Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat?

From the “Minutes Behind When Seconds Count” Dept., Consumer Advocate, perennial worry-wort, and 2004 independent presidential campaign spoiler Ralph Nader is suing the Democratic Party for allegedly conspiring to keep him from taking votes away from nominee John Kerry.

Would somebody please tell Ralph Nader to just go away? I’m still torqued at him for killing the Chevrolet Corvair

Mr. Nader's lawsuit also names as co-defendants Sen. Kerry's campaign, the Service Employees International Union, and several so-called 527-Organizations such as America Coming Together, which were created to promote voter turnout on behalf of the Democratic ticket. What possible, tangible good can come from this--other than add fuel to the pyre already ablaze against frivolous lawsuits.

I think he’s just sore because there weren’t any 527’s organized on his behalf. Now Ralphie, in order for people to like you—and vote for you—you have to be likeable.

The lawsuit alleges that the Democratic National Committee conspired to force Nader off the ballot in several states.

"The Democratic Party is going after anyone who presents a credible challenge to their monopoly over their perceived voters," whined Nader, and "this lawsuit was filed to help advance a free and open electoral process for all candidates and voters. Candidate rights and voter rights nourish each other for more voices, choices, and a more open and competitive democracy."

Yes, in the land of the free and home of the brave, there is freedom of speech, and neccessarily, longsuffering of those who wish to excercise that right. Sometimes, however, the people just don’t care for a certain set of positions…
Hey, Ralph, face it, no one but you wanted you on the ticket.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brewskie Bulls

If you are a Beer Connoisseur, you could be in for a surprise this year… brewers from Australia to the United States are having to decide between tweaking existing recipes or experimenting less with new brews because of a worldwide shortage of a key ingredient - Hops - plus higher prices for other elements in their formulas.

And just like other essential fluids in life, like oil and gasoline, Beer prices are likely to climb. Educated guesses are at a minimum of at least a 10 percent jump in beer prices for the average consumer before the end of the year…

The International Herald Tribune noted in an article this week that beer sales “have been relatively flat in recent years among major brewers - including Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors and Miller, a SABMiller unit - while small, independent brewers in the United States have experienced tremendous growth.

"The craft brewing industry experienced a 12% increase by volume in 2006, with 6.7 million barrels of beer. Sales among microbreweries, which produce less than 15,000 barrels per year, grew 16% last year."

Do you remember the conversation we had last week with Hillary Cramer (“Ahead of the Curve”)? Her whole premise is figuring out the six-degrees of making bacon, or in this case, making beer (no pun intended): There are plenty of connections there.

According to the Herald Tribune, “everyone in the brewing industry is facing cost hikes in every step of production: Fuel, aluminum and glass prices have been going up quickly over a period of several years. Barley and wheat prices have skyrocketed as more farmers plant corn to meet increasing demand for ethanol, while others plant feed crops to replace fields lost to corn.”

For the past ten years, there’s been a glut of hops. That resulted in farmers refraining for producing more until the supply was diminished.

A quarter of the world's hops are grown in the US, where acreage shrunk by 30% between 1995 and 2006. Add to that dynamic the usual weather variables, like Australia's worst drought on record, and hail storms decimating crops across Europe, plus the extreme heat in the Western United States affecting both yields and quality. Not a pretty picture.

The result: a certain degree of "frothiness" in the prices for brewskies.
So far, price increases have been pretty modest - less than a dollar a 12-pack at retail, but analysts have identified the trend, and it’s towards $10 six-packs.

There could be a positive by-product of higher gasoline and beer prices: Fewer incidents of drinking and driving fatalities. That remains to be seen.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sub-prime Intelligence, revisted

Last week I shared with you the story of a company that basically rents the good credit history of individuals to people with less-than-perfect pay histories for the purposes of getting preferred interest rates on loans with artificially inflated FICO scores.

The owner of the company, Ted Stearns, CEO of TradeLines, called me the next day, wishing to explain what his company does.

We didn’t get to chat, but someone with TradeLines posted a rebuttal to my blog. Because the comments contained blatantly commercial material, I chose to not clear the posting.

Hey, this is my Blog, I am King, and I choose what appears.

However, I feel a responsibility to you, dear Reader, to give as fair and balanced a perspective as possible. So, I am sharing with you most of the comments from Tradelines below. And, because this is my Blog, I am taking the liberty of inserting comments where I deem necessary.

"Some people still don’t get it. Trade lines are not a way to LIE about your credit to get yourself to a place you don’t deserve. Brent Clanton at his blog not only has a serious problem with bettering someone’s credit through “credit piggybacking,” he also seriously misunderstands WHO is getting them and WHY.

