I Wanted To Feel Better About A Dead Osama Bin Laden

May 2, 2011

I found out via twitter last night that we finally killed OBL the SOB.

I thought I would feel more. I wanted to smile, I wanted to run into the streets with my American flag and make it feel like a personal V-E Day or V-J Day. It feels good; just not dance of joy happy, with apologies to Perfect Strangers.

I just do not feel like we won much right now. I do not know how much power Osama bin Laden still had over al-Qaeda.

Maybe it was the nine years it took to eliminate this evil or maybe it is because I know these cowards who want to kill innocent people and take their own life in the process are still alive and are planning to inflict more pain.

These people are terrorists and not Muslims. There are over a billion Muslims in the world. If their beliefs were the beliefs of all those who practice Islam, I doubt I would be able to type this. In Islam, Moses, Jesus and Mary are prophets not enemies. We must never forget this. I just want the Islam community to stand up and do more to let everyone know that they truly condemn these actions and these men are terrorists and not Muslims.

We can never be the people we were on September 10th. At that time, we believed that we were so innocent and so worry free. We brought everything on our airplanes and our military were nice to look at, but we were not really sure how much of it we needed.

I can only remember that on September 11, 2001, I was driving in my car and witnessed with my eyes the planes strike the Twin Towers. I did not see it on TV. I had one of the best seats in the house.

In an hour, New York City looked like Beirut. Our skies had become a battleground that you only thought existed in the movies. The image of a constant tornado over downtown Manhattan for a week after the attack never leaves your mind.

The first word that came into my head was vulnerable. We were attacked and our world was never going to be same. I remember the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, calling 9/11, the day the party ended. He was right. Our way of easy, protected life had been changed forever. The mainland had been attacked for the first time in over a century. But, this time there was no real army, just a few crazed individuals thinking that by doing such evil with airplanes they were destined for nirvana.

We can remember that it was our American soldiers that finally got rid of one of worst evils the world has ever known.

American troops are not going to withdraw out of Afghanistan or Iraq today. We killed one of the founding fathers of al-Qaeda. I would feel foolish to believe that the followers of bin Laden are going to lie down and raise up their white flags. That is not their M.O. They will likely view the death of bin Laden as murder and they will consider him to be a martyr. We must remain vigilant because just like after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, they will want to come back and they seek more destruction.

I want our troops to have their day down the Canyon of Heroes and feel the love and truly know that the American people thank you and know that you are a force for good to defeat evil that threatens our glorious way of life. Your sacrifices are never to be forgotten.

President Obama needed this, our military needed this, and the American people needed something to feel inspired about our country again. Sometimes it is a hockey game, sometimes it is killing public enemy number one.

It does not guarantee him re-election like some have said. It does help his chances and it does change the image of an Administration that has been told that it was not doing enough to secure the country. That is undeniable.

But tomorrow, gas prices will still be rising, unemployment will still be way too high, foreclosures will still be taking place daily, we have a 1,000 page health care reform law that nobody seems to fully comprehend, corporate greed will still exist, wealthy people will be getting richer, while the poor will continue to fall further behind, and our politicians will always be the best that money can buy.

James Carville will always be correct in saying, “It’s the economy, stupid.” For today, that takes a pass to say, “It’s about freedom, stupid.”

I am hopeful that news of Osama bin Laden’s death is a spark to curing some of these ills and make people feel even more pride to live in such a wonderful country.

I want to feel better, but I know a future disaster may only be the next tweet away.


Blasts & Duds from the Oscars

February 25, 2009
It is time to bring back the popular column of Blasts & Duds from the
Grenade.  Today, it is all about the 81st Academy Awards.  The
Oscars have always been good for some great Blasts & Duds over the
years.  Let’s see how this year stacks up:

BLASTS

1.  The Academy Selections – I wrote my 2009
Oscar picks
a couple of weeks ago, and many of picks came true. 
The Academy did not really have a surprise in the bunch.  Penelope Cruz
winning for Best Supporting Actress may have been the only winner that could
be classified as a surprise, but not a real big one in my eyes. 

