Friday, December 30, 2011

U.S. economy stabilizes, even looks up slightly, as 2011 ends

Adapting to structural change in the U.S. economy will not be quick and it has been and will continue to be painful. At least as we close 2011, there are some signs that a more positive slant can be contrived, real or not, and a fall into recession again near term is unlikely. Of course there are still plenty of challenges that defy easy solutions and our Congress would be defied by a game of Crazy Eights.

Unemployment, underemployment, and those who have given up trying to find employment is a number that is relevant and is generally viewed as be in the mid to high teens percentage area. The actual unemployment figure at 8.6% is a directional improvement but it is unlikely to crack 8% in 2012. This is the result of both technology development and globalization. One major economist postulated that a factory that required 1000 workers 20 years ago can produce the same output with 100 workers today due to advances in technology. As multinational growth of our corporations expanded, it made sense to manufacture closer to clients in other countries, as inside other countries. Taking advantage of cheaper labor in emerging market countries was the kicker to these trends, and none of them are going away soon.

This country will never be a country with manufacturing once again building the broad middle class, if only because of technology development. Our success rests on innovation, research, design, and service, in marketing, product development, distribution, and content. Manufacturing is beginning to show some rebirth perhaps, and it will grow as U.S. wages have been coming into alignment with other parts of the world, but it simply will not be the dominant engine of employment growth.

The other main weight on the domestic economy is real estate. Residential real estate is nowhere near the rinse cycle on cleaning up the damage from the sub-prime and then some mess. At some point mere demographics will require that new housing be built but as Congress is busy coming up with plans to potentially kick 11 million workers out of the country and keep as many immigrants as possible from coming in, that point may be pushed further out than would normally be expected. Commercial real estate, like all real estate really, is a matter of location but as Sears, K-Mart, Borders, Circuit City, Blockbuster, other big regional stores like Fortunoffs on Long Island and many small main street businesses have shut down or are in the process of doing so, there is a growing glut of retail space available to add to that already available in many sagging areas of the country. Manhattan, Silicon Valley, Austin, Research Triangle, and other growth areas need not worry about this, but much of the country has a growing problem.

All of this does not mean that financial markets are in for a terrible 2012. To the contrary, most of this misery is already priced into the market for stocks and the Fed has marked down fixed income rates to compensate so that's already in the mix as well. If the 85% of people who are fully employed at their potential are managed in a way to increase productivity and U.S. products stay globally competitive, which they increasingly are, then the stock market can rise even if the overall economy is not improving in any dramatic way.

Stepping back, today's problems of a diminishing middle class, stagnant wages, and the need for less employees is not just a phenomenom of the "Great Recesssion". The trends that have us where we are today have been in place for two decades or more. From the mid-1990's to 2001 they were masked by the internet/technology bubble and, with a brief period to catch our breath, they were then masked by the residential real estate and credit bubble. So when pay the piper time came in late 2008, there was a long way to fall. Trends that took over 20 years to develop will not be addressed in one year or two years, so 2012 will be a year in which the economic challenges continue against the backdrop of the November elections.

The snail's pace progress of 2011 can be expected to continue in 2012 and American entrepreneurship and innovation is certainly not dead. There will be success stories and opportunities will develop. The economy can show some continued growth and the official unemployment levels can continue to improve slowly. Credit spigots will drip a little more than now, and optimism will grow in areas of the country that represent concentrations of positive economic activity.

No "big bang" of government designed economic stimulus, no infrastructure bank of public/private partnerships, and no surge in home grown economic activity can be expected near term. It's an election year, and somehow much of the public as well as all Republicans believe that austerity is the key to growth. Does that make sense? Growth is what we need, it's the only way out, and it's all on the private sector's shoulders amid an uncertain tax environment and still developing regulatory frameworks on many fronts, especially in the financial sector.

So we wait. We watch Europe. We watch China. We, collectively, watch what we spend and look for opportunities to improve our prospects.

And that's the optimistic outlook for 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Financial markets limp home

With equity markets as a barometer, there is no clear direction in financial markets as we enter the year end close with thin volumes. Down yesterday, up today, the usual volatility but with a weakening slant over the last two months. In fixed income markets there is no yield of consequence without taking undue risk.

