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Monday, December 10, 2007

 

Houston Afterthoughts and CIA Bungling

A Week ago Friday night, patrolling Houston's Main Street toward closing time (a memorable garbage run, in its way), I enjoyed a final set by a trio of enthusiastic young rockers. Refreshingly, they were playing their own stuff, not covers, and the tunes were catchy, under control, but with plenty of pop (i.e. volume + beat). Instinctively, I asked if a CD were available, and the lead guitar handed me one, no charge, though I was quite willing to pay.

I've actually taken the CD out to listen to, mainly to determine whether my enjoyment of the band was a function of their talent or my lack of sobriety. To my relief, it seems to have been the former. The CD, by a group called Southern Backtones and apparently named the same, has several really good cuts and reasonable production values. Though the theme of the recording, and quite a few of the songs have a Halloween feel to them, I can see why the bar was full until closing. I'm not sure where this CD can be obtained other than at some dive bar on Main Street in Houston, but I'm glad I asked for it.

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Though in retrospect it was pretty comical, my trip home from Houston Tuesday was one of those times where every decision you make, even the most inconsequential turns out wrong. Of course it didn't help that a plane that seemed to be on track to come in early was forced to circle the area between Pittsburgh and eastern Long Island for an hour or more. Well, sometimes it turns out that not only is Murphy's Law an absolute but the great Irish philosopher was not nearly pessimistic enough. At such times, the best idea is to go with the flow and save the stories for future awkward pauses in conversations (or blog posts).

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Speaking of future posts, the next one to this blog will be #100, and I am thinking about how to make it somewhat special. Probably I will update all the top ten lists and add a few more for starters. How about my desert island CD collection (don't worry, Southern Backtones will not quite make it)! Any reader suggestions would receive consideration - post a comment or send them to redwave72@yahoo.com.


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The update on Iranian "intelligence" by the CIA is kind of strike 3 (Iraq WMD, the prior Iranian assessment being strikes 1 and 2). After all, as even the President was able to quickly figure out, why would this update, or anything we get from the CIA at this point have any credibility? Why should we be surprised when Joe Wilson are Valerie Plame are indicative of the mentality of the Agency's rank and file? The fact is that the CIA was dismantled after Watergate and again after Iran Contra and neither Congress nor subsequent administrations have done much to restore the Agency to its 60's prowess. I guess the need for really good intelligence was devalued as part of the post Cold War peace dividend.

The result is the Bush-Clinton-Bush administrations have been operating in the blind concerning foreign policy (the State Department is no help) so why is it any wonder that they haven't made good decisions for a generation? As this blog has stated before, if we had the CIA of the 50's and 60's, Bin Laden would have been eliminated within days following 9/11. It's time we restored that CIA, at least in terms of its capability if not its arrogance.

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It's also amusing to see the Bush administration, the Congress, Presidential candidates and the Federal Reserve flailing around for a solution to the mortgage bubble fiasco. Unfortunately, there is little hope any of them will help matters and the real possibility they can make things worse. My experience tells me that once the money has been lost, it's gone, you don't get it back, so write it off and move on. It is sad for people who will be losing their homes, but in most cases they made very poor economic decisions to buy them. In the old days, it would make sense for lenders and home owners to achieve a work out plan to avoid foreclosure but that's harder once everything has been securitized. Hate to say I told you so, but I was never one to worship these capital market transactions. Anyway, the best that can be done for the homeowners would be to have the servicing companies work with them on a work-out plan and then try to trace the mortgage up the line and get security holders to go along. I'm not saying it will be easy, but the problem is not the interest rates, which are still low, it's the home values that are not even yet in full scale retreat.

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Still, out of debacles like this comes opportunity for those with no debt, no silly capital markets securities in their portfolios and lots of dry powder. Obviously, my system seems to think I am one of those lucky characters - we'll see. On 11/28, I courageously (recklessly?) bought another 200 shares of Centex (CTX) at 18.60. Returning home, and finally getting a few minutes to review things, last Friday I bought 100 shares of Boyd Gaming (BYD)at 38.27 and 200 shares of my old favorite Books -A-Million (BAMM). Today, I was back for another 100 shares of Stiefel Financial (SF) at 49.61. All were value buys except Boyd, literally a roll of the dice.

Comments:
nice post. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did you guys know that some chinese hacker had hacked twitter yesterday again.
 
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