How to Talk Politics on Thanksgiving

by Patrick Watson on November 27, 2013

I suspect the “traditional” family Thanksgiving dinner is probably less common than most people think. Nevertheless, holidays often bring encounters with distant relatives.

Inevitably someone will bring up politics. How do you handle it? Conor Friedersdorf has an excellent tip list.

“For a political exchange with loved ones, what’s needed isn’t a preemptive understanding of your interlocutor’s views, it’s a conversational approach that combines humility, tact, and respect.

“Let’s arbitrarily divide this up into 10 rules:

  1. Be open to the possibility that you’re wrong. Seriously.
  2. Approach the conversation with the purpose of better understanding one another’s views, not proving to your relative that you are right and they are wrong.
  3. Before you focus on any point of disagreement, ask questions of your interlocutor to figure out why they think the way they do about the subject at hand.
  4. Emphasize points of agreement, if there are any.
  5. Give them room to agree with your arguments without having to concede that their arguments are stupid, or feeling as if they’ve lost the exchange and you’ve won.
  6. Rather than harping on a particular flaw in their preferred policy, ask questions that force them to confront it. ‘I agree, killing all the sharks would make it safer for surfers. But what about the creatures that sharks eat? How would you make sure their populations don’t explode? Seriously, how would you handle that?’
  7. Don’t bother trying to score debating points, especially when you both know that’s all they are.
  8. Remember that they know stuff that you don’t, just as you know stuff that they don’t.
  9. Remember that lots of intelligent, good-hearted people share their position, and lots of dense jerks share your position, because that’s true of almost every position.
  10. Listen more than you talk.

“Following those guidelines is much more difficult than doing prep by listening to the cable news network that your interlocutor watches—and much more effective. When you treat others as you want to be treated, they’re more open to your ideas.”

Read the whole article. It is worth the time.

Friedersdorf leaves out one important point. What if your relatives don’t read his list?

I suggest (silently) reminding yourself why you are with this person on this day. You must have some kind of connection. Even if it is only that you breath the same air and occupy the same planet, there are always reasons to be grateful. That’s what the day is all about.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Shanghai: Before and After (Photos)

by Dawn Pennington on November 26, 2013

Remarkable!

Shanghai’s 26-year mega-city transformation captured

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The Gold Fix is in

by Dawn Pennington on November 26, 2013

Our colleague and options trading master Geoff Garbacz just sent this over:

“Each trading day five banks meet in London to set the price of gold. This practice has been going on since 1919. During the call which can take up to an hour, the banks can trade around the call. Can you say insider trading?”

Each trading day five banks meet in London to set the price of gold. This practice has been going on since 1919. During the call which can take up to an hour, the banks can trade around the call. Can you say insider trading?

The Fix is In

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That Day in Dallas

by Patrick Watson on November 22, 2013

Today everyone over age 50 is remembering where they were when John F. Kennedy died. I was in Dallas that day. I don’t remember much because I was in my mother’s womb that day.

My parents were not JFK fans, nor were they enemies. They were non-political folks who worked, took care of their kids, went to church and tried to get along. Some of this month’s TV retrospectives portray Dallas as a right-wing fever swamp filled with would-be assassins. Kennedy himself is said to have joked about it that morning. Maybe there were such people, but I never saw them.

In 1980, I was a high school intern at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. It was not glamorous or exciting. I filed papers and ran documents to and from the office to the court rooms. My boss, Henry Wade, was the same DA who would have prosecuted Jack Ruby for killing Lee Harvey Oswald.

Seeing Mr. Wade on old video this week brought back a memory. I had read some JFK assassination conspiracy books. Living in Dallas, I had heard many stories from people who saw some of the events. Now I was there, working right across the street from Dealey Plaza and the Texas Schoolbook Depository. I decided I would solve the case.

One day on my lunch hour, I went out to investigate the crime scene. I jaywalked across the street to look up at that sixth floor window, explored the grassy knoll, and peeked through the wood fence where some thought a second shooter had waited.

Sadly, I didn’t see anything new, just a normal city street. I would not have guessed something world-changing happened there. Oswald had an excellent firing position. The only thing I didn’t get was why he waited so long. JFK was in his sights long before he pulled the trigger.

Maybe others were involved. I don’t know who to blame. I know who not to blame: the people of Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t a Republican or a right-wing fanatic. He was a communist who hated JFK for attacking Cuba. He had probably been mentally ill since childhood and he lived in Irving, not Dallas.

