Wednesday, December 31, 2008

If you Google

If you search for "Smith & Wesson Model 56" on Google, Scooter's post is the top entry:



Update: Wondering if that's what everyone gets for that search result, or if somehow Google's results are tailored based on one's viewing habits.

Our first 2009 reader

Was from India. S/he was looking at the Smith & Wesson post. Proof is here.

Village Voice just lost a reader...

since they just let Nat Hentoff go per the NYT. Never quite figured out how he fit in there: pro-life and anti-Castro; I guess they kept him around because of his strong voice against the African genocides.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Book Report

Finished listening to Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor by Anthony Everitt. About 13 disks. Loved the first 10. I always love the Julian story and learned a lot more about Antony and Cleopatra but got bogged down in the last 10 years or so of Augustin's empire. Not the author's fault; it was the subject matter.

Have also read Greg Iles's True Evil at the behest of one of our former contributor's spouse. Airport fiction at its best until the denouement. Hated the action ending after a reasonably intellectual joust between the protag and the antag.


Facebook Christians of Kosovo

From City Journal:

...

"Here people are Muslims, but they think like Europeans," says Xhabir Hamiti, a professor in the Islamic studies department at the University of Pristina in Kosovo's capital. "Muslims here identify themselves as Muslim Lite," an American police officer tells me. As Afrim Kostrati, a young bartender, puts it: "We are Muslims, but not really." And Luan Berisha, an entrepreneur, agrees: "We were never practicing Muslims like they are in the Middle East. . . . First of all, we are Albanians. Religion comes second."
...

Many Kosovars are starting to convert "back" to Christianity. Café owner Gazi Berlajolli ascribes the trend partly to American influence. "Most of these people were atheists and agnostics, but they don't want to be seen as atheist Muslims," Berlajolli adds. "So they needed to convert to something else. They want to be able to put `Christian' on their pages on Facebook."

Update: I posted those paragraphs because I couldn’t get beyond “Muslim Lite”, “Facebook” and “young [Muslim] bartender” but the article is well worth reading.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Like a snake eating itself

From TPM:
Treasury also said it will lend up to $1 billion to General Motors so that the company can purchase additional equity that GMAC is planning to offer as part of its effort to raise more capital.

And oh, by the way:
Last week, the Federal Reserve approved GMAC's application to become a bank holding company, which made it eligible to receive money from the financial rescue fund. The Fed's approval was contingent on GMAC raising additional capital.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

1160

The number of calories in a quart of egg nog.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Off to Dallas later today. Hope everyone has a great Christmas!

O-spam-a

Apparently, our President Elect has a taste for Spam!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stratfor on Deep Throat

Again, my weekly flash from Stratfor:

By George Friedman

Mark Felt died last week at the age of 95. For those who don't recognize that name, Felt was the "Deep Throat" of Watergate fame. It was Felt who provided Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post with a flow of leaks about what had happened, how it happened and where to look for further corroboration on the break-in, the cover-up, and the financing of wrongdoing in the Nixon administration. Woodward and Bernstein's exposé of Watergate has been seen as a high point of journalism, and their unwillingness to reveal Felt's identity until he revealed it himself three years ago has been seen as symbolic of the moral rectitude demanded of journalists.

In reality, the revelation of who Felt was raised serious questions about the accomplishments of Woodward and Bernstein, the actual price we all pay for journalistic ethics, and how for many years we did not know a critical dimension of the Watergate crisis. At a time when newspapers are in financial crisis and journalism is facing serious existential issues, Watergate always has been held up as a symbol of what journalism means for a democracy, revealing truths that others were unwilling to uncover and grapple with. There is truth to this vision of journalism, but there is also a deep ambiguity, all built around Felt's role. This is therefore not an excursion into ancient history, but a consideration of two things. The first is how journalists become tools of various factions in political disputes. The second is the relationship between security and intelligence organizations and governments in a Democratic society.

Watergate was about the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington. The break-in was carried out by a group of former CIA operatives controlled by individuals leading back to the White House. It was never proven that then-U.S. President Richard Nixon knew of the break-in, but we find it difficult to imagine that he didn't. In any case, the issue went beyond the break-in. It went to the cover-up of the break-in and, more importantly, to the uses of money that financed the break-in and other activities. Numerous aides, including the attorney general of the United States, went to prison. Woodward and Bernstein, and their newspaper, The Washington Post, aggressively pursued the story from the summer of 1972 until Nixon's resignation. The episode has been seen as one of journalism's finest moments. It may have been, but that cannot be concluded until we consider Deep Throat more carefully.

Deep Throat Reconsidered

Mark Felt was deputy associate director of the FBI (No. 3 in bureau hierarchy) in May 1972, when longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died. Upon Hoover's death, Felt was second to Clyde Tolson, the longtime deputy and close friend to Hoover who by then was in failing health himself. Days after Hoover's death, Tolson left the bureau.

Felt expected to be named Hoover's successor, but Nixon passed him over, appointing L. Patrick Gray instead. In selecting Gray, Nixon was reaching outside the FBI for the first time in the 48 years since Hoover had taken over. But while Gray was formally acting director, the Senate never confirmed him, and as an outsider, he never really took effective control of the FBI. In a practical sense, Felt was in operational control of the FBI from the break-in at the Watergate in August 1972 until June 1973.

Nixon's motives in appointing Gray certainly involved increasing his control of the FBI, but several presidents before him had wanted this, too, including John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Both of these presidents wanted Hoover gone for the same reason they were afraid to remove him: He knew too much. In Washington, as in every capital, knowing the weaknesses of powerful people is itself power - and Hoover made it a point to know the weaknesses of everyone. He also made it a point to be useful to the powerful, increasing his overall value and his knowledge of the vulnerabilities of the powerful.

Hoover's death achieved what Kennedy and Johnson couldn't do. Nixon had no intention of allowing the FBI to continue as a self-enclosed organization outside the control of the presidency and everyone else. Thus, the idea that Mark Felt, a man completely loyal to Hoover and his legacy, would be selected to succeed Hoover is in retrospect the most unlikely outcome imaginable.

Felt saw Gray's selection as an unwelcome politicization of the FBI (by placing it under direct presidential control), an assault on the traditions created by Hoover and an insult to his memory, and a massive personal disappointment. Felt was thus a disgruntled employee at the highest level. He was also a senior official in an organization that traditionally had protected its interests in predictable ways. (By then formally the No. 2 figure in FBI, Felt effectively controlled the agency given Gray's inexperience and outsider status.) The FBI identified its enemies, then used its vast knowledge of its enemies' wrongdoings in press leaks designed to be as devastating as possible. While carefully hiding the source of the information, it then watched the victim - who was usually guilty as sin - crumble. Felt, who himself was later convicted and pardoned for illegal wiretaps and break-ins, was not nearly as appalled by Nixon's crimes as by Ni xon's decision to pass him over as head of the FBI. He merely set Hoover's playbook in motion.

Woodward and Bernstein were on the city desk of The Washington Post at the time. They were young (29 and 28), inexperienced and hungry. We do not know why Felt decided to use them as his conduit for leaks, but we would guess he sought these three characteristics - as well as a newspaper with sufficient gravitas to gain notice. Felt obviously knew the two had been assigned to a local burglary, and he decided to leak what he knew to lead them where he wanted them to go. He used his knowledge to guide, and therefore control, their investigation.

Systematic Spying on the President

And now we come to the major point. For Felt to have been able to guide and control the young reporters' investigation, he needed to know a great deal of what the White House had done, going back quite far. He could not possibly have known all this simply through his personal investigations. His knowledge covered too many people, too many operations, and too much money in too many places simply to have been the product of one of his side hobbies. The only way Felt could have the knowledge he did was if the FBI had been systematically spying on the White House, on the Committee to Re-elect the President and on all of the other elements involved in Watergate. Felt was not simply feeding information to Woodward and Bernstein; he was using the intelligence product emanating from a section of the FBI to shape The Washington Post's coverage.

