the week 10/23/2006 - 10/27/2006
President and Iraq
President Bush's press conference on Wednesday with dismay,
though I'll admit at this point it's hard to win me over on
any aspect of this administration's foreign policy, especially
when it comes to Iraq. We, the American people, let this president
off the hook in 2003 and 2004 and we've paid a heavy price.
are some thoughts from an editorial in USA Today on Thursday.
continues to be a yawning gap between (President Bush's) rhetoric
we're winning,' Bush said. But only 19 percent of Americans
in last weekend's USA Today/Gallup Poll agree. And just 14
percent of Iraqis surveyed recently say the U.S. impact on
their country is mostly positive.
States has 'no intention of.standing in the crossfire between
rival factions,' the president said. But that's exactly where
American troops in Baghdad now find themselves.
Minister Nouri al-Maliki is 'the right man,' he said, though
shortly before Bush's news conference the Iraqi leader denounced
a U.S. raid on one of the many militias drawing Iraq deeper
into civil war.
of Bush's claims to consistency in his policy, the definition
of 'victory' has also shifted. At first, he thought invasion
alone would light the fires of democracy. Then it became a
longer-term fight to suppress terrorists and spread freedom
in the Arab Middle East. Now, political rhetoric aside, it
is simply to get out while leaving a functioning, U.S.-allied
angle, courtesy of military historian Frederick W. Kagan,
scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in an op-ed
for the Washington Post.
been coming for a long time: the idea that fixing Iraq is
the Iraqis' problem, not ours - that we've done all we can
and now it's up to them..
crisis in Iraq is no more just an Iraqi problem than it has
ever been. The U.S. military destroyed Iraq's government and
all institutions able to keep civil order. It designated itself
an 'occupying force,' thereby accepting the responsibility
to restore and maintain such order. And yet U.S. Central Command
never actually made establishing order and security a priority.
Its commander throughout the insurgency, Gen. John Abizaid,
has instead repeatedly declared that America's role is primarily
to train Iraqi forces to put down their own rebellion and
violence and disorder to spread throughout the country, the
Bush administration has broken faith with the Iraqi people
and ignored its responsibilities. It has placed U.S. security
in jeopardy by creating the preconditions for the sort of
terrorist safe haven the president repeatedly warns about
and by demonstrating that no ally can rely on America to be
there when it counts.
U.S. withdrawal would lead to catastrophe in Iraq. The presence
of American troops is vital to restraining Iraqi soldiers
- the Iraqis know not to participate in death squad activities
when Americans are around..
there any likelihood that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki
will be able to simultaneously accomplish all the tasks now
demanded of him, especially without American help.. What are
his chances if U.S. forces leave, sectarian violence rises
and Iraqis grow ever more pessimistic about the success of
their democratic experiment?....
honor and our vital national interests require establishing
conditions in Iraq that will allow the government to consolidate
and maintain civil peace and good governance. It doesn't matter
how many 'trained and ready' Iraqi soldiers there are, nor
how many provinces are nominally under Iraqi control. If America
withdraws its forces before setting the conditions for the
success of the Iraqi government, we will have failed in our
mission and been defeated in the eyes of our enemies. We will
have dishonored ourselves."
with Kagan, but now we're dealing with an administration that
suddenly says "It's never been a stay the course strategy"
as it flails away in this deadliest of months in theater.
And we have a president who continues to utter inane statements,
such as this gem from Wednesday.
Abizaid was describing to me what it's like to go to Baghdad
it's a real joy. I do have to hand it to Iraqi civilians who
continue to go about their lives, like in visiting the market,
even though more often than not the pavement beneath their
feet turns blood red. Of course the smartest Iraqis, and the
ones with the wherewithal to do so, have already fled; that
is unless they are of the political class, protected somewhat
behind the Green Zone as they steal from the treasury in the
hope one day they can have a cushy retirement in Paris.
pointed out how laughable it was this summer when we learned
President Bush had read some books on Lincoln, as well as
a "few Shakespeares." It bears repeating. Just what the heck
did Bush learn from Lincoln? Nothing. If he had he wouldn't
have stuck with the generals; a largely worthless bunch of
political hacks. Again, didn't Bush read how many generals
Lincoln went through before settling on Grant?
