Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gas Prices

Independent from technological advances, oil has seemingly passed from its glory days. Although since the 1970's we have discovered more efficient ways of obtaining oil as well as new oil deposits and producers can now manufacture more products with less oil.

A cold winter can help trigger a gas shortage and may cause serious problems. This could bring on petrocollapse, a breakdown of the whole socioeconomic structure that has an unhealthy relationship with the only reality, our ecosphere where in economics must function sustainability. Globally reserves are not being replaced to keep pace with consumption. The world uses about four barrels of oil for every one that is discovered. Less and less net energy yield from oil can be a factor that accelerates the possibility of a permanent shortage and serves to raise costs hidden in countless goods and services.

Our country is faced with a serious energy shortage. Each state must cut their fossil fuel use by a specific amount by taking into account the population, industry size and various other factors. Most of the petroleum consumption is in the form of gasoline for vehicles. More energy efficient cars and use of alternative fuels could help in reducing energy consumption. Various other resources like solar power and generating electricity from windmills could help reduce the dependence of petroleum.

Petrocollapse seems inevitable and right ahead. The most reasonable solution in the long run will be that people will have to help each other and live in an egalitarian society. Cooperation and solidarity will be the order of the new day an there seems to be no other than this if we are to survive as a species.
The outbreak of war drives up the price of oil. Higher oil prices can raise the projected inflation value. The international economy remains dependant on oil as the main source of energy since oil is among the fossil fuels with the least reserves. It will help to switch to natural gas because it is found almost everywhere oil reserves are found and it is the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels. In the long run the development of renewable resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and water will postpone the arrival of a time when there will be a real shortage of petroleum.

The inflation motivated a major effort at conservation of energy, a beginning of development of alternative sources of energy and searches for new reserves of oil. Producing appliances that work more efficiently and with alternative fuels will help to conserve the oil that we still have. Oil is finite and it will run out of it some day so we must prepare for the day when oil runs out.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Off Shore Drilling

 
There have been calls to grant the oil companies additional leases, specifically in northern Alaska and for offshore drilling. The argument is that by giving new leases to the oil companies, America will be able to get rid of high gas prices and its dependency on foreign oil. Indeed, both presidential candidates have jumped on the bandwagon as it appears that more and more Americans are biting into this load of bullcrap.

And a load of bullcrap it is. First of all, why allow the oil companies new leases if they have yet to explore many of the areas on which they have permits on, but have yet to commence exploration. We are not talking about one or two unexplored areas, but almost one third of the permits given to the oil companies remain unexplored. The oil companies are like little greedy boys that want second helpings after having eaten only one bite of their meal. No, oil executives, finish your plates up and eat all your vegetables before asking for more. Finish exploring ALL the areas in your current portfolio before putting your claws into new territories.

Next, it will be years before we see the first drops of oil that would result from granting new permits. Expeditions need to be mounted to do geological surveys, test drills need to be made, and a whole infrastructure needs to be built before the those first drops flow through the pipeline.

Furthermore, America is so addicted to oil that now the majority of the crude it consumes is of foreign origin. America consumes a quarter of the worlds oil, but only has reserves equal to 3 percent. There is no way that America could reduce its dependency on foreign oil even if we drilled everywhere and pumped out all the domestic reserves. Given current consumption patterns, America will always be dependent on foreign oil for the majority of its needs.
 
So, drilling is not the answer. Supply is not the dominant factor in oil prices. However, what has proven very effective in lowering the price of crude by half in only 3 months is a dramatic reduction in demand. Every month, Americans consume fewer billions of gas compared to last year. By making small changes to their driving habits, Americans have forced the price of gas down fro over $140 per barrel to around $70 per barrel in 3 months. Imagine what we could do to the price at the pump if we made an additional little effort by converting our fleets such as city buses, delivery trucks, postal trucks to bio-diesel, propane, and other alternative fuels. In just a couple of short years, we could reduce consumption by several billions of gallons more than we could ever drill, and we would be able to do it within a very short time span.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Elitists

The Republican party has made a practice of branding foes 'elitists' at least since the 2004 election when George W. Bush faced off against John Kerry. It's just one of Karl Rove's contributions to our political discourse. Now they're at it again. Surely everyone on the planet knows that Barack Obama is an elitist now, thanks the McCain campaign.

The problem with this label is that it tends to stick to a candidate, sullying his or her accomplishments, while nobody really examines the veracity of the charge. "Obama is an elitist" has become a truism to John McCain, Sarah Palin and the Republican party, but what does that even mean?

In order to assess whether someone is an elitist or not, it might be useful to examine what elite and elitism even refer to. Elites exist in every professional field in our society. From basketball, to medicine, to industry, to, yes, politics. Most of the time we don't actually object to the idea of an elite class of people.

When, for instance, was the last time you heard the NBA called elitist because they don't recruit any short, middle-aged women with average basketball ability? Sarah Palin, for instance. She has experience, having played basketball in a small town high school. And she didn't abort a Down's Syndrome baby. Surely the former fact would qualify her, while the latter fact would entitle her by moral superiority to play professional basketball. Okay, maybe not so much.

No, we're all perfectly happy to leave NBA careers to people who have amazing talent and great accomplishments in basketball. You know, the elite athletes who can compete at the highest levels of the sport. The NBA is likely to go on discriminating against short, middle-aged women for the foreseeable future. Does that make them elitist? Of course not.
It's meritocratic. People are promoted up the ranks because of their ability- demonstrated ability. Their talent and their accomplishments, which make them elite athletes, do not make them elitists. They don't stomp their feet and demand to be granted contracts because they deserve them based on being special. They earn their positions by merit, which is exactly the opposite of elitism.

One of the problems we have with the label 'elitist' in the United States is that a lot of the time we fail to understand social class, preferring to believe we live in a classless society. We'd like to think our society works meritocratically. The question arises then, why there are very few people of working class backgrounds at a school like Yale where admission is very competitive, while a person who is well connected or whose parents have made significant donations to the school, can get in without a particularly stellar background. That is elitist. It emphasizes who someone is over what that person has done. It emphasizes status over merit.

Elitists believe they're elite because of who they are, and are thus entitled to certain perks. When you enter into a real competition for something there is a tacit understanding that both competitors have an equal claim to the prize, but that the outcome will be decided by merit. Elitists don't compete because they aren't, in the words of Sarah Palin, "seeking your good opinion," or anyone else's. You aren't as important as they are, so why would they bother? They claim what they believe is rightfully theirs because they were born more deserving than you and they don't have to prove it.

Paul Fussell, who wrote the book "Class: A Guide Through the American Status System," points out that the really, really rich, the elitists whose money and family connections place them on par with royalty, don't ever "seek your good opinion." They don't dress to impress, for instance, or stoop to competion with the likes of the lower classes. There simply is no status symbol, or accomplishment that would express their importance. The absurdity of Rove politics, though, has led to the word "elitist" having come to mean intellectual, or educated. Not entitled. When intellect and education become faults, then what are we treating as strengths? Their opposites? The real elitists depend on it. 
 
A person who gets into the US Naval academy, not because of his achievements, but because both his father and grandfather are four star Admirals is a good example of an elitist. That person, of course, is John McCain, who lately has been calling Barack Obama an elitist.

McCain never had to bother with working all that hard, as most of our children would have to in order to get in. His surname stood in for accomplishment. McCain went on to graduate fifth from the bottom of his class, but was nevertheless made a pilot. He partied his way through pilot school, crashing a fighter jet into the Gulf of Mexico while still a trainee, but graduated anyway. Actually, McCain "lost" five Navy planes during his career. Lost, in this case, a euphemism for "crashed." But oddly, nobody thought to take away his wings. Well, the Vietnamese eventually did, since they presumably didn't care what a big-shot his father was.

