Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Irene Has Made The Next Hurricane More Dangerous

The losses in lives and property are the most disastrous results, but not the only damage, inflicted by hurricane Irene.

Not if, but when the next hurricane comes ashore, the memory of Irene will be one of unfulfilled expectations for a lot of people. Millions of Americans lucked out as the forecast from the National Hurricane Center was worse than what actually occurred in some heavily-populated areas.

Most folks who were fortunate enough to be spared the full force of Irene apparently aren't thinking much about the lives that were lost or the housing that was destroyed elsewhere.

According to the voting in an ongoing poll by Merrill Knox, 68 percent of respondents think that Irene was either very much, or sort of over hyped by the government and by the media. Only one in three believes the continuous, urgent warnings were justified.

That thinking could well mean that warnings about the next hurricane will go unheeded by all too many people. The result could be unnecessary loss of life caused by the memory of a storm that was not nearly as severe as predicted.

Government and the media were right, however, in sounding the alarm as vociferously as they did for hurricane Irene. If there is to be a mistake in the forecast, it is far better to err on the side of caution.

Meanwhile, the debate rages on over the value and the future of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul remains in the midst of it all due to his call for the defunding and dismantling of FEMA.

This morning Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut--a state hit hard by Irene, and in need of federal help--called Rep. Paul an idiot for his stance. Ron Paul is far from being an idiot--he actually has some good ideas, but closing down FEMA is not one of them.

When a natural disaster occurs, such as Katrina or Irene, no individual state or region has sufficient resources or money. Just as an individual state or region must rely on the federal government for defense, it must rely on the federal government in the event of a Katrina or Irene.

There is a reason we are not known as the TAS--The American States. We are known as the USA--United States of America--because we are one. We are a nation.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Thank Heaven George Bush Stayed Healthy

George W. Bush stayed safe and relatively healthy during his two-term Presidency. And I'm glad he did for more than one reason.

First of all, I would always wish whoever is President good health and happiness, be it Republican or Democrat. And though I didn't agree with his proposals, policies, and actions much of the time, in my heart, I believe that George W. Bush is a good man, who loved serving his country.

And in my mind, there abides another reason to be thankful that President Bush was able to remain in office for the full eight years. If anything had prevented him from remaining our Commander In Chief, there would have been a President Cheney. And that, to me, is a scary thought.

Dick Cheney's approval ratings with the American people during his Vice Presidency were never very good. I think that is somewhat due to his not having what you could call a warm or charming personality. But his unpopularity was, and is, also due to predictions that proved to be wrong, and proposals that found little support--even among those in his own party.

In making a case for going to war with Iraq, Cheney stated emphatically that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It did not.

In drumming up support for invading Iraq, Cheney predicted that the people of Iraq would throw flowers at our advancing troops. They did not.

In 2007, Cheney argued for another preemptive strike--an aerial attack on Syria. He found himself alone. His proposal received zero support from other officials in the Bush administration.

In early 2009, Cheney declared that the United States would be less safe with Barack Obama as President. Bold decisions by President Obama, such as those resulting in the taking out of Mediterranean pirates, and then later, Osama bin Laden, proved Cheney wrong again.

And now, Dick Cheney has written a book, "In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir", which will be released tomorrow. Here, again, Cheney is wrong. His book contains statements that are already being disputed, and the zingers aimed at other members of the Bush administration have been called "cheap shots" by Colin Powell.

What kind of President Dick Cheney would have made is any one's guess. I'm just glad we didn't have to find out.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Hurricane Is Not An Equal Opportunity Hardship

Nobody ever said that life is fair.

The author who coined that expression remains unknown, but those oft-quoted words do hold true for much of life, including hurricanes.

Irene is not an equal opportunity hurricane. Irene is not fair. Retired General Russell Honore' said as much yesterday during interviews--answering questions and providing his thoughts about the massive weather event that is affecting millions of Americans.

General Honore' is an authority on hurricanes--having headed up the military response to hurricane Katrina six years ago. His Katrina experience taught him that a hurricane is much more difficult for the elderly and the poor.