in last weekend's radio address: "Our commanders on the ground
are constantly adjusting their approach to stay ahead of the
same commanders in 2003 and 2004, when we still had a chance
to take control and provide Iraq's citizens with the security
they were crying for, failed to have the guts to go to the
president and demand more troops, to fight fire with fire
and make an honest effort to establish law and order. Instead,
today the totally inept General George Casey has to admit
that 90 percent of the fighting is within a 30-mile radius
of Baghdad. 43 long, excruciating months and we haven't been
able to secure the capital of the damn place.
was Prime Minister Maliki, another pitiful figure. He wasn't
at the press conference that Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad
held in Baghdad, the one that broached the subject of setting
benchmarks, or timetables (despite the administration's claims
to the contrary). Why wasn't he in attendance? President Bush
was asked. "I have no idea why he wasn't there."
later and our president didn't have a clue on this rather
sensitive subject, so instead there was Maliki, blasting the
U.S. for the raid on Sadr City, saying he hadn't been informed
ahead of time, while adding "no one has the right to impose
a timetable (on us)." That's our man in Baghdad. Friend to
Moqtada al- Sadr.
know what we should do at this point. I stated my case in
'03 and '04 as succinctly as I possibly could and have been
losing hope ever since. I also can't believe in a nation of
300 million we end up with the leaders we do, on both sides
of the political aisle.
Will had the following comment in an op-ed this week.
1942, the U.S. government purchased 58,000 acres in eastern
Tennessee that became a town, Oak Ridge, "an amazing scientific
facility. Thirty-four months after the purchase, an atomic
blast lit the New Mexico desert. After 43 months in Iraq,
U.S. forces still struggle to cope with improvised explosive
of this in conjunction with a little sightseeing that I did
last Saturday, visiting the lone remaining Titan II nuclear
missile base south of Tucson. [Decommissioned in 1986.] I
marveled at the feat of engineering each of the 54 bases represented;
all also built within 34 months from scratch. Incredible redundancies
were built in. To me it was a monument to what we can achieve.
I watch someone like Gen. Casey, or Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld, the latter once again showing his disdain for the
American people at a briefing on Thursday. We shouldn't even
be talking about these two these days.
would have required President Bush to act. He told us if anyone's
accountable it's him. Blame the president, he said. The buck
stops here. Very true, Mr. President. History will indeed
hold you accountable.
day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was setting new records
this week, with the broader S&P 500 and Nasdaq at 5- and 6-year
highs as well. But then on Friday a dose of reality was delivered
in the form of a pretty sour report on third quarter GDP,
up just 1.6 percent. I arrived in Scottsbluff Friday afternoon
and flipped on CNBC to see Larry Kudlow, Republican shill,
say 'Oh, I guarantee the New York Times and the Washington
Post will spin this number to tell the American people that
the economy is slowing, but I see a lot of good in the report.'
blame the Times and Post on this one, Larry. Maybe those polls
that keep showing more Americans believing the economy is
getting worse, not better, were on to something. Maybe most
Americans, especially those outside the canyons of Wall Street,
correctly feel that while the government's official data has
been good, and for a while housing seemed like a sure thing,
they remain focused on disappearing pensions and still rising
healthcare and tuition costs, at rates far greater than any
increase in wages they may receive.
I've proved over the years I'm no liberal when it comes to
economic and tax policies, but facts are facts, and here's
one you can't ignore.
up 5.6 percent
Q2: GDP up 2.6 percent
Q3: GDP up 1.6 percent
say Q3 will actually be lower when the revisions come in.
So what kind of spin are you talking about, Larry?
we've been saying week after week, it all comes down to housing.
Either you believe that housing will land softly like Dorothy's
house in Kansas, and that in a short while you'll all be following
the yellow brick road back to riches, or you feel as do I
and many of my friends and contributors to this column that
we have a long ways to go before we can call a bottom in real
we discovered in the GDP report, housing, broadly defined,
fell 17 percent. [The consumer, 2/3s of the economy, was up
3 percent and capital spending was up over 8 percent.]
