Monday March 30, 2009
Separated At Birth? The Hyundai BLUE-WILL gasoline-electric hybrid concept car, to be introduced at the 2009 Seoul auto show, bears a remarkable familial resemblance to the 52 year-old Aurora ESV safety car, designed and built by Father Alfred A. Juliano, a Catholic priest.
The eccentric New York clergyman bankrupted himself creating the one-off prototype in 1957; the Aurora was built on a 1954 Buick chassis.
You Must Be Less Than This Tall ... to drive a Lotus Elise. I walked past an orange one parked at Panera Bread in east Vancouver recently. At 44" in height (more than a foot lower than the average sedan), it looks like you'd have to be shorter than 5' 3" to fit in this little $47,000 two-seater. No wonder there aren't too many on the road. This one had silver duct tape holding the glass on the passenger side mirror. I don't know if that was caused by a mishap or a quality control issue.
Gone: Rick Wagoner has resigned from General Motors, probably as part of a 'deal' for the next GM bailout. Autoblog, the Detroit News and the New York Times have claimed he resigned at Obama's request. If GM gets a structured bailout/reorganization and Chrysler is sacrificed/liquidated, it could help bolster sales of General Motors' vehicles.
Has a sitting president ever asked for and received the resignation of a top corporate CEO before? I can't think of another example. Historic. And precedent-setting.
James Lileks has observed, "Maybe I'm old-school, but 'President fires CEO' looks as wrong as 'Pope fires Missile.' Does not compute."
"If You Can Find A Better Car, Buy It." Meanwhile, President Obama has assured the nation that "if you buy a car from Chrysler or General Motors, you will be able to get your car serviced and repaired, just like always. Your warranty will be safe.
In fact, it will be safer than it's ever been. Because starting today, the United States government will stand behind your warranty."
Car Guys Needed In News Room: On Monday's 'Special Report With Bret Baier', Fox News' lead story was the GM/Chrysler crisis reported by Wendell Goler. During his comment "in 2009, Chrysler does not offer the kind of vehicles that the public wants", the screen showed a 14 year-old Ford promotional clip with a beige 1995 Lincoln Continental traveling along a scenic road. (permalink)
Fiscal Levitation: Buried in the details of the mass transit section of the recently-passed and signed Spendulus Package (aka - No Deadbeat Left Behind) 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 pet project of Harry Reid, Democratic Senate Majority Leader. 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.
MagLev costs about 10 times as much as regular rail. There's only one commercial MagLev line in the world ... (more >>>)
Note To CBS: When you're trying to show 1958 Philadelphia on Cold Case, don't use period stock footage of downtown Detroit MI and Rochester NY - like you did last night. Morons.
Motown Shrinkdown: The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press are reducing home delivery to the three days a week most popular with advertisers - Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Slimmed-down newspapers, sold at regular prices, will be available in news racks and convenience stores the other four days. More than 80 newspapers in the country - in smaller markets - have dropped at least one publication day since last year. (permalink)
Who Knew? Buck-buck, which I played in grade school, was called buffalo heap, Johnny-on-the-pony and monkey pile in other regions of the U.S.
Quote Of The Day is from Jean-Paul Kauffman: "The economy depends about as much on economists as the weather does on weather forecasters."
Friday March 27, 2009
No Show: The Future Of Auto Shows? One hundred years ago, auto shows were the only way to view offerings from the numerous smaller manufacturers.
Not much was needed: a row of automotive offerings, a bit of bunting, a small sign and some pamphlets to distribute.
By the 1950s, shows had become fancier with rotating turntables, voluptuous spokesmodels and four-color brochures. These auto extravaganzas provided the public with an opportunity to see models in all the different trim and color styles available and gaze upon the dreamy and very ... (more >>>)
When You Emblem Works Better Than Your Wiper ... it means your design priorities are misplaced. The other day, I was driving behind a ginormous 2009 Escalade sporting a huge Cadillac emblem on the back - even bigger than the ones on Caddy's sombrero wheel covers from the late 1940s. It was raining and the Slade's rear wiper was running. The wiper seemed normal in size but it swept an area not much larger than the blingy badge.
Double Bubble: The graph of Individual Wealth Versus Gross Domestic Product (Households and Nonprofit Net Worth as a percent of GDP) calculates net worth by including real estate and financial assets (stocks, bonds, pension reserves, deposits, etc.) net of liabilities (mostly mortgages).
The ratio operated in a narrow range for almost 50 years, then shot up, fell down, climbed again and fell. This is a classic bubble ... kind of. It is actually two bubbles: the tech stock bubble which began in the irrationally exuberant 1990s, bursting in early 2000. And the real estate bubble which began in the mid-'90s and continued through 2006.
The graph indicates that we have not yet completely returned to reality. (permalink)
Today's Factoid: Every year, there are 11.73 million 'replica' watches sold worldwide. I have received a spam e-mail ad for every single one of them. (permalink)
Wiseacre Dictionary: Malcolm Berko has quipped: I like to define "politics" as two words: "Poli" is a Greek word meaning a "large number," and "tics" are "bloodsucking parasites."
Danny For President: Daniel Hannan, MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for South East England, gave a killer speech during U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's visit to the European Parliament this week. And rips ol' Brownie a new one, as the British might say.
Of course, Hannan's a British citizen but - you never know - he *might* be an American ... or Kenyan ... and, besides, you don't need a birth certificate to be a U.S. president anymore, right?
Jeez, I wish someone would stand up and excoriate Obama the way Hannan did Brown.
Inflation Ahead: From Bill Bennett: "President Ronald Reagan was blasted by Democrats (and still is) for running a deficit that reached over 5% of Gross Domestic Product at their peak. But Obama's deficits are running 10% and 13% of GDP over the next two years."
Synonym ... offered by Jay Leno: "'Communism' is where the government takes over control of all private industry or, as we call it in this country, 'Stimulus Package'."
