Weil on Finance: Carl Icahn’s Mug

Jonathan Weil joined Bloomberg News as a columnist in 2007, and his columns on finance and accounting won Best in the Business awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2009 and 2010.
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Hello, View fans! Here are your annotated morning links.

Carl Icahn on the cover of Time magazine: Is this a jinx?

The headline calls Icahn a "master of the universe" and says he is "the most important investor in America." (The title of "most interesting man in the world" is safe with the Dos Equis guy.) Given his ego and thirst for attention, one might be tempted to wonder if Icahn was disappointed that Time didn't wait a few weeks and name him its "Person of the Year." But surely he must be happy with the magazine's favorable coverage. And to reward its interest in him, Icahn gave Time a scooplette that he had filed a proposal with Apple Inc. seeking a shareholder vote on whether the company should spend more money on stock buybacks. Really, though, this seems to be a softening of his stance. Before, Icahn was demanding that Apple do $150 billion of buybacks. Now the Wall Street Journal reports he's taken that number down to $50 billion on top of Apple's previous program, citing people familiar with his latest overture to the company.

How long will it take Mel Watt to lower the underwriting standards at Fannie and Freddie?

Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute has gone overboard in the past with his rantings against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Most reasonable people who know anything about the financial crisis can agree that the companies were a cause. Wallison for years has insisted against all reason that they were the main cause -- the "sine qua non," as he has said. Never mind all of the countless other contributing factors. But that's all in the past. Today, Wallison has an op-ed in which he says to get ready for another housing bubble because U.S. Representative Mel Watt is about to take over as head of the two companies' conservator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Wallison may have a point on this one.

If you live in mainland China and are reading this blog post , please tweet this or e-mail to let me know

From the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong: "Lantern, a new software program which allows Internet users to circumvent government-imposed censorship, is seeing rapid growth in China as more people are using it to bypass the Great Firewall of China to access websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter." The software developers are being financed by the U.S. State Department. One of them told the newspaper that China just cleared 10,000 users, up from about 200 a couple of weeks ago. On the other hand, the software isn't designed to prevent government monitoring, only to provide access.

Citron Research's latest bearish call

Questcor Pharmaceuticals Inc. has managed to get in the crosshairs of Andrew Left, executive editor of Citron Research, which has a long track record of spotting excellent shorts. Read the claims for yourself, and draw your own conclusions. If nothing else, Citron's reports are a lot more fun to read than just about anything published by a mainstream Wall Street stock analyst. Citron says this piece, published Dec. 3, is one of a series of articles on Questcor to come.

And in more dog-related news: What in the world is a Wottie ?

It's a cross-breed between a West Highland terrier and a Rottweiler. Hard to believe this was possible. The male terrier that pulled off this feat is half the size of his love interest. But the U.K.'s Daily Mail has the story and the puppy pictures to back it up: "The owner of both the dogs, Teresa Patterson, from North Grimston, Yorkshire, was surprised they had mated and was unaware it had taken place until the puppies were born."

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Weil at jweil16@bloomberg.net