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Friday, February 29, 2008

House to Revisit FISA After Break?

The political miscalculation that the Democrats hav made regarding warrantless wiretapping will rival that of Rudy's fifty state strategy in my opinion. By leaving for break without extending the law, they have left themselves wide open to further criticism that they can't be trusted on national security.

Now comes this story from the Weekly Standard. The Dems are reportedly ready to act however they haven't reconciled yet with the Senate version. The House is insistent on not extending liability protection for compliant phone companies. This is an advertisement campaign waiting to happen.

Liberals in the House are unwilling to extend liability protection to telecommunications companies that facilitated surveillance on suspected terrorists operating abroad. Quin Hillyer looks at the lawsuits that House Democrats are insisting go forward:

It is unclear what the Dems think they will accomplish, however they are quickly driving for a resolution that would allow this bill to be passed in roughly the form the President wants, only it will be passed after a recess. By doing this, the Dems will be painted as not serious about national security. Keep in mind that the temporary FISA bill expired. If they wait until after the recess to pass largely the exact same bill, they will rightly be painted as totally unserious about national security. The irony is that the options get worse from there. They can let this drag on and turn it into a front burner issue and really be painted as unserious. They can refuse to pass it at all and turn this program into a critical election issue. (Keep in mind that Obama and McCain each take opposing views of this) That is pretty much it for the Dems, worse, even worse, and worst.

Frankly, their options only get worse from there. They could drag this out and allow this to become a front burner issue. This will make it even easier to paint the party as unserious about national security. They can attempt to pass this bill without protection for phone companies though that would never make it out of the Senate.

Their options are limited to bad and worse. That's because they played to their looney base that hates warrantless wiretapping and anything, frankly, resembling aggressive GWOT prosecution. By doing so, they left themselves wide open to be painted as weak on national security, and so far they are doing nothing to change that perception.

Battleship Potemkin - Sergei Eisenstein

Tommy Boy Gas Station

CMU Vs. Dennis Lennox: Assessing the Media Campaign

Introduction: Here is a quick summary of the fiasco. In March of last year, Central Michigan University hired Gary Peters for their distinguished Griffin Chair. This was a controversial hire because Peters had already set up an exploratory committee to position himself to run for Congress in a district hundreds of miles from campus. Dennis Lennox, a junior at CMU, began tracking the case and eventually was able to orchestrate a media campaign that had him circling the U.S. discussing the issue. In October, in the aftermath of controversial confrontation between Lennox and Dean of Students Pamela Gates, the administration became quite heavy handed toward Lennox. The brought him up on several different charges. The scheduled and cancelled three subsequent disciplinary hearings, and just Wednesday they not only cancelled the latest hearing but announced that the next one would be held in private and Lennox wouldn't even attend.

In my last piece, I referred to this confrontation as a chess match, and I said that Lennox' next move would have to be to stir up as media attention to this case as possible and create critical mass. Now, let's assess how he is doing so far. His story has a fairly warm reception on the blogosphere. Right Michigan and Outside Lansing have lead a slew of smaller blogs in bringing light to the story. While this helps Lennox, blogging heavyweight Red State has made no special mention of the most recent events. Even my own story, which I cross posted, received little attention. While Red State isn't crucial in creating a media firestorm, it is crucial if that firestorm is being lead by the blogosphere.

This appears to be Lennox other problem. Yesterday, a regional Saginaw news station did this story on the fiasco. This is a regional station and this story was nearly two minutes and it ran in the middle of the broadcast. Furthermore, it was downloaded on Youtube.com giving it even more reach. You Tube offers Lennox an opportunity to move old media items and spread it through the new media. Unfortunately for Lennox, the video has only been downloaded just less than five hundred times on You Tube. Lennox must manage a sophisticated media network and be able to finesse media from one realm to another. You tube offers him just such an opportunity however unless coverage picks up there it will be largely a failure.

The story was only picked up by one print outlet, a local Saginaw paper. Lennox job is made even more difficult because CMU is going on spring break next week. This means that he won't be able to count on any coverage from his own student newspaper. It is much easier for Lennox to create critical mass on his own campus then it is nationwide. In fact, many have speculated that the hearings were held now so that this coincidence would occur. Lennox told me that he expected several other regional newspapers to run a story however so far I have only found one.

Lennox job is simple but not easy. What he needs to do is turn a one day local story into a firestorm on the national level. In order for him to accomplish this, each media coverage must lead to more coverage until the momentum drives the story into the consciousness. Unfortunately for Lennox, this has simply not happened yet, and time is running out.

Lennox told me that he needed to maintain the media buzz into today so that it continues to be reported over the weekend. Unfortunately for Lennox, the only ones talking about his story today are bloggers. Bloggers on their own will likely not drive this or any story very far. They certainly aren't going to do it with the main blogging site being largely quiet.

Lennox is now in the bottom of the ninth so to speak and he is down a bunch of runs. In order for Lennox to accomplish his goal, he is going to need a furious combination of radio, print and television to suddenly start to cover this story and force it on a national level, and at the moment, I don't see how that will happen.

If Lennox fails and this story dies down, I predict that the administration will meet in private and either expel him or sanction him enough to limit his own options in continuing to advance the story. That is quite a lot to deal with for a college Junior.

Nicholas Sarkozy and The Republicans

If the Republicans want a guide on how they should campaign in 2008, they ought to look at the campaign of Nicholas Sarkozy in France for inspiration. In 2007, Sarkozy painted himself as the agent of change and his opponent, Segolene Royal, as the agent of the establishment and rode that to victory. The irony is that it was Sarkozy that was a part of the unpopular government of Jacques Chirac and Royal that was a member of the opposition government. He did this by identifying those things that the French people found objectionable about his own government's rule and then proposing substantive reforms to it. Rather than running away from or needlessly defending the failed policies, he took them all head on and painted himself, not his opponent, as the agent of change.

While no comparison is exact, there is plenty to learn from Sarkozy's masterful campaign. I think the Republicans, lead by McCain, need to focus on fiyr core issues and turn themselves into the agent and turn the Democrats into the party of the same failed policies.

1)Smaller government and fiscally responsibility. This used to be hallmark issues for the Republicans until power got to their collective heads, and they used spending as some sort of bribing mechanism to get votes. McCain has been out front on this issue and needs to lead a new Republican revolution on spending and smaller government.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have been the agent's of bigger government. They all want universal health care, government lead stimulus, and more interference in the mortgage market. All of these policies lead to more bureaucracy, more waste, and more corruption, and they must be labeled as such.

The contrast must be created. One party is ready to lead toward smaller more efficient government, and the other wants to expand government even more.

2)Victory in Iraq and generally aggressive foreign policy.

It is high time that Republicans stop running away from Iraq as an issue and turn it into albatross on the Democrats not themselves. We have a successful policy. That policy was created and implemented by General David Petraeus. One party wants to give Petraeus the time he needs to fully implement this policy so that it leads to victory, and the other wants to pull troops out as soon as they can. McCain is the perfect voice for victory in Iraq. He has the credibility, and he was the first to call out the failed Rumsfeld strategy. Obama is a foreign policy lightweight who is proposing a radical change of an effective policy. This is not something to run away from but to challenge and bring to the forefront as much as possible.

Secondly, the Democrats are for re tooling the Patriot Act, eliminating warrantless wiretapping, eliminating Gitmo, and moving most terrorists into federal court. The Republicans want aggressive sanctions against countries like Iraq, whereas the Democrats want to meet unconditionally with their leaders. The leading Presidential candidate has already said so, and the Speaker has already met with one. The Republicans must make this a choice between the party that wants to keep us safe and the party that wants to protect the rights of terrorists and respect the wishes and concerns of our enemy. It is easy to frame the issue as such and the Democrats inaction on warrantless wiretapping only adds to this perception.

3)Strict Constructionist Judges

I have said it before and I will say it again. Barack Obama is to the left of Planned Parenthood on abortion. If a baby is aborted and that abortion fails and the baby survives, Obama is fine with killing the baby anyway, infanticide. The Dems have already hitched their wagons to partial birth abortion. All of these radical social stances along with things like taking under God out of the pledge, gay marriage, and other issues are created by activist judges. The Republicans must stand firmly behind strict constructionist judges and make that another campaign issue.