"From his comfortable arm chair he expresses, “By allowing a person with flawed pay history to sign-on to an established account that shows no payment flaws does not remove the fact they’ve been poor credit risks in the past. It is basically lying to the lender considering the creditworthiness of the applicant.” What he doesn’t understand is that our business is not about peddling “credit worthiness” to the undeserving."

I must pause here to note that credit worthiness is not something that is deserved, but is earned through time and practical experience. I speak from such experience, both as a credit manager and buyer of commercial paper, but also having gone through rough financial times personally--and surviving, without bankruptcy or borrowing someone else's pay history. And yes, it is a comfortable armchair--burgundy leather Lazyboy. Paid cash for it.

"Most people who come to us to boost their credit scores are those who had excellent credit a year or two ago. They had excellent credit before they were talked into an Option ARM loan that has since adjusted through the roof. They can no longer make their payments and their credit has slid. By raising their credit 100 or 200 points in 30 days, they can refinance at a fixed low-interest rate and keep their homes."

...or they can go to the lender directly, and work out a custom arrangement that fits their unique situation. And it won't cost them hundreds of dollars to "buy" someone else's credit rating.

"That is who comes to us “ honest, hard-working Americans who have been raped by the greed of crooked lenders. Never in the history of our Nation have people been taken so advantage of. It’s reminiscent of The Carpetbaggers who ran to the South to take advantage of a broken people after the Civil War. This is greed at its peak and we are witnessing it again."

I will not argue that greed is the root problem in most financial fiascoes. Unlike the Carpetbaggers of the 1860's, however, the public today is a bit more discerning, and there is ample disclosure available on all mortgage loans. The comparison is ridiculous.

"Aside from those who had excellent credit, there are those who have had shaky credit and were also given poor loans that did nothing more than worsen their situation. Higher interest rates, pre-payment penalties and extra loan fees were given to those with shaky credit not to mention those who were discriminated against for ethnic, not financial reasons."

No one held a gun to anyone's head at the closing table. If there was any advantage taken at anytime in the process, it was willing borrowers being led down a primrose path paved by the optimistic futures painted by the sellers of easy credit. Again, there is more than enough disclosure to reveal the consequences of an ill-timed adjustable loan closed when rates were at historic lows.
C'mon, what did you expect those rates to do?

"Brent continues, “By allowing a person with flawed pay history to sign-on to an established account that shows no payment flaws does not remove the fact they’ve been poor credit risks in the past. It is basically lying to the lender considering the creditworthiness of the applicant. This is unconscionable. It may be legal, but it’s morally reprehensible. Guess some people just don’t get it.”

I stand by that statement.

"If that were the business we were in, yes it would be deplorable. But that is not who we are. We have a strict screening process and scrutinize every applicant’s credit history. People who have missed mortgage payments when they should not have, are not accepted. We are not providing a “get out of jail free” card to those who have never been financially responsible. We are helping those who have been taken advantage of to keep their homes and their dignity.

"We are about the American dream. We are about financially healthy families. We are about giving people hope in desperate times."

At this point, the posting turned into a commercial, and the comments were truncated by moi.

If you care to follow-up with this story, Ted Stearns is scheduled to be my guest in the morning (Tuesday 10/30) at 7:35a CDT.
Should prove interesting.
I'll see you in the morning on the Radio.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Behind the Scenes: Friday's

Friday’s are always special here at The BizRadio Network Broadcasting Complex & Deli. You never know what’s going to happen, who’s going to show up, or what unique technical challenges may arise.

Today was cookie day.

A few weeks ago, Justin the Sith was trotting around one of those fund raising slips for his kid’s school. This year, the popular item seems to be cookie dough, and about everyone in Radio Ops signed up for a carton.

So this morning, when I came into the studios, instead of hearing the BizRadio Network Orchestra rehearsing, I heard the sound of spoons scooping and lips smacking as they dug into the raw cookie dough.

Now, admit it, you’ve done the same thing.
When my bride whips up her mother’s famously-addictive chocolate chip cookie recipe, she has to quarantine me from the kitchen, or there’s no dough left into which to pour the chocolate chips.

Blue Bell Ice Cream makes an insidious flavor called “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough,” that I suspect could be outlawed in some societies. So I knew we were in for a rough ride this morning.

Sure enough, not thirty minutes into the show, the Orchestra was out of control, trippin’ on a raw cookie dough inspired sugar high.
That was only the start.

