March 2008

Following Boston Herald’s columnist Howie Carr’s latest piece “Bio hazard: Gov’s book deal exposes him as author-tunist” there is a top ten list of suggested titles for Gov. Deval Patrick’s (D-MA) new book. I feel honored that my submission, American Idle, came in first!

Funny, ironic titles aside, it strikes me as an example of suspension of disbelief that the hapless governor of Massachusetts can actually fill a book with his life accomplishments to act as an inspiration for others. Given what I’ve witnessed so far from this man as my governor, I can’t imagine that he was ever a raging success at anything else that he did in his “career”.

If he plans to use his election as Massachusetts governor and his “accomplishments” while in office, then this book deal is probably a tad premature. The only situation that I compare this book deal to is one where an unknown mountaineer announces that he is going to climb super-peak K2. He buys all the climbing gear required, hires the Sherpas, flies to Nepal and then, with mountain remaining unclimbed, decides to write a book about his experiences thus far. Probably not a very exciting or inspiring tome. It will come up just a little short of a conclusion — an accomplishment. Sort of the ultimate cliffhanger, n’est pas?

So welcome to the new book from Governor Patrick. The true American Idle! I betcha if you call Barnes and Noble or Borders that they’ll put his book on reserve for you right away!!

NBC peacock

It seems that NBC News wins my coveted “Biased Media Outlet of the Week” award. NBC won because of the efforts of Tim Russert and Keith Olbermann on “Meet the Press” And “The Countdown With Keith Olbermann” aired today (Sunday, March 30, 2008).

Tim Russert revealed a nuanced bias towards the media darling of all presidential candidates, Barak Obama during a round table analysis of the Democratic presidential primary race. He and his guests were analyzing the favorable/unfavorable ratings of the three remaining presidential candidates (Clinton, McCain, Obama). Mr. Russert mused that Sen. Clinton’s recent problem with the truth regarding her trip to Bosnia in the 1990′s cost her dearly in the polls. He was not that surprised (and neither were his guests) when the favorable/unfavorable polls for Sen. Obama scarcely moved as a result of his church/Rev. Wright imbroglio. He (and his guests) seemed to pooh-pooh the importance and relevance of this story in regards to the Senator’s ability to “lead”, “unite” and “heal”.

These poll results are not surprising to me! With the velvet glove treatment by the mainstream media (and NBC in particular) that Sen. Obama has enjoyed, it isn’t totally unexpected that he wouldn’t suffer because of his association with the racist Rev. Jeremiah Wright. That’s the whole intent of the media’s handling of the Senator, isn’t it? I mean if you treat him like he’s untouchable, then he’s untouchable. Right?

Russert and his cohorts today seemed to prove this theory. The media didn’t vigorously pursue Obama over the church/Wright story in the way that they did Mrs. Clinton for her stretching of the truth regarding Bosnia. In fact, it seems that several media outlets (including NBC) have apparently assigned an artificial “shelf life” to the Obama story: They simply won’t cover it any more. They’ve moved on to stories that put the Senator in a more positive light…like his escapades on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania.

Keith Olbermann is another story altogether! This is an odious individual who intersperses his rabid political biases with “real” news and political analysis. Part of his notoriety is that he rails against the Republicans and their supporters at Fox News. He also uses a self-styled witty and urbane cynicism to degrade or defame his media and political enemies. This was true today when he was defending Obama from a “barrage” of criticism from Rush Limbaugh for not being willing to cross the aisle to solve national problems. Olbermann cited several instances where Obama did some legislative aisle-crossing in order to get a bill or two passed. However, these bills dealt with foreign aid or military issues, not those affecting the average American citizen. But I guess this doesn’t matter if you’re a crazy-eyed true believer, and an unashamed, unabashed Obama apologist and supporter. The goal of his tirade wasn’t to per se prove Rush wrong, it was to make fun of Rush and demean him in a puerile, juvenile way. And, if Obama got a boost from the exercise…all the better!

