Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why I read the WSJ, reason # whatever ...

Three quick articles worth checking out and so many more reasons to subscribe to the WSJ:

First, this piece about a CEO who seems to give a crap about his company's bottom line: ["Claiborne's CEO Crams Into Coach to Cut Costs"].
You wanna know why I know Claiborne is in trouble? Because every year, when I go to the outlet looking for some fancy men's clothing for 75 percent off, there is limited, if any, selection. It's almost as if they make a few shirts and then sell them cause there is almost nothing leftover for us poor guys who want to look modern but can't afford the price! That said, I'll continue to hunt through the racks looking for bargains because I really like the clothes a lot.

Second, this story about an ordinary Joe getting his music out there on his own: ["Musician Finds a Following Online"].
Unsigned musicians, there is hope for you yet. And let me tell you, this is the way to go! If I had it to do all over again, this is how I would do it. I would sink every cent into a promotion company to get my music viral on the Web and reap the rewards. Keep 91 percent of your own profits! Screw the record companies.

Lastly, this one, on increasing the mileage in hybrid vehicles: ["Squeezing More Miles Out of That Hybrid" or "Converted Hybrids Find an Outlet" in the print edition].
$7K is a lot of money to spend on the upgrade, but they are getting there.

All these stories were in the Dec. 30 print edition of the WSJ. Worth the price each and every day.

Thoughts on the '09 Boston City Council race

David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix has some scuttlebutt on his blog about all the at-large city councilors running, including the son of former councilor, Felix Arroyo.
Since I watch things and care about the city after living there for close to 20 years and running at-large myself in 1997, I posted a few comments.
First, it's good to see that there are a slew of potential at-large candidates. The more the merrier. Hopefully, the prelim won't get canceled again. It's a disgrace when preliminaries and primaries get canceled due to lack of interest.
Here's some free advice to Felix II [or any other candidates in 2009 who deem themselves "progressive"]. In order to win, you're going to need to do the following things:
1) You need to be serious about your run. It's not a march for Mumia or an endless meeting pontificating the virtues of diversity quotas. It's serious business.
2) You need to raise enough money to compete with the likes of the incumbents [they will be funded well]. That probably means at least $80k to $100k although if you don't hire a ton of staff, you could probably run a good race with $25k for advertising in the last month or so when voters really start paying attention.
Note: the money doesn't guarantee a win. Ask Patricia White, daughter of the former Mayah, about that. But the money does guarantee you'll be a player. Remember: In the at-large race, fifth place is a win in a crowded, respected field. You can move up if there is a resignation.
Sidebar on advertising: Be careful of the tricks independent newspaper owners play on you to encourage you to run advertising in their newspapers. Many of these free handout newspapers have limited influence and scope. You could be throwing good money away by spending a lot on these newspapers. Give them a little but don't go broke doing it. As well, watch what newspapers actually cover the race or publish press releases from candidates. Those newspapers give a damn and are worthy of the investment.
3) You need to campaign hard, starting now, in the non-ethnic/liberal, high turnout neighborhoods. That means Charlestown, Eastie, West Roxbury, etc. If you spend all your time talking to voters in Roxbury, J.P. and the Back Bay, you will lose. Truly, this one can't be said enough. If you spend all your time in neighborhoods that don't vote, you won't win. You and your friends may have the logic of, Well, if we get 90 percent of this neighborhood, we'll win elsewhere. It doesn't work that way. As well, the key to the at-large race is getting one of four votes. It's not winner-take-all. So go to the heaviest areas and ask for one of the four votes along with the areas where you think you will do well.
4) Your platform needs to be more than a litany of grand progressive issues or crybaby complaints about the nation and the world that you will never be able to change if elected. Which leads me to ...
5) Don't get caught up in national issues which have nothing to do with the Boston City Council like your father did. With all due respect to him, important social movement statements [or pranks, if you will] like hunger strikes against the war, while dynamic, do nothing to secure your place on the council. The council is about constituent services and the city of Boston, not injustice in Palestine or the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Four and five can't be emphasized enough. Your progressive friends will urge you to get distracted by these things. Don't. While city voters care about what is going on in these places, they don't make decisions based on them. They want to know what you're doing to do to improve schools, if you are going to be responsive to potholes that need filling, if you are going to keep a watchful eye on development, etc.

As an observer of the council for a long time, I can say that it is time for a young, ethnic candidate like Felix II who can be a role model for many other citizens in the city to be elected. Generalizing, the two youngest councilors currently serving, Mike Ross and Sam Yoon, have been disappointments. Yoon seems like an empty suit and I think I said he would be when I first saw his name floated by Boston insiders and then later, the Globe ... and why he now thinks he can be mayor is a mystery [is he delusional or does he listen to too many people fawning around him?]. Ross is less of an empty suit. That would be way too harsh. He has proposed some interesting ideas - like the manufacturer's tax break idea from a few years ago. As well, his staff seems to be attentive, from what I hear. But what kind of example has he been for others? What has he done in 10 years? The council job mainly seems to be a place where he could get paid good money for doing little in order to put himself through law school and date hot chicks.
If elected Felix II, you can be a better example to young people than your father or anyone else currently serving on the council. And, this dynamic, getting young people to give a sh*t about their city, is an important one. So don't screw it up. Do all those things I mentioned above successfully and you will win.

It's snowing again, yeah ...

And I'm pretty happy about that. It's the light, fluffy kind of snow with no wind where you can almost hear it land on the ground ... shhhh ... I really like that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Government Without Law

Guest Perspective By Ralph Nader

Over thirty years ago, a book came out titled "How the Government Breaks the Law, by Jethro K. Lieberman." Even then it was old news and the examples cited seemed small compared to today's chronic law-breakers in the White House and at many federal departments and agencies. Many recent books have been written on the expansive outlaw behavior of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Less attention has been devoted to the explosion of unauthorized actions by the Executive in recent years. What should be the most frequent question by reporters to government officials -- namely, “By what authority are you acting?” – is the rarest of inquiries.

A two part series on Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. in the Washington Post by David Cho in late November brought this point out in a stunningly frank admission by the Corporate bailout czar himself.

Speaking of the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as other megaseizures of failing Wall Street firms, Mr. Paulson expressed these anarchic words: "Even if you don't have the authorities – and frankly I didn't have the authorities for anything – if you take charge, people will follow."

Whew! There you have it! He becomes the law and the law is what he says it is because no one – neither a rubber-stamping President, nor a supine Congress, nor any citizen, deprived of any standing to sue, is going or can do anything about it.

Reporter Cho goes on to write: "Senior government officials said Paulson helped craft rescue programs for financial firms, though he was not sure he had an unquestionable legal basis for the initiatives including the bailouts of the failing investment bank Bear Stearns in March and the wounded insurance giant American International Group (AIG) in September."

Mr. Paulson went further. Playing Congress, he backed the Federal Reserve – already a government within a government funded by banks– to unprecedented unilateral expansion of its powers and its self-made assets. The Post reported that officials from the Treasury and the Fed “never knew whether they had the legal authority to interfere with the market for such derivatives but did so anyway because the opaque trading threatened the wider financial system."

Unauthorized Executive Branch actions tend to be contagious. Noticing that the crisis left Wall Street on its knees and willing to unilaterally assume over $8 trillion in a variety of loan, subsidy and capital obligations, the Bush regime kept making more of its powers all by itself. Why not, they may have been thinking? Look what they've gotten away with in the areas of military and foreign policy actions.

Weekend gigantic corporate bailouts – a more recent one being the $300 billion plus assumption of Citigroup's financial risks – engineered by Citigroup co-boss, Robert Rubin--were very secret affairs.

The more public grab of power was the $700 billion goliath to rescue the casino capitalists on Wall Street which was submitted in only 3 ½ pages of proposed legislation to Congress by Paulson and Ben Bernake, the Fed's chairman in September.

This was too much for the ideologies of House Republicans who beat it on the first round. Even the spineless Democrats thought the requested authority was too much of a blank check. So what happened? Bush told Paulson to give various members of Congress "sweeteners" such as pork and tax breaks for favored lobbyists to get the required votes. Consequently, Paulson was granted staggering discretion to spend the $700 billion when, where and to whom he wanted under whatever conditions or no conditions at all. All in the name of socialism saving capitalism from massive collapse. Ironic.

Mr. Paulson came away from Capitol Hill with Congress in his hip pocket – not exactly what the framers of our Constitution had in mind in 1787.

Thus embolden, Paulson initiated a unilateral, administrative repeal of a Congressional enactment in the tax code – section 382 – to give the banks a huge windfall of about $140 billion. George K. Yin, former chief of staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, rejected the legality of the Treasury Department's decision. He told the Post: "I think almost every tax expert would agree that the answer is no. They basically repealed a 22-year-old law that Congress passed [and Reagan signed] as a backdoor way of providing aid to banks."

