Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Anti-Shorting Nuts Are Loose

I'm fascinated by the split personality of the anti-short selling campaign. At the top you have a phalanx of lobbyists and pressure groups, some totally respectable (if predictable), like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Washington Legal Foundation, and including consultants and other top-level spokespeople for the cause, such as former SEC commissioner Roel Campos.

And then, on a sliding scale of respectability, you have astroturf organizations and websites spouting "stock counterfeiting" conspiracy theories. These tend to have "market reform" in their titles -- even though genuine market reform, such as abolishing mandatory arbitration and reforming executive compensation, is not part of their mission.

Below them are what I call the "pond scum," the crazies and the hired thugs.

What all levels of the campaign have in common are the inspiration and deep-pockets financing of the guru of the movement, Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.

As part of his mission to gain respectability, for himself as well as his movement, Byrne recently has hired a Los Angeles public relations firm, Levine Communications, to get Byrne face time with members of the media as the "Wyatt Earp of Wall Street." That's odd because the real Earp was married to a Jewish lady named Josephine Marcus and was buried in a Jewish cemetery. Byrne, by contrast, is an old pal of the far-right wingnut Bo Gritz, and has been beset by charges of anti-Semitism for years.

That brings me to the latest examples of the pond scum element that have come to my attention.

One was a post on a Yahoo stock message board shortly before 7 p.m. yesterday. It said as follows:
WOULD UNDERSTAND IF SOMEONE SHOT AND KILLED CRAMER AT HIS HOME

at [address redacted].

He's an alan berg wannabee.
The message, which was quickly deleted by Yahoo, was signed "kikevermin3." Alan Berg was a radio talk show host who was killed by a right-wing extremist in 1984.

What apparently caused this spasm of hate was a posting on Byrne's "Deep Capture" blog, which weaved a conspiracy between Cramer and others, while reviving the old and easily refuted claim that Dendreon Corp. was a victim of "naked short selling."

Now, I can understand how Byrne might disclaim responsibility for this death threat--even though it was directly inspired by his latest Internet craziness. In my view, he would be directly culpable for any harm that might come to people as a result of the trash published in his blog. What he publishes in Deep Capture is believed by the conspiracy-minded, many of are "nucking futs," and some whom are crazy enough to actually carry out their fantasies.

Byrne realizes that, or should realize that, and is morally--and perhaps legally--responsible for the actions of his followers.

There is certainly no question that he is directly responsible for the second recent example of the pond scum element: I'm told that his hireling Judd Bagley has sought to get in touch with the estranged wife of Sam Antar, a frequent critic of his boss.

Mrs. Antar, I'm told, has refused to respond to Bagley's request for phone call. Bagley was, no doubt, intending to dig up dirt on Antar and, at the very least, to harass him, in a disgraceful attempt at issuer retaliation.

Byrne's p.r. campaign has already resulted in some dumb journalism, and that's ok. Heck, that's why the good Lord created p.r. people. But the pond scum element, whether they are Bagley or the creep who threatened Cramer, are a different order of magnitude. Such punks are dangerous, and they need to be criminally prosecuted.

© 2009 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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