Polispeak: March 2008: Archives

March 21, 2008

Bill Maher: New Rule - Keep McCain Away From The Phone genre: Polispeak & Tongue-In-Cheek & Video-Philes

Bill is back after a one week absence and he hits it out of the park with a strong indictment of John McCain's status as the best candidate to answer the infamous 3:00AM phone call. Maher points out that McCain may be a maverick...but when it comes to the war in Iraq, he is a replica of George Bush...and that has to disqualify him from answering the phone...let alone having his finger near or on anything remotely resembling a trigger.

Maher argues that we don't we need or want a warrior (one who relies on Joe Lieberman to clarify sectarian affiliations) seated in a position to send more American troops into more Middle Eastern countries that view our presence as the justification to commit further acts of terrorism. I couldn't agree more.

On a lighter note, Bill tackles the Bush administration's assertion that the economy is "going through a rough patch". Maher thinks it's more than a rough patch and he shows us a rather notorious couple to express his belief that the economy is a "mess". He closes his schtick on the economy by suggesting we make the penny the dollar.

Bill moves on to skewer wayward governors, senators, and other adulterers and their poor wives...the wives that have the misfortune of being filmed at the side of their spouse during the obligatory press conference. He also takes a couple jabs at Fox News (the family values network) and the number of gratuitous photos of Spitzers $4,300.00 friend.

Tagged as: Bill Maher, Dick Cheney, Dr. Pepper, Economy, Eliot Spitzer, Fox News, George Bush, Iraq, John McCain, New Rules

Daniel DiRito | March 21, 2008 | 11:11 PM | link | Comments (0)
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The Surge, The Will Of The People, & Mission Accomplished genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak

Here in the United States, when we think of the troop surge in Iraq, we worry about the increasing number of troops who are being asked to participate in a war that seems to be endless. The Bush administration likes to tout the reduction in troop fatalities and a seeming decline in violence as evidence that the troop surge was warranted and is achieving its goal.

Unfortunately, there is more to the story...and the Guardian has a report that takes a look at the surge from the perspective of the tribes that have been enlisted to assist the U.S. in reducing the violence. According to the report, many of the Iraqis who signed up to assist the U.S. in quelling the violence and identifying al Qaeda sympathizers have yet to be paid for their efforts and are on the verge of a strike.

In his speech marking the fifth anniversary of the war George Bush highlighted the significance of what he called "the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden". Iraq, he said, "has become the place where Arabs joined with Americans to drive al-Qaida out."

But dozens of phone calls to Sahwa leaders reveal bitterness and anger. "We know the Americans are using us to do their dirty work and kill off the resistance for them and then we get nothing for it," said Abu Abdul-Aziz, the head of the council in Abu Ghraib, where 500 men have already quit.

"The Americans got what they wanted. We purged al-Qaida for them and now people are saying why should we have any more deaths for the Americans. They have given us nothing."

In Dora, a southern suburb of Baghdad, the leaders of a Sahwa group of 2,400 men said they were considering strike action because none of the 2,000 applicants they had put forward for jobs with the police and military had been accepted.

The Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki has found jobs for only a handful of the Sahwa fighters.

It seems to me that this situation demonstrates the fragile nature of the Iraqi situation. Yes, we can pay these people ten dollars daily to gain their support...but that simply points out the economic desperation of many Iraqis. I doubt the U.S. can sustain this recent success without the promise of ongoing payments...a fact that highlights just how tenuous the recent successes may be.

If we cannot continue to fund these "Awakening Councils" indefinitely, those who are participating will need to seek out other sources of income. I suspect that means two things. One, the success of the surge could instantly evaporate. Two, the underlying dynamics necessary to establish a stable and secure Iraq do not exist and may not be possible without a long term U.S. presence.

To be frank, we're simply taking advantage of people who are desperate for the means to survive. As such, should the U.S. cease supporting these individuals, they will be susceptible to the overture of others. Hence, the tribalism and sectarian strife that has plagued Iraq for many years is apt to resurface as soon as we attempt to scale back the measures that accompanied the surge.

The bottom line is that the surge has been a stopgap measure designed to buy the Bush administration the time and political cover to continue its ill-advised war. What lies beneath this facade is a fractious and fragmented society that currently lacks sustainable economic wherewithal and is struggling to find the political will to establish a functional nation.

