31 December 2007

Bringing Honor and Integrity to the White House: Bush and His Evil Minions Edition

TPM has the list.

If I count correctly, there are 44 officials, indicted, convicted, or having resigned under a cloud.

If I fell upward this way, I'd be ruler of the bloody universe.

Jumping Carcharodon megalodon

Yep, the RIAA is at it again.

This time, they are claiming that copying from a CD to your computer is a copyright violation, so if you want to mix on your iPod, you are SOL:
Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry's lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are "unauthorized copies" of copyrighted recordings.

Minor Change to Blog

I've gone with a simple tag cloud for my links, so that the it's a bit less obtrusive.

The code is here.

Ovbiously, I still need to make my tagging a bit less...eclectic.

More on CIA Tapes Coverup

This article shows that it was pretty clear that the goal was to prevent future prosecutions. It appears that the CIA was less concerned about what would happen in congress or a future administration than being hung out to dry by Bush and His Evil Minions.

One half of the definitive word, however, comes from former C.I.A. deputy director, John C. Gannon, "To a spectator it would look like torture and torture is wrong."

The other half is that it was torture, and these men did the wrong thing.

It's Beginning to Look More and More Like Musharraf is Covering Up Bhutto Death Details

From the New York Times:
  • Doctors are admitting to government pressure.
  • The local police chief denied permission for an autopsy.
  • Rawalpindi is where army has its HQ, and the ISI is all over the place.
  • In the case of a murder, an autopsy is technically mandatory.
Sometimes it appears that the universe has a real fondness for tinfoil hats.

My Predictions On Iowa

Republicans:
  1. Huckabee
  2. Romney
  3. Everyone else
I think that Huckabee and Romney are the only two who will break the double digits, and Huckabee's supporters are more than enthusiastic. What the heck are the Romney supporters going for anyway, that hair?


Democrats
  1. Edwards
  2. Clinton
  3. Obama
  4. Dodd
  5. Everyone else.
I'm much less sure of these, but here goes:

Edwards and Clinton will be very close, with the fact that Edwards is the 2nd choice of almost all the minor candidates giving him more than a boost than Hillary's supporters being more politically tied in.

The fact that Edwards has spent the past 3 years building a network will help too.

Obama will come in firmly in 3rd. He's gots "lots of young new voters", all of whom will get completly owned in the complex Iowa Democratic Caucus Structure.

Dodd, with his filibuster in the senate floor, will, I think, end up a firm 4th place, though there is a possibility of him taking 3rd.

Given my record, I think trhat I'm something like 0 for 23 on everything, not just politics, I'd love to hear your predictions.

Add more details.

Hail to the Redskins!

27-6 over Americas Team Most Wanted.

Dallas had all of 1 yard rushing. Was Jessica Simpson in the crowd or something?

Hail to the Redskins!
Hail Victory!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight for old D.C.!
Run or pass and score -- we want a lot more!
Beat 'em, Swamp 'em,
Touchdown! -- Let the points soar!
Fight on, fight on 'Til you have won
Sons of Wash-ing-ton. Rah!, Rah!, Rah!

Hail to the Redskins!
Hail Victory!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight for old D.C.!


FWIW, if you find this song offensive, you should see the original lyrics.

Developments in Pakistan, and A Possible Real Effect in Iowa

It looks like Pakistan will be delaying elections for a few weeks in the wake of the Bhutto assassination.

Considering the unrest, it's probably a good idea, though considering the iron grip that Musharraf has of the electoral process, I also think that it is not unlikely that the accusation of Bhutto's PPP, that this is an attempt to game the system is true, but with at least 11 elections offices torched, there is not much of an option.

However, the effect on the US presidential campaign might be more than people have believed.

Specifically, with the appointment of Bilalwal Bhutto as the PPP party head, albeit in a purely ceremonial manner, with the acting head being the phenomenally corrupt (even by Pakistani standards!!!) Asif "Mr 10%" Ali Zedari, it raises dynastic issues, and might make people wonder as to whether the electoral process in the United states is more like Pakistan than we would like to think.

The entire Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton thing may very well bite Hillary, though the effect is likely

30 December 2007

Conservative Affirmative Action in Action: Bill Kristol Edition

It looks like the New York Times will be offering Bill Kristol a columnist gig for the next year.

It seems to be rather more limited than usual, with only 1 column a week, normally it's 2, and only a year long contract.

While not as egregious a case as Jonah Goldberg*, Bill Kristol is the beneficiary of "Conservative Affirmative Action", much as is the brothers Kagan, who all seem to dance from position to position based on little more than who their parents were.

Nepotism is a problem because you end up with idiot sons managing things that they have no business managing. You can refer to Andrew Sullivan's post about John Podhoretz becoming editor of Commentary if you want it in the short form with lots of snark.

I'm not a fan of Mr. Sullivan, but when he's on, he can be amusing.

*Seriously, I'm embarrassed by this guy because we share the same nationality, I know his mom is a "person of note" in the community, but you need to find someone with more of a flair for original thought, like Jayson Blair of Stephen Glass.
Carrot Top fills me with the same feelings too.

Bear Stearns Says Studios are Full of It on Writers Strike

Of course, given their track record recently, I have put them in my investment bank dead pool because of their missteps on the credit crisis, but they have issued a report explicitly stating that the writers demands would have a negligible impact on the industry (Original is sub reqd, excerpt is from Hollywood United):
"From Wall Street's perspective, we estimate the impact of accepting the [writers'] proposal is largely negligible," Bear Stearns wrote in a report last week.
The firm estimates that the $120 million figure would carry an average impact of less than 1% on annual earnings per share for the media companies. That does not factor in any concessions by the writers' side (the WGA), where the principal issue is a desire for a piece of ad dollars from new-media distribution.
The potentially small financial impact suggests that studios (Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers) are more concerned about setting a precedent in new-media revenue sharing. However, Bear Stearns wrote that the writers' forecast for that market "strikes us as fairly aggressive." The firm hinted that studios are looking to the future. They are concerned that a favorable settlement would embolden directors and actors in their coming renegotiations.
From the reports that I've read, it appears that the chief negotiator is the same guy who suckered the writers on DVDs many years back, and he's operating on his own need for legacy, and some of the studios, particularly those heavily into TV production, are not happy with him.

Indo-Russian Collaboration on PAF FA (T-50)

This plane is intended to replace the Su-27 series, and it now appears that
Russia and India are in a 50-50 workshare.

I'm not entirely sure what this would mean, though the Indians are looking to use this aircraft on their carrier.
The company-to-company discussions ffollow an October 2007 intergovernmental agreement between Russia and India signed an on the cooperative development of a fifth-generation multi-role fighter. “This will be 50/50 cooperation in terms of intellectual property, resources and money,” said [Sukhoi CEO Mikhail] Pogosyan.
It appears that the Indian variants will have entirely Indian avionics, which is likely the result of Indian industrial policy.

In developing independent avionics, they may have an opening with upgrades of the aircraft sold to 3rd countries.

As to the 50/50 split, my guess is that this is more of offset numbers than real sharing. This is the crown jewels of Russian aerospace.

A quick note, the fact that the project is called the T-50 means that it has some variant of a delta wing. Were it swept wing, it would be something like S-50, which is why Sukhoi's forward swept wing demonstrator was called the S-37.

Why Obama's Talking of Reconciliation is Both Naive and Dangerous

Lambert of Corrente makes the point that Barack Obama's speeches on reconciliation are dangerously naive, and I'd tend to agree.

He makes the point that much of the "flying wing-nut monkey" aspects of American conservatism have been the result of very people, primarily those got their money from dead ancestors as opposed to working for a living, have had a direct economic interest in the "flying wing-nut monkey" policies. It's more than ideology, it is a deliberate and effective accumulation of both additional wealth and power.

If he is right, and my recent dust-up with the readers of The National Review over a comment about a writing gig for Ramesh Ponnuru*, whose career has largely been bankrolled by these interests, is evidence of the nature of the structures put in place by wealthy heirs for their own benefit.

