Monday, April 30, 2007

Do We Need New Ways To Calculate Inflation?

An interesting discussion regarding inflation has started over at the TPM Cafe. But I found the comment by James Kroeger the most compelling one against using the current system:

I think an important part of the picture you are missing, Jared, is the fact that it is possible for different income groups to experience different rates of inflation.

During the past couple of decades---thanks to the export of jobs overseas and the huge tax cuts the Republicans have given to rich people---the lower classes have been experiencing lower measured rates of inflation while at the same time wealthy Americans have been experiencing dramatically higher [unmeasured] rates of inflation.

That is to say, cheap imports and the continuing chronic labor surplus have combined to put downward pressure on both wages and prices for the lower classes. At the same time, the big tax-cut giveaway that the Republicans threw at America's wealthiest households drove up both their disposable incomes and the prices that are charged by the markets that serve the rich: luxury markets and real estate markets and art markets and the stock market.

You see, rich people really don't mind inflation if it is their own incomes that is inflating; they just don't want inflation to occur in the lower classes because their wages are generally a cost of the upper classes.

Not only is it possible for members of different classes to experience different rates of inflation, it is even possible for one income group to experience inflation while another income group is experiencing either deflation or disinflation. These hidden facts would be revealed if the data collectors at the BLS were to calculate and publish the different inflation rates (cost-of-living indexes) that are relevant to different income groups, producing an 'inflation spectrum' of sorts.

This would be done by using different 'market baskets' that are clearly relevant to different income groups. When the price of stocks or real estate or art skyrockets, the 'cost of being rich' goes up dramatically. This kind of statistical initiative would provide much more valuable information for policy makers than the current use of the CPI or the GDP deflator as a measurement of the 'burden' that inflation is supposedly imposing on all of us.

See if you can't discuss this with your economists friends over at the EPI. Then, perhaps you'll want to spend some time reading through this:

Make The American People Richer.


**Update**:Here is a link to the thread so you can follow the follow-up comments as well.

If I am reading this right, it seems that the inflation indicator is skewed toward the investor and wealthy classes. That is to say: the poor and middle class can be sinking by the effects of inflation, but because their inflationary pressures are never measured, the reality never gets reported.

I have watched this debate between Mish (Global Economic Analysis) and Barry Ritholtz (Big Picture). If what Mr. Kroeger is saying is correct, both of them would be correct from their own point of view.

What do my readers think?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday Music: Edgar Cruz

You might say that this is the Oklahoma City Festival of the Arts Edition of Sunday Music. In the first video, Edgar Cruz is playing and teaching Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen.



In the second video, Edgar is does a live performance of Aerosmith's Dream On.



Edgar Cruz is a local musician here in Oklahoma City. As I wrote yesterday, he is always a crowd favorite whenever he plays at local events such as fairs, arts festivals and the like. Enjoy a little bit of local Oklahoma art via YouTube technology.

Mark Heard's Evening at the Coliseum

Today, instead of a song, I am reprinting some of Mark Heard's liner notes from his album Ashes and Light. The thoughts here should give you some insights to his thought processes. Compare the way he looked at the Coliseum to almost any other popular Christian artist. It is clear from this interpretation of Roman architecture that he was far more introspective and observant than most Christian artists today.

ROME

I spent the evening hours wandering through the ruins of Old Rome, photographing and thinking. It was a beautiful sunset, behind small cumulus clouds, and I was reminded of evenings spent on the islands off the Georgia coast. As the tourists hustled away, tucking guide maps into the pockets of their Hawaiian shirts, I decided to have a light supper of salami and cheese, with a cinnamon flavored soda to wash it down.

It was already dark by the time I finished the meal and headed for the hotel. After a harrowing street crossing episode on the roundabout encircling the Coliseum, I halted briefly to catch my breath, and as I stood in front of the Coliseum I noticed it was not closed in any way, though it was devoid of touring inhabitants. I decided to go walk around inside, despite misgivings about the safety of such a thing. Walking under the bleachers in the portico, I was stunned by the fact that it was not unlike being at Dodger Stadium late at night long after the completion of a game, and half expected to see snack food prices chiseled into the marble in Latin. I had a scare - I nearly tripped over a cat that was eating scraps someone had dropped among the newspapers littering the smooth, almost asphalt-like floor surface. I was to discover that there were literally hundreds of cats living in the labyrinth of the ruins. Their occasional cries and mating sounds were a strange cacophony indeed, and I scuttled on inside to the boundary of the arena and sat on a fallen marble pillar.

During the hour and a half that I sat there, my mind wandered in a number of different directions as my eyes darted around catching street light reflections from the marble finishing still present on some of the seats. I wondered at the grandeur of the architecture. The care of the artisans involved is plainly seen. The workmanship exhibited in the structure, though in various stages of ruin, was exquisite, and I felt I owed appreciation to the hands that had carved, sanded, chiseled and mortared so long ago; they could not guess that history books two thousands years after their deaths would record their feats, as well as the subsequent fall of the civilization they knew as their everyday environment.

Peering through the darkness at the arena itself, I recounted the things I'd read about: the opulence once exhibited there; the terrible games played there; the Christians who lost their lives in that circumference of marble-coated mud and straw bricks. What an awesome juxtaposition of symbols. How very strange to be able to sit as an uninvolved observer, blessed with the retrospect of history, and feel both the passion of the artisan and the pain of the persecuted.

Questions arose in my mind. "Must one ignore the atrocities done to human beings here, in order to appreciate the gift of creativity bestowed on men - architects, artists, sculptors - by the Creator? Is one to cast out of his mind forever the blessings of the existence of aesthetic potential for mortals made in God's image, in order to truly hate and despise the evil done in this arena, indeed the evil directed at God through the persecution of His children?"

I was reminded of the tension the Reformers felt: There were at that time beautiful pieces of statuary standing in small towns as icons. The atmosphere in which the Reformation was spawned found such iconic symbols theologically revolting. Some of the Reformers even went around to the villages knocking down and defacing the statues, and John Calvin had certain stained-glass windows taken out of the cathedral in which he officiated in Geneva. The fervor of the times demanded action. That action was not against the validity of art, but against what the art represented. In the minds of the Reformers, the statues were symbols of a thoughtform they considered erroneous. It was not the face value of the articles that was despised, but the ideas which were connected to the articles by way of symbolism. (Many of these pieces have been saved and reside in museums today.)

As I glanced again at the marble seats of the Coliseum, I was reminded of stories I'd heard about most of that marble being pillaged by Michaelangelo and his contemporaries during the Renaissance. It was needed elsewhere, and sentiment took a back seat to "progress" in those days, much as it does today.

The cats were still at their night noises while I wondered at the complexity of making value judgments about the world as we know it. To decry the intrinsic value in created things because of their marring by evil would not be fair - we would lose perspective on the true and intended value of beauty and the creativity of God, and of man after His image. To forget the evil and allow the cloud of familiarity to obscure it's awesome ugliness would be unfair as well. We live in a fallen world, but one in which the original face of the creation and its intended purpose may still be seen, and we must not let either fact obscure the other.

Someone once told me that she did not like the works of Vincent Van Gogh because he was such a confused man. But Argumentum ad Hominum cannot change objective things like beauty, though subjective criteria for an entity's value to man may be influenced by it. Indeed, bad art often gains popularity because of a friendly and agreeable image projected by the artist, especially in modern electronic media where image subverts truth in favor of a quick caricature that can be comprehended by viewers and readers at the lowest levels of consciousness. They may like the work of someone they consider likable, even though the artistic standards of the work are not very high.

Perception is more strongly influenced by our preconceived notions than we might realize. People will say that the smoke from a wood fire or a barbecue smells good. They will say that the smoke from a crematory's chimney smells bad, but only if they know what it is, because the actual smells are not that different.

If we knew more about any individual whose art we admire, his deficiencies and his failings, we might lean towards denying the value of his expressions, be they art or conversation. Intimate knowledge of character and subsequent disillusionment with the person are phenomena we know all too well. But we must be careful not to judge conscientious work by imperfect creatures as invalid. In so doing, we deny the very validity of the creative expression which was intended by God for much joy in the human spirit, including worshipful joy.

