Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Big, Big Folds

For those of you watching ESPN's WSOP Main Event coverage as it runs on Tuesday evenings, did you see the hand they showed the last part of this Tuesday night when one player 6-bet small preflop with pocket Jacks? My eye was literally twitching when I watched someone make as bad of a play as that, and then my entire side started aching as I watched the other player move all in with pocket Queens, and then I passed out when the guy with the Jacks instacalled. I mean, it's one thing to call an allin reraise preflop when you're fairly short and there's not sufficient chip utility out there to play a 3- or 4-bet pot before or after the flop. But in this hand, the guy had 6-bet with pocket Jacks from something like 2.1 million to something like 3.5 million, opting specifically not to move allin (a horrible play with Jacks, btw, in particular if you're just going to instacall if your opponent pushes in his entire stack). Despite the idiocy and horribad fishiness of this hand on both sides, the bottom line is that, in my experience, if someone 6-bet raises you preflop, and they're doing it not even moving all-in but instead a smaller amount that seems more callable, and you have Queens, you are probably about 25% to win the hand if you call, plain and simple. In that scenario, you'll be up against pocket Aces probably about 85% of the time, pocket Kings 14% of the time, and an incredibly fishily-played AKs or some other garbage the other 1%. That the other player would be so unmitigatingly terrible at no-limit holdem as to get it allin in that spot with a hand as bad as pocket Jacks, is such an outlier that it doesn't even show up in the percentages. I think that might literally be the only time in the history of poker that somebody in a big, big spot (1300 players left in the Main Event, not down to two tables in the Mookie) 6-bet raised small preflop, and only had pocket Jacks. I said it above and I'll say it again: when you get 6-bet small preflop in no-limit in a big spot, it's pocket Aces pretty much every single time. That is equally true about a four-bet, for that matter, but for six bets it's a complete joke.

How either of those monkeys got themselves through 5000 other players in this event is beyond me, because if one thing shows what an inexperienced, amateurish nlh player someone is, it's not folding a hand like pocket Jacks or pocket Queens for all your chips when you are obviously, obviously beaten preflop. Play enough nlh and you'll run Kings into Aces, let alone Queens or Jacks into Kings or Aces, more times than you ever thought possible. Seriously -- KK vs AA sounds to many players like the rarest of long shots, but when you actually sit down and play a million hands of holdem, you just can't believe how many times setups like that can and do occur. And in this case, that small 6-bet raise should have been the absolute last possible straw to tell the pocket Jacks and the pocket Queens guy that they are hopelessly behind and they should GTFO of the hand right then and there. Queens vs Jacks for a small 6-bet and a call preflop. God, you could hardly dream up a worse-played hand between two absolutely hopeless poker clowns.

This all reminds me of a hand described on Goodnight Moon's blog a few weeks back involving Toph Moore, the 21st place finisher in this year's WSOP Main Event. As Moon describes the hand:

"At 80-160k blinds, Anton Makiievskiy, a strong young Ukrainian player, raised early and Toph called in position with the AJ of hearts. Toph had Anton outchipped roughly 12m to 10m. The flop came out KJJ rainbow. Anton fired a standardish continuation bet of 450k on the flop and Toph raised to 1.1 million. Anton then made it 2 million to go, and Toph clicked it back to 2.9 or 3 million. This all took a while going back and forth with both players carefully considering, but then Anton quickly moved all-in for about 9.2 million, and Toph quickly called. Anton had KJ and the board ran out blanks."

The majority of the commenters about this hand on Moon's blog generally seemed to think that it is simply results-based thinking to be focusing on this hand, that it was an all-time great cooler and there is no way anyone should ever even consider getting away from AJ on the KJJ board in this spot, which occurred late on Day 7 of the Main Event, well into the money positions already. Like Moon, however, I do not think I agree with this over-simplified analysis, and it really comes down again to the number of raises, and what the smallish size of the raises says about the hands in question.

Of course, Anton is a highly aggro player and thus his standard c-bet on the KJJ flop means precisely nothing. When Toph raises him to $1.1 million, though, that's where the hand starts to get interesting. To me, a raise on flop, absent any other information or relevant details, generally signifies a good but not necessarily monster hand. Most players will at least consider checking, or check-calling on the flop if they have a monster, not wanting to scare away their opponent, whereas a flop raise more often than not defaults in my mind to signifying a good but beatable hand, usually a top pair good kicker type of hand, or on occasion a solid draw on a semi-bluff. The raise sizing for Toph here seems more or less normal, and thus my first thought on the KJJ board when seeing Toph raise the 450k c-bet to 1.1 million, is that Toph thinks he is ahead but is not totally sure. Maybe a KQ type of hand, maybe a medium pocket pair, something like that, and that's what I would expect Anton to put Toph on once Toph slides in that 1.1 million chip raise.

When Anton re-popped this hand to 2 million, the alarm bells first start going off in my head. I mean, you can't fold AJ in that spot to the reraise to 2 million chips, because Toph's raise on the flop is generally going to signify a good but not monster hand, and thus, with Anton knowing that, he could easily be trying to put a move on Toph on the understand that Toph is not super strong, and the small size of that raise could be consistent with either a flopped monster wanting to draw Toph in, or someone making a move with nothing great, but not wanting to lose too many chips if forced to fold to a reraise there. But still, re-raising in that spot at a huge inflection point in the world's biggest poker tournament, that definitely got my dander up, even holding the AJ for top trips in Toph's hand.

Toph responds as I probably would in his spot, which is to bump it up again, and he opted for what amounts to very nearly a minimum re-reraise, to around $2.9 million or 3 million chips. That's as small a raise as you can get, and as I mentioned above, when you're seeing a 3-bet or 4-bet (or 6-bet, see above) that is itself a minimum raise, you are looking at the stone cold nuts almost every single time. In this case, Toph did not have the mortal nuts but the third nuts, losing to KK (high boat) and KJ (under boat), but the fact is that Anton could not perceive a reraise there from 2M to just 3M -- given effective starting stacks of around 10M -- to be anything other than extreme strength. It screams such obvious strength that I don't even like the bet from Toph, who I think should probably have just moved in rather than making such an obviously-strong min-re-reraise there, but in the end of course it would not have mattered.

What does matter is that Anton then takes this clear and obvious showing of strength from Toph, and quickly pushes allin. And this is where the analysis on Moon's blog breaks down in my view. I mean, if I am Toph in that spot, I am pretty sure I would fold my AJ face-up, confidently knowing I have to be behind, and just move on disgustedly to the next hand. I mean, it's not close. AJ on a KJJ board looks super pretty, and the fact that it is trips with top kicker is very attractive, I won't deny. But as I mentioned above, this isn't even one of those one-outer type of scenarios where it's just so mathematically improbable to be beaten that you just have to call -- rather, in this case, as I mentioned Toph isn't sitting on the nuts, or the second nuts, but rather the third nuts, albeit a very pretty-looking third nuts -- but once he puts in that silly min-re-reraise to 3M, and his opponent responds to Toph's obvious showing of extreme strength by quickly moving all-in, if you think about it could it be more obvious that AJ is facing one of those two superior hands?

