Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sticky Wikki and the mysterious “turkducken.” A sniff of how big business and others play dirty with the truth to push their own agendas

Wikipedia is a wonderful idea – an online encyclopedia written by volunteer contributors around the world who have first-hand knowledge of their subjects.

Problem is, lots of people who like to manipulate the truth find Wikipedia a useful tool, as this article from the American Journalism Review explains. One of the points it makes:

The extent of the potential for misinformation became clearer in August, when a new tool called WikiScanner ( began providing an ingenious database to identify propagandists and hoaxers. It gave Wikipedia critics plenty of new ammunition, as it revealed that among those surreptitiously rewriting entries were employees of major corporations, politicians and the CIA trying to make their bosses look better.
Here's another web page that will really boil your bottle. Damn shame the sleaze-o liars of the world have been manipulating the truth, if you ask me. Although, thanks to the American Journalism Review, I did enjoy thinking about my first dish of turkducken.

Monday, January 28, 2008

FBI hero demonstrates he has more effective ways to make evildoers talk than the waterboard brigade could imagine. Like home-baked cookies.

For all those imbeciles who support torture of suspected terrorists – and they range from virtually every one of the imbeciles in the White House to (I’m embarrsed to admit it) that imbecile Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer – here’s a pie in your face. Or maybe a plateful of cookies.

In an interview on 60 minutes broadcast this last Sunday evening, an FBI interrogator showed the world and those nincompoops at the CIA how to get detailed, valuable intelligence out of top enemy tough guys without one yanked fingernail, one taser zap, one night in a freezing room, one night with rock ‘n roll blaring at an unbearable pitch – or one millisecond on a waterboard.

The interrogator, George Pirro, did it with politeness, a bit of fakery, a few kind words, pretending to show some warmth to Saddam, a package of baby wipes, and on Saddam’s birthday, a box of cookies baked by the interrogator's mother.

Yes, as we’ve crankily pointed out before here and here you can get people to talk with water torture or “enhanced interrogation” as the imbeciles call it, hoping the rest of us will be gulled into thinking that if you change the name, it isn't torture any more. The problem is, you can’t trust the talk. Torture victims, or "enhanced interrogation" victims, if you insist, often will say whatever you want them to say to make the torture stop.

Perhaps with less torture and more of the Pirro technique, we’d have Osma Bin Ladin in custody right now.

Or perhaps the Bush administration doesn’t want him in custody. Given the Bush administration’s insistence that torture works (and simultaneous denial that we torture anybody) one begins to wonder whether we don't have some evildoers right there in the White House. Not to mention the campaign trail.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Beware. There's lots of political stuff in the air that you could use to grow flowers. And more is coming.

‘Tis the season to beware of fragrant fertilizer falling from the mouths of politicians.

Go to one of my recent rants on the economy and click on the comments section. There you’ll find a Huckabee supporter filling cyberspace with a rich infusion of methane in defense of the so-called Huckabee “fair tax: plan.

For example, he says:

“The FairTax has the broadest base and the lowest rate of any single-rate tax reform plan. [THBP]”
That’s quite possibly so, but he fails to mention the essential un-fairness of clobbering a marginal wage earner (or an out-of-work and hungry job-seeker) with the same tax rate on a pair of socks or infant formula for his baby that a multi-billionaire would pay for his yacht.

Then my Huckabee-supporting correspondent relies on a bunch of obscure economists at a less-than-first-rate university who used an unproven and unprovable computer model, to confidently declare:
“Real wages are 10.3 percent, 9.5 percent, and 9.2 percent higher in years 1, 10, and 25, respectively than would otherwise be the case. [THBNP].”
Yeah, and pigs can fly.

However, you don’t have to be on the far right to master the art of doubletalk. I recently stumbled across a “mission statement” from an artist with a magnificently unintelligble plan to bring us all world peace.

