The Day the World Noticed

I can’t remember a more bizarre day than what we saw today. It’s, well, it’s just hard to even find a word that comes close to describing it. But let’s see if we can’t get it hammered out.

Before I even get into all of the strange and baffling nonsense, there is no way I’m letting the John Kerry circus freakshow slide. It would be criminal to not bring it full circle, even if it is likely the most embarrassing and jaw dropping decision ever made in politics and at the expense of our nation. Yeah, it’s that hokey. As bad as I hate flying, I’d have paid big money to have witnessed this first hand.

John Kerry showed up in France with none other than James Taylor. And then Taylor serenaded the entire nation with Kerry, in true roadie form, watching and wanting so bad to sing with him (you could just tell). Oh, and that woman? Talk about a completely awkward position of having to hold the mic as Taylor crooned “You’ve Got a Friend”. Never, ever, ever should a Democrat be allowed again to make fun of President Bush’s loose take on the English language.

This happened overnight, so it’s not exactly breaking news anymore; I won’t dwell on it. I will say, however, his quote made in Bulgaria that he intends “to share a big hug with Paris and express the affection of the American people for France and for our friends there who have been through a terrible time,” is already going in my Top 10 end of the year list.

And now, I’ll allow the video and the Twitterverse to wrap this up:

Here’s the video – fair warning: prepare yourself for 3 minutes and 39 seconds of sheer horrific deliciousness.

I’m telling y’all – this has Jen Psaki all over it.

Here are a few of the groovy tweets that have entertained me all day (and there are so many):

So, while that’s ridiculous and silly, there were other closer-to-reality-though-still-hokey events unfolding.

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron shared a press conference today that began, typically, with a classic Obama pre-emptive strike or maybe he was establishing that whole bromance thingey:


And then, about thirty minutes in, he said:


OK, well, let’s see. Here’s the thing – there is so much wrong that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of jobs, the economy and everything else that supports this nation. So, with that in mind, I thought a bit of perspective might be good.

Ma, What’s for Supper?

More than 50 years ago, President Johnson earmarked $20 trillion to fight poverty in this nation. Under the Obama Administration, records are being broken and not in a good way. President Johnson would be disappointed:

47 million Americans receive food stamps. This is 13 million more than when he took office.

More than 50 million Americans are living below the poverty line.

His administration loves to tell the tale of how it pulled 12.6 million out of poverty since 2009. What it doesn’t tell is that another 13.5 fell into poverty.

One of the biggest indicators of whether a child will live in poverty is a matter of whether that child is born to single mothers. A whopping 42 percent of all babies born today are born in one-parent households.

Today, the New York Times reports:

Study Finds Widespread Poverty Among U.S. Public School Children

The Real Fear

And now, let’s get to the heart of the matter because trust me – this is the dirty little secret many are still trying to keep hidden away.

As we know, oil is taking a beating, what with OPEC calling the shots, Russia keeping its hand close and all of the repercussions that are now being felt, I’m surprised it took a few weeks for the tension to build.

United Arab Emirates Oil Minister Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui gave comments at an energy conference in Abu Dhabi and said, “The strategy will not change,” noting also that he expected no sudden rebound and he believes these prices will actually stabilize for the next few years.

Energy shares are way down – last week, they lost 8 percent. The big players in the sector are all being downgraded, as oil continues its downward tumble. Take a look at the logistics –

Goldman Sachs nearly halved its three month forecast for Brent crude, from $80 to now $42 per barrel with assurances that prices would continue to stay low.

Also this week, Goldman Sachs made significant reductions in its targets for energy stocks.

Oceaneering International lowered its target price by $10 to $64, indicative of a massive 28 percent decline.

If that weren’t bad enough, RIG has lost nearly 67 percent of its value and is barely hanging on to its $16.10 share price.

Goodrich Petroleum CorpNASDAQ and Zacks have said it may be a stock worth dropping and noted, “The stock also has seen some pretty dismal trading lately, as the share price has dropped 23.9% in the past month.”

Regency Energy Partners was downgraded by analysts at Morgan Stanley. It’s now rated as “underweight”. That was announced today, right before a report was sent to investors and clients outlining the less than rosy news.

Morgan Stanley’s not the only one, though. Credit Suisse downgraded Regency from “outperform” to “neutral” and The Street downgraded from “buy” to “hold”. This all happened in the past few days.

Transocean Ltd. – Every analyst – 16 in total – have issued nothing better than a “hold’

So how does all of this look from a jobs perspective?

On Thursday, oilfield dominator Schlumberger announced it was letting go of a whopping 9,000 employees.

Dallas Federal Reserve reports it expects at least 128,000 lost jobs –in Texas alone – by mid-2015 “if West Texas Intermediate crude oil remains around $55.00 a barrel”. (Stocks closed today with WTI crude at $46.25 a barrel).

Also this week, U.S. Steel Corp, which makes the pipes and various tubes for the sector, and specifically for oilfield drilling, is laying off 142 people in Houston.

JPMorgan Chase’s U.S. economist says a recession in Texas is a strong possibility. Alberta, Canada is already preparing for a recession.