But wait, there's more.
in the week we learned the median price on existing home sales
was down 2.2 percent, year over year.
median price for new home sales was down an even greater amount,
last instance, that 9.7 percent decrease was the biggest drop
good news in the housing data this week was the fact new home
sales actually rose (while existing fell). But that was not
only because mortgage rates have remained sanguine, developers
are offering everything under the sun to get you to take the
place off their hands.including two kitchen sinks.
I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, being
the eagle-eyed observers that you are of your own local scene.
But I spent a good deal of my time in the Tucson, Arizona,
area driving around and all I saw were the big boys, building
massive developments, with signs offering all kinds of incentives.
Clayton, Lennar, KB Home, US Home.these are some of the bigger
ones I jotted down in my drive-thrus.
casual observer doesn't pick up on, but what you know all
about from reading this column, is that the homebuilders haven't
just been overdeveloping, they are liable for all that land
that they may now opt not to build on. That's what keeps their
managements up at night, I can guarantee you. So much of it
was purchased at the very top, of course, with massive leverage.
New Jersey, we've had a few instances of fairly sizable developers
going Chapter 11 already, before any of the real bills come
those who say housing, and thus the U.S. economy, are going
to fall softly, I say you have a hard time convincing me.
do agree that for right now, when it comes to the consumer
and sentiment, as the readings are proving in this regard,
oil continues to trump real estate. In other words that little
hypothetical of mine from weeks ago, hard annual savings of
$450 at the pump versus a paper loss of $25,000 to $50,000
on your home, continues to carry more weight.
change too, however. Josh P. in San Diego passed along an
observation concerning an exclusive development he has watched
closely over the past year. A group of doctors purchased some
spec properties, looking to make a killing, but then the market
slammed to a halt. And now, no matter how much they slash
prices, no one is biting.
amazed so many of us is how quickly psychology has changed.
But it still has been slow to impact consumer spending and
falling oil has had everything to do with it. One thing is
very clear, however. The days of using one's home equity as
a debit card or piggy bank are over. The official numbers
don't reflect that yet, but they will. All together now..wait
was other news on the week, I hasten to add, and obviously
some of it was quite good or the markets wouldn't have ended
up as they did, before taking gas on Friday's GDP data.
for one, have been super; up over 17 percent for the third
quarter as reported thus far. This week's winners included
the likes of DuPont, Amgen and Lockheed Martin, but you still
had some losers, namely Texas Instruments, Phelps Dodge, and
Ford (more on this one later).
be remiss in not mentioning the Federal Reserve. The fact
I waited until now to do so is probably a sign they think
they're doing a good job. Ben Bernanke and Co. held the line
on interest rates again, but the Fed appears to have far more
confidence in the health of the economy than some of us do.
In fact the Fed appears to be more optimistic than last time,
talking of 'moderate' growth going forward, which translates
to 2 to 3 percent. A soft landing, in other words. They concede
housing is an issue, but at the same time the board offers
inflation isn't really one so, net/net, it all comes out a
positive by their way of thinking.
earnings, though, in conjunction with the Fed's comments.
Bernanke better be right in his forecast of solid growth for
the foreseeable future because many more quarters like the
third and there is no way in hell you'll see double-digit
earnings growth in the future, as currently forecast by most.
note on earnings. The last two weeks we've seen two companies,
Intel and Amazon, report declining numbers, year over year,
yet the Street has rewarded them for the basic reason that
the two could've been worse. In other words, this past year
we've seen the manipulation game come back with a vengeance.
I don't doubt that both Intel and Amazon have some good things
to say, and in light of the problems they've had the past
few years there's something to be said for "stability." But
I would also note that in the case of Amazon, it is looking
to reduce capital spending to shore up earnings. That's significant.
finished modestly higher, as alluded to above, with the Dow
Jones tacking on another 0.7 percent to finish at 12090 after
hitting a new high on Thursday of 12163. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq
held gains of 0.6 and 0.4 percent, respectively.
from the GDP number on Friday, the market also had to deal
with a potentially critical call from a Goldman Sachs tech
analyst in Asia who said global circuit board shipments to
PC manufacturers and the like were "falling off a cliff."
