When you take away race and gender, the twin frontrunners for the Democratic nomination start to look pretty indistinguishable.
Sure, Obama can say he’s always been against the Iraq war, but he wasn’t in office to cast a vote (October 2002), so it’s not really correct to portray him as some sort of antiwar candidate. Besides, Obama joined with Hillary in voting against Sen. Russ Feingold’s measure to withdraw most U.S. troops by July 1, 2007.
Both candidates support abortion on-demand unequivocally. Obama has received 100% ratings from Planned Parenthood and NARAL, and 0% from National Right to Life. Both candidates favor strict gun control, with Obama receiving an “F” from the NRA and voting with Illinois Citizens for Handgun Control 100% of the time when he was a state senator. And according to The National Journal’s latest ideological scores, Obama voted more liberally than 83%, 77% and 76% of his Senate colleagues on fiscal, social and foreign policy issues, respectively; Hillary was more liberal on the same issues 83%, 80% and 66% of the time. Long story short – they’re both very liberal.
The story reminds us that “both Obama and Clinton voted against confirming Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito,” and “[e]ach voted against an amendment to this year’s Senate immigration bill that would have denied legal status to those who had entered the United States illegally.”
You've seen it. You can't unsee it.
Oil Moves Higher Still
Crude futures are well over $63 per barrel today, a jump of $4 so far this week.
What's more, the hefty upside move doesn't seem to be the result of, well, anything in particular. No pipeline disruptions, no off-shore explosions, just a somewhat mysterious rise.
Analysts are split over whether the recent surge in energy futures represents a correction for a market that had been trending lower since late summer, or if it is the beginning of a new upswing.
Mike Guido, commodities strategist for Societe General in New York, said the picture is less clear. For the time being, Guido believes the more than $6 jump in front-month crude-oil futures since a low for the year of $56.82 was reached on Oct. 20 reflects short-covering, in which traders who had expected an even steeper decline in prices this fall have been forced to cover their bets.
I mean, sure Bush and Cheney are dialing prices back up now that the election is over, but could that really account for the entirety of this otherwise unexplained move?
Yeah, I guess probably.
110 Pounds of Blastex Go Missing
Two packages containing 110 pounds of explosives were stolen over the weekend from a construction site in Menifee, [California] a federal firearms official said Tuesday.
Workers arriving Monday at the site in the 25000 block of Newport Road found a chain-link fence broken and the door to the explosives magazine pried open, said Susan Raichel, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The explosives are used for quarry and construction blasting, Raichel said.
"In the wrong hands, this could be dangerous," she said. "It could create a deadly result if someone doesn't know what they're doing."
Or... if someone does know what they're doing.
I wasn't able to discern just how blasty 110 pounds of Blastex can be, but there are plenty of specs on the product sheet. Any explosives experts, please feel free to sound off.
And if you see someone lighting off Blastex at a party this weekend, call the ATF. There's $5,000 in it for you.
Howard Dean Lashes Oot
Having apparently run out of Americans who can tolerate his bizarre mix of forced passion and frog-in-the-headlights dullardishness, Howard Dean took a trip to Montreal to deliver a keynote speech at Canada's Liberal party convention. Showing what a worldly wee man he is, Dean broke into a bit of French during his address, to the delight of all present.
To drive home his message about Democrats and Liberals being uniters ("we" parties, as he put it, compared to right-wing "me" parties), Dean followed up his francolinguistics with the jibe "Won't Fox News hate this?"
The delight-o-metre quite naturally broke right off after this terribly clever line.
What Dean failed to mention, however, was that Fox News was the only American media outlet that had accompanied him on his field trip and the only one that gave it air time here in the states.
That point was apparently lost on the crowd, judging by the audible reaction, which seemed to suggest most were reveling in the visit from this strange, little American who was all too happy to bad mouth other Americans.
Still, not everyone was as pleased. Some Canadian leaders started asking that same question about Dean that American Democratic voters eventually asked themselves in 2004: "Who is this man and why are we listening to him?"
Leadership candidate Ken Dryden was perhaps the bluntest of the field when he told the Toronto Star earlier this month:
"Whatever interesting things Mr. Dean might say, and I'm sure he has lots of interesting things to say, it's just not the place. This is an event that has to do with us."
That sentiment was still evident Wednesday evening.
"I don't know why they got an American," one elderly Ignatieff delegate groused to a campaign worker. "I don't like it."
Sorry about that, Canada. He's our mess. We'll take him back now.
Stevie Long: American Hero
I'm going as Stevie next Halloween.
The robber was holding a gun to 5-year-old Mary Long's head when a 3-foot-tall Mighty Morphin Power Ranger leapt into the room.
"Get away from my family," 4-year-old Stevie Long shouted, punctuating his screams with swipes of his plastic sword and hearty "yah, yahs."
The robber and his accomplice, who was waiting outside the apartment Friday night, fled with credit cards, jewelry, cash and other items that Stevie's mother, Jennifer Long, dumped from her purse.
"I scared the bad guys away," Stevie said Tuesday evening at the apartment at 901 Chalk Level Road in north Durham.
Yeah you did, champ.
Stevie's house had been broken into by a pair of armed robbers, imperiling Stevie's sister and mother. And this was not the day to mess with Stevie. Not only did he take decisive action, but he was cool and collected enough to do it in superhero style.
"During the robbery, [Stevie] snuck into his bedroom, dressed himself in a Power Ranger costume and armed himself with a plastic sword," police said. "The child then exited his room and approached the armed suspect, in an attempt to protect his family."
A counselor said Stevie needs to improve his distinction between fantasy and reality, said Heather Evans, Stevie's aunt.
Um, what now?
"He fully believed he morphed," she said.
Yeah, so do I.
Stevie is 4. He has a healthy imagination. And he may have saved the lives of up to 9 other people in the house that night by scaring off two gunmen that had invaded the house.
Why should he have to improve his distinction between fantasy and reality? Because he thinks he's a superhero? He was right, wasn't he? According to Wikipedia, a Power Ranger is a "person who morphs from an unpowered form into a powerful superhero wearing a brightly colored battle suit."
I think he nailed it.
I want to see Stevie everywhere for the next couple weeks. Citations, talk shows, parades, maybe a trip to the White House.
Chertoff To NYC: My Bad
Six months after slashing New York's anti-terror funds, Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff yesterday admitted the feds were guilty of "bean counting" - a stunning acknowledgement from the man behind the cuts.
Chertoff - who emphatically defended the funding squeeze last summer - yesterday all but said the Department of Homeland Security goofed by stiffing the nation's top terror target.
"We've come to the conclusion that perhaps there was a little too much bean counting and a little less standing back and applying common sense to look at the total picture," Chertoff told a grant-writing conference.
Over the summer, I noted the abject idiocy that drove the funding allocation, including the National Asset Database, DHS's handbook of domestic terror targets, which found Indiana and Wisconsin to be the two states with the highest target concentration (at-risk assets included petting zoos and flea markets).