Section 382 of the Tax code “sharply restricts a company from using the tax losses of a company it acquires to reduce its own tax liability," according to the respected Citizens for Tax Justice.
The Treasury's two-page notice generated a brief specialized display of outrage from members of the Tax writing committees in Congress and a hundred national, state and local organizations signed a joint letter to Congress demanding the legislators reverse the Treasury’ unauthorized edict.

So what did the House of Representatives do? It passed, later rejected by the Senate a provision in the auto bailout bill, a provision that would have extended the unauthorized Treasury ruling to the automobile industry!

What is going on here is a revolutionary coup d-etat of our legal system by executive branch diktats.

Is the organized legal profession through their bar associations in challenge mode? Are law professors churning over this mockery of the legislature and executive branch administrative law? Are conservative groups – always upset about judicial activism – going into high gear against the new monarchy in and around the White House in downtown Washington, D.C.? Are all those futurists worried enough about the trillions of debt dollars being piled on our children
and grandchildren to protest and act? Not really.

Obviously, all this is a developing story. Stay tuned, unless you are willing to be turned out.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Turning 7 ...

Politizine turned 7 today. I can't believe it has been that long.
After taking a quick break for the holiday, I haven't really decided what to do. I really want to thank folks who emailed and one person, Jon Keller from WBZ-TV, for commenting. I really appreciate it. Even though I haven't decided exactly what to do, it won't hurt anything to keep posting random things here and there until I figure out what I'm going to do with the site long-term.
So, here we are, back again. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Time to take a little break ...

Well, three-plus days with no Internet or cable television last week really gets a man to thinking. But, to be honest, I was already thinking ...

As I approach the beginning of my seventh year producing Politizine [First post: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2002], it has become clear that I really need to think a bit more about what I'm doing on this site. Some questions? What its purpose is, whether or not it is time to step away from it for a while, what is the point?
Every year or so, I start to contemplate such things. Politizine has always been an outlet for me ... an opportunity to speak my mind. But, during the last seven years, admittedly, I've just become another blogger, writing about whatever.
To be completely blunt, at this point in my life, I'm too connected. Things are too stressful and too fast. I'm connected at work, connected in the car, connected at home, and, in many ways, it's a lot of fun. But, if there is one thing I learned this weekend, it's that there can be too much of a good thing now and then.
At the same time as we are all connected, too connected, we're not thinking about things. We're not taking the time to analyze. The entire nation, world, online community, is motivated by nothing more than speed. "Super, fast speed," as Mickey tells Rocky in the chicken coop as Rocky realizes how humiliating it is going to be to try and run around and catch a chicken.
Chasing a chicken ... that's an analogy.

As well, there are other things I want to work on. I've been hashing around a few different book projects now for quite a while and I never seem to manage to get to them. A couple of months ago, I was approached by a political historian about writing a book about the New Hampshire primary, something that sent exciting thought flares through my head only to later realize, When will I find the time to do that? Or, I should say, my wife said that when I pitched the idea to her. In some ways, she's right. But, I really want to do this book.

Then there is OurConcord.com, the online/print hybrid newspaper which some folks seem to really like and is a blast to put together. It is local at a time when there needs to be more and more local and less and less know-it-all wanking on about politics - even if some folks, like me, offer something that really isn't out there. Over the last few weeks, traffic at the OurConcord site has really picked up. It's almost equal to Politizine, mostly due to this column I wrote about the disasterous local elementary school consolidation plan.
On Saturday, I attended a party and more than a few people approached me about OurConcord and told me how great it was. One person asked when I was going to take out our daily newspaper [I answered, "When I win the lottery!"]. Another person asked what could be done to get more editions out and how difficult it was to get advertising. Another person asked if I would run for council or board of eduction next year, since some people are sensing that OurConcord could become a platform for a political campaign. The wife cringed at that one. "Probably not," I answered. "Too much to do, family stuff, too many people to upset with reality checks on OurConcord.com ..." that got a laugh.

If there is one thing I learned after this last presidential election it is that there are too many blogs and pontificators and not enough serious deep thinkers. In some ways, Politizine offers that. James Pindell of PolitickerNH.com, one of the hot political reporters in the state, commended the blog at a forum last year for being a blog steeped deep in policy. It was a HUGE compliment. Others have noticed it too and it regularly gets pretty good votes on the N.H. BlogNet site.
But what good is it if only 50 to 100 folks are interested in it? All the time I put into it could probably be better spent on something else that might actually be more fulfilling. If I publish a book, I might earn a bit more than this blog does ... not a lot more, just a bit more. That's an incentive too, right?
When do you decide, as an individual, when you are destin for slightly greater things in life? Jeez, I don't know. I guess when you decide you don't want to do something anymore. Well, it might be time to decide that ... or at least to think about it. And that's what I'm going to do.

Politizine is going to be on vacation until after the holiday sometime, barring, of course, a nuclear war going off or something else. Feel free to post questions, comments, or anything else here. Consider it an open forum. Will anyone really miss what I'm doing? Is it time to think of bigger and better things? I'll tackle that sometime after Politizine's seventh birthday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One quick thing before getting off to work ...

In this morning's WSJ, a letter writer representing the auto industry makes a pretty good point about subsidies.
Stephen Collins, president of the Automotive Trade Policy Council, noted that many of the same automakers commended by the WSJ in a recent editorial received hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local subsidies to build plants in America: ["Letters"], scroll down to "Tax Fairness for U.S. Auto Makers."
In the editorial, the WSJ commended the companies for their nimble labor costs and good products. However, the per employee costs of state and local subsidies are 10 to 25 times what the federal bailout would be, according to Collins' math.
While I'm still against a bailout of the Big 3, this is a very valid point which should be considered in any discussion about the issue. Essentially, indirectly, we are all subsidizing Honda, Toyota, Nissan, etc. already right now, for the right to hire Americans to build good products. In fact, one could make the case that the back and forth between states jockeying over good manufacturing jobs like the ones offered by Honda and Toyota has created a disastrous economic situation for everyone. Especially when compared to the pre-free trade cult days, when there were manufacturing jobs galore.
In the wake of this economic mess, can we please have a serious and honest conversation about the myth of free trade and how globalization has brought our nation to bankruptcy?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

2008 Holiday Reading List

Guest Perspective by Ralph Nader

It’s time for that Holiday reading period and here are some deserving but little publicized recommendations:

1. "Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Spectre of Inverted Totalitarianism," by Sheldon S. Wolin (Princeton Univ. Press, 2008). Princeton Professor emeritus Wolin examines how the pathology of concentrated corporate power and its control of government is shattering our democratic institutions and traditions. Brings the abstractions down to the hard earth of reality.

2. "The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril," by Eugene Jarecki (Free Press, 2008). The acclaimed documentary film maker (Why We Fight) Jarecki tells you why President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of “the disastrous rise of misplaced power” from what he famously called “the military industrial complex” and how separation of powers has fallen to the imperial presidency and beyond constitutional accountabilities.

3. "Plowshares Into Swords: From Zionism to Israel," by Arno Mayer, (Verso, 2008). This Princeton scholar’s detailed history returns facts to the evolution of this political movement in the broader geographic, economic and military contexts feeding today’s headlines. Reviewers somehow missed this book, but you shouldn’t.

4. "Spinner-in-Chief: How Presidents Sell Their Policies and Themselves," by Stephen J. Farnsworth (Paradigm, 2008). This meticulous George Mason University Professor fills his pages with engrossing examples of how Presidents and presidential candidates market themselves with a media willing to be used to further executive power the concentration of which drains the public dialogue and debate through weapons of mass distraction.

5. "Plunder: When the Rule of Law is Illegal," by Ugo Mattei and Laura Nader (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008). When raw imperial and corporate power shape, control and interpret “the rule of law,” the latter becomes, in the commentary by William Grieder, “an ideological mechanism for subjugating peoples and imposing injustice.”

6. "Undoing the Bush-Cheney Legacy: A Took Kit for Congress & Activists," edited by Ann Fagan Ginger (Meiklejohn Civil Liberties, Berkeley, California, 2008) Compiled by a veteran constitutional and human rights attorney, through this paperback (see mcli.org) Ann Ginger cites specifically the legislation, regulations, executive orders and presidential signing statements that violate our constitution, treaties and other basic laws. She urges a omnibus “Restore Democracy Act” in 2009 to repeal the official illegalities of the Bush regime.

7. "The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book," by Michael Ratner (New Press, 2008). Ratner heads the Center for Constitutional Rights. He does not believe that Rumsfeld will be tried in the United States or by the international tribunal that the U.S. government refuses to recognize. So he makes his strongest book case that Rumsfeld and other high officials of the Bush government “ordered, authorized, implemented and permitted war crimes, in particular the crimes of torture.”

8. "Plunder: Investigating Our Economic Calamity and the Subprime Scandal," by Danny Schechter (Cosimo Books, 2008). Long-time film, television and radio producer, Schechter reports how this subprime scheme came about and who should be held responsible for these engineered hyper-risks that were peddled to pension and mutual funds and to places far around the world.

