Wednesday, October 22, 2008

World Ends, Official Unemployment is 100%. Everyone Just Goes Home

The world ended today. The last person just fired themselves from the last failing business. That person worked at the last remaining blog. They had no more money to pay the electric bill anyway but the power company had gone out of business two hours earlier. Their computer's battery was about to run out anyway.

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The official unemployment is estimated to be 100% but nobody really knows. The governments all shut down weeks ago. The government workers took their office furniture home with them to burn for heat.

Stock markets all around the world went to zero. The last shares of Apple Inc., the computer company, sold for ten dollars each but that person could not find a buyer to sell those shares to.

All the farms are now closed because the farmers had no money left to buy genetically modified seeds or fuel. There are hardly any regular, organic seeds left to plant. There are some peasant farmers that will plant some non-GMO seeds in the spring.

Most people just expect to starve to death in a few days or weeks. Many folks living in Northern countries will freeze before they actually starve. Quite a few people have started walking South but they are not expected to make it. The South is too crowded for any more people to go there anyway.

Some people are trying hunting but since they have no money for bullets they are forced to use bow and arrows or traps. So many people have taken up hunting most of the wild game have been caught and eaten anyway.

I have to go now because my neighbors have noticed that I have a solar panel on my roof and that my computer is still working. They are banging on my front door, they want to send e-mails. I do not have the heart to tell them the Internet already closed down this morning.

Oh, well.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blind Leaders Ruining Societies They Serve

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It seems this tiny planet has been placed in the grip of some schizophrenic hell-bent on sending everyone home from work. Corporations cry out about the consumer's refusal to spend money on their products, all while sending million of their employees home with their final paycheck.

If you fire your employees how can you possibly expect them to be willing to spend any money?

State and national governments are cutting spending on all programs, except those efforts designed to bail out billionaire bankers. Many states are dismissing employees or planning multi-week unpaid furloughs for staff.

Giving people less pay to spend is a sure-fire way to shut down an economy.

The bankers have decided to stop giving people new loans for cars and houses. They are afraid that people will not be able to pay these loans back in the months ahead as consumer spending drops even more.

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How can Sarah spend any money if she cannot buy a car to cart her purchases home? Where is Joe going to put his new purchases if he cannot buy a bigger home?

The death spiral of layoffs, cutbacks, and reductions threatens to send everyone home to do nothing except watch TV and eat. That is certain to lead to more cases of obesity along with associated heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Those sick people will then need to see a doctor, just about the time their Cobra health insurance benefits cease.

Governments will be straddled with millions of sick people collecting welfare or state health benefits. The sick contribute only to the health care industry and not much there if they are too poor to pay their doctor's bills.

At just about the time bureaucrats and business managers realize their policies have created landscapes filled with cripples they will announce back-to-work schemes modeled after FDR's Works Progress Administration (WPA). Everyone will be offered jobs building roads, bridges, dams, and new opera houses. A few artists may even get jobs painting or photographing the unemployed.

All this seems like a mad rush to make everyone so sick they cannot work, even if there are jobs available. This schizophrenia runs wild in the boardrooms and in the halls of legislature while the common man sits smoking his last cigarette and drinking one final beer before going home. There is no sense to public or private policies today and everyone knows it.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Pending Financial Crisis: A Loss of Confidence

"You are the story of mankind" - J. Krishnamurti

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The sun has calmed down drastically in recent months. While the surface of the Earth may benefit from this absence of sunspots, the creatures living on Earth's surface seem more agitated than ever.

All sorts of conflicts scar the landscape in Africa and Asia. There are battles in Afghanistan, struggles over water in China, killings in Sudan. Russia cannot seem to decide if it wants to return to Soviet-style domination of Eastern Europe. In Assam a war is taking place. In Sri Lanka there are regular battles between government forces and Tamil Tigers. Iraq appears to have finished the recent Civil War. Pakistan is at war with itself. Some people living in Pakistan find the war in Afghanistan to be an acceptable battle to fight. There are wars ready to break out at any moment in many places.
From Insights

Most of the world is at peace, this is also a common state of affairs. From the point of view of large scale violence most people could walk down their streets without fear. However that is not the case at all. Fear appears to be the most common sensation in most nations, even in the absence of the immediate threat of war.

People are afraid that all wealth in the world will soon be gone. A gripping fear has taken hold of workers in most large countries. This fear is coming from the depth of the minds of millions of people.

Banks are afraid to loan money, even to other banks. People are afraid to loan money to their neighbors. Businesses are afraid that they will soon run out of money. Everyone seems to be afraid to spend any money on anything other than a little food and the fuel necessary to take them to work.