My thoughts were interrupted by a cat bursting suddenly out of the darkness and rubbing against my leg with an explosion of purring energy, and it took me a few minutes to get the hair on the back of my neck to lay down flat again. When I was finally breathing normally, I thought on: "This stadium has been considered an evil place by some, because of events that were known to transpire here. The Reformers tore down beautiful statues because of what they symbolized. Opponents of creative new forms of art or music today decry the medium because of the lifestyle that has at times, unfortunately, accompanied it. Could Nero's next-door neighbor have listened, appreciatively enthralled by the notes emanating from the violin, unaware of the fire in the city? My friend didn't like even Van Gogh's best work because of the inner turmoil it represented. Christians in the first Century abstained from meat that had been offered to idols before being put up for sale. Did Paul eventually convince them otherwise? Were they then patient with those who were not easily convinced? Do arguments based on intrinsic value do any good when opponents see only the symbol and proponents see only the entity itself? Is it possible to carry on a love/hate relationship with this world in which we live? Is it possible to see both sides of a coin simultaneously?"

I felt my bare arms getting chilled in the night air, and stood up to stretch. The silver, nearly full moon was moving ever so slowly just over the top edge of the ancient stadium. I took one last look around the moonlit interior of the wonderful and horrible place, and felt an appreciation and a sorrow. Then I turned to go. The cats continued their symphony as I walked through the arches back onto the street and faced a world of zooming Fiats, amusing hotel clerks and anonymous-looking magazine stands.

From the liner notes of his album Ashes and Light

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Artistic Expressions in OKC

Today I attended the 2007 Festival of the Arts in downtown Oklahoma City. The Festival runs through tomorrow and there is a good possibility that I will attend again tomorrow even if the food they serve there is bad for my diet.

There is a complete city block of sculptors, painters, photographers, apparel makers and art decor designers. Then there are the performance artists: singers, guitar players, drummers, dancers, and acrobats. And for the first time in Oklahoma City that I have seen, there was a living statue at the corner of Hudson and Sheridan. When I first came upon it, I thought it was just a new statue of Will Rogers. There was a sign at the bottom that said "donations accepted." A little boy came up and dropped a dollar in the box. Much to the boy's shock and amazement, the "statue" came alive and offered to shake the boy's hand and allowed the boy to have his picture taken with him in his pose. I have to admit, the guy did a great statue.

One new artist of note this year is a painter named Eric Humphries. He was on hand to explain his paintings and what they meant. He was selling his paintings of war atrocities around the world. (Warning: disturbing images and depictions of nudity representing "the ultimate victimization" as Mr. Humphries explained it to me.)

The Arts Festival has four stages with performance artists running simultaneously. There is so much going on that you just can't see it all. Edgar Cruz is always a crowd favorite. His skills as a guitarist are amazing. The belly dancers that I saw were truly entrancing. They were so good, I stopped eating my food while I watched them dance. African drummer Jahruba Lambeth drew quite a crowd with his drums and limbo dance competition. There were other acts that I watched for a short time: and indie-rock band, an acrobat-juggler-comedian who can climb a ladder without supports (and juggling 5 objects while sitting on the top), some Irish dancers and a '60s rock band.

There is more to do at the Festival of the Arts than just look at human-created art. There is also natural art. If you go down there, don't miss the Myriad Botanical Gardens. It's only drawback is that it's not bigger. It would be nice if they built a bigger one in another nice part of the city.

The weather was perfect today (it rained for the first two days, which it seems wont to do every year when the Festival comes to town). It was 80 degrees and there was not a cloud in the sky. Tomorrow is predicted to be the same.

The Festival of the Arts just keeps getting better every year. If you are an Okie, this is one event that you can't afford to miss. Especially since it's free (of course, you may have to pay $5 or so for parking).

China vs. India: Can America Compete?

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has a video report on his theory of who will be the world leader economically in 2100. In it, he details how people in rural India are lagging behind: no electricity, schoolteachers who leave their students uneducated and sex slavery that does not seem to be abating for poor and unfortunate girls. Kristof says that China suffers the same problems in rural areas, but that the Chinese educate all their children in math and science very well. Therefore, Kristof says, he is betting on China to be the world leader in 2100.

Kristof says that he is teaching his children Chinese because of his theory.

A lot of writers have theorized that the United States will not be a world power 100 years from now. I have my doubts about that theory. We are an educated country, and the democratization of information through this medium called the internet is also to our advantage. Almost all of the world's patents are created here in the U.S. We still have a good education system and we have a political system that allows us to adapt to a changing social, economic and political landscape. Don't write the U.S. off just yet.

I have said for many years that it is important that every American child learn English and a second language fluently. English is our national language by custom and tradition. But in a world made smaller by instant communication ("flattened" as Thomas Friedman has argued), I think it is important that every American child learn how to communicate with others around the world.

There are multiple reasons for this:

1) Think how much better we could fight terrorism around the world if we had enough Americans who could speak directly to people (and translate for intelligence services) in those languages where terrorists come from (at this time in history that would mainly be Arabic). It wouldn't solve all of the problems, to be sure, because some of the problems are based on religious and cultural differences as well. But being able to speak the language would help break down some of the barriers that we currently have.

2) Learning a language helps break down misunderstandings created by mistakes in translation. There are subtleties in languages that cannot be explained by simple transliterations of words or phrases. Language differences are a natural barrier to trust, friendship and commerce.

3) Speaking a second language would expand our marketability and market share around the world -- increasing our political and economic power. Speaking to someone in their own native language lessens tensions that can be created by being an outsider.

Right now the U.S. does not have the ability to teach every child a second language fluently. But, if we were to set our minds to it and put our money where our minds should be, we could bring people here from all over the world to teach us their language. Doing so would help us fight terrorism, improve international relations and increase our marketability around the world.

I have to admit that I don't speak a second language fluently, but I wish I did. Nicholas Kristof is doing the right thing teaching his children a second language. Now we need to implement that same idea for every American child so that they will be able to compete in the new markets of the future.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A New Deal For Generation Y

In an article at the American Prospect Online, Offering the Young a New Deal, writer Paul Starr proposes that we create a New Deal for America's Young to provide education funding, health care benefits and job training. From his article:


Many of the forces affecting the economy today come to bear hardest on young people starting out in life: the soaring cost of a college education; the difficulty in finding jobs that provide a middle-class income; lack of health insurance coverage; the long escalation in housing prices; and the conflicts between the demands of work and family life.

We need a New Deal for the young -- a Young America program -- that can help young people cope with those challenges. At least part of that program ought to draw on the lesson of the GI Bill. Americans will be ready to be more generous to the young if the beneficiaries have demonstrated responsibility and contributed something through their own efforts. The United States no longer needs to draft or recruit most of its youth into military service. But we could make national service, whether civilian or military, a routine experience, for some in their late teens and for others after college. And, in return, we could help them to deal with the responsibilities of paying for their education, first homes, health coverage, and the rising costs of raising children.

A Young America program would not provide something for nothing. Like the GI Bill and Social Security, its benefits would be earned. And because of its focus on youth, it would be a way of helping Americans, individually and collectively, become more productive as well as more secure.

The premise of a Young America program would be the inclusive conception of freedom and power that are at the core of modern liberalism. An increasingly unequal America that exposes so many of its young to poverty and insecurity cannot be the strong and prosperous nation all Americans want it to be. Government can be the means for expanding the horizon of freedom, creating opportunity, and making a society both more powerful and more just. The world used to think of America as a country where the young had possibilities unmatched anywhere else. The United States could be that country again.


This is just the kind of thinking that we need. We need to expand opportunities, not restrict them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Did the Justice Department Slow Prosecutions of Republicans?

See this post at TPM. From Josh Marshall's post:

That said, there's been such an avalanche of developments in recent days and weeks, that I think it's now quite reasonable to conclude that the turnaround is related to the fact that Gonzales and his crew are flat on their backs and aren't able to block them any more. This is the sort of question or charge people only make sheepishly and with some embarrassment. I've been reluctant to come to this conclusion as well. But now I think there are solid reasons to believe this is true.

It may seem like a leap. But there's more circumstantial evidence for it than you might think.

We already know, for instance, that Main Justice made Carol Lam wait months for permission to issue indictments against the crooks and bribers in the Cunningham investigation. Today we learned that DOJ sources are coming forward to say that Main Justice was playing a very similar game in Arizona with the Renzi investigation. And remember, that US Attorney, Paul Charlton, got canned just like Lam.

