Thursday May 28, 2009
Oh, The Weather Outside Is ... gorgeous, so I took the Plymouth out for a run. Skies were blue, the air was sparkling clear and temperatures were in the low 70s. A perfect May day.
One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other: News reports in Reuters, Yahoo and elsewhere have stated that Chrysler is terminating 25% of U.S. dealers and that the terminated dealers "represent about 14 percent of Chrysler's annual sales."
The same news agencies have often reported (sometimes in the same article) that "Chrysler said 50% of its U.S. dealers account for 90 percent of overall sales." The two statements don't add up.
Speaking Of Not Adding Up: The latest breaking news - not yet fully documented - is that Chrysler dealers who had been given the ax were disproportionately Republican - many of them large contributors to GOP candidates and the RNC.
The lawyer for the dealers being torpedoed believes that the closings were ordered not by Chrysler but by the White House. "Apparently, a politically connected group of Democrats who own six Chrysler dealerships not only were allowed to keep them, but their competition was deep sixed."
This is going to get interesting. I'm waiting for Chicago politics to fully kick in and Blagojevich is suddenly awarded a Cadillac franchise.
MPG = Millions Per Gallon: Writing about the compliance cost of the Obama Administration's new fuel economy mandates, Jerry Flint noted, "Most amusing is the government's estimate that it would cost $1,300 or so per car to accomplish this. It's always wonderful how our government, which paid $7,000 for a coffee thermos and $240 million for a fighter airplane and $3 billion for a new presidential helicopter - money it doesn't have - always figures that private industry can produce miracles for next to no cost."
Department Of Transportation = Department Of Mass Transit: At a National Press Club speech intended to promote the Department of Transportation's (DOT) stimulus spending initiatives, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood explained how his policies are designed to discourage the ownership and use of automobiles. Although many imagine road building when 'shovel-ready' projects are mentioned, the only efforts highlighted by LaHood as worthy of receiving federal taxpayer subsidies include buses, light rail and other forms of multi-modal transit.
"We have $8 billion," LaHood said. "You're going to see ... (more >>>)
Flawed Testing: "In the late 1960s, Stanford University conducted an experiment on young children's self-control and ability to delay gratification. Researchers would give young children a choice: the child could either eat one marshmallow right away or, if he or she was willing to wait while the researcher stepped out of the room for a few minutes, the child could have two marshmallows when the researcher returned."
The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an SAT score that was, on average, 210 points higher and had fewer behavioral problems, both in school and at home - and had an easier time maintaining friendships. The researchers used the Marshmallow Test as an predictor of future happiness and success.
Yeah ... but what if the kid just didn't like marshmallows but otherwise was a total loser.
And where do I fit? I would have waited and when the guy came back in, said, "Thanks for keeping me waiting, jerkweed. Now where the hell's my hot chocolate?"
The ones who waited patiently for the second marshmallow now have dull jobs in the HR departments of large corporations, giving useless personality tests to timid job applicants. But they get along well with their peers.
Stimulus Package: According to a Bloomberg report, business activity for Latvian hookers is an excellent indicator of the economy. John Hempton has monitored the health of the Baltic economies based on the price of Latvian sex workers - currently about 30 lati ($60) for "the standard service."
"The contractual terms of prostitution are short (an hour, a night) and entry to the industry is unconstrained," he says. "That means that the prices are very flexible."
According to the Latvian hookers, there is no sign of a recovery yet.
Well, it's more interesting than studying the Baltic Dry Index but I'd like to see a graph of the data. Or, failing that, some graphic images.
Bad Choice: Sonia Sotomayor is not qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice. She likes to legislate from the bench and chooses 'empathy' over the rule of law. In her view, a good sob story trumps the U.S. Constitution.
People who have worked with her, many of them federal prosecutors and staunch Democrats, have expressed questions about her temperament and her judicial craftsmanship. The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor was "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench." "She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren't penetrating and don't get to the heart of the issue."
Sonia Sotomayor's track record includes a 60% reversal rate when her decisions reach the Supreme Court. But, in 2009 Barryworld, 'identity politics' has replaced 'merit'.
She has been presented by the Obama administration not as a deserving jurist but rather as a Hispanic woman who struggled to escape poverty. Hey, Barry O. This is the Supreme Court we're talkin' about - not Oprah.
In her 2001 Olmos Law and Cultural Diversity Lecture at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, she said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
If one reversed the statement and attributed it to some white male, that guy would be universally decried as racist. I have written to both my senators, asking them to vote against Sotomayor. I urge you to write to your senators as well.
On the other hand, maybe Obama chose her because David Souter was sloppy and didn't pick up after himself. Sonia is, at best, a mediocre judicial hack but is rumored to be tidy and is known for her thorough dusting work and for keeping the banisters and railings polished. 'Pledging the Bench' takes on a whole new meaning.
Plus, she can answer the Supreme Court's front door, like Consuelo - Superman's housekeeper on 'Family Guy': "Meester Cheef Roberts? Eh ... no. He no here now."
Quote Of The Day is from Jeremy Clarkson: "I don't understand bus lanes. Why do poor people have to get to places quicker than I do?"
Tuesday May 26, 2009
Memorial Day Weekend: Did I take the Plymouth out for a spin? Of course. Drove the big loop to Hockinson and back. The weather was gorgeous all weekend - sunny, blue skies, highs in the low 70s, night time lows in the 40s. This is why I live in the Pacific Northwest. When the weather's good, it's really good. If you live here, you already know what I mean.
Over the weekend, I cooked burgers on the grill. My wife made her Legendary Potato Salad - first batch of '09. Delicious ... as usual.
Friday Night Sneak: Late last Friday - when everyone's attention was focused on the holiday weekend, General Motors announced that it had borrowed an additional $4 billion from the Treasury Department, meaning that the automaker has now accepted $19.4 billion in loans from the U.S. government. GM started taking government money in December and said it intended to borrow $2.6 billion more by June 1 and an additional $9 billion after that.
When questioned about the amounts and where the money was being spent, GM pouted and said, "You don't understand me. You just don't know what things cost these days. I mean ... you are so out of it, you just have no frickin' concept."
Then General Motors started to cry and stomped upstairs to its room and locked the door. And played loud music.
Later - when it came back downstairs, GM casually remarked that it might need some extra money for "the movies and popcorn and stuff." "And another Wii game." "And a couple of billion more for the Chevrolet Volt program."
Stamps And Cars: Denny Wilson wrote, "As the Secretary of the Sommelier Guild of Atlanta, I am responsible for the monthly mailings. After the latest rate increase, I was left with seventy four 42 cent stamps. So, I went to the Post Office today to buy seventy four 2 cent stamps (as well as some 44 cent stamps). So I got to the counter and requested seventy four 2 cent stamps. Guess what? They didn't have any. All they had were 1 cent stamps.
Think about this. The Post Office raises the price of a first class stamp by 2 cents. Now wouldn't ya think that they would furnish all of their branches with a shitload of 2 cent stamps to sell to all of the folks who had leftover 42 cent stamps? Yeah. Me too.
Yeah. Yeah. This is a little thing. But think a little more. ... These are also gonna be the people running GM and Chrysler.
We're doomed!" (hat tip: Tom McMahon)
Beware Of False Prophets: Last week, Laszlo Birinyi told Bloomberg Television, "U.S. stocks are at the start of a bull market that may spur an 88% advance in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index in the next two or three years. We're confident we are in a bull market." According to him, the S&P 500 may jump to a record 1,700 as the economy rebounds from the worst recession since World War II.
Birinyi is the founder of Westport, Connecticut-based research and money-management firm Birinyi Associates. He used to be a frequent guest on the late Louis Rukeyser's Wall $treet Week television show.
Is he right? I dunno. But I would point out some prior predictions from other gurus:
• On 1/18/08, Abby Joseph Cohen, the superbull at Goldman Sachs and another former Rukeyser guest, maintained that the Dow would "roar back to finish 2008 at a level 22 percent higher" - 14,750 was the number she gave - as the economy perks up later in the year.
• On 12/10/07, investment genius and weekend CNBC infomercial king Ken Fisher wrote, "There's room for more of a bull market ahead. I want to be the first to say we are definitely in a New Era of above-average returns ... I'm expecting another above-average year ahead, an easy one ... buy stocks and be happy."
