Spreading the Blame

Here's an anti-business Democratic initiative I can applaud: Immigration Agents Turn Focus to Employers

Under guidelines to be issued Thursday to Immigration and Customs Enforcement field offices, agents will be instructed to take aim at employers and supervisors for
prosecution “through the use of carefully planned criminal investigations.”

Senior officials of the Homeland Security Department said Wednesday that illegal workers would continue to be detained in raids on workplaces. But the officials said they hoped to mark an abrupt departure from past practices by making those arrests as part of an effort to build criminal and civil cases against employers.

I have never understood the GOP reluctance to chase down and prosecute employers who flout immigration laws and staff themselves to the gills with illegal workers. For one thing, it gives the law-breakers an unfair competitive advantage over the ones trying to follow the rules. I would say that, in CA at least, an employer with illegal alien employees can operate with near-impunity, which only harms the employers trying to hire Americans and immigrants who are actually authorized to be here. Is it any wonder people think there's something fundamentally wrong with the system?

Worse than that, illegal immigrants are an exploited class. You think an employer willing to break immigration laws is going to pay his employees a fair wage (if they are paid at all), or follow wage and hour rules? Do you think his will be a safe workplace? And, I am all in favor of the free market, but there's something about, say, the sight of a factory that employs hundreds of cheap illegals while neighborhood Americans are struggling to find work that offends the senses.

Business people are often the ones who are the loudest flag wavers, and say they need relaxed immigration enforcement to compete in a global economy. OK. But you also live here, and I would say creating an exploited peasant class at the expense of American workers gives opportunistic jingoism a bad name.

I Feel Richer Already

B of A's shareholders have taken away Ken Lewis' Chairmanship, but retained him as CEO. I believe this is the first time a chairman/CEO of an S&P 500 company has been stripped of one of his titles by his shareholders: Bank of America Chief Ousted As Chairman

Mr. Lewis, who helped build Bank of America into the nation’s largest bank,
was stripped of his chairman’s title — a stinging blow that leaves his stewardship and legacy in doubt. At a contentious annual general meeting, angry investors held him accountable for what they view as a series of missteps that forced the once-mighty bank to accept not one but two government bailouts.

Lewis has made some serious errors - the biggest of which was strapping the Countrywide bomb to his chest - in pursuit of marketshare. But, he was essentially forced into the Merrill transaction by the Treasury Department and the Fed, each of which used the blunt force of gov't to force B of A into a transaction that saved the gov't from having to bailout yet another failed investment bank. For his trouble, Lewis has been hung out to dry by the political class, which has pilloried him as a Greedy Bankster even as it looks to him to help pull the economy out of recession. Is it any wonder Lewis has a perpetually steamed look in his face?

You would think that a guy like Lewis would have earned a little F*** You money at some point in his career. I, for one, would like to see him start spending it. Lewis is in trouble with his shareholders and with New York's AG office for acts largely done at the behest of his federal regulators. Rather than hiding behind his furious scowl, Lewis should really let us know what is being said to him and others behind closed doors.

Von Arlen's Express

There's lots of nonsense being written about how Arlen Specter's betrayal of the GOP is a sign that the ideologically rigid "social cons" have driven the Smart Moderates out of the party. Makes for a nice talking point, but gets the history completely wrong. As usual a blogger must explain what's going on to the professionals in the chattering class: What on earth is J-Pod talking About?

The Spendulous was the final insult. Incidentally, for all of those who claim
it's the crazy social-con monsters in the party who drive us towards
these insanely self-destructive impulses of ideologically rigidity, note the
social con monsters were very dissatisfied with Specter for years and
years, and it's only when Specter crossed the fiscal conservatives -- the "good"
conservatives, in the eyes of blue-state social moderates -- that he finally got
booted by the party. (Well, the booting didn't happen yet, but all polls said it

So the social cons complained, but it was the fiscal cons who finally decided
to throw Specter to sharks.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Backing the Backlash

With 4 weeks left to go before the special election to approve the much ballyhooed CA budget deal, the propositions that the voters need to approve are way behind in the polls: 5 of 6 Budget Ballot Propositions Trailing in Polls

Support for five of the six measures, all of which require a majority vote, is no greater than 40 percent and each is running between nine and 27 percentage points behind the opposition. Only Proposition 1F, which would bar pay raises for government leaders in budget deficit years, looks like a winner, leading 71 percent to 24 percent.

There's a lot of nonsense in the linked article about "angry" "in your face" voters - especially GOP voters - who are threatening the state with ruin because they don't understand the beautiful symmetry of the propositions and how everyone has something to gain from them. I would say the poll results show that voters know exactly what is going on. 4 of the propositions have about the same level of support with 40% in favor and 49% opposed. Only 1C, which borrows against future lottery winnings, is faring worse. Gee, it's almost like voters are saying they don't want to pile up more debt! Who knew?

Prop. 1A is the cornerstone of the budget package. It limits increases in state spending and creates a large rainy day fund to stabilize the budget. The measure also enacts $16 billion in tax extensions.

Only 40 percent of likely voters are backing the measure, with 49 percent opposed. While Republicans have long fought for a state spending cap, they're overwhelmingly against the measure, with 24 percent yes to 65 percent no.

-- Prop. 1B, which would provide $9.3 billion for public schools, is backed by 40 percent of voters but opposed by 49 percent, and only 43 percent know that the measure will take effect only if Prop. 1A passes.

-- Prop. 1C, which would allow the state to borrow $5 billion against future lottery earnings, is opposed by 59 percent of likely voters, with 32 percent in favor.

-- Prop. 1D, which would temporarily redirect tobacco tax money from children's programs to the state's general fund, also is losing, with 40 percent of voters for it and 49 percent opposed, while Prop. 1E, which temporarily takes money from mental health programs to help close the budget gap, is down by 11 percentage points, 40 to 51 percent

The lesson I would learn from this is that CA voters are tired of the unrestrained spending and unrestrained taxing that is enshrined in the budget deal. They may also be tired of having to do this repeated budgeting by proposition, which our representatives seem to prefer, rather than their having to do any actual representing. The circumstances of the deal - where the governator and the Dem legislators chased a couple GOP state senators around for a few weeks - are also suspect. Remember that the deal was made possible by GOP state senator "Arlen" Maldonado, who changed his vote in exchange for a state-wide vote on open primaries (!). What this had to do with the budget is beyond me, but not beyond the insiders who don't seem to realize that an emergnecy requires more than just horse-trading over procedural crap.

The pro-spending forces who have CA in their grip are, of course, appalled. But their arguments are looking a bit long in the tooth:

"We are out campaigning hard for these measures, because should they fail, it
isn't the politicians in Sacramento who will be punished, it is our teachers,
firefighters, children, seniors, businesses and workers who will be hurt the
worst," said Jeannine English, state president of AARP and a backer of the

I have it on good authority that "Jeannine English" is actually the nickname that clever IBM engineers have given their proto-type for the Lobby-bot 2000, a robot programmed to spit out random talking points in support of BS political causes. Nothing else could explain her tired refrain that mean ol' GOP voters are looking to "punish" "children" and "seniors." That's right! I wish I could do it everyday, but I guess the special election will have to do!

English's statement is almost a parody of special interest pleading, by which the redistributing of CA's wealth to the politically connected is disguised with crocodile tears for firefighters and old folks. Hey, I like firefighters, too! I just don't like overpaid state employees, state board members, and lobbyists.

And, look at 1D and 1E, those are actually taking money away from education and services for the mentally ill. English is supporting that, even as she "weeps" for the loss of services to the most vulnerable. These sorts of services are the sort of thing people WANT the state government to do. Instead, the budget deal is trying to preserve jobs such as Carole Migden's six-figure income to work part-time on something called the "Integrated Waste Systems Board." Why would voters want to support this?

I also don't like that CA duplicates so much of the federal government's work, such as the Air Resources Board, which does nothing that the EPA doesn't do, except double the burden on business and consumers. Why should we support this sort of special interest feather-bedding?

A real budget deal would have looked to return CA to its core competence: education, research universites, prisons, first responders, and the like. This one does not do this, but instead maintains a bloated beast that the political class does not have the heart to shrink

Uncle Sam's Back Pages

The proposed settlement that has allowed Google to go forward with its ambitious Book Search project is being threatened with, of all things, an anti-trust investigation by the Justice Department: US Opens Inquiry Into Google Books Deal

The Justice Department has begun an inquiry into the antitrust implications of Google’s settlement with authors and publishers over its Google Book Search service, two people briefed on the matter said Tuesday.

