Friday, April 16, 2010

The Affordable Housing Red Herring

Government mandates to support affordable housing had little to do with the housing meltdown or the collapse of Fannie Mae.

In any event, that was already clear, since commercial real estate has also suffered, without any equivalent, potentially-market-distorting federal mandates. Instead, the crucial feature leading to the crisis, in both private and commercial real estate, was the development of marketable mortgage securities:
The hearing brought forward a paradox: For years, Fannie fended off efforts to restrict its growth by arguing that it had the best risk-management tools and brightest minds. But on Friday, executives said that their business model doomed their ability to manage a national and sustained housing meltdown.

...So far, Fannie and Freddie have required more than $126 billion in taxpayer infusions, a number that is likely to grow as mortgage defaults rise further. One of the panel's commissioners, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former budget analyst, said on Friday that the collapse of Fannie and Freddie would leave taxpayers with the "single largest bill we will face in this episode."

...At the hearing, commissioners honed in on why Fannie executives made their ill-fated decisions to loosen underwriting standards and increase their exposure to riskier "Alt-A" loans for borrowers with good credit but little documentation of income or assets.

Fannie and Freddie's market share fell rapidly beginning in 2003 as private nonbank lenders were fueled by Wall Street's desire to bundle and sell mortgages as securities. One internal Fannie document made public on Friday showed how executives in 2005 considered a "stay the course" strategy to try to steer the market back to traditional products such as the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

But executives ultimately decided that new, riskier loans were "not a fad, but a growing and permanent change" in the mortgage market that the companies couldn't ignore, Mr. Mudd said. The company opted to strike a "middle course" by trying to offer less-risky versions of Alt-A loans.

"Could we really sit out?" said Robert Levin, a 27-year Fannie veteran who retired in 2008. "That's what we were grappling with."

...Commissioners also focused on the degree to which government mandates to support affordable housing were responsible for the companies' increased risk appetite. At the hearing Mr. Falcon dismissed such arguments, saying, "It was driven by a desire to once again regain their dominance in the market and to try to increase profitability towards what it had been in its hey-day." He added, "This is where they thought they had to go to achieve that.

No, I Did Not Know That

Crossing The Line

FOX News smacks the Tea Party movement back into line:
What is news is that even Fox has its limits as to how closely it will link itself to the Tea Parties, and yesterday it acted to prevent Sean Hannity from crossing them.

As David Zurawik writes at the Baltimore Sun, FNC officials put the kibosh on a planned Hannity broadcast from a Tea Party event in Cincinnati when it learned that the organizers were raising money by selling tickets to the broadcast. “FOX News never agreed to allow the Cincinnati Tea Party organizers to use Sean Hannity's television program to profit from broadcasting his show from the event," stated Fox News executive vice president Bill Shine.

...But at least there are limits. Attention, Tea Party: You do not make money off Fox News! Fox News makes money off you!

Lazy Bicyclist

Tuesday evening, driving down J Street, I looked into the rearview mirror, and out of the corner of my eye, I was startled to see an arm attached to my car. As far as I knew I hadn't struck any pedestrians (although, like Robert Novak experienced, these things can sometimes happen without one really noticing).

Turned out, a bicyclist was riding in my right rearview mirror's blind spot. He was lazily gripping my car in order to get motive power from my internal combustion engine.

Aha! I'll show him! I turn right at the next street! But as soon as I signalled to turn right, and started slowing, he shot right past me and avoided injury.


Making Merry Hell Out Of European Air Space

TV Ad - Sad, Yet Powerful

The Vampire Squid Is Under Attack!

Beware the angry Vampire Squid! It has a nasty beak!:
The vampire squid is under attack! How it will end is anybody's guess, but for now, the first line of the Security and Exchange Commission's complaint against Goldman Sachs accusing the investment bank of securities fraud must sound like sweet sweet music to anyone who has long been outraged by the Wall Street machinations at the heart of the financial crisis.
The Commission brings this securities fraud action against Goldman, Sachs & Co. ("GS&Co") and a GS&Co employee, Fabrice Tourre ("Tourre"), for making materially misleading statements and omissions in connection with a synthetic collateralized debt obligation ("CDO") GS&Co structured and marketed to investors.
The New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story scooped the rest of the business press with news of the SEC action, which launches perhaps the most dramatic confrontation between the U.S. government and an American corporation since Bill Clinton's Justice Department brought an antirust suit against Microsoft. The details of the complaint are complex, but the heart of the story is very simple.

