Monday, August 29, 2011

I Could Have Been Victim of the Terror Attack in Israel

This week's terror attack in Israel occurred several blocks from where I used to live in the heart of Tel Aviv. The intended target was 2000 high school students celebrating the end of summer at the Haoman 17 nightclub, which is typically jammed on a Saturday night. Many young children would have died without the quick thinking and intervention of the Israeli border police. 8 people, including several policemen, were wounded.

When people ask me where I stand on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I always say that I am pro-life, my life. Many people are upset that Israel continues to build settlements but they serve as a vital security buffer between the Israelis and Palestinians. When terrorists are willing to kill innocent young children in undisputed Israeli territory to make a point, I am not sure that I want to eliminate that buffer.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Daily Show Asks if 2 Parties are Enough

In a hilarious web exclusive, the Daily Show team compares our current political party offerings to the empty shelves of an East German grocery store. Do you want to eat the state branded food or nothing?

Colin Quinn made the same point in "Long Story Short". He noted that "America has one more candidate running for President than the Fascists did under Mussolini.

Maybe, it is time for a third party that can give the other parties a run for their money.


Could Obama Be Ready to Jumpstart the Peace Process?

There has been much discussion of Obama's vacation reading list. Tevi Troy at the National Review criticizes the list because it is top heavy with novels. According to Troy, reading novels shows that you are out of touch with reality. He also pans novels because you can not learn anything from them. Don't tell that to my Wall Street friends, whose lives were changed forever by reading one of Ayn Rand's novels. Troy seems to have forgotten how Upton Sinclair's novel, "The Jungle" reformed the meat packing industry.

Snobbish bibliophiles sniffed their noses at the detective novels on the list. Robin Black on Salon complained that the President does not read enough books by women authors. Eric Herschthal, a writer at  Jewish Week, promulgates the false notion of Jewish American cultural superiority over Israelis by suggesting that Obama shouldn't have chosen a book by Israeli author David Grossman but instead one by a Jewish American writer.

The President most likely picked this seminal Israeli novel about loss to read because he wants to better understand Israeli culture while reading beautiful literature. Grossman, who is considered one of Israel's greatest writers, has been awarded the Bialik Prize for Literature, the Emet Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and many others. The Israeli public voted him one of the 200 Greatest Israelis of all time in a newspaper tabloid poll. Grossman, who is a hero of Israel's left wing, was recently beaten by the police during anti-settlement protests. Humble as ever, he shrugged off the beating by saying that the police probably did not recognize him.

I had a chance to talk with Grossman, who is a reservist in the Israeli army despite his celebrity status. Grossman was "thrilled" that Obama took his book, "To the End of the Land" to Martha's Vineyard. The book, which is Grossman's first overtly political novel, is an emotionally wrenching portrait of an Israeli mother mourning the loss of her son killed during one of  Israel's interminable wars. He wrote it shortly after the death of his son Uri in the Second Lebanon War.

 "After reading my book, I think that Obama will better understand Israelis," said Grossman. "I think that it could jumpstart the peace process."

 He hopes "Obama puts Netanyahu and Abbas in a room and knocks their heads together." "Everyone knows what the terms of a deal should look like - a reconfiguration of the 1967 borders, Palestinians get a demilitarized state, but give up the right of return," said Grossman.

These terms by a proud Israeli sounds suspiciously similar to the terms that Obama outlined in his MidEast policy speech in May, which was deemed by critics of Obama and Israeli activists anti-Israeli. Maybe the Jews and Politico owe Obama apology for their rhetoric especially since Prime Minister Netanyahu offered the same terms if Palestinians would not introduce a resolution to the United Nations asking for an independent Palestinian State.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Obama Spotted Drinking Martinis.

I do not care if the President takes a vacation or where. I am more concerned with what he does when he is supposed to be working. Still, I could not resist reporting sightings on Martha's Vineyard.
On Thursday, Obama ate dinner at the restaurant State Road with Vernon Jordan, Massachusetts Governor Patrick, and their spouses. The Obamas ordered martinis.
The President played golf on all three of the island's courses. My friends, who were members at these clubs, said the President was "friendly" and "pleasant."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Matt Taibbi's Must-Read Hatchet Job on the SEC

I think Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is the second greatest financial journalist of our generation after Michael Lewis. I did not see his latest piece, "Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes?" on businessinsider so I decided to post it.

