Saturday, December 13, 2008

Vantage Point

Forest Whitaker, Dennis Quaid, William Hurt, and Matthew Fox star in director Pete Travis' Rashomon-style thriller in which an assassination attempt on the president of the United States is detailed from five unique perspectives. As the president arrives in Salamanca, gunshots ring out. An American tourist has captured footage of the would-be assassin on videotape, and now, as the stories of the other four witnesses unfold, each essential piece of the puzzle quickly falls into place. Only when all of the stories are told will the chilling truth to this shocking crime finally emerge. ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide

Comment: I watched this movie last night. I highly recommend it! From the start to the very end, it keeps you on the edge of your seat and the adrenalin flowing. For some reason the critics didn't like, but I thought it was great.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Reexamining U.S. Cuba Policy

December 4, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama
P.O. Box 8102
Chicago, IL, 60680

Re: Reexamining U.S. Cuba Policy

Dear President-elect Obama:

We would like to extend to you our sincere congratulations on your historic election to the presidency of the United States.

We are pleased that your promises of change include U.S. policy toward Cuba. It is time for the United States to rethink its approach to the Cuban government and the Cuban people. You have already indicated that you support suspending restrictions on family remittances, visits, and humanitarian care packages from Cuban Americans. These are excellent first steps but we urge you to also commit to a more comprehensive examination of U.S. policy, one that will have the power to transform Cuban society without costing U.S. taxpayers and one that will greatly benefit U.S. businesses.

When Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy initiated restrictions against Cuba, they did so in the face of clear national security challenges and with the support of much of the international community. Today, the United States maintains the embargo despite the absence of an obvious national security threat and against nearly unanimous international opposition. Moreover, as countries like Venezuela and China invest increasing amounts of money in the Cuban economy, it is clear that the embargo is not having – and will not have – the type of economic impact that might influence the behavior of the Cuban government. It is time to consider new approaches that would benefit U.S. national security and economic interests, as well as the Cuban people.

Current policies towards Cuba have clearly not achieved their objectives. Without the support of our allies and the larger international community, U.S. sanctions serve only to remove the positive influences that American businesses, workers, religious groups, students and tourists have in promoting U.S. values and human rights. Sanctions are also blunt instruments that generally harm the poorest people of the target country rather than that country’s leaders.

There is no better example of the ineffectiveness of unilateral sanctions than the case of Cuba. During the Cold War, Soviet assistance helped bolster the Cuban economy in spite of U.S. sanctions. The Cuban economy struggled – but did not collapse – during the “special period” in Cuba following the end of Soviet aid, while Fidel Castro was able to blame shortages at the time on the U.S. embargo. Today, tourism from Europe and Canada, investment from China, Latin America, Canada and Europe, and a more diversified economy have helped to stabilize the Cuban economy and marginalize the impact of U.S. sanctions. Venezuelan financial assistance in the form of petroleum sold at below market prices has also helped prop up the regime.

While the current isolation of Cuba has far outlasted its original purpose, U.S. policies impose real costs on America. For American businesses, the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated in 2001 that the Cuba embargo costs American exporters up to $1.2 billion annually in lost sales. The U.S. government focuses attention and resources on the Cuba embargo at the expense of more urgent pursuits such as halting flows of money to al Qaeda and keeping terrorists and criminals out of the United States. Using scarce resources to investigate and prosecute minor violations of Cuba sanctions ignores the infinitely greater challenge of securing the homeland from more serious national security threats.

The real cost, however, is the influence that the United States has lost by voluntarily isolating itself from Cuba during an important moment of transition. Far from providing leverage, U.S. policies threaten to make the United States virtually irrelevant to the future of Cuba.

Your administration has a unique opportunity to take steps to end nearly 50 years of isolation from Cuba and the Cuban people. We support the complete removal of all trade and travel restrictions on Cuba. We recognize that change may not come all at once, but it must start somewhere, and it must begin soon.

The United States could engage in bilateral discussions with the Cuban government. Beginning a dialogue on issues of mutual interest could begin the process of repairing the complicated relationship between the United States and Cuba, but that process will take time.

