Friday, October 31, 2008

Spread the Wealth

Trick or Treat, part deaux

The I-45 Rivalry continues with the Houston Rockets’ win over the Dallas Mavericks last night, 112-102. Another three feet of confetti in the SportsRadio610 Studios across the hall this morning…Houston Texans have a chance to even their record for the season to 4-4 with Sunday’s contest against the Minnesota Vikings.

Have you noticed that sports figures are among the most popular Halloween Costumes this year? Watch for kids dressed up like ball players, hockey players…I haven’t seen too many kids dressed up like pro golfers…but I am glad they wear the players’ jerseys with their names and numbers on the back, because sometimes it’s really hard to tell just who they’re trying to dress up as.

Do you know THE most popular sports figure Halloween costume ever?
Tonya Harding.
Ice skates, frilly skirted monotard, and a hammer.

Let’s set a couple of things straight this morning, ahead of tonight’s festitivities—a truly American custom—in which perfect strangers walk up to someone else’s house and take candy for free. Not to be confused with some neighborhoods on other nights of the year, in which perfect strangers walk up to someone else’s house and take whatever they want.

Little kids do their thing until dark.
Bigger kids—emphasis on kids—come around after dusk; it’s somewhat gauch to be hitting the doorbell after 9pm. Besides, it’s rude to interrupt “Numb3rs,” which comes on at nine.
If my doorbell rings after nine, you’re going to have to deal with my attack Yorkie.

Another rule of thumb I hope the little gremlins in our neighborhood observe: If the porch light is off, the snack bar is closed. That frozen 99-cent leftover candy from last year only goes so far, and like the automobile dealers’ special deal-of-the-week, when it’s gone, it’s gone.

One other thing—this is especially applicable to the older kids—no costume, no candy.
No tickee, no laundry.
And don’t trot out that tired line that you’re going around on behalf of your little brother who broke both legs in a skateboarding accident on Tuesday.
Not gonna fly.

By the way—our studio guests this morning are looking pretty sharp in their Halloween garb, especially Michael Landry’s Super Hero Costume. And Mark Jeffrey is particularly dashing this morning in his Mile-High Captain’s out fit.

Uh, Mark—that’s meant for women.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Trick or Treat?

Radio is Theatre of the Mind.
You cannot help but believe what I tell you on the air, because you have no image to see, save that which is being created in your mind's eye by the words I am speaking.

That's why I am tall, dark, slender, and handsome on the Radio.
(A clue as to why I am not on TV...)

Sometimes, however, words are not enough--and the right photograph of a moment is worth a thousand of them.

Such was the case this morning, as our own Super-hero, Michael Landry, was presented with his very own, custom-made Super-hero costume by Pamela Griffin.

Words cannot adequately describe the moment, and so we present to you several photographic documentations of the event.

(Bet you can't wait to "see" those synchronized roofers in the morning!)

Cruisin' with FEMA

What are FEMA officials putting on their post-toasties each morning?
How to these people keep their jobs?

Two things that just defy rational explanation: First, there are about 7,000 families in FEMA’s hotel program. The agency has referred only 500 families for enrollment in its rental housing program—even though over 6,000 families qualify—and payment for the hotel program runs out in 30-days.

It’s just not moving along fast enough.

Meanwhile, docked at Galveston’s cruise ship terminal is the Regal Empress with 1,100 beds for Hurricane Ike victims…which the ship’s owner is willing to lease to FEMA for $48 per person and $7 per meal—a bargain if you ask me.

Hello, FEMA McFly, what is the problem here?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Culberson Comes to Call

You can pick your co-hosts, but you shouldn't pick your co-host's nose.

Tomorrow morning my in-studio regulars include Michael Landry from CRSC Consulting, and the lovely and talented Pamela Griffin from Pamela Griffin Interiors. I have no idea what they want to cover, because I haven't heard from them yet.

Our special guests will include Pavel Molchanov from the Houston office of Raymond James & Associates. Since the Petroleum Inventory numbers were released today, Pavel will provide some interprettive remarks tomorrow.

In the third hour of the show, US Rep. John Culberson joins us from an undisclosed location...probably still on the fly-over ramp of the 610 Loop to the newly re-opened 18-lane Katy Freeway. He's also running for office, and the clock is ticking ever onward towards election day. Should be an interesting chat, and I hope you will listen in and participate with us.

See you in the morning at 7 on the Radio.

The Obamafication of the Nation

A federal judge in Ohio has ruled that counties in that state must allow homeless voters to list park benches and other locations that aren't buildings as their addresses. What a quality turn out we're going to have on Tuesday!

