Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Vampires in broad daylight

The premise is the same in every cheesy movie that features them; vampires are really, really hard to kill. And even when they appear to be dead, they rise up again--sometimes not until the sequel--to menace unsuspecting, half-dressed teens. Silver bullets, wooden stakes, copies of Jon Stewart's book--none of them is effective against every vampire variation.

These mythical un-dead creatures came to mind when I was considering what has recently resurfaced in American life. Ideas considered dead and buried by most sensible people have crawled from their musty graves and stumbled forward, dirt-covered and smelling not at all well, to land squarely in the little minds of our government officials. Some examples:

--"Ease up on credit standards." Government officials have been pressing banks to lend more money, and ease their credit standards, especially on new and existing mortgages. This sounds like a fine idea. What could possibly go wrong with lending money to anyone with a pulse, and requiring little or no down-payment?

--"Fairness" in the tax code. This one has a definition that's more slippery than one of Mr. Gutfeld's houseboys after an oil massage. I've heard that "the rich should pay their fair share." Really. According to IRS statistics for 2005, the latest I could find on the IRS web site, 2.3% of U.S. tax filers paid the 33% or 35% marginal rate on their income. Those 2.3% of filers paid 41.9% of all personal income tax that year. Note that the 2005 income tax year was several years after the "Bush tax cuts" had been enacted by Congress. It appears "the rich" are paying their fair share, and some of ours, as well. But let's push the top marginal rate to 39.6% and beyond, as Obama wishes. Add to this the increasing levy imposed by cash-strapped states and, if one is self-employed, the higher limits on Social Security taxes, and a self-employed high-earner could lose 60% of each additional dollar to taxes. Those additional dollars are looking less appealing by the day. Perhaps it would be best to avoid expanding the business, after all.

--"Single-payer health care." That's supposed to make medical access controlled by government bureaucrats sound oh-so-efficient. Kind of like the way the Soviet Union had a single-party political system, and children trapped in rotting public schools have a single educational provider system. Once buried under a tombstone that read "Hillary-Care," this particular vampire has risen again. Despite the wreck that is the British system, and the fact that most life-saving drugs and medical equipment are invented by for-profit U.S. businesses, and the manner in which socialized medical societies make it a criminal offense to pay for your own medical care, the mythical 47 billion (or whatever the number is today) uninsured Americans prod us toward this health-care final solution. But I wonder; if we have socialized medicine, where will Canadians go to get medical care?

--Socialism/communism. Nationalizing banks? Rewriting mortgage terms by legislative fiat? Is this America, or Venezuela? Placing American law subordinate to U.N. committees and "international courts?" Assigning, in perpetuity, a portion of American GDP for tithing to U.N. bureaucrats do distribute as they are bribed to do see fit? Orwell, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!

By the way, who is John Galt?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Not in my back yard!

They only want clean, "renewable" energy. Obama promised to "invest" in solar technology, and provide us "energy independence," whatever that is. Note that we don't have "food independence," "clothing independence," "software support independence," or, as the past months have demonstrated, "banking and finance independence." But for some reason it's important that we only use energy sources found within American borders. Er, unless they are gas, coal, and oil. We'll keep our own deposits of oil and gas locked up, buy more and more from abroad, and stop using coal--which provides about half of our electricity--altogether.

Well, at least we can all agree that generating electricity from the sun requires massive solar arrays, and they should be placed in a large, flat, sunny area. The Mojave Desert of southern California would seem to be ideal for this purpose--barren, off-limits to housing and commercial development and mining, and sunny and clear almost every day of the year. And yet there is one fly in the ointment, if by ointment you mean billions of your dollars being spread on the lithe, muscular back of favored special interests, and by fly you mean U.S. senator.

Dianne Feinstein (D., Crazy-Land) has deemed placing solar arrays in the Mojave "unacceptable," and has directed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to suspend any further consideration of solar plans for the area. She believes the aesthetics of the desert will be spoiled by massive solar arrays stretching to the horizon in all directions.

Feinstein's spokesman Gil Duran said "There's plenty of room in America's deserts for the bold expansion of renewable energy projects." There sure is, Gil. After all, the Mojave Desert covers about 25,000 square miles. Current permit requests for building solar plants request the use of 500,000 acres of that land, or a bit over three percent. Surely three percent of the land can be set aside for what your supporters call "clean, renewable energy." Why not? Next you'll be telling us we can't put windmills off the Massachusetts coast because the wealthy family of a U.S. senator thinks the mills will spoil their views while sailing.

