Friday, October 14, 2005

THINGS I JUST DON'T GET (YET)

Samsung, the world's largest maker of memory chips for computers and other gadgets, will pay a $300 million fine to settle accusations that it secretly conspired with industry rivals to fix prices and cheat customers, federal officials said Thursday.

Two of Samsung's rivals earlier paid fines to Uncle Sam totaling $345 million. All of these fines were associated with the price-fixing scam that they allegedly ran between 1999 and 2002.

The market for memory chips, by the way, is about $7.7 Billion in the U.S. alone. Oh by the way, in 2004 alone, Samsung had worldwide sales of memory chips of $13.5 Billion.

Here's what troubles me about this settlement, and the long history of similar settlements won by the Justice Department. CONSUMERS - THE VICTIMS - DON'T SEE A PENNY OF IT!

Your friendly Uncle Sam gets the money. Further, companies that pay these fines hardly walk away battered and bruised, let alone crippled. 1999: Hoffman-La Roche Ltd, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies - a record $500 million fine for vitamins shenanigans. Roche is a $24 Billion sales company, by the way, with net profits of about $5 Billion in 2004. You think they blinked twice about a $500 million fine?

So back to Samsung. In 2004, Samsung reported record sales of $55.3 Billion and net income of $10.3 Billion.

Do you really think that companies such as Samsung really worry about $300 million fines? It was less than 3 percent of last year's income and way less than that percent of their earnings for 1999 - 2002.

The system is broke, my friends. I purchased a computer and additional memory to boot during that period. Did you? Where are our checks? I must have missed mine; guess I didn't check my mailbox that day. Granted, how do you actually determine who exactly was harmed and by how much? A great mathematical problem. No doubt, though, given the magnitude of the memory chip markets, us actual consumers were ripped off by well over $300 million.

Time to lobby our members of Congress to change the system for punishing corporations that just can't seem to earn enough income.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

YET MORE BAD POLL NEWS FOR EL PRESIDENTE BUSH

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 6-10 among 1,500 adults, reverberates with the same lack of encouragement as the just released NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Poor Mr. President.

Bush's overall job approval rating has slipped to an all-time low of 38 percent in the Pew survey. Other issues polled by Pew swim along with him. If this was a democracy more akin to that of the United Kingdom, the no confidence votes would be rolling in like stunamis and hurricanes. We'd finally be rid of the Bush family's CE presidency nonsense.

Here are some other responses to the Pew survey, including a chronological progression.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?

10/05 7/05 1/05 10/04 1/04 4/03 9/01
Approve 38% 47% 50% 44% 58% 74% 86%
Disapprove 56 46 43 48 35 20 7

All in all, are you
satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country today?

10/05 7/05 1/05 10/04 1/04 4/03 9/01
Approve 29% 35% 40% 36% 58% 50% 57%
Disapprove 65 58 54 58 35 41 34

Do you approve or disapprove of the job the Republican leaders in Congress are doing?
Approve 32% Disapprove 52

Do you approve or disapprove of the job the Democratic leaders in Congress are doing?
Approve 32% Disapprove 48

Looking ahead to the next presidential election, would you like to see a president who offers policies and programs similar to those of the Bush administration, OR would you like ot see a president who offers different policies and programs?
Similar 25% Different 69%

Do you think the U.S. made the right decision or the wrong decision in using military force against Iraq?
Right 44% Wrong 50%

How well is the U.S. military effort in Iraq going?
Very Well 9% Fairly Well 35% Not Too Well 31% Not At All Well 22%

Do you think the U.S. should keep military troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized, or do you think the U.S. should bring its troops home as soon as possible?
Keep troops in Iraq 47% Bring them home 48%

In the long run, do you think the war in Iraq has increased the chances of terrorist attacks in the U.S.,
lessened the chances, or has it made no difference?
Increased 41% Lessened 25% Made no difference 32%

In politics TODAY, do you consider yourself a Republican, Democrat, or Independent?
Republican 26% Democrat 34% Independent 34%

All in all, what effect had George W. Bush had on politics and the way government works in Washington?
Made better 21% Made worse 41% Not much of an effect 32%

Have George W. Bush's policies and decisions made (insert item) better, worse, or neither better nor worse?

Better Worse Neither
America's economy 19% 57% 20%
The federal budget deficit 6 66 21
Public education 24 32 37
Health care in America 16 43 36
Tax system 22 40 31
Social Security system 12 40 39
America's national security 47 30 21
America's relations with its allies 22 47 26
Race relations 16 29 48
The gap between rich and poor 8 57 31
Morality in America 25 35 36



Ah to be sitting fat and happy in the Bush White House!








