< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050825"> Amendment Nine: December 2004

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Election Observers & Normal Sounding Arabic

Strange to spend the holidays away from home, especially in a place like the West Bank. I've been out here most of December, on a gig training election observers in advance of the Palestinian presidential elections to succeed Arafat on January 9. (see the project here.)

Aside from the depressing experience of waking up on Christmas morning in an empty hotel room, the most interesting thing i've noticed is the sound of Arabic when it is spoken in the mundane rhythms of normalcy.

When we see or hear Arabic in the western media, it is almost always sinister. It sounds scary. It scrolls across the bottom of the Al Jazeera feed like a snake across the desert floor coming at us, or courses from the mouth of Bin Laden like venom.

When I hear Arabic here, through my interpreters, or on the street, or in polling places during the local elections I observed on December 23, it sounds...well...nice. It's a pleasant sounding language.

Remember how Russian used to sound during the Cold War? Can't get more sinister than that. When I finally lived in the former soviet republics, and heard Russian everyday, it finally took on the poetic drama native speakers know of it. Instead of hearing Kruschev & Stalin, I heard Pushkin and Dostoevsky.

Today, though, to so many American ears, when someone says in Arabic, "Good morning," or "did you get a good night's sleep last night," or "I ate some bad homous last night so I'm not feeling so good," it sounds like the voice of evil itself.

Try to imagine that in all those tapes and videos, Bin Laden is really saying something like, "Would you please pass the tabouleh? Thanks."

Doesn't really work, does it.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Sound the Call

"The only sin greater than waging war,
is waging it ineffectively.
" Or so my Grandfather, a veteran of two world wars, used to say. Pragmatism. For his generation, the one in between the Gilded and the Greatest, for them pragmatism was all the rage. This in between generation, the ones fighting in WWI and leading in WWII, they weren't idealistic, anything but.

The lessons they learned at the knees of their grandparents, if they had them, were strong and stern. And they would yet learn them again, first-hand. Waging war is horrible, and it comes to no good. The only thing more horrible, is waging war for a long time, with poor equipment, for no reason. If you're forced to go. Go and win. If you can't win, leave. This is the wisdom of those that carried the flag in the Great War and the Last. It is the wisdom, transformed, of those who fought our Civil War. It is wisdom bought and paid for with the blood of brothers and patriots alike.

These simple lessons, hard and bitter to learn, but infused into the fabric of our country by experience, are now more important than ever to recall.

Because we have pride, and because pride remembers, we remember the past in terms of slights, wrongs, and feelings of ill-will. Those days where our pride was offended, they stand out forever. They leave a scar that itches and burns, smoldering, waiting for any reason, any mere breeze, to ignite. No matter if he's holding his first born, for the first time, a man whose pride has been challenged still has a fire burning deep within his soul.

But that fire, that feeling of rashness, that burning for retribution, does not and cannot ever change the simple lessons our forebears taught. War is universally a horror. Don't fight. If you're forced, then fight and win. If you can't win, leave.

Now my grandfather's grandchildern themselves have wandered upon a crossroads in this nation's history. We face a decision, a test. A test our countrymen take for us. Will we force them to yet again learn those hard and bitter lessons? Will we ask them to wage a war they are ill-equipped to win? Will we ask their families to suffer for our pride? Will we allow the inherited wisdom our forefathers left us to be traded away? Will we?

Or shall we have the courage to use reason, God's greatest gift? Shall we use reason to recall why our ancestors said what they said? Shall we remind our brothers to choose, instead of pride, the acumen of our shared experience? Shall we?

War is horrible. If you're forced, go and win. If you can't win, leave.

The time for us to call our troops back home is now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Just in: Fingerpointing, Cross-pointing, Halts

At least for the holiday. The NewDonkey talks about Christ, what else?
The Incarnation is as radical, unsettling, and difficult an idea as ever, and Christians would do well to spend the season meditating on it, and respecting the Divine Image in everyone they meet. That approach is incompatible with a triumphalist demand that everyone they meet bend the knee to the questionable trappings of their holiday tradition, and even more incompatiable with the claim that Christians in a free country are being persecuted if they must suffer under the handicap of equality.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Nothing Beats NYC at Christmas Time

Not even London. It is true. First, I'd like to congratulate Federalist X for his recent post "Beware the New Aristoi". My colleague, a portfolio manager at a Greenwich based hedge fund, needed all of about 23 seconds before he guessed the identity of Federalist X's mystery train companion. I've emailed Federalist X his guess, and if he's wrong (which I believe is next to impossible) I'll do some sort of humiliating act online here at Amendment Nine (like perhaps revealing my identity... well, maybe not that humiliating!).

