Friday, December 19, 2008

C'mon, Al!

Who cares if your blogstaff was a bunch of whiny little shits who were more interested in padding their resumes than in backing a brother up?

Win this fucker!

Twelve Days Of Christmas Music Blogging

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - What's So Funny Bout Peace, Love, And Understanding

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) It's not surprising that they stopped, what will surprise me is if they start up again anytime soon.

2) Somehow, it warms my heart to hear all those Obombers who stood there defending Rev. Wright whine about this. I don't like Warren, either, I think the choice is a dumb, pandering move, but then I thought Wright was wrong to damn America, too.

3) With all that this nation has gone thru, Zimbabwe's bout with cholera is a tragedy beyond words.

4) There are few companies whose image is so closely linked with its founder. Apple is one of them and now that Steve Jobs seems to be in his last laps as CEO, one wonders what's next?

5) There's 2,900 pages of donors. I don't think a handful like this will be a problem for Hillary.

6) MEMO to George Bush: Half-assed efforts end in half-assed results.

7) Why do I think this is not nearing its end?

8) Uhhhh, oops!

9) OK, this is REALLY jumping the shark!

10) Nurse Chapel, we hardly knew ye.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Twelve Days Of Christmas Music Blogging

Frickin A - Merry Merry Frickin Christmas

Arguably The Stupidest Liberal Of The Week

As the last person on earth to write about Caroline Kennedy, I too am pretty strongly against handing her a Senate seat. Nothing personal -- but I'm anti-dynasty, and feel that a Senate appointment requires at least some minimum threshold of experience and engagement.

It's worth emphasizing though how unseemly the whole thing is, particularly in the age of Blago. The Blago pay-for-play raises some interesting line-drawing challenges. Legislators seek favors all the time -- that's a huge part of what legislating is. But where is the line?

The key I think is to focus one the purpose of the benefit sought. If it's for some plausibly public benefit, then fine. If it's for private benefit, then that's where things start getting smelly. If Blago, for instance, had said "I demand that you push for universal health care. If you do, I'll appoint your preferred candidate." That's pay-for-play in a sense -- it's demanding a "payment" of sorts -- but that's perfectly acceptable in our current system.

Apparently, Publius has decided that Caroline Kennedy is George Rod Blagojevich in drag.
Long-time readers of this blog know that I have a certain...affinity for the Kennedys. It comes from having been acquaintances, I suppose. People of the same age on the Upper East Side tended to gravitate to one another, especially in the clubs and boites that served us.
But even ignoring that for a moment, Publius, if I'm reading this semi-literate drivel correctly, is saying that a Kennedy, offering to serve out the two years mandated by state law of Hillary Clinton's term, is somehow the same thing as Jesse Jackson, Jr. being held up for ransom.
Unseemly? To say it's insulting is an understatement. Let's deconstruct this for a moment.
Caroline Kennedy has shown across the course of her life-- adult and child-- nothing but good judgement. She has served admirably in any number of compassionate, charitable roles and offices. Indeed, I often wondered why she allowed her brother John to serve as the political face of the JFK legacy. She was clearly the brains of the outfit.
Again, I can make that comment based on immediate observations, not Publius' sackcloth-and-ashes assumptions. Boots on the ground, as it were.
And it's not like Caroline was sitting at the kiddies' table for the past thirty Thanksgivings at Hyannisport. I wager she learned quite a bit about politics and legislating from Uncles Teddy and Sargent, and Cousins Ahnuld, Patrick, Bobby Jr, Andrew Cuomo...not to mention the assorted lieutenant governors and state legislators.
Caroline chose a path that saw her be a full-time mother and a part-time activist, and yet Publius, who I'm presuming is a man and perhaps has a certain bias towards the glass ceiling, holds her lack of notoriety and "achievement" against her.
This is much like claiming Hillary Clinton did nothing for children all her life, despite the fact that she served as an organizing advisor to the Children's Defense Fund and raised Chelsea.
Indeed, Caroline Kennedy has been what Barack Obama ran as and what Sarah Palin and John McCain and the other rapacious Republican reptiles mocked: a community organizer. After all, she serves on the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, helped create the Profiles In Courage award, worked as director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the the New York City Department of Education, vice-chair of the board of directors of The Fund for Public Schools. Hell, she's got better education creds than the jackass Obama nominated at Secretary of Education!
Et tu, Publius? Es vos iunctio lacerta?
The bit that got under my skin, however, was the "dynasty" comment. How idiotic do you have to be to think that dynasties have not been, are not, and will not be the primary means of achieving political office in America for the future? Seriously!
Barack Obama and John McCain ALONE spent nearly $1 billion dollars to in this past election cycle, and all candidates in total spent nearly two billion. Two years ago, I had written that we might be looking at the first election cycle where candidates in total spent over a billion, primaries and general.
So, Pubby, you may not like it, but deal with it: you aren't going to get campaign finance reform that levels the playing field anytime soon and apart from Barack Obama, it's unlikely that enough people will coalesce around enough different candidates that the playing field will tilt away from dynasties.
In fact, how many years will it be before Michelle Obama runs for office? I'm surprised her name hasn't been touted for the open seat in Illinois! All Obama has done is add one more family to the aristocracy of this nation that began with Adamses, then Harrisons, then Roosevelts, then Bushes, Kennedys, Clintons, Bidens, Gores, et al!
So if we're going to have to allow for dynasties, and we have a perfectly useful dynasty in the Kennedys, one that has a track record of putting the people first, then why not slip one more into the Senate?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Quick Favor