What's hard to determine is how much of this is tied to Microsoft
and the wait for its new Vista software, and how much is really
tied to the actual economy. Plus Goldman has a way of playing
(talking) its own book, as we saw with its call early this
year that oil was going to soar well above $100; though in
Friday's instance I obviously wouldn't be surprised if the
global call proves prescient.
5.14% 2-yr. 4.75% 10-yr. 4.68% 30-yr. 4.80%
staged a powerful late-week rally on the soft housing numbers
and GDP report. Sentiment has been changing every few days
in the trading pits. One week the economy is strengthening,
meaning inflation could still be an issue and the Fed may
have to resume raising rates. The next week, like the one
just past, the data reveals the economy to be slowing faster
than expected, and thus the Fed may actually have to lower
rates down the road to prevent an outright recession. Next
week brings the key employment figure for October and we'll
have more data to chew on.
just add two other items. A report by McGraw-Hill says construction
spending is going to decline in 2007, a huge negative if true,
while I have my own observation from a drive on Interstate
10 from Tucson to Las Cruces, New Mexico, on Sunday.
the freight line that goes from El Paso (and further points
east and north) to Los Angeles / Long Beach. I have to admit
it was fascinating watching all the trains.one after another.
That's obviously a sign of some health, one I couldn't ignore.
was also amused that half the freight cars either said "China
Shipping" or "Hanjin." Lesson learned.
Mobil reported its 2nd-largest profit ever in the third quarter,
$10.5 billion despite falling oil prices since July. Many
will decry that Exxon is still earning this much, but it's
also a reminder from yours truly that with huge profits come
huge tax revenues for the government. In other words, the
budget deficit picture should continue to look fairly good
with the oil companies fueling the increased take on the corporate
and gas prices firmed further this week, ostensibly on far
lower inventory data than was expected and generally colder
weather across regions that are heavy consumers of the stuff.
And when you see gasoline futures at $1.55, off a low of around
$1.40, that tells you one thing. We've probably seen the bottom
on the average price at the pump.
lost $5.8 billion for the quarter, far more than expected,
and the company announced it needs to restate earnings all
the way back to 2001 due to a new look at its accounting for
derivatives. [I can relate to this. My carbon fiber holding
has been dealing with a similar issue the past year.] Ford,
however, is not offering any better news for the current quarter
on an operating basis.
have said, Ford does have a knack for turning success into
failure. Case in point, the Taurus.
renting a Taurus for this trip and the other morning I was
packing up the car in Santa Fe. So I click the remote to open
the trunk and the trunk of a car two down from what I thought
was mine opened up.
out there were three identical white Taurus lined up next
to each other, all with Arizona plates. And therein lies the
story of the demise of a model that in the mid-90s was the
best-selling in America.
an expert at cannibalizing its best. As the Taurus was selling
like hot cakes, 400,000 a year, Ford had the brilliant idea
of flooding the rental car market.yup, fleet sales were the
way to go, they thought.
Ford ended up doing was significantly reducing the resale
value and, coupled with a failure to redesign Taurus to change
with the times, the attraction of the model was soon surpassed
by the competition; namely Toyota and Honda.
long the Honda Accord has been successful. When it starts
to age, Honda comes up with a new look and features so it's
still a popular brand. [I'm on my 3rd Accord myself.]
Ford learned anything? Doubtful.and the earnings prove it.
As for the Taurus, the last one rolled off the assembly line
airfares will be up 15 percent on average this year over last.
listening to its shareholders, announced it would reduce capital
spending (i.e., slow store expansion) in favor of improving
earnings. But you see news like this, and that of Amazon,
as stated above, and while the moves are good for shareholder
value, if you're reducing cap-ex, those involved on the other
side (contractors, IT experts) are suddenly receiving some
negative surprises when it comes to their own futures. That
eventually translates into fewer jobs, at least by my back
of the beer coaster calculation.
Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced to 24 years. He'll be an expert
at convincing prison officials he made 1,000 license plates
when the total was really six.
initial public offering of ICBC, China's largest lender, was
up 10 percent its first day of trading in Hong Kong, a disappointing
debut to some. That was also Hong Kong, not New York.
the ethanol blended gasoline, can corrode the gas pumps, as
well as the actual underground storage tanks, according to
Underwriters Laboratories. The more we learn, the more we
realize we are being taken to the cleaners.
