Sunday, May 30, 2010

I'll wait for the movie

Gretchen Morgenson thinks that at 3,000 pages, the financial reform bills awaiting reconciliation still don't do enough to prevent future obscure financial products that lead ultimately to meltdowns.

Another part of the Senate bill that keeps derivatives markets opaque resulted from a tiny change in the proposal’s original language.

Initially, the Senate bill’s discussions of derivatives platforms defined them as “trading” facilities, a term of art from the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. In that law, a trading facility refers to a system in which multiple participants place bids and offers and in which price transparency exists both before and after a trade is made. Such a definition usually excludes making deals over the telephone because negotiating on the phone may not provide access to as many different prices as an exchange does.

But the word “trading” was eventually struck from the final Senate bill’s definition of derivatives platforms. That change would allow dealers to make derivatives deals over the phone, hardly a victory for transparency. Dealers love trading by phone because it makes it harder for customers and investors to see prices and comparison-shop, which, of course, bolsters dealer profits.

Because the House bill never specifically took on the issue of “trading” facilities, it is unlikely that the reconciliation of the two proposals will bring back this important distinction — leaving derivatives trading more opaque than it should be.

Finally, lawmakers who are charged with consolidating the two bills are talking about eliminating language that would bar derivatives facilities from receiving taxpayer bailouts if they get into trouble. That means a federal rescue of an imperiled derivatives trading facility could occur. (Again, think A.I.G.)

Enjoy your stay at the casino.



New York City has a proud tradition of playground hoops, streetball, so it's nifty to see that the basket themselves are still made the old-fashioned way using anvils and a 100-year old blueprint.

Like generations before them, the young men who play at the ramshackle court in St. Nicholas Park in Harlem know the rim is so troublesome that they tend to avoid perimeter jump shots in favor of aggressive drives to the basket, where perhaps its vagaries will be less pronounced.

“These are ghetto rims,” said Quaeshawn Berry, a lanky 14-year-old who is a regular at the park. “But I prefer these. I’ve been playing on these my whole life.”

These unforgiving, practically unbreakable orange rims — built so simply that there are no hooks to accommodate a net — are longstanding fixtures of the public basketball courts throughout New York City, where they play a minor, if usually overlooked, role in countless pick-up games.

But largely unknown to even the most devoted practitioners of the city game is that most of the basketball rims on these courts have been individually crafted by a team of blacksmiths who cut, weld and paint each by hand.

Using a century-old method that has long since vanished elsewhere, the half-dozen parks department employees — all basketball players themselves — have forged thousands of rims, each one worked into a microcosm of the local game.

“There are minor differences,” said John Fitzgerald, the longtime city blacksmith in charge of making the rims. “It’s like no snowflakes are exactly the same.”

Working from a hand-drawn blueprint, the blacksmiths use hammers and the horn of an anvil to shape the steel ring that serves as the hoop, welding it to several slabs of metal that form a support bolted to the backboard. The finished product is a remnant of an earlier era of the sport, somewhere on the evolutionary chain between the original wooden peach baskets and the modern spring-loaded breakaway rims used by the National Basketball Association.

It has to lead to a more physical style of play as players avoid the outside shot and drive to the basket instead.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

The Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir's book, The Second Sex, a historic study of women, marriage, motherhood, and lack of equality, was translated from the French by a zoologist with an undergraduate's knowledge of French and 15 percent of the material was cut out. A new translation is out, but according to Francine du Plessix Grey, it still hasn't aged well.

How does Beauvoir’s book stand up more than a half-century later? And how does this new translation compare with the previous one? I’m sorry to report that “The Second Sex,” which I read with euphoric enthusiasm in my post-college years, now strikes me as being in many ways dated. Written in an era in which a minority of women were employed, its arguments for female participation in the work force seem particularly outmoded. And Beauvoir’s truly paranoid hostility toward the institutions of marriage and motherhood — another characteristic of early feminism — is so extreme as to be occasionally hilarious. Every aspect of the female reproductive system, from puberty to menopause, is approached with the same ferocious disdain. Females of all living species are “first violated . . . then alienated” by the process of fertilization. Derogatory phrases like “the servitude of maternity,” “woman’s absurd fertility,” the “exhausting servitude” of breast-feeding, abound. (How could they not, since the author sees heterosexual love in general as “a mortal danger?”) According to Beauvoir, a girl’s first menstruation, which many of us welcomed with excitement and pride, is met instead with “disgust and fear. ” It “ inspires horror” and “signifies illness, suffering and death.” Beauvoir doesn’t appear to have spent much time with children or teenagers: a first menses, in her view, leads the girl to be “disgusted by her too-carnal body, by menstrual blood, by adults’ sexual practices, by the male she is destined for.”

If Beauvoir’s ruminations on “the curse” are pessimistic (and pessimism runs through “The Second Sex” like a poisonous river) her reflections on sexual initiation and marriage make them sound like torture. She chooses the most brutal examples of deflorations — mostly rapes — to make her points. Wedding nights “transform the erotic experience into an ordeal” that “often dooms the woman to frigidity forever.” It isn’t surprising, she adds, “that ‘conjugal duties’ are often only a repugnant chore for the wife.” “No one,” she argues, “dreams of denying the tragedies and nastiness of married life.” Conjugal love, in Beauvoir’s view, is “a complex mixture of attachment, resentment, hatred, rules, resignation, laziness and hypocrisy.” Even marriages that “work well” suffer “a curse they rarely escape: boredom.” Already alarmed? Wait until you come to the discussion of motherhood. A woman experiences the fetus as “a parasite.” “Maternity is a strange compromise of narcissism, altruism, dream, sincerity, bad faith, devotion and cynicism.” “There is nothing like an ‘unnatural mother,’ since maternal love has nothing natural about it.” It is significant that the only stage of a woman’s life Beauvoir has good things to say about is widowhood, which, in her view, most bear quite cheerfully. Upon losing their spouses, she tells us, women, “now lucid and wary, . . . often attain a delicious cynicism.” In old age, they maintain “a stoic defiance or skeptical irony.”

I await the movie version.

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Drones, murder and accountability

Little noticed, the Obama administration has greatly increased the use of drones to target al Qaeda suspects in Pakistan, so this is of more than intellectual interest.

Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said Thursday that he would deliver a report on June 3 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva declaring that the “life and death power” of drones should be entrusted to regular armed forces, not intelligence agencies. He contrasted how the military and the C.I.A. responded to allegations that strikes had killed civilians by mistake.

“With the Defense Department you’ve got maybe not perfect but quite abundant accountability as demonstrated by what happens when a bombing goes wrong in Afghanistan,” he said in an interview. “The whole process that follows is very open. Whereas if the C.I.A. is doing it, by definition they are not going to answer questions, not provide any information, and not do any follow-up that we know about.”

Mr. Alston’s views are not legally binding, and his report will not assert that the operation of combat drones by nonmilitary personnel is a war crime, he said. But the mounting international concern over drones comes as the Obama administration legal team has been quietly struggling over how to justify such counterterrorism efforts while obeying the laws of war.

In recent months, top lawyers for the State Department and the Defense Department have tried to square the idea that the C.I.A.’s drone program is lawful with the United States’ efforts to prosecute Guantánamo Bay detainees accused of killing American soldiers in combat, according to interviews and a review of military documents.