According to the SEC complaint, in early 2007, at the request of John Paulson, a prominent hedge fund trader, Goldman Sachs created a security -- called Abacus 2007 AC-1 -- built from underlying mortgage-backed securities that Paulson had cherry-picked as most likely to blow up. While Goldman Sachs then turned around and sold the security to its own clients, Paulson and Goldman bought credit default insurance on the underlying mortgage bonds. Paulson and Goldman cashed in, while Goldman's clients lost millions. At no time did Goldman divulge Paulson's involvement to its clients.

From the Times:
Goldman let Mr. Paulson select mortgage bonds that he wanted to bet against -- the ones he believed were most likely to lose value -- and packaged those bonds into Abacus 2007-AC1, according to the S.E.C. complaint. Goldman then sold the Abacus deal to investors like foreign banks, pension funds, insurance companies and other hedge funds.

But the deck was stacked against the Abacus investors, the complaint contends, because the investment was filled with bonds chosen by Mr. Paulson as likely to default. Goldman told investors in Abacus marketing materials reviewed by The Times that the bonds would be chosen by an independent manager.
The significance of the SEC's action is difficult to understate. Goldman's political influence is legendary -- two of the most prominent Treasury Secretaries in the last twenty years, Robert Rubin and Hank Paulson, were former Goldman CEOs. The SEC's action comes just as political debate over banking reform legislation heats up, with the GOP Senate leadership apparently intent on scuttling a bill that includes provisions aimed at regulating precisely the kind of derivatives trading involved in the Abacus deal. Financial bloggers are already suggesting that the complaint may offer AIG reason to sue Goldman and a civil suit brought by burned investors is undoubtedly in the offing. Share prices for Goldman Sachs stock plummeted early Friday, and spreads on credit default swaps written on bonds issued by Goldman widened dramatically -- a sign that the market, for now, is taking the news quite seriously.

Chicken Or The Egg?

This video is interesting, but I suspect it oversimplifies the situation. Russo, Marsh & Rogers is benefitting from the Tea Party movement, but in many ways, it created the Tea Party movement.

The Tea Party movement on the West Coast fits the classic California conservative astroturf model. In 2009, it's likely that Russo, Marsh et al. were the ones who got FOX News to promote what they were doing. FOX News was a critical part of the initial operation of the Tea Parties. So, which came first - the chicken or the egg?:

The Tea Party has been billed as an organic grassroots operation, but a newly uncovered document obtained by Politico suggests the movement has been successfully co-opted as a Republican fundraising ploy.

GOP political consultant Joe Wierzbicki floated the proposal a year ago today to create the Tea Party Express, a nationwide bus tour to "give a boost to our PAC and position us as a growing force/leading force as the 2010 elections come into focus." His idea eventually became one of the best known brands in the Tea Party movement.

The document cautioned planners to be careful when discussing the ruse to use Tea Parties for political gain. "We have to be very, very careful about discussing amongst ourselves anyone we include 'outside of the family' because quite frankly, we are not only not part of the political establishment or conservative establishment, but we are also sadly not currently a part of the 'tea party' establishment," Wierzbicki wrote.

Wierzbicki, who works for the Sacramento firm Russo Marsh + Rogers, went on to outline how conservative media including Fox News could be leveraged to hype the Tea Party Express. He recommended using "mentions and possibly even promotion from conservative/pro-tea party bloggers, talk radio hosts, Fox News commentators, etc..."

...But the primary goal was fundraising for the founding firm's PAC. Despite quadrupling their take in March they told Politico, "We're hardly making any money at all."

...He said there's "no doubt" the plan "has been a wild success beyond the sort of most ambitious expectations of these operatives." The GOP has successfully "tapped the Tea Party for a sustainable revenue stream," he added.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Second Annual Tea Party Demonstration At The State Capitol

It's April 15th, and you know what day it is! Yes, it's time once again to cover the Big Tea Party Demonstration on the State Capitol's west steps!

I saw the first signs that something was up long before I approached the Capitol on foot. Not far from my workplace I saw several men wearing camouflage pants, and one fellow wearing a camouflage outfit (with a bright blue beret). At first I feared Camouflage might be the New Black, but at the demonstration itself, there was little evidence of it (unless I was surrounded by folks in Camouflage and just didn't see them at all in the mottling of sun and shade on the Capitol grounds).

