Friday February 27, 2009
Big Bucks: General Motors lost $30.9 billion for 2008, the second largest loss in the company's 100-year history - second only to the $38.7 billion it lost in 2007. GM expects an opinion from its auditors, as to whether the company remains a "going concern", when its annual report is issued in March.
The losses won't stop until this company goes Chapter 11, Mr. Wagoner as well as his management team are shown the door and new management changes the game with fewer (but better) products and a smaller number of brands and dealers.
Gettin' The 'Shaft: Another icon of my car-crazed youth, Crane Cams, is outta business. Legendary in the camshaft and speed parts field, The company was founded in 1953, by Harvey J. Crane, Jr. when he became interested in hopping-up the flathead Ford V-8 engine in his own car.
He sold his Florida aftermarket valvetrain components company in 1979.
Don't worry, though. Oregon Cam Grinding is still around to handle your racing and performance cam needs.
Best Sentence In A Road Test Report: Robert Farago at TTAC, reviewing the Maserati Gran Turismo: "Even though I was opening the Maserati's boot rather than its bonnet, I felt like a pre-teen rifling through a copy a Playboy while the drug store owner helped Mrs. Myers with her prescription."
Later, he added, "If you want a screaming Ferrari V8 at a bargain price, well, here it is. At the risk of sounding slightly crude, kick this bitch and she howls like you squeezed her nipples with an adjustable wrench. How great is that?"
Head Case: On Monday's posting, I related my tale of getting whacked on the forehead by one of the reinforced metal legs when I was taking down the train platform. Thanks to the blood thinners I take, I have a colorful, huge goose-egg on my forehead and two black eyes.
Rikki Don't Lose That Number. You don't wanna call nobody else. Al Gore thought he invented the internet. Joe Biden apparently thinks the internet is a giant telephone, asking "Do you know the Web site number?" to an aide. Maybe the aide was Rikki.
Here's a couple of numbers Old Man Biden might remember:
• Tommy Tutone's 867-5309. Ask for Jenny.
• Glenn Miller's PEnnsylvania 6-5000.
My grandmother's number used to be JEfferson 8111. And she had one of those big, heavy 1924 Western Electric handsets.
Emperor Obama? Is history repeating itself? Emperor Constantine I (Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus, later known as Saint Constantine) was a Roman emperor in the early 4th Century.
Zosimus, the Byzantine historian, has written the following which is eerily familiar: "Constantine not only continued to waste the revenue of the Empire in useless expenses, and in presents to mean and worthless persons, but oppressed those who paid the tributes, and enriched those who were useless to the State. For he mistook prodigality for magnificence."
Geezer Joke: Three sisters, ages 92, 94 and 96, live together. One night the 96-year-old draws a bath. She puts her foot in and pauses. She yells to the other sisters, "Was I getting in or out of the bath?"
The 94-year-old yells back, "I don't know. I'll come up and see." She starts up the stairs and pauses. "Was I going up the stairs or down?"
The 92-year-old is sitting at the kitchen table having tea listening to her sisters. She shakes her head and says, "I sure hope I never get that forgetful, knock on wood." Then she yells, "I'll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who's at the door."
Q&A Of The Day is from Barry Ritholtz: Q: Why do economists provide estimates of inflation to the nearest tenth of a percent? A: To prove they have a sense of humor.
Wednesday February 25, 2009
Worth Less: Last Friday, General Motors' shares sunk to their lowest price in 74 years, as the stock market in general fell and nagging questions about GM's future. At one point, GM shares fell to $1.52, the lowest level since July 26, 1934.
Friday's drop briefly sent GM's market capitalization below $1 billion. The price has rebounded since then.
Tuesday Night Follies: I didn't watch The Teleprompter Messiah give his speech to Congress. Instead, I turned to the Portland Fox affiliate, where they were running a Simpsons episode from 2000, featuring a black faith-healer named Brother Faith. (Oh Irony! Thy name is Matt Groening.)
Bart was impressed with the brother; his response could have easily emanated from the well of the Senate, "Wow, he dances better than Jesus himself!"
Later, I watched excerpts of Barry O's performance and was underwhelmed. Lots of empty promises, just like during his campaign. But I almost fell out of my chair when I heard him say, "This has to be done right, so I'm putting Joe Biden in charge." Oh Irony! Thy .... aaaahhhh, never mind.
Then he said, "I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it." He apparently thought he was referring to our 57-state America. I bet that sentence left Karl Friedrich Benz and Nicolas Joseph Cugnot spinning in their respective European graves.
Puttin' Off The Ritz: Ritz Camera Centers Inc., the largest camera-store chain in the U.S., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, blaming the deepening U.S. recession and the consumer transition to digital photography. Ritz has about 800 locations in more than 40 states.
Benjamin Ritz opened his first portrait studio in 1918 on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ. Twenty years later, Benjamin's younger brother, Edward, opened their first photo processing lab in D.C. and later expanded to Baltimore.
Capital Saint: Father Damien, the Catholic priest who served in the Hawaiian leper colony on Molokai, will be canonized in October. This will make him the first saint whose statue is in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol.
The Collection is comprised of statues donated by individual states to honor notable locals. The first statue was placed in 1870. There are statues of two other priests: California's Father Junipero Serra (the Spanish Franciscan friar and founder of the Missions, which were the first non-Native settlements in California) and Wisconsin's Father Jacques Marquette (the Jesuit missionary and explorer).
Fr. Damien, a Belgian missionary, came to Hawaii in 1864. In 1873, he volunteered to go to the remote Molokai peninsula where the government banished victims of leprosy - which had reached epidemic proportions, mostly among native Hawaiians. He stayed, providing health care and building housing as well as being a spiritual mentor, for 16 years until his death from the disease.
Every time I hear the word 'Molokai', I can't help but think of the entree at Johnny LaRue's Polynesian restaurant on SCTV: a serving of ribs "with a special Molokai sauce."
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Jefferson: "To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. If we run into such debts, we (will then) be taxed in our meat and our drink, in our necessities and in our comforts, in our labor and in our amusements. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labor of the people under the pretense of caring for them, they (will) be happy."
Monday February 23, 2009
Scandinavian RIP: Saab, the Trollhättan manufacturer of quirky cars, has filed for reorganization - the Swedish equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
I remember Saab from its 26 horsepower two-cycle days in the 1950s. Priced about halfway between an air-cooled Beetle and a Volvo PV 544, Saabs were popular among intellectuals and their pseudo-variants. Tweedy people, professors, writers, wannabe writers and avid skiers drove them.
Why skiers, I'm not sure - front-wheel drive is okay in light snow but to traverse steep, snow-packed hills, Saabs had to be turned around and driven up in reverse, mimicking the normal operation of a rear-engined VW. (I could crest almost any hill in any of my old Beetles, either by partially deflating the rear tires or placing a couple of hefty friends in the back seat.)
Saabs were mostly seen in the mid-Atlantic states and New England. Because of their odd, old-fashioned looks and ignition key-on-the floor strangeness, Saabs had that non-Anglophile, Euro-cognoscenti appeal much like Märklin trains, Schuco toy cars, Gitanes cigarettes, Steiff teddy bears, IKEA furniture and a Cinzano Bianco apéritif.