NBC…DNC…the lines are blurring on a daily basis. With commentators the likes of Russert and Olbermann, news readers like Brian Williams and Hoda Kotb, and beat reporters like Lee Cowan (who has a WHOPPER of a man-crush on Barak Obama), the goals of the Democratic party are served quite well.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has raised the bar in what services and entitlements can be expected in the face of difficult times or disasters. It appears that the new expectation is free money! A recent AP story headline by John Moreno Gonzales warns that Katrina Victims May Have to Repay Money. My God, just think of the concept of repaying money that a person was loaned by the government or private organization. Have we advanced so far that we now absolve individuals from their financial obligations and responsibilities?

In his story, Mr. Gonzales portrays Katrina “victims” in a sympathetic and favorable light. The opening paragraphs pretty much set the tone for the remainder of the article:

Imagine that your home was reduced to mold-covered wood framing by Hurricane Katrina.Desperate for money to rebuild, you engage in a frustrating bureaucratic process, and after months of living in a government-provided trailer that gives off formaldehyde fumes you finally win a federal grant.

Then a collector announces that you have to pay back thousands of dollars.

Thousands of Katrina victims may be in that situation.

John Moreno Gonzales/AP Writer

Now if you borrow money, don’t you feel obliged to repay what you’ve borrowed? Or, if there’s been an overpayment in your favor (tax refund, change from a purchase, etc.) aren’t you remotely responsible for paying back the excess to the payee? This responsibility might seem a little outdated (a very early 20th century concept for sure!), but I think that it reveals a lot about the person for whom the windfall occurred. Apparently a lot of Americans (including John Moreno Gonzales) see nothing wrong with receiving money under the auspices of a loan and yet if they receive too much, for whatever reason, they simply are not responsible for repayment.

But reading further into the article:

A private contractor under investigation for the compensation it received to run the Road Home grant program for Katrina victims says that in the rush to deliver aid to homeowners in need some people got too much. Now it wants to hire a separate company to collect millions in grant overpayments.

The contractor, ICF International of Fairfax, Va., revealed the extent of the overpayments when it issued a March 11 request for bids from companies willing to handle “approximately 1,000 to 5,000 cases that will necessitate collection effort.”

The biggest grant amount allowed by the Road Home program is $150,000, so ICF believes it paid some recipients the maximum when they should not have received a penny. If ICF’s highest estimate of 5,000 collection cases – overpaid by an average of $35,000 – proves to be true, that means applicants will have to pay back a total of $175 million.

(ICF spokeswoman Gentry) Brann pointed out that 5,000 collections cases would represent a 4-percent error rate for the Road Home that is “quite good for large federal programs.”

Frank Silvestri, co-chair of the Citizen’s Road Home Action Team, a group that formed out of frustrations with ICF, sees it far differently.

“They want people to pay for their incompetence and their mistakes. What they need to be is aggressive about finding the underpayments,” he said. “People relied, to their detriment, on their (ICFs) expertise and rebuilt their houses and now they want to squeeze this money back out of them.”

“The state must walk a fine line of treating homeowners who have been overpaid with fairness and compassion and ensuring that all federal funds are used for their intended purpose,” said (Paul) Rainwater, an appointee of new Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Upon receiving money from Road Home, grantees sign forms that say they must refund any overpayments.

John Moreno Gonzales/AP Writer

Let me say that the folks affected by Hurricane Katrina have my sympathy…up to a point. After all, these folks chose to roll the dice when it came to their personal safety. I don’t think there was a single individual in New Orleans that didn’t know they were living in a large, earthen soup bowl whose bottom was many feet below sea level. The city and its residents have had previous brushes with disaster and near-disaster, so they have a history of what to expect when the laws of probability finally caught up with them. But being the “victim” of a natural disaster or other personal crisis doesn’t exempt a person from their responsibilities — like paying back an overpayment of funds. Just imagine what would happen to the US Treasury if the IRS gave up collecting tax underpayments or if they consistently issued refund overpayments.

The situation with the Road Home grants in New Orleans may be more rightly termed a gift: And gift giving is not a duty of the Federal or state governments. Gift giving is the handiwork of charity, regardless of the objections of folks like Mr. Moreno and Mr. Silvestri. They obviously think that because Road Home grant recipients are “victims” that they also deserve to be beneficiaries of mistakes.

This is wrongheaded thinking, much like that associated with the recently-passed economic stimulus package that was approved by the Congress. Some of the more generous members of Congress insisted that folks who never payed a penny in income taxes be eligible for the economic stimulus payment. In my view, this is a gift because these folks receive a benefit even though they never paid anything towards it. It is thinking like this that will eventually lead to the ultimate economic downfall of our government as it struggles and eventually fails to provide ever-increasing entitlements and payments to individuals who simply do not deserve them.