I know this is a huge, huge fold, but the truth of the matter is that I don't think Toph should have min-raised there, but since he did, Anton's response could not have screamed any more that he was ahead of the third nuts. Do you think any kind of a decent player is going to reraise that flop with a hand like JT (maybe, at best), and then follow that up by re-re-reraising allin after the most obvious monster-hand bet that Toph has ever made in his life? With a Jack and a medium-strong kicker? I am just not seeing it, and neither should have Toph, who in my book should have made the biggest fold of his entire poker career, and done so confidently knowing he had to be hopelessly behind given the action in that spot.

It took me a long time and hundreds of thousands of nlh hands under my belt before I started accepting the frequency with which absolute setup fuckings happen to anyone who plays this game. But several years ago at this point, I learned to accept that if all possible signs point directly to my opponent having one of the two or three mathematically improbably hands that could beat my strong hand, he almost always does. Despite the craziness of folding AJ on a KJJ flop this late in the biggest tournament in the world, as I read the hand history the very first time through, I knew the AJ was behind the minute I saw Anton's instant five-bet push following Toph essentially screaming at him with his 4-bet that Toph has AJ. In my game, when you basically get in someone's ear and scream at them that they're beat, and they insta-allin you, it's time to start thinking like PLO and assuming that whatever the stone nuts is, it is out there against you.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I've got my eyes on you,
I've got my eyes on youuuuuuuu.
When you drop just a little more
Just a couple dimes closer to the floor
My buy order will trigger and I'll own you!

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Poker Media Still Sitting Quietly While Full Tilt Embarrasses Us All

Wow, what a bunch of masochists we all are. Seriously guys. Hasn't even one of you out there reading this wondered why exactly Phil Ivey -- the world's greatest poker player and perhaps greatest gambler -- "owes" full tilt $4 million? This is being widely reported by every major poker media outlet in the world, and has been for a good few months now as Ivey's alleged "White Knight" deal (which not coincidentally also involves the forgiving of Ivey's personal $4 million debt) is still said to be under negotiation to save the company in some form and -- hopefully -- to secure U.S. players the return of their funds that had been commingled into full tilt's own accounts. And yet, I keep waiting and waiting and waiting, and not one single person I can think of in the poker media has even questioned why, or how this could be. Pretty much all of them have lost their own money even on full tilt's site, and yet still, complete and total radio silence. The relationships, the history, and ultimately the downright adulation that these people still feel for all those poker pros you see on tv has blinded the media to providing any real coverage whatsoever of probably easily the worst scandal in the history of online poker. Sorry folks, but superuser doesn't even come close to stealing our money for their own and living high off the hog off of it. It's just not close.

Think about this. Phil Ivey is quite simply the single greatest poker player in the world today, I don't think many people would really dispute that fact at this point. The guy is a huge action junkie, he takes prop bets left and right, and he wins millions live and millions more online every year from this game. So, for starters, why does Ivey even need a $4 million loan from full tilt? And why did full tilt give him $4 million of their money, even assuming he did need it for something? Or, let me correct myself there -- why did full tilt give Phil Ivey $4 million of our money? And make no mistake -- that's exactly what commingling of players funds with full tilt funds means. They took the money we deposited with them, and then they just mixed our deposited funds in with all their money, using it for their own corporate purposes. Such as, apparently, "loaning" Phil Ivey $4 million.

Do you think Humberto Brenes ever owed pokerstars millions of dollars? What about Daniel Negreanu? How about UB, those scoundrels...d'ya think Phil Hellmuth owes UB $7 million or something? You think they lent Annie Duke a couple hundy large to complete an addition on to her house? Me thinks not.

And yet somehow, this that you are reading right here is the very first place to ever question or even mention the ludicrity of this $4 million debt from Ivey to full tilt. Somehow, I loaned Phil Ivey 4 million bucks even though I don't remember being asked about that decision, and I certainly know I didn't get to review any of his financial information or to sign off on his intended use of my funds. Last time I checked, I don't loan money to professional gamblers to throw on roshambo bouts, 18-foot puts on the greens, weight loss contests and WSOP bracelet bets against the rest of the best players in the world.

Or do I?

Along those same lines, I sat in silence for a good three weeks on this story as well, hoping against hope that at least one of these poker media outlets or bloggers would jump on this story with even a small fraction of the tenacity that was used to investigate and resolve the UB superuser scandal, but I simply cannot leave this post in "draft" mode any longer since it's obvious that, once again, the poker media is perfectly happy letting full tilt walk all over everyone, themselves included, because I guess they're just too busy staring agog like little schoolchildren at the very people who have stolen the cash right out of their pockets. But did anybody see the story a few weeks back when Todd Brunson tweeted that he had run into Howard Lederer in Las Vegas and that after telling Lederer how short he (Brunson) was on cash, Howard offered to pay Brunson what Brunson had locked up on Full Tilt at the time of the U.S. online poker ban? You're telling me the major poker media outlets never heard this story? Yeah right. Well, apparently it's true. Here are Todd Brunson's tweets of the events, which again happened just a few weeks ago on July 19 in Las Vegas:

"Look who I just ran into.. I told him the wsop killed me and I was cash short......"

"He asked how much I had on tilt and I told him 150k.. He said come with me. We went to his car and he opened his trunk and paid me!!!!!!"

At first I figured this had to be a joke, especially given the complete dearth of coverage (let alone uproar) about it among the big poker sites. But nope, apparently it is all true -- the poker media is still just too busy planning how to blow the full tilt pros to spend any time letting you know that this happened. Brunson ran into Lederer in Vegas, took a picture to prove it, and when Brunson complained about being short on cash, Lederer apparently paid Brunson the $150,000 he had locked up on full tilt, right in cash out of the trunk of Lederer's car.

Now, putting aside the obvious questions on why on god's green earth Howard Lederer is driving around with more than 150 grand in his trunk (will somebody please carjack this asshole, PLEASE?!), wouldn't you think it would bother someone at wicked chops, at poker news, one of the big poker bloggers, anybody enough to mention that while little old you and me sit around waiting (forever?) to get (all? some of?) our money back that has been locked up at full tilt since April 15, the big dogs who know the founders of the site personally -- yes, those same founders who commingled your funds with their own -- are getting paid out by their friends the site's founders, in hundred-large chunks?

