Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thoughts about the news industry

Yesterday, I spent the better part of the day judging newspaper entries for an annual state contest [the state will go nameless, since I don't want to get targeted for losses, heh, heh ...]. The categories were in different divisions, based on the size of the circulation of the newspaper. I judged two sets of politics/elections entries, and then tackled the in-dept/investigation category with a co-worker.
While a lot of the entries were not super impressive, there were some shining moments. In addition, what was really spectacular was the level of work produced by so many weeklies, even if the news coverage was relatively pedestrian. Meetings and features and tons of news, often by a single reporter or two reporters.
For the first round of judging, I literally read through each entry, from a bunch of small newspapers. Most of the stories were good but not really "award-winning." However, I was struck by the consistency of many of the newspapers. While there were small staffs, they were clearly working hard to get the news out. In addition, most of the entries seemed to be smaller or independent newspaper companies, not a lot of big companies [later in the day, we found out that no newspapers from our parent company had entered anything into the contest, a complete shock considering the fact that those newspapers win awards every year].
After looking at all the entries, I picked three which were pretty good.
In the next round, I received a higher circulation category and thought, before reading all of these entries, let me scan through them and look for some things that were outside of the box. I started opening them up and realized, wow, this was going to be hard. There were some great collections of election stories, election guides, and political issues in this category. It was clear the difference between the divisions - while the smaller newspapers were trying their best, the higher circs clearly had the resources to do a stellar job.
I ended up skimming through most of the entries that were pretty standard - lots of election results stories and election guides. Ho hum. I ended up picking three unusual stories - one, about a reporter being detained and questioned by the Secret Service at a debate; a large city weekly's extensive election coverage; and a story about the results of a write-in campaign.
After looking at the politics and election entries, I took a break and checked email before tackling the next set of entries. This sentence came across from the WSJ: "Gannett posted lower earnings and disclosed it will write down the value of assets by as much as $5.9 billion amid 'unprecedented turmoil' in the newspaper business."
I gasped and read the sentence out to a few folks who were also shocked.
"Are they basically saying they are worth a fraction of what they should be? Wow," I said.
No one really knew, but it looks like it.
Bryan and I started looking at the in-depth/investigative entries and there were some extensive pieces. Most were not really that impressive - again, a lot of pretty standard coverage - but we picked three really good entries that showed originality and creativity.
But as I got through all the entries of the in-depth category, I kept coming back to the Gannett announcement. When thinking about this, and looking at all the quality work by the smaller newspapers, it is pretty shocking. But there it is. These big companies, destroying newspapers, and leaving not much in their wake, while the smaller companies do what newspapers are supposed to be doing.
It also makes me come back to the economy in general, and the need to "get credit flowing ..." We're hearing that a lot. But, in many, many ways, credit and debt got us into the mess we're in right now. Companies got too, too big, and needed to be bailed out ... and maybe even bailed out again ... Getting into more debt with no clear way out other than hope for the future, well, that's not really hope at all. That's just a bigger mess coming.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Wither Wall Street

Guest Perspective/Ralph Nader
Soon after the passage in 1999 of the Clinton-Rubin-Summers-P. Graham deregulation of the financial industry, I boarded a U.S. Air flight to Boston and discovered none other than then-Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers a few seats away. He was speaking loudly and constantly on his cell phone. When the plane took off he invited me to sit by him and talk.

After reviewing the contents of this Citibank-friendly new law called the Financial Modernization Act—I asked him: “Do you think the big banks have too much power?”

He paused for a few seconds and replied: “Not Yet.” Intrigued by his two word answer, I noted the rejection of modest pro-consumer provisions, adding that now that the banks had had their round, wasn’t it time for the consumers to have their own round soon?

He allowed that such an expectation was not unreasonable and that he was willing to meet with some seasoned consumer advocates and go over such an agenda. We sent him an agenda, and met with Mr. Summers and his staff. Unfortunately, neither his boss, Bill Clinton, nor the Congress were in any mood to revisit this heavily lobbied federal deregulation law and reconsider the blocked consumer rights.

The rest is unfolding, tragic history. The law abolished the Glass-Steagall Act which separated commercial banking from investment banking. This opened the floodgates for unwise mergers, acquisitions and other unregulated risky financial instruments. Laced with limitless greed, casino capitalism ran wild, tanking economies here and abroad.

One champion of this market fundamentalism was Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve. Last October before a House Committee, Greenspan admitted he was mistaken and expressed astonishment at how corporations could not even safeguard their own self-interest from going over steep speculative cliffs.

Greenspan and Summers were deemed “brilliant” by the press and most of Congress. Summers’ predecessor at Treasury—Robert Rubin—was also a charter member of the Oracles—those larger-than-life men who just knew that the unfettered market and giant financial conglomerates would be the one-stop shopping mart consumers were assumed to be craving.

Now the world knows that these men belong to the “oops oligarchy” that bails itself out while it lets the companies collapse into the handcuffed arms of Uncle Sam and bridled taxpayers who have to pay for unconditional megabailouts. Instead of the Wall Street crooks being convicted and imprisoned, they have fled the jurisdiction with their self-determined compensation. Corporate crime pays, while pensions and mutual fund savings evaporate.

Now comes the next stage of the Washington rescue effort in a variety of stimulus packages which every vendor group imaginable wants a piece of these days. When trillions are offered, many come running.

As the public focus is on how much, when and where all this money should be spent, there are very serious consequences to be foreseen and forestalled. First, consider how much more concentrated corporate power is occurring. Forced or willing mergers, acquisitions and panic takeovers of big banks by bigger banks along with bankruptcies of companies further reduce what is left of quality competition for consumer benefit.

Remember the anti-trust laws. Obama needs to be their champion. The fallout from the Wall Street binge is likely to lead to a country run by an even smaller handful of monopolistic global goliaths.

In the stampede for stimulus legislation, there is a foreboding feeling on Capitol Hill that there is no proposal on the table to pay for it other than by the children and grandchildren. Just the opposite is raining down on them. Everybody including the private equity gamblers, Las Vegas casinos and Hollywood studios along with the banks and auto companies are looking for tax breaks.

So with the economy deteriorating and taxes being cut, where is the enormous money coming from? From borrowing and from printing money. So look out for big time inflation and decline in the dollar’s value vis-à-vis other currencies.

In all the hundreds of pages of stimulus bills, there is nothing that would facilitate the banding together of consumers and investors into strong advocacy groups. We have long proposed Financial Consumer Associations, privately and voluntarily funded through inserts in the monthly statements of financial firms.

If this bailout—stimulus—Wall Street funny money waste, fraud and abuse sounds confusing, that is because it is. A brand new paperback “Why Wall Street Can’t Be Fixed and How to Replace It: Agenda For a New Economy” by long-time corporate critic, David C. Korten will explain some of the wheeling and dealing.

You don’t have to agree with all or many of Korten’s nostrums. Just read Part II—The Case For Eliminating Wall Street. He considers three central questions:

First, do Wall Street Institutions do anything so vital for the national interest that they justify trillions of dollars to save them from the consequences of their own excess?

Second, is it possible that the whole Wall Street edifice is built on an illusion of phantom wealth that carries deadly economic, social, and environmental consequences for the larger society?

Third, are there other ways to provide needed financial services with greater results and at lesser cost?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Peter Schiff was right ...

Came across this video montage earlier this morning. Listen to the laughing in the background by all these so-called experts:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ugh ... another storm ...

on friggin' deadline even ... again ...

I hate it when it snows on deadline. It effes everything up!
The last time this happened, a couple of weeks ago, I drove home, slept, and then tried to venture into work in the early morning, only to go careening 10 to 12 feet into an embankment just before the state liquor store on I-93 south. Thankfully, I was not injured and the only thing wrong with the car that they could find was a leaky shock absorber.
BTW, since I didn't really write about it at the time it happened, I want to thanks some folks. First, the state police, for quickly getting to the scene to see if I was OK. Second, AAA, who towed me for free [I've been a member for years; never used it until now]. And third, thank you to two women, a youngish one in a Jeep and an older woman in a Honda Element, who both stopped to offer assistance even though I didn't need any. The young woman I have seen on the highway before, because of her funky license plate [I have one too, so I look at them ...], but not the older woman. Interestingly, not a single guy stopped to see if I was OK. They were all too busy in their SUVs barreling past everyone else.