On the one hand this fear seems quite irrational. We are afraid that our wealth will soon be gone? Does this mean that we are afraid of being unable to pay our bills, that we may lose our homes and our possessions? If this is the case then we need to find more work or better work or stop buying things we do not absolutely need to live. However our fear is so all-consuming that we cannot see that far down the road.

Could you live without your cable TV?

Could you live while driving a smaller, perhaps used, car?

Could you still live without jewelry or fancy clothes?

There are people who need to be afraid. These people already do not have enough money to pay their bills at the end of this month. These people may soon need to move out of their homes to some other place. These people should have been looking for more work months ago. Yet, these people, the most desperate or poor, can be seen walking with a spring in their step and seem to be the least afraid of anything.

The people I see showing the most fear are actually the ones with the most to lose. The people that have many investments, fine homes, and luxury cars are quaking with fear in the better neighborhoods in my town. They see the value of their investment in the stock markets dropping every day of every week, with no end in sight. Many of these people own a business or manage a business that is making less and less money each month. The collapsing economy means their luxury lifestyle must soon change. Obviously these people are very attached to the fine things that clutter up their homes.

The pending world disaster is not a physical problem. Seeds planted in the soil will still sprout. Couples will still be able to have babies. There is enough air to breathe and just enough clean water. Our problems have nothing to do with the strange absence of sunspots. It is all about a crisis in confidence.

If so many people remain afraid that growing fear alone will continue to feed upon itself. The problems are mostly all inside our own heads. If we do not find a way to help ourselves we might as well all go outside and find someone sensible to talk to or get some exercise. There is no point in trying to accomplish anything until we can calm ourselves down and get back to the business of living normally.

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The Great Depression: Your 401(k), Your Vote

At just about the same time that millions of people in the United States are deciding who they want to lead their country for the next four years, many of those people will get a 401(k) account statement in the mail. Many other people know how to check the status of their 401(k) account over the Internet. What they are seeing is not very good.

White House

These 401(k) accounts are the only retirement plan, besides Social Security, for millions of people. They are also the only source of any savings for many workers.

Because of the recent total collapse of the world economy, the investments most people hold in their 401(k) have dropped incredibly. A typical 401(k) statement is going to tell the account holder that they have 50% less retirement money than they had last year.

For the younger people that are not planning to retire for 10 or 20 years these 401(k) accounts will have time to sit and hopefully recover some value over that time. For people that were planning to retire in the next three to five years, there is a crisis to face. Will they be able to afford to retire? What will they do if their employer forces them to retire at age 60? Working until age 65 or 70 was not in their plans but it might be now.

The Washington Post addresses this issue in today's edition.

Another big problem is that so many people are losing their jobs at the same time right now. If they remain out of work for very long these people will need to sell the investments in their 401(k) accounts. They may be forced to sell their investments when those investments are way, way down in value. That locks in the loss of all that retirement savings and then the government slams you with a huge tax bill at the same time.

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The candidates for president, Obama and McCain, are not really addressing the specific issue of 401(k) accounts right now. There is nothing much that they can do for the little people, the citizens that keep this country running. Our politicians are mostly focused on helping the bankers that already get paid millions each year. It costs too much for the government to send any significant help to Mom & Pop.

Oh, they might borrow some money from China and send us another check for $300 or $600 but that's about it. We are on our own as far as our retirement plans are concerned. That's why most big companies closed their pension plans and got rid of other retirement benefits like health care. The government had a better plan. Now we are stuck with that "better plan" and it is not nearly enough.

It seems unfair that most government workers actually still have a pension plan and other excellent retirement benefits. Many government workers still belong to a union. Remember unions? Unions were organizations that were supposed to protect worker's rights in the face of business owners that only wanted more profits for themselves. Now only a very few people belong to unions, mostly government workers. Members of U.S. Congress have a great pension plan and health care benefits for life. The citizens these Senators and Representatives supposedly work for have limited or no health care plan and destroyed 401(k) plans.

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Not too long ago Bush wanted us to put our Social Security money into the stock market. Luckily Congress put a stop to that idea. It is about time we asked the candidates for president and people running for Congress if they have any proposals for reform to the 401(k) account crisis. Those accounts now join the world economic crisis as a major source of problems for nearly everyone.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Surviving Another Depression: Lessons Learned

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You are looking at two people who did not just live through the Great Depression on a very small income, they raised a family of 8 children!

I realize there are many other couples that did the same thing, though perhaps not with so many children in one family. Nevertheless, we need to look to these wonderful examples and to consider the values they represent in our current lives.

