Tuesday, September 30, 2008

If McCain Knows What's Good for Him

There is a huge opportunity waiting out there for the smart candidate.  Obama is in the lucky position of having Pelosi, who must now surely ranks as the worst Speaker of the House in American history, do his dirty work for him by making it seem as if the Republicans, the minority party, somehow spiked the bailout.  Pelosi doesn't have the strength to get her majority party into line to pass the bill?  She's just so mind-bogglingly incompetent that it is hard to believe she is a national figure.  She's basically the Bush of the Congress, even though he has a higher approval rating.

McCain could really regain some of the momentum in this race if he stepped up with an easy-to-understand emergency plan of his own and then guided it through the House and Senate.  If he did it right, he would expose Obama as the do-nothing he really is.  Doing it right would be to offer a simple, 4 or 5 point plan that gave a little to all side, Wall Street and Main Street.  If he came up with the plan that passed, he would win the election in a walk.  If he doesn't, I'd say Obama is 80% likely to be the next President.

Will McCain grab this last opportunity to save his candidacy?  I don't know, but if he continues to allow Pelosi to play games he is going to drown with this millstone around his neck.

Friday, September 26, 2008


You guys enjoying this "foreign policy" debate?

Right now Obama is talking about bringing high-speed Internet to rural communities.  Huh?

The weirdest thing about this debate is the way both of these guys talk.  They are both Senators and it sounds like this is a debate for a Senate seat.  It's on both sides, but it is a curious feature.

Rat. Bar. Pellet. Pain.

Last night I went to see a triple bill of Meat Puppets, Dinosaur, Jr. and Built to Spill at Terminal 5.  I was really only going for the latter two bands, but I decided to check out the Meat Puppets set as I was not familiar.  They were okay, but not particularly memorable.  No offense intended to anybody who was a fan in their heyday.  I can see how it would have been fun when you were 19, but the music isn't interesting enough to hold up.

I've seen Dinosaur, Jr. a few times now and I cannot understand why I keep making the mistake of getting up close to the stage in front of J. Mascis without earplugs.  His rig last night was three Marshall stacks (i.e., three 4 x 12 cabs) and a small Fender pointed directly at him.  It's not a rhetorical question when I ask how he can possibly have any hearing left after playing 4 feet in front of that set up night after night.  I really don't understand how he can continue to hear with that much abuse.  I was probably about 15 feet away from the setup and my ears are still in pain this morning.  It's not just the loudness, it's the fullness of the sound.  I suspect he has each stack working a different frequency range (high, low, mid) so he can really tweak the sound.  The result is the kind of guitar sound that makes you weep, but it also causes permanent hearing loss.  If I go again tonight, I will be watching from the back of the hall with earplugs.

Dinosaur, Jr. are specialists at those kind of triumphal loud guitar moments that make your chest feel like it is filled with helium and the Mascis guitar sound is a major component.  I have to say that he was not on last night as far as soloing was concerned.  Maybe it's because I've been listening to so many jazz guitarists lately, where a tight rhythmic sense is essential to playing good lines, but I was really disappointed in how sloppy Mascis' playing was.  It was almost as if there were no drums.  He's always been a bit of a college rock Dickie Betts to my ears, but once he ventures out of smooth, straight eighth note patterns his sense of rhythm gets awfully shaky.  Maybe he was just having a bad night, but every triplet was too fast and every trill was unstable.  Weird, because I'd always enjoyed his playing.

After that sonic assault, Built to Spill hit the stage to play Perfect from Now On which is something of a masterpiece.  After the massive loudness of Dino, it was hard for BtS to establish a lower level for their intricate arrangements.  Unfortunately, the sound was a mess for the first two or three songs, which is a shame because the first two songs on the record are absolutely fantastic.  And the long breaks to tune between songs were pretty annoying and broke up the pacing of the set.  What is it with these guys?  I like to make sure that I am in tune, but I don't understand what is wrong with their gear if they are getting so far out of tune after one song that they need five minutes to tune up again.  It was very frustrating as there was a lot of waffling about on stage when the show should have moved forward.  On this front, the whole indie rock amateur hour aesthetic really gets on your nerves.  After the first song, one of the guitarists broke a string.  Instead of just switching to a back-up guitar, he started to fix it one stage while we all sat there bored.  Halfway through this, he decided to get his back-up.  I mean, you guys are supposedly professionals.  Have a clue.  This isn't playing in a basement in Idaho.

Ultimately, the sound got better and the band slotted into a groove with shorter breaks between songs.  By the encore, they had achieved some really gorgeous sounds and the audience of hard core fans was entranced in a beam of very positive energy.

