Sunday, June 24, 2012

"The Expats", Chris Pavone

Anyone who reads here knows that we like international intrigue fiction.  This first novel is exceptional. 

Like Olen Steinhauer's involving books it still has the bravado of showing off how many places the author can write about, but in this case there is a little more reality to it.  How much? who knows.   The characters and situations attract personally as I am aware from years ago of the CIA recruiting graduates off of a D.C. campus, familiar over many trips with the area of Rue Jacob and Rue de Seine in Paris, several visits to Luxemboug in the past for inexplicable reasons, and aware at a distance of the mechanisms used to move money in international finance.

The distinctively attractive aspect of this book is that it is not at all linear.  It moves from time line to time line without respect for a reader's possible needs.  That is an aspect of the best films, one that do not offer up everything at the outset and maybe take twenty or thirty minutes for a story to unfold.  That is so unusual today, in film and in this genre of fiction.  Here it is an amazingly attractive part of reading.  Not exactly a picaresque novel of the past by any means, but at least it provides some challenges that set it apart from magazine or pulp ficition reading while trying to fall asleep.


Saturday, June 23, 2012


Thanks to those who sent birthday comments.  My title is obviously inverted.  Rochester allowed this.  He said three more years and this charade would be over.  I'm now watching those eye cream commerials.

The sociopath as politician - Mitt Romney

Let's face it.  Mitt Romney can change any position that he has stated at any time depending on what benefit it has to him.  That's classic investment banker behavior.  As smart as they might be, as helpful as they might be if you understand what they are doing, and as ingratiating as they might be, a rule among a minority of smart business types, most notably in my former career learned from an academic and investor named Bennett Stewart, no one but a fool would ever trust them. 

With that forewarning they can be valuable and lots of fun in a way.  Get to fly on the Concorde in the years before it lives its final life, fly corporate jets all over Europe, stay at hotels that Princess Diana stayed in, not a bad incentive to stay with these smart and generally well informed folks on many subjects.  They have resources, but they have a risk/reward for spending them that is not apparent to many.  Mittens knows all of this.

Mitt may be a fine family man, he may be a great supporter of his religious tradition, he may be many things, but one could not help but believe that he has a finely honed learned tradition of being a complete chameleon if they followed his political aspirations over the last five years.  We like his loosening of his approach to immigration and possibly even healthcare in recent weeks even if it has no relationship to what he has said for the previous four years, when he made many horrid statements on these issues.

Unfortunately, he is a sociopath who is completely without any base of real beliefs other than "do what you need to do to win."  How can he be viewed as trustworthy to anyone, especially to world leaders, who in our globalized world have certainly watched his behavior, one in which he has little experience.

We realize that there is no perfect choice, no 2008 obvious one.  Our President has a mixed record, but he inherited one that was less than mixed in the middle of an economic crisis that was far more serious than most of the electorate might still realize.  He and his predecessor were in sync on how to address this crisis.  The challenge was enormous.  It still is.  His unrelenting attack on much of corporate America for the first three years of his presidency could well be his undoing in this election.

What a dilemma.  At least one could have a reasonable idea of where Obama stands even if it's not all attractive.  That could not be said about candidate Romney.


Cardinal Dolan veers into politics, outside of mission

This is a sensitive issue.  The Catholic Church has provided untold nurture to many of its believers, still does.  There are many who live by its virtues.

It also has a centuries old "virtue" of extorting its members, hiding its assets, providing no transparency, and being an unregulated corrupt fiefdom that benefits its leaders in both monetary, lifestyle, and sexual "manners".  Most recently they have censured some of their own top financiers that manage the Vatican's purported immense wealth and treasure, but why is this not in the real court system, but only in the one of the Vatican.

Headlines today in NYT  - "Dolan Says Obama Policies Threaten 'Sacred Liberties" on A15 and "Cardinal's Aide Found Guilty in Abuse Case" on A1.  As the tide of abuse cases continues to role in(in the mentioned case based on the Philadelphia diocese a list was made in the early 1990's of more than 30 "priests" or predators found with credible evidence of molestation, nothing was done) the church remains sanctimonious.  This conviction is a groundbreaking assertion of public legal authority that could send thousands of priests to jail if various jurisdictions choose to follow up on it.