Lawyers for the Justice Department have been in conversations in recent weeks with various groups opposed to the settlement, including the Internet Archive and Consumer Watchdog. More recently, Justice Department lawyers notified the parties to the settlement, including Google, and representatives for the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild, that they were looking into various antitrust issues related to the far-reaching agreement.

Geez, will we never be rid of "interest groups" with the word "Watch" in their names? I have used the Google Book Search and have found it to be amazing. You literally have the world's libraries at your fingertips. This is a boon for knowledge, and is especially a boon for the dissemination of out-of-print books and public domain works. If the government were doing this, there would be ribbon cuttings until the cows came home. But, because it is an entirely private initiative by a (shudder) publicly traded company, it is suspect. The "concerns" being raised are, frankly, pitiful:

The settlement, announced in October, gives Google the right to display the
books online and to profit from them by selling access to individual texts and
selling subscriptions to its entire collection to libraries and other
institutions. Revenue would be shared among Google, authors and publishers.

But critics say that Google alone would have a license that covers millions
of so-called orphan books, whose authors cannot be found or whose rights holders
are unknown. Some librarians fear that with no competition, Google will be free
to raise prices for access to the collection.

"Orphan works" have been the cause of a lot of mischief in IP law. If I, or a relative, had written a book in the last 75 years, I would know about it. The idea that there are "millions" of such books that are still under copyright, but whose authors or rights holders can't be found is absurd. Why these sorts of phantom concerns would allow a landmark of education and technology to be turned upside down is beyond me, but it does serve as a reminder that America's government has adopted a fatal "can't do" spirit for anything that it does not want to understand.

If I Had A Hammer

I don't want to join in on the right wing snarlin' at Arlen Spector. I do want to say that he is less a symbol of GOP fecklessness than he is a symbol of our broken political system. Here is a man with no discernable ideology or values; a disloyal hack who betrayed the party and colleagues who supported him through 20+ years of RINO insults; who shows no sense of mission beyond being re-elected; whose primary skill appears to be the making of windy speeches and the manipulation of Senate rules. And yet, the GOP is dismayed that he is gone and the Dems are crowing that they have him. By rights, it should be the other way around. The GOP should be thrilled and the Dems should be holding him in a brown paper bag.

This is a man who is 79 years old. He has been in the Senate for 27 years. He has been seeking eleted office since the mid-Sixties. Plus, didn't he almost die from Hodgkin's Disease a couple years ago? Yet, he is getting ready for an election in 2010 for a term that will end in 2016. Party insiders might be thrilled, but Pennsylvanians should be appalled. Is there anything they can do to be rid of this man and at least get some fresh blood in the Senate?

Spector is yet another reason why we need term limits for Senators. For all his "experience" what has he done besides repeatedly betray his party at the worst moments? What has he done besides represent the Republic of Arlen?

The Green Shredding of the Constitution

Another political prosecution by the Department of Jsutice has come a cropper, but - as with Ted Stevens - you will be surprised at the targets of prosecutorial misconduct: they are WR Grace executives being tried for murder arising from asbestos exposure: Judge Dismisses Charges Against Defendants in Grace Asbestos Trial

Lawyers for Grace asked last week for the charges to be thrown out after two
months of testimony. They accused prosecutors of repeatedly violating court
orders to turn over evidence favorable to the defense and of putting on the
stand a star witness whose credibility, they said, has since been shattered by
information about his character, motivation and relationship with the
prosecutors that the jury never heard about.

Prosecutors for the most part did not fight back, but said repeatedly that
they thought most of the missteps had been small, and that they were sorry for
the rest.

Judge Molloy responded with strong statements about their judgment, ethics
and tactics. He wondered aloud about his options, from declaring a mistrial to
throwing out the testimony of the star witness, Robert H. Locke, a former Grace
executive who testified that the executives had known of the dangers and were
actively involved in covering them up.

Criminalizing an environmental prosecution like this is as oppressive as anything the NAACP might complaint about. The weight of the federal government was brought down on some retired executives by prosecutors with a cartoon view of corporate decision making. Did the feds honestly believe that these guys sat around chuckling over cancer risks? I know that's what happens in the movies, but these guys were making decisions at a time when the "science was settled" as to asbestos exposure until, whoops, it wasn't. Rather than let it go, the US Attorneys cut corners until they were no longer prosecuting wrong-doing, but were simply seeking revenge for the "Silent Spring".

We are told over and over again that environmental causes are a matter of "justice." Often, however, the crocodile tears shed for the environment are simply a cover for attacks on the productive classes of America by the resentful Left.

Death and Birth of National Champions

The Car Czar hath spaken unto GM's stakeholders and doth proclaim that American manufacturing will be saved only if GM's bondholders take a 90% haircut in which they exchange their valuable bonds for worthless shares in a company that may go bankrupt no matter what anyone else does: G.M. Latest Plan Hinges on Debt Exchange

The company is still negotiating with the United Automobile Workers union. The government wants the union to accept company stock to finance half of G.M.’s $20 billion obligation for retiree health care.

If bondholders approve the debt-for-equity exchange, they would own about 10 percent of G.M., making them a minority shareholder in a company controlled by
the Treasury and the U.A.W.’s retiree trust.

According to the offer, the Treasury would own at least 50 percent of G.M. in
exchange for forgiving about $10 billion in federal loans. The union trust, in
turn, would receive a stake of about 39 percent.

A committee of big G.M. bondholders on Monday called the offer a “a blatant
disregard for fairness for the bondholders” and an example of “political
favoritism” toward the U.A.W. “The current offer is neither reasonable nor
adequate,” the committee said.

First I would like to throw a little negativity towards those "free marketers" lining up to declare this the Death of Capitalism. The capitalists and workers at GM killed this company, not the gov't. Not one of the stakeholders pressing for their rights lifted a finger during the years when GM was burning through billions of dollars in an unsustainable quest to maintain its status as the world's biggest car company whle making worse cars than its competitors. GM's management had to wear a lot of straightjackets over the years: dealers they could not easily slough off, union work rules that interfered with efficiency, unsustainable health and pension benefits, factories they couldn't close, gov't regulations that created perverse results such as the "two-fleet" rule that saw GM building completely different lines of cars in Europe., etc. But, there was never a time when they tried to lift those straightjackets off until it was too late.

And, the idea of a major car company with the gov't and the union as majority shareholders is hardly unprecedented. Volkswagon operates under a similar ownership structure, and they do a good job building cars people want to buy.

Still, the GM "deal" is completely irrational from an economic and political view. Why are GM's lenders the ones to take the greatest fall for GM's mismanagement. Under normal circumstances, they could look to BK court for a better deal. Better yet, they could negotiate a real debt-to-equity swap and take over GM themselves. The gov't is essentially taking their contractual right to do this. How does this not violate the Takings Clause?

The UAW gets way too much, for its part, and perversely its workers get too litte. More job and benefit cuts are on the way, and yet the union is coming out stronger than ever. Whose jobs are being protected? The union bosses or the workers? GM is also accelerating the shrinking of its dealer network. What about the mechanics and support staff? Their taxes are going to fund the UAW's largesse, even if they are in an economically more precarious position? This is the sort of equality were heading toward? Apparently,

Chrysler, meanwhile, has reached a similar agreement with Fiat and the UAW:

The U.A.W. this weekend agreed to a similar health care deal with Chrysler, which has borrowed $4 billion from the government and hopes to get $6 billion more. The union’s new retiree health care trust would own a majority stake in Chrysler in exchange for helping the carmaker save $4.5 billion.

A summary given to union leaders said Fiat would ultimately own 35 percent and that 10 percent would be held by the government and Chrysler’s lenders, two people with direct knowledge of the deal said.

Chrysler would give the union a 55 percent stake to cut its obligations to
the health care trust in half, said these people, who spoke on condition of
anonymity because details of the agreement have not been released publicly.

The deal suspends cost-of-living pay increases, limits overtime pay and
reduces paid time off. It also eliminates dental and vision benefits for
retirees. It also provides for Fiat to begin building cars in at least one
Chrysler plant.

How Fiat - a foreign car company that hasn't sold cars in the US for 20 years - has benefitted from this largesse is beyond me. It's putting no $$ into this deal, and is receiving a US factory and dealer network in return at gov't expense. How is this fair to the taxpayers or to American interests?

The bondholders are essentially being dared to oppose this "deal" so that they can be the bad guys if GM or Chrysler go under. The union guys get all the sentiment and songs. John Sayles is never going to make a movie about noble bondholders standing up to corrupt union bosses. But, those union jobs are not going to be worth much if GM can't sell cars and can't get financing - two of the bedrock basics for any business to survive, but which the new stakeholders seem to consider superfluous details. If I were Ford, I would do everything I could to get out from under the cloud of the union and the gov't. Troubled times have come to their hometown.

