11.30.2007

A Sucker's Walk Down Wall Street

by Jeff Siegel

At the beginning of March, the guy who runs the second-biggest home builder in the U.S. told a stock analysts conference: "I don't want to be too sophisticated here, but 2007 is going to suck, all 12 months of the calendar year."

This week, that company's stock closed near its four-year low, and it has lost one-third of its value this year. That's when an analyst downgraded it – from buy to hold. Apparently, it's still not time to sell the stock.

Welcome to the shell game that is today's Wall Street. Never in the 30-some odd years that I have followed the stock business have I seen such shameless pandering by analysts. This is even worse than the go-go Enron days, when some analysts were on the company pad. These days, though everyone is supposed to be on the up and up, the quality of the analysis doesn't seem to be any better.

Consider McClatchy, which owns 31 newspapers, the Real Cities internet franchise, and various other web companies. Its stock is at its 52-week low (about $13.30) as I write this, and it has lost two-thirds of its value this year. This week, one analyst cut the company's target price from $25 to $15 – even though McClatchy hasn't seen $25 since the end of the summer.

What's going on here? Plain and simple, analysts are shilling for stocks. There's no such thing as a bad stock: the market is full of unlimited promise, and all setbacks are temporary. There are any number of explanations for this approach:

• The conspiracy-minded will point to consolidation in the investment business, which means fewer independent voices. In addition, despite attempts over the past decade to build better Chinese walls between the brokerage and analyst divisions within companies, every analyst knows that panning a stock is going to cost the brokerage side commissions.

• The change in cultural attitudes towards the stock market. It's not just that more of us, thanks to IRAs and 401Ks, have money in the market, but that we feel entitled to prosper from those investments. An analyst who actually recommended dumping a stock received death threats from clients who blamed her for the stock's subsequent collapse. That she was correct in her call seemed to matter not at all.

• There's the increase in business news, and especially the various cable channels. It's like watching ESPN: No one there is going to tell you that sports is a waste of time, and that you should spend it with your family or a good book. Is anyone at CNBC or FOX Business going to tell viewers that the market is overpriced and that they should get out?

• A lack of institutional memory. The last bear market came in 2001-2002, and, for the most part, wasn't all that bad. Traditional bear markets, like those in the mid-1970s, early 1980s, and even 1987, are bad. In 1974, the Dow-Jones average fell nearly 45 percent to the bottom of a 20-year range. So some analyst shilling may be because they don't know any better. All they have seen, for the past 20 years, are mostly good times.

So what's an investor to do? Read a book called A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel, who described the market thusly: "It's like giving up a belief in Santa Claus. Even though you know Santa Claus doesn't exist, you kind of cling to that belief.

Finally, keep in mind John Maynard Keynes' perspective about a key piece of stock market wisdom: In the long run, the market has always gone up. Noted Keynes: "In the long run, we are all dead."

(Editor's Note: For more examples of the parallel dimension that is Wall Street, please note the market seemed to take little notice of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's gloomy speech on the nation's economy. For additional background on this, please see: "On Wall Street Reality is Relative.")

(Photo of the New York Stock Exchange by zoonabar via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)


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iVoryTowerz Radio: Musical Voyages

This week the underground podcast provides the soundtrack for various musical journeys. We travel by sea, by road, and even overland by camel. Believe it. Along the way you'll hear plenty of folk-influenced music and don't miss our examination of 35 years of power pop too. Also, for those who like variety on their trips, well, we have stops scheduled at various ports: blues, new wave, heavy metal and a marvelous Metallica cover. Enjoy!


(This podcast is no longer available.)


Playlist

"Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot
"Ride On" by America
“Tarkio Road" by Brewer & Shipley
"I Believe She's Lying" by Rhett Miller
Cover Me: "The Unforgiven" by Harptallica (request)
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Prometherion” by Behemoth
"I'm Your Captain" by Grand Funk Railroad (request)
"December" by Collective Soul
“All the Pretty Faces” by The Killers
Jeff’s New Wave: “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones
“Camel” by The Leftovers
“When I Look in Your Eyes” by The Romantics
"Go All the Way" by The Raspberries
"Rocket in my Pocket" by Little Feat
"Meanest Woman" by Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets
"T-Bone Boogie" by T-Bone Walker


(Mp3 Runs - 1:27:23; 80 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

(The photo is by SqueakyMarmot of Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada via Flickr using a Creative Commons License.)




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11.29.2007

Sean Taylor & Thug Life in the NFL

by Robin Forman

They all said Sean Taylor was just turning his life around.

The young and powerful Taylor died Tuesday (Nov. 27) after suffering injuries from a gunshot wound.

