Saturday, September 22, 2012

Smith Center glimpse of brilliance

Last night we watched on PBS the second half of an opening of the Smith Center in Las Vegas, an arts and cultural arena.  Much of the show was dominated by souless Broadway presentations, but there was one portion that stood out.  That was Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Emmy Lou Harris in a live segment that was just exceptional for about 15 minutes.  Hope that you were watching too.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday night movie night

Our little downtown theatre with the round hand lettered overhead fixture always has good films, well mostly.  It's become a regular weekend event.  We never really know about the films because they are always new, many foreign, relatively not available in most places, and the reviews that we read are of course not so reliable.  "Arbitrage" tonight with Richard Gere, never a favorite, but the film has had some good comment.  Popcorn and water, they only serve Pepsi, may as well be in Danville and never have been a fan of that stuff, worse than RC.

Some sushi or noodle soup afterward, across the street, makes it a date.

Postscript ---11:32pm   that film should have been called Aggravation, not Aribitage.  It was like mediocre television with Richard Gere's ego being the central focus.  I did as always like the event of going to our little triplex, seats almost always filled, popcorn hot, and the sushi joint across the street for an unwind.  Rarely, rarely, does out local theatre have a film this lame.  

Equity markets on the rise until...

There is no reason NOW not to have some percentage on one's assets invested in the U.S. equity markets.  Fixed income pays nothing and bank accounts are just for liquidity and a safe night's sleep.  Equities representing companies with sound balance sheets and especially those that pay dividends are simply essential.

It is sad that the Great Recession drove so many from the market that they have never recovered.  It is sad that the recent spate of news about robo-trading activities and hedge fund excesses have made it seem like the individual investor has no chance.  Now that the dollar and the U.S. economy, with all its uncertainties considered, is becoming a haven again, the equity markets have some up and down momentum, jagged but ultimately up, and maybe up and up.

The question becomes when will the tide turn.  Is it psychology or fact based.  Despite all of the statistics that show U.S. stocks as generally fairly valued or undervalued, nothing can contain an onslaught of negative news or thought.  A loss of confidence in financial markets once again, if it happens, does not have any valuation parameters.  That's what everyone learned in late 2008, and that is a plausible possibility, if not imminent.

No advice here except stay the course and stay alert.  There will be a reversal in the equity market at some point in the future that will be shocking even if not long term.  We live day to day.  Equities are a must unless one has a big mattress.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"If I were a Latino"...another Romney comment

Even more than the 47% issue that is getting the attention it deserves, another comment that was taped is telling in a major way.  He commented on the fact that his father was born in Mexico, that it might have been better for him if he had been born in Mexico, and he "might be President if he had Mexican parents".

That led to a big guffaw, laughter, from his crowd of donors and a big smile from Mitt. 

On many levels that was a outright racist comment --- relating to our current President, immigration policy, and citizenship and voting rights.

Right now I am researching Mormonism and whether it is a cult or a religion, with the texts of a former acquaintance who has been well published in the area of cults.  How can this man say things like he says without being in some protective bubble of a cult --- "I like firing people", "I don't care about them",  etc.  Mormonism suggests, apparently, that if you are a devout follower, whatever you think is right is the right thing to do.  Nuke Iran, North Korea, incite an India/Pakistan war...  more to come... with obviously no conclusions except for raising concerns.

Cults can be virtuous and they can be insular.  Certainly the Mormon religion/cult has many laudable values, FOR THEM.  Does it apply to the rest of us.  Like I say, this is worth some focus.  This so subjective but worth a thought.  Who really likes Mitt Romney and doesn't see through his constant changes of opinion.  Does anyone really like this man?  Raise you hand, non-Mormons.

 He has obviously chosen a VP who will be no backstop to anything he wants to do should the robotic Romney become President.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"The Sense of an Ending", Julian Barnes

Sometimes it is easy to wonder if every semi-literate person has already read what is commented on here.  Anyway, this book won the most recent "Man Booker Prize", the equivilant maybe of best book of the year by U.K. critics.  Barnes is well known to many as part of a cadre of writers around his age, Amis, Hitchens, others, who have dominated U.K. fiction and essay writing for a couple of decades. 

In my 'umble opinion, his short stories are lame but some of his full novels are rare.  His lengthy essays, most notably "Nothing to be Frightened of" are at times so insightful as to never be forgotten, at times so well written as to be obtuse.

"The Sense of an Ending" has a first half that is an everyman story of growing up being born in the late 1940's and all that followed.  It is beautifully written, and his observations could be converted to those of almost any alert individual of that era.  One wonders how autographical this novel may be, reminding one of Michael Ondaatje's 2011 "The Cat's Table" which was a novel but much more than a little bit of first hand experience.

The second half of the book moves into the title subject and is a combination of thought provoking observations, underline that, but ultimately unsatisfying resolutions.  While as a novel the ending works, and surprises, as a personal statement it is not so uplifting.  It's just straight talk, that some don't accept.  Maybe futile, but my grandmother who died 30 years ago would quote Dylan Thomas and say "Do not go gentle into that good night..."   

