Saturday, December 31, 2011

King Time

What better way of ringing in the New Year than writing about the past? In my case, there is much more of that than the future. Sounds like a downer, but it's one of those facts we all have to own up to. Nothing like a good book to get one thinking about such things.

So, it was about time that I read Stephen King's new book about time, 11/22/63.

First, a confession. I am one of the few people on the face of the earth who had never read a Stephen King anything. Maybe it is my abhorrence of the horror genre or maybe it is because my literary taste finds me eschewing most books that make the best seller list. So why turn to King, later in his career and late in my life?

It took one of our habitual long summer Florida/Connecticut commutes to change my mind. We usually pick up a few books on tape (well, now, on CD), swapping our used ones for "new" used ones at a local used-book store (yes, they still exist, thankfully). On a whim, as I am interested in the art of writing, I picked up Stephen King's On Writing. It was good, in fact spellbinding, King being able to weave memoir with mentoring -- a no nonsense guide to being a good writer (simply put, hard work). I thought it fascinating, maybe because I was a captive audience driving along I95 for hours and hours, but thinking, hey, if I had instead invested those mega hours of my publishing career into King's prescription for becoming a published writer....what if? It got me thinking about the past. But I've always lived with nostalgia on my brain (witness many entries in this blog).

A slight detour in King's usual genre finally brought me to his fiction. I liked science fiction as a kid. In high school, before my senior year when I discovered Thomas Hardy, I had thought, as a nascent reader, that the epitome of fiction was H. G. Well's Time Machine. So, after hearing King's On Writing, I thought I'd like to read something of his if only he would depart his horror / suspense thing. And as if my wishes were granted by a paranormal power, along came King's 11/22/63, more historical and science fiction than anything else.

I ordered it from Amazon so Ann could give it to me for Christmas, but it arrived on the 48th anniversary of 11/22/63, soon after I had just posted a brief piece recounting my dark memory of Kennedy's assassination.

One of King's themes is that the past is harmonic -- that there are events that seem to reflect one another, or rhyme, in one's own life when juxtaposed to others. I guess I took the arrival of the book on that very day as a providential sign, an harmonic event, it was meant to be that I should start it immediately, even though I was in the middle of another book.

I will not dwell on plot here other than to say what any reader of the legion of book reviews already knows -- that the main character goes back in time with the intention of preventing Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President Kennedy and thus (he thinks) change history for the better. And I am not going to go into detail concerning the conceit he uses to rationalize the mechanics of Jake / George travelling back and forth from the present to sometime in 1958. Let's just call it a time portal.

King's writing is all about his characters and in 11/22/63 the tale is told as a first person account by our stalwart hero, Jake Epping (as he is named in the "Land of Ahead") AKA George Amberson (in the "Land of Ago"). It is as if Jake/George pulled up a chair and tapped the reader on the shoulder and said "I have a fascinating -- no unbelievable -- story to tell you, but it's true, so listen to every word" and you, the reader, feel thoroughly compelled to do so. King's tale is a page turner, moving along with an alacrity that makes the 900 or so pages fly by.

And while much of the book is almost conversational, there are those moments when King shows his mastery of suspense and horror, such as when George first returns to the past and decides, as an experiment which will ultimately lead to his main purpose of changing history, to prevent a murder that he knows is going to happen in the late 1950's. For me the most engaging invention of the novel was the invitation to live in the past once again. The scenes King paints are familiar ones, a land without cell phones, computers, color TVs (or any TVs at all in my case, remembering our first TV, a Dumont the size of Asia with a tiny screen, that arrived sometime in the late 40s in our household), seat belts, and when lyrics like "wop-bop-a-loo-mop alop-bam-boom" and "itsy, bitsy, teenie, weenie, yellow polka-dot bikini" wafted the radio airwaves. Or to put it another way, gas that was 20 cents a gallon, and a pack of cigarettes costing about the same.

When George first goes to 1958, he has to board a bus: ."I let the working Joes go ahead of me, so I could watch how much money they put in the pole-mounted coin receptacle next to the driver's seat. I felt like an alien in a science fiction move, one who's trying to masquerade as an earthling. It was stupid -- I wanted to ride the city bus, not blow up the White House with a death-ray -- but that didn't change the feeling."
While King's supernatural / horror themes may be more latent in this book, they are nonetheless subliminally there, reminding us that we're all in this ship of time together and none will get out alive. There is a foreboding feeling to 11/22/63, all those moments of the past, all the choices that lead to the present, with the future becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of all of our lives.

