Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chris Young, Providence's next mayor?

I haven't really been watching this race, or a lot of races these days. But I did stumble upon this guy, Chris Young, who is running for mayor of Providence, the beautiful city in Rhode Island.
Young is a long-shot candidate there but has been garnering headlines for the usual things - being a "gadfly," and perennial candidate, etc., the typical media cheapshot comments that pigeonhole creative people who try to win political races. Having said that though, talk a look at these two clips and answer this question: Isn't this guy the best person to be the next mayor there?:

Sure, he's a bit off-key in his song. But what's wrong with having someone who is a bit quirky lead a city? Can he do a worse job than most career politicians? Answer? No, probably not. And the city would have nothing to lose by electing this guy.

September 2010 Top 30 Noise Chart

Reporting: 13 different radio stations and Internet programs

1. Oranjuly – Oranjuly
2. Pernice Brothers – Goodbye, Killer
3. John Shade – All You Love is Need
4. Ad Frank & the Fast Easy Women – Your Secrets Are Mine Now
5. Guillermo Sexo – Vivid Nights
6. Hallelujah the Hills – “That Ticking Sound You Hear”
7. Gene Dante & The Future Starlets – “The Love Letter Is Dead”
8. Endless Wave – City Walls EP
9. Taxpayer – Photo EP
10. Mean Creek – “The Comedian”
11. Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys – Steam Ship Killers
12. The Weisstronauts – In Memphis
13. Ketman – Ketman A Go-Go
14. Jenny Dee and the Deelinquents – Keeping Time
15. Spirit Kid – Spirit Kid
16. One Happy Island – One Happy Island
17. Big Big Bucks – Crucial Schmooze
18. Corin Ashley & The Chocolate Olivers – The Abbey Road Session
19. Monique Oritz – When The Pigeon Flies
20. Kristen Hersh – Crooked
21. Needy Visions – Needy Visions
22. Bodega Girls – “We Are Losers”
23. The Acrobrats – Hair Trigger
24. Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions
25. Hooray for Earth – Momo EP
26. Sool – A Touch of Sool
27. Kingsley Flood – Dust Windows
28. The Diamond Mines – 12345
29. Tree Frog Avengers – Doodles
30. The Doom Buggies – “Dying”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

For whom the bell tolls

Guest perspective by Ralph Nader
Bell, California, a working-class town of some 38,000 ten miles outside of Los Angeles, is a unique place. Its local government has proven to be citizen-proof, media proof, city-council proof and even leak-proof from inside its self-enriching top officialdom.

Get this: Bell city manager. Robert Rizzo resigned a month ago after a Los Angeles Times exposé revealed that he was being paid $800,000 a year, plus 28 weeks of vacation and sick time worth $386,000. He was also expecting to make $600,000 a year in guaranteed pension payouts. Mr. Rizzo also borrowed $160,000 from the city.

Mr. Rizzo had clever political protection. The Police Chief was getting $457,000 a year and members of the City Council of this small city were making, for very part time work, about $100,000 each per year.

Mr. Rizzo’s assistant manager was making a $376,288 base salary a year with a total compensation package substantially larger.

The average per capita income in Bell is $25,000 a year. More than a quarter of its population lives below the poverty line.

Expressions of shock and dismay erupted from the expected quarters—state legislators, other city officials of much larger cities, and the president of the League of California Cities, Robin Lowe. He said: “the reported abuses are an embarrassment to the thousands of hard-working men and women in city government,” and offered the League’s assistance to the Los Angeles County District Attorney and the California State Attorney General in their investigations.

The League should start by explaining to the two prosecutors why it did not know about the staggering pay scale of its member town, especially since there is a state Open Meetings and Public Records Act for ready utilization.

Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez unpersuasively tried to make the best of the multiple pay bonanzas. He told the Los Angeles Times that: “Our streets are cleaner, we have lovely parks, better lighting throughout the area, our community is better. These things just don’t happen, they happen because he had a vision and made it happen.”

Let’s pause momentarily to observe the variety and depth of abdication by the governmental and civic culture in beleaguered Bell. The city has fallen behind on its bond payments, and acknowledged it overcharged its residents’ property taxes by $3 million to pay for those exorbitant pensions.

At least a dozen employees in City Hall had to know of these excesses and chose not to talk or leak the news over the years. The nearby newspapers, TV and radio stations did not dig it out. The city council knew but was compromised by its own huge payments. Still, political gossip is supposed to be irresistible. None of the citizens, including the usual town gadflies or skeptics, bothered to find out. All that was needed to bring this to light was one or two people blowing the whistle. After all, this information is not opinion. It’s arithmetic—crisp numbers that invite everyone’s howl.