Instead of passing what he knew to professional prosecutors at the Justice Department - or if he did not trust them, to the House Judiciary Committee charged with investigating presidential wrongdoing - Felt chose to leak the information to The Washington Post. He bet, or knew, that Post editor Ben Bradlee would allow Woodward and Bernstein to play the role Felt had selected for them. Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee all knew who Deep Throat was. They worked with the operational head of the FBI to destroy Nixon, and then protected Felt and the FBI until Felt came forward.

In our view, Nixon was as guilty as sin of more things than were ever proven. Nevertheless, there is another side to this story. The FBI was carrying out espionage against the president of the United States, not for any later prosecution of Nixon for a specific crime (the spying had to have been going on well before the break-in), but to increase the FBI's control over Nixon. Woodward, Bernstein and above all, Bradlee, knew what was going on. Woodward and Bernstein might have been young and naive, but Bradlee was an old Washington hand who knew exactly who Felt was, knew the FBI playbook and understood that Felt could not have played the role he did without a focused FBI operation against the president. Bradlee knew perfectly well that Woodward and Bernstein were not breaking the story, but were having it spoon-fed to them by a master. He knew that the president of the United States, guilty or not, was being destroyed by Hoover's jilted heir.

This was enormously important news. The Washington Post decided not to report it. The story of Deep Throat was well-known, but what lurked behind the identity of Deep Throat was not. This was not a lone whistle-blower being protected by a courageous news organization; rather, it was a news organization being used by the FBI against the president, and a news organization that knew perfectly well that it was being used against the president. Protecting Deep Throat concealed not only an individual, but also the story of the FBI's role in destroying Nixon.

Again, Nixon's guilt is not in question. And the argument can be made that given John Mitchell's control of the Justice Department, Felt thought that going through channels was impossible (although the FBI was more intimidating to Mitchell than the other way around). But the fact remains that Deep Throat was the heir apparent to Hoover - a man not averse to breaking the law in covert operations - and Deep Throat clearly was drawing on broader resources in the FBI, resources that had to have been in place before Hoover's death and continued operating afterward.

Burying a Story to Get a Story

Until Felt came forward in 2005, not only were these things unknown, but The Washington Post was protecting them. Admittedly, the Post was in a difficult position. Without Felt's help, it would not have gotten the story. But the terms Felt set required that a huge piece of the story not be told. The Washington Post created a morality play about an out-of-control government brought to heel by two young, enterprising journalists and a courageous newspaper. That simply wasn't what happened. Instead, it was about the FBI using The Washington Post to leak information to destroy the president, and The Washington Post willingly serving as the conduit for that information while withholding an essential dimension of the story by concealing Deep Throat's identity.

Journalists have celebrated the Post's role in bringing down the president for a generation. Even after the revelation of Deep Throat's identity in 2005, there was no serious soul-searching on the omission from the historical record. Without understanding the role played by Felt and the FBI in bringing Nixon down, Watergate cannot be understood completely. Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee were willingly used by Felt to destroy Nixon. The three acknowledged a secret source, but they did not reveal that the secret source was in operational control of the FBI. They did not reveal that the FBI was passing on the fruits of surveillance of the White House. They did not reveal the genesis of the fall of Nixon. They accepted the accolades while withholding an extraordinarily important fact, elevating their own role in the episode while distorting the actual dynamic of Nixon's fall.

Absent any widespread reconsideration of the Post's actions during Watergate in the three years since Felt's identity became known, the press in Washington continues to serve as a conduit for leaks of secret information. They publish this information while protecting the leakers, and therefore the leakers' motives. Rather than being a venue for the neutral reporting of events, journalism thus becomes the arena in which political power plays are executed. What appears to be enterprising journalism is in fact a symbiotic relationship between journalists and government factions. It may be the best path journalists have for acquiring secrets, but it creates a very partial record of events - especially since the origin of a leak frequently is much more important to the public than the leak itself.

The Felt experience is part of an ongoing story in which journalists' guarantees of anonymity to sources allow leakers to control the news process. Protecting Deep Throat's identity kept us from understanding the full dynamic of Watergate. We did not know that Deep Throat was running the FBI, we did not know the FBI was conducting surveillance on the White House, and we did not know that the Watergate scandal emerged not by dint of enterprising journalism, but because Felt had selected Woodward and Bernstein as his vehicle to bring Nixon down. And we did not know that the editor of The Washington Post allowed this to happen. We had a profoundly defective picture of the situation, as defective as the idea that Bob Woodward looks like Robert Redford.

Finding the truth of events containing secrets is always difficult, as we know all too well. There is no simple solution to this quandary. In intelligence, we dream of the well-placed source who will reveal important things to us. But we also are aware that the information provided is only the beginning of the story. The rest of the story involves the source's motivation, and frequently that motivation is more important than the information provided. Understanding a source's motivation is essential both to good intelligence and to journalism. In this case, keeping secret the source kept an entire - and critical - dimension of Watergate hidden for a generation. Whatever crimes Nixon committed, the FBI had spied on the president and leaked what it knew to The Washington Post in order to destroy him. The editor of The Washington Post knew that, as did Woodward and Bernstein. We do not begrudge them their prizes and accolades, but it would have been useful to know who handed them the story. In many ways, that story is as interesting as the one about all the president's men.

Merry Christmas in Big D

Be careful LJ.

DALLAS (AP) - Authorities pressed a manhunt Tuesday for a gunman in a pickup truck who is suspected of killing two people and injuring another in a series of rush hour shootings on Dallas-area roads.

The suspect was last seen Monday evening heading west on Interstate 635, which loops Dallas and connects to other interstates, said Sgt. Gil Cerda, a Dallas police spokesman.

The shootings happened within minutes of each other. Afterward, rush hour traffic slowed along the highway as police shut down all westbound lanes of 635 east of the shooting scenes for several hours.

"I'm getting shot at! I think I'm shot!" the injured big rig driver said in a radio call to his employer, according to a report by The Dallas Morning News.

The employer, Jesse Medford, terminal manager with Dugan Truck Line, told the newspaper that he instructed his driver to pull over, and Medford then called 911.

I'm on my way to LJ's neck o' the woods tomorrow. I'll keep my eyes wide open.

Still a crazy thing

on SSJ. When I post a link, I get all the html language in the box where type. Just realized I need to go to the compose mode instead of "edit html" mode. Nevermind.

Saracuda

John O'Sullivan in the WSJ on the Prime Minister and the Governor of Alaska:

Inevitably, Lloyd Bentsen's famous put-down of Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice-presidential debate is resurrected, such as by Paul Waugh (in the London Evening Standard) and Marie Cocco (in the Washington Post): "Newsflash! Governor, You're No Maggie Thatcher," sneered Mr. Waugh. Added Ms. Coco, "now we know Sarah Palin is no Margaret Thatcher -- and no Dan Quayle either!"

Jolly, rib-tickling stuff. But, as it happens, I know Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher is a friend of mine. And as a matter of fact, Margaret Thatcher and Sarah Palin have a great deal in common.

Re: Fixed

Great work. I never could have done that. I never even could have known my Bowie post did the damage.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fixed!!!

I deleted some crazy html stuff in Scooter's Dec. 18 David Bowie post.

Layout -- Maybe the last one

I don't think layout posts are the best start on our Pulizter year. Sorry about yet another. Here's the latest exchange with the Help Group.

I would be skeptical except that he seems to have researched and identified a specific thing causing code problems. Scooter, do you want to try deleting it?

Russ Smith

I hadn't seen him in a while. Looks like he's been at SPLICETODAY since last spring.

California AG

I just noticed that Jerry Brown is California's Attorney General.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One more dead end

I had one more idea about fixing the layout. I looked at an old, archived SSJ page, then looked at its html code and compared it to the html code for a current page. When I look at archived pages, the title is messed up, but the post titles are black. But the html code is identical for old pages and current pages.

Layout problem: Help Group response

Here was the Help Group response regarding our layout problem:

Layout - again

In light of that Help Group response about our font, I tried to look at an old SSJ page via the Way Back Machine (to see/copy/paste the html). Way Back only has SSJ for a couple months in 2006 and otherwise you're invisible to it. Also, the post text isn't there -- just the post titles. (Darn it; looks like you had a big immigration discussion I'd like to read.)

