Let's start with the most outrageous major news story from this morning. Yes, AIG payouts to banks with TARP funds it received is outrageous. And yes, we need to know more about the relationship between Goldman Sachs and AIG. But I am referring to the Pope's opinion that condoms either can worsen or already worsen crises in Africa. I hope that we've reached a point in our history in which the words of a politician or religious leader cannot override scientific fact. Perhaps the right thing to do is to ignore Pope Benedict XVI, as we live in a secular world and shouldn't have to listen to what the leader of a shrinking, anti-sexuality, minority religion thinks about condoms, and the role they play in worsening crises in the world's poorest continent.
But I am a strong birth control and HIV prevention advocate. I'm going to try a bad analogy here, but condoms are to the fight against HIV and unintended pregnancy what the AK-47 is to to rise of insurgent warfare. In other words, condoms are cheap, effective, and have changed the landscape in the context of their use (in this case, barrier birth control, not civil war). If anything, this world needs more condoms, not less (OK, that's where the AK-47 analogy ends - there's over 70 million Kalashnikov rifles in the world). The world still has a deadly pandemic on its hands, and the HIV virus is most transmitted in Africa and Asia. Condemning condom distribution and/or their use is an opinion that is not grounded in scientific fact, logic, or reality itself.
It certainly seems to this author that the Pope discounted the effects of civil war, genocide, poverty, and refugee crises, and pointed a finger at a life-saving medical device for making life worse in Africa.
Embarking on his first visit to Africa, the Pope said that distributing condoms is 'not the answer' to figting HIV in Africa. Well then, seat belts are 'not the answer' to reducing deaths in motor vehicle accidents. And immunizing children against polio is 'not the answer' to keeping the disease nearly extinct in the human population.
Considering that Africa is the only continent where Roman Catholicism is growing, and the very conservative, irrational views of both the African senior clergy and the Vatican on issues of human sexuality and birth control, I think it is a fair prediction that the next pope will be African. It was my prediction last time, and I'm sticking to it the next time around. The growth of Catholicism in Africa has been explosive, thanks primarily to the strategic evangelical projects under Pope John Paul II, who visited the continent 16 times.
To his credit, the Pope did make this statement when he arrived in Cameroon:
"In the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent," he said on his arrival.Certainly the Catholic Church is a powerful voice for peace and justice. I just feel that attacking condoms is highly ill-advised.
Freedom is on the Retreat: Coup in Madagascar hands power to Andry Rajoelina, a man too young to become president under the current constitution. While I understand that outgoing president Marc Ravalomanana is not a poster child for democracy, I have to agree with the African Union that his ouster is an undemocratic coup d'etat.
Late-breaking changes to Formula One rules: And there are a few of them. Drivers must put in more autograph session hours and be more available to the media. Low-budget teams will have the option to operate under a $42M annual budget cap in-exchange for more freedoms regarding technical and aerodynamic changes during the season. And car weights will now be announced (and published online) after Saturday qualifying. But most significant and surprising of all, the FIA has announced that the number of race wins will determine the drivers championship, with points only being used in the result of a tie. That's huge. Had that rule existed in years past, Philippe Massa would have won the driver's championship last season, and Nigel Mansell would have three F1 titles instead of one.
My take is that this rule change is risky. What would happen if a driver won 6 or 7 races before August? Would he and the team have an incentive to sit-out consecutive races and coast-in for the championship come October? Races in F1 are all run on team strategy. So will the new strategy be to win the first race, and then do everything short of foul play to knock-out contenders in subsequent races? This will be interesting, but I fear it is going to be a bad experiment. There was a reason F1 used a points-based championship for decades. The current teams were asking for a restructuring of the points system and the FIA imposed a radical rule change instead.
And last on my list, a recycled Slate St. Patrick's Day article: The man behind the green beer and myth, by David Plotz (originally published on March 17, 2000).
Leave it Jon Stewart and the staff at The Daily Show to nail CNBC's Rick Santelli and his faux, bullshit populism. Jon Stewart is one of the only people in the mainstream media to have a rebuttal for Mr. Santelli's absurd, yet highly popular rant from the floor of the CME in February.
