Monday, October 29, 2012


The Atlantic City boardwalk is under water.  The storm is coming this way but it is so slow.  We just wait.  All roads are blocked at any important points by hostile cops, what's new, and what we have is what we have.  Now we just wait, still with power, defrosting a few things that will die otherwise.  Thank goodness for our books and lanterns, as they will get us through whatever our late afternoon and night brings. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

News commentary

---In the weekend Wall Street Journal there is an article by Peggy Noonan, "When Americans Saw the Real Obama", that is an exceptional portrait of the pickle that Obama is now in.  Yeah, I know that Noonan was a speechwriter for Reagan and Bush the first, but she was a darn good one for her cause, not necessarily mine.  This comment on Obama touches what we fear is the truth, that is that Obama is insulated and arrogant, and unaware of how he is perceived.  It focuses mostly on the first debate, a watershed event, and is definitely worth reading by those who want to understand the current backlash against Obama as not a big nod toward Romney or something based on racism or far right politics.  It is what some view as the fact that Obama has been a big disappointment.

---Jacques Barzun died this week at the age of 104.  The New York Times has a major obituary as do the Wall Street Journal and many other publications.  His greatest book was published at the age of 92, "From Dawn to Decadence", and was recommended to me by a high school friend, reunited by Facebook two years ago.  I am not a linear reader of non-fiction, so have read parts but not all of this amazing and entertaining book.  A Columbia professor for many years Barzun, with the curriculum that he created with Lionel Trilling still a freshman requirement, wrote many books on many subjects, retired 15 years ago to San Antonio for a southwest Texas life.   What a life!

---Page 8 of today's Sunday New York Times is a stunning compendium of excess.  The first article is Wen Jiabao's rebuttal of the Times story about the $12 billion that he has salted away with his family during his 10 years in office. 

---The second article is about multi-billioniare Mikhail Prokhorov, a beneficiary of the corrupt privatisation of Russian industry, and his turn toward politics, creating a "Third Way" party.  The is widely viewed as a Putin backed camouflage, allowing the population to vent off steam in a controlled way, while still being the real power.

---The third article on this page of corruption concerns the banks accounts in Switzerland of rich Greek oligarchs and their success at avoiding taxes and hiding their wealth.  The public reporting of their names is at least turning the Greek people at looking at themselves instead of everyone else in the world as the source of their dire problems.

Waiting for Oh No

Calm this morning, breezes picking up from time to time but no hint may come soon.  There is still that eerie feeling of a low pressure silent atmosphere.  Surveying the yard this morning, a silent lament was said for the tree at the southeast corner, an ivy covered tree that is already being choked of whatever nutrients it needs, and will surely fall if the storm is anything like it has been suggested.  Prediction here is that it will fall on the two roads that intersect at that corner, rather than the house which is would hit in not such a significant way.  The main concern remains the fifty or sixty foot tree at the northeast corner of the yard, healthy and trimmed, but of course not immune from a terrible storm. 

"Prepare for seven to ten days without power" is the mantra of local authorities.  If there is not a generator(there is not), how can one prepare for that.  Clear out the tuna shelf at the local grocery store?  Bread will mold in that time and refrigerators will be long gone, as will coolers filled with ice packs. 

If there is no significant damage here and the roads get cleared, the solution may be to head in whatever direction was not substantially damaged, get over the Whitestone or Throgs Neck bridges, check into a hotel or motel, eat at restaurants, amp up the laptop, and just hang around somewhere else for a few days.  That may seem extreme, but reading with flashlights is extreme also.  It's also boring and a time of immobility which is the last thing that one needs at whatever age.

Last night I bought four bottles of "Five Hour Energy" to deal with caffeine withdrawal should the power outages be long term.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Market liquidity next week, quarter end, ugh

LIPA(Long Island Power Authority) is now suggesting that our local area should expect power outages of 7 - 10 days once the storm clears.  What does that mean for the whole region, downtown Manhattan included.  Will the markets stay open?  If they do, what will liquidity be like if the floor and the trading rooms are short-staffed.  More to the point, could this be a huge opportunity for traders and high speed programs to manipulate or pervert market performance. 

One more thought, as we think about the possibilities for Monday and Tuesday.  Just heard a news report where a meteorologist said, "If the weather wants to win, it will, and there's nothing we can do about it."

