John Wayne is the Duke. Elvis is the King.

John Wayne's Holster: February 2006
John Wayne's Holster
Visit my main blog at Monkey Wrench Revival. Visit my birdwatching blog at The Birding Nerd.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Katrina and the Welfare State

Hurricane Katrina was a disaster. No question about it.

The Left is quick to point the finger at President Bush and FEMA. The Right points to the failures of Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco. Both sides make a good case. It seems that there is plenty of blame to go around. As such, let’s not forget to point a finger at LBJ and his so-called “Great Society”. Why? Because the biggest part of the disaster was not natural. Rather, it was man-made.

What we witnessed over the last six months in New Orleans is a product of the welfare state. Or more correctly – evidence of its failure. This country has a rich history of people rising to the occasion in times of hardship – a history of people working together in the aftermath of natural disasters to rebuild their lives and move on. Unfortunately, this was not seen all that often in “The Big Easy”.

Instead, we witnessed assaults, robberies, lootings, rapes and murders. Once the rampant crime subsided, the people that remained just sat around complaining that the government has not taken care of them.

As part of the recovery effort, the federal government has provided temporary housing for evacuees. Here we are six months after the hurricane, and there are over ten-thousand people still living in FEMA-sponsored housing. Some of these evacuees were housed on cruise ships rented from commercial enterprises such as the Carnival Cruise Line. The ships were leased for a period of six months – a period that is about to expire.

Today, NewsMax reported that a group of evacuees living on a cruise ship south of New Orleans are taking the federal government to court in an attempt to keep the ship docked and the government paying for it. These “wards of the welfare state” are still sitting around and complaining and expecting the government to feed them, house them and wipe their chins. It is time for them to take some responsibility and move on with their lives.

I am not trying to be heartless here. I realize that Katrina caused a great deal of havoc and turned many people’s lives upside down. The government did have some responsibility to help the Katrina victims get back on their feet. But at some point, it has to stop. The government can not and should not continue to pay to house the evacuees for the rest of their lives. The people themselves have to take some responsibility for putting their lives back together. In fact, many decent, self-respecting people of New Orleans have done just that!

Unfortunately, many have not. They expect the the “Great Society” to do it all for them.

It is not as if they were not any work to be found. New Orleans needs to be rebuilt. Many of the businesses in town are looking for workers. Some of the hotels and casinos are offering “signing bonuses” of over $5,000 just to come back and sign a contract to work. They are also providing workers with free housing and good wages. Jobs are there for the taking! Just ask the workers pouring over the border from Mexico.

Why don’t the evacuees take these jobs?

Enough is enough! These “wards of the state” need to stop leaching off the government and get back to taking responsibility for themselves.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Don’t Take Your Freedoms for Granted!

British historian, David Irving

We in the United States enjoy tremendous personal freedoms - freedoms not matched by any modern country. Not even in the West. In fact, in some Euorpean countries, freedoms we take for granted are not extended to its citizenry, such as freedom of speech.

The infamous British historian, David Irving, has been sentenced to three years in an Austrian prison for denying the Holocaust. Al Jazeera reported that Irving has been in custody for several months on charges stemming from a series of speeches he gave in 1989 denying the existence of gas chambers and the Nazis' extermination of six million Jews.

OK, so Irving is a racist and an anti-Semite! He makes his name by making inflammatory statements. So what! Add his name to the list somewhere between David "Grand Dragon" Duke and Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson.

Any reasonable person with even a vague sense of history knows that Irving is an ignorant hate monger. He is pathetic. He has a long history of making anti-Semetic remarks, and has authored over 30 books, many of which are sympathetic to Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.

Call him whatever you want. Disagree with him all you want. Take him to task. Debate him. Or just simply ignore him. Don’t give him the attention he so desperately seeks.

As disgraceful as Irving’s words are, they are just that – words. If he wants to go out and make an ass out of himself, that is his right. Or at least it should be.

