Friday, August 28, 2009

The Last Word (Hopefully) On Cash For Clunkers

Cash for Clunkers (C4C) ended this week. With the exception of a cumbersome online “paper work” process for dealers the program has to be classified as a success with over 690,000 new vehicles sold.

The most popular vehicles sold? Civics, Corollas and Focuses—all smaller, fuel efficient vehicles. And, the most popular "clunker" traded in was the Ford Explorer. Hopefully the American public is figuring out that it doesn’t need large, inefficient, body-on-frame vehicles to get around and the trends of the last decade and a half will change (unfortunately too late for the “old” GM and Chrysler).

Now, part of the reason for this post is that in the last week there have been rumors floating around stating that buyers of vehicles under C4C will have the $3500 or $4500 received from the program taxed as income by the IRS. It ain’t true. First, the money goes to the dealer not the buyer. That means the dealer has to show it as income.

IRS Advisory to Dealers Not Consumers
Here’s what the most respected publication in the auto industry, Automotive News, had to say about it on August 6:
“The cash-for-clunkers measure…exempts consumers who take advantage of the program from paying taxes on the rebate. But it does not exempt car dealers.”
“It’s akin to a receivable that a dealership might get from a financial institution,” according to IRS motor vehicle specialist Terri Harris who wrote an advisory to dealerships. “Dealers are still getting taxed on the gross receipts. What’s changed is the source of the gross receipts.”

Plus the government's CARS website has an FAQ question on this topic: "Is the credit subject to being taxed as income to consumers that participate in the program?" In bold capital letters the answer is "NO" and then elaborates with: "The CARS Act expressly provides that the credit is not income for the consumer.

Manufacturers Gearing Up
The other really good piece of news is that with nearly 700K units sold, auto manufacturers are having to gear up their production to replace dwindled inventories. That, of course, means more job security for autoworkers (All 3 have manufacturing facilities in the U.S. although the Corolla production facility in Fremont, CA is at risk of closing).

Other auto publications have reported recently that at least some buyers were replacing “3rd cars” their old beaters that were only occasionally driven. The new car “bumps” the buyer’s previous primary car to 2nd car status. The impact of this is that for these buyers, the ultimate fuel savings will be less because there isn’t as great a difference in fuel economy between their most frequently driven vehicles.

Buyers Pulled Forward?
Automakers have reported that many of their buyers were “pulled forward”. In other words these would have been good credit buyers who would have been prospective customers 2 or 3 or even 4 months from now which will not be on the market. This is a situation which dealers experience every time they pull out huge incentives and have become a major part of the “merry go round” that is auto retailing.

I haven’t seen any data but I would imagine that soon we’ll see reports from the automotive media that per unit incentive costs from manufacturer’s declined significantly during “Cash for Clunkers” which should be a further boost to their bottom line.

Buyer’s Remorse Spikes
This week’s issue of “Used Car Manager Weekly” contained a story quoting CNW Research (a leading trend researcher in the automotive industry) as saying that 17% of CARS buyers participating in a recent survey indicated “some or serious doubts” about whether they should have bought a new vehicle.

The major reason? According to the publication, “now they have a $275 to $350 car payment to make each month, a new household expense that wasn’t there prior to their CARS purchase.

"That amount, they say, could negatively impact the total family budget more than expected prior to buying the new vehicle," explained Art Spinella, president of CNW Research. "Typically, in a non-C4C (Cash for Clunkers) environment, buyers' remorse hits roughly 6 to 8 percent of new-vehicle buyers within a month, according to CNW Purchase Path research," he added.

A lot of C4C buyers didn’t have vehicle payments. And now they do. Hopefully this won’t be problematic in the months to come. However, it’s important to remember that many buyers are paying up to $100 a month LESS than they would have otherwise thanks to C4C.

All in all, this has been a successful program providing a real benefit to nearly 700,000 consumers and their families as well as to auto dealerships and auto manufacturers.

This still sounds to me like a better deal than the American taxpayer got from bailing out the likes of AIG, Bear Stearn and other investment banks.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rep. Jenkins' Caput in Recto Moment

Every once in a while, each of us manages to get our foot in our mouth. That’s exactly what happened to Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins when she said that Republicans need a “great white hope”.

I’ve always been a lot like that. My biggest problem has always been that I have a remarkable ability to get my foot in my mouth with my head already up my rear end. But that’s not the case with Jenkins.

Let’s be charitable. She’s a freshman in Congress—but she is also a professional politician having held statewide office in Kansas. It seems like her greatest claim to fame until now is her resemblance to Katie Couric.
She was trying to communicate a concept about leadership. And she used a phrase which defines as “something or someone that is expected to succeed”. Hmmmm, that’s a polite phrase isn’t it.

The phrase of course goes back nearly 100 years to when Jack Johnson became the first black man to hold the title of world heavyweight boxing champion. The great white hope was a man named Jim Jeffries who was supposed to be able to pound Johnson into the canvas and restore the championship to a white boxer. Johnson prevailed knocking Jeffries down again and again until Jeffries’ corner threw in the towel ending the bout.
I’m sure that Rep. Jenkins would have liked to become invisible just about 1 second after those words left her mouth. I’m sure she would like to have been like a frog zapping a bug and been able to suck those words right back into her mouth.
(And I hate to broach this very indelicate subject but is she implying that maybe Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal should give up any Presidential aspirations?)

So, on today the 27th of August, 2009, I am conferring unto Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R, Kansas the “Caput in Recto” award a photo of which follows. And we can all show the difference between those of us with a liberal persuasion and those with a conservative persuasion and neither gloat nor rub this relatively minor faux pas in.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Old Fart Farting...I'm Even Offending Myself

Saturday was my 58th birthday so I decided to give myself a present. Commit lozenges.I’ve been a smoker pretty much my whole adult life (started when I was 19). At one time I smoked 3 packs a day. I wonder how much I’ve spent over the years on cigarettes that I could have had available for other things?

When I first started, I could get a carton of the Tarytons that I smoked for $1.80 at the base commissary. Today of course, premium cigarettes are over $50.00 a carton at Costco. First I dropped from Benson & Hedges to Kools and then to Pall Mall menthol 100s which I can still buy for the “meager” sum of $35.

I quit for a couple of years almost 20 years ago. I quit again on my 54th birthday and hadn’t had a cigarette until I met my wife in December, 2004. She smoked and I was fine with that. When she’d go out on her balcony to have I cigarette, I’d go out with her and we’d talk while she smoked. That went on for about a week. Then I’d take a drag on her cigarette while she smoked (notice I said drag not puff. Puffs are for wusses). That went on for a week or so and then when she’d light up I’d filch one of hers. That too, went on for about a week and I was hooked and back to smoking again.