The 2008 election is an opportunity for Americans to voice their political will. The war in Iraq will be a key consideration and it is critical that Americans have a clear understanding of the real conditions in Iraq as the next president will likely determine how much longer we will remain.

John McCain has recently sought to step back from his assertion that the United States may have to remain in Iraq for a hundred years. Those who believe that John McCain is a straight talking maverick who is willing to level with the American public must not forget his words. Political expediency may force him to modify his prediction, but there should be no doubt that McCain's resolve to remain in Iraq equals that of George Bush.

While I'm inclined to agree with the Senator that it may take decades to complete George Bush's mission in Iraq, I believe it is quite clear that it's a mission we shouldn't have undertaken. It's also a mission that must end. Neither George Bush or John McCain can will the Iraqi people to adopt the outcome we imagine would best serve our interests. Even if both men believe they can, reality should tell us we can't afford the cost.

The 2008 election is our opportunity to send an important message...a message of restoration that reconnects us with our defining principles. Consistent with the intentions of our founding fathers, it should be the will of the American people that determines whether the war in Iraq should proceed. Likewise, it must be the will of the Iraqi people that determines the defining principles that will guide their future. Only then will our mission be accomplished.

The following video was included as part of the Guardian article.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, al Qaeda, Awakening Councils, Baghdad, Diyala, George Bush, Iraq, John McCain, Troop Surge

Daniel DiRito | March 21, 2008 | 10:27 AM | link | Comments (0)
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March 20, 2008

The River Rafting Of Barack Obama genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

It was only a matter of time before backroom GOP operatives would capitalize on the controversy surrounding the incendiary comments of Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor. A newly launched YouTube video appears to be the first swiftboating salvo in a campaign that is likely to see many more. The video demonstrates the growing impact of the internet as well as the expanding ability to distribute stealth attacks upon one's opponent.

The video is listed on YouTube as being produced by a professional-sounding group called "NHaleMedia," but there is no such entity.

Rather; the incendiary video -- which also includes footage of Malcolm X, the U.S. Olympians who raised their hand in the black power salute and the song "Fight the Power" -- is in part the amateur work of Lee Habeeb.

A former producer of "The Laura Ingraham Show," Habeeb is the director of strategic content at Salem Radio Network, the conservative talk radio powerhouse that airs programs hosted by figures such as Bill Bennett and Hugh Hewitt.

Habeeb declined to reveal the identity of his co-producers, but did say that they are "conservatives who happen to be in the media world" and are not working for any campaign. One, he said, works in film and the other is involved in crafting ads.

I debated whether to include the video in this posting but I decided it was important for Democrats to see what they can expect as we approach the November election. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised to see some of these efforts backfire. This one is particularly offensive in its attempt to link Senator Obama with numerous negative images and stereotypes.

Those still wondering if the GOP would again use gays and gay marriage as their signature issue need not spend another moment contemplating the question. After watching the video, it should be abundantly clear that race will be the crown jewel in the GOP's armada. Should Obama be the Democratic nominee, I expect the meme to mimic a GOP favorite used to assail gays...the militant homosexual agenda.

In Obama's case, this effective meme will be modified to portray him as secretly promoting "the militant black agenda"...one that denigrates patriotism and seeks to install a Marxist inspired version of socialism. Take a moment to do a Google search with the term "Obama Socialist Marxist agenda". If that doesn't convince you, Google "Obama Marxist Posters" and you'll note the efforts to connect Obama to Che Guevara.

It makes perfect sense for a party that has found fear to be a formidable tool in building its current coalition. Truth be told, it is so effective that many of those who vote GOP do so despite the fact that it is detrimental to their own self-interest. Race appears to be poised to replace (or augment) terrorism and gay marriage as the big bad bogeyman in 2008.

Yes, Senator McCain has suspended a staff member who was found to be distributing the video. Unfortunately, the GOP has refined the tactic of disseminating fear and falsehoods while maintaining the deniability of their candidates. The fact that 13 percent of Americans believe Obama to be a Muslim demonstrates the success of these unsubstantiated smears. One needn't be a sophisticated statistician or an astute tactician to predict that the vast majority of this 13 percent won't be voting for Senator Obama.

On that somber note, the video follows as does my own satirical graphic on "The River Rafting of Barack Obama.