Well, folks, you won't think it's so funny when Kommissar Obama sends you to a Reeducation Camp. Or encourages you to turn off all your lights for an hour on the evening of March 28, so you can experience what it's like to live in North Korea.
PS: Ed Anger suggests that you celebrate Earth Hour by finding out "when you're supposed to turn the lights out, and turn them all on. You hillbillies with Christmas lights still up? For once, you did good: snap 'em on.
Borrow the worst mileage truck you can find, lower the tire pressure, then drive to the dump and throw out all that stuff you aren't supposed to, like bleach bottles and Styrofoam peanuts. (And half-dried-up cans of paint - JMS.) Celebrate by going to the fast food drive through and going around and around, ordering just one item at a time! Then eat in the car and throw the litter out the window.
Go home and put the furnace on high then turn up your air conditioning to cancel it out! Flush the toilet every hour on the hour. (This is where prostate trouble comes in real handy!) Slice up a bunch of old tires with your gassiest chainsaw, and set 'em on fire! You won't hear your neighbors complain cuz all your radios and TVs will be blasting."
It Can't Be Any Worse ... than some of the stuff already on TV. Tom McMahon has proposed, "I think life in an Australian electrolysis parlor would make a great setting for a sitcom, if only to see how many times and in how many ways the producers would find to use the words 'down under'."
Decoding Financial Lingo: 'Toxic Asset' = Big F**king Liability
Quote Of The Day is from Peter Lynch: "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon."
Wednesday March 25, 2009
'Who Do You Trust?' was a television game show from the late 1950s and early 1960s, emceed by Johnny Carson.
Most of my readers are car people and - as such - are probably provided with a lot of vehicular anecdotes and experiences by their non-car friends as well as by their car buddies. I get a lot of that too, and the real-world problems encountered by my friends seem to parallel the data I see in Consumer Reports. Therefore, I consider CR a trustworthy source.
So, when I read J.D. Power's Three Year Vehicle Dependability Survey and was informed that Buick and Jaguar have fewer problems than Lexus, Toyota and Honda, my bullshit meter pegged the bump stop on the right.
Power also claims that a Scion has almost double the number of problems as a Jag and that a Land Rover is only 5% worse than a Mazda. And that "Chrysler cars have better than average reliability."
Damn. The meter just broke.
Cycle Of Insanity: Recently-introduced Oregon House Bill 2690 would allow bicyclists to blow through stop signs with impunity.
Democratic Rep. Jules Bailey, one of the chief backers of the bill, described it as a way to promote bicycling - and therefore, the local economy, the environment, and good public health, etc. "He also owned up that it's pretty darn hard to stop and start when he's riding to downtown Portland in the rain, loaded with a laptop, work binders and saddlebags." Aw. Poor baby.
This is why, whenever I travel to Portland, I bring my own bottled H2O. I don't know what the hell they put in Portland's water but I'm not drinking it.
There are a lot of arrogant bicyclists in Portland who already ignore traffic laws. Now they'll do so even more.
This cloud may have a silver lining ... (more >>>)
Don't Bank On It: The cynicism of our elected representatives is sometimes beyond belief. Consider, for example, my personal story about the disparity of treatment given to troubled banks, based on political meddling ... (more >>>)
60 Minute Man (with apologies to The Dominoes): Did you ever think that a sitting president would be such an idiot on '60 Minutes'? Whatever bad vibes you've ever gotten from Clinton, either of the Bushes, Reagan, Nixon or even Carter - Barack Obama has topped them all .... (more >>>)
Just Add Water ... and his hair grows faster than the national deficit. Joseph Enterprises, the company behind Chia Pet and The Clapper, now offers a Chia Obama.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could also clap him 'off'.
Bait N' Switch: In a rant about Obama, Ed Anger has observed: "American pinkos voted for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and got Urkel instead!"
About Last Night: At his press conference, Obama kept repeating that his housing rescue plan will only help "responsible homeowners."
Hey, if you're truly responsible, you don't need government help.
I do like the idea of unicorn engravings on the new T-bills, though.
Heroes Versus Speculators: Barry Ritholz explains: "When a fireman sees a house on fire, he sounds an alarm, dons his turnout gear, bravely rescues the occupants and puts out the fire.
When an investment banker sees a house on fire, he quietly sells the burning house short, uses the proceeds to buy a larger house for himself and, when someone suggests that his taxes be raised to help the homeless, he rails against the dangers of socialism."
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve pumps oxygen into the burning house to prevent occupants from suffocating.
Child-Rearing Advice: A new federal law banning more than minute levels of lead in most products intended for children 12 or younger - and a federal agency's interpretation of the law - prompted at least two libraries last month to pull children's books printed before 1986 from their shelves. Lead was present in printer's ink until a growing body of regulations banned it in 1986.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has interpreted the law to include books but has neither concluded that older books could be hazardous to children nor made any recommendations to libraries about quarantining such tomes.
I'd just scream at the top of my lungs, "Don't lick the f**king books, you little bastards! Do it again and I'll be taking my belt off!" That should stop it.
Investment Advice ... from Warren Buffett: "You try to be greedy when others are fearful, and fearful when others are greedy."
Quote Of The Day is from Alexis de Tocqueville: "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."
Monday March 23, 2009
Must Be Referring To The Rendezvous SUV: Last week, I watched a Futurama rerun about giant space bees. Professor Farnsworth warns his crew, "These bees are larger than most Buicks. And twice as ugly."
Train Wreck: Another train-centric hobby shop, III Rail Trains of Coon Rapids, MN, is closing down after 17 years. Here is an excerpt from its website explaining the closure: "After much thought to what is taking place in our economy, the constant rise in operating costs ... the huge spike in credit card service charges from the banks, the unexpected dropping of all direct dealers' ability to purchase direct from Lionel and forcing all ex-dealers to negotiate with and depend on a wholesaler to supply product at a higher cost …"
Lionel's new dealer policy apparently allows only the largest 10 to 15 mega-dealers to buy direct. Smaller hobby shops (Lionel Authorized Value Added Dealers) must purchase from distributors or mega-dealers. Discounts for small hobby shops will most likely be substantially reduced, making their survival a bigger struggle.