I'm out of ideas.

[Update: You were using a different layout back then, so it's no help.]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Is this what you see?

Just our of curiousity, I'm wondering if this is what the page looks like on your browsers:


and

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Flaky

I'm improving at flake-making:

Try it.

We can always go back but this seemed a bit easier to read...

while we have font issues.

Ah, bolding the text helps.

Snowflakes!

Here is something cool. It's the old folded-paper snowflake gone digital. And social. Make one; upload it to share it. And see other people's creations. You really ought to make your own before viewing the others so that you'll be fully aware of how much yours sucks. (Or at least that was my experience.)

Update: my flake:

Fonts

Now looking at it in Futura Md BT font at the office. Like it a lot. Couldn't get that font at home so I'll have to keep looking.

RE: fonts

Does it look different now? Why in the heck would my browser affect our site. I don't get that. Am I having the same effect at other sites?

Identifont

I used Identifont to determine the font of our proper SSJ title. Identifont asks a bunch of questions about the letters you have available to identify a matching font. It concludes our font is Ascender Sans:
That's not one of the options that I see for changing the title text. Maybe Scooter needs to install some fonts for use by the new browser? That doesn't seem like the problem to me, but I don't have any other ideas.

Stratfor Report

Since they encourage me to post with attribution, I give you the weekly Stratfor report from www.stratfor.com:

In a little more than a month, Washington will host the 56th U.S. presidential inauguration, during which Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. In recent years, presidential inaugurals have turned into huge gala events. They comprise not only the swearing-in ceremony for the new president and vice president at the Capitol building and the historic parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, but also scores of other events including balls, dinners, prayer services and charity events sponsored by a wide array of organizations. Essentially, there will not be a hotel or other large venue in the U.S. capital that will not be hosting some sort of inauguration-related event. These events will range in style from the somber national prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral to the raucous live-on-MTV party at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center.

Due to the popularity of President-elect Obama and the significance of his election as the first African-American president, the Secret Service (USSS) and other authorities are anticipating the largest crowds in inaugural history. These crowds will present a number of security challenges and, perhaps just as significantly, huge logistical challenges. But unlike the presidential campaign, when the security resources of the USSS were scattered nationwide, the inauguration occurs on the USSS' home turf. This provides the USSS with a decided advantage over anyone planning an attack.

The Environment and Events

Since the 9/11 attacks, security measures for high-profile events such as the inauguration have been stepped up dramatically. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that it has designated the 56th Presidential Inaugural - including the swearing-in ceremony, the inaugural parade, the official reviewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue and the inaugural balls - as a National Special Security Event (NSSE). This makes the Secret Service the top agency responsible for the design and implementation of the inauguration security plan. (Planning for the inauguration in fact begins about a year before the event, with the USSS hosting regular planning meetings with its counterparts.) The NSSE designation also places virtually unlimited resources in the hands of the USSS, the police and the security services that will be assisting it to neutralize any potential threat. From a security and intelligence perspective, the inauguration will take precedence over any thing else happening in the country.

The events leading up to the inauguration normally begin several days in advance. This year, in a move invoking memories of the election of another man from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, president-elect Obama will travel to Washington by train. Obama will hold an event Jan. 17 in Philadelphia. Next, he will travel by train to Wilmington, Delaware, where he will pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden. The two will then hold another event in Baltimore before finally proceeding to Washington's Union Station.

The analogy to Lincoln's historic election is picked up on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which has a large photo of the Lincoln Memorial statue on its home page, http://inaugural.senate.gov/. More sobering is the fact that the parallels with Lincoln's trip run deeper than they might appear from a security perspective. Numerous rumors of assassination plots followed Lincoln's election, and his train trip to Washington had to be heavily guarded.

As we approach the inaugural, many rumors of threats to president-elect Obama are swirling. The president-elect received USSS protection at the earliest point in his campaign of any candidate in U.S. history, and during the final stages of the campaign, the perceived threat led the USSS to provide him with essentially the same level of security given to sitting presidents - another unprecedented measure. As with Lincoln's historic train journey, the security for Obama's train trip to Washington will be extremely tight. It undoubtedly will involve a massive operation to freeze, inspect and then post guards along the rail line, bridges and tunnels to prevent any potential attacks. This will mean a lot of cold hours for the agents and police officers assigned to guard the rail line.

The events of Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, will be fairly controlled for the first part of the day. The president-elect traditionally attends a morning worship service. Both Bush presidents and Ronald Reagan attended a service at St. John's Episcopal Church, which sits on Lafayette Square near Blair House and the White House. Bill Clinton chose to attend worship services at Washington's Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church on the mornings of his two inaugurations.

After the morning worship service, the president-elect and vice president-elect will proceed to the U.S. Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony; the vice president will be sworn in first. After taking the oath of office, the newly sworn-in president will deliver his inaugural address. Following the address, the outgoing president will make his ceremonial departure from Washington, and the new president will attend the inaugural luncheon in the National Statuary Hall at the Capitol. After the luncheon, the new president and his entourage will proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, where he will review the inaugural parade from the presidential reviewing stand.

After the parade, the inaugural schedule will become much more chaotic. The president, vice president and their wives typically make appearances at a number of the inaugural balls, many of which traditionally run well past midnight.

The Challenges

In addition to the security issues presented by Obama's train trip to Washington, there are a number of other factors that will challenge the USSS and supporting agencies. The first is the size of the crowd expected to attend the inauguration. Normally, hundreds of thousands of people attend the inauguration and line the parade route. But as noted previously, the number of attendees this year might surpass prior records due to the historic nature of Obama's election. This means there will be more people than ever to screen for weapons. Because of the normal January weather in Washington, people will be wearing heavy winter coats, further complicating screening procedures. The large number of attendees also means the Metro will carry a far higher volume of people than normal.

Crowd control is difficult, even when the crowd is adoring and not hostile. And the bigger the crowd, the harder it is to control. Fortunately, in the case of the inauguration, the U.S. Capitol Police, U.S. Park Police and Washington's Metropolitan Police Department have extensive experience in crowd control - not only from past inaugurals, but also from working countless other mass rallies and protests in the District of Columbia. With their experience and resources, they should be able to keep the crowds in line. It can be anticipated, however, that those attending the inaugural events might have to wait for prolonged periods at screening points before being allowed access to the bleachers, parade route, reviewing stands or inaugural ball sites.

With dozens of inaugural balls taking place at once, the number of venues involved also will pose a security problem. The USSS agents in charge of security of these events not only will have to craft detailed security plans for the facilities and any VIP attendees, they also will have to consider the human factor. They will have to conduct name checks on thousands of cooks, waiters, caterers and other venue employees in addition to the thousands of people actually invited to attend the functions. Of course, some sites will be more heavily guarded than others, depending on their location and who will be attending.

Another security challenge associated with crowds occurs when a protectee approaches the crowd to shake hands. As long as the protectee stays in his fully armored vehicle, he is relatively safe from most threats. But once he steps out of the vehicle to greet the crowd - as new presidents are wont to do for at least a part of the inaugural parade route - he immediately becomes far more vulnerable. Most protection agents really dislike working the crowd because danger can lurk there. The compact nature of a crowd makes it very difficult for agents to see bulges and bumps that can indicate that a person is armed - and this is amplified when the crowd is wearing bulky winter clothing. Moreover, the sheer number of people makes it difficult for agents to spot individuals behaving abnormally. That said, the USSS spends a great deal of time and effort training its special agents to work the crowd. They are the best in the world at it, but that does not mean it i s an easy task or one the agents enjoy.

Another significant issue is coordination. A large number of important people with their own security details will attend the inauguration. This will apply not only to incoming Cabinet secretaries and senior military officers, but also to governors, the diplomatic corps, visiting foreign dignitaries, high-profile corporate leaders, celebrities and other high-net-worth individuals. The USSS must identify, vet and keep track of each of these protective details to avoid any incidents. Such an incident occurred in 1989, when the inaugural parade was delayed after a USSS countersniper team noticed an armed man inside a room at the Willard Hotel overlooking the parade route. The armed man was later identified as an agent from another government agency working a protective detail, but the USSS did not want to begin the parade until he had been identified. That 1989 incident resulted in an increased effort to coordinate and share information regarding the locations of protective d etails. These coordination efforts also include issuing identification to security personnel, placards for motorcade vehicles and providing screening points where motorcades can enter the secure perimeter.

