A few years ago, my son and godson attended a summer program at a local college which happened to have a large satellite dish behind one of the buildings. We walked by it every day and while unremarkable as satellite dishes go, there was a plaque under it that caught my attention. The dish was part of a voluntary program to search for extraterrestrial life. I thought it was so cool that people around the country were teaming together and adding computing power to this project. Geeky? Sure, but it was cool, nonetheless.
Yesterday, the San Jose Mercury reported the project, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), has run out of money. SETI Institute is run by the Allen Telescope Array, originally funded with a $25.0 million donation from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen. The foundation needs $5.0 million to operate another two years. Apparently, nobody is knocking on their door as the program will go into hibernation and stop all but basic maintenance. In the meantime, NASA's Kepler mission has discovered 1,235 planet candidates, some in the habitable zone, and six planet systems. There was a time when this kind of news would galvanize the nation, but not anymore.
Future flights to outer space will come from hitching rides with the Russians and the Chinese. We won the space race and put it in neutral. In many ways, the lack of interest from the White House, and now more and more Americans, reflects a general malaise casting a shadow over several areas we once dominated. I thought about this SETI thing and it occurred to me that maybe some of those dishes were pointed toward Washington, DC. Heck, no wonder they couldn't find intelligent life. Extraterrestrial...yes.
Our government is broke, but there is a better argument for extending our shrinking lead in space than building sidewalks to nowhere, fixing dinky bridges that needed no repairs, and buying trucks for agencies that really don't need them. Redistributing money to political allies and pet projects isn't investing, it's unintelligent spending. There really is no effort to make true investments by the Administration. The reaction at each hurdle is finger pointing that would make E.T. envious. While we stop farming and drilling efforts to save lizards and smelts, the White House wants to use the spike in gas prices to hijack money from the oil industry and redirect it to wind and solar.
It's a disingenuous mess, where environmentalists are running amok even as it means the cost of living runs amok, too. I don't think giant oil companies should get taxpayer subsidies nor should billions in taxpayer money be plowed into ethanol subsides. Keep all that money in the treasury and use it for K-5 education. Keep in mind the attack on oil companies could be another blow to hard working Americans and not just at the pump.
Ownership of U.S. oil company stock:
* 43% Mutual funds held by 55 million American households
* 27% Pension funds held by government workers
* 14% IRA in 45 million American households
* 1.5% Oil company insiders
Turning Lemons to Monsters
The best sales guy I ever met could take any negative and turn it into a positive. President Obama must subscribe to the same theory as there is no shame in how much people are paying for gas and groceries. I would apologize to the nation and reconsider policies. Instead, it's about straw men and bogeymen, firing up the mass to light torches and grab pitchforks. But this scheme is tiring; it wears you out being pissed off all the time, especially as you discover maybe your ire was directed in the wrong direction. People may be too tired to care about space but there is no indifference when it comes to their wallets.
Move Over EPA
The NLRB continues to chase the EPA as the most anti-capitalistic tool in the Obama fix-it toolkit. The agency, which claims to police employers and employees, has put it into overdrive. The latest salvo is an attack on the constitutions of South Dakota and Arizona. (I'm beginning to wonder why Arizona voters even bother to vote on laws since it seems the White House hates them all enough to interfere and dismantle them.) The NLRB wants South Dakota, Arizona, and other right-to-work states to scrap constitutional amendments that prohibit card check. Card check was high on the Obama wish list when he was inaugurated, but the public glare was too intense.
Essentially, leaders of organized workers would like to gather workers and make them vote in the open on unionization. It goes without saying this is a frightening prospect, recalling visions of swimming with the fishes and Jimmy Hoffa buried in the end zone at Giants Stadium. We vote for elected officials through secret ballots, but that's not good enough for the White House or the unions. So, the NLRB is on the march. Ironically, the agency launched this phase of attack after negotiations failed, in part because the government wanted to hold them...in secret. If you think the NLRB is fair and balanced take a look at the board.
* Chairman Wilma Libman was appointed by Obama, and was legal counsel for the Teamsters for nine years.
* Craig Becker, a recent appointment by Obama, was general counsel for SEIU and AFL -CIO.
* Mark Pearce was a recent appointment by Obama.
* Brian Hayes is the lone GOP representative, and there is one official vacancy.
The underlying thread weaving through all the aggressive actions by the White House is the mitigation of state's rights. The good news is that states are fighting back. Stating the action by the NLRB to be "unwarranted", and underscoring his state's constitutional amendment is consistent with existing federal laws, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley signaled he would fight for the rights of the people in his state. A right to self-determination! Just as the wealth of individual companies and people is seen as part of the public domain, so, too are the rights states once took for granted. Those rights are the only reason we have a United States of America.
In the meantime, I suspect many decisions made previously by the NLRB will be rapidly overturned, including the Dana/Metaldyne ruling which actually allowed card check but states that workers (presumably non-union) could file for decertification if 30% of workers voted for it.
In a matter of days, China will launch its first aircraft carrier, Shi Lang. Bought from the Ukraine in 1998 and retooled, the ship is named after the 17th century admiral who conquered Taiwan. According to an article in FT, it is going to be years before the Chinese learn how to effectively use this ship let alone manage a fleet of aircraft carriers but the symbolism beginning with the name is very telling.
Equity futures are higher but enthusiasm is contained ahead of today's big debut of the Fed conference call. Ben Bernanke will hold a press conference in his on-going effort to push his agenda and legitimize his actions. There are many academics and economists in his camp, I even interviewed a guy yesterday that was enthralled with QE2 and other accommodative actions. I often wonder if we should separate people into two camps. Those with kids in private schools and those in public and then ask if inflation via fed policy is crushing pocketbooks and dreams.
Make sure to watch the show today beginning at 2PM on Fox Business Network, I'm going to set it up nicely and then we'll have it live and hopefully get to ask a question or two.
Tons of great earnings seem to be moving individual names like Whirlpool (NYSE:WHR), Erickson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Corning (NYSE:GLW) but overall the market is timid.