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Night Owl - Knowledge is the Past. Wisdom is the Future.
Saturday, March 6, 2004
Al the Pal
Bill Fleckenstein, a hedgefund manager in Seattle, writes a tough column about Alan Greenspan, excoriating him for his recent comments about the Housing Market:
So the most irresponsible central banker in the history of the world created the biggest bubble in the history of the world, which had disastrous consequences for the stock market and the economy. In order to ameliorate that, he has created bubble-like conditions and absurd financing schemes in real estate.
Here's the kicker.
Meanwhile, we've seen an enormous concentration of risk develop inside the financial system: We are down to just a handful of big banks and government-sponsored entities that are using his other favorite toy, derivatives, to theoretically manage away all their risks.
I think he's saying that because the increasing risk associated with the Housing bubble (driven by mortgage refinancing and other borrowing practices) is concentrated among only a few big lenders, rather than spread among many smaller financial institutions, a collapse could trigger a 'disaster' for the nation's economy as large bank positions crumble. Basically, S&L on steroids.

I hope he's wrong.

Posted by Night Owl at 8:25 PM PST
Updated: Thursday, March 11, 2004 8:28 PM PST
Curtains for Martha

Paging through some of the arm-chair analysis of Martha Stewart's legal defense, which led to conviction on 'all counts', it takes some attentive reading to realize that 'all counts' includes just the cover-up (conspiracy, obstruction of justice and two counts of lying to investigators) of her alleged misconduct.

It's only at the nineteenth paragraph of this article that we are informed that the underlying charge of Securities Fraud had already been dismissed:
Morvillo and his partners at the trial, John J. Tigue and John Cuti, scored a huge victory for Stewart on Feb. 27 -- persuading U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum to drop a (THE would be more appropriate - ed.) charge of securities fraud against Stewart.
So what does this all mean? It means that the lessons of Nixon, Clinton, and many other shame-faced accused are seldom learned: The cover-up is almost always worse than the crime.
Legal experts said Stewart might have avoided prison if she had come clean then because the money at stake in the trade was so small. Stewart, who was briefly a billionaire after Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia went public in 1999, saved $51,000 by selling a day ahead of a damaging government report about an ImClone drug.

"Had she admitted the mistake early on, she would have spent no time in prison," said Ajamie, who was careful to point out he was speaking in hindsight. "She's much worse off than had she tried to go in and just admit the mistake."
So, instead of making curtains for her TV show, Martha will now be making them for her prison cell. Then again, there may be a way for Martha to turn lemons into lemonade:

Next on Prison Living with Martha Stewart, Ken Lay shows us how to BBQ your balance sheet Texas Style.

I'd tune in for Dick Cheney's guest appearance, wouldn't you?

Posted by Night Owl at 11:41 AM PST
Updated: Saturday, March 6, 2004 11:46 AM PST
Thursday, February 26, 2004
Clear Channel Pulls Howard Stern after 'Indecent' Bush Bashing
From the WP:

"Clear Channel drew a line in the sand today with regard to protecting our listeners from indecent content, and Howard Stern's show blew right through it," Hogan said.

The only indecent content CC was protecting listeners from was Howard's unadulterated Bush Bashing (via Blah3):

My husband said Stern went on for an hour talking about Bush* being a right-wing religious "nut." Stern was saying Kerry has to be elected, and we have to get Bush* out of office. He has always claimed to have had an affect in the NJ governor's race when he supported Whitman, and cited that race when he said he plans to do the same to oust Bush*.
CC's attempts to silence Howard's political rants will backfire on Bush. When Howard's listeners discover to their dismay that their drive-time, 'guilty pleasure' has been taken away from them, they will quickly realize that the timing comes suspiciously close to Howard's endorsement of Kerry (and if they don't I'm sure Howard will make it abundantly clear to them).

Most of these guys care a lot more about Stern's purile antics than they do about politics (hence the previous trend among this demographic to support Bush). But when they realize that Howard got kicked off for bashing Bush, they will quickly find a political issue worth voting for.

And the ham-fisted way this was done will hurt Bush with Howard supporters FAR MORE than any ancillary help with the morality types - and not just in the areas where the show has been cancelled, but anywhere Howard's show is on. These guys are gonna be pissed, and they will know EXACTLY who to blame.

The REAL story here, however, is WHERE the stations are located (from the Post article):

The stations where the Stern show is carried by Clear Channel are in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Orlando, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rochester, N.Y., and San Diego.
All of these stations are located in red-leaning, swing areas. I'm sure some enterprising investigative journalist or Congressional Committee (I know, I know), or state attorney general can establish a link between CC's selection of stations and the Bush re-election committee. In a sane world, political coordination of this type would be enough to send somebody to jail.

