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LETTERS for July 14 issue

By Staff | Jul 14, 2011


Here in Maui, we are usually happy to have friends and relatives visit — until we meet them for lunch.

All we hear from them are complaints about the trip, such as: “They changed our seats.” “They refused to put my stroller on the plane.” “The food was awful.” “The flight was late.” “They lost our baggage.”

We have to endure these stories because we think they are buying lunch.

Instead, we get stuck with the check.

It seems people fly over here just to have us suffer listening to their tales of suffering.



Poinciana trees from Madagascar have beautiful flowers, large trunks, 30-foot heights and up to 30-foot canopies.

These trees are also abused like Civil War amputees.

They are planted like corn on the center median coming into Lahaina. Are these hybrids/miniatures.

In Landscaping 101, you’re taught to ask, “What does it do in ten to 20 years.”

Someone forgot their homework.

Education is enhancement.



Job dried up, the money’s bad… Moved back in with Mom and Dad.

I love economists — they’re so optimistic. Maybe they’re no used car salesmen, but they’re never as gloomy as the data they traffic in. The reason for all this sunshine is plain enough — it’s what they’re paid for.

With few exceptions, the only economists we hear from work for Wall Street, Congress, the White House, big media, or other groups with a public ax to grind.

Those with a darker view generally toil at universities, labor unions, think tanks or the CIA. They rarely get invited to TV studios or newsrooms. To learn their opinions, one must forage among alternative websites or subscribe to certain listservs. That’s because gloom is not popular in the corporate press, and surely not with advertisers.

Well, maybe that’s a trifle harsh. Actually, the press adores gloom as long as it only refers to the hardship of an individual family. Readers and viewers thrive on such personal tribulation, trying to visualize what they would do in a similar plight. The media’s only fear — which it seems to share with Wall Street and some politicians — is that people might emerge from such travails to demand reform for the whole society. Heaven forbid that revolutionary flowers such as living wages, economic stimulus packages, single-payer health care, “fair trade,” or fairer taxation should blossom from this garden of personal anguish.

One easy way to discern the political coloration of any economist these days is to listen for his or her description of what sort of jobs are being created. The “whoopee” ones lump all employment gains together into a single promising figure. The more credible analysts break the data out by sector. That way we can get a handle on whether we’re talking about full-time or part-time jobs, benefits or not, burger flippers or computer geeks.

Mostly, this news is bad. Temporary and part-time work is all the rage. Health coverage is rare, pay is low, and retail and hospitality are where the action is. Of course government is where the decent jobs are, but the new Republican leadership in Washington and many state capitals is busy demolishing them. Health care remains the one big growth industry, but employers are importing workers for many of those jobs.

Naturally, much of this suspect optimism comes from Wall Street, where stocks are doing just fine. Many U.S. corporations are in swell shape selling goods that they make in foreign countries to buyers in other foreign countries. This trade is largely untouched by American hands, except for its untaxed profits when they slip back into the country.

Symbolic of Washington’s response to this national economic crisis is President Obama’s choice of General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to be chair of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. What an inspired appointment! GE is infamous for making its products overseas, paying no U.S. corporate taxes, squeezing its unions and rewarding Immelt himself with tens of millions in pay.

Instead of such greed, what America clearly needs at this moment is another, bigger stimulus package. We need more control over the jobs our corporations send overseas. We need New-Deal-style public works projects, plus a return to higher tax rates on the rich. A few responsible economists are recommending those very actions, but they’re not the sleek ones you see on TV.



Back in 2004, three years into the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 Commission report made its debut to the gushing admiration of the Washington press corps. The report was everything that the mainstream media adores: bipartisan, devoid of divisive finger-pointing, full of conventional wisdom.

Take this pearl: “One of the lessons of the Cold War was that short-term gains in cooperating with the most brutal and repressive governments were often outweighed by long-term setbacks for America’s stature and interests.”

Who could disagree? The cases in point, as the report noted, were Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The first country had channeled weapons and military know-how to jihadis fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. The second had supplied money. The CIA, for its part, had provided a little of all three. The results were the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Yet al-Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington didn’t prompt a rethinking of the alliances that had nurtured the monster. To the contrary, U.S. military aid to Pakistan, then ruled by an army junta, rocketed upward, while the United States’ 60-year-old strategic partnership with the Saudi royal family was shaken but largely undisturbed. Both regimes enlisted in the war on terrorism and were to be cornerstones of the effort. Indeed, each has delivered a few “short-term gains.”

In 2011, however, it’s clear that the Pakistani spy agency has kept on funneling arms to the Taliban, even as they say they are battling on the U.S. side. To top it off, bin Laden, the man who ordered the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans, was discovered hiding in the same town where the Pakistani army trains its cadets. The Saudis, for their part, are still promoting the radical brand of Islam that sanctions violence against Shiites and non-Muslims. The fact is that the long-term interests of these regimes rely upon stirring up this kind of trouble.

Washington’s coziness with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia carries other costs. Both governments are notorious opponents of democracy. Pakistan now has a civilian cabinet, but the army lurks behind the throne, growing richer on aid dollars that could be helping the country’s poor. Its military also uses U.S. money to stamp out the dissent of oppressed ethnic groups.

The Saudis run an absolute monarchy at home and intervene aggressively to block democracy in their neighborhood, notably invading the island kingdom of Bahrain to quash popular demonstrations there. When Washington talks about freedom in the Middle East, its choice of friends screams hypocrisy.

A few members of Congress squawked about the close U.S.-Pakistan relationship after bin Laden was found. And Saudi-bashing is a favorite pastime of several media outlets. But the Obama administration has moved to mend its ties with Pakistan, and U.S. relations with the Saudis are solid.

The logic, as always, is short-term: Washington wants access to Pakistani intelligence cooperation and the goodwill of the Saudis on the oil market. Given that long-term interests do not coincide, these alliances will continue to generate one crisis after another, making the world a more dangerous place.

It appears that learning the lessons of the Cold War, let alone the 9/11 attacks, is a task that will outlast many presidents.