Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I Hate the Stock Market

We've always fixated on the stock market as the barometer of what is right or wrong with the nation's economy but personally, I hate the stock market. That's because by making it the financial be-all and end-all, it sends the message that only what happens to the elite among us is important. The business shows and columns and blogs go into great emotional detail about conditions that impact the fluctuations of the market and how that will affect our financial betters. Rarely, do they become so breathless about the rise or fall of wages,or, at least, only if a decrease in wages benefits business.

In fact, what is bad for working people is usually seen as good for the folks who get most of their income from stocks and bonds and dividends. Declining wages = a positive sign in the eyes of the financial media.

I watched the news yesterday and it was all about seemingly endless lists of companies that were shedding workers, often by the thousands. (This is the first time ever that unemployment was up in all 50 states). The comment following a report about a company's downsizing of employees was usually: "the price of ABC Industry shares rose sharply higher today following the announcement of lay-offs).

Ah, you see, Wall Street thinks it's good when they get rid of us so they are rewarded by seeing their share price increase. That means their production costs will go down. Lean and mean, that's the way we like our industries to be. Get the most out of the least for less - that's their motto. Employees? We are just another "component" in the price of doing business.

It is the next day after all the reports about people losing their jobs. At about noon, the market is up almost 150 points. See, what'd I tell you? Good news!

Of course, I realize that the stock market impacts us all somewhere down the line. None of us are immune from the market's ups and downs. But that's the thing. I do know that my welfare is tied to that of the the money men. But do they know it about me? Do they realize that Mr and Mrs Lunchbucket are also Mr and Mrs Consumer? Are they even aware that when we don't have jobs, we don't buy cars or homes or go to sporting events or attend college? And that will eventually affect their bottom line as well. After all, financial movement is felt both up and down the food chain.

His Holiness

I skipped watching most the Obama Inauguration. I may be sorry someday since it was haled as the most momentous event of my lifetime and I let it pass me by. I watched enough to see people screaming and crying and praying. I read enough to know that the two million in attendance came from all over the country and that there was dancing in the streets in Africa and maybe other continents besides. I heard enough to know that the pedastal the media put Barack Obama on way back last year at the start of the primaries is higher than ever.

And this is my problem. Yes, I was for Hillary and yes, I was bitter about the way the primaries were decided but what was done was done. Barack was it and at least it wouldn't be Bush anymore. I accepted the situation, voted for Obama, and have been satisfied with most of the decisions he's made so far.

But, the reverence with which he's being treated is literally nauseating - the awe in the voices of the media, the ecstasy in the expressions of the people being interviewed. The superlatives that are used to describe him : fearless, brilliant, amazing, flawless, transcendent, enlightened. I expect to hear Mika Brzenzski on Morning Joe refer to him as Saint Barack any day now, to see stigmata forming on her hands. We've heard a lot about the circumstances of Obama's birth and upbringing but considering the worshipful attitudes so many have about him, can the theory of immaculate conception be far behind?

The fact is that President Obama is a man, just a man. Yes, he's smart and handsome and charming, etc. etc. but still, just a man.

I'll be able to pay more attention to what the Obama administration actually does when the cloying smell of sanctity about who he is dissipates a little.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Will Heating Costs Go Down?

When oil was going up and up and up and automobile gas was going up and up and up, well, naturally, heating costs went up and up and up. Understandable, I guess. I don't exactly understand how oil impacts electricity and coal and natural gas but I suppose, they are somehow intertwined.

Okay, so now the price of oil is back down. Vehicle gas has plunged from over $4 a gallon to about $1.78 the last time I filled up. But my gas bill at home was $415 last month and that was before our current spell of frigid temperatures. I can only imagine what it will be next month.

So, my question is - is the cost of heating going to go down and if not, why not? And even if it eventually does, why is it taking so long when gas prices for our cars responded to the drop in oil prices right away?

If they are keeping their prices up artificially, wouldn't it be considered price gouging?

Exciting News

I will be writing a NASCAR column for the Indianapolis Star website starting at the beginning of the season in February. What is so cool is that I mailed off some sample columns on a Monday at 11:00 a.m. on my way to Rochester. On Tuesday at about 11:00 a.m., I got a call from the Sports Editor of the Star - 24 hours later! Bless the U.S. Postal Service. They must have delivered them in one day and then the editor must have read them and called me almost immediately. He said he thought I had a "good voice for sports".

It reminded me of when I used to write quite a bit for USA Today when that newspaper first started and it was mostly written by outsiders rather than in-house writers. Somehow, I got pegged as a sports aficionado. I ended up giving my opinion on various NFL, NBA and NHL issues, none of which I knew the remotest thing about. I can remember racing down to City Hall to beg Dallas and Todd Titus - "quick, tell me something about hockey!" or asking, "are we in favor of expanding the baseball franchises?" They called themselves my ghost writers and teased that I should split my check with them - $150 for about 400 words as I recall USA Today paid back then.

Writing about NASCAR will be much more exciting because, of course, I could have cared less about football or basketball then but I care passionately about stock car racing. Not to mention that the Indianapolis Star is a prestigious reference to have. AND, the biggest thing of all, is that I might be able to wangle a press pass and that means if I go to the Brickyard this year, I might be able to get on Pit Road and I just might see Jimmie Johnson up close and personal!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Poor Barack?

Poor Barack Obama. You have to wonder sometimes if he doesn't have second thoughts about whether he's bit off more than he can chew. The economy in steep recession - we still have our own wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - now there's more conflict in the Middle East with Israel starting a ground invasion - what to do about Iran and Pakistan and North Korea - and what's Putin up to in Russia anyway, and China? Can we save our banking industry and/or the Big Three? What will the stock market finally go down to? What will the unemployment rate finally go up to? What the heck should we do in Illinois? Can't let it look like we're giving in to the indicted Gov even though he's put forth a man who'd normally be a perfectly acceptable candidate. And, geez, what a mess in Minnesota. Turns out Al Franken is a couple hundred votes ahead but the R's are screaming fraud and Coleman will surely sue. What else could possibly go wrong? Oops, don't say that because you know that old story about the man who said it could be worse and, sure enough.

Do you think the president-elect thinks at times - "Holy shit, what have I got myself into?"

Nope, I don't either. You have to have an ego as tall as Mount Everest to think you are qualified to lead the nation better than anyone else anyway and when you're Obama and had less experience than just about every other candidate had, that's surely especially so. So, my guess is that's he's chomping at the bit to take over, believing in his heart that he's the one to make things better.

Maybe he's right. I sure hope so.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

So Long, 2008

Happy 2009 everyone. I'm glad to see 2008 disappear in the rear view mirror although it brought mixed blessings. Here are some of the good things.

PLACE - My favorite place in 2008 was Manhattan. Of course, I didn't go many places last year but even if had, I doubt if any other location would have been able to match the sights and sounds and smells and energy of New York City. We stayed at the Broadway Millennium Hotel on Times Square where huge neon signs flash in all directions and masses of people crowd the sidewalks and cabs and buses and cars cram the streets. We ate wonderful steak at an Irish pub, then fantastic beef brisket at a barbeque place and then an 8" high corned beef on rye at a deli - all within a couple blocks of one another, and that was just the merest sampling of what was available. We took a bus trip around this island where there are more recognizable landmarks per block than any other place in the world including Central Park and Chinatown and Tiffany's and St Patrick's Cathedral and the site of the World Trade Center and Rockefeller Center and the Trump Towers and Greenwich Village and Wall Street and the theaters of Broadway and.....I could go on and on. We took a boat trip around the harbor to salute the Statue of Liberty, see the history of Ellis Island and motor under the Brooklyn Bridge. A special place in America, New York, and if you've never been, you need to experience it at least once.

THINGS - Books. I've always been an avid reader but I went on a reading binge this year. I found new authors to love such as Iain Banks and David Fulmer and Richard Montanari and Declan Hughes and Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris - and I re-fell in love with some old friends like Ed McBain and Lawrence Block and Robert Crais and John Sandford. I've only just discovered Jack Higgins' Sean Dillon. Jack and Sean have been around for years and I don't know why I never read the series but, on the other hand, it is delicious to stumble upon a character and see that there are at least 15 books waiting for you to come claim them.

ENTERTAINMENT - Of course, it was NASCAR which took over my whole second half of 2008. I couldn't wait for the weekends and the races and now I can't wait for them to come again once the off-season is over and they re-start in February. My goal for 2009 is to go to the Brickyard and see the sleek machines and hear the roar of the engines and feel the spectacle up close and personal.

NEW PERSON - Jimmie Johnson, naturally. My hope is to see him make NASCAR history by winning four in a row.

BIGGEST PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT - Completing two novels (biggest personal achievement of 2009 would be selling them).

LUCKIEST MOMENT - Winning $1,000 on a 50 cent slot machine at the Trump Casino at Atlantic City, thus making my vacation oh-so-much more pleasant.

MOST SATISFYING - Finding attorneys for some people who badly needed representation to give them equal access to our legal system - to divorce an abusive spouse or retain custody of their children or escape a harassing creditor.

BEST NEW BAND - Whiskey Falls with Flynnville Train close behind.

And here are the not-so-good things about 2008.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - Hillary not winning the Democratic primary. I voted for Barack Obama and I hope for the country's sake that he's half as good as many of his supporters think he is but I can't warm to him and that may be due to the tactics that were used to get him to the White House.

WORST DEVELOPMENT - The economy. It seemed clear to me what would happen if we elected Bush (twice). I predicted something like this back in 2000. That's partly because the Republicans always do the same things with the same results. They lower taxes, run up the deficit, dispense with the regulations that keep industry's honchos honest while trying to undermine labor. Add to that, billions for a war we shouldn't have fought and couldn't afford and it was a recipe for economic disaster. Why is it that an ignorant little secretary in Indiana can see this and the financial and political gurus can't?

SECOND WORST DECISION BY VOTERS - NASCAR media voting Carl Edwards as Driver of the Year.

MOVIE - I'm ashamed to say I only saw a single movie in 2008 and it wasn't very good. In fact, I don't even remember the name of it.

BIGGEST PERSONAL FAILURE - I bought a new digital camera in 2008. Excited about the possibility of finally being able to take decent pictures, I even signed up for a Photography class - and promptly flunked out. Demoralized, I gave up on using the camera for its intended purpose although I take it out and admire it every now and then.

LEAST SATISFYING - not being able to find attorneys for people who desperately needed legal representation to have equal justice under the law.