Do you find it interesting that some people are already altering their behavior in anticipation of a win by the Democrats next Tuesday?
Here’s one example:

The owner of the Miami Dolphins is trying to sell part of his share of the team…and now wants to speed up the process because he believes a Barack Obama administration means higher capital-gains taxes.

Wayne Huizenga believes an Obamafied tax structure would double the capital gains tax…and with The Obamarator already taking measurements for drapes in the Oval Office, Huizenga can't close the deal fast enough.

Stephen Ross purchased 50% of the team and Dolphin Stadium for $550 million earlier this year, with the intention to eventually become majority owner. NFL owners blessed that deal earlier this month, clearing the way for it to take place anytime.

The Obamanites are disputing Huizenga's figures, saying the candidate's plans are to raise the capital gains tax maximum from 15% to only 20% – only a 33% increase, not double. And the top rate would be for families earning more than $250,000, or individuals earning more than $200,000.

Glad we got that cleared up.
Cheez, Huizenga, you'd complain if they hung you with a new rope.

I tell you, this whole election is making me crankier and crankier each day.
I have a friend in Central Texas who has gone off the deep end, and is telling everyone to pay off EVERYTHING, stock up on non-perishable food, and load up with plenty of ammo for protection against the collapse of society as we know it.

Okay, the "get out of debt" part I totally agree with, but the rest of it...
This is a perfectly rational woman I have known since Junior High School.
How did we get to the point where people are turning to vigilantism in anticipation of the outcome of a Presidential election?

There are people now determining their vote based upon who the Vice President will be, because of a fear that neither presidential candidate will live out their term.
That’s just sad.

The final straw is tonight’s half-hour info-mercial by the Obamalites, which will cut into most prime-time programming, including the World Series.
Only ABC is refusing to interrupt its line up to play the ad.
Good for them.

If it were a meaningful debate, that would be one thing.
This is a 30-minute commercial.
Give me a break.

Hey, remember this is all being made possible by all that money that Sen. Obama first promised you he would not tap into, relying instead upon public funding of his campaign. He's not even in the White House, and can't keep his word to the American public.

Hmmm...on second thought vigilantism doesn't seem so outrageous...

I do believe that there need to be some fundamental changes in the way the country operates…and I think you’re going to see that begin to trickle into the outlands.

It would be nice, for example, if Congress got on the same kind of retirement plan the rest of us are facing; there’s an ice cube’s chance in hell of them ever extending to the rest of us the kind of retirement plan Congress has prepared for itself.

Here’s a thought for you: how well do you believe your congressman can represent you—can relate to what you’re going through—when two thirds of our Senators are millionaires, and the collective wealth of Congress grew 13% last year?

Isn’t it ironic that the wage/income/wealth gap argument is never applied to these guys?
In a piece published yesterday by the McClatchy Newspapers, it is noted that “nearly two of every three senators are millionaires."
That includes both presidential candidates.

In the House, 39% of all members belong to the exclusive Millionaire- club.
Only 1% of all Americans are considered millionaires.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, most members of Congress enjoy a comfortable cushion upon which to ride out any recession. Their median net worth is $746,000.
The report reveals California Rep. Jane Harman is at the top of the heap with a net worth of $397 million. She probably needs to make that much to afford to live in California, but still, that's pretty extreme.

Also from the Shaky State, checking in at Number-two, Rep. Darrell Issa, with $343 million, and North Carolina's Rep. Robin Hayes is a distant third, with $173.4 million in net worth.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ranks sixth, with $62 million.
Our own Congressman Michael McCaul checks in at $64-million.

I am not critical of the ability of anyone to make a good living. There is, however, a bit of an eye-brow raiser in the fact that most of these guys are getting richer and richer and their feathered nests are becoming plumper and plumper while most of America is in the throes of an economic recession, and facing higher taxes and higher costs of living as the result of a Congress that has essentially failed in its duty to serve.

No wonder they don't get it when we kick and scream about raising taxes and wealth redistribution. No skin of their nose with that kind of cash floating around. Their perspective is considerably skewed when viewed from atop a pile of money.

By the way—here’s a question that no one is answering as the election campaigns grind on and on about taxes going up for the Rich or not raising them for the Middle Class.
What line of demarcation defines “rich?”
What defines “middle Class.”

Sorry if I am a bit cranky this morning.
I ran out of Five-hour Energy Drink, and the 24-hour Walgreens near my house is no longer operating overnights.