The old TV reports show another Dallas that doesn’t fit the stereotype. The people who lined the parade route weren’t all white. They waved happily at their president, their vice president, and their governor. They didn’t have guns and they didn’t try to kill anyone. A few wackos held protest signs, but it was downright peaceful compared to what presidents face today.

After the shooting, the videos show thousands of Dallas residents grief-struck and angry. We see local authorities working to catch the killer and help the victims. We see Fr. Oscar Huber, who had the misfortune of being the Catholic priest closest to Parkland Hospital that day.

I suppose priests grow accustomed to giving the last sacrament. JFK’s soul was like any other and his last earthly moments were in Dallas. On behalf of my city, I’m sorry they weren’t happier ones.

I hope JFK is at peace. Dallas is a different city now but some still carry the shame of that day.

Forgive yourself, Dallas. It isn’t your fault, and you did all you could.

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Next stop: Gold $1,200?

by Brad Hoppmann on November 22, 2013

If gold is in a bubble, it deflated a little more yesterday. Spot gold futures ended at $1,242, the lowest point since July.

Gold bulls face multiple challenges right now:

• Traders are once again convinced the Fed will end the QE3 program soon and that inflation is no longer a threat.

• Yesterday the U.S. Consumer Price Index came out unexpectedly lower. Today’s Producer Price Index shows the same trend in wholesale prices.

• A new report from Goldman Sachs projects bullion will drop to $1,050 by the end of next year.

Our own Dan Hassey reviewed the gold trends this week. In “Looking into the Golden Future,” Dan said:

Since mid-2013, gold has stayed in a trading range. The range is roughly between $1,250 and $1,425.

Currently gold is near the lower boundary of this trading range. If the $1,250 support fails, the next support will be at the $1,200 area.

The $1,250 support did indeed fail today. Dan says $1,200 should be the next stop.

Dan also sees much stronger long-term support around $1,150. Gold mining turns unprofitable below that area, so miners would soon reduce production.

Dan and Goldman Sachs may both be right. Gold’s complex bottoming process could take time, and a trip down to $1,050 is possible. Compared to Bitcoin’s volatility, the trading action in gold could seem downright calm right now.

Here is a reader with some thoughts about my latest Federal Reserve story and gold.

Reader Robert S. says: “The cheapest place to dig for gold is the New York Stock Exchange.

“The likely intent of the Tuesday preface and Wednesday meeting minutes was to induce gold prices to sag and stocks not to sag as badly. Why?

“Because several of the largest gold miners are highly leveraged and vulnerable to foreclosure or forced conversion of debt to equity at terms highly favorable to their creditors.

“Goldman Sachs rates gold at $1,050 per ounce, as loan collateral. [Since Goldman] also forecasts a bottom below that level in 2014 but is still lending at $1,050, they do not expect the bottom to last very long. If they expected gold to stay below $1,000, they’d not accept it as collateral at $1,050.”

Thanks, Robert. I haven’t looked into your information but it sounds mostly plausible. Having worked at an options brokerage, I’ll add one point.

Firms like Goldman Sachs ($GS) don’t necessarily follow their own advice. Other business units may not believe the analysts who issued the $1,050 forecast.

This kind of thing happens all the time. The big banks give their traders a lot of discretion on individual trades. That’s why they are so vulnerable to huge losses when a trader goes rogue.

What do you think? Does the Fed want to push gold prices down? Could Goldman be betting against itself?

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Many months ago my publisher Brad Hoppmann started talking with Uncommon Wisdom Daily readers about the impending Bitcoin bubble.

And with this digital currency soaring above 900 and sinking below 500 in the same day, if that isn’t a “bubbly” asset, then I don’t know what is!

Interestingly, China has become a big market for the crypto-currency, and it’s not surprising, really. Consider this, from the PricedInGold.com folks:

“Bitcoin has been exploding in price over the last month. It has also been internationalizing, especially in Asia. 31% of all exchanges between BTC and government-backed currencies now take place in China, in CNY. The world’s largest single bitcoin exchange is now BTCChina.com, based in Shanghai. Although still smaller than all the USD exchanges combined, BTC China offers the highest prices for bitcoins, and its customer base is growing fast.

“There are several reasons that this makes sense. First, the Renminbi is not generally available for foreigners to hold. So for those outside China, holding bitcoins in a BTC China account allows them to get exposure to the CNY. And for those inside China, Bitcoin makes it possible (and even easy!) to use their CNY to purchase goods and services abroad, over the internet or when traveling, and allows them to get exposure to USD, EUR, and other foreign currencies.”

