Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Monday.

I hope all who celebrate had a wonderful Christmas and, before that, those who celebrate had a great Hanukkah.

Boy, this month went by quickly. There was some snow and some rain, a lot less than people in other parts of the nation did. We here were daughter, son in law and grandchildren came for a few days and Andrea and Mike did most of the shoveling.

See Avatar

If you haven't seen the new flick, Avatar, do yourself a favor and see it. See it in 3-D...the flat-screen version has to be like kissing your sister compared to the 3-D experience.

The critics who said it was like seeing Star Wars and Jurassic Park for the first time were underselling the movie. It's like nothing you've seen before. It also has a plot line that carries the movie. There are no special is all one long special effect.

Just go see it. You won't regret the time. And kudos to the folks at the Connecticut Post 14 Cinema De Luxe in Milford for keeping the senior Wednesday rate going for this film. If you are over 60 years old, you can see any film all day Wednesday for $4.50, including Avatar in 3-D.

One of the compensations of aging.

Health-care screw-ups

One of the non-compensations of aging is being in the barrel for the battle over health care.

There are a few things that are strange and stupid about the bills that have come out of the House and Senate.

The first is, thanks to our friend Joe Lieberman, there will be no opening of the Medicare rolls to those from 55 to 65 years of age. I worked for Joe's election in 2006. I apologize. I was wrong. The reason I volunteered to help him win his seat was that he was an honest man, true to his convictions. And he was. I don't know what changed, why he changed, but I cannot say that about him any more.

He campaigned for the concept that one of the best ways to insure people of a certain age was to allow them to access the Medicare system years early. Now, all of a sudden, he's against it and holds the entire idea of health-care reform hostage until he gets his way.

I don't see the problem. Yes, having these new Medicare recipients will cost money, but first it will bring more money into the system. Medicare recipients pay close to $100 a month each. So billions of dollars will enter the system right away.

Lieberman and Ben Horse's-Patoot Nelson of Nebraska were able to hold the bill up to ransom because not one, not one Republican supported it. On top of that, we have to listen to that hypocrite Mitch McConnell talk about fighting health-care reform because Republicans are the party fighting for the nation. All of them, all in lock-step.

The GOP is the party of politics uber alles, politics over all. So let's not talk about how the GOP is the party of the people. It is the party of the insurance companies, of big pharma, of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the others who have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting any kind of health-care reform.

Answer a question, please. How many people could we have insured with the money spent fighting for a system that insures huge profits and little else?

One of the things that is being thrown on the altar is the so-called Medicare supplement or Medicare Advantage plans. Yes, insurance companies are taking huge profits from these plans, lavishing perks on their executives and partners that most of us will only see on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

But they also deliver some sensible services to the people who pay for them.

For example, Medicare, for reasons passing understanding, doesn't pay for yearly physicals. Medicare Advantage (MA) plans do. That way, problems can be caught early, perhaps preventing life-threatening, and expensive, conditions from taking hold.

MA plans also pay for gym memberships. People who exercise get sick less, as a whole.

So, it would seem that MA plans should be kept, but stripped of the huge corporate profits. But that won't happen. Large Georgetown condos cost money. Look, I don't know if Lieberman is in the insurance companies' pockets. I hope not. But I haven't heard a good reason he changed his mind on health care.

The Terrible Ten

Since it's not likely that I'll write again before the secular New Year, which initiates the next decade, I have found a good list of mistakes made in the past one.

Thanks to Peter Cohan at He writes:

While it's always easy to see in hindsight, this disastrous decade could have turned out differently were it not for 10 horrible decisions that took place from 2000 to 2009. Here are my picks for this dubious distinction:

  • Al Gore's decision not to request a recount of all Florida votes. Al Gore won the popular vote count in 2000 by more than 500,000, and the results in Florida were close -- leading to a partial recount. Gore could have demanded a recount of all the Florida votes, which might have kept the election away from the Supreme Court. Though some think a statewide recount would have tipped Florida to Gore, we'll never know how much better or worse a Gore presidency might have been.
  • The Supreme Court's decision to in effect elect George Bush. This decision was a historic hijacking of a democratic process in which a country's citizens elect a leader, rather than its Supreme Court. Granted, the Florida voting was a complicated mess, but this outcome set a terrible precedent and led to what some argue was the worst presidency in American history.
  • President Bush's decision to ignore warnings of a terrorist attack in the summer of 2001. Bush received a Presidential Daily Brief in August 2001 titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S." He also appeared to ignore people who who tried to warn him. If he had heeded those warnings, it's at least possible that 9/11 could have been averted. He did not, and thousands died.
  • President Bush's decision to let Osama Bin Laden escape in December 2001. The battle of Tora Bora could have led to Bin Laden's capture as he tried to flee into Pakistan. The U.S had him surrounded but failed to reinforce the position. So the architect of those terrorist attacks escaped.
  • President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. Bush knew Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and no tie to the 9/11 attacks, but he made both claims to justify going to war against it. Six years later, no Iraqi WMDs were ever found, and Iraq still doesn't have a flourishing democracy. But 4,370 U.S. soldiers are dead (plus untold thousands more Iraqis) and $800 billion worth of taxpayer money has been spent for that war.
  • Government's failure to regulate Wall Street. The idea that free markets would regulate themselves was strongly promoted by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, and during the decade that view prevailed in the White House. The result was to allow a weakly regulated $10 trillion mortgage-securitization industry to grow unchecked. And that led to millions of homes entering foreclosure; the end of Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers; and very nearly a global financial collapse.
  • Government's decision to let Lehman Brothers go bankrupt. History's biggest bankruptcy -- the $639 billion failure of Lehman Brothers -- was avoidable. While it might have been temporarily satisfying to let the market exact its pound of flesh, that decision to let Lehman Brothers collapse in September 2008 rapidly eroded confidence in the capital markets. And if people had lost all faith in that, the social order may have collapsed.
  • President Bush's decision to more than double the national debt. During Bush's tenure, the national debt increased from $5 trillion to more than $11 trillion -- and it has since risen to $12 trillion. This decision to borrow so much money early in his tenure boosted the federal deficit to record levels and severely weakened the U.S.'s financial position. Adding to that weakness were the president's $1.3 trillion worth of tax cuts -- 32.6% of which went to the top 1% of earners.
  • Banks' decision to use too much debt and to mismatch assets and liabilities. Banks borrowed way too much money during the decade, and that made them extremely vulnerable when their leveraged bets went against them. At some points, Wall Street borrowed as much as $30 for every dollar of equity. And Wall Street's decision to borrow short -- meaning the big firms needed to refinance their balance sheet every week or month -- and lend long -- meaning they got repaid over the course of many years -- put the Street's daily survival at the mercy of the very short-term commercial paper market.
  • The SEC's failure to stop Bernie Madoff. As the Washington Post has reported, the SEC had numerous chances to stop Bernie Madoff's $60 billion Ponzi scheme during the decade -- although it turned out that his deception had gone on for decades before that. The SEC's ongoing decision to not pursue Madoff and his fraud cost many people their life savings.
Thanks, Peter. Lots to think about.

