Saturday, October 18, 2008

The "Pro-America" Crowd From the "Pro-America Regions of This Great Land"

These are the faces, words and actions of the 'Pro-America' crowd from the 'Pro-America' regions of this great land. If this is how people act in public, what does the underbelly of America really look like? I think my understanding of what really goes on in this country, and the opinions truly held, is woefully uninformed. I'm not certain any amount of reading will correct my ignorance.

I'm sure Pericles may post something as equally ugly as this from some individual or group on the 'left.' Honestly, I would not be surprised that they identify on a different side of a vague political spectrum. I would be surprised at how universal this nonsense is. Let us not forget that the anti-intellectual, student bashing, hippie-skull beating, 'silent majority,' Archie Bunker racists are the same union members dedicated to voting and raising money for whomever the Democratic ticket may throw up there, but also let us not equivocate.

The point of this post is not a partisan one. I really don't care if a person identifies as 'red' or 'blue.' The point of this post is one of shock surprise and disappointment at how ugly this nation, and possibly this world, and the opinions and views held therein really is. What, if anything, will begin to end this sorry state? Stoking the flames of ignorance and hatred at political rallies and members of Congress blindly and vaguely calling other members of Congress 'anti-American' is certainly not the path to enlightenment. What has worked in the past, if anything, at making large groups of people more thoughtful, careful and concerned? Whatever those things may be, they have not touched the people seen and heard in the video above.

Jeffrey Goldberg & Bruce Schneir Examine Security Theater

Goldberg must be a wealthy man and has clearly purchased a private jet for his own use, because he will never fly commercially again. From the article:
During one secondary inspection, at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, I was wearing under my shirt a spectacular, only-in-America device called a “Beerbelly,” a neoprene sling that holds a polyurethane bladder and drinking tube. The Beerbelly, designed originally to sneak alcohol—up to 80 ounces—into football games, can quite obviously be used to sneak up to 80 ounces of liquid through airport security. (The company that manufactures the Beerbelly also makes something called a “Winerack,” a bra that holds up to 25 ounces of booze and is recommended, according to the company’s Web site, for PTA meetings.) My Beerbelly, which fit comfortably over my beer belly, contained two cans’ worth of Bud Light at the time of the inspection. It went undetected. The eight-ounce bottle of water in my carry-on bag, however, was seized by the federal government.

On another occasion, at LaGuardia, in New York, the transportation-security officer in charge of my secondary screening emptied my carry-on bag of nearly everything it contained, including a yellow, three-foot-by-four-foot Hezbollah flag, purchased at a Hezbollah gift shop in south Lebanon. The flag features, as its charming main image, an upraised fist clutching an AK-47 automatic rifle. Atop the rifle is a line of Arabic writing that reads Then surely the party of God are they who will be triumphant. The officer took the flag and spread it out on the inspection table. She finished her inspection, gave me back my flag, and told me I could go. I said, “That’s a Hezbollah flag.” She said, “Uh-huh.” Not “Uh-huh, I’ve been trained to recognize the symbols of anti-American terror groups, but after careful inspection of your physical person, your behavior, and your last name, I’ve come to the conclusion that you are not a Bekaa Valley–trained threat to the United States commercial aviation system,” but “Uh-huh, I’m going on break, why are you talking to me?”
The article goes on:
Schnei­er and I walked to the security checkpoint. “Counter­terrorism in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better,” he said. “Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” This assumes, of course, that al-Qaeda will target airplanes for hijacking, or target aviation at all. “We defend against what the terrorists did last week,” Schnei­er said. He believes that the country would be just as safe as it is today if airport security were rolled back to pre-9/11 levels. “Spend the rest of your money on intelligence, investigations, and emergency response.”

Anti-American Left? Say it Ain't So.

From Berkeley, California

Friday, October 17, 2008

Is It Hyperbolic To Be Frightened By This?

The final quote:
"What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or Anti-America? I think the American people would love to see an expose like that."

Barry Ritholz Has Become the Most Bullish Guy In the Room

This is just plain odd, and surreal, and possibly a true buy signal into these wacky markets. For those of you who don't know, Ritholz is the CEO of FusionIQ and one of the primary posters on The Big Picture blog. He's been right, from a completely different perspective, right along with Roubini on a lot of this mess. Now he says:

1) For most of the past 2 years, I have invariably been the most bearish guy in the room. This has been true whether I was at a meeting or conference, on TV, in print, or simply out having dinner. The lone exception were anytime Nouriel Roubini was also present. Then I would be the 2nd most bearish person in the room.

