Thursday, January 31, 2008

Putting a Pin in: Big Tent to Three-Ring Circus

Sara Robinson's article Tuesday...

The GOP: From Big Tent to Three-Ring Circus

...was shuffled down the page by new posts way too quickly. Originally published Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 9:25 PM, I'm republishing it with a time of just before midnight tonight.

The piece should stay at the top of GNB all day today. Hopefully.

We're asking you to read Sara's article.

We think it is that good, that it lays out clearly the issues within the Republican party for the rest of the 2008 election cycle, and beyond. It is a deeply strategic paper which -- if you're paying attention -- lays out how to rip the Republican party to shreds.

We look forward to your comments.
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The GOP: From Big Tent to Three-Ring Circus

Florida is where circus people from all over the country go to spend the winter. And, watching the primary results from that state come in tonight, I'm struck that it also seems to be the place where the GOP's famous Big Tent has finally turned into a three-ring circus in its own right.

It's an apt metaphor. The genius of the conservative emergence during the 1970s was in the way it reached out to three large, deeply discontented tribes, and brought them all together under Lee Atwater's "big tent" -- which quickly turned into a red-striped big top full of the most bizarre acts anyone had ever seen. In its 20-year heyday, the whole dazzling circus was a blur of non-stop noise and glitter bouncing and glinting across three rings, three different shows -- and three sets of supporters each contributing something essential to the success of the Greatest Show in Politics.

In Ring Number One, there were the economic conservatives. Mostly business owners, some from Wall Street, others from Main Street, they were all about low taxes, free markets, and liberating themselves from any kind of government oversight or regulation. Their daring bull-and-bear act brought in the money, the media, the connections, and the organizational skill.

In Ring Number Two, there were the social conservatives -- not just evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, but also conservative Catholics and Jews...and, oh, yes, how can we possibly forget the Mormons? This group -- let's call them the klown kollege -- brought the energy and passion, giving the whole thing the spirit of a holy crusade. They could make you laugh. They could make you cry. And when they opened the trunks of those tiny cars, they could turn out foot soldiers by the millions -- and voters by the tens of millions.

And in Ring Number Three were the security and defense conservatives -- the minions of the military-industrial complex. They were daredevils and acrobats, with big cannons and high-divers and brave flying men who worked without a rope. They brought a certain manly swagger, a virility that dazzled the other two groups and appealed to their deep need for dominance and control. And, through long experience in Washington, they knew more than anybody about how to defy gravity and make government do triple back flips on their command.

You've gotta hand it to the GOP for being able to keep these three acts playing the same big tent for 30 long years. It wasn't easy to keep them all together in the same close canvas quarters without hissy fights breaking out, fur and blood flying, tusks and whips and claws shredding new exits through which one or another could flee. Even worse: keeping this motley show on the road required that the party twist itself around into a truly preposterous assortment of logical and philosophical contortions. Just a short list of the headliners will give you some idea:

-- Get the government off our backs (the core demand of economic cons) -- except, of course, to micro-legislate every detail of life, death, birth, sex, love, and marriage (a non-negotiable for social cons).

-- Dismantle government and cut taxes to nothing (the economic cons again) versus "strong defense" (a code phrase for: we'll fund whatever the security/military conservatives can possibly dream up, plus some stuff they haven't even thought of yet).

-- Restore a culture of "personal responsibility" (social and smaller-business economic conservatives) versus corporate welfare and the elimination of every mechanism of oversight or accountability (which was was the whole reason the military and large-business cons were in the game in the first place).

That's a game everyone in the cheap seats can play, too (see you in the comments -- and don't forget the popcorn!). But, amid all the twisted logic, there were a few straight and sturdy poles that held the roof up -- things they all agreed on, and gave them the incentive to keep the act together.

For example: all three groups had their own reasons for wanting to expand the empire and establish American dominance around the world. The economic cons wanted globalization: bigger markets and cheap labor. The social cons wanted government backing for their holy mandate to spread the Good News to every corner of the earth. And the military cons wanted an empire that would justify their continued bloated existence, forever and ever, amen.

In all three, this shared desire for global conquest was accompanied by a fundamental contempt for those about to be conquered -- an assurance of superiority that expressed itself an extreme level of racism, sexism, and religious bigotry that they didn't always try quite hard enough to conceal.

They were also bound together by various degrees of distrust of democracy. Economic cons despised government constraints, regulations, and taxes. Leave us alone, they barked in their fast-talking carney come-on patter-- and we'll take care of everything government does, and do more of it, and do it better. Social cons recognized democracy as a competing ideology -- the latest incarnation of every devil they'd fought since the Enlightenment dawned. Military cons were, ironically, some of democracy's biggest cheerleaders -- well, except for all those lefty/Commie/peacenik/Islamofascist agitators calling their budgets into question and naively insisting that they still had civil liberties during wartime. The only thing to do with such traitors is to lock 'em up -- and fortunately, this group held the keys to the tiger cages out back behind the tent, and the power to disappear those they deemed insufficiently respectful of their prowess.

Mostly, they were bound together by an authoritarian streak wider than than the stretched-out butt of Karl Rove's favorite sharkskin suit -- a desperate sense of insecurity that drove their grasping hands to seek control over anything, everything, everyone, within reach, out of reach, until they ran the whole world. Only when every nation and market is under American control, every church is Christian, every street corner has a video camera, and every citizen is safely under the surveillance of a watchful authority checking their behavior, can they, and the rest of the country, be completely safe. Until then, those hands will keep grasping. Because, in the end, the cause that binds them together most strongly is the promise that someday, they'll pacify their tormented personal demons by finally, at long last, being In Total Control Of It All.

Over time, some weird alliances formed. The corporate and military-industrial cons played a lot of golf and joined each other's boards. The religious cons embraced the free market as the Bible's ordained economic order; and they also fell in love with the military and started buying up Warrior Jesus Action Figures. The military cons began to make it clear that getting right with God was at least as important as combat experience for anyone who hoped to be promoted. In a few quiet corners of the Big Tent, at least, things got pretty cozy.

Still, the tensions never went entirely away -- and you have to pity the poor Republican presidential candidates who aspired to be the ringleader in charge of this three-ring circus. You couldn't make it to the White House with just one or two of these acts under the whip; you had to get all three lined up and ready to perform at your command. Furthermore, that thin handful of shared beliefs that held the roof up -- imperialism, racism, antipathy to democracy, militarism, and authoritarianism -- was absolutely unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans; so you couldn't put any of that rigging out there where the voters might chance to see it.

So you learned to talk in code, and to distract and dazzle with fine lies and bright lights and shadow; and to master the fine art of "message discipline." The common ground a candidate could stand on was so very small: one tiny tip in one direction or another, and you'd risk saying something stupid that would alienate one of the other two groups. So you stuck to the short list of topics you could safely discuss in public -- low taxes, limited government, personal responsibility, and strong defense -- while tossing a few winks on the sly to the religionists and the racists. Talking about anything else in more detail was likely to start a brawl. Addressing any specific issues, unless you could draw a direct link to one of the few allowed talking points, was a quick way to find yourself on the curly end of the hook.

It was a hell of a juggling act, and a lot of smart candidates fell into obscurity because they simply couldn't keep the action going. A few of them simply refused to step out there and try. In fact, in the end, only Reagan and the two Bushes could pull it all together into a show the paying customers would pony up to see.

Which brings us to 2008. Looking at the last men standing, it's obvious that the GOP's Big Top has grown dangerously shabby -- and may be on the verge of falling into total disarray. The three remaining primary candidates have each won over exactly one of the three core constituencies, leaving the party with three separate one-ring circuses, each with its own ringleader. And each one of the three candidates is absolutely despised by one of the other groups; and not much liked by the other.

The economic cons have Mitt, whom the military cons don't really know, and the religions ones openly revile. The religious cons have Huck, whom the military has no reason to trust; and whose overt populism gives the economic cons a bad case of the vapors. The security cons have McCain, whom the economic cons mistrust deeply, and who won't even try to convince the religious cons that he's one of their own.

