Franken good enough and smart enough and doggone it enough people liked him after all

June 30, 2009

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me,” that’s what Al Franken can say  — just like his Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smalley — now that he has finally been declared once and for all to be the new junior U.S. Senator from Minnesota.

And while he claimed in acceptance today of his new position that he does not consider himself the 60th vote (for a Democratic majority), but the second vote for Minnesota, Democratic liberal pundits I am hearing now on MSNBC as I blog this say there’s no reason now for President Obama to not push through everything and cut out the compromise, and go for things such as the public option for health care.

Franken has been in a fight with former Sen. and Republican Norm Coleman since last November’s election for the disputed seat. But the Minnesota state Supreme Court finally declared Franken the winner today, by 312 votes.

While I don’t know much about Franken, other than I liked him better on Saturday Night Live than on his former radio show on Air America, he is liberal. So here is a gigantic victory for Democratic liberals who want Obama to keep campaign promises and not be afraid to be liberal. They’re not in a mood for compromise and they often ask: what did Bush do when he had the edge? Not much compromise there – he was the “decider”, even though he once remarked tongue in cheek (or maybe not) “it would be a lot easier if I was a dictator”.

Franken told his home-staters though that he would represent the interests of Minnesota first and compromise where necessary. But with 60 votes I’m wondering how often he’ll find it necessary. Of course not all Democrats necessarily are going to vote the same all the time. But 60 votes will remove the cover some middle of the road to conservative Democrats might otherwise take.

ADD 1:

Just read a story that reminds me that Franken’s additional vote in a way is more like a 58-vote majority (not enough to cut off debate) than 60 because Senators Kennedy and Byrd have medical problems and cannot always be there to vote.

The great chicken 2,000-mile bird monopoly or how health care becomes a crisis when an employer shuts down…

June 30, 2009

Read a story about a chicken plant in a Georgia town closing down and something caught my eye.

The local medical center in Douglas, Georgia stands to lose the annual $2.3 million in revenue from the plant’s employee health insurance. Now it is facing the prospect of a huge spike in uninsured patients. The plant employed 1,000, but total employment in the town linked to the plant is estimated at 2,000, and I don’t think that counts the local chicken farmers who went out of business. Actually nearly the whole economy of the town is linked to the chicken plant, the story indicated.

So the quick points here are that there is a big problem in having health insurance tied to employment and having a town’s economy so intertwined with one employer.

But on the health insurance, I just thought of something. Maybe employer-sponsored health insurance is not such a bad idea (I know, who said it was?). Having employers pick up the tab (or at least a large part of it) for health insurance is kind of like a tax. I think I’m correct is saying that businessmen in general are opposed to government-sponsored universal health care because it would create the need for higher taxes.  (ADD 1:  Walmart is now reportedly supporting part of President Obama’s health plan that requires large employers to provide health insurance, but that is a tactic that other heretofore opponents have adopted in the face of  likely changes  — they want to at least be part of the program if change is to come.) Thus far at least the larger employers have evidently considered offering health insurance a cost of doing business. So if they are comfortable or at least accepting of that cost, which as I said is essentially the same as a tax, maybe that is the way to go – but with one caveat, since people need health insurance even if their job disappears or especially when they lose their job due to health problems, then the employer ought to be obligated to continue that health insurance. But that could be quite a burden on an employer. So maybe at that point the government could step in and help subsidize continued insurance.

Employers began offering group health insurance way back when premiums were not nearly as high and when there was more competition for labor. And that is in large part what led to the mess we have today. So many people at one time had what they called “free” health insurance from their employer that medical costs skyrocketed, maybe from overuse, and so did the services that could be offered. All folks had to do was show an insurance card, and voila! Everything is paid for. That was then and this is now. Nowadays there is not much “free” insurance left. Even most employer-sponsored insurance costs a huge amount to employees. And many have lost that insurance along with their jobs anyway.

The good thing these days is that we have so much more technology in medicine, financed of course by patients and their insurance. The problem is that the costs are exceeding the ability of people to pay and are absorbing an ever-increasing share of the gross national product.

There is much talk to the effect that any change in the system to make it more efficient will lead to health care rationing. Well of course it will, to some extent. Isn’t that the problem we have already? that is to say everyone wants everything no matter what the cost. The insurance companies could not stay in business if they simply doled out everything that anyone wanted at any time. So they deny certain things and figure out ways to get out of paying (a little too much emphasis on that, I think, to say the least). But that is rationing. It has been taking place for a long time. You can’t get care unless you can pay for it or someone else pays for it. That’s rationing.

So, bottom line, we have a inefficient system, but it works for those who are covered. So as I have been blogging lately, maybe the best idea is to cover those who are not and move on to other things, such as improving the economy.

The whole issue of health care is confusing in that recent polls show a vast majority of people support some public option and it is thought that pressure from the public option would force private plans to become more competitive in cost. But for some reason the health insurance lobby seems to hold more sway in congress than voters (so far). Why is that? I don’t really fully understand that. The only thing I can figure is that polls are suspect in that respondents are liable to be responding to leading questions. And never underestimate the power of propaganda put out by lobbyists.

Originally, after reading the article on the chicken plant I wrote the following:

I think having a home-cooked chicken dinner was cheaper in grandma’s day. And I’m going way back in time because my parents were older than most when they had me and grandma was gone by the time I was born.

