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Archive for August, 2008

Our Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush, has just announced that he does not intend to visit New Orleans to check on the preparations for Hurricane Gustav. He said that he did not want his presence there to interfere with the process of evacuations and such. Interfere? I thought he was the Commander in Chief. Isn’t he supposed to interfere and be involved? What if General Petraeus said he had decided to issue his orders from Miami Beach because he didn’t want to interfere with operations on the ground? If our Commander in Chief is so concerned about interfering with things why has he made so many trips to Iraq in the middle of the “Daughter of all Wars”? (The last Iraq war was the Mother of all Wars.)

Our leader has said that maybe he’ll drop by New Orleans – maybe – after the storm has passed and the dust settles and the water drains to see how everything turned out – if it doesn’t cause too much of a disturbance and get too much attention from all the newly homeless autograph seekers and such. So what is our Commander in Chief doing during this critical time of the ramp up to the Hurricane’s onslaught? He will be going to San Antonio (that’s in Texas) to check up on the readiness of their stockpiles of relief supplies and such. Texas. Yep, our Commander in Chief is taking charge of the situation by going to Texas… heh…heh…heh, heh…heh, heh, heh….hah…hah…hah, hah…hah,hah,hah…HA, HA,…HA, HA,HA,HA,HA,HA…

Sorry. I got carried away there. Do you ever do that? You know, tend to laugh at inappropriate times? I mean, I know this is serious and the people of New Orleans and other places around the Gulf are in really big trouble and they can rely on are the paper pushers of FEMA to do another heckuva job, and President Bush is fulfilling his Commander in Chief duties by checking up on the status of San Antonio…. I always thought leaders led from the front, not the rear. And Cheney. Where’s he? Probably holed up in one of his secret subterranean passages somewhere. I know it’s not funny. It’s truly ridiculous.

I wonder what Sarah Palin would do if she were in charge. This is serious too. You know, in case, well I don’t want to say it, but as Hillary said, we all remember Bobby Kennedy and such. So let’s assume our Commander in Chief was the indomitable Sarah Palin. Would she just rush off to see how things were going in Alaska? HECK NO! (I would have said HELL NO! but she is an Evangelical and I wouldn’t want to offend her delicate sensibilities). Anyway, I’m sure she wouldn’t go to Alaska, and that alone shows how much better she would be than W…It’s pretty easy being better than W, isn’t it?

Let’s see. What exactly would Sarah do? Would she draw on her experience in crisis management during her years in the PTA? Probably. They tend to have lots of crises in those types of organizations. Would she see these almost back-to-back hurricanes as God’s judgment on those misbehaving people of New Orleans? Whoa….hold on….just hold on there a minute, Fred. I think I might be treading into dangerous territory here, so I’ll just do like George W and fly over this whole thing. Maybe I’ll come back to that Evangelical topic another time when things have calmed down – just like W’s strategy in a way, I guess.

But…I have to say it…she is a right wing Evangelical “Christian”, and I have to assume she has their world view and….well, you know what I mean, right? I mean, two hurricanes almost BACK-TO-BACK… hardly a coincidence, right? Think about the facts people…. And then think about this: how many hurricanes do they get up there in Alaska?

See my point? There you go.

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With his astounding announcement that Sarah Palin is his pick for Vice President, John McCain proved once again that he has us all fooled. Here I was thinking that Johnny was just a befuddled old man who couldn’t count his houses, didn’t know the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni, and couldn’t use a Mac or a PC to save his life. (Check out the Youtube video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=srbX26vp57c ) And now this. It just goes to show you that Johnny has a gift for making incredible decisions and taking astonishing actions that ordinary people would never even consider in a thousand years. Hmmm…I’ll bet that would give that rascal Putin some pause.

To tell you the truth, I had my money on Paris Hilton. I mean, he was already using her in his campaign commercials; and it looked for a while that it might even be helping his campaign. But then, Paris made the mistake of calling him a wrinkly, white-haired guy, and, just like that, Paris was tossed aside like yesterday’s Alaskan newspaper with its headlines about the investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin’s office. See, if Paris had just kept quiet, like Britney, she might still have a chance, but as it is now it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing a pink White House any time soon.

