Paul Weyrich, religious-right icon, dies

Hillary in high school yearbookPaul Weyrich, called by some the founding father of the religious right, is dead at the age of 66.

America is fortunate that Weyrich was born too late, because what he could have done with the Internet, oh Jesus!

The D.C.-based Weyrich has been out of the mainstream news for years now, but he was a very big deal before and during the Reagan era's Great Leap Backward. In those glory days, he was a combination of cruise director and mailroom supervisor for the religious right, a behind-the-scenes guy who liked to think of himself as a thinker.

Energetic and argumentative, Weyrich was known, especially to himself, as someone who was right about every issue. He spent his whole life networking with others to prove it.

Before everybody went web-mad, Weyrich was exploring every opportunity to fight God's battles electronically. Take a look at my February 1994 story "Passing on the Right: Conservative strategists gear up for the information highway." Miraculously, you can find the long, long ago piece online. (You can tell how old the story is by my incessant use of the phrase "information highway," for which I apologize.)

Writing at the time for the Denver alt weekly Westword, I stumbled upon a coven of religious-right folk having some embryonic satellite broadcasts beamed into their brains by one of Weyrich's creations: an electronic conservative video/TV network.

I talked with Weyrich at some length about his new network — it sounded staggeringly boring and wonky. Here's how I started the piece, which was only slightly less so:

The information highway begins with a sharp right turn just outside Windsor. From the roof of the Windsor Center, a small office building on the edge of this farm town fifty miles north of Denver, your brain will board a parabolic dish paid for by beer prince Jeffrey Coors and travel 23,000 miles above the planet to an orbiting satellite.

An instant later you will beam back down to Earth and the Washington, D.C., studios of National Empowerment Television, the newborn brainchild of former Denver newsman Paul M. Weyrich, who years ago coined the term "Moral Majority" for Jerry Falwell.

Many people will remember Weyrich for his having founded — with millions in beer money from Coors — the Heritage Foundation.

I'll remember him for producing some really bad TV.

Daily Flog: Break out the campaign! Party at the Waldorf!

Count the ways that Americans are cooked: Obama and McCain roast, the markets boil dry, Google sops up the gravy.

At last we have a slogan for this century's depression: United We Fall! Last night was a celebration of our one-party system, and what a party it was.

The Al Smith Dinner at the Waldorf was a prime example of the lame leading the blind.

Were the candidates themselves cooking?

My colleague Roy Edroso delivered the best post-dinner punch line:

But seriously, folks, these guys kinda suck. We give the edge to McCain, but that's like saying Jeff Foxworthy is funnier than Bill Engvall.

Oh, SNAP! Still haven't gotten a review of the dinner from the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests.

But after you take a look at the photo of Cardinal Egan heartily laughing with John McCain and Barack Obama and you read the New York Times tiresome recap (like everyone else's) of the jokes, browse SNAP's library of stories about abused altar boys and shuttered churches in poor areas. Or go straight to a reprint of a 2003 Times story, "Cardinal Egan Spurns Members of Review Board Studying Abuse."

That one's a real knee-slapper.

At least Obama and McCain were funnier than John Kerry was at the 2004 dinner. Actually, Kerry didn't even get a chance to display his humorless personality because Egan didn't invite the candidates. That was because of the Catholic Kerry's stance on abortion.

And in 1996, the candidates weren't invited because Cardinal O'Connor was pissed off at Bill Clinton over abortion.

Good thing 2001 wasn't a presidential election year, Wall Street being bombed and all.

This year, Wall Street's bombing itself, and more (but slower) deaths can only result from the resulting depression into which we're sinking.

Speaking of leftovers . . .

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

McClatchy: '3rd-party debate's only confirmed participant: the moderator'

N.Y. Daily News: 'Where you sit says a lot about where you stand at annual Al Smith dinner'

Politico: 'McCain, Obama try to be funny...on purpose'

Washington Post: 'Life's Basics More of a Stretch: Inflation, Stagnating Pay Squeeze Low-Wage Workers'

McClatchy: ' "Birthplace of Flight" is on bleeding edge of job losses'

Wall Street Journal: 'Financial Crisis May Diminish American Sway'

Wall Street Journal: 'Oil's Slide Deepens as Downturn Triggers Sharp Drop in Demand'

BBC: 'US industrial output down sharply'

McClatchy: 'Google's Net Climbs 26 Percent'

McClatchy: 'Private sector loans, not Fannie or Freddie, triggered crisis'

BBC: 'European shares lose early gains'

BBC: 'China press freedoms due to end'

N.Y. Daily News: 'Nude portrait of Sarah Palin hung in Chicago tavern'

BBC: 'Police battle police in Brazil'

Slate: 'Dubya, Stoned'

Daily Flog: 'No one convicted!'; nationwide search for Obama's mojo; McCain wallows in blood of Christ

Running down the press:

Daily News: 'Hubby of cheating prisoner psychologist says wife is 'ideal citizen'

What's better news, especially on the brink of a depression, than reading about the mortification of a Wall Street investment banker? John Marzulli writes:

A Wall Street investment banker married to a former prison psychologist accused of having an affair with a reputed Bloods gang member is standing by his cheating wife.