Against National Archive rules, the SEC has been destroying documents from MUI (investigations that did not result in prosecutions) that they should have been keeping for 25 years. This has the effect of whitewashing suspicious but legally unprovable activity. It also eliminates the possibility of investigators seeing a pattern.

I came away from the article with the realization that the culture of the SEC has not changed even after the Madoff fraud and a financial crisis that almost brought the country to its knees. The current director of enforcement at the SEC, Robert Khuzami, was hostile to the whistleblower Darcy Flynn when he brought the improper destruction of documents to his attention. Khuzami also refused to cooperate with a recent inquiry from Senator Grassley about the infamous hedge fund SAC.

I am scared for investors. Read Taibbi's article. Just not before bed or it will give you nightmares.

The Problem with Altucher

I am apparently in an internet feud with Jim Altucher. It is true that I started it by writing a blog post criticizing Altucher for questioning Buffett's motives for writing his acclaimed oped, "Stop coddling the Rich." It was not my intention to turn that blog post into a full blown feud. I even changed the title to accommodate his wishes not to be embarrassed in front of his children.

Like most of the country, I have been disgusted with the debt ceiling limit talks. When patriotic Americans like Buffett, who can influence the debate, came forward with a suggestion, I wanted to see his argument attacked on the merits not innuendo. For example, I loved Mike Arrington's brilliant analysis of Buffett's proposal on Techcrunch. Arrington argues that the rich support raising income taxes because they do not want to take a chance that the government could impose a tax on their already accumulated wealth. His expostulation convinced me that a property tax similar to Pennsylvania's might be the answer.

I read with great interest Charles Koch's opposition to Buffett's proposal in the National Review. He argued that he could allocate his wealth more efficiently than the government. Koch's reasoning gave me pause. Who can really make a case for the government's efficiency?

In the end, I could not support his contention. The Koch Brothers have donated more than $600 million to cancer research, the arts, and a private school. This is certainly generous. But I have to wonder who is going to pay for poor children's education, build roads, and prosecute crime if we do not tax?

While I do agree with Altucher that Buffett probably has an ulterior motive for urging the government to raise taxes on himself, I think he is dead wrong in suggesting that it is because it will make it easier for him to sell his holdings. His post annoyed me because it was factually inaccurate. In addition, I have always found him to be an irresponsible financial journalist.

I know many people including my mother and friend Linda that have been financially hurt by taking his advice. For a while I tracked his stock suggestions in 2010, I found that they fell more than 39% during a period of great market volatility. Very few of his suggestions were defensive in nature or were risk adjusted. A sophisticated portfolio should not be consist entirely of high fliers.

I did send him my original blog post because I wanted to understand why he kept giving out capricious stock advice even though he is losing people money. Not, as he alleges, because I was looking for readers. Over 800 people have read the original post.

Altucher's answer was one that I would expect from a feckless carnival barker, but not from an accountable financial adviser. I quote directly from his email, "As for stocks: PIP, CIGX, DNDN, GNW, and on and on have been good picks for my investors and readers (up 100s of % at some pt after article).

Altucher touted his winners and simply eradicated from memory the ones that did not perform as well. This is too "Paycheck" or "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" for me. A professional would have sent a track record of all his recommendations or at least included some losers.

Altucher accused me of having a personal beef with him. It is absolutely not true. I feel the same way about Jim Cramer. I can not believe he is still on the air after recommending Bear Stearns right before it imploded and had to be acquired.

It is very hard to give one size all investment advice over the internet or television. Maybe commentators should not be able to ballyhoo without first encapsulating their entire track record.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Goldman Gouges the Poor Again

While Matt Taibbi's of Rolling Stone colorful description of Goldman Sachs as a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money could be interpreted as anti-Semitic by some, there is some truth to the description. The New York Post reports today that Goldman Sachs and Veritas Capital plan to turn a quick profit on their investment in Global Tel Link (GTL), which is the largest provider of phone services in prisons. Goldman Sachs earned that profit from prisoners and their families, who often are poor or middle class.

