Absence Makes the Readers Go YonderAs some of you have noticed, I've been an unannounced (well, heretofore announced) blogging sabbatical over the last week or so. No need to angrily de-bookmark the site. Things will be back in full gear early this coming week.
The YouTube Killer?
TechCrunch reports on the now-confirmed rumors of a massive online video portal in the works, part of a cooperative venture between NBC Universal and News Corp. Distribution partners include AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, and MySpace (owned by News Corp).
From the press release:
The video-rich site will debut this summer with thousands of hours of full-length programming, movies and clips, representing premium content from at least a dozen networks and two major film studios.
AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo! will be the new site’s initial distribution partners. Their users, who represent 96 percent of the monthly U.S. unique users on the Internet, will have unlimited access to the site’s vast library of content. This media alliance will offer consumers free long- and short-form video and create a compelling platform for advertisers, targeting the rapidly growing audience of online video consumers.
Given the content on offer, this could be bad news not just for Google/YouTube, but also for Apple/iTunes.
At launch, full episodes and clips from current hit shows, including Heroes, 24, House, My Name Is Earl, Saturday Night Live, Friday Night Lights, The Riches, 30 Rock, The Simpsons, The Tonight Show, Prison Break, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader and Top Chef, plus hits from the studios’ vast television libraries, will be available free, on an ad-supported basis, within a rich consumer experience featuring personalized video playlists, mashups, online communities and video search. Plus, the extensive programming lineup will include fan favorite films like Borat, Little Miss Sunshine, Devil Wears Prada, The Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy with bonus materials and movie trailers. Post-launch, plans will be considered for acquiring additional content as well as producing and licensing original programming for the new site’s audience.
They had me at Heroes, 24, and House.
TechCrunch lays out a few functional unknowns:
- delay if any from TV broadcast to content being on the site.
- will there be a centralized site for the service, or will this only be distributed through partners?
- Will users/viewers be able to upload their own videos as well (lots of this on MySpace Video already, could be incorporated)?
- format and “skipability” of advertising
What I'm most curious about is whether the site will offer any live content (or not live per se, but content that's webcast when telecast). Movies and TV series fit nicely into the time-and-place-shifting offering described here (kind of like a TiVo and a SlingBox in one, only free and requiring no hardware), but there will always be some content that viewers will strongly prefer to receive in real-time. News, business news, sports, etc.
Between News Corp's Fox News Channel, Fox Sports, Fox College Sports, and the long-rumored Fox Business Channel, and NBC Universal's NBC News, NBC Sports, MSNBC, CNBC, CourtTV, etc., the consortium controls a significant share of all imaginable time-sensitive programming. If they do go that route, perhaps Sling Media and the odd newsman out, CNN (and parent Time Warner), count themselves alongside Google and Apple in the losers' circle, should the project be successful.
Time Warner subsidiary AOL is involved as a distribution partner, so the company apparently hasn't been completely kept out of the loop, but I'd note that among the five feature films mentioned in the launch, none were from Warner Bros., Castle Rock, or New Line (Time Warner's major film studios). The Bourne franchise is Universal's; the others were distributed by 20th Century Fox.
It'll be a while before we know how all the specifics of this project shake out, but at first glance it appears Jeff and Rupert may have left old Ted out in the cold on this one.
John Edwards [Update: Not] To Suspend Campaign
When the Edwards campaign announced today's press conference last night, rumors began circulating that he would be suspending or terminating his candidacy in order to tend to his wife Elizabeth, diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. As reported at Politico, a campaign source confirms this regrettably to be the case.
"At a minimum he's going to suspend" the campaign, the source said. "Nobody knows precisely how serious her recurrence is. It’ll be another couple of days before there’s complete clarity."
"For him right now he has one priority which is her health and the security of the two young children," said the friend.
As for the campaign, "You don't shut this machine off completely, but everything will go on hold."
The press conference is set to begin in a few minutes. Allah's got a post going and will undoubtedly be updating as details, reaction, and/or video become available.
Update: The bad news: Elizabeth Edwards' cancer has indeed returned. The good news: test results that came back only yesterday were apparently rosier than other recent results, so Edwards will not in fact suspend his campaign. In the candidates words, "We have no intentions of cowering in the corner." Politico issues a mea culpa, suggesting the single source inside the campaign was apprised only of the less recent tests and the apparent decision (now reversed) that had previously been made to suspend the campaign based on that grimmer (happily inaccurate) prognosis.
Federal Reserve Language Watch
After wandering aimlessly through most of the session, the market suddenly took off this afternoon, following the Federal Reserve's release of its March FOMC statement.
Once again, they left the Fed Funds target rate unchanged at 5.25% in a unanimous decision.
Reading into the various twists and tweaks in language, as compared with the previous statement released on January 31st, Uncle Ben and the Gang appear to be making two central points: 1) We haven't yet shifted from "soft landing" mode back to acccelerating economic growth mode yet, but we still foresee economic growth, despite the housing market's failure to stabilize as quickly as we thought it would. 2) Inflation is a slightly more pressing concern to us than it was two months ago, so don't think we'll hesitate to throw a rate hike at you if inflation doesn't start approaching our comfort zone sometime soon.
I read these both as incrementally hawkish sentiments. They appear notably more inclined to hike away lingering inflation than to juice the economy with a cut, should growth fail to accelerate through the next couple quarters. Before the statement, the markets were pricing in a presumptive hold though mid-year, but with a 24% chance of a cut. Taken at face value, the statement seems to suggest roughly the opposite, with the default position still being to hold, but erring toward hiking should things go askew.
Still, the markets took off almost immediately, with the Dow putting up a triple digit gain and the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 gaining nearly 2% at the close. It may simply be that investors were cheered by the Fed's assessment that the economy indeed remains poised for steady (if not yet accelerating) growth, particularly after Alan Greenspan threw a bit of cold water on that notion a few weeks back (well, more accurately, after the AP reported with gross and blatant inaccuracy what Greenspan said and manufactured a little cold water-throwing on his behalf).
Either way, Wall Street on balance liked what the Bernanke Fed had to say today. Below is the "Track Changes" view of today's statement compared to January's. (Click image for larger view.)
Hillary Comments On the 1984 Ad
A couple weeks ago, an anonymous anti-Hillary ad appeared on YouTube, in the form of a mash-up of Apple's famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial which featured a sledge-hammer wielding gal smashing a big-screen Big Brother. In the Hillary ad, which is pretty slickly produced, the Converser herself is projected on the screen, broadcasting her own Orwellian doctrine.
I didn't post on it at the time, mainly because I've been posting a lot about Hillary lately and I think it's good for the soul to keep some kind of cap on that frequency. But in a freshly unveiled interview with NY1, Hillary had some painstakingly crafted, endearingly self-deprecating comments about the mysterious ad (audio available here), so here we are.
Q: What do you think of the video?
Hillary: I haven't seen it but I'm pleased that it seems to be taking attention away from what used to be on YouTube and getting a lot of hits, namely me singing "The Star Spangled Banner." Everybody in the world now knows I can't carry a tune. I thank heavens for small favors and the attention has shifted and now maybe people won't have to tune in and hear me screeching about "The Star Spangled Banner."
Q: Should the video be removed?
Hillary: You know, that's for somebody else to decide.
Incidentally, this is one of my biggest political pet peeves. Republicans and Democrats both do it and it's infuriating. Whenever they're asked their opinion on something they don't want to opine on, they simply note that it's not up to them, but rather "for somebody else to decide..." which is never the question being asked.
Hillary: I don't have an opinion one way of another. I think anything that drives interest in these campaigns and gets people who otherwise are not at all interested in politics, I think that's pretty good. I might quibble a little bit about the content but if we get more people, especially young people, thinking about politics, I'm happy about that.
A) Well, "A" is the peeve noted above. B) Color me every shade of incredulous that she would think anyone's going to consider believing that she hasn't seen the video. C) Yes, the National Anthem gaffe was a good one. But that was a good dozen or so YouTube phenomena ago. That she's [somewhat embarrassingly] trying to wring a few more drops of any-publicity-is-good-publicity out of that aural abhorrence tends to support the theory that she and her team have been pouring over the 1984 spoof for days. D) Her suddenly and utterly aloof demeanor about an attack ad is precisely 180 degrees from the tone of her post-Geffen explosion. Lesson learned, it would seem. E) I get the feeling that condescension may simply come so naturally to the candidate at this point that she has no awareness of the haughtiness baked into that last line.
Update: Commenter Ben has an interesting theory about the source of the video.
The Splendifferous Logic of Animal Rightsters
When you make the decision to devote your life to protecting God's dopier creatures from the calculating and boorish appetites of humans, you probably don't envision yourself one day advocating the cold-blooded slaying of a perfectly healthy, adorably fuzzy, little polar bear cub.