Patrick, our Master Control Engineer, thought it would be a great idea to try cooking up a batch in the mini-toaster oven in the BizRadio Network Broadcasting Complex & Deli commissary.

They weren’t half-bad, and the aroma was even more of a distraction than the sugared-up musicians thrashing about in the next studio.

The problem was, the mini-oven could only handle about a half-dozen cookies at a time.
As fast as Patrick could crank them out, the horn section would lap them up. I think Jimmy Kersey, our news producer, might have had a hand in that, too.

This Cheshire-like grin ain’t the result of snacking on cat food.

We got through the morning, but I fear there is more to come in this saga. Sure enough, Patrick and some of the BizRadio Network Chorus members began comparing notes and recipes, and the next thing you know, the Alto Section and Patrick were planning an art-carved fruit-and-vegetable buffet for lunch today.

Might need some more cookies to wash it all down.

Have a great weekend.
See you Monday on the Radio.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sub-prime Intelligence

There are some things you just couldn’t make up if you tried.

Countrywide Financial
, Merril Lynch, CitiGroup, and a host of lesser lenders are going through death throes following the subprime meltdown. Never mind that the percentage of skanky loans is miniscule in the grand scheme of things. Once credibility, trust, and standards of judgment have been tainted, the whole lot is spoiled.

Granted, with thousands of loans scheduled to reset in coming months, forcing cash-strapped families to choose between groceries and making a mortgage payment, everyone is scrambling to devise alternative solutions.

You’d think we’d learned our lessons about taking short cuts, addressing causes instead of symptoms, etc. Apparently not.

“Individuals with adjustable mortgages whose payments have escalated beyond their means and whose credit scores are too low to refinance are now finding a creative way to keep from losing their homes to foreclosure. Commonly referred to as credit piggybacking, the method has been used since credit cards were created and has been in practice on a large scale for the past year.”

That’s the opening paragraph of a press release from publicists for TradeLine Solutions, which promises to improve individuals’ credit scores by 200-points within a month.

Short cut?
Smoke and mirrors?

TradeLine “maintains a portfolio of trade lines, or credit accounts that have perfect payment histories,” describes the release. “By adding the individual as an authorized user to one of the good-standing credit accounts, that individual’s credit score automatically increases by several points.”

Wow. Next thing you know, they'll be turning lead into gold.

The publicity piece rationalizes the practice as being equivalent to a parent adding a child as a user to one of their accounts. What TradeLines does is multiply the effect over several credit accounts for one individual. The resulting effect builds up “credit worthiness,” raising a FICO score from, say, 500 to 700. This then enables a formerly-shaky client to qualify for better loan terms, like a lower interest rate, thus theoretically staving-off foreclosure.

TradeLines boasts the practice is “perfectly legal and can make a difference in a person getting a loan at a dramatically lower rate.”

This does in 30-days what generally requires a year to accomplish. That’s because the only real remedy for repairing a bruised credit history is the passage of time…time in which subsequent payments are made without a miss.
That's the kind of thing you just can't fake.

The press release goes on, blah-blah-blah, yadda-yadda-yadda, insisting the whole scheme is perfectly legal.
It’s also stunningly stupid.

Credit Piggybacking is the equivalent of telling a cancer patient (I am a survivor) that if they switch X-rays with a person who is cancer-free, they qualify for life insurance. The reality is the cancer is still killing the patient, and as such, they’re still a lousy risk for life insurance.

By allowing a person with flawed pay history to sign-on to an established account that shows no payment flaws does not remove the fact they’ve been poor credit risks in the past. It is basically lying to the lender considering the creditworthiness of the applicant.

This is unconscionable.
It may be legal, but it’s morally reprehensible.
Guess some people just don’t get it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lemons into Lending Aid

The house of cards that has been the credit collapse is giving way to a number of “work-outs,” causing some to wonder whether anyone has learned the lesson (uh, people who live in glass houses should be able to afford Windex?)

Both government and private consortiums are collaborating to provide concessions on everything from interest rates to tax credits. You're not along if you're wondering what such shenanigans are going to cost the rest of us.

The answer depends upon whom you ask.

The notion that tax dollars might be tapped to bailout soured mortgages is not farfetched.

Money that might be appropriated for a pet pork project or the next FEMA giveaway would be absent if diverted instead to keeping a family in a home they probably should not have purchased, had more stringent (translation: prudent) lending guidelines been followed.

I speak from experience, screening loan applications, working up mortgage packages, and at the other end of the spectrum, assessing REO’s for lenders left holding the bag when a home owner decided to get out of Dodge, and out of the house.