To quote Lambert, who also got a nod from Krugman:
For these billionaires, the ROI of the Conservative Movement is absolutely spectacular. At the micro level, for example, if you want to create an aristocracy, then you want to eliminate any taxes on inherited wealth, despite what Warren Buffet or Bill Gates might say about the values entailed by that project. So, the Conservative Movement goes to work, develops and successfully propagates the term “death tax” — which they may even believe in, as if sincerity were the point — and voila! Whoever thought that “family values” would translate to “feudal values” and dynastic wealth? At the macro level, their ROI has been spectacular as well. Real wages have been flat for a generation; unions have been disempowered; the powers of corporations greatly increased; government has become an agent for the corporations, rather than a protector of the people; the safety net has been shredded; and so on and on and on.
Ponnuru is where he is because the right wing infrastructure recognizes him as an asset that offers a very good return on investment.

What the supporters of Obama maintain, at least the ones that I deal with in my Pinko Commie circles, is that this is largely a campaign tactic, and that he recognizes it as the reality of the situation, or to quote "Amadan" a poster on the (by invitation only) Stellar Parthenon BBS,
But let's face it, Obama has to dance around in a tutu and fairy wings or he goes from "friendly magical Negro who just might be electable" to "Angry Scary Black Man.
Personally, I'm not inclined to believe this. Even if was the intent, behavior becomes internalized through habit. Eventually, you become what you are pretending to be.

*No, I'm not picking a fight, or implying a lack of intellect, but according to the NRO's bio of him, he graduated summa cum laude from Princeton's history department, Wiki says with a BA degree.

The BA is not the professional degree in History, the PhD. is, hence the jokes about history majors delivering pizzas, so normally the career path would involve an MA, JD (law degree), or PhD in something more specific.

As a result of his work on The Sentinel, a now-defunct conservative campus magazine at Princeton and other venues, he was recognized, and recruited, as a writer/editor/fellow at various right wing institutions.


I love "the Google" as a research tool.

I actually mean this as a compliment. Seriously.

My Proposals on Immigration

Note that I don't mention a fence. I think that addressing the demand pull is what should be done first....After about 1/3 of the illegal aliens in the US entered legally and overstayed their visas.

My Proposals:
  • Change the law penalizing employers for hiring illegal aliens. Make it for negligently hiring illegals, not knowingly hiring illegals. It's easier to prosecute, and the defense is ordinary care.
  • Create a new law for those who knowingly hire illegals, include long prison sentences, and asset forfeiture.
  • Create a bounty program for illegals. If an illegal alien rats out an employer, they get a 5 year green card. These green cards can be added up, or used to bring the rest of his family across the border.
  • Add a cash bounty for ratting out employers for legal residents.
  • Increase the fees on H1b and L1 visas so that it will always more expensive to go this route. If you really need that guy you should be willing to pay 50 grand in fees.
This increases the regulatory cost of employing illegals, and so reduces the demand.

Pats Complete Perfect Regular Season

38-35 over the Giants.

No predictions...My only concern is that I want the Redskins to beat Dallas.

This nothing to do with the playoffs. I'm a Redskins fan, and I just want them to beat Dallas.

Heck, I want everyone to beat Dallas. It comes with being a 'Skins fan.

29 December 2007

The Lives They Lived - Steven Gilliard Jr. - New York Times

The Lives They Lived - Steven Gilliard Jr.

My thought is that it's nice that they are recognizing him. Jesse Wendel of the GNB writes some more that you should read.

I knew Steve primarily through his work, the folks at GNB knew him period.

We all miss him.

Economic Update, Housing Crash, Exotic Financial Instruments

In real estate, we have new home sales at a 12 year low, and we have the phenomenon returning of people just walking out on their homes. The pertinent quote is, "Lewis' comments came as a new expression - "jingle mail" - referring to the growing trend where Americans mail the keys to their homes to the lenders before vacating, entered the US lexicon."

With all the news, the financial press is finally noticing that maybe, just maybe, those predictions of a quick rebound are a bunch of bullsh@$.

All in all, this is not surprising. News gathering is paid for by ad revenue, sales and subscriptions really only pay for ink and paper, not the words and pictures made with the ink and paper. Given the huge role that real estate pays in ad revenues, it's unavoidable that the news media, notwithstanding the "Chinese Walls" will be the biggest boosters of real estate this side of Remax.

And in the department of the blindingly obvious, the Journal has an article saying that thecomplex financial instruments have magnified the credit crunch.

Well, duh. As much as people want to talk about innovation and the free market, much of that innovation has a seamy side.

The first man to rob a train was an innovator, and in financial markets we have a long (over 200 years just in the US) tradition of both fraud, and complex activities to benefit one entities, and transfer the downside of these activities to another.

At some point, society has to say that certain activities, like dope dealing and unsafe financial practices, are simply too damaging to society and they must be regulated.

Vulture Shopping

Well, we just came back from shopping at CompUseless, aka CompUSA.

When we got there, my son Charlie asked, why we were going there, and I replied, "Because they are going out of business because they suck, and no one wants to shop there."

After a pause, I realized that an 8 year old might not understand the subtext, and I continued, "Since they are going out of business, they are discounting stuff, so we are hoping to find a good deal."

He expressed wonderment, not at the idea that a business going under would discount, but because I had anticipated his next question. He's a bright kid, but having Aspergers, sometime there are social jumps like that seem to him to be magic.

My anticipating his next question rather impressed him.

It's noteworthy because he spends so much time confounding me with things like fairly abstruse questions about microbiology, the nature of black holes and the big bang (I send him in the direction of my elder brother, who has a PhD in high energy physics), and meteorology (he loves the Weather Channel).

We scored a UPS, a color laser printer (about $220 after discount, which will replace my wife's ruinously expensive ink addiction), a DVD burner, and some blank DVDs.

And I Realized, That One of US Was Nuts



And it ain't Lewis Black.

Blue Bush Dogs: Not Moderate, Just Corrupt

Davit Sirota has a very good analysis of the despicable betrayal of the American people by the so called "moderate" Blue Bush Dog Democrats with regards to basic fairness and the economic stability of the United States.

The bill in question, HR 3609, is rather simple: It would allow a bankruptcy judge, "To ameliorate the terms of abusive "subprime" mortgages." Under the current law, judges can already do this for investment properties, and for vacation homes, but for primary homes? Das ist Verboten.

So the judge could vitiate prepayment penalties to allow for refinance, or change interest rates, or modify fees charged for things like taking a phone call from a customer, though it would not give the judge power to forgive principal, since a mortgage is, after all, a secured loan.

While I favor a more expansive bill, one that would cover all consumers, this could go a long way towards fixing the system. As it currently stands, many loan servicers are legally unable to modify the terms of a loan, because their contracts with the bond holders prohibit it.

Even when they can, there is little incentive for them to negotiate in good faith.

What this means, of course, is more Chapter 7 liquidations, as opposed to Chapter 11 reorgs, more foreclosures, more empty houses blighting more neighborhoods, and more turmoil on wall street. It is The Tragedy of the Commons writ with trillions of dollars to be eventually be baid for by all of us.

Bush Pocket Veto of Troops Pay Raise is Invalid

I understand that Bush is threatening a veto of the latest defense authorization bill.

It appears that inconveniencing banks means more to him than giving our troops the payraise they deserve.

That being, this rather insightful analysis is correct: If he wants to do this, then he has to put his name on the veto with those crayons sharpies that he is so fond of. He cannot use the pocket veto, because Congress is still technically in session.

The Senate has remained in session to prevent recess appointments, and as such his claim, "The adjournment of the Congress has prevented my return of H.R. 1585 within the meaning of Article I, section 7, clause 2 of the Constitution", is completely without merit.

If you really find this provision so bad, stop behaving like what Ahnuld would call a "Girlie Man", and put your name on a veto that cuts pay for the troops.

Don't worry, it's not like any or your kids will be affected.

The Credit Crunch, as told by Dr. Suess

Whatever you do, don't have anything in your mouth before reading this magnificently illustrated tome.

You will have to clean the screen.

28 December 2007

World Wide Pants Makes Deal With Striking Writers, Letterman Back on the Air

So will Craig Ferguson's show, which is also produced by Letterman's sartorially named production company.

