The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Wild swings in markets and UK

We all scratched our heads today as the Dow plunged almost 1,000 points in 15 minutes...then rebounded. Still no explanation:

Traders and Washington policy makers struggled to keep up as the Dow Jones industrial average fell 1,000 points shortly after 2:30 p.m. and then mostly rebounded in a matter of minutes. For a moment, the sell-off seemed to overwhelm computer and human systems alike, and some traders began referring grimly to the day as “Black Thursday.”

But in the end, Thursday was not as black as it had seemed. After briefly sinking below 10,000, the Dow ended down 347.80, or 3.2 percent, at 10,520.32. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropped 37.75 points, or 3.24 percent, to close at 1,128.15, and the Nasdaq was down 82.65 points, or 3.44 percent, at 2,319.64.

But up and down Wall Street, and across the nation, many investors were dumbstruck. Experts groped for explanations as blue-chip stocks like Procter & Gamble, Philip Morris and Accenture plunged. At one point, Accenture[1] fell more than 99 percent to a penny. P.&G. plunged to $39.37 from more than $60 within minutes.

More:

The height of panic on Thursday was reached shortly after lunchtime in the United States. First some currencies began to fall rapidly, with the euro suffering especially against the Japanese yen.

That could have been an indication that some large traders were unwinding positions. It has been popular to borrow yen at low interest rates and then use the money to speculate in higher yielding assets denominated in other currencies. Anyone unwinding such a trade would buy yen to repay the loan.

Then there's the U.K. election, which didn't go as planned for the Liberal Democrats:

The swing so far from Labour to Conservatives with 250 results in the bag is a little lower than before, at 5.6%. The Tories' share of the popular vote is 34.9%, Labour is on 28.3% and the LibDems on 21%. Compare that with the average of nine main pollsters' final predictions before the elections: 35.6% for the Tories, 27.6% for Labour and 27.4% for the Liberal Democrats. The Tories a little down, Labour a little up and Lib Dems bafflingly down. Still more than half of all seats to go, though.

That was about an hour ago. It's dawn in London right now, and no one knows who'll be in Number 10 at dusk. If no party has an outright majority in Parliament at the end of voting, Gordon Brown will have the right to form another government—but you can bet the UK will have elections again in a few months. This is the most exciting UK election since 1974.

[1] Disclosure: Accenture owns most of Avanade, my employer.

That's the ballgame

With Labour trailing behind both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, the Prime Minister today committed what may be the worst gaffe by a politician in modern British history:

And then – the journey into the car – the microphone left on…

"You should never have put me with that woman, whose idea was that, it's just ridiculous ... she's just a bigoted woman."

When the broadcasters catch up with her Mrs Duffy takes a while to understand what happened, but when she does, the nation sees the shock on her face.

“I’m very upset. He's an educated person ... and I'm an ordinary woman just asking him just questions like anyone would ask him ... I want to know why, with those comments I said there, why I was called a bigot.”

The moral is, of course, don't get into the car with a Sky microphone still attached to your lapel. More from the Times blog.

Did I mention I'd vote Lib-Dem this time if I were a UK citizen?

And all we have is Michele Bachmann

Every time I think our legislature has a bunch of crazies in it, I remind myself it could be a lot worse:

The speaker of Ukraine's parliament huddled under umbrellas as eggs rained down and smoke bombs filled the chamber with an acrid cloud. Then the lawmakers attacked each other, punching and brawling in the aisles.

The chaos erupted Tuesday as parliament approved a treaty allowing Russia to extend the lease on a naval base in a Ukrainian port on the Black Sea until 2042 — a move bitterly opposed by pro-Western lawmakers. Ukraine would get cheap natural gas from Russia in exchange.

Yeah. We've got a long way to fall before we can compete with that.

Why you shouldn't check email at midnight

You might see a news story like this:

Chicago would be headquarters to the largest airline in the world if United Airlines successfully consummates a deal with Continental Airlines.

Where to base the world headquarters of the merged entity is one of many potentially thorny "social" issues that have been resolved as the two airlines move rapidly toward a deal that could be completed as soon as next week, said people close to the situation.

