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May 18, 2012

facebook

Dudes, even today's David Brooks column was so boring that it's not worth making fun of.  It's Friday, and I have the vague feeling that I'm supposed to be making fun of something.  This is crummy.

You know what it is?  It's the Facebook IPO, which is sucking the air out of the room.  Why the universe is treating this IPO like a royal wedding is clearly beyond me, as is a valuation of the company at 104 billion dollars, which, for the record, is almost exactly three times the current market capitalization of General Motors.  (Which may come as no shock to those of you who drove your Facebooks to work this morning.)

Whatever.  I'm keeping my head down.  MegaMillions is a whole lot more interesting (and just as morally troubling) as the shitshow down whose barrel we are presently staring.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:05 AM

May 17, 2012

gettin' answers from presidents

The frustrating aspect of these silly presidential campaigns is the quality of the coverage.  Not that Our American Journalists are not working hard enough, but rather the realities of the management of the press corps prevent some pretty simple reporting to happen.

For example, take this Christian Science Monitor feature on Mitt Romney, Bain Capital and venture capitalism in general:

Before Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital bought the rambling SCM factory in Marion, Ind., it was running three shifts a day, making hanging file folders and other office supplies. But on July 5, 1994, everything changed.

The new owner, American Pad & Paper, owned in turn by Bain Capital, told all 258 union workers they were fired, in a cost-cutting move. Security guards hustled them out of the building. They would be able to reapply for their jobs, at lesser wages and benefits, but not all would be rehired.

Surely that's not the first Bain Capital horror story you've heard of, but this is a nice piece.  It's balanced, too, as it tries to answer the question of whether Romney's claim that Bain Capital created thousands of jobs is valid, and whether the flip side of that claim, that Bain Capital destroyed thousands of jobs, is valid as well.  (And answers are never easy.)

But what I would like to see, and I'm not holding my breath, is for a reporter to ask Romney, or at least the Romney campaign: "In the creation of those hundred thousand jobs, how many factories did Bain Capital close to avoid dealing with unions? For each success story like Staples, how many companies were pumped full of debt, sold for parts and then left by the side of the road?"

It's a valid question, to the extent that Romney decides to highlight that portion of his resume as a qualification to hold the Oval Office.  And unless they're sitting for "60 Minutes" or something, opportunities to ask those kind of questions just don't arise.

(And the same goes for the president as well.  It would be great if someone could ask him why he's a socialist, or why he wants to bring to country to its knees, or... Well, I'm sure there's some equivalent issue out there that could benefit from an actual interview.  Probably.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:18 AM

May 16, 2012

is it tragedy/farce, or the other way around?

Here's a bit of ancient history — see if you can place it:
...risk managers and some senior investment bankers raised concerns that the bank was making increasingly large investments involving complex trades that were hard to understand. But even as the size of the bets climbed steadily, these former employees say, their concerns about the dangers were ignored or dismissed.

An increased appetite for such trades had the approval of the upper echelons of the bank, including the chief executive, current and former employees said.

FOOLED YOU.  It's from yesterday's NYT, concerning JP Morgan Chase and their free-wheeling ways.

Of course, just because the facts of this little trading event resemble the facts of the near-implosion of the economy four years ago signifies nothing, as it was not banks that caused the Great Recession but rather poor people, who did it purely out of spite.

In fact, is there some way that we can re-repeal the Glass-Steagall Act?  Because if there is, we should do it, maybe twice.  Anything to keep poor people from trashing the economy yet again.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:12 AM

May 14, 2012

same sex marriage

Last week when the president announced his (soft) support for same-sex marriage, it was a day of mixed and varied feelings: I personally was all hooray for that, but then some of my more ardent GLBT friends were more like, "Too little too late," which I understood, and then other friends more concerned with the November elections were very glum, as they thought that basically Obama had been forced to give the election away.

It certainly was a benchmark moment, but the cynicism about the electoral process, both with regard to the president's motives and to the effect of his decision, was a total bummer.  So I kept my mouth shut about it.

But by yesterday, when this bit ran on TPM, I'd lightened a bit:

Evangelicals and social conservatives are urging Republicans to make the fight against same-sex marriage an election-year priority and go after President Obama over his new-found support for the cause. So far, the GOP establishment is resisting.

Here's why I am less concerned about the prospects of November's elections.  Yes, SSM is a wedge issue, and, yes, it's decidedly a wedge issue in certain swing states.  But the social conservative wing of the GOP, the charismatic Christians and (to a large extent) the Tea Party, are not calculating in their positions.  Opposition to SSM is, for them, either Scriptural (allegedly) or dogmatic or just plain icky, and therefore they have Right on their side, and given this opportunity they feel that this opposition should be the centerpiece of the campaign.  Because, you see, since they are Right, everyone will agree with them.

Basically, they are not cynical at all, and in that void of cynicism, they're not so good at planning things like election campaigns.  This is why this wing was so adroitly manipulated in order to elect George W. Bush twice.  I'm also pretty secure in my convictions, but I know for a fact that my convictions are not universally shared.  Fact of life.

So yeah, if the social conservatives feel strongly that SSM is should be the centerpiece of the campaign, then I find that strangely comforting.

Now this does not affect the simmering resentment of those that think that the president took too long to come to this conclusion.  I'd say nothing can be done for that except suggesting that looking forward is more useful than looking back.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:35 AM

May 13, 2012

blodget on playing with dynamite

Again with the posting about agreeing with Henry Blodget.  There are a couple of reasons to be leery of Blodget — his lifetime ban from Wall Street, his infuriating (and successful) website that overreaches aggregation-wise — but he is a financial journalist (I guess?) that largely seems to be coming to Jesus:
So we finally know the truth about Wall Street, a truth most Wall Street observers have known all along:

Wall Street can't be trusted to manage—or even correctly assess—its own risks.

This is in part because, time and again, Wall Street has demonstrated that it doesn't even KNOW what risks it is taking.

In short, Wall Street bankers are just a bunch of kids playing with dynamite.

This is in relation to the news from late last week that JP Morgan Chase disclosed a two billion dollar loss in trades, originating in a portfolio intended as a hedge against losses in other divisions of the financial behemoth.  Isn't it ironic?  And it's just the sort of event that the Volcker Act (or at least some of the provisions that were lobbied out of it) were intended to prevent with regulatory oversight.  Of which regulations Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, has been the most visible and beloved opponent.

It's easy for me, know-nothing loudmouth with fundamental problems with the way capitalism is currently prosecuted, to agitate for financial oversight.  It's not so easy for Blodget, whose complaints are not so systemic, and whose faith in the free market is unshaken.

So it's only fair to call him out, approvingly.  (And his argument is convincing and laid out at length, you'll see if you click through, which I'm sure he hopes you will.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:05 AM

yes i've been quiet

I've hit one of those points in life where the number of projects I'm involved in outnumbers the available hours in the day.

The last time this happened was when I was, like, 23, when I didn't have things like wives and dogs and actual jobs to worry about on top of everything else.  Plus also as a 23 year old, sleep was an option and not a requisite.

But fortunately one of the wife things was going on a date to see "The Avengers" (or is it "Marvel's The Avengers"?), so I shouldn't be complaining about that.  And one of the project thingies was yesterday's Colleen O'Donnell Memorial Golf Tournament, which exists to raise money to fund brain cancer research in the memory of my sister-in-law, and while I didn't actually play golf, the time I could've spent working in the club house I spent sipping Miller Lite and catching up with family and friends.  So I can't really complain about that.

See, now you know so much about me that we're actually friends, right?  Gonna go call my mom now.  You go call yours.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:58 AM