Plutarch's Lives: Camillius

Camillius was a Roman general and politician who lived through a turbulent period of Roman history that saw Rome driven nearly to extinction by invasion from without and sedition from within. While not a particularly beloved figure, Camillius was the indispensable man of his era; the one to whom the Romans turned to again and again during their hours of peril. For his achievements in the battlefield and in the Forum, Camillius was known as the "second founder of Rome."

Camillius came from a Roman family of no distinction. He joined the army and gained early fame through displays of personal bravery on the battlefield during Rome's frequent wars. What set him apart from other soldiers early on, however, was his skill at securing peace after the turbulence at war. In one of his first initiatives as a politician, he vigorously worked to marry off war widows to new hsubands, and secured the financial care of war orphans.

What made Camillius' career, however, was his role in ending the siege of Veii, a Tuscan city that the Romans had been besieging for 7 years, and which was the equal of Rome in size and magnificence. While the Romans were at Veii, they were also beset by invasions from the Faliscans and Capetans. Camillius was first tasked with the job of ending those invasions, which he did. He was then given command of the army besieging Veii in the 10th year of the siege. Using a combination of frontal assaults and underground sapping operations, Camillius finally broke down the walls of Veii, and entered the city. While watching his men plunder the wealth of the Tuscans, Plutarch reports that Camillius wept and prayed that, should the visissitudes of fortune cause Rome to have to suffer for this triumph, that the weight of such a change in fortune would fall on his shoulders, rather than on that of Rome. Camillius' prayer would soon be answered.

Having conquered Veii., Camillius returned to Rome in triumph, and at the height of his personal power. He would soon lose that power in the tumult of Rome's dysfunctional politics. Camillius made a number of politically maladroit moves. He entered the city in a chariot drawn by four white horses, an honor reserved only for gods, and which no man before or after him claimed. Camillius then attempted to extract 10% of the plunder of Veii from each of the soldiers under his command, a demand he rescinded in the face of a near-mutiny, but not after losing the support of his own army.

Most important was his role in an odd controversy that dogged Camillius throughout his career: Rome's plebian class, which saw Rome as becoming increasingly crowded as its wealth and population grew, proposed to divide the population in half and send one-half to live in the now-abandoned city of Veii. Rome's patricians, including Camillius, hated this idea, as they did not like the idea of dividing Rome in two when Italy was still full of kingdoms that never ceased invading and ravaging Roman territory. The controvery was never fully resolved, but would flare up when the Roman people became restive. Camillius took the lead role in arguing against the proposal. He did so in such a vehement manner that he finally lost his political offices, and was formally exiled from Rome.

Almost as soon as Camillius went into exile, the Romans faced an invasion from a nwe enemy who would prove to be one of the recurring forces in Roman hisory: the Gauls. The Gauls invaded Italy for the first time, looking for plunder and land. They quickly headed towards Rome. The Romans organized an army to meet the Gauls, whom the Romans regarded as a barbaric rabble. Without Camillius' skills as a general, however, the Romans were as disorganized as the Gauls. The Roman army was defeated in battle and nearly destroyed, and Rome lay helpless before the Gauls. The Romans abandoned the city in a panic, taking even the vestal flame with them. Some priests and elderly patricians remained in the forum, seated on ivory chairs, where they were slaughtered by the Gauls. A few hardy souls fortified themselves at the top of the Capitoline Hill. The Gauls looted what was left behind, burned the city down, and then laid siege on the Capitoline hold-outs.

The fleeing Romans took up residence in Veii, and then sent for Camillius, whom they persuaded to return as their leader. Camillius led an army back to Rome where they found that the Gauls were in disarray. They had failed to take the Capitoline, but had been turned back by the small band of soldiers there, led by a man named Manlius. The Gauls had exhausted themselves plundering the surrounding countryside, and had been made sick by months of living among the ashes of Rome's burnt-out buildings. Camillius' army swept into Rome, and defeated the Gauls in a great slaughter.

Camillius then turned towards rebuilding Rome. He led the effort in relocating and rebuilding Rome's streets, while also making sure that the old Roman tombs and temples were placed properly. He ensured that the vestal flame was re-lit. He also tamped down the recurring controversy over moving back to Veii. For these efforts, Camillius became known as the second founder of Rome, as he had not only resuced Rome from the Gauls, but also rebuilt from the ashes to which it had been reduced.

Although these days saw Camillius in his glory, he never had a moment of repose. Rome continued to be subjected to repeated invasions, including one in which the Romans had to fend off three armies at once. The Gauls also invaded again. But this time, Camillius led the army against them and defeated the Gauls in a great slaughter. Pltarch states that, after this victory, the Romans developed a kind of fearlessness that lasted for generations, as they came to see themselves as able to defeat any foe in battle, even one that had previously conquered them.

While Camillius' military career was one triumph after another, his political career saw equal amounts of tumult arising from the simmering tensions between the patrician class and the plebian class. Camillius faced a seemingly endless array of rabble rousers who attempted to curtail or even overthrow the patricians and Camillius. The greatest threat came from Manlius, the hero from the siege of Capitoline, who ingratiated himself with the poor by promising to pay their debts should he be granted power. Manlius' sedition grew so dangerous that he was put on trial for treason, but it proved difficult to convict a man whom everyone agreed was a hero because the courts were located within sight of the Capitoline. Camillius solved this problem by relocating the trial to a place out of sight of the Hill, and Manlius was promptly convicted and sentenced to death. The Romans were masters of the ironic execution, so they executed Manlius by pitching him off of the Capitoline, the scene of both his greatest triumph and greatest shame.

Camillius never retired from public life, as the Romans always had an invasion or political controversy to contend with that only he could lead them out of. In one of his last political acts he faced a political rebellion led by Stolo, who demanded that one of the consuls be elected from the common people. At this time, Camillius was an old man with no desire to be exiled again. He laid down his offices, and Stolo was triumphant with one consul henceforth elected from the patricians and one from the commoners. In the short term, the patrician class was beset with laws intended to redistribute wealth, and prevent any oe person from owning more than 500 acres of land. However, Stolo himself was found to have violated this rule, was punished accordingly, and the era of radical egalitarianism came to an end.

Camillius was returned to office one last time. Again the issue of commoners being elected consul was raised. This time, however, Camillius led the effort to create a grand bargain between the commoners and the patricians to make permanent system of electing one patrician consul and one plebian consul. This finally created peace between the two factions who had fought throughout Camillius' career. Camillius led the construction of a temple of Concord to mark this occasion, which turned out to be Camillius' last public act. A year later he died in office from a plague that swept through Rome.

In a New York Fed Minute

The NY Times has a long semi-unflattering story about the Indispensable Man's tenure at the New York Fed, including choice exerpts from his calendar showing meetings, and even (horrors!) lunches with the powerful bankers he was regulating:Geithner, as Member and Overseer of the Finance Club

For all his ties to Citi, Mr. Geithner repeatedly missed or overlooked
signs that the bank — along with the rest of the financial system — was falling
apart. When he did spot trouble, analysts say, his responses were too measured, or too late.

In 2005, for instance, Mr. Geithner raised questions about how well Wall
Street was tracking its trading of complex financial products known as derivatives, yet he pressed reforms only at the margins. Problems with the risky and opaque derivatives market later amplified the economic crisis.

As late as 2007, Mr. Geithner advocated measures that government studies said
would have allowed banks to lower their reserves. When the crisis hit, banks were vulnerable because their financial cushion was too thin to protect against large losses.

In fashioning the bailout, his drive to use taxpayer money to backstop faltering firms overrode concerns that such a strategy would encourage more risk-taking in the future. In one bailout instance, Mr. Geithner fought a proposal to levy fees on banks that would help protect taxpayers against losses.

The bailout has left the Fed holding a vast portfolio of troubled securities.To manage them, Mr. Geithner gave three no-bid contracts to BlackRock, an asset-management firm with deep ties to the New York Fed.

There is a fine line beween preventing systemic risk and regulatory capture (is it like being captured by robots?), wherein the perspectives of the regulated become the perspectives of the regulators. In the Indispensable Man's case, the problem is not "capture," it's competence. The various emergencies he presided over, along with Paulson and Bernanke, - Bear Sternes, Lehman, AIG, the Reserve Fund, Fannie & Freddie, etc - arose through a combination of lax regulation and corporate insiders who were simply lying about the state of their firms right up to the moment they showed up on Friday afternoon to be rescued before the Monday markets opened. It wasn't until there was a full-bore crash that the regulators acted and by then it was too late.