I reproduce it below in full for your brain-busting entertainment and as a warning to pay attention to what politicians – mostly especially Republican politicians – are saying. You may discover they’re only making impressive-sounding noises that, on close analysis, tell you nothing, nothing, nothing at all.
The World Community in time can evolve and create through a new biomolecular multicultural engineering logic linguistic and symbolic spanning six thousand years of global cultural written history on all orders of biological magnitude a new microscopic and macroscopic grid coordinate structure whose biological neuronal molecular dynamics link and entrain correlation relationships that encodes, compress new biological neuronal pattern configurations that are embedded in the biological neuronal tapestry fabric of the Charter of United Nations and the universal Declaration of Human Rights. All nations are multicultural. This new linking global universal fabric logic will synchronize entrain and evolve a new molecular fabric of a new tapestry linking energy matter in a new global logic probability distribution output spatial and temporal spanning all orders of biological neuronal magnitude. This new distribution probability output will influencinfluence within the evolving evolutionary adaptive biological mechanisms of neuro social cooperation. The amplification of these new biological signals will build new grid coordinates and linking correlation that will be embedded in the global and local visualization formational communication system for all ages. The illumination of these new aesthetic biological pattern configurations, linguistic and symbolic signals, in a new aesthetic visual band with node will allow us to focus, target and map, these new energy matter biological coordinate throughout the entire brain. In conclusion, we can now introduce and evolve these new biological neuronal unified field grid coordination in local and global level that will entrain, and synchronize evolving evolutionary structures of thought linking, weaving a new linguistic and symbolic grid coordinates that will strengthen our evolving evolutionary multicultural civilization.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – 7-second movie review

Ordinarily The New York Crank sticks to political matters and doesn’t do movie reviews, but my beautiful girlfriend and I saw “Sweeney Todd” the other day and I think I can do this one in two cranky sentences:

Edward Scissorhands morphs (very slightly) into Sweeney Razorhands and cuts a lot of throats, starting with Borat’s. This time the sound track is more musical.

Monday, January 21, 2008

At last, real market intelligence: Bush speaks, stock market plunges

It happened last Friday. The stock market, oddly optimistic, opened higher. The Dow began more than 100 points above where it had been the previous day and started fluctuating upward from there.

Then President George Bush announced his plan to give the floundering U.S. economy what he called a “shot in the arm.”

A shot in the head would be more like it. As predicted in my last cranky post, “…you can be certain the Bush Administration – said to be frantically working on an economic “fix” to save Republican rear ends in the next election – will compound the problem they’ve created by offering tax cuts for the rich as part of the fix."

And that’s what the Bush administration did.

Economic “stimulus” for the 

greed glands of billionaires 
and corporate officers only

The Republican “economic stimulus package” would offer “tax incentives for business investment” (meaning less tax on the profits returned by investments made by the rich) plus “quick tax relief for individuals,” which means income tax cuts primarily for the rich.

Conservatives who believe in the natural wisdom of the markets should pay close attention to the chart (above left) showing what the market quite wisely did when it heard the Bush plan.

It plunged to a low that was even lower than it had been before it began recovering, then bounced around in the doldrums for the rest of the day.

Interestingly, every Republican presidential candidate is talking about how he would be the bigger tax cutter. The sole exception to this lunacy is Mike Huckabee, who has an even crazier plan to eliminate all income taxes and replace them with a national sales tax which would be the ruination of the poor, punishing to the middle class, and another windfall for the filthy rich.

All the Republicans are wrong. And so is any Democrat in the House or Senate who lacks the guts to stand up and cry foul to the President.

Here’s a my own cranky 
economic stimulus plan

What we need to do is raise taxes – on high income individuals only – and then begin plowing the money into three areas:

1. Infrastructure repair, so that our nation’s bridges, highways, water systems, levees, airports and other important structures begin to recover from the years of Republican neglect – before we have another New Orleans precipitated by failing levees, bridge collapse or airplane disaster. Infrastcture repair would also put thousands back to work, put money in their pockets, and provide real economic stimulation.

