Monthly Archives: November 2008

Were you among those scouting for bargains early this morning?

Big discounts lured shoppers in droves to the stores early this morning, evidence that the weak economy didn’t dampen consumer spirits for the annual Black Friday.

Whether this means that this holiday season will be a blessed event for retailers is another question. There is no telling to what extent people will be in the shopping mood this year; my guess is that they’ll be more frugal this year with their money.

But hope springs eternal, as they say, and American shoppers could actually surprise me. I truly hope this is the case.

Was anyone out at the crack of dawn this morning hunting down bargains? Are you usually one of the first people in line at 4 a.m.?

If so, what’s the big draw? Are the savings so great that you must lose half a night of sleep to take advantage of them?

I’d like to follow up on this in a future column. If you perused one of the local shopping areas very early this morning, please let me know. Leave a comment, or you can e-mail me at

Thanks, and happy shpping!

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Obama has his flaws, but he deserves all of our support and help

In last week’s edition of the Lombard Spectator, we ran a letter to the editor from Fran Dvorak of Lombard. She took exception to an editorial that ran in the paper the previous week. Here is Dvorak’s letter in its entirety:

“I am bothered by your editorial in the Nov. 14 Lombard Spectator. Within the guise of a supportive headline (‘Give Obama help to address U.S.’s plight’), you use the space to indulge in a tired bias against him.

“Why, for example, does it ‘speak well’ of him to have addressed race so rarely in his campaign? For all the pride America should feel for this moment in history, one look at the TV screen showing that band of McCain red across the former slave-owning states tells us we obviously still need to address race.

“And your comment that he has spent ‘a good chunk of his time’ preparing to run for office is ironic. How else does a smart, ambitious and talented person ascend into a level of responsibility that matches his or her capabilities? Read history.

‘People who bring real change don’t patiently slog their way through the ranks. Obama has been under intense scrutiny on a world stage for well over a year now, a stage that appears to have tired out — and sometimes confused — his opponent. You can stop pretending your objection to him is that he’s untested (or, in Gov. Palin’s words, that he doesn’t have ‘a big, fat resume’).

“Last, Obama did not ‘throw around the concept’ of redistributing wealth. He spoke about enabling middle-income citizens to get tax benefits similar to what high-income citizens have enjoyed. Please be accurate about what he said and clear about what your objections to it are.

“I wore an Obama button on my purse throughout the campaign. The most interesting experience I had occurred at an antiques fair in Kane County.

“I actually had forgotten I had the button on when an elderly man came up and squeezed my elbow and whispered, ‘I’m glad to see you’re supporting the right person.’ I was delighted.

“But during the course of my time there, the same thing happened twice more with completely different (elderly) men. One asked if I had an extra button. That was when I actually felt that a change — a change it’s probably going to take us awhile to understand — might really be coming.”

I appreciate Dvorak’s feedback and the time she invested in submitting it. While she disagreed with the point made in the editorial, it’s worthwhile knowing that our readers make the effort to let us know what’s on their mind. With that said, I will address her concerns point by point.

That President-elect Barack Obama had to speak about race so rarely in his campaign speaks well of him as a candidate. As the first black American who was a major contender for the presidency, I thought that race would have dominated his attempts to capture the White House.

But it didn’t. For the most part, Obama highlighted his vision for the United States. His engaging personality and command of important issues got voters to focus on his ideas, not his race.

And that most voters made this a campaign about ideas rather than race speaks well of us. This is not to say that racism doesn’t exist. But it means that race isn’t the dominant preoccupation with the American people that it once was. While we still have a long way to go to improve race relations, we’ve entered a new era here. And for that we can take some measure of pride.

The editorial’s point about Obama spending “a good chunk of his time preparing to run for other positions rather than building legislative accomplishments in the offices he held” is a valid criticism. It’s not that I don’t expect politicians to use one position as a springboard to another. But we don’t elect people to public office just so they can spend most of their time campaigning for a better job.

Shortly after becoming a state senator in 1997, one of Obama’s first major decisions was to run for the U.S. Hosue of Representatives against Bobby Rush (a race Obama lost). To consider that our next president has held elective office for less than 12 years is astounding.

It’s obvious Obama has spent a great deal of time strategizing his next career move as opposed to learning the ropes of a legislator. He hasn’t even completed four years of his six-year term as a U.S. senator. He is quite skilled at campaigning, but we don’t have a great deal of evidence to see how good he’ll be at governing because he’s done so little of it.

When Joe the Plumber confronted Obama about his tax plan, Obama told him, “My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” And Obama has previously spoken about his concern that government doesn’t do more to redistribute wealth.

