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Get with the wind

   From the Thursday Buffalo News Business Today section:

- Sign-up is urged for offshore wind farm - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
   It may be at least four or five years before the New York Power Authority's proposal for a major offshore Windlogo wind farm takes shape, but supporters say it's not too early for local businesses to start getting ready for the work that will come with the project.
   With that in mind, the Power Authority on Wednesday outlined an initiative to help local suppliers link up with the developers now working on proposals for wind farms off the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario that would generate 120 to 500 megawatts of electricity.
   Through the Power Authority's "
Get Listed" program, local companies that could supply components or offer services for the proposed wind farm can register through the NYPA Web site at www.nypa.gov and outline their capabilities and qualifications.
   Sort of related:
- Deere mulls possible sale of wind energy business - AP/Buffalo News
- Mitsubishi to build £100m UK wind turbine factory - The Guardian
- Plan offers gust of wind power - Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald
- Bring on the wind - The Philadelphia Inquirer   

- Realtors trying to ensure more accuracy - Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
   The Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors plans to take extra measures to ensure the accuracy of its closed sales numbers going forward, calling every broker to check on transactions that should have closed.

- State bills for fees stun area IDAs - The Buffalo News

- GM to close Hummer after deal falls through - AP/The Buffalo News

Take us out, guys:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Spending. Taxing. Taxing so we can keep spending.

   Some dots that need connecting:

   Attempting to counter this:
- Consumer confidence falls off sharply - AP/Buffalo News
   Americans’ outlook on the economy went into relapse in February. Rising job worries sent a key Spendthis barometer of confidence to its lowest point in 10 months, raising concerns about the economic recovery.
  ... The increasing pessimism, which erased three months of improvement, is a big blow to hopes that consumer spending will power an economic recovery. Economists watch the confidence numbers closely because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.
   With some of this:
- Appliance Swap Out program extended - Samantha Maziarz Christmann/The Buffalo News
   Referred to as an appliance version of Cash for Clunkers, the Great Appliance Swap Out uses federal stimulus money to give rebates to consumers buying eligible Energy Star appliances. The rebate amounts rise when consumers prove they have recycled their old appliances.

   And hope that we can have less of this:
- State Senate officially opposes Paterson’s delaying tax refunds - Tom Precious/The Buffalo News
   Facing a frustrated electorate this fall, the State Senate Tuesday passed a nonbinding resolution asking Gov. David A. Paterson to halt his plan to delay income tax refund payments in March. But lawmakers offered no alternatives on how to address an end-of-year cash flow problem facing the state.
   When the state starts collecting taxes on these:
-  Wall Street bonuses shoot up 17 percent in 2009 - AP/Buffalo News
   Wall Street bonuses climbed 17 percent in 2009 to $20.3 billion as many of the investment banks that were bailed out at taxpayer expense reported blowout profits.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

 

Up against the wall, corporate bums

   From Washington:
- Toyota CEO apologizes for recall, accidents - AP/The Buffalo NewsStupak
   Akio Toyoda, scion of the beleaguered Toyota empire, is apologizing Wednesday before a House committee investigating deadly flaws that sparked the recall of 8.5 million cars.
   Toyoda, the automaker's 53-year-old chief executive, says the company grew too fast to keep up with safety controls
. [Live video available]
- Trio of Lawmakers Drove Quest to Probe Auto Recall - The Wall Street Journal
   A former Michigan cop, a Baptist minister and the wealthy founder of a car-alarm company are the trio of lawmakers putting Japanese auto giant Toyota Moror Corp. on the congressional hot seat formerly occupied by Detroit's Big Three.

   To Sacramento:
- Anthem Blue Cross executives grilled at state Capitol - The Sacramento Bee
   Anthem Blue Cross executives, under intense questioning by the state Assembly's Health Committee on Tuesday, defended the company's decision to raise premiums by as much as 39 percent on hundreds of thousands of Californians. [Includes video]
- Anthem Blue Cross plans to go ahead with rate hikes in California - The Los Angeles Times
   ...The testimony came as members of the committee lashed out at Anthem for its proposed rate hikes and its corporate profit a day before the rate controversy moves to Washington, where a congressional subcommittee holds a hearing Wednesday.