But the way dad told it, down on the farm in the early 1900s grandma had a cane and would pull in one of the many chickens that ran around the yard, the unlucky one of the day I guess, and whack its head off with a hatchet, pluck it and cook it. I said cheaper, not easier.

But today more than likely you buy what here where I live in California is a dead bird that has been hauled maybe 2,000 miles or more to the supermarket having been processed by some chicken conglomerate. And judging by a story I just read in the Wall Street Journal online version, that conglomerate is doing its best to control the price of chicken by trying to stifle competition.

Seems the demand for chicken is not what it had been so one of the major conglomerates, Pilgrim’s Pride, has filed bankruptcy and closed down plants, but is refusing to sell the closed plants to competitors in order to cut down the capacity, thereby keeping the price of chicken up. And it has apparently worked to some extent. Prices are up slightly (the power of the agribusiness monopoly).The creditors are supporting that scheme because they feel it will help make Pilgrim’s Pride a more viable company and therefore they stand a better chance to get their money back.

But not only is this manipulation of the market not helping consumers it’s not helping all the laid of chicken plant workers in places such as Douglas, Georgia where a plant has been closed down. Not only the plant workers are affected, but so is the rest of the community that depends upon the dollars those workers made and that was otherwise circulated in the community from the chicken plant operation. That includes the area’s chicken farmers too.

We do have a couple of major chicken producers in California, but it’s a big state with millions of consumers, so that conglomerate’s actions affect us.

Douglas and its economic development authority would like to attract another chicken plant operator but Pilgrim’s Pride sometimes won’t even let others look inside the plant, citing trade secrets, and has turned down bids to buy the operation.

Seems like to me the laid off chicken workers should pool their resources (except they probably don’t have enough) and get the city to condemn the shut-down plant and buy it themselves and operate it as an employee-owned business. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo vs. New London decision of 2005 in which a Connecticut city condemned private property for use by another private owner but for the economic development of the city might work here.

Pilgrim’s Pride’s actions in closing their plant and not allowing anyone else to buy it so they can hold down the production of chicken is what gives free enterprise a bad name. You could say it is none of the government’s business, but does not the business depend upon the governmental-run system of bankruptcy protection?

And not only that, but the the Douglas Development Authority, a public entity, gave the land to Pilgrim’s Pride and bought its equipment in the first place to lure it into town.

You’d think that in this time of recession and high unemployment chicken, usually a low-priced meat, would be in demand without the great chicken monopoly resorting to OPEC tactics.

Maybe a better idea for the displaced workers would be to move onto something else. Too bad they can’t raise chickens like grandma did, at least they could put dinner on the table.

Supreme Court firefighter decision shows why we need judicial balance…

June 29, 2009

And now I know why we need balance between conservative and liberal justices on the Supreme Court.

I wholeheartedly agree with the high court’s announced decision today that white New Haven, Conn. firefighters were wrongly denied promotions when they passed a promotion test with high marks but the test was thrown out by the city because no blacks scored high enough.

And let me insert quickly here that I am relatively sure that such does not mean black firefighters in general are just not smart enough, it only means that those who took that test were either not quite up to it or did not study hard enough or did not use the correct study materials. Unfortunately in life we sometimes have to take exams to get ahead, and worse yet the way to pass the exams is often to study the exams themselves, that is to say, it’s more important to get the correct answers than to actually know the material (sounds contradictory, but that’s the way tests are sometimes), and the exams might not be the best measure of someone’s knowledge or leadership ability, except that one who does not realize the relevance of studying to the test may not have the reasoning and judgment to be a leader.

The court found no evidence that the exams were flawed or were not relevant to the job for which they were designed to test for or that they were worded in such a way as to be more favorable to white firefighters than minorities.

In a previous blog I suggested that perhaps the New Haven fire department might initiate a program to encourage and offer some assistance (I think that is what I wrote more or less) to black firefighters to help them study for promotion exams. I would add that any actual help would have to be offered to all.

The Supreme Court basically indicated that the city overreacted when it threw out the test on the grounds that since no blacks scored high enough (many did pass, they just did not get high enough scores) the city might be liable to a discrimination lawsuit. The court said there was no evidence that the test or procedures were flawed or discriminatory (I’m just going by my own interpretation of a news story here – this is of course not a scholarly legal analysis).

This whole problem is the end result of policies first codified in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and furthered by various court decisions since then in the name of affirmative action.

While I don’t consider myself a conservative, I have always been opposed to affirmative action. I totally support equal rights and because so many people did too the Civil Rights Act was passed. I now recall doing some research for a college paper and reading the original bill’s intent and If I recall correctly it said there was no support of quotas only equal access (paraphrasing of course). But all that changed with various judge-made laws over the years that called for all kinds of schemes, from hiring quotas to busing school children all around town to get racial balance (how would that play today with the cost of fuel and our environmental consciousness?).

Quotas and I think busing have been done away with for the most part (not sure about that, though). But the notion of somehow stacking the deck to make sure that minorities get jobs or promotions still seems to exist.

The main problem in all of this is that in trying to do away with discrimination the courts implemented reverse discrimination.

I have two nephews who wanted to be firefighters for the state of California.They took classes at junior college. But they were discouraged from applying. One veteran firefighting official told one of my nephews point blank that if he was not an American Indian or black or Hispanic, he should not bother. They both moved on and got into other work.

