Monday, September 29, 2008
Well, it looks like the government "quick fix" $700 Billion bailout plan has lost in the House of Representatives...and the DOW is down 777 today (a perfect number?) So, what does all this mean?
Based on my experiences in the stock market, both as an investor and a broker, my first opinion is there is no set rhyme or reason for these market gyrations. There are times when market indicators are dire, well positioned leaders predict economic doom...and the market goes up inexplicably. There are other times when market indicators are robust and positive...and the market tanks. It's really hard to predict with much rationality...which is why I got out of the brokering business in the late 80s. Today’s drop is bigger than Black Monday of 87 in points...but not as big percentage wise.
Obviously the market is diving today because the congress, hopefully representing the voice of "the people", has turned back the huge bailout of wall street on the backs of the American taxpayer proposed by those most responsible for this turn of events. One could argue that in the long run, this could be a positive sign...that the "people" want to enforce responsible market factors to kick in and not just another Band-Aid on the wounds of unsound financial practices of our financial institutions. Perhaps the market should go UP today based on this news. Why doesn’t it? Well, primarily because there has still been no solid proposition of how we are going to rebuild our economy and financial institutions based on reason and sound planning. These government gyrations and pendulum swings of legislated solutions based on emotion have few good track records. It is interesting to note that this denial of the bailout plan is bi-lateral...both parties rejecting almost equally this bailout. This may be the most agreed upon decision in the life of this current House of Representatives.
SO...some may say, "what would YOU do instead of the current proposed plan"? Of course, we have little leadership in the current administration as a lame duck Presidency that has been arguable asleep at the wheel...focused on wars and foreign affairs, and not even handling THAT well. But, if I were President, and HAD ANY RESPECT FROM THE ELECTORATE...which is required to get anything done...I would make the following recommendations...
1. TEMPORARILY oversee all the failing major financial institutions...oversee all foreclosures and attempt rewriting all these failing mortgages at lower, more affordable interest rates and payments. Contracts would need to be adjusted for current market conditions and values. This would provide medium term relief for consumers caught in this crossfire.
2. I would reassign all IRS agents to work on behalf of re visiting these contracts and working out new payment plans with the mortgage holders/home owners. While reviewing these mortgage contracts, they should prosecute any fraudulent owners who have falsified the applications to gain these generous, sub prime mortgages. I would also prosecute any mortgage agent who participated in that fraud.
3. On all these renegotiated contracts, half of the interest/profits would go towards repayment of the federal bailout loans/funds. Only until a financial institution attained a stable balance sheet and approved, knowledgeable management, and repayment of all public funds would they be allowed to continue as a private institution.
4. I would outlaw all lobbyists and lobbying companies. They would not be allowed to enter federal properties (US Capitol, White House, Pentagon, etc) to sell their wares or pass out their "gifts" to elected politicians or US Military staff. Any travel by US Government elected officials would have to be paid for and approved by the government...their "boss"...with obvious reportability to the American people..."the Stockholders".
5. KEY...put all these assets on the Market to domestic investors who would benefit from investing in and turning around this failed companies. Let free enterprise and OPM (Other People’s Money) fill the gap of this needed 700 BILLION (or couple TRILLION?) instead of tax dollars and federal funds...which just aren’t there anyways.
6. And yes, a constitutional amendment REQUIRING a federal balanced budget. Why should the government get better treatment and terms on running business than the average citizen? Our leaders should not be able to spend money they don’t have, and HAVE to get permission to go into debt by we...the STOCKHOLDERS.
7. Pull back funds from some of these "golden parachute" CEOs and CFOs who have robbed their companies of 150-200 MILLION per person as they went under or out of balance. These "entitlements" should be held as illegal...a form of direct robbery from the shareholders of those companies.
8. And even more fundamentally, put more accountants and business administrators in public office...while replacing the mostly "Lawyer" crowd we have in government now.
I will think of more things to recommend, but basically I am saying...we cannot put this bailout money in the hands of the same "leaders" who caused this mess to begin with. It's time to clean house, just like a regular enterprise would do under these circumstances. It is time to pull back spending of the government...not give them more carte blanche cash for spending. It is time to get a true accounting and a LONG term plan before we bail out anything or anybody. We need to go back to market based economics and rewarding the WINNERS instead of the LOSERS. We need to batten down the hatches financially together...everyone do their part...and never forget this example of how greed and unrealistic financing can potentially take away our freedoms. We need to return to the plan "...to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..." Our USA Constitution.
We can do it...even if it will be painful for a while...
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
My wife has suggested I get off the politics and philosophy train, and talk about something more "fun" for a change. Probably good ideas since many of us are understandably fed up with all the bad news and politics of the day.
Many of you know that I have had a lifelong "love affair" with music. I call it a "love affair", because as I look back on the music side of my life...the artistic aspects, the ups and downs both creatively and economically, the crazy people we call "musicians", and the unpredictability of music...it can rightly be compared to a long, emotional "love affair". Many of my recent friends are probably NOT that privy to this part of my past, so this might be an interesting side of me for you to know...or it might be boring and you may want to click now to another blog subject ;)...
It all started as a wee small child, coming from a musical family and a family church background where my minister grandfather was a self taught organist and "lover" of music. Mostly church music, but not limited to that. He had "encouraged" my mother to take piano lessons as a youngster, and it turns out she was quite gifted. I remember his favorite classical song she played was “Clair de Lune” by Debussy. Sometimes these things run genetically because my cousin Miriam who just passed away this year was also a gifted pianist with these huge female hands that as a child mesmerized me as she played so freely and creatively. I think Mom must have found inspiration from her older cousin as well because she had the same type of gift. So, it is no surprise that prior to my 5th birthday I started out taking piano lessons from Florence Brooks Evans in my home town of Battle Creek, Michigan.
Mrs. Evans was quite a character and had a special gift teaching piano to youngsters. She was a frail little Adventist lady who had spent years playing for the original 7th Day Adventist church (a large Christian denomination that began in my home town and that has spread in a large global way, even here in Panama). She seemed older than Methusela (grandfather of Noah, oldest Biblical man at 969 years of age), was legally blind, wearing huge multi focal glasses...kind of like mini microscopes...in order to read music, or even make out which student she was with at the moment. She lived in a tiny little house that had TWO pianos, one large traditional upright grand in her living room, and another tucked back in her 2nd bedroom that served as the main lesson room. All over her house were stacked music manuscripts, music books, and "stuff" of all kinds. She was obviously NOT a “neatnik” housekeeper like my mother...but was a sweet old lady who was good with children and totally dedicated to her craft. If you practiced hard during the week, she would reward you with a small, sweet glass of juice, usually orange. Adventists didn't do much with candies and fattening pastries as they were all about health foods...but I remember those little rewards quite distinctly for some reason.