Joshua Spitz, a vice president at Lehman Brothers, is begging a federal judge to show mercy to his disgraced wife, Magdalena Sanchez, who is facing up to six months in jail for lying to investigators about the illicit sex romps in her office at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

In a letter to Federal Judge Allyne Ross, he writes that Sanchez "was the perfect picture portrait of an ideal citizen."

In explaining her "loss of judgment," Spitz said his wife was grieving over the death of her brother and that he was unavailable to her due to working long hours at the office.

Or maybe Spitz is so forgiving because, like Spitzer, he likes to picture others having sex.

This story is of national importance: The economy's so bad that even the wives of investment bankers are finally going down.


New Yorker: 'Let It Rain'

Clever hed, once you start reading Hendrik "Rick" Hertzberg's provocative piece about John McCain's use of the blood of Christ to try to wash away his previous sinning against the religious right. The mag's promo helps draw you in:

With the selection of Sarah Palin, McCain completes the job of defusing the enmity (and forgoing the honor) he earned in 2000, when he condemned Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance” . . .


Post: 'GOV GOES FOR JUGULAR AGAINST "DRACULA" POLS'

Don't blame reporter Brendan Scott for the ludicrous photoshopped Sheldon-Silver-as-Dracula photo accompanying this piece. The Post editors were simply trying to make a feast out of a story that was nothing but a morsel:

As Sheldon Silver and other legislators prepared to do battle in today's primaries, Gov. Paterson yesterday called state lawmakers political Draculas - "bloodsuckers" who tell constituents one thing by day before going back to their wicked ways when the sun goes down.


NY Observer: 'Palin and the Charlie Gibson Strategy'

While we wait to see whether Sarah Palin will become either the next vice president of the United States or the next spokeswoman for LensCrafters (see Adweek), Steve Kornacki has an interesting take about the involvement of another lightweight, Charlie Gibson, in this heavyweight decision. Kornacki's first three (long) grafs:

In theory, Charlie Gibson has the power to expose Sarah Palin as the fantastically uninformed foreign policy thinker that most Democrats — and, if primed with a healthy dose of truth serum, probably more than a few Republicans—believe her to be.

The ABC newsman, who scored the first of what will surely be scant few major media sit-downs with John McCain’s running mate, could very easily do what a mischievous Boston television reporter did to George W. Bush in 1999 and spring a pop quiz on the unseasoned politician, measuring her knowledge (or lack thereof) of some elementary facts about global hotspots.

There’s no shortage of possible questions that could be asked, and while the ethics and relevancy of playing gotcha would be debated endlessly after the fact, the sight of Mrs. Palin flailing to answer such a basic question — or even providing an incorrect response — would instantly and powerfully drive home to millions of voters the Democrats’ contention that a person who has been governor of Alaska for 20 months (and, before that, mayor of a town with fewer people than the average Arena Football League game attracts) is frighteningly ill-prepared to assume the presidency of the United States.


Times: 'No One Convicted of Terror Plot to Bomb Planes'

In a shocking development, the Times conjured up the best headline of the morning — even if it didn't match the story's namby-pamby lede. Just think about the above headline. Think about it, as the first thing you see over your morning Diet Coke. But you can't tell what the hell's up when you read the lede graf by John F. Burns and Elaine Sciolino:

LONDON — A lengthy trial centering on what Scotland Yard called a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners ended Monday when the jury convicted three of eight defendants of conspiracy to commit murder.

Huh? Then you read the next two grafs and you understand why there was a seemingly no-news headline when you first spotted it:

But the jury failed to reach verdicts on the more serious charge of a conspiracy to have suicide bombers detonate soft-drink bottles filled with liquid explosives aboard seven airliners headed for the United States and Canada.

The failure to obtain convictions on the plane-bombing charge was a blow to counterterrorism officials in London and Washington, who had described the scheme as potentially the most devastating act of terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks seven years ago this week. British and American experts had said that the plot had all the signs of an operation by Al Qaeda, and that it was conceived and organized in Pakistan.

Just think: If the Cheney-Bush-Rumsfeld troika hadn't diverted U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2002 in order to unjustifiably invade Iraq in 2003 — and if practically all Democrats except now-dead Paul Wellstone hadn't gone along with that scheme — those troops might very well have captured Osama bin Laden or other Al Qaeda bigwigs who actually did carry out a terror plot involving planes.

Instead, almost exactly seven years after 9/11 we have a headline that banners, "No one convicted!"


