It’s the economy stupid! With that we could get health care

February 26, 2010

“It’s the economy stupid” — wasn’t that Bill Clinton’s campaign mantra ?

That’s what I wish the Obama administration would adopt. If it could get the economy moving then it could assure itself that it will be around for a second term and health care would take care of itself (almost).

We’ll get universal health care when and if the public really wants it. The public at large must be somewhat ambivalent about it right now. They need work to either buy their own insurance or get it through their job or even to pay taxes for government-sponsored health insurance.

People need jobs, and government, particularly at the state and local level, needs revenue, revenue that can only come from a robust economy.

Free enterprise is great, but it needs a jump start from government now.

And we need to rebuild our industrial base and not waste time about it.

Yes the learned will point to history and say that protectionism is bad — it exacerbated (or even helped cause) the Great Depression.

But right about now we need to do something to strengthen our industry and protect it from cheap imports and protect our workers from going the way of those in third world countries. We don’t want to go back to slave labor.

Ironically as hopefully what is left of our domestic auto industry may be turning back towards the idea of quality and value and hopefully (I don’t know) moving somewhat away from planned obsolescence, Toyota of Japan has shot itself in the foot by adopting the more aggressive, quality and safety be damned attitude which helped bring down the American auto industry. Well at least this might give the domestic auto makers a chance to catch up and surpass the imports.

The federal government needs to offer major incentives to domestic industry, and I mean industry not only located here but run by Americans, not foreign entities.

And the government needs to discourage and penalize domestic industry that moves its production across our borders and overseas and then imports the goods back here to sell.

We don’t want to get carried away and cut off all trade. We need imports so we can match them with exports. We need to be competitive on the world market by specializing in quality. But part of being competitive is allowing ourselves to play on a even playing field and not let other countries dump products on us that result from unfair price supports from their own countries. These world trade agreements have to work both ways.

Our own society has to rediscover hard work and real labor and realize that unrealistic demands by labor only hurt everyone.

And our capitalists need to rediscover something called patriotism and put their own nation who they owe their own comfort and protection from the evil forces of the world to first.

Levi Jeans are as American as apple pie, but years ago their production was moved across the border. Justin cowboy boots have not been made in America for a long time either. Just two examples of capitalism being unpatriotic.

Budweiser beer isn’t even owned by Americans anymore, and ironically uses the slogan now: “America’s beer” or something like that.

Personally I prefer Sierra Nevada, brewed in Chico, Ca, (please don’t sell off to a conglomerate and please not a foreign conglomerate).

I say to the president and congress — quit spinning your wheels and politicking on health care (important as it is!), and get America moving again. Both the right and left may need to compromise on this one, but unless something is done we are destined to be a third world nation by the time our children or grandchildren are adults.

Possibly one of the symptoms of our malaise is the disappearance of morals and civility. Mass marketing seems to thrive on immorality and even uncivil behavior. I don’t really know why.

Perhaps we’ve had the bread and circuses presented to us too long.

Sometimes Gene Burns just says things … or the (polar) bear facts

February 25, 2010

Haven’t listened to Gene Burns on KGO Radio (SF) in a long time, until last night. Even then I couldn’t get good reception because of my poor quality radio in my truck, but I did clearly hear him say an obviously inaccurate remark. In a discussion about a killer whale killing a handler at a marine park in Florida he made the off-the-cuff remark that as far as he knew there are no Polar Bears in captivity — they’re just too dangerous. Well, maybe I should not have said that the remark was inaccurate — he did say as far as he knew.

But sheesh Gene, according to the internet there is at least one at the San Francisco zoo. I seem to recall seeing polar bears there over the years myself. I think I also have seen them at other zoos, such as Sacramento and Fresno, although I am not sure of that.

But at any rate, here is a commentator on a powerful (50,000 watts) radio station in San Francisco, and he damages his own creditability with a silly remark like that. It makes one wonder if he is so casual when he remarks on and analyzes the news and political issues of the day.

Maybe you ought to take a trip out to the zoo Mr. Burns.

Peace should be the overriding goal, but Iran cannot be allowed to develop nukes…

February 21, 2010

A nation whose leaders frequently threaten Israel with annihilation and who attacks and even executes its own people in order to prevent free speech and democracy, and a nation who constantly makes threats against the United States, and the same nation whose current leadership once took American hostages and held them for months and paraded them blindfolded before the world should under no circumstances be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

Actually no one should have ever developed them. But mix human curiosity, manifested by science, and the human penchant for war and it was inevitable.

