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Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Post- Christmas Musings

Item - North Korea Talks Fail to Produce a Deal - What a shock! There is no doubt that Americans (and Europeans) expect too much too soon from negotiations, and that leads them to make ill-advised, premature concessions. Negotiations should be approached from the viewpoint that you will not compromise your significant interests. That means that agreements are reached only when interests coincide. But that should be expected to be a long process, not a speedy one, since the recognition of common interest takes time and repetition, and interests change very slowly over time. The basis for a deal with N. Korea is there, since the subjects of disarmament, or at least nuclear non-proliferation, reunification with the South, economic assistance, and industrial development could all be in play over time. However, we should not expect a deal soon with the current regime in place.


Item - Pfizer's ousted CEO McKinnell wins a big payday - Let's see - a CEO sees his company's stock price steadily fall during his tenure, its drug pipeline basically dry up, and finally, mercifully he is jettisoned by the Board. So what happens - he is rewarded with a gigantic retirement bonus. This has never made any sense to me. The deferred pay business is OK. That's pay he could have received earlier but put off for tax purposes - it's his. But the other bonuses do nothing for the corporation and reek of cronyism. Why should the new CEO object? He is hoping for the same treatment if and when he gets canned.

This is one reason I favor eliminating the cap on income subject to social security tax. The corporations would be more careful about these outsized compensation packages, since they would be contributing their 7% share. I had a discussion with my full service broker about this concept, and I pointed out that the tax revenue will be needed in order to offset a fix to the alternative minimum tax. He made an interesting suggestion. Eliminating the AMT will have to be done to help the middle class who will be incurring the tax in big numbers starting in tax year 2007. So he said that in conjunction with eliminating the AMT, we should leave the wage base cap where it is, but restart the social security tax base at 500,000 (or a million) and up. That would at least leave a corridor of wages between the current cap and 500,000 not subject to ss withholding. An interesting idea.


Item - James Brown - RIP. The Godfather of Soul truly was, not that he was the first, but that he brought R&B music to new dimensions, incorporating funk, and elements of what becme rap and hip hop. There were many great soul singers before Brown, notably Chuck Jackson, Jackie Wilson, and Ben E. King to name a few, but he was a true pioneer. And a great, unique talent.


Item - The commercialization of Christmas - An interesting op ed piece in the WSJ last week made the point that there are really two Christmases. There is the religious holiday celebrated by Christians everywhere - one of the two most significant days on the Christian calendar. Then there is the non-denominational, better yet, civic holiday we all celebrate, regardless of religious affiliation (or non-affiliation). This is the commercial event, complete with the pagan and civil symbols that have become its signature - the tree, Santa and Frosty, etc. Once you accept this, having a tree in front of City Hall should not be a problem, even for those who misinterpret the establishment clause (no pun intended) of the constitution and one can live with the overtly commercial aspects of the event as well. It's a situation where the ability to compartmentalize is really useful.


On 12/20, I bought 50 shares of UIC, yet another new name for the taxable account. Today's purchase, also for the taxable account was 100 shares of ADM at 31.25. One thing really helping the rally continue is all the privatizations. When these private buyout funds take out a public company, the proceeds eventually get recycled back into the market's existing stocks. If the value of private buyouts exceed IPO's, we have a situation where more cash chases fewer outstanding shares.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


redwavemusings influence

It's sometimes hard to believe the influence redwavemusings has in the world but two days after our endorsement of Steve Forbes' oil revenue distribution idea for Iraq, Sens. Clinton (D-NY) and Ensign (R-NV) published an op ed piece in Monday's WSJ proposing the same solution (An Oil Trust for Iraq). Just as Forbes did, they modeled their suggestion on the Alaskan Permanent Fund. Kind of scary to see Forbes and Clinton (and me) thinking alike on any issue. Now, if we can somehow get Hillary to see the light on health care... (for the record, Steve's an HSA guy).

