Monday, July 28, 2008

Festivus Feats of Strength

I don't ask for much.  This "blog" is a whore free zone - I don't shill products I don't use, I don't plug my throngs of readers with Google AdWords junk, and I don't pimp requests for donations from other people.  Thus, when you read this post about how you should donate to my friend Jeff LeBlanc's fundraising effort for Alzheimer's research, you can be sure there's a good reason.

The main reason for me is that Jeff accomplished a superhuman feat.  He ran 100 miles in just under 24 hours.  I have massive respect and awe for that.  Jeff's grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year, and his fiancee lost her grandmother to Alzheimer's several years ago.  Several months ago Jeff, who is active in the Alzheimer's Association, sent me an invite to an event they were having at a NYC club to raise money.  Discussing it with him, he gave me the impression that it wasn't a big deal for him if I came to the event.  I didn't.  When he told me about his run, however, no discussion was needed:  if you're running 100 miles, I'm making a donation.  I have another friend who dealt with Alzheimer's with his father, but I never got motivated to contribute or urge others to contribute until now.  I have been working out very regularly since November, but I'm certain I haven't had a MONTH where I ran 100 miles.  Jeff's feat is noteworthy, and he has earned attention (and awe) for his cause.

Read Jeff's recap of his feat, and if it moves you, please donate to his cause.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Pot Committed?

I mean, seriously - what more can you say? This guy tried to bet a bag of weed at a blackjack table. He later explained to officers that this was not illegal, because he had his "Cannabis Club" card which he got from the internet.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Would You Be Surprised?

I mean seriously - would it surprise you if the video below were NOT a satire?

New Wearable Feedbags Let Americans Eat More, Move Less

Continuing my Wall Street commentary; Jim Cramer had some comments on the whole (ridiculous) short seller conspiracy today in the NY Times. Cramer is generally a die hard bull, and he definitely knows how the trading markets work. Although ignoramuses will misread Cramer's piece as another rant against short sellers who destroy companies, don't miss the most important point from Cramer is his closing line:
You simply can’t bring down an honest, well-capitalized firm,” he wrote. “It will buy every share from you and take it right back up again in your face."
Big Jimbo recognizes the essential fact that companies like Bear Stearns and IndyMac only go out of business when there are actual problems with their businesses - not because mythical short sellers cause their problems.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Blame Game and Window Dressing

In November, 2007, after 9+ years trading on Wall Street, I left for the greener pastures, of, well, nothing really. Strangely, being outside of the Wall Street "inside" information flow has allowed me to get much more in touch with why America has some of the problems we do. My free time allows me to read much more of the propaganda we are subjected to daily (this isn't supposed to sound militant!) and help me figure out what's really causing the problems.

The main problem is, Americans are by and large, ignorant. (I was shocked at the comments on this writeup of the airline letter, but it's important to realize how many people really believe the hype!) Maybe "gullible" is a better word, but we trust the media to deliver us our news, and basically, our opinions. However, the problem we are currently running into is that Americans are not so stupid that they don't realize when things are shitty. Treasury Secretary Paulson and SEC Chairman Cox can tell us that things are not really that bad all they want. They can tell us that housing is bottoming, and that the outcome of the current financial crisis (make no mistake - this is a crisis) will be short lived, not so bad, and quickly resolved. They can tell us that inflation is mild - if you take out food and energy costs, prices are only up 2 tenths of a percent - see? Things are fine!!

Still, your average American, however optomistic, realizes that when they go to the gas station they can't just ignore the energy costs and focus on "core inflation" when they spend $4+ a gallon to fill their tank. They can't ignore food costs when they see that a bag of pecans costs eight bucks, egg prices are up 40%, and milk is up 26%.

Then we have the homeowners. After we're done blaming the predatory lenders, we're still screwed. We already tried blaming the speculators - even major companies are BEGGING you to blame the speculators to cover up their own poor business decisions. Jeff Matthews has an interesting writeup on the asinine airline letter I blogged about last week. So now what do we do? We blame the short sellers!!!! Joe Nocera put it well in today's NY Times:

So let’s see now. Mortgage lenders make tens of thousands, if not millions, of subprime loans to people who don’t have the ability to pay the money back. Wall Street institutions then buy the loans and package them into complex derivative securities, while the rating agencies give them triple-A ratings, which we now know that they knew amounted to a ticking time bomb. (E-mail will get you every time.) Then when it all goes to hell in a handbasket, who do they blame? Why, short-sellers of course!

