Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A stroll on Orange Beach 2002

A stroll along Orange Beach in April 2002

May 5, 2009

The soothing gulf breeze was perfect for a late afternoon walk on Orange Beach in April.  I don’t think they called it anything but “Gulf Shores” three generations ago when my family “scrunched” in the soft white sand and played in the docile warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico in lower Alabama (not “LA” which has nothing approaching this beach.)

The sun was glinting down behind a large high rise condo/apartment building, one of many that have sprung up along Alabama’s coast, and it was obvious that most of the beach lovers had cleared out for the evening.  No doubt some of them would be coming back for a cookout or to do a little fishing later. 

My much older eyes did not deceive the joy I once knew in playing in the sand and in the mild surf.  But those waves were huge to me then; today they seemed quite tame.  They were monstrous to a little 5 or 6-year-old boy we saw on our walk as a three-foot wave slapped him down on the beach.  He lay on his stomach looking up at us not knowing whether to smile or to cry, finally twisting his mouth into a wry grin and to the beginning of a bellow for his father standing nearby.  There’s nothing like being pummeled by a three-foot wave, at eight pounds per gallon, to give a kid a memorable life experience.

As we first approached the beach, we saw a large family gathering standing around in the soft sand in a kind of a circular perimeter defense; some of the younger ones were munching on their beach treats.  Some were fidgeting around as if they were badly in need of the “facilities.”  They did not respond to our smiling and nods of hello.

We walked on down the beach for a half-mile or so taking pictures and thoroughly enjoying the remembrances my sister and I had had many years before and we shared them with other family members.

As we returned up the beach there were at least 50 scavenging sea gulls where the large family gathering had been earlier.  As usual, the sea gulls were very aggressive in their attempts to glean anything edible from the large mess left by the family.  The wind was strewing lots of papers about helped no doubt by the vigorous wing beats of the gulls.  It was the only unpleasant sight along nearly a mile of white sandy beach.

If I were to say that the large family who made the mess was maybe “poor white trash” you might think “won’t they ever learn?” and let it go at that.  If I were to say they were all black you’d probably call me a racist.  Maybe they were Martians who just landed on the beach and did not know better.

What was an altogether marvelous experience was marred somewhat by at least two generations of a culture that just quite doesn’t get it.  I know this – there are people who will not be dismayed or discouraged to have to pick up behind trash makers.

Thanks, City of Orange Beach, keep up the good work! 

Ernest Norsworthy

Visalia, California



Thursday, November 6, 2008

A thank you note . . .

A thank you note . . .

As an Alabamian, I have an affinity toward North Alabama as I do to the rest of the state. It all began in Montgomery; it’s in my genes, my heritage, my lineage extending many, many generations.

In a way, my generation could be called of the “New South”, of throwing off the shackles of that part of the South that was intolerant and oppressive toward the black race. Not all of that earlier culture was so inclined, myself included.

I happen to believe in equality in every aspect but preferential treatment is abhorrent to me. The entire basis of the successful market-driven entrepreneurial society we call America is opportunity, not handouts.

Of course, there are some, very few, whom we should and must assist due to no fault of their own. The rest are free to take advantage of all of the opportunities this great nation offers.

Some will succeed (according to one’s own definition of success) and some will fall because of their own accord. It is these we must give a hand, to “bootstrap” back up so they may re-enter society as happy, productive members.

America cannot tolerate a permanent underclass, of one able but unwilling to participate. Simply put, it is because it is anathema to the great American experiment. Unfortunately, our prisons are filled with a fraction of those who do not agree with the basic standards of American civility.

North Alabama is different, as is Birmingham, Montgomery or Mobile. Anchored by a river that runs through it, it has not been able to realize some opportunities found in other parts of the state.

Sadly, the dominance of the federal government in North Alabama has so skewed its economy with its fits and starts that there is no solid base to build upon. When, for example, the TVA decided to locate its main operations in another state, it did not leave a viable, energetic populace with marketable skills to cope with changing circumstances.

As you know, I have written much about the TVA and I have posted many times on the Times Daily forum. Unfortunately, one of my latest posts was arbitrarily removed, I believe, because of a difference in political positions. And not for any of the reasons listed in its disclaimer.

