Monday, September 29, 2008

Fools! They're all fools! =)

To continue my post about the $700 billion bailout, I find some of the stuff I read about it fascinating. The vote for the bailout failed today, and my stocks tanked. Grand total, my stocks lost precisely $1,976.29 of their value today. That's okay--I really don't mind! =) They'll go back up, eventually. In the meantime, I can keep buying stocks at low, low prices.

But the part that fascinates me is what I read in the media. It seems to me that a lot of people genuinely believe the bailout will actually cost taxpayers $700 billion dollars. It's a huge misrepresentation, and largely unfair. Wall Street doesn't deserve to be bailed out, yadda, yadda, yadda. I've read that many congressmen who actually want the bailout to pass voted against it or abstained from voting because elections are just a few weeks away and it would "look bad." And heck, if Obama and McCain can actually agree that the bailout is a good thing, you gotta think there might actually be something to it. What do we elect politicans for if it's not to make the tough choices? Alas, many of them are more interested in getting reelected than doing the right thing. I can't say I agree with everything Bush has done, but at least he does what he thinks is right. Gotta give him credit for that.

The biggest irony I find, however, is that it's actually possible that the bailout would make money in the end. We aren't just giving away $700 billion with no strings attached. We, the taxpayers, would be buying very real assests with real values, possibly for a fraction of their true value. (I'll pause here to let you finish laughing.) But seriously.... there's absolutely no reason that the US government can't get back every cent that's loaned for this bailout, plus interest and expenses, and maybe even a little extra. But that number is just so darned large, it frightens a lot of people. I don't think the media does a very good job of explaining that a $700 billion payout doesn't mean it'll actually cost taxpayers $700 billion in the end. I wonder how much stock holders lost today with the bailout failure? I suspect it might be greater than $700 billion, although I haven't found any hard numbers to back that up.

But that's okay--I'll keep buying stocks as I can, and smile that stocks will stay so much cheaper that much longer. =)

In other news, what I really wanted to talk about, was the strike at Boeing. I think it's utterly, irresponsibly stupid. A couple of years back when the machinists went on strike, I felt Boeing was being stupid and idiotic. This time, I think it's the machinists that are shooting themselves in the foot.

When they first voted to strike this time, I read that 80% of the union members voted against the contract, but 87% voted to strike! Which means that there are at least 7% of the people there who actually supported the contract but wanted to strike anyhow? That's screwed up. My gut feeling is that there are a lot of hard feelings, and many of those who voted to strike just wanted to strike out of spite. Not all, perhaps not even most, but a sizeable number. That's a stupid reason to go on strike.

And the main sticking point for them? Job security! Are these people out of their minds? There's no such thing as job security. When Boeing starts to develop the 797 and they need to decide where to assemble the plane, what do you think is going to happen? "Well, we could assemble it in Everett, but they like to strike all the time which causes problems. Perhaps assembling it in some other location where they're less likely to strike would be prudent?"

Shooting themselves in the foot. Boeing must stay competitive, and if that means outsourcing some of their chores, that's what they need to do. And it's not necessarily a bad thing either. If developing countries such as China have a financial interest to buy from Boeing--such as manufacturing some parts in China--they can sell more planes and have more business in Washington.

And while many people in this country are facing foreclosures, loss of jobs, and so forth, the machinists feel now is the best time to walk off the job?

Good luck with that. I think the machinists will cry uncle before Boeing does this time around.

But there is a serious morale problem with regards to the machinists. I'm not sure there's any simple or easy solution for it, but I do think they're shooting themselves in the foot with this strike. And if the worst should happen, and your job does get offshored to some other country, find a new one. I've been laid off twice now. It's not the end of the world. If you're good at your job, there will be another one available.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


It's official--Washington Mutual is done. During its more than one hundred years in business, it survived two world wars, the Great Depression, and countless scandals over the years. It's not the end of the world, but it does sadden me. I read that the final straw came because depositors had taken out about $15 billion fearing that the bank would fail. Granted, it probably would have failed anyhow, but a bank run? How stupid do you have to be? It's FDIC insured. Unless you're stupid enough to keep more than $100,000 in your account ($200,000 for joint accounts). If you keep that kind of cash laying around in a bank account, you deserve to lose it anyhow. Do people not realize this?

I feel like I'm somewhat ahead of the tread. Bank failure didn't become the "in thing" until IndyMac went under. My bank, NetBank, failed last year. So ha! Been there, done that, and when my bank failed, I didn't even find out until about a month after the fact! But it wasn't a big deal, all things considered, and I wouldn't have changed anything even if I knew the bank was failing. The assets were sold to ING Direct, and I find it a perfectly acceptable place to do business with now.

As for the Mother Of All Bailouts (MOAB), the $700 billion that's being thrown around, I find that incredible sum to comprehend. But all-in-all, I find myself not especially concerned about it either. Keep in mind, that number is likely far higher than the final cost to taxpayers would be. It's to be used to buy up a bunch of lousy mortages, but those mortages aren't worthless. They are still assests with real value. Not as much as banks originally thought they were, but there is still some value there.

I also find it heartening when I hear reports about US Sam taking equity stakes in some of these institutions--it's the least we deserve for bailing them out!--and even perhaps taxing certain financial transactions on Wall Street to ultimately cover the cost of the bailout. I don't mind using taxpayer money to bailout Wall Street--as long as Wall Street ultimately pays for the bailout in the end. I'll be considerably more upset if I felt taxpayers wouldn't get most of that $700 billion back in the end. I'm optimisitic, though. And I'm pleased that they want to restrict those golden parachutes so the folks who got us into this mess can't walk away with millions in severance. It's appauling how so many CEOs can drive a company into the ground and get paid millions while doing it.