2.  Kate Winslet  – Boy, she made up from her
"so surprised to have won" routine at the Golden Globes.  You
are a great actress, Kate, it’s ok, it is not a surprise anymore.  I
thought she gave a very good speech, and was classy throughout.  Brava! 

3. The Presentation of the Acting Awards – Great call by
the Academy to bring back 5 winners from each acting category to present the
awards.  You can’t beat seeing people like Robert DeNiro, Sophia Loren,
Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley, and so many others was a true tribute to
the screen.  I liked how they were able to talk a little about each
performance and it did not feel rushed. 

4. India – The Slumdog from Mumbai, became a Hollywood
millionaire on Oscar night.  Nominated for 10 Oscars, they took home 8. 
And since, there were two nominees for Best Song, they went 8 for 9. 
Danny Boyle took home Best Director and Christian Colson sealed the night
with the Best Picture Oscar.  Indian music was rewarded with A. R.
Rahman winning for Best Musical Score and Best Song.  Slumdog
Millionaire had a fairy tale finish not only on the screen, but on Oscar
night. 

5. Jerry Lewis – The Academy rightfully bestowed their
Humanitarian Award for him.  While his health may not be at its finest,
his spirit felt strong.  I am very glad that they finally got around to
doing this, while this legend of a person is still with us.  I only
wish he was able to speak longer. 

6. Hugh Jackman  – I know people have gone back and
forth on this.  I liked how his opening act was not political, but
reached out to just about everyone.  While, he certainly was not
as good as Billy Crystal hosting, he did not take away from the awards. 
Hugh is an Australian gem.  He can host this show anytime, as far
as I am concerned.

7.  The Camera Crew & The Stage – Alright, I
won’t be shy, I loved that the camera crew panned to Angelina Jolie &
Brad Pitt while Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black were presenting for
Best Animated Feature.  +1 to the camera crew and directors from ABC. 
The Stage looked amazing, with that Swarovski crystal curtain.  Well
done.  

8. – Dustin Lance Black – A well deserved Oscar that was
followed up by a very inspirational speech.  It was heartfelt and real. 
You could tell he was very nervous, but it was something he needed to get
off his chest.  It must have been quite an honor for him to have won
this award for Milk, and to see how Harvey Milk’s story inspired his
own life is very impressive and memorable. 

9. – No Music Cut-offs – It was nice that people who won their
awards were not cutoff after 15 seconds of talking by the band.  
There should be a time limit, but at least give them a minute or so, to
thank and describe their feelings on one of the biggest nights of their
careers.  

DUDS

1. Sean Penn – Ok, ok, we get it, you are America’s
Douchebag.  If I ever met Sean Penn, I’d probably shake his hand with
my right hand and want to knock him out with my left hand. He is a
tremendous actor, and while I thought he would finish 2nd for Best Actor; I
was not upset that he was the winner.  But, dude, can you leave
political crap at home.  It has no place at the Awards. 
Republicans are not the devil, and not everything you think is right,
actually is.  You could taken a page from your screenwriter, Dustin
Lance Black, on how to give a speech that gives thanks and sends a message
with pride and dignity.  Oh, and when you get a chance, could you
remember to thank Harvey Milk, he might have played a part in your victory. 
That reminded me of Julia Roberts thanking 4 million people and not even
mentioning Erin Brockovich’s name in her speech.

2 – The Great Unknown – The question we all are left
with in our minds; what if Mickey Rourke had won?  No one has any idea
what he would have done had he won Best Actor.  We can only guess and
say what is on our minds, but it will always be one of the most unknown
questions in Oscar history. 

3. – Ben Stiller – It does not help that I am not really
a big fan of his to begin with, but I did not really think his Joaquin
Phoenix impression was funny.

4.  Anne Hathaway – Should be more like Anne
Go-away.  First, she is not pretty.  Maybe, I am in the minority
here, but I know I am not alone.  She has eyebrows reminiscent of Bert
from Sesame Street, a big beak for a nose, and when I see those teeth, I
want to re-do the Go-go’s classic hit, "We’ve Got the Beat," to
"She’s Got Big Teeth."   Second, I do not really think
she is that talented as an actress, either. 