I saw no evidence of Guns (but didn't really look for them either).

Last year, the (primarily white suburban) crowd seemed to skew Unusually Old and Freakishly Fat. In July, my emphasis on the Circus Fat angle caught the attention of the Sacramento Bee, which published a portion of a blogpost, which, in turn, triggered some irritated commentary, no doubt from insulted parties.

In defense, I acknowledged that I, as a graying middle-aged man, met the minimum medical qualifications to be categorized as Obese. Hey, I know Fat! But I also knew some these folks hadn't faced serious dietary discipline in forty years. If folks had been this Fat in the American Revolution, they wouldn't have been able to find horses strong enough to bear their weight. Heck, maybe even Clydesdales would have buckled under the pressure.

This year, the (primarily white suburban) crowd skewed Older-Than-Average. Nevertheless, there were many more younger people, so it seemed much more like a normal cross-section of Suburban America: like an older version of a crowd at a ball game, maybe. The Freakishly Fat were either many fewer in number (no more than in the average population), or had brought their own lawn chairs and thus (literally) had a lower profile.

The demonstration this year seemed to be much better organized than last year. There were many more lawn chairs this year than last year, indicating that people had thought more carefully about their physical needs for the long afternoon in the sun. Last year, probably to their regret, they eagerly waddled out the door before thinking about where they were going to sit, and ended up weary and with aching feet. This year, they learned from their experiences.

Left: The Norcal Tea Party Patriots were doing a brisk business in T-Shirts, and related paraphernalia.
Stands had been erected where one could purchase food, or T-Shirts, or little Salvation-Army-style Liberty Bells, or other patriotic trinkets.

When I first arrived, I took note of the candidates tables on the north side of the State Capitol. These had been absent last year (2009 not being a major election year, of course). This was another sign of improved organization.

Nevertheless, the crowd seemed more sedate, and less agitated, than last year. I interpreted the change to have resulted from the addition of younger, less-politically-minded people to the audience. The closer to normal the crowd gets, the more people want pet each other's dogs, or pose for photos with the crowd patrol cops on horseback.

In addition, the crowd seemed smaller than last year: maybe something like 10 to 20% smaller. Last year, this demonstration was actively-promoted by national FOX News, and some of their luminaries were actually present at the demonstration. This year, FOX News didn't seem to be present, and without that unequalled promotional machinery at work, there was less of a draw.

I collected some campaign literature, of course. At one point, I passed a woman who was handing out literature 'for the other side' (meaning Progressives). I identified myself as a 'friend' and she said "you don't know what it's been like out here today! People here have no idea that Obama is the farthest thing from being a Socialist!" She was talking to an unusually well-dressed and well-groomed man with a white beard and a very smooth demeanor (clearly someone who worked in the State Capitol, or had some connection to Power, who identified himself as 'Bruce Lee') who stated that 'there are extremists on both sides, of course.' Left Bloggers like myself recognize that kind of rhetoric as being Classic Village nonsense: the steel chain that continues to bind media coverage in this great nation of ours. The two of us countered that the Right has been much more Extreme these days, and he said 'some would say so.' Just then, I recognized Jerry Frink, local Progressive gadfly and activist, and urged her to talk to him, but before we departed we shared a moment marvelling over the Well-Dressed Man. "It's amazing how many resources the Other Side gets," she said. "Progressives don't get jack!" Ain't that the truth!

The speakers spoke. Two Jumbotrons helped the crowd see the speakers. I believe Talk Radio folks Armstrong and Getty were there, plus an actor in a 19th-Century military uniform who identified himself as 'General John Fremont, first Governor of California'. Several folks sang, as well.

After awhile, I walked over to the bank to get some money (it's expensive living in Obama's Socialist Amerika, especially on April 15th). On my return trip, I passed the candidates tables again.

Left: Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Chambers.

Omigod, who should I run into but Bill Chambers! As you know, I have a great fondness for the 135 capable, but amazingly-diverse candidates (such as myself) who ran for Governor in the 2003 California Gubernatorial Recall Election. Bill Chambers was one of these folks!

"Didn't you run in 2003?" I asked. He replied "2003, AND 2006, AND this year too!" I asked him whether he was from down south (meaning the LA area), and he replied that he had been born there, but had been living in Auburn since 1998. The 2003 election campaign was so crazy, I barely had time to talk to many of the candidates; even those candidates who, like Bill Chambers, were local.

