Saturday, January 31, 2009

No more blogging about Blago!

Rod Blagojevich was impeached this week by the Illinois Senate, by a vote of 59-0. Thus ends one of the more bizarre episodes in American politics of late.

It takes a certain amount of ego to run for public office, particularly one as prominent and powerful as governor of Illinois. In normal people, insofar as politicians are normal, that ego, that latent narcissism, is held in check by competition. If your ego gets too big, there are people constantly looking for an opportunity to cut you down. That normally happens well before a politician reaches the point in his/her career where they are impeached. Somehow Rod Blagojevich armored himself perfectly against the slings and arrows of not only his enemies, but his erstwhile allies. But the system worked. Messily, as it sometimes has to, but it worked. Good luck to the new governor, and here's hoping for the best for the people of Illinois, who include my sister and her family.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The silver lining of Daschle's tax problems

So Tom Daschle also has tax problems. Oops. From what I can tell, this may be an honest mistake. He had the use of a car from a company he worked for, and mostly used it for personal business. So he had to pay taxes on that. And there was apparently a "clerical error" involved in some other part of it. I'm not going to worry about that much of it. It doesn't look good, but I think he'll make it through.

It does bring up an issue that I expect will become a talking point for Obama; increasing audits on the wealthy. I haven't done any specific research on how the Bush administration treated audits for the upper classes, but I do recall reading that the number of audits for high-income taxpayers went down under Bush. Which would absolutely not surprise me. It would surprise me if tax enforcement on the rich got tougher under Bush.

So the silver lining of this little issue of the missing $128,000 in taxes, along with Geithner forgetfulness, means one thing: if voters/activists/Congresspeople start making noise about upping the enforcement on rich people paying taxes, ain't no way in hell either Mr. Geithner or Mr. Daschle is going to say a word. Which may mean that the American people just might support a higher budget for the IRS. Stranger things have happened.

Welcome back, Samantha Power!

Absolutely unsurprising. Samantha Power has a new job in the Obama administration, as director of multilateral relations or affairs or something at the National Security Council. She will have to be working with Hillary Clinton, who she once called a "monster." Of course, Hillary has been called many things, and she has managed to survive. I always that this was seriously overblown. Now it's over, and life for the brilliant Harvard professor is back to normal. Or as normal as life can be on the NSC these days.

McConnell smells the coffee

Mitch McConnell has realized what every Democrat knows: the GOP is becoming a regional party. More impressive, McConnell also realizes that this is a problem.

“We’re all concerned about the fact that the very wealthy and the very poor, the most and least educated, and a majority of minority voters, seem to have more or less stopped paying attention to us,” McConnell said in a speech at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting. “And we should be concerned that, as a result of all this, the Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one.”

In stark terms, the Kentucky Republican added: “In politics, there’s a name for a regional party: It’s called a minority party. ... As Republicans, we know that common-sense conservative principles aren’t regional. But I think we have to admit that our sales job has been.

“And in my view, that needs to change,” he said.
In my view, I'm perfectly happy with the GOP staying a regional party.

Actually, that's not true. I appreciate the need for a robust and principled majority. But I am also enjoying the Democratics having enough of a majority to get things done.

If McConnell is saying this, he knows that there are lots of people who agree with him. As a Southerner, he has the street cred to challenge the wisdom of focusing only on the South. But as Senate minority leader, he doesn't really have the stature to do much about it. In other words, good luck fighting this intraparty battle, Mr. McConnell. We'll see you in 2010.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

HSX: Week of 1/30/09

We've got three fairly normal movies going wide this weekend, and three limited releases going wide. Milk, The Reader, and The Wrestler are all going wide. Which feels odd, because I thot they were already wide. Guess not. They all adjust on Sunday, but as is my normal practice, I am not going to make predictions about them, since they are very known quantities, and betting on known quantities is boring.

First up in the non-Oscar nominated group, Renee Zellweger stars in a classic fish-out-of-water story, New In Town (NTOWN). She's an executive from the Big City (Miami), who somehow lands in the Great White North, where they all talk like the people in Fargo, doncha know, or Sarah Palin, also, and they have quaint cultural traditions that she is of course completely clueless about. But along the way she meets a tough but sensitive guy, and they have some fights, and some awkward but funny moments before they fall in love. Stop me if you've heard this one before. It's trading at H$18, so the expectations are somewhere between low and whatever. But the stock's been climbing, so there may be some gold in the cliches. The strike price for the options is $5. Renee Zellweger has to have more star power than a $5 million opening weekend, doesn't she? Probably - the call is at H$3 and change, while the put is less than half a buck. We all need love, right? We also seem to think there is some residual affection left over in American audiences for Ms. Z. My guess is that it will open around $7 or $8 million.
Stock: Long
Call: Long
Put: Short

In a slightly more original vein, Liam Neeson stars as an ex-soldier whose daughter is kidnapped in TAKEN (TAKEN). He has to get her back. Every parent's nightmare. I don't think of Liam Neeson as an action star, but I could have him figured wrong. I saw him on The Daily Show, and apparently he was a boxing champ in Northern Ireland. He's also 6'4", which I didn't know. He describes this movie thusly:

"It's kind of a lovely, no-brainer, slam-dunk little action film with no pretensions."
Isn't that nice - a sweet, honest, down-to-earth movie about kidnapping, sexual slavery, kicking ass, taking names, and breaking heads. I have no interest, but it could be a sleeper. The price of the stock looks like a hockey stick, pretty much an onward and upward trajectory of late, to H$44. Strike price is H$10, which is almost laughably low - HSX must have priced the options when it was around H$30. The call, no surprise, is around H$6. Really could be gold in these cliches.
Stock: Long
Call: Longer than long
Put: Short

The Uninvited (UNVIT) is a remake of a Korean horror movie. Even though I live in Koreatown in LA, I have no interest in this, because I have no interest in horror. But the stock has, like our other two movies this week, been moving steadily in the right direction, to H$30. The strike price is H$10, same as Taken, but without the premium on the price of the stock. The call is floating around H$3, which is a little optimistic for me. On the other hand, the put has a zero to the left of the decimal place in the price. This is a rare instance in which I am going to short both options, because I think it will make at least $9 million, but nowhere near $13 million.
Stock: Long
Call: Short
Put: Short

Should be some good money made over the weekend, but nothing to write home about.

Update: My predictions were very good. TAKEN turned out to be very popular, even though it's an action movie released on Super Bowl weekend. It grossed $24.6 million, way above estimates. Good news for Liam Neeson. UNVIT and NTOWN both came in almost exactly what the market predicted. The total for NTOWN was below what was predicted by the price of the call, but it was still above the strike price, so that's basically a wash. Other than that minor detail, all of my calls for positions were right.

I shorted TAKEN last night, because after a major adjust upwards like that, you can just about guarantee that there will be profit-taking. Which is exactly what happened - I covered my short at a price H$5.50 below where I shorted it. That's about the easiest way to make money on stocks on HSX. I'm still long my original position, because a movie this initially popular just might adjust above the delist.

A special kind of blanket

For the past couple of months, when I ride the bus to work, I've been seeing these ads (we have TVs on some of the buses) for something called the Snuggie, a blanket with arms. It's taking off. The commercial is rather strongly on the cheesy side, but considering I see it on my bus, that's about the level that I expect. Megan McArdle loves hers. But some people are not amused. I tried to post the video here, but the embed code didn't work. So you have to go the to watch this video. But it's worth it.

(hat tip, once again, to Andrew Sullivan)

Goodbye Northwest, Hello Delta

Delta is buying Northwest Airlines. I'm not a big fan of either. I have flown on many Northwest flights in and out of Detroit (where I grew up). People in Detroit used to call it "Northworst." I once missed a Delta flight (despite being at the airport an hour and a half before the flight), and therefore almost missed a good friend's wedding.

But this is fascinating. Watch the transformation from Northwest to Delta in the most literal sense:

(hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Obama signs Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act today, the first bill he signed. Great news. And yet another example of Republican stupidity when it comes to empowering the oppressed. Bush opposed the bill. Which got him and the GOP exactly nothing, other than a year or two of freedom to discriminate. But they handed Obama an opportunity to take the moral high ground on a silver platter. Ledbetter herself stood right behind Obama as he signed it. With one vote on the Supreme Court (it was a 5-4 decision), conservatives created a liberal martyr and symbol of injustice, whose name is now enshrined in the name of a law. Just amazing.

I'm not going to comment on the bill itself, as much has been written about it. For the best tearjerking perspective, read Gail Collins. And remember your grandmothers. And your mothers. Or, if you are a mother or grandmother, know that we are thinking of you.