5.  Eddie Murphy – He was not given the easiest
task, but he seemed to have some difficulty reading off the monitors. 
I am hoping he is not into any drugs or something else.  

6.  Beyonce & Queen Latifah – I like both of
them.  I just thought their choice of song were questionable.  In
the movie Dreamgirls, Jamie Foxx’s character says to Beyonce’s
character, Deena, "You know why I chose you to sing lead? Because your
voice… has no personality. No depth. Except for what I put in there." 
While it was just a movie line, there is some truth in it.  Beyonce
could not resist throwing in a snip of "At Last".  Please,
just leave that to Etta James.  As for the Queen, a lovely voice, and
one with depth, but "I’ll Be Seeing You" just did not seem to fit
her, in my opinion.  

7.  Bill Maher – Straight from the Sean Penn school
of Douchebagness, Bill decided to put a smarmy little comment about his
documentary not being nominated and that people who believe in God are
responsible for the world’s ills.  Sorry, Bill, but about 95% of the
people do believe in some form of a God around the world.  We all DO
NOT think like you, so please, do not act like we do.  I am sure
Bill was so upset that later that night he smoked 3 bowls worth of pot and
had 2 escorts to carry him through his lack of winning an Oscar. 

8.  In Memoriam Montage – We always like to see and
remember who passed away in the past year in film.  The one problem was
that the way it was filmed by the cameras, you could not see some of the
people who died due to bad angles and long distance shots by the cameras. 

My overall grade for the 81st Academy Awards is a B-plus.  It was
more of a blast than a dud, and it did justice to a very good year in
movies.  The ratings were up 13 per cent over last year. 


Requiem for the Sports Guy

February 6, 2009

I am writing this as a piece not to knock the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, but it is a tribute to someone who has given me plenty of enjoyment in my life.  I am just asking him to take a break. In terms of sports writing exclusively on the Internet, Bill was one of the first.  He is a very talented writer, and since he came well before we knew what a Blogger was; he is a columnist, and I know he would like to be called that. He’s a Hall of Famer in my book. I just want him to concentrate on what he does best, which is write.  The podcasts are ok, but I really don’t give a crap about Cousin Sal every NFL week, and could care less if Johnny is worried yet.  Sometimes it feels like you are just listening in on their phone calls.  Bill has a voice made for writing.  When I see him post a diary, the ramblings or have an online chat it makes me feel like Old-Timers Day is at ESPN.  Years ago, many teams had Old-Timers Day, today it is just done by the Yankees.  I always enjoyed the event, even though I am a Met fan.  It is always cool to say, “Look, Yogi still can wear the uniform,” or “Wow, Whitey Ford can still reach the plate!”  Reading Bill’s columns now has that effect on me.

We are both Patriots’ fans and that is how I found him. I live in New Jersey.  Back in the 90’s, when AOL had an overwhelming share of the at-home Internet market, the out-of-town sports fan did not have too many options.  Newspaper websites were far from what they are today.  Some of those papers actually charged to read their content!  Personal websites were very minor and this whole social networking phenomenon was limited to chat rooms, AOL Instant Messaging, and if anyone knew how to create a Geocities page, where it would take an hour to load your 3 pictures.  Those who had dial up remember these days well.  And those of you who were too young to remember these days, you didn’t miss much at all.  Digitalcity.bostonsportsguy.com was the first sports website that I found that was informative and made me laugh as well.

His move to ESPN was not the end of the world. It was the start of something new.  This was an unbelievable jump for someone who used to write me when I made a comment on his site.  I was happy for him like I would have been happy for him if he was my brother.  He brought a lot of his days as the BSG over to ESPN, and for those who thought his columns would suffer by making the jump to tWWL (the WorldWide Leader) in 2001 (God, it’s been almost eight years already!) were mistaken.  He became more polished.  While he did not really keep track of and rate other sports columns anymore, his columns were better.  Using movie lines and songs to correlate to sports was terrific stuff that kept us wanting more.  I would take lunch late at work to wait for his article to come out and print it, so I could read during lunch or on the bowl.