R.I.P. Laurel Bowman: ["Laurel Bowman"]. So sad. Apparently, she was in a bad car accident recently. She was a great gal and a cool musician.

They Live! I have to see this movie again ... it's been ages ...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Headline of the day ...

From the N.Y. Post: ["JUST PLANE DESPICABLE"]. But, you know, they need that jet, you know, 'cause they can't fly coach with all us little people ... you know, the ones who are bailing them out!

Guess who's blogging at Suicide Girls?

Why Greg Palast, that's who! And does he have a hot one this week: ["Why An Asshole Is Always In Charge"]. FTR, I just didn't find this because I was looking at the site ... it popped up in my email this morning, since I'm on Palast's list!
For those of you who don't know, Suicide Girls is this pseudo porn site featuring pretty hot looking goth chicks. I say "pseudo," cause it is more like a Page 3 girl than full-on porn.
That said, what the hell is Palast doing there? Who knows. But I will say that if this is the future of columns and news, bring it on: Hot goth chicks and revolutionary opinion columns. That's a sweet mix.

As well ...

For those of you who weren't paying attention, Politico got some good stuff over at the White House press room last week. It seems that folks in the Obama admin are a tad testy that they got caught breaking promises so early in the process ... ["Media frustration spills into briefing"] ["Obama flashes irritation in press room"] ... Ah shucks, I can't come down here and answer questions, I only wanted to say "Hi" ... Hey Obama, who do you think you are, Bill Clinton? And boo hoo for you ... what, did you think the piranhas were just going to stay asleep? Not!

Here's reason number whatever why we should stay out of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians ... check out this video:

So, let me get this straight, it's OK for Jews and Israelis to want to eliminate their enemies, but it isn't OK for Palestinians and Muslims to want to eliminate their enemies? This is ridiculous. How can you obtain peace this way? You can't. There is no peace and there will be no peace. The place has been a mess for thousands of years. They will probably continue to kill each for centuries to come. The only way to remove the pain and heartache from this situation is with the individual. Individuals, both Jews and Palestinians, need to realize that their lives are more important than infinite war and bloodshed. How can the international powers do that? I don't know. But this I do know: The United States has wasted enough money in this region. How much more of our money has to be wasted before we realize that this is a lost cause? We've given Israel billions. We've given Arabs more, via aid and for oil. Enough already. A pox on both their houses. We have people to feed and we need to become energy efficient and self reliant ... now.

Jim Hightower has a short but good column here: ["OBAMA MUST BE EVEN BOLDER THAN FDR"].

And lastly, congrats to Common Dreams on their redesign: ["Common Dreams"]. It looks fab!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Two announce for Mayor of Boston ...

Either Menino has decided not to run again or it's going to be a bloody battle for the top job in Boston later this year.

First out of the gate was Kevin McCrea, courtesy of David Bernstein over at the Boston Phoenix: ["McCrea Alone"]. You gotta love this quote from his announcement:
"We need to end the cycle of career politicians. I am a businessman, and I am running as a common citizen. I’m independent, I’m informed, I have fresh ideas -- and I believe in honest government that includes the citizens. I’m not locked into a political system that dictates I must ‘go along to get along."
Wouldn't it be great if someone with more experience than being a city councilor could lead the city?

Second, at-large city councilor Michael Flaherty posted this video announcement on YouTube yesterday:

Bernstein was at least one political reporter who noted that he didn't even get a press release from Flaherty. One wondered if this was a test launch. The Globe has this story about what seems to be a bungled launch: ["Ever so briefly, Flaherty appears announcing run"], which Bernstein also writes about on his blog. The Herald has this piece here from Saturday: ["Likely Thomas Menino foe revs engines"].

For those of us who watch Boston news, this should be interesting. The key now will be what Menino does. If he doesn't run, it will be a free-for-all. If he does run again, it's a wonder if any of these guys will be able to take him out. There will be a preliminary election of three or more candidates run. After that, it will be one-on-one. Flaherty's apparent announcement also opens up an at-large council seat, which means that race will be an aggressive one too. All the better for voter participation and representation.

Update: It looks like Flaherty sent out an email around 7 a.m. this morning announcing a run for Mayor.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama should improve consumer protection

In the Public Interest by Ralph Nader, 1/23/09

Dear President Obama:

Underneath many of our country’s economic problems is the thirty-year collapse of consumer protection—both of the regulatory kind and of the self-help kind known as proper access to justice.

Last month major consumer groups sent you a letter proposing action to rein in exploitation of consumers as debtors, as buyers of oil, gas and electricity, as patients needing health insurance and as eaters wanting safe goods.

Under the Bush regime, the words “consumer protection” were rarely uttered and the Bush administration almost never initiated any pro-consumer efforts, even with massive evidence before it, such as predatory lending and credit card abuses.

You need to recognize and elevate the GDP significance of fair consumer policies along with their moral and just attributes at a time of worsening recession.

I suggest you focus on the state of the poorest consumers in the urban and rural ghettos. As you know from your days with the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) and as a community organizer in Chicago, the consumers in these areas are the most gouged and least protected. That the “poor pay more” has been extensively documented by civic, official and academic studies, and numerous local newspaper and television news reports.

Unfortunately, neither Congress nor the Executive branch have paid adequate attention to the tens of millions of people who lose at least 25 percent of their consumer dollars to multiple frauds and shoddy merchandise. You should establish special task forces in the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission on their plight and on the many proven but unused remedies to assure a fair marketplace with effective enforcement and grievance procedures.

Working with and galvanizing local and state agencies to enlarge their capacity and staff—with stimulus monies—can produce a triple-header—making the federal effort more effective, providing valuable jobs and freeing up billions of consumer dollars from the financial sink-hole of commercial crimes.

It requires the visibility and eloquence of your personal leadership to launch this long-overdue defense of poor people.

A second area of action is simply to update major areas of regulatory health and safety that have been frozen for thirty years. These include modernizing standards for auto and tire safety, food safety, aviation and railroad safety and occupational health and trauma protection.

New knowledge, new marketing forays, and new technologies have accumulated during this period without application. It is the obsolescence of so many safety standards hailing from the fifties, sixties and seventies that permits the tricky, corporate advertising claims that products “exceed federal safety standards.”

Note for example that the SEC has never come close to regulating the recent explosion of myriad collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). The massive speculation in this area is destabilizing the national and world economies.

Third, you need to articulate and provide a high profile to what western Europeans have long called “social consumerism.” Citizens are consumers of government services for which they pay as taxpayers. In return they are entitled to prompt, accurate and courteous responses to their inquiries and to their perceived needs as embraced by the authorizing statutes.

To begin with, Americans need to be able to get through to their government agencies and departments. Being put on hold interminably with automated messages to nowhere, not receiving replies of any kind to their letters, and generally getting the brush-off even with the deadlines explicated in the Freedom of Information Act have been a bi-partisan failure.

However, under the Bush regime, not answering serious letters from dedicated individuals and groups on time-sensitive matters of policy and action—as with the Iraq war and occupation—became standard operating procedure—starting with President Bush himself.

This stonewalling has turned people off so much that they do not even bother to “ask their government” for assistance and that includes an astonishingly unresponsive Congress (other than for ministerial requests such as locating lost VA or social security checks.)

As you shape the Obama White House, bear in mind that the “change you can believe in” is one of kind, not just degree.

