Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Way back when Bill Clinton was running for president, his campaign had a sign in its “War Room” which proclaimed what I titled this missive with: “It’s the Economy, Stupid.”

It was true then and it’s true now, but the dim-bulbs in Washington just don’t seem to get it. Yeah, yeah, foreign relations are important, and blah-de-blah-blah, but if we can’t pay our bills here on the homefront, if we can’t take the family out for a pizza on a Friday night because things are tight, people don’t give a rat’s ass about your overseas expertise, or lack thereof.

I was reminded of this recently after Our Fearless Leader (Yeah, sometimes this blog will get political; c’mon, the man’s a moron.) was in the Mideast and cut a stupid deal with the Saudis.

He promised to sell them something like Twenty Billion Dollars’ worth of missile technology. I haven’t read all the fine print, but apparently this will make their “dumb” missiles (Where you fire them and hope for the best) “smarter,” in that they’ll be able to hit their targets with pinpoint accuracy. (And just for the record, 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. Lest we forget.)

But then, after agreeing to make the sale, President Bush mentioned to the Saudis that we’re having a tough time in the states due to high oil prices, and asked them to pump more to help bring the price of crude down. They said “No.”

Uhhh, excuse me?

I’m not the best of bargainers, but it seems to me if the Saudis want this missile technology, shouldn’t we make it a quid-pro-quo type of thing? You get the parts, we get cheap oil; seems to make sense to me, but I’m no economist. I’m just a working schlub.

And all this talk out of D.C. about money giveaways and other quick solutions doesn’t seem well thought out, either. (And, for the record, could we have Bush and Co. stop using the word “stimulus”? Because it sounds too much like “stimulate” with all its sexual overtones, and that’s just creepy. I’m just sayin’…).

Here’s a thought: Why not amend the tax code so that, say, the first $1,000 or so of interest you earn every year is tax-free? This way, you wouldn’t be penalized for saving money, having to pay taxes on the paltry interest you earn. Everyone in power seems concerned that Americans are saving hardly anything, yet there seems to be no incentive for them to do so.

It kills me every tax season to have to declare interest as “income.”

Here’s another thought: The Americans who are feeling this pinch the worst probably have some economy ideas of their own. Wouldn’t it make sense for all of our elected officials to solicit their input?

The tax-free interest idea (above) is one; here’s another. How about letting folks take $50 off their tax bill (On the bottom line, after everything else is figured out) for every pint of blood they donated last year, up to four? Blood banks are always whining about a shortage. If we gave folks a real incentive to donate, maybe that problem would go away, we’d have a steady supply of donors, and those donors who give a little would get a little.

You can’t donate? You don’t get the writeoff. You’d still be eligible to receive blood if you needed it. Everybody wins.

It ain’t Rocket Science, folks. Just common sense. Which these days seems all too uncommon.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Back when the original Star Trek was just about the coolest show on TV, we all fantasized about how great it would be to have a “communicator” like Captain Kirk. Just hold it in one hand, flip it open, and start jabbering away. And what lesson did we learn from this?

“Be careful what you wish for.”

The proliferation of cell phones seems to be in direct correlation to the breakdown of civility and manners these days. Yes, I know I’m painting with a broad brush here, but it seems that I’m surrounded by “phone-morons” everywhere I go.

Case in point, Tonight: On the train, riding home, reading a magazine. Bimbo next to me (Yes, she’s a “bimbo” by dint of her rudeness. I have decreed it so.) flips open her phone, and starts “tawking” (I’m a Long Islander, remember) to what sounded like a nursery school. She proceeded to ask all sorts of questions about how the “situation” went, and how, “He can be so sensitive,” and BlahDiBlahBlah.

And this was all at High Volume, like she was the only one on the train.

My God, Woman, SHUSH!

Same thing the previous night. Pulled out of the station, and this yutz across the aisle opens up his phone and starts yammering away. Weird thing is, I know him. Years ago, our sons were on the same Little League team that we coached. He’s a lawyer, and was talking about Lawyerly Things, and contracts, and “Offered him a hundred-thousand,” and BlahDiBlahBlah. He was so wrapped up in himself, he didn’t even see me.

But that’s just as well, as I was working myself up into a High Dudgeon. Had he started in on a second call, I was all set to snap, “Jack! Come ON!” But he didn’t. Saved us both some embarrassment.