My favorite article of all time is when he wrote about the Pats winning their first Super Bowl, on February 3, 2002.  He must have stayed up all night to write this.  It was a masterpiece.  He had to have been drunk as well while writing it, which makes even more impressive. It may be more of a masterpiece to me because it was a moment of shared joy for him, myself, and so many other long-time Patriot fans.  I knew Bill had made it to the big time when the Chairman of the company that I work for, brought me in to his office, two days after Super Bowl XXXVI.  The Chairman knew I was a big Patriot fan, and the only one in our New Jersey office. He talked to me about this article he received from a friend of his.  His friend is the President of another company who was up in Massachusetts, and when he gave me the print out of the article and I saw the title and Bill’s name; I knew he had really made it.

Later on in 2002, he signed on to be a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live.   We did not hear too much from him in 2003, and I was surprised that he left Jimmy’s show and worked full-time at ESPN.  Maybe, it was contract related, or ESPN’s viewership went down and offered him a better deal.  I think his downfall in terms of his sportswriting, comes from a few things, his move to Hollywood, having two children, and other projects have truly hampered him in terms of what he does best, which is column writing.  But, hey that’s life and you cannot fault anyone for that.

I narrowed my elegy to four things that caused me to write this:

1 – The Book, Now I Can Die in Peace: How ESPN’s Sports Guy Found Salvation, with a Little Help from Nomar, Pedro, Shawshank and the 2004 Boston Red Sox

I initially thought it was great that Bill was writing a book about the Sox amazing year.  Then, I opened it at Borders.  I was shocked to see that book was just a compilation of his columns as ESPN.  He never spoke about this when he referenced the book.  It was a total let down to people who have read him for the last five years.

Here was my review that can be found under the 2-star rating:

“Bill Simmons cleans out his hard drive and calls it a day and now a book. (Sorry, it had to be said). Anyone who has read the Boston Sports Guy could have just saved his articles and added their own commentary.

Bill is a very talented and original writer but I would have rather read something that is new. I know he has a new daughter and we all need to make a buck, so I can’t blame him.  The columns are as a good as it gets about the Sox and sports, but you may have read this before.

I wish the title was a better one. First, there are a few more important things that I would like to see happen in my life than a baseball team who could care less about me (except my wallet) win a World Series. Second, the title is a complete rip-off from 1994 when a fan had made that sign at Madison Square Garden after the NY Rangers won the Stanley Cup. Adding to the non-originality of the book.”

I hope his NBA book that comes out this fall is original, I doubt I will buy it, but I hope he uses original writing.

2 – He Cannot Relate to New England Anymore

Now, every once in a while, Bill can still bring it, like in this column on the demise of home-field advantage in the NFL.  He made it work with ideas that were given to him by some of his compatriots in the Blogosphere.  But, I also noticed in his column something that really pissed me off:  “I’ve attended three Pats games in the Gillette Mausoleum.” His distance from the Boston sports fan really showed up in that sentence.   I do not care who your friends are who go, and what you hear, what websites or podcasts you read or hear, if you are not personally there, you truly cannot relate and are not qualified to comment.

He has only attended 3 Pats games at Gillette Stadium?  How is that possible?  The Stadium just finished its 7th season.  I am not saying you have to be a season ticket holder to be a diehard fan, you don’t, and you don’t have to go to any games at all.  But, let me get this straight: You write for ESPN, who would probably pay you to go to Foxborough, and you have only been there once every two years?   Even if you do not like the stadium, how do you not get out to see one of the greatest era’s of your team in your lifetime.  Yet, he is not afraid to wax poetic about Foxboro Stadium.  I, myself, have attended over 10 Pats games at Gillette, driving 4 hours to and from Northern New Jersey, and I was one of about 1,000 Patriot fans that went to Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville.   I have also attended every Patriots-Jets game at the Meadowlands since 1993, but that is another story.  I am not from New England either, but I do follow the Pats religiously and follow the team on a daily basis, and see them as often as I can.  I do have friends in the area, but it does not make me an expert on what the pulse of the fans truly is.

