Monthly Archives: December 2008

Looking Back WIthout Hurting Your Neck

Anti-WEF demonstators take part in a protest against the ongoing World Economic Forum with a slogan saying
I don’t know about you, but I really love this time of year. Sure, you say, who doesn’t love the parties, the drinking, being with family, the drinking, watching bowl games, the drinking, and so on? But wait. There’s more. This is the time, a season really, when we get to appreciate all the important moments of 2008. This will be a banner year. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and project that the important moments of 2008 will break last year’s record breaking important moments total.

Every list will surely include the election Barack Obama, the Beijing Olympics, Britney’s comeback, the Intergallactic financial meltdown, and our successful surges around the world. Many will focus on Sarah’s clothes or Blagojevech’s hair or Elliot’s new focus on his family. Some will chronicle Phelps or Tiger or Eli or OJ. The rise and fall of Alaskan influence on politics. The earthquakes, cyclones, hurricanes, floods and fires. The deaths, the murders, the suicides. The crises, scandals, spins and parsing. We have a lot to remember. The best movies. The best music. The best award shows. The breakthroughs. The breakdowns. The break-ins.

It is an exciting time. I have chills just thinking about seeing all those CNN breaking stories run again. Hearing the best news speculation team in the business speculate on what speculation was closest to what actually happened, how we should leave that for historians to speculate on. Remembering the personal tragedies. Chronicling the corruption. Counting the incredible amounts of money spent or lost. Seeing the graphic footage of total strangers describing events and recall how they felt as they just happened to be walking down the street when the reporters arrived and couldn’t find anyone else to talk to.

And surely the looking back season won’t be complete without looking back at previous years of looking forward as part of looking back. Culminating, as is only proper, in looking back on Bush’s legacy, his great moments, triumphs and influence on the late night comedy.

Yes, try as you might to forget this miserable, underachieving, failure of year, you won’t be allowed to. For it is the season to remember way back when yesterday was today.

Photo: REUTERS – Anti-WEF demonstators take part in a protest against the ongoing World Economic Forum with a slogan saying “The WEF for the ass” in Davos, January 26, 2008

Get Me Off The Road, Please

The best reason for mass transportation

Driving on the interstates is inherently irrational. To think that the drivers of all those other cars would voluntarily and routinely entrust theirs and their family’s lives to me is nuts. Based solely on a ten minute driving test in high school, with no knowledge of my driving skills, my car maintenance or my attention span, and regardless of whether I’m returning a call, Twittering, checking email, drinking coffee or booze, locating an iPod playlist, picking my nose, watching a DVD, lost or lost in thought, they have enough faith in me to share the highway at speeds guaranteed to to kill and maim. With my car aimed directly at theirs, they ride along fearlessly believing they are more likely to fall asleep from boredom than my minimum breaking distance. Why do they do it? What makes where they are going so important? Why do they trust me completely at 75 miles an hour, but while standing still they lock their doors? Beat’s me. My driving scares the bejesus out of me. It’s a miracle we make it safely any time I drive. I believe I need to be stopped. I’m hoping all those other drivers will organize and decide it is time to get me, and all the others like me, off the road. Trains come to mind. Trains that go places people, especially drivers like me, want to go. Modern, fast, clean, energy efficient trains. Spurs the economy. Creates jobs. And will save lives – maybe yours. Think about it. Then write your Congresspeople. Your life may depend it on it.

Holiday Wrap Up

Pardon the pun, but I’ve worked with way too many clever people and there is a long term effect. Anyway, I have this list of things I planned to write about this month and am fast approaching the time where it just isn’t going to happen. Here’s my attempt to plant or at least provoke some metaphorical seeds…

Social Networks Caused Economy Crisis

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Probably too early to tell if this part of the Chicken/Egg Conundrum, but visits to LinkedIn and Facebook are up 20% and 18% respectively. My explanation (using the Colbert approach) is that as people have less and less to do at work, they are spending more and more time looking for someone who will discover them and give them money.Social Networking vs Economy Graph

Here are some links:

CSI North Pole

We moved last year and are using basic cable. My justification was based on cost and the hope that if I didn’t watch HBO for a couple of years maybe they would add some movies we hadn’t seen. Admittedly, using the remote control so much has made the Carpal Tunnel caused by a billion mouse clicks much worse. Not only am I clicking to miss the commercials (they still have commercials on basic cable – 5 minutes worth every 10 minutes – mostly prescription drugs with hilarious side effects for diseases I haven’t yet asked my doctors about), to find something we can watch. We have these rules for program selection: no autopsy shows; no shows with violence against women or children; no shows with laugh tracks; no shows with automatic weapons; no fascist news shows (Lou Dobbs and everything on Fox News); no personal tragedy tonight shows; no shows with snakes; no game shows (that includes all of the survivor genre); and no movie that we have seen more than twice in the last week. That doesn’t leave much.