   And back to Washington:
- Insurer blames health costs for Calif. rate hikes - AP/The Buffalo News
  In prepared testimony for a House investigative subcommittee, Angela Braly, president of WellPoint Inc., blamed the increases on the growing price tags for hospital care and pharmaceuticals. She also cited the ailing economy, which has caused many younger, healthier people to save money by dropping coverage, leaving her company covering an older, sicker population. [Live video available]
  WellPoint owns Anthem Blue Cross, whose plan to boost rates in California has made it a poster child for Democrats arguing that the nation's health system must be overhauled. Wednesday's hearing comes a day before President Barack Obama hosts bipartisan congressional leaders for a daylong, televised discussion of health care, a session he hopes will provide new momentum to Democrats' stalled legislation.

   Maybe this will make you feel better:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

A pause in the refreshment. Numbers in a fog. Buffett on the hustings.

   From The Buffalo News Business Today section:

- Brewery aims for production next week - Samantha Maziarz Christmann/The Buffalo News
   Things are quiet at Flying Bison Brewing Co., but the brewery is expected to be back up and running under new ownership by Monday.
   Shareholders at the homegrown Buffalo brewery voted to accept an offer from F.X. Matt Brewing Co., the Utica-based makers of Saranac beer. But the brewery remains in “paperwork limbo.”

- Realtors group’s figures are in question - Jonathan Epstein/The Buffalo NewsHomeforsalebuffalo
   Buffalo Niagara’s housing market is mired in fog again, as record-keeping problems for real estate agents have led to conflicting statistics about the strength of local home sales.
   The Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors said Monday that pending home sales for the region in January were up 12 percent from the same month a year ago, to 565 from 503. Even more, sales that have been agreed to but not closed rose 34 percent from December.
   But the association can’t say how many homes have actually closed, because of an ongoing discrepancy in their records that’s resulting in abnormally low figures.

- Buffett on philanthropy - AP/The Buffalo News
   Billionaire Warren Buffett, who pledged the bulk of his fortune to philanthropy, said Monday that the need for charitable giving is unending.
   “The demand is unlimited,” said Buffett, the chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., in an interview Monday on Bloomberg Television. “There are so many people who have gotten short straws in life.”
...
   Berkshire owns The Buffalo News, and Buffett is the newspaper’s chairman.
   The Chairman is right, of course. And, besides, whenever we mention his name in this blog, our page views go way up.
   Here he is:  

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Helping GM? - continued

  No sooner did I give the KC Star credit for being the only one raising the question of whether it is fair for the U.S. government to investigate Toyota while it owns General Motors, than The Atlantic Wire found Toyotas some others who made the same point.
- Does the U.S. Government Have It in for Toyota? - John Hudson/The Atlantic Wire
  While most observers are haranguing Toyota for prioritizing profit over safety, some commentators have paused to ask: is the U.S. government, the largest shareholder in General Motors, intentionally punishing the Japanese automaker?

   Can't go with only one source. For example, there is also evidence that others in the government, mostly members of Congress, are plenty cozy with Toyota:
- Lawmakers’ Ties to Toyota Questioned at Start of Inquiries - Eric Lichtblau/The New York Times
   ... Federal disclosure records show that Toyota, with 31 lobbyists in Washington last year, has spent nearly $25 million on federal regulatory and legislative lobbying matters in the last five years, far more than any other foreign automaker. That amount is certain to grow this year, with Toyota in full damage-control mode in the face of myriad federal investigations.

