Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Reflection

Christmas Day has visited us again.It is interesting that Christmas, the day that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, has joined that select two or three Holidays in the course of the year ( Thanksgiving and New Years are two others that come to mind) where retail life comes to a virtual standstill ---except for the NBA and the ubiquitous Chines restaurant. Christmas is as secular a Holiday as we have in modern day America. This Holiday, embraced by almost all, is of recent vintage however.

Christmas wasn't institutionalized as a Church Feast until the mid 4th Century. Even then, the major Feast celebrated was the Feast of the Epiphany ---the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist--- commemorated on January 6. The celebration of Christmas was banned by the British Parliament in 1647 and even though the celebration was restored by Charles II in 1660, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland continued to discourage celebrating the Feast. This antipathy carried over to the British colonies in the New World. The celebration of Christmas was actually banned in Boston from 1659-1681. The venerable George Washington led his troops in an attack on the Hessian troops at the Battle of Trenton 1777. These historical tid-bits add to my amusement at some of the current arguments about whether we are taking Christ out of Christmas in our modern world.

One of the most common images of the Nativity is the manger scene, the "babe in swaddling clothes". While this imagery is accurate, I believe that too much of a focus on " the baby Jesus" almost softens the awesomeness of this Feast.

We Christians believe, that this Jesus, born in Bethlehem is the Son of God, the Word of God, through whom all of creation was made. How awesome is that!!! John, in his Gospel says it this way:

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
[2] The same was in the beginning with God.
[3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
[4] In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

This same Jesus we so sentimentally think of as the "babe in the manger" was with God the Father before the Creation of the world. This Word of God spoke with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Book of Genesis. Gave the Law to Moses and spoke with David as well as the Prophets. The mere thought of the Word of God taking on flesh and becoming like us is incomprehensible, ineffable, inconceivable. It's almost too much to take in . As presents our opened and greetings of the season are exchanged the "big picture" of the Feast is worth a quiet reflection.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Taxes--history says they are going up.

Wow! I came across the chart above on Jim Sinclair's site. It's hard to believe that we went from a 25% marginal tax rate in 1930 to 79% in 1940. That was all done smack in the face of the Great Depression. It sure looks like we could be looking at a repeat of history and from where I sit that would not be a good thing. Given the poor state of the American household balance sheet, a tax increase like the one above would decimate what is left of our consumer economy. It's a conundrum our leaders wish they could avoid if at all possible. Kick the can down the road, that is the politicians way.

Take a look at the tax rate for the war years 1941-45 --- a jump up to 94%. Can you imagine a 94% tax rate? That is the definition of shared sacrifice. While I am not a fan of higher tax rates, I believe that if we as a country decide that war is necessary we should also be prepared to pay for it. 90% + tax rates might put a damper on some of the banging war drums.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Paper Money

I stumbled across an interesting article while browsing on Jim Sinclair's site last night. The article is entitled :

Here's a snippet that really needs to be read more than once:
The chart above shows how the purchasing power of the dollar has declined in real money – gold – in the last 10 years. And if we take the period from 1909 to 2009 it shows the total destruction of paper money. In 1909, $1,000
bought 50 ounces of gold. Today it buys 0.83 ounces. This means that in the last 100 years the dollar has declined by 98.3% against gold. So in real money terms
the dollar is now only worth 1.7% of what it was worth a
century ago. Thus, the US government (as well as most other governments) has totally destroyed the value of real money by issuing unlimited amounts of paper money and in the next
few years they will also kill off the remaining 1.7% of value to make the paper dollar reach its intrinsic value of zero.
This silent devaluation of our wealth is a brutal , almost hidden tax that the masses continue to be oblivious to.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Postscript To California Dreaming

How about this from the Times:

Even as Treasury officials are racing to lock in today’s low rates by exchanging short-term borrowings for long-term bonds, the government faces a payment shock similar to those that sent legions of overstretched homeowners into default on their mortgages.

With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates that the government’s tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion a year in 2019, up from $202 billion this year, even if annual budget deficits shrink drastically. Other forecasters say the figure could be much higher.