Under the laws of war, soldiers in traditional armies cannot be prosecuted and punished for killing enemy forces in battle. The United States has argued that because Qaeda fighters do not obey the requirements laid out in the Geneva Conventions — like wearing uniforms — they are not “privileged combatants” entitled to such battlefield immunity. But C.I.A. drone operators also wear no uniforms.

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Friday double neck guitar blogging


Thursday, May 27, 2010

F_cking Joe West

This is a fine tirade and this is one of the finest, most lyrical pieces of sportswriting I've ever read.

Sorry for the paucity of posts. Gotta work to make a living, doncha know.

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Markets aren't always "free"

I guess for that mustache-ode fool, a realtor can decide whom to show houses in which neighborhoods. Stossel wouldn't buy a house from that realtor, but the government should tell that private businessman how to sell houses...or where.

What Stossel, who is old enough to know better, but too enamored with his own "principles" to accept, conveniently ignores is that the "market" in 1964 in much of the South wasn't "free." It was institutionalized apartheid. The police enforced it. The government demanded it. Private businesses had to go along whether they wanted to or not. Moreover, all those businesses benefited from public expenditures -- roads, firemen, police, garbage men...

The same is true in terms of housing throughout much of the country. The housing industry -- including those "private businesses" that financed home sales -- enforced red lining.

Fucking libertarian assholes.

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Who will flinch?

The Korea's game of chicken doesn't get all that much attention, but it seems like the two countries are intent on going to war. There are a lot of U.S. troops stationed in between them.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010


The original Times story was a mess. The fact that The Villagers now can't get enough of it is, in Somerby's words, pathetic and inept.

Serwer is editor of Fortune magazine—and he’s pathetic, inept, sad, unwell. Speaking for all the world to hear, the hapless fellow became the latest to speak the untruth about Richard Blumenthal. Needless to say, Serwer’s fraternal order—his clan—has been behaving this way for many years:

SERWER (5/24/10): I mean, I just don't buy it at all. I think the guy should not run. I think he should resign. I mean, this is the attorney general of the state, number one. He wants to be, you know, in this exalted position. He lied. Then he also lied about Harvard—he said he was the captain of the swim team. He wasn't. Gee, I wonder if there's another lie there somewhere. I wonder. What do you think?

Serwer seemed so sure of himself, so very fraternal. In this utterly heartfelt speech, he got himself in line with the line of the clan.

(For Julie Millican’s report at Media Matters, just click here. Tape of Serwer included.)

Might we repeat? There is no evidence—nada, none, zilch—that Blumenthal ever said he was captain of the Harvard swim team. As far as we know, Blumenthal had never been quoted or cited discussing the Harvard swim team at all, until he spoke about the topic last week. But so what? The New York Times started this latest bungled tale, and the paper’s “public editor” averted his gaze in Sunday’s column. Fox pimped this garbage all last week, embellishing grandly as it went. On Sunday, George Will jumped on board.

On Monday, Childe Serwer played the fool too. Translation: These are horrible people.

Needless to say, this is a variant of the mainstream press corps’ twenty-month war against Candidate Gore. Yes, there are major differences. In this case, Blumenthal did misstate his military record on at least one or two occasions. (Note: The New York Times says it researched this matter over the past twenty years.) By way of contrast, it’s quite hard to find any actual misstatements by Gore during the press corps’ twenty-month war—the war which sent Bush to the White House.

And as this inane bullshit gets churned, they are helping to destroy a unimpeachable career. Worse, they are trying to send Linda McMahon to the U.S. Senate.

In June 2000, Mick Foley returned to the WWF as Commissioner—with the blessing of McMahon. At the same time, Vince McMahon went on a hiatus, claiming that he had realized why McMahon was opposing him—she wanted another baby. Dubbing himself the "genetic jackhammer," Vince left for several months. He later returned and demanded a divorce. The following week, Vince was informed that McMahon had been rushed to the hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. With McMahon in a sanatorium, the Board of Directors appointed Vince as CEO on December 18, allowing him to fire Foley. With McMahon apparently comatose as a result of her breakdown and the sedatives that Vince had administered to her, Vince began having a very public affair with Trish Stratus.

As a result of the affair, Shane challenged Vince to a street-fight at WrestleMania X-Seven. Vince faced Shane with Foley as special guest referee. Stephanie and Linda were at ringside, and as Stephanie actively helped Vince in the match, Linda sat in her wheelchair, completely comatose.[49] At the end of the match, however, Linda stood up, apparently no longer sedated, and kicked Vince in the groin, allowing Shane to defeat him.[50][49] A week later, Linda resumed her duties as CEO and asked Vince for a divorce. She harassed Vince over the next few months, forcing Vince's chosen champion Steve Austin to defend the WWF Championship and supporting Shane and World Championship Wrestling, which he had just purchased. Vince and Linda would reconcile, however, in October 2001 when they realized that The Alliance of WCW and ECW (purchased by Stephanie) would attempt to destroy the WWF.

So many of the shining lights of our media are little more than snickering, adolescent clowns. They seem determined to help elect other clowns to high national office.


Would you buy a car from this man?

Combining both greed and arrogance in his quest to win the votes of his fellow Ohioans.

Jim Renacci was just a simple, ordinary American entrepreneur who bought a GM dealership in 2007 from a guy who was about to go to prison for laundering drug money. In those heady go-go times, GM seemed like a world-beating company to hitch one’s star to; thus, it came as a total shock a couple of years later when the commissars assigned to run GM for the good of the proletariat came down hard the kulak Renacci, shutting his precious dealership down. That’s why Renacci wants to be northeast Ohio’s new Congressman, to undo these sorts of terrible injustices.

The current congressman, Democrat John Boccieri, only won the seat in 2008 after the previous Republican Representative-for-almost-life quit, and he voted for the dreaded Health Care Bill that will benefit thousands of his constituents, so he may be in a bit of trouble this year. This is probably why he’s being so mean and pointing out all the lawsuits Renacci is faced with over shitty cars he sold to people! Renacci also accepted money from the Trotsky-inspired Cash for Clunkers program, but he swears that he was actually opposed to it and that sweet, sweet government cash was physically shoved into his hands.


Pasta diving Jeter

Last year Jeter had one of his best years -- both defensively and offensively -- amazing feat for a SS in the advanced age of 35. His 336/406/465 were a big part of the reason the Yankees went to the Serious, and whatever he did to improve his lateral movements in the off-season paid off spectacularly.

This year, not so much. We're hearing more of the title of this post from the broadcasters, and offensively Jeter's shown little power. In fact, he hasn't hit that many out of the infield. Which leads to some interesting questions in this, the last year of his 10-year $200 million contract.

One quarter of the way into the 2010 season, however, it is necessary to question these assumptions. Jeter is hitting .276/.320/.396. Those numbers are .040-.070 below his career figures. If the season ended today, Jeter would have the lowest on base percentage, slugging percentage and batting average of any season since his 15 game cup of coffee in 1995. A season like this from a 36 year old would be hard to write off as simply a fluke off year and make it necessary to revisit questions about Jeter’s future offensive value.

A bad offensive 2010, by Jeter, would change everything for both the Yankees and Jeter and present a real dilemma for the Yankees. While the Yankees can afford to overpay for a useful offensive player with limited defensive value, which is where they thought Jeter would be two or three years from now, it makes far less sense to pay that kind of money for a player whose offensive skills may be in sharp decline and whose defense is not going to be stellar. That is the direction in which Jeter may be heading. The Yankees have prepared themselves for a Jeter who can no longer play shortstop, but a Jeter who can no longer hit raises much bigger problems.