Somehow, between now and August, the Republicans are going to have to choose one candidate to stand in the center ring. The three-way split is so strong that it's quite possible that it will only end in a very contentious brokered convention. And the odds are good that, even then, whoever ends up with the job will have only half-hearted support at best from the other two factions. In fact, whoever wins, it seems possible that at least one of the remaining acts will strike the set and sit this tour out entirely.

They're already packing up. It's common knowledge among political strategists on both sides that the GOP is pulling back its energies to the local and state levels for this election, hoping to regroup and re-emerge in 2012. (Apparently, Howard Dean's 50-state strategy -- which has revolutionized Democratic organizing this year -- has left them under-organized at this level; part of their job will be to develop something that can compete with it.) But putting the act back together in four years may not be as easy as assembling national voter files, training up a new generation of candidates, and building a big new tent in the hopes that they will come. Agendas on all three sides are changing. New ideas and priorities are emerging. Bad blood is being spilled.

If the split between these three factions is left to widen -- and especially if it only ends in a viciously-fought brokered convention -- it could make it very hard for anyone to put it all back together as a single coherent traveling show for a very long time.

After all, the three-ring circus itself has fallen out of fashion -- blown back into history by a stylish, young, energetic new upstart called Cirque du Soleil, which reinvented the entire art form for the first time in over a century. And, in our fondest hopes, perhaps that's what we're hoping the Democrats will become: one big ring, filled with dozens of unexpected acts that explode with creativity, diversity, compassion, and imagination, constantly challenging and re-defining our ideas of what's humanly possible....and doing it all without a net, without a hitch, and without much in the way of a ringmaster at all.

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Sara Around Town

1976 GMC motorhome "The Engine of Mischief"
gettin' around in Utah

My second weekly piece for The Big Con is up as of today. It's a sequel to last week's piece on how the conservative war on America's infrastructure is undermining our ability to function as a democracy. (Special shout-out to our own GNB regular Ohio Mom, who provided the hook on which the whole essay hangs.)

Next week: My first-hand consumer comparison of the US and Canadian health care systems.

Also, the piece I wrote here last week on how RU-486 is changing the politics of abortion will (according to their editors) be appearing on Alternet's front page in the next couple days.

I get around....

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

John McCain, Too Old, Too Tired

People seem concerned that McCain appears to be the Republican candidate. Are you kidding me? This guy is 73 years old and he spent 5 1/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison camp being beaten every day. Its only January. He is already tired, after running against these other chuckleheads like Mr. 9/11, Huckabee, and Mittens. There are 10 more months of campaigning to be done. He is going to need to start napping in the afternoon, if he isn't already. If you thought Mostly Dead Fred ran a somnambulant campaign wait until you see what happens to McCain's.

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More bad news in the economy as Yahoo cuts 7%

IN more bad news for the USA economy...

Yahoo Set to Cut 1,000 Jobs
Morning Edition, January 30, 2008 · A day after reporting a 23 percent drop in quarterly profits, Yahoo says it will cut about 1,000 jobs as early as next month. That's about 7 percent of the Internet portal's work,force. The aim is to cut costs and focus on the company's most important business: online advertising.

and more in detail at (where the ominous photo above was posted)

It is time to start talking about the "R" word and what comes next. It is going to be a long, hard year and it looks like we are heading back into a period of "It's the Economy, Stupid."
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John Edwards Drops Out

Word is Edwards has dropped out. From Associate Press...

DENVER - Democrat John Edwards is exiting the presidential race Wednesday, ending a scrappy underdog bid in which he steered his rivals toward progressive ideals while grappling with family hardship that roused voters'sympathies but never diverted his campaign, according to The Associated Press and NBC News.

The two-time White House candidate notified a close circle of senior advisers that he planned to make the announcement at a 1 p.m. ET event in New Orleans that had been billed as a speech on poverty, according to two of his advisers. The decision came after Edwards lost the four states to hold nominating contests so far to rivals who stole the spotlight from the beginning — Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
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Because you're Special


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WGA Strike: We've Got Everything We Need

Negotiate Me, Baby

Unofficial talks continue under media blackout.

The WGA gets stronger every day.

The Screen Actors Guild is firmly on the writers side. Not only on the side of the writers, but getting ready to stage their own walkout in June.

Either this settles quickly, or kiss the Academy Awards goodbye, kiss the up-fronts goodbye, kiss pilot season goodbye (it's pretty much gone at this point anyway), and if SAG goes on strike, kiss Fall 2008 goodbye as well.

At some point, you can kiss goodbye a whole bunch of studio executives, 'cause they're going to get thrown out on their ass by Wall Street, as studio stock prices continue to crater.

Here's SAG's position (posted from United Hollywood):

Letter to SAG Members -- Weaknesses in the DGA Deal

This letter was just sent out to SAG members by Doug Allen (Executive Director and Chief Negotiator) and Allen Rosenberg (President). Emphases in red are from us at UH -- LK.

Dear SAG Member:

Everyone hopes the WGA strike will end with a fair deal for the writers. There has been much speculation about the impact on the WGA strike of the tentative agreement between the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the employers' representative, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Some have rushed to anoint their deal as the “solution” for the entertainment industry. We believe that assessment is premature.

All we know of the deal are the general terms described in a joint AMPTP/DGA press release. That press release leaves many important questions unanswered. Apparently, many elements of this deal remain unresolved and/or have not been reduced to writing.

The DGA press release suggests progress in some areas, but until the details are known, that is only speculation. Several examples: The formula for new media “electronic sell through (paid downloads or EST)” is based on the higher distributor’s gross revenues, rather than producer’s gross revenues, but the definition of distributor’s gross is vague and not sufficient to protect against manipulation by the employers. Also, information regarding employer “deals and data” will be available to the DGA to monitor distributor’s gross and paid downloads on the Internet, but the press release does not detail what data, who provides the data, and what happens if the data is not provided. The devil is in the details. In the tri-guild audits under the current guilds’ collective bargaining agreements (including the DGA’s), for example, some audits are still open after eight years, because of problems with enforcement under current contract language.

Some have suggested that the new DGA deal contains a “fair market value” test for revenues included in the new media residuals calculation, to protect against self-dealing when one part of a conglomerate sells new media content to another part of the conglomerate at an unfair, low price in order to reduce residuals. We hope this is true, but the press release does not use “arms-length transaction” or “fair market value test” language, and says only, “If our exhibitor or retailer is part of the producer’s corporate family, (DGA has) improved provisions for challenging any suspect transactions.” This language could mean anything, and certainly does not guarantee against self-dealing by media conglomerates to hurt creative talent.

Fair market value and distributor’s gross are two issues that the AMPTP demanded that the WGA take off the table, along with four other items, which resulted in talks breaking off in December. Now after prolonging the strike for another month, the AMPTP has negotiated these two issues with the DGA.

That is the good news. There are also even more serious problems with other provisions described in the DGA press release, particularly those involving new media. For example, why are residuals for electronic sell-through (paid downloads or EST) for directors based on their lower DVD formula (.3%) rather than the higher pay TV formula (1.2%) in their current agreement? All three guilds – SAG, WGA, and DGA – filed for arbitration to overturn management’s attempt to impose the DVD formula for residuals on the calculation of residuals for downloads under the current agreement. The DGA stated in their arbitration filings that payment of the lower amount is a violation of the collective bargaining agreement and the proper residual formula is the higher pay TV percentage. The concession by the DGA in the new deal, to use the formula that management improperly imposed under the current agreement, is an AMPTP roll-back. The new agreed-upon percentages for television (.7%) or feature films (.65%) are much lower in the DGA deal than the percentage that the DGA claims is appropriate in its arbitration (1.2%). And these “increases”, which are based on the discredited DVD formula, do not increase residuals on the sale of DVD’s, but only apply to downloads; despite the fact that DVD’s will generate billions in revenue to the studios and networks for years to come.

The very high thresholds in the DGA deal for full jurisdiction for made for new media content may well incentivize non-union work below the threshold amounts ($15, 000/minute, $300,000/program, $500,000/series, whichever is lower). What will stop the industry from making cheap, non-union pilots at below $300,000 per episode, for testing first on the Internet before the productions migrate to broadcast or basic cable?

