Monday, July 30, 2007

Tom Snyder Dies

MSNBC is reporting that broadcaster Tom Snyder has died from leukemia. Snyder was 71.

Snyder hosted NBC's legendary Tomorrow Show in the 70's, worked in news, worked in radio, and finished up his broadcasting career as the first host of The Late, Late Show. Snyder was very intelligent, often bombastic, sometimes confrontational, and always interesting to watch. I'm not a huge fan of TV talk shows anymore (though there was a time earlier in my life when I could sit down and watch Carson, Letterman and Costas in one 2 1/2 hour block!!!) but I do miss the old Snyder "Colorcast." Here's a wonderful montage from Snyder's NBC days. So fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Good News

Got very good news from the doctor last night about the illness of a family member. The operation was successful, the cancer was found early, hadn't spread anywhere else, and was not related to previous bouts of cancer.

In the same recovery room at the exact same time, another family got the news that their loved one probably wouldn't be leaving the recovery room.

She didn't.

Puts some things into perspective.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rough Patch

Sorry for the irregular blogging and responding to comments. There has been an illness in the family and I have been and will probably continue to be preoccupied for a bit. It was sudden and we don't know yet how things are going to go.

Ahh, well. To quote John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans." He wrote that in a song, btw, that he recorded for his son just a few months before he was shot to death.

It remains a very wise statement.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bush Faces Veto Override

So far, GOP members have stayed with their preznut to the bitter end on nearly every important showdown between the executive and the legislative branches and locked the legislative proess down to a standstill. But the LA Times says the State Children's Health Insurance Program bill may be the first time that "scared" Repubs jump ship:

President Bush is threatening to veto federal legislation that would renew the same partnership — the State Children's Health Insurance Program — and expand it to cover more of the nation's nearly 9 million uninsured children.

If he follows through on that threat, Bush could face a first in his presidency: a veto override.

The bill is considered Washington's most important legislation this year on health coverage.

And Bush's fellow Republicans are worried that Democrats may do more than back the president into a corner — they could use his opposition to tar GOP incumbents in next year's elections.

If the House and Senate approve the bill and Bush vetoes it, some Republicans say, there is a good chance that many in his own party would join with Democrats in overriding him.

Many Republicans are "very nervous," said Sen. Gordon H. Smith (R-Ore.), a supporter of a compromise formula that Bush opposes. "On the one hand, you've got the veto threat. On the other hand is the political importance of expanding healthcare for children. This is public policy broadly supported by the American people."

"I personally believe there is a reasonable chance he'll be overridden, but I don't want to make any predictions," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), one of the authors of the original program.

So what will the GOP strateg be to save their preznut from a veto override be?

Easy, kill the bill with a legislative deadlock - just as they've done with 40+ bills so far in the Senate. McClatchy reports that this year Repubs have filibustered the Senate into a complete standstill and if the pattern holds, Republicans will have blocked 153 pieces of legislation with filibusters with cloture votes. Here's the chart:

Amazing - by the end of the year Repubs will have filibustered nearly 3 times the amount of votes of any Senate term in the last 45 years but they're calling the Democratic-controlled Congress "do-nothing."

Dems need to get the meme out - the current Republican congressional members are obstructionists who vote with their preznut (you know, the one with the 26%-29% approval) nearly 100% of the time (so often, in fact, that it becomes news when they actually DON'T side with him.)

So far, Dems haven't gotten the word out about the obstructionist Bush Republican Congress - now it's time to start.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

All Class

GOP presidential candidate posing with a supporter in South Carolina. The sign reads "No to Obama, Osama and Chelsea's Moma."

TMZ wonders if this means Mitt is against modern art or just museums in general.

Given Romney's track record of flip-flopping on nearly every issue, I suspect whatever it means, he'll change his position sometime in the near future.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Nobody Believes Moneybags

I'm glad to see New Yorkers are reacting skeptically to Mayor Moneybags' assurances that the air around Wednesday's huge steam pipe blast is safe:

NEW YORK (AP) -- New Yorkers are still questioning their air's safety after a steam pipe eruption spewed dirt and debris into the sky over midtown. Many remember the cover-up after the last major pipe rupture and the illnesses ground zero workers faced years after officials assured them lower Manhattan was safe.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday declared the air free of asbestos, saying ''every single test'' showed no asbestos in the air. Other city officials were unwavering in that assessment, as well.

Yet, the painful legacy of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was evident among area residents and workers.

The debris from Wednesday's rupture was nothing close to the scale of the twin towers' collapse, but the sight of police in filtration masks and the warnings to area residents to keep windows closed and to throw out any clothing touched by dust or debris added to people's fears.

''I take everything with a grain of salt. I would like to believe it, but I can't,'' said Ariana Reines, an English teacher who returned to her school on a block of Lexington Avenue that was closed off after Wednesday evening's rupture.


''I don't know anybody here who's going out to lunch,'' said attorney Jordan Fox, who was working a block from the rupture site and has been involved in asbestos cases. ''It's musty out there -- it's humid, and the air is kind of thick. That could keep the asbestos entrained in the air.''

''They lied to us on Sept. 11 and thereafter. It's clear they misrepresented exposure after 9/11,'' Fox said. ''A lot of people would ask, 'Why should we trust them now?'''


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Oh Sure, I Believe You

Mayor Moneybags claims the air around East 41st Street and Lexington Avenue is asbestos-free after a steam pipe exploded last night and a geyser of water, debris and hazardous materials including asbestos shot 77 stories into the air, higher than the near-by Chrysler Building.

The city released results from tests conducted overnight and reported that while debris from the explosion does contain asbestos from the pipe, the air around the area does not and is therefore safe for residents and workers in the area.

Reuters reports many people are reacting to the city's claims with skepticism:

New Yorkers questioned if the air was safe after false assurances following the September 11 attacks and after utility Consolidated Edison admitted covering up that a steam pipe explosion in 1989, which claimed three lives, spewed asbestos into a residential neighborhood.

Carlos Garcia, an engineer wearing a breathing mask, said he volunteered during the clean-up of the World Trade Center site and would not take any risks now.

"I'm worried about the air ... I survived once so I want to survive the second time," he said. "They lie and they want to cover themselves. They have been lying all along since the World Trade Center."

Residents and workers at Ground Zero were reassured by the Environmental Protection Agency in the days after the September 11 attacks that the air was safe, but dust samples taken at the time found dangerous levels of asbestos.

"If police are here wearing these masks there must be an issue (with the air)," said Marvin Factor, 60, a banker who could reach his office. "We deserve to know."


New York City's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) said that of eight air samples taken from near Wednesday's steam pipe blast, none had tested positive for asbestos, a once-popular fire retardant and known carcinogen.

But OEM said brief exposure to asbestos is unlikely to have long-term health consequences.

ConEd appealed for anyone in the explosion area to hand in any belongings covered in dust or debris in a plastic bag, so they can be disposed of safely, and urged people still inside buildings in the blast zone to keep windows closed.

Do you have all that? The air is safe, you're not at risk for asbestos-related illnesses if you were in the area and were hit with debris last night, but just to be safe you should take your clothes and burn them.

As George Carlin once said, never believe anything your government tells you.


I bet Mayor Moneybags spent most of last night with his battery of lawyers trying to figure out how to minimize the city's liability over the incident which killed 1 person and injured at least 30.

As we know has happened with the 9/11 heroes, Bloomberg talks a good game in public but does everything he can to make sure the city never has to pay out a dime to people sickened by hazardous material exposure.

And that's all the assurance statements from the city are about - limiting legal liability for future illnesses caused by yesterday's explosion.

Given that the city lied about asbestos contamination back in 1989 after a similar steam pipe explosion around Gramercy Park and about the safety of the air quality around Ground Zero after 9/11, frankly there is no way I'll believe Mayor Moneybags about the safety of the air around yesterday's explosion until he does a naked cannonball into the crater on Lexington Avenue and rolls around in the mud and dirt.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Just Missed It

Was at the public library on 40th Street tonight until about 5:20 PM, then left to meet somebody over on 49th and the West Side. Got home around 9:30 tonight to find out that East 41st Street and Lexington Avenue blew up about 15 minutes after I left the area. We never heard a thing over on 49th and 8th (except for some helicopters, but you hear those so often in Manhattan that I've stopped paying attention.)

Amazing that a city block could blow up and 8 blocks and 6 avenues away nobody knew that anything had happened.

UPDATE: The NY Times first reported that the explosion occurred around 5:30 PM, but now I see that it happened closer to 6:00 PM. So, I missed it by at least a half an hour.

Still Well-Contained?

For a while now we have heard from the Federal Reserve that the subprime mortgage mess is "well-contained" and that while it probably will hurt a few investors with the bad luck to own bonds backed by defaulting mortgages, the American economy as a whole should not be terribly affected. But then today we learned this from the Wall Street Journal:

Investors in two troubled Bear Stearns Cos. hedge funds that made big bets on subprime mortgages have been practically wiped out, the Wall Street firm said yesterday, in more evidence of the turmoil in this corner of the bond market.