In concrete terms, an additional $500 billion a year in interest expense would total more than the combined federal budgets this year for education, energy, homeland security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The potential for rapidly escalating interest payouts is just one of the wrenching challenges facing the United States after decades of living beyond its means.

Let's say the forecasters get it right for once. Think about $700 billion just in INTEREST expense. It's almost unfathomable. I know the political pundits will heap a lot of blame on the current Administration and while I have my problems with the direction this Administration has gone so far--this financial catastrophe didn't just happen. It's been years in the making.

Friday, November 20, 2009

California Dreaming

There is a simple reality that we as a society are having a tough time grasping. It doesn't matter, Federal, State, County or Municipal: our collective governments are all spending far more money than they have available and even if they don't want to acknowledge it, are all essentially bankrupt.

It's with that background that the following stories out of California this week have me incredulous. We have students at UCLA protesting upcoming tuition hikes ( I wonder how a 32% increase gets figured in the CPI) but at the same time the state of California is trying to get a handle on a $21 billion budget deficit. It doesn't get any better on a municipal level as San Francisco is staring square at a budgetary disaster or so says Steve Kawa, Mayor Gavin Newsom's chief of staff.

" I don't even know if I have words to describe how bad this is,".......

Next year's budget deficit is likely to top $400 million, Kawa said. That forecast could get even worse with federal stimulus money coming to an end next year and the state likely to help balance its own budget woes by cutting money sent to cities and counties.
"It may be the perfect financial storm," Kawa said. "It's going to be incredibly difficult to find a way to balance next year's budget without some severe impacts."

It gets even better. Check out this story in today's NYTIMES, With F.H.A. Help, Easy Loans in Expensive Areas :

SAN FRANCISCO — In January, Mike Rowland was so broke that he had to raid his retirement savings to move here from Boston.
A week ago, he and a couple of buddies bought a two-unit apartment building for nearly a million dollars. They had only a little cash to bring to the table but, with the federal government insuring the transaction, a large down payment was not necessary.

Great. It doesn't take a genius to figure out how this will end. Speculators praying for a real-state uptick on the back of the taxpayer. I think more pain in on the way.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Trade Shows in the Second City

When I started this blog one of my intents was to focus on the B2B world. As time has gone by my posts have tended towards economics/politics. Here's a brief return to original intent.

As an amateur student of business and markets a daily read of Mike Shedlock’s blog (Mish) has not only helped keep me out of investment problems in this tough environment but his writing has also generated money making ideas for me as well. In one of his posts over the weekend he addressed a situation that is dear to all of our hearts---some of the outrageous costs associated with Trade Shows. Worth a read by everyone who has to deal with this kind of stuff.

It was a painful decision for the Chicago-based trade association, whose first trip here for its annual convention impressed its members, until they got the electricians' bills."Our costs were about $200,000 more," said Lieber. "So it went from $40,000 to $240,000 for the electrical work alone…….

The city got the word Wednesday that the huge medical convention wouldn't return. They're also sweating out a decision by an even bigger show.The International Plastics Showcase has been in Chicago since 1971, but now a spokesman says: "We are looking at other options."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Seventh Inning Stretch

This past World Series battle between the Yankees and Phillies was an entertaining match up as far as baseball goes. Because I just don't have the patience to sit and watch a complete baseball game I'm a couple years removed from the pomp that accompanies a Major League baseball game.

What is the deal with the 7th inning stretch? I remember going to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore back in the '80's and being serenaded to "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" by John Denver as the game moved into the bottom of the seventh inning. It was fun and light-hearted.