Contrast that with Barack Obama. The so-called elitist. At the end of his first year at Harvard, he was selected as an editor of the law review based on grades and a writing competition. During his second year he became president of the law review, a full-time volunteer position functioning as editor-in-chief and supervising the law review's staff of 80 editors. He graduated JD magna cum laude. That's the sort of accomplishment that makes a person elite in our society. It doesn't make one an elitist.

Oh, there was Obama's statement about people clinging to guns and religion because they're disillusioned with government. As someone whose family spends holidays after the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner and some Sundays after church, target shooting in the woods, I'd say his statement was both sympathetic and accurate.

You don't really have to look at backgrounds to figure out who the elitists are, though. Not really. They're the people who, instead of talking about political issues in a presidential race, would rather stick to scurrilous personal attacks, like branding an opponent as an elitist over blackberry tea. The question is: since when is being highly intelligent, or having a superior education, or tremendous talent a detriment in someone invested with tremendous power?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Union Card Check

The so-called card check issue is the basis for considerable political discussion concerning employee's rights to form a union. It is a contentious issue that many support and an apparent equal number oppose. So exactly what are the tenets of the proposed card check legislation that is currently stalled in congress?

Under present law, employees can form a union by signing a card expressing their desire to unionize. If 30% or more sign the cards, the cards are submitted to the National Labor relations Board (NLRB) who will organize a secret ballot election to determine the outcome of the employee desires to form a union. If more that 50% of the employees sign the cards then the union is presumed to exist by virtue of this card check process. However, an employer can request a secret ballot election that would challenge the card check process and therefore cause a formal secret ballot election to take place to determine the final outcome of the unionization process.

Unionization advocates want the current employer right to call for an election to be eliminated if 50% of employees vote to form a union based solely on the card check process. No secret ballot election would be necessary.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) was introduced by Senator Kennedy (D-MA) in the Senate and is supported by Senator Schumer (D-NY) and others. The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 241-185 in March 2007, but has been stalled by a filibuster in the US Senate.

The debate over card check is framed in several ways based on support or non-support of the issue.

Advocates for unionization state that without a union, employers will not recognize worker rights and will not implement job safety, pension plans or adequate health insurance without pressure from a union that supports employees. Advocates hope to obtain the necessary congressional votes to advance the legislation which was supported by President-elect Obama during his campaign.
Those that oppose the card check legislation state that the opportunity to vote using a secret ballot is being over turned. They believe the card check process will subject those that are asked to sign the cards to be exposed to unreasonable pressure by union organizing efforts. States that have right-to-work laws already champion worker rights concerning job safety, pension plans and adequate health insurance through state legislation and are concerned about unions replacing the state as the arbiter of employee rights and benefits.

Card check will continue to remain a contentious issue and ultimately the resolution may depend on the final make-up of the 111th Congress. Meanwhile, one can expect that card check will continue to be a topic on network and cable news television as well as a frequent topic in newspapers and editorials.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Unpopular Congress

There is a widespread misconception that the American people disapprove of Congress as much as they disapprove of Pres. Bush. This is related to poll figures showing historically low approval ratings for the current Congress. I truly wish the Democratic leadership would pay extra close attention to these polls because they are misleading. The fact is that the American people don't disapprove of what the Democrats have done. How could they, the Democrats haven't actually done anything. No, the disapproval of Congress is related to what they haven't done.

The conservatives and Republicans and pro-Bush people are fond of obfuscating the basic reality of these figures by saying that since Congress has such low approval ratings, it must mean they approve of Bush, despite the fact that Pres. Bush has dipped into Richard Nixon territory. The American people are so contemptible of George W. Bush right now that he was forced at every occasion to remind them that it wasn't his report that would show how things are going in Iraq, it was General David Petraeus. Bush mentioned Petraeus' name in no less than fifty speeches this past year. Why? Because even Bush realizes now he has absolutely no credibility. If he put his name on that report, nobody would even have bothered to listen. As it was, Petraeus was essentially acting as Bush's puppet, finding what he was told to find, and even with the cache of all those pretty little medals on his uniform, most of America didn't believe a word he said. Who can blame them? Pres. Bush has conditioned Americans over the past six and a half years to automatically know the sky is red if he says it is blue.
The reason that Congress is disapproved of has to do with the fact that they haven't stood up to Bush. They haven't even launched a serious investigation into his criminal actions, much less impeached him. Not only did not they not take steps to end the war as promised; they actually, amazingly, gave Bush more troops and more money. And they will continue to do so. And as long as they act just like the Republican Congress before them their approval ratings will sink. On the other hand, if they could somehow find their spine and have it surgically reimplanted and call every single person who ever worked inside the White House to testify and cited anyone who didn't show up for contempt and publicly humiliated those people by having them arrested and carted off to jail until a judge decided if they had any legal standing to avoid testifying, they would be seen as heroes. If they would march up to the White House and demand not a timeline, but a systematic breakdown of exactly what must be accomplished in Iraq for troops to start coming home, their approval ratings would go through the roof. Americans are tired of the mission in Iraq changing every six months; they want to know exactly what it will take to bring the troops home. Bush won't do that and Congress so far hasn't kept its responsibility to make him do so.

Instead, the Democrats as usual refuse to play the kind of hardball that consistently keeps them out of the White House. The argument that Congress has low approval ratings because the people prefer Pres. Bush's handling of the country is patented ludicrous. In a bizarre twist of fate, the low approval ratings of the Democrats are based on exactly the same things as the low approval ratings of Pres. Bush. In fact, many people who respond negatively to the way Congress is handling things are probably confusing Congress with the White House.

I know I am.

Legality of Homeschooling

It is completely legal to home school a child.

Some parents are concerned of legal restrictions they feel home schooling may impose on them when deciding to home school their children. Parents fear that home schooling their children is either illegal or that the steps needed to acquire home school certification are too ponderous or odious to accomplish. Some of these fears are justified depending on where the parents reside; however, the fears are usually larger than is appropriate.

The rules and laws of a child's education are set down and enforced by the individual states even though the Constitution of the United States makes no mention of education and the Department of Education tends to play a very large role in the certification of home schooling. The laws do vary from state to state, though.

It is legal in all fifty states to home school children, but some states have fewer restrictions than others. For example, Texas and Idaho place a minimum of restrictions on parents who decided to home school their kids. However, Massachusetts and New York are very particular about the methods and keep a close watch on parents who do home school their children; even requiring curriculum approval, regular student achievement scores to be submitted on a timely basis, and even home visits. Pennsylvania requires local school districts to review any materials that are to be used in home schooling for approval.

Many bills have been introduced into Congress that would expand the power of the states to enter the home of children who are home schooled or to compel parents to enroll their children into public school. While efforts have been made to monitor or defeat these legal efforts, they were overturned in 2006. Parents need not worry too much about rights being taken away since the trend of courts has been stalwartly in their favor for many years.
The Supreme Court case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) stated that the care and education of a child rested solely on the parents of said children, not the state in which they reside. The court also reaffirmed the rights of parents to make decisions regarding their children's education in 2000 with the Troxel v. Granville case, which in and of itself was not an issue of home schooling, home school advocates used it to further their goal of freedom to choose how their children are educated.

