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Is that really the name Steve Jobs has chosen for his next computing device?

MacRumors Arnold Kim and TechCrunch's Robin Wauters did some serious detective work over the Christmas holiday.

Working independently, they have made a strong — but not definitive — case that Apple (AAPL) is preparing to name its long-awaited tablet computer the "iSlate."

The evidence, should you care to follow its twists and turns, is here, here and here.

All this really means is that if Steve Jobs decides he likes the name iSlate, it's his to use. It doesn't necessarily mean he's ruled out iPad, iTab, iTablet, iPod tablet, iBook, MacBook touch, or any of the other suggestions put forward over the past year or so.

Why does anybody care? Because, as TechCrunch's MG Siegler suggested Friday in The Wonder of Apple's Tablet, what Jobs is performing is a high-wire act that you can't help watching, especially if you think he might fall. As Siegler puts it:

"Apple commands attention in the consumer space because more often than not, they nail it. Going deeper, Apple is not afraid to step outside of the traditional comfort zones to try to create a new product — even if others have failed there before, as is the case with tablets. While this stirs skepticism in some, in many more people, it creates a sense of wonder. What if Apple can do it right this time? It’s exciting partially because it’s no sure thing. It’s exciting because the payoff is potentially huge. By this time next year, we may have a whole new genre of computing. It’s an undiscovered country."

As Chrysler and General Motors get ready to sit down and talk with owners of some of the nearly 2,000 dealerships given death sentences, dealers are rolling up their sleeves and preparing to fight for their businesses' lives.

"I was very proud -- very proud -- of what I sold and what I did for a living," said Andrew Reixinger, the owner of Barry's Auto Center in Brockport, N.Y., which sold Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles. "I would love to have my franchise back."

Reixinger lives his brand. He took the 30-year-old business over from his father, who spent decades selling Chrysler cars to residents of his rural town. The whole Reixinger family drives Dodge Ram pickup trucks, and Andrew's red 2007 model features a giant handpainted Ram's head logo. But in May, Reixinger was one of 789 dealers given termination notices. He had less than a month to wind down the business.

Without a valid dealer license, Reixinger wasn't allowed to sell his cars to customers any more. He had to unload his vehicles to other dealers, barely breaking even on the transaction. His inventory of parts went for pennies on the dollar. The Chrysler Financial credit line that financed his business vanished.

"Going from having a large floor plan line of credit to nothing changes the game," he said. Reixinger is financing his entire inventory with his own money: "Right now, I have 47 cars and I own them all."
Credit lines dry up for auto dealers

Barry's Auto Center is still open for business, but for now, it deals exclusively in used cars. None of the seven banks Reixinger has approached for a loan are willing to work with the dealership -- even though he has solid credit and a fully paid off commercial property to put up as collateral. His staff of 12 employees has dropped to 10.

Customers comment on the Ram that still festoons his truck. "People ask me, 'Aren't you going to get rid of it, since what they did to you?'" he said. "I chose not to because I love the truck."

That's why he plans to appeal. "If I could be a franchise dealer again, great," he said. "What they did to us was beyond wrong, but what are you going to do? I like the product."
Political pressures mount

GM and Chrysler's decision to introduce an appeal process came after months of intensifying backlash. Each company collected billions of taxpayer dollars through bailouts, and dealers are irate at the prospect of government-backed companies turning around and dropping a guillotine on small, locally owned businesses. Their lobbying prompted Congress to intervene.

"Profitable dealerships that were closed for possibly unfair reasons deserve the opportunity to hear why they were closed and discuss the merits of reopening with an independent arbitrator who can make a binding decision," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The appeal process GM and Chrysler initially mapped out this month pleased no one. "Under their plans, a car dealer would have had a better change at winning the Powerball lottery than getting back in business," the Committee to Restore Dealers Rights fired back in a statement.

The House of Representatives weighed in Thursday by passing a bill that places additional demands on the arbitration process the auto companies plan to use to field appeals. The Senate will soon take up the legislation.