And what of the law that says you have to be “hands-free” when phoning and driving? Did that law expire? Because I see dopes doing the one-handed “drive and tawk” CONSTANTLY.

Here’s what I do: If I’m in front of them, I step on the brake and gas simultaneously. THEY end up slamming on their brakes. If they drop their phone, too bad. (Yes, I know, I’m an immature idiot, and I’m gonna burn in hell. I’ll save you a seat.)

And who are all these people talking to, anyway? I have a cell phone, but if anyone asks my number, I have to look at the back of it, where I have it written down. (Yes, really.) I give it to them, and then say “But it’s almost never on, so don’t call me.”

Naturally, they then ask, “Well, what do you have one for, anyway?”

They never like my answer: “It’s so I can call my wife and tell her I love her if we get attacked again like on 9/11.”

The firemen I know, they understand. I was at Ground Zero on 9/12, doing search and rescue. I saw firsthand how quickly life can change. The civilians I tell that to think I’m morbid. Tough Teats.

Realistically, I know things aren’t going to change. Morons are morons, and if they didn’t have a cell phone up against their pie-hole, they’d be doing something else that would peeve me.

But I can’t help wondering: If everyone has a “communicator” these days, shouldn’t some of us have a “Phaser” as well? It’s not like I want to turn someone into a pile of ashes. But you can bet if I did have one, it’d be set on stun, and I’d be zapping more than a few folks. Every day.

I’m just sayin’…

Monday, January 14, 2008


Late last year I edited a story from one of my reporters that told of Chevrolet’s coming effort to push the 2008 Chevy Malibu. (The story’s HERE if you want to see the background, and what led up to this little rant.)

In it, my colleague Steve Miller (the writer, not the singer) told how Chevy is going after the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord buyers. The director of Chevy advertising was candid enough to admit, “…we have scrutinized the landscape, and we are after a different target, one that is highly skeptical of domestic car brands.”

OK, all to whom that statement applies, raise your hand. (Wow. That many?) Yes, I count myself among them, and I’ll tell you why.

Car sales people are, by nature, lying liars. They have to be. (And please, spare me your whiny e-mails, especially those of you in the business. We’ve all bought cars. You WILL lie to make the sale. You know it; we know it.)

But we all enter into this Bargain with the Devil with our eyes wide open. We can pay more than we admit, they can come down more than they’ll admit, and somewhere along the line we’ll strike a deal, both feeling somewhat screwed. And the salesman will be happy to never see us again until it’s time to buy another new car.

But it’s after the sale where any feelings we’ve had about our purchase decision can be changed or reinforced. I’m talking about the Service Department.

A few years back I bought a ’98 Chrysler Sebring LXi. Nice car; REALLY nice car. It was one year old when I got it, and whoever bought it new ordered it loaded. It had every option they offered, plus an extended warranty.

But when I brought the car back to the dealer for regular maintenance, that’s where disappointment set in. Where the showroom floor had been a polished, brightly lit, welcoming place, the service area was dingy, dirty and peopled with, well, angry people. Mechanics wandered in, complaining about this or that, and every employee there seemed quite peeved to have to deal with us and our needy cars. And at a “Posted Labor Rate” of $90 an hour, no less.

True story; the horn on the Sebring stopped working. I brought it in, they called and said it was in fact the “Airbag Module,” and they wanted $600 to replace it. “Not Covered,” they said. Indeed it was, I retorted, as I’d had an extended warranty. After some back and forth with Chrysler Corporate, they replaced it no charge. But why did I have to go through that? Why should I have to fight for what’s mine? And that was just one of several “encounters” I’d had with them. It got so I dreaded taking the car in.

Flash forward a few years. I now have a Nissan Altima. Nice car, handles well, no problems, and I bring it to the dealer for regular service. When I go THERE, they are DELIGHTED to see me; Bright, airy service department. Scrubbed, pressed, SMILING service people, seemingly HAPPY to help me.

Now, I’m not an idiot. I know deep down they could care less, but it’s the impression of caring I buy into. They can rip me a new one as soon as I walk out the door, for all I care. When I’m face to face with them, they project an air of “Thanks for coming.” I’ll never buy another Chrysler, but when It’s time to replace this Nissan, I’ll give them another shot.

And it’s not just Chrysler I’m whining about.

Last year, the wife got herself a 2007 Pontiac Torrent. It’s a nice SUV (or CUV, if you will) and it’s been doing us fine. But again, back at the dealership, it’s another story.