Not a book reviewer here, that is more than I usually write.  "The Sense of an Ending" is a brief book, compelling here, with certain groups of pages that are scintillatingly and brilliantly insightful, others mundane.  Where does one find today books that have uneven "brilliantly insightful" portions to serve.  I'll take them any day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Christians in the Middle East, take heed

Just having read Erik Lawson's exceptional book "In the Garden of the Beasts", I make this posts title's suggestion.  This book is a work of historical fiction, one in which the history is immaculately detailed and only fiction because the author obviously could not know exactly what people said, where they went, and what they felt. 

It is the story of the unassuming and unlikely U.S. ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1938.  With his family they witnessed the rise of Hitler and his actions firsthand.  The ambassador, William Dodd, was from a Virginia farm family and then rose to become a history professor at the University of Chicago.  He was not part of the usual old school Ivy League party circuit of most of the ambassadors of that time, but he spoke German and other candidates turned the job down.

He did apparently have the ear and support of Roosevelt, at least one ear, as he detailed what was happening in Germany to the President directly as the blue blood State Department tended to discount whatever he said.

It is a fascinating book.  There are some tedious aspects detailing the interesting and uninhibited life of Dodd's socially active daughter but they are part of the real story no doubt so Lawson gives it to us.

At the time, by 1934, it was perfectly clear to Dodd what was happening.  Most major leaders of the Jewish intellectual community realized it and departed in the next few years, if not immediately.  Whether not having the means, hoping for a return to a less enjoyable normalcy, or expecting that a coup to eradicate these brutal and crass nutcases would certainly occur in their beloved culture, the majority of the Jewish community remained and hoped for the best.  How could they have had the foresight to see the unthinkable horror that was ahead.

Applied to today, my title to this post is the message.  In most Muslim countries the situation for anyone who is viewed as Christian or of course Jewish is likely to be dire in the next few years.  This is not a critique of all Muslims, not in any way.  The great majority, I believe, just want to lead peaceful community based lives and have jobs.  They have values that are universal.  I believe that in pre-Hitler Germany that statement could have characterized a healing country as well.

The point is that it does not take a majority to create a movement that perverts a culture that was previously open. Cliche I know but "if history is any guide",  if you have the ability, pack your bags.

That's the message that I get from what was just read.  Maybe that is the wrong thought?  Is it? 

"I don't care about them"

Romney's remarks to a group of big donors that were meant to be private were captured on video and that's a real news story.  His facts unfortunately may be correct.  Outright poverty, a growing elderly class, the structure of our economy, our tax structure, the level of unemployment and underemployment, and the lack of rigorous oversight of our entitlement systems have all contributed to his 47% number. 

(My comment, not Romney's) "It was written elsewhere that institutional and personal scamming of Social Security disability, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment benefits is more lucrative than selling drugs, with little chance of being caught or deemed illegal."  With what can be seen in this area from experience, that is likely to be a true statement.

Romney, as is no doubt being fully reported today, stated that 47% of the populace are already in Obama's pocket because they depend on the government in many different ways.  That's his opinion and his pitch to those that he is trying to pry loose for more donations.

To those who saw the video, the real kicker was his final comment on the 47% issue - "I DON'T CARE ABOUT THEM."

To be fair he may have meant to say that he did not care about them as voters, but the emphatic nature of his statement and the sense that he really enjoyed saying it seemed to say more than that.  Paul Ryan enthusiastically agreed in supportive statements late today. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

VP choice, have the Repubs misfired again

Paul Ryan may be a serious guy and and even at 41 is a life long politico, but does he have the heft and experience to be considered ready to stand in as the next President. 

As sleep eluded me, I wondered.  With all of his work on fiscal responsibility, he voted against the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan committee's proposal, on which he served, that had a majority but not the needed supermajority support among its members.  Is he serious or just an ambitious idealogue.  Idealogue may suggest an intellect well above his but,who knows, he sure is serious.  Simpson-Bowles may not have been perfect but it could have been a huge step in the right direction, and a much needed bipartisan one in this dysfunctional Congress.

More than that what bothers me is his almost complete lack of international experience.  That's not suggesting that he is any Sarah Palin.  Certainly he reads the financial press, follows global news, and knows the difference between Italy and India or Spain and Slovenia.  The point is that he has no international experience at all except for being on a few honorary Republican caucus committees.

He has lived Republican politics.  That's his life so far and he has obviously done well.  One could ask whether he has any real touch with international affairs given his focus on Ayn Rand and using revamping U.S. financial affairs as both an attention getting way to make proposals in a policy area that has been lacking many new ideas(except Simpson-Bowles) and a use of his intense but possibly narrow intellect.  Anyone with a Masters degree from the degree mill American University can claim minimal educational background in the area of international affairs, just my informed opinion.

His role now as attack dog on U.S. international challenges in the Middle East has no credibility.  He obviously is full of himself and will say whatever is scripted for him.  But how could the Republicans in this globalized world choose a VP candidate with no real international experienceor exposure.  Romney is already challenged in this area.