What a different scenario now. As the Yankees left the field at the end of the top of the seventh inning the PA announcer asked all"to rise, take off your hat, and join in the singing of God Bless America." It was presented as a spiritual event. I guess there is nothing inherently wrong, but it reminds me of an experience I had while visiting the Soviet Union during the summer of '81. One evening our group attended a performance by the Moscow Circus and smack in the middle of the program was a PA announcement followed by a group of soldiers goose-stepping into the circus ring carrying various flags and banners to commemorate the heroes of the Great War ( which had been fought 35 years before). We as a group of Americans were struck with how out of place and strange the demonstration seemed. I got the same feeling last week as I watched this quasi-religious ceremony between innings. God Bless America was a song the Flyers used to dust off before must win playoff games as a good luck charm. If they really needed the game they would bring Kate Smith in to sing the song live. We've gone from that to an almost Leni Riefenstahl moment.

Very strange.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No Fever LIke Gold Fever!!!!

So, the yellow metal hit a new all-time nominal high in $US terms--over $1040 an ounce. All in all there really wasn't much hoopla in the MSM and for a long-term gold bull like myself, that is good news. I don't know whether this breakout is the result of future inflation fears, the alleged secret meetings of the Gulf States to create an alternative reserve currency to the dollar or just a further decline in confidence in "paper", but what I do know is that this action does not bode well for our economy and I would go so far as to say our society. Jim Sinclair, Mr Gold offers his assessment,
"The reason why I suggest that today’s market should scare you, and not be a cause for high five because of the implication of the event.

Hyper-inflation has always been a currency event, not an economic event. The currency event has always been, for whatever reason it occurred, a loss of confidence phenomenon. Clearly confidence in the US dollar and its management is slipping. Historically when this currency event comes about the transition is extremely fast.

We have been doing a countdown to the beginning of the end, or that process acceleration. The are 33 days to go.

Gold is then off to $1224, $1650 and then on to Alf’s numbers."

I have heard a few commercials on various radio stations advertising gold coins, but for the most part I'm hearing more stories about people selling their gold for cash now instead of actually going long. I know it's not scientific but it's enough to keep me long for the time being. I believe the yellow metal has a long way to go on the upside.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Not Change--More of the same

I was an early and vocal supporter of Barrack Obama's Presidential run ( to be exact I had two candidates, one in each Party--Obama on the Dem side and Ron Paul on the Repub side). I have also been a vocal critic of many of George W Bush's policies. One particular practice I find particularly odious is the so-called Signing Statement, whereby the President essentially says that he doesn't plan on adhering to the very law he is in the process of signing.

I found this recent article in the NYTimes disturbing.

President Obama has issued signing statements claiming the authority to bypass dozens of provisions of bills enacted into law since he took office, provoking mounting criticism by lawmakers from both parties.

President George W. Bush, citing expansive theories about his constitutional powers, set off a national debate in 2006 over the propriety of signing statements — instructions to executive officials about how to interpret and put in place new laws — after he used them to assert that he could authorize officials to bypass laws like a torture ban and oversight provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

I believe these Signing Statements were wrong when Bush did them and I believe they are equally wrong now that Obama does them. What has happened to the US Constitution?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

GE -The Emporor Has No Clothes

The alleged magic of jack Welch looks now to be a lot of smoke and mirrors with the news out today that the company settled for $50 million with the SEC over accounting fraud in 2002 and 2003. The stories of quarter end shenanigans to "make a number" at Welch's GE are legendary. Typical of the way things work, now Jack's on the golf course and at big dollar corporate events while others are left to deal with the problems and soiled reputation that remains. This paragraph from the Financial Times report tells it all:

But the settlement reinforces the notion that GE’s focus on “making the numbers” every quarter – and investors’ penchant for rewarding the company for doing so – was a bull market phenomenon that was unsustainable over the long term

In my business world, I still see way too much emphasis on "making numbers" in the short-run rather than focusing on building long-term sustainability -- I hope this GE experience is a lesson to corporate America. It doesn't work in the long-run. The" make the numbers" mentality is another example of the delusional world we find ourselves circa 2009 America. Fast buck, no money down, bailout nation short cuts aren't going to get the job done and are likely to end in disappointment and disgrace.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cultural Icons?