Chertoff's evaluation also held that the New York metropolitan area was home to zero national monuments or icons. Over the last five months, someone must've called his attention to the Statue of Liberty, the New York Stock Exchange, a debating society on the East River, dozens of major bridges and tunnels, 67 Fortune 1000 headquarters, 25 major sports venues, 2 large airports, the highest concentration of skyscrapers in the country, the largest subway system in the world, etc.
I'm glad Chertoff is backing off his defense of the senseless reallocation. And let him save face by chalking it up to overly rigorous bean counting (those same penny pinchers saw fit to boost Omaha's funding by 60% and Louisville's by 70%). The total funds disbursed under the UASI program aren't even particularly sizable (New York's 40% cut amounted to $80 million in yanked funding; a big loss, but a comparataively small portion of homeland security spending). But the margin by which DHS had gotten this reallocation wrong was so vast as to call its general decision-making capacity into question.
At least when they make a monumental error in judgment, it's acknowledged - if not remedied - within several months. That's the kind of keen agility you look for in your terror-thwarters.
"It's Big, It's Heavy, It's Wood"
"It's better than bad, it's good!"
If you thought there was no television concept that could possibly out-bore the Yule Log - that annual 3-hour Christmas "show" which features, yes, a burning log - think again. Presenting, a documentary about the Yule Log.
Now, for the first time in the storied log's 40-year history, secrets of the burning timber will be revealed.
The hour-long special includes a history of the log from its inaugural Christmas season in the fireplace at Gracie Mansion in 1966, where an overzealous producer removed the fireplace grate to better showcase the licking flames, which let a burning ember escape, thereby destroying a precious $4,000 rug.
Oh my God, I'm bored just thinking about it.
The special includes interviews with Gracie Mansion historian Ellen Stern as well as Mitch Thrower, the son of Fred Thrower, father of the log.
Interviews with descendants of the logfather notwithstanding, I just can't see them making this show interesting enough to prevent viewers from taking their own lives before the first commercial break.
Log-centric (logarithmic?) television has been entertaining precisely once.
You've Got Mail
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to the American people that will be released at U.N. headquarters in New York on Wednesday, a state newspaper reported.
Earlier this month, Ahmadinejad said he was planning to write a letter to Americans.
"Many American people asked me to talk to them in order to explain the views of the Iranian people," Ahmadinejad told reporters, referring to his visit to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly session in September 2005.
Ahmadinejad has alienated many Americans by calling for Israel's destruction and repeatedly dismissing the Holocaust as a myth. He also strongly supports the Palestinian militant group Hamas and the Lebanese faction Hezbollah, which the U.S. State Department lists as terrorist organizations.
We can only hope it's as disjointed and scattered as Mahmoud's previous correspondence.
Update: Full text and analysis at Hot Air.
Okay, it is still a slowdown, but things haven't slowed nearly as much as we thought.
The revised 3rd quarter GDP growth number put out by the Commerce Department today was expected to move the previous estimate of 1.6% up to 1.8%. Instead, the report showed growth clocking in at 2.2%. This, despite the big drag the housing market had on GDP.
The much better than expected growth rate might explain Uncle Ben's relatively sanguine remarks yesterday, suggesting the economy was coming in for a soft landing from the first quarter's blistering growth.
The Fed will release its always thrilling Beige Book later today, which may offer additional insights into the true economic picture for those willing to parse the big ugly thing. Or you can just return here for the highlights.
How in the world have we managed to keep such a strong economic footing despite a volatile housing market, high energy prices, and global unrest anyway? It's almost as though something had rendered our economy fundamentally more flexible, more resilient, and more growth-prone than it used to be...
Maybe Chuck Schumer knows what it is. He seems to have a pretty good grip on how this all works.
Update: It's Beige time.
By and large, the report indicated "continued moderate growth" from each of the regional Fed Districts, with four exceptions: Dallas, where activity decelerated; Atlanta, where results were mixed; and New York and Richmond, where activity accelerated.
The job market continued to sizzle, with unemployment pushing still lower and wages growing faster than normal in the New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco regions. Kansas City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Dallas all reported shortages in skilled workers. The only job market downside seems to be that Chairman Bernanke is starting to wonder if the strong upward wage trend may start to bleed into inflation.
Yes, one of the big takeaways from the November Beige Book is that the labor market is extremely strong and that real wages are rising, almost alarmingly fast in some regions.
Observe, as this news is spun negative by MSNBC.
The Beige Book highlighted continued pressure in the jobs market, with a number of districts continuing to report "that labour markets were tight, especially for high-skilled occupations." Wage growth, though, was characterised as still "generally moderate."
Hmm, "pressure" in the jobs market? How ominous. Growth was "still 'generally moderate'"? Underwhelming at best. The most descriptive adjective they lifted from the report was "tight", which MSNBC's thin context doesn't reveal as being a good thing for workers and job seekers.
Above-normal wage growth and worker shortages were reported in construction, manufacturing, trucking, welding, energy, legal services, health care, banking, engineering, accounting, sales, and finance.
Bush tax cuts: good news for working stiffs.
"Reaganomics is dead."
- Chuck Schumer's Theory
"Chuck Schumer's theory is dead."
Housing Up, Confidence Down, Market Serene
The economic news continues to pour in today. And it continues to be, well, kinda mixed.
Following shortly after the disappointing durable goods numbers, two new reports show existing home sales increasing in October (the first rise in 8 months) and consumer confidence sliding, but generally upbeat.
"A tighter labor market and a more guarded short-term outlook have combined to curb consumers' confidence in November," says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. "Despite this retreat in confidence, the overall level of confidence remains favorable and continues to suggest that the economy will expand throughout the first half of next year."
I'll take it. All this kinda mixed news is, in the grander scheme, pretty good news. Durable goods orders softened, but only after surging last month. Confidence ebbed due to a perceived deterioration in the labor market, but real wages have (finally) recently pushed higher. The sudden turnaround in existing home sales might suggest that the decline in the housing market (which stripped a full 1.1% off of 3rd quarter growth) may be leveling off. Inflation is low, unemployment is low, and the Fed is at bay. Considering we're still cooling off from the first quarter's hypergrowth, we seem to have settled into a fine landing - favorable conditions for generating more real, stable growth, while avoiding both inflation and recession. Can't ask for much more than that.
Refrigerators, Color TVs, Custom Kitchen Deliveries Flame Out
In September, durable goods orders soared by 8.7%. Suddenly, buying airplanes was cool again (commercial aircraft demand had tripled). But industrial fashions being fickle, manufactured goods went completely out of vogue in October, with orders falling by the largest amount in six years.
Overall, orders in transportation industries dropped 21.7 percent as a small 1.4 percent increase in demand for motor vehicles was not enough to offset the big drop in aircraft.
There was widespread weakness in a number of industries with demand for computers, communication equipment and primary metals such as steel all falling.
Excluding transportation, orders were down 1.7 percent, the biggest decline in 15 months and the third drop in this category in the past four months.
To keep things in perspective, the October slump was smaller on a percentage basis than the September jump, but the news still came as an unwelcome surprise to economists, who are waiting on what they expect to be an upward-revised 3rd quarter GDP report due out tomorrow.
George Bush: International Man of Mystery
The President has made surprise visits to the middle east before, but this takes it to a whole new level.