So, one more time for me. It’s been 4 days and I’ve had 2 cigarettes both of which I sneaked from my wife’s pack on the balcony when she was doing something else.

Now there’s a curious thing about Commit lozenges. Basically they’re nicotine in a chalky lozenge. I pop one in my mouth whenever I get that buzz going in my ears that says I’m going into withdrawal. Yep, this is indeed a drug. Nicotine as a drug isn’t really going to hurt you it’s just the crap in the burning tobacco that kills you. But nicotine is as strongly addictive as heroin or cocaine (so I’ve read).

Oh yeah, the curious thing about Commit. They don’t have too many side effects. In fact here’s the statement in the Commit website FAQs about their side effects:
The most common side effects are insomnia, nausea, hiccups, coughing, heartburn, headache and flatulence.

Let’s see—insomnia, nope. Nausea, nope. Hiccups, nope. Coughing, nope. Heartburn or headache, nope. Flatulence. Flatulence???

If I could figure out a way to hook a hose up to my butt I bet I could refill the propane tank on my grill for free!

I’m offending myself! I’m waking my wife up at night—farting. They’re grand, glorious “pooters” which seem to go on forever long, drawn out blaaaaaaaats and endless staccato bursts in no recognizable rhythm.

Am I embarrassed by this? Well as my wife just said to me over the tabletop—“there’s a nobler purpose at hand.” But I’m sure there are limits to the patience of her ears and nose.

I try to sneak them by her but she picks up on the vibrations and reverberations on the couch as we sit watching endless re-runs of Scrubs and Deadliest Catch. And speaking of Deadliest Catch—naw, I really don’t want to go there.

But, hopefully within a couple of weeks, this will be over and I can wean myself off the nicotine lozenges. And, quit hacking up a lung every morning. And have a heightened sense of smell and taste. (By the way the last time I quit, the first sense that came back was the sense of smell and I discovered that the world doesn’t smell all that good).

And then, maybe I can take those walks around the hills near our apartment and turn them into runs again as I try to clear up and strengthen my lungs.

Until then, I’ll just have to keep on “offending myself” for a while. Ahhhhhh, there’s another one.

Cheap Bastid's Left-Over Chicken and Grits--It's My Anniversary

Today is my 4th wedding anniversary. This is the 3rd marriage for both of us. (Or perhaps as we joke it’s the last for both of us). Anyway we got married 4 years ago today in a “Cheap Bastid” wedding in Reno, Nevada. It was a planned elopement just for the 2 of us complete with a 6 day honeymoon in Reno. I used Southwest Rapid Rewards for our plane tickets (1 for me plus a bonus Companion Pass for Carolyn) and I used HHonors rewards for our hotel—Harrah’s Hilton. Even better, the Hilton messed up our reservations and we ended up in a “whale suite” for 5 nights!

Don’t get me wrong about being Cheap Bastid. This is what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. We had fun, including a white water kayak trip down the Truckee River in which I got in a fight with a willow tree growing out over the river. Carolyn laughed so hard that she got twisted around and started through a bunch of rocks backward. The willow tree won the fight too.

Anyhow, I’ll get to a recipe in a little bit. I just wanted to tell you a bit about the love of my life. It took me 54 years to find her.

And here’s a little piece of music to go along with this anniversary mushiness, “Special Lady” by Ray, Goodman & Brown. (Recipe follows)

One night last week, Carolyn said she wanted something with grits for dinner (now THAT’s PROOF that she’s a “Special Lady”). So, I had some left over grilled chicken breast (the official cheffing term is “paillard” meaning that I pounded the crap out of the breasts with a heavy saucepan before I grilled them) and decided to see what I could do with it. And here’s what I came up with.

Special Lady Chicken and Grits
2 cups stone ground yellow grits
1 grilled chicken breast
4 thick slices of bacon
½ diced fresh jalapeno pepper
½ cup (appx) diced onion
1 roma tomato diced
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or jack)
Chicken Broth
2 tbsp flour

Cut chicken into ½ inch cubes. Cut bacon slices into about 1 inch pieces. Dice jalapeno, onion and tomato. Put 4 cups water in a large pot and turn temp to high. Put large skillet on stove and turn heat to medium.

Put bacon in skillet to brown. Bring water to a boil. When bacon just starts to color add the onion and jalapeno and let bacon continue to brown. When water boils, stir in the grits and turn the heat down to low. When bacon is brown sprinkle in the 2 tbsp flour and stir into the mix (including the bacon grease). Add about 1/3 cup chicken broth and chicken. Add ½ cup chicken broth to the grits and stir in the cheese (cover and let simmer) but return for a stir every couple of minutes. Turn heat down on skillet. Gently scrape bottom of skillet to loosen the bits and incorporate them into the blend. Add the diced tomato (I like the tomato for both the color and the little bit of acid). Turn heat off on the skillet. Turn heat off grits.

Plate grits with the “sauce” over the top. This is some good “country style” eating full of flavor and a great use of leftovers.

That’s the Cheap Bastid way! Eat well. Eat cheap. Be grateful.
And….I’m grateful for my “Special Lady”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Dealing With Jackasses Opinions--Turn the Idiots Off!

Back in the mid-90’s I was officially a Republican. A liberal Republican but a Republican just the same—and I had been for nearly 20 years (at least officially).

Republicans were Liberal & Democrats were Radical
I became a Republican in Grad school when the Democrats in my district just got too damn socialistically liberal for me (envision how liberal Democrats in a district mainly populated by a university, its students and faculty can be). So I switched.

The Republicans of this district were actually plenty liberal for me and had the added advantage of being fiscally conservative. Let’s put it this way, this district’s Republicans were “pro-choice” and because my research and thesis dealt with the topic I was always the designated speaker on this issue.

Bailing Out
I bailed out of the Republican Party in the 1995 election (the election for Clinton’s 2nd term). It was mainly because this district and county organization in Iowa was reflective of the tone of the party. It had gotten mean. And narrow. And insulting to anyone who did not agree. I remember getting up at the County Convention (after already having been elected as a delegate to the State Convention) and leaving, never to return.

The reason was the abject homophobia of one of the primary issue speakers who said that homosexual teachers, scout leaders, etc. should be harassed, outed and embarrassed so that they would quit their roles or jobs in order to keep them from “recruiting” our kids for their agenda. And he introduced a resolution calling for a law which would endorse this position and prohibit homosexuals from these positions either paid or volunteer.

I was appalled. I got up and left. I dropped my credentials in the garbage. I found my son, 14 at the time, who was participating in the “youth” convention and told him he could stay or leave, it was up to him. He stayed and I respected his decision. But, I haven’t looked back. Neither have I had any inclination to 2nd guess my decision to officially return to my more liberal roots.