4) Attack global warming, alternative energy, and other eco friendly issues through aggressive tax cuts. If the Republicans get behind Newt Gingrich's green conservatism, they will offer an alternative for dealing with these issues. These problems come down to one basic debate: do you believe that this is government's problem to solve or do you want to empower the private sector with the tools to solve it? Rather than dismissing these issues as trivial, over blown and non existent, the Republicans must firmly stand behind offering free market, small government solutions to them. I propose cutting the capital gains tax to zero on all alternative energy, anti global warming, and other eco friendly sources.

If the Republicans move away from proving whether these things are real or important, and move toward deciding whether you want to expand government or the private sector to deal with them, then I think they will get on the right side of the issues.

Beating Obama

Barack Obama will be a formidable candidate this fall however every candidate has weaknesses and it is the job of every politician to exploit those weaknesses. Here is how I would attack Obama.

1)Turn his strengths into weaknesses. Obama is a charismatic guy with an uplifting message. That is certainly not easy to deal with as an opponent but you can. Politics is much like Jujutsu. You have to use your opponents strengths and turn them against them. Obama is full of sweeping messages of new hope and ending partisanship. He is not full of specifics. In politics, you either define yourself or your opponents do. On the specific issues, his opponents must define him: from abortion, to taxes, to foreign policy, Obama has lacked specifics and that allows his opponents to fill in the rest.

Second, his get togethers are much like a revival meeting. The messianic atmosphere that this has been characterized as can also be characterized as something else: narcissistic. This label fits in with this particular Michelle Obama comment nicely,

Hope is making a comeback and, let me tell you, for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change

The atmosphere that Obama has created can go from messianic to narcissistic really fast if it is framed properly.

Third, this sort of environment that Obama has created is not that new. In fact, his good friend, Deval Patrick, campaigned for governor of Massachusetts in much the same way to much the same fan fare. So far, the general consensus has been that his term has been close to a failure. It's because his campaign message of hope has been replaced with standard boiler plate liberal policies. This is another thing that the two of them share.

2)Take the Iraq issue to him.

John McCain will live and die with the Iraq issue. He was the most out front in attacking the Rumsfeld policy and the first to support the troop surge. Most Democrats think that Iraq will be an albatross around the Reps because most people hate the war. That may in fact be accurate, but if McCain is going to lose, he must do it fighting. He has to take this issue to Obama (which he did with their latest exchange) and force Iraq to be debate as a front burner issue. McCain must make it clear that he is for victory and Obama is for defeat, and that his foreign policy position comes from a lifetime of public service while Obama's comes from naive inexperience.

3)Bring his radical social agenda to light.

As Amanda Carpenter astutely pointed out, Obama is to the left of Planned Parenthood on the issue of abortion. If you are more extreme than Planned Parenthood on that issue, you are EXTREME. On this issue, not only does Obama support partial birth abortion but infanticide. That is when the baby is killed after a failed abortion. Since Obama hasn't defined himself on specific social issues, his past record leaves him open to interpretation from his opponents. His radical views will be reflected in the radical judges he will choose for the Supreme Court. In order to beat Obama, McCain must stand firmly behind strict constructionist judges like Alito and attack Obama's radical social agenda and activist judges it will bring. This should be fairly easy to do. He hasn't said much about specific social issues. He is on record as backing partial birth abortion and even infanticide. He has voted against Alito, and since he has never selected a judge previously, his record is open to interpretation.

4) He is a tax and spend liberal so say it, say it, say it again...

Before he has even entered office, he has already promised to raise taxes on those making 200k and more, raise the capital gains tax, raise corporate taxes, and even re institute the death tax. He's promised to spend 200 billion to create new jobs, and he wants to socialize medicine. That is hundreds of billions in new taxes and even more in new spending. That is just during the campaign and he hasn't even gotten specific yet. He is a tradition tax and spend liberal. His record proves that and all his opponents need to do is go to his record and define him for what he is: a tax and spend liberal.

5)Leadership, Courage and Experience

Obama is a charismatic guy with a hopeful message, however he doesn't have any of these traits. Sure, when he is measured against Hillary Clinton, he seems to be qualified but she doesn't really have any of these traits either. Obama has no real accomplishments to speak of. He hasn't been in the Senate long enough to be in leadership, and all you get is vague references to health care reform in the Illinois Senate as an accomplishment. None of his positions are courageous. In fact, he has a traditional and standard liberal voting record.

John McCain, on the other hand, has all of these traits in spades. Charisma maybe a great campaigning trait but it isn't much of a trait in terms of governance. The two must be separated and his utter lacking in leadership, courage and experience must be emphasized.

6)If all else fails, play dirty.

This is where you bring in the kitchen sink. He has ties to radicals in Chicago, to an indicted fundraiser, Anton Rezko. His church has had some dubious statements. He has ties to Louis Farrakhan. This can be combined with his radical social agenda, narcissistic persona, and his wife's statements, to paint a picture of an individual that is far out of the mainstream and subscribes to beliefs that most of us do not.

I don't believe that this tactic will be necessary and it will be difficult to pull off especially if it is done out of desperation, however everyone needs a plan B.

This is how I would go about defeating Barack Obama.

WNEM story on expulsion hearing for anti-Gary Peters student

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Three Hundred Million Dollar Question

Here is Ron Marshall of the New Grady Coalition once gain for another cross post.

The 300 Million Dollar Question

By Ron Marshall


Stop the presses, the media and counties have spoken. The deal has been made and all of the players have yet to be identified. But there are some names floating around that have my hair standing up on edge.

The media has printed this statement so often that people have taken it as gospel, even though the AJC and other media have never once printed any evidence that this $300M claim has any foundation at all.

Now, new information has emerged. The AJC and other media have lied. The media had no evidence that anyone was going to give $300M, because no one ever had promised to give such an enormous amount of money. I have always known you can tell me what to believe but not what to think!

Finally, a writer, from The Atlanta Progressive News (February 24, 2008) has published the truth: the business captains never intended to give more than $50M in any given year, period.
We must go back and remember the call to “save Grady by November or the hospital will close”. it is now February and no money has drop from the sky and the hospital is still operating so was this the old George Bush scare tactic? We must find the weapons or they will attack, well they have attacked and the take over has been completed, we have yet to count the wounded. It was also blessed by both counties and the media.

$50 million is a lot of money, of course. But it isn't enough to save the hospital which is $200M in debt. So what gives? This is what we have been told without seeing any books or records to support this claim. Why has the media not told us the truth? Why is the public being told that a masked man will give $300M if we only give him the hospital first?

Grady is an asset to the public of more than One Billion dollars. We are transferring all power of the largest public asset in the state to private control for a much smaller amount of money that has been promised.

The other thing is the deal allows this multi billion dollar facility to be rented for $2.5M a year, this is well below market rate. Every commercial building in the downtown metro area is going for $15-$25 a square foot. But a hospital fully staffed and operating will bring $150-$250 a square foot. That means that Grady is being rented for far less than market value at about two dollars a square foot. So instead of giving the market rate funding to the indigent they again get left overs, the scraps from the table of the business lords.

This is not the way to do business. I don't think we should let any donor tell us we must pass laws or decide rates they will pay. That is not the democratic way. If our police department ran short of money, would we privatize just to get a donation? Would we privatize our fire department and city hall? No, when we have basic public services, we the public must pay for them.

We invaded Iraq without examining the evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction. The experts told us "trust us, we know they are there". This has been the problem with back room government by the good ole boys.
Open government is what makes democracy great. We need to see the evidence, we need to see the contracts, we must be told who is behind a deal and why.

There is nothing wrong with business men trying to make money. However, it is horribly wrong for the media to conceal the truth to help corporations pull a bait and switch on the public.

No one would give away a Billion dollar hospital, which sits on choice downtown property, to an unnamed group for $50 Million dollars…unless?