There's been a lot of stuff in the WSJ and other places about the return of autocracy
in Russia, kind of a Thermidorean reaction to the late eighties, I guess. What brought this on, I suppose were the various poisonings and murders of those who might be considered enemies of the Putin government. With all due respect and sensitivity, I can only say that to have just figured this out now, you had to be without the majority of your senses (i.e. senseless). When Forbes correspondent Paul Klebnikoff died under mysterious circumstances, when the Russians totally bungled the Checken situation, including the school terrorist atrocity, when they nationalized the major energy firms, all of these events should have been a tipoff. Of course, as usual, WSJ readers knew the score early because of the op ed pieces by world chess champion, now dissident, Gary Kasparov. He has been warning for years that anti-democratic forces are stifling dissent and freedom in Russia. Frankly, I have some concern for his safety, too.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration, playing practical politics for a change, has never stopped cozying up to Putin and his government, in hopes that Russia would play on our side in the war on terror. However, people should realize that Russia continues to sell arms to Iran and other destabilizers. At some point, we will have to change our tune, at least enough to make our concerns known.


I kind of look forward to Golf World's fiction issue each year, (well, this is the second "annual issue") but I have to admit that this year's edition was mostly a clunker. But I did think there were two real good entries, "The High Rollaway Club" by Jon Jackson and especially "Last Call" by Roland Merullo. So if you still have your copy of the issue on the side (it carries a Sept. 1 date), wondering when you will get to it, or if they offer it to you on the airplane or you see it at the library, skip the rest of the stories and first try those two.

Unfortunately, the short story is kind of a lost art, and with the internet rapidly obsoleting the printed periodical, it doesn't bode well for any kind of comeback. There was a time when the short story was the most popular mode of fiction for the mass audience. If that seems impossible to believe, go to the library, borrow the Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, open the book and start anywhere.


I sold 100 shares of BAMM on the opening yesterday at 22.60, out of the IRA. These were purchased in May of 2002 for 3.65. This is a stubborn market - it feels horrible but refuses to do anything but go up. Rallying markets climb a wall of worry and the Street right now is worried about everything - recession, inflation, the weak dollar, failing auto companies, drug companies with no research pipelines, homebuilders with empty lots, exploding Asian demand for energy, terrorism, entitlements we can't afford, etc, etc. If Bush did only one thing right in his entire tenure, it was cutting taxes and assuring that our strong economy would carry us over all these shoals. You'll know it's over when you see the politicians raise income taxes. Then we will have a very bad market. But that is unlikely to occur before 2008 when the market may start discounting higher taxes under a Democratic administration in 2009.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Ideas from Noonan, Forbes and more

An alert redwavemusings reader pointed out that one reason we see no comments is that the musings blog didn't seem to allow them. So, I adjusted the settings and tested it and now it works (I think). At the bottom of the post you click on comments. The screen resets, you return to the bottom of the post where you can see any previously posted comments, and click on "post a comment."


Peggy Noonan is one of my favorite columnists and not only because of my sympathy with her views but also because of her beautiful prose. In her column in today's WSJ, she writes about the Barack Obama phenomenon. One interesting point she makes is that the country has spent the last ten years lurching between fairly extreme political positions that have each left at least half of the country not only disappointed but actually in revulsion. Many of us were appalled (her word) by the Clinton scandals and a majority seem to be equally exorcised over the the current administration's shortfalls, starting from what they believe to have been a 'stolen election" in 2000. Ms. Noonan, by the way, has never been a real Bush (43) fan.

Her point is that the search is on for the "Not Bush" candidate, a trait that Senator Obama certainly brings to the table. She apparently believes he brings little else to the fore, though he has the charismatic connection, that's for sure. I agree, and think Hilary Clinton is a much more substantive and formidable candidate. However, if we must elect a Democrat in 2008, I again must point out that Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has the potential to end this scenario where there has been a loss of respect for the Presidency and an inability for the country to get behind its leader in any kind of unified way. It's interesting to me that Mr. Richardson met this week with North Korean envoys to talk about their nuclear program, and that these talks and his participation were sanctioned by the White House. This was not grandstanding - it was done quietly and without political rancor. This is a person who takes politics and international relations seriously. He has led a diverse and growing state effectively and won re-election convincingly. Someone to watch even while others dominate the headlines.