Posted by Night Owl at 11:47 AM PST
Updated: Tuesday, March 23, 2004 1:45 PM PST
Monday, January 26, 2004
Green Zone Mole

Just after Paul Wolfowitz's trip to Iraq back in October, I posted some thoughts at Whiskey Bar about the less than cordial reception PNAC Paulie received from Iraqi guerrillas during his abbreviated stay:

"I think Saddam's got a mole at US HQ. Two separate shots at Wolfowitz on the same day? A senior US military guy was on saying it was simply a coincidence that Wolfie 'happened' to be there (in Iraq) because the planning of the rocket launcher took at least two months. I'm not buying it. They can build the thing and then wait as long as they want for the target. They just have to know when . . . .

"I remember in college a long time back attending a guest lecture by Sam Adams - a former intelligence officer who wrote a great book on Viet Nam. He described how US HQ in Saigon had become thoroughly compromised by the time of Tet. He said that the Viet Cong had infiltrated the translation office, which was the conduit for all communications between the US Army and South Vietnamese forces. A spy even ran the mimeograph machine and made copies of all the battle plans. They had fore-knowledge of every operation, meeting, visiting dignitary, etc.

"I wonder if HQ in Baghdad has a similar office for communicating with the new Iraqi police force."
Now, three months later, comes this: (via Today in Iraq)
U.S. suspects Iraqi moles at Baghdad headquarters

Some senior administration officials suspect that Saddam Hussein's followers have penetrated the coalition headquarters in Baghdad and passed information to guerrilla fighters.

The source said some senior officials believe it is too much of a coincidence that Saddam loyalists know where and when to attack Army convoys. At times, attackers also seem to know the planned route of low-flying helicopters, more than 10 of which have been shot down since May.

Moreover, some guerrilla cells in Baghdad seem to know beforehand when coalition VIPs are visiting Iraq.

One possible example was the October visit to Iraq of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a prime architect of President Bush's oust-Saddam policy.

Guerrillas aimed rockets from a makeshift launch pad at, or near, the floor on which Mr. Wolfowitz was staying at the Rashid Hotel. The rockets hit one floor below Mr. Wolfowitz's 12th floor room. He escaped unharmed, but one U.S. Army officer was killed.

Military officials at the time said they did not believe the guerrillas targeted Mr. Wolfowitz. But months later, some Pentagon officials said the attack of eight to 10 68-mm and 85-mm rockets may have been an attempt to assassinate Mr. Wolfowitz. . . .

Officials acknowledge the screening process is not foolproof. The coalition cannot guarantee that rehired police officers and military commanders are not still loyal to Saddam's Ba'athist regime, they say.
I still say they should check the Translation Office.

Posted by Night Owl at 7:43 PM PST
Updated: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 12:42 PM PST
The More Things Change . . .
Doonesbury circa 1971

Posted by Night Owl at 3:04 PM PST
How Will The Blog 'Summer of Love' End?
Billmon has a thoughtful piece on whether mainstream media could co-opt the blogosphere. Blogging from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he is less than sanguine on blogging's chances of remaining an independent, free thinking phenomenon.
"Just the fact that blogging showed up on the agenda at Davos this year is probably a bad sign. I can't shake the suspicion that the golden age of blogging is almost over -- that the corporate machine is about to swallow it, digest it, and regurgitate it as bland, non-threatening pablum. Our brief Summer of Love may be nearing an end. . . ."
The end, as he sees it, will come when quality news is priced far outside the pocketbook of the average consumer, so that the sources of information upon which blogging depends dry up.
"I can easily forsee a time when access to information of the quantity and quality of, say, the daily Reuters news feed will cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Only large corporations and government agencies will be able to afford the price -- just as only a relative handful of financial institutions can now afford access to Bloomberg terminals."
I have often wondered myself how long news outlets can continue to give their content away for free on the Net while relying on traditional revenue streams to keep them afloat. But I think a more likely outcome than the 'Bloomberg' model (which is not analogous because of the difference in both audience size and income) is one in which a 'quality' news media outlet charges a nominal fee (say, 25 cents/day?) - similar to the traditional 'daily' paper model we all grew up with.

The effect on blogs of nominal news pricing would be to segment blogs by subscription to the media sources they link to. For instance, if Billmon subscribes to Reuters, and publishes his fabulous pieces using Reuters material, then his readers will also have to subscribe to Reuters to read the source text. In essence, Billmon becomes a promoter for Reuters news services.

There is nothing inherently sinister about this. Billmon is merely endorsing the quality of the source by using it in his article. He also keeps Reuters on its toes because links from widely read bloggers like Billmon are free advertising. Thus, it behooves Reuters to keep their content quality high to ensure the stream of new, paid subscriptions which these links generate.

