Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Moral Vacancy of an Unfeeling President 

THE UNFEELING PRESIDENTBy E.L. Doctorowhttp://www.easthamptonstar.com/20040909/col5.htmI fault this president for not knowing what death is. He doesnot suffer the death of our twenty-one-year-olds who wanted tobe what they could be. On the eve of D-day in 1944 GeneralEisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers heknew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in ajustifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war ofsurvival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.But this president does not know what death is. He hasn't themind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering underthe table for the WMDs he can't seem to find, you see him atrallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roarof the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal,a he-man.He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn.He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for himto look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave youngAmericans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissemblesan emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his beingbecause he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personalresponsibility for the thousand dead young men and women whowanted be what they could be.They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and fathersor wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days aterribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsol-able remembrance of aborted life.... they come to his desk as apolitical liability which is why the press is not permitted tophotograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq.How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and heregrets nothing. He does not regret that his reason for going towar was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by the facts. He does notregret that his bungled plan for the war's aftermath has made ofhis mission-accomplished a disaster. He does not regret thatrather than controlling terrorism his war in Iraq has licensedit. So he never mourns for the dead and crippled youngsters whohave fought this war of his choice.He wanted to go to war and he did. He had not the mind toperceive the costs of war, or to listen to those who knew thosecosts. He did not understand that you do not go to war when itis one of the options but when it is the only option; you go notbecause you want to but because you have to.Yet this president knew it would be difficult for Americans notto cheer the overthrow of a foreign dictator. He knew that much.This president and his supporters would seem to have a mind foronly one thing -- to take power, to remain in power, and to usethat power for the sake of themselves and their friends.A war will do that as well as anything. You become a wartimeleader. The country gets behind you. Dissent becomes inappro-priate. And so he does not drop to his knees, he is not contrite,he does not sit in the church with the grieving parents and wivesand children. He is the President who does not feel. He does notfeel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for thethirty five million of us who live in poverty, he does not feelfor the forty percent who cannot afford health insurance, hedoes not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black orfor the working people he has deprived of the chance to workovertime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills -- it is amazingfor how many people in this country this President does not feel.But he will dissemble feeling. He will say in all sincerity heis relieving the wealthiest one percent of the population oftheir tax burden for the sake of the rest of us, and that he ispolluting the air we breathe for the sake of our economy, andthat he is decreasing the safety regulations for coal mines tosave the coal miners' jobs, and that he is depriving workers oftheir time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because this isactually a way to honor them by raising them into theprofessional class.And this litany of lies he will versify with reverences for Godand the flag and democracy, when just what he and his party aredoing to our democracy is choking the life out of it.But there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. Iremember the millions of people here and around the world whomarched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneousaroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended nationalborders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only waranyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over theworld most of the time.But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding ofmillions of people that America was ceding its role as the lastbest hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classicarchetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. Thegreatest democratic republic in history was turning its back onthe future, using its extraordinary power and standing not toadvance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but toendorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with theNeanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuringtheir survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.The president we get is the country we get. With each presidentthe nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of ourmalleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but thekinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke ourresponses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. Thetrouble they get into and get us into, is his characteristictrouble.Finally the media amplify his character into our moral weatherreport. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions thatprevail: How can we sustain ourselves as the United States ofAmerica given the stupid and ineffective warmaking, theconstitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchaleconomics of this president? He cannot mourn but is a figure ofsuch moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Australian Manufactures: Rapidly Disappearing  

October 19, 2004

Today's Australian Financial Review (subscription required) has the first in a series of articles on Australian manufacturing, by Peter Roberts. There's an odd disconnect between the front page (and the editorial referring to it) and the body of the article. The opening includes the optimistic declaration
The Australian manufacturing sector is now made up, not of survivors, but successful competitors in home and export marketsBut the main body of the article is rather less positive. It's not surprising to learn that manufacturing has shrunk from about 20 per cent of GDP and employment in 1975 to 12 per cent today. But those who haven't been following the news may be surprised to learn that manufactured exports are declining in nominal terms, and that as the article notes
there has been a seemingly inexorable rise in the manufacturing trade deficit ... concentrated in areas such as chemicals, IT and telecommunications ... From a high of $37.6 billion in 2000-01, manufacturing exports slumped to $32.9 billion in 2003-04That's a decline of about 15 per cent in nominal terms, more than 20 per cent in real terms and more than 30 per cent relative to GDP. Meanwhile imports have risen above $100 billion. I've previously looked at the stagnant export performance of the "elaborately transformed manufactures" sector, much-touted under Hawke and Keating, but this is worse than I had realised.
An economic rationalist might respond by saying that if manufacturing is declining, that must be a reflection of market forces and comparative advantage and therefore desirable. This at least a consistent position, though one with which I have some significant disagreements. But it seems silly to me to pretend that things are going well in manufacturing when the numbers clearly point to a rapid decline in all sectors exposed to competition.
Posted by jquiggin at 04:17 PM Comments (3) TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Yes, Please, More Happiness!! 

