Monday, March 31, 2008

Solving the Democratic Superdelegate Problem

It seems obvious that the Superdelegates for the Democratic Party are getting to be an issue that is causing more and more controversy with this current presidential primary.

The Republicans, who don’t use Superdelegates, seemed to have sailed easily through the primaries and are now focused on their candidate of choice.

The problem with the Democrats is that they have two strong, viable candidates. While the primaries and caucuses have Barack Obama in the lead with delegate counts, there are still several primaries to go, and many Superdelegates remain uncommitted. If there were no Superdelegates, the primary may have been resolved by now, as it’s virtually certain that Hillary Clinton will never win enough delegates at this point to win the nomination. But, we still have those pesky Superdelegates to contend with.

The solution to the Superdelegate problem is to just not have them. My opinion is for the 2012 presidential election, the Democratic Party should seriously consider eliminating Superdelegates. The other thing that both parties should consider is tightening up the primary and caucus dates so all this election brouhaha can be done over a period of two months.

Since there isn’t much we can do on those two issues this season, I think the immediate solution to the Superdelegate problem is this: For any states that have currently held primaries or caucuses, the Superdelegates tied to those states (members of the senate, congress, and state officials like governors) should declare their candidate NOW. Since their state’s voters have already spoken, I think the states’ Superdelegates should make their intentions known. In fact, if the party continues to have Superdelegates for future elections, they should consider giving the Superdelegates only 1 week after their state’s primary or caucus to commit to a candidate.

But for now, I find no reason why a Superdelegate whose state has cast their vote shouldn’t be stating who they would be voting for as well.

I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation. If the Democratic Party fails to act, it will split the party apart and jeopardize their chances in November.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Door-to-Door Solicitors: Go Away

I don’t like door-to-door solicitations of any kind. This includes when schools send their kids out into their own neighborhoods to raise money for the school by selling magazines, candy, etc. I am more than happy to support any family members that are trying to do something like that for their school, but I just cringe when some stranger comes to my door and tries to sell me something.

But the people that really take the cake are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are a particularly annoying and persistent bunch. They have been coming to my home for as long as I’ve lived here – and that’s been over 30 years. There have been times where I’ve been working in the yard and they drive up to my house, try to leave me one of their booklets or tell me about an upcoming gathering, and then they drive off. Not to another house, mind you, they drive off and don’t seem to stop to any other homes near mine. Sometimes I feel like I'm being targeted.

I can’t tell you how many times I have told them I am not interested. I’ve also told them that I was raised Catholic (which is true), and while I don’t tell them that I don't practice any "structured" religion any more, I make it clear to them where my loyalties lie. What annoys me is that they came back again today, after just hearing me tell them I was not interested at all just two week prior when they came to my house.

Our community allows door-to-door solicitations if a permit is granted, but if I don’t want to be solicited; I still have to put up a “No Solicitation” sign on my door. Personally, that would look pretty tacky. I think that people should be able to opt out (or maybe even opt in) of any solicitation with their respective city hall, and that solicitors would have to refer to those lists before they solicited anyone. In a way, it would be just like the “do not call” list” for telemarketers.

Somehow, I think that religious solicitors may still be able to get past the no solicitation signs. Is there anyone out there that has had success in getting Jehovah’s Witnesses to stop visiting their homes? If so, I’d be happy to hear your suggestions.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information, here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Phone Books: Facing Extinction

Every year, I seem to get several printed phone books. There are yellow pages, white pages, AT&T phone books, Yellow Book, off-brand books, etc. I get a Cleveland Metro East white pages, Cleveland Metro East Yellow pages, a Lake County Ohio white/yellow page combo, and a few off brand books (which I immediately put in the recycle bin).

It’s such a waste of paper and energy. It is rare that I even need to reference these books. The only time I look at the white pages is when I first get it, and then only to see if my name and phone number are correct. For the yellow pages, I use it maybe once a year when I happen to be looking for a contractor for something that I can’t find easily on the Internet.

In May of 2007, Bill Gates said that Yellow Page usage for people below the age of 50 will drop to near zero over the next five years. I’d say it could be sooner than that, if businesses realize that they can reach more people faster with more information on the Internet.