We had seasonal recitals and not too long ago I saw photos my mom has kept of my first recital...about 5 years old...dressed in an Indian Headdress because my first "piece" to perform publicly was the "Indian War Song"...or something like that. Florence Brooks was a unique teacher for those times because she taught reading and traditional classical literature, while also teaching and developing a student’s ability to "play by ear" and create music ideas and sounds instead of just following what some classical composer had annotated 200-300 years before. She taught great fundamentals of correct hand placement and fingering and quickly broke you of the habit of watching your hands instead of the music by holding cardboard over your hands so you couldn’t see what they were doing. Whatever her methods were called, I truly believe she was well advanced or ahead of most modern children's piano teachers. As I observe current kids taking piano lessons, I don't see them being pushed and trained on the fundamentals as quickly or thoroughly as we were back then. It seems to me MOST modern teaching techniques have diminishing returns in many of the basics of education for children...especially in the areas of grammar, spelling, geography, and history. Most of today's public school kids seem to have much less capacity in those areas than when my generation was graduating from elementary or even High School. I think music education is in much the same condition sadly to say. Ah...but I digress...as usual.
So, I have Florence Brooks Evans, my parents and grandparents to thank for providing me the inspiration to implant the seeds of music and piano that stay with me to this day. My goal at that early age was to play as good as my mother or the organ as good as my grandfather. Of course, my grandfather to my knowledge never learned to read music and played completely by ear. Based on my good basic skills learned and developed from Mrs. Evans, at quite an early age I was allowed to sit next to my grandfather at the church Hammond B3 organ during the song part of the service and duplicate with him the melodies of all the old church hymns. Pretty soon I started doing the left hand while he did the melody. Then I learned the foot pedals for the bass notes...and pretty soon I had bumped him completely off the job and by age 10 or 11, I was the church organist, joyfully accompanying my mom who was the church pianist. We were...and are...a good team I think :).
I am quite thankful that musically we came out of a fundamentalist, gospel oriented church whose music was always inspired by black gospel music. As most people know, blues and jazz music were rooted from old spiritual hymns created by the early African slaves who used to sing in order to survive their hard lives in the cotton fields of America. My natural background and inclination for gospel music easily transferred to early pursuit of R&B and Soul music that as a child started coming out of Motown...Detroit City...only 90 minutes down the road from my little town. I was into blues before I was into Rock and Roll. I was fortunate to have interest and an ear for ALL of God's music...from classical to gospel, from jazz to rock and roll. Much like other areas of my life, I became a "generalist" in my pursuit of music. I wanted to try it ALL...and therefore never really became the "best" at any. But, I think I became sufficiently successful to where I qualified to spend a summer during high school at the internationally renowned "Interlochen National Music Camp" in Northern Michigan. That summer was to become a pinnacle of my youthful pursuit and appreciation of music.
The first step towards going to Interlochen was filling out a long questionnaire and making an audition tape. Somehow I got motivated to perform those first steps (most teenagers have too many distractions and other priorities to pursue something like this) and of course had to come up with a significant amount of money to support the program that lasted 8 weeks of that summer. Fortunately, I had generous gifts from my grandparents and parents that gave me the green light to pursue this experience...and what an experience it was. I spent 8 weeks of summer in my 17th year with about (I'm guessing from memory) 500 other Jr and Sr High School aged musicians and artists from all over the world. I lived those weeks in Cabin 18 with 17 other guys, musicians from all over the USA and the world. I still remember most all of these characters vividly. Everyone in the program including instructors and staff wore uniforms during the camp season, even to this day. All the cabins of the High School Boys division were in competition throughout the summer in all areas in addition to musicianship. We competed in athletics, cleanliness (almost military style), and of course in night time antics. Our cabin was by far the craziest and arguable most talented combination of guys in the division. We had university aged counselors who gave up on ruling us...a deal was more or less brokered on all sides for surviving the summer as I remember right.
I had thought I was a pretty good musician in terms of my hometown of Battle Creek, but when put in the midst of this global talent pool, I was quite humbled immediately. There were Junior High students who could play circles around me on the piano which was my major instrument. I also had taken up euphonium horn in the band and orchestra...and I had to audition and qualify for a position in the orchestra in addition to my piano major. I made it into the SECOND Interlochen symphonic band...with no chance to make the "World Youth Symphony Orchestra" which is internationally renowned each year and with many annual recordings that I want to pursue a collection of one of these years. So, musically my summer was filled with private piano studies with Mr. Lawrence who was head of the piano department at Bob Jones University of all places, practice minimally 2 hours per day on that, then weekly concerts with the Symphonic Band which meant numerous sectional rehearsals and 3 full rehearsals with the whole symphony each week before our weekly concert in the outdoor bowl concert arena. Sundays were our only days off each week accept for some concerts that were held on Sundays. Between all the private studies, group rehearsals, symphonic rehearsals, and classes on theory, composition and methods...most every day had a full slate of individual recitals, group performances, concerts of the various symphonic groups, and then each week there were 2 or 3 MAJOR concerts by renown artists. Van Cliburn, the most famous American pianist has and had for many years sponsored an annual concerto concert and I was lucky enough that summer of 72 to hear one of his last regular performances at Interlochen where he performed Rachmaninoff’s Concerto #2, and I was part of the piano majors committee who were honored to attend and cater a reception for Mr. Cliburn. I'll never forget shaking his long, thin, and yes, sweaty hand as he came into the reception and was introduced to each of the piano majors.
That summer also introduced me to many new forms of jazz I was not familiar with. Interlochen had a jazz division/department as well, and while I had wanted to pursue jazz styling, I had never had the contacts or time to do so to this point. A couple guys in my cabin 18 were "jazzers", so I was able to develop a lot of awareness through them of what it takes to pursue that style and vocation. Most of the jazz students were from major cities like New York and Chicago. Stan Kenton came with his whole big band for a week of workshops on jazz and a sizzling final concert that week. I’ll never forget those live workshops with this giant of jazz…and that year he had hired as his main drummer a young Peter Erskine who had recently graduated from…”Interlochen Arts Academy”. He is still one of the first call drummers in jazz and featured on many big time jazz albums.
The camp also features many other art forms such as dance, drama, stage production, painting and the fine arts. If you want to experience a magical place where ALL the arts flourish in one place and in youthful form, Interlochen is the place. I was to carry many of the experiences and information I gained there throughout my life of traveling and pursuing understanding of other cultures and lifestyles. If I have been a little "different" in my life than the roots I came from, it is probably highly because of that one summer in the summer of 72 at Interlochen. I get back to visit as often as I can...and each visit brings with it a combination of emotion and nostalgia. One of the greatest honors of my life was to be nominated by the whole High School Boys division as "Honor Camper" which is one of the most significant awards handed out at the end of each summer camp...and the only one that is based on the votes of your peers. With all the talent and powerful "characters" in our division, I was quite shocked to receive that award. My Interlochen experience cemented in me the knowledge and strong opinion that music is truly the "Universal Language" of the world.
The following school year would find me back at my little public school, Pennfield High School. Interlochen has a year around "Arts Academy" for high school students, and I was encouraged to apply and audition towards the end of my summer there. Unfortunately, I still felt a bit intimidated by the level of talent and intellect at Interlochen and the price was quite substantial and I didn't think my family could afford it. In retrospect, I wish I had considered it more because going back to the home town and old high school after that summer was WAY anticlimactic. The level of education, the talent of the teachers, the whole academic atmosphere was just completely backwards to what I had just experienced, and I found myself floundering a bit my senior year, not very inspired to study, and I probably became one of greatest UNDER achievers of my class. Even the high school band and church music which I was still involved with became tremendously blasé to me. Being the rebellious final months of the Viet Nam war probably didn't help my attitude at all, and I found myself just surviving the best I could and keeping as busy as possible. Part of that reaction found me headed for the pop/secular pursuits musically which would be what pulled me out of my educational "funk".