Go out to sea, storm, go out to sea.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A storms a'comin'

There is an eerie feeling here today.  It's an overcast day, no rain, not even a slight breeze, just still.
News reports suggest that a huge storm is possible, beginning perhaps late Sunday and  building through Monday, maybe Tuesday.

It's not just CNN or news networks trying to build their coverage or clicks that are reporting this.  A  Bloomberg website headline says "Worst Storm in 100 years headed for Northeast U.S."  The meteorologists quoted emphasized that their comments were not alarmist hype and something significant was likely.  Go out to sea I say, go out to sea.  My trees are trimmed but the one big one, at least fifty feet high, is a concern if this storm is really a big deal.  There are many trees of this size here.  Flying from Boston to LGA, the Delta shuttle at times goes over this north shore area.  The town is not visible, only trees.

We lose power in an unpredictable way.  If a lightning bolt hits a location a town away, we could go dark.  Sometimes we go through significant storms and we maintain power.  It's not possible to predict, except that if we have mega storm we will definitely not have power for several days.  The stores are still not in panic mode, so went out and bought canned protein; tuna, Planters many nut combinations, sardines, Fritos(oops, said protein), peanut butter, new bread, beans, collard greens, lima beans(mostly Sylvia's), so all stuff that we will keep and we will eventually eat and if the storm goes out to sea, no regrets.  We just stocked up on bottled water yesterday at Costco.

More on this in the next few days.

---And what about these recent reports about vote rigging by voting machine vendors --- going back to Ohio in 2004 --- and the fact that the Romney family private equity firm, seeded by Mitt himself, has a major interest in the firm that supplies all of the voting machines for Ohio, votes that are tabulated at their offices in Tennessee.  What about that.   More to come on this perhaps as well.  See November Harper's magazine for alarming story.   

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Follow-up, another major lawsuit by Feds against banks

Following up on the October 16th post here, "Pre-election lawsuits, the Feds have struck again.  This time they are seeking at least $1 billion from BofA for actions by Countrywide Financial.  The Feds filed suit in New York federal court saying that BofA defrauded mortgage agencies by passing on loans without proper controls.  The behavior started when Countrywide was an independent company and was ended by BofA as they integrated the companies in 2009. 

This litigation related to mortgages is never ending.  Once again, agencies with implicit federal guarantees and under the oversight of a congressional committee, that is Fannie and Freddie, seem to have no responsibility for what it accepted to securitize, even though they are on the surface supposed to be mortgage experts.  With a host of congressional leaders and cabinet members dictating to those agencies that underwriting a wide swath of the market was part of their mission to spread home ownership, they seemed to have done nothing to check what they were underwriting.

In this case, it is clear that Countrywide was bad.  Always had been, was in the day when all seemed copacetic.  BofA was not necessarily complicit in this at all.  They made an unwise acquisition for sure and ended this practice as it was uncovered.  Given that the acquisition was not "encouraged" by the government like some discussed on 10/16, BofA is seemingly responsible for what it bought, but where is the responsibility on the government's part for how they "managed", or should that be "did not manage" their agencies.

Everyone keeps coming after the big banks, the Justice Department, other federal oversight agencies, state attorney generals' from all over, and the crass tort bar with their numerous civil suits.  It's never ending, everyone at the trough of the capital these big banks have raised at the behest of the Fed and global capital rules.  When does the government take responsibility for its lack of oversight, for the lack of almost any effort to monitor portfolios at their agencies where huge salaries were being paid.  The various CEO's at Fannie Mae made as much money as any big bank CEO with the exception of a few who were at the pure investment banks that existed before the Great Recession.