9. "The Power of the Peddler," by Jeno F. Paulucci with Les Rich and James Tills (Paulucci International, 2005). Jeno is a quite different kind of peddler—creating more companies challenging giant corporations into his nineties than you can count, supporting and insisting on labor unions in his factories, defiantly defending the peoples right to “sue the bastards.” This generous man, an old friend, even printed blurbs on his book jacket from detractors.

10. "For stimulating reflection try: A Year With Emerson," edited by Richard Grossman (David R. Godine, 2005). Long-time Ralph Waldo Emerson scholar, Grossman selects a thought, musing or observation by Emerson for each day of the year—all 365 of them. What a way to start or end a day for a man who took time to think and urge us toward self-reliance.

Earlier in the 20th century, the cartoon character Mr. Dooley said “Reading ain’t thinking.” But it is a pretty good headstart today when so many people are glued to their screens. Enjoy and ruminate.

Monday, December 8, 2008

And, in the 'reaping what you sow' category ...

There is this: ["Liberals voice concerns about Obama"].
One of the most important things Ralph Nader said in the last election, something that was totally ignored, was that it was a mistake for "liberals" to be falling all over themselves to elect Obama - or any Dem - without some conditions in place first. It wasn't enough to just replace Bush/Cheney. Change is about change. "Meet the new boss, the same as the old boss," as the Who song goes. You can almost hear them screaming, "Well how did we know that he would change his mind?" Well, hello, he's a Democrat! They always "change" their minds! Where have you been? Ugh. Frankly, you all get what you deserve. The key now is to hope - and pray - that these Democrats don't usher in "even worse Republicans" ... another Nader line ... and their incredibly bad policies [triangulation anyone?] like they did in 1994, 2000, 2002, etc.

Supreme Court turns down Obama citizen challenge ...

["Court: No review of Obama's eligibility to serve"].

Sunday quick hits ... on Monday ...

Well, I didn't get to Sunday's quick hits until now. Life is just getting way too busy. Have at it:

The battle over the plug-in sports cars: WSJ Magazine, which is included monthly in the print edition of the WSJ, has a great story about the battle to see who brings the first plug-in sports car to market. The two main contenders are the Ferrari/Lotus-like Tesla, which I've written about before, and Fisker Automotive, which is unveiling its Maserati-like Karma next year:


Fisker Automotive's Karma. Picture borrowed from Wired Magazine's blog.
The Karma goes twice as long without a charge, has similar speeds, and will cost a little less than the Tesla, probably making it the winner at the end of the sprint. The Karma will also be out sooner, according to sources. Although, at $80K, it's still way out of price range for most folks, even enthusiasts.

Don't know if this is true or not: ["New solar cell material achieves almost 100% efficiency, could solve world-wide energy problems"]. But if it is, the plug-ins can't come fast enough!

Ralph Nader gives more of his take on the Big 3 bailout here: ["CEOs of Big Three Automakers Return to Capitol Hill to Plead for $34B Federal Bailout"].
Speaking of Nader, he recently polled subscribers to his Web site about what the five most important politic issues were. More than 10,000 people filled out the survey and the results are: Adopt single payer health care 18.7 percent; Full military and corporate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan 16.4 percent; Convert to a renewable energy economy 12.5 percent; Others 8.7 percent, End corporate welfare, subsidies, and bailouts 8.5 percent.
Of course, none of those things will get done even though the Democrats control both houses of the Legislative branch and will soon control the Executive branch. Isn't interesting that no matter who you vote for the corruption and the problems still remain?
I happened to catch "The McLaughlin Group" on WGBH's World last night and Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, noted that Obama's national security team looked like a third Bush term. And you know, he's absolutely right, as frightening as the thought is!
And, not unlike Nader and all his awesome ideas, single payer is DOA as a solution: [Naughty Max Baucus: "The only thing that’s not on the table is a single-payer system"]. I missed this when reading the WSJ last week but someone else caught it later.
In some ways, I don't know if I support single payer anymore in the same way I no longer support completely eliminating taxes for everyone. The simple ethos of conservatives - that if you don't have people buying into a system, they won't understand it - seems logical to me. More than 30 percent of the country pays $0 in income taxes so they don't care a thing about government spending or handouts or whatever. They have nothing invested in it. Similarly, if single payer is enacted, how long before there are sugar taxes - like the ones on ciggies - or regulation of what someone eats? It's all a bit scary if you think about it. Granted, the system that exists now is totally broken and health care, like so many other things, should not be a huge profit commodity. But until we find a better solution, I don't know what we do. Government doing everything is not the answer in my mind but government doing absolutely nothing isn't the answer either.

And what about this idea: ["Ocean currents can power the world, say scientists"]. Always remember, as the corporate whores line up at the government trough and we continue to piss away money in the rathole that is Iraq, that there is never any money for things like this. Projects that will create millions of jobs and get us off of fossil fuels once and for all. will never be funded no matter who controls Washington. Nope, no money for that, but billions and billions for greedsters, distractors, and crooks.

If most folks didn't know that Obama was a smoker they do now: ["Obama says he won't be smoking in White House"]. This brings up all kinds of visuals. Obama, skulking out the back door of the White House to sneak a butt with all the hired help that having given up the addiction yet. Will staffers be going out to local gas station late at night to grab a pack for the prez-elect when he runs out? Will he have SS protection while he is in the smoking area? Will he toss his butt into a can next to the door or will he grind it into the ground and leave it for the sweepers to come and pick up like most folks? Oh man.

My friend Donna Halper has a new book out on talk radio: ["Icons of Talk"]. This is the expensive college print edition. She says it will eventually be parceled out to another publisher which will offer a more affordable, mass market edition. I can hardly wait.

Not unlike a lot of folks, I'm totally pulling back on holiday spending. This year is going to be a bit weird, with some folks here and other folks there. So, beyond taking a day or two off and relaxing and watching "It's a Wonderful Life" a couple of times, the holiday isn't going to be the same. However, some folks are trying to redefine Christmas entirely, as noted here: ["Redefine Christmas"]. And maybe that's not such a bad idea after all.
Speaking of Christmas, you have to love Best Buy's new slogan: "You, Happier." Well, I guess in some ways. Upgrading, say, a 27-inch tube TV to a 42-inch flat screen can make someone happier ... especially if they have a bunch of kids and they can no longer afford to go to the theatre or anything. Plus, at 18 months no financing, you're talking $55 a month for better visuals. And that's a small price to pay when you consider it.
And how about WalMart and Target, totally pitching everything in their stores as affordable. I mean, they were way ahead of the curve, shifting their slogans the minute the stock market plummeted.
But then there are silly marketers who have no concept of reality, like Hyundai, running "buy a car for Christmas" ads in the middle of football games, ad nauseum. It's one thing to put a bow on a Lexus but a Hyundai? Nah.
And lastly, I'll say this again: Wives, lovers, girlfs, guys do not - I repeat, DO NOT - want razors for Christmas. Don't believe the hype. We don't want them for Christmas. Shaving is work, not fun, even if it gets every strand of hair under the chin!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saturday quick hits

Clearing out the bookmarks bin here, the Saturday morning edition.

First, Zogby is reporting, via Politics1, that polling has begun for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. It's a tad early, but what the hey, right? Sarah Palin received 24 percent. Mitt Romney got 18 percent. Bobby Jindal received 16 percent. And Mike Huckabee came in with 10 percent. Rudy Guiliani got 5 and Ron Paul received 3 percent. If I had to take a guess, I would say it is doubtful that Paul will run again, considering his age. Who knows. Don't know about the others either.
Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, who just won reelection in a run-off [why don't we have these everywhere?], credited Palin's fly-through for rallying the base and helping him win. Like Chambliss ever really had a chance of losing in Georgia. But, if this kinda stuff keeps up, it is likely that Palin will be on the GOP front burner for quite a while.

Are you watching the financial disaster? Well, check out this site: ["The Bank Implode-o-meter"]. I knew it was bad but I didn't know it was quite this bad ...

Trying to save for retirement has been on my mind lately. I don't know why. Maybe because it is getting towards the end of the year and I have to start thinking about my IRA deposit. In clearing out the bookmarks bin, I found this old article from earlier this year: ["The One-Year $1 Million Challenge"]. Of course, this was written months before the crash, so 10 percent returns are probably not to be expected. In addition, who can really max out their IRA these days? Like, no one. Oh well. So, you won't be a millionaire any time soon.

While the Smart Car seems like a good idea, watching them on the highway really scares the daylights out of me: ["SmartUSA.com"]. I mean, they just don't seem safe. They are, but they just don't look it. As well, for the price, about $14K, you can get a rocketship Honda Civic, if you haggle, which will get almost the same gas mileage. I've gotten as high as 41.6 mpg in my Civic. I'm sure if I dropped down to 55 on the highway, I'd get even more. As well, you'll be comfortable! So, skip the "Smart" car and be smart: Get a stripped down Civic, save money, and enjoy your commute.

Another thing I forgot to post over the summer was this article from AJR: ["Murky Boundaries"]. There is a constant battle in the minds of journalists about this issue, especially when we enjoy writing so much. Playing it safe is always the best route, I guess.

