Thursday, October 16, 2008

A big day for economic indicators

Already markets around the globe are declining this morning. Brace yourselves for a tough day in New York, as well.

A lot of important data will be made public today. Here's the schedule, courtesy of Seeking Alpha:

8:30 Consumer Price Index
8:30 Jobless Claims
9:00 Treasury International Capital
9:15 Industrial Production
9:30Fed's Bullard speaks on U.S. growth potential
10:00 Philadelphia Fed Survey
10:35 EIA Natural Gas Report
1:00 PM NAHB Housing Market Index
4:30 PM Money Supply

Picking the next President

I don't belong to a political party and I am not active in either presidential campaign. But I have decided who's my man for this election.

If you are having trouble making up your mind, ask yourself these questions:
1. Do you want to make your choice on the content of a candidate's capabilities or the color of his skin?
2. Would you rather have a smart president or an angry one?
3. Would you rather have a president who can't manage his disdain for his opponent or one who stays cool while being attacked?
4. Would you rather have a president who can clearly articulate his policy positions or one who gets snared in his own talking points?
5. Would you rather have a president who knowingly put the country in danger by picking an ignorant running mate or a president who chose a running mate with greater experience than his own?
6. Do you want a president who months ago said he just doesn't understand the economy trying to govern during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?
7. Would you rather have a president who wants to keep the middle class from going extinct or one who doesn't give a damn?
8. Would you rather have a president who wants to provide health care access to more Americans or one who wants to tax your health benefits?
9. Would you feel safe having a president with PTSD?
10. Would you rather have a president who has respect for women or one who chose vacuous pandering as a campaign tactic to win the "women's" vote?
11. Do you want another president who got into a prestigious college because of family connections and graduated near the bottom of the class or a president who earned his place at top schools through skill and aptitude, excelled, and paid his way with scholarships and aid?
12. Do you want a president who practices a politics of hope or a politics of hate, fear and smear?

Think carefully. Your future depends on this choice.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Obama's plan to help victims of financial crisis

Speaking in Toledo Monday, Senator Barack Obama laid out steps to help employers, automakers, homeowners, the unemployed, and state and local governments. A refreshing approach compared to the prevailing top-down measures that continue to come from the Bush administration's Treasury Department.

The International Herald Tribune reports that Obama, "proposed giving employers a $3,000 tax credit for each new hire to encourage job creation. He said he would seek to allow Americans of all ages to borrow from retirement savings without a tax penalty; to eliminate income taxes on unemployment benefits; and to double, to $50 billion, the government's loan guarantees for automakers.

Obama also called on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to create a mechanism to lend money to cities and states with fiscal problems, and to expand the government guarantees for financial institutions to encourage a return to more normal lending. He also proposed a 90-day moratorium on most home foreclosures; it would require financial institutions that take government help to agree not to act against homeowners who are trying to make payments, even if not the full amounts."

Bernanke, Paulson press conference at 8:30 a.m.

Word is that the United States government is forcing nine major banks to partially nationalize. According to Seeking Alpha "The U.S. Treasury will reportedly invest about $125B in preferred shares of nine banks: $25B each for Citi (C), JP Morgan Chase (JPM), and Bank of America (BAC) (including Merrill); $10B each for Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS); $3B each for State Street (STT) and Bank of New York Mellon (BK), plus a still unspecified amount for Wells Fargo (WFC)."

This morning's press conference will lay out the details of so called "Market Stability Initiative" before the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange. True performance art.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Obama Acorn distraction

Brace yourselves. The GOP is in the home stretch of the smear campaign for the White House. McCain's Friday bombshell was an accusation of guilt by association: Obama is linked to a "front organization" for ACORN. This seems to be their counterpunch to "Phil Gramm and John McCain helped deregulate the entire financial sector so that greed could run amok and screw the middle class." Since their mob hate mongering and race baiting ran its course last week, they've moved on to "Obama is a socialist and a cheater and responsible for the financial crisis."

Curiously, what exactly ACORN is depends on the eye of the beholder. According to the Nation Magazine, ACORN is "the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, with over 350,000 member families, organized into 800 neighborhood chapters, in 104 cities nationwide."

But according to Mona Charen, "ACORN is where Sixties leftovers who couldn't get tenure at universities wound up."