Prisoners can only make outside calls by calling collect in most prisons. These calls can be as much as 630% higher than a regular consumer call. GTL, which has consolidated the industry, charges some of the highest per minutes rates in the country. Prison Legal News found the rate for interstate collect calls in Arkansas'prisons is $10.70 for 15 minutes.

The cost of the actual telephone call is not the end of the cost. GTL charges family members a $4.75 service fee for each $25.00 payment to a prepaid phone account via credit card, which is a 20% markup for using credit cards. If an account is not used for 90 days, the balance is not returned to the owner of the account, but kept by GTL.

GTL wins a majority of their contracts by paying kickbacks as high as 60% to the states that award them the contracts. While the kickbacks are legal and part of the bidding process, they further burden the families of prisoners. After a hard fought campaign, then Governor Eliot Spitzer eliminated the commission payouts in New York State. Not surprisingly, Goldman Sachs did not lift a finger to end the commissions even though the abolition did not cut into their profitability.

While many are not sympathetic to prisoners, it is the families of these prisoners that bear the lion's share burden of the phone calls. Often, they are forced to choose between eating and letting a child talk to their parent in jail.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Altucher's Buffett Logic is All Wet

I do not understand why anyone on Wall Street still pays attention to James

Altucher. While many of his stock advice columns are beautifully written, they are not worth the paper that they are written on. Whenever I have bought a stock on his recommendation, it has moved dramatically - down. In the stock advice media wars, it is a race to the bottom between him and Jim Cramer.

This week, he decided to attack Warren's Buffett for a penning a thought provoking oped about taxes for the New York Times. Buffett wrote in the editorial titled, "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich," that he only paid 17% of his income in taxes, while his staff averaged 36% tax rate. Altucher is correct that Buffett has said this many times in the last 10 years. The thoughts of the third richest American bear repeating during a period of unprecedented turmoil. Buffett's words may provide cover to Republicans, who pledged no tax increases, if they decide it is best for the country to raise taxes.

This section of the editorial provides the most compelling arguments that raising taxes may be best for the country.

I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Buffett's first point is that no one stops making good investments because of the tax rates. As a stockbroker for over 25 years, I have found that is true. His second point in the paragraph is that the lower tax rates since 2000 have not resulted in more jobs.

If Altucher had attacked Buffett on his economic analysis, I would have stayed quiet.

He decided to attack Warren Buffett's patriotism. According to Altucher's convoluted thinking, Buffett did not write this oped piece for the good of the country. The "Oracle of Omaha" urged the raising of taxes so that owners of stock would be less likely to sell, therefore, making it easier for him to sell. Besides being ridiculous, his argument is factually wrong. While it is harder for anyone with a large block to sell when there is bad news causing a stock to drop, Buffett almost never sells on such a day anyways. For example, he waited years to sell his Salomon Brothers after the bid rigging scandal.

While many dismiss attacks such as Altucher's as noise, I worry that it will inhibit others from participating in the debate. If the country is going to move forward, we need all the help that we can get.

I can only assume that Altucher is jealous that no matter how often he writes, he will never receive the attention that Buffett gets for one oped.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Has Gawker's Blog Jezebel Lost its Feminist Way?

When the head of the Gawker media empire, the genius Nick Denton, announced that he was creating a blog for women at, I was excited. Jezebel promised an irreverent look at woman's magazines and serious advocacy of feminist issues. At the time, most women's magazines wrote about a world where everyone is skinny, on a diet, having multiple orgasms, and wearing $500 Louboutin stilettos.

In the beginning, Jezebel delivered. They poked fun at women's magazines, campaigned against air brushing in ads, and took on Jon Stewart for not hiring women staffers.