RE: Natural Highs
James Cumes
Oct 16, 2004 21:58 PDT
Dear Jeffa,You're absolutely right.All those things you mention do make life worthwhile.Our eighteen-year-old daughter is just starting at university.
We sit and talk about it.
We dream about the future...
New friends she'll make...
Old friends she'll keep...
New thoughts she'll have...
Old thoughts she thinks still have value...
We drink a toast...
We have a big family hug and kiss...
The cats join in....
The dog too...
That's living for all of us.
I want it for everyone.
For some, the worry about the next feed or the next place to sleep is just too great to enable the enjoyment of the things that, in life, can be free....
You're absolutely right that we should send out good news more often.
Let's all of us try to CREATE good news that will bring a smile to everyone's face and that will allow them to hug one another, without fear of what might be just down the road.
Thanks for your message, Jeffa

James Cumes

Jeffa wrote:

All the doom and gloom on here, I've complained that we don't hear enough about what humans are doing right, almost only what we are doing wrong. While this isn't actually news worthy, maybe you'll enjoy it's positive nature. A vacation from the relentless focus on the bad news.


Natural Highs
Oct 13, 2004 01:58 PDT
All the doom and gloom on here, I've complained that we don't hear enough about what humans are doing right, almost only what we are doing wrong. While this isn't actually news worthy, maybe you'll enjoy it's positive nature. A vacation from the relentless focus on the bad news.Think about them one at a time BEFORE going on to the next one...IT DOES MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD, especially the thought at the end.1. Falling in love.2. Laughing so hard your face hurts.3. A hot shower.4 No lines at the supermarket5. A special glance.6. Getting mail.7. Taking a drive on a pretty road.8. Hearing your favorite song on the radio.9. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside.10. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer.11. Chocolate milkshake. (or vanilla or strawberry!)12 A bubble bath.13. Giggling.14. A good conversation.15. The beach.16. Finding a 20 dollar bill in your coat from last winter.17. Laughing at yourself.18. Midnight phone calls that last for hours.19. Running through sprinklers.20. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all.21. Having someone tell you that you're beautiful.22. Laughing at an inside joke.23. Friends.24. Accidentally overhearing someone say something nice about you.25. Waking up and realizing you still have a few hours left to sleep.26. Your first kiss (either the very first or with a new partner).27. Making new friends or spending time with old ones.28. Playing with a new puppy.29. Having someone play with your hair.30. Sweet dreams.31. Hot chocolate.32. Road trips with friends.33. Swinging on swings.34. Making eye contact with a cute stranger.35. Making chocolate chip cookies.36. Having your friends send you home-made cookies.37. Holding hands with someone you care about.38. Running into an old friend and realizing that some things (goodor bad) never change.39. Watching the expression on someone's face as they open amuch desired present from you.40. Watching the sunrise.41. Getting out of bed every morning and being grateful foranother beautiful day.42. Knowing that somebody misses you.43. Getting a hug from someone you care about deeply.44. Knowing you've done the right thing, no matter what other people think.

Democracy Banking 

Banking on a backlashBy Cortlan BennettOctober 17, 2004
OLD-FASHIONED service and community development are paying off for Bendigo Bank, which is now targeting small business in WA.The move follows the success of Bendigo's community banking scheme that has rapidly filled the void left by bigger banks deserting small towns and suburbs across Australia.
In six years, the Victorian rural bank has grown to almost a million accounts at 136 branches, with $5.3 billion of business.
Profits rose 35 per cent to$80 million last year. Bendigo opened its first WA branch in Bayswater in 2000 and has expanded to 28 branches, with$1.1 billion in managed funds around the state.
The latest branch opened in Noranda last week.
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"It's a very unique bank concept but there are also a lot of people out there who are frustrated with the banking system in general," Bendigo Bank state manager Kevin Peterson said.
"People miss genuine service, so that's what we provide. There are no queues, no tickets and we're open even on Saturday mornings."
Tapping into the backlash, Bendigo offers franchises tolocal communities, which raise funds for new branches they staff and run themselves.
Bendigo takes 50 per cent of profits, with 25 per cent going to local shareholders and 25 per cent for community projects. A typical branch costs about $450,000 to establish, and individual shareholdings are restricted to 10 per cent.
The Noranda branch is owned by Bayswater Community Financial Services Ltd, which opened the original Bayswater branch.
It is now WA's most successful community bank branch – the second largest in Australia – with $93 million in managed funds and a forecast profit of $300,000 this year.
That cash-rich position has led to both branches targeting small business.
"For small business and retailers, community banks are ideally suited," Bayswater Community Financial Services chairman John D'Orazio said.
"They're close and they can do all their banking in one spot.
"We're specifically targeting Malaga because it's an industrial area – there's a business synergy there.
"The only real problem with small business coming over is there are ties to existing structures – stamp duties, closing fees and transfers, etc – which need to be addressed.
"However, as accounts are renewed, there's the possibility for us to take some of those onboard."
It's a trend that Bendigo is adopting state-wide.
"We have a huge banking team across Australia, a strong commercial team and can cater for all markets," Mr Peterson said.
"A lot of business customers want to embrace the principle because it adds value to their businesses.
"A bank branch attracts people in the local community who, in turn, spend more money in the area.
"Some retailers are reporting up to 25 per cent in extra business.
"But one of the best things about this model is that a part of the revenue stays with the community for community projects."
Apart from local communities, the benefits to shareholders are obvious.
"A lot of commercial banks look at (community banks) and say there's not enough profit for them," Mr Peterson said.
"But we say it's not about the individual.
"Collectively, Bendigo Bank will do nicely. We now have 136 community banks in Australia and 70 of them are already turning profits after five years."
Five community banks in the eastern states have already listed on the Bendigo Stock Exchange.
Mr D'Orazio said Bayswater Community and Financial Services was also thinking of listing.
"We've already returned a 25 per cent dividend to shareholders in 18 months," he said. The Sunday Times

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