Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Election Year Math

The Wall Street Journal Tuesday ran an interesting chart of the economic conditions in the United States to be inherited by a Democrat President.

Tacit was the implication that Sen. Barack Obama will be the next U.S. President. The Journal may be proven correct in that notion, but it’s certainly not balanced reporting to assume such before the votes are counted.

The chart also implies that each of the past three Democratic Presidents to take over the White House all inherited a similar set of economic and domestic issues. The Journal cites three prime concerns for each in-coming administration; Lyndon Johnson had to deal with an un-popular foreign war, domestic race relations, and health care, for example. Interestingly, the next President will be facing the tri-conundrum of an unpopular foreign war and health care, plus a level of economic lethargy.

Tacitly implied, then, is the fact that neither Republican or Democrat has been able to solve the health care puzzle, get a grip on the principles that make for a sound economy, nor solve the festering problems of the rest of the world. I don’t think the next guy will, either, regardless of who wins the election.

The biggest problem is a Government that refuses to use simple math to balance the debits and credits in the national budget (and include all expenses, like the Iraq War, in the balance sheet), and continues to outspend more than it takes in. That seems to be a common character flaw in both parties. But it all gets back to simple math.
The Federal Deficit as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product when Lyndon Johnson came to office in 1963 was .9%, and inflation-adjusted growth was running north of 5%.

Today’s economic barometer shows the deficit running just under 3% from nearly 5% (if you believe the government’s numbers), and growth limping along at 1.5%: Hardly the environment in which tax increases being promised by the Obamalites would make financial sense.

Perhaps our elected officials should all be required to take Accounting 101 before returning to Washington, or at least be able to balance a checkbook before taking office.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Making Points with Your Clientele

From Inside Radio (8/21/08): "Posting becomes reality in Houston.

"Radio One's Houston stations will present advertisers with detailed weekly reports to monitor performance of their commercials within the next few months. The company has been developing its own "Accountability One" software since April and has created a system that will merge Arbitron's PPM data with Marketron data."

Here’s the dirty little secret about these ratings services: They’re all guess work.
Granted, PPM is a little more precise than the old-style diary-return method…but at the end of the day, it’s still just guess work.

Arbitron calls people up and asks them to monitor their Radio listening habits. If they say yes (meaning, they don’t have anything better to do), Arbitron sends them a little black box that they must wear on their belt: The PPM, or Portable People Meter. The PPM “listens” to the stations the respondent tunes to in the car, at work, at home, etc. At the end of the survey interval, the participant must put his PPM in a cradle, from which it transmits the collected data.
Arbitron may have up to 1,700 people wearing their PPM’s, tracking their radio listening habits, and using that information to extrapolate audience numbers for the entire universe of people who listen to the Radio in Houston. Think about that for a minute: 1,700 persons representing the listening habits of over 4-million people.

Against that wispy premise, Radio One is now going to attempt to monitor the performance of their ad campaigns.

What if you had a more precise way of measuring not only who responds to your marketing messages, but also did not charge you until a customer transaction occurred?

Impossible, you say?
Not so.

This is a shameless plug for a program I am now repping in Houston for KPRC-TV’s web marketing initiative, Click 2 Houston Rewards. Starting next month, viewers may register their existing major-brand bank card, which when used at any participating merchant, will result in the accumulation of Rewards Points. The Rewards Points may be redeemed for prizes or gift cards on the Click 2 Houston Rewards site.

On the merchant side, however, the precision is amazing: You will know who your customers are, where they live, how often they visit your store…and you can incentivize their visits by the level of Rewards Points you offer for shopping your place. A point costs you only 2-cents. If you reward 4-points for each dollar spent, you’re essentially investing $1,000 to generate $12,500 in sales. The beauty of this plan is, you’re not charged until the sale takes place.

I like that math a whole lot better than smoke-and-mirrors guess work of these rating services. Wanna know more?
Contact me here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stupid Pandering Stunts Exposed

I would like to thank my paper route delivery person for double-wrapping my newspaper this morning.

I know it must have been a mistake…but it was so nice to have a dry newspaper instead of the loaf of pulp that usually greets me on rainy mornings like today...

Our Stupid Pandering Stunt of the Week award goes to Home Depot and Ikea for their new hybrid-only parking spots, placed close to the front door of their stores…right alongside the obligatory handicapped and common expectant mother parking spots.

