Daily Flog: Bailing out the planet's investors; a swift boot to Olbermann

Running down the press:

Great news for Wall Streeters this morning! The public's going to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and it's only going to cost you $100 billion or so, and you (and perhaps the Democrats) will be taking on an additional $6 trillion in debt.

When blacks were recently freed slaves and not presidential candidates, this financial system was referred to as sharecropping and owing your soul to the company store.

But the average American in the 21st century will be doing global investors a big favor, as the Wall Street Journal reports, amid the news of booming stock markets around the globe:

The bailout of "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has reduced the risk of a spiraling U.S. mortgage crisis and therefore has made the world a safer place for global investors," said the foreign exchange strategy team at Commerzbank.

Ah, the world's a safer place. Bloomberg notes the huge gains for European banks, and the Times humanizes the frightening event by anthropomorphizing:

Investors around the world breathed a sigh of relief Monday after the U.S. government took over and backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, assuring a continued flow of credit through America’s wounded mortgage system.

In other bailout news, MSNBC bailed out of news coverage of the presidential campaign by pulling the anchor chairs out from beneath Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews.

The cynic and yeller, respectively, added too much color to a campaign that already includes a black candidate. Republicans were enraged at Olbermann's sneering at Sarah Palin.

Brian Stelter at the Times broke the news yesterday, noting:

When the vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin lamented media bias during her speech, attendees of the Republican convention loudly chanted “N-B-C.”

MSNBC's bailout was great news for Fox, whose screaming TV talking heads paved the way for MSNBC's attempt to grab a liberal audience by doing kinda the same thing.

Fox now stands alone, and its sister Murdoch property, the Post, celebrated by bannering its official endorsement of John McCain for president. There's a shocker, but that "enthusiastically urges" opinion is expected to have no effect on the paper's news coverage of the race.

The Post's Page Six — "Chris & Keith 'Left' Out" —has more on MSNBC's swift-boot maneuver, in addition to the gossip page's daily scoop about Britney Spears again being pissed off about too much publicity (this time it's about her mom's book).

Regarding the bailout of the less shapely Fannie, which Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson portrayed as a positive move for taxpayers that may even result in gains for them as well, today's New York Sun chips in with the most interesting take, editorializing that the move was, in effect, the nationalizing of the companies:

Imagine if the Bush administration, having decided that gasoline prices are too high, decided to nationalize ExxonMobil.

So if Paulson is wrong, the downside of that tighter regulation of, say, an oil company, as the Sun's analogy has it, would be . . .?

If you really want to cut through the bullshit, go to the BBC, which reports that the bailout staves off a "'30s style depression" in the U.S. Or see McClatchy, whose Kevin G. Hall had the guts to point out way high, in his fifth graf, that the seizure is akin to bankruptcy proceedings:

Fannie and Freddie will continue to operate as normal but under conservatorship, a process similar to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, where a business is allowed to restructure its operations.

The words "depression," "bankruptcy," and "Chapter 11" didn't make their way into the Times's main story.

The BBC explains things better than most:

The move is intended to keep the two companies afloat, amid fears that either could go bankrupt as borrowers default on their home loans.

Together, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae own or guarantee about $5.3 trillion (£3 trillion) of mortgages.

But they have made a combined loss of about $14bn in the past year and officials were worried that they would no longer be able to continue functioning if such losses continued.

Banks around the world are highly exposed to the two companies and therefore, given the febrile state of markets across the world, it had become dangerous for doubts to persist about whether they were viable and would be able to keep up the payments on their massive liabilities, says the BBC's business editor Robert Peston.


Post: 'NYPD (BIG) BLUE FLAP: COMMISH IN COMMERCIAL THAT HAILS IBM'

Veteran crimebuster Murray Weiss took time out to watch some golf on TV and produced this interesting piece:

For the first time, the city's police commissioner has appeared in a television commercial that helps burnish the image of a major company that does business with the NYPD.

During the recent British Open golf tournament, tens of millions of viewers were treated to a polished, two-minute ad produced and paid for by IBM, a k a "Big Blue."

The spot featured Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly - along with an IBM executive - extolling state-of-the-art technology used by the NYPD's "Real Time Crime Center" to help quickly solve crimes.

Why would Kelly do this? Weiss notes:

Government watchdog groups voiced concerns about the commercialization of a public agency, noting the corporate behemoth reaps untold benefits from the reputations of Kelly and the NYPD.

"It is appropriate for the public to question why a public agency would lend their endorsement to a private company," said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York, adding that it's "surprising that the police commissioner would personally appear."

Present and former city officials polled by the Post could not recall another time when a sitting commissioner and their agency were used in a similar fashion. Kelly was not paid for his appearance.

Weiss doesn't mention it, but Kelly was paid plenty — in free publicity should he decide to run for mayor.


Post: 'HAMPTONS HOLY WAR'

The infidel Selim Algar's fine coverage of a Jew vs. Jew battle:

Tensions over the proposed creation of a symbolic Orthodox Jewish boundary in a tony Long Island hamlet boiled over yesterday at a raucous meeting in Westhampton Beach.

Organized by a group called Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, the rowdy morning gathering of more than 250 people pitted Reform Jews against Orthodox Jews.

Clearly, Westhampton is more of an Irv or Sid hamlet than a Tony one.


L.A. Times: 'Sarah Palin's leadership style has admirers and critics'

A chickenshit cop-out headline on a pretty good story whose subhead foreshadows the meat of a real tale that, unfortunately, also steps gingerly into the debate over her lack of qualifications: "Some who have worked with the Alaska governor say her bold approach is lacking in follow-through, and that she punishes those who dare say 'no.' "


Der Spiegel: 'Trouble in the North Caucasus: Russia’s Restless Muslim Republics'

Ignored by papers on this side of the Atlantic is the troublemaking of McCain, who isn't even the U.S. president yet.