Bear said one of its funds was worth nothing and another worth less than a 10th of its value from a few months ago after its subprime trades went bad, according to a letter Bear circulated and to people briefed by the firm. The Wall Street investment bank -- known for its bond-trading savvy -- has had to put up $1.6 billion in rescue financing.


The revelations marked another anxious day for subprime investors. As a market index that tracks the performance of subprime bonds hit new lows, signs emerged that the pain experienced by Bear's hedge-fund investors is being felt by investors around the world.

Wall Street firms yesterday circulated at least a dozen lists of subprime-related bonds they planned to hastily sell to investors. Some of the assets were from a fund managed by Basis Capital, a large hedge-fund manager based in Australia, and were put on the block by Citigroup Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., according to people familiar with the matter.

Basis Yield Alpha Fund last week informed its investors it had lost around 14% in June. Another fund, called Basis Pac-Rim Fund, was down 9.2% that month. Basis said the declines came after bond dealers abruptly marked down the value of the securities, which it said were "otherwise fundamentally sound."

Investors are struggling to place values on assets tied to subprime home loans. Because some of these instruments aren't actively traded, investors worry that they are holding securities on their books at values that are no longer accurate.


Last week, Moody's Investors Service and Standard and Poor's, the two big credit-rating services, knocked down their assessments on hundreds of mostly lower-rated subprime-backed bonds.

Delinquencies and defaults have been rising on subprime mortgages -- which are taken out by borrowers with shaky credit backgrounds. Some of these mortgages were subject to fraudulent loan documentation when they were written.

The problems haven't filtered into the stock market, which hit new records yesterday. But the mortgage-bond market is filled with uncertainty, and investors show signs of aversion to risky corporate bonds, too.

"Right now things are starting to come unglued," said Charles Gradante, co-founder of hedge-fund consultant Hennessee Group.

The net value of assets in Bear's highly indebted fund, High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage Fund, is wiped out, according to people familiar with the matter, who were briefed on the contents of a late-afternoon call with brokers. The net value of assets in its other, larger, less-leveraged fund is roughly 9% of the value at the end of March, these people said. The net-asset value represents the value of an investor's holdings after debts have been paid.

When terms like "coming unglued" and "wiped out" are being used to describe the problems with hedge funds related to the subprime mortgage market, can Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke still say with a straight face that concerns are "well-contained?"

If he were honest, probably not.

And yet he's not, so he will say concerns are "well-contained."

And investors will act like they believe him.

This is a slow moving train wreck, because it takes a while for homeowners who have defaulted on their mortgages to have their homes foreclosed. sop they will get away with this for a while.

But with so many ARMs readjusting over the next two years and with inflation on the rise and interest rates either stagnant or rising, there looks to be little relief for defaulting borrowers and homeowners.

And thus there will be a lot more stories about hedge funds backed by subprime mortgages that are now essentially worthless.

I wonder which hedge fund my teachers pension is invested in and when I will learn that it has been "wiped out?"

UPDATE: Actually, Bernanke admits the fall-out from the subprime mortgage mess is no longer well-contained. Nonetheless, he says overall "Don't Worry, Keep Buying..."

"However, conditions in the subprime mortgage sector have deteriorated significantly, reflecting mounting delinquency rates on adjustable-rate loans. In recent weeks, we have also seen increased concerns among investors about credit risk on some other types of financial instruments. Credit spreads on lower-quality corporate debt have widened somewhat, and terms for some leveraged business loans have tightened. Even after their recent rise, however, credit spreads remain near the low end of their historical ranges, and financing activity in the bond and business loan markets has remained fairly brisk."

So, not well-contained, but still, all is well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Poor Mikey - He Didn't Get His Way

Mayor Michael Moneybags of New York City is one gigantic whiny ass titty baby. Here's how he treated the people he needed to win over for passage of his traffic congestion plan in the Assembly and the Senate yesterday:

Assembly Democrats griped that Bloomberg hurt his cause by trying to ram through the comprehensive proposal in a short time without listening to the concerns of others.


The mayor spent the day in Albany pushing his plan in private meetings with Spitzer, Bruno and other lawmakers and on the phone with Silver, who pointedly refused to bring his members back to the Capitol yesterday.

During a sometimes-testy hourlong closed-door meeting with the mayor, Senate Democrats said Bloomberg cut off their questions and at times insulted them.

According to two senators, when the mayor was asked a question, he responded, "We sent you a packet of materials on it. Didn't you bother opening your mail?"

"He does not accept criticism and he views advice as criticism," said one Senate Democrat. "He had no answers for complaints that weren't flippant."

Insulting, dictatorial, arrogant, a know-it-all and has to have it his way all the time - gee, don't we already have somebody like that in the White House?

Oh, yeah, we do.

Now clearly Bloomberg - a self-made billionaire robber baron with somewhere between $6 and $22 billion dollars to his name - is more competent than the current White House inhabitant who was born into all his money. And clearly Bloomberg has done a better job of running New York City than Bush has done with the country. But nonetheless, as people these two guys are strikingly similar in personality.

Strangely enough, the members of the press corps, often feted to free cucumber martinis and yummy cocktail weenies by media mogul Bloomberg, don't report much about his personality short-comings. That probably has as much to do with their wanting to leave future job opportunities at Bloomberg Inc. open as their desire to gobble all the free stuff Moneybags gives 'em at every opportunity he can (the free cucumber martinis famously were served to the press at Bloomberg's Presidential Inauguration Party back in 2004.)

Still, when the mayor loses (and let's face it, it doesn't happen very often), people who are paying close attention can see just what a whiny ass titty baby he is. As I noted yesterday, he cannot lose gracefully and he does not EVER believe that he is wrong. His idea of bipartisanship is for everybody to come on board with whatever it is he is doing or whatever it is he wants to do.

On issue after issue - from the NYC public school reorganizations (and Bloomberg's on his third in six years and he doesn't give a shit what kids, parents or teachers think!!!!) to gun control (he wants New York City gun control laws to extend all the way to Virginia and Georgia) to smoking (he banned all indoor smoking in public places...I now inhale a pack of cigarettes every time I pass a bar on 9th Avenue) to food (serving hydrogenated oil in foods in NYC is now illegal) to building free football stadiums for billionaires (he tried to ram that proposal through at a cost of $1 billion to the tax payers before Shelly Silver put a stop to it) to rezoning Manhattan (again, he doesn't give a shit about what anybody in the neighborhood thinks...although he is very concerned what his billionaire real estate cronies think) to his traffic congestion plan, you must believe what he believes and support what he wants 100%. And if you don't, he will try and buy you off or bully you into submission. If the first two fail, he will try to do an end run around you. He's ruthless and without conscience, so most of the time he gets his way. But when he doesn't, he usually has a tantrum, as he did yesterday.

So America, realize that when Bloomberg unleashes $1 billion in advertising to tell you what a competent, non-partisan president he would make, he is trying to deceive you. A vote for him will be a vote for an insulting, arrogant, dictatorial know-it-all who doesn't play well with others and has to have his own way on everything all the time.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bloomberg Has A Temper Tantrum

The NY Times reports that Mayor Moneybags walked out of negotiations for his traffic congestion pricing program in a snit tonight when Assembly and Senate Democrats didn't roll over and give him everything he wanted. This is a long excerpt from the article, but it's worth reading because it gives you some very important insights into who Bloomberg is as a person and as a politician. If this robber baron is going to spend $1 billion or more dollars to define himself to the nation when he runs for president, it's important that people around the country come to see what a rich, arrogant bully he is:

ALBANY, July 16 —Lawmakers this evening shelved Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to charge motorists who drive into the busiest parts of Manhattan, dealing a setback to the mayor as he attempts to raise his national profile and tout his environmental initiatives.

The State Senate, which had convened in a special session in Albany, ended its session without taking up the plan after it became apparent that the votes for passage were not there.

Meanwhile, Democrats who control the State Assembly refused to gather in Albany, and the speaker, Sheldon Silver, unveiled a proposal to send the issue to a study commission that would also consider other ways to reduce traffic.

Together, the developments suggested that, barring a dramatic reversal, prospects for passage of the mayor’s plan this year were bleak.


The plan called for imposing an $8 fee on cars and $21 on trucks that enter Manhattan below 86th Street during the workday.

In a tense meeting yesterday, testy exchanges erupted between the mayor and the Democratic state senators he was trying to win over. At one point, according to several people present, Mr. Bloomberg told the senators that his administration had sent plenty of information about his plan in the mail, and that it was not his fault if they had not read it.

“If the mayor came in with one vote, he left with none,” said Senator Kevin S. Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat.

“His posture was not ingratiating,” he said. “He says he doesn’t know politics, and he certainly bore that out by the way he behaved.”

So angered were Democrats that they decided to vote as bloc to defeat the measure, and there were not nearly enough votes among the Republican senators for it to pass.


Senate Democrats were particularly upset when the mayor told them he was “not political,” with several asking him why he had then supported their opponents or why he had been such a fervent financial supporter of Senate Republicans.