There's No Place Like Home

While there are challenges associated with managing huge crowds at a number of venues, the inauguration occurs squarely in the USSS' home turf. Not only do many of the supervisory special agents have experience working past inaugurations, but even many of the street-level agents have an intimate knowledge of the area and the various sites. For example, the USSS has provided protection at Union Station thousands of times, and the site agent responsible for security there probably has worked dozens or even hundreds of events there. The USSS thus has a big leg up given that past experience, and based on its intimate knowledge of the facility, its agents know all the entrances, exits, nooks and crannies.

This superior area knowledge extends beyond the detail agents. Specialized support teams such as countersniper, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), hazardous materials and counterassault also know the sites well and have operated at them for years. They have plans for inaugural events that have been adapted and honed over many election cycles. They know precisely where to stage, sweep and secure. Undoubtedly, the countersniper teams will use the same vantage points they have long used, and the access control magnetometers also will be set up in their usual locations.

Security people like working in places they know intimately. This not only provides them with superior knowledge of the physical area, but it also gives them a baseline understanding of the human dynamics of the area. They have a good idea of who belongs there, what types of activities are normal and what is out of place. While at times this familiarity can serve to breed a sense of complacency, given the threats and perceived threats to Obama, the USSS special agents, uniformed officers and their counterparts from other agencies will undoubtedly be very alert this year.

Furthermore, even in non-inaugural times, the area along the parade route is one of the most heavily policed areas in the country. Consider that the parade starts at the U.S. Capitol, and in a few short blocks passes by heavily guarded facilities such as the National Archives, the Department of Justice, the FBI Headquarters, the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Treasury before reaching the White House. This normally high level of security would make it difficult for an attacker to place a device prior to the inauguration, and it also would complicate efforts to conduct preoperational surveillance.

The airspace over Washington is already carefully restricted. It will therefore not be terribly difficult for the USSS to work with the Federal Aviation Administration and the military to exercise even more control of the airspace over the event, and for them to have aircraft on station to enforce such restrictions.

Soft Targets

Our forecast, then, is that as with the last inauguration, the home-turf advantage will allow the USSS to erect a very significant wall of security around the main inaugural events. Therefore, potential attackers will have a much greater chance for success by concentrating on other, less secure targets - what we refer to as soft targets.

These soft targets could include crowds at Metro stations or on trains on Inauguration Day. While we anticipate a greatly increased police and EOD canine presence at Metro stations that day, such resources are nonetheless limited, and security personnel can only watch, question or screen a finite number of people at any one time. Thus, a huge influx of passengers will likely overwhelm the capacity of even an increased police presence in the Metro system.

Other potential soft targets are crowds outside of secure areas or the lines of people waiting to pass through metal detectors. There have been many examples of such queues and crowds being attacked in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps one of the greatest threats exists at some of the lower-profile inauguration-related events in Washington, and even in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs. Such events will not have the same level of security afforded to the big inaugural parties. This could cause them to be viewed as attractive soft targets, especially as they are being held in the Greater Washington area and are related to the inauguration.

Re: Is it just me?

Nope. I fear I've done this. If it can be restored please have a go. At the office yesterday we were instructed to immediately change over from IE to Mozilla/Firefox as our browser.

I made the change at home, too. All my fonts are changed and I guess I somehow changed things here.

I'd been a Mozilla user before and there were no ill effects. When I had a crash this summer, my repair guy put me back on IE. Don't know what's happened but we certainly look cheesier.

Is it just me?

or does SSJ look different today? New font on the heading and blue underlined titles on posts are the things that stick out to me.

Stangest Christmas Carol Ever

Little Drummer Boy, David Bowie and Bing Crosby.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Face to a name: Karma

In case anyone is interested in having a face to put with the name, here's Karma:

Saturday morning, just before the big pond incident, we'd been to the vet because the end of Karma's tongue was blotchy with dark pink areas. The vet's best guess was that Karma had gotten her tongue stuck to frosty cold metal or an icicle, and then ripped it off.

Re: Happy Birthday

One of his favorite shows apparently debuted on his birthday some 19 years ago, man.

Doh!

The Eyes of Me

The Eyes of Me – Austin Downtown Lions

On December 11 the Board of Directors of the Austin Downtown Lions viewed a sneak peek screening of the documentary film titled “The Eyes of Me.” Sponsored by the nonprofit organization All Blind Children of Texas, the film follows the lives of four teens who have lost their sight. The parallel stories of two freshmen and two seniors unfold over the course of one dynamic year at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin.

After watching 15 minutes of selected scenes, several members of the Board admitted to holding back tears as they watched. “The Eyes of Me” offers a fresh perspective on the lives of young people living with visual impairments. The film captures intimate moments of their everyday lives and tells their stories as they have never been told before.

Their teenage dramas (dating, prom, after-school jobs, academic anxiety and family relationships) are familiar to the high school experience, while their personal stories (how they lost their sight; how they deal with their disability; what direction their lives will take) are unique.

“The Eyes of Me” will broadcast nationally on PBS in 2009. As the only portrait of its kind about blind teenagers, the film presents a unique opportunity to shatter many of the misconceptions that impede the personal growth and independence of young people with visual impairments.

To maximize the positive impact of the film, the Austin Downtown Lions Club has approved a lead gift of $10,000 to fund the filmmakers’ educational outreach efforts. These funds will support the creation of curricula to be implemented in Texas high schools and will promote learning standards established by the Texas Education Agency. The curricula will examine themes raised by the film, including appreciation of diversity and the struggle for personal independence. The Austin Downtown Lions contribution will be matched by the Meadows Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities to satisfy nearly 30% of the project's total budget.

The Board voted unanimously to approve the contribution in the hope that other organizations or individuals will support this worthy project. Calculating the impact of matching funds already committed to the project, an additional $30,000 is needed to fulfill the budget. All contributions to the project go directly to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization All Blind Children of Texas.

For information on how to support this project, visit the All Blind Children of Texas website at:

http://abctx.org/donate.php

Happy Birthday

to Scooter's reader.

Regulation

From the Strib:


WASHINGTON - In a stunning rebuke, the Securities and Exchange Commission chairman blames his career regulators for a decade-long failure to investigate Wall Street money manager Bernard L. Madoff, now accused of running one of the largest Ponzi schemes ever.


He said they never bothered to seek a formal commission-approved investigation that would have forced Madoff to surrender vital information under subpoena. Instead, the staff relied on information voluntarily produced by Madoff and his firm.


Credible and specific allegations regarding Madoff's financial wrongdoing going back to at least 1999 were repeatedly brought to the attention of SEC staff, said Cox.


"I am gravely concerned by the apparent multiple failures over at least a decade to thoroughly investigate these allegations or at any point to seek formal authority to pursue them," Cox said in a written statement.


Cox's statement is sure to fuel a new criticism of the SEC, an agency increasingly seen in Congress and elsewhere as incapable of carrying out its basic mission: to ensure a basic level of honesty on Wall Street.


Cox himself has come in for strong criticism. [You think?]

Steven Pearlstein

A Pulitzer Prize winner at the Post who saw it coming.

From last December:

We are only at the beginning of the financial world coming to its senses after the bursting of the biggest credit bubble the world has seen. Everyone seems to acknowledge now that there will be lots of mortgage foreclosures and that house prices will fall nationally for the first time since the Great Depression. Some lenders and hedge funds have failed, while some banks have taken painful write-offs and fired executives. There's even a growing recognition that a recession is over the horizon.

But let me assure you, you ain't seen nothing, yet.


This may not be 1929. But it's a good bet that it's way more serious than the junk bond crisis of 1987, the S&L crisis of 1990 or the bursting of the tech bubble in 2001.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wasilla and Tom Gresham

My reader knows that I've become a certified "gun nut" since my Dad died about 15 months ago and left my brother, sisters and me several guns--OK, a bunch of guns. One of the things I've tried to do as a new gun owner is to learn as much about them as possible so as to be responsible.