The HSLDA (Horne School Legal Defense Association, http://www.hslda.org ) was founded in 1983 to support the rights of parents who wish to home school their children and has fought many battles in the courtroom on behalf of such parents. This association closely follows any changes made by Congress and the states regarding education and publishes a yearly account of legislative acts.

Even though government from state to federal levels have tried to chip away at the parents' rights to home school their children, court cases generally have been settled in the parents' favors.

There have been cases of social workers who zealously try to protect what they feel is their duty to protect the children of parents who home school. Even with no evidence of parental abuse, such social workers try to follow through with their attempts. The HSDLA works to provide support and resources to parents so that such legal and social issues never have to be dealt with in the first place.

It is a good idea for parents considering home schooling to assiduously investigate all the necessary paperwork, supervision and requirements by law of their resident states. The parents are the ones who need to be first educated in home schooling.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Business Opp

As a young boy of eight years of age my life included not much more then school, work and sleep. Each aspect of my life took approximately eight hours and constituted a third of my daily time within any twenty-four hour period. From morning until night my hand was flipping through pages of books, blistering my small hands on a hoe, or clenching my white bed sheets with my hand. My hands were always put to good use. Despite my mundane style of early life I have learned to listen for business opportunities and harvest the results.

Farming as a major occupation has now ceased to be for the majority of Americans who have become accustomed to food in a can and a few hundred television channels. Apple pie, chords of wood piled in the back yard, and draft horses sound more like something from a Christmas carol or a Budweiser commercial then from a true way of living. Yet this simple lifestyle, and the values that come from it, have taught many worthy Americans how to run and succeed in business. Have you ever heard of Henry Ford, George Washington, Isaac Newton, or Thomas Edison?

Before one laughs at such an odd conclusion they might consider that a farm is a business. The same skills that would be required for corporate success often present themselves daily to farmers. Children learn early how to calculate the yield of an acre and how much a bushel will earn in one's local economy. Of course, such an education wouldn't be complete unless their fathers stopped scanning the local newspapers to find out how much corn is trading in Wall Street for on any particular day.

Certainly the hard skills of math, commodities, production, supply chain and economy aren't the only skills needed to start a successful business. Business gurus must also learn how to set a goal and meet that goal, be persistent enough to wake up every morning to tackle business problems, and need the mental toughness to defeat challenges as they present themselves. In other words, they must have the right personality traits to succeed in business.
Kids on a farm know hard work. Shucking corn, pulling weeds, hauling wood, pushing old Betsy out of the creek, and skinning chicken isn't anything if it isn't hard work. Farm kids wake up every morning to a long list of chores and work each day and complete them without complaint. They learn by the age of eight to handle responsibilities and tackle their goals. Their blisters and responsibilities ensure that they can face any challenge that may present itself in the future.

As the snow sloshed under my rubber boots, and my scarf waved in the wind, at the age of eight I came to the realization that I will someday live farther then "a stones throw away" from all of my other relatives. Since that time I have devoted myself to the scholarly pursuit of business and the rewards it has to offer. Deep nights have been spent in hermit like solitude thinking about the next great business opportunity. While other kids collected baseball cards, I was watering the fields and thinking about a more efficient method of finishing the job.

On his eighth birthday my son received an ear of corn which he examined closely with curiosity. Passing it from hand to hand he kept looking at me and back at the corn in hopes of figuring out why his father would give him such a ludicrous gift. The poor boy finally decided he was going to investigate what was under its wrapping. As he pulled the ears back in hopes of finding some money or other hidden oddity I said, "This ear of corn listens for the next great business opportunity".

Bill Richardson

News outlets are reporting that President-Elect Barack Obama has picked New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to be Secretary of Commerce in the new administration. Obama is expected to make the announcement after Thanksgiving.

Bill Richardson was first elected to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives in 1983. He served as a Congressman for 14 years. In 1996, then-President Bill Clinton sent Richardson to Iraq for one-on-one negotiations with Saddam Hussein to secure the release of two American aerospace workers. Richardson followed that with other missions to Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, and Nicaragua among other places.

In 1997, Clinton appointed Richardson as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Richardson served in that post until he was appointed as Secretary of Energy under President Clinton in 1998. His time in that post was tainted by the Wen Ho Lee espionage scandal. In that event Richardson publicly named Lee as suspected of giving nuclear secrets to the Chinese government. Lee later won a settlement against the government after he was cleared of all charges.

Bill Richardson was elected governor of New Mexico in November 2002, and upon his inauguration in January 2003, he became the only Hispanic governor of a U.S. state. During his first year as governor he signed a sweeping personal income tax cut. He went on to oversee the construction of a new rail commuter line in Albuquerque and codify sexual orientation and gender identity in the state's civil rights categories. In December 2005, Richardson announced plans to bring space tourism to New Mexico via a partnership with Virgin Atlantic billionare Richard Branson.

Richardson was re-elected as governor in November 2006, and during his second term he signed legislation to legalize the use of marijuana for medical uses. During his time as governor, Richardson also took on missions to North Korea at the behest of the White House and to Sudan to negotiate the release of journalist Paul Salopek.

Richardson was briefly a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President in the 2008 election. Poor showings in the early primaries and caucuses, however, caused him to drop out of the race in January 2008. He later sparked controversy when he endorsed Barack Obama for the nomination over his longtime friend Hillary Clinton.

Richardson was rumored to be in contention for the Secretary of State post due to his many accomplishments in the foreign affairs field, but Hillary Clinton is reported to have been chosen for that prestigious position instead.

A Thanksgiving Story


Are you interested in learning about the history of this fall holiday? Are you wondering when it is celebrated? Were you ever curious about how we determined which day to celebrate this post-harvest holiday?

When is The Holiday Observed?

Thanksgiving Day in the United States is always observed on the fourth Thursday in the month of November.

In Canada, this harvest holiday is celebrated in October, not in November. The Canadian holiday is not on the fourth Thursday of the month, but on the second Monday in October.

When Was the First Holiday Observed?

The first Thanksgiving was held in 1621.

Important Dates and Milestones for this Autumn Holiday

1621: A harvest feast was held by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag (Scholastic.com)

1777: George Washington calls December 18, 1777 "a day for solemn Thanksgiving and Praise."

1817: The State of New York adopts Thanksgiving as an annual custom. (http://www.holidays.net)

1863 President Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation. It was this proclamation that determined that the holiday should be held on the fourth Thursday of November. (http://www.holidays.net)

1927: The first giant balloons appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (macy's)

1934: The NFL game that may have started the whole football on Thanksgiving Day is believed to be the game between the Lions and the Bears (Pro Football Hall of Fame).

1939: President Franklin Roosevelt changes observance of the holiday from the last Thursday in November to the third Thursday in November. (Scholastic.com)

1941: President Franklin Roosevelt give this feating holiday a fixed celebration day: he signed the legislation that determined the fourth Thursday in November was Thanksgiving.

1971: Actress Christina Applegate was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1971.

The Friday After The Holiday

The Friday after Thanksgiving has gained status as its own kind of holiday of sorts. For some, the day after Thanksgiving is also known as "Black Friday." Black Friday is officially the first day of the holiday shopping season. Many retailers hold special sales events on this day.

The Friday and the weekend after the celebration is also a traditional day for early birds to find and purchase a Christmas tree. Christmas tree farms tend to open on the Friday after the holiday celebration, or on the weekend after the holiday.

The Friday following the holiday is also a day when some people choose to hang up their holiday decorations.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pirates

Prior to the 19th Century (and even during that century), everything that went long distances went mostly by ship. Supplies for trade, for war, and passengers were all carried across the seas in ships. And that meant that there was another occupation that relied on ships: piracy. Pirates came in two primary categories. The first were "legal" pirate that had letters of marque from nations that authorized them to attack enemy ships and keep the spoil. The second were of the variety that answered only to ship's captain.