People walk away from their houses when they reach the point of no return: too far behind on payments too high to keep up when life intervenes. Divorce, job loss, death in the family…or the perception that there’s no reason to stay in the house when there’s no skin in the game. In other words, a purchase that’s sealed with a no-money- down deal is mighty thin veneer when personal economics start to get rough.

Personally, I have a problem with the Federales riding in to rescue lenders that threw caution to the wind, and cranked out skanky loan after loan, and are now singing the “I got the repo inventory blues” on Wall Street.

However, there is a pragmatic aspect of this scenario that cannot be ignored: eventually, we’re all going to foot the bill for this one way or the other, so perhaps the path of least resistance (or minimal pain) is to do what it takes to resolve the consequences sooner than later.

Countrywide Financial has already thought this through. They’re not waiting for the Government’s version of fiscal largesse to cushion their fall, pledging to “modify” $16-billion worth of “questionable” loans in its portfolio. While that figure represents about 82,000 mortgages, in comparison to the loans originated by Countrywide, the slice is only 7% of their production in the first six months of this year.

Countrywide stock fell 4% in response to the announcement.
A knee jerk reaction by some could spell opportunity for others.
Go figure—if Countrywide is recognizing and addressing the problem now, it’s probably going to be among the first lenders to emerge at the other end of the pipe with its business intact.
Hey, I’m not recommending stocks here, but I do know when something’s on sale.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C. the spinmeisters are doing what they do best—trying to control the spin. There’s legislation afoot to alter the Bankruptcy Code to allow a reduction in a mortgage to the actual value of the home if you file Chapter 13 (remember, the Banking Lobby were staunch disciples of the harsher terms in the recent Bankruptcy reform.)

Guess they figured that pill was too bitter to swallow, now that it’s come back to haunt them.
Solution: relax the rules…a practice that got some lenders into trouble in the first place.

That’s one of many plans afoot.
Countrywide is wisely not waiting around.
In a world where wanting a job done right means doing it yourself, Countrywide is setting a refreshing example.
They really had no choice.

Burning Thoughts

As I view the images beamed to us from Southern California, I cannot help but have flashbacks from two Summers, ago as people in my hometown were fleeing from a natural disaster.

In 2005 it was the wind, rain, and high tides accompanying Hurricane Rita. This morning, a lot of Californians are praying for rain, instead of the wind-driven fires that are scorching the earth in their neighborhoods.

Traffic in Los Angeles is arguably the worst in the country. Trying to flee smoke and flames with the glow of the fires in your rearview mirror is a haunting thought.

Yesterday, during a live report, CNN Radio correspondent Jim Roop actually interrupted his network feed to put out a fire on his pants.

Somehow, when the rest of the world is arguing over currency strengths, inflation, earnings, and the price of gasoline, there’s nothing like a runaway fire bearing down on your house to put what really matters in life into perspective.

(Satellite imagery taken Monday afternoon)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Moody Monday?

It was the 20th anniversary of Black Monday on Friday, and there was a lot of angst in the air.

That’s a nice way of saying those among you who were superstitious about the occasion allowed the emotional importance of the date overwhelm you.

Marketwatch ran a story this morning blaming the 300+ point drop on Friday to disappointing results from companies like Caterpillar, Honeywell and 3-M.


The real reason behind Friday’s 2.5% in value on the Dow was a simple situation of fewer buyers than sellers. Caterpillar may build giant, earth-moving machines, but their quarterly performance is hardly sufficient to move markets instead of mountains.

The mood was already there.
The Sellers just weren't.

So the 20th observation of Black Monday masqueraded as Bleak Friday, but hardly a repeat performance of the event two-decades ago. Yes, ladies and gents, the Dow lost more than 2.5% on 366-points. But let’s compare and contrast, as my college exam questions used to say.

Please notice the 1987 drop represented a loss of 22% on over 500-points.

I want you to keep that in mind this morning as you hear the doom-and-gloomer’s wring their hands and postulate whether this past Friday’s 2.5% drop is a precursor to another Black Monday today…

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The QT on DST

In churches across the land this morning, many announcements from the pulpit included false information: The onset of Daylight Saving Time next Sunday.
Not this year.

Thanks for passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, DST has been extended by four weeks this year, ending on the first Sunday in November. The whole scheme is based upon the theory we’ll save an extra 10,000-barrels of oil a day through reduced use of power by businesses operating during daylight hours.

I think that’s probably just a bunch of hot air from Washington (which if captured, would probably contain sufficient BTU’s to light the Capitol Rotunda at night for a year. I could be wrong about that, though.)