Lately, I am the most bullish guy in the room -- and I have to tell you, that is just plum weird to me. This week, there were 4 separate occasions when I was in meetings, on TV, at a lunch, at a private dinner. Its very odd.

He is advising his clients to allocate up to 10% of their cash positions into nibbling in at equities. Even with a long recession likely to be ahead, it is possible and historically analogous that there may be a lot of sideways trading from here (as opposed to continued decline) before the sun is seen again. In short, a buying opportunity for those with the money.

I want to make clear that I am not advocating this position, as it is also possible that we'll see continued decline, but it is noteworthy that there are serious voices coming out of the bear mindset and into one of cautious buying.


Never have I seen the 8 phases of dating described so succinctly.

Brilliant Farewell Letter

everything should be a competition

Washington Post Endorses Obama

The editorial board finally caught up with the news men.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Headline: Cheney is Treated for Irregular Heartbeat

Cheney is Treated for Irregular Heartbeat

Wait ... Cheney has a heart?

Donald Trump Surprises

I am posting this (video at the bottom of the link) not because of its partisan content, or because I agree with Trump's most surprising sentiment, but for the pure shock of hearing Trump say, with all sincerity:
"It ... just seemed like she [Pelosi] was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which personally I think would have been a wonderful thing."

Trouble with Chicken

Many Somali immigrants have been in conflict with factory employers over the rigors of Islamic religions ceremonies/prayers.

"The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employers to discriminate based on religion and says that employers must “reasonably accommodate” religious practices. But the act offers some exceptions, including instances when adjustments would cause “undue hardship” on the company’s business interests."

I find this problem troubling and am sympathetic with both sides of the argument. What should take precedent: rights to equal protections and religious freedom, or rights to property, contract and free association?

Further muddling my thinking is my deep emotional response to this story. I sympathize with the horror of living in places like Sudan and Somalia. I am also outraged and disgusted by the systematic subjugation of women which this culture embraces. More generally speaking, I am loath to support religious superstitions which I believe to be a weight on our society, economy and minds.

Religion, "It's Time to @#$%ing Do Something"

I saw this on Pharyngula and could not resist presenting it here. A full-throated defense of 'active,' vocal, anti-theist, anti-religious atheism:

7th In the World (so far)

The WSJ Predictions market run by Irish betting website, Intrade, is way cool. It's even cooler because I happen to be ranked 7th in the world today (amongst roughly 2200 participants):

Position UserName WSJ$ Gain % Gain
1 haidonghuang 141,139.45 1411.39
2 maufman 80,626.77 806.27
3 akmaardak 70,268.30 702.68
4 sparedes 66,167.00 661.67
5 Thomas 53,983.75 539.84
6 MrMichael 45,511.52 455.12
7 jumco 42,211.72 422.12
8 pcstockman 39,540.42 395.40
9 papacito 37,304.80 373.05
10 sylvan wanderer 35,715.52 357.16

Go Me!



Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Olga Kern

Lang Lang


Palin as President

Palin as President

Campaigns Have Uncomfortable Encouters With IP Law

The DMCA, net neutrality, and other issues have seen the two presidential candidates post significantly different positions. These positions are now receiving some attention, as the campaigns are experiencing the draconian limits upon 'fair use' in laws such as the DMCA. From Wired:
After seeings its videos repeatedly removed from YouTube, John McCain's campaign on Monday told the Google-owned video site that its copyright infringement policies are stringent to the point of stifling free speech, and that its lawyers need to revamp the way they evaluate copyright infringement claims.

...One of its highest profile hits on the web, "Obama Love," for example, faced an embarrassing revamp in July when YouTube received a DMCA take-down notice from The Warner Music Group. The campaign had used Franki Valli's hit tune "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" as the video's sarcastic soundtrack.

The Modern Speakeasy

From the Cigar Club last night.


It is not clear any longer that the Treasury bothers to consider the interest of citizens or concerns itself with process or law. From Naked Capitalism:
To make the point more clearly: the public at large was taken not just once, but twice, It was hosed in the unduly generous terms given to nine banks (the lack of writedown of assets to realistic values, the failure to wipe out current equity holders and subject debt holders to a haircut, the merely symbolic limits on executive pay). But it also got a less obvious shellacking in the way legal and regulatory processes were trampled. Given the Treasury and Fed's combined banking authority, and the dubious valuations of many types of assets on these firms' books, the powers that be could easily have compelled any bank to accept a much less favorable deal, or frankly any deal they wanted them to take. And it would not have taken all that much additional effort (although it might have taken some planning, which is a persistent shortcoming of this Administration).