Washington Redskins’ head coach Joe Gibbs, with tear-glossed eyes, called it a tragedy.

Taylor, who was a Pro Bowl safety, was shot in his home by an intruder, leaving the Redskins in mourning.

His teammates said that the birth of his daughter seemed to have helped him reorder his life.

"It's hard to expect a man to grow up overnight," Clinton Portis, his teammate, told the Associated Press. "But ever since he had his child, it was like a new Sean, and everybody around here knew it. He was always smiling, always happy, always talking about his child."

But Taylor's death raises a troubling issue: these deaths-by-shooting in football seem to be on the rise.

Just shy of a year ago, Broncos' cornerback Darrent Williams was killed in a drive-by shooting following an argument at a Denver nightclub. University of Miami defensive lineman Bryan Pata was shot to death in November 2006 several miles from Taylor's home in an unsolved killing.

What is this violent crime doing in football? Why is it in the National Football League?

What about the brawl with Adam “Pacman” Jones of the Tennessee Titans at a strip club in Las Vegas? Three people were shot after that fracas.

After that incident, the co-owner of the Minxx Gentleman’s club, Robert Susnar told ESPN "the NFL is starting to look like an organized crime family, and I find that objectionable."

Well, Rob, so do I.

What is this?

This once was a gangster thing. And by gangster, I mean both gangsters as in mobsters and gangstas as in boys-in-the-hood.

Please do not misinterpret this. The death of Taylor is a tragedy. He left behind a fiancée, an 18-month-old daughter, and a team of players who spoke very highly of him.

But the violence of this death along with the other crimes sprinkled throughout the last NFL season shows we’ve got to question what’s going on here.

(Editor's Note: The NFL plans to hold memorials for Taylor at all of the league's games through this weekend.)

(The photo shows Sean Taylor at a practice session of the Washington Redskins; the photo is by dbking of Washington, D.C., and was obtained via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)





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11.28.2007

Rocky's Football Corner, 11.28.2007

by Rick Rockwell

Tomorrow, perhaps the second best game of the National Football League’s season will be played, and only forty percent of the country’s fans will be able to see it.

As usual though, this column is about more than the Green Bay Packers playing the Dallas Cowboys. This is another sequel in the long running war between the National Football League (NFL) and the cable TV industry.

Today, one of the best sportswriters in the land opined about this clash, and more or less took the side of the cable industry. This author is saddened and disappointed to report that Frank Deford of National Public Radio (NPR) and Sports Illustrated got his facts wrong.

Deford rightly noted that the league decided to keep these games for its own network, which some see as greedy and selfish. But the games are the league’s most valuable product. The league could have sold the eight games it reserved (and the Packers-Cowboys clash is one of those) to the broadcast networks and reaped millions more. Instead, the league gambled by putting the games on its network in an attempt to leverage the cable cartel into paying a particular rate and forcing the cartel to put the games on basic cable. Instead, the cable cartel balked and now the NFL Network is usually found on special sports cable tiers that cost consumers extra cash.

And so far, those are the real losers in this battle, sports consumers.

But sounding elitist, Deford took football fans to task for looking at the privilege of viewing football games as a right. He’s correct. No one is guaranteed television access to a football game. However, because sports consumers have become accustomed to seeing the best games on broadcast television, many will feel slighted that their access to this important game is being denied by the legal clash between the league and the cable cartel. And they will feel especially aggrieved because this is not a new battle, but one that has been dragging on for more than a year, with no resolution from Congress, the courts, or the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

Where Deford went wrong is with his math. He portrayed sports fans as being unwilling to cough up a measly 70 cents a month more to get access to the games. The charge is actually (depending on the cable system) as little as five dollars extra a month, to $17 more per month. That is an additional cost of $200 per year. For some, that’s too much of a luxury.

Don’t expect resolution of this any time soon. The FCC passed on an opportunity this week to regulate cable. Part of the reason the commission punted was this thorny issue and some muscling by members of Congress who would likely have pushed to override the FCC. For example, this week, House Minority Leader John Boehner led a pack of Republicans criticizing the FCC's move toward further regulation. Also, four influential Republican Senators sent a letter to the commission warning that the FCC should not consider regulating cable.

Just for the record, here are the names of those Senators (and links to their websites for fans who may want to mail them an opinion) who also seem to be siding with the cable cartel:

  • Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas (this shows that the NFL’s pointman on the cable debate, Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys, has little pull with at least one of his Senators);
  • John Sununu of New Hampshire (Patriots fans take note);
  • Jim DeMint of South Carolina (Panthers fans take note); and
  • Gordon Smith of Oregon (whose state does not have an NFL franchise but fans should bombard his mailbox nevertheless).
Oh, and by the way, Boehner represents the Eighth District in Ohio, which is pressed hard against the Indiana border (that actually explains a lot) so it is hard to tell if folks from his district cheer for the Bengals, Browns or Colts. But fans of all three should drop him a line for good measure.