After a great deal of practice I took the CCP class this summer and became a licensed carrier in October. I never carry (in spite of the "rule" that one always should) except when traveling because of my profession and all the prohibited places that I visit. Don't want to be the legal profession's equivalent of Plaxico Burress.

Another thing I've been doing is fanatic reading and listening to a guy on the radio/Internet named Tom Gresham who has a radio show called guntalk. He also hosts programs on Outdoor television (which I don't get).

He is as anti-gun control as you'd expect and feared the worst two years ago and fears for the worster now but is incredibly civil to both sides and I do admire/enjoy the program. I post this for the gratuitous reference to Gresham's program and to make an observation:

I think Alaska has about 700,000 people. I think that about one in fifty of his callers are from Wasilla.

Rahm and Pelosi

From John Bresnahan at Politico:

In talks with Emanuel and others, sources say, Pelosi has “set parameters” for what she wants from Barack Obama and his White House staff — no surprises, and no backdoor efforts to go around her and other Democratic leaders by cutting deals with moderate New Democrats or conservative Blue Dogs. Specifically, Pelosi has told Emanuel that she wants to know when representatives of the incoming administration have any contact with her rank-and-file Democrats — and why, sources say.


Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are signaling that they won’t tolerate a repeat
[White House setting policy expecting Congress to go along] with a Democrat in the White House and Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate.


“There is tension. There is going to be tension,” said a Democratic veteran of Capitol Hill. “This is not Hastert. She wants to know what they are up to.”

I'm not sure it is as bad as he makes it sound but she definitely wants her finger in the pie.

Diminished trust

Anne Applebaum at Slate on the economy:

…The question now is whether American capitalism will also change over the next two decades—and for the worse.

Reading the accounts of the collapse of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, it is impossible not to conclude that it will. The scale of this fraud stretches far beyond anything a car dealer or even the purchaser of an apartment might commit, of course: Among the victims of Madoff's extraordinary pyramid scheme are major banks (BNP Parisbas, Nomura Securities), famous people (Mort Zuckerman), and Madoff's friends from the Palm Beach Country Club. In the wake of Madoff's arrest, charities are going to close, and previously rich people will become poor. Worst of all, everyone who invests anywhere will think just that much harder, take that much longer, demand that much more documentation. And they will do so not only because of Madoff, but because of the subprime lenders, Wall Street investment banks, and Enron fraudsters who have worked so hard to erode our faith in the reliability of our system.

I think she’s overly pessimistic but I do think she’s right that the level of trust has greatly diminished and will take a long time to recover.

HBO's Saddam

Did anybody watch? I usually love the HBO series(es). I know LJ can't watch unitl it makes iot to regular cable or disc; pass on this one. The last two hours were brutally slow. The actor's pronunciation of "E-rahhhk" was painful to hear. One son portrayed as pretty brutal but not so brutal as I have read. The other was almost heroic by contrast.

Re: Dogs and Ice

I hate writing these kind of replies because they seem more like, “Oh yeah, well here’s an even better story.” My story cannot begin to rival Steph’s but just have to tell. Again, I can’t say how relieved I am that no dogs or humans were harmed in the making of Steph’s story.

I guess I was about 14 or 15 and I was on a patrol campout with my Flaming (no Barney Frank jokes, please) Arrow patrol, a subdivision of my Boy Scout Troop. It was probably February or March in north Texas. We were camping near Frisco in what was then rolling prairie country and what I understand today is about as urban as one can get.

(For LJ: I grew up around Northwest Highway and Marsh Lane or Webbs Chapel just north of Love Field and my friends and I used to ride our bikes past farm after farm, past North Lake, all the way to Grapevine Lake and back for a fun Saturday.)

My longsuffering father had drawn the short straw (as he often did) and was spending the weekend “camping” in our yellow with faux wood side-paneling Ford Country Squire. At 6’5”, he could just fit diagonally in the back of the wagon. There were about 6 or 7 of us boys and my collie Grace was along for the trip. It had been a subfreezing week prior to the weekend’s activities although it had warmed to the upper 30s/low 40s by the time the weekend had come around.

While hiking on Saturday afternoon we foolishly played on the frozen creek. What did we know? This was Texas. At one point Grace and I were walking along and crack went the ice and both of us found ourselves in the water. Unlike Steph’s canine and human friends, I found myself in only waist deep water and Grace was quickly able to extricate herself without much, if any, assistance from me. Yes, it was cold and I was momentarily miserable but as I climbed out, I realized I was walking on unusually shaped and fairly large rocks. I reached down and pulled out an unusually spherical rock maybe ¾ of the size of a bowling ball.

Being a typically curious and destructive male teen, I had to smash it against something. We had stumbled upon a streambed full of GEODES. I wish I could say I now had a huge collection of them carefully harvested from the streambed but I can’t. We broke several and moved on.

Nothing a little chemo won't help

From VDH:

...


Unemployment is still below 7%. Inflation is low. So are interest rates. GDP did not go negative by much in the last quarter. The point is that we are not yet in an era of 1929-39 by any means.



There are enormous natural stimuli underway: in 2009 over a trillion dollars in national fuel savings will occur if energy prices stay below $50 a barrel. Indeed, they may drop even further, given slack world demand and enormous efforts at new discoveries the last five years. The price of housing is approaching, or indeed in some places below, the actual cost of replacement; so we may see millions of first-time buyers find their initial homes affordable in a way that had not been true in a quarter-century.



As bad as the condition that confronts the US, we are better off than most others. The EU owes $5 trillion in debt abroad, most of it uncollectible. Its members are at each other’s throats; higher unemployment and static demographics ensure there is not to be likely as much resilience and rebound as here in the US.


Russia, Venezuela, and Iran—as one-trick-pony oil exporters—are going broke and lowering their global mischievous profile. China is paranoid that its exports are ossifying when they must grow at 10% per annum if millions of new workers are to be incorporated into the work force. China has a multi-trillion-dollar rendezvous with unionization, environmentalism, suburban blues, and massive inputs in infrastructure.


Rather than look simply at our own dismal fiscal stats, instead, ask more germane philosophical questions: which country is more likely to remain politically stable during the global upheaval? Who encourages advancement more through meritocracy rather than nepotism or class and tribal affiliations? What nation will be the least likely to sink into work stoppages, religious and racial sectarianism, and violence? What country does foreign capital seek out to ensure safety in these unsettled times? Where are new ideas and products meeting the lesser resistance and accorded the greater compensation?


I think, in fairness, the US stands alone in most of the above categories that ultimately translate into superior economic growth. What we are seeing is a sort of global chemotherapy almost spontaneously occurring to destroy the cancer of speculation, fraud, huge borrowing, and creative accounting and to restore trust into the system. This naturally toxic medicine of deflation, doubt, timidity, and regulation may destroy some hosts, even as it takes out the cancer that started on September 14. Yet the US is in the best position to survive the toxicity and emerge on the other side of the treatment in remission and healthy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dogs and Ice Don't Mix

Yesterday, I wanted to take Karma to the dog park on the river. As we often do for Saturday walks, I invited Karma’s best friend Eddy and Eddy’s mom, L. to join us. Karma and Eddy met mid-summer on the beach on the river and were a perfect match. Karma is just a little older at 20 months than Eddy (1 year), and is maybe five pounds heavier at 51 lbs. They have the same energy level and enjoy the same kind of play. They were so well matched that L. and I exchanged phone numbers and routinely get Karma and Eddy together for dog park trips.

On the phone, L. and I pondered whether the dogs would have the sense to stay off the ice that’s forming at the edge of the river or whether we had secure enough command of them that we could keep them safe, and decided, no, we’d best not go to the river; instead, we’d go to a public golf course and risk getting tickets for letting the dogs off leash.

We met at the course. L. had both Eddy (Australian cattle dog/blue heeler mix) and H., her neighbor dog. The three dogs were getting along great. They were having a blast frolicking and wrestling and running as fast as they could on the wide open fairways, tumbling head over heals when they ran into deep snow going at top speed. We encountered a woman walking a huge young lab mix, Samson, off-leash. Samson insisted on joining our pack, so we introduced ourselves to the woman, V., and invited her to walk with us and the seven of us made our way down the fairway.

