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February 2004

February 26, 2004

Daily Drift for Thursday, February 26
Government Rip-Off Redux; upside-down economics on Wall Street
posted by Rick Gagliano

Sorry about the lapse. The Daily Drift drifted into obsolescence. Today is February 26, 2004, and I promise to write something for this column almost every day. OK? I said almost, not every day, and I'm talking weekdays here. I need weekends off.

I'm supposing a running commentary will suffice for now, until I decide on what I want to do when I grow up. Being 50, I still have plenty of gas in the tank, and time to decide on my life's work. Actually, from what Fed Chairman (and full time liar) Alan Greenspan said yesterday about Social Security (think about that title a minute - social security - the government desires a secure society, does it? Well, I have news, society is far from secure) I have at least 20 more years to grind away before I start getting government checks, so I'm not in a big hurry to either work very hard nor retire. I am just drifting along.

What Greenspan really was saying yesterday is simple - the Baby Boomers are such a large group of aging population, that when they retire the already broken Social Security apparatus will not be able to afford to pay us all. Greenspan has a simple solution for this - the same solution he has for every other economic problem - borrow more! The Federal debt is already over $7 TRILLION. What's another $30 or 40 Trillion over the next 20 years? And the government never pays back the debt. That idea is simply laughable. Of course Greenie didn't say he would do this, or even propose to do it. He simply laid this bomb neatly in the lap of the most incompetent, free-spending, deceitful president in our nation's history - George W. It's a safe bet that Greenie doesn't want Georgie-boy re-elected. He's already hinted at higher interest rates, and now, throwing down the retirement gauntlet is simply another indication that Greenie will dispose of W the same way he disposed of his dad a decade ago.

As for the future of Social Security and our nation's economy, consider this: If you started at age 25 contributing to SSI - which most of us did - at roughly 15% of our wage, and continued until age 65, if that money was invested at a mere 5% annual yield (we're talking T-bills or CDs here), by the time you retired you'd have over $420,000. If you plan on paying it out over 20 years, it comes to more than $48,000 a year or $4000 a month. Now, I don't know how much SSI pays out, but I know darn well that the money paid into the plan was never invested, rather it was blown on social programs, and there isn't much left. I also know that SSI isn't going to pay ANYBODY $4000 a month. No way. So basically, what I am saying to all the Baby Boomers - yeah, all you old hippies out there, we were right in the 60s - we've been getting robbed for the last 30 or 40 years and now it gets worse, as the government is going to renege on the whole deal.

In the 60s, we would call that a RIP-OFF. Like selling bad weed, the feds have duped us out of our money. And they expect us to respect their laws. The people who have run and are running the federal government are lying bastards every one of them, and every one of us who doesn't immediately STOP paying into the black hole of Social Security deserves to die poor. I've been screaming about this for years - since my first paycheck in 1968. I said then and I'll say it now - I'll never see a penny of that money. It’s just plain government thievery. Another screw job by the feds. And they want to waste our time and money on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. What utter stupidity!

MOVING ON: The government released data today on unemployment and durable goods orders. Since we're supposed to be in a recovery, one of these should be up, and one down. They are, but the wrong ones. Durable goods orders were down, unemployment up. The stock markets opened lower on the news, but have since (it's now 11:35 on the East Coast) recovered some. The NASDAQ is actually trading higher for the day, proving that stupidity and suckers are everywhere. The day isn't over yet, though.

Continuing…

2:20 pm: The Dow actually went positive around 12:30. I am still convinced that the Dow is the most corrupted index in the world. The 30 stocks, so easy to manipulated, are viewed worldwide as a barometer of American industrial strength. Nothing could be further from the truth. A year ago, I did a breakdown of the average p/e on the Dow stocks. It was around 23. Now it is even higher, probably approaching 32. Sad but true. NASDAQ is still to the plus side but only by 9 points. I still cannot fathom what investors are seeing in stock at these prices. They are begging to be taken to the cleaners.

I'm getting the feeling that there's about to be a run to the downside. Of course, I've had that feeling for months, so it's nothing new. Sooner or later, though, the markets will correct and the longer they take to get into the corrective phase, the worse it's going to be. Could be any minute now...

WEENIES IN DENIAL!

It's 3:40 and the godless horde that is Wall Street has pushed the indices to near their highs of the day. Take into account the higher jobless claims this week, the drop in durable goods orders both announced this morning and read the following from a message board six days ago and tell me why the Dow should be near 32 week highs:

UNEXPECTED RISE IN FIRST TIME CLAIMS !
UNEXPECTED 26% RISE IN FUTURE LAYOFF REPORTS FROM CHALLENGER, GRAY & CHRISTMAS!
UNEXPECTEDLY HIGH BUDGET NUMBERS !
WHITE HOUSE BACKS OFF FROM JOB CREATION FORECAST !
UNEXPECTED LACK OF JOB CREATION !
UNEXPECTEDLY HIGH TRADE DEFICITS !
UNEXPECTED DROP IN DURABLE GOODS ORDERS !
UNEXPECTEDLY LOW CONSUMER SENTIMENT !
UNEXPECTED DROP IN RETAIL SALES !
UNEXPECTED SURPRISE IN CONSUMER PRICES !
UNEXPECTED DROP IN PHILLY FED INDEX !
UNEXPECTED 7.9% DROP IN NEW HOUSING STARTS !
UNEXPECTED DROP IN SEMICONDUCTOR BOOK TO BILL !

The poster's point is that the bad news is always a surprise; that for some reason the economy is always supposed to be doing just fine, despite the facts to the contrary.

----------------------------------------------------
3:44pm
Dow 10,595.11 Down 6.51 (0.06%)
Nasdaq 2,032.88 Up 9.90 (0.49%)
S&P 500 1,145.42 Up 1.75 (0.15%)
----------------------------------------------------

Here are the closing numbers. Basically, you have nothing, on low volume. The markets are definitely waiting for good news, since they have ignored all the bad news.

Thursday, February 26, 2004, 4:03pm ET - U.S. Markets Closed.

Dow 10,580.14 Down 21.48 (0.20%)
Nasdaq 2,032.58 Up 9.60 (0.47%)
S&P 500 1,145.85 Up 2.18 (0.19%)
NYSE Volume 1,356,614,000
Nasdaq Volume 1,713,356,000
NYSE Composite 6,678.00 Up 7.73 (0.12%)
----------------------------------------------------

That's all for today!


