Monday, March 31, 2008

I hope this doomsayer is wrong

March 31 (Bloomberg) -- Be it ever so devalued, $1 trillion is a lot of dough.

That's roughly on a par with the Russian economy. More than double the market value of Exxon Mobil Corp. About nine times the combined wealth of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

Yet $1 trillion is the amount of defaults and writedowns Americans will likely witness before they emerge at the far side of the bursting credit bubble, estimates Charles R. Morris in his shrewd primer, ``The Trillion Dollar Meltdown.'' That calculation assumes an orderly unwinding, which he doesn't expect.

``The sad truth,'' he writes, ``is that subprime is just the first big boulder in an avalanche of asset writedowns that will rattle on through much of 2008.''

that's it, moishe is no longer buying gasoline

On a clear day, the view from the top will take in the Middle East, North Africa and the Indian Ocean - providing you've a head for heights.

Plans for a mile-high tower in the Saudi Arabian desert have been unveiled by the billionaire owner of London's Savoy Hotel.

At 5,250ft, the £5billion project, masterminded by two British engineering consultancies, will be twice as high as its nearest rivals, skyscrapers under construction in Dubai and Kuwait, and almost seven times as high as the Canary Wharf tower in London's Docklands.

Nazi Sex Scandal? Oh Word?

From ESPN.

LONDON -- Formula One's governing body is keeping its distance from sexual allegations in a British tabloid newspaper about its president, Max Mosley.

"This is a matter between Mr. Mosley and the paper in question," an International Automobile Federation (FIA) spokesman said.

"We understand that Mr. Mosley's lawyers are now in contact with that newspaper and the FIA has no comment."

The News of the World reported in a front page story that FIA president Mosley, 67, had taken part in a "sadomasochistic orgy" with five prostitutes that reportedly involved Nazi role-playing.

According to a story posted by the London-based Times Online on Monday, Mosley and others "re-enacted a concentration camp scene in which he played the role of both guard and inmate."

A video was also reportedly posted on the News of the World Web site. A check of the site Monday didn't find the video in question...

Good to See the US' Influence Remains Strong Among Our Allies

Will Bush thank the Iranians for helping to avert yet another disaster in Iraq? From CNN.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iran was integral in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to halt attacks by his militia on Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi lawmaker said Monday.

Haidar al-Abadi, who is with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa Party, said Iraqi Shiite lawmakers traveled Friday to Iran to meet with al-Sadr. They returned Sunday, the day al-Sadr told his Mehdi Army fighters to stand down.

News of Iran's involvement in the cease-fire talks came as an al-Maliki spokesman said operations targeting "outlaws" in the Shiite stronghold of Basra would end when the mission's goals were achieved. Earlier, al-Maliki spokesman Sami al-Askari said the operation would be over by week's end, but he later recanted on the timetable.

The lawmakers who traveled to Iran to broker the cease-fire were from five Shiite parties, including the Sadrist movement. Al-Abadi would not say where in Iran the meeting was held...

Very Good Asessment of Obama's Leadership Qualities

There's lots more details, so read the whole piece. From

...Early in 2007, a friend of mine who is active in both high-tech and politics called me up and said, let's go see this first-term Senator, Barack Obama, who's ramping up to run for President.

And so we did -- my friend, my wife Laura, and me -- and we were able to meet privately with Senator Obama for an hour and a half.
We asked him directly, how concerned should we be that you haven't had meaningful experience as an executive -- as a manager and leader of people?

He said, watch how I run my campaign -- you'll see my leadership skills in action.

At the time, I wasn't sure what to make of his answer -- political campaigns are often very messy and chaotic, with a lot of turnover and flux; what conclusions could we possibly draw from one of those?

Well, as any political expert will tell you, it turns out that the Obama campaign has been one of the best organized and executed presidential campaigns in memory. Even Obama's opponents concede that his campaign has been disciplined, methodical, and effective across the full spectrum of activities required to win -- and with a minimum of the negative campaigning and attack ads that normally characterize a race like this, and with almost no staff turnover. By almost any measure, the Obama campaign has simply out-executed both the Clinton and McCain campaigns.

This speaks well to the Senator's ability to run a campaign, but speaks even more to his ability to recruit and manage a top-notch group of campaign professionals and volunteers -- another key leadership characteristic. When you compare this to the awe-inspiring discord, infighting, and staff turnover within both the Clinton and McCain campaigns up to this point -- well, let's just say it's a very interesting data point.

We then asked, well, what about foreign policy -- should we be concerned that you just don't have much experience there?

He said, directly, two things.

First, he said, I'm on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where I serve with a number of Senators who are widely regarded as leading experts on foreign policy -- and I can tell you that I know as much about foreign policy at this point as most of them.

Being a fan of blunt answers, I liked that one.

But then he made what I think is the really good point.

He said -- and I'm going to paraphrase a little here: think about who I am -- my father was Kenyan; I have close relatives in a small rural village in Kenya to this day; and I spent several years of my childhood living in Jakarta, Indonesia. Think about what it's going to mean in many parts of the world -- parts of the world that we really care about -- when I show up as the President of the United States. I'll be fundamentally changing the world's perception of what the United States is all about.

He's got my vote.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

this is normal

MOSCOW (AP) - Seven women who had holed up in a cave for months other members of a Russian cult awaiting the end of the world emerged Friday night and were being treated by emergency workers, regional officials said.

More than two dozen others remained behind but were expected to come out as early as Saturday, the governor's office said.

About 35 members of the Christian cult entered the cave near the village of Nikolskoye, 400 miles southeast of Moscow, in early November to await the end of the world, which they expected in May. They threatened to detonate gas canisters if police tried to remove them by force.

The vice governor of the Penza region, Oleg Melnichenko, said in televised comments that the seven women came out voluntarily, carrying satchels with their belongings. He said the cult leader, the self- declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov, was brought from a local psychiatric hospital to help persuade the women to leave.

He said the women walked on their own nearly a mile to a prayer house, where emergency workers were talking with them, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

"There is no reason to urgently hospitalize any of them," Melnichenko was quoted as saying.

Another official in the governor's office, who gave only his first name, Alexander, said the other cult members still in the cave were expected to give up their vigil, perhaps by Saturday. He said four children, reportedly under age 2, were among those in the cave.

Melnichenko said officials feared that melting snow could eventually lead to the collapse of the cave, but there was no immediate threat to those who remained behind.

Officials had repeatedly enlisted the help of priests from the Orthodox Church in an effort to persuade the group to leave, communicating mainly through a small chimney pipe that poked up through the snowy hillside.

Earlier this week, Melnichenko told reporters that some of the cult members had indicated they might leave the cave on Orthodox Easter, which is April 27.

Kuznetsov has been charged with setting up a religious organization associated with violence. Earlier this week, officials said they had seized literature that included what appeared to be extremist rhetoric. He has been confined to a psychiatric hospital since November.

An engineer from a devout family, Kuznetsov, who goes by the title of Father Pyotr, declared himself a prophet several years ago. He left his family and established the True Russian Orthodox Church and recruited followers in Russia and Belarus.

He reportedly told followers that, in the afterlife, they would judge whether others deserved heaven or hell.

Followers were not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio or handle money, Russian media reported.

Friday, March 28, 2008


John McCain's chief media strategist will quit if Obama is the nominee. From National Journal.

Q: So you've said that you will leave the McCain campaign if Obama is the nominee. Does that still hold and why?

McKinnon: Yeah. Well, this goes back to a memo that I wrote to the campaign when I came aboard more than a year and a half ago, and I simply let them know that I had spent time with Obama and read his book and I like the guy. I think he has strong character and a fascinating life story, and I disagree with him fundamentally on issues like Iraq and trade and a number of others. But I just flashed forward to the improbable scenario, at that time seemingly improbable, that John McCain and Barack Obama might face off against one other. And I just told them at the time that I thought that I would be uncomfortable being on the front lines -- being as aggressive as you need to be in a presidential campaign -- and not only that I would be uncomfortable, but that it would be bad for the campaign, and that if that circumstance were to come to be, that I would just take a step to the sidelines and continue to support John McCain 100 percent and be No. 1 fan and cheerleader. But just kind of take myself out of the front lines.

