Wednesday, September 26, 2007

GM Vs The UAW ... What Was It All About?

At 3:05 this morning, a tentative agreement was reached between General Motors and the striking United Auto Workers. The tentative agreement ends the two day old strike and workers are expected to be back on the factory floor this afternoon for second shift. I have heard many of the business gurus on the radio breaking down the reasons for the strike, but they have it all wrong. The union had given GM everything they had asked for, so like all good negotiators, GM asked for more. The reason for the strike was simple. If the UAW had taken the agreement as proposed by General Motors, the union would have ceased to exist in 20 years. The strike was about job security and the guarantee that American cars would continue to be built in America. Without those guarantees, GM would have been free to close plants in the US and move them overseas where labor is cheaper.

Now, I am not the biggest fans of unions, but in this case they did a service to this country. If labor costs are higher here in the USA, then the corporations just need to find a way to overcome this obstacle with more productivity. They need to trim the fat at the corporate level and come up with better cars. I've been in the car business for over a decade now and one thing I can tell you is that if someone comes up with a "must have" vehicle ... the American consumer will buy it. When you have ho-hum products, then you have to have huge incentives (rebates and special financing rates) to "bribe" the consumers to buy your product. So General Motors, start making vehicles that Americans want to buy, and most of your problems are over. You have made a good start with the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Cadillac STS and new 2008 Malibu, so we know you are capable of it, let's continue this new trend.

As for the United Auto Workers, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, you are now the administrator of the Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA) and GM has just given you $36 Billion to fund it. This VEBA is now your responsibility and the health care of all GM retirees now rests in your hands. Please don't screw it up. In fact Ron, you have now become a major player in the world financial market. Where you invest this money, as well as the money that will be coming from Ford and Chrysler later on will make or break companies. If I were the head of a Union, I think that I would invest this money in American companies that employed Union workers in the United States. I might even use the money as a carrot to open up some factories to union workers. I just might target the Subaru factory in Lafayette, IN or the 6 Honda plants or the 16 US Toyota plants ... you get the idea.

Here is what General Motors got out of the deal. It got to fund the VEBA out of the pension fund (the pension fund had more money than was needed), so no operating capital was touched. GM pretty much does away with the jobs bank (this is a program where laid off workers are paid 90% of their pay and benefits. There is also no pay raise during the 4 year contract, though bonuses will be paid yearly (I don't know what the bonus payments are contingent on). New hires will be paid a lower starting wage in some jobs. Most of all, General Motors was able to cut into the $25.00 per hour wage and benefit gap between them and their foreign competitors.

Here is what the Union got out of the deal. Retirees will get a pension increase, though it would be offset by an equal increase in health care contributions. GM has pledged to produce cars at certain factories. Workers will be given a $3000.00 bonus upon contract ratification, then bonuses of 3%, 4% and 3% of their annual salaries during the final 3 years of the contract.

This initial agreement is contingent upon approval of the union members and then the VEBA must be approved by the courts and reviewed by the United States Security and Exchange Commission (SEC).

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Is Iran Just Posturing ... Or Could They Attack Israel?