It Could Be a Wonderful Life.

A rewrite of the original substituting poor old George Bush for George Bailey. George is having a really bad day. This time, all of the Building and Loans had come up short – hundreds of billions short. In today’s version, millions of people who have lost their jobs, their houses and their life savings are on the bridge feeling suicidal. When they hear the splash interrupting their jump and rescue Clarence the angel, in unison they wish that George had never been born. Granting the wish, we walk with the angel through a very different place than we have been used to for the last eight years. A world where Al Gore did become president. The surplus wasn’t squandered with tax breaks for the wealthy, but President Gore worked with the Republican Congress to pay off our national debt and found the accumulating trillions could easily afford to invest in securing Social Security and Medicare. Investments in clean, renewable energy ended our dependence on foreign oil, resulted in a vibrant stock market, millions of new jobs, raised the standard of living for us all and exportable technology securing a positive trade balance. The surplus allowed us to rebuild on infrastructure with thousand of new schools, safe bridges and mass transportation. Trains, clean and cheap, became commonplace, saving the lives of thousands from traffic accidents. Universal healthcare removed the burden from industry and increased our worldwide competitiveness, lengthened lives and made us more healthy, and dramatically reduced bankruptcy which strengthened our financial system. College tuition became free in exchange for community service, resulting in a motivated and smart new generation of productive taxpayers. Teacher salaries were increased and no child was left behind. Lobbyist are banned for Washington and self interest is replaced with common good. With the budget surplus secure, we were able to turn a generous eye to the rest of the world – providing clean water, access to power and sustainable agriculture to the third world; investing in our hemisphere with positive trade practices, the immigration issue was solved; and working with the UN as a partner in the world, peace and democracy spread like wildfire. Oil prices never spiked so the oil dictators lost power. We had a competent government that paid attention to warnings and September 11th never happened, no innocent women and children were bombed, no suspects tortured, religion never became a profile, thousand of our best lived long and wonderful lives with their families. Enron never bubbled or collapsed. Dick Cheney was still serving time for bribery and illegal trading with Iraq. Joe Lieberman was replaced in Gore’s second term with the then new senator from Illinois who is now president elect. Finally, the millions of people who walked with Clarence and viewing this world where W never lived, realized that we could have had “A Wonderful Life” and never chose to go back.

A Free Idea for the Car Companies

Instead of offering me a rebate to buy a new car, offer shares of automotive stock. Admittedly, 5,000 shares of General Motors stock may not be worth very much, but it sounds like more than that $5,000 rebate and I’d have an incentive to make sure they were successful – that includes supporting their quarterly bailouts. Relationship marketing can work for them. Think about it.

A Free Idea for 39 States Who Are Looking for Some Millions

Container deposits. It will immediately raise millions that can help reduce your deficit and more each year thereafter; will encourage recycling; reduce litter; and provide a significant source of income to the homeless, non-profits and enterprising young people. Think about it.

The celebration is over in Piedmont Park

Park Bench

For 10 days or so after the election, there was exuberance. Their faces shone. New hope. Belief this was the time. Energy. Real joy. And, parties that would go late into the night at the bench outside my window. The conversation, always vigorous and boastful, now had a new topic: their future. One after another they pledged to get out of the park. This was the time.

In the weeks that followed, one after another kept the promise and left. One mended fences with his dad and went home. Another called his grandma and she sent a bus ticket. One finally got his ID so he could get his disability and could get out on his own. One was befriended by stranger who found him an apartment for couples so he could be with his current true love. One got on the list with the VA and was waiting. And another just left. I missed them. Those that could, left me an email address or a relative’s phone number, but life has taught me that we wouldn’t stay in touch.

