Wednesday, March 30, 2011

This graphic says it all

This graphic accompanied a recent WSJ article about how AT&T outmaneuvered Sprint to get T-Mobile.
Last week in a post, I talked a bit about the AT&T-T-Mobile merger: ["Thinking about cellphones"]. In the article, I did make one mistake: Sprint didn't buy Omnipoint back in the day when I had my first cellphone. Ominipoint merged with VoiceStream in 1999 which later was acquired by T-Mobile in 2001. Omnipoint is not listed in the graphic, I had to look it up, but VoiceStream is there.
However, look at this graphic. Amazing. Essentially, we are back to the days when there was a literal monopoly over service. In this case, a dual monopoly with two companies and a medium company in third.
Simply put, this merger cannot be allowed to happen.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You really have to be careful what you say

The New Hampshire General Court can sometimes be a colorful place with all kinds of "every man"-types elected to office. In many cases, it doesn't take a ton of votes to win a house seat. As well, our Legislature is the largest one in the United States and the fourth largest English-speaking political body in the world. Meaning it is quite populist and open to all kinds of different people and opinions.
So it's not surprising when, every once in a while, a kinda "crazy" person, no pun intended, wins a seat and then, shoots his mouth off.
This is what seems to have happened to Martin Harty, a now former state representative, who suggested that the mentally ill be sent to Siberia: ["Barrington state Rep. Harty resigns in wake of 'Siberia' remark"].
At 91, we have to wonder if Harty was, well, all there, when he made the comments or even, when he decided to run. However, this week, Harty submitted a letter to the Concord Monitor explaining his off-the-cuff remarks: ["My little joke got out of hand"].
Now, folks can challenge whether or not this is true and whether or not this story was all about nothing (they have in the online comments). One could imagine that Harty was truly overwhelmed that day, had had enough and decided to be a wise-ass, old coot. More than 66,000 Google searches later, Harty is a household name for politicos. At the same time, we've also all seen this happen before, when advocates and lobbyists go completely insane over their pet issues. But really, whether anyone likes it or not, we have progressed as a society where we just don't make jokes about the mentally ill anymore. Even when a crazy old man is spouting off stuff.
In the end, we can all presume that it makes a bit of sense to watch what we say especially when we have the privilege to serve the public in the general court.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Can Giuliani be a player in 2012?