How low will the government go in reaching back to bygone days to dig up more lawsuits?  Why was there no tort reform in Dodd/Frank or the Affordable Health Care Act(answer - those trial lawyers are the leading contributors to Democrats).  How low will states go to raise more money to backstop their faltering budgets?  How long can big banks take this water torture without having to report falling capital levels and declining stock prices?  They are needed for the recovery to happen.  Is there any reason to wonder why banks are so cautious these days?  Is there any reason not to wonder whether these suits are just political hijinks just prior to the election?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Obama's realization

One could think that President Obama had no idea that the campaign would be so close.  He had his strong base of support and Mitt Romney was certainly no man of the people, or that was his thought.   No man of the people hides most of his tax returns from public scrutiny and has accounts in Switzerland and the Caymans.  Romney and his VP running mate were vulnerable on those staples of insecurity, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Romney himself was robotic and extremely transparent in his ever changing views on important issues.  Romney promises 12 million new jobs in his first term with absolutely no clear plan that supports that statement.  How could the election be so close, Obama and his team must be thinking,

It is close.  While within the "margin of error" for sure, Romney is now one point up in the polls, 48% to 47%, two days after the last debate and the first time he has ever been in the lead.  Key states for the more important electoral college vote are highly competitive.  Why so tight a race when, as can happen, for a majority of Americans a vote for Romney may be against their own best interests, at least on the surface, that surface being the tax code and needed transfer payments.

Why so close.  Obama's perceived anti-business attitude and rhetoric has built a strong constituency of influential people, some very wealthy but some small business types, that would vote for anyone but Obama and they are out in full force.  Obama's failure to put his full support behind the Simpson Bowles initiative was an inconceivable blunder.  Obama is viewed by many as aloof and arrogant, which in the American tradition overshadows his intelligence and accomplishments in the eyes of many.  Obama and his team may not have considered the possibility that 2008 was an anomaly, and being an African American is not necessarily a positive.

Another facet of the Obama campaign that now can't be undone is their focus on attacking Romney and Republicans more than focusing on their accomplishments to date and their plans for the next four years.  That theme seems to have aged badly as we head to the finish line.  While Romney proposes no real agenda for achieving his promises other than Ryan's radical solutions that would be unlikely to get through Congress, as the sitting President, Obama is more vulnerable when his campaign energy is directed toward Romney and not toward the future.

Romney was seemingly relaxed in the debate on Monday while Obama was intense.  That said more about the state of the race than all of the words spoken.  It's all up in the air now.  The electoral college can be Obama's salvation but even that is now unclear.  We will watch.  Obama is still the odds-on favorite but the odds have tightened recently.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Debate conundrum

The results of last night's presidential debate are debatable.  Almost certainly on facts, depth of answers, and rationality, Obama was the winner.  Style points, however, may elude him.  Romney came to be moderate and give a friendly and somewhat less adversarial posture.  He seemed somewhat Clinton-like, enjoying the limelight, working to explain his views, and staying calm for once.  Obama came out swinging, rarely smiling.  His pose from the last debate carried over, focused, leaning forward, chin-up, face taut, and intense, like a goose eyeing food.

Did voters just watch the style or did they pay attention to the content.  Those who just watched the beginning of the debate may have been turned off by the opening salvo of Obama, and then just switched to baseball or football.  For those voters, style was the only measure.  One cannot help but wonder whether, while winning the debate on content, Obama's approach firmed up Romney's need to get out his vote while gaining few new undecided's for the Democratic ticket.  

Postscript --- I do wonder if whatever Romney associate who came up with idea for the phrase "the Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917" is now sitting on the floor of a conference room area bathroom holding his knees and shaking.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Presidential politics or playoff baseball

That's the choice that faces us.  The third and last debate promises nothing really new on the information front but it does open the door to significant style points.  Will one of the candidates make a crucial mistake or lose their cool.  As the President, Obama is somewhat limited in what he can say, as he can't say all that he actually knows about current situations.  As the challenger, Romney can attack, but he is not on solid ground in the area of foreign policy and has the possibly fatal flaw of taking everything personally.  What kind of global negotiator could he possibly be.

The seventh and deciding game of the National League championship series begins at 8pm.  This has been an interesting series with the Giants once again this year bouncing back in a playoff.  Played in San Francisco tonight with a raucous crowd,  this has the potential to be a great game.  One hour in, at 9pm, the debate begins.  If the debate seems real and gets tense, it will win. If the debate is the same as the last two,  baseball will share the time and the remote will stay busy.

Candidate and debate fatigue could set in here, and that's surprising at this crucial point.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Sports Sunday

This is a sports Sunday.  The weather is beautiful autumn style, mid-60's and sunny during the day and cooling down to the 50's at night.  What does that have to do with sports.  It reminds me of college years and early work years in my 20's when almost all of my hometown friends, and yours truly, would be at home for Thanksgiving and we would have these great touch football games.  We were all young, but whether being in college or being in jobs, we were not in shape for the stop and go, pushing and shoving of highly competitive touch football.  That led to good aches and pains, all the more reason to collapse in front of the television to watch someone else play real football.