In the hey-day of pirates, ships had to be fast yet with a shallow draft. They needed to be able to hid in coves and go into reefs to get away from pursuers. Yet they also needed to be able to hold fighting men and loot. Some of the more popular types of ship were made to do just these things. Here are the five main types of ship favored by pirates.

Schooners. Beautiful and elegant, these were among the fastest ships. Clippers, which came later, were modified schooners. Schooners had such a shallow draft that they could out run their targets and the effectively hide almost anywhere. Schooners were especially used in the Atlantic and the Caribbean after the Americas were colonized. They did come with a drawback: with such a shallow draft, the hold could not hold as much booty.

Sloops. During the late 1600s, these ships were extremely popular. They had shallow draft (but not so shallow as a schooner) and was very fast. It was also extremely maneuverable. It was easy for a sloop to get away from a warship because it was fast, light, and could make sudden moves.

Galleys. The Barbary corsairs favored galleys as their pirate ships. This ship was long and slender. It was fast and could hold a fair amount of spoil. The famous Captain Kidd had a galley called the Adventure built for him in 1695.

Brigantines. These ships are larger than sloops or schooners. They were ideal for holding more guns and fighters, making them more suitable for sea battles than many other types of pirate ship. These ships were popular in the Mediterranean, where trade had flourished for thousands of years, the loot was grand, and usually better protected.
Junks. In the Far East, these were popular pirate vessels. Junks have rudders with adjustable heights, which add to their maneuverability. A wide, flat-bottom design made junks perfect for moving with speed, and for fast movement in different directions, while full of treasure.

Time and Savings

For all of you that didn't already know. It's time to fall back. Yes that’s right, you get an extra hour of sleep this weekend on Sunday November 2nd. So don't forget to set your clocks back before you go to bed Saturday evening so you can take advantage of an extra hour, and speaking of savings.
Make your Holiday Lights both Festive and Frugal
To avoid a "Bah humbug!" attitude come January, take an energy efficient look at the bulbs you're stringing on your trees and on the eaves of your home.
Did you know that those large, traditional colored bulbs you unpack year after year could be costing you a bundle? While most C7 or C9 lights use 5 to 7 watts per bulb, some of the older strings use up to 10 watts per bulb!
Consider buying new miniature lights, which use about 70 percent less energy and last much longer than the larger bulbs. If you prefer the brilliance of the larger lights, switch to 5-watt bulbs, which use about 30 percent less energy than 7 to 10-watt bulbs. Although the new bulbs will cost money initially, you will see energy savings immediately.
To avoid accidentally leaving your lights on and running up your electric bill unnecessarily, use an automatic timer, both indoors and out. You'll remove the burden of turning the lights on and off and avoid leaving them on all night or during the daylight hours. Just make sure that the timer you use is rated to handle the total wattage of your lights.
Would you like to be the first in your neighborhood to try something new and different? Ask your lighting supplier for LED holiday bulbs, or look for them on the Internet. Now available in green, orange, gold, red, white and blue. They're shatterproof, shock resistant, safe to touch, and won't burn your children's hands! They also present no fire hazard, save up to 80-90 percent of your energy costs, and are long lasting.
Don't forget that safety should play an important role in your holiday decorating. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Make sure all lights you purchase contain the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label, which means they meet UL safety requirements.
  • While you're reading labels, be sure you're buying the right set for indoor use, outdoor use, or both.
  • Before decorating, check all light sets for frayed wires, damaged sockets, or cracked insulation. If you find any defects, replace the entire set.
  • All outdoor cords, plugs and sockets must be weatherproof. Keep electrical connections off the ground, and make sure wiring is kept clear of drainpipes and railings to prevent any risk of shock. It's also a good idea to use a ground fault circuit interrupter on each circuit. If current leaks through frayed or damaged wires, the interrupter will shut off the lights.
  • Don't overload your electrical circuits. Circuits in older homes carry a maximum of 1800 watts each. Most new homes can handle 2400 watts each.
To determine how many watts you're using, multiply the number of holiday bulbs by the number of watts per bulb. (If you're not sure of the wattage, use 10 watts per bulb just to be safe!) When you're calculating the total, don't forget to include appliances, normal lighting, and other electrical equipment already running on the same circuit. You can click here to read about many other energy savings ideas for the holidays.
 
Buying A New Car
 
A new car is second only to a home as the most expensive purchase many consumers make. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average price of a new car sold in the United States is $28,400. That’s why it’s important to know how to make a smart deal.
Buying Your New Car
Think about what car model and options you want and how much you’re willing to spend. Do some research. You’ll be less likely to feel pressured into making a hasty or expensive decision at the showroom and more likely to get a better deal.
Consider these suggestions:
Check publications at a library or bookstore, or on the Internet, that discuss new car features and prices. These may provide information on the dealer’s costs for specific models and options.
Shop around to get the best possible price by comparing models and prices in ads and at dealer showrooms. You also may want to contact car-buying services and broker-buying services to make comparisons.
Plan to negotiate on price. Dealers may be willing to bargain on their profit margin, often between 10 and 20 percent. Usually, this is the difference between the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) and the invoice price.
Because the price is a factor in the dealer’s calculations regardless of whether you pay cash or finance your car — and also affects your monthly payments — negotiating the price can save you money.

Consider ordering your new car if you don’t see what you want on the dealer’s lot. This may involve a delay, but cars on the lot may have options you don’t want — and that can raise the price. However, dealers often want to sell their current inventory quickly, so you may be able to negotiate a good deal if an in-stock car meets your needs.

Learning the Terms

Negotiations often have a vocabulary of their own. Here are some terms you may hear when you’re talking price. Invoice Price is the manufacturer’s initial charge to the dealer. This usually is higher than the dealer’s final cost because dealers receive rebates, allowances, discounts, and incentive awards. Generally, the invoice price should include freight (also known as destination and delivery). If you’re buying a car based on the invoice price (for example, “at invoice,” “$100 below invoice,” “two percent above invoice”) and if freight is already included, make sure freight isn’t added again to the sales contract.
Base Price is the cost of the car without options, but includes standard equipment and factory warranty. This price is printed on the Monroney sticker.

Monroney Sticker Price (MSRP) shows the base price, the manufacturers installed options with the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, the manufacturer’s transportation charge, and the fuel economy (mileage). Affixed to the car window, this label is required by federal law, and may be removed only by the purchaser.

Dealer Sticker Price, usually on a supplemental sticker, is the Monroney sticker price plus the suggested retail price of dealer-installed options, such as additional dealer markup (ADM) or additional dealer profit (ADP), dealer preparation, and undercoating.

