WON’T SAVE YOU MONEY; MIGHT SAVE YOU SLEEP

I have no connection whatever to Brookstone, and normally shun their products as being less cheap than I am, but here’s one to consider: an eye mask that even a vampire could love. It turns bright sunlight into pitch dark, whether because you are sleeping in after an all-nighter, your bed-mate has the halogen reading light on, or you find yourself on an airplane trying to get a really good nap. Yes, you will look like a bit of an idiot. But a well-rested idiot.

YEN YEN YEN YEN YEN YEN YEN

Japan’s in rough shape. The yen may need to be sharply devalued to save its economy. That would make consumer electronics and Honda Insights even cheaper here – but the Japanese market all the tougher for U.S. exports.

WHAT’S THAT SMELL?!

John Seiffer: ‘You’ve already extolled the damage the new car smell does to your wallet. Apparently it does damage to your lungs as well. Here’s a comment on the situation.’

☞ In part: ‘ . . . a recent study by a Japanese public-health institute found that the interior of a representative test vehicle contained formaldehyde and 113 other potentially harmful, volatile organic compounds . . . the emissions exceeded World Health Organization indoor air-quality standards by up to 45 times.’

SUNOCO

Jim Batterson: ‘One of your readers today commented about driving past a Mobil station to gas up at Sunoco. Good choice. This is from the Sunoco web page: ‘Each year Sunoco publishes a report detailing our HES (health, environment and safety) performance. This report adheres to the guidelines of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES). Sunoco was the first Fortune 500 company to endorse the CERES Principles – a comprehensive environmental code of conduct for corporations.’

Michael Young: ‘While you’re switching gas stations, consider a Sunoco MasterCard. They offer credits of up to 1% on regular purchases (but 1/2% until you reach a moderate threshold, a fact only seen in the very fine print), and 4% on fuel purchases. The credits can only be used for Sunoco purchases, and they’re applied automatically. When they ran a promotion last fall, they were offering an immediate $25 credit when you signed up. It was perfect for me, given that Sunoco was already my usual supplier, and my previous regular card had just bailed on its rebate program.’

ENRON

David Smith: ‘Very disappointed in today’s article Andy. You’re capable of much better than mere mud-slinging.’

Paul Berkowitz: ‘Since 1989, Enron has made a whopping $5.8 million in campaign donations, 73 percent to Republicans and 27 percent to Democrats. I guess the $1.5+ million to the Democrats doesn’t count? Remember, sleaze is an equal opportunity destroyer.’

☞ It is. And I think it’s fair to ask whether Enron got the Clinton administration to make bad public policy. (I don’t think it did, but it’s fair to ask.) But there are a couple of differences which – apart from whatever bias I bring to this – may account for my not focusing on the 27%:

1. The Clinton administration, being history, is no longer much relevant to the discussion of what our energy policy should be. The Bush administration makes decisions every day that will affect our lives.

2. In good measure, the sleaze here comes from our campaign finance system. Clinton/Gore and the Democratic Party have called for passage of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform almost from the beginning. The Republican leadership, to the great consternation of Senator McCain, staunchly opposes it. The Enron situation might give campaign finance reform enough oomph to make it through. (Democratic incumbents are not thrilled with abandoning a system that favors incumbents. But a lot more D’s than R’s have signed on to do it anyway.)

3. I don’t think anyone imagines that Ken Lay or Enron played a significant role in crafting the nation’s energy policy under Clinton/Gore. I do think some imagine they played a significant role in crafting it under Bush/Cheney.

Having said all that, I was not thrilled with Friday’s column, either. (Except Andy Borowitz’s part, which I thought was very funny.) It’s hard to know what to say about Enron, or the tone to use, because they all seem like such nice folks, and maybe they are. The Arthur Andersen guys seem nice, too. But an awful lot of shredding was going on, even after – well, especially after – Arthur Andersen knew the SEC had launched an investigation of Enron.

What we do know so far is that the company reported large and growing profits and found ways to pay no taxes on those supposed profits. And that the guys at the very top made out like bandits, while the rank and file employees made out very badly.

And to me this just echoes the theme. We should spend the projected surplus largely on cutting taxes for the best-off. Not because we favor the rich, but because it’s good for America. We shouldn’t rush to shut down offshore tax havens. We should stimulate the recovery with, among other things, a $25 billion retroactive tax cut to companies already awash in cash, like IBM (and $254 million to Enron), not because we favor our big-money contributors, but because it’s good for America. We should drill in ANWAR but cut the budget for alternative-energy research in half not because the oil industry wants it, but because it’s good for America.

Well, I don’t think it is good for America.

To the extent the Clinton/Gore administration favored big-money contributors to the detriment of the country as a whole, that’s rotten, too. I just think the record shows that, while there may have been isolated instances I don’t know about, the clear theme of the Clinton/Gore administration was precisely the opposite: it was to RAISE (sensibly, not punitively) the top tax brackets for the best off, leaving unchanged the taxes for the other 95%, and to concentrate much of our effort instead on the average guys and gals in the middle and at the bottom – raising the minimum wage, raising the earned income credit, enabling every high school grad to afford college, launching Americorps, cutting the budget to bring down interest rates on mortgages and car loans, passing the Family and Medical Leave Act, seeking (unsuccessfully) to join the rest of the First World in covering everyone with health insurance. That kind of thing.

The theme was different, the balance was different. And maybe it was just luck – or maybe it was a sell-out to the labor unions, who advocate for the average guy rather than the top 1% – but it sure seemed to work.

In negotiations on the economic stimulus package, the Republicans wanted that $25 billion retroactive corporate AMT repeal; the Democrats wanted to aim tax cuts at people in greater need, who might actually spend the money and stimulate the economy.

All of which you may deem a maddeningly roundabout way of saying that I’m not much worried that Enron unduly influenced the Clinton administration’s energy policy. But I do agree with you that it’s fair to ask (and agree with David Smith that this was not my best work).

 

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