BUSH/RIGHTWING POLL NUMBERS CONTINUE SLIDE

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll holds no good news for Unelected President Bush and his Republican Rightwing friends and family. Conducted from October 8-10 of 807 adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, it suggests more bad news to come.

Only 39 percent of those polled approve of the Job that Bush is doing as President. This is a new low. Sorry if I don't express sorrow at this point. In the NBC/WSJ poll released in mid-september, a new low for the president. In the last NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, which was released in mid-September, only 40 percent approved of Bush’s job performance.

The new poll also showed that just 28 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction, another all-time low in Bush’s presidency. Boohoo!

"Any way you slice this data, I think these are just terrible sets of numbers,"
said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.


But wait! There's more bad news for Bush and the Rightwing in this poll.

On Harriet Miers: According to the poll, 29 percent say she’s qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, while 24 percent think she’s unqualified. Forty-six percent say they don’t know enough about her.

On Congressman Tom DeLay: 65 percent say that DeLay’s indictment on charges of illegally using corporate contributions for political campaigns suggests potential illegal activity, while 24 percent say the indictment is politics as usual and has little merit.

On Senator Bill Frist: 57 percent say Frist’s sale of stock in a company his family runs — just before the value of the stock declined — indicates potential illegal activity, compared with 28 percent who say the charge has little merit.

On who should control Congress: 48 percent say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, compared with 39 percent who want the Republicans to control Congress. The nine-point difference is the largest margin between the parties in the 11 years the NBC/WSJ poll has been tracking this question.

On energy prices: 69 percent believe the worst is still to come with energy and fuel prices. Just 25 percent think the worst is behind us.


Is there no hope at all for our fearless leader? Are all of the cards stacked against him? Can the Democratic Party finally find a statesperson leader that can guide the Party and the nation out of this political quagmire? Or will the Democrats continue to operate in a moral and leadership vacuum as they have for most of the past ten years?

The agenda should be clear. The opportunity is at hand. NOW.




Wednesday, October 12, 2005

THE BUSH/GREENSPAN RECESSION

Want more ill-conceived, baseless rationales for trying to gut federal entitlement and other spending programs - except for defense of course? How about more excuses for additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans?

How about a good ole' recession? You know, the kind that is accompanied by ever increasing interest rates, collapsing the rock-solid housing market that has been instrumental in maintaining economic growth. The kind that will reduce demand for petroleum products such as gasoline, natural gas, and plastics. And, of course, the kind that will see unemployment once again increase.

Just released minutes of the Federal Reserve's September 20 meeting, at which the federal funds rate was increased for an eleventh consecutive time - to a four-year high - perhaps indicate one of two distressing scenarios.

One. Alan Greenspan has been Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board since August 1987. His term expires - finally, one might suggest - on January 31, 2006. Greenspan and his Board seem obsessed with fighting what some economists believe is a non-existent inflation.

According to Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary published in 1983 the relevant definition of "inflation" is:

"An increase in the amount of currency in circulation, resulting in a relatively sharp and sudden fall in its value and rise in prices: it may be caused by an increase in the volume of paper money issued or of gold mined, or a relative increase in expenditures as when the supply of goods fails to meet the demand."

This definition includes some of the basic economics of inflation and would seem to indicate that inflation is not defined as the increase in prices but as the increase in the supply of money that causes the increase in prices i.e. inflation is a cause rather than an effect.

Look at increases in consumer prices and the M1 measure of money supply over the past 24 months (September 2003 through August 2005) over the past. Over that period, the consumer price index has increased by an average of 2.95%; M1 money supply has increased by an average of 2.75%. By any historical standards, and according the Webster's 1983 definition of inflation, THERE IS NO INFLATION.

Greenspan and the Federal Reserve Board appear to be using the recent year's behavior of energy prices as a basis for waving the alarm flag over inflation. Granted, we are experiencing "pain at the pump," and now "pain in our heating bills" as a result of a) natural disasters called hurricanes, and b) tight crude oil supplies and refining capacity. But these are the result of supply and demand economics, NOT CLASSIC INFLATION. And, as they have been in the past, they usually prove to be temporary market conditions. The effects of hurricanes soon pass, and markets will take care of inefficiencies in refining capacity, assuming that markets actually see true inefficiencies there.