Last week, one of the better New England political reporters, the award-winning David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix, posted a pretty targeted blog post about former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani coming to New Hampshire to feel out a potential 2012 race: ["NH Whiffs On Giuliani-Mocking"].
I posted a note of my own there. But, I decided to follow up with some expanded comments about Giuliani and others in the 2012 Republican field.
First, it seems to me that most of the field have complete delusions of grandeur.
I have to wonder if any of the candidates - beyond maybe former Gov. Mitt Romney - are really serious at this point, since he seems to be the only one laying a solid, national foundation. Gov. Haley Barbour maybe - he can set a course for a ton of delegates right out of the gate, from previous relationships, favors, and the south (we'll get to that later). But former Sen. Rick Santorum? Please. He was wiped out in Pennsylvania after people got a sniff of the fact that he was thinking he was presidential timber. Pennsylvania, you know, a huge swing state with a slew of working people who are getting hammered by the policies of corporate Democrats and Republicans? Why is anyone taking him seriously?
Newt Gingrich is another example. He has no regional base, no specific issue to champion, and has serious morality problems ... note, the plural. And yet, he's taken seriously as a candidate too?
While none of us is perfect, I think we can count on maybe one hand (or one finger) the number of people we know who would serve their spouses with divorce papers while they lay on their death bed with cancer. If you've got a thing for a hottie, OK, stay married, be discrete about it and hope you don't get caught (or do nothing, and keep your vows to God, for goodness sake), and never run for president. Gingrich must be thinking, "Well, unlike Clinton, I've never been accused of raping someone so, I still have a chance to be taken seriously." Well, maybe. But probably not.
The worse thing about Gingrich is that I do listen to him talk and I find some of his ideas quite interesting. I listen intently and take his brain seriously. And then my head starts to spin like a Warner Brothers cartoon character and I have to remind myself that this is Newt Gingrich who is talking, not Jerry Brown, Ron Paul, or some other deep thinker. And this is before Newt gets into the what-seems-like phony God talk. Sorry buddy, I don't need to be lectured on morality or God by the likes of you (and most voters don't either).
Mike Huckabee is one who might be difficult to beat. But having watched his Fox News show - the other day he had a nice tribute to Geraldine Ferraro, BTW - it is clear that he probably isn't going to run. He has really packed on the pounds. One of his strongest talking points the last time around was his own personal health problems and fights with obesity. People related to that in him and he was showing people you can make time to exercise and you can better yourself. But look at him now. Yikes. The fact that Huckabee did so well in 2008 is proof that he will do well in the 2012 primaries if he runs again. And, as I can attest to, since I've met him and interviewed him twice, he and his wife are extremely likable. Dangerously so, actually. And, as he has shown in previous races for governor, he can corral black voters into his camp. Imagine a Republican actually going into places like Detroit or Roxbury or Brooklyn and shaking hands with folks old-school-style, peeling away potential support for Barack? Huckabee can do that.
Barbour has some of the same strategic placement that Huckabee has - without the potential black vote thing. Southern governor, very popular with the base, has a lot of chits out there, who knows. Canceling a trip to New Hampshire to go back to your state and do your job doesn't cost you anything. We understand that here. He is clearly a top tier candidate by just hinting at a run.
Romney is also a top tier candidate and, from what I'm hearing, the one to beat. There is a lot of consternation about the health care thing. But the government assisting with health care isn't the thing that will hurt him here ... it's the insurance mandate. It will hurt him with small business folks and indie leaning moderates and conservatives who don't want to be forced to subsidize big insurance companies. RomneyCare, just like ObamaCare, is the worst of all options ... it's the individual subsidizing the corporation at gunpoint.
I sense that some of the younger candidates might be thinking, "Well, I don't want to be the McCain of 2012. Better to run in an open primary and election in 2016." I don't think, once the Dems realize what is at stake, that Obama is going to be an easy beat, especially if the Republican nominees are white males going on and on about abortion. But who do the Dems have lined up for 2016 if Obama does win re-election? Joe Biden? He'll be 74. Will he really want to schlep all over the place in a bloody open primary like Al Gore did in 2000? Will he be even more gaff prone than he is now? There is no natural heir apparent in 2016 for the Dems and things are bound to be a lot worse as we continue to be in a race to the bottom against global citizens who earn a fraction of what we do.
But, you never know with this fickle state ... sometimes we can really surprise people with our choices.
And then, there is Giuliani who really should be laughed out of any consideration after the disastrous last campaign, spending tens of millions of dollars to win one delegate and basically having no real message or purpose in the race beyond cheap-shotting Romney at times, and all the other stuff about the guy (problems with marriages, can anyone say Bernie Kerik?, etc.)
However, I don't truly believe that there is no "second chance" for Giuliani, as noted by Fergus Cullen in the UL on Saturday: ["New Hampshire's bad first date with Giuliani"].
Giuliani does have one chance for 2012 ... he needs to actually tell people who he really is: A flawed yet plain-spoken, moderate, pro choice, efficient prosecutor, and a relatively effective mayor of one of the largest cities on the planet that was able to bring people together when times were good and times were bad. That's it, just be honest.
And then, set a strategic course: First, let the tea party and corporate conservatives battle for the 70 percent of the active party and you go for the rest of them. Retail it in the first four states. Stake out key voting sectors in the Iowa and Nevada caucuses, carve out a chunk of moderate to conservative independents who will be voting in the Republican primary in New Hampshire (since the Dems won't have anyone beyond fringe candidates) while not allowing your national presence to diminish (I don't know what you do in South Carolina ...).
Maybe talk to Donald Trump now and find out if he is willing to be the VP, securing half a billion in potential financing to run, and go for it. Don't hire big consultants but start soon. Go find out what is going on with real people right now - good advice for any Republican. If you do that, you'll all realize that half your public positions and policies don't and won't work, the same way half the Democrats' policies don't work either.
I don't think that Giuliani's current hint at running is going to work though: ["In Palm Beach, Giuliani talks about 2012, Obama, Palin, Romney, tea parties"]:
“If all we are faced with are candidates that are too far right so that they can’t win the general election, then that’s when I’d reconsider doing it.”
That's all well and good. But Rudy, to be honest, this isn't sandlot baseball. You need to want it. You're never going to win if that's your reason for running.
But maybe he really doesn't want it. And if that's the case, he shouldn't run at all. Pick a horse and go out and help that horse win instead.

Speaking of political labels ...

