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Friday, March 30, 2007


More March Madness

This is the time of year when a lot of sports converge. Baseball is about to begin, and there is hardly a thought in the world more exciting than that. The NCAA's are heading into final four weekend, with great games on tap in both the men's and women's tourneys. The scramble to make hockey and basketball playoffs is on. Of course, that's a bit depressing since my Islanders can't possibly get in unless DePietro can play, and it looks like he can't. And the Knicks stink. Period. But all-in-all it's a great time to be a fan. And we might be teeing it up tomorrow! How good can it get?


Meanwhile, the same pundits who didn't blink when Janet Reno fired all 93 US attorneys at the behest of the Clintons and Webster Hubble (no relation to the telescope) are besides themselves in a constitutional lather because Gonzales and the Bushies discharged 8 REPUBLICAN US attorneys for conduct unbecoming conservatives, I guess. Barack Obama, in a glorious misreading of our nation's founding blueprint, thinks the administration has shown contempt for the constitution. The question I have is how many stupid things do you have to say before people realize that you're just a media creation?


One has to feel for the Edwards, regardless of the candidate's position somewhere far left (and south) of the political center. Mrs. Edwards is not just another pretty face, since she is the apparent brains of the campaign. In my mind, her illness only makes it more urgent that the campaign continue and she pursue her role in it. You only go around once, you're a long time dead, and when your time is apparently short, that is no time to get cheated. The idea that people think the Edwards should give up and go into a convalescent shell is repugnant to this blog.


Why Democrats think that the Republicans involved in the attorneys' firings would be stupid enough to testify under oath is amazing. I think they actually understand that this is an offer the GOP can't accept, and they are cynically using this situation for maximum embarrassment purposes. If the Bushies learned anything from the Scooter Libby incident, it was to listen to their lawyers when they tell them to avoid testifying and failing that, take the Fifth, otherwise risk turning a non-crime into a perjury trial.

Which, by the way recalls the whole Clinton impeachment episode, which, as a conservative, I found somewhat embarrassing. Now I hated Clinton, but the constant impeachment undercurrent for the eight years of that administration was as moronic as the impeachment undercurrent that has lurked around the Bushies since their inauguration. Of course, the Dems succeeded in fending it off with the claim that it was all about sex. But it wasn't all about sex - it was all about perjury. But really, that perjury was about as offensive as Libby's; who really cared? I think it happened because when news of the Monica came out, Republicans were amazed that Clinton simply didn't resign, but they forgot he was beneath embarrassment. The one thing I did wonder about is this - Any CEO in the private sphere would have been canned for harassing an intern. But Clinton, the nation's CEO smirked his way through the whole thing. What an episode! By comparison the Profumo scandal was dignified (search - Christine Keeler). At least he knew when he was having sex!


The global warming debate continues, amid an astounding preponderance of ignorance on the subject. Only a weatherman could appreciate all these windbags on the subject, including our former Vice President. We still don't know very much about why cooling trends alternate with warming trends (200 B.C. to 500 AD; 900-1300; 1850 to present). We also don't know whether a warm climate is really worse than a cold one for life on earth (in fact, it may be considerably more favorable). What we do know is that actually reducing carbon dioxide emissions will be very bad economic news, no matter how you slice it. We SHOULD be working on cleaner, more efficient energy sources such as nuclear power.

The other thing we know is that when it comes to bold and unusual predictions, the ones with a chance to come true have usually been the optimistic ones, not the pessimistic gl0om and doomers. 35-40 years ago , Paul Ehrlich (The Population Bomb) sold a lot of books predicting we would all have been starving by now. His was typical of the Malthusian prediction gone badly awry. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan optimistically predicted the end of the cold war, anti missile defenses, and nuclear disarmament when everyone thought he was nuts. Even that last prediction may well come true before the end of this century.


On 3/19, I bought 100 shares of SHLM at 20.89 for the taxable account. On 3/23 , I bought 50 shares of SF @ 44.93 for the IRA. On 3/26, I bought 100 shares of NEM at 43.78 for the taxable account. On 3/28, I sold 100 LDG at 51.35 from the taxable account (originally purchased at 23.32 0n 12/31/01).