But what of Brazil and the success they're having with ethanol?
I honestly don't know the details, but do you really think
Brazilians think of corroding tanks like we do? Ever been
to some of these countries? All you see are corroding tanks.
And that's a memo.]
European Union warned China on its trade policies; open up
or face protectionism. The EU has been suffering on the outsourcing
front and in weakening exports in some industries as much
as the U.S. has.
Diller, chairman of IAC/Interactive, raked in $295 million
in total compensation in 2005, by one estimate. [Another pegged
it at a mere $85 million, depending on how you account for
his options holdings. Regardless, he's getting by, you might
Group is increasing the size of its record private- equity
buyout pool to $20 billion. But as the private-equity craze
continues, some players are beginning to sour on the often
outrageous fees and tactics (such as extracting huge dividends)
that the bankers are employing at the expense of shareholders.
admitted some of its brands such as Bud Light are beginning
to lose market share to Heineken's new Premium Light. I noted
last month, following a reunion of my high school poker group,
that we had agreed this would be the case. [Though to be fair
to Anheuser-Busch, it still commands about 100 Xs the market
of Heineken's entry.]
New York Times reported that congressional authorities are
looking into the SEC's investigation into hedge fund Pequot
Capital Management, which the agency cleared a while back
of any wrongdoing following allegations by an SEC whistleblower.
congressional committee is finding the SEC's original probe
was riddled with conflicts of interest, including the fact
investigators may have looked the other way with regards to
John Mack, then with Pequot and now CEO of Morgan Stanley,
due to his heavy support for the Republican Party and President
however, it doesn't appear Mack did anything illegal, but
e-mails that are surfacing, authored by Pequot chief Art Samberg,
are damning and smack of insider trading.
is suing Amazon over its 'building block' patents that facilitate
e-commerce. IBM tried talking settlement with Amazon for years,
but Amazon was unreceptive to any kind of arrangement for
ripping off IBM's technology.
Washington Post had a front page story on click fraud; yet
another on this growing issue that one day will finally knock
Google down a peg or two.
Post also reported on a significant increase in activity involving
hackers from Eastern Europe who are accessing online brokerage
accounts and making trades worth $millions; ostensibly to
drive up share prices so that they can then dump their holdings
in other accounts..using your money. Isn't that clever?
into the European Union, such as the group that was admitted
a few years ago, are learning to play the game that many Old
Europe countries have since the formation of the economic
club; lie to gain more subsidies. For example, Slovenian farmers
submit claims that they have twice the cattle they actually
do and they then get twice the money.
voters in Panama overwhelmingly approved an expansion of the
92-year-old Panama Canal. Panama was increasingly losing out
to competitors such as the Suez Canal because of heavy fees
and often long delays. Here are some facts I found interesting
from a piece by Will Weissert of the AP.
25 of the 37 ships passing through on an average day pay up
to $200,000 to reserve a spot in line, which on top of regular
tolls pushes the cost of crossing Panama to more than $400,000
for the largest ships..
a ship that has a reservation waits an average of 16 hours
before moving through, and those without reservations wait
an average of 28 hours - delays that cost shippers about $50,000
a day per vessel. And when the canal needs routine maintenance,
the delays can grow to six or seven days, with more than 100
ships lining up to get through."
Panama will build a third set of locks on both the Atlantic
and Pacific sides, creating a separate lane for larger ships
while doubling total capacity.
Korea: It turns out the high-level Chinese envoy who met with
Kim Jong-il lied to the world in floating the story Kim apologized
for the nuke test. Now the envoy denies this, which is why
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it never happened.
part Pyongyang warned Seoul not to go along with UN sanctions,
while suddenly you're seeing the same old stories that North
Korea has enough plutonium "for 8 bombs" as the press recycles
everyone else's material. To which I reply, no one knows,
so why keep putting out this pablum?!
