February 23, 2008

Obama: Bit of a hypocrite on Cokes in school?

He says we could help children’s health a lot by getting sodas out of schools.

True indeed. But, has he made efforts to seriously reform farm legislation so monocrop Big Ag corn doesn’t get so much subsidies, which then help make high-fructose corn syrup in those sodas so cheap? Has he fought against the tariff on Cuban sugar, which allows HFCS to undercut it and make Cokes so cheap?

Either Bud Paxson or Dean Goodman is lying about McCain (non)-meetingsMc

So, did John McCain meet with the head of Paxson Communications as part of an attempt to intervene with the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of the company or not? Paxson’s head, Lowell “Bud” Paxson, said Friday he DID meet with Schmuck Talk Express™:
Paxson said he talked with McCain in his Washington office several weeks before the Arizona Republican wrote the letters in 1999 to the FCC urging a rapid decision on Paxson's quest to acquire a Pittsburgh television station.

And, another Paxson top brass may also have been there:
Paxson saw no particular significance in the meeting with McCain before his penning the FCC letters. “Vicki Iseman, probably between myself and [Paxson Communications President] Dean Goodman at that time, took us in to see a thousand senators and congressmen,” Paxson said.

But Saturday, Goodman says, that wasn’t me there:
“I never met with or discussed this with Senator McCain,” Goodman said. “I don’t recall Bud meeting with McCain. It would be extremely rare that there would be a meeting that I didn't attend, and I can tell you that I didn’t have a meeting with McCain on this issue.”

“Whether Bud discussed it with him or not, via some other mechanism, I can’t rule it out,” Goodman added. But, he said, “I don’t think there was a meeting.”

Well, somebody, at least one somebody if not more, is lying.

Two more reasons to oppose a housing bailout

First, a lot of help is going to go to buyers of high-priced homes, not those who really need help after being led on by predatory lending practices. The increase in federal jumbo loan backing from $419,000 to $730,000 has two problems. First, it was done with little debate as to exact amount of increase, etc. Second, it, like some of Bush’s stupider tax cuts, is a temporary provision; eventually, without further legislation, the cap will fall back again.

Given the mortgage deduction allowance on taxes, this is a big change in policy.

Second, why should we reward banks and other lenders for their bad behavior? Aren’t we actually encouraging more of it in the future? And, how do you sort out good guys from bad, whether it’s predatory vs. nonpredatory banks, or struggling first-time homebuyers vs. “flippers”?

February 22, 2008

Did Lutz spout antiscientific moronity in Cedar Hill to Northwood students?

General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz (rhymes with “putz”), who spoke last month at Northwood University here in Cedar Hill, suburban Dallas, where I report and edit, stands by calling global warming a “total crock of shit.” Just a little more brainwashing for the local chapter of Young Republicans, unless their Northwood education includes critical and independent thinking skills.

Certainly, Bob Lutz isn’t an expert on selling cars, so why should he be given the time of day on antiscientific stupidity?

Freon defeats computer encryption

No fancy techniques, just a blast of Freon like that contained in blow-out cleaning cans so often used on computers, can allow information to be stolen off encrypted hard drives. Here’s how it works:
The move, which cannot be carried out remotely, exploits a little-known vulnerability of the dynamic random access, or DRAM, chip. Those chips temporarily hold data, including the keys to modern data-scrambling algorithms. When the computer’s electrical power is shut off, the data, including the keys, is supposed to disappear.

In a technical paper that was published Thursday on the Web site of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, the group demonstrated that standard memory chips actually retain their data for seconds or even minutes after power is cut off.

When the chips were chilled using an inexpensive can of air, the data was frozen in place, permitting the researchers to easily read the keys — long strings of ones and zeros — out of the chip’s memory.

After that, put the chips back in a computer, and, voila, instant data. The easy trick works on PCs, Macs and Linuxes alike, including those with manufacturer encryption software built in.

The personal computer will likely never be “safe.”

How the NYT could have better packaged its McCain story/stories

Inspired by a Todd Gitlin post over at Talking Points Memo, here’s how I think the NYT could have done its McCain breakout better:

Per Todd, I suggest this as what would have been a much better breakout.

A. You commit to running a multi-part story. The drip, drip, drip of political scandal on the installment plan is a killer.

B. Part one is something like Michael Isikoff wrote for Newsweek just after the NYT story broke. No hints of Schmuck Talk using his schmuck, just the fiscal angle. Tie back to Keating Five and parallels more strongly, another way the actual NYT story was kind of weak. Show patterns.

Meanwhile, you press your sources to talk more, even if obliquely, about the hanky-panky. Also meanwhile, see if you can find a further pattern. Iserman jumped from secretary to partner awfully quickly. See if there's fire behind the smoke there.

C. Then, if it's as solid as what the NYT actually ran, especially if the sources gave you even an ounce of additional quotes, you run the hanky-panky as part two. Tie back to McCain's history with ex-wife No. 1. Whether Iserman's career ladder-climb was due to office sex or whatever, run that in a sidebar.

D. By this time, with the two stories running 3-7 days apart, more stuff to investigate will probably come over somebody's transom.

Busted: Roger Clemens at Canseco’s house

Via ESPN, the New York Daily News claims it has a pic of Clemens at Jose Canseco’s infamous 1998 house party.

That gives new relevance to our Clemens vs. Bonds poll:

Free polls from Pollhost.com
Which MLB player benefited more from juicing?
Roger Clemens Barry Bonds   

Sayonara, Medical Center at Lancaster

The closing of the Dallas suburb’s hospital, more than 20 years after it opened, and just two years after corporate ownership of the for-profit facility, in conjunction with Lancaster civic leaders, talked about forming a medical development district around the hospital, is a body blow indeed.