The details of the deal have not yet been released, but this should create a significant advantage for both Letterman and Ferguson, not just because they will have writers, those monologues typically take a dozen writers to hammer out, but because there are a lot of guests who won't cross a picket line, and with World Wide Pants productions, they are not.

As to whether this will lead to Letterman taking back the ratings lead from Leno, only time will tell.

As for me, I may watch Letterman, but I won't be watching Stewart or Colbert, who will be airing shows without a deal with writers.

Friday (lol) Cat Blogging

Off until after Shabbos.





1000 Words on Economics

Why We’re All Going to Hell, Part 54,302

John Scalzi, in his blog post, Why We’re All Going to Hell, Part 54,302, makes the point that should be made: When the press covers someone giving away billions of dollars to the hungry, sick, and infirm, and the big story for the media is, "What does this mean for his narcissistic no-talent grand daughter?*", we are all going to hell, particularly the wankers in the media who have decided to cover it this .

I might further argue that we are already in hell.

*Early in the brief 7 ½ month history of this blog, I made a promise not to mention She Who Must Not Be Named, which was expanded a while back to They Who Must Not Be Named. Therefore, I will not mention her name, or their names, unless they run for office.

A Bad Review of A Bad Book About an Awful Secretary of State

In the New York times book section, Robert Dallek* has a tremendously lame review of Elizabeth Bumiller's book, Condoleezza Rice: An American Life, which also appears to be tremendously lame, at least based on the following excerpt:
Ms. Bumiller says that if President Bush and Ms. Rice can produce a settlement in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians and an end to North Korea’s nuclear program, it would give them claims on success that would significantly improve their historical reputations.
The classic rejoinder is the Yiddish, "Az der bubbe vot gehat baytzim vot zie geven mein zayde." (If my grandmother had balls she'd be my grandfather.)

Mr. Dallek however appears to take this meaningless exercise as some sort of depth:
What distinguishes Ms. Bumiller’s book from other initial studies of the Bush administration and its principal actors is its absence of finger pointing or polemics. Ms. Bumiller’s biography is scrupulously fair and most notable for its above-the-battle tone. In Ms. Bumiller’s rendering Ms. Rice is neither hero nor villain but an ambitious woman whose achievements and shortcomings speak for themselves.
So Bumiller's book is nothing. An active aggressive nothing. The sort of nothing that makes the TV show Seinfeld feel like it was about something.

No analysis, no thought, just stenography.

His further quote of Bumiller is instructive:
“It was obvious from Rice’s many metamorphoses that her real ideology was not idealism or realism or defending the citadels of freedom, although she displayed elements of all of them,” Ms. Bumiller writes. “Her real ideology was succeeding.”
If this means that she thinks that Condi Rice is primarily interested in advancing Condi Rice, then it's an interesting point far too obliquely made, and if If she means that Condi cares about getting things right, I don't think so, or as a commenter on another blog says:
Wow. Doesn't tripe that insipid belong on the op-ed page under a David Brooks byline? I recognize that book reviews aren't exactly news reporting, but this is ridiculous.
Robert Johnston | 12.27.07 - 9:04 pm | #
Condoleeza Rice has been egregiously and adamantly wrong about everything, but she has continued to fail upward.

*The doctor is right. Never trust a Dallek.

Cuyahoga County, Ohio County to Switch to Optical-Scan

I don't generally buy into the conspiracy theories about touch screen voting, the group most involved in the issue in Maryland, TrueVote Maryland, is overrun by Greens determined to get nothing done, so that they can blame the Democrats.

I think that the machines are insecure, unreliable, and they don't provide an adequite voting record, but the reason it's good news that the Ohio county containing Cleveland is moving to optical scan is because I've used the touch screen machine, and they suck wet farts from dead pigeons.

They are buggy, the break down a lot, and they make for much longer lines, discouraging voting.

As to access for the blind, there are simple inexpensive solutions (basically a terminal with earphones and an integrated printer).

Too True

In his blog post, Memories of 2003, the great Paul Krugman notes:
Back in 2003 all the Kewl Kids, as a lot of my friends call them,
FWIW, I call them "very serious people".
thought that to suggest that Bush was misleading us into war was, you know, shrill — it marked you as not being a Serious Person.

And here’s the thing: they still do. Even now, it’s better for your reputation not to have noticed until, say, 2005 that we had some dangerous people running the country. If you noticed earlier — or, worse yet, you caught on to the administration’s essential mendacity right from the beginning — it’s not a sign that maybe you had good judgment. It shows that you were an irrational Bush hater.
This is kind of like the term "Prematurely anti-fascist" that was big in the 1950s.

How can one be prematurely anti-fascist??? That's kind of like being prematurely anti-baby eating.

It was a way of dismissing people's ideas without any serious review.

It's why the Democratic party should extricate from groups of "very serious people" like the Council on Foreign Relations.

Clueless: NY Times Columnist David Pogue

Mr. Pogue is wringing his hands about how those meddling kids today don't respect IP.

He relates how he wrote an article about PyMusic, a piece of software that strips the DRM out of iMusic downloads, and how he received a sh#@ when he said, "To me, it's obvious that PyMusique is designed to facilitate illegal song-swapping online, nd therefore, it's wrong to use it."

He gets a bunch of nasty emails from readers (one of those things, it seems that upsets NY Times and WaPo writers) explaining how there are a myriad of legitimate uses for this, such as backup, using some other sort of MP3 player, etc.

So, he claims to get it, and recently he went before a young audience, and gave a number of examples, and asked if they were wrong.

The final one, and the one that shocked him, was when he only got 1 or 2 hands for, "You want a movie or an album. You don't want to pay for it. So you download it," and he gets 2 hands out of 500.

He's shocked, but he is shocked because people understand the issue, Patent and Copyright Law is at its Core Public Interest Law.

IP meaning intellectual product, not intellectual property, is not and was never intended to be property as we understand it.

Congress under Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the constitution, has the power to, "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

This is not property. After all, when I say, "Take my wife....please," Henny Youngman still has the joke.*

IP is an infringement on a very natural state of creativity. Patents and copyright are not much more than 300 years old, but we have the Odyssey, the Aeneid, Gilgamesh, the Bible, the Christian Scriptures, and some really kick ass cave paintings, among thousands of other items.

These young students have looked at the world around them, and determined, for example, that record distributors steal from the artists and give them no money, so that their money does not "Promote ... the useful arts".

David Pogue does not understand the underlying principles of the current IP regime, and these wet-behind-the-ears kids in his audience do.

*Of course his being dead for decades makes his being able to tell it academic.
Of course looking at modern pop music, there is a question as to whether any of the stuff in the top 40 rotation qualifies as, "useful arts", but that is a metaphysical question, not a legal one.

Kansas GOP Chairman Admits to Illegal Voter Suppression

So not shocked.

When Nixon decided to appeal to the southern racists, he eagerly embraced their Jim Crow voting strategies too.

However, I am a bit surprised that Kris Kobach would brag about it in public:
To date, the Kansas GOP has identified and caged more voters in the last 11 months than the previous two years!
There is a primer to this illegal, the RNC has been under a consent decree for some time, and quite frankly UnAmerican technique here.

I guarantee you, BTW, a lot of the voters "caged" are serving in the military overseas.

I Love it When Conservatives Go Hammer and Tongs After Each Other

In the left corner, wearing the bible print trunks, Michael Dale "The Gastric Bypass" Huckabee, and in the left corner, wearing currency print trunks with the corporate sponsorship, the Club for Growth.

It appears that the CfG is taking out bunch of nasty ads against Huckabee.

Four years ago, they called me a, "tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show", so I'm experiencing no small amount of schadenfruede.

While Obama and Hillary Try to Make Hay, Edwards Takes High Road on Assassination

We've got them sniping back and forth here, and to his credit John Edwards is not saying that it's all about him:
Benazir Bhutto was a brave and historic leader for Pakistan. Her assassination is a sad and solemn event, and our hearts go out to her family and to the Pakistani people. But we will not let this contemptible, cowardly act delay the march of progress in Pakistan for a single second.

