When he reigns, it pours

bush%20umbrella220.jpgAs if you don't already suffer from nightmares, check out Der Spiegel's new photo gallery, "Funny Moments with George 'Dubyah' Bush."

Picture — unretouched — is shot No. 11 of 21. Write your own caption. I'm sure you'll do a heckuva job.

Krauts Sour on Wall Street Bailout

Very interesting German perspectives — more interesting than most U.S. press coverage

Apparently following the lead of the New York Times, practically all of the U.S. press is ignoring some harsh — and insightful — criticism by European conservative pols of the Wall Street meltdown and bailout.

So much of the press (TV and print) is so used to waiting until the Times deems something newsworthy before letting the rest of us in on the news, Harkavy said, stating the obvious as he has so many times — making him so crazy that he's starting to refer to himself in the third person.

In any case, a load of stark, fact-based criticism of the U.S. by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others has somehow escaped mention by the Times and other U.S. outlets.

You would of course expect other governments to be pissed off at the U.S. right now, but this criticism has some real meat to it, and German commentators show more empathy with the average American than our own press does.

Go to Der Spiegel, where you'll read that Merkel "says the Bush administration has mishandled Wall Street, and that its refusal to adopt stricter rules led to the current crisis."

Merkel's no Hugo Chavez, nor even a Lula. She's a conservative, for Rockefeller's sake. And all she is asking is give voluntary regulation a chance.

But even that self-regulation was too much for the Bush-Cheney regime and the rest of the GOP to stomach. Here's a passage from the Spiegel story that helps explain:

At a political rally in Linz, Merkel indirectly attacked US President George W. Bush. She suggested that American obstinacy had dragged other industrial nations into the credit crisis.

Many European countries, she said, had already imposed stringent conditions on their banking sectors. "We dutifully adopted a nice EU directive into national law, and we had to deal with numerous complaints from small- and medium-sized companies in doing so. When the day came, the Americans said, 'We won't'," Merkel said. "That cannot be allowed in the international sphere." Merkel complained that taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill in countries far beyond the US and Britain.

She was referring to the "Basel II" agreement, a set of international standards which tightened capital requirements for credit institutions. Much of the EU has signed up to Basel II, and Germany codified it in 2007. But Washington still hasn't set a date for working its principles into American law.

See, if you don't click on non-U.S. sites, you miss out on some good angles, like the Basel II one, which has gotten almost zilch play over here.

And in " 'Bad News for the Ferrari Salesmen of the World,' " Der Spiegel's Rachel Nolan rounds up some shrewd assessments of the moves by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to give up being investment banks and run for cover to the Federal Reserve Bank. Nolan notes:

In their new incarnations, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs will offer consumer-banking services and gain permanent access to the discount window of the Federal Reserve. At the same time, they will be subject to the much more stringent regulations of the Fed rather than just those of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In effect, they will need to have more capital on hand relative to the amount they wish to borrow. That means less risk to play with.

While some commentators in German newspapers see the banks' decision as signaling the end of an era, others view it as meaning only that the same game will continue -- but with stricter referees.

She quotes the business daily Handelsblatt as saying:

The adrenaline branch of investment banking will lose a lot of its glamour. In the 1988 film Wall Street, Michael Douglas played an unscrupulous, risk-happy financial shark named Gordon Gekko, who wore bright pants and slicked back his hair. His motto, "greed is good," has prevailed for the past 20 years. The new motto is "caution is better." Gordon Gekko's era finally came to a close yesterday. That's bad news for the Ferrari salesmen of the world, but good news for the stability of the financial system.

Predictably, the lefty segment of the German press points to this as an earthshaking collapse leading to another way of doing business. Papers further to the right know better than to think that Goldman and Morgan will have to change everything about the way they operate. The two didn't forsake their status as investment banks for altruistic reasons, after all. For instance, from Financial Times Deutschland:

When it comes to everyday operations, the institutions will change very little. The only real change is that, from now on, it will be the Federal Reserve, rather than the Security and Exchange Commission, which exercises oversight...