As for redevelopment, a hospital building isn’t readily used for a lot of other things. Besides, you’ve got a half-vacant plaza, a fully-vacant plaza (except for a storefront church) and a vacant grocery store, all rattling around in the city.

Leaders are pinning their hopes to two things: Development at Houston School Road/I-20 related to the growth of the University of North Texas-Dallas, located just across the Dallas city limits, and the Dallas Logistics Hub, in Lancaster, Dallas, Wilmer and Hutchins, estimated to value $5.4 billion at 30-year buildout.

But, hopes for both of those, even if they come to fruition, will be many years in the making.

And, there’s that IF.

First, UNT-D spinoffs.

Will enrollment grow as fast as its top backer, state Sen. Royce West, predicts? Probably not, and definitely not unless Royce can get 15 fellow senators and the majority of the state House to re-regulate tuition rates at state universities. Otherwise, who’s going to afford UNT-D in another decade?

The Logistics Hub? With oil prices now having made a beachhold at $100/bbl and more likely to head further north than south, such transportation centers may be white elephants.

More and more American-incorporated manufacturers will find diminishing profit margins from made in China items, especially items with subassembly here and final assembly there. Also, just in time delivery is going to get m ore overhead.

Result? Less need for massive warehouses covering 6,000 acres. That’s not to mention the possible glut we are already developing, from Fort Worth’s Alliance being only 40 percent filled, to three Dallas Logistics Hub-type products (albeit on much smaller scales) being built in the same area, two in Dallas just north of DeSoto and one other one in Lancaster.

So, Lancaster civic leaders, hold on to hope, but don’t have a runaway elopement with it.

The latest credit news — housing woes mount; banks sit on credit hands

A bigger federal bailout for homeowners?

Count me out.

Yes, the story has heartbreaking tales of people who can’t move because they’re chained to an underwater mortgage, people now in new jobs with lower income than when they bought, and so forth. And, yes, for many of these people, federal “stimulus” checks likely will be used to pay down debt, not buy anything.

But, much of the woe the story details is self-inflicted.

A lady in her late 50s when she bought a four-bedroom house for equity and wealth enhancement? Sorry, and yes, sorry that you’re now in a lower-paying job. But, we wouldn’t bail you out if you gambled wrong on stocks or mutual funds.

A couple, even with three kids, buying a house in Memphis with $670,000 in debt? Memphis is not L.A. or even Chicago. Either in terms of size, amenities or both, you bought too much house, or else you bought beyond your means. We wouldn’t bail you out if you bought a Mercedes on a Nissan budget.

Meanwhile, as opposed to previous crises, financial institutions appear unwilling, even afraid A bigger to act to shore up the various arcane, exotic credit tools they created, then expanded, in the last decade or so.

Of course, they don’t have any problem in acting like titty babies to Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve, pouting and stomping their feet as they demand another rate cut.

How newspapers endorse candidates, with one dirty little secret

In between comments I made at Washington Monthly yesterday about “la Mésalliance McCain,” somebody commented about Mitt Romney being upset about the New York Times endorsing McCain instead of him; that person also wondered a bit about the process involved.

I touched a bit on the process here, but thought I could do a bit more public service by detailing the editorial endorsement process, from my experience at (much smaller) daily newspapers.

The NYT editorial board would likely have publisher Pinch Sulzberger, Executive Editor Bill Keller, Managing Editor Jill Abramson, Opinion Editor Gail Collins, possibly the top editorial writer (editorial writers and bylined op-ed columnists are different critters at major dailies), possibly/probably the deputy managing editor for politics, or similar position, and perhaps a couple of others.

You’d also have some ad hoc members. For example, for New York City mayoral endorsements, the city editor might sit in. For gubernatorial endorsements, the Albany editor. For presidential endorsements, Dean Baquet, the Washington editor.

First, outside of campaign endorsements, here’s a bit of how an editorial board operates in general. It will meet once, maybe twice a week, plus special meetings on hot button issues. At the NYT, for example, the board would develop a consensus on what issues the paper needs to officially opine about in the next week. It then, after discussion and some sort of vote, especially in a division of house on tough issues, decides the official stance to take, talking points to be mentioned, etc. (If the division on an issue is fierce, an op-ed column might be devoted to the leading representative of the minority view.) Collins would then, after the meeting, assign different editorials to her various writers, copy edit them, etc.

When it comes time for endorsements, the board would first schedule interviews, whenever possible, with the candidates involved, in elections big enough to warrant. (The full editorial board is not going to interview NYC municipal judge candidates, or even get involved in the process.) Before the interviews, board members will discuss questions they want to raise, angles they want to pursue, issues they see of importance, etc. For endorsements in primaries, rather than general elections, these issues will also be connected to some degree with party stances, etc. Interviews may be in person, speakerphone, video, e-mail or whatever.

The board then discusses the candidates after the interview and makes their call.

How this relates to Keller sitting on the story?

As I noted before, I’m sure Keller played his cards close to the vest. If Baquet was in on the McCain vs. Romney endorsement, of course he knew. Abramson was in on the loop, too. Pinch may have been. Collins, likely not.

So, this was something that could have been discussed in the endorsement process. If necessary, you could boot most the people out of the room and have discussed the McCain story and its relation to an endorsement just between Pinch, Keller, Baquet if there, Abramson and Collins, bringing her in the loop.

Was it discussed? Ahh, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Given that the endorsement didn’t mention McCain being ethically challenged on lobbyist issues, let alone personal issues, I’d say no. Pinch is neoconish enough, I think his mind would already have been made up for McCain. For different reasons, ditto on Keller. Baquet would have pushed to talk more about the story, I think, and not been in McCain’s endorsement corner, but I’m guessing Keller had him on an officially very short leash if he was there. Abramson? Guessing she had an open mind on the endorsement, and at this point at least, figured the story didn’t have enough new, or wasn’t moved enough by the story, for whatever reasons.