The most amazing part is that the Securities and Exchange Commission seems to be buying the argument, with the announcement that it will conduct an investigation into supposed rumor-mongering by hedge funds and short-sellers. Of course there was rumor-mongering by hedge funds and short-sellers — the big financial companies haven’t exactly been model of openness as they’ve had to write off billions in bad loans, and nobody knows how bad it’s ultimately going to be. All we — and they — can do is guess. But just as the commodities speculators are being blamed for $140-a-barrel oil — whether real problem is the lack of an energy policy — so now are short-sellers are being blamed for the problems Wall Street inflicted on itself.

Why isn’t the government investigating, say, Franklin Raines, the former chief executive of Fannie Mae, whose quest for rapid growth, and a higher stock price, had a lot more to do with Fannie’s current precarious state than anything any short-seller could possibly do?

So what does the SEC do? They pass an "emergency rule" - that ALREADY EXISTS!

“S.E.C. Chairman Christopher Cox said at a Senate Banking Committee hearing that the Securities and Exchange Commission would institute an emergency order requiring any traders to pre-borrow stock before shorting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the embattled government-sponsored entities that own more than half the nation’s mortgages.” (Wall Street Journal news alert)

Too bad no one pointed out at the hearing that short-sellers already pre-borrow stock before shorting anything, not just Fannie and Freddie. And if they don’t, that’s called naked short-selling, and it’s against the law. (Just ask Patrick Byrne.) So why the emergency order? Oh, right. Because this is about chasing bogeymen, not getting to the root of any real problem.

We don't like the speculators BUYING assets and driving the prices up.... We don't like the short sellers SELLING assets and driving the prices down!!! What the fuck are we supposed to do!?!??! Look, I'm certainly not in favor of the deliberate spread of misinformation in order to manipulate stock prices - but that's not the definition of short selling.

Nocera is clearly as frustrated as I am with the blame game going on - from predatory lenders, to speculators, to short sellers - we keep trying to shift the blame, which is not going to solve the problem. I am especially troubled by this SEC "emergency rule" because they already passed such a rule several years ago! It's unlikely that this new "emergency rule" will be have any more impact than Reg SHO, which prohibits naked short selling (quick tutorial: when you short a stock, you basically try to sell high and buy low - the opposite of the normal buy low then sell high pattern. The catch is that you have to "borrow" the shares that you sell from someone - then you sell them, you hope the stock goes down, you buy it back, and you return it to the person you borrowed it from - who is no worse for wear. Naked short selling is when people sell stock they haven't borrowed, and it's already illegal except in very specific cases. Nocera's reference to Patrick Byrne is a great story of the OSTK CEO who claimed that short sellers were destroying his company.)

So why do I care if the SEC is re-passing a rule that already exists? Well, like the desperate attempts by the airlines to blame someone else for their own problems, the SEC is trying to convince the public that this will make a difference in the stock prices or the value of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers or anyone else - when in reality it's little more than desperate propaganda, and again, I fear, portends more ills to come.

Paulson and Cox can say that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will not need to use the government backstop that awaits them if they run into trouble - they might even believe it, but that doesn't make it true. We've gone through a massive period of leveraging over the last 15 years, and now we will go through a period of de-leveraging. It will take longer than 6 months -and I suspect the effects will be significantly greater than the rosy "not so bad" picture our financial leaders are trying to paint for us. And I didn't even mention IndyMac yet!
I had to laugh this morning as I flipped on CNBC and managed to catch some interesting testimony from Ben Bernanke's testimony before congress. Senator Jim Bunning from Kentucky had a phenomenal rant against the Fed:
“The Fed is asking for more power. But the Fed has proven they can not be trusted with the power they have. They get it wrong, do not use it, or stretch it further than it was ever supposed to go. As I said a moment ago, their monetary policy is a leading cause of the mess we are in…"

“Now the Fed wants to be the systemic risk regulator. But the Fed is the systemic risk. Giving the Fed more power is like giving the neighborhood kid who broke your window playing baseball in the street a bigger bat and thinking that will fix the problem. I am not going to go along with that and will use all my powers as a Senator to stop any new powers going to the Fed."

