Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Good Money After Bad, Part Deaux.

I don’t know if it’s a sympathetic knee jerk reaction, or if the tentacles of Socialism are already spreading outside the Washington Beltway to inside the Houston Beltway…

Houston City Council is actually considering using your tax dollars to help pay off personal debt for some individuals who could not otherwise afford to buy a house as first-time home-buyers.

There are all sorts of caveats and conditions that must be met in order to receive dole-outs of up to $37,500 to buy homes in areas you’re not necessarily going to see advertised in The Chronicle’s Sunday Real Estate section…but still: How incensed are you to know your tax dollars could be “cleaning up the balance sheets” of some wanna-be home owners who lack sufficient credit ratings to make the grade for a first time mortgage?

Isn't the government putting people into houses they couldn't handle what got us into our current financial mess?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where's Robert-o?

The placement of Stanford Financial Group into receivership on Tuesday has sent shockwaves from Texas to the Virgin Islands to Washington, D.C., and back.

Depositors are scrambling for answers, a federal class action suit is already on file on behalf of 30,000 depositors, and the question of the week is a Where’s Waldo-esque search for missing billionaire Robert Allen Stanford…

Which raises the question:
If you steal $9.2-billion from unsuspecting investors, are you still a billionaire??

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Carrot Cake Fraud

Fraud is everywhere.
First Bernie Maddoff made off with $50-billion in every body else’s money…allegedly...now Robert Stanford is being named in a complaint against Stanford Financial Group for allegedly bilking investors of $8-billion.
Where does it all end?

On Saturday we ordered the Valentine’s Day special from the Outback Steakhouse…take-away style. Didn’t want to wait two hours for a table, and so we decided to order ahead, and eat at home without the crowd.

The Valentine’s Day Special at Outback included two steaks, two baked potatoes, two salads, that scrumptious dark bread, and two slices of their world-famous carrot cake. I needed a bib to get out of the parking lot, my mouth was watering so.

Got home and opened up the food containers…and discovered no bread and no carrot cake. Swell.
We had even tipped the kid for walking three steps out the side door and handing us the bag containing our order.

So we called the restaurant--and to be fair, they’d been trying to call us, too—and they said come back.
Come get your cake.
Sorry, but I wasn’t going to drive ten miles for a stinkin’ slice of carrot cake and a couple of bread sticks.
I have principles.

Tonight, I cooked steaks on the grill while my Bride was running errands. She stopped by the Outback and ordered a couple of baked potatoes and salads and bread, and, oh, by the way, how about those two slices of carrot cake you owe us?

No problem, quoth the manager, who even walked the food out to the car…and kept the change. Got home to discover…only one piece of carrot cake.

If I were Barack Obama, I’d nationalize Outback, since they clearly cannot keep track of what they charge folks for food vs what they’re putting in your take-away sacks. And they presume that if you pay them with a $20, anything left over from the bill is theirs to keep.
That’s not change I believe in.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Paper Routes and Push Button Phone Systems

According to the Houston Chronicle automated telephone system, I had "difficulty receiving my newspaper" this morning.
I had no difficulty what so ever.

The person that runs the route in my neighborhood obviously encountered some problems…apparently, selective attention deficit disorder, since both neighbors on either side of me received their papers.
Not me.

When you call the Chronicle, you never speak to a live person at this hour of the morning. It’s always an automated system.
The message says all their operators are busy attending to other callers’ problems.
That may be.
I doubt it, however, at 5:00 in the morning.

One of two things is happening: thousands of other irate subscribers, are also missing their copies of today’s fish wrap, and have jammed the lines…or, no one is there at this hour, hence the automatronic receptionist.

Dealing with automated phone systems is an adventure in technology and an exercise in patience:

Press 1 for English; para numero dos por Espaniol.
Why stop there?

Press three for Vietmanese and former Mayors who are grammatically challenged ; press four for all other Asian dialects.

Press five for French or Cajun, or if you’re still living here post-Katrina.
Mash six for ebonics.
Press seven gently if you’re calling while under the influence of steroids.

Press eight if you’re calling from a touch tone phone, sitting on the tarmac in an idling jet airliner. Press nine if your flight just landed in a body of water, and you would like to temporarily suspend home delivery of your newspaper.
Press zero for an operator…but don’t hold your breath.