February 13, 2004

Real Estate and the Real World
You can't pay your mortgage but you could ride the bus to see a show.
posted by Rick Gagliano

A couple of news items caught my attention over the past two days. Both articles concern residential real estate and both are signaling that hard times may not only be in our futures, they may be upon us already.

The first was an interesting - no, shocking - article about residential foreclosures in the Philadelphia area. The number of people losing their homes in the City of Brotherly Love (can't say that about the bankers there) has risen to levels, according to one activist, not seen "since the Great Depression."

Because of the record number of foreclosures and people losing their homes, the City Council, the sheriff, and others are pushing for a moratorium on the forced sales, or auctions, of foreclosed properties.

Now that's the kind of news that doesn't usually appear during what is supposed to be an economic recovery. Neither is news of mass layoffs, though they continue apace as well.

Closer to home, the Democrat & Chronicle reports that real estate sales fell off dramatically in January, due to layoff announcements by Kodak and freezing cold weather.

According to the Rochester Realtors Association, sales of existing homes dropped 33.2% in January from the previous month and were off 23.3% from January 2003. Those are pretty big numbers, and, while the reasons for the decline in activity are compelling, they only begin to tell the story of where we are and where we, as a community, are going.

Bear in mind that the cold weather will go away but the layoffs haven't even begun. And it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that the layoffs will have an even grater effect when they do actually occur. Where we are is an environment in which people are not buying homes. Where we are going is where Philadelphia already is - people losing their homes in record numbers.

Up until now, the politicos in both county and city government haven't done anything to address the dual problems of a shrinking jobs base and a stalling real estate market. If anything, they've added to the dilemma by raising property taxes.

Here's another one for the brain surgeons and rocket scientists among us - if less and less people are buying houses and more people are unable to pay their mortgages, what does that do to your revenue base, i.e., property taxes?

The plain and simple answer (I am not a rocket scientist, though I do play one on TV) is that the property tax revenues will decrease. I guess the county legislators saw this coming and that's why they hiked property taxes last year. From all of the paying homeowners, a loud, "thanks a lot!"

As we head down the road to fiscal ruin, the city council, the mayor, the county legislature and the county executive have done nothing to address the problems of shrinkage in both the jobs and tax bases. Instead they bring us the Fast Ferry and the combination college, bus terminal and performing arts center, otherwise known as the Renaissance Center - at a cost of $150 million.

It is my firm belief that Rochestarians do not need a new bus terminal, a new performing arts center or a new college campus. We already have systems in place that handle all of those disparate functions. I also think putting them together is an enormous mistake, as it will meld three distinctly different socio-economic groups.

Let's look at this sensibly. People who ride busses do so because they either cannot afford a car or enjoy the convenience of the bus. There are probably more of the former than of the latter. College students are generally young and, well, poor. People who attend shows and concerts are a little well-to-do. Let's just put them all together and see what happens.

Bad idea - very bad idea. The day one of the concertgoers is assaulted by one of the bus riders; the dream will be over. Let's make sure that day never arrives and tell our legislators to stop playing games with our lives and our money and start acting responsibly.

$150 million could go a long way toward solving some of the problems of low employment and a stalled real estate market. Some of that same money could be used for retraining, loans to start new businesses, supplemental loans to help strapped homeowners pay mortgages. I'm not proposing we actually do those things, but at least consider them. To me, they make more sense than what the local governments are planning to do with our money.

--FR


February 12, 2004

And the Winner Is… Daniel Carp?
How to lose money, fire people, and win
posted by Rick Gagliano

Kodak's CEO, Daniel Carp, who rose through the ranks to become top dog at the local film manufacturing behemoth, was honored in Las Vegas last night by the PhotoImaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association, where they are holding their annual convention.

Carp was named the industry's "Man of the Year," ostensibly for his stewardship of the stumbling giant of a company through the turbulent waters of the transition from chemical based film to digital photography.

Now, the honchos at the PM&DA probably knew what they were doing when they decided to award Carp, but, not being there myself, I am a little befuddled as to why he was singled out to be "da Man," so I decided to take a look at the past year and see what Mr. Carp had done to deserve such an honor.

First, I figured that since Carp is the CEO of a big, publicly traded company, maybe he was getting recognition for increasing the share price of the stock and, in effect, growing the value of the company.

Early in 2003, Kodak stock was trading in the high 30s, closing at a peak of 38.70 on January 10. By the end of the year, the price had dipped as low as 20.29 and closed out the year at 25.67. So, under Carp's brilliant leadership, owners of Eastman Kodak shares lost about a third of their value. Put in real terms, the value of the company was a shade over $11 billion at the start of the year, but by December 31, it was only worth $7.3 billion. So, Carp managed to lose $3.7 billion dollars in value in one year. Way to go, Dan!

Of course, Mr. Carp is nobody's fool, On January 11, he cashed out some of his own shares at 40.47, above the market price. Nice going, Danny boy!

But, Mr. Carp saw to it that not only was the share price of Kodak stock cut down, but the dividend - which many retirees and good, honest, hardworking former and current employees and their families relied upon for a little extra income - was cut to the bone as well - by 70%, from $1.80 per share to a measly 50 cents. Keep up the good work, Dan!

Sales were down, profits were down, earnings were down, the stock price was down, the dividend was cut, the value of the company depreciated, so we should give this guy an award, right? Apparently so.

But Carp's story isn't done yet. Add to it that Kodak is Rochester and New York state's #1 polluter and has been for years, so we can't give him points on environmental grounds.

In July of 2003, Carp announced layoffs of 2-3000 employees. In January, 2004, he announced that the company would lay off about 20% of its workforce, or between 12 and 15,000 employees. So, we can't rightfully give him kudos for being a good employer either.

I don't get it. Whatever he's done, it hasn't been necessarily good for either the business, the employees, the shareholders, the city in which it is headquartered or anything else Mr. Carp, the Anti-Midas, touches.

Maybe the industry people on the awards committee figured that Mr. Carp, through his bungling, wealth-destroying management maneuvers as Kodak's CEO, has engendered greater opportunities for other companies and jobs in the digital photography field. That must be it, because I can't see how one could bestow any award - besides a dunce cap - on Mr. Carp.