Home-officed on the border of the park and primary steward for an aging step-dog who, along with me, requires morning and evening walks, I have had the privilege of coming to know and love some of the people who make a home in and around Atlanta’s premier park. Except for some brief weeks in the spring when the weather is perfect, the population in Piedmont Park is small when compared to areas South of North around St. Luke’s and the Food Stamp Office. On a given night, less than a dozen – almost always just men in young middle age, make their home in the park and in nearby vacant buildings. The stories of how they came to be here are all too similar: lost jobs; broken relationships; booze; a fight; prison time; no place to go they want to be or are wanted to be. They haven’t lost hope. They are waiting for something. Some are veterans. Some artists. Some artisans. Handsome men who still have their health. Men who look like they don’t belong here. Men who aren’t wanted here.

This is a relatively affluent area bordering old money and gentrified neighborhoods. The Conservancy who has taken on the redevelopment of the park from the city has, and is, spending millions to make and keep it a wonderful place and provide security 24/7. The Midtown Business Alliance wants no homeless panhandlers here and lobbies to make it so. The police, well, they have it tough. They answer to those that complain, but know their solution is not a solution at all. After all, what sort of society arrests people for being poor? It just makes it harder until most end up in prison at a greater price individually and to society than providing shelter, assistance and jobs. During the last year, my park friends were arrested for public urination, panhandling, vagrancy, lying to the police, public nuisance, public display, public drunkeness and so on. No, not a single drug issue with any that I knew.

It’s been quiet for a couple of weeks since they were away. The vet waiting for a spot spent a week in jail after being denied access to a bathroom and choosing to relieve himself behind the store – he’s pretty down and seeking solace in alcohol. My friend who finally got his ID and crazy check has been robbed and hospitalized twice in other areas of town and is back, but no longer has his ID, money or perspective. My friend who made up with Dad, well, fell out of favor quickly. Others haven’t come back and are remembered during the nightly bench conversations. The talk of Obama has stopped. He’s not even President, yet, and the hope’s gone here. The celebration is over.

But something else is going on. I’ve noticed it for the last couple of a weeks. Perhaps it just the season. It’s mid-December and most of the leaves are gone, so the park is more open. It seems that on each bench, there’s a newcomer. Better dressed and equipped, at least so far. Just sitting. Alone. Staring. Avoiding eye contact. Dejected. Seemingly embarrassed and awkward when spoken to. Future friends, I fear.

More Reading

Where’s Chicken Little When You Need Him?

Chicken With His Head Cut Off

Perhaps it is I?

Here we are in the last week before Christmas. The time to cast fear to the wind and spend, spend, spend out of hope, love and tradition. Surely our best and brightest, the good men and women who run our government have things under control – unless they are all out reading their copies of The Pet Goat instead of the daily security briefs. Surely the pundits would be screaming even louder if something really bad was going to happen – unless they just don’t have the video, or are under orders from the top to lighten up the holiday buzz kill.

Is it just me?

The paper (is is time to use the phrase “My RSS Aggregator”?) this morning is again filled with fresh new announcements of layoffs and plant closings. Statistics of unemployment, bankruptcy and foreclosure. Stories on how the dollar is crashing. Oil prices dropping and OPEC cutting production. Billions lost on Wall Street. State and municipal budgets in budget crisis and services being cut. Same ole, same ole.

The sky seems to be falling.

Sure, big business is cutting back, but what small business – that sector of the economy where more than half of us work (two-thirds if you take out mining and manufacturing)? Small business is the home of the American entrepreneur (French word defined as, “A person over 40 whose projected salary, benefits and healthcare cost make them unemployable by big business and whose Willy-Lomanesque belief in the American dream drives them to risk anything they have so they don’t fall into what’s left of the safety net”). Small business has all but stopped, but not wishing to play Scrooge, small business has stuck their proverbial heads in the sand until after the new year.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

While Scrooge could avoid the future shown to him and alter his and Tiny Tim’s fate if he changed, I believe it may be too late for what will happen next. Right now, retail is in a desperate race for cash, but not necessarily to pay creditors. There will be a wave of business bankruptcy filings in January and February, followed by a wave of supplier filings and the appearance of empty storefronts in strip centers and malls across the countr, which will lead to more problems in commercial real estate values, which will lead to foreclosures on commercial buildings.