I just want to get a sense of who actually reads this blog, so please take my Blog Reader Project survey.

If you've already taken this survey elsewhere, then please click this link anyway, so that your information can be included in my results.

Twelve Days of Christmas Music Blogging

Johnny Cash - Twelve Days of Christmas

World's Shortest Meeting

WASHINGTON — The White House has prepared more than a dozen contingency plans to help guide President-elect Barack Obama if an international crisis erupts in the opening days of his administration, part of an elaborate operation devised to smooth the first transition of power since Sept. 11, 2001.

[...]Mr. Bush said Tuesday that a top priority in his final days in office is to help Mr. Obama get ready to govern. "We care about him," he said in an interview with CNN. "We want him to be successful, and we want the transition to work."

The subtitle should read "Everything I Know About What's Going On In The World." It should be written on a fucking gum wrapper.
Seriously, can anyone think of a President who, after eight fucking years in office, is so embarassingly unprepared for the job???? 
When Bill Clinton handed the reins of power over to George W Bush, his staff spent weeks alerting Bush's staff to the troubles they perceived in the world: Al Qaeda, a coming recession, Korea, China, the rise of Russia.
Bush played golf. He cleared brush. And his staff took their cues from the Moron-In-Chief and likewise ignored nearly every single warning-- rumour has it that Condi Rice perked up only when Russia and China were mentioned. The hubris exhibited in the following eight years was on display before the Oval Office phone was cold.
We could play the "if only" game for years with Bush: if only he had listened to warnings about Al Qaeda, if only he had listened to his dad about Iraq, if only he had realized that Saddam Hussein was contained under the embargo, if only...
If only 8,000 Americans, roughly half of them civilians, could be alive today, and another 100,000 soldiers uninjured, rather tahn providing an object lesson in the foolishness of war in general and invasions in particular.
If only the SCOTUS had selected Al Gore.
If I was Barack Obama, I'd give Chimpy fifteen minutes...squeeze him in between smokes and a game of let him explain what he thinks the consequences of what he has wrought upon the world will be. Yes, he publicly says that in the end, a free and democratic Iraq will yaddayaddayadda, but I call bullshit. I suspect Bush has sat up nights in the second term thinking, "Holy shit, what have I done?"
Maybe not many, but even if he did that even once, it would be enough for me.
It seems clear from Obama's picks and the rapidity of them that he's aware that he has to hit the ground boots running. It's a scary world out there and the economic crisis is a megaphone for terrorists and unrest, which means the violence in the world is only going to increase.
In case the lesson of Mumbai was lost on you. Poverty breeds contempt and fear and anger. Imagine what famine and pestilence will breed.
So goodbye, George. You are the weakest link.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas Music Blogging