So, where am I heading with this drivel? From that time onward I had little concern for anything that most conservatives would utter or publish or broadcast. I paid attention because I’ve always been politically aware and involved and you have to have knowledge of both sides.

Fast Forward to Today
But I don’t need the crap. In fact, I don’t need the crap from either side. When I encounter something like Rush Limbaugh’s “Uranus” quote from yesterday, I ignore it. I don’t need the crap. By the same token, I really don’t know what type of garbage Glenn Beck, Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly are spewing because I don’t pay attention to them. Why should I? They’re jackasses.

And on the other side of the coin I don’t really pay attention to Maureen Dowd, Bill Moyers, Chris Matthews, James Carville or Rachael Maddow. Their’s is just crap from a different perspective.

You see, I’ve got this thingy with buttons on it called a “remote control”. I use it! If I use it to stop at Fox News it’s for a pause to see what kind of ludicrous drivel is being spouted now. I do the same for Jon Stewart (although the pause is longer—sometimes for 5 or 10 minutes because he’s genuinely funny.

I don’t need that level of aggravation. What’s going on in our world is aggravating enough. But I prefer “straight news”. I don’t need the filter of a commentator—of a “talking head”. I can assimilate the information on my own, thank you.

Consequently, I feel no need to rant and rail against what poison the a-holes are spewing now. And I feel no compulsion to engage in acrimonious debate with impassioned adherents of either spectrum. I just kind of smile and move on.

I lived in the Upper Midwest or 30 years. There’s an old saying there: “Don’t get in a wrestling contest with a hog. You get all muddy and the hog likes it.”

Turn 'Em Off!
So, just turn the jerks off—whatever opinion you define a being jerky. When you do that, there will be no need to respond in kind to all the idiots and lunacy that passes for political insightfulness. There will be no need to publish asinine remarks like “Robert Novak is Dead, Yay!”

I find the “neo-Cons” to be repulsive. But I advocate my own agenda. I don’t try to counter theirs. (Think of the times you’ve been in a dispute with your spouse and you say, “Yeah, but…” Guess what? As soon as you say that, you’ve lost. You’re done. You’re toast.) I just don’t need the aggravation and consternation.

Stay above the crap. Just turn it off. Go to the source of the news rather than let some “talking head” digest it for you. Ignore any story with a screen crawl saying “breaking news” or “developing news” because it isn’t.

And guess what? If enough of us turn the idiots off, they'll lose viewers and ratings points. They'll lose sponsors and advertisers. They'll be OFF the air!

It’s like my Father used to say (usually in the midst of ending an argument with me as a teen), “Opinions are like asses. Everybody has one.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cheap Bastids Junk Food Junkie

Sunday nights in college meant that we were on our own for dinner at the fraternity where I lived. So being impoverished, cheap and resourceful we had a pretty good solution. Several of us would pile into a car and head across the river to East Grand Forks, Minnesota to the EGF Dairy Queen.

On Sundays the DQ in East Grand Forks would feature 5 for $1 specials. You could get 5 burgers for $1, 5 fries for $1 and 5 soft drinks for $1. There would be 4 or 5 of us and for $1 apiece we’d get pretty full. Two guys would get burgers, 2 would get fries and one would get soda. Not bad for what we called “gut bombs” or “gorp”.
Last Friday had an article on Yahoo news that reminded me both of my college eating habits and some of my “Cheap Bastid” ways.

The article was on the “top 5 fast food value menu deals”. Dollar menus at fast food joints have become increasingly popular and this piece compared the price of the “top value” with the cost of making it at home. Here’s a quick and dirty summary of the results:

No. 5 KFC Snacker—3 oz chicken sandwich At Home Cost: 75 cents
No. 4 Burger King--Whopper Junior—2.2 oz beef At Home Cost: 58 cents
No. 3 Taco Bell—99 cent Burrito—2.5 oz ground beef At Home Cost: 86 cents
No. 2 McDonald’s McDouble—3.5 oz beef At Home Cost: 94 cents
No. 1 Wendy’s—Double Stack—3.56 oz beef At Home Cost: 99 cents

What the article was trying to do was see how good a value the “value” menus are at the various fast food joints. It seems like my personal favorite, the Whopper Jr. is the least value.
Value Menu stuff is actually how Cheap Bastid got his reputation.

I figured out 2 things when I was traveling for business 80% of the time. First, I could eat a “Cheap Bastid” lunch at any of these places (especially McDs, BK or Wendys) for $3—that was less than my per diem so I could come out a couple of bucks ahead. Second was that you really don’t need any more to eat for lunch than a “Cheap Bastid” meal of a $1 burger, $1 fries and $1 soda.

How often do we see guys especially get a $3 “jumbo drink” with their fast food joint meal. Naw, I get the $1 drink knowing that I can get a free refill. I don’t need a 32 oz. or bigger beverage when I can get the cheaper 16 oz. and refill it. And besides, if I do it that way I’m denying the place of some revenue on their single biggest profit generator.

Now, I love making thick juicy burgers on the grill. A 6-8 oz. pattie, cooked medium; still juicy then loaded with 2 slices of melted cheese along with tomato and lettuce and other toppings. But, every once in a while we get a hankering for “gut bombs” and for about 6 bucks we can get our fill of ‘em along with some good fries.

We did that last week—and ate ‘em while watching Top Chef Masters. That $6 or $7 we spent is about the biggest restaurant food expenditure we’ve had since I’ve been out of work. And it was a treat.

So, Cheap Bastid loves the $1 value menu. Which reminds me, my birthday is next week and I got a coupon e-mailed the other day from Weinerschnitzel offering me a free corn dog for my birthday—with purchase! Horsecrap!

Cheap Bastid’s not going to go spend several bucks at Weinerschnitzel just to get a free corn dog! I’m gonna be 58 freaking years old and as Ralphie says in “Christmas Story” I want “honors and benefits”. The least they can do is not make me have to spend money to get a free damn corn-dog!

And that’s the “Cheap Bastid” way. Eat good. Eat cheap. Be grateful.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stocks Tumble--Will Charlie Brown Kick the Football?

Why is it that all of a sudden I’m feeling just a bit like Charlie Brown getting ready to take another run at kicking the damn football that Lucy is holding with a sadistic leer on her face?

The AP is reporting this noon that stocks are tumbling today (Dow Jones down 165 at noon EDT) because of rising fears by investors about consumer spending.

“While other parts of the economy, including housing and manufacturing, are showing signs of progress, the country cannot have a strong recovery unless consumers are spending more freely. Their spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity,” the article said.

The article also touched on investors’ concern that the reluctance of consumers to spend will hurt corporate earnings.

As we used to say when I was in junior high school—“no shit, Sherlock”.

