Cover Me

It's time for the annual Bill Clinton cover story accompanied by an absolutely hideous cover photo:

The Mellowing of William Jefferson Clinton

There is so much wrong with that picture, starting with the hot pink tie and moving on to the pasty white skin and oddly compressed lips. The story itself is a positive one, discussing how he has "adjusted" to life outside of the presidency and now outside of the Obama White House. It features all of the elements you expect from Clinton puff-pieces: Bill travels the world! He has a foundation! He hangs out with Ron Burkle! John Podesta and Rahm Emmanual offer supportive quotes! He's "slowing down" after all of his heart troubles! He was the "first black president!" He goes to Davos! He talks to Putin late into the night!

The cover photo belies all of this. It shows an uncertain, foppish, aging boomer with a hint of the suspect in his eyes. Clinton has created a bit of a cottage industry of bad cover photos over the years, including the infamous 'crotch-shot' for "Esquire" which managed to make him look like a smug satyr, even as his apologists claimed the photographer was trying to evoke the Lincoln Memorial. Uh, I knew Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was a friend of mine. Bill...

bill clinton man at his best

The funny thing is: when Republican politicians are saddled with lousy photos, it is assumed it's a deliberate act of professional vandalism by media hostiles (remember the photo of John McCain that ran on the cover of the "Atlantic" last year?). But, in Clinton's case, they are actually trying to take a good picture! And, yet they never succeed.

The Clinton marketing team has always emphasized that Bill is this scary-smart moderate who saved the world from the unspeakable likes of Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole. Stories like this NY Times magazine piece perpetuate this basic message. And yet, it is easily undercut by the man himself, who can't even sit for a decent portrait.

Cookie-ized Debt Swaps

The recently passed era of Rule by Hedge Fund was so corrupt, so heedless, so destructive of old-fashioned values (business and personal) that it infected the very cookies we ate, even the venerable Mother's Cookies: Oh, No! What Happened to Archway Cookies?

He knew things had been bad — daily reports he had been monitoring for six months showed that cookie sales at the company had been dismal. But the financial data he was looking at showed much more robust sales.

“Where on earth had all of these sales come from?” Mr. Roberts recalls thinking to himself.

Tired, but intrigued, he began digging through orders and shipping and inventory records until, well after midnight, he reached the conclusion that Archway, based in Battle Creek, Mich., was booking nonexistent sales.

He reasoned that sham transactions allowed Archway, which was owned by a private-equity firm, Catterton Partners, to maintain access to badly needed money from its lender, Wachovia. Mr. Roberts’s investigation eventually caused Wachovia to pull its financing lines, helping to push Archway into bankruptcy last fall. Two other food companies picked off much of its assets earlier this year for $42 million and are churning out the brands’ cookies

Like many cash cows across the US, Mother's Cookies was a decades-old family owned business that had been plugging away making and selling a good product (Mother's is HUGE in the Bay Area). But, its owners sold out, first to the $$ of an international food conglomoerate and then to the sinister world of "private equity," where cookies necessarily take a backseat to collecting annual bonuses. It takes a special kind of scum to run an accounting fraud at a cookie company. Note that the bank they were trying to fool was Wachovia. Is it any wonder it failed? Frauds like this were probably all over its books.

The barbarians at the gates in the cookie business were also not above ripping off Archway/Mother's local distributors:

BY late 2007, Scott Gallagher, an independent distributor, was drowning in cookies, as Archway force-fed him more than he could possibly sell. It had begun with some mild incentives — payments of $1 a case for ordering additional product — before Archway stopped offering incentives entirely and just allotted more cookies to distributors nationwide.

For Mr. Gallagher, who had been a distributor in the Denver, area since 2000, it all seemed to involve a lot of hocus-pocus.

“Normally I would have $4,000 of product physically sitting in my truck, but they were charging me for $14,000 worth of cookies. Cookies that didn’t exist,” Mr. Gallagher said. “They went from doing this at the end of the quarter to doing it every six weeks.”

They also saw no reason why they couldn't cut costs by using cheaper ingredients. Yeah, who'll notice?

Some also believe that Archway altered its recipes or ingredients. Mr. Gallagher, the distributor, said that as time went on, he ended up having to eat a lot of cookies that he couldn’t sell. “I noticed, over time, they were getting worse and worse.”

Mr. Zinzer is more blunt: “Our cookies turned to crap. They were nowhere near
as good as they used to be.”

As one of the bitter local distributors said, the private equity guys would step over a quarter to save a penny. It just shows that all the MBA's and cash in the world won't help you put together the business alchemy needed to do something seemingly as simple as bake cookies. You don't need much in the way of brains to set up a successful cookie concern. We're talking about industrial baking here. But, you pretty much need a degree from an Ivy League Masters program to ruin decades-old companies like Archway and Mother's Cookies in as short a time as the Masters of the Universe did.

Strike The Tent

It's the end of an era that never began: Time warner to Spin Off AOL

Time Warner Inc. is dumping AOL after spending nearly a decade trying to build a new-age media empire only to wind up in a weaker position than when the marriage began.

The divorce, announced Thursday, will spin out AOL as a separate company run by former Google Inc. advertising executive Tim Armstrong. He was hired in March to try to restore the luster to a brand once known as America Online.

Although AOL has been eclipsed by Google and other Internet stars, Armstrong still can try to build on a wide-reaching online ad network as well as AOL's Web sites, which remain a relatively big draw.

Time Warner owns 95 percent of AOL and will buy out Google's 5 percent stake during the third quarter for an undisclosed amount. From there, AOL — which has about 7,000 employees — will be spun off into a separate publicly traded company around the end of the year.

The merger itself wasn't the problem. It made a sort of sense for a media company to purchase an internet portal to which it could promote and distribute its content. What made AOL-Time Warner absurd was (1) the price paid ($147 billion!!!) and (2) the fact that AOL was the buyer. This was the height of New Economy/New Media hype when otherwise reasonable adults seemed to believe the normal rules of economics and history had been repealed based on little more than 5 years' worth of good times. It's notable that we haven't really learned anything from this. The bubbles that popped during the Crash of '08 were similarly dependent on this sort of BS and willfull blindness among the so-called business elites.

This was a combination of young men who thought "We Are the Future" and old men who were afraid that the future was passing them by. No one seems to have paused to ask whether the future they envisioned was even possible.

Survivor Benefits

The City has settled its lawsuit with the survivors of the Christmas '07 tiger attack at the SF Zoo for a cool $900,000. Now I know what to do to get some quick cash:Zoo Settle With Brothers In Tiger Attack

The San Francisco Zoo agreed Thursday to pay $900,000 to two brothers who survived the fatal attack by an escaped tiger on Christmas Day 2007, sources familiar with the case told The Chronicle.

The agreement with Kulbir, 25, and Amritpal "Paul" Dhaliwal, 20, resolves claims the brothers brought in U.S. District Court against the city, zoo and Sam Singer, a crisis public relations consultant the zoo hired after the attack, one source said.
It's hard to know who was the dumber party here: the "victims" who got drunk and started hassling the tiger (which was shot after she killed the Dhaliwal's luckless buddy), or the city Zoo which built a tiger cage that did not actually keep the tiger caged. The city had a lot of liability here - if you are the keeper of a wild animal, it's pretty much strict liability if that animal hurts anyone. The city actually got off lucky, given the "victims'" many determined acts of stupidity.

A lawsuit like this always has its excesses and here's this one's: one of the brothers brought a civil rights claim for the impoundment of his car:

Kulbir Dhaliwal also argued his federal civil rights were violated because he was deprived the use of his BMW M3, the car the three took to the zoo. Police impounded the car during their investigation but didn't seek a court order to search it until they had had the car for about two weeks, according to the lawsuit.

Great, a rich kid with an M3 who plays at being a "thug" is now walking around with $450,000. Where are the "No Justice. No Peace" people when you need them?

The Parable of Arable Land

Here's a problem I did not realize existed - certain Second World countries are going around Africa and Asia buying farmland: Buying Farmland Abroad: Outsourcing's Third wave

Countries that export capital but import food are outsourcing farm production to countries that need capital but have land to spare. Instead of buying food on world markets, governments and politically influential companies buy or lease farmland abroad, grow the crops there and ship them back.

Saudi Arabia, China, and South Korea are especially active in this area. I would say, hey, if there's a willing buyer and a willing seller, what's the problem? But there are always naysayers:

Supporters of such deals argue they provide new seeds, techniques and money for agriculture, the basis of poor countries’ economies, which has suffered from disastrous underinvestment for decades. Opponents call the projects “land grabs”, claim the farms will be insulated from host countries and argue that poor farmers will be pushed off land they have farmed for generations. What is unquestionable is that the projects are large, risky and controversial. In Madagascar they contributed to the overthrow of a government.