Of course, Lionel is doing this in order to reduce expenses, hoping for savings in warehousing, sales and inventory carry costs. The downside - a big one - is ... (more >>>)
Wicker & Scented Oil Markets Collapse: Retailer Pier 1 Imports lost $29.4 million in its fourth quarter and could close 80 stores this year.
Stop Changing The Game: Don Luskin has written that "the big problem the stock market now faces is the extreme instability of the political environment. I rest my case. Now, unless this foaming mad-dog of a Congress can be subdued, the wonderful stock market rally of the last couple weeks can be declared over and done, and it's back to the bear market - with a vengeance.
And then the Fed can print all the money it wants, and buy all the mortgage-backed securities it wants. And all we'll get for it is a lot of inflation. If it's going to turn into growth, then Congress is going to have to stop changing the rules of the game constantly. Without stable rules, it's not even a game. It's nothing but a street-fight."
Don asks, "How are we supposed to invest, to plan, to save, to build, to lend, to take risks - when at any moment the government can change the rules of the game? When, at any moment, the government can take the winner's winnings and give them to the loser?
No wonder stocks are making new lows. ... It might be the beginning of the end." He doesn't mean that in a good way, either.
Bleak Future: Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee and Barack Obama's first choice for commerce secretary, has said that the Obama budget will wreck the U.S. economy.
"The practical implications of this is bankruptcy for the United States," Gregg said of the Obama's administration's recently released budget blueprint. "There's no other way around it. If we maintain the proposals that are in this budget over the ten-year period that this budget covers, this country will go bankrupt. People will not buy our debt, our dollar will become devalued. It is a very severe situation."
Friends Of Obama: Maybe all the AIG outrage is a misdirect. Franklin Raines and Jamie Gorelick ran Fannie Mae into the ground and then collected bonuses of $90 million and $24.7 million, respectively. Why are they not in jail?
Gee, Ya Think? Reuters headline: 'Financial crisis can lead to modest lifestyles'.
WTF? #$@*! Psychotherapist Nancy Irwin has claimed that a foul economy is prompting more outbursts of foul language.
If The Ground Crew Is Swarthy-Looking And Unshaven ... get off the plane: "In the wake of the crash, a source at Turkish Airlines - someone who has nothing to gain by noting this publicly and, in fact, everything to lose - claimed that airplanes requiring pre-flight inspection go shortchanged if they are on the ground in the mornings at prayer time.
And in December 2006, it was widely reported that Turkish Airlines workers had sacrificed a camel on an Istanbul airport ramp as a gesture of thanks for having at last got rid of a batch of troublesome planes." Wow. Just ... wow.
Remember The Axis Of Evil? A top-ranked Iranian defector told the United States that Iran was financing North Korean moves to make Syria into a nuclear weapons power, leading to the Israeli air strike that destroyed a suspected secret reactor in 2007.
Little California: I've always thought of the Bend area in central Oregon as Little California. Wealthy Californians seem to relocate there and telecommute. Now the California Real Estate Crisis has moved there, too. The median sales price of a single-family home in Bend fell to $215,000 in February, down from $233,000 in January and $318,000 in February 2008. Last month's median price was 45.7% lower than Bend's peak median in May 2007. In once-booming Deschutes County, ten homeowners default every single day.
Bend unemployment is over 12%. Meanwhile, the local Vancouver (WA) residential real estate market peaked in July 2007 with a median sale price of $269,900. Prices have now fallen 13.9% from that peak.
Quote Of The Day is from William F. Buckley: "I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University."
Thursday March 19, 2009
Smart ForNone: U.S. sales of the Smart ForTwo are tanking, as people who put a deposit on the diminutive two-seater are dropping out. Apparently, a large number of the micro machines were ordered up by families as second cars or as toys for the wealthy. In these tough financial times, toys and playthings are expendable.
Maybe people just woke up and realized that paying twenty grand for a golf cart with doors was a stupid idea. Consumer Reports has blasted it, giving the Smart an overall test score even lower than the much maligned Chevy Aveo. And, if fuel economy is your goal, the Toyota Prius is a better deal. Plus it seats 4-5 people.
The overpriced microcar with the pretentious lower-case name was originally conceived in a Mercedes-Benz and Swatch watch joint venture. In the ten-plus years that it's been available for sale, about 800,000 models have been sold. But the little car has apparently never made money for M-B. (Swatch pulled out of the venture years ago.)
Last Sunday, I passed a Smart ForTwo northbound on I-5 around Woodburn, OR; it was struggling along in the far right lane amid a sea of normal-sized cars, big SUVs and massive triple tractor-trailers. All were passing by at 75 mph and above. I think driving a Smart on an Interstate would make a fine cure for constipation. Maybe they should rename it Rolling Suppository. (permalink)
Playing The Futures Market: General Motors has stopped paying advances to photographers who shoot its ads, according to a photographer who has done work for the automaker.
"GM (through its ad agencies) has asked photographers to officially accept or reject a set of new payment terms. The new terms say GM will "typically" pay ad agencies within 60 to 75 days of an invoice, who will then pay the photographer (or "vendor")." (hat tip - Doug K., of whom I'm quite envious. He has test driven a Bentley Continental and a Bugatti Veyron.)
Since many ad agencies take their sweet ol' time disbursing the money, photographers may not see payment for 4-5 months after the work is complete. Here's the investment risk: the photographer is the bank providing an uncollateralized loan; GM is the real borrower. The ad agency is either a go-between beard or a co-signer with illegible handwriting. Can anyone be sure that a GM-dependent ad agency will even be in business 5 months from now? Or that GM won't be under some kind of bankruptcy or congressionally-grafted mock-bankruptcy protection?
General Motors is America's second-biggest advertiser after Procter & Gamble. If you're a photographer, it may be time to focus on soap and toothpaste work.
