Monday Readings

My top 10 items to read on the ride home:

• Volcker may get the last laugh (Financial News)

• Twitter Was Act One (Vanity Fair) Fascinating story of Twitter’s founder

• Roger Lowenstein: Beware of Market Gurus Pushing New Strategies (BusinessWeek)

• Why You cannot extrapolate Twitter and facebook growth indefinitely (Breaking Views)

• Made in America: small businesses buck the offshoring trend (Ars Technica)

• Buick Sales Soar Past Lexus (Kicking Tires)

• Why Are Easy Decisions So Hard? (Wired)

• So Far Rivals Can’t Beat iPad’s Price (NYT) see also Apple Said to Discuss Unlimited Downloads of Purchased Music (Bloomberg)

• 20 lies (and counting) told by Gov. Walker (Filtered news)

• Napping on Game Day Is Prevalent Among N.B.A. Players (NYT)

• Blade Runner sequels and prequels happening (SFW)

What are you reading ?


My Favorite Curmudgeon

I just got back from lunch with Bob Lenzner, who I have to describe as my favorite curmudgeon. He is smart, tough, no bullshit kinda guy.

Great CV — from Harvard to Goldie (in the 1960s) to Forbes, he is an old school journalist who is becoming hip to the world of blogs and Twitter.

I shared a list of my tools of the trade with him, and it dawned on me it might make for a worthwhile blog post (coming later this week).

Back shortly . . .


Comforting the Comfortable, Ignoring the Truth

Its not very often that I have a Pulitzer winner criticize a blog post I wrote. But since that is what occurred this weekend, I suspect it might be a good time to respond to some outstanding issues concerning journalism, new media and the press.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist at the Miami Herald. This weekend, he published a piece titled Truth: It’s a big deal. Somebody (I didn’t see it, so I don’t know if it was Pitts himself) then discussed this on CNN. The column is a tortured attempt to make it appear that I said the “Truth is no big deal,” when I said nothing of the sort.

Putting aside the irony of someone whose commitment to the “Truth” begins with a vigorous defense of Roger Ailes for a moment, let’s take a closer look at the brouhaha.

Pitts commentary is off base, and contains numerous factual inaccuracies. First off, I did not, as Pitts implies, say “Truth is no big deal.” Consider misstating a sentence about (capital “T”) Truth even more irony.

As I wrote last Sunday, I was chatting with someone who stated that Roger Ailes had canceled to be the keynote speaker at their conference. According to this person, Ailes’ people blamed it on an imminent indictment – ostensibly on felony charges of obstruction of justice (see Roger Ailes to be Indicted).

This was precisely what it appeared to be. Me passing along words from someone who appeared to be hearing these things first hand. As the post made it clear, it was a credible piece of information about a public figure, and so I repeated this discussion.

That is the truth of what occurred, and it is what I posted on this blog.

In the hierarchy of journalism, I don’t know if you would call this exactly a formal piece of investigative reporting. Rather, I repeated what I heard informally, from someone I determined to be a credible person. It seemed like an accurate piece of information from a person whose knowledge of the facts – Ailes canceled an appearance to speak – was first hand. On the grand scale of journalism, I would place this above a tweet, but below the Pentagon Papers.

Note that on this blog post, I never suggested that this was inside dope from a prosecutor’s office, nor was it implied that anyone in law enforcement was associated with this discussion.

If I were writing in the NYT or WSJ or the Miami Herald, where Pitts’s column appears, that is what would have been required before publishing such a statement. That is what the formal rules of MSM journalism requires. But Blogs do not have those rules – and probably could not work if they did – and so do not adhere to this standard.

The reach, recognition and official record of the MSM does follow these standards, and they should. For this, they are accorded greater credibility.

At least, they used to get that benefit of the doubt. There are far too many examples of the mainstream media either missing the big story or simply getting it wrong; it is a large reason why blogs exist – to fill the void that the MSM left as they slashed budgets for experienced reporters and gave up on long form investigative journalism. That is a topic perhaps best saved for another day.

As regular readers of this blog know, I endeavor to uncover the truth about markets, the economy and Wall Street that the MSM regularly overlooks or gets wrong. I try to verify what I write where possible. And as my track record shows, I am right far more often than wrong about such things.

But speaking of the rules of journalism – when Justin Elliott of Salon was curious as to the origins of my blog post, he emailed me. I wrote back, we spoke on the phone, I told him what I knew (including a few things off-the-record that I could not say publicly). And as he reported my attitude in writing the post was “passing along what an informed person had said.”

