Friday, July 19, 2002

DOW 3600? My earlier prediction is beginning to look eerily prescient, if not quaintly optimistic.

This time, shares of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) tumbled and dragged the rest of the market kicking and screeaming with it, after federal regulators began probing allegations of fraudulent record-keeping at a plant that makes one of the healthcare giant's best-selling medicines.

Of course, Johnson & Johnson is its own worst enemy when it tries to bury the bad news in the fine print:

Well, slap me silly and call me Martha! After years of moral equivocation, Amnesty International has finally condemned Palestinian terrorism -- and in no uncertain terms. Israel Insider reports:
For the first time, Amnesty International has released a comprehensive review of Palestinian attacks against Israeli citizens and determined them to be "crimes against humanity under international law." The organization, which has frequently accused the Israeli army of human-rights abuses against Palestinians fighting "occupation," rejected all Palestinian excuses for these attacks against Israelis, including those targeting settlers, and said that these attacks "may also constitute war crimes."
[Amnesty] refuted claims by militant organizations like Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that "under all international declarations and laws, Palestinians are entitled to defend and liberate their land by all means and to redeem their integrity." Amnesty explained that targeting civilians for whatever purpose is "contrary to fundamental principles of humanity which should apply in all circumstances at all times."

So maybe Amnesty International finally grew a conscience. Or maybe -- to take the cynical view -- they're just trying to bolster their battered credibility and protect their donation stream. Either way, it's a welcome and important gesture.

Now, if only NPR would get around to covering Amnesty's remarkable about-face, maybe this meme will finally gain some traction among the "root cause" wingnuts -- those who still cling to romantic notions that the humiliation of waiting at checkpoints trumps the inconvenience of extracting metal shards from a three-year-old's liver and intestines.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

WTC Plans: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:
Joseph Dolman of New York Newsday laments:
So where's the catalyst that will give shape to a vibrant new downtown? Where's the spark that will create a community of apartments, offices, tourist amenities and top-of-the-line cultural and educational institutions? Where's the glimmer of genius that can stitch together a serendipitous neighborhood of 20-something software jockeys and 50-something Wall Street thunderbolt tossers who can live happily forever after side by side?

It won't be found on yesterday's menu of plans. Those blueprints look like a rush job, drawn up in part to help out a governor - George Pataki - who's running hard for re-election and worried that people might think he's not moving fast enough. It appears the governor's folks in the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Port Authority have just reshuffled the World Trade Center's components and dealt them again. That was a losing formula for lower Manhattan when it first materialized in the 1960s - and it's an infinitely worse scenario now.

Solicitations We Didn't Have To Finish Reading:

From: "Michael Douglas, for MoveOn PAC"
To: "Jay L. Zilber"
Subject: Help Lynn Rivers clean up our country

You may have seen me play a character who claims "Greed is good." Of course, it's not. ...

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Get ready to upgrade your Microsoft Flight Simulator: Here are the LMDC (Lower Manhattan Development Corp.) preliminary plans for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. (Links go to animation; Media Player or QuickTime required)

Memorial Plaza

Memorial Square

Memorial Triangle

Memorial Garden

Memorial Park

Memorial Promenade

Unfortunately, it appears that Derek Turner's proposal is out of the running. I suppose everyone knew it was going nowhere, because -- ultimately -- it would have been unrentable. But it was the only proposal being floated out there which represented a serious attempt to heal the skyline. None of the LMDC's concepts are nearly so spectacular as this:

UPDATE: Incredibly, reaction to the six proposals are ... mixed.

I DO BELIEVE IN SPOOKS! Why is the stock market tanking? Joe Conason has the answer. Writing in his new Salon-based blog, Conason distills it down to this key sentence:
Bush's inability to focus and provide real assurance about the direction of the economy and the integrity of financial markets is spooking investors.
I like Joe Conason. As kneejerk lefty pundits go, he's a good read: articulate; intellectually honest, and impeccably researched. But like most people who come to the table with a pre-ordained conclusion in search of supporting facts, at some point he must resort to "proof by assertion." His entire agenda would collapse without some key argument being valid, and if there is nothing out there to support its validity, he simply claims it as a given, and moves on.

Now, I'm no economist -- but neither is Conason, and it's perfectly obvious that he's more interested in tarring Bush than getting to the bottom of this market dynamic. To lay the blame on anything Bush said (or failed to say) assumes causality rather than mere correlation -- the lamest argument in the book, and the quickest to be abandoned as a matter of convenience. What's Conason going to say when the market eventually rebounds? For sure, he won't be crediting Bush's newly-honed ability to focus and provide real assurance about the direction of the economy.

Look -- it's all perfectly simple. The markets are tanking because Corporate America has been put on notice that it can no longer make its quarterly earnings targets by cooking the books. A certain amount of fantasy wealth now has to be wrung out of the system. If that means the Dow, accurately valued, belongs in the neighborhood of 7500 or thereabouts, then that's where we're headed. When investors are convinced that the numbers are a fairly close reflection of the truth -- when, for the first time in many years, they can make sound decisions based on reality -- then, and only then, the markets will stabilize and grow again.

To the extent that it was Bush who put Corporate America on notice, perhaps Conason can fairly lay some of the "blame" at Bush's feet. But you can blame Bush for giving an ill-conceived speech that had the undesirable effect of "talking down the economy" -- or you can praise Bush for risking his political capital and accepting a certain amount of economic pain as the necessary price for imposing disciplined accounting principles. In the end, how you characterize Bush's speech has very little to do with the timing and substance of his remarks, and everything to do with whether you simply want to diminish a president whom you still believe was not legitimately elected.

(Besides -- if Conason were a truly savvy investor himself, he'd recognize the tremendous buying opportunity that is at hand, and start larding up his IRA with a few good index funds.)

Monday, July 15, 2002

CASTING ASPERSIONS: Suppose you'd cast Rod Steiger in your next film, and you just found out that his services would no longer be available. Instinctively, who would be your first choice to replace him?

Brando? The obvious candidate -- if only he'd stop being such a big crabby crybaby long enough to take your phone call. Or maybe Peter Boyle, who received excellent notices for his role in Monster's Ball. Failing that, there's always old reliable Charles Durning, or the avuncular, always-available Brian Dennehy.

No, no, no and no. Would you believe ... this guy?

The whole story is here. (Via Zentertainment)