1. Bush has gone incognito to gather human intel in Sadr City.
2. Some enterprising young fauxtoshopper has hornswoggled Reuters.
3. Bush has an uncanny, female, Iraqi doppleganger, with slightly more sausagey fingers.
You make the call.
(If I were to make the call, I've got to go with option 3. Yes, this woman definitely looks like Bush, but I don't see any particular hallmarks of fudgery at the seems, nor are we going by a whole lot of facial detail (it being, after all, a burqa'ed face). In hopes for a better story, I really want option 2 to bear out, but if I were a betting man, number 3 would be my play.)
Elsewhere: Confederate Yankee, Hot Air, Drudge, The American Pundit
It was a clunker of a day on Wall Street, with the major indices all selling way off in the first full trading session since Thanksgiving.
The sell-off marked the worst single trading day since mid-summer, with the Nasdaq faring worst, having pushed more than 2% lower by the close.
Me, I think it's all a little overblown and possibly a case of year-end jitters. The extended market run-up in recent months may have led to a bunch of itchy fingers that were waiting for an excuse to pull the trigger and reduce some positions, lest a freefall erode the healthy gains about to be locked in for 2006.
If so, then a few moderately sunshiney catalysts ought to help recapture today's lost ground. And if the 24th was Black Friday and today is Cyber Monday, tomorrow might aptly be called Catalyst Tuesday.
New data on durable goods, consumer confidence, and existing home sales, plus speeches by Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson should keep things lively in tomorrow's trading.
Anthrax/Nonthrax/Bomb Threat At Lincoln Memorial
I blame the Booth Memorial.
(What, too soon?)
Authorities closed the Lincoln Memorial on Monday after finding suspicious bottles in a restroom and a note reading "Do you know what anthrax is?" and "Do you know what a bomb is?", a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
Hmm... threatening and childish.
Authorities found a bottle appearing to contain a liquid in a basement ladies' rest room, along with the note, said an official from the Department of Homeland Security who asked to not be identified because his agency was not in charge of the incident.
While investigating the liquid, authorities received a call about a suspicious package, District of Columbia fire spokesman Alan Etter said. No injuries were reported.
Judging from a Fox News report, the "suspicious package" may have been a thermos left on the memorial steps.
Liquid anthrax has to be ingested to be dangerous, so depositing the payload in a touristy restroom seems pretty hoaxy off the bat.
Has Castanga been to D.C. lately?
Update: No hazard, per the Fire Department:
"From the Fire Department side, there is no biological, chemical or radiological hazard," Washington, D.C., Fire Battalion Chief Wayne Benson said after the memorial was closed to tourists to investigate the items.
Update: All clear.
You're As Cold As Ice
Scientists are peering into the clouds near the top of the world, trying to solve a mystery and learn something new about global warming.
The mystery is the droplets of water in the clouds. With the North Pole just 685 miles away, they should be frozen, yet more of them are liquid than anyone expected.
So the scientists working out of a converted blue cargo container are trying to determine whether the clouds are one of the causes - or effects - of Earth's warming atmosphere.
"Much to our surprise, we found that Arctic clouds have got lots of super-cooled liquid water in them. Liquid water has even been detected in clouds at temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 F)," said Taneil Uttal, chief of the Clouds and Arctic Research Group at the Earth Systems Research Laboratory of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
This seems to be another one of Mother Nature's global warming head fakes. Suddenly finding the coldest water on record? Global warming. Just like unusually active hurricane seasons. The only surer signs of global warming than unusually active hurricane seasons are, of course, unusually inactive hurricane seasons, like the one we're wrapping up (despite much doom and gloom (HT: Drudge)). Mary Katherine has a rant of her own on the convenient self-fulfillment of climate change theories.
That's not to refute the possibility of long-term doom (or even short-term meteorological gloom), but the increasing inevitability that any study of anything remotely weather-related includes a preconceived treatise of the global warming impacts ("Did global warming cause this or did this cause global warming? If no evidence for either, what corporate interests are covering it up? Where's my grant check?") is reaching a point of critical fatuity.
Case in point, from the above-linked article:
The American and Canadian scientists at the Eureka Weather Station in the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut, like the Inuit who are seeing their native habitat thaw, are beyond questioning the existence of climate change.
"If we compare the debate over the theory of evolution with the debate over the theory of global warming - global warming's a whole lot more certain at the moment," said Jim Drummond, a University of Toronto physics professor and chief investigator for the Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change.
By and large," he said, "we are not now arguing about whether global warming is going to happen; the argument has turned to: How big is it going to be?"
So before a reliable or consistent consensus is reached (and by "reached" I don't mean presented selectively in a cinematic political vehicle masquerading as merely a preachy academic lecture), these scientists have chosen simply to move beyond questioning. Aces! Science made easy.
The biggest danger threatened by the specter of global warming is that we're unable to rely on so much of the related science, as those conducting and presenting the research can hardly be bothered to conceal their preconceptions, while those funding and promoting it have avowed partisan political motivations. Without sound, dispassionate research, our ability to understand and appropriately respond to whatever dangers global warming may or may not present in the future will forever be diminished by those who claim to support the cause.
Dennis Miller Advises the New Majority
Sound (and typically amusing) advice for Pelosi & Co. from the political poet.
Al Qaeda On the Loose
Yemen, this is getting ridiculous.
Thirteen men reportedly suspected of having links to al-Qaeda terrorist activities have escaped from a prison in north- western Yemen, a press report said Saturday.
The report by the Ray News website said the 13 were suspected members of al-Qaeda and that they escaped from a jail in the Hajja province, some 130 kilometres north east of the capital Sana’a. ‘Some of the escapees held Arab nationalities,’ said the report.
This isn't the first time either. In February, an "urgent global security alert" was triggered when a gang of prisoners (including Jamal al-Badawi, the presumed mastermind of the USS Cole bombing) tunneled out of a Yemeni prison. In August, another group of Yemen-held terror suspects escaped in a flurry of smoke and gunfire.
At least they're getting tough on the serious criminals.
A Senatorial Headscratcher
Here's something a little weird.
Survey USA aggregated and ranked the approval ratings of all 100 U.S. Senators, based on a variety of polling outfits. You might expext (as I did) the top of the list to be populated by Senators from either strongly red or strongly blue states, where the Senator's political affiliation matched the state's electoral leaning. The opposite turned out to be true.
7 of the 10 highest rated Senators represent off-color constituencies. And 9 of the 10 lowest rated Senators hail from states matching their political stripes.
Steny Gets His Agenda On
In yesterday's weekly radio response, House Majority Leader designee Steny Hoyer offered a 3-point comparative study in vagueness versus frightening specificity.
- "Change the way things are done"
- "Forge a new direction"
- Cripple the pharmaceutical and energy industries
He bewilders you with a cloud of nonspecific puffery, then phwaps you with a slab of blue meat.
We will allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare patients; rollback taxpayer subsidies for the oil industry...
Translation: price controls and windfall profit taxes. Immediate consequence: fewer investment dollars flowing into new drug development, domestic oil exploration, and alternative energy research. Subsequent effect: lower quality healthcare, sustained dependence on foreign oil (and oil in general), slower economic growth, and lower quality of life throughout the economic spectrum.