Last week, Iran warned Israel that if their nuclear facilities were attacked, they would bomb Israel. I figured from the start that it was just a lot of hot air, and that the Iranian Air Force was in such bad shape that there was no way they could launch a successful attack on the most powerful nation in the Middle East. Before I went posting about this, I wanted to be sure. So, I did a little research, which led to a lot of research, which made me change my mind. This is a serious threat to Israel and should be taken as such.
We all know that until the late 70's, the Shah of Iran was a good friend of the United States and we considered Iran as a stabilizing force in the Mid-East. We considered them such a power for peace that we decided to sell them 79 F-14 Tomcats (this is the plane Tom Cruise made famous in the Movie "Top Gun"). Now, this was a long time ago, and we stopped selling replacement parts to the Ayatollah back in 1980. In fact, during the Iraq-Iran war, only 10 of these planes were still operational. In a perfect world, all of the planes would by now be in the trash heap. Seems however that a Dutch Business man (you may insert arms-dealer here), Robert Kraaipoel has been violating the embargo by selling spare aircraft parts to Iran. As many as 50 of these F-14's may now be operational. The F-14 can carry 4-500 lb bombs on it's underbelly, and if it's wing mounted missiles are removed, another 2 can be mounted on each wing. That's 200,000 pounds of bombs for those of you who are keeping count.
In addition, at the start of the first Gulf War, Iraq flew 115 combat aircraft to Iran to protect them from being destroyed by the US Air Force. Among these were 24 Mirage F-1B fighter jets, along with some MIG-23's and SU-25's. In 2003, Iran was able to purchase an unknown number of new Su-25 Frogfoots. Other aircraft include 10 F-8M's, 7 TU-22M's, 19 MIG-27's and several MIG-31's (Russia's most advanced fighter ... thank you Mr. Putin).
As for missile forces, The Iranians have SCUD C & D's (can't reach Israel with those) and the Shahab-3D (with a range of 2200 km that can hit Israel). The also have the Farq-3 which is a ballistic MIRV missile that can hit Israel (and probably parts of Europe.
After reading about all this air and missile power, I was going to post that Israel had nothing to worry about. The Israeli Air Force is easily the best Air Force in the region ... probably second only to the USAF in the world. They could surely shoot down any and all aircraft that Iran wanted to send their way. As for the missiles, well those Patriot missile batteries that we sold to Israel during the first Gulf War are still there ... In addition, Israel has developed its' own interceptor missile called the Arrow ("Til Hetz"). After Iran tested their Shahab-3 missile in the summer of 2006, Israel tested their Arrow Interceptor by successfully shooting down ... you guessed it, a Shahab-3 missile.
So here I am, ready to post about Iran not being able to hurt Israel when I come across an article in Jane's Defence Weekly that changes everything. Jane's reported that the July 26th explosion in Syria took place at a joint Iranian-Syrian site. The project was to fit a Scud C missile with a mustard gas warhead. The explosion happened when the missile fuel caught fire. The blast dispersed mustard gas across the storage site and outside the facility. The blast killed 15 Syrian military members and injured at least 50. Dozens of Iranian engineers were also killed in the blast. Mustard gas is some really bad stuff. There are still parts of Germany that are off-limits because of the mustard gas that the Kaiser ordered used during WWI. Mustard gas (Yperite) is a blister agent (the chemical causes blisters to form on exposed skin greatly hampering combat effectiveness. In addition, those that get it in the eyes will be permanently blinded, and those that inhale it will almost certainly die). The mustard gas attacks the bronchial tubes, stripping off the mucous membrane ... causing internal bleeding and eventually (it usually takes four or five very painful weeks) the victims would drown on their own blood.
If Iraq were to attack from Syria with mustard gas, the casualties would be incomprehensible. Israel would almost definitely retaliate with their Jericho ballistic missiles (nuclear) and the whole region would begin to glow. Iraq needs to be stopped from producing nuclear weapons, and it needs to be stopped by the Western World in toto. We can not diddle around thinking that if worst comes to worst, Israel will handle it ... we may not like the outcome.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blackwater USA ... Security Firm or Mercenaries?

Blackwater USA is a private security firm, based in North Carolina. It was started by an ex Navy Seal, who envisioned a World-Class training facility for those in the security business ... but it has evolved into so much more. Since 9/11/01, the small firm has grown by leaps and bounds and now "hires-out" small armies. There are currently about 1,000 Blackwater USA contractors (operatives) in Iraq. They also have a data-base of 6,000 more professionals for when they are needed. The contract to provide security services in Iraq earns the company $800,000,000.00 a year. Contractors are normally paid from $100,000.00 to $250,000.00 a year depending on specialty. The prime contract is to provide security for the US State department. They provide this service extremely well (though no one can convince me they do a better job than the US Marines).