Saabs were popular in Scandinavia but never racked up much in the way of sales elsewhere on the Continent. Italy is full of European cars but I never saw a Saab there. Same for France and Germany. I've only ridden in one Saab - a friend's dark green Saab 99 which he enjoyed, despite a rasher of Nordic quality gremlins which plagued the car. Author Kurt Vonnegut was once the owner/operator of a Saab dealership in Massachusetts and humorously claimed that his criticism of Swedish engineering is the reason he was never awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature.
As a specialty manufacturer with a limited line of vehicles and a relatively small fan base, Saab had a difficult time making a profit.
Then GM bought it with the intention of turning it into some kind of luxury brand. They tried to mainstream it, wondering why it couldn't be more like an Opel. Or a Buick. They never understood that Saab was the anti-Buick. When the General introduced a Saab SUV, the world laughed. Saab enthusiasts cringed. TTAC's Johnny Lieberman described it as "a Chevy TrailBlazer with the ignition key between the seats." GM lost money on Saab just about every year they owned the nameplate.
When asked if it would save the company, Swedish government responded with a resounding, "Nej." Now, Saab's 4,000 employees don't know whether they will have jobs by year's end.
The Trains Have Departed The Station: On Thursday and Friday of last week, I removed trains, cars, trucks, trolleys, buildings, people and accessories - everything that wasn't glued down - from the train layout. I also took down the mountain and the tunnel entrances and packed them away.
On a surprisingly sunny but chilly Saturday morning, we successfully moved the train platform from the living room to its storage space in the garage. No one was killed; the only one wounded was me.
I arose early on Saturday, closing the bedroom door so my wife could get a little more sleep. I put my hand out to slow the movement of the door, so it would not slam and it smashed my left hand which is now swollen and black & blue. Thank you, blood thinners.
When I was helping to rotate the platform 90 degrees, one of the reinforced metal legs swung down and whacked me on the forehead. I am now sporting a huge goose-egg bruise of many colors plus two black eyes. (permalink)
Retail Woes: J.C. Penney expects same-store sales in the current quarter to be down as much as 15% from last year. Lowe's says its first-quarter same-store sales will fall 6% to 10%. Profits are waaay off (50-60%) at both firms.
And, the Hershey Co. has closed its Reading, PA plant, shutting down production lines that for 23 years have manufactured York Peppermint Patties and 5th Avenue Bars. Production is being moved to Monterrey, Mexico and other facilities in the United States as part of a restructuring of the nation's largest candy manufacturer.
Philly News ... Or Not: The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News have declared bankruptcy, citing "an advertising downturn, rising costs for newsprint and the migration of readers to the Internet."
The Next Crisis: Credit-card defaults may rise beyond 10% this year, breaking records and wiping out more than half of annual profit for lenders including Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., analysts said. Loan failures are about to surpass a previous high of 7.53% as people losing jobs amid the U.S. recession can't repay debt, according to Fitch Ratings.
The defaults may peak at 10 to 11% of loans by yearend under a stress scenario, a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analyst said. Charge-offs may reach the "mid-teens" in a worst-case scenario, said Moody's Investors Service.
Citigroup, the largest credit-card company by managed loans, said profit in its global card unit plunged 96% in 2008. Bank of America, the second-largest credit-card lender, said its credit card profits declined 85% last year.
Zip It: Gerard Van Der Leun offers advice to Obama: "Whoa, dude, shut up, already! You've lost that loving feeling. You are bumming us out, harshing our mellow, killing our buzz and, in general, just bringing us down every time you open your mouth.
Here's a hint. Stay in the House. Kick back, take some deep hits on the clue bong, and chill out, dude. You're supposed to be cool, right? Right. So, hey, like be cool okay? ...
Practice doing nothing, zero, zip, niente, nada. For about two weeks. Stay at home and spend some quality time with your family that doesn't involve taking the wife out for dinner at a cost of around $10 million in air and limo charges after we warm up Air Force One and put the country's biggest SUV on the road.
Yup, do nothing except, well, get up in the morning and, like millions of others who still have a job, go to the job. Go to the office. Sit in the big papa bear chair behind the new sign that reads "The Buck Would Stop Here If We Had A Buck!" Close the mouth, open the mind, fo-cus and get some work done."
He continues, asking that Barry O. take a holiday - not a Bank Holiday but, rather, a Blather Holiday: "Enough with the endless billion/trillion bills and the fat fear mongering. Enough with the angry school marm lecturing. Enough with the big daddy warnings of stiffer punishment to come if we don't shape up like right now.
Face it, man, every time you talk about saving and creating jobs thousands of people get ejected out of their jobs with a JATO assist from whatever policy you seem to be whipping out at the moment. Every time you speak of the future it gets grimmer.
Lately it seems that all you have to do is glance away from the teleprompter and hesitate and, boom!, there goes another 100 point drop in the Dow. And then, when you find the next sentence and say it, whap! there's goes another 100 points. I'm not sure if the Dow can sink beneath absolute zero, but I'm not curious to find out. Maybe that sort of "experimentation" seems far out and groovy to you, but I'm not into smoking PCP myself so just put "the idea of the day" down and step away from the policy." (permalink)
Good Idea: Human Life International, a Catholic pro-life group, has called upon Pope Benedict XVI to ''formally excommunicate'' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) from the Catholic Church.
Quote Of The Day is from Ed Anger about politicians: "Washington, D.C. was built on a swamp by a Frenchman. When you start off like that, you'd best expect the worst."
Friday February 20, 2009
Product Placement: The Hyundai Genesis has been featured in two major television shows this week.
On '24', Chloe O'Brian was dropped off at FBI headquarters by her husband in the family's silver Genesis sedan. (I'm hoping that next week's episode features a clothes-ripping cat fight between Chloe and Jeananne Garafalo.)
A Genesis sedan also appeared in TNT's 'Leverage'.
The Producers: When I was in grade school (in those days when dinosaurs roamed the earth and cars didn't even have fins yet), one of the subjects we learned was Geography. Much reading and memorization were required. Test questions involved not just physical dimensions: "How large is Ohio?" (Answer: 41,328 square miles) but also what was made there: "What are the chief products of Bolivia?"
In the early 1950s, Bolivia's 412,777 square miles of landlocked, mountainous terrain produced mainly bark, hides, potatoes, cacao, tin and silver. As a third-grader, I didn't fully appreciate the nuances of the goods produced but it was obvious that most of the really backward countries had sisal and hemp as their chief products. I realized much later in life that perhaps these countries were backward because the populace spent too much smoking all that hemp instead of trying to build a stronger, more prosperous nation.
Even to my elementary school brain, it was obvious that a country must have desirable products which can be sold to other countries in order to become a major player on the world's stage. Most of these products were 'high value added': large trucks, mighty locomotives, massive extruders, huge rolling mills, etc.
America progressed from a dependent colony to a mighty independent nation because ... (more >>>)
Papa's Got A Brand New Bag: From Archie McPhee, Seattle's Ground Zero of Kitsch and purveyor of bacon-flavored dental floss, angry Scotsman chewing gum and yodeling pickles, comes a reusable, green shopping bag emblazoned with: 'My Reusable Bag Makes Me Better Than You' in white letters.