   Maybe Sir Paul can help:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

U.S. vs. Toyota

    Meanwhile, the feds are closing in.
- Toyota apologizes for handling of safety issues - AP/The Buffalo News
   The president of Toyota's U.S. operations is apologizing for the company's slow handling of sudden acceleration problems in its vehicles, saying it took too long to confront the issue.Jackwebb
   Toyota's James Lentz, certain to face hostile questioning Tuesday at a congressional hearing, says in
prepared testimony [thanks to the Wall Street Journal] that Toyota had poor communications within the company, with government regulators and with its customers.
   Proceedings to be Webcast here.

- Toyota faces possible criminal charges - John Terrett/Al Jazeera
  Excuse me but can this Toyota story get any more odd?

- Family killed while riding in an out-of-control Lexus - Justin Hyde/The Detroit Free Press
   Santee, Calif. -- The Friday night trip began at the end of a week's vacation, a family outing to a women's college soccer game just days before Mahala Saylor, 13, would begin life as a high school freshman.
   The trip ended in August 2009 with a 911 call and the fiery wreck of a loaner Lexus sedan, killing Mahala, her parents, Mark and Cleofe Saylor, both 45, and her uncle, Chris Lastrella, 38.
   Even veteran investigators said it was the worst crash they had ever seen.
   Includes link to a disturbing audio of 911 call.

- Scenarios: The next acts in the Toyota safety crisis - Reuters

- Back to Basics for Toyota - Akio Toyoda/Toyota president/in The Wall Street Journal
   The past several months have been humbling for all of us at Toyota. We are taking this experience to heart, making fundamental changes in the way our company does business. I can assure you that our response will be comprehensive.

   An eariler version of the AP story noted that Toyota has to be careful what it says to Congress, because anything it says can and will be taken down and used against it in any criminal action.
   Unless Congress gives Toyota immunity for its testimony. Which is how Oliver North got away.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

Investigating Toyota. Helping GM?

   The Feds are apparently closing in on Toyota:

- Toyota faces federal, congressional probe - AP/The Buffalo News
   Facing tough questions in Congress, Toyota Motor Corp. said Monday that federal prosecutors have Toyotalogo launched a criminal investigation into the company's safety problems and the Securities and Exchange Commission was probing what the automaker told investors. Lawmakers pledged to ask executives about internal documents showing that Toyota visited with regulators who "laughed and rolled their eyes in disbelief" over safety claims.
- Panel: Toyota dismissed safety complaints for years - The Detroit Free Press
- Internal Toyota Document Could Become Smoking Gun - The Wall Street Journal
- Memos show U.S. cut short Toyota probe in 2007 - Reuters 
- Any recall response lag now scrutinized - The Japan Times   

   It sounds like Toyota deserves all this scrutiny. But.

   A few weeks ago, KC Star writer/blogger Yael T. Abouhalkah raised a really good point, one I haven't seen anywhere else: One reason it's a bad idea for the government to own General Motors -- even for a short time -- is that it there might be an appearance, or even the temptation, of one government agency to crack down on Toyota, say, in order to make GM look better, sell more cars, and pay back the money it got from another government agency.

   As the evolutionary biologists taught me: You can never do only one thing.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

The rich get richer, and some people are finally noticing

   Here are some dots that need connecting:

- Small businesses still suffering - Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
   ... With major banks still licking their wounds after the financial crisis and ensuing recession, small business owners say it's still very hard to get the credit they need, either to meet existing demand or even to grow, let alone start a company. And when loans are available, rates are higher than before.
- Wider role sought for Treasury secretary - Washington Post/Buffalo News

- Documents: Toyota boasted saving $100M on recall - Ken Thomas/AP/The Buffalo NewsToyotaletter
   Toyota officials claimed they saved the company $100 million by successfully negotiating with the government on a limited recall of floor mats in some Toyota and Lexus vehicles, according to new documents shared with congressional investigators.
- Toyota gets federal grand jury subpoena for recalls - Reuters