Try to follow the bouncing bull:
ANIMAL-RIGHTS activists have called for a zoo’s baby Polar bear to be KILLED — because it relies on humans.
The hand-reared polar bear touched the hearts of the nation and became the symbol of Berlin Zoo.
He was even photographed by star snapper Annie Leibowitz for an international campaign.
But extremists in Germany claim Knut’s cuteness is against his own “animal rights” and he should be put to sleep.
Activist Frank Albrecht said last night: “The hand-rearing of Knut is a breach of the animal protection code.
“He’ll rely on humans forever and this cannot be right.”
I wonder if Albrecht relies on any humans for his survival...
Video of the lovable little abomination-that-must-be-destroyed (Knut, not Albrecht) is below, jocularly - if not particularly helpfully - narrated in German.
German animal rights activists could learn a thing or two from their Yankee counterparts. PETA knows that when you want a healthy baby animal "taken care of", you simply kill it yourself, then throw it in a dumpster behind the nearest Piggly Wiggly.
Drudge Pooh-Poohs Hot Air
As an affiliate, I'm going to borrow a little slight by association.
Just ugh. The things I want to say right now. But we’ve got an FCC. The things I want to say. Maybe we’ll do, uh, uh, a commentary on the Internet like Michelle Malkin. Maybe I’ll stand in front of like a blue screen and hold a banana and start talking into the Internets. (Sneering tone) ‘This is Matt Drudge reporting on Hot Air.’ Agggh. You know. It’s ridiculous. Looks like, you know, Captain Kangaroo time, Michelle. Get real.
(The disparaging audio is also available at the link.)
Given Drudge's quaintly primitive interface, it's mildly ironic that he'd deride the production values of Hot Air's daily video installments of Vent, The Citizen Journalist Report, Press Play, and Jihad Watch.
Satisfyingly, Michelle has responded with a thorough and salubrious retort.
While we're at it, here's some unsolicited Web 2.0 advice for the Drudge Report: for a nearly exclusively text-based website, it's shockingly cumbersome for mobile viewing.
McCain Squares Off Against Club for Growth
This is another poorly chosen battle for a candidate already unpopular among his party's economically conservative base. The Club ranks McCain in the lower half of the class among his Republican colleagues in the Senate (and two dozen slots behind Sam Brownback, the only other GOP Senator in the Presidential hunt), so maybe it's only natural that he wouldn't expect the warmest reception at the Club's meeting. Still, CPAC-goers likely differed with the bulk of Rudy Giuliani's social platform, yet he managed to make a terrific showing at the event and has since eclipsed McCain in a number of polls.
McCain now having twice scoffed the primary-voter-laden base of his own party by turning down these invitations might well have sustained be the self-inflicted death blow in what was a long-shot primary bid to begin with (especially if he continues to throw a spotlight on his ideological differences with the groups in question).
Video of him doing just that is here.
(HT: The Corner)
Pesky Numbers Say the Surge Is Working
With the troop surge now a month in, we can start to quantify some encouraging signs of progress.
It gives us great pleasure to report that, one month after the commencement of the U.S. troop surge in Iraq and the enactment of a new plan to secure Baghdad, American troop deaths are down by 60 percent. Areas of the city previously controlled by militias and insurgent groups—specifically Sadr City, Al-Azamiyah and Al-Doura—are steadily coming under the control of the U.S.-Iraqi combined force.
Since the launch of the 14 February operation, the number of civilians killed in Baghdad has dropped to 265, compared with 1,440 killings from mid-January to mid-February; a drop of 82 percent. By contrast, terrorist deaths are up in Baghdad: 94 dispatched from mid-February to mid-March, up from 19 killed in the 30 days prior.
Similarly, Baghdad suffered 102 roadside bombings in the February-March period, a 37-percent decline from 163 during the January-February period. Other statistics include: 36 car bombs in February-March to 56 in January-February (down 36 percent); 109 mortar attacks in February-March to 204 in January-February (down 47 percent); ten kidnapping incidents in February-March to 98 in January-February (down 90 percent); and 22 assassination incidents in February-March to 519 in January-February for a staggering drop of 96 percent.
There's no public policy like pro-growth public policy. And when it comes to pro-growth policy, no one watches Congress like the Club for Growth. Today, the Club released its Congressional rankings for 2006 and a review of the rating components confirms that this is indeed a meaningful scorecard:
The rating examines legislative actions that reflect our immediate pro-economic growth policy goals, including:
- Making the Bush tax cuts permanent
- Death tax repeal
- Cutting and limiting government spending
- Social Security reform with personal retirement accounts
- Expanding free trade
- Legal reform to end abusive lawsuits
- Replacing the current tax code
- School choice
- Regulatory reform and deregulation
The full ranking tables for both the House and Senate are available at the link above, but here's a little bonus metadata:
And finally, shocker of shockers:
Incidentally, in 2005, there was a 21-way tie for last, so those 80th place rankings were the very bottom of the barrel. In 2006, Hillarama suddenly went from tied-for-worst to more economically conservative than 80% of their Democratic colleagues.
Now that's expedience.
Ham News Channel
Fox News is a good enough medium to entice John Edwards to make 33 scheduled appearances over the last 6 years, but not to sponsor a Democratic primary debate. Stephen Colbert is funny enough when he's playing the ironic Republican stooge, but not safe enough for den mother Emanuel to permit his freshmen to do the show. In a world where ever fewer media channels are reliable and controllable enough for Democrats to spin free, this week's HamNation aims to solve the problem by unveiling a recipe for the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational media outlet on Earth.
Click to watch HamNation: Finding Media Fair Enough for Democrats.
Wired Magazine 2.0
Wired is a dynamite magazine. It's one of the few that I can open up and read from cover to cover in one sitting and not grow increasingly bored. "Artifacts From the Future" on the final page is always a bittersweet feature, because when I get to it, I know that the issue is over.
For its next trick, the techy, businessy, pop cultural magazine is leaping into the world of user-generated content, with the launch of Assignment Zero (which to me sounds uncannily like a Seinfeld movie).
This project offers any willing contributor the chance to do the work of a reporter, writer, researcher or editor in a joint investigation by Wired and NewAssignment.Net. When Assignment Zero ends, NewAssignment.Net will publish the results -- articles, interviews and assorted data. Wired magazine contributing editor Jeff Howe will write a feature-length article that will run on Wired News.
When the project concludes in two to three months, we hope to have produced the most comprehensive knowledge base to date on the scope, limits and best practices of crowdsourcing, whether that be in reporting projects like Assignment Zero, scientific research networks like Innocentive or T-shirt design companies like Threadless.com.
The subject is the crowd itself -- its wisdom, creativity, power and potential.
Nancy Pelosi: Micromanager in Chief
With Congress attempting to override the executive branch's due jurisdiction over war prosecution, it's a great comfort to know that Nan has such a handle on all these "dates that are frought with meaning."
Good thing she has her lovely assistant Dave Obey at her side to keep her "idiotic liberalism" in check.
Video: Rudy Giuliani's "Home Team" Fundraiser With Dennis Miller
With apologies for the delay, here's the video as promised from last night's "Home Team" fundraiser for Rudy Giuliani, emceed by Dennis Miller and featuring (among other entertainment) Irish tenor Ronan Tynan. It was held at the Sheraton New York Towers, a complex I haven't been to since sitting for the CFA exam last summer. As luck would have it, the event was in the very same room where the exam was given. As I stepped into it, I could've sworn I heard the voice of little Danny Torrance from The Shining, asking, "Is there something bad here?"
In any event, the video below features a few minutes of both Miller's and Giuliani's comments. Pardon the occasional rough cuts in the video. I was recording this on a digital still camera, which can only grab so much video at a time, so you may notice the occasional non sequitur. Just roll with it.
Dennis Miller topics: Global warming, Nancy Pelosi, Jesus, David "Idiot Liberals" Obey, hunting with Dick Cheney, Iraq, and the Global War on Terror.
Miller's best line of the evening:
We are right now, at this point in history, the world's most loved, hated, feared, and admired country simultaneously. In short, we're Frank Sinatra. And occasionally, Jilly had to bust a camera.
Rudy Giuliani topics: His New York track record (which is exceptional), tax cuts (33 of which he pushed through as mayor), Katrina, Iraq, homeland security, the Global War on Terror, and energy independence.
He went so far as to identify achieving energy independence as the moon landing of our time and invoked the collective commitment of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon for the occasion, a bipartisan, multiple term-spanning blend of inspiration and dedication that enabled the country to get the job done. I personally thought the energy independence focus was just slightly overdone. Only McCain even comes close to Rudy's GWOT-cred and I'd have thought he would make sure that was the undisputed centerpiece of his candidacy.
As for Rudy's prospective efficacy as Terror Fighter in Chief, as Miller points out, it's a comfort to know that terrorists would be afraid of a President Giuliani. But Rudy's dead seriousness about confronting those who threaten us doesn't diminish his optimism. Speaking of his experiences on and after 9/11, the candidate offered up his best line of the evening.