If you think that the Georgia-Russia war is bad news, a spread into full-scale conflict involving big bad Russia and the other crazy Caucasoid republics would be even worse, and guess who's lighting the match? The German site reports:

In response to Russia’s recognition of the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, US presidential candidate John McCain said that after Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Western countries ought to think about "the independence of the North Caucasus and Chechnya.” That would definitely be pouring oil on the fire.

And we don't have the oil to spare, unless Palin and McCain tap Alaska's big butt.

Oh, yes, frequent flyer-by-the-seat-of-his-pants McCain, please thrust us into Chechnya. Talk about Vietnam all over again. How about sending some "advisers" over there? Then it would be the entire U.S., not just McCain, held hostage by an unwinnable war.

Der Schwarzer und der Rednecks

A German journalist tries to peel back America's real presidential race.

Race is of course not totally hidden in the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain. But how much racism is bubbling under the surface? Leave it to them furriners to rub our noses in it.

Der Speigel's Gerhard Spörl has a fresh piece, "The Hidden Issue in the US Presidential Campaign," that delves into it as few U.S. outlets have the guts to do.

Race, he says, is getting "short shrift" in this race. Here's an excerpt:

The race issue has dogged the United States from the very moment of the country's birth and remains, despite being pushed into the background by political correctness, unresolved. Now, the issue of race is playing a role in weakening Obama and strengthening McCain and almost no one wants to talk about it. Indeed, the issue of race in the campaign has become the province of the lunatic fringe -- such as radio personality Rush Limbaugh. Obama's candidacy, he said on air, "goes back to the fact that nobody had the guts to stand up and say no to a black guy." He also referred to Obama as the "little black man child."

A couple of weeks ago, Spörl, the paper's foreign-desk chief, did an interesting piece (which I wrote about in "Bush and the Caucasians") trying to link the Caucasus madness to Bush's foreign-policy flops.

His new piece doesn't give you any new facts, but he's produced a provocative take that probably only a non-American can write. Here's some more:

Obama's skin color has, to be sure, already been touched upon in the campaign. For the most part, though, references have been veiled and indirect — and occasionally underhanded.

Hillary Clinton broached the subject with particularly elegant perfidy. When she brought up Robert Kennedy and Barack Obama in the same sentence, the subtext was: Well, Bobby Kennedy was murdered, so maybe it'd be a good thing if I stay in the race.

Bill Clinton compared Obama to Jesse Jackson, a man that has made many white voters uncomfortable in the past. And Geraldine Ferraro, who would have become vice president if Walter Mondale hadn't lost the 1984 election to Ronald Reagan, complained about Obama allegedly being treated better by journalists because of his race -- as if it were some priceless advantage to be born black in America and an insurmountable disadvantage to be white.

And after noting that the Clintons "prefer to attribute all their defeats to plots, conspiracies or monumental injustices," Spörl writes:

Obama was better than Hillary: better at speaking, cleverer in the way he ran his campaign. He was the cool new kid on the block. His skin color certainly didn't tip the scales in the Democratic primary battle, but it seemed not to be a disadvantage either.

Now, though, it's McCain against Obama, Republican against Democrat, old against young -- and, more than anything else, white against black. McCain, of course, hasn't broached the race issue directly. But indirectly, the argument goes like this: To be white means to be like John McCain -- patriotic, bedecked with medals and honors, self-sacrificing and a hero. To be black means to be like Barack Obama -- eager for the spotlight, similar to a Hollywood actor, egocentric, flippant and lacking truly American values. White America is -- subtly and adroitly -- being mobilized against black America.

Daily Flog: Russian Bear Goes Bullish; Pakistan Dithers; Obama Strikes Back

(Roy Edroso of Runnin' Scared here. Even gadflies have to rest their wings sometimes, so Ward Harkavy is on vacation and I'm filling in as best I can for a few days. )

Reuters: "Russia says troops to leave Georgia"

Having rejected a U.N. plan that would have evacuated them from a "buffer zone" on Georgia's side of the South Ossetia border, Russia agrees to abide by French President Sarkozy's original plan and withdaw its forces from deeper inside the former Soviet Socialist Republic by Friday.

The West is unmoved. Secretary of State Rice says the Russians "intend to strangle Georgia and its economy" and are "more and more the outlaw in this conflict."

The Wall Street Journal mocks the warnings NATO ministers gave Russia in Brussels ("not going to permit a new line to be drawn in Europe") as "Empty Words," because "there was no move to fast-track Georgia's bid to join NATO, nor a pledge to help the battered democracy rebuild its defenses."

Meanwhile Georgia accuses Russia of holding Georgia hostages and stealing American Humvees (which Russia admits, or rather boasts) and holds a hard line on total Russian evacuation.

It's hard to judge the level of seriousness with which these sabers are being rattled. Do Putin and Medvedev want Georgia, or just Peace With Honor in South Ossetia? Does the West have the stomach for Cold War II or any other kind of war with Russia? We'll see where the chess pieces lay on Saturday morning.


Bloomberg: "Musharraf Ouster Fails to End Deadlock Over Judges"

You'd think Musharraf's resignation would lead to at least a brief period comity among the members of the Pakistan ruling colation. But they're arguing over the dispenation of the judges Musharref fired and placed under house arrest last year to maintain the strength of his shaky dictatorship. "Sharif [of the Pakistan Muslim League] wants the judges restored through a parliamentary resolution that sends the present judiciary back home," says Bloomberg. "Zardari [of the People's Party, and husband of the late Benazir Bhutto] prefers reinstatement that also retains the current judges appointed by Musharraf on Nov. 3." Pakistan's Geo TV says Zadari also wants "indemnity" for Mushareff before the judges return, lest they wreak vengeance.