It's only a few paragraphs before the article mentions "colonialism." And, I think we can imagine the reaction if Halliburton started traveling the world buying farmland. Naomi Klein would have enough material for at least another book!

I have to wonder about the "danger" of all this. There's some harrumphing about government-to-government deals with no transparency, with Bottom Billion elites grinning widely next to Hu Jintau. But, how bad a deal can this be? The land isn't going anywhere. Is China going to ship Kenyan farms overseas?

Moreover, you would think there would be some advantage to the sellers here. They have a real chance to see their arable land producing food on an industrial scale. Even if the buyers are going to operate the farms, it's hard to believe whatever techniques or technologies they use won't make their way into the hinterlands of the sellers, improving their private farming, along with the "export" farms.

Plus. I am not sure that Western Europeans have any business criticizing this. forget the "legacy of colonialism." Africa and Asia's poorer countries are now grappling with the legacy of World Bank projects, UN corruption, and decades-long civil wars that were set off by superpower rivalries during the Cold War. If you were the president of Kenya, would you rather have a bunch of Ivy League Peace Corps volunteers show your people "how to farm" (which they have been doing for millenia)? Or would you rather take a big suitcase full of cash from someone who will actually modernize farming in your country. The choice is an easy one.

Constitutional Correlatives

You may have heard that the CA Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, meaning that CA's constitution now provides that marriage can only be between a man and a woman: Prop 8 Stands, More Battles on the Way

California's voters, not its courts, are the final judges of same-sex couples' right to marry. And even if they're barred from marrying, gays and lesbians are not the victims of unconstitutional discrimination

Those were the two clearest messages in Tuesday's 6-1 ruling by the state Supreme Court that upheld Proposition 8, the November initiative that amended the California Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. They came from a court that had seemingly said something quite different a year earlier.

That last sentence is a charming bit of editorializing that demonstrates how fundamentally clueless many of our supposed elites are about the legal grounds for gay marriage and the separation of powers in the state's constitution. A year ago, the state supreme court said that the state constitution as it was written at that time did not allow the state to forbid gay marriage. The constitution can be amended, and Prop 8 was the amendment. Really, what the court decided yesterday was whether the amendment was proper, not whether there is a "right" to gay marriage.

Prop 8 should rightly be seen as a loss for the gay rights crowd, but it is also a loss for the state's unofficial ruling class in the political, media, and legal worlds, where support for gay marriage is practically a totem of membership. But, as with last week's special election, the voters were having none of this. The difference in values and priorities between CA's voters and its liberal elites is growing increasingly stark.

Plutarch's Lives: Coriolanus

Coriolanus is remembered in our time (when he is remebered at all) thanks to Shakespeare, who told Coriolanus' story in one of his lesser known tragedies. By Plutarch's (and the Bard's) telling, Coriolanus' tragedy was this: while he was a brave and honorable man with much greatness in him, his arrogant personality was ill suited to the demands of politicking in a republic. While the Romans respected and admired him, they did not love him and by the end they were actively at war with him. In the end, Coriolanus - who exemplified many of the best aspects of the Roman character - died the lonely death of the exile.

Coriolanus (nee' Caius Marcius, Coriolanus was a name given later) was born into a noble Roman family and came of age during the transition period between the last of the Roman kings and the birth of the Republic. In fact, Coriolanus first joined the army and fought in battle during the final campaign against the exiled king Tarquinus. Coriolanus was recognized early on as having an aptitude for battlefield tactics and strategy, as well as being personally brave. He also showed himself to be one who was never content to rest on his laurels, and always looked to improve himself and prospects. What set him apart from his fellow patricians, however, was his integrity.

Having established the Republic, the patricians in the senate found the transition from rule by decree to rule by the consent of the governed difficult. The Romans found themselves bedeviled by the same issues that Solon confronted: the demand from the common people for the forgiveness of their debts. After an increasingly hostile debate, the plebians essentially went on strike, refusing to participate in a military call-up when war was declared against the Volscians. Coriolanus led the faction arguing against the forgiveness of debts, vehemently arguing that the behavior of the common people was near treason and would eventually lead to the destruction of Rome once the plebians learned they could vote largesses for themselves out of the treasury. The timeless lament of the conservative! Coriolanus did not win the argument and, for his vehemence, came to be seen by many as a something of an anti-democrat.

The war against the Volscians, however, proved to be coriolanus' greatest moment. He participated in the siege of the city of Corioli. He not only distinguished himself in battle, he led a daring raid that captured the city. He then interrupted the plundering and ordered his men to march to the aid of a second Roman contingent fighting some distance away. Coriolanus rode up, still covered in the blood and sweat from the battle of Corioli and immediately swept into the center of the action, playing a significant part in the Roman victory. For his signal bravery and leadership, Coriolanus was given the name "Coriolanus" to memorialize his victory at the late siege. He was also offered 10% of the spoils from the expedition, but gallantly refused this. For this he was, for once in his life, acclaimed by the common people.

Upon returning to Rome, Coriolanus stood for consul. However, the old controversies between the patricians and plebes - and Coriolanus' opposition to the demands of the people - reared up again. A number of tribunes of the people generated several controversies causing sedition and unrest in the city. The patricians were approached by a city that had been ravaged by a plague and sought to become a Roman colony through repopulation by Romans. The Coriolanus' faction in the senate thought this would be the perfect way to get rid of the rebellious elements in the city, but the plan blew up in their faces when the tribunes began telling wild tales about the patricians plotting to exile varous citizens. The common people also began agitating for government controls on the price of corn, another thing that Coriolanus was against. When a large shipment of corn arrived in Rome, the senate saw this as a temporary way out of the controversy, but Coriolanus argued against distributing the corn at below-market prices.

At this point the relationship between Coriolanus and the people reached its breaking point. Coriolanus was not corrupt or venal. All agreed that he was a noble and honorable man of integrity. He was acclaimed throughout the city as a brave warrior, and exemplary leader. Moreover, he was well regarded for his willingness to sacrifice his own financial and personal interests for the sake of Rome. In fact, this is what caused his rupture with the people. just as he sacrificed for Rome, he expected the people to do so as well. Further, he repeatedly warned in public speeches and in private conversation that the Republic would not be able to survive if the patrician class sought favor from the plebes by granting them their seemingly bottomless demands for wealth from the treasury. Plutarch (and Shakespeare) quotes at length from Coriolanus' speeches on this theme. While he was have been correct in his analysis (certainly the annual disbursement of corn came to be an expensive entitlement that drove Rome into fiscal disarray), he was making an unpopular argument in as impolitic manner as possible. Despite his greatness of character, Coriolanus came to be despised. Finally, he was placed on trial and sentenced to permanent banishment.

Having been exiled, Coriolanus traveled to the land of the Volscians, where he raised an army and began to march on Rome. The Romans found themselves out-generaled by Coriolanus, and the city was in danger of conquest. The Romans sought to placate Coriolanus, but his anger at his banishment was still hot. He declared that he would not withdraw unless the Romans returned the Volscians' wealth and made them Roman citizens. After much debate in the city, Coriolanus' wife and mother, who had remained in Rome, went to him as supplicants and begged him to leave Rome in peace. Coriolanus' anger was finally quelled by the words of these women. He removed the Volscian army from the field and retreated. While the Romans acclaimed Coriolanus for his forbearance, the Volscians were furious. Once he was back in their kingdom, Coriolanus was executed after a short show trial. His family was allowed to mourn him, but he was deprived of the funeral honors that would have normally been his due.

Coriloanus' story is one that has plenty of contemporary resonance for modern-day conservatives who are wondering how best to get their message out. In a word: whatever Coriolanus did, do the opposite! He may have been correct in arguing that a republic should always be careful in its public expenditures, lest the electorate vote increasing subsidies for themselves until the treasury is empty (this is a fundamental conservative position. I believe this is one of the earliest articulations of this basic problem with republican government, so Coriolanus' story should be seen as a totemic conservative). But, Coriolanus' charmless arrogant manner of arguing his position persuaded no one. For all of his greatness, his complete failure in the arts of persuasion was his downfall. Plutarch explicitly compares Coriolanus to Alcibiades, noting that Alcibiades' powers of persuasion were so strong, he was able to return to rule the Greeks even after he had made war against them. 

Plutarch allows that Coriolanus was handicapped by the basic unpopularity of his positions - a politician can always win votes by promising cheap food and the forgiveness of debts, after all. But, plutarch also notes that there were plenty of Roman politicians who managed to put across the Coriolanus position in a much more persuasive manner. As Ronald Reagan could have told Coriolanus: it's the singer, not the song, that is often the most important.   