Going into 2012 the question for investors remains "where do you make some darn money of consequence, or at least keep up with what the real inflation rate is if you eat, heat, drive, need health care or send a kid to college". Certainly not in bank deposits, money market funds, or short to medium term treasuries. They're safe, and part of almost any portfolio because of it, but there is no yield. Any bonds of medium to long term duration have potential principle risk if rates begin to move up, and best choice there has been high grade corporates and carefully selected high yield(not real trash) but that's a crowded market already. Preferred stock funds have attractive yields but they will go down hard if there is any rate spike so need to be watched. Various "strategic income" type funds, a mix of government securities, emerging markets debt, and high yield(or various combinations) have and still do offer good yields but they have definitely been leaking of late.

Then we get to equities where perhaps the most opportunity lies, but also quite a bit of risk. The companies with major franchises, strong balance sheets, and 2%-4% type dividends have been recommended by everyone for the last six months so if their bonds are crowded these stocks can only be described as mobbed. Still, they belong in any portfolio. International stocks have really come up lame in the last few months, whether China, Europe of course, or most emerging markets, uncertainty has taken the sheen off of most non-U.S. stocks at the moment. Most investment advisors say you must have a significant international exposure, but there's an argument for just buying those U.S. multinationals with at least half of their income and revenues coming from foreign sources. The transparency and balance are reassuring, and they give you the international opportunity and risk.

Small caps and smaller mid-caps have been a wonderful area to play in recent years, but the risk is high, the homework required is significant, and important variables may not be available to a retail investor. Here, some of the best performances of individual investments by far have been in that area, but so have some of the worst. Sell fast if things begin to fall below a reasonable threshold and then just forget about them is what I try to do, but sometimes double up with mixed results.

For institutional investors, the venture capital markets can be a wonderful opportunity to invest in but that's not available to retail, and by the time they bring an IPO to market the initial value has already been realised and on the IPO open the majority of the value is taken by the mutual fund and pension fund institutions at the outset. Investing in a mutual fund with a savvy manager that finds these opportunities would be great, but finding funds that reliably beat their benchmarks after expenses is not easy.

With gold falling down now and the U.S. economy, while not robust, certainly showing some signs of life(or stability at a disappointing level), equities may do well in 2012.

Finding any outsized return these days is not the goal. Protection of assets and modest but real inflation matching or modestly better returns is. Nothing especially new or of note has been said here. It's simply a reiteration of the challenges that investors have faced in 2011 and will likely continue to face in 2012.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twas the day after Christmas...

Twas the day after Christmas and my true love said to me, "we're going to have a very busy day". We started off at 7am on the LIRR carrying bags of cookies, cakes, and pears, and first headed to the big heavily discounted opportunities that apparently awaited Kathy at Saks 8am to noon sale.

We made it to 50th and 5th just in time. I declined to enter and went to a nearby coffee shop with the packages while Kathy joined the lined up multinational crowd of people who had been sharpening their elbows for hours. Camera crews were there hoping I guess for one of those break the doors down trampling incidents, but while not especially orderly the crowd squeezed their way in at the appointed time without incident. The ninth floor shoe section was the prime target as reported to me and somehow did not turn out to be a success, although some lucky tough shoppers must have benefitted. Kathy returned to the coffee shop an hour or so later packageless but not deflated. She's a shopper and would have regretted it if she had not made the effort to find some great bargains for our daughters.

Then it was nine blocks up, two avenues east, to Bloomingdales to exchange a watch that had been bought as a gift for a daughter at a certain price and that had just been marked down by 25%. She wanted the new price and that transaction was successful but a bit time consuming. I sat on a sofa in the women's department that I am familiar with and did some reading. Then it was on the subway over to Macy's for one more brief errand and my real participation in the day could begin.

We left Macy's at 7th avenue and 34th with the goal of walking one block to the R train at 34th and 6th avenue. At that time, around noon, the sidewalk so crowded that it was almost unwalkable. 90% tourist or outer borough or suburban who don't regularly venture into Manhattan is my guess. They walked in groups in stops and starts, strolled focusing on their texting paying no attention to others, and clustered at certain points forming blockades. I felt like Ladamian Tomlinson, with a goal but somewhat diminished skills, as I looked for openings up the middle, sidestepped cell phone gazers, moved right and then left, hit the sideline near and into 34th street at times and then cutting back through the crowd to get to the subway stairs. Kathy was always somewhere in the vicinity but it would have been impossible to walk as a pair with any kind of acceptable New York speed.

We made it down to the R train and my presumption was definitely correct. The car we were on was only half full and the seat and space were so welcome. Those not so familiar with Manhattan don't do subways in mass.

