Saturday, April 29, 2006

Why Does No One Ever Ask the President the NEXT Question?

Brian Williams interviewed Bush in New Orleans the other day, and asked him about the progress of levee reconstruction, what with hurricane season coming up. Bush said he's sure the levees will be back to "pre-Katrina levels or better."

Brian didn't ask what I would have: "Can we shoot for 'or better'? Since restoring the levees to 'pre-Katrina' would clearly be inadequate, and an insult to both the survivors and the dead?"

Then Brian asked Bush about his historic low poll numbers. The President admitted he was baffled, since the economy is so strong. "We're the fastest-growing major industrialized nation in the world."

Brian didn't ask what I would have: "Mr. President, no disrespect, but you've been saying that same phrase for years, and it's demonstrably untrue. Our economy grows from 1 to 4 percent a year while India and China grow from 8 to 10 percent a year."

Then Brian asked about high gas prices. Bush testily said of course prices are high, there's trouble in Iraq, we need to end our dependence on foreign oil, find alternative energy sources.

But Brian didn't ask any of the questions I would have asked: "Mr. President, why the attitude? Between you and me, I'm not the one who started the war in Iraq. The White House said the war would pay for itself in the oil we'd get. Where is that oil?

"And why do you persist in speaking to the American people about 'ending dependence' and 'finding alternative energy' as if we're all imbeciles and you're the only one who 'gets it'? You've only been speaking publicly about these issues since January. For most of your political life, you've been the obstacle to those initiatives. What would you say to those who have been fighting people like you for those ideas for decades?"

"And as long as I've got you, Mr. President, when you promised in the 2000 campaign that you would never use our armed forces for nation-building or for spreading Democracy, were you wrong then or are you wrong now? And if you were right both times, is that flip-flopping?"

"And one more thing: if I were driving drunk, as you undoubtedly used to do, and I struck a child by accident, would I be justified in not reporting it to the police for a day or two, as Vice President Cheney did when he shot a man? So my blood alcohol couldn't be measured, just as his never was? When your wife, Laura, killed her boyfriend, did she report it right away, or did she wait?"

I guess this is why I'm never invited to interview the President.


howard said...

Here's a question I have never heard answered: if the Administration explains that gasoline prices are higher because of the tension over Iran, higher barrel costs, etc, doesn't that imply that the oil companies are paying more for crude, and simply passing the cost to the consumer? This is what they would have you believe.

Then how do they explain the historically high profits? If it's costing THEM more, how could their profits also be higher?

Michael Markowitz said...

That's a great question. It is hilarious, isn't it? If somehow higher crude prices mean higher profits, why aren't, say, airlines swimming in profits? Their costs are soaring, too.

And if the cost is simply being passed on to the consumer, and the oil company is benefiting from dumb luck, then why are the CEOs entitled to any bonuses at all?

Shouldn't CEOs who steer corporations through DIFFICULT times get bonuses? Or CEO's whose companies make profits, by virtue of good leadership, while others in their industry go bust?

The CEOs who manage to be in the right chair when the world hands them a prize package don't deserve jack shit.

And as Alan King used to wonder, why is it when the pea crop goes bad, the price of the can of peas I'm holding in my hand goes up? The same is true of the gas in the pump. It was bought at the old price. The expensive gas hasn't gotten to the station yet. They call that "gouging."

Michael Markowitz said...

Howard, in my never-ending quest for truth, here's what I've been able to find out... I could, as always, be wrong, but here's how I understand it:

Shift your paradigm... It's not an OPEC-y sort of thing. Our friends the oil companies don't buy foreign crude, they drill for it. And it is they who are setting the price higher because of supply and demand, so it is they who reap the benefits.

They're not middlemen, they're suppliers.

peeky said...

i imagine if you ask President Hoo-hah difficult questions, your access to the WH evaporates and then your job goes away.
p.s. Stephen Colbert made some amusing and accurate observations at the correspondent's dinner, but President and Mrs. Stoneface were unamused. (1,000 more days to go)

Paul Israelson said...

RE: "We're the fastest-growing major industrialized nation in the world."

India & China are not "major industrialized nations"...yet. That will change in the future, but presently the majority of their workforce is in agriculture and mining.

RE: "Oil companies' historically high profits"

Actually, oil companies' profit margins are relatively modest -- approx 8% Net Profit Margins. Eight percent of a gazillion is a lot o' money!

But computer software companies enjoy much higher profit margins! (An X-box game costs about $0.50 to manufacture & package...) Perhaps you should direct your venom at Larry Ellison's compensation package? Or Steve Ballmer's?

The oil industry has suffered through bad times, as well as the good. When oil cost $20 a few years ago, the oil companies bled money. Operating expenses don't fluctuate much, certainly not directly proportional to the price of a barrel of crude. Now that crude is running at $70+, the oil companies who survived the lean times are now earning a fair (8%) profit.

Last time I looked, the big oil companies are publicly traded. The stockholders elect the Board of Directors. If the stockholders disapprove of the big bonuses awarded the CEO (in lean times as well as fat), they can elect a new Board. It's a democratic system. Why would you object?

If your new screenplay results in a 10 figure paycheck, it's nobody else's business how "lucky" you got.