My Grandpa Drew was a bookkeeper, an accountant, for a small company in Louisiana. He and his wife, May, had 8 children together. They raised all those children in a very small house in Lake Charles, Louisiana. This family lived at 18 Lawrence Street in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940's. People living in the United States now, in the year 2008, could barely imagine the hardships and decisions faced by May and Drew as parents during those years.

Yet all eight children were raised properly to be good children in the home, active citizens in their community, study hard, and work even harder. This all took place on a very small family budget in the small city that Lake Charles was at that time. There was no car in the driveway, no television set in the living room, and certainly not much money in bank.

There was no health insurance for this family. If someone got really sick the money had to found to pay a doctor in those days. It sure helped that May's sister, Nan, was a pediatrician but medicine still had to be purchased. Someone had to take care of the sick child until they got better. The other children had to help out in every possible way.

The older boys in the family went to work at a young age. After school jobs and weekend jobs were absolutely essential for meeting the family budget. The money my uncles earned went into the family jar used for paying all bills. Children were not paid allowances, they worked to keep everyone else alive!

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Those children all grew up, went to college, married, and had families. How did they afford to go to college in such a poor family? Some of the boys served in the military first and then went to college. Some of them got good grades in school and earned scholarship money. Others worked hard and paid for some of their college tuition themselves. My great aunt Nan helped to pay for college for some of her sister's children too.

Everyone contributed to the effort of raising a family in those days. Communities were closer in some ways, life was more simple in other ways. Books were mostly checked out of libraries for a few weeks, not purchased at book stores. Clothing was handed down from the older kids to the younger kids, and sewn by hand. Meals were made from vegetables grown in the garden, animals hunted, fish caught, as well as food from the store.

These are some of the ways that people survived the Great Depression. We would do well to begin re-learning how our ancestors made it possible for us to be here today.

I leave you with this image of my Grandpa Drew in later years, with his grandchildren all around him. Look at his face. Can you see the happiness? Can you see evidence of the struggles he faced over the years? It's all there. In fact, our ancestors are right there inside each one of us. Can you feel them?

My Family: Andrew Caldwell 011

Friday, October 10, 2008

This Great Depression: One Solution

Does it really make sense to put more people out of work when unemployment, for many reasons, is one of the big problems impacting consumer spending and business profits? FDR created the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during last Depression primarily to address mass unemployment. If you make more people unemployed, soon more people will need state assistance.

National governments around the world keep focusing on ways to prop up failing big businesses like Fortis or AIG. When banks no longer trust other banks or stop loaning money the global economy quickly comes to a screeching halt.

Business and industry sees no other choice but to put more people out of work. This means fewer people have any money to spend on goods and services. This situation too can spiral out of control.

Instead of racing down the path to mass unemployment and Depression business and government needs to look at fixing the employment situation. Call it "trickle up economics" if you will, but consumer spending is the biggest driver of every major economy around the world.

The existing tools that people use to find work include state and private employment agences plus Internet sites including Monster, Stepstone, SimplyHired, Craigslist, and CareerBuilder. In addition people network with friends, associates, and family members to determine where work needs to be done. All these methods are blunt tools in an age when technology is being put to use for so many important tasks. Firms with deep pockets and a vested interest in exploring solutions that use the latest technologies, businesses like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and HP, need to come up with a better way to quickly match people to available job openings. These new tools should help employers in specific regions find qualified workers, and put them before people that make hiring decisions, more efficiently.

It is not enough to say that existing job boards or agencies already do this, they clearly are not efficient or accurate enough. These old tools depend too much on the skills of people seeking the jobs. Oddly enough, quite a few of the available jobs do not require the skills that people need to effectively use the only tools that are there to land the jobs. Why can't a job seeker explain his or her last job and skills, using spoken language, to a computer that understands the skills of the applicant? Why can't the computer quickly connect people with relevant skills to people ready to interview for open positions? Face-to-face interviews are important, but does an already financially-strapped job seeker really need to drive or ride public transport all over town to find the right job?

