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Four and Done
Maybe that wall of worry has a few bricks left in it after all.
This morning's preliminary estimate of fourth quarter GDP growth didn't deliver on the upward revision investors were expecting, which (in concert with the latest employment data showing higher initial jobless claims) set a sufficiently somber tone this morning to snap stocks' 4-day winning streak that ranks as 2008's longest, to date.
When Ben Bernanke returned to Capitol Hill for his second day of Congressional testimony, things went a little further south. On the plus side, Bernanke noted that the recent economic tea leaves (showing inflation climbing and growth slowing) don't suggest we're "anywhere near" the stagflationary malaise that plagued the economy in the 1970s. But his acknowledgment that "there probably will be some bank failures" (among regional banks with significant real estate exposure) seemed to leave an ominous taste in investors' mouths.
Still, even after today's ~1% selloff, the major indices are up materially over the last 5 sessions, despite daily headwinds involving oil prices (setting a new record above $102/barrel today) and several surprisingly disappointing economic data points.
With that in mind, I suspect we have indeed begun to see an improved mentality in the markets, likely due in part to a big dose of pessimism already baked into stock prices that have already pulled back a long way from their late 2007 highs. A judicious contrarian might note that once everyone agrees things are rotten, it's probably a good time to buy.
Previously: Smashing Through the Wall Of Worry
Guilty: Another Illegal Clinton Bundler-cum-Fugitive Faces Prison Time
Pakistani immigrant Abdul Jinnah may go away for as long as five years for filling Senator Clinton's campaign coffers in a very familiar way.
LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- A Northridge businessman has pleaded guilty to funneling tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to Senators Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer.
Abdul Rehman Jinnah admitted reimbursing employees and others for contributions made in their names. There is a $2,000 cap on individual contributions to candidates.
Jinnah faces up to five years in federal prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines when he's sentenced on June 2nd.
The m.o. of Clinton campaign fraudsters is fastidiously observed.
Indicted in May of 2006 for his crimes, Jinnah promptly cheesed it back to Pakistan. After being hunted by the FBI for about year, he returned to California for a dramatic and medically complicated surrender.
[Jinnah] surrendered to the FBI on a year-old indictment Tuesday [May 29, 2007], then collapsed in Los Angeles federal court.
Looking tired and disoriented, Abdul Rehman Jinnah, 56, complained of chest pains and began shaking an hour into a contentious bond hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh. The judge interrupted the hearing for nearly 30 minutes while paramedics attended to Jinnah.
Sounds like Jinnah and Norman Hsu are working off the same playbook.
Thanks to JustADude for the heads up.
Smashing Through the Wall Of Worry
What troopers investors are being this week. Yesterday brought news of a spike in wholesale inflation and a fall-off in consumer confidence, but markets rallied, thanks to IBM's ravenous appetite for its own (Dow component) stock. Overnight, oil hit a fresh all-time trading high, above $102/barrel. And this morning, weaker-than-expected data on new home sales and durable goods orders conspired to limit Wall Street's up-streak to 3 days. Until Fed chairman Ben Bernanke began his Congressional testimony, that is.
It's not that Bernanke was all puppy dogs and ice cream about the immediate economic outlook. On the contrary, he remains notably concerned about the scope of credit and housing market deterioration and its impact on labor markets and the broader economy. And while his was therefore not the feel-good Congressional testimony of the year, Bernanke did give investors reason to smile, expressing in increasingly explicit terms his ongoing bias toward lowering interest rates.
While the Fed hasn't shown any meaningful signs of hesitation about its easing frenzy (ratcheting down target rates by 225 basis points (9 quarter points) in just five months), perhaps the market needed to hear Bernanke reaffirm his dovish bias, in the wake of yesterday's hot inflation report. If so, then Bernanke seems to have delivered, as there's little question he continues to see growth risk outweighing inflation risk.
"The Federal Open Market Committee will be carefully evaluating incoming information bearing on the economic outlook and will act in a timely manner as needed to support growth and to provide adequate insurance against downside risks,'' Bernanke said in semiannual testimony on the economy before the House Financial Services Committee in Washington.
Bernanke referred to "downside'' risks for the economy four times in his testimony, and noted that data since the last Fed meeting in January pointed to "sluggish'' growth. Policy choices have also become more complicated as energy and commodity prices rose in recent weeks, he indicated.
Despite the fact that analysts were already anticipating another rate cut (and possible a double) after the March fed meeting, it's not terribly remarkable that sentiment improved upon hearing Uncle Ben's soothing reassurances.
What is remarkable is the apparent change in the market's overarching sentiment, as evidenced by its reaction to good or bad news. Over the last several months, the preponderance of economic data has gone from great, to good, to mixed, to partly crummy (with that most recent threshold being breached only in the last week or so). And while the Dow Industrials plunged 15% against the good-to-mixed backdrop (between October and February), the index has surged nearly 5% since the intraday low last Friday - swimming briskly against a notably crummy stream of economic data.
The IBM buyback and Bernanke's rate cut hints certainly helped fuel this process (as did regulators' decision to loosen mortgage investment restrictions at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). But I doubt they could've offset and so strongly outweighed the deterioration in this week's slate of economic indicators, were there not some broad shift in market disposition. Assuming afternoon trading doesn't reverse direction, this will after all be the first 4-day winning streak of the year. Not what one might expect during one of the worst weeks for economic data in recent memory (largest wholesale inflation bump in 26 years, deeper than expected contraction in durable goods orders, dwindling consumer confidence, etc.).
Perhaps the most white-knuckled worriers and recession fetishists who've been forecasting economic armageddon for the last many quarters of this 7-year expansion have finally washed out of the market, allowing cooler heads to recognize that with market-wide price-to-earnings ratios at 12-year lows, stocks might be generally oversold.
As for whether market disposition has taken a qualitative change for the sunnier, tomorrow ought to be a useful test case. The Commerce Department will release its first revision to its advance estimate of fourth quarter GDP growth. It's a fairly significant data point, as a revision would help clarify whether the economy is teetering on recession, whether growth has bottomed out, how aggressive the Fed may need to get with its rate cuts, how significantly economic issues will play in the Presidential election, etc. The market is expecting an upward revision to the earlier estimate from 0.6% to 0.8%. If the number disappoints (and especially if it's revised down, even slightly) and the markets hold onto the bulk of the gains they've enjoyed over the last four sessions, then I think we can rest assured a lately absent note of chipperness has returned to the equity markets.
Bar Stool Economics
A friend of mine emailed me this today. Any of these complaints sound familiar?
Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:
The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.
So, that's what they decided to do.
The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve.
‘Since you are all such good customers, he said, 'I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.’ Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.
The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men, the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share?' They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.
The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings) .
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings) .
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).
Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.
'I only got a dollar out of the $20,' declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man,' but he got $10!'
'Yeah, that's right,' exclaimed the fifth man. ' I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than I!'
'That's true!!' shouted the seventh man. 'Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!'
'Wait a minute,' yelled the first four men in unison. 'We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!'
The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.
The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important, They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!
And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore.
In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.
David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics, University of Georgia
Cards Are Not Her Bag, Baby
At a townhall meeting in Ohio today, Hillary Clinton had trouble wielding her gambling metaphors.
"The deck is stacked against the middle class," she lamented, "and under President Bush, that deck has gotten even bigger."
