Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An ounce of prevention...

I see that many are hailing the President’s recent “tax rebate” as a brilliant stroke of financial daring-do. Those people, of course, are morons.

The US economy started to go south in February. Since then gasoline prices have gone up over 20% and inflation has already eroded much of the potential gain of such a “stimulus”. By summer, nobody will remember the money they got or what the hell they spent it on. The stimulus will be as effective as spitting in the ocean.

The idea behind this bold economic action is that people will essentially go out and “blow” the money on crap at Wal-Mart. This is truly an amazing concept to me; that the core economy of the largest economic power in the world is based on people mindlessly buying consumer crap. With dwindling world natural resources and stagnating wage growth, just exactly how sustainable is that?

Independent analysts believe that roughly the same percentage of people who DIDN’T vote for George Bush will put their tax rebate into reducing their personal debt. Of course, it is then assumed that shoppers, with now lower credit card balances, will run back out the following months and rack up more debt. They are probably right. I have low expectations of most of Moron America, and seldom do they fail to meet them.

Of course people can create their own personal economic stimulus package simply by grabbing their credit card and spending more money they don’t have anyway. That is exactly what the Bush administration is proposing anyway; except he’s using the US Treasury’s Master Card to help us all relieve a little pent-up consumer demand.

Hey, our national budget deficit is now already the largest ever in our history; so what’s the harm in racking up a little more national debt? Either way, whether you pull the money from the US Treasury or your credit card, it’s all eventually going to have to be paid back. Take your pick, monthly installment payments or higher taxes.

So whether you receive $300, $600 or ever $1,200 in economic aid, just remember, $165,000,000,000 has just been added to our tax bill. Oh well, you could always just make the minimum payment.

Try to smile: Dave Barry’s FAQ on the Economic Stimulus Payment

Friday, April 25, 2008

Suck on this!

In yet another excellent example of soulless corporate profit-seeking, the blood thinning drug, Heparin, had to be recalled off the market by the FDA - The drug, manufactured in China, is alleged to have been intentionally contaminated to increase profits.

Let me try to wrap my brain around this concept: Contaminating a drug to increase profits, hmmm. I wonder, have the morons at Baxter International done any market research on the potential of marketing rat poison to babies? Maybe they could market Heparin to states that still impose death by lethal injection. Last I heard, people flock to buy products that KILL THEM, right?

This story has been running in the national news for several days now. Even NPR has had several articles on this story. But everyone, including NPR, I think has missed the bigger story here: WHY in god’s name are we importing drugs of ANY kind from China??!!??

Isn’t China the country that sends us lead-tainted children’s toys, computer batteries that explode, faulty appliances that catch fire… and the list goes on?

I don’t mind it too much that China exports cheaper microwave ovens, plastic salad-tossers or AK-47 knock-offs. But I have one BIG God dam concern about importing stuff from them that we put in our bodies! China has shown in the past that they will do anything and say anything to join the world market. They don’t care how they get there. Remember, China is still a communist controlled dictatorship… and Americans hate dictatorships (unless, of course, there are profits to be made by partnering with them).

Besides the big pharmaceuticals already don’t want us importing drugs, you know, like from Canada… because imported drugs are CHEAPER than buying them here! Busloads of senior citizens book charters up to Canada for drug store runs, coming back with needed medications at a fraction of the cost they would pay here. The big drug companies have successfully lobbied congress to keep citizens from obtaining cheaper drugs abroad. We agree - our pharmaceuticals need to be made here in the good ol’ USofA.

Yes, it’s cheaper to manufacture drugs in China, we understand. But aren’t huge profit enough; does your greed really compel you to need them to be “astronomical”?

I think there is a simple cure for this problem; a law that says every CEO, board member and senior executive must take a regular dose of the drugs they import! It all seems pretty simple... And if they are good little boys and take their medicine, we will give each of their grandchildren a cute little lead-painted Thomas the Tank engine to suck on.

Monday, April 21, 2008

And now... a word from our sponsors.

I recently heard Hollywood director/writer Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) speak at a local film festival about the struggle independent filmmakers have of getting their films to the public. Mostly due to the big media conglomerates, Sony, Viacom, Time Warner and the like who pretty much control what we see on TV, in theaters and on DVD. And greasing the skids of these oligarchies are the astronomical profits these companies net from advertising.

I grew up with commercials on broadcast TV. They weren’t that bad. OK, well maybe having doctors cooing about how “smooth” Lucky Strike cigarettes were was a bit much; but the commercials usually were over in a couple of minutes. Besides, we all knew that commercials were the price we paid for "free" television. It certainly seemed like a bargain at the time.

But Cox pointed out how the television “hour” has been steadily eroding, almost a minute per year. Today an hour of TV programming runs 42 minutes. That means almost a third of an hour long TV show consists of commercials. Most boob-tube Americans haven’t noticed – but I have. And it’s causing me to abandon television.

In the mean time the network executives are wondering why viewership is falling. Of course they are,
these companies are paying millions to white-haired bone-heads who can barely figure out how to attach to their e-mail. Revenues are falling. The fix? We need more advertising revenue. Dumb asses.

