January 28, 2011

Is TPA shooting itself in the foot on public notices?

Every other year, the Texas Legislature considers, or is rumored to be considering, changing state law so that local governments do not have to post matters of legality, such as rezoning hearings, etc., in a local newspaper of public record.

Usually, proponents in the Lege argue that municipalities will save money by posting legal notices on their local websites. Or, if government websites aren't worthy, due to transparency and conflict of interest concerns, something like Craiglist.

And, every biennium, the Texas Press Association argues against the idea.

TPA has argued not just against government websites on the conflict of interest and related issues, but have argued against web-based postings in general on grounds such as "a lot of people don't have Internet access," etc.

Well, what do we have now? TPA and the Texas Daily Newspaper Association have now teamed up to offer web-based public notices!!!

At a bare minimum, local governments can now argue that ad rates for public notices should be drastically lowered, since it costs a lot less to run them online. And, if the local newspaper of record is a TPA member, then the local government can say this meets current state law on posting requirements, without going out to Craigslist, etc.

Plus, with the state budget deficit also a municipal budget deficit, this door opening is surely only going to increase that push. And, if TPA doesn't like it, I suspect state law might just get changed this time around.

The warmongering bipartisan duopoly

Over at Truthout, Andrew Bacevich has one of his best commentary pieces in a long time.

Reflecting on Obama's State of the Union address, he explains why we won't have actual cuts in defense spending any time in the near future.

Bacevich first tackles the situation at hand:
The Pentagon presently spends more in constant dollars than it did at any time during the Cold War. ... What are Americans getting for their money? Sadly, not much. Despite extraordinary expenditures (not to mention exertions and sacrifices by U.S. forces), the return on investment is, to be generous, unimpressive. The chief lesson to emerge from the battlefields of the post-9/11 era is this: the Pentagon possesses next to no ability to translate “military supremacy” into meaningful victory.

And, looks at the situation at hand close up, too:
The problems are strategic as well as operational. Old Cold War-era expectations that projecting U.S. power will enhance American clout and standing no longer apply, especially in the Islamic world. ...

And the why, first with a twist on "bread and circuses:
to distract attention from the fact that patriotism had become little more than an excuse for fireworks displays and taking the occasional day off from work -- people and politicians alike found a way to do so by exalting those Americans actually choosing to serve in uniform. ...

In effect, soldiers offer much-needed assurance that old-fashioned values still survive, even if confined to a small and unrepresentative segment of American society. Rather than Everyman, today’s warrior has ascended to the status of icon, deemed morally superior to the nation for which he or she fights, the repository of virtues that prop up, however precariously, the nation’s increasingly sketchy claim to singularity.

Politically, therefore, “supporting the troops” has become a categorical imperative across the political spectrum.

Result?
The duopoly of American politics no longer allows for a principled anti-interventionist position. Both parties are war parties. They differ mainly in the rationale they devise to argue for interventionism. The Republicans tout liberty; the Democrats emphasize human rights. The results tend to be the same: a penchant for activism that sustains a never-ending demand for high levels of military outlays.

Bacevich adds that by demonizing the "losing side" of debate before Dec. 7, 1941, we haven't learned enough from WWII:
In this sense, American politics remains stuck in the 1930s -- always discovering a new Hitler, always privileging Churchillian rhetoric -- even though the circumstances in which we live today bear scant resemblance to that earlier time. There was only one Hitler and he’s long dead. As for Churchill, his achievements and legacy are far more mixed than his battalions of defenders are willing to acknowledge. And if any one figure deserves particular credit for demolishing Hitler’s Reich and winning World War II, it’s Josef Stalin, a dictator as vile and murderous as Hitler himself.

Until Americans accept these facts, until they come to a more nuanced view of World War II that takes fully into account the political and moral implications of the U.S. alliance with the Soviet Union and the U.S. campaign of obliteration bombing directed against Germany and Japan, the mythic version of “the Good War” will continue to provide glib justifications for continuing to dodge that perennial question: How much is enough?

Anyway, I've just presented a summary. Read the whole thing.

