Saturday, November 17, 2007


Must-View of the Day

The British actors John Fortune and John Bird, looking as if they've leapt from the pages of Forbes, explain the world of finance and how the subprime mortgage crisis evolved. It's hilarious.

Watch it full-screen if your system allows.

(Hat-tip to the Daily Reckoning for the link.)

Related post
Many in finance found to be SIV-positive (10/30/07)


Friday, November 16, 2007


No matter for debate

I haven't commented on any of the previous Presidential "debates" among the Democrats for the simple reason that I didn't watch them. Last night, however, a bout of insomnia brought on by an ill-considered cup of coffee left me wide-eyed and incredulous.

As you know, unless you've recently returned from Tibet, the previous debate resulted in a lot of head-shaking among the pundit class that Hillary had stumbled badly and had proven the charge that she is a "waffler." Clinton had attempted to come down on both sides of the question of New York Governor Spitzer's plan to issue state driver's licenses to illegal aliens (a plan which he has since abandoned).

But this is a different day. After last night's debate the consensus was that Hillary "won" or "regained her footing," Obama "struggled," Edwards "retreated" and no one else mattered. (For some of the awed reactions to Hillary's performance, see this compilation of reviews at MyDD.)

It's true that several of the candidates spoke as if they'd spent the previous night with me at the Pink Snapper. But, what the hell! The debate was held in Las Vegas, so what did they expect?

And I won't go through the various ways the debate was slanted and skewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer and crew.

But once you got past Dennis Kucinich, the "debate" was so shy of content that no one should be surprised that the final question bore witness to the Ultimate Triumph of the Inane—

SUZANNE MALVEAUX: Maria, would you stand please? Give us your full name.

MARIA PARRA SANDOVAL (ph): Maria Parra Sandoval (ph), and I'm a UNLV student. And my question is for Senator Clinton.

This is a fun question for you. Do you prefer diamonds or pearls? (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Now, I know I'm sometimes accused of not being able to make a choice. I want both.

[All quotes from the debate are reformatted from transcripts provided by CNN and the NY Times.]

Far be it from me to suggest either that someone—the Clinton campaign or CNN, for instance—planted that question or that CNN deliberately saved it until the last to provide a lighter note as we moved into the commercials. That would be just too, too manipulative.

One of the few points of substance came up in regard to "saving" Social Security wherein Hillary Clinton either spun the truth into a lie or is terribly misinformed.

MS. BAGLEY: I'm a booth cashier. And we moved here over 30 years ago. And I have three children, and as of yesterday, eight grandchildren. (Applause.)

MS. MALVEAUX: And what is your question — Congratulations. That's amazing!1 — And what is your question to the candidates?

MS. BAGLEY: ....

Throughout the campaign we've heard the candidates ... committing to support Social Security and Medicare .... but the ideas on reform are often vague. My question is, what do you plan to do to ensure that Social Security and Medicare are truly available to us, our children and grandchildren in light of the current budget conditions?

MS. MALVEAUX: Thank you very much; a very important issue.

Senator Obama.

SEN. OBAMA: .... Look, this is something that we've talked about in our campaign. We've got 78 million baby boomers who are going to be retiring and the first thing we have to do is to put an end to George Bush raiding the Social Security trust fund to pay for a misguided war in Iraq. (Applause.) If we take some of that money back and we start getting control of our budget and have fiscal discipline, that will make some of the difference, but not all of it, because we're going to have more senior citizens, more retirees and fewer workers.

So I've been very specific about saying that we should not privatize; we should protect benefits. I don't think the best way to approach this is to raise the retirement age. But what we can do is adjust the cap on the payroll tax. Right now anybody who's making $97,000 or less, you pay payroll tax on 100 percent of your income. Warren Buffet, who made $46 million last year, pays on a fraction of 1 percent of his income. And if we make that small adjustment, we can potentially close that gap and we can make sure Social Security is there. (Applause.)

[Then he goes on to say something vague about Medicare.]

MR. BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Clinton, you've been criticized by Senator Obama, I think Senator Edwards, among others, for refusing to take a hard and fast position on whether you would raise the tax above those making $97,500 dollars a year to try to secure Social Security in the long term. Are you ready to make a hard and fast statement now on your position on what Senator Obama just said?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I'll tell you what I'm for, and I think Judy raises two really important issues. I am for getting back to fiscal responsibility. I think I counted you said "deficit" three times. Six and a half years ago when George Bush came into office, he inherited a balanced budget and a surplus -- (applause) -- and the Social Security system was on a path to be solvent into 2055.

[Waxes eloquent on "fiscal responsibility."]


SEN. CLINTON: -- and then I think we have to have a bipartisan commission. I do not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle class families and seniors. (Applause.) If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase. I don't think we need to do that.