Like them or not, Bush chose Cheney who certainly had global experience and Clinton chose Gore who did as well.  Romney chooses Ryan?   

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Markets just wait for employment numbers on Friday

Barring any exciting M&A news or disasterous international news,markets are pretty much just ignoring politics for the moment. Entertaining as they can be to someone who has followed politics from the age of 8 or 9, just a year of two after getting hooked on the Dick Clark show, Chuck Berry, and getting an Elvis record that my father banned until my mother interceded --- that's a rambling diversion --- as entertaining as the conventions can be to some, they are irrelevant to the financial markets for the most part.

The financial markets are waiting for employment numbers on Friday here and major economic decisions in Europe on Tuesday and Wednesday.  If there is a break-out moment at this Dem convention I can't imagine --- just watched Nancy Pelosi give a short comment, the person who really broke any attempt at a tenuous bond between the parties.  She is a multi-millionaire, not quite like Romney) and likes the spotlight more than the results.  She fashioned the most punitive aspects of the health care bill.  WHY WAS SHE ALLOWED TO SPEAK.

Nevertheless, I do enjoy watching the conventions, with appropriate breaks for whatever beckons.

A simple question

You readers must know that I personally like speaking with the Democrats, in general, much better that the Republicans.  But here is an honest question. 

Why are all of the Dem consumer protection bills requiring much more simplified clear cut language on all loans, mortgage, student, and especially credit card documentation(a really good and obvious idea), while writing a health care bill and the Dodd/Frank bill more that 2000 pages each and so filled with complexity that financial institutions are hyper-concerned with how they can comply and insurance companies hyper-concerned with how they can benefit  --- are they attorney bailout bills? 

There are many benefits to both of these plans,  perhaps even if filled with as much complexity and pork as all of the consumer credit card legal documents that we have received for years. Why could they not have been written with "executive summaries" of these two historic documents(at least for the moment) so the average citizen(we are all executives of whatever little domains that we have) could understand them to some extent.  More bluntly why could these documents have been written so that small community hospitals and banks could comply without great legal costs.

Congress is such a mess.  This comparison may be the definition of irony.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Michelle Obama, Superstar

The entire production and content of Michelle Obama's speech tonight was so well done that I feel compelled to make a comment or two now, tired as I may be which will lead to more misspelled words and awkward sentences than usual.

She definitely does not wear J. Crew anymore as she looked more like an icon than a woman trying to downplay her energy, intelligence or creativity.  I doubt if there has ever been a speech like this by First Lady or potential First Lady at any policital convention in this country that can rival her style and carefully thought out content.  She had the crowd in her hands, and the camera flow across the crowd was moving.  Michelle Obama is a vivid personality.  Her anecdotes about her life in the White House or with the years of the life of her husband were in  no way ones that appeared, well what can I say, phony.  She spoke to many issues that any parent or spouse has experiened, as well as broadly about issues affecting our country in ways that affect the Repubs without ever mentioning the word Romney.

The speech was exceptional.  My only gripe is that these teleprompters trap their speakers.  In my minor experience as a speaker, only at a big bank both quite a few years ago and but for quite a few years of speaking, I learned that putting down the notes(we had no teleprompters then) and turning off the visual aids, at the end of speech and stepping out of the stage podium cocoon and making forceful impromptu remarks, that had developed internally during the well worked over formal speech, was the most exhilerating thing possible for the speaker and more often than not for the audience.  I experienced that early on in my speaking career but learned that one needed to feel just right to pull it off.  She could have done it, if just for a minute or two.  Maybe this is just an egotistic or nostalgic remark here, and Michelle Obama really was appealing, in tone, in voice, in message.  If allowed to step out, my guess is that the place would have been ecstatic.

Julian Cruz, the mayor of San Antonio, the major speaker before fine the First Lady, did a fine job as well, not seeking the limelight but gettting it because he was not.  He hit some fine points about education in particular that highlight the advance of this city surrounded by drug transit points but has still made significant economic progress in high tech industries in the last decade.  Two of my short term friends died in this city in 2005 from reciprital too pure and purposeful overdoses, meaningful murders.  Steve Earle's recent book, written about here several months ago, also highlights a sort of Baltimore problem in this city.  What I have read recently tells of a real turnaround, which is amazing. Or is it?  Booker of Newark is at the top of a small list of politicans that really deserve respect, but is it because of a real turnaround or because he has risked his life to save neighbors this year.  He is the real thing.

Postscript --- 1:06am this morning --- of course Michelle did her "stand by your man" thing that is required, and no one who has ever been in a relationship, been married, or had children knows that all is not perfect.  She did that in a way that did not distract from some of the subconcious, or to most of those conscious, viewers could not miss.  She delivered real policy messages in the most polite way.  It now the challenge of the next two days to back her up.

Postscript 2 --- And she did not do the usual arranged come up to the stage and have her husband and kids hug her thing.  She was her own self.!