The dilemma exists for Jeter as well. He is worth more to the Yankees than to other teams, but he also benefits from spending his whole career with the Yankees. This suggests that there is ample economic space for the Yankees and Jeter to come to an agreement. The baseball questions, however, are not so simple. Jeter has carefully created an image for himself as the consummate team player, but this will be rapidly undermined if he spends the last part of his career chasing milestones and records while collecting a big paycheck while hurting his team. Moreover, if the Yankees feel compelled to play Jeter due to his fame and big contract from 2011-2013, despite what may be seriously declining offensive skills, the team will be weaker for it.

Jeter's had seven hits in the last four games, so hopefully the season will turn around. Even so, this has the potential to be a real opera. Both the Yankees and Jeter know it's in the best interests of all involved for Jeter to end his career in pinstripes. He's only about two seasons away from passing Mickey Mantle as the player with the most games played in the uniform and he continues to wrack up all-time franchise records. But Mantle was a shell of his former greatness by the time he called it quits, and the Yankees were a shell of the dynasty they'd once been by the time he'd done so in 1968. We know the Yankees GM is not a sentimental man when it comes to personnel decisions. And we know Jeter is a very proud man who may bristle at a significant pay cut or reduction of playing time.

Via Banter.


Sibling rivalries

I believe, from personal experience, that this is true.

In the current issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review, Frank J. Sulloway and Richard L. Zweigenhaft went digging for evidence of siblings behaving differently in the vast database of baseball statistics. Given how younger siblings have been shown to take more risks than their older counterparts — perhaps originally to fight for food, now for parental attention — Drs. Sulloway and Zweigenhaft examined whether the phenomenon might persist to the point that baseball-playing brothers would try to steal bases at significantly different rates.

In fact they did: For more than 90 percent of sibling pairs who had played in the major leagues throughout baseball’s long recorded history, including Joe and Dom DiMaggio and Cal and Billy Ripken, the younger brother (regardless of overall talent) tried to steal more often than his older brother.

B. J. and his younger brother, Justin, a slugger for the Arizona Diamondbacks, are actually among the 1 in 10 exceptions (B. J., who at 25 is 3 years older than Justin, has been more of a speedy leadoff hitter, a position in the batting order often associated with base stealing). Yet B. J. nodded thoughtfully when told that scientists have found younger brothers tend to take more risks.

“He was always the one who would push things to the limit,” B. J. said of Justin. “When Mama told him, ‘Don’t ride your bike there,’ he would ride it. When Mama said, ‘Don’t stand on the bleachers,’ he’d stand up on the bleachers and fall and bust his head open.”

A course, my older brothers would have pushed me.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The old enemies and white populism

Today's Krugmaniad.

So what President Obama and his party now face isn’t just, or even mainly, an opposition grounded in right-wing populism. For grass-roots anger is being channeled and exploited by corporate interests, which will be the big winners if the G.O.P. does well in November.

If this sounds familiar, it should: it’s the same formula the right has been using for a generation. Use identity politics to whip up the base; then, when the election is over, give priority to the concerns of your corporate donors. Run as the candidate of “real Americans,” not those soft-on-terror East coast liberals; then, once you’ve won, declare that you have a mandate to privatize Social Security. It comes as no surprise to learn that American Crossroads, a new organization whose goal is to deploy large amounts of corporate cash on behalf of Republican candidates, is the brainchild of none other than Karl Rove.

But won’t the grass-roots rebel at being used? Don’t count on it. Last week Rand Paul, the Tea Party darling who is now the Republican nominee for senator from Kentucky, declared that the president’s criticism of BP over the disastrous oil spill in the gulf is “un-American,” that “sometimes accidents happen.” The mood on the right may be populist, but it’s a kind of populism that’s remarkably sympathetic to big corporations.

So where does that leave the president and his party? Mr. Obama wanted to transcend partisanship. Instead, however, he finds himself very much in the position Franklin Roosevelt described in a famous 1936 speech, struggling with “the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.”

It was interesting that Rand Paul accused the president of being "un-American" for saying we need to put the "boot heel" to BP's neck. The president didn't say that. Ken Salazar did. But we all know why Rand Paul would come to the conclusion that the president is "un-American."

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Progressive remake

David Leonhardt looks at the economic accomplishments of the administration and is impressed.

First came a stimulus bill that, while aimed mainly at ending a deep recession, also set out to remake the nation’s educational system and vastly expand scientific research. Then President Obama signed a health care bill that was the biggest expansion of the safety net in 40 years. And now Congress is in the final stages of a bill that would tighten Wall Street’s rules and probably shrink its profit margins.

If there is a theme to all this, it has been to try to lift economic growth while also reducing income inequality. Growth in the decade that just ended was the slowest in the post-World War II era, while inequality has been rising for most of the last 35 years.

It is far too early to know if these efforts will work. Their success depends enormously on execution and, in the case of financial regulation, specifically on the Federal Reserve, which did not distinguish itself during the housing bubble.

Already, though, one downside to the legislative spurt does seem clear. By focusing on long-term problems, Mr. Obama and the Democrats have given less than their full attention to the economy’s current weakness and turned off a good number of voters.

After months of discussion, and with the unemployment rate hovering near a 27-year high, Democratic leaders said Thursday they had finally reached agreement on a bill that would send aid to states and take other steps to increase job growth. Congress plans to vote on the bill next week. But some of the money will not be spent for months and may not be enough to affect voters’ attitudes before November’s midterm elections.

Still, the turnabout since Jan. 20 — the first anniversary of Mr. Obama’s inauguration and the day after Scott Brown, a Republican, won a Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts — has been remarkable. Then, commentators pronounced the Obama presidency nearly dead. Today, he looks more like a liberal answer to Ronald Reagan.

“If you’d asked me about this administration after Scott Brown was elected, I’d have told you it was going to fizzle into virtually nothing,” said Theda Skocpol, the Harvard political scientist. “Now it could easily be one of the pivotal periods in domestic policy.” But, Ms. Skocpol added, “It will depend on what happens in the next two elections.”

Much of the changes pushed through under this administration are going to be very hard for Republicans to roll back any time soon. It's also hard to be sure how much the unemployment rate affects voters; from what I understand consumer confidence is a better gauge on voters' views on their elected officials. More likely, the very act of "reshaping the economy" is driving a lot of the inchoate dissent we're seeing. They don't understand what's happening and assume that reducing "income inequality" is akin to affirmative action.


Forgotten war

On a day when the Post's home page features a link to "analysis" of the finale of "Lost," Fred Hiatt complains that we don't spend enough time thinking about Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a time of joblessness and home foreclosures, it's not surprising that politics would focus on the economy more than on national security. And maybe, in a time of toxic partisanship, we should be grateful for this inattention to the wars, taking the absence of debate as a sign of rare bipartisan consensus. Certainly few would miss the vitriol of the Iraq debate of a few years back.

Yet there's something disquieting about the quiet. For one thing, it's yet another reminder of American society's separation from its professional military. As the November elections approach, candidates across the spectrum will ostentatiously wear their support for "our warriors" like body armor, which I suppose is better than the alternative. But as the troops become props, the real men and women who are sweating and taking fire and sleeping on hard ground 7,000 miles away are oddly missing from the conversation.

Which is kinda crazy given that Fred Hiatt has done more than most to stifle debate about the war.

UPDATE: Fixed a typo.