"If I were the Bush administration," the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations' Daniel Markey tells Bloomberg, "I'd kiss goodbye the chance of having a workable Pakistani government" this year. That's bad news for the Bush Administration, which has counted on Pakistan to help contain Taliban agents in the region.

Bush's weak response to the Pakistani impeachment crisis and continued support for the departed dictator suggests that he is unsure which new government faction to support -- that is, which will prevail. But with his network of foreign support crumbling worldwide, he may not have time to wait before picking a side.


New York Times: "Obama’s Ads in Key States Go on Attack"

Obama, "whose candidacy has been built in part on a promise to transcend traditional politics," has nonetheless started running "sustained and hard-hitting" negative ads against McCain on local TV, while his national ads retain a sunnier aspect. The new ads contrast what-we-worry McCain stump quotes with the dire state of the nation, and stress the connection between McCain and the unpopular current President.

Evan Tracey of TNS' Campaign Media Analysis Group calls it "go[ing] quietly negative."

The Times questions Obama's use of a clueless McCain quote on the economy that "was from a debate in January, before the economy took several turns for the worse," and says that McCain has seen been properly gloomy on the subject since. FactCheck.org also complains.

Considering that McCain's ads have of late been about how Obama is like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, this is rich and we don't mean Frank. In negative advertising, the Obama campaign is so much more sinned against than sinning -- not to mention damaged by the relentless McCain onslaught -- that they can probably afford to ignore the pearl-clutching of the Times and FactCheck.org.

Refreshingly, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon seems to think so, too. "It’s ‘game on, the money’s in the bank," says McMahon. "Let the McCain campaign chase us around the country, if they can find us."

Daily Flog: Campaign's rich laughs; Bolt beats Phelps; fatal wounds to Musharraf, John Galt, Georgia, and a boxer

Running down the press:

Gross overplaying of the Phelps story all over the press — "his cellphone is blowing up . . . the hottest commodity in China right now was made in the USA," ESPN breathlessly "reports" this morning.

No matter all the hubbub about Michael Phelps and his eight gold medals — he's great, even though some of them were earned with the collaboration of others, and all of them were predicted — here's the fact:

Usain Bolt: Fastest person on Earth. Unexpected, and in the most basic, fundamental athletic competition.

Next to him, Phelps is just another pretty gill.

I love to swim, and luckily I live by the ocean. But any kid who's ever run around a playground (and that's just about every kid on the planet who's physically able to) can appreciate what Usain Bolt did, despite the fact that he's a Jamaican, not a jingoized American athlete.

Simon Turnbull says it best, in the Independent (U.K.):

For 9.69 seconds, this 6ft 5in Jamaican phenomenon had taken off and touched speeds no human had ever before reached without technological assistance.

We're assuming (and hoping) that Bolt is not on on a speed-inducing drug (or drug-induced speed).

And so what if he coasted and boasted to the finish line? What winning kid on the playground hasn't?


Times: 'U.S. Watched as a Squabble Turned Into a Showdown'

The paper promo'd it this way:

The U.S. seemed to have missed -- or gambled it could manage -- the depth of Russia's anger and the resolve of Georgia's leader to provoke the Russians.

In other words, George W. Bush can say, as he said in Iraq in May 2003: "Mission accomplished."


Times: 'In Areas Under Russian Control, Limits for Western Media'

Russian authorities have given Western journalists little or no access to villages that have been looted and burned in Russian-controlled areas of South Ossetia and northern Georgia, making a full public accounting of the aftermath of the violence here all but impossible.

Would it be asking too much — and I guess it was — to at least mention the severe limits the Bush regime likewise placed on Western journalists covering the Iraq War who weren't embedded?

Not asking for a mention of the phony agitprop that the Bush regime sometimes tried to get away with (I broke one of those stories, in October 2005).

Just one tiny mention of the Bush regime's censorship of press coverage in Iraq.


Post: 'SLAIN BOXER'S 'DANCE' OF DEATH'

Nice job by Joe Mollica on a very brief piece:

Dancing to blaring music from his hours-old car stereo sparked the murder of rising South Bronx boxer Ronney "Venezuela" Vargas, his grieving older brother said yesterday.


Post: 'SHELTER IS. REHAB STORM'

A proposal to open a luxury drug and alcohol rehab center on the grounds of a historic East End inn has enraged area residents, who fear the chi-chi cleanup camp will spoil their island's tranquility.

The owners of the Ram's Head Inn, overlooking Coecles Bay on tony Shelter Island, have agreed to lease their 18-room colonial building to an entrepreneur who hopes to have the sober school up and running in November.

"Sober school," right. I stayed there several years ago, when it was a well-appointed, but dying and empty, hotel, and the place was as creepy as the manse in The Shining.

Maybe it would scare these rich addicts straight.


Post: 'DA TIGHTENS NOOSE IN DEUTSCHE PROBE: GRAND JURY WEIGHS RAPS VS. CONTRACTOR'

A self-proclaimed "exclusive" on the 9/11 reconstruction-in-progress building:

One year after two firefighters died in a ferocious inferno at the former Deutsche Bank building, a grand jury has been eyeing evidence of racketeering and money laundering against the contractors in charge of the structure, The Post has learned.

Among the issues being probed is that officials from John Galt Corp., which was subcontracted by Bovis Lend Lease to raze the tower, laundered millions of dollars through various shell companies, sources said yesterday.

One angle the story doesn't address: Who are the principals of this corporation that's being probed?

More to the point: Who is John Galt? Waiting for Dagny Taggart's folo.