I have come face to face with America's soul. And I've been sustained by it.
Tonight: America's Mayor and America's Neologizing Comedian
[Update: The video's available at the new post.]
Lucky me, I've gotten my hands on a ticket to tonight's Manhattan fundraiser for Rudy Giuliani, hosted by Dennis Miller.
Miller has been transmitting an unambigious message lately that his support would (and that all of our support should) be won by whatever candidate is most likely to "stay frosty on the Islamo-fascists" so it's not terribly surprising that he's planted himself in Rudy's corner. Back in January, Miller called for a McCain-Giuliani ticket, but just yesterday he upgraded Rudy to the top spot. Mumblings around town suggest it'll be tonight that Giuliani upgrades his own status from exploratory to official. We'll see. One way or another, it should make for an amusing evening with Miller as emcee.
I'll plan to post a few pictures and a recap tonight.
Meanwhile, take a minute to bask in Miller's 1-on-4 partiotic chiding of the intelligentsia of daytime television.
Update: Just returned from the event. Allow me some time to upload and cut together the video (and to digest the 5 Yankee Stadium hot dogs I put away) and we'll have some multimedia on which to feast our senses. In short, Miller was his loquaciously amusing self, while Rudy poured on the inspiration to a highly receptive home team crowd. I don't know if it qualifies as an official upgrade of candidacy, but the final two words of Rudy's speech, regarding whether or not he'll run, were an unequivocal, "I will."
128 Felonies: <8 Years In Jail
Drudge links this incredible story about Andrew Riley, of Nelsonville, Ohio, charged with 128 felonies, including "burglary, theft, vandalism and witness intimidation." A county prosecutor reports Riley gave a severe beating to one of the witnesses who turned him in." And yet this (alleged) violent serial criminal, even if convicted on all counts, won't be serving any more than 8 years behind bars, thanks to one mitigating factor. He's 13.
"...We either get him rehabilitated now in the juvenile system or we will be dealing with him for the rest of his life."
Riley is in a juvenile detention center; a pretrial hearing is scheduled for later this month.
Barely a teen, Riley is too young to be tried in an adult court. Even if convicted on all counts, he still likely would be freed from juvenile prison no later than when he turns 21, prosecutors said.
Teen or no teen, Riley's felony count could set a county record.
Even in a much larger city, the number of charges against Riley would be unusual.
Triple-digit felony counts "would be very high for Franklin County in my 14 years here," said Dennis Hogan, chief counsel for the Franklin County prosecutor’s juvenile division.
Reached at home, Hogan remembered some vandals charged with 50 to 60 counts as the highest he’s dealt with in Franklin County.
Riley's clearly attentive parents were dumbstruck by the news, suggesting they'd been under the impression that their little angel was committing only sporadic crimes.
His family did not deny he has been in trouble, but they said he could not commit so many crimes.
"Honestly, you know, we are baffled by all the charges," said stepfather James Blake. "We suspected a few could come out of this, but nothing like what's been going over."
According to the Ohio Bar Association, it's true that a criminal can't be tried as an adult unless he or she was at least 14 at the time the crimes were committed. But the people do appear to have another remedy in extreme cases.
[I]n certain circumstances, the court may impose a “serious youthful offender” (SYO) sentence in which a child is given a traditional juvenile sentence as well as an “adult” sentence that is “stayed” or delayed. The child may not have to serve the adult portion of the sentence at all if he or she successfully completes the juvenile portion of the sentence.
If convicted of even a small percentage of the charges against him, it seems like a no-brainer that Riley should qualify as a "serious youthful offender."
Meet the New Hillary, Same As the Old Hillary
The Hillary Clinton of the 21st Century bears almost no superficial resemblance to the Hillary Clinton of the 20th. She's a Senator. She's a centrist. She's a New Yorker. She doesn't wear a headband. What's not to like?
And just when the world was nearly ready to shake off the dusty old memories of Hillary 1.0 and close the book on Whitewater, Travelgate, dead lawyers, socialized healthcare, and the rest of her assorted barminess, she offers up her most familiar bauble of delusional lefty paranoia to reel us back in.
Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton told Democrats Tuesday the "vast, right-wing conspiracy" is back, using a phrase she once coined to describe partisan criticism.
Speaking to Democratic municipal officials, the New York senator used the term to hammer Republicans on election irregularities. ...
On Tuesday, she asserted the conspiracy is alive and well, and cited as proof the Election Day 2002 case of phone jamming in New Hampshire, a case in which two Republican operatives pleaded guilty to criminal charges, and a third was convicted.
"To the New Hampshire Democratic party's credit, they sued and the trail led all the way to the Republican National Committee," Clinton said.
"So if anybody tells you there is no vast right-wing conspiracy, tell them that New Hampshire has proven it in court," she said.
(HT: Captain Ed)
Update: Here's video of the speech in question.
Bush 41 Golfs, Collapses, Is Hospitalized, Goes Home
Dehydration and 94 degrees of heat were the culprits.
Former President George H.W. Bush was treated at a California hospital for dehydration and released Monday morning after collapsing during a Sunday afternoon golf game in Palm Springs.
Jean Becker, Bush's chief of staff, told The Associated Press that Bush fainted while playing golf with friends in 94-degree heat.
"He's fine, he really is fine," Becker said. "He became dehydrated, and he had a fainting spell. He came to right away, but as a precaution, they took him to the hospital and then _ much to his dismay _ as a precaution, they held him overnight. The doctors released him first thing this morning."
Glad to hear H.W. is all right.
If he dies, I get a day off. National holiday. Bush should see how it feels to lose a loved one. F*** ‘em both!
By: kitebro on March 12, 2007 at 02:32pm
...Do you think there is a special place in hell for this butcher?
By: lonesometx on March 12, 2007 at 02:38pm
It’s not like he was helping former President Carter with building a house for those folks down in New Orleans or anywhere on the Gulf Coast where Katrina hit. Instead he was playing rich man’s game of golf. No sympathy here…only fodder.
By: CitizenR on March 12, 2007 at 02:52pm
Stay tuned to Democratic Undergound for an inevitable escalation of the death wishes.
CNBC Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge: Monday, Week 2 - Beaumonts and Bankruptcies
Update: This is a post from the 2007 Portfolio Challenge. If you're looking for posts on the 2008 contest, click here.
As I mentioned over the weekend, the leading manager in the CNBC portfolio challenge appears to be a woman named Nancy Beaumont - either the most popular name in California, or a participant who adopted the strategy of signing up for dozens (or possibly hundreds (if not thousands)) of accounts. As I noted at the time, this strategy didn't appear to be explicitly forbidden by the contest rules, though a commenter on that post noted that CNBC's Dylan Radigan stated on air that duplicate accounts would indeed be deleted.
As of today, the site still does not certify a week 1 winner, though Beaumont remains atop the leaderboard. This morning on CNBC's "Squawk Box", co-anchor Joe Kernan made multiple comments about Beaumont's multiplicity, but didn't say who would take home the first golden ticket, only offering that Beaumont "appears" to have put up the biggest gain in the first week. (That contest-leading gain, incidentally, was reported to be 64.5%, slightly below the 71% I'd spitballed.) I assume Beaumont(s) and the network are in the midst of a heated argument about whether what she did was cheating. Given the broad discretion described in the "Participant Behavior" section of the rules, I'd wager CNBC is likely to win the argument and Beaumont is soon to be booted once various GE lawyers have assured themselves they're in the right.
Assuming all the Nancy Beaumonts are cleared away, the apparent winner of week 1 (and the first to score a ticket to the million dollar final round) will be Colleen Ellsworth, who, in a comment on the previous post, confirmed there is only one of her, "because like most other people, I read the rules, which imply to me only one account is acceptable."
As for me, after a roller coaster first week during which I sought (and found) all kinds of volatility, I begin week 2 under simiarly frenetic circumstances. I pushed $1.1 million into New Century Financial (NEW) at the market close on Friday, not because I was optimistic about the company's prospects, but because of the opportunity for superlative volatility presented by the 78% sell-off the stock endured last week, as the sub-prime lender announced a torrent of very bad news that could well herald its bankruptcy.
The promise of Monday volatility did not disappoint. Sadly for me (and the many other participants toying with NEW, judging by its #1 spot on the most active list), matters only worsened today, as the company announced that all of its lenders had either pulled or announced their intention to pull their financing. This revelation looked to cut the stock's already diwndled value in half again. Pending additional news, the NYSE has suspended trading in the stock. This, in turn, is bound to usher in a whole new round of rule interpretation and contestant carping.