It seems to me that affirmative action has worked against minorities. It has put the notion forward that they cannot qualify on their own and that they are just not smart enough to pass tests. Nonsense.

In my own life experiences I have not, in general, detected any outright difference in abilities among the races (yes I know white men can’t jump and blacks make good athletes, but you know what I mean), at least not in intelligence or leadership capabilities. I think it is more about the upbringing of individuals and the choices they make.

I fear that affirmative action has given some in the minority groups a sense of entitlement, the same sense that whites once had over minorities.

How much confidence can one have in one’s self when he or she has to depend upon affirmative action rules to get ahead? Not much.

If minority New Haven black firefighters want promotions I suggest that they do what their white counterparts did – study for the test.

And before I forget, as I said at the top of this blog, it is good that there are conservatives on the court. I guess it is too bad that justices seem to have to be labeled conservative or liberal and cannot just be expected to objectively interpret the law – but then again, interpretation implies some kind of ideological thinking takes place and it does. So to get a balance between conservatively rigid, unbending interpretation that would uphold outright and quite legal at the time discrimination of the past and rulings that go far beyond the letter of the law or constitution, which liberals are prone to make, we need that balance. The New Haven decision was 5-4, with the expected conservative/liberal split. The tricky thing is getting a justice on there who is middle of the road so decisions can go either way, a swing vote, as they call it. I think at this time Justice Anthony Kennedy is the closest to the middle ground, although primarily a conservative. And he did write the majority opinion in this one.

Interestingly, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor sat on the appeals court panel that voted the other way in what was called a cursory opinion. In her defense, some observers say she was just following precedent. From what I have read about her, she tends to be liberal but is unpredictable. I kind of like that as long as she is following the law, as she interprets it, of course, and not making it up as she goes along. Maybe she could balance Kennedy and be a swing vote that is weighted to the left.

Let’s go back to work and then become green…

June 29, 2009

A green revolution, windmills, cap and trade, universal health care, cutting dependence on foreign oil, reform in the financial markets – all that may help, but really what is needed more than anything is jobs and the only way to produce large numbers of jobs is to re-industrialize America.

I’ve blogged this before. But it’s kind of maddening to listen to the talking heads argue over whether government stimulus checks and the bank and auto bailouts will do any good and whether health care reform will turn into some kind of super government boondoggle of an entitlement that will bankrupt or re-bankrupt the nation when it takes no degree in economics to see the obvious – large numbers of people need work.

At one time, say right after World War II, this nation was an industrial giant (and technically, of course, it is still a major industrial power) but somewhere along the line the U.S. decided to take a shortcut and let more of the producing of things go elsewhere where the labor was cheaper. Meanwhile it became a so-called service economy, the idea we could provide high tech and financial services and then added to that everyone could live off of real estate value (real estate after all is finite – there’s only so much earth – therefore the price can never go down – wrong).

Society has also spent far too much effort in producing and buying and consuming stuff it may not really need. There seems to be some kind of spiritual (and I am not just talking in the strictly religious sense) bankruptcy afflicting society. Wealth and pretense often seem to trump long-held cultural values revolving around the value of honest work, family, and personal responsibility.

Dare I say that an apt example – maybe not the best – is the fact that all the news channels are broadcasting non-stop eulogies or tributes to Michael Jackson and news updates revolving around the mystery of his premature death and the mystery of his whole life. No offense to the highly talented late self-described King of Pop, but why all the exhaustive coverage? Talent aside, is he the model of cultural hero we want to emulate or see our children and grandchildren emulate? I suppose the coverage is based on measurable public interest – and I guess that pretty much says it all.

I’ve blogged much of this previously, but I read a story quoting GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt calling for a re-emphasis on industrialization in the U.S. He says the U.S. must refocus its economy on manufacturing and exporting if it is to recover from the recession. He even admits that his own company may have outsourced too much and says it now in fact plans to in-source. He said the U.S. has lost its competitive edge.

Personally, while I am 100 percent for environmental or so-called green industry and for anything within reason to cut our dependence on foreign oil. I think the bottom line is that we need to produce products more than import them. Over time and no doubt with government incentives more environmentally sound ways of producing things and obtaining energy will be developed – they have to be. But let’s don’t put the cart before the horse. We have to go back to work first. And the effort to go green all by itself will not produce enough jobs.We need to go to work to earn more green so we can become green.

And as I have blogged previously about health care, the first thing that should be done is simply guarantee that no one goes wanting for it. Those who can pay should (nothing is free, someone has to pay for it) and those who can’t need to be covered. Eligibility requirements will have to be tight to eliminate freeloaders and those who are in effect sent here by other nation’s governments as a subsidy back to them. We may find that the 50 million without health care figure may be sharply reduced once those who could actually afford to take out coverage are forced to and once illegal aliens are removed from the rolls (they should always get actual emergency care, such as the result of automobile accidents – but not regular family care when they are not citizens or legal aliens).

While the U.S. needs a more efficient system of health care there seems to be too much resistance and the effort it takes to fight it may be wasted when, again, simply extending coverage to those who really can’t get it any other way is what will solve the problem for the time.

All the effort to pass health care reform and to force banks to loan money (and they still don’t or can’t) and to prop up failing auto companies could be instead in some way plowed back into the economy more directly, either through reduced taxes and/or incentives to re-industrialize (and we can make other things besides monster cars – although we could make them too).

