All posts by weaver1888

Thinking about America! We can do better.

REVOLUTION by Community and Love

Community is the missing link for our United States of America.  The first word of our name is UNITED. Is that smell the rising scent of our common humanity or is it just another political organization doing its thing? Before we scatter to the winds, why not consciously join hearts across this nation, abandoning the antiquated boundaries of our localities that have for too long defined our identities and political will.  Why not abandon hatred and divisiveness to replace them with love and compassion?  This sort of radical change would be a demonstration of strength.

 

The NRA (Hate Group # 1) is not necessary for Americans to keep their guns. Why should they have so much sway in the policies of our nation? Why is the Ku Klux Klan (Hate Group # 12) back in our conversations? Why do OUR representatives favor the wealthy over the poor?  Why do these same folks provoke racial tensions or divert our attention with moral and social issues to cover up their destruction of the middle-class economy?  Why do we even listen to the vitriol of a White Supremacist? (Hate Group #2).

 

When ordinary Americans can’t buy food, find health care and enjoy their lives, transgender restrooms won’t matter. I hate the fact that women have faced sexual harassment. I have two daughters and two granddaughters. I don’t want then harassed. But this issue is being used as a diversion to hide the truth about the tax bill and budget, which are designed for the wealthy and corporations.  The deficit is going to balloon!

 

My life has been built on a positive belief in the wonderful prospects for America. But the current prospects for the average American are bleak. Change is needed and fast.  I believe without a single doubt that a revolution in the economic construct of our nation is necessary to solve this disaster in the making.  Why should the top 1 % or even the top 10% of wealth holders have all the advantages? The only way this happens is if ordinary folks come together in communities to force the change. When the bubble bursts for the stock market and the economy tanks, it will be dismal for a very long time.  We have an example to learn from if we will.

 

In mid-2016, a poll conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics found something startling: only 19% of Americans ages 18 to 29 identified themselves as “capitalists.” In the richest and most market-oriented country in the world, only 42% of that group said they “supported capitalism.” The numbers were higher among older people; still, only 26% considered themselves capitalists. A little over half supported our capitalist system. This represents more than just millennials not minding the label “socialist” or disaffected middle-aged Americans tiring of an anemic recovery. It shows that most of our citizens are uncomfortable with the country’s economic foundation—a system that over two hundred years ago turned a fledgling society of farmers and prospectors into the most prosperous nation in human history.

 

Why the change in attitude? It’s the realization that capitalism is not a fair system as practiced in the USA.  It creates suffering.  It continues to create pockets of poverty and does not include those pockets in any recovery. Resources are directed elsewhere. The early days of American capitalism—the nineteenth century after the Civil War, the “Gilded Age,” the era of the “robber barons”—were always beset by a cycle of boom and bust. The great runs of expansion and opportunity that arose, were always coupled with a cataclysmic depression right around the corner. Boom and bust, boom and bust—this was the necessary pattern of the American economy in its primitive state.

 

 

But now the U. S. economy is dominated by our government sector, which is managed by people who have no clue how our economy works. Just look at the current tax reform legislation in Congress.  And an assessment of how the Great Recession of 2007-2008 was handled shows how close we came to disaster.

The U.S. Financial Inquiry Commission produced its findings in January 2011. It concluded that “the crisis was avoidable” and was caused by: widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages; dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk; an explosive mix of excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street that put the financial system on a collision course with crisis; key policy makers ill prepared for the crisis, lacking a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw; and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.

Amazingly, not a single executive of any bank or brokerage firm went to jail.  The CEO of Merrill Lynch gave himself a large bonus, even though he had to sell his bankrupt business to Bank of America.  The CEO of B of A finally was forced to resign based on his purchase of both Countrywide and Merrill Lynch.  Many executives faced clawbacks of bonuses and pension contributions.

But the stock market—–OH MY!

On December 10, 2007, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) reached 13,727.03.  On March 6, 2009, the DJIA fell to a low of 6626.94, a 51.7% drop from the high.  Since that low, the DJIA has steadily risen to a high of 23,557.23, or 3.5X.