The United States should immediately remove travel restrictions and allow Americans to act as ambassadors of freedom and American values to Cuba. From farmers and manufacturers to human rights and religious groups, as well as a large and growing number of Cuban Americans, the American people increasingly recognize the unfairness and incongruity of restricting travel to Cuba. It is simply wrong that American citizens cannot travel freely to Havana but are not restricted by the United States from traveling to Pyongyang and Tehran.

Your administration should also consider removing certain restrictions on trade to allow American companies to help Cuba to respond more effectively and meaningfully to the devastating humanitarian crisis in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. For example, the United States could exempt agricultural machinery, heavy equipment and other exports from the embargo which would provide the goods and technology needed to rebuild from recent storms.

The United States could also license direct banking services in order to facilitate these sales. American businesses stand ready to help Cuba rebuild and hope to play a constructive role in reaching out to the people of Cuba.

We urge you to support the immediate reconsideration of U.S. Cuba policy, and to convene a bipartisan commission tasked with looking at U.S. policies in their entirety. Continuation of the status quo could leave the United States isolated from the Cuban people for another generation. As you have said, the time for change is now.

American Farm Bureau Federation
American Society of Travel Agents
Business Roundtable
Coalition for Employment through Exports
Emergency Committee for American Trade
Grocery Manufacturers Association
National Foreign Trade Council
National Retail Federation
Organization for International Investment
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
U.S. Council for International Business

I could not agree more. Certainly ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and perhaps for as far back as the Nixon opening to China, our policy toward Cuba has been wrong-headed, illogical, and counterproductive. We have trade and commerse with out former enemy Vietnam but not Cuba; what kind of logic is that. Vietnam is now a less doctrinaire Communist country, no doubt in part due to trade with the west. Opening commerse and trade with Cuba will not change our society but it will change theirs. Changing our policy toward Cuba is one promise I hope Obama keeps.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NBC Edits ‘Saturday Night Live’ Sketch

By Brian Stelter, New York Times, Oct 8, 2008

NBC has taken the unusual step of editing the online video version of a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

Two characters in a sketch about the Congressional bailout are no longer labeled “people who should be shot” in the revised version of the video, which was posted online Tuesday night. Those two characters represented actual people, Herb and Marion Sandler, who sold subprime loans to Wachovia. (link)

I had forgotten part of the orginal skit! The version I show in the post below has more of the orginal skit than that showing on YouTube and other sites now, but it is not complete. It edits out the offending portion about Wachovia.

This reminds me of how the old Soviet Union used to retouch official photos to remove the images out-of-favor former leaders.

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SNL Housing Bailout Skit: Hilarious unedited version!

This is hilarious! I think it is very close to representing the truth. As a housing counselor I see many clients who really were victims or people who just made poor decsion, but I also see people like the couple of guys in this skit who represent the undeserving homebuyer.

This is the unedited version. When this first appeared it was widely available then inexplicably the full versions just disappeared and I really had to search to find the unedited version. I am not one who subscribes to conspiracy theories and I am not joining the tinfoil hat crowd, but for some reason YouTube removed the uncut version and now only show a version that removes the best parts. All across the net the unedited version simply disappeared. Watch it while you can. Please endure the 30 seconds of advertisement, the skit appears shortly (I hope).

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Praying for a Bailout

SUVs at altar, Detroit church prays for a bailout

By Kevin Krolicki and Soyoung Kim DETROIT, Dec 7 (Reuters) - With sport-utility vehicles at the altar and auto workers in the pews, one of Detroit's largest churches on Sunday offered up prayers for Congress to bail out the struggling auto industry. (link)


Oh Lord, want you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Something seems a little unseemly about this. Does God answer the prayers of those who want a bailout? Does God have a team of economic advisers he confers with before considering such prayer? Not only are they praying for a bailout, they are anointing cars with oil and it is not motor oil. It looks like their prayers are about to be answered. Those who oppose the bailout better start praying.

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Senator Corker on the Bailout Plan

Corker Disappointed in Initial Outline of Auto Bailout Plan Being Developed by White House and House Democrats

December 6, 2008 CHATTANOOGA, TN – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), a member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, today issued a statement following reports of an auto bailout plan being developed between House Democrats and the White House.