Late last week a convoy protected by Blackwater contractors was fired upon. Blackwater contractors returned fire, killing several of the attackers ... at least that is the company version of things. Iraqi police say that the people killed were innocent civilians, and the Iraqi government has ordered the company out of Iraq.

My take on this is that the folks killed were probably neither "innocent" nor "civilians". But in either case, Blackwater USA and the dozens of other private security firms need to go. These contractors (mercenaries) run around in various uniforms of their own liking, armed to the teeth (trying to be Johnny Rambo), and don't really answer to the military chain of command. What laws of war do they follow? Who do they answer to ... a CEO?

A Military Force is a Government responsibility ... not a corporate one.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Who Is Michael Mukasey?

The President has nominated Michael Mukasey to replace Alberto Gonzales at Attorney General and the political in-fighting has begun ... but opposition to this appointment is coming from the right, not the left as is common.

A little background on Michael Mukasey first. He was nominated by President Reagan as a federal judge in 1987. Since that time he has served for 18 years (including 6 years as Chief Judge of the Southern District of New York). Among his cases that you may be familiar with are the trials of Omar Abdul Rahman (the blind shiek) and El Sayid Nosair. These terrorists were convicted for their parts in the planning of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and plots to bomb the United Nations and other New York landmarks. Judge Mukasey sentanced them to life in prison. He also ruled in the case of Jose Padilla (the American gang-banger that turned al-Qaeda) and ruled that he could be held as an enemy combatant, but that he must be given access to his lawyer. Mukasey also spoke and wrote in defense of the Patriot Act.

Here is what might be turning Republicans against him. In 2003, Sen Chuck Schummer (D-NY) included him in a list of 5 other judges that would have no problems being confirmed by Democrats. Rep Schummer also suggested him as a replacement for Gonzales on "Meet The Press" back in March. I think that Republican opposition to Mukasey is probably just a knee-jerk reaction to Shummer's support. Shummer has been a thorn in the GOP's side for so long that the thinking is probably if Chuck likes him, it must be bad.

From what I can see from the research I have done is that Michael Mukasey was a law and order type judge that issued his verdicts fairly and with common sense. We could do a lot worse than having Judge Mukasey as our 81st Attorney General (we already have).

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Mullah's Dilemma

Okay ... has everyone stopped snickering at the cartoon yet? C'mon, get it out of your systems ... the rest of this post is serious.
A very important subject has been left out of the debate on Iraq, by the very people who purport to strongly defend human rights. That's right the Democrats have overlooked the situation in the Middle East in respect to women's rights. Even Hillary Clinton, the first viable female candidate for President of the United States has remained mum on this subject (sorry Shirley Chisholm ... you were the first, but you were a long way from being viable).
In most middle-eastern countries women are denied basic human rights. They are treated like cattle, bought and sold for the highest dowry. Men can have multiple wives, but the thought of a woman having multiple husbands ... or of even having sex outside of marriage can bring grave penalties. Honor killings are not only practiced but encouraged (the youngest son is usually the one to put the woman to death). Women must be covered head to toe in order to leave the house. Though I have never worn one, these "burkhas" look to be terribly uncomfortable and hot. When they leave the house, women must be accompanied by a male member of the family. In some societies, women are not allowed to work or attend school past a certain age. When they travel by car, they must ride in the back seat. It is possible to see a man driving a car, alone in the front seat, while his four wives are stuffed in the back. When out in public, women are segregated from men in restaurants, theaters and even while attending mosque. Women legally have no say in how to raise their own children, where to live, or the household finances. All this and we haven't even started on the right to vote or run for office.
As long as Islamic fundamentalists are in charge of nations, or even villages or towns in those nations ... the plight of women will never improve. As a secondary result of the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, women are experiencing more freedom than they ever had (it is a bigger difference in Afghanistan than in Iraq).
It is my sincere hope that during this period of greater freedom for women, Islamic men will come to recognize the value of women ... and not in just how many cows or chickens they may be worth. These women need to take advantage of this chance to get an education and a good job and especially to vote and run for office.
Hillary needs to be in front of this issue and start praising the changes in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of just jumping on the Democratic bandwagon of everything in Iraq is bad. The rest of her colleagues in the Democratic Party need to get behind this as well, and if they don't, the GOP needs to start hammering it till they do. Folks, this is a no-brainer ... can't we decide to get behind at least this one thing?