SwiftBoatingBarackObama.jpg

Tagged as: Barack Obama, Che Guevara, GOP, Huckleberry Finn, Jeremiah Wright, John McCain, Lee Habeeb, Marxism, Racism, River Rafting, Socialism, Swiftboating

Daniel DiRito | March 20, 2008 | 1:55 PM | link | Comments (1)
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March 19, 2008

Charlie Rose: Paul Volker On Bear Stearns Bailout genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak

Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volker appeared on the Charlie Rose show last evening to discuss the recent actions to bailout Bear Stearns. Volker points out that the actions were unprecedented and he cautions that doing so may be an argument for greater regulation of investment houses like Stearns.

Volker's remarks were focused on his concern that we are witnessing a transformation in the financial market. As such, he argues that it is time to review the mechanisms we have in place to insure that the economy is being protected from the bad decisions of these newly emerging financial players.

Volker doesn't believe that the Federal Reserve should play a larger part in the regulatory process; rather he contends that they were forced to step into the void with regards to Bear Stearns. Volker suggests that the regulatory process should originate with our elected representatives.

The problem with that equation (even though I agree with Volker) is that the influence of the players in the financial market is daunting...and nothing provides better evidence of this influence than the recent rewriting of bankruptcy laws making it far more difficult for individuals to walk away from debt. Unfortunately, it appears that our government is on the precipice of bailing out the same financial institutions that sought to limit the options for relief by financially strapped citizens.

Yes, the GOP likes to be seen as opposing handouts and welfare...except when it is directed to those corporations that ante up each election cycle. The welfare reform enacted under the Clinton administration was one of the first steps in this shift towards escalating corporate welfare. If this trend continues, be prepared for further financial calamities of greater proportion...with astronomically more acute consequences.

Charlie Rose Interviews Paul Volker

Tagged as: Bailouts, Bankruptcy, Bear Stearns, Charlie Rose, Corporate Welfare, Fannie Mae, Federal Reserve, Freddie Mac, Influence Peddling, Liquidity, Lobbying, Paul Volker, Recession, Solvency

Daniel DiRito | March 19, 2008 | 11:36 AM | link | Comments (0)
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March 18, 2008

Rejecting Racism: Stop Running The Fat Cat's Rat Race genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak

RatRace.jpg

Today's speech on race by Senator Barack Obama was noteworthy. The media is abuzz with glowing proclamations. Some have said that the Obama speech was the most important speech on race in the forty years since the death of Martin Luther King.

While pondering the many positive observations, what struck me most was the fact that forty years have passed...but not the racial divide...regardless of the words Dr. King spoke then and despite the words Senator Obama uttered today. That left me wondering what was to be gained by stating the obvious to those who have never been intended to appreciate it or to those who aren't interested in changing it.

Let me attempt an explanation by first asking a question. What is the concept of race? Is it really anything more than a human construct that allows us to identify and isolate others in a classic "we versus they" dynamic? The answer to my question is no. In so noting, the issue of race is a human invention used to either elevate one group or to denigrate another group. It is the means by which many of us can avoid our unique human ability...and the responsibility it brings...to employ informed observations and reasoned judgments.

Our capacity to discern color or country of origin has often been the justification for the wholesale condemnations that frequently precede the waging of wars. It serves as the mechanism by which we dehumanize our enemies and excuse our transgressions. Race has become the means by which we have circumvented our obligation to judge others by what lies within. Instead, it allows us to slay others for that which sits upon the surface.

Today, many of the pundits have argued that we avoid discussions of race because it is a difficult topic. I reject much of that argument. I contend we don't address racism because its elimination requires us to grant our fellow humans a degree of fairness we aren't willing to afford. In this world of limited resources, the concept of equality is apt to be perceived as the brake being applied to the unencumbered pursuit of more than one's share of the spoils.

When pundits speak of forty years of seeming silence, they are simply exposing the swamp wherein still lurks a willingness to inflict more of the same on those who can be easily identified as different. What the passage of time has brought is the goal to do so through subtler methods and without speaking words that could subsequently serve as the evidence that we may still reject equal opportunity and equitable justice. All too often, it is far easier to assert that one's child didn't get into the school of his or her choice as a result of affirmative action than it is to admit our lengthy history of denying equal opportunities to the underprivileged. Perhaps we also seek to avoid an admission that the goal remains the same?

What most Americans don't realize is that the powers that be have little interest in establishing an equitable order. This includes measures like the Bush tax cuts; but there is a better example that also allows me to focus on race. Simply look at the refusal of our government to enforce our existing immigration laws for the last two decades and you will begin to understand how the efforts to amass wealth have been transformed in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery. The current clamor to close our border isn't a sudden admission of exploitation; it is a recognition that the unchecked increase in the number of Mexicans has the potential to skew the political power such that those who have more may not be able to maintain their unchallenged hold on the power that assures more.