Sincerely yours,

Ralph Nader

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Noise Top 30 chart for Feb. 2009

1. Passion Pit – Chunk of Change
2.Township – Township/Coming Home
3. Logan 5 and The Runners – Featurette
4. Sarah Rabdau & The Self-Employed Assassins - Sarah Rabdau & The Self-Employed Assassins
5. Pretty & Nice – Get Young
6. The Blizzard of ’78 – Book of Lies
7. Chop Chop – Screens
8. Winterpills – Central Chambers
9. Apple Betty – Streakin' 'Cross the Sky
10. Guillermo Sexo – Magic Lanterns
11. Anthems MA – Time Starts Now
12. Christy Romanick – Christy Romanick
13. Peter Moore – One Ride
14. Autumn Hollow Band – Autumn Hollow Band
15. Big Dipper – Super Cluster: The Big Dipper Anthology
16. The Milling Gowns – Diving Bell Shallows
17. The Weisstronauts – Instro-tainment
18. Dirt Mall – Got the Goat by the Horns
19. The Kickbacks – Even the Blues
20. The Lights Out – The Lights Out
21. Gene Dante & The Future Starlets – The Romantic Lead
22. The Sneaks – In an Instant
23. Goldmund – The Malady of Elegance
24. Aloud – Fan the Fury
25. SweetMeat and the Silverfish – SweetMeat and the Silverfish
26. Slim Jim and The Mad Cows – Appetite for the Truckin’
27. Christina Carter - “I Do Not Love a Woman”
28. Hot Box – The Histone Code
29. Birdwatchers of America – There Have Been Sightings
30, Keith Cornella and Broken City – Arms are Falling

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A few quick things on Inauguration Day

It's Inauguration Day. I'm swamped, so I'll keep this short.

First, congratulations to Barak Obama and Joe Biden! It looks like you're both really going to be sworn in after all!

Second, if you're like me, and you don't have a TV at your work, you can watch the speech online, live, courtesy of WMUR-TV Channel 9 in Manch, here: ["Inauguration"].

Personally, I'm going to be busy today and I don't really care what Obama has to say. I've heard and seen enough to make a lasting impression of what a disaster his administration is going to be.
Oh, Tony, give the guy a break. He isn't even there yet.
Well, like I have said so many times, actions speak louder than words and all we have gotten from this guy are words. If you're not worried about Obama, here is another reason to be, from Sunday's political column in the Concord Monitor: ["Gregg's newest friend"]. The subhead pretty much says it all: "Obama wants his help on entitlements." Entitlements? Yup:
The president-elect told the Washington Post on Thursday that he hopes to convene a "fiscal responsibility summit" next month, bringing together an array of folks worried about deficits and entitlements.
Now don't get me wrong. I have no problem with this topic at all. In fact, I think it is a good thing. Most of us are worried about entitlements. Most of believe we'll see a UFO before we'll see our Social Security after the Baby Boomers get done taking everything.
But a "fiscal responsibility summit" should come fourth or fifth behind a "rein in wasteful Pentagon spending summit," the "let's make health care, not insurance, but care, affordable again summit," the ever popular and badly needed "time to end corporate welfare, subsidies, giveaways and abuse summit," the "fair trade summit," and lastly, the "scrap the tax code and let's do something simple and easy summit." Any true progressive ... any true Democrat would get these things taken care of first. These summits should come before a "fiscal responsibility summit" with Sen. Gregg's involvement since all he wants to talk about is how wasteful it is to make sure the poor and the elderly are taken care of when they have no other options but the government.
Shockingly, or not so, the progressive blogosphere was SILENT about this over the weekend. Not a post. Not a sarcastic response. No one saying, Boy, this is reason number whatever we should worry about this guy ... blinders completely and tightly on. They are all hyped up for the inauguration and are too caught up in the "We won!" moment that they may be missing what's really important here.
God help us all!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why I helped to put Circuit City out of business ...

The demise of Circuit City and its impending bankruptcy is difficult to watch. But, some of us knew it was coming.
I was a long-time Circuit City customer. I started shopping there after Lechmere [remember them?] went under.
We bought a TV there; I bought my first CD player and CD recorder there [holding out forever, since I was always a vinyl kinda guy]; we had a charge card there; and, thinking about it now, I bought a ton of other stuff over the years - blank CDs, video games, CDs, DVDs, a radar detector, and two car stereos. Thinking about it now, all we ever did was shop there.
But the minute they fired their highest paid employees only to rehire them at lower wages , that was the end for me. All I could think was, This is what you do to employees who are loyal to you? That could be me they are screwing over due to management's bad decisions! Hurting loyal employees like that when management was making millions running the company into the ground? I read the "logic" of it in the WSJ and then, wrote a letter to the company to complain and never got a response.
We canceled our card and I decided to take my business across the street to Best Buy.
And, I can tell you this: I have no regrets. Best Buy is great. Its customer service is great. The prices are great. The rewards program is great. Sure, it's too loud and flashy in there. But that is my only complaint.
I honestly didn't expect that someone from Circuit City corporate would respond to a long-time customer who has spent, probably, thousands of dollars there over the years. That's just not the way things are done anymore. Most companies have laid off the people who handle customer service inquiries [ever tried to get anyone on the phone these days?]. Especially with something so controversial. In addition, the stories started trickling out that the move was getting backlash and people were really, really angry about it. They just thought, Well, people will come back when we have a sale. But that didn't happen either [and the Circuit City sale prices could never keep up with Best Buy, frankly, and I can tell you that because I watch prices on electronics all the time ...].
Circuit City going under will have a ripple effect in this industry and will affect other industries. There will be Verizon Wireless folks who work inside those stores who could lose their jobs. The people that print the flyers for the company will lose business. Advertising will drop in other media outlets, hurting their businesses. More sales will go to places like Wal-Mart, as people continue to look for bargains. The days of someone starting up a mom and pop electronic store have long since disappeared [or, if you live in my area, you don't shop at the mom and pop store because the owner is a very evil man who was convicted of second degree assault against a very nice woman I went to school with who later took her own life because of the ordeal]. So, it isn't like there will be more competition due to this change.
In the end, unfortunately, as it always is, management won't suffer much for their behavior. They have already lined their pockets, taking millions and millions from shareholders and wrecking the company. The brunt of this will be felt by the workers of Circuit City and I'm terribly sorry that they have to suffer due to what management does. I truly am. We'll all pray for you to find new work. But companies can move forward knowing that we, the customers, are always right, as the saying goes. We will lash out at you when you treat your employees badly and it will cost you. We don't have to support that with our money. So do the right thing ... or lose everything.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Inauguration day is coming up ...

How long before the "Obama's not my president" bumperstickers hit the market?
How long before the "1-21-13" bumperstickers go on sale?
I'm wondering: Will Republicans be out throwing eggs at Barack Obama's limo ride to the inauguration on Tuesday the same way Democrats were throwing eggs at George W. Bush's car in 2000?
I also don't recall "Entertainment Tonight" covering the Bush inauguration. Do you?
Another question: In the wake of the economic crisis, why are the Obamas spending a single penny of the taxpayers' money redecorating the White House? I mean, how many times does it need to be redecorated?
And, yeah, I'm still wondering if Obama/Biden are actually going to get sworn in. I'm still waiting for Cheney to barricade himself in the White House basement bunker, refusing to give up power ... although, they, along with the Democrats, have so destroyed the nation that it might be a good time for them to high tail it out of Dodge ...

Question to readers: Do any of you have one of these record players?: ["Audio Technica AT-LP2DUSB LP-to-Digital Recording System with USB"]. I tried dubbing some of my records through my new digital receiver and 8-track digital soundboard, into my computer, but the levels were just way too low. I tried a slew of different hook up variations and it still didn't work, unfortunately. If I could find one of these in stock at a store, I might spring for $85 and buy one. But the thought of ordering it online, paying postage, getting it, and having it not work, is worrisome.

Here's a pretty cool press release published in the Somerville Journal: ["Grossman Marketing produces 200 million envelopes (so far) with green power"]. Grossman used to be the DNC chairman. He has noted in the past that his family's printing business has never had a layoff in the history of the company.