Come to think of it, why the Republican Party, the opposition, is not pushing wholeheartedly for re-industrialization, I am not sure. At least I don’t think I’ve quite heard them put it that way, although that may be what they mean – don’t really know.

Why are we talking and texting our way through life???

June 28, 2009

Why are so many of us addicted to cell phones and BlackBerries and texting and tweeting and just plain being in constant contact and conversation?

Immediately after the news of the death of Michael Jackson thousands of instant messages per second flew through the airwaves.

Actually, a cell phone is all I have experience with – don’t have a BlackBerry and I have never texted or tweeted much less, but I am sure that is just a matter of circumstance in my life and that I easily could, and after all, I do blog.

I first became acquainted with cell phones back when they were car phones and my wife went to work for a cell phone company. We got a car phone as a side benefit.

At the time I was working for a newspaper and believe it or not back in those days I did not yet have a cell phone, almost no one did. And the car I was using did not have a phone, but my wife’s did.

I noticed that when I drove her car (the main family car), I, we, always found a reason to use that phone. You tell people you are on the way, where you are, what was that I was supposed to pick up at the supermarket?

Next we got the actual portable phones, back when they still were as big and heavy as a brick, remember? The bag phones.

After losing my newspaper job in a corporate downsizing and deciding I did not want to start all over again in journalism for the how manyith time? I embarked upon a more-than-decade-long career in truck driving. While I find it hard to believe now, at first the cell phone was just a handy accessory. I did not depend upon it, and in fact, tried not to use it too much because the bills could be expensive, what with all the roaming charges since I was driving coast to coast.

But the novelty of it. I was just beginning in trucking, and I recall calling my wife as I crossed the Pennsylvania-Ohio line, just to tell her I was crossing the Pennsylvania-Ohio line, and of course that I love her.

At that time, that would be back in 1995, we were still calling into dispatch primarily via land line. Most truck stops had land line telephones in the restaurant booths for drivers, as well as banks of them along a wall.

I was team driving at the time and on one occasion my partner and I were looking for a load back home. We were in Massachusetts. Another team from our company was in the same position. I saw one of the drivers headed for the land line phone. I looked at my co-driver and said: “I’m goona beat them”. I dialed up dispatch on my cell phone (even though it cost me roaming charges) and we got the load.

In a relatively short time we all transitioned to personal cell phones. I noticed that land line phones, particularly ones that still were in service, quickly became hard to find. Usually shippers and receivers had phones available to drivers, but they disappeared.

(What did truck drivers do when they broke down before cell phones? The old timers tell me they used to help each other out.)

Another thing that became common was to see drivers holding a cell phone up to their head while driving, instead of the CB mike. Of course I’m still talking about truck drivers, but car drivers also began to be seen holding phones to their heads.

And here’s another cell phone phenomenon. Back in the early days to have a cell phone was a status symbol. It seemed to say, boy you must be important. Even better yet was to be having a cell phone conversation in public. That meant people needed to talk to you!

Once when I was trying to enjoy a lunch at a sandwich shop there was this guy loudly talking on his cell phone. He apparently was some type of foreman at a warehouse. Here he was away from work but barking orders. I got the impression the show he was putting on for everyone was more important than his communication with work.

But now everyone is talking on the phone as they walk or drive along (and I notice that the anti-cell phone talking while driving laws seem to have little effect – people blatantly ignore them). In many cases people have little ear and mouth pieces. They appear to be talking to themselves. You’ve probably done what I did. I thought someone was talking to me and started to talk back only to find the person was holding a cell phone conversation and was annoyed at my interference.

And now people send instant text messages to each other. I guess this phenomenon is popular among everyone, but where I have seen it is with my granddaughter. She always seems to be texting – to whom and why I don’t have a clue. I don’t see her often, but when I do, likely she is texting.

Aside from the social issues of why it seems so necessary to text, all this texting and phoning is dangerous.

There was a terrible commuter train wreck in Los Angeles recently where the train operator was texting (the more recent one in D.C. may have had nothing to do with cell phones, but I wondered). There was a light rail accident in Buffalo where the operator was texting and we all have read many stories of auto accidents where someone was texting rather than keeping his or her eyes on the road.

(In fact I noticed that a teenager had died in an auto accident as the result of inattention due to texting in a story in the Peoria, Ill., newspaper – gave me the idea to blog about this.)

And I just remember something I heard on TV the other day that I believe is true. Some expert was saying no one can really multi-task. We do one thing at a time, we just often find ourselves rapidly changing from one task to another (me not so much these days). I believe that is true. So assuming that it is, that gives us all pause to think when we may have been doing things like talking on the phone and driving a vehicle at the same time (yeah, I’ve done it – many, many times).

So, why are we on the phone all the time? For one thing it’s there. And for another since instant 24-hour darn near anywhere (as long as there’s enough bars) communication is available with such ease it’s become expected that everyone is available all the time in the social and work sense.

Someone I know who has a BlackBerry told me he doesn’t know why, but he checks it in the middle of the night.

And then there is the loneliness factor in what has become such a cold world at times. We’re all so connected and yet many are so lonely.

There also seems to be a lot of insecurity. But if there is someone to text to or someone texting you then maybe that helps or maybe it just feeds the insecurity.

And why do I blog????