Maybe that’s the first sign of change we’re going to be seeing—fewer businesses open 24-hours, 7-days a week: Chick-Fil-A already closes down on Sundays—which I have no problem with--and they seem to be surviving just fine.

Might we see more of a return to a 6-day work week by more businesses in the future?

It won’t be for a lack of work to do, but a need to curtail the expense of employees operating 7-days a week. If taxes go up on the very ones who are operating businesses--from people who run NFL Teams, to mom-and-pop grocery stores--I guarantee there will be some huge shifts in the way we live.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Greening of Blacks

There is now a national Commission to Engage African Americans on Climate Change. The rationale is that because Blacks are believed to be more concentrated in urban environments, and statistics indicate less affluent Blacks are willing to forego environmentally-friendly policies in return for a paycheck, the need therefore exists to get this demographic/economic group into a Green-collar economy: a sense of responsibility for the planet, manifest through the economic choices that are made.

One tactic is by characterizing the Global Warming issue as a moral responsibility—with protection of the environment being positioned as “creation care,” with focus being concentrated in black churches. Personally, I have several issues with this entire premise.

Number one—it is offensive to stereotype Blacks as being any less-sensitive to this issue than people who are yellow, brown, red, white or purple.
I’m surprised Al Sharpton hasn’t been screaming and jumping up and down about this…has anyone hired Quannell X to protest about this one, yet?

Secondly—this entire global warming theory is not the point: There is plenty of doubt—credible doubt—that the theory is flawed, and the so-called effects of global warming are in fact manifestations of natural cycles in global temperature changes that have always existed. We’re not any smarter about noticing these changes—we just have better instrumentation to note the differences, and a deeper database of historic measurements against which to compare things than we did 100-years ago. But in the grand scheme of things, our little slice of history is but a flash of time, and not a good point of reference.

Third—the true benefit of any conservation efforts will be the emergence of true energy independence. It is incredibly arrogant for we mere mortals to presume we have the power to alter planetary cycles that have been in place for thousands of years. Yes, there are more people around, but there are still some fundamental cycles that are unalterable.

The point of this is: The less we use of a limited commodity, the more independent of its providers we will become. The less demand we place on fuel sources—like oil—the lower the cost will be. If you don’t believe me, look at the price of gasoline at the pump—which is being directly attributed to reduced demand and increased supply.

Higher energy prices are just as onerous to Blacks as they are to Whites; higher fuel prices are no less of an economic deterrent to yellow people than they are to brown people.
Oh, there is the argument that more affluent sectors of society can better afford to pay for expensive power than the poor.

Granted. Still, I don’t think Bill Cosby is any happier about it than some burger flipper at Burger King.

But the true success of any policy agenda to alter the way we create, store, consume, and dispose of energy and energy by-products will be measured most precisely in terms of economic costs and benefits. Certainly a reduction in pollutants will be a happy by-product…but the best way to get people on board, regardless of skin color or wallet thickness, will be by demonstrating the economic benefits…which will be universal across all groups of people.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tuesday's Child

Tomorrow morning's guests will include Patrick Harrington of Jeffrey-Harrington Green Builders, along with our resident Greenologist, Teri Mercatante.

What is a Greenologist, you may ask?
The secret is in the spelling.

The etymology of the word would indicate Teri to be a most-learned person in all things pertaining to the Greening of America--in this case, planning, design, and construction intended to be environmentally friendly, energy conservative, and where ever possible, resource renewable.

In Teri's case, she could also be tagged a Greenologyst, because she tackles the subject matter from the perspective of the feminine gender, which is not at all a bad thing.

Also on tomorrow's docket: A visit with Congressional contender Michael Skelly, who is challenging Rep. John Culberson for his 7th District seat in the US House of Representatives.

Mr. Skelly also has an interesting background in alternative energy, so his presence on the Green Building show should be fortuitous!

See you in the morning on the Radio.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Looking Ahead

Monday (October 27) marks the debut of our new-and-improved, three-hour Morning Show on CNN650 Radio News.

E. J. Simonsen will be with me as he always is on Monday, to help you meet the challenges of a failing economy and melting mortgages. I hope you will call in and be a part of the show.

The second-hour (8a-9a) will feature Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who is running for re-election to his first, full four-year term. If you've been living under a rock the past few weeks, Judge Emmett is the guy who busted the log jam of Hurricane Relief supplies, and got the materials moving smoothly following Hurricane Ike.

The third hour will include Robert Blair, who is part of the team at Home Solution Counselors that figures out how to help people get out of trouble with mangled mortgages.