Both GM and Chrysler say they need to shed dealerships to increase their profitability. The almost 800 dealers Chrysler cut represented 25% of the company's dealership network but accounted for only 14% of its sales, according to the company. Having underperforming or ill-maintained dealerships around tarnishes the brand, the auto makers contend.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations have already saved some dealerships from the scrap heap. GM warned at least 1,100 of its 6,000 dealers that their contracts would not be renewed in October 2010. Complaints and pleadings flooded in, and GM took some to heart. So far, 80 dealerships have been reinstated, a company spokesman confirmed.
Fighting for survival

The GM dealers on death watch were given a year to wind down their operations, but Chrysler's dealers suffered a particularly brutal and sudden cut. Their licenses were pulled in June, less than a month after termination notices went out.

But a surprisingly high number may choose to appeal. Neil Miller, president of is the Bell McCall Company in Hamilton, Mont., says he'll definitely give it a try. "From a dealer's standpoint, we don't understand what they gain from closing us down," Miller said.

Miller's new and used car business specialized in Ford and Chrysler brands; now, it's only licensed with Ford. Taking care of his customers has become a big challenge. "We sold to the customers with the idea that we were going to be here to deal with their warranty problems," Miller said. "Now we can't. Depending on where they live in this area, they now have to go between 50 to 80 miles to get to the nearest dealer in the area."

The warranty issue is a pervasive complaint. Jeff Duvall, who had his Chrysler dealership in Clayton, Ga., closed down, has been continuing to honor his customer's warranties, either by paying out of pocket for the repair at one of his other two car dealerships (which sell Ford and Chevrolet vehicles) or by hauling the customer's car to the closest Chrysler dealership still in operation.

"When a customer buys a car from me, I take care of them, through thick and thin," said Duvall, who has owned dealerships in the neighborhood for more than 50 years. Right now, he has a staff of 65 working at his three dealerships.

"I need to terminate around 15 people, but I am doing everything possible to keep them working, so currently I have absorbed all the excess Chrysler people into the other franchises," he said. "I will not be able to keep them very much longer unless we get reinstated."

GM dealers, too, are ready to go to the mat to stay open.

Jim Brown, the president of Classic Auto Group in Mentor, Ohio, has been selling GM cars for 44 years. His Cadillac showroom got a termination notice. It's an ironic twist: Thirty years ago, General Motors loaned him the money to open his first dealership.

"Without their program, I never could have done it," Brown said. He currently owns 20 car dealerships. "I am where I am today because of the help I got from GM." Despite getting the axe, he's not angry with the company -- his loyalty runs deep.

Loyalty is also motivating Scott Adams to fight to retain his GM license. "My first dealership was a Chevrolet dealership -- I got it on my 28th birthday," he recalls. Since then, he's run as many as 11 different car shops, three of which he currently operates. His Ray Adams Chevrolet dealership in Belton, Mo., is on the chopping block. But Adams can't imagine life without Chevy.

"I drive a Chevrolet, my family drives a Chevrolet," he said. "I would prefer to be a Chevrolet dealer for a long, long time."

The Obama administration's pay czar will outline Friday another round of curbs on executive compensation for companies that took exceptional assistance from the government, but Bank of America won't be one of them.

BofA had been one of the seven companies under the purview of Kenneth Feinberg, the Treasury Department's special master for executive compensation, who is charged with determining appropriate pay packages for the top 100 employees at the most heavily bailed out companies.

But the nation's largest lender announced Wednesday that it had sent a check to the government to repay the $45 billion in aid it had received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

A Treasury Department official confirmed Thursday that BofA is no longer subject to the special master's authority.

That leaves Feinberg with six other companies to oversee, including: AIG (AIG, Fortune 500), Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), General Motors, Chrysler, Chrysler Financial and GMAC.

In October, the pay czar cut total compensation for the top 25 executives at the seven firms by about half, scaling back salaries by 90% and transferring bonus payments into performance-based, longer-term stock options.

On Friday, Feinberg will present his determinations for the pay structures of the next 75.

Since most executives take home a majority of their annual pay in the form of end-of-year bonus checks, adjusting pay packages so late in the year will likely have a sizeable impact on employees' 2009 pay. And as executives get their pay trimmed, the affected companies are raising concerns that top talent will walk out the door.

