Monday, September 29, 2008

Credit Mess

Wow what a mess. 777 points the Dow is down in one day. I can hardly wait to see my 401k report for this quarter. Lots to talk about but I thought I'd post something with a slightly humors take on the whole problem.

If you've ever gotten one of those e-mails supposedly from some poor destitute person from some third world country, you should recognize this:

Dear Excellent Friend:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion USD. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gramm, lobbyist for UBS, who (God willing) will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a former U.S. congressional leader and the architect of the Palin/McCain Financial Doctrine, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. As such, you can be assured that this transaction is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully, Henry Paulson
Minister of Treasury Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20220

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Crafty Bastards

Here are some shots from Crafty Bastards. This is an arts and crafts show sponsored by The City Paper. My friend Tina is in it.

That's Tina above and that's the banner to her site. She has all sorts of cool stuff to sell. I got a Zombies are the new bunnies t-shirt. Follow this link to she more of her very imaginative products from cards to t-shirts to wall plaques to magnets.

The balloons spell out Crafty Bastards.

One of the bands that played Crafty Bastards.

National Book Festival, 2008

I went down to the National Book Festival yesterday and saw three authors speak. Rick Atkinson, Bob Schieffer and Cokie Roberts.

Rick Atkinson talked about his book The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1953-1944. It is part of a trilogy of books about World War II. I'm in the middle of reading it right now. It is very good. I like the way he writes. He talked about how to make history interesting and the way he says he does it is by finding characters to write about.

National Book Festival 2008, Part II

I have to say I enjoyed Bob Schieffer the best out of the three speakers. I saw him several years ago and was equally impresses. He just seems like your average joe. He seems genuinely surprised that so many have come out to see him.

He told a story of going down to a college in Louisiana and the place where he was speaking was packed. People were sitting on the sills of windows that had been opened. There were even people on trees outside the windows. He said to the audience how grateful he was so many people had showed up to hear him speak. Then someone in the audience said it was mandatory.

He talked about the general state of politics. He said that with the bailout it was one of the few stories that he had a really hard time understanding. He said the experts are saying we need to do something but he added these are the same experts that got us into this mess in the first place.

He then said some of the things he believed in for the US. We don't torture. We don't have secret prisons. That's what the other guys do. Not us. That the power of ideas are far more powerful than any of our weapons. He said the reason the Cold War ended is that the people behind the Iron Curtain were able to see through television what other counties had.

He also said how Hubert Humphrey said that the voting rights act of 1964 was one of our most powerful foreign policy weapons. It showed that we really meant all people were created equal.

He then related this story. One of his first major assignments was when James Meredith was admitted to Ole Miss in 1962. He said there were riots and several people were killed. He remembers being shot at by National Guard snipers who were trying to control the crowd. Schieffer he'd never been more scared in his life even when he was in Viet Nam. He said last night I was in Oxford Mississippi to see the presidential debate. Participating was the first African-American with the chance of being president and a real war hero. Schieffer said we have a long way to go in this country but he never believe in his life time he would see this. He said it was truly historic.

This last picture is of Bob Schieffer texting and he did it for awhile before he went on stage.

Nationl Book Festival 2008, Part III

The final speaker I listened to was Cokie Roberts. She was there talking about her books Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation and Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation. Both books deal with the wives and daughters of the founding fathers. And how they really had a roll in helping their husbands run for office and win elections.

She specifically talked about Dolley Madison and how she helped her husband win re-election. Madison's opponent Charles Cotesworth Pinckney said he run against James Madison and Dolley Madison but he'd prefer to only have run against Mr. Madison.

This last picture is rather interesting. Cokie is waiting to be introduced. All of the speakers are filmed for the Library of Congress archives. You can just see the camera man to the right of the picture. He's turned the camera right on Cokie and she proceeds to ask what are you doing and make a series of rather funny faces. Cokie was incredibly personable in her talk and very passionate about her subject. I think I'm going to have to get the books.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saturday Laugh

The Debate

So we had our first presidential debate. I have to say this is the first time in a long time that I actually watched one.

