Sunday :: Sep 25, 2005

Voting The Plough Shares

by pessimist

George W. Bu$h promised us that he was going to bring business practices into the federal government in order to improve its performance. Businessmen pride themselves on being intelligent, foresightful, and resourceful. Considering the following, one has to wonder if any of these promises have been met:

US forced to import bullets from Israel

A government report says that US forces are now using 1.8 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition a year. US forces have fired so many bullets in Iraq and Afghanistan - an estimated 250,000 for every insurgent killed - that American ammunition-makers cannot keep up with demand. The total has more than doubled in five years, largely as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as changes in military doctrine. As a result the US is having to import supplies from Israel.

The Pentagon reportedly bought 313 million rounds of 5.56mm, 7.62mm and 50-calibre ammunition last year and paid $10m (about £5.5m) more than it would have cost for it to produce the ammunition at its own facilities.

Sounds like piss-poor planning to me! Weren't these Bu$hCovites going to be bringing hard-nosed business management practices to Washington? Where is there any - ANY - evidence that this was done? You won't find it here:

The GAO report notes that the three government-owned, contractor-operated plants that produce small- and medium-calibre ammunition were built in 1941.
Though millions of dollars have been spent on upgrading the facilities, they remain unable to meet current munitions needs in their current state.

And we let these morons conduct a war??? No wonder the 'insurgency' is winning!

Doubt me? Keep reading!

Shouldn't one conduct a war with a secure source of supply? I'm certainly no military logistics expert, but as a US taxpayer, this report doesn't give me a great deal of confidence that Der Kriegsfurher's minions over at Field Marshal von Rumsfeld's PNAC Pentagon subsidiary have the slightest clue about how to fight a war of any size:

"The government-owned plant producing small-calibre ammunition cannot meet the increased requirements, even with modernisation efforts," said the report. "Also, commercial producers within the national technology and industrial base have not had the capacity to meet these requirements. As a result, the Department of Defense had to rely at least in part on foreign commercial producers to meet its small-calibre ammunition needs."

A report in Manufacturing & Technology News said that the Pentagon eventually found two producers capable of meeting its requirements. One of these was the US firm Olin-Winchester. The other was Israel Military Industries, an Israeli ammunition manufacturer linked to the Israeli government, which produces the bulk of weapons and ordnance for the Israeli Defence Force.

If this was the case, that these two producers were the only two able to qualify for sales, then why did the Pentagon turn to Taiwan for bullets earlier this year? It was certainly no trade secret, as Al-Jazeera knew about it, Khaleej Times knew about it. It was open knowledge in Taiwan as well as on, so would it be any surprise that the government of Zhongguo [which is known as the People's Republic of China here in Je$u$land!] knew as well?

Certainly, every one of these organizations (and the many others who also reported on this story back in January 2005) demonstrates far more competence that Bu$hCo has - or does:

John Pike, director of the Washington military research group, said that, based on the GAO's figures, US forces had expended around six billion bullets between 2002 and 2005.

Pointing out that officials say many of these bullets have been used for training purposes, he said:

"What are you training for? To kill insurgents. How many evil-doers have we sent to their maker using bullets rather than bombs? I don't know," he said.

Sounds to me like one can't send a former drug manufacturing executive to fight our wars, since he doesn't seem to understand that M-16's need something to make go boom, or those nasty 'terrists' don't get dead! (We won't go into the unarmored Humvees this trip.)

I'm not the only one who thinks that there is a serious disconnect between the needs of the nation and those who took power in its name:

He's no Warren Buffett

The legacy of the Bush administration may well be that government can no longer be entrusted to business people. Many of the most prominent CEOs in the current administration aren't real business people at all, but faux CEOs who after a lifetime in politics cashed in on brief stints as trophy CEOs at Fortune 500 firms before returning to public life in George W. Bush's White House. With few exceptions, those CEO stints — at Halliburton Co. (Dick Cheney), rail operator CSX Corp. (John Snow), and George "dry hole" Bush's string of oil-exploration flops in Texas — were not models of exemplary corporate stewardship.

Just the same, future historians will make the connection between the most CEO-heavy administration in memory, headed by the first MBA president (Harvard, no less), and a White House of unsurpassed fiscal recklessness, flawed strategic thinking, failure to execute even on its best ideas (its unrealized goals of education reform and energy self-sufficiency, for instance), and a stubborn unwillingness to change course when conditions dictate.