“Based on the outline we’ve seen so far, we are disappointed in the plan that is being developed between House Democrats and the White House,” said Corker.

Earlier this week at the Senate Banking hearing Sen. Corker outlined a plan which states: “Before we even contemplate making a loan to these companies, we need to put in place specific and rigorous measures that include:

  • “One, give existing bondholders 30 cents on the dollar to help reduce their overall debt load.
  • “Two, bring wages immediately in-line with companies like Nissan and Volkswagen.
  • “Three, GM owes $23 billion to the United Auto Worker’s VEBA (voluntary employees’ beneficiary association) account. The union must agree to take half of that payment in GM stock.
  • “Four, the union must agree to do away with payments to workers who are still receiving almost full compensation up to four years after their jobs have ended.

“These are the same types of conditions a bankruptcy judge might require to ensure that these companies become viable and sustainable into the future, and if they will agree to these terms then we have something to talk about. The process I have suggested would allow them to avoid the problems and stigma that accompany a formal bankruptcy, while forcing them to do the things they need to do to be successful companies.”

Comment: Yes! This makes sense to me. The comment about Nissan and Volkswagen are especially relevant to me as a Tennessean. Not all cars are made in Detroit. Both Nissan and Volkswagen have plants in Tennessee and are large employers. Not only do these two companies employ a lot of people but many more people are employed by smaller companies that supply or support, in some way, these two companies. Why should taxpayers subsidize union wages that will produce cars that will be in competition with cars produced in Tennessee where the wages are not subsidized?

If the taxpayers are going to bail out the Detroit auto industry, we should not put conditions on them that equate to micromanagement. Congress shouldn't design the cars or tell Detroit what to produce. We should impose conditions that force them to become competitive.

I am proud of Senator Bob Corker and respect and admire him. I agree with his common sense conservative values and admire his intellegence and hardwork.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Alan, buy yourself a new pair of pants!

I was telling Pattie, my co-worker about the disreputable pair of jeans I saw at Posh with a $250 price tag and she said, “What about Alan Jackson? Why does he were the pants with holes in the knee?”

Yea, I don’t get that either.

Alan Jackson is one of my favorite contemporary country artists. I love his music, but I do not understand the worn out knees of the pants.

Alan, you have got to have made a lot of money by now. You have sold over 50 million records. You have had twenty-four number one country songs and had more than 50 singles reach the top forty on Billboard’s County charts. You have won ACM’s and CMA’s and a Grammy and you pack out stadiums all across the county. Why do you wear the pants with the torn out knees? I really don’t understand the expensive designer western shirts matched with the pants with the worn-out knees. Alan, buy yourself a new pair of pants! Please. You can afford them.

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Why do people pay good money to look very poor?

Sunday my wife and I went to our favorite coffee shop in Hillsboro Village. I like HillsboroVillage. It is near the university area and is always lively and interesting with boutiques, book stores, several resturants, coffee shops and an art gallery. We sat in the Provence Café and Louella had her cream brulee and cappuccino and I had the house coffee and a scone as we read the Sunday paper. Although cold, it was a pretty day and after our visit to Provence we decided to walk a couple blocks before heading back to the car. Strolling through the village we window-shopped and went into a couple stores.

One of the stores we visited was a clothing store called Posh. In the store was a female manikin in a pair of tight fitting blue jeans. The jeans were frayed around the cuffs and from the knees upward the front of the pants were faded. They were not faded to a light blue or white but a kind of rusty dirty color. The pants looked like someone had also painted in them. On the front, in the upper thigh region they had what looked like a few small paint spatters. On a couple or more places it looked like someone had tried to wipe off the paint spatter and the paint was smeared. I looked at the tag. The brand was Diesel and the price of the pants was $250.

I don’t get it. They looked like Goodwill rejects. I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would want to wear pants that looked like they were pulled out the trash. They were just plain ugly. You know the people who buy them are probably little rich girls who attend Vanderbilt University. Why do people pay good money to look very poor? Can someone explain this?

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