The description: "Sick and tired of this whole "green" movement? Take one of these bags into your local grocery store to let people know how you really feel. Each faux canvas bag is sure to ruffle the feathers of do-gooders with hybrid cars."Or you could buy this one (hat tip - Kathy Shaidle)
Interesting Fact: A share of New York Times stock now costs less than its Sunday paper. And neither one currently pays a dividend.
A Modest Proposal: President Obama unveiled his home foreclosure plan a $75 billion, three-part plan to halt the soaring rate of mortgage foreclosures nationwide. The plan seeks to encourage refinancing of homes now worth less than their mortgages and provides incentives for lenders to lower the debt load on struggling homeowners, cutting mortgage payments for as many as 9 million of them.
I have a problem with this. Those "rescue funds" are - ultimately - taxpayer money. This program should not be shouldered alone by the many honest, upstanding homeowners who meet their mortgage obligations as well as those who have no mortgage.
My proposed addition to Obama's plan is this: anyone who draws on government help to meet their mortgage obligations or reduce their debt must give up ... (more >>>)
The Internet Defined ... by Gregory Sullivan, proprietor of Sippican Cottage: "Smart managers know the suggestion box is 99.9% for humoring cranks. The Internet is the world's suggestion box now, with the same role."
Joke Of The Day is from Henny Youngman: A doctor puts his stethoscope up to a man's chest. The man asks, "Doc, how do I stand?" The doctor says, "That's what puzzles me!"
Wednesday February 18, 2009
One-Sentence Summary ... of GM's and Chrysler's "Viability Plans": We have no credible plans but give us more money anyway or very bad things will happen.
No Wonder Lease Payments Are Higher: The Automotive Lease Guide is slashing projected residuals for 2009 GM and Chrysler vehicles. ALG's new 36-month projections reflect the brands' "uncertainty."
For GM, residual projection cuts are focused on Saturn, Saab, Hummer and Pontiac. ALG projects that Hummer products will only be worth 38.6% of their retail value in three years. Saabs are even worse at 36.1%
RIP: Lawrence Henry, a writer at The American Spectator, has died at age 61. Larry was a bit of an old car guy and I enjoyed his musings about a 1948 Ford.
There is nothing quite like the sound of the starter on a flathead Ford V-8. I still can remember it, even though I've not heard one in years. It makes a racket like a large tin frog being strangled. I grew up with that noise; my parents owned a 1936 Ford Tudor and, later, a big, black 1947 Mercury four-door sedan.
Pork Transit Gloria: Buried in the details of the mass transit section of the recently-passed and signed Spendulus Package is $45 million to pay for environmental studies of a Disneyland to Las Vegas high-speed MagLev rail line, something that sounds like parody but is actually a Harry Reid pet project. And I'm not kidding. The 311-mph train could make the trip from Sin City to Tomorrowland in less than two hours, according to backers - at a cost of mega-billions.
Does anyone actually believe that magnetic-levitation is "shovel-ready"?
A Nation Of Shopkeepers: In a recent issue of Model Auto Review, Rod Ward bemoaned the loss of manufacturing in Great Britain.
In that regard, Britain is in even worse shape than the U.S. Rod has a lot of business experience and once produced his own line of model vehicles (Sun Motor Company), owned a retail store, a model vehicle wholesaling business and is now a magazine and book publisher. He writes that "it is clear that we should be manufacturing more; there is a limit to how much wealth can be generated by just importing stuff and selling it to each other."
"I believe there are too many shops in Britain, too many are the same (six branches of one chain in Leeds), too many of them selling shoddy imported goods into which no design or conceptual input has come from this country and too many are in faceless out-of-town shopping malls which have sucked the life out of high streets and made premises unaffordable for growing small businesses. ... More folk are employed in the UK retail sector than in manufacturing. That can't be right. And more in financial services than in farming."
What Rod wrote holds true for America as well. I have more to say about the U.S. manufacturing crisis here.
Parody Headline Of The Week is from The People's Cube: 'Muslim group offended by pork hidden in stimulus package, threatens revenge'.
Real Headline Of The Week: is from Newsbusters: 'Founder of Network Promoting Positive Muslim Image Arrested - For Beheading Wife'. (hat tip - Tom McMahon)
The Law Of Pricing And Demand ... from Mark Perry: "Home sales increased 85% in December in California compared with the same period a year ago, while the median price of an existing home fell 41.5%, the California Association of Realtors reported." In Florida, a 27% average price drop yielded a 27% increase in sales statewide.
Quote Of The Day is from Richard Benson, President & Founder, Specialty Finance Group: "Very little is written about what will happen when all the dollars, built up as foreign central bank and private holdings, get spent. Indeed, we believe that not only will the dollars get spent, but this spending will have massive inflationary implications for America."
Monday February 16, 2009
Please Sir, May I Have Another? GM & Chrysler are expected to ask for more money this week when they present restructuring plan to the Treasury Department under the terms of the loans we (the taxpayers) already gave them.
Over the weekend, the UAW walked out of negotiations with GM about adjusting its pension scheme.
Treasury Department officials believe GM needs at least $5 billion more in loans to keep operating beyond the first quarter.
Meanwhile, Pelosi Galore, Harry 'MagLev' Reid and Barney Fwank want the automakers to agree to "tougher fuel economy requirements set by California and other states, protect workers' health and pension benefits and assure taxpayers of a return on their loan." And, while you're at it, sweep the floors too.
The circus continues. We watch the performance, sitting in the darkness of the bleachers while our pockets are picked.
Conserve This! Are you as tired as I am about those preachy, sanctimonious messages in hotel bathrooms about water and towel usage? If these establishments were really serious, they'd offer deals: "Reuse your towels and we'll knock ten bucks a day off your bill." "But nooooooo!" as John Belushi used to say. Instead they put up signs trying to make people feel guilty so that they can get suckers to engage in Towel & Washcloth Conservation and the hotel can lay off five more Mexican housekeepers.
The whole idea of using less water is baloney anyway. Here's a hotel bathroom sign I'd like to see ... (more >>>)
Is The Glass Half-Empty? Or is it 99.75% full? Clark County received the second-highest foreclosure ranking out of Washington's 39 counties. One in every 400 households (0.25%) were in some stage of foreclosure countywide last month, California-based RealtyTrac reported. Meaning that 399 out of every 400 homes were not in foreclosure.
Clark County home sales declined 32.6% in 2008. Home values also declined; the median price of $234,450 for all homes sold in December was down 6.2% from December 2007. (The national median existing single-family price fell by 12.4 percent during the same period.)
Nationally, one in every 466 housing units was in foreclosure in January. Nevada posted the highest foreclosure totals, with one out of every 76 houses in trouble. Washington had the 24th-highest foreclosure rate out of 50 states. Oregon ranked fifth with one in every 357 homes in foreclosure.
Meanwhile, an article in Business Week begins with this grabber sentence: "The bad mortgages that got the current financial crisis started have produced a terrifying wave of home foreclosures. Unless the foreclosure surge eases, even the most extravagant federal stimulus spending won't spur an economic recovery."