Stacking, of course, is a way of cheating in card games whereby one player arranges the cards in the deck to his advantage. I can assure you that the size of the cards is not a factor.
Clinton has had a rough couple of weeks, but perhaps her luck would change if she hit the crap tables and rolled herself a jackpot.
Clinton's limited grasp of table gaming (and her obliviousness thereto) hint strongly at a kindred Vice Presidential dark horse we may have overlooked.
(HT: Alarming News)
A Hazy Roadmap Of Obama's Rezko/Auchi/Iraqi Scandalworks
Make no mistake - this is a long and dark and meandering path, which may lead to nothing but dead ends. But judging by a few of the early bread crumbs Captain Ed has sprinkled out, it might be a shadowy journey worth going on.
It's got all the prescribed components of your more compelling modern political intrigue - fishy land deals, outright fraud, vast wealth, middle eastern power brokers, assassination, revenge, two people named Hussein...
And if it turns out that Obama's involvement with and connections to this rich tapestry of malfeasance is limited to poor judgment, then so much the better. It will better equip him with some of that valuable "vetted[ness]" Hillary likes to assert.
We can rest assured the news media can't be bothered to embark on this one (at least not the American news media). Not only does their consensus candidate have an election to win, but the complexity and convolution of the situation might be enough to inspire nostalgia for Whitewater's relative simplicity.
Economists Dropping S-Bombs
Following this morning's extra spicy wholesale inflation report (showing January prices leaping by more than twice the amount expected), economy watchers have begun to use that very dirty word stagflation again. Yes, the last twelve months have seen the swiftest wholesale inflation in more than a quarter century, but it's hardly cause for vulgarity.
Fed struggles to halt march of stagflation
“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions,” said Claudius in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Stagflation hadn't been invented back in the Bard's day, but, as with much of the man's insights, his description of Ophelia's desperate condition might well serve as a useful piece of modern economic analysis.
The ailing US economy is confronted not by a single threat but by a whole battalion of sorrows on the march that comprises deepening recession and accelerating inflation.
At least it's poetic hand-wringing.
Between the hot inflation data and the chilly consumer confidence reading, it was a cheerless morning on Wall Street. That is, until IBM swung in with the announcement of a monstrous $15 billion share buyback. So immediately altered was the market psyche that the major averages all swung from moderate sell-offs to genuine rallies. As a result, on this morose and unlikely day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (of which IBM is a component) is in rarefied spitting distance of breaking out of the range that's bound the index almost since the start of the year.
At very least, Big Blue's largess has afforded investors a one-day stay of economic profanity. Tomorrow morning, we'll get a look at the monthly durable goods data. The market is expecting to see contraction of 4.0%. If that report underwhelms, expect to hear plenty more of that foul s-word word thrown around in financial circles (and without restraint at Democratic Presidential stump speeches).
Bill's Freudian Face Plant
"A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth."
- Michael Kinsley, 1951
"If you elect me, I'll repeal those subsidies and put them into a strategic energy fund."
- Bill Clinton, 2008
Clinton Body Count Nearly Increments
If Hillary wins the Pennsylvania primary by a single vote, she'll need to put Mr. Ortiz on her Christmas list.
Clintonite Stabs Obama Supporter
Cops: Man assaulted brother-in-law during political argument
FEBRUARY 25--Meet Jose Antonio Ortiz. The Pennsylvania man allegedly stabbed his brother-in-law in the stomach after the pair quarreled about their respective support of Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. According to cops, Ortiz, 28, stabbed Sean Shurelds last Thursday night in the kitchen of an Upper Providence Township home. According to a criminal complaint, a copy of which you'll find here, the 41-year-old Shurelds, an Obama supporter, told Ortiz that the Illinois senator was "trashing" Clinton (apparently in regard to recent primary and caucus results). Ortiz, a Clinton supporter, replied that "Obama was not a realist." While not exactly fighting words, the verbal political tiff led to some mutual choking and punching. And, allegedly, a stabbing in the abdomen. Ortiz, pictured in the mug shot below, was charged with a felony aggravated assault count and two misdemeanors and jailed in lieu of $20,000 bail. Shurelds was flown to Hahnemann University Hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition.
CQ and HA are two of the top 10 blogs in the TTLB ecosystem, so if Ed can manage to bring a significant portion of his readership over with him (via an interim period of cross-posting, a temporary re-opening of Hot Air community registration, and an eventual re-direct from the Captain's Quarters domain directly to Hot Air), the size and vibrancy of the site's community of bloggers, commenters, and readers ought to reach even higher. (Hot Air's founder and proprietress Michelle Malkin already holds the #1 spot in the ecosystem with her self-titled blog.)
As far as I know, this combination constitutes the largest merger (of sorts) of two existing blogs in the medium's brief history. If nothing else, it ought to be an interesting case study in blog economics. Congrats to both parties.
Ralph Nader Endorses John McCain
Welcome to the race, you crochety old spoiler, you. It's delightful to have you back.
Ralph Nader said Sunday he will run for president as a third-party candidate, criticizing the top White House contenders as too close to big business and pledging to repeat a bid that will "shift the power from the few to the many."
With a redoubled and extra-strength fear of and loathing of American commerce and economic freedom, Nader's 2008 platform echoes this year's crop of vitriolically anti-business Democratic candidates even more closely than it did in 2000, when his Florida vote total exceeded the Bush-Gore margin in that state by more than 180x.
American [Vehicular Homic]Idol
America's favorite bon vivant may not open your car door for you, but he will enchant you with a dulcet Spanish serenade.
(Even if it sounds more like Latin.)
At Texas Debate, Hillary's So Wrong, She's Accidentally Right
Hillary Clinton attempted to take an economic swipe at John McCain's fiscal policy tonight by attacking his position on the Bush tax cuts. By blatantly mischaracterizing his initial position on those tax cuts (claiming he supported them, whereas he was one of two Republicans who did not) and wrongly maligning the cuts as "wasteful", she pulled off an impressive double fallacy which inadvertently landed her on the correct side of the argument - one of opposition to McCain's initial stance on the Bush tax cuts.
Stephen Spruiell put it well.
Fact Error + Oxymoron = ...
... Hillary claiming that John McCain supported Bush's "wasteful tax cuts." (McCain opposed them at the time but supports making them permanent now.)
That Hillary would call tax cuts "wasteful" is incredibly revealing. Why let taxpayers "waste" their own money when the she can think of so many wonderful ways to spend it?
Just When Shadegg Thinks He's Out...
Last week, 7-term Congressman and taxpayer hero John Shadegg (R-AZ) announced he would not run for re-election this November. Within a few days, more than 130 Congressional Republicans had signed a letter asking him to reconsider.
And now, based on an interview posted by David Freddoso at The Corner, it seems his arm has been sufficiently twisted.
The Arizona House Republican is running for reelection after his colleagues asked him to reconsider. You heard it here first.
In an interview moments ago, he told me:
At the end of the day, there are two things that are important to me: My family and the fight for freedom. I had consulted with my family and reached the decision that I would fight for freedom from somewhere else. And there has been a reaction to that decision. The overwhelming reaction has been that people would like me to keep up the fight for freedom inside the U.S. House.