And, the dirty little secret?

It’s well-known inside the biz, and discussed, but editorial endorsements from major daily newspapers provide little “bump” in the polls to candidates. In fact, some newspapers, whether to save time or to save face, are moving away from doing them.

Gitmo’s former lead prosecutor to be defense witness

As I expected, after his resignation from the Army’s prosecution team, followed by a detailed explanation of why, from the biggest issue of advance presumption of guilt on down in pending trials of Gitmo detainees, Col. Morris Davis is going to be a defense witness for them. But, hold on:
It is not clear whether the Pentagon — which defends the commission system as fair — will allow Davis to testify. In December, two months after he resigned as the chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals, the Defense Department barred Davis from appearing before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

I’m sure defense attorneys will challenge such a block on Congressional grounds, and a trial is something different from a Congressional hearing.

That said, if the brass-hat wingnuts increasingly populating the higher eschalons of the What-a-gon try this, Davis could do something really dramatic, like resign his commission while tearing apart his uniform on the steps of the Pentagon.

More on Clinton cratering: out-of-control campaign spending

Can’t blame her own donors for getting hacked at Hillary Clinton for some of this, like paying Mark Penn’s organization $3.8 million in January. Mandy Grunwald’s group got $2.3 million. And, there’s stuff like this:
During the week before the Jan. 19 caucuses in Nevada, the Clinton campaign spent more than $25,000 for rooms at the Bellagio in Las Vegas; nearly $5,000 was spent at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas that week. Some staff members also stayed at Planet Hollywood nearby.

There’s plenty of places cheaper than Bellagio.

They’ve sure earned it, haven’t they?

All Guantanamo detainees’ interrogations appear to have been taped

A Seton Hall law school student project found that as many as 24,000 interrogations appear to be on videotape. And, a discovery just in time for the first trials.

KBR finally in the legal dock

Four KBR contractors have been indicted for graft in Iraq.

Supplemental war funding: the dirty little game BOTH parties play

Too many Congressional Democrats have gone along with Bush’s supplemental defense spending requests, many of which directly relevant to Iraq or Afghanistan. Not quite “out to lunch,” but in the same vein, I’m sure.

As Fred Kaplan points out, how does something like basic military pay get put in a supplemental bill?
(T)he practice (has) a corrosive impact. It allows the military services to elude even minimal standards of discipline. Rather than set priorities and make choices between one program and another, or between short-term needs and long-term wishes, as all other federal agencies must do, the backdoor supplemental lets them have it all—including billions of dollars' worth that has nothing to do with an emergency, in some cases little to do with any wars.

It’s shameful, and if Democrats (including whichever one gets nominated for the presidency) try to raise the issue of “budgetary prudence” against McCain, it will be just one more, one more BIG example of two-party hypocrisy.

Credulous environmentalism in the pages of Sierra

The namesake magazine of the Sierra Club got taken to task by letter-writers in the March/April 2008 issue. Why?

Rightlyfully spanked was the magazine, including by Laurel Hopwood, chair of the Sierra Club’s Genetic Engineering Committee, for including Kraft and Wal-Mart as being friendly to sustainable food practices, organic food, etc.

Kraft, of course, per several wags, produces “food-like substances.” Wal-Mart imports much of its “organic” food from countries that have less organic oversight than the admittedly paltry USDA standards here in America.

Then, in his column, Executive Director Carl Pope claims China has “the cheapest labor market in the world.” Not true, not true at all, Carl.

Just south of China lies Vietnam. Not as industrialized as China, but certainly ahead of Kampuchea, Myanmar, North Korea etc., not to mention the special tragedy of sub-Saharan Africa. And, India, Pakistan and Muslim Rim countries, while they may have higher wages, have burgeoning, readily-exploitable child labor sources.

So, the “brand name = nothing” syndrome you painted could get even worse.

Oh, and on credulous environmentalists, elsewhere the mag cites Environmental Defense for its “good work” in getting TXU to not build eight of 11 planned coal-fired power plants. Actually, takeover artist Kohlberg Kravis Roberts didn’t want to build them, so that it could drive up electricity costs and pay off its leveraged buyout quicker.

Environmental organization credulousness easily morphs into corporate greenwashes. Way to go.

How fitting a BushCo byline

Per Reuters, Defense Secretary Bob Gates was “Somewhere Over the Pacific” Thursday. Not quite “out to lunch,” but in the same vein, I’m sure.

McCain-Iserman story — NYT ready to dish!

You, yourself, can e-mail The New York Times to ask them whatever you want on the McCain-Iserman story.

Here’s my questions:
1. Is Bill Keller on the editorial board, re the Times' endorsement of McCain?

2. Even though the story was necessarily tightly held to the vest, should he have said SOMETHING to the editorial board, somewhere in the process of candidate interviews by the board, discussions, votes, etc.?

3. Was the Drudge leak by one of the four reporters involved? If so, was the leak directly to Drudge? To a friendly WaPost reporter? To some other third party?

4. If not for the Drudge story in December, the WaPost story in December and Baquet's continued push, would Bill Keller ever have let this story see the light of day?

I’ve got more I’d ask, but I am curious about some inside process stuff here.

February 21, 2008

We need John McCain and one campaign staffer (presumably female) …

For a special appearance before the Federal Elections Commission.

Given John McCain’s alleged affair with a whiff of regulatory impropriety coming close on the heels of his “I was for public campaign financing before I was against it” attempt to apparently defraud the Federal Election Commission and the American taxpayer, via his campaign committee, and the currently quorum-less FEC now saying McCain’s fiscal sleight of hand needs another look, it’s clear we have the stage for a perfect train wreck.

The Schmuck Talk Express™ needs to have casual sex with one of his campaign staffers, ideally someone in either fundraising or legal issues, so as to have direct connection with his loan agreement, so he can then go interfere with the FEC on her behalf!