St. Louis Cards can afford to resign Pujols

Per St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jeff Gordon, in analyzing financial ramifications of St. Louis Cardinals contract talks with Albert Pujols, says that Cardinal CEO DeWitt can financially afford to let Pujols walk, mentioning the team has drawn at least 2.4 million a year for 15 years straight. (Corrected from identifying this as a Joe Strauss column earlier.)

Yes, but ....

Let's say it falls back to 2.4 million instead of 3.2 million, Joe. 800K fans at about $20 a ticket, plus an average of $5 of auxiliary spending on concessions, etc.? (And, those are all surely lowball numbers right there.)

That's $20 million a year. And, Pujols wants just $15 million a year more than he's making now. Add in the possibility of fewer postseason appearances, etc. Even if we factor out business taxes, etc., Joe, the Cards might just lose money by not meeting Pujols' terms.

But, that doesn't appear to be DeWitt's mentality.

Joe Strauss elsewhere summarizes that attitude:
(Cardinals CEO Bill) DeWitt underscored during December's winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., that all organizations "have limits." DeWitt also maintained during this month's appearance that the club was willing to wait until after the season, if necessary, to retain its signature player. ...

The Cardinals previously have characterized Pujols' situation as "independent" of recent contracts that have redefined the game's financial landscape. General manager John Mozeliak noted in May that the club was committed to paying for future, rather than past, production.

And, so, to follow up on Jayson Stark's latest musings, I seriously doubt DeWitt will make Pujols a $300 million man with a 10/$30 contract.

Now, per the idea that DeWitt just wants to pay for current performance, what if Dan Lozano countered with a call for a three-year contract for $100M? DeWitt would have to put up or shut up for sure, then.

But Lozano would have to gamble that Pujols could then still pull, say, $22.5M or so a year on a five-six year deal after that.

Are Pujols-Cards fault lines hardening?

Per St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Joe Strauss' latest take on the St. Louis Cardinals' contract talks with Albert Pujols, I'd give a qualified "yes" answer to that question.

And, though Strauss has given a kind of a pass to management in the past, if one looks honestly at what he writes, it doesn't deserve it:
(Cardinals CEO Bill) DeWitt underscored during December's winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., that all organizations "have limits." DeWitt also maintained during this month's appearance that the club was willing to wait until after the season, if necessary, to retain its signature player. ...

The Cardinals previously have characterized Pujols' situation as "independent" of recent contracts that have redefined the game's financial landscape. General manager John Mozeliak noted in May that the club was committed to paying for future, rather than past, production.

Jeff Gordon, in another column, then says, in another piece, that DeWitt can financially afford to let Pujols walk, mentioning the team has drawn at least 2.4 million a year for 15 years straight. (Corrected from originally identifying this as another Strauss column.)

Yes, but ....

Let's say it falls back to 2.4 million instead of 3.2 million, Joe. 800K fans at about $20 a ticket, plus an average of $5 of auxiliary spending on concessions, etc.? (And, those are all surely lowball numbers right there.)

That's $20 million a year. And, Pujols wants just $15 million a year more than he's making now. Add in the possibility of fewer postseason appearances, etc. Even if we factor out business taxes, etc., Joe, the Cards might just lose money by not meeting Pujols' terms.

And, so, to follow up on Jayson Stark's latest musings, I seriously doubt DeWitt will make Pujols a $300 million man with a 10/$30 contract.

Now, per the idea that DeWitt just wants to pay for current performance, what if Dan Lozano countered with a call for a three-year contract for $100M? DeWitt would have to put up or shut up for sure, then.

Why Texas' debthole could be well over $27B

Why? Why might the nominal two-year deficit of the state of Texas, set at $27 billion if the GOPocrats actually wanted to maintain the current level of services, potentially be much worse than that?

Because the crunch in the housing market may not have bottomed out yet in Texas, that's why.

Proof? Foreclosure rates for 2010 in all of Texas biggest metro areas climbed well above those of 2009.

Houston was up 26 percent, the highest percentage increase in top 50 metro areas. Austin up 22 percent. Dallas-Fort Worth up 16 percent from 2009. San Antonio up about 13 percent.