After coming back from Interlochen, I decided to join a "soft rock" band with some local musician friends of mine. I borrowed a few hundred dollars from my folks and bought a Wurlitzer Electronic piano. This was the same piano that Pink Floyd, Supertramp, and a couple other big Rock groups of the day had built a sound on. I was now going to make my way down the road of popular music of the late 60s and early 70s with my drummer Eddie and bass player Louie. We called our first band "Rush Springs", and we tended towards softer acoustic rock sounds of Cat Stevens, the Beattles, a few Rolling Stones numbers and an assortment of others. This was to be the first of probably 18 different bands I would play for in my life. We played in "battle of the band" type events with heavier metal groups and I started appreciating SOME of the heavier rock though I was still more rooted in acoustic music and still studying my classical Piano.
I found myself studying privately with Calvert Shenk who was the music director at the main Catholic Church of my city and also the newspaper critic of all the local classical music events. We actually always had a fantastic symphony in Battle Creek thanks to Kellogg sponsorship, and my stepdad served on the board a number of years. Mr. Shenk was probably, along with Mr. Lawrence at Interlochen, the best music educators I ever knew. My weekly piano lessons were in the big rehearsal hall of the Catholic Church on a nice grand piano, and Calvert Shenk would sit in the opposite corner of the hall at his desk while I played, reading the newspaper or sometimes writing who knows what...maybe the next critique for the Enquirer and News. I was NOT practicing that much because of all my other activities and interests, but had developed the ability through my ear to "fake" that which I was not familiar with. It was amazing to me that after playing a complicated Chopin or Beethoven piece with Mr Shenk seemingly ignoring me and doing something else, he would walk back across the room, point to the exact bars I had faked through and circle the notes I missed! This ability always amazed me...especially when I had been faking lessons for a couple years with my previous instructor because of my "ear". It was good discipline for me though.
Throughout high school I had been the church organist at my own church, plus filled in a few times at other churches around town. Up to this point I had kept my "secular" band and concerts somewhat quiet even in my small home town. Not that I was ashamed of anything I was doing, but I just never wanted to "offend" people or flaunt my freedoms in front of those who didn't feel the same way. That all changed when I was invited to audition as an accompanist for a female singer to be the featured entertainment at the local Holiday Inn bar.
I had turned 18 early in my senior year of high school, and at that time the drinking age was 18 in Michigan. That meant I was legal to work in a bar scene as well. Long story short, this attractive college age girl (I think her name was Lori...memory insufficient) asked me to help her get this "gig". I think her appearance more than her voice got us the job and pretty soon we were playing 4 nights per week in the Holiday Inn pub while I was still in high school. This was a whole new scene to me, but I was anxious to pursue and understand the adult world, so I was fully up for the adventure. Lori and I put together quickly 3-4 sets of music, and while it wasn’t the most polished live bar music you could find, I guess it was adequate for Battle Creek. The hotel owner was happy...and I was making $25 per night for 3 hours of music. This was huge income for a high school kid in 1973 doing what I love to do...music. Most of my friends were slingin hamburgers at McDonalds or stocking shelves at the Kroger store for minimum wage of around $1.10 per hour. Here I was averaging almost $10 per hour! I was ecstatic...and I became the local banker for some of my impoverished buddies. Then suddenly...after just a couple weeks of our contract, Lori found she couldn’t handle the pressure and flirting of all the businessmen at the bar night after night...asking her out...inviting her to their room. She just freaked out and quit one night right in the middle of the gig. The owner, Ernie Moore, was called in to try and convince her to stay...but to no avail. He then looks over at me and says, "Well kid, can YOU sing?" I sang some and had been starting to put together my own repertoire, but I had maybe two sets of material at most. But, I went ahead and said "of course, but I would need $10 per night more to go solo". He said "you're on", and suddenly I was learning and trying to imitate all the Billy Joel and Elton John tunes of the day I could put together. I think my whole life since then has patterned upon saying I can do something, then learning how to pull it off :).
Somehow I had kept this job/gig a secret from my church friends...until one night while I was playing I looked over at the swinging doors that separated the hotel lobby from the lounge, and looking over those half doors were 4 sets of eyes, two couples who were deacons at my church. They had quite a shocked look on their faces, but then smiled, waved and moved on to the dining room where they were going to have supper. When I hit my break, I sauntered out to the restaurant to greet them and explain what I was doing and why...just trying to make everyone comfortable. Alas, the next Sunday morning when I showed up to play for the church service, the pastor's wife who played piano opposite my organ position came up to me, and with tears in her eyes said "Tell me what I heard isn't true...that you are playing music in the Holiday Inn bar". I did my best to pacify her and explain to her my belief that ALL good music was from God...unless it was meant to illicit evil behavior. She never quite bought it, and my church organ playing days were numbered after that.
I could probably make this blog into a book which is more than you would want to read at this time, so let me summarize down in short form to where all of my youthful music pursuits led. Perhaps I will do another blog addendum to this one day soon of all my adult music experiences. The main thrust or summary I would make of my music background is this...
Music truly is the "Universal Language". My early years as "church organist" allowed me to learn confidence in public performance and how to concentrate even when in front of thousands in an audience. I met many great people and a number of colorful characters through my music. Some of my most "spiritual" moments have been when performing with other musicians, including my mom and other family members…or in later years playing jazz gigs with some great Chicago talents. There's some kind of magic in knowing what the other musician is going to do next, a split second before he does it, and know how I am going to adjust what I will play accordingly. Music challenges the mind and at the end of the day it is all based on high levels of mathematical sequences joined to other sequences that somehow create music, emotion and meaning. When words are at a loss, sometimes music can take communication to the next level. When I want a mood change, to relax, or to liven up a situation...music is often the best tool to do so. I like all forms of music (some better than others) just like I like all types of people (some better than others). I think children that are encouraged to pursue understanding and performance of music turn out to be more intelligent and "adjusted". The discipline of learning music or to play an instrument strongly carries over into other disciplines in life; school, work or business. It is an ability and form of expression that you can do your whole life...especially if you keep it up. But...it is never too late to restart in your life as well.
Many highly successful people in other disciplines were also good musicians. A few that come to mind are Warren Buffet, Alan Greenspan who put himself through university by playing piano, and of course, Bill Clinton on saxophone (OK…I’m kidding on that one).
I truly believe that if everyone in the world had the benefit of learning music in their life, there would be much greater compassion and understanding in the world. There would be less aggression, anger and derision. People that couldn’t talk to each other could still "make music" together. All of this would lead to more peace and sharing of prosperity in the world. It reminds me of an old pop song from the late 70s by the "New Seekers"...whose lyrics I will close with:
Id like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtle doves
I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms and keep it company
I'd like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills "Ah, peace throughout the land"
(That's the song I hear)
I'd like to teach the world to sing (that the world sings today)
In perfect harmony
I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
Monday, September 22, 2008
Well, the DOW is down another 234 points this morning so far and another week of market gyrations begins. Some knowledgeable people are making a killing on the day trading gambit, but overall the market continues to spike downward while politicians spiel hyperboles and macro big government interventions to support the failed systems they already built over recent decades. This takes the phrase “may you live in interesting times” to a whole new level.
