Saturday, September 12, 2009

9-12: Patriots March in Washington.

WOW! I was bowled over coming out of the Archives Metro station at 10 a.m. just as the first rank of marchers to the Capitol came by. The numbers walking down Pennsylvania Avenue just grew as marches joined from all directions at Freedom Plaza. I cannot estimate a crowd, still, the crowd must've numbered in the hundreds of thousands as the avenue march continued curb-to-curb without abatement for at least two hours.

I met folks from Mississippi, North and South Carolina, New York and New Jersey. State flags from around the nation were in evidence. And countless "Don't Tread on Me" flags. Except for an inauguration, I have never seen the West Lawn of the Capitol as packed as it was today, back to the Mall...and with some of the nicest people ever assembled. I saw nothing but honest concern, good spirits and high hopes, the sort of thing that make Americans unique.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Our Eventual Healthcare Benefit...

An American child born today has a actuarial life expectancy of 77.7 years.

An American who reaches age 65 today actuarially has 18.7 years to go.

And that is with a dysfunctional healthcare system, one that supposedly condemns citizens to a pay-up-or-die existence, creating poverty and extending misery throughout the land by denying access to the poor while overpricing treatment for those who can afford it.

The unstated villain, and the driving force behind all proposed healthcare reforms, is our longevity – which drains the unsustainable Social Security and Medicare “trust funds” providing no return to society except our more-expensive-by-the-day continued presence. Why, when Social Security was founded, an American was hoping to make 65 years to score an old age pension check. Today, despite our increasingly unhealthy lifestyle choices, collecting one of those checks is a pretty sure thing – and it’s all indexed for inflation, too!

If Americans do that well with our current inadequate state of medicine, and longevity is counterproductive to our national interests, is there a point anymore in further medical research, improvement of therapies, or expansion of facilities? To what end? Further research, that which may ultimately cure cancers, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, AIDS, Alzheimers or other dread or chronic diseases, is counterproductive if the government’s aim is cost containment. Any new therapies would be disproportionately applied to older or chronically ill Americans, wasted on those having a clear duty to die under the limited resources of our National Healthcare Reformation – a duty eased by government counseling.

For performing our duty, maybe we’ll get another government benefit: a headstone.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Dog that Failed to Bark

There’s something that just ain’t right going on in America’s financial markets. Worse, as folks are figuring that out, the key to maintaining markets and turning our economy around is being driven off – confidence.

Yesterday the President either betrayed his economic ignorance or furthered his economic agenda by comparing the stock market to flash polls.

"What I'm looking for is not the day-to-day gyrations of the stock market, but the long-term ability for the United States and the entire world economy to regain its footing," Obama said after meeting in the Oval Office with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “And, you know, the stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics. It bobs up and down day to day, and if you spend all your time worrying about that, then you're probably going to get the long-term strategy wrong."

Oh, my…bobbing up and down is one thing, but there appears to be a market trend established, Mr. President, and it’s clearly downward. Had your polling looked like this, you would not be ignoring it. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen through every floor predicted by the “experts,” 8000, 7000, and now closing in on 6000…from a high of 14,000 with the past 52-weeks, no less. Half the stock market’s previous value, all private wealth, has mostly dissipated. Four trillion dollars of American private wealth has been drained since September from private holdings, including home equity, retirement accounts, education accounts, and charitable foundations.

What strikes me as a watch dog not barking is that while government is busy throwing money it doesn’t have to look reactive to this “crisis,” no one seems much interested in looking behind the “conventional wisdom” that this is all caused by a collapsing housing loan market.

I don’t know much about tranches or credit default swaps, but I do know this: Something isn’t honest in a system that collapses around collateralized debt like this one did. Someone is making money on this mess, because someone always makes money in these panics while the saps, generally the public ignorantly hold the bag as they’re being stuffed into it.

In my view, this has been bi-partisan arson, starting in the Clinton administration. Bill learned from his victory over an incumbent president that even a minor economic downturn, a recession, had huge political impact. And the lesson wasn’t lost on the Bush43 administration, during which the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to near zero in order to keep the good times rolling. Consumers couldn’t contain themselves as money grew on trees for nearly 16 years, with ever more valuable homes used as ATMs through home equity lines to finance the orgy of buying stuff. The U.S. economy never had a chance to resolve itself or its growing excesses, even in the aftermath of 9/11, when President Bush prescribed shopping and vacationing as an American duty. It became ludicrous as the Bush White House later fell back on technical, backward-looking definitions to deny that a recession was building...the same one we're in right now!

On top of all that was another odd occurrence that remains unexplained behind its conventional wisdom: The sudden rise of oil prices to many multiples of its price. From $20 per barrel in 2000 to $80 in 2007, to its high of $147 on July 11, 2008. If the price of oil, as economists suggest, is subject to major swings particularly tied to the overall business cycle, it seems odd that the price would rise radically into a recession which began in January 2007 if driven by speculators.

