Another Bank On The Brink

The Masters of the Universe on Wall Street, and in financial capitals around the world, will be holding their breath today.  They’re waiting to see what happens to Germany’s mighty Deutsche Bank, the latest big bank to fall into crisis and roil the international markets.

deutsche-bank-1If you are unfortunate enough to own Deutsche Bank shares, you know what I mean.  The value of its common stock has fallen more than 65 percent in the past year, and a credit rating agency has moved its outlook to negative.  The Department of Justice has demanded that Deutsche Bank pay $14 billion to settle an investigation into residential mortgage-backed securities, although the Bank hopes to negotiate down to a lower payment figure.  Deutsche Bank has been removed from  European blue chip stock index because its share price has fallen so far, so fast, and now there are reports that some hedge funds are moving holdings out of Deutsche Bank to other banks.

Why should we care?  Because earlier this year the International Monetary Fund issued a report that found that Deutsche Bank “appears to be the most important net contributor to systemic risks in the global banking system.”  “Systemic risks in the global banking system” — there’s a phrase that should send shivers down your spine.  The bank has substantial exposure in derivatives . . . and equally important, it has significant connections to the big banks in America, Great Britain, China, Japan, and other countries around the globe.  In our modern, globalist world, that’s just how the huge financial concerns work.  That means that any serious problem at Deutsche Bank will have a ripple effect in America — an effect that is already being felt in the markets here.

So once again we are faced with the prospect of a big bank that has engaged in risky behavior teetering on the brink, with calls for a national government — in this case, Germany — to come forward and say that it is ready to step in and rescue the bank from the consequences of its own actions.

Sound familiar?  Hey, I thought this was supposed to have been fixed in 2009.

 

To Mars, And Beyond

This week, Elon Musk of SpaceX announced his plans for getting humanity to Mars.  The plans involve massive rockets, trips by 100 passengers every 26 months, and deliveries of supplies and housing — all with an ultimate goal of establishing an independent, self-sustaining colony on the Red Planet.

mars-colonial-bThere’s still a lot of details in Musk’s ambitious plans to be filled in — like figuring out how in the heck the massive rocket is going to paid for, and how they are going to get materials sufficient to keep 100 people alive for months on a planet that is basically a cold desert.  Critics think the Musk plans, in their current form, are implausible.  They almost certainly are, of course.  The key point, though, is that somebody is actually thinking about how to accomplish passenger space travel and is doing something about it.

Musk isn’t the only one who is thinking about space.  SpaceX has shown that there is commercial value in space, and Jeff Bezos, the multi-billionaire founder of Amazon, has his own space development company with plans to launch satellites . . . and ultimately, people who would colonize the solar system.  NASA, too, is proceeding with Mars mission planning.

We seem to be on the cusp of a tipping point, where talk about colonizing Mars is moving from the dreams and visions of science fiction writers to fundraising, timetables, and engineering reality.  In my view, it’s about time.  Whereas Musk thinks we need a colony on Mars to protect our species from extinction through a cataclysmic event on Earth, I think we need to get a toehold in space to change our Earthbound perspectives, broaden our horizons, and reintroduce an explorer’s mentality to our world.

It’s good to see internet billionaires using some of their cash to open new worlds and opportunities to humanity.   We may not know what’s out there, yet, but let’s find out!

The Growth That Consumed German Village

img_2893We’re reaching the end of the growing season in Ohio — at least, I think we are.  You wouldn’t know it by the bright green growth spilling out of one of our planters.  This spectacular botanical specimen has long since exceeded the natural boundaries set by its terra cotta home, and now is growing like crazy in every direction:  up and across the steps, along the side of the house, on the bannister, and around all of the other planters.  You wouldn’t know that the plant is in a pot that is perched on a bench, which is now completely covered by the rapidly growing green leaves.

I’m getting to the point where I wonder what the house will look like when I get home at night — or even whether any house will be visible at all.

Two-Cent Milk

Yesterday I had oatmeal for breakfast, and the waitress at the hotel restaurant brought me a small carton of milk along with some raisins, brown sugar, and blueberries.

Looking at the small milk carton immediately reminded me of my earliest days in the cafeteria in grade school.  Sometimes Mom would pack my lunch, and sometimes if she was too busy I would eat a hot lunch at the school cafeteria.  Either way, a staple of the lunch hour was paying two cents for a small carton of ice-cold whole milk.  It tasted good with either a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Twinkie from a paper bag or a hot plate of Johnny Marzetti on a plastic school cafeteria tray.

img_2891The two-cent milk was an important rite of passage in two ways.  It was my first real use of money and — equally important — my first real experience with being entrusted with money.  Mom would give me two pennies and I would walk to school with that cold, hard cash burning a hole in my pocket, knowing that I couldn’t lose it or I wouldn’t be able to get my milk with lunch.  In those first-grade days I didn’t have much of a conception of how the world worked, or how much things cost, but I knew that my milk at lunch cost two cents.

And, of course, the carton itself was a key test of young kid small motor skills.  You had to manipulate the carton just right to achieve the optimal milk-drinking experience.  The first step, of gently separating the container opening, was easy.  It was the second step, which involved applying just the right amount of pressure so that the carton would pop open in one clean motion, that was the challenge.  If you did’t get it on the first try, with each new effort the container would lose structural integrity and stay frustratingly closed, and you might have to use your fingernails to claw it open, leaving the milk drinking hole looking embarrassingly mushy and torn.

When I was presented with the small container of milk with my oatmeal yesterday, I felt my inner first-grader deep inside, focused on the task of opening the milk as cleanly and proficiently as the big kids did.  Alas, I still don’t have the knack.

Hail To The Chiefs


Last night the Cleveland Indians beat the Detroit Tugers to clinch the American League Central Division and a spot in the playoffs.  Russell went to the game up in Comerica Field in Detroit and snapped these pictures after the last Tiger was retired and the Tribe’s celebration began.

We’ll have to see how the Indians fare in the playoffs — their most reliable starter, Corey Kluber, left last night’s game with an injury, making him the third key starter to fall prey to jury in recent weeks — but for now we can enjoy a win by a team that has been fun to watch.  The team’s success is attributable to young players who have really blossomed, vets who have come in and played well, good team chemistry, fine starting pitching, and a bullpen that just keeps putting zeros on the scoreboard.  Behind it all is manager Terry Francona, who has done a masterful job.

Go Tribe!  Bring on the playoffs!

100 Million Viewers

Network executives are predicting as many as 100 million people will watch tonight’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  That kind of audience is normally reserved for something really important, like a Super Bowl or the last episode of MASH.  The previous record for a presidential debate was 80 million viewers of the Reagan-Carter debate in 1980.

I wish I could believe that so many people will be tuning in tonight because they are interested in a sober, careful discussion of the many issues America is confronting and how to address them.  Unfortunately, we all suspect that’s not the case.  For many people, the debate is must-watch TV because of the spectacle factor — they’re watching to see whether Trump says or does something outrageous, or Clinton faints, or some particularly choice insults are hurled back and forth.  It’s like rubberneckers slowing down to check out the car wreck by the side of the highway.

I’m hoping that whatever portion of those 100 million viewers who are tuning in for a gladiator contest are disappointed.  I’m hoping that the candidates hold off on the obviously canned wisecracks, that the moderator lets the debaters actually debate the issues, and that an actual policy-oriented discussion breaks out.

But I’m not holding my breath for that result.