Let’s be clear: both the league and the cable cartel are responsible for this problem, but there’s no reason fans should not complain vociferously to all connected to this snafu.

Week 13 Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week: Packers at Cowboys (Cowboys)
Upset Special: Browns at Cardinals (Browns)
Jaguars at Colts (Colts)
Seahawks at Eagles (Eagles)
Texans at Titans (Titans)
Bengals at Steelers (Steelers)
Lions at Vikings (Vikings)
Jets at Dolphins (Dolphins)
Falcons at Rams (Falcons)
49ers at Panthers (49ers)
Buccaneers at Saints (Saints)
Giants at Bears (Bears)
Broncos at Raiders (Broncos)
Bills at Washington (Washington)
Patriots at Ravens (Patriots)
Chargers at Chiefs (Chargers)

Last Week: .625
This Season: .670


For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:











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The Iowa Caucuses: How Not to Crown the Next Emperor (or Empress)

by Rick Rockwell

The first major event in the process of how the U.S. picks the most powerful person in the world is less than six weeks away. So why aren’t we panicked?

Perhaps it’s because the media are telling us everything is hunky-dory. Don’t worry. This is the democratic system at work.

First, let’s set aside the fact that votes won’t determine the Iowa caucuses for either party. This is a measure of grassroots organization, not wooing individual voters. Without getting into the details of how caucuses work, it boils down to getting your operatives into the meetings and swaying decisions. There’s no private voting. This is group-think.

And forget the polls, even though some may find positive signs if you read those tea leaves. How can a poll of individual voters actually reflect how a group can sway the decision process? Perhaps this is why candidates use that wonder of marketing, the focus group.

Yes, the Iowa polls show Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) leading Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) barely although Clinton holds a 30 point poll lead nationwide. And on the Republican side, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leads the nationwide frontrunner Rudy Guiliani, the former mayor of New York City. So to those who wish to stop the frontrunners, (and there are many of us) Iowa holds out hope.

But there’s no hope really. No. Iowa is just the first stop on a train ride of despair.

Many have rightly criticized a system that anoints Iowa and New Hampshire as the states that propel candidates toward the White House. The media will push the winners forward for all to approve, despite their flaws. Bill Clinton even proved exceeding expectations in Iowa (where he actually finished third after the first inklings of his problems with extramarital affairs) was enough to dub himself “the comeback kid.” And his campaign repeated the slogan when he came in second in New Hampshire, again exceeding media expectations. Everyone knows what happened after that.

This year, Nevada is also holding a primary earlier than usual, to be included in the first round of decision-making states, and South Carolina also remains an early key. After that comes the rush of other states. Super Tuesday. Super-Duper Tuesday.

It’s all Super Dumb.

But the media will tell you otherwise. E.J. Dionne tells us it's alright to forget issues and just use the media to decide about character. Eugene Robinson will admit the media don’t really care about issues and revel in the horse race aspects of campaigning, so bring it on ever earlier. And Michael Kinsley will tell you despite the mess we face, experience in government (and many of the candidates lack that) doesn't matter.

It’s all a media smokescreen.

The Emporer (or Empress) has no clothes. This system actually disenfranchises voters, which is part of the rush of states to move their primaries up on the calendar ever earlier. Why has no leader in either party come forward to stop this unseemly insanity? Of course, the nation is so sick of the current incompetent in the White House, everyone, the Republicans included, are falling over themselves to see who will come next. But choosing candidates won’t make that lying bumbler leave any quicker. And who says we need to have candidates selected by March so we have to endure seven months of their bickering?

Some in Congress have half-heartedly discussed reforms for primaries, but that won’t help us in this election, which is shaping up as the most important in a generation. And what happened to those electoral reforms we were all promised after the debacles of the presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004? Well, the powerful have no real reason to change a system where they remain in power, so we have the status quo.

However, this broken system is no way to select someone who has their finger on the atomic trigger. This is no way to pick the so-called leader of the free world. Is it any reason the rest of the world gets impatient with this superpower?

(Political cartoon from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)








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11.26.2007

George Bush's Latest Repudiation

by Jeff Siegel

How much does the rest of the world hate the president, his administration and everything he stands for? Australian Prime Minister John Howard, perhaps the staunchest Bush ally left in the world, was not only thrown out of office over the weekend; it looks like he didn't win his seat in Parliament, either. This would make Howard the first Australian prime minister since 1929 to lose his own constituency.

