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Prison guards test for governor

Former S.F. Mayor, Willie Brown, suggested recently that anyone eating dinner in Oakland should order soup. Why? If the restaurant is held up, patrons can slip their jewelry into the soup to prevent theft.

Our embattled governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, needs to find the legislative equivalent to soup on the menu as the state prison guards file a petition for his recall - a definite holdup of sorts.

Remedies to pay for health care

Last week's depressing news was a report that health insurance premiums have risen yet again. Worse now is that employers are making employees pay more of the cost. Fifty nine percent of the companies surveyed also said they were cutting benefits and/or raising employees' share of premiums.

Whether the employer or employee has to pay more hardly matters, because it's effectively employee money that makes up the cost of fielding a labor force. We're only kidding ourselves when we consider a benefit to be "free" because the employer pays for it.

Lower wealth reason for hope

Considering that a stopped clock tells the correct time at least twice a day, it's interesting to read what a variety of economists and stock market newsletter writers have to say about the future of the stock market.

Some are considered to be "permabears" --- an allusion to what I assume is permafrost in the Arctic and their perennial inclination to be nattering nabobs of negatism. More on them in a minute, but first the good news:

Social Security fix lost in shuffle?

My island vacation retreat, six miles off the coast of Maine, presents a vision of our Social Security system that helps me consider all those citizens, from sea to shining sea, that benefit from this jewel of a government program.

What troubles me from my Adirondack chair are the rumblings of the system's incipient insolvency. I long for the help of the late Gerald Ford who was considered to be one of the few professional politicians who ever really understood government spending.

Outliving your money pretty easy to do

Lately, I've been obsessed with the study of running out of money in retirement, a condition I described as "range anxiety." I borrowed this term from the electric car industry where they use the phrase to explain why electric cars don't sell very well, yet.

People are paranoid about getting into a car that might run out of juice, juice for which there is no quick, easy replacement.

Range anxiety during retirement

In the world of electric car development, there is the phenomenon known as "range anxiety" that refers to the 75-mile range of the 90's-era General Motors electric car --- the car that "they" killed (by crushing) after allegedly realizing that nothing ever broke. The fundamental problem with this car, according to the urban myth, is that its popularity would have put General Motors dealers' service departments out of business.

Rely on markets to fluctuate

As we peer into the stock market's current abyss, it may be therapeutic to recall the year leading up to October of 2007 and consider it just an embarrassment of riches. After all, in slightly over a year, the total stock market rose by 23%. That capped what had been a 75 percent, three-year increase in value. Our natural tendency is to take these dramatic gains for granted, and then wring our hands when the recent 20% drop qualifies for the dreaded "bear market" definition triggering the attendant bout of hysteria. Let's get a grip.

Banking rules recipe for failure

When the investment banking firm of Bear Sterns recently imploded from $29 billion in shareholder value to essentially nothing in a matter of days, I was prompted to crack the books I had to study to become a licensed broker dealer many years ago.

In my own experience of meeting the expectations of securities regulators who conduct audits and review our quarterly reports, I found it unbelievable to think that Bear Sterns managed to hide what was obviously a highly-leveraged, precarious perch in the investment community.

Patience may bring nice return

In the face of the stock market's gloom, it may be refreshing to learn that things look good over here on the sunny side of the street. "The market climbs on a wall of worry," is a common phrase on Wall Street.

With the broad market averages flirting with the magic 20 percent downdraft that defines a bear market, what straws can we grasp that give us hope for the future?

Reverse mortgages could be big

Johnny Carson was being interviewed on a park bench a few years ago, and when he saw a pigeon strutting around his feet he looked down at it and said, "Any messages for me?" About now, he should be receiving one from Ed McMahon asking for a little help with Ed's $600,000 home mortgage currently in default. After listening to Ed and his wife on Larry King Live, I found myself asking, "what ever happened to reverse mortgages?"

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