It's been tough not to notice the non-stop media barrage of all things Michael Jackson. Back on June 27, the day both Jackson and Farrah Fawcett passed, George Ure over at Urban Survival penned a thoughtful paragraph or two on the meaning of cultural icons. He used the Wikipedia definition of the term Cultural Icon and then followed with this gem:

Not many folks turn off the infostream long enough ponder a bit about the important role of the archetypes and icons, how they form and frame us, let alone study how they work down at the preconscious and subconscious levels forming and co creating the physical world we share in 'waking' hours perhaps better described as social sleep.
Still, if you've forgotten Socrates "
Allegory of the Cave" the Wiki entry on archetypes of this sort (here) is about the best short-form description of how those little buggers work.

I hadn't revisited the Cave Allegory since my freshman year at Colgate when Plato's Republic was in the syllabus for one of our Core requirements -- Philosophy and Religion. It's amazing what you don't see and perceive as an 18 year-old college student. It's funny how I can sat that 30+ years later. The Cave Allegory and The Republic are worth revisiting.

The Jacko circus is just another example of how we've lost it as a society. Reality is a tough foe. We need to wake up soon .Bob Herbert said pretty much the same thing in his NYTimes column yesterday. I think it's one of his best efforts I've read. See what you think:

Meeting Michael Jackson in the mid-1980s was one of the creepier experiences of my life. I was an editor at The Daily News and had to present him with an award in a large room with just a handful of onlookers and a photographer at Madison Square Garden.

I wasn’t put off by the fact that Jackson, then in his mid-20s, couldn’t make small talk. Lots of people have trouble with that. There was something about his overall behavior that weirded me out. He seemed, even then, to be a person who was trying with all of his being to step outside of reality and leave it behind.

Emmanuel Lewis, the child star of the hit TV series “Webster,” was with Jackson that evening. The undersized Lewis was probably 13 at the time, but he looked much younger, maybe 7 or 8.

Jackson seemed to relate only to Lewis. He made faces at the tiny boy and giggled as Lewis hopped around and climbed over furniture, much to Jackson’s delight. I remember thinking as I left the Garden that Jackson had treated Lewis almost as a pet.

I’ve never heard any suggestion of anything improper about the relationship between Jackson and Lewis. But what I wish I had thought more about in those long-ago days of Michael-mania was the era of extreme immaturity and grotesque irresponsibility that was already well under way in America. The craziness played out on a shockingly broad front and Jackson’s life, among many others, would prove to be a shining and ultimately tragic example.

Ronald Reagan was president, making promises he couldn't keep about taxes and deficits and allowing the readings of a West Coast astrologer to shape his public schedule. The movie “Wall Street” would soon appear, accurately reflecting the nation’s wholesale acceptance of unrestrained greed and other excesses of the rich and powerful.

In neighborhoods through much of black America, crack was taking a fearful toll. Young criminals were arming themselves with ever more powerful weapons, and prison garb was used to set fashion trends.

Motown was the label that gave us the Jackson 5. But when Michael and his brothers released their first album in 1969, the label had already reached its creative peak and most of the best work — the stunning originality of the Miracles, the Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes, the Temptations, and others — had been done. Hip-hop would soon appear, and then the violence and misogyny of gangsta rap.

All kinds of restraints were coming off. It was almost as if the adults had gone into hiding. The deregulation that we were told would be great for the economy was being applied to the culture as a whole. Women could be treated as sex objects again as misogyny, hardly limited to hip-hop, went mainstream. (Have you looked at network television lately, or listened to the radio?) Astonishing numbers of men abandoned their children with impunity. Most of the nation seemed fine with the idea of going to war without a draft and without raising taxes.

In many ways we descended as a society into a fantasyland, trying to leave the limits and consequences and obligations of the real world behind. Politicians stopped talking about the poor. We built up staggering amounts of debt and called it an economic boom. We shipped jobs overseas by the millions without ever thinking seriously about how to replace them. We let New Orleans drown.

Jackson was the perfect star for the era, the embodiment of fantasy gone wild. He tried to carve himself up into another person, but, of course, there was the same Michael Jackson underneath — talented but psychologically disabled to the point where he was a danger to himself and others.