Monet MasterworkMy latest theory is that presidential candidates are like fine artwork paintings. Some are portraits; you see what you get and their facial expression says it all. Some are like still life; they have a certain pleasing aesthetic quality that is fully appreciated upon closer study. Some are landscapes; they reveal a detailed look at the subject but only at the time that the paint was laid down on the canvas.

Certain candidates have flaws that are not unlike the small cracks, chips and imperfections that appear on many of the works of the great Masters. The handlers of the candidates try their best to put their candidate, their artwork, in the best light to minimize the effect of the flaws on the viewing. Other handlers undertake a restoration effort, a political rehabilitation of sorts, to fill in the flaws and paint over the old damage. This sometimes works in a pinch, unless the restoration perceptibly changes and hence devalues the original piece.

I think that recent events have shown a particular candidate, Sen, Barak Obama, to be a masterwork that has been painted over by an amateur — the act of a person ignorant of the historical value past and monetary value of works of art, and desperate for any canvas to paint on. Or perhaps he’s just a counterfeit work that’s recently been appraised and accurately identified.

Regardless, he and/or his handlers have finally succeeded in making Sen. Obama an “artwork chameleon”. The picture within the frame changes on a frequent basis to suit the aesthetic of the situation. You might describe him as a work of modern performance art…a piece displayed on a large format LCD display. As a result, the picture may change at will and it will never show flaws (unless the artist intends for them to be seen). But this technology-driven art has a less-than-genuine and permanent feel to it. The viewer many appreciate the artistic effort when they view it while it is on display, but they’re not sure what they have and its value after they purchase it!

I’m afraid that Sen. Obama has taken on this LCD display persona. Rather than opting to be a candidate whose artistry has clearly defined textures, hues and shadings, he has chosen to try for a pleasing-to-all, flawless appearance. And I don’t think he’s succeeding very well.

A portrait that is cast in oils on canvas helps reveal the true aim of the artist. This has been true historically, when tempura and oils were the only media for artistic expression, as it is today when other technologically-driven means of expression are available. The painting on canvas is genuine, and it proudly and gracefully ages with time as an indication of the confidence of the artist and his unambiguous artistic intent. We hope for this genuineness with any piece of art, and in our presidential candidates too. It only adds value to the investment that we’ve chosen to make in them.

Unfortunately, given the recent revelations about and actions by Sen. Obama, we hoped for a museum quality masterwork, but all we got and are getting is an Etch-A-Sketch.

Oil WellThe top five reasons why oil (petroleum) costs what it costs today:

Curbs on US exploration and development by Congress,
Incredibly high world demand,
Incredibly high US demand,
OPEC production/price manipulations and,
State and federal taxes.

It’s not a very complicated situation in determining fault for our current pricing situation regarding petroleum products. We are demanding more oil and gas at a time when the available supplies are being strained. And we’re not doing anything to curb our petroleum appetite: We’re driving more than ever before and using more gas per capita than any time in our history.

It’s not like the supply of oil is going to dry up any time soon…there are tremendous American deposits in the Gulf of Mexico (in both shallow and deep water), in the continental US (both as oil and oil-shale-sand deposits), and in Alaska (in Prudhoe Bay, in the North Slope and in the mouth of the Cook Inlet). Why are we not exploiting these known reserves? The answer in a word is Congress! Historically, the Democrats in Congress have put the welfare of wildlife (elk and fish are notable favorites) before the welfare of their constituents.

Demand for petroleum products in hyper-developing nations (like China and India) is also driving the price of oil into the stratosphere. This situation is also creating a political dynamic around the world as suppliers take sides, as it were, to act upon both historical and contemporary grudges towards the US. Watching the USA twist in the wind regarding oil prices is delicious revenge for our political rivals, like Russia, and our enemies, like Venezuela.

