Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Surprise, Surprise

Remember how the TARP was established to help troubled banks, which were supposedly going to fail without the money? Fidelity Bank just cashed a $36 million dollar check from the Treasury. Check out this quote from the Wichita Eagle:

"Fidelity chief executive Clark Bastian and president John Laisle said the bank is healthy and is accepting the investment only to increase its safety in uncertain economic times."

So healthy banks are getting money, too? Talk about bait and switch. Congress should report the Treasury to the Better Business Bureau. That being said, if good banks don't get the money as well, it puts them at a competitive disadvantage to crappy ones. What did Congress expect to happen?

If only someone had warned them. Oh, wait:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

And the winner is...

Retail numbers are terrible this year, largely due to the failing economy. Despite this, Amazon apparently just completed its best holiday season ever. I'm not surprised. I've claimed for years that big-box retail, especially electronics, is marching toward extinction.

Consider the advantages of online shopping:

1. Prices are almost always lower. The day after Christmas, I helped my brother-in-law purchase a Canon camera. It was $180 online, shipped - no tax. It was $280 at Wal Mart - before tax. He saved $100 in less time than it would have taken to find a parking space.

2. Comparison shopping is far, far easier. I'm not just talking about where to buy, which is trivial online, due to price comparison sites like PriceGrabber and deal sites like Fatwallet. It also applies to what to buy. You can read literally hundreds of reviews on any gadget. Many of these are created by actual owners of the product you're considering. Online reviews for televisions are far more useful than seeing the item on display in Best Buy. Big-box retailers rarely configure their televisions under conditions you'll find in your living room or den. Professional reviewers usually do. Even the amateur reviewers on Amazon usually provide a better preview of what it will look like than seeing it under fake conditions in the store.

3. Selection is nearly unlimited. Rather than choosing between the two electronics stores near your mall, you can compare many thousands of retailers. Is the closest Macy's clearance sale 200 miles away? Who cares? Also, more competition equals lower prices.

4. It's far more convenient. Rather than getting dressed, driving around town to visit a bunch of stores, waiting in lines, fighting traffic, fighting weather, dying, etc., you just punch your credit card into the computer, and the stuff comes to your door.

I have a challenge for you: Next Christmas, do ALL of your shopping online. You'll spend less and maybe even get better gifts for your friends and family. It takes nearly all of the hassle out of Christmas shopping, as well.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The law of unintended consequences...

...loves government regulation.

After last year's toxic toys scare, the government stepped in with strict regulation to combat lead and toxin-containing toys imported from China. However, like most rushed government policies intended to combat a perceived crisis, they didn't exactly think it all the way through.

"If they don't change the law, we'd have to close our doors," said Nick Christensen, owner of Little Sapling Toys in Eureka, Calif. "We won't be able to afford the testing."

His wooden rattles and building blocks, which retail for $20 to $40, would cost at least $1,500 per model to test, he said. Because he makes 20 models, his testing bill would be at least $30,000.

Christensen, who makes everything by hand, says the only things his products contain are wood and beeswax, and he's bitter about being forced to test them for lead.

Other manufacturers say they've been quoted testing prices of $24,000 for a telescope, $1,100 for a wooden wagon and $400 for cloth diapers, according to the toy alliance." via the LA Times

It is literally forcing small U.S. businesses to shut down. I somehow don't think that this is what Congress intended. But hey, they never seem to learn that rushed legislation isn't always the best way to deal with problems.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Trust me...I know what I'm doing.

Too bad no one else does.

"WASHINGTON – The top government watchdog overseeing the nation's financial bailout said Thursday she's frustrated by the Treasury Department's refusal to explain how it's doling out billions in taxpayer money."


"Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson originally intended to use the money to buy risky loans from banks, freeing them to make new, safer loans. Shortly after the money was approved, however, Paulson announced the money would instead be used to buy stock in U.S. banks."
--AP Article, via Yahoo.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The sky is falling...

The Fed lowered the interest rate to zero. This has never occurred in the United States. It occurred in Japan. It didn't work out well for them.

Check out this quote:

“The Fed is sending a message that it will print money to an unlimited extent until it starts to see the economy expanding,” William Poole, former president of the St. Louis Fed and now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television."

"Printing money to an unlimited extent" can only lead to inflation. I'm not an economic expert, but you don't have to be to figure that out. It's one of the most basic tenets of economics. As anything, money included, increases in availability, that thing's value goes down. Otherwise we could eliminate poverty by printing money.

This deposition sucks

I'm going to be here for a long time. This is absolutely insane. South Dakota isn't great in December. It's even worse when you're dealing with an interminable deposition.


I hate South Dakota.

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's a good day

Siooma, Carl.

Somewhere North of Sioux City and South of Sioux Falls...

I stopped to fill up on gas on my trip to South Dakota. I've (literally) never been so cold in my life. I searched the AM band for a weather report, and found a DJ who said that it was 8 below zero, with a 30-40 mile per hour North wind. That made for negative 30 windchill.

And this is SOUTH Dakota. As bad as it sucks, North Dakota must be worse. I've been there before, but not during this part of the year.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Change you can believe in

Ready for all that new Change?

Obama appointees so far:

Defense: Robert Gates.

Bush appointee who's been overseeing Iraq since 2006. You don't think that we're scaling back our overseas military presence anytime soon, do you?

Attorney General: Eric Holder.

Deputy AG under Janet Reno. Involved in the Marc Rich pardon under Clinton. It's not what you know...

State: Hillary Clinton

I think we all know this story. Here's the NYT pointing out some "inconsistencies" with a Clinton appointment.