King deals with several elements of what he thinks time travel might have involved, all interesting and plausible. Among these is his theory that time's "resistance to change is proportional to how much the future might be altered by any given act," something he mentions earlier in the novel and sort of foreshadows what eliminating Oswald might mean.

He also deals with the "butterfly effect." As his fellow time traveler, Al, puts it, "It means small events can have large, whatchamdingit, ramifications. The idea is that if some guy kills a butterfly in China, maybe forty years later -- or four hundred -- there's an earthquake in Peru." (More foreshadowing.)

And the butterfly effect is the reason why, as George stalks Oswald, he decides to do nothing to even cross his path before it is time to act (that is, if he does act -- no spoiler here): "If there's a stupider metaphor than a chain of events in the English language, I don't know what it is. Chains...are strong. We use them to pull engine blocks out of trucks and to bind the arms and legs of dangerous prisoners. That was no longer reality as I understood it. Events are flimsy, I tell you, they are houses of cards, and by approaching Oswald -- let alone trying to warn him off a crime which he had not even conceived -- I would be giving away my only advantage. The butterfly would spread its wings, and Oswald's course would change. Little changes at first, maybe, but as the Bruce Springsteen song tells us, from small things, baby, big things one day come. They might be good changes, ones that would save the man who was now the junior senator from Massachusetts. But I didn't believe that. Because the past is obdurate."

At his most eloquent, King philosophizes about the "harmonics" of time watching as Jake/George - teachers both past and present - observe two students, Mike and Bobbi, dance the Lindy as had George and Sadie (the gal he falls in love with in the past): "The night's harmonic came during the encore...It's all of a piece, I thought. It's an echo so close to perfect you can't tell which one is the living voice and which is the ghost-voice returning. For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don't we all secretly know this? It's a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark."

It is also a well researched historical novel, with King mostly playing down the conspiracy theories while nonetheless providing for the remote possibility. He makes his historical characters real -- this is a Lee Harvey Oswald you get to know as a flesh and blood person (not someone most would want to know, but a real person). One especially feels sympathy for his wife, Marina, an abused woman in a strange land. In fact George draws a parallel (harmonics again) to his love, Sadie, thinking about taking Sadie to the future with him: "I could see her lost in 2011, eyeing every low-riding pair of pants and computer screen with awe and unease. I would never beat her or shout at her -- no not Sadie -- but she might still become my Marina Prusakova, living in a strange place and exiled from her homeland forever."

And it was satisfying to hold the book itself, an impressive tome with a fabulous jacket, one side depicting the past as we know it and the other the past that might have been. In On Writing, King insists that writers must be readers. 11/22/63 is a book to be read.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Another Mission Accomplished Moment

It is more than embarrassing. It could be politically devastating, the Obama administration caught in the cross hairs of political posturing as reported by the Washington Post, Solyndra docs: Politics infused energy programs. These documents show "Obama's May 2010 stop at Solyndra's headquarters was closely managed political theater....Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama's green-technology program was infused with politics at every level."

Am I disappointed that Solyndra was allowed to get so out of hand? -- yes, but not surprised. There are parallels to the "Bush moment" in 2003 after Iraq had been invaded, when he arrived on the decks of an aircraft carrier in a fighter plane, dressed as a fighter pilot, to declare "Mission Accomplished!" -- the navy personnel cheering him on. It doesn't get any more of a political show than that. But, they call it "politics" for a reason.

The worst aspect of these parallel moments is no mission was accomplished. The Iraq war, slogged on while thousands more Americans were killed, tens of thousands injured, not to mention a multiple number of Iraqis maimed or killed. And, when it is said and done, more than a trillion dollars will have been spent on the Iraq war. No mission accomplished there.

While Solyndra did not cost lives, and will not cost the American taxpayer anything remotely resembling the Iraq war, it also epitomizes a failed mission -- a serious detour in the attempt to achieve a modicum of energy independence, and to create jobs. Simply put, the Obama administration misspent valuable political capital on its "mission accomplished" moment.

So, while I understand the political posturing, and do not think Solyndra is out of character with what we have long become inured to, I am dismayed that Obama's first term is being squandered without serious progress in energy independence.