Next, I'd just like to point out something to all you "liberals" (whatever that word currently means is beyond me, but you generally know who it is I'm talking about). And that is that the social security "reform" plan by the Bushies is actually quite well planned out, quite advanced, and quite likely to succeed for a variety of reasons. The poll you all squawk about today is more of a setup than anything else. You will see those numbers change before your very eyes. Everyone inside the Administration, and more importantly, everyone really pushing for social security reform, knew the facts on the ground with various polls and public opinion details long before they made the committment to get it done.

But committed they are. Democrats saying: "well that looks good for us" are Democrats who I believe are distinctly out of the loop on this (there are a lot of them, here, and even here for example). It isn't good for you because, if for no other reason, you are in the minority and will be powerless to stop this. What you should be doing instead of rationalizing is figuring out a way to make this as painful for Republicans as possible. They are going to do it. That much is decided. So that means you must make it hurt. Make the Republicans pay, force them to cash in some of that "political capital" the Prez is always glowing over.

Oh, and this misguided call for retribution is precisely where they want you to go. Republicans would love nothing more than for Democrats to punish Democrats for this, thereby letting them off the hook scott-free. Shoot at the enemy, make them fight and loose a little blood, and you may have worn them down enough to make the next big idea untenable (which by the way is tort reform on a massive scale).

Sierra Club Members

Lucas Doolin has something to say about the upcoming BOD election. Go here.

Calling all Tarheels

KYDem has some interesting news on your future leader.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Train Dispatch #3 - Beware the New Aristoi

I was on the train much longer than usual due to the inclement weather today. Luckily I found a seat, and it was next to one of my usual train interlocutors. Politics and economics are our usual topics of discussion, today was no different, and it was an especially good discussion given the extra length of the train ride.

This particular train buddy was a born millionaire, though he gave up living the trust fund route. So after college, rather than enter Harvard Business School (his birthright, just like W's) he entered today's bourgeois, or I should clarify, today's Northeastern, American, Fairfield County CT bourgeois. On the one hand, he's seen old money, and on the other hand he's seen new. Today we were discussing social classes in America and he gave a discourse, seriously, it was like listening to Socrates for a little while.

"Listen up," he said, "a lot of people just don't get this, but there are really just three classes in America. Investors, Speculators, and the Poor." He described the Poor as people with no money to play with, everyone from the homeless to the working families living paycheck by paycheck. Those in this group are overwhelmingly the largest in number of the three.

"The speculators," he said, "they got some money to burn." In his view, the speculator class is made up by everyone from the near retirement Union worker, the personal tax adviser with a million book value, and even the corporate law partner bringing in seven figures a year. This is also a rather large class. And they are the "largest class of Americans who vote, for sure." What separates this group from the other two is they have some spare cash, and are "always looking for a way to get rich." However, don't assume the class is just about everyone because: "a 401K alone doesn't get you here, you need that plus something more, something you feel like gambling with."

"Then there are the investors," he smiled. Most investors aren't even people, they are giant corporations, insurance companies, multi-national banks, or extremely wealthy families. Investors have so much to play with, they need to hire people to not play with it. This class has few numbers of actual votes, but what they lack there, they more than make up for in campaign finance. They aren't looking to get rich quick, or even get rich quicker, they are simply looking to preserve their fortunes throughout all time. "Investors, above all else, seek immortality."

His analysis of both Bush elections was that it was a grasp of power by the investor class. "Look you gotta realize" he said "these investor types see this as a zero sum game. The more millionaires there are, the less wealth they have." Another line of his I found telling: "investors see rising economic tides as competition. They don't believe in value creation, they think thats a new name for theft."

His view is that Clinton's wonder-economy royally pissed off the investor class because "pothead college students with a powerpoint presentation and a laptop could get enough angel money to last two years." Not only that, he relayed second-hand convesations where Clinton and his ilk would actually claim their goal was to create "a new aristocracy." Well, for the old aristocracy, that meant war. Martha Stewart is a prime example of what the old aristoi mean when they say beware of the new aristoi. Remember, he urged, "investors see the world as a binary proposition. If someone has more, they necessarily have less."

At one point, while discussing the Charles River Bridge Case, he correctly anticipated that the original bridge-building company would claim that the right to build meant that no others could build, that is, that the state had granted them a monopoly. "Monopoly is not the goal of investors, it is their means" he said.

Near the end of our ride, I asked him if he thought this sounded an awful lot like a conspiracy theory. "Look, I know what you're saying. But a conspiracy this isn't." However, he did mention that since investors generally all want the same thing, and since they really don't want more, they just don't want others to gain, many of their interests translate into near-term goals which are surprisingly similar. He also mentioned, "in comparison to other classes, there really aren't that many investors" therefore he figured some sort of coordination was not out of the realm of plausibility, but again, "a conspiracy this isn't. A homogeniety of interests, this is."