If I spent $30-thousand for a hybrid---you know, a brand-new car—no way am I going to park it next to a pregnant lady’s car. Do you know wide they’ve got to open their doors to egress the automobile? Can you say "door-dings" down the side of your new hybrid?

Ditto the notion of parking in the space adjacent to a handicapped driver’s car. Hmmm…nice groove left behind by an errant hand grip ring or arm rest.
No thanks.

And besides, there are benefits from parking your brand new hybrid hooptie at the edge of a crowded lot…like exercise from hiking up to the front door of the store, so you don't feel guilty grabbing a half-gallon of the newest Blue Bell flavor...


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Poll Thoughts...

I heard that Senators John McCain and Barak Obama will be pulling all negative campaign ads on our around September 11, out of respect for the date.

Can they just leave them off for the rest of the election season?

How about a campaign that talks about what the candidates stand for, not what the other guy is getting wrong?
Just a thought…

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Exxon: Waiting to Exxhale

I hope Nancy Pelosi was watching ABC news and Charlie Gibson’s interview this week of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who has been on the hot seat because of Exxon’s “record profits” last quarter--$11.7-billion. Tillerson defended well the company’s performance against critics’ depiction of the company earning $1,400 a second in profits.

While that calculation may be true, Tillerson pointed out that if you’re going to slice the numbers that way, then you must also include the comparison with the $4,000/sec Exxon pays in taxes, and $15,000/sec Exxon has in expenses. According to Tillerson, Exxon runs through $1-billion a day to operate the company.

Here’s an interesting take on Energy Independence: Tillerson says that concept is "not realistic for the United States or almost any other country." He’s right: "Our country's economy is so interdependent with the rest of the world in so many areas of, not just commodities, but capital markets [,too.]"

So why would we view energy any differently than the way we view the rest of our economy?

Just as financial diversity provides a secure foundation, Energy diversity provides security for the country. Having as many diverse supplies of energy as possible should be the goal of any Energy Policy, so that any disruption in one area does not leave the country hostage to any one area.

Remember Barak Obama calling for the "end of the age of oil in our time," claiming that the United States could produce enough renewable energy to replace all U.S. imports of oil within 10 years?
Tillerson says "it's going to be very challenging to achieve that goal, in that period of time. So much of the energy issue that the United States deals with and the world deals with, people I think do not have an appreciation for the lead times that are required," he says.

Instead of the "drill now, drill here” mentality, the focus should be on both efficiency and drilling. According to Tillerson, "we can't drill our way out of this problem, just like we can't conserve our way out of this problem, just like we can't alternative-fuels our way out of this problem…"

Tillerson correctly says there is no one solution to this; there must be "an integrative set of solutions. And you have to undertake them all. So when the whole debate focuses around we have to choose this one solution or that, people are missing the point."

Our Energy policy is going to be bigger than any one candidate, and, Tillerson believes, "for people or policymakers to pick one as being the winner is really shortsighted." He said, "policy must instead be a comprehensive, long-term approach. "

And that does get to the root question of whether we doing everything here at home that we could be doing. We're living through the personal hell resulting from this country not fully developing our own natural resources. Blame Congress, blame environmentalists...or just blame ourselves for not having the backbone or resolve to make tough choices.

It's no accident that energy prices have modulated downward in tandem with election cycles, creating a false sense of security among voters. Those days are behind us, and instead of focusing on independence, Tillerson believes Americans "should be developing, again, all the supply sources and all the options that we can develop" in a way that's efficient and is going to provide energy at an affordable price.
That's a concept even Paris Hilton could grasp.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

A colleague recently asked me to explain what's going on in Georgia, and what interest the Russians have in Atlanta. (sigh)

George Friedman at Stratfor, who has been a frequent guest on my Radio show, just published this intelligent, even-handed summation of the events of the past few days. Geopolitical history junkies, take note: There will be a test.

The Russian invasion of Georgia has not changed the balance of power in Eurasia. It simply announced that the balance of power had already shifted. The United States has been absorbed in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as potential conflict with Iran and a destabilizing situation in Pakistan. It has no strategic ground forces in reserve and is in no position to intervene on the Russian periphery.