Lately, they have fallen down on the job. Exhibit A in my argument is that there are 994 entries on the blog for Kim Kardashian. Yet, there are only 3 entries for the entire slutwalk movement, which is fast becoming the focal point of the third wave of feminism all across the globe. The slutwalk revolution started when a Toronto cop suggested the best way to avoid rape was not to dress like a slut.

Jezebel's lack of comment on the movement is particularly disappointing because slutwalk seemed tailor made for Most of the participants in the movement are twenty something, the average age of their readership. Some older feminists have not embraced the movement because they do not approve of the use of the word slut.

Jezebel should have been leading the movement not ignoring it. The Philadelphia Inquirer, which can hardly be classified as a feminist rag, wrote 7 stories or blog posts about the local protest.

The slutwalk is not the only example of Jezebel editor in chief Jessica Coen dropping the ball. Lately, Jezebel has been posting articles like "How to do a 30s Style Moon Manicure" or Was Pippa Middleton's Butt Padded? Instead, they should have been loudly cheering DHS' decision to provide free birth control without a co-pay to woman and booing the detractors of the decision. It is a big deal that women, who typically make less than men, no longer have the fiscal responsibility for preventing pregnancy.

Jezebel should have been at their snarky best belittling Fox commentator Dana Perino for her recent remarks about the decision. Perino gave them a free lay up to sarcasm. She said, "If you can afford a $5 Frappucino at Starbucks, you can pay your $5 co-pay.” Glossing over the Frappuccino part, her comments were simply accurate. Co-pays for birth control are not typically $5. They can run as high as $70.

They should have gone into defcon mode to attack Bill O'Reilly for saying "Many women who get pregnant are blasted out of their minds when they have sex, they’re not going to use birth control anyways.” Someone needs to explain the birds and bees to O'Reilly because it is clear by these words that he does not understand how birth control works. If a woman is on the pill, IUD, etc, it would not matter if she was drunk because the protection is 24/7.

Jezebel was completely silent during the free birth control debate. Interestingly enough, it was Jon Stewart, previously attacked by Jezebel, who pointed out the absurdity of their remarks. Who really is the feminist?

16892 Voters Should Not Decide the Future President

It is time to abolish the Iowa Straw Polls in order to preserve democracy. 16892 people out of a country of 308,745,538 people, should not have a say in winnowing the field for President of the United States. Are we really saying that we want to outsource the work of democracy to .005% of our population?

People tend to forget that the Iowa straw polls are not enshrined in the Constitution. They were only created in 1979 as a fundraiser for the Iowa State Republican Party. The national media, which comes out in full force for it, has kept it going. It seems that they would rather cover this manufactured event instead of real issues.

Iowans themselves do not care about the straw poll. With the vote tally at less than 17000, only slightly more than .5% of the state's population of 3,046,355 showed up to cast their vote. The low turnout occurred despite the fact that the voters are heavily bribed to show up. Campaigns usually pick up bus fares and tickets for the event. They also offer free entertainment and food during the day of voting.

Even more disturbing, the population of Iowa does not reflect our country. Iowa is 91.3% white while the whole country is 72.4% white. The state has 1/3 the black and Hispanic population as the rest of the country. Doesn't the Iowa straw poll effectively disenfranchises them?

There does not seem to be any point to the straw poll because it has not been an accurate predictor of the winner Iowa caucuses or the Republican nomination. Winners of the Iowa Straw Poll include fringe Presidential candidates such as Pat Robertson and Phil Gramm. This year, Michele Bachman won by defeating Ron Paul by 157 votes. Bachman may morph into a mainstream candidate but she still has a way to go. Are we serving democracy by giving a megaphone to these fringe candidates?

The argument for the straw polls is that it is a test of organization. The Presidential electoral race is already too long. Is it necessary for them to be fully organized a year and three months before the election? With Rick Perry getting into the race the same as the Iowa straw polls, the answer seems to be no.

Do we help ourselves by allowing voting for a candidate so long in advance of the actual election? Iam not sure. With a rapidly changing world, the issues that are paramount in August 2011 may be on dimmer in November 2012. Before the 24/7 news cycle, the national press may have needed time to vet candidates. This is now happening at a lightening speed.