I don't really care who had the Indispensable Man had lunch with. I care that his (and others') inaction has created a near infinite collection of liabilities for tax payers in a very short period of time, and that such liabilities show no sign of having alleviated the systemic risk that has been weighing down the economy.

Dems Say "No Way" on 1A

I have no prediction for the results of the special election meant to uphold the recent CA budget deal, but the indications are that a train wreck is slowly developing. I think we can count on GOP voters to turn out against the 6 propositions but a lot of Democratic and progressive interest group, including the SEIU and the teacher's unions have come out against them, too. Now the "grass roots" activists at the Dems' annual convention have refused to endorse some (but not all) of the propositions, including the linchpin 1A: Backers of 1A Fall Short of Democratic Party Endorsement

Delegates at the California Democratic Party convention on Sunday failed to endorse Proposition 1A, the measure Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature have sold as the lynchpin of the May 19 special election budget package.

The delegates voted 58 percent in favor of endorsing the measure, which would extend tax hikes and constrain future state spending. The measure fell short of the 60 percent needed for passage, after the party's resolutions committee had recommended support for the measure on Friday.

The vote came after heated debate all weekend, as union groups mobilized delegates against the measure and the legislative leadership pressed for support

I would assume they don't like the spending cuts in the proposition, as opposed to the tax increases which the GOP dislikes. Mostly, though, I'd say this is a signal that the rank-and-file from both parties are growing restless with the insiders who prefer lurching from crisis to crisis as they try to hold together a failing system, rather than make serious structural reforms on the spending AND tax sides. Certainly, the Dems' grass roots were unmoved by this pitiful bit of rabble rousing from a leading Guccicrat:

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, in a speech on the convention floor on Sunday, urged support for Proposition 1A. "Do not let the Democratic Party join forces with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association," Steinberg said, citing the anti-tax group that is also opposed to the measure.

Ooooo. Howard Jarvis! He might rise from the grave and rap you with his green eyeshade! That's supposed to scare people?

Then there's this comment that is so at odds with reality as to be delusional:

Willie Pelote, the political director of AFSCME, gave an impassioned closing speech calling 1A the "most dangerous thing that I've ever seen."

"We need to stand against Republican tyranny," said Pelote, blasting the concessions Republican lawmakers extracted during budget negotiations. California is one of several states to require a two-thirds majority to pass a budget

That's right. The GOP may not control the legislature, the bureaucracy, the courts, the state agencies, or even their own governator. But we remain tyrannical! No wonder we've got CA wriggling in our grasp. It's a Napoleon on Elba thing, I guess. Mwah-ha-ha!

"Willie," give me a break about Republican "tyranny." What is this, 1896? Are you being nailed to a cross of gold? Leave the DQ-ing to the Prop 8 guys.

Chairs Missing

Lots of commentary about Porter Goss's WaPo op-ed about the interrogation circus. Most commentors seem to want to focus on his oblique suggestion that Nancy Pelosi was well aware of the "enhanced interrogation" tactics that she is now decrying. I was more struck by this passage and wish our national conversation would shift towards this direction:Porter Goss: Security Before Politics

Since leaving my post as CIA director almost three years ago, I have remained largely silent on the public stage. I am speaking out now because I feel our government has crossed the red line between properly protecting our national security and trying to gain partisan political advantage. We can't have a secret intelligence service if we keep giving away all the secrets. Americans have to decide now.

That's exactly right. And right now, I would choose dismantling the CIA and then redistributing its parts and its few competent agents among the various branches of the DNI and Department of Defense. A stand-alone civilian intelligence service is simply incapable of conducting its business in a democracy, especially a democracy such as this where there are so many in the political and intellectual elite who clearly view civilian intelligence activities with hosility.

It's not that we can't have intelligence services; of course, we can. The Pentagon and NSA are more than capable of gathering useful intelligence, and then shutting the f*** up about it. I am sure there are all sorts of reasons why this might be, but surely military discipline plays a large part of this. The civilians at the CIA, on the other hand, are a national embarassment, seemingly incapable of keeping the most crucial secrets (remember that it was CIA leakers who originally told the world about rendition, enhanced interrogations, black sites, and the like). Not only that, there is a legal double-standard that virtually encourages CIA leaking. If you disclose Pentagon secrets, you run the very real risk of going to jail like Larry Franklin. But if you leak CIA secrets? Hell, you're a brave Warrior of Democracy exercising your First Amendment rights! Nice work, if you can get it.

Moreover, many of the CIA employees who have gained prominence in the post-9/11 era are a motley crew. Think of Larry Johnson, Bob Baer, Valerie Plame, or Michael Scheur. These are people who failed spectacularly at their jobs - finding Bin Laden, learning the extent of Iraqi WMD's, seeking out al-Quaeda plots - and yet they have been hailed for their blistering attacks on George Bush. Was he supposed to know something they didn't know? How about Ramsey Clark acolyte Ray McGovern, as wild eyed a leftist "American Empire" conspiracy theorist as you could find? This was the man who used to give the daily presidential briefing to Bush 41. Out of thousands of CIA employees, this freak was the one who talked to the president?

And things aren't getting better. As of 2007, the CIA has taken the position (again leaked to the press) that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. Really? Iran seems to think it's developing nukes. Imagine the leak-fest when Iran detonates a bomb and turns the balance of power in the Middle East upside down! Are we still going to be blaming George Bush then? That must be the plan. Why else would they be so confident?

I have this crazy fantasy that the CIA is an elaborate disinsformation operation, where we pretend to have a dysfunctional intelligence service that does nothing but leak fantasy facts to a credulous press, while the "real" CIA goes about its sinister business. Maybe Khalid Sheik Mohammed is actually a CIA "asset" whom we are making bulletproof through pretend stories about torture, when he's really living openly in Venice Beach (having shed his fat-suit) and chuckling over the irony of it all. But that is a fantasy. Harsh reality is that we have the worst of all worlds: (1) a hapless civilian intelligence agency incapable of keeping its secrets, (2) a helpless crew of security hawks who are so politically inept that they can't seem to win an argument against hysterics, (3) and a hopeless political left that believes that the North Pole is melting, but that America's enemies are little more than the literary creations of shadowy "neo-cons." We can only hope that someone, somewhere, is doing their job, even as the world grows increasingly mad.

Metal Machine Music

Lou Reed is temporarily returning to explore his mid-70's "Metal Machine Music" avante-gard roots, famously taped down for posterity in an infamous double-LP: Loe Reed's Group PLays at the Blender Theater

It was good to have this Lou Reed back: not an American Master nor a Legend of Rock, but a barking, brooding, beneficial irritant. On Thursday night at the Blender Theater at Gramercy, onstage between Sarth Calhoun and Ulrich Krieger, two much younger musicians, he was making noise — improvised, loud, heavily processed, and some of it ugly enough to make people leave

Although critics delight in calling MMM "noise," it is really of a piece with Brian Eno and David Bowie's contemporaneous ambient explorations. In Reed's, case MMM was a return to a sound he had pioneered as far back as 1966 with the Velvet Underground. That is, while the Beatles were going on about "Lovely Rita, Meter Maid," Lou was already making these sorts of droning doom-laden sounds.

Still, while Reed is due all praise for advanced thinking, the original MMM is hardly the outrageous break that its proponents believe it was. Although Reed was a middling pop star, he was also known at the time as the epitome of punk based avant-cool. Surely, Pat Metheney's "Zero Tolerance for Silence" from 1991 is a much more radical piece, given than Metheney had previously (and subsequently) shown little regard for extreme noise as a stylistic cue.

Reed, on the other hand, has always had his propensity for crazed sounds in the back of his (and his fans') minds. MMM and its occasional revivals (there was also a flurry of interest when it was released in CD) is as much a part of Reed's career as "Walk on the Wildside," although one that can be hard to fathom for his mainstream audience. Those of us who lurk in music's shadows, however, see this as the "real" Lou Reed, right along with his more hummable fare.

Provocative New Theory: the Devout are Rational and Thoughtful!

It's a reflection of how much bad faith exists in American politics and public debate that an academic study sympathetic to the Christian right as an organizational phenomenon would be described as "provoctive," but that is the world we live in: A Provocative Book About the Christian Right

If you wanted a book title to speed the pulse of liberal academics, journalists and politicians, you couldn’t do much better than “The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.” For many people that’s a title akin to “The Winning Ways of Serial Killers.”

The two leading arguments of the book, written by Jon A. Shields and published last month by Princeton University Press, are no less provocative.