This, as we have argued, has opened a window of opportunity for the Russians to reassert their influence in the former Soviet sphere. Moscow did not have to concern itself with the potential response of the United States or Europe; hence, the invasion did not shift the balance of power. The balance of power had already shifted, and it was up to the Russians when to make this public.
They did that Aug. 8.
Let’s begin simply by reviewing the last few days.

On the night of Thursday, Aug. 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia drove across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, which is close to the border. Georgian forces got bogged down while trying to take the city. In spite of heavy fighting, they never fully secured the city, nor the rest of South Ossetia.

On the morning of Aug. 8, Russian forces entered South Ossetia, using armored and motorized infantry forces along with air power. South Ossetia was informally aligned with Russia, and Russia acted to prevent the region’s absorption by Georgia. Given the speed with which the Russians responded — within hours of the Georgian attack — the Russians were expecting the Georgian attack and were themselves at their jumping-off points. The counterattack was carefully planned and competently executed, and over the next 48 hours, the Russians succeeded in defeating the main Georgian force and forcing a retreat. By Sunday, Aug. 10, the Russians had consolidated their position in South Ossetia.

On Monday, the Russians extended their offensive into Georgia proper, attacking on two axes. One was south from South Ossetia to the Georgian city of Gori. The other drive was from Abkhazia, another secessionist region of Georgia aligned with the Russians. This drive was designed to cut the road between the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and its ports. By this point, the Russians had bombed the military airfields at Marneuli and Vaziani and appeared to have disabled radars at the international airport in Tbilisi. These moves brought Russian forces to within 40 miles of the Georgian capital, while making outside reinforcement and resupply of Georgian forces extremely difficult should anyone wish to undertake it.

The Mystery Behind the Georgian Invasion

In this simple chronicle, there is something quite mysterious: Why did the Georgians choose to invade South Ossetia on Thursday night? There had been a great deal of shelling by the South Ossetians of Georgian villages for the previous three nights, but while possibly more intense than usual, artillery exchanges were routine. The Georgians might not have fought well, but they committed fairly substantial forces that must have taken at the very least several days to deploy and supply. Georgia’s move was deliberate.

The United States is Georgia’s closest ally. It maintained about 130 military advisers in Georgia, along with civilian advisers, contractors involved in all aspects of the Georgian government and people doing business in Georgia. It is inconceivable that the Americans were unaware of Georgia’s mobilization and intentions. It is also inconceivable that the Americans were unaware that the Russians had deployed substantial forces on the South Ossetian frontier. U.S. technical intelligence, from satellite imagery and signals intelligence to unmanned aerial vehicles, could not miss the fact that thousands of Russian troops were moving to forward positions.

The Russians clearly knew the Georgians were ready to move. How could the United States not be aware of the Russians? Indeed, given the posture of Russian troops, how could intelligence analysts have missed the possibility that t he Russians had laid a trap, hoping for a Georgian invasion to justify its own counterattack?

It is very difficult to imagine that the Georgians launched their attack against U.S. wishes. The Georgians rely on the United States, and they were in no position to defy it. This leaves two possibilities.

The first is a massive breakdown in intelligence, in which the United States either was unaware of the existence of Russian forces, or knew of the Russian forces but — along with the Georgians — miscalculated Russia’s intentions. The United States, along with other countries, has viewed Russia through the prism of the 1990s, when the Russian military was in shambles and the Russian government was paralyzed. The United States has not seen Russia make a decisive military move beyond its borders since the Afghan war of the 1970s-1980s. The Russians had systematically avoided such moves for years. The United States had assumed that the Russians would not risk the consequences of an invasion.

If this was the case, then it points to the central reality of this situation: The Russians had changed dramatically, along with the balance of power in the region. They welcomed the opportunity to drive home the new reality, which was that they could invade Georgia and the United States and Europe could not respond. As for risk, they did not view the invasion as risky. Militarily, there was no counter.

Economically, Russia is an energy exporter doing quite well — indeed, the Europeans need Russian energy even more than the Russians need to sell it to them. Politically, as we shall see, the Americans needed the Russians more than the Russians needed the Americans. Moscow’s calculus was that this was the moment to strike. The Russians had been building up to it for months, as we have discussed, and they struck.

The Western Encirclement of Russia

To understand Russian thinking, we need to look at two events. The first is the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. From the U.S. and European point of view, the Orange Revolution represented a triumph of democracy and Western influence. From the Russian point of view, as Moscow made clear, the Orange Revolution was a CIA-funded intrusion into the internal affairs of Ukraine, designed to draw Ukraine into NATO and add to the encirclement of Russia. U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had promised the Russians that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet Union empire.