I am well aware that the Times Daily newspaper is owned by the New York Times. And I am supposing someone at the TD or the NYT who disagreed with my politics decided to “disappear” my post. I’m not quibbling with their decision (it’s their nickel) only to the extent that if a “free press” cannot tolerate opposing views, it is a misnomer.

I have enjoyed your pummeling me, really, and I hope we both have gained something from our discourse. I know I have.

I still will be publishing my comments on the TVA on my website, Norsworthy Opinion (http://norsworthyopinion.com )
And occasionally on Norsworthy at the Shoals (http://norsworthyattheshoals.blogspot.com )

My next article will be a call for the two congressional oversight committees for the TVA to investigate the recent huge pay raise for the TVA CEO and the huge October rate increase, among several other items.

Ernest Norsworthy

Thursday, October 30, 2008

TVA strewing seeds of another Great Depression?

Astraddle two centuries of tumult in the American society, I am in agreement with much of what the “old-timers’” have to say about the Great Depression.

Being there and living through it only now reveals just how different that time was compared with today. The difference is almost incomprehensible in its relevance; the Depression years were nothing like today’s circumstances.

If the smell of fear was in the air then, I never smelled it. I didn’t even realize the level of poverty we lived in; being fearful of “fear itself” (that meaningless FDR slogan) was not practiced by anyone my family knew. But we all lived frugally because there was not much money, barter was much in use.

The small farm near Prattville, Alabama provided almost enough sustenance to our family of five with vegetables, apple pears in the fall and corn for both us and “Crip” the crippled mule. Crip and I got along famously; he taught me how to plow.

While I learned to appreciate hard work and its many benefits such as using a cross-cut saw for cordwood, shucking corn to eat for us and Crip and fodder for him in the winter. Chickens were “free range” and they and the dogs ate the table scraps. I learned how to do it, I know what it actually looks like when a “chicken runs around with his head cut off” which is analogous to an out of control agency. “Wringing” was another option and not bloody at all.

Mother’s wood stove baked the most delicious biscuits and helped warm the house. No electricity or running water or inside “facilities” in our old farm house. Same as in a couple of share-cropper’s houses on the farm. But there was not enough arable land to do much sharecropping. Water was drawn from a well in the yard but had to be toted up a hill to the house.

Saturday mornings meant wash time of both clothes and bodies. Two large black cast iron pots in the yard were heated, one to near boiling soapy water (Octagon was used most and on the scrub board), the other cooler pot was for rinsing. Bathing was inside in a large galvanized tub.

The clothes washing procedure was quite simple, dirty clothes filled one pot and a long stick was used to poke the clothes until they were clean enough (a magical time unknown to any but Mother) and the same stick was used to transport the steaming hot clothes to the rinse pot. Next came the clothes hand-wringing and hanging them to dry on a clothesline using wooden clothes pins.

My father was very handy with tools besides being a functioning genius and got a contract to build a huge drum sign for the brand new Prattville office of the REA (Rural Electrification Administration, 1935). The letters were a jagged REA in neon. I call myself helping him build it. He used a very small Delco AC generator for his power tools. Then he ran some wiring to a few hanging light fixtures in the house but the result was a 60-cycle flickering of even a couple of light bulbs. That was in 1939 or 1940 and the depression still was going strong.

The war already was raging in Europe and Dad went to work at Gulf Shipbuilding in Chickasaw, Alabama, building Liberty ships. He was the chief electrician on their “stiff-leg” crane. We soon moved to Mobile and not long thereafter, we all moved to Richmond, California where Dad, then with Kaiser Shipbuilding, invented a device to speed up the forming of cable straps for the quickly expanding fleet of Liberty ships. He received a patent and a reward for that significant war effort.

So as I review what we lived through without a bone of remorse or feeling as poor as we were, (yes, I went barefoot to school), we survived those tough times and went on to prosper individually and as a nation.

The prolonged depression essentially was over when a wartime economy took hold in 1940 and 1941 in earnest. As America grew and prospered during the post WWII era and despite the Korean “War”, it seemed there was no end to our good fortune of a full workforce and money ready to be spent after WWII for cars, houses and every imaginable electrical gadget. Electricity was cheap, available and was begging for more use.