Now the banks won't be able to take on such high risks nor bring in such high returns. Market conditions were already forcing them in that direction anyway. In essence, however, the core business model will remain the same: They will continue to provide advice about mergers and public offerings, trade stocks on their own and others' accounts, and invest their own money in takeovers.

Another Der Spiegel story, by Corinna Kreiler, focuses on German economists. But don't let your eyes glaze over, because this is the lede of the lively piece:

It's not a call for assistance; it's a scream for help. US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is asking other countries to help buy up bad US debt. The US government is putting up $700 billion in taxpayer money in the hopes that the measure might restore stability in the financial system. Some countries are planning to help. But the German government has answered this call quickly and clearly: no.

And here's a passage that resonates with a question that is being drowned out by the wailing of Wall Streeters:

Experts have also criticized the American rescue package for a number of other reasons. Diemo Dietrich from the Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) doesn't think the plan is well-balanced: "The government is only buying bad risks and, in doing so, nationalizing the losses." Dietrich adds that taxpayers won't share in any of the profits that the government hopes the stabilized market will bring about in the long run.

That's the same thing that happened when the government set up the Resolution Trust Corp. to bail out the savings and loan industry in the '80s and '90s. We taxpayers paid for that cleanup and didn't get so much as a reacharound in return.

Now let's see . . . that savings and loan crisis was caused in large part by deregulation and out-of-control real-estate lending practices. (One of its main financiopaths was Charlie Keating, who was John McCain's good buddy, vacation host, and campaign financier.)

And after taxpayers bailed out the S&L industry, the pols and bankers promised that they had learned a valuable lesson and would never, never be so reckless again.

Until the next time and the next bailout.

Wall Street Humor

Who says the Germans have no sense of humor? The Lehman collapse puts the lie to that.

Brits have for years made fun of the supposed lameness of German humor — see Monty Pythonite John Cleese's Fawlty Towers, which ragged on the stiffness of German tourists.

Stewart Lee's 2006 Guardian (U.K.) piece "Lost in Translation" tried to debunk that prejudice, explaining that Germans really can be funny. And I freely and warmly accept that, despite the fact that many of my relatives were slaughtered by Hitler's minions several decades ago.

Just last month, a Deutsche Welle story, "German Comedians Play Up to Stereotypes in UK Show", noted that Germans can even laugh at themselves — even in front of British audiences — for supposedly having no sense of humor.

Now, amid the Wall Street gnashing of teeth comes one of Germany's highest-ranking politicians to inject the kind of mordant humor that his U.S. counterpart Hammerin' Hank Paulson would never say for publication.

In today's Der Spiegel piece "What the Lehman Bankruptcy Means for Germany," reporter Stefan Schulz ends his sober and grim appraisal this way:

In light of this new turbulence, even German Finance Minister Peter Steinbrück has been forced to evoke unusually clear images when he speaks. As he sees it, the very people who had prematurely spoken about there being a light at the end of the tunnel will now be forced to realize "that, in reality, it was the light of an oncoming train."

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.


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.


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.

Daily Flog: Snow jobs and mush after Palin completes her first drilling

In a world where a no-name Alaskan could suddenly become an aging heartbeat from the U.S. presidency, as Don LaFontaine might have intoned it if he hadn't died before I could hire him, the stunning desperation of that very move got glossed over by 99 percent of the U.S. media.

Matt Scully's speech at the Republican National Convention — recited by Sarah Palin last night — received the imprimatur from the New York Times: "Palin Assails Critics and Electrifies Party."

Like an ER team using the paddles to jump-start a dead patient.

As if they were reporting on the emperor's new clothes, Elizabeth Bumiller and Michael Cooper pronounced the Republican ticket healthy:

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska introduced herself to America before a roaring crowd at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night as “just your average hockey mom” who was as qualified as the Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama, to be president of the United States.

An hour later Senator John McCain, a scrappy, rebellious former prisoner of war in Vietnam whose campaign was resurrected from near-death a year ago, was nominated by the Republican Party to be the 44th president of the United States after asking the cheering delegates, “Do you think we made the right choice” in picking Ms. Palin as the vice-presidential nominee?