Stimulus package passes House

The economic stimulus package has passed the House. The vote was 244-188, with no Republicans voting for it, despite President Obama's attempts to reach out to them. It still has to pass the Senate before we get to spend money on things long overdue, like infrastructure.

No Republicans. Well, I guess that's a demonstration of party unity. I remember Clinton passing his budget in 1993 and getting no Republican support. I guess Republicans think that worked out well for them, which it did, in a sense - they took back the House in '94, much to the Democrats' surprise. Of course they lost to Clinton in '96, but Bob Dole was the candidate, and he was a terrible candidate to run against Clinton.

But this isn't 1993, although Republicans apparently are not aware of that. Obama is not the polarizing figure that Clinton was. Clinton beat George H. W. Bush, but barely, and no one hated Bush Senior. Republicans were not in total disarray, their ideology in tatters.

What the American people are picking up is that Obama apparently means it when he talks about being bipartisan. The man is a good listener, and he makes an honest effort to reach out to people who disagree with him. That's just so insanely refreshing. Maybe Republicans don't remember Reagan's dictum about how to relate to the other party. He used to say that, after 6:00, we're all friends. Apparently he really got along with Tip O'Neill, another Irishman.

Hilzoy puts it well in a good post at the Washington Monthly:

If you try hard, and publicly, to attract Republican support, but fail, then Republicans look like intransigent ideologues who would rather try to score political points than actually deal with the serious problems the country faces. You, by contrast, look reasonable: you tried to reach out, but your efforts were rejected.
Obama took the high road, made some minor compromises, got the bill through, and came out looking great. He didn't have to twist any arms or waste any political capital. He didn't hesitate or even come across as remotely frustrated. Obama just is not afraid of his political opponents. It's going to drive them crazy.

Now, of course, the bill has to get through the Senate and to Obama's desk. Then it has to work. It has to actually make a difference. Roads and bridges have to be repaired. People have to be hired.

But we are in such dire straits that the stimulus will work almost regardless of what happens. This much money has to do some kind of good. In a normal economy, or even in a normal recession, it might not be that easy to tell what kind of a difference a bill like this would make. But this is not a normal economy or a normal recession. My guess is that it will be very clear to a large number of people exactly where the benefits are. And many people will be grateful.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good times, bad times for public transit

These are good and bad times for public transportation. More and more people are taking public transit, but budgets, which include revenue from sales taxes, are actually shrinking, according to the LA Times. On a personal note, I liked this article because it quotes a friend of mine:

"You're only postponing the day of reckoning in terms of generating more revenue for these programs," said Deron Lovaas, federal transportation policy director for the National Resources Defense Council.

Note to the LA Times: it's the NATURAL Resources Defense Council, not NATIONAL Resources Defense Council. It's an easy mistake, but come on, you're an allegedly world-class newspaper. I know Deron from living in DC back in the early '90's. I am also eternally in his debt because he once got me a free ticket to see the Rolling Stones, which was extraordinarily cool.

OTOH, TPM reports that there is good news for public transportation in the stimulus package. One of the drivers of this in the House is Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). I always note his success because he used to be my representative. He's a good guy.

I expect public transportation to do well under Obama. It's one of those things that Republicans love to attack, because they like to pretend that it benefits urban populations, i.e. people who don't vote Republican, while it doesn't do much for voters in rural areas. Of course, more and more people are living in urban areas, so it's not a great argument in terms of future demographics.

One reason I expect public transportation to do well under Obama is that there are lots of state and local governments who have been pushing for more investment and innovation in public transporation for a long time, and I think a fair amount of that is going to start paying off in the next four to eight year. Two light rail lines are set to open in LA in the next two years.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hilda Solis on hold - fight coming

Greg Sargent, formerly of TPM, now apparently running his own blog at, asks a very of-the-moment question about the Hilda Solis nomination for Labor Secretary. Some Republican Senator has an anonymous hold on her nomination. Greg's question is - why isn't either Obama or any unions fighting for her to be confirmed? The question about unions was answered by a comment in the thread - they are starting to make noise. I'm sure that Obama will push for her if he feels it's necessary, but since Democrats have strong control of the Senate, I don't think he's worried.

If I were Obama, I would also let the Republicans hang themselves with this opposition. Solis is the only Hispanic woman in the cabinet. Opposing her makes Republicans look racist and sexist. I don't think there are a lot of people paying attention to this issue. But the ones who are paying attention have got to be pissed. They aren't just holding up her nomination - they are disrespecting her, and the people that she represents. That will not be forgotten.

Never underestimate the ability of Republicans to be stupid and self-destructive when it comes to issues of empowering the poor and oppressed. They are fighting Solis because this is the opening salvo in the fight over the Employee Free Choice Act, which businesses are terrified of.

Too bad. Obama has enough political capital that he can spend some on this if he has to. (And I have enough artistic and intellectual capital to end a sentence with a preposition if I choose to.)

Unless she has some weird financial problem, which looks unlikely at this point, Hilda Solis is going to be confirmed at Secretary of Labor. Republicans are sending a message by holding up her nomination. Fine. Message received. As if it weren't already perfectly clear.

What's stupid about Republicans holding up Solis is that they don't get anything out of it. They send their message, but their opposition to EFCA was already well-known. Are they rallying their troops? That's possible, because goodness knows their troops need rallying. But they are also stiffening the spines of their opposition, who are holding all the cards already.

One of the stupidest things anyone can do in politics is confirm their opponent's negative stereotypes. Never a good idea. But that's exactly what Republicans are doing - dissing a Latina. Of course, I'm pretty sure there aren't any Latino women among the Republicans in Congress. So there isn't anyone to explain to them just how stupid they are being.

Not that they would listen.

Restoring the Constitution

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers makes several excellent points about Obama's efforts to restore the Constitution. It's an excellent post, and deserves to be read in full (it's not very long). A reminder of how deep the corruption went:

[the Bush administration] didn't just break run of the mill laws -- they broke the central stuff that's laid down in the constitution. Their whole program was rooted in this violation of the constitution -- without that enormous breach, they couldn't have their expansive conception of executive power, upon which so many other things depended.
Democracy works because most of us - most, unfortunately not all - believe in the system, and respect the idea that the system is more important than us. But there are a few people who do not believe in the system of constitutional law, and are willing to subvert it in ways that the rest of us can barely imagine. I don't know if Bush was one of these people, but I do know that he tolerated them, and that Cheney and people on his staff were this type. I doubt Bush on his own would have trashed the Constitution as thoroughly as his Cheney and Addington did, but he sure enjoyed the benefits.

The reader points out that Obama's life as a professor of constitutional law has not gotten much attention (not as much as, say, his career as a community organizer), but that this is a key to his success. I completely agree. Lawsuits and court cases are won by three things; the facts, the law, and the ability of the lawyer to make his/her case. When it comes to repudiating Bush, Obama has the facts and the law on his side. But more importantly, he has the ability to make his case. He does so with a variation of the Powell Doctrine; he engages his opponent with overwhelming force, with the support of the American people, and with a clearly defined exit strategy. Because Bush isn't very bright, he wasn't able to build an intellectually robust defense of his philosophy of governing. Sullivan's correspondent again:
[t]his is one area where there is an enormous difference between Obama and Mrs. Clinton. She would not have moved to reestablish the proper constitutional role of the executive. She wouldn't have understood that it's the distortion of that role that's at the center of so many of our problems. Every single thing he's done points to an understanding that Cheney's distorted view of the executive is to blame for so much that's wrong, and there has been no hesitation, no wavering, in his response. He's gone in surgically and attacked it.
Liberals were frustrated at trying to engage Bush intellectually; he just brushed us off. Many liberals ended up forgetting the role that intellect plays in political combat; what good is being smart if your opponent ignores you and apparently gets away with it?

Obama never forgot this. Moreover, he is accustomed to winning debates on their intellectual merits in one of the toughest environments in the world. Because the foundations of Bush's ideas were so weak, Obama was able to dismantle them with a few strokes of his pen.

Republicans have no idea what has hit them. They will not have an idea for a while.

Sullivan's succinct response is worth quoting in full:
I agree. In fact, I'm staggered by how deep and profound the change already is. The antidote to the Cheney poison has been delivered. It will take some time to work through the system. But America is back.
I would only disagree with the last line, and I do so not because I do not think that America is back (although I appreciate the rhetorical power of the phrase), but because I don't think America ever left. The Constitution may bend, but it doesn't break.

