Zombies at work!

Dec 7, 2012

Baltimore, Maryland

Yesterday's newspaper told us that the feds have come down on the side of gas producers rather than gas consumers. It was a rare victory against the zombies.

As you know, America is producing a lot more gas than it used to. The drillers want to liquefy the stuff, put it in tankers, and ship it overseas, to be sold to highest bidder. But large consumers want to keep the price low...but prohibiting export. And the feds reserved the right to decide.

Yes, the US economy is so zombified that you can no longer sell your output to whomever you choose. You have to ask permission. In this instance, it looks like the feds agreed with the producers. But only after a 'study' showed that it would be better for the economy to export it rather than keep it within US borders.

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    Everywhere else, the zombies are gaining. A report in the Wall Street Journal confirmed what we already knew: zombies don't work very hard. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been compiling detailed data on how people use their time. Rather than just ask them...or just rely on how many hours people say they work...the researchers kept track themselves. They tracked how many hours people slept, ate, watched TV and worked. And guess what? They found that federal government employees put in 3.8 fewer 40-hour weeks than employees in the private sector. If they were forced to work the same hours as people in the private sector, the government would save $130 billion a year.

    Meanwhile, over in the pentagon, R. Jeffrey Smith has his eye on the zombies too:

      Of the many facts that have come to light in the scandal involving former CIA director David H. Petraeus, among the most curious was that during his days as a four-star general, he was once escorted by 28 police motorcycles as he traveled from his Central Command headquarters in Tampa to socialite Jill Kelley's mansion. Although most of his trips did not involve a presidential-size convoy, the scandal has prompted new scrutiny of the imperial trappings that come with a senior general's lifestyle.

      The commanders who lead the nation's military services and those who oversee troops around the world enjoy an array of perquisites befitting a billionaire, including executive jets, palatial homes, drivers, security guards and aides to carry their bags, press their uniforms and track their schedules in 10-minute increments. Their food is prepared by gourmet chefs. If they want music with their dinner parties, their staff can summon a string quartet or a choir.

      The elite regional commanders who preside over large swaths of the planet don't have to settle for Gulfstream V jets. They each have a C-40, the military equivalent of a Boeing 737, some of which are configured with beds.

    And then, even after they retire...the zombies keep feeding on the productive sector:

      Updating a 2010 Boston Globe report that documented the practice, CREW found that over the last three years, 70 percent of the 108 three-and-four star generals and admirals who retired "took jobs with defense contractors or consultants."

      As Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., put it during a 2009 hearing on Obama's nomination of former Raytheon executive William Lynn to become the deputy secretary of defense, "it's an incestuous business, what's going on in terms of the defense contractors and the Pentagon and the highest levels of our military."

    And on the letters page of the WSJ was another zombie at work; one who works in the private sector. Mr. Marc L. Fleischaker is the 'Trade Counsel' for the Rubber and Plastic Footwear Manufacturers Association in Washington. Mr. Fleischaker is apparently concerned about the effect of the proposed Affordable Footwear Act.

    We're developing an uncontrollable chuckle as we write... You'd think there would be plenty of people in the shoe trade competing on price already. Apparently there are Congressional staffers who are scratching their heads and fretting about it too. They say they're eager to preserve affordable footwear in the US. How will they do so?

    Reading the letter in the WSJ, we are left with the knowledge that 90% of America's footwear needs are satisfied by manufacturers working in low-wage companies in China and Vietnam. This should reassure the footwear worriers; we're already getting shod at the lowest prices possible.

    Instead, it seems to be a source of even more anxiety. Mr. Flieschaker thinks that something must be done. He writes:

      "As a nation, we do need to maintain significant tariffs on competitive imported footwear in order to somewhat balance the playing field and not lose the rest of manufacturing base."
    We don't understand how you balance the playing field by tilting it against importers. But there is much more we don't understand. How does prohibiting free trade make shoes "affordable?" Why is it important to keep people making shoes in the US? Have cheap shoes become a strategic commodity; are we afraid of being cut off? Why is it any business of the politicians where people buy their shoes?

    Oh dear...dear...reader. What has happened to America? The nation stands on the edge of an $86 trillion financial hole...and the hacks in Congress debate flip-flops!

  • Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.

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