That promise had already been broken in 1998 by NATO’s expansion to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — and again in the 2004 expansion, which absorbed not only the rest of the former Soviet satellites in what is now Central Europe, but also the three Baltic states, which had been components of the Soviet Union.
The Russians had tolerated all that, but the discussion of including Ukraine in NATO represented a fundamental threat to Russia’s national security. It would have rendered Russia indefensible and threatened to destabilize the Russian Federation itself. When the United States went so far as to suggest that Georgia be included as well, bringing NATO deeper into the Caucasus, the Russian conclusion — publicly stated — was that the United States in particular intended to encircle and break Russia.

The second and lesser event was the decision by Europe and the United States to back Kosovo’s separation from Serbia. The Russians were friendly with Serbia, but the deeper issue for Russia was this: The principle of Europe since World War II was that, to prevent conflict, national borders would not be changed. If that principle were violated in Kosovo, other border shifts — including demands by various regions for independence from Russia — might follow. The Russians publicly and privately asked that Kosovo not be given formal independence, but instead continue its informal autonomy, which was the same thing in practical terms. Russia’s requests were ignored.

From the Ukrainian experience, the Russians became convinced that the United States was engaged in a plan of strategic encirclement and strangulation of Russia. From the Kosovo experience, they concluded that the United States and Europe were not prepared to consider Russian wishes even in fairly minor affairs. That was the breaking point. If Russian desires could not be accommodated even in a minor matter like this, then clearly Russia and the West were in conflict. For the Russians, as we said, the question was how to respond. Having declined to respond in Kosovo, the Russians decided to respond where they had all the cards: in South Ossetia.

Moscow had two motives, the lesser of which was as a tit-for-tat over Kosovo. If Kosovo could be declared independent under Western sponsorship, then South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway regions of Georgia, could be declared independent under Russian sponsorship. Any objections from the United States and Europe would simply confirm their hypocrisy. This was important for internal Russian political reasons, but the second motive was far more important.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once said that the fall of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical disaster. This didn’t mean that he wanted to retain the Soviet state; rather, it meant that the disintegration of the Soviet Union had created a situation in which Russian national security was threatened by Western interests.

As an example, consider that during the Cold War, St. Petersburg was about 1,200 miles away from a NATO country. Today it is about 60 miles away from Estonia, a NATO member. The disintegration of the Soviet Union had left Russia surrounded by a group of countries hostile to Russian interests in various degrees and heavily influenced by the United States, Europe and, in some cases, China.

Resurrecting the Russian Sphere

Putin did not want to re-establish the Soviet Union, but he did want to re-establish the Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union region. To accomplish that, he had to do two things. First, he had to re-establish the credibility of the Russian army as a fighting force, at least in the context of its region.

Second, he had to establish that Western guarantees, including NATO membership, meant nothing in the face of Russian power. He did not want to confront NATO directly, but he did want to confront and defeat a power that was closely aligned with the United States, had U.S. support, aid and advisers and was widely seen as being under American protection. Georgia was the perfect choice.

By invading Georgia as Russia did (competently if not brilliantly), Putin re-established the credibility of the Russian army. But far more importantly, by doing this Putin revealed an open secret: While the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value. This lesson is not for American consumption. It is something that, from the Russian point of view, the Ukrainians, the Balts and the Central Asians need to digest.

Indeed, it is a lesson Putin wants to transmit to Poland and the Czech Republic as well. The United States wants to place ballistic missile defense installations in those countries, and the Russians want them to understand that allowing this to happen increases their risk, not their security.

The Russians knew the United States would denounce their attack. This actually plays into Russian hands. The more vocal senior leaders are, the greater the contrast with their inaction, and the Russians wanted to drive home the idea that American guarantees are empty talk.

The Russians also know something else that is of vital importance: For the United States, the Middle East is far more important than the Caucasus, and Iran is particularly important. The United States wants the Russians to participate in sanctions against Iran. Even more importantly, they do not want the Russians to sell weapons to Iran, particularly the highly effective S-300 air defense system.

Georgia is a marginal issue to the United States; Iran is a central issue. The Russians are in a position to pose serious problems for the United States not only in Iran, but also with weapons sales to other countries, like Syria.