What are these "Sacred Liberties" that these old fogey cardinals and priests protect.  History suggests that first and foremost is their protection of assets and autonomy,  meaning any right of a government to require them to do anything, be subject to any rules of law, and in this case pay for healthcare in even the most extreme circumstances if it involves the issue of abortion.  It also covers gay rights, same sex marriage, adoption policies, the right of the Catholics freely to use public schools and other facilities for their church activities... the list goes on.

How can these hypocrites start a campaign, led by Dolan and called "Fortnight for Freedom", when their own house is not in order.  The Vatican finances have been proved to be corrupt and the institution's history of child molesting worldwide is ubiquitous and still a huge open issue as to whether it has been addressed.  One could think that Dolan and all of the other old folks who always make up their leadership should tend to their "flock" religious needs, to their bright red faces, and avoid their ego boosting self serving political activities.  Some polls say that a majority of the young membership of their church have no interest in or even belief in their opinions.

"Father" Dolan is ducking the real issues of his church like any good politician and going on the attack.  Such has always been the case in political terms, for centuries, for this institution of highly dedicated faithful many of whom may benefit from it practices and still tolerate its chronically corrupt leadership.

There is a reason why Popes are only appointed when they are close to beyond competence and certainly beyond any real management capability.  They are symbols.  And may it be said that they are not related to God any more than you or me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Now is the time

Somehow it seems like we are on the cusp of a significant financial change.  The problem is that I have no idea what to do.   Sell equities or buy down ones, bonds(stay with them  but a loser it seems), Reits, Ginnies, closed end preferreds, dividend paying big stocks, every little way to get a return.  Knowing this stuff to some extent, still baffled.

I have about forty pickle jars of loose change under our bed, no joke.  We have gold coins that I bought in 2003 in our safe deposit box.  Even a couple of silver bars hidden around here.  I just don't have any confidence in what is going on. 

I do like American corporates and would not be selling many of them, but have this lingering notion that things are not right.  Is that my age, my condition, or my real intuition.   ?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday brings home the bacon

It seems like the musing here on Wednesday was more serious than the somewhat of a disclamer on Thursday.  Perhaps some right moves here, but who knows what to do.  Perhaps some wrong moves here. 

This is a long term problem.  Stay steady one could guess, and enjoy the moment.  There will be a time of revival in the U.S.


This post is an unpublished draft from a week or two ago.  How issues stay the same.  The prior post in writing is the most current.


All in favor of optimism here.  That's the culture that we grew up in and too late to abandon it now.

Small business will be revived as Congress and whatever administration realize that Regulation details monitored by people whose only hard ons or get kick backs in life are to regulate at the local level will be backed off.  The larger regulators empowered by Obama testorsorone will back off.  The other big issue is issue is immigration and its multiple facets.  That needs an answer that has some long term sticking power for small business.  Obama has been a total failure on this issue.

Large U.S. business has its heroes and failures as has always been true, but overall capital levels are strong and revenues are modestly growing.  Expense management is even on the lips of Boards of Directors, that being the only really controllable corrolary to net income.  Exports and global reach are growing.  What toothpaste would you buy in Indonesia, Colgate?

The popular belief is that the main issue for small businesses is taxes - taxes smaxies, that not the issue at these levels or levels higher.  The issues are regulation, economic growth, and immigration certainty.  Is there anyone in Congress with a brain who does not know this.

Our economy is on a growth path as long as Europe doesn't completely implode and China does not export its economic growth slowdown(if anyone could call 7% that) to the U.S. through ever cheaper competing exports.   

The opposite of optimism is not a slowdown into another recession which could be managed, but a credit freeze or panic in the global economy  - bunker up in gold now?  That's not a good choice.  At the least one hopes that is not the right alternative.