“I think several members during the meeting with the mayor referenced their disappointment that he left the Republican Party but still swore his allegiance, basically, to keeping Joe Bruno as the majority leader,” said Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat. “The mayor tried to explain that he wasn’t political. But most of us in politics don’t believe that any mayor is not political.”

Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, a Manhattan Democrat, said, “I think my conference has gone from split on congestion pricing to quite hostile.”

Nice work, Moneybags. You killed your own plan with your arrogance and bullying.

If you're keeping score, this is the second time the mayor has suffered a major defeat - remember that Shelly Silver killed the mayor's proposal to spend $1 billion of New York tax payers' money to handcraft a football stadium for his billionaire buddy Robert Wood Johnson and a platform over the West Side rail yards to provide land for his billionaire real estate buddies to erect luxury buildings.

Moneybags, with more money than god and just a little less money than Bill Gates, is not used to not getting his way on everything and it shows. He certainly cannot lose gracefully.

But then again, what robber baron can?


The news media headlines keep screaming that we are hitting ALL-TIME HIGHS on both the Dow Jones and the S&P. The subtext to all the hype is the U.S. economy is doing pretty well all things considered ($74 oil/subprime mess/U.S. trade deficit/record budget deficits/negative personal savings rate.) But Lance Lewis at Minyanville says not so fast on the self-congratulatory backslapping because the boys and girls in charge are fucking with the stats to make it SEEM like everything is okay but we are really facing a period of increasingly high inflation:

People seem to be pretty excited about the new all-time high in the S&P500 yesterday.

But it's too bad that the "new high" wasn't even a new high for the year (or the month) when we denominate the SPX in a "hard currency" like the euro instead of the collapsing U.S. peso... errrr... I mean "dollar".

When we denominate the S&P 500 in gold, which has been a "harder" currency than even the euro, the picture looks even worse.

The mob may be distracted by "New Highs!" headlines long enough to forget about the fact that they are still worse off than they were seven years ago, but the fact remains that anybody sitting in U.S. stocks is still down huge from the peak when it comes to purchasing power. And growing one's purchasing power is obviously the reason why one invests in anything at the end of the day.

During the days of the Roman Empire, Roman emperors that were in trouble economically (or on the battlefield) would often distract the mob with multiple weeks of gladiatorial games that were free for the public in the hopes that the mob would forget about the troubling reality of the moment.

Today, the U.S. public is similarly being duped by watching U.S. stocks make new highs and being told how great things are. Unfortunately, they're not great when one factors in inflation, and what appears to have been an economic miracle since the bursting of the bubble four years ago has in actuality just been a massive inflation. There are no magic bullets for a historic misallocation of capital. Inflation only masks it for a while.

Speaking of which, what exactly is the rate of inflation in the U.S.? Well, if we look at the pre-Clinton administration’s formula for the CPI, for example, the headline rate of inflation is running at above 6%. If we use the CPI version that was in place back in 1980, headline inflation is running at over 10%. (Thanks to for that data).

Meanwhile, that inflation is showing no sign of abating either given that the dollar (a leading inflationary indicator) continues to make new lows on daily basis against just about every piece of confetti on the planet. I've discussed before why I don't believe the U.S. dollar index is that great of a proxy for the U.S. dollar (see here), but even this index has recently returned to its 2004 lows.


Never mind the Gentle Ben and his merry men down at the Fed (which are being effectively forced to pretend there's "no inflation" due to the housing bust), but how long can stock bulls and bond bulls pretend that there is "no inflation" given all these troubling signs?

The bond bulls already seem to be in trouble given the recent crack in the secular downtrend of US bond yields, but stock bulls are still under the delusion that we're experiencing "Goldilocks", which we're not (see here).

For now, depreciating dollars are still chasing just about anything that isn’t nailed down, except for the U.S. residential real estate and U.S. consumer credit markets, and I suspect that is going to also include U.S. stocks for a while longer, but those stocks that benefit from the continued rise in inflation (like the oil and gold shares) should outperform.

Stock bulls like to say that there is still a massive amount of “liquidity” sloshing around, and on this point I agree wholeheartedly. The difference between myself and most stock bulls is our perception of what “liquidity” is. Liquidity stemming from too many pieces of confetti looking for something to chase before the value of that confetti drops even more is not bullish for financial assets that are denominated in that particular piece of confetti. And in this case, the primary piece of confetti is the dollar.

Now, that liquidity mass is already avoiding certain asset classes in the U.S., like U.S. residential real estate and its credit markets. Next comes a liquidity preference away from the U.S. stock market, as more and more “liquidity” moves into “bad stuff” like gold and other hard assets (and yes, even residential real estate again eventually), but long before it gets back into residential real estate again, people should finally begin to see this “liquidity” for what it actually is: a massive inflation. And like all inflations, they are only seen for what they are long after the events that actually precipitated them and sowed the seeds of the inflation.

In this case, the inflationary wave began six years ago when Uncle Al began slashing interest rates and effectively monetized the biggest stock bubble in the history of the world. And that inflation continues to feed through to the real world today. We saw that inflation first occur in U.S. residential real estate prices, and we continue to see it today in the continued rise in commodity price inflation and the collapsing dollar. And the Fed can't (and won't) do a thing about it because of the housing bust’s drag on the fragile US economy.

Stocks are still benefiting from this inflationary phenomenon too, thanks to the stronger global economy even though the U.S. economy remains weak, but eventually that won’t be the case once inflation and long-term interest rates (which rise as a consequence of inflation) rise enough to compress equity valuations. Those who were around in the 1970s know what I am talking about. Unfortunately, where exactly “enough is” is unknowable until after we reach it.

What sort of asset performs the best in such a stagflationary environment historically?

Answer: "stores of value".

And the ultimate store of value throughout recorded history has been gold, or in 21st century terms, "GLD" (which, by the way, has inhaled about 21 tonnes of yellow metal over the last 6 trading days).

I think that about sums up "where we are."

I dunno about you, but if I hear one more shill from CNBC, MSNBC or Bloomberg tell me how "tame" core inflation is when U.S. crude is over $74 a barrel (Brent Crude is closer to $79 a barrel), the gallon of gas average in the U.S. is currently at $3.06 (and that's BEFORE prime hurricane season), food prices are up every time I go the farmer's market or grocery store and I cannot find a decent 1 bedroom apartment rental in Manhattan for under $3100 a month (or buy one for under $800,000 ), I want to pull an Elvis and shoot my television.

But never mind, ignore what your eyes and wallets are telling you and agree with Bill Kristol, Larry Kudlow and the rest of the Bushie shills - this is the bestest economy ever!!!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Just Like On 9/11

Consistently the Bush administration and its allies in Congress and the media blame much of the insurgent violence in Iraq on Iran (and to a lesser extent Syria), but the LA Times says not so fast:

BAGHDAD — Although Bush administration officials have frequently lashed out at Syria and Iran, accusing it of helping insurgents and militias here, the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from a third neighbor, Saudi Arabia, according to a senior U.S. military officer and Iraqi lawmakers.

About 45% of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15% are from Syria and Lebanon; and 10% are from North Africa, according to official U.S. military figures made available to The Times by the senior officer. Nearly half of the 135 foreigners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis, he said.

Fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than those of any other nationality, said the senior U.S. officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity. It is apparently the first time a U.S. official has given such a breakdown on the role played by Saudi nationals in Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency.

He said 50% of all Saudi fighters in Iraq come here as suicide bombers. In the last six months, such bombings have killed or injured 4,000 Iraqis.

After 9/11, the administration tried to tie Saddam and Iraq to the attacks against the WTC and the Pentagon when the overwhelming majority of the attackers were from Saudi Arabia.

They did this because they wanted to attack Iraq.

Once again, the administration is trying to tie Iran to attacks in Iraq when an overwhlming number of attackers are from Saudi Arabia.

They do this because they want to attack Iran.

I wonder if Americans have learned one of the lessons of 9/11 yet.

Which is: Don't believe a word of what these fuckers in the administration say.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Staging A Terrorist Attack

Usually you hear the accusations that the Bush administration may try and stage a terrorist attack here in the United States in order to revive public support for the Iraq war and its War on Terror policies come from people on the tin foil left. But yesterday, Republican Congressman Ron Paul made the same accusation:

Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Ron Paul, said the country is in "great danger" of the U.S. government staging a terrorist attack or a Gulf of Tonkin style provocation, as the war in Iraq continues to deteriorate.

The Texas congressman offered no specifics nor mentioned President Bush by name, but he clearly insinuated that the administration would not be above staging an incident to revive flagging support.

"We're in danger in many ways," Paul said on the Alex Jones radio show. "The attack on our civil liberties here at home, the foreign policy that's in shambles and our obligations overseas and commitment which endangers our troops and our national defense."

Paul was asked to respond to comments by anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan that the U.S. is in danger of a staged terror attack or a provocation of an enemy similar to the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 before the Vietnam War.

During the radio interview, Paul said the government was conducting "an orchestrated effort to blame the Iranians for everything that has gone wrong in Iraq."

Conservative blogger and contributor to The American Conservative Cunning Realist has noted how many wingers have started a "Waiting for Yamamoto" movement.