Daily News: 'It ain't over till the polls close, but Obama needs to get his mojo back'

I'll read any story labeled "analysis" that contains the word "ain't." Though all this poll talk is generally only news because it leads to self-fulfilling prophecies, Thomas DeFrank does pretty well:

Not that long ago, John McCain was toast. Is he now suddenly unstoppable?

That's what some breathless Republicans - and even a few jittery Democrats - whispered Monday after new polls showed McCain has vaulted past Barack Obama and leads by as much as 10 points among likely voters.

It's time to take a very deep breath. The only thing right about conventional wisdom is that every four years, it's usually wrong. Ask President Henry Clay, President Dewey, President Muskie, President Romney (George, not Mitt) or President Hillary.


Times: 'Rescue of Mortgage Giants Displays Paulson’s Clout'

Once again, as on yesterday, you're better off reading McClatchy's Kevin G. Hall, because the Times's Sheryl Gay Stolberg, pursuing the great-man theory of history-making that's typical for her paper, ledes with:

President Bush may be the nation’s first M.B.A. president, but when Mr. Bush and a small coterie of advisers met in the Oval Office last week to complete their plan to rescue the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, there was no question who was in charge.

First mistake: Future historians might conclude that George W. Bush was smart, or his MBA wouldn't have been mentioned. As if Bush could even conceive of or carry out a bailout plan, regardless of his business degree.

Then Stolberg again ignores reality by making the Fannie/Freddie bailout seem like another unilateral U.S. move (like the Iraq invasion) by blindly extending her great-man approach of writing instant history:

It was Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. who first proposed the idea of a government conservatorship, and broached it with Mr. Bush while the president was at his ranch in Crawford, Tex. It was Mr. Paulson who set the guiding principles for the subsequent deal; Mr. Bush endorsed them, a departure from usual White House practice, in which the president articulates principles for his underlings to follow.

It was Mr. Paulson who, in that Oval Office meeting, plotted the weekend introduction of the plan so as not to rattle financial markets. And it was Mr. Paulson, not the president, who met with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives on Saturday to deliver the unpleasant news that they were now out of jobs.

Just in case you don't believe her, she gets confirmation from one of Bush's flacks:

“He was all the way in the driver’s seat, and that was where the president wanted him,” said Tony Fratto, Mr. Bush’s deputy press secretary, adding, “The sentiment was, ‘You’re in charge, and I hope it works.’ ”

McClatchy's Hall gets it right, and the following excerpt (his first five grafs), though necessarily lengthy, should explain who really has clout (hint: it ain't Paulson):

When Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced the weekend seizure of mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he cited the need to stabilize nervous financial markets and bolster the slumping housing market.

What he didn't say publicly is that foreigners, among other big institutional investors, had lost confidence in one of the most vital and plain-vanilla U.S. investments. In a sense, they were losing confidence in the world's largest economy, and he needed to reverse matters.

"That's the unstated objective," said Vincent Reinhart, a former chief economist of the Federal Reserve's rate-setting Open Market Committee.

That underscores how interdependent U.S. finance has become with the global marketplace. Although they underwrote much of America's growth in the early 19th century, in more recent times foreigners hadn't been large holders of U.S. agency debt until about 1999, and the trend grew through much of President Bush's term in parallel with the nation's housing boom.

Foreigners hold an estimated 20 percent of Fannie and Freddie debt, commonly called agency debt. Since that debt is backed by U.S. mortgages, keeping foreigners buying this debt is vital if the housing market is to recover.

Note, especially, the last two grafs cited above. If Joseph H. "Joe" Blow had been Treasury secretary, he would have had to take the same step. If the Bush regime hadn't brainlessly let the economy tumble out of control and thus heedlessly allow foreign governments to continue seizing control of our record-setting debt, we might not be in such a pickle. There goes that great-man theory of history.

Also note that the first person Hall quotes is a real person, not an Administration flack.

The Wall Street Journal, which always works hard to produce realistic business news — its target audience demands the straight scoop on how fellow goniffs are making out — has even more detail that makes Paulson out to be more of just another re-actor than an actor.

After noting that investors' "relief" (yesterday's report from the ER) has turned into "cheers" (today's health news), the paper reports:

[N]ew details emerged of the pressures that led up to Treasury's plan to take the reins of the troubled companies. In the weeks before the government's intervention, nervous foreign finance officials barraged Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve officials to find out what was happening with the mortgage giants, according to people familiar with the matter.

Among those expressing concern were Asian investors, including the Chinese, say two people familiar with the matter. Foreign banks' concerns were among the factors that helped prompt the government's move on Sunday to take over Fannie and Freddie, these people say.



Daily Flog: Kicking the habit but blindly drunk, hounded by Afghans, woofed at by Hillary

Running down the press:

To the dismay of headline buffs, the New York Post let a good one slip away this morning. Buried in its canned Weird But True roundup is the news that Italian priest Antonio Rungi planned a beauty contest for nuns, "Miss Sister 2008," but canceled it under pressure.