One in 466 doesn't seem like a "terrifying wave" to me.
Be Very Afraid: The Stimulus Package is a bloated carcass of pork, overreaction and insanity. The bill will increase the 2009 budget deficit, which is already the largest in modern history.
Liberals used to whine loudly about the deficit level when Reagan was president but the peak deficit was only 6% of Gross Domestic Product in 1983. During Bill Clinton's administration, we were told taxes had to rise to reduce a deficit of only 3.9% of GDP.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 2009 deficit will reach $1.2 trillion - 8.3% of the economy. This figure does not include the stimulus or bank bailout cash. Toss in those and the Strategas Group - an investment research firm, serving institutional investors - estimates that the deficit could hit nearly $2 trillion - 13.5% of the U.S. economy.
The Wall Street Journal has noted, "The bill will mark the largest single-year increase in domestic federal spending since World War II; it will send the budget deficit to heights not seen in 60 years; and it will establish a new and much higher spending baseline for years to come. Combine this new spending, and the borrowing it will require, with the trillions of dollars still needed for the banking system, and we are about to test the outer limits of our national balance sheet."
The federal government is profusely hemorrhaging red ink. The debt currently being run up by the Obama administration exceeds anything in our peacetime history by a very wide margin. The consequences are going to be ugly.
Professional Leech Gets Free House From Obama ... while the rest of us figure out what to do next about our savings and retirement funds. Which begs the question: Why isn't Obama focused on truly solving the financial crisis at hand instead of running giveaways to an obvious 'plant' in his Florida audience?
And not a well-vetted plant either. The White House and the press are holding up this woman and her son as symbols of how the economic downturn has rendered people homeless and jobless. But it apparently turns out that Henrietta Hughes and 37 year-old her son, Corey, have been jobless and receiving government assistance since at least 2004.
Henrietta said the family moved to Florida due to the expensive living costs in New York. "So, I borrowed quite a bit of money to come down to Florida."
Seven years ago, Corey was fired as an IT analyst for the city of Fort Myers, FL. (You have to wonder what egregious act this black dude committed to get fired by a public agency. You know how hard it is to fire any gummint employee. And, as a practical matter, minorities are almost impossible to terminate. And, if he's really an IT analyst - a skill in great demand, why hasn't he gotten another job? Something's fishy here.)
The director of We Care Outreach Ministry - a faith-based organization in Fort Myers, Tanya Johnson, said just last month she offered Henrietta Hughes permanent housing and a place to stay free for three months, but Hughes refused.
"We would have allowed her to stay for the first 90 days, no income. You know - free," said Tanya. She also gave Henrietta and her son Corey, money, food and offered Corey job training courses, but it was refused. "We have extended a lot of her services to her," Johnson said.
Hughes owes money on a loan, has her car insurance payment, a monthly storage bill and says she couldn't afford the rent. The first question I have is, "If you're so poor that you're homeless, why would you have a storage unit? Wouldn't you sell off your stuff and save the storage fees?" Or buy a hot plate and a cot and live in it, as Sideshow Bob once did on The Simpsons. I think his neighbor was Gil, the failed salesman.
Dan Riehl adds, "It appears as though Henrietta Hughes is not registered to vote in either Florida or New York - not sure about son Corey. Their names appear to come up listed as "owner(s)" on three distinct public housing units going back as far as 1983 - one in Georgia and two in Florida. As to reports she was living with "friends" in New York, that appears to be the home of her parents. I have no idea why Henrietta Hughes may be homeless today."
Bob McCarthy researched property records in Lee County, FL and discovered "two people, Henrietta C. Hughes and Corey L. Hughes (son), possessed the wherewithal to pay off a six-figure mortgage in less than two years. It appears these people are the same ones who now find themselves destitute and asking President Obama for help just a few short years later."
Dan Riel points out that Henrietta "is not the "face of an economic crisis." She is the face of a culture of entitlement that must be dealt with for America to remain as free and as strong as she has traditionally been."
Meanwhile, instead of playing president, Barack Obama prefers to play the MC on 'Queen for a Day' (or maybe it should be 'Welfare Queen for a Day').
A Crisis Of Economics And Morals: Regarding the recent bank scandals and Obama's 'only the little people pay taxes' proposed Cabinet appointees, Victor Davis Hanson has written, "Our best educated, wealthiest, and most-connected in matters of finance proved our dumbest - and our political leaders were less than ethical in meeting their moral responsibilities as citizens."
Quote Of The Day: "An economist is someone who has had a human being described to him, but has never actually seen one."
Friday February 13, 2009
Clever Design: I am always fascinated by simple, yet novel devices. I found one last week in my desk.
The Champion circular taper gauge has a ... (more >>>)
Formica Banking: The present credit crisis is not unique. Today's debacle is caused by banks overreacting to their excesses of recent years and overtightening their lending practices, much like Elvis' fasts after he gorged on bacon and peanut butter sandwiches.
In the early 1980s, there was a credit crisis as well. People couldn't/wouldn't borrow money ... because it was too expensive. In late 1981 the national mortgage rate hit 18.45%. Bank loans for cars exceeded 20%. Car and home sales plummeted.
In order to prevent the next credit crisis, banks need to go back to looking and behaving like financial institutions. Once upon a time, banks were built with imposing granite, creating a sense of stability and intimidation. On the other hand, home kitchens were trimmed in Formica.
Today, every overpriced McMansion has granite countertops in the kitchen, while banks appear in strip shopping centers, occupying a 'pad', much like Applebee's, Subway or E-Z Payday Loans. All these Pad Dwellings are trimmed in cheap, cheerful, easy-to-clean Formica.
Homes using granite and banks using laminate should have been a tip off that something was fundamentally wrong with the U.S. banking model and the home financing model. But no one noticed it - hindsight is a generally useless commodity - and now ... (more >>>)
World's Largest Number: Iowahawk reports that "an international mathematics research team announced today that they had discovered a new integer that surpasses any previously known value "by a totally mindblowing shitload." Project director Yujin Xiao of Stanford University said the theoretical number, dubbed a "stimulus," could lead to breakthroughs in fields as diverse as astrophysics, quantum mechanics, and Chicago asphalt contracting."
"The exciting news is that with more powerful computers and drugs, we believe we are on the verge of discovering an even larger number, which we refer to as a 'stimulusconferencebill,'" said Xiao. "Speaker Pelosi has already promised us the funding."
A Gender Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand: The CBS Early Show asks, "Was Abe Lincoln gay?" My answer: "No, I've always heard he was mostly pretty somber and melancholy."
ObamaWatch - Disappearance Of Hope Edition: The Dow Jones is down over 2,000 points since election day. And, no thanks, I don't want to be Secretary of Commerce either.
One Degree Of Rock/Royal Separation: Grace Kelly, later Princess Grace of Monaco, once dated Dick Boccelli, who later became the drummer for Bill Haley and His Comets.
Quote Of The Day is from P. J O'Rourke: "Because of their size, parents may be difficult to discipline properly."