The Bitcoin Explosion

They say this bodes well for Bitcoin. I continue to distrust it. After all, if I had $10,000 in Bitcoins, could I use them to pay my rent or pick up a new iPad or buy a gold bar? Maybe … but not without a whole lot of headaches I don’t have time for.

I’ll wait for that bubble to burst, because I think it’s coming, and then maybe I’ll get in on this imaginary currency. Or save my pennies for something I can touch, like a gold coin!

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A surprising new driver of gold sales in Asia

by Dawn Pennington on November 21, 2013

Middle-aged Chinese women, called “Aunties,” are looking to take back the country’s title as top gold buyer from India.

This Bloomberg piece quotes a woman who spent nearly half a year’s salary on a gold necklace:

“I don’t know anything about the stock market and I don’t have enough money to buy property, so I figured gold is the safest choice,” she said. “I can put it on when I go back home to show everyone that I’m doing well.”

Get the full story here:

Gold No Slam-Dunk Sell in China as Aunties Buy Bullion

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Sometimes it feels like people will do anything to get people to click on a headline. At least, that’s the only reason I can come up with to write an article like “Baby Boomers Could Cause Market Crash.”

Obviously I clicked on it. I dare you not to!

The article cites a new Vanguard report that says:

“Just as the Boomers’ retirement savings helped drive up equity returns in the 1990s, the concern is that withdrawals from their IRAs and their 401(k)s will cause a steady drain on stocks in the near future. After all, money invested by Baby Boomers added up to almost 47% of all equity assets counted in a 2010 survey by the Federal Reserve System.”

While, yes, this is true, the Baby Boomers are also probably the last generation to enjoy Social Security and other so-called entitlements (that they worked to earn).

My generation (Gen X) is probably not going to have the system we’ve spent our lives paying into. So how we invest now is going to determine which brand of cat food we’ll be dining on. (Personally I’d hope for Nutro over 9 Lives.)

We will be the ones cashing out of our IRAs because that’s all we’ve got as we take on lower-paying, less-stress jobs in the golden years that we probably won’t make it to because we’re exhausting our minds and bodies, working multiple jobs and longer hours to support our kids AND parents.

Baby boomers aren’t going to kill the system. If anything, in exchange for supporting them, they’re giving us a perpetually liquid market.

  • They are the ones demanding yields higher than the paltry 1%-2% that is still considered aspirational in the U.S. markets.
  • They are the ones starting the migration to foreign stocks that pay better dividends.
  • They are the ones using option strategies to generate a “double dividend” on dividend-paying stocks.
  • They are the ones teaching us that you can determine how much money you make every month … and how to live off of it.

If my generation doesn’t do the same, then we can talk about collapsing the markets!

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China to let the yuan rise

by Dawn Pennington on November 21, 2013

In the past China, kept its currency low to make sure it was the go-to low-cost manufacturer for the world. Now, China is not going to intervene in foreign exchange markets and will let its currency float to higher levels.

Full story:

PBOC Says No Longer in China’s Interest to Increase Reserves

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ObamacareHere are a few of the reader responses to Brad Hoppmann’s November 14 and November 15 afternoon editions at Uncommon Wisdom Daily.

To register your own opinion, use the form at the bottom of this page or send an e-mail to feedback@uncommonwisdomdaily.com.

From Jerry K…

Politicians are interested in campaign contributions – period.  Just look at sweetheart deals to big pharma and insurance companies.  The crooks who pushed for the Medicare Rx plan (part D) last go ‘round (and barely succeeded after the last vote in the middle of the night) all now have million dollar/year salaries working for large pharmaceutical companies or lobbyist organizations.

With a health care for profit system, medical costs will continue to rise at a level greater than the normal inflation rate.  In an attempt to control costs (while maintaining inflated profit/salaries / bonuses), insurance companies will steadily decrease benefits and increase co-payments; placing an ever increasing burden on employers and citizens.

If politicians can resist sweetheart deals (in exchange for cash or promise of revolving door high $$ jobs) and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, this will help to contain costs.  A Single Payer system is the only way to thwart GREED.  Capitalism works best…except where it doesn’t.

 

From Mark S…

I am sick of selfish, mean-spirited bastards like you guys trying to torpedo the Affordable healthcare Act. Do you have a plan to replace it? Do you have a plan to slow the growth of health care costs? Do you have a means for 45,000,000 fellow citizens to get healthcare? Do you care if 100′s of people die prematurely each day for lack of healthcare?

