Monday, August 30, 2004

The Leadership Issue

Going into the Republican convention, which starts today, I am intrigued by one remark repeated over and over by many Bush supporters. They say he is a proven leader based on his actions after the 9/11 attacks. The implication is that Gore or Kerry wouldn't have done as well.

Come on. Bush's response after 9/11 was to invade Afghanistan and remove the Taliban, who had harbored Osama bin Laden and enabled him to run his network of terrorist training camps. I hate to tell Bush supporters this, but as Tom Friedman, a respected writer on middle eastern issues said, "that was a no-brainer." Any 7th grader could have figured that out. It was not brilliance, but a mere accident of history that Bush was there to do it and not someone else.

It is Bush's handling of the more complicated matters that followed which really demonstrate his leadership abilities, or rather the lack thereof. If Bush was really a world leader like, say, his father, he would actually have the world following his lead. But outside of Afghanistan and the pursuit of Al Qaeda, the world is not following. It is in fact turning the other way. Many Americans are doing the same, and this self proclaimed "uniter" has divided the nation and the world like never before.

Bush's handling of Iraq has been sloppy at best. From the premature "Mission Accomplished" boast to the Abu Ghraib fiasco Bush and his team have been bumbling their way through. They failed to secure Iraq's borders allowing terrorists in to take root where none existed before. Paul Bremer censored that fellow Al Sadr's newspaper, an act which not only violated our own principles of freedom of speech (and made us look like hypocrites), it turned the spotlight on a marginal opposition player and turned him into the most influential opponent of the post-Saddam war. Now our military is stretched thin and, because of Bush's go-it-alone arrogance, we are unable to rally the support of our allies and we are forced to rely on exhausted soldiers to keep Iraq intact. God help us if Al Qaeda establishes a foothold in another broken down country for we won't have the resources to invade again.

Among those making the claim of Bush's proven leadership after 9/11 is Senator John McCain. But to his credit, McCain also says that John Kerry is a good man, a proven leader, and would also make a good president. The difference, which McCain fails to state publicly, is that Kerry understands the intricacies of world affairs far better than Bush, and would thus make wiser choices, make more realistic committments of military resources, and engage in better diplomacy so that the world will again follow our lead.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Bye Bye K-Mart

Last week K-Mart in Seaside announced that it was closing. Good riddance. 

A few years ago when Target came to town I thought (and even spoke aloud to Target employees) "If I was the manager of K-Mart I would be very afraid." K-Mart was a really sloppy store back then, but, believe it or not, when Target opened people were concerned that it would negatively impact K-Mart.

Actually, K-Mart cleaned up its act, for awhile anyway. It actually became a nice place to shop, well, nicer anyway. It still wasn't as nice as Target, but at least I wasn't tripping over Martha Stewart's linens when I walked through the aisles.

Now and then I'd find in K-Mart just the thing I needed, things that nobody else had. I found the perfect wall-mounted cordless phone that wouldn't fall off the hook when you bumped it. I found a terrific pair of shoes for $24 that has lasted me several years and are still going strong. I found a perfect little cell phone belt case. I got some great deals on DVDs.

But in the last year or so things started going downhill again. Shoes? They have the styles I want, at a great price, but never in my size. When I asked for help, I was told the person who had the keys to the shoe stock was off that day. DVDs? Locked up behind glass and no help to open it. A small fan to cool a small room? Only big ones available.

There's a big clearance sale going on now. I thought I'd check it out. All of the good stuff was only 10% off. Not even as good as many routine sale prices. The only thing I came away with was a pair of wiper blades, at 20% off.

It looks like the new tenant will be Home Depot. Some are afraid that it will unfairly compete with M&S Building Supply down the street, or (get this) with Orchard Supply. Get real. Both of these places could use some healthy competition. M&S has a mediocre selection, and if you're not a pro you'll be lucky to find an employee who understands the needs of the layman. 

And Orchard? It is clean and well laid out, but for a store that size it is amazing what they don't have. Take compact fluorescent light bulbs. In the last ten years they have gotten smaller, lighter and cheaper so that they'll fit almost anywhere. But Orchard still stocks only the largest and heaviest brands that hardly fit anywhere. One time I was looking for a recessed soap dish for the shower to replace a broken one. Nope, only recessed toilet paper holders. I finally found one at M&S.

And Orchard's staff is utterly worthless. I can't tell you how many times I've asked for help, only to be told "I don't know, I don't work in this department." So much for "We've got answers." And every time I get in a checkout line someone ahead of me is having trouble with a transaction and holds the line up for several minutes.

So competition would be a good thing, in my opinion. Orchard and M&S will either learn from K-Mart's mistakes and do a better job, or they will make K-Mart's mistakes and mercifully fade away.


9/7/04 Addendum: OK, I made a mistake. I was in Orchard Supply yesterday and saw they had a good selection of compact Fluorescent light bulbs. They were all the same no-name brand, but many shapes and sizes were available. Mr. Toy takes a bite out of his hat.

But that's actually not what I went there for. I went for weed preventer. Last year I bought an 18 pound container for a little over $20. On the last three trips all they've had was a 6 pounder for $12.99, about 80-90 cents more per pound. Maybe Brintons....