Therefore, the United States has a problem — it either must reorient its strategy away from the Middle East and toward the Caucasus, or it has to seriously limit its response to Georgia to avoid a Russian counter in Iran. Even if the United States had an appetite for another war in Georgia at this time, it would have to calculate the Russian response in Iran — and possibly in Afghanistan (even though Moscow’s interests there are currently aligned with those of Washington).

In other words, the Russians have backed the Americans into a corner. The Europeans, who for the most part lack expeditionary militaries and are dependent upon Russian energy exports, have even fewer options. If nothing else happens, the Russians will have demonstrated that they have resumed their role as a regional power.

Russia is not a global power by any means, but a significant regional power with lots of nuclear weapons and an economy that isn’t all too shabby at the moment. It has also compelled every state on the Russian periphery to re-evaluate its position relative to Moscow. As for Georgia, the Russians appear ready to demand the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Militarily, that is their option. That is all they wanted to demonstrate, and they have demonstrated it.

The war in Georgia, therefore, is Russia’s public return to great power status. This is not something that just happened — it has been unfolding ever since Putin took power, and with growing intensity in the past five years. Part of it has to do with the increase of Russian power, but a great deal of it has to do with the fact that the Middle Eastern wars have left the United States off-balance and short on resources.

As we have written, this conflict created a window of opportunity. The Russian goal is to use that window to assert a new reality throughout the region while the Americans are tied down elsewhere and dependent on the Russians. The war was far from a surprise; it has been building for months. But the geopolitical foundations of the war have been building since 1992.

Russia has been an empire for centuries.
The last 15 years or so were not the new reality, but simply an aberration that would be rectified.
And now it is being rectified.

Re-published by permission of George Friedman and Stratfor.

Parsing Pelosi

It could be a case of the blind leading the blind…or at least the weak guiding the willing. You decide where the label goes.

Nearly two weeks ago, Congress recessed for their traditional summer break without reaching any accord on an energy package for the country. Ordinarily, Congress’ inability to legislate is a good thing. But not when we’re spending more and more dollars on fuel instead of food and other necessities of life.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has refused to call Congress back into session, and last night appeared on Larry King Live to pimp her “best-selling” book.

Mr. Microphone asked Madam Speaker point-blank, " why don't you bring them back?” and the answer was typical Washingtonese: The Queen Speaker responded by deflecting the blame.

“Well, it's interesting to hear Senator McCain talk about bringing Congress back. He wasn't even in Congress this last session when we really had two very important bills on energy -- one to give tax credit for wind, solar and other renewable resources, and another about hybrid cars and the rest. So he wasn't in to vote when were in session and now he's saying call it back in," she dodged.

“And then one of the others said to the president, call Congress back in. And the president said no. The president said no. But the point is this, the point is this. The American people are suffering. We have to do what is best for them,” quoth the Speaker.

Yes, ma’am, but what about bringing ‘em back?
A question King didn’t press for an answer.
Instead, he asked Speaker Pelosi how she would propose to bring down gasoline prices, which was a scary revelation:

"The fastest way to do this is -- in 10 days the price can come down if you will free our oil. Over 700 million barrels of oil the president is sitting on of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” opined the Speaker. “Number one, free our oil.”

She’s wrong of course; the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is not supposed to be used as a tool against prices at the pump. It’s to prevent supply disruptions in the event of a catastrophe. Those 700-million barrels would have negligible effect on what you’re paying at the pump because it’s literally a drop in the bucket. 30-days later, we’d be right where we are now, only worse—with no emergency supply on hand, and the worst of Hurricane Season still in front of us.

Undaunted, and deaf to my rant, the Speaker spake on:
“Number two, they want to drill. If they want to drill, we have 68 million acres in the lower 48 that they can drill in that are permitted and all the rest,” she said.
Uh, Nancy—if there was oil there, they’d have drilled it and pumped it out.

“Three, stop the speculation,” said Pelosi.
I used to agree with the Speaker on this point.

I’m beginning to have a slightly different take: Until we get a grip on this problem, treat oil as a strategic commodity…But remember that even if the US restricts speculation in our domestic markets, the energy market is a global one, and we might actually hurt ourselves by such restrictions. We don’t like $116/bbl oil, but we sure like the tax revenues, and we’re going to appreciate the additional exploration and research such pricing enables.