It Really Does Flow Downhill: American Axle & Manufacturing's auditors have warned that the auto parts supplier may go out of business because of "the uncertainty relating to the ability of GM and Chrysler to continue operating as going concerns."
Another large supplier to GM, Lear Corp., has said it expects to receive a 'going concern' notice from its auditors. Lear supplies seating and electronics to the auto industry. Visteon Corp., spun off by Ford in 2000, also warned that it was uncertain whether it would stay in compliance with debt covenants.
Everybody Hurts: The world's financial assets lost $50 trillion in 2008. The value of global financial assets including stocks, bonds and currencies probably fell by more than $50 trillion in 2008, equivalent to a year of world gross domestic product, according to an Asian Development Bank report. Asia, excluding Japan, probably lost about $9.6 trillion, while the Latin American region saw the value of financial assets drop by about $2.1 trillion.
Meanwhile ... In Local News: Clark County (WA) unemployment continued to worsen in February, with more than twice as many residents looking for work as were a year ago and an jobless rate of 11.9%, well above the statewide average of 8.4%.
The Downside Of Bailouts: Obviously, they did not cause the financial meltdown but these never-ending bailouts have greatly exacerbated the crisis and the stock market plunge. Bailouts have starved healthy companies of funds in order to pour money down the rat hole of failing industries like General Motors, AIG, Chrysler and their ilk.
At least 13 firms receiving billions of dollars in bailout money owe a total of more than $220 million in unpaid federal taxes.
Thank You For Saying It So Well: James Taranto has observed, "Obama seems to care about the economic crisis only to the extent that it is an impediment to or an instrument for winning support for policies in unrelated areas. It is as if President Bush had responded to 9/11 by launching an all-out campaign for private Social Security accounts."
All That's Fit ... or That's All That Fits: The Washington Post has eliminated the stand-alone Business Section, combining it with the front section to save on paper costs. Also shrinking or disappearing are ... (more >>>)
Attack Of The Giant, Gay Polymers: A Pittsfield (MA) woman, who attacked her 'wife' with a turkey baster full of her brother's semen in a bid to inseminate her, has been charged with domestic assault and battery. Pittsfield police arrested the woman after a wild incident "spilled out into the street."
Jeez. I remember when Pittsfield, MA was known only for Lexan polycarbonate plastic. Turkey basters are not made from Lexan but usually from polyethylene resin, a completely different polymer.
I've read in several articles that turkey basters are often used by DIY lesbians as insemination devices. I've often wondered: do they buy special ones that are advertised as "ribbed for her pleasure"?
Many years ago, I gave a lecture about polymers at a Society of Plastics Engineers chapter meeting held at Betty's Old Towne House in Agawam, MA. Several Lexan folks from Pittsfield attended. After a few post-talk rounds of drinks at the bar, I walked to the parking lot and found that my '67 VW Beetle cranked so slowly that it barely started. A few minutes later, the radio announced that the local temperature was minus 22 degrees. Now that's cold.
Quote Of The Day is from Jim Treacher: "I know Obama's probably not a Muslim but his teleprompter is like the Koran: Every time he reads from it, a market blows up."
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Irish Business Lesson: You'll find it here.
Irish Joke I: An Irishman arrived at JFK Airport and wandered around the terminal with tears streaming down his cheeks. An Aer Lingus employee asked him if he was already homesick.
"No," replied the Irishman "I've lost all me luggage!"
"How'd that happen?"
"The cork fell out!"
Irish Joke II: Three Irishmen are sitting around in a tavern, debating which is the best pub.
The first says, "Aye, this is a nice bar, but where I come from, there's a better one. At McDougal's, you buy a drink, then you buy another drink and then McDougal himself will buy your third drink!"
The second then starts, "That sounds like a nice pub but, where I come from, there's a better one called Quinn's. At Quinn's, you buy a drink, Quinn buys you a drink. You buy another drink, Quinn buys you another drink."
Then the third pipes up, "You think that's good? Where I come from, there's this place called Murphy's. At Murphy's, they buy you your first drink, they buy you your second drink, they buy you your third drink and then, they take you in the back and get you laid!"
"Wow!" exclaim the other two. "That sounds fantastic! Did that actually happen to ye?"
"No," replies their friend, "But it happened to me sister!"
Irish Joke III: Two Irishmen were sitting at a pub, drinking pints o' Guinness and observing the goings-on at the bawdy house across the street.
They saw a Baptist minister walk into the brothel, and one of them said, "Aye, 'tis a shame to see a man of the cloth goin' bad."
Later, they watched as a rabbi entered the same house of ill-repute. The other Irishman said, "Aye, 'tis a sad thing to observe that the Jews are fallin' victim to temptation as well."
Then they saw a priest walk into the brothel; the first Irishman exclaimed, "What a terrible pity ... one of the girls must be dying!"
'Danny Boy' ... as sung by The Muppets, here.
Friday March 13, 2009
The Good Old Days ... they were awful. This news item, which appeared March 14, 1904 in the Philadelphia Inquirer, is just one example ... (more >>>)
Wednesday March 11, 2009
Used Car Rebound: Calculated Risk notes that wholesale used vehicle prices (on a mix, mileage and seasonally-adjusted basis) have "increased significantly again in February. Seasonally adjusted, February's rise was 3.7%, which came on the heels of a 3.8% increase in January. ... Some analysts have suggested that the rapid rise in wholesale used vehicle pricing is a precursor to an improvement in new vehicle sales."
Manheim Consulting reported that the recent rise in auction pricing "has been driven in large part by supply dynamics that were created by the unprecedented slowdown in new vehicle sales. Comments from dealers indicate that potential new vehicle buyers are opting instead to buy used. Evidence that these buyers could have actually afforded a new vehicle is provided by the fact that many of today's used vehicle customers are making significant down payments and the shorter loan maturity (relative to new vehicles) means that the monthly payment on their used vehicle loan would often be enough to buy new."
Americans Love A Good Value: That's why Hyundai/Kia dealers are doing a brisk business, even in bad times. McDonald's restaurants are busy as a result of its $1.00 menu offerings.