I think I prefer vague Steny.
Misleading Headline Of the Day
That's the second one this week.
You Can't Fight City Hall
But you can expose its hypocrisy.
Tim Carr and Shaun Selvage are waging a crusade against the flagrant abuse of our city law 106-452 every day on Boonville Avenue outside the Greene County [Missouri] Judicial Courts Facility:
"No pedestrian shall cross the roadway at any place other than a crosswalk within those areas described in ordinances adopted from time to time and on file with the city clerk."
On November 15, Carr and Selvage were both cited for jaywalking when they crossed the street outside the designated crosswalk. The pair claim they're only following in the footsteps of the local boys in blue.
"'I don't have a problem with you enforcing the law, just start with your own clan.' We turn the corner onto Boonville, and every day there are law enforcement officers and officials crossing away from the crosswalks all the time."
Carr and Selvage next spent a couple of days photographing jaywalkers cutting from the county parking lot to the judicial campus — people rushing back and forth from court and to the jail. The men now have a digital scrapbook of jaywalkers' photos — many of them uniformed law officers, some with the Sheriff's Department mountie hats silhouetted against the sky and buildings.
As embarrassing as all this was, the Sheriff's Department had no choice but to play the homeland security card.
The duo say that on the first day they took pictures a Greene County deputy told them it was a violation of the Homeland Security Act for them to photograph government buildings and told them to stop. Greene County Chief Deputy Jim Arnott says it isn't a violation of the act, but authorities are wary of such activity.
"With any public building, officials are concerned with people photographing them because of security concerns," Arnott explains. They could be drawing maps to plot bombings or other terrorist attacks.
...Or illustrating selective enforcement of an ordinance the city's own law enforcement personnel don't follow. Equally undesirable, perhaps.
Got Thanksgiving Leftovers?
How about a smoothie? Yes, your entire Thanksgiving dinner blends.
Goes great with golf ball sprinkles.
I know what I want for Christmas.
NY Subway Suicide Bombing Averted
GREENBURGH - A man walked into a Subway sandwich shop with what he said were explosives strapped to his chest and robbed it after threatening to blow up himself and the employees, police said.
The robber escaped with an undetermined amount of cash.
The man walked into the 65 N. Central Ave. store at 7:30 p.m. Sunday wearing bandages covering his face and fingers. He opened his coat, displaying what appeared to be explosives taped to his chest, police said.
He demanded money and threatened to blow up everyone.
After the robbery, he forced the employees into a store bathroom and told them he would kill everyone if they came out.
The robber is described as a 6-foot black man in his late 30s or early 40s with a medium build. He wore a light-colored overcoat.
Greenburgh police are asking anyone who witnessed the robbery to call them at 914-682-5331. All calls will be kept confidential.
How credible is the "give me your money or I'll kill myself" threat? Just because jihadi maniacs do it for Allah and martyrdom and dozens of virgins doesn't mean we're going to swallow that a Westchester thug is willing to do himself in for a few twenties and some cold cuts. That's not to say the employees should've called his bluff and resisted - I'm just saying there are now some intriguing questions left open, given the robber's apparently limited intellect.
2) Witnesses say he had bandages "covering his face and fingers..." Were these a poor man's mask and gloves? Or is it that he was mixing random "bomb" chemicals in his garage before the big heist and he wound up burning himself?
If you live in the Greenburgh area, keep your eyes peeled for a man fitting the above description. We need this menace off the streets and we need to hear the undoubtedly comical answers to these questions.
How credible is the "give me your money or I'll kill myself" threat? Just because jihadi maniacs do it for Allah and martyrdom and dozens of virgins doesn't mean we're going to swallow that a Westchester thug is willing to do himself in for a few twenties and some cold cuts. That's not to say the employees should've called his bluff and resisted - I'm just saying there are now some intriguing questions left open, given the robber's apparently limited intellect.1) Is it actually possible he heard somewhere that "suicide bombings in subways" were a big concern and made an enormous miscalculation?
From Flyer and Fryer
Update: PETA, only you could drain the fun out of this.
There Can Be Only One
If the ulterior, petty, self-defeating reason Nancy Pelosi backed the ethics nightmare that is Jack Murtha for the role of Majority Leader over the expectant Steny Hoyer was a decades-old rivalry-cum-grudge Pelosi held for Hoyer, then could her refusal to support House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (opting instead for ethical night terror Alcee "413-3" Hastings) be rooted in similarly ulterior, petty self-defeatism?
"We have a lot of interest in people who are interested in the first woman speaker," said Pelosi's communications director, Jennifer Crider.
Insisting on the star role on Capitol Hill could put Pelosi in competition for the spotlight with other leading women, like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)
Some Democratic insiders say the prime reason that Pelosi is refusing to allow fellow California Rep. Jane Harman to chair the House Intelligence Committee is that she's jealous because Harman has gotten so much TV time as a committee member.
Instead, Pelosi is said to be intent on installing ethics-challenged Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who was impeached and kicked out of office as a federal judge.
Then again, maybe Nancy's simply trying to avoid this nightmare scenario, keenly outlined by the impeachable Mr. Hastings.
Who's Got the Clearest Crystal Ball?
How did your favorite pollster do predicting the 2006 Senate Races?
Rasmussen wins the pin-the-tail-on-the-electorate prize.
Oil Back Above $60
It was a good day for evil oil companies, as crude oil futures spiked to more than $60 per barrel.
So again, why?
"The market is due for a bounce, and we're getting some of that," said Tom Bentz, a broker at BNP Paribas Commodity Futures in New York. "Throw in the Alaskan news, and here we go."
Color me unconvinced. Seems to me like a knee-jerk reaction to concurrently timed relative non-issues, a reaction which should probably normalize promptly (see update) assuming the problems are resolved as expected.
But you can bet the hand-wringing timing-questioners (and the media outlets that love them) are readying their talking points. Shoot, if prices move any higher, we might just need some oversight hearings to determine if Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and/or Lee Raymond did indeed conspire to lower energy prices going into the election.
Silly? Yes. Unlikely? Well...
Just yesterday, the AP ran a story lamenting the $0.05 increase (just over 2%) in pump prices over the trailing two weeks (i.e. stretching back to one day before Election Day). Never mind that a 2% rise represents a fairly unremarkable move over a two-week span.
But add in today's 2% upside knee-jerk in futures prices and you can color me stupefied if by tomorrow (or at latest after the Thanksgiving weekend, once people are paying attention again (and once futures prices have had some time to affect pump prices)), the MSM and left-of-center blogosphere don't start to converge a little more surely around this thus far peripheral conspiracy theory.
Update (Wednesday): Normalized. Today's pullback was assisted by a new report showing rising crude oil and gasoline supplies. Maddux will be happy to hear Exxon Mobil's market cap fell by $500 million this morning as a result. I guess Big Oil's market manipulating powers come and go.
Katie Couric: Anchor, Illusionist
(Does she stay that way until the next show?)
The Last Of the Big Time Spenders
So what was the cost of 2-6 more years of Clintonian carpet-bagging?