Sting - I Saw Three Ships

Tip Of The Iceberg

I've spent a few days catching up with the Bernard Madoff story (as well as the smaller but no less spectacular Marc Dreier tale of woe). I have a couple of thoughts and observations to make.
First, this is just the beginning. As with all things financial, the first shock is never the last, as things like this ripple through the interconnected financial world. Look at how the "contained" (to use Henry Paulson's term) subprime mortgage meltdown took over the entire commercial banking system.
Before we go much further, I need to do a quick primer on what Madoff and Dreier did. It involves a term you might have heard called a "hedge fund". A hedge fund is nothing more than a pool of money that places sophisticated bets on individual companies and/or stock indices. Usually, because the chance for profit is much higher, they will bet against a company or market by "shorting" the stock or borrowing shares from someone with the promise to pay for them later, turning around and selling them, then buying other shares back when the price drops and "paying" back the original loan. There are other, even more complex arrangements that hedge funds engage in, like derivatives and leverage, and I might cover those in later articles.
There are plenty of complications to short selling, not least of which is the possibility of unlimited losses: if the shares never go down below the "sales" price, the borrower can't earn any return. The upside is, it's about the only way to make money in a down market. 
Hedge funds, therefore, spend an extraordinary amount of time looking for companies that are about to fail in some respect: revenues off, profits down, dividends cancelled. Obviously, they try to do this before the rest of the market finds out.
Hedge funds are also exempt from the very tight oversight rules of the SEC that apply to brokerages by dint of the fact that one has to be a "qualifed" or "accredited" investor (the rules are a bit complex, but suffice it to say to be either of these, you gotta have bucks). These are in effect private, invitation-only investments, and the investors are expected to have some financial sophistication, as evidenced by the fact they have $1 million or more.  
As the Madoff case shows, not so much.
While the grunt work of a hedge fund relies on quantitative analysis (number crunching), the marketing work of a hedge fund relies primarily on the qualitative properties of the fund manager.
Which leads me to observation number two: there's no accounting for greed. By all accounts, Madoff should have been a successful manager. He was a chairman of the NASDAQ, which means he had an awful lot of success investing, and had credentials and contacts out the wazoo.
Time will tell us how he failed so miserably, but the clear lesson from Madoff's point of view is, he got greedy.
You see, fund managers are generally entitled to a percentage take of the profits (normally 20%) as well as a percentage of the assets in play (usually 1%) to cover administrative expenses (salaries, normally). Obviously, the higher the nut, the larger the percentage take is in real dollars. If you manage actual assets of $15 billion, as Madoff did, but can leverage these to three or four times their size, as Madoff did, you can claim $50 billion in assets and ignore the liabilities, because hey, they're going to be paid back! On paper, you've just earned $7 billion in bonuses and can claim $500 million in expenses.
Not bad, eh? So you can understand why Madoff didn't just toss the keys on the desk when his investments went sour.
Which brings me to point number three: there's no accounting for greed. (What?)
How he sold these stakes in his fund is simple: he dummied up numbers, attracted the right kind of attention and was able to practically hand out stakes in his fund. He all but promised a 12% return each year, allowing people to fill in the "promise" bit on their own. So long as he was able to expand his investment pool, the sky was the limit in terms of how much money he would control but also how long he could pay out 12% returns. 
This is why hedge funds are run on the rule that the investors have to have sophistication, because the opportuinity to bilk people is too juicy. You're supposed to know to ask questions, the right questions. Apparently, enough people didn't, dazzled by doubling their money eveery six years. 
Clearly, the SEC, which has nominal oversight over hedge funds, gave Madoff a pass, which brings me to point number four: too often, we are led by authority and don't question it. We saw it after Obama took the nomination, the number of liberals who creid foul as Obama correctly shifted to more centrist positions. We see it in the Madoff case. Hey, the guy was chairman of NASDAQ just ahead of the tech boom! 
Point number five (and echoing point number one) is that hedge funds have already been responsible for the collapse of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Indeed, some speculation has it that hedge funds are responsible for the year long collapse of the global stock market.
Now, take that bit of information and add this bit of information: in America alone, hedge funds control 3/4's of a trillion dollars in assets. That's roughly half of the assets under management worldwide.
Put it this way: hedge funds as a nation would rank 8th, just ahead of Spain and just behind Germany.
Suddenly, you see that Madoff is peanuts, the tip of the iceberg, the first crack in the veneer of ice over the abyss. We're a long way from bailing out this boat.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas Music Blogging