Pro-Choice Unfogged

Demystifying the hysterical argumentation from the hard hitting Hecate (generally a point of view I admire, but here I do respectfully disagree with her), Fontana Labs has a nice post on the question begging going on out there in Blogland. I hope it really isn't his last post on so important a topic.

Shockingly Awful Incompetence

When I first heard about the "shock and awe" strategy, I knew we were in trouble. The strategy seemed to be: "if we blow shit up rale hi', they all just runnd away." Thats a bad sign, regardless of whether Gomer is the one saying it, or Richard Perle. Of course, on reflection it seems that was a hail mary. The truth is, as Mark Shields points out in Saturday's Post, the facts on the ground in Iraq are simply absurd.
In the three years immediately after Pearl Harbor, the United States, a nation of 132 million people with a gross domestic product of less than $100 billion, produced the following to win World War II:

296,429 aircraft
102,351 tanks
87,620 warships
372,431 artillery pieces
2,455,694 trucks

Compare those heroic achievements with the current dismal supply record as the U.S. war in Iraq is fast approaching its third year and the United States, now a nation of nearly 300 million with defense spending in excess of half a trillion dollars:

Only 5,910 of the 19,584 Humvees that U.S. troops in Iraq depend on are protected with factory-installed armor.

More than 8,000 of the 9,128 medium and heavyweight trucks transporting soldiers and supplies in that war zone are without armor.

Because of the incompetence or indifference of this nation's civilian leadership of the war, Americans in Iraq are living with an increased risk of death. ...

Wow! You know, I saw Mark Shields once on 11th street in DC, it was 1999. I'm almost 100% positive as he was chugging across the street (which was pretty empty at the time) I saw him pull a snort from a silver flask. I can't say I'm 100% positive, but I do know it was him, and it sure looked like a flask. Needless to say, that single instance is the only reason why I still have respect for the guy. Now I can add this column as another reason. Good job Mark. The Moose has more as well.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

More Blindness

Atrios is quickly becoming our new Thales. Continuing to preach against Amy Sullivan, who counsels inclusion rather than unrepentant exclusion, our young philosopher writes:
Yes, we should be apologizing for things we aren't ashamed of. Someone pour me a drink.
I can see the well, can you?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Top 10 Responses to Social Security Reform

Ah, mid-winter... The big inaugural prelude. The goal now is to make it look like Bush's second term was a mandate for social security reform. When someone asks you what you think about the president's plan, here are few ways to re-center the debate:

(10) Yep, I guess Bush has to get it up above 11,000 somehow.

(9) Why, no, I didn't... did they lower the terror alert too?

(8) I guess it don't matter who steals our retirement cause if the dollar keeps sliding, its gonna be worthless anyhow.

(7) Let me ask you something, you think Sgt. Irizarry, you know, that father of four from the Bronx who died a couple of weeks ago... you think he went over there to fight in the desert so George W. Bush could make Wall Street rich off your grandma's retirement money?

(6) No, I didn't hear that, I was too busy figuring out how to afford medical insurance.

(5) If you believe there is a social security crisis, then I got a bridge in Baghdad to sell you.

(4) Yeah, I heard about that. I bet my broker is licking his chops.

(3) Jesus Christ.... Hasn't Ken Lay stolen enough?

(2) I did. I still haven't heard: "Bin Laden Captured" though. Have you?

(1) Well how else they gonna pay for Christmas son?

The China Problem

Someone asked the other day to define the China problem more clearly for them. I confess, I am unable to define the problem caused by China in the global economy today. It is too big. Too interconnected. Too complex. I can, however, offer a glimpse into just how much of a vacuum China has become, and just how interdependent the US and China are. Hopefully, from this, one will be able to see a little more clearly why China is such an issue for the US, and the rest of the developed world for that matter.

American Commercial lines is a barge operator based in IN. Not exactly your most glamorous business, and not exactly a business you would expect to be adversely affected by troubles in Beijing. Of course, if you owned a junior preferred PIK note in this now bankrupt company, you wouldn't say that. In fact, you'd say that Beijing is the single most important driver of the reorganized company's future.

The POR for American Commercial pegs total EV at $450M. Creditors holding the Jr preferred PIKs are arguing up that valuation to the tune of $650M. Of course, Jr creditors arguing up the value of a company in 11 is nothing new, though arguing it up 40% is a little bit unusual. As an aside, I would predict, and have predicted, that as the dollar continues to slide, valuation fights in C. 11 proceedings will get uglier and uglier.

