A government that fails to protect its own people will eventually fail; are you listening Washington?

February 28, 2011

And just what is our government doing to protect domestic industry and its citizens’ ability to earn a living? Not enough it seems.

The Blue Heron paper mill has closed in Oregon City, Oregon, and its management says it is primarily the result of competition for recycle materials from China. The mill had filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and in an attempt to get back into the black it shifted much of its production to recycled paper products, but apparently that was not the solution, especially when, according to the mill management, the Chinese government subsidizes its industry and lets it bid up world prices for raw materials.

I can’t blame it all on Obama or even his predecessors (then again, maybe I can), but why can’t our government do something to help workers and to help domestic industry and why do we take part in trade deals that allow other nations to subsidize their industries and give them an unfair advantage on the world market and in our own domestic market?

And why did Obama who campaigned on the promise that he was going to help ordinary working folks immediately turn his back on them when he became president and fall all over himself to bail out fat cat bankers? (Probably because like most of us he does not understand banking and was intimidated by them and their threat to take us all down with them.)

Yes he also presided over the bailout of GM and Chrysler, saving a lot of high-paid union jobs, but while I would generally applaud saving jobs, I am not sure that was such a good idea or even necessary, but I’ll get back to that.

And I doubt one can actually blame the mill closure solely on China. I know something about that paper mill. I’ve hauled many thousands of tons of paper out of that mill for something like a decade and a half as a long-haul truck driver. The mill is old, and although I personally thought of it as a colorful place (well actually kind of dismal and gray, but colorful in another context), I imagine, judging from its outside, it may have not been the most technologically advanced on the inside (I don’t know). There has been a mill on that site under various names dating well back into the 19th Century. What I hauled out of there was newsprint, and with the downfall of the newspaper business, demand for newsprint has taken quite a dive. But much or most of the newsprint I hauled out of there went to commercial printing plants that printed advertising circulars primarily — some of them going into newspapers, some not. But I hauled a lot of newsprint directly to newspapers too.

I did see the trucks bringing in recycle material that was turned into all kinds of recycled paper products. Apparently, according to what I have now read, much of that recycle material is going to be shipped to China. The Blue Heron mill management claims that China has bid up the price of recycle material to the extent the Oregon City mill could not make a profit.

(A letter-to-the-editor writer to an oregon newspaper noted the irony that in the name of green industry recycled material will be shipped to China and the finished products shipped all the way back to the U.S. — and that saves energy and the environment???)

There are other paper mills in the region. Business is always a competition, but it should be a fair competition, and one would think that our own government would want to look out for our own domestic industry.

Now I know the whole line about you can’t get all protectionist and keep out foreign products because that is what happened worldwide in the 1930s (countries put up high tariffs) and it only exacerbated the Great Depression. But as I think I once blogged already, that was then and this is now.

I know everyone, or at least all the “enlightened” ones, think that the answer is for all the young people to go to college and get into something in which they can keep their hands clean. Well you know we tried that computer/financial services/speculative/Taco Bell economy for the past few decades. How’s that working out for us?

Back to the GM and Chrysler bailouts:

While I think the government should do what it can to promote and protect domestic industry, it can’t run it and should not directly finance it.

GM and Chrysler got stuck in marketing one kind of product and got too big and bloated to quickly shift gears when product demand changed. And Detroit union workers got a little greedy themselves and lost out to non-union, but domestic workers hired by foreign companies down South.

While I don’t think our government should heavily subsidize our own industry, it could do more in the way of tariffs on incoming products, as well as outright bans on unsafe products coming out of China (such as toxic toys), as well as in some cases import quotas.

A government that fails to protect its own people will eventually fail, and in this day and age that eventually can come rather soon (look around).

Are you listening Washington?


Probably not.

Unions pitted against each other; doing a good job can be security in itself, but not always…

February 25, 2011

Sometimes I just have to turn the radio off. You know, when someone says something so contradictory or outlandish or infuriating, as when I was listening to a local radio station commentator (out of Sacramento) doing a brief obligatory right-wing (local-yokel these days is all right wing all Clear Channel Radio) hit piece on unions.

I’m not a union member, but what infuriated me is that he took the line so many regular citizens even seem to take: Unions once served a purpose but they have gotten out of hand.  Actually that may or may not be true, but I think it is too often just a non-thinking short-hand that turns a blind eye to history. Whether you are union or not, you probably would not want to go back to the non-union world of the first half of the 20th Century or earlier — but history is not a popular subject, it seems. Even baby boomers don’t really know first hand what is was like. People these days take so much for granted.

It is true there are a lot of protections for workers in law these days (law pushed long ago by unions and others), but those protections can be repealed by way of blaming all our ills on “costly” protections for workers and so on.

(Civil rights leaders and older minorities lament the younger crowd is unmoved or ignorant of history too.)

But even more infuriating is the common theme I have been hearing: unions are bad, except my union.

Yes, unions are now pitted against each other — well that certainly works into the hands of the anti-union crowd.

The radio guy admitted at the end of his piece that he was a member of a union (actually I think he said two unions), but allowed as he was not really happy with it (them), but also admitted he got good benefits though them.

I also heard a policeman call into a talk show and suggest that police should be made an exception to any move to de-unionize or take away collective bargaining from public employees.