Obama made an interesting remark during his 60 minutes interview: "Don't judge me against the Almighty; judge me against the alternative." Obama choose hope and change as his mantra, a nice thought but unrealistic in Washington. So he is saddled with the sweeping generalization of his "promise" and it is probably why he is so despised by his adversaries. But when I think of the alternatives it makes me hope that he will change.

In the meantime we enter that dreaded season leading up to the presidential election. This year dinosauric Super PACs will be allowed to roam free in the Jurassic political park, organizations that can raise unlimited sums from anyone, including corporations and unions. Be prepared for an unprecedented level of vitriol in this election, with a constant barrage of negative political ads. Even if nothing else comes from the Solyndra debacle, it will feed the PAC beast.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Message?

At the end of this post is a link to a syndicated Op Ed piece by Cal Thomas, of Fox News fame, published today in our local paper, the Palm Beach Post. It is unimaginable that any real newspaper would publish this, a supposedly feel good Christmas message with the poor taste of using Christopher Hitchens' death and his atheistic beliefs as some kind of a parable. Pity poor sanctimonious Cal Thomas. He would have been annihilated by Hitchens in any kind of debate but decided to "take him on" after his death. Obviously Thomas lives by the Christian dictum, "the one who saves a soul from hell saves this soul and his own as well,” but spare us the lecture. Save your own soul some other way, and all of those extremists in any religion, for their unmitigated gall in proselytizing, or worse, committing wholesale violence throughout history in the name of religion.

No sense getting into a point by point examination of Thomas' "evidence" as he references The Bible as his authority in almost every other paragraph. How can anyone take issue with that proof?

But I will say this. Arguing that an act of kindness by an atheist (or maybe even by a non-Christian?) is not as "good" as one performed by a religious person because "the very notion of 'good' must have a definition and a definer" (i.e. God, according to Jesus) is the height of superciliousness. One cannot perform "good" acts if one is not religious?

Cal must be such a "good" Christian as evidenced by his compassion for people such as Hitchens: "there is no joy in the death of one who had faith that God does not exist." Isn't that nice? But, then his Christmas message: "Hitchens now knows the truth and that can only be the worst possible news for him." Burning in hell, is that what you mean?

If people want to believe in an organized religion, no problem, but keep it out of my face and out of politics as well. If this kind of religious mania was not so endemic, probably Hitchens would not have felt compelled to spend part of his brilliant journalistic career on the topic. His confrontational atheism was in reaction to having to suffer proselytizers such as Thomas, who piously takes Hitchens to a religious whipping post while pretending to be a journalist....


Hitchens, death of an atheist
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pass It On

This is a must-read open letter to JP Morgan's President, Jamie Dimon, written by Josh Brown over at The Reformed Broker. It is in response to Dimon's comment “Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I don’t understand it.” Although Brown's entire letter is a must read, one quote strikes at the heart of the matter:

"No, Jamie, it is not that Americans hate successful people or the wealthy. In fact, it is just the opposite. We love the success stories in our midst and it is a distinctly American trait to believe that we can all follow in the footsteps of the elite, even though so few of us ever actually do.

So, no, we don't hate the rich. What we hate are the predators.

What we hate are the people who we view as having found their success as a consequence of the damage their activities have done to our country. What we hate are those who take and give nothing back in the form of innovation, convenience, entertainment or scientific progress. We hate those who've exploited political relationships and stupidity to rake in even more of the nation's wealth while simultaneously driving the potential for success further away from the grasp of everyone else."


Supporting articles I've written on related topics include one on the Occupy Wall Street movement, another on corporate governance and compensation, and one on the need for a "new economic morality" -- among others!

But, well done, Josh Brown, a brilliant letter to a typical corporate type and indeed, that is the problem, not compensation per se.

Pass it on!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Housekeeping

This is a sort of maintenance, catch-up entry; odds and ends that need to be tied up.

First a follow up about the replacement of our home's roof. After a couple of weeks of delay, partially related to weather, the ordeal is finally over, somewhat anticlimactic as now when I look at the house, it seems like the new roof has always been there. But its guts are very different, with the underlayment and the Polyset roofing system designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. The house might be gone but the roof will be levitating!