From near insurrection in Iran, to crying in Argentina, celebrity deaths, to the death of the King of Pop…

June 27, 2009

What a news week. It began with what seemed like it might be an outright insurrection of a cross section of Iranian society, to include large numbers of women, against an oppressive Islamic religious-controlled government and the sham re-election of a nut case as president, and then there was the news that all-time sidekick/ yes man and pitch man Ed McMahon died, then the news of yet another political philanderer who, to make things a little more interesting, went to Argentina to break up with his mistress and cry his eyes out, then the death of actress and poster girl and cancer sufferer and crusader Farrah Fawcett and finally the story that blew everything else out of the water – MICHAEL JACKSON DIES!!! or as one newspaper headline put it: THE THRILLER IS GONE.

I think the Jackson death story rivals the death of President Kennedy in coverage. I don’t recall for sure, but even though there are many similarities, I think the coverage far surpasses that of the death of Elvis Presley in 1977 of a drug overdose (the computerized media today is omnipresent). There are suspicions that Jackson may have overdosed, as well (no decision on that from the coroner at this time). Presley was the King of Rock n Roll and Jackson the King of Pop.

ADD 1:

Today (Saturday), although there is no official cause of Jackson’s death stated, it is being widely reported that it was due to a heart attack (and I suppose that could have been brought on by drug use).


I recognize that Jackson was a major entertainer, but he played no major role in my own life. He was a super talent, he was eccentric, and controversial, and most important of all he can’t be ignored in death simply because all of the money he made over his lifetime (and spent) and I guess more important than that his fan base, which accounted for all that money. The news outlets, particularly the cable and internet, can’t seem to get off the subject. They need the ratings and the hits to attract advertisers. As I blogged previously, he’s still a commodity after death.

ADD 3 (add 2 is farther down):

While the TV and the rest of the web, including the LA Times site, was reporting that Jackson was being treated at the hospital, for at least an hour the TMZ site, owned by Time Warner, was reporting him dead. They were correct. When I took journalism I was taught that it is more important to be correct than first, but of course being both is the best of both worlds. Oh, TMZ pays for tips and photos, although it is not known whether they paid in this case (what do you think?). Anyway, like I said, Jackson is a commodity even in death.



TO MORE LONG-LASTING AND momentous news, it seems the resistance in Iran may have begun to fizzle somewhat with the heavy crack down by authorities there – but at the same time, reports indicate it continues on some level and has caused a split in the government and ruling religious community itself.

ADD 2:

And I see others have noted that the Jackson news has diverted attention away from the freedom movement in Iran (possibly to its detriment) and away from the adulterous Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina (somewhat to his benefit).


But I think the pressure by U.S. neocons (or right wing) to take advantage of the rift in Iran or at the extreme instigate some kind of all-out (armed) revolt is wrongheaded and meant more to discredit President Obama. Obama is still trying to keep cool and not fall for being a foil, as he says, to Iran’s America-hating government, who is already trying to make it look like the U.S. is instigating dissent. Obama does seem to have taken a stronger position in the past few days against the Iranian government’s excess in putting down dissent and to be keeping his options (other than outright interference) open.

From what I am reading about Iran (some of it from Iranians), although many there may want increased freedoms, they still believe in having an Islamic Republic and don’t see that as incompatible with their idea of democracy.

But with the violence inflicted upon peaceful demonstrators that we have seen and heard of and the news that a major cleric wants to prosecute what he calls “rioters” (but really is referring to peaceful dissenters) with harsh punishment, I would hate to see the U.S. president give that government legitimacy by agreeing to talk to it. It has already rebuffed his offers so far anyway. Obama was right in going over Iranian president Mamoud Ahmadinejad’s head and appealing to the ruling Ayatollah, for the president of Iran is but a figure head as far as foreign policy, I understand, and besides he is not rational. But I no longer, if I ever did, see that the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is either. But even if he is, I no longer think he deserves the respect of anyone, least of all the president of the United States.

I have read that even if the Iranian opposition were to win out, there is not necessarily any improved chances the nation would abandon its quest for nuclear weapons.

The U.S. would do well to play this close to the vest and let things play out. In the end the U.S. will have to do what it must to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.


The network news comes on and seems to be devoting the entire cast to Michael Jackson. Who cares about Iran? They know what’s important.

P.s. P.s.

Even my local TV news is going to Michael Jackson — enough is enough!

China and U.S. after resources; U.S. role in Persian Gulf all about oil…

June 26, 2009

With the events in Iran and the tussle over what the U.S. response should be, I started to blog the other day that all the U.S. is really after in the Persian Gulf is oil, not so much democratic government or power to the people or anything like that. Then other events came along, and then I read something to remind me of that blog I meant to post.

China is after oil too, big time. That part we already knew of course. But the news is that the state-owned Chinese oil refining entity Sinopec has agreed to purchase Addax, a Geneva, Switzerland-based oil exploration firm for the equivalent of $7.2 billion. With this, China will be heavier into oil exploration in Iraq and offshore Western Africa. The deal is not final yet  ( ).

Up until now, according to what I read, China has had a hard time competing with other major oil companies in the world. China tried to buy U.S.-owned Unocal four years ago but that deal was killed by political pressure. China also tried to by a mining company in Australia, but political pressure there killed that deal too. But China is in the process of trying to lock up natural resources in the world.

So the idea that the U.S. is after oil is not so strange or even unreasonable. How else would it remain a world power? (It’s bad enough that it is suffering along with the rest of the world from an economic crisis, but lack of resources can kill any nation.)