What U.S. and British government investigators claim to have found is this: That the market responded to supply-and-demand market forces, not speculation. Huh? Yup, the market price apparently lagged the growing demand amid shrinking supplies. As a result of this market imbalance and low price elasticity, huge price increases resulted as the market explosively attempted to balance itself. Low price elasticity? In a (growing) shortage market? With nearly a doubling of price in months while in a recession? What nonsense is this?

The oddest thing is that, except for briefly selling hybrids at MSRP, the alternative energy community couldn’t sell its claptrap solutions in the most favorable market ever. Even as the Global Warming alarmists, er, Climate Change alarmists were most alarming. In cases such as ethanol, the 21st century perpetual motion hoax was exposed for what it was – as food prices skyrocketed behind government subsidies and the truth about the excessive energy and water inputs to create the energy-deficient stuff became more generally known. Well, several ethanol plants quickly shut down, and others never opened.

Even today, the Obama administration is trying hard to shove this “green agenda” down throats of unwilling-to-buy consumers. Let’s ignore that most are broke, and not in the market for expensive automotive change. But, I digress…

The financial markets seem to have become a con game. One of the first lessons one learns as an investor is to never plow money into things you don’t understand. The ones exposed violating this were the financial geniuses themselves. From AIG to Citi Bank, toss in Bernie Madhoff and a growing list of schemers…plus, the free-market sacrificing Presidents Bush and Obama, and a “stimulating” Congress, and one needn’t wonder why confidence in the honesty of the market – even the value of our currency - is waning, if not drained.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Michael Steele: Hip-Hop This!

In the words of Vince Lombardi: “What the hell’s going on out there?”

The recent dust-up between RNC Chairman Michael Steele and Rush Limbaugh illustrates the dichotomy tearing away at the credibility of the Republican Party. On the one hand, to be a viable political party, the GOP must present a significantly different point of view than its opponent, the Dems. OTOH, it must be trustworthy and reliable in its principled opposition, "truthy" to its supporters when the chips are down. It is currently doing neither.

What’s going on is that the gap between the political Republican party and its voters/supporters is on full display. The political arm, trying to win elections in an increasingly liberal world, is trying to become inoffensive as it hopes to draw “moderates” to their voting columns to sustain a majority. The problem, as Rush Limbaugh often points out, is that moderates have no views – they're less thoughtful than merely incapable. They swing between political viewpoints because they essentially eschew politics and its conflict-laden environment. They want “bi-partisanship”, an unattainable political view when deciding who gets what, when and how. And the political Republican party is willing to give them this comity to gain votes, they think.

The supporting Republican masses are more ideological, mostly centered around smaller, less expensive government, personal liberty, and a strong national defense. They see a collapse of traditional American values, in many cases aided and abetted by Republicans. They simply don’t trust the political Republicans anymore in key or landmark battles.

In the midst of this Michael Steele became Chairman of the RNC, whose job it is to elect Republicans to office. That means raising funds and doling them out. The biggest challenge is bringing both sides together. The pols need money, and the base increasingly won’t pay for uncertain political loyalty.

Steele’s D.L. Hughley appearance on CNN was an “outreach” attempt to the urban hip-hop electorate. Steele apparently has this idea that the streetwise, poorly educated, and ill-informed are a better bet for conversion to Republicanism than the Historically Black College crowd that tossed Oreo cookies his way a few years ago.

Actually, it is clear he is trying to by-pass the entrenched Black Dems and try to talk empowerment to a younger generation that is living the failure of Dem run cities like Baltimore, Detroit and others. And, so, former Fox News pundit turned political conduit to urban youth Steele settled into a televised, true barber shop conversation with the host and another guest, rapper "Chuck D", and got himself jammed when the inter-bro convo turned to Republicans = Nazis - with Steele saying to Hughley, "And you're right." Whaaat??

Whoops…trying to become instructive to the misinformed young bloods, seizing the opportunity to dialogue earnestly about these false perceptions and demonstrate how Republicanism actually mirrors many of the values of the African-American community, providing a Black history Month lesson on the community’s links to the party, Steele first dropped cred by stereotyping the legendary "Public Enemy" as a product of the projects. Then he inexplicably agreed with Hughley's premise that Limbaugh was a purveyor of incendiary rhetoric.

After asserting he was the leader of the Republican Perty, Steele “inartfully” put Limbaugh into context, saying, "Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment. Yes, he's incendiary. Yes, it's ugly."

Chuck D: "He would say anything."

Hughley: "You're the first Republican, and I've talked to a lot, who's said he's not the leader of the party. I've never heard anybody say that on anybody's show. We get past a lot of things when three men, all from different kinds of backgrounds, all have different ideological views, look, I can respect that in you. You know what? I don't have any preconceived notions. I thought you were a bright guy then, and I think you're even brighter than I did before. But, but I just think that the brand you're selling ain't for us, it's just not! "

Steele: "What I'm saying is, the brand needs help. The brand needs work. There's no doubt about that. I'm not trying to sell it. What I'm trying to do is make it as valuable, and something that people can look at and consider. And I do think we have something to say on some very serious issues that touch a lot of people on empowerment, ownership and opportunity. And I'm going to make sure we say it."

