Thursday, February 25, 2010

Parse THIS. Or, what is Michael Calderone smoking?

Michael Calderone's space on the Politico blog claims his job is "reporting and analysis of political media."

Fair enough. But Calderone—that's him on the right—appears to have stepped in it today when he took on lifestyle reporting in the Washington Post. I think he was trying to explain why Sally Quinn had been relieved of her column. But then I found my eyes crossing over this paragraph:

In the column, Quinn wrote about her "dysfunctional family" while addressing a report of "dueling weddings." Quinn wrote not only about the nuptials of her son with former Post editor Ben Bradlee, but also the daughter of Ben Bradlee Jr. -- his son from a previous marriage -- and ex-wife Martha Raddatz, an ABC News correspondent.
If you go really, really slowly, you can make out that Quinn had a son with Ben Bradlee and Quinn wrote about her son's wedding. And also that Bradlee had a daughter via a previous marriage to Martha, that must be a son from a previous marriage who was married to Martha Raddatz. No...

Oh, just pass me that funny cigarette, Michael, and let's be done with it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Yoicks! It’s not only you and me getting shafted by our banks. J.P.Morgan to its corporate customers: "Bleep you and your trade secrets."

A United States Federal judge has accused J.P. Morgan—the investment side of J.P. Morgan/Chase bank—of acting “in bad faith,” essentially giving away two clients' corporate secrets to one of their competitors.

When a bank does it, it’s merely “bad faith.” If you and I tried the same thing, it would be a felony—theft of trade secrets.

Side issue: The New York Times so far isn’t covering this scandal, because Morgan’s alleged dirty dealings were on behalf of a major Times stockholder.

To see why banks of all kinds need to be regulated up the whazoo—and one example of how outrageous concentrations of wealth inevitably lead to outrageous abuses of power, check out the story in The Big Money.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to try Kahlid Shaikh Mohammed in New York City, without disrupting lower Manhattan or spending a fortune

Al Quaida mastermind Kahlid Shaikh Mohammed is charged with having committed the mother of all felonies against the citizens of New York—planning the destruction of the World Trade Center.

We New Yorkers deserve a chance to hear the case against him in our own local federal court, and, if he is guilty, to have the distinct pleasure of seeing him sentenced to death by our fellow New Yorkers.

But suddenly, all our former friends who immediately after 9/11 declared “We are all New Yorkers now,” are against letting us have our satisfaction. As are some local big names.

Michael Bloomberg, who used to be for the trial is now against it. It’ll cost a billion dollars for security, he whines. God knows how he calculates that. He seems to be getting his numbers from that world-famous math whiz, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who can’t seem, to count how many of his cops have been involved in brutality cases or he’d resign.

The Mayor at one point suggested moving the trial to Governor's Island, a former military fortress in New York harbor. He seems to have backed off that one after Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York State Assembly called it stupid. Nah, Silver's rejection of the idea is stupid.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Mayor Bloomberg right about the costs of a trial in Manhattan—and has not simply joined the chorus of “No” Republicans from Rudy Giuliani to Congressman Peter King, a sudden pal of lower Manhattan's welfare from Podunk, Long Island.

The only folks with a real dog in this fight are those residents of lower Manhattan who live within a few blocks of the Federal courthouse. They’d most certainly be inconvenienced for quite some time by traffic barriers, demands to produce identification on their way home from work or shopping, and other royal pains in the butt.

So New York Crank officially endorses one of Mayor Bloomberg's better ideas, even if the mayor has walked away from it.

Hold the trial on Governor’s Island

A trial on Governor's Island would still keep the proceedings within sight of where the Twin Towers used to be—in other words, where the trial belongs. At the same time, the mayor wouldn’t have to put up a nickel of city money for security.

Take a look at the map of lower Manhattan. That island at the lower right is Governor’s Island. Until recently, it was a U.S. military installation, closed to the general public. You couldn't pry your way in there with a diesel-powered can opener. The U.S. Government tried to dump it for years, but there was a problem finding a taker for it.

Well, now it’s New York State's, via some quasi-public corporation. The island is used for a bunch of feeble concerts and exhibitions during the summer, and not for much else. For one thing, it’s accessible only by ferry. For another, hardly anybody wants to go there.


How to maintain Governor’s Island
security during the trial

One of the Island’s former purposes was to house the U.S. Coast Guard. Great. Bring ‘em back. Have one Coast Guard cutter constantly circling the island clockwise, another counter-clockwise. That should be enough to stave off an Al Queda invasion by anything short of a flotilla of Al Queda battleships and destroyers, which don’t exist

You’d also need two dozen or so U.S. Marshals on the island at any given time to guard the prisoner and patrol the place. Or if you insist on something more impressive, a company of U.S. Marines ought to be able to secure the island And you’d need a half dozen or so marshals stationed at the Manhattan end of the ferry station.