Here are a couple of facts from a fan who has been to both many times:

A – Foxboro Stadium always was a dump. My high school stadium where I played football had more amenities.  What Bill didn’t mention about Foxboro Stadium, was that the traffic used to be the slow road to China, be prepared for a 3 hour ride home, it is better now, not great, but better.  You prayed for your car and for your bones when parking at Foxboro, most of the parking lots were unpaved, there were just mounds of dirt and rocks in the parking areas.  Oh, and if you went during a night game, leave a paper trail on how to find your car because there were about two working lights in the parking area and a million bottles you could trip over on the way back.  Those days may have been fun when you are in college, but as you cross the 30 yard line in terms of years, it blows for the most part.

The fans who sit by the field have the same enthusiasm for the most part as those up in the 300’s.  While it will never be what Foxboro Stadium was in terms of its closeness, the closeness to the field from the upper level is the only thing I miss about Foxboro Stadium.  Being squeezed in on metal benches was lousy, there was one TV monitor, one scoreboard, a sound system that looked my old 8-track system complete with ropes tying up the speakers!

B – Gillette is not perfect. Unfortunately, and I agree with Bill on how the noise goes straight up instead of directing the noise on the field.  There is a wine-and-cheese crowd, luckily, most of them are in their precious Club area.  Patriot Place is amazing, but you cannot believe that you are walking into stores, restaurants, and a theatre on a place that you used to have hold on to someone else to make it over a dirt hill to get to the stadium.  It does take away from the team a little.  But, it sure beats what we had.

C – Winning breeds complacency. When your team has had as much success as the Patriots have had in this decade, you lose a little bit of that hunger to stand and yell on every down.  But, unlike the Atlanta Braves, the Pats still sell out every game and have a wait list over 50,000 fans, something we never had at Foxboro.  The fans still show up in droves no matter what the weather.  I have sat in about every possible location at Gillette Stadium, I’m still amazed by the Pats fans I sit next to during the games.  Most are very knowledgeable about today’s team.  Their memories are short and some of them would fail to recognize who used to wear #11 for the Pats, let alone know who Hugh Millen or Tommy Hodson were.  If he lived in the area or went to more games, he would know this.  You can strip him of the Boston in Boston Sports Guy.

3 – The Machine Named ESPN (hiding behind Disney) Ate Him Alive

ESPN is owned by this little mouse with ears named Disney.  That mouse has huge ears and those ears have executives with eyes that do not like when content done by one of the mercenaries, oops, I mean employees, can cross the line.  I am still amazed that the Tuesday Morning Quarterback was brought back on to ESPN’s Page 2.  You don’t create your own Blogspot page called Sportsguy Unplugged with a picture of Andy Dufresne, if you are happy about the work you are doing and the company you represent.  You know the editors at ESPN have cut his columns limb from limb in terms of censorship. I know in this past year that he couldn’t stand that ESPN was giving Rick Reilly, $3 million a year, for 800 words per column and that Reilly thought of him as a Blogger and not a columnist.  I also know that he will take his anger towards tWWL about how they screwed him over on having then Senator Obama on his podcast.  His contract is signed until 2010, this must feel like the longest year in his life.  His column does not allow comments, now I am not sure if that decision is his, or if it is made by tWWL, but it would be cool to see what others are saying.

4 – Most of Us Did Not Watch the Same Things as You or Constantly Talk About Our Friends In Our Writing

I may have watched Beverly Hills 90210, and seen the first three Karate Kids, but I do not discuss them.  I have been waiting for a Guiding Light reference someday.  Also, I do not see anyone else who mentions their personal friends, like JackO, J-Bug, and Blueboy constantly.  Seriously, who has a friend named Blueboy?  And why would you want to be named after a gay porn mag? Maybe, these guys get a piece of the action.  Mentioning your parents, or your wife and kids is fine, but I guess Bill will keep trying until he can land them a job at ESPNEWS or something.   If he ever wonders why people call him a Blogger; it is precisely there.