I am overwhelmed and humbled by the reaction of my colleagues. When the conservative movement asks you to stick around, that's a pretty tough request to turn down."
In the rest of the interview, Shadegg discusses the looming specter of the ravages of socialized medicine as one of the key battles he's staying to fight.
Shadegg has been identified as a possible successor to John McCain's Senate seat in 2010, should McCain win the Presidency.
I attended a meeting last night among various muckity mucks in the New York Republican party, where Edward Cox, New York Chairman of McCain 2008, gave some comments about the candidate and the campaign.
Someone asked Cox about possible Vice Presidential picks and he offered just two names:
There's a lot to like about (and a fair bit in common between) these two possibilities. They're both southern, they're both political executives, and they're both extremely young. At 47, Sanford is just a year older than Obama and young enough to be McCain's son. At 36, Jindal is barely Constitutionally eligible.
Previous speculation has picked out a couple other young, sitting Republican Governors, including Tim Pawlenty (47) of Minnesota and Charlie Crist (51) of Florida, both of whom were early McCain supporters and might be expecting loyalty dividends.
Crist probably did the most of anyone to help McCain sew up the nomination, with a timely endorsement just before his narrow victory in Florida, which served as the turning point (or maybe the tipping point) in the GOP primary. Crist's state-wide popularity might also help McCain clinch Florida in the general election, which is an important prize.
In terms of fomenting excitement among the ranks though (since Republicans won't have the luxury of being vigorously united by a Hillary nomination), I suspect Jindal would be the most powerful choice. He'd be just a hair older than youngest-ever-veep John Breckenridge (under Buchanan) was on Inauguration Day, but despite being a decade younger than Obama, his backstory is at least as compelling. Plus, it's got the added bonus of being peppered with material accomplishments.
Jindal's parents immigrated from India shortly before his birth (another manner in which Jindal is just barely Constitutionally eligible). Formally named Piyush, Jindal supposedly renamed himself Bobby after Bobby Brady at the age of 4. He graduated Brown with honors at 19, then became a Rhodes Scholar. He then worked for premier consulting firm McKinsey & Co. before entering public service. As secretary of health and hospitals, he saved Louisiana's drowning Medicaid program and turned around the state's healthcare apparatus. Elected to Congress in 2004, he was also elected Freshman Class President by his fellow Representatives and served as Assistant Majority Whip. Though he was in Congress for just three years, he passed multiple pieces of significant legislation related to hurriance relief and emergency management generally. This past October, he was elected Governor of Louisiana.
While Jindal's hypothetical role on the GOP ticket would of course be as a VP candidate, not a Presidential candidate, the similar trajectories of Jindal's and Obama's lives would beg constant comparison (a comparison which universally favors Jindal).
Obama: new, young, minority, son of an immigrant, very well educated, swiftly rising political star
Jindal: new, much younger, minority, son of two (yes, two!) immigrants, very well educated, asymptotically rising political star (including as a political executive), and top-flight private sector experience (plus, no known history of hard drug use, no names in common with genocidal despots, etc.)
Don't get me wrong - I don't suggest Jindal's minority status makes him incrementally well-qualified in the slightest. But it would certainly add to the comparison beggary, which does make his lineage a campaign asset.
You take that point-by-point biographical comparison, in which Jindal always either matches or surpasses Obama, throw in the marked "accomplishment" differential, and Obama's Messianic luster begins to dull. Not that voters will be evaluating the GOP ticket in any significant part based on the itemized accomplishments of the Vice Presidential candidate. My point is simply that Jindal's presence on the ticket may, by virtue of the contrast it offers, at long last catalyze the realization of just how unimpressive Obama's record is.
One never knows what Senator McCain might decide to do here of course. Just a few days ago, reports of a possible moderate/maverick/liberal VP preference began to surface, the thesis being that even the increasingly liberal McCain needs to veer left with his pick in order to keep Obama from capturing too much of the middle (despite being the most liberal member of the Senate).
Boasting praise from Rush Limbaugh as "the next Ronald Reagan," Jindal is unlikely to quench a desire for a left-leaning running mate. But given his extraordinary background, he might just be the one person who would enable McCain to simultaneously shore up and invigorate the Republican base and take a whack out of Obama's support among independents.
Pimpin' Ain't Easy
Despite the exquisite timing of Chelsea Clinton's arranged rendezvous with college junior and li'lest superdelegate Jason Rae (just days after her mother's excoriation and threatened boycott of NBC for David Shuster's suggestion that Chelsea's heightened campaign presence amounted to her being "pimped out"), the overtures to Rae went unrequited.
Marquette University junior Jason Rae had a personal breakfast with Chelsea Clinton and was wooed on the phone by Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright.
But after seeing the enthusiasm for Barack Obama in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Rae tells ABC News he is supporting the Illinois senator in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"As I think about my role as a young DNC member and a young superdelegate, my generation clearly spoke on Tuesday saying Obama was their choice," Rae told ABC News. "I was inspired by him as well. He has inspired a new generation of voters to get active and energized in the political process."
(HT: HA Headlines)
4 Out Of 5 New Yorkers Agree: Spitzer's Lousy
Don't blame me - I voted for Faso.
Eighty percent of New York voters say Gov. Spitzer has done nothing to improve the state or has made it worse since promising that "on Day 1, everything changes," a devastating new poll showed yesterday.
The Siena College survey found a mere 15 percent of voters believe that Spitzer has made New York a better place to live since taking office on Jan. 1, 2007, after a historic landslide election victory, while 22 percent said things have gotten worse.
"For New Yorkers, the slogan, 'Everything changes on Day 1' is a long-forgotten memory," said Siena spokesman Steven Greenberg.
The poll contained other bad news for Spitzer, who has been battered in recent months by the Dirty Tricks Scandal and related ethical questions; the fallout from his plan to give driver's licenses to illegal aliens; and repeated reports of an abusive "steamroller" style.
This continues to be a breathtaking freefall from grace for a man who waltzed into the Governor's mansion a year ago, having won 69% of the popular vote (notching up the widest margin over a Republican gubernatorial opponent in state history).
In a finding that has already stirred speculation that Spitzer could face a primary challenge, just 25 percent of all voters - and only 23 percent of city voters - backed the governor for re-election in 2010, compared with 50 percent of all voters and 51 percent of city voters who said they wanted someone else.
The average tenure of New York's elected governors over the last half century is 12 years. Assuming Spitzer flames out in 2010 (if not before), he'll become the first elected Governor to be voted out within four years since Averell Harriman (and only the second since Charles Whitman, grandfather-in-law of Christine Todd Whitman, born shortly after the Civil War).
Great Shot Kid, That Was One In a Million
I know my learned co-blogger and resident satellite expert wasn't in favor of this move, but this is still very exciting in a knuckle-dragging, boom-stick wielding, big hairy American winning machine kind of way (i.e. the best way).
A U.S. Navy cruiser blasted a disabled spy satellite with a pinpoint missile strike that achieved the main mission of exploding a tank of toxic fuel 130 miles above the Pacific Ocean, defense officials said.
Destroying the satellite's onboard tank of about 1,000 pounds of hydrazine fuel was the primary goal, and a senior defense official close to the mission said Thursday that it appears the tank was destroyed, and the strike with a specially designed missile was a complete success.