Let me go a little further, even under the best circumstances, it appears the so-called business captains have prepared to raise $50 Million a year for three years. The rumor is that this money may be coming from the Woodruff foundation (Emory). The best information is that the Chamber of Commerce's Grady Task force is made up primarily of Crawford Long and Emory-affiliated members. Crawford Long is in direct competition with Grady. So what do you think is going to happen next?

But we should not be dealing in rumors-only facts.
This is the biggest deal in recent Georgia history, and the public deserves to know all the facts. Why has the media not published what it knows? Why does it not publish its sources? How can it repeat the $300 million dollar lie every day?

The terms of the Bailout must be known in advance.

Grady is important, but the truth is even more important. Our leaders told us to just "trust us" in national calamity after calamity. Now, the people need to know all the specifics. A contract must be drawn up. If we are passing laws to get a private bailout, the terms of the bailout need to be known in advance.

A large number of medical students and officials say that the private bailout is the only way. How does anyone know what the bailout is until the terms are published? This could be like throwing a drowning man a pail of water instead of a lifeline.

Will the bailout help Grady or sink it? We know the Grady task force is made up of Grady competitors. We don't mind business men making a buck- but they need to show us the deal first, or the public must say no to the deal.

Kenya In Crisis Day 62: Power Sharing Agreement Reached

All the details have been ironed out and a formal power sharing agreement has been reached.

Kenya's political leaders ended a two month standoff on Thursday that had plunged this country into violence, reaching a long-sought agreement to share power between the government and the opposition.

The country seemed to let out a collective hooray as Mwai Kibaki, the president, and Raila Odinga, the top opposition leader, sat down at a desk in front of the president's office, with a bank of television cameras rolling, and signed an agreement that creates a powerful prime minister position for Odinga and splits cabinet positions between
the government and the opposition.

There are still many thorny issues to resolve, among them how the government will function with essentially two bosses. There is also a deeply divided country to heal. More than 1,000 Kenyans have been killed and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes in an uncharacteristic burst of violence set off by a deeply flawed election in December. Much of the fighting, like the voting, has been along ethnic lines.


Now comes the sixty four thousand dollar question...will this have any practical effect in quelling the violence. That is still left to be determined. As the article mentions, there are still thorny issues to resolve and one of those is the issue of armed men with machetes looking to commit violence on tribal grounds.

Marketing Racism: From Barack Obama to a Racist Forum

Upon publishing this story, I received attention from one dubious and unexpected source, this racist forum. Now, I will admit that the piece I published could fairly be called a hit piece on Barack Obama, however my problems with Obama are strictly ideological, not racial. The racists see Obama in a totally different light. Of course, what was most interesting was some of the companies that profited from bringing racists together to chat amongst each other in an uninhabited environment on the internet.

The forum is filled with such lovely comments as


Yeah, I've seen ni$$er waiters before. I swear, they could f**k up a cup of coffee. Ni$$ers belong either shining shoes or cleaning toilets, or better yet, chimping out over a water-filled root in the African Toilet.

and...


What are ni$$ers doing at an Institution of Higher Learning anyway?? Is there that much janitorial work that needs to be done at that school?

and one last one and that's it...


When I register for classes, I try to schedule classes between 8AM and noon.
Even at my moderately-ni$$erfuxated school, these classes are always
ni$$er-free. Even if there are one or two, they'll forget that they have class
by the second week.

So how does such unadulterated racism finds its way onto the net and who is responsible. These are the answers I searched for in preparing this story.

Unfortunately, their main forum is down as of this publication. That's too bad because their web hoster not only advertised on the site but boasted about its own abilities. (I think it went something like if we can host this site imagine what we can do for you) The name of the company is Secure Server Tech and for sites like this racist forum they offer special "free speech" web hosting. Here is how they summarized it...



Hosting in Amsterdam with more freedom of content and speech. Main rules being no childporn, malicious scripts/pages or SPAM on the network, almost all other content is allowed. Abuse and DMCA messages will be forwarded to the client for resolution, in most cases action is not required.

The "free speech" that they talk about is those obscenity and pornography laws that we have here in the United States compared to the obscenity and pornography laws in the Netherlands. SST, and others like them, take advantage of the laws to create web hosting solutions that allow for racists like these to host forums for other racists. Of course, SST has a few rules of their own



No spam related sites or any site material is posted that can be used for spam such as email lists, mass mail programs and scripts, etc;

No harrasing material that may cause people to retaliate against you and attack our
servers - Have some common sense here.

No phishing pages of any kindWe have total discretion on all content. If we feel that you are endangering our good standing with the network in any way we will not hesitate to terminate your account.


Now, it may seem ironic that SST doesn't want such things as spam but are perfectly happy to bring a bunch of racists together to spew vile back and forth. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense. Racists forums are frequent target of such things as spam and viruses by hackers who disagree with their content. It is likely that the site powered by SST is down for exactly this reason. By providing such services like web hosting out of the Netherlands, SST not only doesn't mind making a buck servicing racists, but frankly they tailor their brand to attract such groups.

Not to worry, the racists actually created a back up forum for just such an occasion. This one is powered by a open source forum called phpbb. According to one of my commenters, PHP is an open source forum that allows its software to be made available for anyone. If this is correct, they have just become unwitting accomplices in bringing racists together to spout hate. Here is how their website bills their service...


Since its creation in 2000, phpBB™ has become the most widely used Open Source forum solution. Like its predecessors, phpBB™ 3.0 “Olympus” has an easy to use administration panel and a user friendly installation process, which allows you to have a forum set up in minutes.

The other main company involved is V Bulletin. V Bulletin provides the layout and structure of this racist forum along with hundreds of other high brow forums along with it. Here are some of their general services...




Scalable solution - database server and web servers can reside on separate
machines. MySQL back-end database vBulletin can be run on any machine
that can support PHP and MySQL (Solaris, BSD, Linux, Windows, Mac) Written
in PHP which makes for a fast and efficient product Admin Control Panel Moderator Control Panel User Control Panel Compliant with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998. See this page for more information: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/coppa.htm

This racist forum is tied to a main page. The main page is layed out much like most other blogs and websites only this one markets in hate. It links to other sites of like mind and in this case it is other racist sites. There is a pseudo news page, a site dedicated to tracking African American child predators, among several gross out sites. Many of them are powered by web hosting companies. At least one (Bravenet.com) proudly markets its own products (web hosting) on one of these sites. It is unclear how much tacit knowledge all of their so called partners have. For instance, this racist site boasts that it was tested by Macafee and found to have no virus. I maybe wrong but I believe that someone from the racist web site went to Macafee and tested their site there. That said, here is a comment from Macafee about the racist site..



When we visited this site, we found that most of its links are to sites
which are safe or have only minor safety/annoyance issues.

Clearly, someone visited the site and found most of their links "safe". Now, in the world of Macafee that likely means safe from virus, spam, and other "malicious" software, not necessarily safe from uninhibited hate speech and chat.

The most peculiar site linked from the racist main page is this site. This particular site is a collection of the "worst sites" on the internet. In other words, the goal of this particuluar site is to attract every freak, deviant (sexual and otherwise), racist, and anyone else with any other disorder and provide them with entertainment for any of their most outlandish vices. This site features everything from virtual porn, to gross out humor, to uninhibited racist chat can be found on this site.

This particular site is hosted by EGW. It is clear that this hate only finds an audience when so called legitimate companies get into bed with them. All of this chatting back and forth wouldn't happen if web hosting companies refused to do business with the racists. I can only assume that this was a business decision. These companies felt that the extra revenue would be more than off set from any potential negative publicity generated from getting into bed with racists. I don't know if they are correct however I am only getting started in sniffing everyone of these players into the open and exposing them.

CMU Vs. Dennis Lennox: The Chess Match Continues

I once described this confrontation as a chess match and if it was, then the CMU admin would just have put Dennis Lennox in check, and now it is his move. There is a lot of metaphorical similarities between what is happening now and that great game and this latest move is just one example. Yesterday, the administration cancelled a scheduled disciplinary hearing against Lennox and announced that they would next schedule another disciplinary hearing behind closed doors and they wouldn't even invite Lennox to attend. (In other words, he couldn't even attend his own disciplinary hearing and defend himself)

This whole thing got started when Central Michigan University decided to hire Gary Peters for their distinguished Griffin Chairmanship. This was a controversial choice because Peters had already indicated that he was thinking of running for Congress in a district hundreds of miles away.