Katrina, like Irene, came at the end of the month, when the elderly and the poor are counting their pennies; when their cash and food stamps are long gone. And for those who remain in their homes and apartments, but face power outages, even the purchase of items such as batteries and bottled water can be a problem.

Listening to General Honore' yesterday reminded me of my own Katrina experience. I saw firsthand a hurricane that was far from an equal opportunity hardship. I witnessed a situation that was far from fair.

Back in 2005, the wave of late-summer hurricanes forced me to flee Key West and take refuge in a shelter at Florida International University in Miami.

During those stays at F.I.U., I had a lot of company, including homeless people and the working poor--people who didn't have automobiles; people who had to get to the shelter on buses that were provided for the mandatory evacuation.

There were also lots of wealthier folks at F.I.U.--folks who had fled too late to secure hotel rooms, and were forced to stay at the shelter--arriving in their own vehicles.

I was there during Katrina, and after the storm had come and gone, and as the shelter was closing, those about to depart were told to help themselves to the large supply of unused food.

There were boxes and boxes of food, mostly non-perishables--the kind of food that could be stored. There was enough food in each box to provide sustenance for a week or more--freeing up money for other necessities of life.

But there was a problem. Nearly all of the homeless people and working poor had come from the Florida Keys to the shelter on chartered, local (city) buses, and they had to return that way. The buses were filled to capacity and there was absolutely zero room for any boxes.

Before boarding those buses for the return trip, a lot of people--myself included--watched with sadness (and admittedly, some envy), as people of means crammed box after box into the trunks and back seats of shiny new automobiles.

Nobody ever said that life was fair.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Warren Buffett -- An Easy Man To Figure Out

"The O'Reilly Factor" program on Fox News was unusually captivating and memorable Thursday evening--due to an amusing--at least to me--conversation between Bill O'Reilly and Laura Ingraham about Warren Buffett.

Bill O'Reilly has built a large TV audience composed mainly of those who are politically to the right of center. Laura Ingraham's conservative voice is said to have made her the most listened-to woman in political talk radio.

Now neither of these commentators is a dummy. In fact, both are highly intelligent people. But there is a difference between intelligence and common sense, which was something clearly absent from their discussion.

Warren Buffett is in favor of higher taxes for the super rich, which is interesting in that Mr. Buffett just happens to be one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Warren Buffett is also in the news because he is hosting a fundraiser for President Obama's reelection campaign. He is asking, and getting, the very wealthy to purchase tickets at $35,000. each to support a President who favors eliminating tax breaks, and closing tax loopholes currently enjoyed by the super rich and big business.

These positions are perplexing to O'Reilly and Ingraham. They can't understand why someone so wealthy himself would be for higher taxes on the wealthy; why someone so wealthy would oppose those who are working to protect the wealthy.

They recognize as fact that Warren Buffet is an incredibly shrewd investor who is still very much mentally with it. But that, for them, only makes Buffet's actions all the more puzzling.

For Bill O'Reilly and Laura Ingraham, Warren Buffett is a hard man to figure out. I would suggest that Warren Buffett is an extremely easy man to figure out. And his recent moves should come as no surprise at all.

You see, what O'Reily and Ingraham haven't taken into account is something called character. Warren Buffett is not only a very smart man--he is a very good man.

It should not come as surprising that someone who has already given billions to worthwhile causes, and who has pledged most of his own fortune to charity, would think that the super rich could and should be paying more, so as to be helping more.

And it should come as no surprise that Warren Buffett would, and does, support a President who thinks the same way.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Globalization Of The Way We Get Our News

The word globalization usually refers to the economy; but seemingly overnight, the word globalization has come to apply also to the way we get our news.

The living, breathing dinosaur who is writing this column today remembers well a time when we got our news only from newspapers or local radio broadcasts. And he readily recalls the late forties, when television came along to provide local newscasts that we could see, as well as hear.

Then, in 1951, CBS newsman Douglas Edwards opened the first national TV newscast with the greeting, "Good evening, everyone--coast to coast". Five years later, NBC gave us the first national newscast broadcast from two cities with two news anchors.

The Huntley-Brinkley Report was telecast nationwide from studios in New York and Washington. It was only 15 minutes, and it was in black and white.