That said, this is still all relative right now, as none of the cities' foreclosure rates cracks the top 100 metro areas for 2010. But, it could foreshadow more problems in 2011, which the Texas Legislature had better consider on things like school funding.

I've already said I wouldn't be surprised if the state faced yet another lawsuit over school funding issues. With it likely, in my estimation, that foreclosure rates in Texas metro areas will get worse this year than 2010, the likelihood of that lawsuit increases.

And, here's more on why those numbers might increase.
“Deep fault lines of risk remain and could potentially trigger more waves of foreclosure activity in 2011 and beyond,” RealtyTrac Chief Executive Officer James J. Saccacio said.

The number of U.S. homes receiving a foreclosure filing will jump 20 percent this year as unemployment remains high, RealtyTrac said earlier this month.

The 10 cities with the highest foreclosure rates last year all had fewer filings than in 2009, the company said today. Six of them -- five in California -- also had declines from 2008. Still, filings “remained five to 10 times higher than historic norms in most of those hard-hit markets,” Saccacio said.

Further thought that, even as the subprime bubble in the Southwest starts to deflate, it could keep up in Texas.

One reason for this? A number of SoCal residents retired, sold out, and moved to Texas rather than California. In many cases, their investments may have gone south, payments on the houses they sold (or rented out) may be in disarray, and so forth.

I expect foreclosure issues to get significantly worse in 2011, followed by modest to moderate improvement in 2012.

If, with that, school districts win a funding lawsuit, the debthole is probably more like $40 billion.

January 27, 2011

Just how subjective are home-plate umpires?

In this Wired story that is about exploding old sports myths, the answer is ... "very."



Caption, on Wired: When a hitter has a 3-0 count, the umpire becomes much less likely to call a fourth ball, expanding the strike zone considerably. Conversely, when a hitter is facing a 0-2 count, his strike zone will shrink.

The graphics illustrate that difference.

That said, this also is another reason for games taking longer than they need to. Umps, either walk the batter or punch him out!

More John Wiley Price hackery - Bruce Sherbet

Or, why I wouldn't have voted for Clay Jenkins for Dallas County Judge last November if I still lived in the Metroplex.

Shock me! But, it looks like JWP has shoved out of office long-serving, well-qualified and highly competent Dallas County Elections Official Bruce Sherbet.

Here's the Dallas Observer's nut graf:
Speculation among long-time observers of Dallas County politics is that Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price is behind this in an effort to replace Sherbet with one of his own people. He refused to give The News a comment about Sherbet's job performance this morning. When I called his office this morning, Price's assistant said, "He doesn't deal with the Observer, so I doubt you'll get a call back." At which point, she hung up. A message has also been left with Jenkins.
Of course "he doesn't deal with the Observer." It asks tougher questions than does the Morning Snooze.

County Commissioner Mike Cantrell says:
"If Bruce is taken out, it would be a travesty."
An even bigger travesty will be the person JWP gets to replace him.

Wait for it ... wait for it ... wait for it ...

Former ousted-in-disgrace Lancaster ISD Superintendent Larry Lewis, maybe?

Doorknob, I'm evil at times.

Waiting for the Giffords 'miracle' claims

Now that we hear that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is recovering at "lightning speed" —

How long before we hear talks of God's miracle, ignoring God's non-miracle of not preventing her being shot in first place?

I offer 50-50 odds we get that by Sunday, and I think I'm being conservative.

And, despite the fact that double-blinded studies have shown that intercessory prayer for others works no better than chance, I'm waiting for those claims to start popping up, too. Again, ignoring that fact that prayers for the safety of elected officials in synagogues and churches the weekend before the shooting availed nothing.

January 26, 2011

Mortgage crunch hits churches

Many of the churches involved share one of two characteristics.

1. They're nondenominational churches, so they're on their own when the mortgage becomes past due.
2. Like subprime home buyers, they had exotic mortgages either thrust on them, or dangled before them. (And, like many subprime buyers, they didn't read the fine print when they should have.)