Many years later while visiting the Shoals area in North Alabama did I better understand the bad hand it had been dealt by the TVA. Government is fickle and makes decisions for its own security instead of for the people. TVA literally abandoned the Shoals, ostensibly the headquarters of the TVA according to the TVA Act, leaving it in shambles from my visits 40 years earlier.

TVA was and is a good example of the failure of the government to “get out of the way”. Instead of turning over its capacity to produce cheap electricity to private enterprise, the TVA instead started on a long destructive path of gross mismanagements to where we are today. Left to its own devices, the TVA has jerked millions of people around with its dogmatic rulings the latest of which has been a huge jolt of electricity rate increases of about 20 percent.

TVA’s rates are uncontestable by any state or local government within its seven-state domain of 80,000 square-miles; it is “illegal” for the millions of customers inside their 2500-mile “fence” to seek lower rates elsewhere, even just on the other side of the fence. And TVA runs its electricity through 17,000 miles of its own federal transmission lines.

State utility commissions regulate electricity rates, among other things, that come under the jurisdiction of elected officials within each state. Not so with the anti-competitive TVA, a federal government agency, which has the unassailable power to set and to collect “taxes” of $10 billion annually in the form of electricity rates.

This is money that is sucked out of every local economy using TVA electricity, money that goes directly to the federal government.

It was called socialism back in the days of FDR; today it is called, “I’m your government and I’m here to help you”. But we’re suckers for taking that sucker bait of “payments in lieu of taxes” gambit held out by a benevolent government. It’s not an inconsiderable amount, about $450 million a year and it is doled out prorata to state and local governments whose customers use the most electricity and for property owned by the TVA. And to some even who have never used a kilowatt of TVA power as far away as Illinois.

A free-enterprise structured power system would provide much more in state and locality taxes and would provide the needed checks and balances not available through the TVA structure.

The state of Alabama decided it would give 5 percent of its TVA largess to dry counties because the poor souls collected not a penny from the Alabama Beverage Control levy on liquor from wet counties.

As history professor Harvey Jackson, Jackson State University, put it in his column in the Anniston Star (10/26/08), TVA is in essence subsidizing prohibition, like it or not.

The point of mentioning the Alabama situation is to show how the TVA has inveigled its way into the far reaches of state and local government with its “bribes” in lieu of taxes.

As a longtime advocate for the privatization of the TVA, I believe the time has come to sell off its assets and to liquidate as much as possible of TVA’s overleveraged $25 billion debt.

We have seen what non-supervision of government sponsored creatures such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have wrought on world financial markets, almost wrecking them. It is time to clean house of an even worse example of an agency under the direct control of Congress and the Administration. The question, the same point presidential candidate Wendell Willkie raised in 1940 is before us still.

“Do we want a nationalized electricity grid in America?” And if so, would that be called “socialism?”

Ernest Norsworthy

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A most serious job application

Some thoughts on the presidential selection process -

To new graduates, it is the toughest answer they ever will have to give in applying for a job. “What is your experience in what we do here? None? Well what kind of training or other experience have you had to be able to go to work here tomorrow? ‘I can learn’ is not sufficient.”

“Sorry, our employees must be able to contribute to the organization right away. We cannot afford workers who cannot carry their part of the load; it would be unfair to the rest of the organization.”

And today there are applicants for the most important position in the world who immediately must tackle the most egregious problems facing America both at home and in the world.

Exercising our right to choose who that leader will be is more important than any vote we will make in a lifetime of voting.

The already fragile world economy is on the brink of collapse into a depression worse than the 1930s. While the present administration desperately is trying to prevent our present recession from falling into that black hole also, it will require someone with the greatest skills to take over the helm of this great nation in the midst of the storm.

The choices we have been given through our democratic processes may not suit everyone or even anyone. But we have to play the hand we have and choose the best of the lot.

Some considerations in this choice are:

How much experience must he have to be able to grasp the helm, the levers of government, at a most critical time in our history and to steer through this great storm but to also keep the ship from capsizing? Which one – Obama or McCain?

Is the wise experience in the ways of how the federal government operates helpful in critical times? Which one is more likely to benefit from that experience – McCain or Obama?

If experiencing and surviving the deep cauldron of hopeless despair is a measure of the character of a man, one with the resolve, the capability, the understanding of the enormity of the problems facing America right now, which of the two best fits that description? McCain or Obama?