Thanks go out to my old political buddy Paul Simmons who linked this great Dan Payne column on his Facebook feed: ["Brown’s Irish dance to victory"].
I don't read the Boston Globe much anymore, so I don't always see its stories and columns. Payne, as most Boston insiders know, is a Democratic consultant who works on messaging, advertising, and public policy for candidates (I think he does some business consulting too). I met him at a class I took at Harvard in the 1990s when I was chipping away at a bachelors degree at night. Since that time, whenever I see anything he has written or catch him on NECN or something, I stop what I'm doing and check out what he's saying.
This column, in a nutshell, reveals some of the finer points of why people, including many Democrats in Massachusetts, really like U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. In many ways, he is just a very conservative Democrat, as Payne hints at here.
That doesn't mean that Democrats don't have a chance to win back the seat in 2012. With a major push on to re-elect the president, the GOTV for the Dems will be massive. But Brown has a ton of cash on hand and will get money bomb help too. If he continues to be likable, look out.
If Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination, Massachusetts will probably be in play and Brown will be helped by those coattails. Other Republicans will also be helped since the state is being redistricted and will lose one of its 10 Congressional seats, seats that have historically been held by Dems (Both Peter Blute and Peter Torkildsen were ousted in 1996. Blute, it should be noted, voted against NAFTA and GATT and yet was attacked by Democrat Jim McGovern for being against working folks even though it was his president, Clinton, who was creaming working folks ... silly voters ...).
The redistricting issue is a major one since it means at least one current representative will lose his or her seat. While Democrats control the Legislature, meaning they will control the redistricting process, the precinct changes don't lie. There are only so many ways to reform the Congressional districts. The Mass. Democrats' GOTV helped them turn the national tide of Republicans sweeping everywhere in 2010. And they had a relatively weak field of candidates who weren't well-financed in many cases. But there were at least four Congressional districts where Republicans lost by 31,000 votes or less, meaning that when 10 shrinks to nine, the dynamic is going to change. Depending on the final redesign of districts, the class of candidates, and how well they are financed, Republicans could be competitive in as many as three or four of the nine districts. I'm not predicting wins; just competition.
Anyway, it remains to be seen whether Brown will survive or not. The odds are good and Payne shows the reasons why.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bonuses? What?!

File this in the What?! category: ["Borders Seeks To Hand Out $8.3 Million In Bonuses "].
So, let me get this straight, authors and book publishers who are getting creamed in this economy and with the changes in technology don't get paid, here: ["Bookseller Borders to Delay January Payments"] and here: ["Borders Delays Payments to Publishers"], but the CEOs that run the company into the ground get millions ... come on!
This shows, as one commenter said, everything that is wrong with corporate America, or, more specifically, global corporatism, since this is probably going on everywhere. Wow.

Ferraro's passing

Pretty sad news here: ["First Female VP Candidate Ferraro Dies At 75"].
The headline, of course, is incorrect. She was the first woman on a major party ticket. There were many other minor candidates before her: ["List of female United States presidential and vice-presidential candidates"].
That doesn't, however, diminish her accomplishments.
Personally, I always liked Ferraro. I didn't think Walter Mondale was all that bad either (much better than that phony nut Reagan). In fact, I've always liked and admired lunch bucket-type Democrats, especially the more I learn about them from reading political history books from the 1960s and 1970s. It wasn't until Bill Clinton came along and started selling working folks out that I became completely disillusioned with most Democrats (Disclaimer: Currently, I'm a registered Democrat although I'm not active in the party at all. I just choose to vote in their primaries. My politics has evolved and I now call myself a "liberaltarian" - part classic liberal; part small L libertarian).
Ferraro, in later years, continued to be quite sensible and even more likable than during the years when I was politically involved (the fact that she would regularly appear on Fox News to take on those folks in debate says a lot). Although, it often seemed as if she would stand by the party label instead of the correct policy. Many Republicans are flawed this way too, and it is really killing the country, since the answers to the problems are a combination of the best ideas of both fringes of the political parties (the United States needs a single-payer health care system and we should all be able to own handguns if we chose to, for example; we should tax Wall Street transactions but taxes on earned income should be as low as possible, as another).
It's sad too that her husband's tax problems assisted in ruining her character, just because they filed joint returns. It didn't help things either that their last name had a vowel at the end of it, so some folks could make really inappropriate jokes about mobsters getting access to the White House (as if the fascists who were in there at the time were acceptable human beings, backing political movements that allowed nuns to be killed in El Salvador or selling weapons to the enemy, you know, real "mobster" stuff).
R.I.P. Geraldine, and may your class of old school politician return to our political system. It's badly needed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

April 2011 Top 30 Noise chart

Reporting: 14 different radio stations and Internet programs

1. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh
2. Buffalo Tom – Skins
3. The Lights Out – Primetime
4. Freezepop – Imaginary Friends
5. David Wax Museum – Everything is Saved
6. The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library – Volume 1
7. The Longwalls – Careers in Science EP
8. Gene Dante & the Future Starlets “The Love Letter Is Dead”
9. St. Helena – Modern Tan
10. Spirit Kid – Spirit Kid
11. Hands and Knees – Wholesome
12. The Hush Now – Shiver Me Starships EP
13. Mean Creek – Hemophiliac EP
14. Ad Frank & the Fast Easy Women – Your Secrets Are Mine Now
15. Bearstronaut – “Moniker”
16. Totem – Totem EP
17. MG Lederman – What Ifs And Bad Memories
18. Bodega Gils - Et Tu, Bootay?
19. J. Mascis – Several Shades of Why
20. Audrey Ryan – Thick Skin
21. The Cinnamon Fuzz – Cruise of the Century EP
22.Streight Angular – Alright EP
23. Faces on Film – Some Weather
24. Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions
25. Viva Viva – Viva Viva
26. The Sheila Divine – “The Innocents”/”Fragile Thing Called Man“
27. Corin Ashley & The Chocolate Olivers – The Abbey Road Session
28. Penis Fly Trap – Triple Suicide
29. Kurt Von Stetten – Pyramid
30. Amanda Palmer – Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thinking about cellphones ...