People are like that. They always seem to be against something, except in their own case.

Now here’s something else on the current union debate (started in Wisconsin where the governor wants to do away with public employee collective bargaining rights in the name of fiscal austerity, but as most realize also for the purpose of the Republican Party preference to do away with unions altogether):

Talk Show host Tom Sullivan (not the un-named guy previously mentioned) claims that unions are not really needed to protect workers because anyone who does a good job is automatically protected by the fact that he or she does a good job. Really, I would think — as a matter of fact, I almost know — that he is smarter than that, but saying such a thing sides with his ideological-driven take on reality.

I mean certainly in theory and in a perfect world that would be the case. I’ll even admit that is the way I like to see things. But then there is the real, not always fair and certainly not always logical or reasonable world. Good workers get fired, pushed out, harassed, or otherwise discouraged all the time.

I think Mr. Sullivan’s problem is that most of his working background (not all) has been in the financial world and tied to sales. You keep your numbers up and, yes, more than likely your job is secure, or if not, someone else wants you.

Someone near and dear to me once advised that the higher-paying jobs are closer to the money, such as in sales (too bad I did not take that advice to heart). People who work in support capacities often do not make as much.

At the small newspapers I once worked at, even though we were newspapers, most of the owners (not all) saw the news staff as at best a necessary evil, but at the same time almost unnecessary. You see, the money is made (was made?) by selling advertising space. Folks do not pay directly for news (the copy cost for a newspaper, I was always told, just helps pay the cost of printing and delivering it). A good ad salesperson directly brings in the revenue and gets a cut — a commission — as well as a salary (in most cases).

A good journalist might help make the product being sold (and I hate to use the word “product” in that context, but that is business talk) more attractive and thus contribute to a higher circulation and in turn create a situation for higher advertising rates, but that is all intangible.

(The upper echelons of broadcast news pay astronomical salaries because it is show business not real journalism.)

I’m really getting off the subject here, but this makes me think of the time I worked for a newspaper and the chain that ran it came in and supposedly did a salary study. I left before it was completed, but my old boss told me they concluded they were paying too much. Let’s see it was 1978 and I was taking home about $600 per month and trying to support a family. Yep, overpaid. (The starting wage for a clerk typist over at the county courthouse at the time was $1,000 per month — no wonder people like government jobs.)

But I got way off the track here. But what I was really trying to say is that while I like the theory that simply doing a good job, or even an excellent job or going along with the attitude that take care of your job and your job will take care of you is one that I like, it may not always work that way. There are a lot of variables. If your pay structure is not directly tied to your performance the theory might not hold true. And not all work can be tied directly to performance, especially since performance in many things is hard to accurately measure.

I do believe that taking pride in one‘s work is a moral responsibility and makes good sense and is in the best interests of the individual. Being good at what you do has to be a good thing.

Unions certainly have their drawbacks, especially when they promote silly work rules and protect mediocrity, and even more when they get too greedy and kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

Unfortunately, many in the business and management category when left to their own devices will not always do what is in the best interests of employees or even the company (go figure). To make things worse, many in that category seem to be of the opinion that workers are lower class and deserve to be treated as such.

But you know? We can’t all be the boss.

But we all want to look out for our own interests.


I’m not schooled in the field of business or economics, but I think to advance my argument that things don’t always work the way they should in a Tom Sullivan perfect world I will say this: That small newspaper I once worked for that did the salary study still exists today, although under a different ownership. But I think it was and is in a kind of protected situation. I know under the previous chain it was called a “cash cow”. It was not necessary to pay people particularly well and quality was not so important because it had no direct competition. Everyone who worked there had their own story: just helping his or her spouse pay the bills, going to move on some day, couldn’t do better, no opportunity somewhere else, and so on. But  a lot of people in a lot of different jobs all over the country are in this situation, and employers take advantage.

In the past, sometimes people stuck working for low pay outfits got on with the government, a lot of  times a job for the city or country. You know?  Civil Service protections and unions.

And now the powers that be want to screw that up.

Looks like a race to the bottom for the working class.

P.s. P.s.

And yet I am more comfortable as a non-union worker. I tend to want to work and satisfy the one who signs my check and in my type of work (over-the-road truck driver) I basically work independently and don’t need any union bosses or fellow union brothers looking over my shoulder and telling me how hard to work or not to work. I stand by my own work and don’t need a union to speak for me. But that’s just me. And in a different time and different place, I might see things differently.

Some voices on the right and left call for Libya intervention

February 23, 2011

When both voices from the right and left urge us to go to war, watch out! Not a scientific survey since I only heard the voices of two talk show hosts, but I did hear them in the last 24 hours or so and they both seemed to suggest ( and/ or many of their callers did) that the U.S. should intervene in Libya to stop the massacre of innocent civilians.

One of the right-wing callers fumed about how impotent the U.S. has become and said that the situation in Libya is proof — the Arab bad guys know we won’t do anything. He said we should go in there and set up our own government for the people — oh, like we did in Iraq? Like we are trying to do in Afghanistan — nation building. How’s that working out?

The left-wing callers and the host wanted action more along humanitarian grounds, while the right wing clearly was interested in the oil (but the left wing acknowledges the oil thing too — we have “interests” there).