I realize technology, including computers, automation, and robots, have already put many people out of work. But it is entirely possible that the same technology can be put to more effective use to place millions of people in the right jobs. It might even mean that some companies need to hire groups of people that can figure out the way to create a new job placement system, new skills assessment tools, new job training programs, and new ways to get qualified people in front of people that can make hiring decisions. This is one way to beat back the looming Depression. We need to try it now.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

2008 United States Sailboat Show

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©2008 TH Williams Photography

The 2008 United States Sailboat Show is underway in Annapolis. More details can be found at:

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Problem with Government Terror Lists

UPDATE: The ACLU has forced Maryland State Police to allow the people whose names were illegally entered into the Department of Homeland Security database to have a lawyer present when they view their records. They can also have a copy of their records to keep as a souvenir. How nice of the police to allow someone falsely accused of being a terrorist to have legal representation present during a police visit. Article


Maryland's police superintendent, Terrence B. Sheridan, recently told attendees at a legislative hearing that recent surveillance of protesters resulted in those people being blacklisted for life. Now the superintendent did not choose those exact words. He simply said that the protesters names were entered into Department of Homeland Security databases. He even offered to allow those individuals to look at the database. His suggestion that names once entered into government databases can ever be completely purged is total hogwash.

People who maintain these databases also make backup copies. They also share these lists with other public and private firms tasked with finding the next Osama bin Ladin. Once your name goes on any such "terror list" it will remain on at least some, if not all, of those lists for the rest of your life. In the case of these people they can forget about ever qualifying for any type of government job, bank position, or work with firms that do many types of work for the government. They have been blacklisted for life.

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In these United States we have a Constitution which guarantees our rights to peaceably assemble. In fact early leaders, i.e. the framers of the US Constitution, thought this right was so important they included it in the First Amendment.

Here is the basic text:

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the United States Bill of Rights that expressly prohibits the United States Congress from making laws "respecting an establishment of religion" or that prohibit the free exercise of religion, laws that infringe the freedom of speech, infringe the freedom of the press, limit the right to peaceably assemble, or limit the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Perhaps ironically, the people added to the Maryland Homeland Security and therefore the U.S. Department of Homeland Security databases were protesting the death penalty and the Iraq war.

This act of the Maryland State Police reeks of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's attempted purge of suspected Communist spies in the 1950s. Senator McCarthy, along with the FBI, printed a book called Red Channels. This author owns an original copy of that list of famous people, writers, reporters, and Hollywood actors. Which all goes to prove that once your name is on these government lists it can never be completely purged off the lists.

Let me repeat, once a person's name is entered into these government databases it can never be completely purged. These lists are shared with many other government agencies and even non-government agencies that work under contract to DHS, FBI, and others. They all find it in their interest to keep every copy of every list, "just in case." The people on these lists are essentially blacklisted for life from a huge number of possible careers, public and private. The results of detailed background checks have no doubt been entered into business intelligence records and a host of other corporate databases. Those supposed "credit record keepers" also never purge any data completely. Data, especially dirt, is money to these firms.

Therefore the Maryland State Police have permanently violated the Constitutional Rights of the people they wrongly placed on these lists. The US Constitution also provides for legal action against those who violated a person's Constitutional Rights.

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Washington Post Article

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Lynne Cheney Visits Annapolis

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© 2008 T.H. Williams Photography

Lynne Cheney, wife of U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, arrived on West Street to sign copies of her new book, "We The People," written for children. It is about the U.S. Constitution. The illustrator, Greg Harlin of Annapolis, was holding a reception at an Annapolis art gallery. Mr. Harlin's work is currently on display at The Annapolis Collection, an art gallery located at 45 West Street in Annapolis, Maryland.

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© 2008 T.H. Williams Photography

Cyclist Begins Trans-Continental Ride

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Cyclist Charley Machinist began his solo trans-continental bicycle ride at City Dock in downtown Annapolis on Sunday morning. Charley plans to ride 70 miles a day until he reaches Kansas, turn south and ride across the American Southwest.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Wild Rovers Shake Castlebay Irish Pub

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Céad míle fáilte! (One hundred thousand welcomes!)

The Wild Rovers shook the house at the Castlebay Irish Pub on Main Street in Annapolis Saturday night. They played favorites as patrons danced Irish jigs and enjoyed their traditional pints of Guinness Stout or Magners Cider.

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You can learn more about the music and musicians that make the Wild Rovers happen at
Wild Rovers website

Here there are back on St. Patrick's Day, 2008.

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Irish Rowers Competed on the Chesapeake

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© T.H. Williams Photography 703-587-3249

Irish rowers from Albany, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Annapolis competed in currach races out on the choppy Chesapeake Bay on Saturday. The Annapolis Irish Rowers placed 2nd overall.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Google at 52-week low of $25

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Error of the Week

Look carefully at the above screen capture of the Google Finance web site, showing Google's own stock shares at a 52-week low of $25.80 per share! A trader on the NASDAQ made the error and the markets simply showed the truth. From over $300 per share to $25.80 a share in one day?