• A few days earlier (12/7/07), fellow sage Elaine Garzarelli forecasted "at least a 20% rise in stock prices over the next 12 months."
Here's what really happened: In calendar 2008, the S&P dropped 37% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined by 34%.
Sooner or later one of these experts may be right. But don't get your hopes up. (permalink)
Deadbeat Watch: American Express, the largest U.S. credit card company by purchases, said the net write-off rate for managed loans in the US was 10.1%, compared with 8.8% in March.
Dick Cheney Haiku ... from Jim Treacher:
Yeah, I shot that guy
And I had some heart attacks
And I kept you safe
I'm bald and morose
I don't look good in swim trunks
Eight years, no attacks
Dear Los Angeles:
We stopped an assault on you
"Hey, thanks" will suffice
Every time I sneer
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed faints
Try that one, Barack
Change ... For The Worse: Sarah Palin has summed it up succinctly: "The transition from Candidate Obama to President Obama has been as predictable as Alaska's winter snow. We are now witnessing actions that will lead to a monumental shift away from free market capitalism and the strong work ethic that built this great country. 'Change' in this administration has meant rapid movement toward massive government growth, huge tax burdens on future generations and an unprecedented reliance upon foreign countries."
Geezer Joke: 82-year old Bessie burst into the community room at the retirement home. She held her clenched fist in the air and announced, "Anyone who can guess what's in my hand can have fun with me tonight!"
An elderly gentleman in the rear shouted out, "An elephant?"
Bessie thought for a moment and exclaimed, "Close enough!"
Quote Of The Day is from John Kenneth Galbraith: "There are two classes of forecasters. Those who don't know ... and those who don't know they don't know."
Friday May 22, 2009
Hanging On Longer: David Sargent, vice-president for automotive research at J.D. Power & Associates reported, "In the current economic climate, consumers are delaying new-vehicle purchases and keeping their vehicles longer - the average age of a vehicle at trade-in has increased to 73 months in 2009 from 65 months in 2006."
My personal record for owning one particular car is 28 years.
Back To The Future: Whenever anyone mentions cars and the 1939 World's Fair, everyone thinks of the famous General Motors Futurama exhibit. But Chrysler had a pretty neat exhibit, too. It included 3-D movies which you watched wearing special '39 Plymouth glasses ... (more >>>)
More Future Past: Let's not forget that, at the 1964 World's Fair, Chrysler had large building in the shape of a V-8 engine (go here and scroll down to see my photo of it) well as a four-story building shaped like a giant car.
Making It Up As They Go Along: Todd Zywicki, a professor of law at George Mason University has written: "The Obama administration's behavior in the Chrysler bankruptcy is a profound challenge to the rule of law. Secured creditors - entitled to first priority payment under the "absolute priority rule" - have been browbeaten by an American president into accepting only 30 cents on the dollar of their claims. Meanwhile, the United Auto Workers union, holding junior creditor claims, will get about 50 cents on the dollar."
"Fleecing lenders to pay off politically powerful interests, or governmental threats to reputation and business from a failure to toe a political line? We might expect this behavior from a Hugo Chávez. But it would never happen here, right?"
Zywicki continues, "The U.S. government also wants to rush through what amounts to a sham sale of all of Chrysler's assets to Fiat."
He concludes, "By stepping over the bright line between the rule of law and the arbitrary behavior of men, President Obama may have created a thousand new failing businesses. That is, businesses that might have received financing before but that now will not, since lenders face the potential of future government confiscation. In other words, Mr. Obama may have helped save the jobs of thousands of union workers whose dues, in part, engineered his election. But what about the untold number of job losses in the future caused by trampling the sanctity of contracts today?"
Article I Didn't Bother To Read: The title: 'Who Stands To Lose The Most From GM's Bankruptcy?' I already know the answer: us taxpayers.
Dodge Dealer Is Pissed: I can't say I blame him. So much for Florida being The Sunshine State. On the other hand, when you become a dealer or distributor for anything, you do so with the understanding that your dealership/distributorship is only as good as the company that appoints you. When I became an industrial plastic distributor, I picked up several product lines as a hedge in case my primary supplier went south.
It's hard to be overly sympathetic with this guy when you realize that he chose Isuzu as his backup supplier.
The Revenge Of The Zombie Car Dealers: 24/7 Wall Street has noted that these abruptly terminated dealers "probably have about 80,000 vehicles in inventory" and that the "2010 models may be lost in the shuffle of ridiculous deals to clear out 2009 editions. ... If 80,000 very low-priced new cars are added to the most depressed market in decades, it will create a nearly perfect way to destroy sales for The Big Three just as new models for 2010 are being introduced. ... The dealers being closed may be going away, but in the process they will inflict real pain on the companies that shut them down." It ain't pretty, is it?
Outta Work: Clark County Washington's unemployment rate hit 13.4% in April, waaaay up from 5.8% a year ago. The record is 14.8% back in February 1983. Meanwhile, Nike is in the midst of a big round of layoffs at its Beaverton, OR headquarters and Hewlett Packard is cutting 6,400 jobs - 2% of its worldwide workforce.
In related news, the number of Clark County residents filing for bankruptcy court protection jumped to 242 in April, up from 146 a year ago and 82 in April 2007.
Workin' On The Railroad: Last week, I took delivery a set of O-gauge 1920s-style heavyweight Tuscan-color Pennsylvania Railroad passenger cars to run behind my newly-detailed Consolidation steam locomotive.
The consist is a baggage car, three coaches and an open-ended, canopied observation car - manufactured by MTH Trains. These are the Rugged Rails series - the entry-level, budget line of cars offered by MTH. I was pleasantly surprised at the high level of quality and detail on these inexpensive models. Each of these well-made cars has overhead interior lighting, a full car interior, end-of-car elastomer diaphragms, diecast 6-wheel trucks and operating diecast metal couplers.
I disassembled the coaches and observation car and installed scale model 'people' in the seats. I also detailed the observation car with silver paint on the railing, gold finials, gold-trimmed rear lanterns and a drumhead made from a metal PRR lapel pin. I also put three Arttista-manufactured standing men on the rear platform - a conductor, a man in a business suit and a sailor with duffel bag. The result was worth the effort; the observation car really looks great.
Then I dragged some track from the basement and made an oval layout on the living room floor. I hooked up a transformer, put the new cars and my freshly-reworked loco on the tracks and played with my trains. (permalink)
The Zombie Bank Song: Sing along while you're checking your account balance.
Magazine Credibility: Greg Gutfeld has written, "I was once the editor of Men's Health and I can attest that health editors are, for the most part, the unhealthiest people I know. They're a mix of hypochondriacs and boozers, shoveling pills and pilfering smokes at night - then hectoring the masses about vitamins in the day."
Quote Of The Day is from George Will on Barack Obama and his band of thugs: "The administration's central activity - the political allocation of wealth and opportunity - is not merely susceptible to corruption, it is corruption."
Wednesday May 20, 2009
Nostalgia Act: Remember those folks who had a string of hits in the 1950s and/or '60s but not much since? If you see them around at all, they're performing their 'classics' before gray-haired geezer audiences. They are still talented and competent entertainers but their stars sparkled for a while then dimmed.
Think Fats Domino, Duane Eddy, Lesley Gore, Chuck Berry, Johnny Rivers, Little Anthony, etc.
Ford Motor Co. will end production of the Mercury Sable sedan this week, stripping its "mid-market brand" of yet another model. That will leave Mercury with only four models - including the Mountaineer and Grand Marquis, both of which are scheduled to be killed over the next couple of years.
The last exciting Mercury was the first-generation Cougar - and that was over 40 years ago. No hits since. The best Mercuries are now parked at old car shows, entertaining gray-haired geezer audiences. (permalink)
How Low Are Those Sales? Dan Neil weighed in on the unpopular VW Routan (he writes that sales of the rebadged Chrysler/Dodge are so poor, it "appears to be nailed to the showroom floor"), "Routan production at Chrysler's Windsor, Canada, facility is now on indefinite hiatus, in roughly the same way that John DeLorean is taking a sabbatical from breathing."