Wouldn't you think that it would have occurred to somebody in the media -- anybody at all -- to stop to think for a minute that maybe, if Lederer has $150k of full tilt funds sitting in his fucking car trunk that maybe, just maybe, that money could be disbursed to everyone whose money full tilt has stolen, and not just to the personal friends of the founders? Might one even suggest that this type of behavior by Lederer is more or less the exact same thing that got him into trouble in the first place, taking our poker deposit funds -- yours and mine -- and treating them like his own personal fucking ATM? I mean, can you imagine how many of us little people could have been paid out in full with just that $150,000 of my money and your money that Todd Brunson gratuitously got from Howard Lederer, just for happening to bump into him in a restaurant in Vegas?

I say again. Can you imagine if the posters on 2+2 were actually running with story like they did the UB mess a few years ago? Can you imagine if Haley was out there reporting on this complete and utter pile of bullshit every single day like she was back then with UB? Don't you wish Amy and Tim were glomming on to this story as surely as they did the WSOP missing chips scandal a couple of years back? And why aren't they? Why isn't anyone?

Seriously guys. WTF. It's getting very close to where we actually deserve what we get from full tilt here.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Thursday Tea Party


Last Thursday we saw the Dow lose 512 points. Friday it rebounded a mere 60 points, and Monday after the S&P downgrade we tumbled another 630 points. Tuesday it was then up 420 points in a rebound, before Wednesday's action took the DJIA back down another 510 points in seesaw trading action. It's only fitting that Thursday brought another huge bounceback, this time up 420 points once again, as investors prove that, more than anything else right now, they simply do not know what stocks are worth today. That's what makes this such a scary, and yet exciting, time to be investing right now. Usually -- during well more than 95% of the trading days out there for sure over time -- investors generally feel comfortable that where the market closed yesterday was a fair valuation of the stocks of the companies involved. That's not to say that everyone who ever bought a share of stock in any company has automatically done some calculation in their head to get an idea of what the company is intrinsically worth or anything, far from it. But as a general statement, stocks the next day might go up a little or down a little depending on the business news of the day, but in general there's not going to be a big revaluation of the whole thing on a daily basis.

That's what is missing right now. With all the uncertainty out there right now as I have chronicled over the past week here on the blog, investors truly don't have confidence that they really know what the market is worth. Like, the whole thing. It's one thing for an individual stock to trade up 5% one day and down 5% the next based on some company-specific news or updates. But for the entire market to move 5% at a time, five out of six days in a row, and in both directions, it is literally unprecedented in the history of the Dow and it gets at what I was describing yesterday as the "historic" magnitude of the past week's moves. It's just plain historic. And it indicates that, much like the FOMC itself, investors are very concerned right now, and know very little about what is going to drive growth in the U.S. economy for what is increasingly becoming a more and more extended period of time into the future.

So don't let the big rallies on Tuesday or Thursday of this week fool you. The bears aren't gone, they just know how to pick their spots based on the news and the circumstances of the day. Give them a rumor of a major bank failure in France, and they'll come out of the woodwork. Throw 'em a really bad monthly jobs report with the unemployment rate jumping a couple percentage points, and the bears'll be there, you can count on it. Any serious talk about another recession, and the bandwagoners will jump ship like the sheep that they always, always are when it comes to their money.

And recession is clearly one of the hot topics among the financial talking heads over the past month or so -- specifically, whether or not we're going into a "double-dip" recession, following up on the recession of 2008-2010. But all that talk about whether or not we're going to double-dip seriously misses the whole point -- we basically already have! A total of 1.6% cumulative growth in the U.S. GDP over the first half of the year? Where I come from, that's basically a recession already. Or a stag-cession, at best. It's no kind of recovery, that's for sure. And that's what already happened, just in the first six months of 2011. It's a good guess that things have worsened in July and August with all stability completely leaving the financial markets. You can argue till you're blue in the face about whether or not we're going to recess, but in reality, we've already been stagnant as a matter of stone cold fact for not just one but two straight quarters, and we're almost surely in the midst of a ho-hum at best third quarter as well. And that means that we haven't heard the last of the bears in the market yet, probably not by a longshot.

I thought I would leave you on this Friday with two videos from the literal guy who literally started the Tea Party movement in the United States a couple of years ago, right on live tv on CNBC. His name is Rick Santelli, and the below rant from back in early 2009 when the Dow was around 7000 and then brand new President Obama had just started talking about loan modification programs to enable Americans who could not afford their mortgages to modify them to lower amounts that they could actually afford to pay. Needless to say, Santelli went off, and inadvertently started an entire movement. The entire clip really is worth watching, other than the short part in the middle when the nerdy guy talks about something or other:

Once you watch that and become a Rick Santelli fan for life, check out this Santelli rant from CNBC just this past Monday morning, just after the S&P downgrade while we waited for the stock market to open in what proved to be a 630-point down day for the Dow by the time it was all said and done. Santelli really "gets it" in a way that most others simply will not allow themselves to get it:

Governor Rick Santelli. I like the sound of that.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wednesday Reality

Hello? Helllllooooooooooooo? Is there anybody out there?

Where did everybody go who just one day ago was telling you that the market rallied 600 points in an hour on Tuesday afternoon because the Fed pledged long-term support for the market? Boy, that long-term pledge of support sure disappeared in a hurry, didn't it?

Where did everybody go who denied that Tuesday's Fed statement made the FOMC sound overly negative, and overly powerless?

Where did all the talking heads, analysts, and current and former fund managers go who advised you to buy on the dip all day on Monday? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Right back under their rocks is where they went, that's right. Only to re-appear in a month or two and tell you they've predicted this whole move downward all along. But then, that's the shtick that makes any public market analyst survive nowadays, isn't it.

The markets plunged again on Wednesday, erasing all of Tuesday's massive 4% gains in the U.S. and then moving more than a full percent lower than that, bringing the Dow's total five-session tumble to a stunning 1176.50 points, representing a decline in just one week of 9.9% of the full accumulated value over the entire lifetime of the Dow Jones Industrials Average, and I can say from the perspective of a very involved market observer, it has truly been a thing of awe to behold. Even more ominous than the fact that Wednesday saw the markets give back significantly more than all of Tuesday's gains, is the fact that the market sold off hard all throughout the final 90 minutes of trading, and finished Wednesday's abysmal session literally right at the lows of the day.

