Following on Friday’s post – about the $25 billion Tony Blair asked us to give over 10 years for aid to Africa and the $674 million we did commit – I had planned to devote today’s column to a really interesting, important conference call with economist Jeffrey Sachs I listened in on Friday. It’s too important to dilute with other stuff – let alone the huge mound of money and political stuff that follows – so please check back tomorrow or Wednesday.


Less Antman: ‘You should tell your readers ASAP that, if they have outstanding student loans they are repaying for themselves (Stafford loans) or their kids (PLUS loans), they should get them consolidated before July 1 to lock in low rates (as low as 2.88% on consolidated Stafford loans). All the fixed rates go up 1.93% on July 1. Generally, as long as you start the application process before the end of this month, you should qualify, but verify with your lender.’


That that last item was actually about . . . your money. Hey, I do hope to have something helpful to say about your money once in a while. Look at AXP up a tad at $54.83. Look at APC at $82.51 and CSPLF at $7.55 and CMM at $22 and BOREF flirting with $9. (Now if we can only get TXCO back up to its recent high.) I’m still holding all these. Hope springs eternal. And I’m holding my Prepaid Legal Services LEAPS (VPXAE), suggested here March 18 at $11.80 when the stock was $35.

Those $11.80 LEAPS are valued now at more than $18 – better than 50% in two months – because the underlying stock closed Friday at $43, and these LEAPS give you the right to buy it at $25 any time until January, 2007.

(The right to buy at $25 something you can turn around and sell for $43 is worth at least the $18 difference. In this case, because the options have a year and a half left to run, they are probably worth yet a couple of dollars more.)

PPD and its LEAPS remain risky. But listen to Glenn Hudson, the reader who first kindly sent in this recommendation. He points out that short-sellers are betting heavily against PPD – so much so that perhaps a third of the 15 million outstanding shares and fully half the ‘float’ of 10 million readily tradable shares have been borrowed by short-sellers (who will someday, in theory, need to buy them back to return them).

Glenn Hudson: ‘You might let your readers know about the short squeeze that is just now starting. Based on the 5.13 million-share short interest outstanding at 5/13/05 and the low volume between 5/16/05 to 6/15/05, there should be at least 4.7 to 4.8 million shorts outstanding as of 6/15/05. With 4.7 million shorts trapped and Prepaid ready to announce great second quarter membership & recruiting numbers, this stock is poised to really take off. It should easily reach up to the $50 to $60 range and depending how shorts react could go above that figure!’

☞ I’m not at all sure PPD is a good company (shorts often have good reason to be short) . . . although I can imagine a robust market for the ‘identity-theft protection’ I think they have begun to sell. (Whether or not that protection is a good value I don’t know either. I have my doubts.) And I certainly don’t know what kind of second quarter numbers they will report. The only things I do know for sure are that I wouldn’t short the stock here – and would be nervous if I had.

And that because our LEAPS don’t expire until 2007, by which time any gain would be lightly taxed as a long-term gain, there is an extra little incentive to hang on for a while to see what happens.

Remember, this is a speculation – PPD could implode tomorrow for reasons I know nothing about. Certainly my brilliant Google puts speculation proved how easily I can lose 100% of your money. But there are worse speculative positions than to own options on a stock with a gigantic short interest – especially when, miracle of miracles, the underlying company claims, at least, to be making money.


Unless you are OK having some fun at the expense of the President. But before you laugh too hard, let’s remember how badly he’s often been misunderstimated. It’s small consolation (if faintly hopeful) that Americans nearly two to one now believe we’re on the wrong track. That suggests we might one day choose the right track.


Wayne Seibert: ‘I read your site only occasionally, so I could be missing things, but I wonder why you don’t do something daring like challenge your party line once in a while?’

Fair question. Two reasons:

1. The obvious one: As Treasurer of the Party, I will not be spending a lot of time knocking it (although I will never write something favorable about our side, or negative about the other side, that I don’t believe).