Follow-up thoughts on the McCain scandal story and the New York Times

One: Why did the New York Times endorse John McCain over Mitt Romney if it was working on “la Mésalliance McCain”?

I'm guessing that the NYT op-ed structure has Executive Editor Bill Keller on the editorial board for endorsement interviews, endorsements, etc. (I'm a newspaper editor, but never at a paper of nearly that size; so this is my semi-insider guesstimate.)

I would guess that Keller kept his cards close enough to the vest that nobody else on the editorial board knew what was up. Prolly nobody had read the WaPost story in December or seen any blog linkage to the Drudge piece at that time. And, as we see most often and most spectacularly at the WSJ, major dailies can sometimes have huge disconnects between newshole staff and op-ed writers.

Other points:

First, the importance of Schmuck Talk hiring Bob Bennett. You just don't do that unless some real shit is up. So, right-wingers who claim this is all smoke, if they know inside Washington, know there's plenty of fire. And, they know they’re lying about this being a tempest in a teapot.

Second, is the sex side unimportant, or a matter of “private lives”?

No. McCain is pandering to the Religious Right again, and has been from the start of this campaign, after years of mutual antagonism. Given that the RR often focuses on sexual issues, it’s perfectly legitimate to focus on this.

And, given McCain has a “track record” in this area, it’s even more legitimate.

Of course, that’s not to deny the importance of the impropriety of McCain’s attempted interference with the Federal Communications Commission.

In short, looking at McCain’s life, it looks like we have a mash-up of Keating Five redux and wife-cheating round two.

Third, just how castrated, or self-castrated, can Bill Keller be? Without some combination of the staff defections over the pace of the story, D.C. editor Dean Baquet pushing back to run the piece, the earlier Drudge leak, and TNR’s sniffing around the Times news staff this week, it’s quite likely this story would be continuing to molder in a bottom-drawer file, if not actually getting an official File 13.

Keller has, and not for the first time, damaged the Times’ news-gathering credibility.

Alphabet-soup debt fallout: Maybe we ain’t seen nothing yet

John Markman is talking about truly exotic debt-shuffling financial instruments such as tender-option-bond programs and auction-rate securities.

They all stem from the increasing reliance, or perhaps we should say, overreliance, on debt in the financial world of the last decade or two:
In a gentler era, debt was important but not as vital to world finance. In recent years, debt became the oxygen of the world financial system, along with a fanciful means of transferring its risks from borrowers and issuers to investors. To the extent that neither debt nor its conveyances are now trusted, even from organizations once considered rock-solid, the entire global banking system is asphyxiating before our eyes. …

Now, with our antennae up, virtually every week we discover a new large but obscure corner of the U.S. and world financial system that -- unknown to all but a few practitioners -- depends on the confidence of debt buyers in order to survive. And they are all today gasping for breath. …

We are not quite talking about a terminal illness here, but close enough. This slow-motion asphyxiation is worse than a flu or pneumonia, and it's more resistant to treatment than cancer. And that's why the problems besetting the market are not solvable by conventional fiscal or monetary policy changes, political gestures or mere tens of billions of dollars in new investments.

Markman then gets to the price tag:
To breathe a meaningful amount of new oxygen into the financial system, and thus effect a lasting reversal in the fortunes of major banks and stocks, experts now believe will require hundreds of billions of dollars just as a baseline.

And no, the Warren Buffets of the world can’t help:
Until U.S., European and Asian central banks, investors and governments can coordinate a solution on an unprecedented scale, all interim white knights are doomed to fail. With them will go every minor stock market rally such as the one that kicked off at the start of this week.

And, here’s why all that money is needed:
Australian derivatives expert Satyajit Das figures there is $1 trillion to $2 trillion in SIVs, leveraged loans, warehoused loans and other assorted junk coming onto banks' books, all of which will tie up liquidity. Add to that the $150 billion to $250 billion in losses already recorded. Then add the roughly $100 billion that authorities believe will be required as reserves to shore up the troubled monoline insurers Ambac Financial Group (ABK, news, msgs) and MBIA (MBI, news, msgs). Call it $1.5 trillion in total (the midrange). So to reserve against that, Das figures banks need at least $250 billion to $400 billion in new capital, because the deficit is constantly growing.

At present the global banking system has about $2 trillion in capital in total. So banks need to raise something like 10% to 25% of that amount in short order at a time when the market is scared and earnings are plunging.

In short, Ben Bernanke can’t even bubble us out of this situation unless a lot of banks engage in a lot of make-believe, combined with inventing some new off-sheet investment vehicle to replace SIVs.

Spygate lawsuit: I was RIGHT (updated)

The New England Patriots are being sued for allegedly taping the St. Louis Rams’ final walk-through practice

It’s just not Kurt Warner filing the suit, however, but former Ram Willie Gray. And, he wants $100 million from the Pats, owner Bob Kraft and Spygatemaster Bill Belichick.

Well, Willie, Warner, while he might be entitled to $4-5 million, ain’t entitled to $100 million. You might be entitled to the difference between the losers’ and winners’ share of Super Bowl money, and a tip from Warner for breaking the ice, but that’s about it.

Update: Gray accused the Patriots of fraud, unfair trade practices and engaging in a “pattern of racketeering.” Three fans joined in the suit.

Feb. 19, Hugh Campbell, the Cincinnati lawyer who filed Gary’s suit, said he wanted to add at least two new classes to the action: all employees and players of all NFL teams who were illegally videotaped by the Pats, plus all fans who bought tickets to any game that the Pats illegally taped. He also said he wanted to join with Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., who also is looking into the allegations.

Once again, I offer the Kurt Warner lawsuit poll;

If Kurt Warner sues, he should get
$1 million
$2-3 million
$4-5 million
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Sadr expected to extend cease fire

This is generally and truly good news in a number of ways, if Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr extends the cease fire of his Mehdi Army. But, can he make it hold against rogue elements?