Here are some hard facts to chew over:

Inflation rates, as measured by changes in the consumer price index, have increased annually as follows:

  • Reagan/Bush I presidency 1981 - 1991: 4.1%
  • Clinton presidency 1992 - 2000: 2.5%
  • Bush II presidency 2001 - Aug 2005: 2.5%
True, changes in the consumer price index have been above the Bush II average over the past year or so. But this variance is owing almost exclusively to energy prices.

None, repeat none, of the misnamed inflation in recent months is attributable to excess or worrisome money supply growth.

The Fed said that it was concerned that forgoing yet another rate hike without basis might mislead people into thinking that Fed officials were overly worried about the economic impact of Hurricane Katrina. But this is simply not rational; it's simply silly. Fed policy should be based on real economic data, not their personal perceptions of people's worries.

The Fed was also concerned about "inflation" (again they have forsaken inflation's definition) caused by a spike in energy prices. But free market economies make their own free market adjustments to anomalies such as energy prices just as they might if food prices were to jump as a result of a mad cow infection or major crop failure. Economic "shit" happens and it should not be the Fed's policy to interfere with these natural market forces. Otherwise they risk markets being unable to adjust and grow or contract rationally.

Again, NO INFLATION! So why is the Greenspan set on fighting it?!

Two. Greenspan and the Federal Reserve Board are being unduly influenced - even though they purport to be independent - to precipitate a recession. Greenspan regularly expresses concern about "the worrisome loss of fiscal discipline evident in recent years."

Well hello!!? Fiscal discipline? $200 Billion and counting for misadventure in Iraq? Several times that in irrational tax cuts for the top 2%ers? Tens of billions of dollars in ongoing pork in a bloated transportation bill? All, by the way, under supposedly "fiscally conservative" Republican guidance! All resulting in the greatest fiscal deficits in American history.

So how about a good ole' recession? It'll cut demand and economic activity - though the 2%ers likely won't feel it much. Since Bush and his Republican-controlled Congress have done such a great job of slashing discretionary spending, and ever-increasing interest rates (driven by Greenspan) will continue to increase the proportion of federal spending that is needed to service our unconscionable debt, and there is no end in sight in their ability to increase defense spending, well that pretty much leaves Social Security, Medicare, and "No Child Left Behind" as sources for spending reductions. So the Rightwing "Christian" Bush agenda marches on.

And the best part of this would be that they can figure out a way to blame Democrats for the mess. I haven't yet fully worked that one out, but give me time. The 2006 elections are comin' down the pike and no way the Republicans want to cede control of Congress. So out of the gate they'll come ranting about how them bad old free-spending Democrats will want to raise taxes and do whatever ill they can to take money from "everyone's" pockets.

But a recession! Well, you know it's the Democrats and them environmentalists' fault for blocking the construction of new oil refineries for three decades, or the exploration of the Arctic for new oil reserves. The recession will have nothing to do with higher interest rates slashing the housing industry's consistent performance. It will have nothing to do with wasteful spending on an immoral war or misguided and inefficient spending with Bush's friends and family on Gulf Coast hurricane reconstruction. It'll be all about the Democrats. Mark these words.

Raising interest rates into seeming perpetuity will not alter the basic supply/demand equation of U.S. energy policy. Neither will needless "incentives" for oil companies - in the wake of record profits at your expense and mine. Most of us know that our policies need to be refocused in the direction of greener, renewable energy sources and reduced reliance on unstable, unreliable foreign energy sources. Congress needs to get the message once and for all. The U.S. has the wherewithal to develop energy independence. And even Bush's family and friends can profit from such a policy.

Fed-induced recession is not an answer. It will only result in the less fortunate - once again - paying the highest price amongst us for Bush's and the Rightwing's complete mismanagement of government. Record high energy prices should be a clarion call to everyone. A call to implement real policies that encourage an explosion in energy technologies in the world's biggest waster of scarce resources. How about a crude oil tax that helps to set a floor price for the commodity? Every dollar raised by the tax earmarked to stimulate development of domestic energy sources, from new technologies to oil shale. $60 a barrel oil isn't killing the economy now; it won't in the future. A tax could easily fund a "Manhattan Project" style program for energy independence and efficiency. And mandating higher fuel economy standards for the automobile industry, both domestic and foreign companies, on vehicles sold in the U.S. wouldn't hurt, either.

Now doesn't all of that sound better than a darned recession?









Tuesday, October 11, 2005

HUMBLE APOLOGIES

Dear readers,

My humblest of apologies for not posting for the past two days. After an October snowstorm of very heavy, wet snow, we have been without power for more than 36 hours. Now it is time to resort life, inspect the contents of the freezers, and re-read the newspapers that were unreadable with candlelight.

See you in a day.