30 December 2008

Can You Spell D-e-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n?

On 30 December 2007 I wrote an entry in my web log detailing my thoughts on the coming economic year. I titled it Can You Spell R-e-c-e-s-s-i-o-n?

I am no financial genius but I do know how to read and listen and digest what experts say. Based on that, I figured things were going to get rough. I was wrong: 2008 was not a rough year, it was a disaster.

So, now, here are my thoughts for 2009:

I think we are going to look back on 2008 as "the good times." 2009 is going to be worse. How bad? I don't know. I will echo my advice from last year: for the next 12 months do not make any changes to your job, your family or your house unless those changes are to pay off what debt you have and save even more money than you are now. I am pretty confident that 2009 will be the worst of it, and that 2010 will start the recovery -- although many experts are saying it will be 2012 before we see things start getting better.

There is one part of my web log where I was totally correct. I said that "this could be the first time in my lifetime ... where we as a country have gotten ourselves so far underwater that it might actually change the course of our country's history." Review the list below of major economic events during 2008 and see if I wasn't right.

Oil hits $100 for first time in history

Citigroup bank reports loss of $5.11 billion ($1.02 per share) for first quarter 2008

According to Standard & Poor's, housing prices dropped 15.8% this month compared to the previous year. This is the largest decline since they began tracking this number in 2000

Oil reaches a trading record of $143.67 a barrel

Sales of new homes fell for the seventh time in eight months

Record number of foreclosures in California: 118,020 homes from April to June up 125% from the same period last year

Wachovia Corp. (banking) reports loss of $8.86 billion ($4.20 per share) for second quarter 2008

Ford Motors reported its largest quarterly loss ever of $8.7 billion

Oil reaches a trading record of $147.27 a barrel

The euro hit a new record high against the dollar of $1.6036

First seven months of 2008: 463,000 jobs lost

Wholesale inflation shot up 1.2%, rising at the fastest pace in 27 years

Government takes control of mortgage lenders Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA, also known as Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (also known as Freddie Mac)

Auto companies ask for $50 billion in government loans

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy

Merrill Lynch & Co. was forced to sell to Bank of America for $50 billion in stock

American International Group Inc. asked the Federal Reserve for emergency funding

15 September: Dow Jones lost 504.48 points (4.42%) erasing about $700 billion in shareholder wealth. The Dow is now down 23% from its record high of 14,198.09 October 2007

19 September: the Bush administration requests a $700 billion proposal to purchase bad mortgage debt in an effort to stabilize the country's credit markets

22 September: oil prices briefly spiked more than $25 a barrel before falling back to settle at $120.92, up $16.37, shattering the previous record for a one-day jump of $10.75

25 September: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. seized Seattle-based Washington Mutual Inc. (founded in 1889, with $307 billion in assets) and then sold the thrift's banking assets for $1.9 billion making it the largest bank failure in the country's history

29 September: Stock market lost 777 points -- the largest drop in its history -- on news that the $700 bail-out package was not approved by congress

06 October: The Dow closed below 10,000 for the first time since 2004, down about 370 points at 9,955.50. At its worst point, the Dow was down more than 800 points, an intraday record. Today's close was almost 30% lower than its all-time high of 14,164.53. In Japan, the Nikkei average lost more than 4%, Britain's FTSE-100 lost nearly 6%, Germany's DAX lost 7% and France's CAC-40 dropped more than 9%

09 October: Dow fell to 8,579, below the 9,000 level for the first time in five years and one year to the day after the Dow closed at its record high of 14,164

13 October: The stock market rose 936 points for the biggest single-day stock rally since the Great Depression

28 October: The consumer confidence index fell to 38, down from 61.4 in September, and down from 95.2 a year ago

30 October: The gross domestic product fell at an annual rate of 0.3% in the July-September period. When compared to the 2.8% growth reported in the prior quarter, this represents the largest drop in 28 years