Governor’s Island has been a fort since the 19th Century. I’m sure that somewhere on the island there’s a prison cell good to go. Just lock in the Shaikh between courtroom sessions and post a marshal outside is cell door to make sure the Shaikh doesn't commit suicide and to make him feel uncomfortable knowing he's watched every time he has to go to the potty.

No way in hell does all this cost a billion, or a half a billion, or even a quarter of a billion bucks a year. And not a nickel of it has to come out of multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg's pocket. Nor out of his city's coffers.

Visitors to the island could be strictly controlled by the marshals at the ferry station on the Manhattan side. Jurists could commute by ferry, a ride of roughly 15 minutes, from lower Manhattan. If they need to be sequestered—although I don’t see why—there are plenty of former barracks and officers quarters on Governor's Island where you could put them up. Or give them a real treat and let them live in Class A comfort on the island’s Colonel’s Row.

Tell the president and your representatives
to support a trial on Governor’s Island

The only people inconvenienced by this plan would be a bunch of second-string promoters of concerts and other cultural events. And I’m sure they could find other venues in all five boroughs.

Let’s get behind this plan. We can show the world we can hold a fair civilian trial, make Kahlid Shaikh Mohammed face the people he attempted to destroy, and save a bundle of money.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Signs of bad economic news all over the place: a cranky analysis of indicators you may have missed

Let the economists look at inflation and consumer price indices. Let the Fed look at interest rates. Let market researchers look at focus groups and consumer confidence measurements.

Me, when I want to see how the economy is really doing, I look in my SPAM box. Currently, it reeks of economic desperation. For example...

Restaurants hungrier than you are

“Winter Restaurant Week Extended,” says an e-mail from Capsuto Freres, an upscale French restaurant down in the TriBeCa section of Manhattan that’s pretty good, but that has evidently run into a shortage of well-heeled customers.

Well, New York’s Restaurant Week was designed to let the hoi palloi sample the blessing of haute cuisine and sure enough, a check at the New York boosting website indicates that desperate upscale restaurants are more starved than their customers.

Capsuto Freres goes further. Four days before Valentine’s Day, they still had tables available according to their e-mail. Oh, and although restaurants make the lion’s share of their profits from the bar, Capsuto is encouraging you to BYOB of wine on Tuesday nights. “No corkage fee.” Sheesh!

Marketing strategists in

strategic and financial disarray

I also find interesting economic barometers in obscure trade newspapers. I know you never heard of it, but trust me, the SuperComm telecommunications trade show used to be big. Now, according to BtoB, “The Magazine For Marketing Strategists,” "Supercom has been called off."

Among the reasons were “dwindling attendance and poor financial projections,” says the report. On top of that, the show's organizers began acting like Republicans, “plagued by competing strategic visions and branding.” Well, come to think of it, that’s also like Democrats these days. There’s a lesson in there for politicians and voters.

As the post office goes, so goes the nation

I’m sad to report that the same issue of BtoB bemoans another loud sucking sound coming from the USPS. Neither snow nor rain nor anything else can stop those poor bastards from losing money. Despite rising postal rates, BtoB says they "posted operating revenue of $18.4 billion for their first fiscal quarter ended December 31, down from $19.1 billion in the year-earlier period.

"The USPS continues to struggle with the slumping economy and falling mail volume, as individuals and businesses shift to electronic forms of communication," BtoB adds.

Well of course. As postal rates grow more and more outrageous, even while service shrivels away, distances between mailboxes grow more distant, and mail delivery more infrequent, people look for something cheaper, faster and more convenient. Voila, e-mail!

So to make up the losses, the USPS will raise prices more, reduce service more, and drive more business away. Eventually we’ll have no USPS at all.

But I don’t entirely blame the post office. When the United States was founded, the Post Office Department was a fully-subsidized branch of government, like the State Department. Then some free enterprise idiots (guess which party, mostly?) decided having a free enterprise post office is more important than being able to mail a letter. Very few nations have barely functioning or no post offices, but if you’re looking for some you might start with Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and some areas of Afghanistan. Oh yes, and coming next, that newest of Third World countries, The United States.

You too can be a college grad

earning sub-minimum wages

“Need Writers at $1 per 400 words!” announces a bold headline on That comes to a 1/4th of a penny a word. (During the Great Depression, starving writers were grinding out stories for pulp magazines at two cents a word.)

Not only that, but your stuff had better be plagiarism-free (because they check your copy on copyscape.) And also, it had better have “no grammer errors,” says the spelling-challenged advertiser. You can try out for the job by writing, for free, 100-150 words on "Benefits of Weight Loss Over 40".