Here’s what I think Johnny’s up to: he going after the gun-totin’, moosemeat-eatin’, NRA-cardholding, AK47-huggers of Alaska. Clever, very clever, you have to admit that. Plus, and here is his masterstroke, he also gets, almost for free, the rabid, shrieking, disenfranchised, former Hillary fans who have taken a solemn oath to vote for anything wearing a pantsuit. The thing is this: despite the fact that Sarah might be only a heartbeat away from being the next President; despite the fact that, if elected, Johnny would be the OLDEST PRESIDENT EVER, older even than Ronald Reagan who was already showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease when he left office; despite the fact that Sarah has zero Washington experience, the shriekers just don’t care. They just want a pantsuit in the Oval Office and Johnny wants their vote. Marvelous! Now, would you call that a craven tactic by Johnny, or is it just crass? Could it be both? You decide.

Of course the real difference between them is that Hillary is a Democrat who is fanatically in favor of universal health care, better education, lower taxes for the middle class, and lots of other things that would help the average American, while Sarah is a “you’re on your own” Republican who, it would seem, subscribes to befuddled-Johnny’s notion that the American people have never had it so good. Hillary has had a long and successful career in the Senate, while Sarah would probably get lost trying to find the front door of the U.S. Capitol building. Hillary’s long career in government has been beyond reproach, while Sarah’s career is only in its infancy and her office is already under investigation for corruption.

I don’t know about you, but if I had to choose a young woman to be only a heartbeat away from becoming the next President of the U.S., I wouldn’t choose Sarah. I think Johnny had it right the first time: I think I’d rather have Paris. You know… the White House might actually look better in pink.

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As Hurricane Gustav menacingly approaches the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to grow into a Category 5 storm capable of unleashing horrific gales and torrential downpours upon the hapless residents of the U.S. southern coastline, the newly formed U.S. Disaster Response Corps is springing into action. Thousands and thousands of highly trained men and women have already reported to their duty stations and are even now manning their specialized rescue equipment, ready to save the lives of endangered American citizens.

Mobile emergency hospitals, similar to the Army’s famous MASH units are being deployed by giant C-17 Globemaster III aircraft to strategic locations around the Gulf of Mexico while the first shipments of over 1,000 tons of emergency food and water rations are already on their way from secure storage facilities in North Dakota. U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy ships are being urgently recalled from the tiny, faraway nation of Georgia, a neighbor of Russia, where they have been delivering humanitarian aid, so that they will be available during the next week to perform exactly the same duties for American citizens who live along south coast of the United States.

In what can only be described as one of the most incredible turnarounds and changes of heart in the history of the United States, President Bush recently created the U.S. Disaster Response Corps after apparently reading an earlier edition of Rich McSheehy’s blog. The President has denied the blog directly influenced his thinking and instead he refers to a meeting he had with John McCain at one of his houses (he can’t recall which one) where they discussed related issues such as eliminating taxes for the rich entirely, eliminating social security, and also eliminating all federally subsidized student loans.

Breaking News: The White House has just announced that vast quantities of oil are now being pumped from the strategic petroleum reserve in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav possibly dealing a knockout blow to oil drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The announcement stated that this preemptive action was being taken in order to ensure that gasoline prices would not increase due to the effect of Hurricane Gustav. In the unlikely event that Hurricane Gustav misses the platforms, the oil will be returned to the strategic reserve for possible use in future emergencies.

Oh…by the way…have I ever told you I really like a couple of cups of Starbucks coffee in the morning? I do…

But I’m thinking, maybe I need to back off a little…

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Let’s face it; our government’s ability to respond effectively to a natural disaster is pretty close to zero. The reason I bring this up now is that Hurricane Gustav is now projected to enter the Gulf of Mexico in a few days as a category 3 storm. It could then build up over the warm waters of the Gulf to a cat 4 or even a cat 5. Right now, it’s projected path takes it pretty much straight towards New Orleans. Of course, that could change. Maybe it will turn and head towards Houston. Maybe it will go someplace else.