By the way, I do NOT own any oil stocks in my modest portfolio.

Russell Arch said...

An X-Box game or a screenplay are items created solely by the writer or producer. Start with a blank piece of paper or empty disk drive, and create.

A good decision by an XBOX CEO delivers a game that millions enjoy and sales to match.

The last I heard... simply buying (and shipping) oil by the barrel required much less thought/effort. I think that's where oil company CEO's are seen as different.

Michael Markowitz said...

Paul, perhaps your portfolio is modest because you have not yet realized that half the things in your life are manufactured in China and/or India.

The air and water in China are dozens of times more polluted than those in L.A. Is it soy and rice fields that produce so much toxic waste?

And as Russ points out, I am not denying anyone's right to earn a big bonus for a job well done, especially a CEO. But the oil companies cannot have it both ways. They cannot shrug off high prices by saying, "We have nothing to do with it, it's all driven by geopolitics and market forces!" and then take fat bonuses when they reap huge profits. You're either a passenger or a driver.

Video games, movies and television are creative and risky ventures. When we fail, we lose. When we succeed, we win. We in show business earn our money, in part, by not blaming Venezuela for our problems... or our successes.

(And by the way, there are a lot of retail businesses that would kill for an 8% profit margin. And further, Microsoft loses about a hundred bucks or more on each console, which eats into your imagined game-gouging. Only Nintendo doesn't sell consoles at a loss.)

Paul Israelson said...

I think y'all seriously underestimate how difficult it is to be successful in the oil business...many have failed.

An oil company executive's job may not be creative in the same sense as screenwriting, software, music, or painting, but it requires great skill, talent, and hard work to rise to the top. The posturing, politicking, "blame-shifting", negotiating with governments (US & foreign) -- it's all part of the job. If an oil company is to succeed, the CEO must be a good actor....creative, in other words.

It ain't an easy business.

Michael, you are correct about the pollution in China & India. (I am actually an IMPORTER - consumer products, made in's a living) China's problem is caused by industry, automobiles, the generating of electricity, and the absence of environmental protection by the Communist government.

The coastal regions of China are indeed heavily industrialized; however, the majority of the population - approx. 900 million - are still in ag & mining.

So, statistically, China is only partially industrialized. The same applies to India.

But your point is noteworthy.

Yes, many industries would kill for 8% Net Profit margins! (my company averages about 4%) But 8% is not excessive. The average US worker expects a return or 7%-10% on his/her IRA or 401K program.

That's why so many retirement funds are invested in....oil companies!

P.S. I wasn't referring to the game consoles...the alleged "gouging" occurs on the game cartridges/CDs/DVDs/disks where the actual production costs are < $1 per unit!

Of course, I also believe those game companies are entitled to all the profits they earn.

Just like ARod's $25MM/yr!

Let The Market determine the prices.

norm said...

Does that 1$ cost for a game include the millions to make it (artists, programmers etc.), the millions to market it, corporate overhead, R and D, losses from console sales and the percentage the retailers and distributors get?

Besides, gouging on an entertainment item is different than on a necessity.

One more (somewhat related) thing, I'm honestly curious about the oil released to the oil companies, from the strategic reserve.
Do you know if they have to pay us (taxpayers/government) for that?

Michael Markowitz said...

Norm, according to Paul, we should blame Steve Ballmer, but he didn't mean Microsoft. He's got it all worked out.

Besides, never fear, Bill Frist and the Republicans have a plan: instead of costing Paul's plucky, underdog, seat-of-the-pants oil companies even one penny, they're going to send each of us a $100 check. Paid for by tax dollars. Out of our own pockets. I love when people make me pay me.

And the Bush administration is calling on the FTC to investigate price gouging in the oil industry. Which the FTC is still supposed to be doing from after Katrina. Why don't we let them not finish one investigation before we make them not start another?

norm said...

It's kind of like the guy who just stole your wallet saying, "Hey buddy, you look a little down in the dumps. Let me buy you a drink."

And then he takes you to his brother's bar.

Michael Markowitz said...

And still, no answer to:

Where is the oil that was going to more than pay for the war, according to the White House?

What would the President say to those who, unlike himself, were for alternative energy BEFORE January of this year?

Was the President wrong when he promised in 2000 that he would never use the military for nation-building, or is he wrong now? And if he was right both times, is that flip-flopping?

Does a drunk driver have the right to fail to report an accident for 24 hours the way the Vice President did? And did Laura Bush wait to report killing her boyfriend, or did she report it right away?

Michael Markowitz said...

By the way, Norm, apropos of your analogy of someone offering you help provided you spend your money at his brother's bar... From Fox News ( ):

"Former first lady Barbara Bush gave relief money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund on the condition that it be spent to buy educational software from her son Neil's company."

Because there's nothing the wet and starving need more than educational software.

Besides, who gives money to charity with CONDITIONS?? Who ARE these people???

norm said...

I heard about Barbara's "generosity"
It's true, these people are such out of control pigs, it's nearly impossible to keep up, let alone give each story of criminal greed arrogance and stupidity the attention it's due.

Paul Israelson said...

Corroborating the President's claim that "We're the fastest-growing major industrialized nation in the world."