February 11, 2004

Brooks' Advisory Team Is Not Representative of Community
Diversity apparently not an issue with the County Exec.
posted by Rick Gagliano

County Executive Maggie Brooks announced a couple of weeks ago that she was forming an advisory group to, in her words, "conduct a top-to-bottom review [of] the 2004 Monroe County Budget to identify cost cutting measures, streamlining and consolidation opportunities."

Well, it surely is reassuring to know that our County Executive will have a group of 24 people to look for cost cutting and streamlining possibilities in next year's budget, because it's fairly certain that Ms. Brooks hasn't even looked at this year's.

As we all know, while the County Legislature pushed through a massive tax increase in this year's (2004) budget, Ms. Brooks did and said nothing. She was only the elected County Executive at the time and hadn't been officially sworn in (though she almost certainly was sworn at). She takes no responsibility for the 2004 budget, even though she has to live within its means and administrate it. But she can lay responsibility for the tax hikes squarely on the shoulders of the Legislature and former Executive Jack Doyle. This is all very convenient for her. She gets to keep her pledge to not raise taxes, just as the taxes are raised. Nice!

So, one can assume that should the 2005 budget result in another tax hike, Ms. Brooks can lay the blame on her "Advisory Team" or come up with some other nefarious group to shoulder the burden. Whatever the case, Ms. Brooks has already displayed disturbing tendencies to be unaccountable, irresponsible and out of touch.

The advisory board is yet another example of Ms. Brooks' insular management style. It looks more like a list of campaign donors or company heads whose interests will be served by the county in terms of contracts and sweetheart deals rather than a team that represents the interests of the people of Monroe County.

I don't believe there is an African-American or Hispanic person on this board, though Mayor Johnson was invited to serve.

There's also no small business representation and nobody representing the interests of landlords, or homeowners, or renters, or city residents in general.

Monroe County is made up of a community of fairly diverse interests. This board shows no creativity in its structure, no diversity in its makeup, and no mission other than to hold the line on expenses and/or taxes. There are no mandates for initiatives, no insight for the future and no message. Fittingly, it is as bland and pale as Ms. Brooks' complexion.

All this board represents is big business, local institutions, government and nothing else. This board, I suspect, is largely ceremonial. I seriously doubt that all of them will ever be in the same room at the same time and I have even more doubts as to whether they will actually make any recommendations. I am pretty certain, however, that all of them, or the constituents or companies they represent, will receive perks, handouts and/or favors from the county.

At a time that calls for innovation and creativity, Ms. Brooks has chosen to rely on the same tired formula for failure that has served local government for the past fifty years. By appointing a board largely made up of business "leaders" - quite possibly the most insulated and out-of-touch people in the area - she is simply telling us that the status quo will be sufficient to fix our sick city and the tottering bureaucracy of the county, and that innovation and an infusion of new ideas is unnecessary.

It's too bad we elected Ms. Brooks to be our County Executive for the next four years because she probably can't and won't solve many of the problems we face as a community. On the other hand, residents and concerned citizens may be able to simply ignore her and her panoply of expository decrees, panels, studies, boards and initiatives. Nothing she proposes has been nor will be anything more than an effort to show that she's doing her job.

And that simply will not be enough.

The following are excepts from the county press release issued January 30, 2004.

"Brooks announced that Robert J. Fischer and Louise Woerner have accepted her invitation to Co-Chair the Monroe County Budget Advisory Team. Robert Fischer has many years of business management experience as President of Hayes Fischer Capital Management where, among his many responsibilities, he manages the company’s budget. Fischer has also served as a member of the New York State Superfund Management Board and was appointed by Governor George Pataki to serve on the Governor’s Superfund Workshop from 1999 to 2003."

"Louise Woerner is Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and owner of Health Care Resources (HCR), a health services firm with more than 600 employees and offices in Rochester, NY and Washington, DC."

"In addition to Co-Chairs Fischer and Woerner, the team members include: Ann L. Burr, past Executive Vice President, Time Warner Cable Rochester and present Trustee of RIT; Stacy Campbell, First Vice President and Financial Consultant, RBC Dain Rauscher; Gloria D. Cochran, President and Owner, Cochran Business Solutions LLC; John DiMarco II, President, The DiMarco Group; Ralph J. Esposito, Supervisor, Town of Gates; Kathryn Firkins, Director of Constituent Services, Town of Greece; Elizabeth Hager, MD, Principal, E. Hager Consulting; Brian E. Hickey, President, Rochester Division - M&T Bank and Chairman, Board of Trustees, Nazareth College (The Rump Group); Daniel C. Hogan, President, Crane-Hogan Structural Systems, Inc. and Chairman, Monroe County CASE Commission; Thomas F. Judson, Jr. Chairman & CEO, The Pike Company, Inc. (The Rump Group); R. Wayne LeChase, President & CEO, LeChase Construction Services, LLC (The Rump Group); Peter M. Palermo III, Founder & Managing Director, Altreya Consulting, LLC; Gregory J. Parrinello, Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers; John Perticone, Business Manager, Local 13, United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters; Dennis M. Richardson, President & CEO, Hillside Family of Agencies; Thomas R. Wahl, Jr., Senior Vice President and Financial Advisor, Morgan Stanley; Kevin Spacher, Director of Finance, Town of Perinton; Gregory Duane, Director of Finance, Town of Pittsford; Bal K. Narang, Operations & Finance Business Manager, Health Care, Youth & Public Policy Division, Harris Interactive; Michael Vadala, President & CEO, The Summit Federal Credit Union; and, Rick Spencer, Senior Vice President of Investments, Morgan Stanley and Board Member, CFO Roundtable.


February 10, 2004

What I'm Seeing in the Charts
All about V bottoms and lazy crown tops
posted by Rick Gagliano

Having been a stock watcher and occasional market participant since I was about 8 years old, I've seen my share of stock charts, but the ones I am seeing these days are different.

I focus in on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the basket of 30 stocks which are supposedly representative of a cross-section of American enterprise. I watch, as many do, - the Dow is the most recognized average in the world - the daily gyrations of the Dow, and have noticed what definitely is a recurring theme during the latest bull run that began in March of 2003.