And to all of you, great readers, thanks for hanging in and have a great new year. Stay sober if you are driving. Remember, New Year's Eve is amateur night on the roads.

Until next time...

Friday, December 4, 2009

There goes another one

Happy Friday.

First the ad. Unpaid, of course. If you like the Three Stooges, nyuk nyuk yourself over to the Jewish Community Center at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 6. Prof. Faye Ringel, who is an expert on the Stooges, will hold forth about them. There's a Klezmer musical program as well.

The best part is the cost: FREE. It's sponsored by the Jewish Historical Society (I'm a vice president). Come. Laugh. You'll enjoy. It's not fingers in your eyes. Yes, of course, it is. Nyuk, nyuk.

There goes another one

I heard from a former colleague at The Journal News, Gannett's daily in Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Duchess and Orange counties -- basically everything from New York City north to Catskill the mountains. The news was not good.

Those who have been faithful readers know I toiled there for the better (or worse) part of 15 years through blizzards, September 11, war, more war. You get the idea. Most of the time, I had a lot to say about what went into the paper and where it went.

Then, about eight or nine years ago, a new group was sent by the geniuses at Gannett, you know the company whose stock went from $100 a share to single digits. That group. They did such a good job and TJN that circulation was nearly halved under their stewardship.

In 2005, they offered early retirement to, if I remember, 27 people. 25 took it. As for me, you can still see the scorch marks on the carpet.

In August, this group made everybody apply for their jobs. Out of, I think, 150 people or so in the newsroom, 25 didn't even bother applying. Another 75 were shown the door.

So, now they have decided to sell the building, print the paper in New Jersey, and fire just about everybody in production and circulation -- more than 160 people. This after closing down its production operation in Rockland County, selling its building there and moving the few editorial and sales people left into other offices.

They probably will do the same thing in Westchester, my source says. Either they will lease back some space in the building or move the once proud operation with five bureaus and 12 editions to a little office somewhere.

I guess maybe the new regime isn't so smart after all.

Disconnect by Ma Bell

There's a war going on between AT&T (Ma Bell for those too young to remember one huge telephone company connecting the entire nation, seamlessly, and conducting wonderful research projects) and Verizon, which started out life as New York Telephone.

The third part of this mess is Apple, makers of Mac computers (used to call them Macintosh, for from whence the apple reference comes). Apple put out the iPhone, a wonderful instrument whose Achilles' heel is that it operates on 3G. For those who don't know, 3G is Third Generation. The folks at Apple partnered with AT&T, probably because they had the biggest network of coverage.

Now the folks at Apple are pretty smart, but they apparently didn't read the fine print in AT&T ads, which says 3G not available everywhere, or weasel words meaning that. It turns out that 3G isn't available nearly anywhere.

A few weeks ago, a federal group -- i don't remember if was a judge or a commission, turned away a suit by AT&T against Verizon for a chart in Verizon's ad showing Verizon's 3G (read fiber optic) coverage as being in most of the nation, where AT&T's was pretty sparse in comparison.

To be fair, the judge or whoever told Verizon it had to explain that the sparsity was in AT&T 3G coverage, not total coverage, which is pretty near everywhere. In its latest ads, AT&T fails to come clean about that -- it just says coverage, not 3G coverage.

So, that leaves people like me, who would love to have an iPhone, in a quandary. I don't want to spend $400 or so for a phone that only works to its full potential in a small percentage of places . Now, I guess I have to wait to see if Google's Droid phone is as good as Verizon says it is.

Apple: You screwed up. Admit it. Say it...say it.

You still make one hell of a computer. These words are being written on one. Now if I can only find a wire to connect my beloved Mac Book to the monitor I just bought.

Snow joke

It looks as if we may get our first snow this weekend. Had to get the headline pun out of the way. Please, please television folk: Don't say it's winter's first snow. Winter is still more than a fortnight away. What's a fortnight? Look it up.

Have a great weekend and, for those in the Tribe, a wonderful Shabbos.

Until next time...