But Paulson instead went through a bizarre, public exercise in sham corecion (and real sidestepping of even minimal normal forms) so as to avoid a candid discussion of how lousy the banks' balance sheets really were. And the ruse, like the TARP itself, was another demonstration that the Treasury considers itself to be outside the law.
If we're going to strong-arm the banks into taking national money, why not strong-arm them to take the money on terms amenable to the national interest? Has the world completely turned upside down? The government now forces money upon corporations, whether they like it or not, on terms that best suit the corporations. The news reads like a Kafka novel. In the most non-hyperbolic ways possible, I despair for the future of the American Democratic Republic.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is Executive Compensation a Problem?

The Sunday Times in London reports:
The Lehman Brothers board signed off on more than $100m (£59m) in payouts to five top executives just three days before the bank went bankrupt leaving thousands of employees out of work in London.
$100M amongst 5 people, all of whom were executives of the worst bank failure in history. Were they being rewarded based on merit? Clearly not. All of these executives and the compensation committee must have been aware of the bank's imminent failure. Foregoing $100M would not have saved the bank, but it would have left a lot of money behind for all sorts of costs associated with the aftermath of its failure.

Do we now have enough examples of disastrous compensation initiatives (Mozillo, Fuld, Fiorina, Wagner, Cayne, et al) to annihilate the argument that contemporary levels of executive compensation are a direct and necessary outcome of market forces for top talent? I'm including a chart of CEO-to-worker pay from 1965 so as to be able to visualize how extraordinary these conditions are and one comparing a number of benchmarks from 1990-2005 including corporate profits and the S&P 500:

CEO-to-worker chart

Compensation to other metrics chart

Let us keep in mind that few of these CEOs were the entrepreneurs or innovators who began, funded, or took the significant risks that started and built these businesses. In fact, many of the companies at hand are significantly older than the executives themselves (Mozillo excluded, he actually did begin Countrywide). All of the executives listed and certainly others have generated extremely negative shareholder value (last week, GM was worth less than it was in 1929) while being handsomely paid to do so.

What is to be done? I am not an advocate of federally mandated compensation limits. I don't believe they'd be effective, as inevitable loopholes and other games would be found to funnel the money to the top. Also, why should the government force shareholders from spending their money foolishly? Greater transparency is certainly welcome, but it's not as if investors haven't known that Mozillo, Fuld, Wagner or the others were taking home a boat load of money.

Shareholders, very clearly, have done a terrible job of providing the "market forces" to protect their own interests in these scenarios. This may appear as a social injustice, but if it is, I do not believe it is so on the compensation side. If anything, injustice is occurring on the taxation side, but that is a very different blog post. From this vantage point, it appears that shareholders are happy to overpay poorly performing executives, as it has become common, repeated, and widespread practice.

I don't have any particularly brilliant ideas on 'correcting' this 'problem,' as shareholders have the power to prevent these excesses and have chosen not to. None of the cases mentioned were instances of fraud (except, possibly the Lehman scenario, which remains to be seen), so I guess there is a net benefit for shareholders outside of share price appreciation for giving their money to these handful of individuals that I do not comprehend. Maybe the executives have gamed the system without breaking the law? Maybe the system and brand of capitalism we've come to subscribe to is an inaccurate or insufficient hypothesis to explaining human economic behavior? Maybe something completely other?

Any ideas on the 'problem' or its 'solutions' (quotes used, because it is not self-evident that this is a problem)?

Oh Boy! Can't Wait!

As Thursday night approaches (when Jumco, Sestabrook and I will listen to Yefim Bronfman and the CSO play this piece at Orchestra Hall) , let's hear a little taste of the monumental Rach 3!  This flawless version by Irkutsk born soloist Denis Matsuev, my favorite living interpreter of Rachmaninoff.  

Monday, October 13, 2008

Conservatives Against McCain: An Introduction

  • Wick Allison, former publisher of National Review endorses Obama saying, "The more I listen to and read about, “the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate,” the more I like him. Barack Obama strikes a chord with me like no political figure since Ronald Reagan..."

  • Joshua Trevino, co-founder of RedState writes in Jindal rather than voting for McCain saying, "Do I believe in John McCain? Not as much as I used to. Do I believe in Sarah Palin? Despite my early enthusiasm for her, now not at all. Do I believe in the national Republican Party? Not in the slightest -- even though I see no meaningful alternative to it."