Look, the greed of those who govern hasn't suddenly subsided. They have simply recognized that in their rush to expand their enrichment, they may have forgotten to police the portal. Hence we now have the calls for a temporary guest worker program...the modern means by which the underclass can be employed without enslavement...and prevented from circumventing the all-important political status quo.

At the same time, the powers that be prefer that this easily identifiable underclass be pitted against those Americans who are known as the "have-nots". The approach isn't unfamiliar. When the slaves were freed, they were quickly portrayed and perceived as an economic threat to southerners struggling to make ends meet. The same strategy has been embraced with Mexican immigrants.

Both efforts have been relatively successful because the battle for fewer dollars was intensified by an increase in those competing to obtain them. Thus the animosities of austere Americans have been artfully aimed at those who are different (black or brown)...and not at those who look the same but hoard the lion's share of the wealth.

In the end, race is the rail upon which the wizards of wealth have sought to separate one segment of society from another. When they succeed, they incite the insolence they intend.

Barack Obama deserves recognition for revisiting our racial rancor. However, unless and until each individual looks beyond the veil of vitriol that has been designed to divide us, we will forever overlook the power of the present to unite us. We're engaged in the kind of race that can only be won when everyone refuses to participate. Our humanity needn't be a hologram on the horizon. Healing must be achieved in the here and now.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Affirmative Action, African Americans, Barack Obama, Class Warfare, Have-Nots, Immigration, Martin Luther King, Mexicans, Race, Racism, Slavery, Wealth Distribution

Daniel DiRito | March 18, 2008 | 5:00 PM | link | Comments (0)
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March 14, 2008

GWB: The Cash In The Cradle & The Silver Spoon - I'm Gonna Be Like Him genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

LikeFatherLikeSon.jpg

I try to avoid making unequivocal assertions...but if my instincts are correct, I'm not taking much of a risk in predicting that the calamity that will define this Bush presidency will not be the Iraq war. As with his father's presidency, it will be the economy. Yes, the Iraq war will be factored into the equation that facilitated one of the worst recessions in modern times, but numerous other missteps will receive far more attention.

With the Savings and Loan scandal of the late 80's as my point of comparison, I expect the magnitude of this recession to be much deeper and far more complex. Frankly, the fact that we survived events like the S & L scandal and the tech bubble have only contributed to the lackadaisical policies that have fostered an air of invincibility. This false confidence has resulted in a deadly conflation of economic poisons that will place a strain on our financial fortitude that hasn't been witnessed since the Great Depression.

For months, the Bush administration has sought to convince the American public that the economy is sound. Unfortunately, the hollowness of those assurances expands exponentially with each new report. Today's news is awash with further warnings of economic uncertainty. The President's remarks, in response to the growing storm clouds, simply highlight the mindset that has typified his inclination to ignore information that doesn't comport with his rose colored rhetoric.

Unfortunately, I fear this president suffers the misconception that he can tackle this systemic economic malaise in the same manner he addressed the many miscalculations that have plagued the prosecution of the Iraq war. Sadly, brute force has little relevance when it comes to the economy. As with the troop surge, the attempts by the Federal Reserve to pump more money into the economy in order to prop up flailing financial institutions fails to address the dire dynamics that underly the debacle.

Let's pause to review the observations of others.

From The Wall Street Journal:

It is a very logical progression. Peloton, Carlyle, Focus -- hedge funds and other non-deposit-taking financial institutions (NDFIs) are now being hit by the credit crunch, which had so far been mainly confined to mortgage lenders and the banks.

The Federal Reserve has reacted. Its Term Securities Lending Facility aims to encourage investment banks and prime brokers to lend to NDFIs and so relieve those parts of the credit market it cannot reach with its rate cuts and loans to banks.

So far its liquidity injections have got no further than the banks. Now it hopes to reach higher. Unfortunately, it won't work.

The Fed is like King Canute with a difference -- it is trying to halt an ebbing tide rather than a rising one. Its liquidity injection seems huge at $200 billion (with perhaps more to follow), but it is still only equivalent to one-third of the expected losses in the NDFI sector.