Parking lots at places like Dollar General and Wal-Mart are pretty full; in fact, Wal-Mart stores accounted for about 50% of all U.S. retail growth during 2008.
People who don't have much money still need to buy the essentials.
Actions Beget Consequences: Some Catholic bishops are looking seriously at shuttering all 624 Catholic hospitals in the United States if the so-called 'Freedom of Choice Act' (FOCA) becomes law.
Basically, the logical outgrowth of the bill's passage would be no federal funds for hospitals that did not perform abortions. And since the Catholic church would view the selling of hospitals to secular companies as "fostering evil", they would have no other choice except to close their doors.
This is what happens when an abortion fanatic becomes president.
Of course, Catholic hospitals might decide to remain open, refuse any government funds and reinvent themselves as The Best (medical excellence, most tech, highest quality) in the U.S. They would handle mostly pay-in-advance or well-insured customers while indigents are shuffled off to a limited-capacity section in the basement where help is offered only to truly-needy and deserving Catholics.
Or America could adapt my hospital plan.
The Obama Stimulus: Here are three examples of growth under the Obama Administration:
1. The FBI reports background checks on the sale of firearms jumped 23% nationwide last month compared to February 2008. That follows a 28% rise in January and a 24% increase in December.
2. Rush Limbaugh's audience has doubled and, in January alone, his program had booked 80% of all 2008 revenue.
3. Circulation for the last issue of conservative magazine National Review came in at a hair over 200,000. The historic baseline is about 150,000.
I Thought An EPD Was Some Kind Of Pregnancy Test. Early Payment Defaults (EPD) include FHA-Backed mortgages that go bad without a single payment. Many borrowers are defaulting as quickly as they take out the loans. In the past year alone, the number of borrowers who failed to make more than a single payment before defaulting on FHA-backed mortgages has nearly tripled, far outpacing the agency's overall growth in new loans. 9,200 of the loans insured by the FHA in the past two years have gone into default after no or only one payment.
Special Announcement: Now that we've learned that Obama's various economic/stimulus/bailout programs are chock full of rewards and relief for the fiscally undeserving, this website will henceforth refer to such programs as "No Deadbeat Left Behind."
Market Report: Stocks have lost $11 trillion in market value since October 2007.
Clarification: A few months ago, I wrote that Obama was Jimmy Carter 2. People thought I was referring to Jimmy Carter The Second. Based on what I've seen in the past few weeks, I must have meant Jimmy Carter Squared.
Batboy Is A Business Genius. Who Knew? Douglas A. McIntyre of 24/7 has written, "In the future, the big daily newspaper and national weekly magazine will not be printed at all. They will exist on the internet, run by much smaller staffs. Hearst, which said it would close its Seattle paper, the Post-Intelligencer, has told some members of its staff that they may be candidates to create an online version of the paper as its print version is shuttered."
The Weekly World News ceased its print publication in 2007 and is available exclusively online. And is apparently doing ... (more >>>)
Swingin' At The Big House: Argus Hamilton has noted, "President Obama put a swing set on the south grounds of the White House for his kids last week. The last time there was a swing set at the White House, Monica Lewinsky pulled the plaster out of the Oval Office ceiling."
Quote Of The Day is from Margaret Thatcher: "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money."
Monday March 9, 2009
Tin Dream: Hemmings Auto Blog has reported that the founder of K-B Toys, Donald Kaufman, is selling his toy collection. He began collecting in 1950.
One item that caught my eye was a 16.5-inch long 'Dream Car' from 1950. I remember seeing this in stores during the period, selling new for less than two bucks. That was back in the days when the artwork on the box was spectacular and the product inside was ... ummmm ... less so. The lithographed tin Japanese-made car is expected to bring $3,000-3,500 at auction. (permalink)
Blind People To Run Movie Studio: Headline reads 'Obama Car Czars To Visit Detroit To Learn About Industry'.
Runnin' On Empty: A share of General Motors stock is now priced too low to buy a gallon of gasoline. Friday's closing price was $1.45/share; a gallon of regular around here averages $2.16 or so.
It's Ugly Out There: Here's a stunning statement from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: "In February, the number of persons who worked part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) rose by 787,000, reaching 8.6 million. The number of such workers rose by 3.7 million over the past 12 months. This category includes persons who would like to work full time but were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time jobs."
In related news, unemployment has now risen to 8.1%, the highest since December, 1983.
Visualize The Deficit: How big is a trillion dollars? It's ten billion $100 dollar bills, corresponding to a stack of bills 740 miles high. If the bills were $1 bills, they'd form a stack 74,000 miles high.
In Praise Of Rush: I don't regularly listen to Mr. Limbaugh's show. Talk radio raises my blood pressure and, after three hours, it all runs together like leftover stew that's been pureed and reheated excessively. When I'm driving, I prefer to listen to music.
That said, I agree with much of what Rush Limbaugh espouses. He is a true conservative and constitutionalist. I am dismayed to learn from Politico's Jonathan Martin that there is "a full-scale effort first hatched by some of the most familiar names in politics and now being guided in part from inside the White House."
According to Martin, an unidentified "senior White House aide" has been given the responsibility of "helping to guide the Limbaugh strategy."
Wait - let me understand this: I am a taxpayer whose money funds White House operations. And somebody's using my money to develop attack plans on Rush? This is bullshit. (My money being used to plan an attack on Iran or North Korea would be just fine however.)
Doesn't the government of the United States have better things to do than to declare war on a media personality? I thought all that kind of crap stopped after Nixon left.
Furthermore, we don't need a Rush Strategy. We do need things like a Bank Strategy, a Tax Reduction Strategy, an Economic Recovery Strategy and a Spending Curtailment Strategy. Who is working on those, Mr. President?
If you want to go after individuals, Barack, you should have Ahmadinejad, Assad, Kim Jong Il, and the other 'real' villains on your Enemies List. Or some of the people who helped wreck this economy: Franklin Raines, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, et al.