Consumers are reluctant to spend for a couple of basic reasons. One is that they don’t have as much disposable income as they did a couple of years ago. Another is that a lot of us don’t have jobs. Still another is that so many people ended up getting bit in the butt by carrying way too much credit card debt that they have neither the ability nor desire to incur any more.

And yet another one, I think, is that consumers couldn’t give a rat’s behind about corporate earnings—those same corporations which were all too willing to shove dubious finance strategies up our behinds for their own profit and then bemoan their fate when the mortgage market blew up in their faces.

I monitor my SEP IRA balance everyday (if I had been doing that a year ago I’d have a lot more money in it now!) and it has gone up over 20% in the last 4 months. That’s unrealistic. I know it. The Wall Street types know it.

I guess it’s our patriotic duty to go on spending sprees so that the Wall Street types can keep getting their bonuses. Is this cynical? Probably. But with what has been done to consumers in the last year, maybe it's time for a healthy dose of cynicism.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Before Woodstock there was ZIP to ZAP!

Forty years ago this weekend was the rock festival which defined a generation and which has become a major part of our national culture, especially since most of us who have any sort of direct memory (or like me, could only buy the album) are now approaching or have reached the age of 60.

Wow! And this from a generation who 40 years ago lived by the mantra “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
While I was being reminded of Woodstock, another more obscure rock festival (and using the term loosely) came to mind. It predated Woodstock by 3 months but perhaps helped (at least in the upper Midwest) set the stage for what was to come.

I’m referring to “Zip to Zap”, an unlikely event held in an unlikely location—Zap, North Dakota on May 9-11, 1969. I remember this event and the build up to it. I was a high school senior in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I couldn’t go to the event 350 miles away because that was the weekend of the state track meet in which I was competing. (Yeah, like my parents or the parents of anyone else I knew were going to let me go!).
Zip to Zap was the brainstorm of a student at North Dakota State University who first wrote about the idea in the campus newspaper. The idea was picked up by the University of North Dakota campus paper and soon spread to other campuses in the Midwest, eventually even being reported by national media.

It was promoted as an alternative Spring Break to the long, expensive travel to Daytona Beach. Note here that most spring breaks are in late March or April and this event was scheduled for mid-May. Well, it’s just too damn cold in North Dakota to do an outdoor event like that until May.

The townspeople of Zap were enthusiastic about an event like this in their town of 250 people. They readily agreed to host it. More than 2500 college students and other assorted young people from across the Midwest poured into Zap for the event. Trouble started when the only 2 places in town with liquor licenses both overcharged for and ran out of beer very early. And of course, as so often happened during that era, the trouble and violence was attributed to “outside agitators”.
Near riots ensued and there never was much of a rock festival. A few scruffy bands which wouldn’t even be classified as good bar bands were scheduled. Revelers went to nearby Beulah and Hazen in search of more beer where “rioting” supposedly took place. A few angry souls took it upon themselves to trash a tavern in Zap and set it on fire (although some reports say that it was left overs from a demolition project which were burned as a bonfire in the street that night to warm participants in sub-freezing temperatures). Ultimately the Governor called out the National Guard to quell the “rioting”.
Zip to Zap was the lead story on NBC and CBS news on Saturday. Damages to the town were estimated to exceed $25,000 and were ultimately paid by the student government groups at NDSU and UND.

And that is the short-version of the Zip to Zap—an event which helped put North Dakota “on the map” and which “foreshadowed” Woodstock.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care Conspiracy Solved--It's Soylent Green!

(I’m not sure why I feel compelled to insert a warning here but the following is a result of the overactive imagination of the writer and too much time spent on Google—please place tongue firmly in cheek, suspend belief and hopefully be amused).

Yesterday, curious about the controversy surrounding Pres. Obama’s Healthcare proposal (which has been dubbed “ObamaCare” a term more convenient to use) I decided to do some research. One of the primary objections revolves around Section 1233 of HR3200 “Advance Care Planning Consultation”.

I read some of the comments and concerns that have been expressed about Sec 1233 including how this section authorizes “Death Panels” and euthanasia. And I downloaded the entire 1000+ pages of HR3200 to find and read Sec1233 where it is buried on pages 424-434.

Then I did a little further research online. (You know, it’s amazing what you can Google and all the incredible information you can unearth—think Roswell and Area 51). And today I must admit to you that I am appalled.

The first thing I’m appalled at is how investigative reporters like Beck and Hannity and Limbaugh; even Maddow and the most trusted news reporter in America, Jon Stewart have failed to uncover that which is waiting right in front of them to be discovered and disseminated to all of America. This is a conspiracy of incredible proportions.

We can’t just view ObamaCare on the surface or singularly. It goes far deeper. It permeates government and economic and environmental policy in America. The insidious danger of Sec1233 is what Dr. Robert Langdon in “The DaVinci Code” termed the “keystone”—that upon which all the other elements of the conspiracy depend and that which “unlocks” the despicable nature of the conspiracy.

The first element is that everything associated with this diabolical, comprehensive initiative is about people. A wonderful concept. It’s all about PEOPLE!

It starts with the emphasis that has been put the last 2 or 3 years on the environment. The most popular buzzword in business and government has become “green”. Everything has to be green. Obama’s primary goal for “Cash for Clunkers” is so that inefficient vehicles will be replaced by those that are more “green”. Alternative fuel vehicles are “greener”. Wind and solar energy are “green”. It’s all about GREEN!

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. This did not originate with Pres. Obama. In fact, he may even be an unwitting dupe of a plot which even more thoroughly permeates the fabric of our nation and society than any of us realize. Remember, it all comes down to GREEN. Consider the evidence which goes all the way back to the early 1960s.

Consider this (and bear in mind that ads for this “green” product were on TV in the late 1950s)

In the early 1970s the first ecology movements were underway in the U.S. This went so far as to engage children’s television characters in the propaganda by cleverly incorporating “green messages” into programming such as this one:

And now we come to 1973. Interesting, the year I graduated from college. There was a blockbuster movie which was shocking in its surprise ending and message. It starred Charlton Heston and featured Edward G. Robinson in his final role (a telling finale to a grand career). “Soylent Green”. A frightening premise. And yet, the words “Soylent Green” have endured in our vocabulary gaining meaning and acceptance—eventually co-mingling with other environmental uses for the term “green” so that both have come to be accepted as part of the language and as viable concepts.

Considering these irrefutable facts (Hey! You might think that they’re “refutable” but I guarantee you that if Sarah Palin came up with this stuff that she’d consider them “irrefutable facts”!) The conspiracy has slowly gained a “sub rosa” momentum until all of the elements have come into place in 2009—economic crisis, pollution, diminishing and ever more expensive oil and a health care crisis.

Corporations have bought into this.