I'm not going to feed you any more details here--you'll have to tune in to listen! (This has been what we in the business call a "teaser.")
See you in the morning on the Radio.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Hey, what am I doing over there?
You may be wondering why my digitized mug is no longer leering at you from the left side of the screen.

But, as you may have noticed, there are a few more images on the west side of the screen than in the past, and in the interest of keeping things a little less cluttered, a little more balanced, I've migrated said mug to the east side of your monitor.

As my friend, Pamela Griffin, might describe it--think of it as feng shui for your computer screen. (Don't be too impressed, I had to do a Google search to figure out how to spell that...)

The logos and links to the left are there for a reason.
This blog will soon be linked to a CNN650RadioNews website as a landing pad for the curious who happen to wander over there, and wonder who it is that is on the air each morning.
That would be moi.

And beginning Monday, October 27, we're taking a bold, new step, by expanding the show, cubed. The 60-minute morning sojourn becomes a three-hour's tour, and I hope you will come along for the ride.

May I introduce some of the players to you?

E.J. "Edge" Simonsen is the top banana at Home Solution Counselors, and he will be joining me each Monday morning to solve the problems of the world, and a few mangled mortgages in the process. He's a sharp dude, and he has about a 99.9% success rate in keeping folks out of hot water with their lenders.
That's pretty important these days.

On Tuesday's we're dedicating most of the show to greener pastures. Actually, greener houses and workplaces.

The Jeffrey-Harrington Custom Homes Green-building Deparment opens wide their doors and triple-paned windows to shine the light of truth on how you really can build "green" without spending a lot of green.

That's Patrick Harrington, on the right--the handsome-half of the team. And now you know why he's on the Radio. Teri Mercatante is our resident Greenologist... guiding the faithful in the paths of renewable energy righteousness.

Wednesday's are still being formulated, but the Bad Boy on the Block is none other than Michael "Mighty Mouse" Landry, who has generally got more things going at once than Topo Gigio and that Bear act...

Michael's got so much going on, he generally has to come back on Thursday, although the longer show time may solve that issue.

On Thursday, Michael and I are joined in the studio by the lovely and talented Pamela Griffin of Pamela Griffin Interiors.

Theirs is a curious dynamic, and most likely the true origin of pigs with lipstick applications...or at least a silk purse or two.

On Friday, we pull out the stops, and Mark Jeffrey steps in to dispel rumors that Jeffrey Harrington is a real, live character. Mark also operates the U-Build-It franchise in Houston, soon to be expanding to Seabrook. More about that as details are worked out.

I still think he could start a line of custom-built playhouses for little girls, or really cool, life-sized Lincoln-log forts for little boys, and call the line Jeffy Harrington Custom Homes for Kids...but he wasn't too enthused by that idea.

Behind the scenes is our Producer, Dylan, who also does double-duty for other stations in the Houston CBS Radio cluster, as well as masquerading as the Halloween Fairy, keeping us stocked with sweet treats in the studio.

Dylan also provides me with a contractual daily scalp massage and hair folicle stimulant, which strangly lasts only about as long as the show, and then I revert to my usual appearance.

All of these intelligent, talented people work in concert, week after week, to provide a real service to you. Yes, we have fun and cut up, but we also know building a house is not a simple matter.

Hopefully, we can simplify your understanding of the process...thereby providing some real value to your morning drive in.

We'll see you here each morning, on the Radio.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

VOTE, or else.

This is not a political show, but politics is on everyone’s mind this week, as early voting is shattering all records in Harris County, and the presidential campaigns continue to amuse and entertain.

Early voting in Harris County is already double the levels seen four years ago…There are some interesting local races spicing things up locally…Congressman Michael McCaul is being challenged in his gerrymandered district by Larry Joe Dougherty, who McCaul refuses to debate. Careful there, Mr. Incumbent Congressman…when there is no discussion, sometimes what fills the void is worse than anything you might fear.

Nick Lampson and Pete Olson are mixing it up over their district in Sugar Land…and John Culberson is being buzzed by Michael Skelly who wants to unseat him in Congress…

There is a pretty contentious race for Harris County Judge being waged between incumbent Judge Ed Emmett, who is running on an irrefutable record of leadership during Hurricane Ike, and David Mincberg, who frankly has come off badly in his shrillness against the Judge.
How do you compete with a Hurricane Hero?

I know what Mincberg is against; just can't hear what he's for for all the noise.

Regardless of your take on the issues, or relative aversion to the entire political process/circus, the decisions we make in a couple of weeks are going to affect our lives—some of them potentially drastically—so we’ve got to pay attention.