Obviously, domestic issues had much to do with the thrashing that voters handed Howard and his Liberal Party. They tossed him for repeated interest rate increases and controversial labor law reforms. Also, Howard promised that if reelected, he would retire midterm and give the job to his deputy, who would become prime minister without an election. (That sounds especially Cheney-esque, doesn't it?)

But it's difficult to overlook the anti-Bush sentiment in the vote. Howard called himself Bush's deputy sheriff in Asia, sent combat troops to Iraq, and refused to ratify the Kyoto environmental protocol. That's a platform that would almost certainly make Howard one of the front runners for the Republican presidential nomination in the U.S. (or the Democratic nomination, for that matter).

So, not surprisingly, one of the first things new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he would do is withdraw Australia's troops from Iraq and ratify Kyoto. Rudd also vowed to pursue a more independent foreign policy, offering more support for the United Nations and other global organizations.

Would that we had a candidate for president who believed in those policies. The GOP's right-wing is coming perilously close to turning creationist and prohibitionist Mike Huckabee (former governor of Arkansas) into a legitimate candidate, and regular readers of this space know my disgust with the faux-Republicans running for the Democratic nomination (please see: "Note to Democratic Party: Drop Dead" and "Hillary Clinton does not Deserve to be President"). If the rest of the world is fed up with our arrogance and hubris, shouldn't that tell us something?

(The photo shows Australia's Prime Minister John Howard in the Oval Office with President George Bush in February of 2003, just before a discussion about the invasion of Iraq. The photo is a White House photo by Paul Morse and is in the public domain.)






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11.23.2007

Healthcare for the Uninsured: The Vicious Circle

by Robin Forman

So, I went to a pretty good college.

I come from a pretty good family.

I’ve even have a decent job.

So why is it that I spent a good 30 minutes on the phone the other day plotting insurance fraud with one of my best friends?

Because I don’t have health insurance and I’m sick and I need medicine. Now.

If I were a child I would technically qualify for S-CHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) — were the president not slashing it.

And I’m not alone…at all. According to The New Republic somewhere between 40 and 47 million Americans lack health insurance. (The National Coalition on Health Care also cites those figures from a U.S. Census report in 2005.) Part of the problem in exacting a figure is that people move in and out of coverage constantly. A better figure for understanding this problem is that over a two-year period somewhere between 80 and 90 million people (more than a quarter of the U.S. population) will go without health insurance at some point.

Do you have any idea what it’s like to be sick, scared, alone and without option?

Let me take you on the journey through healthcare without insurance:

First there’s the initial panic of realizing you’re sick with no real place to turn. Not to mention you probably can’t skip work to try and deal with this because if you do you won’t get paid and any sort of healthcare that's not covered by insurance will be out of the question. If you have to pay for uninsured antibiotics how will you get groceries that week or even month? What about the fees even at a free clinic?

Next, perhaps like me, you try to go to one of these free clinics. It seems to me that if you’re a woman and you’re headed to a free clinic everyone assumes you’re there for an abortion or emergency contraceptives. What a dreadful stigma to walk into. Now, if you’re lucky, unlike I was, the clinic will be where they say it is. Then you will be able to pay a fee for the visit (generally below $100,) wait several hours for sub-par treatment, then be prescribed medications for which you will have to pay full price.

Or maybe you’ll be lucky enough to let your condition get to the point where you have to be rushed to a hospital. Where you will incur tens of thousands of dollars worth of bills and ultimately end up with a prescription for a follow up appointment which will cost you somewhere around $150-$200 without insurance. Without a follow up, the condition will likely persist or a new one will appear.

Do you see the vicious circle?

I know that writers on this site (see "Capitalism & Poverty in America" and "An Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh") as well as countless others have often asked this, but I must pose the question again. We should all pose it until it gets answered. How is it that the richest nation in the world can’t take care of its own?

(Photo by Betsssssy of San Francisco via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)




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iVoryTowerz Radio in Search of Space Rock

This week the underground podcast takes off on a journey to the center of the space rock universe. Yes, you'll find hefty dollops of Pink Floyd and Hawkwind, the originators of the genre, in this week's mix, but also plenty of other progressive rock, from the 1970s right up through the new millennium. Plus, we have our usual tangents into new wave, and heavy metal. And don't miss the alternative takes on the Chuck Berry songbook. Enjoy!


(This podcast is no longer available for download.)