And now, inexorably everything has come together. We have new food sources:

Management plans and priorities are being put into place for the future:

And finally, the healthcare element poised in the halls of the United States Congress, proposed by a radical new administration in the White House which will bring everything to fruition.

As the plan gains momentum a bandwagon effect is anticipated.

And ultimately we’ll be addicted to the nutritional properties of this wonder product. A product which is the result of patient, long-term planning and waiting for the “perfect storm” politically, economically, environmentally and socially so that it may be successfully implemented.

There you have it. This is a sordid tale but it is one that needs to be told. I hope that you are now as convinced as I am.

Finally, I have read Section 1233 of HR3200. It deals with consulting people on Advance Care (living wills). It spells out that which needs to be discussed with a patient so that their wishes can be clearly articulated and put into a legal format. It’s something that is commonly done and is a beneficial thing for patients, their families and medical professionals. I did one nearly 4 years ago prior to hernia surgery. It was discussed with me by a practitioner in a preliminary appointment prior to the surgery, I stipulated my desires in a “worst case scenario”, signed it, had it notarized and provided a copy on the date of the surgery. It’s another form of “due diligence” as far as I am concerned and there is nothing insidious, nefarious or evil whatsoever contained in the provisions of Sec1233 no matter what many who have succumbed to some of the most ridiculous of propaganda (especially from the former Gov. of Alaska) on this may think.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Law & Order: Take Back the Night

Last Tuesday was the “National Night Out”. It’s billed by organizers as “America’s night out against crime.”

This event is held nationwide and according to the group’s website, it is “celebrated” in over 15,000 communities including my own city of Vista, California.
(North County Times Photo)

One of the things that kind of bugs me a bit is that, at least in the San Diego area, communities mainly hold a citizen’s walk against crime often dubbed “Take Back the Night”. They usually march on a street in a neighborhood with the highest crime in the area. In Vista, they walk up my street, right in front of our apartment. Of course, the walk is held starting at 5 p.m. and in early August that’s not night! Most of the walkers wouldn’t be caught dead in our neighborhood anyway.

I know what the crime statistics say about our neighborhood. But I don’t see it. Although a tagger nailed our mailbox sometime in the last week. If I see anything at all it’s what I would term “crimes of fashion” from some of the get-ups that the kids wear who walk up our street to get to school each day.

Mostly what I see are hard-working families who are just getting by. Granted there are a lot of young men wearing what some see as “gang apparel” but again I think that a guy who’s 5’6”, 150 lbs wearing XXL plaid shorts that come halfway down his shins and a XXXXL white t-shirt than comes most of the way down to the bottom of his shorts is committing one of those “crimes of fashion” more so than being a gang-banger. And long ago I gave up any notion that kids on skateboards are nothing more than hooligans. It’s just a means of transportation now. (By the way, Moms all over Vista wonder just how they keep those t-shirts so damn snowy white).

My wife is always reminding me that just a couple blocks up the street the neighborhood changes dramatically—but I’ve never really experienced it nor do I necessarily believe it. I just keep seeing these young families pushing strollers in the evening or walking home from the 99 Cent Only store with their bags or walking their dogs—everything from chihuahuas to pit bulls. And both of those critters tend to walk their owner rather than the other way around.
(North County Times Photo)

So this year there were 250 people trooping up the street, talking, waving signs and gawking. It was preceded by a phalanx of cops on bicycles, a couple of motorcycle cops and a couple of “black and whites”. With the exception of the bike cops it was about what they usually use for a traffic stop around here.

Now the bike and motorcycle cops were going up the street at a pretty good clip ahead of the marchers as if they had to clear traffic so that they could get this thing done. At this community relations event, one of the bicycle cops stopped in the middle of the cross street a half block from my balcony. I watched as he “blocked” the street with his bike and shouted at the lone vehicle approaching the stop sign. “Stop! Stop! What’s the matter with you!” he shouted as the pickup stopped 10-12 feet away. “You can’t turn here. Go back or wait!” Yep, real good community relations.

These folks seemed to be in a hurry to march up the street, turn around and come back, almost as if they were running a gauntlet and taunting all of us miscreants who live along Citrus Ave. I kept waiting for a chant of “Hell no, we won’t go!” but that was from a different era.

One of the goofy things around here is that the population is a good 2/3 Hispanic. I’m often referred to as the “lone Gringo” by my non-Spanish speaking, 100% Hispanic wife. But people are reasonably friendly even though we have a bit of a language barrier. All the babies and toddlers bring out the “inner Grandpa” in me and are a source of amusement. The kids in our apartment building are typical laughing and shrieking for no good reason other than they’re alive just like any other kids.

So, the “parade” passed by and about a half hour later came back. I don’t think they wanted to “take back the night” because it was still broad daylight and they seemed eager to get done and maybe to go out for pizza (that would have been the only way they were still out after dark) before disappearing into their gated enclaves.

We do get some occasional excitement though. I woke up early on the 4th of July and happened to spot a police car slowly rolling up the street just a bit before 6. I was sipping my first cup of coffee and waiting for the newspaper when another police car came along. Then 2 more. No lights. No sirens.

Then officers were heading for a duplex about 2/3 of a block away. It kind of reminded me of a scene from “Tombstone”. Handguns were out and being brandished in that 2 handed grip. Shotguns where being cautiously waved as if the deputy were expecting a quail to flush any second.
I got out my camera and started taking a few pictures as the police began calling for people in the home to come out, hands-up. I was thoroughly ready for gunfire and was glad I had stayed on my balcony rather than go moseying up there like a true “lookieloo”. Anyway, apparently the person they were looking for wasn’t around because after about 45 minutes the cops were gone. I had to wait until that night for my 4th of July fireworks.

Here’s the bottom line. So we’re the street that the march against crime comes down. So there are more brown people around here than anything else. So there’s probably some gang related stuff that goes down. We love this neighborhood. We’re not the types to go live on the other side of the highway down in the gated communities with their Lexus driving pretentiousness.

Besides, this place keeps life interesting.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cheap Bastid: Let's Get Spicy

Over the weekend, I did a couple of dinners which would have been really nice to write about today. But. But, I didn’t take any pictures of them.

Both of them owed their special taste to spice blends. And I love playing around with blending different combinations of spices. Like pretty much everything I cook though, I’m getting more and more simplistic and minimalistic. But I still thought that today would be a good day to talk about how spices are a minimal investment which can make a big difference.

I just cleared out the spice cupboard and count 30 different spices that I have on hand. Now there are a few that aren’t used that often like File or Curry but they’re nice to have. Plus, I have a half dozen different peppers (in addition to black). I’ve got pasilla, chipotle, cayenne, green, habanero and chili flakes (not to mention sriachi, habernero and jalapeno sauces). We like things with just a bit of kick to them!