I, for one, can’t wait for the return to Standard Time. I’m going to recapture that hour of lost sleep that was so abruptly jerked from beneath my pillow, lo these 6-1/2 months ago.
I’ve never fully recovered.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Health Tips

In Portland, Maine, the school system is passing out contraceptives to Junior High students. The school board wants to do the responsible thing.

Are 11-12-13 year old punks really prepared for this? (Apparently, a half-dozen of these children are sexually active already...)

Talk about the tail wagging the dog. Maybe there's too much tail-wagging going on between classes. In the NAVY they call it "trim."

Here's a notion--instead of passing out condoms or birth control pill sets for free (and with those tools, the tacit green light to party hearty), how about passing out free tutoring for math, science and English? You know, educational stuff that would really benefit a student, maybe even keep him or her too busy to think about recreational procreation.

I acted responsibly earlier this week and took a flu shot. For the past two years, I've led a fairly sheltered life, staying home as I recovered from cancer surgery and the complications that ensued. Didn't have a lot of exposure to the flu.

Thank goodness my recovery has progressed, and I get out and about a litte more these days. So Monday night, I thought it would be prudent to get a flu shot.

By Tuesday afternoon, I was feeling flu-ish as my body began to react to the fake flu, and produced antibodies to fight it. By Wednesday, I was in full-blown yuk-stage, with the aches and emissions that generally accompany the flu. Wasn't sick, mind you. Just felt crummy.

So, a word to the wise: If you're going to get a flu shot, maybe plan to get it on a Thursday or Friday, so you have the weekend to lie around like a slug and get over it. I could crawl under this table right now and catch 40-winks without much encouragement.

I am going to be off the air tomorrow, attending a special workshop to increase my brain power. Be back on Monday, bending spoons with my mind. See you on the Radio!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Toyota Tsunami

My Toyota Tundra earned its stripes through today's Houston monsoon.

It’s not really my truck; the fine folks at Gulf States Toyota were kind enough to loan me a new one for a week’s worth of driving pleasure. During a this evening's typical,
Houston autumn toad-choker, I was mighty glad to be riding high and dry in an ‘07 Crew Max cab, instead of my beloved two-seater.
No way could I have made it home in "The Silver Bullet" tonight.

The National Weather Service said we received over four-inches of rain this afternoon. I think it all fell on my neighborhood.

The Tundra Crew Max boasts a 10-inch ground clearance. Pair that up with 20-inch wheels, and you’ve got a vehicle that’s nearly unstoppable in this kind of inclement weather. As I passed lesser-endowed vehicles flooded-out by the torrents of water running over the street curbs, I was struck with the notion Toyota could produce a special-edition wet-weather truck and call it the Tsunami. Not very politically-correct, given recent news events, but the effect was similar as I motored through the water.

I recently toured the San Antonio manufacturing facility, where Tundra’s are birthed at a rate of one every 72-seconds. The plant is a small city. Toyota did it right.

Frames made in Mexico are carted through the back door, along with raw steel, engines and transmissions assembled elsewhere in the States, and the finished trucks roll out the front gate with a gleaming smile on their grilles.

Seats, headliners, dashboards, instrumentation, and other parts that go into the Tundra are produced in ancillary factories on the Toyota plant grounds, then ferried to the main assembly facility on trams.

Inside the factory, there’s a quiet hum of activity. The smell of freshly-applied paint tickles the nostrils in one corner; along pristine tracks of conveyors, the sub-assemblies of frames and drive trains are married to completed cabs and beds, and the final dressing of a set of new wheels and tires is applied just before the trucks roll off the line.

Ever wonder how the dashboard is placed inside? Through the passenger-side door opening, sans the door. If you ever think you want to replace the headliner, know that it is originally put into position through the windshield opening, before the glass is glued into place.

Inside Toyota’s brand new Visitor’s Center are several exhibits, including a 1966 Toyota Stout, a distant grand-father of the Tundra.

There are also two partially-completed Tundra chassis to better demonstrate some of the thoughtful designs that you might take for granted, covered by the body skin of the truck.

The exceptional 5.7-litre V-8 engine boasts standard oil intercoolers, and a unique under-the-valve-cover oil spray system that keeps the valve train lubricated and cooled.

I was impressed with the Tundra the first time I drove one. I was very impressed after touring the Tundra plant.

But today, I was just plain glad to be driving a Tundra through the rain-soaked streets of Houston, high and dry.
Oh, what a feeling.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ignobel Choice

Former Vice President Al Gore and the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are the recipients of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to spread awareness of man-made climate change and lay the foundations for counteracting it.

The citation says Mr. Gore is “probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted."