But I get ahead of myself. So many of those working in small business are hourly workers, on tips/commissions or are not working full time (or have already had their hours cut back). They will be toast. In half the states, they won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits (Source: Economic Policy Institute). It is safe to describe these workers as just hanging on. They will be filing bankruptcy, losing their homes and facing eviction beginning in late January.

The trickle down becomes a flood.

We are interdependent. Every couple of jobs creates a job. Every couple of lost jobs, loses another job. And it will continue, cycle after cycle. The pressure on the safety net will shred it and with it the state budgets. And with each news cycle, the faith that is the engine of capitalism will be challenged. The new President, working with the new Congress, will pass a huge stimulus and in a few months, some will get help quickly, some won’t. Children will move in with parents, or the other way around. Friends will help each other. But with a giant stimulus and government cash pouring in, it is just a matter of time before inflation takes hold. If we are unable to manage it, it turns into double digits – with our without jobs, and forces interest rates to rise with them.

The sky knows no border.

All of the Americas are interconnected (source: Center For Economic And Policy Research). The world owns our debt. What if they dump the dollar out of self-insterest or worse, as an act of aggression? But hang on, Europe’s banking crisis may eclipse ours. Putin’s power comes from petro-wealth and with demand and prices falling, eventually his power will be threatened and the world will become very dangerous – ditto Venezuela, Libya, Iran, Burma, Kazakhstan, etc. and, yes, Iraq (source: Mother Jones). The manufacturing economy in China is collapsing with an estimated 130-230 million workers to be sent back penniless to their rural homes – just what is plan B for a billion people? Ditto the manufacturing collapse throughout Asia. How quickly will the outsourced jobs be cut in India? How quickly will foreign aid, not just our own, be cut in the poorest countries of Africa? As billions around the world struggle for jobs, food and basic services, just how unstable will the governments become?

But will the sky fall?

The idea of the dramatic Fed intervention in the markets was to renew confidence (I hadn’t lost mine at that point). The policy is and was risky. By blowing so much so quickly, we have caused exactly what the intervention was trying to prevent – creeping panic (my own included). Consumer confidence is now at an all time low (source: CNN Money) and proves we are all listening and watching what is going on. We may not be able to wait until a government is sworn in, parties, moves in, sets up and gets down to business. The news of January will be bleak and we will all be listening. I’m scared the sky is falling. The question now, is can we stop it?

Happy holidays.

Are we looking at the right economic crisis?

We all know of the foreclosure crisis – 1.35 million foreclosed homes in 3rd quarter 08; 1 in 10 homeowners are either delinquent or in foreclosure; 1 in 5 with sub prime loans (Source: CNN Money, December 5, 2008). We all also know about the subprime crisis, the hedge fund crisis, the insurance crisis, credit swap crisis, the banking crisis, the Wall Street crisis and the international financial crisis. The crisis of consumer confidence. The gas crisis and the auto industry crisis. The looming Social Security crisis and the Medicare crisis. The looming pension fund crisis compounded with the 401K crisis. But all this talk about bankers and executives, leaves me worried that we aren’t talking about the right crisis. This collapse of jobs that leads to the collapse of credit that leads to the collapse of housing will lead to the collapse of our middle class.

The Middle Class Crisis:Middle Class in Crisis

This is the group we have to save. They drive our economy. The consumers who shop in malls, strip centers and on the internet. They buy the new cars, washer-dryers and clothes. This is the group who was sold the idea that the future will always be better, so buy as much house as you can afford a few years from now. The group with the 401Ks. This is the group with the gold and platinum credit cards. The group who studied, paid their student loans and invested in a career – or worked hard, consistently and modestly. Who had children and kept working. That define our moral fabric – our culture. Who pay most of the taxes, including the alternative minimum. This group is struggling mightily to keep it together. This is the group who is too big and too important to fail.

This is the group who was abused by the lack of government oversight, the fraud of Wall Street and the Œcopathy. This is the group who believed, kept the faith and has been betrayed, and is our hope to bring the America we knew back from the brink. The Middle Class, not the banks nor Wall Street, is the only group who can be, as JFK coined, “the rising tide to lift all boats.”