Competition came along as every network, newspaper and team put in these people called Bloggers, that would give fans instant access to their teams.  This was followed by thousands of fans’ posting their own columns and then came the other side of sports websites like Deadspin, SportsbyBrooks, Awful Announcing, Kissing Suzy Kolber, and too many other good ones to mention.

The need for a 10,000 word column went out of fashion.  There is just too much information that is presented in front of our faces to occupy our time anymore. By the way, if you are still reading this, thank you. You run out of hours in the day when you try read and listen to all of what you want, oh, and do your job at work, too.  In 1999, there were no iPods, cell phones were just that phones, the Internet was fledgling and 75% of the people did not know how to go online, and video games were just games, not consoles that bring so much more to the table. Time moves on, and Bill moved on to Hollywood and drifting away from sports to the world of glitz and glamour.

Rest well, Sports Guy, we will be there for you when you come back.  If you are under 40 and you write about sports, you know you have taken some lessons from him.  Thanks for some great columns and for paving the way for so much more to come since the days of my 56K modem.  I hope I am there to witness you receiving your Lifetime Achievement Webby Award.  I would like a picture.  I will put next to my picture of me and some of my friends that we took at Old Timers Day.


2008 NFL Divisional Playoff Picks

January 9, 2009

Divisional Picks – After a very good week of Wild Card Picks, going 3-1, and nailing the score of the Cardinals-Falcons game, I am feeling pretty high on life right now.  But, the Divisional Weekend always separate the men from the boys.  This week is for seasoned gentlemen only.

Ravens 16, Titans 10 – To me the main difference in this game is that the Ravens aren’t depending on Joe Flacco to win this game, just not to lose the game.  On the other hand, I think the Titans are relying more on Kerry Collins to pull another win out and I do not like the chances.  The last time Kerry Collins went up against the Ravens in a playoff game was Super Bowl XXXV.  He was intercepted 4 times and Ed Reed did not join the Ravens until 2001.

Panthers 31, Cardinals 17 – The last thing that the Arizona Cardinals want to do is travel east again, where they went 0-5 against teams in the eastern time zone.  Those games started early.  This is a Saturday night game.  I think that helps Arizona.  What doesn’t help will be Anquan Boldin not at 100%.  The Cards played the Panthers tough in their week 8 game losing 27-23.  The Cardinals actually outgained the Panthers 425 to 351.  Carolina is a better team since then, not sure if you could say the same about Arizona.

Giants 27, Eagles 20 – As it is said in investing when everyone is hot on something, you should back away and go in the opposite direction.  I like that advice.  Philly seems to be the team that many feel are last year’s Giants.  I couldn’t agree less.  The Giants aren’t the same without Plax, but they can still beat the Eagles.  I can never feel confident in an Andy Reid coached team, the guy makes Herman Edwards look like the best time manager in football.  I just can’t see the Giants falling twice to the Eagles at home.  I believe the Eagles weak spot on defense are the linebackers, and I am not sure they can control the tandem of Ward and the Jaco-bus.  Eli just has to be smart with the football and not give the Eagles hungry secondary anything to eat.

Steelers 20, Chargers 10 – This one is so tempting. The Steelers have been a lousy home team in the playoffs over the last decade or so.  Losing 4 AFC Championship games at home, one of them to the Chargers, and losing at home last year to the Jags.  But, I think the crushed grass/mud of Heinz Field hurts the Chargers.  Darren Sproles who was amazing against the Colts last week, will not be running on a fast track, and will have to carry more than normal, with LaDainian Tomlinson which translated in to Spanish means Carlos Beltran likely out.  Big Ben may not be 100%, but I don’t see him handing this one over to the Chargers.

The Steelers do lose at home in the playoffs, but they usually win at home in the divisional round.  I will wait until next week for them to lose at home.  Hint, hint.