But as I started to blog previously:

What does the United States really want in the Persian Gulf region? Peace? Democracy? Governments friendly to the U.S.?

Well yes to all three, but really the overriding need for the U.S. is what it always has been – OIL!!!!

Remember, way back in the run-up to the first Gulf War under Bush 1 an argument was that we were not really concerned that Saddam Hussein was violating the sovereignty of Kuwait by invading it but instead that we might lose access to oil. But there was no love among the U.S. populace for the evil dictator that Hussein was (and he was – just saw a documentary with video shot by Saddam’s henchmen to remind me) so Bush was able to get his way and put together a coalition led by the U.S. to kick old Saddam out of Kuwait. He was kicked out.

(As a somewhat separate issue, it seems to me it was folly first for the U.S. to go to war in Iraq the first time – and second time – but seeing as we did, we should have gone all the way to Baghdad the first time and deposed Saddam then and set up a reasonable government and secured our oil supply in the process. I think we had the momentum then, something we seemed to have lacked the second time around.) 

In the second war against Iraq, there was also an argument that oil was the real motivation, but most of its supporters denied that. It’s as if those who support our moves in the region play a little mental game that says we are simply fighting for representative and peace-loving government with oil being a side benefit.

Well now that Saddam has been removed and executed and we have helped install a government more friendly to us (maybe, or so far) the race by the oil interests is on. See the Wall Street Journal article:

I don’t think we got exactly what we wanted, though. The U.S. is now in competition with all other nations, including China (and how many troops did they send?) for the oil. China has already sealed a deal that was initially made years ago (separate from the one mentioned above). The Iraqi oil industry is nationalized, but the Iraqi government needs outside expertise to rejuvenate its oil industry damaged by years of war.

It was all about oil all along, make no mistake about it. I don’t necessarily think that is wholly indefensible. After all, the U.S. does have its “strategic interests” as it is often put (I think that means we need access to oil for our survival). I just wish we could be more open about it when we decide to commit U.S. forces (let everyone decide using honest reasoning).

The British held sway in the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the British really got interested once oil was discovered in the first half of the 20th Century.

After World War II the U.S. became a world super power and became interested in oil and resisting communist (Soviet Union) influence in the Gulf (and elsewhere).

At the same time there were budding nationalist movements in the region. The U.S. was afraid that if the nationalist movements took hold they might be taken over or influenced by the communists and that would be a threat to the West and its free enterprise system and to our oil supply.

That is why, for instance, the U.S. helped install the Shah of Iran. He was a dictator and no practitioner of western-style democracy, but he was anti-communist and he tried to do what we told him to. 

(Interestingly, as much of a tyrant as the Shah of Iran was, I have read that he was the first to give Iranian women the right to vote and that his government supported various women’s right reforms. He himself, though, was quite the male chauvinist, I have read too. I have also read that even in Iran today there are those who lament that the economy of that nation was better under the Shah.)

I’m skipping over a multitude of details and historical events here, but at times we supported Iraq’s despotic and maniacal leader Saddam Hussein because he was not communist and we wanted his oil. Eventually he turned against us or we turned against him.

We also screwed up our relationship with Iran by supporting the Shah who was deposed by an Islamic-backed revolution in 1979, and worse yet by supporting Saddam in his war on Iran.

One thing the Western powers may have done wrong is treat the people themselves in the Persian Gulf as not important, but instead concentrating on the governments that could be installed and supported.

But here’s the deal. We don’t need to run the affairs of other nations – governments or people. We need oil. But oil is worthless unless it can be sold. In fact the OPEC nations are discovering that their black gold is not worth nearly as much as it used to be what with declining demand due to a world-wide recession (of course that can and likely will go the other way too).

I would think the only concern we should have is whether we have access to buy that oil. Sure if the Chinese were to get a lock on the oil supply we would have a problem. And I can see they are probably working at it.

While there is no justifiable excuse for the attacks we suffered on 9/11, we have to admit it concerned in part the U.S. role in Mid East affairs.

Nearly all of the 9/11 attackers were not from Afghanistan or Iraq or even Iran but Saudi Arabia, whose monarchy is a solid ally of the U.S. and its major oil supplier. But the monarchy there is fearful of any movement among its populace to overthrow it. The Al Qaeda attackers were a threat to Saudi Arabia and they detested the U.S. for its support of the monarchy and other governments who they claim are not representative of the people, but of the outside oil interests. Of course Al Qaeda itself is simply a group of power hungry individuals who use religious fervor to gain support. If they even are genuinely devout (and I doubt a lot of them are), they subvert the true ideals of Islam to their own advantage (kind of like politicians in the U.S. do when they appeal to the religious right for support).

Japan struck us at Pearl Harbor back in 1941 in large part because the United States was attempting to cut off its oil supply.

Oil seems to often be tied to war – resources (and religion) being the cause of war throughout the ages.

Now we are all caught up in the struggle for freedom in Iran. And while after seeing apparently sincere people who simply want rights as human beings beat back by the goons that protect the religious dictatorship there, we do have sympathy for them.

But there is nothing we can really do other than to offer moral support.

We don’t go into Darfur in Africa where people are starved and slaughtered and we don’t go into Myanmar in Southeast Asia where their own government refuses outside aid in a natural disaster to the detriment of its own people. 