With all the stuff going on in the world, I wonder about the things that catch my eye.
For example, in the WSJ the other day, I was reading how the CEO of Sprint was balking at the price per share that T-Mobile wanted in a proposed merger. I thought at the time, Well, that seems responsible, especially when both Sprint and T-Mobile are way behind Verizon and AT&T in customers, gadgets, etc. Why acquire all of that debt not knowing whether you can actually compete with Verizon or AT&T? And who says the customers are going to stay after you merge? Then, I started seeing Sprint ads on television and thought, OK, the CEO is trying to boost the stock a bit and raise some corporate awareness.
However, just a few days later, AT&T announces that it will acquire T-Mobile in a nearly $40B deal which sends Sprint's stock plunging: ["Sprint Plunges After AT&T's T-Mobile Deal Is Seen Leaving It Weaker No. 3"].
So, maybe it wasn't worth being safe after all. Although, there is no guarantee in any of this. The deal with Sprint could have been a disaster. And, obviously, all the people looking at it didn't think T-Mobile was worth the price for Sprint to acquire.

This got me thinking about all of the mergers that have occurred since 1998, when I bought my first cellphone. My first phone was with Omnipoint which later merged with Sprint. Sprint later merged with Nextel. Remember MCI? It used to be around. The company was bombarding people with ads at the time. And yet, we've forgotten them completely. My wife used to have Cingular which later bought AT&T and dropped its name. Cingular was too big and had to spin off some of its subscribers. We had Sprint but now have AT&T, which now is merging with T-Mobile. This leaves three big companies: Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint, and a bunch of smaller companies that piggyback onto the big companies' networks.
But wasn't all of this expansion supposed to be about competition? How did three companies end up controlling most of the cellphone subscribers? How is this even allowed? And, what can be done about it? This is the big question that needs to be asked of government, the entity that is supposed to regulate these things and protect the consumer. It needs to happen even more so as we move away from cellphones as a luxury to a necessity.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nuclear nightmare

In The Public Interest By Ralph Nader

The unfolding multiple nuclear reactor catastrophe in Japan is prompting overdue attention to the 104 nuclear plants in the United States—many of them aging, many of them near earthquake faults, some on the west coast exposed to potential tsunamis.

Nuclear power plants boil water to produce steam to turn turbines that generate electricity. Nuclear power’s overly complex fuel cycle begins with uranium mines and ends with deadly radioactive wastes for which there still are no permanent storage facilities to contain them for tens of thousands of years.

Atomic power plants generate 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. Over forty years ago, the industry’s promoter and regulator, the Atomic Energy Commission estimated that a full nuclear meltdown could contaminate an area “the size of Pennsylvania” and cause massive casualties. You, the taxpayers, have heavily subsidized nuclear power research, development, and promotion from day one with tens of billions of dollars.

Because of many costs, perils, close calls at various reactors, and the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, there has not been a nuclear power plant built in the United States since 1974.

Now the industry is coming back “on your back” claiming it will help reduce global warming from fossil fuel emitted greenhouse gases.

Pushed aggressively by President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu, who refuses to meet with longtime nuclear industry critics, here is what “on your back” means:

1. Wall Street will not finance new nuclear plants without a 100% taxpayer loan guarantee. Too risky. That’s a lot of guarantee given that new nukes cost $12 billion each, assuming no mishaps. Obama and the Congress are OK with that arrangement.

2. Nuclear power is uninsurable in the private insurance market—too risky. Under the Price-Anderson Act, taxpayers pay the greatest cost of a meltdown’s devastation.

3. Nuclear power plants and transports of radioactive wastes are a national security nightmare for the Department of Homeland Security. Imagine the target that thousands of vulnerable spent fuel rods present for sabotage.

4. Guess who pays for whatever final waste repositories are licensed? You the taxpayer and your descendants as far as your gene line persists. Huge decommissioning costs, at the end of a nuclear plant’s existence come from the ratepayers’ pockets.

5. Nuclear plant disasters present impossible evacuation burdens for those living anywhere near a plant, especially if time is short.

Imagine evacuating the long-troubled Indian Point plants 26 miles north of New York City. Workers in that region have a hard enough time evacuating their places of employment during 5 pm rush hour. That’s one reason Secretary of State Clinton (in her time as Senator of New York) and Governor Andrew Cuomo called for the shutdown of Indian Point.