What a shock that the delegates said yes.

Of course, Times reporters didn't have to play into the McCain campaign's hands by describing him that way. Closer to the truth is that McCain is an admiral's son who married an Arizona liquor magnate's daughter, carpetbagged into Congress, and built his career by sucking up to the rich and powerful, including financiopath S&L schnook Charles Keating and newspaper publisher/phony war hero Darrow "Duke" Tully.

They got Palin right, however. She really is a hockey mom — even the father of her accidental grandchild is a high-school kid who plays hockey with his buddies.

Is she really a good choice for the ticket? I don't know. Alaska.

A look-see at how the rest of the press handled the GOP's desperate move to offer a Snow White alternative to the Democrats' Negro candidate:

The Wall Street Journal was more rational, steering clear of the kind of glib labeling used by the likes of the Times and me. The lede by Jerry Seib and Laura Meckler:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin went straight at the critics of her vice-presidential nomination, using an intensely watched national address to portray her experience as governor as sufficient, her time as a small-town mayor as an asset, and the attacks on her record as the work of an elitist media and political establishment.

Speaking to a loudly enthusiastic crowd of delegates at the Republican National Convention, and to a national audience drawn into days of debate about her selection, Gov. Palin used the large stage to introduce both herself and her family. In the process, she also countered a grueling barrage of accusations that she's not ready for the job.

Perhaps influenced by Fashion Week, the big event going on this week in New York City, our hometown Post picked a glamor image and ran with it:


Michael Vick's pit bulls also had red mouths, but in their case it was blood. Anyway, here's Brendan Scott and Chuck Bennett's lede:

Sarah Palin introduced herself to the nation last night with a part-folksy, part-fiery convention speech, tongue-lashing Barack Obama and her critics and saying she's been slammed simply for being a Beltway outsider.

Palin, who made history as the first woman to run as vice president on the GOP ticket, proved her chops as presidential nominee John McCain's tough attack dog.

Not the kind of tongue-lashing Larry Craig — the last unknown Republican from the West to make a splash in Minnesota — was prepared to give in that airport bathroom stall, but at least Palin got it done.

(By the way, she didn't "prove her chops." She tried to prove her chops. That's why the WSJ's "countered" is more accurate.)

The Daily News promo'd its coverage nicely with "Hockey mom drops gloves," but its lede slipped and fell:

Sarah Palin boasts she can take it — and boy, can she dish it out.

"Well, I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment," Palin told an adoring convention crowd of more than 20,000 in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.

In her one unscripted moment, she flashed her wit when some fellow "hockey moms" gave her a cheer.

"I love those hockey moms. You know they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: lipstick," she chuckled.

This is a theme with Republican pols. Rudy Giuliani in drag was also a pit bull with lipstick.

McClatchy noted that Palin "defined herself as someone irritated with the news media and Washington."

Well, who isn't?

Nice job by Newsday's Craig Gordon:

Capping a five-day rise from near-obscurity to the cusp of history, Sarah Palin accepted the Republican vice-presidential nomination Wednesday night with a wry but blistering attack on Barack Obama -- portraying herself as a no-nonsense PTA mom who will help John McCain take on the "Washington elite."

She also took a swipe at news outlets that have dug into her political record as Alaska governor -- and her family matters -- all week.

But so what. For all the talk about the feistiness of Palin's speech, you have to remember that the words came from former George W. Bush speechwriter Scully, who's been spraying similar vitriol at liberals since he was an Arizona college student harassing professors two decades ago.

A surprisingly humdrum lede by the Washington Post:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin electrified the Republican convention Wednesday night, pitching herself as a champion of government reform, mocking Democratic candidate Barack Obama as an elitist and belittling media criticism of her experience.

(Yes, a black man in America is accused of being "elitist," and it's reported with a straight face.)