The greater Los Angeles area is the very definition of sprawl: a lack of community that promotes more citizen slackers. It is inconceivable that such outrageously bold and self enriching formal compensation could escape the notice of citizens of a New England town—even one without a town meeting type of government. Ask them in Lowell, Mass., Torrington, Conn., Newport, R.I., Portsmouth, N.H., Burlington, Vt. and Bangor, Maine. I’ll bet their reply would be a version of: “Are you kidding?”

Californian largesse also resides in Vernon, California (pop. 91) an industrial-commercial center of 5.1 square miles of territory and nearby to Bell. It is now revealed by the Los Angeles Times, whose reporters have found a new exciting town-by-town beat, that the city administrator, Eric T. Fresch, was paid $1.65 million in total compensation in 2008. Last year was a bummer; Mr. Fresch, who calls himself an experienced finance attorney, received nearly $1.2 million.

Granted, Vernon’s businesses have over 50,000 workers and the town owns its electric utility. But getting paid four times the salary of the President of the United States, who has considerably greater supervisory responsibilities, seems to be an over-reach.

Last year, the Vernon city administrator, Donal O’Callaghan, was paid nearly $785,000, but that included being the director of the municipally-owned utility. Still, together they were just one full-time job. He also had help. The city attorney, Jeffrey A. Harrison, earned $800,000 last year, down from $1.04 million in 2008, while the City Treasurer/Finance Director, Roirdan Burnett had to make do with $570,000.

The former city administrator, Bruce Malkenhorst Sr., made $600,000 in 2005 and is awaiting trial on public corruption charges. He still draws a $500,000 a year pension.

All this information about salaries and benefits is public information, but no one in the public was interested enough to find out why nobody was minding the store.

The saving grace in Bell is that, once they found out, some folks were outraged, rushed in protest to the crowded city council meeting and, around town, handed out 10,000 leaflets to engage more residents.

This local movement calls itself BASTA (Bell Association To Stop The Abuse), which means “enough” in Spanish. They strive to arouse the citizenry about where their tax dollars are going, and recall the Council members, if necessary to clean house. They have had enough, finally, at last!

The BASTA organizers must believe there is a limit to the anomie caused by the disintegration of a community’s standards of conduct and norms.

McCain vs. Hayworth ... check out these ads ...

Anyone watching the McCain vs. Hayworth primary in Arizona has to be both giddy and appalled by some of these advertisements:

Simply, wow.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What if you had steel wool hands?

This ad was emailed to me. It's actually pretty funny (viewer discretion is advised):

Cool new feature in the UL

The Union Leader unveiled a cool new feature this morning, an Ask The Expert column: ["Ask the Expert: New expert knows news"]. The column will be dedicated to helping small businesses understand the difference between advertising, marketing, and promotion. There is so much confusion and clutter out there, with so many advertising outlets vying for fewer and fewer marketing dollars. This seems like a great opportunity for the newspaper to educate folks about the differences and, hopefully, help small businesses succeed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

European shrimp found in Mass. waters

Yesterday afternoon, over the State House News Service wire, there was a little story about how Massachusetts officials with the help of MIT have discovered the first European shrimp to appear in North American waters.
SHNS is subscription only and don't have the link (readers probably wouldn't be able to open it) but I find this completely fascinating.
According to the story, researchers are inspecting docks and shores all over the state, taking an inventory of all the marine species. Officials are calling the shrimp a "new non-native invasive species" and believe that global shipping lanes are spreading the species around the world.
Imagine for a second that the shrimp has held onto the boat for that long, to go from say England to Massachusetts. Crazy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The lives of the big ... and the small

Guest perspective by Ralph Nader
The Obama Administration’s treatment of its current majority ownership of bailed out General Motors and its standoffishness toward the pioneering but troubled ShoreBank, a community bank based in Chicago, are lessons in how the Big/Bad fare in Washington, D.C., as compared with the Good/Small.

Having shed its bad assets and abandoned its common shareholders, the new GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 with a clean balance sheet and lots of taxpayer cash. For the first two quarters of 2010, it has signaled a comeback by reporting over $2 billion in profits.