"Mr. Obama essentially said Americans should not take too seriously some of the things said during “the heat of a campaign.” Reminded of some of his caustic criticism of Mrs. Clinton’s foreign policy experience — “grossly exaggerated,” his campaign called it — Mr. Obama shrugged off the discordant notes with a smile. ... "She is going to be an outstanding secretary of state,” Mr. Obama said. “And if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have offered her the job. And if she didn’t believe that I was equipped to lead this nation in such a difficult time, she would not have accepted.” So were you lying then, or are you lying now?

Treasury: Timothy Geithner

This sums it up: "Geithner believes, along with Henry Paulson, that the Treasury Department needs new authority to experiment with responses to the financial crisis of 2008. Paulson has described Geithner as "[a] very unusually talented young man...[who] understands government and understands markets."

Commerce: Bill Richardson

"Richardson worked on congressional relations for the Henry Kissinger State Department during the Nixon Administration." Awesome. Nixon AND Clinton connections.

"Richardson spent a little more than 14 years in Congress, during which time he represented the country's most diverse district and held 2,000 town meetings." You need about 14 years in Congress to be an effective change agent.

"He became a member of the Democratic leadership as a deputy majority whip, where he befriended Bill Clinton after they worked closely on several issues." Leadership positions in Congress help, too.

"According to his autobiography, Richardson was asked by the White House in 1997 to interview Monica Lewinsky for a job on his staff at the UN. Richardson did so, and offered her a position, which she declined. The American Spectator provided evidence that Richardson knew more about the Lewinsky affair than he declared to the grand jury." Cronyism and Perjury: All the cool kids are doing it, why not you?

"Despite his long history with the Clinton family, Richardson endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination on March 21, 2008. Commentator and Clinton ally James Carville famously compared Richardson to Judas Iscariot for the move." Instead of 30 pieces of silver, he gets a cabinet position. Nice. I wonder if Nixon taught him that one.

Health and Human Services: Tom Daschle

Former Senate Minority and Majority Leader.

"Daschle... has signed on as a Senior Policy Advisor with the K Street law firm Alston & Bird. Health care interests, including CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories and HealthSouth, are among the firm's lobbying clients. The firm was paid $5.8 million between January and September 2008 to represent companies and associations before Congress and the executive branch, with 60 percent of that money coming from the health industry." A lobbyist you can believe in.

"On February 13, 2006, Daschle became one of two Democrats (with Rep. Jane Harman of California) to endorse a warrantless domestic surveillance program conducted under the authority of President George W. Bush by the National Security Agency (NSA)." Well, at least he doesn't believe in the Constitution. That's a relief.

Management and Budget: Peter Orszag

"Orszag was director of the Congressional Budget Office from January 2007 to November 2008. During his tenure, he repeatedly drew attention to the role rising health care expenditures are likely to play in the government's long-term fiscal problems--and, by extension, the nation's long-term economic problems. He also gained notoriety as the first CBO director to have his own blog." Hey, that's something different.

National Economic Council Director: Lawrence Summers

"Summers left Harvard in 1991 and served as Chief Economist for the World Bank until 1993. In December 1991, while at the World Bank, Summers signed a memo written by staff economist Lant Pritchett. The memo apparently argued that free trade would not necessarily benefit the environment in developing countries. An aside to the memo, leaked to the press, said that "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that". The leaked memo was the subject of public controversy." An economist that dislikes free trade. Classic.

Council of Economic Advisers: Christina Romer

"Her work suggests that some of the credit for the relatively stable economic growth in the 1950s should lie with good policy made by the Federal Reserve, and that the members of the FOMC could at times have made better decisions by relying more closely on forecasts made by the Fed professional staff." She thinks the Fed has the answers, and can predict what the market needs through central planning. I guess she went to MIT. Who's to say she's wrong? Other than the economic meltdown we're currently in, I mean.

White House Counsel: Greg Craig

"In September 1998 President Clinton appointed Craig as Assistant to the President and Special Counsel in the White House, where he directed the President’s team defending against impeachment. He was also a member of the President’s trial team in the United States Senate."

"Craig's representation of Latin American politicians caused an uproar again in June 2008, when the U.S. Department of Justice granted asylum to two of his clients, former Bolivian President Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada and former Minister of Defense Carlos Sánchez Berzaín. The two Bolivians were under indictment in Bolivia for their role in the government's killing of 67 protesters in El Alto in 2003." I can see why a guy like this would be good to have around. He's like Matlock, apparently.

UN Ambassador: Susan Rice

"At the same time, she was criticized by detractors who considered her "authoritarian, brash, and unwilling to consider opinions that differ from her own", and reportedly having disputes from some career diplomats in the African bureau." Authoritarian? Brash? Unwilling to consider different opinions? Sounds like a perfect diplomat. With those qualities, I'm surprised Bush didn't appoint her. She sounds like his style.

The government is getting bigger by the day

Now it looks like we'll have an "auto czar". I can't wait for the "mortgage tyrant".

Oh, wait...


Told you so.

Looks like the auto industry is headed for a bailout...

Next up, State and Municipal governments. Unless the banks cut in line for a second helping.

-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

So I'm in Pontiac, Illinois, at the Baby Bulls Restaurant...

...and there's a guy sitting at the next booth who looks kinda like Jon Voight, if he were 15 years older.

That's my excitement for the day. Pretty glamourous.

-- Post From My iPhone

I haven't checked the numbers...

But this looks scary, if accurate. And the bailouts won't end at the auto manufacturers. Now state governments want them, too.

I can't think of a better cause...

Monster Cable is not only worthless and ineffective, it's also apparently evil. These tactics are nothing new, but this is a new twist on the ongoing Monster Cable v. Monster [INSERT COMPANY HERE] legal saga.

I donated $5.00. Here's a link, if you'd like to make a contribution.