The phrase refers to the Japanese admiral who led the surprise attack against Pearl Harbor in 1941 that ultimately spurred the United States to enter WW II after three years of sitting on the sidelines watching the rest of the world fight it out.

There has always been some conjecture that the United States government knew the Japanese were going to attack but purposely allowed the Pearl Harbor strike in order to wake up a complacent American populace to the dangers of Fascism.

The current "Waiting for Yamamoto" movement is waiting for a similar surprise strike in the domestic United States to wake up the "somnolent masses" to the dangers of "Islamofascism." In this scenario, "another Pearl Harbor" in the United States becomes, in Realist's words,

as much an opportunity as a disaster. How else to wake up those who aren't sufficiently afraid?

Ron Paul says the "Waiting for Yamamoto" movement might take it one more step - they might stage their own Pearl Harbor.

Gotta love it when crackpot theories usually pushed by the tin foil hat crowd now seem plausible.

Anybody want to give me a date for the next Pearl Harbor?

POSTSCRIPT: Realist's latest "Yamamoto" posts are here and here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Been working this week with high school juniors at a college essay writing workshop. 90+ degree heat, 9 hour days, and my brain is mush by the end of the day.

Normal blogging will resume as soon as my brain mush hardens back into some normal form.

Hypocrite Update: Vitter Part Deux

It was revealed yesterday that Senator David Vitter (R-LA) likes to schtup prostitutes. His phone number showed up on the DC Madam's list and another madam down in Louisiana said Vitter was a regular customer at her brothel in New Orleans. Vitter issued a public apology and said "This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible." And yet Vitter, who ran on a platform of "Family Values" and who said back in 2004 that biggest threat facing the United States was the erosion of traditional marriage, really hasn't taken responsibility for his behavior. At least not the kind of responsibility he has wanted other politicians to take for sexual miscues:

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) first got his start in Congress after replacing former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), who “abruptly resigned after disclosures of numerous affairs” in 1998. At the time, Vitter argued that an extramarital affair was grounds for resignation:

“I think Livingston’s stepping down makes a very powerful argument that Clinton should resign as well and move beyond this mess,” he said. [Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 12/20/98]

Shouldn't Vitter step down too so we can "move beyond this mess"? Or is Vitter judging himself by different standards than Clinton and Livingston.

POSTSCRIPT: As part of the hypocrisy update, Lou Dobbs said last night on CNN that by saying he takes responsibility for his actions, Vitter has made the scandal all better and everybody should forgive and forget and move on. But Dobbs conveniently ignored Vitter's own past sanctimonies with other philandering politicians when he said Vitter had shown more character than other politicians caught in similar scandals. Not a surprise. Dobbs himself is a sanctimonious asshole (though he's not big on pointing out other people's sexual miscues...rather it's brown people that gets him going...)

SECOND POSTSCRIPT: One final note on the Vitter matter. I heard someone say yesterday that if the politicians are going back to schtupping prostitutes, at least the interns are safe again.

To which I reply "Amen, brother!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


From the Associated Press:

U.S. counterterror officials are warning of an increased risk of an attack this summer, given al-Qaida's apparent interest in summertime strikes and increased al-Qaida training in the Afghan-Pakistani border region.

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune that he had a "gut feeling" about a new period of increased risk.

He based his assessment on earlier patterns of terrorists in Europe and intelligence he would not disclose.

"Summertime seems to be appealing to them," Chertoff said in his discussion with the newspaper about terrorists. "We worry that they are rebuilding their activities."

He's issuing a terror alert on a "gut feeling"?

Jesus, these people running the country are morons.

Hypocrite: David Vitter Edition

Senator David Vitter denied allegations back in 2004 that he was schtupping a prostitute. Said those allegations were politically motivated. Imagine the surprise of all concerned when he showed up on the DC Madam's client list:

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) apologized last night after his telephone number appeared in the phone records of the woman dubbed the "D.C. Madam," making him the first member of Congress to become ensnared in the high-profile case.

The statement containing Vitter's apology said his telephone number was included on phone records of Pamela Martin and Associates dating from before he ran for the Senate in 2004.


Vitter is in his first Senate term after serving six years in the House. During his Senate campaign, Vitter was accused by a member of the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee of carrying on a lengthy affair with a prostitute in New Orleans's French Quarter.

In a radio interview, Vitter then called the allegation "absolutely and completely untrue" and dismissed it as "just crass Louisiana politics."

David Vitter would be a hypocrite and a liar - bet Rudy Giuliani is happy Vitter became the first Republican senator to officially back Rudy's presidential bid. Between the crack dealers (Rudy's former campaign chair in South Carolina) and the johns, Rudy's really got a classy clientele himself.


From the Washington Post:

As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse," Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information that they were not entitled to have. It was one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations that Gonzales received in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate intelligence committee, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The acts recounted in the FBI reports included unauthorized surveillance, an illegal property search and a case in which an Internet firm improperly turned over a compact disc with data that the FBI was not entitled to collect, the documents show. Gonzales was copied on each report that said administrative rules or laws protecting civil liberties and privacy had been violated.

The reports also alerted Gonzales in 2005 to problems with the FBI's use of an anti-terrorism tool known as a national security letter (NSL), well before the Justice Department's inspector general brought widespread abuse of the letters in 2004 and 2005 to light in a stinging report this past March.

Between the warrantless wiretap scandal, the Prosecutor Purge, the violations of Patriot Act provisions, the torture memos and just general incompetence, shouldn't Gonzo be gone by now?

The short answer is - yes.

But as long as all those brave Republicans in Congress continue to back the preznut on the matter, Gonzo goes nowhere.

Brave Republicans.

Democrats must remind voters about that come November 2008.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Yay!!! Americans Are Increasing Their Credit Card Debt

I love reading business stories like this:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Consumer borrowing posted a hefty increase in May, reflecting the biggest jump in credit card debt in six months.

The Federal Reserve reported Monday that consumer credit rose at an annual rate of 6.4 percent in May, far above the small 1.1 percent gain of April. The advance was about double what analysts had been expecting.


The size of the increase caught economists by surprise, although they had been expecting a pickup from the sluggish performance in May, when the 1.1 percent rise in overall credit was the smallest gain since a 0.1 percent rise in October.

The overall economy, weighed down by a steep slump in housing, grew at a lackluster rate of 0.7 percent in the January-to-March quarter, the weakest showing in more than four years.

But economists believe strength in employment and consumer spending will help provide a stronger performance in the April-June quarter, with many looking for the gross domestic product to expand at a rate of 3.5 percent or even better.

The report on consumer borrowing will provide support for the view that consumer spending has held up, despite the weakness in home sales and soaring gasoline prices during the spring.

What good news - people are taking on more credit card debt than ever!!!

God, it brings a tear to my eye to see Americans doing their patriotic duty and taking on as much credit card debt as they can to keep the economy revving.

According to Bennet Sedacca at Minyanville, total household debt has exploded 100% of GDP, total credit market debt has risen from 150% to nearly 350% of GDP.

No wonder the economy hasn't tanked yet - we keep borrowing in order to keep it going.

You have to wonder how much longer that can go on, especially as inflation rises both domestically and across the globe and cheap money starts to disappear.

You also have to wonder what happens when some of the chips on that debt start to get called in.

Trouble Ahead?

The NY Times has an article on how the increasing rate of foreclosures in Atlanta is wreaking havoc with an already soft housing market in that area and may portend bad things for housing markets across the country:

ATLANTA — Despite a vibrant local economy, Atlanta homeowners are falling behind on mortgage payments and losing their homes at one of the highest rates in the nation, offering a troubling glimpse of what experts fear may be in store for other parts of the country.

The real estate slump here and elsewhere is likely to worsen, given that most of the adjustable rate mortgages written in the last three years will be reset with higher interest rates, said Christopher F. Thornberg, an economist with Beacon Economics in Los Angeles. As a result, borrowers of an estimated $800 billion in loans will be forced in the next 12 months to 18 months to make bigger monthly payments, refinance or sell their homes.

A big reason the fallout is occurring faster here is a Georgia law that permits lenders to foreclose on properties more quickly than in other states. The problems include not just people losing their homes, but also sharp declines in property values, particularly in lower-income and working-class neighborhoods.

For example, a three-bedroom house near Turner Field, where the Atlanta Braves baseball team plays, fetched a high bid late last month of $134,000 at an auction by the bank that took possession of it. Almost three years ago, the new home was bought for $330,000.

While the surge in foreclosures in other big cities like Cleveland, New Orleans and Detroit can be attributed to local economic challenges, Atlanta more closely reflects the nation. Its unemployment rate, 4.9 percent in May, is low and close to the national average of 4.5 percent. And businesses here are adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace than they were last year.


Atlanta also serves as a microcosm for some broader national trends: wages have been stagnant for much of this decade, homeowners have taken on record amounts of debt, and mortgage fraud has been on the rise.

“We are a very affordable place,” said Mike Alexander, the chief of research at the Atlanta Regional Commission, an organization that serves local governments. “But our incomes are very low, and if anything went wrong, it would be very hard for people to maintain their homes.”