Reality is unforgiving. There is no escape. Behind the Jackson facade was the horror of child abuse. Court records and reams of well-documented media accounts contain a stream of serious allegations of child sex abuse and other inappropriate behavior with very young boys. Jackson, a multimillionaire megastar, was excused as an eccentric. Small children were delivered into his company, to spend the night in his bed, often by their parents.

One case of alleged pedophilia against Jackson, the details of which would make your hair stand on end, was settled for a reported $25 million. He beat another case in court.

The Michael-mania that has erupted since Jackson’s death — not just an appreciation of his music, but a giddy celebration of his life — is yet another spasm of the culture opting for fantasy over reality. We don’t want to look under the rock that was Jackson’s real life.

As with so many other things, we don’t want to know.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fast Times On the Jersey Shore?

My wife and I enjoyed a beautiful getaway weekend last week. First we journeyed down to Long Island for the annual John Charos/Patty Costello Belmont bash. On Sunday afternoon we headed to Spring Lake NJ for the evening. While I was living in Hoboken in the '90's Spring Lake was one of my favorite summer spots. It's the opposite of what most people think of when they think Jersey Shore. Spring Lake is elegant, classy, clean and if you can afford it, a great place to bring your family.

If what I witnessed on our drive down the main drag of Ocean Ave is any indication, we have much more pain to go on the real estate front and the economy in general. Ocean Ave is the main street in Spring Lake, running directly parallel to and right next to the beach. It's the home of a couple beautiful hotels and homes as you can see pictured above. ( The house in the picture is on the market for $4.9 million).What was stunning to me was the number of homes for sale within the mile to mile and a half drive. Let's face it, your not going to be putting up an ocean front piece of property for sale in this environment, unless you absolutely have to. Evidently there are a number of people that must have to. There must have been 10-15 houses for sale---just on Ocean Ave. I sense blood in the water. When you combine that with stories out of the Hamptons like this one in Vanity Fair, it's obvious that the well to do are in for some pain. Remember the trickle down theory espoused by the Reagan crowd in the early '80's? Cut taxes at the top of the income scale and wealth will trickle down to the masses---I have a feeling economic pain will trickle down at a much greater rate to Joe 6 pack as this all plays out.
If you do visit the Jersey Shore this summer and you like seafood, make sure to stop at Spikes in Point Pleasant. Spikes is a BYOB, hole in the wall, with no atmosphere, no reservations but fabulous fresh fish. Check it out! If Spikes is too crowded then head over to Red's Lobster Pot

Monday, May 25, 2009

The End Of US $ Hegemony?

While we all busy with BBQ's over this beautiful Memorial Day Weekend there is a huge story that is not getting any of our collective attention that deserves mention . Only time will tell where this goes and this Bloomberg story contends that any talk of Brazil and China abandoning the US$ as invoice currency is "idle-talk".

Let' see how this develops. If these two countries were to move in the direction of replacing the US$ it would have profound implications for America. I'll leave it to gold-guru Jim Sinclair to explain : ( in this case he is quoting Alf Field's analysis)

Dear CIGAs,
I bring to you the following with the specific permission of Alf Fields.
I have suggested to you often in the past that once the price of gold reaches into its maximum potential it will not repeat the fall of the 1980s.
I foresee gold re-entering the system in a new and unique form that does not include convertibility. It will not be tied to interest rates as it once was in its previous form.
I have written to you various times about the Federal Reserve Gold Certificate ratio, modernized and revitalized, which now may well be associated with an SDR form of an International Central Bank. The tie between the ratio and gold would be a measure of international liquidity considered zero or 100 on the day of adoption.