She had only token opposition, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton still spent more on her re-election — upward of $30 million — than any other candidate for Senate this year. So where did all the money go?
It helped Mrs. Clinton win a margin of victory of more than 30 points.
Hold up NYT... before we drill into this, let's be clear. That queenly sum thrown at Mrs. Clinton's re-election bid can't even be said to have been the price of running up the score. Eliot Spitzer won his gubernatorial race by 40 points (he did raise a similar amount of money, but he was also a far lesser known, non-incumbent candidate). NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi won re-election by 17 points, despite having been exposed as a chronic thief of taxpayer money. This year, a Democrat with a pulse was not going to lose a statewide race in New York, nor win with less than a large double-digit margin.
That said, let's get back to the nitty gritty of Hillary's kitty.
Mrs. Clinton also bought more than $13,000 worth of flowers, mostly for fund-raising events and as thank-yous for donors. She laid out $27,000 for valet parking, paid as much as $800 in a single month in credit card interest and — above all — paid tens of thousands of dollars a month to an assortment of consultants and aides.
Throw in $17 million in advertising and fund-raising mailings, and what had been one of the most formidable war chests in politics was depleted to a level that leaves Mrs. Clinton with little financial advantage over her potential rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination — and perhaps even trailing some of them.
The Democratic Daily, a liberal Web site, accused Mrs. Clinton of “blowing a shameful $36 million” on a shoo-in campaign.
In equal parts wishful thinking and recognition of the blessed reality, I've stuck to my assertion that Hillary can't win the Democratic nomination in 2008. As confused as some liberals can be, when Clinton is called to account for her split political personality (sashaying midward upon becoming a New Yorker, then splintering further once the Iraq war (and lawmakers like herself who voted for it) became sufficiently out of favor), I just can't fathom how she'd be able to weave any kind of consistent ideological tapestry out of her body of rhetoric and votes. She'll have to decide whether to surrender the left to Obama and/or the middle to any number of Democratic Governors who emerge late in the game to stake out the moderate ground, then try to defend whichever territory remains with an ideologically checkered record.
The most likely scenario, in my opinion, is that she'll continue to try to ride the fence until as close to the bitter end as possible, eschewing consistency and making her moderately popular with most points along the left-of-center spectrum, but the first choice of very few.
In discussing this likely aversion of the nightmare scenario with friends of mine, I'm often dealt that ultimate trump card - Hillary's money machine. Clinton, the wisdom holds, simply has too much of a fundraising lead and too powerful a fundraising mechanism not to win.
I must say, this kink in the nightmare aversion theory has always troubled me. Happily, it now seems that at least the first component (her existing fundraising lead) has been neutralized.
As of mid-October, when her campaign last filed a disclosure statement with the Federal Election Commission, the senator had about $14 million on hand.
Mrs. Clinton’s cash on hand is certainly less than the $20 million to $30 million some of her advisers early this year predicted she would have in the bank as she moved from her Senate re-election toward a decision about a presidential campaign. She is now in the same ballpark as two fellow Democrats, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who had $13.8 million in his account as of Sept. 30, according to election commission records, and Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who had $10.6 million.
And how about the second component, Team Clinton's vaunted bureau of engraving and printing?
[T]he way she spent the money troubled some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters, many of whom have been called on repeatedly over the years to raise and give money for Bill Clinton’s two presidential campaigns, his legal expenses, his library, his global antipoverty and AIDS-fighting program and now his wife’s political career. One Clinton supporter said it would become harder to tap repeat donors if it appeared that the money was not being well spent.
[T]he figures have raised eyebrows among the people who raise money for her.
“We’re not in this business to make consultants rich,” said one fund-raiser for Mrs. Clinton who was granted anonymity in order to speak freely about the direction of the campaign.
“The wasting of money — it drives everybody crazy,” the fund-raiser said. “She’d better get a handle on this if she is going to run for president.”
2 for 2. Back on track.
Clinton's aides claim the tens of millions of dollars spent to secure her virtually mathematically predetermined re-election will pay dividends in a Presidential contest, owing to an increasingly robust donor list and the emotional residue of various good-will gestures.
Hmm... meh... I say that's still a stretch if you're a donor or fundraiser scoping the Democratic tip sheet, trying to pick a horse for 2008.
Even allowing for squishily-defined carry-over benefits, the particulars of Clinton's spending habits can't be viewed as anywhere near responsible.
A close friend of Mrs. Clinton, Maggie Williams, received a $37,500 consulting fee, paid to her firm, Griffin Williams Critical Point Management, at the end of July.
Asked what the payment was for, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign aides checked and subsequently responded that the payment had been a mistake. They said it should have been for less than $5,000 to reimburse Ms. Williams, who served as chief of staff to Mrs. Clinton in the White House, for travel costs.
That's a hefty mistake, the payment owed bearing no resemblance in either scale or purpose to the payment made.
Mrs. Clinton has also continued to travel and entertain in style. Around $160,000 was spent on private jet travel for her and her advisers in 2006. Her catering and entertaining bill was at least $746,450, with tabs ranging from a $124,155 bill at the New York Hilton to a $2,500 bill for a backroom fund-raiser at Ben’s Chili Bowl, the famous Washington hot dog shop.
Waste, cronyism, lack of transparency, and either sloppiness or blatant impropriety. This is how Clinton behaves with her friends' money. How would she treat the other 300 million of us?
Elsewhere: Human Events
Update: Also from Human Events, here's a perfect example of Hillary's lackluster fence-riding abilities.
Typo Or Anti-Astronaut Bias?
(Left: Mother Sheehan; Right: Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin)
One of Code Pink's most prized stated priorities is education, so I'm not so quick to presume Ms. Benjamin's illiteracy as Yahoo! Canada, who blithely typechecks her and assumes the protest is about the expansion of military bases.
I choose to accept her signage at face value, which I take to mean Benjamin opposes broader military recruitment of new graduates with Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering degrees.
I thought we eradicated astronaut prejudice in 1998.
Good Riddance, Hasan Akbar
The death sentence for convicted murderer Sgt. Hasan Akbar was approved late last week at Fort Bragg, N.C., by Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, commander if XXVIII Airborne Corps and court martial convening authority in the case.
Akbar was sentenced to death in April 2005 by unanimous vote of a military panel for the March 23, 2003, grenade attack that killed Capt. Christopher Seifert and Maj. Gregory Stone.
The grenade attack, which also wounded 14 others, took place at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait, where the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, was preparing to cross the berm into Iraq.
Akbar lobbed grenades into three tents while members of the brigade slept, and then fired shots at those who emerged from the smoky blasts.
Despite the unanimous vote to uphold Akbar's sentence, the murderer has multiple avenues of life-extension remaining.
It now goes to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals and then to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Akbar also has the option to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review. There hasn’t been a military execution since 1961.
That most recent execution did away with John Bennett, an epileptic who was drunk when he raped and attempted (but failed) to murder an 11-year-old Austrian girl. Surely if Bennett deserved the death penalty (which President Kennedy upheld, despite pleas from the victim and her parents to spare Bennett's life), we can find a little potassium chloride for Mr. Akbar.
