|February 15, 2013||The Agitator #60||2 comments|
|February 08, 2013||The Agitator #59||3 comments|
|January 25, 2013||The Agitator #58||6 comments|
|January 18, 2013||The Agitator #57||1 comments|
|January 11, 2013||The Agitator #56||1 comments|
|January 03, 2013||The Agitator #55||3 comments|
|December 20, 2012||The Agitator #54||4 comments|
|December 13, 2012||The Agitator #53||4 comments|
|December 06, 2012||The Agitator #52||no comments|
|November 29, 2012||The Agitator #51||6 comments|
The stock market went over 14,000 last week for the first time since 2007, a good thing if you are invested in it. But I would hate to judge the economy based on the numbers. The unemployment rate is bad enough, but the numbers who are underemployed is equally alarming if not more so. What can be done about it? Well, some seem to think if that they keep blaming Obama, somehow that will make things better. I assume the real message is that the Republicans have a solution if only they could get rid of the current president. If that was the cure, I would support it in a New York minute, which is very fast. But consider that we have the lowest interest rates in perhaps 75 or more years, yet that hasn’t spurred home ownership or businesses to go out and borrow money to expand. Corporations are sitting on upwards of $3 trillion but not spending it. Why? Some blame Obamacare and excess regulations, but in fact if you ask any business owner the reason is lack of consumer demand for product and services. Lowering the FICA by two percent put some extra cash in middle class people’s jeans, but it didn’t really stimulate the economy. (I remain puzzled that the Republicans blame Obama for not continuing the FICA cut in December, but the Republicans didn’t come out and support it either. In fact, the Republicans pushed for a FICA cut when Bush was president and then opposed it when Obama first proposed it.)
Politicians can argue all day about how the corporate tax needs to be reduced or eliminated to stimulate the economy. So why hasn’t it happened? Could it be that the myriad of tax credits and deductions that many business can take advantage of might get cut, so it’s in their interest to keep it where it is? Remember, GE was only one of the big corporations, despite the 35% corporate tax rate, to pay no taxes a year or so ago. I’m not a tax lawyer or accountant, but I can sit back and say that that is a pretty good deal if you can get it. Of course our military protects American businesses, but the way the tax code is structured, it’s much better to make the shareholders happy than to worry about paying for the hardware and personnel costs of our armed forces. And the social costs of military retirees (not wounded or disabled veterans) is staggering. It is more than twice that of those on active duty. I’m all for either cutting some of these benefits or raising taxes to pay for them. The volunteer military was never projected to be adequately funded. It became law as an emotional response to the draft, something I still think we need. Recipients of this largess claim they have earned it, and I won’t dispute that. I will only say that Congress decides what it means to have “earned” the benefits they bestow, and in these hard economic times everyone has to have an oar in the water and feel some of the pain. (As a federal retiree I am fine with taking a reduction, but to suggest that I should be an “army of one” and take the cut myself as a matter of principle is meaningless.)
Our elected officials face two very real issues as I see it when it comes to fixing the economy. They can dramatically cut spending, which will happen if sequestration occurs. If that happens the pain will be felt by almost everyone. Too many politicians blame spending for all the problems, but there is a revenue side to this equation, and this recession has dramatically cut revenue. The government pumps a lot of money into the private sector, Lockheed being just one example out of millions. Take that money out of the economy and you are now hitting all the stores where these private sector employees shop and buy their morning coffee. The government doesn’t operate under micro economic theories. If every American saved all their money, some would say that’s a good thing. But on a macro level it would put us into a depression. Ask a restaurant owner what they think about politicians or other pundits that urge families to cut their spending and eat more meals at home or brown bag.