I truly don’t want to appear to be making Ron Paul a messianic figure in the midst of these crises. After all, he is only one little man speaking out contrarian advice to the hordes and masses against the full force of the two major political parties and the current administration at the helm of this huge debacle. Unfortunately he is about the only voice of reason speaking out on these issues while other potential leaders and candidates hide behind popular opinion and balancing over political “safety nets”…keep your mouth shut and you won’t make any mistakes, right? Later on you’ll be able to pronounce whose side you were on once you see who the bloody survivors are. Nice…
Government propping of the dollar, increased stipulations and manipulations of industries, proposed new bureaus of government to increase oversights and controls…all visions and cycles we saw in the Great Depression. This is scary stuff folks, and economically leads us onward into renewed conflicts and even “World War”. In the cycle of human events, when humanity gets hungry or scared, they get angry and unreasonable. When they get to the fatalistic level, they are capable of the most unimaginable actions against “their enemies”…including pushing buttons of nuclear warfare.
These are perilous times, and we had better get some right answers and set our house in order. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even watch or listen to these current Presidential contenders right now with their empty promises, lack of detail in their planning, and seemingly only able to point the finger at the other guy while avoiding the issues.
I am afraid for America whichever of the two key parties gets into the White House.
Friday, September 19, 2008
It seems government intervention in markets is the mode of the day. Between government bailouts for the good ole boys of Wall street to the independent moves of the Federal Reserve to flood the world with paper currency...it's looking like an early Christmas for private industry and finance thanks to a generous, if broke, "Uncle Sam".
Throughout the media and even comments on this blog, you see a variety of opinion on whether these bailouts are good, bad, necessary or unnecessary. In the midst of all these government "actions", you are seeing many investors caught in the middle of crazy market antics where the basic fundamentals or mechanisms of the marketplace are completely broken down. When the government announced over $200 BILLION in bailouts on the backs of the American taxpayers, the Dow Jones went up two days in a row, closing this horrific week almost 40 points higher than the start. How did THAT happen? Was it because suddenly these financial stocks looked good again based on borrowed or gifted government funds?
It seems we are living in a day where rules are made to be broken. Of course, one could argue that we have too many rules and micro managing of our markets and even our personal daily habits. Big Government has become the answer to all our social ills. If you are unemployed, government should be there to give you money while you are not working. If you get pregnant, government should be there to help raise your child or pay for an abortion. If you are a major investment banker on Wall Street, gambling it up better than any two bit Las Vegas junket gambler...your ultimate safety net is...the government bailout. Somehow we have gotten to the point where the losers can't fail in the marketplace, and the winners must contribute to cover the losses of those losers.
Now, if someone in the government came forward and explained to me how these bailouts would benefit and profit the taxpayers who are funding it, I might be a bit more enthusiastic about it. But the only explanations of all this I am hearing from these "leaders" is we are doing this to avoid catastrophe in our markets and to protect the "reputation" of our way of life. They probably see themselves as the protectors of democracy and free markets...both of which I suggest we have not had in true form for decades now. The problem is that historically very few debtors repay the government for these loans or bailouts. Our government gives billions of dollars each year to many countries throughout the world with no return payment expected. Sure, there are usually some strings attached based on propping up our democratic and economic agenda in their region of the world...but hey, any despot will do that for the right amount of payoff. Some who have historically been on our free payment list are Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, and various African "puppet governments" we have propped up to "protect our interests". My point is, our government is quick to change the rules and throw our money around like there is no end to it. How long can this go on?
I spent 3+ years in the mid 80s as an SEC registered broker. I was cruising along nicely until "Black Monday" in October of 1987. Some called it a market "crash", some a "correction". Prior to that day, you had seen fortunes made on a few years of record market growth with the previous year seeing a 40%+ DOW gain in one year. Price/earnings ratios were at all time highs, but the euphoria of quick easy money kept the markets fired up until reality set in that October. That crash was actually started with other foreign exchanges first which by domino effect finally hit Wall Street and suddenly everyone woke up to the realities of their high PE ratios catching up to them and the sudden importance of balance sheets. This is now happening in reverse as you see the USA market ailments spreading to Europe and elsewhere.
As a result of the 87 "crash", the SEC was pressured to add tons of NEW regulations on top of the already huge weight of regulations we had to learn to be licensed brokers. Somewhere in all those rules was a reason for ANY loser in the market to sue the broker and whoever else they can for their losses. Even though all our materials and representations clearly stated the risks of stock investing, the "losers" still felt they were "victims" and law suits were flying right and left. After being in the “cross fire” for over 3 years, I decided I didn't want to live out a career representing investments or markets that I had no control or influence over. If your client made a killing, HE was a genius. If he lost a bundle even on paper, the broker was a dunce.
What the average consumer doesn't realize still is the cost to EVERYONE for covering HIS losses. Most lawsuits resulted in settlements, most broker/dealers are covered by insurance for these things...and you saw huge runs on these insurance funds...and attorneys were having a major feast on suing for their client's losses. These actions cost HUGE revenues for the financial and insurance industries...and of course in time those costs are passed back to the consumer in higher prices and/or premiums. There is no FREE MONEY in the world. It always comes out of SOMEBODY'S pocket...usually the consumers. Next time your neighbor is looking for a government "handout", remember it is coming out of YOUR pocket as a taxpayer. I am proud to say I have never taken a dime of unemployment or social services though there were a couple times I probably qualified. To me there has always been a stigma to waiting in unemployment lines or filling out myriads of papers to get government assistance. I know there is a place for it, but it should be LAST resort versus the first resort many citizens seem to make of the government. Yes, I have paid a lot in over the years to which I could claim entitlement…but I still think others need it more than I did at times…and thankfully I have always created other “outs”.
Typically, I am much more in favor of private insurance and finance companies to cover consumer risks. To that end, I am more in favor of private health care than public because government has never managed things better than private enterprise. Government should regulate in order to protect citizens from outright fraud or failure to complete contracts, but government should not be RUNNING business. To this end, I am very concerned that with these current bailouts government is now controlling a majority of our financial markets. While some argue how they couldn’t do any worse than the recent managers at the helm, I would suggest that we wait and see.
If we the taxpayers are now 80% owners of these companies through our funding and bailouts, we should have board members in those companies representing OUR interests. We should be focused on getting repaid...and as soon as possible getting OUT of these businesses we know nothing about. Let private entities come back in to buy us out...at a PROFIT. Unfortunately, our government has very rarely managed anything to a profit. They tend to squander every dollar that comes in, pay no heed to accountants, and are arrogant and elitist. And...they make and change the rules at will. Most of these rules provide protection in the short term, but little profitability in the long term.
I think we need to watch very carefully the people in government who are sponsoring and executing these bailouts. We should demand of them the same kind of reporting and controls that they place on private industry. I want to see periodic reports from the boards of directors on how our investments are coming and what kind of dividends we are seeing back in our collective coffers. And yes, I am in hopes that if we the taxpayers are going to be profitable by our government's ventures that we will see tax relief in the form of rebate checks from our dividends. Then and only then will I be satisfied with these changes in the rules. "Show me da money"!