So the editorial’s assertion that Obama was “throwing around the concept of redistributing wealth” was accurate, because that’s exactly what he has repeatedly done. The point was that to conjure this concept was foolish for someone as intelligent as Obama is because he had to have known he’d be accused of being a socialist. It’s the government’s role to make sure everyone has the opportunity to enhance their wealth, not take it from some and dole it out to others.

Despite these reservations, Obama deserves to have everyone support and help. Our welfare is in his hands, and his success would bode well for the nation.

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Forget the Caribbean — Capt. Jack Sparrow can make killing near Somolia

Who would have guessed that as we approach the second decade of the 21st century, one international concern would be pirates?

And this has nothing to do with the bozos who illegally copy videos they haven’t purchased. I’m talking about the “Shiver me timbers,” “Walk the plank” pirates who menace the high seas.

More than a dozen ships have recently been captured off the coast of Somolia by pirates. These guys pose as fishermen and descend upon unsuspecting boats. The ships are hijacked and kept until a ransom is paid.

One report I heard today said piracy is a lucrative business in Somolia. Since these ships are generally unarmed, there’s little risk in taking them captive. And since no country has any interest in putting the pirates on trial, the offenders are often released.

So what’s next? Is the World Health Organization going to issue a warning against a rise in scurvy? Will the prosthetics community express concern about a sudden shortage of wooden legs? Will the Grammies now offer an award in the Sea Shanties categories?

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Newspaper columnist/blogger plus mathematics simply doesn’t compute

Have I mentioned lately what a complete idiot I am?

A few days ago I left work really steamed about how Congress got suckered into forking over $700 billion through the economic bailout package. It’s become apparent that no one has any idea exactly what the banks and other financial services firms are doing with the money they’ve received.

Where’s the oversight? Where are the demands to see changes in how these companies do business?

As I was leaving my office, I mused to myself that rather than doling out all this money into what could become a bottomless pit, members of Congress should have simply passed all $700 billion out to Americans. If banks start failing and the economy worsens, at least people would have cash on hand to take care of themselves, I thought.

This notion kept rolling around my head as I drove home. The more I thought about it, the more astounded I became at what a brilliant plan this could be — I couldn’t believe no one had come with this before. The bailout money could be diverted to average Americans who would stimulate the economy while they buy essential goods in this economic downturn.

Why, there’s got to be plenty of money to give each American a few million dollars, I reasoned. And then it hit me: If that proved true, we could eliminate the mortgage crisis, poverty and homelessness as well as resolve the Social Security problem all at once.

My plan started to take shape as I drove home. If you give each American between $6 million and $10 million (at least the Americans who really needed it), everyone would be able to pay off their mortgages or buy their own home outright. They’d also have plenty to put away for their retirement fund, so no more need for a Social Security reserve fund.

We could restructure society with this plan. The money that the government is using to pay Social Security could be used to finance health care.

And how would we pay for all this? After giving the money away and waiting perhaps two years to allow the economy to stabilize, we could jack up tax rates on income.

This wouldn’t really hurt people, since they’d be able to live a fairly comfortable life on the money given to them by the government. Since we would all be millionaires, tax us to the hilt on our income — as long as you left the initial recovery money alone.

Part way home I started freaking out because it seemed way too easy. But as I continued to drive, I couldn’t find a flaw in it. I thought I should get ahold of a reputable economist so he or she could present it to President-elect Barack Obama.

When I finally arrived home, I began running my numbers through a calculator to see just how much the government could give away without going overboard. But then something happpened — my numbers weren’t adding up.

Where was I going wrong? If you gave the roughly 350 million people in the United States $10 million each, you shouldn’t go over the $700 billion, right? When I was at work, I simply multipied 350 million by 10 in my head, and this worked out fine.

The trouble is I can’t multiple it merely by 10 — I have to multiply it by 10 million (10 with six zeroes). Whoops, that makes quite a difference.

I found that if you divided the $700 billion by 350 million people, this works out to $2,000 each person. Now that would be a vast improvement over the $600 most people got from this year’s economic stimulus package, but certainly not enough to pay off a mortgage, and retire on, and eliminate poverty, and end homelessness …

I was devastated when I discovered how much I had screwed up. It feels like I’ve let the American people down.

Math was never my strongest topic in school. Sorry, everyone.

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Throwing cash at Detroit would be simply postponing the inevitable

With the possible exception of the makers of foreign automobiles, no one wants to see any member of the Big Three go under.