One of the problems Gindu had with it was the possibility that we'd miss and look like chumps, so at least we're safe on that one. Another point he made, though, was that other countries that we chastise for carrying out unannounced (and therefore qualitatively different) and extremely messy anti-satellite tests would wax indignant. Which, of course, they are.
China called on the United States Thursday to provide information about its shooting down of a defunct US spy satellite and voiced caution about the potential international impact of the operation.
"China is continuing to closely follow the possible harm caused by the US action to outer space security and relevant countries," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said when asked for a reaction to the shootdown.
"China further requests that the US fulfil (sic) its international obligations in earnest and promptly provide to the international community the necessary information and relevant data... so that relevant countries can take precautions."
Imagine their reaction if we'd done nothing and some unsuspecting folks in China (or in similarly grousing Russia, the two of which combine to form 15% of the global land mass) wound up on the business end of a hydrazine rain shower.
Imagine their reaction if we'd done nothing and some unsuspecting folks in China (or in similarly grousing Russia, the two of which combine to form 15% of the global land mass) wound up on the business end of a hydrazine rain shower.
Obama's Achilles Heel Beginning To Show
On Fox News, Sean Hannity and Frank Luntz have been playing this game for a few weeks now - ask a roomful of Obama supporters to name an accomplishment of their candidate and watch them turn into deer in the proverbial headlights.
This time it's unambiguous lefty Chris Matthews on MSNBC who's probing the vast emptiness of Obama's suit. And it's an Obama surrogate (Texas State Senator Kirk Watson), not a roomful of average American bandwagon hoppers, who can't identify a single legislative accomplishment.
It's actually a little painful to watch, but highly revealing, not only of Obama's astounding lack of substance, but of a possible media trend toward recognizing it.
I Don't Know Why You Say Aloha, I Say Aloha
With Wisconsin sealed up for Obama, eyes turn briefly westward to Hawaii, which conducts its open Democratic caucus today (or technically tomorrow, from an east coast perspective). The doors open at 7 pm local time for a contest that typically draws little interest, even among Hawaiians.
But this year's tight race and Obama's native son status may usher in a blowout attendance.
"My cell phone bill has doubled and my e-mails have tripled with inquiries about the caucuses," said Annelle Amaral, county chair of the O'ahu County Committee of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.
Neither candidate has campaigned in Hawaii, but Obama's childhood connection to the state, his typical outperformance in caucuses, and the openness of the contest which may entice Hawaii Republicans to sate their anti-Hillaryism with a pro-Obama vote, ought to pave the way for an easy victory. A win would net Obama a handful of additional delegates and his 10th consecutive victory (11th if you include the U.S. Virgin Islands).
Assuming it's a double-digit win (probably a safe assumption), it will also be the 10th (11th with the USVI) consecutive double-digit win for Obama. In the nine contests held after Super Tuesday and before today, Clinton's best showing was in Maine, where she managed to lose by only 20 points.
We already know Hillary's finished; the question now is whether her campaign is nearing a Huckabeeesque level of embarrassing futility.
I'm inclined to give her until March 5th, after she's lost Texas and vows to soldier on, before her campaign reaches that level of fruitless vanity.
Update: Oof. Obama wins 76-24 in Hawaii.
Hillary Stays One Step Ahead Of Her Losses
On the night of the Potomac Primaries, Hillary skulked off to Texas to address supporters even before the final results of her 0-for-3 pummeling that night had been tallied.
Tonight, with just a few percent of Wisconsin's precincts reporting (and exit polling foretelling another double-digit victory for Obama), Clinton popped up in Ohio, one of her last gasp states, gearing up for its primary on March 4th.
Hillary still holds a 15-point average polling lead in Ohio (although the three constituent polls show that gap closing briskly). Obama, meanwhile, is celebrating his Wisconsin victory in Texas, where Clinton's polling edge has worn as thin as 2 points in recent days.
Given the particulars of Texas' delegate allocation scheme (which overweights Obama strongholds like Houston, Dallas, and Austin, due to those districts' relative Democratic turnout in previous elections), Obama likely doesn't even need the tremendous momentum with which his campaign will hit March 4th in order to win the state. And even if Hillary pulls off wins in both Texas and Ohio, she's still a dead candidate stumping, whose final death rattle promises to be a magnificently atrocious display of intraparty destruction, especially in light of her latest decision to try to poach Obama's pledged delegates.
Previously: Barack Obama To Win Nomination
Bored Envirophiles Threaten Humanity With Mass Hysteria, Worldwide Power Surges
What could possibly go wrong with this humble display?
As many as 30 million people are tipped to switch off lights and televisions around the world to help fight climate change with 24 cities joining Earth Hour on March 29, environment group WWF said on Wednesday.
Following last year's Earth Hour in Australia, where 2.2 million Sydneysiders powered-down for an hour, cities including Atlanta, San Francisco, Bangkok, Ottawa, Dublin, Vancouver, Montreal and Phoenix have also signed on, WWF said.
Earth Hour asks residents in participating cities to switch off lights and non-essential electrical items for one hour at 8 p.m. to raise awareness of carbon emissions that scientists blame for causing global warming.
During last year's Sydney event, restaurants used candles and lights were turned off in homes and major landmarks, including the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
This year, Ridley said, other iconic buildings to be plunged into darkness would include San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, Chicago's Sears Tower and Soldier Field Stadium football ground, as well as the 553-metre (1,815 ft) CN Tower in Toronto.
Assuming a large percentage of the 6 billion or so people who won't be participating also won't have heard about Earth Hour's sanctimonious vigil, it seems likely that more than a few people will quite reasonably freak out when they see "iconic buildings ... plunged into darkness." How many calls about the Golden Gate Bridge going dark will it take to swamp San Francisco's 911 service enough that average response time suffers?
The Sydney event supposedly cut power consumption by more than 10% during the very special hour. Is this series of instantaneous 10% drops in the demand on power grids (of varying stability) peppered throughout the world going to result in appliance-damaging energy spikes?
Maybe Earth Hour ought to carry its own line of surge protectors.
Call Him Mr. 270: McCain Within Striking Distance In NY
Just 14 months ago, Hillary Clinton won her Senate re-election by a soul-crushing margin of 36 points, winning more than two thirds of all votes cast. Now, it appears she might have trouble carrying the state in a general election against the gentlemaverick from Arizona, who trails her by a scant 7 points in a recent poll.
Al Gore won the state by 25 points in 2000 and even John Kerry managed a margin of 19 points. Clinton's comparative weakness may have something to do with the fact that her negative ratings in "her own" state have jumped from 35 a month ago to 43 now, in the wake of recent ugliness on the campaign trail.
But Clinton's blossoming unpopularity doesn't seem to fully account for New York's sudden purplization. Obama holds a similarly thin margin over McCain in a hypothetical match-up.
Likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain is within single-digit striking distance of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama in heavily Democratic New York state, and leads both in the suburbs and upstate, according to a new poll released yesterday.
The Siena College Survey found Clinton and Obama just 7 points ahead of McCain - 49 to 42 percent and 47 to 40 percent, respectively - largely because of overwhelming support from heavily Democratic New York City voters.
Clinton led McCain among city voters, 66 to 28 percent, while Obama was ahead, 62 to 27 percent.