Make no mistake -- what we're witnessing right now is one of the most impressive momentum struggles between the bulls and the bears that we've had on Wall Street in our lifetimes. Of course the absolute peak of the 2008 financial crisis was even a little worse than what we've endured over the past several trading sessions, but after Wednesday's huge slide, I think it's fair to say that we've officially moved into "historic" territory with this incredible fiasco over the past week in the stock market. It's not quite to "apocalyptic" yet -- in fact, amazingly it's nowhere near "apocalyptic" yet by a longshot -- but in truth, a 10% decline in exactly one week is close to as bad as the whole market at large ever gets. With the situation in Europe seeming to deteriorate almost daily, and with the GDP numbers for the first half of this year finally making clear to Americans for the first time the farce that has been manufactured by the current administration through growing use of government-printed money over the past two years, combined with what I have been telling you was a Fed statement on Tuesday that somehow managed to make the FOMC sound simultaneously as scared and as powerless as I have ever seen them sound, this is far and away the market bears' best opportunity to garner the support they need to force huge downward spikes in the market since the financial crisis finally bottomed out in March of 2009.

It's been two and a half long years for the bears, it really has. Even by bear market standards. The move from Dow 6,600 in March 2009 to Dow 12,810 on April 29, 2011 was one of the single most ferocious bull cycles in the history of the DJIA. Think about that -- the world's leading market index surged a full 94% over the span of just over two years. It was basically impossible to make money shorting stocks, or doing anything other than sitting squarely on the long side in equities, for over 25 months in the U.S. In truth, mostly every bear out there has been pulling his or her hair out for over two years as equities have inexorably risen, seemingly without any valid justification to support such strength, a sentiment expressed by many financial bloggers and other talking heads in the industry repeatedly ever since the market started recovering from the financial crisis.

And now, finally, the confluence of negative events I mentioned above have given the bears their first chance to flex their muscles since March of 2009. And given what the past 25 months have been like on Wall Street, the muscle of the bears can be great indeed, as we saw well back in 2008 and as we're seeing again now in a big way. The bottom line is that these negative guys, and the momentum guys, and the logarithmic trading guys, they all come out of the woodwork in times like this, and they do so in incredible numbers and with incredible strength in their push. We see it every few years like this, even though most market participants seem to be surprised all over again each time the cycle repeats itself. The bulls put up a strong effort around midday on Wednesday after a large opening drop following Tuesday's short-lived rally, bumping up the Dow more than 200 points off the morning lows, but the bears circled the wagons for another sick push in the afternoon, and the final 90 minutes of trading on Wednesday was about as bad as you ever see the markets get. And once it was clear that this selling momentum had started kicking in and that traders were setting their sights on a run at the day's lows, it was like a tidal wave of sell orders flushing over Wall Street.

Given what things look like at this exact moment, the bears' insatiable thirst for blood in the market has clearly not yet been quenched.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Bounceback

Man, there is nothing better than times like this on Wall Street. Honestly, if you can keep your wits about you and you're not too overinvested in the market, and you have some solid finance knowledge to feel empowered to have a good sense of what's really going on, these unbelievably volatile days are the rarest of treats. And if you're actively involved in the market, you learn to appreciate them, of course the huge up days like today's 5% bounceback rally, but even the massive selloffs like we've seen over the past week. If you know what you're doing, those down days are some of the most exciting times there are, because there are any number of ways to profit from steep market declines, and especially because you get to go bargain hunting for those stocks you've had your eye on for 18 months just waiting for the right entry point.

Tuesday's trading action was simply a spectacle to behold. We opened up like 200 points on the Dow after the clear overreaction of what, 1200 points lost over three trading sessions on Wall Street, but within half an hour the bears had mounted their push, weighing stocks down and pushing the major indices down into negative territory within the first half hour of trading. But just when it looked like the bottom was ready to fall out of the market again, the bulls made their recovery, bouncing the indices off of the flat line and sending stocks solidly higher once again as the bears' early morning push was successfully fended off by those who saw too much value in stocks at Dow 10,800 to sit by without jumping in.

The Dow stayed up 150-250 points or so through the midday in New York, but then as we approached the Fed's FOMC announcement out of Washington, DC at 2:15pm, investors pulled in the reins a bit, perhaps anticipating that there were likely no magic words the Fed statement could include that would quickly address the myriad problems facing the U.S. and global economy at this stage. Within minutes of the Fed's announcement, which I linked to here almost immediately, people very easily saw exactly what the Fed was saying, given that this was one of the shortest and most transparent and straightforward Fed announcements I can ever recall seeing, and it basically included (1) a statement that the economy is clearly much worse than they had expected it would be earlier this year, and (2) a promise to keep short-term interest rates -- which have been at zero since the financial crisis in 2008 -- remaining at zero for at least another two years. This was the first time any extended time period like this has ever been included with this kind of specificity in a regular FOMC announcement, but at the same time, the Fed's obvious fear about the current path of the economy, combined with their lack of any real bullets left in their fiscal policy gun, and absolutely no promise, indication or scintilla of evidence of any intention to launch a third round of quantitative easing or other Fed balance sheet action, made the FOMC statement truly one of the most depressing and pessimistic proclamations I can ever recall being made by the U.S. central bank.

The moment that the bears saw how objectively negative the FOMC statement was, they immediately seized back control of the markets, pushing the Dow from up 200 points to down 200 points within half an hour of the Fed's release to the market's lows of the day, and it seemed we were looking once again at another complete washout as the Dow tested the 10,600 level for the first time in some ten months. It was an extremely impressive push by the bears, who have finally firmly wrested control of this market over the past week or two after basically two and a half years of nonstop bull market action, and the market-savvy could tell that the sellers had decided this was their moment, their chance to really make a splash and cause a scare among the investors of the world. In ten minutes the Dow would be down 500 points again, and there was finally going to be some raw old-fashioned panic again in the markets.

Yep, the bears gave it their best shot at around 2:45pm ET today, buoyed by a shockingly negative and poorly thought-out announcement out of the Fed, but then a strange thing happened. 10,600 proved to be the breaking point for the bulls, and when that level was reached about 15 minutes before 3pm on Tuesday, everything suddenly turned on a dime, and the most massive onslaught of buying I've seen in at least two and a half years took hold, sending the Dow from down 200 to up 430 points, closing at the highs of the day as the market shot up more than 600 points in just the final hour of trading. 600 points up in one hour, just when the bears thought they were about to wring out another day of heavy losses from U.S. investors. Even over the past week's crazy action minute-to-minute, I have not seen volatility like this -- with two huge pushes by the bears of multiple hundreds of Dow points each, combined with a truly epic FOMC fail by historical standards who all but proclaimed that growth will stink in the U.S. for at least another two years -- again since those crazy days in late 2008 when we would be down 700 three days in a week, and then up 550 the next.