Q: So you are still going to do that?

McKinnon: I'm a man of my word.

Q: And it's because, what, you don't want to run negative ads against Obama?

McKinnon: Yeah.

Q: Or is there also a concern on your part that you don't want to run ads against Obama, the first African-American candidate to have this kind of a chance? Is that a factor as well?

McKinnon: I suppose that is in part, but it's more just that I like and admire the guy. I've come to a point in my life where I think character is important. I think he has great character. Again, I think he's really wrong on fundamental issues, but yeah, I just don't want to -- you know, I kind of want to put my guns down. It's just a matter of degrees, and like I said, I don't think I'm the best person to have in that slot for the campaign. So it would just be better for me to step to the sidelines.

Q: So if Hillary Clinton were the nominee, you would stay, presumably. So give us a preview of how you would not hold back if she were the nominee. What would be the campaign that you'd run against her?

McKinnon: Well, you know, I think that fundamentally she represents an extension of the Clinton legacy, which this country is just tired of. They are tired of the Clinton-style politics, and we've seen it manifest itself over the course of this campaign. And I have a lot of Democratic friends who like and respect Senator Clinton, but they don't want another extension of the Clinton administration for another four or eight years. And again, on some fundamental issues I think there's a great departure between her and Senator McCain, so that's where it sits.

Q: So you would look forward to that campaign?

McKinnon: Yeah, sure. I would.

Warren Buffet Doesn't Always Win?

From Bloomberg.

March 28 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Warren Buffett's new bond insurer may not get any business from California, the largest U.S. municipal debt issuer.

California Treasurer Bill Lockyer is leading more than a dozen state and local governments that say bond ratings exaggerate the risk of default, pushing up interest costs and forcing issuers to buy unneeded insurance. Lockyer said in a March 26 interview his state will shun Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s venture because Buffett's company supports the current ratings.

``It's unfair to taxpayers,'' said Lockyer, who estimates the present system may cost his state an extra $5 billion over the next three decades. ``I hope Mr. Buffett will rethink that viewpoint. I don't intend to do any business with his firm.''

Berkshire Hathaway Assurance was created in December after state regulators sought to help governments get coverage when losses jeopardized bond insurers MBIA Inc. and Ambac Financial Group Inc. The turmoil spread to auction-rate markets, where average debt costs almost doubled from January to more than 6.5 percent as of March 19. Instead of embracing Buffett's company, some bond issuers began asking why they need insurance at all...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Moishe: Is an Obama/ Bloomberg Ticket Your Wet Dream?

From Marc Ambinder.

Obama: Bloomberg Is "Extraordinary"

27 Mar 2008 09:44 am

Here's the first paragraph from Barack Obama's speech this a.m. in New York:

I want to thank Mayor Bloomberg for his extraordinary leadership. At a time when Washington is divided in old ideological battles, he shows us what can be achieved when we bring people together to seek pragmatic solutions. Not only has he been a remarkable leader for New York –he has established himself as a major voice in our national debate on issues like renewing our economy, educating our children, and seeking energy independence. Mr. Mayor, I share your determination to bring this country together to finally make progress for the American people.

The First Read gang is all a-buzz at the Obama-Needs-A-Jew-On-The-Ticket-Angle, but I think the best way to look at an Obama-Bloomberg ticket is by noticing their complimentary traits. Obama isn't much of an administrator or a details guy by his own admission, while Bloomberg is so concerned about Your Health and Welfare that he studies intently the ins and outs of congestion pricing and trans-fats. He's a prime minister-type -- although he brings an outsider's sense of efficiency to the bureaucracy. Let Obama be the vision guy; Bloomberg could be the brass-tacts administrator.

History repeats itself, amazing how dumb people can be (or just arrogant and greedy)

In a sweeping accusation against one of the country’s largest accounting firms, an investigator released a report on Wednesday that said “improper and imprudent practices” by a once high-flying mortgage company were condoned and enabled by its auditors.

KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, endorsed a move by New Century Financial, a failed mortgage company, to change its accounting practices in a way that allowed the lender to report a profit, rather than a loss, at the height of the housing boom, an independent report commissioned by a division of the Justice Department concluded.

The result of a five-month investigation, the report is the most comprehensive and damning document that has been released about the failings of a mortgage business. Some accusations echoed claims that surfaced about the accounting firm Arthur Andersen during the collapse of Enron, the energy giant, more than six years ago.

The 580-page report documents how New Century lowered its reserves for loans that investors were forcing it to buy back even as such repurchases were surging. Had it not changed its accounting, the company would have reported a loss rather a profit in the second half of 2006. The company first acknowledged that its accounting was wrong in February 2007 and sought bankruptcy protection less than two months later as its lenders stopped doing business with it.

The profit was important because it allowed executives to earn bonuses and convince Wall Street that it was in fine shape financially when in fact its business was coming apart, the report contended. But the report stopped short of saying that the company “engaged in earnings management or manipulation, although its accounting irregularities almost always resulted in increased earnings.”

A spokeswoman for KPMG, Kathy Fitzgerald, denied the accusations. “We strongly disagree with the report’s conclusions concerning KPMG,” she said. “We believe an objective review of the facts and circumstances will affirm our position.”

A spokesman for New Century, which is being managed by a restructuring firm brought in early last year, said the company was looking forward to its liquidation plan.

The report is the result of a five-month investigation by Michael J. Missal, a lawyer and former investigator in the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission who was hired by the United States Trustee overseeing the New Century bankruptcy. Mr. Missal concluded that KPMG and some former New Century executives could be legally liable for millions of dollars in damages because of their conduct.

“I saw e-mails from the engaged partner saying we are at the risk of being replaced,” Mr. Missal said in a telephone interview about a KPMG partner assigned to work on the audit of New Century. “They acquiesced overly to the client which in the post-Enron era seems mind-boggling.”

New Century was the first large mortgage company to fail and its quick demise marked the beginning of the end for the heady era of cheap money that helped home prices soar. While markets improved for a few months after the company sought bankruptcy protection, they came undone last summer after the implosion of two hedge funds at Bear Stearns that invested heavily in securities backed by the kind of subprime mortgages that New Century specialized in making.

Probably a bad idea

CARTHAGE, Mo. (AP) - Ultimate fighting was once the sole domain of burly men who beat each other bloody in anything-goes brawls on pay-per-view TV.

But the sport often derided as "human cockfighting" is branching out.

The bare-knuckle fights are now attracting competitors as young as 6 whose parents treat the sport as casually as wrestling, Little League or soccer.

The changes were evident on a recent evening in southwest Missouri, where a team of several young boys and one girl grappled on gym mats in a converted garage.

Two members of the group called the "Garage Boys Fight Crew" touched their thin martial-arts gloves in a flash of sportsmanship before beginning a relentless exchange of sucker punches, body blows and swift kicks.

No blood was shed. And both competitors wore protective gear. But the bout reflected the decidedly younger face of ultimate fighting. The trend alarms medical experts and sports officials who worry that young bodies can't withstand the pounding.

Tommy Bloomer, father of two of the "Garage Boys," doesn't understand the fuss.

"We're not training them for dog fighting," said Bloomer, a 34-year- old construction contractor. "As a parent, I'd much rather have my kids here learning how to defend themselves and getting positive reinforcement than out on the streets."

Bloomer said the sport has evolved since the no-holds-barred days by adding weight classes to better match opponents and banning moves such as strikes to the back of the neck and head, groin kicking and head butting.