They aren’t necessarily who you think they are:

They vast majority of Americans consider themselves Middle Class. McCain guessed they made $5 million or less. Obama said about $250,000. But it is not about income.

It is about lifestyle and a belief that they have freedom and can have at least some control of their destiny. Sadly, in America, freedom is now mostly about financial freedom. Once, this might have been about savings or disposable income. For most, it is about room on our credit cards or equity lines. Imaginary money – the same type of money traded on Wall Street. It’s faith-based and our faith-based government has told us that they have lost theirs. That same government in a conspiracy of fear with cable news and the credit bureaus has now tested our faith to the limit. Those with jobs, have stopped spending. Those with credit cards have put them away. Those who have some financial freedom are living in self-imposed exile or confinement. But the vast majority of the vast majority are those not so fortunate. They have stopped believing they are Middle Class. It is so painful that they may never have their faith again.

The banker in the monopoly game we have been playing decided to put more currency in tray expecting the game would continue:

If being Middle Class is faith-based, do we just need cheerleading? I wish it were so. Perception has become an all too cruel reality and won’t change without real change. The first move by our government was an attempt to stabilize our financial markets and create liquidity so loans can be made again. Another way of looking at it is to say, our government wanted us to borrow more money, so we would spend more imaginary money, so everything would be alright. While history may prove them right, it looks right now as if the powers who lend realized that we are poor credit risks. That business won’t prosper until consumers consume. That housing and commercial real estate values won’t stabilize enough to be good collateral until someone wants to buy them. That individuals aren’t good bets for credit until their employment futures are better. Duh. Marketing 101 failed. Until which time we have stable jobs our Middle Class, and all of us will be in crisis.

Here are some aspects of the crisis you might have missed:

  • The collapse of housing prices has hit the bottom third of the market hardest: The collapse of the housing bubble has affected virtually all categories of housing in every part of the country, but the bottom third of the market continues to be hardest hit. This is not surprising since this is the segment of the market in which adjustable rate mortgages where most highly concentrated, and therefore has been hit hardest by resets. (source: CEPR)
  • Those with jobs are having their hours cut: In addition to cutting workers, firms are also cutting hours. The index of total hours for production workers fell by 0.9 percent in November and is down 2.0 percent over the last three months, the sharpest three-month decline in any period since 1964 when the series began. (source: CEPR)
  • There a lot more unemployed than it appears: Since the start of the recession in December 2007, as recently announced by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the number of unemployed persons increased by 2.7 million. Over the time, the number of persons who worked part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) continued to increase, reaching 7.3 million. (source: CEPR)
  • Net Job Losses

  • The temps have it worse: The employment services sector was an even bigger job loser, shedding 100,700 jobs in the month of November 2008 (3.2 percent of its total employment). This sector has lost 213,500 jobs over the last three months. Employers are dumping temporary employees as a way to keep on permanent staff. (Source: Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • The Shredded ‘Safety Net’: Employment insurance has highly restrictive rules and doesn’t help contract employees, the self-employed or many who worked in small business. John Clark of writes (formatting added), Welfare, in contrast, is a system of last resort that can only be accessed by those on the very edge of destitution. Those with any other sources of income are ineligible by reason of the welfare means test. In conditions of rapid economic downturn, that will translate into a whole mass of people who are without work but who cannot even apply for income support until they have exhausted their savings. Once they have reached the required level of poverty, those who were previously working for living wages will be expected to make do with the degrading pittance that welfare provides.
  • So where else can they turn: Not the nonprofits. At least 100,000 nonprofits nationwide will be forced to close their doors in the next two years as a result of the financial crisis, according to Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University. (source: Crain’s New York Business)
  • Not to the states: Tom Eley writes, “The states confront a cascading fiscal crisis. Including cuts already made in the current fiscal year, it is anticipated that the collective 2009-2010 budget deficit for US states will be a minimum of $140 billion. This figure could run higher than $200 billion by the middle of 2010, threatening infrastructure spending, unemployment benefits, public education at all levels, and social assistance programs such as Medicaid – the health insurance program for low-income people. (source:
  • Nobody knows how many are homeless or about to be: They don’t report in. We can’t count them well and don’t do it often. While foreclosures are reported, there are no good stats on evictions or people giving up and sleeping on the couches of friends and familes. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty says there are 3.5 million of them, 1.35 million of them children. It is believed 23% are families with children and that 33% are veterans (source: National Coalition for Homeless Veterans).