I'm not even terribly concerned about the "moral hazard" of bailing out Wall Street--the theory that if we bail them out, they won't learn their lesson and take stupid risks in the future thinking if things get too bad, the government will just bail them out again. Bailing out Wall Street doesn't mean they won't suffer. Oh, they have. Stockholders have gotten all but wiped out. The most wreckless companies have blown up completely or been bought out for pennies. Capitalism at work, and it is good. They're feeling the pain of their mistakes. A bailout isn't going to change that.

Remember last year when it seemed like wealthy mid-east folks were investing billions in some of those faultering banks? Terrible, wasn't it? Even the Crystler Building--and what's more American than the Crystler Building?--was bought by foreign investors. In hindsight, I'm rather happy to see them blow billions of dollars on our failed institutions. Better them than us, right? ;o)

I find the fear permeating the market exciting. Stocks as a whole are cheaper than I've ever seen them before, and I'm more optimistic about the stock market than I've ever been. Apparently, my view is quite rare--I read recently that more people expect the stock market to be lower one year from now than has ever been recorded in my lifetime. Oh, if only I had more money to invest..... Unlike Wall Street, however, I'm not willing to take on debt to buy more assests. Stocks very well could continue going lower, and those margin calls could be a problem if they did. I suspect in the next few years, though, I'll make a killing with my investments. If stocks stay low or (even better!) continue to fall, I'll be scrimping and saving every cent I can to buy more.

As long as I'm a net acquirer of stocks, I'm thrilled with stock prices going down. You hear about inflation going up, but then everyone is depressed that the price of stocks is going down. Hello?! Why does everyone want to pay more for stocks? *shaking head* Why aren't stocks considered when they figure out inflation rates? I spend more on stocks than I do any other single item. Even managed to max out my IRA contributes this year. Sweet! =) (On a sad note, however, the stock I wanted to buy with it went up over 20% in the time it took for the check to work it's way through the mail and get deposited into my account. Argh! I still bought the stock, but I wasn't happy to pay 20% more for it just because the check took a few days to make its way into my account.)

Exciting times, indeed! Take advantage of it!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Down With Google!

For years, I used to use Yahoo as my search engine of choice. Then one day, I tried Google, and was amazed at how much better the search results were. I never went back.

Nowadays, I generally use Google out of habit. Yahoo and other search engines have since improved their searches considerably and I can't say I find any one better than another. I usually get more-or-less the same results no matter what I use. (Except Cuil, which returned absolutely terrible results, when I tried playing around with it.)

Today I read that Google's search dominance has continued to increase, serving up 63% of all searches on the Internet. I wouldn't call that a monopoly, per se, but as a consumer, I'd rather have at least two "biggies" battling it out for searches. Nothing good can come from one major winner. Looks what happened to Internet Explorer as soon as Microsoft won the browser wars. It was dead in the water for years until Firefox came along and blew IE6 out of the water. Tabbed windows, standards compliant, and wonderfully useful toolbars. IE7 improved things dramtically, but I still prefer Firefox. And now a beta version for IE8 is already available. See what a little compition can do? We'd all probably still be stuck with IE6 if it wasn't for Firefox's success.

(Speaking of IE8--if anyone is trying it and discovers any problems with Atlas Quest while using it, let me know. I haven't downloaded it or tried it out as of yet, so there could certainly be "upgrade issues" I don't know about.)

I still like Google search results, though, but I find myself more and more concerned about their enormous clout. So, starting today, I've decided to ditch Google as my search engine of choice. No, starting today, I'm going to use Live Search.

Why Live? Well, my opinion of Yahoo has gone down for one thing. I still hate their cluttered search page. And the fact they're trying to partner up with Google is a huge issue with me. After all, I want to reduce Google's dominance--not increase it which is what the partnership with Yahoo will do. And Microsoft, who runs the search engine, is the third most commonly used one. It does not hurt that I own some stock in Microsoft either, though my little pittance was hardly a major deciding factor on that score. ;o) Anyhow, my trust in Yahoo's management was shot after they didn't take Microsoft's offer to buy up the whole company. Are they IDIOTS?! Apparnently so. (I'm a bit leery about Microsoft making the offer in the first place, but I'm not entirely convinced it would have been a bad thing had they bought Yahoo either. Yahoo not taking it, though--that's just criminal in my book.)

I never really used Live before, and when I checked it out this afternoon, I was actually pleasantly surprised. I pretty picture of Machu Pichu showed up, like a pretty background compared to the stark white of Google. And when I moved my cursor around the page, little boxes would highlight on the image with information to links about the site, the photo, and one of them even included a link to "airline ticket deals." WAY COOL! It's like a virtual box on Atlas Quest! Not that I'm particuarly find of virtuals, but I love how the links are "hidden" in the photo like letterboxes in the wild.

I'm not sure how often the image changes. I've tried a couple of refreshes and it still comes up Machu Pichu. But gosh, I really like it from a visual standpoint. =)

I'll still keep the Google ads on the tutorial pages for lack of a better source for them. I really wish Microsoft would come up with a program such as Google's AdSense program. Even if they give out ALL of the money made from the ads, Microsoft could still come out ahead just by making itself more relevant. But they never asked my opinion. I'm just a lowly webmaster and shareholder. =)

But in any case, I'm no longer going to use Google as my primary search engine. Long live Live! =)