Clinton then took on Medicare ever so briefly—

But I want to say one final word about Medicare. Number one, Medicare should be able to negotiate for lower drug prices. (Applause.)

MR. BLITZER: All right. Thank you, Senator.

SEN. CLINTON: It was a travesty when the Bush administration did not allow that to happen, and I have a lot of other ideas about how we'll preserve and strengthen Medicare.

Which she did not deign to share.

At that point Obama hopped up, all excited.

MR. BLITZER: All right. So Senator -- so you're not ready to accept that raising of the cap on that, but I know that Senator Obama wants to respond to you.

SEN. OBAMA: I will be very brief on this because, Hillary, I've heard you say this is a trillion dollar tax cut on the middle class by adjusting the cap. Understand that only 6 percent of Americans make more than $97,000 -- (cheers, applause) -- so 6 percent is not the middle class -- it's the upper class.

And you know, this is the kind of thing that I would expect from Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani -- (laughter, boos, cheers, applause) -- where we start playing with numbers -- we start playing with numbers in order to try to make a point. (Cheers, applause.) And we can't do that. No, no, no, no, no. This is -- this is -- this is too important. This is too important for us to pretend that we're using numbers like a trillion dollar tax cut instead of responsibly dealing with a problem that Judy asked for, and she said she wants a specific answer. And that's what I provided.

But understand, this is the top 6 percent, and that is not the middle class. (Cheers, applause.)

Whether by intention or overexcitement Obama referred twice to the trillion dollar figure as a "tax cut." That is unfortunate. But he is accurate as to the percent of the population having a personal income above $97,000.2

Hillary then did a "Hillary." She corrected Obama's mischaracterization of the trillion dollar "tax cut" and began to babble. She sounded like Condoleezza Rice explaining foreign policy. As I said, she is either dishonest or uninformed, and I vote for dishonest.

MR. BLITZER: Senator?

SEN. CLINTON: First of all -- first of all, I think that you meant a tax increase, because that's what it would be.3 But secondly, it is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors. I'm not talking -- I mean, you know, it's different parts of the country. So you have to look at this across the board, and the numbers are staggering.

This is pandering to Wall Street at its best. It may be that school supervisors and firemen make salaries in excess of $97,000 in the larger cities. But I would really like to know just how many of them there are so that you can help your children plan their futures. One thing is for certain: the numbers aren't staggering.

As for the notion that raising the cap would be "burdensome": If she thinks a bit more of a SSI deduction for those making over $97,000 would be burdensome, what must she think of that deduction for those making less?

Let's get real. The increase beyond the cap at $97,000 would represent only a small increase above the amount those earning slightly above $97,000 already pay. Only those making significantly in excess of $97,000 would see what might be called a "significant" increase. And when you arrive in that class, the increase is still insignificant.

Well, there you have it. I have promised myself never to have another evening cup of coffee—at least on those nights when the Democrats plan to debate.



1I am still in the dark as to what was so amazing about Ms. Bagley's fecundity. Is it rare for Nevadans to breed? [back]

2According to Wikipedia, based on Bureau of the Census figures for 2005, for Americans 25 or older "only 5.63% ... had incomes exceeding $100,000." Note that this figure refers to personal income, not household income. Of the same age group, half earned less than $32,140. [back]

3Clinton should probably have let this one go. But then no one called her out when she said, referring to bargaining for lower drug prices, that "It was a travesty when the Bush administration did not allow that to happen."

She meant, I suppose, that it was a tragedy. The debate itself was a travesty. [back]


Politically Incorrect Laugh of the Day

Santas warned "ho-ho-ho" offensive to women —headline in the Denver Post

Only when they're sitting on Santa's lap.



News of Note — Nov 16 07


Thursday, November 15, 2007


Arrested at Hillary's Place

Protestors against the Iraq War visited the offices of Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton in Des Moines, Iowa. Neither office seems to have viewed the visit as an opportunity to win support. But it did provide a measure of the real difference between the Giuliani and Clinton campaigns: six hours. That was the time interval between the first call to the police by the Giuliani camp until the second call to the police from the Clinton campaign.

According to Mike Ferner, the protestors wanted Clinton to respond to a letter they had sent asking her to pledge "to take the necessary concrete steps to end the Iraq war, to rebuild Iraq, to foreswear military attacks on other countries, and to fully fund the Common Good in the U.S." Seems reasonable enough to me.

What they got was the door.



Statistic of the Day: Veteran suicides

Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror... had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans [in this age group] was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.) —Dr. Steve Rathbun, acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia, as quoted by CBS News in "Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans"

Unable to get nationwide statistics on veteran suicides from the Defense Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), CBS went through the death statistics of 45 states to ferret out the numbers. Now that the "shocking" and "epidemic" numbers are in, demands for "action" by the political class are swift in coming.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Democrat from Hawaii and chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, hurried to respond with this bit of palaver—

The report that the rate of suicide among veterans is double that of the general population1 is deeply troubling and simply unacceptable. I am especially concerned that so many young veterans appear to be taking their own lives. For too many veterans, returning home from battle does not bring an end to conflict. There is no question that action is needed."