American democracy is designed to withstand the maximum damage that can be inflicted on it, either by enemies outside or within. We have just witnessed that in action; both the infliction of severe damage, and the ability to contain that damage. What we will be witnessing for the foreseeable future is the recovery process. That requires, at the very least, five things: passion, political skill, commitment to the system of laws known as American democracy, wisdom, and strength. We are fortunate to have a president who has all five. But we are even more fortunate to live in a country where someone like Obama can not only flourish, but who the system calls forth at time of dire need. Like now.

Monday, January 26, 2009


So I saw "Milk," because I've never really understood San Francisco, and I figured it was about time I took a stab at it.

Ha! Just kidding. Of course I understand San Francisco, even though I've never lived there, and only visited a few times. It's a lot like Boston, but with better college football teams (Los Angeles compares favorably with New York in this respect as well).

What I don't think Boston has ever had is a politician quite like Harvey Milk, i.e. a character colorful enough to be played by Sean Penn in an Oscar-nominated role in a Gus Van Sant movie (although Van Sant did make an Oscar-winning movie about a colorful character in Boston).

There's one thing that struck me as a little odd about this role for Sean Penn; the character is a lot of fun. Not that Sean Penn doesn't know how to have fun! The man was, after all, married to Madonna. But he won his Oscar for playing a rather depressing character in one of Clint Eastwood's more serious dramas (which is saying a lot).

But Harvey Milk is just a blast. You have a feeling that he's gay in both senses of the word - he's homosexual, and he's just a great guy to be around. He's not frivilous or superficial, airheaded or blissfully optimistic. He's just having a grand old time fighting for what he believes in.

It's probably helpful that what he believes in is his own right to be in love with whoever he wants. This is not to say that all is goodness and light in his life - he has more than his share of extraordinary pain, the kind of pain that can be just as powerful a motivator to fight for political change as wanting to be in love. In the movie, we do not see as much of the pain as we do of the love, but we are very well aware of the former. This is a movie about peace and love and guys wearing long hair and stupid mustaches and living the hippie dream. But it's also a movie about people getting beat up and murdered and ostracized. It's a movie about an inspirational leader who can rally thousands and have them cheering in seconds. But it's also about a politician who has to frantically try to stop riots and is willing to play hardball with his political opponents and who enjoys his own sense of power.

It is also a very, very good movie with a superb cast. Josh Brolin, who plays Dan White, Milk's fellow Supervisor, political opponent, and murderer, was also nominated for an Oscar, for supporting actor. He played George W. Bush in Oliver Stone's W., so he was nominated for an Oscar for playing the lesser evil of the two Republicans he played in movies this year. James Franco delivers a wonderfully light and tender but grounded performance as Scott, one of Milk's longtime lovers. The scene where Milk asks him out is incredibly charged but sweet, simply a great seduction scene. Beneath the politics lies a good old-fashioned love story. The only thing missing from the traditional good old-fashioned love story is a woman.

Which is a little bit of a problem from the perspective of our current showbiz politics. This is, unfortunately, like a lot of other Hollywood movies, missing great roles for women. Sorry, girls, these guys are bonding, and they're still figuring out how to deal with members of their own sex - members of the opposite sex don't have the usual priority for these guys. Women are victims of the present's relationship with the past in these terms - sometimes there aren't lots of good roles for women in movies being made today because there weren't a lot of good roles for women in real life throughout history. It's not Hollywood's fault that one of the most fascinating gay politicians was a guy. There is one role, however, that I would have liked to have seen more of, and that is Dianne Feinstein. Her current status as a Senator probably precluded doing much with her in the movie - she's just too well-known. There is archival footage of her announcing what happened. She was the one who found Harvery Milk's body.

It is technically a tragedy, because Harvey Milk dies at the end of the movie. But in most of the moments before then, it is a celebration. Sean Penn just won the SAG Award for Best Actor in a movie. He may very well win the Oscar. He deserves it.

Quote of the day

This is William Kristol’s last column.

-This appears below Kristol's column. Kristol himself said nothing about this being his last column. There was no thanks to the NY Times for the opportunity, or to anyone that he worked with. Just the usual drivel about how wonderful conservatism is, and wondering if Obama is up to the task of defending liberty. With, of course, absolutely no mention of the peril that liberty has been placed in by Kristol's compadres in the Bush administration.

I don't have William Kristol, but neither do I particularly respect him. He seems like he has a good sense of humor, but he also seems like someone who enjoys waging ideological battle than actually developing policies. People like Kristol are, I suppose, needed, but they do not have to be appreciated.

Obama and conservatives, Part I

President Obama has moved very decisively in the first few days of his presidency to undo the legacy of the Bush Administration. How decisively he has moved I do not think has been appreciated. Scott Horton at Harper's has a good description of the impact (it's also nice to be able to link to Harper's, which has not been quite as pervasive a presence on the Web as The Atlantic).

On the other hand, even as Obama reaches out to traditional conservatives, he smacks the neoconservatives across the face, defining them and their conduct as far outside the mainstream of American culture.
He cites Obama's line from his inaugural speech that

We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
I thot this was one of the best lines of the speech. Horton makes an excellent distinction between "traditional conservatives" and "neoconservatives." Traditional conservatives believe very strongly in the rule of law; neoconservatives, not so much. At least "neoconservatism" as we have seen it the last few years. Traditional conservatism is not dead, but traditional conservatives have not had something or someone that they could believe in besides George W. Bush. Most of them still don't trust traditional liberals. By governing resolutely from the center, Obama gives those traditional conservatives permission to believe in him. They place a high value on values like competence and the wisdom that comes from experience. Obama offers this in spades.

Very little has been noted about the cultural difference between Obama and Clinton that stems from their personality differences. One reason that conservatives didn't like Bill Clinton is that, in terms of his personality, he was very much a child of the '60's, in two respects in particular: although he works very hard, he is not particularly personally disciplined, and he is sexually promiscuous.

Obama, on the other hand, is not a child of the 60's - he wasn't there when students were marching in the streets. He has moderate and average personal tastes. He and Michelle are not prolifigate in any way, and they obviously have a wonderful, solid, traditional marriage. It doesn't hurt that it's obvious why Barack is in love with Michelle - she's tall, beautiful, brilliant, and emotionally very secure. She's a good mother. What's not to love?

So Obama's cultural baggage - or lack thereof - combined with his "traditional" view of American government - i.e., a firm belief in the rule of law - renders him a perfectly acceptable figure for many "traditional conservatives."

Republicans have not yet figured this out. And they aren't going to figure it out for a while. Ha!

Great picture of the Inauguration

Check this out. You can pan and zoom to get real close to the action.

(h/t: Andrew Sullivan)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama's gives California a waiver for emissions

President Obama (damn do I like writing that) plans to a directive to grant California and several other states waivers to set standards for tailpipe emissions fuel efficiency that are higher than those of the federal government. This is not unusual; California gets these waivers all the time.

Or at least it used to get these waivers all the time. Not so much under the Bush administration. This is just one more example of Obama overturning an idiotic Bush administration policy. Of course, since most Bush administration policies were idiotic, Obama still has a lot of work to do.

The car companies, of course, are not happy about this waiver. They would like more time to develop these fuel efficient cars. They also don't want to build cars to two different standards in the US. The states involved represent about half the cars sold in the US, which effectively makes it a national standard.

I can see the car companies' perspective; it would be a logistical nightmare to build cars to two different standards.

But I have no sympathy for the car companies. None. They have known that this day would be coming for years, if not decades. They've been in denial for years, too.

The auto companies could challenge them in court, but they have been unsuccessful in previous lawsuits.
So I doubt that they will be successful in any lawsuit brought against this waiver. But more important than any legal courtroom, they would lose decisively in the court of public opinion. After asking for a massive bailout, it would take a spectacular act of hubris to fight the Obama administration on this one. Of course, this is the Big Three, so it's possible that they could be that stupid.

And how do environmentalists feel about this turn of events? I like this comment from someone at the Center for American Progress:

“This is a complete reversal of President Bush’s policy of censoring or ignoring global warming science,” Mr. Weiss said. “With the fuel economy measures and clean energy investments in the recovery package, President Obama has done more in one week to reduce oil dependence and global warming than George Bush did in eight years.”
So just think what Obama can do in eight years!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama's negotiating style

DailyKos is experimenting with creating their own video content (about time). They came up with this great clip of Obama on his own negotiating style:

Yeah baby!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

HSX: Week of January 23, 2009

We have five movies going wide this weekend, but three of them are already in limited release, so only two are opening. But two of the three expanding are Best Picture nominees, and the third, Revolutionary Road, stars Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, and was directed Winslet's husband, Sam Mendes (American Beauty). So it's a good weekend for quality.

The two Best Picture nominees are Frost/Nixon, which has gotten very good buzz, and Slumdog Millionaire, which has gotten spectacular buzz. I've seen Slumdog. It's amazing. I haven't seen Frost/Nixon, but intend to soon.