Daily News: 'Safety warnings were ignored before Deutsche Bank fire'

Not too exclusively, this story has more detail, noting:

Inspectors hired to look for safety failings warned a dozen times that John Galt, the company decontaminating and demolishing the tower, did not have enough safety managers to watch for blowtorch sparks.

Wait till Dagny Taggart finds John Galt. You'll really see some sparks.


L.A. Times: 'Who's rich? McCain and Obama have very different definitions'

Some rich campaign laughs, some of them at McCain's expense, in Greg Miller's extremely interesting piece this morning.

Obama: "I would argue that if you are making more than $250,000, then you are in the top 3, 4 percent of this country. You are doing well."

McCain: "I think if you're just talking about income, how about $5 million?" He added that he knew "that comment will be distorted"; his campaign later insisted that he was joking.

What a knee-slapper.

Seriously, some of the quotes in the story are funny.

No doubt Miller's editors insisted on the tired old dictum of making him get quotes from "experts," but the ones he dug up are doozies:

Rand economist James P. Smith: "To be fair to both of them, 'rich' is an adjective. Economic science is not going to tell you that 'this' is the cutoff point."

Americans are laughing all the way to the food bank.

Not mentioned in Miller's story — I'm not being critical of him — is the "economic science". From the Census Bureau in August 2007, some "cutoff points":

There were 36.5 million people in poverty in 2006, not statistically different from 2005. The number of people without health insurance coverage rose from 44.8 million (15.3 percent) in 2005 to 47 million (15.8 percent) in 2006.

And what's the official cutoff of "poverty"?

As defined by the Office of Management and Budget and updated for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, the weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2006 was $20,614; for a family of three, $16,079; for a family of two, $13,167; and for unrelated individuals, $10,294.

Agence France Presse analyzed those stats this way:

The number of poor out of the total US population of 302 million was equivalent to the entire state of California — paradoxically one of the richest states — one-and-a-half times the population of Malaysia or nearly everyone in the central European nation of Poland living in poverty.

Not trying to be funny, I wrote in September 2004, during that particularly abysmal presidential campaign:

As NYU professor Ed Wolff has pointed out, the richest 1 percent of American households own 38 percent of all wealth. And as the Center for Responsive Politics notes, fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of the U.S. population gave 83 percent of all campaign contributions over $200 for the 2002 midterm congressional elections.

But let's get back to the Census Bureau's economic science: An American family of four making $25,000 a year is not officially in poverty. But here's the good news: They don't have health insurance, so they don't have to spend any of their money on it.

That's also not in Miller's story. But his other piece of rich humor from an "expert":

Len Burman of the research org Tax Policy Center, noting that 95 percent of people "think they are middle class": "I guess it says something nice about America that rich people don't want to act like they're better than anybody else and poor people don't like complaining about how tough it is to pay their bills."

Of course it's possible that rich people who aren't super-duper rich are just being jealous while they're relentlessly striving to want to join up with the super-duper rich. Nice.

And, poor people don't like complaining about their plight? What do you think their dinner-table conversation is like — when they have enough food to have dinner?


Washington Post: 'Across the Northeast, GOP's Hold Lessens: Party's Decline Could Worsen as More Areas Lean Democratic'

The D.C. paper's Ben Pershing does a recon of my state and reports back:

As recently as 1998, 13 of New York's 31 House districts were represented by Republicans. Today, just six of 29 seats are in the GOP column (the state lost two seats after the 2000 census), and four of those six are in danger of falling to Democrats in November.


Washington Post: 'Musharraf to Resign as President of Pakistan'

Candace Rondeaux (I've worked with her, and she's good) quotes the ex-strongman's speech with a straight face. Because this is ostensibly a news story, she probably wasn't allowed to analyze those three sentences, so I will:

"I am leaving with the satisfaction [delusional] that whatever I could do for this country I did it with integrity [no]. I am a human too [maybe]. I could have made mistakes [not only could, but did] but I believe that the people will forgive me [no]."


Post: 'HOMING IN ON PROFITS: INVESTOR SEES NICE MARGINS ON BULK REO BUYS'

One foreign government is eagerly swooping down to make a killing on our foreclosure crisis.

But which country is it? (Actually, which government is it this time?) The story refers to a "sovereign" — see this definition — and Terri Buhl writes this press-release-sounding piece:

"If investors want to make sizeable returns they have to know their market, buy at the right price, and have a solid exit strategy," says one mortgage consultant hired by a real estate broker working for a foreign investor. The investor, a sovereign fund, is believed to have $29 billion available to purchase some of the 750,000 or so bank-owned, or REO (real-estate owned), homes in the US.

While the sovereign fund - along with hedge funds, Wall Street banks and private investors - expects to profit handsomely from snatching up these REO properties, the deals now beginning to take place around the country will also benefit the public at large and the markets by cleaning up banks' balance sheets, unclogging the lending pipeline and getting folks back into affordable homes.

Back into affordable homes? Now that's funny.

At least the Post regularly has more business news than any other NYC daily (aside from the Wall Street Journal, and not counting the New York Times's constipated, usually uninteresting bulk).

For those who don't know, a "sovereign" investor is a government-controlled entity — think Dubai's investment companies, which are actually the UAE's government, which is gobbling up NYC properties.

But, again, which country is the one in this Post story? And does John Galt live there?

Daily Flog: Poland to the rescue, homicidal geezer school-bus driver, China imports gold, Georgia imports Rice, more abuse (ho-hum) of Iraqis

Running down the press:

Times: 'U.S. and Poland Set Missile Deal'

Refusing to take off their Cold War monocles, Thom Shanker and Nicholas Kulish ignore the hilarity of Condi Rice going to Georgia to simmer things down. Instead, they try to get poetic on our asses:

The deal reflected growing alarm in countries like Poland, once a conquered Soviet client state, about a newly rich and powerful Russia’s intentions in its former cold war sphere of power. In fact, negotiations dragged on for 18 months — but were completed only as old memories and new fears surfaced in recent days.