What happened to drive prices so dramatically higher? The simple answer is that there were more buyers than sellers. But there were other factors.   TARP was passed by Congress in 2008 and created a group of programs to stabilize the country’s financial system, restore economic growth and prevent foreclosures in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis through purchasing troubled companies’ assets and equity. Congress approved the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The economic stimulus package ended the Great Recession by spurring consumer spending. Its goal was to save between 900,000 to 2.3 million jobs. Most important, it instilled the confidence needed to boost growth.   It also aimed to restore trust in the finance industry by limiting bonuses for senior executives in companies that received TARP funds. These two actions saved the financial system and spurred employment.

During this period, the Fed drove interest rates to very low levels and they have remained low.  Bonds did not offer an attractive alternative to stocks. The economy has grown at an average rate of 2.1% which is not sufficient to create inflation and a robust demand for goods. But corporate earnings have been strong as companies have cut costs and improved productivity on a large scale.   Corporations have also used cheap borrowed money to buy their own stock, which decreases the shares outstanding and raises earning per share, leading to higher stock prices. This has a major impact on the stock market.

And NOW?

Without question, the rise in stock prices has been gigantic and it is not all that easy to explain with traditional measures.

The proposed tax cut for corporations should help some in 2018 and may lead to the repatriation of funds held offshore.  The difficulty is that many companies have shifted strategies regarding growth opportunities. They no longer desire to grow organically but are much more likely to buy market share and look for new opportunities through acquisition.  Productivity improvements which are reflected in stock prices and shareholder value are derived from employment reductions for the most part.  Do not expect a huge bump in economic growth.

The elimination of deductions and the bracket changes are going to be a wash for the middle class.  People with incomes between $500,000 and $1 million are likely to be the big beneficiaries.

In 2018, the economy is likely to grow by 2% and inflation is likely to remain subdued.  There do not appear to be any pricing pressures: employment has been strong, but wage gains have been modest; capacity is available in manufacturing; commodity prices have shown only modest gains.  Look for a relatively flat yield curve with long rates coming down ¼-1/2 point to 2½% or so on the long treasury.   The stock bubble is going to burst in advance of a recession in 2019 which is likely as productivity gains and stock repurchases run their course and the yield curve stays flat. Look out below!

What Next?

Our country has experienced a self-righteous upsurge in political loyalty and ideology that blots out conscience and absolves every criminal action in the name of wealth and class, race, patriotism, and party.  The citizens of America must demand a government based on trust, loyalty and the greater good.  This will require a major change in our government.

A community-based nation would have to acknowledge certain basic rights.

The right to life is the most fundamental right, of which all other rights are corollaries.  No one may force you to do anything, no one may injure you in any way, and above all, no one may take your life.

The right to liberty is a part of the right to life., specifically referring to your freedom of action. You may do what you want, when you want, provided you don’t trample on the rights of anyone else.

Property rights are an extension to the right to life, to own and use the product of your labor. If the tools of your survival are subject to random confiscation, then your life is subject to random destruction.

The right to the pursuit of happiness is freedom of action. The right to the pursuit of happiness means a man is free to do anything he pleases if it doesn’t conflict with the rights of others.

The right to free speech is a recognition that speech if devoid of physical threats is not an initiation of force and does not warrant any retaliatory force. Freedom of speech is required for liberty because without the freedom of speech, you cannot persuade others of what is right and what is wrong. Without the freedom to persuade others, only force can make people act in a certain way. Freedom of Speech is an important check on government because it allows transgressions to be identified and fixed rather than hidden and perpetuated.

The right to defend yourself is a corollary to the right to life. You must be able to protect what is yours when it is threatened.

Taxation is a form of force which is immoral, destructive, and unacceptable whether perpetrated by an individual or government. Specifically, taxation negates the concept of property rights by claiming that the government has first right to the income or money of its citizens.  The view that every man’s work is the property of the state, and he can keep only what the state feels appropriate, is contrary to the view that man has a right to exist for his own sake. Taxation is inconsistent with DEMOCRACY.  Only when individuals deal with each other as having equal rights and no one is sacrificed to anyone and nothing is extorted to “common” or “individual good” — only then can people truly see each other as a benefit and an asset rather than another competitor for the same stuff. A community based on love and equality will thrive.

A moral government with a narrowly defined role of preventing the initiation of force is a great good to all citizens.  The vision would be that our Federal Government would have only the responsibility for providing a military force for the protection of the citizens.