Sadly, the band then squandered that moment with an excruciatingly long noise jam at the end where members of the Meat Puppets came on stage to swap instruments and join in the mayhem.  It's the kind of thing that probably seemed fun to the band, but after the beautiful songs that had come before, it was like stepping out into a cold winter day after having been sitting by the fireplace with a whiskey for an hour.  In a word, it sucked.  I really don't know why they did it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Goldman Sachs Does Biotech-Style Financing

The deal that Warren Buffet struck with my old employer, Goldman, Sachs & Co made a lot of old biotech hands like me break out into a knowing grin.  Buffet just did a $5BB deal with the cream of the crop of Wall Street firms on terms that would normally only be found in a PIPE (private investment in public equity) in a crappy small-cap biotechnology firm.

For his $5BB, Buffet got a perpetual preferred stock with a 10% yield and 100% 5-year warrant coverage with an exercise price that was already in the money by over $10/share.  On a Black-Scholes valuation basis, that warrant alone is worth between $1.5BB and $2BB.  It's an incredibly rich deal.  In fact, I know a lot of small biotech companies with less than two years of cash burn who would have balked at such terms in recent months.  

Of course, the brilliance of Buffet's move is that he knows his investment is going to be protected by the U.S. Treasury with Paulson at the tiller.

When Goldman Sachs does financings on worse terms than a sub-$250MM market cap, money-losing, cash-burning, high-risk biotech would accept, you know that things are really bad down there.

I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.

Built to Spill/Dinosaur Jr.

The Misanthrope has an extra ticket for tomorrow night's show at Terminal 5.  BtS will be playing their album "Perfect From Now On" in its entirety.

Send me a comment or email if you are interested in the extra ticket.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You've Got To Love Him

I actually kind of like Joe Biden.  He's a little like a slightly crazy uncle who is not terribly bright but has convinced himself he is a genius.

This one follows hard upon other hits like "Hillary would have been a better choice," "my helicopter was forced down over Afghanistan and "We should never have run that ad claiming McCain couldn't use a computer."

Just love this guy.  Can you imagine the coverage if either Palin or McCain had said anything so stupid?

This Is About Right


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Random Musings on a Sunny Sunday

1) I had planned to go flying today, but the U.N. General Assembly is in town starting tomorrow so the FAA has put up all kinds of temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) around Manhattan.  I was doing my best to interpret them this morning when I just said, "Screw this."  If you want to know why dealing with the FAA is so maddening, try to decipher the text of the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) that lays out the TFR.

2) The crisis on Wall Street has barely begun to filter through the system.  I would expect a large number of hedge funds to go under in the next few weeks.  Some of these guys are holding ridiculous exposure in derivatives and they are going to get killed when the mark-to-market accounting they are required to use starts to spiral down.  I can't say that I feel bad for any of them.

3) I've gotten fat and it is disturbing.

4) Spent part of the week down in DC at a joint FDA/NiH conference on treatment for Acute Radiation Syndrome (i.e., getting nuked).  I really enjoyed the level and tenor of the discussion between the scientists.  While there are some egos, the whole thing is a pleasure to watch.  It's really amazing how much work goes into even the most basic questions in research.  I listened to one woman discuss the measurement of water consumption by mice when the water had antibiotics in it.  You'd be amazed at how much work they had to do just to ensure that it was not affecting their experiments.  Amazing stuff.

5) Haven't played guitar much lately, but finally started to break through on the jazz stuff.  The key was finding a player who thinks in the way I think.   Turns out that guy is Joe Pass.  He does a lot of solo arrangements of jazz standards, so I bought a book of transcriptions.  Working through them slowly, I could finally see the whole picture as he was playing bass, harmony and melody.  It's the same approach as classical guitar, so it all clicked for me.  I continue to be awed by jazz players, but I am starting to see where some of the basics are coming from.

6) Seriously, I need to lose some weight.  Those martinis are starting to add up.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Good Site

For those of you who dig polling data and Monte Carlo simulations, FiveThirtyEight.com is the place to check out.  They update their simulations of the Electoral College daily with new data from statewide polls.  With Ohio and Virginia moving into the "McCain column and Pennsylvania starting to wobble, the map is starting to look like 2004 redux.

The Great Gig in the Sky

Richard Wright of Pink Floyd has died at the age of 65.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What He Said

Gerard Baker gets it right in today's Times (London).