I have seen firsthand in Pakistan, and in meetings with Prime Minister Bhutto and President Musharraf, the instability of the country and the complexity of the challenges they face. At this critical moment, America must convey both strength and principle. We should do everything in our power to help bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice and to ensure that Bhutto's movement toward democracy continues.
Compares favorably to the posturing by Clinton, Obama, Romney, Giuliani, etc. where they all basically say, "this is why you should vote for me"

It compares even more favorably to Mike Huckabee's statement, where he says, "There's a country called Pakistan? Really? Are you sure??"

I would note that my assessment of Bhutto is far less charitable than his, but he's not making hay of the assassination, which is a good thing.

Adventures in Bad Desense Technology Reporting

I've seen the story all over the net about successful Russian test launch of the RSM-54, or Sineva from the Tula, Delta IV class submarine earlier this month.

There was much talk about it was a "hybrid ballistic missile that in its final stages becomes a modified cruise missile" is actually a bit of a misnomer.
...., is a hybrid ballistic missile that in its final stages becomes a modified cruise missile. In this guise, the warhead cannot be targeted by anti-missile systems that rely on a ballistic trajectory for their calculations.


This is a misnomer. What we have is called a "MARV", MAneuverable Reentry Vehicle, and it is fairly old news.

The Pershing II which actually reached deployment in the 1980s in Europe before being retired under the INF treaty had such a system, though not for ABM evasion, they coupled it with a terminal radar for a CEP under 30 meters.

For a strategic system it would likely be used for evasion, and there are reports of it being used on the Trident reentry vehicles.

You can see see the aerodynamic surfaces, and the radome on this picture of a Pershing II launch from Wiki.

A Note to Ramesh Ponnuru

It appears that the Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor for National Review, has taken offense at a a blog post I made about 8 days ago regarding rumors that Time Magazine wanted him to write regular OP/EDs for them.

The title was and is over the top and offensive, which will surprise my friends no one bit, and you can go to the post and see my apology in the comment.

However, I take exception (not offense, exception) to one thing that he posted in The Corner:
That's one "progressive" blogger's reaction to the possibility that I will become a regular columnist for Time.
(emphasis mine)

I am not a progressive. I am a liberal.

A progressive is what wimps call themselves if they favor forward looking programs, but have capitulated to the linguistic efforts to equate the term "liberal" with "N***er Lover" in the 1970s by various reactionaries.

I'd like to think that I have a bit more intestinal fortitude.

To quote John F. Kennedy:
But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."
You can also refer to the late Steve's Gilliard's post on the subject. He was alway rather insistent on his use of the term "liberal", rather than "progressive".

More Freddie Thompson Clown Show

It appears that Fred Thompson is not airing ads in Iowa because of lack of funds.

With all the fanfare with which he entered this race, the slow motion train wreck since has been mind buggering.

Even New Labour Sick of Anti-Terror Laws

It looks like Gordon Brown is looking at a revolt among his own party regarding his proposal to extend the period of detention without charge in terrorism cases from 28 days to 42 days.

It probably does not help that Sir Ken Macdonald QC, Head of the CPS and Director of Public Prosecutions, in addition to, "the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith and the former Lord chancellor Lord Falconer."

What I don't get about the current politics in Britain is how the other parties are not exploiting the current situation.

Brown is floundering, Blair was remarkably unpopular, and that was before his conversion to Catholicism, which from what I've read, both historical and current stories, is a very big negative to the British public.

Why the Tories or Lib-Dems are unable to pick up significant seats in these circumstances is completely beyond me.

It's Official, Politicians Becoming Drooling Idiots: Barack Obama Believes His Own PR

I understand his politics of hope. I understand how he thinks that this is the best way to go. I also understand how this is a central tenet of his campaign.

Still, in looking at his speech intended to close the deal in Iowa, it's clear that he's jumped the shark:
It's change that won't just come from more anger at Washington or turning up the heat on Republicans....
OK, I differ, but it's consistent with his message.

Then, unfortunately, he goes on with his examples of how hope has won.
But I also know this. I know that hope has been the guiding force behind the most improbable changes this country has ever made. In the face of tyranny, it's what led a band of colonists to rise up against an Empire.
Let's run the numbers: 25,000 American casualties, 8000 in battle, 17,000 from disease including about 8000 who died as prisoners of war, and a slightly smaller number of British casualties. This isn't hope, this is Bismark's, "Blood and Iron", at a cost of somewhere north of 1% of the population of the 13 colonies.

No one bowed before hope.
In the face of slavery, it's what fueled the resistance of the slave and the abolitionist, and what allowed a President to chart a treacherous course to ensure that the nation would not continue half slave and half free.
In justification of what the slave owners considered their property, we have 110,000 Americans killed in action, with 360,000 total dead in US service, and 93,000 Confederate KIAs and 258,000 dead in CSA service, a number amounting to about 1 in 30 people living in the United States.

This was a battle against selfishness, and the costs were enormous, not a battle over "hope".
In the face of war and Depression, it's what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation.
World War II, huh? We have 73 Million dead.

Again, about 3% of the world population.
In the face of oppression, it's what led young men and women to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through the streets of Selma and Montgomery for freedom's cause.
Which ignores the bombings of school girls, tens of thousands of lynchings in Jim Crow land, resulting an ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Black Americans from the South to the North.
That's the power of hope - to imagine, and then work for, what had seemed impossible before.
The people were not swayed by a desire for change and hope, they were forced kicking and screaming, and the sons of Jim Crow, in their heart of hearts still believe, "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever". Trust me, I'm white, and I've lived in the south, and I heard the "white to white" discussions during things like the OJ trial and following Katerina.

They believe it to this day, and they vote consistently Republican.

I understand the need to show "The Audacity of Hope". It's what you think will resonate, and you really believe it, but I'd be hard pressed to find one more counter factual example than all four that have been given here.

In his speach, he has not only rode his motorcycle over a tankful of selachians, but he has done so wearing a tutu and fairy wings.

He has left the realm of Matthew Yglesias's Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics*, and gone straight to something I am calling the Tinkerbell Theory of Everything, wherein the noble tinkerbell (typically played by a follow spotlight) is saved by all the children in the audience clapping just as hard as they can.

If there is a problem with the Neocons, and other descendants of the Trotskyite intellectual tradition, it is the consistent denial of reality in order to confirm their theories, but Barack Obama makes them look like hard eyed realists.

H/t to Chris Bowers for the initial catch on the speach.

*To quote the other Matthew:
The ring is a bit goofy. Basically, it lets its bearer generate streams of green energy that can take on all kinds of shapes. The important point is that, when fully charged what the ring can do is limited only by the stipulation that it create green stuff and by the user's combination of will and imagination. Consequently, the main criterion for becoming a Green Lantern is that you need to be a person capable of "overcoming fear" which allows you to unleash the ring's full capacities. It used to be the case that the rings wouldn't function against yellow objects, but this is now understood to be a consequence of the "Parallax fear anomaly" which, along with all the ring's other limits, can be overcome with sufficient willpower.

Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.

What's more, this theory can't be empirically demonstrated to be wrong. Things that you or I might take as demonstrating the limited utility of military power to accomplish certain kinds of things are, instead, taken as evidence of lack of will. Thus we see that problems in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't reasons to avoid new military ventures, but reasons why we must embark upon them: "Add a failure in Iran to a failure in Iraq to a failure in Afghanistan, and we could supercharge Islamic radicalism in a way never before seen. The widespread and lethal impression of American weakness under the Clinton administration, which did so much to energize bin Ladenism in the 1990s, could look like the glory years of American power compared to what the Bush administration may leave in its wake."

My Thoughts on the Bhutto Assassination

First, it's clear that even by the standards of Pakistani politics, she was highly corrupt, as mind boggling as this characterization was.

This is something that is frequently ignored, as the westerners that she met with were dealing with someone who went to Harvard/Radcliffe and then Oxford. She was well spoken, and knew how to make her point in terms that were familiar to the western officials whom she studiously cultivated.

In this way, she was very similar to Ahmed Chalabi, whose support from US officials, despite a history of criminal, dishonest, and corrupt dealings, managed to convince US figures who were profoundly ignorant of that part of the world to support his interests.