  • David Brooks, conservative columnist and pundit, formerly of National Review, called Sarah Palin a "fatal cancer."

  • Christopher Buckley, satirist and son of William F Buckley, wrote:
    "John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, “We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us.” This campaign has changed John McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget “by the end of my first term.” Who, really, believes that?"
  • Jeffrey Hart, former Nixon and Reagan speech writer (original link appears to be dead, so I link to Vox Baby who has most of the text). As per Vox Baby: "In Obama, by contrast, Hart sees a Great Communicator in the mold of Reagan, John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, a leader who can inspire Americans to work together on the problems of the 21st Century."

  • Matt Welch, editor of Reason Magazine, writes a piece titled, "Be Afraid of President McCain: The frightening mind of an authoritarian maverick."

  • Andrew J. Bacevich of The American Conservative, makes the "Conservative Case for Obama."

  • Andrew Sullivan, author of The Conservative Soul , says "Is Iraq Vietnam? Who really won in 2000? Which side are you on in the culture wars? These questions have divided the Baby Boomers and distorted our politics. One candidate could transcend them."

  • William Kristol, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard wrote, "It’s time for John McCain to fire his campaign."

  • David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, asks "...Do you think Obama will increase spending by $1 trillion, because that's what Republicans did over the past two presidential terms...And there are certainly libertarians who think Obama will be better on the war and on foreign policy, on executive power and on surveillance than McCain."

  • Douglas W. Kmiec, former head of the Office of Legal Counsel for President's Reagan and H.W. Bush, said "...I endorse Barack Obama for president of the United States. I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence, and genuine good will."

  • David Friedman, son of Milton Friedman and academic economist and self-described anarcho-capitalst said, "McCain strikes me as a nationalist, likely to be comfortable with retaining and even expanding on the increases in executive authority claimed by Bush. He is also the one pro-war candidate...Perhaps, if we are lucky, Obama will turn out to be the anti-Bush."

More Corruption

From BoingBoing:
TSA Screener Pythias Brown walked off with hundreds of thousands of dollars of passengers' belongings without ever being observed by the TSA, selling the items on Ebay...

What are we really saving?



My Obama: "Sara Palin is a Cunt"

No party has a monopoly on bigoted (sexism is still bigotry, right?) loyalists. Here is a nice one from an Obama supporter, which appears (for now) on the moderated Barak Obama official web site.   



Untitled Too

Untitled One

We're in the Money

Dow jumps 936 points in biggest point gain ever. The Dow, S&P and Nasdaq all gain over 11%.

Time for some 1930's pig latin from when dames were dames!

Gay High School for Chicago

Chicago's school board is considering a School for Social Justice Pride Campus.

A laudable idea at first glance, I fear such an effort will be rife with ideological and practical problems.

1. If these kids are experiencing acute discrimination, I’m not sure the best solution is attending this school, thus bringing more attention to their sexuality.

2. Although this school will not be exclusionary, the spirit of the endeavor is similar to the segregated schools of the past. Recall that the most pervasive argument in favor of segregated schools was that everyone would feel more comfortable “with their own kind.”

3. The goal of public education should be just that – education. When schools are tasked to promote justice, equality or civility, they will find themselves ill equipped.

Johnny Letter

I recall each of Senators Biden and Obama representing to the pubic, during their respective debates, that Senator Obama wrote some letter to someone warning of an impending crisis at Fannie and Freddie. Here is a May 2006 letter from 19 United States Senators, including Senator McCain.  Senator Obama's signature is not "present," no pun intended.  Can anyone find the letter that Senator Obama sent and to which Senators Biden and Obama referred?  I'd like to see it.

Iran: Preconditions and Preparations

Iran will speak to us, but only upon "preconditions."  That, says the Iranian Vice President, is the only U.S. "preparation" of interest
TEHRAN (FNA)- Vice President for Media Affairs Mehdi Kalhor said on Saturday that Iran has set two preconditions for holding talks with the United States of America.
In an exclusive interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency, he said as long as U.S. forces have not left the Middle East region and continues its support for the Zionist regime, talks between Iran and U.S. is off the agenda. 

It is the Americans who are in dire need of reestablishing ties with Iran, he underlined. 

Iran is not obliged to reestablish ties with the U.S., he said. 

"If they take our advice, grounds for such talks would be well
prepared," he said. 

It is stupidity to hold talks without any change in U.S. attitude, he underlined.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Update: Atheist Soldier Ends Suit

Remember Pfc Jeremy Hall? He has dropped his suit against Robert Gates and the DoD. I wonder why (wink)?