Moreover, the Fed's readiness to accept almost any asset at just below face value as collateral will prevent price discovery. That means the U.S. financial system will remain burdened with uncleansed balance sheets that penalize future lending and economic growth.

Creating a lot of liquidity does not resolve an issue of solvency, which is now the driver of credit contraction. All the Fed will achieve is a dollar that will be further debased and inflation that will be higher. It cannot stop the process of deleveraging and asset price decline.

The credit crisis is unfolding as we expected, but more slowly than anticipated, because of the actions taken by central banks (mainly the Fed) and the U.S. government to allay its effects. The wholesale socialization of credit has meant that government and central bank measures account for 70% of new credit since last summer.

But these policy measures will not prevent asset-price deflation or credit contraction, which are functions of risk appetite and general readiness to maintain current levels of gearing throughout the economy. The non-bank sector has the potential to inflict more damage on the system than banks, because it has a much smaller capital cushion for a much more volatile and risky balance sheet.

Credit contraction translates through the financial system into a reduction in available credit for the non-financial corporate sector, and thus into reduced investment and growth in the real economy. The size of that contraction can be estimated from the leverage ratios of the financial sector and their impact on real GDP growth.

We estimate that nonfinancial corporate debt ultimately will have to shrink by 11%-12%. This will generate a decline of five percentage points of real U.S. GDP growth and push the U.S. into recession. Europe's real GDP growth will contract by two percentage points.

Essentially, the point being made by the author is that the Federal Reserve's efforts to lower interest rates is inadequate to address the fundamental problem - the value of the assets that underly much of the existing debt is in a period of contraction...largely as a result of the collapsing housing industry.

As such, the ability of lenders to lend is limited. They lack the capital needed to make loans; let alone the capital required to support declining equity positions and the increasing default risks that are associated with these loans. Hence, the Fed's efforts to infuse the economy with the capital needed to spur growth isn't going to be sufficient. Even worse, should this contraction lead to lender insolvency, the likelihood of the need for a huge government bail out advances. If this happens, I believe it will be far larger than the one witnessed during the S & L scandal.

From The New York Times:

The Fed's economic power rests on the fact that it's the only institution with the right to add to the "monetary base": pieces of green paper bearing portraits of dead presidents, plus deposits that private banks hold at the Fed and can convert into green paper at will.

When the Fed is worried about the state of the economy, it basically responds by printing more of that green paper, and using it to buy bonds from banks. The banks then use the green paper to make more loans, which causes businesses and households to spend more, and the economy expands.

This process can be almost magical in its effects: a committee in Washington gives some technical instructions to a trading desk in New York, and just like that, the economy creates millions of jobs.

But sometimes the magic doesn't work. And this is one of those times.

Instead of following its usual practice of buying only safe U.S. government debt, the Fed announced this week that it would put $400 billion -- almost half its available funds -- into other stuff, including bonds backed by, yes, home mortgages. The hope is that this will stabilize markets and end the panic.

Officially, the Fed won't be buying mortgage-backed securities outright: it's only accepting them as collateral in return for loans. But it's definitely taking on some mortgage risk. Is this, to some extent, a bailout for banks? Yes.

Still, that's not what has me worried. I'm more concerned that despite the extraordinary scale of Mr. Bernanke's action -- to my knowledge, no advanced-country's central bank has ever exposed itself to this much market risk -- the Fed still won't manage to get a grip on the economy. You see, $400 billion sounds like a lot, but it's still small compared with the problem.

Krugman offers a look into the risks being taken by the Federal Reserve to avert the looming collapse of financial institutions. The fact that the government is taking unprecedented risk signals the seriousness of the situation. The fact that the government has committed half of its available funds to this risk intensive effort suggests that the ultimate solution will require the government to appropriate additional funds...hence the bailout begins. The price tag of the S & L scandal would likely pale in comparison.

The impact to the overall economy could be mind-boggling since it would be apt to affect consumer spending. Falling home values would strip millions of Americans of the bulk of their accumulated wealth which would no doubt restrict their ability and willingness to spend money. The direct correlation of this intertwined cause and effect spiral could have disastrous consequences.

We haven't even factored in the disproportionate numbers of baby boomers moving towards retirement. A worst case scenario could place the financial stability of many of these individuals in jeopardy at a time when the safety net of Social Security is also approaching insolvency.

From CNBC:

The United States has entered a recession that could be "substantially more severe" than recent ones, former National Bureau of Economic Research President Martin Feldstein said Friday.