Speaker Pelosi continued to count down her talking points for a Pelosi Plan for energy: “Four, renew -- invest in renewable energy resources, which will bring a faster return than drilling offshore, which will take 10 years and produce two cents reduction in 10 years off the price at the pump.”

Again, the Speaker misspeaks.

When the President lifted the executive ban against drilling last month, the price of oil dropped several dollars a barrel, not a couple of cents…and it happened overnight.

“And then use natural gas. Natural gas is so plentiful. It's better for the environment and it is cheaper,” she chirped.

Until it’s not so plentiful, and then what?
Remember here in Texas when all the utility companies switched to “cheap” natural gas for power generation? What has happened to your electricity bill—and your gas bill, too? It’s not so cheap, and when the supply becomes stressed, prices climb through the roof.
Not a good plan, Madam Speaker, because it’s short-sighted.

But she couldn’t hear me.
“So there are things that Congress can do,” Madame Speaker continued to Larry King, “and we have voted on this over and over again. But the Republicans and the president have resisted. Instead, they have this thing that says drill offshore in the protected areas. Well, we can do that. We can have a vote on that. But it has to be part of something that says we want to bring immediate relief to the public and not just a hoax on them.”

King then asked the Speaker, “would you vote yes on a package that includes drilling?”

First she responded that she would not.
Then she waffled and acknowledged, “it depends how that is proposed, if the safeguards are there. Now, mind you, 68 million acres -- 10 million more acres in Alaska where they can drill,” she feinted.

Then the political blinders went on, and she went into programmed talking point mode, brain disengaged from mouth:

“If we can get some great things, in terms of renewable energy resources; a renewable electricity standard; wind, solar, biofuels and the rest in that context, because if you make a decision only to go with the offshore drilling, you are increasing our dependence on fossil fuels and you will never free yourself of that addiction unless you invest in the renewable energy resources that are good for the environment, cheaper for the consumer and will reverse global warming.”

How quickly the Speaker slips into mumbo-jumbo land…or should we call it Jibber-Jabber?

She says she is against drilling, then qualifies her answer with caveats that have already been covered: safe drilling technology exists and is in use. The problem is that the Speaker is trying to make the solution more intricate than necessary. It’s the injection of politics that is slowing down the process: We’ll do this if you’ll do that. Let’s drill, but let’s not forget wind and solar and biofuels. And if we drill we’re still dependent upon fossil fuels, and don’t forget the global warming fairy tale.

She makes my hair hurt.

Speaker Pelosi—it’s real simple: Drill now to provide the immediate energy needs that we have , which will provide us with a margin of time in which to enact, enable, and engage the American public in the alternative energy choices that need to be made with wind, solar, and bio.

Pelosi likes to return to the notion that “the consumer is our first responsibility. The American taxpayer owns this oil offshore, by the way. Let me make this one final point. This oil is owned by the American taxpayers. The oil companies drill. We give them money to drill there. But we get very little in return."

Uh huh.
Except for those taxes you’ve clobbered the oil companies with, and want to increase…

“So I think as we have this debate, which is a very healthy one to have and I welcome it, we have to review and realign the relationship between our oil, big oil's profits and what it means to the consumer and the taxpayer.”

Right, so if the debate is so healthy to have, then why are you adamantly refusing to allow it to occur, Madam Speaker?
Pelosi never answered the core question.
But she did allude to an eventual vote on the issue.

She said, “when we have this vote, when we really define it and where the choice is clear to the American people -- I mean, do you know what -- Exxon Mobil, their last quarter, their profits were historic. Last year, they were historic. They outdid themselves this year already in this second quarter. And they insist that we pay them to drill. They need an incentive to drill in order to make over $11 billion in one quarter. And it just doesn't make sense. We should be using that money to invest in renewable resources, tax credit for wind and solar, etc. and invest in the technologies that will develop the battery and the rest, instead of giving big oil more profits.”

Nancy Pelosi is so THICK.

She jumps on the quarterly profits bandwagon, and is blind to the whole business equation with the oil companies. Yes, Exxon had record profits---but a less than stellar profit margin: The difference between what Exxon earned and what Exxon had to pay out to operate for the quarter. Why does the Speaker refuse to acknowledge this…or is it that she is just unable to comprehend it?
I believe it’s the latter.