I will grant you he’s created more awareness.
I’m not buying the part about creating greater worldwide understanding.

If anything, Gore has heightened the intensity of discussions on the theory of global warming, but has done so at the expense of truthfulness and complete transparency. There are still a large body of credible scientists who would vehemently dispute the statements trotted out in Gore’s crockumentary, “An Inconvenient Truth…” for which he was bestowed an academy award by the Hollywood elite.

Al Gore is the first American since Jimmy Carter to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which speaks volumes. Watch the political spinmeisters have a field day with this one: The Washington Post is already running bold-faced ink along the lines of "save the planet, win the presidency."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

For Chrysler Sake

The United Auto Workers’ strike against Chrysler ended before the paint on the posters could dry. More than 32-thousand Chrysler employees walked off the line at midday yesterday . Third shift workers were reporting back for duty last night.

One of the key components of the new agreement: moving $18-billion in future retiree health costs into a trust fund to be controlled by the Union.
Next target: Ford Auto Workers.

Here’s what I predict will be the end result.
The UAW is not going to want to manage all that money from the three major manufacturers. Sure they’d love to get their hands on it, but it’s all going to be in trust funds, so no cookie jars for union goons to grub through. Watch for one of the big Wall Street Money firms to either buy up the funds or leverage an arrangement to handle the money administration, for a fee, of course.

According to, "the union's workers at Chrysler make $28.75 an hour in straight wages, which works out to about $59,000 for a 52-week, 40-hour a week year. However, the total labor cost for Chrysler is far above figure when the cost of health care is calculated into the mix.

"Chrysler estimates it pays $75.86 an hour in total hourly labor costs. That's not only significantly more than the $46 an hour average at the U.S. plants of Asian automakers, but it's also higher than GM and Ford have been paying.

"GM's labor costs came to $73.26 an hour even before the latest cost-saving labor deal, while Ford was paying $70.51. The UAW granted GM and Ford cost savings on their retiree health care programs over the last two years, but it did not grant the same cost relief at Chrysler because until recently its parent company was still making money."

The domestic auto market is faced with a one-two punch that threatens to knock out the weakest, if not all of the manufacturers as we know them: The Unions will be the ruination of the domestic automobile market...committing the manufacturers to spending more per employee than the competitive market can bear.

It's interesting that as late as the middle of last year, Chrysler was still posting a profit, but GM and Ford's North American operations were losing money. The Union calculates labor costs at about $2,400 per vehicle, representing over 8% of the average price of a car.

The second punch is the unfair competitive advantage that Japanese auto makers have had as their government has in effect subsidized the manufacturers through currency and trade policies.

Here's the reality with which the US automakers and the Unions are going to have to reconcile: a bumper-to-bumper re-vamp of operations and how they use employees in building cars will be necessary for survival. The Union is placing domestic makers at a disadvantage when they insist on agreements that price American workers out of the global market place.

And while the Big Three and the UAW waller in denial, and fritter away the time in which meaningful changes could be made, companies that can build cars more inexpensively, like Toyota and Hyundai are gaining market share, honing their designs to fit American tastes, and paving the way for a stronger toe hold here.

No wonder my Producer, Buddy Cantu, is eyeing a Tata dealership.
The timing couldn't be better.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Punkin' Heads and Potentates

Common sense told most Americans the idea of giving away $5,000 savings bonds to every kid born in the country was a goofy notion.

Sen. Hillary Clinton showed rare virtue in pulling the plan off the table this week…and in its place, a wealth-redistribution gambit to entice more middle class Americans to save for retirement: $1,000 tax cuts in return for opening 401-K’s…the tax cuts to be paid for by the proceeds of Estate Taxes.
Must be an election year.

Speaking of which, Fred Thompson was on TV last night, and it wasn’t a re-run of “Law and Order.” The latest horse in the Republican race for the White House is being given pretty good marks in toe-to-toe discussions with Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney…but could catch heat for saying he’d "check with attorneys" before launching an attack on an Iranian nuclear facility.

In national polling, Thompson trails only Guiliani by 8-points, and is well ahead of the rest of the pack.

In Europe and the Middle East, terrorists’ target of choice is the public bus. At Fir Point Farms in Oregon, they drop 1,000-pound raw pumpkins on them.
Video footage is on YouTube showing the humongous gourd lifted 100-feet into the air by a crane and released to fall on an old airport bus.

Pretty pricey stunt, given the price of pumpkins this season…I hope terrorists don’t adapt this idea to their nefarious ways, and we’re left with electronic produce scanners at the grocery store. Nothing like exploding melons to take the edge off your day.

