Thursday, November 25, 2010

Washington, where turkeys abound

By Don Klein

In this uplifting celebratory season when we give thanks for the bountiful life we Americans have inherited there are millions who will be cutting back on festivities and gifts because the government has encouraged greedy industrialists to seek greater profits for their products by hiring foreigners to do the work once meant for Americans.

The practice is known as “outsourcing,” which is more accurately described as craven profiteering. It is unpatriotic to put your own people down in favor of outlanders.

Outsourcing is such an onerous practice that I decided some time ago I would embark on what once was considered a half-baked xenophobic practice called, “buy American.” Whatever I would buy from then on would have to be produced in this country or I would not buy it. Sounds reasonable? That would be my puny way of getting back at the cold-hearted business elite who are exporting American jobs.

Well I found it wouldn’t work too well. I would have little clothing to wear, great difficulty in watching television or calling someone on a cell phone, or even finding utensils for consuming my dinner. Buying American would leave me bereft of so much of what I need to live by, I would feel impoverished.

Everyone should be outraged about outsourcing, especially today with so many fellow citizens out of work or being underemployed elsewhere after being displaced from careers. It is another case of the moneyed guys making more money and the working people being left off to fend for themselves in a bleak economic environment.

A friend of mine, a doctor of philosophy in economics, once told me “it’s a good thing to let those who can produce at the lowest price be the suppliers of goods.” He said that made economic sense. My response was that that might be text book sense but not reality. I added that a major world power cannot exist without a manufacturing base. He shrugged his shoulders and said we have to learn to compete.

Compete? How do you do that when there are people willing to work at one-tenth the salaries that Americans have become accustomed to earning over decades.

It is difficult to get straight talk when looking into outsourcing. There is an unfortunate conflict off facts. Just the other day the president of MIT, Dr. Susan Hockfield, told television host Charlie Rose that 40 percent of the world’s manufacturing is US based. That is more than any other nation.

At the same time the immutable fact exists that more than 15 million Americans are out of work and millions more are employed at jobs that pay a fraction of what they once earned. The only explanation I have for this apparent conflict in “facts” is in the definition of terms.

Could it be that when Dr. Hockfield’s high numbers in manufacturing refer to tonnage (giant items like airliners and heavy ground moving equipment) or possibly she is speaking of costs of goods, while other nations are eating our lunch by exporting to us labor-generating cargoes like television sets, cell phones, autos and clothing?

It doesn’t matter because so much of Americana has been outsourced by short-sighted industrialists whose myopic vision is calibrated solely to the profit margin of the balance sheet. If they keep exporting jobs overseas who will be left in this country to buy the multitude of goods that are pouring into our shops from cheap-labor nations?

Certainly it is prideful to know your country makes the most desired airliners available as well as most of the large agricultural and construction equipment that is sold anywhere. Other large US foreign exchange products are films and television shows pumped out of Hollywood almost daily.

These selective victories do little to help the unemployment problem. The manufacturing loss is painful. The knowledge that the Rawlings baseballs we all grew up playing with on the local sandlot are now made in Costa Rica is one that makes me gag.

That is not all. Most of the power shoes from Converse, Rockport and others which have become as much a part of American life as bagels and cream cheese are not made in the US. Even the omnipresent Mattel toys and most other playthings that American kids love are made in China.

You think you are buying an American-made vehicle when you buy a car from General Motors, Ford or Chrysler but the chassis for many of these models are made elsewhere.

Americans built the most extensive and efficient railroad system in the world but today would have to import Manganese turnouts if they wish to expand or improve the rail lines in the country.

Traditional vending machines at every bowling alley and filling station are no longer made in this country as are Levi jeans, Dell computers and even canned sardines. The four-wheeled red wagon I dragged behind me when I was a child is no longer an American product.

Even the Internal Revenue Service reportedly has outsourced some of its tax work to India and the Defense Department uses foreign contractors to provide services to military forces throughout the world.

To rub salt in the unemployment wound the government offers tax breaks to American companies operating in other lands. Is there no spunk left in government?

When the Tea Party shouts they “want their country back” and then focuses on rescinding health care and reducing entitlements they are looking in the wrong direction. Yes, I want my country back from those in foreign lands making a living off the jobless Americans they displaced in the work force.