We now have some good evidence of a pattern of 'soft' obstruction of Republican corruption investigations by officials at Main Justice -- in the Cunningham-Lewis-Wilkes-Foggo investigation and the Renzi probe. If that's their MO, it shouldn't surprise us to learn they've done the same in the Abramoff probe. Nor should it surprise us that Gonzales's slow-motion fall -- along with the resignations of Sampson, Goodling and others -- is opening up the flood gates.

An 18 Year Low

In a story at CNN Money, Bankruptcy filings hit 18-year low, the headline says it all. Here's what I noticed:

Those regions of the country that experienced the biggest drop in individual bankruptcy filing included parts of Louisiana, West Virginia and Oklahoma.


You don't say. [sarcasm] I would never have guessed. [/sarcasm]

Last year, nearly 600,0000 individuals filed for bankruptcy, down 71 percent (nationwide - ed.) from 2005, according to statistics released Monday by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The last time bankruptcy filings were this low was in 1988.


And it's not because debt levels are so much lower, either.

In a little bit of editorializing in its news story, the CNN Money article said this:

Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in 2005 in an effort to prevent consumers from abusing the bankruptcy system by clearing all their debts when they might have the ability to repay at least some of them.

So far the law appears to be working as intended by lawmakers. Last year, an increasing number of individuals filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code, where individuals establish a payment plan with creditor. Before the new bankruptcy law took effect, the majority of Americans filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, where all unsecured debts were eliminated.


No, the reason you don't have more chapter 7 filings is because the poorer folk can't afford the new attorney fees and court costs (it now costs roughly twice as much as it used to). It isn't that they have more ability to pay their debts. Just look at the states listed above hit hardest by the new law (Louisiana, West Virginia and Oklahoma). Where do these states stand in terms of income and wealth for the United States? (Answer: they are all near the bottom in terms of income and wealth)

I would agree that it did have its intended effect: to hurt the middle and lower classes by moving closer to a debt peonage system.

If we could somehow find a way to raise the income levels in the poorer states, we probably would not have as many people needing to file bankruptcy. I would like to see someone create a geographic map showing per capita income by region. I would like to also see a comparison to conservative (red) states vs. progressive (blue) states. Rural states to urban states. Somehow I think there would be a lot of correlation.

An 18 Year Low

In a story at CNN Money, Bankruptcy filings hit 18-year low, the headline says it all. Here's what I noticed:

Those regions of the country that experienced the biggest drop in individual bankruptcy filing included parts of Louisiana, West Virginia and Oklahoma.


You don't say. [sarcasm] I would never have guessed. [/sarcasm]

Last year, nearly 600,0000 individuals filed for bankruptcy, down 71 percent (nationwide - ed.) from 2005, according to statistics released Monday by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The last time bankruptcy filings were this low was in 1988.


And it's not because debt levels are so much lower, either.

In a little bit of editorializing in its news story, the CNN Money article said this:

Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in 2005 in an effort to prevent consumers from abusing the bankruptcy system by clearing all their debts when they might have the ability to repay at least some of them.

So far the law appears to be working as intended by lawmakers. Last year, an increasing number of individuals filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code, where individuals establish a payment plan with creditor. Before the new bankruptcy law took effect, the majority of Americans filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, where all unsecured debts were eliminated.


No, the reason you don't have more chapter 7 filings is because the poorer folk can't afford the new attorney fees and court costs (it now costs roughly twice as much as it used to). It isn't that they have more ability to pay their debts. Just look at the states listed above hit hardest by the new law (Louisiana, West Virginia and Oklahoma). Where do these states stand in terms of income and wealth for the United States? (Answer: they are all near the bottom in terms of income and wealth)

I would agree that it did have its intended effect: to hurt the middle and lower classes by moving closer to a debt peonage system.

If we could somehow find a way to raise the income levels in the poorer states, we probably would not have as many people needing to file bankruptcy. I would like to see someone create a geographic map showing per capita income by region. I would like to also see a comparison to conservative (red) states vs. progressive (blue) states. Rural states to urban states. Somehow I think there would be a lot of correlation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Music CD: The View From Here

Singer Bob Bennett, who did the tribute song of Mark Heard's Heart of Hearts (see below for the video), was kind enough to stop by and leave a comment. Here is a link where you can buy his CD that has the song Heart of Hearts on it through Amazon.com:

The View From Here

Belated Sunday Music Video: Big Yellow Taxi

Counting Crows music video for "Big Yellow Taxi" originally done by Joan Baez:



Hat Tip: Charles Smith of Of Two Minds Blog

Music Video: Nod Over Coffee

Mark Heard's Nod Over Coffee from his Second Hand CD (with Pierce Pettis).



Found another one with the original song in it:



Lyrics:

Nod Over Coffee

All the unsaid words that I might be thinking
And all the little signs that I might give you
They would not be enough
No they would not be enough

So we nod over coffee and say goodbye
Smile over coffee and turn to go
We know the drill and we do it well
We love it, we hate it
Ain't that life

Ain't that the curse of the second hand
Ain't that the way of the hour and the day

If I weren't so alone and afraid
They might pay me what I am worth
But it would not be enough
You deserve better

So we nod over coffee and say goodbye
Do whatever has to be done again today
Get in the traffic and time will fly
Look at the sun and pray for rain

Ain't that the curse of the second hand
Ain't that the way of the hour and the day

The dam of time cannot hold back
The dust that will surely come of these bones
And I'm sure I will not have loved enough
Will not have loved enough

If we could see with wiser eyes
What is good and what is sad and what is true
Still it would not be enough
Could never be enough

So we nod over coffee and say goodbye
Bolt the door it's time to go
Into the car with the radio on
Roll down the window and blow the horn

Ain't that the curse of the second hand
Ain't that the way of the hour and the day

Written by Mark Heard
© 1991 Ideola Music/ASCAP

Music Video Tribute: Heart of Hearts

Bob Bennett does a tribute with Heart of Hearts from Mark Heard's Victims of the Age album.



Lyrics:

Heart of Hearts

Tears in the city
But nobody's really surprised, you know
My heart's taking a beating
Existence is bleeding me dry, you know

But way down in my heart of hearts
Way down in my soul of souls
Way down I know that I am a fortunate man
To have known divine love

The world is in shambles
I'm just a young man but it's been getting
a little bit old to me
I'm already aching
The years have been taking
a little bit of a toll on me

But way down in my heart of hearts
Way down in my soul of souls
Way down I know that I am a fortunate man
To have known Divine love

Two in the morning
The siren is a warning that
everything is not quite alright
The city is sleeping
I'm down on my knees in the night
tonight

But way down in my heart of hearts
Way down in my soul of souls
Way down I know that I am a fortunate man
To have known Divine love

Written by Mark Heard
© 1982 Bug 'n Bear Music ASCAP

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire For Rove?

From TPM Muckraker:

You know it's bad news for the White House when agencies you'd never even heard of start launching investigations into the administration.

This time, it's the Office of Special Counsel, a federal investigative unit that's charged with monitoring federal employees, not to be confused with a special counsel or special prosecutor such as Patrick Fitzgerald. The OSC is charged with policing Hatch Act violations and protecting whistleblowers, among other duties. It's a permanent federal agency, and it's prosecutions are not criminal prosecutions.

But the OSC does have teeth. If it successfully prosecutes a federal employee before the Merit Systems Protection Board (which acts as its judge), then that employee can be terminated. That employee, in this instance, is Karl Rove.


For the complete article, click on the title.

For another view, see this:

In addition to charges of “unnecessarily reorganizing the OSC to try to run off internal critics,” [Scott] Bloch was also accused of “failing to enforce a long-standing policy against bias in the federal workplace based on sexual orientation” and “arbitrarily dismissing some personnel complaints and whistle-blower disclosures in an effort to claim reductions in backlogs.” At the time, it was quite evident that Bloch had turned the OSC into just another political arm of the Bush White House-and while they claimed to be supportive of the long-standing policy against discriminating against gays, and supportive of whistleblower statutes, Bloch was busily cooking up excuses for not adhering to the nondiscrimination policy and wantonly dismissing complaints.

So, it’s possible that Bloch’s OSC-led investigation of Rove is evidence of Rove’s waning influence—but it’s also quite possible that it’s evidence of his continued influence, with this ostensibly-independent investigation fated to find no wrongdoing.