Wednesday February 11, 2009
Tough Lux: British car maker Bentley said it would axe 220 jobs - almost six percent of its workforce in Britain - and temporarily cut pay for retained staff by a tenth as it battles sliding sales.
Meanwhile, General Motors is cutting 10,000 white-collar jobs worldwide - 14% of its salaried workforce - this year as part of its restructuring plan. (3,400 of these jobs are in the U.S.) These are product development, design and engineering people - responsible for birthing the next generation of vehicles and for improving product.
The elimination of these jobs speaks volumes about GM's future. Or lack of it.
Off The Rails: Germany's legendary model train manufacturer, Märklin, has filed for bankruptcy. In addition to its well known HO-scale line, Märklin GmbH also produces G-scale LGB garden railway trains.
I remember seeing Märklin in hobby shops as a 12 year-old. The German locos and cars looked very exotic to my never-left-the-U.S. eyes. The trains were quite expensive, even in the mid-1950s. Märklin's catalogs were ... (more >>>)
When Billy Penn Was Black: People today whine and complain about pollution but the Good Old Days had a lot more of it.
In 1905, there was so much coal dust in Philadelphia's air that the 11 year-old statue of William Penn atop City Hall had turned black with soot. The smoke came from hundreds of nearby coal-heated buildings and thousands of puffing, coal-fired locomotives visiting Broad Street Station, only a couple of blocks away. The Pennsylvania Railroad eventually ... (more >>>)
Snowing Us: Greg Gutfeld reported on Obama's
Sermon on the Mount ... st er n lecture on partisanship ... press conference, "Doing little or nothing at all will cause an even greater catastrophe, he (Obama) says. But, if the idea is a bad idea (like this recovery package) - how can that be better than doing nothing? If I've got the flu, and I have no doctor - I could sit inside and do nothing and ride it out. Or I could do something: go outside and make snow angels. But that would be a bad idea.
This stimulus bill is a snow angel. If you have the flu, of course."
My Idea: Some estimate that the Stimulus Package (aka - Spendulus Package, Porkfest) will ultimately cost in excess of two trillion dollars. And the money will be doled out over several years, which does nothing to help the economy now.
If you want to put two trillion to work right now, here's how:
1. Cut a check for $6,000 to every man, woman and child in the U.S. This money must be used to pay down household debt (mortgage, vehicle loans, credit card balances, etc.) within 10 days after the check is received. A family of four in a household would, for example, receive $24,000.
2. Failure to properly use these funds would be considered a felony, punishable by mandatory jail time - two years in a federal facility.
3. Checks would only be issued to U.S. citizens. Convicted, incarcerated felons and those out on parole are not eligible. You must have a bona-fide legal residence and identity - transients, bums, street people and "the homeless" not eligible either.
4. Those who are still in trouble after this government-sponsored debt reduction would now be at the mercy of creditors - no additional government help will be provided.
5. Individuals with no debt to reduce (22% of all homeowners have no mortgage) may do whatever they want with the proceeds, as long as the money is spent/invested within the U.S. - no Cancún vacations, Swiss bank deposits or foreign stock purchases.
6. Bad businesses, including incompetent financial institutions, will get no additional funds from the government and many will probably go out of business. (cough ... Chrysler ... cough) That's OK; they deserve it because of their bad management.
The benefits of this program are several-fold: money is put to work right away, consumer debt is significantly reduced, there is much less chance of pork and wastage, John Q. Taxpayer sees an immediate benefit and Congress, which does an absolutely awful job managing our money, is out of the equation.
Is it totally fair? Of course not. Bernie Madoff will get a check, so will that loony California woman with the 14 kids. Nothing is ever perfect but it's a lot better - in my view - than anything proposed by Congress. And this time, the money goes directly to the people - not to General Motors (which used the last round of bailout money to help its Brazilian operation), not to some sinkhole/stinkhole of a failed Wall Street institution nor to Barney Frank's friends.
Power to the people.
We're The Government And We're Here To Help: In 1974, United States Consumer Product Safety Commission had to recall 80,000 of its own lapel buttons promoting "toy safety", because the buttons had sharp edges, used lead paint and had small clips that could be broken off and subsequently swallowed.
Question Of The Day: Why do they put pictures of criminals up in the post office? Why don't they just put their pictures on the postage stamps so postal carriers could look for them while delivering the mail?
Monday February 9, 2009
Buh-Bye: Kuni Automotive, the Vancouver, WA-based chain of luxury car dealerships, suddenly shut down its oldest dealership, Kuni Cadillac-Saab in Beaverton, OR. The company said that the Portland metro area simply isn't large enough to support the metro area's three Cadillac dealers, including Vic Alfonso Cadillac-Hummer in Northeast Portland and Carr Cadillac-Pontiac in Vancouver.
Kuni negotiated the closure with General Motors, which is consolidating dealerships across the country and has agreed to repurchase some of the remaining vehicles. Kuni currently owns a total of ten retail automotive dealerships (including four Lexus dealerships) in California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
It was interesting to read the comments in The Oregonian. One poster wrote, "The sales people were really rude and lazy. I left and never went back. This is when times were good and my, how fitting they went out of business." Another noted, "Pompous asses got what they deserved. I bought two Beemers last year, both from Rasmussen. I kind of wanted to buy from Kuni because they were closer to my house but they were such asses I couldn't bring myself to buy from them."
I was high-hatted at Kuni BMW during my only visit there in the late 1980s - costing Kuni a potential 7-Series sale and was treated badly by Kuni-owned Lexus of Portland in 2007, as recounted here.
So, I purchased my LS 460 elsewhere - at a non-Kuni store. (permalink)
Baghdad By The Bay: Jeremy Clarkson weighs in on San Francisco: "San Francisco. Make no mistake, this is my second favorite city in America - after Detroit - with its hills and its sharp, clear afternoon skies. I adore the hills and the patisseries, but the whole place is let down by the cars. Because the people who live there like to sit around pretending to be French, they all drive crappy Hondas. You may imagine as you cross California Street that you will be mown down by Steve McQueen in a Mustang or Nicolas Cage in a faux Ferrari 355 but it's more likely you will be killed by some bespectacled librarian in a VW Beetle who's not looking where he's going because he's too busy trying to be Jean-Paul Sartre."
More Proof That Starbucks Is Overrated: Eight O'Clock Coffee 100% Colombian at $6.28 per pound was ranked number one of 19 ground coffees, besting Folgers, Maxwell House, and Starbucks - America's best-selling ground coffees, in a Consumer Reports test.
The independent testing firm reported that "Starbucks Coffee Colombia Medium, $11.53 per pound, didn't even place among the top regular coffees and trailed among decafs."
More on Eight O'Clock Coffee and its history here.
Numerical Fear-Mongering: You've seen the headlines, 'Weekly Unemployment Claims Worst In 35 Years'. "Oh, the humanity!"
Yeah, but the workforce is 65% bigger than it was in 1974. When you look at unemployment claims as a percent of payroll, as Scott Grannis has, this is still a moderate recession ... so far. At less than 0.5%, it's the same as the '90-91 pullback.
The recessions of '80-82 and '74-75 were much worse, with claims to payroll running in excess of 0.7%.