I am compiling a list of new words in the American English vernacular.
Your input is welcomed.

This word* emerged this morning while trying to pronounce the name of a foreign dignitary in a story we were covering. Can’t lie to you—I have to rehearse some of these names that have more syllables than I have teeth. Sometimes, I still get caught on them, and this morning, my tongue got in the way of my eye teeth, and could not work out the phonetic logjam.

Thus, we offer you Consonated*:” What happens when your tongue gets stuck in your mouth trying to pronounce Middle-Eastern names.

If you're reading this from outside the US, please don't take offense.
It works both ways.
I know English words we take for granted are linguistically-challenging for peoples not accustomed to our unique dipthongs, tripthongs, and some plosives.

In fact, it would be interesting to see your posts, distant brethren, of American phrases and words you find equally baffling.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Passing Gas (tax)

Who owns the sky? Literally—who can claim ownership of…air? The Democrats would like dibs on it, and want to charge your business to use it.

Democratic presidential wannabe Barack Obama wants to establish an economy-wide cap-and-trade program he believes would sharply cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

Now before you read-on, you must understand that the theory of global warming is not proven fact. I know, I know, Al Gore’s up for the Nobel Peace Prize, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum, amen.
Doesn’t mean the guy is correct.

And the troubling thing is this: if an entire economic system is based upon a popular, yet unproven theory, where does that leave us? It would leave us with a flawed system, and one in which it would become increasingly difficult to produce, compete, and prosper.

President George W. Bush, for all of his wrinkles and flaws, correctly recognized this fact when he declined to sign on to the Kyoto accords. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, "compliance with the Kyoto accord would...reduce U.S. GDP by 3 percent to 4.3 percent in 2010, a loss of $275.2 billion to $394.4 billion." Kyoto would cost you and me between $921 to $1,320 apiece. The benefits to the environment would be negligible.

The Obamarator’s cap-and-trade plan would be the centerpiece of scheme to cut emissions of gases allegedly tied to global warming, and weaning the United States off of dependence on oil. Here’s how it would work: companies that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases* receive or buy credits giving them the right to emit a certain amount.

*Do you know what the most abundant “greenhouse gas” is?
H2O vapor is said to be responsible for about 36-70% of the greenhouse effect on Earth. Carbon dioxide causes 9-26% of the phenomenon, followed by Methane, responsible for 4-9%, and Ozone, representing 3-7%.

The Obamahola’s plan, therefore, would imposed on 100% of us because of the supposed overabundance of a substance that’s only 25% of the problem at most.

Nevertheless, if your business emits less carbon than your credits allow, you can just sell the extras—at a profit—to someone who has exceeded their emissions allowance, and need more “credits” to legally produce more effluents. So this whole scam to reign-in alleged greenhouse gasses is really little more than the creation of an artificial market place that would restrict business and generate revenue for the government. At the end of the day, we're still pumping stuff into the air, so long as we can afford to do so.

The Obamajama’s plan would require all credits to be purchased at auction, instead of an allocation by industry classes. The Senator’s campaign droids explain that such an arrangement “would ensure that all polluters pay for every ton of emissions released.”

Hmmm…pollution licenses auctioned to the highest bidder:If you like the way the government manages the telecommunications spectrum, you’ll love how they handle the carbon credit pool.

As the Obamster explained in New Hampshire last week, “The market will set the price, but unlike the other cap-and-trade proposals that have been offered in this race, no business will be allowed to emit any greenhouses gases for free.

“Businesses don't own the sky, the public does,” he said, “and if we want them to stop polluting it, we have to put a price on all pollution."

Hmm…so if you establish a market for pollution credits, and the market determines the price…does that mean you could have pollution credit splits?
Would new factories be allowed to float carbon IPO’s (initial pollution-credit offerings)?
If a business decided to split its carbon credits as their value increased, would they then have the ability to pollute twice as much?

Based upon the US free market system performance, this carbon credit market would continue to grow and expand in "value," so literally, and figuratively, the sky's the limit.

Take this to the Nth-degree, and before you know it, you’ll be paying an emissions tax for checking the air in your tires (because of that little valve fart that occurs when you first place the pressure gauge over the valve stem), laundries and dry cleaners would be dinged because of the steam vapor they produce (remember H2O vapor is the most prolific of greenhouse gasses), and I suspect Tex-Mex eateries could charge you an additional emissions tax if you order the bean burrito special from the menu.

Could carbon credit card offers be filling our mailboxes in the near future?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Looking for Columbo and Cash

Today is the official observation of Columbus Day.