Your Guild has signed 210 Internet producers to SAG contracts in the past two years and only seven of them (or 3%) would fall inside the high DGA jurisdictional thresholds. We have worked hard, just as we do with low budget features, to capture this Internet work and to make sure it is done union. This DGA proposal appears to abandon jurisdiction over a huge swath of actual Internet productions, which we currently cover.

This deal gingerly addresses certain issues now, with the apparent hope that in three years or more, revenues will grow and the agreement can be improved to capture more of it. Bargaining history in the entertainment industry, however, teaches that it is much harder to get a fair share of revenue after management puts it in their pockets for years. Residual compensation should be based on a fair share of revenue generated by covered content from the first dollar. Rather than a “percentage of revenue, payment from first dollar” approach to residuals, the DGA deal instead provides for a 17 day window for free streaming of television programs over the Internet without compensation (24 days for the program’s first season). The deal also allows a one year buy-out of $1200 for Internet use v. $20,000 for one re-run on broadcast television.

For these specific reasons, and because so much of the new DGA/AMPTP deal is unknown, no one should assume this new deal is a template for anyone else, certainly not for actors. It is up to the leadership and membership of the DGA to decide if their new deal with the studios and networks is acceptable, but whatever they decide, their decision will not determine what will be satisfactory for the leadership and membership of Screen Actors Guild. Each guild must act in the best interest of its own membership, including rejecting management-imposed “pattern bargaining.”

In solidarity,

Alan Rosenberg, President
Doug Allen, Executive Director and Chief Negotiator
The studios continue to think they can own the internet.

They can not.

Unless they give everyone a fair deal, this strike will last.

And last.

And last.

And last.

It will last for years, if that is what it takes. With SAG joining the WGA.

No kidding. No fooling around. Shut everything down.

PS. If you didn't get the joke of the video, beyond the obvious, it is this...

There is financing waiting in the wings. The studios have screwed up. People like myself are buying cinema grade cameras and going out to shoot our own Academy grade movies.

Fuck the studios.

When it comes time to distribute "What's Your Pattern?" or "Guru Trap", there will be means of financing available to me which does not involve the studio system, and which leaves me as a writer/director, with ownership, not sucking studio tit begging them to give me 1.2% of 20%, i.e. .3% after they take their costs and get creative with the numbers and be thankful. Hell no.

Some writer/directors are already doing 25-50% first-dollar deals with Wall Street or Silicon Valley money and they retain creative control. Seriously.

The studios could have been in on all that. But those bastards got greedy and tried to own everything. They thought we didn't have alternatives. Pigs.

By the time they wake up, ownership will have moved where it belongs -- to the creative forces who invent story and bring it to life. Writers, directors, actors, editors, cinematographers, musicians, and the rest of the creative players.

The studios can go play with themselves in their executive bathrooms.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lord, But I Could Not Decide...

...Which graphic to use. Do I Go With The LOLFinished?

...Or Perhaps The “Die Hard” Plunge From Nakitomi Tower?

...Or Maybe, The “You Just Got Knocked The Fuck Out” Jammie...

...To commemorate the ignominious, ass-dragging end to the 2008 Presidential aspirations of one Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Did I mention that a hot, teutonic blonde's copped a seat next to me? Just outta the blue. Platinum hair. Thick Dietrich-cum Garbo accent.

What's your name baby?

“Schadenfreude, dahlink. Schadenfreude”.

She and I are gonna get to know each other a little bit tonight. Yes, Indeedy.

Kick off our shoes, sip a fine Riesling, and watch some TV. Oh. The news is on:

Rudy Giuliani, finishing a disappointing third in the state he counted on winning to jump-start his presidential bid, strongly hinted tonight in Florida that he will withdraw from the Republican race.

“Elections are about fighting for a cause larger than ourselves,” he told supporters in Orlando. “Win or lose, our work is not done.”

“I'm proud we stayed positive,” he said. "You don't always win, but you can do it right."

Giuliani called his rivals “honorable people, honorable men.”

The former New York mayor pursued an unconventional strategy where he skipped the early voting states, including Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

“S-s-s-s-slurrrrrp!” Oh. Pardon me. It's the wine. Sippin' it a little fast tonight.

So, what to say?

This was pre-ordained. In the first week of this place's existence—on July 5th—The post was titled “Take A Number, Y'all...All 54,337 Of You”, and it dealt with the number of people laying in wait to wreck Rudy's Christmas-ornament fragile Presidential chances.

The bottom line? In spite of Giuliani's pundit-class angels--some of them quite powerful, like the Drudge-pimped pushers of anti-Hillary books, or yes, the "na-na" obsessed, psycho-sexually damaged ex-Altar Boys in the pundit class who love him so, (Wipe yer mouth, Tweety--you've got something on it. You too, L'il Russ.) there is a fucking legion of folks out there who would like nothing better than to forcibly ass-pound this campaign--dry and angrily. And then turn and point at it lying there ruined, while laughing "Yeah... I did that." It's nasty. But true.

We're looking, a year-and-a-half-out, at a campaign that could well die the classic "death of a thousand cuts"

Problem, though.

There's about fifty-thousand pissed-off, potential perps with knives...all waiting for a turn.


Took a lot fewer than that. But God, it was still plenty, It died from cuts inflicted by axe-tosses from the Firefighters, the New York media, his kids, his book-cooking, his hubris, his churlishness, his inability to diversify his campaign, his laziness, his greed and most damningly, his Hindenburg-ian ego.

It will be remembered by many as perhaps the ultimate Potemkin campaign—a cardboard and papier-maché thing hung on a wet and bowing pipe-cleaner frame. And here in NYC, we are laughing our ever-loving asses off at the utter collapse of the rickety-assed thing. All I can say is that you had to be here to understand why we New Yorkers didn't want Rudy-style government visited upon the other 49 states and of course, any sovereign nation with a funny-sounding name that pissed him off.

Take the worst elements of Captain Queeg, Nellie Oleson, Stinky from Abbott & Costello, and an STD'd scorpion, bundle it into a man and put said man in charge of a complex, challenging city and you'll get what Rudy Giuliani was really all about. Tourists and outsiders didn't get him. They didn't have to live with him. They got the cathode-ray Bing Crosby of the pipe, red alpaca sweater and the Christmas specials. We lived with the drunken Bing swinging the extension cord and windmilling signet-ringed fists as he prowled the house looking for someone to fuck up.

Time won out, though, and it managed to utterly expose him. Quite honestly, Rudy was nearly as lazy and disinterested a candidate as Fred Thompson was—both of them lazy honoraria-grabbers swearing somebody owed 'em something because they thought they were somebody . And in the end, they can now go meet at Tree's Loser Lounge and swap notes on star-fucking and prosecutorial malfeasance.

Me? I'm gonna sit here with the icy blonde tonight, and get around town a bit later in the week. I'm sure I'll see a bunch of her doppelgangers out and about with my fellow revelers in town. But for now, the mind wanders.

What's Ol' Judith gonna do now? Cialis and dough is fine, but mama wanted more. Access to power was the drug. What new doll will she start crawling after in the “Valley of Delusions”?

The Aqua Velva's gone—along with the leathery, old-man skin. And now, so too is the “tough cop”—his precious Sipowicz. It's down to McCain for Tweety to toss the lettuce, tomatoes and ranch dressing for. Ick. I just threw up in my mouth. Not a little. A lot.

And the irony isn't lost on me that Rudy's final come-down is tomorrow in California—of all places, Simi Valley. Home of the Reagan Library, and home of the springboard for the police-brutality-fueled L.A. riots. Rudy should be right at fucking home.

Full circle. Bullshit's end. And please let the door hitcha' on the way out—and may there be a patch of ice right in front of the Goddamned door.

Hey, my lady friend wants to dance! Well...okay. Pick out a nice song, fraulein. Oh my...that one's goood!

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Florida, Republican Primary "War for the Whitehouse"

Uhm... The Thompson write-in campaign is having some tremendous effect!