Here’s a little advice: if you are living in a coastal area and it looks like the storm is about to hit, get out. Don’t hunker down and await help from the federal government, because they are not coming. And if you are in New Orleans, don’t even think of holing up in the Superdome. Leave. Go to Houston. Texas will get a lot more help than your state if it is needed. If you are in Mississippi or Alabama: same advice. Go to Texas. They have lots of money, and you’ll probably get all sorts of assistance in Texas.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand: why don’t we have a federal disaster response agency? I don’t mean a bunch of useless, civil service administrators and paper pushers like FEMA; I mean a real agency with trained disaster response people and specialized disaster response equipment. Why don’t we have a national disaster response corps, like the Coast Guard or the Marine Corps that is always standing by, ready to respond to any kind of disaster? Why don’t we learn anything from disasters like Hurricane Katrina, or the south Asia tsunami, or all the earthquakes that happen in the world?

It wouldn’t be hard to create a disaster response corps. In fact the same industries that make our military equipment are well positioned to make disaster response equipment. I am sure we could find enough people to fill the ranks of such a corps. We could even pay for it by reducing our bloated military budget and have no net effect on our taxes. But we don’t. Our President prefers to fly over disaster areas and look down on them from the window of his Boeing 747. We let the various states deal with their own problems, as if each individual state was a foreign country or something, except Texas, of course.

It’s hurricane season again and once again our federal government is not prepared to respond. Other, unpredictable disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, meteor impacts, floods, volcanic eruptions, and more can happen at any time, but we remain unprepared. Protecting the American people on our own soil should be the first order of business for any President, but it isn’t. We have a federal government that happily spends trillions and trillions of dollars for military weapons and foreign military adventures, but barely lifts a finger to help the American people directly when they are in desperate and dire need at home.

Why?

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About a year ago some European friends of mine asked me whether I thought the next President of the United States would be Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I thought for a moment about the last two elections and how the nation had elected, twice in a row, a man who is universally considered to be the worst President in the history of the United States. I replied to my friends, “Neither one, the people of the United States are not ready to elect either a woman or a black man to be President.”

My European friends looked at me incredulously, unable to believe that this country, still an icon of hope and freedom to the rest of the world might still contain a majority of people who vote based upon their gut (or something else) rather than their brain. I don’t blame them for not believing me. Approximately 80% of Europe supports Barack Obama for President. He is hailed as a hero everywhere in the world he goes, except in our enlightened U.S. of A.

OK. Let’s overlook the fact that an incredibly large number of Americans voted for George Bush – twice. Let’s take a look at the present race between John McCain and Barack Obama. According to a CNN poll, the most important issue for American voters is the economy – 48% say that. Second is the Iraq war – 18% say that. Third is health care – 13% say it is the most important issue for them. Fourth is terrorism – only 9% say that is their most important issue, and fifth is illegal immigration – 9% say that is number one for them. Now, look at today’s CNN poll. It says that 47% of voters favor McCain and 47% favor Obama. Does this make any sense based upon the issues?

Let’s see…by McCain’s own admission he doesn’t know much about economics. That doesn’t sound too promising. He keeps saying that the solution to gasoline prices is to drill offshore NOW – even though that is physically impossible to do. McCain is clearly a very, very wealthy man. He can’t even count how many houses he owns. He wants to reduce taxes on people who make well over a million dollars a year but do absolutely nothing for the average Joe. He likes George Bush’s economic plan despite the fact that Bush’s economic policies have nearly driven the country and a lot of its population into bankruptcy. Barack Obama wants to cut taxes and give everybody who is middle class or below $1,000, right off the bat. He wants to tax the hell out of the oil companies. He wants to reform our economic system so that the rich and ultra rich pay their fair share in taxes, which they don’t do right now.

OK. How about Iraq? The polls show that a vast majority of Americans want us out of Iraq. McCain first said he was willing to stay there for 100 years. Then he changed his mind and said he wouldn’t leave without victory. He still hasn’t endorsed the current Bush policy of leaving by 2011 (which is pretty much the same as Barack Obama’s schedule). McCain wants to stay in Iraq and the American people want out.