Playlist

"Karn Evil #9: First Impression, Part II" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Gypsy” by Uriah Heep
"Spectral Mornings" by Steve Hackett
“Watcher of the Skies (remix version)" by Genesis
"Shock the Monkey" by Peter Gabriel
Jeff’s New Wave: “Take Me to the River” by The Talking Heads
Cover Me: "Happiness is a Warm Gun" by The Breeders
"You Can't Catch Me" by John Lennon
"Back in the USA" by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
“Memphis, Tennessee” by Silicon Teens
“Steal the Blueprints” by +/-
“Angeles” by Elliot Smith
"Curtains" by Owl & the Pussycat
"Evil Eyes Again" by Warlock
"Paranoia, Parts I & II" by Hawkwind
"Challenger Deep" by Zombi
"One of These Days" by Pink Floyd

(Mp3 Runs - 1:32:50; 85 MB.)

(The photo is of the M82 galaxy from the Hubble Space Telescope via NASA; the image is in the public domain.)




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11.22.2007

Thanksgiving

(Last year, this blog quoted the first lines of an Iroquois prayer that seemed to match the sentiments of this special day. This year, here are the closing lines of the prayer.)

We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant occasion.

We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit's music,
and hope they will be privileged to continue in his faith.

We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies
on this occasion.

– Traditional Iroquois prayer translated by Harriet Maxwell Converse

(The photo is by William Alexander Drennan of a gathering of Iroquois in 1914, from the Library of Congress' collection. Drennan's copyright has lapsed and the photo is now in the public domain.)




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11.21.2007

Rocky's Football Corner, 11.21.2007

by Rick Rockwell*

Ricky Williams cannot save the Miami Dolphins.

For the few who may still care, Williams, once a dominant running back in the National Football League (NFL) began practicing today with the winless Dolphins. This is another example of how far a once proud franchise has slipped: they have to look to a quirky running back who has run up against the league’s drug policy four times to bring back a sense of hope.

For those who haven’t tracked Williams’ career, he did lead the league in rushing in 2002. But he retired from the Dolphins in 2004 rather than face a suspension for failing a drug test. (Most of Williams’ problems have been with marijuana.) Williams came out of retirement in 2005 and the Dolphins took him back after he served a suspension. But he played mostly in a reserve role. The league suspended him for the entire 2006 season because of yet another drug testing problem. Williams did play in Canada during 2006, but he was injured for part of the season and his mere presence stirred controversy and new rules for the Canadian Football League (CFL).

And now with the Dolphins at 0-10 for the season, after losing their quarterback and main running back to injury, they turn again to Williams.

Likely, the Dolphins will press Williams into service soon. New coach Cam Cameron doesn’t seem too thrilled about the controversial reacquisition of Williams, but if the Dolphins are going to trade Williams (at least one team has expressed interest) they must establish his worth. The Dolphins are in fire sale mode these days: they traded their best receiver Chris Chambers to the San Diego Chargers earlier in the season when it looked obvious their season was ruined.

It is ironic though that as the New England Patriots stalk the 1972 Dolphins’ record for the perfect season, the Dolphins seem to be chasing the league’s futility record of the winless season. (The Dolphins have a slight chance at a win next month when they face the under-performing New York Jets.)

Some though saw this coming (this author included). But who knew it would be to this degree? (Please note, the pre-season prediction that the Dolphins would be in rebuilding mode all year.)

The Dolphins have been slowly sinking ever since Wayne Huizenga acquired the team in the 1990s. Huizenga is responsible for forcing Coach Don Shula into retirement; Shula is only the coach with the best winning record in NFL history. Huizenga believed that luring fast-talking Jimmy Johnson out of retirement (Johnson is part of that unwatchable crew of football pundits on the FOX network now) would get the Dolphins back to the Super Bowl. Instead, Johnson, flashing his two championship rings from Dallas, did no better than Shula and actually hastened the retirement of the team’s best quarterback ever, Dan Marino.

Since Marino retired, the team has started 12 quarterbacks in the past seven years. The team is on its fourth coach since that retirement. The Dolphins even reached out to Marino to help fix the problems in 2004 and named him executive vice president of the team. Marino saw how messed up the team was and went back to his broadcasting jobs after only three weeks.

If South Florida wants to end the pain that the Dolphins now bring weekly, there is a solution. And it has nothing to do with Ricky Williams. The answer is simple: Fire Huizenga.

*Fair disclosure: the author of this piece was a fan of the Dolphins for 30 years, until the retirement of quarterback Dan Marino.