Suffice it to say, I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach about whether this investigation is designed to put heat on the White House, or take it off. Wouldn’t it be just spectacularly Rovian for Rove, after resisting like his very life depended on it testifying under oath in front of Congress, chose to “fully cooperate” with a non-criminal investigation covertly designed to exonerate him?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Environmental Issues In Popular Music

I have been trying to find a music video on YouTube that follows an environmental theme from popular Top 40 music (pop, rock, Christian or country) but I can't seem to find any that really talk about environmental or ecological issues. The closest I seemed able to find was the Australian band Midnight Oil's Blue Sky Mine. But that was not a Top 40 hit -- at least not here in the U.S. Their one Top 40 hit, Beds Are Burning, was really about the treatment of Native peoples (Aboriginal) in Australia.

I have read several artists, such as Peter Gabriel and Sting, that are involved in Social Justice and Environmental causes, but I have not been able to find actual examples of popular songs that deal with environmental concerns.

Can my regular readers think of any popular Top 40 songs that were about environmental issues for Earth Day?

Another Day In Limbo

Boy, does the title of this Mark Heard song sound like my life right now. I have two job interviews this week, I am looking for a new house and my life is so full of topsy-turvy changes. And for Earth Day, this Mark Heard song juxtaposes natural beauty (trees, mountains) with technology and its effect on our landscapes (power lines, satellite dishes, "iron horse with four wheels").

Oh, who other than Mark Heard could use "jacaranda" in a song and make it seem like it ought to be there?

Another Day In Limbo

Pray for the foothills
Home to the drone of
Power lines and rock doves
Mountains grey as velvet
Field for dots of yucca
White and jacaranda
Facing the sky
As the day burns away
Is a desert in mourning
Sheltering the dead stones
Cradle of the lost bones
Home of eternal comings and goings

Blinking away the sunrise
Listening to the wind blow
Angels with dirty faces face
Another day in limbo
Beckoning fire from Heaven
Everything seems so stone-cold
Beating the drums of change
Another day in limbo

Pray for the foothills
Goatherds and windmills
And satellite dishes
Petroglyph talkers meet
Iron-willed walkers
Who grant them no wishes
Shaking a fist at the air
Seems to bring on a blackening sky
In the crackling of embers
Old men remember
Walking in beauty in the dawn of their lives

Blinking away the sunrise
Listening to the wind blow
Angels with dirty faces face
Another day in limbo
Beckoning fire from Heaven
Everything seems so stone-cold
Beating the drums of change
Another day in limbo

Pray for the foothills
Iron horse with four wheels
Bucks a drunken rider
Pawns of the pawn kings
Corn-silk of heartstrings
tattered and blighted
They sing in the sand for the son of the land
Who sought fire in water
Faith like a kernal rising up in thermals
Hope springs eternal once in awhile

Blinking away the sunrise
Listening to the wind blow
Angels with dirty faces face
Another day in limbo
Beckoning fire from Heaven
Everything seems so stone-cold
Beating the drums of change
Another day in limbo

Written by Mark Heard © 1992 Ideola Music/ASCAP

Earth Year

Today is Earth Day. Bill Maher has a New Rule: make it Earth Year. Something I didn't know before is that bee colonies are disappearing. He said we don't know what is causing it, but without bees, plants don't get pollinated. Without pollination, plants won't produce food. Without food, we humans go hungry.

He mentions corn syrup as a potential cause, but I want to make another point about corn syrup. I read on another blog somewhere that the American obesity epidemic started right at the time that we started using corn syrup in all of our food. While our sedimentary lifestyle certainly and larger portion sizes at food establishments certainly contributes to the problem, we should not discount the possibility that the cheaper, sweeter corn syrup isn't contributing to the problem as well.

But back to the bees and the problem with pollination of plants, we are already suffering with drought conditions over the last several years. And the warming of the Earth's atmosphere is contributing to it. The last thing we need is to combine drought conditions with lack of pollination for the plants.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Appeals Court In Wisconsin Prosection of Georgia Thompson: "Preposterous"

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. GEORGIA L. THOMPSON case excoriated the prosecutor calling his theory of the case "preposterous." Near the end of the decision, the Court said this:

The idea that it is a federal crime for any official in state or local government to take account of political considerations when deciding how to spend public money is preposterous.


Here's more of the reasoning:

Adelman Travel was the low bidder, but a low price for lousy service is no bargain. Wisconsin’s rules give price only a 25% weight (300 of 1200 points) in the selection process. About 58% (700 points) goes to service, which a working group evaluates subjectively based on written presentations. Adelman had the second-best score for service; Omega World Travel came in third. The combined price-and-service rating had Adelman in the lead. (Fox World Travel received the best service score but had a noncompetitive price.) The final 17% of the score (200points) depends on the working group’s assessment of oral presentations. These presentations (often dubbed “beauty contests” or “dog-and-pony shows” that may reward the flashiest PowerPoint slides) need not be related to either price or the pitchman’s probable quality of service; why the state gives them any weight, independent of price or quality, is a mystery, but not one we need unravel.

Adelman Travel must have made a bad presentation, for six of the seven members of the working group gave it poor marks (from a low of 120 points to a high of 165), while awarding Omega scores between 155 and 200. Thompson alone gave Adelman a higher score (185 for Adelman, 160 for Omega). Adelman Travel’s disastrous oral presentation left Omega World Travel with the highest total score.

The prosecution’s theory is that Omega should have received the contract on the spot but that for political reasons Thompson ordered a delay. Thompson told her colleagues that a decision for Omega, which is based on the East Coast, would not go over well with her boss, Pat Farley. A jury also could conclude that Thompson said something to the effect that for “political reasons” Adelman Travel had to get this contract. (Witnesses related different versions of what Thompson said, but in each account“politics” or “political” played some role.)

Thompson tried to engage in logrolling, offering to change her scores for bidders on other travel contracts if members of the working group would change their scores on this contract. Horse-trading proved to be unacceptable to the selection group, but a member other than Thompson suggested that the contract be rebid on a best-and-final basis, as state law permitted. Wis. Stat. §16.72(2m)(e), (g).

Adelman Travel reduced its price, which — keeping all other elements of the score constant — left Adelman and Omega with 1027 points apiece. The tie depended on rounding to the nearest whole number. Adelman Travel’s score was 1026.6, while Omega World Travel’s score was 1027.3. After Thompson (with her supervisors’ consent) deemed the contest a draw — sensibly, as the difference was trivial compared to the amount of subjectivity and variance in the committee members’ evaluations — Thompson employed a tie-breaking procedure, specified by state law, that gave weight to items not previously figured into the price comparison and declared Adelman Travel to be the winner.

...

Perhaps, however, Farley favored Adelman Travel because it was cheaper. This would be a political position in the best sense of that term. Many a person runs for office on a platform of cutting the cost of government. Bureaucrats may call a preference for low price over high levels of service a form of “political interference” with their operations (especially when it is state employees who may suffer inconvenience in order to save the taxpayers’ money), but no party has a monopoly on opposing gold-plated wastebaskets and other excesses. Low prices may advance the public interest even if they discomfit public employees, and recognition that driving down the cost of government is good politics for incumbents does not transgress any federal statute of which we are aware.

Still another possibility is that Farley (and thus Thompson) sought to favor a local firm over one from another state. The Supreme Court has held that states, as market participants, may buy preferentially from their own citizens. See, e.g., White v. Massachusetts Council of Construction Employers, Inc., 460 U.S. 204 (1983); Reeves, Inc. v. Stake, 447 U.S. 429 (1980). A preference for in-state suppliers who can vote, over competitors who can’t, maybe smart politics. Again no federal statute regulates such behavior, let alone declares it to be a felony. Wisconsin law specifies a preference for domestic bidders, though only when the out-of-state bidder hales from a jurisdiction that favors its own citizens in procurement decisions. Wis. Stat. §16.75(1)(a) 2.

The evidence of record would not permit a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt which of these three “political” reasons was Farley’s, let alone whether Farley’s reason also was Thompson’s — for Thompson may have been trying to be a faithful subordinate without questioning her boss’s bona fides. Nor was the jury asked to determine Thompson’s motive. The United States maintains that Thompson’s objective is irrelevant. It is enough, the prosecutor insists, that Thompson deflected the decision from the one that should have been made under the administrative process. When coupled with a personal benefit (the raise), such a deflection is criminal under federal law, the United States insists. In other words, the prosecutor’s argument is that any public employee’s knowing deviation from state procurement rules is a federal felony, no matter why the employee chose to bend the rules, as long as the employee gains in the process. (Instating the argument this way, we are assuming that the jury could and did find beyond a reasonable doubt that Thompson knew that the state’s procurement rules entitled Omega World Travel to the contract, given her fellow employees’ favorable view of Omega’s oral presentation.)