And this isn't a separate splash in the Post?

The tab decided to focus on the other beauty content, the one in Denver, where it managed to get in a well-justified shot at Hillary:

HILL: 'BARACK'S MY CANDIDATE'; BUT HEAPS MORE PRAISE ON HER BACKERS THAN ON HIM

Brendan Scott and Maggie Haberman crafted a solid lede:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton last night declared that former rival Barack Obama "is my candidate" and urged her backers to let go, lay down their swords and vote for him over John McCain.

But while throwing her political weight behind her one-time foe, Clinton said little that boosted Obama's personal story, political résumé — nor did she defend him against GOP attacks that he's unqualified for office.

Good piece, but the Post didn't have to kick its headline habit by practically ignoring the beauty contest for nuns.

Christ, it merited separate pieces in outlets around the world — even in the government-controlled Kazinform in Kazakhstan.

The Calgary Sun headlined it "Sisters' Pageant Just Nun-Sense," and the Daily Mash in the U.K. proclaimed, "Nun Lovers Devastated" before veering off into its usual satire by "quoting" Rungi:

"I wanted to reflect the inner beauty of my holy sisters. But if you just want to look at nuns' tits then I suggest you try the Jesuits."

Even the mostly moribund Chicago Sun-Times found space amid its Demo convention news to weigh in with "Beauty Contest Doesn't Have Prayer."

Isn't it big news when a priest is obsessed with female beauty?


Salon: 'We drive as we live'

Kevin Berger had the good sense to hitch a ride on NYC's mad streets and expressways with Brooklyn's Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do. (See Vanderbilt's blog.)

Reporting from the front (seat), Berger weaves:

"You have to be careful here," [Vanderbilt] says. "People come blazing out of the Battery Tunnel with an E-Z Pass and don't stop for you."

"I notice you didn't signal," I say.

"It's New York drivers. It's one thing I've observed from living here: They will not slow down. It's almost like you're taunting them. I was told in Boston that signaling is revealing your intentions to the enemy. It's the same here. You're better off not signaling."


Times: 'Clinton Delivers Emphatic Plea for Unity'

Ridiculously lame headline that doesn't even back up the story's angle, which is surprisingly heady, at least in the second graf. Unfortunately, even there, Patrick Healy and his editors made sure that the syntax was typically stiff and stilted:

With her husband looking on tenderly and her supporters watching with tears in their eyes, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton deferred her own dreams on Tuesday night and delivered an emphatic plea at the Democratic National Convention to unite behind her rival, Senator Barack Obama, no matter what ill will lingered.

Mrs. Clinton, who was once certain that she would win the Democratic nomination this year, also took steps on Tuesday — deliberate steps, aides said — to keep the door open to a future bid for the presidency. She rallied supporters in her speech, and, at an earlier event with 3,000 women, described her passion about her own campaign. And her aides limited input on the speech from Obama advisers, while seeking advice from her former strategist, Mark Penn, a loathed figure in the Obama camp.


Times: 'Taliban Gain New Foothold in Afghan City After Attack'

Too bad that Carlotta Gall's important story from Kandahar has a feature-y lede on such a good hard-news piece. The significance of a Taliban jail break in June starts in her third and fourth grafs, and you have to give the Times credit for surprisingly using such adjectives as "spectacular" and "catastrophic" in the same sentence:

The prison break, on June 13, was a spectacular propaganda coup for the Taliban not only in freeing their comrades and flaunting their strength, but also in exposing the catastrophic weakness of the Afghan government, its army and the police, as well as the international forces trying to secure Kandahar.

In the weeks since the prison break, security has further deteriorated in this southern Afghan city, once the de facto capital of the Taliban, that has become a renewed front line in the battle against the radical Islamist movement. The failure of the American-backed Afghan government to protect Kandahar has rippled across the rest of the country and complicated the task of NATO forces, which have suffered more deaths here this year than at any time since the 2001 invasion.

Why she didn't lede with the fourth graf is beyond her editors. And that contributed, no doubt, to the soft headline on a story carrying ominous news about what may turn out to be a watershed moment in the worsening Afghan War.


Times: 'A Decline in Uninsured Is Reported for 2007'

As predicted in yesterday's Press Clips, the big dailies mostly limped home in the race to report the bad economic news eructated by the Census Bureau.

But there was some good nagging. Go straight to Steven Pearlstein's column in the Washington Post. He cuts through the bullshit:

Hey, good news on the income front: The Census Bureau reported yesterday that median earnings for full-time male workers rose by $1,653 last year, to $45,113, after adjusting for inflation.

Another year like that, and maybe the typical male worker will finally catch up to where he was in 1973.

The Times's Ian Urbina focused almost solely on the health-insurance angle of the stats.

The WashPost's news story, by Michael A. Fletcher, takes another angle, the poverty rate.