But in the suburbs, McCain led Clinton, 53 to 38 percent, and Obama, 55 to 32 percent. McCain was ahead of the New York senator upstate, 49 to 41 percent, and the Illinois senator by a mere, 42 to 41 percent.
Rudy's relatively early endorsement may have carried some weight with swayable city-dwellers, but those suburban and upstate figures are astounding.
This is just one poll, of course, but if the Empire State and its 31 electoral votes do wind up in play, the Election Day math changes dramatically. The Democratic nominee would have to hold Pennsylvania and Michigan (very narrowly won by Kerry in 2004) and poach both Ohio and Florida to offset losing New York. No combination of 3 of those 4 states would do it.
And if all four of those swing states do vote for the Democrat, the net elector shift would be 16, leaving McCain with exactly 270 (286 - 16) electoral votes, the magic number needed to win the Presidency.
Non Semper Fidel
Early today, some Cuban official wrote the following statement on behalf of a possibly still technically alive Fidel Castro:
"I will not aspire to nor accept - I repeat, I will not aspire to nor accept - the post of President of the Council of State and Commander in Chief," read a letter signed by Castro published early Tuesday in the online edition of the Communist Party daily Granma.
This was the 50th year of the dictator's reign.
Update: Scott Ott handicaps the field of potential replacements.
Falling for Obama
We have a piper down.
The Sky is Falling: Redux
In the past two days, news has emerged that the U.S. is likely going to attempt to shoot down its errant spy satellite. As a former Air Force satellite officer and Chief of Space Tactics, SF is more than qualified to opine on the events.
Before I delve into the details, allow me to be accountable for my previous assertions:
Assertion #1: The satellite does not likely contain hydrazine, the satellite's toxic fuel.
Reality: It subsequently came out that this satellite is the product of a National Reconnaissance Office, the nation's eyes and ears in space. Because of the secretive nature of the mission, it took a while for it to emerge that the satellite died as soon as it arrived on orbit. About 99% of satellites that reenter are out of fuel, although this is evidently an exception. Many sensitive components of a satellite are protected by significant amount of shielding, but satellite fuel is only protected by a thin casing. This makes it quite likely that the fuel tanks will crack and burn off the fuel before it reaches the ground. (Some have expressed concern that fuel is frozen and won't defrost before striking the surface. But the tank metallic casing is a fantastic conductor of heat, the sworn enemy of all things frozen.)
Assertion #2: No need to worry about this satellite landing on your head, the Earth is the big place.
Reality: To be determined. The Space Shuttle Columbia, which burned up upon reentry in 2003, weighed 36 times more than this satellite and was designed to reenter the atmosphere (increasing the chances of surface strikes). When Columbia broke up over Texas, no one was injured by debris and there were only a few reports of property damage, primarily runways. Satellites reenter all the time and no one is the wiser because there rarely traces of the events.
Assertion #3: Shooting down the satellite would be crazy.
Reality: Of course shooting down things in space is cool, but it's still a bad idea for two reasons: on-orbit debris and policy fallout.
Remember playing "Asteroids" on Atari? When you broke the big rocks up it became very difficult to avoid all the little pieces. That's when you had to thrust your virtual spaceship to dodge the dangerous debris.
Same concept applies here, and the U.S. and other countries have already had to dodge the wreckage created by China's satellite shootdown. Shooting down this U.S. satellite (and there are indications we're willing to try several times) risks creating more hazardous debris, which has to be dodged. Dodging debris takes fuel, and fuel is most frequent cause of satellite failure. Early satellite failure means the cost-benefit equation changes. Therefore, there's a good case that the cost of shooting this satellite down far exceeds the potential financial liability to the U.S. Government.
The policy implications are more worrisome though. The U.S. has sternly rebuked China over its anti-satellite test and has successfully convinced other nations to condemn China. Launching this test risks our moral "high ground" and, more tangibly, China's rapid backpedaling. Just this week China proposed a space weapons ban. The fact that we're seriously considering this doesn't help our credibility.
While I'd bet the Navy succeeds in its first shootdown attempt, what if our test fails? That could create doubt that our missile defenses aren't operationally effective. This could affect program funding and international agreements.
I have no qualms about fielding space weapons because eventually the domain will become weaponized (as has been the case with the sea and air). But this isn't the time to test these waters and technologies. The maximum damage potential from the reentering satellite is so infinitesimally small that it doesn't warrant this aggressive and counter-productive action.
RePet Becomes a Reality
Korean firm bids to clone dead pets
The world's first pet cloning service is to offer animal lovers the chance to recreate their dead companions, it was announced today.
A company spokeswoman said it was already working on its first order from an American who wanted a clone of her dead pit bull.
The client, Bernann McKunney, of California, was very attached to the pet because it had saved her life during an attack by another dog.
RNL Bio is charging customers $150,000 (£75,000) for the clones, which clients pay only after they receive their new pet.
The cloning is to be carried out by Seoul National University scientists led by Dr Lee Byeong-chun, a veterinary professor.
Prof Lee had worked with the disgraced stem cell scientist Dr Hwang Woo-suk, whose purported breakthroughs in the creation of human stem cells through cloning had been faked.
The team's success in cloning the world's first dog, Snuppy, in 2005, has been confirmed.
2004: Global Test, 2008: Global Tax!
A few days ago, when rookie change-talker Barack Obama began to open his ideological Kimono, I quickly realized life had been sweeter before we saw what was underneath.
Today, the faint-of-heart are advised to look away from another hair-raising glimpse of what the silver-tongued changeling has in store.
A nice-sounding bill called the “Global Poverty Act,” sponsored by Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Barack Obama, is up for a Senate vote on Thursday and could result in the imposition of a global tax on the United States. The bill, which has the support of many liberal religious groups, makes levels of U.S. foreign aid spending subservient to the dictates of the United Nations.
Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has not endorsed either Senator Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. But on Thursday, February 14, he is trying to rush Obama’s “Global Poverty Act” (S.2433) through his committee. The legislation would commit the U.S. to spending 0.7 percent of gross national product on foreign aid, which amounts to a phenomenal 13-year total of $845 billion over and above what the U.S. already spends. ...
The bill defines the term “Millennium Development Goals” as the goals set out in the United Nations Millennium Declaration, General Assembly Resolution 55/2 (2000).
The U.N. says that “The commitment to provide 0.7% of gross national product (GNP) as official development assistance was first made 35 years ago in a General Assembly resolution, but it has been reaffirmed repeatedly over the years, including at the 2002 global Financing for Development conference in Monterrey, Mexico. However, in 2004, total aid from the industrialized countries totaled just $78.6 billion—or about 0.25% of their collective GNP.”
Perhaps... but that doesn't mean we need to enact a law that surrenders this sovereign power over to the U.N. Never mind the fact that the U.S. is already far and away the world's largest donor of foreign aid - public and private - shelling out well over $100 billion per year (more than $1,000 per household). Turning your own purse strings over to the U.N. (arguably the least financially responsible organization since the dawn of man), when the purse has nearly a trillion dollars in it, shows flabbergastingly bad judgment. I suspect Americans will continue to decide what to do with those hundreds of billions of dollars, Senator. Whether and to whom a country decides to donate these gargantuan sums of money is not a prerogative to be surrendered in a fit of global sycophancy in the name of "restoring our standing."