CNBC states it will process special and corporate actions, including "stock splits, mergers and acquisitions, halted/suspended trading, delistings and ticker symbol changes." In extended morning trading, just before NEW was halted, it was trading about 50% below its Friday close (which would obviously butcher this week's returns for myself and any co-participants in the NEW boat with me). If the stock gets delisted, however, the rules state, "it will automatically be sold at its last trading price prior to the delisting, as such price is provided to the Site."
This might turn out to be a delightful redemption. My Ameritrade Streamer shows what appears to be a regular session NEW trade at $1.66 (down 48% from Friday's close) just after 9:30 am. Yahoo! Finance, on the other hand (which receives quote data directly from the NYSE), reports the last regular session trade to be $3.21 at 4 pm Friday. CNBC's official contest quote provider is Wall Street On Demand, an independent data provider which (bless its heart) also reports NEW's last trading price to be $3.21.
Somewhat optimistically, it seems to me that so long as the NYSE gives NEW the axe before unhalting trading, any NEW positions ought to be liquidated at Friday's closing price (in my case, fully washing away this disastrous pick). The question is: assuming the stock is delisted, will such positions liquidate at the close today, enabling participants to make new purchases at today's close? Since participants can only reallocate once per day, having access to each discrete trading window is crucial.
A number of participants submitting comments to earlier posts have reported having problems just getting normal trades processed due to site problems. I know I'm still waiting on $2,000 Bonus Bucks from last Tuesday and have yet to receive a response to any of my Customer Care e-mails. Plus, we're obviously still waiting on a resolution to the thorny Beaumont situation. With the considerable turmoil that's already hampered the contest in the normal goings, I'm therefore not banking on a proper and timely resolution to the New Century issue, even if things do go my way and the stock is eventually delisted (particularly as it may take the NYSE a while even to submit a delisting application to the SEC, during which time those of us with NEW positions will presumably be left to languish with frozen positions).
The wost case scenario is that the NYSE leaves NEW suspended for several days (leaving NEW-holding CNBC players frozen out), then agrees to let it start trading again, at which point it could officially tank during regulation play, possibly spoiling the week 3 prospects of any unlucky holders.
CNBC ought to have an update on all the convoluted and frustrating action sometime during Power Lunch, likely around 1:30 Eastern.
Update: This was posted by CNBC's Mark Koba on the new official blog of the portfolio challenge this afternoon.
This Week's Top Leader And Why She's There
Well--the first week of the Million Dollar Portfolio challenge is over--so let's see where we stand. Nancy Beaumont sits on top of the leader board with a portfolio value of $1,645,296.56 or a weekly gain of 64.5%. Nancy has mutltiple portfolios registered for the contest, and she holds the top 3 spots in our list, with a total of 10 portfolios within the top 25, and they are markedly similar.
Of interest is that Nancy's top 3 portfolios are currently all in cash. She had no pending buy orders as of Friday and she always max's out on bonus bucks, and not all leaders have.
What's really of interest - and not addressed - is whether this situation is verboten. Judging by Koba's post, the contest administrators don't seem to have a problem with it (though they still don't list anyone as the week 1 winner) and appear even to admire the strategy. I've written Koba, asking him to clarify. If participants are permitted to maintain an unlimited number of accounts, I have a feeling a lot of strategies are going to change in week 3.
Wet Foot, Dry Foot, Fake Foot, Real Foot
In a word, d'oh.
While hundreds of U.S. law enforcement agents intercepted imaginary Cuban migrants during a massive training exercise in south Florida, two boatloads of actual Cubans sneaked ashore on Miami Beach on Thursday.
Boaters dropped off 21 Cuban migrants at a popular nudist beach and left 19 others on another beach a few hours later, the Border Patrol said. Both vessels escaped.
"It's our belief that they were the result of organized smuggling," Border Patrol spokesman Steve McDonald said.
The Cubans arrived on day two of a training exercise to test "Operation Vigilant Sentry," the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's plan to halt a possible mass migration from the Caribbean.
"We're not embarrassed at all," McDonald said. "It's not uncommon for them (Cubans) to have landings."
Thursday's arrivals almost certainly will be granted asylum, like most Cubans who reach U.S. soil. Cubans intercepted at sea are usually returned to their communist homeland.
"Since 9/11 it is essential that we work diligently to protect our borders," [Coast Guard Rear Adm. David Kunkel, director of the Homeland Security southeastern task force] said.
Human Enslavement Watch
There's not a ton of specific info about what Kamen's actually put together here (which is not entirely dissimilar to the lengthy and secretive roll-out of the Segway). But whether or not he's managed to rig up a practical neural interface for artificial limbs (which seems to be the $6 million question), as a next generation prosthesis for amputees, the Kamen arm does look promising and its inventor does have a good track record of cooking up crafty gizmos that have escaped developers in established industry.
The Surge Is Working
That characterization is from that right wing rogue news agency The Washington Post, so take it with the corresponding grain of salt (particularly as we've been assured by 246 members of Congress and more than one leading Democratic Presidential candidate that the surge simply cannot be successful), but nonetheless, I suppose we have to begrudgingly recognize that conditions in Baghdad are - for some reason - beginning to improve in a seemeingly self-perpetuating way.
Iraqi bloggers Mohammed and Omar Fadhil, widely respected for their straight talk, say that "early signs are encouraging." The first impact of the "surge," they write, was psychological. Both friends and foes in Iraq had been convinced, in no small part by the American media, that the United States was preparing to pull out. When the opposite occurred, this alone shifted the dynamic.
Before the arrival of Gen. David Petraeus, the Army's leading counterinsurgency strategist, U.S. forces tended to raid insurgent and terrorist strongholds and then pull back and hand over the areas to Iraqi forces, who failed to hold them. The Fadhils report, "One difference between this and earlier -- failed -- attempts to secure Baghdad is the willingness of the Iraqi and U.S. governments to commit enough resources for enough time to make it work." In the past, bursts of American activity were followed by withdrawal and a return of the insurgents. Now, the plan to secure Baghdad "is becoming stricter and gaining momentum by the day as more troops pour into the city, allowing for a better implementation of the 'clear and hold' strategy." Baghdadis "always want the 'hold' part to materialize, and feel safe when they go out and find the Army and police maintaining their posts -- the bad guys can't intimidate as long as the troops are staying."
A greater sense of confidence produces many benefits. The number of security tips about insurgents that Iraqi civilians provide has jumped sharply. Stores and marketplaces are reopening in Baghdad, increasing the sense of community. People dislocated by sectarian violence are returning to their homes. As a result, "many Baghdadis feel hopeful again about the future, and the fear of civil war is slowly being replaced by optimism that peace might one day return to this city," the Fadhils report. "This change in mood is something huge by itself."
(HT: Hot Air)
Where's Lloyd Bentsen When We Need Him?
With the late Lloyd Bentsen now safely out of the picture, Hillary has decided to invoke the legacy of Jack Kennedy, draping herself in everything from his charisma to his religion.
"He was smart, he was dynamic, he was inspiring and he was Catholic. A lot of people back then  said, 'America will never elect a Catholic as president,' " the White House hopeful told the New Hampshire Democrats' 100 Club fund-raiser here.
"But those who gathered here almost a half century ago knew better," she said. "They believed America was bigger than that and Americans would give Sen. John F. Kennedy a fair shake, and the rest, as they say, is history."
Noting women are "the majority" of voters and are in the workforce in "record numbers," she added, "So when people tell me 'a woman can never be president,' I say, we'll never know unless we try."
Kennedy's name is most often invoked by supporters of Clinton's main Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, usually comparing their charisma.
With Obama on a fundraising binge in New York, inviting ever more Clintonian scorn by continuing to dance with Hillary's rightful supporters (because she's the real New Yorker, don'tcha know), perhaps she's feeling compelled to reach into his sandbox to snatch a little of that Kennedy luster the media has lavished on this insolent newcomer. Or perhaps she's just trying to remind the country that we do indeed love political dynasties and that her due ascension should be respected accordingly.
But if her segue into waxing sentimental for Camelot is the idea that Kennedy's Catholocism and Clinton's X chromosome co-brand them as underdog candidates, deserving of victory simply because conventional wisdom discounts it, she might want to stop and think this through a bit further.
About 25% of Americans are Catholic. Roughly 12% are Black. As Hillary herself notes, more than half are women. So if she wants to play identity politics by making the case that a candidate's membership of a persecuted, downtrodden minority somehow renders that candidate more worthy, not only is that a vapid argument, it's one that likely benefits someone else.
CNBC Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge: End of Week 1
Update: This is a post from the 2007 Portfolio Challenge. If you're looking for posts on the 2008 contest, click here.
Well, despite a strong performance through Thursday, the sound thumping visited upon South Korean e-commerce portal Gmarket (GMKT) on Friday evaporated more than $230,000 in portfolio value and sent me spiraling down more than 3,000 spots in the rankings to end the week at #3,428. That was enough to remain in the top 2% with a total return of 9.5%, but several dozen percentage points behind the leaders.