"I am sure that Volkswagen execs smarter than I, in suits shinier than mine, can explain why the company needed a painfully derivative version of a merely adequate product in a segment buyers were fleeing like a burning theater, a product that has less than zero to do with the VW brand." Ouch.
Bicycles For All! No Beans! The new Obama federal effort to reduce both emissions and fuel consumption will combine California's emissions standards with the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standard, creating a unified national tough-to-attain benchmark.
Unless you ride a bicycle and don't have a lot of flatulence.
Car makers will have to reduce emissions 30% by 2016. By 2016 car offerings must average 42 mpg while trucks will face a 26+ mpg average requirement. Coming soon - tiny electric cars:
Bad Idea: Washington state and California officials have held preliminary discussions about a high-speed, state-of-the-art rail line that would connect San Diego and Vancouver, B.C., with trains that could travel in excess of 200 miles per hour.
"The 1,500-mile line, by some estimates, could cost between $10 million and $45 million per mile to build." That could be almost $70 billion dollars. Constructing a truly high-speed West Coast rail corridor wouldn't be easy, requiring ... (more >>>)
The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes Department: A fire in a workshop at a British Fire Service College gutted 11 fire engines.
Titanic. Deck Chairs. Rearrange. Faced with falling subscriptions (too many dentists are retiring and closing their offices), Newsweek has decided to:
1) raise prices, and
2) not cover much 'news'. M-kay.
It is also rumored that they're going to save money by using the same Obama cover photo on every issue.
"Newsweek hopes to double the price subscribers pay to about 80 cents a copy. ... On the newsstand, consumers will see the cover price go up by $1 to $5.95."
"On the circulation front, Newsweek currently promises advertisers it reaches 2.6 million, but on June 1 that will drop to 1.9 million and by January it will fall again to 1.5 million. In addition to the lower circ, the mag's content will change, moving away from chasing breaking news stories."
The new Newsweek will have four main sections. 'Scope' will replace the old 'Periscope' section.
Wow! Periscope to Scope ... as in 'Malibu Stacy - Now With New Hat!'
As a final note, I would point out that Iowahawk has published a Newsweek compatibility survey with questions like: "Do you have a preset for NPR on the stereo in your Prius?"
CNN - Cornering The Airport Lounge & Gym Markets: Last week, Greg Gutfield wrote, "Now I was at the gym during (Nancy Pelosi's torture-related) press conference, where they only allow CNN on the tv. There's no Fox News mainly because it aggravates the yoga instructor's rosacea. On the stair climber, I had no choice but to watch Pelosi with the sound off and her body movements said more about what she knew than words ever could. Throughout the conference, she began to resemble one of those delightful popping dolls - those latex creatures whose eyes, ears & nose pop out when you start squeezing the torso. Pelosi, in effect, was in a tight spot, and it was delight to see the press for once use her like a grip strengthener."
Charles Krauthammer offered this on Nancy Botoxi, "Well, her news conference today was an utter disaster. She was nervous. She was shifty. Her syntax was incomprehensible. And there were times when she had had to refer to her original statement because she couldn't remember what the current truth - her current truth was.
It reminds me of a line in a Graham Greene novel in which a spy says "I prefer to tell the truth. It's easier to memorize." Well, she didn't have it memorized. You had a sense that if you'd attached a lie detector to her in that news conference, it would have short circuited."
Newt Gingrich accused her of lying to Congress, remarking, "I think this is the most despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort I've seen in my lifetime."
Ed Anger gets the last word: "Nancy Pinnochio is a wimp! Her crappy book sold about five copies - but at least it had a spine!"
"Ah Feel Your ... ummm ... Pain": Bill Clinton grabbed some heinie as he escorted Fran Drescher into the Life Ball in Vienna over the weekend.
Wasting An Hour A Week. Sometimes Two. So I waited and waited for the season finale of '24' and was let down because Chloe didn't finally slash Janeane Garafalo's neck with a sharpened memory stick and smile smirkily as Garafalo painfully drowned in her own blood. Oh well ...
John J. Miller of NRO wrote, "The show should start calling itself 16, so it can quit before the season goes sour, as it always seems to do. Things we've learned in the last few weeks: The real terrorists aren't foreign haters of America but U.S. defense contractors, stem cells offer the hope of miracle cures for biological-weapon attacks, and when Jack Bauer seeks deathbed counsel he calls a Muslim imam."
The Truth Comes Out: Keith Olbermann picks on young women because they used to beat him up - when he was five years old. What a wimp.
Olbermann makes Milhouse Van Houten look like Superman ... or Radioactive Man ... or, at least, Fallout Boy.
Restaurant Review - Dulin's Cafe; Vancouver, WA: This restaurant is where the old Holland Restaurant used to be.
The Holland was "legendary" to long-term Vancouverites but I went there a couple of times and wondered what the big deal was. In my eyes, it was only so-so.
Dulin's has now been around long enough (10+ years) that it's creating its own legend.
Dulin's Cafe is located in the no-man's land between ... (more >>>)
Restaurant Review II - Irby's; Battle Ground, WA: In 2006, I enthusiastically recommended this establishment. My recommendation is hereby withdrawn ... (more >>>)
Quote Of The Day is from Maggie's Farm: "Waterboarding is just fine with me, but I can swim one and one-half laps underwater no problem. Not sure how many Jihadists are strong swimmers but I do not care." (hat tip: American Digest)
Monday May 18, 2009
Cruisin': The weather was pleasant and sunny on Friday, so I fired up my '39 Plymouth and took a nice ride.
I had Cruisin' 57 with the Joe Niagara Show blasting from the speakers with the windows rolled down. Sweet.
The Chrysler Mess: Chrysler may die of neglect because there is no one to 'champion' it. I don't mean cheerleading. I'm talking about someone to step up and finesse the suppliers, play good cop/bad cop with opponents, cheer up the remaining disheartened dealers and inspire the long-suffering lower management and technical employees. These tasks must be undertaken if Chrysler is to stay alive.
That's what Lee Iacocca did almost 30 years ago. But he's long-gone from Chrysler and, at 86 years-old, ain't comin' back. Today's senior execs aren't interested; they're too busy trying to get around the bankruptcy salary cap rules, floating their resumes and making contacts in preparation for post-Chrysler futures.
Fiat is standing by - uncommitted, waiting to see if the bones of the Chrysler wreckage are worth picking. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne will ... (more >>>)
In A Somewhat Related Story ... my good friend Ray's 2003 Chrysler Town & Country broke down last week and his repair guy can't get the Chrysler parts to fix it. The van is falling apart at 65,000 miles.
The part is question has had a known high failure rate. Chrysler had been aware of the problem for a long time (12 years or more) and never bothered to improve the component in question, because it lasted just long enough to skate through the factory warranty period.
Ford and GM are guilty of similar sins. For example, Ford had ignition and cruise control problems since 1984 but it took 14 years before they properly addressed it - because the parts typically failed after the warranty was expired. "So ... hey ... it's not our problem." This is another reason that the Big Three have lost market share to the Japanese over the years.
Ray, my car buddy, wrote, "I am disgusted that Chrysler has been allowed to get away with this bullshit since back in the '90s. If I had only known, I never would have bought (their products). I ... will never buy Chrysler again ... I will dump both vans and go Asian."
Why Potholes Aren't Fixed: Dysfunction at Seattle's transportation department will cost taxpayers at least $805,000 in consultants, investigations and payouts to employees but the mayor's office said that the money will be well spent if it improves the department's performance. "On top of $515,000 already spent investigating the street-maintenance division, the city expects to shell out $150,000-plus for consultants to tell the department how to improve its daily operations and better respond to future snowstorms."
You may remember reading about Seattle's botched snowstorm response, which left the city paralyzed for nearly two weeks in late December '08.
Grace Crunican, head of Seattle's transportation department, has been at the job for more than seven years, after serving as director of the Oregon Department of Transportation for five years and deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration. Sounds like an incompetent government lifer hack. Fire her.
Mr. Have-It-Both-Ways: During his Notre Dame commencement speech, Barack Obama said that both sides of the abortion issue "must stop demonizing one another" and later added that "no matter how much we want to fudge it ... the fact is that, at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable."