46% percent of precincts reporting

McCain 401,320 (35%)
Romney 361,901 (32%)
Mr 9/11 176,598 (16%)
Huckabee 152,525 (13%)
Paul 35,828 (3%)
Thompson 15,315 (1%)

Looks like McCranium... Poor Mittens.

UPDATE: CNN Calls its for John "Crazy Face" McCranium.
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I-95 North: The Outsiders

I'm Not On The Guest List? I'll Padlock the Club.


It was a particularly soul-deadening day at work a couple of weeks back—one of several in a row, and I took the better part of its evening catching up on clerical and household things I'd let slide over about ten days. In so doing, I gulped a heaping cup of coffee and wound up jumpily awake until an ungodly enough hour to catch the third (Why?) showing of Chris Matthews' “Hardball” program. Within minutes of viewing, a prediction I made earlier in the week pretty much came to pass—that Matthews would try to find a way during his broadcast to spin attention away from the burgeoning Giuliani/Kerik/Regan/FOX scandal and onto his own private “Moriarty”, Hillary Clinton. The barking little devil spent three-quarters of his show fuming and spitting at his guests in an obvious snit about where the day's news cycle was headed in spite of his anti-Clinton/Democratic dervishing. But much to his evident chagrin, he couldn't avoid dealing with the latent, newsworthy ugliness that the Giuliani “Hide-the-Moolah” story was building all by itself.

He had a panel on discussing the matter—on his terms, which ended up being a sneering “Is this a one day story?” bleat (Hope! Hope!! Hope!), and a huffy “Why does this matter?” (Answer: ”Because I'd rather it didn't—it might hurt Ruuuuuuuu-deeeeeeee!”)

The respondents featured the usual suspects—Salon's Joan Walsh, The Times's Bob Herbert, and one of the GOP's latest models off the pundit assembly line—from the compact, wet-behind-the-ears, dweeb-boy coupe series, one Matthew Continetti.

Matthews closed the painful (for him) discusion with those pundits and it ended on this bitchy note by Continetti:

CONTINETTI: ...She won‘t say which executive made this threat to her. She won‘t say what‘s on those tapes, if these tapes really exist. On the other hand, it gives you a preview of what a Giuliani presidency may be like, because all of these characters are going to come out of the New York woodwork if he‘s president and it will be the soap opera that was New York while he was mayor, except transferred onto a national stage.

MATTHEWS: You mean he‘s consorting with the wrong types.

CONTINETTI: Well, those are the types that live in New York. Only in New York.

MATTHEWS: Come on.

WALSH: I grew up in New York. I‘m not going to let you do that.

MATTHEWS: You don‘t have to hang out with Bernie Kerik and Judith Regan.

WALSH: I didn‘t hang out with Bernie Kerik growing up. There are a lot of good New Yorkers, Matt. Come on.

HERBERT: Those are the types that consorted with Rudy Giuliani.

WALSH: I‘ll give you that.

Now, it's pretty clear what Continetti was trying to do there from the think-tank/hothouse perch he sits on in his crisp, little “John-John” suit. It was a bit of the “Villager” mentality leaping forth reflexively, where the natural defense mechanism is to whomp anyone from those 400 miles up I-95 as an out-of-the-mainstream crazy . He and many of his “Born-or-Bred-in -the-Beltway” types have a bit of an aversion to those pushy, honking Noo-Yawkahs big-footing around the ol' cherry blossoms down there. But the little wingnut “Waldo” look-alike did prompt a bit of a discussion on the show as it ended, and got me to thinking about that whole idea of “the New York woodwork”—“those types that live in New York”, and just how a bunch like Rudy Giuliani, Bernie Kerik and Judith Regan managed to come to power and then congeal as a “crew”—like some mid-lifed, ersatz “St. Elmo's Fire” clique.

It's a legitimate issue to consider...because as a lifelong New Yorker, of a certain age and “experience”—thinking about the ascension of a slime-coated local like Rudy, and by extension, his equally creepy peeps, is a chance to take a hard, clear look at how we got here—with this totally compromised troika of New Yorkers dominating so much of the political stage thanks to their back room low-jinks and chicanery. They are hardly the people we locals want starring in an “I Love New York” tourism ad. Proof of that lay in Rudy's polling in his own backyard as of today against a Republican opponent living 3000 miles away. Arizona Senator John McCain's kicks his veneers back into his gullet by 15 points.

Yet, here Rudy stands. Albeit round-heeled, wading into the swamps, beaches and velour mouse-ears of Florida. A corner-backed rat who's going to hiss and scratch til the rake finally comes down on his neck there or maybe a touch beyond. By the numbers, he shouldn't be a factor. But somehow he retains his propper-uppers and patrons—spinners and shills. People shrilly claiming “He hasn't been beaten yet!” A factor somehow still. Dragging Kerik and Regan along with him and the caca-stained mattress they share. Improbably...reppin' hard for the town in every slimy, barrel-bottomed way imaginable.

“How did we get here?” How did they manage to become our ugly, national ambassadors? Are they really...New York?

In a sad way...yes.

But there's a reason for it, and to understand that reason, a little bit of history is in order.

The New York of today is in no way related to the New York of a mere thirty years ago. The city today is a shimmering hologram of a place—candy-colored, sleek and buffed—hardly the sweet/savory stew of a town it was in the 70's. That New York was an amazing place. Brusque, bold, and bawdy. Bright, bewitching, and beautiful. It pulsed, no—it throbbed where it now whooshes. A crazyquilt mix of high and low and rich and poor that now seems quaint since the post-80's re-stratification of the populace. It was NOT all good. But God help me, the good of then would be the phenomenal of now. It was the beginning of the end of the era of Noblesse Oblige—where the old-school wealthy in the city felt obligated to give back in ways that actually helped out everyone. You had The Fresh Air Fund established for inner-city kids to go to summer camps featuring grass and trees instead of glass-flecked asphalt and lampposts. Local-bred athletes like the late tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis gave local children free tennis lessons for weeks at a time in city parks every year. Picked up a nice chopping forehand from him, I did. You had a spot called “The Box” on West 48th Street—a black walled, free music space in the heart of the musical instrument district where you could walk in off the street and catch Jaco Pastorius, a Kenny Burrell or Anthony Jackson, or if you really got lucky, a Miles Davis jamming—for no charge.

It was also the Disco era—where Black folks, White folks, Latin folks and anyone else who could halfway hit the two and the four could shake their asses together at the big clubs in town—54, Xenon, The Loft and The Red Parrot to name just a few. And a lot of the rich and connected found themselves shaking ass right next to the much-less rich, but effortlessly hip at places like these. Ultimately by osmosis, hip and cool became the coin of the realm. Damn near everybody had it. My man Ray G. who sold cheap-ass shoes at the old Flagg Brothers store on Jamaica Avenue was a Goddamned star at trendy Xenon when he strolled in sporting his black Quiana shirt and seamless french-cut bells from Benhil. He danced a wicked Latin Hustle with our crew, and with the women who rolled up in the tint-windowed Fleetwoods, swaddled in furs and reeking of old and sometimes ancient money. We partied with them...and everybody hung because they were cool. Cool with who they were, to be precise—a silky debutante from West End Avenue, a Latin dude from St. Albans who sold cheap shoes 'round the way, but was savvy and sharp and quick on his feet, or with a smile and a quip...or even an underage high-school kid from Hollis who could dance a little, and whose teacher knew a bartender there and somehow got him past the velvet rope.

It was a time and a place where it was fabulous and shady and so wonderfully unpredictable that sometimes it felt like your heart would just explode with anticipation while standing still on line to get in.

All you had to do to enjoy it was to simply be yourself and let go of all the silly shit. You worked or went to school all day, and then on the nights and weekends, you released and sampled the varied earthly delights laid out before you. It was a carnal, sensual place, with a million things to light your nerves as if they were fuses, and we reveled in every little “explosion” we could set off.