To sum it up, our politicians are not addressing how technology has and continues to replace good middle class jobs. On the state level our elected officials are too interested in giving enormous tax credits and benefits to attract individual industries that often fail and don’t come close to making up the advantages they were given to locate here. Instead, spending money on transportation, education, and infrastructure, which would not be cheap, would likely draw many businesses because of the better quality of life we could offer. But consider that a few years ago the voters of Georgia turned down a $10 added fee when renewing a drivers license that would have gone to build new trauma units in rural hospitals. So if you are seriously injured once you get south of Macon, good luck---you will need it because you won’t have a trauma facility near you. And like so many issues related to taxes and spending, it comes down to those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
All MDJ readers know that the editorial pages, with token exceptions, represent very conservative viewpoints on foreign policy, taxes, social issues and their almost total support of the Republican Party and its candidates. There is nothing wrong with that. I am confident that most of the people that disagree with the paper’s editorials want the same results for our country. It is how we get to the goal post where the main differences lie. But the MDJ’s mantra never varies---it’s always Obama’s fault. Doesn't matter what it is, it’s still his fault. And if Obama should refer to the history of how we got into the recession, unemployment, revenue shortfall, and any number of other issues, he is accused of not accepting responsibility. The January 23rd editorial looked like it was just filling some empty space on short notice. The first paragraph opened with a slam about Obama’s failed promise of hope and change. Is this really a measurable promise, or just maybe could it be called subjective and aspirational ? Do readers recall Bush’s promise of being the uniter? How did that one work out? What did he mean by “compassionate conservative?” What knowledge does the reader acquire in reference “to the new president with the funny name.” How does that advance the ball of information downfield? What does the reader learn from it? How about nothing.
Obama is chastised for paying only cursory notice to MLK or the symbolism of both the swearing in and King’s birthday celebration falling on the same day. Yet if this was such a monumental event, why didn't the MDJ note the occasion on the opinion page with a comment of its own relating its significance? I find it interesting, too, that the “liberal media”, to include the NYT and Washington Post, publish the names and other information about our troops killed in Iraq/Afghanistan, but the conservative “support our troops” MDJ does not. And it doesn't even take up much space, but it would honor and inform the readers of the sacrifices our volunteer military makes and remind them that we are still at war. The editorial falsely asserts that the bailout of the U.S. auto industry did not save it. That statement is contrary to virtually every economist in the country, including the very reputable Alan Blinder, the Princeton University professor who just wrote a book that includes a discussion on this topic. According to the editorial, the U.S. won the war in Iraq because of the surge, something Obama voted against. It’s a fair debate to have concerning whether the surge bought time and ultimately won the war, or whether the surge bought time for the U.S. troops to withdraw before the country collapsed. To call the current situation in Iraq a victory is way premature. And it was Bush, to his credit, who set the withdrawal date. The editorial never once mentioned the unfunded costs of that unnecessary war, which cost this country too many lives and a lot of money, and additional money that few factor in that will be substantial for the next 70 years---VA expenditures. I wonder why the opinion piece takes a shot at Obama while not giving any credit for the president taking seriously how this war is piling up more debt without a lot to show for it. No mention of Pakistan, where the real threat to world stability is shaky, and Obama’s overt and covert activities there. To give Obama credit would unravel the mantra that the president can’t be given credit even when it’s due.
I, among many other MDJ readers, would like to consider, ponder, and debate any worthwhile proposals that the MDJ has and is willing to put on its editorial page about the best ways to get control of the budget. Once upon a time the largest government stimulus package revived almost every industry in America and created the middle class. The impetus for that stimulus was WW II, but the lesson is that it worked. So far, though, it’s the same knee-jerk script, with ObamaCare being the straw man. Never once has the MDJ proposed ridding us of Medicare Part D, which according to the CBO, is leaps and bounds more costly over ten years than the Affordable Healthcare Act. And one of the costs of Part D that was enacted into law was prohibiting the government from negotiating with the pharmaceuticals for the best prices that could be had with volume. Wonder how that happened? Does the MDJ think that there just might be some serious waste in the Pentagon and ask why bases remain open that the military wants to shut, and why some weapons systems are being built that the military says we don’t need? The MDJ is the Voice of Silence when it comes to making an effort to be “fair and balanced”, but then again that slogan never meant what it says either.
All of that said, I appreciate the MDJ providing to me this outlet to voice my opinion, which is not in the mainstream of Cobb County thinking. I am grateful that I live in the United States of America where opinions can be expressed that differ with publishers and editors, that the MDJ affords me space to differ, and that they understand the importance of debating and deliberating ideas that help to reach our common goals.
Congressman Phil Gingrey spoke to the Cobb Chamber of Commerce last week and must have forgotten that the microphone was flashing red. His recorded comments about “legitimate rape”, and suggesting that some gun reform might be in order have probably brought back some nightmares when he offended His Porkulous (Rush Limbaugh) exactly three years ago this month. In January 2009, Gingrey dared to defend Republican leaders against a charge by El Rushbo that they were weak. After Limbaugh chastised Gingrey on the air, Limbaugh, in one of his magnanimous moments allowed Gingrey to appear on the show to beg forgiveness for his injudicious remarks. (It’s worth listening to if you want to hear what groveling sounds like.)