“Instead, we should give them less to do so they can do it right, either by taking away their monetary policy responsibility or by requiring them to focus only on inflation…"

“Let me say a few words about the GSE bailout plan. When I picked up my newspaper yesterday, I thought I woke up in France. But no, it turns out socialism is alive and well in America. The Treasury Secretary is asking for a blank check to buy as much Fannie and Freddie debt or equity as he wants. The Fed’s purchase of Bear Stearns’ assets was amateur socialism compared to this.” (emphasis mine)

Way to go Mr. Bunning - taking a hard line instead of cow-towing to your constituents and trying to placate them with soothing lies and witch-hunts for speculators, short sellers and predatory lenders.

We'll see how this all plays out...


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Worst is Yet to Come

A few weeks ago I wrote my thoughts on the ricockulousness (*ri-cock-ulous-ness* -that's something that's 10x crazier than ridiculous) of blaming speculators for high oil prices. Today, I was very surprised to get an email from Delta Airlines titled "An Open Letter to All Airline Customers" - from 12 Airline CEO's.
The contents of the letter are as follows:
Our country is facing a possible sharp economic downturn because of skyrocketing oil and fuel prices, but by pulling together, we can all do something to help now.

For airlines, ultra-expensive fuel means thousands of lost jobs and severe reductions in air service to both large and small communities. To the broader economy, oil prices mean slower activity and widespread economic pain. This pain can be alleviated, and that is why we are
taking the extraordinary step of writing this joint letter to our customers.

Since high oil prices are partly a response to normal market forces, the nation needs to focus on increased energy supplies and conservation. However, there is another side to this story because normal market forces are being dangerously amplified by poorly regulated market speculation.

Twenty years ago, 21 percent of oil contracts were purchased by speculators who trade oil on paper with no intention of ever taking delivery. Today, oil speculators purchase 66 percent of all oil futures contracts, and that reflects just the transactions that are known. Speculators buy up large amounts of oil and then sell it to each other again and again. A barrel of oil may trade 20-plus times before it is delivered and used; the price goes up with each trade and consumers pick up the final tab. Some market experts estimate that current prices reflect as much as $30 to $60 per barrel in unnecessary speculative costs.

Over seventy years ago, Congress established regulations to control excessive, largely unchecked market speculation and manipulation. However, over the past two decades, these regulatory limits have been weakened or removed. We believe that restoring and enforcing these limits, along with several other modest measures, will provide more disclosure, transparency and sound market oversight. Together, these reforms will help cool the over-heated
oil market and permit the economy to prosper.

The nation needs to pull together to reform the oil markets and solve this growing problem.
We need your help. Get more information and contact Congress by visiting
Ok folks, now here's the truth: most airlines didn't do what they were supposed to do - which is to hedge their fuel costs by locking in prices (buying futures) in the oil futures market. Southwest, on the other hand, hedged the majority of their costs, and is doing well comparatively. The airline industry as a whole made some poor business decisions and they are begging for you to try to help blame their way out of it by complaining to congress, and labeling speculators as the Evil Doers.
"Southwest Treasurer Scott Topping, considered the guru on hedging for the airline, said the carrier jumped into hedging in “a big way” in 1999 when oil was at $11 a barrel.

Since then the airline has hedged 70% to 80% of its anticipated fuel use every year, more than any other airline. The airline said it saved $727 million last year by locking in lower fuel prices in prior years.

So far, the carrier hasn’t had a year when it lost money on fuel hedges." (quote from the LA Times)
I was almost surprised to see Southwest's CEO's stamp on the bottom of the letter (along with Delta, American, Midwest, Jetblue, Hawaiian, Continental, US Air, United, Northwest, Airtran and Alaska) - I was hoping he'd be sitting there laughing at the other airlines for being ignorant douchebags, but I guess he didn't want to break ranks with the Airline Mafia.
Let me reiterate some important points again, in case they missed their mark the first time: 1) Oil is a global asset - its price is not set by a few rich guys in NYC, New Jersey, or Texas evil-ly "speculating" and fucking the whole world over. 2) Free markets result in the most efficient and accurate pricing of assets. 3) Oil prices are going up because there is demand for oil! Prices are forward looking, and future demand looks to be quite strong, on account of massive growth in India and China.
Now, one reason all commodities (from oil, to gold, to paladium, to wheat and corn) have gone up in price is that commodities have become an ASSET CLASS over the last 10 years - which has resulted in billions of dollars of money from pension funds, insurance companies, retirement accounts, and hedge funds flowing into the sector. Whereas many years ago people though in terms of 85% stocks, 15% bonds, or some other asset allocation, now it may look more like 60% stocks, 20% commodities, 20% bonds. But again, the reason it became an asset class is because people realized that there were ways to invest in it and that emerging markets economies would likely drive demand for many commodities, which in turn would drive prices higher. Just as during the internet bubble it didn't make sense to forbid people from buying stocks, it doesn't make sense to forbid people from buying commodities right now. And oh, by the way - this is exactly why the stock market had such a big run over the last 25 years too - eveyone in America started investing in mutual funds, instead of just clipping coupons and redeeming savings bonds - but you don't see people complaining about speculators driving the price of stocks higher.
What concerns me, again, is that when the airline industry resorts to this lame duck crybaby attempt at blaming others for their own failures to hedge their costs of doing business, it's a clear sign to me that things are still going to get worse.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Camel Towing!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Ding Dong Ditch