6. Nuclear power is both uneconomical and unnecessary. It can’t compete against energy conservation, including cogeneration, windpower and ever more efficient, quicker, safer, renewable forms of providing electricity. Amory Lovins argues this point convincingly (see Physicist Lovins asserts that nuclear power “will reduce and retard climate protection.” His reasoning: shifting the tens of billions invested in nuclear power to efficiency and renewables reduce far more carbon per dollar ( The country should move deliberately to shutdown nuclear plants, starting with the aging and seismically threatened reactors. Peter Bradford, a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) commissioner has also made a compelling case against nuclear power on economic and safety grounds (

There is far more for ratepayers, taxpayers and families near nuclear plants to find out. Here’s how you can start:

1. Demand public hearings in your communities where there is a nuke, sponsored either by your member of Congress or the NRC, to put the facts, risks and evacuation plans on the table. Insist that the critics as well as the proponents testify and cross-examine each other in front of you and the media.

2. If you call yourself conservative, ask why nuclear power requires such huge amounts of your tax dollars and guarantees and can’t buy adequate private insurance. If you have a small business that can’t buy insurance because what you do is too risky, you don’t stay in business.

3. If you are an environmentalist, ask why nuclear power isn’t required to meet a cost-efficient market test against investments in energy conservation and renewables.

4. If you understand traffic congestion, ask for an actual real life evacuation drill for those living and working 10 miles around the plant (some scientists think it should be at least 25 miles) and watch the hemming and hawing from proponents of nuclear power.

The people in northern Japan may lose their land, homes, relatives, and friends as a result of a dangerous technology designed simply to boil water. There are better ways to generate steam.

Like the troubled Japanese nuclear plants, the Indian Point plants and the four plants at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon in southern California rest near earthquake faults. The seismologists concur that there is a 94% chance of a big earthquake in California within the next thirty years. Obama, Chu and the powerful nuke industry must not be allowed to force the American people to play Russian Roulette!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wondering about Twitter noise? Check this out

This Harvard Business Review graphic was, yes, Tweeted, by a person on my work Twitter account. It's really worth a few minutes.
Look at how people are reacting on the Twitter accounts talking about the iPad. Think about it. Companies can spot problems in your product instantly. They can see what is a hit and what people hate ... without having to bug them with a phone call or interview. Just compile the data. Amazing.

PBS-NPR-Leaning Right

In The Public Interest By Ralph Nader

The tumultuous managerial shakeup at National Public Radio headquarters for trivial verbal miscues once again has highlighted the ludicrous corporatist right-wing charge that public radio and public TV are replete with left-leaning or leftist programming.

Ludicrous, that is, unless this criticism’s yardstick is the propaganda regularly exuded by the extreme right-wing Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. These “capitalists” use the public’s airwaves free-of-charge to make big money.

The truth is that the frightened executives at public TV and radio have long been more hospitable to interviews with right of center or extreme right-wing and corporatist talking heads than liberal or progressive guests.

PBS’s Charlie Rose has had war-loving William Kristol on thirty one times, Henry Kissinger fifty five times, Richard Perle ten times, the global corporatist cheerleader, Tom Friedman seventy times. Compare that guest list with Rose’s interviews of widely published left of center guests—Noam Chomsky two times, William Grieder two times, Jim Hightower two times, Charlie Peters two times, Lewis Lapham three times, Bob Herbert six times, Paul Krugman twenty one times, Victor Navasky one time, Mark Green five times and Sy Hersh, once a frequent guest, has not been on since January 2005.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the widely-quoted super-accurate drug industry critic, who is often featured on the commercial TV network shows, has never been on Rose’s show. Nor has the long-time head of Citizens for Tax Justice and widely respected progressive tax analyst, Robert McIntyre.

Far more corporate executives, not known for their leftist inclinations, appear on Rose’s show than do leaders of environmental, consumer, labor and poverty organizations.

In case you are wondering, I’ve appeared four times, but not since August 2005, and not once on the hostile Terri Gross radio show.

The unabashed progressive Bill Moyer’s Show is off the air and has not been replaced. No one can charge PBS’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer with anything other than very straightforward news delivery, bland opinion exchanges and a troubling inclination to avoid much reporting that upsets the power structures in Congress, the White House, the Pentagon or Wall Street.

The longest running show on PBS was hard-line conservativeWilliam F. Buckley’s show—Firing Line—which came on the air in 1966 and ended in 1999.

Sponsorship by large corporations, such as Coca Cola and AT&T, have abounded—a largesse not likely to be continued year after year for a leftist media organization.

None of this deters the Far Right that presently got a majority in the House of Representatives to defund the $422 million annual appropriation to the umbrella entity—Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). About 15% of all revenues for all public broadcasting stations comes from this Congressional contribution.

Though he admits to liking National Public Radio, conservative columnist David Harsanyi, believes there is no “practical argument” left “in the defense of federal funding…in an era of nearly unlimited choices….”