  • Tent Cities: According to CNN and other sources, communities throughout the U.S. have tent cities springing up because of the increase of foreclosures and evictions. Encampments have formed in or near large urban areas including Reno, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chattanooga, Columbus, St. Petersburg, Seattle and Portland.

Here’s a slice of a great piece on imaginary money by Kim Pollock, (the full text can be read or downloaded at

“How can money be imaginary? To answer that, we have to go right back to the beginning. First, nothing exists without labour. You can’t have food on the table, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, put your kids through school, buy a car or save for your retirement unless you or someone goes to work and actually makes all those things. In our society, most people get those things by working at a job where they get a paycheque, which they exchange for money to buy things (just like the song A Hard Day’s Night!) Most of us work in places where we either make things or sell things and services to people who make things.

“But some people live not on work but on profits, the returns from hiring workers to make things, which again, they exchange for money. With their money they can either invest in hiring more workers and buying equipment to make more things to make more money – or they can save it. When they save it, what they are actually doing is lending it to banks or other financial institutions, which in turn lend it to other people who invest it again or lend it to another institution to hopefully make more money.

“That too might mean investment but it might also mean the sort of speculation we just saw Joe Bloggs, Jane Doe and their friends engaging in. These folks essentially take an amount equivalent to what has been loaned to the banks and trade it around among themselves, so that a growing amount of US economic activity is bypassing the hiring- workers-and-making-things world and being directed instead straight into the buying-and-selling-money world, as the following graph shows:

Profits By Sector

“Unfortunately, though, there can’t actually be any more real wealth than the amount of stuff workers have produced or the amount that they can realistically be expected to produce. Any apparent additions beyond that are based on simply inflating the prices people are prepared to pay for something in the hopes of selling it for even more. It’s actual value hasn’t gone up, just its price.

“You can certainly speculate up the price of money, then, but only to a point. And that point is sooner or later likely to be reached because the wealth needed to actually cover the value of all that money is still in the last instance based on real stuff workers have made. Beyond the point at which each dollar covers real stuff and the wages of people hired to make it, in other words, its value is more or less imaginary or speculative; you might get away with selling it to someone else and make a profit doing it; but the risk remains that someone will get burned, since at some point someone else will likely call in some of the money they lent and if the last person holding the potato doesn’t have the money or real assets to cover their inflated or suddenly diminished imaginary assets, the bubble is likely to burst.”

The 4th estate dies at 404

Note: Most news companies prepare obituaries in advance, so they will have it ready when the inevitable day arrives. The news of the Tribune Company filing for bankruptcy protection yesterday, inspires this update. I hope it never comes.

chart of newspaper industry decline

Chart of newspaper revenues, circulation, advertisers, employees, stock price and useage as a bird cage liner.

SOMEDAY TOO SOON. British politician Edmund Burke said there were “Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all… A Fourth Estate, of able butts, springs up.” No more. After a prolonged illness, the newspaper business, age 404, has died. Officially, the death was from “natural causes” related to increased costs, decreasing circulation, disappearing advertisers, competitive pressure and the failure of the money supply. The newspaper industry was infected with a new form of cancer in late 1999 and courageously fought the spread of the disease often undergoing expensive, exotic and experimental treatments from “consultants” including mergers, acquisitions, bloodletting, amputations, transplants and even internet therapy.