Why is there a gold stock on my buy list? Most people think the Fed has been tightening credit by raising the Fed Funds rate the last two years from 1% to 5.25 %. Actually, the Fed has allowed quite a bit of liquidity through its open market operations by selling treasuries. So the Fed has monetized the deficit, enabled the sub-prime mortgage bubble, and cranked in a lot of inflation which has been reflected in housing and in commodity prices, and will be reflected in other areas of the economy over the next couple of years. Not really the best record. That's why we have an inverted yield curve. So gold should be a pretty good hedge against the Fed's inflationary operations.


Sunday, March 18, 2007


Ides of March Plus Three

A few alert readers might have been looking for an Ides post, but it was delayed until today by a combination of circumstances, mainly some diverting NCAA games and the usual St. Pat's festivities (glug, glug, glug). The Ides marked Caesar's exit from this world and my own entrance, but with all due respect to the very late Emperor, if it wasn't for Willie Shakespeare, no one would have any idea about the Ides except for a few Classics Professors and their unfortunate pupils. I remember Haverford's resident Classics expert from my era, Professor Gilles, who after learning that I had endured four years of Latin in high school, embarked on a futile 3 and a half year campaign to enroll me in one of his courses. He was one of several faculty members who I had pretty enduring friendships with though I never took a course from them. Seems like the one sure way to curtail a prof's interest in me was to actually enter his/her classroom. Anyway, if there are a half dozen from my era still on the active duty roster, that's about it, which is more or less what you'd expect heading into class reunion #35. You can go home again, but it ain't quite the same.

Regarding the NCAA's, the secret to a winning bracket pool entry in recent years has been to play the conferences. You could count on the Big 10 and the PAC 10 to underachieve, the Southeast and the Big East to overachieve, and the ACC to be, well the ACC. Still not a bad guide, but the essence of the first week of March Madness so far has been the extremely formful results, a credit to the seeding committee and their ever more analytical strength-of -schedule assessment tool (the RPI). The few upsets that have occurred have been mostly the mild type - 9 beating 8 or 5 beating 4. If they get much better at placing these teams, we'll soon be able to dispense with the actual tournament, allowing the players some rare hours in the classroom (yeah, right).


Occasionally justice is served so rwm is pleased to note that California charges have been dropped against ailing Patricia Dunn in the HP pretexting scandal (federal charges still pend in this particular non-crime), and of course, in the unwinding of the Duke lacrosse scandal, attention has finally turned against the runaway DA who used the non-case to burnish his "reputation." Now, we can confidently turn to the ultimately successful appeal by Scooter Libby, as noted here previously. When that happens, we can pronounce Ms. Plame's fifteen minutes of fame over. In the meantime, there was the circus act she performed before a Congressional Committee last week, during which she claimed that by "outing" her, the Administration put lives at risk. I assume she was not at liberty to identify those lives. Unlike her, the people she had in mind might have actually been under cover. In contrast, Ms. Plame is a publicity hound, hardly the behavior of someone interested in cover.


Just a step above her are our esteemed Senators Levin and Graham, who, somehow finding a microphone not in reach of Senator Schumer, announced an investigation into Guantanamo inmate and 9/11 mastermind KSM's allegations of torture by the US military in obtaining his confession. This should really play well in Peoria. Can you imagine questioning anything that involves the capture and punishment of the beast behind 9/11? Frankly, most people with any recollection of that event (including about 15 million people in the NY and D.C. metro areas) wouldn't care how that confession was obtained, and probably look forward to a very short and horrible existence for KSM. What are these guys thinking about? It is indicative of the disconnect on this issue between the folks who look at 9/11 and other terrorist atrocities as criminal acts to be tried in court, and those who view them as acts of war, to be settled quickly and militarily.


We continue, in the midst of this market correction, to have companies announce bigger and bolder buybacks of their own stock as a way of rewarding their suffering shareholders. As a shareholder in something like 60 companies, including my own, I say no thanks, please don't do me any favors. I don't think buybacks are an appropriate way to reward anyone other than the entity selling the shares, and especially the stock analysts who have recommended the stock by making them look better temporarily. If you want to return some money to the shareholders, announce a special irregular dividend. At least that gets money to the people who are actually continuing owners. Buybacks increase the company's debt-to-equity ratio, reduce its market cap, indicate that the company is out of creative growth ideas for investment, and create a temporary overpricing of the stock by inserting artificial temporary demand. So when you see your company announce a buyback, you have the choice of taking advantage of it (by selling) or just gnashing your teeth in the face of management's lack of backbone in dealing with the analysts, the only community that really clamors for buybacks.