- Obama to Urge Oversight of Insurers’ Rate Increases - The New York Times
  ... By focusing on the effort to tighten regulation of insurance costs, a new element not included in either the House or Senate bills, Mr. Obama is seizing on outrage over recent premium increases of up to 39 percent announced by Anthem Blue Cross of California and moving to portray the Democrats’ health overhaul as a way to protect Americans from profiteering insurers.
- Obama to Seek Curbs on Insurance Hikes  - The Wall Street Journal
- A conversation with Kathleen Sebelius - Washington Post video
- How much is enough? - Buffalo News Editorial
   America's biggest health insurers post huge profits, seek more

- Credit card law kicks in - AP/Buffalo News
   The new credit card law is finally here. Starting today, banks will need to abide by new regulations on terms and disclosures. The idea behind the landmark law was to prevent banks from using practices that often dug borrowers deeper into debt.

- Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs  - Peter S. Goodman/The New York Times
   Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.  

   Boiled down: Big business is trying to fulfill its sole function: To take your money away from you and give it to its stockholders. Big government might, or might not, be doing something to balance that a little bit in your favor.
   End with some words of wisdom from John Lennon, by way of Green Day:

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

GM rises from the grave ... unnoticed

   Upon still further review, it seems that the news that General Motors is not at all dead -- and is spending $500 million of [sort of] your money* on retooling three plants to make a new, more environmentally GMannounce friendly, engines for American-made cars -- has provoked a surprising dearth of media coverage.

   Wonder what the national coverage would have been like if they had announced they were closing the GM Powertrain plant in Tonawanda?

   Nothing in The New York Times.
   The Wall Street Journal only has some links to other people's reporting. [It did do its own treatment of the release of the Millard Fillmore dollar coin.]
   Even The Detroit Free Press, the big newspaper in MoTown, dismisses the news with a short article that was little more than a rearranged press release. The Detroit News had a little more, supplmented with some AP reporting from Tonawanda.

   Of course, they noticed in Tonawanda, in Bay City, Mich., and in Defiance, Ohio. As well as business/trade press outlets such as Motor Trend and BusinessWeek.

   There were a lot of politicians there yesterday, too. They usually are when there's a chance to bask in someone else's success. But, in this case, government rescue is the only reason GM lived to fight another day.
   Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairpoint, Web-posted this statement, along with another celebrating the first anniversary of the Obama stimulus package. It's working, she says. 

   * And here's some more stuff GM is doing with your money:
- GM upset with state lawmakers - AP/The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftan
   General Motors Co. is launching a $60,000 radio and print ad campaign against a bill aimed at helping Colorado dealerships terminated by GM and Chrysler Group LLC.
   The bill — passed in the state House and awaiting state Senate debate — would require carmakers to reimburse the dealers for upgrades they were required to make in the past five years. Some upgrades cost millions of dollars.

- George Pyle/The Buffalo News
[Buffalo News photo by Robert Kirkham shows GM VP/Labor Relations Denise Johnson with Gov. David Paterson, Sen. Chuck Schumer, plant manager Steve Finch, and Erie County Executive Chris Collins.]

GM rises from the grave

   Maybe it's just because I was there, in the middle of all the celebration.
   But it seems that the big story in today's Buffalo News should have received more attention in other parts PageoneGM of the country. We all remember how many front pages blared the news when General Motors was in real danger of going out of business.
   Now, with its federal loans in the bank -- and partly repaid -- the former titan of the manufacturing world seems to be stirring, right here in Tonawanda. Half a billion bucks and 500 jobs, at existing plants in legacy cities, not on plowed Georgia ground or in India.
   Still, not a lot of coverage is evident from this morning's searching, or the rundown of front pages put up by The Newseum.

   Here's what we had:
- GM begins rebirth with engine plant in Tonawanda - The Buffalo News [Buffalo News Live]
   General Motors, on its deathbed just a year ago, announced a half-billion-dollar investment in its U.S. facilities Thursday, with almost all of the money going to its engine plant in the Town of Tonawanda.
   The $425 million investment is expected to create 470 jobs at the plant and ensure its future as the producer of GM's next-generation engine — the fuel-efficient, four-cylinder
Ecotec.

    I'll file more later.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

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