Since Gingrey’s flap of a week ago he has tried to explain the legitimate rape comment as an attempt to provide “context” to the issue that resulted in his “position being misconstrued.” This is an experienced politician that has held three different public offices, yet has not learned a few things about politics. Gingrey’s district is very conservative, and he has won reelection by wide margins. He garnered 82% of the vote in last year’s Republican Primary. While I happen to agree with his gun comments, surely he knows that this is a push button issue in his district. (Neither Gingrey nor I believe in banning guns; we probably agree that we need a serious discussion on some balanced regulations.) At first I wanted to believe that Gingrey was perhaps acting as a statesman, a representative who studied the issue, condensed the best information, and boiled it down to an informed, educated position. Alas, that did not happen. He has since backed off the gun comments just like those dealing with legitimate rape, and for his “offensive” statement about the kingmaker (Limbaugh).
Gingrey probably knows now just how fickle his supporters are. This is a congressman who has carried their water very effectively since he entered the congress in January 2005. His overwhelming margins of victory are a clue that he is/was in tune with his constituents. Now they are calling for his head, mostly over the remarks about guns. While I think Gingrey’s position, the one he had before he didn’t have it, was the correct one, I don’t have any sympathy for the way his followers have turned on him. He is the same man that got a tax paid education at Georgia Tech and the Medical College of Georgia, yet despite his conservatism and support of every war in his lifetime, didn’t bother to offer his service as a doctor during Vietnam. He also voted against the most recent Hurricane Sandy relief bill because there was no offset for the spending. I won’t argue that point in principle, but I wonder why he has never suggested offsets to the spending in Iraq and Afghanistan? I have to wonder how he squares the taxpayer gimmees he got with the eat cake attitude he has towards his fellow Americans in the northeast that pay his salary and benefits. Had he joined the military as a medical officer he might have learned something about compassion and leadership, and being decisive. His shifting of positions depending on whether Rush Limbaugh is calling him out or his constituents wanting his head doesn’t sound like a man capable of making decisions when there is a lot of cacophony around him. He has two more years before he runs again or decides to retire. Perhaps in that time Gingrey can figure out what he wants his legacy to be, and either work to make everyone happy while making no one happy, or being a statesman and doing what you know is right after you’ve done everything you can to arrive at reaching a decision.
It was distasteful, if not disgusting when a few years ago the taxpayers bailed out the insurance giant AIG to the tune of $182 billion. The company had made very bad investments tied to mortgages and was unable to meet its financial obligations. No private investors were willing to jump in and rescue the company. Had AIG gone under, many pundits with a lot more knowledge than I have, believed that it could have had worldwide economic repercussions. Among the banks and two American automakers that were bailed out, AIG was the largest of the TBTF (too big to fail). In providing the money to AIG, the government placed what some consider onerous terms on the company. This was so because AIG was a huge risk, and at the time it wasn’t clear whether the taxpayers would ever get back any of their money. The bigger the risk, the higher the interest rate. That’s how all lenders and investors operate and is a basic of free markets.
Now comes Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, AIG’s former CEO who was ousted in 2005, to file a $25 billion lawsuit against the United States Government. He had retained a large number of shares in the company and believes that the terms of the aid were oppressive, whcih cost him money. Of course, without the bailout his shares would have been worthless because AIG would have gone bankrupt. Greenberg asked the AIG board to join his lawsuit, but to the board’s credit they refused. A U.S. District Court in New York threw out the claim, but it is on appeal in the Second Circuit. Meanwhile, Greenberg and his lawyers have filed a second lawsuit in The United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington.
Greenberg’s chutzpah reminds me of the bonuses that other bailout recipients paid themselves with taxpayer money arguing that it was pursuant to the terms of their employment contracts. Again, the institutions that did this would have gone belly up without the tax funded largess, but sometimes greed has no limits. His Porkulous, Rush Limbaugh, always an advocate of lower taxes and bulldog on government waste, was not troubled by the bonuses at the time. I can only guess that it was because he identifies with people at his income level who have no shame. If Greenberg feels like he got screwed, perhaps he should look at those responsible within AIG who prioritized their own self interests in making very questionable investments. And if Greenberg really cared anything about this country that allowed him to prosper beyond imagination, just maybe a scintilla of decency inspire him to contribute some of his vast wealth to the wounded warrior projects that unfortunately depend on private money. To say that this man has more crust than a pie factory would be a gross understatement.