Obama's warm vomit on the State of the Union

I am reminded about the biblical book of Revelation, where the church of Laodicea is promised to be vomited out of God's mouth for lukewarmness.

That's pretty much what the SOTU sounded like to me, from glimpses I was able to catch as ... ironically ... we were shorthanded at my newspaper and I wound up putting together the front page with SOTU at the top!

Anyway ....
1. Nothing on gun control. Chicken shit.
2. Allegedly revenue neutral corporate income tax reform. Can anybody say Catfood Commission II?
3. Not addressing the real jobs problem - a protectionist China with a corporate industrial policy and six times the population of Japan when we worried about it. Not to mention intellectual property theft and things that Japan didn't do, at least not so egregiously.

In other words, a mix of neoliberal mush and pure plain mush.

Add in Congressional Democrats' idiotic "date night," which I skewered two weeks ago, and it was lukewarm vomit indeed. One longed for a Joe Wilson or Samuel Alito, if nothing else.

FiredogLake has more.

Are the Rangers done with Michael Young?

And, question No. 2, should they be done with Michael Young?

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, who's been swinging the hottest columnist bat in the Hot Stove League this year, says the trade for Mike Napoli is a "yes" to the first question, and the fact that he's got a high contract and will be a 5-and-10 guy in May says yes to no. 2.

His talking points:
1. Napoli plays 1B and DH, the two spots the Rangers were going to put Young after signing Adrian Beltre.
2. They reportedly tried to sign both Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome before making the Napoli deal.
3. The $16 mil a year for a "super utility" guy, with some DH-ing on the side, is indeed pricey.

As for how good Young is or not, he's only had two years with an OPS+ of 110 or better, and only one of those was in the last five. So, if the Rangers do want to trade him, they'll probably have to eat about $5 million, at least, of that contract's annual value for each of the three years left on it.

And, where? He's an average fielder at any position besides 1B. He doesn't have that much of a power stick for someone who would be a 1B.

Better bet would be a corner OF position, in my opinion. He's still got OK gap power, and if you put him in a smaller park, he wouldn't have too difficult a learning curve.

What's ironic is that his contract is less pricey than that of Vernon Wells. He well could have fit the Angels' needs, if the Rangers would have traded him within the division, for ... Napoli.

I'm thinking National League. Maybe the Reds?

January 25, 2011

Less than four weeks left on Pujols talks

Cardinals position players report (voluntary date) Feb. 19, so that leaves 25 days from now.

Over at ESPN, Jayson Stark offers three possible endgame scenarios.

If he leaves, I'm not the only person who could see him going to the "friendly confines" of Wrigley Field:
"He's a great, great player, and there's nobody quite like him," said an official of one AL team. "And the Cardinals know that if he gets to free agency, is there a player in baseball who would make more sense to the Cubs than Albert Pujols? So it's going to get crazy."

But, other teams may get in. And not just the previous suspects.
"I wouldn't even rule out the Red Sox and Yankees," said one executive. "We're talking about Albert Pujols. I could see them looking at first base, looking at DH and moving people around. I don't think they could let that kind of talent go by."

When there's money, there's a way.

Pujols, earlier this month, said the spring training deadline for negotiations is for the good of the team.

If a deal is done, I see something in the neighborhood of 7 years, $200 million. An option, for more per year, could be 5 years, $150 million. (I'm taking this as straight cash, not deferred money or incentive/marketing bonuses.)

But, the price could be going higher. Stark says Pujols could be baseball's first $300-million man.

Alex Rodriguez type "historical bonuses" could help the Cards complete a deal. Given no Cards-only player has ever hit 500 HRs, and nobody has ever hit 600 in a Redbird uniform, and Lou Brock was the last to 3,000 hits, there's some angles here.

Over six years, barring injury or rapid decline, Pujols will surpass 600 HRs and 3,000 hits, and will easily pass the 1,500 mark in both runs scored and RBIs.

Given that he would be only the third "clean" 600/3,000 player, after Willie Mays and Henry Aaron (making assumptions of some sort about all three), there would be some definite marketing and tie-in dollars.

Of course, just as in A-Rod's case, the players' union would have to sign off on any such contract.