Missouri appears to be the only state in the nation that explicitly allows the youth fights. In many states, it is a misdemeanor for children to participate. A few states have no regulations.

Supporters of the sport acknowledge that allowing fights between kids sounds brutal at first. But they insist the competitions have plenty of safety rules.

"It looks violent until you realize this teaches discipline. One of the first rules they learn is that this is not for aggressive behavior outside (the ring)," said Larry Swinehart, a Joplin police officer and father of two boys and the lone girl in the garage group.

The sport, which is also known as mixed martial arts or cage fighting, has already spread far beyond cable television. Last month, CBS became the first of the Big Four television networks to announce a deal to broadcast primetime fights. The fights have attracted such a wide audience, they are threatening to surpass boxing as the nation's most popular pugilistic sport.

Hand-to-hand combat is also popping up on the big screen. The film "Never Back Down," described as "The Karate Kid" for the YouTube generation, has taken in almost $17 million in two weeks at the box office. Another current mixed martial arts movie, "Flash Point," an import from Hong Kong, is in limited release.

Bloomer said the fights are no more dangerous or violent than youth wrestling. He watched as his sons, 11-year-old Skyler and 8-year-old Gage, locked arms and legs and wrestled to the ground with other kids in the garage in Carthage, about 135 miles south of Kansas City.

The 11 boys and one girl on the team range from 6 to 14 years old and are trained by Rudy Lindsey, a youth wrestling coach and a professional mixed martial arts heavyweight.

"The kids learn respect and how to defend themselves. It's no more dangerous than any other sport and probably less so than some," Lindsey said.

Lindsey said the children wear protective headgear, shin guards, groin protection and martial-arts gloves. They fight quick, two-minute bouts. Rules also prohibit any elbow blows and blows to the head when an opponent is on the ground.

"If they get in trouble or get bad grades, I'll hear about it and they can't come to training," he added.

In most states, mixed martial arts is overseen by boxing commissions. In Missouri, the Office of Athletics regulates the professional fights but not the amateur events, which include the youth bouts. For amateurs, the regulation is done by sanctioning bodies that have to register with the athletics office.

The rules are different in Oklahoma, where unauthorized fights are generally a misdemeanor offense. The penalty is a maximum 30 days in jail and a fine up to $1,000.

Joe Miller, administrator of the Oklahoma Professional Boxing Commission, said youth fights are banned in his state, and he wants it to stay that way.

"There's too much potential for damage to growing joints," he said.

Miller said mixed martial arts uses a lot of arm and leg twisting to force opponents into submission. Those moves, he said, pressure joints in a way not found in sanctioned sports like youth boxing or wrestling.

But Nathan Orand, a martial arts trainer from Tulsa, Okla., said kids are capable of avoiding injuries, especially with watchful referees in the rings. He thinks the sport is bound to grow.

"I can see their point because when you say 'cage fighting,' that right there just sounds like kids shouldn't be doing it," Orand said.

"But you still have all the respect that regular martial arts teach you. And it's really the only true way for youth to be able to defend themselves."

Back in the Carthage garage, Bloomer said parents shouldn't worry about kids becoming aggressive from learning mixed martial arts. He said his older son was picked on by bullies at school repeatedly last year but never fought them, instead reporting the problem to his teachers.

And fighters including his 8-year-old son get along once a bout is over, Bloomer said.

"When they get out of the cage, they go back and play video games together. It doesn't matter who won and who lost. They're still little buddies."

Private industry with gov't subsidies will solve energy problem

one example of many, from long tail (one of the best blogs out there)

From my friend Shai Agassi's blog ("The Long Tailpipe"):

"Electric cars and windmills are the most complementary products in the green world. Windmills generate a lot more energy at night, as wind picks up when the air cools down. Unfortunately, when you get a lot of wind most people are asleep and the electricity needs to be rerouted elsewhere. Cars are parked at night waiting to get electricity into the batteries - which is a perfect match to the electricity profile of wind generation.

Denmark has 20% of its generation capacity coming from wind. I learned that only 13% of the electrons though are wind electrons, the rest are sold to Norway and Germany - practically for free some times. Those 7% can drive every car in Denmark if you converted the fleet to Electric Vehicles. Clean, Cheap and Abundant - Electric Gasoline... "

Shai is starting a hugely ambitious project, called Better Place, to build an entire electric car infrastructure, starting in Israel. Oh, and the cars will be free--you'll pay for the electricity. (Picture taken in Denmark by Quin Garcia of the Better Place team).

Forget About Polls, Follow the Money

Via Andrew Sullivan.

McCain Has No Money; Obama Has No Debt: Weighing the Candidates' Campaign Coffers

Last Thursday was the deadline for the presidential candidates to file their latest fundraising numbers with the FEC. As we await the updates, it's worth taking a look at their most current numbers, and what they may portend for the general election.

With the media focused exclusively on the battle between Clinton and Obama, Republican nominee John McCain has been spending his time shoring up support for his candidacy—and, presumably, fundraising. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he really, really needs to: In the month of February, he raised just under $11 million, compared to $34 million for Clinton and $55 million for Obama.The numbers get worse when you look at the whole election cycle: in total, McCain has raised just $64 million, less than half of Clinton's $170 million, and a third of Obama's $193 million.

But what's most striking is the debt. The Clinton campaign has amassed a staggering $8.7 million worth, double McCain's $4.3 million. Obama, on the other hand, owes only $625,000. By campaign standards, he's debt free.

What to make of this? If it were only about cash on hand, either Clinton or Obama could trounce McCain in the general election. But Clinton's campaign spent nearly as much as it raised in February, while Obama's used only about 80%. The combination of more funds to use and less debt to pay down would give Obama an unquestionable advantage in the general election. On the flip side, however, McCain's getting a free ride right now. As long as the Democratic infighting continues, he may not need that much money to make his case. But once the general really gets underway, he'll need to compete with an already-daunting cash lead and a horde of enthusiastic donors. If dollars are what count, McCain loses.

—Casey Miner

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Iraq, The Law of Unintended Consequences Rides Again

Who knew that participating in a civil war in the Middle East would be so difficult? From the Washington Independent. Via Atrios.

By Spencer Ackerman 03/26/2008 10:46AM

Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki is giving powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr's forces three days to surrender in Basra, as clashes between Maliki's security forces and Sadr's Mahdi Army -- in which the U.S. intervenes on Maliki's side -- escalate. But with the U.S. happy about the now-abrogated Sadrist ceasefire, why is the U.S. military getting involved? The Washington Post isn't sure:

It was unclear why U.S. forces would take part in a broad armed challenge to Sadr and his thousands-strong militia on the eve of Petraeus's assessment, which the Bush administration has said would greatly influence its decision on whether to draw down troop levels.

Here's an answer. As long as Maliki is in the prime minister's chair, and as long as we proclaim the Iraqi government he leads to be legitimate, Maliki effectively holds us hostage. "I need to go after Sadr," Maliki says. "The situation is unacceptable! In Basra, he threatens to take control of the ports, and in Baghdad, he's throwing my men out of their checkpoints. Would you allow the Bloods or the Crips to take over half of Los Angeles?" And as soon as he says that, we're trapped. It simply is not tenable for Petraeus to refuse a request for security assistance from the Prime Minister to deal with a radical militia.

Now, some Iraq-watcher friends of mine point out that this is absurd. "Sadr is, of course, a thug," they say, "but he's a nationalist. And he's far less beholden to Iran than the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or Maliki's Da'wa Party -- both of whom we're supporting! And most importantly, Sadr remains perhaps the most popular figure in Shiite Iraq. Petraeus can do business with him. This doesn't make any sense!" And they're right. It doesn't. But as long as we sponsor the Iraqi political process -- and a Sadrist doesn't actually become premier himself -- this will keep happening...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Suddenly vice is part of the mainstream political dialogue - legalize that s&$t?