In fairness, the Chronicle is pretty good about getting replacement copies of today’s edition out to its subscribers, once the company has been notified of the missed delivery.
Unfortunately for me, I won’t actually get to enjoy the tactile experience of reading my newspaper until this evening, when the stories on the page have long grown stale.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Economy: Get Real

If I hear we’re in “the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression” spew from the mouth of some sanctimonious talking head or brainless politician one more time, my head is going to spin counterclockwise, and I will spew vile particles of green-flecked phlegm as my apoplexy takes control.

As badly as things may suck right now, we are NOT in the throes of the worst economic affliction since the Great Depression.

While unemployment is uncomfortably high at 7.6%, it’s been higher: In June, 1992 7.8% of Americans were without work, and in the Fall of 1982, the unemployment rate hit 10.8%.

So these are not the economic dregs some would have you believe.
Unemployment during the Great Depression ranged from 25% to 30%, and that level of worklessness lasted several years.

So even though the US economy lost 598,000 jobs last month, not the 500-million Nancy Pelosi quoted, it’s not the worst economic crisis we’ve been in since The Great Depression.

Class dismissed.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

All the News That's Fit...

When you look at the day’s headlines—stuff that is happening in the world that is affecting you—what do you see? A new administration facing the challenges of seating a new cabinet and other important functionary roles…a new crop of legislators with fresh ideas and urgent mandates from constituents to address issues of taxation, public spending, and policy application…and a growing field of wanna-be’s seeking the position of City CEO for a Mayoral race that’s going to prove entertaining, if nothing else.

We’re concerned about what we’re paying for gasoline. We fret about how we’re going to make our next house payment if there’s a whiff of downsizing in the air at work. We’re anxious about how our kids are going to get to college, and once they’re through, if they’re going to be able to find a decent job, or instead be relegated to a forced-apprenticeship in a field un-related to their course of studies “until the market turns around.”

We’re mad as hell at Wall Street for its infamous greed and incalculable stupidity in creating a financial mess that has stolen our savings and jerked the rug from beneath all of our planning, and we grow more incredulous with each day’s new revelations of arrogance and insensitivity on the part of banks and mortgage companies, living the high life, while walking off with public bail out money with no strings attached and no questions asked.

If you are living along the path of destruction left behind by last Fall’s hurricane, add to this list some other facts of post-Ike living: getting your house fixed, working with three different permutations of insurance coverage in some cases, and dealing with a mountain of red tape that rivals any pile of debris you’ll see stacked up.

You are also concerned about the people “at the top” who are making decisions and setting policy and enacting legislation that’s going to affect how you live in the next few years.

Some people would label these items as “politics.” I call it reality, the likes of which no stupid reality TV show could ever match in terms of drama, ethos, and passion, because it’s happening to each and every one of you every day that we’re sucking oxygen.

I received a note from a potential sponsor yesterday who said they were going to decline from underwriting this program because they felt the show was too political…they didn’t want to sponsor a specific political point of view. Curious, since this assessment came from a respected member of the financial sector who has a good story to tell, one which we embrace, and one that needs to be heard to balance all the nattering naybobs of negativity you’re dosed with the rest of the day. Odd, don’t you think, that they don’t want their story told here?

Fine. That’s their right.
However, I am not going to tone down this program to avoid stepping on toes that need to be stomped. I am not going to turn a blind eye to legitimate news stories and issues that do affect you everyday, and will have a bearing on your ability to earn and conduct business in the future, just because some marketing department somewhere is a bit squeamish.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."

It is incumbent upon us all to question, examine, and doubt until proven-out any and all ideas and issues our government by the people and for the people is working through.
Our lives depend upon it.
Your success depends upon it.
And for any one commercial sponsor to hold hostage our ability to question, doubt, and discuss legitimate news issues of the day is a dangerous thing.

Yes, there is freedom of speech and freedom of choice in this country--including the freedom to choose to not support a show that is dedicated to providing you with all of the angles of issues upon which to build your life.

Mr. Jefferson also said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Silence may be golden, silence may be safe, but in this economic climate, silence is inexcusable.

Silence provides tacit approval for continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done…Thankfully, fewer and fewer people are remaining silent about what we’re seeing and hearing and not liking. And it is on your behalf that we will continue to pursue the stories that matter, provide you with information that is as accurate and actionable as we can make it--regardless of who is paying the bill.