In any event, I wish Bill well on his campaign for the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nomination. You have to admire anyone who stops yelling at his television long enough to start walking the arduous trail that actually leads to winning an election!

Left: Candidate Suzanne Jones for the State Assembly, District 5 (Roger Niello's seat) seems to be deliberately affecting a Sarah Palin look. She already had the rimless bifocal thing going, and with just a few clothing and hair changes - Voila!

In his opening remarks, one of the speakers addressed the audience with "Hello, fellow Racists!" The audience knowingly laughed at the speaker's cheeky sarcasm. Tea Partiers, like other Republicans, regard Democratic charges of racism as canards used to squelch open discussion of society's problems. (Myself, I regard the charges as often accurate - white suburbanites can sometimes be thoughtlessly racist without quite being aware of it).
Anti-abortion activists campaigned as well.

This poster didn't make much sense to me - Bushies with Hitler mustaches....
... until I saw this poster.

Children were more-in-evidence this year than last year.

The Proud Patriotic Poodle's red-white-and-blue bunting fell into disarray when the Labrador Retriever came too close.

Coming Soon!

Beyond the greater cosmic question of rising sea levels and what it means to us all, there is the much-more-particular question about the storm that's coming in on Sunday - Tuesday. It's going to be a warm storm, from the southwest, and all that warm rain falling on the substantial Sierra snowpack may mean flooding!

Greta Gerwig On The Jimmy Fallon Show

Greta Gerwig talks about Sacramento's Tower Theater, and it's screening of "Greenberg", and how her mom had related that everyone in the theater would applaud whenever Greta appeared on screen (which was a lot, since she was the co-star).

As I blogged about already, I was in the audience at the Tower Theater opening night, and people didn't applaud every single time Greta made an appearance (after awhile, that would get tedious), but at the beginning of the movie, definitely!

Sacramentans are fairly-bursting with pride in Greta, and Greta conveys that small-town pride accurately!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bullets May Not Penetrate, But I'm Sure They'd Bruise!

Safety clothes:
THE humble T-shirt may soon be strong enough to stop a speeding bullet.

Scientists in the US have developed a flexible shirt made of the same material used in tank armour, by combining carbon in the shirt with the third-hardest material on Earth, boron.

"It could even be used to produce lightweight, fuel-efficient cars and aircrafts," Xiaodong Li, from the University of Southern Carolina, wrote in the journal Advanced Materials.

The plain white T-shirts are dipped into a boron solution, then heated in an oven at more than 1000C, which changes the cotton fibres into carbon fibres.

The carbon fibres react with the boron solution and produce boron carbide - the same material used to make bulletproof plates in armoured vests.

The resulting material was stiffer than the original cotton tee, but still flexible enough to be worn as such.

"We expect that the nanowires can capture a bullet," Prof Li said.

But bullets are just the beginning for the new miracle material.

Prof Li said the T-shirts could also block "almost all" ultraviolet rays, and possibly life-threatening neutrons emitted from decaying radioactive material.

Finding Sarah Palin's Contract

Photo: RICH PEDRONCELLI / Associated Press

Caption: California State University, Stanislaus, students Alicia Lewis, left, and Ashli Briggs move papers – intact and shredded, found in a campus trash bin – Tuesday in the Capitol. They say the papers include part of Sarah Palin's contract to speak at the school in June.

Brilliant! Just brilliant! I bow down before Alicia Lewis, Ashli Briggs, et al.!:
The controversy surrounding Sarah Palin's upcoming speech at CSU Stanislaus took a bizarre turn Tuesday when two students said they had found part of her confidential contract in a campus Dumpster.

..."I mean, who expected to go into a Dumpster and find, intact, the Sarah Palin contract? No one expected that," said Ashli Briggs, a 23-year-old student who presented the document at a Capitol news conference Tuesday.

...The hot question – how much the foundation is paying Palin for her speech – is not answered in the pages the students found. Palin reportedly receives up to $100,000 per appearance.

The students uncovered what appear to be the last six pages of a nine-page contract, none of which mentions Palin by name. But the pages say the speaker requests "round-trip, first-class commercial air travel for two between Anchorage, Alaska, and event city." The customer can instead provide a private plane, the contract says, if it is "a Lear 60 or larger."

The contract is dated March 16 and printed on letterhead from the Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents Palin. It says the customer must provide the speaker and her party with a "one-bedroom suite and two single rooms in a deluxe hotel."