Gov. David Paterson said Monday he used cocaine in his 20s and smoked marijuana when he was younger. In reference to cocaine, Paterson, 53, said in a television interview that he "tried it a couple of times" when he was "about 22 or 23."

"And marijuana probably when I was about 20," he said on the NY1 cable news station. "I don't think I touched marijuana since the '70s."

He said "more Americans have tried a lot more during that period of time and gone on to lead responsible lives and hopefully have lived their lives to their fullest."

Paterson was lieutenant governor under Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned this month amid a prostitution scandal.

Last week, Paterson and his wife, Michelle Paterson, disclosed they each had committed adultery several years ago during marital strife. The couple were separated for a "couple years" at the time, David Paterson said Monday.

In Monday's interview, Paterson pointed out that he had acknowledged to a television journalist after a 2006 gubernatorial Democratic primary debate that he had used illegal drugs.

The NY1 interviewer, Dominic Carter, noted that few people paid attention to Paterson's revelation in 2006 because he was running for lieutenant governor.

More on the imposssible (NY Times)

The Long Defeat

Hillary Clinton may not realize it yet, but she’s just endured one of the worst weeks of her campaign.

First, Barack Obama weathered the Rev. Jeremiah Wright affair without serious damage to his nomination prospects. Obama still holds a tiny lead among Democrats nationally in the Gallup tracking poll, just as he did before this whole affair blew up.

Second, Obama’s lawyers successfully prevented re-votes in Florida and Michigan. That means it would be virtually impossible for Clinton to take a lead in either elected delegates or total primary votes.

Third, as Noam Scheiber of The New Republic has reported, most superdelegates have accepted Nancy Pelosi’s judgment that the winner of the elected delegates should get the nomination. Instead of lining up behind Clinton, they’re drifting away. Her lead among them has shrunk by about 60 in the past month, according to Avi Zenilman of

In short, Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects continue to dim. The door is closing. Night is coming. The end, however, is not near.

Last week, an important Clinton adviser told Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen (also of Politico) that Clinton had no more than a 10 percent chance of getting the nomination. Now, she’s probably down to a 5 percent chance.

Five percent.

Let’s take a look at what she’s going to put her party through for the sake of that 5 percent chance: The Democratic Party is probably going to have to endure another three months of daily sniping. For another three months, we’ll have the Carvilles likening the Obamaites to Judas and former generals accusing Clintonites of McCarthyism. For three months, we’ll have the daily round of résumé padding and sulfurous conference calls. We’ll have campaign aides blurting “blue dress” and only-because-he’s-black references as they let slip their private contempt.

For three more months (maybe more!) the campaign will proceed along in its Verdun-like pattern. There will be a steady rifle fire of character assassination from the underlings, interrupted by the occasional firestorm of artillery when the contest touches upon race, gender or patriotism. The policy debates between the two have been long exhausted, so the only way to get the public really engaged is by poking some raw national wound.

For the sake of that 5 percent, this will be the sourest spring. About a fifth of Clinton and Obama supporters now say they wouldn’t vote for the other candidate in the general election. Meanwhile, on the other side, voters get an unobstructed view of the Republican nominee. John McCain’s approval ratings have soared 11 points. He is now viewed positively by 67 percent of Americans. A month ago, McCain was losing to Obama among independents by double digits in a general election matchup. Now McCain has a lead among this group.

For three more months, Clinton is likely to hurt Obama even more against McCain, without hurting him against herself. And all this is happening so she can preserve that 5 percent chance.

When you step back and think about it, she is amazing. She possesses the audacity of hopelessness.

Why does she go on like this? Does Clinton privately believe that Obama is so incompetent that only she can deliver the policies they both support? Is she simply selfish, and willing to put her party through agony for the sake of her slender chance? Are leading Democrats so narcissistic that they would create bitter stagnation even if they were granted one-party rule?

The better answer is that Clinton’s long rear-guard action is the logical extension of her relentlessly political life.

For nearly 20 years, she has been encased in the apparatus of political celebrity. Look at her schedule as first lady and ever since. Think of the thousands of staged events, the tens of thousands of times she has pretended to be delighted to see someone she doesn’t know, the hundreds of thousands times she has recited empty clichés and exhortatory banalities, the millions of photos she has posed for in which she is supposed to appear empathetic or tough, the billions of politically opportune half-truths that have bounced around her head.

No wonder the Clinton campaign feels impersonal. It’s like a machine for the production of politics. It plows ahead from event to event following its own iron logic. The only question is whether Clinton herself can step outside the apparatus long enough to turn it off and withdraw voluntarily or whether she will force the rest of her party to intervene and jam the gears.

If she does the former, she would surprise everybody with a display of self-sacrifice. Her campaign would cruise along at a lower register until North Carolina, then use that as an occasion to withdraw. If she does not, she would soldier on doggedly, taking down as many allies as necessary.

Sure fire way for democrats to do the unthinkable, lose the whitehouse

yahoo news

Hillary Rodham Clinton adviser James Carville is refusing to apologize for comparing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to Judas.

Carville made the comparison to The New York Times after Richardson, once a member of President Clinton's Cabinet, endorsed Hillary Clinton rival Barack Obama last week for the Democratic presidential nomination. Carville called it an "act of betrayal," and pointed out that it came during Holy Week.

"Mr. Richardson's endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out (Jesus) for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic," he said.

Richardson told "Fox News Sunday" that he wouldn't respond by getting "in the gutter like that."

"That's typical of many of the people around Senator Clinton," Richardson said. "They think they have a sense of entitlement to the presidency."

Carville told CNN on Monday that Richardson had committed an "egregious act" and he intended to make a sharp response to it.

"I wanted to use a very strong metaphor to make my point," Carville said. "I doubt if Governor Richardson and I will be particularly close in the future."

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson told reporters Monday that he didn't agree with Carville's comment.

"If I had said it, I would apologize," Wolfson said. "I did not say it, and if I had I would, but that's up to him."

Richardson served as ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary during the Clinton administration.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More on "passportgate" (thats what they are calling, what does Moishe know)

US State Department to Identify Stanley Associates as Contractor that Illegally Accessed Senator Barack Obama’s Passport Files
The Official Announcement Will Come at 5 p.m. ET, a State Department Source Tells Narco News

By Bill Conroy
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
March 21, 2008

Full Story:

US State Department to Identify Contractor that Illegally Accessed Passport Files | 1 comment (1 topical, 0 hidden)
Comments and Notebook Entries reflect the opinions of those that sign them. The Narcosphere provides this forum for the free speech of its participants. Just because we don't delete or censor words doesn't indicate that we agree with them.
Second contractor exposed in Obama passport breach (4.00 / 1) (#1)
by Bill Conroy on Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 07:47:12 PM EST
(User Info)
The State Department has now confirmed the identity of the other contractor involved in the breach of Sen. Barack Obama's passport files.

The company, called The Analysis Corp., based in McClean, Va., has its roots in the cloak and dagger world of intelligence gathering and national security.

From it's Web site:

For the past 16 years, The Analysis Corporation (TAC) has provided invaluable service to the U.S. Government's national security effort. Increasingly, and especially since 9/11, TAC has made its most important contribution in the counterterrorism (CT) realm, supporting national watchlisting activities as well as other CT intelligence and analytic efforts.

Led by the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and staffed by other former senior officials from the Intelligence Community, TAC is at the forefront of the fight to safeguard U.S. national interests.

The Analysis Corp. is a subsidiary of SFA Inc., which last year merged with a British firm called Global Strategies Group.

From a PRNewswire press release issued about that merger in February 2007:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 PRNewswire -- SFA, Inc., a leading US defense technology provider, and Global Strategies Group ('GLOBAL'), a British-owned international provider of security and risk mitigation strategies, have joined forces in a business combination to establish a new and unique breed of integrated national security company.