Week 12 Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week: Ravens at Chargers (Chargers)
Upset Special: Broncos at Bears (Broncos)
Washington at Buccaneers (Buccaneers)
Texans at Browns (Browns)
Saints at Panthers (Panthers)
Eagles at Patriots (Patriots)
Raiders at Chiefs (Chiefs)
Titans at Bengals (Titans)
49ers at Cardinals (Cardinals)
Bills at Jaguars (Jaguars)
Seahawks at Rams (Seahawks)
Colts at Falcons (Colts)
Dolphins at Steelers (Steelers)
Packers at Lions (Packers)
Jets at Cowboys (Cowboys)
Vikings at Giants (Giants)

Last Week: .625
This Season: .675


For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:

(The mug shot of Ricky Williams is from a traffic arrest in Austin, Texas in 2000 when Williams was with the New Orleans Saints. The photo was obtained via The Smoking Gun and is in the public domain.)








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11.20.2007

Barry Bonds and the Inevitable

by Jeff Siegel

The news that a federal grand jury finally indicted Barry Bonds, baseball's home run record holder, was much more than anti-climatic. Is post-anticlimatic possible? Or double-plus-anticlimatic (to borrow from George Orwell)?

Bonds still has supporters, of course – mostly in San Francisco, where he was playing when he broke Hank Aaron's record and where fans took a perverse joy in cheering Bonds when the rest of baseball treated him like scum sucking slime. But it's doubtful that anyone, even in San Francisco, believed that Bonds hasn't regularly taken steroids for years, lying to the grand jury in the process. The question is not that he was indicted, but that it took so long. This grand jury has been sitting for most of the decade. Yet suddenly, just after the World Series and the end of the season in which he hit his 756th home run, Bonds gets indicted?

Oddly, few have embraced this conspiracy theory. For one thing, a key witness against Bonds, his personal trainer, refused to rat Bonds out and spent almost a year in prison for contempt. Coincidentally, the trainer was released just before the indictment was handed down, which leads one to believe that he finally talked. In addition, the Bush Administration's guerrilla war against unfriendly federal prosecutors apparently played a role. The original prosecutor, Kevin Ryan, was purged earlier this year, further delaying the case. Finally, there was always the sense that Ryan and his successors wanted to do more than bag Bonds – they wanted everyone who did business with his steroid suppliers, like Olympic track star Marion Jones.

What will baseball do? What it always does – pretend that the entire mess never happened. I don't know that baseball can disallow Bonds' record, and commissioner Bud Selig has never been able to act unilaterally in this case, given the sport's collective bargaining agreement, the power of the players' union, and the greed of the owners who pay his salary and who loved Bonds' home runs. But one would think Selig could do more than wring his hands, avoid questions about whether he would watch Bonds break Aaron's record, and issue statements like: "I take this indictment very seriously and will follow its progress closely."

(Graphic from StrangeSports.com, a website that offers copyright-free satirical material.)






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11.19.2007

Global Warming Reconsidered: Welcome to the Seventh Circle of Hell

by Robin Forman

After some contemplation, I don’t think you’re nearly scared enough.

I wrote an article a few weeks back about global warming and its undeniable truth. I said “that we’re still not quite in the Seventh Circle of Hell.” However, it has recently been brought to my attention, and, well, should have been brought to everyone else’s — were they paying attention — that this world is headed for hell in a hand basket and that hand basket’s got wheels, a motor and is getting five miles to the gallon.

So there’s a concern — supported by scientific research — that our modules for what’s to come of this world due to global warming are off.

And by “off” I mean "we’re all gonna die."

Now, I’m going to attempt to make you panic like I think you should be panicking.

We’ve already seen some of these underestimated effects in the last few weeks. The wildfires in California are examples. Yes, they are connected to global warming.

Here’s how: The increased droughts and heat waves are symptomatic of climate change. Try this equation: Dry + Heat + lightning, a cigarette butt, an arsonist, Zeus, etc. = Big Fire.

To add to that problem we’ve had droughts all over the U.S., most notably in the last few weeks in the Southeast…around Hotlanta which we can now affectionately call Hot-dry-and-dying-lanta. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared parts of the southeast in a state of “exceptional” and “extreme” drought. That’s the environmental equivalent of the red and orange level for terrorism.

Let’s say these things continue and the droughts spread. How about the theory that the earth’s temperature will actually rise about 14 degrees by the turn of the next century?

Here’s one reason why you need to be scared:

  • General Electric has started buying water refineries around the world. This means that when places go into drought and need to get water G.E. will be controlling the prices…just like they control large portions of your current life (your electricity, the Olympics, NBC, Universal Pictures, Telemundo, your dog.)
When the temperature rises and droughts ensue, people are going to move away from these places that will become uninhabitable. This means they’ll go south and north of the equator for more temperate climates. Which means people will start invading other people’s countries.

Look at a map and figure out who will go where and then think about your 10th grade world history class and try to remember if they’ve gotten along in the past.

Hope your kids are going to like war, drought and famine.