But Iran has oil. And I’ll bet if it were not for the fact that the U.S. is tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan and facing threats from North Korea, there would be talk of going in militarily to support the brave Iranian freedom fighters (and picking up the oil as a side benefit).

Iran is believed to be developing a nuclear weapons capability. As I have blogged before, that is a true concern that we must ultimately address. But that is a separate issue. And Israel may yet do our job for us on that – they did so in Iraq, bombing a nuclear reactor there many years ago.

Something tells me we don’t want to get bogged down anywhere. And something tells me we better watch China – and it is uncomfortable that China holds so much of our debt.

Michael Jackson had the talent, but it was a mixed blessing…

June 25, 2009

Unfortunately the only thing that really sticks in my mind about the now what I understand is the “late” Michael Jackson, reportedly dead at age 50 as the result of cardiac arrest, is him holding his crotch while he performed and maybe that weird thing in Germany some years back when he was photographed holding his little baby over the railing of a balcony.

I remember him performing with the Jackson Five and being the little brother in the group who stood out – a kind of show off, much like the young Donnie Osmond who used to perform with his family on the old Andy Williams Show and mug the cameras.

For a time, as I recall, there was a kind of rivalry between the white Donnie Osmond and the black Michael Jackson. Obviously Jackson won out, having sold more records than any other star ever with his all-time number one album “Thriller”.

I was never a Jackson fan nor was I a Jackson detractor. I just thought he was weird. He was noted for among other things turning whiter in skin color. He claimed to have some type of skin disease. And through a strange metamorphosis via apparent plastic surgeries his appearance became bizarre. In fact, that’s what he was: bizarre.

There was that sensational trial in Santa Maria, Ca. A few years ago in which he faced child molestation charges. He was acquitted, but many are now saying he really never got over the trauma of all that. The price of fame is high, indeed. Coincidentally I was in Santa Maria at the time. I was a truck driver picking up strawberries and other produce. I think I passed by the crowds at the courthouse.

While I thought some of his dance routines for which he was so famous were vulgar, I also have to say he was phenomenal in his dancing ability.

I recall a guy a few years younger than I in the Army who could do a good imitation of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk dance, and that was not so long after the first moonwalk. Jackson was a little after my time in teenage music memories, but probably for that soldier and certainly for so many millions, he was the number-one icon of music.He was considered the “King of Pop” music.

So maybe the word of Jackson’s death had the effect on his fans as the death of Elvis Presley had on me. Actually I was not devastated by Presley’s death, but it had some profound meaning to me because I connect Presley with some of my earliest memories of Rock N Roll and recalled that he even had some hits when I was in High School, a decade after he first came on the scene in the mid 50s. I was a fan of the earlier Elvis Presley. I thought the jumpsuit version, the fat version, was pathetic.

I liked the younger Michael Jackson well enough, although I was no real fan. I even somewhat enjoyed a few performances of the older more streamlined (or weird is still the better word) Jackson – but he just got too weird for my taste.

I’ve heard as everyone else he had a rough childhood, being under pressure by his family to perform, and because of his talent he never had a chance to grow up like a regular kid.

The talent of an entertainer is so often a mixed blessing.


Actress and poster girl Farrah Fawcett also died today, as well as perennial pitchman and famous Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon earlier this week. But with the coverage the Jackson death is getting you’d think a great world leader had died. Well, he did coin his own description, the “King of Pop”. In death, Jackson is larger than life. And for now he continues to draw an audience worldwide — still a commercial commodity.

Don’t cry for South Carolina Governor Sanford Argentina; Republicans: you may cry…

June 24, 2009

To the religous right and to all who insist on mixing religion and religious morality with politics — please give it a rest or at least admit that those who espouse their religous beliefs in supporting their own political candidacies are more than likely two-faced.

I am listening to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford explain that the story behind his disappearance of the past week revolves around an affair he has had outside his marriage for the past year at least.

Yet another religious right Republican, who even talked about attending a bible study class during his explanation, asked for forgiveness over and over.

Hey. I’m not from South Carolina, but I could forgive him for having a human frailty. But what I can’t forgive is the hypocrisy of it all.

This comes on the heels of a similar announcement by Nevada Senator John Ensign of an affair, another holier than thou guy.

Both were listed as possible contenders for the 2012 presidential race.

And there have been countless others now, mostly Republicans of the religious right pursuasion.

The next time I hear a Republican religious right person accuse or imply others, usually Democrats, of being Godless and without moral compass, I will just want to say: “Oh shut up”!

I really would hope this spells the end of the power of the religious right in Republican politics. If it doesn’t, it might really spell the end of the Republican Party altogether. And that would be a disaster.

We desperately need the Republican Party and its history of a down to earth somewhat conservative approach to governing.

I think it can be saved by a resurgence of Republican moderatres with the help of some Republican libererals, if there are any left.

Religion and politics do not mix. Religion subverts politics and politics subverts religion.

Sanford originally put out the story via his staff that he was taking a trek on the Appalachian Trail. Apparently he really took off to Buenas Aires, Argentina. And he actually said during a press conference if I heard it right that he was “crying in Argentina”. Today he was asking for forgiveness from South Carolinians. So I guess he may have been saying in essence — don’t cry for me Argentina, but do cry for me South Carolina.

ADD 1:

Sanford went to Argentina to visit his girlfriend. He said he first met her eight years ago. The actual affair has been going on for a year. His wife has known for the last five months, he said. He has four sons.