David Patterson may have ruined his political future this month, not to mention put a Democratic US Senate seat at risk in the 2010 election. I can't re-hash the entire story. But I can offer some highlights and reactions.
Let's begin with an event that the vat majority of NY State residents have forgotten - the governor's State of the State speech. According to insiders, the Governor spent over 60 hours writing and memorizing the speech, which the governor later confirmed. After it received mainly bad reviews, the governor publicly stated that he was ill the day he delivered the speech.
Allow me to put-aside the poor judgement and lack of politician-grade speaking skills ('you know') of Caroline Kennedy. And I'll put-aside the governor's selection of Congresswoman Kristen Gillibrand.
Here's just a sample from the mainstream NY press on how Patterson's month began with a forgettable speech and ended with him putting both a Democratic Senate seat and his own tenure as Governor at risk.
NY Daily News: Caroline Kennedy was in over her head, but Gov. David Paterson crew stoops low
If Paterson looks indecisive, he has no one to blame but himself. Within a single seven-hour span, he told reporters in Washington he had a "good idea" who he would pick, then told Katie Couric he was "not totally sure," then assured one contender he had not made up his mind.NY Daily News:
Paterson's brain trust didn't think to circulate a 28-page questionnaire to the candidates until early January. Later, though, the governor admitted he had not read the answers.
He refused to share a blank copy of the form with the public. Yet when a world-famous candidate filled one out, her sensitive answers got to the press.
Paterson was turned off when Kennedy first called him and asked if she "could" be considered for the seat.NY Times (registration required): In Selection Mess, Paterson Dug Hole Deeper
By asking if she could, rather than saying she wanted to be considered, Paterson immediately felt she wasn't really interested, the source said.
In meetings, the governor and his aides decided she had no political depth, the source said.
In the aftermath, many top Democrats and even friends of Mr. Paterson see his governorship as reeling and troublingly disorganized. They believed that this was to be his defining year, one in which he could move beyond the unusual circumstances of his ascension to high office and prove he could lead the state through a perilous fiscal crisis.NY Post: GOV SAYS CAROLINE TURNED 'NASTY'
Some were unusually open in questioning the approach — and judgment — of the governor and the people around him.
Paterson said that Kennedy had called him to say she was having second thoughts and "he asked her to wait a day and he thought she had agreed," another attendee recalled.
Then, he said, he couldn't get her on the phone for hours.
"He was absolutely frustrated that he couldn't reach her," the guest said of how Paterson described the scene. "He thought maybe she was sick. He felt she was being nasty to him, that she showed great disrespect."
Miscommunication happens at all levels in this advanced electronic age. But in retrospect, if Governor Patterson needed to track-down Ms. Kennedy at a critical time, he had several options and resources available to him. He has staff in New York City who could have tracked her down. He knew her address. He even has a private train that can transport him to Penn Station in just over 2 hours. For him to be upset that he couldn't call her back, then make his selection anyway, and then allow his staff to insult Ms. Kennedy as the process came to a close is simply unacceptable, and may surely cost the governor his first formal bid for election in November 2010. For a man who has a reputation of being professional, humorous, and fair, this month has shown us a David Patterson who has been anything but.
It's been a month of fake controversies for Barack Obama. Let's try to recap briefly.
The 'vault copy' of Obama's Honolulu birth certificate? Not Obama's problem. He couldn't release a 'vault copy' even if he sent feds or his lawyers to Honolulu to retrieve it. It stays in the vault. And the state employee who saw it and validated the public copies says there's no controversy whatsoever. Oh, and there is Obama's 1961 birth announcement in the newspaper. Conspiracy theory, indeed. The wingnuts say that Barry could kill this controversy by answering questions about the circumstances related to his birth. But do wingnuts deserve a second of our time outside of our wonderful left-wing blogosphere)? No. Besides, do you really think a Barry tell-all would shut them up about this? No. Moving on.