In return for a federal infusion of well over $50 billion, the government took a 61 percent ownership stake. The Canadian government received 10 percent ownership for its financial assistance, and the United Auto Workers received 17.5 percent ownership in return for major concessions and a two-tier salary scale starting at $14 an hour.

The Obama administration exercises its trust duties on behalf of the taxpayers by repeatedly saying it would not use any powers of majority ownership at all. The Obama administration is urging GM is issue stock sooner than later so that the government can sell its stock and get out of the company completely.

GM’s CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr., former CEO of AT&T, agrees. In recent weeks, he has been telling the press that GM is losing sales because of its moniker “Government Motors.” Not known for his graciousness, he did not add that without the government a bankrupt General Motors would not have any sales at all.

There are serious consequences for Obama’s absentee management style. First, he did not prohibit GM from lobbying, as was required for the bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As a major member of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, GM has been part of a lobbying force that seeks to weaken auto safety legislation now moving through the House and the Senate. Historically, GM has been the most strident in its opposition to mandatory pollution control, fuel efficiency and safety standards. The company’s strategy for decades has been to defeat, delay or weaken efforts to clean your air, safeguard your motor vehicle and get you more miles per gallon of gasoline.

Now, when the government, as a majority owner, can at last tell GM to support long established national policies in these three areas, Obama is hands off. The new GM is free to return to its old obstructive ways.

Moreover, GM’s recovery is just beginning. It has cut its costs very significantly so that its breakeven mark is at a low production volume by historical standards. Starting from nearly rock bottom sales volume, GM is making money in the U.S. and booming in China. So why would Obama want to sell the government’s share so early when waiting a couple of years will make a nice profit for the taxpayers and, in the meantime, restrain GM’s opposition to innovation-driven regulations for the health, safety and economic well-being of consumers?

Now, consider ShoreBank’s predicament. This bank broke ground since its founding in 1973 by providing loans for lower-income homebuyers, apartment building owners and small businesses. Year after year, this community bank proved it could make money by opening up markets that the big banks chose to red-line in Chicago and later in Detroit and Cleveland. Hundreds of articles and news reports heralded its success.

Then the Wall Street-produced recession struck the country. Through little fault of its own, many of its hard-pressed lower-income debtors began to miss or default on their loans. ShoreBank started to register losses--$119 million in 2009. Unlike the big banks, ShoreBank did not deal in risky speculative derivatives—like credit default swaps, collaterized debt obligations or subprime mortgage lending.

Washington is drawn irresistibly to bail out the big banks’ wildly speculative, toxic paper investments with no redeeming social value. George W. Bush took the taxpayers to levels of corporate welfare beyond the dreams of corporate avarice.

Neil M. Barofsky, the valiant special inspector general for the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) reported that the giant AIG bailout ($182 billion) gave its trading partners—bonus-rich Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Societe Generale and other banks—100 cents on the dollar for their notorious credit default swaps. Had AIG defaulted, it would have been a fraction of that sum.

Barofsky’s report denounced the Federal Reserve for not negotiating strongly with the banks. Incredibly, the Fed gave the banks $27 billion in taxpayer cash and let them keep $35 billion more in collateral already posted by AIG. Barofsky declared that these vastly overpaid sums were way “above [these contracts’] market value at the time.”

Compare these amounts to what ShoreBank needs in additional investment to provide liquidity and adequate capital reserves to ride out the recession. It projects losses of about $200 million before returning to black ink and another $300 million or so to support future operations.

The community bank has raised $150 million in pledges from several Wall Street firms—a little p.r. redemption here—and it needs $75 million in TARP funds from the Obama administration.

At this writing, Washington is balking and the Bank, willing to shrink down further, finds its hopes dimming.

The Chicago Tribune editorial “Still Worth Saving” put it well: “ShoreBank, for many years, showed that operating honorably in low-income neighborhoods could pay off for everybody. One way or another, we can’t let its shining example disappear.”

Hell has frozen over ...

President Clinton met with the staff of yesterday, including Christopher Ruddy, author of the book, "The Strange Death of Vince Foster": ["President Clinton Visits Newsmax"].
Oh the times they are a changin' ... hell has clearly frozen over ...
I think I interviewed Ruddy at one point, I can't remember. I'll have to go back and check. I know I did have a copy of the book. This, however, is a weird photo op. Maybe Clinton is starting to lose his mind, like Reagan during the latter part of his life. Or, he just doesn't realize, this is! Or, maybe he has learned to forgive and forget. Who knows. It's weird though, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I heard a report last night that said that BP has so far spent $6 billion on the clean up of the Gulf. I don't know if that figure is accurate or not, but they are running a pretty good ad campaign to reassure Americans that they won't leave until the job is done. No corporation can be trusted, but wouldn't it be nice if we could trust BP on this one?