“Many Christian-right organizations,” Mr. Shields writes, “have helped create a more participatory democracy by successfully mobilizing conservative evangelicals, one of the most politically alienated constituencies in 20th-century America.”

Well, actually that thesis, which the book supports with all the requisite tables and data about party identification, voter turnout, and political knowledge and activity, might be accepted by many of Mr. Shields’s fellow political scientists.

It is his second argument that is sure to stir cries of “No, no, no; impossible.”

“The vast majority of Christian-right leaders,” he writes, “have long labored to inculcate deliberative norms in their rank-and-file activists — especially the practice of civility and respect; the cultivation of dialogue by listening and asking questions; the rejection of appeals to theology; and the practice of careful moral reasoning.”

You mean Christian activists aren't all bug-f*** crazy "activists" like Eric Rudolph?! Who knew? Well, I did, and so do most fair minded people in the US. But most of the people who previously controlled the public discourse - the academy, the media, and the business & political elite - do NOT know this. To them "southern evangelical" still means "barefoot snake handler" and "Sarah Palin" is the cynical manipulator of ignorant rubes. In fact, it is these sorts of attitudes that gave rise to the so-called Christian Right in the first place. The social and moral concerns of the elites and the millions of practicing Christians in the US diverged decades ago. Worries about the sudden court expansion of abortion, gay rights, free speech for pornographers - which have come at the same time religious freedom in the form of school prayer and public displays have been officially curtailed - have not just been dismissed by much of the cultural and political elite; such worries have been rejected high-handedly. Is it any wonder that, having been rejected politically, the devout would band together to create political strength for themselves and their ideals? I would hope not.

NFL Draft Preview

Actually, this is not a real draft preview, as I have no idea who's going to be picked in what round by what team. This is merely my opportunity to note that I will be watching the draft fates of two players: Michael Oher and Pat White.

Oher is, of course, the subject of Michael Lewis' excellent "The Blindside," a hybrid sports book and socio-economic study. In the book, it is repeatedly expressed that Oher has the potential to be the greatest left tackle of all time. It doesn't appear that it has worked out this way. His college career was quiet, although that was undoubtedly due to his attending the mediocre Ole Miss, rather than LSU or Tennessee. Still, Oher is a good guy with a compelling life story. No matter where he ends up (and one of our local sports scribes has predicted he will end up on the 49'ers), I am sure he will have an interesting few years.

Pat White is the former quarterback for West Virginia, and another appealing guy; a tall skinny player who could be a hybrid quarterback, running back, and receiver. His credentials are pretty much impeccable - his leading WV to victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Feista Bowl was one of the great moments in sport in this decade - but, his size might doom him as a pro. But, like Oher, White has a ton of character and good will, which might take him farther than his diminutive size might indicate.

And, here's a story about another American original who found himself in football: Mel Kiper, the strangely compelling, old fashioned draft expert who should really be considered the Bill James of modern football: The NFL Draft is the Kiper Family Business

Gold Fever As Miracle Cure For Dollar Flu

Naked Capitalism links to a Financial Times article about China's stockpiling of gold as a way of diversifying away from the dollar: China reveals big rise in gold reserves

China has nearly doubled its gold reserves in the last five years as it
diversified its enormous foreign exchange reserves away from US dollar assets,
the head of the country’s secretive foreign exchange administration said in a
rare disclosure on Friday.

The country now holds 1,054 tons of gold, up from the 600 tons it last
disclosed in 2003, according to Hu Xiaolian, head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (Safe), which manages the country’s $1,954bn in foreign exchange reserves.

The spot gold price rose 1 per cent on Friday as investors saw the news as a
sign China will further increase its gold holdings as it continues to diversify
reserves away from the US dollar.

The pessimistic view is that this as an attack on US economic and political power: breaking news: China has been secretly stocking up on gold:

My analysis is this: The Chinese want to weaken the U.S.'s power derived through its currency status. They have been setting the stage to do so for some time. However, they want to act in a way that benefits them in the short- and long-term. Cutting loose in an uncontrolled fashion now benefits no one with the world economy in dire straits. However, when the economy does right itself, you should see some major changes in the currency markets.

Or, we could be getting out of the grip of China's unhealthy focus on holding our currency and acting as our creditor. It would perhaps also reduce the phenomena of oceans of money flowing around the world that was memorably described in Smick's "The World Is Curved."

Perhaps without intending to, the US has become too dependent on China's investments in US currency, equity, and debt as a means of funding our ever-expanding budget deficits. China is welcome to try to diminish US power by reducing the dollar's reserve status. However, doing so would harm China as much as it would hurt us. It is hard to imagine such a thing coming to pass without a major war or economic disruption as its proiximate cause.

4th Amendment Overload

Concurring Opinions asks a question that has been in the back of my mind for years: why do appellate courts and the Supreme Court hear so many 4th Amendment search and seizure cases? Has_the_fourth amendment jumped the shark?

One advantage of blogging is that I get to pose questions that have always bugged me. In light of the Supreme Court's activity this week, in which they handed down Arizona v. Gant (a case on warrantless car searches), and heard argument in Safford United School District v. Redding (a case about the strip-search of a teenage student), here's my question -- why does the Courttake so many Fourth Amendment cases?

Now I am not a Fourth Amendment scholar, so perhaps this just reflects a certain envy that the Justices don't take the cases that I'm interested in more often. But it's always struck me that most of the Fourth Amendment cases where certiorari is granted are pretty fact-intensive. Ordinarily, you wouldn't think they would be good candidates for Supreme Court attention, even in the presence of a circuit split.

The obvious reason for this is that 4th Amendment cases arise in criminal cases; and, if there is one thing the US is capable of producing in great numbers, it is criminal cases. Moreover, modern 4th Amendment jurisprudence is a product of the Sixties civil rights movement, and the attorneys and litigants who bring such cases often see themselves as protecting the gains of that era.

Still, the basic point that there is a surfeit of 4th Amendment cases is a valid one. The average American could be forgiven for thinking that most of the Supreme Court's docket deals with cases arising from the 1stAmendment, 4th Amendment, and 14th Amendment with special emphasis on religious monuments, abortion, and gay rights. While these issues are interesting and touch on active social controversies, they also diminish other constitutional issues that may come up simply by drowning them out in the public consciousness. While the public is often focused on their political and civil liberties, the Court often hands down decisions that impact our economic liberties without a ripple of interest (the "Kelo" decision being a notable exception). Questions of federalism and states' rights receive even less attention, even though such decisions can grant the federal government sweeping powers to legislate at the expense of the states' ability to do so.

In addition, the debates surrounding 4th Amendment cases have become as choreographed and taped down as a Bob Fosse dance number. There has eveolved an annual ritual in which the Court hands down a decision on some obscuranist question of whether the police should have patted down a coat or a shirt, which is quickly denounced/hailed by a hectoring Alan Dershowitz type on the one hand and a jut jawed Nancy Grace type on the other. It's always a "crushing loss"/"vast expansion" of civil rights that will "destroy minority neighborhoods"/"make us all less safe." Blah Blah.

The reality is that, while modern 4th Amendment jurisprudence can strike laymen as being finely detailed, it is actually quite user friendly. This is so that it can be applied by the police on the one hand, and defended against by jailhouse lawyers on the other. The cases themselves are often the playthings of civil liberties organizations like the ACLU, which seem to delight in bringing such cases to prevent the dark cloud o fascism from descending upon the US (but always fails to land). If anything, the large number of 4th Amendment cases is to protect what is a functioning system from being nitpicked to death.

Paternity Wars: Attack of the Clones

We had previously discussed the successful paternity suit that a woman brought against the President of Paraguay, who fathered a child while serving as a Catholic bishop. Now, a third child has surfaced. Wait, where did the second come from? Woman: Paraguay's Lugo has Third Child

The latest woman to claim a child with Lugo is a 39-year-old divorcee with
two adult children who said she met Lugo three years ago, after he gave up his
church leadership position. And while the two other women are pursuing paternity
claims, she says has no plans to sue the president.

Unbelieveable. Lugo was a noisily Leftist "priest" throughout his career. I have to wonder about the sincerity of his religious faith, as his adherence to Catholic teaching was non-existent. Has anyone asked him if he even believes in God?

The third woman, for her part, seems to have loved him for his skills as a community organizer:

"I fell in love because as a man, he is phenomenal. He is charismatic. He was
my ideal of a man and social-political leader," Moran told Channel 4 television.
"I do not need money or his last name for the child, because I can support my
family. I am the owner of a child day care center and have plenty of work."