Leonard Pitts Jr. could not be bothered with such trivialities. In his rush to “comfort the comfortable” about this heinous violation of the rules of journalism, he could hardly be bothered to follow them himself. Some will defend this omission as unnecessary, as his column is commentary (but blog posts apparently aren’t).

My read of his Miami Herald piece defending Ailes was straight up disingenuous commentary; I guess he was trying to capture a little internet lightning in a bottle. Then again, I am not objective.

I do manage to agree with Pitts about one thing right – his headline: Truth: It is a big deal. But in his mangling of what I wrote, Pitt reveals it is not really a big deal – at least not to him.

Speaking of truth: I went to his Miami Herald page as well as the Miami Herald archives (1982 – Current) to see what else Mr. Pitts has written about Roger Ailes.

If you were interested in defending the truth, then chief of Fox News must be a pretty big target of some of your columns, right?

Only . . . not so much.


The Cramer Abides

Dow Jones’ Paul Vigna has had it up to here with James Cramer.

Yesterday, in a post titled Jim Cramer is an Insufferable Jackass, Vigna laces into the C-man for “bad calls” and other issues. With great chivalry, he defends the honor of (the fair maiden) Kelly Evans who, despite her apparent youthfulness, needs no defending.

It is an interesting battle — as much for what it says as what it doesn’t.

Let’s start with Vigna:

“I studiously avoid watching Jim Cramer. It’s not that he’s a stupid man, he’s a very smart man. It’s not that he isn’t a successful man, he a very successful. It’s not that he makes bad calls. Well, it’s not solely that he makes bad calls.

It’s that he’s an insufferable jackass.

So last night he’s on his show, trying to convince his viewers not to panic and to stay with stocks, and he rips Kelly Evans over her Ahead of the Tape column yesterday about auto-parts stores. Now, whether or not Kelly’s right or wrong can’t be decided in one day. Whether or not anybody who writes a column or hosts a show for a living can ever be 100% right isn’t the point either.”

I must say this: Cramer was decades ahead of everyone else when it came to understanding the value of financial news on the web. That you are reading this on a blog — that you even read financial blogs –  is indirectly a tribute to Cramer’s prescience. There are literally 1000s of sites that can trace their lineage to TheStreet.com. The TSCM alumnus are an extremely distinguished group of journalists (like Jesse Eisinger and Aaron Task) and scribblers (like Jeff Matthews and myself).

That said, I understand Vigna’s complaint. Most market professionals find the show tough to watch, but then again, we are not Mad Money‘s target demographic. Its audience are mom and pop investors and financially curious college students — not pros running money.

As to Paul’s complaint about JC: I personally know and like both men. I’m a fan of DJMT, I was after DJ to make it blog for years.

But I wonder if Paul isn’t tilting at windmills.

Why?

Based on all appearances, Cramer is bullet proof.

Think about this.

He has survived relentless and often well founded criticism. Despite the structure of the show — its a mile wide and an inch deep — he has a strong and loyal following. Everyone takes potshots at him. Barron’s trashed him (they got banned from CNBC for their trouble) and Jon Stewart immolated him; TDS is the closest thing to Kryptonite to Cramer. Yet he survived a lethal dose of Stewart that would have destroyed Superman. Others continue to take pot shots at him. Still, after everything that has been thrown at Cramer, he has survived and even thrived.

The Cramer abides.

The show chugs along, viewers continue to come along for the ride. Despite everything that has come and gone with Mad Money, it survives. Cramer went from Harvard Law to Goldman Sachs to running a hedge fund to CNBC.  That CV is as close to a front row seat to Wall Street as most viewers will ever get. To many viewers, that access is its inherent appeal.

Meanwhile, Cramer continues to garner media coverage, viewers, and influence. Until no one cares what Jim said last night, he will continue to be a force. Unless and until viewers abandon the show, or he gets bored with the grind of cranking it out 5 nights a week, there will be no stopping Jim Cramer.

Kinda like Cher and post apocalyptic cockroaches.


Wednesday Reads

My afternoon reading material:

• Sexual Economics, Erotic Capital (Slate)

• Bernanke Doesn’t Rule Out More Bond Buying to Aid Economy (Bloomberg) but see We’re Just Gonna Inflate Our Way Out Of It! (ContraryInvestor)

• China’s Highly Unequal Economy (The Diplomat)

• Four time bombs that will blow up Wall Street (MarketWatch)

Leonhardt: Union Contracts, Not Pay, Are States’ Problem (NYT)

• Accidental Death Becomes Suicide When Insurers Dodge Payouts (Bloomberg)

• How the Internet gets inside us. (New Yorker)

• 1 million workers. 90 million iPhones. 17 suicides. Who’s to Blame? (Wired)

• The Day the Movies Died (GQ)

R.E.M.Collapse Into Now:  “smart, sonically rich and emotionally resonant” (Stream full album at NPR, full review at Rolling Stone, pre-order at Amazon)

What are you reading?