The End of an Affair

There are four Democrats who are widely touted as possible nominees for the CA governor's race: Dianne Feinstein, Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsome, and LA mayor Antonio Villiaraigosa. Of these four, Villaraigosa would easily be the most disastrous. Although seen as a harbinger of youth and progressive values, he is actually the most traditional Democrat of the four; a class warrior who finds his power base both within the state's ghettos and in its union halls. A Villaraigosa administration would be one of gold-plated pension benefits for 45 year-olds, and driver's licenses for illegals. Plus, he has the whiff of John Edwards about him. What is the over-under on the odds that there is a Villaraigosa love child out there somewhere?

Still, Villaraigosa is considered a strong candidate because he is mayor of LA. But, if this piece in LA Magazine (illustrated with a picture of the Mayor with the word "FAILURE" emblazoned across his waist) is any indication, his constituents aren't too thrilled with him either: Dear Mr. Mayor

We are bitter because you promised us so much. You were not only our first Latino mayor in 137 years but arguably the most charismatic leader in memory to step onto L.A.’s bland political stage. You had charm, poise, and vigor, and you spoke in cadences that reconciled reason and compassion.

Your life story alone was cause for celebration. Here was no high-powered man of business who traced his father’s footsteps, like Richard Riordan, or scion of a beloved county supervisor, like James Hahn. As a boy, you endured Eastside poverty and a drunken, violent father who abandoned the family. Dropping out of high school, you sank into hurt and hostility. A tattoo on your arm warned that you were “born to raise hell.” In your rise from those beginnings to the mayor’s office, you bulldozed long-held prejudices about what any of us could or deserved to achieve. You spanned the city’s divides of race, class, and geography. You owed your mayoral victory as much to the home owners of Encino and the African American congregations of Crenshaw as to the laborers of Boyle Heights and the Prius drivers of Westwood. Under your reign, our city might cohere.

What an agenda you rolled out for us. Your progressive platform, if enacted, would cleanse the city of its toxins: street crime and failing schools, the evaporation of affordable housing and the carcinogens in our skies. You made your share of election-year boasts—a thousand new cops! a million new trees!—but we understood these to be ornaments hung upon a grand civic vision.

It goes on like this for pages. Personally, a high school drop out with a tatoo would have been my last choice for mayor, but that's probably just my bad attitude.

Among other things, Villaraigosa is accused of failing to "clean-up" the environment around the Port of LA, failing to provide "affordable housing," failing to save LA's failing schools, failed to alleviate the city's gang problem. etc. How Villaraigosa should be expected to take care of all of this in four short years is unclear (he was busy having a torrid affair with a Telemundo reporter, after all).

Really, the problem is not that Villaraigosa "failed." It's that he made the classic mistake of all progressive politicians: he overpromised on issues that were either intractable or beyond his control. Villaraigosa cannot deliver "affordable housing" at the stroke of a pen. He wouldn't have been able to clean up the schools without taking on his allies in the teachers union (something that is true of all Dems). He can't do much about the gang problem because the one way of dealing with criminals - busting heads and making arrests - is the one thing that the sort of people who love voting for handsome progressive mayors will not abide.

I have little sympathy for Villaraigosa. CA has enough glib, platitudunous, progressives promising every imaginable entitlement with no regard for their cost, necessity, or effectiveness. But, his "betrayed" voters also display the sort of pathology that give rise to the Villaraigosas of the world: credulously believing the outsize promises of a glib politician when his own voters are often the source of these inttractable problems.

Poor Boy Beneath the Stars That Shine

Today is Bob Dylan's 68th(!) birthday. He is one of America's most misunderstood cultural heroes. For many, he is still nothing more than a "protest singer," even though his protest era lasted for maybe 18 months. The complexity and depth of his songs lend themselves to endless analysis and 5-starred Rolling Stone reviews, yet the reams of analysis never fail to miss the humor and pathos in many of his songs.

Unlike virtually all of his contemporaries, Dylan continues to add to his canon. Here's a good version of "Po' Boy," a deceptively simple song from 2001 (released on 9/11, in fact) full of humor, sadness, and an old-timey swing. Po' Boy (2004). Louis Armstrong should have lived long enough to sing it...

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Here's a sad story about one of the many young people who came to San Francisco in the Sixties looking for adventure and found much more than they were bargaining for. Idealists Slaying In '71 Still Haunts Today.

Mary Alice Willey arrived in San Francisco in 1969.

She was 21 years old, the product of a conservative Southern California family, newly divorced and ready to experience life in the free-wheeling Haight-Ashbury district.

She rented an attic apartment and enrolled at San Francisco State, where she eagerly participated in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War sit-ins and demonstrations.

Then Mary Alice discovered the black power movement.

In movies about the Sixties, this is the moment when the soundtrack cues up "I Want To Take You Higher," or, if the rights are avaiable, "What's Going On."

She became a strident devotee of George Jackson, the charismatic but militant San Quentin inmate who had gained international fame for his best-selling prison classic, "Soledad Brother." She wrote letters to Black Panther Johnny Spain, who was also incarcerated at San Quentin.

And she began associating with members of the Black Liberation Army, a violent offshoot of the Black Panthers that would become implicated in the Aug. 29, 1971, killing of a police officer at San Francisco's Ingleside Station. There is reason to believe that Mary Alice may have played a role in the attack and the slaying of Sgt. John V. Young.

That's the problem with the "idealists" beloved of the Sixties' marketers. Their "idealism" could easily turn violent. In Mary's case, she was not just hanging out with Black Panthers, she was also sexually involved with a typical type found in the Haight to this day: the thug who mouths just enough hippie blather to get into as many girls' pants as possible. Ah, innocense! And idealism!

Most girls, of course, survive their run-ins with the world's Bad Boys, allowing for a lifetime of rueful smiles while lunching with their friends. But, Mary found a darker end:

But less than two weeks after the attack on Ingleside Station, Mary Alice disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Thirty-seven years would pass before an investigator with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department would determine that an unidentified body found floating in a canal near Modesto on Sept. 11, 1971, was Mary Alice.

She had been stabbed 65 times. Ten of the wounds were fatal, the rest defensive. Her body had been buried in the Patterson District Cemetery. Atop her grave was a beige stone that said, simply, "Jane Doe."

There's an old saying that God takes care of drunks, young children, and pretty girls, but it doesn't often work that way.

The Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll Revolution in Sixties-era San Francisco may well be one of the most overwritten pieces of history in modern times, yet the truth of its effects has never been adequately explored. People love to talk about the "idealism" of middle class kids traveling to SF to hang-out with thugs masquerading as revolutionaries. It's rare to hear a negative word about the overdoses, the homelessness, the rapes, the occasional murders, and the disease that were part of the "San Francisco experience" back then. Even a story like that of the murder of Mary Alice Wiley comes couched in the BS language of Sixties hagiogaphy - "idealists," "die-hard militants," the treatment of criminals like George Jackson as noble revolutionaries. Please. The Black Panthers and their ilk killed a lot of people - many of them naive white progressives who supported their "cause," whatever that was. They also ripped off a lot of people, both in terms of money and politics. And yet to raise these issues, and to try to prosecute these murderers is to invite scandal and opprobrium. There are plenty of prominent people in the Bay Area - Ron Dellums and Barbara Lee come to mind - who carry a lot of secrets, and yet maintain the silence of Left-Wing Omerta.

The continued reverence for the "revolutionary" Sixties tells you everything you need to know about the Left's values and intentions.

The Secret History

Lordy, will we never be rid of memoirs from everybody who had tangential contact with the New Frontier? Now, Mimi Beardsley Alford - outed by Robert Dalleck as the 20 year-old White House intern who had an affair with JFK - is getting a seven figure advance to tell her story. Uh, is there something else we need to know? Paramour of Kennedy is Writing a Book

Mimi Beardsley Alford, a retired New York church administrator who had an affair with John F. Kennedy while she was an intern in the White House, is breaking a silence of more than 40 years to tell her story in a memoir to be published by Random House.

Ms. Alford’s secret was initially divulged six years ago when a biography of Kennedy was published with portions from a 1964 oral history that described the president’s 18-month sexual affair with a young intern named Mimi Beardsley. The Daily News tracked her down and discovered that she was Marion Fahnestock, who was divorced, working for the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and living in Manhattan. At the time, she gave a short statement confirming that she was “involved in a sexual relationship” with Kennedy from June 1962 to November 1963.

Honey, JFK was sleeping with a lot of girls back then, including mafia molls, Hollywood starlets, half the White House secretarial pool, Marlene Dietrich (admittedly this is a dubiuous self-report), and sometimes his own wife. As I recall from the Dalleck excerpt I read, your affair mostly consisted of you being shuttled around by the Secret Service (sometimes cowering under a blanket). You got anything else?

According to Mr. Reiter, Ms. Alford is not writing a tell-all memoir. “She’s just not that type of person, where she’s going to spill her guts about intimate stuff for the whole country to see,” Mr. Reiter said. “The story has three acts to it: before the White House, during the White House, and then the really powerful part is what happens afterwards. What’s the impact on your family life, your marriage, knowing that this happened to you in your early life and you have chosen to keep it a secret.”