But Urbina's focus on the health-insurance figures is at least serviceable because he throws in the big caveats very high. (Disclosure: I've edited Urbina's work and respect it.)

And Urbina got some good context that dampens the supposedly good news about the number of uninsured Americans:

Health-care experts and advocates for the poor said the report also presented an outdated picture regarding health insurance. The rate of people without health insurance declined to 15.3 percent in 2007, from 15.8 percent a year earlier.

“In 2007, at least 26 states made efforts to expand coverage, but as the economy has turned downward so have state efforts,” said Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Ms. Rowland added that insurance premiums had risen faster than wages and inflation, causing more people to seek insurance from public programs.


Daily Scotsman: 'Young Scots risk losing their sight in bid to get blind drunk'

The best story of the day, and it's too bad that the big U.S. papers ignored it.

The Times, for instance, limited its Scotland coverage this morning to "the Royal Bank of Scotland announced on Wednesday it appointed a trio of non-executive directors in effort to address weaknesses on its board."

Fascinating. Now here's the interesting news out of Edinburgh, courtesy of Craig Brown:

With one of the highest rates of binge drinking among teenagers, Scotland already has an unenviable reputation with alcohol. But now experts are warning about a new trend among young people that is aimed at speeding up the process of getting drunk – pouring shots of alcohol directly into their eyes.

Known as "one-in-the-eye", it involves using shot glasses in a manner similar to that of eye-wash.

Despite the risk of blindness, users hope that by absorbing the alcohol via the membranes of the eye, it will enter the bloodstream more quickly and have a stronger effect when it reaches the brain.

Brown's piece continues with a taste of history of this, like, totally insane practice, dude:

Originating in the bars of holiday resorts on the continent, the dangerous fad has caught on in university bars and nightclubs, despite potentially catastrophic consequences.

One leading doctor warned those who indulge in the craze are seriously endangering their sight.

Expect more hipsters than usual staggering around Williamsburg's streets.


Daily News: 'Hillary Clinton leaves no room to doubt support for Barack Obama'

Talk about going blind:

Playing the role of healer, an impassioned Hillary Clinton delivered the most dramatic speech of her storied life Tuesday night - even if it wasn't the one she wanted to give.

Moving forcefully but gracefully to tamp down the enduring bitterness over her tough primary battle with Barack Obama, Clinton unequivocally beseeched her Democratic supporters to follow her lead and vote for the Illinois senator in November.

Ludicrous, though you can't help but perversely love the 19th century feel of "unequivocally beseeched."

Fill the inkwell and fetch the carriage, my good man! I warrant there's no dearth of speechifying to report to the citizenry!

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 Flogger 7/30/08: Farm systems, Madonna, kitties, hacks

Running down the papers:

Times: 'After 7 Years, Talks on Trade Collapse'

This is a big, big trade-related deal — almost as important as Mark Teixeira's trade from the Braves to the Angels — and it merited this fairly lengthy story, but the word "subsidies" appears only twice.

For sneer-filled but newsy background, read my July 2005 item "Bush regime pledges end to U.S. cotton subsidies enslaving Africans."

The Times piece took a jingoistic take on a global topic, understandable considering that the U.S. economy is rapidly tanking. The lede and nut grafs:

GENEVA — World trade talks collapsed here on Tuesday after seven years of on-again, off-again negotiations, in the latest sign of India’s and China’s growing might on the world stage and the decreasing ability of the United States to impose its will globally. . . .

The failure appeared to end, for the near term at least, any hopes of a global deal to further open markets, cut farm subsidies and strengthen the international trading system.


Times: 'Energy Prices Are Bright Sliver in Grim Economy'

Love Jad Mouawad's story, but the paper's web promo of it is hilarious:

Oil has dropped more than $23 a barrel, or 16 percent, and gasoline prices have fallen as Americans drive less.

Oh, boy! Gas prices are down! You can't take full advantage of it because you're driving less. But it would be cheaper to now drive more. But if you do, it will increase gas consumption and push gas prices up.

So stay home and enjoy those lower gas prices!


Post: 'CRISIS PUTS NY IN 'SELL' HELL'

Stoopid hed (by Post's high standards — and I'm not being sarcastic) and hare-brained angle on Paterson's gloom-and-down speech. The lede:

ALBANY - Warning of an approaching economic calamity, Gov. Paterson yesterday called an emergency session of the state Legislature - and raised the specter that New York may have to sell off roads, bridges and tunnels to close a massive budget deficit.

Us, us, us — what does this mean to us, those of who aren't bankers or bureaucrats? There are hints, such as the fact that school property taxes will be capped.

But the only people sure to be immediately affected will be legislators. They'll have to end their summer vacations and return to Albany, Paterson thundered.

Please don't make us go to Albany.

While you pack your toiletries for a possible trip to that non-jaunty place, you're better off reading the Daily News account — 'Paterson wants immediate job freeze,' which gets down to it and goes beyond just the governor's speech.