She at one point in the interview said, “I will not subscribe to a hoax on the American people that if you drill offshore, you're going to bring down the price at the pump. Even the president says that's not true.”

Well, they’re both wrong, and don’t speak for the President, Madam Speaker.
The President lifted the Executive ban, and the price of oil futures immediately dropped. It’s not a hoax: you produce more oil, thus meeting demand, the price will fall.

Pelosi’s perspective is “Ten years, two cents -- we're saying 10 days, bring down the price, if the president would free our oil from the strategic petroleum -- from our stockpile -- owned by the taxpayers, purchased by the taxpayers."

It got worse…almost nauseating.

“In the next election,” said Pelosi, “I know that we will strengthen our majorities, increase their numbers and we will have a Democratic president in the White House and we will be able to address more fully really what I think is the challenge to our generation -- energy security and global warming.”

The Speaker is missing the mark.
The biggest challenge to all generations at this point in American history is security and economics. Energy security is a part of that equation…but economic security is equally as important.

Don’t expect the eggheads in Washington to get this, since they use smoke-and-mirror math to justify all their reindeer games, funding pork barrel projects while the rest of the country’s needs languish. It's a sad commentary on our national leadership when Paris Hilton has a better take on an energy concept. The presentation wasn't bad either; Paris wasn't reading from cue cards or notes.

By the way, that "best selling" book of Nancy's debuted at something like 1,750 on the book sellers' lists.
That's hot.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sharper Image Dullards

I have a confession to make, and will follow it with a rant, and finally a moral to the story. I bought an item on retail credit last year.

Actually opened an account with a retail chain store for the explicit purpose of buying something I did not need, which goes against ever fiber of my being.
But there was a motive...and I paid the balance in full immediately.

And because of the charge account, I received a handsome discount (15%) on the purchase.
Also, because of the account, I am still receiving e-mails from these honyaks, which continue to be a source of mirth and/or disgust.

Sharper Image was one of those places I could get lost in. I liked to buy gifts for people there, because it fit in with my gift-giving philosophy of bestowing upon others that which I would really like to receive.

Alas, Sharper Image fell on hard times, and in February went bankrupt, closing 90 of its 184 stores. I'm wondering if lending money at 0% and chopping 15% off the price of goods sold had anything to do with that.
My conscience is clear; I sleep well at night.

Last month, SI determined it could not affort to restock the remaining stores, and decided to completely liquidate everything.
Talk about a sale!

Anyway, Sharper Image is but a soft blur now.
Funny thing is, I am still getting e-mail notifications from outfits like the World Financial Network National Bank, which today issued "an important change in your online payment service."

I issued an important change on my account months ago with a sharper pair of scissors, the cutting edge of which was applied to the middle of the plastic card they sent me.
Like a knife through hot butter.
There's a sharper image for you...snip-snip.

So the WFNNB is now increasing my "payment choices," (presuming I have a balance. MMWAHAHAHAHAAA!):
For the poor saps still paying principal and interest on their SI purchases, starting next month, they may make a next day payment...or...for a $10 fee, make a payment TODAY!

You know the world is really screwed up when people are charging you to take your money today, instead of tomorrow. I mean, that's how far gone we have gotten in American society--a system of see it, want it, get it now, and pay for it later, maybe.

It's that kind of mentality--the 5th Avenue Brainwash of instant gratification--that didn't just bite consumers on the bottom, but it also has eaten away at some of the most eggregious retail purveyors of revolving credit lines.

In that unhappy fraternity also reside Wickes Furniture, Whitehall Jewelers, Bombay Co., and Levitz.
Buy it today, pay for it in three years, with no interest.
How long do you think that will last?

Here's what's happening.
The new bankruptcy laws, which were crammed down our throat by Congress, thanks to the Bank Lobby, were intended to keep bankrupt companies from remaining under court supervision for very long, and thereby stringing along their creditors.
The idea was to get the creditors paid more quickly.

But in the case of Sharper Image, the new laws left the company with very little time to reorganize, and actually forced their hand to liquidate.

These are the same cats that were charging customers usurious interest rates on revolving credit accounts. When the consumer was finally wrung dry, the parasitic retailers and their lending partners began to wither on the vine...or in the mall.
Pick your metaphor.

So we now have credit banks offering "choices" of payment plans--soon, or sooner--and they're charging customers for the priviledge of posting a payment today.