What is unique though about the valuation fight here is that it almost exclusively depends on the demand caused by further growth in China. If China continues to expand at its current rate, the 10% increase in commodity hauling is well low of the '08 mark. In fact, the POR's prediction of 436.9M tons hauled in '08 would likely be eclipsed in '06, or possibly sooner, should China continue to surge. However, if China doesn't grow at quite the red-hot pace we've seen, the PIKs are essentially worthless and they would be lucky to get mere warrants in the reorganized business. There isn't much room for compromise here, and it all depends on a rather disinterested, highly removed, completely uncontrollable 3rd party, the Chinese economy.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Stop! That Was the Wrong Left.

I hate being this person, the one who points out where the left is turning around and heading the other way. Or the one who says: "you're falling off a cliff." But alas, I feel obliged. The left is heading off a cliff.

Mr. Atrios, aka Duncan Black, posted a bit on abortion a day or two ago. You can read the whole thing here. What I'll focus on is the conclusion.

[T]his isn't about voters it's about a tiny number of people who due to their career choices are forced to interact with rather strident pro-choice people (such as myself) who really aren't very tolerant of those who aren't.

Stop projecting.

It seems like pro-life Democrats who honestly recognize that the platform of the party is unlikely to change just want people like me to admit that abortion is "icky" to make them feel better. Well, I'm not going to do that.
I've noticed a lot of people pretending to be pro-choice are really just evangelical atheists, but Mr. Black is not such a person, he is "strident" in his support of the pro-choice position. But Mr. Black is a unique "pro-choice" supporter because he's also equally intolerant of opposing views. He admits this freely, of course.

We might also expect an ardent pro-choice supporter like Mr. Black to agree with the following: "choice is the essence of life." A soul assenting to this proposition is one who believes in, above all things, tolerance. But Mr. Black is no such soul.

For him, tolerance, when it comes to choice, is not a virtue. I'll let Mr. Black work out that problem with his own therapist, in private. Tolerance, you see, holds privacy most dear.

Finally, Mr. Black's frustration reaches the point of ridicule. Pro-life Democrats, in his mind, are simply fools looking for the self-gratification of an empty confession: that abortion is "icky."That is a sad, pathetic, and altogether uncaring way to talk about this issue. Far removed from Mr. Black's comfortable world are the real pains of real women seeking abortions or simply advice.

Scared, alone, and chastised by their friends, their priests, their community, these women are not imagining conflict, they truly are conflicted, in a way Mr. Black seems completely unaware of, or at least, he deems inconsequential. These women really are scared of what they view as eternal consequences. And all the ridicule in the world will not change that.

Two months ago I counseled a young woman originally from Guatemala. She was a mother of four, and her husband had recently been arrested (he was born in America, but she was an illegal). Because of his arrest and parole, it was hard for him to find steady, good work. She was forced to put most of the food on the table, all the while sending a few dollars home each month to her parents. All six in her family up here were barely keeping their heads above water. Many nights, they went to bed hungry.

She became pregnant again, despite regular use of contraception, and as a devout Catholic, her spirit was torn. With no way to put food on the table as a pregnant, unskilled worker in America, she could not figure out a way to have the baby and keep it without her family going hungry, and losing the roof above their heads. Abortion too was an expensive proposition, plus their were other consequences in her view. Last but not least, adoption was no good becuase it would still preclude her from work for at least a couple of months, ensuring her dismissal from her present cleaning job.

What does she do? She doesn't think abortion is "icky" in Mr. Black's words, she actually thinks abortion is a mortal sin. A sin also is letting her family go hungry or naked. Equally a sin in her view is not helping with expenses back home. She is a real person, not an imagined interlocutor. And her needs are as poignant as any. So Democrats, can we offer this woman our respect or only Mr. Black's strident, intolerant, pro-choice politics?

Oh, and Mr. Black, in case you discount this woman completely. She volunteered, even though she can't vote, for John Kerry's campaign in the town where she lives. Hopefully that will catch your attention. Seems you might want to call her a pro-life Democrat I guess... ickiness aside.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Failure to Believe

The Roach was on Lou Dobbs tonight. The interview was pretty much, well, a Lou Dobbs interview. Essentially a chance for Lou to talk about how good a guy he is and how we should respect him. Sorry Lou, but I don't. Steve on the other hand, sizzled from the get-go (and I think, actually worried ol' Lou for a spell). Lou was joking at the outset about the President's remark on the trade deficit, where W mentioned, we ought to just buy more American made goods in order to balance things out. "What do you think about that Mr. Roach?" said the grinning Dobbs.