During that time, the Dow has advanced roughly 35% without a break, a pullback, or, what most market observers deem, a correction. That being odd enough, the daily charts exhibit an unmistakable pattern that occurs with enough frequency - pretty much every day - as to cause alarm, at least in my view.

The pattern is one of V-shaped bottoms and lazy crown tops throughout the day. Whenever the average slumps it quickly recovers, like somebody is putting a punctuation mark at that point. The averages seldom, if ever, go into a continuous slide, which, in the long course of market watching, is quite common.

Generally, the market will sell off rapidly, bounce almost straight up off that point and settle in at a new level. I have seen bounces like this of anywhere from 25 to 100 points occurring with greater and greater frequency. The averages will then hit a top and settle in for a prolonged period of sideways trading, peak and then fall back again, producing what I call a lazy crown, because it resembles the kind of headwear worn by kings and queens of a bygone era and the trading activity is usually of the low volume variety, hence, lazy.

The overall result of such activity is what we have now - an inflated, hyped, continuously rising stock market with no fundamental values in place. Price earnings ratios are at nosebleed levels and some market observers have discerned a likeness of the rally of 2003 (and now 2004) to the 1999-2000 bubble.

In the past two weeks these patterns have become more pronounced and I offer not an explanation, but rather a couple of hypotheses to explain the events.

While the lazy crown tops require no explanation, as they are rather the results of the spikes trading off lows and resultant dips, the spikes off lows could be the work of short covering. As stocks - a basket of them, no doubt - hit certain levels the short sellers take their profits and run, forcing them to buy up shares and produce a sharp, momentary correction. It could be futures players or pros playing the diamonds (the option for the Dow), but I doubt anyone is pushing, in effect, from the backside, although this is the explanation given by proponents of the PPT (Plunge Protection Team) conspiracy theories. If you're not familiar with the PPT, check here for more info.

There's little doubt that something, somebody, is manipulating the Dow to some degree. Somebody always is. It's relatively easy to get some mileage out of just 30 stocks rather than 500 or 3000 like the S & P or the NASDAQ indices. And, after all, the Dow is the one everyone pays attention to, even though the others have registered large gains as well this year, especially the NASDAQ. But it begs the question of who's pulling the strings, as, if you push or pull on the Dow, the other indices will follow along. It's like fixing a horse race. You don't have to influence the riders of all the horses; just pay off the jockeys on the fastest ones and your average runner will show up a winner.

So, whether somebody is pulling strings or putting in floors is not the question. The question, to my mind, is who is doing it and why?

My other theory is that some big money institutions, possibly quite a few of them, are in collusion to not only put a floor under stocks but to increase the share prices, no matter the fundamentals. Back in July and October of 2002 and March of 2003, the first big triple V bottoms were formed as the Dow sunk to levels of 7702, 7286 and 7524 (all closing prices) and since the last one, we've run straight up to where we are today. Those V bottoms, which can be seen on any historical chart of the Dow, have given rise to the less pronounced, but still significant daily doses of off-the-bottom bounces.

The prolonged gains in the stock market would serve many purposes, not the least of which would be any of the following: getting the president re-elected, saving the companies which have underfunded pension liabilities, keeping mutual funds profitable, keeping many otherwise barely employable fund managers, analysts, brokers and specialists employed.

In effect, they may accomplish all of the above and more, at the expense of only those who were either short the market or out of it, so no harm, no foul, would be the operative phrase here.

It's just that the spikes and bounces have become so ordinary and commonplace that I felt a need to put down some public record that at least somebody is noticing and saying something. I don't claim to be an expert in these matters, but if I can see them, why is much of Wall Street and the regulatory agencies, so mum on the topic?

Maybe we really are in the midst of a true economic recovery, though many unemployed and marginally-employed will not concur with that opinion, and certainly, the way we're getting there, as per the charts I have pointed out, leaves plenty of room for a healthy dose of skepticism.

--FR


What Really Matters
The eye of the beholder
posted by Rick Gagliano

There are times and days and incidents which require inspection. What goes on and what is really happening are not always the same, and we wonder if truth has stood itself upon its head or whether life's meaning is superficially expressed or if it lies buried deep beneath the veil of perception.

We live in a world - in a time - of which almost nothing can be taken at face value. Reminders of a more innocent time in our lives reach our eyes and ears as we recall the arrival of four fresh young men from England. The Beatles came to America not to save it, not to conquer it, but to experience it, enjoy it, revel in it, and we embraced them with an honest joy.

Those days - the mid-60s - were not a dream. To some of us it may still seem like yesterday, before Vietnam, before Watergate, before the age of scandal, greed, racism, tension, war and terror. Those days were honest, open, vigorous, happy and prosperous and we pause to wonder what went wrong.

Did we neglect our public duty? Did we trip merrily through our days in blind faith instead of questioning and acting upon our thoughts and fears? Did we allow our world to be run by politics and corporations who had nothing better than their own interests at heart?

We sent a man to the moon, but in the process we lost our soul. And that is the important thing - our perception, our collective faith, our will to live free - which seems, more than anything else, to have been sacrificed in the age of instant communication, excessive taxation and the facade of democracy.

For surely today democracy is a mock-up, a shadow of what it once was, a prop which politicians trot out and stand beside when they tell us all is well and we know in our hearts that all is not.

But is it important that our leaders deceive us, our elected officials pass legislation to the benefit of the poor and the rich that impoverishes the middle class? Does it matter that a CEO makes millions and earns praise while he deprives thousands of ordinary workers of their livelihoods? Should we be alarmed that popular celebrities carry on in lewd, anti-social and capricious ways?

I think not. I believe that the politicians, the celebrities, the corporate moguls and those whom we may grudgingly call our leaders do not matter. What they do does not matter. What they say does not matter. What they want does not matter. How much money or power or popularity they have does not matter.

They, in their gold-plated, self-important, ego-driven pseudo-universe, have managed not only to delude much of the public, but themselves as well. They actually think that the words that come out of their mouths carry some meaning, that the laws they write are just, that the taxes they impose, proper, that the morality they display, correct.

They are as transitory as the wind and the wind changes.