Dan Kennedy has this piece on what some newspaper CEOs are getting paid: ["Good jobs at good wages"]. I wrote, in response: Wow, those numbers say a lot. And, after looking at them and thinking about this for a number of hours, I've come to the conclusion that the "death" of newspapers seems to be three-fold: Drop in advertising revenue, gutting of newsrooms AND over-paid leaders of companies who put their own compensation ahead of the product.
I'm no commie, but can't some of them work for less in order to keep others hired? Can't some of them work for less in order to keep the product appealing and worth buying, you know, to try and save it? Think about all the jobs that could be saved if all of the CEOs made 50 percent of what they made last year? That's hundreds of reporters. And, they would still be making more annually than 95 percent of the people in America. Now, you can argue about the stock options are not cash and therefore, it shouldn't be counted, or whatever. But it makes absolutely no sense for many of these people to be making what they're making while their companies crumble - not unlike a lot of CEOs on Wall Street [and don't even get me started on the billions in TARP money that went to salaries and bonuses of the same thieves and liars who destroyed the economy ...]. Where are the BODs of these companies putting the brakes on this while their newspapers whither on the racks? Don't they care about the product they are running into the ground?

A quick "TY" to WBZ-TV's Jon Keller for talking about this blog on his blog: ["Welcome Back, Tony"]. There are some pretty interesting comments on the blog too. I'm glad people took the time to read it but, no, I won't be taking up the "Million Disappointed Men March" any time soon ...

My friend Ben of Elephant Stone Records has a blog: ["Rock n Roll Runner"]. I knew he was a music fanatic but I never knew he was an exercise fanatic.

Punishing the Palestinians

Guest Perspective by Ralph Nader

In the long sixty-year tortured history of the Palestinian expulsion from their lands, Congress has maintained that it is always the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority, and now Hamas who are to blame for all hostilities and their consequences with the Israeli government.

The latest illustration of this Washington puppet show, backed by the most modern weapons and billions of taxpayer dollars annually sent to Israel, was the grotesquely one-sided Resolutions whisked through the Senate and the House of Representatives.

While a massive bombing and invasion of Gaza was underway, the resolution blaming Hamas for all the civilian casualties and devastation—99% of it inflicted on Palestinians—zoomed through the Senate by voice vote and through the House by a vote of 390 to 5 with 22 legislators voting present.

There is more dissent against this destruction of Gaza among the Israeli people, the Knesset, the Israeli media, and Jewish-Americans than among the dittoheads on Capitol Hill.

The reasons for such near-unanimous support for Israeli actions—no matter how often they are condemned by peace advocates such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, United Nations resolutions, the World Court and leading human rights groups inside and outside of Israel, are numerous. The pro-Israeli government lobby, and the right-wing Christian evangelicals, lubricated by campaign money of many Political Action Committees (PACs) certainly are key.

There is also more than a little bigotry in Congress against Arabs and Muslims, reinforced by the mass media yahoos who set new records for biased reporting each time this conflict erupts.

The bias is clear. It is always the Palestinians’ fault. Right-wingers who would never view the U.S. government as perfect see the Israeli government as never doing anything wrong. Liberals who do not hesitate to criticize the U.S. military view all Israeli military attacks, invasions and civilian devastation as heroic manifestations of Israeli defense.

The inversion of history and the scope of amnesia know no limits. What about the fact that the Israeli government drove Palestinians from their lands in 1947-48 with tens of thousands pushed into the Gaza strip. No problem to Congress.

Then the fact that the Israeli government cruelly occupied, in violation of UN resolutions, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 and only removed its soldiers and colonists from Gaza (1.5 million people in a tiny area twice the size of the District of Columbia) in 2005. To Congress, the Palestinians deserved it.
Then when Hamas was freely elected to run Gaza, the Israeli authorities cut off the tax revenues on imports that belonged to the Gaza government. This threw the Gazans into a fiscal crisis—they were unable to pay their civil servants and police.

In 2006, the Israelis added to their unrelieved control of air, water and land around the open-air prison by establishing a blockade. The natives became restless. Under international law, a blockade is an act of war. Primitive rockets, called by reporters “wildly inaccurate” were fired into Israel. During this same period, Israeli soldiers and artillery and missiles would go into Gaza at will and take far more lives and cause far more injuries than those incurred by those rockets. Civilians—especially children, the infirm and elderly—died or suffered week after week for lack of medicines, medical equipment, food, electricity, fuel and water which were embargoed by the Israelis.

Then the Israeli bombing followed by the invasion during the past three weeks with what prominent Israeli writer Gideon Levy called “a brutal and violent operation…far beyond what was needed for protecting the people in its south.” Mr. Levy observed what the president of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann called a war against “a helpless and defenseless imprisoned population.”

The horror of being trapped from fleeing the torrent of the most modern weapons of war from the land, air and seas is reflected in this passage from Amira Hass, writing in the leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

“The earth shaking under your feet, clouds of choking smoke, explosions like a fireworks display, bombs bursting into all-consuming flames that cannot be extinguished with water, mushroom clouds of pinkish-red smoke, suffocating gas, harsh burns on the skin, extraordinary maimed live and dead bodies.”

Ms. Hass is pointing to the use of new anti-civilian weapons used on the Gazan people. So far there have been over 1100 fatalities, many thousands of injuries and the destruction of homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, pharmacies, granaries, farmer’s fields and many critical public facilities. The clearly marked UN headquarters and UN school were smashed, along with stored medicines and food supplies.

Why? The Congressional response: “Hamas terrorists” everywhere. Sure, defending their Palestinian families is called terrorism. The truth is there is no Hamas army, airforce and navy up against the fourth most powerful military in the world. As one Israeli gunner on an armored personnel carrier frankly said to The New York Times: “They are villagers with guns. They don’t even aim when they shoot.”

Injured Gazans are dying in damaged hospital corridors, bleeding to death because rescuers are not permitted to reach them or are endangered themselves. Thousands of units of blood donated by Jordanians are stopped by the Israeli blockade. Israel has kept the international press out of the Gazan killing fields.
What is going on in Gaza is what Bill Moyers called it earlier this month – “state terrorism.” Already about 400 children are known to have died. More will be added who are under the rubble.

Since 2002, more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations have had a standing offer, repeated often, that if Israel obeys several UN resolutions and withdraws to the 1967 borders leaving 22 percent of the original Palestine for an independent Palestinian state, they will open full diplomatic relations and there will be peace. Israel has declined to accept this offer.

None of these and many other aspects of this conflict matter to the Congress. Its members do not want to hear even from the Israeli peace movement, composed of retired generals, security chiefs, mayors, former government ministers, and members of the Knesset. In 60 years these savvy peace advocates have not been able to give one hour of testimony before a Congressional Committee.

Maybe members of Congress may wish to weigh the words of the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, years ago when he said:

“There has been anti-Semitism the Nazis Hitler Auschwitz but was that their [the Palestinian’s] fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country.”

Doesn’t that observation invite some compassion for the Palestinian people and their right to be free of Israeli occupation, land and water grabs and blockades in the 22 percent left of Palestine?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

$59 trillion in the hole?

This can't be right ... but maybe it is. From a press release:


Institute for Truth in Accounting again calls for Congress to face the truth about our nation's finances

Chicago - Today, the Institute for Truth in Accounting released its annual "Financial State of the Union," and the numbers are not good and they are getting worse every day. America's share of our nation's financial hole is now $59 trillion - each of us owes $194,400.

"We can fix this problem, if everyone in the U.S. sends all of their assets-their value in their houses, cars, investments-to the federal government," said Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO of the Institute for Truth in Accounting (IFTA). She continued, "Then the government would have to make investments that would earn a high enough rate of return to fund all of the promises that have been made."

"As the people of this country inaugurate their new president next week, and as the 111th Congress begins, it is imperative the truthful condition of our nation's finances be revealed," said Roger Nelson, Chairman of IFTA's Board of Directors. He highlighted, "The truth is together with unfunded liabilities and promises to our retirees we're in the hole for over $59 trillion. We need to understand this truth before we can move forward with any new proposals."