As we came up a hill, the dogs were running ahead of us and disappeared over the top of the hill. When we got sight of what was over the hill, my heart stopped. There was a huge pond. One end was iced over, but the other end was open water and covered with ducks. Of course the dogs, hunters and herders that they are, had run onto the ice to get to the ducks. Karma had slid or slipped into or cracked through the ice and was in the water and the water was too deep for her to touch, so she’d gone under before bobbing right back up. In the instant it took me to take in the scene, she was able to climb out of the water and get back on the ice. I don’t know how she did it: one part athleticism to be able to get a back paw onto the ice and get leverage to pull herself up and one part luck that she picked a spot on the ice that could hold her.

But just as soon as Karma was out, the ice under H. broke and she was in. H. tried to climb out but couldn’t do it. She just hung onto the edge of the ice with her front paws. I’ll never forget the look on her face. She was terrified. L. commanded us to run to the opposite side of the pond and try to coax H. to us, because there was a spot on the opposite shore where there was no ice adjacent the shore, so that if H could have gotten to the spot, she could have climbed out on the bank. It took us an age to get there, running through deep snow in snowboots, and when we got there and I looked back to call to H., I saw that L. hadn’t come with us, and was now sliding out onto the ice on her stomach. We yelled at L. to STOP until we could run back around to the shore near her, but she didn’t think H. could hold on much longer and L. was probably right about that. H. had been in the icy water for two minutes by then.

When L., on her stomach, got close to H., the ice broke and L. went in. We learned the water was over L’s head. L got behind H. and boosted her onto the ice and H. ran to land, but L. wasn’t able to pull herself onto the slippery ice.

In complete terror, V. and I tried to get back to the first side of the pond, hanging onto Karma, Eddy and Samson on leashes, so as to not lose dogs back into the pond. In hindsight, that attention to the dogs slowed us down and was pretty stupid. It took us what felt like forever to run back, lungs burning from the exertion of running in the snow, tripping and falling over dogs who thought we were having the best time. (To add to the misery and slowing me down, I was running for the first time since August when I broke and sprained an ankle – a story for another time.) I think it took us about two minutes to get back to our original spot on shore near L., though it felt like an eternity.

V. got to L. first and threw one end of a leash to her and was able to pull her onto the ice. (Yes, that’s right, I was useless.) We used L’s cell phone (maybe I need to get one of those things) to call H.’s mom who was just a mile away, and gave her a location to pick us up. V. was familiar with the golf course and knew of an open spot in the perimeter fence where we could get off the course and out to the street, so we only had to walk about a quarter mile from the pond. H.’s mom arrived with a minivan just as we got to the street, and she carted Eddy, H., Karma, L. and me to safety. (V. and Samson live just a block away so we left them to walk home.)

All is well. Everyone made it. No injuries or frostbite. I can’t stop thinking about how, if we hadn’t gotten to L. when we did, she’d be dead. (I’ve since read that people have 2-5 minutes in icy water before they drown. They can’t hold onto the ice with their arms because there’s no blood flow to the extremities, so arm/leg muscles stop working.) And I would be wondering why we hung onto the dogs as we ran around the pond. And I’d be furious and miserable that L went onto the ice before we were in a position to help her quickly. And our story would be in the Star Tribune instead of on this blog. And all the joy of life would be over forever.

You know in your head with complete certainty that the life of a dog isn’t worth the life of a human, and that a human shouldn’t risk their life to save a dog. And yet, when the dog is staring at you and expecting you to help, paws holding onto the edge of the ice, ears down as pitifully as they can be, is it really possible to just watch her sink to the icy depths? I don’t think you can make yourself do it.

Later yesterday, I was reading the Strib online and noticed a story from a couple days ago about a woman who drowned in the Mississippi River, apparently trying to save the dog she was walking.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Obama's list of preferred candidates didn't include Jesse Jr.

Jesse Jackson Jr. rubbed me the wrong way throughout the election. I'm pleased to see he wasn't on Obama's list of preferred candidates for his Senate seat. From the Chicago Tribune today:
Another source said that contact between the Obama camp and the governor's administration regarding the Senate seat began the Saturday before the Nov. 4 election, when Emanuel made a call to the cell phone of Harris. The conversation took place around the same time press reports surfaced about Emanuel being approached about taking the high-level White House post should Obama win.

Emanuel delivered a list of candidates who would be "acceptable" to Obama, the source said. On the list were Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, Illinois Veterans Affairs director Tammy Duckworth, state Comptroller Dan Hynes and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Chicago, the source said. All are Democrats.

Sometime after the election, Emanuel called Harris back to add the name of Democratic Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan to the approved list, the source said.

Whales blowing bubbles


H/T: K

Friday, December 12, 2008

Perspective on bailout, subprime mortgages and credit default swaps

Here's a little diagram that gives perspective to the size of the bailout(s) in comparison to the total value of all subprime mortgages, all mortgages, and credit default swaps:


It's amazing to behold, isn't it? The bailouts could have purchased 2/3 of all U.S. mortgages. If home owners could all just refinance for 1/3 of their mortgage value, that would leave home owners with a ton of disposable income to spend, thereby spurring the economy in a truly big way. (We, for example, would buy two new cars and re-do the kitchen.) Of course, the true cost of the bailout is impossible to know at this point since some of it is loans that will be repaid (maybe).

I used the following sources for the amounts in the chart:
Bailouts: $1-$7 trillion
Auto industry bailout requested: $14 billion (Dec. 12, 2008)
Value of subprime mortgages: $1.3 trillion (March 2007) (MSNBC)
Value of all U.S. residential mortgages: $11.1 trillion (3rd quarter 2008) (Federal Reserve)
Value of credit default swaps: $62 trillion (September 2008) (Newsweek)

Update: Tally on bailouts by CNBC says the bailout total so far is $7.3 trillion.

Credit Crisis?

Closed a $6M deal today for a 501(c)(3) organization in east Texas (behind the Pine Curtain). It was a bond issue for a municipality (oversimplified but you get the tax consequences) that will use the funds to finance expansion and refurb of the 501(c)(3)'s facility.

Three weeks ago the single bank that was going to buy the bond failed. We wrestled with deciding between taking the new deal of the bank (that took over the assets of the failed bank) or a crazy credit swap with another would be creditor (I was against).

My position prevailed and my client got exactly the same deal as under the previous bank's offer...basically 4% over 12 years. Granted, my client has impeccable credit credentials but the idea that money isn't out there seems crazy...at least anecdotally.

Biden

I'm officially paranoid. I saw this story on Biden and immediately thought, "Uh oh. Maybe Biden was the Blago point man." That is one cute puppy. Can't you just smell him? The puppy, I mean. I'm betting he won't name him Checkers or Barney.

Rahm

Is Rahm setting the table to resign?

ABC News:
Emmanuel appeared "beet-red," according to an ABC News cameraman who was invited inside by Emmanuel to use his bathroom this morning.

"I'm getting regular death threats. You've put my home address on national television. I'm pissed at the networks. You've intruded too much, " Emanuel said, according to the cameraman.

H/t: HuffPo

The thing that concerns me, as an Obama supporter, is that it's clear that someone from Obama's camp had a discussion (directly or indirectly) with Blago in which they said "No deal". Whoever that was would have had a duty to report Blago's crime to federal law enforcement. I'm worried that that person (and Rahm seems like the most likely candidate) did the right thing to say "no", but then failed to report the crime (perhaps not even with any sort of ill intent to cover the mess up, but just failing to recognize the duty to report). Have my fingers crossed that Rahm got everything right here, but if he resigns in a huff about the media exposure endangering his family, I think we'll know where this is headed for him.

Gas is up

Gas prices went up yesterday, from $1.65 to $1.74, here. Maybe it's in anticipation of holiday travel.

Blago's prayer

The Chicago Tribune reports that some ministers have met with Blago at his home and prayed with him. SSJ had a reporter in the room and provides this transcript of Blago's prayer:

"Dear Big Guy, if you will give me eternal life, I'll believe in you."