Let's rethink the straw polls before 2015. For a country that exports democracy, we seem to have forgotten what it is.

As Colin Quinn so aptly put in his new show, "The Long Story Short," "Americans look down at countries with dictators, which is a choice of one person. Yet, we only offer one more choice and call it democracy."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Slutwalk pictures

Last Saturday, 400 people marched in Philadelphia's slutwalk to protest the current meme of imputing the rape victim not the rapist.

Many mainstream feminists would not support the event because they did not like the use of the word slut. I support any event where women work together to de-stigmatize rape.

Young twentysomethings put out their own to finance this protest. They had to pay for a city permit, stage, speakers etc. If you have a few extra dollars and want to see this event become an annual event, please contact to send a check.

The Sluts from Slutwalk

Last Saturday, 400 people marched in Philadelphia's slutwalk to protest the current meme of imputing the rape victim not the rapist. Toronto women organized the first slutwalk after Toronto Police Const. Michael Sanguinetti told a personal security class at York University that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."

Toronto women quickly organized a slutwalk, a protest where they marched dresses as sluts, to protest his comments. The slutwalk movement has spread like wildfire. Slutwalks have been organized as far away as Mumbai, India.

Hannah Altman, a 21 year old college student, organized the Philadelphia slutwalk. The theme of the march was "blame the perp not the clothes." The 96 degree weather did not stop the enthusiastic crowd of women, men, gay, and transgenders from demonstrating. State Senator Daylin Leach was the only man to speak.

Speaker Aishah Simmons hammered home the point that "we do not blame someone who is dressed in an expensive clothes and gold chains for being mugged; we do not fault someone that has their laptop stolen because it was forgotten in a cafe.

Rape victim Kate Rush Cook told the audience, "When I was on the witness stand during my rape trial, I was asked where I bought my panties." Her rapist was acquitted and then arrested several years later for raping someone else.

Some of my favorite slogans along the parade route were:

If my outfit was an invitation, I would be an envelope.

Clothes do not equal consent

A dress is not a yes

I dress for myself

I am dressed this way not because I want your attention but because it is hot.

Many feminists would not support the walk because of the name. I am for any event where women work together to destigmatize rape.

Young twentysomethings put out their own to finance this protest. They had to pay for a city permit, stage, speakers etc. If you have a few extra dollars and want to see this event become an annual event, please contact to send a check.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Israeli Government Sources- "Not Bombing Iran"

I want to respond to the recent Huffington Post and Businessinsider articles that Israel is considering bombing Iran before the UN vote on a Palestinian state in September. All of my sources' who are either in the Prime Minister's office or Israeli military, intelligence officials, and diplomats, say that the bombing of Iran will not occur before the UN Vote.

Israel is deathly afraid that the UN could create a separate Palestinian state. As you may recall, Israel was created by a UN Vote.

All of the Israeli government's current energies are directed towards defeating that vote. The Israeli government considers the creation of Palestinian state by the UN the most serious threat that the state of Israel has ever encountered. They believe that the creation of a Palestinian state by the UN will endanger the safety of its citizens far more than Iran.

This is why Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu agreed last week to start peace negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of the 1967 borders if the Palestinians would forsake asking for statehood at the UN.

One military official said to me, "Why would we risk bombing Iran before the UN vote. What is the rush?"

While Israel may have tacit American support for an attack on Iran, Israel do not want to risk anything going wrong during the bombing which would force America to withdraw its support at the UN.

While I know many follow Jeffrey Goldberg's reporting on Israel including the shaky prediction that Israel would bomb Iran, I urge you to not believe that Israel is going to bomb Iran any time soon.

I have lived in Israel for 10 years, returning in 2009. Many of my family have lived since the State's creation.

While living in Israel, I made the acquaintance of many in government, military, and intelligence. I freelanced at the defense contractor Elbit Systems, where many former military officials worked. As a reporter for Israeli news outlets such as Globes, Israel21c, Jerusalem Post, and Haaretz, I wrote about military matters and know many of the military reporters covering the beat.