Can anything head off the oncoming train wreck when all these ARM's reset?

Sure - lower interest rates. Then many people can redo their loans at lower rates and save their homes from foreclosure (not to mention their neighborhoods from decreasing home values.)

But central banks across the globe raising interest rates, not lowering them, and with a steady increase in real inflation in this country (i.e., not the bullshit core inflation rate but the inflation rate with the actual increased costs people are paying for food and energy in it), there seems little chance the Federal Reserve is going to cut rates any time soon.

So, I ask again, can anything head off the oncoming train wreck when all these ARM's reset?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Hypocrisy Update: Fred Thompson Edition

The LA Times reported on Friday that Fred Thompson helped a family planning group lobby the first Bush administration to ease the "gag rule" that bars health clinics that receive federal money from offering abortion counseling to pregnant women. Jonathan Martin at The Politico says here's how you'll know if the story is potentially deadly to Thompson's support from social conservatives:

Recognizing the danger the story poses, Thompson's camp pushed back hard, offering an outright denial that he ever worked for the organization. But it's been picked up by the AP wire, has moved on Drudge and the NYT, playing catch-up, ran with their own version this morning, also.

For Thompson, the news is threatening because it weaves together two of his biggest vulnerabilities to date -- that the red truck-driving good ole boy also happens to be a longtime Washington lobbyist and that his current abortion denunciations don't jibe with previous views.

Some social conservative leaders -- desperate for "option d" -- have pinned their hopes on Thompson with little regard to his past stances. If they respond -- as some Thompson defenders already have -- by attacking the attackers, we'll know it's true love. That is to say, if the specter of Thompson lobbying for an abortion rights group isn't enough to cool their ardor, nothing will.

Which just goes to prove that not only is Fred Thompson a fucking hypocrite, so are most of his social conservative, "pro-life" supporters.

Now You're Talking

Robert Novak writes that the reporters following Barack Obama on the campaign trail have very little access to him and therefore find him "aloof":

Obama traveled in an SUV, at first alone and later with his family. No reporter ever entered the SUV, and Obama never visited the bus containing the reporters. One scheduled press availability was trimmed to 10 minutes.

Contrast Obama's treatment of the press with Bill Clinton's treatment as he joined his wife on a recent campaign swing in Iowa:

Obama's aloofness contrasted with Bill Clinton, accompanying Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in Iowa the same week. At the Dairy Treat in Nashua, Iowa, the former president whipped out $60 and bought malts for reporters following his wife.
Do not underestimate the power of free malts (or free cocktail weenies, free cucumber martinis or other assorted free goodies) to buy excellent coverage from the press. While allowing access to the candidate certainly helps (the McCain of 2000 allowed almost 24 hour access to the candidate for the press and you'll remember that they became his biggest fan base and constituency for a long, long time (until his Iraq war stance ruined it), free stuff helps even more.

BTW, McCain knew that in 2000 too. Tucker Carlson wrote this in his book Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites:

McCain ran an entire presidential campaign aimed primarily at journalists. He understood that the first contest in a presidential race is always the media primary. He campaigned hard to win it. To a greater degree than any candidate in thirty years, McCain offered reporters the three things they want most: total access all the time, an endless stream of amusing quotes, and vast quantities of free booze. . . .

I saw reporters call McCain "John," sometimes even to his face and in public. I hear others, usually at night in the hotel bar, slip into the habit of referring to the McCain campaign as "we"- as in, "I hope we kill Bush." It was wrong, but it was hard to resist.

These days McCain seems to have forgotten what he knew in 2000 about trying to win the "media primary." And Barack Obama never seems to have learned it (perhaps a good thing for the ethical nature of his candidacy, though not for the efficacy of it.) But Bill Clinton, ever the charmer (or scammer), seems to know a little something about it...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

On The Run

Deadly day in Iraq:

TUZ KHORMATO, Iraq - A string of suicide bombings killed at least 73 people and wounded dozens in Shiite villages north of Baghdad, including a large truck bombing Saturday that ripped through an outdoor market and buried victims in rubble, officials said.

The quick succession of blasts within hours of each other suggested that Sunni militants are regrouping to launch their deadliest form of attack — suicide explosions, often against Shiites — in regions further away from Baghdad, beyond the edges of a three-week old U.S. offensive on the capital’s northern flank.

The U.S. military on Saturday also reported that six American service members were killed in fighting in Baghdad and western Anbar province over two days, reflecting the increased U.S. death toll that has come with the new offensives.

Meanwhile, Huckleberry Graham (R-SC) says we're making great progress in Iraq and "have the enemy on the run":

WASHINGTON — While some Republican senators break with President Bush over Iraq, Sen. Lindsey Graham has returned from his seventh wartime visit there with renewed hope that the U.S. troop buildup is producing results.


"The military part of the surge is working beyond my expectations," Graham said. "We literally have the enemy on the run. The Sunni part of Iraq has really rejected al Qaida all over the country. We're getting more information about al Qaida operations than we've ever received."

Holy Joe Lieberman
also said last week that the U.S. military surge has the enemy "on the run."

It seems the surge does have the enemy on the run - right out of Baghdad and into other areas of Iraq to kill, maim, and terrorize as per usual.

POSTSCRIPT: The death toll for U.S. military personnel stands at 3601 today.

UPDATE: Death toll in Iraq today is much higher than previously reported:

A deadly truck bombing in a busy market in northern Iraq has killed 105 people and injured 240, police say.

The morning blast destroyed the market in the small town of Amirli, south of Kirkuk, killing many people instantly and trapping dozens among the rubble.

It was the deadliest single attack in Iraq since April, correspondents say.

It came as 29 people were killed in separate violence, including 22 people who died overnight in Diyala province when a suicide bomber hit a cafe.


In other violence, police said a family of seven sleeping on a Baghdad roof died when a mortar hit the building.

The dead reportedly included a couple and their four children, aged nine to 17, as well as a relative.

Many Iraqis choose to spend hot summer nights sleeping on the roof of their home because of frequent electricity failures.

They can't get the fucking electricity grid to work, so people sleep on the roofs of their homes to try and stay cool. Then we can't keep the people sleeping on the roofs of their homes safe from mortar rounds. And of course just when the Bush administration and its allies like Lieberman, Graham and McCain start crowing about a decrease in violence (in this case, the recent decrease in large car bombs), the insurgents strike with impunity just to show how full of shit the Americans are.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Iraq Progress Update

Via the BBC:

The build-up of US troops in Iraq is now complete. The level of violence has not decreased, with attacks shifting away from places where US forces are concentrated, such as Baghdad and Anbar, into other, less defended provinces, says the BBC's Defence and Security correspondent Rob Watson.

During the seven-day period ending on 4 July, there were 617 violent deaths compared to 299 for the week before. As in the previous two weeks, most of those killed were civilians - 365 of them. There was also a big increase in the reported deaths of insurgents, up from 98 dead last week to 175.

These figures are from the Iraqi Interior Ministry, whose figures are consistently lower than anyone else's estimates of casualties.

The US military suffered 19 dead, bringing the total US toll to 3,586. More than 5,800 Iraqi police and recruits have been killed in the same period since 2005 - including 65 this week, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, which quotes Pentagon figures.

As everyday life goes on despite the violence, Iraqi civilians have to contend with other difficulties - from long power cuts and lack of jobs to fuel queues.

The families helping paint a picture of these hardships in this survey are from different areas of the city - which can mean different pressures according to the religious make-up of the area and the subsequent security risks.

Family 1 is located in Palestine street, a Shia neighbourhood in the east of the capital.

Family 2 is located in Zayouna, a mixed neighbourhood in south-east Baghdad.

Family 3 lives in Saba Abkar, a northern Sunni neighbourhood.

The life indicators have remained largely unchanged over the past three weeks. If anything, they report petrol being even more expensive than last week and they are getting less electricity from the grid - for two of the families less than an hour on average per day.

Some Iraqis are able to supplement their electricity supply with power from privately run generators, but this is expensive.

Fuel queues can last anything for up to nine hours, but the black market price for 20 litres of fuel is 25,000 Iraqi dinars (US $20), almost two and half times that at petrol stations.

Gas cylinders are also 25,000 Iraqi dinars on the black market. They cost 4,000 dinars (US $3.20) at petrol stations.

Food shortages are also a problem in some quarters - people said they had difficulty buying food in al-Fadhil this week because the neighbourhood was shut down by the national guards after fighting broke out between locals and the Mehdi army militia.

One of the hospitals covered by the survey provides some grim details about the death toll.

Al-Yarmouk received 10 limbs with the rest of the bodies missing, 22 victims who had been beheaded, 45 people killed by one car bomb alone in the al-Baaya district and the bodies of 13 people who had been shot in the head.

Al-Yarmouk has between 35 and 40 doctors, 60 to 65 medical assistants, and six doctors in the Emergency Unit, which is open 24 hours a day.

Al-Kindi hospital has 14 consultants, and four doctors for the Emergency Unit.

There is no progress in Iraq, despite what Holy Joe Lieberman, St. John McCain, or Huckleberry Graham say in the news media.