That they both went to college at prestigious western schools, (Chalabi received his BS from MIT, and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago) is not an inconsequential part of this equation. It taught both of them how to communicate their interests in a very fluent way with their American counterparts.

That being said, it is clear that Bhutto was far more interested in actually governing and implementing policies, as opposed to Chalabi's rather more venal interests.

Additionally, as the head of a the only major opposition party was assassinated yesterday, and with the elections less than two weeks away, it's clear that the elections will not mean anything.

All that they will do is to serve as a rubber stamp of Pervez Musharraf's power, as the only other potential rival to power, Nawaz Sharif, has not been allowed stand for election.

As to Mushaffaf, he is largely the product of, and completely beholden to, the Pakistani military establishment (which includes Pakistani intelligence services) which has little or no interest in pursuing the American anti-terrorism or anti Taliban agenda.

The Pakistani military's culture resembles to a very large degree that of the German Imperial Navy pre World War I. They are focused on "der tag"*, the day, i.e. the eventual large scale conflict with India much in the same way that the German fleet focused on an eventual showdown with their British counterparts.

As a result, both organizations had limited effectiveness to the task at hand.

As such, it is no surprise that very little of the military aid that the US has sent to Pakistan has gone towards fighting the Taliban or terrorism, but has instead been directed toward India.

As to who is directly responsible for the assassination, I do not know, and neither does anyone else writing about it, though I lean toward various Pakistani warlords in the generally lawless border regions who were directly threatened by Bhutto's policies.

However, it is clear that Musharraf deliberately impaired the security arrangements for Bhutto, probably in an effort to hamstring her ability to campaign, and as such he does bear some direct responsibility for her death.

I don't see any resolution of this situation as being favorable to the United States, a quick perusal of Sharif's record shows him having amended the constitution to make removal of a prime minister nearly impossible, and considering the fact that Pakistan has somewhere between 30 and 100 nuclear weapons, and the possibilities for the average Pakistani citizen are even worse.

There is a more general lesson to be learned though, and that is that the US has for a very long time generally cast about for "our man" in various places in the world of interest, rather than looking at issues of governance and process, and the results when this individual falls up short, as has happened when the US withdrew to some degree from Musharraf and placed its chips on Bhutto, have almost always been disastrous.

*At official events banquets, the German Navy always had a toast to "der tag", translated as "the day", referring to the eventual clash of fleets.

27 December 2007

People Who Write Better Than Me: Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald nails it again:
What a stupid and vapid woman this is, but respected and admired by our media class because she fits right in with them -- endlessly impressed by her own sophistication, maturity and insight while drooling out platitudes one never hears except in seventh-grade cafeterias and on our political talk shows. As always, this isn't worth noting because the adolescent stupidity on display here is unique to Noonan, but precisely because it isn't. This is how our national elections are decided: by people like her, spewing things like this.

Economic update

Nouriel Roubini sees the following signs of an upcoming recession (I consider them to be signs of a current recession, but I'm not an economist):
  • Initial unemployment claims at 2001 recession level.
  • Durable and capital goods orders falling.
  • Consumer confidence down.
  • Oil prices closer to $100 than to $90/bbl.
  • Retail sales falling after accounting for inflation.
  • Residential real estate going down, and accellerating.
  • Commercial real estate starting down (more below).
  • Various leading indicators falling, as are corporate earnings.
  • Credit markets not only staying seized up, but getting even more seized up. (Dr. Roubins bullet points this out into about 5-7 items)
  • Unstable world environment.
In terms of more specific news, we have mortgage applications falling off a cliff, despite a rate cut, Fitch saying that it may downgrade residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS) because the insurers for these bonds are basically insolvent, Goldman-Sachs is predicting that Citigroup may be forced to cut its divident (implying that there is more bad news to come), the Chinese Director of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange saying that the US should not cut rates any more because it will "hammer" the dollar, there is increasing evidence that commercial real estate is starting to tank too (It typically lags residential real estate by about ½ year), and residential real estate prices have fall by 6.7% year over year (and at about an 11.7% rate for the past quarter).

1000 Words on Greenspan

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

According to CNN's report, she was bombed and shot:
Video of the scene just moments before the explosion showed Bhutto stepping into a heavily-guarded vehicle to leave the rally.

Khan said while it appeared Bhutto was shot, it was unclear if her bullet wounds were caused by a shooting or shrapnel from the bomb.
You don't get bullet wounds from a bomb.

Shot and bombed, and this is a government teetering on the brink of anarchy with nuclear weapons.

Retail Sales Fall During Christmas Season, But Innumerate Reporters Miss It

Once again the inestimable Nouriel Roubini catches something that all the major news outlets missed, though in this case, it ain't rocket science*: since inflation is running now above 4%, an year over year increase in sales of 3.6% is actually a decrease in sales.

Both the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal get this wrong.

*Full Disclosure, in 1999-2000 and 1996-1998, I worked as a mechanical engineer for what is now Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, and I have some claim to actually being a rocket scientist.

Democrats Try Fiscal Sanity in Campaigns

The Democratic Presidential candidates are finally moving toward a flat fee structure with their consultants, as opposed to paying a percentage of the media buy.

The Republicans have been doing this for years, and it removes a perverse incentive for the consultants to recommend large media buys, since it pads their fees.

Of interest is this statement:
In interviews, aides said Ms. Clinton, of New York, and Mr. Edwards, of North Carolina, had negotiated flat fees with their top consultants. And Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has capped what his consultants can earn, which will convert their more traditional percentage deal into a flat fee once his ad spending passes a certain threshold, his aides say.
As on healthcare, the putative "candidate of change" is taking the more timid and status quo route.

Hopefully, this is a first step in putting a better leash on Democratic political consultants who frequently spend too much time as the face of the campaign to the press.

Political consultants should neither be seen nor heard until after the general election.

Evidence That the Death Penalty Works


In looking at the numbers of police deaths this year, the most capital punishment crazy state in the nation, Texas, comes in first at 22, and Florida is second at 15.

They are numbers one and five in numbers of modern executions.

So clearly the death penalty causes police officer deaths.

click picture for a quick snapshot of the death penalty data.

26 December 2007

Culinary Adventures: Chicken and Seaweed

We needed to make dinner, and my wife doubted that we had enough left over chicken to feed us all, but I had a solution.

We had a pack of udon noodles, so I got the water boiling for them, and put a about 3 cups of stock in a pot and started to boil it.

I took about 4 sheets of nori (Japanese sushi seaweed), shredded them, and put them in the stock, and brought it all to a simmer, then added the chicken and remaining gravy, some oriental vegetables (broccoli, snap peas, water chestnuts, etc.), and a few chicken wings from the freezer, which took no time at all in simmering broth..

Boiled the noodles for 8 minutes, and then rinsed with cold water to stop the cooking, and when the wings were good and done (even frozen, not that long), put the chicken and veggies on top of the udon.

The seaweed added a lot of umami* to the broth flavor, and even my son, who is a notoriously finicky eater loved it.

*Umami, from the Japanese word or "meatiness" is the 5th flavor, along with salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. The actual taste bud receptor, for glutamates present in animal proteins, was determined in 2002, though it has been a part of oriental cookery for centuties, and the great Brillat-Savarin's concept of osmazome a very similar concept of meat flavor.
Finicky eating habits is a classic symptom of conditions on the Autism spectrum

The DCCC Gets It: F#$@ the South

Todd Breeton, of MYDD, has obtained a list of the 40 districts targeted by the DCCC in 2008:
  • AK-AL: Don Young
  • AZ-01: Open
  • AZ-03: John Shadegg
  • CA-04: John Doolittle
  • CA-26: David Dreier
  • CA-50: Brian Bilbray
  • CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave
  • CT-04: Chris Shays
  • FL-08: Ric Keller
  • FL-09: Gus Bilirakis
  • FL-13: Vern Buchanan
  • FL-24: Tom Feeney
  • ID-01: Bill Sali
  • IL-10: Mark Kirk
  • IL-11: Open
  • IL-14: Open
  • MI-07: Tim Walberg
  • MI-09: Joe Knollenberg
  • MN-03: Open
  • MN-06: Michele Bachmann
  • MO-06: Sam Graves
  • NV-03: Jon Porter
  • NJ-03: Open
  • NJ-07: Open
  • NM-01: Open
  • NM-02: Open
  • NY-13: Vito Fossella
  • NY-25: Jim Walsh
  • NY-26: Tom Reynolds
  • NY-29: Randy Kuhl
  • NC-08: Robin Hayes
  • OH-01: Steve Chabot
  • OH-02: Jean Schmidt
  • OH-14: Steve LaTourette
  • OH-15: Open
  • OH-16: Open
  • PA-03: Phil English
  • WA-08: Dave Reichert
  • WV-02: Sheley Moore Capito
  • WY-AL: Open
Here is the interesting part. There are no races taht they are targeting in the South.