But the WashPost deserves kudos for Dan Balz's front-page story yesterday that detailed the GOP's desperation and shoddy vetting of Palin:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was not subjected to a lengthy in-person background interview with the head of Sen. John McCain's vice presidential vetting team until last Wednesday in Arizona, the day before McCain asked her to be his running mate, and she did not disclose the fact that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant until that meeting, two knowledgeable McCain officials acknowledged Tuesday.

Interesting blog analysis from the BBC's U.S. guy Justin Webb:

Palin's punches

I liked the parliamentary-style jabs at Obama and they have peppered the news coverage, though I still think she is skating on thin ice. Rudy Giuliani stirred the crowd with a demand that "they" stop asking her how she can cope with her parental opportunities as well as this new job. Strikes me that it is a perfectly reasonable question - you could argue that tiny babies need mums more than dads - and anyway "they" are mostly on the right, as here.

Webb doesn't point this out, but it's pretty funny that Giuliani has the nerve to talk about what the GOP calls "family values." This is the same mayor who famously shucked his wife and shunted his kids to the sidelines. (See my colleague Wayne Barrett's 2007 piece "Public Displays of Disaffection.")

The Times (U.K.) had the guts to use the most accurate label for Palin:

She was greeted with a thunderous, sustained ovation by a Republican convention clearly smitten by John McCain’s fresh-faced, feisty, female and — above all — right-wing running-mate.

The most clever review of last night's sitcom pilot comes from Der Spiegel. The German outlet's headline and typically (in the foreign press) long subhed:

Resuscitating the Republicans with Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin's presence on the stage at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul was hardly impressive. But her party hasn't seemed so human in a long time. Palin's weaknesses may turn out to be her greatest strength.

Gabor Steingart's story is somewhat snooty, but at least it's original, so you can forgive him the factual boo-boo of confusing Alaska with Arizona. (How's a German copy editor going to catch that mistake unless he or she grew up reading Karl May's novels?) Quoting at length from Steingart:

Was Sarah Palin convincing on Wednesday night in St. Paul? There is a long and a short answer to that question.

The short answer is no.

The 44-year-old governor of Arizona recited in her thin voice a laundry list of accusations levelled at the Democratic candidate for president Barack Obama. One could describe her speech -- generously -- as brash. But it could just as easily be called hubristic.

The longer answer, though, is yes. Palin did a great service for the Republicans.

Her weakness, as it turns out, is her greatest strength. The party of George W. Bush, responsible for one unnecessary war (Iraq) and one necessary but unsuccessful war (Afghanistan), hasn't looked so human for a long time. Plainness, as it turns out, can be inviting -- and flaws can be beneficial.

Palin's manifest vulnerability goes a long way toward protecting the Republicans from the accusation that the party wants to seamlessly continue the tenure of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. She came out of nowhere, breezy, bold and inexperienced. She is not belligerent or devious enough to be seen as a hawk. Her conservatism may seem antiquated, but it is certainly not aggressive and arrogant.

We'll see about that, but congratulations to Steingart for working in a mention of Cheney, who has been our de facto president for the past eight years.

More to the current point, it probably takes a furriner like Steingart to observe our moralistic brand of politics at a safe remove:

Morally, Sarah Palin tends toward rigidity. She is a devout supporter of abstinence-only programs instead of sex education in schools, a position that her own 17-year-old daughter shows as being impracticable.

Indeed, at first blush, it seemed a profound embarrassment to both Palin and her party that, in the same week as the Republican National Convention, McCain's newly-crowned vice-presidential candidate had to admit to her own daughter's unplanned teen pregnancy. The Republicans wanted to talk about the myriad threats facing the world -- and suddenly they ended up in the bedroom of Palin's daughter.

But. This particular embarrassment is one that could turn out to be profoundly useful. Indeed, mixed in with the schadenfreude coming from the American left is a certain amount of respect for a family that has treated a potential disaster as little more than real life.

Steingart can get away with using "schadenfreude" in a daily news story. He is German, after all. And the Palin melodrama does have its enjoyable moments.