Roach shot back: "Well it shows he doesn't have a clue about trade deficits." Nice! The rest of the interview was pretty much a waste of time. Roach wanted to focus on a failure of Americans to continue leading the way in business innovation. Dobbs wanted to focus on outsourcing. Apparently Lou doesn't quite see how the one leads to the other, but I was struck by Roach's focus.

Roach doesn't seem to think the problem is about cheap labor, for him it looks like the problem is a failure to believe in the creativity of American business. I wasn't really around in Bush I's term (protected by ivory tower and an utter ambivalence towards all things financial), but I have heard the tales. America was second, sometimes third, in the race of post-Soviet economic powers. Usually we'd be behind Japan, and sometimes Germany as well. In the mid and late 90s though, our swagger returned and we began to think big again. Yeah, a lot of that turned into a bubble, and yeah a lot of that was fake, but a lot of it wasn't and a lot of money, value, and productive enhancement resulted simply because people started believing in American business again. Roach seems to think history is repeating itself... first time a tragedy, well, you know the rest.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Place your bets

We're making the call here at Amend. IX... last week 119.3M barrels. This week: 120M barrels.

What the H?

is W doing in that picture? And by the way, what the H are these guys doing gettin' medals?

Hey Mr. President... how many Purple Hearts you pinned today?

Rich kids.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

This makes me laugh

The fucking Business Roundtable is against Bush's tax reform push. The Business Roundtable! Good lord, then who is for it? I've heard now, more than once, that a lot of big business people were for Bush not because they agreed with any single policy, but because they knew they could control him. Or at least, felt better about their chances of control over him, than say John Kerry. But the article in FT is just hilarious. Careful what you wish for Business Roundtable.

Quote of the Day

From today's Meet the Press... Joe Biden was quoted, describing a trip to Iraq, where a General (unnamed of course) came up and said:
Senator, anyone tells you we have enough troops, you tell them they're a G[od] D[amned] liar!
Gotta love it. Give 'em hell Joe!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Trumpeting Success

One thing that seems fair to say is that if you make a history of fighting with the Democrats, they have a history of paying you back. Unions? They got the right to organize. Women? The right to vote. African-Americans and people of color? Affirmative action. The working poor? A higher minimum wage. Elderly? Social security. Middle class? The Clinton Economy. Its not a bad track record. I think Democrats should spend more time speaking about this. It seems to me a fair line... Republicans talk the talk, but Democrats walk the walk. Just look at who is fighting for the GOP and what they've received in return, its pretty astonishing in my view. Then rack that up with the Democratic legacy, equally astonishing.

Not Anywhere Near As Big

as the post below. But, I do wonder why Drudge is pushing the Sprint/Nextel deal so hard. Does he own Nextel stock or something? I see a new revenue stream for you Matt.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Well Don't that Beat All?

Is anyone going to pay attention to this? Beyond the obvious, this confirms the opposite of what many of us expected. And makes one wonder what happened to the SPR during the months leading up to the election.

The Ethos of Elitism - Political Animal

Many people I know complain: "liberal politicos are all elitists." Most of these people are victims of brainwashing by conservative hypocrites like Rush Limbaugh, but they are also generally people who are younger (often my students say that), slightly less well-to-do than most, and generally working to get through whatever rung of the ladder they currently find themselves climbing. That is: this complaint, in my experience, comes from people trying to move-up and create their fortune, not from rich people trying to hang on to their fortunes.

I'm generally successful at persuading them this really isn't so, its just a myth sown by collecting random appearances and spinning a yarn that seems to describe them. Unfortunately though, far too many voices for liberalism really do fall for a subtle sort of elitism, its called the elitism of the intellect. I know this sounds strange coming from someone who makes their living at a university, but then again, where better to observe this than the ivory tower itself?

The elitism of the intellect says that there are smart people, and then everyone else. And everyone else should listen to the smart people because these annointed intellects have competed with one another to fashion important policies, important views, important thoughts.

I hate to say it, but a liberal whose writing I enjoy very much is a part of this. His name is Kevin Drum, aka Political Animal (an ironic pseudonym if ever there was one).

Here is Mr. Drum making a point about financial speculators. In response to a point made by Andrew Tobias, Kevin says:
This is something that too few smart people appreciate: in most things that matter, you're not competing with the whole world. You're competing with a tiny subset of the world that's probably at least as smart and knowledgable as you — and probably more so. Caveat emptor.
You can find the whole post (short and sweet as it is) here. Does everyone see the subtle elitism of the intellect here? Smart people, according to our dear Mr. Drum, are found "...[i]n most things that matter..." Indeed, these smart people are but "a tiny subset" of society at large.