Those Florida districts don't count. They are South Florida, which is the "non-southern" part of the state. It's where liberals come from in Florida.

This is an acknowledgment of a fact: there is very little of value in the south that has not already been taken.

What's left is an electorate which is either 80%+ Democratic/Minority gerrymanders, and the Apartheid whites that still exist.

The former already had Democratic representatives, and the latter will never vote for anyone who allows N***ers to vote.

The Democratic party needs to stop distorting its message in an attempt to win the south, and this is a good start.

Military Engineering Kangaroo Court of Bilal Hussein

This guy is a Pulitzer prize winning photographer, and Scott Horton has the goods on the phony trial, designed to create a real conviction, that the US military has set up for him.

Go read, then go contact your congressman.

Sally Quinn Is Concerned

Oh my, Sally Quinn is shocked.

It appears that the House of Representatives has passed a resolution (H.R. 847) declaring that "Expresses continued support for Christians in the United States . . . acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States . . . rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and expresses its deepest respect to American Christians."

She expresses concern that, "Earlier this year the House also passed resolutions honoring Islamic and Indian holidays but nothing that so equated a single faith with America and Americans".

Gee, I wonder who might have created this.

I don't know, maybe those people who valued pleasant DC cocktail party conversation over real discussions of issues and real values.

Maybe those who favored phony protestations of faith as a good way to "play the game" of politics", because, of course, inside the Beltway, where all the important people live, policies don't matter.

Whether you are a Washington Post editor (or just married to one), a congressional page, a lobbyist, a reporter, or a Washington DC pundit, you make decent money, are guaranteed steady work, have excellent health care benefits, and a pretty good retirement package.

You can't take policy seriously, it gets in the way of your parties. It makes conversation stilted. It makes people think that you aren't a "very serious person".

Sound like anyone you know?

California Court Rules That Health Insurance Company Cancellations Frequently Illegal

This is good news for our friends in California.

The substance of the ruling:
  • Insurance companies must check the accuracy of the applications before accepting the people for coverage.
  • That the insured must be shown to have wilfully misrepresented their health status.
  • That the low rescission rates upon application implied a deliberate policy of waiting until the claims rolled in to cancel.
A health plan, the court went on, "may not adopt a 'wait and see' attitude after learning of facts justifying rescission." The court said companies could not continue to "collect premiums while keeping open its rescission option if the subscriber later experiences a serious accident or illness that generates large medical expenses."

CIA Coverup: Muzzling Its Inspector General

According to this LA Times acricle, the retributive prope of the the CIA Inspector General by the CIA has yielded the desired results, "CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson has consented to more than a dozen procedural changes designed to address complaints that investigations carried out by his office were unfair to agency employees".

The fact that the IG signed off on a letter from an Assistant AG Kenneth Wainstein telling congress to back off on its investigations without any explanation of how such an investigation could jeopardize the AG/IG investigation, is a pretty good explanation of what happened.

It appears that the old saying is true, an operation is preformed, and there are three possible results:
  • The boy dies.
  • The boy sings soprano in a choir well into adulthood.
  • The boy becomes the CIA's inspector general.

Nepal to abolish monarchy

Good it's about bloody time.

Between mad cousins engaging in killing sprees, obscure dynastic politics, the suppression of basic civil rights, and actions calculated to drive the populace into the arms of Maoist guerrillas, the time for this institution has long past.

A Good Point on the Music Industry

Cogitamus has a very good point on the music industry, when he looks at the RIAA's latest VNR (Video News Release).

The RIAA is saying that if you find a mix CD that actually has the music that you want to listen to, it's probably pirated.

So let me get this straight, in order for me to get the music I want in the format that I want, it has to be illegal?

Seems to me that this is a pretty good indication that the current legal music industry is absolutely worthless.

Making 1929 Look Like a Walk in the Park

Interesting article in the Daily Telegraph, Crisis may make 1929 look a 'walk in the park'.

Bullet point summary:
  • Liquidity doesn't do anything in this situation," says Anna Schwartz, the doyenne of US monetarism and life-time student (with Milton Friedman) of the Great Depression, "It cannot deal with the underlying fear that lots of firms are going bankrupt. The banks and the hedge funds have not fully acknowledged who is in trouble. That is the critical issue," she adds.
  • Spreads on three-month Euribor and Libor - the interbank rates used to price contracts - are stuck at 80 basis points even after the latest blitz.
  • That an implosion of the credit markets is months away.
  • The 4% inflation mirrors what happened in Japan just before their meltdown.
  • When the Japanese discount rate was lowered to 0%, it did no good.
  • Not a single junk bond has been issued in Europe since August. Every attempt failed.
  • Increase sentiments for restoring national currencies in the EU. (Interestingly enough, this would provide a potential boost to the dollar, as it would make the Euro less attractive as a reserve currency)
As I've said, we are seeing a breakdown of the Ango-Saxon model of capitalism, where minimal regulation is really an excuse for klepto-capitalism.

I do not see a solution to this except through a devaluation of currencies, particularly the $US.

Obama Looking at Appointing Schwartzenegger to Cabinet

This is, I think, a good illustration of the problems that I have with Obama.

Arnold is not a bipartisan figure, he is a self serving one, and only after getting his clock cleaned did he make any real effort toward "bipartisan" action. Furthermore, he's doing his best to undermine those so called bipartisan initiatives through executive orders and inaction.

Ahnuld is not even suitable as head of the physical fitness council, as he is a former steroid user.

This is a dangerous level of naivety, and until adults run the Republican party again, reaching across the party aisle is simply an exercise in futility.

More Troubling Economic News

First, the index of leading economic indicators falls for the third time in four months in November, dropping 0.3%, and it turns out that no one wants to buy into the mega-sh$@ pile that was supposed to buy up Structured Investment Vehicles (SIVs) to prevent fire sale prices on these assets.

It turns out that no one was interested in contributing to the fund. I think that "the market" has recognized that this was an attempt to shift to cost of bad decisions from the makers of those decisions to the ordinary investor, and while Wall Street typically likes this setup, they realized that even the most naive investor was already onto the game.

25 December 2007

Mainstraem Journalism Finally Recognizes that "Incentives" Distort Reported Home Price

The fact that "sales incentives" are really stealth price cuts has has finally been noticed by the Wall Street Journal.
Buyers, sellers and other market participants typically monitor fluctuating home values through sale records that legally have to be listed with county clerks. But incentives offered to buyers -- ranging from free cars or furniture to cash rebates -- are making those prices less reliable as a sign of what buyers actually paid, netting out the giveaways. And that may be misleading lenders and people shopping for homes, some real-estate lawyers and appraisers warn.
Well, duh.

That is the purpose of these incentives, along with artificially inflating realtor's' commissions. (If the price were cut instead, the realtors would typically take a hit on their commission of over $1000)

Chinese Food On Christmas

Chinese Food On Christmas, by Brandon Walker.

Not this Yid, but I am caught a movie with my kids.

FWIW, this guy is from Baltimore, and I've eaten in that restaurant, and I've shopped at that mall, it's where the Wegmans is.

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The Smiler Now a Papist

Tony Blair converts to Catholicism.

This comes as no surprise to me. One wonders when he will join Opus Dei, the right wing Catholic Organization founded by fascist (literally) and alleged pedophile Josemaría Escrivá.