It was pretty clear Gmarket would be a volatile one on Friday, which was precisely the point, but it happened to be the painful kind of volatility. A few more pennies in 4th quarter earnings per share and the bloodletting might've been reversed.
Happily, the weekly ticket to the final round measures each week's performance in isolation, so the slate has just been wiped clean. It also means if you haven't yet registered for the challenge, you can still get on board and have as good a shot as anyone.
A couple thoughts and observations about the first week of play.
1) CNBC grossly underestimated either the number of players that would register or the burden they would inflict on their servers. The site began behaving erratically on Wednesday and has only worsened in the days since, particularly during market hours. So far, I've managed to get my daily trades processed each day, but typically only after several attempts. As voice by a number of understandably angry commenters on my earlier post, others have not been so lucky. If the network is willing to pony up more than a million dollars in prize money, can't they spring for the incremental server capacity necessary to accommodate the flood of participants that kind of prize money was bound to attract? Hopefully by Monday they will have.
2) The contest rules (link available at the top of the FAQ) are extensive and in the constant promos being run on the network, the anchors frequently remind participants to review them thoroughly. I did, and was looking specifically for any mention of whether players may sign up for multiple accounts. Obviously, if you can manage multiple portfolios, your odds of winning a given week go way up, since the weekly contest is won by the player who notches up the top percentage gain. Think of it like a roulette wheel with 230,000 numbers. The more chips you can lay down, the better. If you have several ideas about which stocks may post the largest gains in a given week, you can cover much more of the board with multiple portfolios. The strategy I'm employing could be implemented with a high degree of confidence to at least tie the high score in a given week with as few as 600 or so accounts. It'd take a fair amount of daily maintenance, but then again, the payoff is significant. I thought about going this route, since the rules don't explicitly forbid multiple accounts. Ultimately, I decided against it, as the rules do contain an ominous catch-all:
CNBC reserves the right to prevent access by any Participant who acts irresponsibly or inappropriately in playing the Contest. Although all trading in the Contest is fictional, Participants are expected to engage in trading activity that fully complies with all federal and state securities laws (including without limitation insider trading), as if they were trading actual stocks. CNBC reserves the right to terminate Contest participation by any Participants suspected of cheating, attempting to exploit the contest or other inappropriate behavior. All such action will be determined by CNBC in its sole discretion.
I could certainly envision the contest administrators deciding that trading on multiple accounts is an inappropriate attempt to exploit the contest, so I decided not to risk ouster. Another contestant, one Nancy Beaumont from California, came to a different decision. She first appeared on the leaderboard on Thursday, occupying spots #11-21. Yesterday, her name had disappeared, but Friday must've been a good day for the Nancy, as she's currently ranked #1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, and 17. It looks like CNBC will be forced to make a decision about whether this activity is allowable or not, as that call will determine the first weekly winner. I think I can guess which way #4 Colleen Ellsworth is leaning.
3) This was an interesting week in the stock market. Following 8 months of a nearly uni-directional bull market, stocks encountered their first real mini-correction the week before the contest, when an Asian sell-off prompted a one-day 3% decline in the major U.S. indices. Generally speaking, this week was marked by a broad-based, if fitful, recovery. But as mentioned before, savvy CNBC players are gluttons for volatility and nowhere was volatility higher this week than in the sub-prime lending market. Not surprisingly, Fremont General (FMT) and New Century Financial (NEW) occupied spots on the most-traded list this week. Anyone holding NEW took a long and ugly bath this week (unless they only held it Tuesday), as bankruptcy rumors swirled around the company, which is also facing a criminal investigation and just announced it will stop making new loans. (In the interest of full disclosure, I bought some NEW at the close on Friday (in the contest, that is; I wouldn't touch it with real money)), with the stock now down 90% since early February.
FMT on the other hand was the undisputed belle of the ball in the first week of the contest. The first opportunity to purchase FMT was at the close on Monday. At $6/share, it'd just finished a weeklong 50% plummet. By Wednesday, the shares had clawed back 45% and not surprisingly, the top 5 on the leaderboard had all posted returns of 45%. CNBC didn't announce the leaders' percentage gains on Friday (reflecting Thursday closes), but FMT holders would've slipped a few percentage points. At least a few among them must've jumped out though, meaning Friday's top scorers were likely north of 50% up for the week. As of today's repricings, we can assume that among the 50%ers, a few must've made winning bets Friday. I think the leading portfolio (whether it's one of the many iterations of Ms. Beaumont or the seemingly singular Colleen Ellsworth) most likely held FMT until Wednesday, found any number of neutral to positive positions on Thursday and moved into something like Blue Coat Systems (BCSI) on Friday. As a late-Thursday earnings reporter, it would've been on volatility-seekers' radar screens and given its 12% upside move on Friday, anyone who had ridden FMT (and hopped off at the right time) and then moved into BCSI would be likely to put up the best weeklong gain, which I'm estimating came in around 71%.
For posterity, here's the daily breakdown for week 1 (my performance in green, my best guess of the leader's performance in yellow (for Tuesday and Wednesday, the leader figures are confirmed)).
I missed last night's "Inside the CNBC Portfolio Challenge" special, so if they gave any week 1 recap info that shed light on any of the above, please feel free to sound off in the comments.
Good luck to everyone in week 2! If you're not signed up yet, it only takes a minute and the site is a lot less ornery on the weekend.
Quote of the Day
Jack Welch, on "Cavuto on Business", responded to John E'wards' contention that Jesus would be "appalled" by America's indifference to the "plight of those around us who are suffering and our focus on our own selfish short-term needs." Cavuto asked Welch whether E'wards might be suggesting that Jesus would favor a more progressive tax scheme to cure the socio-economic ills of the two Americas.
Welch: Jesus is too smart to raise taxes.
Fun Fact of the Day
Via Roland Mesnier, former White House pastry chef, on Fox and Friends:
Bill Clinton is allergic to dairy products.
So much so that Mesnier, first hired by the Carters, had to prepare all of Clinton's desserts with non-dairy, non-wheat, non-chocolate ingredients.
What about Bill's famous and folksy cheeseburger fondness? His home town still pines for his voracious love of chili cheeseburgers and other "dairy and grill delights."
BRD at Protein Wisdom has received a divine vision of the future. It's not puppy dogs and ice cream, but it's worth a read. Much like Jacob's Ladder or The Deer Hunter, it's effective and viscerally thought-provoking, but you probably don't want to undertake it unless you're starting off in a good mood.
Update: Goldstein offers a thorough counterpoint, somewhat more hopeful and at least as insightful. Taken as a pair, these make for an excellent and profound read.
Reuters Intends To Put Its Own Fauxtogs Out Of Business
Via Gizmodo, Wired is reporting that Reuters is working alongside fellow media hornswoggler the Associated Press, as well as Adobe and Canon, to help rid the world of doctored photographs through the creation of a "suite of photo-authentication tools" that can detect manipulation.
Aspiring Adnan Hajj's, take heed.
Adobe plans to start rolling out the technology in a number of photo-authentication plug-ins for its Photoshop product beginning as early as 2008. The company is working with a leading digital forgery specialist at Dartmouth College, who met with the Associated Press last month.
The push follows a media scandal over a doctored war photograph published by Reuters last year. The news agency has since announced that it's working with both Adobe and Canon to come up with ways to prevent a recurrence of the incident.
In the most famous recent case, a blogger [Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs] uncovered the doctoring of a war photo taken in Lebanon by Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj. The photographer was fired, and Reuters has since clarified its rules about the use of Photoshop.
The secret is in the power of the Glycemic index.
Among other things, Adobe is developing a tool that will detect the use of the copying tool known as the "clone stamp." The tool will identify when two areas in a photo are "impossibly similar," Story said.
Adobe expects another tool will perform an analysis similar to firearm ballistics -- confirming the model of camera that took an image, and matching the image to the individual camera, if it's available.
The company also hopes to develop a plug-in that will detect if a photo has been changed at all since it was taken. According to Farid, this is possible because cameras don't record all the pixels needed for a color image, but instead estimate some colors through a process known as color reconstruction, or demosaicing.
A camera's demosaicing process creates connections between pixels, and "when an image is re-touched, it is likely that these correlations will be destroyed. As such, the presence or lack of these correlations can be used to authenticate an image, or expose it as a forgery," Farid writes in an explanation (.pdf) of the technology he is developing.
Neat. Anything that will help tie the hands of bad faith, disingenuous, agenda-driven "journalism" strikes me as a step in the right direction. Still...
Remember that sense of relief you felt when the internets' white knights first graced us with the bedazzling grandeur of the "spam filter"? They'd finally figured out all the neredowellian tricks of the trade and we'd go on to live out our lives unpestered by Nigerian bankers and v1agra solicitations.
I'm faintly reminded of that moment.
