September 30, 2008

Okay, so the Dow is finishing up 485 points after being down 777 yesterday, and the government still hasn’t done anything?

Oh, wait.  The government hasn’t done anything about this pending crisis for the five years that it’s been pending since Wall Street began putting bows on shit.  I’m finding myself in the camp of those who think we should just sit on our hands a little longer and watch the market take care of itself.  After all, if a government bailout is so good for the public, then why aren’t major investors lining up to invest as well?  Maybe it’s because they’re so close the smell is getting to them.  Maybe it’s because they know better.

I understand there is a long line at the Lowe’s near Wall Street for hemp rope.  And that Darien, Ct (median income:  $168K) is really going to suffer from the fallout.


September 30, 2008

I go to conferences as part of my job.  One trick I found to staying awake is to sit in the front row, running the risk of embarrassing myself should my mind wander off the speaker.  (For the same reason I sit in the front row at church.)  The conference I just attended was especially boring for all the reasons you read about in those books that tell you how to do presentations at conferences:

  • Non-interaction:  Each speaker spoke for 30 minutes without offering any interaction with the audience.  Not one speaker tried to bring the audience into the conversation.  See photo above.
  • The abuse of Powerpoint:  Slides were overwhelmingly complex.  One slide held the acronyms POM, TCIDS, AN, ISR, c4, TTNT, MADL, ACC, AEHF, IFOG, JSS, AD, and JTRS.  The very next slide had just as many.  No one offered an explanation.  And to boot, the speaker read the slide to the audience, verbatim.

I learn a lot from these conferences – in particular, how not to do presentations.  There are a number of good websites that speak to the abuse of Powerpoint in particular, and many lessons can be gleaned from these sites about how to make presentations both enjoyable and memorable for their audiences.  These speakers would’ve done better with just a little homework.

I picked a bad year to give up caffeine.

Obesity at the Airport

September 29, 2008

From my perch here at Reagan National Airport I can see Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Gorden Biersch Brewery, Ranch 1 Grilled Chicken, California Tortilla, Auntie Anne’s Preztels and a Dunkin Donuts (hmmmm, donuts).  It’s dinner time, and I’m stuck here for a couple hours waiting for my flight because the airport recommends I get here two hours early (or else).  Yet there is nothing here that I could consider healthy food.  I should’ve called my brother and asked him to bring me something.

We are flooded with blatant imagery – from TV commercials to magazine ads to at-store signage – and even though we talk a good talk about the growing obestity crisis (pun intended) we do little to change the social and economic principles that are driving it.

Like the sub-prime crisis, a “cure” will not be found until the problem reaches epidemic proportions.  By then it will be a multi-trillion dollar issue, requiring lifetime care for those unfortunate fat X and Y-genners.

This is the crisis that will bankrupt America.  The sub-prime problem is just a warm up.


September 27, 2008

I saw this homeless guy the other day, head down, asleep:  Wearing 4 jackets but no shoes; a nice-looking backpack to his left, a half-eaten bag of spilt caramel corn in his lap.  A few seconds later a panhandler asked me for change, and a few seconds after that, another panhandler.

The scene unfolded in San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. were it not for its seamy and exposed underbelly.  The homeless problem has plagued the city for years, and city government has not been able to solve – or even slow down – the growth in the homeless population.  It is estimated to be over 7,000, the highest per capita in any major American city.  Lots of ideas have been tried, even special parking meters to provide change to charitable organizations in lieu of giving money to the homeless; but so far the results have not been good.  Most of the San Franciscan homeless are city natives; this is not a problem caused by immigration from cold-climate cities.  The lack of affordable housing is one reason but there are many other reasons.  This article is a great read about what the city has tried, and what it is trying today.

Funny story:  My wife and I were staying at the Parc 55 hotel, just off Union Square in the heart of the tourist area, when around 3 am sirens, honking and generally loud noises emanated from blocks away.  We could hear bullhorns in the distance but couldn’t make out what (we assumed were) the cops were saying.  A few minutes later they got a lot closer, and it was obvious the police were yelling “Wake up!  Get off the street!  You’re going to get wet!  Wake up!  Get out of the way!”

The street sweepers were out, right behind the cops, spraying everything.

No doubt to wash down the smell of urine.

Counties with the Heaviest Tax Burden

September 27, 2008

Niagara County residents carry the heaviest property-tax burden in America, according to a new report from the Tax Foundation.

This week’s Buffalo Business First article (not yet available on line) reports that the average Niagara County household pays 2.92% of the value of their home to taxes.  It amounts to 5.0% of the homeowner’s yearly income, $2,802 on a home valued at $96,000.  [Note to self:  It also means your average home is not worth twice your annual income].

The noticeable thing about this article was that of the top 12 counties, 10 of them are in New York.  Erie County ranks 7th nationally; we pay 4.7% of our income in real estate taxes.  By percentage of home value, the most taxed California county ranked 570th out of 788.

But surely, Californians must pay lots of taxes because their home values are so huge, right?  Nope.  If you rank the counties by amount paid, the first California county to make the list comes in at 25th.  There are 6 New York counties ahead of it (including #1 and #3) and combined, New York/New Jersey take 21 of the top 25 spots.

In 2007 the U.S. median real estate tax was $1,838.  In Erie County it’s $2,822.

When we add school and state income taxes to our annual burden it’s little wonder that our take-home pay doesn’t go far, why businesses have difficulty staying in and coming to New York State, and why so many people leave.  And yet in 38 days, nearly every one of our incumbent state legislators will be re-elected.

I do not expect tax equity to come from within the marble halls of Albany’s legislative complex.

The Surge

September 26, 2008

“This strategy has succeeded, and we are winning in Iraq.”

— Senator John McCain, September 26th, 2008

The Surge certainly appears to have reduced overall violence and death in Iraq this past year.  I am grateful for the reduction in violence.

But is it the Surge, or is it the forced segregation of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites and the exodus and displacement of over 2 million Iraqis to other countries that is the real reason?  The eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq will tell.

My bet is that Iraq will fall into a very bloody civil war no matter when we withdraw.  I pray I’m wrong.

Big Numbers

September 26, 2008

My head is just spinning from all the big numbers.

“It’s not based on any particular data point,” a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. “We just wanted to choose a really large number.”

The Treasury spokeswoman is referring to the $700 billion Wall Street bailout number.  Which in reality could be any really big number, like a trillion dollars or even more, or maybe less but probably not.  Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s big.

I appreciated the $600 rebate check that I got from my government last May.  But given the cause of the ongoing economic crisis I don’t see how giving me money (and spending $170 billion total) could possibly have been a solution to it.  But it was only $170 billion.

Then the government gave $29 billion to JP Morgan, $200+ billion to Fannie/Freddie and $85 billion to AIG and is about to give a whole bunch of money to Wall Street; to the same financial institutions who gave themselves $38 billion in bonuses last year while losing $74 billion for their shareholders.  We’re about to reward their greed, and their failure, with a really big present.

There is one group that has publicly stated

We do not support government bailouts of private institutions.

But they will, along with everyone else in Congress because this three-year-old debacle has now turned into a crisis so large that there is no way out.

So the past 72 hours have seen a Congressional debate of historic proportions, based on a number that someone pulled out of his ass, to salvage a set of institutions that gifted their executives in one year more than the entire budget for the National Institutes of Health.

Hmmm.  Very generous.