Notebook, 15 January 2016: Twenty Years In The Making

On stage, investing superstar Peter Lynch once held up a computer hard drive to the audience. The latest and greatest expression of mankind’s technological prowess.

“What a piece of shit,” he called it.

As an investment opportunity anyways. Yeah, Lynch never had much of a problem expressing himself. Point is, he went onto say, those interested in the stock market would be better off keeping their eyes open, seeing which retailers were busy, which factories was making lots of deliveries, that kind of thing. Call it situational awareness. As far as it goes, it’s excellent advice. Anyways, this is my story. I promise it’ll be short.
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Notebook, 22 June 2013: Thank You For Your Service

At 18:08 in the video: After hearing that US helicopter gunships had shot and wounded a child (there were two), we hear

“Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids to a battle.

“That’s right”

As this was happening, and just a few blocks away, Agence France correspondent Ahmad Sahib got out of the car he was traveling in, started snapping a few pictures and began to attract a crowd – which soon drew fire from an American helicopter.

It looked like the American helicopters were firing against any gathering in the area, because when I got out of my car and started taking pictures, people gathered and an American helicopter fired a few rounds, but they hit the houses nearby and we ran for cover.

NY Times, 13 July 2007.


One of the U.S. Marines who was caught on video urinating on the corpses of suspected Taliban fighters has broken his silence to say that he’s not sorry for what he did and he’d do it again.

“These were the same guys that were killing our family, killing our brothers,” Sgt. Joseph Chamblin told ABC News affiliate WSOC in his first interview since the 2011 incident. Chamblin said he did regret any repercussions it may have had on the Marines, “but do I regret doing it? Hell no.”

ABC News, 17 July 2013. Last accessed, 18 July 2013.

Which is, we can be certain, exactly what our “enemies” think of that marine.

Here we have @james_stamulis, who describes himself thus:

proud retired veteran,infidel and conservative. dedicated to protecting and preserving our constitution and our god given individual liberties.stand with Israel

fort myers, florida

Who uses his time to tweet things like the following:

Did we really trust people like this with a firearm?


The Fallujah Mosque Shooting:

This update goes off topic, but it is important to note how the press centers in the US (NBC in this case) deliberately soft-pedaled the story. They failed to inform Americans that US Marines had committed a war crime. Casual brutality. Note that the commander, if not explicitly ordering the shooting, was fine with it.

The Marine(s) who shot unarmed, wounded combatants, and their commander, were never brought up on charges. While it may be true (it is debatable) that, as USMC Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski ruled that the shootings were “consistent with the established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict” this is clearly an atrocity. To accept otherwise it to tacitly admit that your armed forces are allowed (and as this post illustrates) all too willing to commit any atrocity whenever they can get away with it.

So the next time Americans start screaming about an atrocity committed on American personnel, I’ll remind whoever that is that they have no room to complain.

Absolutely none.

It also tends to illustrate that laws written with nineteenth century set-piece warfare in mind need to be revisited. Would the US enter into any such agreements? Almost certainly not.

Notebook, 2 September 2012: On Corruption & Entitlement Spending

Barry Ritholz is always an informative read. This morning, he picks up on a debate published in WSJ, “Are Entitlements Corrupting US?” presenting the pro and con views. (Pro = ‘Yes, entitlements run counter to American individualism’ while Con = ‘No, entitlement spending is an expression of the social contract in the US’)

While William A. Galston gets it right, Eberstadt misses the point entirely in two different ways.
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Notebook, 8 June 2012: On Markets and Electorates

“When you all grow up, most of you will be average adults.”

     —High school teacher to my class. By definition, most of us would be “average.” However,this assertion was taken as an insult by all of my classmates.

You’ve paid good money to take your family to the museum. A red line on the floor takes you through the museum, but the exhibits are no closer than forty feet away. A sign politely asks you to stay on the red line. The line aimlessly circles a post. Do you:

  1. Ask what’s going on?
  2. Ask for your money back?
  3. Shut up and just walk the line

Something I saw on television. The answer is that many people will do as asked and walk the line. Add an official looking seal to the sign and you get greater compliance. Station a mean looking but elderly enforcer (even though he says nothing) along the line and even more people will walk the line, forgetting why they came to the museum in the first place.
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Notebook, 2 June 2012: Is That All They Got?

With the rising drama in Greece about to unfold in a few weeks, the interminable process of writing and implementing a Volcker Rule, the recent disclosure of a $2 billion-plus loss from what JP Morgan Chase characterizes as a portfolio hedge, a bad unemployment report from ADP on Thursday and confirmation provided by the May Bureau of Labor Statistics report the next day, the business news reports repeatedly that Washington and the Fed agonizes over the possibility of another round of quantitative easing.

Normally, I would say something like, “which is fine. This is what the Fed is supposed to be doing,” and bear in ind that efforts continue on other fronts, such as the newly formed Consumer Finance Protection Agency, the Volcker Rule group (Securities and Exchange Commission, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), and the various committees and agencies tasked with new responsibilities under Dodd-Frank, etc. Except that the latest financial crisis and the revelations of widespread practices such as predatory lending and trading, algorithm trading in equities markets (ranging from 70% to 80% of volume), issues of work and compensation, income and wealth inequality, who shoulders the tax burden and strategies to avoid participation in paying for America, and the tug-of-war over paying for government services like education, Social Security and Medicare, the control which the wealthy have over our political system, the failure of our legal system to provide redress of very real grievances, and more, all beg the larger questions:

  1. What are the characteristics and consequences of the global free market and are they worth its headaches?
  2. To what extent should society, through legislation, regulation and enforcement, define the business of business?
  3. Would prescriptive regulation (define what an industry is allowed to do) be simpler and easier than proscriptive regulation (which defines and prohibits, as they come up, the myriad tricks and gimmicks used to get around the law)?
  4. To what extend should certain sectors either be socialized completely or converted into public utilities, whose profits are modest but guaranteed, who are protected from competition, whose role in the economy and in society is sharply defined?
  5. What has the global economy done for and to America and Americans? Should GATT be revisited? Do we need another summit like the Bretton Woods meeting to address modern issues of international trade and finance, as Paul Volcker proposed this past week?
  6. Does the United States, like other countries, need an industrial policy? I would point out here that we have one already: defense. The defense industry in America thrives, shows a vast wealth of innovation from cloaking devices for US Naval aircraft to adjusting the rate of fire on the M-16 to attenuate the problem of muzzle-lift, and if our recent wars tell us anything, delivers real value.
  7. What do we do about corrupt practices which have been legalized through deregulation?
  8. Should states have more power to regulate? Should the 1978 Marquette Decision be overturned or should states be granted the right explicitly through legislation?
  9. How, beyond the obvious PR campaigns already being served up by Wall Street and its affiliate industries, do we actually build trustworthy markets? The retail invesstor has largely disappeared from equities markets and trading is almost totally my-algorithm-versus-your-algorithm. Is this really a market at all?

There are more large questions to be asked, and are asked, but only by those on the fringe thus far (including the right wing mainstream/fringe who is all too eager lately to decry the “Europeanization” and/or growth of the “socialist” threat to America). My feeling is that it was never enough to say “we beat the Soviet Union” (which just a little thought would reveal is a debatable claim anyways) as justification for the free enterprise system and leave it at that, but somehow, basking in yet another supposed example of America Triumphant, we never got around to it. The Occupy Movement, and those who, like myself, support or sympathize with it, are as far as I know the only ones asking these kinds of questions, and it’s my feeling that many, many more Americans are, right now, uneasy over what the current crisis has revealed.

So I ask again: QE3. Is that the best our “best economics thinkers” like Krugman, Roubini, Bernanke, Hazlitt, Volcker and Blodget can do? Because if it is, we’re in deep trouble.

UPDATE: Notebook, 17 May 2012: Covered in Glory

Sorry, Diane Dimond, but regarding Sgt. Robert Bales and the armed forces of the United States, your opinion means nothing. For that matter, neither does mine.

In her HuffPo piece, and certainly on her talk radio show (that should send a red flag up right there. This was in error on my part. When called on it by Diane Dimond (here, I rechecked my source for that and found that I should have read her HuffPo bio more carefully. She is correct. She is not a talk show radio host, but a moveable feast, who writes for The Daily Beast and appears frequently on television news outlets) she stands In Defense of the United States Military and in the process, manages to trash Sgt. Robert Bales. She must feel very comfortable. She must have that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you take a position you feel is unassailable. A position you know many “right thinking people” will rise to defend on your behalf.

Which probably explains a lot.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Notebook, 17 May 2012: Covered in Glory”

Notebook, 8 May 2012: Just for the sake of argument . . .

Some random thoughts I put out there just for the sake of argument:

  • After reading Men Not Working, and Not Wanting Just Any Job, I think there’s one thing which should be made absolutely clear from the start: the economic “utility” of the vast, vast majority of jobs could only be quantified in negative numbers. And really, even under the best conditions, who would want to work for a bunch of people (shareholders) who believe you are lazy, think that cutting your wages and eliminating your benefits is a good thing, and are happiest (given AAPL’s share price) with a mute, compliant workforce out-of-sight in any foreign country?

    File this under, “I want to be an corporate cog when I grow up!”

  • Belonging to, believing in, and identifying yourself with any organization necessitates tendering the individual’s moral proxy to the organization. Who today would want to work at Goldman Sachs? In the political realm, taking back one’s moral proxy is, in itself, a radical act.

    Full disclosure: By another criteria, believing in the need for major structural reform makes me a “radical” as well. However, I am content (but not overjoyed) to do my own thinking and bear the burden.

  • Once you’ve taken back your moral proxy, it’s easy to note the myriad ways the organizational precepts both underlie and are reinforced in the media. Over time, the foreign press is frequently shown to be a more reliable gauge of America than we are of ourselves. The downside is that participatory government is only as strong as its electorate.
  • The big difference between now and when Hayek and Von Mises were developing the economic philosophies we today call neoliberalism is that we now have decades worth of good, hard data and the computing power to view and analyze it, which didn’t exist then. I commend you to the revelations shown by viewing a century’s worth of income tax records as well as The Two Income Trap, based on real data from the Department of Commerce.

    Many times I’ve claimed that free markets expand to absorb all resources (even real, but intangible resources like time and human capital), and Elizabeth Warren’s work does a fine job of documenting this in action.

  • Those who were rich in land, and derived their incomes from rents are in what ways different from those who have fat bank balances and derive their incomes from renting their money out in financial markets? Aren’t they all rentiers?
  • The retail investor with his sexy eTrade (or any other) platform . . . is nothing more than a noise trader.

Any more of this and my head will explode, however I do want to note an interesting exchange I had with CNN’s Ram Ramgopal and Richard Murphy, co-author of Tax Havens: How Globalization Really Works. Beginning with the tweet of a story about how identity thieves might be responsible for $26 billion in tax return theft, I countered with the fact that it’s estimated that $15 Trillion sits in tax havens worldwide, and Murphy chimed in with the finding that tax evasion could be removing as much as $3.1 Trillion from the world’s tax revenues annually.

CNN’s face on Twitter had this to say: “Wow, that’s big. Had no idea.

Who does? Of course I’m a radical, but is this because I am a bomb-tossing nihilist or the result of a massive failure of the mainstream?

Now you can go back to watching the Military Channel, some major league sports, NASCAR or Dancing With the Stars.