The rub comes if Billmon decides that he will accept commissions or other payments FROM Reuters for the linking. All of a sudden, Billmon is no longer an INDEPENDENT arbiter of news quality, but rather is now beholden to Reuters and therefore much less likely to criticize his media sugar daddy. Thus Billmon becomes co-opted by the corporate news media and yet another block in the pyramid (God forbid).

The 'Summer of Love' will end when the news outlets start charging nominal sums to their readers, and bloggers start accepting kickbacks for linking. Yet until that cold blast of reality hits, let's all continue enjoy the warmth while it lasts.

Dude, where's the bong?

Posted by Night Owl at 12:30 PM PST
Updated: Monday, January 26, 2004 12:52 PM PST
Sunday, January 25, 2004
Sharpton Uses GOP Hatchetman to Smack Dean. Now Dean Can Smack Back
With all of the post-mortems on Dean's performance in Iowa, one thing that doesn't get talked about much is Sharpton's attack on Howard at the last debate.

Howard clearly did NOT want to tussle with Al 'the Porcupine' Sharpton over Dean's supposed lack of hiring of racial minorities to Vermont Cabinet positions. There seemed to be no purpose in getting into a racially charged debate which might upset the minority voters Howard has tried so hard to court. Besides, Carol had his back and took Al down a peg as only she could.

Yet, in retrospect, this duck-and-cover strategy looks like a big mistake. White voters as a whole are not racist, but they resent UNFOUNDED charges of racism bitterly.

Howard should have stood up to Sharpton more strongly and called him out on his specious charges. Dean should have pointed out that less than 1% of Vermonters are black, and that hiring minorities from out of state (as Sharpton also said he should do) would have been unfair to in-staters to whom Dean, as Governor, owed his first allegiance. (He also might have asked how many Aleutians Al has hired. Al would have said 'What?' and Dean could say there are as many Aleutians in America as there are blacks in Vermont - just a thought).

I think Howard lost a lot of credibility with Iowa whites when he did not stand up to Al's demagoguery the way he stands up to Bush's. As much as I hate the term, this truly was Dean's 'Sister Souljah' moment* - and he blew it.

Now we find out that long time GOP consultant Roger Stone who has worked for Nixon, Reagan, and even DUBYAH, is an UNPAID consultant to Sharpton's campaign, and most likely was the person behind Sharpton's premeditated smear at the debate.
"I don't share his politics (says Stone). Let's be very clear, if you check the F.E.C. records you will see I am supporting George W. Bush. I am a Reagan Republican."

But the men have found a common agenda in the Democratic primary. They have delighted in skewering Dr. Dean, with Mr. Sharpton generating one of Dr. Dean's lowest moments in a debate when he forced him to admit he had no blacks or Hispanics in his cabinet when he was governor of Vermont.

"I saw Roger's fingerprints all over that," said the developer Donald Trump, who has worked with Mr. Stone over the past two decades.
We've seen this type of GOP meddling before. During the 2000 Presidential campaign, Ralph Nader failed to disavow ads supporting him which were paid for by GOP related groups, in hopes of drawing support away from Al Gore. But the GOP isn't really to blame here, it's the candidate who accepts the support, knowing full well that he is being used to torpedo the more viable progressive candidate. It is the politics of ego over cause - and it stinks.

But for Dean there is a silver lining here. The revelation of a longtime GOP operative in the Sharpton campaign is great ammunition for Howard to use against Al at the next debate. Without necessarily focusing on race, Howard can still 'smack down' Al by exposing his hypocrisy.

Moreover, there is a real opportunity to sink Sharpton's ambitions to take over the mantle of minority leadership from Jesse Jackson. All Howard needs to say is, "You claim to want to be the next Jesse Jackson. Well Al, Jesse never hired a Republican to run his campaign. That's the difference between you and Jesse Jackson."

And with that, Howard might just undo his 'Sister Souljah' mistake, and recapture the support he lost at the last Iowa debate.

*For those who may not remember, during the 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton disavowed the racially charged comments of rap artist Sister Souljah, and gained much support with whites as someone who would stand up against racial demagoguery of any stripe.

Posted by Night Owl at 11:52 AM PST
Republicans Trace Their Roots to Scotland
From the BBC:

"It's a fantastic place for these very old invertebrates."
Sorry, couldn't resist. Seriously though - a fascinating find by amateur fossil hunter, Mike Newman, who makes his living as a bus driver in Aberdeen.

"It is thought that the one-centimetre millipede which was prised out of a siltstone bed is 428-million-years-old. . . . They say the find is the earliest evidence of a creature living on dry land, rather than in the sea."
Way to go Mike! Gives hope to the rest of us amateur 'whatevers' that we also might someday hit it big. Something else to think about:

"Scotland has the best palaeozoic - pre-triassic, pre-dinosaur - sites in the world. There's more sites in the small country of Scotland than the whole of the US and Russia put together."
Wow.