OK. How about health care? Barack Obama is in favor of health care coverage for everyone. McCain wants you to pay for your own health care and if you can’t afford it, well, he doesn’t give a rat’s behind about that.

OK. How about terrorism? That’s a no-brainer. They are both against it, but neither knows how to stop it for sure. Who does?

OK. What about illegal immigration? They’re both sort of hazy here too. No one is going to say to send all the Mexicans home to Mexico and no one is going to say we should give them all citizenship either. The safest thing for both is just don’t talk about this issue a lot – and they don’t.

So then. Where does this leave us? By any accounting, the vast majority of American’s should be in favor of Obama, just like the vast majority of Europeans and the rest of the world. But we’re not! What does this mean? Can anyone think of any reason why so many Americans won’t vote for Obama? Hmmmm.

Let’s take a step back and take one more good look at the two men…

Oh… I think I see the problem. It’s pretty obvious, in retrospect, when you consider how we voted TWICE for George Bush.

Overall, we’re just a redneck nation.

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Come on; admit it. Doesn’t that sound just a little scary? John McCain is proud of his military background and his family’s military heritage. He was a fighter pilot in Viet Nam, a warrior who was shot down, taken prisoner and survived a long, torture-filled captivity. It was a huge sacrifice that he made, and I think every one acknowledges that.

What is not so well known is that almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., John McCain called for the invasion of Iraq – without a shred of evidence that Iraq had anything to do with the attacks. He was urging an attack on Iraq even before George Bush! Recently, John McCain said he would be prepared to stay in Iraq for 100 years. He continually talks about victory in Iraq and leaving with honor. Victory over who? We already killed Saddam. The Iraqi government is on our side. Does he mean victory over every single person who lives in Iraq but is unhappy that we are there? He says he would rather lose an election anytime before losing a war. If there is one thing that is certain about him, John McCain is a warrior, through and through.

John McCain says he wants to drill for offshore oil now, today, right here! That’s kind of impetuous, don’t you think? I mean, is he really thinking clearly here? Is this an example of his thought processes? Nobody can “drill now, drill here”. That statement doesn’t make any sense at all. It really does take a lot of time to get that equipment all set up and to actually locate undersea oil. It takes years. Doesn’t he understand that? Everyone else in the oil business does. Why all the fist pumping and the DRILL NOW rhetoric, like he’s about to lead a charge on the oil fields or something? Is he just trying to mislead the American public for political purposes, or does he just not understand the first thing about actually getting something done? He seems to have sort of a tendency to shoot from the hip, doesn’t he?

George Bush claims to be afraid that Iran might develop nuclear weapons. He makes it sound like Iran’s having a single nuclear weapon would be the most dangerous thing that could happen in the world today.

On the other hand, if John McCain becomes President he will have his trigger finger on nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads….Yeah… John McCain with nukes. Imagine that…

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What is the real value of a gallon of gas? In Venezuela you can buy a gallon of gas for about 11 cents. In Saudi Arabia it will cost you 45 cents. In the U.S. it’s about $3.70 and in Germany it’s about $9.20. You can do the same cost comparison for pretty much any product, whether it’s coffee, bread, milk, or TV sets and you will find a wide distribution of prices. What does this say then about the value of something? Is there any way to say what the actual value of a product is? The answer, of course, is no, there isn’t. The value of anything more or less corresponds to the amount of work needed to make it. So if you have crude oil bubbling up out of your back yard you would probably sell it for less than if you had to dig for it a couple of miles straight down through solid rock.

So it is that in any part of the world, certain things are cheap and other things are more expensive and when you live in any particular place you adjust to the local conditions and values. That’s why Americans have had a long love affair with gargantuan gas-guzzlers and the Japanese buy those strange looking little boxes with tiny wheels. For a long time, in fact up until maybe thirty or forty years ago, everyone in the world lived in accordance with the realities of their local economies and each nation’s economy was more or less successful, depending upon its own resources. Eventually, some bright people realized that a profit could be made if you bought eggs in East Podunk, where people would sell you an egg for a nickel, and then you sold the eggs in West Podunk where people would pay a dime for an egg. Since it only cost a penny to drive from East to West Podunk, it was a surefire way to make a ton of money.