2. I don’t think America is threatened by the Democrats, who hold almost no power today – none at all in the House, none at all in the White House or regulatory agencies, just a shred in the Senate, and more or less tied-but-not-for-long at the Supreme Court. By contrast, I believe we are not just threatened by the Republicans (which connotes some future harm), but that huge damage has already been done. We have gone in just five years from being a country with much of the world on its side (even more so after 9/11), and with huge budget surpluses ‘as far as the eye could see’ (as we were told as part of the pitch to enact the first round of tax cuts for the rich), to a country widely disliked and distrusted, going $700 billion further into debt this year alone . . . trying to discourage the embryonic stem cell research that could save so many of our loved ones from long years of suffering and/or lost faculties. And that just hits some of the highlights.

Even if you think we should have attacked Iraq, can you not be appalled by the incredible lack of planning and mismanagement that have led to such tragic and costly results?

Even if you think there’s an 80% chance global warming is just so much hooey, can you really want to take the 20% chance that it’s not?

And speaking of Democrats having no power . . .


But I think you may share some of Congressman John Conyers’ frustration, expressed in the letter below:

Friday 17 June 2005
Mr. Michael Abramowitz, National Editor;
Mr. Michael Getler, Ombudsman;
Mr. Dana Milbank

The Washington Post
1150 15th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20071

Dear Sirs:

I write to express my profound disappointment with Dana Milbank’s June 17 report, “Democrats Play House to Rally Against the War,” which purports to describe a Democratic hearing I chaired in the Capitol yesterday. In sum, the piece cherry-picks some facts, manufactures others out of whole cloth, and does a disservice to some 30 members of Congress who persevered under difficult circumstances, not of our own making, to examine a very serious subject: whether the American people were deliberately misled in the lead up to war. The fact that this was the Post’s only coverage of this event makes the journalistic shortcomings in this piece even more egregious.

. . .

The article begins with an especially mean and nasty tone, claiming that House Democrats “pretended” a small conference was the Judiciary Committee hearing room and deriding the decor of the room. Milbank fails to share with his readers one essential fact: the reason the hearing was held in that room, an important piece of context. Despite the fact that a number of other suitable rooms were available in the Capitol and House office buildings, Republicans declined my request for each and every one of them. Milbank could have written about the perseverance of many of my colleagues in the face of such adverse circumstances, but declined to do so. Milbank also ignores the critical fact picked up by the AP, CNN and other newsletters that at the very moment the hearing was scheduled to begin, the Republican Leadership scheduled an almost unprecedented number of 11 consecutive floor votes, making it next to impossible for most Members to participate in the first hour and one half of the hearing.

. . .

In a typically derisive and uninformed passage, Milbank makes much of other lawmakers calling me “Mr. Chairman” and says I liked it so much that I used “chairmanly phrases.” Milbank may not know that I was the Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee from 1988 to 1994. By protocol and tradition in the House, once you have been a Chairman you are always referred to as such. Thus, there was nothing unusual about my being referred to as Mr. Chairman.

To administer his coup-de-grace, Milbank literally makes up another cheap shot that I “was having so much fun that [I] ignored aides’ entreaties to end the session.” This did not occur. None of my aides offered entreaties to end the session and I have no idea where Milbank gets that information. The hearing certainly ran longer than expected, but that was because so many Members of Congress persevered under very difficult circumstances to attend, and I thought – given that – the least I could do was allow them to say their piece. That is called courtesy, not “fun.”

By the way, the “Downing Street Memo” is actually the minutes of a British cabinet meeting. In the meeting, British officials – having just met with their American counterparts – describe their discussions with such counterparts. I mention this because that basic piece of context, a simple description of the memo, is found nowhere in Milbank’s article.

The fact that I and my fellow Democrats had to stuff a hearing into a room the size of a large closet to hold a hearing on an important issue shouldn’t make us the object of ridicule. In my opinion, the ridicule should be placed in two places: first, at the feet of Republicans who are so afraid to discuss ideas and facts that they try to sabotage our efforts to do so; and second, on Dana Milbank and the Washington Post, who do not feel the need to give serious coverage on a serious hearing about a serious matter – whether more than 1700 Americans have died because of a deliberate lie. Milbank may disagree, but the Post certainly owed its readers some coverage of that viewpoint.


John Conyers, Jr.

Belated Happy Father’s Day, by the way.


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