Fitch Ratings said this week that low oil prices could affect “economic and revenue trends for certain cities, counties and school districts” in states that rely heavily on the sector.

Meanwhile, this also means that every other sector will feel the burn. Fitch explained that other “economically sensitive revenue at hotels, restaurants, retailers and construction will suffer”. Banks are bracing for debt defaults and investments are being cancelled already.

At least two contract drillers, Helmerich & Payne and Energy Services Corp. admit that clients are paying early termination fees to rescind contracts. Caterpillar is already warning of a lower forecast for 2015.

Bringing it Around

While the country braces for the bottom to fall out, unsure of whether it will or won’t and how it might or might not affect their families, Obama said not once, but at least twice today during the presser that the economy’s strong and that the U.S. and UK are rocking the good news wagon (you can read the entire transcript here). Clearly, that’s not true. And I’ve not even touched the whole free tuition, free widespread Wi-Fi and the increase in minimum wage and how he intends on paying for it. I’m sure, though, he’ll outline it all in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

So, what now? Well, it’d be great if we could ask the president, but he’s hosting an exclusive party tonight with the cast of the film Selma, as well as the rapper Common and John Legend who were nominated for song of the year that links 1965 and 2014 using references to police brutality. This party is, I suppose, a consolation prize for not being nominated, even though the song and film were, well, both nominated for Oscars.

Now, before you get upset about taxpayer dollars being used to soothe bruised egos with a shindig at the White House, even as poverty ticks up and fears about the job market grow each minute, just remember, it’s not going to be anything near the $4 million we paid for the 17 day vacay to Hawaii last month. Or, at least, we hope it won’t.


In Hindsight

Ever notice how hindsight can educate you? How many times have we said to ourselves and others, “If I’d known then what I know now…”? Plundering through some old issues of LIFE Magazine, there was no shortage of those moments for me. It got me to thinking about how much things have changed – until I realized that when it gets right down to it, not much has changed at all.

I was reading an interview with Richard Nixon right before voters put him back in office. Soon, Watergate would emerge and it would annihilate not only Nixon, but several others as well. Before then, though, he had support that crossed party lines and more importantly, he had the respect of a nation. I know – that’s a hard sell in retrospect, but stay with me here –

In the September 1972 issue of LIFE, you’ll find this:  

For the U.S. to play a proper role in world affairs we must, in the President’s view, not only be strong militarily, nixon but strong in spirit, strong in self respect. We must be able to govern ourselves if we are to help govern the world. The U.S. does not maintain its strength in order to push people around. It does so in order to play a role which only the U.S. can. We must maintain the strength of our military establishment, and of our economy and we must show that we can govern ourselves.

Nixon then goes on to speak of his disappointment in himself for not being able to accomplish as much as he’d wished during the first four years. He explained that an American president “can do things in foreign affairs and then ask to be judged on his performance. In domestic matters, he can only propose to do things.” In three years, he continued, Congress didn’t reject his bills, but instead, they simply did not act on them. He ended that aspect of the interview by saying these kinds of failures, to him, mean as a country, we faced a crisis in our ability to govern and then suggested that the machine of the government is obsolete.

Any of it sound familiar? I searched out the text from Obama’s 2008 Strategy to Promote Global Development and Democracy. It was interesting to see the contrasting beliefs, word choices and overall sentiments of the two. Here’s part of what you’ll find in that presentation:

Barack Obama will restore America’s standing in the world by providing a new American leadership to meet the challenges of a new century. American leadership is urgently needed. This century’s threats are as dangerous as and in some ways more complex than those we confronted in the past… weak states that cannot control their territory or provide for their people; from extreme poverty and repressive governance that can foment instability; and; from a warming planet that would spur new diseases, spawn more devastating natural disasters, and catalyze deadly conflicts.

The point is to mirror the two references in order to gain a different perspective, especially when you consider the various recent decisions that have come out of the Obama Administration.

Finally, take a look at these two comparisons. The first one highlights the mindset of Americans from the early 1970s (from the same LIFE issue) regarding the union’s growing influence. It also mentions poverty and unemployment.

Reese Orlosky worked in a knife factory and put himself through college. It took eleven years, but he graduated in 1971 with his psychology degree. By then, he’d married and both he and his wife had accepted jobs as teachers as it was difficult to find a job in his chosen career. He discovered that both he and his wife made, in combined salaries, just $600 above the national poverty line. He returned to the knife factory and accepted position on the assembly line earning $4.78 per hour just to earn a living.

OK – so jump ahead more than three decades later –

Millions of college graduates who saw a degree as their ticket to a good-paying career and a secure life are working in jobs that do not require their education or even a high school diploma, sometimes leaving them with small wages to pay thousands in student loan debt, according to a new study.