So I just “consulted” the cookbook I wrote for my kids 2 Christmases ago. There’s a section on “Kitchen Basics” where I list the spices needed in setting up a kitchen. There are 15 of them. Here they are:

Spices (*= must have)
Salt* Coarse Black Pepper* (not fine)
Garlic Powder* Onion powder*
Ground Oregano* Paprika
Cumin Basil
Cayenne* Ancho chili powder
Chipotle chili powder Ground Mustard
Ground Ginger All spice

Notice that there are only a half dozen “must haves” and you can do quite a bit with them. But if you want to get more creative, you’ll have to add to the selection.

I have 2 spice blends that I’m never without. I always keep a batch on hand. One is really basic and the other is really well known. I’m going to give you the recipes and bear in mind that the “quantities” are “parts” so that no matter how much or little you’re making you can keep the proportion. Plus, customize these to your own taste!

Basic Spice Blend
1 Kosher salt
1 Coarsely ground black pepper
1 coarse garlic

That’s it. It’s that simple and that basic. Use it on all manner of different things that you’re cooking—especially on the grill! And if it’s “too” much anything, just change the “formula” a bit. (1/3 of the blend as salt can be a bit much for a lot of folks—including me).

Emeril’s Essence (yep, that Emeril)
6 parts Paprika
2 parts Salt
2 parts Pepper
2 parts Garlic Powder
1 part Onion Powder
1 part Cumin
1 part Ground Oregano
1 part Ground Thyme
1 part Cayenne or Chipotle

I use these 2 spice blends all the time. And I do variations on them. Here’s an example: Friday night I grilled a couple of 1 ¼” boneless loin chops. All I did to season them was 1) a thin skim of oil on each side, 2) a light sprinkling of the “Basic Blend” and 3) a small pinch on each side of the chop of thyme and rosemary. Plus, I did some summer squash "planks" seasoned with "Essence" and we had a great meal. It smelled great and tasted even better.

Saturday night I did a Tri-tip on the grill. I used a blend that I call “Sweet Heat”.
Sweet Heat
3 parts Paprika
1 part salt
1 part chipotle/cayenne
1 part garlic
2 parts sugar
1 part cumin

I put really heavy coating on the meat and rubbed it in. Then I seared it on the grill (about 3-4 minutes per side on a hot grill). I removed the meat, set the grill for indirect (turned off one of the burners), wrapped the meat in foil, put it down on the cool half of the grill and left it alone for about 40-45 minutes. It came out tasty, juicy and tender and I served it with fresh, homemade Chimichurri. We’re having left-overs tonight--tri-tip sandwiches with horseradish and cheddar cheese on French rolls (4 for $1 at the dollar store). We’re having left-overs tonight.

There’s a couple of things I have discovered in seasoning food. One is that probably our favorite spices are garlic followed by cumin. Another is that there is such a thing as too much oregano (one night I got carried away and made green mud instead of red spaghetti sauce). And yes, there is such a thing as “too hot”—and our tolerance of “spicy heat” is pretty high. And, it’s really hard to get a good “lemon pepper”—it’s even hard when you make it yourself.

Now there are some who will argue that you should use fresh herbs. And I don't disagree with that--fresh thyme is better than dried for example. But it's also a lot pricier. And this is for those of us on a tight budget who want some flavor and panache. I can normally get about 80% of the flavor for about half the cost and I'll take that deal (most of the time).

So, have fun. Here’s a way to build flavor without building cost. Experiment. And, oh yes, one last little secret—write down the spice blends you create so you can remember it if you want to make it again.

That’s the Cheap Bastid way. Eat good! Eat Cheap! Be grateful!

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Running, Running Commentary and Staggering to the Finishline

Carolyn loves to run. She has since high school 30 years ago. I, on the other hand, decidedly do not enjoy running. I have since high school 40 years ago.

Carolyn ran track in high school with a degree of success. I ran track in high school—well enough to qualify for the state meet in 1 event as a junior and in 3 events as a senior. I even declined an invitation from my college’s track coach to run track (he wanted me to switch from the 440 to the 880—no way!).
When we met, I let Carolyn sweet talk, convince, coerce (take your pick) me into running with her. She’s not real fast but she can run forever. She has had a love affair with running for all of these 30 years. On the other hand, I hadn’t run since 1969 but I plodded along with her, trying to keep up and not be a “wuss”.

I even got to the point where I could plod my way for 5K and where my “base” run was about 2 miles. Not real good for a “serious” runner, but not bad for a 50-something trying to get back in a little bit of shape and not “look bad” to my “life’s partner”. I mean, I got so that I would check out running routes from my hotel on my weekly business trips.

When I say running, it’s only in the “technical” sense. My idea of a run was a 12 minute per mile pace. Old fart pace. Plodding, snail-like. I had to measure my breathing, maintain constant internal “monitoring” of heart and respiration. If I went anaerobic, I was dead (figuratively). My ability to recuperate and keep running was minimal at best. (By the way, I discovered that a slow version of “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” is a great “metronome” for pacing. You just keep the same turn-over rate and vary stride length slightly to speed up or slow down). That’s a far cry from 50 second quarters when I was 17.

But, I got used to it. Even kind of enjoyed it. What I enjoyed was slimming down a bit and having more energy and knowing that I could go out and put in a couple of miles before or after work.

So I ran for about 6 months. We even entered a 5K just to see if I could do it (winning was defined as finishing it in that 12 minute pace or better). I was so slow that the winners in my age group could have done a 10k in the time it took me to do 5K. Then 6 months later I had double hernia surgery followed by an angioplasty and it was about 4 months after that before I started running again—starting all over again.

We’ve got some really good running routes where we live. We just have to leave the apartment, cross a major street at the light and we’re a couple of blocks away from one of the biggest butt-kicking hills you’ve ever seen. It’s about 6/10s of a mile bottom to top and a 10% grade all the way up (real slow “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy”). Then it levels off followed by what we call the “escalator” for the last 200 yards that’s even steeper to what we call “X” because there used to be an “X” painted across the center stripe at the crest. This whole route we call “Walt’s Mountain” because it took me so long to “master” it—be able to go up it all the way, recuperate, go on to X then back down again. All told, it’s about a 2 ½ mile route.

Anyway, I started to slowly get back in shape. And the following October we entered another 5K. We’re in the parking lot stretching and getting ready to walk over to check-in. Another runner, a guy about my age with the scrawny, muscley legged look of a serious runner combined with matching running shorts and top and a pair of new really pricey shoes stopped and looked over at me. Then he said, “I’ve never seen that before. Getting ready for a race and smoking a cigarette at the same time!” I laughed and said, “Yep, and I’ll have another one just as soon as the run is over.”