It is disgraceful that Washington continues to allow widespread outsourcing. It seems the biggest turkeys this Thanksgiving will not be found on the dinner tables, but in Congress.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bad times for journalists

By Don Klein

My old journalism professor smugly reminded us bright eyed students that no one really enjoys freedom of the press except the publishers of newspapers. Today that holds true for owners of radio and television companies as well.

That might explain why the bosses at MSNBC came down so hard on Keith Olbermann for breaking a work rule that many believe was unjust to begin with. When it comes to political donations only the bosses are free to make commitments.

The Supreme Court saw to that when it ruled earlier this year that corporations have the right to secretly donate any amount to support political candidates. But when TV commentator Olbermann donated $7,200 to three Democratic candidates in the recent election he was summarily suspended “indefinitely” by MSNBC.

Although I don’t particularly care for the snarling, sneering, antagonistic journalism practiced by Olbermann, nevertheless I believe MSNBC was wrong in suspending him for exercising his sacred right as an American citizen.

Most of the time I agree with Olbermann’s stances and believe he is an excellent foil for the reactionary mouthpieces on conservative Fox Network but, as already mentioned, I am not fond of his style. He has my political head but loses my heart with his antics.

Obviously, the network realized that it did not do itself any favor by suspending him and lifted his “indefinite” ban after just two broadcast days. I suppose the 250,000 listeners who signed a petition demanding Olbermann’s return had its effects on management.

Also I would hope they realized that no employer has the right to establish work rules that deny anyone their legal right to support political candidates of his/her choice.

Having said that, allow me to add that I object to the way Sarah Palin was treated in a story heavily criticizing her by a number of unnamed GOP sources as carried online by Politico. I don’t like Palin and believe she is an awful example of the worst in the American political environment today, but I dislike hidden hatchet jobs using masked marauders as sources.

I know occasionally anonymous sources are important to gathering news especially in the secret environment that now exists in many organizations. Certainly confidentiality is a necessary evil when writing about criminal activities, corporate corruption or governmental malfeasance and whistle blowers deserve protection from retaliation as the price for their cooperation.

However, this protection should not be extended to people seeking political advantage by telling malicious stories to gain favor or to scuttle the opposition. Anyone who has information that should be put into the public domain ought to have the gumption to identify themselves so we can evaluate the source of their claims.

I think newspaper and broadcast news editors should apply strict rules for using unnamed sources in major stories because of the tendency for unfair political gain. Many editors are careful about such matters but it still happens too often.

Palin was maligned by unknown sources and had the right to be ticked off. There are plenty of good reasons to confront Palin as a harmful element in our national politics and we need brave people to step up and do so. Journalists should never become back fence gossipmongers.

There is a third media story that bothered me recently. That was the firing of Juan Williams by NPR for describing on air his negative reaction to boarding an airliner which included passengers in Muslim garb. Williams was expressing an opinion held by millions of Americans and felt justified by the many instances of terror attacks committed by Muslims here and abroad.

Many believe Williams was fired for other reasons and that NPR used the Muslim remark as a convenient cause of the moment. I lean to the belief that his superiors at NPR did not like his frequent appearances on Fox News as a contributor which they felt reflected badly on them.

If that was the case they should have told him to stop or resign and let him make the decision. NPR can be considered a competitor of Fox and demand that someone on their payroll not share his talents with a rival. To blame his dismissal on his Muslim comment is being devious.

Getting back to the point of journalists with personal political opinions, I don’t think there should be any restrictions on supporting anyone they please as does every other private citizen as long as their professional work is honest, fair, and does not favor anyone or thing other than the truth.

If you are a liberal and have an extremely conservative doctor treating you, the only thing that matters is how well he takes care of your medical needs. He has to maintain professional perfection. He has to have your good health in mind and you won’t care one twit about his political leanings.

We’ve all heard the saying that in combat, GIs don’t care if the soldier sharing his foxhole is a conservative or a liberal as long as they cover each other. The same is true in civilian life and a reporter who writes fair and accurate stories is not to be feared by readers or restrained by their employers when it comes to his personal choices.

Commentators like Olbermann are different. They are paid to have strong opinions and be crusty promoters of causes. In such cases it is even more outlandish to punish him for showing his preferences by donating to certain candidacies. The MSNBC practice to have rules restricting editorial personnel from supporting political candidates when it pleases them is iniquitous.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Have a good day!