But, even with such a creative deal, how's that affect the Cardinal bottom line?
If they pick up their 2012 options on their biggest stars and pay Pujols 30 million bucks, they would owe nearly $100 million in 2012 to just seven players (Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook, Yadier Molina and Kyle Lohse). So they'd be looking, said an official of one team, at one of the most top-heavy payroll models of modern times.

That said, I don't see them picking up Carp's option. Probaby not Lohse's. Maybe not Molina's.

And, I really don't see a $300 million deal. I'll up a seven-year deal to $210 million or a bit more. But, I really don't see a 10-year deal at that price.

Meanwhile, Redbirds owner Bill DeWitt is coming perilously close to whistling in the dark:
No deal by the start of spring training would not necessarily mean Pujols will be moving on. The Cardinals could sign him after next season and DeWitt expressed confidence that Pujols would not let it affect him on the field.

"If we don't sign him in the next four weeks, that doesn't mean he's not going to be a Cardinal," DeWitt said. "We'd love to sign him tomorrow, or whenever."

"Whenever"? As Pujols himself noted, the media's had this story to kick around for two years, because you've done nothing for two years toward resigning him!

Jeter headed to OF?

Well, isn't this a bombshell. Yankees GM Brian Cashman, apparently not smarting over commenting on Hank Steinbrenner's free agent meddling, said he thinks legendary SS Derek Jeter will move to the outfield before his four-year contract is up.

Well, given his range, OF is the only OF option. And, even then, that can't be FT. What Cashman is politely trying to avoid saying is that Jeter will likely be DHing before that contract runs out.

Or, maybe he isn't. If Cashman seriously thinks Jeter can play center, not left, Hank Steinbrenner needs to talk to him ASAP.
"I like corner outfielders and corner infielders who have power, so for me, if he's ever gonna move, it's probably gonna be a Robin Yount situation. But we don't have to deal with it at this point," Cashman said Tuesday. "We'll deal with it when we have to."

Uhh, Yount was a few years younger when he moved from SS to CF,and he had more range than Jeter in the first place.

Texas - biggest hog at the stimulus hog trough

Tricky Ricky Perry busted in one of his biggest lies - that Texas can get along just fine in the recession without federal stimulus money.

Truth? By percentage of budget shortfall help from Washington, Texas is the No. 1 suck-up at the hog trough at 97 percent.

Of course, Tricky Ricky can't admit that:
"Texas would have balanced its budget regardless of the presence of stimulus dollars," said Lucy Nashed, Perry's deputy press secretary. "This money came from the pockets of Texas taxpayers, and we are committed to getting our fair share of these dollars, which would have otherwise been disbursed to other states."

Actually, Texas probably grabbed more than its fair share, to hit No. 1! But, that's not the main point. The main point is that Perry has been lying through his ideological teeth.

Again, it makes me think the GOP wants this deficit.

In any case, it was warned.
To understand how this happened, you have to go back to 2006, when Texas lawmakers passed a massive tax reform plan. The goal was to cut property taxes without costing the state any money. Perry designed a “tax swap” that would reduce property taxes and replace the lost revenue with a new business tax.

There was one major flaw with this plan — it didn’t balance. Property taxes were cut by $14 billion annually. But the new business tax brought in only $9 billion a year in new money. As a result, the tax-swap plan has burned a $5 billion hole in the budget every year since. (In 2007, a booming economy helped mask the problem, and in the 2009 session, lawmakers used $12 billion in federal stimulus money to fill the gap.)
The imbalance was well known. The Texas comptroller’s office warned Perry in 2006 that his plan didn’t pay for itself. The comptroller’s office estimated the plan would result in a five-year deficit of $23 billion. Perry and other legislative leaders ignored those warnings. Some Democrats in Austin suspect that G.O.P. leaders intentionally created this structural deficit as a way tamp down state spending. And some Republican leaders and conservative activist groups have made statements in recent weeks that expressed downright giddiness at the prospect of deep cuts in state spending. Lieut. Gov. David Dewhurst referred to the budget gap in his inaugural speech on Jan. 18 as an “opportunity.”