So the run/race begins. I’m plodding along, feeling comfortable. Running a good pace. “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” playing in my head, keeping me on pace. Carolyn’s running next to me and we’re about a mile into the run when she says, “I’m going to speed up to try and get a good time, OK?” “’K, bye,” I gasped. And she increases her turn rate and starts to pull away. After about a half mile, I can’t see her anymore which is too bad because I love to see Carolyn run. She’s definitely not some girley-girl runner. She’s smooth. She looks and moves like an athlete.
Now this 5K was a combination walk/run with the runners starting 5 minutes ahead of the walkers. I’m not the last of the runners by any stretch of the imagination and I’ve even managed to pass a few (and obviously I’ve been passed too but not by too many—slow runners start at the back of the pack you know).

But now I’m hearing footsteps. I peek over my left shoulder. I see pink. The Energizer Bunny? No, it’s a lady. Dressed from top to bottom in a pink jogging suit. About to pass me. Walking. Shit.

She pulls even. But doesn’t pass. “What! Is she toying with me?” I ask myself.

“Good morning!” she says, full of energy. “Good morning”, I manage to grunt.

“I entered this because today is my birthday,” she comments. (“Oh God,” I tell myself, “She wants to talk.”) “My whole family’s here,” she informs me. “That’s great,” I gasp.

She’s walking along, moving easy, stepping it out and swinging her arms (she’s also probably 15 years younger than me).

“Oh, there they are!” she exclaims, waving and smiling, “have a good run! Bye!” And she accelerates past me like I’m standing still swinging over to the side of the street to the waves and high-fives of 2 sons and her husband, then keeps on going slowly leaving me in her dust.

By now, I’m 2/3s of the way through the 5K—a little over 2 miles into it. Ahead of me is a father and son. The son is about 12-13 and dad is around 40. Dad has on cut-off jeans and low cut tennies. The kid has on baggy shorts and ragged running shoes. Both have sweatshirts tied around their waists. They run. Then slow and walk. Then run some more followed by more walking. I’m constantly running and barely catching up. Finally the Dad motions for the kid to go on ahead and stops running altogether. He quickly falls behind. The kid continues to run and walk.

I come abreast of him. He wants to quit. I can tell because I’d just as soon quit too, but I’m not going to let Carolyn see me walk or let her have bragging rights. I know it’s only about a half mile to go. I gasp out to the kid—“Hey come on, you can do this. Keep going, you’re doing great.” He maintains his jog just ahead of me. We’re doing the final corner with the finish about a quarter mile ahead. I was going to accelerate and “kick” from here to the finish but decide to keep this young guy going.

“You can do it!” I tell him. “Keep up with me!” And I stretch out just a bit, picking up speed. “Go, go, go”, I manage to gasp out encouraging him. He looks over his shoulder and picks up his pace. He crosses the finish in that gangling gait that kids his age have.

(That's me in 1969 running a 440 in high school!)
I kind of smile to myself as I cruise across the finish. I know I could have taken the little crapperhead. Carolyn’s just past the finish, grinning at me. Like I’m some sort of hero. My time is 3 minutes faster than the last 5K I ran and Carolyn’s is about 4 minutes faster than mine.

Now for the treat. We get our t-shirts! $20 entry gets you the treat of a 5K run and a t-shirt. Then walk back to the car, open it up, reach inside and get a cigarette.

“Ahhhhhhh, that’s good.”

Now we’ll go home and listen to Bill Cosby’s monologue “Track & Field—Mile Relay”—my favorite all time Cosby (or any other comedian) monologue.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cheap Bastid's Fish Stick Tacos

If you're looking for fancy, gourmet, foo-foo, yuppie food this ain't it. Cheap Bastid is all about getting creative and making good food--cheap. Stick with me. You might like it.

I’ve been wanting to try my version of this Sam the Cooking Guy inspired recipe for a while. Finally, I found some on special at Stater Bros. which I thought might be able to meet the Cheap Bastid criteria of good but cheap.
I love fish tacos. I never had them until I moved to SoCal 11 years ago. Most of the time, I’ve had them at Rubios which is a franchise where fish tacos are a signature dish. I’ve had them in Tijuana where all manner of different kinds of fish find their way into tacos—once even having marlin tacos. Guy Fieri recently featured a San Diego hole in the wall restaurant’s fresh fish tacos (ahi ahi, halibut, etc.) on “Triple D” and Bobby Flay recently did one of his “Throwdown” shows in San Diego on fish tacos, going head to head and getting his butt whupped (as usual).

Hey! I lived in the Midwest for 30-some years and I’d kill for walleye or perch tacos or just a huge platter of walleye or perch filets, fries, slaw and bread like I used to get at Schartner’s in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin!
So, how can you put out a decent fish taco as inexpensively as possible? That was the question for the Cheap Bastid. Go to any fish counter and you’ll discover that fish is pretty expensive whether you’re looking at salmon, halibut, thresher, tilapia or even catfish. About the cheapest you’ll find is $6 a pound! So here goes. I think you’ll enjoy these.

Cheap Bastid’s Fish Stick Tacos
Frozen fish filets or sticks (1 filet per serving or 2 sticks)
Corn tortillas
1-2 cups shredded green cabbage
½ cup diced onion
½ cup diced tomato
1 lime cut in wedges
2 tbsp“Miracle Whip” type salad dressing
½ tbsp lime juice
Hot stuff (chipotle, cayenne, habanero)
Pop the fish sticks/filets in the oven (the Groton’s I used said 17-19 minutes at 425 but that gets them a bit too crispy so I would suggest 375 for about 12 min, then flip them over for another 5).
While the fish is in the oven, cut up the onion and tomato and shred the cabbage. Mix the sauce. Put the seasonings in the sauce a little at a time, sample and adjust to taste. Don’t just dump hot stuff into it, burn your tongue and then blame me for making it too hot! I’ve made that goof too many times to count. But, you’ll need a bit more seasoning than usual so that you can taste it through the “mayo” and lime. I ended up using chipotle, cayenne AND a dash of habanero sauce but maybe I’ve got a leather tongue compared to most people. By the way, if you prefer, use sour cream mixed with chipotle or cayenne instead.
Let the filets/sticks cool for a few minutes. Then pop 2-4 tortillas into the microwave for 20-30 seconds to soften them. Put a filet (or 2 fish sticks) in the tortilla, spoon a healthy dollop of the sauce on top along with some onion and tomato and cabbage and enjoy. Squeeze some lime juice over the mix, wrap the tortilla over the top and you’re ready to enjoy!