Well...not all of us, exactly. You see, there were those for whom “Fun City” was anything but. The ones who couldn't find “the two and the four” if you spotted them the one and the fucking three. An entire secondary culture of folks who were simply uncomfortable in their own skins and thanks to that, didn't get those “Fun City” outlets for release. They shook their heads ruefully at you on the trains on Saturday morning—you coming home from a night out and a diner breakfast in your sweat-loosened best gear, and they themselves headed into town to exchange those five pairs of Gold Toe socks, because horrors!—they got them home and realized they were more charcoal gray than heather gray. They didn't like seeing my boy Ray G. squinting in the blazing morning sun as he made his way down spoiled Jillian's steps on West End Avenue. “Fuck! That scone thing I just had was pretty good!”, he mused as he looked back at Jillian's steps—and laughed, “Ha!”, about the tasty orange juice she squeezed from the gleaming Oster juicer in that sun-dappled kitchen so Goddamned big that it echoed.

He “Ha!”-ed again as he went down the street, past “The Uncomfortables” who glared at him as they trundled on to doctor's visits or to trains to see elderly aunts and uncles just beyond the bridges and tunnels.

“The Uncomfortables”. They didn't like all that citified mingling and class-mixing. These were the boomers born from the late forties to the late fifties who hailed from insular little “Bunker-lands” all over town and it's outskirts, but didn't dig on the frenetic, big-city fun like some of their contemporaries who hung tough in town did. No, these were the folks who absorbed every slur, every stereotype and trope mom and dad would angrily spit at the TV during those sense-offending episodes of “I-Spy!” or “The Mod Squad”. These were the kids who didn't understand Woodstock because mom and dad had firmly inculcated in them that oh-so-sensible mantra “Who wants to get grass and mud stains on your new chinos from Alexanders anyway?” Giuliani, born in '44, Kerik in '55, and Regan in '53 are of that stock—Giuliani, a socially-malaldroit, outer borough dweeb reviled even by the local kids, Kerik, a bridge-and-tunneler of sketchy upbringing who just wanted out, and lastly Regan, another bridge-and-tunneler who never “got” the city and avoided it her entire adolescent and young adult life.

All three of 'em were in their twenties and early thirties during these halcyon days (and nights) of fun and expression in NYC. Most other folks their age were sipping the bacchanal wine and supping at the vibrant smorgasbord of city life. But not this un-merry band of outsiders. They didn't get it, they couldn't get it, and thus—didn't want it.

And the “not wanting it” didn't just go for themselves...but years later it was manifested in their mass bartending of frosty, cold hater-ade—for everybody.

So, they wonked around in their early jobs, immersing themselves as they didn't seem to have a lot of friends in general, and of course, even fewer with any semblance of that easy-in-one-own's-skin “cool”. Their crowd, what there was of it—didn't club, or for that matter even lightly sample the town's other, non-debaucherous charms. They played it safe—settling down as best they could with whoever they could, because misery doesn't just love love company—it thirsts for it.

And then...a miracle happened. For them that is. The 80's happened, to be precise. There was that sudden glut of easy money for little doings as ushered in by the patron saint of skating by—Ronald Wilson Reagan. Suddenly, that downpour of dough hit folks who weren't Astors and Vanderbilts by birth, but now aspired to be via superficial trappings. It was the age of Boesky, big, padded shoulders, and Bret Easton Ellis—whose “American Psycho” was misread as a cool book about a misunderstood guy by the boys and girls its characters mirrored, instead of as the scathing indictment of the viral amorality and nouveau-riche greed gone mad from the Battery to the “barrier” at 110th and Central Park South.

Oh, it went topsy-turvy and the outcasts looked on with glee, because they knew...Goddamn, how they knew, just what was coming.

Dropping like flies were the patrician Lindsey-ites—well-meaning but oftentimes muddled in the minutiae of governance in a difficult city. CUNY, the City University System went from free to fee-ed as a “fuck them, it's about me” vibe rippled through every aspect of what once made the city a more sharing, caring place to live. And as soon as the admission-eligible citizens became majority minoritymean...was in. The once-mighty, benevolent old-money powers would age out, and their heirs—what few there were—just didn't hold the same opinion of good, ol' “Noblesse Oblige”. They simply lived off grandmama's and grandpapa's stiill-considerable money and abdicated their thrones of altruism. It created a vacuum, and into it stepped the new-money outsiders. No more giving away of libraries and railroad terminals and the like. Now it was mints on every overpriced hotel pillow as some sort of twisted “charity” from the symbols of the city's new, ascendant, ugly power-elite—“The Queen of Mean”, hotelier Leona Helmsley. And right next to her, squeezed out in the same time-frame, her squalling, fraternal twin in gleeful, ostentatious bastardry, one Donald Trump.

Oh yes...wasn't that a time. Self-centered meanness swept the country like a consumptive, gas-sprayed wildfire. Who shot that scoundrel J.R. Ewing? It was now cool to care about an unrepentant, evil creep. The new paradigm was that we didn't want him gone. America wanted to see him BACK and wanted to continue reveling in watching him do people dirty. But the truth is that the New York distillation of the new, raging “mean” was a rare and potent bottling indeed—hard to the taste, and dry to the mouth. And it's giddy, newly-monied vintners stomped out huge vats of it—while also drinking it up and staggering about, acting the fool towards all they came across— from then until now. It was merely one of the most destructive power-benders ever seen in this country.

When the angry graffitti and its matching cry went up from many folks—“Die Yuppie Scum!”, it wasn't just about the class warfare issue those it was directed at simplified it into. It was a desperate yelp against a thuggish coarsening of relations in the city. All of that “money for nothing, and the chicks for free” affected its beneficiaries badly. Where once the old high and low co-existed somewhat, the new breed with their new money and status walled themselves off in an attempt to define a new class structure—a new high and low where the two would never meet. A new New York that would harken back to a “classic” version of the city seen through a distorted lens of nostalgia.

The lust was for the neat, and perfect New York of “The Thin Man”, and Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies—of luxé and the tux. Toney digs, exclusive parties, and throwback cocktails—and of course, a good cigar. The problem was, this crowd didn't want to ever inadvertently stumble across any examples of that annoying, real, old New York.

What to do? What to do?

Say hello to “The Outsiders”.

The enforcers—the thug-wonks who toiled quietly for years behind the scenes in the city's bureaucracy and on the periphery of the cultural landscape—the city's new shapers turned to these people who as noted, viscerally hated the live-wire New York that they didn't understand, to bring the place to heel.

Hard-core prosecutors like Rudy.

Head-busting cops like Bernie.

And on the cultural front, gatekeepers like the Reagan-worshipping Regan.

But these “Outsiders” had a personal agenda of their own, too. You see, where their yuppie enablers misread Ellis's “American Psycho” into seeing its protagonist as a conflicted hero, The “Outsiders” picked up on a different book—Robert Caro's The Power Broker. That book detailed the malevolent application of bureaucratic power (over a span of 40 years!) by New York's “Master Builder” Robert Moses, and his “my way or the highway” (pun unintentional) style in dealing with the most vulnerable and powerless of the populace. The “Outsiders” misread—or perhaps more likely, selectively read the book's indictment of Moses' ways as an administrative “how-to” primer on getting things done. Moses (Robert) was the great paterfamilia figure of governmental ruthlessness, exhibiting the same sneering disdain for those he didn't and didn't want to understand.

Get along. Get out. Fuck your feelings. Fuck protocol. IT'S OUR TIME!

And payback would be a bitch. The “Outsiders” would exact revenge, hyper-criminalizing everything. “Annoying” squeegee-man were jailed, protests against mayoral policy were effectively banned at City Hall, and street-vendors may as well have been knife-chucking assassins. But most telling were those nightclubs—those discos that The “Outsiders” could never fathom and thus hated, many of those places were not surprisingly legislated right out of existence. The vehicle for the smackdown? Merely the little-enforced noise abatement laws now-perfect for smiting those loud, raucous reminders of that painful time on the outs.