Sure, there are people out there – I’d say maybe the over 70 crowd rather than Gates' below 50 – who do not use the Internet much or at all, and who would still feel the need to have a phone book. But I think most people with Internet access wouldn’t blink if they were told tomorrow that they wouldn’t get another phone book.

Here’s what the phone companies should do: ask their customers if they want to opt-out of getting a phone book, or, ask people if they want to continue to get a phone book for a small fee. If people had to pay extra for a phone book, I bet the phone book would disappear almost overnight.

The only issue here is that, at least with the yellow pages, there may be plenty of businesses that believe that their ads in the yellow pages still reach a huge audience. I admit that the few times I have needed the yellow pages, it is very easy to compare business locations and services provided at a glance. But that is also becoming easier and easier on the Internet, where similar businesses can at least be grouped on a single map to make it simple to determine their locations relative to the person searching.

In this day and age where the energy to produce and deliver anything is becoming more expensive, I’d say that we should all work harder to make phone books a thing of the past.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Friday, March 21, 2008

Investment Firms’ Money Grab

In the wake of the Bear Stearns bailout by the Federal Reserve, now other investment banks are tapping the Fed for emergency loans. There is some good – and some bad - in this. The good is that hopefully these loans will help stabilize the investment banking industry, which got rocked by the collapse of the mortgage market and the virtual collapse of Bear Stearns.

The bad – these same investment bankers aren’t being held accountable for their investing mistakes and mismanagement of their businesses.

While I understand one of the reasons for the existence of the Fed is to protect this industry and keep the country’s financial well being stable, it does seem unfair that smaller businesses not involved in banking have to sink or swim on their own.

I’m not saying that the government should save everybody. My point is, people that run these investment firms, who probably made millions or billions on their investments when things looked rosy, should be somehow financially accountable for the company’s losses. With the Fed bailing these people out, there is no incentive for these same people to do any better in subsequent investments, since it’s not their own money they’re using. My guess is that the biggest culprits in this mess were the hedge fund managers – a group of people who are virtually unregulated in how they operate. If the Fed is loaning these people money to help their businesses survive, I think the least we can do is ask them to install some oversight to prevent future collapses.

Here’s the Associated Press Release on the investment loan situation:

Investment firms tap Fed for billions By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
Thu Mar 20, 5:40 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Big Wall Street investment companies are taking advantage of the Federal Reserve's unprecedented offer to secure emergency loans, the central bank reported Thursday.

The lending is part of a major effort by the Fed to help a financial system in danger of freezing.

Those large firms averaged $13.4 billion in daily borrowing over the past week from the new lending facility. The report does not identify the borrowers.

The Fed, in a bold move Sunday, agreed for the first time to let big investment houses get emergency loans directly from the central bank. This mechanism, similar to one available for commercial banks for years, got under way Monday and will continue for at least six months. It was the broadest use of the Fed's lending authority since the 1930s.

Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley said Wednesday they had begun to test the new lending mechanism.

On Wednesday alone, lending reached $28.8 billion, according to the Fed report.

The Fed created a way for investment firms to have regular access to a source of short-term cash. This lending facility is seen as similar to the Fed's "discount window" for banks. Commercial banks and investment companies pay 2.5 percent in interest for overnight loans from the Fed.

Investment houses can put up a range of collateral, including investment-grade mortgage backed securities.

The Fed, in another rare move last Friday, agreed to let JP Morgan Chase secure emergency financing from the central bank to rescue the venerable Wall Street firm Bear Stearns from collapse. Two days later, the Fed backed a deal for JP Morgan to take over Bear Stearns.

Thursday's report offered insight on how much credit was extended to Bear Stearns via JP Morgan through the transaction the Fed approved last Friday. Average daily borrowing came to $5.5 billion for the week ending Wednesday.

Separately, the Fed said it will make $75 billion of Treasury securities available to big investment firms next week. Investment houses can bid on a slice of the securities at a Fed auction next Thursday; a second is set for April 3.

The Fed will allow investment firms to borrow up to $200 billion in safe Treasury securities by using some of their more risky investments as collateral.

By allowing this, the Fed is hoping to take pressure off financial companies and make them more inclined to lend to people and businesses.

The housing collapse and credit crunch have led to record-high home foreclosures and forced financial companies to rack up multibillion losses in complex mortgage investments that turned sour.