After only nine weeks in office, you're picking on a radio host? What's on your agenda for week ten? Arresting a conservative blogger? Overturning Charles Krauthammer's wheelchair? Activating the Thought Police Squad? Invoking martial law?
To be sure, George W. Bush made blunders as president and had to put up with a media constantly demeaning him. But he took it all in stride. Unlike Obama, who - as I said in October of last year - is a thin-skinned man. We're seeing yet another example of Barry O's hypersensitivity and it is disturbing. History shows that such easily-offended men make lousy presidents.
I am also dismayed by the weak-tea Republican response to this incident. Ed Anger agrees. Last week, he wrote that GOP stands for Gang Of Pansies and remarked, "I'm as fed up as Rosie O'Donnell at an all-you-can-eat buffet about what's happening to the Republicans!" Ed reminisced about the good old days at a Republican meet-up "back in '64, when I beaned Happy Rockefeller with a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. (That slut!)"
As for me, I'm disgusted with "mainstream" Republicans - those mealy-mouthed, white-spat, middle-of-the-road, do-nothing glad-handers. It's time for the true conservatives to emerge and work with folks like Rush to get Obama tossed out on his ear.
Don't Forget: I hope you changed your clocks yesterday. It is now DST - Daylight Stimulus Time - more hours of afternoon light so that you can work longer to pay more taxes to Obama, Pelosi and Reid.
That Disneyland to Vegas MagLev line ain't gonna pay for itself, folks.
Always Invest In A Neighborhood That You Know. It's one of the prime rules of smart real estate investing and Elliot Spitzer is following it.
The disgraced former New York governor is now working as a commercial real estate investor and has purchased an office building just a block from the site of the infamous encounter with a high-class prostitute that led to his downfall. (hat tip - Urgent Agenda)
Heavy Burden: Jim Treacher wrote, "I'm glad they waited until now to knight Ted Kennedy, because all that armor would've made it tough to swim."
Quote Of The Day is from Lily Tomlin: "I always wanted to be somebody but I should have been more specific."
Friday March 6, 2009
A Face Only A North Korean Orthodontist's Mother Could Love ... and a butt only a warthog would admire: The Lagonda Concept by Aston Martin, unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show, represents a statistical black swan in the upper right-hand corner of the price-ugliness axis.
The market for such a car would necessarily be limited to extremely wealthy individuals who either
1) own a Pontiac Aztek and want to park something alongside to make their Azzer look good or
2) have rejected buying a Rolls Royce Phantom because its styling "needs more Scion."
Death Rattle: GM's auditors have examined the books and made the following notation in General Motor's annual report filed with the SEC yesterday: "our recurring losses from operations, stockholders' deficit and inability to generate sufficient cash flow to meet our obligations and sustain our operations raise substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern."
Bridge To Nowhere: The first project funded by the stimulus is a bridge replacement in Tuscumbia, MO. The bridge had to be closed to large trucks in 2007 because of structural concerns. This very small village (less than 0.5 square miles in size; less than 60 households) in central Missouri is about three hours from St. Louis by car (or large truck).
Here's the 'money quote' from Jim Geraghty: "Apparently, using federal funds to build a bridge between Ketchikan and the island that houses the city's airport was a laughable mockery and a waste of taxpayer dollars. But using federal funds to repair a bridge in a city that had 223 people as of 2007 isn't waste, it's stimulus!"
Earlier, Jim had written, "If the Democrats in Congress were doctors, they would be painting the toenails of a patient with the flu."
Common Sense ... from a Democrat: Evan Bayh (D - Indiana) has written, "The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 is a sprawling, $410 billion compilation of nine spending measures that lacks the slightest hint of austerity from the federal government or the recipients of its largess. The Senate should reject this bill. If we do not, President Barack Obama should veto it. ... Our nation's current fiscal imbalance is unprecedented, unsustainable and, if unaddressed, a major threat to our currency and our economic vitality.
The solution going forward is to stop wasteful spending before it starts. Families and businesses are tightening their belts to make ends meet - and Washington should too. ... Voters rightly demanded change in November's election, but this approach to spending represents business as usual in Washington, not the voters' mandate."
Taxpayer Revolt: I'm ready. So is Daphne Klink, who has written, "I don't owe your destitute grandma or ill conceived child a damn dime. My children certainly shouldn't be expected to pay for current lawmakers ignorant legislative blunders or Joe Blow's lackadaisical take on mortgage payments or unaffordable procreation.
Save me the arguments that my money funds the betterment of society. It obviously doesn't when 1 in 30 of our citizens are in the criminal justice system, as much as forty percent of our high schoolers drop out before graduation, a scandalous number of non-performing public schools, warehousing ignorant children, are still in existence and we have up to 70% out of wedlock birth rates standing alongside the total disintegration of normal family units in significant segments of society. My money hasn't done diddley shit for the generations of shiftless idiots unable to carry their own water, except exacerbate the growth of disgustingly useless government programs that induced these ills to epidemic heights."
"These are the same people who put their kids on SCHIP and manage to scrounge $200 a month for their cable bill. Cut the hapless bastards off at the tit; I am not responsible for their general welfare or daycare ticket."
I think my Defining Moment on the matter was many years ago, when I observed someone using food stamps to buy bags of ice on July 4th.
Warren Channels Me ... Four Months Later: Last week, Mr. Buffett said the economic turmoil that contributed to a 62% profit drop last year at the Berkshire Hathaway is certain to continue in 2009. But - long-term - he remains optimistic.
I said pretty much the same thing back in October 2008.
Upside Down In Britain: HBOS, Britain's biggest mortgage lender, revealed that 381,669 customers, about 16.8% of its mortgage book, owed more than the value of their homes. At Lloyds TSB, 162,000 homeowners, 15% of its mortgage book, were in the same position.
These figures compare with only 0.1% of customers of each bank - a total of less than 4,000 households - being in negative equity at the end of 2007.