Media coverage must be tightly controlled, according to the contract. It's up to the speaker to approve any recording, and photography is limited to the first three minutes of the speech and a highly orchestrated photo-op for audience members to have their picture taken with the speaker. The contract includes a diagram showing how furniture should be arranged for the photo shoot with audience members.

During her speech, the speaker requests two bottles of water and bendable straws.

The contract pages were presented at a news conference called by state Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, along with two garbage bags of shredded documents the students said they also found in the trash container Friday.

It was a furlough day for the campus, and Briggs – who has appeared on Fox News objecting to Palin's visit – said she got a tip that some unusual activity was taking place. She said she and a few other students went to investigate and found people carrying bags of garbage out of the administration building.

Yee says the timing is suspicious. Earlier in the week, in response to a Public Records Act request he had sent the university asking for Palin's contract, officials told him they didn't have it.

"It is truly shocking and a gross violation of the public trust that such documents would be thrown away and destroyed during a pending investigation," Yee said Tuesday in a statement.

Jailed Tomato King Lashes Out At Wife; County

I thought this was the most emotionally-satisfying article I've read all year:
Hours after release on bail slipped through his grasp two weeks ago, indicted tomato executive Frederick Scott Salyer started making prepaid phone calls from the Sacramento County jail.

...He told his daughter Caroline Salyer that he was "done" and that if he killed himself "it'll make everybody smile."

"I have no reason to live, honey, and I cannot live in a (expletive) box," he said. "It's easier to live underground than it is to live above the ground in this (expletive) piece of concrete and eat (expletive) dog food."

Each of these "panicked, despondent" calls, as the government referred to them, was recorded March 30 – the day U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton withdrew an earlier order to release the 54-year-old erstwhile agribusiness titan awaiting trial on racketeering, conspiracy and bribery charges that could keep him behind bars the rest of his life.

...However, his release is snagged on a legal claim on that home by his ex-wife, Lynne H. Salyer, and proceedings to lift it are stalled in Superior Court in Monterey.

..."She has my life in her hands, and she's just walking around … bragging about how she's got me in jail," he told his daughter Caroline. "That was witnessed by several people at Nancy Albertini's cocktail party who found it … disgusting."

He told his daughter he had offered to come up with $1.3 million in cash for her mother, "which I shouldn't even mention over the phone."

"It'll be a cold day in hell before she ever gets the house," he said. "I'll give everything to the government, remember I mean I'll do anything, I'll destroy everything."

...Salyer told his daughter Stefanie Ann Gallegly that her mother has "my life underneath her, one of her crocodile high-heel shoes and her diamonds and she's stepping on it."

"She really doesn't get it," he added. "She's letting greed take the place of humanity and … she'll burn in hell for it."

Prosecutors say Salyer will flee if he is released and wrote that he has more access to his defense team than any other inmate in the history of the Sacramento County Main Jail, including the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski.

But Segal wrote, "The defendant is not Theodore Kaczynski. He didn't maim or try to kill people.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Finally Turned The Corner

The Big Tea Party Balloon will begin to deflate starting just about now:
The federal deficit is running significantly lower than it did last year, with the budget gap for the first half of fiscal 2010 down 8 percent over the same period a year ago, senior Obama administration officials said Monday.

The officials attributed the results to higher tax revenue and to lower spending than projected on bailing out the financial system. If the trend continues for the rest of the year, it would mean the annual deficit would be $1.3 trillion -- about $300 billion less than the administration's projection two months ago for 2010.

But by suggesting the deficit may have peaked, administration officials are taking a political gamble. If the favorable number does not hold up in coming months and the budget shortfall surpasses the $1.4 trillion recorded last year, voters in the November midterm elections could punish the Democrats for offering false hope.

...A senior administration official acknowledged that the lower deficit number would not substantially ease the budget problems facing the government. But the favorable trend could allow Democrats to say they have turned the corner, and the number is one they would want to highlight for voters souring on Obama because of the government's red ink.

...Government initiatives to bail out the financial system are also costing far less than officials had expected. The deficit figure for March, for instance, was down sharply from a year earlier, and most of that reduction came from a lower estimated cost for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, according to a Treasury report.

During the six months that ended in March, $10 billion was spent out of TARP. In contrast, that bailout program spent $186 billion for the same period ending March 2009. A separate program to aid mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used $25 billion in taxpayer dollars in the six months ending in March, compared with $119 billion for the same period a year ago.