Giuliani was the vanguard of the number-crunching, fine-print scanning evil wonks bent on scorched-earthing all that was, and his enforcers on this were the likely suspects—his police commissioners, Howie Safir and Berniie Kerik—respectability-aspiring, blue-collar hammers for “the man”. But what sealed The “Outsiders” new lock on power was one, last, fatal spasming of the old guard's power—the election on New York's first, and only Black mayor David Dinkins. His election over Giuliani so polarized the city, and infuriated those outer-borough Bunker-lands (Staten Island, NY's whitest borough in fact enacted secession procedures from New York proper not long after Dinkins election) into hard political action against the old guard. Dinkins would have no second term, as Giuliani sniped, bitched, needled, and flung scat from the sidelines during Dinkins' entire term—with help from his new breed patrons on the media side, and swept into power on a pounding fist and a constant, yapping bark.

We've documented here more than once what “Giuliani Time” was like for those who didn't look like him or for those who wanted a basic modicum of fairness. But what also happened was a celebration of that evil dismissiveness of compassion. Fellow bitter outsiders were absorbed into the power circle now and got “the hook-ups”, finding themselves being plugged into the sparking outlets of power by their titular leader Rudy. It was now their party, “and you could fucking cry if you wanted to”—they didn't care. Lame as they were, they gamely play-acted their own stilted versions of Whit Stillman's party-fied New York. (And that's really saying something—playing stilted versions of Whit Stillman melodramas.)

But now that they had the “house to themselves for the weekend”—who to party with?

Certainly not the old money crowd they'd recently deposed. Aside from themselves, who else was there to clink glasses with over the glorious coup d'etat?

Why, merely the city's darker, below-the-radar forces for ill-gotten gain that the old guard had barely managed to keep at arm's distance. Their fellow Outsiders. REAL outcasts. That would show the elite! Thus we wound up with curious scenarios like the police commissioner consorting with gangsters, the Mayor jetting about on casino bosses Gulfstream jets, and book-cooking to hide the squiring of his latest “Goumada”. And you then see a patient cultural player like Regan, storm to the fore thanks to her shrewd, and crazed true-believer-ish promotion of the practitioners and pundits of the new cruelty. With that, the clique was complete. Dangerous demagogues, their P.R. people, and the scandalous, head-cracking rough fringe embraced to spite the patrician past and to stoke the the heady thrill of the dangerous. The long-belated “partying” they craved was on—and having no context for it, and waiting so late in life to “celebrate”—if you will, they went too Goddamned far.

Like kids denied sugar their entire lives and then left in a candy store over a weekend, they lost their minds—Giuliani worst of all, with his odd predilection for attention-getting via kooky dress-up, the ramping up of his Queegish paranoia and temper over anything that displeased him, and of course, his vain, personal excesses. A nonsensical, roundly-panned “Bunker In The Sky” that was little more than a government-subsidized fuck-pad and a bastardly, macho exhibitionism at the expense of family and personal reputation, just to name a couple of them.

Kerik bogarted about town as Rudy's “wingman”, covering for his peccadilloes, and racking up his own share while swaggering in bullet-headed glory as a brass-knuckled thug-cum-copper. Nabbed tables at Rao's next to the silver-haired “Dons” as if he was a connected fellow “operator”—instead of tossing 'em in the clink as his job denoted. Chickies, chickies, Chickies on the side. Pulled some strings and got a city jail named after himself—a fairly hubris-filled move for a still-living cop with so many other names to choose from of “killed in the line of duty” fellow officers, but da victah goes da spoilz..

Regan, the ultimate “Outsider” didn't even live in the city's Five Boroughs. She grew up off Exit 42 on the Southern State Parkway in Long Island, went from there to Poughkeepsie's Vassar College and didn't even come back to town until the mid-eighties—after a reporting job at The National Enquirer (!) in Boca Raton. Upon her return to NYC, she bulled her way into the city's china shop of a publishing industry—eschewing all the trappings of propriety and decorum therein. She injected a froth-mouthed WWE style into what was prestige-level publishing, raging at critics and hoarsely carny-barking to promote her freak-show line-up of tomes—like Jenna Jameson's cheesey How To Make Love Like A Porn Star, The Surrender, which dealt with the sexually explicit tales of a former Balanchine dancer ('In which she relates giving anal sex to two boyfriends. It’s a tract about her tract. “I wasn’t going to mention the anal thing,” said Bentley, “but Judith got very excited about it and insisted.”), the ugly, “fictional biography” of Mickey Mantle, and of finally, the camel's back -snapping O.J. tome “If I Did It”. She was a proud, unabashed jerk with no compunction about showing off her retrograde politics while clumsily stomping about the city she acted as if she owned—just like her co-horts in creepiness Giuliani and Kerik. So no one should be surprised that this terrible troika representing government, law, and culture would somehow find themselves linked together like a set of cheap magician's rings.

Rudy's campaign Mayoral manager was Roger Ailes, who would eventually run Fox News for Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch would hire Judith Regan at Fox holding Harper Collins. Rudy hires Bernie Kerik who chased ass with him and would then literally grab ass with Judith Regan at his own little 9-11 fuck-pad.

All three of these magnificent, malevolent “Outsiders” were ascendant immediately after the fall of the Twin Towers, their little boats lifted on the sea of stupid that overwhelmed America at the time. Rudy was hefted to “Man Of The Year” status and a prohibitive presidential favorite. His buddy Kerik was pushed by Rudy as “America's Cop” and very nearly the country's Homeland Security Chief. And the fabulous nutbar Regan would begin expanding her entertainment tentacles into a mini-television production empire.

This was their peak. It would never get better than this.

But it most certainly would get worse. Bernard Kerik presently sits under indictment and eventual trial for everything but eating a man's still-beating heart. They even took his name off the city jail. Judith Regan magnificently imploded her career with racist slurs and a jaw-droppingly stupid book, managing to be too batshit to work for Rupert Murdoch(!) and then capped the self-immolation by threatening to cripple Murdoch's precious network with a nasty, vengeful twist. And now, even she's been paid off to protect what little bit remains.

The last of the NYC Woodwork-spawned, BMOC/”Outsiders”.


Who as every day goes by sees his last chance, the Florida primary and pretty much his entire campaign seeping back into that rotten “woodwork.”

Drowning in the polls and worst of all, forced to cadge work from staffers the millionaire candidate can no longer afford to pay.

How ironic that the big-willie “Outsider” from within New York is now about to close the door on the brief era of his sort's dominance, while actual Outsiders, some would call “carpetbaggers” representing New York—Boston-born Mike Bloomberg, the city's Mayor, and the State's Senator, via D.C./Arkansas/Illinois, Hillary Clinton stand infinitely better chances today of being considered for President than Rudy.

The old town ain't what she used to be.

And somewhere in the city an old school DJ digs deep in the crates at home. His old club is long gone—thanks to Rudy. He flips a record onto the turntable and hits the start button. The bass kicks in loud. Horns. The guitars. Folks used to “hustle” to this jam.

I talked to my friend again today...
This is what he had to say,
You’re going up in smoke,
going up in smoke,
going up in smoke.
And we ain’t got no hope,
we’re going up in smoke

Lights up a ciggy and the smoke curlicues as he taps his foot to the beat. A neighbor pounds the wall.


He turns the music down a bit. 'Cause the days of “The Hustle” are done.

The days of the New York Hustle...are done, baby.

Somebody tell Rudy.
There's more...

Chris. Dodd. Rocks.

Wave yer lighters and give the Senator some...

I'm not one to look to our so-called “august” bodies—the House and Senate for much in the way of principled leadership. Could be I'm jaded. Could be I'm a simple fist-in-the-face realist who's absorbed a bit of Amiri Baraka's idea of the Dems and GOP too often being “two wings of the same dying bird”.

But every once in a while, an elected representative elevates himself above “teh stoopid” and cravenness that makes our eyes glaze over, and really fights the good fight in a way that leads his waffling brethren to do the right damn thing. A right damn thing that they were fecklessly willing to let slide along with a sizable chunk of the constitution down Bush's chute of totalitarianism.

As Jesse notes below, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd performed one such major elevation above the masses through his leadership in blocking Bush's prized Telecom Immunity in the FISA bill.