Bankrupt: Oregon-based Joe's Sports & Outdoor - with 30 locations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho - has gone Chapter 11. Joe's began life as a Portland army surplus store in 1952.
Formerly known as G.I. Joe's - a strong and high-recognition Northwest brand, the company was sold to a private equity firm out of California in 2007. People didn't like the name change or other recent 'improvements': moving upscale, raising prices, cutting offerings and closing departments.
Stock Market Joke Of The Day: McDonalds adds Citigroup stock to its $1 menu. (hat tip - Calculated Risk)
Camelot Redux: Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced to a joint session of Congress that Senator Edward Kennedy had received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth. Ed Anger noted that "just like King Arthur, Teddy's got a lady in the lake."
Does this make Ted the Duke of Chappaquiddick?
"Don't Have A Cow, Man." Fox has ordered two more seasons of The Simpsons, ensuring the show that started in 1989 will surpass Gunsmoke as the longest-running prime-time U.S. television series. The Simpsons, which has won 24 Emmy Awards, will start its 21st season in the fall.
The best-ever Simpsons episodes are listed here.
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Area Woman Will Eat Anything With 'Tuscan' In Name'. "Tuscan shrimp, Tuscan garlic chicken, it doesn't matter," said her boyfriend, Tim Vernacini. "I'm not really sure if she even knows what makes food Tuscan but there's something about that region-specific culinary modifier that she finds inordinately appetizing."
Runner-Up is also from The Onion: 'Area Woman Only Enjoys Miniature Versions Of Things'. "I have literally seen her squeal with joy at the sight of a cocktail weenie," said husband Bernard Elsinger, who met his wife seven years ago at his nephew's peewee-league baseball game.
Quote Of The Day is from John Kenneth Galbraith: "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable."
Wednesday March 4, 2009
In The Cellar: U.S. auto sales dropped by more than 41 percent in February to the lowest level in almost three decades, as deepening economic uncertainty drove Americans away from large-ticket purchases and new debt - despite aggressive discounts from some automakers. Chrysler was averaging $5,566 on-the-hood of each sale - about $2,000 more than either GM or Ford. Honda and Toyota were sweetening the pot by less than $2,000 per vehicle.
Specifically, Chrysler's February 2009 sales decreased 44.0% from Feb. '08, FoMoCo was off 48.4% and General Motors declined 52.9%. Honda, Nissan and Toyota had sales drops in the upper 30s, even Mini sales were down 17.2%. Hyundai was off a mere 1.5%, Subaru was up 1.4% and Kia was up 0.4%.
Only 2,100 Toyota Avalons were sold last month - a year-to-year decrease of 48% - but the model handily outsold both the Buick LaCrosse (1,536) and Lucerne (1,289) as well as the Mercury Sable (1,271). Lexus LS sales dropped to only 700 (a decline of 63%) but the LS outsold every model offered by Volvo - the S80 was the 'big seller' of the 10 models offered in the U.S., with 671 sold in February. Only 186 Acura RLs were sold during the month, a drop of over 54%.
Exponential Technology: I don't often recommend videos but this one is worth five minutes of your time. Originally developed by Karl Fisch, a high school administrator at Arapahoe High School in Littleton, Colorado, it was generalized and expanded by Jeff Bronman and Scott Mcleod, a professor at University of Minnesota.
A remixed version, titled 'Did You Know', was adapted by Sony BMG for an executive meeting held in 2008. The information presented is fascinating, astounding and frightening.
Hey ... What's Waving From That Pole? Ed Anger on the Iranian flag: "Hell, I didn't even know they had one. I figured they just ran a goat up a flagpole."
Robin Hood Revived: Last week, President Obama proposed a soaring federal budget for fiscal 2010 that would raises taxes on upper-income Americans and start setting aside money for a vast expansion of health care - while running up the biggest deficit since the country fought World War II. His proposed $3.55 trillion budget would spend $1.75 trillion more than the Treasury's revenue, a one-year deficit equal to 12.3% of the country's economy - that's $11,833 for every American. And he plans to raise taxes by over one trillion dollars, mostly by taxing the rich.
Larry Kudlow wrote that Obama "is declaring war on investors, entrepreneurs, small businesses, large corporations, and private-equity and venture-capital funds. That is the meaning of his anti-growth tax-hike proposals, which make absolutely no sense at all - either for this recession or from the standpoint of expanding our economy's long-run potential to grow." He added, "Study after study over the past several decades has shown how countries that spend more produce less, while nations that tax less produce more. Obama is doing it wrong on both counts."
Rush Limbaugh has said that Obama's plans are "what we have heard from every Democrat since FDR except John F. Kennedy, and that is: Raise taxes and cut the military. That's it. That's the program. Except this, the Obama program is more wide-ranging and deeply penetrable into the fabric of this nation's decency and goodness than any Democrat has ever tried, including FDR."
This truly frightens me; Obama will inflame and extend this recession due to his ignorance and incompetence. Meanwhile, Democrats have the consummate gall and dishonesty to pin the blame for what they are now doing entirely on George W. Bush.
Scott Grannis has reviewed Obama's 2010 budget proposal and written, "I don't think you have to look too far or too hard to realize that this document is, for the market, the Sum of All Fears."
Trying Times: John Bogle, founder of Vanguard and the man who created the $68.8 billion Vanguard 500 Index Fund in 1976, opines, "These are certainly the times that try men's souls, and particularly investors’ souls. The stock market has got to be discounting an awful lot of the bad economy that we see ahead. We've got to be getting close to the lows in the stock market finally."
Fit To Print? Randall O'Toole has written, "There's been a lot of hand-wringing lately about the future of the newspaper industry. ... Without newspapers, "corruption will rise, legislation will more easily be captured by vested interests and voter turnout will fall."
Funny, I've always found that the big-city daily newspapers were the ones doing the most to cover up corruption and protect special-interest groups. Meanwhile, the weekly papers, like Portland's Willamette Week are the ones doing the investigative journalism."