To say that the murder of Donna Kristofak is tragic would be a gross understatement. I have no idea what was going on in her personal life and marriage; how her husband, John Kristofak, could so viciously kill her is something incomprehensible. What leads to that kind of anger and premeditated reaction is part of the unexplainable human condition. It’s a safe bet that John Kristofak will almost certainly die in the Georgia prison system.
In reading the blogs associated with this story and listening to comments from various people, there is a lot of hostility directed toward Cobb Superior Court Judge, Adele Grubbs. The focus seems to be that she sentenced Kristofak to four years and five months probation, and seven months in jail. The judge then released Kristofak crediting him with the seven months he spent in the Cobb County jail for aggravated stalking and family violence related crimes. Donna Kristofak pleaded with Judge Grubbs to keep her ex-husband locked up, expressing her fears that Kristofak would kill her.
What the MDJ stories did not report is if the plea the judge took was a deal struck between the District Attorney’s Office and Kristofak. That is an important piece of information to a complete understanding of the sentence Kristofak was given. What sentence did the prosecutor recommend to the judge? What evidence did the prosecutor have that manifested an imminent threat to the victim? What evidence did Kristofak present, other than having no prior criminal history, that he posed no threat? In no way am I pointing fingers at the DA’s office for what might seem to some a lenient deal. I am confident that the prosecutor’s office did their homework and whatever recommendations they may have made were based on interviews, facts, and evidence. I would be surprised if Judge Grubbs deviated from a prosecutor recommendation, but the MDJ did not report any of this so that the readers can draw their own conclusions.
It is a sad state of affairs that in our country there is so much spousal and child abuse, much of which goes unreported. How many women suffer in silence, quietly live in daily fear, do what they can to protect their children and themselves, and no one knows that this could be your neighbor? The MDJ story would also have been much more complete if it had talked with someone in the DA’s office to learn how many stalking/aggravated stalking cases are prosecuted each year, how many result in violence versus the effectiveness of the restraining orders. My uninformed guess is that the DA’s office sees a significant number of stalking cases. Prosecutors and judges probably hear cries for help from tormented women all the time, and from all that I have read over the years, Cobb County is one of the better places where the criminal justice system makes a meaningful difference, where the professionals make a sincere effort to listen. This was a case where things went terribly wrong, but I don’t think it is fair to blame the judge or the system.
For those who are always advocating long prison sentences for virtually every crime, I won’t argue the point. It is a fair perspective, especially if you have been a crime victim. But the other side of that argument is the cost to incarcerate felons. That cost includes more police that are paid what they are worth, more prosecutors, more judges, more training for everyone in the criminal justice system, and more judges. That’s before we get to the cost of building and maintaining jails and prisons. And that cost is staggering. This is another example of wanting a champagne system on a beer budget. Until those who complain are willing to pay for what they expect, they shouldn’t expect perfection. Wars are not won on the cheap, and fighting crime is no different.
Judge Grubbs has been around a long time. She has always enjoyed a solid reputation for fairness and meting out stiff punishment for those convicted of felonies in her court. A bleeding heart she is not. As a 27 year reader of the MDJ, I have read many stories about her. Among them is one involving her own personal tragedy with the loss of a teenage daughter in a car accident some years ago. Judge Grubbs is human with a broad spectrum of experience. She deserves better. Perhaps the MDJ can round out this story by addressing some of the questions I have raised.
The two most divisive issues in America are guns and abortion, opinions that are largely immutable. I generally try to avoid discussing either one because it doesn’t accomplish much if anything except to alienate people with opposing viewpoints. I would like to offer some observations, though, about guns in light of the Newtown, CT and other mass murder shootings over the past couple of years. Let me say outright that I am not for outlawing the possession of firearms for self-defense. But a logical question that follows is what kind of firearm should a citizen be allowed to own for his own protection and sport. The Supreme Court has upheld the right to own a gun, but the two recent opinions also acknowledged that the state had an interest in regulating guns. How far regulating can go has not yet been defined by the courts, but over time you can be sure that the law in this area will evolve.