With Repubs fasting jumping from the sinking ship (Lugar, Voinovich and Domenici being the latest to say publicly that the surge is NOT working), it is becoming increasingly clear that soon only Lieberman, McCain and Graham will be left backing Bush's Iraq war policy.

Unfortunately for the country, many of the Repubs turning from the preznut's policy still do not have the guts to back a policy that will truly end the war.

And so it goes.

Crooks: Fred Thompson Edition

Earlier this week we learned that Law & Order star and potential GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson was a mole for the Nixon White House who worked "hammer and tong to defeat the investigation of finding out what happened to authorize Watergate and find out what the role of the president was" when he held the position of minority counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee. According to the Boston Globe this revelation, which Thompson does not deny, is "strikingly at odds with the former Tennessee senator's longtime image as an independent-minded prosecutor who helped bring down the president he admired" - an image which Thompson touts on his website.

Thompson also touts his image as a law and order guy - an image which is helped by his portrayal of a no-nonsense prosecutor on the show Law & Order. But we know from Thompson's position on the Scooter Libby commutation and his actions as the chairman for the Free Scooter Fund (which raised tens of millions of dollars for Libby's defense) that Thompson believes law and order should only pertain to people outside of his circle of friends and political allies. If you're politically connected and part of the Republican Party establishment, then perjury and obstruction of justice are not sufficiently serious enough to send you to jail (although interestingly, Thompson did think perjury was enough to get Bill Clinton impeached.) Again, this undercuts his image as a tough-talking, no-nonsense law and order guy.

And today we learn that Thompson, who has worked for over 20 years as a lobbyist, has also shilled for crooks outside the political spectrum. Ken Bazinet has the story in the NY Daily News:

WASHINGTON - All-but-declared GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson is shilling for a company whose co-founder was accused of secretly tapping into people's bank accounts.

The ex-"Law & Order" actor is airing a one-minute radio spot around the country for LifeLock, an identity-protection company co-founded by Robert Maynard.

"It's part of his contract at ABC Radio Networks. Like the other on-air talent, they are contractually obligated to do some commercials," said Thompson spokesman Mark Corallo.

As first reported in the Los Angeles Times, the Federal Trade Commission alleged in 1996 that Maynard got account numbers from consumers by peddling himself as a credit-repair expert who would clean up their credit reports.

Maynard settled the case without admitting to the charge, though he did agree to get out of the credit-fixing business.

ABC Radio Networks and Thompson's spokesman said LifeLock is a legitimate company and he will continue to promote it. Maynard resigned last month as LifeLock's marketing director when his past was revealed, but he remains a consultant and shareholder.


"He's lobbying for the powerful special interests ... serving as the pitchman for a company whose owner is accused of fraud," said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Stacie Paxton. "It's pretty clear that Fred Thompson stands for what's best for him and his special interest friends, not the American people," she added.

So far, the LifeLock ad is the only spot Thompson has done for ABC Radio Networks. The former Tennessee senator does "The Fred Thompson Report" and is a stand-in for Paul Harvey.

Got to love the spin from Thompson's spokesman - "Hey, it's not Fred's fault he's shilling for a guy who stole money from people's bank accounts, he has to do this commercial as part of his radio contract."

Except that this is the only commercial he has made as part of that contract.

Nice, huh - Thompson is shilling for a company run by a guy who betrayed the trust of his customers by emptying their bank accounts and Thompson sees nothing wrong with it.

I detect a pattern here.

Elect Thompson and expect he and his friends to rob you blind and expect Thompson to pardon them to make sure they do no time.

Remember, law and order is ONLY for people outside of the Republican Party establishment and/or Thompson's circle of friends and business associates.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Hey, Bill - Fix Your Own Goddamned Products Before You Turn Your Hand To Education

Bill Gates styles himself an educrat. He's thrown lots of money into the small schools movement here in NYC (wherein the chancellor closes "big schools" - regardless of whether they work or not - because they're too "big" and opens seventeen smaller ones in the same school building and calls them successes) and is bankrolling a major "issue campaign " for the '08 election (longer school days/longer school year, national standards, additional standardized testing are the major issues he's pushing.) Gates consistently pushes for "accountability" for teachers, which means undercutting teachers unions and collective bargaining, as these two things undermine accountability in Gates' eyes.

But given the shit Microsoft produces on a daily basis, I wonder if Gates shouldn't institute some "accountability standards" for himself and his company. First, here's the latest problems Microsoft is having with it's incredibly troubled Xbox 360 console:

Three flashing red lights are joining the blue-screen of death atop the list of things that Microsoft Corp. customers dread.

Troubled by a high rate of malfunctions in its Xbox 360 game consoles, Microsoft said today that it would extend its warranty from one year to three years for consoles that experienced the "three red flashing lights" error message.

The company also plans to fix or replace all game systems that go on the fritz and to reimburse customers who had their broken consoles fixed.


Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft plans to take a financial charge of more than $1 billion in its fiscal fourth quarter, which ended June 30, to pay for the repairs and extended warranty program.

Microsoft said the glitch, which causes the console to freeze up, affects a small percentage of units. But analysts say the financial effect was substantial, effectively adding $100 in cost for each of the nearly 12 million consoles the company has sold since the Xbox 360's debut in November 2005.

Now how about all the fun you can have with the "glitches" in Microsoft's latest operating system. Here's the tech writer from USA Today discussing how Vista crippled his computer (and if you Google "Vista" and "problems" and/or "consumer complaints," you will find that he is not alone by a long shot):

First came the little things.

I had been warned ahead of time that some of my software would suddenly report that it needed to be activated, which turned out to be the case. That wasn't too bad; I just dug up my various serial numbers.

And although I have nothing to sync, Vista's Sync Center insists on putting an icon on my Start bar's notification area. Worse, I couldn't even start it; clicking "Open Sync Center" did nothing. The icon just sat there, taking up space.

Then the real problems started. When I opened a folder that contained both pictures and video files, Windows Explorer crashed. I had to wait several seconds for it to reload, at which point all my desktop icons were rearranged. Turns out it's a problem with how Vista tries to create thumbnail of videos.

Then I discovered that Vista would not allow Firefox to be my default browser no matter how hard I insisted. I even turned off Internet Explorer through the Default Programs control. Still, any link I clicked in an e-mail message would open in IE, while Firefox confidently told me it was set as my default browser.

I finally fixed this by not only disabling IE through Default Programs, but by delving into Vista's Registry and manually changing some keys, replacing IE with Firefox. (If you don't know about editing the Registry, don't worry — it's not something for the casual user.)

It worked, but there is no way I should have to resort to editing the Registry to use Firefox the way I wanted to.

But that was nothing compared to what happened next.


I was trying to set up a daily backup, simply copying all my stuff from one hard drive to a second one, without any kind of compression.

Vista stores all my documents and settings in a single folder called /users/AK. So all I had to do was back up that entire folder.

I tried Microsoft's own (and excellent) RoboCopy tool. It gave me an error. I tried 2BrightSparks's (also excellent) SyncBack. Another error. I tried a neat one I found called Karen's Replicator. Ditto.

All three had the same problem: A path was too long. I apparently had too many nested folders.

I looked more closely and found the problem. They were all trying to back up C:\users\AK\Application Data \Application Data \Application Data \Application Data … and so on, ad infinitum.


I Googled and found the answer. Vista stores its application data in a folder called AppData. Previous version of Windows used \Local Settings\Application Data.

To make sure old programs can find the new folder, Microsoft added hidden files called "junctions." If a program tries to access "Application Data" path, the junction sends it to "AppData."

I had run into an infinite loop. The Application Data folder redirected the software to the AppData folder, where somehow there was some reference back to Application Data. It looped forever.

The only way to fix a screwy junction was by using one of a handful of obscure programs some obscure programmers have created, all of which warn you, essentially, not to use them. Ironic, but true. Still, I messed and removed the troublesome hidden file and my backup software started working.

Other problems ranged from the mildly annoying (there's no simple way to remove items from the "New" context menu) to the absolutely frustrating.

In that latter category is the latest bugaboo: Photoshop suddenly decided to stop working. It told me "an error has been detected with a required application library" and refused to run. No amount of coaxing would change things, and neither running the program as Administrator nor reinstalling helped.

Finally, after much searching, I found the only solution that worked: I got Vista to reveal its hidden Administrator account, which I logged into. Now Photoshop works. So I moved all my stuff and now I log in as Administrator. I'm not supposed to – it's a security risk – but it's that or do without Photoshop.

Even as Administrator, minor problems persist. Shortcuts to search folders cause Windows Explorer to crash. Photo Gallery doesn't rotate images properly. In short, unlike with XP, when I sit down I'm never 100% sure things are going to work properly.

If someone out there feels like spotting me the cash for a 20-inch, 2.33-GHz iMac and Photoshop, I'd be grateful.