Financing Your New Car

If you decide to finance your car, be aware that the financing obtained by the dealer, even if the dealer contacts lenders on your behalf, may not be the best deal you can get. Contact lenders directly. Compare the financing they offer you with the financing the dealer offers you. Because offers vary, shop around for the best deal, comparing the annual percentage rate (APR) and the length of the loan. When negotiating to finance a car, be wary of focusing only on the monthly payment. The total amount you will pay depends on the price of the car you negotiate, the APR, and the length of the loan.
Sometimes, dealer’s offer very low financing rates for specific cars or models, but may not be willing to negotiate on the price of these cars. To qualify for the special rates, you may be required to make a large down payment. With these conditions, you may find that it’s sometimes more affordable to pay higher financing charges on a car that is lower in price or to buy a car that requires a smaller down payment.
Before you sign a contract to purchase or finance the car, consider the terms of the financing and evaluate whether it is affordable. Before you drive off the lot, be sure to have a copy of the contract that both you and the dealer have signed and be sure that all blanks are filled in.
Some dealers and lenders may ask you to buy credit insurance to pay off your loan if you should die or become disabled. Before you buy credit insurance, consider the cost, and whether it’s worthwhile. Check your existing policies to avoid duplicating benefits. Credit insurance is not required by federal law. If your dealer requires you to buy credit insurance for car financing, it must be included in the cost of credit. That is, it must be reflected in the APR. Your state Attorney General also may have requirements about credit insurance. Check with your state Insurance Commissioner or state consumer protection agency.
Trading in Your Old Car

Discuss the possibility of a trade-in only after you’ve negotiated the best possible price for your new car and after you’ve researched the value of your old car. Check the library for reference books or magazines that can tell you how much it is worth. This information may help you get a better price from the dealer. Though it may take longer to sell your car yourself, you generally will get more money than if you trade it in.
Considering a Service Contract

Service contracts that you may buy with a new car provide for the repair of certain parts or problems. These contracts are offered by manufacturers, dealers, or independent companies and may or may not provide coverage beyond the manufacturer’s warranty. Remember that a warranty is included in the price of the car while a service contract costs extra.
Before deciding to purchase a service contract, read it carefully and consider these questions:
What’s the difference between the coverage under the warranty and the coverage under the service contract?
What repairs are covered?
Is routine maintenance covered?
Who pays for the labor? The parts?
Who performs the repairs? Can repairs be made elsewhere?
How long does the service contract last?
What are the cancellation and refund policies?

 
Holiday Safety Tips
 
The holidays are an exciting time of year for kids, and to help ensure they have a safe holiday season, here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Please feel free to excerpt these tips or use them in their entirety for any print or broadcast story, with acknowledgement of the source.
Trees:
When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant."

When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches and when bent between your fingers, needles do not break. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles. When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces, radiators or portable heaters. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways. Cut a few inches off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood. This allows for better water absorption and will help to keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard. Be sure to keep the stand filled with water, because heated rooms can dry live trees out rapidly.
Lights:
Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted. Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use. To hold lights in place, string them through hooks or insulated staples, not nails or tacks. Never pull or tug lights to remove them. Check all tree lights-even if you've just purchased them-before hanging them on your tree. Make sure all the bulbs work and that there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections. Plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters to avoid potential shocks. Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
Decorations:
Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals. Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down. In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid the child swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a young child to eat them. Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun glass "angel hair." Follow container directions carefully to avoid lung irritation while decorating with artificial snow sprays. Remove all wrapping papers, bags, paper, ribbons and bows from tree and fireplace areas after gifts are opened. These items can pose suffocation and choking hazards to a small child or can cause a fire if near flame.
 
Computer Help, Where and How to Get It
 


Well there's no denying it - No matter how new or how well maintained our computers are, we all encounter computer problems sooner or later. The good news is that we don't have to face them alone. There are a ton of resources available to walk us through computer issues but it may take a little knowledge in knowing how to access them. This article will show you how.
1. Remember help files. It's funny, but people seem to forget that every computer and every program installed on a computer comes with its own help file. Even the operating system of a computer has a help file and it really should be the first place to look for answers. Help files are designed not only to guide the user of a computer, they are also designed to solve problems. Inside a help file, look for a section called, "Troubleshooting" (or something similar) when you need to resolve an issue. This section is reserved for solving problems specific to the software or hardware that you're using.
2. Product websites. If you're having a problem with a piece of software or with a hardware part, try the website of that software's or hardware's manufacturer. Most (if not all) manufacturer's reserve a portion of cyberspace and dedicate it to support the products that they build. Microsoft's help desk is good example.
3. Fan sites. Fan sites probably aren’t a good name for this resource, but you can find websites that are dedicated toward supporting the users of a particular software program or piece of hardware. We've called them "fan sites" because the maintainers of these sites have no affiliation with the manufacturers that they support! Call them what you will, but their free help is immeasurable and without it, we wouldn't have some of the wonderful workarounds and unique problem solving techniques that we have today.
4. Usenet newsgroups. Another underused resource on the Internet, Usenet newsgroups have hundreds of discussion groups dedicated to some of the most popular computer systems, operating systems, hardware manufacturers, and individual software programs. Sometimes, the representatives of these companies participate, but most of the time, the support in this group is user to user, which is just as valid because you are working with a team of experienced people.
5. Support Lines. Another source for help that we shouldn't forget is the support systems of various manufacturers. You can reach these systems by calling the phone number associated with the product that you're having trouble with. Calls may be free (1-800 or 1-877 number), or they may cost a small fee (1-900).
6. PC support groups or user groups are another option for help. These are groups that meet in libraries, computer stores, or other local areas and they discuss all sorts of issues related with a particular product. Even if you aren't experiencing a computer or software problem, user groups are fun to participate in and they can help you network into other interests such as job or teaching opportunities.
7. Surprisingly, you may even get a helping hand from the salespersons at your local computer store. We don't recommend that you make this your first pit stop when you experience a problem, but we don't recommend that you rule this option out altogether either. Computer salespersons are hired for a reason - and that's their knowledge. Often, these kind folks can help you resolve an issue over the phone and prevent you from having to buy a costly solution.
As you can see, help is easy to find - You've just have to know where to look for it. Most of the contacts within these resources are extremely friendly and willing to take the time to walk you through a problem at little to no cost. From online discussion groups to the files on your own computer, help is often just a click away.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Matters at Home

Remember how at first, Treasury was going to buy "troubled" mortgage assets under the TARP program and then Hank Paulson pulled the plug on the idea two weeks ago? Well guess what? Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee wants Treasury to buy troubled mortgages after all. In a new letter to Paulson, he asks that Treasury begin purchasing whole loans on a "large scale" for the specific purpose of modifying the loans and keeping borrowers in their homes. If Frank gets his way, I would assume Treasury will start hiring contractors to help carry out the plan. Ultimately, the decision will be up to the incoming Obama Administration and New York Federal Reserve president Tim Geithner who was just tapped to be the first Treasury secretary in the new White House

Let's talk about U.S. automakers, home prices and the unemployment rate. If one or two of the "Big Three" go down, rest assured that today's mortgage delinquencies will be a picnic compared to what follows. But first, a story I was told by closing attorney John McDermott who writes a column for our sister publication, Origination News. The Ann Arbor-based McDermott told me a friend of his works as an engineer for an auto parts supply company. The rumor making the rounds this week is that some of the company's employees -- including this engineer -- will be furloughed for the entire month of December. Now, think about all those assembly line workers, managers, parts suppliers and businesses that operate in communities where GM, Chrysler and Ford have plants. All are at risk when it comes to layoffs and furloughs. Let's assume that 60% of these workers have a mortgage. Should TARP money be used to extend a line of credit to the automakers? That's up to Congress to decide, but a $25 billion line of credit would seem like a small price to pay for avoiding even more damage to the economy -- and the housing/mortgage market in particular. If Congress does "bail out" the automakers it should be a "strings attached" loan with union contracts reworked and a mandate to produce more fuel efficient and cheaper cars. Maybe TARP money should even be used to sell the Big Three to Honda or Toyota. Oil is at $50 a barrel, compared to a summer high of $140. But does anyone really think oil will stay at $50 over the long haul? Go 'Green'

 

Auto Workers

This is a rough week to live in one of America's automobile towns, long known to be "struggling" but now apparently "dying," for lack of even a tin cup federal bailout.