Perhaps we can compromise, Dianne. You remember compromise--it's what you had to occasionally do before you had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and could ram through legislation that most Senators hadn't even read. Instead of half a million acres, let's set aside five percent of that amount--25,000 acres. Choose sites reasonably near existing transmission lines, and you'll be all set to build facilities than can create millions of watts of clean, carbon-free electricity, and they'll do it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Let's build some nuclear power plants, Dianne.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Like Two Ships In The Night

The attack submarine New Orleans and the amphibious ship Hartford collided in the Straits of Hormuz around 1:00am local time. There are 15 minor injuries reported on the Hartford, and none on the New Orleans, and both vessels are returning to port.

I think it's a safe bet that Iran will try to turn this into a major diplomatic flap, and by flap I mean screaming tantrum by Ahmadinnerjacket demanding that the U.N. "order" the Navy to stay out of "Iran's waters." If China can claim territorial waters that extend almost two hundred miles from its shores, then Iran would feel confident in claiming all of the Straits.

The Associated Press--excellent name for a dry-cleaner, by the way--reports that 40% of all seaborne oil and 20% of all traded oil passes through the Straits. As nobody else will step up (China, Russia, you don't count), then the U.S. Navy must continue to keep a close eye on this vital waterway. It looks like Obama is going to be kept busy with foreign challenges, a confirmation of one of the few smart things Joe Biden ever said.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

First they came for the AIG bonuses

...and I didn't speak up, because, hey, I didn't get any AIG bonus. Then they came for Internet retailers, forcing them to collect sales tax, and I didn't speak up, because I don't spend as much online as I used to spend. So far so good, and as long as I remain selfish and self-centered, apparently I'll do well in Obama's America.

The irony is the locations that are walloping their residents hardest with new and higher taxes. California, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are all levying significantly increased--and significant new--taxes. It appears the Blue States will be hemorrhaging green.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

All AIG, all the time

After hearing the news that some AIG employees will collectively receive $165 million in bonuses this year, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Selfrighteousland) leapt into action by charging the nearest microphone and suggesting that those employees "follow the Japanese example" and either "resign or commit suicide." After a comment like that, Senator, I think we may need to press the Reset button on our Japanese relationship.

The Obama administration, desperate to deflect attention from its rudderless economic ship, affects great outrage at the bonus plan. By the way, bonuses that are contractual obligations entered into before this February 11 are exempted from the Troubled Asset Relief Program's limitations on employee bonuses. In case anyone was wondering, T.A.R.P. was approved by both houses of Congress, and continues to be administered through Timothy Geithner's Treasury Department. I can't think of a group of people less believable when they profess shock, surprise, and outrage at the exemption.

Getting to the bonuses themselves, the numbers are slippery in the extreme. The Associated Press reports that, separate from this round of bonuses, 400 AIG employees have already received $55 million in bonuses. That comes to $137,500 per employee. AP also reports that 50 "top executives" will receive bonuses of about $224,000 each, but doesn't reveal the number of employees who will split the remaining $155 million. A distribution of bonuses last year paid $112 million to over 6400 employees, for an average bonus of under $18,000.

It boggles the mind to think that, in America, a legislator advocates the death penalty for those receiving bonuses that average as little as $18,000. Senator Grassley, maybe you should follow the Japanese example. By that, of course, I mean go to Disneyland, take a lot of photos, then go home.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An Economic War

Obama economic aide Christina Romer says America is in "economic war," and "We haven't won yet. We have staged a wonderful battle."

A few questions, Christina:
  • Who is the enemy in this war?
  • How will we know when we're winning or losing?
  • What's our exit strategy?
  • If we take prisoners, are they to be accorded POW status?
  • In this "wonderful battle," what specifically was our victory?
That's all for now. I'm sure you have plenty of meaningful answers.

If you're unfamiliar with it, the image is Picasso's "Guernica."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Testing, Testing...

Our friends the Soviets have not responded to the furious pressing of the "reset" button by our hapless State Department. Aside from their demands that America renounce missile defense, they now claim that they're considering basing bombers in Venezuela or Cuba.