2. Begin repaying the horrendous national debt incurred by a Republican administration backed by a conservative congress. That way your dollars will be worth a little more to the rest of the world and the U.S. will become a stronger magnet for investment.

3. Lots of national spending on health care and education, among our best investments for the future.

Getting out of the war in Iraq as fast as possible would also be a huge help, by stopping the billions of dollars that pour down that sinkhole every week instead of into the U.S. economy where they could be supporting economic growth. And remember, this is a Republican war.

That’s why, two years from now, we need to return not one Republican to the House, Senate or White House. Got that? Not…one…Republican.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

If the Bush-Republican economy has been so good to you, how come you feel so poor? (Continued)

As the stock market continued its long, long plunge today, quoted a wiser head than the economic blockhead currently occupying the Oval Office.

"When reminded about how bad things are, the market remembers it should go down," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies & Co.

"And, it is going to take more than just monetary policy to clean up the mess we've made with this economy," Hogan said.
Right. It's a heck of a lot easier to bust delicate things with a baseball bat than to fix them, whether you're talking about crystal goblets, fine Swiss watches, computers or the economy.

Republican-laissez-faire, stubbornly-doctrinaire, based-on-hot-air tinkering with everything from income taxes to foreign policy and war policy – or lack thereof – are a good part of the problem.

But you can be certain the Bush Administration – said to be frantically working on an economic “fix” to save Republican rear ends in the next election – will compound the problem they’ve created by offering tax cuts for the rich as part of the fix.

Their theory (I suppose): “If you try it and it explodes in your face, try exactly the same thing again. Maybe this time it won’t explode in your face."

As they used to say back in the early Cold War days, when kids like me were taught to practice “escaping” a nuclear attack by jumping under our school desks with our arms over our heads, “Duck and cover.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

“Oink!” Miss Piggy’s Tragic Lament or: The Supreme Court, The Hapless Consumer, And The Day Big Business Spammed the Court System

I noted with cranky alarm this morning a report in the New York Times. It revealed that the Roberts U.S. Supreme Court has again affirmed its allegiance not to the U.S. Constitution or to the people of the United States, but to what you might call The U.S. Chamber of Big Business.

At issue was whether investors like you and me have a blanket right to sue corporations that commit securities fraud. Hell no, the Supreme Court in effect said, practically handing fraudsters a new constitutional privilege to rob you blind in certain circumstances

The majority reasoning on the court was a mind-boggling brain-busting tangle of what passes for reasoning. You can try to parse the Times' summary of their thinking, if you dare, here.

The sad truth is that the Roberts Supreme Court and Republican blowhards talk a good line about opposing “frivolous” litigation, but only when it’s litigation brought by a little guy or somebody representing a bunch of little guys suing big business.

You never hear a word – not from the Supreme Court, not from the Republican Party thugs who love to stick their hands in your pockets, not from the Bush White House, not from the corporate crybabies in who don’t like getting punished for their sometimes multi-billion dollar ripoffs – when the big guys come down like a ton of bricks over some relatively little guy for some trivial transgression.

Case in point: Hormel vs.
Miss Piggy’s daddy

My favorite example goes back to 1995 and 1996 when the Hormel Corporation, makers of Spam, came down like the proverbial ton of bricks on the late Jim Henson, the puppeteer who created The Muppets.

Henson was making another Muppets movie, and in addition to all the usual suspects like Miss Piggy and Kermit, he had plans to very briefly introduce a character named Spa’am, a wild boar puppet. Guess what?

Hormel squeals like
a stuck you-know-what

Hormel Foods Corporation, the makers of Spam, sued The Muppets seeking an injunction to prevent the making of the movie with any character named Spa’am. Fortunately, Hormel sued in the Southern District of New York – Manhattan is what normal people call the area – which as everyone knows, is a roiling nest of reprobate liberals like The New York Crank. And so sweet reason prevailed.