He led on this from jump, months ago—promising the filibuster when it seemed his so-called “progressive” co-horts were going to leave him high and dry. Made this promise when he was still running for President, too. And forcefully re-stated his intentions and re-doubled his efforts when it appeared that the Senate Dem leadership had abandoned him. But fight he did—beginning last week, and in one of the very few cases where the battle between right and wrong ended up with right triumphing in recent legislative sessions, he led forcefully and brought enough of his colleagues around (a.k.a. shamed them to where they couldn't slink away like wet rats) to defeat the Telecom Immunity.

He even managed to get Clinton and Obama to get back to D.C. in time to do some actual legislative work.

And anyone who can leave the turtle-faced Mitch McConnell spluttering, make the Haband suited Kit Bond look worse than he usually does, or so pisses off Orrin Hatch that his pointy, white hat won't keep its starch from the heat pouring off his head, is going to get serious kudos from me.

He should from you, too.

Give the REAL Senator from the Nutmeg State's office a call, or drop him an e-mail thanking him for his leadership and protection of your rights as an American.

Tel: (202) 224-2823 or e-mail him here

And remember...for every positive message sent to Senator Dodd, an evil pixie floating around Lindsey Graham's head evaporates.

There's more...

Chris Matthews: Condi = Ethnic Excitement

via Crooks and Liars:

Matthews: ...And I have to think given the ethnic, you know, excitement - let’s call it American excitement about Barack Obama. If he doesn’t make it to the nomination a lot of people on the Republican side might say, well why don’t we try do something to offset that and take advantage of the hope of having an African American at a high level of government.

Ethnic Excitement? What is that? A new Ben & Jerry's flavor?

UPDATE: From the wonderfully talented LM.

There's more...

Montana High School Cancels Nobel Laureate Talk

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Republican Town Refuses Global Warming
Lecture for High Schoolers

There is a reason there were dark ages.

Some people are proud of being stupid.

Some people refuse to learn.

Always, some people line up with pitchforks and lighted torches to burn intelligence to the ground.

The Enlightenment was a long, hard time coming. And in places such as Choteau, Montana, complaints from conservatives were enough to get the superintendent to cancel a lecture to 130 high school students from Professor Steven W. Running, Nobel Laureate.

The New York Times

Dr. Running was a lead author of a global warming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the 400-member United Nations body that shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. But when some residents complained that his presentation here would be one-sided because no opposing view would be offered, the superintendent of Choteau School District No. 1, Kevin St. John, canceled it.

Dr. Running was surprised.

“Disbelief was the primary reaction,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’ve never been canceled before. But it was almost comical. I had a pretty candid discussion with the superintendent and the school board, and they said there were some conservative citizens who didn’t want me to speak.”

Mr. St. John said that numerous residents had complained to school board members and that they in turn had suggested that the program be called off.

People on Main Street here were divided over the cancellation. Melody Martinsen, the editor of The Choteau Acantha, a local weekly, said that while she rarely received letters to the editor, “this week I have nine and seven are on the subject, and they are all chastising the school board.”

Kirk Moore, the owner of a farm and ranch store, is a school board member who favored canceling the talk. But he declined to say why. “No comment,” Mr. Moore said. “Go talk to the superintendent.”

There's more...
The Republicans legacy leaves our children further and further behind every first world country... in science, math, technology, preparing for an uncertain future.

We sent men to the moon on man-made fire. Now children in Montana are taught to be afraid of the lightening.

Bushism and Republicanism has failed our nation, has failed our children, has failed our planet, has just plain failed. Anyone with the sense of a dog avoiding a skunk knows what's been happening the last seven years is just plain wrong.

Telling children they can't hear a Nobel Prize winner is wrong. It's against everything this country stands for.

Shame on that superintendent and that school board, and shame on Choteau, Montana for being so out of touch with basic American values.

It's just plain wrong.
There's more...

Chris Dodd (D-CT): Man of the Constitution

Chris Dodd and daughter at Labor Day Parade, Milford, NH. Sep 4, 2007.
photo marcn. Click for LARGE photo.

What a Mensch

If not for Senator Chris Dodd, Bush would have already pulled it off.

It ain't over yet.

What stones the man has.

“I will continue to fight retroactive immunity with all the strength any one Senator can muster.”


Why can't someone who is, like, actually running for President, demonstrate leadership like this? Instead of using the Presidential Voice? Or telling us about their preparation?

How about some honest-t0-God LEADERSHIP on something before the United States Senate?

Perhaps demonstrating that the Constitution matters? Without having to have damn near every progressive group in America and every liberal blog call your ass out?

Without Chris Dodd, this fight would have been lost last month.

Dodd is a stand-up guy.

Chris Dodd, United States Senator for Connecticut

January 28, 2008

Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) today rose again to speak on the Senate floor in opposition to a vote to end debate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform legislation that would grant immunity to telecommunications companies who cooperated with the Bush Administration’s secret wiretapping program. The full text of his remarks as prepared appears below:


Mr. President:

We find ourselves this afternoon in the midst of a parliamentary nightmare.

So much hinges on the bill before us; so many of my colleagues have come to this floor to tell us just how vitally important it is. It will set America’s terrorist surveillance policy well into the next presidential term, and beyond. Depending on the outcome, it has the power to bring that surveillance under the rule of law—or to confirm the president’s urge to be a law of his own. It has the power to bring the facts of warrantless spying to light and to public scrutiny—or to lock down those facts as the property of the powerful. It has the power to declare that the same law applies to all of us, rich or poor, well-connected or not—or to set the precedent that some corporations are too rich to be sued, that immunity can effectively be bought.

Wherever you come down on those choices, you cannot be neutral. None of us can be neutral. This is one of the most contentious pieces of legislation we will debate in this session, or in any session.

And yet—the Senate is frozen today. I’ve objected passionately to retroactive immunity—but I did not shut out debate. Republicans have frozen the Senate since debate began last week. And they unwittingly created a perfect microcosm of retroactive immunity right here in this body. Because both flow from the same impulse: shutting down the organs of government—the courts, or the Senate—when you are afraid you won’t get your way. That’s why President Bush wants his favored corporations saved from lawsuits. And that is why the Republican Party wants this bill saved from any and all amendments—saved from serious and thoughtful discussion.

As a committee chairman myself, I wish I had that privilege! I sometimes wish the bills we passed could be swept through without a single amendment. But that’s not how this body works—that’s not how its Founders intended it to work.

Now, amendments are not entitled to pass. But they are entitled to a fair hearing, a fair debate, and a fair vote. The minority can object as strenuously as it wants—but it must do so fairly. I accept that principle, even when it does not go my way; even on immunity itself, I understand that a minority cannot stand forever. Is it too much for Republicans to extend us the same courtesy?

On a bill as important as this one, it would be ridiculous to curtail debate, shut out new ideas, and rush to a conclusion—without even extending the Protect America Act for a month, to give us the time we need. Because whether you agree with them or not—and some I disagree with, myself—the amendments offered by my Democratic colleagues are serious proposals from serious members.

Shouldn’t we debate whether this new surveillance regime ought to stay inflexible through the next presidential term, and into the one after that?

Shouldn’t we debate whether we’re going to categorically outlaw unconstitutional reverse targeting, or indiscriminate, vacuum cleaner bulk collection?

Shouldn’t we debate whether Congress even gets to see the secret rulings of the FISA Court?

Those are just a few of the well-intentioned proposals we need to consider before we vote on this bill in good conscience. But across the board, the Republican answer to those questions is: No, no, and no.

I disagree, Mr. President. I will vote against cloture, because we haven’t done our job yet.

I will also vote against cloture because I cannot support the bill as it now stands. First, it still contains the egregious provision for corporate immunity. I’ve already made my objections to immunity many times: It puts the president’s chosen few above the law; it endorses possibly illegal spying on Americans; and it strikes a harsh blow against the rule of law. I will continue to fight retroactive immunity with all the strength any one senator can muster.