Watch This TV Show. You Will Like It.

Better, and more-accurate, than FOX News any day of the week:
SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - Stern, serious, socialist North Korea has carved out a spot in TV history for having one of the world's longest running comedy shows, despite it being mostly devoid of jokes for the decades it has been on the air.

The show now called "It's So Funny" is meant to uplift the morale of troops and extol propaganda about the virtues of serving under "The General" Kim Jong-il. Laughter is optional -- unless the soldiers in the audience are ordered to do so.

The format of the show is usually a conversation between a man and a woman in military uniform, who sometimes sing, dance and try a little slapstick, but mostly avoid telling one-liners.

"Often, it is really hard to find the humor," said a South Korean official who monitors the North's official broadcasts.

"This type of show has been on since almost the beginning of the state's official programing (in the 1970s)," he said.

The latest version that came out in the past week extolled the virtue of beans, while avoiding any flatulence humor.

It opened with the man soldier saying to the woman soldier he feels better and looks more handsome because he has been taking medicine made from beans.

"If we soldiers see beans, we become happy," he said and laughs. "If we farm in the way the General tells us, we will become happy," she said and laughs.

Few of the soldiers in the audience could be heard laughing.

There was one long send-up that did gather a few chuckles. The two talk about how bean-fed North Korean soldiers were able to fight off U.S. imperialist troops during the Korean War.

The women soldier, playing the part of an old woman, said bean-fed troops including her husband had amazing strength on the battle field. "But he died," she said.

The show concludes with the two delivering homilies on Kim Jong-il's military rule.

"He had tried so hard to fill the people's tables," they say in tearful voices.

There is no room for irony in the performance shown on the reclusive state's only channel to a people who have battled chronic food shortages for decades due to the government's bungled agricultural policies.

Kim Yong, who defected from the North and became a TV personality in the South, said the actors on "It's So Funny" have immense talent but they are working with comedy vetted by propaganda experts and government censors.

"The show is delivering the same material over and over again," Kim said.

"They are still talking about beans. The country hasn't changed at all since I defected about 20 years ago."

Rules My Universe, That's For Sure

Image by Fresh Water Mole at B3ta.

Massive Storm Sunday And Monday

This forecast looks real. It will make things really wet (and that's a good thing to receive before heading into the dry summer months).

"DJ Set" - And The Black Eyed Peas - Parts 1 & 2 - ARCO Arena

"DJ Set" - And The Black Eyed Peas - Part 1 - ARCO Arena - Sacramento, CA, USA - April 7, 2010

"DJ Set" - And The Black Eyed Peas - Part 2 - ARCO Arena - Sacramento, CA, USA - April 7, 2010

Part 1 & Part 2 of these videos constitute about 90% of's DJ Set.

"Imma Be" - The Black Eyed Peas - ARCO Arena

"Imma Be" - The Black Eyed Peas - ARCO Arena - Sacramento, CA, USA - April 7, 2010

"Meet Me Halfway" - The Black Eyed Peas - ARCO Arena

(most of) "Meet Me Halfway" - The Black Eyed Peas - ARCO Arena - Sacramento, CA, USA - April 7, 2010

"Put Your Lights Up" - The Black Eyed Peas - ARCO Arena

"Put Your Lights Up" - The Black Eyed Peas - ARCO Arena - Sacramento, CA, USA - April 7, 2010

Chuck Norris Doesn't Know His Thomas Jefferson

Chuck Norris sez:
We all must fight (once and for all and across the board) to elect fiscally prudent politicians like our Founders, those like Thomas Jefferson, who brought down the national deficit though making the Louisiana Purchase and engaging the U.S. in a war with Tripoli.
Is Norris suffering brain damage from all those kicks directed at his skull? I love Jefferson as much as anyone, but let's face it, despite all his big talk about financial prudence, Jefferson was a spendthrift:
In 1768 Thomas Jefferson started the construction of Monticello, a neoclassical mansion. Starting in childhood, Jefferson had always wanted to build a beautiful mountaintop home within site of Shadwell. Jefferson went greatly in debt on Monticello by spending lavishly to create a neoclassical environment, based on his study of the architect Andrea Palladio and The Orders.

...Although he was born into one of the wealthiest families in North America, Thomas Jefferson was deeply in debt when he died.

Jefferson's trouble began when his father-in-law died, and he and his brothers-in-law quickly divided the estate before its debts were settled. It made each of them liable for the whole amount due – which turned out to be more than they expected.

