Monday, March 31, 2008

Bush/Maliki regime looking irrelevant in Iraq

McClatchy has the most detailed report on the surprise peace deal in Basra yesterday. It signals that Iran now holds a very high level of political power in Iraq - unthinkable under Saddam. Al-Maliki's own party members out maneuvered him and have more or less publicly outed him as irrelevant to Iraq's future.

The NYT notes the irony here that the al-Maliki government is dependent on Muqtada al-Sadr to pull its fat from the fire:
'Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the campaign and that he is now in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival and now his opponent in battle, for a solution to the crisis.'

more at Juan Cole

image: Juan Cole

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Surge Breaker

With the cease-fire of the Sadrists now officially over, we will see afresh how degraded things are in Iraq. The civil war will now come to light and there is no catch phrase or false flag to spin around this moment. Links below are well worth reading about this bad development.

Police mutiny at Juan Cole

Who's who in the battle for Basra

Sadr's defense strategy

Iran's doubt's about Sadr?

Friday, March 28, 2008

"Zippy" the mortgage loan

As reporter Jeff Manning described Thursday, a JPMorgan Chase employee distributed a memo called "Zippy Cheats & Tricks," which reads like a tipsheet for beating a video game. It advises employees at the banking company how they can help mortgage brokers jigger the in-house system, called "Zippy," that evaluates loan applications. Overstate the borrower's income, it suggests. Don't mention that some borrowers are relying on gifts to repay their loans. Inflate assets. "Never fear," the memo reads. "Zippy can be adjusted . . ."

There's plenty of blame to go around in this debacle. But it's not overstating things to say that a set of financial sophisticates figured out some ingenious ways to profit from the desires of would-be homebuyers. Along the way, the system of incentives and accountability that used to characterize mortgage lending was unmoored and sent floating away, never to be missed until it crashed into the dock at the U.S. Treasury.

The JPMorgan Chase memo emerged from an environment in which wealth was generated from the size -- not the substance -- of the transaction. If a bank could sell a $600 million bundle of mortgage-based securities, instead of just $400 million; if a homebuyer could be delivered into a $550,000 house, instead of just $255,000; if there was always a willing lender somewhere in the chain; why should anyone worry about the risks?

Continue on at the Oregonian

tip via Kevin Drum

Thursday, March 27, 2008

anatomy of a smear: the Obama campaign

White Democrats who hold unfavorable views of Obama are much more likely than those who have favorable opinions of him to say that equal rights for minorities have been pushed too far; they also are more likely to disapprove of interracial dating, and are more concerned about the threat that immigrants may pose to American values. In addition, nearly a quarter of white Democrats (23%) who hold a negative view of Obama believe he is a Muslim. - Pew Foundation.
NOW on PBS tracked this smear campaign back in January - Anatomy of a Smear.

Timeline of a Smear

2006: The first chain e-mail circulated on the Internet contending that Obama is Muslim. (Politifact and other fact-checking websites have been unable to pinpoint the exact date)

Jan. 17, 2007: A discredited news story from, "Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background," reported that Obama had attended a madrassa, an Islamic religious school, as a child.

Jan. 19, 2007: Fox News' Fox & Friend First and Fox & Friends highlighted the report from InsightMag in its coverage without discrediting it. The weblog Think Progress noted that Fox even took caller comments about the allegations.

Jan. 20, 2007: New York Post article titled 'Osama' Mud Flies at Obama quoted Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson saying, "We have no connection to this story."

The week of Jan. 20, 2007: CNN, ABC-TV and the Associated Press sent reporters to the school Obama attended and reported that it was not a religious school but a public school.

Jan. 23, 2007: Washington Post article by media columnist Howard Kurtz, "Headmaster Disputes Claim That Obama Attended Islamic School", reported that the school Obama attended was not a religious school but a public school.

March, 15, 2007: A website article titled "The Enemy Within" dispelled the claim that Obama is a "radical, ideological Muslim."

Sept. 16, 2007: A photo of Obama that would later be used as the basis for anotherTime photo read, "Respect: Senator Barack Obama, Governor Bill Richardson, Senator Hillary Clinton and Ruth Harkin stand during the national anthem."

