Tuesday, October 21, 2008

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Ten Cars You Can Live In After Your Home Is Repossessed

As shelter is the largest single expense for most people, the ongoing "Financiapocalpyse" could see more people trading that Tudor for a four-door. As your guides through this challenging time, we've identified ten cars you'd be happy to call home until your 401k is worth more than the postage used to send you those depressing reports. These rides are comfortable, affordable and most importantly, you can probably sleep in it. With car sales dwindling, now may be the best time to invest those dwindling funds in a home on wheels.

10.) Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit

The Volkswagen Golf-cum-Rabbit is the kind of home-on-wheels designed for a hip bachelor or bachelorette down on their luck. Though not enough room for a family, the smartly-designed hatchbacks have always offered style and storage at a reasonable price. The four-door models are ideal for urban campers who want to curl up in the backseat but still have street cred with people who don't know they're living on the street.
Price New: $17,575 (base four-door)
Price Used: $5,000 and up (Mk III - Mk IV)

9.) Mazda Mazda5

The Mazda5 may seem like an unconventional choice for a live-in automobile, but it offers a lot for a little. Based on the sporty Mazda3 platform, the Mazda5 has the benefits of a small economy car: good mileage, low cost-of-ownership and affordability. It also offers some of the benefits of a minivan: sliding doors, three-row seating, fold-out table, under-floor storage and fold-flat seats. The possibility of getting one with a manual, no longer a possibility with most vans, makes it the perfect choice for a down-on-their-luck dad who still likes to drive but may have to outrun creditors.
Price New: $18,665 (base)
Price Used: $12,500 and up

8.) Ford Econoline

We imagine people have been jamming Econoline as long as people have been living in vans. They're cheap. They're big. They're available in a privacy-enhancing panel version. When Chris Farley's motivation speaker said he was "living in a van down by the river" he was almost certainly talking about a Ford Econoline. The panel version is the cheapest model and, though it lacks carpeting, has ample room for an air mattress or stolen love seat. A top-of-the-line conversion Econoline from the 1980s can be had with a TV/VCR combo, reclining bed, wood inserts and velour drapes. If it's good enough for Mike Watt, it's good enough for us.
Price New: $23,940 (E-150)
Price Used: $3,000 and up


Kucinich calls for probe of bonuses for Wall Street aid recipients

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has called for a probe into $70 billion worth of pay deals planned for employees of failed banking firms receiving government aid.

Kucinich said Sunday that he was directing his staff to immediately probe Wall Street firms that have received any portion of the $700 billion bailout plan recently passed by Congress, in response to a recent report by The Guardian outlining the firms' dramatic drops in revenue, but not in executive compensation.

That Friday report showed that over $70 billion was to be allocated towards pay deals, including discretionary bonuses, at firms such as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.

"When Congress placed restrictions on excessive executive pay, it had no intention of permitting business as usual with respect to bonus structures," Kucinich said. "It would add insult to injury to ask taxpayers not only to bailout a firm, but to pay for bonuses as well. The Guardian's report necessitates an immediate inquiry."


Some of McCain's black relatives support Obama

black-mccain-family_web.jpgIn the rural Teoc community of Carroll County, Miss., where the ancestors of Sen. John McCain owned enslaved Africans on a plantation, black, white and mixed-race family members unite every two years for their Coming Home Reunion, on the land where the plantation operated.

Some of McCain’s black family members say they are not sure exactly where they fall on the family tree, but they do know this: They are either descendants of the McCain family slaves, or of children the McCains fathered with their slaves.

White and black members of the McCain family have met on the plantation several times over the last 15 years, but one invited guest has been conspicuously absent: Sen. John Sidney McCain.

“Why he hasn’t come is anybody’s guess,” said Charles McCain Jr., 60, a distant cousin of John McCain who is black. “I think the best I can come up with, is that he doesn’t have time, or he has just distanced himself, or it doesn’t mean that much to him.”

Other relatives are not as generous.

Lillie McCain, 56, another distant cousin of John McCain who is black, said the Republican presidential nominee is trying to hide his past, and refuses to accept the family’s history.

“After hearing him in 2000 claim his family never owned slaves, I sent him an email,” she recalled. “I told him no matter how much he denies it, it will not make it untrue, and he should accept this and embrace it.”

She said the senator never responded to her email.