Daily Flog: Alaska or bust; GOP fights off depression; shrinking lobsters

Running down the press:

As expected, Bristol mire was highly profitable this morning:

Daily News: 'Bristol Palin's pregnancy was an open secret back home'

Good adjectival application, except for the usual fuckin' bowdlerizing:

Doe-eyed Bristol Palin, 17, and ruggedly handsome Levi Johnston, an 18-year-old self-described "f---in' redneck," have been dating a year, locals in Wasilla, Alaska, told the Daily News.

Der Spiegel: 'McCain's Bush-Style Campaign Worries the Center'

Before you settle in for yet another day of Jerry Springer-style Palin family drama, go to Germany for some other news about the Republicans:

McCain's popularity has long rested on his being a man of the center. The media liked him for his openness. Now, though, McCain has hired a number of former Bush advisors, and his campaign is swerving to the right.

On Tuesday evening in St. Paul, it almost seemed as though the Republicans didn't want to see the end of the Bush era. Just before 7:30 p.m., applause began rippling through the XCel Center. In the Fox News studio, just under the arena's rafters, President George W. Bush's former chief strategist Karl Rove had sat down for an interview. One row of delegates after another stood up, turned toward Rove and waved excitedly. Rove waved graciously back.

And the German site doesn't neglect der kinder mutter; it simply treats it as political news:

[T]he choice of Sarah Palin as McCain's vice presidential candidate was one which came as a surprise to the Republicans -- and a not entirely pleasant one for moderates within the party. Since then, it has become clear just how spontaneous the decision was. The last two days have been dominated by coverage of Palin's pregnant, unmarried 17-year-old daughter, her lack of experience and her extremely conservative views on environmental issues.

Indeed, the choice of the ultra-conservative governor of Alaska seems little more than a poorly disguised gambit to get the religious right behind McCain. It is a clear signal that two other possibilities that had been considered by McCain -- the former Democrat Joe Lieberman and the ex-head of Homeland Security Tom Ridge -- were unacceptable due to their pro-choice positions.

Straight shooting from the Germans that cuts through the bullshit over here: "poorly disguised gambit to get the religious right behind McCain."

Yes, the Palin choice smells like a Rovian maneuver. Wonder if we'll ever find out whether he was the one behind it.

Daily News: 'Killer smiled as he bragged to dad about chilling student murder'

The morning's best creepshow stuff:

A drifter who spent time in a psych ward confessed Tuesday to killing a Pace University student found with a cord around his neck and a plastic bag shoved down his throat, police sources said.

Jeromie Cancel, 22, brutalized 19-year-old Kevin Pravia, sat near the honor student's corpse to watch the horror movie Saw and then bragged about the murder to his father, the sources said. Asked why he did it as he was marched out of the 10th Precinct stationhouse Tuesday night, Cancel shouted, "Because I wanted to. You got a problem with that?"

Nope, no problem, Jeromie. Listen, have a good day. Gotta run now.

Times: 'City Feels the Economic Pinch, but It’s Only a Pinch, So Far'

Doing its best to attach a smiley face to the situation, the paper dispatched Patrick McGeehan to find people who don't think the economy is rapidly sinking. In a city this big, you're bound to find some, and in a story that smacks of small-town reporting, he did:

Across the city, owners of independent businesses agree that the city is in the throes of an economic downturn. Consumers are feeling pinched, they say, credit is harder to come by, and higher food and fuel costs are eating into profits.

To a surprising degree, though, many say they are not feeling deep pain from the slowdown — at least not yet. Many say they have had to reduce prices, but their sales are holding steady or are down only slightly. Others say they are moving ahead with plans to expand or open new branches, stormy economic forecasts notwithstanding.

Vague bullshit that's mostly stiff-upper-lip quotes from merchants and which includes zero from, say, the tens of thousands of people who have been laid off or fired. "To a surprising degree"? Not backed up.

The problem for readers: If you just read the headline, you're being misled. But then if you go on and read the story, you're wasting your time with boring misinformation. Misled or bored — you decide.