But that hasn't stopped eight of Obama's Senatorial colleagues (Joe Biden, Maria Cantwell, Chris Dodd, Richard Durbin, Russ Feingold, Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar, and Bob Menendez) from putting their own names to this legislative lickspittle.
It's "Hell City"
Hedge Fund Redemption Calendar Doing In a Perfectly Good Market Rally
Disappointing manufacturing data out of the New York Federal Reserve is weighing on stocks Friday morning, but there may be another powerful force at work keeping the markets down. Ashraf Laidi, chief foreign exchange strategist at CMC Markets US in New York, wrote in a note this morning that today “marks the last day of the 45-day period by which clients of some hedge funds are required to give notice to withdraw their money.”
Recent precedent suggests that’s not a happy occasion. Mr. Laidi notes that markets sold off aggressively on August 15 and November 15 of last year, when the redemption factor was in play.
“The S&P 500 and Dow may shed 1.7%-2.0%, or up to 25 and 180 points respectively today,” Mr. Laidi wrote.
That said, I'm feeling better about Monday. I'll go ahead and guarantee you the S&P 500 doesn't dip below the centerline on Monday.
Romney To Endorse Huckabee
Wait, that's not right... No, it's John McCain that Mitt Romney is endorsing.
But given the fervor with which the blogosphere is reacting to the news, you'd have thought it was something a little less expected. Like endorsing the only other candidate. Or overtly declining to endorse anyone.
Of course Romney is endorsing McCain. He said nearly as much during his CPAC speech, but has given Mac a few days to twist, perhaps (as wouldn't be inappropriate) to chide him for the dishonest, very unstraight-talky "timetable" attack McCain mounted against him.
Anyway, the event is set for 3:30 this afternoon. A Romney campaign staffer e-mails to say that McCain will attend.
Unless something really interesting happens during the ceremony, I probably won't be back to update, but Allah is showering you with links and video, so that's a good bet if you're looking for highlights.
Her Terrible Swift Downfall
What a long, strange couple of months it's been for the Clinton campaign. Bill and Hillary have managed to fumble a massive polling lead in a stunningly short period of time. So utter has been their downfall that Obama now - for the first time - boasts a national polling lead over Clinton, based on the Real Clear Politics average, while just over a month ago, Clinton led by more than 20 points. Not long before that, she was up by nearly 30.
Below is a chart of Hillary's fast track to the underdog pound, annotated with a few of the hastening events.
Jobless Claims: Meh
Yesterday, I suggested that if today's unemployment report showed a lower initial jobless claims number than the market was expecting, it would likely set the mood for a fourth consecutive up day for stocks.
The market was expecting 350,000. We got 348,000.
So yes, that's lower. And that's good. And it's an improvement on last week's 357,000. But it's probably not enough to shed additional light on the issue of potential trend reversal in job growth I alluded to yesterday.
For what it's worth, pre-market trading suggested prices were inclined to trend higher today, but investors spooked at the opening bell and quickly scampered back into negative territory.
We'll probably see skittishness dominating until we have a chance to hear today's testimony from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and SEC Chairman Christopher Cox, who are scheduled to appear before the Senate Banking Committee.
Hopefully the upper chamber will have better luck telling them apart.
Update: Uncle Ben turned out to be kind of a downer today.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress Thursday that the country's economic outlook has deteriorated and signaled that the central bank is ready to keep on lowering a key interest rate -- as needed -- to shore things up.
"The outlook for the economy has worsened in recent months, and the downside risks to growth have increased," Bernanke said. "To date, the largest economic effects of the financial turmoil appear to have been on the housing market, which, as you know, has deteriorated significantly over the past two years or so."
The consolation of course is that the Fed is more likely to keep hacking away at those target interest rates, so long as they're feeling blue about economic growth.
Given all the dangers facing the economy, the Fed "will act in a timely manner as needed to support growth and to provide adequate insurance against downside risks," he said, indicating additional rate cuts were likely.
Secretary Paulson (the real Secretary Paulson) is more optimistic about the near-term growth prospects and does not see recession in the offing.
"I believe our economy will continue to grow, although its pace in coming quarters will be slower than what we have seen in recent years," Paulson said.
Market Rally Survives a Third Day
In what's thus far been a fairly miserable year for stocks, this week is shaping up nicely. The major indices were all up significantly today, with the Nasdaq putting up the most impressive performance, gaining 2.3%. The Dow Industrials have added more than 3% week-to-date, making it the best three-day run of the year.
The renewed bullishness is the combined result of this morning's surprisingly strong January retail sales data (a 0.3% increase, blowing out the 0.3% decrease analysts were expecting), a handful of strong corporate earnings reports, yesterday's offer by Warren Buffett to reinsure nearly a trillion dollars of debt backed by bond insurers, and just perhaps, recognition of a generally oversold condition in the markets.
Are we looking at a 5-for-5 week in the making?
Tomorrow morning, the Labor Department will report initial unemployment claims. The weekly report isn't typically a hugely significant data point, but given that we've entered a possible inflection point in national job growth trends, the new report may give us a better indication of whether January's negative job growth (the first negative growth in 53 months) was part of an actual trend reversal or just an anomaly (or even a measurement error in the preliminary reading, as was the case last August).
If initial claims come in lower than the 350,000 expected (and if tomorrow's slate of corporate earnings reports don't disappoint), I'd think we're well-poised to extend the rally at least one more day.
Barack Obama To Win Nomination
Given Obama's massive victories tonight (51 points in DC, 29 in Virginia, and 24 in Maryland) and Hillary's rapidly melting firewalls (including women, senior citizens, and Latinos, all of whom went for Obama tonight), this blog is ready to call the whole ball of wax for Barack Obama. (The Democratic ball that is, not the general ball.)
This match has just concluded. Hillary can play it out, but it's checkmate in 19 moves. Clinton will have been bested by a political infant who was in his 20s when the Clintons were pulling together their first campaign for the White House.
Obama should pick up 60 or more net delegates from Virgina, Maryland, and DC, which will put him around 50 ahead of Clinton. That's including the fickle superdelegates, who currently favor Clinton roughly 3:2. If you strip out the superdelegates, Obama now leads by about 130 (with roughly 2,100 committed to date, a meaningful 6-point gap). Add to that the fact that Obama has won 9 straight primaries and may make it 10 in Wisconsin next week (not to mention the fact that he's gone from just beating Hillary to mericlessly trouncing her) and Obama's momentum seems unlikely to peak any time soon. A chart of the Real Clear Politics polling average shows that Obama has obliterated Clinton's significant lead of 22 points in just 6 weeks (Hillary now leads nationally by just 1 point). The Chesapeake bounce ought to catapult the Messiah squarely into the lead.
Hillary may eke out a win in Ohio and/or Texas and/or Pennsylvania, but growing unease among Democratic muckety-mucks about the damage of a protracted primary fight, while things are essentially settled in the GOP, is likely to prompt mounting pressure on Hillary to make a graceful exit. That party pressure is likely to manifest (in part) in the form of superdelegates overtly abandoning her for Obama. If his soaring popularity at the ballot boxes continues (or just manages not to swiftly reverse), the delegate math will probably make it very difficult for Clinton to win unless she's able to successfully lobby or sue whoever she needs to (Howard Dean, I guess) to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates, who were nullified when those states' Democratic parties defied the DNC and held their primaries too early.