What is important, in my opinion, is our perception. Once we pierce the veil of good intentions and find the root of mass deception, we can come to a mind that is without pretension. What matters most is, in the end, our collective well being, our health, our families, our will to live free.

It is plain and obvious that we are being led down a path to somewhere, but where? Are we on a road to ruin and poverty through deceit and impression? Or are we really on the cusp of an age of enlightenment, a future that will outshine all other days past, that carries with it the hope of freedom and love and will and goodness?

It's all in how you look at things.

Surely, the politicians and advertisements will promise a better tomorrow, but their track record is littered with the sheaths of broken promises, false hopes and shattered dreams, so we cannot continue to place our faith in them. And the business leaders have a lease on the future and a leash on the public. So it's the little guy, the ordinary person, the average Joe and Jane that must lead us to the promised land. It's up to the individual to reestablish his and her rights, to flout the law when it oppresses, to have the courage to say no to the establishment, to dig deep and find the soul that we have lost, the heart that has been broken, the will that has been shunted.

Yes, it's up to you and me. We're the ones who allowed it to happen and we're the only ones who can fix it. We are on the cusp of a better day.

--FR


One Liners: The only difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Democrats allow the poor to be corrupt, too. --Oscar Levant


February 09, 2004

Changes to the Daily Drift Format 2/9/04
Better focus, less fluff
posted by Rick Gagliano

In an effort to better serve the public of Rochester, some changes are about to be introduced to the Daily Drift, beginning tomorrow.

Instead of writing a superfluous overview of headlines and attention-grabbers, the Drift will instead focus on local issues in essay form. The Drift will still be daily, and some of the more popular features such as history today, sports and quotes will be incorporated into the ReGrow Rochester website. Other items will be dropped completely.

These changes will allow me to center on the real issues in a more reasoned, effective manner and also allow local businesses to become more involved with the overall effort of bettering the community.

The Drift will remain intact, only under a slightly different, and, I hope, better, format.

--FR


February 06, 2004

Daily Drift for Friday, February 6, 2004
WMDs, more jobs, plant closings and Mircales
posted by Rick Gagliano

Big Picture: Here we go again. In what seems to be a recurring theme in American politics, the politicians are about to go about the nasty task of eating each other's flesh. On Thursday, George Tenet, CIA Chief, held a news conference to clarify what his agency knew and reported about Iraq, WMDs, and Saddam Hussein in the prelude to war in 2002 and 2003. While Mr. Tenet said the CIA never termed the threat from Iraq to be "imminent," he also left the door open that the administration interpreted the findings to suit their own intentions.

Meanwhile, the President has agreed to appoint a non-partisan independent committee to look into the intelligence gathering prior to the invasion of Iraq. The committee is supposed to issue its findings AFTER the November elections. As the Republicans spin it, it's not a political issue, so it shouldn't affect the presidential elections.

Well, if it's not political, let's release the findings BEFORE the November elections, since, if, as you say, it's not political, it will have no bearing on the elections. This sounds strangely Nixonian, as do many of the mouthings of GWB. Here's a prediction: Bush loses the election in November and we are out of Iraq within a year. That seems to be the direction we're heading, unless, of course, the administration orchestrates another national emergency, terrorist attack, finds Osama Bin Laden (actually that is going to happen around October), or declares martial law, which has been this administration's intent since day one in power.

Luv Yer Gov: Payrolls outside the farm sector grew by 112,000 jobs, the Labor Department said this morning at 8:30 EST, compared with an upwardly revised gain of 16,000 in December. It was the sixth straight month of payroll gains. The unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent from 5.7 percent in December.

Economists, on average, expected 165,000 new jobs and unemployment at 5.7 percent, according to Briefing.com.

The numbers are highly unreliable as the Labor Department seasonally adjusts the numbers and recent changes to benchmarks have skewed the figures significantly. Besides, the general figures are taken from a sampling of households and not a survey of businesses. You can believe that the economy is improving. You can also believe that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons in Iraq. Your choice. Have a nice weekend.

Crime Wave: The gentleman in the picture is making a withdrawal from the Key Bank branch on East Main Street. Unfortunately, the funds he is withdrawing are not his. The gentleman robbed the bank around 2:00 pm, yesterday. The bank is located near what used to be one of the busiest corners in Rochester, at Main and State, but thanks to the vision of our various leaders, is now a decaying shadow of its former vibrant self.

Who would have thought, years ago, to rob a bank at that location, in the middle of the day, and flee, most likely, on foot. Nobody! Before urban sprawl, before the 1987 reconstruction of Main Street, before Vision 2000, there was life and business in downtown Rochester. Now we have bank robberies in broad daylight. And what do our leaders do about it? Good question. And what do we do about these leaders? We keep re-electing them. Bad answer. Stay tuned. Things are about to change.

Toast of the Town: "It tasted like beef without the meat."

One Liners: The roots of education are bitter, but the fruits are sweet. --Aristotle

Jock Itch: The Rochester Amerks take on the Manitoba Moose at the Blue Cross Arena. Game time is 7:00 pm.

Briefly on Biz: Tyco (yes, the conglomerate run by the big, fat embezzler-liar CEO Dennis Kozlowski) has announced plans to close its Tyco Plastics facility in Macedon, which will result in the loss of about 200 jobs. The plant closing was announced as part of Tyco's restructuring. Remember, when you hear the word "restructure" it means that some people are going to lose jobs, and the executives will be cashing out their stock options as the stock price rises. Simple math.

Invest or Gamble?: On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrials closed up 24.81 points at 10,495.55. S & P 500 ended up 2.07 points to 1,128.59. The Nasdaq Composite Index finished up 5.42 points, at 2,019.56. Local stocks: Kodak: 28.96; Xerox: 14.50; Bausch & Lomb: 53.25; Paychex: 35.81.

History today: 1820 US population announced at 9,638,453; 1935 Board game "Monopoly" goes on sale for the 1st time; 1943 Singer Frank Sinatra debuts on radio's "Your Hit Parade";

Best Bets: Get out this weekend and see the film, "Miracle," the story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, starring Kurt Russell as coach Herb Brooks. The movie accurately recasts one of the great American sporting events of all time, using real hockey players instead of actors - nice touch.