Post: 'FAT CAT: NO WEIGH! PORKY IS 44 LBS.'

The hackneyed lede:

That is one fat cat! Meet Princess Chunk, a 44-pound hunk of feline flesh, a cat so big that she needs a bathtub for a litter box. Volunteers at a New Jersey animal shelter are trying to find a new home for the corpulent kitty.

A sure-fire web-visitor, homepage hit-builder for a paper to prominently promo. Forward with 21st century newspaper journalism!


Post: 'ALIASES MADE EX FEAR HER CROCK FELLER'

Great folo hed — yesterday's Post put a half-Nelson on this tale by calling the scamster "Rockefooler."


Post: 'COP UNION'S SPIN ON BIKE TACKLER: DEFENDS BLOW VS. 'RECKLESS' RIDER'

Good hed, spiffy and fact-filled story:

The rookie NYPD officer videotaped viciously knocking a cyclist off his bike during a Times Square demonstration was just acting "under direct orders" and was trying to protect himself, the head of the cop union said yesterday.


Post: '$5 MILLION DOORMAN SHOWN THE DOOR'

Another chock-full, fun-filled lede:

The door's been slammed on the richest doorman in the city. After a six-week soap opera that saw Richie Randazzo win $5 million in the lottery, get a warning about his work habits, and then turn up in Atlantic City sporting a sexy new girlfriend, the ax finally fell yesterday.

Read it, because Randazzo's our canary in the coal mine: He pissed away his money; don't piss away yours in this recession caused by the vultures in the Wall Street gold mines.


Post: 'YANKS CONTINUE BIRD DROPPING'

Who's the editor who wrote this hed (on a mediocre game story) about the Yankees losing again to the Orioles? Your next mousepad's on me.


Daily News: 'Woman driver duped by abduct dad'

I'm not being P.C. about this, merely pointing out that the web-promo hed plays off the sexist idea of screwball lady drivers. Don't blame the reporter, because the well-crafted lede doesn't:

The mystery woman who unwittingly helped an oddball high-society dad kidnap his 7-year-old daughter is an out-of-work financial services professional who was paid $500 to make the trip, the Daily News has learned.


Daily News: 'Rep: Madonna's the victim of a bad pic'

Madonna's not sick, her publicist says. The singer raised eyebrows Friday after she was photographed looking gaunt while leaving the Kabbalah Center in New York. But according to her rep, the 49-year-old is the victim of a bad photograph.

Not unless someone Photoshopped those junkie-type veins popping out of her scrawny arm.

Holy mother of Christ! If she's studying Jewish food-for-thought, she might as well go all the way and stop at a deli for a big mound of chopped chicken liver and a pastrami (not lean) on rye. Look at you! Publicist, schmulblicist. I don't care if you're the namesake of Jesus's poor mom. A nice meal I'll make for you.


Slate: 'The Gambling-Addiction Defense'

While the local rags are laying siege to various New York stadiums and arenas for game coverage, William Saletan focuses on what's news at the NBA's Fifth Avenue HQ, producing an excellent inside look at corrupt NBA ref Tim Donaghy's claim of "addiction":

[A]ttorneys for Tim Donaghy, the former NBA referee who admitted to betting on basketball games he officiated, filed a psychological "evaluation" that blames his crimes on compulsive gambling.

This won't play well inside David Stern's sanctum — even before the scandal broke, the NBA had a "compulsive gambler" on its referee staff and didn't know? or maybe it did know? — but it makes defense lawyers dribble and drool at the thought that such a claim once again did have the impact of paring months off a goniff's prison sentence.


Guardian (U.K.): 'Gary McKinnon — "world's most dangerous hacker" — to be extradited'

New York's paper of record and other local papers of broken records practiced a lot of hack journalism this morning but somehow ignored this fascinating hack account that has everything to do with the web and America. Who said Bloomberg's not smoking? Among NYC outlets, it has the story, but here's the Guardian dispatch:

A British man who hacked into computers at the Pentagon will face trial in the US after the law lords ruled that he should be extradited.

At the House of Lords this morning, Gary McKinnon, 42, was told that his appeal against extradition would not be granted.

McKinnon, an unemployed computer systems administrator from north London, invaded computer systems belonging to the US military in 2001 – shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

He said he was merely searching for evidence of extraterrestrial life, but American officials labelled him the world's most dangerous hacker and accused him of deleting important files and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of damage.

According to prosecutors, McKinnon scanned more than 73,000 US government computers and hacked into 97 machines belonging to the US army, navy, air force and Nasa.

His lawyers have fought vigorously against the extradition, arguing that McKinnon could face up to 60 years in prison as a result of his actions, and could even be classed as an "enemy combatant" and interned at Guantánamo Bay. Instead they argued that he should face prosecution under Britain's more lenient computer crime laws because he carried out the hacking from his bedroom in London.



Preaching to the Dire

Leave it to our president to again throw religion into it.