And in the words of Michele Malkin, "This left-wing group takes in 40 percent of its revenues from American taxpayers — you and me — and has leveraged nearly four decades of government subsidies to fund affiliates that promote the welfare state and undermine capitalism and self-reliance, some of which have been implicated in perpetuating illegal immigration and encouraging voter fraud."

And here's a scary description of Obama's work from Stephanie Block:
"In the 80s, he was the lead organizer of the Developing Communities Project, a campaign funded by Chicago’s south-side Catholic churches and formed on the organizing principles of Saul Alinsky. He spent another four years building an organization in Roseland and the nearby Altgeld Gardens public housing complex." (Eek! Beware of those socially radical Roman Catholics trying to live the principles of justice laid out by Old Testament prophets.)

Here's a really hilarious one from Stanley Kurtz in the Chicago Daily Observer, asserting that poor people and dark-skinned people and community organizers are to blame for the financial crisis, since they bullied banks into giving loans to folks who couldn't manage their personal finances:

"In the name of fairness to minorities, community organizers occupy private offices, chant inside bank lobbies, and confront executives at their homes – and thereby force financial institutions to direct hundreds of millions of dollars in mortgages to low-credit customers.

In other words, community organizers help to undermine the US economy by pushing the banking system into a sinkhole of bad loans. And Obama has spent years training and funding the organizers who do it."

Community organizers forced banks to make bad loans? Wow. I thought banks were responding to President Bush's call for the mythical "ownership society."

As this latest smear campaign unwinds, keep your eye on the ball and keep asking questions. Give it all the test of reasonableness. Nobody forced banks to make stupid loans. Nobody forced loan originators, who wanted to make fat commissions, to falsify documents so that folks who shouldn't have gotten loans did get loans. Community organizers didn't lobby Congress to deregulate the financial services industry.

But if the worst allegations are true we might all throw up our hands and scream running for the hills, "Oh my God! Obama helped poor people form local groups to advocate on their own behalf in the legal system, which is typically unavailable to them since they lack money and connections. He tried to empower them to help themselves and their communities through skillful means and yes...this was community organizing. AH!!"

Okay, so Obama wasn't in the pocket of the shadow banking sector. So he marched in protest of payday loans in Illinois. So he spent time advising people how to navigate the legal system. So he served as a role model in leadership training seminars.

What's the problem?

Recession tips: Ten ways to stretch a dollar

Never mind how we got here. The real economy is constricting and some analysts expect three consecutive quarters of falling consumer spending -- unprecedented economic gloom. And that's alarming. But folks just don't have the easy credit necessary to keep spending for the sake of the country -- the kind of "patriotic", idiotic spendthrift behavior urged by our president after 9-11, and practiced by the Bush administration to this day. As the credit/mortgage/derivative/credit default swap ponzi scheme unwinds, a lot of people are beginning to understand the limits of the real economy on the ground. If most people actually attempt to live within their means, the economy will most certainly constrict. But the real economy is still the real economy. You have to eat and clothe your family and find shelter. Wheels may be an add-on for some, a necessity for others. So here are some thrifty tips from some one raised by Depression survivors. Thinking of it as a lifestyle choice and making a game of it can help.

1. Never pay full retail. You don't need anything bad enough to pay full retail in this economy. The thing you are looking at is not the last one on the planet. If you really need it, shop around. Or ask the seller if they'll come down in price. You can do this. The worst they can say is 'no.' And you can still walk away and shop around.

2. Pay cash, if possible. Ask if there is a different "cash price" than the price marked. You'll be surprised. And by the way "cash" means cash, not debit card or personal check. This can be a great way to get back at the credit card companies for charging merchants a percentage while charging you interest. The credit card companies make a alot of money off your transaction. Their merchant fees effectively inflate prices for everyone. So pay cash and stick it to them.

3. Buy non-perishables in bulk when they are on sale. Yes, that means you will be the one with 40 rolls of toilet paper at the check out. I recently spent $40 on $65 worth of contractor bags because the price was unbelievably good. I'm set for about 16 months. No harm in that.

4. Save gas by batching your errands. Take the time to plan a route for your errands and do them all at once. It takes a little thought, but it'll give you more uninterrupted free time the rest of the week.