Congress is closing the door on $25 billion for an auto industry bailout out of the total $700 billion bailout package. It seems like everybody can get a bailout, some coins in the tin cup, except for us in the auto towns. This isn't true, but dang, it sure feels like we're being picked on.

In Michigan, the lack of a tin up is the most rough being from Saginaw (my dot on the map), or from Flint or Bay City along the I-75 corridor. Of the Big Three automakers, we're stuck exclusively with General Motors, the one that looks like it's going bankrupt without the bailout. At least Pontiac and Metro Detroit have Ford and also Chrysler, which at least are not going totally to hell in a handbasket, at least not yet.

It's no surprise in these quarters that the top execs from General Motors and Ford and Chrysler would be greedy enough to keep taking seven- and even eight-figure salaries through all of these hard times for the auto industry, which in truth started 30 to 40 years ago. It sparks no sense of wonderment that they would be dimwits enough to fly into Washington on private corporate jets, while at the same time holding out what the one congressman so accurately described as a tin cup. Even while they testified Tuesday in pursuit of their 25 bazzilion tin cup share of the bailout --- that's a big tin cup! --- they still didn't seem to get it.

This is just their nature. General "Generous" Motors through all of its years in Saginaw has been the worst corporate tightwad that any community could imagine. GM treated the community like it was the one with a tin up. Oh sure, GM would put a few paltry bucks into the annual drive for the Community Chest nee United Fund nee United Way, but in perspective this couldn't even measure up to three coins in a fountain, much less a tin cup.
Dow Chemical Co. also is in this mid-Michigan area and Dow Chemical hasn't always been the best neighbor, with its legacy of toxins and dioxins, but Dow's community contributions should have shamed GM by comparison, if GM had any shame. General Motors executives would always argue that their community contribution was to create jobs, as though they personally had created the jobs, rather than job creation being done by the corporation that also created their very own jobs.

Some observers have constantly groused how the United Auto Workers union has broken the back of the domestic auto industry. But now that the Big Three auto execs are playing their hands in Washington this week, maybe more people will begin to understand the UAW's behavior. When the executives ride so high on the hog, the UAW members would feel like chumps to bend over backwards at contract time. Then the auto execs have the gall to create an "analysis" in which the total compensation to a UAW member is said to be $73 an hour. This includes not just the salary and the benefits, but also the pension and probably the cost of heating the auto plants during the winter. Has any similar analysis been done on any other American worker? If the auto execs obtained WalMart, they would probably try to complain that total compensation to a WalMart worker is $50 an hour, or whatever.

The bullishness of General Motors in Saginaw would especially come on the rare occasions when they were conducting small plant expansions. GM executives would pursue maximum tax breaks the way the Godfather would pursue payoffs. Their message was that they had "an offer you can't refuse." Their whole theme was that they would move elsewhere if their tax-break tin cup were not filled. Often they blackmailed tax breaks for facilities that still closed down before the tax breaks expired.

A small part of me becomes still defensive. It's not like the Big Three carmakers are the only bad apples. For example, AIG also has corporate jets for top executives and AIG is still getting $150 billion. And on the ground level, the Japanese cars never were that much better, it's just that people who chose to be different by choosing Japanese cars would never admit they screwed up if their cars went on the fritz.

But the bottom line for me is being sad for Saginaw family and friends, present and passed, who worked in the auto industry for General Motors. They deserved better.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bailout?

The U.S. economy is in peril and the word of the day is "Bailout." Congress has agreed to bailout banks, financial institutions and insurance companies. Now the auto industry is lobbying for their piece of the pie and looking to Washington for huge sums of money to keep them afloat.

The auto industry is one of the major manufacturing industries in the United States. It is reported one out of ten jobs depends on this industry. If the "Big Three" (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) go out of business our whole economy could crash. Ford and General Motors are losing over one billion dollars per month and could run out of cash by the end of the year. This is very sobering news and has gotten the attention of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. Both leaders have called for immediate action on new legislation to help the auto industry in addition to the $25 billion in low interest loans already approved in September of 2008. They want to pump more money into an already losing industry.

Now may be the time to make the hard choices that will force the Big Three to change the way they do business and get back into sound business practices. The government could bail them out, which will not guarantee any sea change in the way they do business. Poor management decisions in the past have led to poor results in the present and no hope for a future. A better choice, instead of a bailout, might be bankruptcy. It sounds harsh but it could be the bitter medicine needed to save this ailing sector of our economy.

If the auto makers were to go into bankruptcy they would be protected from their creditors and would be able to restructure their debt while they still remain in business. Bankruptcy would enable them to shut down plants that are not profitable, renegotiate union contracts, and bring on line new products that are cost effective and fuel efficient. An interesting side note is that the Big Three are doing very well overseas. It is in the domestic market and production facilities where the trouble is. Now is the time to face the ire of the unions and tell them to face reality. They can either save jobs and renegotiate contracts that are more in line with good business sense and the rest of the working class, or they can be shut down and unemployed.

The Democrats have just won control of both houses of congress and the White House. The question is, do they have the political will to stand up to one of their largest voting blocs; union workers. It will be interesting to see how this economic dilemma plays out. The future of millions around the country and the around the world are at stake. Which will it be? Bailout or Bankruptcy?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

You are being attack! and you don't know it!

It's hunting season in America, and you know what that means! Your
sons and daughters will be asking why all the men in your family are
killing Santa's reindeer. (Have fun explaining that one!) But that's
not the worst of it; it's also that time of the year when more idiots
with guns injure and kill themselves and other people.

But this season really started out with a bang, as far as crazy gun
stories go. There were two big stories that didn't involve hunters
(well, the guys that owned the guns might have enjoyed hunting; we
just don't know). First there was the child who was killed while trick
or treating. He, his brother, and his father were all shot on the
doorstep of some psycho who "thought they might be robbers". His
father and brother survived, but he did not.

Then we have the story of the 8-year-old boy that shot and killed his
father and another man, likely out of anger. The boy obviously had
been taught how to use a gun, but didn't quite understand the
repercussions of doing so on another human being. The boy's fate is
still undecided.

And now for the hunting tales of woe. Last year there was a story of a
hunter whose dog shot him in the rear (the dog stepped on the trigger
of the gun). At least someone got what he deserved! Recently a hunter
killed a toddler. She was sitting in her grandparent's house when a
bullet ripped through the wall of the trailer and killed her. Another
man killed his 6-year-old daughter while cleaning his gun, and back in
July, a man killed his pregnant wife doing the same thing. In Idaho a
man was shot and killed by a member of his own hunting party who
mistook him for an elk, and another hunter in Michigan was killed in a
deer blind by a woman who was aiming at a deer. I could really go on
and on with these terrible stories, but the liberal media churns
plenty of them out for you to enjoy every day. (Charlton Heston is
rolling over in his grave.)

I know Americans enjoy their guns, but growing up with a father who
took sadistic pleasure in hunting down and killing the best of the
best bull elk around the country made me realize that many people
don't hunt because they enjoy the meat; they do it because they like
killing things- really big things, and I definitely cannot condone the
practice of trying to kill the biggest, strongest bull or buck with
the best genes, because these are the males that ensure that their
species will continue to be healthy and thrive. By killing them off,
we're weakening the gene pool and the entire population of wild game.
But that's just the half of it.