From the beginning, Lennox was able to orchestrate a media campaign to track this case. In fact, Lennox' main weapon in this chess match is the media itself. The chess match didn't really get started until this incident between Dean of Students Pamela Gates and Lennox himself. Lennox was not only able to video tape the Dean assaulting him but then downloaded it onto Youtube and started the video's course into the public's consciousness.

The administration's main weapon in this confrontation has been their student code of conduct and their natural position of power. Within two weeks of the confrontaion with Gates, the administration initially brought charges against Lennox. The violations stemmed from an incident in which Lennox passed out literature from the newsletter he created, The Peters Report, inside a university building at about nine in the evening. According to the student code this is a violation of the student code. The incident was exacerbated because a university employee, Peter Kofer, found and confiscated the newsletter. Kofer then confronted Lennox and Lennox refused to identify himself, another violation, in the ensuing confrontation.

Since the beginning of November, charges have been floating around. Numerous times a disciplinary hearing was scheduled only to be postponed. Yesterday, there was supposed to be a disciplinary hearing. I guess the administration didn't expect the entourage that Lennox would bring with him. He had multiple members of the media with him ready to videotape the hearing. Caught off guard, the administration canceled the hearing. They are now threatening to hold the hearing in private without Lennox even being there to challenge the charges. This latest move would have been the check that I referred to in the beginning of the piece.

Throughout the ordeal, what you will see is an administration using the student code of conduct liberally, creatively, and innovatively to try and minimize the effect Lennox is having in driving the Peters story. At the same time, Lennox counters by effectively using the media to drive the story.

Back in November, the talk of expelling Lennox first got started, and he reached out first to conservative Michigan blog Right Michigan and then to conservative national blog Red State. The firestorm of media attention lead to overwhelming numbers of emails, faxes and phone calls from the media campaign to the office of the administration. After the firestorm reached fever pitch, the administration first postponed the disciplinary hearing. (They would subsequently postpone it two more times as well)

In fact, it is interesting and not coincidental that the hearing has been scheduled and postponed multiple times. Back in December, the story of CMU Vs. Dennis Lennox reached a fever pitch at Redstate. Today, it will likely get significantly less attention if any at all (though I will cross post this piece there later). It is hard to continue to drive a story like this for numerous factors. Not the least of which is that it is campaign season and people want to talk about that. Yet, that is exactly what Lennox has to do everytime there is a disciplinary hearing. The problem for him is that you can only cry wolf so many times so to speak. Thus, everytime the administration schedules a meeting only to postpone it Lennox' job in stirring up the media pot becomes even harder.

The University, on the other hand, has been quite creative in using their student code of conduct. First, what they did was poison the waters among CMU staff and other faculty with this email exchange.

Mr. Lennox is not only someone with noxious political and social beliefs, but someone who has mental health issues, and someone who seems to be losing control. The psychologist's advice (he has been following some of this on the news) is the following: "Don't provoke him. Don't initiate a confrontation of any sort, be it email, letter, or a face-to-face. He will respond in kind and escalate. Do not respond to correspondence, taunts, or 'stalking behavior' other than by calling the police

...

So are you saying that this kid is dangerous? As in Virginia Tech dangerous? Let's not ignore the warning signs


(This email exchange is from two CMU professors who had never met Lennox) Since it would be the faculty itself that would ultimately decide Lennox' fate in the disciplinary hearings, this sort of email exchange is the equivalent of posioning the jury pool. Once the jury pool was poisoned the merely needed to find a way to bring charges in a manner they could control and eliminate Lennox. They used the student code in any manner possible to limit Lennox in getting his message out. For instance, back in November they used this portion of the student code to ban Lennox from using video cameras in public.


Violation of other university regulations, policies or established
procedures may be treated as an offense under these regulations.

If you are confused about how this particular part of the student code bans Lennox from using a video camera in public join the club. The way this portion was explained to me is that this gives the administration to set any other rules as they see fit in order to maintain order. They felt that Lennox was being disruptive with the video camera and they told him to stop.

To counter this, Lennox brought in the strangest of strange bedfellows, the ACLU. The ACLU stepped in on Lennox' behalf and threatened to sue if the school continued with their ban.

Back and forth this chess game has gone. Every time Lennox would raise the stakes through the media, the administration would counter by raising the stakes using the student code of conduct. The administration's strategy is simple. It really comes down to basic debate tactics. If you have the facts, you argue the facts. If you don't, you shoot the messenger and turn them into the story. There is absolutely no reason why Peters should simultaneously work at CMU and run for Congress hundreds of miles away. This hire was political and released emails back up that assertion. There are even indications in the emails that this hire was made to gain special favorability with the Democratic governor.


As close as he (Gary Peters) is to the governor (Jennifer Granholm), it might lookbad for CMU if he is not offered the position after such a recommendation."

Thus, there was nothing proper or legitimate about this hire. The story could never be about Peters if the admin wanted to win. For a while their strategy amounted to ignoring the story and not answering any questions or concerns. That all changed with the incident I alluded to earlier involving Lennox and Dean Pamela Gates. From then on, the strategy shifted and the admin was determined to make Lennox the story. They succeeded. Even I have mostly focused on that angle of the story. The way they did this was by trumping up charges and then playing sleight of hand with disciplinary hearings. By continuing to hold these charges out there, for months now, the admin has effectively turned that confrontation into the story and Peters, himself, has faded to the sideline for the most part. (Only to be brought back into the foreground whenever Lennox is able use the media to successfully turn the story back onto him. I have listed examples later in the story)

Since the middle of October, the story has largely not been about the hire of Gary Peters but in the confrontation between Lennox and the administration. The administration first scheduled a formal disciplinary hearing in early December only to postpone it. They did it again in January only to have the preceedings snowed out, and now they did it a third time yesterday. In the meantime, the story has evolved from the hire of Gary Peters to the confrontation between the two sides.

As the administration used the student code to turn the story away from Peters and onto Lennox himself, Lennox was forced use the media not only to keep the Peters story alive but to defend himself. For instance, he reached out to blogger and activist Chet Zarko and Zarko was the one that helped get all of those emails released under FOIA. He recently worked the Michigan Republican Party to create Where's Gary Peters. I already mentioned that he enlisted several journalists to join him at the disciplinary hearing yesterday.

Moving forward Lennox needs to orchestrate things so that this story, which likely only has a natural 24 hour span, into a story that will continue to have legs through the weekend. The wheels were set in motion when a regional television station out of Saginaw filed this report. We can expect some further print coverage today and tomorrow, and the blogosphere has contributed with page coverage at such relative heavy weights as Right Michigan and Outside Lansing. What Lennox needs to do is take the momentum created by this confluence of media attention and create another firestorm only this time he can't let the story die until it reaches its rightful conclusion. Even if he is successful, that would only spare him from being disciplined. Lennox still has to then put the spotlight back on the hire of Peters. Even if he is able to orchestrate one more media campaign and create outrage over the administration's last move, most of his media allies will likely be exhausted and want to move onto other things. None of this is lost on the administration and thus you have yet another piece of the chess match going on.

If he is unsuccessful in driving this story to fever pitch, the administration will wait until the media attention has died down and then bring formal charges at a secret proceeding that they have already asserted Lennox can't even attend.

The irony is that Lennox also has two tests today. It is rather remarkable that he has been able to do all this in the middle of being a college Junior. He has done radio interviews, spoken at CPAC, and he even followed CMU President Michael Rao to a Senate Sub Committee hearing. I don't know exactly what he learned this semester in his classes at CMU but he certainly has learned a lot by confronting CMU in this manner.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

State Laws, Federal Laws, and Predatory Lending

A couple weeks ago, I read and analyzed this article by Eliot Spitzer. The article hypothesized that the states made an aggressive move to curb predatory lending and they were turned back by an obscure arm of the government (the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). I researched Mr. Spitzer's claim and I believe he is accurate in his description.