Had the U.S. not been the first or had not at all developed the atom bomb someone else would have. The German Nazis were said to be close to it, and some even think Japan in time could have developed it. And of course the Soviet Union followed close on our heels in the nuclear arms race.

How the U.S. could have prevented other nations from getting the bomb is hard to see. Fortunately, most of the nations, not all, who now possess nuclear arms capabilities are at least nominally on the side of the U.S.

We don’t really know what happened to all the nukes in the dismantled Soviet Union, as far as I know. Don’t seem to hear much about China’s capabilities in that regard either, although we know that nation has a large arsenal of nukes. North Korea (that’s the half that is not on our side Sarah) gives us fits over nuclear arms development

(I have not addressed WMDs in general, to include chemical weapons, but whatever I say about nukes applies.)

While it is unfair that the U.S. would seek to prevent other nations from obtaining or developing nuclear weapons, our security may well depend upon it.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I think so far Israel is the only nation who has successfully thwarted nuclear arms development by potential belligerents — first in Iraq and then in Syria, both by air raids (but would Israel have dared make such moves without the tacit approval — even if perhaps after the fact — of the U.S.?).

But just how we delicately or not-so-delicately go about preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a hard question to answer.

With the latest report from what I understand is a highly respected UN nuclear watchdog agency that Iran may be closer than was thought to developing nuclear weapons (months? A few short years?), I sincerely hope somewhere in the depths of the Obama administration people are working on such contingencies (the quieter the better).

Then of course some speculate that we may be burned once again by going after something that apparently is not there after all and making quite a mess of it, ala Iraq and WMDs.

I have blogged before that it would seem far more practical to let Iran know in secret what our real position is — that is we will not tolerate the non-peaceful development of nuclear capabilities — and let it save face by deciding to forego the nuclear arms option.

It is said that it would be difficult to wipe out potential bomb building sites by air because they are well protected underground.

Also, sending in an armed force is all but out of the question. That sort of clumsy action is something we have been about too much of lo these past many years — and I do not mean to criticize the military — it’s the civilian leadership who gives them their marching orders.

But perhaps a combination of negotiation (but it has to be backed by the believable threat of power) stronger economic sanctions, and some type of confidential/ face saving conferences might work.

The aim should be for peace, not war. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard would like nothing better for the Great Satan to attack Iran outright so it could play on the sympathy of the world and particularly the part of the world who is not automatically fond of the U.S.

We should work diligently to not let that happen. But Iran should not be lulled into thinking that our desire for peace will win out over our desire for our own security.

It would be nice if the U.S. could help out the budding, but also foundering democracy movement in Iran, but really Iranians themselves need to take care of that, although I will say that at least in Iran where we are not really able to help at this time, there are at least people who seem to truly desire more of a western style democracy. Contrast that to Afghanistan where we are up to our necks in nation building, but where the populace tends to cling to old tribal ways.

And to go back to Iran. We do not want to, and probably can’t go in a take over Iran. We just want to make sure no more dangerous nut cases get the bomb.

Does the Tea Party really know what it wants???

February 20, 2010

While I concluded in a previous blog post that the so-called Tea Party movement is a good thing to shake up the establishment, I doubt the Tea Party knows what it wants or at least that its loose-knit membership would agree on what is needed.

So, although it is good to shake up the establishment, it would be even better to put forth some suggestions — kind of like the current state of the Republican Party — long on criticism, but short on ideas.

It is too simple to simply say “government is the problem”. Without government we would have chaos — anarchy. Rule by the mob. Because most people want some form of order — and don’t conservatives want “law and order?” — we have government.

But the hard truth is that in order to govern a nation as large as the U.S. and the states and territories it includes, we need a rather big government. And the plain and simple fact is that no matter what, that government costs money to run and it costs money to provide services. The rub comes in when you try to figure out what services to supply and at what level.

Sarah Palin, the current darling of the ultra conservatives (I think) and certainly the current darling of the Tea Party Crowd, says that the people don’t want government in their business and that people can be more self-sufficient. But she noted that she has a Downs Syndrome child and that she supports more government help in that regard. Gee Sarah, and Tea Partiers, if you agree, you all seem to want to have it both ways — smaller government that does not seek to take care of peoples’ every need, but one that does take care of your own needs.

I would wager that if the Tea Party folks got to seriously talking among themselves about the various issues and got beyond the way too easy to say “government is the problem” slogan they would not be able to agree among themselves on what to do.