You mean we're not even going to get any first-rate pillow talk out of this??

All cattiness aside, there may be something of interest here. Alford, nee' Mimi Beardsley, came from a more sophisticated background than many of JFK's other lovers (her name alone should be a clue to her essential waspiness). She attended the same private school as Jackie Kennedy, and later married a wealthy investment banker. And, she came of age when a young woman could go to college, but couldn't realistically compete with men for prestigious White House jobs. Still, like a Versailles courtesan, she could still use her femininity to gain (very) temporary access to power. No doubt, Vanity Fair is already preparing for the interview with her.

The Commanding Heights of National Intelligence

Here's an amazing story about a group of amateurs led by a PhD candidate in Northern Virginia who have created a detailed map of North Korea using little more than Google Earth and scraps of information gleaned from the regime's propaganda photos. Gulags, Nukes and a Water Slide: Citizen Spies Lift North Korea's Veil

(Curtis) Melvin is at the center of a dozen or so citizen snoops who have spent the past two years filling in the blanks on the map of one of the world's most secretive countries. Seeking clues in photos, news reports and eyewitness accounts, they affix labels to North Korean structures and landscapes captured by Google Earth, an online service that stitches satellite pictures into a virtual globe. The result is an annotated North Korea of rocket-launch sites, prison camps and elite palaces on white-sand beaches.

"It's democratized intelligence," says Mr. Melvin.

I am willing to bet that there are just two groups of people who would have no use for this: (1) Big Media types at the networks and NY Times writing think-pieces about North Korea and (2) anyone working the North Korea desk at the CIA.  The information that Curtis and his cohort has been able to gather is remarkably detailed, especially when you consider that these guys are thousands of miles away. 

But, even from this distance, it's easy to see the misery with which North Koreans must live:

Many updates later, Mr. Melvin and his correspondents have plotted out what they say is much of the country's transportation network and electrical grid, and many of its military bases. They've spotted what they believe are mass graves created in the 1995-98 famine that killed an estimated two million people. The vast complexes of Mr. Kim and other North Korean leaders are visible, with palatial homes, pools, even a water slide.


On the satellite images of North Korean towns, it's easy to see many people gathered around the markets and no one in the giant plazas that are tributes to Mr. Kim's government.

Mr. Melvin says the images also make clear the gulf between the lives of Mr. Kim and his impoverished people. "Once you start mapping the power plants and substations and wires, you can connect the infrastructure with the elite compounds," Mr. Melvin says. "And then you see towns that have no power supply at all."

The satellite images of the mass graves - tiny little nubs from our perspective - are especially poignant in their mute testimony.

While there is much incompetence on display in our nation's intelligence gathering, it's good to know that an ad hoc group like this can make a real contribution towards understanding a regime that is so far removed from the civilized world. 

Who Holds the Proxy?

The great divide in American political life was on display during the dueling Cheney-Obama speeches. The Left was in raptures over Obama's rhetoric and "nuance." The Right was delighted that someone had finally issued a comprehensive defense of Bush-era War on Terror policy, complete with attacks on the NY Times (where was this 4 years ago?). Michael Ledeen is the lonely voice saying "You're both wrong." Cheney and Obama: The Great Evasion

For some years now, I have been concerned that the great national debate over the terror war has been systematically misguided. Instead of a discussion of the strategic issue, our leaders and pundits have dealt with tactical questions. And so it goes, most recently in Thursday’s speeches from former Vice President Dick Cheney and President Barack Obama. The strategic questions are finessed in favor of single pieces of the issue.

Ledeen is, of course, correct, not that this will do him any good.

American politics has always had a tendency towards reducing the great issues of the day to heated controversies over seemingly minor points, whether over the guilt of Alger Hiss, the propriety of Iran-Contra, or the definition of "is."

Thus, the "Guantanamo Question" is not really about civil liberties or the "tragic fall" of American morality. It has become a proxy battle for Leftist resentments against the Bush Administration, which reacted to 9/11 by repudiating the Left's carefully constructed civil liberties regime, after it had proven a deadly millstone around our national security. Rather than attack the Bush policies themselves (which were popular and necessary in the wake of 9/11), the Left has attacked them indirectly through wild claims about flushed Korans, "torture," and Abu Ghraib. Like a defense attorney chipping away at a beat cop's credibility on the witness stand, these attacks have been effective, but that doesn't change the fact that their clients are guilty as hell.

The problem with these proxy battles is the way in which they obscure the big picture issues for which they are a substitute. And, Republicans enable this by playing along, trying to match wits with Leftists arguing in bad faith, rather than keeping things on the simple plain level that the Cheney speech managed. But, even Cheney nods:

Neither asked, let alone answered, the big question: what are we facing? Who is our enemy? So neither had an answer: what should our overall strategy be? How will we win? How do we measure our progress?

From the beginning we have dealt with each theatre—whether Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Europe, the homeland—as a thing in itself, something requiring its own distinct approach. At no time, save for some general statements shortly after the 9/11 attacks, has any leader discussed the fact that we are involved in a big war, in which specific enemies are engaged against us. We have debated military tactics, ideological imperatives (from winning hearts and minds to challenging radical Islam, todeconstructing Islam itself), nation building, methods of interrogation, the use of one sort of court or another. But we have yet to face the central fact of the broad war, the big war, what I insist is the real war, the one that has been waged against us for decades, in which our enemies aim at our domination or destruction.

The problem for Ledeen is that no one really wants to confront a world-wide conspiracy. And yet, no one - especially on the Left - wants to be the one to say to the American public that he intends to stand down from the War on Terror. Thus, we are left with these proxy battles until the real one is joined again.

The Spirit of 1851

Lots of commentary from outsiders regarding the defeat of the budget propositions on Tuesday. "Ungovernable" comes up a lot, but I consider the phrase "feckless Big Government political class refusing to put the state on a politically or fiscally sustainable path" to be a better descriptor.

There's also a lot of commentary supporting the convening of a constitutional convention to reform or amend the many procedural hoops that make CA governance so unwieldy. This article in The Economist is typical: California: the Ungovernable State

Many others, however, now believe that California needs to start from scratch, with a fully-fledged constitutional convention. California’s current constitution rivals India’s and Alabama’s for being the longest and most convoluted in the world, and is several times longer than America’s. It has been amended or revised more than 500 times and now, with the cumulative dross of past voter initiatives incorporated, is a document that assures chaos.

Calls for a new constitution have resurfaced throughout the past century, but never went far. That changed last August, as the budget negotiations were once again going off the rails, when Mr Wunderman of the Bay Area Council renewed the call for a convention and received an astonishing outpouring of support. Mr Schwarzenegger has called a constitutional convention “a brilliant idea” and thinks it is “the right way to go”. (The new constitution would take effect well after he leaves office.) Most encouragingly, says Mr Wunderman, nobody, not even the so-called special interests, has yet come out against a convention

This may or may not be a good idea, but I have to say I am not aware of any popular groundswell for a state consitutional convention, Mr. Wunderman's claims notwithstanding. The problem with a constitutional convention is that it could just as easily become yet another staging ground for progressive activists to capture favors and $$. Wunderman has some convuluted scheme whereby the conventioneers would be drawn from county jury pools, but that would do no more good than convening a Frank Luntz focus group. No, this is an initiative that needs to start with a narrowly focused political movement similar to the one that gave us the Recall Election. It started, you will remember, with wealthy political pro Darrell Issa funding a petition drive and directing the campaign message, not a "let a 100 flowers bloom"style direct democracy. A constitutonal convention requires leadership, not political buck passing to The People.

Just as a thought experiment, we have convened the Free Will California Constitutional Convention in an effort to work through some of the issues presented. While we were not able do a comprehensive job (we lost our quorum when the Senate Pro Tem became fussy from gas), we did get a good start:

1. just as a preliminary matter, cancellation of the last, say, 5 years worth of boondoggles, starting with the $75 billion high speed rail project. We can't afford them. If CA is going to get a new Constitution, it should also free itself from as much budget weight as possible.

2. take the drawing of legislative districts away from the Legislature.

3. end the use of propositions to pass bonds and spending measures. Those are properly the subject of our representatives. Let them vote on this stuff.

4. Make it a lot harder to get propositions on the ballot. No more legislative propositions, for one thing. And increase the signature requirement for petitions to 2 million. Any proposition that passes can be voided by the legislature. Any proposition requiring any public expenditures must contain sunset clauses.

5. In fact, make the following trade: in exchange for giving up the 2/3 rule for passing tax increases and budgets, create mandatory sunset provisions 10 years out for everything.

6. return CA to its core competence: education, law enforcement, prisons, running elections, etc. no more duplicating the work of the feds. That means, for example, no more Air Resources Board.