In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis, the OCC invoked a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to issue formal opinions preempting all state predatory lending laws, thereby rendering them inoperative. The OCC also promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks.

The federal government's actions were so egregious and so unprecedented that all 50 state attorneys general, and all 50 state banking superintendents, actively fought the new rules.But the unanimous opposition of the 50 states did not deter, or even slow, the Bush administration in its goal of protecting the banks. In fact, when my office opened an investigation of possible discrimination in mortgage lending by a number of banks, the OCC filed a federal lawsuit to stop the investigation.

My problem with all of this starts with this nugget from a Winston Salem paper...

There is no specific definition about what exactly predatory lending entails, though most observers believe that the description applies when lenders take advantage of borrowers by charging high interest rates and consider only the value of a borrower’s assets, as opposed to what the borrower can afford to pay.

In fact, there is no agreed upon definition on predatory lending. That means each individual state would be able to make their own laws. Now, what Governor Spitzer would have us do is allow each state to define for itself "predatory lending" and then prosecute it aggressively against National Banks that would be forced to work within 50 different standards all at once. That may sound like no problem to an aggressive prosecutor however it can be nothing less than an albatross on the bank. Mortgages are already an incredibly complicated animal. Now, you would add fifty standards for a nebulous term like "predatory lending".

Here is the practical effect. Here is just one example. Within the definition of predatory lending, there would be maximum rates that banks could charge any borrower. Each state would decide for itself and banks would have to tailor their product line the fifty different sets of rules. One state would be at 13% maximum and another 10%. I believe my state, Illinois, is just under 11%.

Furthermore, I have done my fair share of loans that neared the maximum and they were always a nightmare because every bank had their own quirky way of determining how the maximum was determined. The problem was further complicated on any Adjustable Rate Mortgage because the APR is figured over thirty years and the loan is only fixed for 2, 3, or 5 years. Many times brokers would get their commissions cut back at the last minute on loans that approached the rate that was most allowed.

If predatory lending were ever defined, I would be all for going after it aggressively. Except it isn't any specific action but rather a provocative phrase that gets people worked up. If it isn't defined, it leaves to each state to define it and to prosecute it aggressively. How would that work with a vague term like "predatory lending"?

For instance, Minnesota just came up with anti predatory lending law. Some have called North Carolina's anti predatory lending law the gold standard (though I would certainly NOT be one of those people). I have already pointed out two anti predatory lending measure that my state has enacted. The North Carolina has a provision that

prohibits pre payment penalties on loans of $150,000 and less


Everything from pre payment penalties, maximum fees, maximum rates, the validity of stated, no money down loans, and even loans without escrows could all be legislated under so called "predatory lending", and unless there is a specific definition it will be up to each state to define it. As you can see, the laws could get so complicated that sometimes a pre payment penalty would be predatory and other times it wouldn't. Imagine trying to deal with that sort variation on a plethora of different concepts associated with mortgages and then add the interpretation of fifty different states (and even more prosecutors and judges).

The Bush action that Spitzer referred to protected the national banks from having to face all of these standards and fifty motivated Attorney Generals ready to implement these sweeping and varied standards.

Now, Spitzer can claim that if he and his cohorts had had a chance to implement their goals, the crisis wouldn't have happened. I believe the crisis is much more complicated than that. First, there has been fraud in mortgages as long as there has been mortgages. What Spitzer and his colleauges noticed wasn't an increase in fraud. Rather, what happened was that significantly more loans were created that were easy to exploit. The problem was a lot more systemic than could be solved by enforcement. Especially if the enforcement came in the form of fifty different standards.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Happy Gilmore Fights Bob Barker

Defining Obama's Liberalism

In my eighth grade social studies class, I remember that we once went over a political cartoon in which a capitalized L had a noose attached to it and a picture of Michael Dukakis hung from the noose. This provocative cartoon meant to illustrate Bush Sr.'s ability to hang Dukakis with the liberal label. One of several lines of potential attacks against Barack Obama will be a similar label that McCain will likely try and define Obama with. It all started when the National Journal named Obama the most liberal Senator in the Senate in 2007.

This National Journal study will likely be one of the Republicans must trusted and used ally in the next campaign. Defining Obama's liberalism in this election will become one of the most important parts of the race. If Obama is defined as an extremist, that will be quite counter to the image he is forming of someone that is looking to end the partisanship. Extremists don't end partisanship, they contribute to it. Obama must define himself as a moderate while his opponents must define him as a liberal. That definition will be central to which side wins in November.

Enter this piece on CBS News. Now, it is no secret that the media has largely been in the tank for Obama. It is so absurd that SNL recently spoofed their outrageous behavior. Obama was largely insulated from his wife's comments for instance. The media has shown a blatant bias toward him against Hillary Clinton. He has been allowed to largely run on themes without being challenged on specifics. Given their behavior so far, we can expect the MSM to do everything they can to define him as a moderate.

This particular piece has several elements of what I consider to be many of the problems with much of today's journalism. This piece tries to paint a narrative with largely vague and undefined references.

Binder notes that Obama has spent his time in the Senate on "midrange issues," such as ethics reform and nuclear proliferation, where he could more easily find a Republican senator that would be open to working with him. "He wasn't working on issues where you have hard Democratic vs. Republican divides," she said. "He seems to have very carefully chosen out areas where there were prospects of success and where he could find like-minded people across the aisle."

...

Democratic Illinois State Senator Denny Jacobs, who played poker with Obama when they were both state legislators, disagrees. "He brought some ethics reform to Illinois, and that's no easy thing," said Jacobs. "He worked with both sides of the aisle to get that done. I think he's pragmatic. Illinois is the wild west of campaign finance, and Barack came in here and created some rules." "I think that what he's proven is that he does believe in something, he does have a core, but he's also someone who can move people from both sides to a resolution," Jacobs added.

...

Republican Illinois State Senator Bill Brady, who also worked with Obama, said Obama was "probably the most liberal member of the Illinois State Senate" - in part because he "represented the most liberal area in the state." (Epstein, using roll call vote and bill co-sponsorship data, found Obama to be the 6th most liberal in the State Senate.)

What the article does is randomly choose a handful of folks to give largely anecdotal observations about a subjective issue. It is hardly a surprise that a Democrat sees Obama is moderate, a Republican as liberal, and a political commentator is unsure. By doing this, the article frames his liberalism by his personality. This is frankly no way to judge or make a standard and furthermore it allows Obama to continue making his campaign about themes and actually define his liberalism through his themes. (Obama would like to define himself as a moderate through his message of ending partisanship, hope and change.)

The way I would define Obama's liberalism is to focus on what his positions are on most of the issues of the day. On the issue of illegal immigration, he is unabashadly open borders. He is largely protectionist on trade. On the issue of jobs, his plan has elements of income redistribution combined with government lead spending to create jobs. (both largely liberal ideas) On the issue of health care, he supports socialized medicine. On social issues he runs to the left of Planned Parenthood on abortion. On the issue of foreign policy, he has shown a desire for unconditional meetings with most of our enemies. He favors the protection of civil liberties over anti terror measures. Finally, he takes a traditional Democrat pro union stance.

Defining Obama's liberalism by defining Obama's stances on the important issues of our time does one other thing for the Republicans. It moves Obama away from his hopeful and uplifting message and gets him discussing specifics. Obama wins as long as the race is about hope and change, and he loses once hope and change are defined by specific policy. it will be interesting to see if it is defined the way I did it, or the way the article did it. The manner in which it is approached will go a long way toward determining the winner in November.

Dick Morris in Bolivia: Struggling for Independence




Last night, Dick Morris joined H&C from Bolivia. Morris is down there trying to help eastern provinces, Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija gain their independence from the leftist government.










differences with the four provinces, where officials approved statutes last week that would give them control over petroleum royalties and other functions, such as creating their own police forces.