Now the rest of the house speaks to me for repair and upgrading, particularly exterior painting. The eves are a high priority as wood rot was replaced while roofing, and bare wood needs to be primed and painted. As some of the eaves are at a second story level, that will have to be done by a professional, but the rest of the house, in particular the courtyard and the courtyard walls, call out to me so I've slowly started to prep and paint. Elastomeric paint is very forgiving, allowing coverage of narrow stress cracks that would have to be filled otherwise. I thought I would despise painting and repairing, something I haven't done in some time, but I find it somewhat satisfying, and doable if I take it in small doses each day. Not the same feeling as when I was younger and routinely did repairs and even undertook larger scale projects on our homes, but fulfilling nonetheless. Maybe it's just being relieved that my life is back to normal after a year of health issues.

Next, I wanted to experiment with posting videos directly to this blog. Although I've posted to YouTube, this is new to me so I just filmed a couple this past week or so. These are not very remarkable, but they are mercifully brief.

The first was taken when Ann's friend, Arlene, was visiting from Tampa, and we went on our boat and up the Intracoastal to look at the Christmas lights. The Palm Beach boat parade was only a few nights before that so I thought most homes would be finished with their decorations, but that was not the case. Nonetheless, one of the homes in Palm Beach Gardens that has a fairly spectacular display, perhaps about a half mile north of the PGA bridge, had their decorations finished. The video is a little muddled as I was trying to steer our boat while filming with the other hand.

[Well, this first experiment failed. The video will not upload. Will keep trying but as the narrative is still valid, I am posting without the first video.]

Christmas in Florida reminds me of the Diane Arbus photograph "Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, LI." -- the sterile living room consisting of a couch with fringe hanging from the upholstery, a lamp, a clock that looks like a star on the wall, a TV set and an end table, with a heavily decorated, but unlighted, Christmas tree shoved in the corner with wrapped gifts under it. There is a certain sadness that Arbus captured and she would have had a field day in Florida during this time of year where the juxtaposition of Christmas decorations and tropical weather seems to have the same effect as her photographs of the bizarre. To the right is a typical December Florida scene, a Great Blue Heron sunning himself on our sea wall. It just does not say "Christmas!"

The next video might interest local boaters as the Munyon Island docks were just completed and it is a pleasant destination for smaller boats in the Palm Beach area, with floating docks, and an effective breakwater to protect boats from the wakes churned up by the larger vessels traversing Lake Worth north and south. Munyon Island itself was slightly developed to accommodate visitors to the docks with a few small pavilions and grilling facilities, as well as a slightly elevated walkway through the native growth of Munyon where it dead ends into a pathway which I followed only to be greeted by a spider the size of a B-29, so that is where my reconnoitering ended. But the tropical environment is lush on the island and well worth visiting. Here is a history of Munyon and of the restoration project.

video

We're fortunate to have such a facility so near us (ten minutes by boat) as well as the more elaborate ones of Peanut Island but Peanut can be crowded, particularly on holidays and weekends.

Besides occasionally adding videos to the blog, I want to begin to label the blog entries as I've written more than 250 entries in the four years I've been doing this and while there is search capability (upper left corner) and of course contents and images are searchable via Google et. al. as well, there is no structured index, something that bothers me as an ex-publisher. That is going to be an ongoing job and I'm not sure about the approach at this point but there might be some strange entries in the future to test the labeling capabilities.

Moving on to some family stuff, earlier in the year our son's friend, Jeff, was married and the wedding was sort of a reunion, five friends, boys we've seen grow up from the innocence of childhood, through the terrible teens, and now into manhood, each going their own way in life, but coming together as if no time had passed at all. Uniting them is the love of boating, water skiing and swimming as each grew up on the water, spent summer weekends out at "our" Crow Island and a part of their summers together on Block Island.

So today, this is the motley crew (picture courtesy of Jeff's Mom, Cathy)

and here they are in photographs from years ago:









Finally, one of my fellow bloggers, is "graduating," having used his blog to pursue a dream (starting his own mutual fund) and after several years writing about the market (and maintaining a "virtual" portfolio, providing complete transparency), his blog will be moving to a web site as his "Paladin Long Short Fund" has been approved by SEC (the proposed symbol, not yet approved, is PALFX) I predict Mark will be a very successful trader and offer him my congratulations, bringing his dream to reality -- yet another instance of how technology has been used as a fulcrum for entrepreneurship.


Monday, December 5, 2011

My Bet is on Roger's Version

And by "Roger's Version" I'm not referring to one of my favorite Updike novels but my high school grade advisor and teacher, with whom I am in contact for reasons explained here.