Beating The Recession: The CNN headline reads, 'Dominatrix Work Forces Recession to Its Knees'.
When the going gets tough, the tough get out their whips. One of the kinkier trends to emerge from this recession is that many professional women are turning to dominatrix work to supplement their incomes, Tracy Quan reported in her "Kinkonomics" posting on the Daily Beast. (Her headline: 'As the economy takes a spanking, many women are turning to freelance fetish work to supplement their incomes.') Quan interviewed some of the women who have turned to fetish work, including 'Linda', who works as a editor by day and a dominatrix at night.
Hope Sinks: Charles Krauthammer declares that, for Obama, the bloom is off the rose.
Said President 'Hope and Change' Obama on February 4th: "A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe."
Charles quips, "Catastrophe, mind you. So much for the president who in his inaugural address two weeks earlier declared, "We have chosen hope over fear." Until, that is, you need fear to pass a bill.
And so much for the promise to banish the money changers and influence peddlers from the temple. An ostentatious executive order banning lobbyists was immediately followed by the nomination of at least a dozen current or former lobbyists to high position. Followed by a Treasury secretary who allegedly couldn't understand the payroll tax provisions in his 1040. Followed by Tom Daschle, who had to fall on his sword according to the new Washington rule that no Cabinet can have more than one tax delinquent."
Politics as usual, I guess.
Krauthammer continues, "And yet more damaging to Obama's image than all the hypocrisies in the appointment process is his signature bill: the stimulus package. He inexplicably delegated the writing to Nancy Pelosi and the barons of the House. The product, which inevitably carries Obama's name, was not just bad, not just flawed, but a legislative abomination.
It's not just pages and pages of special-interest tax breaks, giveaways and protections, one of which would set off a ruinous Smoot-Hawley trade war. It's not just the waste, such as the $88.6 million for new construction for Milwaukee Public Schools, which, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have shrinking enrollment, 15 vacant schools and, quite logically, no plans for new construction.
It's the essential fraud of rushing through a bill in which the normal rules (committee hearings, finding revenue to pay for the programs) are suspended on the grounds that a national emergency requires an immediate job-creating stimulus - and then throwing into it hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus ... And yet the president defends it."
In doing so, he seems less like a president and more like a pol who is in over his head and desperate.
"The Age of Obama begins with perhaps the greatest frenzy of old-politics influence peddling ever seen in Washington. And yet all the self-righteous on the political left are defending it."
Charles concludes, "After Obama's miraculous 2008 presidential campaign, it was clear that at some point the magical mystery tour would have to end. The nation would rub its eyes and begin to emerge from its reverie. The hallucinatory Obama would give way to the mere mortal ... I thought the awakening would take six months. It took two and a half weeks.
And we haven't even begun with foreign policy. Wait for the first crisis. If the president trips, he'll be Cartered."
More: Senator Lindsey Graham has commented on the Senate's stimulus package, "We are opposing this bill for two reasons: It's too large in terms of what it needs to be, and it's unfocused. We agree that you need to do more than cut taxes. He's making arguments from the campaign that are not relevant to the debate. The McCain Amendment, which got every Republican vote, spent money as well as cut taxes.
He (Obama) is trying to convince the American people that they are wrong about this bill. He's trying to lay blame on the Republican party and convince people they're wrong about the bill. Well, the public is not wrong about the bill."
Unfortunately, the bill will probably pass anyway ... and, like a dying manatee being strapped to a stretcher and carted off to the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, Ted Kennedy and his tumor are being flown from Florida to D.C. in order to vote in favor of it. (Yes, yes, it's not a perfect analogy - during the plane ride, attendants must keep the manatee hydrated with water. For Teddy, it's Dewar's.)
The printed bill weighs more than seven pounds and contains over $800 billion dollars in spending. Or one-point-one trillion dollars by another calculation. Combine that with TARP and you're around two trillion in government spending outlays in the span of a couple of months. (Notice that the "big bank announcement" has been delayed. They won't tell you what they're doing with your money that you already gave them until they make sure Congress is giving them even more.)
The Wall Street Journal calls the stimulus package a "tragedy," noting that "Mr. Obama chose to let House Democrats write the bill, and they did what comes naturally: They cleaned out their intellectual cupboards and wrote a bill that is 90% social policy, and 10% economic policy. ... Mr. Obama is now endorsing a sort of reductionist Keynesianism that argues that any government spending is an economic stimulus. This is so manifestly false that we doubt Mr. Obama really believes it."
Here's An Idea ... Andy Borowitz reports, "President Barack Obama is mulling a controversial new tax program that would require members of his Cabinet to pay taxes owed under the Federal tax code, the White House confirmed today. While the unorthodox tax proposal is reportedly "only in the planning stages," it is being eyed as a possible way to balance the Federal budget."
"According to projections, if members of the Cabinet actually paid their taxes, we could wind up with a budget surplus in excess of $18.2 billion," said Obama economic adviser Paul Volcker. Mr. Volcker said he strongly favored the plan, but added, "Fortunately for me, I'm not officially in the Cabinet." (hat tip - Tom McMahon)
Here's Another Idea ... we already have the bombs. So wouldn't nuking Iran constitute a "shovel-ready project"?
Smoking - 21st Century-Style: P.J. O'Rourke has written, "The only way I can sneak a smoke nowadays is to borrow a buddy's hunting cabin in the Maine backwoods, lock myself in the bathroom, and stand in the shower stall with the curtain pulled tight and the water running. You'd think this would extinguish my Marlboro Light. However, thanks to low-flow shower heads required by federal law to conserve a precious resource that I thought we were about to have too much of due to the melting of polar ice, I can smoke in the shower with the faucets on full blast and stay bone dry. (Flushing the filter tip down the water-conserving john is another matter.)"
A friend died two weeks ago; he was eighty-something and was a heavy smoker most of his life. He was in seemingly perfect health until eight years ago when he quit smoking. It was all downhill since then. RIP.
In Japan, there is a saying about smoking: If you stop, you die.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Neither the depth of despondency nor the height of euphoria tells you how long either will last."
Thursday February 5, 2009
Cousin Pricing Update: Last year, I wrote about my cousin who usually leased American cars for business use but was unable to get good terms on a 2009 model from Ford, GM or Chrysler.
He has now leased a new 2009 Honda Pilot. Another formerly-loyal Detroit customer has left the building.
Dismal Sales: "The truth is that the entire auto industry finds itself in the eye of this economic storm," said Bob Carter, Toyota U.S. manager. No kidding, Bob.
U.S. auto sales plunged by 37% to a 27 year low. With January's drop, the industry's sales have declined for 15 straight months when compared with the same month in the previous year. Chrysler's January sales were down 55%, GM down 49%, Ford 39%, Toyota 32%, Nissan 30% and Honda 28%. Hyundai, Subaru and Kia sales were up: 14%, 8% and 4% respectively.
Total U.S. vehicle production plunged 65.6% in January as manufacturers shut down production lines in the face of a mountain of unsold inventory.