Libya is a major, major oil producer, with billions of barrels of reserves — need I really say more? 

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times suggests that the spike in oil prices over the uncertainty in the oil lands over the budding revolutions signals more clearly than ever that we need to wean ourselves off of oil so we don’t have to be dependent on the Middle East. He calls for an energy tax on gasoline so we can build more electric cars: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/23/opinion/23friedman.html?_r=1&hp

It would make gasoline cost more, but we’ll soon be paying through the nose anyway. Don’t think I like his idea, but he may have a point.

In the interim we could convert more of our transportation to natural gas, a commodity we have in abundance, I understand, and one that can be retrofitted to our existing vehicles.

There are also calls for the UN to intervene. I for one do not much care for that. It really means for the U.S. to intervene under the cover of the UN. Even if it were just the UN, I do not think American troops should ever be under the control of commanders from other nations.

While I hate to see the carnage in Libya, I would think that if the U.S. got involved it would be similar to the police breaking up a domestic disturbance where both the husband and wife who were fighting each other go after the police. That is what happened in Iraq and it never has totally settled down. And worse yet, as I understand it, Iraq is becoming aligned or seems to be with Iran.

On the other hand, if Gaddafi, in Libya, is using foreign troops to massacre his own people, that might be a legitimate pretext for the U.S. to become involved, because that would mean the place is really out of control with no way for its people to get a hold on things. For their own good and for the stability of the region and the world — and the oil trade, we need to do something. But if we did, please let’s use all of our power instead of being namby pamby and fighting with one hand tied behind our backs.


Wouldn’t it be easier to just off Gaddafi (Reagan bombed his tent)? Wouldn’t it have been easier just to off Saddam Hussein?

Mixed emotions on unions, but union or not, most of us are workers and receive at least indirect benefits from unions; A segment of society wants to kill unions…

February 19, 2011

At the rate technology is advancing the whole battle between labor and management might in the not-so-distant future be over a moot point, because there may be little to no need for workers — only a slight exaggeration or maybe not.

I don’t watch television anymore, but I hear a computer was able to out-think contestants on Jeopardy, and I have read about robotic computers that do everything from wait on tables in China to teach school In Japan. And I know that in Asia there was an experiment with a driverless truck run over the roads by remote control (that hits home; I’m a truck driver).

But until this all comes to pass for real — and when it does civilization is over — the fact is that most people are workers.

It seems that many of the people who run businesses, be they the owners or CEOs, and others who live off of their investments and don’t report to a regular job have great disdain for lowly workers and think they should have no rights and take what their masters hand them out of benevolence.

(Remember that the old line on the plantation was that the masters took good care of their workers — black slaves — and they really had things better off than if they were on their own — oh sure the masters occasionally had to whip them into shape, but…)

I don’t know, maybe none of us should work for anyone else. Maybe each and every one of us should be independent contractors. Would we have rights in the eyes of business people then? (And I know they like to pretend some hourly employees are independent contractors to get out of paying regular wages and benefits, but I’m talking about real independent contractors — not working for anyone else as a mere employee).

In my last post I mentioned that public workers have had clout because the politicians tend to cater to them to take advantage of their voting block.

And currently the issue of unions and collective bargaining is in the news because the governor of Wisconsin and the state’s Republican lawmakers want to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights, ostensibly to make it easier for the state to balance its budget. Several other states are considering such a move and even more may well follow — it’s a trend.

And I just read that a bill to eliminate the requirement that federal construction jobs pay the so-called prevailing wage (actually the higher union wage) was introduced but defeated in Congress. The argument for repeal of the current law was that it favored larger union contractors because smaller contractors could not compete and that inflates the costs of public projects. That may be essentially true (but then again, some small-time operators do not always do quality work and many skimp on safety, especially when they don‘t have the union looking over their shoulder).

But the battle in Wisconsin is over collective bargaining. Workers in the United States in private industry have a right to collective bargaining through a 1935 law, the National Labor Relations Act.

I’m not sure that all states allow their government employees the right to collective bargaining — and we are talking union representation here really — but many do. President Kennedy signed an executive order giving federal employees a right to collective bargaining. 

I do recall how President Ronald Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers after they went out on strike (that‘s a public safety issue, I think, that I address a  paragraph down).

I’m of mixed minds on labor unions in general and public employee unions.

I don’t think public safety employees should be allowed to strike, because that would endanger the public, and I am not even sure I think any public employee should be allowed to strike (and the threat of a strike is part of collective bargaining). My rationale is that it is the citizens’ government, so if you strike and disrupt the work of the government you are going against the best interests of the citizens as a whole.

For that matter I am not too hot on mandatory union membership, or the “closed shop”. Some states have so-called right-to-work laws that prohibit a worker from being required to join a union. But then one wonders, would a non-union member turn down higher wages bargained through a union?

But it does seem to me that no one should have to give part of his or her pay to a union. And I don’t like the idea of a union as a third party in the employee-employer relationship if an individual has not asked for it.

And I don’t like the idea of unions interfering with the conduct of a business. I don’t think that those who run a business, be they small or huge enterprises, should have to go through a union to tell them how to conduct their own business. Taking the hard line, I would say if you as a worker don’t like what you are getting the best option is to move on — easier said that done, I know, in many cases. And that may be a reason why young people should get as much education and wide-ranging skills as they can so that they can take advantage of the best that is being offered.