Can you imagine? Offensive Soviet weaponry in Cuba? It's like a young, inexperienced president is being tested. We know how it turned out in 1962. Let us hope it ends as well this time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Whoops, my bad

You know all that panic-inducing propaganda Obama was spouting a few weeks back, about how Congress needed to pass a Spendulus Bill immediately, or the economy "may never recover?"

Apparently that catastrophe warning is no longer operative.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Flying the friendly skies

While our national debt soars by the trillion, and the Democrats bleat about the spending excesses when Bush was president, I thought it would be nice to offer thanks to the military. Specifically, the 89th Airlift Wing that provides "executive VIP" transport to, among others, members of Congress. The Dow must have been around 10,000 when Nancy Pelosi last flew commercial.

Recent research by Judicial Watch has turned up some official government emails by Pelosi aide Kay King, praising the military for its extraordinary efforts to accommodate Pelosi's busy, self-important schedule. In one, she wrote:

"It is my understanding there are NO G5s available for the House during the Memorial Day recess. This is totally unacceptable ... The Speaker will want to know where the planes are."

The military VIP transport version of the Gulfstream V is known as the C-37, but Ms. King can be forgiven her ignorance. After all, she's not expected to know or care anything about the military, and the civilian version of the aircraft--used by wealthy Democrat campaign contributors--is indeed designated G5.

One may marvel at the audacious hypocrisy of those who berate corporate executives for traveling by private jet when the 89th Airlift Wing has taken delivery of twenty C-37s, at approximately $43 million each. The luxurious aircraft can fly from New York to Tokyo without refueling, while carrying a dozen lucky passengers in comfort. What seemed a shameful extravagance, paid for by the owners of banks and other large corporations, apparently looks prudent when financed on the backs of taxpayers.

Here's an idea, Nan; as long as you and your favorite friends in Congress travel on personal jets that cater to your schedules and whims, don't berate others as spendthrifts for similar travel. As I noted earlier, corporate jets are paid for by the owners of the corporation (Stockholders), who have the right to introduce and vote on rules and amendments to the corporate charters. But if you don't own IBM stock, you're not paying for IBM's jets. Sadly, the same can not be said for Nancy's personal airline.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Is it still Bush's fault?

Just checking. Now that the Dow has plummeted 25% since Obama took office, pundits are having a harder time ignoring the Obama Effect. As others have pointed out, stock trades are a leading indicator; they represent where investors believe prices will be next week, next month, and next year. So, all in all, not a ringing endorsement of cranking up the Dollar printing presses and putting Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in charge of shoveling the cash out the door.

The Treasury Department remains dysfunctional, headed as it is by a man who's apparently clueless about the role of the department. Too, the fact that he can't seem to find deputy secretaries (Except for a Bush administration holdover or two) can't be helping the department's efficiency. It seems that several candidates have recently withdrawn for tax or other "personal" reasons. "Personal reasons," in this context, translates as "I don't want to jump from a lifeboat on to the Titanic's deck, thank you very much."

Mark-to-market rules remain in effect, stifling banks' growth and lending opportunities and increasing the taxpayer's exposure to more failures. The Left's goofy and disastrous "carbon tax" ideas appear to be headed for legislative fruition this year, resulting in a half-trillion dollar tax on the economy just when it could be heading out of the recession. And the usual suspects in Congress want to begin "investigations" into the conduct of former Bush administration officials. Rome is burning, friends, and I hear the sounds of a fiddle emanating from Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Babe In The Woods

The New York Times reports that a "secret" letter sent by Obama to Russian figurehead Medvedev offers to trade our nascent missile defense system for promises of cooperation in limiting Iran's ICBM capability. Aside from the rich irony of the NYT still publishing national secrets even when their man is in the White House, this story is quite instructive. Take the reaction of the Russian figurehead:

If the Obama administration showed “common sense” in proposing a “common shield against all types of threats” and reconsidered its plans of a missile defence system which could target Russia, Moscow would be prepared to negotiate, Medvedev said.

So you see? All you have to do is give me all I'm asking--for now--and I'll consider talking to you. Perhaps I can think of more concessions you can make. Won't that be productive?

Our naive, out-of-his-league president is being played like a fiddle.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I hate to say it

No, not really: I told you so. As the ink was drying on Obama's historic signature on the historic $800 billion Spendulus Bill, Congress began work on a $410 billion spending bill to cover, well, everything that wasn't in the Spendulus Bill. That's a lot of kitchen sinks.