The scientific name of the cancerous disease is “Solvo Sumptus” or “Free Cost.” It is known today as “Craigs List” and left untreated, causes immediate blindness, impaired mental function and increased organizational bloating, leading to a multitude of health problems and side effects including ignorance, unemployment and bankruptcy. It is considered the leading cause of cronyism, political corruption and despotism. Craig’s Lists, however, is not always fatal. The Newspaper Industry also suffered from many self-inflected injuries, some seemingly accidental, others related to old age, and more than a few of suspected nefarious origin. The Newspaper industry is thought to have been born in Strassburg in 1605, immigrated to the US arriving in Boston in 1690. Predeceased by parents, Town Criers and Scriveners, the industry is survived by five wives who are each in declining health: Billboards, Radio, Television, Direct Mail and Investment Bankers; its siblings and step-siblings who are also each in declining health: Books, Billboards and Broadcast News; children, bastard and legitimate: Tabloids and Cable News and the World Wide Web; grandchildren: Internet News, Blogs, RSS, Wiki, Social Networks, Podcasts, Widgets and Web Pages; and cousins: Talk Radio, SMS Alerts, Email, Comedy Central and other television talk shows. In addition to being the lifelong protector of democracy, promoting literacy, decimating the world’s forests, and contributing to the weight gain of thousands of middle-aged editors, the Newspaper Industry will be remembered for its unique profit strategy: create, print and deliver a new product directy to the door of people around the world every single day for less than the cost of a pack of gum, while making up the loss by charging to run ads of which famous retailer, John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted… The problem is, I don’t know which half.” The Newspaper Industry ran out of department stores and car dealers. Condolences to us all.

Announced Pallbearers:

Her curses of me haunt

pissed petBully.” “Mean-spirited bastard.” They are true, of course. I did yell at the dog to get off the couch and slap it on its ass for pissing in our house for the 4th time in 24 hours even though I had walked the beagle in the park 4 times in the cold and rain.

She was right. “The dog doesn’t know better” because the dog’s not been taught what’s wrong and held accountable by either of us and, more often, given a treat for waking up, a treat for eating, a treat for getting petted.

She was right. I was just looking for something to “ruin our evening” when I found the puddle. The dog did, after all, piss in the bathroom. She should get a treat for that. That’ll teach her.

She was right to courageously jump between us – the dog and me – with arms out to take any further violence that might erupt while I was going for the mop.

She was right. She’s always right. It’s my fault the dog pissed in the first place because I switched types of dog food. So what if I hated opening those nasty cans, using our dinnerware to scoop out that horribly smelling pate, cleaning the cans for recycling in our sink, cleaning the sink, all to pick up those soft, malodorous stools later in the park. The dog was just “communicating dissatisfaction” – something I’m not allowed to do with my voice and certainly not with my bladder.

She was right when she said, “Your anger seem to come out of nowhere.” I hadn’t screamed at the dog the other times that day or that week or that month. What caused me to choose, if it were a choice, to pick that moment? Well, a quick Google suggests that anger is associated with lower serotonin activity. Perhaps, this happened because I had just awakened from a nap or because my middle-aged bladder was so full – serotonin function is close to nil while sleeping. But that doesn’t explain why I did not yell at the dog at 4 AM that morning? Oh, but wait, perhaps I didn’t scream at the dog then because I was so friggin’ sensitive about waking her up?

My mom always seemed to get pleasure out of saying, “You’ve got your daddy’s bad temper” – I do have vivid memories of him yelling at the dog when he stepped in dog poop. So was it my dad’s fault that I yelled at the dog. Did he get it from one of his parents? Geneticists assume there are genetic differences between how each of us produce and receive serotonin, but at best, that only speaks to tendency. Genetic research on this is pretty incomplete, but most suggest there are more influences than just being the son of a type A. So, is it possible that my dad’s anger was caused or greatly influenced by him having to live with my mom’s alcoholism, self-pity, low self-esteem, depression and general narcissism and I just learned it from him? A quick Google on Adult Children of Alcoholics – that’s me – and you find that we are control freaks, or at least we get anxious when we cannot control situations and tend to react rather than act. Sounds like I’m on to something.

The Mayo Clinic says there 2 ways to handle anger: Expression (as in, “the difference between talking to someone or picking up a baseball bat and hitting them”) and Suppression. On suppression they say,”This is trying to hold in or ignore your anger. You may think you shouldn’t be angry or that you’ll lose control if you let yourself feel any anger. The danger in this passive approach is that you may not protect yourself when the need arises. You may also become passive-aggressive, where you don’t express your anger assertively or directly, but scheme to retaliate because you haven’t learned how to express anger constructively.” Ugh-oh. Passive-agressive. I have been known to play that game once in a while.

Other experts, okay everyone, know that personal circumstances can contribute. Things like financial pressures; illness; problems at work (oh no, I work with my wife); fatigue; problems with the kids; etc. Okay, those are in play, too.