But prison? For saying the Holocaust didn't happen? This is outrageous! The European community would be much better served by exposing Irving for what he is – a liar! Instead, they have made him a martyr.

One also has to be perplexed at the reaction (or lack thereof) of the Austrians – or the whole European community for that matter European community. Why are they not speaking up against this infringement on Irving’s rights? Recall these words attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Perhaps Europeans should take heed! If someone can be arrested for denying the Holocaust, one must wonder what other speech will be restricted next.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Will Cheney Step Down To Set Up 2008?

I know it is early in 2006, but it is not too soon to start talking about the 2008 race for the White House.

Bush can not run. Cheney says he will not run. As such, this will be the first election since 1952 that does not feature an incumbent. With no incumbent, the race will be wide open. No one has stepped forward in either party to lock up the nomination.

Many feel that Senator Clinton (NY) will get the Democratic nod, but that is not set in stone. Some feel she is not electable, as she is a polarizing personality with little crossover appeal. Sen. Clinton has been making an attempt over the last year to recreate herself as a moderate, but we will have to wait and see how successful she has been. John Kerry and Al Gore still appear to have aspirtations to run, but it is unlikely that they will get the party endorsement due to their image as election losers. Sen. Joseph Liberman (CT) has also been mentioned as a possible candidate, but their does not appear to be much enthusiasm for him from the far left faction of the Democratic party - the guys holding the purse strings.

The situation on the Right is not any clearer. A lot of names are being dropped by beltway pundits – McCain, Guiliani, Rice, Brownback, Frist - but no one seems to have much support at present. Ideally, the GOP would like to find someone to carry over Bush’s agenda on Iraq and Middle East. The GOP has a lot invested there presently, and as WSJs Peggy Noonan points out, Bush’s legacy as President will be decided there.

As things stand now, the next election is a toss-up. Both parties will be looking to get a leg up on the other. One GOP strategy that has begun to circulate on the Op-Ed pages and in the blogosphere is the idea of replacing VP Cheney with a fresh face (here, here, or here). This, in effect, could allow the GOP to pick a possible successor to the Presidency – or perhaps even tip the electoral balance to the Right. This has absolutely nothing to do with Cheney’s performance as VP or his recent hunting accident. It is more properly viewed as part of a strategy to keep the White House in GOP hands for the next four or eight years.

But who would the GOP pick? McCain and Guiliani both have crossover appeal, but neither has strong support with the party's religio-conservative base. Brownback is not widely know outside GOP circles. That leaves Frist and Condi Rice. Rice seems to be the odds on favorite at the moment, but it may be too soon to tell. In addition, most polls show her as presently unelectable. But it is early, and that could change. Things will likely sort themselves out over the next year. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Will I See You in Heaven

Seventeen years ago today, I lost my Uncle Dan to a freak heart attack. He was 28. He was like a brother, father and best friend to me. When I needed advice, he was there. When I was in a jam, he was there. When I just wanted to talk things over, wanted to celebrate something, or when I needed my ass kicked, he was always there. When all else failed, we went to Ricci's under the Fernwood Bridge, where we always found the answer - or forgot the question. Never before or since has one person cared about me or his other nephews as much. I hope I can be the kind of father to my children as Dan was an uncle to me.

Will I See You in Heaven
by the Jayhawks, from the album Rainy Day Music

We were so close together
Yeah, you felt like a brother to me
Searching for a little bit of truth
But I found that it was living inside of you

Thought we could live forever
But there's more to life than we'll ever know
Tell me why'd you have to leave so soon
When I've got a thousand questions to ask of you

Will I see you in heaven
Shine your light from above
With your love I am never alone
Won't you carry me, won't you carry me home

Well, faith is the answer
Can you spare some to help guide me through
Swim across the ocean for a sign
Though you're gone,
You're always gong to be a friend of mine

Will I see you in heaven
Shine your light from above
With your love I am never alone
Won't you carry me, won't you carry me