On 3/14 I bought 100 shares of GWR for the taxable account at 25.00.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Odds and Ends

Having spent the weekend in the City attending an association meeting, I can safely report that Gotham is not only the Jazz Capital of the world, but also has replaced New Orleans as the drinking capital. The hotel bars may close early at 2 AM, but the bulk of the watering holes go full bore until 4. Sadly, I must confess to being an eyewitness. As for the music, we enjoyed a spectacular trio at Birdland (Michele LeGrand a youthful 75, Lou Nash on drums and the great Ron Carter on bass, perhaps the best in the world). It was a truly memorable set. The next night, in the fabulous Kitano Hotel bar, we heard a very fine quartet led by veteran pianist Don Friedman. Finally, one of the law firms was nice enough to invite hundreds of the attendees to the beautiful Rainbow Room, complete with a 20+ piece swing big band.

It doesn't get any better than that, believe me.


I guess faithful blog readers are waiting for me to weigh in on Scooter Libby and whether or not he should receive a Presidential Pardon. I don't have very strong feelings about that, since I expect the verdict to be overturned on appeal anyway. The grounds for appeal will be that the judge incorrectly disqualified expert testimony on how the human memory functions, which would not only cast reasonable doubt about the alleged perjury, but also about what other witnesses said was the truth in the first place. So Scooter is unlikely to serve any jail time anyway, and since acceptance of a pardon implies guilt, he would probably prefer to wait for his appeal to be completed first anyway.

This is not to say that I am convinced Libby is innocent of perjury. He may well have lied to protect Cheney and Rove. However, he clearly was innocent of being the leaker/outer of Valerie Plame, which was supposed to be the subject of the special prosecutor's investigation in the first place. Of course, that whole wild goose chase was unnecessary since Richard Armitage, the under-secretary of state, had already admitted to being the outer. Not that there was anything much to out - Ms. Plame was hardly under cover nor on any kind of assignment requiring secrecy. In fact, she has shown herself to be a quite adept publicity hound.

In fact the whole investigation was a colossal waste of taxpayer money and proof again (as if we needed it) of the utter stupidity of the independent counsel law. Long after Fitzgerald should have closed up shop, he was putting a secondary figure through a perjury trial, knowing he was not the real perpetrator, and in fact, ignored the person known to be the perpetrator of what was, in fact, a non-crime. Only in America.


The other laugh of the week has been the shock of the Senate Democrats and the liberal media concerning the firing of the 8 U.S. attorneys, which, of course is the administration's choice, though why it would exercise that prerogative at this point in its tenure is yet another testament to the mindlessness of recent White House decisions. Apparently, the Democrats have forgotten that one of the first things the Clinton's did on attaining the White House was to fire all of the sitting attorneys. Of course, the Conservative Press, especially my buddies at the WSJ, spent 8 years in agitated apoplexy over those firings. All in all, there is enough self righteous and hypocritical nonsense coming from both sides here.

Another tank job by the market today, as it moves toward a test of the low set the week before last. I hate when it happens on Tuesday. Big Monday moves are often reversed the rest of the week, but Tuesday tends to be a day that defines the trend for the week. This market is really spooked because the excesses of the mortgage loan players is being reversed and the landing is not a soft one. A lot of these players are going down, I'm afraid, and its also going to pin big red numbers on their banker friends, like UBS, and the hedge funds that think they're so smart. These were the characters buying these horrible loans from the originators and relying on repo clauses that will not now be performed. Besides the ridiculous elimination of any loan standards by some of these mortgage brokers, there also appears to have been a fair amount of fraud involved in obtaining and repackaging these mortgages.

It was also a bad sign when the reflex rally last week was so unenthusiastic. We're in a down trend for sure, but it may still be only a correction not the beginning of a bear market. And of course, I'm not making predictions, just letting the market tell me what to do, and hoping to keep enough cash around to pay the bills and keep the lights on. Good thing it's DST.


