24 April 2008


Hi, all. Blogger, the Google-owned system that I use to "publish" this site, is giving me fits right now.

If you have tried to read this site in the last 24 hours and had problems doing so:
a. apologies
b. stay tuned


Winning & Losing

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

When Vince Lombardi said “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”, he clearly had not had occasion to focus on the Democratic Party’s primary process. Or maybe the process was different several decades ago; now that would be an occasion to yearn for the good ol’ days.

The 2008 Pennsylvania presidential primary has popped – and possibly phizzled (to carry the alliteration two steps too phar). Despite crowing over her victory on Tuesday, Senator Hillary Clinton’s win probably needs quotations marks around it: it is a “victory” on the most relative of scales, since Senator Barack Obama secured more than 40% of the delegates available, again adding to his overall lead in the race for the nomination.

Indeed, saying that Clinton “won” should imply an altogether different outcome, one in which it is equally apparent that Obama “lost.” Back to sports: in what game does the loser walk away with more than 40% of the available winnings, get called a loser – and get to continue playing? Poker, perhaps. Otherwise, none that I can think of. Most games played with a competition-ending series, like baseball, count losers as losers and winners as winners: lose 4 games, even by no more than one point per game, and you’re still out.

Not for the Democrats. One could argue that this is a classic case of American-liberal waffling, an inbred discomfort with competition, the kind that makes Democrats bad at things like wars and better at things like entitlement-program coddling. One could also argue that this shows the value of the Republican Party’s “winner take all” system, where winners are winners and losers go back under the rocks from whence they’d earlier emerged.

That might all be true. In the case of Clinton v. Obama 2008, this unending, miserable, painful competition is as much about Senator Clinton’s desperation-encased ego as anything else. She needs to win – in the actual sense of the word – in order to validate the years of personal and professional losses she suffered before, during, and after her husband’s presidency. (Her $109 million fortune apparently won’t scratch that itch satisfactorily.)

Well, think of it this way: what could be more Clintonian than trying to redefine loss as a victory? I suppose, as with “is,” it simply depends on how one defines the words. That right there might be the best rationale against electing the Senator from New York to higher office.

12 April 2008

On Our Backs

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

Last week, the news came out – with the release of Senator Hillary Clinton’s tax returns – that she and former President Bill Clinton have earned more than $100 million since Mr. Clinton left office in 2000. Terrific! It’s the American dream! Except for the galling part of this story that few seem particularly interested in: the creation of the Clinton’s fortune has been subsidized by us, the taxpayers of America.

As a former president, Bill Clinton received certain services and support from the United States. A CNN/Money article from 2004 notes that Clinton received more than $500,000 a year in subsidies to maintain his Manhattan office, and that the government pays for his postage, travel, and other expenses. Clinton also has a Secret Service security detail. The Hill estimates the cost of security for active candidates at $38,000 per day. Even if the cost of a Secret Service team for a former president is only 25% that of a current candidate, this still costs taxpayers $3,467,500 per year. Excluding travel costs – likely the single most expensive additional cost – that means taxpayers are subsidizing Bill Clinton’s life to the tune of more than $4 million each year. (He also gets a pension of more than $170,000 per year – which might not sound like much, but when combined with Hillary’s $150,000 Senate salary comes out to a nice, reliable monthly total even before all of their extra earnings are calculated.)

Not to belittle the effort required to be Bill Clinton, but having most of one’s expenses covered by the American taxpayer surely makes it easier to earn extra cash. Nor should we single out Clinton: George H.W. Bush, Al Gore, Dan Quayle, Jimmy Carter, and Walter Mondale are all out there and, in one way or, are another taking advantage of these taxpayer subsidies. (That Bush, Carter, Gore, and Quayle were all wealthy before taking office is hardly an excuse.)

It is high time we re-thought this whole approach. Former presidents and vice presidents deserve a pension, and when they perform services specifically on behalf of the U.S. government, we – the taxpayers – should cover their expenses. Beyond that, these ex-officers of our government should be required to reimburse the U.S. Treasury when the focus of their activities is private income generation. I do not begrudge Bill Clinton his >$150,000 speaking fees or the generous advances he has received for his books, or for that matter George H.W. Bush’s lucrative involvement with a major investment group, or Al Gore’s various income-producing ventures. Using their significant position to personal advantage while pursuing these activities as private citizens is fine, but taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize the creation and maintenance of their family fortunes while ours are slowly drained as a result.

02 April 2008

Sears Responds

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

After my post the other day about trying to order a Kenmore water filter from Sears ... and after sending a note to the only two e-mail addresses for Sears contacts I could find, for a pair of Chicago-based PR people ... along with various reporters and well-known retail analysts ... and after sending hard-copies of my column to various executives at Sears Holdings Corporation ...

... I got a reply yesterday, in the form of an e-mail, from a woman named Stephanie at something called “National Customer Relations Executive Support.” The e-mail asked me to contact her so that she could “assist [me] in getting this resolved if possible.” There was a toll-free number.

Call I did yesterday afternoon; I left a message, and got a call back a couple hours later. Stephanie said she had read both my e-mail and the web post, and found the situation disturbing. She acknowledged that there was clearly some work to be done in terms of customer support and systems development for the Sears.com site. More importantly, she said she had contacted the manager of a local Sears, who was able to tell her the corresponding water filter cartridge part number – and he told her he would send me two free cartridges if I bought the filter unit. (I had, all this tsuris notwithstanding.) Stephanie took my address and said the replacement filters would be shipped to me.

I want to resist the temptation to draw a big-picture “moral” out of this story. I wrote my original piece because I was frustrated, annoyed – and flummoxed – by the systems Sears has in place. On the one hand, I think it’s great that Sears has a “National Customer Relations Executive Support” team to help deal with these issues. On the other hand it raises some questions both about normal levels of service, and about how the average customer would ever be able to take advantage of “Executive Support.”

In making a rather public stand, and putting time and energy into contacting various people, I was able to get more attention. But one clearly should not have to do that. I hope this is a further prod to Sears to make the changes to their systems and infrastructure that Stephanie herself acknowledged as being important.

I'll let you know how the water filter is, once we get it installed.