Finally, which one has the experience to be the Commander-in-Chief of all our armed forces and is closest to resembling former president Dwight D. Eisenhower who did not want war but was prepared to fight if necessary? Obama or McCain?

If you were deciding which applicant should get the job, who would you choose, McCain or Obama?

Well, the decision is yours when you cast your vote for the president of the United States of America. Weigh your choice carefully and may God Bless America!

Ernest Norsworthy

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TVA finances cannot be "fixed"

September 23, 2008
TVA finances cannot be “fixed” (Times Daily editorial 9/23/08)

Your editorial today on “Fixing finances” greatly misses the real point.

Government deregulation did not cause today’s fiscal crisis, it was not the free-enterprise system that caused it, as you aver.

No, it was the federal government who insisted that mortgages be issued to people that could not, would not ever pay off those mortgages.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not lenders but buyers of sub-prime mortgages, which turned out to be billions of dollars of worthless paper. Estimates to bailout these two federally sponsored entities vary from $700 billion to over a trillion dollars.

No one knows the value of this worthless paper until it is put up for auction. Meanwhile the American taxpayers will own that debt, maybe more than a trillion dollars worth. With carrying charges, this could significantly degrade America’s financial systems, its creditworthiness.

There were chances to avoid the sub-prime mortgage crisis offered by the Republicans the last six years but all were rejected by the Democrats.

Homeownership for all, even for those who cannot pay for it, is the tragic false hope fostered by liberals, i.e., that there is a “free lunch”.

Closer to home is the Tennessee Valley Authority’s unsustainable debt, now at $25 billion. The same carrying charges and increased outside purchases of fuel in a declining electricity market parallel the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debacle.

Also in today’s paper is a good example of how citizens in North Alabama are unable to take advantage of the people’s advocate, the Alabama Public Service Commission, in utility rate increases.

Residents in TVA’s territory are faced with a 20 percent rate increase and industrial users for up to 50 or 60 percent. Alabama Power Company requested rate increases for residential and industrial users by 14.6 percent and nearly 25 percent respectively.

But through negotiations, Alabama Power agreed to scale back its rate increases to 8.2 percent for residential and 14 percent for their industrial customers.

On the other hand, there are no negotiations between the TVA and any of the public service commissions in the seven states where TVA exercises its unassailable controls.

Alabama Power figured out a way to extend payments for its extra fuel costs and the TVA did not. One is an investor-owned company that pays taxes and the other is the federal government which cannot pay any taxes. Its poor substitute of “payments in lieu of taxes” falls far short of actual taxes paid by free-market companies.

No question that energy costs are going up, but ingenuity by market economy utilities will keep those increases to a minimum as shown in the Alabama Power example.

The Associated Press article in the Times Daily contributed.

Ernest Norsworthy

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

TVA and the corn crop

Sometimes it takes a while to realize when you’ve been duped, when you realize it is far too late to do much about it.

The federal government – yes, that one we call ours – sold our ancestors a bill of goods when they promised a new kind of fertilizer all could afford; to bring back to life the worn out soil in the South. Particularly the farmland in North Alabama.

You remember where to find that promise. Look no farther that the TVA Act of 1933. The words still are there. (Partial quote of Sec. 5).

The Board is hereby authorized—
(b) To arrange with farmers and farm organizations for large-scale practical use of the new forms of fertilizers under conditions permitting an accurate measure of the economic return they produce.
(c) To cooperate with National, State, district, or county experimental stations or demonstration farms, with farmers, landowners, and associations of farmers or landowners, for the use of new forms of fertilizer or fertilizer practices during the initial or experimental period of their introduction, and for promoting the prevention of soil erosion by the use of fertilizers and otherwise.
(d) The Board in order to improve and cheapen the production of fertilizer is
authorized to manufacture and sell fixed nitrogen, fertilizer, and fertilizer ingredients at Muscle Shoals by the employment of existing facilities, by modernizing existing plants, or by any other process or processes that in its judgment shall appear wise and profitable for the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen or the cheapening of the production of fertilizer.
(e) Under the authority of this Act the Board may make donations or sales of the product of the plant or plants operated by it to be fairly and equitably distributed through the agency of county demonstration agents, agricultural colleges, or otherwise as the Board may direct, for experimentation, education, and introduction of the use of such products in cooperation with practical farmers so as to obtain information as to the value effect, and best methods of their use.
(f) The Board is authorized to make alterations, modifications, or improvements in existing plants and facilities, and to construct new plants.