If we give the Big 3 a bail-out, the refrain goes, they'll be back soon for more. And, considering our aversion to admitting failure, we'll give them more money, and then more. But did this idea not occur to those telling us to let Obama, Pelosi, and Reid have as much money as they wanted? After all, the Spendulus Bill was designed to spread pork and influence to Democrat constituencies for years to come; it has nothing to do with the actual functioning of the country.

It reminds me of the old repair estimate joke, that says "Well, parts and labor aren't included in that, of course."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

We can now summarize a few pronouncements of the new Democrat majority in Washington.

  • A surge of troops into Afghanistan will be forthcoming. Watch for the media to studiously avoid using the term "surge."
  • Absent a major public outcry, there will be legislation and regulation proposed to re-introduce, by stealth, the Fairness (Censorship) doctrine. It was unconstitutional before, and as the First Amendment remains in effect, will continue to be unconstitutional.
  • After whining that he "inherited" a budget deficit, Obama quickly signed legislation to double that deficit, and continue the larger deficit for years to come. He also claims that he will see the deficit "cut in half" by the end of his term. In other words, he'll bring the deficit back down to the one he "inherited," and it will only take four years and cost three trillion dollars. What a magician!
Obama and Madame Clinton's new "soft power" foreign policy initiative continues to bear rotting fruit. Iran crowed that, under the new administration, America is now toothless. Now, in response to Clinton's warning not to launch any missiles, North Korea announces it will conduct test-launches "within days." This is indeed "soft," but I don't see the "power" part of the equation.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Zimbabwe on $65,000,000 Zimbabwe Dollars a day

The London Times reports that Robert Mugabe, ruling thug of Zimbabwe, has used an associate and a shell corporation to buy a $6 million luxury home in Hong Kong. That's a lot of money, but since Zimbabwe under his rule currently boasts an annual inflation rate in the millions of percent, he's used to seeing figures with a lot of zeroes on them.

There's been neglect in Zimbabwe, but also a great deal of vicious political fighting, cronyism, ridiculous spending initiatives, and confiscatory taxes. Then, run the printing presses night and day, and you'll see your currency worth far less than the paper on which it's printed. Nobody would buy the country's sovereign debt, no matter how heavily discounted.

With its sources of borrowing cut off, no real economy, a government firmly entrenched with single-party rule (And glorification and worship of that party's leader), and continued ruinous spending it's no surprise that Zimbabwe's only option has been hyper-inflation. The average citizen lives on about $200 million a year in the local currency, which is approximately $200 U.S. In short, it is the very definition of a failed state, and Mugabe is readying his exit strategy.

With this hyper-partisan, cult of personality thug preparing to bolt after borrowing and inflating his country's economy to ruin, it brings a question to mind. Where will Obama's secret hide away be located?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Penny for your thoughts

Ford Theater in D.C. re-opened last night, and Barack Obama was present as the keynote speaker at the (star-studded, gala) event. Teleprompters were in evidence, so he presented a lengthy speech. Obama spoke under the box where Lincoln was shot, and spoke of Lincoln's legacy, and its applicability today. It's almost like he's comparing himself, isn't it?

In a related story, I heard that the penny is being redesigned. A moment of horror passed when I learned that Lincoln will remain the president whose image graces the penny. But as long as we're speculating, what U.S. currency should bear Obama's image? Well, a couple of possibilities come to mind. With the federal printing presses and inflation cranking up, a re-introduction of the $10,000 bill will probably be required in the next few years. So that's one possibility, although I can think of another note more appropriate to Obama's visage.

Let's put his face on U.S. Treasury debt. His idolizers want his face ever-present, and what better way to make that possible than to plaster it on trillions of dollars' worth of T-Bills?

Monday, February 9, 2009

This is Change, all right

The party currently occupying the White House has created a new position that reports to the White House Counsel's Office. They call the position White House Counsel Research Director, and filled the new position with Shauna Daly. As she works for the White House's official legal office, I feel it's important to summarize Ms. Daly's legal credentials and experience:

  • None

What did she do to snag a newly-created White House job or, more to the point, what will she do in this job? Interestingly, her entire career appears to have been dedicated to opposition research for political campaigns. In other words, she finds dirt, real or otherwise, for political use. Apparently Craig Livingstone was not available.