Blue Monday, Big Joe Turner edition

Same old, same old

I'm not typically one who greets every new outrage with a demand for someone's firing, but I'll say it again, Ken Salazar has to go.

Shown the data indicating that waivers and permits were still being granted, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, said he was “deeply troubled.”

“We were given the clear impression that these waivers and permits were not being granted,” said Mr. Cardin, who is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where Mr. Salazar testified last week. “I think the presumption should be that there should be stronger environmental reviews, not weaker.”

None of the projects that have recently been granted environmental waivers have started drilling.

However, these waivers have been especially troublesome to environmentalists because they were granted through a special legal provision that is supposed to be limited to projects that present minimal or no risk to the environment.

At least six of the drilling projects that have been given waivers in the past four weeks are for waters that are deeper — and therefore more difficult and dangerous — than where Deepwater Horizon was operating. While that rig, which was drilling at a depth just shy of 5,000 feet, was classified as a deep-water operation, many of the wells in the six projects are classified as “ultra” deep water, including four new wells at over 9,100 feet.

And, just to say it, BP is not going to be able to stop the leak until the reserve they tapped has run dry.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Civil rights imagery

A timely show opens in New York.

This clip opens the show, organized by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. And it is an example of a type of image to which black Americans were once expected to conform: the servant or underling. Another role was the clown, as seen in 1940s Aunt Jemima figures and postcards of black kids eating watermelon.

Such images didn’t reflect reality; they created it, or tried to. They were a common part of the cultural landscape until the 1960s, as were, in the South at least, racist enforcer emblems like “Whites Only” signs.

At the same time, black Americans were responding with images of their own, self-images. In the first decade of the 20th century, W. E. B. Du Bois founded journals that combined reporting on race-based abuses with affirmative visual content, often in the form of photographic portraits of blacks. And in 1945 a young entrepreneur, John H. Johnson, started Ebony, a Life look-alike that covered the burgeoning civil rights movement and addressed itself to the lifestyle interests of a rising black middle class. Many other such magazines — Jet, Sepia, Hue — followed.

Their arrival coincided with the rise of celebrity athletes like Jackie Robinson and Althea Gibson, who also caught the eye of the mainstream white press. And television gave visibility to black performers. While early situation comedies like “Amos ’n’ Andy” still traded in old stereotypes, integrated variety shows introduced an urbane new generation of singers. Even there, the limits to acceptance remained stringent. When Nat King Cole ventured into a variety show of his own in 1956, sponsors stayed clear for fear of alienating their Southern markets.

The South was still a place to fear. A year before Cole’s show was broadcast, a Chicago teenager named Emmett Till visited relatives in Money, Miss. Word went out that he had rashly asked a white woman for a date. Three days later, the woman’s husband and two other men dragged him from where he was staying, beat him to a pulp and tossed his body into the Tallahatchie River.

When the mutilated corpse was recovered, Till’s mother demanded that it be returned to Chicago and put on public view. “Let the world see what I’ve seen,” she said. The black press was present. Pictures were taken and printed in Jet magazine. A copy of the issue is in the show, open to the photographs. Some historians point to their publication as the spark that ignited the civil rights movement.

True or not, the Montgomery Bus Boycott started three months later, and soon after that white newspapers began to turn to subjects the black press had been covering for years. But by the late 1950s, television was poised to become the prime mainstream vehicle for the civil rights story. In 1963, when half-hour news programs became the norm, that shift happened. Televised images of police turning fire hoses and dogs on demonstrators in Birmingham, Ala., had an instant effect on public opinion and national politics.

Rand Paul and his fellow proudly ignorant glibertarians should be required to see such images. Though I doubt anything can shake their belief that "freedom" is about "me."

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Still missing Ari

Ah, memories.


Ideas don't matter

At least that's the impression you get from watching media "analysts," not to mention Republicans in Washington, react to Rand Paul's "evolving" opinion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And I'm sure the same will be true when they respond to his argument that Obama's criticism of BP's response to the oil spill is "un-American" and that "accidents happen."

But TNC is spot on -- this isn't about rookie media training mistakes. Rand Paul's opinions -- his ideas -- should be discussed, not whether or not he should unleash those opinions in public. Maybe, in pure libertarian heaven, he's thought through his ideas on anti-discrimination laws and an interesting discussion may be undertaken. More likely, though, he's just an ignorant asshole whose idea of "liberty" is freedom from any constraints on...him. A senate candidate that doesn't know the slightest thing about one of the most important federal legislative acts of the past 50 years. That's what the focus should be on. Not on "what was he thinking?" when he agreed to do Maddow's show.

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David Brooks' hallucination

I'm not sure what to say about David Brooks' latest, in which he imagines "moderate voter," "Ben."

Ben wasn’t naturally an extremist sort of guy. He didn’t live his life for politics or go in for the over-the-top stuff he heard on talk radio. But he did have some sense that the American work ethic was being threatened by debt and decadence.

It was going to take spit and vinegar to turn things around. So he voted for one of the outsiders. This is not time for a tinkerer, he figured. It’s time for a demolition man.

In a few years’ time, Ben is going to be disappointed again. He’s going to find that the outsiders he sent to Washington just screamed at each other at ever higher decibels. He’s going to find that he and voters like him unwittingly created a political culture in which compromise is impermissible, in which institutions are decimated by lone-wolf narcissists who have no interest in or talent for crafting legislation. Nothing will get done.

In a few years’ time, Ben is going to look for something else. It will be interesting to see if, by that time, any moderates have had the foresight and energy to revive and define the free labor tradition — a tradition that uses government to encourage work, to reward work, and to uphold the values at the core of Ben’s life.

The values at the core of "Ben's" life seem to be suburban complacency, no help for those who haven't been able to survive a massive economic downturn as he has with his "hotel chain job" (what is up with that?), and a hatred for unions, or so it would seem.

And, Abraham Lincoln was a "moderate?"

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FinReg passes the Senate

Another signature achievement by this Congress and the Obama administration.

The bill seeks to curb abusive lending, particularly in the mortgage industry, and to ensure that troubled companies, no matter how big or complex, can be liquidated at no cost to taxpayers. And it would create a “financial stability oversight council” to coordinate efforts to identify risks to the financial system. It would also establish new rules on the trading of derivatives and require hedge funds and most other private equity companies to register for regulation with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Passage of the bill would be a signature achievement for the White House, nearly on par with the recently enacted health care law. President Obama, speaking in the Rose Garden on Thursday afternoon, declared victory over the financial industry and “hordes of lobbyists” that he said had tried to kill the legislation.

“The recession we’re emerging from was primarily caused by a lack of responsibility and accountability from Wall Street to Washington,” Mr. Obama said, adding, “That’s why I made passage of Wall Street reform one of my top priorities as president, so that a crisis like this does not happen again.”

The president also signaled that he would take a strong hand in developing the final bill, which could mean changes to the restrictive derivatives provisions the Senate measure includes and Wall Street opposes. It is also likely that the administration will try to remove an exemption in the House bill that would shield auto dealers from oversight by a new consumer protection agency. Earlier, Mr. Obama had criticized the provision as a “special loophole” that would hurt car buyers.

It's a stronger bill than I think anyone would have guessed was achievable six months ago. There are some regrettable loopholes (congratulations, Sen. Brown!, and thanks again, Mass. voters), but like health care reform before it, this represents comprehensive change that just didn't seem Washington was capable of. Obama, Reid, and Pelosi, had their window of opportunity and they grabbed it.