...

The United States has not cited, and we have not found, any appellate decision holding that an increase in official salary, or a psychic benefit such as basking in a superior’s approbation (and thinking one’s job more secure), is the sort of “private gain” that makes an act criminal under §1341 and §1346. The United States does rely on a few decisions of district courts, e.g., United States v. Sorich, 427 F. Supp. 2d 820, 829 (N.D. Ill. 2006); United States v. Munson, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14274 *3 (N.D. Ill. July27, 2004), but we do not find them persuasive. We now hold that neither an increase in salary for doing what one’s superiors deem a good job, nor an addition to one’s peace of mind, is a “private benefit” for the purpose of §1346.


The Court finished with this:

Courts can curtail some effects of statutory ambiguity but cannot deal with the source. This prosecution, which led to the conviction and imprisonment of a civil servant for conduct that, as far as this record shows, was designed to pursue the public interest as the employee understood it, may well induce Congress to take another look at the wisdom of enacting ambulatory criminal prohibitions.


In layman's language, they were saying Congress did a horrible job in writing this law and it needs to be fixed.

You can read the entire opinion here.

Comment At TPM: Credit Is Like Cigarettes

Elizabeth Warren wrote an entry over at Warren Reports: Dept of Defense Leaves Families Exposed. In it, she discusses how high-interest, short-term lenders prey on military families and how the military brass ended up siding with the credit industry:

After the bill passed, the consumer finance industry shifted their lobbying efforts to the DoD. The lobbying paid off. The new DoD rules drafted by the DoD excludes credit cards, car loans, home equity loans, reverse mortgages, refinancing and tax refund anticipation loans. The banks declared themselves pleased. Congressional Daily quotes the Financial Services Roundtable rep as saying, "Overall, it seems that it tracks pretty close to our recommendation."


Commenter Mike Woodson left a comment that I thought was quite pertinent:

I'll preface the following with this comment: obviously, individuals have a duty to do all that they can to avoid bad financial decisions. That's a given. But credit is a bit like cigarettes -- the offered short term relief plus the high interest and the nicotine are analogous. Both disable the free will of the user (combined, they almost take it away -- see the working poor on break from their job shifts puffing away).

Credit card business is also parasitic. What work do credit card companies do except feed off someone else's hard earned money; whether they're lending from it or collecting it, the credit industry completely depends on the value-producing hard work of others to keep itself at the table eating 24 hours a day. When it loans out the blood it just sucked, it finds new hosts. Then it consumes away but produces very little.

The parasite transmits a disease called despair. Financial problems blow-up marriages, hurt kids of divorce, deny children, and sometimes weigh heavily in people's decisions to abort their unborn. There is a substantial and significant responsibility for these losses that lies with the credit industry. The cause doesn't have to be proximate; the wrongs can be inchoate; and the suffering doesn't have to be legally compensable for it to be 100% WRONG. It is a species of slavery, no matter how well dressed in lobbyists' clothes.

It is also a species of treason. If you do something to damage your country that slows productivity by draining money for a non-productive industry, then you are working against the interests of the country. Just because you employ lots of folks to help you do it doesn't make it a productive industry; that just makes it sort of cannibalistic.


If you're not personally affected, but reading this, consider taking some extra step for the people who are so afflicted, and start a small fire in your neighborhood against credit industry abuse.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

My Oklahoma City Bombing Story

(Because it has been 12 years since the Oklahoma City bombing, my memory is starting to fade. But I believe that the facts in this post are a fairly accurate representation of my experiences during that period in time.)

I started to think about this as I went downtown to see the Lincoln exhibit at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. In order to get to the Lincoln exhibit, you have to go through the memorial. (As an aside, I am a descendent of Abraham Lincoln's family. Specifically, my great-great-great-great grandmother was President Lincoln's mother's sister.)

April 19, 1995

It was a beautiful spring morning. The sun was shining. The skies were clear blue. At about 8:45am, I walked over to the law school and down to the basement to get some breakfast and crack open my book to bone up for that day's Legislative Seminar class. I was to argue for a mock proposed bill that every Oklahoma student learn a second language fluently.

About 9:20am, I heard a TV blasting very loud upstairs. My first thought was: "Anita Hill must be giving another press conference." The TV continued to clamor for another 15 minutes. I finally decided to go upstairs and find out what was going on.

When I got upstairs, the TV showed the image of a helicopter circling a building with black smoke coming out of it. It was apparent that there had been some sort of explosion. "Isn't that Oklahoma City?" I asked. "Yes, it is" someone told me. "Was it a natural gas explosion?" I asked in response. A few years before, I remembered that we had had a natural gas explosion in downtown Oklahoma City, and so I naturally thought it was just a repeat. A law school classmate from my section, Glen Dresback, was right behind me as I asked the question. "No," Glen said, "that's a bomb." "Are you sure?" I replied. Just then, Robert Warren walked up. "Here's the guy we need to ask" Glen said. Glen explained that Robert was a munitions expert when he was in the military. "Rob, isn't that a bomb explosion?" "Yeah, that's a bomb." Robert replied. "Why would anyone want to bomb Oklahoma City?" I asked. "I don't know" Robert said.

Robert Warren was my trial team partner in law school in our Practice Court class. We were supposed to put on a mock trial later that week. Our trial involved a fictitious murder case with a gun. In a way, we were a true Odd Couple. When it came to the issue of gun control, we were almost polar opposites. Robert, who was a student representative for the Gun Owners of America, was an expert in guns. Naturally, he was opposed to gun control. I took, and still take, the position that the 2nd Amendment is one sentence, not two. The clauses are separated by commas, not semicolons or periods. Therefore the sentence expresses one thought. But this post is not meant to be an exegesis of my reading of the 2nd Amendment. I'll cover that in another post as the shooting at Virginia Tech has reignited the debate about gun control.

When I saw Robert before class later that day, he first raised the possibility that the Oklahoma City bombing might be the result of domestic terrorism. His reasoning? "April 19 is a significant date for revolutions in America" he said. "Several uprisings started on April 19." He then was able to rattle off several rebellions that had started on April 19th throughout American history -- particularly early American history.

Later that night, I called Robert to discuss our upcoming mock trial. We both admitted that we had been glued to the TV, mesmerized by that morning's event and wall-to-wall coverage by the local and national media. We discussed the breaking news that some men of Middle Eastern descent had been captured down in Texas. "Yeah, I heard that too" Robert replied. I told Robert that we needed to get ready for the trial. He told me that if I were to look at the photo of the bullet, that it was clear that it could not have been the bullet that had killed the victim (it was completely mangled and looked it had melted like a candle). I told Robert that the problem was that we couldn't call any expert witnesses per the rules of the class. "I know" he said, "I think I can handle them on cross-examination."

I had also tried to call Floyd Zimms' house most of the day. Before attending law school, I had gone to church with Floyd. The phone had been busy all day. I finally got through late that night. When I finally got through to his wife, she told me that she had been on the phone all day trying to locate Floyd. "He was supposed to be at the Murrah building at 9am" she told me. "He was supposed to make a deposit at the credit union first thing this morning. I finally got a hold of him this afternoon. Thank God he is still alive. It turns out that on the way downtown he got a call from the office telling him they needed him to come in for something; otherwise he would have been there and most likely would have been killed."

A few days later, when the smoke cleared and it was clear that the FBI was looking for two white men, they had a break in the case. It turned out that, by a stroke of luck, they had captured one of the suspects. Floyd was the first one to question Timothy McVeigh. Floyd walked into the cell holding McVeigh and said: "you may have some information about the bombing - I'm going to read you your rights." At that point, McVeigh demanded an attorney.

I tried uploading the photo, but it doesn't seem to be taking. You can see it here about halfway down the page. Floyd is the one in the lower right with the bald head and facial hair.

Soon after that, McVeigh was moved from the jail in Perry, Oklahoma, to a cell at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, a suburb of Oklahoma City. Floyd featured prominently in the photo which was on the front page of every newspaper, magazine and television news report in the country -- perhaps the world. Prior to this, Floyd had been an undercover agent for the FBI. He often played the bad guy making large drug buys. He had darkened eyes and was able to look sinister. Needless to say, after his face was shown front-and-center on so many publications, his cover was blown. No more undercover work for him.