(Sometimes employees band together and buy a business. Well how does that work? If they do not do a good enough job do they fire themselves? Just wondering.)

There is a paradox here of sorts, though. Even if you as a worker are not a union member, it may well be that whatever wage and benefits you earn, they would be far lower if unions did not exist.

In the past at least, some industries or individual factories or firms have kept wages and benefits up just to discourage their employees from unionizing.

Currently I work as an over-the-road or long-haul truck driver as a company driver. Contrary to popular belief most or all long-haul drivers are not members of the Teamsters or any other union. But a few years back I worked for a trucking company that had both union and non-union terminals. I worked for a non-union terminal. We non-union drivers were paid as much or more than the union drivers (although they had some different work rules) and our benefits were as good or better, and we did not have to pay the dues. I can only think what was going on there was that the company was glad we were not unionized and that they were not hamstrung by unnecessary work rules and wanted to keep us happy — and as far as I am concerned, they did, keep us happy (and of course it is easier to cut wages when times are not so good when you don‘t have to deal with a union). 

But then the Great Recession hit. There was a lot less work and some of the older drivers got nervous and they did the card check thing (I was no longer with the company then, but another driver told me). The union was able to get enough drivers to sign union cards, thus forcing even the ones who did not want to unionize to be dues-paying members of the union. Ironically, the former non-union drivers who were paying nothing for their health insurance now have to pay for it through the union.

On the other hand, those union drivers make a lot more than I do now. If I had to support a family on what I make, well, I could not do it (and now I qualify or amend what I just wrote in this sentence in Add 2 at the bottom of this post — you can read it if you get that far; I do go on at times).

And that is really what it is all about. There is a certain segment of the society that wants to destroy the rights of workers to make a decent living and along with it they will destroy the middle class (and once the middle class is gone we are a third-world country without a real democracy). There is another segment of society that goes along with them because they are ignorant of the fact that the so-called conservatives whom they support really have no concern for the workers.

In some cases it might be argued or even proven that unions have run companies into the ground. But if a private company fails, some other business will come along to fill the gap.

If the government comes to a standstill over union pressure, no one can fill the gap.

Government employee unions have too much clout. In California where I live the most egregious example is the prison guard union (on one radio talk show I listened to a prison guard called in and complained that it was false that guards made $100,000 per year. He actually stated point blank: “no guard is making $100,000 per year“. Strangely he went on and contradicted his own statement, admitting, or at least claiming he made $100,000 per year via overtime, and admitted that many or most of the guards work overtime. Why the state does not hire more guards if so much overtime is required is a question (I think it is true, though, that the prison guard union supported the three-strikes law that has swelled the prison population).

But all government employees are not necessarily overpaid and it is too bad that they have to all be lumped together.

I think the concern among reasonable people is that in some sectors salaries and benefits have far surpassed the private sector and at a time of tight budgets the taxpayers (and that is all of us) need some relief.


ADD 1:

Just scanned over some stories on the web that suggest that what is going on in Wisconsin and elsewhere is more about scapegoating on who’s at fault for the respective budget crises (I’m sure it is a shared blame among the politicians, government workers, and don’t forget the voting public who demands everything but fails to see the need for higher taxes, always attributing increased costs to waste).

Also I read about a poll that shows the majority of Americans think that the government spends too much overall, but start listing specific programs and they don’t want them cut. Same with unions. In the abstract they are bad. But begin listing ones people belong to or their neighbors belong to, they are not anti-union.

Public school system teacher salaries are wide ranging depending upon the different localities and states and time in service, but I think it is safe to say that they probably range from as low as $36,000 (lower?) to into the 90s, but with most probably in the 40s to $50,000. And a California prison guard — no college required — can pull down $100,000 per. I don’t know, but I think something is wrong here. I don’t think most beat cops make that much.

ADD 2:

Somewhere above I wrote that at my current rate of pay I could not support a family (those days are in the past for me anyway). But you know? a lot of people say things like that. The reality today, unlike when I grew up, is that mom has to work too — except that so many children grow up in single-parent households these days, and that puts extra pressure on those households because everything is based on the mom and dad both working model. But what I really want to say here is that people can do a lot with a lot less if they live within their means, but as a society we have grown accustom to living beyond our means and were ill-prepared for the Great Recession. We are so many generations into living beyond our means now that few people seem to have any concept of how to economize, except that maybe they learn when it is forced upon them — no actually they don’t, they go squawking to government while simultaneously showing disdain for government — and I realize these are not always the same people, but then again sometimes they are. It’s all very complicated and yet all quite simple at the same time: if we as a nation started living within our means and taking personal responsibility we would all be a lot better off and a lot stronger, and gee don’t I sound like a true right-wing nut? No, I’m middle of the road. I believe in free enterprise, social programs for the public good, environmental protection with practical but not excessive rules, and as much personal freedom as possible while maintaining civility.

Government employees bribe elected officials into giving them perks with their power as a voting block…

February 16, 2011

When economic times were somewhat better or at least not as unstable, maybe no one paid that much attention to public employee salaries and retirement benefits, except maybe a lot of people thought it might be nice to get a government job.