Faced with a phalanx of corporate litigators grown irate over a pig puppet, the normally august District Court for the Southern District was forced to climb down into the sandbox with those runny-nosed kids from Hormel and make some observations.

Dr. Laura A. Peracchio, an expert in consumer behavior, states in her report that Spa'am is unappealing and will lead to negative associations on the part of consumers because he has small eyes, protruding teeth, warts, a skull on his headdress, is generally untidy, and speaks in a deep voice with poor grammar and diction. I am, however, persuaded by the report and testimony of Anne Devereaux Jordan, an expert in children's literature, who notes that children (and adults) often have positive associations with characters that may not appear classically handsome. Among other examples, Ms. Jordan points to "Pumbaa," the good-natured warthog in Walt Disney's film The Lion King, and "Splinter," the aging rat who acts as teacher and father-figure to the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
When all was said and done, the District Court for the Southern District essentially told Hormel to go take a hike. Whereupon, summoning all its mighty financial muscle and its powerful litigators, Hormel drove Henson’s costs up further in this tempest over a piggy puppet and appealed the decision.

Could the distinguished judges
manage to keep a straight face?

I would love to say the appeals court was not amused, but judging from the justices' written decision, the Court of Appeals was very amused. I quote from their decision, which wiped up the floor with Hormel. You can find the full text here, but the judicial writing is so delicious – and certainly tastier than a plate of Spam – that I feel I absolutely must quote parts of it to you.
The film will use some of Henson's most familiar characters, including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and [**3] Fozzie Bear. A number of additional characters have been created [*501] for this production, among whom is Spa'am, the subject of this litigation. The similarity between the name "Spa'am" and Hormel's mark is not accidental. In Henson's film, Spa'am is the high priest of a tribe of wild boars that worships Miss Piggy as its Queen Sha Ka La Ka La. Although the name "Spa'am" is mentioned only once in the entire movie, Henson hopes to poke a little fun at Hormel's famous luncheon meat by associating its processed, gelatinous block with a humorously wild beast. However, the executives at Hormel are not amused. They worry that sales of SPAM will drop off if it is linked with "evil in porcine form."... … Hormel also expresses concern that even comic association with an unclean "grotesque" boar will call into question the purity and high quality of its meat product. But the district court found no evidence that Spa'am was unhygienic. At worst, he might be described as "untidy." Id. at *6. Moreover, by now Hormel should be inured to any such ridicule. Although SPAM is in fact made from pork shoulder and ham meat, and the name itself supposedly is a portmanteau word for spiced ham, countless jokes have played off the public's unfounded suspicion that SPAM is a product of less than savory ingredients. For example, in one episode of the television cartoon Duckman, Duckman is shown discovering "the secret ingredient to SPAM" as he looks on at "Murray's Incontinent Camel Farm." In a recent newspaper column it was noted that "In one little [**5] can, Spam contains the five major food groups: Snouts. Ears. Feet. Tails. Brains."
Before it was through, the appeals court had gotten into not only pronunciation of the Hormel Spam one syllable brand name and the boar puppet’s two-syllable name, but also into logotypes, consumer perceptions, “expert” testimony, and an older case pitting the movie character King Kong against the computer game Donkey Kong. In the end, the appeals court affirmed the district court’s decision and Hormel was again told to go take a hike. And you thought law was boring?

Hormel ends up with
pork fat on its face

Of course, ultimately the joke on Hormel was even bigger than anyone might have guessed at the time. Within a few years, as America became wired to the Internet, "spam" took on a whole new meaning – a definition of the crap you don’t want that shows up in your e-mailbox.