National Championship Pick

January 8, 2009

Tonight, I like Florida to capture the National Championship. If it is said that defense wins championships, Florida’s is better than Oklahoma. There is no D in Oklahoma, there is plenty of O, but I think Florida’s O will be just as good. The defense will help carry the Gators to their 2nd National Title in 3 years.

The pick: Florida Gators 48, Oklahoma Sooners 27


2008 Stewie of the Year Winner

January 5, 2009

I had to think long and hard about who the Stunad of the Year or “Stewie” should be.  Actually it isn’t really that hard.  It would be easy to put an individual in this position, but it would not be fair.  There were so many deserving candidates, but I am not picking a person.  I am picking a collapsing economic system.  You may remember it as capitalism.

The abusers of capitalism are the winners of the Stewie for 2008.  There were just too many to mention. It would be too easy to pick someone like Bernard Madoff.  But, the thing is, as disgusting of a person that he is; I cannot really say that he is entirely to blame.  I blame the investors and the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), more than Madoff.  To quote Mike McDermott from the movie Rounders, “Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.”  I doubt Mr. Madoff held a gun to each investor and said, “If you don’t invest with me; I will blow out your brains.” Investors saw ridiculous returns and either did not do the research or did not care to know how or why these returns were so high.  Naturally, you go out and you tell your friends to invest.   So, when analysts did their due diligence and could not replicate the returns of Madoff’s hedge funds, who really cares, you are making money, and that clouds our judgment.  Now, everyone points a finger at Madoff, and rightly so, what he did was complete fraud.  Just remember when you point a finger, three point back at you.  But, if the investors did their homework and the SEC properly investigated this Ponzi Scheme, this would have never gotten as far as it did.  Our need for Greed, made old school principles of making money, a thing of the past.  Oh, what a tangled web weave, when we first practice to deceive.

You are far from alone, Bernie.

An Unreal Real Estate Market.

The biggest lie you will ever hear is that you can’t lose money in real estate.  Try saying that to someone today.  Say that to someone who purchased property in the last 4 years and ask if they can sell back their property for more than what they paid for it.  Those who made money flipping properties this decade are either lucky to be out of the game, or flipping out due to this crisis.

For the most part, yes, real estate is a solid investment.  I will not argue that.  Over the long term and if you can time the market appropriately you can make a nice profit.  But over the last decade, I kept hearing, I want to get in on real estate while the market is hot.  I could not run for the hills fast enough. It is always best to time a market, and the time to be in on a market is usually when it is not too popular.  If a market is too popular and there is too much activity driving prices to levels where they do not belong, you need to stay on the sidelines.

Banks, mortgage companies, sharks were competing to give people a chance at the American Dream.  The American Dream in their eyes was not home ownership, but a change to be highly leveraged.  Being leveraged is just a fancy term for borrowing more than your equity.  If you have a 20:1 ratio, that means that for every 20 dollars in debt you have, you have 1 dollar in equity to back that up.  I know that there are those who want to blame the banks and the mortgage companies for coming up with these new ways to entice people in real estate.  The terms “interest only” and “subprime” were introduced into society.  These were terms that should have never gotten a chance to become household names, but boy they sure did.  Over $600 billion is involved in subprime mortgages.  43% of those borrowers did not have a penny down on the home.  While, I certainly do not agree with the way these mortgages were sold; I can only fault the banks so much.  Once again, I do not think anyone held a gun to a person who did not have favorable credit and say you must sign this mortgage.  They were duped, but if you know you have debt and that you have defaulted on car loans, credit cards, etc., you probably should not be anywhere near the housing market in the first place.  Personally, I have held back on owning a home because I knew I could not afford it at the time.

The Credit Crisis.

Bear Stearns (began in 1923), Lehman Brothers (since 1850), Washington Mutual (since 1889), gone.  Nice to know you.  A combined 362 years of business, that seemed to vanquish in about a week.   Merril Lynch, Wachovia, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, AIG, etc., needed a life raft bigger than the Queen Mary to stay afloat.