That's a memory, not really possible it seems these days.  Today is a sports Sunday because because of so much good television.  Giants and Redskins, a legendary rivalry, with the rookie RJ3 against Eli, great game;  Jets and Patriots, bitter rivalry, will the talented, inconsistent, and relatively boring Sanchez hold his own against Brady,  will the flawed but entertaining Tebow get more playing time as some Jets fans get frustrated with his lack of playing time given his winning ways;  baseball too in the evening as the Giants face elimination if they don't win again against the Cardinals back at home in SanFran, big fan bias here as the Giants(as in NY Giants) had a farm club in my hometown throughout my early years which created a lifelong loyalty.  

It is not possible to watch all of this.  I watch some and then do other things, errands, reading, a clean up project in the basement, coming back to online ESPN from time to time to see how scores are progressing and whether it's time to actually watch again for awhile.  It's a great diversion for a day, but now it's out to the driveway to do some clean up on one of the cars and get a last taste outside of this beautiful day.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Economic outlook still cloudy, earnings don't reflect economic stats

Unemployment rate now below 8%, housing starts up considerably,  and consumer spending on the upswing - that's what the recent economic numbers have shown.  Sounds good, headed in the right direction.

Corporate earnings season is producing some results that are less encouraging.  Bellweathers like Google, Microsoft, General Electric, McDonalds, and Morgan Stanley, among others, reported results that disappointed investors.  Even smaller superstar Chipotle has fallen off a cliff. 

What conclusion can come from these disparate events.  The stock market is dealing with this issue today.  There are certain facts to consider.  Unemployment stats are improving but the majority of the new employees are in the lower paying segment, lower pay than they previously had or lower pay than they need to live at all prosperously.  Housing starts are up, but it is only the higher end segment that is close to robust, that and multi-family residences that are bought by the higher end segment and rented out as investment properties to those who can't afford or can't qualify for enough credit to buy their own house.  The increase in consumer spending is a little bit of a mystery here but of course there is no economist in the house.  Part of it is presumably by necessity, gasoline prices; given the average age of many vehicles now(12 years on average) the deals on cars now may be proving irresistable and necesssary; and part may the beginning of stocking up for Christmas, a huge part of life for many families.

One wild card in all of this that will soon be resolved is the election.  The talk about the economy in the debates and in advertising may work well to garner votes, but a pretty picture is not being painted by either side.  Where does confidence come from.  The candidates don't have any magic, and a catalyst for a break out from this sluggish economy is not apparent.

The good news is that they never are.  Whenever we have a real resurgance it will not be micromanaged by politicians or pre-ordained by economists.  Most of us will know when and if it happens and not before.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rough and tumble or tough and rumble debate

Last night's presidential debate was almost like a prize fight.  Candy Crowley, not well known here, was a competent referee. 

Of course much has been written about the debate that does not need to be commented on here.  One thing that struck me in a major way was how combative the debate became, even when it relates to physical space.  There was that one sequence when Romney was pressing Obama on the use of Federal land for oil and gas drilling.  Romney advanced toward Obama demanding an immediate answer to his question, advanced in what seemed like a hostile manner.  Obama kept trying to begin answer but Romney kept interrupting and would not back off.  Obama is a cool customer, but I wonder if in another setting, another life, if Romney had actually touched Obama with his pointed finger if Obama wouldn't have just clocked him.

Obama certainly must have had to stick up for himself in his childhood.  Single parent, limited resources, and moving to Indonesia sight unseen in the middle of his childhood, it's reasonable to think that it was not all easy.  Romney, on the other hand, grew up in a wealthy family and was surrounded by a comfortable religion.  He claims to have not taken anything from his family and to be a self-made man, but that is a joke.  All of his education was paid for certain, he and his wife always had a major backstop if any choices did not work out, and with a well known father doors inevitably opened and stayed wide open.