Speaking from Paris in reaction to the flooding in Iowa, George W. Bush issued this statement:

Laura and I had the joy of worshiping here in Paris. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who are suffering from the floods in our country; I know there's a lot of people hurting right now and I hope they're able to find some strength in knowing that there is love from a higher being.

Obviously there's nothing wrong with any individual's embrace of faith, but does everything with this goniff Bush, who is clearly holier than thou, have to couched in terms of religion? That's what the religious zealots do in such hardline states as Iran, Iraq, and Israel — God gave me this land, God wants me to wipe you out, God wants me to convert you, God wants you women to be under the thumb of men.

It wouldn't offend me if he were to even say that he would pray for the flood victims. That way, at least, he would be talking about himself and his own faith.

Naturally, it's also galling that this spreading-the-love-like-Al-Green rhetoric comes from a president who was the hangingest governor in U.S. history, a president who fought hard against habeas corpus, who led a regime that unjustifiably invaded Iraq.

It's bad enough to be patronized by a schlemiel — as an evangelical Christian, he's witnessing to those of us who are still not born again by his saying this in just those words.

Will somebody please make him stop intervening with his God on our behalf? He hopes that others know that "there is love from a higher being"?

Who would have thought that Dick Cheney felt that way about us?

Believer Or Not

Osama wants Americans to convert, but many of us are already religious fanatics.

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Who the cap fit, let him wear it.

Sounding like a presidential candidate, Osama bin Laden sympathized with our "insane taxes and real estate mortgages," according to Al Qaeda's tape, brilliantly dissected by Anne Applebaum in Slate.

Bin Laden's solution for beleaguered Americans? Convert to his brand of hardline Islam.

That wouldn't be much of a leap for many Americans, because 12.6 percent of us are "traditional evangelical" Christians, according to a 2004 survey by the political science prof John Green at the University of Akron's Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

And what do traditional evangelical Christians believe in? Evangelizing, by definition, which is what bin Laden was doing on that tape.

And here's a reminder: Most evangelical Christians believe in the Rapture, as beliefnet.org's Deborah Caldwell noted in an excellent 2002 article. For you who are unaware, this is how religioustolerance.org explains the Rapture:

Most Evangelical Christians believe that the Rapture … will happen precisely as described [in the Bible], sometime in the near future. All previously saved Christians, totaling perhaps 5 to 10 percent of the world's population, will suddenly have their bodies converted into a different form that they will wear for all eternity in Heaven. They will rise vertically into the air. Many believe that they will pass right through ceilings, roofs of cars, etc. to meet Jesus Christ in the sky. Although the vast majority of humans will be left behind, there will be much devastation as planes, trains and automobiles as their pilots, engineers and drivers suddenly disappear and the vehicles crash.

And Americans make fun of Islamic fanatics' beliefs about meeting virgins in Heaven?

Bin Laden's a violent creep, but his brand of religious fanaticism would be a pretty good fit for evangelical George W. Bush. Reporters for Frontline's The Jesus Factor (2004) talked with top Southern Baptist official Richard Land — whose denomination is the biggest in the U.S. — about Bush's inauguration for his second term as Texas governor:

"The day he was inaugurated there were several of us who met with him at the governor's mansion," says Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "And among the things he said to us was, 'I believe that God wants me to be president.' "

OK, I'm convinced: God is vengeful.

(Land, by the way, wears presidential-seal cuff links; see my September 2004 item "The Christocrats.")

I guess that those of you who voted for Bush — Twice! For Christ's sake! — are off the hook, in both senses of the phrase.

Judging by the results of the 2004 religious survey, the turban of conservative Muslim bin Laden would wear well on quite a few other Americans, as much as they rightly detest him.

Hardliners of one religion have more in common with hardliners of another religion than with the rest of us. They all believe in conservative, patriarchal "family values" and they give us the same fiery message: Convert, or burn in hell — and we'll light the match.

You still think there's no comparison between bin Laden's homicidal brand of Islam and the beliefs of America's Rock-of-Ages-rigid traditional Christian evangelicals? Here's the grim FAQ about the future of us unbelievers, according to the killer logic of raptureready.com:

What do most countries do with those who commit treason? The governments either incarcerate the traitors for the rest of their lives or they execute them.

Rejection of God is surely treason because mankind originates from Him: the DNA to form our bodies, the gravity to keep it intact, air to keep us breathing, food and water resources to sustain our bodies, materials for shelter, materials for clothing, and all the other good things about life that we take for granted everyday.

What, then, does a human being deserve when he dismisses God, disregards His law (that is written on our hearts), then even goes so far as to say He does not exist and that evolution is our creator?

Let this be a warning.

Striking Out

An ex-Little Leaguer's personal crusade.

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Harkavy

If only Al Qaeda spokesman Azzam the American had been a good baseball player when he was growing up on a goat farm in California.