Our first movie opening this weekend is Inkheart (INKHT), which looks very much like Bedtime Stories, the Adam Sandler movie that opened up a few weeks ago. Bedtime Stories has already cracked $100 million; Inkheart will probably be lucky to make half that. But Brendan Fraser is in it, and he still has some star power, although some of us are starting to wonder. I like him, but he seems to be aiming a little low in terms of quality these days. The stock is trading up, around H$36. The strike price is H$10, which is perfectly reasonable, the call is trading very high, above H$5, while the put is, correspondingly, barely treading water. Looks somewhat decent, and Brendan Fraser has a solid track record, even if it's not artistically all that inspiring of a resume. I wouldn't be surprised by a nice adjustment upwards, with an opening weekend of at least $13 million.
Stock: long
Call: long
Put: short

At the opposite end of the fantasy spectrum is Underworld 3: Rise of the Lycans (UNDW3). The Underworld franchise is apparently doing well, or otherwise there wouldn't be a Part 3. Kate Beckinsale, star of the first two, is listed as being in this one, but isn't part of the marketing. My guess is that she made some good money on it and isn't all that interested in being a action heroine. I first saw in the indie comedy Shooting Fish (which I recommend), and I've been a fan of her since. She seems content to be working steadily, acting in dramas, comedies, action movies, etc., but I have a feeling that if she had been part of the marketing for this one, she would have been defined as just another beautiful face, which would have been unfortunate. She seems fairly intelligent and grounded. So I'm somewhat glad she's absent from this one - go do something more interesting, Kate.
As for the BO prospects, they look good. The stock is trading at H$56, right at its peak, obviously an excellent sign. The strike price is H$20, and the call is trading just as high as the call for Inkheart, above H$5. So the call is predicting an opening weekend north of $25 million, while the stock is predicting at least $21 million. Should be a great weekend for werewolves and vampires. Do I hear $30 million? That might be on the high side, but I'm guessing it will at least come close to that.
Stock: long
Call: long
Put: short

Well, it looks like I was too optimistic. INKHT pulled in $7 million and change for the weekend. It's not technically a bomb yet, but it's not looking good. That was about half the high end of my guess. Oops. UNDW3 came in just under $21 million, right what the price of the stock predicted (the adjust was under $H2). Oops again on my part; that was below my guess.

I think the options were basically a wash for me, while I made money on the stock for UNDW3. I shorted it post-adjust, and expect it to delist below the adjust, which it looks like it will do. Movies aimed at the youth audience tend to have great openings, but not great legs, because a lot of the audience shows up on the opening weekend, and then interest fades quickly. HSX uses 2.7 as the adjust multiplier these days, which makes that play a little harder. The multiplier was originally 2.9, then 2.8. So movies don't do as well these days after their opening weekends as they used to, and HSX takes that into account.

It's January. We had to see at least one bomb during the winter doldrums. Sorry Mr. Fraser. Good luck with the career rehab. I actually am rooting for him. I don't think he's made any horrible mistakes, but neither has he done anything really inspiring, either. Time to take some artistic risks, Brendan.

Rosa Brooks on The Speech

Rosa Brooks writes what is, so far, my favorite analysis of Obama's Inaugural Address. I'm still digesting it, and I haven't had a chance to watch it again. For now, here's Ms. Brooks. I'm quoting her at length.

True, Obama referred only elliptically to his status as our first black president. He didn't talk about black people or white people. He did something simpler. He talked about "us."

This is what gave Obama's speech its power: His generous vision of an America that includes all of us, belongs to all of us, shapes and is shaped by all of us.

Speaking of the "men and women ... who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom," Obama repeated the refrain: "For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn."

"For us." With these small words, Obama invited us all to claim a past full of contradictions that can neither be resolved nor disowned but only accepted as part of that "patchwork heritage" that shapes and can strengthen us all.

I'm still getting used to having permission to dream.

Closing Gitmo

Obama signed an order to close Guantanamo Bay within a year. All I can say is Hallelujah. This is just the first step, but I want to take a moment to appreciate it.

Au revoir to Caroline Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn her name from consideration to take Hillary Clinton's place as the junior senator from New York.

I think that's a good call. I have nothing against Caroline Kennedy. She seems very nice and smart. But politics is a profession, like medicine, or journalism, or banking. You get better with practice, and she has not practiced it. I know she's been around politics for her entire life, but there is no substitute for being the person who makes the decision.

We don't know specifically why she withdrew - she cited "personal reasons," but this brings up another point. If you are considering being in public life, your life will be scrutinized to a far greater extent than it would be if you are in private life. If she hasn't been considering taking public office until now, she probably has not been as careful as a politician in how she handles, for example, her personal finances. So she may have issues like unpaid taxes or a nanny that wasn't perfectly legal. Timothy Geitner had those issues, but he managed to get past them because he is obviously highly qualified to be Secretary of the Treasury. His resume outweighs a few mistakes. To be perfectly fair, I have no idea whether or not Caroline Kennedy had any such issues. But she doesn't have a resume as public official, so she doesn't have something to fall back on if things turn ugly.

A final clue as to why she backed out may be found in the saga of her decision to withdraw. Apparently there was some wavering on her part, which of course is not a good quality for a politician. Someone close to David Patterson, governor of New York, put it well:
"The fiasco of the last 24 hours reinforced why the governor never intended to choose her"
In politics, you can hesitate, consider, equivocate, procrastinate, maybe even waffle, in certain situations. But only some special situationsDeciding on whether or not you want a particular office is not one of those situations. Once you go for it, you cannot waver.


Just as things are settling down to normal back there on the East Coast, with Obama taking charge of everything, life just heated up here in LA.

Oscar time!

The Oscars were announced this morning. The LA Times has the complete list of nominees. It's pretty much what was expected, although some people are disappointed that Dark Knight didn't score a nomination for either Best Picture or Best Director. The Reader got one of each. I haven't seen it, but I haven't heard the best about it, either. But it's a Holocaust movie, and there are several out this year, so it's not a surprise that at least one of them was nominated for the big two.

Heath Ledger, of course, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Dark Knight, and I think he deserves it. There are some questions about whether or not he would have been nominated if he were still alive. My answer is yes. His Joker is, in my opinion, simply one of the best villians in the history of cinema. I think he'll win.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button scored 13 nominations, quite the haul. I still have to see it. Slumdog Millionaire was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, which it richly deserved.

I am not going to make any predictions, other than Heath Ledger winning for Best Supporting Actor, because I haven't seen enough of the nominated movies. Although I do think Slumdog Millionaire will win at least one of either Best Picture or Best Director. I think Best Actor comes down to either Sean Penn or Mickey Rourke.

Let the gossip and arguing begin!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

That's a good first day

Barack Obama signed executive orders today limiting how lobbyists spin in and out government, freezing the salaries of some members of his staff, and pledging greater openness in government.

That's a good first day. I heard some of his press conference. It was great to hear a professional, competent grownup in the Oval Office. I'm still getting used to it, but it's a wonderful feeling.

Let's try this oath one more time

Yesterday, as I was hearing about the mild to-do about how John Roberts slightly botched the oath of office, I was vaguely wondering if he and Obama were going to perform the oath again. Why not, it's easy. Guess what, they actually did it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Change for one day

I changed the motto of this blog for today only. It normally reads:

Art before politics. Life before art.
Today, it reads:

For today only: politics before art.

The Speech

Barack Obama gave his (hopefully first) Inaugural address today. I'm writing that as a very basic declarative sentence because I'm having fun today just writing down simple facts about the fact that Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America. Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic broke it down line by line.

The NY Times invited five speechwriters, Democrats and Republicans, to give their reactions. They were mostly positive, although Gordon Stewart, speechwriter for Carter, wanted more specifics. Still, he liked the core principle:

Never have I known of one to so aggressively seize the center and attempt to enlarge it to the very boundaries of the nation.
Mary Kate Cary, who wrote for George H. W. Bush (and seems to be admitting that was a challenge), says that

Overall, it was a good speech that got better as it went.
Jeff Shesol, a Clintonite, nails my feelings:

It was not the most inspirational speech that Barack Obama has ever given, but it’s surely the most purposeful. He long ago proved that he could make people weep. Today he seemed determined to make them think and, more important, to act.
William Gavin, who wrote for Nixon (Safire wasn't available?) makes a nice point about form and context:

In any major speech there is an eloquence of words and an eloquence of setting (for example, Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg). . . But the setting — the first African-American standing there in the bright winter sunshine as our new president — had an eloquence all its own.
He then adds a nice grace note:

Anyhow, God bless him and his family, and I hope he is a great president.
Clark S. Judge (great name), a Reagan speechwriter, was also highly complimentary:

President Barack Obama delivered a deeply American inaugural address . . . It was a marvelous address.
I'm going to take some time to digest it, and write about it in detail later. But my first reaction was that it was very good.