"The situation is very bad, the situation is getting worse, and the risks are that it could get very bad," Feldstein said in a speech at the Futures Industry Association meeting in Boca Raton, Florida.

"There isn't much traction in monetary policy these days, I'm afraid, because of a lack of liquidity in the credit markets," he said.

The Fed's new credit facility, announced on Tuesday, "can help in a rather small way ... but the underlying risks will remain with the institutions that borrow from the Fed, and this does nothing to change their capital," Feldstein noted.

I simply don't see the mechanism by which this strained liquidity can be alleviated in the near term. Pumping more cash into the system could have short term benefits but the risk to the already tenuous value of the dollar would likely outweigh them. Relying upon the standard bearers...the consumer...to spend us out of this mess seems unlikely. Rarely have prior recessionary periods been accompanied by such significant declines in home values.

Were we to see the emergence of sustained inflation, the picture becomes even more disconcerting. Many of the measures designed to address the liquidity crunch have the potential to do just that. Toss in our trade imbalance, the amount of debt held by the Chinese, and an international shift away from the dollar as the preferred reserve currency and one begins to see the growing alignment of negatives.

The fact that the American image has been tarnished during the current administration makes it difficult to imagine the kind of international cooperation we might have otherwise received during such a slowdown. In fact, don't be surprised if a number of nations stand idly by as the perceived bully endures its comeuppance.

Returning to the Bush legacy, I recall the deteriorating situation faced by his father prior to the 1992 election. When the senior Bush expressed his amazement with the scanning technology found in grocery stores, his appeal and his connection with the average American is thought to have suffered. When the Clinton campaign added, "It's the economy, stupid", the stain became permanent.

The fact that the current president expressed surprise when a member of the press mentioned the prospects of $4.00 per gallon gas seems eerily similar to the last days of his father's presidency...and it may also assist in cementing the economy as his legacy's leading albatross.

George W. Bush's seeming shortage of empathy for the plight of the average American shone through in his mishandling of Katrina, his passage of tax cuts for the wealthiest, his inept energy policy, and his willingness to sink trillions of dollars into the execution of a virtual vendetta in Iraq. These events will forever be tethered to his tenure and his successors are apt to spend years trying to repair the damage done.

They say the writing of one's legacy is rarely finished since the past undoubtedly shapes the future. In the case of George Bush, I suspect he'd be best to hope that his influence on the future be less indelible than his unabashed attempts to color the present.

Gertrude Stein stated that a "rose is a rose is a rose". Ernest Hemmingway responded with "a rose is a rose is an onion". In thinking of the Bush legacy, I'm inclined to argue that a silver spoon may beget rose colored rhetoric...but a silver spoon full of rose petals rarely helps us swallow the thorns. When the bow breaks, the Bush legacy will fall.

Tagged as: Ben Bernanke, Economy, Federal Reserve, GDP, George Bush, Housing Bubble, Interest Rates, Iraq War, Katrina, Liquidity, Monetary Policy, Recession, Savings and Loan Scandal, Subprime Lending, Tax Cuts

Daniel DiRito | March 14, 2008 | 11:44 AM | link | Comments (0)
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March 10, 2008

Eliot Spitzer & WR 104: Lessons In The Life & Death Of Stars genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Tongue-In-Cheek

They say it's written in the stars...and today's news seems to have been all about the rise and fall of stars...those that occupy a distant point in space that we can barely fathom...and one that occupies a pivotal political office in the state of New York.

Whether it's a quirky cosmic alignment or a karmic calamity, the death of a star can be menacing...or it can simply be messy . Either way, it is bound to draw some attention. The time it takes a star to explode or implode varies. In the case of the cosmos, it's apt to be millions of year; in the case of Governor Spitzer, it appears to be a matter of days.

Let's have a look at the trajectory of both.

From USA Today:

A beautiful pinwheel in space might one day blast Earth with death rays, scientists now report.

The pinwheel, named WR 104, was discovered eight years ago in the constellation Sagittarius. It rotates in a circle "every eight months, keeping precise time like a jewel in a cosmic clock," Tuthill said.

Both the massive stars in WR 104 will one day explode as supernovae. However, one of the pair is a highly unstable star known as a Wolf-Rayet, the last known stable phase in the life of these massive stars right before a supernova.

"Wolf-Rayet stars are regarded by astronomers as ticking bombs," Tuthill explained. The 'fuse' for this star "is now very short -- to an astronomer -- and it may explode any time within the next few hundred thousand years."