On the Republican side, the candidate with the most potentaial to do likewise is actually one of the front runners, Senator McCain. But if I were setting the odds, I would have to make the Dems 7-5 favorites in 2008, even before knowing the identity of the candidates.


I hope that by now, the country has figured out what a silly exercise, and even sillier result the non-partisan commission on Iraq turned out to be. It took these brilliant veteran minds to figure out that we can resolve the situation only if we talk with the Syrians and the Iranians? About what? Well, I guess it never hurts to talk, but this is not a plan. In any talks, the Iranians and Syrians will simply pocket any concessions we make, and in turn, will concede --- nothing. As for helping stabilize Iraq, that's a pipe dream. Those two countries have up-to-now done everything they can to destabilize the situation and have been largely successful. What would compel them to suddenly make a 180 degree shift?

I think Steve Forbes' ideas about Iraq should receive more attention. He is in favor of maintaining Iraq as one country, but adopting a federalized structure with three semi-autonomous regions, one Shiite, one Sunni and the other Kurd. He calls it the Swiss model. To assuage the Sunni's whose region would have little or no oil, he believes that resource should be nationalized with all Iraqi's receiving an equal share of the income. This model has been tried in Alaska and seems to be workable. The idea is that Iraqi's would be less inclined to see terrorists sabatoge the wells if they each had a personal stake in them.

These ideas seem to be more creative and helpful than anything the commission came up with.


The world is forever changing and people who worry that our treasured ideals and lifestyles may be in peril 100 years from now amuse me since that world will belong to our great great grandchildren, not to us, and I guess they can do with it what they will. Nevertheless, the pull on the other side is that we owe both the preservation and the development of the world's resources to those who come after us.

If this goes for the preservation of a well - spoken and written English culture, I'm afraid all has already been lost. Imagine if a literary spokesperson from some past popular culture, say Jane Austen or F. Scott Fitzgerald, could return for an evening and witness this kind of dialogue:

"Well, when I saw him, I was really like happy and we said hello and like he seemed like happy to see me so I go what have you been like doing and he goes nothing much, like hanging out and then he goes, so like where have you been hanging so I go like here and sometimes like there, and we had really a lot of like cool things to talk about and it was kind of like awesome!"

Makes you kind of want to go and like throw up.


On 12/4, I sold 100 GIFI out of the IRA for 39.30, originally purchased at 19.30 in Nov. 2004. Then on 12/7, I sold 300 HAUP from the taxable account at 6.94, originally purchased at 1.66 in August of 2001. On 12/13, I bought 200 more ADPI, this time for the taxable account at 18.07. Then yesterday, I sold the last 400 shares of CNRD from the IRA at 6.10, originally purchased at 1.55 in April of 2005. Still have CNRD in the taxable account though. If it seems like a lot of selling, that does not reflect a view on the rally ending, only that the rally has driven my cash allocation lower than the target.

Also, brokers, as my full service broker did, are calling clients to point out that they can save taxes by taking some losses now, assuming they have net gains for the year. This is something full service brokers should be doing. I probably should be taking some losses, given the gains I have logged this year, but it's just not part of my system, which avoids giving taxes undue consideration in the decision tree. (One exception is that I prefer to sell out of the IRA whenever it owns shares in the security to be sold). You just never know where tax rates are going so you don't really know in what year the losses will do the most good. We may never have lower capital gains rates than we do now, and if that's the case, I'll save my losses, grin and bear it, and pay my capital gains taxes for 2006.