If people are going to continue to use guns in the irresponsible way
that they are, they shouldn't be allowed to have them. The whole
purpose of guns is to kill, after all, and people seem to be doing a
good job of using them for this purpose, often on the innocent and
their own family members. But I know Americans won't stop clinging to
their guns anytime soon.

As long as we live in a society where people enjoy killing, love
playing violent video games and watching violent movies, and treat
their guns as toys, the liberal media will continue to report stories
like these, and your second amendment right will continue to be under
attack.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New EPA CO2 Emissions

No industry succeeds for very long by sticking to old technologies and processes. Sure it's easier in the short term to use the old ways and to shun investment in new technologies, but in the long run, whether it's coal, cars, or computers, it is a sure-fire recipe for obsolescence. Although the new ruling puts a temporary halt to the construction of new coal-fired power plants, until the proper rules and carbon-sequestering technologies can be developed, it does not reduce the current demand for coal by a single lump. The executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, Marion Loomis, put it this way in a statement to the Associated Press, published by MSN's Moneycentral.com, "We're not selling to plants that aren't constructed, so the utilities that are taking Wyoming coal are... plants that are operating." The coal industry has nothing to fear from this ruling, and everything to gain.

What the New EPA CO2 Emissions Ruling Means

In order for a new coal-fired power plant to win approval, several things will need to happen. The EPA will need to develop specific rules about the acceptable limits for CO2 emissions, technology for reducing CO2 emissions to those levels must be identified or developed, and the proposed new plants will need to incorporate that best available technology to reduce CO2 emissions. It is thought that such a plan would involve the capture and storage of CO2, perhaps sequestering it underground where it would not contribute to global warming. With the current cost of alternative forms of energy, there is a strong incentive for power generators to solve these problems and develop the technologies that will restore coal, specifically clean coal, as the clear favorite energy source, not only of America, but of the world. In any case, it is now highly unlikely that any new permits could be issued before the incoming Obama administration takes control of the White House and environmental policy.

EPA CO2 Ruling is a Victory for American Business
Instead of ignoring the CO2 problem and helping power generators to ignore the pent up latent demand for clean coal technologies, the new ruling gives American entrepreneurs, be they big or small, a swift kick in the right direction. Since this country was founded, American ingenuity has been the strength and engine of our economy. We have never moved ahead by stonewalling innovation. The EPA CO2 ruling gives America the opportunity and incentive to become the world leader in the development of clean coal and carbon sequestration technologies. These are going to be huge growth industries over the next decades. America can and should be developing these technologies not only for our own next generation coal-fired power plants, but for the rest of the world as well.

Clearing the Road to America's Future

Coal-fired power plants are dramatically cheaper than nuclear power plants. By making these coal-fired power plants clean and removing the objection of unrestrained CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, the road can be cleared for the next step in reducing our dependence upon foreign oil. With abundant coal-fired power, we would have a cost-effective and American fuel source for our next generation of electric cars that will also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Currently coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the United States each year according to a report in Time magazine.

Disney Obama?

After his win in the United States presidential election, President-elect Barack Obama may not only be headed to the White House, but to Disneyland as well.

Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) wants to bring an Obama robot to the return of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction at Disneyland, according to MiceAge.com.

If Tony Baxter, Senior Vice President of Creative Development at WDI, gets his way, a robotic Obama will move into the Main Street, U.S.A. Opera House of the Disney theme park in Anaheim, California. The robot, known as an Audio-Animatronic (AA), would join previous U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

"Piggybacking on the work now going on to eventually revamp Walt Disney World's (WDW) impressive Hall of Presidents animatronic attraction, WDI now wants to create a condensed version of that new show for Disneyland," Al Lutz of MiceAge.com explained. "But instead of going through the entire parade of silent nodding rubber presidents like WDW does, George Washington would then cut to the chase and introduce the current president, which would be Barack Obama when the attraction opens prior to [Disneyland's] 55th anniversary."

"President-elect Obama's animatronic would say a few well-scripted words, and the show would end with the requisite stirring music and gushing patriotic pride."

News of an Obama AA coming to Disneyland has generated mixed reactions.

"I would hold off any Obama AA until history can provide a better idea of what kind of president he actually becomes," one reader said. "As with postage stamps and currency, let's stick presidents that have passed away."

Another reader disagreed. "Main Street isn't really about 1910 small town America as it is really about the positive feelings in America at that time combined with good feelings of no worries. Obama represents that hope."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lugar

The post of Secretary of State is one of the more important positions that President-Elect Barack Obama must fill. People mentioned for the job include Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat.

We have covered Senator Hillary Clinton elsewhere, so we can proceed with examining the other three.

John Kerry would tend to be the most controversial of the three. When Kerry was running for president, he suggested American foreign policy should not be motivated by American interests, but by something he called a "global test." By "global test," it was meant that certain foreign countries, especially those in Europe, would have to approve and be comfortable with American foreign policy decisions before they could be made.

The problem with John Kerry's "global test" is that it fails to take into account the unique leadership role the United States has had thrust upon it. The knee jerk reaction of quite a few countries, especially in Europe, to a foreign crisis, such as Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, is appeasement. The United States has to cajole, persuade and occasionally compel other countries to go along with necessary measures, whether they be economic sanctions or even military action, to deal with foreign threats. To wait upon the approval of France, for example, before doing anything is just the same as doing nothing.

Bill Richardson once served as American ambassador to the United Nations, and thus has some actual foreign policy experience. While at the UN, Bill Richardson was pretty much in the mainstream of Democratic foreign policy thinking and did not behave too alarmingly. The one drawback to a Bill Richardson appointment is his involvement in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, during which he offered a job to Lewinsky at the UN. Richardson may have concealed some of his knowledge about the scandal during grand jury testimony.


Richard Lugar is a moderate Republican senator with very solid foreign policy credentials. He was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and worked on reduction of weapons of mass destruction worldwide. When Lugar ran for President in 1996, he raised the issue of nuclear terrorism, proving to be a man ahead of his time. Lugar once gave a speech praising Obama's foreign policy approach and, in turn, Obama praised Richard Lugar as someone who had shaped his views on the subject. The one drawback to a Richard Lugar appointment is that he is 76, though apparently in good health.

American downsized!

Have you noticed smaller sizes or strange happenings to some of your old standby products on market shelves recently? I have - and I'm not fooled nor am I happy about it.

My local newspaper, The San Diego Union - Tribune, called this to my attention about a week ago. I suspected some products in stores had changed, that some looked smaller or slightly different. I just didn't realize how sneaky corporations had become.

Manufacturers have, I suspect, been fighting raising prices to cover rising costs, especially shipping, by changing packaging to make the product look larger or altering the container size to hold less of it. In many cases prices haven't changed in relation to the size of the container; the net amount of product you get with each purchase has. Or, you are paying less for a smaller amount, but more in price per unit.

For instance, a popular brand of peanut butter is in what appears to be the same old jar. However, upon closer inspection you will notice a new indentation about the size of half an egg on the bottom. The jar is the same size, and same price, but it holds about one ounce less peanut butter. Only if you carefully read the new label and remember how much was in the old container would you realize the trickery involved.

And, have you tried finding the old 20 ounce Pepsi six packs in the market? I can't, but I do see a 16.5 ounce size in six packs replacing it at 3.5 cents an ounce and a 12.5 ounce size in twelve packs at 3.2 cents per ounce. Gone are the 20 ounce sizes at considerably less per ounce. As a result the price per ounce is now higher in smaller bottles. Come on, Pepsi, did you think I am so stupid that I would not see what you have so cleverly done to my 'Old Pepsi' in order to sell more thinking I am paying less per bottle? Not so fast!

