Immolation is from the Latin immolare "to sacrifice"
The question of sacrifice hangs in the air all over the world. In developed nations the good life; fueled by borrowing, massive debt, and bubble economies; has come to a grinding halt. In emerging markets new riches are exciting people to dream of much better lives, but even the hottest economies haven't been able to grow fast enough to bring those dreams to reality. In poor nations of the world, people have risen up against tyrants and dictators demanding fair distribution from riches that come from national resources and public sweat.
In those nations, people immolate daily based on a combination of basic animal instincts to survive and ruthless instincts by their leaders for carnage and pillory. Like shifting fault lines this arrangement was doomed and eventually birthed the Arab Spring. Sadly, there continues to be attempts in America to equate the frustrations of college students in America with the Arab Spring. These are two different things that are a million miles apart. The editors at Time magazine knew this but chose to provide political cover for class warfare. Suggesting Occupy protesters are the same as young people across northern Africa and the Middle East is a damn lie.
If sacrifice is part of the solution, leaders need to be smart enough to make sure that those already carrying the largest part of the burden do not feel like garbage. In New York City, the so-called 1% pay 43% of the taxes—that sounds like "fair share" on steroids. Yet, the narrative from the White House and limousine liberals is that the top 1% is paying nothing or very little. I heard someone say yesterday that people that are getting extended unemployment benefits shouldn't pay any taxes. The country will need sacrifice across the board; instead of using this as a way to rip the nation apart it could be used to bring the nation together.
Why can't President Obama send out a call asking people that are already paying the bulk of the load if they could chip in even more? Of course, such a request should also come with a pledge not to waste those funds. There should be sacrifice among politicians including an end to crony capitalism, paying off bundlers, and frivolous spending. The real crisis in this country isn't that successful people aren't chipping in enough but that the government is spending too much. Immolation has to begin at the top. It would be patriotic and noble.
Self Immolation and the Real Person of the Year
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the person of the year is Mohamed Bouazizi whose story encompasses all the frustrations around the globe and whose act of self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring.
At the age of 10 Mohamed Bouazizi became the main provider for his family by selling produce at the local market. At one point he attempted to join the military but was rejected so he hustled day in and day out. There are some articles that suggest he went to a university, but I think that's incorrect although he did pay for his sister to attend. Mohamed was just a guy trying to get by day to day. The problem was that he ran into a corrupt government that was focused on ripping off its citizens while limiting their rights and muzzling their voices. This is the backdrop that provided a series of events that changed North Africa and the Middle East.
In December of last year, Mohamed wheeled his wooden cart to the supermarket and loaded it with fruits and vegetables then headed to the market (souk). It was at this market where harassment was a daily part of doing business as abusive, greedy police and government officials routinely took money from peddlers. In fact, six months earlier Mohamed was hit with a $280 fine for operating without a permit. In Tunisia this is the equivalent of two months work. On this day Mohamed argued with police and was smacked in the face and knocked to the ground.
His produce and scales were taken away.
Mohamed marched to the local municipality building seeking redress but was told officials were too busy to see him. He marched out of the building into the street where he bought paint fuel. He returned to the municipal building and lit himself on fire. He lingered in the hospital for two weeks before dying of his injuries, but in that time a revolution was born. His mother says his act was prompted by poverty, not humiliation. He became the martyr that Osama bin Laden didn't become by unlocking rage so embedded as to now be part of the DNA of people that never knew true democracy or opportunity.
There are so many people in the world existing under the thumb of real repression. This week alone there are stories like the Samburu people of Kenya that have been abused, beaten and their women raped by police while their land was being sold to US based charities. The Nature Conservancy and African Wildlife Foundation bought the land that was owned by the former president Daneil arap Moi. Now these 2,000 Samburu people are living on the edge of that land in makeshift shacks. This is real life, not Zuccotti park.
Then there are the people of the tiny fishing village of Wukan in China. Villagers there began fighting back in September as more and more of their land was being taken over by developers. The police launched several attacks on the village but were turned back each time. Right now they are trying to starve the village by halting delivery of food and water and prohibiting fishing boats from going to sea. The story is gaining international attention in part as a result of the fact a few thousand fishermen are holding off the great Chinese killing machine. Leaders of the village have been killed and these things never end nicely in China.
But something tells me the spirit of Mohamed Bouazizi, which is the same spirit that drove Americans to launch its fight for independence, is alive and well in China, Kenya, and the rest of the world.
The overreaction to disappointment is destroying the trust of investors. Stocks are so battered and vulnerable these days to the slightest earnings miss or unsubstantiated negative rumor that it's hard to be an investor. With buy and hold dead, there is even more volatility and overreactions to the downside while upside moves are mitigated. We are almost in a situation that is the polar opposite of the late 1990s when stocks moved higher on flimsy news and unsubstantiated rumors. Of course, Wall Street lost the trust of so many would-be investors over the years, so skepticism has morphed into a herd mentality that sees stampedes out of stocks at the slightest infraction.
It goes beyond Wall Street to other entities and institutions that once automatically got our trust (that has never been the case for Wall Street) like government, education, and religion.
I know that just as the 1990s were over the top, so too is the current atmosphere of crushing stocks and asking questions later. When the tide turns is hard to guess, but the next year is going to be very important. Yet, I don't think a shift in attitudes and approach will happen like switching on a light. It's going to be gradual and begin with plain old value finding buyers willing to hold. For years after the tech bubble crash, subscribers and prospects bristled at the notion of taking profits too fast lest they be called "traders" yet these days many self-proclaimed investors are the first to bite the bullet—often on the weakest of news.
It's frustrating and hard to believe when good news and fundamentals don't seem to matter and the shorts are running roughshod like hooligans in those old Mad Max movies. I think now is the time to be an investor. Sure, you have to take hits from time to time and make certain adjustments, mostly adding to positions that pull back, but mostly you need patience.
Efforts to derail the euro rescue were scuttled in Germany, and Italy begins voting on austerity in the lower house of parliament and then in their senate on Sunday. The core CPI number came in fractionally higher than expected, and that shouldn't be enough to douse hopes/beliefs the Fed will crank up the printing press in the first quarter of next year. There have been a couple small acquisitions that are meaningful in the sense they are at big time premiums, underscoring the notion stocks in general are very oversold. In fact, United Rental (NYSE:URI) shares are pointed higher even after agreeing to a 50% premium to buy RSC Holdings (NYSE:RRR) which means the street likes the deal even if talking heads wonder if the price was too high.
The market is oversold, and while the hot stocks like RIMM keep crashing to earth, those basic dirty fingernail names (today it's RRR) are proving there is a foundation in this nation that's solid and great.