Our destination was to visit K's more or less invalid parents and their caretakers with our packages of sweets and fruits, and just hang around and be with them for awhile. Their apartment was also the distribution point for some of the bounty for an elderly aunt and uncle that live nearby as well as a cousin who helps out with the management of K's parents caretakers and their purchases. These latter three only made it to the U.S. after living through Mao's various reigns of terror and, as formerly privileged members of Chinese society, these gentle people went through a lot... but that's another story and like many WWII or other war vets, they have little to say about those times.

This was a really nice visit. I go regularly with K or on my own. At first blush one would say correctly that it is really depressing to see. Somehow there is a value to it that feels right. It's hard to describe. This too is another story, but our visit was successful and a good break from the streets of the city.

It was a cool, windy, but sunny day and we left to walk down Mott Street to go to a favorite restaurant for take-out fare for the evening as well as a street walking snack. The name of the restaurant is "Big Wong", a name that is probably not replicated in many U.S. cities but it is well known in Chinatown. Always crowded, but it's a great advantage to be six inches taller than most of the others in front of the counter, and they do recognize me at this point. I bought an order of Spicy Fried Beef Chow Fun and another of Singapore Chow Mai Fun with Curry. The take-out portions are large enough to feed two very hungry adults each and still have leftovers. Added to the order were four spring rolls as the street walking fare. Total cost - $18.75. The food is great.

We could not slow down and headed to the newly opened REI store on Lafayette, the first in Manhattan. This was my interest as well as K's but I truly underestimated the distance of the walk. 100 Lafayette is a building that we know well for family reasons and it is two blocks south of Canal so I assumed that 303 Lafayette would be across Canal and a few blocks up. Big miscalulation as it was at least 12 blocks up, maybe more and at that point I was getting a bit tired - lucky I had those spring rolls.

The REI store is a really well done huge installation in the famous Puck Building. It was built in 1885, huge by that era's standards, in the "German Romanesque Revival style" whatever that is. I just looked it up on Google, but it is an impressive bit of architecture. After sitting on a bench for a few minutes I joined K surveying all of the sportsware merchandise from multiple global brands, much of it discounted, some not but good quality stuff. Most immediately we were looking for a warmer coat for her father, both for his wheelchair pushes around his neighborhood and more importantly for those trips to the hospital that are completely unpredictable. Most of his clothes were taken by another family member... again another story.

We identified a coat but decided to wait until I was headed back in later in the week rather than carry it out to Long Island and then back in a few days later. My observations of the store were positive but my personal shopping interest was nil. That's often the case but at this point of this day it was nil squared.

Finally down to another subway, back up to 6th and 32nd and the crowds had been reduced to sane levels, walk a block to Penn Station to get our train ride home. With the Times already consumed and the WSJ sold out, I bought a holiday issue of "The New York Review of Books", one article previously posted, a bottle of water, and a bag of popcorn. Our train was called and though somewhat crowded we got a three seater and could relax. That bag of popcorn during the 28 minute ride seemed like it was the best $1.50 I had ever spent in my life as we passed it back and forth.

Yesterday yes, it was the day after Christmas and it was a very busy day.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The new capitalism is growing in extremes

In today's NYT's real estate section it is reported that a 22 year old daughter of a Russian oligarch, in her own name, bought an apartment at 15 Central Park West for "a record-shattering $88 million". She needed a place to live when in New York and going to college.

We have all probably read about the Indian industrialist who built a ten story house in Mumbai, essentially his own hotel. Of course, the titans of China's "controlled" market economy are not living in any shabby way either. Mexico's Carlos Slim(not really so slim) is the supposedly the wealthiest man in the world.

It's unclear whether the so-called "1%" here in the U.S. are leading the way or have just set an example that is now being taken to greater extremes elsewhere. Of course there has always been massive inequality in wealth in non-market economies and dictatorships where a few families control or government "leaders" control everything while the rest of the population lives in day to day poverty.

Capitalism by its nature leads to inequalities, but still allows for a relatively prosperous middle class to develop and often leads to governments that provide backstops for those at the lowest levels of the ladder. What is said here is nothing new, just rambling remarks with the observation that OWS is a result of the widening inequality of wealth that is obvious in this country with the shrinking of a prosperous middle class.

Instead of Russia, India, China and other countries now following the U.S. market economy model that has been viewed as such a positive development in the last two decades, maybe the tables have turned and we are now following those countries newer variations of the model.