Blah Blah Blah. Lugo stands revealed as yet another Leftist, "marching through the institutions," weakening them from within while aggrandizing his own political power. In this case, he was willing to trade on the religious faiths, not just of his parishoners, but also of his lovers. No one seems concerned about how a such a fabulous "social political leader" could also father and abandon children like a petty feudal baron lording it over his serfs. Some would call that hypocracy, but he did it for The Cause, so everything's cool. While Progressives have forever proclaimed themselves to be the vanguard of the future, they never fail to reveal themselves to be the proponents of political and personal arrangements that are older than recorded history.

Your Hill To Die On

I don't normally go in for this "People Magazine" stuff, but the Miss California-Perez Hilton spat over gay marriage counts as local news since it involves California's reigning Beauty Queen: Hilton, Miss California take Sides On "Today"

Miss California says she stands by her anti-gay-marriage comments, even if
they may have cost her the Miss USA Crown.

I don't take back what I said," she told Lauer, adding that she "had spoken
from my heart, from my beliefs and for my God."

"It's not about being politically correct," she said. "For me, it's about
being biblically correct."

Agree with her or not, I think you have to give her credit for planting her feet and stating what she believes, an embarassingly rare thing these days. Hilton, meanwhile, was not taking this lying down:

Hilton, who also appeared on the "Today" show Tuesday, said his question was
relevant and that Prejean should have "left her politics and her religion out
because Miss USA represents all Americans."

That simply makes no sense. "All Americans" don't agree with Hilton's position on gay marriage. In fact, a majority has rejected gay marriage in most states where it has been put to a vote. What he is really saying is she should just shut up and smile. Wouldn't that have once been considered sexist and chauvanist?

Gay marriage does seem to have the support of the courts, but I would challenge Hilton to read, say, the California Supreme Court's decision establishing gay marriage as a fundamental right and explain the Court's reasoning. He can't, of course. He would rather make snotty comments about "hate." That's much more easy to understand. But, if gay marriage's most public proponents are going to be Gavin "gay marriage is coming whether you like it or not" Newsom and the personally and philosophically ugly Perez, then gay marriage still has a long way to go before it has culture and political acceptance to go along with its legal acceptance.

The Rise of the Machines

SF Mayor Gavin Newsom has officially announced that he is runnning for the Democratic nomination for governor. Newsom Declares for governor in High Tech Style

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom formally declared his 2010 campaign for
California governor Tuesday with a tech-savvy approach - simultaneous
announcements on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube - and a message of "generational" change aimed at the influential young "millennial" voters who helped elect President Obama.

I don't want to comment on Newsom's prospects now. But, spare me the puffery about his "tech savvy" approach. Making announcements via Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube is not "tech savvy" - did Newsom set up his accounts on these services? Maybe, but it's not hard - it's media savvy. Media savvy politicos are a dime a dozen, and that's what Newsom is. There's no disgrace in that, but the idea that he has some special "tech" insight is at odds with reality. Newsom has been a restauranter and politician. Those are his areas of expertise. He has never exhibited any special insights about "tech" beyond making use of services created by others. Why do I feel like we are never going to stop hearing about this supposed "tech savvy" as a major selling point?

Local Boy Makes Bad

Inevitably, the animal-rights activist who was placed on the FBI's most wanted list is from the Bay Area: Animal Rights Activist on FBI Terror List?

The FBI added an alleged animal rights bomber from Sonoma County to its
list of "Most Wanted" terror suspects Tuesday, underscoring the agency's
increasing focus on such activists by lining him up next to Osama Bin Laden and
22 other Islamic extremists.

Daniel Andreas San Diego, 31, a former resident of tiny Schellville who is
believed by authorities to be hiding out in Costa Rica, is the first domestic
terror suspect to be added to a list that officials created a month after the
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
San Diego is accused of detonating pipe bombs in
2003 at a pair of firms, Chiron Corp. in Emeryville and Shaklee Corp. in
Pleasanton. No one was hurt in the early morning attacks, though the FBI
contended Tuesday that San Diego "intended to cause serious injury or

The San Francisco Bay Area, where keepin' it real means keepin' it wrong.

Torture Truth

This essay by George Friedman at Stratfor crystalizes what I think of the Renault-esque "torture" debate we are having: Torture_and_u_s_intelligence_failure

The endless argument over torture, the posturing of both critics and
defenders, misses the crucial point. The United States turned to torture because it has experienced a massive intelligence failure reaching back a decade. The U.S. intelligence community simply failed to gather sufficient information on al Qaeda’s intentions, capability, organization and personnel. The use of torture was not part of a competent intelligence effort, but a response to a massive intelligence failure.

That failure was rooted in a range of miscalculations over time. There was the public belief that the end of the Cold War meant the United States didn’t need a major intelligence effort, a point made by the late Sen. Daniel Moynihan. There were the intelligence people who regarded Afghanistan as old news. There was the Torricelli amendment that made recruiting people with ties to terrorist groups illegal without special approval. There were the Middle East experts who could not understand that al Qaeda was fundamentally different from anything seen before. The list of the guilty is endless, and ultimately includes the American people, who always seem to believe that the view of the world as a dangerous place is something made up by contractors and bureaucrats.

Our sprawling intelligence services are one of the many American institutions that have simply ceased to function properly. This is not just because of funding cuts or a liberal approach to law enforcement and war that instinctively wants to hamstring US power. It is also because of the services themselves, which cultivated an air of omniscence, even as they hunkered down in the DC suburbs and issued intelligence reports that were easily contradicted by commonly available sources, and even common sense. After completely missing 9/11 and declaring WMD's in Iraq to be a "slam dunk," we are now told (as of the last NIE) that Iran is not developing nukes. Does anyone outside of the CIA and the State Department believe this? Surely, the exemplar for the "modern" CIA is Valerie Plame, a middle-class suburban matron whose "spy" career was largely spent driving through the front gates of CIA headquarters every morning, where she helped lead the disastrous WMD team.

CIA apologists have fretted that Obama's release of the torture memo will cause "good people" to leave the CIA. The good people left long ago. I would love it if the deadwood resigned en masse over this suposed betrayal, but they won't. Like UAW members clinging to their over-priced union jobs in dying car maunfacturers, today's CIA employee is a comfortable bureaucratic lifer whiling out his days in Northern Virginia, producing (and leaking) reports with little bearing in reality. The illusions that they create are a far greater danger than the threats we face, as we focus on the CIA's fantasies, rather than harsh reality.

The Surveillance State's Bridge Too Far

I was under the impression that the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program was to be used so we could uncover dastardly al-Queda plots. So what was the NSA doing listening to a sitting congresswoman discussing Israeli lobbyists? Lawmaker Is Said to Have Agreed to Aid Lobbyists

One of the leading House Democrats on intelligence matters was overheard on telephone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency agreeing to seek lenient treatment from the Bush administration for two pro-Israel lobbyists who were under investigation for espionage, current and former government officials say.

The lawmaker, Representative Jane Harman of California, became the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee after the 2002 election and had ambitions to be its chairwoman when the party gained control of the House in 2006. One official who has seen transcripts of several wiretapped calls said she appeared to agree to intercede in exchange for help in persuading party leaders to give her the powerful post.
OK, so these guys asked for help and Harmon ... agreed to help them. Did money change hands? Doesn't look like it, although someone did promise to withhold money from Nancy Pelosi. I assume that the "scandal" would be that Harmon was offered help to obtain a committee chairmanship. How could this be different from the sort of backscratching that is common in obtaining committee assignments?

Given the changes in fashion the last few years, I have a feeling there are at least two things that Harmon will be considered to have done wrong: (1) helped Israel and (2) helped cover up the wiretapping program. In fact, Alberto Gonzalez appears to have intervened in the NSA's Harmon investigation with the second goal in mind:
The CQ article, citing unnamed present and former national security officials, said a preliminary review was halted by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales because he wanted Ms. Harman’s support in dissuading The New York Times from running an article disclosing a program of wiretapping without warrants conducted by the National Security Agency.
It's really a toss-up as to whether Alberto Gonzaez or Henry Paulson were the worst Bush appointees. Paulson was probably the more destructive, but Gonzalez was simply stupid. I would like to think anyone else would have washed their hands of this, rather than head straight into a cover-up. Not that this lets the intelligence community off the hook. What the hell was the NSA (and CIA, according to the original CQ story) doing wiretapping a congresswoman? Was the FBI busy that week? Was there even a warrant? The intelligence community's transition from spying on al-Queda to spying on Americans may well have broken a land speed record for abuse of power.