The unknown number of liberals and Hispanics upset with Obama's cabinet and security selections? Please. A new NBC/WSJ poll shows that nearly 70% of Americans approve of Obama's selections. And really, did any rational Liberals think Obama was going to appoint hippies, activists, and community organizers to the most powerful board in the Federal government? We want competence and accountability in the Obama White House. On paper alone, his cabinet beats Bush's previous two.
The arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich? Not Obama's problem. In fact John Dickerson's analysis of Obama's clean denial is utterly ridiculous. Dickerson used to be a rational critic of Bush's press conferences. But to argue that Obama's voluntary answer on the Blagojevich arrest suggests he has something to hide is infuriating. This is the Liberal media at work. And Dickerson was not the only reporter trying hard to bend and twist the story to somehow tie Obama to it. Of course I think Barry was either told to stay away from Blagojevich, or learned first-hand how corrupt he was. His office (David Axelrod or Rahm Emanuel) might have even dropped the dime on the governor. But that's the end of the story. This is not Obama's problem.
David Shuster shoots down Republican strategist Alex Johnson on Wednesday afternoon:
Chris Matthews schools McCain spokeswoman Nancy Pfotenhaue just over an hour later on Hardball:
Joe the Plumber has been having a tough week. He would really want the elitist news media to get off of his lawn:
"I'm just a plumber. I just want to get on with my life and do my job," Joe Wurzelbacher said in an interview on Friday outside his modest home in middle America. "I'd prefer to do that without people camped out on my doorstep."But then Mike Huckabee puts Joe on his weekly TV show, and we are introduced to Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, media critic.
"The media's worried about whether I've paid my taxes, they're worried about any number of silly things that have nothing to do with America," Wurzelbacher told the former Republican presidential hopeful on his show, "Huckabee."Time for Joe to go away. The way to do that, dear news media, is to pack-up and move-on. Please do so.
Wurzelbacher said he felt terrible after reading some of the criticism of himself posted online.
"I felt about that small," he said. "I mean I really did."
Get Joe off my television.
Just wanted to point-out three recent events that have not been covered in the mainstream media - two big and one small.
1. You may have noticed that pictures, videos, and coverage from Galveston, TX have not been plentiful. Ike was a devistating hurricane - on-par with hurricane Andrew and close to Katrina in terms of the cost of damage. In terms of how many homes were destroyed, it was on-par with Katrina. But you probably didn't see much of the aftermath. That's because Galveston's mayor, Lyda Ann Thomas, kicked the press out and prohibited city employees from talking to the press.
2. Glenn Greenwald at Salon is one of the only journalists to point this out: For the first time since the end of the Civil War, a US Army brigade has been assigned for duty in the US mainland. Didn't hear about that? Read about it here.
3. And in Anchoridge, AK, back on September 17th, there was a good-sized anti-Palin rally. Hundreds showed-up. Pictures below.
Because it turns out that Joseph Sullivan, the principal of Gloucester High School, embellished the story of teenage girls forming a pregnancy 'pact' in his school. The didn't act disappointed when they got negative pregnancy tests. They didn't plan group baby showers. And they didn't give each-other high-fives when they received positive pregnancy tests. Those are the fabrications he told Time magazine, and it became a sensational national news headline last week.
I have never been to France. But I have heard time and again an interesting, little-understood fact. While it is true that the French tend to be snobs, somewhat condescending, and have a bit of an attitude problem, they are wonderful people compared to a minority group found in their major cities. That group is Chinese nationals, or to be more specific, Chinese businesspeople, or, as the Chinese government calls them, "Patriotic Capitalists."
We should re-familiarize ourselves with the Chinese flag. The big yellow star represents the communist state. The four smaller stars represent peasants (farmers), laborers (manufacturing workers), petty bourgeoisie, and "Patriotic Capitalists." It is the Patriotic Capitalists who have the privilege to do business overseas, representing their state and their businesses all over the world. One place they have found opportunity and prosperity is France. And without getting into a long post solely about them, I have been told time and again that Chinese businesspeople in France are monsters. They might be rudest, nastiest, least likable people found in all of Western Europe. Taking over the VIP section of clubs and ordering Cristal is expected when you are wealthy and have a healthy ego. I hear these people make Kanye West look like a quiet college professor.