In addition — and even while I still believe there is some good and some merit in the Tea Party movement — I think that a lot of the Tea Party folks probably never paid much attention to the issues of the day and that many of them probably in one way or another took part in the largesse of tax dollars, such as through the various government programs that are offered — Social Security, GI and FHA loans, small business loans, employment in the defense industry and so on. But something has happened in their lives — the Great Recession — and now they want someone, some institution, to blame — government fits the bill.

And their call for smaller government might be wise — after all Thomas Jefferson, supposedly the father of the modern Democratic Party (you know, the liberals), said:” The government that governs the least is the best government.”

But I hope that when the Tea Party gets what it wants it will be happy.

The Tea Party crowd might be happy if it got what it wants or if it knows what it wants and got it. But if it doesn’t work, I hope they don’t go calling for government to solve their problems.

Remember, as they say, “government is not the answer; it is the problem”.

What are we fightin’ for? Remind me…

February 18, 2010

Remind me now just what the U.S. is trying to accomplish in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oh, yes, we are fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here. Actually we aren’t doing the fighting. Professional soldiers, including those who may have well chosen the profession because nothing else is available, are doing the fighting.

But this “over there” thing gets a lot of people killed. The theme song in World War I, one of the most senseless wars for all who took part (on both or all sides), was “Over There”, you know: “The Yanks are coming and we won’t be coming back until it’s over over there”.

Wars are sold with catchy themes like that. “Better to fight them over there than over here.”

While Iraq never quite made sense to me (although I could have made an argument as to why we went in — just not the official one made), Afghanistan seemed correct at the time. Our home land had been attacked and those who did it were staged or directed from that nation. The Taliban government at the time in Afghanistan was giving aid and comfort to those who had attacked us. In a sense, but only in a sense, the nation of Afghanistan had attacked us.

But of course the oil was in Iraq and not Afghanistan — keep your eye on the oil folks — and Iraq was ruled with an iron fist by Saddam Hussein, an evil man who while once he was supported by George H.W. Bush (but only because he was an enemy of Iran and he had oil), he turned against the U.S., and after a U.S.-led force repelled his invasion of Kuwait, Hussein reportedly plotted to kill the elder Bush.

Young George W. always felt his father was a little weak in the knees for not going all the way to Baghdad during the otherwise successful Gulf War (never mind daddy actually participated in combat and the younger only played at it at home and did not even attend all the meetings of his reserve unit) and he did not like the fact that the evil Saddam had tried to do away with his daddy.

So George W. was itching for a good excuse to go after Saddam and he found one after 9/11. The Bush propaganda machine successfully implied that Iraq was in integral part of a world-wide terror group’s aim to make war on the U.S. And the machine also put forth the story that Saddam had “weapons of mass destruction”. Poor General Colin Powell shamed himself by doing Bush’s dirty work and going before the United Nations and displaying what turned out to be either phony or misinterpreted evidence to show these weapons existed in Iraq. Never did hear what those strange trucks with the tubes were. For all I know Saddam did have WMDs, at least at one time, but the problem was they never were found.

But under the George W. Bush administration the emphasis was put on the war in Iraq, and even though the 9/11 attacks came out of Afghanistan and the mastermind of them was holed up there, the effort there was basically put on hold. Some say we almost had Osama Bin Laden in our grasp and inexplicably let him go. Some have speculated the Bush administration wanted to keep him out there in order to have a continuing excuse to fight the so-called War on Terror.

President Obama reminds us that all along he was against the war in Iraq but was for the one in Afghanistan. And, indeed, he is putting more effort into it, sending in thousands more troops, with a new push against insurgents there.

But the whole problem in all of this — as I heard on an NPR radio interview (and I forgot the speaker) — is that we are not fighting conventional nation state vs. nation state wars. In the old-fashioned, easier to understand wars, if you kill four enemy soldiers, presumably the enemy’s strength is down by four. But in these modern anti-insurgency or anti-terrorist wars, especially in places like Afghanistan, you probably help recruit at least that many and more soldiers for the enemy’s cause.

And at this point, you have to stop and ask yourself, as the old Vietnam era song asks “…what are we fightin’ for…”

Iraq has settled down for the most part, but it is still not over, over there. We lost thousands of our own and killed even more of them — civilians, insurgents, terrorists, whatever or whoever — and still did not get title to the oil (who dropped the ball on that one?). The only real victory we can claim in Iraq might be that we ousted Saddam Hussein. So was it worth those thousands of lives to get rid of one mean man? Saddam Hussein was not Hitler, that is to say he did not head a modern industrialized nation with the potential power to take over the world. Remember, his army once surrendered to TV cameramen (Gulf War).

