Saturday, February 25, 2006

Musings and Figure Skating babes!

OK, OK, enough feeling sorry for myself. Time to buck up, dig in and get back to the normal buffoonry............I recognize that there are stupid people in the world. I choose not to be one of them.

Looking around the news its clear there are lots of stupid people still out there. Consider:

Arabs- Can't live with them, can't kill them fast enough. If the news is to be believed, Iraq is on the verge of civil war. Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia there was a major terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia

Meantime other Arabs are seeking to kill America in other ways, namely economically. " Just business as usual", the powers that be are saying. Others argue that we are slighting a valued ARAB ally in the war on terror. P&O was a historic British company after all, there was already foreign ownership of our ports.

I'll have more on the port deal at a later date. Suffice it to say, that as racist as it may sound, there are no Arab allies, only people we do business with at specific points in time. Arabs are still Arabs and one should never forget that. This is about making the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Wait till the "guest worker" deal goes through and the P&O can hire Sri Lankan stevedores at 40% of what they pay now. That's the other shoe out there waiting to drop. Lou Dobbs had a good show about it this morning. Ben Stein comments better than I:

Guest Column: 2 Cents' Worth: What Are We Fighting For?
By Ben SteinThe New York Times
Friday, February 17, 2006

In the tiny room where I write, there is a framed diploma awarded to my late father-in-law, Dale Denman Jr. of Arkansas. It is from the U.S. MilitaryAcademy, dated June 6, 1944. Next to that is a display case with two little stars awarded to my father-in-law for bravery. One is a Silver Star that he earned in Europe several months after he graduated. Next to it is a Bronze Star that he earned in Vietnam in 1966.

I have been thinking a lot lately about these heirlooms because of some mail I have been getting about the way high-ranking executives have been treating their employees and stockholders. Several people sent clippings describing how UAL, the parent company of United Airlines, provided Glenn Tilton, who was living in San Francisco when it hired him as chairman and chief executive, with a suite in a luxury hotel when he spent time at its headquarters in Chicago. UAL was paying for the suite while it was reorganizing its finances under bankruptcy court protection and telling tens of thousands of workers that their jobs had been eliminated, their pay cut, their pensions terminated or all of the above because the company was broke. Now UAL has emerged from bankruptcy with an allowance of hundreds of millions of dollars for its top executives.

Some letters pointed out that the UAL board includes Robert Miller, chief executive of Delphi, the auto parts maker. Delphi also recently entered bankruptcy, and it proposed to the bankruptcy court a retention payment of well over $100 million to its top executives. Miller has told Delphi's workers that they will have to take pay cuts of roughly two-thirds in order to save the business. But the communication that kept me awake at night was from a U.S. Army sergeant who has done two combat tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan and is now home in Georgia training others to serve in those conflicts. He simply asked, "Was this what I was fighting for in Iraq?"

The question haunts me, not only because of UAL and Delphi but also because there is something deeply broken about the corporate system in America. Long ago, my father was friendly with Harlow Curtice, the president of General Motors in its glory days in the 1950s. Curtice presided over a spectacularly powerful and profitable GM. For that, he was paid about $400,000 plus, in a peak year, a bonus of $400,000, which made him one of the highest-paid executives in America. At that time, a GM line worker with overtime might have made $10,000 a year. In those days, that differential was considered very large - the chief executive's pay being roughly 40 times that of the assembly line worker without bonus, roughly 80 times with bonus. A differential of 10 to 20 times was more the norm. Now chief executives routinely take home hundreds of times what the average worker is paid, whether or not the company is doing well. The graph for the pay of chief executives has shown a vertical line in the last five years. The graph for workers' pay shows a flat line - in every sense.

My fellow capitalists might well say: "Stop your whining. This is the free market at work." Only it isn't. For centuries, the idea has held that the stockholders own the company, and the directors are its trustees. But what has happened is that - as in a corrupt, failed third world state - the owners in too many cases are captives of the chief executive and his colleagues. The directors are a sort of praetorian guard, protecting management from its real bosses, the stockholders, as management sucks the blood out of the company. Government, meanwhile, does next to nothing. Courts, especially bankruptcy courts, do nothing. And the employees and stockholders and the whole society are looted. In the capitalist society, the most basic foundation is trust. But in today's world, trust is abused, mocked, drained of meaning. I am not talking everywhere, by any means. I work with many businessmen and businesswomen, and a huge majority are honest and amazingly hard-working. But enough are not that it takes its toll on the rest of us.

More than 100,000 Americans are fighting far from home. They are fighting for a vision of a just and decent society. Meanwhile, back home, the looters are running wild and taking the meaning out of that vision. If President George W. Bush is searching for an issue, I might suggest this: common decency for workers and savers and investors, and an end to the hideous breaches of trust that build
great mansions in the country but wreck a free society.

Ben Stein is a lawyer, writer, actor and economist.

I digress.

Meanwhile in Asia there is good news and bad news. In the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo imposes martial law, but calls it something else.

Surely you don't expect me to get the country to work?

In Japan though there is good news for the country and the S.O. has been reminding me of it incessantly.

"Shizuka Arakawa won Japan's first ever Olympic gold medal in women's figure skating with an elegant long program while American Sasha Cohen and Russian Irina Slutskaya made critical errors to take themselves out of contention tonight in the Olympics' signature event."---From the New York Times.

Its been all over the Japanese news. Its Japan's only medal of the games to date.

No beer today, still taking medication that does not mix well with beer. Sigh! Bet you didn't think I could do without.........



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