Some of the firms have said they are already on the brink and can't afford to lose their key employees. That's something Feinberg says he is acutely aware of.

When it comes to managing the country's purse strings, Washington gets a failing grade from several groups of citizens and experts across the country.

Those groups, part of the Concord Coalition's Fiscal Stewardship Project, went to Capitol Hill on Monday to deliver a report to their lawmakers detailing their suggestions for how best to address the long-term fiscal storm facing the United States if lawmakers do nothing.

The approaching storm is not a surprise to anyone in Washington.

Indeed, the debt issues threatening to consume the federal budget over time have been in the making for years. The economic crisis of the past year isn't the underlying problem, but it accelerated the timetable lawmakers face for dealing with the country's fiscal problems.

There are many ways to fix what's broken. What's been lacking is the political will.

Some experts believe that all will be much better once the economy recovers. A strong economy means more jobs, more taxable income and more government revenue. And when government has more money coming in, it has to borrow less to pay its bills.

That would be swell. But it's not enough.

To solve the country's fiscal problems, the gross domestic product would need to increase by double digits on average for the next 75 years, according to estimates from the Government Accountability Office. Oh, and that's on an inflation-adjusted basis.

So unless someone finds a serious stash of economic fairy dust, lawmakers are left with three unpopular choices: cut spending, raise taxes and stop making promises the country can't afford.

Instead, they've done just the opposite. They've increased spending and lowered taxes as the country's long-term obligations continue to grow - obligations both to those who buy government debt and to the Medicare and Social Security programs, from which Uncle Sam has been borrowing surplus revenue for years.
Going where politicians fear to tread

That's where the Concord Coalition's citizen-based fiscal advisory councils come in.

The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan group, founded in 1992, that focuses on educating the public about the federal deficit. Its director, Robert Bixby, was featured in the 2008 movie "I.O.U.S.A."
0:00 /1:34Uncle Sam's got his hand out

The Concord councils hail from Atlanta, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Northern California. They, along with a group of health experts from Iowa and a group of budget policy experts from Northern Virginia, spent the last year studying the country's fiscal challenges and what they believe are the best solutions.

Unlike politicians, the councils were able to deliberate without worrying about getting re-elected. They were outside the partisan cauldron that contorts the statements of even the most level-headed politician.

The councils were not unanimous in their suggestions. But there were some commonalities. Chief among them: disappointment with Washington, and in particular, politicians' use of budget tricks to disguise the true cost of legislation. The Milwaukee council didn't mince words, referring to "an overarching failure in the management of the nation's business."

The councils prefer sweeping reform to half-measures.

"We must examine the policy goals of all taxes and expenditures, change entitlement programs, cut all federal expenses that do not meet our goals and, if necessary, raise taxes," the Northern California council concluded.

And when it comes to facing up to fiscal challenges, they would like lawmakers to make it snappy. "The sooner policymakers get working on solutions, the better," the Philadelphia council wrote.

Here are a few of the most concrete suggestions made by one or more of the councils:

Shore up Social Security's long-term shortfalls: The range of suggestions included raising the retirement age, applying means testing to benefits, raising more revenue and ensuring by a "date certain" that projected revenue is sufficient to cover projected expenses.

Simplify the tax code: The aim should be to reduce taxpayer aggravation, increase voluntary compliance and reduce enforcement costs.

Raise taxes when necessary: The Atlanta council suggested a combination of an income tax and a federal consumption tax. The Northern California council recommended that the additional tax burden "be spread in a way that ensures everyone will contribute at least something in return for the government services they receive."

Make everyone curb growth in health spending: That includes the government, medical providers, insurance companies, lawyers and consumers

Form a bipartisan fiscal commission: The goal is to have a commission willing to make tough recommendations about how to address long-term budgetary shortfalls and put those recommendations up for a yes-or-down vote in Congress.

Think long-term: Lawmakers should consider the costs and effects of a bill beyond the 10-year window they usually use. And they should think about the consequences of their actions on younger generations.

The Atlanta council put it this way: "If Americans don't make the hard decisions now, it will have a devastating impact on the quality of life for our children a and grandchildren."

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