Lexus LS sales were 904 units, down 53%; overall Lexus sales for January were 14,722 units, a drop of 30% from last year. This compares well with Cadillac which fell 43% to 8,499 units and Lincoln, with sales of 6,091, a decline of 24%. BMW sales were down 16% to 12,232 units; only 23 7-Series were sold in January. Mercedes sales were off by 43% to 10,433 vehicles. 516 S-Class models were sold along with 133 SL cars. Audi's sales declined by 26% to 4,722 vehicles but only 95 A8 luxury sedans found buyers in January.
Toyota Avalon sales dropped to 2,119 units, a decrease of 49%. By comparison 1,705 Ford Tauruses were sold in January - a drop of 59%.
In a press release, GM claimed that fleet sales were 80% less than they were a year ago. Chrysler said its January fleet sales fell 81 percent from year-ago levels. Ford reported that its fleet sales fell 65%.
The Curse Of Oprah: Sales of the Pontiac G6 fell by over 82% versus last January.
Allanté II: For the second time, Cadillac developed a two-seater car to compete with the Mercedes SL. But, even though it was priced lower than the SL, the market perceived the Cadillac XLR as overpriced for what it was and hardly anyone bought it. (Only 58 were sold in January.) The same thing happened with the Cadillac Allanté two decades ago.
Last week, Cadillac stopped production of the XLR.
Man Bites Dog Dept. Headline from Colorado Springs: 'Toyota Prius driver rams pickup truck in road-rage incident.'
Style Critic: Dan Neil observes that "if ever you needed a reason to shoot out the light in your garage, may I present the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350, a vivacious and elegant little ute disguised as a vandalized Subaru Forester. What's the deal here?
The exterior is a veritable food fight of odd angles and curious proportions, fender swells and dissonant accent lines, and all of it buttoned by a hilariously oversized, nay, desperate grille. The GLK suggests nothing less than a Dadaist collage of the company's styling portfolio pasted onto a matchbox."
Ed Anger Is, Not Surprisingly, Pissed: "I'm madder than a double-entry bookkeeper with a single-entry wife about all this Tom Daschle craziness! First off, someone gave Daschle a gift subscription to 'Car & Driver'. So what? Who'd think to put that on their taxes?"
Ed continues: "My fellow red, white and blue Americans, this is our chance to finally reenact the great Boston Tea Party! When April rolls around, everybody fill in their tax form the Democrat way: under 'Occupation', just write 'Obama Cabinet Guy', then put zeros everywhere else. When the IRS shows up, lock them in your laundry room."
Pork: Ben Stein weighs in on the stimulus bill: "Eight hours of debate ... to pass a bill spending $820 billion, or roughly $102 billion per hour of debate. Only ten percent of the "stimulus" to be spent on 2009. Close to half goes to entities that sponsor or employ or both members of the Service Employees International Union, federal, state and municipal employee unions or other Democrat-controlled unions."
More Bad News: Hewlett-Packard Co. is laying off more than 200 workers at its Vancouver, WA location. The company once employed more than 3,300 there. It now has roughly 650 employees in Vancouver.
Macy's is slashing 7,000 jobs nationwide - about 4% of its workforce. Business jet maker Hawker Beechcraft is cutting 2,300 jobs. Time Warner Cable plans to layoff more than 1,200 people. Fidelity Investments has made additional staff cuts.
Big Discount: Here's an bricks-n-sticks example of the California real estate collapse: A home in Escondido, CA - north of San Diego - has an interesting sale record. The house is a 1000 sq. ft., 2 bedroom, 1 bath 'starter', built in 1955.
"The house sold for $146 thousand in 1999. During the bubble, the house for $420 thousand in 2006 (with 100% financing from subprime lender Argent Mortgage). After foreclosure last year, the house sold to cash flow investors in November 2008 for $130 thousand (a 69% discount from peak and less than the 1999 price) and is currently being offered for rent."
Breaking News: Wal-Mart Is Not Evil Personified. In fact, it's not a bad place to work, according to Charles Platt. Excerpt: "As for all those Wal-Mart horror stories - when I went home and checked the web sites that attack the company, I found that many of them are subsidized with union money. walmartwatch.com, for instance, is partnered with the Service Employees International Union; wakeupwalmart.com is copyright by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Why are unions so obsessed with Wal-Mart? I'm guessing that if the more-than-a-million Wal-Mart employees could be unionized, they would be compelled to contribute at least half a billion dollars per year in union dues."
He concludes that, "Somehow that kind of news is never as popular as denunciations of the free market written by professional handwringers."
I Bet The Wife Gets Everything: A lesbian couple who led the fight for gay marriage in Massachusetts has filed for divorce. Julie and Hillary Goodridge were among seven gay couples who filed a lawsuit that led to a court ruling making Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriages in 2004. The couple became the public face of the debate in the state and married the first day same-sex marriages became legal.
I wonder if someone kept leaving the toilet seat up.
Everything's Bigger In Texas: A woman traveled to Houston for a ginormous boob job. After eight surgeries and a full gallon of silicone, the petite model/actress now has a staggering 34 FFF.
It'd be fun to watch her jogging. Or trying to get up after falling over.
Vaginas: Is There Anything They Can't Do? A surgeon successfully removed a healthy kidney through a donor's vagina for transplantation, the first operation of its kind. The donor and the recipient, the donor's niece, are both recovering. Typically, removing the kidney requires a six-inch incision through the belly and the donor is in the hospital for several days after. With the new procedure, the donor could likely go home in a day.
Headline Of The Day is from The People's Cube: 'More bad economic news: Area antiwar group lays off its bumper sticker makers'.
Tuesday February 3, 2009
Fifty Years Later: I get quite irritated every time I hear the phrase The Day The Music Died. It didn't. I know of no one who piloted his/her Chevrolet to any sort of levee and found it to be without water.
More thoughts here.
Sunday February 1, 2009
Trip Report: We are back from a wonderful 14-day visit to the sunny Palm Springs, CA area.
The skies were blue and the weather was sunny and warm - every day. What a contrast to the Pacific Northwest. We returned to cold, damp, foggy conditions with snow on the ground.
Trip Photos can be found here.
Car Sightings: Spotted a black Lamborghini roadster with Washington plates cruising down Highway 111 in Indian Wells. Bentley Continentals (coupes, convertibles and Flying Spurs) are a dime a dozen here. A powder blue Flying Spur sedan look bloated, for some reason, like a fat homely matron of honor in a prole wedding. Not a good color for this car.
Speaking of chubby, the new Ferrari California appears to have a water retention problem. Even the sparkling Rosso red finish couldn't make the one I spotted look svelte. I saw about five Ferraris during our trip - the older ones (1990s era) looked best to my eyes. Spotted an red '80s Testarossa in a parking lot; jeez, those things are a wide as a truck. When we arrived for lunch at Sherman's Deli in Palm Desert, a gorgeous triple-black Bentley Arnage convertible with chrome wheels was parked at the front door. It's perfect paint gleamed in the noontime desert sun.
When we stopped at the Costco to refuel our little rented Focus (at $1.869 per gallon), a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow was just departing from the gas island. Everybody's economizing.
Most frequently seen luxury car brand - by a wide margin - was Lexus. It seemed like there was a Lexus RX CUV at every street corner - most likely a silver one. Far behind Lexus in popularity was Cadillac, followed by Mercedes, Bentley and - more distantly - BMW. Lincolns were virtually nonexistent, except for the occasional Town Car driven by a geezer, including one which tried very hard to hit us. Audis were equally scarce.