You Have 20 Seconds To Comply
Chicago police unveiled a new weapon to fight crime in the city Thursday. It's not exactly RoboCop -- but it's very close.
If City Hall is to be believed, they have the most advanced version of an android police officer on duty in any big city in America. It will do things only human cops used to do.
While the city press release described it as a "bomb robot," the manufacturer of "Andros F6-A" calls it the most versatile, heavy duty robot on the market. It is armed with a high-powered water cannon, able to see with its cameras that zoom, tilt, pan and do night vision, hear with its built-in microphones and communicate with its external speaker.
The Chicago device is armed with a water cannon but on the web page the manufacturer says it may also be armed with a shotgun.
The Golden Undorsement
Rangel's military draft now looks to be inevitable.
And so it begins...
On Sunday, New York Congressman Charles Rangel proposed creating a new military draft in order to deter politicians from going to war. Rangel, the next Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has advocated the reinstitution of the draft before. In 2003, he proposed a mandatory military service for those lucky 18 to 26 year olds. And just this year, he suggested extending that generous offer to men and women between the ages of 18 and 42. Unsurprisingly, the Republican-led Congress quashed these ridiculous proposals.
But Gindu, Rangel has been crazy for years; what is the big deal now that he is off on another fanatical crusade?
Rangel will now chair perhaps the most powerful committee in the House of Representatives, thereby making him one of the country's most influential politicians. His committee has jurisdiction over taxation, tariffs, Social Security, unemployment benefits, Medicare et al. By my estimation, these programs account for about 43% of all federal expenditures. A crazy man and significant power are not a recipe for prosperity.
Although Nancy Pelosi has rebuffed the draft proposal, making it unlikely that it will proceed, this is a harbinger of radical Democratic proposals. I think we will soon gain a finer appreciation of checks and balances.
Thanks, But No Thanks
Our good friend Syria is generously offering unspecified "cooperation" in Iraq in exchange for the U.S. setting a timetable for withdrawal and wresting away a piece of Israel to offer to the Syrians in return.
The Sunday Times reported that Syria is expected to demand American help in securing the return of the Golan Heights from Israel as the price of cooperation over Iraq.
“It will be the top demand,” he was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
According to the report, Assad has ruled out cooperating with the Americans in return for the promise of unspecified benefits.
“The Syrian leadership is fed up with the Americans and does not trust their word when it comes to future aid for Syria,” Abdel Nour told the Sunday Times.
According to the Sunday Times, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad also insists that any help must be dependent on a timetable for US troop withdrawals, a move resisted by President George W Bush.
“Already there is talk that Syria is the winner and will set the new rules of the game in the region,” Abdel Nour told the newspaper.
Yes, that sounds likely.
Syria, if you'd like to start dealing in specific benefits, perhaps you could start by complying with these specifics.
Profits of the Caribbean
Due to a new Homeland Security rule, beginning January 8th, U.S. citizens will need valid passports to travel to (or more accurately, to travel back from) the Caribbean.
The ACLU must be tearing their hair out over whether to get upset about this. On the one hand, oh the indignity of compelling Americans to present government-issued ID under any circumstances; on the other hand, island-hoppers are bound to be fat cats and other Americans whose civil liberties don't tend to blip on the ACLU radar.
Anyway, leaving aside the issue of whether or not this is a reasonable step (but for reference, yes, of course it is), the move has yielded some unintended happy consequences for budget-conscious travelers.
Fearful that Americans without passports will stay home or go elsewhere, Caribbean resorts are rolling out some unusual extra incentives. The Westin and Sheraton resort on Grand Bahama is offering a $100 credit to guests who have recently purchased a U.S. passport. On St. Kitts, the Frigate Bay Resort is cutting 20% off some guests' tabs, while the Boardwalk Boutique Hotel in Aruba is offering a $50 rental-car voucher. Similar deals are popping up at resorts from Jamaica to the Dominican Republic.
Around the region, deals are popping up to sway leery travelers. In Jamaica alone, more than 30 hotels are offering deals to people who have to renew or get new passports, including a $200 spa credit at Couples resorts. In St. Lucia, eco-resort Ladera says it will pay for the cost of a new passport and will toss in a free 30-minute massage and a complimentary "Juanderlust" cocktail. The Wyndham in the Dominican Republic is offering 15% off its 2007 rates for guests who book before Dec. 15.
I hadn't meant for this post to focus on the ACLU, but after I put that bug in my brain with the above throwaway jab, I couldn't help but take a quick look around. Wouldncha know it - they've offered up a real gem of a carp.
“It is an enormous constitutional question whether this puts a burden on the free movement of people through our society so as to raise whether this violates our constitutionally protected right to travel,” said Tim Sparapani, legislative council for privacy rights with the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
You see though, ACLU, foreign countries aren't part of "our society". At least not when it comes to whether or not passports are required to travel to and from them. That's, um, what passports are for.
Sparapani is addressing the same new DHS regulation that's forcing island hoteliers to whip up new travel incentives, but he's addressing it from the perspective of border-dwellers who habitually cross between the U.S. and Mexico without the bother of presenting any documentation. How dare we put our national security ahead of their border-hopping convenience?
Oh, the indignity.
Mr. Gates Goes To Washington
Today, Defense Secretary selectee Robert Gates began what must be a thoroughly miserable process - the obligatory sashay through the Senate Office Buildings to make nice with Senators before the confirmation hearings take place.
In the afternoon, Gates was scheduled to visit Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mo., Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., in line to take over Warner's position as chairman next year, is expected to meet with Gates on Monday.
Ranking Member Levin, incidentally, voted against confirming Gates as CIA Director, though he says he hasn't yet decided what to do about his new nomination.
If abortion is the typical litmus test applied by Democratic Senators to determine SCOTUS suitability, I have to imagine Gates' shake down will be a painstakingly crafted, then uniformly delivered ping on the Iraq war.
The question will be: what exactly will the question be?
Too aggressive (e.g. "Would you favor pulling out of Iraq immediately?") and Gates has an easy "No". Too soft (e.g. "What would you have done differently?") and Gates can simply appease his questioners by joining them in irrelevant Monday morning quarterbacking. Somewhere in the middle lies a question that will seek to force Gates to either a) dump on the President, Rumsfeld, and the administration's handling of (if not the decision to prosecute) the war, or b) resist taking that bait, at the risk of Dems using the opportunity to then brand Gates a Rumsfeld clone and/or a Presidential lapdog.
The art will be in extracting as much by way of acquiescent concessions and jabs at the White House as possible, without Democratic Senators overplaying their hand and giving Gates an opportunity to paint them as ignorant surrender monkeys.
As a university president and former CIA Director, I expect Gates is likely a highly skilled communicator who thinks pretty swiftly on his feet. If he's got half the quick-wittedness and topical expertise Chief Justice Roberts put on display during his hearing, I
almost hope his detractors do overplay their hand.
It could be a fine show.
With Hillary and McCain both on the Senate Armed Services Committee, these hearings could even serve as an opening foreign policy salvo among frontrunners for the '08 Presidential nominations. (I actually don't think either of them will win their party's nomination, but their roughly co-equal status as nominating focal points could still make for interesting fireworks during the Gates hearings.)