5. Buy some of your clothes used. I know, this may seem beneath some of you. But you can make it tolerable by thinking of the Thrift Store as your cousin's closet. Didn't you trade clothes with your cousins when you were a kid? "Hey, Carol, I love that top. Can I borrow it?" No shame in that. Ann Arbor has an amazing Salvation Army. University of Michigan students love it for vintage clothing. It's cheap and chic. Don't be afraid, all the smart kids are doing it!

6. Focus on function and price. Think carefully about the functional need you are seeking to fill. Ditch bells and whistles if they drive up price. A car is a means of transportation, not a second home. A wristwatch lets you know the time; most of us don't needn't it to function at the bottom of the ocean, really.

7. Use the public library for your entertainment needs. Ann Arbor has a kick-ass public library with vast dvd and music cd collections (not to mention all the latest books). People in town pay an annual tax to sustain and grow it and at a little over $100 per household it's a crazy bargain. If you live outside Ann Arbor, you can pay an annual user fee, still a crazy bargain.

8. Share large tools with your neighbors. Get together with neighbors to save money on large tools like rototillers, wood splitters, extension ladders, power washers, snow blowers, chainsaws, etc.

9. Plant a garden and learn to can stuff. What you grow will be fresher and tastier and cheaper than anything at the supermarket. You will know where it came from, who picked it and how it was fertilized. And you will remember, in your deep archetypal self, that you are fundamentally a child of the Earth.

10. "Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do or do without." I learned this from a lovely woman who was just a child during the Great Republican Depression of the 1930's. The idea is to spend only when necessary -- an idea antithetical to the easy-credit mentality of the last twenty years.

Good luck, campers.
More later...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Seasons greetings from Western Massachusetts

What would Abraham Lincoln say?

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." Lincoln's First Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861.

These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people, and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people's money to settle the quarrel.
Speech to Illinois legislature, (January 1837); This is "Lincoln's First Reported Speech", found in the Sangamon Journal (28 January 1837) according to McClure's Magazine (March 1896); also in Lincoln's Complete Works (1905) ed. by Nicolay and Hay, Vol. 1, p. 24.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

McCain-Palin hate mongering, stinking slime of desperation

This week as the global economy continued to tank, the McCain-Palin campaign chose to whip up angry mobs with innuendo in a parallel universe energized by hate and ignorance. Rather than address voter concerns about the financial crisis, McCain-Palin seemed to align their campaign with hate, ignorance, fear and bigotry -- powerful, irrational motivating forces. There are some amazing videos documenting this activity.

Check out this one from Ohio:

The McCain-Palin campaign continues to push guilt by association with the Bill Ayers story. Tomorrow's St. Petersburg Times has an article debunking the assertion of guilt by association and surveying other notables who have associated with Ayers including the current mayor of Chicago, a former president of Northwestern University, and a former president of Brown University.

Unfortunately for Obama, McCain's slimy ads propagating this filth are just one part of a full-court press by the GOP's operatives. Check out this coverage and commentary:

Michael Reagan says, "If the truth becomes better known — and it will if the Ayers issue is doggedly pursued — it will be clear that Obama was not only deeply immersed the fetid swamp of Chicago's far-left political scene, but was from the very beginning of his career carefully groomed by the city's socialist left to follow the path he's on now in his quest for the presidency of the United States."

As someone educated in the socialist public schools of Illinois, kindergarten through masters degree, I sort of hope that's true (tongue in cheek).

Ed Morrissey wrote, "Barack Obama told us we could trust his judgment. Where was that judgment when he allied himself with people like Ayers, Khalidi, Tony Rezko, and the Daleys and their Chicago Machine? That’s not just a series of accidental associations from random juxtaposition, but deliberate alliances from which Obama benefited in his political career."

But at least one great Michigan Republican has rebuked the McCain-Palin slime machine. My favorite Republican, Bill Milliken has gone on record with his disappointment. Thank you, one more time from the bottom of my heart, Governor Milliken.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Adler Planetarium response to McCain claim about earmarks

"Adler Planetarium


Last night, during the presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, Senator John McCain made the following statement:McCain: “While we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks he (Senator Obama) voted for nearly $1 billion in pork barrel earmark projects. Including $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?”