But now I read in the LA Times that California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to plug a loophole or provision that allows state workers to collect increased retirement benefits for years they did not even work for the state. It’s called “air time”. I don’t need to go into the details because that is not the point here. I’ll just note that the story explained the provision was originally written up on the behalf of staffers for elected office holders who did not draw state wages while they campaigned for their bosses. But in order to make the thing fly, the perk was given to all state employees. It allowed them to buy into a program that was kind of like an annuity you might buy on the private market, only with a lot better payout — a whole lot better, and at the taxpayers‘ expense.

Not to pick on poor former Gov. Gray Davis, but I think the story said that he signed the measure into law after originally opposing it because he needed the votes from the employees in his bid to fight of the recall in which ultimately he was not successful.

But that is definitely how it goes in these things. If you scratch your head and try to figure out what our elected officials were thinking when they granted all these lavish retirement programs to government employees, the answer is that it is a way to get votes.

I first noticed this in local elections in the small (in population) county where I first worked as a newspaper reporter. The only real major local voting block was the local county employees’ association, so candidates for local office always sought to curry favor with them. Kind of ironic, elected representatives of the people look out for government employees (who are of course people too) first and then the regular taxpaying-citizens second.

Once upon a time we were taught that the theory was that government jobs should be stable and the benefits fairly good but in return they might not pay as much as private employment which itself in return could be risky on the stability side.

But over the years salaries and the benefits grew like Topsy in public employment and the public was not paying attention or was considering government employment themselves on an individual basis.

But unless we want to enter into some kind of state socialism, we can’t all work for the government. And even if we did, well, those systems just don’t seem to work over the long run.

And this may be extreme but I think if I could find out which elected officials voted for the most egregious of these over-inflated perks, I’d cast my vote against them where I could in the next election and write them a note telling them why.


You know I probably will not do that … and you know? If I had had any sense I would have gotten a government job in that county where I started as a reporter and would have been retired now…

About the rape of Lara Logan, the Islamic/Western culture divide, and good reporting…

February 16, 2011

By now you’ve no doubt heard or read the news that Lara Logan, CBS’s chief foreign correspondent, was raped while covering the story about jubilant crowds celebrating the ouster of Mubarak in Egypt. In these last hours since I heard about it, I’ve already heard some right-wing men call into a radio show complaining she’s getting too much attention. I heard a woman host claim that people just have to realize that the Islamic world operates by different rules and further more their morality is not compatible with that of the West.

Actually this was not a political or geopolitical phenomenon as far as I can see.

But before I comment any more on all of that, I just want to say that I do not know much about Ms. Logan, except that I certainly have seen many of her reports and realize that unlike a lot of pretty girl (and she is pretty) so-called news types you see on the tube she is a real reporter, quite articulate, and has a good voice for broadcast, I think  (and don’t forget the pretty boy types, blow dryers at the ready).

But being a reporter can be dangerous and being a foreign correspondent is especially dangerous if you are doing your job and getting out into the field instead of holing up in a hotel room or sitting by the pool and filing your stories from there.

I also know that she complained about the poor coverage the American news media did in Iraq and I think she also complained she had a hard time getting air time on her own network. The networks never really thought the war was that great of a story once it got under way. They did quite a job on the build up to it. They had been cowed by popular sentiment that seemed to blame them for losing Vietnam all those years ago and vowed to show just how eager they were for the country to go to war, by gosh by jingo.

Ms. Logan pressed on, nonetheless, and did a lot of reporting out there with the troops with the bullets flying (she was — is — a bit of a showboat and does not mind letting her assets, so to speak, show).

But what happened to her is that she was doing dangerous work and some thugs got to her. This could actually happen most anywhere, and I doubt that in this case it had much to do with the fact that she was in the part of the world where Islam is the major religion.

It does seem to be the case, though, that women are treated as second-class citizens under Islam, in most cases, and the reports are that in Egypt women are routinely subjected to sexual harassment just walking down the streets (I don’t know; I’ve just heard this).

The strange thing to me, though, is that fundamentalist Christians also believe women are second class, although I am sure they would deny this, except they cannot deny that they insist that women must be subservient to men. And both the fundamentalist Christians and Islam call for women to dress modestly (in the case of Islam, cover themselves almost completely) lest they be too tempting to men (who just cannot help themselves).

I do think, though, that there is some truth to the fact that the Islamic world is not compatible with the Western world because we have developed different social customs and a different culture. Europeans, most notably in France, are starting to push back against Islam, which has made such inroads there because of foreign workers, once welcomed in Europe due to a shortage of labor after World War II.

But back to Ms. Logan:

She suffered an attack from some thugs. That comes with the territory and she is a brave reporter.

Now if one wanted to be catty about all of this, there was a gossip story some time back about Ms. Logan having an affair with a married man in the war zone and getting mixed up in a messy divorce battle ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/06/25/lara-logan-sex-scandal-cb_n_109271.html ) .

But while I could not help but recall that, I don’t think it has anything to do with the misfortune she suffered or her skill at and devotion to news reporting.


ADD 1:

As I wrote at the top of this post, I did not know much about Ms. Logan, other than seeing her on television. I always wondered what the accent was. She is from South Africa. I found that out on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lara_Logan

Maybe people of the Middle East want freedom from the status quo on their own terms, rather than those of the Islamists or the West…

February 15, 2011

Al Qaeda has sought to stir up the masses and inflict terror to topple dictatorships in the Middle East supported by the West, most notably the United States.