Now our tax dollars will support this part of the perpetual Obama campaign, and we can revel in the thought of this prowler in skeleton-filled closets sitting next to legal professionals in the White House who have daily access to sensitive legal and political information. But here's the main question I have: What will her business card say? I'm expecting something like "Anonymous highly-placed source within the administration." She can hand those out before she leaks the results of political dumpster-diving to salivating reporters.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Can we stop panicking yet?

Hmm, maybe a little too soon. The hysterical cries of President Obama notwithstanding, absent the passage of a trillion dollar pork bill the United States will not sink into permanent recession. If the bloated spend-fest is passed in its current form, however, we can look forward to permanent indebtedness. So, we have that going for us.

We just need China and Japan to buy an additional one or two trillion dollars of Treasury bills over the next 18 months. Of course, Americans who have been encouraged to tighten their belts have seriously cut back on their purchases of Japanese and Chinese products (Note Panasonic's recent layoff of 15,000 employees.) Which means--still with me?--the Japanese and Chinese have less money to spend to buy our debt. Can this circle be squared? Or does it more and more begin to resemble perpetual-motion machines and cold fusion, the attempts at which run smack into immutable natural laws?

Gold is a bit pricey now, at well over $900 an ounce. So while I agree inflation is around the corner, a significant amount of inflation appears already priced into gold, considering that it's moved opposed to oil, the Euro, and the Pound in recent months, all of which have sunk against the Dollar. Money-making companies (There are still some around making profits) look good for equities, as long as they're cheap enough. Remember; you want to price them based on future earnings, which will almost certainly be lower for a year or two than the previous couple of years' earnings. Corporate debt is as cheap as it's been in a generation, making bonds look really appealing. But some junk is, well, junk. So buy carefully, and choose bond funds that are well diversified. Look at their track records in previous downturns and, if the fund hasn't been around a couple of decades to experience previous downturns, skip it.

Most financial equities are toxic, given Washington's desire to seize the industry in its large, crude fist for the forseeable future. You could look to industries that appear in favor with the Hope and Change administration, but if "green" industries and others don't have a real profit-making ability absent large subsidies, that's quite a gamble. Financing could dry up tomorrow, given the speed with which the current administration seems to be going off the rails.

More sensible is a look to quality sectors that don't rely on large subsidies or lend themselves to onerous regulation for political purposes. Consumer staples, retail at the top and bottom of the economic scale, utilities that don't have an outsize reliance on coal-generated power, and telecommunications firms with growing worldwide customer bases (African and Asian cell phone markets continue to expand) are possible bets. Any other ideas? Feel free to share.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This is very taxing

Well, blow me down. A Democrat who "forgets" $100,000 in income tax liability actually doesn't get the job. Tom "Puff" Daschle, D. Lobbyist, is heading back to Unregistered-Lobbyist-Land. After spending a quarter century on Capitol Hill you'd think basic concepts like cash and in-kind income would be pretty simple for a guy to grasp. But he failed, so Obama will have to find another Democrat politician in line for a taxpayer-funded reward to fill the Health and Human Services Secretary slot.

I hear the former governor of Illinois is available.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stimulate This!

After the latest spend-fest was rammed through the House on a party-line vote (There's that hopeful bipartisan change we were promised!), some details finally emerged.

  • $600 million to buy new cars for federal workers. Naturally, only UAW-dominated factories will be in the running for that pork.

  • $300 million for education on sexually-transmitted diseases. Is the House afraid things will get too stimulating in the near future?

  • $50 million in additional funds for the National Endowment of the Arts. Because, after all, what says Hope and Change better than a crucifix dipped in urine, funded by the taxpayers?
We also belatedly learned that only about 10% of the massive spending bill will fund anything resembling "infrastructure" repair and replacement. Apparently our "crumbling infrastructure" just needed some spackling and paint. After the claims of impending doom of the last couple of years, who knew?
Perhaps most outrageous of all, a majority of the funds budgeted won't be spent until after the first half of 2010. Just to make sure I have this straight, Obama, Pelosi and Reid said it was "critical" that their massive, crushing debt load on the taxpayers get passed as soon as possible. This is a "crisis," you know, and we can't wait. Well, apparently it's the kind of crisis that needs real attention in 2010. You know; an election year. What an interesting time to throw around billions of dollars to favorite constituencies, as well as your favorite voter-fraud enablers, ACORN. It is to laugh.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to desecrate some religious items and apply for a grant. With any luck, Clueless Nancy and Dirty Harry will come through, and I'll get stimulated right into a new Maserati.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Only Approved Information Shall Be Allowed

In a White House meeting this Friday, Barack Obama told Republican members of Congress they are no longer allowed to listen to Rush Limbaugh. "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," said the bringer of Hope, Change, and Transparency. An unnamed White House staffer said "We shouldn't let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done."