U.S. in Iraq — please let us step back from our most recent propaganda overstatement

A couple of weeks after loudly decrying the use of allegedly mentally ill women as suicide bombers, the U.S. now admits it doesn’t know what, if any, mental condition the two women had.

And wingnuts still don’t get why the knee-jerk reflex of millions of people around the world is to not trust the U.S. government.

Can we bring our own air, too?

China officially “regrets” that the U.S. Olympic Team is bringing its own food supply to Beijing this summer. Well, given all the scandals of recent months, from pet food tainted with a plasticizing compound to toys swathed in lead paint, what do they expect?

(Also, some athletes worry that the amount of growth-boosting drugs used on Chinese livestock could produce positive doping tests.)

The heck with that — what’s Beijing smog, even with any short-term Chinese clean-up, going to do to a marathoner’s lungs?

Juan Gone Redbird Arrived?

As unbelievable as it sounds, maybe former Texas Ranger outfielder Juan Gonzalez can crack the St. Louis Cardinal roster.

If Chris Duncan still has trouble with left pitching, it could make a nice platoon in one of the OF spots, with Gonzalez also doing other occasional OF duty and perhaps giving Pujols an occasional day off at 1B. If, with all of that, Gonzalez got 400 AB, 20 HR and a .275 BA, I’d take it in a heartbeat.

February 20, 2008

The Commish is anxious to get to the bottom of Spygate? Yeah, sure

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell insists he’s “anxious” to meet former New England Patriots assistant Matt Walsh and get to the bottom of Spygate.

You think he’ll put Walsh in a lineup and ask Bill Belichick to ID him?

As for legal immunity of sufficient rigor for Walsh, Sen. Arlen Specter says a recent lawsuit against the Pats may help:
Specter told The Associated Press on Wednesday that if Walsh is under subpoena in a suit, it might solve the problem of protection.

“I think now that the lawsuits have been started, that I got the ball rolling, and the plaintiffs’ lawyers are picking it up,” Specter said.

And, as for that lawsuit? Well, the attorney for 2001 Rams player Willie Gray wants to add all employees and players of all NFL teams who were illegally videotaped by the Pats, plus all fans who bought tickets to any game that the Pats illegally taped as legal classes for the suit. He also wants to meet with Specter.

The Schmuck Talk Express™ has a schmuck — and allegedly used it …

With someone who didn’t happen to be his wife, Cindy McCain:
Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

And, apparently, something was up:
In interviews, two former associates said they joined in a series of confrontations with Mr. McCain, warning him that he was risking his campaign and career. Both said Mr. McCain acknowledged behaving inappropriately and pledged to keep his distance from Ms. (Vicki) Iseman. The two associates, who said they had become disillusioned with the senator, spoke independently of each other and provided details that were corroborated by others.

And, that’s not all. The Schmuck Talk Express™ (alleged) diddling in the dell had a quid pro quo:
When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of (Iseman’s) client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.

Well, if McCain’s bogus, taxpayer-defrauding campaign finance loan of earlier this year didn’t ruin his reputation for fiscal probity (as if the Keating Five scandal hadn’t already done that), this incident certainly will.

It’s not just the diddling hint that has Big John upset, I’m sure. It’s that (and about damn time), the NYT does a thorough dismantling of his whole façade.

As for the diddling part, here’s his response:
Mr. McCain said that the relationship was not romantic and that he never showed favoritism to Ms. Iseman or her clients. “I have never betrayed the public trust by doing anything like that,” he said. He made the statements in a call to Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, to complain about the paper’s inquiries.

The senator declined repeated interview requests, beginning in December. He also would not comment about the assertions that he had been confronted about Ms. Iseman, Mr. Black said Wednesday.

As the Washington Post reports, the Times story, then pending, got buzz on the Drudge Report two months ago. At that time, McCain hired heavyweight Washington attorney Robert Bennett. Obviously, the Times didn’t scare off.

Head to the gas station now

The explosion at the Alon oil refinery in Big Spring, Texas, is expected to knock out production there for as long as two months. In other words, get used to $100/bbl oil.

Missing from the Democratic presidential candidates’ talk.

These are three biggies:

1. Iraq, and getting us all the way out.
2. Peak Oil, with oil closing over $100 a barrel.
3. Vouchers as part of national health care, if you’re not going to propose a single-payer system.

All three points reflect Democratic timidity. No. 3 also reflects cluelessness.

Harry Reid ‘biggest pussy’ on Iraq

Matt Taibbi certainly doesn’t mince words in taking on Senate Majority Leader Reid or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as Democratic “chicken doves” on Iraq:
Quietly, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been inspiring Democrats everywhere with their rolling bitchfest, congressional superduo Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have completed one of the most awesome political collapses since Neville Chamberlain.

At long last, the Democratic leaders of Congress have publicly surrendered on the Iraq War, just one year after being swept into power with a firm mandate to end it.

And, it’s not just these two, but their Congressional allies, often Democratic careerists:
Rep. David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee and a key Pelosi-Reid ally, lambasted anti-war Democrats who "didn't want to get specks on those white robes of theirs." Obey even berated a soldier's mother who begged him to cut off funds for the war, accusing her and her friends of “smoking something illegal.”

Taibbi worries that this will keep Iraq off the general election presidential table, too. Sadly, I’m betting he’s right.

Barack Obama, I don’t care what rally you visited and what you said in 2002. That was six years ago.

You haven’t voted once to cut Iraq funding since being elected to the Senate. What are you doing today?

(Gary Kamiya has a nice complementary article.)

Tony Blair for EU president? Nein, say some

A stop-Blair website is part of the effort to prevent former British prime minister Tony Blair from being the first holder of the new position of president of the European Union.