Last week I noticed my regular butter, a major brand name, was in smaller quarters in a smaller box. I don't think it was any less expensive though. Cows must be demanding more hay? Maybe that new law passed this past election in California requiring better treatment of animals is the result, but I don't think so. No, I think I have been downsized and am now paying more per ounce of butter.

Another deceitful practice is placing a product in a seemingly large package. When you get it home and open it, you find this tiny object in a big box. This is not only misleading packaging, it is wasteful in that these package materials now must be discarded to the landfill. The product could easily have been packaged in a box about half the size. However, you were impressed by the fancy, big package you thought you were buying of the product. Corporations know this and package accordingly - and deceptively. There oughta be a law!

This downsizing trend is misleading and an unfair business practice, I recon. Unless you remember to check the very small sign on the shelf concerning price per ounce or other unit of measure - and remember the old price per unit - you may have been duped into buying a lesser amount and paying more. Not my style of shopping - I want more and to pay less.

Corporations must have taken Barack Obama seriously when he suggested we "share the wealth". I'm not so sure he had this in mind when he recommended that, but don't think I should be paying more for a lesser amount no matter what he meant. I'm not willing to share whatever measly wealth I have with big corporations regardless of the reasoning.

Corporate 'spinners' have justified this by saying words to the effect "Consumers don't want to pay $4.00 for a jar of peanut butter (or whatever other product they have jimmied)!" I suppose that justifies the scam in their minds - though not in mine. I mean, what's next? Paying for condoms by the inch?

Top 5 Gifts to order online

You do not have to travel far to purchase and send a gift. Purchasing and sending gifts through the Internet saves on money, gas, and time. The obvious option would be to order flowers, Mrs. Field's Cookies and gift baskets, or wine via online capability, but let's take a trip outside of that box. Here are some great ideas on what the Internet has to offer those seeking a gift to send. When sending a gift, free shipping counts, just ask Target. During Fall of 2008, the world turned to Target for it's buzz cut in shipping costs by offering free shipping on a large scale.

The gifts at Gifts.com range from Pajama Gram's pajamas delivered in a free keepsake hatbox to Radio Shack's TomTom GPS. The variety of shipping details may vary, however most offer free shipping (restrictions apply).

A great gift idea comes from Things Remembered. The Things Remembered online store shares the personalized (50"x60") Giant's NFL Stadium blanket. Treat a sports buff, or treat yourself.

Alas, The Weather Channel. The Weather Channel offers outside wear, and even summer items. From the classic low-fit golf cap, the Deck Jacket to the Wireless Forecast Station, these items can be ordered online and delivered. 'Tis the season with TWC, as their site shares options for all ages. This is the perfect site for those who hold an interest in TWC.

Top 5 Picks: Online Gift Purchasing with Delivery

5. (Internet) Magazine: For those with a taste for reading, a magazine subscription may fit the profile. Whether purchasing online or off, magazines have grown in size, price, and distance during the last ten years. Before purchasing a magazine, be sure to ask pr search of any deals on the subscription to save in cost. Once you have chosen the appropriate magazine, place the address of the person you are purchasing for in the appropriate block, and pay online, it's that simple. A great read, is a great gift.
4. RIM Blackberry Bold (AT&T): The RIM Blackberry Bold is a sharp display of multimedia performance with smartphone options for mobile professionals. The gift of communication is priceless, and with the holiday seasons around the corner, the average price of $299.99 is sure to be lowered by seasonal price cuts and offers. CNET rates the Blackberry Bold high in standards, as the public rates the Blackberry Bold at 4.5, with 5 at best.

3. Giants NFL Stadium Blanket: From Things Remembered comes the 50" x 60" Giants NFL Stadium Blanket, one of the house favorites. Treat a sports buff, or treat yourself to this fan warmer. Things Remembered doesn't stop there, they offer a blanket for other NFL teams. Pick up your favorite at ThingsRemembered.com.

2. Gift of Inhouse Dining: Purchase a dinner online for someone special, and have it delivered to their home. What a great way to say "thinking of you". The Internet has climbed in value when it comes to gift giving, including the finest of inhouse dining. Since nothing says loving like a bisquit from an oven, it would only seem kind to offer a night off from the stove. When they say that feeding a man is a way into his heart, this also could stand for women as well, as this gift is a feast without labor, making landfall at number two.

1. The Gift or Gas Card: Prepaying for a card is not such a bad idea when one thinks of the benefits they offer. A gift card for a persons favorite shop actually helps the shopper in the long run. They can simply pull out your gift, and shop, shop, shop. The gas card is not a bad idea either. For those who suffered during the gas price hikes of the summer, gifts such as gas cards have a new respect. Read all the small print on any card before "investing".

With Black Friday approaching fast, the shoppers gear up for the busiest shopping day of the year. Finding online deals can best be done upon the following Monday. Search the engines for any changes on upcoming deals prior to Black Friday, for some deals may change in time or climb in price reduction.

Inside of malls, shoppers can find jewelry stores with many gift giving ideas. The same can be done online at Kay.com. Kay Jewelers offers a spectacular world of diamonds with the option of purchasing and delivery online. Even though this would not be our first pick, let us not stand in the way of you and your goal.

These gifts should direct you closer to your shopping goal. All by which can be ordered and sent online, a true convenience.

The next Sec of State -- Hilary?

Media reports are suggesting that the Barack Obama transition team is mulling over none other than Senator Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Other candidates include Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar and Governor Bill Richardson.

Hillary Clinton might be a good fit for Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton has some foreign policy experience as Senator and before that First Lady. But there are some factors mitigating against Hillary Clinton being offered the job of Secretary of State or having been offered the job her accepting it.

Senator Hillary Clinton is just sixty one, with the prospect of perhaps twenty or more years in the Senate if she so chooses. She might even become a candidate for President again in 2012 should Barack Obama stumble. The job of Secretary of State is considered the cap of a successful career in public service. It is true that three early Secretaries of State, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, subsequently become President, but none have in the modern age.

Rumor has had it that Senator Hillary Clinton had been in line for a Barack Obama Supreme Court nomination. A Supreme Court appointment, unlike that of Secretary of State, is a life time job with the prospect of decades of influence. The term of Secretary of State would only run a few years.

Even though she doesn't come from an academic or foreign service background, Hillary Clinton would be a good pick, from a Democratic perspective, as Secretary of State. Barack Obama also may think he will have eliminated a rival for 2012, just in case he should become less popular then than he is now. That may not be the case as there is no barrier, constitutional or otherwise, for a Secretary of State resigning and then running for President.
Barack Obama may also want to consider that Hillary Clinton, still somewhat ambitious, might be a poor fit for a job like Secretary of State that would require her to subordinate her policy preferences to that of the President of the United States. Senator Hillary Clinton attacked Barack Obama for being "naïve" on foreign policy issues. If she believes that would Hillary Clinton be willing to execute that same foreign policy naiveté as Barack Obama's Secretary of State?

The State Department bureaucracy has often served a role of undermining the foreign policy of the President it technically answers to. Bill Gertz, in his latest book The Failure Factory, documents how the State Department bureaucracy, among others, helped to undermine President Bush's War on Terror. Imagine a State Department with a Secretary of State with her own foreign policy ideas following a course independent of that of the President. It would be a prescription for chaos and uncertainty. People are already apprehensive about Barack Obama's tendency to appeasement. Barack Obama does not need even the possibility of a rogue Secretary of State, especially one like Hillary Clinton, who might still want his job.