Posted by Night Owl at 10:09 AM PST
Updated: Sunday, January 25, 2004 10:18 AM PST
Saturday, January 24, 2004
New Voters? We Don't Need No Stinkin' New Voters!
Ruy Texiera at Donkey Rising has this to say about Dean's GOTV efforts.

"Most obviously, an influx of new voters didn't help Dean much at all in the Iowa caucuses. In fact, those new voters surged in the direction of the caucus winners, Kerry and Edwards. Is there any reason to think this result will be different in the general election? Nope, that's what usually happens with new voters: they go for the winner and therefore amplify, not change, the result we would have seen without the new voters."

So let me get this straight. All those new voters who Dean registered to vote in the DEMOCRATIC primary are going to vote for BUSH in the general and therefore amplify Bush's win? Apparently, Ruy believes that the very same people who turned up for the specific purpose of picking the guy to BEAT BUSH are now simply going to turn around 180 degrees and vote for Bush come November.

Of course, Ruy cites some statistics which supposedly lend credibility to his argument:

"But Dean's campaign apparently believes they can make up, say, a 52 percent to 48 percent split against the Democrats among the previously-existing electorate (pegging it at 2000's 105 million voters) by attracting 8 million new voters into the process.

This is nuts. Even assuming they can increase turnout that much, they'd have to get a 3:1 split among these new voters (that is, win these 8 million new voters by 6 million to 2 million) to dig themselves out the hole they'd dug themselves among the rest of the electorate.

Ruy fails to cite any empirical data of WHY its 'NUTS' (note the 'Crazy Dean' meme), to assume that 3 out of 4 who voted in the Democratic primary will vote for a Democrat in the general - Dean or otherwise. But worse than that, he misses the fact that anything over 1 out of 2 is itself a WIN which improves the Dem vote tally. (Of course, he also fails to mention why, after TWELVE YEARS of 'centrist' party leadership, there remains a four point electoral deficit against the Dems in the first place.)

Ruy's post is really just a rehash of the tired, old, 'Dean is unelectable' meme. Basically Ruy is saying: 'Dean will lose, and the voters he registers will just make him lose bigger.'

Beneath his obvious anti-Dean bias, however, lurks a more sinister, anti-GOTV motive. Ruy does not WANT Dean to register new voters because he knows that an influx of new Dems threatens the fragile status quo to whom he remains beholden.

As Dean has shown quite clearly, new voters mean new ideas, new energy, and new enthusiasm, which is always anathema to the retention of failed leadership. Ruy's 'we don't need no stinking new voters' attitude - however he wonks it - is still just a rationalization for denying the new blood that might one day overturn the current party establishment structure.

It is also typical of the failed electoral attitudes of the current party leadership. Woe is the day that the rest of the Democratic Party decides that DEPRESSED voter turnout is a good thing. A more self-defeating strategy for a populist party that relies on the support of 'average voters' I can not possibly imagine.

When Ruy and his guys start winning elections against actual REPUBLICANS, then let them come tell me how bad GOTV drives are. In the meantime, they should quit slamming one of our own for his efforts to recruit new members to the party that Ruy and those like Ruy would rather turn into an elitist clique.

Ruy ends with: "It ain't gonna work. Time to bury this particular idea and bury it deep."

You said it Ruy.

Posted by Night Owl at 2:48 PM PST
Updated: Saturday, January 24, 2004 10:00 PM PST
Friday, January 23, 2004
Dean's Crazy Train
Put on some headphones, turn them up real loud, and then go HERE.

I'm on Howard's Crazy Train, because if the rest are all sane, then there's something seriously wrong with the railroad.

All aboard

Crazy, but that's how it goes
Millions of people living as foes
Maybe it's not too late
To learn how to love, and forget how to hate

Mental wounds not healing
Life's a bitter shame
I'm goin' off the rails on a crazy train
I'm goin' off the rails on a crazy train
Let's go

I've listened to preachers, I've listened to fools
I've watched all the dropouts who make their own rules
One person conditioned to rule and control
The media sells it and you live the role

Mental wounds still screaming
Driving me insane
I'm goin' off the rails on a crazy train
I'm goin' off the rails on a crazy train

I know that things are going wrong for me
You've gotta listen to my words, yeah

Heirs of a cold war, that's what we've become
Inheriting troubles, I'm mentally numb
Crazy, I just cannot bear
I'm living with something that just isn't fair

Mental wounds not healing
Who and what's to blame
I'm goin' off the rails on a crazy train
I'm goin' off the rails on a crazy train


Posted by Night Owl at 2:47 PM PST

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