I will say that at the end I didn't think either candidate "won" the debate. That seems to be the general reaction from the talking heads as well. There was no big mistake on either side. I think they both sort of ducked the question on how they view the economic bailout. But then again as Obama said they don't have the final language yet so it is a little early to be commenting on it. Thankfully they both said rather loudly that something has to be done.

I did think it rather amusing when Jim Lehrer asked what program or policy they would give up because of the impact of the bailout. Neither one of them really answered that question either. And Lehrer gave them plenty of chances to do so. It might have been a little unfair because the details of final plan is not yet know.

Both of them talked about government waste. McCain especially harped on this subject. There's all this money that can be saved. I'm going to look at every single agency. We'll save billions. I'm not saying there isn't waste in government or that money can't be saved but we've been getting this line since Reagan and I've yet see any of the billions in savings they talked about.

The foreign policy aspect of the debate was pretty much what I'd expected. I think it was a good exchange of ideas. I think McCain scored some points on Obama not saying the surge is/was a success. However, I think Obama countered well by saying being in Iraq has distracted us from our real mission. Obama also avoided the McCain charge that Obama would just leave Iraq. The rest as I said was standard stuff.

A couple of points.

I don't understand why McCain needed to put in the digs. He could made the same contrasts without being so snarky. Especially since in all the media run up to the debate everywhere and everyone (at least when I watched) mentioned can McCain hold his temper and not do exactly what he did.

I think the most important thing is that Obama held his own.

And in saying that I don't think last night changed all that many opinions.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The assets

I'm trying to understand what the "bail out" would do. More to the point what's going to happen to all these "toxic" assets that the banks have.

I understand that the government is going to come along and buy the mortgage securities that the banks can't unload right now. It will keep them and then sell them when the market recovers. In all the talk about this plan or possible plans it's been pretty sketchy as to whom these assets will be sold back to. Finally tonight I found out that they'll be sold back to the banks.

So once the market is "better" has anyone given any thought what selling this mortgage securities back to the banks will do.

One of the things that bothers me in the rush to get something done (which is a tactic the Bush administration excels at; you the end is coming if you don't act now) is that down the road will be the response of what the hell did we do.

Wall Street hasn't come crashing to the ground. Maybe a couple more days of figuring out this mess is not such a bad thing especially if it leads to fewer headaches later.

Presidential/Financial Follies

McCain Grandstands

That’s the only thing I can think of to call what McCain did Wednesday by cancelling his campaigning and returning to Washington to help with the economic crisis. Gee all of a sudden this is a huge crisis which is been going on for almost a week. Now is McCain a member of any of the committees that have any impact on the legislation being considered. Well no. So I’m not exactly sure how he is helping along the process. It seems his presence rather than helping matters along has hindered the possibility of a deal.

I guess we have to wait and see.

Bush’s Speech

Bush seemed in a complete daze when he gave the speech on Wednesday night. He really needed to sell the plan. He didn’t hurt his case but he didn’t sell it either. Also the speech should have come earlier in the week.

The administration needed to be out front and explain on a big stage what the plan was for. Paulson and Bernanke did a fairly good job in Congress but most people saw these statements filtered through the news media. By the time Bush spoke all sorts of concerns had been made and McCain had pulled his stunt.

Also of interest was the fact a whole lot of blame was assigned except to the Bush administration and the Republican controlled Congress that sat by and did nothing while this crisis gathered steam. Yes, it was those foreigners who helped contribute to the problem. Not an administration that didn’t believe in any regulation of the financial industry at all. Or a compliant roll over play dead Republican controlled Congress. Nor, might I add blame for the head of the Fed or the Treasury who both said that the subprime market mess would never leak into the overall economy.