I’ve heard some people—people who I considered to be of sane mind and sound judgment—express their frustration at the entire political arena, and determined they just will not vote. That’s not a viable option.

You don’t like who’s running?
You’re not pleased with the options from which you must choose? Even when the choices suck, you should choose.

Even if you have to vote against the one you hate the most…make the choice to participate.

I don’t want to hear you come around here after the elections, whining about the outcome, if you didn’t cast a ballot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Obamination that Taxes Logic

Lots of airplay this morning of a sound bite from Sen. Barak Obama calling for a return to the tax rates you were paying back under former President Bill Clinton.

That might sound good, but a review of the facts indicates tax rates under Clinton were actually higher than under the present administration, and taxes owed for this year will be lower than those you paid under the Clintonian reign…based upon figures from The Tax Foundation.

Here's the math:
If you are married, earning $60-k a year, the taxes you would have paid in 1999 = $6,585 vs. your estimated tax bill for 2008 = $5,512.

For those of you who are married, earning an income of $125-k, your Clintonite taxes in 1999 would have been $23,426 vs an estimated 2008 tax bill of $19,462.

Return to the tax rates of Bill Clinton?
What is this guy thinking??

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe for President

I am voting early.
Can't get my ballot cast soon enough, especially after these anti-climactic debates between the Presidential candidates.

I want the election out of my life, and the distraction eliminated--even though I know good and well, the results of the election will be hanging over the heads of us all.

Who am I voting for?

Joe the Plumber.
How about you?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tax & Spend vs. Borrow & Spend?

Look, I'll be honest with you.
I am beat.
I drove to Dallas and back on Saturday, had a full day of activities on Sunday, and I don't know where Monday went.

I ran across this article, courtesy of my bud, David Guenther, at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He's always coming up with tantalizing tidbits to challenge our thinking.

The Wall Street Soap Opera has distracted our attention--and the attention of the candidates--from other, equally important issues that must be addressed before Election Day. So chew on this piece like a slice of beef jerky for your brain...and think.

The Folly of Barak Obama’s Tax Plan
By Alex Brill and Alan D. Viard
as published by The

Senator Barak Obama’s proposed ‘tax cuts for the middle class’ are actually marginal rate hikes in disguise.

The Senator declared recently that he wants to “reform our tax code so that it rewards work and not just wealth.” We think that is a great goal if it means a simple tax system with low marginal tax rates. Unfortunately, a close inspection of Obama’s proposals reveals something disquieting: he would raise marginal tax rates for many middle-income taxpayers, a bad move for anyone seeking to promote economic growth.

Although Obama is offering a new series of tax breaks, they undermine rather than improve economic incentives. First, whether or not you get those breaks will depend on your income. In Washington, taking away tax breaks as families work harder to make more money is called a “phase-out.” Economists have a different name for it—we call it a tax. Reducing a person’s tax credit as his income goes up also reduces his incentive to earn more income.

Second, Obama would make some credits refundable for families with credits bigger than their tax liability, which would also have the nefarious effect of raising marginal tax rates. For example, consider a worker in the 10 percent bracket with $1,000 of tax liability before credits who claims $1,200 in credits. The tax impact of earning an extra $100 depends on whether the credit is refundable. If it’s not refundable, there’s no tax penalty on earning the extra $100 because the worker’s tax liability stays at zero. But if the credit is refundable, earning the extra money pushes the tax up from negative $200 to negative $190—that’s a 10 percent penalty on earning income.

Although Obama is offering a new series of tax breaks, they undermine rather than improve economic incentives.

The solid line in the chart below illustrates the effective marginal tax rate under Obama’s tax proposals (based on the authoritative “Preliminary Analysis of the 2008 Presidential Candidates’ Tax Plans,” published by the Brookings Institution/Urban Institute’s Tax Policy Center).

These are the marginal rates in 2009 for a two-earner couple with two children—a college freshman and a 12-year-old receiving after-school care—under some specific assumptions. For comparison, the dotted line on the chart illustrates the effective tax rates under current law. The rates shown in the chart are not spelled out in the tax code; they are the result of giving and taking away tax breaks as the household’s income changes.
As the chart shows, Obama’s give-and-take tax policy results in marginal tax rates of 34 percent to 39 percent in the $31,000 to $45,000 income range for this family. That’s an increase of 13 percentage points or more from the current rates.

What accounts for the higher rates?