The world's richest man advocates for death panels ...

Yes, death panels, those evil things that didn't exist before the sweeping health care bill was passed.
Well, someone has dug up a clip of Bill Gates on CNN talking about cost containment, decisions made at the end of life, and whether or not it is worth someone in old age getting taken care of. No lie. Wow: ["Bill Gates on CNN"].
Of course, he has nothing to worry about; he's a bazillionaire. But I find this interesting. And why did it take someone three months to dig up this clip? Maybe it was repeated late at night on CNN and someone saw it and said, What?!

Monday, August 9, 2010

I don't know what I think about this ...

Rumors are flying ... are the Clintons making their move?: ["Hillary for Vice President?"].
I don't know if this can save Obama.
Although, I don't know if Obama needs to be saved at this point, whether Biden or Clinton is on the ticket. Seriously. Think about it. What Republican is going to beat him? None of them are moderates that anyone could really support, since most Americans are actually pretty moderate. In fact, some of them are bat crazy.
Mitt Romney looks to have the best shot but who knows. If he runs another campaign like the last one, not talking to real folks about real things but getting hung up in his own political theories, he isn't going to win.
I like Mike Huckabee. I met him the last time a couple of times and he was extremely nice and is the only one who has any potential to bring black voters to the Republican ticket. He talks about God and seems to believe it. Although, I've seen him on television recently and it looks like he has gained a lot of his weight back. Not a good sign.
There's Tim Palenty ... Tim who? There's laughable loser Rick Santorum. And then there is Newt, you know, the one who talks about God and the sanctity of marriage and then dumps two of his wives for younger versions.
Personally, out of all of them, I kinda like Sarah Palin. For all the talk about her having no experience in 2008, she had a lot more than Obama did. I look forward to her tromping through the snow in our beautiful state, wearing knee-highs, blathering about whatever, freedom this, mama bear that ... sorry, political eye candy and all.
Sure, it will be fun again in New Hampshire in another six months or so. But nothing will get solved, nothing will be fixed, because it will all be about the two party system with the little people fighting over the crumbs while the few get away with the country's treasure.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Thinking about Sid and Nancy

Not the movie so much as the lives.
Late last night, I was flipping through channels of absolutely nothing on (why am I paying $50 a month for this again?) and came across the tail end of "Sid & Nancy." I've seen it a number of times - we own it on DVD, as a part of the wife's Gary Oldman collection - and wasn't really in the mood for a downer film. But I didn't want to flip around anymore, so I left it on.
We got to talking about the film and I had thought that Mick Jones had been playing with Sid on his solo material. I started Googling around and found out that my suspicion was correct.
I also came across two things: That Nancy's mother wrote a book about her life - there is an excerpt of it here ["Love me, Kill me"] - and that there was a film released recently that challenges the official story about Sid murdering Nancy:

I don't know if Sid murdered Nancy. We all believed he did. I think sometimes though that police investigators do come to the easiest conclusions. So this looks like it might be worth a viewing.
As far as the mother's book goes, it tells a slightly different story than the film, especially during the Sid and Nancy visit to Nancy's relatives. Of course, the mother is going to have a completely different take on things, that might be true or not, but the read is tragic and sad, as you might imagine.

This video is so funny ...

Note: There is blasphemy and swear words:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

No repeal on health care paperwork minutia

["Law creates paperwork fiasco for businesses"]
I read about this earlier in the year. Catching taxes on what should be taxed this doesn't seem like a bad idea ... until you figure out how many man-hours it will take from small businesses to accomplish the collection. Just another reason why there shouldn't be massive bills that no one reads. In addition, gotta love the fact that both Dems and the GOP want to get this out of the health care bill but can figure out a way to agree on how to make up the lost funding.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My 2yo's first blog post ...


Raising the speed limit

Speed limits through EZPass at both the Hooksett and Bedford tollbooths have been raised to 25 mph from 10 mph. I don't know who made this decision but it was a good one.
No one ever went through the EZPass lanes at 10 mph even though the staties were often camped out waiting to nail people going too fast. Getting down to 10 mph is also impossible on the highway whereas 25 is a breeze. So, thank you, to whoever made this decision. It seems like a smart one.
Now if we can just get those high speed EZPass lanes like the ones on I-95 put in Hooksett, we'll be all set ...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Another punk rock godfather bites the dust ...