I remember hearing long ago - I don't remember when or from whom or how it came up - that every piece of currency minted by the United States had four words/phrases printed on it: "United States of America", "Liberty", "In God We Trust", and "E Pluribus Unum". I can't authoritatively confirm this to be true, but every time I've checked one over, all four bits of text were accounted for.
But now, with the introduction of the new Presidential series of of $1 coins (which, from the looks of them, might have been cast by the designers of the Disney Dollar), we've apparently decided to scrap not one, not two, but three of the four mainstay phrases in order to make the Presidential visage a little larger, such that you might more readily recognize the historical forebear you're inserting into that vending machine.
To be fair, "In God We Trust" and "E Pluribus Unum" will still technically adorn the coins, etched ever so imperceptibly along the edges, where the text reportedly "appears to be nothing more than scratches."
"Liberty", sadly, had to be scrapped altogether.
Taking "God" and "Liberty" off the currency... the ACLU must not know whether to rejoice or protest.
Hat Tip: Human Events
I Think I See Bluey. He Looks Glorious!
Make with the bookmarking.
CNBC Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge: Wednesday, Week 1
Update: This is a post from the 2007 Portfolio Challenge. If you're looking for posts on the 2008 contest, click here.
As you're likely aware if you've tuned in to CNBC for 15 seconds or so at any point in the last couple weeks, the network is sponsoring a contest over the next 12 weeks, in which players manage fictional portfolios of $1,000,000 in "CNBC Bucks" for a chance to win $1,000,000 in honest-to-goodness bucks. With more than 220,000 players signed up, the contest officially kicked off on Monday, but it's not too late to register, which you can do here.
After two days of trading, I'm pleased to report I've made it to #23 on the leaderboard, notching up a 24% return and waving magnanimously on my way past 99.99% of the field. (Today, the market was unkind to me and I'll be promptly shuffling off the leaderboard tomorrow morning, so I'm enjoying this while it lasts.)
To win the million dollars, you need to do one of two things: put up the highest percentage gain during any one of the 10 weeks of play (which wins you an automatic $10,000) or put up one of the 10 highest returns over the whole 10 weeks. Those 20 players then have their portfolios reset to $1,000,000 in funny money and compete for an additional 2 weeks, after which the player with the most valuable portfolio wins the shebang.
There are also extra credit questions, which enable you to win up to $3,000 fake dollars per day, which brings me to the "You know what grinds my gears?" segment of this post. (For extra blogworthiness, it involves the sloppy inaccuracy of the mainstream media, specifically the Associated Press.)
$3,000 may seem like a small amount in a $1,000,000 portfolio but that's more than the gap currently separating the highest scorers, so the extra credit is worth pursuing. You earn it by answering two straight-forward multiple choice questions about the financial markets (one worth $1,000, the other $2,000). Yesterday, one of these questions (potentially slightly paraphrased) was:
"General Motors February sales rose by how much?"
The correct answer is 3.4%. You can verify this authoritatively via GM's own press release and the company's corresponding SEC filing. However, 3.4% was not among the choices available. The two closest options were 3% and 3.7%. While neither is precisely accurate, and despite the fact that 3.7% is closer to 3.4%, 3% seems to be the undeniably better choice, as it's at least accurate if you're rounding to the nearest whole percentage point (as is not uncommon and as Reuters did in their report).
The AP, however, in all their attention to detail, reported the number as 3.7%. This appears to be nothing more than a transcription error committed by the AP reporter who wrote the story. Unfortunately, the incorrect AP story seems to be the one that the CNBC trivia question writer used to research the question.
I chose 3%. I chose... poorly.
Understanding that foregone bonus bucks could make or break a portfolio's chance at the top spot, I e-mailed customer care, as directed by the FAQ, and was confident I'd receive a timely response (since the automated response promised me one). 36 hours and 3 follow-up e-mails later, I continue to wait.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not faulting CNBC here. With hundreds of thousands of players, I can only imagine the logistical nightmare going on behind the scenes. I remain genuinely confident they'll make it right. But my ire has been burning brightly for the AP's increasingly characteristic sloppiness. Sure, anyone can make a typo (I make pletny), but when the service an institution is providing is the simple dissemination of numerical financial news, you'd think there'd be a bit more robust error-checking system in place. GM offered up the press release, after all. All the AP needed to do was summarize it and re-publish it. Copy-and-paste, folks. At least for the numbers you're regurgitating. How do transcription errors continue to plague in this futuristic world of buttons and intertubes?
Anyway, after all this teeth-gnashing and fist-shaking I was just about ready to take a deep breath, let my $2,000 fake dollars go, and concentrate on something more meaningful in life, like iTunesing last night's Dirt, when I pulled up an aftermarket report discussing my most recent contest pick, Men's Wearhouse, Inc. Once again, the author was the Associated Press (institutionally speaking; no byline on this one, so no way to tell if it was the same author that butchered the GM report). The story contends:
Men's Wearhouse Inc. rose $1.29, or 3 percent, to $43.30 in the extended session after the Houston-based clothing retailer said fiscal fourth-quarter profit rose 60 percent on a jump in sales. Earnings beat Wall Street estimates.
In fact, the stock closed at $43.30 in the regular session, before climbing another 5% in the extended session to finish at $45.50.
This screw-up won't have any bearing on my fake money, but it really makes me scratch my head and wonder just frequently this supposedly reputable financial news source is plainly and materially inaccurate about very basic facts and figures.
Back to you, Tom and Diane.
Huckabee Hearts the Tax Pledge
By and large, I very much like what I've seen from Mike Huckabee thus far. As I noted back in January after attending a "book launching" reception for the former Governor, the only significant loose end was his commitment to pro-growth fiscal policies.
As I put it, rather eloquently:
From what I know of it, Huckabee's fiscal record is mixed. In Cato's and Club for Growth's opinions, the record is worse than mixed. It's downright bad. And those are groups I'm loathe to quibble with. But Arkansas is weird, just like any state is weird. Given the rest of Huckabee's admirable CV, I'm willing to reserve judgment on just how pro-growth or anti-growth he is until he formally declares and goes on the record about things like the estate tax, the 2003 investment income tax cuts, personal income tax rates, corporate income tax rates, entitlement spending, earmarks, price controls, protectionism, and all the rest of it. I'd like to believe (and until I hear otherwise, I'm choosing to believe) that his metaphor about the American people no longer eating the dog food coming from the Republican Party refers to the spendocracy that has festered under the GOP's watch and that his calling them out on it portends a newly federally focused Mike Huckabee, who will favor us all with savory pro-growth fiscal rhetoric at every turn. Time will tell.
Time, it would appear, is beginning to tell.
Today, Huckabee delivered his signed copy of the Americans for Tax Reform "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" to ATF President Grover Norquist himself.
“Having already been a longtime supporter of ending the death tax and cutting 90 taxes while governor, it was not difficult to pledge not to raise the income tax rates at the federal level,” Huckabee said.By signing the pledge, Huckabee agreed to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses … and oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
Some folks are carping about the fact that he didn't sign it until now, coming around later than Romney, Gilmore, Hunter, Tancredo, and Brownback. Still, the document is now equally signed by Huckabee with identical language. So far as I can tell, we're still waiting on both McCain and Giuliani, so Huckabee's having the gall to wait until just 20 months before Election Day before signing is perhaps a forgivable delay after all.
As far as I'm concerned, signing the ATR pledge put a big piece of the puzzle into place for Huckabee and I welcome him with redoubled hospitality into the Ring of Three, where he sits alongside Romney and Giuliani as one of only three viable and desirable declared candidates, all demonstrably effective political executives with economic and security policy portfolios which - while still coming into focus - appear to be falling nicely into place. Each comes complete with a compelling political biography and is more telegenic and inspirational to listen to than anyone in the opposing field.
To Romney's comparative credit, he not only signed the pledge as quickly as he could get his mitts (pun!) on it, but he announced at CPAC (and possibly earlier, but it was at CPAC that I first heard it) a very specific pro-growth policy that ranks in my book as the single greatest policy proposal offered by any candidate to date - namely, a commitment to lower the federal capital gains and dividend income tax rate (which President Bush so shrewdly and wonderfully lowered to 15% in 2003, offering us the remarkably robust and resilient economy we've all enjoyed in the 3.5 years since its enactment, notwithstanding the headwinds of high energy prices, war, terrorism, etc.) to 0%. As incredibly beneficial as the Bush tax cuts have been to each and every American economic stratum, there's still a lot of dry powder there. Or still-bagged Miracle Gro. Or unpoured jet fuel. Take your pick. The point is: eliminating this class of taxation (which is inherently a double taxation to begin with) would unlock untold additional sustainable growth and yield still more resiliency to the American economy, further improving standards of living across the economic spectrum. Whether it's politically feasible is of course a very different story. Congress seems to be having a hard enough time just making the 2003 cuts permanent, so convincing them to embrace this palpably and unmistakably good idea may be a tall order. Still, the fact that Romney gets it and is willing and able to express it so explicitly earns him temporary status as the captain of the GOP triumverate.