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Was This The Iraqi Patrick Henry?

Funeral services were held today for Abdul Sattar Abu Risha. The 37-yr old leader of the Al Bu Risha tribe was killed in a bomb attack near his home by al-Qaeda. What makes this man any different than the thousands that are murdered by al-Qaeda every year? Why the reference to Patrick Henry in the title? Well let's get a little background on this man.

In September of 2006, angered by the killings of his father and two of his brothers, Abu Risha approached US military forces in Anbar with a proposition. In exchange for weapons, his tribe would:

a) halt action against US and Iraqi forces

b) pledge to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq

c) attempt to draw tribal militias into the Iraqi security forces (ISF)

Abu Risha was able to gather 25 tribes into his group, which he named the Anbar Awakening Council. These forces have been credited for wiping al-Qaeda out of the Anbar capital of Ramadi as well as forcing many al-Qaeda out of Anbar province. This council has sworn to continue fighting al-Qaeda to avenge his death. Abu Risha was a fiery orator with a knack of swaying opinion and inspiring people to fight for peace in Anbar. Sort of reminds me of a similar man in 1776 who said, "Give me Liberty or give me Death".

Whether Abu Risha will be remembered in the Iraqi history books the way we remember Patrick Henry is up for grabs right now ... after all, the victors write the history books. But if more Iraqi patriots stand up like Abu Risha did, victory should be assured. So when you hear people talk about the Iraqi people not fighting for themselves, you can remember this example, as well as the thousands of government workers who were killed for cooperating with US forces and the fledgling Iraqi government.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Next Russian President?

Russian President Vladamir Putin dissolved the government and named a little known government official, Victor Alexeyevich Zubkov as the new Prime Minister. This is what Boris Yeltsin did back in 1999, when he named Putin as the new Prime Minister and then as his successor.

But just who is Victor Zubkov? Google failed me, Yahoo failed me, so I had to go to Russian on-line newspapers for the picture and I hope I got the right one.

Victor Zubkov is 66 years old and was a member of the Communist party. This should not be held against him as anyone who wanted to get ahead in government service had to become a member. He served an 18 month stint in the Red Army in 1966 and 1967. He was the head of the Russian IRS in St Petersburg from 1993 through 1998, and in 1999 he served as a Finance Minister investigating money laundering and other financial crimes. While doing so, he rose to the position of Cabinet Minister till he was appointed Prime Minister this morning.

An interesting note is that his son-in-law is Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov, so he would probably have the backing of the military. In the Russian Quid Pro Quo society, this would also mean that the military would have a greater say in the government.

These are indeed interesting times.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Too Depressed To Blog

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

We Don't Need This Bull

This was the advertisement that MoveOn.Org ran in the New York Times today. MoveOn.Org is funded by multi-billionaire George Soros.

I have a hard time stomaching an ad like this. This ad states that the General (a man that by all accounts is an honorable man, trying his best to make the most of a bad situation ... because his country asked him to) is "cooking the books" for the administration. This ad basically accuses the General of being a liar.

Besides the anger I automatically feel whenever a member of the US Military is attacked, it is compounded by the fact that this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. In 2002 George Soros was convicted of insider trading in France. Unlike Martha Stewart he got no jail time. In 1992, George Soros is credited with breaking the Bank of England by selling short on about 10 billion English pound sterling. This caused Great Britain to have to de-value the pound (causing harm to both Great Britain and many ordinary British investors and retirees), this netted him about 1.1 billion dollars in profit.