To clarify, the Adler Planetarium requested federal support – which was not funded – to replace the projector in its historic Sky Theater, the first planetarium theater in the Western Hemisphere. The Adler’s Zeiss Mark VI projector – not an overhead projector – is the instrument that re-creates the night sky in a dome theater, the quintessential planetarium experience. The Adler’s projector is nearly 40 years old and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It is only the second planetarium projector in the Adler’s 78 years of operation.

Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States. To remain competitive and ensure national security, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Senator McCain’s statements about the Adler Planetarium’s request for federal support do not accurately reflect the museum's legislative history or relationship with Senator Obama.

The Adler has approached the Illinois Congressional delegation the last few years for federal assistance with various initiatives. These have included museum exhibitions, equipment and educational programs we offer to area schools, including the Chicago Public Schools. We have made requests to Senators Durbin and Obama, as well as to 6 area Congressmen from both political parties. We are grateful that all of the Members we have approached, including Senator Obama, have deemed our activities worthy of their support, and have made appropriations requests on our behalf, as they have for many worthy Illinois nonprofit organizations.

As a result of the hard work of our bipartisan congressional delegation, the Adler has been fortunate to receive a few federal appropriations the past couple of years.
However, the Adler has never received an earmark as a result of Senator Obama's efforts. This is clearly evidenced by recent transparency laws implemented by the Congress, which have resulted in the names of all requesting Members being listed next to every earmark in the reports that accompany appropriations bills.

October 8, 2008"

McCain shows contempt for Obama

Last night referring to Senator Barack Obama as "that one," Mr. Straight Talk Express showed his true colors: John McCain has contempt for Barack Obama.

John McCain can't say "my friends" enough to take away the sting of his expressing open contempt for fellow presidential candidate, Barack Obama, the likely next president of the United States according to all polls.

At least we now know what we suspected all along: Senator McCain is struggling desperately just to be civil, has a hot temper, feels entitled to be president and exhibits very poor judgment. And, in light of his choice of running mate, he may believe himself immortal.

In last night's town hall session McCain said he would talk softly and carry a big stick. But his contemptuous words uttered softly through a clenched jaw on national television and followed up with countless appeals to "my friends" reveal an arrogant, disingenuous person who will do or say anything to win this election.

Surely, "my friends" doesn't include those who openly support Barack Obama. Can "my friends" include anyone who respectfully disagrees with McCain? Can McCain respectfully disagree with anyone? If he can't, is he likely to possess the necessary humility and self control to be President? Will he listen to advisers who say things he doesn't want to hear, things at variance with his world view? Probably he's never heard of being a servant/leader, just a hard-ass leader.

He recently said he has always aspired to be dictator in a session with the DesMoines Register editorial board.

I suppose dictators don't have to respectfully disagree with opponents, they have other options.

Good thing we're electing a President in November!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sen. McCain, I am not your friend --live blog

If I hear "my friends," one more time, I'm going to stop watching this farce.

The Straight Talk Express has at least one bent axle, but still insists we trust it to "move forward". Yeah, and the future lies ahead.

9:45 p.m.Now, McCain just referred to Senator Obama as "that one." Contempt. Wow.

9:52 Obama, please just say health is a human right, not a commodity.

9:53 McCain tries to scare us -- Obama wants socialized medicine. McCain will give us a $5000 tax credit. Um what if we don't have the $5000 to pay for our health care, Mr. Straight Talk?

9:57 Obama says health care is a right! Thank you.

9:59 Sen. McCain, how will we be a peace maker? "America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world, my friends..." He will stand on his record. He's the man to make the decision to go to war. Hey what about Congress?

10:02 Obama says we are a force for good in the world.

10:06 McCain says "my friends" again, and I'm still watching. Oh God, again...

10:07 McCain says American blood is America's most precious asset.

10:08 Obama calls for more troops in Afghanistan.

10:13 McCain "I'll get Bin Laden. I know how to get him." So please vote for me.

Good night.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

Financial bailout bill passes House

The Bush/Paulson/Pelosi/Reid bailout bill has passed, but a majority of Republicans still voted against it.

Prediction: The GOP will label this a Democratic Party handout to the rich, as they feign populism on the campaign trail.