After these provinces took steps to create more autonomy in their own regions, the Morales government responded by amending the Constitution...






acknowledged that the dispute had intensified after his supporters approved a controversial draft constitution.

Still, Mr. Morales said he believed that the constitution, which would bolster indigenous rights and dismantle large landholdings in eastern Bolivia, was legitimately approved despite a boycott of the vote by the political opposition and the abrupt transfer of the constitutional assembly to Oruro, a Morales bastion in the western highlands.


While this referendum must still pass through the national referendum, tensions are quite high. The context of this dispute is quite complicated. First, Morales is of Aymara descent,






a native ethnic group in the Andes and Altiplano regions of South America; about 2.3
million live in Bolivia, Peru, Northern Chile, and Northwestern Argentina (in particular in Salta Province). They lived in the region for many centuries before becoming a subject people of the Inca, and later of the Spanish in the 16th century


This makes Morales the first indigenous leader of Bolivia. His sharp anti American rhetoric make him a lightning rod. For instance, here is how he described the American economy...




The worst enemy of humanity is U.S. capitalism. That is what provokes uprisings like our own, a rebellion against a system, against a neoliberal model, which is the representation of a savage capitalism. If the entire world doesn't acknowledge this reality, that the national states are not providing even minimally for health, education and nourishment, then each day the most fundamental human rights are being violated.




As such, he has moved aggressively to nationalize many vital industries most notably natural gas.






As of May 1, 2006, President Morales signed a decree stating that all natural gas reserves were to be nationalized: "the state recovers ownership, possession and total and absolute control" of hydrocarbons (Bolivia has the second largest resources of natural gas in South America — 1.38 trillion cubic meters — after Venezuela). He thus put to some effect his electoral promises made during the various Gas Wars, declaring that "We are not a government of mere promises: We follow through on what we propose and what the people demand."


The area which the four "rogue" provinces are located on is rich in natural gas. Morales' drive to nationalize the industry also creates a situation in which their fruitful natural resource is rendered to a central government that the provinces don't believe is looking out for them. Morris has allied himself with these provinces and no doubt this story is constantly evolving.
There is more at stake than whatever internal domestic issues this addresses in Bolivia. In Venezuela, there was also nearly a grass roots uprising when Chavez closed down a television station. If this particular uprising is successful it may signal that Chavez' brand of leftism is dying in the region and that the folks in the region are rejecting their demagoguery. Here enters Dick Morris who has allied himself with the four provinces seeking their independence. This story is sure to evolve over the next several months and I will track it.




CMU Vs. Dennis Lennox: Expulsion?

Is expulsion the next step in this evolving fiasco? According to Lennox himself, his disciplinary hearings will be tomorrow. Here is how he described it in an email to me...

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (Feb. 24, 2008) – After months of cancellations, postponements and delays, Central Michigan University will hold an expulsion hearing this Wednesday for the spokesman of a student group who wants Gary Peters to pick between running for Congress and working as a political science professor.

Students Against Gary Peters spokesman Dennis Lennox will face three charges for exercising his First Amendment rights by passing out copies of a student newsletter with editorial content critical of Peters on Oct. 23 when the hearing is convened at 1 p.m.CMU administrators claim he violated regulations on distributing printed materials, but they waited 34 days to notify him of the charges.

"It's clear they are doing this because I raised legitimate questions about the hiring of Gary Peters," said Lennox. "Why can't CMU resolve this situation and let me go back to focusing on my studies instead of defending myself every couple weeks against expulsion attempts?" Lennox wasn't notified of his alleged violations until Nov. 27 – the same day the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan declared the school's videotaping ban unconstitutional. The ban had been imposed after Students Against Gary Peters posted videos on YouTube, which quickly attracted national attention with over 500,000 views in a 48-hour period.Besides violating Lennox's constitutional rights with bogus expulsion proceedings, CMU Assistant Dean of Students Anthony Voisin is refusing to tell the student who will be his judge and jury.

Voisin, who runs the disciplinary process, won't reveal the name of the hearing officer, which Lennox has formally requested on two occasions. The school even denied a Freedom of Information Act request, claiming there were "no records" on who had been assigned to proceed over the hearing.

"I want to make sure the person has no conflicts of interest," said Lennox. "I want to make sure Gary Peters or one of his friends in the faculty isn't deciding my academic future."Voisin is also claiming Lennox is prohibited from videotaping or audio recording the hearing, claiming CMU regulations "does not allow for any recording except the one audio tape which the university will make of the hearing."

"This claim is ridiculous," said Lennox. "If one party to the hearing can record it, the other side can as well – it's commonsense. Does CMU have something to hide?"As spokesman of Students Against Gary Peters, Lennox testified on the controversy at a state Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education hearing Friday. He called on senators to delay any increase in funding for CMU until the situation is properly resolved. A full video recording of the testimony can be watched at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=9115905305081435237&hl=en.

The CMU hearing, aimed at expelling Lennox, begins at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Bovee University Center.

Just to review, Gary Peters was hired for Central Michigan University's distinguished Griffin Chair. This was a controversial hire because Peters had already formed an exploratory committee to discuss running for the U.S. Congress in a district hundreds of miles away. Dennis Lennox, a junior at CMU, formed the group, Students Against Gary Peters. Lennox became a sort of watchdog of Peters and the administration's handling of the entire case. He formed alliances with numerous media and civil rights groups.

In October, Lennox had a highly controversial encounter with the Dean of Student Affairs at CMU, Dean Pamela Gates, and this confrontation wound up on You Tube. Since that incident, there is a documented pattern of increasingly heavy handed actions from the administration toward Lennox.

Tomorrow, he will be facing formal disciplinary action because of charges stemming from an incident in which he was passing out fliers in a University building. He was confronted by a member of the CMU faculty, a stranger to Lennox, and refused to divulge his own identity.

It is unclear what the administration will try and attempt to do. If Lennox is actually expelled for these suspect charges I predict the administration will face pitchforks at their offices from students, alumni, boosters, and a national audience that has grown an interest in the story.

If they only give him a slap on the wrist, the entire affair will be wasted. The administration might only suspend him or find some other punishment. I don't know what they hope to accomplish, but one thing is for sure, this story is not going away or dying and the eyes are upon their every movement.

I know one thing for certain. The punishment that the administration hands down will be significantly influenced by the outrage of the folks in prelude to it. That means everyone needs to contact all involved and let them know that intimidation of students is not acceptable...

Mr. Jeffrey R. Caponigro, chair: capon1jr@cmich.eduMs. Stephanie Comai: comai1s@cmich.eduMr. Brian W. Fannon: fanno1bw@cmich.eduMs. Jacqueline N. Garrett: garre1jn@cmich.eduDr. Marilyn French Hubbard: hubba1mf@cmich.eduDr. Sam R. Kottamasu: kotta1sr@cmich.eduMr. John G. Kulhavi, vice chair: kulha1jg@cmich.eduMs. Gail F. Torreano: torre1gf@cmich.eduDr. Michael Rao: (989) 774-3131, president@cmich.edu

Steyn, Europe and Immigration

Mark Steyn wrote a book, America Alone. In it, he hypothesized that Eurpoeans aren't having children and at the same time Islamic nations have procreation rates that are off the charts. Many of these folks are using Europe's lax immigration policy and their welfare system to move in and live off the state. He believes that this sort of social engineering will change European societies dramatically and in upredictable ways.

Since the publication of the book, many have challenged his thesis. The debate picks up with his latest piece. It turns out that an obscure social welfare agency named the Department of Work and Pensions ruled that polygomous males were entitled to the spousal welfare benefits of each wife. Now, Steyn, in the book and beyond, has been painstakingly finding examples of so called tolerance in European society that lead to Islamification in Europe. This is just the latest example.

Steyn puts the whole in perspective...