Mark your calendars for the week of December 4th.
3 More Years For the Smartest Guys In the Room
Michael Kopper, former managing director at Enron and aide to CFO Andy Fastow, gets 3 years, 1 month for his role in the Enron affair.
Kopper, 41, was the first former Enron executive to plead guilty to charges related to one of the largest corporate scandals in history.
He led federal prosecutors to Fastow, who in turn led them to Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling.
Kopper could've faced up to 15 years if not for his cooperation.
This week's court docket was heavy with Enron fraudsters. Richard Causey, former CAO, was sentenced to 5 years on Wednesday. And Mark Koenig, former Director of Investor Relations, is expected to be sentenced later today.
Kopper will be Enron's 5th incarceree, the gang serving nearly 40 years in aggregate.
The More Things Change...
Your new House minority leaders: Your old House majority leaders.
Boehner defeated Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana in a closed-door election among colleagues. The Ohio winner was expected to speak after elections for other leadership positions concluded. The vote tally was 168-27 with one vote for Texas Rep. Joe Barton.
Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., won minority whip for the No. 2 GOP post when Republicans become the minority party in January. Blunt is currently the No. 3 House Republican, and he was favored to defeat Arizona conservative Rep. John Shadegg despite sentiment for fresh leadership faces.
86% of House Republicans think this year's electoral defeat was all about the war? I overestimated their inclination to indulge in a bit of collective introspection and right the ship.
If Roy Blunt had an opportunity to pick up the core principal reversion ball and run with it, he's just fumbled. From a statement released this morning by Congressman Blunt:
One-hundred-forty-nine Democrats demonstrated yesterday that they are willing to buck Nancy Pelosi. We'll work each day to give those Democrats a viable alternative to her liberal, San Francisco agenda.
As a party, we learned some hard lessons last week. But our ideas didn't lose -- we did. Today begins the rebirth of House Republicans' common sense agenda with a leadership team that is more unified than ever, ready to regain the trust of the American people, and ready to restore faith in our ideals.
By all means, please do push back on Pelosi's far-left agenda. But the cursory lip service to lessons learned doesn't seem to indicate any recognition that the GOP needs to reclaim the fiscal high ground that its yielded in recent years. If the path to "restoring faith" in Republican ideals involves nothing more than claiming unity and rejecting Pelosism, reclaiming the majority will be a long journey indeed.
That party leadership may be content to resist the will of the majority, waiting around for Pelosi-led mistakes to pile up and then pointing unified fingers is a disturbing thought, suggesting the Republican delegation not only may have failed to learn its lesson from this year's election, but also may have picked up a bad habit or two from the incumbent minority.
Confederate Yankee sums up this development in an even 1,000 words.
So I was taking the Red Cross online WMD training course earlier this week and one of the high-level bullets on biological attacks was that they're typically more difficult for terrorists to pull off than chemical attacks, simply because of the lesser availability of exotic pathogens to your average jihadi than the components needed to produce fairly exotic chemical weapons.
But shoestring saboteurs need not worry. Modern technology promises to offer ways to cook up any bug from anthrax to smallpox - from scratch!
New technology that would give terrorists the power to create deadly bacteria and viruses from scratch is only years away from completion and threatens to make existing controls on biological weapons obsolete, experts warned yesterday.
Synthetic biology is an emerging field that allows scientists to build micro-organisms from simple genetic material, in theory enabling the creation of deadly pathogens such as ebola or anthrax without access to existing stockpiles of the bugs.
The technology could also allow terrorists or scientists in rogue states to jumble the genetic signature of the bugs in order to render them unrecognisable to health experts dealing with an outbreak, potentially delaying treatment and preventing authorities from tracing the origin of an attack.
If that doesn't give you pause, take a few minutes to read the comment thread below that story. It's jammed full of cross-Atlantic jabs between Americans and Brits, the majority of whom (on both sides) are America-bashers and/or acknowledged terrorist-sympathizers. It quickly devolves from any commentary on the article in question, but it's nonetheless simultaneously entertaining and troubling.
Oil Falls Out of Bed
Commodity strategist Michael Guido thinks investors are simply getting tired of placing losing bets on various nightmare scenarios like devastating hurricane scenarios, massive production cuts, or World War III, none of which have come to fruition.
"Too much money has been lost on what-if scearnios," Guido said, and that has pushed many institutional investors, including hedge funds and pension funds, to the sidelines of the energy market.
Another factor influencing Thursday's selloff of nearly $2 a barrel is that the front-month contract is set to expire Friday.
In its latest weekly report, the Energy Department said the nation's inventory of natural gas grew last week by 5 billion cubic feet to 3.45 trillion cubic feet, or 7.4 percent above the five-year average for this time of year.
Milton Friedman Dead at 94
Today, we lose a great man and one of the greatest modern economic minds.
I first read a book by Friedman in 1992 and I've been a fan ever since. The man makes Larry Kudlow look like a socialist.
Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who advocated an unfettered free market and had the ear of three U.S. presidents, died Thursday at age 94.
Friedman died in San Francisco, said Robert Fanger, a spokesman for the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation in Indianapolis. He did not know the cause of death.
"Milton's passion for freedom and liberty has influenced more lives than he ever could possibly know," said Gordon St. Angelo, the foundation's president and CEO, in a statement. "His writings and ideas have transformed the minds of U.S. presidents, world leaders, entrepreneurs and freshmen economic majors alike."
Inflation Dries Up, Fed Governors High Five Each Other
Yesterday, I noted that the newly released minutes from the Fed's October meeting indicated a more confident inflation outlook. Continued pausing, or perhaps loosening, of interest rate policy would depend on them being right.
Today's CPI report suggests they're right.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI-U declined 0.5 percent in October, the same as in September. Energy prices, which declined 7.2 percent in September, fell 7.0 percent in October. Within energy, the index for petroleum-based energy decreased 10.7 percent and the index for energy services declined 2.5 percent. The food index increased 0.3 percent in October.
Plummeting energy prices certainly helped, but even the core number was nearly flat.
The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent in October, following increases of 0.2 percent in each of the three preceding months.
The timing of the most recent inflection point in Fed policy may prove to have been impeccable, if it manages to give us the perfect landing from 2005's hyper growth, taming inflation without sending the economy into recession.
It may be too early to clap Bernanke definitively on the back yet (I continue to think they hiked at least once more than necessary), but today's report offers the FOMC at least some preliminary some bragging rights.
The market obliges by pushing higher still.
Larry King, Roseanne Vie For Obtuse Caveman Award
5.5 More Years for Enron Fraud Team
Richard Causey, Enron's former Chief Accounting Officer, officially joins the flock of Enron jailbirds.
Causey, the energy trading company's former chief accounting officer, pleaded guilty in December to securities fraud two weeks before he was to be tried along with Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling on conspiracy, fraud and other charges.
"There were improper things done at Enron. Some of those things were done by me. For that, I'm sorry," Causey said before U.S. District Judge Sim Lake sentenced him. "As God is my witness, I never did anything intentionally to enrich myself or hurt the company or its employees."