Jefferson sold land before the American Revolution to pay off the debts, but by the time he received payment, the paper money was worthless amid the skyrocketing inflation of the war years. Cornwallis ravaged Jefferson's plantation during the war, and British creditors resumed their collection efforts when the conflict ended. Jefferson suffered another financial setback when he cosigned notes for a relative who reneged on debts in the financial Panic of 1819. Only Jefferson's public stature prevented creditors from seizing Monticello and selling it out from under him during his lifetime.

Catastrophe At The Rabbit Show

It wasn't the collapsed roof. It was all the mixed pedigrees:
The Local reported at the time that the Nyköping exhibition, 100 kilometres south of Stockholm, had attracted 1,648 rabbits and their owners to the vast indoor tennis complex.

When the roof collapsed in the wake of a spate of heavy snowfalls, many of the prize pets found their cages had opened and they were at liberty to roam as they pleased amid the debris.

...With rabbits of all stripes and colours trapped in the wreckage the pairing frenzy has thrown up all manner of new combinations, as Dwarf Hotots nuzzled up to British Giants and Lionheads mounted Himalayans.

When the dust had settled and relieved owners returned home with their rescued rabbits, some 50 to 70 breeders found they were the beneficiaries of surprise litters, local newspaper Södermanlands Nyheter reports.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Foremost Of Many Inconsistencies

I'm glad that Ron Paul addressed one of the central problems the Republicans have these days: you can't advocate limited government while engaging in unrestrained military spending. Empire is not consistent with low taxes. One or the other has to go. The Democrats have their issues too: they love the contracts that go along with unrestrained military spending. But they don't talk about limited government at the same time. Ron Paul's economics aren't good, but at least he brings these issues up. No wonder his reputation is on the increase:
Texas Rep. Ron Paul proved once again Saturday that his politics continue to divide the Republican Party.

He was met with both disapproval and applause during the Southern Republican Leadership Conference for describing conservatives as hypocritical when they call for a return to Constitutional values while supporting foreign wars.

"The conservatives and the liberals, they both like to spend," Paul said, according to Think Progress. "Conservatives spend money on different things. They like embassies, and they like occupation. They like the empire. They like to be in 135 countries and 700 bases.

"Don’t you think it’s rather conservative to say, ‘Oh it’s good to follow the Constitution. Oh, except for war. Let the President go to war anytime they want.’ We can do better with peace than with war."

While most of the other speakers at the event used plenty of rhetoric for "easy applause," as Washington Post reporter David Weigel put it, Paul stuck to the outrage over American foreign policy that has defined his platform.

Whenever the boos grew loud enough, Paul returned to his "humble" foreign policy stance.

"It's been 60 years since we went to war in Korea," said Paul. "Why do we have to have troops there?"

"Greenberg" At #18 For The Weekend

A slow slide - 14th, 15th, 18th for the last three weekends.

Denial Suits The Weather Guy

Last Wednesday, I took heart from the current weather forecasts, which showed the approaching storm digging south, and largely-sparing the Sacramento area from rain. I bet those silly TV weather forecasters would go ahead and forecast rain anyway, though!

On Friday, I was perturbed by reports that rain continued to be forecast for the Sacramento area. Nevertheless, I continued to take solace in the old forecasts, and looked no further into the matter.

Even at 11 a.m. on Sunday, I warmed to the idea about how surprised people would be when hardly any rain fell from the windy, leaden sky.

But that was not to be....

The National Weather Service says that 0.70" has fallen at Sacramento Executive Airport in the last day. At my house, I suspect it's even more than that....

The Lost Cause, One More Time

Once again, it's time to celebrate the Confederacy without getting mired in all that messy, slavery history stuff. Once again, it's an awkward effort. This time, Governor McDonnell of Virginia leads the charge.

Of course, the Confederates had complaints about the Yankees other than just slavery. Most Rebs thought poorly of what they called 'wage slavery' (i.e., having a job for which one worked for money). They were more comfortable in a world of position, where land holdings, honor and family connections meant much more than moneygrubbers from the North could comprehend. The South didn't like industrialization, either, or uniformity of opinion imposed through party structures, or other mass institutions on the ascendancy in the North.