Oct. 2007: The first chain e-mail accompanying some version of an e-mailed photo circulated on the Internet questioning Obama's patriotism based on its contention that Obama refused to put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. One of the e-mails read: "He refused to not only put his hand on his heart during the pledge of allegiance, but refused to say the pledge ... how in the hell can a man like this expect to be our next Commander-in-Chief?"

Oct. 27, 2007: Snopes could not find any information substantiating the claim that Obama refused to put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. However, they did say that the following claim, "Photograph shows Barack Obama without his hand over his heart while the U.S. national anthem is being played," is true.

Nov. 9, 2007: The St. Petersburg Times publishes an article "E-mail assailing Obama's patriotism misses mark" pointing to the original Time photograph as evidence that the e-mail rumor makes a false claim. The article also discusses the new phenomenon of chain e-mails "ricocheting" around Internet.

Nov. 11, 2007: A video from ABC News confirmed that the photo was taken during the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Nov. 29, 2007: The Washington Post publishes an article, "Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him", by political reporter Perry Bacon Jr. exploring the rumors that Obama was Muslim. The article did not explicitly dispel those rumors.

Dec. 9, 2007: In response to "ferocious" criticism from readers and others, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell addresses Bacon's story in a column titled Refuting, or Feeding, the Rumor Mill. She writes: "My problems with the story...were that Obama's connections to Islam are slender at best; that the rumors were old; and that convincing evidence of their falsity wasn't included in the story."

Dec. 13, 2007: Despite being debunked by mainstream news organizations, the claim that Obama didn't place his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance is repeated on Bill O' Reilly's show. In response to a caller who says she's disturbed by Obama's alleged action, O'Reilly doesn't correct her and, according to, replies: "I think that Obama needs to answer some questions about his point of view, not only on the USA, but on a lot of things." negative rumor was taken in Indianola, Iowa, at the Harkin Steak Fry, an annual political event hosted by Sen. Tom Harkin. The caption on the

via: Art Levine/HuffPost/PBS NOW

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

obama gets it right again - a year ago

From Andrew Sullivan:

Obama warned of the impending mortgage crisis a year ago. Here's the relevant letter on March 22, 2007. On this and on Iraq and on Pakistan, his actual judgment simply put him on a level far beyond Clinton and McCain, let alone the current president. Judge for yourself:

Dear Chairman Bernanke and Secretary Paulson,

There is grave concern in low-income communities about a potential coming wave of foreclosures. Because regulators are partly responsible for creating the environment that is leading to rising rates of home foreclosure in the subprime mortgage market, I urge you immediately to convene a homeownership preservation summit with leading mortgage lenders, investors, loan servicing organizations, consumer advocates, federal regulators and housing-related agencies to assess options for private sector responses to the challenge.

We cannot sit on the sidelines while increasing numbers of American families face the risk of losing their homes.


I would also urge you to facilitate a serious conversation about the following:

* What standards investors should require of lenders, particularly with regard to verification of income and assets and the underwriting of borrowers based on fully indexed and fully amortized rates.

* How to facilitate and encourage appropriate intervention by loan servicing companies at the earliest signs of borrower difficulty.

* How to support independent community-based-organizations to provide counseling and work-out services to prevent foreclosure and preserve homeownership where practical.

* How to provide more effective information disclosure and financial education to ensure that borrowers are treated fairly and that deception is never a source of competitive advantage.

* How to adopt principles of fair competition that promote affordability, transparency, non-discrimination, genuine consumer value, and competitive returns.

* How to ensure adequate liquidity across all mortgage markets without exacerbating consumer and housing market vulnerability.

art market pushing your creative buttons?

This looks like a good panel topic at MOMA this coming Saturday.
DAA Collectors' Forum Is the Killer Art Market Killing Art?
Saturday, March 29, 2008, 10am - noon

Are the extravagant prices and record sales of the current art market affecting the creation and presentation of contemporary art? ADAA brings together curators, artists, and gallery owners to discuss the implications of today's "killer market" and its influence on how we look at art. The panelists will discuss such questions as: How do market forces impact the art being made today? Do these forces change the way the public approaches work? How can we make a distinction between art, fashion and design when confronted with the overwhelming commodification of culture? How does one find meaning in art if its significance is equated with its price?
My guess is of course it is if you are visible in that market. At minimum it affects the time artists have to give to their work which is why a lot of things look rushed and incomplete these days. I can't help but notice that Lehman Brothers is the sponsor ;)

image:Holger Thoss

Saturday, March 22, 2008


I'm not an IPhone owner, and have plenty of problems with the AT&T aspect of the device, but I got say reading this LA Times piece makes me shrug even more about owning one, in a lighthearted sort of way. Just listen to how one customer has enhanced his life and probably managed to irritate the hell out of everyone in the grocery store ...