(Satellite photo of the California wildfires from NASA and the Terra satellite. NASA enhanced the photo to mark the fire locations in red. The photo was taken on Oct. 24, 2007. As the photo is from NASA, it is in the public domain.)





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11.18.2007

The Pain of Standardized College Testing

by Lauren Anderson

For many students, standardized tests are the bane of their existence. From district exams to state exams to the PSATs, SATs, and ACTs, they are stressful and overwhelming, causing some students to literally break down. Still, the number of students who take these exams continues to grow as more and more enter the college admissions process. Some students might even tell you that months of preparation, hundreds of dollars, and seemingly endless anxiety is worth it when that acceptance letter comes in the mail. That piece of paper represents, among other things, emancipation from the idea that the value of one’s intelligence can be determined from a set of scores.

But now comes an idea for yet another test.

A year ago, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings proposed that colleges and universities create their own version of a standardized test. There was a loud outcry against it from the academic world. But, according to a recent article in Newsweek many colleges and universities are not as opposed to the idea as was originally indicated. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges have agreed to eventually include test scores that measure “student outcomes” on a website where prospective students can use to compare colleges. More than 200 colleges and universities have already agreed to be a part of this website, called College Portrait.

Proponents of standardized testing argue that it will encourage schools to be more honest about their costs and standards of education. In a time when tuition can be more than $37,000 a year (D.C.'s George Washington University tops the most expensive list at $37,820), the transparency colleges and universities maintain regarding their costs is extremely important. Still, the implications of standardized testing in college cannot be ignored.

College provides an opportunity for intellectual growth. It teaches students to differentiate between information to be regurgitated on a test and true knowledge by allowing them to study the topics that truly interest them. In order for it to serve them in their careers, that knowledge must be deep and insightful. Any type of standardized test would be an insult to that process.

Secondly, standardized testing also makes education into a competition, distracting it from its actual purpose. If colleges are overly concerned with standardized test scores, they will likely put pressure on faculty to teach to the test, infringing on the professors’ authority to share their knowledge as they see fit. This competitive atmosphere would most likely deter accomplished and noteworthy faculty because they will not be able to take their talent elsewhere if the trend is for such tests nationwide.

Lastly, the availability of standardized test scores for the benefit of prospective students only exacerbates the issue of universities putting obscene amounts of money and effort into attracting students. Colleges and universities need to redirect their energies to maintaining the most productive, beneficial environments possible for their students and faculty. Standardized testing is no way to do this.

(Photo by Brittay Smith of Idaho, via morgueFile.)




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11.17.2007

Crack Sentencing Guidelines Revisited

by Molly Kenney

Amended sentencing guidelines established by the U.S. Sentencing Commission may become retroactive, allowing the release of thousands of drug offenders, says The Washington Post. U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines established in the spring of this year took effect November 1st, and now an independent panel is considering if the guidelines should be retroactive.

The new sentencing regulations come closer to closing the gap between sentences for powder and crack cocaine — a disparity widely criticized as discriminatory — by making sentences for crack cocaine more lenient. While powder cocaine guidelines remain the same, the sentencing change will drastically affect the prison time served by crack offenders, a group that's predominantly made up of black men.

If the panel votes to make the guidelines retroactive, inmates will have their sentences reduced and be considered for release. Almost 20,000 inmates could have their sentences reduced, and nearly 4,000 could be released before 2009. That group of inmates is 86 percent African-American.

The panel met at Georgetown University this week to hear public comments about rolling back those sentences.

With the War on Drugs raging since the Reagan era, drug convictions have played a major role in the prison population increase from 250,000 in the mid-1970s to over 2 million today. Laws and sentencing regulations like the crack/powder cocaine distinction have compounded the disparity between minorities serving time on drug charges and whites found guilty of similar crimes. The change in the guidelines is an important step toward equality (although with crack sentences reduced about 20 percent, only a small one), and the retroactive application of the guidelines is only a logical and fair step.

But releasing thousands of drug offenders, ill-prepared for entrance back into society (thanks to U.S. prisons' disregard of rehabilitation as “so 1960’s"), may not make voters and tough-on-crime politicians too happy. If the new sentencing guidelines are made retroactive, thousands of offenders will get the equality under the law that they deserve. Also, hopefully, federal funding for community rehabilitation and re-entry programs will follow in response to this group’s needs, ameliorating community concern in the process. In the meantime, we’ll stand by for the Supreme Court’s decision in Kimbrough v. U.S, (for more, please see: "The Court on Crack") argued in October, and root for another step toward rationality and away from injustice.

(The photo of crack cocaine is from the Drug Enforcement Administration — DEA — and is in the public domain.)