Speaking of not having a clue, remember how just a few weeks
ago "experts" were claiming that Iran was falling behind in
the uranium enrichment game? I said, again, 'How would we
possibly know?' So this week International Atomic Energy Agency
chief Mohammed ElBaradei said Iran is speeding up the enrichment
of uranium because it has added a second centrifuge cascade,
a fact the government later admitted. Why golly gee, I thought
Iran was having problems accomplishing this? Meanwhile, the
U.S. and Europe can't seem to agree on a renewed sanctions
effort against the mullahs, while Russia is vehemently opposed
because, after all, it is committed to building a new atomic
reactor for Iran for $800 million.
Argentina showed real guts in issuing arrest warrants for
a number of Iranian and Hizbullah officials, formally charging
them with carrying out the 1994 bombing of the Jewish center
in Buenos Aires that killed 85. One of those implicated is
former Iranian President Rafsanjani.
It appears NATO airstrikes, going after the Taliban, inadvertently
killed anywhere from 12 to 85 civilians, depending on the
source. These mistakes are having a huge negative impact on
public opinion and helping the Taliban, hard as that may be
The commies told bloggers they must register under their real
names, while French President Jacques Chirac summed up the
question of China these days thusly.
success) fascinates, (but) these successes raise questions;
those of outsourcing, of respect for market economic rules.
The image of China is.about its political and social evolution,
the ecological impact of its growth, its world ambition."
[South China Morning Post]
I'd answer, China has no respect for any of the above. The
only field where they are showing some modicum of giving a
damn is on the environment, because they're finally realizing
they are poisoning their own people.
President Vladimir Putin told his countrymen he will retain
his influence even after he leaves office following 2008's
election, which can mean about anything. What he did add is
that he reserves the right to handpick his successor, which
we all knew he would, and whoever he tabs will walk away with
the election in a landslide.
also refused to sign an energy cooperation agreement with
the European Union.
you had the lovely case of the big art gallery owner in Moscow
who was visited by skinheads, who then promptly beat the crap
out of him and trashed the works of a Georgian artist he was
displaying. I can virtually guarantee Putin smiled upon hearing
this, seeing as Putin continues to threaten Georgia himself.
Speaker Nabi Berri, the Hizbullah sympathizer, is calling
for a meeting with all political parties for the purpose of
forming a national unity government. The Pro-West faction,
including Prime Minister Siniora, doesn't want this, countering
that Hizbullah is to blame for the war and the predicament
it left Lebanon in. Berri obviously sees the conference as
a way to increase, not decrease, Hizbullah's influence.
Israel and its role, it continues to flyover Lebanese sovereign
territory, claiming it's monitoring arms smuggling. There
is also some question as to whether Israeli fighter jets buzzed
a German warship in waters off Lebanon.
A Guardian poll revealed that 61 percent of Brits want their
troops withdrawn from Iraq, while on a different issue the
Blair government announced it would establish quotas for both
skilled and unskilled workers coming from Bulgaria and Romania
upon their admittance into the European Union on January 1st.
Quite a change from Britain's past open-door policy.
The dictator in Khartoum expelled the special UN envoy for
speaking the truth about Darfur as well as the Army's recent
setbacks against the rebels.
President Hugo Chavez is continuing to fight for the Latin
American spot on the UN Security Council, now 41 ballots and
counting, saying he wanted to keep the candidacy alive to
"damage" the United States.
President Luiz da Silva is expected to romp in the runoff
The Merkel government is committed to expanding the military
in order to enable Germany to be more of a player on the international
security scene. Good! [Though kind of funny how some of us
are fired up to see Japan and Germany become more militaristic.
It's a new world, sports fans.]
the men and women of our armed forces.
for the week 10/23-10/27
S&P 500 +0.6% 
S&P MidCap +0.9%
Russell 2000 +0.5%
Nasdaq +0.4% 
for the period 1/1/06-10/27/06
S&P 500 +10.3%
S&P MidCap +6.7%
Russell 2000 +13.8%
Bears 30.1 [Source: Chartcraft / Investors Intelligence]
great week. I appreciate your support. Next time from Rapid
City, S.D. I'll try and sum up what I see as the mood in this
part of the country as we approach the election; not that
my conclusion will be any different from your own at this
stage. It's called surly.
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