The Japanese! Those sandal wearing goldfish tenders?

Here's an interesting short essay by Bill Costello, an American education advocate who visited a Japanese school and came away impressed: Rising Sons

Japan has outperformed the U.S. in math and science on several international assessments of educational achievement. For example, the average math achievement score for 15-year-old Japanese students was 523 on the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).American students only scored 474. In science, Japanese students outperformed American students 531 to 489.

The Japanese school system is teaching math and science to students more effectively than the American school system, and it still has enough resources left over to implement a social curriculum, offer healthy food, and allow students to stay physically active during the school day. These are all great practices that American schools should consider borrowing.

Unlike most Americans, I have some experience with the Japanese school system, as I was lucky enough to attend a Japanese school for three years (my brother and I were the only non-Japanese kids there, except for one kid with a Japanese father and Dutch mother). They are superior in many ways. However, this is often due to Japanese culture and society, which is much more homogenous than America's and much more confident about what kids should or should not be learning in school.  

For one thing, Japanese schools don't have to deal with kids with substance abuse or mental health problems on the scale that every single American high school has to deal with. They also don't have to deal with large numbers of non-native speaking students; everyone at a Japanese school is Japanese and is there to learn to read and write Japanese. There's no equivalent in Japan to the "bi-lingual" education advocates in the US. Japanese parents tend to take their kids' education much more seriously than American parents. Tutoring and after-school education programs are available on a mass scale in Japan. Most kids attend juku - Saturday private schools that supplement the main school curriculum. And, frankly, Japanese home life is much more stable and conducive to learning than in the US, where parents are likely to be single parents, divorced parents, or have substance abuse/mental health issues of their own. 

Costello points to some things that would be worth trying in US schools, but it's hard to imagine their being adopted on a grand scale: 
First, Kadena Elementary has a social curriculum in addition to an academic curriculum. For example, the students clean the school every day by themselves; there is no janitor. They sign up for chores on the blackboard.
Also, the students serve the school lunch to the teachers and themselves; there are no cafeteria workers. After lunch, the students clean up after themselves.
Hah! Can you imagine the high school drop out rate if American students had to start cleaning the school? And, even if they did, can you imagine some parents letting their Precious Little Dears do that? I can't. Not only that, I would imagine most US school systems have a janitors union that might have some unkind words for this arrangement. 
The second practice I observed that worked well is that the students eat a healthy diet. There are no soda vending machines at Kadena Elementary. The school lunch is planned by a dietician and prepared at a central location in the school's district. It is then delivered daily to every elementary school, middle school, and high school in the district. Japanese schools do not have cafeterias. Students eat lunch in the classroom with their homeroom teacher.
No argument from me. US school food is famously disgusting and unhealthy. Not only that, the school cafeteria is right up there with the boys' locker room as an incubator for "Lord of the Flies" style social arrangements. 
Third, the students stay active at Kadena Elementary. They have recess every day and participate in a rigorous physical exercise program. In contrast, American schools are cutting back or completely eliminating recess and physical education
Is that true? Are American schools really cutting back on Phys Ed? Because, if they are, it's about time. I never understood how the learning process is improved by forcing kids to change into gym uniforms, and then wear themselves down running laps. 

You know what's the one thing they do in Japan schools that we should adopt in the US immediately? Change the length of time spent on vacation. Japan's school year is a little longer than ours, but vacations are spread out in a much more rational manner. Rather than a 3 month summer vacation, Japanese kids take 6 weeks off in winter, and six weeks off in summer. The vast and endless 12-week void that is the American summer vacation is based on a 19th century school year, which needed to work around the harvest schedule. That is, uh, no longer operative, but it persists for the same reason Robert Byrd keeps getting re-elected to the Senate: inertia and laziness. The Japanese vacation schedule is better for making sure kids retain what they learn, and keeps them in "school" mode for the whole of the year, rather than 9 months. This isn't a panacea. It won't raise GPA's (much). But it would make kids' school year much more rational and conducive to learning. 

The Squid and the Whale Attack

The bad economy has impacted the indie film industry for all sorts of reasons, but one is left unstated: Indie Films Suffer Drop-Off in Rights Sales
For decades, independent movie producers in the U.S. have routinely been able to fund their films by selling the rights to distribute them abroad. If the production featured a big-name actor or director, the rights were often sold before the movie was finished, providing producers with 50% or more of their production budget.
But today, due to factors ranging from the credit crunch to burgeoning online piracy, even the biggest names aren't always enough to sell an American film abroad.
They forgot to mention another problem, which is that indie films have sucked the last few years. It's hard to pinpoint when this happened (the release of the "Royal Tennanbaums?"), "Indie" movies have gone from entertainments like "Pulp Fiction" and "O, Brother, Where Art Thou" to depressive academic works like "The Squid and the Whale." 

Not only that, the whole notion of "indie" has been co-opted by the studios. "Independent" has come to represent a particular style, rather than an effort to make art outside of the studio system. If your movie has Johnnie Depp in it, it really shouldn't be called independent, simple as that. 

Plutarch's Lives: Themistocles

Themistocles (T) was famous as Athens' political leader during the second Persian invasion of Greece, which included the Battles of Thermpolae and Salamis. Like Churchill, T was a war-time leader who could motivate the Athenians to endure hardship and sacrifice in a war in which they faced overwhelming odds against a tyrannical foe. Also like Churchill, T was not particularly well loved by the voters, and he was quickly turned out of office and exiled soon after the great emergency passed. While a visionary leader, T was also an arrogant rascal with a hint of corruption about him. Born poor, he died wealthy, despite spending virtually his entire career in public service. T was also not above passing bribes or faking prophesies and portents to accomplish his goals. His was an ambiguous legacy. Nonetheless, he is an exemplar for the Great Man theory in that, in a time of crisis, he came to the fore to lead his people to victory and glory. 

T was born in obscurity to a poor father who was not even an Athenian (!), but came from an outlying village. T's ambitions and talents were such that he quickly ingratiated himself with Athenian aristocracy. Like many men of humble birth, he first made his mark in athletic contests, persuading some young aristocrats to join him at the wrestling ring at Cynosarges. T also began a rigorous course of study in rhetoric, philosophy, and politics in preparation for a political career that he dreamed of even as a child. While other young men studied more genteel arts, T pursued sagacity and wisdom. In later years when people joked at his inability to play the lute, he would retort that this was true, but that he had the ability to take any obscure city-state and make it glorious.

After completing his studies, T embarked on his political career, immediately aiming for the highest offices he could attain. T's greatest skill was in the art of persuasion, by which he moved the Athenian masses and aristocracy to accede to initiatives that were often inimical to their short-term benefit. T's earliest success came with his creation of Athens' naval power. Before T, Athens had been a land-based power focused on agriculture. While this served the insular Athenians well, T noted that the most powerful Greek city-state was Aegenita, which flourished through international trade and maintained military supremacy through its navy, rather than its army. T saw that Athens' future glory lay on the sea, rather than on the land. He also saw - in the post-Marathon era - that Athens could better defend itself on water than on land. 

T was alone in trying to establish the Athenian navy. He had to overcome philosophical hurdles - the Old Guard saw Athens very character as defined by the land, and never forgave T for turning Athens to the sea - and practical: navies are expensive. To pay for the navy, T had to use the proceeds from Athens' silver mines, which had previously been distributed among the populace. T thus had to persuade the Athenians to sacrifice their annual silver payments for the seemingly ephemeral goal of obtaining naval supremacy for the sake of trade, rather than their preferred mode of rural living. He also had to persuade them to prepare to meet their rivals in war at sea, rather than on land, even though Athens greatest glories had been obtained in combat between standing armies. 

It is a testament to T's political skills that he was able to accomplish all of this at a relatively young age. T was and remained a controversial figure in Athens after this. Many believed he had changed Athens' essential character by resorting to the ocean. T did not help matters through his own arrogant behavior. Throughout his life T enjoyed making great displays of his wealth, especially in public events such as the Olympics and the annual playwriting contests. This caused him to be the object of great envy and annoyance by persons at all levels of Athenian society, which did not bode well for his future prospects. 

The invasion of Greece by Xerxes quickly brought T back to the fore in Athenian affairs. T was not a warrior, but he was a great war-time leader. On the one hand, T had to hold together a fractious coalition of Greek city-states, which often fought at cross purposes, and even made separate treaties with the Persians. On the other, he had to quell his own people, who became panicked with the increasing reports of sacked Greek cities drew closer, and who would have preferred to rush into action, rather than resort to the sea. T instead wanted the Athenians to abandon the city and escape to the island of Salamis, where he believed the navy would be better capable of fighting Xerxes on an equal footing. To persuade the Athenians to abandon 
the city, T resorted to every stratagem in the realpolitik bag of tricks, including the manipulation of temple priests to suggest that the gods had already fled to Salamis. T also bribed certain of his naval commanders to keep his rag-tag navy together. While T's actions were inarguably necessary under the circumstances, they only added to his bad reputation, and came back to haunt him when peace returned. 