In the past day and weeks, the Fed has taken extraordinary moves aimed at making sure that problems in credit and financial markets do not sink the economy.”

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The “Collapse” of Bear Stearns

The recent near fatal collapse of investment company Bear Stearns is not a surprise. In fact, it was probably years in the making, with greedy financiers capitalizing on the real estate boom and the Fed continuing to lower interest rates to ridiculously low levels. So low, in fact, that banks and investment groups were loaning money to people that didn't have jobs.

Bear Stearns got caught in this mess by getting in so deep with the real estate market that when it started to become undone, Bear Stearns had little to protect itself. Then, when it’s banking investors decided to take their money out of Bear as they had little confidence in them, the company found itself on the brink of insolvency. Of course, the Fed (Federal Reserve) comes to the rescue. They had to; otherwise the entire banking system may have faced a domino effect collapse.

Barrons is reporting “Wall Street hasn't faced a crisis of this magnitude since the implosion of the giant hedge fund Long Term Capital Management in 1998. And the news isn't expected to improve any time soon. This week Bear, Goldman Sachs (GS), Lehman Brothers (LEH) and Morgan Stanley (MS) are slated to report results for their first quarter, ended in February. The results won't be pretty”

How could a company like this get into a mess like this? My thought it is greed, plain and simple. They took the words of fictional movie character Gordon Gekko a little too seriously, when he said in the 1987 movie Wall Street, “Greed is good.” Well, greed is not good, because companies like Bear Stearns were so blinded by the real estate bubble – caused by low interest rates – that they couldn’t see that the bubble was bursting around them and they had no safety net.

But I also blame the Fed. They lowered interest rates so low that banks made risky loans to virtually anybody with a pulse. People were getting interest-only loans for price-inflated homes, with adjustable rate mortgages. Problem is, people didn’t realize that those adjustable rates could go UP. Yet, the Fed continued to lower rates, causing money to be so cheap that inflation started to run rampant. So now the Fed has to bail out Bear Stearns and who knows what other financial institutions down the road. I suppose we are lucky that the Fed can bail them out, but it makes me wonder if we weren’t – or aren’t – a breath away from a depression-like era. The great depression of 1929 started because of over speculation on the stock market. Now we may be faced with a similar situation because of over speculation in the real estate market.

I worked for a company who was owned for a short time by Bear Stearns in the 1980s. They were greedy then, taking out every single dime of the company they could, and cutting costs to the point that there was almost no company left to run. We were lucky that someone came along and bought us from Bear and allowed us to actually run the business. In a way, I’m glad to see their fall from grace. But I’m sorry that the Fed has to bail them out, and I’m also sorry that it may still create a huge ripple effect in the banking industry.

These are very uncertain financial times for everyone. Bear Stearns may be only the tip of the iceberg. Stay informed, and watch your investments carefully. Don’t be like Bear Stearns and let greed blind you to any financial peril ahead.

NOTE: It was reported that late in the day Sunday March 16, J.P. Morgan purchased Bear Stearns - for $2 a share. The big losers here are shareholders; Bear opened on Friday March 14 at $54.24, and closed that day at $30. Hopefully some of the executive at Bear lost a lot of money in their own stock holdings.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Monday, March 10, 2008

Politicians: Trust No One

Eliot Spitzer: Hypocrite
No Longer Measures Up

One of the catch phrases of the show The X-Files was “Trust No One.” It was a reflection of the alleged government conspiracy that Fox Mulder chased down during his days as an FBI agent.

It seems these days, we can apply that phrase to politicians. Most recently, it applies to the news that the Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, has some sort of involvement in a prostitution ring. (I am sure it will soon be a “ripped from the headlines" story on one of the Law & Order franchise shows.)

Eliot Spitzer, as Attorney General of New York, was a frequent crusader against big business’s white-collar crime, corruption, and tackling organized crime. In fact, Time Magazine named him "Crusader of the Year" during his two terms as New York AG. He was considered the sheriff of Wall Street. The icing on his hypocracy is that included in some of his prosecutions were prostitution rings. Now, he may go down in history as Eliot Spitzer: Hypocrite. He should resign immediately.

Is it too much to ask to have an honest politician? How can people protect themselves against electing people like this to public office, much less a very high public office like Governor?