Kevin, I say this as a friend and admirer, don't let the elitism of the intellect carry you away. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and makes for bad company in old age.

The Gay Vote

Following up on the post below, I heard a Republican lawyer the other day say in private that Bush's coming out in favor of gay civil unions a week before the election gained him a million votes. Conjecture of course, but it sounds plausible to me. How does that play in Dallas?

Christian Conservatives

This group has voted, fairly regularly, for the Republican party ever since Reagan. What do they have, by way of federal action, to show for it? I realize, Republicans only now really have control of the entire federal government. But in terms of "moral values", so far, what do religious conservatives really have to show for their solidarity?

Also, let me apologize for my extended absence. I am back now.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Earth to Atrios

The "backing" by George Bush of Kofi Annan is more of the same insincerity that marked his first term. Without Kofi at the helm, someone else more "socially" acceptable would be the "face" of the UN. This would, of course, make discounting the relevance of the UN much more difficult since much of that criticism is founded on the exploitation of racial ideology. This isn't a change, as you imply, and Norm is not being told by anyone to "shut up". Quite the opposite. This is standard manipulation of the press corps, and now apparently, you too! Say it ain't so! To recap: no one is going to hear "Bush likes Kofi." What matters is what they see. Black and white my friend, black and white.

Scary Thought

I was talking to a doctor friend of mine. The conversation was philosophical in nature. I had mentioned, Aristotle defined the highest good as that which is for its own sake (Being-for-self as Hegel might say). He replied: "that's funny, that's what I call cancer." Originally I laughed at this. On reflection, I'm frightened by the wisdom of that statement. Cancer is for its own sake...
What else is?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

More News from the Train

This is really a public service announcement... Pharma executives traveling on mass transit should remember that when they open up their 17 inch screen laptop with exceptionally sharp resolution and brightness, everyone on board can see what they see. We aren't being nosy. We are just looking at the brightest thing in the room. It stands to reason then that should you be a pharma executive, and you happend to be riding the train home from the city, you would not want to be editing a PowerPoint presentation which describes marketing techniques for psyho-therapeutic drugs to children under the age of 18. Especially a bad idea is editing a slide with the title: "Getting Around the Parents." Indeed, you might want to get rid of that slideshow altogether and be a little less direct in your language. Also, in an effort to be fair, I should mention to all those trial lawyers out there looking for a smoking gun, not a bad idea to commute with the upper crust now and again.

You May Not Here This...

But he did say it today, and it was good.
The question is not whether we move left or right. It's not about our direction. What we need to start focusing on... is the destination.
-Howard Dean, 12/08/2004

It will be interesting to see how much some of the hard left blogs take this to heart. Pragmatism, plain and simple.

ATTN: Senate Judiciary Comm. Members

Also, staff is included here. Specter's asbestos bill circulating right now is not exactly a winner, unless your a debtor with big asbestos liabilities. It doesn't really matter to those of us flying with vultures... but you may want to consult with pension funds a little more closely. Just a thought.


Rethinking my earlier post now... Let's the use the rhetoric of "national treasure" and extend it to cover the "consumer muscle" of America. (Consumer muscle is another term for consumer debt, of course). We would have, "The consumer muscle of America is a valuable national treasure which deserves the attention of our Congressmen." I like it! Might even say I'm inspired!

National Treasure

Sifting through the inbox here and I see that still, a great many people reject the notion of consumer debt reform as impractical. The majority of these people use some variation of the following argument: banks charge rates based on risk; decreasing the rate will cause banks to decrease the risk; therefore they will stop issuing credit.

This argument is naive and flawed. Needless to say, these arguers don't make their living in debt restructuring. But that argument, and the more professional counterpart: there is no negotiating leverage, are both parts of a broader argument... taking debt off the table is impractical.

Notso my friends. First, why would reducing debt be any more impractical than reducing taxes? The latter was done at the expense of the national debt. We propse the former be done at the expense of national taxes.

Second, one should not think about debt in terms of private agreements, one should think about debt in terms of private rights. If you are a debtor, you have rights. One important right is to seek protection under the bankruptcy laws. Should the government decide to collect this right, the leverage would be quite effective on the banks, and would bring about real debt relief that Americans need to encourage savings... national savings is afterall, a national treasure.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I Just Don't Know If It's Worth It

I live in Westport, CT. A small, fairly ritzy half suburb of NYC and half New England coastal town. These days, it really is more like 70-30 suburb to coastal town, but thats progress I guess. There are two train stops in Westport. Westport/Saugutuck, the older section where I live and Greens Farms, the newer section full of big mansionettes, famous neighbors, and a view of the Sound.