About 48 percent of all working college alumni – not just recent graduates – were underemployed in 2010 as the United States began a slow recovery from the Great Recession, including 5 million graduates in jobs that require less than a high school diploma, according to a study from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. (See the entire Denver Post story here)

Also, in an October 2012 report titled, America’s near poor: 30 million and struggling the number of those living at or just below the poverty level has grown by 10%. For those who are officially living in poverty, those numbers have skyrocketed a whopping 24% in the past couple of years. Interestingly enough, there’s even a label for these families; the ones who are doing all of the right things, but still are unable to to climb out. They’re referred to as “the missing class”. These are the families that lawmakers and policymakers dismiss and they’re also the ones who are probably not going to be able to afford things like medical insurance, especially once Obama Care kicks in. In fact, many have already had to drop previous policies because their employers could no longer pay the premiums.

Did I mention those in this missing class group include teachers? In other words, if you transplanted a 1972 Orlosky into current day, he and his wife would likely face the same problems they did three decades ago.

The times were different, the motives were different and society as a whole was different, until, of course, you dig a bit deeper.

Alan Greenspan’s Reality is Anything But

I’ve always been vocal of my disdain with Alan Greenspan; I believe he’s pompous and his academic approach to life has served no one, especially when in his role as the chairman of the Federal Reserve.  In yesterday’s edition of Financial Times, he only reiterated those reasons many have lost faith in him and his elitist approach the American economy.  Yesterday’s editorial, “Fear undermines America’s recovery”, he states that “it is going to take years to address the unprecedented complexity of final rulemaking required in the massive Dodd-Frank bill”.  You think?  He

Alan Greenspan

then says rules that will dictate the financial marketplace are “disturbingly conjectural” – but isn’t this exactly what he and his powerful cohorts put into place while he was still in the role of chairman?  For him to now determine it nothing but conjecture only proves what millions feared when these ridiculous rules were established.  For him to say that fear is the reason America’s not recovered from a devastating recession is infuriating.  That fear that Americans live with are due to his decisions, his policies and his willingness to allow illegal activities to continue when he knew what was going on.

This country’s slow recovery has nothing to do with American’s fear.  Oh, there’s fear; make no mistake.  Allow me to separate the two.  First, let’s take a look at the very real fear far too many Americans are living with:

“Food stamp recipients at record 41.8 million Americans in July, U.S. says” (Bloomberg, October 5, 2010).

“One in seven Americans is living in poverty, Census shows (Third consecutive year rate has climbed)” (Washington Post, September 16, 2010)

“Initial Unemployment Claims Rise Unexpectedly” (U.S. Labor Department, September 23, 2010).

“$162 Million Stimulus Money Still Not Disclosed” (USAToday, October 6, 2010).

Now, here are a few reasons the recovery remains non-existent:

“Smaller Firms Could Have Run U.S. Toxic Funds” (MSNBC, October 6, 2010).

“Congress Can’t Repeal Economics” (Fox News, October 7, 2010)

“313 Economists to Congress: Tax Hikes Constitute “Anti-Stimulus” (Fox Business, September 23, 2010).

While fear is a daily part of many Americans’ lives, Greenspan confuses fear with anger, distrust and frustration.  He and the many selfish politicians spun the decisions they made to the point of it being so confusing and so twisted that few could understand it.  One thing that’s not misunderstood, however, is the result of their selfish motives.  The time for Greenspan’s blame laying game is over.  It’s time to take responsibility for his role in this disaster.

The Absence of the Silver Lining

Just when we begin to believe things are getting better, news breaks today that the poverty rate has suddenly jumped to 14.3% and foreclosures hit an all time high last month.  Since the recession started, the number of foreclosures is up 25%.

The poverty ratings are growing fastest in those who are still of working age.  As of today, there are nearly 44 million Americans who are living below the poverty level.  Wondering how that equates to those who are struggling?  Take a look:

  • There is not enough money to pay even the utilities.  Some families are doing the best they can by paying the most critical of overdue bills first.  “Whichever account is closest to being disconnected is the one we pay”, said one woman in Pace, FL.  Some families, though they’re living in impoverished circumstances, don’t have to worry about choosing between the electricity bill or the phone bill – they’ve long since lost their homes and sadly, many are living on the streets or in their cars.
  • Now that school’s started, many kids are going to school without the supplies they need.  Mom and Dad just can’t afford crayons and glue; for many, it’s the first time in their lives they face these difficulties.
  • Many who have dinner tonight will do their best to make crackers and a can of chicken noodle soup stretch far enough to feed their children.
  • There are many who either didn’t receive a job offer because their phone has been disconnected and those who do receive the long awaited job offer are finding themselves wondering how they can get to a new job since they no longer have an automobile.
  • No one is immune.  Families who were, just a very short time ago, accustomed to having all they needed are finding themselves sending up prayers that they can keep their families safe for one more day; others are making the hard choices to allow their children to stay with family members while they leave their hometowns in search of jobs that will mean the family will have to relocate.

So what’s the answer?  I have no idea.  There are no easy solutions to be found, aside from reaching out to help those who really need to know someone’s on their side.  If any of us have made it to adulthood and still have no concept of “but for the grace of God”, then something’s wrong.  While I can’t tell anyone else what their answers are, I absolutely believe each of us, in some way, can play a role.  I think I’ve defined mine – now your turn.