Always looking for a deal.

This can’t be good

Steph echoed at the Corner.

The Corner a day late and a dollar short as Judge Coussons used to tell me.

Stiglitz, an Econ Nobel Laureate, on the upside of bankruptcy of the Three

From FT:

It is more plausible that confidence will be restored if the industry is freed of the burden of interest payments and is given a fresh start. Modern cars are complex technological products and the US has demonstrated its strength in advanced technology. US workers, working for Japanese carmakers, have shown their hard work can produce cars that are desirable. America’s managers too have demonstrated their managerial skills in many other areas.

H/t: Mankiw

Renewed shame?

I ripped the subhead from Noonan today just because it kinda resonated with my most recent post below. As I read further I found this paragraph in today's column:


There's something else going on, a new or renewed sense of national shame. Or communal responsibility. Or a sense of reckoning. Whatever it is it's a reaction to the excesses of the O's [obscene numbers of zeroes in the dollar figures being tossed around today], a reaction against the ways of those who caused the mess on Wall Street and Main Street. It is a reassertion that there actually are rules, and that it is embarrassing to break them in a way so colorfully damaging and destructive to everyone else.


VDH has been on this for weeks now. If anything good can come out of all this financial mess is a reminder to live within our means. Personally, corporately, governmentally.


How many of us have that six-twelve month cash cushion put away for that rainy day that we were taught to have?

Don’t just do something; stand there.

The much maligned Ms. Parker on the pace of things in 21st C. America from JWR:

In the latest blog scandal-ette, Jon Favreau, a Holy Cross valedictorian and 27-year-old wunderkind speechwriter for Barack Obama, was captured clutching the prospective secretary of state's, um, pectoral area, while a fellow reveler, wearing an "Obama Staff" T-shirt, nuzzles Clinton's ear and holds a beer bottle to her smiling lips.

The photo popped up on Facebook for a couple of hours before being removed... too late. The moment was captured and the rest was instant and persistent history. On the Information Highway, alas, roadkill is never really dead.
….

It was all about time. In low-tech America, people had time to sober up. There was no e-mail light blinking to demand your immediate attention, no insistent cell phones blasting "Fur Elise" into one's pocket or purse; no 24/7 news producers demanding instant responses to urgent claims and counterclaims. Several hours — or even a few days — could pass before anyone had to Do Something.


When I first started practicing in 1985, the firm with which I started was desperately seeking to avoid the purchase of a fax machine! The partners knew that once purchased, clients would demand immediate answers that once the firm had a couple of days to get its mind around. While I certainly do relish the new speed and efficiencies of today’s technology, I do have certain wistful recollections of the good ol’ days. Have I mentioned I’m the last lawyer in the state without a cell phone?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The long call to Washington

Juicy details are beginning to emerge from the Blago wreckage. This WSJ story describes a 2-hr long call that Blago had with someone in Washington immediately before CNN reported that Valerie Jarrett was pulling her name from contention.
During the call, Mr. Blagojevich and those closest to him allegedly detailed virtually every one of their ideas for turning Mr. Obama’s open Senate seat into something valuable. Specifically, the governor asked “what he can get from the President-elect for the Senate seat,” the FBI alleged, adding later that callers talked about how to “monetize” Mr. Blagojevich’s connections.

Mr. Blagojevich also bemoaned what he called his financial struggles, although his post reportedly pays about $177,000 per year. “The immediate challenge,” the governor allegedly said, “[is] how do we take some of the financial pressure off of our family.”

Callers discussed the possibility of ambassadorships, which are made by the president. They talked about an appointment for Mr. Blagojevich as head of the Department of Health and Human Services, also made by the president. They explored the idea of getting Mr. Obama to use his clout to put the governor’s wife on corporate boards. And they discussed a deal involving the Service Employee International Union, which would be asked to install Mr. Blagojevich over one of its top political groups in exchange for the union getting to tell Mr. Obama that it was delivering the open U.S. Senate seat to his favorite candidate.

That candidate, Mr. Blagojevich believed, was Valerie Jarrett, according to sources familiar with this part of the probe.

There is no inference that Mr. Obama knew about or encouraged any of this alleged scheming, and he has explicitly denied it. But the big question today is this: Were any members of his transition team among the “Washington advisers” on the line during this marathon conference call, or did one of the participants fill them in about these wild ideas?

Cool charts

Here's a site that sells posters of nifty charts. I can't imagine decorating with them. But maybe they'd be useful if you're studying a particular topic.

Tax cuts versus spending increases and GDP

Mankiw today is talking about the multipliers achieved through tax cuts versus those for spending increases. That is, how much does GDP go up for every dollar of tax cut or spending increase. He concludes we get more bang for the buck from tax cuts (contrary to Keynesian models) and so advises Obama to go ahead with his intended tax cuts.

[Update: I should note that last I heard, and this may have been before the election, Obama was planning to go forward with the tax cuts, but was considering delays of the tax increases on those making over $250k.]

Sunset (or Exit Strategy for) the Bailouts

This is so obvious it pains me not to have raised the issue before. I'm not sure how one would do it but like the Bush tax cuts, a sunset mechanism should be limiting these bailouts. I know once the money is spent it's gone. But the brakes should be put on somewhere. It is one of the problems of having lept so quickly into this mess. Would the economy be any worse today if none of the actions taken since October had not materialized? I can't know but doubt it with oil at $40.00/bbl.



From the WSJ:

Our emphasis on private ownership is directly tied to America's dedication to individual freedom. It's in our DNA. It is, in large part, why the United States came to be at all. Our Declaration of Independence is a recitation of the abuses of excessive government power. Our Constitution is a brilliantly crafted system of checks and balances to prevent that abuse by limiting government's authority over individuals -- including in the economic realm, where we're guaranteed our constitutional rights to liberty and property, to freedom from expropriation, and to freedom of contract.

But beyond that, beyond ideals of freedom, the national preference for private ownership is also based on the most basic practicality: It works.


Financial markets, of course, are not perfect. In particular, they are susceptible to boom-and-bust cycles...


Cycles of this sort have been a hardy perennial over the past 400 years of experience with organized markets. Addressing the results of these cycles is why we have protective mechanisms such as the Federal Reserve System and federal deposit insurance.
But clearly these mechanisms proved inadequate to prevent the current crisis.


For all of these reasons, it is incumbent upon federal policy makers to ensure that the extraordinary actions of the past months are understood to be temporary, and constructed so that they are self-liquidating. Since government programs do not on their own go away, there has to be a deliberate design to eliminate them, and a relentless adherence to execution of that plan. Anything short of this will almost certainly guarantee eternal life for these vast new federal roles.


Focusing on exit strategies now is of vital importance to ensure that we do not stumble along a dangerous path of confusion that may end in far greater financial exposure for the American people, and a far worse situation for America's taxpayers and investors. If we answer the tough questions now, and make sturdy plans for the future, we can position our mortgage market, our financial services industry, and the broader economy for renewed growth and prosperity.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One of Ours

One of Ours by Willa Cather won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922. It's the story of Claude Wheeler, a young man raised on a Nebraska farm. The story takes him through his college years, through some years back on the farm during which he marries, and then through his service in the First World War. Cather does a beautiful job of conveying what life was like. It's interesting to me, because at the time she was writing, it must have been incredibly dull and mundane to note things like the hassles of "scalding the separator" (i.e. cleaning and sterilizing a contraption for separating fat from milk). But today it's a fascinating detail that brings the time and place alive. (It's also an example Cather uses to suggest that a mechanized world may not be entirely better than a non-mechanized one.) I wonder whether Cather (or any writer describing their present) had an eye on an audience almost a hundred years hence?

Claude was dutiful but discontented with his life in Nebraska. He finds contentment in Europe. He seems to think the difference is with values: Americans are concerned solely with making money and producing things, while Europeans are interested in feelings. I'm not sure that Cather is positing such a thing; I think she gives us plenty of reasons to doubt the reliability of Claude's viewpoint. It struck me that Claude is unfairly comparing the ordinary work-a-day life he experienced at home with the chaotic state of war in the midst of which people place a high value on fundamental things (e.g. having food and being near their loved ones).