7. Protect Prop. 13, but also take away all of the things that cause property values to artificially skyrocket - overly restrictive zoning rules, environmental set asides, rent control, etc.

There'll Be A Morning After

CA's political class - or at least the liberals and moderate Republicans who have been avoiding making the spending cuts the voters obviously want - is putting a brave face on the resounding defeat of their budget propositions. Legislators Jump Back Into Budget Mess

California's next budget battle begins this morning as state officials scramble to close a deficit that instantly swelled to $21.3 billion with Tuesday's overwhelming defeat of a package of fiscal ballot measures.

We'll wake up, dust ourselves off and get back to work," said state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, one of the authors of the ballot measures.

The clock already is ticking. Unless Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature can quickly agree on a way to bridge that budget gap, there's the likelihood of a late summer cash crunch, leaving California unable to pay its bills.

"The longer we wait, the worse the problem becomes and the more limited our choices will be," Schwarzenegger said in a statement conceding defeat Tuesday night.

Speed is everything, agreed state Controller John Chiang.

"We need to get it done right now," he said. "One of the mistakes last year was that in September we knew the budget was out of balance, but we didn't do anything until February. We can't wait that long."

Not to be snotty, but the budget negotiations last winter, and the subsequent down time between then and the Special Election yesterday were a colossal waste of time, inasmuch as the legislature attempted to avoid making spending cuts, and instead tried to pass highly unpopular tax increases and adenoidal budget cuts. And, having placed the fate of the budget in the hands of the voters, they made no real attempt to persuade the voters to approve the propositions. Apart from a few ads by the teachers union, there was little evidence of the tens of millions suposedly spent to pass these monsters. There was very little of the hub-bub that precedes a CA election: no robo-calls from Barbara Boxer, no flyers, no highway signs, nothing. The Governator started phoning it in weeks ago, and left for DC before the election.

Schwarzenegger spent election day in Washington, where he appeared alongside President Obama in a Rose Garden ceremony announcing new, tougher auto emission standards that California has been seeking for years.

The governor met later in the day with the California congressional delegation and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to ask for their support in dealing with proposed budget cuts that could violate federal rules for matching funds.

Schwarzenegger is scheduled to meet this morning with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius before he flies back to California for a 3:30 p.m. budget conference with legislative leaders from both parties.

Yes, the feds will help! We can start calling the bailouts the ABC Bailouts! Auto companies, Banks, and California! Should be very popular in 2010, if not sooner.

Plutarch's Lives: Alcibiades

Throughout the tumultuous political life of Golden Age Athens, the Athenians were highly suspicious of politicians who demonstrated any sort of tendency towards favoring an oligarchical or monarchial government. And yet, the most successful Athenian politicians learned that they could rule like an aristocrat while mouthing the platitudes of democracy. Pericles was the master of this, but Alcibiades was the most opportunistic and kingly, even as he professed to act on behalf of the People. In fact, with his arisocratic airs, lavish lifestyle, and decadent personal life, Alcibiades was nearly a proto-type for the emperors of Rome. The Athenians, for their part, would come to regret their choice of Alcibiades. Not only did he lead them into some of their worst disasters in the Pelopponesian Wars, he even betrayed Athens itself.

Alcibiades was born into a wealthy family that claimed to be descended from Ajax. His father was famous for outfitting a galley and dying heroically in battle. From an early age, Alcibiades was a man of wild contradictions. He was one of the wealthiest men in the city, and never let anyone else forget this, often using his money to humiliate his rivals. He also had an obnoxious personality and was personally cruel to many around him (Plutarch tells the story of Alcibiades cutting off his dog's tail, which adds to the portrait of a malicious young man). However, Alcibiades also had rare gifts that drew people to him. Pericles took a special interest in him, as did Socrates. In fact, Socrates took it upon himself to act as a sort of mentor to Alcibiades, a relationship that Alcibiades apparently sought out. The two served together in battle, and even saved each other's lives.

While Alcibiades was cruel, spoiled, and obnoxious, his skills as an orator, military man, and politician led him to the front rank of Athens' political class. Alcibiades also had a way of appealing to the Athenians' baser instincts. He never failed to expend large sums on public spectacles. More important, Alcibiades indulged the Athenians' thirst for foreign conquest, something that Pericles' had to use all of his fomidable skills to dissuade. Alcibiades, in his favorite role of playing to the crowd, became Athens' leading politician by promising to lead an expedition against the city-state of Syracuse on Scicily, an ambitious undertaking for a city the size of Athens. The invasion of Syracuse was as much a distracton from the struggles of the Pelopponesian War, as anything else. Moreover, there was a large faction that was dead set against it.

Regardless, Alcibiades set out with a large fleet and army on an expedition that would prove ruinous to Athens. The invasion was not just expensive and far-flung. Syracuse was a Greek colony and a democracy, so Athens was in the position of attacking fellow Greeks and democrats, a position that lowered its standing in the Greek world. Further, the Athenian leadership was split into two parts with alcibiasdes at the head and Nicias as second in command. Nicias had actually led the opposition to the war, but the Athenians sent him as a compromise candidate to act as a check on Alcibiades, another disastrous decision. As it turned out, Alcibiades was recalled to Athens, leaving Nicias in charge of the doomed mission.

Once back in Athens, Alcibiades was put on trial for blasphemy, a charge Plutarch indicates was pure politics in action. Alcibiades was found guilty and ostraciszed. In doing this, the Athenians were exiling their best military commander at the height of a two-front war. Whatever his personal failings, the athenians would quickly regret his loss. Alcibiades traveled to Sparta itself, where he threw in with the Spartan side in the Greek civil war. During his time in Sparta, he impressed his new friends by living like a Spartan, playing up his chameleon nature which allowed him to ingratiate himself with whomever he was trying to impress. He also managed to seduce and father a child with his Spartan benefactor's wife. And he assisted the Spartans in their war against Athens.

Having seduced and abandoned the queen of Sparta, Alcibiades was forced to flee. After traveling around Greece, he returned to Athens, where he immediately took command of a naval squadron and quickly earned credit for himself by leading the athenian navy to victory in a minor battle. Alcibiades, it seemed, was back on top. However, his time - and that of Athens - was nearly at an end. A Spartan fleet led by Lysander defeated the once-proud Athenian navy, bringing the Pelopponesian War and the Golden Age of Athens to an end. Alcibiades escapsed capture, but Lysander ordered him hunted down and killed. Alcibiades was tracked to his mistress' house where he died in a hail of darts.

A Very Special Election

Just got back from voting in CA's Special Election (which is to elections what the Special Olympics are to sports). The point of the SE was to help the legislature pass the budget compromise that our representatives "hammered out" last February. Except that's not what's going to happen. All but one of the 6 budget propositions are expected to lose, and to lose big. Maybe next time, the governator and legislature should spend its time actually trying to put the state on a sustainable fiscal path, rather than chasing a couple GOP state senators around Sacramento, which is what the budget fight really boiled down to.

As for the propositions themselves, I decided to keep it simple and voted "No" on all of them. I know there are people out there who actually thought things through, and maybe voted "No" on 1A (the tax and spend measure) and 1C (the debt measure), but voted in favor of the education or mental health ones. Whatever. I disapprove of the entire process of budgeting by proposition. I also disapprove of the notion that our representatives should be allowed to fob off their constitutional duties on the voters who sent them to Sacramento in the first place. Hey, if you think a bloated state budget, unsustainable deficits, and higher taxes are the solution, then let's see some courage of convictions out there! Instead, the message has been: "we threw this together last winter, but didn't want to actually vote on it becase deep down we know it's deeply as unpopular with the voters as it is popular with the lobbyists we see everyday. Also, if you vote "No," kindergarteners will have to share classroom space with prisoners."

Everyone has been bitching and moaning about the "tyrrannical" GOP minority that refused to go along with this mess. But, it's the liberals and moderate Republicans who want to keep this monster going; and they are doing everything they can to avoid taking responsibility for the very policies that they insist are necesssary for the state to pursue. You know what, fellas (and ladies)? If you're not willing to vote in favor of them in Sacramento, then I'm not willing to vote in favor of them in the voting booth.

A Bad Debt Follows A Bad Choice

Lots of praise around the Internets for this story by NT Times Business Correspondent Edmond Andrews, and his financial struggles with high credit card debt and the increasing demands of a sub-prime mortgage. It's written in a "I coudn't believe this happened to me, thus it could happen to you" style. People have been praising Andrews' bravery for admitting something most people in his position would be loath to admit to: that, despite his prestigious job and high income, he actually can't afford the trappings of a middle class life.

