevant. It’s the fourth quarter, only a few seconds left on the clock, they’re on their own 5 yard line and they’re down by 8. What’s left? The “Hail Mary” pass. That’s it! Rather than get their heads out of the sand and do the hard work of re-educating themselves to new plays, they keep saying and doing variations of the same things over and over again – only louder, in more venues, more often, and with bigger props.

Much like a child throwing a temper tantrum, these acts of desperation seldom affect the rational observer. They do, however, have the possibility of inciting the non-rational, fringe elements of our society into a fear-based anger – which could result in violent behavior – all under the banner of Patriotism. For now though, they’re just making some noise. As far as I’m concerned, they are as worrisome as a cloudy day.

America, we’re starting to “get it.” Those that have been here before know there is pain in the process. We also know that we’ll be stronger and wiser as the pain subsides.

Change is inevitable, often difficult, and always for the better.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

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MADE IN… WHERE?

April 7, 2009

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Over the years, we’ve come to rely on certain brand names. If you buy a product from a well-known manufacturer, you know you’re getting better quality than an “off-brand” product.

I must have been abducted by aliens while all this changed. When did GE, RCA, Sony and other well-known brands start building products that quit working after 60 days? Or, don’t work the way they are designed to work?

Case in point: Universal Remote Controls. These companies build single “universal” remote controls that are designed to operate all of our audio and video electronic devices. There are basically two types of universal remotes. There is the “learning” remote and the “coded” remote. Both have codes installed that will run most electronic audio/video devices. The difference is the “learning” remote will “learn” the code of your individual devices by “reading” their signals. This means it should run ANY device, once it “reads” the signal coming from that device.

So why does it take FOUR TRIPS to electronic stores to buy one that will function the way it should and last longer than college basketball’s March Madness?

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I’m sure most of you have seen these or similar Universal Remotes. All are from manufacturers that supposedly represent quality. Well…

The GE on the left quit working after 60 days. A second one quit working even sooner. The RCA in the center can only operate my TV – which, oddly enough, is not an RCA TV. It doesn’t have the correct codes for my DVD player, CD player or VCR. (Yes, I still have a VCR.) The Sony on the right works my TV and VCR, but will not run my DVD player or my Sony CD player. That’s right. My SONY Universal Remote doesn’t have a code in it for my SONY CD Player. Unbelievable.

And the common denominator among all these units? None of them are made in America.

The Sony is made in China.

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The RCA is made in Indonesia

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I have no idea where the GE unit was manufactured. I even tore it apart to see if it was marked somewhere inside. Nothing.

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We have traded quality control and workmanship for no quality and poor workmanship in order to compete in the world market. Rather than being the leaders in manufacturing, we’ve opted for being greedy. Quality is now far less important than making money.

On the surface, paying less to build products appears to be a smart business plan: Higher profits (in the short run), lower wages, better stock prices which means better bonuses for management, all feed into this thinking – which has now come back to bite us – HARD!

When companies reduce quality, they must also expect income to drop eventually. A company may be able to “sneak” by with little attention to quality for a while, but sooner or later, sales will drop. Why not, instead, maintain and continually improve quality, maintain good wages and benefits for workers, and just charge more for the product? So what if your competitors are selling “similar” products for less money. In the long run, they lose – you win.

Building the better “mousetrap” is how this country became a manufacturing giant. We have the skill, technology and workforce to resurrect that business model once again.

There is no substitute for quality.

Sincerely,

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www.MichaelKontras.com

PS – I ended up with a universal remote from a company called – as God is my witness – Universal.

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It not only came with instructions, it even has a DVD to help you learn how to set it up. It operates the TV and DVD player perfectly, the VCR, partially – it can’t operate the clock and recording functions. As for the Sony CD player: it has no clue. (sigh)

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Oh yeah. It’s made in Korea.

😦