I get on the train a little early and typically I take the inside of the three seat benches. Usually no one sits in the middle, unless its really crowded. Today though, it was packed. Two friendly guys crowd in and sit beside me. Probably in their later 30s early 40s, one is clearly a banker, the other I'm not sure of. When the conductor came around, we all pulled out our passes. I looked to see where their stop was and it turned out they were getting off at Greens Farms, the stop after mine, crowded all the way home.

As the train went chugging, I was reading about that 38 year old Sgt. Irizarry, most everyone was, it was front page in the Daily News. Sgt. Irizarry, from the Bronx, lived in Waterbury CT, died after only a month in Iraq leaving four kids and a wife. Sad story. His 5 year old son started sobbing when the officers in dress uniform came to speak with his mom. "He overheooaOrd what the men said and began to cry," said Jessica Irizarry."

As I was reading about Sgt. Irizarry's desire to be "brave, just like his dad" (who had fought in the Army during the Korean War), the guys beside me were getting a little louder so I couldn't help but overhear.

"No way." "Yep. Seriously. They installed it in a day. Now I have a putting green year round. It doesn't roll quite as true as the greens at the Club, but I can use it whenever I want, and I all have to do is blow it clear with a leaf blower and its ready to go." "How much did it cost?" "Only $5000" "Hmm, that's not bad."

Their talk continued, mostly about the differences between X-Box and SuperPlayStation. The verdict seemed to be X-Box was more fun, but SuperPlayStation was better. By the time my stop was close, they had moved on to bigger and better things.

42" Plasma Screen TVs. One fella had heard that the new LCD displays coming online were significantly cheaper, offered just about the same clarity as plasma screens, and took up less energy. The other guy said he thought the LCDs were still too dim. He was going to go plasma this year, the bigger the better. Plus his kids will be thrilled on Christmas day. As I was leaving, they were talking about how expensive a 42" screen was. I couldn't quite make it out, sounded like he said "$5000-$6000 depending on brand." To which his friend replied: "Yeah, that's not bad, I just don't know if its worth it."

I wonder what Sgt. Irizarry's family thinks about that? Do they think it was worth it?

Protection of Coal Industry Health Benefits

Introduced in mid-Nov by Rahall, Costello, Boucher, and Strickland (all Dem Representatives) is a bill that would prohibit the rejection of worker health care benefits by a coal company in chapter 11. Judges wouldn't be allowed to approve the order. You can read the short text here. Now, I've been in coal 11s, they are ugly. As China slows, there will be more, and preventing this sort of thing is all well and good (even if some of us might not make as much money in the process). But I have two questions: A) If this bill fails, which I'm told it probably will, are there people who will point this out to West Virginians, Ohioans and Kentuckyians in the next election? B) Why limit this protection to the coal industry? I've seen lots of people loose their health benefits. Steel. Airline. Etc. I understand if that if you can just get it in there for one, lawyers might take care of the rest. But, wouldn't this make a good issue for a certain party that currently finds itself without much of a platform to speak about? (sorry, that was three questions).

Monday, December 06, 2004

James Glassman

This guy cracks me up. What I find most amusing are his "calculations" which apparently "prove" that stocks are always better than bonds over the long run. He goes on to pump (yet again) the "fifteen keepers" from his book. Equally weighted his "keepers" supposedly returned 17% over the last five years. But he "glasses" over (thats a new phrase by me, it means "to bullshit, yet again, with little explanation") that the bulk of this 17% return was accrured by a handful of his "keepers". The second biggest gainer was 78% returning RPM Intnl. Pretty good. Not nearly as good though as the top gainer, which he slides in there, hoping to "glass over" it. Whats the greatest return generated? He doesn't say, but he gives us the name: Landauer. I just pulled it up on Bloomberg and guess what, this time five years ago a share of Landauer (who makes radiation detectors) would run you $18.50. Now? Well, after 9/11 and the series of press releases and orange alerts from the Homeland Security Dept, Landauer will run you $48.58. Quick math here, but that looks like a whopping 262% increase in five years. Nice dart throwing Glass!

The 17% return Glassies fifteen "keepers" give you over five years pales in comparison to what us vultures have been delivering over the past five years courtesy of the Bush recession and bankruptcy laws . And guess what we primarily invest in? Those silly, ol' fashioned "bonds". Apparently the little things called "rights" that bondholders get are of know economic benefit whatsoever to Glassie et al. But hey, what am I bitching about? I'm a value investor! I'm waiting for Google to be at 80 times cash.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Across the Pond - Looking at Credit

I was chatting to a friend this morning about the credit scoring system in America. He sees it as a potentially devasting concentration of power. "Imagine" he said, "all the dirty little secrets of everyone in just one place." I had never quite thought about it this way, and I bet most Americans don't regularly view it that way either. But should you, it'll scare the hell out of you!