I remember all those milestones oh, so well. And I was thinking about all that late last night, as I watched a CNN newscast that was originating simultaneously from New York, Atlanta, London--and Hong Kong!

Much of the news that would especially interest Americans came from New York. Some of the news that might appeal more to international audiences came from London. Weather was covered by a meteorologist at the CNN weather center in Atlanta.

Financial news was reported from Hong Kong--appropriate because the newscast was at a time when Asian money markets were just opening for the day. The anchors from the different locations inter-acted--something that was reminiscent of the Huntley-Brinkley report of forty-some years ago.

The ongoing financial crisis that is affecting all parts of the world, and the "Arab spring", and more recently the Libyan crisis that have been of interest to people everywhere, have led CNN to blend its American, and international newsrooms for more complete coverage.

This move has worked well, and just might become permanent modus operandi for CNN. Don't be surprised if you find more of your news being reported by an anchor in London or Hong Kong. The nightly news has gone global.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Libya -- A Crisis Well-Handled

At this writing, there is still fighting going on in Tripoli, and it is not yet known how long, or at what cost, it will take to eliminate remaining pockets of resistance in Libya's capitol, and elsewhere throughout the country.

But one thing is clear--the rebel forces which represent the vast majority of Libyans have won, and the Gadhafi regime is history. And I, for one, applaud the way the United States handled its involvement in, and its contribution to this victory.

America came to the rescue when Moammar Gadhafi was threatening to slaughter his own people, who dared to demonstrate against his harsh, autocratic rule. But America didn't go it alone. We did not take unilateral action, as we have done so often in the past.

The United States worked with, and through the United Nations and NATO to launch a humanitarian effort to protect the Libyan people. Our government played a limited role militarily, and we did not bear the full brunt of the cost.

For Libya, post Gadhafi, the transition to a united, stable, democratic nation will be a long and arduous process, but an abundance of oil assures almost immediate financial stability.

For President Obama, this must be considered another foreign policy success. When he went to the aid of the Libyan people, he drew flack from Democrats and Republicans alike.

There were many who opposed any involvement at all in the Libyan crisis. Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich went so far as to call the President's action an impeachable offense.

Then there were those who thought that the President didn't go far enough--that we should have been more involved militarily. For more than five months, Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have criticized President Obama for not applying more of America's military might to the effort.

Even now, as it appears to most observers that the President's policy was the right way to go, McCain and Graham have put forth a statement saying that they "regret that success was so long coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower".

I have great respect for John McCain and Lindsey Graham, but how can you argue with success? And just one facet of that success is the fact that it came without putting American's military men and women at risk.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Big Tobacco Has A Lot Of Gall

I was a little upset this morning over big tobacco's lawsuit against the federal government, and I decided to vent my anger in today's column.

While the iron was hot, I got right to the task, and typed in the headline above. I don't use the word "gall" much, so I went to my friend, Google, to see if my choice of words was appropriate.

"Gall", which means, among other things, "outrageous arrogance" is the perfect word to describe the legal action being taken by four of the five largest tobacco companies against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Legislation passed in 2009 allows the federal government to regulate more stringently America's tobacco industry, and the FDA has used its power to require graphic warning labels on each and every pack of cigarettes.

The tobacco companies are suing so as to avoid having to place graphic pictures on their products.. Their legal "logic" is based on their First Amendment rights under the Constitution.

They say that the new regulation violates free speech, in that it requires them to say,in effect, to potential customers, "Don't buy this dangerous product".

Learning that some of America's largest and most successful corporations are objecting strenuously to a more effective warning about a product that is a proven health hazard is a stunning revelation. And using a "free speech" argument to protect profits is an insult to the intelligence of all Americans.

The filing of a lawsuit to protect its sizable profits reinforces something we already knew. Cigarette manufacturers care little about the public welfare.

The cigarette companies have as much money as they do gall, and so the lawsuit will likely wend its way through the legal system, and could eventually wind up before the Supreme Court. I'm wondering, though, if there is a way to settle the matter sooner.