Choosing a wireless company

Top GOP Fund-Raiser Tied to Iraq Fuel Contract

by James Glanz and Michael Luo

photoRep. Henry Waxman released documents on Thursday alleging that a top McCain fund-raiser has been overcharging the military for fuel deliveries in Iraq. (Photo: Sam Hurd)

The Democratic chairman of a House investigative committee presented documents to the Pentagon on Thursday alleging that a top Republican fund-raiser, Harry Sargeant III, has made tens of millions of dollars in profits over the last four years because his contracting company vastly overcharged for deliveries of fuel to American air bases in Iraq.

Mr. Sargeant, who is the finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a major fund-raiser for Senator John McCain, did not immediately return several messages left for him on Thursday, but in the past he has denied any improprieties on the part of the the company, International Oil Trading Company, known as I.O.T.C.

The company was briefly in the news over the summer when a former partner filed a lawsuit against Mr. Sargeant in a Florida circuit court. The former partner, a Jordanian named Mohammad al-Saleh, is the brother-in-law of the King of Jordan, and the court papers laid out what Mr. Saleh claimed was a seamy tale in which he obtained special governmental authorizations for the company to transport the fuel through Jordan and was then unlawfully forced out by Mr. Sargeant, who strongly disputed those allegations.

But the latest claims of impropriety by the company go much further. In a letter addressed to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, by Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Mr. Waxman uses emails, company documents, Pentagon reports and other information to make the case that Mr. Sargeant repeatedly received contracts to deliver the fuel even though his company was never the lowest bidder for the work.


Support the family business

Their Great Depression and Ours: Part I

By James Livingston

Mr. Livingston teaches history at Rutgers. He's finished a book called The World Turned Inside Out: American Thought and Culture at the End of the 20th Century (Rowman & Littlefiel, 2009). He blogs at politicsandletters.com.

Now that everybody is accustomed to citing the precedent of the Great Depression in diagnosing the current economic turmoil—and now that the Congress has agreed on a bail-out package—it may be useful to treat these episodes as historical events rather than theoretical puzzles. The key question that frames all others is simple: Are these comparable moments in the development of American capitalism? To answer it is to explain their causes and consequences.

Contemporary economists seem to have reached an unlikely consensus in explaining the Great Depression—they blame government policy for complicating and exacerbating what was just another business cycle. This explanation is still gaining intellectual ground, and it deeply informed opposition to the bail-out plan. The founding father here is Milton Friedman, the monetarist who argued that the Fed unknowingly raised real interest rates between 1930 and 1932 (nominal interest rates remained more or less stable, but as price deflation accelerated across the board, real rates went up), thus freezing the credit markets and destroying investor confidence.

But the argument that government was the problem, not the solution, has no predictable political valence. David Leonhardt’s piece of last Wednesday in the New York Times (10/1/08) is the liberal version of the same argument—if government does its minimal duty and restores liquidity to the credit markets, this crisis will not devolve into the debacle that was the Great Depression. Niall Ferguson’s essay for Time Magazine on “The End of Prosperity,” takes a similar line: “Yet the underlying cause of the Great Depression—as Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz argued in their seminal book A Monetary History of the United States 1867-1960, published in 1963—was not the stock market crash but a ‘great contraction’ of credit due to an epidemic of bank failures.” Ben Bernanke’s argument for the buyouts and the bail-out derives from the same intellectual source.


Oliver Stone: The XYZs of "W."

George W. Bush with Condoleeza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush.

by Roger Ebert

Oliver Stone says he believes first lady Laura Bush, secretary of state Condoleeza Rice and presidential advisor Karen Hughes play like "a trinity of Macbeth witches" in the life of George W. Bush," in the sense that they are totally enablers." But Stone's new film "W." leaves that conclusion to the viewer. "The film foregrounds Bush, and everyone else is shown more or less as we already see them," he told me Wednesday in an e-mail exchange.

"Rice has no record that we were able to find where she contradicts either Rumsfeld or Cheney, or even does much really to help Powell. She doesn't seem to do much to bring alternative points of view to Bush's attention. But an enabler? Yes. If she had threatened him, perhaps she wouldn't have had the job."

And Laura Bush would not have had her job either, Stone believes, "had she been more critical of him."



Forget it, old people. No more TV for you starting in 2009.