When the Wolf-Rayet goes supernova, "it could emit an intense beam of gamma rays coming our way," Tuthill said. "If such a 'gamma ray burst' happens, we really do not want Earth to be in the way."

Unfortunately for us, gamma ray bursts seem to be shot right along the axis of systems. In essence, if this pinwheel ever releases a gamma ray burst, our planet might be in the firing line.

From The New York Times:

It was after 9 p.m. the night before Valentine's Day when she arrived, a young brunette named Kristen. She was 5-foot-5, 105 pounds. Pretty and petite.

This was at the Mayflower, one of Washington's finer hotels. Her client for the evening had booked Room 871. He was a return customer. The hundreds of dollars he had promised to pay would cover all expenses: the room, the minibar, room service should they order it, the train ticket that had brought her from New York and, naturally, Kristen's time.

A 47-page federal affidavit from an F.B.I. agent investigating a prostitution ring lists the man at the hotel as "Client 9," and includes considerable details about him, the prostitutes and his methods of paying for them. A law enforcement official and another person briefed on the prostitution case have identified Client 9 as Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York.

So as this day comes to an end, one star has been fully exposed and is almost certain to crash. The other star lurks beyond our view...but it too will one day crash. The former is a spectacle we watch with unflinching amusement; the latter is a hypothetical we've barely begun to consider. The former will end the political life of one politician; the latter may bring an end to us all.

Regardless, the world goes round and round. How's that for an illuminating astrological forecast?

Eliot Spitzer: Hittin' The Sheets Of New York

ElliottSpitzer.jpg

Tagged as: Adultery, Astrology, Astronomy, Cosmos, Death Star, Earth, Elliott Spitzer, Gamma Rays, Humor, New York, Prostitution, Rudy Giuliani, Sex Scandal, Supernova, Wolf-Rayet

Daniel DiRito | March 10, 2008 | 8:46 PM | link | Comments (0)
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March 7, 2008

3:00 AM - I Know What You Said Last Night genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The nastiness kerfuffle between the Obama and Clinton camps continues to draw the media's attention. The endless words, written on the subject by surreptitious surrogates, are enough to make a political junkie puke. If the victory of one's chosen candidate is the spoils that result from these unyielding tit for tat exchanges (often engineered), I fear I haven't the patience to play the game or the willingness to pay the frustration fee.

If this kind of meaningless minutiae were marketable, we'd have the funds to make the national debt dinky. Unfortunately, most of this back and forth is worthless...which means this tidal wave of one-upmanship does little more than eat bandwidth, contribute to the constant carping, and distract us from real issues of real import to real citizens.

Honestly, if the election is to be decided upon whose campaign crossed the oh so often contrived line of civility, we mustn't really be interested in choosing the most capable candidate. Truth be told, if you follow any individual around long enough, you're going to hear an array of ad hominem attacks. Requiring that our politicians vigilantly exhibit a level of restraint that we routinely trample with nary an ounce of apprehension is a tragedy wrapped in a farce.

Let me be clear. I'm not excusing inappropriate remarks. Those who make them deserve criticism...but the time spent on that criticism shouldn't overshadow all else such that the campaign becomes a proxy war waged by mulish wordsmiths bent upon bolstering the believability of their unabashed bias.

In the end, I suspect the focus on crushing the credibility of the other candidate only contributes to the apathy and animosity that is evidenced in our electorate. On the one hand, we're challenged to decide who is better prepared to answer "the call" at 3:00 AM. On the other, we're forced to listen to so much nuanced name calling by disingenuous disciples that I'm not sure it's worthwhile to spend another moment worrying about a hypothetical Hiroshima.

The following sarcastic graphic demonstrates my disgust with the process as well as my suspicion that the battle isn't about protecting our children; it's about winning an election. Yes, you can call me a cynic...but keep in mind that you might not be able to reach me...I think I've just been disconnected.

3:00 AM: I Know What You Said Last Night

3:00 AM

Tagged as: 2008 Election, 3:00 AM, Barack Obama, Bias, Campaigns, Hillary Clinton, Humor, Partisanship

Daniel DiRito | March 7, 2008 | 6:53 PM | link | Comments (0)
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March 4, 2008

George Carlin's HBO Special: It's Bad For Ya genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Tongue-In-Cheek & Video-Philes

George Carlin is a comedian...but his real talent is his ability to deconstruct the many concepts we've come to take for granted in this life. On Saturday night, during his HBO special, It's Bad For Ya, he gave us another hour of his many insights .