The combined enterprise will be capable of projecting a broad suite of technologies and specialist services worldwide and will offer unique expertise and comprehensive solutions in support of long term US defense and security priorities and, most immediately, support the US- led effort against international terrorism. With projected current year sales of $350M, the combined entity provides operators, security and counter terrorism experts, analysts, IT specialists, engineers and scientists from its office locations worldwide.

... SFA will operate as an independent subsidiary, retaining its name, management team, employees and infrastructure. SFA will also maintain its own US board of directors and operate with the appropriate national security protections.

The Analysis Corp. issued the following statement today through PRNewswire in reaction to the State Department's disclosure of its employee's role in the passport breaches.

This individual's actions were taken without the knowledge or direction of anyone at TAC and are wholly inconsistent with our professional and ethical standards.

TAC has an exemplary record of supporting the Department of State and other elements of the U.S. Government for close to two decades. We are fully cooperating with the Department of State in its investigation.

Specifically, we have honored the Department's request to delay taking any administrative action related to the employment of the individual in order to give the Department's Office of the Inspector General the opportunity to conduct its investigation.

We deeply regret that the incident occurred and believe it is an isolated incident.

Given The Analysis Corp. is affiliated with a foreign company that operates worldwide and has expertise in conducting highly sensitive national security work, this whole episode takes on some spooky overtones that one might expect Congress to take an interest in (so that it can be fully exposed to the sunlight) or then again, maybe not.....

Following is a transcript of the press briefing provided at the close of the day today by the State Department related to "PassportGate."

Question Taken at the March 21, 2008 Daily Press Briefing
Unauthorized Access to Passport Records

Question: What are the names of the two companies whose employees gained unauthorized access to Senator Obama's passport files?


Stanley Corporation and The Analysis Corporation.

Question: What kind of information is contained in the Passport system? What is the range of information that one might find in a passport file?


Generally, after the State Department issues a passport, all personal documents are returned to the applicant – the only document kept in the Department’s passport file is the passport application package. Passport files do not contain travel information, such as visa and entry stamps, from previous passports. Almost all passport files contain only a passport application form as submitted by the applicant.

The application form asks for the biographic information needed to determine if the applicant qualifies for a U.S. Passport, including:

-- the applicant’s name, sex, date of birth, place of birth, social security number, marital status and mailing address and previous passport number if applicable.

-- the applicant’s physical descriptors like height, hair color and eye color.

-- the names and place of birth of the applicant’s parents’.

The application form also asks for optional information that helps us to deliver applications on time, and to contact a citizen in case of an emergency:

-- the occupation and employer of the applicant and contact information for the applicant as well as his or her emergency contact. (these have proved invaluable in contacting next of kin when a US citizen dies or needs assistance abroad).

-- Travel plans as completed by an applicant on the form would be in the record. (This is valuable in getting the passport to the applicant on time.)

In complex circumstances, for instance if there are grounds to suspect possible fraud or if a person born overseas claims citizenship by virtue of having an American citizen parent, we may need additional evidence to review the applications, and we keep this information in the passport file with the applications.

Question: How many total passport files are in the system?


There are approximately 180-200 million records in this system.

Question: Can you provide a copy of the language that appears on the computer regarding warning on accessing passport information?



You are permitted access to passport and consular personal records on a need to know basis. Whether viewed or printed via PIERS, these are privileged records and are subject to the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974. They are not public records and may be released for use outside of the Department of State only in accordance with applicable Department regulations. As a user of PIERS you are responsible for the protection of the record subject’s privacy. PIERS users needing full copies of this passport record should request the record through PIERS.

DO NOT REPRODUCE OR PROVIDE COPIES of documents viewed or printed via PIERS for use outside of the Department of State. Unauthorized release of these documents to non-Department staff, including to law enforcement agencies, must be made through the Research and Liaison Branch, CA/PPT/IML/R/RR, 1111 19th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20524-1705. Non-Department requesters should be referred directly to that office. I have read the aforementioned Privacy warning and understand my responsibilities regarding the protection of passport and consular records.


Question: Does using the passport records system this way give one access to or links to other databases?


No. Access to each passports systems application which an employee needs to conduct passport business is authorized separately.

Question: Were any laws broken?


We must await a final determination of the facts to determine what precise laws may have been violated. The passport records at issue here are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974. That Act generally prohibits non-consensual disclosures of personal information about U.S. citizens from a Privacy Act system of records, unless an exception applies. One exception permits officers and employees of the agency who have a need for the record in the performance of their duties to review and use the record. Likewise, Department regulations permit contractors who have a need to review a record the same access as employees. However, access to passport records by contractors who do not have a need to know the information would violate the Privacy Act. In this case, Department policies make clear that passport records can be reviewed only for official reasons.

Question: When was the current database established?


The Passport Information Electronic Retrieval System (PIERS) was established in 2000 and contains digitally scanned applications. PIERS incorporated the previous database, Passport File Miniaturization, that began in 1978. From 1978 – 1999, passport applications were microfilmed. In 1999, digital scanning began.

Question: Does the Inspector General have authority or ability to talk to or interview employees that have been fired?


The OIG can request interviews of former employees or contractors but would not have the authority to compel their cooperation under the Inspector General Act. They could, however, be served with a grand jury subpoena compelling them to testify before a Grand Jury.

Friday, March 21, 2008

This Needs Wider Exposure

So why is she staying in and drawing blood from Obama? Ego? Terrible if so. From Politico.

Story behind the story: The Clinton myth
By: Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen
March 21, 2008 03:12 PM EST

One big fact has largely been lost in the recent coverage of the Democratic presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning.

Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish ahead in pledged delegates. That means the only way she wins is if Democratic superdelegates are ready to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency.

Unless Clinton is able to at least win the primary popular vote — which also would take nothing less than an electoral miracle — and use that achievement to pressure superdelegates, she has only one scenario for victory. An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else.

People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.

As it happens, many people inside Clinton’s campaign live right here on Earth. One important Clinton adviser estimated to Politico privately that she has no more than a 10 percent chance of winning her race against Barack Obama, an appraisal that was echoed by other operatives.

In other words: The notion of the Democratic contest being a dramatic cliffhanger is a game of make-believe...


From The Field. Via Andrew Sullivan.

At the end of February, “a Clinton advisor confirmed” for Politico’s Ben Smith that the campaign raised $35 million during the month of February.

The Wall Street Journal reported the same: “Rebounding dramatically from dismal fund-raising in January, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign raised more than $35 million in February—a record haul for the campaign.”

ABC News reported that Senator Clinton herself made the claim:

Sen. Hillary Clinton said Thursday she was incredibly gratified to learn her campaign hauled in a record 35 million dollars in the month of February, despite losing 11 contests during that time.

“I was sure excited by the generosity of thousands of new donors,” Clinton told reporters in Hanging Rock, Ohio. “It was really heartwarming because a lot of them sent e-mails talking about why they were contributing and it was often five, ten, fifteen dollars and they would write about how they wanted to do for their children.”

I’m not singling out those news sources. In the days before the March 4 Ohio and Texas primaries, virtually every political reporter repeated the claim as fact.

But Houston, we have a problem: it was untrue.

Clinton’s true fundraising take in February was far less, almost by half.

The Los Angeles Times reports, after scouring Federal Elections Commission (FEC) reports that Clinton’s, uh, creative math, included “$10 million from her Senate campaign account and a $5-million personal loan.”

The Associated Press digs deeper into the numbers (the February filing reports came in yesterday) and notes that most of the $19 million that Clinton did raise in February was either offset by unpaid bills or was “general election” money (what big donors, lobbyists and PACs that have already given the maximum $2,300 to the primary campaign then give to a fund that can only be used if the candidate becomes the nominee):

reports filed with the Federal Election commission late Thursday showed that Obama set a single-month fundraising record, with more than $55 million in contributions.