During this time of oil price instability and political infighting, we US citizens haven’t been acting in our own advocacy regarding this situation. We use oil (gasoline) at a record rate, and we barely say a word to our representatives in Washington regarding opening up new sources of oil under US soil or waters. We seem satisfied to jam ourselves into tiny, fuel-efficient cars in lieu of speaking up in favor of new, vigorous oil and gas exploration. But even driving these fuel-efficient compacts, we haven’t learned to curb our insatiable appetite for gasoline. We cannot control ourselves — and as such we deserve the consequences! (One would think that record-high gasoline prices would serve to cause folks to economize. But this is not the case, as we drive and drive and drive…carping and complaining about the high price instead!)

OPEC bears a share of he blame for the high cost of gasoline. This cartel of oil producing nations manipulates the supply, and therefore the price, of the oil that they provide to the world’s markets. One can only hope that in time that free-market trade partners can help to dissolve this cartel, using resources that they produce and control and which are desirable to OPEC member nations. Wouldn’t it be fitting to see the birth of a software, computer or nanotechnology cartel to counter the usurious practices of OPEC?

State and federal taxes also add quite a bit of cost to the price that we eventually pay for gasoline. The American Petroleum Institute has a table of state-by-state gasoline taxes, and we find that the average tax is 47 cents per gallon. This tax, supposedly used for the noble purpose of infrastructure and pollution control, adds a considerable cost burden to the average US citizen. As if victims of a double whammy from our government: We are saddled with a not-so-insignificant gas tax on top premium-priced oil — caused in part by the wrongheaded policies of our Congress. And to add insult to injury, rather than act as advocates of our interests, the Congress seems fixated on oil/gas company profits (urged by those who despise the oil industry, particularly “environmentalists”) — even going so far as to enact special legislation to “punish” these corporations for being successful.

Finally, I purposefully left the final key reason that the cost of oil/gas is so high. Look in the mirror for this one! Oil is a commodity, traded on speculative financial markets. Being a commodity, it is a part of the investment (and perhaps retirement) portfolios of many US citizens. Since it is part of an investment, we investors wish the BEST return on this investment. Hence, traders speculate higher prices based on US and global demand AND supplies — both on spot and long term markets. So, in essence, we have ourselves in some measure to blame for the rising oil price conundrum! And if you add the punitive legislative measures by our Congress into the equation, we have additionally harmed ourselves with our choice of representative(s) and their actions regarding rising oil prices (or inaction as the case may be).

It is almost insulting to the average citizen that our representatives do not act in an advocacy role for our collective economic wellbeing. And their principal action to date regarding energy conservation and alternative energy, the outlawing of 100W incandescent light bulbs, is laughable yet so, so sad.

I’m not overly optimistic that we will see any concrete action by the Congress to improve our oil supply situation regarding US supplies. I am convinced that we will see more punitive measures for those bad, old oil companies and their wanton profits. And I’m also convinced that the Democratically-controlled Congress will allow gas prices to rise and rise and rise, without regard for the citizens they represent. They will do this for two reasons: to embarrass our incumbent President (in an effort to make this price increase “his”) and to help in influencing the outcome of the presidential election in November. Bad economic news, particularly an increase in gasoline costs, yield a visceral reaction from the electorate. And who better to blame than the candidate from the same party as the incumbent?

And if we stand for this without saying so much as a peep, shame on us and we deserve what we have to pay!

Usually, it’s the “Theater of the Absurd”…you know, life’s peculiarities and inanities played out before our eyes in the press or the media. We look at the situation and wonder “What the heck were they thinking”? Sometimes the players in the story just weren’t thinking, they were just unwitting participants or (to quote the philosopher Curley Howard) victims of circumstances.

But sometimes there are situations that are revealed and broadcast that have willing participants and venal, loathsome back stories. Such is the case of presidential candidate Barak Obama’s affiliation with the Trinity United Church of Christ, his longtime place of worship. It seems that the preachings and statements of the pastor of this church, The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., are more in line with a social provocateur and racial discord arsonist than a soul-saving preacher. I won’t repeat the infamous “preachings” of the Rev. Dr. Wright (they are available on the church’s website and many sites on the Internet), but after I have read them several times I am left dumbfounded with a single question: Why has Barak Obama subscribed to the philosophy of this clergyman and these incendiary, racist preachings for so long?

Sen. Obama by his own admission has been a long-time (over 20 years) attendee of this church in Chicago. In fact, he will make special trips back to Chicago to attend services. He was married by the R/D Wright, and both his children were baptized by this man in this church. One could safely assume that Sen. Obama has a lot of faith capital invested in this church and in this clergyman.

