Monthly Archives: February 2012
One thousand nine hundred four. That is the number of US servicemen and women who have been killed in Afghanistan since we first went into that wretched country more than 10 years ago. It would have been less were it not for the act of an Afghan soldier who assassinated two Americans this week as protest to the perceived affront to Islam over the burning of religious material that contained a copy of the Koran. This has happened before when the Reverend Terry Jones of Florida burned the Koran. Two other US soldiers died after being shot by an Afghani policeman. We train our so-called allies in Afghanistan to defend their own country against the Neanderthal Taliban. We liberated them from their tyranny only to have them offer this as token of their esteem for our sacrifice.
The Afghanis are rioting outside the Bagram airbase north of Kabul. American and NATO soldiers are on the run from irate crowds. Some elected Afghan officials are calling for jihad against the infidel occupiers. And even President Hamid Karzai is taking a very biased tone, waiting for an investigation that will prosecute the perpetrators “through an open trial.”
Apologies are rampant from the US side as General John R. Allen, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force, issued a statement addressed “To the noble people of Afghanistan.” If you watch the video, General Allen looks as if he is reading the letter under duress. And perhaps he was. Our President, Barack Obama, also issued an apology to Mr. Karzai, saying, in part, “We will take appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.”
Responsible for what action, I ask? It is Mr. Karzai who should be apologizing to the US and NATO for being unable to control his own military and police forces. It is Mr. Obama who should be apologizing to the American people for aiding and abetting an alliance with a corrupt and powerless country that requires constant appeasement so that our service members, the best and brightest of their generation, may fight and die. For what? So that Mr. Karzai and his family can continue to pad their personal bank accounts around the world? So that corrupt officials can continue to skim off the top of American largesse? So the annual cash crop of heroine that our soldiers walk through but cannot destroy can find its way to the shores of the United States to poison our youth and corrupt our society?
WikiLeaks released memos from the current US ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, who described the Afghan President in derogatory tones. Eikenberry believed that Karzai would continue to blame everyone else but himself for the troubles in his country. Said Eikenberry, “Indeed his inability to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state-building and his deep seated insecurity as a leader combine to make any admission of fault unlikely, in turn confounding our best efforts to find in Karzai a responsible partner.”
A recent editorial in the New York Times both condemned US forces for their insensitivity after ten years of war in Afghanistan and urged President Karzai to remind the Afghan people of the extreme sacrifices the NATO forces have made on their behalf to rid them of Taliban repression. The Times is right to admonish Karzai but wrong, dead wrong, on scolding US troops for insensitivity. Even an act of intentionality would not warrant the reaction that is being fomented in Afghanistan.
I do so wish that we had a veteran running for President this November. Or at least someone who understood danger or trauma; who understood what it meant to “have someone’s back” when times were tough and dangerous. That is a quality I expect from my Commander-in-Chief. President Obama should “have our soldiers back” right now. Instead, he is apologizing. He has his commanders in the field apologizing. He is prepared to find a sacrificial lamb to flay on the altar of political correctness. The 1,904 American soldiers, and the 999 NATO troops who have died in a war directed by the American Commander-in-Chief, are owed a debt much greater than is being paid to them now.
I would much prefer that the President of the United States of America show at least as much courage in the face of criticism towards those American troops who bear arms under his direction than the obscene obsequiousness shown to a petty dictator in a far away land.
I am counting the days to November 6. Are you?
In a very visceral manner, there is something deeply troubling to me about the country these days. The dismal economy is taking a toll on Americans in a way unseen since perhaps the days of the Dustbowl. I recently flipped through John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” Is it me or is there a resurgence of Okies in America? Far too many people remain out of work. Far too many people fear for their jobs. Far too many people have lost hope and lost confidence. They no longer can look in a mirror without questioning the meaning of their entire lives. They sense judgment in other people’s eyes as they are forced to swallow their pride and put out their hand. First it is from their friends, then their community and finally, their government. In the words of John Steinbeck, “Okie means you’re scum. Don’t mean nothing itself, it’s the way they say it.”
A recent front-page story in the New York Times recounted tales of once proud conservative Americans in Minnesota. They were the type who never would support taking entitlements. They do now. The affect such charity on their souls is palpable. These are the same sort of Midwesterners of which Steinbeck wrote. They were guilt ridden and unsure if they would ever get off the dole. They qualify for Earned Income Tax Credits. Their pride is crushed as they accept school lunches for their children. Said the Times article, “…they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it.”
Some might call these entitlements a gravy train. In many cases, that is true. In the very same article a man described people who paid for their $400 tattoos with government disability checks. Ironically, the sister of that very tattoo artist was receiving disability payments and living in an assisted living facility.
Governor Romney had to remove his foot from his mouth when he said that he did not worry about the poor in America because they had an effective safety net. Crude as the remark sounded; there is a good deal of truth in that statement. There are many comprehensive programs to deal with the poorest among us. Here is the interesting fact, however: the poorest in America, the lower quintile, are receiving a far smaller share of entitlement spending than they did in 1980 when they received more than one half of entitlement spending. It is down to about one third. The middle quintile, those proud members of blue collar America, has actually seen their share grow by fifty percent.
What that tells me is that the poor remain so but are being joined by middle class families sliding down the scale to meet them in despair.
Ironically, statistics show that support for conservative Republican runs higher in States where government benefits outweigh taxes. The opposite also runs true. Liberal Democrats are favored where the outflow of taxes exceeds payout. Nobody can fully explain this phenomenon. What is clear, however, is that the majority of people who are forced to accept these payments would rather be working for what they need rather than extending their hand for a government check. They recognize the paradox of taking for themselves today while burdening their children with debt.