Too bad we don't have time travel. I wonder if the Teleprompter Messiah would be willing to travel back to 1849 and say the same things about slavery, appealing to both sides to "search for common ground?"
Or to 1942 Nazi Germany, advising the Jews that "the views of the two camps (one of them being Auschwitz) are irreconcilable."
You can't have it both ways, Mr. President. Some things are just plain wrong.
Sarah Palin said her Catholic grandfather would be shocked to hear that this prestigious university was honoring a man with such a strong "anti-life" agenda ... (more >>>)
Grave Business Tactic: A British undertaker has pleaded guilty to stealing the keys from a rival company's hearse while it was parked outside during a funeral service.
Here's Some Good News: Gun-wielding Ronald J. Chenette, who held an armed stand-off with police, threatened to kill them and fatally shot a police dog during the incident, was sentenced to life imprisonment under the Three Strikes law.
This crime happened about a mile from where I live.
Obligatory Mount St. Helens Posting: Yeah, I see the mountain every day; I live a mere 35 miles away as the ash flies. I never really noticed St. Helens on my drives up and down I-5 until it blew its top 29 years ago.
Impossible to describe unless you personally experienced it. Trees knocked over like toothpicks. Mud and ash everywhere. Gray 'snow' on the ground.
I had an incredible view of the event, since I was staying at a motel overlooking the Columbia Gorge in Hood River, Oregon. I had a ringside seat with a large picture window facing north.
With part of it blown away, Mount St. Helens is now a snow-capped pimple, lacking the dramatic craggy peaks of its neighbors.
The public has lost interest; some of the visitor centers, restaurants and gift shops have closed. Nobody's buying Genuine Ash Ceramic Souvenirs anymore.
These days, the volcano is quiet but it lets off an occasional puff of steam just to let everyone know it's still there.
Historic Pix: Buddy Greco, the talented jazz pianist, is auctioning off the last photographs of Marilyn Monroe taken the weekend before she died, "partying with fellow icon Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford and Greco in August 1962."
The pictures were taken in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where Greco and Sinatra had been performing. Greco, now 82, remembers the actress being in 'good spirits' towards the start of the weekend but later being 'out of sorts'. Mafia boss Sam Giancana, Joe DiMaggio (her former husband and baseball legend) and Dean Martin were all on the trip, the pianist said.
Buddy recalled that "it was a wonderful weekend. Marilyn turned up wearing a green scarf, green shoes, green slacks and a green blouse, and looking just wonderful. She turned up in a limousine and put her arms around me. I was very lucky my manager was there to take the photographs."
There were originally 36 photos but today just six survive because the rest - kept in a vault in the World Trade Center - were destroyed on 9/11. That little factoid should give conspiracy theorists a field day.
Speaking of conspiracies ...
Cortizone-10: Yeah, I use it sometimes. But only because they won't sell me Cortizone-15. You know they have it.
They keep it locked up in a subterranean vault, right next to the 100,000 mile tires. And those 200 mpg Fish carburetors. (permalink)
Quote Of The Day is from Robert Heinlein: "Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded - here and there, now and then - are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as "bad luck.""
Friday May 15, 2009
Dealer Amputations: It must be a horrible experience to hear a surgeon say, "That leg of yours has got to come off." Even though you may have known it was coming, even though the leg's been giving you pain and trouble for a long time, even though you've been warned by experts that amputation was inevitable, you always hoped it wouldn't happen. The reaction is one of shock.
That must be how many car dealers are feeling these days. General Motors and Chrysler are dumping thousands of U.S. dealers.
Today, GM notified 1,100 "underperforming and very small sales volume US dealers" that "GM does not see them as part of its dealer network on a long-term basis." In most cases, franchise agreements run through October 2010. Additionally, GM said it would also likely sever ties with about 470 Saturn, Hummer and Saab dealers as it sheds those brands. The General eventually plans to close 2,600 dealer stores (42%).
Lewis River Motor Co. of Woodland, WA - about a 20 minute drive from here - is a small Chevrolet dealer established in the 1950s. General Motors has notified Lewis River that it will not be renewing the store's contract in October 2010. In Oregon, the sole Chevrolet dealer in Corvallis is being dropped - also in 10/10.
Chrysler is terminating the franchises of 789 of its 3,189 U.S. dealers. June 9th will be their last day of business; those dealers will continue to sell vehicles and Chrysler will continue to pay incentives and warranty charges until that date. Chrysler Vice Chairman Jim Press called the cuts "difficult but necessary." He said the list of dealers is final and there will be no appeal process. Chrysler sold an average of 303 vehicles per dealer in 2008 compared with 1,200 and 1,300/dealer for Honda and Toyota, respectively.
According to reports, Chrysler will not buy back any of the cars or parts from its terminated dealers. If you buy a Chrysler product from one of these Death Row dealers, good luck getting any warranty work done by another dealer.
Douglas A. McIntyre has noted that the effects will ripple through the economy: "Some of the larger dealers probably employ 100 people. In an economy that is losing nearly 600,000 jobs a month, the new efficiency program from Detroit is going to add to the burden of unemployed Americans very quickly." It is estimated that 38,000 people nationally stand to lose their jobs because of Chrysler's decision. Vicki Giles Fabre, executive v.p. of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association, expects the Evergreen State to lose nearly 900 jobs as a result of the Chrysler store closures.
It is difficult to make money in the 'new' part of the car business these days. Lithia Motors is a large multi-location auto dealer and publicly-traded company. It sells 27 brands of new vehicles and all brands of used vehicles in 91 stores in the United States as well as over the internet. For the first quarter 2009, Lithia reported gross profit margins by category - new vehicles: 8.7%, used vehicles: 27.3%, service, body and parts: 18.1%. (Note that these are gross numbers, not net.)
Incidentally, Lithia Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge in Colorado Springs, CO is on Chrysler's termination list.
The Amputation List also includes Alan Webb Dodge of Vancouver, WA, the only Dodge dealer in Clark County. Last month, Webb recently moved to a brand spankin' new $10.7 million facility which includes 32,000 square-foot Dodge showroom, so it's kind-of-like a double amputation for him. He's already announced a Big Liquidation Sale and plans to put used cars in the showroom after the Dodges have been cleared out.
Also on the list are Bud Clary Jeep (Longview, WA), Columbia Chrysler-Plymouth (Longview, WA), Timberline Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Sprinter (Portland, OR), Gresham Chrysler-Jeep (Gresham, OR) and Sheppard Motors (Eugene, OR). Fifteen dealers in Washington state are being axed; six in Oregon are being terminated.
In a very recent interview in Automotive News: Alex Laws, owner of Timberline Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Sprinter in Portland, said he was in survival mode. He counted the shop towels that mechanics turn in before handing out new ones, determined to avoid laundry-service charges for lost towels. He also "sold old computer equipment on craigslist" and "canceled coffee and plant care services, stopped providing filtered water and cut community sponsorships. On sunny days, he turned off the lights and lets his store's skylights illuminate the showroom." Chrysler's axing him.
People who grew up in the Philadelphia area will remember the painful "Hi, I'm Bob Gegnas" television spots - memorably awful because Gegnas mumbled almost unintelligibly and had a very wooden delivery. Gegnas Chrysler-Plymouth is also on the list of terminated dealers - one of about a dozen in the Philadelphia area. My wife went to Frankford High School with 'ol mumbly Bob. His dad used to own a Nash dealership in the area. (permalink)
Best Sum-Up comes from Charles G. Hill: "In semi-socialist America, Dodge gets the hell out of you."
Rumor: Friday, May 29th is supposedly the day General Motors will file for bankruptcy. "With a June 1 government-imposed deadline for a new viability plan looming, General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson said, as he has before, that bankruptcy is more probable than it was." Many industry and finance experts are now proclaiming that the General's bankruptcy is "inevitable." AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo has called GM's bankruptcy "a certainty."
GM's top executives, led by former GM vice chairman and product chief Bob Lutz, have dumped their shares "as the automaker heads toward a bankruptcy or a restructuring that would all but wipe out existing shareholders," according to a Reuters report.
Here's an interesting statistic: GM has lost $88 billion since its turnaround efforts began in 2005 under former Chief Executive Rick Wagoner. This week, General Motors stock fell to as low as $1.00, a price not seen since 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, GM bondholders are reportedly stockpiling Vaseline.