The uneducated, the naive, and those who want to appear like they know what they're talking about but who actually have not a frigging clue posted headlines all afternoon and evening on Tuesday like "Investors Cheer Fed No-Exit Announcement" and "Stocks Soar as Fed Announcement Interpreted as Long-Term Support", etc. What jokers. As I've said, the Fed announcement was, factually speaking, about as negative as it could realistically have been. I can't even believe how poorly conceived that statement out of the FOMC was, almost as if it was designed to send the markets into another tailspin, which is exactly what it did within seconds of hitting the wires. There's just no debating that. If you read people in other finance outlets tonight telling you that investors interpreted the Fed decision as an implicit promise to launch another round of quantitative easing, then please don't read that publication anymore because that writer is a fraud and is as naive as the person who bought in big right before last Wednesday's action and then sold everything at this past Monday's close. The Fed has been perfectly clear in several recent FOMC statements when it is planning or expecting to launch more balance sheet measures to support the U.S. economy. They are crystal clear about it on purpose, because it is important to them that investors get the message that the Fed is here to support them. This FOMC statement was simply completely devoid of any such references or inferences, a fact which stuck out like a sore thumb.

Similarly, if you read one of these so-called market intelligence websites or newsletters today that has the audacity to actually put into print that investors bought up U.S. stocks on Tuesday because of the Fed's long-term promise regarding interest rates, once again that person's opinion is not worth the paper it is written on. Seriously, think how ridiculous that is! The Fed has already held interest rates at zero for over two years straight, and anybody who thought at this point, with the Fed's effort having failed to stimulate any real growth for nine straight quarters now, that there was any chance of any time soon seeing the Fed kicking up interest rates is as clueless as the day is long. No, it was already stone cold obvious that the Fed would be holding rates at zero for the foreseeable future, and a promise to do so "until 2013" is barely more than a statement of intent, as clearly the FOMC could act long before then if there is some sustained turnaround in the country's economy and/or inflation rates long before then. The 2013 rate commitment is a red herring plain and simple, and if anything as I mentioned above will surely come to be interpreted by the market as a clear indication of the Fed's expectation that growth will remain very sluggish in the U.S. until at least that time, an unprecedented type of statement out of almost any government office and in particular the FOMC. Anybody who thinks the market went up on Tuesday because of that FOMC statement simply does not have sufficient experience in the market to really know what's going on.

The market rallied ferociously in the final hour of trading Tuesday, but it did so directly in spite of the FOMC, not as a result of it. The Fed did about as much as it realistically could have to scare the crap out of U.S. investors for some inexplicable reason, and when the market had a few minutes to digest the FOMC statement, that is exactly what happened. The market didn't turn positive at all because of the Fed, make no mistake about it. The market turned at 2:45pm today because it had fallen much too far much too fast, and when the bears mounted their great big push, they went too far and made stocks too cheap for the money on the sidelines to stay away. The result was a massive wave of pent-up buying, one that completely overwhelmed the bears as it should have after the carnage we have seen over the past four trading sessions. But make no mistake, that rally was purely a momentum play and nothing more.

And that means that, without actually feeling any support from the Fed after the FOMC statement this week, the huge Tuesday rally cannot be trusted to hold at this point in time.

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The Downgrade, and the Fed

Longtime financial equities analyst Dick Bove has publicly been a clueless ass for a long time, including in a big, huge way all throughout 2007 and 2008 while the financial crisis besat the markets and left Bove holding the bag as he preached that all of the nation's largest banks and brokerages would be just fine. Oh, Bove will deny he ever said any of that now -- just like any good Wall Street analyst does with regularity these days -- but I was there, on the inside, hanging on the guy's every word, and let's just say he has been a confirmed clown for a long time and I was sure that would pretty much never change.

But for once, Dick Bove finally got something right. Go read Bove's piece at the link above about the S&P downgrade of the U.S. debt, where he basically nails it, in agreeing with my statement yesterday that we should actually be happy to have only dropped our credit rating from AAA to AA+ given the actual state of our national debt situation. I could read this stuff about people slamming on the S&P for even deigning to consider downgrading America's debt all day long, but my side would hurt from the unending guffaws and knee slapping from what I was sure at first had to be the rantings of people confined to insane asylums.

Here's a good general piece of advice for those of you who are interested in learning more about the financial markets: if someone has posted this week that S&P are a bunch of "idiots" (or insert your other ad hominem personal attack sans any intelligent or sensible justification) for their "flawed" analysis of the U.S. debt situation, quickly delete that bookmark just as fast as you can and don't ever read there again, because that my friends is a person who is simply far too blinded by false patriotism, naivete, or just a general lack of big-picture understanding to ever be able to see the truth. Anybody who thinks that S&P's job is to continue rating U.S. debt as "risk-free" even while there still right at this moment remains a good chance that we default on our debt at some point in the next six months, and while Tea Party and Republican members of Congress repeatedly declare publicly even just today that they are willing to push our country into default if that's what it takes to get our president to stop recklessly spending printed money that we don't really have, quite simply does not have even a basic understanding of S&P's role in the marketplace.

Yes, S&P and all its lesser competitors embarrassed themselves horribly with respect to the excessively positive ratings given to collateralized mortgage securities for years during the past decade. But the suggestion that S&P now is somehow required to continue that incompetence when faced with pretty much the easiest, clearest downgrade from "risk-free" status perhaps in the recorded history of mankind, reflects a lack of understanding about how the marketplace works in general so profound to make nothing else ever said by such a person even worth reading again.

Update: The Fed's FOMC just released their statement following the FOMC meeting in Washington, DC today, and the results are shockingly short on any support for the financial markets in my view. Basically, the Fed is announcing (1) that the economy and the jobs market are much worse right now than had previously been expected, and (2) that the Fed will maintain short-term interest rates at zero -- where they've already been for the past three years -- for at least another two full years. How that is supposed to make anybody feel confidence about the market right now is utterly and completely beyond me.

Which might explain why the Dow was up 210 points at 2:15pm just seconds before the FOMC announcement, and is now tanking big time.

Doesn't anybody in Washington know what to do or understand what is going on these days?

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Monday Market Mania

Well that was fun in the stock market on Monday, wasn't it?

Let me start by just personally extending kudos to S&P for finally -- for the first time in several years at least for sure -- actually doing their fucking job and telling the truth, and for showing why they have always been considered and always will be considered far and away the most credible ratings agency in the world today. And especially for refusing to kowtow to pressure from no one less than the President himself not to downgrade U.S. debt as is obviously warranted at this time. In a way, I think we should probably be happy to be retaining even an a AA+ rating from S&P, and I am not the least bit surprised to see our debt only only downgraded but put on negative watch for further downgrades even from here.