I later saw Floyd and asked him about John Doe #2. I seem to remember him telling me that they knew who it was (I think he even told me his name). What I also seem to recall is that they were able to identify him from his tattoo. What I seemed to remember was that he was ruled out as having anything to do with the bombing. However, the Wikipedia entry on the Oklahoma City bombing indicates that John Doe #2 was never identified, so that makes me doubt this part of the story more than other parts.

Never would I have thought that my trial team partner, Robert, would also be seen on a news report carrying the axle from the Ryder truck into the Denver courthouse. (I haven't been able to find the photo online, but I remembe seeing it.) It was at that point that I found out that Robert went to work for Stephen Jones after law school. He is shown in the trial transcripts at Timothy McVeigh's trial as one of McVeigh's attorneys. Given his expertise in munitions, bombs and such, it is not surprising that he got such a plum job after law school.

I haven't seen Floyd or Robert since the trial. I don't know where either one of them are now. But it was interesting to have friends who played a role on both sides of such a significant historical event.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I Hate To Say I Told You So

I wrote a previous post that the Oklahoma Legislature would make pointless affidavits mandatory in all lawsuits. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma struck down the same provision in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Well, they're at it again, just like I predicted. From the Chickasha News:

Oklahoma House members passed a comprehensive lawsuit reform bill of more than 100 pages on Tuesday that supporters say will reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits.

One opponent, Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, called those voting in favor of the measure “soft on negligence.”

The bill, Senate Bill 507, authored by Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City; Sen. Owen Laughlin, R-Woodward; Sen. James Williamson, R-Tulsa; Rep. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher; and Rep. Daniel Sullivan, R-Tulsa; passed the House with a 57-39 vote. All no votes were from Democrats.

...

The bill that left the Senate provided liability protections to volunteers providing transportation services as part of their volunteer work. It also gave protections to firearms manufacturers.

...

Other provisions require a qualified expert in non-contract civil cases to offer a written opinion concluding a claim has merit. The bill would give food manufacturers, packers, sellers or anyone associated with the food industry protection from lawsuits if someone experiences weight gain, obesity or other health conditions.


The war on Plaintiffs in civil cases continues in earnest.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How Sallie Mae Profits From Defaulted Student Loans

From Consumer Law Updates:

Some of the news articles have touched on how parts of the student loan industry work. According to CNN’s story Bonfire of the Universities 85% of Sallie Mae’s portfolio is Federally insured. That means that 15% is not. Something that I found very intersting is that in the event of default on a federally insured loan, the Government pays the lender between 96 and 98% of the total principal and interest owed.

So, why the emphasis on interest in that last sentence?

I am starting to see student loans that have been in default for a long time, because since 1997 virtually all student loans have been non-dischargeable; and since 2005 that is expanded to include completely private student loans — i.e., that other 15% of Sallie Mae’s portfolio. One thing that I am noticing on these loans is a ballooning of the account balance that just doesn’t seem right for loans at 8 or 9% interest. Then, I learned about interest capitalization.

I didn’t know until recently that in the event of default or at the conclusion of an approved forbearance period, a student loan lender may capitalize the accrued interest. That means add that interest into the principal balance so that interest accrues from that point forward on a much larger principal balance. This effectively makes a simple interest note a partially compound interest note — all of which is effectively non-dischargeable.

No sweat, thought right? After all, deferments followed by default should be pretty early in the note history, the two tend to go together so there is only one incident of capitalization; it shouldn’t make that much difference right?

Tell that to the client of mine who is now being told she owes $22,000 on a note that was written for less than $7,000. Oh, and even though she never made a payment after the deferment period (not uncommon, by the way); she has two capitalization events on her loan history — several years apart. Can anybody explain that to me?

So, why are we, the taxpayers, guaranteeing a return on investment and insuring investment losses for a corporation worth $25 Billion, that is paying out hundreds of millions in executive compensation and charging and capitalizing interest at 9%?

Good question, Elaine.

No Heart To Heart Talk For Carol Lam

From ABC News:

April 16, 2007 — - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' assertion that he was not involved in identifying the eight U.S. attorneys who were asked to resign last year is at odds with a recently released internal Department of Justice e-mail, ABC News has learned.

That e-mail said that Gonzales supported firing one federal prosecutor six months before she was asked to leave.

Gonzales was scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, but his testimony was postponed until Thursday because of the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University.

When Gonzales appears before the committee, a central focus will be the extent of his involvement in the firings.

Gonzales has insisted he left those decisions to his staff, but ABC News has learned he was so concerned about U.S. attorney Carol Lam's lackluster record on immigration enforcement in San Diego that he supported firing her months before she was dismissed, according to a newly released e-mail from his former chief of staff.

The e-mail, which came from Gonzales aide Kyle Sampson, appeared to contradict the prepared written testimony Gonzales submitted to Congress over the weekend in advance of his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. In his prepared testimony, Gonzales said that during the months that his senior staff was evaluating U.S. attorneys, including Lam, "I did not make the decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign."

But the recently released e-mail from Sampson, dated June 1, 2006, indicated that Gonzales was actively involved in discussions about Lam and had decided to fire her if she did not improve. In the e-mail to other top Justice Department officials, Sampson outlined several steps that Gonzales suggested, culminating in Lam's replacement if she failed to bolster immigration enforcement.

"AG [Attorney General] has given additional thought to the San Diego situation and now believes that we should adopt a plan" that would lead to her removal if she "balks" at immigration reform, Sampson wrote.

The e-mail laid out other possible ways to deal with Lam short of dismissal. Gonzales supported the idea of first having "a heart to heart with Lam about the urgent need to improve immigration enforcement" and of working with her "to develop a plan for addressing the problem." Sampson said another alternative would be to "put her on a very short leash."

"If she balks on any of the foregoing or otherwise does not perform in a measurable way … remove her," Sampson wrote of Gonzales' suggested plan. "AG then appoints new U.S. [attorney] from outside the office."

The Lam situation gets to the heart of the U.S. attorney controversy and the focus of the upcoming Gonzales hearing. Senators want to know why the eight prosecutors were fired. Were they fired for cause? Was their performance at issue? Or were their political motives?


Well, as Josh Marshall points out, there was no heart to heart talk with Carol Lam. From Josh Marshall's post:

But here's the problem, here's what gets left unsaid. Should the AG have a 'heart to heart' or 'put her on a short leash' or what if she resists, etc. etc. etc. But do you remember that they never spoke to Lam? No leash or heart to heart. They never even mentioned any of it to her.

This is the part of the equation that just won't add up no matter how hard they try to push the numbers together.

Consider the scene. May 2006. Lam has already sent one congressman to prison. News has just broken that her investigation now threatens to bring down the House Appropriations Committee Chairman. And she'd just brought her probe to the heart of the Bush CIA.

While this is going on top Justice Department officials are having an entirely separate conversation about how to deal with Lam's record on immigration enforcement. Talk it out with her? Give her one last chance? Keep her on a short leash?

All these possibilities. But no one ever gets around to telling Lam anything about it.

Does that sound right to you?

...

The fact that the immigration issue was never raised with Lam by the Department of Justice points strongly to the conclusion that it was not the reason for her firing but the pretext for it.


It couldn't possibly have something to do with the fact that Carol Lam's investigation was starting to reach the White House itself. Surely not.

Monday, April 16, 2007

P. M. Prescott's New Book

Author P. M. Prescott was kind enough to come by and make a comment on the New Mexico situation on my post yesterday. You might want to check out his new novel: Optimus, Praetorian Guard

Information On Why Jeffrey Taylor Was Appointed US Attorney In DC

From War and Piece:

From a DC lawyer reader:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez appointed Jeffrey Taylor to be the US Attorney for the District of Columbia in late September 2006 under the now-infamous provision of the Patriot Act allowing the Attorney General to appoint interim US Attorneys:

US Department of Justice site

At that point, it was evident that the Democrats would retake control of the House of Representatives and that Henry Waxman (D-CA) would be the next chairman of House [Oversight and Government Reform] Committee, with its vast oversight jurisdiction. In fact, numerous stories like ths one had appeared in major newspapers indicating that Waxman would wage a war of oversight on the White House:

LA Times report

It seems apparent that Taylor was placed in to his position to specifically frustrate any Congressional oversight effort.

So how is it that the US Attorney for the District of Columbia spot so conveniently became open at such a critical time? ...