Causey had already agreed to pay $1.25 million to the victims' funds...
The prison time tally to date:
- Jeffrey Skilling, CEO: 24 years, 4 months
- Andrew Fastow, CFO: 6-10 years
- Richard Causey, CAO: 5 years, 6 months
- Lea Fastow, Assistant Treasurer: 5 months
Died awaiting sentencing:
- Kenneth Lay, Founder, Chairman, CEO: Conviction vacated posthumously (sentence could've totaled 45 years)
To be sentenced this Friday:
- Mark Koenig, Director of Investor Relations
- Michael Kopper, Managing Director
Lil' Miss Armed Robbery
A Largo, Florida Wal-Mart was robbed at knife-point last night.
Ths perp? A 7-year-old girl.
The haul? 2 boxes of Legos.
The getaway car? Her bicycle.
The only bit of the story that doesn't have an adorable twist to it is the knife itself. No EZ-Bake accessory this:
Police say the little girl then opened her jacket and displayed a combo carving knife with a forked point and a 10" blade, saying she was armed for protection.
The little dear dropped the loot and the knife before pedaling away.
Update: Um... this is a little weird. While the above story is no longer linked on Drudge, he now links to another story about a Florida store undergoing another knife-point robbery which also took place yesterday. Whereas I'd dubbed the first story "Lil' Miss Armed Robbery", this second incident happens to have taken place at a store called "Lil' Saints". Strange.
Even stranger was how the robbery attempt unfolded. Simply delightful. Let's just say the Lego Larcenist's mere 10" carving knife would indeed have looked like an EZ-Bake accessory at the Lil' Saints face-off. Watch the surveillance footage.
More Trouble With Harry
How was it Nancy Pelosi put it? Something about Democrats planning "to lead the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history."
Never mind that her pick for Majority Leader has ethical woes that date back decades. Now comes information that among Jack Abramoff's recently implicated Senators in the ongoing DOJ investigation was rising Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
A source close to the investigation says Abramoff told prosecutors that more than $30,000 in campaign contributions to Reid from Abramoff's clients "were no accident and were in fact requested by Reid."
The AP also reported that Abramoff's billing records showed extensive contact with Reid's office over a three-year period in which Reid collected more than $68,000 from Abramoff's firm, partners and clients.
It was just last month that a shady, improperly disclosed land deal that netted Senator Reid more than a million big'uns bubbled to the surface.
As for the scope of the new Abramoff testimony, Harry's not alone in the crosshairs.
Sources close to the federal investigation say Abramoff has offered testimony about his contacts with "six to eight seriously corrupt Democratic senators" and an ever larger number of Republican members of Congress.
8 Senators would suggest 18% of the current Democratic delegation (assuming they're all sitting members). Off to a superlatively honest, open, and ethical start, Nan. You haven't even assumed the majority yet, for cripes sake.
Save a little scandal for game time.
Not to jump the gun, it's worth noting that Reid has been neither indicted nor convicted of any wrong doing. Still, given his looming preeminence in our federal government, I'm reminded of Reid's own words lobbed at President Bush back in January. From a letter to the White House published on Senator Reid's website:
The Justice Department is currently investigating the web of corruption surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Even at this early stage of the investigation, there is reason to believe that Mr. Abramoff may have had undue and improper influence within your Administration. There is no reason to wait for indictments or convictions before the American people learn of the role Mr. Abramoff played in the Bush White House.
What do you say, Harry? In the name of openness, honesty, and ethics (not to mention consistency), surely you must now feel compelled to provide a similar accounting.
Bernanke's Peaceful, Easy Feeling
In the freshly released minutes of the Federal Reserve's October 24-25 Federal Open Market Committee meeting, we get a little more insight into the the mind of the Temple.
At the meeting, the Fed decided to leave rates unchanged, the primary driver of which is typically the committee's inflation expectations.
The Committee's [September] statement indicated that the moderation in economic growth had appeared to be continuing, partly reflecting a cooling of the housing market. Readings on core inflation had been elevated, and the high levels of resource utilization and of the prices of energy and other commodities had the potential to sustain inflation pressures. However, inflation pressures seemed likely to moderate over time, reflecting reduced impetus from energy prices, contained inflation expectations, and the cumulative effects of monetary policy actions and other factors restraining aggregate demand. Nonetheless, the Committee judged that some inflation risks remained. The extent and timing of any additional firming that may be needed to address these risks would depend on the evolution of the outlook for both inflation and economic growth, as implied by incoming information.
This, like much of the language in the minutes, suggests that if anything, the Fed is leaning a little more dovishly than they were a month earlier. Unemployment has fallen from 4.6% to a ridiculous 4.4% since the meeting, which could give them pause about whether the economy could start to cook too hot.
In general though, the tone was sanguine, with housing being the primary economic trouble spot identified as threatening to tamp down economic growth in coming quarters. Even so, the construction sector still added jobs in September, with non-residential building more than offsetting the fall-off in residential building.
Despite the housing slump, the macro forecast offered for 2007-08 was a fairly rosy one.
The staff forecast prepared for this meeting indicated that growth of real GDP had slowed further in the third quarter, reflecting both a significant drag from the continuing contraction in residential construction and a steep decline in motor vehicle assemblies. Looking ahead, a gradual reduction in the restraining effects of the contraction in residential investment and further solid gains in consumer and business spending were expected to lead to a pickup in GDP growth through 2007 and into 2008. These gains in spending were likely to be supported by past declines in energy prices and continued gains in payroll employment and labor income.
Getting an optimistic outlook from the Fed amd a relateively dovish policy outlook (save for dissenting Mr. Lacker) is a rare and beautiful combo. They made it clear that containing inflation remains their number one concern, but they also made it clear they see signs of inflation (both core and headline) waning.
Texas Rainmaker points to interesting photo documentation of what appears to be Mahmoud "For Peaceful Purposes" Ahmadinejad, at the scene of the seized American embassy in Tehran in 1979.
From Kommersant in Russia, which uncovered the photo:
Five former American hostages confirmed that Ahmadinejad as one of their captors. William J. Daugherty, a former intelligence officer, said he saw Ahmadinejad 8 to 10 times at the start of his captivity: “I recognized him right off. … I remember so much his hatred of Americans. It just emanated from every pore of his body.”
First, it brings back, especially for Americans over forty years old, the powerful and enduring humiliation of the 1979-1981 embassy takeover, with the likely consequence of hardening U.S. attitudes toward an Ahmadinejad-led government building nuclear weapons. The present alarm over his intentions will be fueled by a renewed mistrust.
Second, although Ahmadinejad is a powerful and dynamic politician, he has many domestic opponents and this evidence provides them with new evidence of his extremism, rashness, and unsuitability to govern the country, which they may be able to exploit.
Meanwhile, On the Left...
Allah handicaps the unfolding (and unhinging) race (now with "swift-boating"!) for House Majority Leader, basking in its "schadenfreudean hilarity".
Mad Murtha's apparently displeased with the fact that he's being held to account (presumably by "Abdul Enterprises for Truth") for being caught on (recently released) video entertaining a bribe in the Abscam scandal.