The law today requires background checks for anyone seeking to purchase a firearm from a dealer. The big loophole is that there is no background check required for individual sales from one person to another, or if you buy a gun at one of the many gun shows around the country. Then there are the firearms that are stolen from people who legitimately possess them. Let some determined criminals find out that you have a stash of weapons and there is a good chance your home will be burglarized. I’ve heard arguments that if there had been armed teachers, administrators and janitors at Sandy Hook, maybe the killer would have been gunned down before he could have killed anyone, or at least not killed as many. I have to wonder if a teacher carrying a gun into school could always ensure that the gun was in a safe place at all times so that a curious student wouldn’t find it. It has astounded me that people who have permits to carry guns have been arrested at airports, and invariably they say the same thing, that they forgot that it was in their briefcase or handbag. My background and training with guns includes knowing at all times where your weapon is. No exceptions.
A killer hell bent on committing mass murder doesn’t have to go inside a school or other building to do it if he knows that people might be armed. He can wait for the school busses to arrive, and from a reasonable distance with an assault weapon on automatic he can take out quite a few people before anyone that had a gun would get a drop on him. Even then the guy with the automatic rifle is better situated to take out the guy who responds with a handgun. How often do we hear that we need more cops in the schools? I won’t argue that it might help, but in light of diminishing school budgets and the unwillingness of taxpayers to pony up more money, who is going to pay for it? Another thing to consider is that several hundred cops are killed a year with guns. And cops are trained not only in a variety of firearms, but also in self-defense tactics against an armed gunmen. I learned during extensive weapons training that action is faster than reaction, and the gunman who gets the drop on a cop, who ambushes him is the one who will probably complete his mission. Then there is the “suicide by cop.” How often are mass murderers either killed by police or commit suicide themselves once their damage is done? I don’t have the stats, but I feel confident that the number is high.
Another question that demands an intelligent response is why the Congress failed to ban Teflon bullets when it had a chance? These bullets pierce the protective vests that police officers wear. They have no legitimate purpose that I can think of such as for hunting or target practice. Pure and simple, these bullets are cop killers. After the Oklahoma City bombing a bill was introduced that would require microscopic identification numbers in the manufacture of all explosives. This too was defeated by Congress. How would such a requirement infringe on one’s second amendment rights or privacy? We register a myriad of things in our daily lives with no real concerns, but something as dangerous as dynamite causes concern with certain segments if a law were to require the ability to trace the manufacturer and purchaser.
Federal law imposes a lifetime ban on all convicted felons from possessing a firearm. How about the white collar criminal that never once manifested a propensity for violence? Shouldn’t this category of person be allowed to protect themselves? Another concern should be that there are so many untrained owners of guns who carry them in public. Do they know the capability of the weapon they carry? If they intervene in a robbery would they know if the bullet in that gun might easily pass through a perpetrator and kill or maim a bystander? Are they aware of the civil liability if they shoot and miss the bad guy and hit an innocent? Lots of questions.
Lastly, have the privacy issues been considered? Every time we have a shooting incident there is a call for more metal detectors, more cops, more screening, tighter security, more cameras (which requires someone(s) to monitor), changed traffic patterns, no parking zones, and on and on. Some of the more serious Second Amendment defenders seem willing to trade their privacy in order to keep their weapons. Perhaps we should have that debate. But for sure we have given up a lot. Those of us who have been around for a while remember the days or walking right up to an airplane with ticket in hand. Everyone knows that today’s airport experience doesn’t even resemble those simpler times, how demeaning it has become for those who have physical limitations among others. Try to gently explain something to a TSA employee and you could land you in jail. That part of your First Amendment is history. And once we give up a piece of our privacy, we can be certain that it will never return.
These issues are complicated, and taking an all or nothing position on either side will accomplish nothing. All of us need to review and reexamine the different issues that are part of a fabric with a lot of threads overlapping and running in different directions.
The proposed new Atlanta stadium is back in the news. It looks like it’s a done deal. At one point there seemed to be strong opposition to it, but some political pundits never wavered in declaring that it would happen. They must have known something that the less connected didn’t. The only unresolved issue as of this writing is whether the General Assembly will approve raising the debt ceiling for the Georgia World Congress Center from $200 million to $300 million. I’m betting that it will happen.