What happened to that dream of a healthy, productive farming community in the valley? The law still is there but the TVA chooses to ignore it to the detriment of farmers and agriculture in general.

I envision a vast crop-growing farmland area almost as large as the San Joaquin Valley in California. True, the soil in that valley is richer than most of the farmland in the South but it could have been a different story if the TVA had followed through with their charge to improve farming and agriculture as stated in the present TVA Act.

There is one major difference between the San Joaquin Valley and the Tennessee River Valley. And that is water. And it appears that water will become very scarce in the San Joaquin Valley in the not too distant future. Already some lands lay fallow for lack of enough water.

The Tennessee River and its tributaries have never run dry although the flow has slowed with the present drought conditions.

If irrigation had followed the enrichment of Southern soil with improved and cheap fertilizer (as called for in the TVA Act) it would not be hard to imagine a Southern “breadbasket”.

I do hope the corn crop is abundant and that their prayers for more rain would be answered with an irrigation system using Tennessee River water.

Ernest Norsworthy

Friday, June 6, 2008

Alabama Legislature as Confused as TVA

TVA has Alabama legislature chasing its tail

Idiocy has been described as doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome.

But maybe the Alabama legislature is just being sly like a fox. I still call what they have been doing with TVA’s payments idiocy, “bribes” in lieu of taxes from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Looking at it one way, every year TVA provides about $450 million of free handout money (5 percent of gross sales) throughout its far-flung, 80,000 square-mile territory. And there is a scramble for some of it wherever it shows up.

Several years ago, dry Geneva County, at the bottom of Alabama on the Florida line, doled out some TVA money to the little town of Eunola, population 182 at last census. The problem was that the town of Eunola had not had an election in 40 years. Later, Alabama’s attorney general ruled it too small for re-incorporation.

There is no indication that TVA is concerned how their money is used once they give it away. I could not find out what happened to Eunola’s largess.

North Alabama feels short-changed

Now, North Alabama legislators believe their part of the state is being short-changed because a number of dry counties in Alabama outside TVA’s territory receive TVA payments. Some of those dry counties depend on the TVA handout to balance their budgets. Crunch time for them if a new Alabama law cuts them off next year.

Today it is conservation, conservation, conservation

The craziness of TVA’s whole giveaway scheme is compounded by an entirely new direction for the TVA – conservation, cutting back on demand for e
lectricity. Presently, TVA takes 5 percent of gross electricity sales and gives it “back” in what they call “payments in lieu of taxes”.

But TVA suddenly has changed directions and wants their 8.8 million customers to use less electricity.

The other part is that not a single TVA customer, those who produce the rebate amounts, ever directly get a part of that rebate. These slush funds go to state and local governments who decide without further input from the ones who enabled the rebate just how to spend this free money. The money is free because nothing has to be done to qualify for it. It’s just there. Obviously, you do not have to live in TVA’s territory to qualify.

Change to conservation means changes in rebate system

First, TVA must change its method of a 5 percent usage payment to state and local governments to a 5 percent incentive payment, or a combination of the two, to the customers who conserve the most electricity.

The incentive would go directly to customers who cut back on electricity usage during peak demand for power, usually in the summer and some in the winter. Those who conserve the most electricity would receive a direct payment or a credit to their monthly electricity bills.

If this method combines the two kinds of rebates and any portion of the 5 percent incentive rebate to customers is remaining for each month, that money would be distributed in the usual manner to state and local communities as in the past, a “payment in lieu of taxes”.

Because this scheme would operate primarily during peak demand periods, the TVA would not have to purchase as much power from outside suppliers said to have cost a billion dollars last year.

One of the main features of this plan is that reward follows conservation, not reward following excessive use. TVA has stated that it would not increase electricity rates to induce less use of it.

Another advantage is that TVA already budgets for these payments and borrowing may not be required.

Reasons plan will not work

There are at least two reasons this plan would never make it through TVA management. First, it would show the nimbleness and innovation of management to meet immediate economic circumstances, traits never thus far exhibited by TVA; and secondly, it makes too much sense.

Ernest Norsworthy