Amen, Randall. While Willamette Week's politics are much to the left of mine, they certainly do excellent investigative work, unlike the AP reprint machine known as the Oregonian. The once-great Portland Tribune becomes more like the Oregonian with each passing week. (permalink)
Priority One: Jim Treacher wrote, "Biden's first act as Stimulus Czar: Figuring out whether or not the "c" is silent."
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "One of the most important skills for political success is the ability to make confident assertions of absurdities or lies."
Monday March 2, 2009
Ten Things You Should Know about vehicle reliability - from the Consumer Reports 2009 Annual Auto Issue:
1. "Honda continues to make better all-around vehicles than any other automaker. The reliability of all Honda and Acura models is still the best of any automaker, although Toyota follows closely behind."
2. "A Japanese nameplate doesn't guarantee that a car is reliable or scores well in our testing. Although most models from Honda, Subaru and Toyota are very reliable, the Honda Element, Mitsubishi Eclipse and Toyota Yaris all score too low in our tests for us to recommend."
3. "Ford continues to improve in reliability and some of its cars now rival the best from Japan."
4. "But (Ford and GM) still lack the high level of consistency of the best automakers, such as Honda and Toyota, which build good, all-around vehicles that often excel in performance and reliability."
5. "Chrysler is at the bottom of the class, with a drop in its overall score and average reliability rating. Most models from the manufacturer have noisy, inefficient, unrefined powertrains; subpar interiors and poor visibility. Chrysler is the only automaker with no models on our Recommended list."
6. "Problem rates for cars have decreased across the board, so newer used cars should hold up better than their predecessors as they age. Among five-year-old and newer cars, Ford, Hyundai, and Nissan are about tied in reliability."
7. "The 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid had the worst electrical problems of any model in our survey. About 25 percent of its owners reported a problem, usually with the batteries. By contrast, the Toyota Prius and Highlander, Honda Civic, and Ford Escape hybrids are notably trouble-free."
8. "Some models are just downright problematic. About a third of 2001 all-wheel-drive Chrysler minivans and Volkswagen’s 2000 Passat V6 AWDs and 2004 Touaregs had multiple problems and at least one trouble spot for which they were the worst models in the survey."
9. "On average, three-year-old (2006) models had about 43 problems per 100 vehicles. The most reliable three-year-olds, the Lexus SC and Toyota's Highlander and Prius, had about 13 problems. The worst, the Land Rover Range Rover, had 140 problems."
10. "Ten-year-old (1999) models averaged 124 problems per 100 vehicles. The best, such as the four-cylinder Toyota Tacoma pickup and Lexus LS, had about 49 problems per 100, still fewer problems than the most unreliable 2008 model, the Chrysler Sebring Convertible, which had 59 problems per 100 vehicles."
Consumer Reports presents unbiased data and has the largest experiential database. I recommend that you buy a copy of the April issue for reference while it's still available.
Rule Of Thumb: For many years (30 that I know of), there was a rule in the real estate business: You can't buy a house priced at more than 2.5 times your annual income. Sometimes, if you had a really secure job, exceptionally good credit and/or a larger-than-normal down payment, lending institutions would go to 3.0. This changed in the late 1990s. The magic ratio grew every year, peaking at 5.0 (nationally), an unbelievable number.
California was vulnerable to foreclosures because the median value of owner-occupied housing in 2007 was 8.3 times the median family income, while the 2007 national average was only 3.2 times higher than median family income (in 2000, it was lower still at 2.4). California had only 10% of the nation's housing units but it had 34% of foreclosures in 2008. Almost 90% of all troubled mortgages and foreclosures are concentrated in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona.
5.0? 8.3?! No wonder the housing market crashed. (permalink)
Scary Commentary from Michael J. Panzner: "People keep asking: Are we near the bottom in the stock market?
If history is any guide, the answer is no. That's because during similarly troubled times in the past, share prices did not hit their ultimate lows until traditional valuation measures such as P/E ratios and dividend yields reached oversold extremes.
For example, while the yield of the S&P 500 index is now at a multi-year high of 3.5%, it is still one-quarter to one-half the levels seen during the Great Depression, World War II and the stagflation of the late-1970s."
Panzner notes, "U.S. equities returned 6 percent a year on average since 1900, inflation-adjusted data compiled by the London Business School and Credit Suisse Group AG show. Take away dividends and the annual gain drops to 1.7 percent, compared with 2.1 percent for long-term Treasury bonds, according to the data."
Don't Bank On Anything: Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review Online has observed, "Looking over the budget yesterday, I couldn't help but think that this administration feels the urgency of everything but the financial crisis."
Jim Geraghty of NRO added, "The increase in gun sales is the only genuine economic stimulus that can be credited to Obama."
The End ... Of The Story: Legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey has died at age 90. He began his radio career in 1933 and worked for more than 50 years at ABC Radio Networks. At the peak of his career, Harvey reached more than 24 million listeners on more than 1,200 radio stations.
I first caught his noon news and comments program in 1978. He was one of a kind. Requiescat In Pace.
Happy Tune: Whenever I get the blues, I just play 'Flatfoot Floogie' by Slim and Slam, a 1938 cheery little ditty with a vibraphone solo. You can't be sad when someone's playing the happiest musical instrument ever made.
That's why they never have vibraphones or xylophones at funerals. (Well, maybe they had one at Lionel Hampton's service in 2002. His funeral procession began at The Cotton Club in Harlem.) Organ: yes, cello: certainly, harp: ok for the right somber musical selection. But, you just can't mourn when someone's bangin' merrily on a row 'o bones.
Which is ironic because, whenever there's a cartoon featuring dancing skeletons, there's always vibraphone music in the audio track.
Quote Of The Day is from Bill Buckler of The Privateer newsletter: "What lies ahead is the accelerating exit of foreign investors from the US markets. That will be bad enough. But if what lies ahead dawns upon a growing number of Americans, and if they too all decide to exit in ever growing numbers, then there is no possible economic salvation for the USA in any form at all."