Crowded, tiny, service department, with too-big men squeezed behind too-small desks. And because the showroom isn’t open at 7:30 a.m. when I drop the car off, I have to walk through the service bays, with its blaring radios and yelling men and oil stains and that overhead heater blasting out hot air, to get there. Not a great way to start the day.

Is my story atypical? Who knows? My friends and I don’t sit around swapping dealership horror stories. But the hearts and minds of future customers can be won and lost by the smallest of things.

Automakers ought to take a look at the whole process of car selling, and not just the glitz of a snappy TV spot. (Who drives like that, anyway? On a “Closed Course?” With a “Professional Driver?” Please.)

The opportunity to reinforce a brand doesn’t end when I drive off the lot. It happens with every interaction with the company. (By the way, Note to Pontiac: You can stop sending us those “How Was Your Car-Buying Experience?” surveys. You’d think after EIGHT tries, they’d get the hint that we’re not filling it out.)

So I wish Chevy good luck with their new campaign. One of the reasons we bought the Pontiac was because we’d been feeling a tad guilty about not “buying American.”

But I still can’t shake the feeling that the Nissan people like me more than the American car people. And while you can dismiss that as “silly” or “immature” or “stupid,” it’s a real feeling. If I’m about to plunk down $20,000 or more for anything, I want to continue to feel the love. Even if they’re faking it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Are you sick of this whole “Pre-election Primary B.S.” yet? I am. I’ve had enough of Barack, and Hillary, and Rudy, and Huckabee, and Fred, and “Mac is back!” and all the others.

Barack Obama offers change. From what? If you listen, you’ll realize he never says what he wants to change from. And Hillary? She’s offering “Hope.” The only hope she seems to want is, “Hope I win.”

And don’t get me started on Rudy Giuliani. It seems like he’s got a microchip planted somewhere in that pointy head of his, and every time someone asks him a question, he always brings it back to “9/11.” Think I’m kidding? After getting drubbed in the New Hampshire primary, he was asked if he was worried. The New York Daily News quoted him as saying, “None of this worries me; Sept. 11, there were times I was worried.” What a hose-bag.

But, there is a viable candidate out there who hasn’t declared himself, but can probably win if he runs: New York City’s own mayor, Mike Bloomberg.

Yeah, I know; Nasally, short, Jewish, hella-rich, bureaucrat, kinda geeky. But—and this is a big but—he doesn’t owe anyone, anything. He’s not beholden to big oil, or big business or big tobacco or big fill-in-the-blank. He’s a self-made billionaire (Yeah, with a “B”) who can afford to fund his own campaign for up to a billion dollars, lose, and STILL be a billionaire. Why wouldn’t he run?

One thing Mayor Mike is very good at is delegating. He knows his own shortcomings, and rather than try to be everyman to everyone, he appoints smart, savvy people to leadership positions, and lets them do what they know best. Isn’t that what we need in a leader?

Right now, all the “pundits” (From the Greek for “pinhead”) (OK, not really; I just made that up, but it could be true) are saying he can’t win. Uhhh, yeah, he can.

I was talking with my right-leaning brother the other day about the field of candidates out there. For a change we both agreed that not only do we dislike them all, but we both think Mike might be a good choice. This, from a bleeding-heart liberal and a Reagan Republican!

There’re a few things Mayor Mike needs to do, In My Humble Opinion, and he’s apparently already started. Rumor has it that he’s been commissioning polls nationwide seeing if he has any shot at all. Good start.

Now he needs to build a platform, and start making it known. Most New Yorkers already now he’s pro-choice, anti-tobacco, and wants some gun control to stop the idiots from bringing their handguns into NYC. He just needs to spread the word. Anyone who doesn’t agree with those stances won’t vote for him, so he might as well put it out there so he can see if national polls match up to this own numbers.

He also needs a running mate. I suggest he tap Congressman Ron Paul. If you don’t know anything about him, THIS is a good place to start. The guy’s got some good ideas, and would certainly liven up a so-far dull-as-dishwater race.

Mayor Mike is playing it smart so far. He’s staying out of the primaries, letting the “leaders” knock each other about. When he decides to come in as a third-party choice, most voters will know where their parties’ nominee stands. Mike might well be seen as a refreshing alternative.

It would certainly make for an interesting 2008. And remember this: In a three-way race, he only needs 34% to win. Nice odds.