The following is Alf’s statement yesterday, with his permission to post:

“Gold cannot decline from its highs as it will be incorporated into the national and international monetary systems at that time.” –Alf Fields, May 20, 2009

Now do you have any questions why Fund Wizard Paulson just got long a few billion dollars worth of Gold ETFs and a few major gold producers?
Finally a major event has taken place that is a US dollar milestone.
The financing and extremely important event is the arrangement between China and Brazil displaces the dollar as China becomes the major trading partner with Brazil. Since then the Rial has been celebrating and the dollar has been depressed.
This is a once in approximately a century replacement of a trading currency that has always meant a dethronement of the deposed and coronation of a new currency king.
The last time this happened was when the US dollar supplanted the British Pound as the major trading currency and entity with Brazil 79 years ago.
It took the Brits 300 years to supplant the Portuguese Escudo with the British Pound.
Only twice has this occurred in 379 years.
This is obscure to most but not to Mr. Paulson the hedge wizard. Obscure to most, but not to our gang at JSMineset.
The dollar died in Rio and that means everywhere.\
The dollar is in for a very cold winter.
There is one thing that is absolutely certain and that is Gold is now headed to at least $1650 and in all probability much higher. This is happening NOW!
What more do you need to know?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thou shalt not covet !

Again I have to give a tip of the hat to my friend Bruce Bergwall. He's helped motivate me to try to stay true to a year long biblical reading project---so far it's all systems go and we are on schedule through 5 and a half months. This particular reading program has us skipping around in a 7 day cycle. For example one day we read the prophets, another history, another the Gospel etc. What sparked this post was the fact that recently the assigned reading included the 10 Commandments story from the Book of Exodus. Exodus 20 to be exact. The Commandment that really made me pause was the very last one:( Exodus 20:17)

17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's

Biblical language is interesting in that even though we know the gist of what is being spoken, many times the words used in the translation don't jive with common usage. We rarely ever use the term covet. I decided to look it up. Here's Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry:
Middle English coveiten, from Anglo-French coveiter, from Vulgar Latin *cupidietare, from Latin cupiditat-, cupiditas desire, from cupidus desirous, from cupere to desire
14th century

transitive verb 1 : to wish for earnestly 2 : to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably intransitive verb : to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another

So the 10th Commandment is telling us to essentially not desire any material good that belongs to our neighbors. That sure puts a lid on the "keeping up with the Jones's" philosophy that has been such a central tenant in American life the past 50 years or so.

I find it a little funny that given all the difficult issues we face as a society we still read from time to time about efforts to post the 10 Commandments in various government buildings, schools etc. The reason i find it funny is that the way I read Exodus 20:17, our entire consumer society is based on coveting whatever is thy neighbor's. That's what keeps us going as American consumers,

Why are we so intent on trying to shove the Commandments down peoples throats? What's the point? Unless we are all ready to acknowledge how far short of the mark we all fall it seems to me to be an exercise in hypocrisy.

I'll use Matthew Chapter 7 to illustrate my point:

1Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Instead of worrying about whether we can post the Commandments in front of society's collective face, maybe we should worry about the "beam in our own eyes" and work on fixing that. If we do that we will taken a small step towards a better society.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Timmy G

I was driving around yesterday early afternoon and happened to listen to a radio rebroadcast of Meet The Press. The guest was our esteemed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. One good thing about MTP is that the guests do get to answer questions without constant interruption. One frustrating aspect is that we have to rely on the good sense of the moderator to ask follow up questions. In this particular case David Gregory wasn't up for the job.

As I listened I heard Geithner defend his and the Obama Administration's approach to "solving" our economic crisis and their efforts to get the "economy going again". Just once I wish Gregory would have asked what was meant by getting the economy going. I've said this many times and I'll say it again. What passed for economic growth from late 2001 to 2006 was a debt driven mirage. That's why I would have liked to have heard Geithner have to explain his thought process a little more. The housing gold rush and the subsequent refi deluge were the forces behind the consumer society that was America circa 2005, 2006 and 2007. The thing is, even with all of that debt driven consumption all we ended up doing was spending borrowed dollars on stuff manufactured elsewhere ( for the most part). Even if we are able to revive the consumer over the next quarter or two what would the consumer spend on and how would it benefit American manufacturers even if this spending came to fruition? The fact that the average American has seen his housing stock decline precipitously and at the same time has seen his retirement portfolio decline anywhere from 30-60% over the past year is a double whammy I don't think there will be any short-term recovery from.