I let a lot of stuff that MoveOn.Org spews go by. But when they start personally attacking the people that give us the freedom to say stupid things it is too much.

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Glory Road Leads To Springfield, Mass

I don't know how many of you went to see the movie, "Glory Road" last year, but for those of you who didn't, here is a brief run-down. It was the story of the 1966 Texas Western Miner Basketball Team that won the NCAA national basketball title. You might ask what was the big deal? Doesn't someone win this every year? What made this team so special? Well, this team started 5 black players in the NCAA finals game against an all white Duke team. Now teams had started one black man in the tournament before, occasionally a team would have 2 black starters, but this was the first team to start an entire black line-up. The movie goes into how coach Don Haskins recruited the team, the obstacles (racism) that had to be overcome and of course the games.
I was well aware of this team (Texas Western College is now the University of Texas at El Paso , or UTEP) but wasn't aware that after this color barrier breaking season, the team was not invited to the White House like all the other National Champions before and after them. The Movie brought this to light and it was rectified last year when President Bush invited them over for dinner.
If you have not seen the movie, I would suggest you rent it. It is full of laughs and tears and the movie actually makes you cheer during the basketball scenes. It won an ESPY last year for best sports movie.
Finally on Friday, the entire 1966 Texas Western Basketball Team was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Without this movie, I don't think that this would have happened to a very deserving squad of men. So thank you Disney for making this movie.

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Somethings Rotten In Portugal

Last May, this little angel went missing in Portugal. Madeline Mccann has not been seen since. Her parents rented a home near where she went missing and have been living there for the last 4 months.

Police have just named the parents as suspects in her disappearance and have even offered the mother a deal to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Though it seems incomprehensible to me that her parents would have had something to do with Madeline's disappearance, I am not so naive as to believe it to be impossible. There are however oddities on both sides of this that have me confused.

Why would it take over 4 months for authorities to decide that the parents were suspects? In the US, the parents are always looked at first. The parents seemed to be helpful and cooperative through most of this ordeal and seem to be saying and doing the right things. The police just found trace blood evidence in the family car ... well, if you look in my van, I can pretty much guarantee you that you would find trace blood of all my grand-kids (nose bleeds, scrapes, cuts etc), it's not as if the blood were even visible.

I found it hard to believe that the parents would leave their little girl sleeping in a hotel room while they went to dinner. Maybe it is a European custom, but it is not done here in the States (at least not by anyone with common sense). If they couldn't find a sitter, they should have either taken the child with them or not have gone at all. It also seems that the family has become enamored of the media attention that they had been getting.

Have Portuguese police gotten desperate for answers to this case? They have been under intense world-wide scrutiny for months. The lease on the home the Mccanns had been renting is up on Monday. Did they name them suspects to prevent them from leaving the country? Are the Mccanns becoming scape goats because Portuguese authorities botched the original investigation?

Were the parents responsible for the disappearance of their baby girl? Did they do this for the notoriety it is bringing them? They have met with the Pope, Sir Elton John and even American Idol's Simon Cowell. Over 2 million dollars has been raised to help in bringing Madeline home. Or was there a terrible accident and a simple cover-up has grown into a global media circus?

I don't know, and I won't pre-judge the parents. That is what courts and juries a for. If they did it, I hope the devil has a special place in hell picked out for them.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Let's Get Ready To Rumble

As we all watch in disgust, the do-nothing Congress returns from their summer vacation and start maneuvering for position in the next political show-down.

After all, we don't need to wait for General Petreaus's report on the 15th ... What do we need the input from the generals on the ground for? We have General Pelosi, General Bush, General Reid and all the other generals in Washington. There are two camps being set up right now ... for the GOP we have the "Stay the Course" Camp. With their knowledge that since things are finally starting to work in Iraq, let's continue and win this thing. On the Democratic side we have the "Let's loose this war quickly so we can get our troops the hell out of there camp". Armed with the GAO report and leading the charge is General Pelosi, who will trade America's safety for political power.