It is hard to see victory in Afghanistan, where we have also lost thousands (and the numbers keep adding up). According to what I heard on the afore-mentioned NPR report, while we were able to buy off some of the insurgents in Iraq, that may not be as easy or practicable in Afghanistan where there is strong tribal loyalties.

And besides, again, one has to ask: just what is our goal in all of this?

Personally, the only goal I have ever seen as legitimate is self-defense. But when you end up losing thousands of more lives than were lost in the original attacks and when you can’t even hunt down and capture the mastermind of those attacks and when Al Qaeda, the name we give to the terrorist enemy, could just simply move elsewhere, what is it we are trying to do?

And is it really better to fight them over there than over here? And better for whom? Better for those who somehow gain politically by supporting wars? Better for those who supply the material and services for wars?

One of the major problems is that we treated 9/11 as a conventional war situation, as in when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That was a nation state attacking another. We beat the Japanese, occupied that nation for a time and made sure they replaced their militarist government with a democratic one.

But in 9/11 we were not attacked by another nation state. Iraq did not attack us (although the average pro-war American citizen probably still does not get that) and, really, not even Afghanistan attacked us.

W. Bush was right in that we needed to go after the terrorists, but using conventional war tactics may not have been the right way to fight an unconventional war.

Eating for fun leads to child obesity, and might society go back to the future?????

February 11, 2010

The mission by Michelle Obama to fight child obesity got me to thinking where the problem comes from.

In my life I have noticed a phenomenon I call “recreational eating”. I have not had a weight problem since I was a young boy and went through a fairly long pudgy period. Well, maybe I also had one in midlife when I was a reporter and did not get much exercise and after dinner I continued to graze all evening. But on my own, I changed my lifestyle and it did not require dieting or costly diet programs and medical procedures. I just got more active and ate less — not necessarily better, but a little less.

I was in the first generation (born in1949) to grow up with television. Some of my first memories are lying prone on the floor watching the tube. I recall watching cartoons on television all Saturday morning, as well as watching programs each week night. Even so, I was an active child and played a lot — a lot — outside, something many children no longer do, both because they are inside playing on the computer and watching television, and texting, and because in many cases it is thought too dangerous to be out and about.

But back to this recreational eating thing: When I was a child, we did not have McDonalds or Burger King, but we did have drive-ins close by. I think their food was better than the modern ones because they still cooked it as you ordered and cooked it in a more traditional way, but it was fast food nonetheless.

For some strange reason, even though three good meals were served up by my mother each day at home, a little friend and I would go to one of the several drive-ins and eat hamburgers and fries and drink milkshakes. Those good meals were served at his home too. But we just enjoyed eating drive-in food. Maybe it’s like cigarettes. Maybe the makers of that fast food inject some type of addictive material into the stuff as the tobacco industry did (still does?) its cigarettes in order to get customers hooked on their product.

As we as a society moved toward the latter half of the 20th Century and into the 21st, life sped up and both mom and dad working outside the home became the norm. With mom at work, it became more convenient to pick up fast food (in my case, my mom did some seasonal work outside the home when I was a teenager, but she still fixed the traditional home-cooked meals).

And now I’ll wander around a bit, but it has to do with this subject — we’ve come to the point where the poorest of the poor eat and feed their kids fast food, which is more expensive and less nutritional and is fatty. Kind of reminds me of the news clip I saw years ago during another recession in which a poor woman complained: “we don’t even have pampers for our babies…” Pampers? While I realize it’s passé, there was a time when people used and reused, after washing, cloth diapers (no, I don‘t miss those days either). But we have a new kind of poor.

Also, if ever there was an example of recreational eating, it is an absurd place called Chuck E. Cheese. This is a version of what we used to call a pizza parlor. It caters to families with children. There are video games galore. Moms and dads take the little ones there, where they play the games and consume pizza.

Now enjoying good food, for more than just its nutritional content, has long been in our culture, as well as all cultures. But there’s a difference between traditional quality food and fast food. For the most part, I would think, even expensive dinners at quality restaurants are more nutritious than fast food, even if they may not be considered the best diet. For another, the tradition of going out to dinner is different than making a life out of consuming fast food which for some reason is devoid of nutrition and loaded with heart valve-clogging fat.