At least the debate is on.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Final Pictures of Springfield Trip

Here are some pictures of the cookout we had at Ed and Jennifer's the Sunday I was in Springfield.

Getting the fire all ready for the chicken.

Me peeling taters.

Ed getting the chicken set to put out on the grill. Don't be concerned he usually looks that way.

Ready to start cooking!

Final Pictures of Springfield Trip II

This is the view from one of the rest stops on Interstate 68. I really need to go back and see this area when the leaves start to turn. I'm just a couple of hours out from DC when I took these pictures.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Congress Takes a Breath

For once that fact that Congress takes so long to do something is a good thing. This time around when the Bush administration is saying jump people on both sides of the aisle are asking questions.

That's not to say that something shouldn't be done. Something does need to be done. But maybe just maybe this time some deliberation and thought will happen instead of just passing whatever the Bush administration sends Congress's way.

There is a growing sentiment from both Republicans and Democrats that executive salaries should be reined in. Also that the American tax payer should be getting some of the assets of the companies that it's bailing out.

Here's the response from the White House by Tony Fratto on this:

"We certainly understand and are sympathetic to the sentiment regarding the pay of CEOs and senior management of these firms, but we have to focus on the problem, and the problem is that we need these firms to participate in the program and sell us this debt. Having punitive measures would provide a disincentive for firms to participate, and that would make the program much less likely to succeed.

"CEO compensation and corporate governance in public companies are very important issues -- especially when receiving taxpayer support -- but we need to be focused on fixing this problem in our markets right now. We can and should return to those issues once we get this legislation passed."

Except how exactly do you return to this issue when you've established the bailout package. The urgency presented by the White House and Fed makes it sound like the money is needed right away. It sounds like the buying of assets needs to start right away or else. But if that's the case then it seems to me there isn't going to be time to return to this issue.

The Post covers the hearings in this story and here's a great piece by Dan Froomkin.

I think this sums up what many people are thinking around the country and the type of comment Congress is getting:

"I don't think a single call to my office about this has been positive," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). He said there was "outrage from taxpayers" about bailing out Wall Street financiers whose country club memberships cost many times more than most Americans' salaries.

And you know what, and this has been a long time in coming, members of both parties were actually concerned about what this would do to average people. Of course they might be so concerned because of the fact that the election is exactly six weeks away. But, if Congress has to be scared into doing its job, of asking questions, of deliberating, of making sure the plan has a chance to work, that's fine by me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Devil in the Details

Seems just about everyone is on board with the bail out. Bu the devil seems to be in the details.

Funny how John McCain suddenly is a fan of regulation:
"I am greatly concerned that the plan gives a single individual the unprecedented power to spend $1 trillion -- trillion -- dollars without any meaningful accountability," he said in prepared remarks.

At a rally in Scranton, Pa., McCain declared that "we will not solve a problem caused by poor oversight with a plan that has no oversight."

Gee, Senator and who was one of the biggest fan of as little oversight as possible. Oh yes that wold be you. Yeah maybe if Congress, the Republican controlled Congress, had done its job we might now be as big of a mess as we are. But they didn't and neither did you.

It seems that the bailout has gone over well on Wall Street but everyday ordinary people aren't as please. Here's a story from the Post.

The sentiment is pretty much summed up by this comment:

"If I spent more money than I have, I don't deserve to have somebody bail me out," said John Owens, 45, a developer who lives on Eagle Court, where three houses have gone through foreclosure.

I have to agree. I bought my home in the time of no money down, no interest loans. My real estate agent in the strongest terms told me not to use those options. I listened to him. What happens if in the coming economic downturn (all but promised because of the huge bail out) I loose my job. What if my house is put in jeopardy? Who's going to help me out? I played by the rules why am I now having to pick up the tab.

If the Bush administration is going to make this thing work they need to be much more upfront about what is going on. I know that is a stretch for them. Being open honest and upfront. Not things normally associated with them. But if this is going to work there needs to be a very hard sell for it. Because I happen to think doing nothing would be much worse.