I am not sure of the answer, but I can tell you one thing – I don’t trust any of them. And going into a presidential election season, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

So I will take the advice of Fox Mulder and I will trust no one. My only hope is that during the presidential campaigning season that the media and the general public are relentless in analyzing every little black mark in every candidate's record. I don’t think we’ll find anyone that’s perfect of course, but I do expect my elected officials not to be flaming hypocrites.

Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information, here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

DNC: Michigan and Florida Should Count

Earlier in this election season, the Democratic National Committee stripped both Florida and Michigan of their delegates, as they determined the states violated party rules by scheduling their primaries too early.

I recall when the story first broke months ago; I felt it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. It’s not like both states did anything dishonest, underhanded, illegal, or unethical. They just scheduled the vote early. I’m not sure how early is considered "too" early, but there you have it. Essentially, the DNC took away the voting rights – and the voices – of several million Americans.

The new question is – should they now count? You would think that they should. I am sure that the millions of residents in those states would agree. And apparently so does the Florida governor, Charlie Crist, who reportedly said "common sense would dictate that every vote should count." Crist, who is a Republican, went on to say “The argument that we are making is that the people of our respective states voted. They cast that precious right. They made their voice heard, and those delegates who represent them should be seated at both conventions.” He also said he wants the votes that were already cast to be counted, as the "people should be heard and not party bosses in Washington" (from CNN's "American Morning).

But, politics is not always known for its common sense. DNC Chairman Howard Dean said Florida and Michigan knew the rules and agreed to them. He went to say – also on “CNN’s American Morning, ” "The rules were set a year and a half ago. Florida and Michigan voted for them and then decided that they didn't need to abide by the rules. When you're in a contest you do need to abide by the rules…You can not violate the rules of the process and then expect to get forgiven for it."

The Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in either state. Clinton, who won both states, was the only top-tier candidate on the ballot in Michigan.

So, if they decide the votes should now count, how exactly can they do it and keep it fair and decide what counts? If not all candidates were on the ballot, or if residents didn’t vote because they were told it wouldn’t count anyway, it seems to me the only way to do it right is do it over. Of course, that would be an expense that the people of those states would have to cover,

Howard Dean posed two options. He said, "They can come back to the DNC with a set of delegate selection procedures that do comply with the rules of the 48 other states, or they can appeal to the credentials committee at the Democratic National Convention…It's not the voters' fault in Florida and Michigan that they didn't get included, so we think it's a good thing to have these discussions going on."

Democratic House members from Florida and Michigan met in Washington on Wednesday night to discuss how to proceed. "Both delegations feel very, very strongly -- adamantly -- that our delegations be seated at the national conventions," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz of Florida.

According to CNN, Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan said he's not sure of the best way to resolve the dispute. "I think the key is the voice of Michigan and Florida is heard and there's a procedure that is fair to the residents and fair to the two candidates."

But, there needs to be an answer or a solution to this dilemma. Clearly the race is far too close to just ignore the voices of such a large voting block. I can understand why residents of those states would be fuming. As you know, I was annoyed myself when the media wrote off the value of Ohio’s voters so early in the game. So I think that the DNC, and the people of the states of Florida and Michigan should come to some happy medium on how to proceed. Because no voter should ever be silenced.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Choosing the Democratic Candidate: Not Over ‘til Its Over

Being an Ohio voter, I was thrilled at the recent results in Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island, but not for reason one might think. When the media wrote off any primary voting after the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, and then wrote it off again after Super “Duper” Tuesday, it was great to see that there isn’t any one primary voting block has the final say in who is going to he the Democratic nominee.

It seems that Ohio,Texas, and Rhode Island did something that the media didn’t expect would happen – they prolonged the primary process. While some in the media commented that it’s the delegate count that matters, I still say that they are trying to steer the results in a way to confirm their own agendas. The Democratic candidate for the presidency is still up for grabs, despite the media's desire to make a quick choice of it. There are plenty of delegates - and those pesky Super delegates - left.

I won’t tell you how I voted in the Ohio primary, but I will tell you that I am very glad that these recent democratic primaries may mean that the decision could be made at the convention. And that sounds really exciting to me. First, it gives us more time to vet both candidates and really take a hard look at what they can offer and who is the best person for the job. Second, it could make for an interesting convention, you know, like in years past when the conventions actually meant something.