It would be nice if these DC Generals would listen to General Petraeus, fairly debate the facts, and render a decision based on the best interests of the country and the world. If we need to withdraw some troops to give the Iraqi parliament a push ... so be it, but what we don't need is to push this fight onto the next generation. Iraq is a hell-hole with extreme heat, blowing sand that hurts like hell and makes it almost impossible to breathe. Not to mention bad guys popping up when least expected and trying to kill you. I have been there, my son in law is there now, and I do not want my grand-sons to have to clean up our mess 10 years from now.

So Congress, do the country a favor and think of US first ... and it is a shame that I have to ask you to do something that should be the most important part of your job.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

San Francisco Judge Stops Homeland Security From Doing Its' Job

The Social Security Administration was all set to mail out letters to employers today advising them of mis-matches between social security numbers and names of their employees. The SSA has been doing this for more than two decades, but this time there was something extra in the letters. The something extra was a warning from Homeland Security to correct the problem within 90 days or face fines or possible criminal prosecution. Previously, employers would just discard the letters and pay a small fine (if they were even fined), charging the fine off as a cost of doing business. This time, the employers wouldn't be as cavalier about it.
But wait just a second ... the AFL-CIO filed a lawsuit against the government claiming that the new letters violate the rights of workers (even if they are not working legally) and put an undo burden on employers (who are required to make sure their employees are eligible to work in the United States).
US District Judge Maxine Chesney granted a temporary restraining order on the "no-match" letters till Oct 1st to allow herself a bit of breathing room to make a decision. People have villainized this judge for the restraining order, she actually did what any "just" justice would have, facing the imminent release of the letters and not having had the time to fully look into the situation. Before you laud or demonize her, wait for her decision.
Now for the crux of the matter, the AFL-CIO could have chosen any district in which to file this suit, they chose San Francisco because it falls into the jurisdiction of the very liberal 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals (the most reversed court in the country). So whatever the judge rules, it will be appealed to the 9th circuit and the union wins (till the supreme court overturns them ... again). Meanwhile, the union gets to keep sucking dues out of the illegals for months, if not years. It's terrible to actually see the law being used to thwart the carrying out of our immigration policies ... just another reason the American People are so sick and tired of Washington.

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Monday, September 3, 2007

President Bush's Symbolic Visit

On the way to a meeting with Asia-Pacific leaders in Sidney, President Bush stopped over in Anbar province in Iraq. It was in Anbar Province that just last year, US forces had just about written the area off as unmanageable. But that was before Sunni tribesmen got fed up with all the suicide bombings and started fighting against al-Quaeda. Now it is one of the safer areas around Baghdad. The President met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and leaders of Iraq's Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish communities. Joining President Bush were Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and US Commander General David Petraeus.
During the meeting, the President urged Iraqi leaders to use the calmer times to work to pass legislation to bring the Iraqi people together (like the oil wealth distribution law). Though the entire US "war council" was there, this meeting was more symbolic than substantive.
Having the Prime Minister (al-Maliki is a Shiite) meet President Bush in Anbar province (a Sunni territory) was set to show that the Iraqi government wants to work with the Sunnis. President Bush just being in Anbar makes a statement on how much has changed in the past year. A year ago, there was no way the president would have been allowed in Anbar ... It was just too dangerous. The arrival of so many high-ranking US government officials is symbolic to the Iraqi parliament that the US is serious about them getting down to business when they re-convene tomorrow. And finally, by the President actually stepping foot on Iraqi soil, he now takes away some of the thunder of Congressional leaders who have visited recently. What this means is that when a Congressman says, "I've been to Iraq and ... ", the President can now say, "well so have I, and ...".
Words are important, actions speak louder than words, and in this part of the world, symbolic gestures are also important.

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