Even Katie Couric is likely soon to get her pink slip. Seems that elusive “younger audience” the stodgy execs were trying to attract don’t watch network TV news, preferring instead to get their news from the Internet or Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart.

In actuality, advertising volume has made TV become unwatchable. We now tape the shows we want to watch, playing them back when we do our morning exercises. I can watch two half-hour shows now while jogging with one thumb on the “Fast Forward” button.

I’ve stopped going to movie theaters now also. Why do I want to pay $8.00 to see Coke and Toyota commercials before the feature? If the theaters are getting all this advertising revenue, why don’t they pay ME to sit and watch this crap?

Even DVD’s have commercials now… with the “Menu” option conveniently suppressed so you can’t skip ‘em. The only thing that doesn’t have advertising on it today is toilet paper… and I have heard that it was seriously considered.

The joke ultimately will be on the media moguls and advertising wonks – Americans are losing ground, the middle class is shrinking. The people staring at TV’s are spending more of their hard-earned cash on housing, utilities, gasoline… corporate America is leeching the living blood out of their own consumers, if not outright just laying them off. People are increasingly unable to pony up the "disposable" income to afford the crap being pushed... provided they can even find the product within the deluge of advertising that assails our brains from all directions.

I’ll have more to say about this important issue… but first, a word from our sponsors.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Death awaits you all with nasty big pointy teeth.

The quotation, spoken by the wizard, Tim, from Monty Python’s “Search for the Holy Grail” reminds us that death for American prisoners awaits them at the pointy end of a hypodermic needle. Tim is not one of the US Supreme court justices, thankfully.

Our wise and just Supreme Court recently ruled 7 to 9 that death by lethal injection is legal according to our US Constitution. Justice Stevens agreed with the majority that the procedure itself, which was the basis of the court’s ruling, was not unconstitutional. However, the 88 year old justice added to his opinion: "the risk of executing innocent defendants can be entirely eliminated by treating any penalty more severe than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as constitutionally excessive."

To my mind, I a nation that is apparently so strongly turning evangelical Christian, I find it the height of hypocrisy that these same people support the death penalty. But they do in droves. No cute little baby fetuses should die, but those nasty ugly criminals, well, nasty big pointy teeth await you all. Aren’t these the same religious zealots who want the Ten Commandments nailed to the walls of courtrooms? Right, I mentioned hypocrisy already in this paragraph. What would Jesus do? Have them drop their pants and turn the other
“cheek”, I guess. Ok Ok, I’ve made my hypocrisy point.

For the rest of us who are not mindless religious drones, our standing in free world as a bastion of justice and liberty should be an embarrassment. The countries with the highest executions for capital crimes in 2007 were (in order) China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, USA and Iraq. And the US numbers were actually down in 2007 as executions were placed “on hold” waiting for the Supreme Court decision. How proud we must be to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on this issue with other freedom-loving countries such as China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. When I was a kid, my Mom wouldn’t allow me play with kids like that.

The truth is that the American justice system has had some rather remarkable and increasingly frequent “oops” moments. DNA or other exculpatory evidence is increasingly coming to light forcing the release of incorrectly convicted criminals. It seems like every month or so is yet another story about some guy who served 23 years in prison based on the testimony of a single hop-head spurred on by an overly-zealous prosecutor. It stands to reason that it is highly likely that this country has executed innocent people. Yes, I grant you that some of these innocents are pretty nasty guys; mean, tough, lying SOBs. I won’t any lose sleep over these guys spending the rest of their lives in prison.

Oh, but you say, the death penalty acts as a deterrent. This is the argument of a moron. Criminals in general either have lost, or never have developed, the capacity to project the consequences of their actions. Most are acts of impulse while others either believe, or don’t bother to put in the thought process, that they will ever get caught. Nobody stands there and ponders, “Hey, I better not stab this guy or I could get the death penalty”.

I would rather have the US join the ranks of the “civilized” countries - all of Europe, (including Turkey), Canada, Mexico, parts of South America, Australia; you know, the countries where Democracy rules!!

The fact is that anything we as a Nation say in any world forum is tainted by how we treat our own criminals at home. How can this country be the world spokesman for freedom, justice and equality when we kill our prisoners like totalitarian countries the likes Libya, Qatar, Cuba and Somalia?

The Statue of Liberty should be hanging her head in shame.


Monday, April 7, 2008

The perils of being an Infrequent Flyer.

I am not a frequent flier by any stretch of the imagination; a couple of times a year we maybe get to Hawaii, Mexico, or Southern California, sometimes East coast. So we know the drill; we get to the airport in sufficient time to have our baggage x-rayed and snake through security.

