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.