I thought this post was about Mike Huckabee... I guess I got distracted. Distracted by the splendor and majesty of investment income tax cuts. Kudos on signing the pledge, Governor!
Chalk this one up as a blow to the "cause-marketing" model:
It's been a year since the first Red T-shirts hit Gap shelves in London, and a parade of celebrity-splashed events haws followed: Steven Spielberg smiling down from billboards in San Francisco; Christy Turlington striking a yoga pose in a New Yorker ad; Bono cruising Chicago's Michigan Avenue with Oprah Winfrey, eagerly snapping up Red products; Chris Rock appearing in Motorola TV spots ("Use Red, nobody's dead"); and the Red room at the Grammy Awards. So you'd expect the money raised to be, well, big, right? Maybe $50 million, or even $100 million.
Try again: The tally raised worldwide is $18 million.
The disproportionate ratio between the marketing outlay and the money raised is drawing concern among nonprofit watchdogs, cause-marketing experts and even executives in the ad business. It threatens to spur a backlash, not just against the Red campaign -- which ambitiously set out to change the cause-marketing model by allowing partners to profit from charity -- but also for the brands involved.
By any measure, the buzz has been extraordinary and the collective marketing outlay by Gap, Apple and Motorola has been enormous, with some estimates as high as $100 million.
HT: Alarming News
The first [genetically modified] food crop containing human genes is set to be approved for commercial production.
The laboratory-created rice produces some of the human proteins found in breast milk and saliva.
Its U.S. developers say they could be used to treat children with diarrhoea, a major killer in the Third World.
The rice is a major step in so-called Frankenstein Foods, the first mingling of human-origin genes and those from plants.
Sensationalist worrywarts and alarmist hand-wringers, take your marks...
GeneWatch UK, which monitors new GM foods, described it as "very disturbing". Researcher Becky Price warned: "There are huge, huge health risks and people should rightly be concerned about this."
Friends of the Earth campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "Using food crops and fields as glorified drug factories is a very worrying development.
"If these pharmaceutical crops end up on consumers' plates, the consequences for our health could be devastating.
"The biotech industry has already failed to prevent experimental GM rice contaminating the food chain.
"The Government must urge the U.S. to ban the production of drugs in food crops. It must also introduce tough measures to prevent illegal GM crops contaminating our food and ensure that biotech companies are liable for any damage their products cause."
Which is worse - having to pace around fretting about something being "very disturbing" simply because it's new and unfamiliar or allowing third world kids to succumb to deadly diarrhea? So long as the people who get paid to study such things dispassionately find it safe, that speaks a lot louder to me than the bombast of a few activist groups.
Now the USDA, saying the rice poses "virtually no risk". has given preliminary approval for it to be grown in Kansas, which has no commercial rice farms.
Scooter Libby Guilty On Four Counts
The jury is in. Libby was convicted on two counts of perjury, one count of obstruction of justice, and one count of lying to the FBI.
The verdict culminated a nearly four-year investigation into how CIA official Valerie Plame's name was leaked to reporters in 2003. The trial revealed how top members of the administration were eager to discredit Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who accused the administration of doctoring prewar intelligence on Iraq.
Libby, who was once Cheney's most trusted adviser and an assistant to President Bush, was expressionless as the jury verdict was announced on the 10th day of deliberations. His wife, Harriet Grant, choked out a sob and sank her head.
He faces up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced June 5 but under federal sentencing guidelines is likely to face far less. Defense attorneys immediately promised to ask for a new trial or appeal the conviction.
Jonathan at GOP Bloggers suggests meting out punishment in keeping with the Clinton/Berger precedent for disciplining liars.
In fact, as Ace notes, Berger's transgressions were meaningfully worse than Libby's; not only did they involve lying to authorities, but the underlying act about which he was lying was itself illegal (not to mention egregiously reckless and potentially harmful to national security), whereas the underlying, precipitating actions in the Libby case were not, nor was there ever a reasonable suspicion that they were. Applying the Berger template would saddle Libby with a few bucks in fines and a polygraph test that he wouldn't actually ever have to take.
Ian at Hot Air is stacking up pictures, video, and statements as they continue to emerge.
Race Warfare Inciters Nearly Get Their Wish As Cops Disrupt Plot To Behead Commissioner, Blow Up NYPD HQ
Following the death of Sean Bell, who was shot by police outside a Queens strip club last November, a series of protests ensued, during which demonstrators called for violent retaliation against the NYPD and explicitly advocated killing police officers. Signs and chants insisted "Death to the pigs", "Shoot back", and "Black power against the police".
When similar protests followed the shooting death of Amadou Diallo in 1999, the citywide arrest rate declined and the murder rate increased as cops grew more hesitant about law enforcement.
The principal agitator this time around was NYC Councilman and Black Panther Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), who led multiple protests which in no uncertain terms advocated a violent uprising in response to the alleged racism of the NYPD. Barron sought proactively to disavow any responsibility for the violence he encouraged, arguing we can't blame the "social forecaster for forecasting an explosion, just like you don't blame the weatherman for forecasting the storm."
The primary target of Barron's vengeful, race-baiting rants was NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. The following is an excerpt from Barron's remarks during a December 6th protest:
Brothers and sisters, Kelly must go. Kelly must go. Kelly must go. Kelly must go.
What we need here is a regime change. What we need here is a radical, up, down, turn upside down – this police department is out of control.
They have no fear for us. And once you put the fear into some people’s hearts, whether it’s politically, economically, or physically, they will leave you alone.
So brothers and sisters, I want to say to you today, just as we said over and over again, if we don’t get justice in this case, don’t ask us to demonstrate again. If we don’t get justice in this case don’t tell us to be cool, to be calm. We need to get hot!
Be careful what you wish for, Councilman Barron.
Authorities said Monday they had uncovered a plot to behead commissioner Raymond Kelly and bomb police headquarters in an attempt to avenge the fatal shooting of Sean Bell, the young man gunned down by the NYPD on his wedding day.
David Brown, 47, was arrested Monday on a charge of criminal solicitation after he offered an undercover officer $65,000 to kill Kelly and blow up One Police Plaza, said Paul J. Browne, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for public information.
"I want his head chopped off," Brown told the undercover officer in a taped conversation.
In the taped conversations, Brown blamed Kelly for not taking the "initiative to prosecute the officers. That kind of got me frustrated to the point where I want him murdered."
It's always been somewhat curious that the bulk of the ire in this case has been directed toward Commissioner Kelly, as it's up to the Queens district attorney to decide whether to prosecute the officers involved. But since Barron has consistently identified Kelly as the appropriate target, it only stands to reason that someone acting on the Councilman's thinly veiled marching orders would focus on the Commissioner.
I'm not given to knee-jerk calls for resignations of elected officials every time a real estate transaction is improperly disclosed or a politically incorrect faux pas is made, but Charles Barron should immediately step down and embark on a public campaign discouraging attacks on the police. If not for the cunning work of - surprise, surprise - the NYPD in disrupting Brown's plot, this city might've had endured a significantly destabilizing attack that would have visited tragedy on an untold number of cops and civilians.
I shot video of the December 6th protest (including Barron's anti-Kelly tirade and his calls for radical regime change), which is available here.
Windfall Profits, Redefined
Two of the most dastardly companies in the world, Shell Oil and BP, are putting significant resources to work in the field of wind power generation.
Shell is one of the nation's top five generators of wind power, while BP's Alternative Energy group -- launched 16 months ago -- aims to develop projects that produce 550 megawatts of electricity this year, one-sixth of the projected US wind energy output in 2007.
"Shell and BP see wind as an increasingly important part of the energy industry. They are looking to continue to grow," said Randall Swisher , executive director of the American Wind Energy Association , a Washington-based industry group. "They want to look for new opportunities, and wind is clearly in their sights."
The oil companies bring enormous cash reserves, years of experience in large projects, and a can-do spirit to an alternative-fuels industry that has largely been driven by speculators, small developers, and utilities.
Naive readers unfamiliar with the withered black hearts and frosty, loathesome souls of oil company executives will be excused for mistaking this trend for a rational, profit-driven effort to maximize shareholder value by deploying private capital toward promising investment opportunities, in this case the commercialization of alternative energy sources (without being coerced to do so through behavior-modifying government subsidies or penalties), and for further mistaking the trend for an illustration of the mechanisms of free market capitalism tending to serve the long-term best interest of all participants in that system.
Enlightened readers more acquainted with the unswaying villainy of oil profiteers will recognize this move for what it is: a PR farce intended to hoodwink the public into looking past Big Oil's money-grubbing, seal-clubbing ways - one which is probably harmful to the environment in its own evil way to boot (or at least threatens to impair Teddy Kennedy's ocean view).