Whatever the reason for the structural deficit, the bill is now coming due. The 2006 tax swap has resulted in a shortfall of at least $20.9 billion the past two budget cycles, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Austin think tank.

Dewhurst's statement (shock me, really) is a bit of proof in the pudding.

An "opportunity" for WHAT? Budget antics like we have now? You're damn skippy.

The NYT still just doesn't get the GOP

In a house editorial, the New York Times fairly insists that, having "repealed" Obamacare, the House GOP must offer an option on health care.

Must it?

In terms of philosophy in general, and ethics in particular, the New York Times editorial staff needs to read David Hume.

In terms of the House GOP, the New York Times needs to study the actual House GOP, not its idealized and fictionalized version.

January 24, 2011

Team Obama turns financial screws on Abbas, Palestinians

Team Obama threatened to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority if it replaced Mahmoud Abbas as leader.
Almost a year later (than November 2008), the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, reacted angrily to news that Abbas had threatened to resign and call for new presidential elections. She told Palestinian negotiators: "Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] not running in the election is not an option – there is no alternative to him." The threat was withdrawn and no election was held.

As the Guardian notes, on background as to Abbas' legitimacy, or lack thereof:
Abbas was elected president in 2005, but his mandate expired in 2009 and is no longer recognised by Hamas, among others, as the legitimate Palestinian leader. (Prime Minister Salem) Fayyad was appointed prime minister by Abbas after the Hamas takeover of Gaza but his legitimacy is also strongly contested as his appointment was never confirmed as required by the PA's parliament.

The Guardian notes no new elections are immediately on the table. And, if the PA wants U.S. dollars, they can't be. Talk about a Catch-22. Talk about yet more justification for some PA person to leak to al Jazeera.

Israel wants to expel Palestinians

That's yet another tidbit coming out of the Al Jazeera leaks about Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Palestinian President Abbas' negotiating team, in private, officially accepted that Israel could define itself as a Jewish state.

That, in turn connects closely to the right of return. It gives Israeli leaders justification for saying the PA has officially waived the right of return. It also theoretically gives Israel justification for Palestinian expulsion. Indeed, it already popped up in "negotiations":
In several areas, (then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni) pressed for Israeli Arab citizens to be moved into a Palestinian state in a land-swap deal, raising the spectre of "transfer" - in other words, moving Palestinians from one state to another without consent. The issue is controversial in Israel and backed in its wholesale form by rightwing nationalists such as the Yisrael Beiteinu party of the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

"Transfer" is such a polite euphemism.

Palestinians negotiated away right of return

In the latest stories coming out of the Al Jazeera A-bomb of leaks, shared with the Guardian, this one has to be the hottest news today.

Palestinian Authority negotiators with Israel agreed to cut the "right of return" of Palestinians whose families had been born in land that is today Israel to just 10,000 people. And, apparently, with no compensation from Israel.

Oh, and it gets worse.

Then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested settling additional Palestinian refugees in South America. Well, now we know just how one-sided the Bush Administration was on this.

Ah, but it's not just the Bush Administration. Team Obama threatened to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority if it replaced Mahmoud Abbas as leader.
Almost a year later (than November 2008), the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, reacted angrily to news that Abbas had threatened to resign and call for new presidential elections. She told Palestinian negotiators: "Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] not running in the election is not an option – there is no alternative to him." The threat was withdrawn and no election was held.

As the Guardian notes, on background as to Abbas' legitimacy, or lack thereof:
Abbas was elected president in 2005, but his mandate expired in 2009 and is no longer recognised by Hamas, among others, as the legitimate Palestinian leader. (Prime Minister Salem) Fayyad was appointed prime minister by Abbas after the Hamas takeover of Gaza but his legitimacy is also strongly contested as his appointment was never confirmed as required by the PA's parliament.

The Guardian notes no new elections are immediately on the table. And, if the PA wants U.S. dollars, they can't be. Talk about a Catch-22. Talk about yet more justification for some PA person to leak to al Jazeera.

This would be the same Abbas whose negotiating team, in private, officially accepted that Israel could define itself as a Jewish state.