My Posting Will Be Down For a Bit

I'm working on my eponymous printed-on-paper and mailed through the post year end newsletter, so posting frequency will drop a bit.

Click the link for more info, and to access the pdf archives (the link above is not a PDF)

The generally low posting quality, will, of course, remain unchanged.

24 December 2007

23 December 2007

Monetary Policy Driven Inflation on Horizon

Barry Ritholtz's The Big Picture economics blog shows us a rather interesting picture:



The "continuation" bit is there because Federal Reserve under Alan "Bubbles" Greenspan stopped reporting the statistic, saying that it was not a "useful" statistic.

Rolling the Wiki, we get the following:
  • M0: The total of all physical currency, plus accounts at the central bank that can be exchanged for physical currency.
  • M1: M0 + those portions of M0 held as reserves or vault cash + the amount in demand accounts ("checking" or "current" accounts).
  • M2: M1 + most savings accounts, money market accounts, and small denomination time deposits (certificates of deposit of under $100,000).
  • M3: M2 + all other CDs, deposits of eurodollars and repurchase agreements.
So, all the big money transfers and currency injections in the market over the past few months, they are no longer counted by the Fed, but we can see that the overall money supply is increasing at double digit rates over the past year or so.

We've already had nearly a trillion dollars dumped into the credit markets over the past month.

Money is being shoveled out the door to attempt to resolve a liquidity crisis. The problem is that it is an insolvency crisis, though hyper inflation may bail that out.

21 December 2007

State Department Knew Blackwater Was Cooking Books in 2005

The State Department's IG report in early 2005 noted that, "that Blackwater cited its profit from the contract as a cost it incurred, and billed the government for it -- resulting in what the report called "a pyramiding of profit."

This is the second most blatant bit of account theft that I have ever heard of, the first being a guy who noted change as an expense for a non-profit group called the MSR.

He did time, and so should the execs at Blackwater.

More Trouble for Anglo-Saxon Capitalism: UK Defisit Soars

The current account deficit has increased 50% to £20 billion in the 3rd quarter.

That's double what was expected, and it is largely as a result of the credit crunch.

My take is that there were a lot of revenues generated by phony deals on phony securities, and the time to pay the piper is now coming due.

It should push down the Sterling a bit, which is one reason that my year end predictions now look increasingly unlikely.*

*There is also the fact that I can't predict my way out of a paper bag.

On the Death of Nataline Sarkisyan

My condolences on the Death of 17 year old 19 year old Nataline Sarkisyan.

She died of liver failure resulting from complications of her bone marrow transplant for leukemia, after having a transplant denied (the decision was reversed yesterday) by CIGNA.

That being said, I do not see this indicative of the failure of the health insurance.

Let's be clear, I do see private health insurance in the US as the primary cause of escalating health care costs, and a reduction in the availability of reasonable health care of a more basic nature.

Unfortunately, the pre and neonatal deaths from lack of prenatal care, and the injuries from things like lack of immunizations do not have faces, but they kill more, and cost us more than this one case.

In any realistic competent healthcare system, she should not have gotten a liver transplant. It was simply too expensive, and the potential to save her life, given that she had leukemia, and her immune system had been largely destroyed by the bone marrow transplant procedure.

Her case actually strikes relatively close to home to me.

From 1982 through 1987, I was actively treated for chronic non-A Non-B hepatitis*, first with steroids, and then with immune suppressants.

Based on this, I believe that my chance of experiencing liver failure over the course of my life is significantly more than that of the general population.

I do not believe that many of these high tech interventions, and I would include liver transplantation, are an efficient or effective way to spend a limited healthcare dollar.

*I have been regularly tested since, but my numbers have been fine, and so, apart from not giving blood and having annual liver function tests, I am now unaffected by this. I'm allowed to drink.
Basically, it was treated as an immune system/connective tissue problem, my ANA was at one point 4,000,000:1 (IIRC). It appears that my body was attacking my liver. Except for weight loss, I was asymptomatic, though the steriods (40mg prednisone) was no fun while I was on it.

There's a New Clown Show In Town

Cynthia McKinney is running for president as a Green.

One wonders how long before the Greens tire of her antics*.

*Trust me, it takes a lot for Greens to tire of someone's antics, but Cynthia Mckinney will be able to do it.

EPA Director Ignored Staff in Shooting Down California Emissions Regulations

Gee, the Los Angeles Times is saying that a Bush admin political appointee ignored the science and the law when making a decision??? I'm shocked at these allegationsEPA chief is said to have ignored staff - Los Angeles Times
"California met every criteria . . . on the merits. The same criteria we have used for the last 40 years on all the other waivers," said an EPA staffer. "We told him that. All the briefings we have given him laid out the facts."

Mass Protests as New Orleans City Council Votes to Demolish Public Housing

They will be replacing less than half the units, at something like 5 times the cost of repairing the old units.

It's clear, the New Orleans city council wants n****rs out of the city.

Banks Starting to Worry About "Jingle Mail"

Jingle Mail for those of you who don't know is what banks get when mortgage holders send the keys back.

Calculated Risk has an interesting post on the subject. Basically, there are a lot of people who are underwater on their mortgages because of home price drops, and even though they can still pay, renting is cheaper, and people might start to walk away from their homes and mortgages.

The folks at CR are estimating that , "somewhere between 10 million and 20 million U.S. homeowners will owe more on their homes, than their homes are worth.".

I think that the number will be greater, BTW.

Scabs Update: The Daily Show and Colbert Report Too

I won't be watching, and I suggest that you don't. It's crossing a picket line, and the only time I've ever done that, it was a one day strike, I wasn't in the union, and I asked the shop steward if it was a good time to "get a cold", and he told me that it was fine for me to come to work.

Stewart, Colbert returning to the air - Yahoo! News.

The Weakest of Denials

Dan Froomkin just made a very interesting point about Bush's press conference:
At a year-end press conference this morning, President Bush staved off questions about White House complicity in the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes, refusing even to flatly deny that he was personally involved.
Hmmmm...

Swedish Company Tests Hyper Velocity Missile

It's supposed to be able to achieve Mach 5.5 at sea level, that's about 4200 miles per hour.


The article makes the suggestion that this might have been designed to be used with a multi transmitter anti-stealth radar system. Basically, you would target the missile on coordinates, and have no terminal guidance, so a shorter flight time would reduce error from the target changing course.

It would also be a potent anti-tank weapon, relying on kinetic energy for a kill, but it does appear to be a bit large for that application, as the 45 kg CKEM and 5 foot long(see picture below) can destroy any known armored vehicle.

The Saab-Bofors vehicle appears to be at least twice that size.

Whisky Tango Foxtrot: The Dems Cave on SCHIP????

What the hell are they thinking????

They just passed a bill extending SCHIP as it currently exists until March 2009. This is acutally a cut, because Bush has issued executive orders to reduce the scope of the existing program.

I understand the extension, but they could have extended it for 3 months, or 6 months, or 9 months, and forced the Republicans to come back to this tremendously popular program, again, and again, and again.

Instead of this, which is a win-win, the kids get their insurance, and the Republicans shoot themselves in the foot, they took it off the table.

**sigh**

Hans von Spakovsky out at FEC

But so is everyone else, because the Republicans are insisting on an up or down vote on all 4 nominees at once.

This means that come January, the FEC will be unable to have a quorum to conduct meetings, but given von Spakovsky's record, in which it appears that his entire career has been dedicated to suppressing minority votes, it's a reasonable tradeoff.

A Must Read Book: How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative

Well, the continuing unfolding scandal of the 2002 New Hampshire phone jamming scandal has provided quite a lot of insight into how Republicans work, and How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative, by Allen Raymond, is one of the products of the scandal.

As a result of his being fingered as the fall guy for the phone jamming, he was guilty as hell (served 3 months), but he was a foot soldier sacrificed in an attempt to protect the higher ups.
First, we have a McClatchy review of an advance copy of the book, which notes that James Tobin, he former regional director for both the RNC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (convicted and now on appeal), made 22 calls to the White House *cough* Rove *cough* in the 24 hours surrounding the phone jamming.