State governments would have responsibility for maintaining basic laws concerning safety and equality of its citizens.  They would manage the police force, manage airports and roadways, and ensure property rights are observed.  Airports and roadways would be financed by user fees.

Less government intrusion and spending.

Let’s call a CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION to repeal Amendment 16; to repeal Amendment 12; to amend Amendment 22 to include term limits for Congressmen and Senators; to amend Amendment 27 to make the cost of living formula for raises for Congress to the same used for Social Security. Revise Amendment 12 such that federal powers do not supersede state powers.

If you want more information on how history is repeating itself, email me at tekimthims@aol.com and I will send you a longer a longer commentary.

T. Michael Smith, COQ

(Chief of Quirkiness)

 

LIGHTNING ROCKS

Lightning is my granddaughter Emma’s dog, but he truly loves me.  Every time I go to Sarah and Keith’s house, I sit on the leather sofa because it is central, comfortable and I can protect myself as Lightning sprints through the door and takes a giant leap into my lap.  He proceeds to give me sloppy, wet kisses all over my face. And his tail is wagging so fast that it is a blur. He barks incessantly with his shrill tenor voice.  Sometimes he greets me with a little urine drip if he hasn’t been outside lately.  I don’t mind because I love this dog.

Lightning is a dachshund with a very large personality.  He is the larger dog in the picture above. The little fellow looking on is Mr. Jingles, Lightning’s running mate.  He is not as exuberant as Lightning and often seeks a safe haven in Sarah’s lap.  He’s not very fond of men in general.

If you notice in the picture, Lightning has what appears to be a rock in his mouth. It is a rock.  Every time Hattie goes to the trampoline, Lightning tags along.  The very first thing he does on arrival is to look for a mouth size rock.  He digs vigorously around the edges of the rock and uses his paws to dig it out of its resting place.  He then makes sure it is the correct size.  His rock is never just any rock–it has to be just right.

When satisfied, he throws the rock into the air and pounces on it.  He hits the rock with his nose, it rolls a few feet and he pounces on it again.  He then hits the rock with his right paw, then his left and dribbles the rock for 6 feet or so like a soccer player.  As Sarah and I sat watching Hattie do gymnastics on the trampoline, Lightning continued with his rock antics in the same order (mouth, nose, paws) for forty minutes.  AMAZING.  I have had lots of dogs, but never one that plays with rocks.  By the way, he brings his favorites into the house and keeps them in the playroom.

Dogs are wonderful participants in this life.

PERDUE HOLLOW REVISITED!

I have this cousin named Mary.  She came into my life when I was four or five and she remained there for eleven years or so.  Then my favorite Aunt Edith married Walt and Mary disappeared into Walt’s family.  She was no longer a part of my life and I missed her.  She was the sibling I never had and she got a brother and sister in the new arrangement. When there were opportunities to see her at my grandmother’s house, I stayed away because I didn’t want the pain of missing her all over again. I was seventeen and didn’t know what I was losing.

The year 2017 has brought a massive change and Mary has come back into my life with a bang. She is on a mission of reuniting those of us that have been lost and I am grateful to her.  She has been to my place in Roanoke, I have been to visit her and her husband Steve in Louisville, and recently we had lunch with our cousin John and his wife Kay at the Valley Country Restaurant in Green Valley, West Virginia.  After lunch, we drove to Brush Fork, West Virginia to our grandparents’ homestead in Perdue Hollow.  Our cousin Don owns the place today and he has done a terrific job refurbishing the house.

IMG_0499

As a youngster,  my bedroom was in the left back corner on the second floor of the house.  Mary slept in the front room across the hall from Weaver and Dora, our grandparents.  For the longest time, this house was about a mile off the Perdue Hollow Road.  It was also the home of our great-grandparents Will and Mary Perdue.  We were all part of the long line of Perdue’s that inhabited this large Valley or “Holler” as we preferred.  Then they built the airport road right through the middle of the farm.  It’s still a two-lane road–the airport is not very busy. I never liked that road.

Donnie, Mike(me) and Johnny new every inch of the mountains and plateaus around the place. Plus we knew a lot about the Whitt Hollow which was on the other side of our mountains.  This “Holler” was mysterious and a little scary, but we were brave lads looking for adventure.  Soon enough we had Mary tagging after us to the Whitt Hollow.  The memories of this wondrous place are much grander than the actual events in the fifties. But, I cherish every moment I was there.

