August 18, 2000
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The front-page lead story in this morning's New York Times reports on Al Gore's speech to the Democratic National Convention. "Again and again, he spoke of unspecified 'powerful forces' and 'powerful interests,' which he implicitly identified with the Republicans, standing in the way of working men and women," the Times article reports.
Did anyone from the Times actually listen to Mr. Gore's speech? The "powerful" were hardly "unspecified": Mr. Gore was clear as could be. He specified them in full specificity. He spoke of "Big tobacco, big oil, the big polluters, the pharmaceutical companies, the H.M.O.'s." He spoke of the "bean-counters at H.M.O.'s." He spoke of "big drug companies" that "run up record profits" while seniors "have to choose between food and medicine."
In other words, the unspecified "powerful interests" that Mr. Gore is aligning himself against include a hefty chunk of the American economy, including the same chunk that Hillary Clinton attempted a government takeover of with her health care plan early in the first term of the Clinton-Gore administration. Many of those working men and women that Mr. Gore says he is for actually own stock in those "powerful forces" through their union pension funds or individual retirement accounts. Some discussion of what all this means -- does Gore want to limit the profits of drug companies? How would he set such limits and what effect would they have on research and development spending by the drug industry? -- would be interesting, but it's hard to find any of it in this morning's Times.
Cheney's Stock Options: The Times runs another news story today pondering the question of whether Richard Cheney's Halliburton stock options would pose a conflict of interest for him as vice president. Yesterday's Times article on the same topic had asserted, "There do not appear to be any directly comparable situations in recent history," a claim that Smartertimes.com differed with, citing Mr. Gore's status as the sole trustee of his father's estate, which holds between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of Occcidental Petroleum stock, according to the Wall Street Journal. Perhaps responding to the Smartertimes.com criticism, today's Times article includes the sentences: "Mr. Cheney is by no means the only politician whose public life has been complicated by his or his family's investments. Vice President Al Gore has become the subject of environmentalists' wrath for his mother's stake in the Occidental Petroleum Corporation -- a holding worth between $250,000 and $500,000, according to government filings."
An astute Smartertimes.com reader pointed out in an email to us yesterday that it would be easy enough to create a derivative contract that would disentangle Mr. Cheney from the Halliburton stock price. The reader wrote that a creative financial institution could create a contract (for a price to be determined the day after election day or January 20, 2001 or some day in between) that would exactly offset the gain that Cheney would get from the options as a result of any price swings during his vice presidency. This would mean that Cheney would realize the value of the options on that date, and would be completely unaffected by any price change in Halliburton while Cheney was in office. The analog is 'selling short against the box,' the process by which someone who has shares in a company that are tied up for some reason (say a Mr. Gore who has 50K shares of Oxy Pete in a trust) sells them short, collecting the cash now. Then Mr. Gore, in a year or two, delivers the shares that he owns that are locked up until Ms. Pauline dies to the party to whom he sold short today. The future price movements of Oxy Pete are irrelevant to him, since he has sold out at today's price, the Smartertimes.com reader wrote. The Times article today doesn't explore this possibility.
Eating Kosher: An item in the "Los Angeles Diary" of today's New York Times contains the following two sentences: "Some Orthodox Jews, like the Liebermans, either avoid restaurants at any cost, or even bring their own plates out of concern that restaurant dishes, however clean, had been used in the past for nonkosher food. But the Connecticut Democrat has eaten at numerous receptions here and dines at trendy places in Washington, like I Ricci." This would be much clearer if the phrase "like the Liebermans" were omitted from the first sentence, because what the writers are really trying to say is that those Orthodox Jews are unlike the Liebermans. And, by the way, the correct spelling of the restaurant's name is "I Ricchi."
News Blackout: Not a word in today's Times about the Democratic National Committee's decision to abruptly cut ties to a fundraising firm that is partially owned by a figure in the 1996 Teamsters-DNC scandal. After the figure, Michael Ansara, plead guilty to a role in the conspiracy to embezzle money from the Teamsters, the Democrats and the Gore campaign continued to use his firm for more than $1 million dollars, until reporters asked about it this week. This has been all over Newsweek, ABC News and the Associated Press this week, but the Times for some reason is keeping a lid on it. Maybe it ran out of space, what with all those column inches devoted to Senator Lieberman's approach to the Jewish dietary laws.
Eating Crow: The Times runs a correction today of its spelling of the name of the singer Sheryl Crow. Smartertimes.com pointed the error out on Tuesday.
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