That, in turn connects closely to the right of return. It gives Israeli leaders justification for saying the PA has officially waived the right of return. It also theoretically gives Israel justification for Palestinian expulsion. Indeed, it already popped up in "negotiations":
In several areas, (then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni) pressed for Israeli Arab citizens to be moved into a Palestinian state in a land-swap deal, raising the spectre of "transfer" - in other words, moving Palestinians from one state to another without consent. The issue is controversial in Israel and backed in its wholesale form by rightwing nationalists such as the Yisrael Beiteinu party of the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

"Transfer" is such a polite euphemism.

Going back to yesterday's posts, this sheds some more light on the "who wins" from leaking this information.

Bigger Congress would help third parties

I agree that the U.S. House of Representatives is too small. MUCH too small. But, until reading this excellent NYT op-ed, I'd never thought of a bigger House helping third-party candidates.

But, it makes sense. If we have Representatives standing for 250,000 people instead of 750,000, a Green might get elected in San Francisco, a Libertarian in Orange County, etc. And, parties would probably have to work to maintain party discipline more.

January 23, 2011

Who benefits from the Al Jazeera 'A-bomb"?

I blogged earlier today about the big "A-bomb" that al-Jazeera dropped on the Middle East and passed on to the Guardian, about the sorry state of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. (Here's the link to the al Jazeera main webpage for the coverage, to make sure it gets its due.)

An Al Jazeera explainer page notes what's behind the papers:
There are 1,684 total documents, including
* 275 sets of meeting minutes;
* 690 internal e-mails;
* 153 reports and studies;
* 134 sets of talking points and prep notes for meetings;
* 64 draft agreements;
* 54 maps, charts and graphs;
* and 51 “non-papers.”

Among the bombshells, in numerous sublinks at the Guardian?

But, why? And why now?

The cui bono question is running through my head, mainly.

Yes, we know that WikiLeaks had the U.S. diplomatic cables, but the al-Jazeera leak is separate. So, who gave it what it got and why? And, how did that person come into the info, if he or she isn't an insider?

Would this benefit an Israeli ultrahawk like Avigdor Lieberman? By deliberately sabotaging future talks, which it will?

Or, somebody from Hamas? Though it would be tough for anybody from Hamas to have gotten such detailed information.

Or, either a rival to Abbas for leadership within the PA, or a principled PA negotiator who finally had had enough?

Meanwhile, Team Obama threatened to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority if it replaced Mahmoud Abbas as leader.

This would be the same Abbas whose negotiating team, in private, officially accepted that Israel could define itself as a Jewish state.

This all further impinges on the "who benefits" issue.

And, was this leak, whoever did it, already planned before the WikiLeaks release of the U.S. cables or not?

Who doesn't benefit? Per one al Jazeera piece, everyday Palestinians, likely to see further Israeli intimidation and violence.

The Russians are landing on Mars!

Well,. it's not all Russians, and it's a simulation, but, a six-man crew will complete a 520-day "mission" Feb. 12. Darwin Day, as well as Lincoln's birthday. Nice timing.

Just a few problems with this, though.

While the story says communications were occasionally delayed to mimic actual spaceflight, it doesn't say how long. When Mars and Earth are in opposition, there's a 20-minute delay, one way.

And, this doesn't, because it ethically can't, test the effect of cosmic rays on humans. Or zero-gravity induced osteoporosis. Or many other things. At the minimum, before we send humans to Mars, we have to send test mammals of some sort into interplanetary space.

Al Jazeera just droppped an A-bomb on the Middle East

The Arab-world-based news service uncovered a treasure trove of leaked documents about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and exclusively shared them with the Guardian. (Here's the link to the al Jazeera main webpage for the coverage, to make sure it gets its due.)

An Al Jazeera explainer page notes what's behind the papers:
There are 1,684 total documents, including
* 275 sets of meeting minutes;
* 690 internal e-mails;
* 153 reports and studies;
* 134 sets of talking points and prep notes for meetings;
* 64 draft agreements;
* 54 maps, charts and graphs;
* and 51 “non-papers.”