Such an event would decimate Detroit and further crimp our economy. The sinking of Chrysler, Ford or General Motors would be an outright disaster.

That being said, the federal government would be crazy to throw $25 billion at the Big Three, at least do so without major restrictions. Look what happened when members of Congress rushed to approve the $700 billion bailout of the financial services sector. There was nothing mandating change from the practices that brought about the mortgage crisis and cast a chil over the credit markets.

Detroit got itself into this mess, and it needs to pull itself out. If it can’t, then we’d have the tragedy of one auto maker (if not all three) collapsing.

But merely throwing these American car makers additional cash wouldn’t resolve the problems that put them in this hole. So they’d continue behaving the same way, and they’d eventually put themselves on the brink of bankruptcy once again.

So what would happen if one of them filed for brankruptcy protection? People might start fleeing this company (like they aren’t already) over questions of how viable it is.

This could eventually lead to the firm’s demise. Who knows how many people would lose their jobs?

Markets, however, have a way of filling voids. A decline in one sector of the auto industry would open opportunities for other car companies to pick up the slack. And at least some of the employees who lost their jobs would get work with the firms that now additional business.

So, not throwing a lifeline to the Big Three would hurt in the short-run. But bailing the car companies out in such a way that allows them to continue putting themselves in a hole does no one any favors — they’ll be back in the hole soon enough. And then they’ll be screaming for billions more, and we just don’t have that kind of cash.

It’s time to force Detroit to sink or swim on its own.

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For conning us out of billions, Paulson should be Time’s Man of the Year

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is my candidate for Time magazine’s Man of the Year.

Sure, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama from Chicago defied historic odds by becoming the first black American to be elected president of the United States. While that’s an incredibly impressive feat, Paulson’s accomplishment is even more extraordinary.

He managed to con the U.S. Congress out of $700 billion for the Troubled Assets Relief Program. And the best part of this “plan” is that there was very little planning to it. The icing on the cake is that he did this at a time when the U.S. government can least afford to squander $700 billion.

The “plan” was originally designed to purchase toxic assets from troubled financial institutions. This would remove these laibilities from these firms’ balance sheets and get them back on track to lending money again. The government would then hold the toxic assets until the financial markets stabilized and then sell them, preferably when they increase in value.

After doling out about $290 billion, Paulson announced last week that purchasing toxic assets probably wasn’t such a hot idea. But the financial firms could use the money for, ah, you know, ah, … well, no one at Treasury seemed to know.

This irritated some members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who grilled Treasury official Neel Kashkari during a Friday meeting of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. They demanded the kind of answers that, honestly, members of the House and Senate should have requested before passing this legislation.

And just today, Paulson has announced that he’s unlikely to request the remainder of the $410 billion. Either every troubled financial firm has resolved its massive debt problem, or Paulson is tired of being criticized for throwing around money with so little forethought.

To the editors of Time: I’m sure you have plenty of wonderful photos of Paulson. Pick out a good one for his hard-earned honors.

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Real world may not notice, but James Buchanan lives on in TV Land

I recently came across an item on my company’s Web site about an event to highlight the bicentennial of our 16th president’s birth.

For those of you who’ve lost track of which president came when, that would be Abraham Lincoln. Feb. 12, 2009, will mark Lincoln’s 200th birthday. Many groups are commemorating this landmark anniversary, and for good reason. Lincoln remains one of the most admired people in American history.

The item I read earlier today concerned a poster contest for young people being offered by the Robert R. McCormick Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. The contest seeks students in first through 12th grades to submit artwork by Dec. 19. People interested in more information can call (630) 260-8159.

Now, it’s hard not to love Honest Abe. He kept the country together and abolished slavery. And as a devotee of Thomas Jefferson’s writing style, Lincoln composed some of the most extraordinary documents you could imagine.

But what about some of our lesser-known presidents? Don’t they deserve some publicity?

Take Lincoln’s immediate predecessor, James Buchanan, for example. He may have bungled the situation when southern states started seceding from the United States, which ranks him as one of our worst presidents in history. But there are some very fascinating things about him you probably don’t know.

Buchanan was our only president who never married (Oh, behave!). And he also was the last president born in the 18th century.

And while Buchanan may not register with most people, his name is easily recognized in the other America — TV Land. He was the namesake of the James Buchanan High School from 1975 to 1979 when “Welcome Back Kotter” graced the ABC network.

This bit of trivia may not persuade leading historians to take a deeper look at our nation’s 15th president. But if a fictionalized version of Brooklyn can be forward-thinking enough to pay tribute to James Buchanan in the mid-1970s, we can treat him with a tad more dignity.

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