“Welcome Back” Reads

Here is what I have queued up on the ole iPaper:

• Swift action can prevent bubbles from reoccurring (Irish Times)

• Critical Analysis of Buffett’s Annual Letter (Aleph Blog)

• The Myth of Japan’s ‘Lost Decades’ (The Atlantic)

• The Madoff Tapes (NY Mag)

• Tax Breaks to Take Before They Go (NYT)

• State by State Housing Market Infographic (Coldwell Banker)

• Plutocracy Now: What Wisconsin Is Really About (MoJo/Kevin Drum)

• The Man Who Wasn’t Darwin (National Geographic)

• The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (NYRB)

• Melting Snow and Ice Warm Northern Hemisphere (NASA)

What are you reading?


Roger Ailes to be Indicted

Last week, the NY Times broke the story that Roger Ailes had urged various colleagues to lie to Federal investigators; (David Corn explains the background to this here).

NYT:

“It was an incendiary allegation — and a mystery of great intrigue in the media world: After the publishing powerhouse Judith Regan was fired by HarperCollins in 2006, she claimed that a senior executive at its parent company, News Corporation, had encouraged her to lie two years earlier to federal investigators who were vetting Bernard B. Kerik for the job of homeland security secretary . . .

Now, court documents filed in a lawsuit make clear whom Ms. Regan was accusing of urging her to lie: Roger E. Ailes, the powerful chairman of Fox News and a longtime friend of Mr. Giuliani. What is more, the documents say that Ms. Regan taped the telephone call from Mr. Ailes in which Mr. Ailes discussed her relationship with Mr. Kerik.”

Here’s what I learned recently: Someone I spoke with claimed that Ailes was scheduled to speak at their event in March, but canceled. It appears that Roger’s people, ostensibly using a clause in his contract, said he “cannot appear for legal reasons.”

I asked “What, precisely, does that mean?”

The response: “Roger Ailes will be indicted — probably this week, maybe even Monday.”

You read it here first . . .


Aeroplane Reading

These are the articles I have open on my laptop for in-flight reading:

• Is this bull market almost over, or will it thrive for years? (USA Today)

• BRICs Losing for Second Time in Decade as America Takes Over (Bloomberg)

• U.S. Pushes “Cramdown” Mortgage Deal (WSJ)

• BofA’s legal woes from Countrywide worse than expected (LATimes) see also Legacy Countrywide mortgage investors rally against potential settlement with Bank of America (FT.com)

• Market Crash 2011: It will hit by Christmas (Marketwatch)

• Farmers Can’t Meet Demand as Corn Stocks Drop to 1974 Low (Bloomberg)

• It’s the Inequality, Stupid (Mother Jones) see also Soak the Super-Rich (Balloon-Juice)

• Political Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East (NYT)

• The Billion Dollar Lost-Laptop Study (Intel)

• Google Forecloses On Content Farms With “Farmer” Algorithm Update (SearchEngineLand)

• Less Virtual Keypad for the iPhone (Gadgetwise)

Anything else worth reading when I land?


Mid-Week Reading

See if you can spot the theme:

•  Matt Taibbi: Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail? (Rolling Stone)

• Michael Lewis: All You Need to Know About Why Things Fell Apart (Bloomberg)

• Karl Denninger: Bernanke’s Outrages Exposed (Market-Ticker)

• Sorry Felix, but the stockmarket is still where it’s at (Ultimi Barbarorum)

• “Grapes of Wrath” Holds Lessons for Middle Class Survival (Minyanville)

• Credibility Shaken, Hedge Funds Are Punished by Investors (Dealbook)

• Fannie and Freddie aren’t going anywhere. (Slate)

• Curveball: How US was duped by Iraqi fantasist looking to topple Saddam (Guardian)

• How Skyscrapers Can Save the City (The Atlantic)

• Best of the best: 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (Big Picture)


Tuesday Afternoon Reads

• Great Inflation Debate: Big Week for Inflationistas (Marketbeat)

• Bubblemania: Is It Time to be Skeptical of the Skeptics? (Observer)

• The History of Too Big To Fail (Focus)

• Bernanke two-fer:
-Fed dictator Bernanke needs to be toppled (Marketwatch)
-The FOMC is Right to Stay the Course on QE2 (Jeff Frankels Weblog)

• Moody’s CMBS delinquency tracker tops 9% for first time (Housing Wire)

• The sabotaging of Iran (FT.com)

• “Crazy Eddie” Fraudster to return to crime, thanks to Anti-Regulators (DAGblog)

• The Untold Story of How My Dad Helped Invent the First Mac (Fast Co Design)

• Conan 2.0 (Fortune)


100 Most Respected Companies

From Barron’s, comes their annual list of the most respected global companies — but for JPM (14), there are no US financials in the top 40.