McCain On Obama's Fundraising

Political Animal
By: Hilzoy

Here's John McCain's response to Barack Obama's fundraising totals for September (h/t):

"I'm saying that history shows us where unlimited amounts of money are in political campaigns, it leads to scandal.

I'm not comparing it with -- I'm saying this is the first since the Watergate scandal that any candidate for president of the United States, a major party candidate, has broken the pledge to take public financing.

We enacted those reforms because of that scandal. We know that we let unlimited amounts of money -- in this case $200 million unreported -- and there's already been stories of people who have made small contributions multiple times and all that.

I'm saying it's laying a predicate for the future that can be very dangerous. History has shown that."

It seems pretty clear to me that McCain is saying this because he wants to plant the idea that there's something scandalous or unsavory about Obama's fundraising in people's minds. However, it's worth noticing what point he might have been trying to make, had he actually meant what he said.

Allowing "unlimited amounts of money" into political campaigns could mean one of two things. First, it might mean allowing individual donors to give as much money as they want. This is what has caused scandals in the past: when Nixon turned out to have gotten $2 million in campaign pledges from milk producers and milk support prices went up shortly thereafter, for instance. But that's illegal now: as a result of those scandals, there are strict limits on what an individual can give to a political campaign. So presumably that's not what McCain is taking about.


Contrariwise: Literary Tattoos

This tattoo was submitted by Daphne, who says: "My tattoo is a quote by Gandhi that I saw on the wall of his ashram in Ahmedabad."

Gandhi tattoo

"My life is my message."

- Gandhi


Brigette says:

I have a tattoo very closely based on the original rocking-horse fly illustration from Through the Looking Glass (1871), the sequel to Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. John Tenniel was the illustrator; these prints were made with woodblocks.

Photo from her tattoo artist's portfolio:

"Well, there's the Horse-fly," Alice began, counting off the names on her fingers.

"All right," said the Gnat: "half way up that bush, you'll see a Rocking-horse-fly, if you look. It's made entirely of wood, and gets about by swinging itself from branch to branch."

"What does it live on?" Alice asked, with great curiosity.

"Sap and sawdust," said the Gnat. "Go on with the list."

Alice looked up at the Rocking-horse-fly with great interest, and made up her mind that it must have been just repainted, it looked so bright and sticky; and then she went on.

- Excerpt from Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll


The 18 Things You Need for Your Computer

My favorite programs and Web services.

Screen capture from Rescue Time.A few months ago, I downloaded RescueTime, a hardworking little program that monitors everything I do on my computer. Its ostensible purpose is productivity: By cataloging my pursuits—how much time I spend on every application, how long I linger at every Web site—RescueTime aims to shame me into procrastinating less. During the last three months, for instance, I've logged 34 hours on Slate. Thirty-four hours! Not that Slate isn't fun, but I could have read Anna Karenina in that time. Curses, "Explainer"!

So far, RescueTime hasn't increased my productivity one iota, but its reports are still illuminating. Since July 21, when I installed the app, I've spent 727 hours on my desktop computer. That's 30 full days out of just 87—one-third of my life whiled away at the screen. It's a wonder that I haven't developed pressure sores.

Here, then, is the software I use most often, along with brief explanations for why I prefer a particular program. Maybe you'll learn something—and if I'm using something lame, send me an e-mail or post to "The Fray" and let me know. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Mozilla Firefox, Version 3. There is much to dislike about Firefox—it crashes often, it hogs your computer's memory and processing power—but I've found it to be the most flexible Web browser for my needs. In particular, I'm taken with its huge library of add-on programs, helpful little apps that increase the browser's functionality. The add-ons I use regularly include: Foxmarks, which synchronizes my bookmarks across different computers; Tab Mix Plus, which lets me save sets of tabs even if I shut down the browser; Scrapbook, which saves Web pages to my local machine; Mouse Gestures, which lets me navigate the Web by flicking the mouse forward or backward; and Ad-Block Plus, which does just what its name suggests.

Gmail. I'm an e-mail archiver; for as long as I've been using e-mail, I've tried to save every nonspam message I've sent and received. Desktop e-mail programs like Microsoft Outlook couldn't handle my archiving obsession; they didn't work well when overloaded with thousands of messages, and I'd always have to worry about transferring my huge cache of mail every time I got a new computer. Gmail, with its enormous storage capacity and fast, intuitive interface, is an archiver's dream.