When I was searching for information about oil prices and gasoline after the spike, I came across this site: ["Where does US gasoline come from?"]. While I wasn't surprised by such numbers in this sentence: "Although the United States is the world’s third largest crude oil producer, less than 35 percent of the crude oil used by U.S. refineries was produced in the United States." ... I was surprised by the next two:
"Net petroleum imports (imports minus exports) account for 60 percent of our total petroleum consumption. About 50 percent of our petroleum imports are from countries in the Western Hemisphere, with 17 percent from the Persian Gulf, and 19 percent from Africa and 14 percent from other regions."
In fact, upon more research at the EIA site, I discovered that the bulk of our imported oil, about 60 percent, comes from Canada! So, when some of my comrades have said, "We're dying in Iraq for oil," that could be a questionable statement despite its validity in my mind [and the minds of others]. Of course, Iraq and the other Middle Eastern countries are sitting on top of the globe's largest oil reserves. When mined, there should be enough oil to last another 50-plus years, even without conservation, according to some sources. Others say it is less. As technology progresses, we'll no longer need their oil, thankfully. Hopefully, each household will eventually be able to get their own plug-in cars, subsidized by single-source electric generation solar panels and wind farms. Well, one can always hope.

This is funny: ["The Marketing Professional’s List of Lists"]. I hate "sales" - even though I was good at it - but I love marketing. I don't spend enough time perusing marketing sites but I'm still fascinated by what motivates people to do certain things. I really need to figure out a way to get a job where I just study those types of things.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Crisis and Opportunity

Guest Perspective by Ralph Nader

In ancient China, the character for “crisis” was associated with “opportunity.” This month Congress will be faced with both challenges from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, whose CEOS are begging for a very rapid $34 billion in emergency government loans.

The three auto giants have few cards to play other than the domino effect on the economy, should they collapse into bankruptcy and liquidation. Once Congress signals that, on behalf of its sullen taxpayers, going into this abyss will not happen, our national legislature will hold all the cards.

So if Congress and George W. Bush agree to have Uncle Sam bail out the auto bosses and their tanking companies, important reforms and models can emerge from this multi-faceted mega rescue.

Let it be called the coming of a vigorous government capitalism, based on rigorous conventional reciprocity. First, since the government is contributing tax dollars, taxpayers should receive taxpayer warrants and preferred shares held by the Treasury Department, for stock in the companies. Second, since the government would be a senior creditor, it should exercise restructuring powers to remove the top executives and the Boards of Directors along with other functional re-alignments.

Third, since the government is essentially performing as an insurer, basic standards of loss prevention should be applied. In this context, this means stronger fuel efficiency, emission-control and safety standards to enhance sales and increase the pressure on foreign auto companies. This insurance-driven requirement would further long-existing federal statutory missions in three areas of engineering performance.

In the past ten weeks, “government capitalism” has been a patsy, absorbing huge taxpayer dollars and liabilities to save an assortment of Wall Street financial corporations. Washington is guaranteeing a clutch of securitized mortgages and consumer loans and even guaranteeing, for the first time, 4 trillion dollars of money market funds.

The bailout of Citigroup illustrates the paucity of reciprocity. It is a sweetheart deal. With Citigroup’s co-executive. Robert Rubin rushing to Washington to structure the deal to save his bank and his own stock portfolio, the Bush regime took on $20 billion in preferred shares and put taxpayers at risk for over $300 billion in the big bank’s loan portfolio. Earlier in October, taxpayers were compelled to buy $25 billion in Citi preferred shares.

Whereas the Feds earlier took a potential 79% ownership of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to save those companies, for Citi the government only took 7.8% stake and left the management and board of directors intact.

Since these enormous bailouts and revisions of bailouts largely occur over weekends in frantic secret huddles between government officials formerly from Wall Street and their former colleagues from Wall Street, the actual agreements are not disclosed. They are considered official secrets, assuming they even have been finalized beyond mere memoranda of understanding.

Since all these deals, and more seem to be coming from other commercial and industrial pleaders, are general and appear to be open-ended, resourceful government capitalism can advance shareholder rights across the board and compel a variety of corporate reforms and accountabilities long-desired by progressives and conservatives alike.

At least the auto companies are being subjected to public Congressional hearings for this latest bailout round. In contrast, the CEOs of the financial goliaths got private roundtable treatment at the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve for far greater rescue packages, revealed in brief statements on Monday morning.

Let’s have a level playing field here and treat all corporate welfare demanders under equal procedural rules shaped on Capitol Hill. Remember the Constitution. It says all spending bills start with the House of Representatives and then go to the Senate and then to the President. Secret taxpayer bailouts by Executive Branch press releases are not what the framers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution.

With the installation of a new president and a new Congress next month, the process must be reversed and these White House-corporate “understandings” have to be reconsidered and, if maintained, revised.

This is a rare moment in American economic history. Just as the multinational corporations were about to complete the entrenchment of the corporate state in Washington, D.C., -- what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described in 1939 as a condition of fascism—their speculative greed, recklessness, mismanagement and de-regulatory license turned them into massive supplicants at the taxpayers’ trough.

In early October, Washington has Wall Street over a Congressional barrel. Still, Wall Street rolled Washington into a $700 billion bailout barrel and rolled it back to New York City.

With a supposedly reformist Democratically dominated Congress and Obama in the White House, the balance of power for the people of our country can turn. But it will take prompt new exertions by the people, citizen groups, organized investors, taxpayers and workers. Seize the moment.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Open The Books Save The Economy

Guest Perspective by Ralph Nader

It has never been more clear how much corporations depend on We, the People for their very existence. Corporations are given the right to exist through a public charter. For public corporations, shareholders are bestowed with limited liability, and they benefit from a public system of securities regulation that gives investors confidence to invest. In the best of times, corporations benefit both from public goods (public roads and infrastructure, public investment in R&D) and targeted benefits (tax subsidies, loan guarantees, and much more). In the worst of times, as we now see, the largest corporations can expect massive public support. Bloomberg reports that the United States has already committed an amazing $7.76 trillion -- more than half of U.S. GDP -- in funds for bailouts, guarantees, share purchases, insurance programs, swaps and more.

Don't We, the People have the right to expect something in return?

How about starting with public release of the income tax returns of all corporations above a certain size (say, $10 million in assets)?

In October, a former Bush administration head of the Internal Revenue Service, Mark Everson, proposed exactly that in the Washington Post.

Wrote Everson, "Federal tax returns include important information about corporations beyond that available in financial statements. Making corporate returns available for public inspection would provide a powerful tool to analysts who follow companies and industries, and it would help others better evaluate counterparties and risk. It would assist other federal and state regulators, who currently are prohibited from reviewing the details of federal returns. (The IRS itself is precluded from sharing returns with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department except in narrow circumstances.) Large corporations file their federal tax returns electronically, so the data can easily be shared. Information returns filed by not-for-profits are already available online."

Disclosure of corporate income tax returns would help offset the intentional obscurity and complexity surrounding corporate records that has so directly contributed to the current financial crisis.

It would also lead to much better tax policy. President-elect Obama has stated that he and his administration will carefully review every budget expenditure, in order to save taxpayer dollars and eliminate or curtail programs that have outlived their usefulness or never should have been started. This is a welcome commitment. Aside from cutting wasteful Pentagon spending, however, the really big ways to improve the government's balance sheet are in eliminating unfair, inefficient corporate tax loopholes, and escapes to tax havens abroad.

The complexity of the tax code -- itself the product of long-term, persistent and intensive lobbying -- invites esoteric gaming by large corporations, aided and abetted by lawyers and accountants.

Some tax provisions are included in the Code with almost no one other than the lobbyists who wrote them understanding what their implications will be.

And some tax provisions are muscled through by powerful interests, but impose public costs not fully understood at the time of enactment, while offering minimal public benefits.

If corporate tax returns were made public, citizen advocates and other monitors would be able to root out tax abuses, and rally to have them repealed. The government -- that is, the taxpayers -- would stand to recoup tens of billions of dollars, or more, to be more appropriately allocated.

Corporations, naturally, would object to mandatory disclosure of their tax returns. They would claim a right to privacy. But corporations are legal fictions, not people with legitimate privacy concerns. There should be no corporate right to privacy.

Corporations would also argue that disclosing tax returns would force them to reveal proprietary information. But that claim pales beside the broad public interest in gaining access to corporate returns, especially in this period of cascading mega bailouts. And, if corporations can identify some narrow and legitimate right to proprietary protection, let them do so. Then those specific areas can be excluded from disclosure.

Disclosure of corporate tax returns would be administratively simple. As Everson notes, the IRS already requires that corporations file their returns electronically. And there are precedents even from the pre-digital age. Wisconsin, for example, required corporate tax returns to be disclosed, before modifying its rules several decades ago.

In the first week of December, the auto industry CEOs will again appear before the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees, to make the case for receiving billions in tax payer bailout monies. Hopefully, they will find a way to get to Washington other than by chartering their corporate jets. Chairman Chris Dodd and Chairman Barney Frank should instruct the CEOs that they should come with their corporate tax returns in hand, ready to share them with the American people. That will open the gates for a new standard of openness that should apply to all corporations.