Cheap Bastid Test:
How’d this do with the Cheap Bastid budget? The fish sticks, on sale, were $4 for a package of 10—and that’s the best deal I could find. So it cost 40 cents per taco for fish. I spent $2.50 on a dozen tortillas. (Here’s a lesson for you—Cheap Bastid ended up making separate trips yesterday for tortillas and limes because I forgot to get them when I was doing the regular grocery shopping. The limes cost the same but I spent $1.50 MORE on tortillas than I would have otherwise). That means each tortilla cost about 20 cents. The rest added about a quarter per taco. Tomatoes are $.77 a pound, cabbage is $.49 a pound and onions are $.49 and limes are 10 for $1. Let’s add a quarter per taco for these and a dime for the sauce, OK?

So, I spent 95 cents per taco. They’re $1.89 at Rubios. Not bad. But I ate 3 and so did Carolyn. That means we spent $5.70 which compares to $11.34 at Rubios. OK, not bad but it’s more than other “heartier” meals that Cheap Bastid makes. On the plus side, these were pretty good fish tacos, excellent for a warm summer evening and a bit of a treat. Give ‘em a try.

That’s the Cheap Bastid way. Eat good! Eat Cheap! Be grateful!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cash for Clunkers--A Penny Well Spent

Late last week, the Cash for Clunkers (Car Allowance Rebate System) was at risk of running out of money. So many people had used it, there were so many “pending deals”, and the website dealers use to request reimbursement is so cumbersome that there was a great concern that there would be more buyers wanting to take advantage of the program than there were funds available.

So, on Friday the House of Representatives quickly passed and sent on to the Senate a bill which would triple the Cash for Clunkers program from $1 to $3 billion (or from 250,000 vehicles to 750,000).

Some have questioned the program as throwing good money after bad and being another government bail-out boondoggle. I happen to think that it’s a pretty good thing.

Let’s try to put Cash for Clunkers in context: Take 3, $100 bills and put them on a table. Put a penny next to them.
The $300 represents the amount of money allocated by the government for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (if memory serves it was somewhere around $900 billion). The penny represents the $3 billion proposed for the Car Allowance Rebate System (Cash for Clunkers).

Over most of the last year we have had a succession of bad economic news. Trillions have been spent on bail-outs. All of this is money that Americans perceive as coming out of their pockets with little, if any, benefit.

Most people are like me. They see banks and other mega-financial firms being bailed-out to the tune of billions if not trillions of dollars with absolutely no benefit to individuals other than the fat-cat bankers who continue to get their million dollar bonuses. We see banks being rewarded for participating in the fraud that convinced many to take out mortgages that they shouldn’t have resulting in the “meltdown” which has had disastrous consequences.

And many see the bailouts of GM and Chrysler and think that they we get to pay for companies who through their own bad management went down the tubes and let the government bail them out.

So what are we getting for our “penny”? Trade in a gas guzzler and get up to $4500. Pretty simple. The dealer and the government will take care of the paperwork. Just as long as the vehicle being traded gets an EPA computed 18 miles per gallon or less in combined city/highway mileage and the new vehicle being purchased gets at least 4 mpg better than that. It’s a bit more complicated but that’s the gist of the program.

So, what are the benefits? Quite a few, actually.

A benefit for the “average” person. The person driving an older vehicle can get a government rebate which can be 2 or 3 or 4 times the trade value. It’s not a million dollar bonus like if you’re a fund manager at Bear Stearns but it’s not bad.

It gets less fuel efficient vehicles off the road. This is ostensibly what Pres. Obama proposed to do in the first place. Even the “minimum” fuel economy improvement (from 18 to 22 mpg) represents a bit over 20% improvement in fuel economy. So let’s assume you’re currently driving 300 miles per week (about average for most people), and you pay $2.70 per gallon. At 18 mpg, you’re spending nearly $45 and at 22 mpg you’re spending almost $37. The savings come out to $468 per year in fuel costs. And that’s just for a 4 mpg savings.

$4500 is a bunch of money! If your “clunker” is paid off, the $4500 you save can amount to nearly $100 per month in lower car payments depending on your credit (it might be less and it could even be more). But, let’s use $100—that would be someone with B- to C+ credit. Over the course of a 60 month loan, that’s $6000. That’s real money that hasn’t come out of the buyer’s pocket. That’s the insurance premium for many people. Or, for others, it’s a couple of week’s groceries per month. And it can get even better if the leverage from the $4500 makes the debt to equity equation more favorable to a buyer and results in a lower interest rate.

Dealers are benefiting! Reports coming out last week said that new car dealers were seeing the best traffic that they’ve experienced all year. That’s good news when industry estimates have been showing the projected volume of new cars to be about 10 million this year—down from about 14 million 2 or 3 years ago. Dealers are selling more of their new car inventory. That means that they’ll get out from under some of the interest payments they’ve been making on aged inventory (“floor-plan”—the cost of maintaining inventory). That means that sales people will be earning a bit more—and auto salespeople don’t make a whole lot of money to begin with. That means more potential business in the parts and service department. That means more people keep their jobs at auto dealerships.

Lenders are benefiting! Auto finance companies like Ford Motor Credit and GMAC will be doing more business. Credit Unions will be writing more loans.

Auto Salvage Companies will benefit. All those clunkers have to be destroyed (even vehicles that are in good enough shape to be resold). Their drive trains cannot be salvaged and must be rendered inoperable by the dealer. But salvage companies will generate income from the program.
A lot of those SUVs sold in the 90’s and the first 4 or 5 years of this decade will be coming off the road. Some to be replaced by “cross-overs”. Others by hybrids. Still others by sedans. That’s a good thing too. Hopefully people are getting it figured out that vehicles are not lifestyle or status statements. They’re a means of transportation.

Many of these vehicles will be paid for. Others won’t (such as those purchased used in the last 4 or 5 years). But the amount of the CARS rebate will mean that many of those owners of financed clunkers will be able to pay of the amount that they’re “upside down” (to use an industry term—another term for it is “buried”) and be able to successfully finance a new car.

Cash for Clunkers is just for new cars. There has been some speculation that it may also be extended to used vehicles but there has been no change on the website. There is a crucial difficulty with extending a program like this to used vehicles. That difficulty is the condition of the vehicle.

The condition of a new vehicle is known. It’s new. The condition (and the reconditioning) of a used vehicle is an unknown with one exception and that is manufacturer’s Certified Pre-Owned vehicles. Manufacturer’s programs only deal with their own brands and have rigorous standards which the vehicle must meet and which must be disclosed to the buyer—typically along with an enhanced warranty from the manufacturer. Perhaps this may happen in the future with the CPOV.

So, again as far as I’m concerned, this is a good program. It’s about time that with all the bail-outs that the average person has something which can directly benefit him or her. This program does that. Out of all the hundreds of billions that have been spent on toxic assets, etc. this “penny” is one which has the potential to generate a return and is a “penny” which is being well-spent. To the U.S. Senate: Approve the additional $2 billion!