Feeling lucky

Elections, consequences.

...Obama had come to view this debate as a proxy for the deepest, most systemic crises facing the country. It was a test, really: Could the country still solve its most vexing problems? If he abandoned comprehensive reform, he would be conceding that the United States was, on some level, ungovernable. Besides, several aides recall him saying, “I feel lucky.”

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shite geist

Just a snippet of why DH Riley's every web-log (blog) post must be consumed the way a slow food advocate savors Tuscan Prosciutto Crudo.

I smell "sweeping trans-generational miniseries set in rural Kansas, but with suitable urban subplot featuring Alfre Woodard and a bedraggled but lovable mutt" coming this fall to ABC". Or maybe just a Hair revival.

As I say, just a snippet. Now go gorge yerselves.


Blumenthal's mispeak

I urge anyone still interested in the New York Times weak hit piece on CT AG Richard Blumenthal and his characterization of his service during the Vietnam era, to go read Somerby. He actually did some research.

Meanwhile, the Times keeps doubling down. First, yesterday, with a follow-up in which they give the lede to Blumenthal's "friend," Chris Shays, the Republican Congressman who lost his job to Jim Hines in 2008. It's amazing how much of a role CT Republicans play in this on-going "story." Today, "The Editors" turn the stage to a group of lawyers and psychologists who discuss the strange case of people who lie about their service.

Both stories make it appear that Blumenthal is a serial dissembler on this topic. As I said, Somerby did some looking up.

The New York Times is too great, too grand, to worry about minor things like dates. In its original, groaning front-page report, Hernandez only said this about Blumenthal’s second alleged misstatement:

HERNANDEZ (5/18/10): In 2003, he addressed a rally in Bridgeport, where about 100 military families gathered to express support for American troops overseas. “When we returned, we saw nothing like this,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Let us do better by this generation of men and women.”

For ourselves, we’d like to see a wider context before we judged a short quotation like that. Since Hernandez hadn’t worried his head with silly things like specific dates, we searched the Nexis records for all of 2003, trying to locate this event.

The Nexis records do not include that quotation by Blumenthal. (Which doesn’t mean that he didn’t make it.) It isn’t obvious when this event occurred, though we’d guess it happened in April. That said, we did come upon a detailed report in the Connecticut Post from May 21 of that year. Blumenthal had filed a lawsuit against a group which had allegedly misspent charity funds collected for veterans. In the course of his report, Michael Mayko offered this detailed, perfectly accurate account of Blumenthal’s military service:

MAYKO (5/21/03): "Virtually none of the money went to causes supporting Vietnam veterans or to the veterans or their families," charged Blumenthal. "That's outrageous because Vietnam veteran causes are close to my heart."

The suit accuses American Trade & Convention Publications, the telemarketer, with willfully failing to file a notice that it was soliciting Connecticut residents as required by state law.

Blumenthal, a former U.S. Marine, served as a reservist during the Vietnam War. Although he did not serve overseas, he said he knew many who did.

"I saw how they were treated when they came home," he said.

"Few received the respect they deserved."

Charity directors named as defendants in the suit are...

Duh. All the way back in 2003, Mayko reported Blumenthal’s record with perfect accuracy, with Blumenthal describing his concern about the way Vietnam vets were treated in real time. But then, the Associated Press had somehow managed to do the same thing in a lengthy profile of Blumenthal in 2002. Like Mayko, Diane Scarponi had somehow managed to describe his record with perfect accuracy:

SCARPONI (10/3/02): [W]hile American youths were protesting the war and burning draft cards, Blumenthal did the opposite. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves.

Blumenthal said he enlisted because he had a "pretty low draft number." The Army said he might have to wait a year to be called up, but the Marine Reserves had an opening right away.

At the time that it was uncertain whether reservists would also be shipped to Southeast Asia, Blumenthal said.

In the spring of 1970, as Blumenthal and other recruits sweated out boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., the United States invaded Cambodia and the Ohio National Guard killed four students at Kent State University.

Blumenthal never went to Vietnam. Records from the Marines, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, said he performed no active duty, although recruits are technically on active duty while training.

Blumenthal insists he did six months of active duty. With the Marines, he studied administration and was classified as an "Admin Man."

He was discharged honorably six years later, with the rank of sergeant.

Next, a career in the law pulled at Blumenthal's ambitions. While still in the Marine Corps Reserves he enrolled in Yale Law School, where his classmates included Bill Clinton.

Scarponi generated a semantic pseudo-dispute over the term “active duty.” But here too, in a major profile, Blumenthal’s record was described accurately, with Blumenthal saying that he had enlisted to avoid being drafted.

Our point? It’s clear that Blumenthal’s actual history was very much a matter of record. In later years, did a handful of journalists misstate the record, as the New York Times alleges? Did someone at The Shelton Weekly even make such an error? It’s possible; indeed, some of the errors appear in the Nexis files. But until the Times can show that Blumenthal was responsible for those eight errors (over the course of as many years), the errors simply aren’t Blumenthal’s fault. And the Times has only alleged eight journalistic errors—in a seven-year time span—not the “hundreds” of errors Joe Scarborough dreamed up this morning.

For the record, I think Blumenthal was both careless and carried away when he (allegedly) spoke to veterans in 2003. And I agree with one of the Times' psychologists who notes that more often than not, it's those who didn't serve in Vietnam who "remember" the taunts and the spit that awaited them when they "returned."

But the Times is going out of its way, and letting a lot of Republicans get their kicks in, to damage a guy who has been an exemplary public servant in Connecticut, a great supporter of veterans, and the one person between us nutmeggers and a governor Linda McMahon, who, meanwhile, seems to be fumbling the gift the Times has given her.

Oh, and this is grand.

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Rand Paul and the Tiger Woods defense

We're going to be spending a lot of time finding a lot to find loathsome in Rand Paul's glibertarianism, but this is a particularly interesting connection he made.

This morning on ‘GMA’ Republican and Tea Party victor in Kentucky’s Senate Primary, Rand Paul spoke with Robin Roberts about his victory. He’s already coming under fire for holding a victory party at a private country club while at the same time claiming to be a man of the people:

ROBIN: Some people find it a bit ironic that your victory party last night was at a private country club in Kentucky. Doesn’t that kind of send a mixed message there?

PAUL: I think at one time people used to think of golf and golf courses and golf clubs as being exclusive. But I think in recent years now you see a lot of people playing golf. I think Tiger Woods has helped to broaden that in the sense that he’s brought golf to a lot of the cities and to city youth, and so no, I don’t think it’s nearly as exclusive as people once considered it to be.

Actually, a Kentucky country club is probably a pretty good representation of the Tea Party demographic, but it's curious that "private country club" and "man of the people" set off "no blacks allowed" whistles in Ayn Rand Paul's fevered brain.

On the one hand, I don't think Paul is anywhere near ready for prime time and I'd like to think his libertarian views will be easy to mock and don't sit well with the culturally conservative but economically populist voters of Kentucky.

But then I recall who's seat he's running to take.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Obama no help to zombie Republicans or rightwing Senators

Well, the big primary day is over and the bloviating is gassing up the place. This, from the AP's Charles Babbington, is just short of ridiculous.

WASHINGTON – Voters rejected one of President Barack Obama's hand-picked candidates and forced another into a runoff, the latest sign that his political capital is slipping beneath a wave of anti-establishment anger.