It is no secret here that I have been a long term supporter and admirer of Ron Paul's message for a return to constitutional government, balancing the federal budget, and reducing government interventionism in markets, foreign affairs and legislated morality measures. Fortunately, at least for now, Rep. Paul is still attending to affairs on Capitol Hill and continuing like the "voice in the wilderness of reason" to communicate directly to the people the continued farce that is our current Federal government.
I think this video on the latest financial debacles hits many points squarely:
• The Federal Reserve monopoly on our money and our system of enterprise needs to be halted as soon as possible. The congress, nor anyone else for that matter, seems to have any affect or control on this non-elected body of bureaucrats who in a vacuum make all the major decisions in our country regarding currency release, interest rates...just generally controlling our economy with no checks and balances. SCARY!
• Our government needs to STOP its interventionist policies throughout the world. On top of Iraq, Afghanistan, N Korea, Iran and the rest of the Middle East, we now are RE igniting the cold war with Russia over the Georgia conflict. We just gave Georgia another 1 BILLION for defense and "humanitarian aid"...which we don’t have in the coffers to give.
• The diluting of our currency, the dollar, will continue to set us up for economic devastation and the wiping out of our middle class in purchasing power, retirement funding, or having any money to invest in small businesses...which are the lifeblood of our economy.
• We are working with our "friends" the Chinese to make more guarantees for all the currency debt they hold of ours. All this to keep them from making a run on our currency and in essence kicking out from under us a third or fourth leg of support for our country's system.
If all that isn't scary enough...how about THIS picture today of the government "leaders" who are coming to our rescue with this new multi-TRILLION dollar plan to bail us all out?
Makes me feel so much more secure...how about you?
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
You know...I always thought SOMEDAY it would be nice to be a banker...be on the OTHER side of the desk when it comes to borrowing or lending, begging and pleading. Historically it has most always been better to be a lender than a borrower...with laws and rights heavily on the lender's side if the borrower defaults.
That seems to have all changed now...and most of us find ourselves in the position of being lenders...without our consent. We the taxpayers of the USA are now funding some of the biggest loans ever recorded in the form of bailouts of huge financial companies as well as the auto industry and some other heavy hitters who have powerful lobbyists lining the pockets of our legislators and Presidential campaign funds. Here is a short list of the larger "loans" we Americans are making...
AIG Insurance Group: $85 BILLION from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Bear Stearns Investment Bank: $30 BILLION
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: $200 billion in preferred stock of these loss-plagued finance giants / whiz kids
So one has to ask how do a Federal Government and Reserve System, TRILLIONS of dollars in the red, offer or invest at these levels in private industries? This is like asking a minimum wage migrant worker to loan a few million to his employer. Again, no one seems to consult the accountants anymore before making such huge financial decisions...with YOUR money and mine.
So if we DIDN'T do this...what would happen? Well, they would probably have to go through the same process that most of us average citizens would be required to do...file for some form of bankruptcy, throw themselves at the mercy of the courts, and probably be gobbled up or dissected off to competitors. Regardless, they would have to take the fall and responsibility for their own risks and actions instead of asking all of us little guys to pick up the pieces and hand it back to "them".
And while we're in this "free for all" frenzy for government dollars, other industries are ponying up for their share as well. GM and Ford want $25 BILLION from the government (us) to pursue more competitive, fuel efficient vehicle production. What have they been doing the last 20 years or so? Have they set nothing aside from revenues for R&D or market needs analysis?
These current requests for "loans" make tame the other recent bailouts our government has performed, such as the $5 BILLION cash and $10 BILLION in loan guarantees we gave to airlines post 9/11. One wonders if a penny of those loans has been repaid yet, 7 years later.
Now, if we are to show our true mettle as bankers, we must look at how much money we are spending or lending on our Iraq War...reportedly $3 TRILLION or so. Who is signing on the line for that debt in addition to the 4000 or so American lives lost in the conflict? Has Iraq started shipping us their oil yet in payment? Have we started "buying American" when it comes to gas and oil purchases to fuel our military? Ah, no, I didn't think so. Instead we continue to line the pockets of our Arab enemies who are laughing all the way to the bank and borrowing from the Chinese who continue to grin while holding our "paper" and currency in their hands.
And now we have these "smooth politicians" running for office, members of our "bank board", who are telling us they are going to do MORE for us with LESS taxes...or through simple "redistribution". "Cooking the books" if you will.
Fellow bankers, it is time for us to reel in our free spending "executives and board members" and get a proper accounting of what is owed, how much is being paid, and how much if anything we have left on deposit to loan or bail out with. This election is a good time to start this process.
Just as an afterthought, I think every banker/taxpayer should receive a loan to cover all their debts BEFORE considering any other 3rd party loans. If the government wants to consolidate debt, they should consolidate ALL of us. After all, we OWN the bank…or at least we THOUGHT we did.
(I have to have Fred speak for me today...I couldn't have written it any better)
"From out of a Rotting Log...Reflections on an Opera Bouffe Election"
September 13, 2008
Just dragged my scrawny carcass in from Washington, the heart of darkness, with the usual sense—usual now—of having visited an asylum. I figure Salvador Dali designed the government. Or maybe Ionesco or someone deeply twisted with a sick sense of humor.
In the airports, the same obedience training—take off your shoes, belt, watch, fillings, prostate, so we can to learn to respect the authority of low-IQ federalized renta-cops with the psyches of school-yard bullies. God save us from the congenitally unimportant. From PA systems came the same pointless security-babble having nothing to do with security, in the same over elocuted I-wanna-lick-the-microphone female voices. Well, it’s not quite pointless. We must condition the rubes, give them an inspiriting sense of danger so they will do as they are told. It’s awful. I’m going to apply for a change of phylum.
It got worse. I discovered that America is about to have an election. Why? Every time they do that, no good comes of it. You’d think they’d learn.
As usual, the election is a popularity contest run for dimwits. And to elect a dimwit, which is worse. We’ve got this woman Palin, an angry Betty Crocker, absolutely unqualified for the presidency in case McCain goes tits up. She’s ignorant of foreign affairs, at best moderately bright, a whackjob Christian, and a “pit bull.” This is said admiringly.
Oh good. An aggressive ignorant dull-witted pit bull. How is that better than a passive ignorant torpid pit bull?
Oh god, McCain. A senescent replica of Bush who says he wants to stay in Iraq a hundred years. Actually, the idea has its appeal. Why doesn’t he go there and get a start? A perfect match for Palin, another pugnacious dunce, bottom of his class in boat school—the Naval Academy, I mean. He says he plans to “confront Russia.” Now there’s a plan. It seems that American policy is to make enemies of everyone who has oil or nuclear weapons. Or doesn’t.
Meanwhile the Pentagon prepares for war with China. Is it something in the water?
Next we have Obama, whose only qualification is that he’s maybe a tad less bellicose than the rest of these Oprah Neanderthals. His veep, Biden, is a grey nonentity, a cipher with no characteristics. Well, that’s better than the other three. I mean, he’s as close to no candidate as we can come.
What are we doing? The country has gone nuts. If a giant squirrel began collecting us and storing us for winter, I’d understand. Three hundred million people, and these factory rejects are the best we can do?