Do you give a damn that hospital bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in this country? Are you embarrassed that the USA is the only major industrialized country without universal healthcare? Why aren’t you happy that Obama instituted an essentially Republican health care plan?

Well, I know your answer………screw all those people. I got mine. You people are disgusting.

 

From Molly B…

Absolutely sick of Obamacare!  The entire law is a disaster – creating job losses, misery for families with illnesses, misery for the elderly, confusion for young people and middle age people; stress at the highest level for all people in the USA.  Politicians today are capable of very little.  They tend to simply take, take, and then take more without implementing JUST and FAIR laws.  This Obamacare needs to be trashed.

Business people with experience in the medical environment need to sit down and plan a new law. KEEK THE POLITICIANS OUT OF DESIGNING A NEW HEALTHCARE SYSTEM FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE USA.

 

From Caine O…

Regarding Obamacare:

1.  It was never about “health care reform.”  It was about who pays the bill for our pathetic sickness care in this country.

2.  John Boehner can say what he wants, but the “health care” system in this country ranks 14th or worse among modern nations.

3.  France ranks 1st in healthcare at less than half the cost of the US system.  I’ll happily eat French fries over Freedom fries when it comes to health care.

The only debate going on in this country is who will pay for lousy pharmaceutical profit-laden sickness care.  NO ONE in either party is interested in root cause analysis to determine why the US population is sick and getting sicker.  The reason?  Their patrons fund their campaigns.  The leading executives of the patron companies rotate in and out of administraive positions in the US government.

I could write a book about this.  It’s pathetic to see the Republicans point their fingers at the Democrats as if they occupy the high ground.  It was Bush, that champion of Republican democracy, that pushed through free prescription coverage for seniors, over the objections of HHS actuarials, causing every pharmaceutical salesman in the US to snap his suspenders in glee- BECAUSE THERE WAS TO BE NO NEGOTIATION OVER PRICES!

As someone who sold software to the government, we had to guarantee lowest prices to the US Government to be on GSA.  Not pharmaceuticals!  I could buy Flownase (allergy medication) over the counter in Spain for US $10.  In the US, my co-pay was $30 on my “Cadillac” medical insurance.  If medications were on GSA, the government would pay no more than that $10 whether for Obamacare or Medicare.  The root issue here is corruption.

 

From Wayne P…

It is just another government (Obama) ploy to confiscate people’s assets and the further move to place them (us) in a position of fear, frustration and dependence upon big brother.

 

From Richard J…

I am a physician. No one is talking about the ONLY solution to reducing/slowing health care costs. The ONLY solution is to ration health care. (Obviously political suicide to discuss.)

That is true regardless of whether we have Obummercare, one party Universal Health, or 100% private insurance industry.

Some technologies/discoveries will make a dent in the rise of costs zb stem cell research, cancer cures, diabetes cures. But these are NOT solutions as these ‘cures’ will  allow people to live longer thus requiring other health care costs that would have been a moot point had the patient died 20 years earlier.

The only relevant questions are HOW do we ration care and WHO makes the rationing decisions ?  Patients (if they have to pay a % out pocket. This MUST be a component of any ‘solution’.) ?  Doctors (Patients’ personal physician making this decision has not worked so far.) ?  Politicians (who can not do anything right) ?  Tribunal of physicians trained in ‘rationing ethics’ ?

The answer to those questions is waaaaaay beyond my pay scale. But if I had to give an answer it would be to consult Bernanke….and then do exactly the opposite of whatever he recommends.

 

From Jerry B…

This mess is result of the fatal compromise to avoid the Canadian model of universal health care.  Keeping for profit insurers involved and using means testing for subsidies was a sure route to ruin the program and it has worked beyond the Republican’s dreams.

I lived in Canada for three years while my wife worked on a work visa.  After the three month waiting period, we submitted our documentation and received a British Columbia Care Card.  In the next three years I saw five specialists, had two surgeries and one visit to the E.R., all without ever seeing a bill or facing insurance red tape.

The care was exemplary and timely as was the care received by my wife and daughter. I could be seen within two days of requesting an appointment with my primary care physician. After hours and weekend care was available in a clinic located in our local supermarket. The care was coordinated as specialists immediately emailed reports to my PCP.  Compare costs, compare outcomes and compare patient satisfaction and see that while Canadians are constantly critical of their system, they would never give it up for ours.

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