The funniest line in this super-self-consciously serious piece:

Polish officials said the agreement would strengthen the mutual commitment of the United States to defend Poland, and vice versa.

Vice versa . . . Poland defending the U.S. . . . let's see . . . oh, yeah, maybe we could get Poland to step in on behalf of Williamsburg's Poles to try to stop Manhattan developers from wrecking the Brooklyn enclave's waterfront.

Solidarność with the hipsters!

See FAIR's fresh dissection of media blubber: "Georgia/Russia Conflict Forced Into Cold War Frame."


McClatchy: 'U.S. 'no' to intervention leaves Russia in control of Georgia'

One of the best U.S. sources of world news — and probably the liveliest — the McClatchy D.C. Bureau (the old Knight-Ridder operation) is a solid site. For the full flavor of the good reporting and breezy writing, try this from Nancy A. Youssef, Tom Lasseter, and Dave Montgomery:

American officials on Thursday ended speculation that the U.S. military might come to the rescue of Georgia’s beleaguered government, confirming Russia's virtual takeover of the former Soviet republic and heralding Moscow's reemergence as the dominant power in eastern Europe.

"I don’t see any prospect for the use of military force by the United States in this situation. Is that clear enough?" Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters in his first public comments since the crisis began Aug. 7.

"The empire strikes back," said Ariel Cohen, a Russia expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Gates' comments came just 24 hours after President Bush dramatically announced in a televised White House appearance that American military aircraft and ships would be dispatched to carry humanitarian aid to Georgia and that the U.S. was expecting unfettered access to Georgia' ports and airports.

But Bush apparently had spoken out of turn, before Turkey, which by treaty controls access to the Black Sea, had agreed, and on Thursday, Pentagon officials said they doubted that U.S. naval vessels would be dispatched.


Slate: 'Conventional Nonsense: Making the case for a press boycott of the national political conventions'

Jack Shafer notes the foregone conclusions of these non-events. Amen.


Post: 'HILLARY PUSHES WAY ONTO STAGE'

The tab's institutional contempt for Hillary pays off in this case, because she really did push her way onto the DNC stage. Not that this is big news. But how many more shots at Hillary does the Post have left? And she is such an easy target.


Christian Science Monitor: 'Mexican citizens asked to fight crime'

Sara Miller Llana's story notes:

[I]f Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has his way, a new corps of 300,000 residents will become watchdogs of sorts — monitoring and turning in police officials who operate outside the law.

The Times reports on the same story — citizens outraged that corrupt cops are even aiding and abetting kidnappings of children — but of course it takes the establishment side, not even noting Ebrard's call for a citizen corps.

Can you imagine a crew of 300,000 New Yorkers regularly keeping tabs on the NYPD? The Times sniffs, Don't even mention it. And its story sez:

Given the involvement of some wayward officers in the kidnapping trade, it is easy to see why victims’ relatives look outside police forces in trying to bring such nightmares to an end.

But Luis Cárdenas Palomino, director of intelligence for the federal police, says that private negotiators do not have the same experience as his veteran agents, who he says have been catching more kidnappers and freeing more victims in recent years.

No wonder that, here in NYC, the Times, with its institutionalized obeisance to authority, doesn't hold the NYPD's feet to the fire.


Post: 'TRAGIC MOM'S BABY IS SAVED'

A runaway school bus crushes pregnant NYPD traffic agent Donnette Sanz, "but a superhuman effort by 30 strangers who lifted the vehicle off her body miraculously saved her baby before she died."

Word pictures of the bus driver with his head in his hands — ""The light turned red, and I couldn't stop . . . I tried to miss her. I tried to go behind her, but she stopped and moved back, and I hit her."

Oh, by the way, we find out only at the end of this weeper that the 72-year-old driver hasn't had a license in 40 years and that his record includes "a gun bust and arrests for driving on a suspended license, grand larceny, menacing and aggravated harassment."

And he was driving a school bus — a school bus!

Most absurd quote of the day:

Mayor Bloomberg, who went to St. Barnabas to comfort [her] relatives, said, "I hope that as this child grows up, he comes to understand that his mother gave her life in service to our city, and we are forever grateful."

The Daily News account is lamer, but it does include this quote from Bloomberg:

"It is a terrible poignancy that Donnette's son's birthday will now coincide with the day his mother died."

Give Bloomberg a break. George W. Bush couldn't have connected those dots.


Post: ' "WRONG MAN" FREED AFTER 14 YRS.: BAILED OUT ON "BAD RAP" IN QNS. SLAY'

Great quote garnered by Ikimulisa Livingston:

Kareem Bellamy stepped out of Queens Supreme Court to the open arms of relatives and cheers from his relentless law team, which spent nearly four years working to get him freed.

"I hope I don't get struck by lightning," he joked in the midst of a thunderstorm. "I can't believe I'm really walking out."


Times: 'Bomber Kills 18 on Shiite Pilgrimage in Iraq'

Obsessed with Georgia, the Times editors are now consigning Iraq news to a roundup — you know, like those small-town-newspaper city council stories that always include "in other business" items.

Today's example is yet another suicide bombing. In other business, the Times adds:

And at Camp Bucca, an American military base in southern Iraq, six sailors who were working as prison guards in Iraq are facing courts-martial on charges of abusing detainees, the United States Navy said in a statement on Thursday.

Only two other brief grafs, both far down the story, about this abuse. No mention of exactly what kind of abuse is alleged or that Camp Bucca is the largest U.S. prison in Iraq, housing a staggering 18,000 Iraqis, probably none of whom have been to trial.