Christmas day afternoon, shouldn't it be restful.

This should be a time to rest if you are in a house with no small children. There are no stores open, our gym is closed, everything is closed really, and families are all recovering together from the Christmas Eve and this morning.

For some reason my wife has decided to bring new meaning to the phrase that "you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs". She is on a clean the house binge. Everything is a complete mess now but within a few days, this will not be a one day event, it will lead to a big improvement. To partipate I did all of my desk filing, not an immediately completed chore as decisions must be made on what to keep and what files to use.

We are always behind on this activity as all of us tend to be the messy types(I would claim to not be the worst offender) with multiple desks and work tables, even the main dining room table, piled with partially sorted paperwork and the detritus of markers, pens, and saved schoolwork and correspondance that must ultimately be sorted for what's really important enough to be saved. There are also bookshelves packed beyond capacity(that is me), and tax and financial projects that need space(that's me).

I'm dropping out of this blog comment for the day as I was just interrupted to spend 40 minutes vacuuming as that is one of my long held official duties. Now to rest, watching some basketball or finishing reading almost all major parts of the December "Vanity Fair", which is packed full of really good articles if you can find them between the adverts, the widely distributed tables of contents, and then see the tiny page numbers.

Merry Christmas.

Postscript - I should note that my wife for the past year has worked full time. While these clean up moods rarely strike, the timing of this one is a result of her work schedule.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pieces of China, by Peter Lighte

This small book published in 2009 is worth a read to anyone who knows or knew Peter who still lives on at JPMChase apparently. It's self-aggrandizing in parts, but as a friend said to me just other day, self-regard and writing are synonyms. The chapter "Tibet 1984" should be published in "The New Yorker" today or any day in the future. It is simply that good.

Apart from that it is a history of an individual, Peter, and of the development of a country, China. There are no exact parallels here so the book has an asymmetry that does not tie the book together neatly. Who cares really, but book publishers, reviewers, and promoters probably do.

In my interactions with Peter over the years he was one of the most irreverent people in the banks we worked in, but in a way that was so charming or humorous that he got away with it. I did not bond closely with him as our backgrounds were so different, but we were more or less friendly acquaintances in our early days in banking. I wish him well and really enjoyed this book of essays, great cover too.

What I fail to appreciate at times

Here ENS has not necessarily noted the company of the most beautiful sycamore anyone could possibly imagine(stark and strong) seen in my yard, a giant oak, a knawling maple tree, two towering pines, a growing chestnut tree, and bushes and flowers that I annually mangle and a couple of smaller trees that I cannot name. There is even a right leaning dogwood in the front yard, so southern and unusual here.

This is my community as much as the one that I have with Manhattan and the one that I have with all of the local vendors in our small downtown.

Yeah, I whine about the fact that I have no real compadres here, people who read what I read, care about what I care about, and who rather choose to focus their lives on lacrosse and bonds.

Eventually I must escape, but for now appreciate what I have. Everytime I walk back to my house I love to see those trees.

This problem with sleeping may create some posts that may seem just aloof to most.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Recent books that I have read

Not quite relaxed about certain things, here I am at the computer. What an idea? I'll detail my recent non-periodical reading.

---"The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje. What a precise writer. This book seems like autobiography but may well not be. Who knows. What a well written book, just beautiful at times.

---"27 Views of Hillsbourgh", by writers from that North Carolina small town. If you are from around there or interested in community focused small town development, it's a great read.

---"The Oracle of Stampoul", first novel by Michael David Lewis, --- can't really explain how terrific this historical novel of late 19th century Turkey really is --- a still undiscovered gem.

---"The Great Leader", by Jim Harrison. Harrison is an acquired taste and this is his best in quite a while. In France he's like the Jerry Lewis of films, his books get translated at the same time as here. Some are sort of weak, but this one, while still not being some literate gem, is terrific.

---"Swimming to Cambodia" Spalding Gray --- a rereading prompted by a magazine article.
Still with interesting anecdotes but not the stunner of those times. The talk still works well and the memory remains.

That's it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Who really drools over being President

As a follow up to yesterday's post, this is a short one. Some of those running would kill (metaphorically speaking) to be President. Some would not. In my mind the "would nots" are as follows:

Santorum - he wants to reestablish himself as a national figure but realizes the odds are way too long to be seen as President. He so much admitted that when he said the other night that few people even know him when he was first elected to Congress. That's more the case now, but he wants back on the national scale in some role.