I mean, it's highlarious to sit and listen to the President on national tv (for some strange reason today) as well as Treasury Secretary Geithner rage against S&P about how unwarranted the rating cut was and how mistaken S&P's judgment is, etc. When in reality you, me and everyone else in the country all know that, literally less than one week ago, this country was straight-up one or two days away from a debt default. Period, end of story, we were one or two days away from some form of debt default, a fact that was made extremely public by both sides of the debate on a repeated and consistent basis and in a very deliberate manner. Longtime readers will note that I have always been all about owning the consequences of your decisions here on the blog, and when the President and the GOP leadership both repeatedly make the decision to broadcast to the world how we are going to default on August 2, we won't be able to make a $60 million interest payment due on August 3, etc., then shut your holes and don't complain when a ratings agency whose sole job is to determine how likely your country is to suffer some form of a default on its debt, decides that maybe you are no longer worthy of the highest possible credit rating indicating the highest possible confidence that no default is ever forthcoming.

Because, you know, last week everyone and their mother associated with the U.S. government told the world loudly, clearly, and very deliberately that we were going to, you know, default on our debt on August 2 or 3. There was a stalemate on both sides heading right up to the weekend immediately prior to the scheduled default, and in fact the two sides eventually settled the debate generally by kicking the can down the road (sound familiar? It's unbelievable, isn't it?) until December to determine which programs will suffer cuts, and how much, to help stabilize the deficit in this country.

Anyways, somebody tell me again how President Obama goes nuts all week a couple of weeks back about how we're going to default on our debt on Tuesday, we're going to miss interest payments on Wednesday, etc., and then is back on tv a week and a half later questioning how S&P could possibly decide that U.S. government debt is not worth of what is essentially known as "risk-free" status among the major ratings agencies. That is just about the most thoughtless thing I've heard in the entire Obama term thus far. We're obviously not a triple-A rated country anymore in terms of our sovereign debt, and those of you Americans out there who actually have some scrotum should probably be focusing a lot more on what the fuck Moody's and Fitch could mother fucking possibly be looking at in recently re-affirming the U.S.'s triple-A "risk-free" status for its sovereign debt. As one more reminder, this is the debt that was very publicly a day or two away from literal default less than a week ago. The entire issue is really just unbelievable if you have your head screwed on straight.

Oh, and here's one other topic while I'm discussing the markets. This story makes my mother fucking blood boil -- that AIG is apparently going to sue Bank of America for some $10 billion for fraud related to subprime mortgages leading up to and during the financial crisis. And don't get me wrong -- Bank of America are a bunch of shitbags, and that bank -- the country's largest I believe -- could very well be leading the market and the sector lower as people are sure to start really considering that the bank might require another bailout or at the least a solid round of capital-raising in order to right the ship.

But this is AIG -- the company that essentially invented the notion of writing insurance contracts on other companies' debt defaulting over the past decade, accepting hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance premiums to insure the debts of companies like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia, etc. on the blind, thoughtless assumption that none of these banks would ever actually fail, and that AIG was thus merely being paid "free money" at zero risk to the firm of ever having to pay out those insurance obligations in case of the disaster. This is the same company that, when all of those entities I mentioned above did experience defaults or even bankruptcies or near-bankruptcies, AIG of course couldn't even come close to actually paying out what it owed under these insurance policies, and who thus required a $180 billion bailout package from the U.S. government back in 2008/2009, much of which was paid directly by the way to Wall Street banks straight out of the government's coffers.

And now this same true piece of garbage company wants to recover $10 billion from shitbag Bank of America, for "misleading" AIG as to the nature of the mortgages bundled into securities that AIG accepted millions in fees to write insurance polices on. So AIG employees recklessly chased millions in fees and agreed to write countless insurance policies that the firm could not possibly ever pay off in the event of an obviously realistic set of circumstances (since they actually happened), and now they want to recoup from their clients AIG's losses on those insurance policies? Are you fucking kidding me? AIG, are you out of your fucking mind? The whole mother fucking point of offering up insurance on mortgage securities is the process of doing the due diligence to determine whether or not you are willing to provide the requested insurance, and at what price your actuaries have determined you are willing to offer it. That's the whole fucking point.

I mean, I could understand the claim that Bank of America probably made about a billion statements that turned out to be completely and utterly wrong about its expectations with respect to the value of the mortgages packaged into securities insured by AIG. Every company in America, on both sides of these transactions in fact I am sure, was more or less totally wrong about their expectations for the underlying mortgages in just about any debt portfolio five or six years ago. But how a company with the sophistication level of AIG -- the preeminent insurance company on earth as of before the financial crisis, bar none -- can willingly choose to participate for premiums that it agreed to, as an insurer of last resort in an entire securitization system that was truly hopelessly flawed, ultimately do its due diligence and decide to accepte hundreds of millions of dollars in fees to insure these mortgage securities against default at the prices agreed to by AIG in each and every case, accepting those premiums in exchange for promises to insure those securities and then now try to claim that they were somehow "tricked" by Bank of America with respect to what was in the securities that AIG had investigated before quoting its price to begin with, is beyond me.

And the thing that pisses me the shit off the most, by a mile, is that the U.S. government right now owns 77% of AIG. No, strike that -- Americans own 77% of this company right now, even after a large sale share earlier in the summer to reduce the holding from originally 92% after the company's ridiculous bailouts in 2008 and again in 2009. We own this fucking company!! And we're going to stand by and allow them to try to file downright frivolous claims that by definition would eliminate responsibility for AIG's own due diligence as the leading and most sophisticated insurance company in the history of the world? Literally! Why the shit would we ever allow that? We own this fucking company, big time. You and me brotha, we own this shit.

President Obama: if you're interested in getting someone with a head on their shoulders to at least consider voting for you in the next election, I want to see you on the fucking television, wagging a finger right at the camera, and telling AIG that they either withdraw this refluckulous claim today -- like, right fucking now -- or you are shutting them the fuck down once and for all like the filthy fucking crooks that we all already know they are. And then, let's hope they call your bluff and don't withdraw the claim against Bank of America, so you can shut those assholes down and put every one of those 63,000 full-time AIG employees out of business. You know -- our fucking employees. Mine and yours. How dare those sanctimonious shitpieces at AIG, who are only even employed at all right now by the mother fucking grace of having a two consecutive pussies as president who are just too damn afraid to stick it to the people who deserve it most, now demand the return of $10 billion because they didn't even fucking try to do their jobs and actually size the potential liabilities under the default insurance contracts they wrote. But it's not AIG's fault, right? They were "tricked" as part of the financial crisis by the very clients they were agreeing to protect. How unbelievably AIG of them.

What a load of bullshit. I would happily accept a big loss on our $180 billion investment in AIG at this point if it means putting the company's entire 63,000 full time workforce out of business. Tomorrow.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Stock Market Redux

Wow, it has been a looooooong time since I spent an entire end-of-day commute listening to the financial news like the old days. Except back then it was Bloomberg 1130am in New York, the only option available for full-time financial coverage on the radio in my area. Nowadays, it's the live feed of CNBC -- on the sexy and versatile Sirius Satellite radio of course -- but the point is still the same -- even on the way in to work on Friday, there I was again willingly choosing to forego my usual a.m. platoon between Mike & Mike in the morning and Jason & the GM (both of whom I really like in that format btw) on Mad Dog Radio, in favor of CNBC, listening to people talk about the market, opine about what's next, and speculate all over the place about the key July jobs market data. It's amazing how much the stock market can just grip an entire city like always seems to happen, in New York City for I think obvious reasons moreso than any of the other major northeastern cities where I have lived.