When these issues come up, the spokespersons for the political class focus
on the question of taxpayers’ money: Start handing it out to guys for third
wives and to child brides for hymen replacement, and there goes any budgetary
restraint. But they don’t seem willing to contemplate what it means for the
broader society a decade down the road. When Islam is your major source of
population growth, well, then your country is going to be more Muslim. That’s a
given. Critics of my book think that I don’t take into account the assimilatory
powers of western society, and it’s certainly true there’s an element of
cultural cross-pollination going on: You can’t get polygamous welfare benefits
in Waziristan, and you can’t get free hymen replacement in Saudi Arabia. East is
east and west is west and, though the twain do meet, a polygamist on welfare and
a teen who sleeps around before going back to the old country for her arranged
marriage would seem to be almost parodic definitions of the worst of both
worlds.

and then acknowledges a common objections and breaks it down...

Other Steyn naysayers think I’m carelessly assuming Muslims are an homogeneous bloc. Not at all. But the running is made by the most determined elements of the community, and the rest string along. So relatively few British Muslims are polygamous in practice, but even fewer will object to it in principle. Muslims have lived in the west a long time but it’s only in recent years that they’ve demanded, say, foot-washing facilities in public buildings. And, on the whole, a multicultural society is happy to accommodate them, even to the point of pre-emptively giving up on stuff they haven’t yet objected to – like the British prize judges who recently nixed a new version of The Three Little Pigs on the grounds that it might offend Muslims.

It is in the end difficult to argue with Steyn's hypothesize. The numbers are on his side. Traditional Europeans are having children at alarmingly low rates and Islamic nations are having children at alarmingly high rates. What is both fascinating and scary is the consequences of Steyn's thesis being correct. If Steyn is right then Europe will become dominated by Islamic forces. Things like Sharia Law would become a staple. The archbishop of canterbury has already said that Britain should look into incorporating Sharia Law.

These sorts of things will only become more prevalent as the population evolves. As Europe embraced secular progressivism, by extension, things like child rearing became blase. It can't be understated that the combination of the European open borders policy and their social welfare state act as an explosive combination.

The book is an interesting read. I recommend it to all.

The New York Philharmonic Plays the Star Spangled in PyongYang

The symbolism here is through the roof.

The New York Philharmonic performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" for North Korea's communist elite Tuesday — a feat of musical diplomacy aimed at improving ties with the isolated nuclear-armed country that considers the U.S. its mortal enemy.

The Philharmonic is the first major American cultural group to perform in the country and the largest delegation from the United States to visit its longtime foe.

The unprecedented concert represents a warming in relations between the nations that remain technically at war and locked in negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

The Philharmonic began the concert with "Patriotic Song" — North Korea's national anthem — followed by the U.S. anthem. The audience stood during both anthems and held their applause until the conclusion of the second.

...that is a concert I would want to attend

Monday, February 25, 2008

Grady Hospital: The Plot Thickens

Based on what I have been able to gather from the Atlanta area media, the current narrative seems to break down very simple. Either Grady is allowed to transform its board into new board structured as a 501(3)C or Grady will have to close. This 501 (3)C structure was first recommended by the Grady Task Force. Since then, an anonymous source has stepped foward and committed 200 million dollars if the board is allowed to restructure.

It continues to be a mystery what this new board will do that will save the hospital. 501(3)C is an obscure sub universe in the tax code. It is frankly unclear what it will do that the previous board couldn't do. Its even less clear how this new structure will benefit Grady. Furthermore, the previous board won't be dissolved but rather it will cede much of its power to the new board. This will only confuse an already confused structure even more. It seems to me that the last thing a hospital with a history of corruption should be allowed to do is complicate its structure even more, but that is exactly the narrative that you are seeing in the media in the area.

Yet, the narrative seems to be that only this new board can save the hospital. Of course, this is a nonsensical and faulty view of the situation. For instance, if you look at the state of Georgia, you will see that Georgia provides significantly less funding to its safety net hospitals than most other states. If one compared the funding the state of Georgia provides to say the state of New York, they would see the state of New York does significantly more with its resources. The hospitals in that state have significantly fewer money issues. Of course, if the state were providing more money, the state might also want to scrutinize how that money is spent. That is likely something the powers that be at Grady want to avoid. In fact, I have already made it clear that I believe this new 501(3)C is nothing more than an attempt by the powers that be to create an extra layer of insulation to make Grady even more corruptable. That said, a more reasonable answer would be to demand that the state finally pony up the money it should to keep this crucial hospital open.

The best idea that I have heard is providing contracts for such unions as AFSCME and other unions that serve employees typical in a hospital. In return, the unions would use their health insurance at Grady. This plan is actually quite ingenius. That's because it solves one of the biggest structural problems at the hospital. The hospital currently has too many non paying patients. The best way to save Grady Hospital is to find a stream of paying patients that would offset the enormous number of uninsured that are treated there yearly. The unions would bring with them a plethora of patients that have good medical insurance. The unions would bend over backwards for the opportunity to unionize the staff at a hospital as big as Grady. It seems to be a win win...

So what is the problem with such a plan? I believe that a union would also bring with it the sort of scrutiny that the powers that be doesn't want at Grady. With a union protecting its workers, whistle blowers wouldn't be retaliated against. The union would be in a position to scrutinize much of the corruption that is going on there now. Since the powers that be are more interested in continuing the systemic corruption they have been committing there, they want no part of any union (in my opinion of course).

Grady Hospital has a long history of conflicts of interest turning into disaster. State Senator Charles Walker used a sophisticated web of conflicts to commit so much criminality at Grady and beyond that he wound up being convicted of 127 felonies. Robert Brown, long time prominent board member, often wound up giving lucrative contracts to his own architecture firm. (the most infamous was a multi million dollar addition in the early part of the decade) Even now, the CEO, Otis Story, resigned and was replaced with Pam Stephenson. Stephenson is now the CEO, a board member, and also a state legislator. Despite all of these past conflicts, it appears that financing will come with its own set of conflicts of interest.

The reason I am certain that this 501(3)C is nothing more than a sham is first, that it is presented as the only hope when there are clearly plenty of options. While it remains unclear what a 501(3)C is, let alone why it would help the situation at all, it continues to be billed as the savior. Furthermore, this 501(3)C plan is loaded with new conflicts of interest that are neither explained or dealt with. Since it was the brainchild of the Grady Task Force, it would be a reasonable assumption that most of the new 501(3)C board would be made of previous members of the Grady Task Force itself. If that is the case, this new board would be filled with all sorts of conflicts of interest. While the board is made up with plenty of people of high credibility, it is also made up almost exclusively with people that have an inherent conflict of interest at Grady. Almost every member of the Grady Task Force is tied to Grady financially, (Michael Russell who has had several lucrative contracts at Grady), professionally (Dr. Michael Johns head of Emory University's Woodruff Health Sciences Center) or politically. None of these inherent conflicts is explained or dealt with by the Task Force or in any plans of the new board. (In other words if this new board is allowed to be formed it will likely be filled almost exclusively by folks that have an inherent conflict of interest with the hospital itself. Exactly the sort of situation that lead directly to prior corruption would be allowed to form again)

This brings me back to this anonymous donor. Since the donor is anonymous, the exact identity can't be made with certainty. That said, multiple sources have speculated to me that the donor is the Woodruff Foundation. While I will keep my sourcing close to the vest, figuring on Woodruff being the anonymous donor is mostly a process of elimination. There are very few folks or entities with enough capital to provide 200 million dollars. Besides the Woodruff foundation, the only other entity is Emory itself. If it is Woodruff, then this raises all sorts of other conflict of interest issues. The Woodruff foundation has all sorts of ties to Emory University. (Emory University of course provides most of the staff at Grady Hospital) There are very few people or entities with 200 million to begin with, and even fewer with enough capital to be able to part with 200 million. Those that can only two have any motivation to keep Grady open: the short list is the Woodruff foundation and Emory University itself.

The name most prominently mentioned to head up the new 501(3)C board is Pete Correl. Correl is the former CEO of Georgia Pacific. Correll is currently a board member of Emory's School of Medicine. If my information is accurate, then this new plan is nothing more than a ruse by Emory University to consolidate even more power at Grady Hospital. Emory University already enjoys the benefits of yearly lump sum payments to staff the hospital and it even has Grady pick up the tab on its malpractice insurance. (Here is the sourcing on that)

Thus, if I am right, this so called 501(3)C will mostly have the practical effect of consolidating even more power at Grady Hospital into the hands of Emory University and its friends and allies. Yet, none of the media questions the false narrative that this 501(3)C is the only way to save Grady. None of the media scrutinizes this anonymous donor to make sure this donor doesn't have any alterior motives for giving the money. None in the media raise the obvious concern that Pete Correl's appointment to the new board would have.