Noise Top 30 radio chart for December

Noise Top 30 radio chart for December
Reporting: WAAF, WBCN, WFNX, WMBR, WMFO, WTCC, WZBC

1. Passion Pit – Chunk of Change EP
2. Pretty & Nice – Get Young
3. The Fatal Flaw – We Are What We Pretend To Be
4. Township – Township
5. The Lights Out – Heist EP
6. Peter Moore – One Ride
7. The Blizzard of 78 – Book of Lies
8. The Milling Gowns – Diving Bell Shallows
9. The Mystery Tramps – The Mystery Tramps EP
10. The Vital Might – Red Planet
11. Aloud – Fan the Fury
12. Axemunkee – Sidewalk Mary
13. Bang Camaro – Bang Camaro II
14. Campaign for Real-Time – “The Game”
15. Chop Chop – Screens
16. Christy Romanick – Christy Romanick
17. Dirt Mall – Got the Goat By the Horns
18. The Divorced – The Divorced
19. East Coast Avengers – Prison Planet
20. Fluttr Effect – EP
21. Midatlantic – The Longest Silence
22. Amanda Palmer – Who Killed Amanda Palmer
23. Pray for Polanski – The Ghost and Bones EP
24. Scarce – Tattoos and Parades EP
25. The Sneaks – In an Instant EP
26. The Sprained Ankles – You Love the Sprained Ankles EP
27. Winterpills – Central Chambers
28. Sgt. Maxwell’s Peace Chorus – The Military EP
29. Barnicle – Friends of B
30. The Serious Geniuses – You Can Steal the Riffs but You Can’t Steal the Talent

Monday, November 24, 2008

Renewables in New Hampshire

Here is a follow up story from the Concord Monitor about Amenico, a local company that is recycling restaurant cooking oil and creating new fuel from it: ["Energy startup buys tannery"]. This is what American ingenuity is all about! Congrats Tony!!

Hahahaha ... there is a deceptive headline here in Variety but the article is worth a quick read: ["Needed: Network bailout?"].
There is a whole lot wrong with the television industry right now. Like the music industry, it kinda deserves everything it gets, because of its bad management and shoddy products. Oh how the Internet has made everything crazy.
The other thing to realize here is the old adage I have tried to relay to readers and everyone I know: Economists need to learn how to subtract. Not everything goes up in this world. Things go down, as we are seeing now. But if you don't have a plan when things go down, you get caught offguard.
That is what is so puzzling about Citigroup. It is just too big to fail. I mean, when I saw the headlines about it being sold, I thought, who has enough money to buy it? And why should they get a bailout just because their stock is down 88 percent? Stock goes up; stock goes down. Let them lay off the workers and make a go of it before we bail them out. Same with the Big 3 automakers. Modify your business plan now and then we'll help you if we need to. But so long as your CEOs are getting big paychecks and flying on private jets, you don't get jack.
Look at the newspaper industry again. More than 100,000 jobs lost, about half in the last three years, the equivalent of what Citigroup is doing this month. No one is bailing out the newspapers, preserving those extremely important jobs. Not only important to those people working in them but what those service provides society. But, the newspaper busines model is changing and that industry has to adapt. No one is bailing the newspapers out. As well, new products are emerging from the ashes. There are non-profit startups, individually owned and operated entities, and even affluent investors buying and starting some of these institutions because they are interested in the important of the product. You can't say exactly the same for the automakers and the banks, but some of it might work.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Oh, say it ain't so Chuck ...


Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner was captured on an FBI video recording allegedly receiving a $1,000 bribe. Picture courtesy of the FBI.
Oh Chuck. Say it ain't so ... I'm really surprised by this. I know Chuck. Shit, I gave the guy money when he first ran for office. I know him to be a good man. But sometimes, good men do bad things, as the picture alleges.
NECN, reporting from Worcester yesterday, had a defiant Turner speaking from the courthouse steps, saying he would not resign from his seat and would file a lawsuit if the council tried to keep him from serving.
The fact that he had supporters outside the courthouse claiming that this is some sort of "Counter Intelligence Program/COINTELPRO" conspiracy is not going to help his case at all. The Green-Rainbow Party, of which Chuck is a member, sent out a press release standing by him noting the Cointelpro issue. But, you know, that issue was dead in 1971. It's almost 2009. Folks have gotta move on. As well, as it turns out, this case wasn't brought on by the FBI - it was brought on by a constituent of Dianne Wilkerson and Turner who went to the Boston Police with his evidence who then kicked it upstairs to the feds.
Obviously, everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but this does not look good.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

Guest Perspective by Ralph Nader

While the liberal intelligentsia was swooning over Barack Obama during his presidential campaign, I counseled “prepare to be disappointed.” His record as a Illinois state and U.S. Senator, together with the many progressive and long overdue courses of action he opposed during his campaign, rendered such a prediction unfortunate but obvious.

Now this same intelligentsia is beginning to howl over Obama’s transition team and early choices to run his Administration. Having defeated Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primaries, he now is busily installing Bill Clinton’s old guard. Thirty one out of forty seven people that he has named so far for transition or appointments have ties to the Clinton Administration, according to Politico. One Clintonite is quoted in the Washington Post as saying – “This isn’t lightly flavored with Clintons. This is all Clintons, all the time.”

Obama’s “foreign policy team is now dominated by the Hawkish, old-guard Democrats of the 1990,” writes Jeremy Scahill. Obama’s transition team reviewing intelligence agencies and recommending appointments is headed by John Brennan and Jami Miscik, who worked under George Tenet when the CIA was involved in politicizing intelligence for, among other officials, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s erroneous address before the United Nations calling for war against Iraq.

Mr. Brennan, as a government official, supported warrantless wiretapping and extraordinary rendition to torturing countries. National Public Radio reported that Obama’s reversal when he voted for the revised FISA this year relied on John Brennan’s advise.

For more detail on these two advisers and others recruited by Obama from the dark old days, see Democracy Now, November 17, 2008 (http://www.democracynow.org/2008/11/17/headlines#7) and Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet, Nov. 20, 2008 “This is Change? 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama’s White House.”

The top choice as White House chief of staff is Rahm Emanuel—the ultimate hard-nosed corporate Democrat, military-foreign policy hawk and Clinton White House promoter of corporate globalization, as in NAFTA and the World Trade Organization.

Now, recall Obama’s words during the bucolic “hope and change” campaign months: “The American people…understand the real gamble is having the same old folks doing things over and over and over again and somehow expecting a different result.” Thunderous applause followed these remarks.

“This is more ‘Groundhog Day’ then a fresh start,” asserted Peter Wehner, a former Bush adviser who is now at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The signs are amassing that Barack Obama put a political con job over on the American people. He is now daily buying into the entrenched military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned Americans about in his farewell address.

With Robert Rubin on his side during his first photo opportunity after the election, he signaled to Wall Street that his vote for the $750 billion bailout of those speculators and crooks was no fluke (Rubin was Clinton’s financial deregulation architect in 1999 as Secretary of the Treasury before he became one of the hugely paid co-directors tanking Citigroup.)

Obama’s apologists say that his picks show he wants to get things done, so he wants people who know their way around Washington. Moreover, they say, the change comes only from the president who sets the priorities and the courses of action, not from his subordinates. This explanation assumes that a president’s appointments are not mirror images of the boss’s expected directions but only functionaries to carry out the Obama changes.

If you are inclined to believe this improbable scenario, perhaps you may wish to review Obama’s record compiled by Matt Gonzalez at Counterpunch (http://counterpunch.org/gonzalez10292008.html).

Friday morning quick hits ...

Let's see if I can get through this in about 5 minutes 'cause that's all the time I have for this ...

First, local talker Arnie Arnesen loses another radio show: ["Plug pulled on Arnesen’s radio show"]. What is this, like six or seven? When is she going to save up the money to buy a station so she'll never get kicked off again? Prices are really, really low right now for radio stations. Seriously though, while I don't always agree with her and I don't like the fact that she won't let anyone else get a word in, Arnie is good radio. She brings up a lot of important points and should be on the air, especially in our state. Here's hoping she gets on the air again soon.

I posted this on the radio-info.com NNE board the other day: ["Second life for Jennifer Horn?"]. I was hoping someone from the New Hampshire radio scene would know what Horn was doing on the air at WTPL the other day. No bites yet though. For those of you that don't know, Horn was the Republican nominee for Congress for CD2 here in New Hampshire. She got spanked. Now she's on the radio again.

AP took the words right out of my mouth: ["President-elect promised change, picking insiders"]. Between this, and this, one has to wonder: ["Change.gov and Cluen: A Case Study in Privacy"]. That's right, "change" we can believe in! Fools.

Click here to find out how NOT to vote on a paper ballot: ["Challenged ballots: You be the judge"]. You never know when there might be a recount or something and your vote might count. So, don't be an idiot, read the ballot instructions and fill in the oval accordingly. This makes me wonder about all those aptitude tests we took as kids and whether or not our scores were excessively low because we didn't fill in the ovals properly. Hah!