Also, thanks to the Internet, there’s Wikipedia. So now you and the entire world can go here and discover that:
"A 56 gram (approximately 2 ounce) serving of original Spam provides 7 grams of protein, 2 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of fat (23% US Daily Value) including 6 grams of saturated fat (28% US Daily Value), and over 170 calories. A serving contains nearly a third of the recommended daily intake of sodium (salt). Spam provides very little in terms of vitamins and minerals (0% vitamin A, 1% vitamin C, 1% calcium, 3% iron). It has been listed as a food that is a poor choice for weight loss (or weight gain) and optimum health and as a food that "is high in saturated fat and sodium".
At last, I come to
the cranky point

So what’s all this have to do with the Supreme Court’s decision favoring the right of big business to hoodwink the public and deprive us of our investment dollars?

Only this cranky citing of the ancient cliché that, “what goes around comes around.” One of these days, the Supreme Court’s latest pro-thug decision will come around to haunt not only the thugs in many corporate headquarters, but the clowns on the court who are joyfully wallowing in their distortion of the Constituion, common law and plain decency.

When that happens, remember that you heard it cranked about here first.

Monday, January 14, 2008

George Bush relative to striking writers and actors who respect picket lines: “Drop dead!”

What is it with the Bush family’s unfailing instinct for doing the wrong thing?

First we had George Bush doing everything wrong – absolutely everything – from draining U.S. Treasury by vastly increasing spending while cutting taxes for the rich, to the War Nobody Needed in Iraq, to reading “My Pet Goat” upside down.

Then, as reported here at the New York Crank just a few weeks ago, we had Jeb Bush evidently promoting defaulting securities to Florida school districts and local agencies.

And now, with writers fighting for a share of the income they generate for producers on the Internet, and actors backing them up by refusing to cross the writers picket lines and work, George’s cousin, Billy Bush, goes to work as a labor scab.

I turned on CNN this morning and there was a clip from last night’s Golden Globe awards announcing the winners. Evidently, when actors fighting for their own futures refused to show up even for their awards, and writers refused to write a ceremony, Billy Bush and blonde zero Nancy O’Dell decided to tell all the strikers, “Screw you!”

They appeared, I later learned from a New York Times blog on a rebroadcast of the awards that somehow-or-other was trailing the actual broadcast by a few minutes.

Personally, I’d have no regrets if Billy Bush were frozen out of entertainment biz society and sent to Texas to, well, maybe to curate Cousin George’s presidential library, including My Pet Goat and other books that George thinks he can read.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ink stained wretches and greedy producers: Whose gun is pointed at whose head?

Despite all the glitz, glamour and multi-million dollar Hollywood deals you keep hearing about, the typical screenwriter is little more than a penurious wretch.

As figures provided by a screenwriters website called The Blank Page indicate, while a few screenwriters at the tippy-top can earn more than half a million bucks , almost half of the union’s members earn zipp-o in any given year. The typical schlub-with-a-keyboard probably pulls down around $45,000 – but only in years when he or she is able to find screenwriting work. That's usually about every other year.

Sadly, the writers’ share of the Hollywood pie is pathetic. These are guys who make a significant part of their $45,000 (or up to $663,000 if they’re on the very top of the hill) from residuals – the additional money paid to writers and others, when a movie goes on TV or gets "distributed" in other ways other than in movie theaters.

The theory behind the practice is a good one. If the movie bombs and nobody wants to see it – or if the script is commissioned but the production company never films it or never distributes the film – writers get paid a relatively small amount for their work. But if they write a hit that these days can generate over $1 billion for a producer, they should share in the profits.

Except they don’t really “share.” In some film and TV distribution categories they get something closer to a pathetic tip. Suppose you go to a retail store and buy a DVD of your favorite movie for $10? Want to guess what share the writer gets?

Four cents, give or take a few tenths of a cent.

This from a business where the executive producer of the Law and Order shows earns $200 million a year and the producer of The Sopranos was earning a "mere" $20 million. 

The Screenwriters are also fighting to have the writers of cartoon films covered by their agreement. Right now, if you write animation – or reality TV shows – you don’t even get the same sorry deal the screenwriters get.

Oh, and top production and network executives get "golden parachutes" worth millions of dollars if they get fired. Lots of screenwriters in a similar situation get to wait on tables.