I myself have had a nightmare of a time because of the Microsoft Genuine Validation program. Microsoft instituted the program to derail people running pirated copies of Windows, but unfortunately for many people running genuine copies of Windows, the Microsoft Genuine Validation program reads some genuine copies as "pirated". This happened to my machine and the upshot was that I cannot download many Microsoft updates (some security ones), cannot update Windows Media Player and other Microsoft apps (which means no purchasing legal music as wmv's because they only play on the latest Media Player) and have had to turn off the Automatic Updates and try and download the Security updates manually when they are issued. Also, my machine used to lock up and my hard drive crashed until I figured out what the problem was (and believe me, I had to figure it out myself - the clowns who work for Microsoft NEVER figured out what the problem was even after I communicated with them by email no less than 30 times!)

As for other problems Microsoft problems have caused people, just Google "Microsoft" and "Consumer Complaints" and you'll see that they're literally in the hundreds of thousands. Clearly Bill Gates puts out some pretty shitty products, though given the hard-ass business tactics he's used over the years, he's been able to either buy out or destroy almost all of his competition in various areas and create a near monopoly, which is why people actually buys Gates' crapola. Nonetheless, I wish Gates would turn away from the one area he seems to know less about than computers (which is education) and just try and put out some products that fucking do what they're supposed to do.

Gates is just a Robber Baron scumbag, so I'm not surprised that he doesn't give a shit about the crap his company produces or the trouble he causes people. But I wish the fawning media would bring up the ineptitude and incompetence with which he runs his own company (and yes, I know technically he has stepped down from day-to-day running of the company, but you and I know he still calls the shots) when he shows up to talk about the ineptitude and incompetence he sees in the school systems all across this nation.

So Much For Being "Non-Partisan" And "Independent"

Mayor Moneybags is full of shit about the independent, non-partisan thing:

At the same time that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has been traveling the country in recent weeks decrying partisan politics, he has been quietly sending a very different message to the state’s Republican Party: I will continue to support the G.O.P. team.

On June 19, shortly before Mr. Bloomberg announced that he was leaving the Republican Party, he telephoned the state’s most powerful Republican, Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader.

The mayor wanted Mr. Bruno to know the announcement was coming. But Mr. Bloomberg, a major contributor to New York Republicans, also sought to reassure the majority leader that despite the change, he would still back Mr. Bruno and his Republican colleagues in the Senate.

“He will support us now, and as we go forward,” Mr. Bruno said, describing the conversation. “His support is his support.”

The call to Mr. Bruno was one of several conversations Mr. Bloomberg has had with Republicans in New York in recent weeks pledging his political support. And it underscores the tricky territory the mayor has landed in as he positions himself as a newly declared independent.

Mr. Bloomberg is seeking to raise his national profile for what he calls his nonpartisan approach to problem-solving, perhaps in preparation for a presidential bid. But at the same time, he appears determined to maintain his strong ties to Republican leaders in Albany as they try to hang on to their slim majority in the Senate, which they have controlled for more than 40 years.

Mr. Bloomberg’s support for Republican candidates is critical; the mayor has been the biggest individual donor to Senate Republicans, according to state campaign finance records, giving $575,000 since October. He also gave the New York State Republican Committee $175,000 in the same period. (During that time, by contrast, he did not donate to any Democrats in the Legislature.)

Mr. Bloomberg’s involvement in a high-profile partisan fight and his continued alliance with Mr. Bruno, however, could undermine the independent image he is seeking to promote.

Gee, you think?

The next time some fucking two-bit political commentator writes about Moneybags' independent, non-partisan appeal to voters who are fed up with both parties (see David Broder here and here, for example), maybe we all could remind him/her that Bloomberg has not only been the biggest supporter of Republican candidates in NY state in the past, he's STILL bankrolling and supporting them in the hopes they can maintain some statewide power.

Kinda undercuts the little rationale Moneybags had for his campaign in the first place, doesn't it?

NOTE: David Broder's email is


No wonder mortgage lenders want to avoid oversight and regulation - they're fucking crooks:

Testimony at a Senate hearing June 26 purported to detail how some mortgage lenders abuse customers. In an affidavit involving a Minnesota lawsuit against Ameriquest Mortgage Co., the nation's largest sub-prime lender, former account executive Mark Bomchill outlined what he said were practices at the branch office in Plymouth, Minn.

"I was taught and encouraged to close loans without regard to the customers' financial ability to make payments on the loan," Bomchill said. He said salespeople at the firm were encouraged to "engage in any conduct necessary to close the loan, to close the loan as quickly as possible and to maximize the loan amount."

Bomchill said Ameriquest taught employees to:

* Lie to borrowers about their credit scores.

* Tell customers they'd be refused loans elsewhere.

* Obfuscate and conceal prepayment penalties.

* Hide adjustable rates by calling loans "fixed adjustable."

* Conceal fees, interest rates and real monthly-payment amounts.

* Hide the fact that loan quotes didn't include escrow payments.

Ameriquest is a nonbank lender with no direct federal regulation. In January 2006, it consented to a $325 million settlement with 49 states, agreeing to overhaul its business practices.

The company's founder, Roland Arnall, was a major campaign contributor to President Bush, who appointed him ambassador to the Netherlands last year.

Arnall is now a target of a class-action suit that seeks to hold him responsible for illegal actions allegedly carried out by Ameriquest employees.

Notice the political connects, notice the lack of regulation and oversight.

These are related.

Ameriquest is not the only mortgage lender or mortgage broker to engage in criminal and/or unethical behavior. The entire mortgage lending business is rotten to the core. Here's more from McClatchy:

Congress must decide how best to bring brokers, who originated about 70 percent of so-called sub-prime loans over the past two years, under some form of federal regulation.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, in its latest report, found that during the first three months of this year about 15.75 percent of sub-prime adjustable-rate mortgages were behind on payments by 30 days or more.

That's an all-time high. And the figure is widely expected to grow. Experts predict that 1 in 5 sub-prime adjustable-rate home loans - as many as 1.5 million - will default by the end of next year. More than $2.28 trillion worth of adjustable-rate loans reset from 2007 to 2009.

Mortgage brokers are often the first link in the process of securing a home loan, so many borrowers think the brokers are working for them.

Wrong. No federal law says mortgage brokers have any fiduciary duty to borrowers, and with the exception of California, most states don't stipulate that duty either.

That's why brokers are front and center in the sub-prime debate. Federal law doesn't define whose interests they're supposed to represent: borrowers or lenders?

This was clear during a Senate Banking subcommittee hearing June 26. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., met silence when he repeatedly asked a panel of industry players whether they thought they represented borrowers.

Brokers work with lenders to offer home buyers a range of finance choices. But unbeknown to many borrowers, lenders give brokers financial incentives to steer home buyers into loans with higher interest rates, especially ARMs. Some such loan rates can spike up brutally high.

Such resetting loans - sometimes called exploding ARMs - constitute the overwhelming portion of sub-prime loans that are now delinquent or in default.

Absent clear laws to hold brokers accountable - as rules do for real estate agents and financial planners - abuses in the sub-prime mortgage market will continue, said Michael Calhoun, the president of the Center for Responsible Lending in Durham, N.C.

"It's like a football game. If you don't prohibit holding, you're going to have a lot of holding," he warned senators.


brokers are uniquely problematic because of lenders' reward systems. Typically a broker receives a fee or commission equal to anywhere from 1 percent to 3 percent of the loan's value as a reward for steering customers to a lender.

If a broker guides a borrower who qualifies for a lower-rate loan into a loan with a higher interest rate, which makes more money for the lender, the mortgage broker earns a higher bonus. This is called a "yield-spread premium."

Sometimes borrowers accept a higher interest rate in exchange for less cash down or for improvements such as landscaping done at the time a loan closes. Sometimes, borrowers are steered into unsuitable loans.

"Are yield-spread premiums abused? Absolutely. Do borrowers understand what they are paying in yield-spread premiums? The vast majority of time they do not," John Robbins, the chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association, told senators.

Hearings have documented how brokers steer borrowers with weak credit into loans that reset and carry steep penalties if the borrowers try to pay off the loans before they reset. These make it difficult to refinance or pay off loans before they shift to punishing high interest rates.

Now some of my winger friends will say "Hey, brokers have a right to make money and if Americans are stupid enough to take out a mortgage without understanding the terms of the agreement, that's their fault."

To which I respond: Any industry - like the mortgage lending industry - which works as hard as it can to obfuscate the real terms of contractual agreements or the actual levels of interest, fee amounts, and monthly payments in order to get naive people to sign onto mortgages that it knows these people cannot afford (but by the time the defaults happen, the loans will already have been sold off to somebody else) is, as I said earlier, rotten to the core and must be subject to high levels of federal regulation and stiff penalties and jail time for industry heads and/or employees who break laws.

If said industry has paid off politicians and lawmakers (as Ameriquest has paid off Preznut Bush - and remember Bush also took shitloads of money from Enron), then said politicians must be a) shamed into not taking any more money from these crooks and b) forced to pay a political price for supporting corrupt businesses that exploit the people these politicians have pledged to represent.

This is the kind of political movement that Dems should jump on to show that they support the little guy over the big, corrupt mortgage lending business.

By and large, Dems are open to this. But of course there are also some Dems - like Joe Biden (D-Capital One) who have been bought and sold themselves by the banking, credit card or mortgage industries.