Both Democrats ended up with more than $30 million in the bank, but Clinton can’t use two-thirds of her cash on hand because it’s only for the general election. That and her debt left her with less than $3 million in the black. The debt doesn’t include the $5 million she lent her campaign in January.

The fact that so much of Clinton’s money is in that “general election” category that can’t be spent also betrays the candidate’s claim, above, that her fundraising was boosted significantly by donors of “five, ten, fifteen dollars.” Small donors never give (and are never asked) for the general election campaign: that category is for the fat cats (who can now give to Clinton with increasing assurance that their money will have to be refunded, by law, when she doesn’t win the nomination).

So, what’s really been going on is a big game of mirrors-and-smoke in which unquestioning journalists have played along or been used.

Spitzer implementing classic PR spin move - he has an "addiction" Moishe not buying it, you like 22 yo scorts, im not mad

Ny Post

March 21, 2008 -- Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer has gone into therapy in the wake of the hooker scandal that swept him out of office, a Spitzer insider told The Post yesterday.

As part of the therapy, Spitzer will explore whether he has an addiction to sex, the source said.

The last time Spitzer was seen publicly was on Saturday, when he hopped behind the wheel of an SUV outside his Upper East Side building with his wife, Silda, two of their daughters, and their Wheaton terrier, James, and made a beeline to their weekend home in upstate Pine Plains.

A spokeswoman for Spitzer said yesterday he was still with his family there, but declined to comment on whatever therapy Spitzer had sought.

Spitzer formally stepped down on Monday after it became public that he was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a tryst with a $4,300-a-night call girl at a Washington hotel in February.

Since then, it has emerged he has had a jones for pricey professional girls going back as far as a decade, and hooked up with "Kristen" - the nom-de-sack of 22-year-old Ashley Alexandra Dupre - several times prior to getting nabbed on tape, sources have said.

Experts say this type of behavior exhibits classic signs of sexual addiction.

"If it becomes an overwhelming urge to the detriment of your professional and familial relationships - if it starts to screw up your life - that is addictive behavior," said Dr. Jeffrey Gardere, a clinical psychologist.

"Someone who displays this sort of behavior could be classified as having a sexual addiction."

The randy politician's penchant for ladies of the night came to the attention of federal prosecutors when they noticed several unusual financial transactions from Spitzer's bank accounts.

Thinking it might be evidence of bribery, investigators from the US Attorney's Office uncovered Spitzer's involvement with a high-end sex ring called Emperors Club VIP.

Spitzer was one of 10 deep-pocketed johns caught on wiretaps arranging for trysts with top-dollar Emperors Club VIP hookers.

On March 6, investigators shut the ring down, busting four people who ran the operation.

Spitzer has not been charged with a crime, but federal prosecutors are continuing to follow the money trail to see if the fallen Democrat had used any campaign money to fund his sexcapades.

They are also investigating if he arranged any unnecessary out-of-state trips - ostensibly on government business - to rendezvous with call girls, and are looking into whether he violated banking laws by trying to obscure the nature of his transactions with Emperors.

Quote of the Day

Classic Cheney. From Think Progress.

This morning, on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, ABC’s Good Morning America aired an interview with Vice President Cheney on the war. During the segment, Cheney flatly told White House correspondent Martha Raddatz that he doesn’t care about the American public’s views on the war:

CHENEY: On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.

RADDATZ: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.


RADDATZ So? You don’t care what the American people think?

CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gregory Issacs, Moishe hyped for show

Thanks For the Memories, AI

From ESPN.

PHILADEPHIA -- Allen Iverson did not cry as the crowd inside his old stomping grounds showered him with 35 seconds of unadulterated love during pregame introductions. He blew kisses to the crowd, he pounded his chest, and when the applause and the screaming would not cease, he cupped his hand behind his ear and made the noise level rise by another dozen decibels.

"I didn't actually have tears in my eyes, but they were burning," Iverson said. "At one point I had to hold my head up so they wouldn't fall.

"But when I'm back at my hotel all by myself later tonight, they'll come out."

In an incredibly emotional comeback to the city where he spent one of the most eventful decades any NBA player has ever experienced, Iverson was given the warmest of receptions by the same fans he tantalized and frustrated for so many years.

He had a chance to be the hero of the game, too, but his jumper from the corner with 4 seconds left was off-target, and Iverson's old team, the Philadelphia 76ers, celebrated as though they had won a championship as the final buzzer sounded on a 115-113 victory Wednesday night over the Denver Nuggets.

"I'm not saying I'm cool with losing, cuz I'm not," Iverson said, "but I can't take away from what these people gave me tonight."
it was a class act all around -- from Iverson himself, and from the Philly fans.

"It was emotional, and it made me feel like the time I spent here was worth it," Iverson said.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This Shtick still plays?

MUSCAT, Oman (AP) - Retaining his tough stance against Iran, Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that Tehran may have restarted the nuclear weaponization program that a U.S. intelligence report said was halted in 2003.

Speaking in Oman, a U.S.-allied Arab monarchy and neighbor of Iran's, Cheney told ABC News, "The important thing to keep in mind is the objective that we share with many of our friends in the region, and that is that a nuclear-armed Iran would be very destabilizing for the entire area."

In December an intelligence report known as the National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran's nuclear weapons development program was stopped in the fall of 2003 because of international pressure. The report, however, cautioned that Tehran continues to enrich uranium and still could develop a bomb between 2010 and 2015 if it decided to do so.

Critics of the Bush administration said the report should dampen any campaign for a U.S. confrontation with Iran.

But Cheney that that while the NIE said Iran had a program to develop a nuclear warhead, it remains unclear if it has resumed that activity.

"What it (the NIE) says is that they have definitely had in the past a program to develop a nuclear warhead; that it would appear that they stopped that weaponization process in 2003. We don't know whether or not they've restarted," he said.

"What we do know is that they had then, and have now, a process by which they're trying to enrich uranium, which is the key obstacle they've got to overcome in order to have a nuclear weapon," he added. "They've been working at it for years."

The vice president's visit to Oman, part of a 10-day trip to the Mideast, fueled speculation that the United States was ratcheting up military pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. As a quiet U.S. military ally, Oman allows the United States to use four air bases—including one just 50 miles from Iran—for refueling, logistics and storage of pre-positioned military supplies.

Cheney denied that he'd stepped up his opposition to Iran's nuclear policy.

"I've been pretty consistent over time about Iran," he said. "I don't think I've ratcheted up the rhetoric. I felt strongly for a long time, and a lot of us have, that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons."

Cheney officials said the vice president wanted to visit the sultanate to show U.S. appreciation for its cooperation in fighting terrorism, but that Iran would be a top topic of discussion.

Before dining with Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Cheney borrowed his 60-foot royal yacht and went fishing.

A Cheney spokeswoman said the vice president, his wife Lynne, and daughter, Liz, a former State Department official who is traveling with her father as a private citizen, headed out under sunny skies into the Gulf of Oman on "Kingfish I." Cheney has had a personal relationship with the sultan going back to the time when the vice president was defense secretary, but the sultan did not go along on the fishing trip.

If true, this is good

TEHRAN, March 19 (UPI) -- Many Iranian youths rallied in streets across the country, shouting "Death to Ahmadinejad," in celebrations marking the end of the Persian calendar year.

The last Wednesday of the Persian calendar is celebrated as the Fire Festival in Iran, with bonfires and firecrackers marking the occasion.

In the western city of Ahvaz, angry mobs declared "Freedom is our legitimate right" while demonstrators in the western city of Sanandaj shouted "Death to (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad," Ynetnews reported Wednesday.

The police in Tehran were out in force and, though they were met with a barrage of firecrackers, the situation didn't escalate beyond what is typical for the Fire Festival, local reports cited in the news report said.

Ahmed Raza-Radan, the police chief in Tehran, warned demonstrators against violating the rule of law in a news conference.