When I listen to Carlin, I cant help but think of politics and elections...not simply because he often discusses politics. I mention this because it's often said that voters will vote for the candidate with whom they would most enjoy sharing a beer. Well Carlin isn't a candidate, but I would love to have a beer or two with him.

When I imagine having the choice to sit around drinking a beer with George Carlin or a politician, there's no contest. I'd choose Carlin every time. I'd do so because I know he would share his truth with me; not attempt to find my truth and feed it back to me in exchange for my vote.

When I compare Carlin's candor to the cautious and convoluted words of most politicians, I quickly realize the magnitude of the dysfunction we promote in our political system. We each want our politicians to agree with us and to promote our own self-serving interests...which is impossible. What it does is make our elected officials little more than malleable manipulators willing to be the equivalent of political parrots. We sing, they listen...and then they attempt to sing each of our songs back to us...all at the same time.

In the end, the message they convey has morphed into a misguided and mechanical medley. This resulting "musical" melange lacks a coherent melody and it is often no longer in sync with reality. While Carlin is a master at transforming this dissonance into comedy, it may well mean we're in the midst of a tragedy. That's not a laughing matter...and I fear it is bad for us all.

George Carlin: God Bless America...And Other Hat Tricks

George Carlin: Swearin' To God, Mom's Hooters, & I've Got Rights

George Carlin: From On High...Or From Down Under

Tagged as: Comedy, Death, George Carlin, God, HBO, Heaven, Hell, Humor, It's Bad For Ya, Patriotism, Politics, Religion

Daniel DiRito | March 4, 2008 | 9:06 AM | link | Comments (0)
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March 3, 2008

Stimulus Checks: Building A Bridge To Nowhere? genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak

BridgeToNowhere.jpg

If you want to understand the degree to which politicians make shortsighted decisions intended to win favor with the voters at home, look no further than the passage of the $168 billion dollar economic stimulus package.

If you want to see how ill-advised such decisions may be, take a moment to look at a new report by Pew Research. The report grades each of the states on the management and maintenance of their infrastructure...and the results aren't encouraging.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Almost half of the states in the United States are falling behind in their infrastructure maintenance and fiscal systems, according to a report released Monday by the Pew Center on the States and Governing Magazine.

The groups gave 23 states grades for infrastructure that were below the national average in their study called "Grading the States." Using a scale similar to those found in U.S. schools, where an A is excellent and an F failure, they decided 23 states had grades below C+.

In the money category, which encompassed budget balancing, contracting, and other fiscal categories, 20 states received C+ and below, while 19 states garnered grades of B and above. The average among 50 states was B-.

It's clear that our infrastructure has been in need of a capital infusion for a number of years. It's also clear that our economy has been kept afloat by a housing bubble driven by artificially low interest rates rather than by sustainable economic growth that creates a stable increase in jobs and the kind of expansion that is cumulative in nature.

Politicians and voters have become accustomed to stop gap measures designed to dispel consumer doubt and forestall recessionary pressures. Unfortunately, while such measures may provide a temporary economic boost, they also promote a boom and bust mindset and the hills and valleys that accompany it.

In truth, it's a form of bait and switch. Politicians choose to offer voters a few hundred dollars, and thus the ability to buy a new television set, rather than making the difficult decisions to enact measures that would provide long term stability. In our consumption is king construct, we've adopted the pathology that comes with the need for instant gratification.

The political calculations that flow from our short election cycles simply promote more of the same. We're not only raiding the cookie jar; our elected officials are handing out cookies without considering the need to manage and maintain the bakery.

Prior to the millennium, numerous politicians mouthed the metaphor of building a bridge to the 21st century. As it turns out, we not only refuse to fund the bridges needed to take us there, we've taken a shine to building bridges to nowhere.

I struggle to find the silver lining in rolling out billions of dollars in refund checks while the wheels are falling off the wagon. Then again, perhaps our politicians want to be sure we can watch the news coverage of the next bridge collapse...on our shiny new high definition televisions.

Tagged as: Bridge Collapse, Economics, Election Cycles, Infrastructure, Pew Research, Recession, Refund Checks, Stimulus Package, Tax Rebates

Daniel DiRito | March 3, 2008 | 3:09 PM | link | Comments (1)
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