No mail delivery, but they’ll be picking up your trash. Some days it’s hard to tell the difference. Federal offices are closed; state and local governments are open; maybe we’ll get something done today.

Meanwhile in Barcelona, Spain, researchers are percolating the DNA from bones purported to be those of the intrepid explorer to determine his origins. The possibilities include Christoforo Columbo was the son of a wool weaver, or the bastard son of a Portuguese Prince; genealogists are also working on a third possibility that he was a Jew whose family converted to escape the Spanish Inquisition.

Fast forward 500-years, and the Genetic Inquisition is hoping to answer once and for all the who, what, when, where, why and how of Columbus lineage.

I spent a portion of my weekend bonding with my neighbor, AJ, and his new power washer, as we scrubbed the algae and grime from the sidewalk and curbs in front of our houses. Manly stuff with manly toys (grunt-grunt-grunt), you know?

Our neighborhood is one giant algae farm…which might not be a bad thing. There’s a company in El Paso that’s figured out how to harvest algae as an alternative fuel source.

This is important because the oil extracted from algae can be used in the production of biodiesel and ethanol instead of corn. To give you an idea of the comparative worth…an acre of corn yields about 29 gallons of vegetable oil. An acre of algae yields 100,000 gallons of veggie oil. I’m seeing green in more ways than one.

One of the headline news item this morning is Sen. Hillary Clinton’s plan to give $5k savings bonds to every new baby born in America. One of the rationales is to balance the income inequalities that presently exist in our country.

Gadzooks, she’s really showing her colors, now.
Pink does not become her...

You want to alleviate income inequality?
Allocate money where it can do the most good—in education. Billary's brazen, politically- motivated plan to pass out free money is an ill-conceived idea in an election cycle, calculated to appeal to the mathematically-challenged, and destined to continue the mentality of Entitlement that has rotted the core of our society: Gimme gimme gimme, 'cause if it's from the Government, it's free.
It’s not free money, folks—you and I will pay for it, believe me.
Hillary won’t.

Sure there are income inequalities—because there are some people smarter than others, who work harder and/or smarter than others, and who are more productive than others. There’s no luck involved: Success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Regardless of political stripe or bent, the best way to improve the next generations of Americans—regardless of color or origin—is to provide the best possible education.

You want to change someone's family tree?
Don't give them money--give them the education to make and manage their money.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Game Day

How did you spend your Sunday afternoon?

At The Clanton Hacienda, the elders devote much time to the observation of the backs of our eyelids. Yes, the Sunday Afternoon Nap is an established, yea, revered, age-old tradition.

Don’t you be telemarketing or making a door-to-door stop around here after about 2pm or so. The digestive process is in full swing, and whatever sound is emanating from the TV is lulling us all into a post-lunch stupor.

I also utilize Sunday afternoons to get ready for Monday mornings, which come earlier for me than for most of you. Reading the Sunday paper is a right that has become ritual. Parade Magazine over Sunday morning cereal; a quick glance at the front page headlines while my Bride puts the finishing touches on her warpaint before church.
My son devours both sports sections, especially on Game Day.

Adam* is a parabolic mic grip for the Houston Texans Radio Network, the flagship for which is KILT AM/FM in Houston, a CBS station combo. He basically gets paid to go watch an NFL team play hard, and sees the games from the sidelines. I don’t know what 50-yard line seats at Reliant Stadium might set you back, but the vantage point Adam has is literally priceless.

During today’s game between the Texans and the Dolphins, I loyally multi-tasked, listening to the game on the Radio while running errands and getting ready for another week of work. During the 3rd quarter, as Miami was leading Houston by more than a touchdown, he sent me a text message with this photograph of his vantage point on the field of the stadium.

Little show off.
He’s done this before—text-messaged images from a Billy Joel concert, or some away-game for which he’s worked.
I always respond with an encouraging word ("hey, great sideline sounds today!"), and a companion photo to let him know his old man is keeping busy, too.

As the Texans tied the game at 16-apiece, I texted** him this photo from the Cookie and Beverage aisle of our neighborhood supermarket, and asked, “Need anything? Field goal, safety, etc.?”

Houston eventually won the game, 22-19.

* Watch Adam Clanton during the "Friday Night Football Frenzy" segment of the late news, Sunday nights on KPRC-TV, Channel 2/Houston.

** Since when did this noun (text) become a verb? Have you noticed how technology has not only altered how we work, play and communicate, but also morphed the very parts of our language, twisting nouns into verbs and adjectives.
Perhaps we'll tackle that on another rainy Sunday afternoon...