VP candidate Palin might say, "Yessir you betcha, guys and gals, John McCain is a maverick and the GOP is ready to do something new in Washington. You know, I'm thinkin' Joe Six Pack needs representation at the highest levels of government. 'Cause Dubya was a little too, ya know, high brow, what with his time at Andover and Yale. What I'm gonna bring is a real, glad to know ya slice of life approach from God's country...the final frontier. That's right, the great state of Alaska. With a Palin/ McCain administration, you'll be able to count on straight talk and quick decisions, new leadership inspired by the spontaneous leading of the Spirit. Because, ya know, how else could I have gotten this far? George Bush was annointed and so is a Palin/McCain administration. Move over you elitist Democrats voting with Wall Street. We're here to help the millions of little people who, like me, can't keep up with details of government policy. They want easy answers. And we're here to give 'em." *wink.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Presidential candidates favor the trickle-down bailout

Our current financial system sucks capital out of small communities, pads pockets on Wall Street and condemns ordinary people to lives of debt. But it's the devil we know and the presidential candidates think we should keep it on life support by passing the "rescue plan" currently pending in Congress.

Obama has warned of financial catastrophe if the "rescue" doesn't pass.

In a brazen effort to win popular support linking the woes of Wall Street to the woes on Main Street, McCain said on CNN:

"By the way, the first thing I'd do is say, 'Let's not call it a bailout. Let's call it a rescue.' Because it is a rescue. It's a rescue of Main Street America."

This supposes that our bloated, top-heavy, corrupt, unproductive financial system is worth propping up in its current form. This supposes that business as usual is good for Main Street. This supposes that the current system based on greed, fraud, unregulated worthless derivatives, swindling and a lifestyle of deceit has ever helped Main Street.

The words "crisis" and "catastrophe" are meant to scare Congress away from their responsibility to deliberate. After 9-11, Congress traded away liberty for false security with the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Now, "crisis" and "catastrophe" are employed to sway Congress away from their golden opportunity to remake our horribly broken "financial system" by re-establishing appropriate regulation and oversight. There is tremendous popular support for letting Wall Street take its licks and letting the so-called "free market" function for a change. The People would like to dole out some tough love through their elected representatives.

But some argue, since our retirement savings and college savings are tied up in the financial sector's worthless products, we will all suffer if more institutions fail. Worse yet, as global credit remains sluggish, companies will not make payroll and people will lose their jobs. Credit is the life blood of the global financial system. Traders need to float puffy clouds of highly leveraged risk around the globe around the clock to grow our retirement savings. We are all in this together, they intone. And drug dealers need users to stay in business.

But remember, prior to the hideous meltdown, millions of people were already suffering and losing jobs through downsizing and outsourcing -- the result of efforts to increase share value quarter to quarter.

Instead of propping up the system that brought us this mess, why not start by helping small businesses and individuals directly harmed by the situation. Why should Congress save huge banks from their own bad investment decisions and let local communities continue to crumble as foreclosures drive down property values and devastate once healthy neighborhoods?

How about giving Main Street a bailout, a chance to start over and let the benefits trickle up to the bloated big boys for a change?

--Take the $700 billion and start making very small loans ($20,000-$50,000) to homeowners in trouble. Think of it as the grandest ever micro-loan program. Consumers will spend at the local level, resume making their mortgage payments and keep their mortgages from simply lapsing into "bad paper." The big boys will get their money and people won't lose their shelter.

--And if you really want to get radical, just make grants. Don't expect repayment. It would be no worse than the billions flushed down the drain in Iraq. In fact it would be better -- directly benefiting U.S. citizens and killing no one.

--Have local banks that meet strict criteria for sound lending administer the program, service and hold the loans, or disburse the grants. This would establish local financial institutions and people as authorities in their communities. This would cultivate working financial relationships at the local level.

--Create a service corps of financial counselors who can work with consumers lacking financial literacy to help them get on the right track. This would create jobs for dislocated financial industry workers.

--Assist small businesses having difficulty getting loans for operating expenses. Rather than prop up unproductive financial gamblers, get the money to small companies that make things people need and provide vital services in small communities. This would keep people employed and maintain consumer spending, which accounts for nearly two thirds of all economic activity.

Granted, things are in such a state, that the fat cats will need a little hand out to keep going. But it would be obscene if Congress provided that corporate wefare with no commensurate support for small businesses, workers, families and children and communities.

Senators Barack Obama, John McCain, and Joe Biden will all be in Washington, D.C. after sundown to vote on the Wall Street "rescue plan". Main Street will be watching closely.