These Dems need to REALLY be publicly shamed into change.

Let the Repubs support the Robber Barons, the crooked mortgage lenders, the exploitive credit card industry.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Hypocrisy Update: Mitt Romney Edition

Not to be outdone by the hypocrisy of Law and Order star Fred Thompson (who feels that law and order only applies to non-Republicans) and Rudy Giuliani (who used to be against pardons and commutations before he was for them), here is Mitt Romney's hypocritical take on the Libby commutation:

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who as Massachusetts governor refused to pardon an Iraq war veteran's BB-gun conviction, on Tuesday called President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence "reasonable."

Defending Bush, Romney said at a campaign stop that "the president looked very carefully at the setting" before deciding to commute the 2 1/2-year sentence of Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted in the CIA leak case.


As governor, Romney twice rejected a pardon for Anthony Circosta, who at age 13 was convicted of assault for shooting another boy in the arm with a BB gun - a shot that didn't break the skin. Circosta worked his way through college, joined the Army National Guard and led a platoon of 20 soldiers in Iraq's deadly Sunni triangle.

In 2005, as he was serving in Iraq, he sought a pardon to fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer.

In his presidential bid, Romney often proudly points out that he was the first governor in modern Massachusetts history to deny every request for a pardon or commutation during his four years in office. He says he refused pardons because he didn't want to overturn a jury.

During the four years Romney was in office, 100 requests for commutations and 172 requests for pardons were filed in the state. All were denied.

Romney never once issued a pardon, not even for the bb gun incident. But he's got no problem with the Libby commutation.

What a despicable hypocrite.

Not enough bad stuff can happen to these fucking dishonest, hypocritical lying scumbags.

We should start by making sure they all lose the race for the White House.

Why Bush Is Full Of Shit and Why The Dems Must Go To The Mattresses

The preznut said Libby's 30-month prison sentence for obstruction and perjury was overly "harsh" and "excessive." Funny how he never thinks that way in obstruction and/or perjury cases not pertaining to a former aide to Vice Preznut Cheney who just might sing to the special prosecutor if faced with actual prison time:

Records show that the Justice Department under the Bush administration frequently has sought sentences that are as long, or longer, in cases similar to Libby's. Three-fourths of the 198 defendants sentenced in federal court last year for obstruction of justice — one of four crimes Libby was found guilty of in March — got some prison time. According to federal data, the average sentence defendants received for that charge alone was 70 months.

Just last week, the Supreme Court upheld a 33-month prison sentence for a decorated Army veteran who was convicted of lying to a federal agent about buying a machine gun. The veteran had a record of public service — fighting in Vietnam and the Gulf War — and no criminal record. But Justice Department lawyers argued his prison term should stand because it fit within the federal sentencing guidelines.


Sentencing experts said Bush's action appeared to be without recent precedent. They could not recall another case in which someone sentenced to prison had received a presidential commutation without having served any part of that sentence. Presidents have customarily commuted sentences only when someone has served substantial time.

"We can't find any cases, certainly in the last half century, where the president commuted a sentence before it had even started to be served," said Margaret Colgate Love, a former pardon attorney at the Justice Department. "This is really, really unusual."

It's not all that unusual for this administration - it's part of the classic cover-up they've been engaging in since the beginning in this case. They had Scooter take the fall for the VP, who, as Dan Froomkin noted yesterday, Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald believed was the linchpin behind the conspiracy to leak a covert CIA agent's name to the press in order to discredit a political opponent, and then commuted Libby's jail time to keep him quiet:

During the course of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's trial for obstruction of justice and perjury, we learned a lot about his bosses.

Incremental discoveries that didn't garner major headlines nevertheless added to what we know -- and can reasonably surmise -- about Vice President Cheney and President Bush's role in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, which was revealed during the course of the administration's defense of its decision to go to war in Iraq.

We know, for instance, that Cheney was the first person to tell Libby about Plame's identity. We know that Cheney told Libby to leak Plame's identity to the New York Times in an attempt to discredit her husband, who had accused the administration of manipulating prewar intelligence. We know that Cheney wrote talking points that may have encouraged Libby and others to mention Plame to reporters. We know that Cheney once talked to Bush about Libby's assignment, and got permission from the president for Libby to leak hitherto classified information to the Times.

We don't know why Libby decided to lie to federal investigators about his role in the leak. But it's reasonable to conclude -- or at least strongly suspect -- that he was doing it to protect Cheney, and maybe even Bush.

Why, after all, was special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald so determined to get the truth from Libby and, barring that, to punish him for obstructing justice? Prosecutorial ethics preclude Fitzgerald, a Bush appointee, from answering such questions. But the most likely scenario is that he suspected that it was Cheney who committed the underlying crime -- that Cheney instructed Libby to out a CIA agent in his no-holds-barred crusade against a critic. (See my Feb. 21 column, The Cloud Over Cheney and my May 29 column, Fitzgerald Again Points to Cheney.)

All of this means that Bush's decision yesterday to commute Libby's prison sentence isn't just a matter of unequal justice. It is also a potentially self-serving and corrupt act.

Was there a quid pro quo at work? Was Libby being repaid for falling on his sword and protecting his bosses from further scrutiny? Alternately, was he being repaid for his defense team's abrupt decision in mid-trial not to drag Cheney into court, where he would have faced cross-examination by Fitzgerald? (See my March 8 column, Did Libby Make a Deal?)

It is pretty clear that there is some quid pro quo here as part of a cover-up.

Otherwise, why would the preznut, notoriously stingy with pardons and commutations, commute the sentence of Libby just hours after three Appeals Court judges (2 Repubs/1 Dem) said that Libby had to go to jail pending the appeal of his obstruction/perjury conviction?

Otherwise, why would the preznut ignore the guidance and precedents of his own Justice Department in cases like this when in ever other case he defers to that guidance and those precedents?

Again, it is pretty clear that there is some quid pro quo here as part of a cover-up.

Can anybody remember any other president commuting or pardoning the sentence of a former aide in order to keep that aide from singing to a prosecutor about what he knows the president and/or the vice president may have done as part of a criminal conspiracy?

It's as if Nixon had pardoned Bob Haldeman, John Erhlichman, John Mitchell, Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Jeb Stuart Magruder, Fred LaRue, James McCord, Chuck Colson, Donald Segretti, and the Cuban burglars right after he fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and accepted the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckalhaus and said "Okay, let's move on..."

Congress needs to step in here and take up the investigation. They need to call Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to testify, they need to subpoena Libby to testify (though I suspect pending his appeal he will have an excuse not to...thus why Bush commuted Libby's sentence instead of issuing a pardon.) They need to get their hands on the testimony that Cheney and Bush gave to Fitz during the investigation, they need to get Karl Rove's testimony and they need to find out who did what as part of this cover-up. They need to go to the mattresses on this.

The NY Daily News reports that the House Judiciary Committee will start hearings next week into the matter. Loyal Bushies and other dishonest conservatives and corrupt Republicans will attempt to throw wrenches into the investigation, as they have with other Democratic investigations of the administration into the Prosecutor Purge scandal, the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the NSA warrantless wiretapping scandal, the torture scandals, the Cunningham/Foggo defense contracting scandal, the various Jack Abramoff scandals, and of course the manipulation of the pre-Iraq war intelligence. They will say that an arrogant do-nothing Congress which can't pass any meaningful legislation (never mind that almost all of the legislation the Democratic House has passed has died in the Senate as a result of the obstructionist Republican minority) wants to spend all its time in meaningless and highly politicized investigations and hearings.

Democrats must not let the loyal Bushies and dishonest Repubs get away with dispersing that meme. This is the most arrogant, secretive, corrupt, criminal administration since the Nixon administration. By commuting the sentence of Scooter Libby, Preznut Bush has become an accessory to Libby's obstruction of justice. For that blatant disregard of the rule of law, Bush must answer. The majority of the American people, ever disgusted by rich, powerfully connected people getting treated specially by the system, will certainly be open to these investigations.

So start the investigations and let's spend the next year and a half exposing all of the criminal behavior, the lies, the deceptions, the unconstitutional acts.

Oh, and let's change the pardon and commutation process so that future presidents do not have the luxury of having an aide who has engaged in criminal activity under the orders of a criminal vice president take the fall knowing that a commutation and/or full pardon is coming in the near future.

UPDATE: Here's conservative blogger Cunning Realist on what the Libby commutation means for the rest of Bush's presidency:

So what did Cheney threaten to do if Bush took no action on Libby? And the commutation bought Scooter's eternal silence about what, exactly? Lots of interesting questions that will probably remain unanswered. We do know that because of Libby's crimes, we'll never get the whole truth about one of the most duplicitous episodes in U.S. history: the false pretense for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.


If the Libby commutation is any indication of Bush's own sense of accountability at this point and Cheney's remaining influence, can there be much doubt about what comes next vis-à-vis Iran?

Indeed. They not only think they're above the law, they know it.

I think we can conclude that if Cheney wants an Iran bombing sometime next year, he will get it.

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