Luciano Pavarotti - O Holy Night

Godspeed, signore.

Shoes For Industry! Shoes For The Dead!

Despite the igominy of suffering the worst insult an Iraqi can afford, short of shooting him, George W. Bush managed to steal some of Obama's thunder and theme today, and showed that he is still going to either extricate his legacy or go down whining:

The most recent draft stipulates that American forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 2009 and from the country by the end of 2011, and contains amendments made by the Americans in response to Iraqi demands made last month.

"The deliberations are continuing in the cabinet in order to ascertain the scope of the amendments that have been added in order to reach a clear agreement and to see if it is acceptable to parliament," Safaldin al-Safi said. "The American response contained many positive elements, but at the same time it contained clauses that require more discussion," the head of Iraq's parliamentary affairs committee said in a statement Tuesday.

Many would say that this is Bush trying to steal Obama's thunder, and I'm sure there's some element to it. After all, Obama ran directly against the Bush invasion record, a point magnified by Senator John McCain's famous comment that Obama should have run against Bush in 2004 if he felt that strongly about it.
The November election was a clear and direct repudiation of Bush's tactics over the past 8 years and the wrong-headed decision to invade Iraq in the first place. That has to sting any man, but a man like Bush, whose entire Presidency seems to have been predicated on the "Look what I can do, Daddy!" tactics of a four year old, it must be a very deeply felt rebuke.
Which is why I'm not convinced this is entirely the attempt on Bush's part to leave a "Fuck You" card on the Oval Office desk.
I think Bush, a young man, is facing up to decades of trying to repair not his image, but his self-esteem. It hit that deeply.
In recent interviews that I've watched, Bush seems more introspective, more appreciative of the fact that he made a mess of things-- even if he'll deny the majesty of his bungles and blunders. I attribute this to the November 4 slap in the face. Rightly or wrongly placed as Bush's surrogate, had McCain made it close-- a tight race in the electoral college or the popular vote-- Bush would walk away with his head held high and his self-perceived dignity intact.
But that didn't happen, did it? And despite some of the right wing's most egregious fanbois claiming that Bush is still loved and cherished, well, let's just say that the parties who love and cherish him are not the kind of people I'd invite to dinner.
It is on this landscape that Bush surveys the damage he has done to American credibility and economic and military strength, and tries to repair the damage he has wrought.
If that is the case, if indeed Bush walks away from the past eight years a man broken of his hubris and braggadoccio, then this tiny baby step, too little and far too late, should be credited to him. A nip in his hide against the huge hole he has left in the flesh of humanity.
And if it is not the case, then it should be credited to Obama for forcing Bush's hand. We will not know, but history will be the final arbiter of that judgement.
I'm a liberal, and compassionate, and willing to believe the best in a man no matter how badly he's behaved. I'd like to believe Bush has learned his lesson.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas Music Blogging

David Bowie & Bing Crosby - Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth

Arguably the weirdest collaboration ever staged. Bing looks a little uncomfortable at times.