If state governments such as those in New York and California can legislate against the selling of products with trans fat, due to health concerns, can not the federal government similarly legislate against the selling of cigarettes, because of health concerns, in general, and a link to cancer, in particular?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Warren Buffett Versus The Republican Candidates

It's unanimous. All of the Republicans who are running for President are opposed to ending tax breaks, or closing the tax loopholes that are currently enjoyed by the super rich and big business.

Their argument for the status quo is that ending those tax breaks and closing those loopholes would discourage America's "job creators" from hiring, and would result in a major loss of jobs nationwide.

To this, Warren Buffett says, in effect, hogwash. Billionaire Buffett believes that tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthy can be ended, and that taxes can be raised on everyone making more than a million dollars a year--all without damage to the economy.

Warren Buffett specifically says that higher taxes for the wealthiest of Americans would not adversely affect job growth. He believes that super rich individuals and major corporations would continue to invest, and would continue to hire.

So who is right--the Republican candidates or Warren Buffett? The choice is a no-brainer. Warren Buffett is right, and he is not alone in his thinking. Most leading economists agree that our wealthiest citizens should, and could be paying more.

The Republicans who are vying for their party's nomination have differing, and mostly impressive resumes, but no one in the field has a track record like Warren Buffett.

He knows of what he speaks, for he is considered by his peers to be one of the world's shrewdest investors, and his business smarts have made him one of the wealthiest, most successful men in America.

Following Warren Buffett's advice would go a long way toward resolving our national debt crisis, and would speed us on the road to balancing our books.

And just how many people would see their taxes go up? Slightly more than three million Americans. That's how many millionaires there were in these United States in 2010--3.1 million to be more exact.

And according to the Annual World Wealth Report, that mind-boggling number of 3.1 million millionaires is up from 2.8 million millionaires a year earlier.

Yes, the rich are getting richer.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

For Michelle Bachman, This Is As Good As It Gets

Following her victory in the Ames, Iowa Republican straw poll, Michele Bachman shares front runner status, and she would appear to be a strong contender for the Republican nomination for President.

A closer look, however, at what the Iowa win actually means, and where she is now positioned, suggests to me that with six months to go before primary season, Michelle Bachman has already peaked, and that for the Tea Party darling, this is as good as it gets.

The win in Iowa was portrayed by the media as something more meaningful than it actually was. Michele Bachman barely edged out Ron Paul in the voting, and a sizable number of her votes came from the 40 busloads of Iowans who came for the ride and the food and the entertainment and the free $30. ticket.

History shows that aside from keeping the winner in the race, the Iowa straw poll in August means little by the time the primary season kicks off half a year later.

With her elevation to inclusion in what most political analysts now consider a three-way race, Michelle Bachman will now feel the heat of a larger spotlight. Scrutiny from the media will intensify, and she will now be a major target for Mitt Romney and Rick perry.

Her weak resume and extreme views will be exposed, and the same Republican leaders who denied her a leadership role in the House of Representatives will let it be known that they don't want her to be the party's Presidential candidate.

And then there's the problem with her Tea Party affiliation. It is the Tea Party that is largely responsible for the popularity and success that Michelle Bachman has enjoyed.

But the electorate--Republicans included--has become increasingly disenchanted, to the point that the majority of Americans now have an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party. Michelle Bachman is the founder of the Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives, and what was once for her a positive, is now a negative.

Along with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, there is someone else who stands in the way of Michelle Bachman. That is Michelle Bachman.

If nothing else does, Michelle Bachman's own words will end her Presidential ambitions. As Americans demand that leaders of both parties compromise, Michelle Bachman often states, as she did again Sunday on CNN, that on big issues, she never compromises.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Why Pick On The Poor Governor"

I've occasionally mentioned the neighbor who doesn't like my columns, but still reads them.

Recently he wanted to know why I pick on the poor Florida Governor; and he suggested that what happens in Florida is of little interest to readers who live elsewhere.

I told my irritating neighbor that "poor" was--well--a poor choice of words. It only serves as a reminder that Governor Rick Scott is anything but poor, and that it was his personal millions that got him elected.

I added my belief that what happens in one state capitol is, indeed, often of interest to folks in other states. I offered as an example the recent ruckus in Wisconsin where the Governor and legislature did battle over public employees unions.

People across the country were interested, because what happened in Wisconsin could influence the handling of public employees matters in other states.