Will I see you in heaven
Will I see you in heaven
With your light I am never alone
Won't you carry me, won't you carry me home

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bono Leads at the National Prayer Breakfast

I usually don’t pay much attention to the National Prayer Breakfast. But this year, my curiosity was peaked when I heard that U2 front man, Bono, was the keynote speaker. So when I got home after work, I flipped on C-SPAN to catch his remarks. I have to admit, he caught me a bit off guard, as I am not used to hearing so-called “rock stars” express their faith in such a genuine and unashamed manner. He was appealing to politicians and the public to devote more funds to helping the world's poor. Below are a few excepts from his speech that I found quite profound and compelling. If you are interested, you can read the full transcript or watch it on video.

Here is a sampling of what Bono had to say....

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here—Muslims, Jews, Christians—all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God. I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was… well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays… and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…

Even though I was a believer. Perhaps because I was a believer. I was cynical… not about God, but about God’s politics. Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick — my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the Millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world’s poorest people.

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this… When he does, his first words are from Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,’ he says, ‘because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.’ And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour, the year of Jubilee. What he was really talking about was an era of grace - and we’re still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate—in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn’t a bless-me club… it wasn’t a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions… making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people. But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called A.I.D.S. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The one’s that didn’t miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children… Even fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself Judgmentalism is back! But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move. Mercy was on the move. God was on the move. Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet… Conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS… Soccer moms and quarterbacks… hip-hop stars and country stars… This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places”

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it… I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea…

And this wise man said: stop. He said, stop asking God to bless what you’re doing.
Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed. Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing. And that is what He’s calling us to do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wal-Mart Is Destroying America

If you could buy a pair of jeans for $30 at the mall, or buy the same pair for less than $20 at Wal-Mart, where would you shop? Most people would shop at Wal-Mart. You get the same pair of pants and still have more than $10 left for something else.

Wal-Mart’s strategy is to provide the consumer with quality products at rock-bottom prices. It is a volume based strategy. They make less per item sold, but increase their overall profits by selling a larger number of items. Pretty simple.

Using this strategy, Wal-Mart has revolutionized the retail merchandise industry. Currently they operate over 4,400 stores and employ 1.2 million people in the United States alone. For the past few years, Wal-Mart has averaged over $240 billion in annual sales. It is perhaps the largest retail corporation the US has ever seen. They are bigger than all their competitors combined!

Wal-Mart has worked pretty hard to achieve their current position. They have perfected bar code-based inventory and purchasing systems. These and other innovations have given Wal-Mart a 48% productivity advantage over its competitors, forcing them to adapt and increase their productivity to compete. In fact, 10% of the economy’s productivity over the past several years can be traced to Wal-Mart. Some economists point out that the increased productivity and low prices offered by Wal-Mart have had a major impact on holding down inflation.

This is great for America, right? After all, everyone loves a bargain. And the low prices help raise our standard of living – don’t they? Well, as the old saying goes, “There is no such thing as a free lunch!” As a recent documentary points out, Wal-Mart’s low prices have come at a very high cost! Not at a cost to Wal-Mart. Rather, it is a cost to YOU! A cost the American worker. A cost to the taxpayer. A cost to the foreign laborer. And a cost to our economy.

Have you ever wondered how Wal-Mart is able to sell their products for such a low price? It is not all about the economy of scale. As any business student will tell you - the way to cut the sale price of an item is to cut the cost of its production and cut your overhead. And that is exactly what Wal-Mart has done. But their cost cutting measures have gone far beyond what any human would consider decent.

To be fair, Wal-Mart is not alone. Other companies employ similar practices. It seems to be the way things are done nowadays. But Wal-Mart is the king of the hill! They have taken this practice to its limit - and then some. They have set the bar, forcing others to follow or perish. As such, they bear the king's share of the blame.