(I’m wandering here, I know. But if you were well off and could and did enjoy fine dining each day, you might well be no better off health wise than if you were poor and lived on fast food.)

So, I think some of the explanation, or all of the explanation, for child obesity is a change in lifestyle.

And that could lead to a whole other discussion. In the name of progress we have all but destroyed our society. Too many families no longer sit around the table and enjoy each other’s company and eat nutritional and economical home-cooked food.

(Okay not everyone enjoys each other’s company each day, but if you nit pick me on the details here I can never make a point.)

Also, too many children are left locked in their homes with mom and dad away at work.

And, maybe the idea of rewarding children by taking them out to places such as Chuck E. Cheese is not such a great idea.

It’s not all lost. In the neighborhood where I lived until recently there were children playing outside, and even in the street — a nuisance for motorists, but it did my heart good to see them — and I think I smelled home-cooked food sometimes as I walked by.

And I’ll wander again, but something occurred to me the other day when I read a story that suggested that with the dearth of jobs, many have given up looking for work. Well, if you can actually give up looking for a job then it implies that you may not really have to have one. This might be the case in a family where there are two breadwinners. I could see a strange back-to-the-future evolution of society in which there became more stay-at-home moms (or dads) and where there were more home-cooked meals and where children were safe and secure and were not afraid to play outside and were so busy playing they would not even think of going out to consume fast food.

I’m not naïve enough to think that we are going back to that mythical 1950s Leave it to Beaver life (or was it mythical? I think I lived it, but not everyone did), nor do I think that all moms should stay at home or that all women have to be the servant of a man (or all men servant of a woman?). But I do think societies naturally evolve to whatever seems practical at the time.

I should also add that just because people eat at home does not mean they are getting good food. Not everyone can cook and not everyone has a good idea of what balanced meals are. Not everyone can afford sufficient food, but fresh fruit and vegetables, and beans and potatoes are cheaper than fast food, and there is the food stamp program (which by the way I read is becoming more acceptable in this Great Recession economy).

And that leads me to say that while I think what Mrs. Obama is doing is a good thing, I don’t think it requires a lot of study, new government panels, and an outlay of educational programs requiring more tax dollars. All the info is already available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and elsewhere. It’s really up to society itself to move to the more practical or not.

The First lady’s inspiration could help, though.

The mighty Toyota falters and tries to soft pedal the malfunctioning pedals…

February 9, 2010

A full-page newspaper advertisement by Toyota that was an attempt to explain the situation and allay the fears about the car manufacturer’s problems with sticking gas pedals and malfunctioning brakes was not convincing to me.

It said there has been “a lot of talk” about safety problems. That implies that it is just all talk — not to worry. It reminds me of a cigarette company that ran an advertisement years ago that said there has been a lot of “hub bub” about the dangers of smoking.

I also notice that sometimes the televangelist folks use the tactic of making light of serious worldly problems or politics that don’t agree with them. One will say to the other in that kind of all-knowing and mocking tone, “oh my it’s all over the newspapers”, as in don’t pay attention to facts, just believe what we tell you and keep on sending the money.

But back to the Toyota thing. First the stuck gas pedals were blamed on slipping floor mats, then it was announced a fix had been found to correct some type of mechanical malfunction of the accelerator. And now we are learning that it has long been suspected it might all be in the electronics, but that is something apparently Toyota would rather not discuss.

And then there is the bad brakes — I’m not sure what the deal is on that. But too much go and not enough stop can be dangerous when it comes to motor vehicles.

Meanwhile, in an ironic twist of fate, Ford Motor Company, the only American car company that did not take government bail out funds, is capitalizing on Toyota’s woes and is trying to build or rebuild a reputation as a maker of dependable and safe motor vehicles.

Maybe success has spoiled at least one Japanese automaker, and hopefully it’s not just hype and at least one American auto maker has decided why not try putting quality and dependability over glitz.

What goes around comes around.


And here’s another interesting thing about the whole saga. While the Japanese executive that heads Toyota was shown bowing and and apologizing for the whole mess and demonstrating his shame (as is Japanese custom), the American head of Toyota was quoted in the ads making the soft pedal comments that implied that the whole problem was more talk than fact. How Japanese. How American.

ADD 1:

A day after my original post I saw a Toyota commercial on television that was much more contrite, with the voice saying something like we are sorry that we failed to live up to our own expectations and the voice promised Toyota was already working to regain the trust of customers. Maybe they are taking all that talk seriously after all.