I saw four Jaguar XFs - the more I see of this car, the less I like it. The front end has no Jaguar DNA in my view; it's more Buick-Hyundai spawn. There were plenty of older '95-'03 Jaguar XJs in the desert. All were in immaculate condition, as though the owners rejected the new, dowdier XJ model and had their old ones refurbished. Two gorgeous Carnival Red Vanden Plas sedans with chromed wheels arrived at Castelli's together one night and were presented to the valet: "Park 'em, Luigi."
There were more Toyota Camrys than any other model, followed by - surprisingly - Avalons. And Toyota Solara convertibles. I saw numerous Corvettes - all were the current body style which is taut and pleasing. There were fewer big SUVs on the road than in previous years. There were numerous Prius sightings during our visit.
I got my first in-person peek at the Hyundai Genesis. Nice looking in silver and it seems to be well put together. It is smaller than I expected. The faux-Bentley winged Genesis emblems on the wheel centers cracked me up.
Part of our stay coincided with the Chrysler Bob Hope Desert Classic. (Wanna bet the name Chrysler will be absent from next year's Classic?) We were behind one of the Official cars - a Chrysler T&C with Bob Hope decals on the side. For a 'show' car, it was in surprisingly crappy condition. The white van had large scuffs and scratches on the tailgate - visible form 20 feet away. The car looked freshly washed but it seemed to have been run through an economy car wash - the wheels were dirty and the tires were scruffy, brownish and had not been dressed. Perhaps the car's condition was an allegorical reminder of the state of things at Chrysler.
At the Palm Desert mall, there was a raffle for a Chevy Traverse LTZ with front-wheel drive only and a V-6. It came with only two options: moonroof and metallic paint. Sticker: $41,255. For a Chevy?! No wonder GM vehicles aren't selling - except at big discounts.
Spotted a mid-'80s dark blue Chrysler K-Car Limousine getting on I-10. I was amazed. I didn't know there were any running examples remaining.
Rental Car: Enterprise gave us a bright blue 2007 Ford Focus with over 31,000 miles on it. Supplied at no extra charge were a terminally ill power steering pump, a bouncy unsettling ride and a cacophony of rattles and clunks. Something underneath banged alarmingly any time we ran over a manhole cover. When one used the remote to unlock the trunk, the tinny 'thunk' could be heard 30 feet away. The power door locks were nearly as noisy.
The front dash featured acres of charcoal cheesy plastic but, in all fairness, I've never seen charcoal plastic on any dashboard that didn't look cheesy. The overall trim was low grade, the trunk was as unfinished as a vegetarian's bloody-rare rib-eye and the outside door handles were Third World black plastic, although the interior buttons seemed substantial and pleasant to the touch.
As to the budget injection-molded trunk-mounted center brake light mechanism, in a $2,500 Tata Nano, the design would be praised as clever minimalism. In a $15,000 American car, it screams, "Cheap!"
The 136 horsepower four-banger was peppy enough when you put your foot down but it howled at freeway speeds. It did have a tight turning circle (34.2 feet) which was handy when we got lost and had to make a quick U-turn. We got 23 mpg over 600 miles - less than we regularly get in our much larger and more powerful Avalon.
This Ford-made pile-o-crap was worthy of a little ditty. Sing along (using the music from The Trolley Song) in a Judy Garlandesque voice:
||Clunk, clunk, clunk went the Focus
Bang, bang, bang went the struts
Moan, moan, moan went the power steering pump
If you buy a new Ford, you're plain nuts.
The Economy: I believe that California is in such big economic turmoil because banks do not look like banks. Most are one-story affairs with tile roofs and stucco. They look like Mexican restaurants. While I like Mexican food, I would never open a savings account at a Mexican dining establishment. Banks thought they were Mexican restaurants: Free burrito with second mortgage. These day-after mortgages - like a day-after burrito - turned foul.
Now you know how the economy dropped into the toilet. You're welcome.
A knowledgeable retail expert told us that one out of every five stores on tony El Paseo Drive are either empty or soon will be. The rent on a small space with 20 feet of frontage is $6,000 per month. A few blocks away, similar retail space can be had for $600/mo. Many restaurants are nearly empty. During three visits to El Paseo, we had no trouble finding on street parking, something we never encountered during previous visits.
One day, we lunched at the Kaiser Grille in downtown Palm Springs. We arrived at 12:30 pm to find that we were the only people in the dining room. Last year, the place was completely filled at that hour. Our waiter said that he had never seen business this bad; he's worked there for 20 years. Five restaurants and one club on the street have already closed their doors.
Most homes are now available at discounts of 40-50% from peak asking prices. Still no takers though. Toured a very nice one originally priced at $3 million. I think we could have bought it for $1.6 mm with the furniture thrown in as a freebie.
Nevertheless, some firms are doing well. Southern California has always been a hotbed of clever promo gimmicks to build business. Restaurants were offering (cheap) Martini Mondays (Amici Trattoria), 50% off anything on the wine list on certain nights (Cliff House), special low price, multi-course menu items (numerous places), all bar food half price during happy hour (Indian Wells Resort), etc. And they seemed to work. These places were doing a brisk business.
Don't worry, there's still money in The Desert. We visited Jensen's supermarket; its wine section offered numerous selections north of $200 per bottle, including Peter Michael 2005 (a Cab blend) for $800 per bottle. A wood boxed set of two bottles from Screaming Eagle Winery (vintage and type not visible) was available at $4,000 for the pair.
Dining: We had many spectacular meals during our stay. You'll find my reviews here.
Entertainment: We also took in some shows during our visit. The Palm Springs Follies was as good as ever. This year's theme was 'Route 66' and Susan Anton was the guest star. She was quite good. The Follies changes just enough each year that it's worth seeing again and again.
We also saw 'Stardust', a musical review/retrospective of Duke Ellington, Hoagie Carmichael, Glenn Miller, etc. at the Arthur Newman Theatre. All the singers were amateurs but were quite talented.
We caught the dinner show at Buddy Greco's Nightclub. Buddy and wife Lezlie Anders were better than ever. The dinner was fine, too.
Miscellany: Southern California is a land of unique experiences:
• From our third floor balcony, we had front row seats for the spectacular Bob Hope Classic fireworks show at the Esmeralda Resort across the street. Beats paying $750 per person for the outdoor cocktail party on the grounds of the resort.
• Based on a perusal of dozens of restaurant menus, sweet potato fries are the mesquite of the 21st Century.
• California allows kids in bars. Screaming, ill-behaved ones, too. There ought to be a law.
• Had my first Kobe beef experience on this trip. Yum. Tasty. Great mouth feel, too.
• I love California church. Elapsed time from the start of Mass until I was standing outside with a fresh and freshly-purchased custard-filled donut in my mouth - 36 minutes! Sweet and simple ceremony (none of that hugging and hand-shaking crap) and then go forth and enjoy God's blue skies. And donuts.
Quote Of The Day is from Groucho Marx: "Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough."