Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miley Cyrus Exploited!

Stop the presses; hold the news casts. Forget about the war in Iraq, the economic recession, hundreds of thousands losing their homes, and every Pandora that escaped from the box. The whole country is focused on the loss of innocence of famous 15 year old child star Miley Cyrus. Once again the press and media of this country have shown their zeal and commitment to focusing on the most pressing issues facing the society. Miley Cyrus, who plays Hannah Montana and appears at sold-out concerts, had the unfortunate experience of posing for "less than age-appropriate" pictures for Vanity Fair. After the uproar, Miley offer the following statement.

“I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be ‘artistic’ and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed,” said the churchgoing Cyrus. “I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care deeply about.”

It's probably appropriate that Miley apologized given the circumstances of her life, and the fact that she's reputedly worth close to one billion dollars a year to the Disney people. One billion dollars! You could almost run for president of the United States with that much money. Actually, her father should be the one apologizing because he was in the company of his daughter at all times. He should be pulling his foot and his ego out of his mouth, but he's probably too busy managing his daughter's money.

Lisa GutiĆ©rrez wrote in the Kansas City Star, "Photo fallout: Miley Cyrus’ good-girl image is tarnished." The word image just about sums it up. Isn't image everything for actors or politicians (is there a difference?) in this country. It wasn't too long ago when Alex Agassi, the former tennis great, had a commercial which stated "image is everything." Sorry for this digression; back to the real or unreal world in my next post. Come to think of it aren't all three presidential candidates having "image problems."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is Senator McCain the One?

Cracks have begun to open up in a hitherto impeccable facade of Senator Obama courtesy of his own pastor and the slash and run campaign of Senator Clinton. He has contributed to this with his own statements which, as always, were taken out of context, and his association with former Weathermen Underground bombardier William Ayers. While all this has been happening, Senator McCain has been giving this country, and the rest of the world, a glimpse of what his presidency might be like. This is a man who has committed us to a hundred years more of war in Iraq; continually confused Sunni and Shiite; insisted that Al Qaeda was being trained in Iran; and has admitted that he has little if any knowledge of economics at a time when the country is facing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Good grief Charlie Brown!

In the final months of the presidency of George W. Bush, which will go down in history as the "Reign of Error,” Senator McCain clearly has marked himself as a worthy successor. President McCain would be able to save valuable time by committing his own egregious errors without the aid of fabricated reports of chief assistants that see the world as a grossly evil place because they have gazed far too long into a Palantir given to them by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His sojourns into the hinterlands of America have exposed him as a person grossly out of touch with the ordinary working person and what his/her needs and concerns are. The Republican attack machine which had plenty of fodder for a campaign against Senator Clinton, is now building its storehouse for a campaign against Senator Obama. The goal for the Republicans is to elect a Republican president to maintain the status quo. As ever, no thought is given to electing somebody who might be able to competently run this country.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Know When to Hold Them and Know When to Fold Them

Last May, I began to trade options on stocks and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). Obviously, my primary reason was to make money. Anyone with knowledge of trading options will tell you this is not a good way to make money. They would also give you several other good reasons why I or anyone else, who considers themselves sane, should not do this. However, being retired, and not caring whether anyone considers me sane (except for Linda), I began to do so. For the first several months it was fairly easy because I was buying options on the premise that the share prices of housing stocks and the few select banks would continue to decrease. This occurred with satisfying regularity and thanks to Washington Mutual in particular I was able to make some money. Since then I have learned many things about the difficulties in trading options, but I have also learned that it is possible to make money with sufficient information, good skills, and the right attitude.

The point I want to make is that one of the most important things I learned was that having a good exit strategy is most often the difference between making and losing money. People who trade options or stocks or commodities who make consistent money have a plan, and an important part of that plan is to have an exit strategy at the time they make any purchase. Exit strategies are also a part of life. There is a time to leave home and go to college or otherwise go out on your own. There are times when it is in our best interest to leave a particular job, and the failure to do so can have long-lasting consequences. Exit strategies also come into play in the most important part of our life, be it marriage or a partnership. The cessation of a relationship is never easy, and most often is extremely painful. It is vital that we deal with the reality of a relationship that no longer works and make appropriate decisions in the most humane manner.

The importance of exit strategies exist in the business, political, and social context in which we live. Whenever the stock market is in a boom mode there are always many people who stay too long at the party and find the money they made is a thing of the past. Businesses need to discontinue non-profitable practices in a timely manner. Everyone in business knows this, but history is replete with the failure to do so. IBM seemed to invent the computer, but it was making PCs long after it should have exited this market.

Wars are the most horrible of human events and should be waged only as a last resort. We sort of trickled our way into Vietnam and eventually had over a half a million men and women in the armed forces involved in the conflict which had no purpose and no possible exit strategy. It was a sad day in the history of this country when both Democratic and Republican presidents continued to lie day after day about what was happening in Vietnam. Our exit strategy of helicopters flying out of the US Embassy was a pitiful sight. Initially, I supported our entry into Iraq because I was convinced by the presentation of Secretary of State Colin Powell, that Iraq was a clear and present danger with weapons of mass destruction. I ceased believing that years ago. In Iraq we have been and continue to repeat one of the same mistakes we made in Vietnam. We have no exit strategy. We can "surge" all we want, but we don't know how to make Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq build a working partnership. They have been at war with each other far longer than this nation has existed. We are so immersed we simply cannot pack up and leave but no one knows how we will know when to get out. Hopefully, it will not end in another string of helicopters leaving the US Embassy amidst chaos and panic.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Political Obfuscation and the Media

While Senator McCain continues to warm up in the Republican bullpen, senators Clinton and Obama continue to duke it out throughout the never-ending primary process. The media's (television, radio, Internet, and even newspapers) job as I see it is to obfuscate the issues as much as possible. Occasionally issues such as health care and the Great American housing crisis get talked about or written, but the primary focus is on whatever the candidates may have said to embarrass themselves or potentially anger some portion of the potential voters. The candidates’ family, friends, political campaign staff, distant relatives, and anyone they might ever have potentially known are included in this effort to scoop up into the great media maw that feasts on misstatements, errors of omission or commission, and anything potentially politically damaging.

When Senator Clinton misremembered what happened on her visit to Bosnia, the media were "all over her like a blanket." (Pardon the metaphor) Anything of consequence vanished from the headlines because Mrs. Clinton remembered a more exciting excursion into a war zone than the peaceful visit she actually had. What are a few bullets between friends? Most recently, Senator Obama forgot to turn on his internal political censor and said things about working people that some might have found offensive. Goodness, why should people be angry about the fact that their incomes cannot keep up with inflation, their health insurance is inadequate or nonexistent, while the country continues to march on as if no one is in charge. Well, someone is in charge, and that's a whole other issue.

After the media jumped on Mr. Obama for what he said, it then focused its collective radar like mind on how he tried to extricate his political foot out of his mouth.

These things happen all the time and candidates shouldn't be held responsible for acting like the rest of us because they too say things they wish they had never thought to utter. It's possible that someone reading this blog might take exception to its tone and accuse me of exaggerating and/or making misleading statements about how the media covers the political campaigns. That's probably true, but only slightly. If anyone doubts my sincerity they need only read several of the columns written by Maureen Dowd of the New York Times about Senator Clinton. Ms. Dowd takes the sharpest of filleting knives and with great precision and vigor carves up Mrs. Clinton up at every opportunity. I guess everyone needs a hobby.

Stay tuned because it's only going to get worse. Eventually a Democrat will be nominated and the real campaign will begin. Then the media can report about the candidates’ mistakes and the political attack machines of both parties while only occasionally referring to the issues. If somehow the voters figure out what the candidates stand for, more power to them.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Getting All Gassed up

There's no more exciting feeling then the one I get when I fill up my car with gas and empty my wallet knowing that I'm contributing to the billions and billions of dollars of profit for oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Occidental. What makes this even more fun is that as the price of gas reaches record highs the oil companies are cutting back on the amount of gasoline they are producing. Excuse me? How can this be? If the price of gasoline is reaching record highs why would the oil companies be cutting back on the amount they produce? Not to worry because the answer is revealed below.

4/4/2008 3:30 PM by John Wilen,
AP Business WriterNEW YORK (AP) --

NEW YORK (AP) -- Retail gasoline prices surged to a record above $3.30 a gallon Friday and appear poised to rise further in coming weeks as gasoline supplies tighten.Oil prices, meanwhile, supported the gas price rally, jumping more than $2 a barrel after a dismal employment report sent the dollar lower. At the pump, gas prices rose 1.4 cents overnight to a national average of $3.303 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. That's the latest in a series of records, and about 60 cents higher than a year ago.While oil's surge above $100 a barrel the last month has boosted gasoline prices so far this year, analysts now expect gas prices to continue rising regardless of what direction crude takes. The Energy Department expects prices to peak near $3.50 a gallon later in the spring, but many analysts predict the spike could approach $4. That's because gasoline supplies are falling, in part because producers are cutting back production due to the high cost of crude the more expensive crude is, the more refiners have to pay and the lower their profit.

Egad! Perish the thought. Oil companies having to lower their profits? Such things are not allowed in this country. Actually, there are few more sentences that are pertinent to this subject and I'll add them below.

The margin between the price refiners pay for crude and what they get for selling the products they make from it is around $11 to $12 a barrel right now, according to the Oil Price Information Service. However, that margin has slipped into negative territory some days and is well below margins of $37 a barrel refiners earned last spring."

It's tough to slip into "negative territory" when last spring the refiners were suffering with margins of only $37 a barrel.

Actually, there's enough blame to be shared by most of the people in this country. The absence of a comprehensive national energy policy since the first "oil crisis" in the 70s is appalling. The tendency of many Americans to drive large gas guzzling cars has contributed to the consumption levels that have driven the price of oil so high. People will assert "it's my right to drive whatever car I can choose if I can afford it." I'm not aware of any "right" inherent in the Constitution of the United States, however it is currently their freedom to do so. As a result of the aforementioned factors, and a host of others not mentioned, we are beholden to countries that despise us and our way of life to supply us with the oil we need to continue our way of life.

Naturally, no national crisis goes untouched without Congress raising a ruckus about it. Doing something about it is another issue entirely.

Oil Industry Chiefs Tell Congress That Record Fuel Prices Are Not Their Fault
By H. JOSEF HEBERT 4/2/2008 2:57:00 AM
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Don't blame us, oil industry chiefs told a skeptical Congress. Top executives of the country's five biggest oil companies said Tuesday they know record fuel prices are hurting people, but they argued it's not their fault and their huge profits are in line with other industries.Appearing before a House committee, the executives were pressed to explain why they should continue to get billions of dollars in tax breaks when they made $123 billion last year and motorists are paying record gasoline prices at the pump. "On April Fool's Day, the biggest joke of all is being played on American families by Big Oil," Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said, aiming his remarks at the five executives sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in a congressional hearing room. "Our earnings, although high in absolute terms, need to be viewed in the context of the scale and cyclical, long-term nature of our industry as well as the huge investment requirements," said J.S. Simon, senior vice president of Exxon Mobil Corp., which made a record $40 billion last year."We depend on high earnings during the up cycle to sustain ... investment over the long term, including the down cycles," he continued. The up cycle has been going on too long, suggested Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. "The anger level is rising significantly. "Alluding to the fact that Congress often doesn't rate very high in opinion polls, Cleaver told the executives: "Your approval rating is lower than ours, and that means you're down low. "

I guess that says it all. If you can't get someone to do the right thing, insult them. In this case by telling them they're more unpopular than you are. What a way to go!

So until alternative sources of energy become sufficient to begin to displace the need for oil, the following equation will rule the day.