I think pretty much everyone who pays attention to such things could tell by early this week that the market was sick. By Thursday it finally just boiled over with a 500+ point drop in the Dow, and it seems to me that a lot of things might have finally sunk in yesterday for the first time for a lot of people who actually pay a little bit of attention to economic and financial matters. For starters, it is becoming increasingly clear that growth not only will be, but already is truly anemic right now. Last week when the government released a paltry 1.3% growth number for the Q2 U.S. GDP reading -- not nearly sufficient to even really call meaningful "growth" in most economists' views -- the at least equally meaningful but less reported part of the story is that the Q1 GDP reading was revised way down to just 0.4% growth. For those of who you haven't followed GDP over time, take it from me: first-half of 2011 growth of 0.4% in Q1 and 1.3% in Q2 isn't close to satisfactory to the markets. I think it's fair to say that an economy at this state that isn't generating at least consistent 2% growth over time will be viewed generally by the market as downright sick, and that's exactly what people have finally been figuring out pretty much ever since those numbers were released last Friday.

As much as I have fought the urge to turn this blog into a financial blog, making this place a forum for political argument sounds even worse. That said, another thing that is just increasingly clear from the past couple of weeks in Washington, DC is that this country really has no leadership at all right now. The American people are literally starting to figure out this very week that President Obama has done nothing on the economic front but kick the can down the road for the past 2 1/2 years. First it was continued massive bailouts and payouts to Wall Street risk-takers to artificially keep them alive. Then it was the silly, huge stimulus plan that really began the acceleration to this whole debt-ceiling mess we've found ourselves in this year, a stimulus plan which amounted essentially to a bunch of printed money, "creating" short-term demand of hundreds of billions of dollars and flooding the system with money that had to be spent in our economy over the past couple of years. But such provisions hardly ever work over history to actually generate "real" demand -- rather, it is common knowledge that the end result of such programs is generally just a big hole when those funds are removed. Sound familiar here, now two years past the stimulus bill's passage? And don't even get me started on the Obama / Bernanke QE1, QE2 and likely QE3 plans, which amount to -- get ready for it -- essentially to a bunch of printed money, "creating" short-term demand of hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. government obligations and flooding the system with "fake money". Sound familiar again?

Anyways, I'm not here today to debate whether you think this is the Obama administration's legacy thus far. What I'm saying is that yesterday was I think the day that the people of this country generally really did first begin to realize that what I just said is true about our can-kicking policy, and that now maybe is going to be the time where we actually take our medicine like good boys and girls. Even if you don't believe that yet, American finally started figuring it out yesterday. We have no leadership right now. Not the President -- who has consistently chosen short-term fake gains over longer-term initiatives to actually stimulate investment, create hiring, etc. and has stood playing his fiddle while unemployment has soared -- and not Congress with all the ridiculous infighting, political motivations, pork barreling even in times of national crisis, and total inability to effect much of anything, and let's not forget these are mostly all the same assholes who voted to bail out the Wall Street banks back in 2008 over the objection of the very people of America who these asshats are elected to serve.

Things changed since the 2008 financial crisis. There is going to be less government spending. Much, much less, because these entities simply will have to suffer cuts of funding, many of the cuts massive. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth. Cities and states all across America are technically bankrupt, and we've all seen how close the U.S. federal government came to a possible debt default just within the past couple of days. And we're the most secure, stable government in the world -- just look at this mess over in Europe, where we've already had at least two near-sovereign defaults this year leading to last-minute bailouts, and Greece is looking increasingly like it's heading right back to the abyss once again in the true style of AIG. Those governments will be forced, like America will as well, eventually to enact higher taxation, to help balance out the tremendous loss of revenues the governments will receive due to the slowdown, which will also inevitably take a bite out of economic growth. And make no mistake, there will be a slowdown -- a global one -- as the governments of most of the developed nations in the world decrease government funding for programs, decrease government spending, increase austerity programs, raise taxes, and see their domestic economies shrink somewhat as a direct result, which is by definition a several-year process. The generation-long housing boom and all the little industries whose growth was spawned by it -- from building, to materials and heavy machinery, to retail, and on down the line all the way to the huge boom on Wall Street from all the derivatives and securitization -- also led to what was most likely "over-employment", in that it is entirely likely that some portion of the 17% true unemployment in this country right now are people who may be facing very long-term (or permanent) unemployment, because there probably will not anytime soon be the same number of people employed in America as there were in the midst of all that bubblage, say five years ago.

So like it or not, things changed back after the blowups in 2008. Only, in America -- and in Europe, to a lesser extent -- the Obama policy has been to pretend that these structural changes just didn't happen. Very weak domestic demand because the value of investments plummeted 60% and housing that people already couldn't afford suddenly dropped 30%? No problem -- we'll just print 2 trillion dollars and spend it on the American economy for the next two years. Yeah, that will likely weaken the dollar and cause inflation to rise. So yeah, people might be paying $4.00 for gasoline in a couple of years, and $12 to see a movie, and $4 for a gallon of milk. Then we'll just lower short-term interest rates to zero for a prolonged period, and we'll buy up hundreds of billions of Treasuries over the next couple of years to flood the system with even more printed money to replace all the money that isn't in the system because our economy is really weak. What will happen in two years when all the fake money has worked its way through the system, and we're left with that huge gaping hole caused by all those structural changes that still happened, whether our people like to admit or not?

My sense is that now we are about to find out.

I'm not about making financial predictions here on the blog, but I'm going to leave you with a chart that I think is very interesting in what it suggests we could be looking at here:

This is from Doug Short of, and it is a comparison of the multi-year performance of three major indices after pretty much the three biggest market tops and longest bear markets in modern financial history -- the Great Depression, starting with the market crash of 1929, the Japanese Nikkei collapse, starting from its tumble from near 40,000 in the late 1980s and still going today, and the U.S. bear market that Short describes as starting back in 2000. These are inflation-adjusted ("real") charts though, not the nominal highs and performance of each index. It is each index's performance in percentage terms below the top, plotted on the horizontal axis over 22 years following the initial top of each cycle, in each case adjusted for inflation over those 22 years to produce a "real" graph that bakes in the varying effects of inflation over the three 22-year-periods in question.

