Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Christmas greeting and a new domain...

I'd like to wish (all seven) readers of this blog, a safe and joyous Christmas season.  I'll also mention that this site can now be accessed at a simple address: 

God bless you and here's to a healthy and prosperous 2010!

Wikipedia image


Friday, November 13, 2009

Rick Santelli is right (again)

Rick Santelli, CNBC
This morning I watched CNBC's Rick Santelli talking from the Chicago Board Of Trade.  His so-called, "Santelli Rant" has been watched on YouTube over a million times and his sentiments today, once again, represent the views of many Americans who pay their own way, just like you and me.  We believe in living within our means -- it's how we were raised -- but we lack a microphone.

Rick Santelli was in fine form this morning while debating Steve Liesman.  The topic was banking reform and Mr. Santelli made a case for an elegantly simple cure -- raise the banks' capital requirements. 

Another CNBC commentator chimed in that this is the same risk premium banks require when a homeowner has a marginal credit history -- the bank looks for more cash in the deal -- a bigger down payment to compensate for the risk of default.

Why can't we use the same mechanism to minimize chances of another banking meltdown?  Do we need new federal agencies, reams of new regulations, congressional hearings, Barney Frank class warfare speeches and on and on? 

Banks just need greater reserves to cover their own risk-taking.  I realize such requirements affect profitability, but it beats more government involvement.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Medellín, Columbia and Nixon

I have heard from friends with ties to Columbia, that conditions have dramatically improved across the country, although impressions from an ugly past still linger around the world. 

Tonight during Anthony Bourdain's show about Columbia, I watch as he visits Medellín and interviews locals - many of whom suffered enormously during the awful Pablo Escobar period of the 1980s.  The people appear proud, hopeful, even happy.  Mr. Bourdain says something to a local that instantly reminds me of what a rueful Richard Nixon told the White House staff in the final hours of his presidency:

"Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain." 

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

S/he who frames the healthcare debate...wins.

When the topic of healthcare reform took center stage this summer, I felt that "healthcare reform" had suddenly become code for "let's change health insurance." 

I was certain that I was missing something.  It's like the "3.5M jobs saved or created" metric which I wrote about last March.  I thought I was the only one disturbed by how stimulus programs would be "measured" and conveyed to the public by this administration, because I wasn't witnessing views similar to my own. 
Surgeons, Wikipedia

Back to the issue of healthcare policy.  The reform measure that counts, is the one that lowers healthcare costs for patients.  That should be how we frame the national debate and measure success or failure.  Is an expanded insurance pool run by the government going to achieve this goal? 

Lowering the cost of that pill, that surgery, that MRI, whatever it is -- would benefit us all.  I do not see how the House bill will lower health care costs.  

Agree or not, the sleight of hand here is that President Obama, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Reid, etc. have successfully shifted the focus from lowering healthcare costs, to demonizing the health insurance industry to obtain government control and delight their base.

If their bill passes, everyone will be 'covered' by virtue of a new mechanism.  That new mechanism is government-mandated, taxpayer funded, healthcare which of course is not reform at all -- unless you frame the debate to look that way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

When will we reward the savers?

This week, the author of a Barron's cover story posits that it's time for the Fed to raise interest rates.  The macro debate for and against doing so, I'll leave for economists.  The populist argument in favor of raising rates, however, I'll explore. 

The Barron's article which is titled, "C'mon Ben!" is accompanied by a reminder that keeping rates so low "hurts savers."  Additional fallout mentioned by author Andrew Barry, includes the stoking of inflationary flames and erosion of the dollar.  All I know is this...

America is a debtor nation with a debtor populace.  So the notion of helping savers save - unfortunately falls on too many deaf ears. 

The Fed keeps the cheap money flowing, but also keeps our returns from savings accounts, money markets, CDs, etc. -- at paltry levels.  When will we reward citizens who save and invest conservatively, instead of the reckless masses who borrow to consume?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Presidents, nuts and acorns

Contrast two recent cases that received national media focus: the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and video tape of ACORN employees giving advice to individuals posing as operators of an under-aged prostitution business.

In the first case, the President declares that law enforcement officers in the Gates case, "acted stupidly" then he hosts an awkward reconciliation meeting over beers on the White House lawn. 

In the second case, the President demurs when asked to share his opinion about the ACORN workers and Congressional action to stop federal funding for their organization. President Obama did mention actions he viewed on the ACORN videotape were "inappropriate" and deserved to be investigated (could he have said any less?) but then Mr. Obama added...

"This is not the biggest issue facing the country. It is not something I'm paying a lot of attention to."

Nor should he have paid much attention to a civil disturbance involving one man in Cambridge, Massachusetts...but he did.  Mr. Gates, for his part, could have had the last laugh and made buffoons of the Cambridge police, by maintaining his cool. Instead, while being questioned, he ranted as though he had been eternally robbed of his dignity and got himself arrested.  That was the whole "news" story.

Back to the President.  At the time he uttered the "acted stupidly" remark, I had the feeling he was reacting as a man who had felt the sting of racism -- a human reaction, possibly conjured by painful episodes from his past.

I'm playing amateur Psychologist, but let's say 25 years ago, the President attracted the suspicions of some uniformed person, for no other reason than he was black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's completely unfair, but it happens and I bet it hurts like hell and leaves you really angry.  I get it, but candidate Obama ran his campaign as the "post-racial" choice.  Many people who've grown weary of bitter and seemingly endless racial debates are attracted to a person of color that espouses a color-blind agenda.   My point?  Living with complete indifference to race, is much easier said than done and the President would have been well-advised to say as little about the Gates matter as he said about ACORN.

To be fair, Mr. Obama wisely distanced himself from the race mongering recently exhibited by former President Jimmy Carter.  Sometimes, even racism, or reverse racism -- is colorblind.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tea party rocks Milwaukee's lake front

John Maddente photo
Ever attend a tea party?

They don't serve tea at this kind, but visitors do receive a generous helping of speeches and opportunities to express themselves.

Yesterday on a sunny afternoon at Milwaukee's Veterans Park, thousands of attendees were treated to a litany of views on issues of importance to all including our federal and state tax climate, and sweeping health care and environmental proposals.

This was an audience that is passionate about their country and freedoms, but also well behaved and well informed. Nationally-acclaimed author Michelle Malkin roused the crowd with criticisms of left-leaning figures including Carol Browner, Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy whom Malkin referred to as a "Beltway Swamp Creature" (ouch), Attorney General Eric Holder "Chief Endangerment Officer" (a characterization I completely agree with) and "union thugs" (in particular, Andy Stern and the S.E.I.U.).

A number of speeches sounded out a call to action. "Joe the Plumber" reminded the crowd of a Ben Franklin maxim -- well done is better than well said.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Midwestern watchdog reporting still works

Her are two current examples why the Fourth Estate matters -- why it still serves the public interest.

Locally, in my home town of Milwaukee, readers were shocked and angry to learn how their tax dollars are squandered (again) by a $350 million state child care program that is routinely plundered by a number of providers, including one -- who as a result of Journal Sentinel investigations -- turned herself in to state authorities.

Fine reporting indeed, by Ms. Raquel Rutledge and others at the Journal Sentinel. Read more about the scams they uncovered at

Ninety miles south of me, another series by the Chicago Tribune exposes corrupt admission practices at the University of Illinois, as well as other cheats and cronyism throughout the Land of Lincoln. Here's the spot to read, "State of Corruption".

Have you ever wondered how we'd learn about these things if old fashioned, gumshoe reporting didn't occur?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ms. Ephron, a Republican might have fired you

Julie & Julia is a new film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. I watched the film yesterday alongside sixty or so other theater goers.

For anyone who loves Julia Child (as I do) the film is worth watching. Meryl Streep's depiction of the late great gourmand, is stunningly good. It's easy to replicate the oft parodied high-pitch voice, but Ms. Streep's cadence and accent on choice syllables is so faithful to the real deal, it's almost unsettling. It was a great performance.

The screen writer of this movie is Nora Ephron whose style I didn't care for before the film and she leaves me feeling even colder now.  Here's why.

Before seeing the film, I listened to two separate Nora Ephron interviews. Her tone and lack of enthusiasm during both interviews left me with the distinct impression she felt she was doing us a favor by sitting for them. At least, that's how she sounded. However, while viewing the film yesterday I realized something else -- she takes cheap shots.

Example: In this movie, Amy Adams plays a character that works in a call center to help 911 survivors and takes a "sick" day to cook a Julia Child dish.  She then blogs about the experience to the dismay of her boss who calls her into his office to beseech her for writing the post. He ends his rant by saying, "a Republican would have fired you."

In my case, the theater audience was silent after hearing that little gem.  (Perhaps they cheered in L.A.). Could Ms. Ephron have had any purpose other than to slam Republicans or Conservatives? Doing so is hardly unusual for Hollywood but still unfair to the memory of Julia Child (who was publicly apolitical). Whether the line was apocryphal or not is irrelevant -- it was unnecessary.

Finally, there is the ending to the film, or lack of one, that leaves one wondering if Ms. Ephron was tired and decided to finish the script quickly, or whether something else crippled her imagination.

All this notwithstanding, the film succeeds on the strength of Meryl Streep's affectionate performance and the unique legacy of the woman she portrayed. On a five star scale, this blogger gives Julie & Julia three stars and a pinch of salt for the screen writer.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Atlantic meets The Economist

Check out this article by Michael Hirschorn in The Atlantic (July/August 2009) in which Mr. Hirschorn examines how a printed magazine like The Economist can thrive while other printed weeklies it competes with -- notably Newsweek and Time -- are languishing.

Print publishing success in the digital age may lay in what Mr. Hirschorn describes as "razor-sharp clarity and definition" and owning and knowing a particular niche instead of trying to replicate one owned elsewhere.

In the case of The Economist, Mr. Hirschorn asserts that the magazine "...canvasses the globe with an assurance that no one else can match" and "...prides itself on cleverly distilling the world into a reasonably compact survey.''

Mr. Hirschorn, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, made me chuckle with a frank admission that his own magazine, "...has never delivered impressive profit margins."  Impressively profitable or not, his well-written piece is worthwhile for anyone interested in the devolution of paper-based, weekly news.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rather than add a new Palin post...

I'll simply provide a link to a CBS poll, taken this month, that reports an astonishing share -- 51% -- of the GOP views Ms. Palin as unqualified to be an effective President.  I guess I posted too early.  Here's the link, if you care to review the poll description.

I'm seeing more evidence to support my suspicions and I'll probably post no more about Ms. Palin as a VP choice because -- as the data increasingly shows -- I don't need to.

Nearly forty percent of GOP doubts Palin's abilities

Glad I'm not alone. A recently-released ABC News/Washington Post poll with a sampling error of plus or minus 3% shows that not only is Ms. Palin's support waning across the political spectrum, it is also slipping among Republicans as a whole.

Like the 83% of Republicans surveyed, I believe that Ms. Palin shares our values. However, almost four out of ten Republicans (and 57% of Americans overall) also say we doubt her ability to "understand complex issues." Which is another way to say what I first wrote last November - that, as much as we like what she stands for, she lacks credentials for national office.
Sarah Palin, Wikipedia

The Washington Post quoted one gentleman, thus: "Rick Buila, 38, of Sharonville, Ohio, who works in finance and voted for the McCain-Palin ticket in November, said his opinion of the governor has changed. `I don't think that she is cut out to be on the national stage,' he said. `I look at her education and her background and the way she carries herself and her [resignation] speech, and when you have someone who's out there saying 'You betcha' about 50 times, I don't think that's the person we want to have negotiating with other countries.'

Sadly, a few blowhards will seize on a remark like Mr. Buila's "You betcha" comment and dismiss any GOP criticism of Ms. Palin as elitist, or worse. That's unfortunate and wrong. We don't begrudge her for her style, we simply believe that she is not ready - and frankly might never be ready - for The White House.

We can do better. We must do better.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Peggy Noonan in today's WSJ & the Palin factor

Forward-thinking Republicans will thank Peggy Noonan for explaining what too few of us have the courage to say - Sarah Palin, even with all her attributes, was one of the worst things that could have happened to our party, at about the worst possible time.

I can't match Ms. Noonan's eloquence, but I can identify with what she says in this piece entitled, "A Farewell to Harms" in which she pours some truth serum with signature wit.
Peggy Noonan, Wikipedia

If you are one of my five readers, you may recall when I just couldn't take Ms. Palin's performance any longer and comforted myself in this November 8, 2008 post. Yesterday morning, I called in to a local radio program to express similar Palin-related thoughts (Joy Cardin takes my call @ approximately 9 minutes and 42 seconds into the 8 AM program on this tape if you care to listen).

Look, I recognize and deplore the torrent of abuse leveled at Ms. Palin and her family by the Left, but we can't parade out unqualified national candidates and expect the jerks that take cheap shots to remain mute. We have to plan for the jerks using more knowledgeable, near bullet-proof candidates that can do more on the trail than just say the`right' things on cue. We need depth and agility.

I admire Ms. Palin a great deal, but she was hopelessly in over her head last year and GOP admirers who feel otherwise are either in denial, lack political judgment, or both. Yet, the Noonan piece is not a tired rant to criticize Ms. Palin's work. Read carefully and you'll see that she is describing what is needed to rebuild the GOP - and why.

So let's end on a hopeful note - shall we? Yes we can!

Think of the Gopher State with it's schizophrenic voting populous that can embarrass itself with an Al Franken (sorry, I cannot bring myself to insert the word "Senator" before his name yet) but also manage to install what may be our best chance for a 2012 run at the White House - Tim Pawlenty. There is hope.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Wisconsin ghost writer no more!

I wrote a piece for a colleague (minus my byline) to express objections to Wisconsin's recently-enacted budget bill.

Several of my passages on our state tax system and our over-funded education system, had to be deleted for (my colleague's) political purposes. I understand.

However, with cathartic pleasure, I'll publish some of those buried thoughts here:

"The largest recipient of state appropriations from the general fund continues to be publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools. According to a fall 2008 analysis by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, enrollment in public schools declined for five consecutive years and declined precipitously (greater than 20%) in 51 districts.

Yet, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau projects a statewide $200 per student increase in the current biennium. Due to the manner in which public schools are funded, that increase in spending, coupled with a decrease in state aid, will be back filled by higher school property tax levies of hundreds of millions of dollars."

And part of my (deleted) prescription for fiscal healing...

"Consolidate school districts, local government units, and municipal services.  Privatize state-owned assets where it makes economic sense to do so. Shift more tax burden from property and income taxes to consumption taxes, to attract investment."


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Milwaukee County and remembering Reagan

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports today that a judge has allowed the furloughs (days off without pay) of some public union workers to commence in accordance with Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker's order -- starting Monday.

It's unfortunate, that instead of supporting his fiscal responsibility, the County Board continues to jawbone the County Executive and the unions, of course, continue to file their predictable lawsuits. All this for a measly five hours off a week.

My word, join a bowling league or something and feel grateful you have a job.

I have never understood why organized labor with its organized penchant for entitlement, behaves as though pay (and benefits most of us only dream of) ought to be guaranteed. I have not read their contract, but I cannot fathom any responsible authority agreeing on behalf of county taxpayers to anything more than the rest of us live with AKA an "at will" employment arrangement. The concept is quite simple. Either party (employer or employee) can sever their relationship with the other, for any reason, at any time.

This morning I recalled the will behind former President Ronald Reagan's decision to fire striking air traffic controllers in 1981. The union organization, known as PATCO, sought to express its grievances with a strike and jeopardize the safety of American travelers. After the President warned PATCO members that if they did not show up for work they would be fired, they tested him and he kept his word.

It was something of a milestone. Organized labor has continued its decline since. The average American understands that baseless threats, lawsuits and strikes are not part of an effective career strategy.

Now flash forward to modern day Milwaukee County and consider its fiscal challenges. We see all the labor vitriol we had on a national level back in 1981. . . over five hours a week.

Somehow I think that if Mr. Walker's furlough order was twice as stringent, the sun would still come up the next day and everything would still be just fine.

I commend Governor Doyle's plan for limited furloughs and wish only that he and the Democrat-controlled legislature, went further to reduce state spending and lower taxes. A wish denied.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Taxes, polls and pols

Yesterday morning at the beautiful Discovery World facility at Pier Wisconsin, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett participated in a panel discussion on Wisconsin's transportation needs and how to fund them. The event was also attended by Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who had some decidedly different ideas than the Mayor.
Tom Barrett, Wikipedia

At one point, Mr. Barrett cited two separate polls to conclude: few citizens want services cut (one poll), yet few want to pay for them in the form of higher taxes (a second poll). My reaction: of course.

However, if you require people to choose between them (think one poll, Mayor), my guess is they'll choose to hang on to their own money and allow government to shrink.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

My dowdy prediction

A week has elapsed since I wrote about Maureen Dowd. I thought by now she would have acknowledged an intentional 43-word copy job, followed by a sorry-I-forgot-to-attribute apology.  I think that's all it would have taken to make this saga go away -- at least for me.

Ms. Dowd points out that in the column in question, she had given proper credit to two other writers and so by her reckoning, she could not have planned to copy from a third. Two out of three isn't bad.

I'd have preferred to hear her say she was working too quickly, or she was distracted when a bird smacked into her office window, or whatever, but that after she had knowingly used the work of another writer, she simply forgot to credit the author, but had meant to do so. I would have bought that, but it isn't what we are asked to believe, which is why this episode is extraordinary.

Maureen Dowd, Wikipedia
The essence of her account is this: After communicating with a friend about another person's work, she plopped some sentences in her column and then discovered she was using the same 43 words after bloggers told her.  Here's what she wrote to explain her actions (repeated from Michael Calderone's space at "i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent -- and I assumed spontaneous -- way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column. but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me. we're fixing it on the web, to give josh credit, and will include a note, as well as a formal correction tomorrow."

My prediction that within a week Ms. Dowd would be finished by the absence of a plausible explanation and Mea Culpa -- was laughably wrong.  I'm not sure that even another month will vindicate me.  I misjudged how serious the matter would be taken by the New York Times.  I see a lot of reader (and writer) outrage and scorn, but little from the Times itself. 

I think Ms. Dowd made a mistake, got rattled during the firestorm and then made more mistakes by blaming her quotable friend.  My reasoning is that she didn't need to take foolish risks deliberately, so it probably wasn't theft. She's already a famous, award-winning columnist in little danger of losing her space, so she doesn't need to lift other people's work including the unremarkable, 43 words she borrowed.

I rarely agree with her views (save for the attention she aptly paid to Bill Clinton's peccadilloes in the 90s) and she strikes me as a Leftist in the Keith Olbermann tradition -- not the kind I can disagree with respectfully but someone who typically conveys opinions in a snarky, contemptible manner.  So I admit that my antennae went up easily when I learned about her ordeal.

However, I'd like to think that if a columnist I normally agree with like Noonan, Krauthammer, or Goldberg, had inserted 43 words written by another and then proffered such a lame excuse, that I'd have been equally critical.  When and if something like that happens, we'll see if I rise to the task.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Is Maureen Dowd in trouble?

The answer is yes.

Forty-three words without attribution, a laughable excuse and by now I suspect, a truth audit of her work is well underway.

Had Ann Coulter done this, the New York Times (and perhaps Ms. Dowd herself) would have hung her from the highest limb. My prediction is that Ms. Dowd will either come out and declare she knew what she was doing after all and apologize profusely within the next week, or she's finished as a nationally-syndicated columnist.

Stay tuned.

Friday, April 24, 2009

French lessons

We are fortunate enough to have a young student from France living with us these days. It is her first visit to our country and we are learning as much (or more) from her, as she is learning from us.

After attending high school classes with my younger daughter for a week or so, we prompted our guest to share her honest impressions. Well, among other things, she noted that students here strike her as somewhat more disrespectful to their teachers than what she is accustomed to in her native France.

Where are our children learning how to behave this way? Oh, that's right -- it's us.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saved or created? That is the question.

It hit me while driving someplace, maybe a month ago -- the President was talking about the outcome of his stimulus package and he used the now oft-repeated phrase about three and half million jobs, "saved or created."
(Freepik image)

I'm hearing it again as I watch one of his acolytes on "Meet The Press" and so I'll ask you...

how does one accurately measure a job saved?  How can one record a job loss that didn't occur, but might have occurred under different circumstances?

Data on new jobs are obviously available and broadly watched -- but jobs saved?  It seems like a clever mechanism to avoid any rigorous assessment of the relative success or failure of the stimulus plan.

What's actually been created, is a new rhetorical device called "jobs saved" that is designed to portray an anemic employment picture as something more robust. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Submitted to US Senator Herb Kohl moments ago...

"Dear Senator Kohl,

I am writing as a private citizen to voice my strong opposition to the bill misleadingly labeled as the `Employee Free Choice Act' also known as Card Check.

The coercive leadership of organized labor does not need additional tools to intimidate ordinary men and women who prefer to remain outside the union. I would urge you to speak out against this legislation and expose it for what it is -- a catalyst for union demagoguery.

I am not against organized labor per se, but I am against bullies and thugs gaining ground with sanction from Congress.


John J. Maddente"

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The individual and our economic crisis

If you had never met Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, you'd be hard pressed to spot him in a crowded room.  Mr. Walker is an average-looking man, with plain features and an unassuming demeanor. Even his name is common. He looks like a million other guys. I made his acquaintance last year after he introduced himself before a debate with his election opponent, Lena Taylor.

Scott Walker
Wikipedia image
Yes, a common guy he is, but don't be fooled -- Mr. Walker packs a wallop and his piece in this morning's Wall Street Journal, "Why I'm Not Lining Up for Stimulus Handouts" defines his fiscal moorings and shows why he has drawn acclaim among conservatives and some moderates in Wisconsin.

Walker mentioned what other politicians know -- but too often fail to highlight -- which is that our current fiscal calamities, were abetted by individuals -- not just banks, not just regulators, not just mortgage brokers, not just government. Those were all culpable parties to be sure, but what Walker reminds us today, is that our current turmoil began,

"...when millions of people were allowed (or encouraged) to spend borrowed money on homes they couldn't afford and were later forced into foreclosure." 

Amen!  I've been dismayed by the lack of discussion about individual responsibility and reckless borrowing. In due course, we'll see more acrimony coming from the public, or at least the part of it that still believes in living within one's means.

There are two arguments currently offered to defend bailouts for homeowners who bought too much house, or who should have remained renters until their income and assets warranted otherwise, or who foolishly sucked all the equity out of their homes to buy more stuff they couldn't afford. Here are those arguments:

Argument #1) "This is no time to teach people a lesson."

Who said anything about teaching? This isn't about vengeance either. Those who advocate for mortgage bailouts are appropriating money from responsible Americans to pay for the sins of others. Bailouts simply perpetuate that pattern.

The only way to help a heroin addict is to take away his opiate (in this case easy money), then encourage him or her to live healthfully. I see no reason why the responsible many should pay the freight of the irresponsible few, simply because the irresponsible few no longer meet their obligations. And in the cases I reference, we're discussing a self-induced foreclosure on a house, not a death sentence visited upon the falsely accused.

I believe many foreclosure so-called "victims" are personally responsible for their circumstances. There was too much predatory borrowing going on that is now being characterized, as predatory lending.  Yes, I know there were exceptions, people who were truly duped, or were improperly foreclosed upon -- but do you think that those cases constitute the majority of borrowers who suffered a foreclosure?  I do not.

Argument #2) "If we don't have mortgage bailouts to stem foreclosures, housing prices will continue to fall precipitously, including yours, so you should support this plan."

Well, I'd just as soon make my own mistakes, thank you. You're trying to use taxpayer money to reward people who don't believe in personal responsibility.