But it seems as if what might have been a dream for Al Qaeda could turn into a nightmare for the terrorist organization that purports to be doing the work of Islam. I mean what if the people in that region throw out all the dictators but refuse to ally themselves with Al Qaeda? (I think I touched on that same issue in one of my recent blog posts).

By the same token, what if the Middle East goes totally democratic but does not align itself entirely with Western interests?

Events are moving so fast there now that it is hard to keep up with, and since our own news media is fairly ignorant of anything outside of the United States, it has been difficult to get much background for this whole story.

I mentioned this before, as well, but you should check out the Al Jazeera website English version. Originally written off as a propaganda tool for Al Qaeda, and at the very least totally anti-U.S., Al Jazeera seems to have greatly upgraded and seems to be going to great lengths to be objective and to present a sophisticated look at the news. I even see that it is covering news in other areas of the world, to include our neighboring country of Mexico. Try finding much about Mexico in the U.S. news media, good luck! (a sensational and superficial story about the ongoing drug wars from time to time, maybe, and that is a major story, but it should be covered much more fully).

Apparently Al Jazeera gets most of its funding from the Emir of Qatar, and gets some revenue by selling footage to other world news outlets, to include CNN, as well as other broadcast deals and advertising. And who knows? maybe it’s all an elaborate plot to get us hooked and steer us away from the truth in some subversive master Islamist plan, but for now I’d say Al Jazeera is a good source of information — you have to take all info with a grain of salt no matter what the source anyway. (For background on Al Jazeera: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Jazeera )

Just one more thing on that: I was watching a kind of panel discussion on Al Jazeera and it struck me how sophisticated these people were and how they seemed to be concentrating on the issues rather than playing to the camera and coming up with clever one-liners and comebacks to bring attention to themselves instead of the story as many of these groups on American commercial media do.

So, there was a revolt in Tunisia and then the major one in Egypt. The dissidents in Iran have flared up again, but have been met with heavy resistance from the government security forces there. In Algeria there was a flare up met with an immediate crackdown by the government before it could get very far. And there are uprisings in Yemen and Bahrain and other Arab states (and yes, Iran is not Arab; it is Persian).

I have been hearing that what happens in one country over there, such as Egypt, might not happen in the same way in other countries. Their individual social structures and economic situations are not all the same.

What is especially interesting to me is that so far in Egypt — and they really have not gotten anywhere yet as far as democracy, except getting rid of Mubarak — is that so far there does not seem to be the fighting between religious factions as has been the case in Iraq.

I do understand that tribal loyalties could get in the way of successful democracy movements in some Arab states, such as has been the case in Afghanistan.

But I think that both the United States and Al Qaeda could come out of all of this with egg on their respective faces if the people really do usher in democracy but do not align themselves entirely with the West or bow down before the alter of Islamist extremism (“Islamist” seems to be the new or preferred word to replace Islamic, with the former meaning extremist and the latter referring to the religion itself or the religion in general).

The West has had a long unpleasant history in the Middle East. Both the French and the British created colonies in the area (to include North Africa) to exploit natural resources and agriculture production, and then the British developed the oil industry in the region originally and created what amounted to artificial nations, combining peoples or different tribes and religious factions, with it being necessary to have strong authoritarian rule to keep them from each other’s throats (not unlike how the old Soviet Block dictators kept control of masses who when left to their own devices murdered each other).

When the U.S. became the leading world power after World War II, it was felt we had to support any dictator that was anti-communist. We felt the masses were too ignorant to be self-governing and that they would fall prey to the communists, wreaking havoc with Western capitalism and more to the point cutting off the oil supply.

No sooner, though, had the communist threat disappeared (fall of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Block countries), than it was replaced with the Islamist threat.

But whether it was communists or Islamists, the need for oil is what the West has been concerned about in the Middle East.

The reality has been that oil from that region is vital to our (the West’s) whole economy. Maybe we always thought, well someday, we can help those poor people get their freedom, but right now we need the oil.

But for the masses in the Middle East, to include millions of young adults hooked up to social networks, that someday is today and I don’t think we better get in their way.

We really need to be developing alternative sources and forms of energy and working on overall energy independence anyway.

Meantime, the oil producers there still need our business.


Hindsight is always 20/20, but it seems we should have been using our influence over there to foster democracy all these years, but who knew that people really wanted to practice what we preach?

Even if the science is good, or mostly good, fraud and bias muddy the waters in pollution and climate change debate…

February 13, 2011

The climate change deniers danced with glee awhile back when it was discovered that some researchers had presented false data in support of the thesis of climate change or global warming, as it is often referred to. And certainly if people present false research this is good ammunition for the opponents of the theory of climate change. (And when I refer to climate change and global warming I am also referring to the theory that such is caused or in large part caused by man’s activities, such as spewing pollutants into the atmosphere.)

It was suggested that even though the global warming theory may well be proven by science, some researchers in their exuberance to make the common people understand or to beat the competition for research grants padded their research a little. I have no idea. I’m not a scientist and I only know what the experts tell me, but my information comes through the filter of the media and I do not really know who are the real experts and who are the pretenders.