Right and moral Republican that he is he spent Father’s Day weekend and the past week with his lover in Argentina.

“I’ve been crying for the last five days in Argentina”, he was quoted as saying (I only saw part of his news conference, although I thought I heard him say that and apparently he did). What with that Evita song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and the fact that yet another Republican has taken a fall from the moral wagon that ought to be good fodder for late night comedians, cable news satirists and political opponents of the nutty religious right.

(Thanks to CNN TV news, as well as CNN and Yahoo online news, as well as The State newspaper online out of Columbia, S.C. for info.)

ADD 2:

Sanford as a congressman was a harsh critic of President Bill Clinton for his infidelities and voted for his impeachment. Sen. Ensign criticized Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. It’s kind of do as they preach not as they do with those right wing Christian fundamentalist Republicans. “Oh I have sinned” they cry Jimmy Swaggart sytle (and so did Democrat Clinton, I must concede, biting his lip as he did it). What I think they are crying about is that they got caught. 

ADD 3:

It’s the next day, Thursday, June 25, as I blog this add. I do not suggest that Republicans are any more prone to these sex scandals than Democrats. If you go back, the count is probably even. I recall now some of the latest, John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer (both Democrats), but as one columnist I read pointed out, the Republicans invite scorn upon themselves by portraying their party as the one with moral values. I’m all for morals, but for my part I think the Republicans would do well to drop the emphasis on them and play up their abilities at governance.


The night before the news broke I was trying to look up columns of my late and favorite political satire writers to see if I could get an idea of how to do it. With material like this, who couldn’t? Can the real story be a satire of itself?

Obama caught (kind of) on claim his health care plan (what plan?) would not eliminate private plans or force doctor changes…

June 24, 2009

I’m not an anti public health care (or anti socialized medicine) partisan, but I noticed that President Barack Obama got caught in Tuesday’s news conference on his long-offered promise, all thorough his campaign and all through his young presidency, that you won’t have to give up your own health care plan or your doctor if you’re satisfied under his proposed health care plan.

And let me just inject here, we still don’t know what the actual Obama health care plan is (except if you are a Republican and call it socialized medicine).

In answering a question he all but conceded that in fact you might end up losing both your plan and doctor if private insurance decided it could not compete with a public option and/or if your doctor decided he or she could not afford to accept the provisions (payments) under the public option, or if your employer decided to drop a private plan and let you take advantage of the public plan. He tried to slip out of the trap by saying it would not be the government putting the kibosh on your plan or dismissing your doctor, that would be up to the insurance companies and doctors and employers.

The idea that has been put forward lately (or I guess for a long time) is that any public option would have too much advantage over private health insurance – patients would get care for too low of a cost – can’t have that.

But despite any sarcasm I might have concerning the poor private health plans and the doctors who might suffer, I do see the point that indeed a public option and a continued private option might not be able to co-exist because they would not be on a level playing field. The government can raise taxes and promulgate rules to lower costs.

Surprisingly, even with all the money thrown at the anti-public option movement recent polls show something like 72 percent or even more of the public supporting a public option. And polls indicate support for higher taxes to pay for it, to an extent. Not surprisingly people are apparently somewhat hypocritical because there seems to be less enthusiasm when specific cost figures are mentioned. Well of course any option no matter what, unless you just deny health care to anyone who cannot afford it, is going to be expensive. In case you haven’t noticed, people who go to medical school expect to make some big bucks. And we keep developing expensive new procedures that require expensive equipment and we have to pay other highly trained and skilled medical personnel along with not so highly skilled and highly paid folks (but a lot of them). And it does cost a lot of money to get a new medicine on the market and the investors want to recoup their investments and then some.

Of course if we have large numbers of sick folks we cannot be as productive of a nation as we should be, and right now it is apparent that we need to start being more productive. Also, since we at least have laws that require folks to get emergency medical service those emergency rooms will continue to be clogged and the costs will mount if we don’t do something.

No one actually knows how much the Obama plan (which is not really spelled out — being a continued work in progress) would cost, but figures of $1 trillion and even $1.6 trillion over ten years have been suggested. Gee what a waste. We could fund a war with that kind of money (sarcasm again).

Costs concerns notwithstanding, the public does seem to be coming around. That’s probably because health care even with employer-sponsored insurance has become so expensive and the fact so many people don’t get employer health insurance either because it is not offered or they have lost their jobs.

Another strange thing is that lawmakers seem to listen to lobbyists more than average people (probably because average people don’t generally make big campaign donations). It’s sad that the voters have to take a back seat to lobbyists. Of course if campaigns were more sober presentations of proposed policy rather than highly expensive glitzy propaganda wars, and if voters were willing to listen to fact rather than empty or misleading rhetoric that would not be such a problem.

What I would be for, most would call socialized medicine (there I’ve said it – please don’t call me a communist – or does anyone use that epithet these days?). But I’d settle for some type of plan that simply provides health care benefits to those who truly don’t have access to a private plan or resources to pay for one.

I think we may be trying to do more than we need to. I begrudgingly admit that we have a system of sorts in place and probably don’t need to mess it up.

So for the umpteenth time I ask the question: why can’t we just extend the Medicare and Medicaid programs to those who need coverage they can’t pay for?

I’m waiting for the answer.



In the original version of my last post I incorrectly spelled the name of a Huffington Post blogger, but I corrected in a later version. The blogger is Nico Pitney.