I don't watch enough college b-ball games to really dope out the tournament, but I know that Florida has as good a chance to repeat as any team should expect in this 65 team format. It's tough for teams like Syracuse, that play a murderous Big East schedule, to have as good a record as they had and not even get in, but any team that close to the bubble is probably not a threat to go anywhere anyway. You also have to wonder about a team like Alabama that starts the season in the top 10 and earns a ticket to the NIT.

On 3/7, I bought 50 shares of SF, a new name, for my IRA at 42.35. Today, I bought 100 shares of ADPI at 20.31 for the taxable account.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Escape to Television

I probably watch less than a dozen television shows regularly, and most of those are exclusively in reruns, I think. But when the market is as awful as this one (truly a Cramer House of Pain), one needs an escape, and TV is always there. I just finished watching tonight's "24" episode, so my nerves haven't quite returned to normal just yet. I am a relatively new convert to the show, so I am still fascinated by Jack Bauer and his interrogation techniques, such as tonight's pinky amputation (as of the end of the show, there were already 398 comments on tonight's Dave Barry blog entry, wherein his readers provide running commentary on the episode). I think "24" combines the frenetic pace of Fawlty Towers or the Marx Brothers with the basic plot line of Philo Kvetch ("he'll never get out of this one!"). Now that's my kind of show.

Another show that's caught my eye is Cold Case. Admittedly, the dialogue and "police work" performed by the cast regulars fall quite a bit short of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective hero. Kind of makes you wonder how these cases weren't solved when they were "hot." But like the classic old time TV dramas. the best scenes and the best work belong to the guest actors, and the little dramatic trick of pivoting from the younger character to his current visage seems to work. And Kathryn Morris is pretty sexy for a cop.

Finally, there's The Apprentice. When the show was fairly hot, what people talked about was the conflict in the Boardroom scenes, despite the overbearing and somnolent presence of The Donald. Unfortunately, the show's editors believed their own press clippings and have steadily reduced the portion of the episode given to the Task. So the viewer hardly understands what the contestants are going to do and how, which makes all the usual bumbling by both teams barely comprehensible. By the time they get to the Boardroom, and one team has lost by some infinitessimal amount, Trump's berating of the losing team so he can fire someone seems all the more stupid. No wonder half of the players have figured out that the real object of the game is to gang up on the strong players and get them fired. That, and keep your mouth shut; stay under Trump's radar.

Of course, some contestants seem to be on a suicide mission. Witness Derek, who jokingly referred to himself as "white trash" last night (while sitting across the table from last year's black apprentice winner, who was The Donald's eyes and ears for this episode). Whereupon Trump, in a rare demonstration of senstivity, fired him on the spot, as would have been the case in any public corporation I know of.

This year, the winning project manager gets to retain the title for the next show. Since the PM is the player most likely to be fired from the losing team, it hardly sounds like a reward to retain your position on the banana peel. If they are going to keep doing this show, I suggest some rule/format changes before, like Trump, it becomes a caricature of itself.


Last week, a piece ran in the WSJ called "The Ball's in your Cubicle" about office workers who sit on, well, exercise balls or "ball chairs." These balls, roughly 18-30 inches in circumference, are supposed to "help posture and concentration." Maybe yes, maybe no. "It can also be a safety hazard, says Andrew Concors, a physical therapist and certified industrial ergonomist at San Diego-based CPT Consulting. He has had a couple of patients in the past who have ruptured their balls at home while sitting on them and doing exercises." Pardon me for sinking below the usual redwavemusings standard , but I had to re-read that sentence a few times, and I'm still not sure what ruptured. The article goes on at length in quite a humorous vein (intentional?). It's not every night on the train that one laughs out loud while reading the Journal.


On 2/28, I had the good sense to sell 100 shares of BG from the taxable account at 78.96 (50 purchased on 7/25/05 at 65.82 and 50 purchased on 10/27/05 at 50). Today, I braved the shark infested waters, buying 200 TKS at 19.40 for the taxable account. This is sure one ugly market, and this is where a system can provide the discipline to overrule emotion. On the other hand, a system leading to bad decisions can cost you a lot of money. The wisdom to know the difference is rare indeed.

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