The Financial State of the Union, available at, provides this accounting by outlining the financial situation of the nation, including unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare and other retirement benefits. The report, which is available in a one-page, downloadable PDF format, is designed to draw attention to our true financial situation at such a critical time as our President-Elect's first address.

"Debt has become our country's drug of choice, personally and nationally, and until we are honest with ourselves about how much we really owe, we can't begin to solve this problem," warned Weinberg. "Treasury and the politicians say our nation's debt is only $10.6 trillion, which assumes we owe no promises benefits to our seniors."

The IFTA is the sponsor of, a national campaign to bring awareness to our nation's pressing financial issues. The IFTA is currently preparing for the launch of For more information, contact Darlene Porteus at 847-835-5200 or visit

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

UL: Lynch won't challenge Gregg for Senate seat ...

Earlier this afternoon, the New Hampshire Union Leader sent out an alert saying that Gov. John Lynch would not challenge U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg in 2010. Here's the Nashua Telegraph's story: ["Lynch: I won't run for Senate against Gregg"].
This is good, good, and bad news.
First, it's good news because Lynch is correct: he won't be distracted by a major political run during the end of his third term and can, instead, concentrate on his job. That job is to be a great governor and preserve his own moderate version of the New Hampshire Advantage [i.e. no sales or income taxes]. This isn't just about the tax thing. It's about the fact that he is thinking about the body of the whole, in this case, the state, instead of self. That's leadership.
It's also good news because this allows the other potential candidates to start thinking about putting a race together ... and doing it soon if not now. Gregg is going to be a difficult person to beat despite the trends in New Hampshire. Better to get started on it soon instead of worrying about it next year when it might be too late [barring a major lottery win, I will also not be a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010 ... hah!].
It's bad news because many Dems thought that Lynch would be the party's best chance to beat Gregg. I don't know if that is altogether true but it's a safe bet.
However, with the economy in a total tailspin and Obama acting arrogant when he hasn't even been sworn in yet, there could be a backlash from the moderate middle in the state which could potentially hurt a Democratic challenger.
The naysayers on the progressive blogosphere will go apeshit if they read this comment, but it's kinda the truth. The elections of 2006 and 2008 were quite fickle. It could be just fine; it may not though.
As well, Gregg could continue to dig his own grave. If he continues to go on and on about deficits and spending on the poor people while ignoring what is going on over at the Pentagon and on Wall Street, he looks like a fool. If he continues to run from the mess he helped create with the disastrous bailout, he just looks like an idiot.

Some quick thoughts on Obama

I'm paraphrasing here something I wrote online elsewhere. I'm truly disheartened by the fact that Barack Obama seems to be pretty much abandoning everything he said he would do which means that he was nothing more than a phony hope-dope pusher. Of course, some of us already knew that he would be an empty pontificator of hyperbole. But, we were still hopeful that we were wrong.
The worst part about this in my mind is that there were millions and millions of people who believed this man and did everything to get him elected and now, he is treating them - and their wishes, hopes and dreams - like dog shit on the heel of his shoe. It's disgraceful.
Things like meeting with rightwing pundits or inviting Rick Warren to say a prayer over your inauguration ... you know, that is building bridges and breaking bread with people who don't agree with you. That's good politics. But filling your cabinet full of Clinton failures, listening to their horrific advice, badgering Congress over the TARP stuff when no one knows what happened to the first $350 billion, abandoning health care because of what the private sector did to the economy, lying and saying it will take a year to close Gitmo, not preparing to pull the troops out of Iraq, agreeing with Bush to send more troops to Afghanistan, on and one and on ... Barack Obama is a walking public policy outrage ... and he hasn't even been inaugurated yet!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Note to Congress: Don't release the leftover TARP funds ...

According to press reports, President Bush, on behalf of President-elect Obama, is asking the Congress to release the leftover TARP monies in an effort to try and shore up the economy in a week before he leaves office: ["U.S. Seeks Rest of Bailout Cash"].
The subhead of this WSJ article pretty much says it all - and gives good reason why the funds should not be released: "Call to Deploy Remaining $350 Billion Comes as Citi, Rivals Face Steep Losses."
Well, with all due respect, who cares? Who cares if Citi goes under? They have been ripping the human race off for years with their 19 percent interest credit cards and lobbying to pass a draconian bankruptcy law and other horrific things perpetrated on the American people. So what if they are losing money and their stock careens? The TARP money isn't about propping up Citi's stock or any other stock. It was supposed to be about fixing the mortgage mess, stabilizing the economy, and getting banks to lend money again.
Well guess what? It didn't work out that way, did it? Where is the money to be lent out to folks to start businesses, create jobs, and buy homes now that homes are affordable again? Where did all the money go? It disappeared into the rathole and we're all sinking into it. Billions - yes, billions - went to salaries and bonuses to the same crooks, thieves, and liars who created this mess. 'Well, we had to keep these people happy so they wouldn't leave our companies in a lurch,' they said. Say what? Some of these people should be in jail for what they did, not given billions in salaries and bonuses. The Associated Press made some phone calls a few weeks ago attempting to find out who got the money and how it was lent out and guess what? No one would answer the questions. Where are you Congress? Where is your oversight of our monetary policy? I know there was a holiday and all but give me a break.
We all said this would happen and it did. And now, they want more? No. N-O-No!

Please Congress: Put on the brakes. Don't release the remaining TARP funds. And don't release them after Bush leaves and Obama is inaugurated. Do the right thing: Investigate and audit where the previous $350 billion went and then re-implement the plan to truly stabilize the economy.

Or, instead of releasing the TARP funds, how about we try something completely different?

I've been meaning to write about this since October and totally spaced it until now. Back on Oct. 3, 2008, Thomas Peterffy, the CEO of Interactive Brokers Group, placed a full page ad in the WSJ stating, quite correctly, that the bailout proposal would not directly help homeowners or assist in fixing the foreclosure crisis. Instead, he proposed an alternative which, in hindsight, seemed like a good idea: Direct mortgage assistance to all homeowners.
Peterffy wrote:
"If the Treasury were to pay the first $250 of every American's primary residential mortgage each month for five years, the value of all mortgage-backed securities would rise immediately. The housing market would stabilize and the banking system with it."
Peterffy noted that there were about 40 million outstanding mortgages making the cost of the package about $10 billion per month. He called the expense "reasonable" when considering the fact that the taxpayers were already on the hook for hundreds of billions of mortgages via Freddie, Fannie, AIG, and BearStearns.
In bullet points, he noted that the plan would be easy to implement, progressive, and easy to oversee, since lobbying and pressure groups would be powerless to wreck the plan. In closing, the ad noted that Interactive "does not hold any mortgage-backed securities or credit default swaps," essentially stating that the company would probably not benefit directly from the plan.
This seemed like a pretty good idea at the time and, with the economy in a tailspin and people losing everything, maybe it is time to rethink this idea.
If there is $350 billion in TARP money left, implementing Peterffy's plan would assist in stabilizing things for at least three years [$10 billion x 12: $120 billion x 3 = $360 billion]. Sure, some people who get the subsidy are not having financial problems. But you know what? I bet they pay taxes or have paid taxes and I bet they could use the $3,000 to stabilize their lives. You could also base it on people applying for it like a tax credit. Those people who need it could apply for it and those people who don't, won't.

Look, nothing is perfect in this world. While this might not work, it sure is a heck of a lot better than giving more money to Citi or anyone else who wrecked this economy. This idea would directly benefit the people who need the most help - homeowners who are losing everything. It would also assist those people who are in a position to get a mortgage now.

I think I have found the perfect 6-month stint ...

Now this is a job!: ["Australia offers 'best job in world' on paradise island"].

Monday, January 12, 2009

A sign of hope? Yes, I think so ...