Actually, I do understand it, barely. The undergirding of American politics is the seldom-stated but always audible cry of “You ain’t no gooder’n me!” We have government by inferiority complex. The last thing the great burger-chomping, reality-show-watching mental vacuum out there wants is anyone who might make reglar folks feel inferior. The cloth of the country is woven of resentment. The public wants a regular guy, comfortingly stupid, who watches NASCAR and in broken English as if recently concussed. Few would select a cardiac surgeon from a bus station, but it’s how we do presidents.
You probably can get elected holding a chain saw and a severed head, but not if you know words of three syllables.
It’s getting scary. The more angry and miserable things get at home, the more people want to smack hell out of someone. It doesn’t matter who. The American attitude toward the world is, “Not only can I lick anybody in this bar, but I can lick all of you at once.” Before I said that, I’d want to be real sure who was in the bar.
At least two of these gong-show dregs, Palin and Bush, blame their personality disorders on God. Yes. They think God wants them to blow hell out of more or less everybody. We’re talking wars of religion, boys and girls. Christian loons in the US, Jewish loons in Israel, and Moslem loons widely distributed, all wanting to blow people up because God told them. I want a signed affidavit from God. Or a drink. Whatever happened to grownups?
I babble, but it’s hard to think straight when contemplating nuclear-armed kindergarteners. In Washington, I saw about ten friends, many of them biochemists, lawyers, programmers, freelance screwballs, what have you. Sitting at the Zoo Bar one night (so called because it’s across Connecticut Avenue from the zoo, not because of its clientele) a dismal epiphany struck me, kersplat, like a sock full of hog kidneys:
I don’t know anybody who isn’t better qualified to be president than anyone who is or is about to be.
Of the ten friends I mentioned, the baseline IQ is close to 140 and goes up, often lots up. All of them are well read and many have spent a lot of time overseas. All speak and write good English and, some of them, foreign languages. They aren’t geniuses, just upper-middle-brow. But they are way better than the rabble running for the White House.
I don’t get it. For president, I want somebody lots brighter than I am, who knows history, who speaks a few languages, maybe spent time in the military without being an officer and therefore a warped buzz-cut Boy Scout. They exist. I have friends who knew where South Ossetia was twenty years ago, and why, who know the military and military history and what works and what doesn’t and why. I’m not like that. Not smart enough. But they are. Yet we get candidates who could probably run a small-town hardware store. Reglar folks, though.
Democracy is a bad idea, I tell you. Granted, we’ve never really tried it. From Jefferson to our current bumbling mutant, the trick has been to let people think they have power without really trusting them with it. For a long time we had rule by a high-WASP elite that actually had some sense of noblesse oblige, tempered by sufficient corruption to keep them in gravy. The Roosevelts for example. You can disagree with their policies, but they weren’t penny-ante pickpocket proles with learning disabilities.
Today we get grasping zeros who would embarrass a trailer park in Arkansas. Ah, but they are of the people, and don’t make anyone feel inadequate. In everything that counts, which means involving money, we have rule by corporations, through legalized corruption far more lucrative than Latin America could dream of.
I have a theory that countries deserve what they get, at least when it’s internally generated. Belgium didn’t deserve to be overrun by Germany, but Belgium didn’t elect Hitler. It’s going to be a funny eight years.
Monday, September 15, 2008
This video is a decent basic summary of what it means to do business "offshore" and what a “tax haven” is. First world governments have been on a major campaign the past 10-20 years to steer the masses towards a sense of criminality or "dishonesty" for investing or doing business in tax advantaged jurisdictions. It is quite understandable that high tax countries would be threatened and alarmed with major business and funds leaving their country...yet the balance has gone way out of whack between the power and influence of "States" versus power and influence of "individuals" or "corporations". For that reason, you see a lot of currency and brain drain happening on an increasing level...especially from North American and European high tax countries.
I have a couple clarifications or "anti-myth" statements to make. First, tax AVOIDANCE is not a crime...tax EVASION is. Very simply put, investing money in ways to limit taxation of profits or interest is not a crime...anywhere that I know of. People invest in "municipality bonds" often for the primary reason of getting the highest non-tax yield possible. Other people invest in stocks with low or no dividend payment history in order to limit their annual tax obligations while hoping for a high appreciation in their stock price that isn't taxed until they cash it out. People make huge decisions based on the tax issues versus the profitability quite often. Many people choose to invest in real estate in Panama versus other countries because the real estate taxes here are next to nothing compared to USA and other major jurisdictions in the world. These incentives have brought great wealth and productivity to this small county at many levels. These investments are purely legitimate...and any country that would try and limit its citizen’s freedom to invest their money outside of their country is practicing a form of socialism or even communism in the modern age.
The USA is reeling from an economic downturn unprecedented in this century. The current write downs of major financial firms, the takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae using American's tax dollars, and the huge debt of both our government and its citizens is arguably a bigger downturn economically than we had during the "great depression" in the early 1900s. Sure, we have more social systems and entitlement programs as a safety net for the average citizen than we had back then, and the Federal government is obviously much more willing these days to step in and bail out errant financial institutions in order to avoid panic in the markets. I just keep questioning how long our system can support that financially and how any political leader can promise tax reductions or lowered government spending while continuing these government bailouts and false promises…paid for by the citizen's tax coffers? Do any of these people talk to accountants anymore?
Other scary comparisons of current times to the "Great Depression" are:
• Governments during the Depression reacted to crisis by adding more "protectionism" against international trade. I hear a lot of those voices today in the annals of congress.
• A debt bubble quickly contracted, inflation increased, and people stopped spending what little they had left. Credit became much more difficult to obtain. Sound familiar?
• Politicians keep claiming we are not in recession or depression because "our economy is still growing". They apparently don’t realize that during the Great Depression, "THE US GDP GREW AT AN ANNUAL RATE OF 2.83% A YEAR BETWEEN 1930 AND 1941! ...The GDP growth rate during the preceding growth period, 1920Q2-1929Q2, approximately, was in excess of 5% a year". With today's growth at around 3%, how can these people argue against recession or depression with THAT statistic?
• World War II was largely caused by the depression as people turned inward for security and followed extreme leaders like Hitler and Mussolini as answers to the threats of harder times. Any wonder why governments are now so quickly "rattling their sabers" of war and conflict? As the old saying goes, "war is profitable"...at least for a time. Any wonder why you have current despot governments on the rise again? Venezuela, Iran, N Korea, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Russia? Any wonder why we invaded Iraq instead of Afghanistan, Iran or North Korea?
My point here is not necessarily to be an alarmist or "dooms dayer" even though one might argue we need some more reality therapy in our world about these issues. But, I do find it ironic that during these hard economic times, our Federal government is focused on passing legislation that is protectionist in nature, trying to limit freedom of funds going offshore or into global markets, and still not facing the music on oil dependency and failing energy policies related to antiquated fossil fuels... and yes, global warming. Instead of competing our way out of this hole we have dug for ourselves, we want to legislate and TAX our way out of it!
