The Woody Allen Choice: Hopelessness or Extinction?

August 5, 2011

As I first posted this blog on my Forbes "Street Sweeper" column at 1 PM EDT on Thursday, August 4, 2011, I had stopped watching the stock market plummet. What's was the point?
However, I noted two interesting developments as this day unwound.

Silent Phone

Unlike similar crashes in 2009, 2008, 9/11, the Tech Wreck, and earlier, my phone isn't ringing. Now, keep in mind that I'm a Wall Street lawyer who represents both investors and the industry. In years past, on a day like this, I got lots of phone calls from folks seeking something from me - solace, calming words, bankruptcy advice, whatever. After a recent string of days of three-digit drops, I expected that panic would have set in by mid-day today.

Oddly, panic is just not what's out there. It's a very eerie calm. It's as if everyone has been expecting this sell-off and is now receiving it with an icy stare at the television or computer screen (or, in some cases, at the now blank screen - the overload of the Information Age has spawned the reaction of simply turning it all off and going dark). Perhaps it's the been-there-done-that acceptance of too many investors and professional traders who endured the Great Recession's devastating gyrations and have become too burned out to emotionally process today's blow-out.

No Political Urgency

Then there's the other anomaly.

Where the hell are our political and financial leaders? Where the hell are those folks who are charged with setting the economic policy of our nation? Hello . . . anybody home? Anybody there?

We elected Barack Obama as President of the United States a few years back, but, frankly, he's become more of a spectral presence that a political power. Last I heard he was either celebrating his birthday or trying to raise campaign contributions for the upcoming election. What I haven't heard from him is his plan - or even a plan - for substantively and comprehensively getting folks back to work and restoring consumer confidence. Our President seems quite good at wagging a chastising finger or calling for 11th hour meetings, but I just haven't heard from his own mouth the four corners of anything that I can identify as the Obama Economic Recovery Plan.

Moreover, our economy remains on life support and Congress is on vacation. Seriously? On vacation? You folks don't think that you have a ton of work to tackle? You think that you just accomplished something with the deficit reduction vote? Let me clue you in: You kicked the damn can down the road and, in so doing, twisted the guts of your fellow Americans with disgraceful political brinkmanship.

What you didn't do is forge a plan to put millions of unemployed back to work. You didn't propose steps to unfreeze the frozen credit pipeline. You didn't do jack to restore the confidence of antsy consumers and unsure entrepreneurs.

By the way, that's not really my opinion - the stock market is voting today on your failures as well as your political and financial counterparts' in Europe. Frankly, it's just not a banner day for Western Civilization.

August 5th -- the Roller Coaster

Of course, go figure, no sooner do we survive August 4th then the 5th brings us an up and down and very down and (as of about 1:30 pm EDT) an up and a very up day.  When we opened higher on the positive surprise of the employment numbers, apparently a lot of folks thought it was a good opportunity to sell into a rally. Which they did.

Seems that when we're at the top of the roller coaster these days, folks figure we're soon going to be at the bottom. The early rally turned into a rout. Of course, when the same folks were at the bottom of the roller coaster, they just assumed that it was a prelude to another run up. Which, geez, we sure as hell did and with surprising speed. Fact is no one really has a feel for this market and no one has any confidence in the top or bottom. You ask me (sure, go ahead and ask me), human beings are not trading this one.  This is all computers.  The HFT crowd is having a field day. 

Ultimately, I'm pretty impressed with my observation on Thursday that I just wasn't seeing or sensing much panic. This is a very odd market and after decades of trading, I note that there just isn't the feel that men and women are pushing the buttons that's causing these gyrations.  It doesn't feel like panic or elation is goosing the ticker. This smells of algorithms. And maybe that's mankind's saving grace the past couple of days.

National Referendum

As for the upcoming 2012 election, I think it's high time for an historic national referendum. I've lost all confidence in Congress to make the right choices on anything.  Maybe it's time to let the voting public make this tough call.