Is it possible that I was a just-waking, unsuccessful passive-aggressive, child of an alcoholic, bully going through a tough economy time with concerns about work and the kids and had just stepped in dog piss? Probably so. To my wife and my dog, I’m sorry. I’ll promise to try and wait longer after a nap before stepping in dog piss so the serotonin can kick in and I can express myself in a more rational way.

Here’s some reading on anger…

Stanford School of Medicine on the genetics

An excerpted chapter of Secrets of Serotonin by Carol Hart

A white paper on Adult Children of Alcoholics by the US Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

FAQ’s on Anger from the Mayo Clinic

Be thankful we aren’t governed by majority opinion

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey found that 61% of those polled are against the auto bailout – far from “everyone” has drunk the bailout Kool-Aid. But let us all be thankful that we aren’t governed by majority opinion. Our elected leaders have the important job of doing what is best for all of us.

I agree the corporations don’t deserve a bailout. They have used their powerful lobbies to protect them from having to be good marketers for far too long. They deserve to live and/or perish from their past decisions. This did not happen just because loans weren’t being made. It happened because they chose to make large cars and trucks which were profitable so they didn’t have to find a way to make money on smaller cars. Postponing hard choices on assembly line retooling investments and energy efficient car strategies contrary to lobbying efforts.

The auto industry talking points of job losses also do us a great disservice. They employee 250,000 directly, but nowhere near the 4 million they talk about. Bailout or not, they all will make cuts, as will their suppliers and dealers. This will cost more precious jobs that are so desperately needed and the loss of which will have a dire impact on Federal, State and local tax revenues, unemployment benefits, healthcare costs, compound the banking crisis and bring the almost unmentioned looming pension liabilities. Much of the stockholder investment has already been wiped out with dire effect on pensions and individual, corporate and government investors. Without the financing, Chrysler will be gone or forced to merge for pennies. With the financing, Chrysler will likely just postpone the inevitable. Without the financing, GM will likely go through bankruptcy, but will likely come out diminished, but viable. Ford will probably make it with, or without, for a while. All of their dealers, on the other hand, will suffer greatly along with their employees and communities. And letting them fail or continue to flounder is the opposite of the stimulus we need – the cost to counter, I suspect, would be much greater than the cost of the bailout.

The auto industry must first survive in order to produce cars people would buy. But what then? A $5,000 new car purchase incentive would help greatly by forcing demand. But leaving it there would be a shame at this historic moment. I suggest we ask for more: let’s require the industry to quit lobbying and accept new CAFE standards – go to 40 MPG in 2009; 50 in 2010 and 80 by 2014 and only allow the incentive on cars or trucks that meet these new standards (buy American anyone?). This would be consistent with our President Elect’s promise to invest in greener, cleaner technologies. They wouldn’t want to, but they could do it if we help them.

But why stop there? We all recognize that employee healthcare costs are a tremendous burden on the competitiveness of all industry. Why not take this moment to remove that burden from all business with universal healthcare? Surely the unions have more reasons to negotiate now than ever before. GM says it costs $1,525 per car just to provide healthcare for its employees – that amount alone, may well make the industry profitable. But universal healthcare would impact every business and every American. Taking the burden off our states would go a long way toward solving their budget woes. It would stabilize the finances of our hospitals and providers. And as an economic stimulus, no single initiative could have greater impact. Let’s face it: all a government should really do for us, is make us the most productive (as in, safe, healthy, wealthy and happy) taxpayers we can be.

I’ve read suggestions of a 5% tax rebate on home values of a new home purchase. I’d like to hate it because it so dramatically and unfairly gives advantage to those who buy more expensive homes (though if it were capped at $200,000, it might be fair enough) and doesn’t help anyone in foreclosure, but it would help some people get in new homes and would help stabilize values and create some jobs. Plus, it quits putting money into banks and Wall Street. There is, however, the argument about the bottom line benefit: while a tax rebate would create a bubble, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s, investments by government in infrastructure programs that create jobs would generate an increase in one-year GNP of $1.59 for every $1 spent whereas tax rebates generate $1.02 for $1.00 spent. All to say, we can’t cut taxes our way out of this problem (the wealthy will have enough losses from Wall Street this year) and creating jobs is the only way to get enough money in people’s pockets to buy cars or homes. Or for that matter, Christmas presents.