For a more realistic look at the economy — even for those of us who don't dine at hoity-toity restaurants — turn to the food section for Frank Bruni's 'As Belts Tighten, Lobsters Shrink and Bar Menus Grow.' That's a real story with real information about how we're being fricasseed.

Daily News: 'Online bookies taking bets on whether Sarah Palin will get dumped'

Already tired of the Republicans and their catering to the Good Book evangelicals? Go to Ireland:

The online bookies Intrade are taking bets on whether a string of embarrassing revelations will force GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin to withdraw from John McCain's ticket.

The market opened at 3% that Palin would be cut and then climbed as high as 18% before settling down to 11.6% at the end of the day.

Intrade chief executive John Delaney, based in Ireland, said he had no reservations about starting the Palin market.

"[Was it] a political decision for us? No. We list markets that are relevant to people, that people have a passionate interest in," he told Reuters.

I wrote about Intrade's political market in May 2007 ("Wolfie's Stock Soars"). Now you can keep track of Palin here.

By the way, as the story doesn't note, Obama appears to be the favorite over McCain, according to the Irish site's punters.


Tired old headline style, not to mention the mixed-metaphoric lede:

John McCain, Fred Thompson and former Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman galloped to the defense of embattled Sarah Palin yesterday, trying to shield her from attacks that she's not veep material, as well as from the firestorm over her pregnant teenage daughter.

Fred Thompson's name makes the first paragraph of your Palin story, you gotta problem.


Great head, supported by a cute lede:

Two thousand bras equaled one bust.

A Queens man was arrested yesterday on charges of selling $80,000 worth of hot Victoria's Secret brassieres on eBay.

L.A. Times: 'Palin hubbub leads Republican delegates to target "liberal media" '

James Rainey, the paper's "On the Media" reporter, paints a dramatic picture:

Delegates to the Republican National Convention whirled in their seats en masse and called out from the floor: "Tell the truth! Tell the truth!"

The chants and finger-wagging were directed toward the sky boxes. Their target: the television networks and the rest of the "liberal mainstream media."

Then he continues with what has to be the worst idea for a lede in the history of political-convention coverage:

It happened 20 years ago, as the GOP gathered in New Orleans, Times political writer Mark Z. Barabak recalled this week.

Huh? He's interviewing one of his colleagues? About something that happened 20 years ago? Rainey continues:

But the scene could have come from the convention floor Tuesday in St. Paul, where the Republican faithful began working out once again on a favorite punching bag.

Yes, it could have, but it didn't.

In fact, another mediocre West Coast paper snared an anecdote that really did happen in St. Paul. Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times trolled the convention floor asking about George W. Bush and came up with this:

One delegate told me he couldn't answer because he simply hadn't given Bush any thought lately. I pressed him: He's still the president, isn't he?

He started to say something, then stopped. He insisted he couldn't be quoted by name.

Then he took my reporter's notebook and wrote across it: "Worst president ever."

Times (U.K.): 'Obama support hits 50 per cent as Republicans look to Palin speech'

Rupert Murdoch's London paper is your better choice than Murdoch's New York City paper — or any other NYC paper — if you want political news. If you want to put the Palin news in perspective, here's part of how the Brit paper's Hannah Strange portrays it:

Mrs Palin has been holed up at her suite at the Hilton Minneapolis since Sunday night, as Mr McCain’s top advisers brief her on the nominee’s policy positions, national issues and how to introduce herself to an audience of millions.

The Alaska governor is sure of a rapturous welcome from the Republican convention, where delegates have rallied to her defence following the news that her daughter Bristol is having a baby with her boyfriend-turned-fiance.

As a staunch social conservative and lifetime member of the NRA, her selection sent the party’s powerful social and evangelical conservative base into peals of delight.

But her speech must win over a far tougher crowd – an America that hardly knows her and has been bewildered by a series of dubious revelations – from her past membership of the fringe Alaska Independence Party to an audio recording of her laughing while a campaign opponent was called a "bitch", "cancer", and mocked for her weight.

Yo, bitch, you ain't all that. "Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!"

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.

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.

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