At least the BBC saw fit to present a separate story on this.

But the U.S. establishment press has consistently underplayed jail abuse, except when it reaches the high embarrassment level of Abu Ghraib. Remember the proud "Murderous Maniacs" at Camp Mercury near Fallujah, the U.S. soldiers who beat up prisoners for sport? If you don't, see yesterday's Daily Flog.


Post: 'TRAP PLAY TARGETS GIANTS; "SEX-TORTION PLOT" VS. COACH COUGHLIN'

Feds yesterday busted a birdbrained Philadelphia man for allegedly trying to blackmail Giants Coach Tom Coughlin with false allegations of extramarital flings with two women.

Stop right there, unless you want to walk around all day with images swirling in your brain of this aging coach naked and having sex.


Post: 'DEM'S KILLER WENT "POST-IT" '

Hed of the day, lovingly applied to a wire story:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The man who fatally shot the chairman of the state Democratic Party after he lost his job had a Post-it note at home with the victim's last name and phone number along with 14 guns, antidepressants and a last will and testament, according to court documents.


Wall Street Journal: 'World Economy Shows New Strain'

If you can tear yourself away from Olympic water polo for a second, remember that China is losing the gold-medal battle but is raking in the gold anyway.

The WSJ reports, in other business:

The global economy -- which had long remained resilient despite U.S. weakness -- is now slowing significantly, with Europe offering the latest evidence of trouble. . . .

With the European growth report, four of the world's five biggest economies -- the U.S., the euro zone, Japan and the U.K. -- are now flirting with recession.

China, the world's fourth-largest economy, is still expanding strongly, as are India and other large developing economies. . . .

The global weakness marks a sharp reversal of expectations for many corporations and investors, who at the year's outset had predicted that major economies would remain largely insulated from America's woes.

The Journal almost always leavens its dense reporting with a human touch (not on its inhumane editorial pages, but in news stories), and even this piece has a good morsel:

British consumers are hunkering down. "The cost of living has rocketed," says Gareth Lucas, 34 years old. He works part time at a hospital in Swansea, south Wales. With fuel costs so high, Mr. Lucas tries to fit more tasks into each car trip and no longer treats himself to cappuccino at a nearby café.

At night, to make extra cash, Mr. Lucas does gigs as a stand-up comedian -- but increasingly he performs to smaller audiences. "People just aren't going out anymore," he says.


Wall Street Journal: 'Data Raise Questions On Role of Speculators'

Suspicions confirmed: The oil market is being driven by scumbag speculators, not the "free market." The WSJ puts it into perspective:

Data emerging on players in the commodities markets show that speculators are a larger piece of the oil market than previously known, a development enlivening an already tense election-year debate about traders' influence.

Last month, the main U.S. regulator of commodities trading, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, reclassified a large unidentified oil trader as a "noncommercial" speculator.

The move changed many analysts' perceptions of the oil market from a more diversified marketplace to one with a heavier-than-thought concentration of financial players who punt on big bets.

This is a fascinating developing story — let alone a probable explanation of why gas costs so much — if only the rest of the press would take the topic seriously.

Here's the politics of it:

The . . . questions about the reliability and transparency of data in this market are feeding into efforts by Congress to impose restrictions on energy trading. Four Democratic senators on Thursday called for an internal CFTC inspector-general investigation into the timing of a July 22 release of a report led by the agency. That report concluded speculators weren't "systematically" driving oil prices. Oil prices soared until mid-July before beginning a decline.

In recent months, legislators in Congress have demanded insight about the distinction as they try to answer concerns of constituents, from companies to consumers, about what has contributed to the high price of gasoline and other fuels.



Bush and the Caucasians

The closer to the end of his term, the less funny (and more disastrous) Bush seems.

While the New York Times continues to report with a straight face the rhetoric of George W. Bush — the doofus POTUS demands that “the sovereign and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," as if the rest of the world listens — the real situation is shrewdly analyzed by international outlets such as Der Spiegel.

We're not crazy. It's the world that's acting bipolar. Good luck figuring out why if you rely on just the feeble U.S. press.

Writing today on the German site's opinion page, Gerhard Spörl notes:

The war in the Caucasus is a truly global crisis. Russia's action against the western-looking Georgia testifies to an extreme craving for recognition and is reminiscent of the Cold War. It reveals the reality of the chaotic new world order — a result of the failures of President Bush's foreign policy.

Do you really think that Iraq and a sinking economy are the only messes the Bush-Cheney regime will turn over to either Obama or McCain?

The past eight years have crippled U.S. foreign policy in ways that go far beyond the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. The rivalry between Russia and the U.S. would be bad enough without the Bush regime's hamhandedness and bully bluster.

Spörl, the chief editor of Der Spiegel's foreign desk — and the author of a clear-headed, provocative Obama piece ("No. 44 Has Spoken") a short while back — adds some context to this schizoid Caucasoid series of bloody events:

Who would have even bothered to try and pinpoint South Ossetia on the map or to carefully differentiate it from North Ossetia before the conflict? And this is supposed to be a world crisis?

But it is one indeed, because the crisis has given oil and gas producer Russia an alibi for cleaning up along its borders in places like Georgia, where the United States and NATO were beginning to exert their influence. It is a world crisis, because this wounded ex-superpower decided, some time ago, that it was going to put an end to a phase of humiliation and losses, of NATO and American expansion.

And what does this have to do with Bush's "legacy"? Well, who's been more smug about being the planet's supposed lone superpower than the Bush regime? Spörl writes:

Part of the truth is that the United States had rather relished treating Russia and its then president, Vladimir Putin, as yesterday's superpower and leader. US President George W. Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and invented a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.

The revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, reverberations of the revolutionary fall of 1989, were made possible by the gracious assistance and coaching of American foundations and think tanks. There was nothing wrong with this approach, but America, the overwhelmingly superior superpower, was petty enough to gloat over its achievements.

Spörl also notes the Cold War mentality of McCain:

John McCain, who hopes to become the 44th US president, has come up with the spectacular idea of establishing a league of democracies that would address the world's problems whenever the United Nations is gridlocked, in other words, whenever there is an important issue on the table. If this league existed today, would intervention forces already have been deployed to the Caucasus? And now McCain has come up with the no less original idea of excluding Russia from the golden circle of G8 nations. Does anyone have any other bright ideas on how to punish the miscreant?

I can't resist one more interesting passage from Spörl's piece:

It is true that there is a touch of the old Cold War to August 2008. And yet it is also true that the month's events constitute only a subcategory of the larger complexity in which the world finds itself today. The United States is the common denominator. On the one hand, it had no qualms about tormenting Russia, and yet it is incapable of coming to Georgia's aid. It was also apparently unable to dissuade the Georgian president from embarking on his adventure.

CNN is so enamored of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili that he is constantly asked to appear on the news network for interviews, so that he can instill his view of things -- of Georgia on the road to democracy, and of Russia succumbing to revanchism -- in Americans, to the delight of the White House.

Damn it, one more slice of Spörl, but this one helps explain why the planet's behavior seems particularly bipolar these days:

The world ceased to be a unipolar place when the Iraq war began. When the neocons used the word unipolarity, they were referring to the idea that the world's sole superpower, thanks to its military superiority, could assume that it was entitled to the role of global cop, and that the world must bend to its will, whether it wanted to or not.

Now a new technical term has come into circulation: multipolarity. It means that a number of powers can do as they please, without punishment, and no one can do much about it. China can do as it pleases with Tibet, the Uyghurs and its dissidents, and it can buy its energy where it pleases. India can sign a nuclear treaty with the United States, and can then vacillate between choosing to ditch the agreement and keep it in place. Iran can decide to become a nuclear power and then wait to see what happens, to see whether Israel and the United States, for example, will issue empty threats of air strikes while Russia and China obstruct the superpower in the UN Security Council whenever it calls for effective resolutions.

But the new multipolarity is lopsided. America is still the power without which nothing works -- whether it be sensible or senseless.



Daily Flog: Warning to whitey, desired streetcars, soiled Lennon, two Georgias, Target practice

Running down the press:

Daily News: 'First look at wife of John Lennon slayer in decades - she says let me be'

Jesus Christ! I'd forgotten that Mark David Chapman was such a sicko/twisted Lennon wannabe that he had also married a woman of Japanese descent.


Post: 'ARK. ASSASSIN GUNS DOWN TOP CLINTON ALLY'

Congratulations to the Post for not only mentioning in the second paragraph that the shooter had just been fired from a Target store but also for showing the maturity not to hammer into readers that grim irony, as I am immaturely doing right now.


Post: 'COLOR BY NUMBERS: MAC GAINS MORE WHITES VS. OBAMA'

Good story, better head. The fourth graf is key:

McCain has closed the gap by padding his lead among whites, Southerners and white evangelical Christians.

At least that should make the rest of us whites feel better — that we're not quite as bad at acting on our institutionalized, internalized racist impulses.

Being upfront about race is something that much of the media is not doing. Witness this CNN story:

"McCain, Obama to address 'values voters' "

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama plan to appear together Saturday at a minister-moderated forum held in a church as thousands of evangelicals plan to gather in the nation's capital to pressure both men move further to the right on social issues.

"Values voters" my shiny metal ass. The rest of us also vote our "values." These are white conservative Christians (99 percent of them), so call them that in the headlines. Christ, there are even political parties in Europe that use "Christian" in their names.


Newsday: 'Revealed: Julia Child was a U.S. spy in World War II'

This AP story is old news, but it does remind us why she seemed to have such mixed feelings about turkey.


Post: 'BRETT FEELIN' UP THE CREAK'

Clever hed on this:

The 38-year-old Favre - who turns 39 in October - had his fifth practice yesterday morning for the New York Jets, but he admitted his arm wasn't exactly feeling lively.

Brett Favre is one pro athlete who talks like a real person, unlike the platitudinous Derek Jeter, for example, or the former Giant blowhard Jeremy Shockey or the guarded-beyond-all-reason, high-paid choker Alex Rodriguez. Favre sez:

"I didn't throw the ball very well this morning, underthrew some throws. No pain, but I'm 38 years old. It's got to be fatigued a little bit. . . . I felt 38 today, I'm not going to lie to you."

In his case, he probably won't. A rare celebrity.


Times: 'In a Generation, Minorities May Be the U.S. Majority'

Warning to whitey: Your reign as The Man will end sooner than predicted. Sam Roberts reports:

The census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.

The British press doesn't whitewash this news with P.C. tentativeness. The BBC's lede, for example:

White people of European descent will no longer make up a majority of the US population by the year 2042 - eight years sooner than previous estimates.

The big change is among Hispanics and Asians whose share of the population is set to double to 30% and 9%.

The Times more subtly emits a red-alert tone:

“No other country has experienced such rapid racial and ethnic change,” said Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a research organization in Washington.

Unless you're talking about the Cherokee Nation. In that previous monumental conflict in Georgia (even before Sherman's march), Andrew Jackson ethnically cleansed the Cherokees, herding them to the Ozarks along the Trail of Tears and replacing them with slaves and ballcap-wearing, NASCAR-loving rednecks.

Anyway, the Times just loves trend stories, and here's a trend in the Times itself: Just last week (as I noted on August 7), the paper blared "'Minorities Often a Majority of the Population Under 20' "

Next topic for the Times: How do we protect the Upper West Side from these Visigoths?