Canadian banks Toronto-Dominion Bank (29) and Royal Bank of Canada (34)

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click for full list

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Source:
…And the Award Goes to Apple!
VITO J. RACANELLI
Barron’s, FEBRUARY 12, 2011
http://online.barrons.com/article/SB50001424052970203926004576132221890378628.html


Mid-Week Reading

• Has the Nearly 2-Yr-Old Bull Market Topped Out? (Barron’s)

• Steve Ballmer’s change of heart is touching, but it’s five years too late (Beta News)

Martin Wolf: Britain’s experiment in austerity (FT.com)

• It’s Getting Better All the Time: Why the news is so bad even as nearly everything gets better (The Amateur Thinker)

• Economics on the Go: Apps for Economists (Economix)

• How Great Entrepreneurs Think (Inc.)

• Nokia CEO Stephen Elop rallies troops in brutally honest ‘burning platform’ memo? (EngadgetBallmer needs to do one of these . . .

• How the Internet gets inside us. (New Yorker)

• Making dollars and sense of adult content (HotelNewsNow)

• Forgive Me iPhone, For I Have Sinned (CBS) New apps for Confession — and the Catholic Church gives the thumbs-up.


Reads to Start Your Week

• Bond Market Flashes Inflation Warning (WSJ)

• Apple’s modern success story began with four investments made 10 years ago (Betanews)

• The trouble with tax reform (Economist)

• Commercial Real Estate Coming Back, but Unevenly (WSJ)

The boy is mad,mad I tell you! Why I Write Books Even Though I’ve Lost Money on Every Book I’ve Written (Altucher)

• A Few Graphs Describing the Reagan Presidency (Presimetrics)

• The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology (New Yorker)

• How Twitter engineers outwitted Mubarak in one weekend (Guardian)

• National Treasure: Can anything explain the lunatic career of Nicolas Cage? (GQ)

• Negotiating and the FBI  (The Browser)


AOL Buys HuffPo for $315 Million

The Huffington Post, Ariana Huffington’s news and political focused website, has been acquired by AOL for $315 million — $300 million cash, the rest in stock.

Huff Po began in 2005 with a $1 million investment; it has since grown into one of the most heavily visited news Web sites in the country. The NYT called the deal “an unlikely pairing of two online media giants.” It is the company’s largest acquisition since the break up of AOL Time Warner in 2009.

In a surprise, Arianna Huffington will take control of all of AOL’s editorial content as president and editor in chief of a newly created Huffington Post Media Group. The Times notes she will have oversight not only of “AOL’s national, local and financial news operations, but also of the company’s other media enterprises like MapQuest and Moviefone.” The deal was signed on Sunday at the Super Bowl in Dallas, where Huffington and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong were watching the game.

AOL owns a series of well-known digital brands, including Mapquest, Politics Daily, the pop-culture news site PopEater, movie-news and ticket reservation service Moviefone, and the tech-news and review sites Engadget and TechCrunch, and local site Patch.com. This is at least the 5th acquisition by AOL since September 2010 (About.me, TechCrunch, 5min Media, Thing Labs).

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Sources:
Betting on News, AOL Is Buying The Huffington Post
JEREMY W. PETERS and VERNE G. KOPYTOFF
NYT, February 7, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/07/business/media/07aol.html


Weekend Reads

Here’s what I will be perusing this weekend:

Michael Lewis: When Irish Eyes Are Crying (Vanity Fair)

• Rethinking Stocks for the Long Haul (Businessweek)

• Permabears’ growling, grudging bullishness (Marketwatch)

• What Ever Happened to Robert Prechters Dow 1,000 Call? (WSCS)

• Simon Johnson: The Ruinous Fiscal Impact of Big Banks (Economix)

• Angela in Wunderland: What Germany’s got right, and what it hasn’t (Economist)

• Ten Stupidly High P/E Ratios in the S&P! (MarketBeat)

• One Million Surveys Reveal Portrait of Americans’ Well being (Gallup)

Why and How To Write: In Which We Get You Writing Something Dark And Very Disturbed (This Recording)

• Huge ISPs want per-GB payments from Netflix, YouTube (Ars Technica)

What are you reading?