Sen. Arlen Specter became the fourth Democrat in seven months to lose a high-profile race despite the president's active involvement, raising doubts about Obama's ability to help fellow Democrats in this November's elections.

The first three candidates fell to Republicans. But Specter's loss Tuesday to Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania's Democratic senatorial primary cast doubts on Obama's influence and popularity even within his own party — and in a battleground state, no less.

Of course, it's possible that Democrats will fare better than expected this fall. And there's only so much that any president can do to help other candidates, especially in a non-presidential election year.

Still, Obama's poor record thus far could hurt his legislative agenda if Democratic lawmakers decide they need some distance from him as they seek re-election in what is shaping up as a pro-Republican year. Conversely, it might embolden Republican lawmakers and candidates who oppose him.

Embolden them? What have they done for two years but oppose his agenda. Nevertheless, his agenda -- one shared with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the majority of Dems in Congress, seems to have done pretty well thus far, with historic healthcare legislation and financial regulatory legislation that could pass this month.

But more to the point, sure, Specter was Obama's "hand-picked candidate," though I'd argue that Specter picked himself and forced Obama to support him in exchange for his vote on health care. What, though, has Obama lost when an 80-year old life-long Republican loses a Democratic primary to a Democrat who has a better chance of winning in the fall?

Oh, and Obama's other FAIL?

Creating another bruise for Obama and the Democratic establishment Tuesday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff in Arkansas' Democratic senatorial primary. Obama supports her bid for a third term, but he is not as closely associated with her campaign as he was with Specter's.

Hate to point this out, but Blanche opposed the president's (and the party's) most important legislative agenda. Seeing her lose to a more progressive candidate can't sting too much for David Axelrod, I'm thinking. The fact that she's now facing a run-off is sweeter still since she won't be able to back off on derivatives reform. And, by the way, how much could Obama help in a state that went for McCain in 2008?

Sure, Obama "backed" Specter and Lincoln. The truth is, I can't think of a single instance of a sitting president not "backing" the incumbent in his party when that incumbent faced a primary challenge. You don't slap legislators whose votes you need, primary or not.

This to me, is the deeper analysis then discussions of "coattails."

But then, across Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Arkansas, Democratic turnout clearly exceeded that of the GOP despite the much-noted zeal of the Tea Partiers. In Kentucky, Conway won with just 44 percent of the Democratic Senate primary vote, but he still managed to pull down 20,000 more votes than Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, who won the GOP Senate primary with 59 percent of the vote and the lion's share of the press coverage for the past three months.

Unions come out of Tuesday's elections with bragging rights not just in Pennsylvania's 12th but also in Arkansas, a state whose work force is almost entirely non-union. Infuriated by Lincoln's opposition to its top legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, several unions, including the Communications Workers and the Steelworkers, decided to show Lincoln's fellow senatorial waverers that there would be a price to pay for opposing the linchpin of labor's legislative agenda.

The AFL-CIO geared up its Working America program, which uses a door-to-door canvass in working-class neighborhoods to enroll voters in the federation's political campaigns. By Tuesday, Working America organizers had canvassed 27 Arkansas towns, knocked on 82,000 doors, and made over 200,000 phone calls to voters. Meanwhile, it, along with non-AFL-CIO member unions such as the Service Employees, spent millions of dollars on anti-Lincoln ads. At 1 a.m. Wednesday, with 94 percent of precincts reporting, Lincoln was pulling down just 45 percent of the vote to Halter's 43 percent, forcing them into a June runoff, and demonstrating labor's capacity to punish anti-labor Democrats in virtually any political terrain.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A teabagged slap in the face


Of neocons and civil liberties

A sometime reader of this humble blog and I were trading emails about one-time Bush and Giuliani adviser, Daniel Pipes, and his bizarro-world view that the Miss Universe Contest was rigged employs affirmative action for the darkies. The reader wrote,

is the 'bomb iran('s nukebomb plant)' crowd really that much more
extreme than
Hillary and Barack's ongoing bombings and 'targeted killings'?

Coincidentally, a similar "conversation" was playing out at the same time, pitting Matt Yglesias against Glenn Greenwald.

To the reader's point, I get it and struggle with that. I think in part the question answers itself. "Targeted killings" are in theory just that, targeted. Whereas bombing Iran's nuclear capabilities will require massive (bunker busting) bombs or even "tactical nuclear weapons." First, we don't really know where those capabilities are, and we can surmise that they're located amidst civilian populations. Lots of people will die. I'm not naive, drone attacks have "collateral damage (i.e., dead people)," but the scale's different.

That said, targeted killings is a euphemism for assassinations. Which are, since the Church Commission, illegal, I'm pretty sure. And when you take into account they're currently trying to whack a U.S. citizen for the content of his speech (albeit speech intended to provoke the killing of Americans), the legal, ethical, and moral issues are even starker.

And both have similar effects. The after effects of drone attacks can look just as anti-Muslim as the rubble of an Iraqi city when played on TV throughout the Arab/South Asian world, stoking further anti-Americanism.

I guess, the difference for me, is that the neocons have a reflexive instinct to bomb anything that they perceive as having an interest contrary to the U.S's. They are positively giddy at the thought of thousands of dead dark people. They are thoughtlessly, I think, obsessed with projections of American power rather than trying to neutralize an avowed opponent's leadership.

Admittedly, pretty weak tea. Glenn Greenwald certainly wouldn't approve of such reasoning and would definitely argue that there is little space between Obama's use of drone attacks and the bomb, bomb, bomb Iran crowd.

And I admit it's frustrating to see the Obama administration maintain so many policies relating to the "GWOT" and perhaps even expanding anti-civil liberties policies. Trouble is, to Matt's point, anti-civil liberties is, unfortunately, quite popular right now, and even if Obama walked down Pennsylvania Ave with bin Laden's head on a pike, Republicans would accused him of having read the pampered terror master mind his Miranda Rights.

What I do find interesting is that except on rare and, frankly, inexplicable occasions, it's been the Left having this debate as the opposition party eggs the administration on to seek greater levels of authority.



Hard to say just how bad a candidate he is.

In 2003, he addressed a rally in Bridgeport, where about 100 military families gathered to express support for American troops overseas. “When we returned, we saw nothing like this,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Let us do better by this generation of men and women.”

At a 2008 ceremony in front of the Veterans War Memorial Building in Shelton, he praised the audience for paying tribute to troops fighting abroad, noting that America had not always done so.

“I served during the Vietnam era,” he said. “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse.”

Except he had something like five deferments and eventually ended up in the Marine Reserves. He never served in Vietnam.

Never has a Senate candidate had an easier path down which he stumbles.

UPDATE: Well, this is interesting. Blumenthal's deep-pockets possible opponent, wife of the WWF founder, claims that the NYT story was a result of their campaign's oppo research.

Making the claim more explicitly, McMahon's campaign website has re-posted, as an "In Case You Missed It," a blog entry by Kevin Rennie of South Windsor, a lawyer and a former Republican state senator and representative:

“McMahon Strikes Blumenthal In NYT Article ... The piece, fed to the paper by the Linda McMahon Senate campaign, is accompanied by a chilling 2008 video of Blumenthal blithely making the false claim. ... The Blumenthal Bombshell comes at the end of more than 2 months of deep, persistent research by Republican Linda McMahon's Senate campaign. It gave the explosive Norwalk video recording to The Times. This is what comes of $16 million, a crack opposition research operation.”