This is so great. I'm so excited that nations around the world are finally starting to realize that building economies inside their own borders is the way to prosperity, security, and long-term economic growth: ["Surge in Protectionism Threatens to Deepen World-Wide Crisis"].
Ignore the illegitimate headline. It's not true. If you invest, build, and hire within your own borders, your wealth stays with your own borders! It really is that simple ... and true.
Despite what everyone is taught in elite business schools, our nation was built on protectionism. Most of the Founding Fathers were protectionist. Abraham Lincoln and most presidents after the Civil War were protectionist. It was Lincoln who helped to create the American steel industry by stating something along the lines that if the country bought steel from England, the nation would have the steel but the money would be gone, but if the steel for the railroad system was built and bought in America, the country would have both the steel and the money.
Tariffs did not extend the Great Depression - that is one of the big lies out there. And, the "free trade" mantra was only forwarded by the cultists in the 1970s. It was not public policy before that time [although, some people were noodling with the idea and there were Founders who were not protectionist].
But what happened here in the United States when the free traders got control of the economy, the media, and the business schools? The middle class got fried, poverty rates soared, crime, social ills, and divorce skyrocketed, and wealth rose to the top, to the point that just a few hundred super rich folks pretty much control everything [and frankly, still do, now that we have given them trillions of our treasure]. It is worse in the nations of the world.
I have spoken and written about this many times, for so many years, it's a bit dizzying. The key to global economic growth and stability is to lift the economies of the world up to our level - not drop us to their level, which is what has been happening. The only way to bring those economies up is for them to create macro economies inside their own borders which will build wealth, worker security, and economic development.
Here's a great quote by President William McKinley, just as an aside:
"Under free trade the trader is the master and the producer the slave. Protection is but the law of nature, the law of self-preservation, of self-development, of securing the highest and best destiny of the race of man."
Beyond Pat Buchanan, when was the last time a Republican talked like that? You know, that was the GOP once.
I have always said, pleaded, begged, if you will, for our national leaders to insist on creating a global economy based on a level economic playing field. Instead of creating free trade slaves throughout the world, to feed our retail economy, let's build their economies up. Let's get them making products for themselves. That investment will reinvest in other things and bring their living standards up.
Well, now, with our economic collapse, this is the time! It's a perfect opportunity to fix everything. There is no American retail economy any more. It's gone. The nation is busted. Broke. At 19 percent interest. We can't afford the cheap Chinese and Mexican imports marked up 2,000 percent. Mark it down to 90 percent off, we still can't buy them. What are we going to do without our cheap shoes? How will we survive if we can't go shopping? How are the other countries going to make ends meet when we can't buy the soccer goods made by children at 5 cents an hour? And this is just the retail sector, never mind the government, which is in hock $12 trillion, at least, with bloated defense budgets, war machines that can kill people a thousand times over, and way too many employees doing nothing but shuffling paper around. It should all fall down or be totally ripped apart and redone from scratch.
Now is the time to start investing in ourselves and now is the time for other countries to start investing in themselves too. Now is the time!
Maybe it's because it is early in the morning and I have had too much coffee or the snow is beautiful outside or I'm happy and healthy or whatever. But at this moment, I have never felt more hopeful about economic things than I have in years. And no, it has nothing to do with Obama and the Democrats. They will probably screw things up just like Clinton did. Mark my words, they will.
I think it is just that you can't really fix things until you get to the bottom and work you way back up again, and it looks like we're getting close to the bottom. The shift to global protectionism is a sign - a good sign - of what is possible, meaningful, and just. It truly is. Don't listen to the naysayers. If we all stick together on this one, focus on what is important, and help each other out, everything will be OK. It will take a while. There will be pain. But in the end, there is reason to be hopeful and optimistic. I can feel it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Interesting read about book on the music industry

The Village Voice has this piece which is an interesting read: ["How the Music Industry Died: Steve Knopper's Appetite for Self-Destruction"] and this extended version of it: ["More Apocalyptic Discourse with Appetite for Self-Destruction scribe Steve Knopper"].
While I haven't read it in many years, "Hit Men" is one of my favorite books too, especially since I was heavily involved in the music industry, as a musician and fanzine publisher, at the time I read it.
In many ways though, the record industry deserves what it gets, the same way the newspaper industry does. The key though is that many people who work in both industries DON'T deserve the treatment they are receiving ... treatment brought on by the people running both industries into the ground. Oh well.
Another piece here about the death of newspapers: ["All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper"]. You should have seen the flurry of letters responding to this one!
In another opinion piece from the WSJ, is HGTV to blame for the economic collapse? This guy makes a good case: ["Blame Television for the Bubble"].

Saturday night link dump
Here's a bunch of stuff worth a second look ...
First, one of Seattle's major dailies is going under: ["Seattle P-I for sale, could close"].
The Hollywood Reporter's blog says tonight that layoffs in the media industry amounted to more than 28,000 jobs last year, the highest since more than 43,000 lost their jobs in 2001. That combined number - about 70,000 - is one-third the number of Americans currently working in the automobile industry that was just bailed out ... 70,000 over two years ... never mind the thousands in the other six years. So, again, where is our bailout?
This guy has an idea worth discussing, even though I don't completely agree with everything: ["Bailout for the People: 'The Cook Plan'"].
Another open letter for Barack Obama, this one from Jello Biafra: ["OPEN LETTER TO BARACK OBAMA"]. Again, worth the read even if I don't completely agree with everything in the letter.
I'm by no means an advocate of a sugar tax, but this video really made me think about my eating habits:

Here is another video clip about a water-powered car from Japan ["Water Powered Car Roundup"].
In actuality, it's a hydrogen-powered car, since it is the hydrogen in the water that is making the car run. But who's getting fussy about specifics. Just get them here already!
Three hilarious blogs here. First, this one that my co-worker Bryan pointed out to me: ["Hot Chicks with Douchebags"]. And then this one: ["Boobs on Things That Don't Normally Have Boobs"]. And lastly, this one: ["SKANKS in NYC"] ... which brought on this lawsuit: ["EX-VOGUE MODEL SNARED IN UGLY WEB"].
So, the U.S. military is preparing for unrest in the United States after all: ["Doomsday: U.S. report warns of 'strategic shock' leading to massive unrest"].
So, people were murdered after Katrina, just like Cynthia McKinney insinuated: ["Katrina's Hidden Race War"].

Friday, January 9, 2009

An open letter to President-Elect Obama

Ralph Nader
January 9, 2009

Dear President-Elect Obama:

You have been receiving a great deal of advice since November 4, 2008 from people and groups who either want you to advance policies not covered in your campaign or who want you to be more specific about initiatives you emphasized.

There are two suggestions which may not be among your store of recommendations that need to be considered before you take office on January 20, 2009.

First, the public would benefit from a concise recounting of the state of the union and where the Bush Administration has left our country. As is your style, you can render such a bright line of serious problems inside and outside the government in a matter-of-fact manner. Otherwise, a blurring of who was responsible for what can taint your presidency.

Second, you need to make a clean break from the Bush regime’s law of rule to our declared commitment to the rule of law as in the firm adherence to constitutional requirements and statutory and treaty compliance. There is a Bush-Cheney stream of criminal and unconstitutional actions which are on auto-pilot day after day. You have pointed out some of these abominations such as a policy and practice of torture and violations of due process and probable cause. The task before you is to break these daily patterns just as soon as you ascend to the Presidency or be held increasingly responsible for them. This can be significantly accomplished by executive orders, agency or departmental directives, whistle-blower protections, enforcement actions and explicit legislative proposals.

With Americans wishing you well in this most portentous of times, the last thing they want to see is you tarnished by the preceding rogue regime and its ruthless monarchical forays. To avoid this contagion of power over law and its contiguous accountabilities at a time when you are striving for a “clean slate” administration, you must be decisive and eschew any excessive harmony ideology which has seemed to be your nature vis-à-vis those who are powerful but are opposed to your views.

One possible impediment to your making a comprehensive clean break for restoring the rule of law is that you have too easy an act to follow. There are a long list of violated civil liberties that need to be restored (the American Civil Liberties Union has compiled a list of immediate actions for you to take), and resolute commitments must be made so that it is clear the United States, for example, will not engage in, or countenance, torture. Only a few restorations, however, would produce a sense of relief and flurry of accolades -- but they are hardly sufficient.