That might have diverted his attention, and maybe he wouldn't have converted to a fanatical brand of Islam that led him overseas to become Al Qaeda's version of Tokyo Rose.

Born Adam Gadahn in 1978 to a Jewish hippie originally named Phil Pearlman who had embraced Christianity, the kid was home-schooled in rural Riverside County. Get the details in a fascinating New Yorker profile of Gadahn by my ex-colleague Raffi Khatchadourian. Adam was a smart kid, but don't let that fool you. Ezra Pound, a brilliant hero of fellow writers, was also a crackpot anti-Semite.

As for baseball, well, young Adam apparently wasn't very good, but at least he was faithful:

When Adam was twelve or thirteen, he played Little League baseball. Carol Koltuniak, whose son was on the same team, remembered that Gadahn was quiet and easygoing but not a natural athlete. "He definitely didn't want to be doing what he was doing," she said. "He was very much a loner." But he was also persistent. Adam attended every practice and every game, accompanied by his family.

Years later, Gadahn is still striking out. This time he's swinging at "those infidels," meaning us. In a video released Sunday (only the latest of several from him since 9/11), Gadahn said:

The killing of those infidels and the targeting of their dens [diplomatic missions] is a religious duty.

And from this supremely self-hating Jew — his grandfather, urologist Carl Pearlman, with whom he spent time, was a board member of the Anti-Defamation League — here's some more religious doody:

The amount of respect we have for your international law is even less than the respect you hold for defined Sharia, and our observance of it is comparable to your observance of Sharia.

How can we comply with a law which contradicts divine law in whole and in part?

How can we recognize a law which states that the embassy or consulate is for all intents and purposes an inviolable fortress which the host country has no right to enter or monitor and when our Sharia commands us to liberate every handspan of Islamic land occupied by the unbelievers?

What is this, the Four Questions?

We Break Kids

Iraq-Rawah-kids-sign399.jpg

Iraqi kids try to be cheerful amid the rubble in Rawah. I installed a warning sign, but it won't ease the suffering.

Bad news really does come in threes. The Iraq Debacle and the continued hounding of Afghans are said to cost $10 billion a month, according to CNN. Working my abacus, I come up with $333,333,333 a day.

Where's the money going? Over at the excellent site EthicsDaily.com, Robert Parham, executive director of the Nashville-based Baptist Center for Ethics, breaks down the breakdown in Iraq and talks about the human cost:

Every minute the United States government spends $200,000 in Iraq, as human suffering worsens, not counting the violence of suicide bombers and roadside bombs. So, where is the United States spending its tax revenue in Iraq?

Ending malnutrition among children isn't an answer. Providing an adequate water supply isn't an answer. Ensuring decent sanitation isn't an answer. Slowing the growing humanitarian crisis isn't an answer. Advancing fundamental human rights isn't an answer.

Digression: Meanwhile, George W. Bush is fighting against the spending of a relatively piddling $47 billion — spread out over five years — to provide health coverage for poor American kids. Five months of war or health care for American kids? Tough choice.

Back to Parham and Iraq's kids: He leans on a just-released Oxfam report, Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq, that is required, if depressing, reading. Here are the deadly truths Parham plucks from the report:

Oxfam International and the Non-Governmental Organization Coordinating Committee in Iraq released a report on Monday that painted a bleak picture of the humanitarian situation, which, if not addressed, will make Iraq even more unstable. Here are some of the facts:

• "Child malnutrition rates have risen from 19 percent before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to 28 percent now."

• "More than 11 percent of newborn babies were born underweight in 2006, compared to 4 percent in 2003."

• "Forty-three percent of Iraqis suffer from 'absolute poverty.'"

• "Bereavement is … a major cause of poverty. Most of the people killed in Iraq's violence — perhaps 90 percent — are men. Their deaths leave households headed by women who struggle to survive the loss of the main breadwinner."

• "The two million internally displaced people … have no incomes to rely on and are running out of coping mechanisms."

• "The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies has risen from 50 percent to 70 percent since 2003."

• "Eighty percent of Iraqis lack effective sanitation."

• "Of the 180 hospitals countrywide, 90 percent lack key resources including basic medical and surgical supplies."

• "More than two million Iraqis are estimated to have fled to neighboring countries … . Approximately 40,000-50,000 Iraqis are leaving their homes to seek safety inside and outside Iraq on a monthly basis."

• "Christians — who comprise between 8 to 12 percent of the Iraq population — are increasingly reported to be experiencing discrimination in accessing labor market or basic social services, and are particularly fearful of the attacks by militia."

• "Iraq is … losing its educated public-service workers in massive numbers … .At least 40 percent of Iraq's professional class, including doctors, teachers, and water engineers, have left since 2003."

Oh, wait, my mistake. We're not spending $10 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's actually closer to $12 billion a month. Forget that folk saying about bad news coming in threes. The working figure for bad news is about $399,999,999 a day.

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