Markets work if we let them work. If housing prices continue to fall, they'll only be receding to a real level of value. The continuing collapse of our financial system and our way of life, which is rapidly careening toward Euro-Socialism, is as disturbing as the trajectory of home values.

However, if we allow the eggs to break and take our necessary economic pain, the values of our homes could appreciate again one day. Things can get better after the hangover. The reality that too few wish to acknowledge is this: we can't have a painless recovery.

Although the thrust of Mr. Walker's piece today is not about individual responsibility, it's about government's financial stewardship -- he gets it. We cannot, individually, or as a society, continue to kick the can down the road. It's immoral and stupid.

Our current state Governor, unfortunately, wants to continue to leverage our future, reward his supporters like public teachers' unions and expand government programs we don't need and can ill-afford.  It's widely speculated that Mr. Walker will run for Governor in the next election. If he does run, I intend to support him. I hope like-minded voters in this state will do the same, unless a stronger candidate emerges.

Right now, I don't see a stronger one.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What sequence of events caused the mess?

Hedge fund executive Oscar Schafer in a Barron's interview (January 12, 2009, "Hang on Tight!") described our current economic condition thus: "The world is experiencing a giant margin call."

Yes, a giant margin call enabled by easy credit extended to millions of people who couldn't afford a home, or couldn't afford as much home as they purchased.  Many of them then sucked the equity out of these homes to finance a lifestyle they couldn't afford, before defaulting on their mortgages. 

How did it all happen?

It started with policy makers in Washington who wanted to guarantee home ownership for anyone with a pulse. The Fed left open the spigot of cheap money by keeping rates too low for too long and America became intoxicated by illusory home price appreciation.

This party was then joined by money center moguls trying to juice returns by making big bets upon this whole sorry misuse of credit, until the house of cards collapsed.  Millions of people, who either ought to have remained renters until their income and assets could justify any mortgage, or who should have purchased more modest homes at fixed rates, were enabled by government-coddled institutions like Fannie and Freddie and popular legislation to "invest in our communities".  

The risks they took (policy makers, investment banks and millions of fiscally-challenged Americans), have poisoned the well that the rest of us must drink from -- perhaps for decades. Now, we hear that the other shoe to drop will come from commercial credit busts, or the next highest risk level of mortgages above sub prime.

This all has the same antecedent -- greed. Grandma warned us when we were children.  If you can't afford it -- don't buy it. If you can't afford to lose it -- don't bet it. In short, live within your meansGreed is the same thing that destroyed Rome. With God's grace, we'll get treatment and beat our addiction to debt before we all go down in flames.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A president's farewell

I felt sorry for him as he approached the lectern with a sheepish smile.

As Kissinger reminded Nixon, I believe history will treat him better than his contemporaries. His policies precluded another attack since 9/11. To conclude otherwise is to posit that the other side simply stopped trying to harm us after 9/11. 

I'm reminded of another parallel with Nixon. Richard Nixon asked readers this question in one of his later books: if America does not lead in this world -- who will?

I repeated the question in one of my columns and a rebuttal came from a letter writer who declared that the correct answer to this question is -- the "leaders" of other countries.  I'm still wondering which 'leaders' she referred to.  Stalin?  Hitler?  Hussein? 

No, Mr. Bush's Middle East policy was not the detriment to America that some claimed. This President did not have the luxury of presiding over a peaceful world where "constructive engagement" with the enemy -- or recalcitrant allies -- would have been the wise course. The safety of American citizens has been this President's overriding concern and that will be a positive part of his legacy. 

George W. Bush
The biggest stain on the record of this administration was its failure to stem the profligate spending we have seen during the last eight years -- punctuated with a new drug program we can't afford.

That's a trend the new administration appears destined to continue.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cartoon feedback to my last post

Regarding point #2 from my previous post concerning Al Franken, I'd like to thank my nephew who alerted me to an outstanding political cartoon (from Michael Ramirez a two-time American Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist.).  

Even if I could draw, I couldn't improve on the way Mr. Ramirez makes his point in IBD.