These banks put so much of their risk into some the riskiest investments the world will ever know.  So, the subprime mortgages started to fail, but don’t worry the banks had the credit default swaps to rely on.  Oops.  Once Lehman Brothers defaulted, the protection went away, and the bank was stuck holding the debt that no longer had insurance and had very little value.  These were risks that should have been seen a mile away, and because of the need for greed, multibillion dollar companies fell faster than dominoes and were re-sold for pennies of their actual worth at one time.  But, the orchestrators of these deals, their feet are not put to the fire.  They were able to jump ship and sail away on their golden parachutes.  In fact, these companies were rewarded with $700 billion of our own money to bail them out and keep our economy from filing chapter 11.  And now, since some of the stable banks have received the money, they do not want to lend it out!

The Oil Crisis.

Here is another myth.  There was never an oil crisis. The reason oil prices go up and down is based on word, speculation.  The United States itself, has over 2 trillion gallons of oil in reserve.  Demand did increase as well as inflation, but it was not due to supply, but do to decreased production.  Those lovely countries in OPEC, like Iran, Saudi Arabia,  Venezuela, etc., know this all too well and they will try as hard as they can to reduce production and keep the world dependent on their oil as their only pathway to profitability.  These countries are not stupid, they will not give the oil away.  They want to hold the rich nations by the strings.  Well, hopefully their days of control are numbered and that the alternative sources we hear so much about will become more prominent in the years to come.  Having these countries oversee oil production is equivalent to having Michael Jackson as your kids’ babysitter.  One thing good that came out of 2008, was that even with OPEC reducing production the price oil fell sharply and gas prices were cut in half.

The Auto Bailout.

We bailed out our struggling car companies.  Companies that lost market share and have proven to be less competitive.  The government did not come to airlines rescue, the steel industry, the textile mills, the necessary afterschool sports and activities that closed, and so many others never got a chance or a dollar to state their cases.

GM, Ford and Chrysler will be back to Washington for more money someday; I do not think that is even up for debate.  One or more than one will make it to bankruptcy very shortly, it is only a matter of time.  What should happen, is they should merge all three into one.  Take the best parts of the three, take the quality in Ford’s trucks, the good sales of the Chrysler’s Jeep and minivan line,  the GM cars that are over 30 miles per gallon, and create one car company that can be powerful and profitable.  The number of overall car models is far too many to make decent profits.  If you look at Toyota or Nissan, do they have more than six models of cars/trucks?  Bailing out the American car manufacturers only allows their practices to continue without looking at the real problems.  Unfortunately, reducing the industry will cost jobs, but maybe those people who had jobs in the auto industry will come to realize that they should not have been so dependent on the industry and will learn to develop new skills and find new opportunities.

The bailout comes at a cost more expensive than $700 billion, or any amount of money.

The cost is that our government, “Big Brother” will have more of a stake in what we used to call the free market system.  The blame lies on we the people, and our need for greed and that makes the abusers of capitalism winners of the inaugural 2008 Stewie of the Year Award.  I hope this winner will never repeat as champion.  In 2009, I think there are opportunities to buy stocks at uncommon levels, but we need to remember fundamentals.  I will get into that in a later column.  The Stewie of the Week will return on Thursdays.

stewie


Wild Card Weekend Picks

January 3, 2009

Cardinals 30, Falcons 24 – The Arizona Cardinals first home playoff game, and while they have not played too well as of late, I think they are do for either a breakout game or a complete bust. I’ll take the former.

Colts 27, Chargers 24 – A lot leans towards the Chargers in this one. They are at home, they are on a roll, there is just one factor that can change everything and that is the head coach. I will take Dungy over Norv. I have a feeling that the winner of this game may also be the winner of the Super Bowl.

Sunday –

Ravens 24, Dolphins 10 – Baltimore beat Miami 27-13 in week 7 in Miami. What really changed since then? Oh, Joe Flacco got 10 more games of experience.

Eagles 27, Vikings 17 – If this game was in Philly, I think everyone would be all over the Eagles. Now, it is a lukewarm feeling because you never know what you will get with McNabb and Andy Reid. You know they blow a game they should win easily. It will be a tight fight if the Eagles average linebackers can’t stop Adrian Peterson.