Among the bombshells, in numerous sublinks at the Guardian?

Israeli intransigence on negotiations, U.S. acquiescence, and Palestinian desperation.
In an emotional – and apparently humiliating – outburst to Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, in Washington in October 2009, the senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat complained that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership wasn't even being offered a "figleaf". ...

(W)hen Palestinian leaders balked at the prospect of an entirely demilitarised state, Livni made clear where the negotiating power lay. In May 2008, Erekat asked (Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister): "Short of your jet fighters in my sky and your army on my territory, can I choose where I secure external defence?"

"No," Livni replied. "In order to create your state you have to agree in advance with Israel – you choose not to have the right of choice afterwards."

By the following year, Erekat appeared to have accepted that choice. "The Palestinians know they will have a country with limitations," he told Mitchell. "They won't have an army, air force or navy." A string of other major concessions had been made, but the issues were no further forward. "They need decisions," Erekat pleaded.

Wow. A demilitarized Palestine.

Israeli annexation of most East Jerusalem settlements.

There's more. Go to the main link, the first one up top, and start reading.

If I'm Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, I'm not walking anywhere now without a bulletproof vest. And, no, that's not too hyperbolic. Plenty of people at various spots in the Hamas food chain would surely be willing to pull a trigger.

Beyond that, this undermines plenty of actors beyond the Palestinian Authority.

Livni is now head of the opposition Kadima Party. Whenever it gets into power again, she'll be no more trusted by Palestinians outside the PA than Bibi Netanyahu is now.

Given that American acquiescence to Israeli intransigence carried over into the Obama Administration, it loses credibility.

And, to the degree more moderate Arab governments are seen has having thrown their collective lot with the PA rather than Hamas, to the degree either further al Jazeera information or WikiLeaks cables shed any light on this, they lose credibility too.

A couple of other thoughts, too.

The cui bono question is running through my head, mainly.

Yes, we know that WikiLeaks had the U.S. diplomatic cables, but the al-Jazeera leak is separate. So, who gave it what it got and why? And, how did that person come into the info, if he or she isn't an insider?

Would this benefit an Israeli ultrahawk like Avigdor Lieberman? By deliberately sabotaging future talks, which it will?

Or, somebody from Hamas? Though it would be tough for anybody from Hamas to have gotten such detailed information.

Or, either a rival to Abbas for leadership within the PA, or a principled PA negotiator who finally had had enough?

Meanwhile, Team Obama threatened to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority if it replaced Mahmoud Abbas as leader.

This would be the same Abbas whose negotiating team, in private, officially accepted that Israel could define itself as a Jewish state.

This all further impinges on the "who benefits" issue.

And, was this leak, whoever did it, already planned before the WikiLeaks release of the U.S. cables or not?

Who doesn't benefit? Per one al Jazeera piece, everyday Palestinians, likely to see further Israeli intimidation and violence.

Boo-hoo for the sailing rich

Seems like some of America's Social Darwinist class have been caught in a property investment bubble all their own — the declining value of yachts, especially when caught in possession of more than one.
In boom times, yacht enthusiasts would order a new dream boat and keep their old one for the two or three years the builder needed to complete the new boat. Then, they would quickly sell the older yacht to impatient new millionaires and billionaires eager for their requisite status symbols.

But that equation changed with the financial crisis two years ago and took the superyacht market down with it.

Some of the wealthy have ended up like Peter A. Hochfelder, the principal and founder of Brahman Capital Management, a private investment firm in Manhattan. Mr. Hochfelder already owned a 134-foot Lürssen, named Blind Date, that was built in 1995. He commissioned a second boat in 2007, a 161-foot Trinity yacht, that he christened with the same name. It was completed in 2009.

Now, Mr. Hochfelder, who declined to be interviewed, has put both on the market, in the hope that he can sell at least one. He has been asking $9.5 million for the older yacht and $33 million for the new one, which is big enough to sleep 12 guests.

And these are the type of people GOP Congressional wingnuts like Majority Whip Paul Ryan think need tax cuts. Oh, the inhumanity!