Obama's new limo

Here's a cool graphic of the presidential limousine. It's a Cadillac. When I was growing up, it was a Lincoln. Maybe they want to promote diversity of suppliers. The armor plating and bulletproof windows are exactly what you expect, but here's a weird little bit: bottles of the president's blood are stored onboard, in case he needs a transfusion. Now THAT'S being prepared.

(hat tip: Kos)

Justification to party

Michelle Cottle, at TNR, writes about the cost of the Inaugural. Apparently some conservatives were grumbling about the cost. These people have no shame. The people who gave tax cuts to the rich are whining about a party for the whole country? Cottle completely disagrees with them. Fortunately, I don't even have to worry about whether or not I disagree with them - for the moment, I can simply ignore them.

The White House Blog

The White House now has a blog, When I checked it just now, there were five posts. Every one was posted at TUE, JANUARY 20, 12:01 PM EST.

These people do not waste time. This is what professionalism in government service looks like.

Say goodbye

Second-favorite headline of the day:

Ex-President Bush and wife leave capital for Texas.

Michelle's dress

I liked Michelle's dress, I thot she looked great. It's from a designer named Isabel Toledo, who I have never heard of, but I think she has a great name for a designer. It's great that she went with an obscure designer (although apparently she used to work for Anne Klein), by which I mean "not Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein or Donna Karan." I hope she wears a lot of Narciso Rodriguez, because I love him, and apparently he could use some help.

I also liked Aretha Franklin's hat, even if it was totally ridiculous. She is Aretha Franklin, ultimate diva. And I bet she was one of the only people on that platform who was actually warm.

Update: The NY Times has a short interview with the now-famous Ms. Toledo. She didn't know until this morning whether or not Michelle would wear the dress.

It's tomorrow

Barack Obama is President of the United States of America. That's such a great sentence to type.

Right now, this is my favorite Website in the whole world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Is it tomorrow yet?

I'm writing this Tuesday night, January 19, 2009. Tomorrow Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. I've been waiting days, weeks, months, years for this. As have millions of people. I feel like I can't wait until tomorrow.

By "tomorrow" I don't mean just in the strict chronological sense of the 24 rotation of the earth on its axis, that will mark another day.

By "tomorrow" I mean in the metaphysical, metaphorical sense of another era. Tomorrow we will be putting the Bush Administration behind us, we will be opening up a new world of possibilities. The end of at least one horrible war. The end of an era of irresponsibility and corruption. The beginnng of renewed faith in the idea of what can happen when Americans believe in their government again. High speed rail? Something approaching universal health care? Better broadband policies? Education reform?

I'm writing this partially to give myself permission to dream.

I can't wait til tomorrow.

The Transition - One big miracle, many small miracles

At a time like this, when there is the peaceful transition of power between two opposing political parties in American democracy, it's almost cliched to note what a powerful comment is on the stability of that democracy. It is unfortunately still rare in this world.

But inside the larger picture, there are lots of minor miracles. There are thousands of people involved in this process, from the Presidents themselves to the Secretaries, to the Secret Service agents, to the interns. And every single one of them does what they have to do. All of the Republicans (well, almost all, Bob Gates is still there) pack up their files and clean out their desks and unplug their computers. Then the Democrats set up their files, sit down at their desks, and plug in their Blackberries and laptops. Some of these transitions take place over days, weeks, months. Some of them are scheduled within seconds, like the Secret Service agent who will, at 12:01, move to stand behind Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. There will be snafus and mistakes, but we won't hear about many of them, if any.

Obama's people will start changing what Bush's people did. They will begin rewriting regulations, moving personnel, changing policies. The Bush people know this. They aren't happy about it, but they accept it. Within my grandfather's grandfather's lifetime, this transition precipitated a great deal of bloodshed.

The Civil War took place four score and seven years after the founding of this country. We are 144 years past 1865. Well more than half the lifetime of this country is now between us and the era of Lincoln, but it is close enough that Barack Obama is consciously echoing Lincoln's Inaugural, including his journey by train, even using his Bible for his swearing in.

There have been disputatious transitions since then, most recently in 2000. There have been instantaneous transitions forced by tragedy in the form of death or resignation (Johnson, Ford).

But we have survived every transition. We think nothing of the fact that Barack Obama and his appointees will now have the ability to possibly prosecute members of the Bush administration. Well, I shouldn't say that we think nothing of it - we are thinking a great deal about it. Whether or not those who might have committed war crimes will have to pay for them hangs heavy on many hearts. But if the Obama administration does bring criminal charges against members of the previous administration, we can be confident that the union will survive. There will be no question of that.

A long time ago I realized that one of the great virtues of American democracy is that it is designed to withstand the maximum damage that can be inflicted on it. Many people have tried to destroy this country, either purposefully, from without or from within, or inadvertantly, by virtue of their malfeasance while in office. None have been successful, because there will always be a far greater number of people, both within and outside this country, who have invested their souls in its success. As much as we complain about the current government's policies, as imperfect as our system is, we all benefit far more from it in extraordinary ways, and for that reason, we all have extraordinary reasons to believe in the system of American democracy.

There have been many small miracles over the last couple of months, and there was one big one on November 4th. Tomorrow we will all witness the greatest miracle of all.


There are so many great articles about Obama all over the place that it's impossible to keep track of them, and impossible to read more than a handful.

But here are some of the ones that I liked.

From London, the FT has an article about the history of the White House.

In the LA Times, Meghan Daum writes about the poet who will read a poem at the Inaugural, Elizabeth Alexander. I'm looking forward to that.

Also in the LA Times, Obama is in the house - literally. Many people are putting pictures of Obama in their house. Once upon a time, it was JFK or Martin Luther King, Jr. Now it's Obama.

Barack Obama himself observed Martin Luther King, Jr. day as a day of service. Boy does that take me back. I was part of a "day of service" a couple of days before Clinton's Inaugural. A bunch of people decided to try and renovate a historic old theater in Northeast Washington, the Atlas Theater. I was involved with a group called Public Allies. It was a great day - 400 people showed up to paint and clean. I was supposed to find out what the local community wanted from this place. I walked around the neighborhood with an older African American man named Robert Jackson (I'll never forget him). He explained to me what the neighborhood needed, but I never had a chance to communicate to the other people involved. It was just too crazy of a day. Three US Senators showed - media was there by the truckload. Cypress Hill did a concert in the street.

But at the end of the day, it was boarded up, and everybody went home, to see what tomorrow would bring. Plans were a little unclear.

I went back the next day. I was the only one. I spent the day talking to a homeless guy, and he ended up trusting me. But nothing happened there for months.

That was 16 years ago. It was symbolic of the best and worst of the Clinton administration; a lot of excitement, but not a lot of focus. But the best part was that experiences like that trained a lot of energetic young liberals who are now in a position to take advantage of the lessons they learned. For example, later that year Public Allies opened up an office in Chicago, and hired, as the Executive Director, a woman named Michelle Obama.

She was recommended for the job by a member of the board of Public Allies - her husband.

So now we have come full circle - the enthusiasm of that day did not, in fact, dissipate with the lack of follow through the next day. There was follow-up. It took a while. But wow, what results.

I didn't start out this post planning to write about that day so long ago. But I hope I can be excused for getting carried away.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

David Letterman says goodbye to Bush

David Letterman has been running a series called "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches." He plays a couple of clips of great Presidential moments - Kennedy's "eich bin ein Berliner," Roosevelt's "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," and then he runs one of George Bush. HuffPost has the video of his latest. After he played this clip, Dave played a highlight clip. It's painful, but funny:

Bush's 43 Worst Appointees

Lest we forget the roll of shame, Think Progress lists the 43 worst Bush appointees. And just think, if they had wanted to, they could have added another 10 or 20 or 30.

Happy Birthday to Michelle Obama

Today is Michelle Obama's birthday. Happy birthday to the next First Lady of the United States! I hope Barack gets her something nice. I think he's technically unemployed right now, so he should have lots of time to do some shopping for her.

I have a friend who, in one long weekend, graduated from college, turned 21, and got married. But this sure tops that - having your birthday, celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and then seeing your husband sworn in as President of United States.

Just three more days!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Last working day of the Bush Administration

This is the last working day of the Bush Administration. Tomorrow is Saturday, then Sunday, then Monday, which is a holiday. Then Barack Obama becomes President, and George Bush leaves the White House, only to return as a guest.