And here's a point you're REALLY going to love...the two biggest tax havens in the world? Yep, the USA and Great Britain. WHAT? Oh yea...the USA offers some of the best tax incentives for FOREIGN companies or individuals to bring money and do business in the USA...but those incentives are NOT available to US citizens or domestic corporations. Any wonder WHY so many companies go "offshore" and/or leave the USA…only to turn around and sell back to or invest back into America as a “Foreign” company? It’s about survival folks. They want to become a foreign company and compete on a level playing field. This is a true example...from the other side of the fence...of why there is no true "free enterprise" or level competition. It's all about competitive tax systems. And very hypocritically, our USA government wants to outlaw or tax local citizens or companies for taking money or business offshore, while instigating and promoting FOREIGN interests to escape THEIR expensive tax systems and bring money and business to the USA. It's a ridiculous scenario...and I can't believe more people or companies don't hype these atrocities in global business and throw them into the faces of our legislators. All these politicians harping how they are going to shut down or castigate those businesses wanting to leave, while taking money from foreign interests that are incentivized over our own citizens to compete domestically…it is a travesty. These types of legislators should be shot for treason...and misrepresentation of "the people".
OK...got that off my chest. At least now we should be able to better understand the attraction of offshore investment. Panama is the 2nd largest financial service center in the WORLD. Why? Because, they offer some of the most competitive tax rates for international business, and allow their citizens AND foreigners a high, legal level of financial privacy in a world that retains very little of it. If governments have their way, all of our investments, income and tax obligations will be publicly available via the internet...and probably for a fee...from anyone who seeks it. If you can't understand the reason and meaning of financial privacy, then you just haven't read or understood enough history, both ancient and recent. The world is full of predators...individuals, organizations, lawyers, and politicians, kings and criminals...who want access and control over you. Most of them want a piece of you...with no right to have it. That is why MOST people of means are very sensitive to financial privacy and why so many of them are starting to free and flee with their assets to "tax havens". It is absolutely legal, and correct that they should have the right to do so.
The USA needs to adopt a more competitive agenda for attracting and keeping money and business within our borders. Protectionism has never worked and was a large factor in the "Great Depression". High taxation has never worked in building an economy. Large bureaucratic governments have never had a good history of building economies. They produce no income, and spend ours with no real respect for what it takes to produce it.
Panama, nor anywhere else for that matter, is a panacea for good government or democracy in motion. But, at least tax wise, they have a big step up on big brother, the USA, in the competitive tax department. Keep these things in mind this fall as you vote. I will be voting for whoever has my and the country’s financial interests and power at the forefront of their agenda.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
I had a number of interesting conversations on my recent trip back home where I saw much of my spread out family and observed the ultimate passing of my dear Uncle Ted from this life. To know my family is to know that eventually there will be talk of God, faith and religion. While I admittedly find myself outside of the religious mainstream with a quite individualistic faith regarding God and the world at large, I still think these conversations are beneficial to all of us in pursuing mutual understanding and love...unconditional and as we are. After all, isn't that the kind of love most peaceful religions espouse? While faith SHOULD be something private, it definitely comes out in what we say and how we live more than by the claims we make.
Often times when we have these conversations, I think the exercise of communicating beliefs and experiences helps confirm the realities of our own experiences and thinking. Sometimes, until you speak a thought...you're not sure if you really think/believe it or not. Sometimes I find myself saying something off the top of my head that comes off "hollow" or unsure. In many instances I have to take back what I said or at least make a mental note to pursue the veracity of what I just said (I know that's hard for some of you to believe who know me as quite sure and outspoken:)). Yet, I still couch many of these discussions with the statement that "the older I get, I realize how much more there is to know". I think science is much the same...the more we discover the more questions arise as well. Life is a never ending sequence of search and discovery...which leads to the next question or puzzle. If you like puzzles, I should think life will always be interesting.
When I listen to people talk about how God talks or "reveals" something to them, my mind perks up to the source or rationality of what was said. If you watch any American style evangelical television, most everyone who speaks on these shows talk about God "speaking" to them. It seems the Apostle Paul had no corner on "shining lights on the road to Damascus". Many fundamentalist church leaders on Tv or other media seem to "hear" from God often. Some say they "heard his voice". While I like to think I have had some "revelations" of my own in life, I have never heard an audible voice or bright light experience. I do think I have "sensed" evil in certain people or circumstances, and I have "sensed" goodness and seen a few miraculous things as well...but never that BIG event that seems to be the story of so many leading religious speakers or leaders. Am I missing out on something real, or am I just jealous of other's imaginations or fantasies? Maybe I'll never know.
Like I stated in a previous blog about "Existential Christianity", I still hold on to many fundamental beliefs that I grew up with that have guided or given purpose and definition to my life at various times. Some from my past say that I have become too "secular", "rational" or "philosophical" for my own spiritual good. I do often feel a significant gap between what I think/believe versus most churches or religions...and my extreme desire to see a united versus divided humanity has probably soured my taste for organized religion and dogma which I have seen as a catalytic divider of human kind. I have little interest in theological debate anymore and don’t like labels on people...like "Christian, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Republican or Democrat". I just think life is too mysterious and complicated to sum up ourselves as one label or another. I don't like using "The Bible" as a proof text of everything I think or say. Instead of being known as a "religious" man, I would rather be described with adjectives like loving, caring and/or honest. It is much more difficult to accomplish those things than to adopt a religion. Yet, I do think at the root of those human drives to do right is a loving God who set things in motion. I'm not sure when it was...whether 5000 or 50,000 years ago...and I do think that many religious stories are meant to be allegories and lessons versus absolute historic fact...and at the end of the day, I don't need those stories in order to have faith. Here's why...
I believe God speaks to each and every one of us in a unique and clear way. Some of us listen, some of us don't, but to some degree all of us know right from wrong. I have known many "non churched" secular friends or acquaintances who have very defined and disciplined senses of morality. Sure, maybe many of their views or reasoning is based on previous generations influence on them...but everyone comes to a point in life in which they have to decide for themselves what is right or wrong, true or untrue...or just a big question mark.
"Pilgrims Progess" by John Bunyan is a classic written 250 years ago that really clicked with me as a teenager. I felt a strong connection to the allegory of the pilgrim on an adventurous journey through life looking for truth. He meets many influences along the way and struggles to sort through those various voices to find truth within his own soul. I see 21st Century life as much the same search and struggle. Many people seem to have "arrived" and been satisfied with their experiences and understanding without much need to explore further, while many of us continue to strive forward...not quite there yet. Personally, I think that is Ok...and probably more "normal".
But, I do think God has spoken to me in various ways. I think he made us with a mind for "discovery". I think he is BEHIND science and put in us the desire to know and understand the secrets of the universe. I think he set into motion free will so we would not be robots just going around mindlessly following our "programming". I think we have learned behaviors that extremely limit our minds and therefore actions to reach our potential.
Ways God has spoken to me...
• Through "cause and effect", he has shown me SOME of the order of the universe that to me has obvious intelligence behind it...not just some happenchance combination of atoms coming together...
• Through the caring and nurture of family and friends and the DNA of my family that runs through my genes...
• Through the eyes of small children at play or in distress...they are the true reflection of God in space and time. "Come as a little child"...
• Through the kindness of strangers and exchange of ideas that often provide such rich content and truths...
• Through a myriad of intelligent writers who reflect history, ideas and rich truths passed down for centuries...
• Through the struggle to live, as recently observed in the deaths of loved ones...
• Through the magical observations of nature and the cycle of food chains, plant pollination, the pure beauty of birds in flight. How can there not be a divine order to life?
• Through the power of love, the daily romance, connectedness and happiness experienced in marriage or a long term partnership...