Steele plainly failed a simple leadership test, and it wasn’t even prime time questioning, nor the product of vicious false context editing.

Be real, be true...and, sorry to say, it’s approaching time to say goodnight, Michael – Once more and you’re fired!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Amp the ‘Phant!

Tech Summit weekend has now come and gone. Friday was a day to put a few cards on tables, to monologue ideas in five minute increments.

I’m struck by the continuing schism between tech and touch, between message and communication, between recruit and enlist. The differences are what make the difference between success and failure. And they circle the question: What are we trying to accomplish?

All the tech imaginable is worthless unless one first has a tech-friendly goal in mind. Thinking that posting cool stuff on-line will convert a heathen to Republicanism is probably misplaced thought. My “tech” campaign would start by establishing “social proof” around Republicanism. Peer-to-peer is the gold standard.

The challenge is that right now there is a wide party identification gap, the widest in twenty years, between Democrats and Republicans. Even through the idyllic 1980s and new majority 90s, Democrats clung to a lead in voter identification. The tide is rapidly running away from an already depleted national party that lost the “youth vote” 47 to 28 percent in 2008 self-identification polls – polls it led in the 80s and into the 90s.

One is hard pressed to name any celebrity under 40 to make a "social proof" connection for the Republican Party. Ted Nugent? Alice Cooper? Meatloaf? Okay...maybe Kid Rock.

I’d suggest “viral” video to start the process, using a contest format to spur creation and creativity around why it’s cool to be GOP, maybe with a few different divisions: length, age, content, school, whatever. Prizes might be anything, from the publicity of a winning entry, to an autographed picture of Saul Anuzis. Voting would be by Facebook group join, text message, a website visit or similar means.

We've got to do something - Let's Amp the 'Phant!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama's Random Thoughts - Flucked from his Hat!

Not that anyone in the MSM would ask or notice. What's up with Obama going to the environmentally-unfriendly, carbon footprint producing, five-miles-per-gallon RV capital of America, Elkhart, Indiana, whose employment base was destroyed by $4/gal gasoline before the economy went south, to peddle road and overpass construction? When does the state unemployment office start issuing picks and shovels instead of checks? Or when will the manufacturers start building solar powered RVs? BTW: My father-in-law, a full-time RVer, has an RV park neighbor who bought an under-construction penthouse condo in West Palm for $250k a year ago - and is desperately trying to sell. His latest asking is $135k and still drawing zero interest. Why? Too much supply, too little demand – both Keynesian and Austrian schools agree on that!

Someone needs to explain to BHO that the "credit crisis" is not for lack of money to lend - it's that our capacity to borrow is spent. Among consumers, too many credit cards are maxed and home equity reserves drained by a collapsing real estate market prevent the mega-consumers from further consumption. Too many people are terribly overextended - they can't get credit because they have no collateral to offer, and likely a spotty payment record. Add in those cutting back spending after their 401(k)s and IRAs were halved by the stock market collapse and the illiquidity of other securities, and who's gonna buy an Elkhart, Indiana, RV at any price?

Arguing that the earth’s finite petroleum sources are being depleted is plain hogwash. What is true is that the most easily accessible fields are past their peaks and drawing down, but slowly as new extraction technology allows continued production. Meanwhile, new fields are discovered and tapped around the globe, such as recently off the Brazilian coast. There is no shortage of oil in the ground, and none anticipated by rational people. The bigger issue, as reflected by the ANWR drilling ban and others, is whether we trust our technology enough to use our natural resources in our national interest. Well, are we? The recent retreat by petroleum prices has been equated to a $300 billion stimulus, money left in American pockets instead of flowing into gas and heating oil tanks. Imagine the economic effects of a “drill here, drill now” energy effort would have. OTOH, not even $4/gal gasoline could save subsidized ethanol from itself – like all alternatives, the transformation of plant sugars into usable fuel spends more energy than it produces. Wait…when Cellulosic ethanol production kicks in…

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bi-Partisanship: The Last Thing Needed to Fix the Economy

"BO goes to IN town with shut down RV plants, why because we won't get our own oil and we force cafe standards on the car makers" - Cowboy007 via Twitter

Tonight President Brack H. Obama gave a nationally televised press conference. Can anyone explain what The One said?

Um, uh, doubtful.

The Obama "movement" is coming up against reality, and reality is quickly winning out. The House Republicans stood firm, and the spell began to break. If nothing else, some now are asking where this money comes from...and they're looking into a mirror when they ask.

RV sales are off because American consumers are spent out and recuperating after losing $3.2 trillion in wealth, not because there is no credit available. The government, by its incompetence and substitution of tawdry politics for wise "national interest" thinking, gutted their savings and undermined the value of their property, whether real estate, bonds or equities. It was the last bi-partisan effort - and it succeeded!