And the moral of the story is this--if you don't want to get stuck with stupid payment plans, or surprised by goofy charges, then don't open the stinking account in the first place.

What, you may be wondering, became of that impulse purchase I made from the late Sharper Image on-line shopping service? Watch for my e-Bay listing for a Pleo Robot Dinosaur---still in the crate, never opened--sometime around Christmas...when we'll test another theory about scarcity of supply and shrinking windows of opportunity as they affect prices!

Madam Speaker, Speak to Me

For a few weeks I’ve ranted and raved about Congress taking off for the Summer without achieving any meaningful legislation with regard to energy policy in this country.

While it is sometimes good that our elected representatives become so hopelessly gridlocked they can do no damage, there do exist some very real problems for which they were sent to Washington to solve. So to adjourn without doing so is a little like getting paid for doing nothing.

Tonight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes an appearance on The Larry King Show. I expect ol’ Lar’ is going to toss some softballs at Madame Speaker; I do not expect much in the way of ground-breaking news coverage.

Unless, of course, you get involved.
We’ve given out the numbers for Speaker Pelosi’s offices (and if you missed them, they are: Washington, D.C.: 202-225-4965;
San Francisco: 415-556-4862.)
But just in case you really want to stir the pot tonight, here’s the number to call the show: 800-676-2100.
I’d start calling now to get in the que…

Gainfully Employed

I’ve been a little busy, noticing it’s been a while since I posted here.
Funny thing, when you’re “between jobs,” your schedule becomes more crowded than when in the traditional “working” mode.
At least, that’s been the case for me.

That’s all changing today.
I am employed.

You will continue to hear me on the Radio as a real live host for UBuildIt and their cadre of experts in design, construction, finance and doing things the right way—the UBuildIt way (shameless plug).

But starting today I am joining a company that is uniquely positioned to provide a conduit of commerce between small to medium businesses (and maybe some big’n’s) and local television stations. It’s all about capturing more market share for both sides of the transactional equation. The company is GreenLinkNetworks, Inc., and the program might be best described as frequent flyer miles on steroids.

Local TV stations are expected to make more than $1.1 billion for online advertising this year, a 45% increase over last year, according to Borrell Associates. I will be part of the team in Houston building a network of merchants and service providers tapping into this revenue pipeline.

Some of you will be hearing from me very soon, because I am anxious to share this concept with you. If you can’t wait for me to call, drop me an e-mail or respond through this blog, and I will get it touch.

Now, I’ve got to get to work…

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

TS Edouard Blow by Blow Report

(Near the Eye of the Storm) Tropical Storm Edouard is assaulting Texas and Louisiana with wind, rain, and confusion. This was supposed to be a big deal.

The media descended upon Galveston Island to capture compelling images of nature’s fury, only to find nothing.

One intrepid reporter this morning, grasping for some morsel of danger with which to infuse her live-shot, harkened back to The Great Storm of 1900 for proper impact.

For those of you scanning the internet with first-person reports of the storm from a Houston perspective, there’s not a lotta nada here.
Think heavy rains—we call them Texas Dews—and some higher than normal winds.

On the upside, traffic was lighter than usual coming in this morning, and people with Jury Duty were excused. I’m just hoping the power stays on so my DVD viewing marathon won’t be interrupted.

From Storm Watch Central, hasta osmosis, amoeba.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Pelosi's Plight

Pop history holds that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi probably doesn’t play fiddle, but may find her effectiveness has burned while she and most of Congress are away from Washington on vacation this week (while the rest of us burn up our paychecks paying for elevated energy costs.)

A brave cadre of congressmen and congresswomen refused to leave on Friday when the official session was gaveled to a close without passing any legislation to address energy issues.
That’s leadership.

The last people out the door were Rep. Ted Poe and Rep. Kevin Brady, who pledged to continue the floor protest this week in an empty House chamber.

Never mind that the TV cameras and lights have been turned off.
Some messages transcend traditional media.

The conversations and discussions being held on the floor are ringing louder and farther than any televised feed could. Visitors to the Gallery were impressed to see the history-making in the making.

Rep. Brady joined us on the Radio show this morning, and suggested that we call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, demanding she return to Washington to conduct the business of the people, for the people.

Here’s her number: 202-224-3121.
Make the call while you're waiting for your tank to fill.