• And yes...that inner voice...whether it be God, self, or some other name you want to call it...which brings direction, hope, fortitude in distress, peace in the middle of conflict, or just continual flashes from memory so we don’t repeat our mistakes and get burned again by our vain and selfish ways...
Yes, God has spoken to me a lot during my life...and it has been a quiet, calm voice of love and compassion. It has led to a "road less taken" with very little rancor or harsh judgment. I adhere to that voice as closely and sincerely as possible...for my own good and the good of others.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
(This is an interesting short video from VOA on 3rd parties and our election process. It is actually part of a series that may be of interest to many Americans on the whole electoral process. Personally I think it time for some changes in the system. These races would be much different if the campaigns were publicly funded with limits on spending. Too much of our government is bought by media controlling interests and big money advertising campaigns.)
The major party conventions are over and the final political battles of this election cycle are underway. In less than two months we will have a newly elected President of the USA. I still say you've gotta be nuts to want the job, but I probably don’t have an adequate understanding or appreciation for the desire of political power.
The biggest surprise to come out of the Republican convention was the nomination of Sarah Palin, Alaskan governor, as VP candidate with McCain. I did catch her speech at the convention and was reasonably impressed. It is obvious to me that she is a better speaker than McCain...and of course her attractive female image doesn’t hurt in helping people "like" her. Yet, reasonable minds need to think about why she was chosen out of all the thousands of political “wannabes” in the Republican Party. Some of my speculations on this are:
• Since Obama didn’t bring on Hillary, McCain decided to get a leg up by nominating a woman to go after woman and independent voters. Women after all are a majority of the voting public...
• A relatively young, vivacious woman would help counter McCain’s aging image problems...
• Being an unknown "newbie" in government, much like Obama himself...she would supposedly have less baggage or political enemies and support a message for "change" in government. I'm not sure in the aftermath if that has proven true...
• Her being a married mother of 5, with a recent addition of a downs syndrome baby, would help the party identify with family issues and present an image of attending to special needs people ...being more "humanitarian"...caring for the "little people"...than their image typically represents...
While it's hard not to like Palin or respect all her accomplishments in a short period of time, I still had these questions for the party after all the hoopla had settled on this convention and VP choice:
• Is Sarah Palin truly the most qualified and gifted person you could find in the party to be the fallback President of the USA if something happens to McCain should they win?
• Is a mother of FIVE, spanning in ages from 1 to 19, really going to have the time and energy required for the second (or eventually THE) highest office in our country...without detriment to her responsibilities as a mother? Does this job fall under the "equal opportunity employer" federal acts?
• Since this is a potential "Commander In Chief" position, is Ms Palin truly the most capable leader to command the world's largest military forces?
Now, I know some may construe my questions as being "sexist". That is not where I am coming from. I would have the same concerns if she were an attractive WASP male from Alaska with the same circumstances and pedigree. I do believe her family responsibilities should come first...whether male or female. I think her experience as a small town mayor and less than 2 years as a state governor are suspect credentials...whether male or female. I think some of her comments that conflict with historic realities about her politics are suspect...whether male or female. It's interesting that McCain would make such an issue about Obama's lack of experience and readiness for the job in the campaign...and then bring on someone with arguable FEWER qualifications in this arena. After all...at least Obama won his party's nomination through direct effort and politicking in his party.
At the end of all the convention season, I come away still not knowing how either of these parties are going to execute on all their promises. None of them represent solid propositions on how they are going to pay for all our wars, national health insurance, restore our economy and confidence in our markets. I hear very little detail about how we are going to COMPETE against the globe for jobs and industry. I hear nothing about how they plan to restore our currency to equitable value against most major foreign currencies. No...it continues to be blah blah blah about how bad the OTHER guy or party is. Total negativity and politics as usual. Hard to cast a vote for either of these major parties.
Which brings us to the question of what's happening with the third party prospects? Not since Ross Perot has there been a viable 3rd party candidate who had a chance. I think the video above captures the main reasons for that. The USA democracy is heavily weighted in the favor of who has the money. Elections are bought and sold every cycle. I will probably vote third party this time, but I'm still not sure which.
You can get a pretty good summary of this year's third party candidates at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_third_party_presidential_candidates with link outs to various independent sites of most every candidate. Here is my handicapping of 3rd party candidates so far:
RON PAUL: Would be my preferred candidate based on his experience, positions and agenda...but since he has not jumped to a 3rd party at this time, he is not up for election. I mention him only to note that Bob Barr of the Libertarian party invited him to be his VP nominee to which Ron Paul declined.
BOB BARR: While the Libertarians are probably closest to my personal platform preferences, I'm not sure Bob Barr is the best representative they could find for their party. He has political experience to be sure which is why I think they nominated him, BUT his history of positions is very contrary to Libertarianism when it comes to legalization of drugs, same sex marriage, the Patriot Act, pro Iraq War...most positions of which he has recently flip flopped on. I then have to ask the Libertarians..."this is the best candidate you could find to represent your agenda?" (The best definition of Libertarianism I could find is at http://www.theihs.org )
RALPH NADER: Nader is running "Independent Party" this year. Ralph is probably the ultimate "consumer's advocate" when it comes to fighting or pointing out big governments role in major industries such as automotive, oil and gas, lack of environmental protections and food controls. He has affiliated with a number of political parties and organization, best known for his Green Party activism and leaning "Democratic" in social causes. His commitment and consistency is commendable, but his views have probably been too narrow and extreme to win him popular votes for President. Plus, he doesn’t represent "traditional" values as a single, never married, Arab American. My favorite recent quote from him was when asked by MSNBC's Tim Russert about the possibility of his preventing a Democratic victory in 2008, Nader responded, "Not a chance. If the Democrats can’t landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, and emerge in a different form."
CHUCK BALDWIN: Constitutional Party. Baldwin is a Baptist minister from Pensacola, FL, a former "Moral Majority" leader who has since broken off from the Republican Party and the old guard of the "moral majority" as too political and pro-Bush. He is heavily against illegal immigration and campaigning to free the two border agents who are in jail for shooting two illegal immigrants. He also supports the "New World Order" conspiracy theories that pervade many ultra religious conservative's views. The party's support for a return to a constitutional federal government is appealing to me, but some of his pure religious jargon would lose a majority of American voters. I do have to give him kudos for his support of Ron Paul, support of citizen's privacy and taxation with representation, as guaranteed in the USA constitution.
CYNTHIA MC KINNEY: Green Party. I guess the Green Party is joining the parade of running on race and gender by making a black woman their candidate this year. I suppose some of her anti Nuclear waste positions would qualify her as "Green", but other than that, she seems quite radical and way too liberal to have any chance of attracting voters for the Presidency. Her support for Leftist candidates in the Americas, including Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, just leaves me shaking my head in disbelief.
Those are the main, longer standing independent parties or candidates on the scene. There are many more independent wannabes and extremists we could name, but I don’t want to waste your or my time on them.
I would close in saying what I have said before on this blog...I believe strongly in exercising our right to vote in our democracy...and to vote our CONSCIENCE, not for whoever is winning the "popularity contest" promoted by media, big money and parties. If "the people" never demand and support change with their VOTING RIGHTS, they will either lose those rights, or nevertheless have to accept the government they deserve.
I will continue looking for data on these 3rd party candidates between now and the election...all the while wondering where and why our REAL leaders are hiding.