Just In Case ... you needed more reasons why the whole Chrysler-Fiat marriage won't work, venerable auto industry expert Jerry Flint provides several additional ones. He begins by pointing out Chrysler's many failed relationships: Simca, Rootes, Mitsubishi, Lamborghini, Daimler, Beijing Jeep. Excerpt: "The idea of taking Fiat platforms and engine designs and production techniques and melding them into Detroit-designed cars is a recipe for unbelievable trouble. I would love to be a fly on the wall when Chrysler engineers and Italian engineers debate each other's abilities."
And: "Americans have never particularly liked Fiats and there's no evidence we'll change our minds. The new little Fiat 500 (actually built in Poland, where the labor is cheaper) is cute cute cute, but it is really too small to become a big seller here."
I've added my own reasons here. Fiats have a reputation in Europe for marginal quality. That's why Fiat is losing market share to Japanese and Korean offerings in Europe. S&P rates Fiat as 'junk' - a financial rating apparently in line with the cars it produces.
Ever-Steepening Slippery Slope: Washington state's Democratic governor Christine Gregoire has approved a tax break for the state's troubled newspaper industry. The new law gives newspaper printers and publishers a 40% cut in the state's main business tax. Since most troubled Washington papers enthusiastically endorsed Democratic candidates, this shouldn't come as a surprise.
Soon the government will own both the auto companies and the newspapers. It will be just like the old USSR. Hope you enjoy driving a Moskovitch and reading Pravda. And riding the Amtrak Red Arrow from Moscow to St. Petersburg. (permalink)
Stayin' Home: Clark County's lodging facilities reported an 8.23% drop in occupancy in February. Occupancy rates in the county's 2,500 hotel rooms slipped to 43%, down from 47% a year ago. Nationally, the occupancy rate is currently 54%.
When she's done "saving" the newspaper industry, maybe Christine Gregoire will bail out all the hotels in Washington, too.
"The industry took a huge hit after bailed-out insurance company AIG became the center of public outrage over the lavish business junkets taken by its top executives last year. That caused companies all over the nation to rethink travel plans. More than $1 billion in planned conferences have been canceled this year, according to the U.S. Travel Association."
Small Details: In model train news, my MTH Pennsylvania Railroad 2-8-0 Consolidation steam locomotive didn't have much 'cab appeal'. So I bought and installed an engineer and fireman and seats from Arttista Figurines.
I also detailed the locomotive cab's inside gauges and levers in brass and silver and put a "fire" in the firebox - using a mix of gold, red and yellow paints.
Don't Blame Me, Argentina: At the recent 'Summit of the Americas' in Trinidad, which might better be called 'Blame The U.S. For Everything' summit (you know - the one where President Obama did his shameful reach-out to the despicable Hugo Chavez), Costa Rican president and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias took a different tack: "When the Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain, other countries joined that train, including Germany, France, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But the industrial revolution passed over Latin America like a comet and we didn't even notice. We certainly lost an opportunity."
He continues, "Fifty years ago, Mexico was richer than Portugal. In 1950, a country like Brazil had a per-capita income that was higher than that of South Korea. Sixty years ago, Honduras had a bigger per-capita income than Singapore." Arias blamed lack of schooling, disorganized tax infrastructure and misdirected government spending.
Noting that the 21st Century is likely to be the Asian-rather than Latin American-century and that China has lifted 500 million people out of poverty since it opened its economy three decades ago, Arias concluded: "While we continue debating about ideologies, and about which 'isms' are the best, whether capitalism, socialism, communism, liberalism, neoliberalism, etc., Asians have found an 'ism' that is much more realistic for the XXI Century: pragmatism."
You Can't Make This Stuff Up: 'Texting Trolley Driver Is Transgendered Male'. "The Boston-area transit authority trolley driver who allegedly slammed into another train while text-messaging his girlfriend Friday was hired as a minority because of his transgendered "female-to-male" status and had three speeding tickets on his driving record in recent years." 46 people were injured in the crash.
Unqualified affirmative action hire = all you need to know.
Restaurant Review - The RingSide East; Portland, OR: Pick up any airline magazine and you'll find several ads listing 'Top 10 Steak Houses in America' or the like. The RingSide in Portland will often be listed in one of them. Opened in 1944, the westside downtown RingSide is small, dark and crowded - plus it's tough to find a parking space. I haven't been there in 25 years.
I've been to the eastside location dozens of times. In the 1980s, it probably was the best steakhouse in Portland. Since then, the competition has proliferated - and gotten better - while the RingSide has gotten careless. Our recent Saturday night dinner was our last one - ever ... (more >>>)
Quote Of The Day is from P.J. O'Rourke: "The mystery of government is not how Washington works but how to make it stop."
Wednesday May 13, 2009
Happy Birthday: This blog is now five years old.
A lot has happened in the past half-decade. We've replaced two aging cars with two new ones and have documented the decisions and buying processes for our 2005 and 2008 purchases.
We've done substantial home improvement work over the past five years - a major project every summer. (But we're taking this year off.)
I've survived a heart attack and subsequent heart problems and am still standing. And walking. I do get a little depressed over the number of funerals attended and sympathy cards sent recently.
Too many good friends, car buddies and classmates have died over the past five years, as well as cousins younger than me. I have reached the age where mortality tables are becoming more than an statistical abstraction. (Cue up Grandpa Simpson: "I see Death all around me." Points to lampshade: "There's Death!" Points to cat: "Death!")
Sadly, it will only get worse as time goes on. But I cherish the friendships I've made during my lifetime so far, including ones with those who are no longer here.
A lot of famous folks have died over the past five years, including Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Paul Newman and Philly radio icons Hy Lit and Joe Niagara. (The last two may seem like odd choices for a 'famous' list' but I probably spent more hours listening to Niagara and Hyski O'Rooney McVoutie O'Zoot than all of the other notables combined.)
There have been a lot of business changes over the past half-decade as well. When I started The View Through The Windshield, I still had an active management consulting practice. The blog was hosted as a non-related appendage to my business website. I have since retired and the site now consists of the blog and its archives, photos of my model train layout and my 1939 Plymouth.
Over the last five years, a lot of companies have gone belly-up. In March of 2006, I reported that three of my fellow geezer car buddies and I were convinced that General Motors would eventually go bankrupt. That event looks increasingly imminent but who knew that Chrysler would go first?! (In '06, Chrysler was still owned by Mercedes and was assumed to be in good shape.) But then, I never thought that Jaguar would end up being owned by some firm in India. And that Pontiac would not only cease building Excitement but also vehicles of any kind.
Rohm & Haas Co., where I worked for 12 years before going off on my own, has ceased to exist - merged into the Dow Chemical colossus.
Many newspapers and magazines are on life support. The Columbian, a Vancouver newspaper which carried my business column for several years, filed for Chapter 11 in '09. The Philadelphia Inquirer is bankrupt, too. Motor Trend, a magazine I began reading fifty-five years ago (although I no longer bother to do so), declared bankruptcy last month. AutoWeek is now AutoEveryOtherWeek ... if you're lucky. A subscriber friend reports that he hasn't seen an issue in months.
Five years ago, the term 'Zombie Bank' didn't exist. In 2009, another bank (or two ... or more) fails every week. Or ... if it's big enough ... or politically-connected enough, it is embalmed and propped up by the gummint and sent out to walk amongst the living as a zombie, sucking the life out of businesses with revolving loan non-renewals and individuals with drastically-reduced cardholder credit limits.
The banking crisis really hit home in January, when our Bank of Clark County was closed by the FDIC.
Model train makers have also suffered in recent years. Märklin went bankrupt this year; Lionel did so in 2004 but has since emerged. K-Line Trains also failed but was bought by Lionel. Numerous hobby retailers have closed their doors over the past five years as interest in model railroading has waned. The customer base has grown older and are now buying less.
Every week, it seems, another new restaurant pops up on my radar. But many venerable ones, which were associated with pleasant memories from my past, are gone. When we lived in Corvallis, we had many fine meals - personal and business - at The Gables; it closed last year. Bacchus, once the best dining spot in Vancouver WA, is gone as is Waddle's, the legendary Portland drive-in near the ancient I-5 bridge. As well as Olga's Diner of Marlton NJ. And Bookbinder's in Philadelphia.