Wil Shipley, a Seattle software developer, uses his iPhone at the Whole Foods fish counter to check websites for updates on which seafood is the most environmentally correct to purchase. He quizzes the staff on where and how a fish was caught. Because he carries the Internet with him, "I can be super-picky," he said
Oh I bet you are!

Note :Fewer than 1% of the 219 million cellphones in the U.S. are iPhones, according to M:Metrics. (One possible reason: An iPhone costs about $400.) That hasn't been enough to trigger a broader boom of Internet browsing on hand-held gadgets. The percentage of U.S. mobile phone users surfing the Internet over the last year has stayed flat at 13%, M:Metrics found.

image: LA Times

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Some very interesting observations on the surprising relationship global damming has on rising sea levels.

Sea levels have been rising for decades, due mostly to global warming caused by greenhouse gases.

The oceans are on average about 6.3 inches (16 centimeters) higher now than in 1930, when they started a noticeable upward climb. Melting glaciers and ice caps, along with ocean warming—water expands as it heats up—are the main culprits behind the increase.

But the new study shows that reservoirs are also an important factor. Rather than adding to sea-level rise, however, they have counteracted it by storing more water on land.

Since 1930 the storage of water has prevented a total of about 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) of sea-level rise.

Without dams, sea levels would have risen 30 percent more than they already have, according to research led by Benjamin Chao of National Central University in Taiwan.

Chao and colleagues report their findings in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

more reading at National Geographic

image: Reuters

moving round

we used to ask what might become after the orgy - mourning or melancholia? Doubtless neither, but an interminable clean-up of all the vicissitudes of modern history and its process of liberation (of peoples, sex, dreams, art and the unconscious - in short, of all that makes up the orgy of our times), in an atmosphere dominated by the apocalyptic presentiment that all this is coming to an end. - Baudrillard

image whiting tennis

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

5 painful years

Five years of Iraq lies:" How President Bush and his advisors have spent each year of the war peddling mendacious tales about a mission accomplished. I posit that each year of the war has been characterized by a central lie by the Bush propaganda machine.
Year 1: "There is no guerrilla war."
Year 2: "Iraq is a model democracy."

Year 3: "Zarqawi is causing all the trouble."

Year 4: "There is no Civil War."

Year 5: "Everything is calm now."

I also suggest that John McCain is pushing for:
Year 6: "Total victory is around the corner."
...continuing at Juan Cole and Salon

image:NY Times

Monday, March 17, 2008

and who is the ideal Playboy man?

As Hugh Hefner once famously wrote in an early Playboy, his ideal reader enjoyed “inviting a female acquaintance in for a quiet discussion of Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, and sex....

Today we have the Emporer's Club - high rollers, get your art here.

image: Emporer's Club/Artnet

Friday, March 14, 2008

obama mama

"She felt that, somehow, wandering through uncharted territory, we might stumble upon something that will, in an instant, seem to represent who we are at the core," said Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's half-sister. "That was very much her philosophy of life - to not be limited by fear or narrow definitions, to not build walls around ourselves and to do our best to find kinship and beauty in unexpected places."

The International Herald Tribune has a fantastic bio piece on Barack Obama's mother - Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro. Read it and you'll feel better about people. A truly fascinating and courageous person. I can't remember which rightwing talkin nut was postulating that she was some 'red activist' from the '50's - underscores how absurd our media pundtry is and how lazy in their 'research'.

Image: Herald Tribune

Monday, March 10, 2008

for your lil' brown shirt at home

Playmobil Security Checkpoint
Product Description
From the Manufacturer
The woman traveler stops by the security checkpoint. After placing her luggage on the screening machine, the airport employee checks her baggage. The traveler hands her spare change and watch to the security guard and proceeds through the metal detector. With no time to spare, she picks up her luggage and hurries to board her flight!

I can't tell if this is legitimate or a hilarious hack job into Amazon. Really worth reading the comments here.

web duty

image: xkcd