Relish this moment, folks. We have waited a long time for this. It's 4:27 pm Pacific time, or 7:27 Eastern time, which means most of the regular White House staff have left for the day. If they're normal, which is open to debate.

I've been tempted to write that I'm not going to be blogging about Bush again, but of course I will, because there is so much damage to be undone. Besides the obvious policies to be reversed, there are the intangibles - the psychic wounds of the soldiers suffering PTSD, the damage to our standing in the world.

But the worst intangible damage that Bush has done is that too many people think that what Bush did was normal. He changed the debate in supremely unhealthy ways, and it is going to take years to change it back. Some people actually think that there is a debate to be had about whether or not torture is ever justified. The answer is no. Torture is never justified, regardless of the circumstances. But Bush opened up the debate, and made it seem like this is a subject on which honest people have honest disagreements. It isn't. There can be no compromise on some things. Torture is wrong. The President is not above the law.

In the economic sphere, Bush perpetuated two of the stupidest ideas ever to flourish in the American political system, the absurd notion that tax cuts pay for themselves, and that deficts don't matter. Many people still think those ideas are worthwhile. None of us like paying taxes, and taxes can be prohibitive. But we have long since reduced taxes to a reasonable level. 70% income tax is counterproductive and stifles investment. But the difference between 35% and 38% tax on investments is trivial. That difference is not trivial, however, when it comes to balancing the budget.

Many years ago, during the '88 campaign, between George H. W. Bush and Dukakis, I was struck by something as I watched one of the debates. Bush seemed, at one point, like a cornered animal, lashing out because he was threatened with a fatal blow. It occurred to me then that Bush represented a dying breed; the white American male who ascended to the highest ranks of power and prestige because he was born a white American male. Both George Bush's have seemed to believe that they actually earned their power, and the fact that they were born into privilege was irrelevant. I suppose it's a necessary myth for them, giving themselves permission to believe that they really deserve all their success.

They didn't, of course. The day is now gone when being a white American male automatically gives you entry into an exclusive club that denies entry to people who don't look like you. It's still a bit of an advantage to be a straight white guy, but nowhere nearly as much as it used to be.

But there are still lots of straight white American men who are going to be fighting to hold onto the privileges that they have grown used to, that they think of as their birthright. John McCain, who epitomized both the best and the worst of the straight white American male - the honest war hero, but also the erratic, immature son of privilege - was a champion of a dying way of life. The fight is not quite over, but the war has just about been won.

Goodbye, Mr. Bush. We won't miss you. There are enough of us straight white American men left to carry on the better parts of the traditions we represent. But we are thankful that you are taking with you some of the worst.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

HSX Openers: Week of January 16, 2009

There are several movies going wide this weekend. January is generally not a great month for movies. Studios used to dump total bombs in January, because they didn't want to compete with all the Oscar-bait movies released in December. Of course, that also meant that there was a dearth of good movies being released, so some studios are now releasing at least halfway decent movies in January, to take advantage of the weak competition from the bombs. It's a four-day weekend (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is on Monday), so the stocks will be halted through Monday, and will then be adjusted by a multiplier of 2.2. Defiance is going wide, but I'm not going to try to predict it. Interestingly, all the options have strike prices of $15.

Hotel for Dogs (HTLDG) is a family comedy starring Julia Roberts' niece, Emma, and Don Cheadle. It's been trending steadily up. The stock is at H$37 right now, so the stock and options are in alignment.
Stock: Long
Call: Long
Put: Short

Last Chance Harvey (LCHRV) stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in a serious romantic drama. Looks a little heavy, but gotta love the cast. It's trading up, and the trend looks good, but the stock is very cheap, around H$8. There are no options, because, like Defiance, it's already opened in limited release. I'm going long.

My Bloody Valentine 3D (MBVAL) is a horror movie. I have no interest, but, again, the trend is very good. It's at H$44. So prospects are better than HTLDG, which already looks good.
Stock: Long
Call: Long
Put: Short

Notorious (NOBIG) is a biopic about the Notorious B.I.G., the rapper. I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but it's the same story: trend is up, trading around H$40. Angela Bassett is in it, a very good sign. Love that woman.
Stock: Long
Call: Long
Put: Short

Finally, Paul Blart: Mall Cop (MALCP) is a Kevin James movie about, well, a mall cop, who has to save the day, with absolutely no gadgets or firearms. At least none that I can see in the poster. Could be funny. Trend lines aren't quite as strong, but still good. Stock is basically at the same place as the other movies opening this weekend, around H$38. Same prediction.
Stock: Long
Call: Long
Put: Short

I don't think I have ever seen a weekend with so many movies opening with almost exactly the same expectations. Very different movies, too. Which is nice, as they presumably will not be competing with each other. So horror movie aficianados, fans of the IDF and other people who like tough Jews, cute kids, rap fans, "serious" movie fans, and whoever watches Kevin James movies are all being well-served this weekend.

Update: Everything adjusted up, which was great. Mall Cop adjusted up spectacularly, like few stocks I have ever seen. For some bizarre reason, however, I sold it just before this weekend, so I missed a huge profit. Bummer, but it's a lesson to be more careful. Thank goodness I didn't short it, otherwise I would have been in real trouble. I think I might have missed moving up a point in the rankings.

Bush's Top Ten Mistakes - from a conservative perspective

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, has a list of George Bush's Top Ten Mistakes. I found it at the Washington Times Website, so you know it's conservative squared. One of his points is that Bush had "An ineffective management style." Wow. Some reality from a conservative talking about Bush. Maybe there is some hope. He also believes that Bush made a mistake by "[n]ot taking charge during Katrina." Guess all those millions of Americans expressing horror at Bush's disastrous handling of that disaster penetrated Lowry's ideological armor.

And there's more:
"Not reading enough history." So maybe there is something to this desire for a well-educated, articulate, intellectually curious president.

"Underestimating the power of explanation." Whoa! Again with the yearning for an intellectually engaging leader.

"Ignoring health-care reform too long." This is icing on the cake. An actual disappointment about a key policy initiative.

Lowry's conclusion reveals his own delusions:

Oddly enough for a president denounced as an executive monster by his perfervid critics, many of Mr. Bush's mistakes involve not being active enough or taking a stronger hand. How that came to be so with a president who believed so deeply in strong leadership should long occupy Mr. Bush, and fair-minded historians.
Lowry has apparently missed the bazillion blog posts and essays and Op-Ed pieces and books and TV shows and movies by liberals criticizing Bush precisely for not being engaged in the details of actually governing the United States of America. That was why so many people were so critical of how he handled Katrina. How many examples could we find? How many days were there in this spectacularly awful Administration?

But I have to give Lowry credit for being willing to criticize Bush, even at this absurdly late date. I'm sure he's going to get his share of vituperative emails from the remaining true believers. Maybe there is some hope for conservatives to start an honest examination of their failures.

Or maybe the circular firing squad is just getting started.

16-1: Foreign Relations Committee backs Clinton

Hillary Clinton's nomination to be Secretary of State sailed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 16-1. Great news for Hillary.

I'm very happy for her and for us. I caught a few seconds of her testimony on CNN, and it was a little exciting. It was nice to be reminded that she's one of the smartest people in Washington. I was about to write that she is one of the smartest women, but changed that to read that she is one of the smartest people, not just one of the smartest women. I feel like I can relax just a little bit. We are one step closer to the Obama administration; one step closer to regaining our moral status in the world; one step closer to solving so many problems that we know can be solved.

It's also worth noting that the Hillary is the fourth consecutive non-white male Secretary of State (Albright, Powell and Rice were her predecessors). Anybody remember Warren Christopher? He's the last white male to be Secretary of State.

I'm looking forward to the next white guy who is nominated to be Secretary of State making jokes about being representing diversity.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Political games in the Tennessee House

Something very strange happened today in the Tennessee House of Representatives. A Republican was elected Speaker. Not surprising, as the Republicans have a 50-49 majority. What's surprising is that the new Republican Speaker, Kent Williams only got one Republican vote - his own. All of the other Republicans voted for the man that they thot was going to be their next Speaker, a guy named Jason Mumpower. But all of the Democrats voted for this guy Williams, who - I assume being the last person to vote, having a name that starts with "W" - then voted for himself, instead of Mumpower, which all the other Republicans were expecting him to do.