Paul - he is committed to making points and establishing views that he firmly believes in on long term policy that veer from that of any other candidate, but longer term he is just establishing a base for his son Rand, the new Senator from Kentucky who has more time and the same if not more radical views on the makeover of the financial system.

Gingrich - he would love to be President, but more than that he just loves the attention. This is a win-win already for this supposed Republican front runner. Win- he gets the accolades, lose and his public speaking fees go to the stratosphere and he is a celebrity until death.

Obama - his passion is just not now there. There is this hand sign in Hawaii, pinky up, next two fingers down, next finger up, thumb down, that is ubiquitous. I can't tell you exactly what it means, but generally it is "everything's cool" and a kind greeting. I am certain that he wants to enact his programs but I don't think that he is willing to sacrifice everything he believes in to a possible Republican controlled House and Senate in his second term. So maybe he is turning the tables on them. If he loses, let them really destroy the country and come back with power in 2016, and Mahalo.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yet another Republican debate and the President on 60 minutes

This will, I hope, be a short post.

The most recent Republican debate had the home grown Texas braggert and near idiot Rick Perry, the self anointed saint Rick Santorum, the totally uninformed, scripted, but perhaps well meaning Michelle Bachman, the provocative, interesting, but at times completely unrealistic Ron Paul, the mercurial well groomed, well informed but anything goes including a foot in the mouth Mitt Romney, and the entertaining, often informed, risk taking, completely unpredictable, and reliably self loving Newt Gingrich.

There's is not much difference in what they say.

That about says it all. Who knows what will happen before the primaries. Maybe Herman Cain will sign up again with his wife, a choir, and a preacher by his side.

If I had to guess I would go with the ratings and say Gingrich may win in Iowa, Paul has a chance to sneak in a win in Iowa, Bachman is not out of it, and Romney has no chance there. Romney has a chance to win in New Hampshire as does Paul, but Gingrich is a long shot. If she miraculously gets that far, Bachman could surprise in South Carolina and Romney will lose big there. He needs to get beyond these little states. If the stupid vote comes out big in the deep South and the West, then Perry could be a threat. Who has any idea, but the point is that this is so far from over no one knows what the Republicans will come up with. Could Huntsman actually come up as a real candidate in New Hampshire and surprise everyone with his intelligence and his diligent work there. Or at the end of it all does Romney's money and campaign organization pretty much have it all pinned down.

These events are addicting but at the moment all based on debating skills(Gingrich), ideas(Paul), and money(Romney). The minor differences in their usually naive and recidivist views are minimal, with the exception at times of Paul and Gingrich.

Who knows.

Obama's interview on 60 Minutes tonight highlighted his political strengths and weaknesses. He understands why we are where we are without question and he sees the need for balanced compromise that does not do a mannah from heaven deal with the poor. But also he does not understand how passionless and entitled he sounds when he expresses his views and how well rehearsed he comes across as at all times. Reagan, Clinton, and even Bush #2 often did not sound rehearsed and often sounded like they were really seriously expressive of their views. Letting the mentally lame Steve Kroft manage the interview tonight without some seriously pissed off replies at some of his pre-orchestrated questions just is not going to gather support.

It's taking a bet on the possibility that his union, liberal, and racial base will not be able to live with any Republican that is nominated, and playing it safe and "Presidential" is his way to a second term. That might be a mistake.

Enough from ENS tonight. How many people did ENS annoy or anger - not my problem.

---Apologetic Postscript written just as the above has been written---ENS seriously respects the intelligence and insight of many people who live in some of our great deep South and western states. No disrespect was meant in my comments to those people. But even those who live there would have to admit that there is a substantial base of voters who would fall for Perry just based on his jargon and aggression.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

An extreme idea for Euroland ---kick Greece out

I have an idea that is probably not possible, but eliminating Greece from Euroland would be a big positive step. It's a wonderful little country, but with a culture of fraud, tax evasion, patronage excesses, and major shipping companies that maintain most of their assets offshore and rarely honor their financial commitments, and all of this rivals few supposedly cultured countries in the world. We are almost talking Nigeria and Zambia here.

Other Euroland countries with challenges have faced up to their challenges, like Iceland and more recently to some extent Ireland. Others under pressure like Portugal, Italy, and Spain have serious educated leaders and populations that may hate austerity measures but will fight for growth through their problems. Greece is essentially hopeless.

