Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Catching up on things, Part 1

I do want to thank all the new visitors the site has been getting of late. I hope you are enjoying what you see here. I will also be reposting some of the side columns which were taken down while I tweaked the design and layout of the site. These were taken down because Blogger has added a ton of new features which make the entire process a lot easier.

Press releases
One of the neat things about working in the news business is the press release. In some ways, press releases are a nag; the people who send them, usually paid press relation reps., can be difficult. Some, can be very cool. But the information you get in a press release - barring political ones, which can often be biased or manipulated - are pretty interesting. If you don't have a ton of time, and you get your news from briefs, there is a good chance it came from a press release. In addition, press releases can serve as a good source of helping a reporter to get to a story which is important to readers.
Here are a couple of I have gotten recently which I thought were interesting but which weren't really relevant to a local radio station.
This first is from the group known as Consumers for Cable Choice. They are essentially trying to break open the cable monopoly. The flack sent out a quick release - late, albeit - trying to get people to look at the cost of cable in a new light. Thanksgiving dinner this year will cost American families a little under $37, which is up a bit from last year. "Too bad for American consumers that the cost of watching the big parade and games on television will cost significantly more than that," the release notes.
The release goes on to say that according to the FCC, from "Report on Cable Industry Prices" from Feb. 2005, cable rates rose 86 percent between 1994 and 2004, with all the major cable companies raising rates in 2006 and Comcast, my cable company, announcing another 6 percent increase in January 2007.
But compare this with other services which are becoming modern necessities, during the same time period: The average cell phone bill has decrease by almost 6 percent over that time, with three times as many people owning cell phones; long distance rates have dropped 50 percent; PCs have dropped 78 percent; electricity has dropped 6 percent [Sidebar: I wonder about the electricity rates. Maybe these are national rates but I can tell you that per kwh, I'm playing more than I was in 2004, never mind 1994!]
Here is another one from a representative of Experian entitled "Consumer Borrowing Trends Released As Holiday Shopping Kicks Off." It should have been called "Borrowers in trouble as the holiday approach."
Since 2001, according to the release, "there has been a near 17 percent decline in the rate at which consumers are opening new credit accounts, and a near 13 percent increase in the rate of late payments. The study also revealed a 7-point decline in the national average credit score from 2001 (682) to 2006 (675)."
Now, the bad news is pretty clear - people are having problems paying their bills and it is effecting credit reports. The net positive is that with fewer cards being opened, there is less debt, although that probably comes from problems with current debt.
But here are some other problems: During the same time period, auto loans are down 17.5 percent ... that's not so good for the auto industry which is already hurting; Installment loans are down 15.6 percent ... this could be a positive or negative though, as more people could be paying off their loans or budgeting better as to not have to take out installment loans; Nationwide, the percentage of consumers late on their installment loan payments in the last 90 days increased by 15.5 percent ... again, missing payments on installment loans is kind of the point before bankruptcy; and lastly, what should be considered positive news, late payments on car loans and credit cards have declined by 4.1 and 11.9 percent, respectively.
Here is an opinion piece from Mother Jones I finished reading the other day, granted, written before the election, but which outlines some of the issues about the lack of a war dividend: ["The Firing Line"].
These statistics shouldn't be that surprising but they are if you consider that millions of people think the economy is great. As the political slogan goes, are you better off than you were four years ago, or eight, or 12? Maybe, maybe not. But is it better for everyone else? Clearly not. Those less fortunate are falling through the cracks during a modern time where everyone is expected to not only keep up with the Jones but to surpass them. Some of those things can be controlled by subduing desire and teaching our children what is worth valuing. But that is work on top of the work a person is already performing to survive. Life isn't easy, as the saying goes, but life is good.

In keeping with the theme of press releases, I did want to post this one by the people who organized the recent gubernatorial campaign of Rep. Jim Coburn, the GOP's sacrificial lamb, who ran against popular Democratic Gov. John Lynch this year.
They have formed the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition, a PAC which serves "as watchdog protectors of New Hampshire’s low tax and less spending traditions." This is a smart move by Heath & Company. Democrats promised to keep things in check, with many campaigning and promising that there won't be a sales or income tax passed in New Hampshire, while at the same time, some of my liberal friends claiming that sweeping victories by Democrats means that it is time to throw out "the pledge" [For those of you that don't know, the pledge is a commitment to not implement a sales or income tax in New Hampshire].
I'm afraid that I'm with conservatives on the issue of the pledge. I've seen first-hand, living in Massachusetts for many years, how income and sales taxes, with little oversight, can lead to wasteful spending and no solution to the nagging problems of society.
The 2006 election wasn't about more taxes and more spending - it was, however, about oversight, accountability, and prioritizing our taxes and spending. It was a solid vote against badly planned wars, with no end, which are ripping our nation apart. It was a solid vote against spending hundreds of billions of dollars turning the deserts of Iraq into glass. That is what the vote was about and anyone who can't see that will unfortunately risks the return of swing voters sending Republicans back into power. Don't screw it up, Democrats!
Back to the Coalition for a second, it is made up of former Superior Court judge and U.S. Rep. Chuck Douglas, who can be thanked endlessly for spearheading a ballot question to protect New Hampshire citizens from the U.S. Supreme Court's eminent domain ruling, Coburn, Tom Thompson, the son of former conservative icon Gov. Meldrim Thompson, and State Rep. Pam Manney of Goffstown.
One cheap shot side note though, which is important to state: Heath's group, Meridian Communications, didn't do the best job spending Coburn's money, IMHO.
During one campaign press release, Meridian announced the launch of some radio spots for the campaign. The ads were aired on a few stations and it wasn't a bad run of spots. But, the airing of spots on a well-known Top 40 station with high ratings in youth numbers was a waste of money. Young people don't vote in high numbers in New Hampshire. Compare their audience with that of smaller AM stations with less expensive ad rates and adult numbers - i.e., people who actually vote - and it is clear that Coburn's media buyers were throwing some of his money out the window. While I have no love lost of Coburn losing - like many others I think Gov. Lynch is doing a good job - I hate to see political parties unable to compete for the hearts and minds of voters.

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