My own opinion is that gains should be indexed for inflation, so that you pay taxes on the real gains only. If that ever happens, I'll be sorry I didn't take losses sooner. But additional capital gains relief is not yet on the horizon.

Monday, December 11, 2006


San Antonio Musings

In an illustration of the miracle of modern electronics, this blog entry is being made from San Antonio, TX. Actually, the real miracle is that I remembered the blog's URL and Password. The true miracle will be if I can finish this post (and proof read it) before the 22 minutes left on my time card runs out.

San Antonio is a really great town to visit, and I suspect, a pretty nice area to live in as well. The downtown Riverwalk area is as delightful as advertised, featuring terrific restuarants bars, some music and other attractions. The RiverCenter Mall and the Alamo are each a short walk away. Today, I was able to visit the Alamo during a little break between meetings.

Of course getting here from the New York Metro area is no picnic, since there seem to be no direct flights.

The people in this town have to deal with a lot of tourism, and like New Yorkers, they handle it very well, being unobtrusive and certainly non-threatening. A large segment of the population is Mexican American and there seems to be little tension that I can detect resulting from the city's admirable diversity. This city is a Mexican food addict's dream come true, by the way.

All in all, it has been a very nice visit, though I am certainly ready to return home tomorrow.


Watching the Cowboys take a licking last night, and also observing the continuing problems of the Colts and Patriots makes you wonder how anybody ever hopes to figure the NFL out. Right now, a Super Bowl featuring San Diego vs Chicago would seem to be the chalk play, but my opinion on that could easily change after next week's games.


One of the perils when you travel is not knowing what time it is. Landing in Memphis for my connection, I either missed the customary announcement concerning the local time or they didn't make one. After checking my watch and perceiving that I had 15 minutes to make what should have been a routine connection, I raced from Gate B4 to B39, only to find that we were on CST and there was about 40 minutes before the plane to San Antonio would board. So when you land, the rule should be, turn your cell phone on and look at that to get the time since it adjusts for time zones. Doing so can reduce one's coronary risk as it may obviate the need for a mad sprint through the airport terminal. More useful info, courtesy of redwavemusings and bloggers everywhere.


I have stock trades to report but I will catch up on them on the next post, which should be from the home computer. As you can see we are now over 100 visits to the site, (I don't believe that anything close to 13 of them are mine) but still no comments recently.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Another Sunday night's musings

When it's not golf season, I'm stuck watching Meet the Press Sunday morning - and that usually leaves me pretty exasperated and amazed. This morning was no exception as viewers were treated to the reliably zany views of Dem. Sen Levin (Mich), and also the comments of Sen. Warner (VA), in tail - between -his - legs mode as befits Republicans these days. With Sen. Levin moving into Warner's Chair this January (yes, large Democrats have returned to roam the earth), his views will have more currency than in the recent past, and if this morning is any indication, we know what to expect. In answer to Tim Russert's "relentless" questioning concerning what the heck is the Dems plan for Iraq anyway, Levin responded that we should tell the Iraqi government they have 4-6 months to solve their "political problems" and establish security, because that's when we are going to begin redeployment (i.e phased withdrawal). If I was serving there, and my country adopted that strategy after me and my buddies broke our butts there for a year, I'd sure as heck want to be in the first phase.

This "brilliant" strategy was then echoed in the next segment by former President Jimmy Carter, who also lamented our failure to pursue and wipe out the rest of Al Queda, which presumably would have been easy if we hadn't been distracted by Iraq. I don't recall either the Afghans or the Pakistanis requesting several hundred thousand US troops (in alternative to the current deployment) to help them remove Al Queda, but Mr. Carter is not one to be questioned on mundane tactical issues. Of course, Mr. Carter is the same outstanding strategist and Commander -in - Chief who allowed our hostages to be held in Iran for years, attempted a completely inept and catastrophic "rescue mission" in the desert, and suitably punished the Russians for their Afghanistan adventure by ...boycotting the Moscow Olympics. That strategic masterstroke so impressed the Russians, they boycotted the LA Olympics 4 years later!