Despite inevitable calls for Hillary to exit gracefully, I think we've banked enough Clinton exposure at this point to suspect those final throes will be anything but graceful. Remember, the spectacle of Gore v. Bush involved a JV Clinton Machinist trying to litigate his way to victory. With the full faith and credit of the remaining Clintonistas backing an intra-party fight over Florida and Michigan (assuming the delegates at stake would toggle the outcome), it promises to be a Circus of Vitriol like we've never seen. In the end, of course, Hillary will (and should) lose that fight. All candidates agreed to back the DNC in their abrogation of the rogue primaries and only Hillary asked that her name even appear on the Michigan ballots. To claim that not seating Michigan delegates constitutes a refusal to abide the will of the voters is prima facie ludicrous. The same goes for Florida, where only Clinton showed up on primary day, and where the delegates were stripped in a punitive action that Democratic candidates all agreed to support.
Despite the Democratic mantra of "count every vote" (and its tacit corollary, "even if they're illegitimate"), Clinton will have not only fairness, but popular opinion working against her as she tilts at that windmill. She'll lose those fights, and thus the nomination, but it will be a spectacular imbroglio.
For Republican voters, this is naturally just about ideal. Obama is likely the stronger candidate against John McCain, but one can't overstate the significance of Clinton's defeat. It won't come at the hands of a Republican as it turns out, denying some the tactile satisfaction of besting her in the general election. But keeping the Clintons from returning to the White House (with their shady funding network, lack of respect for the office, and purely egomaniacal decision-making in tow) is an important win.
And while the Clinton campaign's death rattle will be a hideous series of backfiring hail Marys, and ultimately, perhaps even a deliberate mutually-assured scorched earth campaign (think final scene in "Predator"), a portion of that final panicked assault will inevitably find its mark and inflict damage on Obama.
With that detonation scheduled for Labor Day, the Obama that staggers from the flaming wreckage will have only a brief opportunity to freshen up before the title fight. The fallout won't cripple Obama, but it may humanize him (which is bad news for a messianic rorschach candidate) just enough to close the single-digit polling lead he now enjoys over McCain.
With Barack Obama poised to sweep the Potomac Primaries this evening, we can all look forward to another head-scratching victory speech. You know what I'm talking about--the barrage of clichés, the repetition, and the super-abstractions. To make the speech less painful, Suitably Flip provides you with "Obama Bingo." Good luck.
Obama Stomps Through Virginia (Exit Poll Shows 2:1 Margin)
The Commonwealth favors Obama over Clinton 66-33, according to the exit poll Fox News is citing. At the CNN Election Center, they're showing a margin of 61-39 in the exit polling.
Either way, that's a spicy meatball for Team Hillary. Only one recent poll had shown Obama ahead by more than 20 points.
On the Republican side, the race is too still close to call. The exit polling gives Huckabee an edge of a fraction of a point, 45-44 over McCain.
Update: What's all this then?
The head of elections in Maryland says a judge has extended voting statewide for 90 minutes until 9:30 p.m. because of traffic problems caused by bad weather.
Update: McCain wins Virginia and all 60 delegates.
Update: Hillary slunk on out of the mid-Atlantic and just popped up in El Paso, where she's busily placing each remaining egg in the Texas basket.
Update: McCain and Obama both win Maryland too.
And the Virginia margins keep growing - Obama by 27 and rising, McCain by 8 and rising.
Update: Zowie! With about half of precincts reporting, Obama leads by 52 points and McCain leads by 50 points in DC.
Update: Meanwhile, Obama has landed in Madison, Wisconsin, where he's actually fleshing out his rhetoric a bit. His policy in a nutshell: fanatically pro-"worker" and anti-"Wall Street".
Mark the Day: Obama Gets His Specifics On
And they're breathtakingly, soul-shatteringly awful.
Let's go ahead and get you back into the majestically vacuous rhetoric, Barry.
It's like tasting the milk you know is sour, then being unable to get the taste out of your mouth. Or knowingly opening a disturbing internet video you were forwarded with all kinds of content warnings, then immediately wishing you could unwatch it. I wish I could unlearn what Senator Obama thinks constitutes reasonable federal policy.
Those were happier times.
Only In New York: Crack Tax Unfair To Drug Dealers
Is it just me or is this, you know, nuts?
A prominent Democratic Queens assemblyman yesterday warned that Gov. Spitzer's proposed tax on illegal drugs - dubbed the "crack tax" by critics - could unfairly impact the drug dealers themselves.
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry told Spitzer Tax Commissioner Robert Megna during a legislative budget hearing that requiring drug users and dealers to pay state sales tax on their illegal stash is an undue burden since they already face fines and possible forfeiture of property and money.
"This component adds another financial hardship on people who don't have a lot of money," Aubry said.
Aubry, chairman of the Assembly Corrections Committee, added that the plan could "create another class of individual who can't escape the process and has to go back out and sell drugs."
Despite the half-baked reasoning of Assemblyman Aubry, he's correct that the crack tax is a bad idea. Non-trivial enforcement difficulties spring to mind, as does the tacit approval of not only consumption, but distribution of illegal drugs implied by the state imposing a tax on it.
Aubry, for his part, is a long-time lone "crusader" (NYT's word) against drug laws and harsh sentencing guidelines for convicted drug dealers. Mandatory sentences for drug dealers were drastically reduced in New York State via legislation enacted in 2005, but Aubry's crusade has continued apace in the years since.
But now it appears that in addition to sparing drug dealers from time behind bars, Aubry also wants to exempt these independent businessmen from the threat of a tax burden. Not because it would be unenforceable and not because it necessarily suggests a terribly unseemly endorsement of the activity, but because it poses a financial hardship to downtrodden crack dealers.
Stocks Up Big On Buffet Bond Buttress
Warren Buffett was on CNBC this morning before the opening bell, discussing his offer to back up bond insurers to the tune of $800 billion, via his investment goliath and insurance holding company Berkshire Hathaway.
Yep - $800 billion with a B, otherwise known as $0.8 trillion with a T.
Stocks jumped giddily on the news, padding more than 1% onto yesterday afternoon's market rally, as Wall Street's mopeyness over credit concerns began to subside.
But as Buffett put it during his interview this morning, this isn't something he's going to point to when asked to make his case before St. Peter. On the contrary, the deal will likely offer Buffett (and Berkshire shareholders) a tidy return, in exchange for the very limited risk they're undertaking. The bonds involved in the Berkshire reinsurance offer are strictly municipal debt (which has an extraordinarily low default rate), disaggregated from the more complex, less transparent, dicier debt issues.
So while Buffett is offering secondary protection against losses he'll likely not have to cover, the very act of disaggregating and shoring up the less risky debt (and so much of it) tends to quarantine it from the contagion spreading through the credit market (a market increasingly characterized by the comingling of low- and high-risk debt) and restore better relative pricing across the spectrum of debt quality.
While the offer may not buy Buffett any Heaven points, so far it's looking like something of a Godsend to credit-wary investors.
One Small Step For Stenonychosaurus, One Giant Leap For Cretaceous Kind
Did the Apollo astronauts fail to notice dinosaur landing crafts on the lunar surface? Were prehistoric beasts actually adept at mining and building radio telescopes? Did the already far-fetched raptor intelligence theory greatly underestimate the vast, space-faring intellects crammed into those walnut brains?