Since I've been tasked with the higher principal, lower risk, debt relief proposals, I wasn't able to really have a big say in the consumer debt category. Yet, I would like recommend to everyone another area of study for consumer debt reform... Credit Scoring Agencies. There isn't a person I know that doesn't distrust them, and they are quickly turning into a private IRS-like institution. Documenting credit scoring abuses, I expect, would be a valuable exericse.

In fact, it seems the Bush Admin wants private credit collection agencies (an even more hated group) to run the IRS enforcement branch. A pretty scary thought. Of course, record deficits mean we all have to sacrifice a little privacy here and there right? Democrats can use this as a great issue in '06. "Republicans want to sell your tax information to private companies." Or something like that.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Defeating Racists

I'd like to lump thinkers like this with the intolerance of Radical Islam. Luckily, he did it for me.
Breaking down the sexual barriers between the races is a major weapon of cultural destruction because it means the dissolution of the cultural boundaries that define breeding and the family and, ultimately, the transmission and survival of the culture itself.
Grand Imperial Wizard Samuel Francis is a member of the "Creator's Syndicate" which syndicates, among others, Pat Buchanan, Robert Novak, and Mark Shields. Gee, one of these things is not like the other...

Thanks to Atrios to bringing this out. Hopefully it will spark the same outrage that the anti-gay decisions of CBS et al in the liberal blogosphere, here's to hope!

How Much In Campaign Contributions

does this cost? More sickening results from the corporate buy-out of America. Apparently NYC's orphans are now Big Pharma's test patient population. Hey, you can't say they didn't pay for it. From the BBC:

We asked Dr David Rasnick, visiting scholar at the University of Berkeley, for his opinion on some of the experiments.

He said: "We're talking about serious, serious side-effects. These children are going to be absolutely miserable. They're going to have cramps, diarrhoea and their joints are going to swell up. They're going to roll around the ground and you can't touch them."

He went on to describe some of the drugs - supplied by major drug manufacturers including Glaxo SmithKline - as "lethal".

When approached by the BBC, Glaxo SmithKline said such trials must have stringent standards and be conducted strictly in accordance with local regulations.

That last part is the best. "Conducted strictly in accordance with local regulations" (they forgot this part though: "that we wrote and paid for!").

Friday, December 03, 2004

Defeating Terror

I'd just like to point out, over the past week or so, the Bull Moose has been seriously hitting the nail on the head. We at A9 strongly encourage our readers to visit the Moose and read him regularly. His latest post is on the "Terror Gap" and deals with Peter Beinart's recent article in TNR. The message is, Liberals, not Conservatives, are the ones to win this war. We agree, but we need to examine what that means. Here is a thought experiment to exercise our war winning minds and to provoke discussion. All facts are real, you can't argue them away (however unrealistic they may be).

Terrorist A is caught, there is no doubt as to his terrorist ties, and he has evidence on him inidicating an attack is coming. Terrorist Z, apprehended in London, is detained by British authorities. On him is a rather detailed plan describing a particular nuclear suitcase bomb known to have been stolen from Russia, that it will be handled by Terrorist A and others, and that it is set to go off in the next 24 hours. British authorities give this information over immediately to American authorities. All information is confirmed and authenticated by other intel agencies. Those US agents detaining Terrorist A read the information, and quickly realize what they are up against.

Millions of NYC dwellers are about to perish. Terrorist A is not budging in the interrogation, shows no signs of cooperating, and laughs at the questions. Finally, Agent O comes in. He pulls his gun out and shoots Terrorist A in the foot. Then tells him, next bullet goes into knee, then his leg, then his balls, then his stomach, then his head. Terrorist A still will not say where the nuclear bomb is located. Agent O now shoots him in the knee. Terrorist A, in extreme pain, finally gives up the location. Other agents are sent, they retrieve the device, indeed a nuclear bomb, and millions of lives are saved.

Remember, you can't argue the facts. The question liberals must answer is the following: What do you do with Agent O?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

From the Mailbag

From reader TH...

Fed. X,

I have three children and a husband who does pretty well as an accountant. For those of us in this boat, we think this platform is precisely the type of common-sense legislation we've been waiting for. The problem isn't money. The problem IS time. I have recommended your post to a good friend of mine who works on the Hill. Hopefully she'll have the time to read it! Keep up the good work, and thanks for this idea.

Much obliged TH! Anyone else with notes they'd like to send please email us at: mailAmendmentNine@yahoo.com