But I also strongly object to many of the intelligence-gathering portions of this bill. This bill reduces court oversight of spying nearly to the point of symbolism. It could allow the targeting of Americans on false pretenses. It opens us up to new, twisted rationales for warrantless wiretapping, which is exactly what it ought to prevent. It could allow bulk collection of the communications of millions of Americans, as soon as an administration has the wherewithal to build such an enormous dragnet. And it sets all of these deeply flawed provisions in stone for six years, depriving us of the flexibility we need to fight terrorism.

For those reasons, as well, I will vote against cloture.

Tonight, President Bush will come to Congress to speak to us, and to the American people, about the state of the Union. I hope he will use that opportunity to realize that the Senate needs more time to do its constitutional duty to debate and consider this important legislation.

However, I am concerned he will instead continue to threaten to veto this legislation unless it includes retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies.

The President has said that this bill is essential to ‘protecting the American people from enemies who attacked our country.’ So why is he trying to stop it? Why did he promise to veto it? Why would he throw it all away to protect a few corporations from lawsuits?

I fear that if we give the President what he wants, we risk weakening the rule of law and placing the rights of some of the President’s favored corporations over the rights of ordinary American citizens.

I hope my colleagues will join me in opposing cloture today on the substitute amendment and allow the Senate the time it needs to debate and improve the FISA Amendments Act. This issue is too important to our security and our civil liberties to do otherwise.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Howard Dean helps spread the word about the Democrats Abroad Global Primary

Do you know dems living overseas? Do you have readers on your own blog who are living outside the USA? Help spread the word by posting this important Youtube video promoting the first ever Democrats Abroad Global Primary. This is important and a great way to make sure all Americans can participate in the process! - In Japan we are hosting a voting center, accepting ballots by fax and mail, and encouraging voters to participate via the internet and "Everyone Counts." (a secure online voting system)

See what Ho-Ho has to say.

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California 2008

From the beltway insider newsletter "The Nelson Report"

California polls are getting "interesting", however, as Sen. Clinton's once huge lead is shrinking, while Obama is gaining...but she still enjoys a 10 point lead. Whether the Kennedy mystique will help Obama overcome the "gender gap", and Hispanic gamesmanship of the Clintons, may be the deciding factor on Super Tuesday in California, as nationally.

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"We Were the Trend"

...a trend was a trend only because people thought it was, and in thinking so, they made it so. Winston had regarded benchmark stocks only as predictors of what the people in the market would do, and for him trends were always psychological, predictors of how people would follow an artificial model, not the performance of the model itself...

And in selling off Citibank, Columbus had activated a little alarm in its own computer-trading system....

Winston patted him on the shoulder. "Save that for later, Mark. I can see it was a good play."

"Anyway, we were ahead of the trends all the way. Yeah, we got a little hurt when the calls came in and we had to dump a lot of solid things, but that happened to everybody—"

"You don't see it, do you?"

"See what, George?"

"We were the trend."
-- Tom Clancy, Debt of Honor, 1994.
In Clancy's Debt of Honor, a computer attack against US stock exchanges is triggered by an unwitting trading company, the fictitious Columbus Group. Columbus was formerly headed by supertrader and all-around good guy George Winston, who is the first to realize that not only was the computer wiping out of all trade data an active attack instead of a bug, but that a major downturn on the exchange was deliberately engineered using his company. That makes him mad.

Clancy has at least one prophetic disaster to his credit already, and last week it looked like he may have gotten another as Société Générale (aka SocGen), the second largest French bank '...incurred a $7.2 billion trade loss from an "exceptional fraud" perpetrated by a rogue trader.' SocGen's discovery of the fraud led them to spend Monday (21 Jan) "...unwinding an absolutely massive long position in equity futures".

Starting Monday (21 Jan) morning, Asian markets crashed. European markets followed. How bad was it? Pretty bad. Some described it as "the worst financial crisis since World War II", others as "the worst post-war recession" or "the most serious recession since World War II". Bank of America's Q4 profit was down 95% and Wachovia lost 98% of its profits. By last Thursday (24 Jan), gloom and doom was easy to find online.

What happened?

First, let me dispense with the idea that we can definitely determine causation for the recent market turmoil. We can't. Nobody can. Worldwide financial markets are just too complex a system for us to fully understand. Even if micro- and macro- economics were hard sciences with singular theories about human and market behaviour, the magnitude of the system and its sensitivity to initial conditions means full predictive or explanatory power eludes us, and probably always will. There will be many opinions, and there will be one or more "conventional wisdoms" about what may be known as The Black January of 2008. One conventional wisdom has already been pretty well established: last weeks mess was at least partly a result of US subprime mortgages. Other conventional wisdoms are competing for survival: it was Bush's lame stimulus package, or it was a "rogue trader".

So, having told you that we will never know exactly what happened, what happened? :-)

Rogue Trader Hypothesis
Jerome Kerviel, a futures trader with SocGen, "breached five levels of computer security controls" to make unauthorized trades in European market futures. These trades were unauthorized in that they were over his trading limits and not approved by higher-ups. The unauthorized trades were discovered on or about Saturday the 19th and the company prepared to close them (that is, pay them off now instead of waiting for them to come due, at which point they might be too large for the bank to pay off).

Unfortunately, on Friday the 18th, Christian Noyer, governor of the Bank of France, gave an interview to IHT. In that interview, Noyer said "...he has been assessing the balance sheets of banks like Societe Generale and BNP Paribas before they reveal their 2007 results...". That sentence has been removed from the IHT website, but is archived at Paul Kedrosky's blog. I can't find any suggestion that Noyer suspected these banks specifically, and current supposition indicates that Noyer selected those banks simply as two large French banks, not because he knew anything specific about SocGen's problem.

But "The wicked flee when no man pursueth", says Proverbs 28:1 (King James Bible), and the supposition goes further that SocGen officials feared that Noyer knew something about their exposure in European futures, so on Monday the 21st they dumped "the overwhelming proportion of their huge long position in one day".

And that set off the markets. SocGen was already considered vulnerable the previous week because of US subprime exposure, so rumour and action came together to create reality

It all comes together into a very pleasant story with a villain and even probably some heroes. But is it right? We're missing one critical connection: how did the Australian and Asian markets know something was especially wrong at SocGen? And how do we distinguish between what was happening to SocGen on Friday the 18th (when SocGen was down 8%) and the following week?

It's possible that the problems at SocGen leaked. You don't need special technology to assume that someone noticed unusual activity at SocGen's Paris offices:
On Saturday, Kerviel was hauled into the bank’s Paris offices, where he was questioned by Jean-Pierre Mustier, SocGen’s head of investment banking, and confessed to making a series of unauthorised bets on CAC, DAX and the EuroStoxx 50.

Working through Saturday night and Sunday, the disgraced trader helped SocGen staff to uncover his hidden punts.
and made a phone call, sent an email or an IM, or posted an as-yet-undiscovered message somewhere on the Internet. Because:
On Sunday night, while the bankers worked feverishly in Paris, the Australian stock market had already begun a downward spiral, taking it to its biggest one-day fall in 20 years.
Let us suppose, as a thought experiment, that the "rogue trader" hypothesis is at least largely true. So far was we can tell, Kerviel was not malicious or even venal. He doesn't appear to have squirreled any of the $7 billion away for himself and once he was caught he seems to have come pretty clean. And yet he destroyed billions of dollars of value.

According to the WSJ, Kerviel 'was able to skillfully circumvent controls...because he had worked in the "back office" and had an intimate knowledge of how trades are processed and monitored.' That implies a failure of security in SocGen's systems.

That security failure is the scariest implication. If a knowledgeable insider can disrupt worldwide markets while trying to make money, what could an attacker do with the intent of damaging our networked economy? 9/11 cost New York alone nearly $100 billion, although direct costs may have been as little as about $30 billion. Swiss Re calculated that 9/11 was responsible for $35 billion to $55 billion in insurance payments and another $50 billion of losses on the capital markets, reducing insurance industry equity by $100 billion.

If someone took a hard shot at the networked economy through a collection of malicious Kerviels, we could be looking at economic shocks many times that of 9/11, and scattered all over the world instead of concentrated in America.
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