I'd like to see four economic proposals to the electorate.  The first three initiatives should come from the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Tea Party's. You'll pardon my skepticism if I tell you that I'm not really expecting anything meritorious from those quarters. Those three parties have had quite a bit of time to cobble together a written proposal with details. Instead we have talking points and potshots. We have broad gestures and a blank paint-by-numbers illustration.

Oh, how I would love to see the emergence of a national reconciliation party - a fourth presence in American politics. And from that fourth corner of the political spectrum I don't want the childishness of dress-up latter-day faux patriots or the doctrinaire party line of the left. I want a single, credible, cohesive, pragmatic proposal for getting our economy back on tracks. Set aside partisan bickering for the goal of preserving my life's savings - whatever is left of that.

As Woody Allen Said

Right now, we're astride a crossroads. We can't move in four directions. Time to pick one. All of which puts me in mind of that wonderful quote from Woody Allen:

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

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Bill Singer Supports the
National Adjudicatory Committee Candidacy
David M. Sobel

On August 5, 2011, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") announced the upcoming election for two open seats (one each for the Large Firm and the Small Firm members) on its National Adjudicatory Council ("NAC"), which comprises 14 members: 7 industry (two Small Firm, one Mid-Size Firm, two Large Firm, and two At-Large Industry Members); and 7 non-industry (at least three are Public Members). 

Service is typically for a three-year term. Those wishing to contest FINRA's Nominating and Governance Committee nominees will have 45-days to file the requisite petitions entitling them to be certified for the ballot.

The NAC is not an unimportant cog in the FINRA regulatory wheel -- to the contrary, it is among the most critical components. The NAC reviews all FINRA hearing panel decisions, statutory disqualification applications, and serves in the additional role as FINRA's appellate panel. 

Small Firm Nominee David M. Sobel

FINRA's Nominating and Governance Committee nominated David M. Sobel for the Small Firm NAC seat.

I have known David Sobel for many years as someone who is unequivocally committed to regulatory reform.  He is an industry veteran who's been there and done that -- he understands the pressures of your business and has the legal training to recognize the merits (or lack thereof) in the various FINRA matters that will be presented to him. Frankly, I can't think of many individuals that I have known after some three decades on the Street who are more qualified and suited for the position.

I urge you to cast your Small Firm vote for NAC candidate David M. Sobel.


Bill Singer

FINRA's Official Profile for David Sobel:

David M. Sobel, Esq. is currently executive vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer of Abel/Noser Corp., a FINRA/NYSE member broker-dealer. He was previously a partner at The Goldstein Law Group, P.C., where he concentrated in the areas of broker-dealer compliance/regulation, securities litigation, including arbitration and mediation, and disciplinary/enforcement matters at the SEC, NYSE, AMEX and FINRA. Mr. Sobel was a floor member of the New York Stock Exchange from 1982 through 1991 as a floor broker for both H.A. Brandt & Co. and First Options of Chicago, and he was president of his own NYSE member firm, Ampro Securities, Inc. After leaving the NYSE floor, he was a senior equity trader/market maker for Trimark Securities.

Mr. Sobel has a Master of Science degree from Brooklyn College and a law degree from Pace Law School, where he was an editor of the International Law Review and recipient of the Dean's Award. He has served as a FINRA arbitrator, on FINRA's District 10 Committee and on FINRA's Small Firm Advisory Board. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the National Society of Compliance Professionals and as chairman of the board of the NAIBD. August 5, 2011

Mr. Sobel has been quoted in or interviewed by: Compliance Reporter,, Complinet, Trader's Magazine, Wall Street Letter, BD Week, Op/Risk and Compliance Magazine, Institutional Investor News and Dow Jones Newswire, and is a frequent speaker at securities conferences for SIFMA, NSCP, NRS, NAIBD, FMW and Strategy Institute. Recent conference topics include Managing Risk at Small BD; Internal Audits; Supervisory Responsibility, Financial Responsibility, Fraud Prevention in Portfolio Management, Social Networking, Foundations of Compliance, Best Practices and Forensic Compliance.

He is admitted to practice before the Supreme Courts of New York and Connecticut, the U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. He is a member of the New York County Lawyers Association, the New York State Bar Association and the American Bar Association.