In order to pay for the bonds that would have to be issued, approximately $300 million, our elected officials are providing glad tidings during the Christmas season and telling us that we, the good citizens of the Atlanta metropolitan, won’t be paying for it. The Santa Claus in all this are the out of town visitors who will pay the hotel/motel tax. Such a deal! But there’s always more to the story. It is a hoax. How many cities in America have the same tax for their out of town travelers to pay for their stadia, coliseums, sports arenas, concert halls, aquaria, and other facilities? So if you don’t pay it on the home turf, if you are a business traveler or tourist, you will pay it somewhere else, but you will pay it. And the NFL owners are all part of this big game. The obvious question is that if the new stadium is such a grand bargain, where are all the venture capitalists and investors who seemingly would want to be part of the action and get a great return on their cash?
The second part of this hoax is that we are being told by our politicians that building the stadium will create jobs. Yet when I listen to His Porkulous, Rush Limbaugh---and he’s not the only one---I hear him repeat the mantra that the government doesn’t create jobs. Yet somehow government money pays for a lot of airplanes that Lockheed makes, and that means Lockheed is a pass through of tax money that goes to the workers, executives and shareholders. Since Lockheed has not built planes for the private sector for years, I think it’s fair to say that the government in this one instance alone creates a lot of jobs. Multiply that by a million or more government contracts, large and small, and pretty soon you have a lot of jobs that somehow the government has created. If anyone doubts it, just pay attention to the media and listen to your congressional delegation talk about all the government jobs that will be lost to budget cuts, including base closings that the Pentagon wants to eliminate. Former Governor Zell Miller recently wrote that the current stadium brought in billions of dollars in business and taxes. So again I ask, if it’s such a good deal where are the investors who like nice returns? Perhaps the Gwinnet Braves minor league stadium should be a warning. That too was touted as a money machine in the making, but it hasn’t turned out that way at all, and the local taxpayers may yet end up on the hook for any debt. The big time capitalists usually know what they are doing, and if they aren’t jumping in both feet first, I think it is a fair question to ask why.
I am all for building a new stadium if the private sector wants to pay for it. It will create jobs, both during the construction and for maintaining it over its lifetime. But why is it that the same segment of our political community which claims that the government doesn’t create jobs will turn around and argue the opposite when it’s politically convenient? And be sure that I am a big Lockheed supporter. We need their expertise and knowledge for our national defense. But there’s nothing wrong with being honest and admit that the government does create jobs, and that is a good thing. Doubters should talk to laid off government contractors and workers who can’t find work in the private sector or elsewhere with the government.
It has been live theater following the “fiscal cliff” negotiations---if you can call them negotiations---and how most of our elected representatives are oblivious to the American people. One of the more amazing things about it involves one person: Grover Norquist. By now most know that he heads up the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and has secured pledges from most Republican officials that they will never, ever vote for a tax increase under any circumstances. What is more remarkable is that anyone would sign such a pledge. Senator Saxby Chambliss recently said that he was going to do what was right for America and not be bound by a 20 year old pledge. That resulted in a phone call from Norquist in which Chambliss claimed that he did not apologize, and that he stood by his statement. A closer look at his statement, though, would mean having the ability to read a crystal ball, because it was more of a politician’s double speak. I guess a fair question is why would Chambliss or any official take Norquist’s calls or meet with him in person? What gives this guy, who isn’t even from Georgia, more clout to walk through doors than 99.9% of Chambliss’ constituents? Is there someone besides me that finds it galling that if we try to correspond with our senator we have the good fortune of getting a form letter/email response? Where does Norquist derive his disproportionate power to get this kind of access? And he isn’t even a big money player like Sheldon Adelson.
The Republicans are in a bind because of their no tax pledge. And while the fight continues Lockheed announced that it will shift a few hundred jobs to Ft. Worth. Whether this is just the beginning of downsizing the Marietta plant and building up the Texas sight is to be determined. But there is a lot of anger in Cobb County among conservatives at the loss of these jobs. And this is just a microcosm of defense jobs that are going away because of cutbacks and the Defense Department’s own declaration that many ongoing weapons systems are unneeded. It is confusing to try and figure out the logic of those who demand that Obama cut spending, but somehow building unnecessary weapons is important to local and state economies. In effect, what the defenders of this waste decry is that their “stimulus” package is hurting them, but Obama’s proposed stimulus to rebuild infrastructure is major league pork.