Given that the U.K. has never joined the Eurozone, and is now opting out of parts of the Lisbon treaty, it’s easy to see his lack of popularity on the continent, with the exception of Sarkozy. So far, though, there’s been little significant German weigh-in. Whether on the record or on background, significant German comment could give a big boost to anti-Blair forces, especially if a single agreeable opponent candidate can be found.

The world’s oldest computer

“Computer” might be a bit of a stretch, but this 2,100-year-old astronomical calculator is a mechanical marvel:
A 2,000-year-old mechanical computer salvaged from a Roman shipwreck has astounded scientists who have finally unravelled the secrets of how the sophisticated device works. …

Since its discovery, scientists have been trying to reconstruct the device, which is now known to be an astronomical calendar capable of tracking with remarkable precision the position of the sun, several heavenly bodies and the phases of the moon. Experts believe it to be the earliest-known device to use gear wheels and by far the most sophisticated object to be found from the ancient and medieval periods. ...

Using modern computer x-ray tomography and high resolution surface scanning, a team led by Mike Edmunds and Tony Freeth at Cardiff University peered inside fragments of the crust-encased mechanism and read the faintest inscriptions that once covered the outer casing of the machine. Detailed imaging of the mechanism suggests it dates back to 150-100 BC and had 37 gear wheels enabling it to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon. The motion, known as the first lunar anomaly, was developed by the astronomer Hipparcus of Rhodes in the 2nd century BC, and he may have been consulted in the machine's construction, the scientists speculate.

Remarkably, scans showed the device uses a differential gear, which was previously believed to have been invented in the 16th century. The level of miniaturisation and complexity of its parts is comparable to that of 18th century clocks.

One of the remaining mysteries is why the Greek technology invented for the machine seemed to disappear. No other civilisation is believed to have created anything as complex for another 1,000 years.

So, per people attacking Susan Jacoby and claiming how we moderns are so intelligent, let’s just stop and think that one over.

Your nature news roundup

Gorilla protection

Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have a new gorilla protection plan. The Dutch government, to the tune of €4 million ($5.8 million), is funding the 10-year project.

Expect new Antarctic species

A new census of sea life, designed to do an in-depth study of the Southern Ocean before it is too affected by global warming, should uncover a number of new, often exotic, species.

Hillary Clinton STILL doesn’t get Texas primary issues

She apparently doesn’t get that delegates are apportioned on the basis of turnout in previous elections. She can go seeking her “firewall” Hispanic voters in the Valley all she wants; there’s no delegates there.

Oh, and when you hire former Grey Davis staff, namely, a former speechwriter, isn’t that another sign of cluelessness, desperation or both?

Inflation watch: It ain’t going down, Mr. Bernanke

The 2007 numbers are in and inflation hit 4.3 percent last year. And, if it’s going anywhere, right now, that number is up. Numbers for this January show a rise of 0.4 percent. Multiply by 12 and you get 4.8 percent, just a tad bigger than 4.3.

It’s clear that Big Ben Bernanke the Clueless, Big Ben the Bubble Builder, has not an idea about just how much a problem inflation could be. Five bucks says that, in spite of the inflation news, he’ll try to ram through another rate cut before the end of May at the latest.

The only good news, or perhaps stupid news, is that new home groundbreakings edged up in January. Good in the sense of economic activity. Stupid in the sense of a slowing economy and a huge backlog of unsold homes.

Head of Darkness: Bush visits Africa

With apologies to Joseph Conrad, how else to describe Bush’s visit to Africa? The man’s stubborn willfulness or self-deceptive cluelessness, whichever it is, leads him to inane statements such as claiming no African rivalry with China:
“I don’t view Africa as zero sum for China and the United States. I think we can pursue agendas without creating a great sense of competition,” Bush said.

“Do I view China as a fierce competitor on the continent of Africa? No I don’t.”

And so, the debate on the cause of Bush’s failed presidency — is he more stupid, or more a liar — continues to get fuel on both sides.

Throw your Iraq Surge success out the window

Moqtada al-Sadr has made the clearest noises yet about ending his six-month old cease fire.

You can just see the Tar Baby routine coming after this. Petraeus argues, and Gates backs him, that this means we can’t withdraw any more troops. Al-Sadr, or more and more of his followers, at least, argue to not only end the cease fire, but take action. We insist on attacking “rogue elements” of the Mahdi Army under the pretext they’re backed by Iran, when Tehran has shifted its bets to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

February 19, 2008

Contempt, fines for journo failing to cooperate in lawsuit: where do we draw the line?

Judge Reggie Walton may hold former USA Today reporter Toni Locy in civil contempt for refusing to cooperate with former Army scientist Steven J. Hatfill in his suit against the government.

Hatfill, as some may recall, was named a “person of interest” by the government in its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks that hit the U.S. Capitol and other sites shortly after 9/11.
Hatfill, who worked at the Army's infectious diseases laboratory from 1997 to 1999, was publicly identified as a “person of interest” in the 2001 anthrax attacks. He is suing the Justice Department, accusing the agency of violating the federal Privacy Act by giving reporters information about the FBI’s investigation of him.

Five people were killed and 17 sickened by anthrax that was mailed to lawmakers on Capitol Hill and members of the news media in New York and Florida just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. After initially being identified as a "person of interest" in the investigation by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, the case remains unsolved.

Walton ordered Locy, James Stewart and three other reporters to reveal their sources to Hatfill. Stewart claims his sources have had their info corroborated by other persons identified to the public. Locy is not wanting to cooperate at all. The other three, Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman of Newsweek and Allan Lengel of The Washington Post, have revealed at least part of their source information.

There is precedent on this, on the civil side, from Wen Ho Lee’s suit against the AP and other media sources. After Lee reached a settlement in his suits, reporters who had been found in contempt had their appeals turned away.