Roger Brickner was passionate about politics when I participated in the mock political convention he staged the year I graduated in 1960, on the eve of Kennedy's election. Remarkably, now 51 years later, he is still passionate and his political analysis has been prescient, better I think than the political analysts we are exposed to on the battle between Fox and MSNBC. Survey research is a highly statistical discipline but the results can be problematic due to methodological flaws, question bias, and socially desirable responses, people trying to put themselves in a favorable light when answering questions (vs. what they do in the voting booth). I prefer the old fashion educated opinion, and they don't get much better on the topic of politics -- or as enthusiastic -- than Roger's broadcast emails during an election year. I have his permission to bring them to light in my blog from time to time and here is his latest one on the upcoming Republican primaries in January....

Dear Friends:

What a difference those two weeks were in terms of the Republican race for a nominee. It is getting down to a battle between Gingrich and Romney, but with Paul holding in there tenaciously in third place. All the others on a national basis will be in single digits when it comes time to vote in just one month's time. These others could exceed once in a while their single digit status. Bachmann in Iowa and Huntsman in NH for instance.

In this discussion I will confine myself to the primaries and caucus scheduled for January.

IOWA CAUCUS Jan 3 These votes will be divided proportionally... I believe a 15% threshold is required to get ANY delegates. the Iowa caucus is a whole afternoon and evening event (ordeal?... read only the dedicated hang in there). I am not ready to give exact percentages yet, but I see the following order GINGRICH, closely followed by ROMNEY, then PAUL, but PAUL will probably fall short of 15%. Therefore I would expect GINGRICH to win a majority of the 28 delegates. This will be a good boost for his challenge to Romney.

NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY Jan 10 these votes will be divided proportionally with a 15% threshold to get ANY delegates. I now see the order as ROMNEY by a wide margin. GINGRICH second and PAUL third. Coming in a respectable fourth is HUNTSMAN, but I would doubt he would reach the 15% threshold . With just 12 delegates (such a fuss NH makes over so few delegates) I would expect the results to show ROMNEY 8 delegates, GINGRICH 2 delegates and PAUL 2 delegates.

SUMMARY OF FIRST TWO CONTESTS

ROMNEY 19, GINGRICH 19, PAUL 2. Close race !!

SOUTH CAROLINA PRIMARY Jan 21 These delegates will be winner take all. I see GINGRICH winning by at least 10 points, thus gathering all 25 delegates.

SUMMARY OF FIRST THREE CONTESTS

GINGRICH 44, ROMNEY 19, PAUL 2

FLORIDA PRIMARY Jan 31 These delegates are winner take all,. I see GINGRICH beating ROMNEY by wide margin. It will be a very bad night for ROMNEY. All 50 delegates will go to the Georgian neighbor GINGRICH.

SUMMARY OF THE FIRST FOUR CONTESTS

GINGRICH 94, ROMNEY 19, PAUL 2.

It will be imperative for ROMNEY to bounce back in the four caucus states of NEVADA, MAINE, COLORADO and MINNESOTA between Feb. 4-7. There are no SOUTHERN states here and ROMNEY must do well to get the balance of delegates more even. I will be looking into these states in the next two weeks and will be able to comment better at that time on whether ROMNEY can keep in the race. One note, the really big northern states of NEW YORK (Apr 24) NEW JERSEY (June 5) PENNSYLVANIA (Apr 24) OHIO (June 12) MICHIGAN (Feb. 28) ILLINOIS (Mar 20) and CALIFORNIA (June 5) seem to be in ROMNEY's column so the decisive delegate numbers may not be known until quite late. Watch MICHIGAN on Feb 28 and ILLINOIS on Mar. 20 as a clue to how these other big northern states will swing.

There is still the chance that for the first time since 1948 the nomination for the Rep. nominee might go beyond the first ballot. A long shot, but an exciting possibility.

THIRD PARTIES? I could see BACHMANN get into it if ROMNEY became the nominee. I'm sure she would get less than 5% of the vote, but it would hurt ROMNEY. PAUL keeps saying he will not run a third party, but he has done it before and may do it again. He would be worth 5-10% of the vote. Because of his war stance he could hurt OBAMA the most. All this is just speculation, but not outside of the possible this election cycle.

I continue to believe that OBAMA will beat GINGRICH by a margin greater than he won in 2008. A ROMNEY candidacy would be a very close race, perhaps a narrow victory for him and if not OBAMA would do less well than he did in 2008 against MC CAIN But we have 11 months before we will know better.