This post from Megan McCardle, who sympathizes as a fellow writer living on the budgetary edge is typical: Debt: A Writers Life

This is the bravest thing I've read for a long, long time. For a reporter--an economic reporter--to admit that he's been in the hell of excess debt and unpaid bills that he reports on is a major statement in middle class America. There was a time when America tolerated a certain amount of this in its writers--one reads nearly approvingly of the repeatedflirtations with bankruptcy undertaken by the likes of Dorothy Parker or F. Scott Fitzgerald. But these days, their profligacy, like their alcoholism, is no longer admired, or even tolerated, in the editorial world.

Now, it is true that there are plenty of profligate people out there who got in over their heads buying Hummers and jet skis on a beer budget. But, most of the debtors I see in my practice are in a hole because of a disruptive and/or unexpected event - a major illness, a job loss, the death of a spouse, a pregnancy, moving to San Francisco - that caused their carefully wrought balance between income and debt servicing to go awry, finally leading to the death spiral of increased debt as their interest payments skyrocketed with every missed payment. People don't become overwhelmed with debt because they are "writers" or some such. And in Andrews case, the reason was not his job; it was a woman.
I had two utterly compelling reasons for taking the plunge: the money was there, and I was in love. It was August 2004, just as the mortgage party was getting really good. I was 48 years old and eager to start a new chapter in my life with Patricia Barreiro, who was then my fiancée.

Patty was brainy, regal, sexy, fiery and eclectic. She was one of my closest friends when we were both students at an American high school in Argentina. Back then, we would talk together about politics and books at a coffee shop every day after school. We were not romantic in those days and went our separate ways after high school. But each of us would go through bruising two-decade-long marriages, and we felt that sweet spark of remembrance and renewal upon meeting again in middle age.


The only problem was money. Having separated from my wife of 21 years, who had physical custody of our sons, I was handing over $4,000 a month in alimony and child-support payments. That left me with take-home pay of $2,777, barely enough to make ends meet in a one-bedroom rental apartment.

In other words, Andrews was supporting himself, two adult women, and three teenagers on his $120,000/yr salary from the NY Times. He's a little vague about when his alimony payments began, but - reading between the lines - it appears as if his divorce and "reconnection" with the sexyfierceclectic Patty came close upon each other's heels and were perhaps related. Regardless, Andrews was struggling because of his alimony payments, not because of his job or his mortgage.
It's a reminder that, for all the flaggellant talk of "profligate Americans," debts are often not the result of unbridled greed and piggish consumption, but arise from personal circumstances, whether self-caused or arising from life's little Black Swans.

St. Elsewhere

The NYTimes features a story on its front page that demonstrates the perils of health care reform. The root problem is not out-of-control costs, or cost-benefit analysis, or whether the gov't should be a single-payer for all health care benefits in the US. The real danger lies in the fact that Americans simply won't put up with the rationing and wait lists that true reform would entail, and with which Canadians and Europeans must deal. Months to Live: Fighting for a Last Chance at Life

As Lou Gehrig’s disease sapped Joshua Thompson of his ability to move and speak last fall, he consistently summoned one question from within the prison of his own body. “Iplex,” he asked, in a whisper that pierced his mother’s heart. “When?”

Iplex had never been tested in people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the formal name for the fatal disease that had struck Joshua, 34, in late 2006. Developed for different condition and banished from the market by a patent dispute, it was not for sale to the public anywhere in the world.

But Kathy Thompson had vowed to get it for her son. On the Internet, she had found enthusiastic reviews from A.L.S. patients who had finagled a prescription for Iplex when it was available, along with speculation by leading researchers as to why it might slow the progressive paralysis that marks the disease. And for months, as she begged and bullied biotechnology companies, members of Congress, Italian doctors and federal drug regulators, she answered Joshua the same way:

“Soon,” she said. “Soon.”

People don't buy health care like they buy a car or a house. They are making a huge emotional and financial investment in a war not just against disease; but also fate, nature, and, ultimately, death. If their child, spouse, or parent is desperately ill, they will pay thousands of $$, and move heaven and earth to find even fleeting relief.

In the Thompsons' case, they are not seeking a miracle cure for ALS; they just want to alleviate Joshua's suffering and give him a bit of comfort in his last days (and theirs'. based on experiences in my family, I would say that family members who cling to the "miracle" cure - Iplex will save us! - are doing so as a coping mechanism for themselves, as much as for their sick loved one). Hollywood and the newspapers love the story of the family that seeks out and finds the miracle cure in the face of indifference from doctors, the FDA, Big Pharma, and other faceless evils. Does anyone honestly expect things will get better if health care reform ends with the feds paying for the nation's health care?

If anything, the Thompson's story shows that American health care could benefit from more freedom of choice, not less. Joshua is an adult. He understands the risks of Iplex. He wants to take it. His wife wants him to take it. His mother wants him to take it. Have everybody sign a waiver and let him take it! I understand why the FDA is very deliberate in testing and approving drugs, but that's so people can go to Wagreens without worrying that their Tylenol is going to kill them. When you have consenting adults seeking out relief, such concerns are really irrelevant.

Shooting From the Broken Hip

In advance of the certain defeat of the 6 budget propositions, the Governator has submitted a budget that doubles down on everything the voters hate about the current budget "compromise" - more debt, higher taxes, and cuts in the services people actually want the state to provide (education, prisons, health): Governor's Budget Cuts Schools, Borrows Billions

Five days before voters decide the fate of his budget-related ballot measures, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Thursday unveiled plans to close a huge budget deficit with deeper cuts in education and health programs and by borrowing billions more dollars.

The governor also proposed releasing 19,000 state prison inmates who are
undocumented immigrants to federal authorities and releasing some low-risk criminals to county jails.

In addition, Schwarzenegger said, he will seek a waiver from Washington to allow California to cut spending without jeopardizing federal economic stimulus funds coming to the state.

"Global economic crisis is strangling budgets in all states and countries, including California," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

CA needs to do more than just lay off some teachers and release some prisoners. It has completely lost control over the growth its pensions and work force, both of which grow at the beck and call of the public service unions. The state is also duplicating way too much of the work done at the federal and municipal levels. Start cutting this stuff, and maybe the voters will be impressed.

Inside the Inside

An insider trading scandal at the SEC? Sure! Why Not! Insider Trading Probe At SEC

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether two Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement lawyers violated insider-trading laws, a potential scandal at an agency normally the pursuer in such cases.

A report by the SEC's inspector general described multiple suspicious cases where the lawyers traded the stocks of companies around the time the companies were under investigation. The report concluded the lawyers had violated the agency's internal rules, and the case was taken up by the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The report didn't identify the employees. One, who the report said had been with the SEC since 1981, is a female staff lawyer, according to people familiar with the matter. The report said the other is a man who works in the enforcement division's chief counsel office, a key position that vets all cases, ensures consistency across the division, and often offers advice to attorneys.

The two plus another enforcement lawyer had a "standing lunch" on Monday where they often discussed stocks and financial markets, according to the report. It said one made more than 200 trades over two years.

Who wants to bet that the "standing lunch," and its purpose, was as generally well known at the SEC as Aldrich Ames' Jaguar was known at the CIA?

The Army You Have

Bill Kristol surveys the carnage of the post-Pelosi press conference and declares a winner and MVP: Dick Cheney Is the Most Valuable Republican

Dick Cheney is reminding Republicans that they need to defend themselves when attacked.

When President Obama released the Justice Department interrogation memos a month ago, Cheney denounced him for doing so. He explained why it was inappropriate and unwise to release such documents. But he did more. He didn't just defend himself and the administration in which he served. He fought back, and encouraged others to do so.

He challenged the president to release CIA memos evaluating the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation techniques. He raised the question of whether congressional Democrats--Nancy Pelosi, for one--had known of, and at least tacitly approved of, the allegedly horrifying abuses of the allegedly lawless Bush administration.

Now, a month later, Pelosi is attacking career CIA officials for lying to Congress, and other Democrats are scrambling to distance themselves from her. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has pulled back on threats to prosecute Bush-era lawyers, reversed itself on releasing photos of alleged military abuse of prisoners, and embraced the use of military commissions to try captured terrorists. The administration now looks irresponsible when it lives up to candidate Obama's rhetoric, and hypocritical when it vindicates Bush policies the candidate attacked

The weakness of the GOP is the tepidness of its political leaders. No matter what the issue, there is always a Lincoln, Chaffee, a John McCain, an Arlen Spector (well, not anymore), a George Voinovich willing to betray the party on some groundless "principle." Often, the principle is little more than a combination of personal aggrandizement and a desire to shut off the latest media/Lefty political - but I repeat myself - firestorm. That's no way to build a majority.

The "torture" debate has gotten so out of hand because GOP'ers spent years absorbing and internalizing attacks about the "shredding of the Constitution" that they'd forgotten why enhanced interrogation was necessary in the first place. 90% of the time GOP politicians cringe under the spotlight, rather than fight back against the dishonest attakcs of the Left. The Cheney Way, which is hardly radical (he simply and plainly states his case. What a concept!) is the only way to deal with the bad faith arguments of our political foes who are either clueless or want to disarm and weaken the power of the United States.