The implications make my brain hurt. This would be tremendous for Chicago, at the expense of making O'Hare a fresh kind of hell for Conited (Uninental?) travelers. But United would gain a major hub in Houston to compete with American's in Dallas, and would solidify its Asia-Pacific lead even while essentially conceding the North Atlantic to oneworld. (For the record, I will continue to fly American regardless. The article mentions that US Airways, twice to the altar but never wed with United, may jump into American's arms instead.)

Then there was this, via Sullivan, which has to be a first in American history, in Philadelphia yet:

Veteran Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.) last Thursday accused her primary opponent, Gregg Kravitz, of pretending to be bisexual in order to pander to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender voters, a powerful bloc in the district.

"I outed him as a straight person," Josephs said during a fund-raiser at the Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant, as some in the audience gasped or laughed, "and now he goes around telling people, quote, 'I swing both ways.' That's quite a respectful way to talk about sexuality. This guy's a gem."

Kravitz, 29, said that he is sexually attracted to both men and women and called Josephs' comments offensive.

"That kind of taunting is going to make it more difficult for closeted members of the LGBT community to be comfortable with themselves," Kravitz said. "It's damaging."

Add to all this the increasing likelihood (though still well below 50%) that Nick Clegg could become Britain's prime minister in two weeks, and I think it will be a fretfully long night. (In a good way. If I were a UK citizen, I'd vote Lib-Dem this time. Seriously.)

Dawkins clarifies

As reported earlier, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens do not like the Pope's actions in dealing with child abuse. Dawkins has clarified his remarks:

Needless to say, I did NOT say "I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI" or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.

What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope's proposed visit to Britain. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horme, other than to refer him to my 'Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope' article here: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5341.

I thought it sounded unusually acerbic, even for Dawkins.

Possibly not the best approach

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose work I have followed for years, want to arrest the Pope when he visits the U.K. in September:

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.

I think the Pope's conduct in the child-abuse cover-up completely destroys any credibility and moral authority Ratzinger claims to have through his office. Still, despite the history of the U.K. vis a vis the Catholic Church, I caution Dawkins that perhaps this isn't the best way to make his case.

I think Dawkins was correct last month when he suggested the Pope "should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles," which creates dramatic irony, rather than trying to arrest him, which makes Ratzinger a victim. I just hope more children aren't tied up and raped before it happens.

Polish President and other top officials killed

Truly stunning news from Russia this morning, with devastating repercussions for Poland:

A plane carrying the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and dozens of the country’s top political and military leaders crashed in a heavy fog in western Russia on Saturday morning, killing everyone aboard.

... Among those on board, according to the Web site of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, were [President Lech] Kaczynski; his wife, Maria; former Polish president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski; the deputy speaker of Poland’s parliament, Jerzy Szmajdzinski; the head of the president’s chancellery, Wladyslaw Stasiak; the head of the National Security Bureau, Aleksander Szczyglo; the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Andrzej Kremer; the chief of the general staff of the Polish army, Franciszek Gagor; the president of Poland’s national bank, Slawomir Skrzypek; the commissioner for civil rights protection, Janusz Kochanowski; the heads of all of Poland’s armed forces; and dozens of members of parliament.

The crash fits the strict definition of tragedy, as have so many air crashes involving VIPs:

A press secretary for ... the governor of Smolensk, said the landing took place under very bad visibility, and Russian air traffic controllers advised the crew to land in Minsk, but the crew decided to land anyway. The Polish news channel TVN24 reported that moments before the crash, air traffic controllers had refused a Russian military aircraft permission to land, but that they could not refuse permission to the Polish plane.

And unbelievable irony:

[Kaczynski] had been due in western Russia to commemorate the anniversary of the murder of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviet Union at the beginning of World War II. The ceremonies were to be held at a site in the Katyn forest close to Smolensk, where 70 years ago members of the Soviet secret police executed more than 20,000 Polish officers captured after the Soviet Army invaded Poland in 1939.

The crash quite literally decimated the Polish government. Poland has some difficult days ahead.

Update: Author and pilot James Fallows explains why this is a tragedy in the literal, Greek-dramatic sense I meant above.