Last night, I happened to have dinner with two Writers Guild members and a literary agent, none of them in the starving artist class. One of the writers is an Academy Award winner, the other isn’t doing too badly either, and the agent is one of those high-powered dudes who builds up best-selling authors and takes a cut when he sells the rights to their novels to the movies.

These are guys who’d be making pretty darn good money if the strike ended. But their support for the strike to the bitter end was so strong you could almost break your teeth on it.

What’s going on here?

"The producers are trying to break the union,” one of the writers told me. “That’s why the screen actors are backing us up. They know that if we cave in, they’re next.

Meanwhile, “The producers are refusing to negotiate, period,” he reminded me.

In addition, the producers have rejected binding arbitration by an impartial arbitrator.

Greed, a grab and a gun

It sounds to me like the producers are just trying to make a grab at keeping the writers’ residuals.

There are some exceptions, of course. These include David Letterman's company, Worldwide Pants; United Artists; and now the Weinstein Brothers Company, all of which have settled with the writers. But these are all small players. It's the greedy corporate biggies like Fox, NBC, Viacom and others that are trying to kick around the hungry writers.

What do the producers have to say about refusing to negotiate?

“We're not going to negotiate with a gun to our heads—that's just stupid," says Nick Coulter, the negotiator for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

But of course. If there’s no threat to their economic well-being, the producers don’t have to give a thing. That’s why producers earning double-digit millions want to be the ones holding the guns to the heads of the $45,000-a-year people who come up with the ideas that make the producers rich.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

If the Bush-Republican economy has been so good to you, how come you feel so poor? Here’s America’s dirty little secret about inflation.

A little over a year ago, the Consumer Price index was 2.1%, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s pretty comfortable, by any standards. The newspaper USAToday, probing the question of whether we had serious inflation, pointed out that at that rate it would take roughly 35 years for prices to double.
[Sorry, I'm having link problems. For the USAT article, cut and paste this:]

Umm, there’s a “small problem”
with those numbers

USAToday also quickly pointed to some evidence to the contrary. It tells you and me that what the Department of Commerce measures, officially, “average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services,” may be based on a highly fictional basket.

Or at the very least, the basket is loaded – weighted in a way that yours isn’t, resulting in a rosy glow cast over what ought to be a picture of inflationary gloom.

A tisket, a tasket, don't
trust that phony "basket"

Officially, the basket covers not only your morning corn flakes and milk, but also your clothes, rent, medical care, “apparel,” housing, transportation, and college tuition costs.

Oh yeah?

Here are some of the 20-year statistics the USAToday reporter picked up on the way to writing that inflation story:

  • College tuition: up 289.5%
  • Hospital services: up 280.4%
  • Drugs: up 177.6%
  • Medical care: up 173.5%
  • Doctor services: up 137.3%
  • Energy: up 131.9
Remember, at 2.1% prices should take 30 years, not 20 years to go up 100 percent, not 289 percent.

Now all this admittedly gets a little tricky. The 20-year time period covers the Clinton administration as well as that of two other Republicans: Ronald Reagan and the current Republican president’s Republican father, George Herbert Walker Bush. And some years have been more inflationary than others.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the cost of living for real people – people who get sick, need to take medicine, want to send their kids to college, or who heat their homes and drive cars – is a humongous hilltop higher than the government would have you believe. And most of the inflation has been Republican inflation.

Republicans make the
situation worse

True cost of what living in America costs has been exacerbated by the reluctance of Republicans to increase the minimum wage to a living wage, to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices on behalf of Medicare and Medicaid patients, to provide full prescription drug coverage instead of the ridiculous current “doughnut hole” scheme, to support public education meaningfully, to impose really tough fuel consumption standards on car builders, and in many other ways.

What are Democrats
likely to change?

I’m not sure that even with a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President the system of measuring inflation will change significantly.