There are also regulations and interpretations of statutes that scholars believe to have been erroneous as a matter of law. As one guide for your new era of overdue regulation or reregulation—given the corporate wrongdoing these days—you may wish to refer to the Center for Progressive Reform’s report By the Stroke of the Pen.

The Bush lawlessness and state terrorism are like a contagious disease. If you do not remove their sprawling incidence, you will become their carrier. This means you must move fast to eject the mantle of war criminality and repeated unconstitutional outrages committed in the name of the American people here and abroad.


Ralph Nader


Well, it looks like another one bites the dust: All but two of the political Web sites run by the New York Observer are closing down: ["Politicker closes three sites; shutters network"].
There are two things that are sad about this. First, was a must-read around these parts and second, two of its two employees - Brian Lawson and James Pindell - are out of work. There is no mention on the site itself as to what is going on.
While there will be other sources of news about politics in New Hampshire, it won't be quite the same without the site [the same way it wasn't when the previous site Pindell worked for,, went under].
You can go to Blue Hampshire for opinion or New Hampshire Union Leader for news and opinion, but the great thing about PolitickerNH was the fact that there was always a short stream of information and news on the site. Some folks didn't like it, but I did and I will miss it.

Lynch inaugurated

N.H. Gov. John Lynch was inaugurated yesterday and, thankfully, reiterated his refusal to approve a state income tax or a sales tax: ["Lynch: Time to get tough"].
Thank you Gov. Lynch for continuing to stand by this principle. Thank you, thank you, thank you ...
Despite all the rancor, despite all the "hope" from bloggers who want government to do everything, despite everything going on in the state, country, and world, essential services will be met, as my state Sen. Sylvia Larsen stated in the article. It will be painful. But you know, these are painful times. It is no time to be raising taxes. Frankly, before the economic collapse, it wasn't time to raise taxes either, since many of us were getting hammered back then! Most Justify Fullordinary folks have been getting hammered since the mid-1970s with very little relief and yet higher and higher expenses [and advanced technology like cell phones and the Internet which all come with monthly fees our parents and grandparents never had].
The answer, as the federal government seems to be doing, is to give people their money back - not raising taxes - and let them decide what to do with it.
The problem with this scenario is that the federal apparatus is essentially just printing money up and our country is in hock $12 trillion at this point: ["SMITH: Washington has been addicted to a toxic fiscal cocktail"].
But what should we do instead of borrowing the money? Well, the federal government should slash the defense budget and implement tariffs on imports at the same time as trying to jump start the economy with a stimulus package.
Historians, not surprisingly, are missing a key part of the argument when talking about how FDR got the country out of the Great Depression and how the nation became prosperous after World War II. Yes, there was a massive amount of government spending after the stock market crash.. Yes, there were make work projects and unions. But the Smoot-Hawley tariffs also assisted in both paying for those massive government outlays AND creating private sector, American jobs. Those tariffs forced American businesses to do business with other American businesses, keeping the money and wealth inside the borders. Those tariffs, approved of two years after and installed three years after the start of the Great Depression, did not create the Great Depression. This is a false talking point issued again and again by the free trade cultists. It's just not true. How can public policy approved of in 1930 and implemented in 1931 cause a Depression that started in 1929?
As Alfred Ickes Jr., a former chairman and commissioner of the U.S. International Trade Commission, writes:
"The Smoot-Hawley Tariff was said to have caused or exacerbated the Great Depression, but when one looks at the facts and goes into the archives and reads the record, one comes to a quite different interpretation. How could the passage of the tariff in June 1930 somehow have spooked the stock market in October 1929? Furthermore, Smoot-Hawley really wasn't much higher than the previous tariff. Two-thirds of U.S. imports under Smoot-Hawley came in duty-free, and when the tariff was enacted, more items were added to the free list than were taken from the free list and made dutiable. Nonetheless, the conventional wisdom is that it raised the American tariff to a record level. That's not supported by the data."
The facts are that tariffs, along with the government make work projects, brought our country out of the Depression - they didn't create the Depression.
After WWII, the prosperity continued because of tariffs and other government regulation and economic stimulation like the creation of the Interstate highway system, low interest housing loans, and other G.I. Bill benefits. Defense spending was slashed by 90 percent during the first two years after WWII while government funds were redirected to these economic stimulus efforts [Go look it up. It's in the OMB files. It's true]. This led to almost three decades of national prosperity until the 1970s oil embargo - a manufactured event - which started the downward spiral of the middle class.
My point, on this early Friday morning, is that soon-to-be President Obama and the Democratically-controlled House and Senate can't do this piecemeal. Everything needs to be done. It is critical. It is vital. Things need to change on a MASSIVE scale. Federal government outlays need restructuring ... Wall Street needs regulation and transactions should be taxed via the transfer tax proposed before the bailout was issued to pay back the bailout [BTW, why is Madoff out on bail for stealing $50 billion when the guy who robs a pizza slice in California for his third strike is in jail forever?] ... there needs to be critical energy and utility infrastructure investment via a public-private partnership that will create millions of job [BTW, how can a half-inch ice storm knock out power for millions and have that power be off for weeks? Because above the ground power lines on telephone poles are 19th century technology, that's why] ... and American industry and the taxpayers need to be protected via import tariffs in order to ensure and sustain our standard of living. We heading towards an economy that is third world, with the ultra rich protected and bailed out and the rest of us left holding the bag.
The only way to stop this is to implement real change. All of this needs to be done and we need to do it now.

Sarah Palin talks ...

Great video clip here.
I sense that like Mayor Tom Menino, she gets nervous in interviews. I bet that when you are sitting down for coffee with her, she doen't stutter or stammer her way through stuff.
That said, while I'm not too keen on her politics at all, I still like her and it is clear that she got a very bad rap:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It really sucks when your heroes keep dying ...

Ron Asheton, right, is pictured with his brother, Scott, and Iggy Pop, center.
R.I.P.: Ron Asheton ... ["Stooges guitarist generated raw power"]. Tomorrow, on my way into work, I'm going to have to listen to "Loose," "T.V. Eye," and other stuff, really, really loud! I'll be the guy, dressed in black, in the Honda Civic with his fist in the air driving down Route 3 ...

Is this why Flaherty, Yoon think they have a shot at Menino?

The Boston Herald has just broken this huge story: ["Menino's Fornuate son"]. However, it isn't really enough to sink the guy, is it?

Strange lights in the sky over Joisey ...

From CBS News in New Jersey: ["Close Encounters Of The Jersey Kind?"].

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bush-Cheney deserve censure for declaring war against the Constitution

By Bruce Fein and Ralph Nader [this column originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and was later sent out to Web site for republication]

Before Inauguration Day, the 111th Congress should pass a forward-looking resolution censuring President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for executive aggrandizements or abuses that have reduced Congress to vassalage and shredded the rule of law. The resolution should express a congressional intent to prevent repetitions by the President-elect Barack Obama or his successors. The objective is not Bush-Cheney bashing, but to restore a republican form of government in which "We the People" are sovereign, and the president is checked and publicly scrutinized by Congress and the courts. The Bush-Cheney duumvirate won an undeclared war against the Constitution. Most troublesome, they captured the power to initiate war from a spineless Congress. The Founding Fathers were unanimous in denying the president that constitutional authority. They knew that presidents would chronically deceive Congress and concoct excuses for war to control public information, benefit political friends through government contracts, quell dissent, assert emergency powers and enjoy the intoxicating thrill of, "I came, I saw, I conquered."

By wielding the threat of international terrorism, the Bush-Cheney team put the nation on a permanent war footing - the first time in history that war has been undertaken against a tactic. They maintained that the entire post-9/11 world is an active battlefield where United States military force may be used to kill suspected members of al Qaeda irrespective of international boundaries.

They claimed executive privilege and state secrets to conduct secret government - thereby circumventing political and legal accountability. This included directives to former White House officials Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to flout congressional subpoenas for testimony. They detained hundreds of people (including American citizens) as enemy combatants without accusation or trial. They authorized torture (waterboarding and extraordinary rendition), abductions, secret prisons and illegal surveillance of American citizens.