Thus, it was ironic then that the South, through rebellion and war, came to suffer both industrialization and uniformity of opinion. During the war, a nation developed in spite of its particularist, states-rights self. After the war, a culture of denial developed in Dixie, where antiquarian fidelity to certain aspects of the past became paramount in the culture's understanding of itself.

I have no trouble with the idea of honoring the past, but it's important to keep one's respects in perspective. That messy, slavery history stuff is important too.

For example, take a look at what we today call the 'Confederate Flag'. The South had many banners, but what they called the 'Battle Flag' (promoted by General Beauregard) achieved its importance only late in the war, and represented the sort of unity that comes only in warfare. No wonder African-Americans dislike its current use in the South! There is nothing - nothing - good in it for them at all!

So, let's honor the antebellum South. In particular, I honor certain antiquarian aspects of "Ol' Times Dere", such as the fact that one of my distant aunts became Jefferson Davis' second wife. I've got blood connections to the Southern elite! Amazing!

But let's honor the North too. I honor, in particular, three fighting brothers from Michigan, my distant uncles. One uncle was grievously wounded at Gettysburg, and although he lived on for another decade, he never really recovered his health.:
Efforts to rehabilitate the Southern rebellion frequently come at moments of racial and social stress, and it is revealing that Virginia’s neo-Confederates are refighting the Civil War in 2010. Whitewashing the war is one way for the right — alienated, anxious and angry about the president, health care reform and all manner of threats, mostly imaginary — to express its unease with the Age of Obama, disguising hate as heritage.

If neo-Confederates are interested in history, let’s talk history. Since Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Confederate symbols have tended to be more about white resistance to black advances than about commemoration. In the 1880s and 1890s, after fighting Reconstruction with terrorism and after the Supreme Court struck down the 1875 Civil Rights Act, states began to legalize segregation. For white supremacists, iconography of the “Lost Cause” was central to their fight; Mississippi even grafted the Confederate battle emblem onto its state flag.

But after the Supreme Court allowed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, Jim Crow was basically secure. There was less need to rally the troops, and Confederate imagery became associated with the most extreme of the extreme: the Ku Klux Klan.
In the aftermath of World War II, however, the rebel flag and other Confederate symbolism resurfaced as the civil rights movement spread. In 1948, supporters of Strom Thurmond’s pro-segregation Dixiecrat ticket waved the battle flag at campaign stops.

Then came the school-integration rulings of the 1950s. Georgia changed its flag to include the battle emblem in 1956, and South Carolina hoisted the colors over its Capitol in 1962 as part of its centennial celebrations of the war.

As the sesquicentennial of Fort Sumter approaches in 2011, the enduring problem for neo-Confederates endures: anyone who seeks an Edenic Southern past in which the war was principally about states’ rights and not slavery is searching in vain, for the Confederacy and slavery are inextricably and forever linked.

That has not, however, stopped Lost Causers who supported Mr. McDonnell’s proclamation from trying to recast the war in more respectable terms. They would like what Lincoln called our “fiery trial” to be seen in a political, not a moral, light. If the slaves are erased from the picture, then what took place between Sumter and Appomattox is not about the fate of human chattel, or a battle between good and evil. It is, instead, more of an ancestral skirmish in the Reagan revolution, a contest between big and small government.

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(h/t to digby)

Spy Hackery

Interesting account of working in a world where Chinese espionage can strike anyone.:
For weeks, friends and colleagues complained I had not answered their e-mail messages. I swore I had not received them.

My e-mail program began crashing almost daily. But only when all my contacts disappeared for the second time did suspicion push me to act.

I dug deep inside my Yahoo settings, and I shuddered. Incoming messages had been forwarding to an unfamiliar e-mail address, one presumably typed in by intruders who had gained access to my account.

I’d been hacked.

That phrase has been popping up a lot lately on Web chats and at dinner parties in China, where scores of foreign reporters have discovered intrusions into their e-mail accounts.

But unlike malware that trawls for bank account passwords or phishing gambits that peddle lonely and sexually adventurous Russian women, these cyberattacks appear inspired by good old-fashioned espionage.

...Even if poorly understood, the intrusions have left many reporters, including myself, feeling unnerved. One reporter, a friend with many years of experience in China, said she felt violated and angry after learning her e-mail account was compromised. Even more frustrating, she said, was not knowing whom to blame.

“I worry about Chinese friends who may have written things they could come to regret,” she said, asking that her name and affiliation not be printed for fear of drawing the attention of freelance hackers. “I’d be more relieved if they had just stolen my credit card information.”