But the problem comes not with Sen. Obama attending church or worshiping according to the precepts of a particular religion. It comes with the vitriolic, racist and hateful (at least towards white Americans) preachings of the R/D Wright and Obama’s apparent subscribing to these “teachings”. This includes the Senator’s having become a signatory of the “Black Value System” as authored by Dr. Wright. This document, objectively read, sounds more like a white supremacist enlistment pamphlet than a document of faith in a church. If the word black was replaced with white in this document, and furthermore if the signatory were a white presidential candidate, then it doesn’t stretch the imagination much to suppose the indignation and outrage that would attend the public revelation of this fact.

Why isn’t this so regarding Barak Obama’s relationship with this church and with this preacher? Why didn’t the Senator, if he didn’t subscribe to the racist drivel being broadcast by the R/D Wright, just get up from his pew and leave during one of the preacher’s racially-charged sermons? Why hasn’t there been a public repudiation of any of the comments of the R/D Wright by the Senator, only mollifications and excuses?

Questions, questions, questions…with few answers and a perplexing set of actions from Obama. If one can say anything about Obama, it is that he is loyal. He still describes the Rev. Wright as his mentor and someone who centers him theologically. And he still diligently attends these church services in Chicago!

Sen. Obama is obviously smarter than this. To sit week after week at a church service where you disagree with the preacher is either crazy, intellectually dishonest or an act of blind faith. But to define these actions under the umbrella statement that a person can disagree with some of his church’s teachings but still attend services there in good conscience strains credibility and common sense.

I can’t help being dumbstruck by the continued, pretzel-like, political contortions that are being proffered by Obama and his supporters to explain away his continued allegiance to the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and the R/D Wright. If he were Barak Obama private citizen, his actions may be wrongheaded and odious…but this does little to offend others on a national or international scale. But his being Barak Obama, presidential candidate, changes all this. It changes the equation because his attendance indicates a major character flaw or sub-surface personal prejudice that must not be tolerated in a candidate for president of the United States.

We have vetted other candidates in the past and at present, and have excluded them from the field of contenders for apparent or perceived “sins” that were equivalent to or far less than those of Sen. Obama. If we are truly sincere in our societal beliefs that all men are created equal, then I call on the national media to properly and vigorously scrutinize and judge the actions of Sen. Obama in the same light that they would any other presidential candidate.

To do otherwise is an insult to the intelligence of the voting public, an affront to proper journalistic ethos and a suspension of proper journalism practice. And it bodes ill for us all that we could be seduced solely by charisma; neglecting facts and actions in the name of a cult of personality.

Or perhaps we’ve reached the perfected, rarefied point in our country’s history where possessing the correct political ideology and skin color trumps truth, logic and healthy skepticism. It is to our eternal discredit as a nation if this is ultimately proven true.

Another interesting point of contention to the recent Air Force award to build the new air tanker fleet to Northrup Grumman/EADS is the fact that neither company has NEVER produced an aircraft that is capable of in-flight refueling another! The selection of NG/EADS essentially guarantees that the USA will pay for the on-the-job training of a foreign supplier to acquire valuable military technology and skills.

Isn’t that nice?

Also, because of a past contract that was voided because of the hint of a “fix”, Boeing was encouraged to re-submit their 767-based tanker proposal…even though NG/EADS were encouraged to submit a proposal using a larger airframe. I believe, as do executives at Boeing, that if similar “encouragements” were given to both parties involved in the proposal, Boeing would have used the larger 777 airframe as the basis of their proposal. This would have provided a cost and size advantage to Boeing…and would have made their proposal more favorable.

But that wouldn’t be fair to EADS!

I’m still not happy with the contact award. And I’m not mollified one bit by the Air Force’s “comprehensive” evaluation…which overwhelmingly rated NG/EADS as superior to Boeing. It seems that experience with in-flight refueling (like Boeing has had for 50+ years) didn’t count for much in the “evaluation”.

There will be more to follow…I can’t let this issue go as I believe it is government-sponsored economic suicide!!! Hopefully members of Congress will find it necessary to investigate this contract award, and to get some better answers than the public has been given to date.