About a month after this discovery the great multinational companies were created and the world was changed overnight, more or less. Now you can buy the same gas that costs 45cents in Saudi Arabia and pay $3.65 for it here. If you figure in the shipping costs for getting the gas here, I suppose it does eat into the profits a bit, doesn’t it? However, since Exxon Mobil just posted the largest profits ever in the history of any American company I don’t suppose their management is crying in their oil barrels are they? The secret of the whole thing is this: Exxon Mobil isn’t an American company anymore – not really – it’s what they call a multinational company. Just like the East Podunk Egg Company, they’ve expanded beyond their borders.

In any economic transaction there are only two types of outcomes: Case 1. There is an even trade, like when you trade a bowl of corn for a bowl of peas, or Case 2. Someone gains and someone loses, like when you sell your used car for $1,000 when you know it won’t last another month. The multinationals are experts in the type 2 transactions. They buy their products cheap and sell them for as much as they can. They have found they can make zillions of dollars by exploiting the difference in the regional value of things, like oil, labor, or anything else that can be bought and sold. This all started back in Podunk, as you recall. Then it expanded within the U.S. when the great industrial firms of the northeast moved to the cheap labor market of the south. It wasn’t long afterward that these companies were in Mexico looking for even cheaper labor. Somewhere along the line, the best and brightest of the leaders of these industries figured the whole thing out and in a heartbeat they formed multinational companies that had no allegiance to any country. Their only allegiance was to themselves and making a buck. Their “country” had become just another potential customer or source of things to buy and sell. Their countries’ workers were just another commodity to hire and fire as costs went up and down and less expensive workers became available in other countries. The multinational executives sort of became citizens of the world, so to speak, but, perhaps for tax purposes, they found it advantageous to belong to one country or another.

Just for kicks I thought I would look up the largest multinational companies. Here are the top ten according to Forbes:

  1. HSBC Holdings
  2. General Electric
  3. Bank of America
  4. JPMorgan Chase
  5. ExxonMobil
  6. Royal Dutch Shell
  7. BP
  8. Toyota Motor
  9. ING Group
  10. Berkshire Hathaway.

In case you are not familiar with HSBC, they used to be called Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. When England turned Hong Kong over to Chinese rule they pulled their bank back to Scotland and renamed it HSBC. It’s the largest company in the world. Other U.S based companies in the top 20 are: AT&T (12), Wal-Mart (16), Chevron (17), and American International Group (18).

All of these companies have one thing in common: they exploit the regional differences in the price of commodities to make a profit. In order to do this they have to give up a sense of allegiance or responsibility for the people who live in their “home” country in order to succeed financially. Thus when your labor becomes too expensive and they can find a guy in Costa Rica who will do the same work; they dump you and hire him. Until, of course, the Costa Rican guy starts living a little to well and then they dump him and hire some guy in Tibet to do the work. It’s like that with every commodity they deal with, not just labor, so don’t be angry – it’s nothing personal, it’s just business – multinational business.

So, while you are sipping your latte during your ten minute break from your job at Starbucks, think about this: your government does nothing to regulate these activities or to protect the export of your job to another country. It does nothing to ensure that you can find new work in your local economy. Your government doesn’t care that you are not a multinational citizen; you are a local citizen at the mercy of a grand scheme run by people of enormous wealth who are sucking the lifeblood out of your economy so that they can enrich themselves by taking advantage of regional differences in the value of things. You can’t stop this yourself. Only a government can regulate this, and ours won’t. In fact it encourages it.

The solution to this problem is to make it less advantageous for multinational companies to exploit us, maybe by punitive taxation, maybe by legislation making such practices illegal, maybe by breaking up these companies as the government did with Ma Bell. There are a lot of ways to find a solution to the problem, but it needs to be done. This is Step Two in the repair of our economy.

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