But at least we’re likelier to get affordable universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage, negotiated drug prices and other inflation-fighting tools.

Once the presidential nominees have been decided and we get into debates between the two presidential candidates, I hope somebody will be putting hard questions about the economy to both of them. And I hope the press won’t be settling for simplistic answers like, “I’ll cut taxes and that will help everybody.”

What do you think the odds of that are?

Don’t answer that.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Your flushable dollars, Part 2

We began a cranky rant about the fall of the U.S. Dollar last October when, for several days in a row, the dollar kept hitting new lows.

Well guess what?

Right, your dollar today is worth even less to the rest of the world than it was in October. As of 10:10 AM January 7th, according to Bloomberg News, you’d have to cough up slightly more than $147 toilet paper bucks to buy 100 Euros. That’s before the banks that convert the currency for you add on their own commissions, of course.

Which means that if you haven't done so already, you can probably cancel your low-budget trip to Paris. Or even your medium-budget trip.

Magical thinking,

Republican apologists for laissez-faire Bushonomics keep saying the collapsing dollar is a good thing. A cheap dollar, they say, encourages people to buy American products. It encourages foreigners to come here and spend money. So it’ll make us all rich.

Yeah, and I’m the tooth fairy.

I’ve already pointed out here that we make hardly anything in this country any more except for partly hydrogenated corn oil. Cars? Almost nobody abroad wants to buy a GM or a Ford car. The car makers, buoyed by the lack of government pressure to come up with really fuel-efficient cars, is running on the innovation equivalent of empty. Chrysler is such a mess that its foreign owners dumped it.

Computers? Most of the stuff in them is made and assembled someplace else, even if the brand name is American. Ditto cell phones. Don't even get me started on kids' toys.

As for tourism – well, some very well-to-do European friends came to New York the other week. They were just the kind of money-dropping, shopaholic tourists who could perhaps could help to restore the U.S. dollar by converting a counterbalancing load of Euros into dollars and leaving them here. So guess what happened?

Tour-onomics 101: The tourists come.
The tourists spend. The tourists leave.

So does their money.

They spent roughly $750 a night for a hotel room here. Times seven nights comes to $5250. Good, right?

Wrong. They stayed at the Peninsula Hotel, one of the many U.S. hotels that’s now foreign-owned. In this case, owned by a group in Hong Kong. So where are all the profits going? Right.

But…but…aren’t a good many of those dollars going to the hotel’s employees?

Right, and as low-wage workers taking jobs that "Americans don't want," a good many of them are here to work and send money back to their families in Mexico, Ecuador and other places in Latin America. Once again, you can hear the loud sucking sound of money draining out of the U.S. economy.

Well, what about hotel taxes that go to the City of New York?

Fine, the city can use the money to repay its bond debt, a good deal of which is held by…guess who? Uh huh.

But the visitors shopped, didn’t they?

You betcha! They were after high-end, super-fashionable merchandise so they quickly trooped off to find it at the palace of chic, a high-fashion department store called Barneys.

Umm, small problem. Barney’s ownership these days is ensconced back in the good old UAR. That’s the United Arab Emirates, folks. And the clothing itself was made in China, Indonesia, Mexico -- anyplace but the USA.

Will they buy your home
out from under you?

While they were here, the visitors looked into buying a little pied-a-terre as an investment that they could at least for now rent out to New Yorkers. It’s condo buyers like those who are helping to keep New York real estate prices unaffordable for many New Yorkers even while real estate prices in the rest of the country are plunging. (The other source of apartment price support is American bankers who can devote most of a barely-taxed $12 million bonus to an apartment purchase without blinking. But that's a story for another day.)

Anyway, foreigners buying real estate here is good, right? If they buy some little not-particularly-special Manhattan flat, they’ll leave a cool $875,000 here, give or take a little, for a one-bedroom apartment. We’ll all benefit from that, right?

Wrong, because some desperate New Yorker will end up renting the space from them for roughly $4,500 a month, and guess where most of that money will go? Right. Straight back to the land of the Euro.