Rennie quotes no sources. The campaign’s decision to trumpet his dispatch allows Democrats to contend the expose was political — an argument that may not work, but at least gives them a talking point on a tough day. By late morning, the page featuring the blog entry was no longer live, showing a "Not Found" message.


I hope that this is a a wake up call for the Blumenthal campaign. He's not going to be annointed and better figure out his message and start campaigning for the office.


T: 3:47

Yeah, these games don't mean much nowadays. There's no drama anymore.


Monday, May 17, 2010

What would Roberto Clemente do?

I'm pretty sure he wouldn't approve of this response.

At a news conference Thursday following an owners meeting, Selig brushed off calls to move the All-Star Game out of Phoenix and instead pointed in defense of baseball’s minority hiring record.

"Apparently all the people around and in minority communities think we're doing OK. That's the issue, and that's the answer," Selig reportedly said.

"I told the clubs today: 'Be proud of what we've done.' They are. We should. And that's our answer. We control our own fate, and we've done very well," he adds.

UPDATE: Doug Glanville, in what is sadly his last column for the NY Times before going to the barren territory of ESPN, writes about something that surprised him -- and me -- the openness with which pro athletes have been protesting the AZ immigration statute.

Many of today’s players are those 12– to 18-year-olds from a decade ago, and they didn’t see the erosion of privacy as a loss, but rather as an invitation to be open.

As a result, today’s players have a voice, and it is never off, never toned down for a minute. You tweet, you post, and the world listens. Baseball, with more young general managers like Josh Byrnes in Arizona and Jon Daniels in Texas, is even more with the times and more likely to embrace the culture of the player. They understand that everyone is an enterprise, and that collective enterprise can effect change in a micro-minute.

We will see how things in Arizona will play out in the coming days and weeks. But regardless, public political neutrality for the athletes has gone out the window. In many ways, it is historic, maybe a paradigm shift for how players see and use their voice. It will go through challenges, most likely swerving left and right for a while, but if nothing else, you will know where everyone stands — and there is something refreshing about that.

We'll see, indeed. While the Pheonix Suns have protested, I haven't heard much from the Diamondbacks team. As Glanville writes earlier in the column,

In so many organizational cultures in sports, the ownership is the invisible smoke in the room. You feel its presence, you know it is there, but you can’t find it, you can’t relate to it, you can’t talk to it, even though it is changing the chemistry all around you. And you cannot possibly know what impact your public opinions can have on how you will be perceived. Because even in the sports world, perception — not just your batting average — is reality.

Something tells me the Kendrick smoke is pretty noxious.

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They shoot horses, don't they?

Sophisticated investors

From the "Who could have foreseen" file.

THOSE state-chartered institutions that can buy C.D.O.’s and other riskier investments must set aside reserves of 100 percent of mark-to-market losses in such securities when they decline in value. This is intended to deter credit union executives from venturing down the risk spectrum.

The Florida credit union met that requirement, but clearly the deterrence didn’t work. Eastern Financial’s failure may be an outlier, but it makes for a terrific case study.

Indeed, the inspector general’s analysis is depressingly familiar. Eastern Financial’s management and board “relied too heavily on rating agencies’ grading of C.D.O. investments,” it concluded, and failed to evaluate and understand their complexity.

Almost immediately after the credit union bought the C.D.O.’s, they fell in value. By September 2007, the credit union had recorded $63.4 million in losses on the products, almost two-thirds of the original investment. By the time of its failure, the credit union had charged off all 18 C.D.O. investments, resulting in total losses of nearly $150 million.

Richard Field, managing director of TYI, which develops transparency, trading and risk management information systems, says the Eastern Financial collapse is yet another example of why investors in complex mortgage securities need to be able to consult complete loan-level data on what is in these pools.

“A sizable percentage of the problems in the credit markets and bank solvency are directly related to this lack of information,” Mr. Field said.

But the Eastern Financial insolvency also illustrates why regulators should make Wall Street adhere to concepts of suitability for institutions as well as individuals, Mr. Whalen said.

“The dealers who sold the C.D.O.’s to this credit union should be sanctioned,” he said. “It might even be possible to pursue the dealer who sold the C.D.O.’s under current law. At a minimum, the Securities and Exchange Commission should impose retail investor suitability standards onto banks and public sector agencies to end the predation by large Wall Street derivatives dealers.”


Blue Monday, Master Class edition

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Johnny Baseball"

A new show in Boston looks at one of the central reasons the Red Sox didn't win a World Serious for 86 years.

“Johnny Baseball’’ traces the Curse back to 1919 and the collision of three lives: rookie player Johnny O’Brien, his idol Babe Ruth, and Daisy, the object of his affection. The play’s action moves back and forth among three time periods: the early days of Johnny and Daisy’s romance; 1948, when a talented young black player tries out at Fenway Park for team owner Tom Yawkey and general manager Joe Cronin; and Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, when David Ortiz hits a two-run walkoff homer in the 12th inning to save the Sox from elimination, and the Curse begins to lift. The voice you hear calling the plays during the show? None other than Sean McDonough. The musical mixes spry tunes composed by Reale’s brother Robert with provocative social history, which makes it an ideal project for ART artistic director Diane Paulus, whose mission is to create populist theater with integrity.

“This is exactly the kind of show we should be doing,’’ says Paulus, who was, serendipitously, attached to “Johnny Baseball’’ as a freelance director before she was hired to run the ART. “Part of what we do in theater is keep our stories alive and keep our history present. And so much of what I’ve been interested in this year has been kind of enlarging what we call the [theatrical] experience.’’

To that end the ART, which has already this season staged an immersive production of “Macbeth’’ in an empty schoolhouse and a reimagined “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’’ as a disco romp, is turning the area around Cambridge’s Loeb Drama Center into a mini-Yawkey Way with hot dog vendors, popcorn, and beer that — hold onto your caps — will be allowed in the theater. Paulus hopes their love of the game will lure neophytes who would otherwise be more inclined to spend the evening at a sports venue than in a playhouse.

But some wonder if Paulus and the company are prepared for the responses the show may elicit. Glenn Stout, sportswriter and editor and coauthor of “Red Sox Century,’’ has a long list of concerns.

“What worries me more than anything is I hope it doesn’t trivialize a subject I don’t think should be trivialized,’’ Stout says. “Racism is a dangerous, complicated subject, and I’m not sure a commercial musical is the right way to explore it. I assume it has a happy ending? A story that makes it seem like it’s over now? That’s a real concern. I’m not saying today’s Red Sox are the same as in the past, but racism is still an important element in all professional sports. And I think some members of Red Sox Nation are going to be angry the subject is broached at all.’’

Now, the Yankees weren't much better when it came to integrating the team and I don't know too many historians of baseball who don't think it affected the team's declining fortunes in the 1960s. It sounds like the defenders of "Yawkey Way" are still working for the Sox and still in denial.

Among the latter is Dick Bresciani, Red Sox vice president and team historian, who responds to a question about how racism is documented in the Sox archives with exasperation.

“I don’t think there’s any way we’ve dealt with it in the official annals. Who can say what is racism? We don’t believe we had racism,’’ Bresciani says. “You can’t judge people who are deceased by their beliefs. You can’t judge them by what you read or hear. That’s not factual.’’