As soon as the investigation started, Tobin and Charles McGee, the executive director of the New Hampshire GOP, denied all knowledge, and basically pretended not to know Raymond. In the days following the election, when Raymond "when he phoned Tobin after Sununu's 19,000-vote election victory to tell him that a Manchester, N.H., police officer was looking into the scheme, Tobin responded, 'I don't know what you're talking about.'"

Also of interest is his story of the related at TPMmuckraker:

To set the scene: Raymond got a call in 2000* from two former colleagues in New Jersey who ran a consulting shop called Jamestown Associates. They were working for Dick Zimmer, who was running against Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), the incumbent, and they were pulling out all the stops. (Ed. Note: This post originally stated that this happened in 2002 -- that was my mistake, not Raymond's.)

They'd already succeeded in getting a Green Party candidate on the ballot to drain liberal votes from Holt (a favorite GOP trick). And they had already put Raymond's firm to work calling Green-oriented households and urging them to support the Green candidate.

But what came next was "even better":

[Tom Blakely from Jamestown Associates] called me up and asked, "How do you guys find voice talent?"

"Well, I've got a whole catalog of different voices on CDs. I've got 'single Northeastern female,' I've got 'Southern belle' -- what are you looking for?"

"We're targeting Democrats of Eastern European descent using a surname select and geopolitical filter."

"Oh," I said, quickly doing the polarizing-voter math in my head. "How about 'angry black man'?"

"Yeah, that sounds good. What's his voice sound like?"

So I cued up one particular actor's CD on my computer and put the phone to the speaker. The track I played was one in which the actor was deliberately playing up a street gang character.

After listening for a few seconds, Blakely said, "That's the guy!"

So we had the actor record a spot over the telephone saying, "I'm calling as a Democrat, asking you to vote for the Democratic nominee. We need your vote for Holt."

I'm not saying that all Eastern European whites are racists, but, no matter where or when an election is held, there is a always a cultural divide that you can rely on. The message was "I'm ghetto black calling you, racist Ukrainian guy, and scaring the crap out of you because you probably think that if you don't vote for the Democrat I'm going to come to your house and take care of some business."

The calls were extremely highly targeted, household by household, no message ever left on an answering machine. We wanted the message heard only by people whose reaction would be "I'm not voting for Holt because he uses scary black men to call my house."

We made calls to Democratic union households supporting Zimmer, taped by actors putting on thick Spanish accents, figuring union workers were the voters who felt most threatened by immigration. The objective was to get them to throw up their hands and stay home on Election Day. We were just forcing those people to make a decision that was true to who they really were. If you want to question someone's character, look to the people who stayed home because of those calls.

Remember -- they were Democrats; they were supposed to be the tolerant ones.

Zimmer lost the election by 481 votes and the Green Party candidate picked up 2 percent in the polls.
Seriously, if it weren't for bigotry the Republicans would barely outpoll the Monster Raving Loony Party.

BTW, you have to love this comment by Raymond, "As for his three months in a Pennsylvania prison, he wrote: 'After 10 full years inside the GOP, 90 days among honest criminals wasn't really any great ordeal.'"

Eisenhower Executive Office building burns



Truth be told, it's a ceremonial office, but this cartoon is too good not to show.

20 December 2007

Monoliners Heading for a Crash?

This post is kind of an extension of my previous post about ACA and MBIA.

First, a definition, care of The Daily Telegraph:
Monoliners are specialist insurers who earn fees by lending their AAA ratings to US states, counties, and cities for bond issues - the safest corner of the credit industry.

The nasty twist is that most have ventured into mortgage debt to spice returns. They now face enough losses to threaten their AAA standing.

A downgrade means that every bond bearing their guarantee must be downgraded pari passu. Pension funds and institutions will be forced to liquidate sub-AAA holdings. A fresh cascade of distress sales will ravage the $2,400bn 'muni' market.

The unthinkable now looms. Moody's said it was "somewhat likely" that top insurer MBIA would fall below the AAA capital requirement: Fitch warns of a "high probability" that CIFG Guaranty and Financial Guaranty will be placed on negative watch.
Does this sound familiar? It does to me.

Remember the people who were renting their credit to people with poor credit so that they could qualify for loans? It got shut down 6-12 months ago by all the major credit report agencies.

This is pretty much the same, only multiplied by about 100 million.

As Nouriel Roubiniputs it:
The forest issues is simple: a business – the monoliners’ insurance of securities and holding of risky ABS securities – that is fundamentally based on having a AAA rating is a business that does not deserve a AAA rating in the first place: it is clear to all that if a monoliner were to lose its AAA rating the essence of its business model would fail and such monoliner would have to close shop. But in any industry you have firms that can do business and thrive with an AA or A or even lower rating, even among major financial institutions. Here we have instead an industry that would go bankrupt as soon as its AAA rating is lost: by definition this is not an industry that can deserve a AAA rating. So the issue is not one of how sound these monoliners are managed or whether they have enough capital or whether they can raise new capital to maintain their AAA status. There is a fundamental and conceptual flaw in a business model that is conditional on a AAA rating and that is in a business that insures assets and firms that do not have a AAA rating. This is analogue to the voodoo finance of taking subprime and BBB mortgage backed securities and turning them into AAA by the black magic of CDO tranching.
This is not as the good Doctor Roubini admits, a painless process. This would involve losses in excess of $200 billion, but it is clear that this is a fraudulent practice, and the fact that the ratings agencies are giving these folks time to raise capital before a downgrade is merely supporting a "rotten business model".

Steve Gilliard's Colonial War Series

The late Steve Gilliard did a marvelous 37 part series on the history of colonial wars. Boor at Daily Kos has put together an index of his series.

It is invaluable reading if you want to understand the problems inherent in empire.

Tancredo Drops Out of Presidential Race

He endorses Romney on the way out.

Mukasey Limits White House Access to Investigations

This was the policy before the tenure of Abu Gonzalez, when political operatives had unlimited access to the DoJ, and now we are back to a situation where WH operatives will not have the access exert undue political influence on ongoing investigations:
The original policy authorized more than 40 Justice Department officials and 400 White House officials to know about ongoing investigations, according to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a leading Democratic proponent of changing the policy.

During the Clinton administration, seven White House and Justice officials were permitted to receive such information.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said Mukasey's new policy mirrors the Clinton administration's, but allows more officials to receive details about national security matters.
This is my first pleasant surprise from Bush and His Evil Minions&trade in a long time.

Writers Guild in Talks With Small Producers

It appears now that both sides are trying to peel off resistance. The big studios are trying to get shows to cross the picket lines, and the WGA is trying to negotiate a deal with the small independent producers.

This is going to be a long strike, I think.

Bailouts of Bond Insurers

Calculated Risk: Banks Studying Bailout of ACA

ACA, which insures $26 billion in bonds is insolvent, and the banks are looking at bailing it out. Bailing out an insolvent company generally makes no sense, but if they don't then the banks have to record the non-uninsured bonds on their balance sheets.

Then we have MBIA, the largest bond insurer in the world, being threatened with a downgrade by Fitch, if it does not rais $1 billion in cash in the next 4-6 weeks.

While these companies in and of themselves are not very large, the consequences are staggering:
The insurer, ACA Capital Holdings, which lost $1 billion in the most recent quarter, has been warned by Standard & Poor’s that its financial guarantor subsidiary may soon lose its crucial A rating. If it did, the banks that insured securities with the ACA Financial Guaranty Corporation would have to take back billions in losses from the insurer under the terms of the credit protection they bought from the company.

The troubles at ACA could also serve as the first real test for credit default swaps, the tradable insurance contracts used by investors to protect, or hedge, against default on bonds. In June, the value of bonds underlying credit default swaps rose to $42.6 trillion, up from just $6.4 trillion at the end of 2004, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

“The hedge is only as good as the counterparty, or the other party, to the hedge,” said Joseph R. Mason, a finance professor at Drexel University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “This is part and parcel of the financial innovation that has grown very rapidly in recent years.”
In other words, phony money and real debt.

If MBIA loses its AAA ratings, more than $2 TRILLION in securities would lose its AAA ratings too.

We are still on the downslope of this collapse, so it has got a ways to go before we turn a corner.