The Athenians moved en masse to Salamis, and the Greek and Persian navies faced off in the narrow straights. The story of the Battle of Salamis with the smaller Greek ships sinking the much larger Persian ones while Xerxes watched from the heights is one of the great tales from the ancient world. But, while the Persians were defeated in battle, they did not lose the war at that time. Xerxes army still had the ability to ravage Greece. T wanted to send the navy to the Hellespont to destroy the Persians' bridge into Greece, but cooler heads pointed out that this would only make the Persians fight more desperately and destructively. Instead, the Greek's arranged to have a message "accidentally" fall into the hands of the Persians that would make them think this was the plan. When Xerxes heard that the bridge might be destroyed, he ordered a general retreat, rather than continue his costly invasion. 

In the immediate aftermath of the war, T established the Athenian port of Piraeus and began construction of the wooden walls between Athens and the port. T also traveled around Greece assisting other city-states in the reconstruction of their defenses. He also took a leading role in the council of the Amphictyonians, where all of the city-states came together in a sort of pan-Greek assembly. While T was doing this, his leadership in Athens came under increased attack as his political enemies attacked T's ethics and governing style. T did not help matters by responding to these attacks by arrogantly reminding the Athenians of his past glories in an increasingly haughty manner. 

Eventually, the Athenians voted to banish T, a common event in the careers of many of Athens' leading citizens. In T's case, his exile became permanent after he was falsely implicated in an obscure intrigue against the government. T made his way to Asia Minor, which was then ruled by the Persians, where T threw himself on the mercy of Xerxes (or Xerxes' son. Plutarch admits the historians were divided on this question), reminding him that - although he had led the Athenians in defeating the Persian invasion, he had also contrived the strategem that allowed the Persian army to escape. T had to use his entire bag of rhetorical devices, but they proved enough. The Persian king granted T the wealth of 5 cities as a show of gratitude for T's "service" to the Persians. The Athenians never forgave this, of course, and neither have classical historians.

T thus lived out his day in luxury and repose. The only condition was that he would have to assist the Persian king if the Greeks ever presented a problem in the future. T seems to have assured the king that he would do so. However, when the Greeks induced Egypt to rebel against Persian rule, the king came for T and demanded that T come to him to help   strategize against the Greeks. Rather than submit to this order, and forever sully his name, T gathered his friends for one last meal, at the end of which he drank bull's blood (mmmmmm) and died a suicide. The king admired T even more after this and continued to support T's children and friends in a splendid manner. 

As T was controversial in his lifetime, he was controversial in death. Plutarch relates several stories about the location of T's tomb. He states that the Persians T lived among erected a sepulchre in  their main square, where T's progeny continued to live and prosper. Many in the ancient world believed that the Greeks had robbed the tomb and scattered T's aches, but Plutarch states that these stories were merely rhetorical flourishes inserted into Greek tragedies about T's sons. It was also widely believed that T was buried on a promontory overlooking Piraeus where he could overlook the teeming harbor of galleys and merchants whose very existence at that place was due to T's vision and leadership. Plutarch relates that this is told in the authoritative book on Tombs by Diodorus, but admits that it is a theory based on conjecture, not evidence. Plutarch also relates that the honors shown to T in Persia were still extant in his lifetime, such that an acquaintance of his from Athens - also named Themistocles - was able to take advantage of them. 

Paying for Climate Change

Modern "green" consciousness hit the mainstream just three years ago with the release of "An Inconvenient Truth," but proponents of the theory that we must make drastic changes in our economy and lifestyles are ascendent and are acting as if they believe they have captured the zeitgeist. Berkeley's "sustainability coordinator" has determined that Berkeley's residential housing stock is a direct cause of global warming and climate change, and is preparing to order homeowners to rehabilitate their homes. Incredibly, they have even attached a price tag to this effort: Hot debate ahead on Berkeley's energy plans

The classic Berkeley home - a creaky Victorian with drafty windows, a Wedgewood stove and musty furnace - will undergo a drastic makeover under the city's aggressive new plans to fight global warming.

Within the next few years, the city is likely to mandate that all homes meet strict energy standards. In many cases this would mean new double-paned windows, insulation in the attic, walls and floors, a new white roof that reflects heat, a forced-air furnace and high-efficiency appliances.

The cost: upward of $33,800.

$33,800! Hey, what are you going to do? "The science is settled," right? And, while progressives make a big show of being cool and groovy, they are ready to bring the hammer down sooner, rather than later:

Under the proposal, all homeowners in Berkeley will be required to hire an energy auditor to inspect their home for leaks and inefficiencies.

Each home will receive a rating, similar to a car's gas- mileage rating. The owner will be required to improve the home's energy efficiency to meet city standards.

In the beginning, the city will offer incentives, such as rebates and financial assistance, for homeowners to comply. But within a few years, the city will start imposing penalties for those who don't meet the standards, said Timothy Burroughs, the city's climate action coordinator.

"Climate Action Coordinator?" That's a job? Indeed, it is. And he will make sure that YOU hire someone to come "inspect" your house to determine how many thousands of dollars you need to spend to "save the earth" when even Emeryville, not to mention China and India, are doing nothing comparable. Feel safe, yet?

"We want to emphasize that this is in people's interest," he said. "If we're serious about reducing our emissions, it's only possible if virtually every building achieves significant improvements in energy efficiency."

The People! Yes! They must be made to pay their tithes!

The idea that you can "stop climate change" with double pane glass, and by sealing draughts is pure magical thinking. It certainly won't make Berkeley a more pleasant place to live. While the stereotype of Berkleyites is that of either students or Puppies (Progressive Urban Professionals), there are plenty of regular folks living there are well, some from the Left's supposed favored classes: public sector employees, non-profits, blue collar workers, minorities, seniors on fixed incomes. Asking them to pay thousands to treat an ephemeral problem is almost tyrannical. It is certainly inequitable.  

I have no idea how people will react to this enforced expenditure of their money. Given the high levels of conformity and apathy, I'd say it's 50-50 that most will meekly acquiesce, while griping about the "thems" who oppress them, rather than their actual political leaders who do the oppressing. 

The West Coast of France

The latest unemployment figures for California are not what you would call encouraging:State unemployment rate highest since 1941
The state unemployment rate soared to 11.2 percent in March, the highest since before World War II, leaving a record 2.1 million Californians out of work, according to a report issued Friday.
Employment Development Department spokeswoman Patti Roberts said the March figure surpasses the 11 percent rate that occurred during the 1980s recession and brings California close to the jobless level of January 1941, when unemployment stood at about 11.7 percent.
The rate here in the Bay Area is slightly better - at least it's keeping pace with the national average:

The Bay Area job market remained slightly better than the state average in March. But local rates continued to rise even in the San Francisco metropolitan area, which has been among the state's most resilient job markets.

Unemployment in the three-county metropolitan zone made up of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties rose to 8.5 percent in March.

I would say that matches my observations. The Bay Area isn't exactly a maelstrom of economic activity, but the bars and restaurants still fill up on the weekends, the tourists are coming back, and the highways in the East Bay are filled with trucks bringing goods in and out of the Port of Oakland. Still, it's clear that the rest of California is suffering. 

This again raises the question of what the hell is going on in Sacramento. The state's economic situation is as bad as it's ever been, and yet our political class is raising taxes, expanding government and going forward with expensive boondoggles like high speed rail. No one seems to spend a lot of time worrying about protecting and creating jobs. Quite the opposite. The legislation that is being pushed most enthusiastically - whether "green" legislation, tax increases, or water rationing - are job killers. The pace of economic activity in California outside of the public sector and Silicon Valley has been steadily declining over the past 6 years. Even movie making has declined with just 33% of Hollywood's films being made here - down from 66%. 

There is a real disconnect between California's political troubles and its economic problems. The political class seems to fear offending interest groups - especially public employee unions  - that are feeding off the state budget, more than they fear (or even consider) the interests of voters who don't belong to a class of special pleaders. The upcoming special election to pass the tax increases and budget changes that were negotiated two months ago (vote "NO" on all of them, please) should be a good test of voters' willingness to go along with a system that has failed and is no longer serving the long-term interests of the state. 

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