Kick it out, let the banks take their losses for failing to look through the Euro currency at the profiligacy of Greece, and let's get on with it. A few failed banks in France and Germany will not destroy the world economy. Letting this charade drag on could.

Goldman Sachs absurd mutual funds for individual investors

Still relying on a gold plate name, Goldman Sachs today announced a change in its head of asset management. That may be good news for institutional investors, but for those individuals who fall for brand names it is unlikely that anything will change. Goldman charges an absurd expense ratio averaging 1.4% for funds that almost routinely underperform the S&P 500 indexes, with fees included they always underperform. Depending on the broker that sells these funds the up front charge can be as much as 5%. The veneer of reliability and honesty is now off this company almost universally in world corporate markets, it's just another firm to be judged on what it can offer at what price. For individual investors, it should be a pariah.

In its institutional relationship business Goldman remains as a major player, with many smart and savvy professionals. It's just not what it once was, and individuals should stay away.

Friday, December 02, 2011

College loans to pay back

In response to my latest blog, 99?, there were several responses that referenced college loans to pay back. I will not get into defending major investment banks for some of their practices or their compensation, but college loans are just a basic function of the most traditional banks.

Are banks now expected to be government utilities that give away money for students to attend college? If college becomes unaffordable there are many community colleges around the country that can give a good education for the first two years, perhaps in some cases better than major universities because their teachers are not burdened by publishing and administative demands. They can just teach.

In getting my MBA at age 31 I was the beneficiary of a full student loan from the now departed First National Bank of Louisville. I was gratified to receive it and was 40 years old when it was completely repaid. I had no resentments.

This culture of something for nothing, for no obligation, is confounding to me. I resent being considered part of any 99% and I am not bringing in millions or basking in some kind of luxury. I would like to think that I am a responsible citizen, with some flaws like many of us would say if we were honest, but responsible and a supporter of charitable causes, responsible government, and the obligation to repay what one has agreed to do. How simple is that.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The 99%?

We are the 99% is a catchy phase that has developed some currency in our current social disruption. There has been a growing inequality of wealth in our country, but 99%?

This is just guesswork, but one could suggest that 10 to 20% of our populace still lead, relative to most other countries, very prosperous lives that are secure barring any disasterous economic meltdown globally. 50% or many more may live with some worrisome financial uncertaintly but are members of supportive communities and have food on the kitchen table every night and probably two cars. Another segment pays little or no taxes and receives federal benefits that sustain a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle that provides opportunity to their children. Unfortunately, there may be as many as 25% that are certifiably poor.

The 99% phrase is the mostly justifiable resentment that relates to the fact that a fraction of our population receive salaries, benefits, and inheritances that are well beyond what the history of our nation was built upon(well let's not forget the robber barons of the late 1890's early 1900's). With the lack of progress in our country over the last 30 years in many areas, these outsized asset concentrations by a small number of individuals are unjustified. They are the benefits of a system that has evolved over the last few decades and accepted as earned until recent years. That acceptance is now over, as unacceptable unemployment, underemployment, and economic stagnation has been the result. The justification of a "merit system" is not quite working anymore.

Exaggeration is a powerful message, but that's what the 99% is. We need better leadership, a functional Congress, a powerful executive branch, and a corporate business environment that is not dominated by shareholder returns. We need an executive management system that does not reward leaders with outsized returns based on "that's what we need to pay to get the best management". Much of management is either inept or blandly bureaucratic at best. Even the best do not deserve the compensation that steals from both their shareholders and their workers.

OWS is serving a purpose that hopefully does not go to extremes. The 99% is an extreme. Maybe it's a result of the marketing of hopes and dreams that motivate everyone to be rich.
It is certainly a result of the exceptional assets of the few as unemployment stagnates or will rise, and real middle class jobs with job security, decent salaries, and adequate benefits have deteriorated.

But let's face it, the 99% label is not a valid number. We are still a prosperous country but one with problems that we have not faced since the late 70's and early 80's. Some would say with problems since the 1930's but that is hopefully an exaggeration.

There is a tough road ahead, but this country is resourceful and in many ways community focused. 70% of Americans devote some time to charity work, and more to charitable giving. There is no country in the world like this.

OWS and soon, as was suggested here some weeks ago, Occupy Congress will be challenging events. I don't really pray, but I do in this instance pray that this can all be overcome by the strength of this country and the goodness of most of its citizens.