The future of the Republican Party? Charlie Cook has some ideas: ["Learn Or Languish"]. Interesting reading.

I meant to post this last week but didn't get around to it: ["Two signs that something is seriously wrong"]. I really like these amateur economist out there in cyberspace who are really starting to look at things from a deeper context.

Lastly, Howie Carr's book makes the bargain bin: ["Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century"]. In actuality, it's not a bad read and a bargain at $6.

Not bad, 13 minutes ...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bye bye 8,000 ...

The DJIA falls below 8,000 for the first time in ages: ["Dow plunges nearly 430 to fall below 8,000 mark"]. I remember back in 1997 when folks were talking about the roaring stock market at 7,000. Oh how things change ...

And everyone has seen this one: ["Big 3 CEO's private flights"]. You can almost get a full-time newspaper reporter at a small weekly for $20K. You could probably pay for an administrative assistant for a good portion of a year at one of the Big 3 for what they spent on that private flight. It's this kinda stuff that just makes people nuts. Here they are, begging for our tax dollars, while blowing money on private jets ... money they could be using on employees. Obviously, they don't really give a shit about shareholders, their investments, or the taxpayer. Get on the friggin' Southwest jet and live with the rest of us!

Say it ain't so: ["Iconic Harvard Square newsstand to close"]. This is so, so sad. I loved that store. I used to work at J. August Co. in Harvard Square during the 1990s. I was there more than seven years and I would live my breaks at that place. It was so great, had so many cool newspapers and magazines, and was such a joy to visit.

Here is a cool site I stumbled upon while reading about Out of Town News closing, brought to you by the Newseum: ["Today's Front Pages"]. One of these days, I'm going to have to get down there.

Speaking of icons closing, another indie theatre is biting the dust: ["Exeter's historic Ioka theater to close"].

I am Master Chief ... Not!


Two screen shots from a recent Halo 3 game played on XBox Live online. Above, I'm ready for my [sniper] close up. Below, I get blown up by an opponent using a Needler, an orbed shaped gun that shoots pink spikes through the air that later explode inside the target.

For months now, I have been playing Halo 3 on Xbox live online. It happened quite by accident.
Before I even bought my Xbox 360, a friend of mine bought me a gift certificate from Microsoft to play my regular Xbox online. Instead of us old guy gamers trying to find a day when we could all get together, we could just hook up online and blow things up there. I never got around to using it but continued to play every once and a while with my buddies, on random Sundays when I could disappear from the family for a few hours. Then, I upgraded to the 360 and was told, emphatically, that I had to play online.
So I signed up and for about four months, I have been playing online. It is, in a word, amazing. The stress relief alone is worth the hour or two [or sometimes three] spent playing this game online with hundreds of thousands of other potential players [some nights, there are as many as 300,000 people online playing Halo 3 globally, a pretty scary thought when you think about it].
During the time I have been playing, I've met some interesting people online. In fact, I have only played with my buddies a few times. They are both state employees and have to get up very early whereas I get home late and can play into the evening [when it doesn't cut into family time. I, frankly, find it a heck of a lot more relaxing and compelling than sitting there watching pretty bad television].
I am surprised at how many adults are out there playing too. While I haven't met anyone physically, you can get a lot from people listening to their voices [gamers have headsets connected to the controls that allow you to have conversations during the game]. Sure, there are some jerks out there, just like there are trolls on Web sites. But for the most part, people seem to be having a good time blowing things up.
One of the more hilarious things about playing online is going up against some really good players who are kicking you butt and then, at the end of the game, hearing the squeaky voices of young teenagers say, "Good game, good game ..." It totally cracks me up. I'm getting my ass kicked by a prepubescent boy!
I usual play in Team Slayer mode, four on four. The game randomly puts you in with other players with similar rankings but it can be a hodge podge. If you find some good players, it is in your interest to team up after that game, so that you can get your ranking up [I'm at 13, Lt. Grade 3, although it says I'm a Major Grade 3. I have been as high as 14, with 663 total games played online].
Some people take the entire thing way too seriously. For example, it takes me a few games to get warmed up. So, I tend to score low when I first get on. This can tick some of the more serious players off because if you don't get your fair share of kills, it brings the entire team down. I don't know how to resolve this problem beyond continuing to do the best that I can. But some folks really lose their minds, yelling after they lose or saying you suck. Hey, I'm friggin' 43, playing at 10 p.m. at night after a busy day at work. Cut me some slack.
I also don't like to hop around the maps like some players do. They bounce around like frogs trying to not get hit. I like to hunker down with a sniper rifle and ping people off. through the scope. Some players are smart enough after a few kills to come get me because I can't see them in the scope until they are right in front of me. So, my position tends to be strategic rather than just randomly killing off opponents. That said, if I don't see a lot of action in the map, I will go out there and try to hunt opponents down too.
And the total geek effect really kicks in when I go to www.bungie.net to check out my stats. It's all digital, they keep track of everything. So far, I have 73 "killing spree" medals, 155 "double kill" medals, 426 plasma [or sticky] grenade attacks, with 110 kills from the grave - meaning, my actions just before dying took out another player. I've also ended 162 of my opponent's killing sprees [called a Killjoy]. Twenty one percent of my kills have been via assault rifle, 14 percent plasma grenade, and 13 percent sniper. Personally, my favorite weapon beyond the sniper rifle is to drive into people with the Ghost, a jet ski like hovercraft that has laser guns. I can even save games online and go back and watch them from different angles or save screenshots, which you can see above, which are then downloadable from the Bungie site.
That all said, I'm beginning to sense that I am "wasting" a lot of time playing Halo 3 online. When my renewal came up, I spent a few minutes debating inside my own head whether I should spend $20 for the three month subscription or go all out and get the 1-year subscription for $50. I tend to buy in bulk in order to save money, especially on things I know I'm going to use. But, at the same time, I began to wonder if I really wanted to spend a ton of spare hours over the next year in Halo 3 land. There just isn't enough time in the day to do all the things you want to do outside of work. I ended up buying the three month subscription. For now, it's a very good time.

The new Boston Globe
I finally got a chance to really take a hard look at the new redesigned Boston Globe. I haven't been a regular reader of the Globe in a very long time. I have purposely chosen not to buy it. I have had run-ins with them over the years and don't think I have been treated fairly by its reporters or columnists [I have written about these issues previously. No need to go into them again]. I also don't agree with its editorial policy [even though I tend to be more liberal on issues than conservative].
Essentially, what they have done is what most newspapers in the world are doing: They have whacked a slew of pages and focused more on short, snappy stories. They have also put all their TV, movie listings, and some arts stuff in this new "G" section [When it first came out, all of us at work started jokingly referring to the mighty Globe with catching G-comments. I liked mine the best, "As thin as a G-string ..."].
But here is what is striking about the Tuesday edition: The A sections, two at a total of 32 pages, contained 13 - yup, 13 - full page Macy's ads ... 13!! So, basically, you paid 75 cents to have a front section that was more than a third Macy's ads.
Of course the bad news is that the Globe is losing millions of dollars per week. I mean, it's a disaster, not unlike a lot of newspapers, and there isn't a lot they can do about it beyond busting their union and using wire copy, something they aren't going to do ... yet.
It is a sad state of affairs when a newspaper as important as the Boston Globe because such a disaster. But, you know, maybe its just desserts when you consider the harm they have done to some people over the years.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oh man!

I can't wait to see this documentary called "Media Malpractice" from John Zeigler.



I'm always intrigued by documentaries like this, "Outfoxed," and stuff by Michael Moore. And not because I agree or disagree with everything that is presented in the films. But because I enjoy films that analyze political issues.

Here is the Web site for more information: ["How Obama Got Elected"].

Here is the polling information, done by Zogby, showing some of the data: ["Zogby Poll: Almost No Obama Voters Ace Election Test"].

Infuriating ... and hopeful ...

Why am I not surprised by this?: ["Lieberman keeps Homeland Security post"]. Sometimes, the friggin' Democrats can be so pathetic. If anything, Lieberman should have been pulled off the Homeland Security chairmanship and kept on the environmental one. It will be interesting to see the reaction from all the netroots activists who think their party can do no wrong.

One of my coworkers sent me this link: ["Web Sites That Dig for News Rise as Watchdogs "]. I've been thinking for quite a while that the non-profit road is the way to go in this business. If you are constantly having to turn over 20 percent profits each quarter to satisfy the crooks on Wall Street, it just doesn't work. As well, this is not in the best interest of readers, news, journalism careers, or the public at-large. There has to be a better way and maybe this is it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Really, I was only kidding ...