Instead, as in Iraq, the administration has swung into action on behalf of Bush campaign donors, swiftly granting no-bid, cost-plus contracts in the Gulf Coast region to the usual suspects — Halliburton, Bechtel Corp., and Fluor Corp. Meanwhile, in contacting local contractors in the Midwest last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch learned that even the most persistent were failing to obtain Katrina-related work.

Bush, more obsessed with tax cuts than any president in modern times, has also declared a tax-free Gulf Opportunity Zone. A tax holiday might help the few surviving restaurateurs in the French Quarter, but not 400,000 New Orleans residents who have lost their jobs and have no income from which to deduct tax.

Asked about this odd policy move at a luncheon for GOP supporters last week, Bush responded: "Somebody said the other day, well, that's a tax break. That region is going to have zero income anyway. There's nothing there, in many parts of it. It makes sense to prove economic incentives for jobs to exist."
Read that passage six times and it still doesn't make sense.

"If only the U.S. were run more like a business," was the Bush/Cheney mantra in 2000; then America would be a more contented kingdom. It's a pity the GOP running mates didn't say what kind of business they had in mind — the managerial prowess of a General Electric Co., or the train-wreck of Enron Corp.

But a sustainably prosperous business doesn't hand vital tasks to cronies, fail to vet its suppliers, starve essential employees of job fulfillment, or blame its shortcomings on bogeymen.

As the old saying goes (in certain versions, that is): "It isn't what you know, but who." Such is certainly the demonstrable case in Bu$hCo Wa$hington:

Lobbying the White House
Campaign donors and former government officials help 4,600 companies influence the executive branch

Lobbying the White House, as the American Forest and Paper Association did in that legislative fight [Healthy Forests Restoration Act], has become an increasingly preferred tactic in Washington. More than one in five of those lobbying the federal government since 1998 have lobbied the offices of the White House, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity. More than 4,600 companies, trade associations and interest groups have directly lobbied the 14 offices of the White House, including those of the president and vice president.
In fact, over the past seven years, the White House has been lobbied by more parties than have the Federal Communications Commission and the departments of Education and Veterans Affairs combined.

So much contact, so little evidence of progress! As one of our regular commenters pointed out in a recent comment thread, today's stock market is approximately back to where it was a few years ago when Bu$hCo staged a hostile takeover of the United States Government. No amount of leveraging the assets of the American people has brought about the wide-spread propsperity that Bu$hCo promised. One would think that as so much of that loudly-touted Bu$hCo management prowess was freed to do its work that they would have so much more to show for it than an Outstanding Public Debt as of 25 Sep 2005 at 09:23:56 PM GMT of $7,933,873,209,903.53 (roughly $27,000 per American - man, woman, and child), or a federal budget deficit approaching $500 billion, or a US trade deficit approaching $700 billion.

What board of directors, much less the shareholders, would tolerate such incompetence? None I'm aware of! So why does Bu$hCo get such softball treatment from the business community (other than the fact that they are members of the club, so to speak)?

Can’t rescue competence from this gang

After 9/11, the figure of the president with the bullhorn standing amid the ruins inspired the country. The Bush administration got a reputation for tough competence. The reputation of the administration as very competent was also based on their takeover of the Republican Party and the entire federal government.
We assumed that they could bring that same competence to governing. Competence in gaining power continues over into using that power, or so we were spun to believe.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. The problem is that people more interested in power than in governing, in the end, make a mess of things. Those in power don’t even know it because doing a competent job of building this nation is not what they are interested in.

This retreat from competence is now being used to blame government for the incompetence created by the incumbents. This is the ultimate spin. Destroy the ability to govern because government is bad. Then when it fails, use that as proof that you were right about government being bad.

Competence had nothing to do with all those successes. Now we know it was all spin.

This should be obvious to those who are sentient, but for some reason this isn't evidently noticed in the Red States anywhere near as much as it is in other areas. It might be that because Red States have the bulk of the remaining family farms, and that there is so much that an independent farmer has to know to run his own business there is little time for anything else. In fact, it helps if a farmer holds advanced business degrees:

[F]armers are always looking for a business model to become more productive. It's a good living, said Tim Echelmeier, 36, who with his brother, Steve, 32, runs Echo-L Holsteins a few miles west of Fulton in east-central Missouri. Each holds a master's in business administration; they share management tasks.