First, Obama expands the maximum child and dependent care credit for families with one young child from $1,050 to $1,500 and phases down the credit over a longer income range, from $30,000 to $58,000. Throughout this income range, the credit is phasing out at a rate of $30 per $1,000 of income, thus raising the effective tax rate by 3 percentage points. Obama also makes certain credits refundable, which introduces a tax penalty of 10 percent or 15 percent, depending on the income bracket.

While Obama has publicly embraced a tax rate of 40 percent for couples earning over $350,000, his tax policies would result in a staggering 45 percent effective marginal rate in the $110,000 to $120,000 income range for this family. That is 11 percentage points higher than under current law.

The culprit in this case is Obama’s proposed reform of the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit for college tuition, which he would rename the “American Opportunity Tax Credit.” He would increase the credit’s maximum value from $1,800 to $4,000 while still phasing out the credit over the same income range, $100,000 to $120,000. The larger phase-out would boost the penalty on work from 9 percentage points to 20 percentage points.

Although Senator John McCain would not eliminate the existing phase-outs, he would avoid adding new ones, with one small and temporary exception. While McCain has proposed increasing the personal exemption for children, he would make it immediately available only to lower-income taxpayers. Until the bigger exemption is offered to everyone in 2016, some households would face an additional effective marginal tax rate of about 2 percentage points.

To be sure, Obama’s proposals would not tarnish an otherwise pristine tax code. As the chart shows, the U.S. tax code is already littered with phase-ins and phase-outs. For that matter, it’s hard to know how much phase-outs actually discourage people from earning additional income.

Because the phase-outs are so hard to decipher, many Americans may ignore them when making their work and saving decisions. Of course, those people are still burdened by the long and frustrating IRS worksheets required to compute the value of their tax credits; and creating a more confusing tax code certainly does not make for good government.

While both candidates will reduce their tax plans to clever sound bites, voters should consider how those plans would affect incentives to earn income. Unfortunately, Senator Obama’s proposed “tax cuts for the middle class” are actually marginal rate hikes in disguise.

Alex Brill is a research fellow and Alan D. Viard is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Image by Corbis.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Crystal Ball

This morning you have a choice of purchasing a tall iced-coffee from Starbucks…or a share of Ford Motor Company stock... for $2.08—they’re priced the same, as we begin to end the first full week of October with the Dow Jones Industrials trading in the mid-8’s—where I told you earlier this week the market would likely be.
Not proud of it, but that’s where we are.
Another forecast that has come to pass: Regular Unleaded gasoline under $3/gal by election day. That one came in a three weeks early, at least in my neighborhood, where the non-discounted price yesterday afternoon was posted at $2.97.
Okay, I told you so.

If you’re in this country illegally, you can no longer obtain a Texas Driver’s License. Legally.
The DPS is now requiring proof of legal residence before issuing licenses…which has caused an uproar from immigrant groups and lawmakers. The fear is that without licenses—which are required to obtain automobile insurance—the state is actually creating an environment in which more drivers will be on the road, illegally, and without insurance.
The last three times I was hit by another driver—all were driving without insurance. I have no idea if they were here legally or not. Under the law, they were certainly driving illegally.

The point is, the Texas Department of Public Safety should be living up to its name—providing safety for the public--which by definition would involve encouraging everyone to be licensed to drive, and fully insured. Whether or not a person is in this country illegally is beside the point.

I heard some local clown campaigning for office, promising to do something about illegal immigrants in this region, if elected to office. Silly man…immigration is a Federal issue…albeit not being handled very effectively by the Federales. But to imply a locally elected official can enact rules or laws to affect national policy is ridiculous.

One more thing about Immigrants—we are forgetting our history, people. We are all the children, grandchildren, or maybe great- or great-great grandchildren of immigrants. We all came here from someplace else…which is what made this country great; its is this rich fabric of mingled societies and backgrounds that has resulted in the strength of American culture.

Two practical considerations: We’re not replicating Americans like we once were. And as more of you Baby Boomers cash-out of the workplace and start drawing on Social Security, there are fewer workers left in your places, contributing to the fund, keeping the cashflow going—which is another, controversial issue we could debate for hours.

An instant source of replacements in the workplace are immigrants, willing to work, willing to become citizens.
If we’ll let them.
Secondly…the economy, crappy as it is, would seize up and grind to a screeching halt tomorrow if immigrant workers were not contributing to the whole. To restrict or eliminate their motive force really only harms the whole. Building fences is a deterrent only to our forward progress.

Here is a class of wanna-be citizens, willing to leave their native homes and move here. They’re the cream of the crop—and we should embrace them, encourage them—enlist them, certainly—and make their path to citizenship as expedient as is prudent to do so. The math of population growth is working against us; they can balance the equation.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Price of Eggs in China

"What does that have to do with the price of eggs in China?"