Then there's politics. Boy, has that changed over the past 5 years. When I started this blog, I had never heard of Sarah Palin. I don't think I had heard of Barack Obama either. Who knew?
When this blog began in 2004, I had no intentions of making it a commercial venture; there have never been outside ads on my site nor have I accepted money for a posted opinion. This blog is strictly a one-man voluntary operation; I don't have co-writers or a comments section. This blog's my journal, not a collaborative or a community forum. That's how it's going to stay, too.
I write for me. The View Through The Windshield consists of things that interest me, including the occasional news article which I find humorous or ironic.
My memory isn't as good as it used to be, so - instead of cutting out old newspaper clippings and stuffing scribbled notes and statistics into my wallet ... or having ceilingscraper stacks of newspapers filling the house with the obligatory narrow canyons for traveling from room to room - I post things on my blog.
If I want to find - for example - something I wrote about Lionel Trains but can't remember, I can just type 'site:www.joesherlock.com Lionel Trains' into Google and I'll get back 32 different postings.
It's always a pleasure when readers compliment me about something I wrote. Traffic to the main blog page is up 13% over last year, although I don't do any promotional work and religiously avoid all those 'Ten Ways To Drive Traffic To Your Site' articles.
More people are visiting Philadelphia Memories pages, too - fellow nostalgia buffs, who remember when it really was The City of Brotherly Love. My model train pages remain popular, especially during the last quarter of the year when visitors are thinking about building a Christmas layout of their own and are looking for tips and ideas.
A concession to readers is that I sometimes post newspaper comics and editorial cartoons on the blog. Because I don't have reprint rights, I remove them after a week or so. So ... if you want to see 'em, you better stop by frequently. Everything else can be found in the Archives or Greatest Hits sections.
During the last five years, a lot of new blogs have debuted with much noise, fanfare, acerbic wit, outrage and fireworks. I have enjoyed them but am disappointed when they sputter and die. You can't sustain anything - a blog, a business, a show, a relationship - on hype and ambition alone. You must make a commitment and then work at it, putting one foot in front of the other on a regular basis. A lot of people don't understand that. Running is impressive but plodding along is better than standing still ... or being defunct.
There are still many wonderful blogs out there. So many that I struggle to keep up just with the ones I've bookmarked on my browser.
Each month, I post 12-15,000 words. Over the last 12 months, I've replaced almost every photo on my model-train section and I've added quite a few new categories on my Greatest Hits page - one or two every month. But I have no plans to expand my online presence. No Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, podcasts or video clips. I want to enjoy my life rather than chain myself to a computing device day and night. (I'm already spending too much time on my computer.)
When this blog was born, the stock market was climbing; the Dow had just crested the 10,000 mark and the S&P was over 1,100. If anyone had asked for my prediction back then, I would have confidently stated that the Dow would have exceeded 16,000 by May '09 (pound forehead with fist while mumbling "stupid idiot, stupid" in a Chris Farleyesque manner).
So ... I'll make no predictions about the Dow of 2014. Or about me.
Thanks for stopping by. (permalink)
Monday May 11, 2009
Succinct Words ... describing the insanity of propping up the Chrysler corpse come from poster 'paris-dakar' at TTAC: "In a rational world, the market would adjust by culling out the least efficient capacity - which is the UAW-represented plants at GM and Chrysler. Subsidizing the least efficient capacity making the least attractive product in an hugely overcapacitized industry is madness." Well said.
Fear Of Flying: 24/7 Wall Street has delivered this opinion: "Many people who fly on airplanes do not like it one bit. Some of these are claustrophobic while others object to the fact that they are not allowed to smoke at 37,000 feet anymore. But, the majority of nervous flyers have anxiety based on their belief that nothing that weighs any number of tons should be able to operate off of the ground at all. To their way of thinking, flying is a physical impossibility which they tolerate because driving from New York to Los Angeles takes five or six days."
The article continues: "The tens of millions of people who do not want to ride on airplanes are getting their way. The recession has hit the airline industry with a rapidly growing attrition of customers. As a reaction, carriers are taking planes out of service as quickly as possible and letting go as many pilots, stewardesses, and mechanics as they can. People who do not want to fly can join those who do in not being able to afford it."
I disagree. People are sick of flying because of security hassles, long waits at the airport, poor onboard service and the general indifference of airlines to the traveling public. I've posted additional thoughts here.
Over The Rainbow: The amazing Amy Walker does a haunting a capella version of Garland's signature song, beginning as a 1939 fresh, young Judy Garland and gradually morphing into the haggard, drug-addled Judy 30 years later - all in four minutes.
Least Surprising Headline Of The Year: 'David Ogden Stiers Reveals He's Gay.' "In the twilight of his career, M*A*S*H actor David Ogden Stiers is finally coming out, saying he's no longer afraid to be gay." Now 66, Stiers joined the cast in 1977 as the arrogant but charming and erudite aristocrat Charles Emerson Winchester III.
Saw him once at the Eugene airport in the early 1980s; it was interesting to observe his interaction with people. He was very happy to chat with several fans but when one of them asked for an autograph, he frowned and declined. He also looked older in person than on the television screen. Dressed well, though. (hat tip - Ric @ Pugs of War)
Multitasking: Ohio Police said a man suspected of stealing from a clothing store "stopped to fill out a job application before leaving the scene."
An examination of the store's inventory revealed about $400 worth of clothing was missing. Police used his job application to track him to his address, where he was found ironing one of the pairs of jeans he is accused of stealing.
Quote Of The Day is from Carl Sandburg: "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on."
Friday May 8, 2009
Must Kill Zombies: General Motors posted a $6 billion net loss in the first quarter, waaaay up from its quarterly loss of $3.3 billion a year ago. While GM burned through $10.2 billion in cash during Q1, it still has $11.6 billion in cash reserves on hand - thanks in a large part to the $13.4 billion in loans that this zombie car company had accepted from the U.S. government (i.e. - you and me) so far.
This morning, a grinning GM spokesman drove down Woodward Avenue in a Hummer, waving a fan of C-notes out the window at passersby while yelling, "Thanks, suckers!"
Speaking of money stuff, a certain alleged zombie bank, which - according to a Bloomberg report - needs a taxpayer-funded cash injection of $34 billion, just froze my credit card because I purchased $206 worth of goods from a model train mail-order shop in Delaware. The undead fiscal entity (UDFE) declared this "a suspicious transaction," even though the establishment in question has been in business at least ten years, I have purchased from them before and the items were not particularly collectable or fenceable. I buy stuff by mail order all the time.
The train store owner was very sympathetic as the very same bank recently pulled the same stunt on him. Apparently, UDFE has been trying to get rid of all "transactors", customers who pay off their balances on-time each month. And we're not alone. More credit card stories - especially in the comments section - can be found here.
No apology was offered by the bank, just "it's for your protection." Baloney. It's for the protection of the idiot managers who don't know how to run this failing financial institution's credit card division. (permalink)
World's Largest Cinnabon Store? Erected in the early 1990s, the Chrysler headquarters building was designed so it could be "repurposed" into a shopping mall without too much modification if Chrysler (speaking of zombies) should go out of business.
Maybe some unsold Chrysler T&C minivans could be converted to kiosks to sell tasteless cell phone covers, crap costume jewelry, smoothies, tacky throw rugs, prole hats, sweat shirts with dumb messages, cheesy stuffed animals, trite trinkets and other detritus sold in mall carts these days. (permalink)
Another Icon Gone: Goodbye to Philadelphia's Old Original Bookbinder's, the legendary 116 year-old Society Hill restaurant.
Word is that the latest generation of owners ran the joint into the ground.
Beginning as a lowly oyster bar, Bookbinder's moved to Second and Walnut Streets in 1898 to be closer to the Delaware River docks. And began its ascent to eventually emerge as one of Philly's best-known dining establishments.
Whenever out of town business travelers came to Philly, they requested .... (more >>>)
A Scary Future ... is predicted by Spengler (aka - David P. Goldman), writing in Asia Times. He has noted that "in China, 60 million children are learning Western classical music under the gimlet gaze of strict teachers. East Asian singers, particularly Koreans, are working their way up the ranks of provincial opera companies ... Who do you think is going to run the world 20 years from now? ... A century ago, middle-class Western girls learned piano to make them more marriageable. Chinese children learn piano because their canny parents know that it will make them more likely to succeed academically, and make considerable sacrifices to pay for lessons."