I used to be a horrible traveler (as my poor wife can attest); fully annoyed with all the “inefficiencies” of airline travel. I would gripe and groan. Then 9/11 happened and they torqued the process down so bad! Well, I gave up. Now I’m a sheep. I stand in line, take off my shoes, and go with the proverbial flow. I even play a game with the metal detector; I try to go through without “beeping”, tossing my keys, change, watch into my coat pocket and rolling my belt into my shoe. I even wear Dockers instead my 501 Levi’s (button fly) when I travel. Just to play the metal detector game. I usually win.

But the one thing I can’t seem to avoid is the “Profilers”. These are the guys who used to be $10.00/hr Managers at Taco Bell but now have graduated to $10.75/hr security screeners with the TSA. After attending the half-day seminar and receiving a crisp diploma from the laser printer, these highly trained experts are placed strategically in airport concourses to divine terrorists out of the passengers before they get on the plane.

I would really like to get my hands on a copy of the secret Homeland Security “profile” documents - I have little doubt that somewhere in there is a composite picture of me under which it reads: “Watch for a guy who looks like THIS!” I swear to God, it seems like I get pulled out of line EVERY GODDAM TIME for the “extra” screening. I end up being the last guy on the plane, walking down the aisle with my shoes in my hands, passengers looking at me like I am some kind of, what… terrorist.

You see, I have a beard. Well that alone is going to set off alarms in any security arena! Not since Abe Lincoln has any self-respecting government law-and-order type EVER sported a beard. A beard screams sedition, radical, non-conformist… potential “trouble-maker”. The jeans and a t-shirt just make it worse.

A decade before 9/11, when US airport security was more of a joke than it is today, I was the subject of a serious security check at London’s Stanstead airport. Changing planes on our way to Paris, our stay in England wasn’t expected to be more than 45 minutes. But, before boarding the plane for Paris, I was pulled out of line.

Two big Brit security guys had me lean against the wall by my hands, spread-eagle; one watched as the other patted me down… thoroughly. I was aghast; I had never experienced such strict security measures before, certainly never in an American airport. When I got on the plane I realized why this happened. This part of the Stanstead terminal was the Ryan Air concourse; flights between England and Ireland. I guessed that my Irish surname likely profiled me as a wealthy Irish-American funneling support to the IRA… who knows?

I have kind of gotten used to it now. It is all part of the incredible price we pay to get someplace in hours that used to take our parents days. But every time they (supposedly) “randomly” pull me out of line to empty my pockets it makes me a bit sad; and disappointed in our country - because the security people who are supposed to protect us are dumber than the people who would really do us harm. They won’t look twice at the clean-shaven business man type in the suit and tie - they'll let Mr. clean-cut stroll onto that plane and we will have another sad, sad day in history.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Big Oil and Slick Politicians

American oil companies made no effort to hide the fact that they made over $123 Billion in net (1) profit this last year. What a surprise.

These obscenely high profits, though, pale in the light that congress has bestowed on these robber-barons close to $18 Billion in tax breaks. You see, as the oil companies will explain it, if they don’t have the tax “incentives” how can they afford to reinvest in developing more sources of energy, or alternative energies for that matter?

Uh... well how about using SOME of the Goddam $123 Billion profit!?! Hey, Mr. CEO, remember from your freshman year Business 101 class; “profit” is the money you made AFTER your expenses... you know, the cash you get to take home to your wife.

Oh wait… using “profit” to pay for your private helicopter, the vacation house in Bimini and the diamond broach for your mistress doesn’t leave you much discretionary income left over to, say, lower your prices a bit or reinvest in your company. For that, you need ME, and the rest of working-schmuck America, to chip in and help you out. You need ME to pay more taxes so YOU don't have to. Right!

To its credit, Congress hauled the oil executives in front of hearings to have them explain this orgy of profit obscenity. Or was this action perhaps more of a dog-and-pony show for public consumption than any truly substantive effort to curb yet another display of corporate excess at consumer expense.

These congressional hearings brought to mind a memory from my childhood. My father was a Public Utility Commission staffer for the State of California. One time he took me to work with him on a day when they were having a trial. In this case, the State was trying to get the Southern Pacific railroad to install safety gates at a dangerous railroad crossing. I watched as the attorneys for Southern Pacific grilled my dad on the witness stand. The attorneys were very aggressive, forcing my dad to defend his position and attacking every iota of his testimony. I
worried, “These guys must really hate my dad!”

The judge interrupted the proceedings - the trial would continue after lunch break. As everyone packed their briefcases getting ready to head out, the same attorney who had been grilling my dad walked over, put his hand on my dad’s shoulder and amicably asked, “Well, Clyde, where do we want to go for lunch today?” I sat speechless as I watched my father and his adversaries laugh and talk like weekend buddies over lunch.

So I can picture, at the end of the congressional hearings about oil company profits, when the cameras ware switched off and the reporters leave, the oil company CEOs walking over to their supposed public inquisitors and asking, “Well, Senator, where would you like to go for lunch?”

So why are oil companies completely and totally unconcerned about disclosing their unrestrained bleeding of the American public? Because there is nothing anyone can, or will, do about it... and they know it!

(1) http://money.cnn.com/2008/04/01/news/companies/oil_hearing/index.htm?cnn=yes