February 05, 2004

Daily Drift for Thursday, February 5, 2004
Dean's a scream in Wisconsin; more on CSX; Pizza, Wings and more!
posted by Rick Gagliano

Big Picture: Howard Dean, the Democratic front-runner for most of the pre-primary season, has announced that he will exit the race for president if he does not win the Wisconsin primary, which will be held on Tuesday, February 17. You have to like the all-or-nothing approach taken by Dean, since he hasn't won a primary yet, but is willing to lay it all on the line in one state. Primal scream advocates are hoping for a big win.

Around Town: Investigating the railroad crossing accident from Tuesday, CSX, which operates railroads in the Northeast and is the primary railroad in upstate New York, the accident rate, as reported by the Federal Railroad Administration, increased by 30% from the period of January-October 2002 to January-October 2003 - from 284 to 370. From 2000 to October 2003, CSX accounted for 17.5% of all train accidents in the US, ranking third in volume of accidents behind Union Pacific (34.2) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (23.8). Local news sources are also reporting that CSX knew about the malfunctioning of the crossing bars and lights at the Winton Road crossing and had instructed the engineer of the train that struck and killed John and Jean O'Connor to stop before entering the crossing. CSX is also currently experiencing problems at the Pixley Road crossing in Gates.

Luv Yer Gov: The City of Rochester is facing a $40 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. Just a reminder.

Crime Wave: Good news to report on the home invasion in Rush from yesterday, is that the people involved in the incident, both the shooter, his accomplices, and the victim and residents of the house all knew each other and are all teenagers. The shooting was more than likely an accident. Ah, those kids…

Toast of the Town: "He isn't really that smart or that cute. But until something better comes along, he'll have to do."

One Liners: "The secret of success is constancy to purpose." -- Benjamin Disraeli

Jock Itch: Local HS Basketball Scores from Wednesday, Feb. 4: Rush-Henrietta 86 Churchville-Chili 59; Greece Arcadia 62 Greece Athena 54; Pittsford-Mendon 68 Eastridge 61; Webster-Thomas 76 Spencerport 67.

The Rochester Americans dropped a 4-1 decision on the road to the Hamilton Bulldogs last night and will be home to face the Manitoba Moose on Friday, February 6. On Saturday, the team travels to Toronto to face the Roadrunners. The Amerks remain in second place in the Central Division of the AHL Western Conference.

Invest or Gamble?: Markets took a tumble yesterday, as jittery tech investors dropped the Nasdaq 52 points in heavy trading. The Dow Industrials fell 34, while the S&P 500 shed 9. Closing prices: Eastman Kodak 29.02; Xerox 14.27; Paychex 36.21.

Briefly on Biz: Business Week Online delivers a realistic view of Eastman Kodak in an article entitled "Kodak's Fuzzy Numbers." Highlights include CEO Daniel Carp's sad or hilarious statement (depending on your own situation), "We believe 2003 marks the bottom." Carp begs two questions. 1. Who are "we"; and 2. The bottom of what?

Kodak's decline over the last decade is almost certainly not already ended. The company has yet to begin the latest announced round of layoffs and almost as certain as the sun rises in the East, they will announce more. Full article HERE.

History today: 1631 Rhode Island founder, Roger Williams arrives in Boston from England; 1778 Articles of Confederation ratified by 1st state, South Carolina; 1921 Yankees purchase 20 acres in the Bronx for Yankee Stadium; 1922 Reader's Digest magazine 1st published; 1936 National Wildlife Federation forms.

In Review: "Terrorism and Tryanny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and peace to Rid the World of Evil" by James Bovard, is a blaring indictment of the tactics used by President Bush and his administration to justify radical changes in laws and civil liberties. MORE.


Best Bets: Pizza & Wingfest 2004 6-10:30pm, SUNY BROCKPORT, Seymour College Union Ballroom, 637-9420


February 04, 2004

Daily Drift for Wednesday, February 4, 2004
Kerry wins big, train hazards, Tauzin a lobbyist?
posted by Rick Gagliano

Big Picture: John Kerry, Senator form Massachusetts, picked up Democratic Party backing in five states last night, including convincing wins in Missouri and Arizona, while also winning the caucuses in New Mexico and North Dakota. Kerry won the Delaware primary, while John Edwards won in South Carolina, his native state, while General Wesley Clark narrowly defeated Edwards in Oklahoma.

Missing from the winners last night again were Joe Lieberman, who announced an end to his candidacy, and Howard Dean, who vowed to stay in the race until March, despite not having won a single primary or caucus.

Next up for the candidates is the state of Washington, which holds its caucus on Saturday, February 7.

Around Town: The train-car crash yesterday on Winton Road, which killed local residents John and Jean O'Connor, may have been the fault of malfunctioning warning gate at the crossing. The train, owned by CSX, which was also involved in the massive chemical spill and fire in Charlotte two years ago, is the same company which current Treasury Secretary John Snow ran as CEO and Chairman from 1991 until 2002. CSX has a record of derailments, accidents and spills spanning over two decades, as their warning systems and rail lines have not been upgraded for quite some time. Investigations are underway in a number of fatal crashes involving the carrier around the country.

Luv Yer Gov: Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana has announced that he is stepping down as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, effective February 16. He also does not plan to run for re-election, but instead is leaning towards an offer to become a paid lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, which represents big drug manufacturers such as Eli Lilly and Co. and Merck & Co., has offered Tauzin the job, for an estimated $2 million per year. Last year, Tauzin guided the enormous Medicare legislation through the Congress, including a provision that prevents the government from negotiating lower prices from drug companies.

Groups such as Common Cause, who monitor the activities of powerful government figures, are outraged that the congressman would consider becoming a lobbyist. We here at the Drift applaud Tauzin for his audacious and brazen politics. At least we know who is buttering this man's bread.

Taxing Concepts: Congress is still mulling the internet access tax. The federal moratorium on taxing internet access came to its official end last November, and the legislators are itching to get into this can of worms. MORE

Crime Wave: Police are investigating what looks to be a home invasion at 6002 Rush-Lima Road, where the resident was reportedly shot in the face this morning around 1:15 am. Given the rise in home invasion crimes over the past 18 months, area law enforcement officials have little to curb the rash of attacks. Instead, police continue to focus on traffic violators, and in the downtown area, parking tickets. Isn't is about time we relieve the police of their traffic duties and promote them to enforce laws rather than regulations?