Really? Do commercial radio stations give you much news between the Niagara of advertisements and music? Even the frenetic news, sports, traffic and weather flashes, garnished by ads, are either redundant or made up of soundbytes (apart from the merely 2 minutes of CBS radio news every half-hour). If you want serious news, features and interviews on the radio, you go to public radio or the few community and Pacifica radio stations.

Harsanyi continues: “Something, though, seems awfully wrong with continuing to force taxpayers who disagree with the mission—even if their perceptions are false—to keep giving….”

Public radio’s popular Morning Edition and All Things Considered are the most listened to radio shows after Rush Limbaugh’s, and any taxpayer can turn them off. Compare the relatively small public radio and TV budget allocations with the tens of billions of dollars each year—not counting the Wall Street bailout—in compelling taxpayers to subsidize, through hundreds of programs, greedy, mismanaged, corrupt or polluting corporations either directly in handouts, giveaways and guarantees or indirectly in tax escapes, bloated contracts and grants. Can the taxpayer turn them off?

Here is a solution that will avoid any need for Congressional contributions to CPB. The people own the public airwaves. They are the landlords. The commercial radio and TV stations are the tenants that pay nothing for their 24 hour use of this public property. You pay more for your auto license than the largest television station in New York pays the Federal Communications Commission for its broadcasting license—which is nothing. It has been that way since the 1927 and 1934 communication laws.

Why not charge these profitable businesses rent for use of the public airwaves and direct some of the ample proceeds to nonprofit public radio and public TV as well as an assortment of audience controlled TV and radio channels that could broadcast what is going on in our country locally, regionally, nationally and internationally? (See: Ralph Nader & Claire Riley, Oh, Say Can You See: A Broadcast Network for the Audience, 5 J.L. & POL. 1, [1988])

Now that would be a worthy program for public broadcasting. Get Limbaugh’s and Hannity’s companies off welfare. Want to guess what their listeners think about corporate welfare?

Monday, March 14, 2011

A shorter earth day ...

No, not Earth Day, but an earth day: ["Earth's day length shortened by Japan earthquake"].
And if we ever needed another reason to take the nuclear power option off the table, we do now: ["Blast destroys nuclear power station roof in Japan"].
Beyond the dangers of nuclear power, no one knows what to do with the waste, which supposedly lasts 10,000 years.
The best thing to do is start building millions of windmills and solar panels, both as utilities and individuals. Just half the Pentagon budget for one year could purchase nearly 18 million windmills for homes and businesses, at the retail price, never mind the wholesale price.
And with some pretty cool plug-in hybrids coming out, like this Volvo V-60 which allegedly will run 30 minutes on batteries and then get another 123 miles per gallon, coming out next year: ["Volvo to Show Production-Ready 2012 V60 Plug-In Hybrid Wagon at Geneva"], there is no excuse not to make these changes now.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Home heating oil prices ... through the roof

For a number of years, I have been tracking personal home heating oil pricing but, admittedly, have not been very thorough in my tracking. During the last seven and a half years, I've mostly estimated the amount of money I would need for home heating oil based on what was spent the year before.
When you are living paycheck to paycheck, as most of us are, it's difficult to save a specific amount of money. Although, you have to in order to make it all work.
However, I recently requested a printout from our oil vendor of how much oil we have purchased. Since we use the same company year after year, they had all the data for us. The printout contained both amounts of oil purchased and the prices paid.
Here is the data showing the price per gallon of the oil purchased:

So, in seven and half years, the per gallon price has nearly tripled although there have been dips here and there. Interestingly, or maybe not so, the CPI rate on $1.20 from 2003 to 2011, is $1.44, according to the online calculator. So, the home heating oil rate has increased 2.5 times the CPI rate.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Another interesting economic chart ... does this look like a recovery?

One of my acquaintances who happens to be a scientist sent me this chart recently which would lead just about anyone to question whether or not the economic recovery is short-term or even actually happening.
This chart, from, shows federal payroll tax deposits and weekly earnings during the last 11 years:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics only began collecting the total earnings in March 2007, according to the site.
The chart would seem to show a recovery happening. However, look at the first few weeks of 2011. Deposits are starting to take a nosedive.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months with this data, assuming this Website updates the information. It would clearly lead one to think that there is very bad economic news ahead.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why people are raising the white, male economic represession issue

Of late, I've seen a lot of comments about white male economic repression and that it isn't happening. Many on the left side of the political spectrum have been mocking this theory, saying it is isn't true, is just more bogus, racist Tea Party rhetoric, etc. However, the data, it would seem, shows these theories to be true, if you believe the government's statistics.
Earlier this week, the WSJ posted a great interactive chart with the latest jobs data from the U.S. Labor Dept.: ["Jobless Rate Falls Further"].
The interactive graphic allows the reader to punch in any amount of comparative data based on gender, education, etc., and create a line graph of data flowing from the last 60 years worth of job participation rates from the Labor Dept. Now, with any graphic like this, the data is an estimate and not 100 percent exact. It is impossible to count every exact person, we know that. But this is the data we all rely on to look at economic outcomes.
Here are two screen shots from the interactive charts that are worth viewing.
This first one shows a long participation rate decline of men in participation in the workforce:

All of the male race sectors have declined while the overall work participation rates of men and women combined have grown. Since 1972, white male participation rates have declined by 8% while black male participation rates have declined by 9%. Hispanic rates have fallen by 4% since 1973.
But here is the kicker: According to the latest U.S. Census, 2010, whites are now 79.6% of the country. Hispanics are 15.8% and blacks are 12.9%. So, while white and black workforce participation rates have declined at very close percentages, whites are five to six times the population rates as other races. This means that even though work participation rates are declining for everyone, tens of millions more whites are being harmed by low workforce participation rates than black and Hispanics. The data shows relatively equal declines in percentages but many, many more white people harmed by the economy than other racial sectors. Question: Is it racist to show and speak about this data in an interactive chart? Or, is it just another way of looking at bleak and dismal economic data?

The second chart shows the growth of women in the workforce:

Of course, we know why more women have entered the workforce ... they've had to and they've wanted to and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Participation rates have grown substantially during the time periods, although they now show a leveling off or slight decline in most recent years. The race groups are lumped pretty close together as far as participation rates. However, tens of millions more white women exist in the American population. So they are participating in lower rates in the workforce by sheer numbers of human beings than their racial counterparts.
This is just one sector of data available. There are many others. However, this data would seem to show that all of the worrying about the loss of economic by certain race sectors seems to be a legitimate thing to be discussing ... especially if you are in that racial sector.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The real economic problem is globalization