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iVoryTowerz Radio: The Walls Came Down

Sometimes the underground podcast is into shaking the walls a bit. Nothing like a few power chords to get the blood moving. But as usual, we also like dynamics and counterpoint. There's more to an interesting music show than the sturm und drang of earthquaking rock. Although we need plenty of that too, no doubt. So hang on for a musical journey that covers almost 70 years of music, that includes plenty of requests: hits, misses, traditional jazz-blues, plenty of covers, and the usual punk, heavy metal and straight-forward rock too. Enjoy!


(To download or stream this podcast, please click here.)


Playlist

"How Long" by The Eagles
"Desperado" by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (request)
“Tessie (baseball version)" by The Dropkick Murphys (request)
"Glad" by The Swingin' Utters
Jeff’s New Wave: “Suspect Device” by Stiff Little Fingers
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead (request)
"Good Times Bad Times" by Cracker
"Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
“Breathe” by Dan Bern
Cover Me: "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by Uncle Tupelo (request)
“Day Tripper (live)” by Cheap Trick
“Say Hello to Another Goodbye” by Linus of Hollywood
"Photograph" by Ringo Starr
"Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday
"As Time Goes By" by Harry Nilsson
"Too Hot to Sleep" by Eilen Jewel
"The Walls Came Down" by The Call

(Mp3 Runs - 1:16:36; 71 MB.)

(Photo of the Universal Citywalk in Hollywood, CA taken by Digiology of Vancouver, Canada, via morgueFile.)




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11.16.2007

Wolf Blitzer: "Is Human Rights More Important than American National Security?"

by Laura Snedeker

What crossed CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer’s mind when he asked the question in the title during Thursday’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas? It sounded like a preposterous joke played to highlight the insanity of choosing national security over human rights, and a pointed interrogation conducted to snoop out the un-Americans.

Was Blitzer asking if the Democratic candidates would support nebulous concepts of “human rights” over concrete national security policies, or if they would sacrifice democratic ideals upon the altar of the National Security State?

The question came less than an hour into the night, but it should have marked the permanent end of debate for the presidential campaign season.

For the first time, the media forced the Democratic candidates to choose between what are considered mutually exclusive conditions of safety and freedom, indicating that the government’s attitude towards human rights since September 11th has caused doubt over whether the state can be trusted to behave responsibly.

The question followed a dialogue on the emergency situation in Pakistan (see: "Pakistan: Where Terror Trumps Democracy" for more), during which former UN Ambassador and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced that he would make all further aid conditional upon extensive democratic reforms.

“If I’m president, it’s the other way around – democracy and human rights,” Richardson said after calling out the Bush administration for relegating the latter to the back burner.

“I would say, President Musharraf, unless you restore the constitution; unless you have elections in January; unless you end the state of emergency; unless you allow Benazir Bhutto to run as a candidate; unless you put the supreme court back,” the U.S. will cut military aid, Richardson said.

Former Senator John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) attempted to avoid Blitzer's question by focusing on the need to rid the world of nuclear weapons, but showed discomfort with America’s support for ineffective dictators. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) stated unequivocally that national security is not only more important than human rights on the international stage, but that it takes domestic supremacy as well.

“The first obligation of the president of the United States is to protect and defend the United States of America,” Clinton said, forgetting that the president also swears to “uphold and defend” the Constitution.

It is not necessarily significant that some Democratic candidates are so quick to dismiss human rights; the cynics among us who watched them dance around the issue assumed this already. It is significant that they admitted it in such a straightforward fashion and that CNN so readily moved on to other questions.

Appropriate to the debate's location, this was less of a debate than it was a show put on by the media in collaboration with the audience, who served much the same purpose as a studio audience serves for late-night television. The viewer gets the impression that they are watching human interaction, not merely the motions of actors on a stage.

The directors wasted no time to introduce a conflict. CNN’s Campbell Brown first asked the candidates to respond to accusations made during and after previous debates. She asked Clinton to respond to the accusation that she engaged in the “politics of parsing” by avoiding firm positions on controversial issues.

Equally reluctant to raise controversial issues, the media repeatedly asked the candidates for a counterattack against their opponents instead of digging deeply into substance. The media act as an instigator: like the clever child who knows he can entertain by provoking a fight. And then they step back. Instead of acting on behalf of the public, they increasingly turn over their duties of questioning and analysis to the public when the situation heats up.

The mainstream media are more comfortable playing the role of the intermediary between candidates than intermediary between the public and the politicians. No candidate challenged Clinton or Dodd to explain their dismissal of human rights, and until one does, the media will continue to ignore what should be the biggest breaking news of the campaign.

(The photo of Wolf Blitzer is used with a GNU Free Documentation License. To see these sections of the Democratic debate, please see the video clips below.)















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