I’m inclined to cut reporters some more slack in civil cases. That said, civil contempt in a suit like this may be the slap on the wrist needed to get reporters to treat government sources more critically.

Charles Keating would be proud as McCain plays three-card monte with public campaign financing

It looks like the Schmuck Talk Express™ learned a few creative financing tips at the hand of Charles Keating.

How else can you explain the fact that, to get a $1 million campaign loan, he pledged as collateral NOT opting into public campaign financing, but opting BACK IN if he lost a future primary by more than 10 percentage points, and staying in until he got enough public financing money to pay off the loan.

Will he try this in the general election, too, after trying to secure Obama’s pledge to stay on public campaign funds?

You know it.

Guilty as charged: Smoking in movies influences kids; R rating needed

The verdict continues to pile up that smoking on screen influences adolescents to do the same. And, given that 80 percent of cinematic smoking appears in movies rated G, PG, and PG-13 (yes, G!), the solution is obvious, and simple:
Make smoking in movies automatically trigger an R rating.

Will this work? Hells, yes.

Folks like Philip Morris/Altria know that:
A. No age is too young to try hooking kids, and
B. The younger the kid, the more likely they are to get hooked and stay hooked.

So, Motion Picture Association of America, do your duty.

Oil back over $100/bbl

While oil had breached this mark before, it’s the first time the futures market closed a day above the magic priceline. The explosion at a refinery in Big Spring, Texas gets the blame. But, doesn’t this show, in the face of oil’s alleged recession concerns driving prices down into the low $90s recently, that the oil market is getting even tighter.

Need I mention the magic phrase, Peak Oil.

Meanwhile, the Street appears to concur that, recession talk aside, inflationary fears are still lurking.

And, with the market finishing over $100/bbl, not just hitting an intraday peak, we’ll see what psychological momentum carries over.

Kafkaesque SCOTUS to ACLU: Eff off on telco spying suit

The Supreme Court, without comment, has denied the American Civil Liberties Union legal standing to sue telecommunications companies for illegal snooping on American citizens. The reason, previously cited by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, says the ACLU cannot prove its communications have been monitored.

In terms of SCOTUS alignment, this isn’t a liberal vs. conservative split.

What is does show is the timidity of courts at multiple levels, and judges and justices with both conservative and liberal leanings, in following the letter of the law rather than seeking out its spirit.

Ben Stein: subprime idiot or subprime liar?

You make the call, based on this either contrarian or idiotic New York Times column.

My vote is for “liar.” Ben Stein isn’t that stupid.

Given his serious GOP work started in the Nixon Administration, though, it is clear Stein is easily that much of a liar.

If only the U.S. government had such a debt rule

Britain’s nationalization of faltering Northern Rock will push government debt above 40 percent of GDP. NOTE: The story says net debt, not annual deficit.

Fidel retires; what reforms does Raul want?

It’s the end of an era. Fidel Castro is retiring as Cuba’s president, with brother Raul, five years younger, expected to succeed him.

As the story notes, Raul has hinted at reforms. Last year, he said the country needed “structural changes.”

Of course, the even bigger question is, will the U.S. government drop its knee-jerk paranoia, as well as dropping at least some of the plethora of punitive sanctions and prohibitions? Don’t count on either McCain or Clinton/Obama uttering a peep, rather than promising to keep up a hard line as they pander after Florida’s Cuban-American voters.

The Schmuck Talk Express™, in the pre-presidential lusting past, has actually supported loosening restrictions. But the Flip-Flop Express of today is a different character.

On the Dem side, expecting Clinton not to pander with a hard line is ridiculous. Obama can put his money where his mouth is on a “change” issue, but I won’t hold my breath.

Well, here’s the Department of State committing to keep up the hard line.

Castro’s resignation letter is here. Interesting both that it was released in the dead of night and posted online hours before radio announcements. Was he trying to soften the emotional self-blow if people didn’t mourn too much?

February 18, 2008

Andy Stern: Union browbeater, when not a squish

It seems that the Service Employees International Union head, far from being a brave new post-AFL-CIO union head, is actually a squish when he’s not being a union politics nutcutter.

More on Stern’s union political hackery here.

So, basically, at least in this case, the “New Unionist” movement is as much a crock as the “New Democrat” one.

Irony Alert: Pats Spygate taping gofer fired for — spying!!!

Meanwhile, Belichick goes spinmeister on Spygate

When an article like this starts with the claim from New England Patriots Coach, Bill Belichick, Coach Genius™, about former Pats videotaper Matt Walsh, that “he couldn’t pick him out of a line-up,” you know it’s time to put on your hip boots early.

Pats director of player personnel Scott Pioli piles on, claiming Walsh was fired for… wait for it… tape recording conversations he had with Pioli. I guess Walsh either didn’t learn the subtleties of audio tape espionage from Coach Genius™, or else BellyCheck isn’t as good a spymeister as he’d have us believe.

Otherwise, Coach Genius™ doesn’t sound very repentant.

First, he stick by his story when first caught, claiming his actions were within NFL rules as he interprets them. Second, on a 0-100 scale, he claims to have gotten at most one point of benefit.

He also categorically denied taping the St. Louis Rams’ last walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI, and added that he never taped a walk-through, period, as head or assistant coach.

What the bears on the Street won’t mention: banks borrow $50 bil from Fed

That’s $50 billion with a “b” of money banks have borrowed from the Federal Reserve’s Term Auction Facility. Besides the basic fact that borrowing of that much money should underscore the fact that our economy isn’t close to level, many economists say both the opaqueness and indirectness of borrowing from the new TAF should raise concerns.

Maybe hackles, instead.

The collateral requirements are so low as to show this is clearly part of the latest Fed bubble-building effort.