Roger


Here is Roger's updated forecast dated Dec. 26...

Dear friends:

I trust you have all had a very Merry Christmas this Holiday season. I enjoyed an excellent meal with a schoolboy friend of 65 years in NYC.

The shifting sands of elective politics continue to rearrange the landscape. I will look at the first three contests.

IOWA The latest "flavor of the month" is beginning to slip. Between Newt Gingrich's mouth and his poor organizational support ( failed to get on VA ballot) is catching up with him in the eyes of the voters. This shows in my latest estimate for the Iowa caucus on Jan 3. My expectations:

1 ROMNEY (20-25%) 8 delegates
2 PAUL (20-25%) 8 delegates
3 GINGRICH (15-20%) 6 delegates
4 PERRY (15-20%) 6 delegates
5 BACHMAN ( 5-10%)
6 SANTORUM ( 5-10%)
7 HUNTSMAN (5-10%)

Three weeks ago, before the decline in Gingrich became apparent, I had him leading, but he has fallen back to third place now. Paul, certainly not the flavor for ANY month will give Romney a good race for first place. I have to say that Santorum is likely to quit when, after traveling to every Iowa county, he will only draw single digits. Same for Bachman, but she may, inexplicably, hold on for a while, though I do not see her getting into double digits anywhere.

Next comes my state of NEW HAMPSHIRE on Jan 10. My prediction made on Dec 3 still seems to hold except I expect Gingrich to fall back to third place, while, once again Paul moves up at his expense.

1 ROMNEY (35-40%) 6 delegates
2 PAUL (15-20%) 3 delegates
3 GINGRICH (15-20%) 3 delegates
4 HUNTSMAN (10-15%)
The rest that are still in the race should get in the low single digits.

DELEGATES TOTAL(JAN 10) ROMNEY 14 PAUL 11 GINGRICH 9, PERRY 6

SOUTH CAROLINA votes on Jan. 21. If GINGRICH can't do well here he never will.

1 GINGRICH (30-35%) 11 delegates
2 ROMNEY (25-30%) 9 delegates
3 PAUL (15-20% 5 delegates
4 BACHMAN ( 5-10%) if she is still in the race
5 PERRY ( 5-10%)

This is the least certain of my predictions as events will have a lot to do with the results of this event still 4 weeks away. Unless Gingrich wins by more than just a few points here I would expect him to do less and less, including FLORIDA which will come up ten days later. Perry, also should be looking weak in a southern state like SC. Does this leave the non-ROMNEY candidate to be the eccentric RON PAUL?? How fascinating that would be.

Finally, the president and the Democrats in the dysfunctional Congress came up winners over the NO NO NO crowd who focus on OBAMA rather than on issues they espouse. When will they learn? Are they trying hard to lose the HOUSE OF REPS?? More on these after the Reps. decide on who will be their standard bearer.

Have a Happy New Year!! Roger

Friday, December 2, 2011

Unemployment Good News

It's finally happened, a significant downtick in unemployment. Does this make a trend? That remains to be seen. But the headline news -- The unemployment rate fell to a 2-1/2 year low of 8.6 percent in November and companies stepped up hiring, further evidence the economic recovery was gaining momentum. -- is sure to provoke animated "debate" as the presidential election year gathers steam.

But there is some really good news here: "While part of the decline in the unemployment rate from 9.0 percent in October was due to people leaving the labor force, the household survey from which the jobless rate is derived also showed solid gains in employment." And those gains have been underway for four months. Maybe, indeed, the beginning of a welcome trend. And who will take the credit, or, better, who will give it? Perhaps it is merely embedded in the economic cycle, but everyone is quick to blame someone on the other side of the cycle.

This is the lowest unemployment level since 2009, when I was writing "A true recovery requires jobs, jobs, jobs – and how are they going to be created – by banks trading energy futures? What happened to the commitment to the infrastructure? Our roads, utilities, and public transportation are falling apart. Alternative energy seems DOA. Aren’t these the areas our financial recourses should be focused on, ones that will create jobs, in construction, technology, and finance, and can lead a true economic recovery we can pass on with pride to future generations?"

A real recovery still seems to be a long way down the road as it took years and years to get to where we are and mountains of debt need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, the reasons for this drop in the unemployment rate will be parsed by the political pundits during the weekend talk shows. Brace yourself.