Deeply troubling. Simply unacceptable. No question. And, Senator, the action that is needed (and which you fail to specify) is to end the war. There is no quick fix for mending broken minds. For many veterans suicide will remain the only fix.



1Notice how Akaka tones down the findings. Akaka here is referring to the rate of suicides for all veterans rather than to the much higher rate among young people returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, it is misleading to speak of the overall rate, since it includes the numbers for these young people. Inclusion of their numbers may largely explain why the overall rate is so high.

Without the raw data I cannot recalculate the numbers, but a more telling contrast would be between the rate for 20–24-year-old returnees from the current wars with that of older veterans. [back]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Aspiration of the Day

Speaking of the town hooker—

She was trash. And I thought: That's what I want to be when I grow up. —Dolly Parton as quoted in the The Economist's "Lexingon" column "Dollywood values: What the Backwoods Barbie's theme park says about America"

This is a must-read for a sympathetic view of what it's like in the South outside the cities.



Hillary as flight attendant? No need to ask

NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd asks today "Should Hillary Pretend to Be a Flight Attendant?"

I felt compelled to send a brief note explaining that Hillary had reached that decision some months ago.

Related post
"I'm Hillary, fly me" (6/27/07)


Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Clinton's media machine

The topic of Hillary's aides planting questions among the audience members at campaign stops made it through several news cycles. Clinton denied she knew. Fox News was of course a leader in the enquiry—

"Well it was news to me" Clinton said. "And neither I nor my campaign approve of that. And it will certainly not be tolerated."

The reporter went on to ask if she knew of other incidents beyond those reported.

Clinton responded saying, "You know everything I know."

Her campaign stops must have seemed almost magical to Senator Clinton. Personally I always consider myself blessed—anointed even—when I'm asked the very questions I've prepared myself for the day before.

Matt Crowley, senior editor of The New Republic, has written an interesting piece on the Clinton press machine—

It's enough to make you suspect that breeding fear and paranoia within the press corps is itself part of the Clinton campaign's strategy. And, if that sounds familiar, it may be because the Clinton machine, say reporters and pro-Hillary Democrats, is emulating nothing less than the model of the Bush White House, which has treated the press with thinly veiled contempt and minimal cooperation. "The Bush administration changed the rules," as one scribe puts it--and the Clintonites like the way they look.

Crowley writes that after Barack Obama said he would be willing to sit down with Iran's President Ahmadinejad, Howard Wolfson, Hillary's communications director, went on MSNBC's "Hardball" and "pointedly noted that this would place Obama in the company of a 'Holocaust denier.'"

Crowley's characterization of Wolfson cannot fail to evoke memories of Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove—

Those flashes of sadism don't reflect the unexpectedly likeable character within, however. "Wooffie," as Hillary has been known to call him, is colorfully eccentric--afraid of flying, highly allergic, prone to weird accidents, and a proud indie-rock connoisseur. And, unlike many hard-assed Republican operatives, Wolfson socializes with some top D.C. political reporters.

Of course I may be prejudiced at this point toward anyone with a nickname that sounds like "Wolfie."

A campaign has every right—and it is in the public interest as well—to combat false charges. And we certainly can't expect a campaign not to put the most positive spin on any of the candidate's actions. But we have had quite enough of extreme secrecy, press control and media manipulation from the Bush administration. We do not need a repeat from a Clinton administration.

Related posts
Another reason I won't be supporting Hillary for President in 2008 (12/13/04)
Newt nominates Hillary (4/15/05)
Observation of the Day (11/5/05)
Political Profile of the Day (8/30/06)
Political Jargon of the Day (4/19/07)
"I'm Hillary, fly me" (6/27/07)
Hillary's peek-a-boob neckline (7/27/07)
News of note — Nov 9 07


Monday, November 12, 2007


Snatches from the Pink Snapper — 1

[An evening at the Pink Snapper always leaves me with a fresh perspective. And I've long felt that the wit and wisdom of my fellow convivialists should be more widely appreciated. Hence the first installment in an occasional series.]

Felicia: I don't remember seeing you at the party. Were you there?

Me: Of course I was there. Don't you remember talking to me?

Felicia: No. Where was I?

Me: Over by the tent.

Felicia: Oh, yeah. Didn't we do something dirty?

Me: No.

Felicia: So who was it then?



Stock Quote of the Day

The Dow Jones is measured in dollars, not bananas. As the dollar loses value, U.S. stocks lose value. —Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital, as quoted by Neil Irwin in "A Sinking Feeling Over The Dollar"


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