It's too strange and twisted for me to explain in detail, but damn is it fun. The Nashville Post explains it here, and this is a video from a local TV station. Apologies for the quality of the video, but the audio is what's important. You can tell that the reporter and the anchors are having a blast just reporting this:

(hat tip: Wonkette)

Joe the plumber: 14 minutes, 45 seconds, and ticking

I try not to pay too much attention to "Joe the Plumber," the bald guy who became famous when he asked Obama a couple of questions and then was suddenly John McCain's muse in that presidential debate. Now he's in Israel, "reporting." I can't believe this guy's 15 minutes aren't up yet. I watched a YouTube video of him being a jerk to some Reuters reporters in Israel. I'm not going to post that because it's a waste of bandwidth.

I do want to post this, from Rick Sanchez at CNN. I don't watch much CNN, so I have no idea who this guy Sanchez is, but for today, he's my favorite anchor in the country. Enjoy a smackdown worthy of Keith Olberman:

(hat tip: Wonkette)

Bush the quiche-eater

George W. Bush gave the last press conference of his presidency a few days ago. As expected, he was evasive of accountability and dismissive of criticism. No surprises there.

It's almost difficult for me to be outraged at this point, I'm just so happy that he's almost gone. But one last thing needs to be said. Conservatives have always said that one key element of their ideology is the emphasis on responsibility. Individuals are responsible for their own lives; governments should not try to impose extra burdens on them, but nor should individuals expect to be supported by the government. I'm sympathetic in some small doses to this argument, and I've seen more than a few liberals who seem to want to blame forces beyond their control for their own problems. I've been tempted to do that myself, and fallen victim to it. It's not a healthy approach to life. I try to avoid doing that.

What strikes me about Bush is how thoroughly he avoids accepting responsibility for his mistakes. This, of course, is not news. But I haven't seen much discussion of it in the context of conservative's firm belief that individuals need to take responsibility for their lives. In this respect, I suppose, George W. Bush was not a real conservative. Then again, there are many conservatives who are currently unwilling to accept responsibility for George Bush's catastrophic administration.

So maybe we should regard this whole idea that conservatives believe in "responsibility" as a myth.

Culturally, Bush is also a failure for refusing to take responsibility. Bush is from Texas, the land of "Real Men," tough guys who stand up tall for what they believe in.

But the ethos of the "Real Man," who was defined in the classic Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, had the same belief in the importance of taking responsibility. Real Men may not each quiche, but part of being tough is being able to deal with your own mistakes. Real men don't whine or blame others when they are obviously to blame. Real men take responsibility, and then they deal with the consequences. If they have to fix something because they screwed up, that's what they do. And then they learn from that mistake, and they make sure that they don't do it again. And then other real men respect them for being able to admit that they're wrong.

This is George W. Bush's great failure. Real men admit it when they fail. Quiche eaters argue and whine and try to come up with complicated theoretical reasons why they are the victims of society, or a tragic upbringing, or why they're oppressed and can't be held responsible for their own failures.

George Bush is a quiche eater. George Bush is not a real man.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bad move by AT&T re: American Idol

This is a new low in advertising: AT&T, a sponsor of American Idol, sent lots of its customers text messages reminding them that American Idol is about to start a new season. The kind of text message you get on your phone and immediately pay attention to because it might be your significant other with some important news. The kind of text message you have to delete yourself. The kind of text message that you can stop, but only if you send a text message with the word "stop."

Wow, is that a stupid advertising campaign. An AT&T spokesman said that "the message was meant as a friendly reminder." Dude, here's a clue: when people are pissed off at you, don't lie to them. You, my cellphone provider, are not my friend. You are my cellphone service provider. We are not friends. We have a mutually beneficial economic relationship, but we are not friends. And we will never be friends.

The same spokesman said that it went to people who had used text messaging to vote on American Idol. Because AT&T is a sponsor, only AT&T customers can vote by text messaging. AT&T obviously wants more people to use text messaging to vote for American Idol, because they make money. And, obviously, the people who have done so before are the most likely to do so again.

But let's suppose someone has used text messaging to vote for American Idol before. What are the odds that that someone is aware that another season of American Idol is coming up? I would say the chances of that would be somewhere between 99% and 100%. Give or take 2 or 3%.

In other words, you're sending messages to people who are already very aware of what you are advertising. Not super-productive.

This same idiot spokesman - I hope this guy collects a nice paycheck for selling his soul AND his dignity - claims that this is not spam. Dude, once again with the lying to people who are pissed at you.

This isn't spam? Um, yes it is:

Richard Cox, the chief information officer for Spamhaus, a nonprofit antispam organization based in Britain, countered: “It’s absolutely spam. It’s an unsolicited text message. People who received it didn’t ask for it. That’s the universal definition of spam.”
That's certainly my definition of spam, and I don't need to use my philosophy degree expertise in defining terms to figure that out.

When I clear out my spam filter every day, there are several messages in it. I can click one button, select them all, and then click another button to delete them. Very fast and simple. It's part of the price I pay for having free email. I'm fine with that. But I really, really, really do not want to have to request that my cellphone service provider - who I am paying for cellphone service - stop sending me spam.
Mr. Cox said that in Europe, AT&T could wind up in court for sending such missives because they would violate the law.
Oh please, somebody make our dreams come true. I will buy a bottle of French champagne if AT&T gets sued for this in Paris. I'll watch a Godard movie and try really hard not to find it pretentious and trite.

The odd thing is that I used to have AT&T for my cellphone service, and I was perfectly happy with it. I have AT&T for my Internet service. I've been considering buying an iPhone, which would require AT&T. The truly odd thing about my Internet service is that the connection to the Internet is fine - I haven't had a single problem with it. But the customer service is terrible. I got a bill the other day that said that I hadn't paid my bill in three months. I knew that was wrong, and pulled out the documentation to prove it. Then I noticed that there were two different account numbers on the bills. One was my real account number, one was an account that was somehow credited to me for reasons utterly inexplicable. AT&T had somehow created an account for me out of thin air, and was accusing me of being delinquent on this fictitious account. I called and canceled immediately. That went fine, but it was still a huge waste of my time.

And here's another irony. On the right side of the screen on the NYTimes Website, right next to the article about AT&T's current idiocy, is an ad. For AT&T.

And conservatives wonder why people don't trust capitalists.

Slight change in plans for tax breaks in stimulus plan

Obama has changed his stimulus plan slightly, very much for the better, I think. He floated a proposal for $300 billion worth of tax credits for job creation. I wasn't following this very closely, because details will get hammered out after the Inaugural. But this didn't sound right. Tax cuts are not what we need right now, particularly for this kind of thing.

Republicans, of course, liked it, and Obama was making noises about this being a bipartisan effort. Democrats, of course, didn't like it, and shot it down.

I like the way Obama played this. He made nice with Republicans, which, of course, made them feel good. But then Democrats shot down a bad proposal. So Obama is the good cop, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are the bad cops. Which is a role they are used to. What I particularly like about this is that it sends the message that the Democrats are controlling the agenda. Good message to send. Guess what, Republicans? Tax cuts ain't the name of the game any more. Get those delusions out of your system. Repeat after me: tax cuts do not raise revenue. Supply-side economics is garbage.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Depression or recession?

Are we in a depression, or in a recession? I'm starting to get depressed just thinking about it. Tyler Cowen lists eight reason why he thinks it's a depression. Megan McArdle, in whose blog I found the link to Cowen, adds that she thinks we might be in a depression because "we don't understand how to get in or out of it."

I'm not enough of an economist to make the judgment. This is certainly the worst recession I've ever lived through.

One thing that strikes me that is different about this is that we are seeing massive increases in efficiency and productivity because of the Internet, but we are not seeing increases in wealth because of those increases. It's ridiculously easy to find news, or music, or just about any kind of entertainment, but most of it is free, or pays its content creators differently than old media does. is vastly more efficient at making the content of the NY Times available to a worldwide audience, but it's not making as much money for the NY Times as the paper edition.

That will eventually be corrected. At some point the business models will adjust. They are already starting to. But there remains a great deal of pain that we have to go through first. And there is almost nothing that the government can do about that.

There is nothing unusual, of course, about changes in technology precipitating changes in business models that lead to wrenching change in an economy. But it's happening very quickly, and across the world.

Again, I'm not an economist, so I don't know how to crunch the numbers for that. But it strikes as something unique about this economy

Obama should talk to Cuba. Part 1

In today's LA Times is an Op-Ed by William LeGrande and Peter Kornblush about why Obama should engage Cuba. I completely agree. I've read other articles on this topic, and so far they're all saying the same thing. This one has a great history of presidential relations with Cuba since Castro came to power. What I didn't know is that most of those presidents have engaged in some kind of diplomacy with Castro, usually in secret.

This is one of those issues that should have been resolved a long time ago. Whatever intellectual justification there was for the embargo (if there ever was one) evaporated a long time ago. The political justification is in tatters. All we have left is the illusion of fighting communism, an illusion that almost everyone on the planet can see is, in fact, an illusion, and a few militant anti-Castro fanatics left in Miami.