An interesting side note.  The other day I was over at the Obama campaign website looking through some of his positions.  I scrolled through line after line of things Obama says he is going to do.  At the bottom of the page was a section headed "Obama's Record."  This is supposed to be the section of the web page where he shows that his record supports his ability to get these things done.

There were only 3 or 4 bullet points and some of them were references to legislation that passed the Senate unanimously and was not authored by Obama.  What does that tell you?

Like Clockwork

Obama gives in to the myth.

There is certainly nothing wrong with pointing out that McCain has been in Washington for a long time and this undermines his claim to the "change" mantle.  And McCain has not made this easier by courting the right-wing side of the Republicans in this election cycle so as to secure the nomination.  I liked the 2000 McCain a lot more. (Also, this opens the door to point out that Joe Biden has been in Washington since 1972, when Keith Moon was still alive.)

But making fun of the fact that he doesn't use email?  Weak.  This supposedly "new" and more "aggressive" approach looks more like a blindfolded Obama flailing at the Republican pinata.  I really do not think the McCain=Bush approach is the right one for Obama's campaign.  He was at his best when he was talking about how powerful he is as an agent for change.  When he was positioning himself to rise above the fray, he seemed strong and in control.  When he attacks he seems off-balance and defensive.

The problem is that his BIG IMPORTANT SPEECH schtick is too stale to deploy again.  

He's in a pickle.

UPDATE:  Jake Tapper at ABC's The Note makes the same observation.  (I love "Barack 'Isotoner' Obama."  Priceless.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

History Repeats

Here we go again.

I was sifting through a raft of articles today about how the Obama campaign is, among other things, taking on water, on its heels, like a tech stock bubble that has burst, etc., etc.  This is the result, according to the pundits, of the electrifying choice of Sarah Palin as McCain's VP.   While this is partially true, it is not the real problem.

The real problem, as I have discussed here before, is that Obama is falling into the trap of believing of one the Democratic Party's most enduring and cherished myths about its miserable record in winning Presidential elections.  That myth goes something like this:  The reason we never win the Presidency despite the fact that our ideas are so powerful and good is that we don't play as dirty or fight as hard as the Republicans (bonus portion: because we are so noble that we won't do that).

Barack, buddy, don't fall into this trap.  For one thing, it's just not true.  You know it and I know it.  Democrats play hardball just as much as Republicans.  Politics is a tough business and anybody who is honest knows that elections are won by swaying the opinions of masses of voters who are not reading your position papers.  So, please, just drop this silly notion.

The reason it is killing you is because your attempts to sound tough and fight back are drawing you into the biggest rope-a-dope this election season.  It's making you sound angry and confused and it is making you spend wayyyyyy too much time going after the VP pick on the Republican ticket.  You sound like Palin got in your head and rattled your cage but you are running against McCain

(Side note: You need to drop the McCain=Bush thing.  It just isn't working and running against Bush is a terrible strategy.  Running against somebody who isn't in the race is always a bad strategy.)

I was thinking about Bill Clinton.  Remember him?  The Democrat who won twice?  His brilliance was in playing just as dirty as the next guy, but always showing up with a smile on his face and his charm on full.  THAT is how you fight in a political campaign.  You can pick up some tips on this by watching Sarah Palin.  She's able to stick the knife in you and wriggle it around because she's smiling the whole time.  It makes it seem like she's saying, "Barack Obama?  Ha!  Come on.  Why would he worry me?"

By contrast, Barack, you sound like you are on the floor having a tantrum and screaming, "Why are they being so mean!!"

Shift gears.  Don't be Dukakis (too many to count)/Gore (Mr. Sigh)/Kerry (They're SwiftBoating ME!).  Those guys lost.

That being said, there is some hilarity in watching Obama flail about for a way to attack Palin and/or get back on message.  If he's elected, I hope he does a better job dealing with actual dangerous people, like Putin.

This Is The Issue

Federal Spending.  It has been out of control over the last 8 years.  The first six of those are the result of Republican malfeasance and absolute piggery.  Unfortunately, the Democrats have not fared any better, despite their promises.  

There is no bigger issue for me than this out of control spending.  As a taxpayer, I am appalled at the amount of money I am giving to the Federal government to waste on pet projects that have absolutely no place being funded anywhere other than the state level.

Whoever is the next Presdient needs to take on this issue first and foremost.  It is a rot that is destroying the government.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Wooing Women

Been doing a bit of reading about the impact of Palin on women voters in the campaign.  Obviously she has had a significant impact on the polls, closing quite a bit of the woman voter gap between McCain and Obama.  And the GOP base is now enthusiastic about McCain, somebody for whom they had not previously had much in the way of affection.  Many of them looked upon a McCain loss in 08 as positive thing for the party, forcing it into the wilderness for some purification.  Palin changes that dynamic substantially.