After you send it in, run for the bread line. I have a funny feeling it’s getting longer.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Help keep the buzz in Order great merchandise so they'll stay afloat.

Unlike my own cranky blog, which I get to when I get to it, is an ongoing, always-in-operation supersite of news and ideas of interest to progressives. It aggregates news. It provides bales of its analysis and commentary. It sometimes has a great sense of humor.

I turn to it every day, which is also why I link to it. Now I'm urging you to click that link, and get your eyeballs over to Buzzflash not only for what you'll learn, but also for the great books, CDs, DVDs and politically-oriented chotchkes you can buy there.

These guys are a full-time operation. They need your support. Buy some great stuff from them (the examples above are just a few of many) and keep a great chorus of progressive voices buzzing.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Reason number 10,289 to despise conservatives: New York Times house conservative David Brooks kicks and punches out little old ladies

If you need yet another reason to retch at the mere thought of political conservatives running things, take a gander at David Brooks, the New York Times’ resident conservative and his column of February 2, 2009.

His piece starts off in a mild enough tone, blathering more or less innocuously about Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, unnamed “developmental psychologists” and the claim that “people report being happier as they grow older.”

This last thought seems to bother him.

Suddenly, he leaps off the page — clawing, scratching, roaring, biting and foaming at the mouth like a rabid hyena. He all but spits at the elderly. “Geezers” is the ageist term used on the headline of his piece.

“Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from them,” howls Brooks. “First, they are taking money.”

Specifically, he complains that, “According to Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution, the federal government now spends $7 on the elderly for each $1 it spends on children.” As if it weren't the conservatives in both houses of Congress who are choking off funds to education.

What Brooks appears to be complaining about are the Social Security checks that the elderly receive and Medicare’s reimbursements to their doctors and hospitals.

He goes on to complain that the money the elderly are “taking” (At gunpoint?) means that they are also “taking freedom,” and “taking opportunity.”

Wait a second, Brooks,

you smug right wing nincompoop

First of all, a good part of that money is equivalent to the money that today's elderly paid into Social Security and Medicare for many decades so that they could have a retirement free from hunger and fear.

Brooks whines: In 2009, for the first time in American history, every single penny of federal tax revenue went to pay for mandatory spending programs, according to Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute. As more money goes to pay off promises made mostly to the old, the young have less control.”

Never mind that this analysis fails to account for the million bucks a day it's costing for each soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan — not to mention the salaries of every member of Congress (right wing whacko or not) and the pensions of George W. Bush and his Vice, to name just a few other things tax dollars go for.

Brooks more importantly fails to mention that America used to face tax brackets that went well into 40 percent for the richest Americans. He neglects to mention that the generation that’s now collecting from the government also paid in, by the shovel load — levels of taxation his own generation has never paid. Nevertheless, we had a happier, richer, more extensively enjoyed economy than we have today.

Brooks also neglects to mention that most the kind of compensation CEOs suck out of the economy and income tax revenues today would have caused street riots 30 and 40 years ago.

That CEO greed money used to go back into profits (taxed), into dividends (taxed), into pension funds (taxed when used) and into economic growth. Result? Prosperity for nearly all in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Now the money just goes into some CEO or derivative trader's pocket. Result? Hard times for the young that Brooks also wants to stick to the old and weak.

Brooks self-righteously snivels about loss of control because some “geezer” is collecting Social Security and under Medicare can afford to go to the hospital for cancer treatments.

But Brooks neglects to point out that conservatives have so upset the tax, corporate and legal structure in America that a handful of people hijack not millions but multiple billions of dollars from the U.S. economy.

This money that could support freedom and opportunity and give a huge swath of the young more control over their lives.

“Die, you worthless geezer!”

Not a word in Brooks’ article about the financial rape of America by Big Business, big lobbyists and outrageous compensation for the filthy rich few that goes virtually untaxed.

Instead Brooks blames old people for being alive. He brings to mind a book that horrified people in the 1970s, "The Mountain People" by Colin Turnbull. The author, an anthropologist, described how a once-civilized society, a tribe called the Ik, had so degenerated that people gorged themselves on food rather than share any of it with their starving elders, and literally snatched food out of the mouths of their parents.

That's what Brooks is implying we ought to do. He’s no different from the Ik—or from muggers who beat up a little old ladies at their mailboxes, trying to get their Social Security money. In fact, in moral equivalency terms, he’s exactly the same.

Shame on the Times for giving this guy space to spew and spread hatred of the old, the fragile and often the helpless in our socieety. The least the Times could do is hide Brooks behind a pay wall.