Thursday, June 13, 2002

Thoughts of a Kiwi in Minneapolis - on Government

So what is the toughest job in this country do you think? President? Head of the Fed? Mayor of New York? Perhaps one of those $5 an hour Mall service workers?

My conclusion would be 'satirist'.

How can someone hope to make a living through sarcasm and hyperbole poking Ajax at everyday events when for a fact 211 out of the 241 Congressional representatives investigating Enron and Arthur Andersen received campaign contributions from both Enron and AA? When within 12 months of having a republican President we had both a recession and a war? When within 24 months the federal government has actually run out of money and the phrase "read my lips, no new taxes" has come back to haunt Bush junior as well?

Among the current flurries is the news that the entire American rail system run by Amtrak is bankrupt and in need of an immediate float of $200m to pay the wages this week. Someone forgot to read their credit agreements and with $4b currently borrowed the private sector has cried "enough!" The $220m is almost enough to get them through to the next round of federal handouts when another billion will be needed to keep these people in jobs. The only profitable line in the whole country runs from New York to Washington DC.

Go figure.

Joking about 9/11 is still very taboo. The country remains on high alert, expecting terrorist action at any time. Flights for the 4th of July weekend are at record lows, and recently our entire 50 story building was evacuated when a cardboard box was found leaning against a lamp post outside.

American politics overall is not much humorous relief for anyone. Bush has established another all-time US governmental record, this time in the environmental field. In a mere 9 months he has managed to undo over 15 years of glacial improvement in the chance the next generations might inherit a cleaner, greener world. Drilling in Alaska, dumping in rivers (no permit now required at all), draining of wetlands, lowering of emission standards for industry, vetoing the Kyoto agreement (good on ya Aussies for standing right behind George Bush and rejecting it as well! Ya wankers!) and car emissions. If its green, its holding back the economic recovery.

Harpers magazine, a fine source of counterpoint to the Bush-brigade reported a couple of interesting calculations - if every US flag that had been attached to the aerial of an SUV since September 11 was removed, the resulting saving in petrol would mean the Alaskan oil field could be happily left as wilderness (a fluttering flag reduces fuel economy by about 0.5%).

Alternatively, if every SUV in California returned 1-mpg better fuel economy, the effect would be doubled. Fat chance.

Making my own living has been a little easier lately - the company has started to mature a little with the addition of a sales team, a real Chief Operating Officer (complete with Ivy League MBA) and a 7-figure bank balance. My role still seems to revolve around advancing corporate Darwinian theories and weeding out the weak in the herd. Weekends are more frequent, and hours are shorter.

Our good friend Ivan has recently become visa'd and employed by a local construction firm as project manager and site construction supervisor. He is suffering a whole new level of culture shock hanging out with real mid-west blokes on a building site. They are very wary of someone from as far away as Australia, and he was treated to warm and hospitable questioning such as "so, is your wife a bit of a looker Ivan?" Fortunately she is. And a good cook too mate.

When they need a plumber or electrician for the project, guess what you do in Minnesota? Call the Union office and they allocate someone to your job. Ah yes, the free market.


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