By Don Klein

When I was a teenager I attended dances hoping to meet the "right" girl. I never did and got to the point that I lowered my expectations because I knew nothing special would evolve.

Today’s politics reminds me of those feverish adolescent times. No matter which party is in power it would be wise to lower expectations.

Even though the Democrats triumphed in spectator form just two years ago, today they are on the ropes. Although it was a shellacking, as President Obama put it, it could have been much worse if the Republicans had been diligent and selected more sober candidates instead of the ill-natured Tea Party prospects.

It was not necessarily an election the Republican won as it was an election the Democrats lost – through no fault other than their own. No matter who gets the credit or blame, the fact is the power in Washington has changed.

The mystery to me is why had the Democrats, who accomplished quite a bit in a short period of time, failed to act as if they were proud of their handiwork. Not one Democrat to my knowledge (who was running for office) ever mentioned the centerpiece of their success – the national health bill.

Neither did they talk openly about the new financial regulations they passed, nor any of the environment efforts, nor the tax cuts for working people that were made, nor such attractive matters as the children’s health bill.

Much of the good they did was ridiculed and mocked by the Republicans as viciously as the swift boat veterans attacked Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign, with the same result. No competent response from the Democrats. They took blow on the chin after blow and expected the voters to figure out the whole complicated subject matter by themselves.

The Democrats were not nearly as aggressive as the GOP in standing up against wild claims of legislative excesses. Obama was as much to blame as the rest of the party essentially because he did not wake up to the facts of the failing campaign until much too late.

I cannot understand the outrage over national health care since the public was clearly misled. The law would reduce, not increase, medical costs, and would include millions more Americans than are now covered. Anyone would think it a win-win situation except those committed to partisan contention.

The worst factor in the law was the lack of a public option to force insurance companies to play straight with clients. Then the delay of full implementation until 2014 made its impact hardly noticeable today. These were factors the Democratic leadership in the Senate conceded in hopes of getting bipartisan support.

The Republicans outsmarted the timid leadership and after squeezing out these concessions refused to vote for the bill anyway. Mark that as an early GOP victory.

That may be considered water under the bridge but it is an indication of how superficial was the Democrats support for the issue. They gave health care much lip service, never in campaigns oddly, and applied little intestinal fortitude to the subject and sowed the seeds of their eventual defeat at the polls.

Many youthful Obama voters who stayed home would have voted were they not disgusted by the lack of fight put up by the administration and Senate Democrats during the heath care and other debates. Add to this to the scarce effort to solve joblessness, and there is a prescription for defeat.

They acted in similar wishy-washy ways in everything they did, claiming they were seeking bipartisanship, which never materialized. They rejected advice to shift into high gear and force the whole package and not try to compromise with people who vowed not to work with them.

The definition of stupidity is to continuously expect different results from the same failed policy. If you keep knocking your head against a wall you will soon suffer more than just a severe headache.

It would be just if only the Democrats were the ones with the headache but unfortunately the headache will spread to all of us with the possible except of the wealthy. Now we have a GOP controlled House of Representatives, a Senate still under Democratic rein although with less of a majority, and a Democrat in the White House.

Despite all the talk about working together, do not believe it. The 2012 presidential campaign has already started and little comity can be expected from the two parties.

The Republicans want to retake the White House and will do everything they can to upset the Obama applecart. The next two years will witness the House passing bills that the Senate will kill. If a House bill should somehow make itself past the Senate, the president will veto it and the GOP will not have enough votes to override it.

It will mean more gridlock. More ineffective government. More citizen dissatisfaction with Washington. And all those who voted the incumbents out this year because of lack of progress will be beside themselves trying to figure out how to get Congress to work for the people again.

Meanwhile the environment will worsen, China and India will be strengthened economically, the US will go into deeper debt, unemployment will eventually ease up but millions will be forever damaged by job loss, and attempts will be tried to restrict our personal freedoms. And everyone in Washington will blame the other guy.

Eventually we will all lower our expectations as I did many years ago and government will drone along like an aloof sleepwalker. Our children will grow up to leave the country to find work in Africa and Asia because most American businesses will be outsourced.

The American century of dominance will end with a whimper like the British Empire expired almost a century ago.

Have a good day.