Rest in peace, Derf Scratch, the original bass player of the band FEAR: ["R.I.P. Derf Scratch, Founding Member of Fear"].
Thanks to Al Quint for linking this. Sad to go out this way. But at least he was able to put his mark on one of the best - and most controversial - punk albums of all time. I have quite a few FEAR songs in the cue at work and regularly have to turn them down, so as not to offend (Example, from "Fresh Flesh" ... "piss on your warm embrace, I just want to c*m in your face ..." not the best thing to be playing loudly in an office with mixed genders who you respect immensely).
I remember one friend's parents, a couple of Baby Boomer professionals who were having marital problems and divorced not long after their kids entered high school, going absolutely wild with anger (and fear?) when they caught their son listening to this record (and many others).
My parents were quite tolerant, considering. I sense that maybe, as a parent, I might be tolerant too ... so long as the music they bring home isn't complete crap.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mixed emotions on the Bush tax cuts

Everyone is talking about the Bush tax cuts that will expire at the end of the year. It's kinda funny how these things just magically come up for discussion at certain times.
The biggest theme - from cranks like Alan Greenspan to data forwarded by the Congressional Budget Office, in the chart below - is that the deficits will balloon huge amounts if the tax cuts (officially known as the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003) are allowed to continue:

First, does anyone trust a damn thing that Greenspan has to say at this point? Not unlike Dick Cheney, he needs to shut up and go away. His policies and beliefs have done more to destroy this nation than anyone else's.
Second, the problem with this data is that it only tells one side of the story. It assumes revenue collected by the government from the taxes only. What it doesn't show is lost business - which also creates revenue for the government - from hundreds of billions being pulled out of the private sector economy each year and put back into government. The Bush tax cuts, if allowed to expire, will result in $3.5 trillion being pulled out of the economy during the next 10 years and put into government coffers. When you plug ALL the data in, the results are probably much different than what this chart shows. It's the same premise as the federal stimulus money only it's private sector money.

Here's an example: My share of the Bush tax cuts, the last time I looked, was about $600 or $800, if I recall correctly. A pizza and a coke a month, as the talking points went at the time. But, if you live paycheck-to-paycheck, that pizza and a coke can be very nice once in a while ...
But beyond the selfishness of being able to keep more of my money to buy a pizza and coke every once in a while, let's pretend the tax cuts expire. More money is pulled out of my pocket. I have less to spend - and so do tens of millions of others - instantly. If I don't spend that $50 to $60 a month, the store down the street - or wherever - doesn't make the sale. Fewer goods and services are bought and used. Fewer people are getting paid.
Since I live paycheck-to-paycheck, like many, many others, I will have to cut more if the tax cuts expire. Essentially, it's a $60 per month tax increase for folks like me. It's not like we're going to go out and work a second job or something to get the $60 back. We're going to suffer and cut more.
But how much more can we cut? We already shut off the land line, we already have the cheapest cable available, we don't take vacations, we don't eat out, our cars are gas misers, we're lucky if we have pizza once every three months or so. So, what else am I supposed to cut to make up for the $60? What is everyone else going to give up so that the government can waste more and more money on bank bailouts and state trooper pay details?
If you're in the upper brackets, it's multiplied. And that's the controversy. Lots of people who have lots of money pay a lower rate. But, do they? According to the WSJ, taxes paid by millionaires more than doubled between 2003 and 2006 due to the law. So, millionaires paid more in taxes with a lower rate. How did that happen? Well, they made more money and paid more taxes!
Rich people tend to invest their money in businesses and banks. Those businesses hire people; the banks lend money. If this money is pulled out of investment, fewer people are working or hired, less is being spent, etc.
Frankly, do I think millionaires should get more of their money back? No, probably not, even though I'm not worried about class warfare. The Obama Administration says it would like to keep the cuts for people making less than $250,000 in place, which would help folks like me. But the expiration of these tax cuts will cost me and many others a good chunk of money - money we are currently using to survive.

Now, if the federal government is serious about paying down the debt, it needs to start worrying about cutting spending - like cutting defense, corporate welfare, foreign aid, and other things, as well as raising targeted taxes, like transaction taxes on Wall Street. I talk more about deficit reduction here: ["'Frontline' show on debt"].
There are answers to the problems ... raising taxes on po' folks and the working class should not be one of them.