That’s a phrase my Dad used to invoke when I would raise a question he didn’t care to answer—or did not feel was germane to an issue under review. Something would happen that displeased him, he would take appropriate action…which I would question, with typical adolescent-centric logic…and he would throw out that line.

Example: “You were late getting home last night,” he would note, before informing me my driving privileges were being curtailed.

“But I had to take (insert high school babe-of-the-week name) home after band practice,” I would explain.

“What’s that got to do with the price of eggs in China?” he’d shoot back, essentially shutting down any other negotiation on the issue.

It’s a great tactic—try it on your kids this week.
It’s also a more meaningful question in light of the current financial situation in this country—and others. In the wake of the coordinated rate cuts around the world, questions are now being raised about other associated the price of eggs, and a lot of other stuff, in China and elsewhere.

Here’s an example: Fuel prices have been coming down daily. As I remarked on-air months ago, I expected gasoline to be priced under $3/gal by Election Day. The comment was made from a then-cynical perspective of how the Federal Government has and does manipulate markets to manage behavior.

Everyone in Washington wants voters to think “their man” is responsible for relieving the pain at the pump, thereby garnering votes on November 7.

Guess what?
Today it came true, at least in my neighborhood.
Regular Unleaded at under $3/gallon, with 3-1/2 weeks to go until Election Day.

While it is true the pain at the pump has been lessened, the financial analgesic for one issue appears to be a fiscal narcotic in another: tax revenues. The credit calamity and crisis of confidence could leap-frog from the banks and bourses of the world to the state, county, and city seats of government.

High fuel prices have been a double-edged sword—we’ve hated paying them, but they’ve swelled the coffers of government with revenues for building roads, maintaining highways, and funding the things we’ve grown to expect from our regional governments. So be careful what you're cheering about. It may be (relatively) cheaper to fill up, but will there be another piper to pay in January when governments discover their balance sheets aren't as flush as they expected.

By the way, remember when we shunned oil companies and threatened to boycott gasoline stations when the price of fuel soared past $2/gal.? How's that pot of hot water feeling these days, fellow Toads?

It’s been said that when the United States sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold. Our domestic financial situation is contagious, and the rest of the globe has contracted financial influenza. And that’s what this has got to do with the price of eggs—and oil—in China.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Interest Rates and Past Debates

The big breaking news this morning is that the U.S. Federal Reserve and other major central banks are all moving in concert to slash key interest rates in an attempt to head off global financial turmoil.

The significant detail you must understand in watching this story unfold is that this is a series of coordinated announcements by all participating banks.

The Fed is cutting its key lending rate by a half point to 1.5%. The European Central Bank is trimming its key rate to 3.75% from 4.25%. The Bank of England is dropping its key rate to 4.5% from 5%.

The Bank of Canada, the Swedish Riksbank and the Swiss National Bank also cut rates. So far, The Bank of Japan hasn't had a yen to join in.
(I just couldn't resist that one...sorry!)

The Fed said that while inflation has been high, the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee believed that the decline in energy and other commodity prices and the weaker prospects for economic activity have reduced the upside risks to inflation.

The Fed also approved a 50 basis point cut in the discount rate to 1.75%.

There is a big, side-debate going on right now over what is the responsibility for the financial leadership of the world to buck-up and not freak out, because panic is contagious.
We’re at a point where banks aren’t even lending to other banks.

Someone needs to have the cojones to step forward and say, "I’ll take that bet. I see that this is not a death spiral, and I will back American businesses," and support them in being productive in getting the economy re-invigorated.

Someone like a Wells Fargo, willing to take the plunge and out-bid a CitiGroup to acquire Wachovia…and why the Federales would even entertain a counter-argument from CitiGroup is beyond me.

It is time for the regional banks in this country to show their mettle, and lend an ingredient of confidence in the discussion. You who are Bank Presidents in Houston—look among your business customers and figure out who you could best impact by extending reasonable credit.

Small businesses create jobs.
I told you on Monday about Doc Cohen who operates Great American Cookie Company stores all over Houston.
He wants to build three more stores.
Those stores would create 45 new jobs.
Which of you banks would like credit for creating those jobs and adding to realistic economic stimulus in Houston?

That’s where it has to begin, on the local level.
Don’t wait on the Government to fix it, because clearly, these nuckleheads have proven they’re clueless…don’t wait for the Government to screw it up.
Be brave…be bold…be ballsy…and let’s get things going.