And this brings me to the point or a point that I wanted to get to when I began this post:

While the scandal of the false research into global warming got quite a bit of publicity not too long ago, another one here in California where I live (well, I’m not here in California right now, but…) did not seem to get so much play.

But after occasionally listening to the harangues of KGO radio’s Dr. Bill Wattenburg over the past year or so (well actually several years in all) and just now doing some quick and possibly not too reliable web research, I have gathered this:

California has its own Air Resources Board also known as CARB that makes the state’s air pollution regulations, while other states fall under only federal regulations — something about the CARB essentially being grandfathered in before certain federal pollution regulation laws were passed. The important point here is that in California CARB rules, and its standards are essentially more stringent than federal standards or more onerous.

But here’s the connection in all of this to the first part of this post where I mentioned that some climate change research was reportedly fraudulent:

California now has relatively new regulations for diesel engines that are requiring private industry or operators to make costly modifications. This is done in the name of cleaning up the air. But many of those or all of those who oppose these regulations contend that the required modifications, strangely enough, in some or all cases have the opposite effect. How could this be?

Well for one thing, the scientist or so-called scientist who took the lead in much of the research that supported the new regulations lied about or misrepresented his education. The fact that he lied, I think, is public record. And this came to light a couple of years ago or so. But at last report I had he still works for CARB. His name is Hien Tran.

My instant web research was not good in that most of what I came across were biased reports with their own agenda, such as one site that seeks to get rid of CARB and the CARB site itself, which is self-serving and not a bit objective. Such is usually the case with web research, but possibly you can get some hopefully non-biased background from Wikipedia. It does mention the resume-padding scientist Mr. Tran (take that Mr. Tran) toward the end of its entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Air_Resources_Board

Now I also understand that scientists and others who support the CARB regulations contend that the science behind them is not affected by any deception about education by the scientist or fake scientist in question. And actually, I think that could be true, except for the fact that when you have someone who has lied and he is an integral part of the research effort that has led to a conclusion and subsequent regulations, the credibility of everything is called into question. It would seem that at the least that person, the person who lied, should be fired immediately, and the research should be re-evaluated. Apparently that did not happen. And I don’t know why.

Those who oppose the very idea of having CARB, including Dr. Wattenburg, continuously point to the fact that CARB supported (they say mandated) the use of MTBE in the state’s gasoline for years until it was proven that MTBE was polluting ground water (Wattenburg claims that CARB was finally forced to admit its mistake, while the CARB website makes it seem as if it immediately corrected things once the science was in). Also, Wattenburg and others say that while CARB had contended that MTBE made gasoline burn more efficiently, it actually reduced the miles per gallon. That seems to be a contradiction in terms (by CARB, not Wattenburg), but what do we non-scientists really know?

(And then there is the ethanol controversy and the argument that enthanol in fuel — supported by CARB and others — is not more efficient and just serves the vested interests of corn growers and their industry and makes food cost more with food corn acreage being diverted to ethanol production, but I do not want to get into that here.)

Personally I am interested in clean air and a healthy environment and I do not think you decide how much clean air you can afford. You do or someone does have to figure out how to get there from here. But the decision should be based on honest science and practicalities, devoid of the influence of special or vested interests.

The special or vested interests involved in the whole environmental or climate change debate are many. Industry hires scientists to do research tailored to fit its needs (I would call this phony, biased research). And some under the banner of environmentalism do much the same because sometimes worthwhile causes become businesses or careers in themselves. Case in point, those who work for CARB pull down huge salaries — they want to keep the whole thing going.

The average citizen and even highly-educated citizens who are not scientists are at the mercy of those who are and the media filter.

Probably media outlets need more reporters who are scientists. But there are some problems with that. A scientist as a reporter would have to leave his or her own opinion behind and stick to the objective facts for the most part, and that is hard for someone knowledgeable in a field to do. Someone as intelligent as I suggest also would not likely be interested in being a reporter for the general republic and might well make more money elsewhere. Media outlets probably do not want to hire high-priced scientists, although broadcast media does pay millions to celebrity news presenters, many of whom have limited knowledge of anything except blow dryers, wardrobe selection, and makeup. Real scientists are often not terribly good at writing or other types of communication (I don’t know why, really).

It is hard to know whom to believe in all of this, but just remember how long the cigarette companies denied any health risks with their product. And then we found out years later that their own research proved it but they covered it up and hired other phony research.


Dr. Wattenburg often likes to say that all this noise over man causing climate change is a bunch of hooey, that the climate has been steadily changing all along, irrespective of man’s activities. I was just last night discussing with one of my brothers something we had read about Greenland to the effect that centuries ago there the Vikings were involved with agriculture and then the climate turned too cold. And now the climate there is getting warmer. The point being that the earth’s climate was changing well before the industrial revolution. I would think most thinking people have to realize that there are natural forces we cannot control but that our own activities have an effect too. It is not all one way or the other. Objectivity is the key here.

P.s. P.s.

A good businessman or salesman might be terribly un-objective or biased when trying to sell someone or the public as a whole on something for personal gain, but when making his own personal business decisions he would likely want all the facts from all sides to make an objective and prudent decisions.

And now Algeria? I say stand back and let it happen…

February 12, 2011

“They can’t kill us because we are already dead”.