Human Rights Watch: 'High Toll from Attacks on Populated Areas'

Yes, NYC-based Human Rights Watch has an open bias as a Goody Two-Shoes, but also does some great reporting — unlike its better-known but stodgy fellow NGO Amnesty International — so why not include it in "the press"?

Mainstream international papers, like the Guardian (U.K.), have no problem giving HRW full credit when it breaks news stories. This morning the Guardian's Mark Tran notes:

Human Rights Watch provides the first independent confirmation that Georgian villages in South Ossetia have been looted and burned.

HRW is somewhat schizoid as a news source, because it always follows its great nuggets of news with predictable appeals to officials to stop the madness. For example, today it reports:

Forces on both sides in the conflict between Georgia and Russia appear to have killed and injured civilians through indiscriminate attacks, respectively, on the towns of Gori and Tskhinvali, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch expressed its deep concern over the apparently indiscriminate nature of the attacks that have taken such a toll on civilians.

Memo to HRW: Lose the second sentence, please, because your news reporting speaks for itself and you're clouding the impact of that reporting with that squishy, predictable statement of "deep concern." (I guess HRW feels it has to do that, but I ignore such statements of concern — who could disagree with such sentiments? — and take its reporting seriously. Keep reading this item and you'll see why.)

U.S. papers refuse to include HRW and like groups in their press club, but the Internet dissolves that separation because HRW's reports are as freely and directly available as news from other sources.

You may have forgotten — and the mainstream press has done nothing to help you remember — that HRW broke one of the most grim and explosive stories (so far) from the Iraq War.

Back in September 2005, HRW revealed that U.S. troops at Camp Mercury, outside Fallujah, proudly called themselves "Murderous Maniacs" as they tortured and beat up hapless Iraqi prisoners merely for sport — and in a highly sexualized way that was worse than at Abu Ghraib. As I wrote back then:

In a shocking new report, soldiers of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne reveal that they or their fellow soldiers routinely beat, tortured, stripped, humiliated, and starved Iraqi prisoners in 2003 and 2004 at a base near Fallujah, often breaking bones, either at the request of superiors or just to let off steam.

HRW wasn't guessing, nor was it chiding from its Fifth Avenue offices. It waded right in and talked to U.S. troops about it. From its own report, "Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division":

The accounts here suggest that the mistreatment of prisoners by the U.S. military is even more widespread than has been acknowledged to date, including among troops belonging to some of the best trained, most decorated, and highly respected units in the U.S. Army. They describe in vivid terms abusive interrogation techniques ordered by Military Intelligence personnel and known to superior officers. . . .

The torture of detainees reportedly was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief for soldiers.

Soldiers said they felt welcome to come to the PUC [Prisoner Under Control] tent on their off-hours to "Fuck a PUC" or "Smoke a PUC." "Fucking a PUC" referred to beating a detainee, while "Smoking a PUC" referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness.

Three years later, HRW has made its own march into Georgia. So keep tabs on its reporting. For that matter, keep checking the Guardian's Georgia page.


NY Observer: 'Penguin Group Wins Rights to Steinbeck Novels'

Minor note on a major author, especially compared with Tony Ortega's unique yarn about Steinbeck and Mexican-American farmworkers in today's Voice: "John Steinbeck's Ghosts."


Times: 'Ruling Is a Victory for Supporters of Free Software'

John Markoff's piece about a court ruling in favor of open-source software is a little confusing, but the upshot is that a major pothole has been patched on our major transportation artery, the information highway.


Times: 'Conflict Narrows Oil Options for West'

In other transportation news: Good piece by Jad Mouawad about our latest loss in the centuries-old Great Game in Central Asia, and bad news for us SUV owners:

[E]nergy experts say that the hostilities between Russia and Georgia could threaten American plans to gain access to more of Central Asia’s energy resources at a time when booming demand in Asia and tight supplies helped push the price of oil to record highs.


Times: 'Downtowns Across the U.S. See Streetcars in Their Future'

Yet another transportation story.

Unfortunately, the Times blows this story by just briefly noting that cities and even small towns across the country had functioning streetcar lines until the mid 1950s, and not mentioning at all that it was the automobile lobby that killed them as it pressured pols to build the Interstate Highway System.

I don't blanch at this new development because when I was a kid in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I depended on the kindness of streetcars. Public transit is a blessing, no matter how much my fellow straphangers grouse about the MTA and Long Island Rail Road.


Post: 'BIZMAN HAD A "LOT" OF NERVE'

Carolyn Salazar's lede is right to the point:

An enterprising squatter transformed a vacant Brooklyn lot into a thriving million-dollar business — an illegal parking lot and chop shop, prosecutors said yesterday.

Whereas powerful pol Shelly Silver is squatting like Jabba the Hutt on a vacant lot on the Lower East Side, as the Voice's Tom Robbins reports.


Daily News: 'Gloomy Gotti trip to Sunshine State'

The latest installment of news about the fading Italian-American Gangster Era. John Marzulli reports:

Junior is on the move. John A. (Junior) Gotti, aka Bureau of Prisons inmate 00632-748, began his journey to Tampa Wednesday to be arraigned on racketeering and murder charges.

Who gives a shit?


Daily News: 'Elizabeth Edwards stayed with cheating husband John for children's sake'

A perfect example of how the Daily News almost always lags behind the Post in tabloidian terms. The lede:

An anguished Elizabeth Edwards decided to stay with her cheating husband because she is dying and worried about their two young children, her closest friend says.

Only five tabloidian buzzers: "anguished," "cheating," "dying, "worried," and "closest friend." Yesterday, I noted eight in a Post Edwards lede.

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