The benefits of lifting the embargo are clear and profound; better lives for the people of Cuba, reunited families, some opportunities for American companies in a new market, not a bad thing in this economy, and signs of relief from around the world. What are the risks? That Castro will be strengthened? That Raul Castro will somehow manage to perpetuate the dictatorship even after he and Fidel are gone? Even if that is the case, what implications does it have for the US? Cuba has not harmed the US since Castro took over, apart from a few threatening moves during the Cuban missile crisis, and has almost no power to do anything to us now. And why would they want to? The Castros paint themselves as Davids versus the US as Goliath, and legitimize themselves thereby.

Cuba hasn't done anything to us, they have no incenctive whatsoever to do anything to us, and they haven't the means to do anything to us. What are they going to do, export revolutionaries?

So the benefits are great, while the risks are all but nonexistent. As soon as Obama starts lifting various restrictions, the demagogues who oppose normalizing relations between the US and Cuba will be exposed for the fearmongers that they are.

I really can't wait for January 20th.

Give it up for East LA!

You may have heard of East LA. It's a heavily Hispanic part of town, famous for being precisely that. However, there's something a little unusual about East LA. It's that "part of town" thing. It's not actually part of Los Angeles; it's officially in an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County. The people who live there aren't thrilled about that. They would like to live in a real city. And they're doing something about it. They have gathered enough signatures to start the process of becoming a city. Hopefully, they will be able to vote for it in 2010.

For a taste of East LA culture, here are some dudes from that hood, Los Lobos.

A return to deep and meaningful issues

In my last post, after patting myself on the back for reaching the 10,000 visits milestone, I promised that I would return to blogging about deep and meaningful issues.

So this post is about the latest installment of the FT Weekend's "Expat Lives," a column about people who are living in countries different from the one they were born in. This week's interviewee is Petra Strand, a Swedish model who moved to Santa Barbara to expand her cosmetics business in the US. It may not be immediately clear why this fits the definition of a "deep and meaningful issue," but she has interesting things to say about the US. People in California are very positive and have a great "can do" attitude, but that means that sometimes you have to work a little harder to separate the substance from the fluff. But people here also love kids, and don't mind if you bring them with you. That's good to know.

She lives in a place called "Hope Ranch." Must be an Obama fan.

I love Santa Barbara. It's a great little big city. It's good to hear that my opinion is confirmed by a beautiful woman who sells things to make other women beautiful, and who lives in a beautiful city.

10,000 hits!

Big news for Talented Earthquake Productions today, I have 10,000 visits! 10,007, to be exact. So that's 10,000, plus James Bond.

And 14,256 page views! Woo hoo!

We will return to blogging about deep and meaningful issues shortly.

I am tagging this post with "Angelina Jolie," because I need to tag it with something, and why not a beautiful woman who is a great actress and very politically active?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Project Genome suspension

Project Genome has announced that it is suspending its HSX stock research. That's a bummer. I have really enjoyed Project Genome HSX research since it was started on oh so long ago. They are still keeping the bond charts going, thank goodness. I loved the HSBR bond charts. I'm not quite as much of a fan of the Project Genome charts, but they're still good. I loved being able to adjust the delist price of upcoming stock delists, to play with hypotheticals. What happens if this movie totally bombs? That was one of the best features of the HSBR charts. It was great.

The Project Genome stock research hasn't been perfect, not by a long shot. When I search for a stock, the latest update is usually several months old. Still, even old research is better than nothing.

But what I loved about their research was the commentary, which was very straightforward. They were brutally frank about a movie's prospects. An indie comedy with no stars? OK, that would be a short. An IPO of a movie that's already wrapped production? Hello and goodbye - short short short. On the other hand, I remember the description of a blockbuster, I think one of the Spiderman movies, as having a release pattern "wider than the widest river at it widest point" (or something like that).

In July of 2007, they wrote this about Delgo:
the stock will hang around HSX like a bad smell as long as there’s the slightest chance of it being released. Let’s all hope for a quick STDVD release.
That was exactly what happened - it hung around like a bad smell. They knew a long time ago that it was a dog, and they were right. It delisted at H$0.51.

I applied for a position at HSBR a long time ago. I obviously didn't get it, but I think it worked out for all concerned. The person who did get the gig, Ultimate Frisbee, married one of the other people on the site. And I would have had to resign after getting into USC. But I still miss HSBR, and I'll miss Project Genome. One thing I miss the most about HSBR is the weekly predictions. I am trying to fill in the gap just a little bit with my own predictions, but I can't begin to hope to fill the shoes of the entire HSBR crew.

So thanks, Blue Duck, for all your hard work over the years, thanks in advance for keeping the bond charts going, and here's hoping that Project Genome is somehow, maybe, just maybe, resurrected once again.

How to be stupid . . . Middle East style

Rosa Brooks writes one of the best pieces I've read in a long time on the conflict in Gaza. Her take: these are examples of the stupidity on both sides. And on the part of George W. Bush. The Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in their own cycles of violence and victimization. Both sides have both great weaknesses and great strengths. There are far more Arabs than Israelis, but the Israelis are much stronger militarily than the Palestinians.

This conflict feels like the end game. The entire world is sick of this. All we want is an end to it. Hamas will never destroy Israel; Israel will never destroy Hamas. Once each of them accepts those basic facts, maybe we can start to see some progress.

Presidential trivia - not many boys in the White House

When the Obamas move into the White House, they will bring their two daughters, Malia and Sasha. The Bushes also had two daughters, Jenna and Barbara. And of course, the Clintons had Chelsea. Lots of Presidential daughters in the last three administrations.

This got me thinking: when was the last time there was a boy - i.e., a son younger than 18 - in the White House? Turns out that it's been a while. The last male descendant of a president to live in the White House while younger than 18 was John F. Kennedy, Jr., 45 years ago. The Kennedy's had another son after John John, Patrick, who died two days after he was born.

Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon both had two daughters. Gerald Ford had four kids. His youngest son, Steven, turned 18 just two and a half months before his father assumed the presidency. Jimmy Carter had three sons and one daughter; the three sons were all adults when Carter was elected. Amy grew up in the White House.

So it's been a long time since there's been a little boy running around the White House. Not important, really, but sort of interesting.

Grandma in the House - the White House

Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama's mother, Barack Obama's mother-in-law, will be staying with the Obamas in the White House, at least for a little while. I think that's great. She'll generate a certain amount of attention for that generation of older African American women, the generation who had so few role models of their own. This is real live history.

Mr. Obama felt that sense of history on election night when Mrs. Robinson squeezed his hand as the final results came in.

“You had this sense of, well, what’s she thinking?” Mr. Obama said on “60 Minutes.” “For a black woman who grew up in the ’50s, you know, in a segregated Chicago, to watch her daughter become first lady of the United States.”

I also noticed that Martin Luther King Day this year falls on January 19th, the day before the Inaugural. As an African-American woman in my office put it: "The Dream - realized."

Friday, January 9, 2009

HSX Openers week of January 9, 2009

Three movies opening wide (plus one limited releases going wide), Bride Wars (BDRWR) and Unborn (UNBRN), and Not Easily Broken (NESBR). The limited release is Gran Torino, which I am not going to be analyzing. Bride Wars looks like it should be a modest hit, Unborn might do decent business, while Not Easily Broken will probably struggle to exceed low expectations. I'm long on all of them, although NESBR is underwater. Oops! I also made what are probably the wrong calls on the options. Strike price is $5, and I'm long the call and short the put. Guess I was too optimistic. It's only being released on 700 or so screens.

I'm long on the call and short the put on BRDWR (strike price: $20) while I'm short the call and long the put UNBRN (strike price: $15). For the horror pic, the stock indicates weekend business of around $11 million. No way is it going to make the strike price.

Update: Gran Torino did extremely well, Clint Eastwood's best opening ever. At 78! His 29th film as a director! It halted at H$50, and adjusted to H$98. Never thot I would see the day when Clint Eastwood was seriously underestimated as a box office draw.

Bride Wars adjusted up H$0.65, so the market just about nailed that one. Unborn was a surprise, adjusting way up to H$56, a jump of H$25. Of course, horror is my least favorite genre, so it's not surprise that I got it completely wrong. Not Easily Broken did, in fact, exceed low expectations. Never underestimate the ability of HSX players to underestimate the African-American market.

So everything adjusted up, and I was long on all of them. I made the right bets on the options, except Unborn, where I lost H$8,000, which is less than pocket change. So Hollywood made lots of money, and so did I. A good weekend was had by all.