So keep an eye out for stories about them. If what I hear is true, then the Wingnuts have gotten it all wrong. The monsters in France are not Muslim youths in housing projects. They are these Chinese millionaires shitting on and in Paris, Lyon, and Nice.
The French have demonstrated their dislike of this small minority, which I applaud. And today, I have an even bigger reason to applaud the French. Today, they clearly showed their dislike of the Chinese communist state. They snuffed-out the Olympic torch. Actually, they force the officials protecting the torch to extinguish the flame 3 times. Note that they did not extinguish the Olympic flame, which is enclosed in a protective, transparent lantern. But still, this moght be the first time than an anti-Olympic protest snuffed-out an Olympic torch. The Parisians did what the British protesters yesterday could not (they deserve kudos nevertheless):
And as of 14:00 New York time, Reuters and UPI report that the 17-mile Paris torch relay was aborted before it reached its end point. It had been nearly 3 hours behind schedule due to the protests.
Merrill Lynch rocked: At first, Merrill reported a $7 Billion loss due to poor sourced mortgage investments. Analysts on the street estimated that it was more like $12 Billion. Now Merrill has become a little more honest and is expected to report a $15 Billion loss, as it scrambles to raise cash and slow hiring. The DOW slides as the skies darken over the entire financial sector. American Express and Tiffany have both been rocked today due to lower consumer spending, a trend that will continue all year. Even McDonalds is down a whopping $4 today.
Bank M&A action: Charlotte-based Bank of America has decided to purchase bleeding mortgage lender, Countrywide, for $4 Billion. That would make Bank of America the nation's largest mortgage lender. Details of the deal are sketchy, which makes this amateur analyst wonder about the risk and wisdom of such a deal. Countrywide shares have fallen 15% today in reaction to this news. Meanwhile, Chase is in preliminary talks to purchase Washington Mutual, which is also seriously bleeding in this lending crisis. That would almost make Chase the nation's second largest bank. But it would be a solid third place, right behind Bank of America and Citi. Watch more banks report losses next week. Eyes will be on PNC, SunTrust, and other 'super-regionals' similar to WaMu. Big banks could bail-out smaller banks.
Think the surge worked?: The mainstream media has reported that the surge in Iraq worked. But now, as the surge has to wind-down this spring, the pentagon is saying that the overall success of the surge has a 50/50 chance at best. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mark Kimmitt acknowledged at a right-wing think tank that the surge will be judged a failure if the Iraqi government cannot unite the country, reconcile major political stalemates, and keep violence levels relatively low as they were in late 2007. The video of Mr. Kimmitt speaking is at the ThinkProgress link above.
And speaking of Iraq violence: A new World Heath Organization report has a very conservative estimate that 150,000 Iraqis died violently during the first 3 years of the US occupation. At first glace, it seems to be a rebuttal to last year's Lancet study, which estimated 600,000 excess deaths (by all unnatural causes, including disease, suffered by anyone who died in Iraq). But Juan Cole points out the study's methodology and assumptions, and it turns out that it could have easily concluded that 250,000 have died. But the WHO report opted to keep the number conservative. Add two more years that the report does not cover, and the Lancet study isn't so outrageous after all. In any case, the bottom line is we destroyed a country, and we made ordinary Iraqis refugees, widows, orphans, amputees, disabled, and dead. No number crunching can get around our nation's worst foreign policy decisions in 30 years, and what has become part of our generation's legacy. And for the most part, we have ignored it.
Rudy's sinking ship: Senior Giuliani staffers are forgoing paychecks this month. And while the mainstream media did not report that Rudy spent nearly $3 Million on New Hampshire, and finished behind Ron Paul, it is now becoming apparent that his strategy to focus on Florida is going to backfire. He might still finish third in Florida. But there's no way he can win the GOP nomination now.
Rudy's fiscal insanity: Oh, and Rudy knows his economics! He has repeated his plan to not only cut taxes further for the rich, but he'll balance out those cuts with addiditonal tax cuts! The economy needs stimulus and Rudy's proposed cuts are twice as big as Ronald Reagan's. Economists chuckle.