Talk of "getting the economy going again " is absurd at this point with massive stimulus and more debt is absurd.Maybe Tim G and his boss mean well but as far as I can see the only beneficiaries of all this will be the bankers at Goldman and Morgan as well as the other vermin who feed off of Washington pork.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wounded Knee

Speaking of the NPR segment, The Writer's Almanac, the December 29 edition caught my attention and I intended to post it a couple weeks ago but never got around to. It was the story of the massacre at Wounded Knee. I knew next to nothing about this sad episode in American History, but after reading this blurb I think I need to learn more:

The Writer's Almanac--December 29, 2008

Today is the anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee, which took place in South Dakota in 1890. Twenty-two years earlier, the local tribes had signed a treaty with the United States government that guaranteed them the rights to the land around the Black Hills, which was sacred land.
But in the 1870s, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and the treaty was broken. People from the Sioux tribe were forced onto a reservation, with a promise of more food and supplies, which never came. Then in 1889, a prophet named Wovoka, from the Paiute tribe in Nevada, had a vision of a ceremony that would renew the earth, return the buffalo, and cause the white men to disappear. This ceremony was called the Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dance scared the white Indian Agents, and they moved in to arrest Chief Sitting Bull, who was killed in the attempt.
The next leader they focused on was Sitting Bull's half-brother, Chief Big Foot. He was leading his people to the Pine Ridge reservation, seeking safety there. But it was winter, 40 degrees below zero, and he contracted pneumonia.
Big Foot was sick, he was flying a white flag, and he was one of the leaders who had actually renounced the Ghost Dance. But the Army didn't make distinctions. They intercepted Big Foot's band and ordered them into the camp on the banks of the Wounded Knee Creek.
The next morning, federal soldiers began confiscating their weapons, and a scuffle broke out between a soldier and an Indian. The federal soldiers opened fire, killing almost 300 men, women, and children, including Big Foot.
One of the survivors was the famous medicine man Black Elk, who told his story to John Neihardt in Black Elk Speaks (1932).


Many mornings on my drive in to work I catch a 3-4 minute segment on NPR called The Writer's Almanac. The piece is narrated by Garrison Keillor and is an overview of daily birthdays and events of importance to the literary world. Today's piece was a thought provoker. It ends up that today is the birthday of a novelist named Julian Barnes. I'd never heard of him. Keillor usually provides a three or four sentence snapshot of the artist along with a quote. Here's what Julian Barnes had to say:

"The secret of happiness is to be happy already."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

GENESIS-- 2009

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions. Too often our best intentions are dashed by our weaknesses. I do like to establish new disciplines around calendar milestones--- birthdays, Labor Day, New Years etc. By new disciplines I mean things like new routines, new workouts, reading regiments or new work campaigns. I have to thank my colleague and friend Bruce Bergwall for the inspiration to start a new regime at the beginning of '08. It was a daily Bible reading regiment, the intent being to read the entire Bible over the course of the year. The adage that " the road to hell is paved with good intentions" was applicable in this case as the discipline stalled out a month or two in. As I approached the end of December, I thought that that effort might be worthwhile to revive. One of the problems last year is that we got a little bit of a late start --thus we were trying to play catch-up right from the start. The other problem was human weakness.

That's one of the reasons I like to try to periodically implement these new routines. Even recognizing slothful tendencies you never know what is going to stick and when a seed will sprout. This year I've even try to get an early start on the Bible reading. We'll see what happens.

The really interesting thing is that there always seems to be a new discovery even in the most familiar reading . Take the story in Genesis where Adam and Eve have just been reprimanded by God for disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Check out these verses: ( Genesis 3: 17-20)

17 And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." 20 The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

Verses 19 and 20 seem incongruent. In verse 19 Adam is being told he will return to dust and right in the very next line, verse 20 we have a complete change of pace. I'm certainly not a Biblical scholar but doesn't it seem here like a patchwork of stories and with this particular verse we are transitioning to another voice or author.