Like its immediate predecessors, the 110th Congress eagerly yielded its authorities - even the power of the purse - to the president. The Iraqi War Resolution, the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendments, and the declination to hold Rove in contempt of Congress were emblematic.

If left unrebuked, the Bush-Cheney usurpations of power will become part of the constitutional firmament and risk creating a safe harbor for future presidential abuses. Every member of Congress, moreover, is required to take an oath to "support (the) Constitution" pursuant to Article VI. There is no corresponding oath to support the Republican or Democratic parties or to subordinate the Constitution in the name of political harmony. Censure would be no novelty.

The Senate voted to rebuke President Andrew Jackson for constitutional lawlessness in 1834: "Resolved, That the President, in the late executive proceedings in relation to the public revenue, has assumed upon himself authority and power not conferred by the Constitution and laws, but in derogation of both."

The censure resolution we contemplate would enumerate the serial Bush-Cheney constitutional violations; and, censure them for complicity in wrecking the Constitution's finely tuned balance of powers. In two previous congressional sessions, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., introduced censure resolutions against the president and vice president for deceiving Congress about the war in Iraq and warrantless spying on American citizens in contravention of FISA.

The resolution should also endorse a remedial legislative agenda that would be binding on all future presidents, including the president-elect. It should include a criminal prohibition on intentional misrepresentations to Congress to obtain authorization for war; or, the president's initiation of war without an express congressional mandate. The president's withholding of information demanded by Congress should likewise be prohibited.

An independent prosecutor should be created to prosecute crimes allegedly perpetrated by high-level executive-branch officials in the course of executing presidential directives or defending presidential prerogatives. FISA should be amended to restore individualized warrants based on probable cause to spy on Americans in order to gather foreign intelligence.

Censure will not, by itself, remedy the Bush-Cheney vandalizing of the Constitution. But if members of Congress neglect even that modest step, our republic and democracy will have been irreparably harmed.

Bruce Fein, a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, is chairman of the American Freedom Agenda and author of "Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for our Constitution and Democracy" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
Ralph Nader is a citizen advocate and author.

Hodes in Congress today ...

Like a cherry on a bad sundae ... Hah!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The end of the Green Party?

Mass. Green Party activist John Walsh thinks so and has a lengthy piece about the situation here: ["The End of the Green Party "]. A good read, especially if you've been tracking alternative parties in the United States.

This is interesting: ["Hyundai taking returns"]. I guess that is one way to combat the downturn in the economy. As well, there is always a market for used cars [or in this case, late model returns]. So, Hyundai is right to experiment with this.

And over at, I have two local media notes about recent editions of the Concord Monitor and The Bow Times/Goffstown News merger: ["Two local media notes"].

Lastly, in keeping with the theme of newspapers [and lastly because I'm in the middle of doing laundry], there is this story about government funding and bailouts for newspapers: ["Government aid could save U.S. newspapers, spark debate"]. Despite the intentions and interesting concept, I'm leery about this one. I really think the bailouts are a bad idea all around, even if my job could be one of the jobs saved.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Dec. 31, 2008 ...

A letter to President Bush from Ralph Nader:

Dear George W. Bush---

Cong. Barney Frank said recently that Barack Obama’s declaration that “there is only one president at a time” over-estimated the number. He was referring to the economic crisis. But where are you on the Gaza crisis where the civilian population of Gaza, its civil servants and public facilities are being massacred and destroyed respectively by U.S built F-16s and U.S. built helicopter gunships.

The deliberate suspension of your power to stop this terrorizing of 1.5 million people, mostly refugees, blockaded for months by air, sea and land in their tiny slice of land, is in cowardly contrast to the position taken by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. That year he single handedly stopped the British, French and Israeli aircraft attack against Egypt during the Suez Canal dispute.

Fatalities in Gaza are already over 400 and injuries close to 2000 so far as is known. Total Palestinian civilian casualties are 400 times greater then the casualties incurred by Israelis. But why should anyone be surprised at your blanket support for Israel’s attack given what you have done to a far greater number of civilians in Iraq and now in Afghanistan?

Confirmed visual reports show that Israeli warplanes and warships have destroyed or severely damaged police stations, homes, hospitals, pharmacies, mosques, fishing boats, and a range of public facilities providing electricity and other necessities.

Why should this trouble you at all? It violates international law, including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter. You too have repeatedly violated international law and committed serious constitutional transgressions.

Then there is the matter of the Israeli government blocking imports of critical medicines, equipment such as dialysis machines, fuel, food, water, spare parts and electricity at varying intensities for almost two years. The depleted UN aid mission there has called this illegal blockade a humanitarian crisis especially devastating to children, the aged and the infirm. Chronic malnutrition among children is rising rapidly. UN rations support eighty percent of this impoverished population.

How do these incontrovertible facts affect you? Do you have any empathy or what you have called Christian charity?

What would a vastly shrunken Texas turned in an encircled Gulag do up against the 4th most powerful military in the world? Would these embattled Texans be spending their time chopping wood?

Gideon Levy, the veteran Israeli columnist for Ha’aretz, called the Israeli attack a “brutal and violent operation” far beyond what was needed for protecting the people in its south. He added: “The diplomatic efforts were just in the beginning, and I believe we could have got to a new truce without this bloodshed… send dozens of jets to bomb a total helpless civilian society with hundreds of bombs—just today, they were burying five sisters. I mean, this is unheard of. This cannot go on like this. And this has nothing to do with self-defense or with retaliation even. It went out of proportion, exactly like two-and-a-half years ago in Lebanon.”

Apparently, thousands of Israelis, including some army reservists, who have demonstrated against this destruction of Gaza agree with Mr. Levy. However, their courageous stands have not reached the mass media in the U.S. whose own reporters cannot even get into Gaza due to Israeli prohibitions on the international press.

Your spokespeople are making much ado about the breaking of the six month truce. Who is the occupier? Who is the most powerful military force? Who controls and blocks the necessities of life? Who has sent raiding missions across the border most often? Who has sent artillery shells and missiles at close range into populated areas? Who has refused the repeated comprehensive peace offerings of the Arab countries issued in 2002 if Israel would agree to return to the 1967 borders and agree to the creation of a small independent Palestinian state possessing just twenty two percent of the original Palestine?

The “wildly inaccurate rockets”, as reporters describe them, coming from Hamas and other groups cannot compare with the modern precision armaments and human damage generated from the Israeli side.

There are no rockets coming from the West Bank into Israel. Yet the Israeli government is still sending raiders into that essentially occupied territory, still further entrenching its colonial outposts, still taking water and land and increasing the checkpoints This is going on despite a most amenable West Bank leader, Mahmoud Abbas, whom you have met with at the White House and praised repeatedly. Is it all vague words and no real initiatives with you and your emissary Condoleezza Rice?

Peace was possible, but you provided no leadership, preferring instead to comply with all wishes and demands by the Israeli government—even resupplying it with the still active cluster bombs in south Lebanon during the invasion of that country in 2006.

The arguments about who started the latest hostilities go on and on with Israel always blaming the Palestinians to justify all kinds of violence and harsh treatment against innocent civilians.

From the Palestinian standpoint, you would do well to remember the origins of this conflict which was the dispossession of their lands. To afford you some empathy, recall the oft-quoted comment by the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who told the Zionist leader, Nahum Goldmann:

“There has been anti-Semitism the Nazis Hitler Auschwitz but was that their [the Palestinians] fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?”
Alfred North Whitehead once said: “Duty arises out of the power to alter the course of events.” By that standard, you have shirked mightily your duty over the past eight years to bring peace to both Palestinians and Israelis and more security to a good part of the world.

The least you can do in your remaining days at the White House is adopt a modest profile in courage, and vigorously demand and secure a ceasefire and a solidly based truce. Then your successor, President-elect Obama can inherit something more than the usual self-censoring Washington puppet show that eschews a proper focus on the national interests of the United States.