As such highly edjimacated business managers, how can they justify the expenditure of scare resources, manpower, and time on frivilous activites that don't produce income - like this:

With the number of family farms declining, he said, it is especially important to attract new blood to the hobby of antique tractors.

Certainly antique tractors are much more important than Iraq, the trade deficit, or the federal debt! But would the corporate farming interests - those who seek to dominate the agriculture industry - see things that way?

We think not. In fact, there is a controversy growing up among farmers that this PBS television program works against them and their lifestyle:

A new television series set for distribution this fall to public TV stations across the country is drawing fire from activists who say its funders exploit a model of factory farming that has profoundly undermined the same rustic lifestyle the program is meant to showcase.

While the bulk of the new national program's underwriting will be provided by the farming trade group the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and biotech giant Monsanto, the show is also receiving financial support from other large farming associations such as the National Cotton Council, United Soybean Board and the US Grains Council.

[A]dvocates for family farming and the environment are engaged in a campaign to dissuade local television stations from running the series. They cite the main financiers' involvement in technologies and policies that undermine small farmers as cause for their assumption that the programming will offer a distorted picture in documentary form.

"The problem is that when you're talking about farmers or rural America, it's impossible to tell an accurate story without telling about the role of agribusiness," said Ben Lilliston, Communications Director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), "The sponsors of that program are kind of the spearheads behind the movement for factory farming."

Seems to me like opposing such programs would be a good thing, but are we not also told by our wrong-wing friends about certain business rules being primary - such as making a profit if it is to survive? Economically, family farming is almost as dead as the dinosaurs their religious beliefs deny:

The number of US farms has been rapidly declining since the 1960s. While the Department of Agriculture noted in 2001 that the vast majority of farms are still family-run, half of all agricultural sales were concentrated among just two percent of farms.

Just what are the other 98% existing on? Under the economic Darwinism that our wrong-wing friends love to spout mindlessly about, shouldn't all these unprofitable ventures go under and decrease the surplus land ownership?

These farmers don't seem to agree:

In a letter sent to public television managers about America's Heartland [the program series' title - ed] ... [t]he coalition leveled a harsh critique of what it expects the controversial new series entails: "The destruction of America's rural communities and the disappearance of its small farmers is an important story that needs to be told," the letter reads.
"This story, one of rural depopulation, dwindling economic opportunities, industrial levels of pollution and their attendant health and social concerns, is the ugly reality of the excesses that come from the unregulated large-scale industrialized agricultural system promoted by corporate America."

So many progressive issues! One wonders why they aren't clamoring for a better government than the one which corporate America is supporting - the very one expecting the sons of struggling independent farmers to travel to foreign lands to subvert the government of the farmers of those foreign lands, while their own fathers are being undermined and sacrificed to the goals of that very corporate America which put that corporate executive-led government into power!

Are the farmers noticing this fact? It seems so:

Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau promote policies that "place the US food supply into the hands of a few major corporations" by pressuring politicians to keep federal subsidies flowing to large agribusinesses.

But what are they willing to do about this effort to undermine their self-interest and independence? Are they willing to back another political party than the GOP?

I raise that very question in a comment I left on this page:

Didn't you farmers see this coming?

While I am not myself a farmer, I know as much about farming as any city kid - more than most perhaps. I know that it is a lot of hard work.

But aren't farmers supposed to be looking ahead to minimize their risks? How could any farmer continue to support a political regime that is intent on selling them out to agribusiness? It's been going on for years, yet you farmers continue to support the GOP even as it sells you out.

It makes one wonder if farmers haven't forgotten about The Grange and the reasons it came about - because farmers were getting screwed by commercial interests just like the events of today.

Maybe the Democratic Party isn't for you. Fair enough. But can you not see that there are other choices besides the Republican Party - bought and paid-for by your commercial enemies?

Show us that you farmers understand the dilemma by finding ways to come together as your competitors for financial independence do, and act as one for your own self-interests as you see them. You have many options to rise above economic servitude. The lifestyle you rescue will be your own. The country you save belongs to all of us.

You know your enemies have many options - and they will use them against you if you allow them. Your time is short, and the threat great. Act quickly.

Now we'll see what kind of astute businessmen farmers really are. If they do nothing, or if they fail, then they are as incompetent as the government they support. If they do nothing, or if they fail, they deserve to have their dreams blow away in the same harsh economic winds that buffet the rest of us.

After all - they helped to create them in the first place.

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