One fact is that the Red Sox had a chance to sign Jackie Robinson when he tried out at Fenway in 1945. But the team passed, and Robinson went on to break the major league color barrier two years later and become a superstar with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Another fact is that Tommy Harper, who played for the Sox in the early 1970s and returned for several stints on the team’s coaching staff, successfully sued the Red Sox for firing him in 1985 after he complained in the media about the club allowing segregated festivities during spring training in Florida. Harper — now a minor league consultant for the Sox who is being inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame this year — believes that a refresher is in order.

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Replacement level Syd Barrett

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A kick in the gut of NYC

L&O has been a kind of "Actors' Theater New York" for Broadway and off-Broadway. Not to mention the huge production infrastructure the show supports at a time when Toronto is more often used to depict New York City than is NYC. Now it's been canceled.

By one estimate, more than 8,000 people in the city are employed, directly and indirectly, by the series and its two spinoffs. The franchise has been especially important to the many Broadway and Off Broadway actors who make appearances on the shows.

Many will stay employed by the two spinoffs. Still, the end of the original show — often called “the mothership” internally — “will be a devastating blow to the New York City production community,” Mr. Berner said.

Mr. Berner was standing outside a Broadway theater when he was reached on his cellphone Thursday evening. “I guarantee you, every name in the playbill will have appeared on ‘Law & Order,’ one of the three shows,” he said.

Spotting a “Law & Order” shoot on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn is almost a rite of passage for New Yorkers.

The New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called “Law & Order” a New York City institution in a statement Friday afternoon.


Government working

These morons aside, the Obama administration is making the case for why government matters and the press, for the most part, is disinterested. Joshua Green speaks with Stephen Chu.

An eternal fact of Washington is that government gets much more attention when it performs badly than when it performs well. As an illustration of the former, recall the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. To illustrate the latter, consider how the media is covering government right now. By my count at least three major natural disasters have occurred in recent weeks: the Nashville flooding, the deadly Oklahoma tornadoes, and the BP oil spill (admittedly not "natural" but threatening to be a major environmental disaster). Let's throw in an attempted terrorist attack in Times Square, too. On every front, government has performed ably--and often better than ably. And yet it's understating things considerably to say this success has not been widely recognized.

It should be recognized, though, because when it comes to government disaster response, the Bush years marked a low point and right now we're experiencing a high point. For a vivid illustration of this disparity, look no further than the Gulf. During Katrina, FEMA director Michael Brown secured his place history as the poster boy for government incompetence. Now consider Chu, the Nobel Prize Winner who has been at BP headquarters in Houston with a team of government scientists trying to figure out how to stop the leak. According to a government official, BP initially "dismissed" Chu's gamma ray suggestion, but came back a week later and admitted "Chu's right."
The whole thing is fascinating.


Democracy today

Has Sarah Palin tweeted anything today?


Beyond Permits

It certainly comes as no surprise to find that, during the Bush administration, oil companies were given carte blanche to drill in the Gulf while scientific, environmental, and safety concerns were routinely ignored. What is distressing is that this appears to have gone largely unchanged during the current administration.

Another biologist who left the agency in 2005 after more than five years said that agency officials went out of their way to accommodate the oil and gas industry.

He said, for example, that seismic activity from drilling can have a devastating effect on mammals and fish, but that agency officials rarely enforced the regulations meant to limit those effects.

He also said the agency routinely ceded to the drilling companies the responsibility for monitoring species that live or spawn near the drilling projects.

“What I observed was M.M.S. was trying to undermine the monitoring and mitigation requirements that would be imposed on the industry,” he said.

Aside from allowing BP and other companies to drill in the gulf without getting the required permits from NOAA, the minerals agency has also given BP and other drilling companies in the gulf blanket exemptions from having to provide environmental impact statements.

Much as BP’s drilling plan asserted that there was no chance of an oil spill, the company also claimed in federal documents that its drilling would not have any adverse effect on endangered species.

The gulf is known for its biodiversity. Various endangered species are found in the area where the Deepwater Horizon was drilling, including sperm whales, blue whales and fin whales.

In some instances, the minerals agency has indeed sought and received permits in the gulf to harm certain endangered species like green and loggerhead sea turtles. But the agency has not received these permits for endangered species like the sperm and humpback whales, which are more common in the areas where drilling occurs and thus are more likely to be affected.

Tensions between scientists and managers at the agency erupted in one case last year involving a rig in the gulf called the BP Atlantis. An agency scientist complained to his bosses of catastrophic safety and environmental violations. The scientist said these complaints were ignored, so he took his concerns to higher officials at the Interior Department.

“The purpose of this letter is to restate in writing our concern that the BP Atlantis project presently poses a threat of serious, immediate, potentially irreparable and catastrophic harm to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and its marine environment, and to summarize how BP’s conduct has violated federal law and regulations,” Kenneth Abbott, the agency scientist, wrote in a letter to officials at the Interior Department that was dated May 27.

The letter added: “From our conversation on the phone, we understand that M.M.S. is already aware that undersea manifolds have been leaking and that major flow lines must already be replaced. Failure of this critical undersea equipment has potentially catastrophic environmental consequences.”

Almost two months before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, sent a letter to the agency raising concerns about the BP Atlantis and questioning its oversight of the rig.

After the disaster, Mr. Salazar said he would delay granting any new oil drilling permits.

But the minerals agency has issued at least five final approval permits to new drilling projects in the gulf since last week, records show.

Despite being shown records indicating otherwise, Ms. Barkoff said her agency had granted no new permits since Mr. Salazar made his announcement.

Heckuva job, Kenny.

Meanwhile, the full scope of this disaster is beginning to be understood even as British Petroleum continues to deny the impact, or the company's responsibility.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Daddy Warbucks makes like John Galt...again

You wouldn't know it from the strip in recent years, but Little Orphan Annie used to have a political axe to grind. Phil Rosanthal writes in the ChiTrib,

What's ironic is this version of the strip is going away, said Tippie, because it has been targeting young readers who rarely "are encouraged to read newspapers these days." Yet in the nearly 44 years when creator Harold Gray was presiding over it until his death in 1968, "Little Orphan Annie" was decidedly adult despite the preteen heroine at its center.

One wouldn't necessarily know that from the upbeat 1977 Broadway musical and subsequent films that have come to define the strip's characters. Or the late 1930s and '40s children's radio program on Tribune Co.'s WGN-AM 720, NBC and, eventually, the Mutual network that's recalled in the wry holiday film " A Christmas Story."

But Jay Maeder, who would team with artist Ted Slampyak to produce the strip's final years, wrote in 1997 that it was "the eeriest comic strip of all time" and in the Depression became "a terrifying pilgrimage through a loony, dark, paranoid and quite particularly American nightmare."

Today's "Annie" has been recast as a kids adventure, with the auburn-haired orphan very much a 21st century girl and Warbucks what Tippie described as "sort of a buff, bald Clive Owen-type," who, separately and together, have adventures around the world.

Back when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated to run for a fourth term in the middle of World War II, Gray's decidedly anti-New Deal "Little Orphan Annie" killed off Daddy Warbucks, protesting that he shouldn't have to apologize for being successful as he expired.

"Some have called me (a) dirty capitalist," Warbucks said on his deathbed in August 1944, according to Maeder. "But I've merely used the imagination and common sense and energy that kind of providence gave me. Now? Well, Annie, times have changed, and I'm old and tired. I guess it's time to go!"

A year later, with Roosevelt dead, Warbucks rejoined the living. "Somehow," he said, smoking a cigar, "I feel that the climate here has changed since I went away."


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