"The police force has resolved to detain any party-goers who break the law. The secret police will have full control, and will not hesitate to photograph citizens for evidence," he said.

Look at What They found.

Associated Press
LOS ANGELES - Stop that $1 million check: It turns out the call girl linked to Eliot Spitzer had already shed her clothes for "Girls Gone Wild" as an 18-year-old while partying in Miami, the video company's founder said yesterday.

Joe Francis had reached out to Ashley Alexandra Dupre, now 22, with an offer of $1 million to appear in a non-nude spread for his company's new magazine, plus a chance to join the "Girls Gone Wild" tour bus, his company announced yesterday. But Francis said someone had a revelation at yesterday morning's staff meeting: Did anyone think to check the archives?

They did, he said - and there she was.

"It'll save me a million bucks," Francis told the Associated Press later in the day. "It's kind of like finding a winning lottery ticket in the cushions of your couch."

He said his employees got to work on pulling the footage and planned to offer it on the Web site by last night.

Good Idea

From the NY Times.

WE Democrats have a problem, but it’s one we can fix.

We are blessed with two fine candidates, but it’s entirely possible that when primary season ends on June 3, we will still lack a clear nominee. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could each still believe that the nomination could be his or hers at the national convention in Denver in August.

In that situation, we would then face a long summer of brutal and unnecessary warfare. We would face a summer of growing polarization. And we would face a summer of lost opportunities — lost opportunities to heal the wounds of the primaries, to fill the party’s coffers, to offer unified Democratic ideas for America’s challenges.

If we do nothing, we’ll of course still have a nominee by Labor Day. But if he or she is the nominee of a party that is emotionally exhausted and divided with only two months to go before Election Day, it could be a Pyrrhic victory.

Here’s what our party should do: schedule a superdelegate primary. In early June, after the final primaries, the Democratic National Committee should call together our superdelegates in a public caucus.

Of the 795 superdelegates, over 40 percent have not announced which candidate they are supporting; I’m one of them. While it would be comfortable for me to delay making a decision until the convention, the reality is that I’ll have all the information I reasonably need in June, and so will my colleagues across the country.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Give Him a Break, He's 130 Years Old for Crying Out Loud

McCain should be allowed a senior moment from time to time. From the Washington Post.

By Cameron W. Barr and Michael D. Shear
AMMAN, Jordan -- Sen. John McCain, traveling in the Middle East to promote his foreign policy expertise, misidentified in remarks Tuesday which broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from Iran.

He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda. In fact, officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq.

Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back."

Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was "common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that's well known. And it's unfortunate." A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate's ear. McCain then said: "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."

The mistake threatened to undermine McCain's argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists. In recent days, McCain has repeatedly said his intimate knowledge of foreign policy makes him the best equipped to answer a phone ringing in the White House late at night...

Friday, March 14, 2008

great piece on the bear sterns bailout (naked capitalism)

Bear Bailout: Is No One Too Small to Fail?

Listen to this article The news that Bear had to run to the Fed for help with its rapidly deteriorating cash position, and JP Morgan has been muscled into assisting in the rescue is a sign that Bear was deemed too big to fail. The Fed is lending against Bear's collateral (I haven't seen an estimate as to how large this operation is).

First Countrywide, now Bear. Why did the Fed not let Bear collapse? You can attribute it to the Fed's tendency to take responsibility for problems it can't and shouldn't fix, but this one is a trickier call than Countrywide.

Bear is a large prime broker, which means it lends to hedge funds. It is also a significant counterparty in enough different credit markets that its collapse would have at a minimum caused panic as to who might have been hurt. You'd have a further scramble for liquidity and reluctance to lend, which is precisely the condition the Fed has been trying to alleviate.

In particular, according to Bloomberg, Bear was the second largest underwriter of mortgage bonds, The lead manager (I'm assuming Bear was also a significant lead manager) is the only one who knows where the bonds went and is thus in the best position to trade them. So Bear's role as an important market-maker may have played into the calculus.

But the answer to the question of whether Bear should have been allowed to tank depends on how long it would take the crisis to pass. Swap spreads were elevated a full year after the LTCM rescue, but here the relevant metric would be how long the acute phase might take. If it was two weeks or a month, and no one save maybe some middling sized hedge funds (or a lot of teeny ones) would fail, that would have been acceptable. But the Fed couldn't assess this in a 24 hour period. (However, some parties believe that the Fed's $200 million TLSF was in part to assist Bear; if so, they've had at least a week to evaluate this risk. But in that case, I'm not certain they asked the right questions).

I still think Bear should have been permitted to fail. Now every the same size or larger knows the Fed will ride into the rescue. This is a terrible precedent. It also increases the odds of the Fed running out of firepower long before the crisis is over.

I also wonder what Bear employees were paid in bonuses last year (I assume the checks went out in late December or January) and whether cutting that number by 50% would have saved Bear's hide. (CEO Alan Schwartz's blaming the crisis on "market rumors is classic and should be heavily discounted, although one also has to wonder if Bear would have survived if the TSLF had been operational this week).

Analysts believe that JP Morgan may wind up owning parts or all of Bear. It isn't easy to hive off pieces of trading firms, which Bear is. As we have said before, Bear has such a sharp-elbowed, entrepreneurial culture that it's difficult imagining that anyone could manage it successfully, This bailout (which is almost certain to leave the banks owning Bear, given the dearth of other capable and interested parties) has high odds of being a value destroying exercise for JP Morgan.

For the curious, Bloomberg also describes how the Fed has the authority to rescue a non-bank:

The loan to Bear Stearns required a vote today by the Fed's Board of Governors because the company isn't a bank, Fed staff officials said. The central bank is taking on the credit risk from Bear Stearns collateral, lending the funds through JPMorgan Chase & Co. because it's operationally simpler to accomplish than a direct loan, the staff said on condition of anonymity.

Bernanke took advantage of little-used parts of Fed law, added in the 1930s and last utilized in the 1960s, that allows it to loan to corporations and private partnerships with a special Board vote. The Fed chief probably sought to stave off a deeper blow to the financial system from a Bear Stearns collapse, former Fed researcher Keith Hembre said.

``The Fed really doesn't have any obligation to help a non- bank aside from its role or responsibility to keep the financial markets functioning,'' said Hembre, who helps oversee $107 billion as chief economist at FAF Advisors Inc. in Minneapolis. ``They made a judgment, probably an accurate one, that they're not going to function very well if you've got a full-blown crisis with a major Wall Street firm.''

The Horse Race

From Talking Points Memo.

By Greg Sargent - March 14, 2008, 3:40PM

On a call with some of his major California donors yesterday, Barack Obama acknowledged that Pennsylvania will be a steep uphill battle, and said that his aim is to get within 10 points of Hillary there, something that he said would be a "victory" for him, according to a donor on the call.

"He said that Pennsylvania is tough for them and that the demographics really are not the best for them," the donor tells me, adding that Obama was speaking to the group of 40-odd contributors via conference call.

"He said his goal is to finish within 10 points, and that that would be a victory for them. He said he'll be making a big effort there, but that she should win it and that the goal is to finish within 10."

Asked for comment on the conversation, Obama spokesperson Bill Burton didn't deny that it had taken place, saying: "She has a big lead, she won Ohio by 10 points and she is the favorite -- but we will fight as hard as we can for votes and delegates."

Obama's remarks are significant, because defining a Pennsylvania victory (and defeat) in such specific terms could make it tougher for the campaign to frame the actual results when they happen should he lose by more than 10 points. If he comes in under 10, however, setting expectations in advance this way could help.

Stream Yesterday's My Morning Jacket SXSW Concert

Another chance to hear new songs from their upcoming album, this time with great sound quality. From NPR.
Update: big words from Rolling Stone.