This brings us back to the subject of many of our conversations over the past year. The economy, job growth and the role that the Federal government can or should play in creating an environment that supports growth. Whether one loves or hates the corporation, business will drive growth for its own survival. It will do so wherever the environment for that growth is fertile.
The government cannot stop business from trying to remain in business. Government must lead, follow or get out of the way. While small business is the “canary in the cave,” so to speak, large business is the tail that wags the dog of small business. They control the vast majority of manufacturing jobs in America and drive small businesses to produce. They have the capacity, given the proper incentive, for determining the fate of those remaining jobs and the fate of those offshored already. Some indicators are leaning towards relocating some more highly technical manufacturing out of China. Given a proper environment many of them can come back to the United States.
Lack of talent in the American workforce will prove to be our Achilles Heel if we do not start getting the right people into technical pipelines. There is a group of manufacturers in Massachusetts who are taking matters into their own hands. They are Manufacturing Vigilantes. They see their future vitality directly connected to a steady influx of machinists, tool and die makers, CAD programmers and technicians. The vocational schools have not been successful in promoting manufacturing careers. These careers have an average pay in Massachusetts of $1500 -$2500 per week. That is a nice piece of change. These businesses have realized that they cannot afford to wait for government to solve their problems so they are willing to go it alone.
Nationwide, there are 600,000 open positions in manufacturing. Last count, some 19 million people are under or unemployed. The multiplier effect of filling those jobs would be to create perhaps additional 2 million more. In short order, there will be a steady influx of veterans either returning home from war or being involuntarily discharged under new budget guidance. This fresh crop of dedicated and intelligent people should be the ones targeted for placement in our manufacturing positions.
The New ‘Okies are everywhere. The economic dustbowl is very real. It is forcing contrarian behavior in our middle class ethos.
Steinbeck also said, “I know this… a man got to do what he got to do.”
Traveling as do, I have literally circled the globe a couple of times each year over the last several decades. In fact, travel has taken me overseas for three of the last four weeks to Asia and Europe to conduct business; doing my part in growing the business of a large multi-national corporation. It is an experience that has produced a world view that is seasoned and uniquely mine.
The United States is an island nation. Our east coast abuts the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Heading westward, as our pioneer ancestors did, brings us to the vast Pacific. America has been blessed with abundant natural resources that, for most of our existence, made us self-sufficient and blissfully isolated in a world that long ago relied upon delicate interdependencies and alliances. We avoided colonial aspirations and fiercely resisted entering global conflicts in Europe and Asia until dragged in by grievous circumstance.
And when the dust settled after the Second World War we were still standing. The industrial might of the nations of Europe was destroyed and Japan laid waste by nuclear attack. The Arsenal of Democracy became the Factory of the World. The Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe and MacArthur oversaw the rise of a democratic Japan, each dominated by American industrial might.
Ironically, we created the monster that ate the American factory. Our efforts to restore stability and prosperity to a war torn world led to great infrastructure improvements. Germany and Japan built new factories and highways that were more efficient than the aging behemoths in the United States that just a few short years earlier produced the war material that defeated the Fascists and the Nazis. Taiwan and Korea built ships that Henry Kaiser, the father of the Liberty ship, would envy. Year by year, the newly industrialized world nibbled at the heels of American industrial dominance.
Slowly but steadily, American businesses grew weaker. Large industrial employers began to ship production elsewhere for better efficiencies and labor costs; first to the Sun Belt, then abroad. In 1960, 9 of the top 10 employers in the United States were industrial companies. Today, 7 of 10 are service providers. Here’s the rub: the job multiplier for industrial companies, such as automotive and steel, are much higher than for service industries such as retail or healthcare. For every 1000 jobs created in the steel industry, an additional 11,000 jobs are created elsewhere as a direct result. In retail, the same 1000 jobs create only an additional 240.
The bottom line effect is that losing 1000 steel workers has an impact that cannot be offset by creating 1000 jobs at Wal-Mart. Not by a long shot. America needs to retain, create and repatriate industrial jobs in order to preserve the post-war economy that ushered in the era of Pax Americana. And it needs to do so fast.
The erosion of domestic American business accelerated once Most Favored Nation status was conferred upon the People’s Republic of China in 1999. Since then, foreign direct investment has grown geometrically as a vast low cost labor market became available. Our balance of payments deficit has ballooned from $89 billion in 1999 to a level three times higher today.
And with all the wealth sprung from wildly successful businesses built in newly built cities in China, more than one third of the 1.3 billion Chinese live on two dollars a day. Human Rights and Workers Rights have not kept pace with the pace of change. Environmental respect long ago yielded to unbridled development. The cost of environmental stewardship is not passed along to producers.
These factors greatly enhance the competitiveness of Chinese businesses. They are not likely to change unless the world cries out for change. And we are held hostage by the addiction we have to low, lower, lowest cost manufacturing and the consumerism that drives consumption in America. We have failed to hold China accountable for their lack of responsible leadership in the face of the dynamic change their society is undergoing.
We can talk about leveling the playing field against unfair tariffs, product dumping and currency manipulation but until we begin to exert pressure on the Communist regime to act in a responsible way towards their society and our environment, the United States is a willing co-conspirator in our own industrial demise and the erosion of our moral leadership.
President Hu will shortly be visiting the United States. Who in our government will exhibit the courage to lead against this nascent economic giant? And in so leading, do we not gain a chance to reclaim a stronger economy in the process. The whole world should be watching.