Maybe, according to clearly deranged NASA scientist Chris McKay.
This space business is more Gindu's bag, so maybe he'll chime in for us. What's your read - is it possible that Neil and Buzz and the rest of the gang failed to notice (what I imagine to be comically Flinstonian) lunar landers? Or did they just cover it up, so we wouldn't have to admit to Russia that what we'd just accomplished had been done tens of millions of years earlier by giant bird-lizards?
*Groan* Can The Grammys Just Admit They Now Do Book Awards?
And given that just about every politician "writes" at least one book, maybe they can crank the candor all the way to 11 and just admit they have a de facto "Politician Of the Year" award.
This year, it's Barack Obama being celebrated as a spoken word artist.
Barack Obama topped a Clinton in another contest on Sunday -- the Grammys.
The presidential candidate beat both former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter to win best spoken word album for his audio version of his book "The Audacity Of Hope: Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream."
Clinton was nominated for his book "Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World" and Carter for "Sunday Mornings in Plains: Bringing Peace to a Changing World."
Last year, it went to Jimmuh Carter, and the year before, to Bill Clinton, and the year before that, to Barack Obama again.
Rock stars, the lot of them.
Relatedly, continuing her overarching campaign strategy of "Anything Barack can do, I can do more awkwardly," Hillary Clinton (who has previously put out some reasonably amusing ads - "The Sopranos" parody, Bubba eating cheeseburgers on the treadmill, etc.) squirted out this cloying, youth-cajoling embarrassment.
(HT: Bryan, who aptly judges it "the worst political ad ever.")
Hillary Gives Campaign an Ethnic Shakeup
It was rumored that Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle would be jettisoned after her candidate lost in Iowa, but she survived the staff shake-up. Until now.
Patti Solis Doyle has done an extraordinary job in getting us to this point - within reach of the nomination - and I am enormously grateful for her friendship and her outstanding work. And, as Patti has said, this already has been the longest presidential campaign in history and one that has required enormous sacrifices of everyone and our families. I look forward to her continued advice in the months ahead. Patti and I have worked with Maggie Williams for more than a decade. I am lucky to have Maggie on board and I know she will lead our campaign with great skill towards the nomination.
Michelle Malkin reminds us precisely where Maggie Williams is woven into the tapestry of Clinton scandals.
But the intended subtext here isn't that Hillary takes charge and shakes things up when the wheels start coming off. Nor is it just a reminder that the candidate is a woman and surrounded by powerful women and someone voters should support, unless they hate women. The clearest tacit message of the new appointment is to convince us of a message that the campaign is becoming increasingly worried we're not getting: Black people love Hillary (and Hillary loves them back)!
48 hours after her disappointing Super Tuesday performance... Campaign Press release: Hillary Clinton Recognizes National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
Later the same day... Campaign Press Release: Senator Hillary Clinton to Attend the State of the Black Union 2008.
And who can forget the charmingly "nappy-headed" Belvis incident?
Contrary to the implication of today's press release, Solis Doyle's departure stems not from the length of this campaign, nor with her job performance nor any legitimate strategic shift, but rather from the simple fact that her Latina credentials were no longer sufficient to satiate a campaign increasingly obsessed with identity politics (and worried their opponent is winning that unseemly battle).
Because It Worked So Well Last Time
FNC headline: "Former President Clinton ramping up efforts on the campaign trail."
Hillarycare Mark I Booed In Seattle
If you can withstand a couple minutes of Hillary sustaining that perfectly grating pitch, these videos from 1994 offer a gratifying reminder of what many Americans - even in those progressive coastal regions - have long thought of Clintonian socialism.
Huckabee Wins Kansas
And the big question is: So what?
What's Huckabee's play here? If (as seems plausible) he was campaigning for VP under McCain by running almost entirely against Romney in recent weeks, what's the point of sticking it out now?
As for VP prospects, I suspect McCain is much more inclined to tap Florida's very popular Governor Charlie Crist, who helped the candidate clinch his state's primary and whose presence on the ticket could swing Florida in the general election. If that message has been comunicated to Huckabee, continuing to fight in (and occasionally win) the remaining states seems unlikely to change McCain's mind. Huckabee can't win enough delegates to alter the outcome, so what does he stand to gain?
Is he eyeing another run in 2012 and trying to pad his 2008 stats before folding up the tent? Ir is it as simple as Huckabee just enjoying the ride and figuring he may as well continue performing in what's now an inconsequential but still high-profile side-show?
What Does She Think It Is, the White House?
Just how strapped for cash (and cleaning supplies) is the Clinton campaign?
Rochester physician Terry Bennett said he rented a city building to people who worked for Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign — and skipped town without paying the bill.
Making matters worse, Bennett said, the 3,000-square-foot building at 236 Union St. was left trashed. Campaign signs were left lying all over the place, he said.
"They left enough trash for a small army," said Bennett. "We filled two of those big black trash bags with what they left.
Attempts to collect have been unsuccessful.
The Herald also made a call to Clinton's national campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va. A woman reached in the press office said she would try to get someone who could respond, but there was no response.
"I sent about 20 e-mails," said [Realtor Michael] Whitney. "I hear the Clinton campaign is out of money. Maybe the woman got laid off. I called, but they will not return any of my calls."
75,000 More People Ask Hillary To Sell Their Personal Data To Legally Perilous Junk Mail Cronies
Fresh from the inbox:
I wish I could find the words to express how grateful I am for the support you have given me. I'm sure you know by now that your support could not have come at a better moment -- I needed your help, and you responded with more enthusiasm and generosity than I could possibly have imagined.
Over the past 48 hours, you exceeded every goal we set. Since the polls closed on Super Tuesday, more than 75,000 of you have contributed to our campaign.
[Yadda, yadda, yadda]
I know the campaign is hard up for cash these days, that senior staffers have had to work for free, and that the candidate has had to funnel in some of Bill's recently and opaquely earned millions to keep the lights on (all while Obama continues to rake it in hand over first), but don't these donors realize what happens to their personal data once they send a check to Hillary's campaign?
The unsavory particulars of this most recent Clinton money scandal (not least of which is her selling out the very people (perhaps hundreds of thousands of them) who fund her campaign) make it all the more appalling that so many people continue to fall victim to one of the classic blunders.
The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia. But only slightly less well-known is this:
Don't do business with the Clintons - period.
Spam. A Lot. Again.
On January 21st, I noted that that morning, I'd gotten hit with about 2,600 similar spam messages over the course of a couple hours. They'd come in an absolute torrent, and the flood had stopped as abruptly as it started.
Well, the phenomenon has returned (and it's still happening as I type), only in fortified, weaponized, Africanized form. They started at 11:46 am (per the time stamp on the first one to hit the spam box), and in the 11 minutes since, I've received nearly 3,000 messages - mostly in the guise of "Delivery Status Notification (Failure)" or "Returned mail: see transcript for details." About 50 have slipped past the spam filter, so if this goes on for a while (and assuming it's happening to other people), it could be a real mess.
Inside, they're unremarkable as far as spam goes - casinos and male enhancement products.
Anyone know what's happening? Should I abandon that Gmail account? Push the CPU out the window? Buy the enhancement products?
Previously: Spam. A Lot.