Much of what I have written about Florida's present chief executive could be considered a warning to other states.

That's just how rediculous and illogical some of Rick Scott's policies, proposals, and actions appear to be to a whole lot of Floridians, whose recent response to pollsters has made him the least popular Governor in America.

One of the Governor's most puzzling positions is his determination to eliminate the state corporate income tax in Florida. If he succeeds, the loss of revenue will be staggering.

Governor Scott insists that eliminating the tax altogether will encourage big business to move to Florida. To compensate for the lost revenue, he would further cut spending that would adversely affect hospitals and medical care, education, consumer protection, tourism, and the environment.

The Governor apparently hasn't considered the possibility that major corporations might balk at moving their employees into a state where there was such an emphasis on reducing essential programs and services.

A big flaw in the Governor's plan is that further incentives to attract business to Florida are unnecessary. The recent lowering of the corporate income tax makes Florida more than competitive with other states.

The lack of a state income tax is a major advantage in attracting business--one that Florida enjoys over most other states. And don't dismiss the attractiveness of sunny skies. Florida's climate is a real plus.

Then there's that report that came out this week showing that of the ten American cities forecast to have the steepest declines in home prices, six are in Florida. Lower prices for homes is added incentive for a company to head south.

On further thought, perhaps my annoying neighbor wasn't completely wrong in referring to Rick Scott as "poor Governor". Poor as in poor judgment.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sorry, Governor -- Clothes DO NOT Make The Man

With all due respect to Mark Twain, clothes do not make the man. Governor Rick Scott of Florida is living proof.

The Republican Governor has struggled with his poll numbers ever since his election by a razor-thin margin last November. And his approval rating with the electorate continues to be dismal, bouncing between 29 and 35 percent.

To improve his standing with Floridians, the Governor tried softening his rhetoric. Didn't work. Then the Governor fired his top advisers. That didn't work either.

Now the Governor is trying a new approach--something that is borderline bizarre. He has attempted to improve his image by altering his attire.

The first move he made was to become tieless. He put away all those expensive ties in favor of an open-collar look. Now he wears more casual shirts, which display the state seal, and identify the wearer as the Governor. Rick Scott can be quite creative when it comes to self-promotion.

The second move that Rick Scott made was to don black cowboy boots, which also bear the state seal. and which also identify the man wearing them as the Governor.

So far changing attire has done little to change his image. The latest poll by the Miami-Herald and St. Petersburg Times shows that Floridians overwhelmingly disapprove of Governor Scott's policies and proposals, and they are angry over his administration's lack of transparency.

But what must be especially painful for the Governor is how personally unpopular he has become. That personal unpopularity, coupled with voter disapproval of the way Governor Scott is doing his job, creates a problem for Republicans just 15 months before the next Presidential election.

No matter who wins the Republican nomination, it is unlikely that he or she would want to campaign with, or in any way be linked, to such an unpopular Governor.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Calling Out Congress Over The FAA Mess

Less than 24 hours after barely avoiding a financial fiasco, the 112th Congress has shoved aside another serious situation in a way that can only be described as dereliction of duty.

After finally reaching agreement on the raising of the national debt limit, our Senators and Representatives hurried into the skyways and onto the highways en route home for a five-week vacation.

They left behind a lot of unfinished business, including a costly mess at the Federal Aviation Administration. They left FAA funding in limbo--yet another complex issue where there is a stalemate between Democrats and Republicans.

But this is a mess that needs to be cleaned up now. It is incredibly irresponsible to delay resolution until mid September, when Congress is scheduled to return to Washington.

The last thing that lawmakers said as they rushed out of town Tuesday was that what they needed to do next was to go to work creating jobs. That sounds good, but how about saving jobs--like the ones that are being lost, at least for now, because Congress didn't hang around long enough to fully fund the FAA.

Some 4,000 FAA employees, and approximately 70,000 construction workers, are at least temporarily without employment, and income, due to Congressional inaction. At the same time, the U.S. Treasury is losing a bundle in lost airline ticket tax revenue.

Our Congressional leaders, who publicly worry over our ever increasing national debt, are busy vacationing--while adding a billion dollars plus to our national debt.