Meanwhile, American children model themselves after Lindsay Lohan, Amy Winehouse, Kanye West, Chris Brown and other celebrity scum. On weekends, in parts of Britain and America, "besotted boys and girls in extreme states of dishabille riot through whole quarters of ruined industrial towns. A good deal of Britain's working class is unemployable at any price, too lazy to move to London to take the jobs waiting tables or driving buses that bring Spaniards or Frenchmen to the British capital."
Spengler continued, "A generation of Americans learned the wrong jobs: selling real estate, processing mortgages, and selling cheap imports from China at shopping malls. The cleverest among them got business degrees and learned to trade derivatives. Their services will no longer be required. On paper, it is obvious what America needs to do. Its economy went into free fall because everyone cut back spending at the same time in response to the crash of asset prices. The aging Baby Boomers need to save for their retirement, or retire later, now that their home equity has vanished along with the contents of their 401(k) plans. The only way for everyone to save at the same time without crashing the economy is to export, just as China does."
"That Wall Street frat boys are in trouble is not a controversial statement. Top-of-the-market bubble behavior no longer is encouraged. Not long from now, they will be lucky to find employment getting coffee for a Chinese (or Indian) boss. The bubble accounted for so much of America's employment down the food chain, though, that many millions of American jobs may vanish. This is particularly painful for prospective pensioners who find themselves in need of employment, for just the sort of jobs that suit older people - part-time retail work, for example, or real estate - are the first to disappear. America might find itself with millions of indigent elderly."
Spengler concluded, "Whole parts of the industrial world never will come back. Nothing can resuscitate the north of Britain from industrial ruin, and portions of the United States appear likely to follow."
Recession Sing-A-Long: 'Worst Slide Story' is a hilarious financial parody based on the musical 'West Side Story.'
Tweet: I don't Twitter and, semi-libertarian guy that I am, will not in any way, interfere with your right to do so. Not that there's anything wrong with it.
Joel McHale says Twitter is a fad, calling it "the digital Macarena." He laments that Larry King and Barbara Walters are now Twittering and says that "they're so old that what they're doing should be called Tremor."
Quote Of The Day is from copywriter Michel Fortin: "Perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself."
Wednesday May 6, 2009
Car Sighting: Spotted a blue Ferrari 360 Modena coupe in the parking lot of The RingSide East restaurant in Portland last Saturday night.
Finding New Markets: I used to have my Jaguar XJ serviced at The Jag Shop in Portland. Owner Craig Nelson and his staff always took very good care of me. Over the past seven years, Jaguar's new car sales have fallen off a cliff, perhaps a white Dover one. Obviously, this has negatively affected the service business; there are fewer Jaguar-badged vehicles on the roads to fix.
So, The Jag Shop branched out. It has opened a second operation (at the same location) with a new identity and logo: Portland Mini Service. It makes sense - I see lots of new Minis on the road around here. I rarely see Jaguars anymore.
You've got to go where the business is. That's what Craig has done. May his business continue to survive and prosper.
There Goes The Neighborhood: The Portland Ferrari/Maserati dealer, Ron Tonkin Gran Turismo, has a new neighbor just across the street - Goodwill's used car operation.
Bucket List: Crain's has published the list of Chrysler's top 50 unsecured creditors. As expected, most are component suppliers.
The second largest creditor is ad agency BBDO North America, which is owed almost $55.1 million. Batten Barton Durstine & Osborn is one of the oldest agencies in the U.S. It was founded in 1928, although George Batten started his own New York ad firm in 1891. (He advocated the use of plain, simple type, which he said "stands out like a Quaker on Broadway.")
Batten picked up the Armstrong Cork Company account in 1917; the company is still a BBDO client. BBDO's annual billings increased from $1 million in 1919 to $20 million in 1939, when Osborn became executive vice-president and to $207 million in 1957. The firm now has 17,200 employees in 287 offices in 77 countries.
Comedian Fred Allen once quipped that Batten Barton Durstine & Osborn "sounded like a trunk falling down a flight of stairs."
Interesting Question: One of Don Luskin's readers is wondering "why nobody is asking the question is that if the UAW owns 55% of Chrysler and a similar percentage of GM in the future, isn't there a major conflict of interest for them to be representing the workers at Ford? The UAW could act to drive Ford out of business or call a strike simply to benefit its ownership interests in Chrysler and GM."
Shut Up And Sing: Tony Bennett says that every American should give Obama "all-out support for anything he wants to do."
The Government Is Not Your Friend: Randall O'Toole has written, "Social security is a giant Ponzi scheme that is also the most regressive tax on the books, not to mention the fact that it provided billions of dollars of surpluses for Congress to borrow with no hope of ever paying it back. Medicare is an even bigger Ponzi scheme, while the war on poverty created a semi-permanent underclass that has been all but forgotten by the liberals who claim to care most about them."
In a similar vein, P.J. O'Rourke has written: "It's going to be hard to do a worse job running America than the Republicans did, but the Democrats can do it if anyone can.
The Left is the party of government activism - the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, slimmer, taller, and take a dozen strokes off your golf game.
The Right is the party that says government doesn't work. And then they get elected and prove it.
The U.S. Government is going to take over the American car industry. I can predict the result - a light-weight, compact vehicle with a small carbon footprint using sustainable alternative energy. When I was a kid we called it a bike."
One More Funny Guy ... has left us. The loveable Brooklyn-born actor Dom DeLuise has died at the age of 75. The Golden Globe-nominated comic actor was perhaps best known as a regular in Mel Brook's films.
Dom was very funny in 'Blazing Saddles', 'Silent Movie', 'History Of The World: Part I' and 'Spaceballs' but was at his best in the hilarious 1980 flick, 'Fatso.' Rest in peace.
Property/Casualty Gossip: Last week, Flo from Progressive Insurance was seen in the bar at Dan Tana's in West Hollywood. She was swapping spit with the Geico gecko. Of course, everybody knows the gecko's a lounge lizard.
Quote Of The Day is from Rush Limbaugh: "If Obama isn't responsible for the Bay of Pigs, since he was only three months old when it happened that means the rest of us aren't responsible for slavery after all! Good news!"
Monday May 4, 2009
Don't Call It Cimarron: With the death of Pontiac and the disappearance of the Vibe - the Toyota Matrix clone made in the NUMMI plant, General Motors needs a new vehicle to produce at that California facility. Some have suggested making the Vibe a Chevrolet or Buick. I disagree.
Over the past several years, Cadillac has been moving down into the "entry-level luxury" field - a contemporary euphemism for 'mid-priced field', the popular 1950s term. (Think Buick Century, Mercury Montclair, Oldsmobile Super 88, etc.) So has Lincoln, for that matter. Both have given up on the idea of competing model-for-model against Lexus, Mercedes and BMW.
With Buick's U.S. future in doubt, it's time to take the next step and introduce a new entry-level luxury vehicle ... (more >>>)
Why Not Attach Playing Cards To The Wheels With Clothespins? According to the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, "New vehicles that employ hybrid or electric engine technology can be silent, rendering them extremely dangerous in situations where vehicles and pedestrians come into proximity with each other."
Sales Report: Not surprisingly, auto sales numbers were generally recession-ugly. Chrysler declined 48% and, as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, has shuttered its plants until further notice. GM was down 34%, Ford was off only 32% while Toyota dropped a surprising 42%. Ford (129,898 total units in April) has outsold Toyota (126,540 total units) in the United States for the first time in over a year. Nissan experienced a 38% drop in sales. Honda fell 25%, while Hyundai/Kia sales were only down 14%.
Sales of the Toyota Avalon declined 51% to 2,066 units. Only 765 Lexus LS models were sold, a drop of 62%. The Lexus Division reported April sales of 14,195 units, a decrease overall of 39%.