And who cares if Cheney has a 19% approval rating? A lot of that is the result of dishonest political attacks and the simple, mindless repetition of the "fact" that his poll numbers are low. Why in the world should that matter to conservatives? Cheney will never be allowed to obtain approval because - like Rush, Ann Coulter, Gov. Palin, Justice Thomas, and a few others - he is one of our best spokesmen. The other side knows this and thus tries to dminish him at every turn. We should not accept this sort of marginalization of our own side.

Coming In From The Cold, Pt 2

My Congressman, Nancy Pelosi has been all over the news today as people react to her press conference in which she accused the CIA of lying to her: War of Words: Pelosi Says CIA Lied About Torture

With both guns blazing at an extraordinary press conference today, the Democrat from San Francisco made good on that, accusing the CIA of lying when the agency said she was told about torture in 2002.

In doing so, Pelosi turned a distraction into a conflagration. She had little choice after two weeks of Republican accusations that it was she who was lying, accompanied by a leaked CIA timeline that said she had been briefed on Sept. 4, 2002, that "enhanced interrogation techniques" - a euphemism for torture - "had been employed."

Democrats quickly closed ranks behind the speaker. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made clear whom she believes.

"I've know Nancy a long time," Feinstein said. "We lived a few houses apart for couple of decades. I've never known her not to be truthful. Let me put that on the record

I want to say right off the bat that I do not consider Nancy Pelosi to be a liar. She is stupid. She is a fool. She is a moralizing loudmouth. She is a natural-born scold who lives to denounce her enemies as being evil and "unamerican." She is the spoiled daughter of a urban machine pol, and the rich wife of a glad handing huckster. She wants the rest of us to drive 3 foot long smart cars while she jets around with a military escort. She has the political instincts of the Queen of Romania and the personality of your least favorite aunt. But she is not a liar. I will give her that.

I guess we will now wait for the inevitable push back from the CIA. Did the Agency lie to Nancy? Who knows? The real problem with the CIA is not its lies. It's the long, unblemished record of disastrous errors it has made in its analysis and then passed along to policy makers. Frankly, lying would have been an improvement.

Still, Pelosi's foolishness has been on full display today. She has been moralizing grandly about torture, and feeding off of the political catastrophes wrought by the Iraq War, for so long that she has forgotten what life was like for Democrats between 9/11 and, say, 2005. Back then, Dems were at a distinct disadvantage. In 2002 and 2004, they became the first opposition party to lose congressional seats in decades because voters simply didn't think they had the legal or philosophical stones to wage the War on Terror. Tom Daschle - the one-time Senate Majority Leader - lost his re-election campaign. So did the dubious war hero Max Cleland. No one was talking about "torture" back then, unless you were from the Cynthia McKinney (another election loser) wing of the party.

It's one thing to denounce the "torture" of the guys who helped plan 9/11. But to think that it is a winner politically? That is beyond foolhardy. Only someone as insular and foolish as Pelosi could have thought this was a good idea. To throw the gasoline of "the CIA lied" on to the fire only compounds her thick-headedness and the damage to her own political fortunes

Death By Memo

It's funny. I have been hearing about how Democrats have the wind at their backs RE: health care reform. They have a handsome charismatic president, wide congressional majorities, the firm backing of the intellectual, economic, and media elite. The GOP, we are told, is in disarray and from my vantage point that certainly is the case. What else could they have to worry about? Well, they seem to be worried about "Republican attacks" that have already caused alarm among Senate Dems. Huh? Democrats to Develop Plan to Sell Health Care

Alarmed at Republican attacks on President Obama’s health care proposals, Senate Democrats huddled Wednesday with White House officials to formulate a response.

Democrats said they felt an urgent need to devise a “message” to answer Republicans assertions that Mr. Obama’s proposals could lead to “a Washington takeover of health care.”

Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, said many Democrats felt “unease that we did not have a strategy” to answer the criticism coming from Republican members of Congress and Republican consultants like Frank I. Luntz, an expert on the language of politics.

Watch out! It's Frank I. Luntz! His "language of politics" factory is on-line and busy Manufacturing Consent!

Honestly, most GOP and conservative writers I've seen have been bemoaning the scattershot, unfocused nature of the Republican response to health care reform. I was afraid we would need to call the Swift Boat Veterans back for one final mission. Now, the likes of Chuck Schumer and Evan Bayh - about as steady as you can get among Dems - are growing worried about Frank Luntz's Flying Memos of Death

In the memorandum, Mr. Luntz said his polling and analysis had identified this as “the best anti-Democrat message”: “No Washington bureaucrat or health care lobbyist should stand between your family and your doctor. The Democrats want to put Washington politicians in charge of your health care.”

Mr. Luntz advised Republicans to show they “understand and empathize” with voters’ concerns about soaring health costs. “You simply must be vocally and passionately on the side of reform,” he wrote.

He urged Republicans to argue that the Democratic plan would “deny people treatments they need and make them wait to get the treatments they are allowed to receive.”

Mr. Luntz recommended this language: “If you have to wait weeks for tests and months for treatment, that’s a health care crisis.”

Progressives have been moaning about "Harry & Louise" since 1994, as if this was what killed ClintonCare. ClintonCare didn't pass because the voters didn't support it at the time it mattered: when it was being debated and voted on in Congress. Oh, sure, there were plenty of polls saying otherwise, and there was even that PA governor's race that supposedly "turned on" the issue of health care reform. But, when it came time to actually pass something, Democrats themselves (who had control of both houses of Congress!) couldn't bring themselves to pull the trigger. All the Paul Krugman columns in creation about the "47 million uninsured," don't take into account the 250 million who ARE insured and may not want to make any drastic changes. Now, they're even better positioned than back then, and it still might not be enough.

The Final Word

Ann Coulter looks at the bizarre treatment accorded to the Bear Flag Republic's lovely, yet controversial (lovliversial?) Miss California for saying out loud what most people think: that marriage is for men and women exclusively. But, she also makes a point often lost in the rapid-fire declamations that substitute for public debate: you will inoculate yourself against such displays if you toe the party line: Liberal Taliban Issues Fatwa Against Ms. California

What is crying out for an explanation is why every bubble-head TV news anchorette from a nice, churchgoing red state ends up adopting the political views of Karl Marx.

From Katie Couric on CBS to Norah O'Donnell on MSNBC, the whole stable of TV anchorettes weirdly have the exact same politics as their liberal masters. It's the ideological burqa women are required to wear to work in the mainstream media. As with a conventional burqa, it enforces conformity and severely restricts the vision.

The only way to protect yourself is to do the liberal male's bidding, as the bubble-head anchorettes do, or stand on the rock of Christianity
One of the oddities of liberalism, especially on the social side, is its conformity. If you aren't always in tune with the "correct" position you may well find yourself at the receiving end of a Keith Olbermann rant. The complicating factors: (1) the standards always change, but you won't know they have until someone starts leading chants outside your office; (2) it doesn't always apply to conservatives, liberals on the outs with (1) - Larry Summers and Jane harman come to mind - can also find themselves prostrate.

Ann also highlights an essential difference between liberal faith and the real version:
Christians aren't people who believe they are without sin; they're people who know they're sinners and are awestruck by God's grace in sending his only Son to take the punishment they deserve.

This is in contradistinction to liberals, all of whom believe they're on a fast track to heaven on the basis of being "basically good" people -- and also believe that anyone who disagrees with that theological view is evil.

You couldn't pay progressives enough to understand this. Our discourse and culture thus will remain poisoned by ginned up controversies over "Hate."

The Big Box

I read this article a couple months ago, but I see that Cafe Hayek has linked to it which gives me an excuse to highlight it.

Charles Platt is a journalist who decided to pull a Barbara Ehrenbacher and get a job at Wal-Mart to see what life is like on the inside of the "notorious" discount retailer. What he found might surprise those of you who thought that Wal-Mart is a modern day Simon Legree. Platt found working at Wal-Mart was hardly oppressive and that, more surprisingly, Wal-Mart's employees had a lot of autonomy, including the ability to place large merchandising orders. Platt does allow that working at Wal-Mart is not a high-wage job, but that leads him to some conclusions that would appall the Progressive Set:

I found myself reaching an inescapable conclusion. Low wages are not a Wal-Mart problem. They are an industry-wide problem, afflicting all unskilled entry-level jobs, and the reason should be obvious.

In our free-enterprise system, employees are valued largely in terms of what they can do. This is why teenagers fresh out of high school often go to vocational training institutes to become auto mechanics or electricians. They understand a basic principle that seems to elude social commentators, politicians and union organizers. If you want better pay, you need to learn skills that are in demand.