In October, the nation's unemployment rate reached a 14-year high of 6.5% with a loss of another 240,000 jobs. For 2008 alone, 1.2 million jobs have disappeared, making a national total of more than 10 million people unemployed. This is an increase over last year of 2.8 million people. At this time last year, the unemployment rate stood at 4.8%

The Labor Department said the number of people continuing to draw unemployment benefits jumped to 3.84 million in late October -- a 25-year high (late February 1983)

According to the Commerce Department, October retail sales fell by 2.8% -- the biggest drop on record, surpassing the old mark of a 2.65 percent plunge in November 2001

According to the Labor Department, consumer prices in October fell by 1% -- the largest drop on record (dating back to February 1947)

The Commerce Department reported that construction of new homes and apartments fell by 4.5% in October to the slowest pace on record (dating back to 1959)

11 November: Shares in General Motors Corp. hit a 65-year low as the result of a Wall Street firm's forecast that the company's stock value could drop to zero within a year. The stock finished at $2.92 -- the lowest it has closed since 1943

01 December: The National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the U.S. economy has been in a recession since December 2007

05 December: The Labor Department reports the loss of 533,000 jobs in November, the most for a single month in 34 years. The unemployment rate now stands at 6.7%, a 15-year high

11 December: Bernard Madoff was arrested for fraudulent investments that lost more than $50,000,000,000 of his client's money

24 December 2008

Another Night Before Xmas

'twas the night before xmas
in the year '68
When a young boy was eager
but forced to wait.

Xmas was around the corner
and presents were near
when suddenly a door bell
the boy did hear.

He raced to the door
"Was it Santa perhaps?"
No, a chap in a brown shirt
and matching brown pants.

"I'm looking for Christopher,
might you be he?"
I didn't at first realize
he was talking to me.

"Um, yes sir," I replied
always taught to be nice
"Sign here," he said,
I think he asked twice.

I signed the receipt,
and returned it to him.
He gave me a box
and a sly little grin.

"What could it be?"
I wondered aloud
and walked to the living room,
my mind in a cloud.

I opened the box,
it did not say to delay,
and found 12 sea creatures
and a boat with which to play.

Requested so long ago
I did nearly forget
from Nabisco I had ordered
this neat sea animal set.

I played with it for years,
in the bath and the pool
and on not a few occasions
was actually late to school!

So thanks to Nabisco,
and the UPS guy too,
my xmas was happy
and very special, too.

Here's wishing a wish
to you and you and you
that your special sea creatures
will arrive in time, too.

22 December 2008

Brother, Can You Spare $5?

This is one of the most impressive stories of human kindness I think I have ever encountered. I defy anyone to read this and not be moved.

From today's New York Times. Thanks to Matt for finding it.

20 December 2008

A Little Good

A few years ago Matt and I were having lunch at a little sandwich place. My back was to the front door (and windows). Suddenly everything got quiet. I turned toward the door and saw people looking out the windows and pointing. I could not see the object of their interest, so I stood up. In the intersection outside was a huge accident involving several vehicles. I told Matt I was going out to render aid -- which I did -- and returned about 15 minutes later to finish lunch.

While sitting there telling Matt about the people in the main car (bleeding, but not badly injured) it dawned on me that I was the only person who left that restaurant to render aid. In fact, until the police arrived, I was the only person on scene not involved in the accident. Despite several cars being involved, not a single other person came to help.

When things like this happen, I always hop right up to help. I have parked my car near an accident and directed traffic, I have helped clean up auto pieces so traffic could drive by. Never once did I think twice.

In fact, I love to tell the tale of one Friday night going out dancing when I lived in San Francisco. En route to the club, driving down the 10 highway, in the dark, I saw a few cars move erratically in what I knew was a pretty bad accident (I didn't see it actually happen). I stopped, sat with one of the people who was badly hurt until paramedics arrived. I then went to the club. When I entered people gave me a real stare. One of the people I knew asked what happened to me. It was then that I realized the entire front of my shirt was bloody. I went to the bathroom and there was blood all over my arm and face. Wow!