The story touches on tensions between new German immigrants and their neighbors during the war years. I guess the fight against an us-versus-them mentality is perennial, as is the tension between freedom of speech and patriotism/treason.

The story is beautifully told. Here's a lovely exemplary sentence:
The sun was like a great visiting presence that stimulated and took its due from all animal energy. When it flung wide its cloak and stepped down over the edge of the fields at evening, it left behind it a spent and exhausted world.
The graphic I used is for a volume from the Library of America series. The black cover is probably familiar to all. Very pleasant to read from a book that has a stitched binding and opens flat.

Update: This was a book club pick.

Point of Order

When referring for a newly elected head of the United States of America in a profane way, one mustn’t forget the formalities, Mr. Governor. From Monsieur Steyn at this morning’s Corner:

Still, I enjoyed this helpful bit of annotation by Patrick Fitzgerald:

ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants (Advisor B and another consultant are believed to be on the call at that time) are telling him that he has to “suck it up” for two years and do nothing and give this “motherf***er [the President-elect] his senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him.”

Shouldn't that be "the motherf***er-elect"?

For posterity


Just have to save this partial screen capture from HuffPo today:

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH and JOHN HARRIS

Where is M when I need him. The Counts:

Count One

From in or about 2002 to the present, in Cook County, in the Northern District of Illinois, defendants did, conspire with each other and with others to devise and participate in a scheme to defraud the State of Illinois and the people of the State of Illinois of the honest services of ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH and JOHN HARRIS, in furtherance of which the mails and interstate wire communications would be used, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1341,1343, and 1346; all in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 1349.

Count Two

Beginning no later than November 2008 to the present, in Cook County, in the Northern District of Illinois, defendants ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH and JOHN HARRIS, being agents of the State of Illinois, a State government which during a one-year period, beginning January 1, 2008 and continuing to the present, received federal benefitsin excess of $10,000, corruptly solicited and demanded a thing of value, namely, the firing of certain Chicago Tribune editorial members responsible for widely-circulated editorials critical of ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH, intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with business and transactions of the State of Illinois involving a thing of value of $5,000 or more, namely, the provision of millions of dollars in financial assistance by the State of Illinois, including through the Illinois Finance Authority, an agency of the State of Illinois, to the Tribune Company involving the Wrigley Field baseball stadium; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 666(a)(1)(B) and 2.


Preemptive Update: I know most of the accused bad guys lately have been Elephants.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Make room on your mantles

"The Pulitzer Prizes, the most prestigious US journalism awards, announced Monday they were expanding to include online-only publications." Here.

Pulitzer 2009. C'mon guys. We can do it. Someone write something. (I'm pretty sure gravy tips won't do it.)

General Motors Ad

From WSJ article (with link to full ad) on the GM ad:

GM's letter does not simply sound more alarm bells. It is anchored by a long paragraph admitting to several costly mistakes.

"While we're still the U.S. sales leader, we acknowledge we have disappointed you," the ad says. "At times we violated your trust by letting our quality fall below industry standards and our designs become lackluster. We have proliferated our brands and dealer network to the point where we lost adequate focus on our core U.S. market."

The entire ad is pretty long but trust me when I say it does not inspire me with confidence. It also contains this gem:

And, we made commitments to compensation plans that have proven to be unsustainable in today’s globally competitive industry. We have paid dearly for these decisions, learned from them and are working hard to correct them by restructuring our U.S. business to be viable for the long term.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Masonic temples turned arts centers

This is one of my favorite buildings in downtown Minneapolis. It was built in 1889 as a Masonic temple. In the 1970s, a dance organization purchased it and has since operated it as an arts center. The large open-span spaces, uninterrupted by the ubiquitous steel pillars of modern construction, are well suited to rehearsal and performance spaces.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Gravy breakthrough

I made Thanksgiving dinner today for K since he didn't get any last week. (He stayed here while I traveled to Bismarck.) Until today, I'd never made decent gravy. For 20 years, I've been making gravy as my mom taught me, like this:

1) save the potato water;
2) pour your turkey pan drippings into a fat separator and pour off the fat and throw it away;
3) return the non-fat pan drippings to the pan and add some potato water;
4) mix flour and some water vigorously to get a paste and slowly add that to the drippings/water, with lots of stirring to try to avoid lumps;
5) simmer to desire consistency.

But that was all wrong. Pouring off the fat and throwing it away is all wrong. Instead, I should be thinking of the flour/paste as a roux. Roux, of course, if made of flour and FAT, in equal parts. So instead, today, I made gravy this way:

1) save the potato water (or heat stock);
2) pour the turkey pan dripping into a fat separator and pour the fat into a sauce pan; estimate how much fat you have and slowly add an equal amount of flour, to the fat, stirring constantly. Can continue to cook this to brown it (stirring constantly and being careful on to burn it) to deepen the flavor (as you would for a roux for, say, gumbo), but for turkey gravy it's not necessary.
3) meanwhile, deglaze the drippings pan with a splash of white wine, then add the pan drippings and some of the potato water (plus chicken bouillon cube) or stock; simmer a bit to reduce and concentrate flavors;
4) slowly add drippings/water to the roux.
5) YUM.

Good thing the gravy was fabulous, since I dropped the casserole of yams on the floor.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Harmonic Gardening

"For 60 years, the members of Austin Organic Gardeners have shared information about successfully raising vegetables and ornamentals without using harsh fertilizers that harm the soil and toxic pesticides that disturb the ecological balance."

Re: "factory" food

There was a bit of this in the news a while back.

From the Independent:

David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, drew a furious response from growers last month when he suggested organic food was a "lifestyle choice" with no conclusive evidence it was nutritionally superior.

Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, also told The Independent he agreed that organic food was no safer than chemically-treated food.

The article goes on to discuss the environmental pros and cons of organic growing. While our souls may be jeopardized by "factory" food, I'm not yet sold on the nutritional or environmental benefits of organic growing.

Star Tribune series on The Hungry Planet

I guess the Strib "The Hungry Planet" series is not solely about Cargill. Here's their description of their series:
Readers first phoned in about high milk and egg prices more than a year ago. Within months, as corn and wheat prices reached new daily highs, food was on everyone's mind. Shortages led to food riots in Haiti and a run on rice from Cambodia to Costco. So what went wrong? This series, Our Hungry Planet, found powerful and conflicting forces around the world influencing the supply and price of food. Some individuals and businesses have profited handsomely, while others went hungry and grocery bills continued to rise.
Here are the articles in the series:
  • Part One: Palm oil has become the new vegetable oil. Papua New Guinea is trying to cash in on it, lured by Cargill

  • Part Two: A Minneapolis bartended turned trader made more than $1 million as prices rose. Can he hold on?

  • Part Three: Food companies quietly raise prices by reengineering products into smaller packages. (I've been noticed this.)

  • Part Four: Volatile food prices have shoved Cambodia's poorest closer to famine

  • Part Five: Cargill's ever-growing reach deep into the food chain raises questions about its secretive ways.

  • Part Six: A Minnesota soy farmer, tired of giant agriculture conglomerates, takes his crop global

  • Part Seven (to be published Sunday): Why did those egg prices jump so high so fast?

Starvation history

In my neighborhood and book club crowd, a hot topic is food production. Everyone is all for local, organic, chemical-free food production and, accordingly, is anti-Cargill, anti-factory-farms, etc. (The StarTrib has been running a series on Cargill that I haven't read yet, but will.) I've read Michael Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dilemma, that advances the same philosophy towards food. The arguments are that our health and environment, perhaps even our souls, are compromised by "factory" food. I accept that that's true.

Nevertheless, the thing that's missing from Pollan's book and all the discussions I run into, is a quantitative analysis of whether the world's population could get its nutritional needs met without factory food. How many people would be starving either due to the absence of food or because it would be too expensive? Is there enough arable land on the planet for us each to grow the food we need in our backyard? Can Minnesotans each nothing but local food without getting scurvy?

Does anyone have any info you could point me to about the history of starvation and malnutrition, or a quantitative look at the feasibility of more holistic food production?