Is that why Pelosi's 110th Congress was ever-helpful in its efforts to assist the Bush administration? A desire to avoid "partisan politics?" Or does the unnamed staffer (There's some of that Obama administration transparency already) take "partisan politics" to mean anyone who disagrees with his views and aims?

It sounds much like a school bully who wants another student reported for fighting, and when reminded that he hit the other student first, the bully replies "Well, it wasn't a fight until he hit back."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Nancy wants taxes!

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., FantasyLand) opines that Obama's first "Stimulus Package" has no chance on the Hill unless he backs off his promise of $300 billion of tax cuts. Aside from the fact that the figure $300 billion is a mixture of voodoo economics and pure fantasy, it's a telling look at your modern Democrat Party at work. There is one form of stimulus that can actually halt the economic contraction and promote long-term growth and investment. Naturally, that is the one form of stimulus Nancy finds unacceptable.

You see, a tax cut would allow Americans to keep more of their own money, and spend and invest it as they see fit. Want to buy a bigger house, expand your business, buy a competing business, or invest and save more for the future? With more money in your pocket, you'd have those options and more. But Nancy and her band of idiots can't abide the thought of you making decisions about the money you keep now, let alone any additional portion of your own earnings that you may be allowed to keep.

No, dear serfs...er, taxpayers, we'll take that money and more and invest it in "infrastructure." What, you ask, is infrastructure? It can be most accurately defined in this context as "A major capital expenditure, financed with borrowed and taxed funds, directed to firms most closely connected with the power structure of the majority political party currently holding the purse-strings, for the purpose of providing photo opportunities for politicians and a financial windfall for political friends."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fox, Meet Henhouse

It's been a busy few weeks, so posting hasn't kept up with the furious pace of world and national developments. I'll ease back into the fold with a note that Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton stated in Senate testimony that foreign donations to her husband's foundations would be vetted to insure there was no conflict of interest with the current administration or State. Who will do the vetting? The State Department.

I don't know how Senators do it, maintaining composure after a howler like that. I'd be slapping the table, yelling "Stop! No more! You're killing me! I can't stop laughing!"

Saturday, January 3, 2009

It's a New Year

And that's kind of exciting. Kind of. There is endless hope and optimism over the fact that the first trading day of 2009 showed fairly strong gains for U.S. stock indices. We'll see. Best Buy (The big electronics retailer that has not filed for bankruptcy protection) releases its 4th-quarter and Christmas sales figures on Friday, January 9. A few other major retailers will be releasing their most recent numbers in the first half of this month. Stock up on Kleenex; there will be tears.

While the Dollar has given back some of its recent gains, oil for February delivery remains below $45 a barrel. This is not only a boon to the American economy and those of our allies, but a hard blow to Putin, Chavez, and the rest of the idiot-savant petro-dollar potentates. They began spending thinking of triple-digit oil prices, and figured they could maintain that spending level even if oil fell all the way to $60. Forty five dollars? Look for spending cuts, tax increases...well, that's about it for options. More debt is out of the question. What sane person would buy Russian or Venezuelan government bonds? Like a Ponzi-scheme organizer whose deals start to unravel, they're reaching ever more desperately for temporary fixes, but the ultimate result is hardly in question. OPEC and Russia will be forced into drastic, long-term retrenchments.

One small corner of the Middle East is aflame, and the U.N. is preparing to leap into action with a sternly-worded statement. It makes you wonder at the U.N.'s silence for 900 days and nights of rocket attacks on Israeli neighborhoods. But after you wonder for a few seconds, you say "Oh, right; it's the U.N." Business as usual. Barack Obama, having learned from his buffoonish statements on the Russian/Georgian mess of a few months back, is keeping quiet. Someone reminded him American has "only one president at a time," and he repeated that to reporters, who then wrote about how wise and noble is The One.

There will be plenty more to excite is in the days and weeks to come. In the mean time, watch your portfolio, and try to dine out occasionally in a favorite restaurant. That sector is facing tough times, as such discretionary spending is on the wane, so a good restaurant deserves our support. As for the not-so-good--maybe someone better will rent the space. It's just creative destruction at work.