What astounds me from that chart is just how similar all three of those graphs look. Not exact, mind you, but just downright similar. Like, they all took almost exactly three years after the top until they finally bottomed from the initial precipitous shock. Isn't it uncanny how closely all three indices made their bottoms, in all three cases it looks like between about 32 months and 35 months following the top of the market? And then after that 3-year top-to-bottom shock, all three of the indices rallied solidly -- albeit with a few ups and downs along the way -- for just about four years, or maybe closer to five years with the current market (in blue), once again in an uncannily similar pattern, don't you think? But then look what happened between years 6-9 (7-9 in the current market's case) -- another huge down period, in our case what we think of as the financial crisis, but look at the Great Depression grey line there, which saw the market lose another half of its total value over the ensuing three years after a ferocious four-year almost unstoppable rally following the big crash in 1929. And Japan in the red, once again losing about 40% of its value over those three years between 6 and 9 years following the market top.

Now, if you look at all three charts starting right around year 9 after the market top, you will see that all three put in very sharp bottoms, almost identically again right at that same point, within just months of each other it would seem. Crazy, huh? In the case of both the Nikkei and the Great Depression, it was an incredible 66% surge in the markets over just two years from years 9-11 that must have felt, I imagine, an awful lot like the past few years in the U.S., where we have undergone a ferocious rally to recover over 70% from the March 2009 bottoms by a month or two ago.

And then I look at what's next after years 10-11 following the stock market top like we are at now on the blue line, if those other two greatest bear markets of all time are any guide. And remember, this past week on the chart above only further confirms the consistency of the pattern so far.


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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

What a Difference Success Makes

If there was one thing that stood out to me during my many travels with my family over the past month -- other than the increased security at the busier airports, of course -- it would have to be the effect of wearing my regular Phillies apparel in multiple airports along the east coast. Ten years ago, #1 I'm not sure I would have been caught dead wearing any Phillies apparel other than your standard baseball cap in public, and #2, if I did, I could have walked through the nation's airports basically unnoticed. I mean, how often do you really pay attention if someone walks by you wearing, say, a Colorado Rockies t-shirt, or a Padres cap, etc.? Especially given the total lack of historical success out of the Phillies prior to the team's current incarnation, believe me when I tell you, I spent 20-some years of my life as a long-suffering and apparel-wearing Philly fan across the board, and nobody ever said boo to me about anything I ever had on my back, my head, or anywhere else attached to my person, be it at an airport or otherwise.

Fast forward to last month, and as the Hammer Family muddles through a very long security line at JFK International Airport, Hammer Wife and I are trying to get everything back together after our bags, computers, shoes, belts, younameits all come out of the scanner while simultaneously keeping tabs on and quieting down three young kids including a very young one who can't be trusted not to do something crazy at any time depending on what is attracting him at any particular moment. At one point my 2-year-old grabs one of his sisters' shoes and starts running with it, stopping just before running under the line barrier and back into the security line all over again. Trust me when I tell you, having to go and retrieve him, and I'm sure being forced to wait with him all the way through that whole security line again, was about as daunting a thought as I could imagine at that particular moment, and then I saw the big burly TSA guard standing right near where my boy was dangerously close to really screwing things up. I ask the guy if he could please just stand in front of my boy for one second while I come and collect him -- he was only maybe 10 feet away from me at this point -- and the TSA guy takes one look at my Phillies shirt, sneers up the corners of his mouth just a little bit, and says "Not for a Phillies fan, I won't." And he was serious. Luckily I managed to grab the kid before he got away from the security-cleared end of the line, but it wasn't with any help at all from the TSA guy, who told me he was a Mets fan. After a quick condescending laugh at him, I told him I feel bad enough for him already and I could get my own kid. But the simple fact is, ten years ago, there's no way anyone in New York would ever have even mentioned me being a Phillies fan. That fact would have been of no consequence whatsoever to a Mets fan 10 years ago, even when the Mets were bad themselves. The Phillies were a lifelong embarrassment, and pretty much the last franchise in all of professional sports that would have caused any agita, jealousy and negativity whatsoever in the mind of any other city's or sport's team fan.

A week or so later, we're flying back out of the airport in south Florida, and once again I am sporting some Phillies apparel, this time my old red hat that I've had for going on a decade or more now, and this time in Marlins country. The hat is ratty and gross, but it's mine and I love it, and I pretty much always bring it on vacation in case I need the extra protection or convenience that it affords the wearer. The Hammer Family rolls in to the airport with exactly nine bags, only two of which are being carried by anyone other than me, and I am taking a beating in the 100 degree heat. Mercifully I see one of the airprot's luggage hand trucks unattended, and I am just starting to put my luggage down on it when a skycap walks up from across the room and says those are only for skycap use. I look at him, sweat pouring down my face, back aching, and with true desperation in my eyes and ask can I please just borrow this to lug my bags to the security line about a mile away in the airport, and that I will personally bring it right back to him in 15 minutes or so when I get the bags there, and I take a minute to point out to him how utterly deserted the airport is at that hour and how many other hand trucks there are available for him and his team to use. The guy takes one look at me -- the sweat, the pain, the desperation -- and says, "Sorry, no Phillies fans are using any of my carts today." And that was it. I carried seven bags about a half a mile across a couple of terminals because I was unfortunate enough to once again be wearing a Phillies hat in the land of another, this time different, NL East team. What on earth a Marlins fan really has against the Phillies specifically I'm not sure I understand -- I mean, the Marlins are after all in last place in the division, they lost 17 games in a row this year, and the Phils have never really taken on the Marlins head-on in any of these past few years of Philadelphia sports success -- but I guess that's just it: the Phillies' success is what does it. What will soon be five consecutive years of NL East domination -- the only other team in division history to win five straight other than the Braves dynasty of the 1990s -- must just be too much for the fans of every other team in the division to take.

A couple of weeks later, we are at our first night at the beaches of Delaware (Washington, DC beach country, mostly), and I went out to pick up dinner at the Hammer Family's favorite local restaurant, and I'm once again wearing my Phillies shirt that in fact was a recent gift from my brother in law who was there getting dinner with me. When I get there I realize they have not included the dressing that my sister in law had specifically requested with her salad as part of the order, so I ask them to include it, and the guy behind the counter mouths off to me that he normally doesn't give dressing to Phillies fans. Now, unlike the first two instances above, this Nationals fan did eventually give me what I had asked for, but not before getting in his own barb against my beloved Phillies team. After he took the time to ask me where was that right-handed bat in our lineup since the Jayson Werth trade, I could not resist pointing out that the Nationals management has been asking themselves that same question all season long, and we parted ways both with smiles on our faces.

Three examples of NL East rival fans mouthing off at me in the span of under a month, just for the team that I liked? To a Phillies fan? If you needed anything beyond Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee both accepting less money to play at Citizens Bank Park to show how far the Phillies franchise has come over the past half a decade or so, that is pretty much it.

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