We’re mad as hell and we’re suing over subprime fraud

The rate of subprime-related lawsuits currently exceeds 1980s S&L-related lawsuits.
“What they can't enforce through regulation, they will try to accomplish through suing,” said David Bizar, a Hartford, Conn.-based attorney with the firm McCarter & English who defends against subprime mortgage lawsuits brought by consumers and regulators.

Already, the number of subprime-related cases filed in federal courts is outpacing the rate of litigation that emerged from the savings and loan meltdown in the late 1980s and early '90s, according to a study released Thursday.

The 278 subprime cases filed in federal courts in 2007 already equals half of the total 559 S&L cases handled over multiple years, according to the findings from Navigant Consulting Inc.

For that, I have but one word: Good. Let’s get more. The article notes that the pound of flesh federal and state regulators exact from Wall Street financial institutions isn’t likely to be too onerous, so we need to gin up lawsuits.

Redbird spring training news: the rotation just got thinner

Matt Clement is officially not available to start the season. No indication of when he will be available. Geez, not such good news.

February 17, 2008

Credit default swaps to follow subprime loans, CDOs, to bubbleland stage?

It does indeed seem possible that more and more economic talk will focus on the “arcane” CDSs.

Like other recently crafted financial tools, such as their somewhat kin collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, CDSs have a few problems. First, what are CDSs?
Credit default swaps were invented by major banks in the mid-1990s as a way to offset risk in their lending or bond portfolios. At the outset, each contract was different, volume in the market was small and participants knew whom they were dealing with.

No. 1 and above all, especially in the eyes of more critical economists, is that CDSs, just like CDOs, are not “marked to market.” In other words, nobody knows if their paper value is at, or even anywhere close to, their real-world value. The reason is the same as with CDOs — they’ve never really been tested on the open market.

Major insurer AIG has already admitted some of its CDSs were mispriced.

Third, one-sixth of CDSs were created as backstops for holders of CDOs, and we know the CDO market ain’t so healthy.

Spring training is here! How long will the Cards and Prince Albert be around?

The Redbirds’ main concern isn’t Chris Carpenter’s elbow but Albert Pujols’.

With Prince Albert making noises before the start of spring training that, if his elbow flares up again this year, he’ll shut it down and pack it in for the year to have surgery, there’s several issues of concern.

First, without being offensive to the rest of the team, he’s officially admitting the Cardinals will be in rebuilding mode this year.

Second, by talking this early, he’s admitting he’s worried about his wing. And so is manager Tony La Russa:
Although Pujols’ numbers last season were typically eye-popping — a .327 batting average, 32 home runs, 103 RBIs — La Russa noticed something different with Pujols’ swing.

“We’ll definitely monitor it,” La Russa said Saturday. “Talking to the trainers this morning one of the biggest issues will be throwing so we’ll be on the careful side of really firing it. He could make a swing that could tweak it, too. It’s one of those deals.”

The injury has been more bothersome throwing rather than hitting. But so far Pujols has done both during his early arrival.

OK, and it’s time for another sports poll here.

Where do you all think the Birds finish in the NL Central this year? My vote is second (Cubs win), but no wild card spot. (And, I’m assuming Pujols is there for most of the year.)

Free polls from Pollhost.com
Where will the St. Louis Cardinals finish in the NL Central?
First Second, WC Second, no WC Third Fourth Fifth Sixth   

Are Americans getting dumber? Well, perhaps more mentally lazy, yes

Susan Jacoby has just released a 1,500 page tome that answers with a definite Yes.

And, it’s drawing a lot of comment, even pushback.

That said, I’ve not read her book, but did see her appearance on Bill Moyers Now last Friday.

I think she’s overstated the thesis. I don’t think they’re dumber, in terms of reasoning skills. I do, though, STRONGLY think, as she herself said on Moyers’ program, that Americans are getting more intellectually lazy by the day. This is particularly true among various right-wing strains in America, whether neocons and military rightists blindly supporting the continued war in Iraq, religious rightists continuing to reject the firm scientific grounding of neo-Darwinianism, etc.

Nonetheless, anti-intellectualism isn’t the sole property of the right. Jacoby also talks about how separate women’s and minority history studies departments in college have effectively ghettoized these areas of study, for example.

That said, I totally agree with her. As I do with the idea that “dumber” means less knowledgeable about, as well as more intellectually lazy in, history, political science, psychology, and other social science areas.

If students are less informed in history, and the degree they are gaining in knowledge, or intelligence, is due to their own computer skills, or computer/tech type classes in public schools, I will “blame” a variety of forces.

1. Schools in being too business-conservative, not liberal, for moving public high schools in a more vo-tech direction and less focus on the value of and need for liberal arts, and similar actions.

2. Parents for being content with this. And, with many families, at least among native-born Americans, having fewer and fewer children, the “no parental time” excuse doesn’t go too far.

3. School bureaucracies for not leading the call for a school year long enough to match that in other Westernized countries. WHEN are we going to get a 200-day, or longer, school year here?

Jonathan Rauch reaches new level of idiocy on Iraq

Writing in The Atlantic, Rauch says Dems should support a very (my emphasis) gradual withdrawal from Iraq in order to appeal to Congressional Republican sensibililities.

First, as noted at A Fistful of Euros, Rauch’s political calculations lead him to simply not mention the additional U.S. and Iraqi casualties from a delayed withdrawal. (If writing forty years ago, Rauch probably would have saluted Nixon’s “Peace with honor” and exercised the same blindsight.)

Second, he writes jewels like this:
[G]rown-up Republicans would recognize that withdrawal is inevitable; they would want to be relevant; they would feel battered by the election results.

Really? There are grown-up Republicans in Congress? We haven’t seen any since the change of party power in the start of 2007. We haven’t seen any that felt “battered” by the midterm election, even in the face of pending further electoral losses at the end of this year.

Third is the delusion that most Republicans recognized withdrawal is inevitable.