Ken Wainstein was the US Attorney for the District of Columbia prior to Jeffrey Taylor. ...

He was in office only six months before being kicked upstairs to become the first Assistant Attorney General for the new National Security Division at the Justice Department.

(Hat Tip to Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, naturally)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

More Background On US Attorney Iglesias' Firing

Thanks to Josh Marshall for another link to another story on the developing US Attorney firings. He and his reporters have been all over this and they are providing excellent analysis the gives a lot of background that you wouldn't necessarily know just by reading the story. Here is a new story from the Albuquerque Journal. From the story:

At some point after the election last Nov. 6, Domenici called Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, and told him he wanted Iglesias out and asked Rove to take his request directly to the president.

Domenici and Bush subsequently had a telephone conversation about the issue.

The conversation between Bush and Domenici occurred sometime after the election but before the firings of Iglesias and six other U.S. attorneys were announced on Dec. 7.

Iglesias' name first showed up on a Nov. 15 list of federal prosecutors who would be asked to resign. It was not on a similar list prepared in October.

The Journal confirmed the sequence of events through a variety of sources familiar with the firing of Iglesias, including sources close to Domenici. The senator's office declined comment.

...

In September 2005, Iglesias announced the arrests of state Treasurer Robert Vigil and his predecessor, Michael Montoya, on extortion charges. Both are Democrats in a state where Democrats control the Legislature and most statewide offices.

Republicans who had complained about political corruption in the state for years saw an opportunity to do more than complain. And this was an issue with political traction.

The point man would be Iglesias.

During one of his few news conferences while U.S. attorney, Iglesias called political corruption "endemic" in New Mexico.

The FBI also put a high priority on public corruption, naming it its top priority behind terrorism.

According to Justice Department memos turned over to congressional investigators, Domenici approached Iglesias in late 2005 and asked if he needed additional prosecutors for corruption cases.

Iglesias, according to the memo, told Domenici he didn't need white-collar crime prosecutors. He needed prosecutors for immigration cases.

Domenici was disappointed in the response. After that conversation, Domenici decided he would try to get Iglesias help, whether Iglesias wanted it or not.

In 2006, Domenici asked Gonzales if he could find additional experienced white-collar crime prosecutors to send to New Mexico. Gonzales had a number of prosecutors who were finishing the ENRON prosecutions and were quite experienced at complex white-collar crime cases.

None [were] sent [to New Mexico].


Now, on its face, you would think that "white collar crime" meant simply Enron-type corporate crime. But that is not the case. According to Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker:

The Journal story refers to Domenici's concern over Iglesias' performance prosecuting "white-collar crime." Was Domenici overwrought about corporate malfeasance? No -- it's a way of referring to public corruption cases, specifically two high-profile corruption cases Iglesias handled against New Mexico Democrats.

After Iglesias didn't jump fast enough with regard to the first case, an investigation into the Democratic state treasurer that dated back to 2005, Domenici's patience was apparently far too thin for the slow pace of the second investigation -- a kickback probe into New Mexico Democrat Manny Aragon.

Then this sequence of events happened (From the Albuquerque Journal story):

At some point after the election last Nov. 6, Domenici called Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, and told him he wanted Iglesias out and asked Rove to take his request directly to the president.

Domenici and Bush subsequently had a telephone conversation about the issue.

The conversation between Bush and Domenici occurred sometime after the election but before the firings of Iglesias and six other U.S. attorneys were announced on Dec. 7.

Iglesias' name first showed up on a Nov. 15 list of federal prosecutors who would be asked to resign. It was not on a similar list prepared in October.

The Journal confirmed the sequence of events through a variety of sources familiar with the firing of Iglesias, including sources close to Domenici. The senator's office declined comment.


The Paul Kiel goes back to a previous entry he wrote at TPM Muckraker:

Now, there's another level to this. According to earlier statements from the White House and Kyle Sampson's testimony, Bush and Rove had already complained to Gonzales about Iglesias when Domenici called in November. Those complaints had to do with Iglesias' insufficiently aggressive pursuit of (Democratic) voter fraud, and they were made -- by President Bush and Karl Rove -- in mid-October.

So we have two different streams of complaints from the White House -- the first in October about voter fraud and then another in November, stemming from Domenici's concern at Iglesias' failure to move certain cases. Of course, both of them at their base were about Iglesias' failure to prosecute enough Democrats.

A motif is definitely developing here regarding the use of the Justice Department to prosecute Democratic candidates as a way to undermine their ability to run an effective campaign. It is a form of ad hominem attack. Now, such methods would always have been effective. There is a reason why political science, philosophy and law students study such arguments based on "fallacies of weak induction." They work.

It is even more true now. As our country grows in population, and political districts become more populous, and political campaigns become more about marketing a Cult of Personality around a single person rather than a set of ideas, these kinds of personal attacks will become more effective.

Look, I am all for honest government, and wrongdoers need to be punished; but the rules have to applied equally to those in both political parties, regardless of who is in power. Justice requires it. But the Bush Administration's actions are clearly revealing a disdain for career professionals who are trying to enforce rules based on the facts and law in a fair and impartial manner. We used to call what the Bush Administration increasingly appears to have done an "Abuse of Power." I don't know what they call it now -- "Smart Politics?"

Whatever it is, it needs to stop. And it needs to be more than just the Democrats in Congress that tells the President, his Administration and anyone else who enabled this perversion of justice to stop. What the Bush Administration has done with the Justice Department in this regard is an outrage. All Americans should be against the use of federal prosecutors to advance one political party's candidate's chance of winning.

There are certain innate and constant criteria that should transcend changes in policies and politics. The administration of justice should be one of them.

Also, the fact that none of the so-called "Christian" lawyers that the Bush Administration hired spoke out against such a plan is an outrage. I wish I could ask them: "What Would Jesus Do?"

The question "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" comes to my mind as I think what they have done to the Justice Department and the fact that it appears like no one spoke up and said "You can't do that."

I don't know if this same sentiment resonates throughout the rest of the voting public. I hope it does. On one level, I know that such outrage is one that is kind of an academic one for lawyers and political activists. But I wish I could make Joe Six Pack understand that the unequal application of justice in political cases will have an effect eventually on his ability to get a fair trial if he or anyone in his family ever gets charged with a crime. Even his personal injury case or his ability to dispute a debt that he is sued on can be affected.

We cannot allow any Administration to put their finger down on the Scales of Justice. Our whole system is based on equality before the law. To allow any Administration to get away with tilting those Scales threatens the very foundation and Constitution that this country is based on.

More Student Loan Abuses By Lenders Alleged

From Today's Washington Post:

Lenders Misusing Student Database


Improper Searches Raise Privacy Fears

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 15, 2007; A01

Some lending companies with access to a national database that contains confidential information on tens of millions of student borrowers have repeatedly searched it in ways that violate federal rules, raising alarms about data mining and abuse of privacy, government and university officials said.

The improper searching has grown so pervasive that officials said the Education Department is considering a temporary shutdown of the government-run database to review access policies and tighten security. Some worry that businesses are trolling for marketing data they can use to bombard students with mass mailings or other solicitations.

Students' Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, birth dates and sensitive financial information such as loan balances are in the database, which contains 60 million student records and is covered by federal privacy laws. "We are just in shock that student data could be compromised like this," said Nancy Hoover, director of financial aid at Denison University in Ohio.

Education Department spokeswoman Katherine McLane said the agency has spent more than $650,000 since 2003 to safeguard the database. The department has blocked thousands of users that it deemed unqualified for access after security reviews, McLane said, and it has blocked 246 users from the student loan industry for inappropriately accessing the data.

In general, the department allows lenders to search records in the database only if they have a student's permission or a financial relationship with the student.

The department has been "vigilant in its monitoring for unauthorized uses" of the database, McLane said.

Concerns about possible abuses of the database are emerging as the student loan industry is under investigation by congressional Democrats and the New York attorney general. Critics say the $85 billion-a-year industry has cozied up to government and university officials who are in a position to help lenders.

For the complete story, click the link.

Victims of the Age

And for a Mark Heard song that showcased his lyrical poetry, Victims of the Age was also the title of the album on which it appeared. The music and lyrical content was far ahead of its time for Christian radio. (Actually, it probably still is.) Billboard magazine reviewed it as one of that year's best albums.