Monday Reads

Soem longer form reads on my Instapaper:

• Normal Recovery? No Way (Comstock)
• Why Egypt’s popular rebellion is the greatest historical event in a decade (Canonical.org)
• Want an MBA? Don’t bother (Economist)
• Demand Media’s Planet of the Algorithms (BusinessWeek)
• The shocking truth about the electric Volt (Washington Post)
• Sabermetrician In Exile (Yahoo Sports)
• The art of good writing (FT.com)
• How Egypt Switched Off the Internet (GigaOm)

What are you reading?


No, Not Every Crisis Book Overlooked Citigroup

“The F.C.I.C. is the first to take a close look at the missteps at Citigroup, which virtually every book about the financial crisis has overlooked. It is a devastating portrait of negligence at the top — including the once sainted Robert Rubin.”

-Joe Nocera, NYT, Inquiry Is Missing Bottom Line

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Say it ain’t so, Joe!

How did you miss this? Bailout Nation, Chapter 18 is titled “Too Big to Succeed.” It is about the history of Citigroup, its numerous missteps leading up to the crisis, the role of Robert Rubin and Larry Summers in the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and Citi’s role in the collapse. (Bank of America makes a guest appearance in the last third of the chapter).

It is, to say the least, rather critical.

The Glass-Steagall repeal may not have been the cause of the crisis, but it sure as hell made the damage far worse. It allowed banks to own businesses they otherwise could not, and to manufacture and buy junk paper in quantities far greater than would otherwise have been possible.

When Glass-Steagall was in effect, Wall Street collapses were kept on Wall Street and for the most part, away from Main Street.

Do you remember the devastating credit crisis and recession caused by the 1987 crash? No, because it never happened. As Bailout Nation makes clear, Glass-Steagall was a major factor why.

Anyway, Chapter 18 is posted in our Bookshelf. And in light of the FCIC report, the rest of the book should be next in your queue.

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Previously:
Bailout Nation Updated Reviews

Source:
Inquiry Is Missing Bottom Line
JOE NOCERA
NYT, January 28, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/business/29nocera.html


Even Snowier Thursday Reads

• Moody’s to Factor Pension Gaps in States’ Ratings (NYT)
• Jealous Davos Mistresses (Reuters) Brilliant take down of the entire scene from Mrs. Joseph Stiglitz
• Shadow inventory update (ft.com/alphaville)
• NYSE Euronext issues notice to members: Gambling is prohibited on trading floor (DJMT) Does this mean the entire floor has to close?
• Crisis Coming to China Within 5 Years (Bloomberg)
• Google Comes Under Fire for ‘Secret’ Relationship with NSA (PC World)
• What a Tea Party budget looks like (CNN/Money)
• WikiLeaks + Hyperlocal = Localeaks (Webnewser)
• The ex-commander of US troops in Iraq thinks some of his superiors should go to hell (Atlantic)
• Ted Haggard: I’m Probably What The Kids Call ‘Bisexual’ (TPM)


More Snow

It appears we got hit with another 10-12 inches of snow overnight. Schools are cancelled, and my trains are not running into the city yet.

I need to go blow the snow off the driveway, then figure out what I am gong to do today. I was hoping to read the FCIC report, but it does not look like I will get to the store today.

And speaking of Snow Jobs, the dissenters in the FCIC continue their embarrassing foolishness.

The NYT devotes two paragraphs to Peter Wallison — they mention he was “chief lawyer for the Treasury Department and then the White House during the Reagan administration” and that he is “now at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.”

But nowhere do they mention that he was co-director of the AEI’s Financial Deregulation Project.  This is a serious omission by a major publication.

The New York Times should be much better than this . . .


Wednesday Reads

• U.S. Stocks Near ‘Significant’ Top, Tom DeMark Says (Bloomberg)

• Stop the Jets (Floyd Norris) for the sake of the stock market . . .

• The full story of the Ibanez case (Alphaville)

• Will We See Another Earnings Season Selloff?  (Marketbeat)

• Apple’s Amateur Analysts Outperform Wall Street Professionals (Bloomberg)

• Investing With the Herd (Bucks)

• The Soft Tyranny of Alphabetical Order (Real Time Economics)

• The Mathematics Of Beauty (OK Trends)

• What we can learn from a nuclear reactor (FT.com)

• Your Memories are Fiction (Science Proves You’re Stupid) (H Plus)