Mary, John and I were waiting for Don in the drive where the old gate used to stand,  looking up the valley.  It all looked closer together–the big hill with the road to the plateau was somehow closer than it seemed in 1950 or even 1957.  I haven’t seen the place for 39 years and haven’t seen my cousin Don or his new wife, Connie, in that time.  I was upset by the way Don had manipulated my Grandmother to let him have the property.  She was a difficult person to deal with most of the time (actually she had a mean streak), so he probably deserved it for his efforts to help her.  I am not upset anymore.

Don finally arrived.  Connie was in the house and he took me in to meet her.  She was not feeling well but was very lovely and nice.  The house was beautiful on the inside and Don showed me a picture of Will, Mary and their ten children, including Dora Belle.  My grandmom hated the name Belle.  I knew all the children in that picture–my aunts, and uncles.

The fourValley Country of us stood in the yard and talked about old times.  It hit me like a punch in the stomach.  I love Mary.  I love Don. I love John.  I love Steve, Connie, and Kay.  Standing in that place we were one and always will be.

Shopping at The Mall OR The Delights of Having Granddaughters

I took my 14-year-old granddaughter, my 8-year-old granddaughter, and their 12-year-old cousin shopping.  We went to the mall—the big one.  The one with all the hip stores.

As we were nearing the parking area, I asked a question, “Where are we going first?”

The 12-year-old said, “Park near Macy’s. It’ll be more convenient to start from there.”

“Yeah, we have a list of the stores we want to go to.  They are in order, by location,” the 14-year-old added. “We looked at the mall map online.”

The first store was the “PINK” store or at least that’s what I thought it was called. It was very interesting—virtually every item had “PINK” written somewhere irrespective of the color of the clothing.  The sales clerks seemed more like waitresses. They were all dressed in black and were wearing a large belt with a holster holding an order pad.  A 45-year-old dad walked in and announced that it was his daughter’s birthday the next day.  This smallish girl-in-black pounced on him like a dog on a bone. She had dollar signs in her eyes.  It was expensive. My granddaughters got several items, all with “PINK” emblazoned somewhere. It was expensive.

The young girl at the cash register looked to be about 12.  She handed me the receipt and I was stunned.

“Girls are expensive,” she said. It wasn’t the amount of the bill, it was VICTORIA’S SECRET. I had taken my granddaughters and their cousin to Victoria’s Secret.  This is the store men go shopping for their thin wives or…well you know.  I should hide this receipt from my daughter, but everything has PINK emblazoned on it.

With extra care, we were on to the American Eagle Store. I announced that torn and ripped jeans were not allowed at Brandon Oaks and I was adhering to that policy.  Luckily, skinny jeans without holes were on sale.  Also, Tees were on sale—buy one get 2 free. This selection took 30 minutes and two trips to the dressing room.

A young female sales clerk was lurking nearby because she wanted her name on this sale. She was wearing black ripped jeans. I asked her what was so cool about ripped jeans.  “You noticed them’ didn’t you? I like to be noticed.” I am still thinking about that comment.

With three tees and some blue jeans plus a cute little charm bracelet for my 8-year-old, we set off for the Hollister store.  This store has everything that is current in California.  It used to take several years for fashion trends to move in from the coast, but now it is instantaneous thanks to globalization or something. Interestingly, this store had young guys as sales reps and were they polite. “Hello, sir.” “May I help you, sir.” The 14-year-old found a great pair of skinny jeans, but they had one hole in the knee.  The pleading began, but she had an ally—the guy was telling me how amazing it was that the jeans only had one hole.  I was outplayed and overwhelmed. My 8-year-old was mostly disinterested, but she sighted a shirt that she liked.  She felt like a big girl heading off to the dressing room.

With three stores under our belt, it was time for a break. Universally, it was a vote for Chick-fil-A. It was the smallest check of the day.

Next ONE! Aeropostale! I felt a small surge of energy after some chicken and a restroom break. Basically, it was the same drill. Look at the tees and shirts. Grab two or three and head for the dressing room. It’s two for one so why not get four. While I was waiting one of the clerks gave me a lesson in the proper pronunciation of the store name.  “It is not the postal which means losing it in front of everyone—it’s more like pasta but not quite. You know.” “AEROPASTA!”  “That’s right, now put the L on it.”  She left with a sense of real accomplishment and left me as confused as ever.