An astute reader sent me a couple of links from articles mentioning a bailout for the newspaper industry. Here ["A Bailout Plan For U.S. Newspapers"] and here: ["Enough with those bailout lines"].
Of course, as Vennochi writes, it would - and should - never happen. The threat of potential control of the message of "news," by government, would defeat the entire purpose of having a free press. But, at the same time, it seems to work in Britain just fine, doesn't it? I mean, we currently get better news from the BBC than we do our own outlets, in some cases. Although, we already fund radio and television via our tax dollars with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is similar to the BBC. The flip of this is that, at least on the radio side, NPR and many of its affiliates are tightly controlled. In many ways, public broadcasting is completely out of touch with the average American.
I have always joked that the newspaper industry, especially the dailies, are getting what they deserve since virtually all of them backed the horrific "free trade" economic policies that put decent-waged low skill labor [you know, the folks who used to read the newspaper ...] in direct competition with pennies-on-the-dollar-waged low skill foreign labor. The truly smart people know how that all worked out. Look around you. It is amazing that so many will still support such a failed economic policy even though the evidence of failure is right in front of our eyes ...

No bailout for the big three
Speaking of bailouts, there has been a lot said about a proposed bailout of the big three "American" automobile manufacturers. I was struck by this piece in the WSJ on Saturday: ["Just Say No to Detroit"].
While David Yermack, a professor of finance at New York University's Stern School of Business, gets the premise of Michael Moore's film wrong [it was more about the destruction of community than any one individual], he has some interesting things to say here ... especially when looking at the capital the big three have blown through. As he says in the subhead, "Given the abysmal performance by Detroit's Big Three, it would be better to send each employee a check than to waste it on a bailout." Or, how about one better: Similar to the hybrid tax credit, which seems to be going by the wayside, which is one of the reasons I didn't buy one last year, the answer might be to give millions of Americans a tax credit for buying a 30-plus mpg vehicle. If you use the $25 billion figure and gave folks a one-time $2,500 tax credit [or $500 over five years], that would be 10 million people or, potentially, 10 million new cars sold. Of course, there is no way you could just award it to big three purchases. And what do you do for folks who bought cars in the last year or two and are paying for them but might need the tax credit?
While it is terrible to think that 250,000 jobs could be lost if the big three go under - along with potentially tens of thousands more connected to those jobs - they made their own bed. They made horrific corporate decisions which have affected all Americans. They shouldn't get a bailout. It really is that simple. They have wasted so much money ... so much ... I mean, on advertising alone.
It's the same reason the original bank bailout should not have been supported. And now, as we read, we're seeing some serious graft and corruption with that program now. As well, looking back at the media example, we have already sustained tens of thousands of lost jobs. According to a piece Eric Alterman wrote for the New Yorker earlier this year, since 1990, a quarter of all American newspaper jobs have disappeared [I don't know where he got this figure and I don't particularly like Alterman since I saw his over the top comments about Ralph Nader. However, let's pretend he can be trusted on this figure]. This doesn't account for radio, television, magazines, or book publishing layoffs either. Sure, they weren't lopped off all at once but this is as serious as the auto industry. These jobs are already gone but there was no bailout talk for those folks.

[Update: I found another figure from the "Reflections of a Newosaur" blog stating that 102,120 jobs have been eliminated in the newspaper industry since 1990. About half of those jobs were lost in the last three years. If this is fact, it is worse than we thought. Where's the newspaper bailout again?]

A broader discussion about the causes of the crisis
It has been interesting to watch, on many different Internet outlets, the us vs. them mentality when discussing what has become the global financial crisis. One side says, it's all Wall Street's fault; the other side says, Democrats' housing policies [i.e. giving housing loans to people who could never pay them] is to blame for everything ... As if gluttonous greed, scurrilous speculation, billions in unearned bonuses, outright scams, rumors and innuendo about the solvency of companies like BearStearns [which created the initial run], and complete deregulation and lack of oversight of the industry, had absolutely nothing to do with it at all? Right.
But, in fact, it seems to be the perfect storm of many different factors colliding all at once ... The problem is no longer national - it's global in nature and it is about globalism itself. So, you can't say that a few million people not being able to make balloon payments on their overpriced housing caused the world's problems. That's a very small piece but it really is beyond that now.
To start, the main culprits seem to be a combination of the worst elements of unchecked free market economics AND certain political interests on both sides of the aisle pushing large lenders to throw loans at anyone and everyone to make sure the housing continued buzzing along. In addition, the federal reserve bank, which brought on the entire calamity by jacking up interest rates from 1 percent in the middle of 2004 to 5.25 percent in the middle of 2006. This action alone brought on huge spikes in ARMs which sent people who were otherwise having no problems at all paying their mortgages into bankruptcy.
Then the oil speculation happened and that was the nail in the coffin - those folks who saw their car gas bill double had to make choices: mortgage, food, fill the tank? Yikes.
Very few people in the media said word one about all of this, unfortunately, with most people concentrating on the Iraq situation during this time period [Remember the 2006 midterm elections? The Democratically-controlled Congress still hasn't enacted any of its solutions to solve these problems]. But literally a five-fold increase in the cost of getting money created a crunch. It's kinda funny and sad now. If you went back to the time period and listened to any of the big conservative talk radio shows, they had no problem at all that this was going on. In fact, most were talking about how great the Bush Administration was for getting so many Americans into their own homes. They too were caught up in the buzz, assuming everything their friends and financial advisors were telling them was the truth. It turned out to be a total lie and now we're all trillions poorer than we were before.
This is just the American side of things. Attach globalization onto this problem and we can see how it became massive. The simple fact is that you can't raise wages in one part of the world without lowering wages in another part of the world. It just doesn't work that way. As wages in one part of the world are lowered, those citizens acquire more work and more debt to sustain the living standards [or the standards that they perceive they should have, via manipulative advertising. Can anyone say consumer debt?]. Remember the old Clinton line: I created 20 million jobs. Average citizen responded: Yeah, I have three of them.
Monetary policy in the world is a zero-sum game. That is, there is only so much money and wealth floating around. As wages have risen in places like India and China, the standard of living has been lowered in the United States and European Union. The only salvation to this is the creation of more wealth via manufacturing, mining, etc. You can take resources from the ground and turn it into a product which didn't exist before. But if there is no one interested in buying the product, you don't make any money. Places like Canada seemed to be sustaining themselves well - mostly due to being the United States' largest exporter of oil as well as having a national health care system where everyone is covered [of course, they also have value-added taxes or VATs to pay for their health care system]. Some of the more socialist countries in the EU seem to be holding these together well too. By saying that, I'm not advocating that position. I'm just noting that they seem to be doing OK because they have a large safety net for the consequences of globalization.
It wasn't that long ago that those forces arguing against socialism used to hold up examples of European countries with 50 percent tax rates stating, we don't want that in America. Has anyone looked at their tax bill lately? I mean, all of your taxes and fees - property taxes and sales taxes and gas taxes and phone taxes and income taxes and SSI/Medicare taxes. If folks did, they would realize that we are paying 50 percent our income in taxes but we aren't receiving all the benefits that European countries do.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sometimes, all it takes is a rubber duck ...

Interesting article here about how scientists are studying how water flows from Greenland ... using rubber ducks: ["The Sober Science of Migrating Rubber Duckies "].

Speaking of plastic things in the ocean, I happened to be skimming through the cable channels the other night and came across "The News Hour," a show I haven't watched in ages. There was this intriguing story about all the junk in the ocean: ["Plastic Ocean"].

A few quick points:
* It's interesting that the market for laptops is "shriveling" as the WSJ puts it. To counter that, PC makers are cutting prices. Well, good. If anything, there should be MORE computers in the world, not less. The more connected we get, the better things should be. The faster and cheaper computers get, the more productive we can be.
* The big three automakers have their cups out, looking for a handout. And at this rate, why not? The government is giving everyone but the average citizen a handout. And, I love how unions are getting blamed for the big three's mishaps. Ah, hello? Who has been making most of the financial decisions at GM, Ford, and Chrysler, management or labor? Who advocated and later sent tens of thousands of jobs to Mexico and China, management or labor? You can't force so many people - your market - out of work and expect things to be OK in your industry. And yet, Toyota and Honda flourish. Sure, pay scales are a part of that. But so is smart management, hard-working Americans, and products customers want.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican with whom I don't agree on much, made this striking statement yesterday:
"They should take every step possible, including cutting executive salaries and bonuses, and exhaust all alternatives before coming to the taxpayers for tens of billions of dollars in help"
Damn right. And none of those bankers should get one thin dime in bonuses for running their industry into the ground either. That's Treasurer Paulson's present on the way out the door - trillions in debt, billions in the pockets of crooks - while being aided and abetted by the Democrats in Congress. Lord help us all.
* Will it be long before the beleaguered media companies, the publishing and book industry, or maybe even Hollywood starts holding out a hand for help? We deliver important news and information to people and our market dynamic is such that we don't have enough people employed to do our jobs. Can we get a handout please? I mean, come on, when does this all stop?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Restoring the Constitution

Guest Perspective by Ralph Nader

Barack Obama is receiving lots of advice from many people these days about the collapse of Wall Street, the sinking economy and the quagmire wars he will inherit from the Bush regime. However, there is one important matter that he alone can address with his legal training and the sworn oath he will take on January 20 to uphold the Constitution. That phenomenon is the systemic, chronic lawlessness and criminality of the Bush/Cheney regime which he must unravel and stop.