It has been interesting and compelling to watch some of the arguing going on around the issues of jobs, wages, tax rates, the deficit and debt. In typical fashion, my friends on both the left and the right are missing the true reason the United States is falling by the wayside when it comes to economic power. In a word, it is simply, globalization.
Globalization is causing a severe lack of quality in available jobs. Since the quality of available jobs is lower than the previous jobs, the wages are lower. Insignificant, if any, benefits then come with those low quality jobs. As more and more people have no other choice but to take these lower quality jobs, they are seeing those people in the higher quality government jobs, jobs they fund and pay for through taxes, and they want changes. Unlike lopping off the pay of a CEO, which is often paid by a private company, government jobs are controlled - or, in theory, are controlled - by the people. And the people are clamoring for changes in those job structures, changes that should be implemented now.
If you ask anyone who is out of a job (or anyone who has a job and is looking) what is going on, here's what they will tell you: In order to live by a certain standard, the job seeker needs to earn $X amount of money. All of the available jobs either pay $Y amount of money (less than $X) or are part-time. The part-time jobs have no benefits, which means that while you're getting nailed economically, you have to come up with money for health care too (never mind dental too).
So why is this? Generalizing, it's easier for companies to find employees who are less expensive outside of the United States. Often, it is easier and less expensive to hire overseas employees than it is to train Americans. This means that the only jobs that are available to Americans are low-skill, low-level service sector jobs (and you need three of those full-time jobs to get where you once were).
Also, after the last economic crash, caused by the banking industry and irresponsible people who purchased homes they never should have been allowed to purchase, companies and industry are freaked out. They are hoarding capital reserves in case things go crazy again. This way, they won't need to rely on the banking industry lending them money to stay afloat, if need be. Companies are also forcing current employees to be even more productive than they ever were before even though they are all more productive than they ever were before already. The American people are freaked out too. They are spending less, paying down credit card debt, and saving whatever they can in case they get creamed again. This is good personal policy. But since 70 percent of the American economy is based on retail spending, being frugal has its drawbacks. We too are hampering the recovery.
But why is so much of the American economy based on retail spending instead of manufacturing or other sectors? Again, globalization. A big chunk of industry is no longer performed in the United States.
Take the cool iPhones I purchased for my household recently. I found it laughable that the box said "Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China," although this is the case with all smartphones. At $300 a pop, you would think it wouldn't be that much more to assemble them in the United States. Alone, the shipping costs for millions of iPhones on a boat from China would be reduced in the wake of giving Americans, what, $10 an hour to assemble iPhones, right? So while it is great that there are designers in California working for Apple, a good chunk of the cost of the phone went right to that factory in China. This is happening across the economic spectrum, with everything, from vegetables to cars.
Many of us predicted that this was going to happen years and years ago. I wrote about and talked about this issue on my radio program extensively in the 1990s in the wake of President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress approving the NAFTA bill which later led to the approval of GATT/WTO. And since that time, the American economy for most people outside of the CEO structure has been hollowed out.
A lot of folks, especially those on the left but also those in the middle, have been pointing to some charts put together by Mother Jones showing where and how wealth is redistributed in America: ["It's the Inequality, Stupid"].
These charts present a pretty grim picture of how wealth is distributed in the United States. And they should be used as a tool to tweak or restructure public policy. However, as a number of people noted in the Web comments, wealth isn't distributed, it's earned. Or, to be more precise, wealth is earned, inherited from others, won in the lottery, or stolen by thieves on Wall Street.
While people can argue about tax rates until the cows come home, government taking away more money from the rich isn't going to solve any problems. It just punishes the rich. We might want to have a national conversation about punishing the rich. I'd be up for that. But the down side of punishing the rich is that money gets taken out of circulation and doesn't create more wealth or jobs, as noted in this post previously: ["Let's get real about the top 2% and spending"]. As stated in the figures, if the government took everything that was earned by people making more than $500,000, it would only cover 25 percent of the FY10 federal budget. However, it would also take $1.3 trillion out of the private economy, which would harm other sectors of the economy that rely on that money being in circulation. The result will be fewer private sector jobs and more government (and we all know there is too much government now). If the government could be trusted to tax affluent people more and put that money directly to the debt, which benefits everyone, I might be in favor of higher tax rates for those people (or at least a discussion about higher tax rates). But as we have seen, this never happens. And the government and politicians cannot be trusted to do the right thing. They never do.
Wealth being redistributed to the monarchs of industry that are clearly overpaid and have set themselves up in a fancy club that ordinary Americans will never get into is indeed a real problem and unfair. But it is only a small part of the picture. A bigger problem is the massive trade deficits that are hollowing out the American middle class and building up the standard of living in other countries like Brazil, China, and India.
Here is a nice chart from 1998 to 2008 that shows some of what has happened in the wake of NAFTA and GATT/WTO (NAFTA was approved in 1993 and implemented in 1994; GATT/WTO was approved in 1994 and implemented in 1995). While looking at this graph, imagine three things:
First, there is the wealth redistribution to the rest of the world. Every trade deficit is an amount of American money that has flowed to another country for goods (this doesn't include services, just goods). It's hundreds of billions of dollars a year. This is money that would otherwise be flowing in and out of the pockets of the American people. And even if it only went into the pockets of the rich, those rich people have bank accounts, those banks lend money to people and businesses for cars and start-ups. That creates and generates business activity which creates and generates earnings and wealth. Maybe if more of this were done, we wouldn't need silly television shows where people take their cool ideas and are judged by a panel of so-called experts on whether or not a product is worthy for the marketplace. They could build a business plan, go down to the bank, get a loan, make their products, and create jobs, right here (yes, I know, how very "It's a Wonderful Life" of me to say that, but it's true).
Second, multiply any month of money by a rate amount (say 20 percent, 30 percent, or even 100 percent). That's the amount of lost tariff revenue the federal government no longer collects because we don't have tariffs on imports any more. In other words, in a month where the trade deficit is $60 billion, the federal government lost $30 billion in taxes if there was a 50% tariff on all imports. Every year, depending on the rate, that is a lot of lost tax revenue due to the "free trade" economic theory which is, in fact, a myth.
Now take this one step further and ask yourself, Did the federal government start spending less in the wake of not collecting tariffs due to globalization and the free trade myth? No, as we see in the Mother Jones charts, it taxed regular folks more while allowing deficits and debt to build. Those deficits and debts are literally owned by the affluent of our nation and other nations, and the same countries we are sending all of our money to via the trade deficits so they can lend it back to us! What kind of insanity is that?
Lastly, another fascinating thing about this chart is the petroleum part. Now most of this petroleum deficit is from Canada, our neighbor to the north, and comes in the form of home heating oil (I believe it is 60 percent if I recall correctly, based on another post I did years ago ...). So, we're subsidizing their economy and their single-payer health care program through our inability to be self-sufficient in our energy needs. And, it should be noted, that these deficits would be much worse if we didn't actually export a significant amount of our oil to other countries, which many companies do. Yes, it is their right to export oil. But the areas which are being mined by the oil companies are technically owned by us, the people of the United States. Can't the government require more of our oil to stay here as part of the deal to allow these companies to mine the oil? How about regulating the prices too while we're at it so that every time some ant of a dictator somewhere we don't get much oil from anyway decides to get all crazy, the price doesn't go up drastically? Those dictators and the speculators that are driving up the cost of oil have literally taken all my disposable income (i.e. my alcohol money) away from me at the gas pump. I don't care if it is "socialist" to regulate prices at the pump. Do it already! You're stealing what little beer money I have already from me. LOL.
The most important thing about this chart and this post is that unless the federal government and American political and economic system begin to act in the interests of the American people, it's only going to get worse. There are answers on both sides of the aisle and, frankly, only a combination of both Tea Party values and progressive values will fix the mess. If we don't do something soon, the economic standard of the rest of the world will continue to rise and our standard will continue to be lowered to their levels. Many of us predicted this would happen nearly 20 years ago and now, we're seeing it come to light. The time to act is now.