Corporations and businesses love to hire young people who are well connected.  There is almost no downside and it is no secret who the well connected young people are.  Once hired, if the well connected ones perform they tend to go to the front of the queue when choices are made.  Romney was advantaged in a major way by his background.  Obama certainly was not, and made his own way.

That significant difference made the few what felt like near physical confrontations fascinating.  Obama at 50 still enjoys full contact basketball.  He takes charges and fights for rebounds.  It is unclear whether Romney has any physical abilities beyond being a disciplined exerciser and someone in good shape.  A real prize fight would have been no contest, yet the entitled Romney had no clue, no thought about what his belligerence might have entailed on Main Street, rather than Wall Street or the niceties of a political campaign.  He simply has the firm belief that he is never wrong about anything.

So that's the one thought here that might not have been reported or commented on elsewhere.  Both candidates were well prepared.  Both candidates did not answer some of the questions.  Rather than take 15 seconds to try to give a direct or even non-direct answer to a question, they went into their pre-planned remarks immediately almost half of the time.  Obama's performance was far superior to his last outing while Romney's performance was occasionally shaken by Obama's confidence and direct attacks.  At one point I thought he might start stamping his feet up and down when he didn't get to immediately follow up on an Obama broadside.

On to the next one. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pre-election lawsuits

For a few days the recently announced lawsuits against JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, plus the projected anti-trust suit(not filed) against Google, have been on my mind.  The timing is such a coincidence.  The lawsuits are basically "unfair", the breaking of faith with major businesses and employers. 

As was mentioned here on Sunday, it's a crowded space for new thoughts and I did not get a comment out right away.  Today in the New York Times business section, Andrew Ross Sorkin does an excellent job of laying out the issue with the banks, but here is my 2 cents worth.

Wells Fargo was sued by the Obama Justice Department for passing on loans to the FHA for 10 years(1999-2009) that had defects.  With great "encouragement" from the FDIC, Wells took over the collapsing Wachovia in 2008, a great relief to the FDIC fund.  Securities analysts, investors, and even most competitors acknowledge that Wells Fargo has the best run mortgage business in this country.  So how did they and why would they "dupe" the FHA for ten years with defective loans?  And what does the FHA do, sleep at their desks like some other mortgage related government supported agencies.  They too are supposedly mortgage experts but now the government sues Wells for "misdeeds" going back as far as13 years?

JPM took over a completely collapsing Bear Stearns in 2008 at the urgent request of the Treasury Department.  They were given some guarantees but the chance for real due diligence was minimal.  It has not been a great proposition by any means.  Now the Justice Department and the State of New York's Democratic attorney general have announced lawsuits against JPM for actions that took place in the Bear mortgage business from 2002-2007.  That's before anyone from JPM had any control over the company that the government virtually forced on them.  If that's not a break in faith, what is?  Sorkin in the NYT points out that the next time there is a crisis and the government goes looking for private sector support, it is unlikely to be there.

It should be noted that JPM also took over Washington Mutual in 2009, again with government encouragement, and some suggest that the takeover saved at least 30,000 jobs.  Given that WAMU was an extremely undisciplined mortgage lender, it can be certain that there is angst at JPM over when they will be sued by the government for actions there well before they had any control.

As for Google, there is no anti-trust lawsuit yet, but the Justice Department chose to announce that it was well into an in depth analysis of whether to file one.  Timing?  They say that many competitors are complaining about Google's practices so, my comment, why not punish success.  Is Google responsible for competitor Yahoo's 10 years of inept management.  Google is a gem of a U.S. company, global and innovative, and they are in an intensely competitive business.  What a great target for the Justice Department right before the election.

It should also be noted that Google is a company that absolutely does nothing to pump up its stock price or influence the market, other than perform.  It does not give earnings guidance, it does not talk individually to securities analysts except possibly to state factual issues already public, it only gives conferences when it is making an acquisition or having a new product roll out, and again they just stick to the facts. 

The Sorkin article mentioned above is highly recommended --- title---"Nowadays, Wall St. Saviors May Wish They Weren't".