Victims Of the Age

Asphalt ocean roars
At islands with rubber wheels
City kid can't keep on even keel
Neon world says, "Gotcha"
Heart says, "No, no no"
Don't be swimming in the undertow

Caught between these voices
The sirens and the sage
One too many choices
For the victims of the age

Radio says, "I love you"
Street says, "That's a lie"
Billboard says, "Give anything a try"
Sidewalks don't say nothing
Streetlights don't ask why
Could stars be screaming in the evening sky?

Caught between these voices
The sirens and the sage
One too many choices
For the victims of the age

Written by Mark Heard
© 1982 Bug 'n Bear Music ASCAP

Victims of the Age can be found on his Greatest Hits (electric) album.



There is also a clip from the song that you can listen to at Amazon's website. The album cover for Mark Heard's Greatest Hits CD is essentially the cover from his Victims of the Age album.

Sunday Music: DC Talk

DC Talk was one of the leading purveyors of progressive Christian music. The three band members, Toby McKeehan (aka "Toby Mac"), Kevin Smith (now Kevin Max) and Michael Tait (now performing as "Tait") have each launched successful solo careers. Hopefully someday they will do a reunion tour as they together created a string of hits on Christian radio.

Today I bring you, via YouTube, a few of their best known songs.

Jesus Freak


Colored People (Live version with Spanish subtitles)


The also did a cover of "Jesus is Alright" by the Doobie Brothers, but I couldn't get either of the videos on YouTube to play. It is a good video if you can get it to load.

TPM: The Puzzlement of the Paulose Appointment As US Attorney

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Garry Kasparov's Next Move

I am an old chess master, so when the former World Chess Champion makes the news, I pay attention. I just recently received my first FIDE rating, and although it wasn't as high as I expected (or hoped), it probably wasn't too bad (I didn't quite achieve a master rating).

Chess is like the national sport of Russia. Chess champions there are revered like football or basketball stars are here in the U.S. So when former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov took up the challenge to run for the Russian Presidency, you can bet that it is a real threat to Putin's reign.

Kasparov has taken up the cause of the loyal opposition to Putin and formed a new political party called the United Civil Front. And from what I remember reading, his political views are center-right. You can see a discussion of Russian politics with Charlie Rose and Garry Kasparov here. ***Update*** Let me correct that last statement. After watching the Charlie Rose interview linked above, Kasparov is critical enough of Bush and his reference to the poverty conditions of 85% of the population that I think he may be center-left instead of center-right.

This isn't the first run-in he has had with authorities as reported by ChessBase.

Kasparov Freed After Anti-Putin Rally
By DOUGLAS BIRCH (Associated Press Writer)
From Associated Press
April 14, 2007 2:55 PM EDT
MOSCOW Apr 14, 2007 (AP)— Hundreds of demonstrators defied authorities Saturday by trying to stage an anti-government rally banned from a landmark downtown square, setting off sporadic clashes with police across Moscow and bringing a wave of arrests.

A coalition of opposition groups organized the "Dissenters March" to protest the economic and social policies of President Vladimir Putin as well as a series of Kremlin actions that critics say has stripped Russians of many political rights.

Thousands of police officers massed to keep the demonstrators off Pushkin Square, beating some protesters and detaining many others, including Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion who has emerged as the most prominent leader of the opposition alliance.

Police said 170 people had been detained but a Kasparov aide, Marina Litvinovich, said as many as 600 people were detained although she said about half were released quickly. Kasparov, whom witnesses said was seized as he tried to lead a small group of demonstrators through lines of police ringing Pushkin Square, was freed late Saturday after he was fined $38 for participating in the rally.

"It is no longer a country … where the government tries to pretend it is playing by the letter and spirit of the law," Kasparov said outside the court building, appearing unfazed by his detention.

"We now stand somewhere between Belarus and Zimbabwe," two dictatorships that have cracked down on opposition, he said.

It was the fourth time in recent months that anti-Putin demonstrations all called Dissenters Marches have been broken up with force or smothered by a huge police presence. Earlier protests were thwarted in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.


You can read the rest of the story here.

TPM Post: Why Are the Economic Polls So Gloomy?

* 44 percent agree with the statement “I don’t have enough money to make ends meet,” up from 35 percent in 2002 (Pew Research Center).

* 35 percent describe the state of their own personal finances as “shaky” compared to 28 percent in January (LA Times/Bloomberg).

* 73 percent agree that the “rich just get richer while the poor get poorer,” up from 65 percent in 2002 (Pew); in an LA Times/Bloomberg poll from late last year, 74 percent said the income gap was a problem; that share rises to 84 percent for families with incomes less the $40,000.

* One of the most recent economic polls, from Gallup in early April shows that only 29 percent think the economy is getting better, down from 38 percent in February; 60 percent think it’s getting worse, up from 52 percent in February. The Gallup pollsters said the results reveal a “gloomy economic mood across the country.

* Another poll out today on consumer sentiment posted a larger-than-expected slide to its lowest level since August.

Here is a reprint of a comment by Anthony Wikrent:

I believe it is some sort of low point for a professional economist to appear in a so-called liberal blog and openly wonder why so many of our fellow citizens are gloomy about their economic prospects.

After six years of fiddling with the numbers, such as removing the “core” from the consumer price index, the economic statistics posted by the Bush regime are a joke. They’ve politicized the “occupation authority” of Iraq, they’ve politicized the command structure of the military, they’ve politicized the EPA, they’ve politicized the Dept. of Justice – you honestly don’t think or suspect they’ve politicized national account statistics?

To get a real sense of the national economy, you have to avoid large urban areas and resort areas for a few weeks. Try spending a few days in towns like Cumberland, Maryland; Zanesville, Ohio; Evansville, Indiana; Corbin, Kentucky; Boonville, Missouri; Yankton, South Dakota; Aberdeen, Washington; Coos Bay, Oregon; and you will be slapped in the face with the grim economic reality that professional economists are apparently unaware of: the industrial base of the United States has been shut down, and nothing has replaced it. Well, that second part is not quite true. Every small town is chock a block full of “antique” stores and thrift stores and second hand stores where the former workers of small town factories, mines, and lumber mills anxiously display their hand-made crafts or estate sale finds in the hopes of attracting buyers. The sense of desperation is palpable.

I have also yet to see or hear of a discussion or study of just how much the national account statistics have been skewed by the financialization of the economy. According to the latest Quarterly Report from the Bank for International Settlements, dated March 2007:

Trading on the international derivatives exchanges slowed in the fourth quarter of 2006. Combined turnover of interest rate, currency and stock index derivatives fell by 7% to $431 trillion between October and December 2006.

(see page 24)


So, derivatives trading – mostly futures contracts on interest rates, foreign currencies, Treasury bonds, etc -- is now $1,200 trillion in a year. That’s $1.2 quadrillion a year.

By comparison, U.S. GDP last year $12.456 trillion.
( Table B-1 of the 2007 Economic Report of the President.

So the entire U.S. economy of goods and services produced is traded once every two days. Assume a speculator is able to capture as profit one fifth of one percent of that $1,200 trillion a year in derivatives turnover, and that is $2.4 trillion a year. Surely such monstrous numbers are skewing averages and means significantly.

Perhaps it is not easy to get your mind to grasp what an astonishing figure this $1,200 trillion is. If you took just one percent of it, $12.0 trillion, and divided that by the 270 million Americans not in the top ten percent of income, every man, women and child would get over $44,000. Imagine how different the economy would look if every person in the United States had been given an additional $44,000 in income every year over the past few years, instead of this:

The New York Times (Bob Herbert) reported yesterday that the 93 million non-farm production and nonsupervisory workers in the U.S. saw their real earnings go up by $15.4 billion between 2000 and 2006. That's half of the Wall Street bonuses paid by just five firms in 2006.


Personally, I think that $44,000 figure is rather interesting. Because, if the percentage change in wages from 1959 to 1981, when Reagan became President, had held at 5.478% for the past 26 years, average weekly earnings for private industry today would come to $53,802 in annual wages, rather than the $29,473 we now have. Not an exact correlation, but very, very interesting. (These are my own calculations, based on Table B-47. Hours and earnings in private nonagricultural industries, 1959-2006 in the 2007 and 2004 Economic Reports of the President. I have multiplied weekly earnings found in the table to arrive at annual earnings.)

Or how about this: There are 45 million kids in the U.S. aged 5 to 15. With one percent of the annual turnover in derivatives, we could build and staff a brand new elementary school for every hundred kids in the US.


For the full post by economist Jared Bernstein and discussion of his post, click on the title above.