In last night’s regrettable Presidential debate, both candidates correctly identified the Energy challenge as a source of correction of our economic climate. They didn’t go far enough in identifying that problem, or in detailing their solution.

Thomas Friedman
recently pointed out that the creation of jobs in the energy sector, to make us less dependant upon foreign sources of energy, would have a bifurcated benefit for America: Less dependence upon foreign oil would lower the price at home…and the creation of those jobs would inject consumer dollars back into the economy.

And I know why neither candidate mentioned that last night—they were distracted by the talking points that they’ve drilled and drilled and drilled upon, and forgot to think with their brains.

During the debate, John McCain proposed a $300 billion program for the federal government to buy up bad home mortgages and allow homeowners to keep their houses.
McCain said: "Until we stabilize home values in America, we're never going to start turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy and we've got to get some trust and confidence back to America."

Sen. McCain said that as president he would direct the federal government to purchase mortgages directly from homeowners and mortgage providers. The loans would be replaced with fixed-rate mortgages, ostensibly at a loss to the government.

"Is it expensive? Yes," McCain said.
Is it fair? You ask.

Is it smart, I ask.

Here’s what I don’t get.
Both Presidential candidates are harping about how they’re going to change the way things are done in Washington…change you can believe in…meanwhile, they can’t help themselves when they start to spout stupid ideas like having the Government start to buy homes to stabilize prices.

What’s the first thing that happens when an item is perceived to have value that is subject to government purchase? The market becomes based upon a mentality of 'if no one else than the government wants it, it must not be worth much…' and the price will plummet.

Guess what—if the price of your neighbor’s house, that just got bought by a pandering government, just fell through the floor—what do you think your home value is going to look like?
John McCain wasn’t the only logic bender offender in last night’s debate…Barak Obama was spewing his memorized talking points, challenging McCain on tax and revenue policies, and early in the evening demonized the economic policies of the present administration as the cause of all financial calamity.

He then criticized America’s policy in Iraq, pointing out that country now has an economic surplus thanks to the largesse of American taxpayers—although he inflated the number by $20-billion.

Sen. Obama said necessary sacrifices to bring the economy back into balance must first start in Washington by reigning-in spending, and giving up some federal programs. I'm good with that. But then, he proposed sending tax dollars to Georgia—in Eastern Europe, not the Eastern United States—to help build their economy. (This on the second day of a global market bust caused by the failure of American economists and government money managers to correctly diagnose and address domestic financial problems.)

Do you get the sense that these guys just don’t get it?

By the way, for those of you playing along at home…CNN’s website scores last night’s debate as a win for Barak Obama, as does AOL…The Drudge Report poll credits the win to John McCainZogby indicating a two point lead by Obama.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Grate Debate

I don't know about you, but I feel a little dumber after watching the second Presidential debate I actually lost brain cells from the exposure. I am so incredibly frustrated at the obvious ineptitude of both candidates. Maybe they just don't do TV so well...but I doubt it.

John McCain entered tonight’s debate with the presidential election to lose. The market has tanked another 500-points, following passage of a bail out plan he could have voted against, but chose not to.
The campaigns are devolving into nothing but an expensive, televised mudfest. There is no meaningful dialogue being heard.
Obama looked relaxed…McCain marched stiffly onstage.
It went downhill from there.

Tonight there was nothing new; no winners; all losers, especially the American people.
There was less clarity on the issues tonight than before.
And I shared Tom Brokaw's frustration as he vainly tried to keep the candidates on time, much less on track. If these guys can’t tell time—how can they tell what to do for the country?

Obama finished looking less assured…and both men seemed to be grasping at air to get beyond their fast-brewed talking points and into the realm of cerebral granola for any content worth digesting.

Sadly, the granola bar wrapper was empty tonight.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Cramer's Cravings

Jim Cramer uttered the equivalent of “Fire!” in a crowded theater today on MSNBC, when he told Ann Curry that people should take any money they’re going to need for the next 5-years out of the stock market. The Manic Man expects Wall Street could lose 20% of it’s value in the future…

If not in the same breath, certainly in the same interview, the incredible Mr. Cramer also pronounced the government’s $700 billion bailout plan a good one, especially since it raises the insurance on bank deposits from $100,000 to $250,000.

Somehow Cramer’s credibility is just a bit tarnished in my book, since he was recommending leaving money in Bear Stearns up until the week it closed.

Maybe that’s why they call his show “Mad Money,” money you can afford to lose.
I can’t afford to lose money…