Meanwhile the Republicans want to cut back on Medicare payments to doctors, which they attacked Obama for doing during the campaign, and other programs that benefit the middle and lower classes. Student loans and food stamps are just two examples that are small potatoes compared to their sacred cows: Medicare Part D (which costs more than ObamaCare and TARP combined over a ten year period), loan guarantees to banks, agricultural subsidies, flood insurance subsidies, among others. And these are programs that add up to real money. Yet even the definition of “real” money is being revised. Many conservative bloggers claim that restoring the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy will “only” result in $100 billion over ten years. If that isn’t much money to be concerned about, I wonder why the same critics seem to think that cutting subsidies to programs like public broadcasting will have more financial impact, that somehow that is going to make a difference in the deficits.
It will be fun to watch how this all plays out. But the American people are going to pay for it one way or the other.
The demise of Hostess bakery has at least two segments of the American public unhappy: those who will miss the product and those who blame the unionized workers and consider them the cause of this eighty year old company’s ending to be their fault. Just maybe the explanations are a little more complicated and a little more nuanced.
Union bashing has taken on a new meaning since the recession, particularly public sector ones. But union membership is at an all-time low, probably down forty percent from its heydays. Public sector unions may comprise the largest segment of members today. They are really catching it, but overlooked is that many states and municipalities that signed agreements never kept their end of the bargain by paying into the pension funds as promised. I think it fair to ask why unions came to be, and the answer isn’t complicated. Employers created working conditions that were intolerable. Unions not only sought better pay, but they also sought collective bargaining to improve safety, reduce the number of hours, and to protect workers against what we call unfair labor practices. In time the unions acquired power and with it came abuses that we are all too familiar with. In other words, the power and abuses shifted from the employer to the union. That pendulum has in recent years has swung back again. Today on reactionary radio you hear the talk meisters say that workers should be grateful just to have a job, that they should shut up and take whatever comes their way from their employer, that life is tough, and that everyone has to bear the burden. One of these charlatans once made the mistake of disclosing that he is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (have any readers bought a full price Broadway play ticket over the years?), yet here he was blaming the unions for Hostess going under. While these worker bashers tout sacrifice, you can bet that the likes of Rush Limbaugh haven’t given up anything ($40 million/year for His Porkulous) while trashing the working stiffs.
Back to Hostess. A few years ago Hostess went through Chapter 11 reorganization. The unions agreed to pay and benefit cuts in order for the company to survive. Then Hostess was purchased by some private equity investors and new management put in place---none with food service experience but instead, financial engineers. And what was one of the first things the new team did? They doubled their pay and took seven figure incomes. I remember that in officer training we were taught that an officer never eats until the last enlisted man has eaten, and he never sleeps until the last enlisted man has a place to sleep. That is leadership 101. But the Hostess management team went the other direction. While their company was failing they demanded that the workers take cuts while they took more out for themselves. And from what I have read, the management did nothing to try and offset the changes in American eating habits, which was shifting to healthier food products. The big boys made no effort to enter the export market in a meaningful way, something they could have done considering that the product has preservatives that would not have impeded shipping, and they made no effort to produce goods that the public wanted. No, it was too easy to clean the company out at the top and tell the bakers, drivers, and other workers to eat the crumbs that they were only too lucky to get. They overlooked the simple fact that owners and workers have a symbiotic relationship, and setting the example at the top, talking and working with your people, taking care of those that do the daily routines, can produce amazing results. Delta is an example. There are many other unsung American companies that understand good management and good leadership, that they are all in it together, and that happy workers are productive workers.
The income disparity between the C - level managers and employees has grown from roughly 40:1 in the early 1980s to 300:1 today. If anyone thinks that this is healthy, that it is making America better, so be it. I couldn’t disagree more. We grew the largest middle class in history during and after WW II. This substantially contributed to the economy and benefited everyone. Middle class people could afford to send their kids to college, to buy homes, to own two cars, and contribute to the economic growth of our great country. Upward mobility jobs with rewarding careers were the American way of life if you were willing to work for it. With less disposable income today for the middle, there is less money being spent, and our consumer economy is hurting badly. It will get worse if better heads don’t prevail and figure out that we are all in this together, that we don’t ever want to become a nation of haves and have nots, that companies like Hostess could have survived, that Hostess is just a microcosm of a very bad trend.