I don’t subscribe to the media’s fear mongering that seems to push for a clean Democratic choice before the convention. They are using the excuse that it will only split apart the party, and it will cause the Democrats to spend more money than necessary, putting the Republicans and John McCain in the cat-bird seat. I don’t buy it. Why? Because I don’t think a Republican can even hope to win this election anyway. Barring some sort of horrific revelation about something that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama has done, there seems to be far more excitement out there about the Democratic candidates, and increasing displeasure in the Republican party, specifically the low approval rating of our current President.

I’ve talked to quite a few people over the last several weeks in all walks of life and of varying occupations, and I know of maybe only one or two people that are supporting John McCain or the Republican Party. Everyone else is either in Hillary’s camp or Barack’s camp, and the majority of those said that they would be happy to vote for either one of those two for President. I can’t recall any time in my life where there seems to be so much animosity for the Republican Party and so much love for the Democratic Party. And I know of many Republicans who have crossed over to the Democratic side, which could effectively stunt the chances for a Republican to win.

So the media’s reports of the closure in selecting a Democratic candidate were premature and misleading. My suggestion is the media and the pundits need to take a chill pill, realize it’s never over ‘til it’s over, and relax and go with the flow.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Monday, March 3, 2008

Birthday Parties for Kids: Out of Control

Monday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer featured an article about how high the stakes have become with birthday parties for kids. Specifically, the proliferation of gift bags or goody bags for the children attending the party.

I have to admit that I was stunned that this practice is going on. I’ve always been a little disappointed in the whole birthday party “extravaganza” that parents feel the need to give to their children, starting at a very early age and continuing ad nauseam. But goody bags for the partygoers? Please!

You get the idea of how ludicrous this is just be reading the first few paragraphs of the Plain Dealer article:

“At the conclusion of the lovely kids birthday party, with cake and ice cream and games, the hostess bid each guest farewell with a smile and a goody bag. A 6-year-old boy grabbed his, peered inside and said, "This is a rip-off!"

At another party, a mother decided to do the unthinkable and not even give treat bags. A group of 7-year-olds cornered her and complained: "You should have told us before we came!"

Still another mom called her child's friends to invite them to an upcoming birthday bash. At least one of the kids refused to accept the invitation . . . at least until she told them what was going to be in the gift bag.

When another party ended without swag bags, a group of outraged 10-year-olds bum-rushed the birthday boy and . . . beat him up.

These aren't tall tales or urban legends. These horror stories are true, told by parents and grandparents to Bill Doherty, a professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. He is one of the founders of Birthdays Without Pressure, an informal citizen-action group that's trying to raise awareness and reverse the trend it calls "out-of-control birthday parties."“

I was born in 1955, a time when things were still simple. Mom would usually make a birthday cake and we would all celebrate. But a birthday party? No way. It was too expensive, and frankly with mom already having 6 kids, I can see why she wouldn’t want any more to deal with, even for the short term.

These days, many parents go all out with the parties, sometimes having them at off-site locations made just for kids. OK, I can understand that with both parents working these days why an off-site party would seem attractive. But, rewarding guests with a gift bag just for coming? It’s almost obscene. Are we teaching our children that they need to be rewarded just for showing up? Or, that if you give something, you always have to get something in return? I can just imagine these pampered and spoiled children starting their first jobs and not having everyone celebrate their mere presence. I also see more and more kids throwing tantrums while shopping or dining out with their parents if something isn’t done to their exacting requirements. (Sometimes, the parent’s behavior is equally bad.)

I really don’t blame the kids for the whole “gift bag” thing. I blame the parents. Sure, it’s nice to be able to give your kids nice things, and celebrate their lives. But teaching children that birthdays are all about presents and getting things is not going to prepare your children for real life, where a person doesn’t always get what they want. And perpetuating the gift bags is teaching your child that their friends have to be bribed to be with you, and that you’re only as good as the presents you give back.

So parents, quit trying to keep up. You can’t. The only people that win are the retailers, who are more than happy to sell you anything. Maybe next time, try making a birthday cake with your child, and then celebrating their birth with just the family. You may be surprised that the biggest gift you can give your child is your undivided attention.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,