What I am seeing in this evolving fiasco is pretty simple. At its time of greatest need, the powers that be have devised a plan that will make Grady even less transparent, will consolidate even more power into less hands, and will create even more conflicts of interest at a hospital with a long and sordid history of disastrous conflicts of interest. The worst part is that they are doing this with a largely apathetic media, public and political class looking the other way and not questioning any of the actions one bit.

My Recommendations for Responding to the Mortgage Crisis

1)Let the free market correct the excesses.

There will be many that will try and create legislation that they think will cut out the excess of the mortgage boon. I don't think there is anyway around a plethora of regulations and laws that will act to limit mortgage products based on previous excess and abuse. For the most part, the legislation will be misguided, unnecessary, and in many cases either overkill or counterproductive. Thus, while it is inevitable, it is also unnecessary and for the most part counterproductive.

Right now, the free market is shaking out not only the bad loans but the bad borrowers. The mortgage market continues to be dicey and unpredictable however we are seeing an evolution that stresses full verification of all income and assets and a new and increasing skepticism of appraisals. The poor performing loans of the past are no longer available. No money down loans are now available only to the very highest credit scores and with good debt to income ratios, as well as a healthy amount of liquid assets (whether they be money in the bank or other things considered liquid like retirement accounts)

Other loan products like Option ARM's and interest only loans have also become scarce. The market is in the process of transforming itself. Gone are the days of loose and irresponsible lending, and the market itself is taking the mistakes of the past to create a new environment that learns from them.

As these loans are shaken out, the borrowers that used them to qualify for property they couldn't afford will also be shaken out. While it is also unrealistic to expect the politicians to sit back and let this happen, it is in the end the best policy. These borrowers shouldn't be in the market. They are not responsible enough to own property and the loans they received were irresponsible as well. Trying to bail them out, or freeze their rates, or anything else, will only delay the inevitable. The best thing that can happen is for these borrowers to be removed from the market place as quickly as possible. That will only happen through market forces.

Nothing that legislators will want to do that will substitute, supplement, or in any other way act in lieu of the market will help. The market is doing the best it can to figure out a new mortgage paradigm after the crisis. The only thing we can all do is stand back while it all gets shaken out.

2)Make the business paperless.

There is too much paperwork going through each stream of the business: the appraisers, the title companies, the banks, and the mortgage broker. By the time a loan has been closed, the typical mortgage broker has an encyclopedia's worth of paperwork. People wind up drowning in paperwork. To end this the business must make a concerted effort to go paperless. (where paperwork is scanned and saved to disk, harddrive The whole entire business must become paperless and I wouldn't mind that coming in the form of a mandate. This is easily done, and many banks, title companies, and brokers are already doing it. I don't mind legislation mandating this and I can see some sort of staggered system that allows the transition to be smooth. It is an absolute must though that the business get rid of all the paperwork and be able to scan everything to disk.

3)Get rid of much of the unnecessary disclosures.

There are dozens of disclosures that serve no purpose besides making the signing process much more complicated and time consuming than it is necessary. My "favorite" is the Equal Credit Opportunity Act Disclosure.

It shall be unlawful for any creditor to discriminate against any applicant, with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction-- (1) on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status, or age (provided the applicant has the capacity to contract); (2) because all or part of the applicant's income derives from any public assistance program; or (3) because the applicant has in good faith exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.

In other words, the bank and broker can't discriminate against the borrower for anything but credit worthiness (like skin color, sex, etc.) Now, of course, this is a disclosure that is signed at closing so it stands to reason the borrower didn't get discriminated at all. There are dozens of relatively worthless disclosures like: right to receive an appraisal, credit score disclosure, and even frankly the net tangible benefits disclosure that serve no purpose but to create a paperwork process that winds up being way to time consuming and overwhelming for the borrower.

The initial disclosures should be limited to the application, the TIL, the Good Faith Estimate, and any documents that will be necessary to satisfy any verification procedures. The closing documents could be cut down significantly and then the borrowers would be in a better position to read the important ones.

4)Encourage better training of mortgage brokers.

The main problem with the mortgage business is the obscenely poor training that most mortgage companies. I was lucky to have a more senior mortgage broker train me. Most of the time at mortgage companies, training is haphazard and lacking. There is rarely a formal training program that is provided by mortgage companies. Most mortgage companies will hire brokers with little discrimination. Because brokers are almost always paid strictly in commission there is little to lose for the mortgage company to hire someone.

I don't believe this is something that can be legislated, however it can be encouraged in other ways. I think that the SBA should create a special small business loan designed strictly to help mortgage companies improve their training program. I could also be in favor of cutting the capital gains tax on any investment that would target creating and expanding training programs for mortgage brokers. While the details would still need to be worked out, we must do something to encourage mortgage companies to provide better training for their brokers.

The Perverted Geopolitical Vision of Barack Obama

A confluence of events this week got me thinking about Barack Obama's foreign policy vision. First, Fidel Castro resigned. Here is what the Obama campaign said in response.






Accordingly, I will use aggressive and principled diplomacy to send an important message: If a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change, the United States (the president working with Congress) is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for the last five decades. That message coming from my administration in bilateral talks would be the best means of promoting Cuban freedom. To refuse to do so would substitute posturing for serious policy -- and we have seen too much of that in other areas over the past six years.

This isn't the first time that Obama has shown a willingness to sit down with one of our enemeis. Obama has already indicated that he would have unconditional talks with rogue leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His top foreign policy advisor recently met with Bashar Assad in Damascus. Since Obama doesn't specify what will and won't be said, I can only assume that trade will be a topic. In fact, I suspect trade would be an important part of any bilateral talks between the heads of nations. By showing a willingness to meet with our enemies, and not taking trade off the table, Obama has shown a willingness to tacitly move towards normalizing trade relations with our enemies.

This is an important thing to keep in mind because the Obama campaign was in Ohio bashing NAFTA this past week.






Said Obama, "One million jobs have been lost because of NAFTA, including nearly 50,000 jobs here in Ohio. And yet, 10 years after NAFTA passed, Sen. Clinton said it was good for America. Well, I don't think NAFTA has been good for America -- and I never have."

NAFTA is of course not the only free trade agreement that he has bashed. Barack Obama has consistently been against all trade with Latin America and our other neighbors. Thus, when it comes to our own neighbors and immediate geographic allies Obama would like to use trade to weaken our geopolitical relationship. He wants to do the exact opposite with our main enemies. Thus, on the topic of free trade, Obama has a geopolitical vision of subsequenty punishing our neighbors and rewarding most of our biggest enemies.


This is important to keep in mind when you consider Obama's generally open borders stance on illegal immigration. This means a President Obama would generally try and cut off trade with countries like Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, and he would also invite folks of those countries to come across a generally wide open border. It doesn't take much intuition to predict the disaster that combination would be.

Thus, A President Obama would be criss crossing the Continents stopping in Damascus, Tehran, Havana, and possibly even Pyonyang. While he is doing that, he will subsequently practice nativist and protectionist trade policy with our nearest geographic allies. At the same time, he would open our borders wide for all the folks whose economies he just ruined when he cut trade off with their home nations.

His geopolitical views much like his economic views are disjointed, naive, and totally without any logic or reason. It's clear to me that the only reason that Obama is against NAFTA, CAFTA, and other free trade agreements like them is because his base of union support is against them. He appears to be for unconditional face to face meetings with our enemies because that is something Bush refused to do. I am not sure why he is open borders though I could come up with dozens of motives. None of these reasons have anything to do with making good policy. This sort of policy based on pleasing a base, or demagoguing a political enemy, or any other politically opportunistic motivation usually leads to exactly the sort of perverted vision that this one does.