The man with the
gangrene leg

Somehow, all this brings to mind a TV spot currently on the air in New York. It features a one-legged ex-smoker, standing on crutches, who describes how he tried to ignore the fact that his smoking led to diabetes, which led to a time when one of his legs became infected with gangrene. He ignored it when his leg changed colors. He ignored it when it began to smell. Now he's a one-legged anti-smoking spokesman.

That’s an almost perfect metaphor for the Bush administration’s management of the U.S. economy. Plunging dollars? Z-z-z-z-z! Something in the economy doesn't smell right? Z-z-z-z-z!

But wait, you say – isn’t the President about to “do something” by moving for a tax cut again?

Here’s what that’ll do: It’ll make the U.S. less able to repay its staggering $9 trillion-and-counting national debt. Which will further reduce the incentive to invest in America. Which will further reduce the value of your toilet paper dollar.

The fallout from Republican-Bush laissez-faire is cascading into self-evidence like dandruff on a dark suit. Wait until I start ranting about America's secret inflation. Maybe later this week or early next.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Mike Huckabee becomes a strike breaker

Mike Huckabee, the Arkansas Republican governor who wants to be the Republican nominee for President, is scheduled to go on the Jay Leno show tonight.

If he does, he’s probably going to need a Secret Service detail to shoo away members of the Writers Guild of America, the union that is picketing NBC studios in Burbank while it fights for the rights of writers to get paid when the studios and networks use their stuff on the Internet.

It essence, we’ll have an arm of the Federal government stopping a legal labor protest give partisan assistance to a Presidential candidate in his election campaign.

Power to the networks. But none
for you, you inkstained wretch.

Worth noting: networks and studios are part of the same mega-media conglomerates that want to sue you into oblivion if you so much as think about transferring a tune from a CD to your own computer, or lift a song or a movie off the Internet without paying for it.

You don’t need more evidence than the militancy of the studios and networks to know there’s big, very big money there, and that the greedy bastards don’t want to share it with the people who create it. That’s why the writers are striking.

Remember, just a handful of owners who control the likes of Fox, ABC, CBS and other media giants decide what you may or may not see in the movies, on TV news and elsewhere. Fox, for example, is not only the owner of a news network but also a major movie producer and distributor thanks to its ownership of 20th Century Fox. Ditto ABC, which owns Disney. And so on.

To exacerbate the situation, the mostly Bush-appointed Federal Communications Commission has made mergers of media companies easier than ever, concentrating more and more communications power into fewer and fewer hands.

Now Ham-Handed Huckabee, hungry for public exposure, even if it means appearing on comedy shows, has jumped into the situation with both left feet.

“9 munths ago I culdn’t even
spel Prezidential candydate

and today I are one”

Huck is the Arkansas governor with the “nice guy” image, but not the vaguest clue about matters such as whether Iran has nukes. In essence he's a foreign policy ignoramus in a dangerous world.

On top of that there's his bizarro notion that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation." Or his weird statement that “I got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives."

Clearly, foreign policy isn’t Huck’s only weakness. He also evidently hasn’t read the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Not to mention that Ham Handed Huck’s opinion on religion in America insults the founding fathers, a good many of whom were deists; not to mention an insult to Tom Paine, the Deist who wrote “Common Sense,” the pamphlet that helped inspire the American Revolution; not to mention the Quakers who were pretty much responsible for the founding and administration of one of the original 13 colonies; not to mention the Jews who helped to finance George Washington’s army. The best known of them was Haym Salomon.

Now “nice guy” Huck from Arkansas is getting into union busting. The Hollywood writers, being largely peaceable folks, will probably allow themselves to be shunted off to some distant point in the San Fernando Valley while Huckabee is in town, rather than risk becoming a replay of a massacre in Pakistan.

But with the all the crazies running and seeking power in the Republican party, this almost could be Pakistan.