Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Yeah, where did all that money go? Whether you're a stock broker or Joe Six-pack, if you have a 401(k), a mutual fund or a college savings plan, tumbling stock markets and sagging home prices mean you've lost a whole lot of the money that was right there on your account statements just a few months ago...If you're looking to track down your missing money - figure out who has it now, maybe ask to have it back - you might be disappointed to learn that is was never really money in the first place. Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale, puts it bluntly: The notion that you lose a pile of money whenever the stock market tanks is a "fallacy." He says the price of a stock has never been the same thing as money - it's simply the "best guess" of what the stock is worth. "It's in people's minds," Shiller explains. "We're just recording a measure of what people think the stock market is worth. What the people who are willing to trade today - who are very, very few people - are actually trading at. So we're just extrapolating that and thinking, well, maybe that's what everyone thinks it's worth."

The French and Germans fail to reach agreement:
The leaders of France and Germany on Saturday rejected the notion of creating a common financial rescue fund for Europe, but insisted that a coordinated response will emerge after a weekend summit. "The crisis demands extremely rapid responses" and a "European fund would pose gigantic problems" in decision-making among so many nations, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said. "There is no question of a European fund," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Americans return to Jordan after being taken to Syria:
Two American journalists who went missing during a vacation in Lebanon were quoted Friday as saying they were "kidnapped" by their taxi driver and taken into Syria, where they were held in custody for a week before being released. The two - Taylor Luck, 23, and Holli Chmela, 27 - spoke to their newspaper Jordan Times upon returning to Jordan early Friday. They were released on Thursday in Damascus, where authorities said they had crossed the border illegally with the help of smugglers. In the report, Luck said the two had hired a taxi driver to take them from Lebanon to Syria. But instead of driving to an official border crossing where they expected to get an entry visa for Syria, the driver went off the main road, then "locked the doors" and demanded their money.

Fire destroys 500 acres in California:
A wildfire burned about 500 acres of forest Sunday, threatening hundreds of homes and an animal sanctuary north of Los Angeles, authorities said. The blaze began about 2 a.m. in a rugged area about 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, fire officials said. About 400 firefighters were on the scene at Angeles National Forest, aided by aerial strike teams, said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Sam Padilla. About 1,200 people were evacuated from two canyons as the blaze brushed up against some of the area's 450 homes and moved southeast toward city limits, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Stanton Florea.

Mudflats takes us through the looking glass: If there's anyone else left out there who doesn't believe that Sarah Palin can look you in the eye and tell you black is white, I have a present for you. Here is the transcript of a five minute conference call with Sarah Palin, Meg Stapleton, the Anchorage Daily News, and local TV stations KTVA, and KTUU. The journalists got one question each with no follow up. I've been struggling to find the right terminology for this. She has jumped the shark. She has landed on Fantasy Island. She has slipped through the looking glass. She's Queen of Denial. She has become the Head of Orwell's Ministry of Truth… choose whichever metaphor works for you.

Racism in Italy: Abba was the nickname of Abdul William Guibre, who was born in Burkina Faso, raised in Italy and beaten to death here last month by the bar's father-and-son proprietors. The two, Fausto and Daniele Cristofoli, suspected Mr. Guibre, 19, of stealing money and set upon him with a metal rod, the authorities said, believing he had taken a package of cookies. During the altercation, the attackers shouted "dirty black," lawyers for both sides said. Although there is some debate about whether the killing was racially motivated, the attack on Mr. Guibre was the most severe in a recent spate of violence against immigrants across Italy. The attacks are fueling a national conversation about racism and tolerance in a country that has only recently transformed itself from a nation of emigrants into a prime destination for immigrants. "A black English person, or French person, or Dutch person, that's O.K.," said Giovanni Giulio Valtolina, a psychologist and scholar at the ISMU Foundation in Milan, which studies multiethnic societies. "But a black Italian is a very new thing."

Oh, just waste the money on a $500 hammer and be done with it: A while back, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said it wanted to start reviewing wannabe spies' "cyber behavior," before they handed the spooks security clearances. Suspect activities might include "social network usage," "compulsive internet use," "distribution of pirated materials," and "online contact with foreign nationals," the ODNI said. But first, the Office wanted to get a "better understanding" of "which specific cyber-behaviors are normative, acceptable, or favorable." Then comes a look into how "risky IT activities or problematic cyber behaviors" match up with real-life "personality factors or other individual traits, characteristics or behaviors [that] can serve as risk or resilience indicators." Well, let the profiling begin. The ODNI recently handed out $800,000 to researchers to figure out whether hopping on World of Warcraft or Facebook "suggests an unwillingness to abide by rules." Get back to us on that, spyboys.

Wachovia takeover is approved: The US central bank, the Federal Reserve, has approved a $12bn takeover of the troubled bank Wachovia and its subsidiaries by Wells Fargo. The decision formally makes Wells Fargo the winner in a bitter battle for one of America's largest banks. The banking giant Citigroup had initially tried to block the merger between Wachovia and Wells Fargo.

A dozen endorsements for Obama At least twelve major newspapers endorsed Barack Obama for president this weekend, including five in swing states. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was especially biting in their criticism of McCain, calling him "the incredible shrinking man" and lambasting him for having made a horrific pick for his running mate.

Can Cokie Roberts get any more ridiculous? This morning on This Week she tried to tar Democrats with the same brush as republicans over the last eight years. Fortunately Paul Krugman was on the set and he pushed back against her ridiculous nonsense. In case she is too thick to get subtle, he said flatly "I reject the equivalency," to which she had no response.