Wal-Mart typically signs a contract with a supplier to furnish certain items. Wal-Mart is by far the largest retail store in the country. Because of the large volume products Wal-Mart moves, the suppliers are essentially dependent on Wal-Mart for their survival. And Wal-Mart knows this. They use this knowledge to bully the suppliers into providing its products at the price that they (Wal-Mart) set. The supplier has two choices, provide the products on Wal-Mart’s terms or go under. To live up to Wal-Mart’s terms, the suppliers typically have to cut their work force, decrease the wages they pay their employees, cut benefits, or look overseas for cheaper labor. Of course, they always have to option to close up shop.

If the supplier can not meet Wal-Mart’s demands, then Wal-Mart will go overseas for another supplier. Whatever happens to the jilted company is not Wal-Mart's concern. Going abroad seems to be the rule for Wal-Mart. Currently, Wal-Mart works with about 21,000 suppliers. Approx. 17,000 of these suppliers are from overseas – primarily in China. Last year, Wal-Mart imported over $20 billion in manufactured goods from China. Let us not forget that the US is on the short-end of a $120 billion trade-deficit with China. Wal-Mart accounts for roughly 10% of that deficit. It has come to the point where Wal-Mart has really become a conduit for foreign access to our markets. So much for all the flag-waving in the Wal-Mart commercials.

Not only does Wal-Mart have most of its suppliers overseas, but it exploits the overseas workers in a manner that would make Nike blush. Workers in Wal-Mart’s overseas factories make between $0.15 and $0.20 per hour. In some cases, workers are forced to work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. Of course there are no health or retirement benefits.

Not to be unfair to the foreign workers, Wal-Mart exploits its US employees as well. Wal-Mart's policy is to keep their costs down by undercutting their employee’s ability to earn a decent wage and good benefits. For starters, Wal-Mart pays its employees about $3 per hour less than Union supermarket workers. They also limit the amount of hours their employees work so that they can not afford the benefit packages offered to them. The company will tell you that 80% of their employees are full-time. But what they don’t tell you is that full-time is considered anything over 28 hour a week. All told, the average wage earned by a Wal-Mart employee is $13.9 thousand per year. That is $3,800 below the poverty line.

As you can imagine, many employees find it difficult to earn a living wage. It goes without saying that they can not afford to purchase the benefit packages that the company offers. How do the employees make ends meet? Wal-Mart encourages them to seek public assistance. That’s right! The largest retail chain in the US makes its employees go on public assistance to get by. Half of Wal-Mart’s employees are eligible for food stamps. Many rely on welfare, housing subsidies and public hospitals to make ends meet.

Who picks up the tab for all these subsidies? The taxpayer of course. In 2004, that amounted to $1.6 billion. That is money that Wal-Mart should be paying. Instead, they passed the buck to you and me. But that is not all you paid. Wal-Mart also gets additional subsidies from the tax payer to cover the cost of bringing their business to town. After all, someone has to pay to construct roads, pave parking lots, put up traffic lights, etc.

What benefit do you get from your input of tax dollars? You can get a job. Chances are you probably had a job before Wal-Mart came to town. But of course, that company couldn’t compete and went under. But now Wal-Mart will hire you. It’s the least they can do. Of course the salary and benefits won’t be what you were used to. Sometimes the local municipality collects revenue from sales taxes, but that typically won’t happen for a few years due to the tax abatement Wal-Mart probably got as part of the deal for moving in. When the waiver period expires, then the municipality can start collecting taxes, assuming that Wal-Mart doesn’t pack up and move a few miles up the road to the next municipality. But at least the old town gets to keep the empty lot with the humungous box-shaped store that no other business is likely to fill.

Let me pose the same question to you again - If you could buy a pair of jeans for $30 at the mall, or buy the same pair for less than $20 at Wal-Mart, where would you shop? Sounds like you could save some money at Wal-Mart. But in reality, the prices at Wal-Mart are much higher than you think.