What once sounded like Lynyrd Skynyrd-to-the-moon — and that is a high compliment — is now even bigger in heave and bolder in color and texture. At the Austin Music Hall,”Run Thru” was a Kentucky “Kashmir” and “Whole Lotta Love” combined: a slow, heavy riff; a hellbent middle of unison-guitar excitement; and a hard u-turn back to that messy, majestic grind. You could keep biting your nails, waiting for a Zeppelin-reunion tour. Or you can see My Morning Jacket, here and now, make their own Physical Graffiti in your face.
Another Update: Now you can download the concert in mp3. Here.

So ... The Surge Has Failed?

Weird, because John McCain and W. Bush have been telling me it's worked. From the Washington Post.

Petraeus: Iraqi Leaders Not Making 'Sufficient Progress'

By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 14, 2008; A10

BAGHDAD, March 13 -- Iraqi leaders have failed to take advantage of a reduction in violence to make adequate progress toward resolving their political differences, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Thursday.

Petraeus, who is preparing to testify to Congress next month on the Iraq war, said in an interview that "no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation," or in the provision of basic public services.

The general's comments appeared to be his sternest to date on Iraqis' failure to achieve political reconciliation. In February, following the passage of laws on the budget, provincial elections and an amnesty for certain detainees, Petraeus was more encouraging. "The passage of the three laws today showed that the Iraqi leaders are now taking advantage of the opportunity that coalition and Iraqi troopers fought so hard to provide," he said at the time.

Petraeus came back to Iraq a year ago to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, backed up by a temporary increase of about 30,000 U.S. troops, intended to reduce violence so Iraqi leaders could pass laws and take other measures to ease the sectarian and political differences that threaten to break the country apart.
Many Iraqi parliament members and other officials acknowledge that the country's political system is often paralyzed by sectarian divisions, but they also say that American expectations are driven by considerations in Washington and do not reflect the complexity of Iraq's problems.
Update! From Matthew Yglesias
I think the point is clear enough -- Petraeus is right that if you're willing to expend an infinite quantity of American lives, American money, and American resources of diplomacy and attention on Iraq, things might kinda sorta turn out okay at some point depending on what happens. I would only caution that if we cut and run it's also possible that some sunny scenario will emerge. But in terms of the goals actually set for the surge, i.e. reconciliation, it hasn't happened.

Good News

Ambac Has $15 Billion in Claims-Paying Resources, Callen Says

By Romaine Bostick

March 14 (Bloomberg) -- Ambac Financial Group Inc., the world's second-largest bond insurer, said it has more than $15 billion in claims paying resources and will be able to retain its AAA ratings and meet its immediate objectives.

``Ambac never considered a `bailout,''' Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael A. Callen said in a letter to policyholders released today. ``Many parties offered us capital alternatives, but, as I have said publicly, their terms were at an unacceptably high price.''

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More scary news on banks (business week)

Investors breathed a sigh of relief on Mar. 11 when the Federal Reserve offered to lend troubled banks as much as $200 billion in Treasuries. Still, the Fed's lifeline won't fix the root of the housing market's problems—falling prices and rising defaults. So it is unlikely to save mortgage lenders from the next wave of losses, those buried deep in the minutiae of balance sheets.

A closer look at the books of big lenders reveals several weak spots that haven't yet shown up in the financial results. At many banks, bad loans are piling up faster than the amount of money they're setting aside to cover them. Meanwhile, housing lenders booked income on vulnerable exotic loans and mortgage securities before they collected the money—paper gains that may be reversed through writedowns. Plus the values of some troubled loans, which have been trimmed modestly so far and shown up in previous losses, could still be overstated......

Because Who Hasn't Wondered What a $5,500/ hr 'scort Looks Like?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Yes Septa - nice move - go green

One of our favorite green public artists, Edina Tokodi, is at it once again with her shape-shifting moss graffiti and urban guerrilla tactics. Tokodi was recently commissioned by SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) to encourage Philadelphia’s commuters to ‘Go Green’ with her navigable moss icons and green walls in the East Market Station’s passenger service area, ticketing area, and on the exterior of the station building and Transportation Museum. The initiative is part of SEPTA’s mission to help commuters become more aware of the positive environmental impact that they might make by using mass transit regularly.

Philly’s effort to ‘Go Green’ via ‘moss transit’ might be just the way to start another American Revolution. We hope that other cities nationwide will soon be eager to get on board and take the green express as well!....

Wilbur Ross on the banking system (wsj video) - good piece

'Semantic Web,' remember this term

Google may eventually be displaced as the pre-eminent brand on the internet by a company that harnesses the power of next-generation web technology, the inventor of the World Wide Web has said.

The search giant had developed an extremely effective way of searching for pages on the internet, Tim Berners-Lee said, but that ability paled in comparison to what could be achieved on the "web of the future", which he said would allow any piece of information — such as a photo or a bank statement — to be linked to any other.

Mr Berners-Lee said that in the same way, the "current craze" for social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace would eventually be superceded by networks that connected all types of things — not just people — thanks to a ground-breaking technology known as the "semantic web".

The semantic web is the term used by the computer and internet industry to describe the next phase of the web's development, and essentially involves building web-based connectivity into any piece of data — not just a web page — so that it can "communicate" with other information.

Whereas the existing web is a collection of pages with links between them that Google and other search engines help the user to navigate, the "semantic web" will enable direct connectivity between much more low-level pieces of information — a written street address and a map, for instance — which in turn will give rise to new services.

"Using the semantic web, you can build applications that are much more powerful than anything on the regular web," Mr Berners-Lee said. "Imagine if two completely separate things — your bank statements and your calendar — spoke the same language and could share information with one another. You could drag one on top of the other and a whole bunch of dots would appear showing you when you spent your money.

"If you still weren't sure of where you were when you made a particular transaction, you could then drag your photo album on top of the calendar, and be reminded that you used your credit card at the same time you were taking pictures of your kids at a theme park. So you wouldd know not to claim it as a tax deduction.

"It's about creating a seamless web of all the data in your life."

One example frequently given is of typing a street address which, if it had "semantic data" built into it, would link directly to a map showing its location, dispensing with the need to go to a site like Google `maps, type in the address, get the link and paste it into a document or e-mail.

The challenge, experts say, is in finding a way to represent all data so that when it is connected to the web, links to other relevant information can be recognised and established — a bit like the process known as "tagging". One expected application is in the pharmaceutical industry, where previously unconnected pieces of research into a drug or disease, say, could be brought together and assimilated.

Mr Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web in 1989 while a fellow at CERN, the European Organsation for Nuclear Research in Switzerland, would not be drawn on the type of application that the "Google of the future" would develop, but said it would likely be a type of "mega-mash-up", where information is taken from one place and made useful in another context using the web.

Existing "mash-ups", such as progams that plotted the location of every Starbucks in a city using Google maps, were a start, he said in an interview with Times Online, but they were limited because a separate application had to be built each time a new service was imagined.

"In the semantic web, it's like every piece of data is given a longitude and latitute on a map, and anyone can 'mash' them together and use them for different things."

Mr Berners-Lee, who is now a director of the Web Science Research Initiative, a collaborative project between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Southampton, sought to put into context the rapid growth of social networking sites in recent years, saying that once the semantic web was rolled out they would be thought of as one of many types of network available.

"At the moment, people are very excited about all these connections being made between people — for obvious reasons, because people are important — but I think after a while people will realise that there are many other things you can connect to via the web."

He also spoke about what he described as one of the key challenges of the web today — confronting the security risks associated with large databases of information that were attractive to criminals and identity fraudsters.

"There are definitely better ways of managing that threat. I think we're soon going to see a new tipping point where different types of crimes become possible and lucrative, and it's something we constantly have to be aware of.

"One option is to build systems which more effectively track what information you've used to perform a particular task, and make sure people aren't using their authority to do things that they shouldn't be doing."