My 8-year-old bought fake fingernails in Christy’s. What a store—how do they make it.

WE left the mall to find our car and head to Dick’s Sporting Goods. I had no idea why, but we headed in that direction.  At Dick’s, we ran into Kelli, my son-in-law’s sister. She has this wonderful habit of rescuing me on these adventures with my granddaughters and their cousin, who happens to be Kelli’s daughter.  The first time was at the trampoline park which was very dangerous for an old guy. This time it was exhaustion—we had been shopping for 4 hours. They all disappeared, including Kelli. I sat on a counter for 45 minutes

Kelli looks at me and says, “When are you going to learn?”

With my granddaughters, probably never, but I plan to enjoy it all.  It is so wonderful to love them without condition.

A BUTTERFLY

Yellow Butterfly

A few weeks ago, I encountered a caterpillar crossing a busy intersection at Brandon Oaks.  I remained with him until he made the trip and I talked to some of my neighbors about it.  It was a good experience in being interrelated to another creature in nature.

In mid-August, I went to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. This is the monastery that Thomas Merton entered in 1941.  I wanted to immerse myself in his work.

As I was sitting on a bench in the larger garden, a black and yellow butterfly flew toward me and perched on my hand.  Words can’t come close to describing its beautiful wing span and color. I tried not to breathe or move.

“Hello there, traveler, I AM a butterfly.”

The two days of silence had finally broken me.  “Shhhhhh, this area is to be silent.”

“Not for me, I am a butterfly and a messenger. We talk when there is something to say. You probably didn’t know that.”

“No, I didn’t.  Who is the message for?”

“You, my dear friend.  You see Merton wants you to find your True Self and diminish that False Self.  That unkempt, ugly long hair is part of the mask. Get it cut no later than August 19.  This will keep you on the path. HE will teach you many truths.”

“So, you want me to believe that this message is from Merton or maybe God?”

“It’s from those that love you.”  He flew away.

 

DOUBLEWIDE ON A HILL

DOUBLE-WIDE ON A HILL

My grandparents had a farm in Mercer County, West Virginia.  They had a nice little valley surrounded by very tall hills, some would even say mountains.  From about five on, I climbed those hills with regularity in the summertime.  I spent at least two months each year on that farm until I was 16.  The discovery of girls changed my attitude about quiet country living.

When I was 15 or so, I was standing on one of the hills on the western side of the valley.  The day was clear, it was hot on the mountain top, and the sky was high and blue.  You could see all the way to the Virginia line on the east side and at least to Welch on the west.

After sliding down the hillside, I met my grandfather on his way to the barn.

“Hey, granddaddy!”
“Hey, Boy. You been up on the ridge?”

“Yep, you can see forever up there.  Man, I would love to have a double-wide up on that hill with a nice big front porch and some rockers.”

“Listen, you got bigger fish to fry than a double wide on a hill.  You need to get on with that book learning your momma says you’re so good at.  You are going to work with your mind, not your hands and your back.”

“But Bud’s got a really nice double-wide and that pretty wife of his.  Looks pretty good.  Mine would be even better cause of the view.”

“Boy, you are just 15; what do you know about a view. Besides, Bud is an idiot—dumb as they come.  His momma didn’t have very good taste in men. That whole Maddox clan over by Bluewell is dumb as posts and she married the dumbest of the lot.  I know you think Bud is cool because he is your cousin and been in the Navy and he can’t help being dumb—it’s just part of who he is–just dumb.”

“But, granddaddy!”

“Listen, Boy, no more talk of a double-wide. Make yourself useful and milk Betsy.”

I listened to my grandfather.  But on particularly rough days in my calling as a financial advisor, I day dreamed about a simpler life on that hill.  I could have married my third cousin, Bobbi, a really pretty blonde girl I was chasing after that summer.  We could have had three or six kids and I could have worked on the railroad.  What a view.

As things turned out, when she was in an alcoholic haze, Bobbi killed her husband with a long-barrel .357 magnum.  My life is truly wonderful after all, market cycles included.

http://www.tmichaelsmith.com