The blunt tools of legislation or union power can force a corporation to pay higher wages, but if employees don't create an equal amount of additional value, there's no net gain. All other factors remaining equal, the store will have to charge higher prices for its merchandise, and its competitive position will suffer.

This is Economics 101, but no one wants to believe it, because it tells us that a legislative or unionized quick-fix is not going to work in the long term. If you want people to be wealthier, they have to create additional wealth.

When he says "no one," he means liberals and progressives in the intellectual, media, and political elite. Some of figured this out during our first after-school job.

Having dissed the unions, Platt then goes off on public schools and (by extension) our useless teachers:

To my mind, the real scandal is not that a large corporation doesn't pay people more. The scandal is that so many people have so little economic value. Despite (or because of) a free public school system, millions of teenagers enter the work force without marketable skills. So why would anyone expect them to be well paid?

Damn right. Think of all the time wasted in high school (and earlier) on learning about stuff like Earth Day, "A Color Purple," Kwanza, sex ed., etc. Think of the millions of average kids forced to spend hours yawning through the schoolday, learning nothing (or close to it), until they graduate and SURPRISE! they struggle to find post-high school work.

Not "For the Children"

SF's long controversy over the School Board's attempt to end the Junior ROTC in the local high schools is over. Somewhat surprisingly, the military-industrial complex won this one. SF Board Votes to Reinstate the JROTC

A three-year battle over whether Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps belongs in San Francisco schools ended Tuesday night with a 4-3 vote by the school board to restore the military leadership program weeks before its scheduled expiration.

A lot of people outside SF saw this as "typical San Francisco" anti-military showmanship, and there was some of that. But, this also resulted from a circumstance that is more common than folks realize: the capture of local boards by committed activists who are willing to put in the time and effort to pass their preferred policies in the relative obscurity of sparsely attended open hearings. The right has its creationists, and the left has its environmentalists and anti-war goofs. As long as they can avoid bad publicity, they can get good results (meaning bad for us) simply by showing up and making noise.

Luckily, this case pitted clean-cut high school kids against scruffy Greens and "peace" movement types. It's really no contest, as long as the contest is joined.

Douglas and other JROTC cadets told the board the program offers them motivation and direction during what can often be tumultuous adolescent years.

But Michael Wong, a member of Veterans for Peace, said JROTC offers "classic military leadership intended for war."

Yeah, maaaan, it's like all connected! The Empire must have its foot soldiers!

The only disappointment is that the JROTC's continued existence is dependent on the sort of procedural dodges that progressives love to inflict on people. In this case, there's some sort of complaint abouit whether this should qualify fo phys-ed credit.

While the program will continue to be offered in city high schools, it was unclear whether JROTC courses will qualify for physical education credit next year. The board will likely address that issue at some point during the summer.

"We can make this program work if we want this program to work," (board member Rachel) Norton said.

That is absolutely right. Too bad it's taken so long to reach that conclusion.

Plutarch's Lives: Fabius

Fabius is an unusual ancient hero. He led Rome's defense against Hannibal in the years when the Carthaginians ravaged Italy. And yet, as a politician and general he counseled the Romans to forbear from meeting Hannibal in open battle, a policy that often left him on the outs with his peers and the voters. And yet his persistance, and the persistance of the Roman people, would lead them to victory over a general who was their superior in every way. But, as Napoleon, Robert E. Lee, and Rommell could tell Hannibal, victory in battle does not mean victory in war.

Fabius was descended from a family of Roman nobles who claimed to be descended from Hercules (smirk). As a child, Fabius was notable for his quiet temperment. In fact, he was so quiet that many thought him to be stupid. When he went out into the world, however, the Romans quickly discovered that his quietude was due to his even temper and stoic spirit Fabius quickly earned a reputation as a deliberate thinker, and wise head. He also earned the reputation of a warrior, both in his training regimen, and on the battlefield. He made his reputation by driving an invading army - the Ligurians - out of Italy and into the shadows of the Alps from which they never returned. This was, however, his one unambiguous battlefield victory.

Hannibal invaded Italy soon after, and quickly won a great victory at the Trebia River. While Hannibal ravaged Tuscany and threatened Rome, the city was thrown into an uproar. The people asked Fabius, who was already advanced in years, to strategize the best manner to repel the invaders. Fabius' chosen strategem, which he would follow throughout the years that Hannibal was in Italy, was not what many had hoped for. Fabius had quickly discerned Hannibal's tactical skills, and realized that the Romans could not hope to defeat the Carthaginians in open battle. Instead, Fabius proposed to shadow the Carthaginian army, conduct a low-level campaign, and wear them down gradually. While Hannibal had the advantage of arms and generalship, the Romans would always have the advantage of fighting on the home soil while Hannibal was hundreds of miles from any sort of relief. Many Romans, however, failed to embrace this strategy, as they preferred to try to defeat Hannibal in a single battle, rather than let him march around Italy.

Flaminius was the first Roman to fail to heed Fabius' strategy. Flaminius led army to meet Hannibal, and was immediately beaten at the battle of Lake Thrasymene, one of the most dramatic battles in history with a Roman army pushed into the lake and slaughtered, while an earthquake raged around the armies. After this defeat, Fabius was temporarily vindicated and named dictator for the duration.

Fabius took his army out into the field and began shadowing Hannibal. Hannibal's men, and indeed many of Fabius, thought he was little more than a coward trying to avoid a fight. Hannibal quickly realized what fabius was up to, and determined to draw Fabius into battle. The armies engaged in a large-scale cat and mouse game that finally found Hannibal trapped in a canyon with his army and 2000 head of cattle. To escape Hannibal waited until nightfall and then ordered his men to tie bundles of sticks to the cattles heads and light them on fire. The cattle were led out of the ravine. The Romans, thinking Hannibal was coming out to meet them, stood in the path of the approaching herd. But, when the burning wood reached the top of the cattle's heads, a stampede began which through the Romans into confusion and allowed Hannibal to escape.

The Romans, already suspicious of Fabius, were not impressed with this outcome (it didn't help that Hannibal didn't destroy Fabius' farm when he burned part of Tuscany). The voices in Rome who demanded quick action against Hannibal were again ascendent, and Fabius was stipped of his disctatorship in favor of a hothead named Minucius. Minucius and Fabius each led divisions in search of Hannibal. While Miucius heedlessly sought a battle with Hannibal, Fabius kept his army in abeyance, and kept an eye on Minucius. Inevitably, Minucius was drawn into a trap and his army in danger of complete destruction. fabius, however, rode to the rescue and drove the Cartahginians from the field. Plutarch quotes at length a speech he gave to Fabius in which he apologized to the old man for insulting him and promised to follow Fabius' strategy of attrition, rather than confrontation.

This still did not convince the Romans of the utility of Fabius' strategy. Varro was the next to promise a quick victory against Hannibal. Instead, he led a huge Roman army into what was probably Rome's greatest defeat at the battle of Canae. Plutarch and others have written that 50,000 Romans died that day, an incredible figure for an age when fighting was done mostly at close quarters. This would be the last encouter the Romans would have against Hannibal's army. Once again, the Romans turned to Fabius who patiently counseled that the Romans should defeat Hannibal through attrition rather than destruction.

Hannibal lingered in Italy for several more years, foraging and marching, but never able to enter Rome. Finally, the Romans took the battle to Carthage, sending an army commanded by Scipio to attack the Carthaginian homeland. He quickly won a series of battles and fought his way to the gates of Carthage itself. Hannibal was recalled to lead the defense, and was finally deafeated. Not surprisingly, Fabius had opposed Scipio's original plan to invade Carthage, as this was a turning away from the successful war of attrition. However, after Scipio began winning and Hannibal was recalled, Fabius became even more adamant that Rome continued to be in grave danger and that Hannibal might come back at any time. By this time, Fabius was a very old man, and many of the Romans thought he was finally losing his faculties. As it happened, Fabius died soon after Hannibal's final defeat.

Plutarch paired Fabius with Pericles, and the contrast is illuminating in its way. Pericles is one of the brightest lights of the ancient world, a man who led his city-state to its greatest glory. And yet, his leadership quickly left his city bankrupted by vast public works projects and ravaged by war. For centuries after, Athenians would boast of their power and cultural cache, and yet - but for the brief decades of Pericles' rule - these boasts were empty ones. By contrast, Fabius lacks the heroic cast of Pericles. His strategy off avoiding fights is not likely to end up in the curriculum at West Point. Yet, in the end, it was Fabius who accomplished his one overarching goal: saving Rome. In doing so, he also helped put Rome on its path to greatness and near-global hegemony. While he lacked Pericles' glamour, his fellow Romans could turn to one another and say, "despite everything, he kept us safe." It is the eternal question of effective leadership: the visionary versus the hedgehog. As between Periclean Athens and Fabian Rome, the heart says choose Athens, but the head says stick with Rome.

Best Retirement Invesments Auto Search