A very bright spot at Ford was the Fusion, selling 18,321 sedans - an increase of 22% versus a year ago. Sales of its close cousin, the Mercury Milan, were only 2,272 - a decline of 40%. Go figure. The Ford Taurus had sales of 3,097 units, a decrease of 41%. At Lincoln, sales of the flagship MKS were a dismal 1,178 units. Lincoln sold 5,973 units overall, a drop of 42%.
Sales at Cadillac totaled 8,337 - 42% lower than last April. CTS sales were 3,876 for the period; even the aging DTS managed to move 1,458 examples. Thirty years ago, Cadillac sold almost 32,000 vehicles per month.
Chrysler sold a mere 1,320 Sebrings in April - a decline of 75% over last year, with similar numbers for its Dodge Avenger stablemate. Chrysler's two sellers are the Ram pickup (17,903) and the Jeep Wrangler (9,336, up 7%) followed by the Caravan/Town & Country twins (6,687 + 7,443). Twenty-nine Dodge Vipers were sold in April. Chrysler is still a truck company, selling only 15,563 passenger cars and 61,119 trucks.
A Helping Hand, Not A 40-Year Crutch: A Washington Post story begins thusly: "Since the 1970s, General Motors has led the way in providing opportunities for minorities to own car dealerships. The automaker pioneered special training programs and put money behind candidates for new dealerships. Now, after almost four decades of slow but steady progress, minority dealers are increasingly worried that the latest wave of GM cuts could erode any gains."
Hey, if you start a small business, you should be moving beyond the "struggling stage" after five years. By the ten-year mark, your endeavor should be a profit machine and should be meeting or exceeding the RMA financial statement medians for your business classification. If your company isn't meeting those general benchmarks, either your business is a loser or you are. Or both.
Car dealerships are not only good profit centers but allow for diversification - other auto brand dealerships, other locations, a solid used car business, a vehicle rental business, a body & paint operation, etc., etc. Every successful, well-established (25-30 years in business) car dealer I know now also has an Asian brand store (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Hyundai or Kia). Or two.
Any person, minority or not, who didn't get rich in the car dealer biz after 40 years should be too ashamed to admit it. (permalink)
Feeling The Pinch: The Columbian, the local Vancouver, WA newspaper, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday. The Columbian owes approximately $17 million to the Bank of America and to a host of unsecured creditors, including Mason Nolan, a former Columbian executive, $179,263; North Pacific Paper Corp. (Norpac, a Joint Venture of Weyerhaeuser and Nippon Paper) of Longview, WA, $95,000; GE Capital Solutions, Torrance, Calif., $84,331, Page Cooperative, a newspaper purchasing co-op, $30,000 and Inland Empire Paper Co., Spokane, $27,893.
Publisher Scott Campbell woke up one morning and apparently thought he was the next Pinch Sulzberger and that Vancouver was the next Manhattan. He proceeded to construct a glossy new 118,000 square-foot office tower downtown.
The Columbian moved its operation to the new building in January 2008. And suddenly realized that what was missing was Pinch's money. Oops. Shortly thereafter, the Columbian moved its staff back to its old, less flashy building in a seedier part of Vancouver.
'Pinch' Campbell said of the bankruptcy ... (more >>>)
Good Question: Burt Prelutsky has asked, "When someone like George Soros, who collaborated with the Nazis, compared George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler, am I the only one who wondered if he meant it as a compliment?"
Patriot At Rest: Jack Kemp, the former Bills quarterback, Buffalo-area congressman, one-time vice presidential nominee, compassionate conservative, champion for the power of lower taxes to stimulate the economy, true patriot and damn fine football player has died at age 73 after a lengthy battle with cancer
Requiescat In Pace.
Thanks For Nothing: For the first time in more than three decades, Social Security recipients will get no increase in their benefits next year. Beneficiaries have received automatic cost-of-living adjustments every year since 1975. The increase this year was 5.8 percent. "The forecasts, by the Obama administration and the Congressional Budget Office, indicate that Social Security beneficiaries will not receive any cost-of-living increase in 2010 or in 2011."
Pissed off? Well, you can thank Obama and the Democratic Congress for this. Do you see zero inflation? I don't. Health care, drugs, food, gasoline and more are all headed upward. Sure, you can buy a foreclosed, trashed McMansion fixer-upper at a lower price than last year. Know any seniors doing that? Me neither.
Write your representatives and ask them why they're shorting law-abiding seniors, while paying S.S. to drug addicts, aging deadbeat welfare queens and illegal aliens. And using our money to prop up zombie banks, embalmed insurance companies, brain-dead automakers and other corporate corpses.
As If You Didn't Have Enough To Worry About: The Social Security surplus is gone and its now bankrupt.
Bruce Krasting has written, "The magnitude of the problem is enormous. The Trustees estimate that the present value of the unfunded portion is $13.6 trillion. It is virtually certain that unless the imbalances are addressed in the near future the U.S. Legacy Costs will destroy our economy.
The US is currently spending trillions of borrowed money to shore up a weakened economy. All of that money will be wasted. At best it will result in a resumption of economic growth for a few more years. By the end of President Obama's first term the Social Security problem will already be a drag on the economy. By 2016 the damage will be impossible to reverse."
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Hypothermic Stripper Nearly Dies Inside Ice-Cream Cake.'
Friday May 1, 2009
Hello Fiat; Goodbye America: It is time to be very afraid. Capitalism has been twisted into a Gordian knot. The outlook for success is not good and there may be a Draconian twist at the end.
Yesterday, Chrysler Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, checking the appropriate boxes for 'over $1 billion' in Estimated Liabilities and 'over 100,000' Estimated Number of Creditors. The filing is one thing; the hype is something else entirely ... (more >>>)
Fight Club: Yesterday's 'AutoLine After Hours' video podcast was a contentious, riveting train wreck. Joining AAH's host and Autoblog contributor John McElroy were Autoextremist Peter DeLorenzo, former Chrysler PR man Jason Vines and The Truth About Cars founder and editor, Robert Farago.
Early in the one-hour program, DeLorenzo said to Farago, "You have ripped off my work for years." WTF?! I've been visiting both sites for ages and DeLorenzo's accusation was absolutely baseless. Both men are passionate about cars but disagree on a many things.
Ten years ago, DeLorenzo had the only automotive Angry Man Act, ripping on the auto companies for their failings and stupidity. I enjoyed and admired his rants back in the day. A few years ago, he started consulting directly with the Detroit automakers; the rants noticeably softened (except for Toyota, who - I guess - wouldn't hire him) and he often came across as a nostalgia-filled cheerleader for Old Detroit and its old ways.
DeLorenzo posts only once per week and takes weeks off from time to time.
The Truth About Cars is a multi-person effort, led by Robert Farago. Posts seem to be 24/7. Articles are thoughtful, well-written and different in tone and attitude from DeLorenzo's offerings. Farago started the GM Deathwatch, Ford Deathwatch, Chrysler Suicide Watch and, most recently Chrysler Zombie Watch series; he has probably predicted Detroit's demise earlier and with more accuracy (and frequency) than any other auto writer.
Appearing in the podcast's den of lions against three Detroit insiders/apologists, Farago was a lone dissenting voice, calling out Detroit automakers' many failings and lost opportunities. He was argumentative and sometimes irritating - understandably so, given the hostility he encountered - but defended his positions with facts and passion.
By contrast, Peter's behavior on the show was unprofessional. He seemed dazed, dismissive and slouchy, reminding me of drug-addled Elvis in his Final Days.
Please Don't Tramp On Our Constitution: Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash. & Osama Bin Laden apologist) told a gathering of pro-abortion activists that the Health and Human Services regulations put in place by the Bush administration to protect medical professionals who work in institutions that receive federal funding and morally oppose certain practices, such as abortion, is ''short-sighted'' and should be rescinded by President Obama.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (which she swore an oath to uphold) says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Neither Patty nor the rest of the pro-abortion contingent of her party have the right to force medical people to participate in abortion procedures if it violates their religious sensibilities.
The New Sensibility seems to be: stomp on Catholics and tip-toe around Muslims.
Quote Of The Day is from P.J. O'Rourke: "Bringing the government in to run Wall Street is like saying, "Dad burned dinner, let's get the dog to cook." Now the government's going to take over the auto industry. I can predict the result: a light-weight, compact, sustainable vehicle using alternative energy. When I was a kid we called it a 'Schwinn'."