One Liners: "A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away." -- Barry Goldwater

Jock Itch: NBA fans are outraged that the two hottest rookies in the league, Cleveland's LeBron James and Denver's Carmello Anthony were not named to the All-Star roster. The two rookies have logged impressive minutes and are among the league leaders in a number of statistical cetegories.

The Amerks are on the road tonight facing Hamilton. Game time is set for 7:00 pm.

Invest or Gamble?: At the close on Tuesday, February 3, investors didn't know which way to look. The Dow finished the session at 10,505.18, Up 6.00; Nasdaq 2,066.21, Up 3.06; S&P 500 1,136.03, Up 0.77. Trading volume was moderate. Supposedly, it could be called an up day overall, but by most standards, it was flat. Eastman Kodak rebounded 68 cents to 29.28; Xerox dipped .39 to 14.34; Bausch & Lomb lost 1/4 to 54.91.

Wall Street is set to open lower as tech juggernaut Cisco Systems reported a lower quarterly profit than anticipated, despite higher sales.

History today: 1789 - George Washington elected as first American president. 1861 - Montgomery, Alabama, delegates from South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana convene to establish the Confederate States of America. 1974 - Patty Hearst kidnapped.

Best Bets: Eastman School Symphony Orchestra 8pm, Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St, 274-1100, FREE. Here's an opportunity to hear some exceptional classical music performed by some of the finest musicians in the world.


February 03, 2004

Daily Drift for February 3, 2004
Ricin, Bush's Budget, FCC getting abreast of Super Bowl situation and more...
posted by Rick Gagliano

Big Picture: Ricin found in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office. Now why would anyone want to poison a Senator? Maybe because it's easier to kill them than vote them out of office. We don't condone the actions of whomever sent the deadly substance, but it's the thought that counts. Now if we could find a substance that prevents them from passing legislation… http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/02/03/terror/main597619.shtml

Asian Bird Flu death toll has risen to 13, so it proves what economists and consumers already know - Asian imports are not necessarily good for Americans. Does it surprise anyone that viruses originate in China? Besides having the largest population of any nation in the world, they also eat cats… http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/02/03/1075776067329.html

President Bush released his $2.4 trillion budget yesterday and at the same time urged restraint in spending. If this budget and its record deficit wasn't so sickening, we'd be laughing. The President had this to say, "The reason we are where we are, in terms of the deficit, is because we went through a recession, we were attacked and we're fighting a war."

The recession ended two years ago, 9/11 was 2 1/2 years ago and the war did not have to be fought. So, who besides me thinks Mr. Bush is full of @#&*%???
MORE

Around Town: Harris Interactive announced plans to close its last remaining call center in the US, which will put about a dozen full time and 150 part time Rochester employees out of work. The rush to joblessness is on. With Kodak leading the way, other companies will find it unprofitable to do business here as well. Earth to Maggie and Bill, come in please!

Luv Yer Gov: FCC to investigate Janet Jackson's revealing halftime show. Need we say more? Our tax dollars are being spent "investigating" one stupid 2-second event? Obviously, the boys at the FCC have far too much time on their hands. MORE

Taxing Concepts: Governor Pataki's 2004-05 budget proposes $972 million in new fees for everything from sporting event tickets to traffic violation surcharges to handgun permits. MORE

Toast of the Town: "It didn't snow and I was kind of disappointed."
"I wasn't watching, but I'm sure I'll see it again and again."

One Liners: "They're more likely to find a nuclear bomb in Baghdad than cut the deficit in half in five years." -- John Podesta, president of the American Progress Institute.

Jock Itch: Emeka Okafor scored 25 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked four shots as No. 5 Connecticut dominated Syracuse, 84-56, on Monday. The Buffalo Bills are considering hiring former Bengals' head coach, Sam Wyche, as their quarterback coach. This raises two questions. 1. Where has Sam been hiding since the mid 80s? 2. Do the Bills have a quarterback worth coaching?

Briefly on Biz: Senator Hillary Clinton gave a keynote address yesterday at an alternative energy expo at RIT. Clinton expressed her views, saying, " Alternative energy is the biotechnology of today," during her keynote address. Is Mrs. Clinton saying that biotech is old, or that alternative energy companies will create another stock market bubble? We don't know, and we suspect, neither does she.

Invest or Gamble?: In early trading at 10:05 EST, the Dow Jones Industrials were down 3, the Nasdaq up 7; Eastman Kodak was slightly higher at 28.84 and Xerox was down .27 at 14.46.

History today: 1967 - "Purple Haze" recorded by Jimi Hendrix; 1948 - Dick Button becomes 1st world figure skating champion from US; 1916 - Canada's original Parliament building, in Ottawa, burns down.

Best Bets: Get out to see the movie, You Got Served. The film focuses on hip hop and street dancing, and has become linked to fights in several theaters showing the film. Even if the movie is not very good - we don't know whether it is worth the price of admission or not - you might get to witness a good brawl.


February 02, 2004

About the Daily Drift
Your need to know about Drifting with the news.
posted by Rick Gagliano

The Daily Drift is my response to boring journalism. In a series of fast-paced, bite-sized news nuggets, you get the drift of the news without the gory details and/or gruesome photos (I know some people really enjoy the gruesome photos, so we will provide a few here and there). The Drift, as we call it here in news pit, is all about grabby, pithy commentary outside the constraints of conventional journalism. Kind of like Ted Koppel on a pogo stick with Hunter Thompson hanging over his shoulder, screaming.

The Drift consists of 10 or more distinct sections, so you can skip over the parts you don't care about and get right to the stuff that you REALLY don't care about. I'm joking, of course. Your duty is to read all of it and click on all the snazzy ads between sections, then go out and spend all of your money at the merchants who were so wise to advertise.

On some days there will be more than ten sections, on others, maybe fewer than six. It depends on the activity level of the news. Simply put, if Rochester becomes a ghost town, there will likely be fewer sections. On the other hand, should Pam Anderson and Mick Jagger decide to move into the area because it's a cool place to be, well, you catch my drift.