Since his failed Presidency was ended at one excruciating term by Ronald Reagan's election victory, Mr. Carter has cemented his postion in the left wing pantheon by his work in auditing international elections. This has given his organization the opportunity to bless the elections of Chavez in Venezuela, as well as other quasi-Communist throwbacks, in the face of the most obvious fraud committed by those candidates. Thank goodness Mexco had the good sense to not invite the Carter organization in to assure AMLO's election.

Carter has also written a new book accusing Israel of "apartheid" policies in the occupied territories. In answer to Mr. Russert's questions, he defended his thinly veiled anti-semitic comments in the book by claiming that US politicians and government officials have been "intimidated" concerning making any negative comments about Israel. He blamed the current tensions on US and Israeli reaction to Hamas' election victory, especially the cutting off of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

Mr. Carter's prescription for peace in the Middle East includes resumption of humanitarian aid, Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, and the formation of a Palestinian State. Somehow, missing in this menu was the simple agreement by Palestinians (as well as their Islamic allies in the region) that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state and that there will be no more intifada, no more lobbing of missiles and rockets into Israel, etc. This echoes the Carter view of the world that negotiations are a matter of giving the other side all that it asks for until they understand that we are really good guys and they should just make peace with us. History shows this is a recipe for disaster when dealing with despots and terrorists. They merely pocket what you give them and add to their demands. Even Abbas announced yesterday that he has been unable to come to any agreement with Hamas. So what makes Jimmy think they will negotiate in good faith with us?

But what else should we expect? Carter was certainly the least effective President since Harding, and arguably the worst of the 20th century. He was elected in an anti-Washington reaction to the Nixon scandals, and we should always be wary when the crusaders for ethical whatever take charge. Before this latest episode is over, Dems will wish they had never heard of him or his new book, you can be sure of that.


On an equally frustrating note, the Press is having a field day with the leaks showing that the Bush neocons were not always one happy united family on Iraq after all. Rumsfeld is quickly being transformed from the fall guy to "the guy Bush should have listened to." Make no mistke, Bush 43 has always been the demon that the left and its media friends have been targeting. And to be fair, I must note that the Bush strategy of "staying the course" now has no meaning, since he has not recently and effectively defined what the "course" is. The Bushies better get busy, because the USA in the 21st century lacks the intestinal fortitude of previous generations, however brave and effective our military might be. The country won't have the patience to see it through, if we can't understand the mission in more specific terms. One Bush weakness has always been in the area of communications - a major problem when it now needs to be its strength.


The internet sports blogs are all riled up again tonight about the BCS polls which result in Ohio St. versus Florida for the NCAA football champioship. Besides my usual reaction (I really don't care), I think if any team has a gripe, it's not Michigan - it's Wisconsin. The Badgers also lost only one game this year and most of the games I saw them play were pretty one-sided routs. They were number 7 in the BCS, and get passed over for a major bowl by teams with two losses, including #11 Notre Dame (surprise, surprise, TV ratings carry the day again!), probably getting in on the strength of walking over Navy for the 40th straight year.

Personally, I liked it better when the bowls competed with each other, and bid for the teams participation directly, and we called the National Championship "mythical." That kept things in a little better perspective. The bowls were fun for the teams and their fans, and their relative importance was less a matter of concern. You won a bowl, or played in a bowl, that was its own reward. I guess I'm just a free enterprise kind of guy.


Speaking of free enterprise, on 11/27, I sold another 500 shares of CNRD from the taxable account at 4.70 (400 shares originally purchased at 2.19 on 8/23/04 and 100 at 1.95 on 10/4/04). Then on 11/29, I bought 100 shares of GWR at 25.70 for the taxable account. This is a new position, and the first railroad I have bought since I paid $200 in monopoly money for the Short Line RR (a long time ago).

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