Be Thankful, Not Fearful

This is a time to be thankful for what we have. We gather with family or friends and celebrate the bounty of a great and prosperous Promised Land. The material wealth of North America has always been obvious, as it was demonstrated to the first Europeans by the natives.

But this is not a Promised Land for many people who live here. The systems that we have set up, often credited with our wealth, do not always work. When we are thankful on these days, it is rightly for the great gifts of our Democratic Republic – Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Hapiness. But as we have seen in the last few days, none of these are guaranteed to all by our system.

It is impossible to be truly thankful for our great gifts when we know that they are jealously kept from others.

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Crude and Junky

As oil prices remain low, the benefit for US consumers is obvious. But for oil companies? In the short run, prices running at about the cost of production mean no profits for the year, but in the longer run there is a terrible problem ahead.

That’s because the start-up of so many fracking operations across the US came at a cost, and that cost was financed primarily through junk bonds – high yield securities that demand a hefty interest payment to keep the operation going.

Zero profit means more than hard times – it means default and, in all likelihood, a shut down of many wells. That might not only spike up the price of oil, it is big enough to trigger a huge financial problem.

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Boom! Goes PowerPoint

I am horrifically bizzy, and Friday should be fun. Enjoy this classic piece.

You find yourself in a dark room, dazzled by charts and graphs and pictures that go by just fast enough to lose you.   The speaker at the front is well intentioned and trying desperately to make you as enthusiastic as they are, but it’s no use.  Your mind wanders, desperately trying to find something to daydream about that will keep you from nodding off, drooling on yourself, or both.

Here’s something to think about before you drift off into an embarrassing situation:  Franz von Uchatius, General in the Austrian Artillery – and Grandfather of PowerPoint.

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Net Neutrality Heats Up

“Above all else, we must strive to keep the highways of commerce open to all on equal terms.”
President Theodore Roosevelt, 1905

When President Obama came out in favor of Net Neutrality, the debate suddenly flared up. Ted Cruz and the Tea Party wing reflexively started campaigning hard against it, signaling a big battle ahead. Perhaps Obama should issue a statement claiming that “The sky is blue” just to see what fun ensues.

For all the noise, this is an important debate that is now settling in to become another political battle. The nuances are almost certainly going to be lost, especially with very mixed messages coming from the voting public. It is, however, one of the most important issues of our time – who controls the media, or for that matter, what exactly is “the media” today?

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Holiday Shopping, 2014

It’s just about shopping season! Last year, 19.2% of all retail sales were holiday sales – the stuff outside of food, gasoline, and other consumables that took place in the 28 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  That’s a total of $597B. This year, there’s one more day in that period and retailers hope for a decent increase.

Will this be a good holiday season that finally shakes off the blues that have plagued retail for the last six years? We’re about to find out.

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Crude Goin’ Down

The sign out front reads $2.899 for a gallon of gasoline. Prices haven’t been this low for at least four years. What happened? Will the price stay this low?

The short answer is that a lot of things happened, some of them mysterious. And it can’t remain this low forever, but perhaps for a few months. It’s all about the market for oil and perhaps some pernicious politics that, as always, make oil prices a geopolitical game.

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Whither, Republicans?

The Democrats lost the election bigtime, far more than the Republicans won it. As a Democrat I naturally worry more about my own party and what we should be doing, but that’s far from the most interesting story. After all, the Republicans inherited the vacuum amid 37% turnout and approval ratings for Congress at around 14%.

That’s not a win, it’s a default. And it’s not good to have power without any strong mandate.

What on earth should the Republicans do about it? There are two main schools of thought. One is to show that they deserve to be in government by demonstrating competence, the other is to keep pounding the Democrats and show how bad the other guys are. Governing seems like the obvious choice, but the landscape that has to be crossed is full of landmines. This might be an interesting two years.

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