Some environmentalists oppose wind power, concerned that the clusters of giant turbines used to produce it could threaten birds and bats. They also consider wind farms to be eyesores planted on near-pristine landscapes.
Opponents of the Cape Wind project -- a plan to build several 417-foot-high turbines off the coast of Cape Cod -- as well as projects planned for the tall-grass prairies in Kansas and the ridgetops of Vermont and New Hampshire, cite aesthetics as one of the major drawbacks of wind power.
Team Hillary "Explodes" At Insolent Governor Spitzer
First Hollywood snubs her, then her own Democratic Governor has the audacity not to endorse her in a timely fashion. It's enough to drive a gal crazy.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign organization "exploded" last week over Gov. Spitzer's refusal to endorse her for president, according to senior Democratic officials.
And, in another sign of trouble, the former first lady's campaign has become increasingly nervous over the refusal of many of New York's African-American political leaders to endorse her for president, the officials said.
"Hillary's people were really upset by Spitzer, and they called his people - Rich Baum, Darren Dopp, Christine Anderson - to make that clear," a Spitzer insider told The Post, referring to the chief of staff and two top press aides.
Another senior Democrat said the Clinton camp "exploded, really went crazy," over Spitzer's refusal to back her during a visit to Washington last week.
No stranger to the sanctity of pre-ordained political coronations, Spitzer appears only too happy to have his arm twisted by the Clintonistas.
A Spitzer aide contended the governor's refusal to endorse Clinton had been misunderstood and that he was likely to do so in the coming months.
Nor might his belated support end with his simply throwing his own weight behind the candidate.
The aide also said, in a nod to the Clinton campaign, that Spitzer is likely to support moving the New York presidential primary to next Feb. 5, an earlier date sought by Clinton.
A cynical type might interpret such a maneuver as an abuse of power, crafted in consideration of the best interests of the Governor's begrudgingly preferred candidate, rather than those of the people of New York. But might there be a subtler altruism to Spitzer's support of Clinton's Presidential prospects, perhaps as a means to deliver New Yorkers from the final 4 years of her Senate term? Or is it simply the capitulation of a politician bending over backward to escape the fury of an increasingly scorned Hillary?
Hillary Bags Another Carpet
Having been long under the misconception that Hillary Clinton was a Chicago-born Arkansan, I've gradually come, over the last seven years, to recognize the plain truth that she is in fact a New Yorker, through and through. But just when she'd finished convincing me of such, a woman bearing her a striking resemblance (visually, if not aurally) showed up in Selma, Alabama and proceeded to twang and triphthong her way into the locals' hearts.
Matt Drudge adds commentary over audio of Hillary's latest geotransmutation.
Al Gore Saving the World From Unnecessary X-Ray Emissions
On the morning of 9/11, less than a year after the 2000 Presidential election, Rudy Giuliani said something insightful while escaping the smoldering rubble at Ground Zero: "Thank God George Bush is our President."
In fairness to the brooding runner-up, Gore never had an opportunity to show the world how he would've responded as President. Maybe he would've taken the terrorist threat and homeland security just as seriously.
Former vice president Al Gore was involved in a security breach at the Nashville Airport when an American Airlines employee led him and his entourage around security, a clear violation of policy.
"There are no exceptions. Everyone must go through security," airport spokesperson Lynn Lowrance said.
Wednesday at the Nashville Airport, Gore arrived with two others and airport. Sgt. Gary Glover with airport police waited for his arrival and to go through security.
"He made his way to security, waiting for him to come through the check area, then he saw him pop up past security in a sterile area," Lowrance said.
Gore and his group bypassed the metal detectors, a blatant security breach. Lowrance said an American Airlines employee took Gore around security directly to the gate.
"Everyone who comes through this public airport terminal must be screened, so it's a breach of rules. It's serious," Lowrance said.
A person being escorted by an armed federal officer is the only person allowed to bypass security.
HT: Allahpundit, who lends some perspective.
"Relax. He bought some security offsets beforehand."
Newt: Hillary is Nasty and Ruthless
They may wind up battling each other for the 2008 GOP nomination, but for the time being, Newt's got Rudy's back.
In a recent interview discussing Presidential candidates, Gingrich was asked about former New York Mayor Ed Koch's reference to former New york Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a "nasty man", to which Gingrich replied, "As opposed to a nasty woman?"
Gingrich added that he thinks [Hillary Clinton will] be the nominee, and cited the battle between Clinton's camp and Sen. Barack Obama's team last week over Obama donor David Geffen bashing the former first couple.
"Nobody will out-mud the Clintons," said Gingrich, who added that he'll decide in the coming months whether to run for the White House.
He called Clinton's political team one of the most "talented" in U.S. history, but "endlessly ruthless."
"You can't beat them tactically . . . They're too relentless, they're too well-organized, they have too big a machine and they'll just grind you down," he said.
"If they think [Obama] is a real threat, they'll just grind him up."
On Giuliani's mayoralty, Newt described New York's transformation under his watch as "a tremendous story . . . It's a different city."
In Which I Channel Al Gore
Agents from the Department of Investigation raided the city's Board of Elections yesterday in what was described as a "criminal investigation," The Post has learned.
Sources said the investigators showed up at the board's Bronx office and Manhattan headquarters Tuesday and yesterday and ordered workers to leave their offices so they could copy records unhindered.
"They told people to vacate their offices and to give them full access," said one source. "All they said is, this is part of a criminal investigation."
Many workers at the board are political appointees who operate under a system controlled by political party leaders that's been in place for decades.
Time to grow a beard and demand a recount. We only need to swing a couple dozen percentage points to turn the tables.
NYC Councilman Proposes the Unthinkable
Another banning? Stricter anti-business regulation? *Sigh* If only. I'm afraid it's even unthinkabler.
Courageous (if lonely) GOP Councilman James Oddo (one of two Republicans, among 51 Councilmembers) wants to look into lowering New York City's personal income tax. He's quick to point out that he's not actually advocating a specific tax cut per se, but rather the initiation of a discussion about the impacts of any hypothetical cut.
Still, that's about as close to fiscal blasphemy as you get around these parts. And I like it. Blaspheme away, Councilman Oddo:
"There is no downside to having a discussion," he said yesterday. "We can have real facts to deal with and make an educated decision from there."
His floated his proposal a week after the Independent Budget Office issued a report showing taxes in New York City are nearly 50% higher than the eight other largest American cities. Mr. Oddo said he is focusing on personal income tax reductions because if people had more dollars to spend it would spur economic activity.
"What we lose in revenue initially, you gain in job increases and allowing the economy to reach its potential," he said yesterday. He will discuss his proposal at today's council meeting.
Seems pretty simple, right? Pro-growth fiscal policy stimulates activity, creates wealth, creates jobs, increases real wages, increases the tax base, improves standards of living and enhances long-term sustainable prosperity.
While pledging to pay public lip service to Oddo's idea, Council Speaker Christine Quinn quite sublimely misses the point.
A spokeswoman for Speaker Christine Quinn, Maria Alvarado, said via e-mail that the council has championed tax relief for property owners, renters, and small-business owners over the past year in an effort to make New York more affordable.
"We will give a full and thoughtful review of Council Member Oddo's proposal," she wrote.
Lowering taxes is good policy and its immediate effects can include making a city more affordable to its inhabitants, but that's not the primary impetus. Longer-term, to stay competitive, to spur economic activity, and to raise the standards of living of all New Yorkers, we need to move away from punishing wealth creation. To get there, philosophically, we first need to get away from two ideas: 1) that a reduction in taxes is tantamount to taking money away from government and thus from its rightful stewards and 2) that the relevant assessment of the budgetary impact of a tax cut is the impact on next year's revenue forecast.
The flaws with #1 are too self-evident and numerous to warrant detailing, but disagreement over this basic philosophical point sadly tends to fall quite squarely along party lines (meaning a city like New York, with a 96% Democratic majority in the City Council, is bound to be require some persuasion). As for #2, all it takes to see the pro-growth light is a basic understanding that changes in tax policy influence behavior and a willingness to adopt a financial perspective that looks beyond the next election cycle. I've come begrudgingly to accept the fact that for most elected officials, there's simply no such thing as a world beyond the next election cycle. For these reasons, the unthinkable has thus far remained unfeasible.
But for once, the political calendar might be fleetingly on the side of sound policy. For NYC Councilmembers, the horizon beyond which the future goes opaque is currently November 2009, which may be a long enough stretch to see meaningful local tax reform take root and begin to catalyze growth. (The 2003 federal investment income tax cuts kicked in with serious gusto within just a few quarters.) If Councilman Oddo's initiative is well-executed and if he can get his colleagues to think critically and rationally about this vital issue, given that their jobs are all secure for a few years, the unthinkable might just become thinkable for one flitting moment.
That is, assuming the Council doesn't banish him from the city.