Yesterday coming back from lunch we chanced upon a freeway accident that had just happened. It involved a motorcyclist and several vehicles. The police hadn't arrived yet, but a lot of people had already stopped to render aid, so we kept driving.

I mention all this because of my shock over an article in Friday's Los Angeles Times in which the state supreme court has cleared the way for a good samaritan to be sued for rescuing a woman from a car accident. I mean, seriously, what is the court thinking? Just think of how many lives have been saved by people doing the same things I wrote about. I don't think I saved anyone's life, but I know I did good by rendering aid or even just comfort until the professionals arrived.

Can you imagine what will happen if this suit is successful? People will refuse to render aid -- and for good reason. It is not only potentially dangerous for the person, but now s/he could get sued, too. This is just so sad and wrong.

You can read the distressing article here.

14 December 2008

Getting America Moving

Odd as it might sound, a lot of good came out the 1930s depression: Financial regulations were created that have (so far) prevented the same from happening again, large numbers of people shifted west helping to populate those states, and the WPA was begun.

Started in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt's "Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935," the Work Projects Administration returned millions of people to work, created thousands of infrastructure projects and started the country moving again. Thanks to the WPA, we have freeways, bridges, buildings, parks, paintings, theater, music and murals that speak of their time in a way that would never have happened without it.

[We love the WPA. In the historic district where we live are sidewalks made by the WPA (and marked as such) and we even have a WPA poster hanging in our living room (the image pictured).]

There were critics: many of the WPA-related programs were accused of harboring "communists" (because painters and playwrights were, of course, ALL communists). Such accusations provided the germ of the red baiting that grew into the House Committee on Un-American Activities and gave birth to the now infamous Joseph McCarthy.

With the country possibly facing another depression, talk has begun of a new-millennia WPA program to help the unemployed return to work. Think of it logically: you can pay people unemployment benefits to try to find work, or you could pay them to help build a bridge. The money would certainly be better spent making something and I am pretty sure that most people would want to earn their money rather than just have it handed to them.

Here are links with more information on the WPA:

General information on the WPA.

A cool site showing hundreds of posters made by WPA artists.

CBS News Sunday Morning did this feature on the WPA.

08 December 2008

The OTHER Art of David Klein

You know the work of David Klein even if you don't know you know it. He was the man who did those wild TWA travel posters in the 1960s.

Last month, a gallery in New York had an auction of his works -- not just individual pieces or pieces from some collector. No, it was the entire contents of his personal home studio including original works that have probably not seen the light of day since he created them decades ago.

I perused the catalogue marveling at his work. The travel posters are great, but I nearly fell over when I saw some of the other work being auctioned -- including the original sketches (pictured) and collages for an advertising campaign he did for First National City Bank of New York (now known as Citi Bank).
Being the lover that I am of great design and animals, I put an absentee bid on two of these animal lots and won!

So, in order to share a little sample of the work he did for the bank, I created a new web site, the link to which will be found to the right of this entry under "Links."

Please take a look at another example of the great work done by this wonderful illustrator.

03 December 2008

Van Gogh and Me

Two years ago this month, I bought my first-ever brand new, never-before-touched-by-human-hands (except the people who made it or sold it) car. I saved up money to pay cash. I researched and decided I wanted a 2007 Aveo (as no mini-sports utility vehicle got good gas mileage. I'm sorry, buy 17 miles to the gallon is not good gas mileage). I wanted an Aveo and it had to be yellow (like the one pictured).

Why yellow? Who knows. I love yellow. Van Gogh was obsessed with it (to be fair, it is thought he was poisoned by some medicine that affected his vision, making him favor yellow). Me, I'm not poisoned (that I know of). I am, however, red-green color blind. I can see all the colors, including red and green. I cannot, however, see mixed colors that have a little red or a little green in them. For example light purple (blue with a little red) looks blue to me. I see yellow with no problem, so maybe that's it.

So now, two years later, it appears -- according to this article -- I am a trend setter with my yellow car. Sheece! It's nice to be first, but now EVERYONE will have a yellow car.