Saturday afternoon I was sitting on the couch with Mrs. Dynamite and Oscar, watching TV, when the doorbell rang around 3pm. Now, in general, if you're ringing my doorbell, you better either be a) an expected guest, b) a friend of mine, or c) delivering something I ordered or would otherwise want.
One main annoyance is that my doorbell sounds like Buffalo Bill's doorbell at the end of Silence of the Lambs - you know - almost like a fire alarm bell - and Oscar also goes berserk whenever the doorbell rings, channeling his inner guard dog. The other main annoyance is that, well, cold calling me on the phone is one thing - but cold-ringing my doorbell? DYKWTFIA?
I climbed up the stairs (that's right baby - my apartment has stairs - again - DYKWTFIA?) and buzzed the doorbell. No one came in - I guess the offender had been deterred by the 15 second delay as I trekked up from downstairs. Curious, I walked out to the main door, and opened it, where I was greeted by a fresh faced young lady who had returned to my stoop as she heard me buzzing the door, but had not been quick enough to open it. Normally, I'm at least civil to people, but as soon as I saw "Democratic National Committee" on this girl's shirt, I unceremoniously cut her off before she was two words into her schpiel, telling her "I'm not interested" and allowing my door to slam loudly in her face.
What I really don't get is why the Democrats waste their time campaigning in my neighborhood - I live in what I'd assume is one of the most liberal neighborhoods in the ENTIRE COUNTRY. In the 2004 election, Kerry beat Bush in my neighborhood by almost a 7-1 margin (I just spent 20 minutes tracking down that information to prove my point). So seriously - if you're going to campaign, do it somewhere where you'll make a fucking difference.
In other news, I found this site with (possibly fake) attempts at cyber-sex chat gone wrong to be extremely funny. Mrs. Dynamite and the Big Show, however, failed to see the humor. I was laughing out loud at my pc this morning reading some of these... an example:

<Bloodninja> Wanna cyber?
<MommyMelissa> Sure, you into vegetables?
<Bloodninja> What like gardening an shit?
<MommyMelissa> Yeah, something like that.
<Bloodninja> Nuthin turns me on more, check this out
<Bloodninja> You bend over to harvest your radishes.
<MommyMelissa> (pause)
<MommyMelissa> is that it?
<Bloodninja> You water your tomato patch.
<Bloodninja> Are you ready for my fresh produce?
<MommyMelissa> I was thinking of like, sexual acts INVOLVING vegetables... Can you make it a little more sexy for me?
<MommyMelissa> (pause)
<Bloodninja> I touch you on your lettuce, you massage my spinach... Sexily.
<Bloodninja> I ride your buttocks, like they were amber waves of grains.
<MommyMelissa> Grain doesn't really turn me on... I was thinking more along the lines of carrots and zucchinis.
<Bloodninja> my zucchinis carresses your carrots.
<Bloodninja> Damn baby your right, this shit is HOT.
<MommyMelissa> ...
<Bloodninja> My turnips listen for the soft cry of your love. My insides turn to celery as I unleash my warm and sticky cauliflower of love.
<MommyMelissa> What the fuck is this madlibs? I'm outta here.
<Bloodninja> Yah, well I already unleashed my cauliflower, all over your olives, and up in your eyes. Now you can't see. Bitch.
<MommyMelissa> whatever.
until next time

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Take THAT Netflix!

From the guys at WallStreetFighter comes this link - for a company that is basically the Netflix of sex toys. I don't really know what more can be said about this...