To handle this immense responsibility as President, he needs to bring together a volunteer task force of very knowledgeable persons plus wise, retired civil servants to inventory the outlaw workings of this rogue regime.

Much is already known and documented officially and by academic studies and media reporting. In the category of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, are (1) the criminal war—occupation of Iraq, (2) systemic torture as a White House policy, (3) arrests of thousands of Americans without charges or habeas corpus rights, (4) spying on large numbers of Americans without judicial warrants and (5) hundreds of signing statements by George W. Bush declaring that, he of the unitary presidency, will decide whether to obey the enacted bills or not.

To its everlasting credit, the conservative American Bar Association sent to President Bush three reports in 2005-2006 concluding that he has been engaged in continuing serious violations of the Constitution. This is no one-time Watergate obstruction of justice episode ala Nixon that led to his resignation just before his impeachment in the House of Representatives.

Nearly two years ago Senator Obama, contrary to what he knows and believes, vigorously came out against the House commencing impeachment proceedings. It would be too divisive, he said. As one of one hundred Senators who might have had to try the President and Vice President in the Senate were the House to impeach. He should have kept impartial and remained silent on the subject.

As President, he cannot remain silent and do nothing, otherwise he will inherit the war crimes of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney and become soon thereafter a war criminal himself. Inaction cannot be an option.

Violating the Constitution and federal laws is now routine. What is routine after awhile becomes institutionalized lawlessness by official outlaws.

Domestic Policy abuses are also rampant. Just what are the limits of the statutory authority of the U.S. Treasury Department or the government within a government funded by bank assessments known as the Federal Reserve?

Don’t read the $750 billion bailout law for any answers! The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi and the Majority Leader of the Senate, Harry Reid just sent a letter to Bush asking whether the White House believes the bailout law could be interpreted to save not just the reckless banks, but also the grossly mismanaged Big Three auto companies in Michigan.

Didn’t Congress know what they were or were not authorizing? Or did the stampede started by the demanding Bush result in blanket, or panicked ambiguity by a cowardly Congress?

This week, the Washington Post front paged an article that the Treasury Department unilaterally gave the banks a tax break that was estimated to be worth a staggering $140 billion. Just like that! Fiat! The Post reported that impartial legal experts flatly declared such a decision to be without statutory authority which means the Bush regime usurped the constitutional authority of Congress in matters of taxation and basically took out a 22 year old law enacted by Congress. Not to be outdone, on the same day, the lead article in the New York Times reported a four-year-old Bush doctrine allowing Special Forces and other armed force to pursue terrorists in any country in the world. The Times specified incursions at will into Syria, Iran, Somalia, Pakistan and other countries.

Such violations of national sovereignty without formal declarations of war or through formal interventions by the United Nations are violations of international law. The Bush government answers this assertion by its open-ended, totally self-defined, right of “self-defense” under the UN Charter. The same self-determining argument can be made by covert terrorists or covert actions by adversarial governments. This is an example of make-up-your-own international law to suit your own covert operations.

As a country that has the most to lose from the shredding of international law and order, the United States under Bush is giving many IOUs to revenge-minded suicidal adversaries. They can simply to their mass audiences say, if the U.S. can do anything it wants, why shouldn’t they?

It has been widely reported that the Justice Department under Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Gonzalez epitomized contempt for compliance with the laws regarding civil liberties, due process and politically interfering with U.S. Attorneys.

Less publicized was its refusal to enforce the laws routinely transgressed by the corporate patrons of the White House—such as environmental crimes, consumer fraud, and anti-trust violations.

Obama has tools to restore law and order by the government itself. The Bully Pulpit. Ordering departmental directives. Issuing Executive Orders. Requesting legislation. Highlighting the integrity of the subdued and buffeted federal civil service which, with its oath of office, deserves far more effective whistleblowing protection laws.

The ACLU has just released: "Actions For Restoring America: How to Begin Repairing the Damage to Freedom in America After Bush." Mr. Obama would do well to use this important report as blueprint for restoring faith in the U.S. Government's commitment to the Constitution (see http://www.aclu.org/transition/). A second report titled: "Protecting Public Health and the Environment by the Stroke of a Presidential Pen by the Center for Progressive Reform suggests several Executive Orders that Mr. Obama could sign to advance important health, safety and the environment goals (see http://www.progressivereform.org/).

Barack Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Let’s have it operate out of the Obama White House. And the time to start laying the groundwork is now!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scaraborough launches the F-bomb and Web hits go boom!

Yesterday, around lunchtime, I took a look at the Politizine.com Web hits while eating lunch, something I try to do at least once a day.
I noticed that the hits were around 160 - way above my usual 50 to 60 per day. I thought, What's this all about? So I looked and people were Googling "Scarborough, F-word" ... It turns out that he said a naughty word on TV Monday morning: ["'Morning Joe' Scarborough Drops F-Bomb On Air"].
Since I didn't hear it, because I have cheap cable and don't get MSNBC, I didn't know about it. But people were driven to Politizine because I thought he said it back in August: ["Joe Scarborough and the 'F' word ..."].
It seems that no one heard that one months ago. But whatever. Joe saying the F-word and people coming to the site to read about it yielded almost 300 visits. I think that is an all-time record in the time I have had SiteMeter but I'm not really sure. Isn't the Web is such a weird thing?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Palin strikes back ...

Some very interesting reading:

Former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin [finally] lashed out at some of the McCain staffers: ["Palin denounces anonymous critics as 'cowardly'"]. I'll admit, again, that I kinda like the woman and I think she got a bad rap. And reading some of these quotes and watching her respond to the charges doesn't change my opinion of her. It is Obama's moment, not hers. She seems like a class act, for a "Wasilla hillbilly" ... hah!

The Washington Post ombudsman admits that the newspaper had lopsided coverage towards Obama ... and has the statistics to prove it: ["An Obama Tilt in Campaign Coverage"]. Two key quotes here. First, this:
"But Obama deserved tougher scrutiny than he got, especially of his undergraduate years, his start in Chicago and his relationship with Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who was convicted this year of influence-peddling in Chicago. The Post did nothing on Obama's acknowledged drug use as a teenager."
And then, this:
"One gaping hole in coverage involved Joe Biden, Obama's running mate. When Gov. Sarah Palin was nominated for vice president, reporters were booking the next flight to Alaska. Some readers thought The Post went over Palin with a fine-tooth comb and neglected Biden. They are right; it was a serious omission."
Would it have made a difference if McCain had been on the front page of the Post an equal amount of times? No. Would it have mattered if McCain had gotten the same number of color photos as Obama? Nope. Obama/Biden still would have won. But a more equal number of critical stories about Obama/Biden was called for. The stories would have been sent out to other newspapers and the coverage may have been more even.
The larger point is this though: An analysis of every single major newspaper in this country - say, circs over 50,000 - would show the same exact thing. And that's how they influenced the election and assisted the Obama campaign.
The article says nothing about the four other minor presidential candidates that were totally ignored and should not have been. And all media outlets should go through this kind of analysis after every election and then, make changes in coverage accordingly.

The authors of the Jerry Williams book have an oped in the Boston Globe about the effect - or lack thereof - that talk radio had on the election: ["The rising irrelevance of talk radio"]. Their conclusions are pretty spot-on, including the changes in technology and how messages and information are being delivered to the public. It really is becoming an echo chamber on talk radio much to the chagrin of fans like me. The amount of hours I listen to talk radio is down significantly over previous years.
On the Boston Radio Archives list, there has been a lot of discussion about reimplementation of the fairness doctrine and whether that will happen after Obama/Biden are sworn in. I will write about this in more detail in the coming weeks.

Two big Internet people are taking a break from the medium. Ron Gunzburger, who has been doing Politics1.com for more than 11 years now, is stepping away from his site for at least a few months: ["CHANGE IS COMING TO POLITICS1"].
Also taking a break from his Internet endeavor is Dr. Bill Siroty, who has been putting NHNewsLinks.com together for what seems like an eternity: ["More About Bill Siroty"]. Both have been go-to sources of information for me and both will be missed.

Interested in Obama's transition plans? Click here: ["Office of the President-elect"].

This Democrat thinks President Bush has been treated badly: ["The Treatment of Bush Has Been a Disgrace "]. Here's video of Nader being interviewed about what he expects to see - and not see - after Jan. 21: ["Ralph Nader Speaks On An Obama Presidency"]. Plus, here is an interesting view, from the right: ["John McCain Defeated John McCain"].

Comcast's CN8 will soon end broadcasting in New England: ["Comcast reorganizing CN8 operations, cutting jobs"]. On top of this, Comcast's rates are going up, again, they're moving channels around messing things up, and the basic system still has free shopping and Spanish and no C-Span channels! Arrgh!!

The financial crisis has led to some parents pulling their kids out of daycare: ["Parents pull their children from day care as money tightens"]. People, did you really have the kids to stick them in daycare? Like this story is a bad thing.