So maybe George needs to start acting like he's in charge and address the American people and tell them exactly why we are mortgaging our future.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

700 Billion and Counting

That's the price tag to bail out Wall Street. Read all about it from the Post.

Free markets, personal responsibility, less government. I guess that only applies to the average person.

When rich people are about to loose their shirt all that stuff goes out the window.

And will there be any consequences on these people who got us in this position? As far as I can tell absolutely none. If I had my way, we round these bastards up and have them drawn and quartered and then have all their assets sold off to help pay for what they've done. But I'm pretty sure that won't happen.

It's not like we could have waited to see what else happened. Action had to be taken.

Too bad action wasn't taken much earlier when the results would not have been so bad. Too bad government didn't do its job of regulating the financial markets. Instead of thinking less regulation is the best way to go actually from what it looks like it was no regulation. Thanks to the Republican Party, especially President Bush and the Republican Congress for not doing their jobs. But then again when you are in the pockets of Wall Street and the major banks what can you expect.

And a special thanks to that "maverick" reformer Senator John McCain and his good friend Phil Gramm (you remember him the guy who called Americans whiners) for pushing through the legislation that allowed AIG and friends to get in the position where the U.S. government had to bail them out. And McCain has the balls to talk about how he'll reform Wall Street. That is so rich.

And rich is what Americans will not be. The idea of reforming health care or getting social security on a sounder financial footing and just about anything else is out the window.

Now that I think about it, drawn and quartered is a rather mild punishment for these guys.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

MS Ride

Here are some pictures of the MS Ride that my sister-in-law, Jennifer, did last weekend.

Jennifer is on the left. Her riding partner Teresa is on the right. As you can tell it got a little rainy.

This is on the morning of the second day after we found out that the ride had been canceled. Teresa and I are taking some pancakes back for her husband and daughter. I have syrup in the coffee cup!

Financial Follies

Well what to think about the last week. Here are a few quick thoughts. I'll be doing a more in depth post a little later.

What a mess and that's putting it mildly.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke are getting a great deal of praise for their quick action. For coming up with a comprehensive plan to solve this problem. Instead of it being death by a thousand cuts.

Is the plan necessary? You better believe it.

Was it avoidable? I think you can say you better believe it.

After all these are the two geniuses that said last August that the subprime market would never have any impact on the general economy. Guess they were wrong on that one big time.

It almost boils down to when the average guy gets in trouble well he has to bear the consequences of his actions. But when the rich guy gets into trouble well we can't have that. There are little or no consequences for his actions. That might be a slight exaggeration but not by much.

The bottom line is that our government should have been more aware and involved with what was going on and it wasn't. They were asleep at the switch and now we are paying in a very big way the consequences of that.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Another E-mail from a Friend

I got another e-mail from a friend. It's also on the election but in a much funnier vein. Follow this link.

In a subsequent post I'll reveal the answer I got. If people would like to reveal their answer in a comment, please do.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Interesting Perspective

A friend e-mailed this to me I think it puts things in a very interesting perspective:

I'm a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....

* If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're 'exotic, different.'

* Grow up in Alaska eating moose burgers, a quintessential American story.

* If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.

* Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

* Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.

* Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

* If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.

* If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest ranking executive.

* If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.

* If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.

* If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.

* If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant , you're very responsible.

* If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America 's.

* If you're husband is nicknamed 'First Dude', with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

Yes, it puts things in a very good perspective.

Springfield Greenway

Throughout Springfield is the Greenway. As the name implies it is a green way. It is an area of park land set aside for walking, jogging bike riding etc. We went to an area called Close Memorial Park. It has a Japanese Garden along with a rose garden and a pond you can walk around. Here are some pictures of it. We had a nice stroll around it on Sunday before we went back to Ed and Jennifer's and started our cookout.