You have to be pretty desperate to have that attitude.

But that’s what a news story quoted a 29-year-old unemployed Algerian anti-government protestor as saying. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/world/africa/13algeria.html?hp

It seems that there is now unrest and a budding revolt possibly in a third Middle Eastern nation. After the crowds forced one despot to leave in Tunisia in January and then another in Egypt just a day or so ago (after a tense 18-day standoff), there were reports over the last 24 hours of a movement to force the ouster of the Algerian dictator. It has been met, though, with strong resistance from the authorities.

But so far I think this all bodes well for the United States. Seems to me we could have saved a lot of our own treasure and bloodshed over the years by going about our business and letting the people in the region resolve their own problems.

When the 13 British colonies in America got enough of despotism, they took it upon themselves to revolt. Yes, they did get some help from France along the way, but another country did not instigate it.

Both the Egyptians and Tunisians were fortunate in that they had their respective national armies basically on their side or in sympathy with them. Not sure what the case is in Algeria.

In Iran, I think the state security forces and the Army and most notably the Revolutionary Guard are a formidable obstacle to what I guess you would call the now latent or dormant opposition there, which did indeed protest with much enthusiasm and some bloodshed a few months ago.

But in this day of instant communication via the internet and its social media and with so many often highly-educated but unemployed young people — millions upon millions — in the Arab world the status quo is giving way.

I say stand back and let it happen.

Let’s hope Egypt retains freedom of religion and freedom from it…

February 11, 2011

ADD 1:

After originally posting this it occurred to me that while I speculate that the bravery of the crowd in Egypt might be attributed to divine intervention, I hope that the democracy movement goes toward secular government. It seems that religious differences, even among  factions within the same faiths, poison free government. True democracies allow freedom of religion, while religious-based governments do not.


I agree with the Egyptian crowds — God is Great! I’m not religious in the conventional sense, but surging masses unafraid, maybe because they were so frustrated they lost their fear, makes it almost seem as if there was divine intervention. An initial report out of Cairo said that crowds shouted “God is Great” on hearing that dictator Hosni Mubarak had stepped down from power after all, after an 18-day standoff in a revolt of the people.

(There was some violence and death, but overall it was minimal compared to what the potential was. Things still could go bad, of course.)

Moses, an outsider, said all those hundreds of years ago, “let my people go”. This time the Egyptian people themselves told the modern-day pharaoh, three-decade-long autocrat Mubarak, let us go, and in fact, you go (and he finally did, by all reports, after his one last desperate attempt to hang on by saying it was his duty to finish out his term and not be swayed by “outsiders” — his own countrymen? — but then in the last many hours reportedly fleeing to his resort home in the Sinai, with the official line being he was quitting anyway but he flubbed his lines in his last speech).

I’m not naïve enough to think it will all be happiness and light now, but certainly there is some potential for good here.

And thank God that the United States played it fairly cool here. I don’t know what our government (the U.S.) did or did not do behind the scenes, but as far as I can see President Obama played it correctly.

The military has reportedly taken over for now in Egypt, promising a transition to democracy, and the good news there is that since it has been and still is, I would suppose, highly dependent upon U.S. support, we should have a continued ally.

ADD 2:

One thing the Egyptian protestors had going for them was the fact that the Egyptian Army was basically on their side and apparently made it clear they were not going to fire on their own citizens en masse. Anti-government opponents have not had that luxury in places such as Iran. But one does wonder if this revolt of the people, augmented by social media, and so far seemingly free of Islamist rhetoric, will not be contagious. One could only hope.


Although I really don’t think we can nor should try to control or try to manipulate what goes on in Egypt’s internal affairs, there is always a danger that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood might unduly insert its influence wherever there might be a void. That organization is a danger, as I understand it, because it is, despite its efforts to mask itself as a peaceful, non-violent, and nearly secular order (why the name then?), it is really a proxy for Al Qaeda or whatever movement that wants to install Islamist, non-democratic and Western-hating governments in the Middle East and everywhere it can.

But, again, for now I have to give our own president, Barack Obama, credit for playing it cool on this one.

And you know, the encouraging thing that has transpired here is basically the same thing that happened in the old Soviet Block and the old Soviet Union itself. Once the people get a good picture of the outside world and begin to realize that they really shouldn’t have to live in poverty (economic realities notwithstanding) and under repressive and corrupt governments they revolt in relatively peaceful fashion by their sheer numbers (of course what comes next is always a question). Back then it was images via satellite TV (I think I’ve described that right) and now it’s the internet and social media, which not only tells everyone how the rest of the world is, it also allows instant communication that is hard for even dictators and police states to control (Egyptian authorities were not able to completely shut down the internet, as I understand it).

This could all go bad still — but I don’t think so.


There is something to be said for law and order, and sometimes dictators provide that and make quite a few people happy. A few decades back I saw a documentary or maybe a television news magazine piece about the days of Francisco Franco in Spain. A rich man interviewed looked back with nostalgia and said: “He took care of everything. He was like your father”.  And just a day or so ago I saw a television piece in which a rich Egyptian said of Mubarak: “We love him. He is our father”. Even those who are not rich will support a despot if he looks out for their interests. But Mubarak got old, too comfortable, and lost touch with the common man (and woman), as I understand it.