I should point out that the Drift is generally a one-write exercise, meaning that it comes straight from my brain, through my fingers to the keyboard and off to the internet. I am normally barely awake when I write it. Sometimes, I actually make the effort to proofread and check spelling and grammar check. Someday, I may hire a secretary or intern to do it. Often, the Drift is updated during the day, on breaking news. When news breaks, we pick up the pieces.

OK, since I've gone beyond your normal attention span limit of 150 words, here's a quick reference guide to the various sections in the Drift.

Big Picture: In this section, I look at the top news stories of the day, decide whether I think they're worthy of inclusion and if I want you to know about them, they'll be mentioned here. If not, you'll know it's going to be a dull day. Think of this section as your horoscope without the sappy advice.

Around Town: Local news and news and more local news. Can I make it any clearer? This is where you read about local news, what happens right here, in Rochester. Thrilling!

Luv Yer Gov: No, it's not about the Governor, it's about the government and all the darling things it is doing to make your life more, umm…. comfortable. And I don't discriminate. All levels, federal, state and local will be treated with the same level of disdain and abhorrence.

Taxing Concepts: This section ties in somewhat with the previous one. Since the government is responsible for making laws that tax, then they're the guilty party. We'll explore the improprieties, extrapolations and implications of tax laws together. Won't it just be a fun time?

Crime Wave: Here is the grisly stuff that makes reporters' blood boil. We particularly appreciate the mindless, disgusting types of crimes that are committed locally for no good reason. Now, bank robberies, those are good, and reasonable. I mean, there's a point to robbing a bank, right? To get the money. Not shocking. Our criminals will have to do better than that to make it here. Sometimes the cops actually get involved. A veritable laugh riot.

Toast of the Town: Made famous by the infamous print editions of Downtown Magazine from the 1980s, these are quotes, mouthed by real people, yet still, without attribution. If you really need to find out who said what, buy my notebook. Only $300,000. It's all in there.

One Liners: Quotes with attribution, from people you should recognize.

Jock Itch: Sports! I just thought Jock Itch was a more suggestive and creative heading than the tried-and-true Sports, don't you? If I ever start up a sports magazine, I'm going to call it Jock Itch, so guys in Brooklyn can hawk it on street corners, yelling, "I got yer Jock Itch right here!"

Briefly on Biz: This should be self-explanatory, but since nobody understands me anymore, this section will be mostly short stories about business, and mostly local businesses, if there are any left.

Invest or Gamble?: Here you will find information on stocks, bonds, investments, and other forms of legalized gambling. Occasionally, I will slip in a football or horse race prediction, just to keep things in balance.

History today: What happened on this date in history. Pretty dumb idea, but the Cliff Claven's of the world are fascinated by this stuff.

In Review: Books, Music, Movies, and anything else I can think of to review. If you have a CD, DVD, book, gallery showing or performance upcoming soon, send me a copy or a couple of free tickets. Maybe I will look it over and render my insincere, biased, unprofessional and copiously commercialized opinion. But I do like getting stuff free.

Best Bets: Things I think everybody should do, like great places to have dinner, lunch, or good movies, shows, etc. Or, if I really dislike somebody, I'll just mention his or her address in this section and say there is a wild toga party there tonight starting at midnight.

Well, that's about all I can say about the Daily Drift right now. You will be the judge of whether it is worthwhile reading or not. So, be gentle.

What's that? There are 13 sections, not 10? Oh, well, bonus!

--FR*


February 01, 2004

A Few Reasons Why We Cannot Trust Our Government
Fees, and plenty of them for everybody.
posted by Rick Gagliano

Anybody who owns a car in New York State must comply with the rules and regulations of the Dept. of Motor Vehicles and state laws. One such law or regulation stipulates that we all must carry automobile insurance.

I was checking my insurance policy the other day and noticed a $5 fee called New York State Law Enforcement Fee. Not knowing what that was, I investigated. What I discovered was alarming and disturbing; an assualt on my sensibilities of fairness, justice and legality. It also points up why we cannot trust the legislators whom we have elected to serve us.

It seems that the state is going about the business of adding innocuous fees and levies wherever it can, without raising the ire of the people of New York - for you and me and Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary and all the rest of us.

Last year, the Assembly passed a bill which requires insurance companies to collect and remit a fee of $5 for every (with some notable exceptions) vehicle insured. The exact wording is, to charge and collect an annual motor vehicle law enforcement fee from each holder of a policy issued or renewed with an effective date on or after July 1, 1992, in this state, or for delivery in this state, for motor vehicle liability insurance coverage.

The full text of the memorandum issued by the NYS Insurance Depatment can be found here.

So, not only did our elected officials quietly add five bucks to the state coffers for every insured passenger vehicle in the state, they got the insurance companies to do the dirty work of collecting the fee for them. In effect, they have made slaves and tax collectors of the insurers.

Now, some of you may think that Five Dollars is not a lot of money. Sure, it isn't. But what will they tax (or add a fee for, as they like to call it) next, and when will it become $10, or $20 or $30? Like the Beatles said in Taxman,

If you drive a car, I'll tax the street
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat
If you get too cold I'll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet

It gets worse. The budget proposal issued by Governor Pataki is full of new fees and regulations and legislation that will add millions to the state coffers while he and our representatives in Albany can gleefully report no tax increases. In addition to the tax on your automobile policy, the governor (since nobody has objected to the original fee which was passed by the legislature last year) proposes extending it to localities, so they can pile on another $5. So, expect it to be $10 sometime soon, added, almost invisibly to your auto insurance policy.

The proposed budget, submitted by the governor on January 20, 2004, also asks for a 4% surcharge on tickets to sporting events and amusement parks, a new gun registration fee, higher fees for liquor licenses and a plethora of additional nondescript small fees that add up to a huge gigantic windfall money bonanza for the state. And with the rest of our pittance, they will expect us to gamble it away soon.

Sadly, there isn't much talk in the budget of reducing or freezing salaries, health care coverage or pensions. No, cutting the overall size of the government has been out of the equation for years and years. It just keeps getting bigger and more expensive every year, keeping pace with its federal brethren and the cities and towns also follow suit.

For some of the additional fees and nonsense which will add only expense and frustration to the lives of millions of New York state residents, follow this link.

For the full text of the Governor's proposed budget, go here.

And when you're through vomiting, PAY UP!

-- FR


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