One argument that seems to be making the rounds is that Palin doesn't pick off Hillary voters because she is far more conservative than Hillary.  On its face, it sounds compelling and there is no doubt that hardcore Hillaryites are never going to vote for a Republican, pro-life NRA member.  But my sense from the polls is that Hillary had a lot of support from center-right women who were energized at the prospect of her becoming the first female President, just as many people will vote for Obama just because he is the first African-American president regardless of his politics.  They may have made up a small proportion of the 18 million who voted for her in the primaries, but I suspect that they are a more substantial percentage of the general electorate.  It's those voters who are likely to migrate to a McCain-Palin ticket.  Even a minority of these voters significantly changes the race.  What's more, women vote.  They actually show up on Election Day, middle-aged, middle class women in particular.  Since this election is really going to boil down to get out the vote, they are a big asset.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Chapter Five, in Which Misanthrope Gets His Oats

The Misanthrope has been emailing with a good friend who is a huge Obama supporter for the past few days.  He is a very intelligent guy and he made a reasonable case for why he is supporting Obama.  We've actually been talking about Obama for a long time.  Before he declared his candidacy, I was more neutral on him and thought that he could be an interesting choice if he just paid his dues and ran for, say, Governor of Illinois before going after the Oval Office.  Imagine if Obama were running with a record as Governor that he could point to.  It would make him unbeatable (assuming it was a good record, of course).

As I have gotten to know Obama more, I have been far less neutral on him and I really do not want him to be President.  That being said, my irritation with him has subsided substantially now that the ridiculous Messiah act has finally started to wane.

Unfortunately, what is left in its place is an Obama who is getting suckered into a horrible rope-a-dope by the Republicans.  He is responding to the electric Palin effect in a very short-sighted way.  Why on earth is the top of the Democratic ticket spending any time at all attacking the bottom of the Republican ticket?  He should just ignore her and stay on his own message.  Attacking her just makes it look like the race is Obama-Palin and all that does is diminish him.

What's more, Obama is showing his inexperience badly at this stage.  The interview in the link above is a case in point.  Don't get on the political talk shows and start talking about how you wish you had said something different a month ago.  It looks weak.  And the line about considering joining the military?  Come on, Barack.  We all know politicians pander, but good ones are not so ham-fisted about it.  The fact is you didn't join the military, so just move on and go to places where you are stronger.

Another bizarre strategic blunder is sending out Hillary Clinton to attack Palin.  All that does is remind people that you probably could have sewn this thing up if you had picked her, but you went with Joe Biden because you were insecure about your foreign policy experience.  I still cannot understand the Biden choice.  All it does is imply weakness for Obama, both in foreign policy and with white working class voters.  If Obama loses, this will be high on the list of bad choices.  And the notion that Biden, the 36-year Senator, is going to appeal to Joe Six-pack over Palin is looking awfully weak now.

I think we are starting to see the soft underbelly of Obama the Candidate; the man is very, very thin-skinned.  Steve Schmidt in the McCain campaign has managed to get deep inside Obama's head and Obama is starting to flail.  On Friday, Obama was at a fundraiser at Bon Jovi's house in New Jersey and he blustered that he would not be "bullied."  This is the kind of talk that gets donors fired up, but it is also the kind of talk that telegraphs "we are on the defensive" and Obama is at his best when he is on offense.  

As a side note, the Bon Jovi fund raiser also highlights one of the big downsides to Obama's reversal on accepting public campaign funds.  He is going to have to take time off from campaigning to raise money during the final stretch.  McCain is done with that and the RNC coffers are full, especially as the Palin pick has electrified a base that had not previous donated much.  There will be no money gap.  Obama made a bad choice on that front.  He gained nothing and handed his opponents a charge that he goes back on his word.  A bad decision driven by hubris.

The race is very close and the result will come down to ground organization in battleground states.  Obama is way ahead on this front and that is a tribute to some very smart strategic thinking early on.  Until Palin, McCain was probably stuffed on that front as the base was not very enthusiastic.  Palin changes that and, what's more, the excitement over her pick will still be fresh on Election Day.  Obamania, by contrast, has been going for a long time and, people being people, they tend to get a little bored.

It's going to be a very interesting two months.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Links We Didn't Bother to Follow

From Drudge: "Obama-backer Annette Bening pillories Palin."