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Blog No. 16: Save the Blunnies

WASHINGTON --- Everybody has a favorite pair of shoes. Broken in just right. With the correct amount of wear and tear that makes them comfy, stylish but also reliable. No matter what the occasion, dress clothes or jeans, you can always grab a pair, put them on, and off you go. No muss, no fuss. Like an old friend, they’re always there for you.

For me, my Blunnies fit the bill. Don’t know what they are? They are simply sublime.

Blundstones, made in Hobart, Tazmania, in Australia have taken on something of a cult status with many folks around the world. They’re rugged, well made, soft, reliable and waterproof.

Since 1870, Blundstone has built footwear to endure the unendurable: heat, sun, mud, dust, river crossings, and encounters with the sort of creatures only found down under and that will invariably kill you if you step the wrong way, according to Forbes. Here’s a link to the Blundstone web site.

I’ve got two pairs, and like many Blunnie devotees, the boots have become part of my personality, in effect, they’re part of who I am. Several years ago, sadly, the soles came apart. My wife sent them to a shoemaker in Oregon, and presto, they’re back, fully restored and looking as good as new.

The Blundstone Company, run by its CEO Steve Gunn, is growing. It’s American distributors report record sales. In fact, the Blunnie business has more than doubled over the last five years. Popular in Australia and New Zealand, the shoes now sell around the world. The US is their largest international market, with strong sales in Canada and in the EU. And, it turns out the shoes are great in all kinds of weather, especially the desert. One in three Israelis wears Blunnies.

In effect, Blunnies may be, along with Foster’s beer, among the most popular and beloved export of Australia since Olivia Newton John.

So, it came as a surprise, and something of a concern last month when President Trump decided to get into a tiff with the leader of one of our most strategic and important trading partners in the Pacific --- Australia, and her Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Donald, please don’t kill our access to Blunnies.

Beyond Blunnies, Australia is a very important trading partners and ally to the United States. Why Australia is important to America:

  • Five Eyes, Satellite Listening Posts. Australia is part of the Five Eyes Intelligence network we’ve set up on a global scale. England, Canada, Israel, Australia and the United States constitute this important intelligence gathering and sharing network. It is a critical element in our intelligence gathering capabilities, and is a cornerstone to our global satellite systems and military intel work in Asia.

  • Historic Allied military operations partners since WWI. The Aussies have had our backs in Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflicts. They are tough fighters and highly reliable in the field.

  • Regional military capabilities. All you have to do is look at a map and you can quickly ascertain Australia’s geo-political importance in the Pacific.

  • Long history of friendly relations. Besides, where would we be without Mel Gibson, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana and Elle McPherson?

  • Overall, the Aussies are damned fine people.

  • And, the US balance of trade with Australia is in America’s favor. In other words they import more from us than we do from them. The very definition of a great trading partner.

On that last point, and to really understand how much goes to and from America to Australia, you need to go to the City of Angels, the largest city on the American West Coast, and the second largest in the US, Los Angeles. More specifically, the Port of Los Angeles, where shipping and trade are big business.

According to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, about $270 billion worth of goods pass through the Port of Los Angeles every year. Seattle, San Francisco, Long Beach and San Diego also have impressive shipping stories.

But it is Los Angeles, the No. 1 port in America and ranked as No. 19 in the world (Long Beach is No. 21 in the world, New York/Newark is 26th) where the vast majority of cars, electronics, food, clothing, steel, raw materials, coal and natural gas, and oil are shipped daily into and out of LA from around the world, according to The World Shipping Council.

LA is in many ways America’s gateway to the Pacific. Certainly it is the most vital and largest port we have.

In fact, America’s ability to trade with its nation-state partners is among the cornerstone elements of America’s Foreign Policy. And, with a growing and very real looming Chinese threat, trade with our allies and traditional partners is more critical than ever. It’s a key reason Trump picked Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Tillerson’s deep knowledge and understanding of international trade issues.

Today China, not the United States, is Australia’s biggest trading partner mainly due to China’s strong demand for the Aussie’s natural resources --- iron ore, coal and liquefied natural gas. Exports to China helped Australia escape the worst effect of the global economic meltdown over the past two years. Japan is Australia’s second largest trading partner. America is third and South Korea is ranked as its fourth largest trading partner.

In fact, seven of the top 10 container trading ports in the world are Chinese, add Singapore, and they own or control eight out of the top 10. In case you were wondering, here’s the list of top world ports:

And, if anything, the Australians will only expand their trading relations with China over the next decade. As Chinese wealth and financial dominance spreads throughout the Pacific, the Aussies will have little choice but to remain closely tied to their largest trading partner, China.

So, Mr. Trump’s alienating a long-time ally isn’t such a smart move. In fact, many at the Pentagon and State Department believe that the conflicts in the Middle East are a terrible distraction and an enormous waste of America’s resources. These wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., have forced us to take our eye off the bigger issues looming in the Pacific.

As China expands its military presence, they are moving to build the biggest Navy in the world much faster than anyone estimated even five years ago. The very real geo-political shift to the Pacific may no longer be a luxury but a necessity. And, with an unstable North Korea, and Japanese unease over the Senkaku islands, America’s role as peacekeeper in the Pacific is perhaps more vital than at any time since the 1940s. One more point, worried about Radical Islamic Terrorists? Guess where more Muslims live than any part of the world? That’s right, Indonesia. Not the Middle East.

Thus, our further dependence on Australia as a tried-and-true ally in the Pacific region is more critical than at any time in recent memory.

So, pissing off Turnbull and Australia right now isn’t such a smooth move. We need Australia to remain a powerful friend, trading partner and ally in a region dynamically shifting and growing, with enormous long-term implications to the United States’ National Security interests.

Perhaps Secretary Tillerson will make a trip to Melbourne this year, to smooth unnecessarily ruffled Aussie feathers?

I hope so. And I’m sure when he is there, he’ll pick up a pair of Blunnies.

Damn, those are good shoes.

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