"Unfair" was put in quotes above because whether something is "fair" or not seems to the ultimate litmus test for Obama's economic policies.  The perception of fairness is not necessarily consistent with creating economic growth and job growth.  Smart people could no doubt work out ways to make these goals consistent, and level the playing field for these goals.  Now, however, there is no way to say that the Justice Department's recent lawsuits fall under the umbrella of "fairness", with the Obama administration now breaking its one abiding economic principle.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Catching up on Vanity Fair

Too many magazines come into this house, but really it's ok.  Except for the Economist and The New Yorker most of them are remarkably inexpensive as they want circulation to show their advertisers.  The magazines pile up but something from most them is eventually read.  This weekend was an opportunity to catch up on the October and just received November issues of Vanity Fair that had been in their plastic wrappers untouched.

Despite having at a least a half pound of paper devoted to fashion adds, Vanity Fair apparently pays really well for some good writing.  It was a primary outlet for Christopher Hitchen's essays and if one digs deep enough there is almost always some good writing.

In the October issue, one of their regulars, Michael Lewis, was given the assignment of a major piece on President Obama.  The result, "Obama and Me", was well worth reading.  Lewis was obviously given significant access to Obama, from his basketball games to trips on Air Force One, and the result is a personal profile that is both interesting and insightful.  While it is only one piece of the puzzle, it shows the President's discipline, strengths, and capacity for work.  It uses decisions about involvement in Libya to highlight the depth of the President's thought process on an issue.  What the article does not do is touch at all on policy issues of consequence.  It is, as I said, a personal profile.

In the November issue, there is the article "Jamie Dimon on the Line" by William Cohan and Bethany McLean.  These are not my favorite business writers, not even close, but they do a credible and reasonably balanced job of profiling this influential and outspoken banker.  It was interesting, I learned a few things, and they has some quotes that really capture the chasm between much of the business and investing world and Obama.  One --- "The denigration of business hurts America, because the secret sauce for our economy is confidence... I don't want to hear that nonsense that all business is bad."  As JPM is my alma mater, the article was certainly more interesting here than it might be broadly.  One great thing that I learned was that an executive who somehow has been promoted to one of the highest levels, who was rumored to be a candidate to be Dimon's eventual successor, was fired in July.  This guy was a relentless self promoter and his competence beyond that was suspect.  I had marveled from this distance at his rise under the hands-on Dimon.  Finally he must have caught on to this jerk's game and there is some justice.

If I wanted to sit in my reading chair 8 hours a day for the next week(I definitely don't) it might be possible to catch up on every magazine article that would be of interest.  That's not possible, but I pick what may be the best and otherwise will look at titles and do some skimming as a clean up time eventually arrives.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Today's Special"

We discovered this low budget film on Netflix last night.  It was one of those treats that cannot be anticipated.  From 2009, maybe others are familiar with it but we were not.

The story, generally speaking, is one of a young aspiring haute cuisine sous chef who ends up having to take over his family's run-down Indian restaurant in Queens due to his father's heart attack.  It is extremely well done, and while charming is a word rarely used here that is what it was. 

Election --- crowded space for new ideas

From this perspective, there is such intense coverage of this election from the multiple major political websites as well as the less alert mainsteam media that it is easy to sit back and watch.  As an example, when an idea occurs here there no urgency, but there has been a nagging belief that Obama's performance in the first debate was perhaps as much intentional as it was based on any lack of preparation.  The "rope a dope" strategy came to mind.  So I googled that phrase related to the election last week and it had not only been written about on multiple websites but was an ongoing debate ---nothing to add here.

Perhaps the last two years of Obama's presidency have been, politically speaking, Obama letting the Republicans firm up his base by their actions or, in Congress, lack of action.  Could Biden's strange and annoying performance have also been intentional.  It was difficult to watch at times, but the abiding memory may be a confident and experience pol laughing openly at a serious and young nerd, not taking him seriously.  Of course that completely angers those who already whole - heartedly support Romney, but that was not his target.

The next two debates are crucial.  Romney talks more about himself than any details of policy.  I, I, I, is his central message.  Maybe that will work for him, especially since Obama has alienated so much of the business establishment with his rhetoric.  Certainly Obama and his campaign will seek to highlight Romney's ever changing opinions on all policy related issues in the next few weeks, but do most voters really pay that much attention.  Have most voters already firmly made up their minds and we are really down to about 5% of the electorate that needs to be swayed on way or the other?

Maybe some observations will be forthcoming here, but not if they have already been beaten to death by the professional websites.  I need to get original again.