Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pol of the Day: Tom Lantos

From The Wall Street Journal's Political Diary:

Dutch Treat

Guantanamo Bay is likely to close as the chief U.S. prison for terrorist suspects in the next year or so, but that doesn't mean it's stopped hosting delegations of outraged Europeans who want to make grandstanding points against the U.S.

Happily, at least one U.S. lawmaker has called some of the European headline-hunters on the carpet. During a recent meeting in Washington with Dutch parliamentarians who had just come from the U.S. Naval base in Cuba, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos minced no words. On being informed by the Dutch lawmakers that the prison was an abomination, the California Democrat coolly replied that "Europe was not as outraged by Auschwitz as by Guantanamo Bay."

Mr. Lantos, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor, wasn't done yet. He offered advice to Dutch politicians who are debating whether to keep sending 1,600 troops to Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission there: "You have to help us, because if it was not for us, you would now be a province of Nazi Germany."

The Dutch did not take kindly to Mr. Lantos' perspective. "The comments killed the debate," Harry van Bommel, a member of the Dutch Socialist Party, told reporters. "It was insulting and counterproductive."

Perhaps, but it was also a refreshing departure from the normally vapid "diplomospeak" that such meetings are usually conducted in.

-- John Fund

Global Warming Update

The chart below plots atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide alongside a global monthly temperature mean. Presumably there should be a correlation, as the theory of global warming posits that the greater the concentration of CO2, the greater the greenhouse effect.

Instead, as CO2 has risen steadily, average global temperatures since 1998 have been in decline. The reason for the 1998 spike is the super El Nino that warmed the Pacific. (Via ICECAP)

And in other global-warming news ...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sean Taylor, RIP

The hardest hitting safety in the NFL, the leader of the Redskins' secondary, Terrel Owens' worst nightmare -- Sean Taylor was these things plus, as teammate Pierson Prioleau said, "a dad, a brother, a friend of ours."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

'Clinton Style Evokes Concern Among Critics'

Anyone see this story that just moved over the Reuters wire? Surprising what passes as news these days:
Clinton Style Evokes Concern Among Critics

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democrat Hillary Clinton vows to cave on terror, chooses confessed criminals as advisers and pretends nationalizing health care isn't socialism.

Add to those views a reputation for being power hungry, and Clinton often evokes the word "scary" from opponents who find this self-aggrandizing image that serves her so well in New York now a cause for concern as she seeks the U.S. presidency.
What's that? This can't be a real story? True, it's not -- but this is:

Giuliani Style Evokes Concern Among Critics

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Republican Rudy Giuliani vows to be tough on terror, chooses advisers who want to bomb Iran and doesn't think pretending to drown prisoners is torture.

Add to those views a reputation for being combative, and Giuliani often evokes the word "scary" from opponents who find the tough-guy image that served him so well after the September 11 attacks now a cause for concern as he seeks the U.S. presidency.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Spitzer vs. the Little Guy

In 2005, The New York Times ran an in-depth series on Medicaid fraud in New York. By the paper's estimate, New York was annually losing upward of $18 billion on fraud, waste, and abuse. This put attention on then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose office was responsible for overseeing the system. His Democratic opponent for governor, Thomas Suozzi, accused the AG of neglecting state interests, focusing too much on high-profile cases.

Spitzer said Medicaid was receiving his investigators' attention, announcing as an example litigation against a Park Slope dentist. The suit alleged that Leonard Morse had bilked more than $1 million from New York. But as The Post reports today:

The charges collapsed at trial after reams of records were ruled inadmissible.

In the end, prosecutors asked Justice John Walsh to consider charges that Morse stole just $3,000. The judge found the dentist not guilty on that charge.

But today, Morse's patients are long gone -- scared off, he says, by the barrage of press releases calling their dentist a thief.

Claiming to having lost his client base, Morse is now suing Spitzer for $75 million.

"I think I want beyond money," said Morse. "I want justice. I want my good name back. I want all those thousands of patients back who I treated for 30 years. I want all my friends and neighbors and relatives to see that I didn't do anything. I became a political pawn."
Spitzer's suit was curiously timed in that its evidence was an audit performed in 2002. Last year I wrote about another instance where AG investigators uncovered small-time villains at the perfect moment; three small-time gas station were sued for alleged price gouging -- just as soaring prices filled headlines and airwaves. Because the piece is no longer available online, I'm reprinting it below:

WHAT does Eliot Spitzer have against small New York businesses?

Asking that question are three gas station operators whom the attorney general is suing for "price gouging" in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In the midst of the late '70s oil panic, the Legislature made it a crime to "sell or offer to sell any [vital goods and services] for an amount which represents an unconscionably excessive price." When gasoline prices spiked in Katrina's wake, Spitzer invoked the statute against stations across the state.

Last September, the AG's office subpoenaed sales information from dozens of gas stations across the state, subsequently offering settlements to those it determined had gouged. Most chose to pay a fine rather than fight. But three refused; Spitzer is now pursuing civil cases against all three.

"[Spitzer's] ruined my reputation in [Oswego County] forever," fumes Joe Wiedenbeck Jr., who owned the Penn-Can Truck Stop Mobil in Center Square (Oswego County) at the time of the alleged gouging (he's since sold his business and retired to Florida). "We were in business for 31 years; we donated to every cause in the area.

"Why is he coming after me?" asks Danny Cianciulli, owner and manager of My Service Center in New Rochelle -- who says that his station lost money in the post-Katrina weeks, and on the year. In fact, he put up $50,000 of his savings just to keep the station afloat.

"Price gouging?" asks Cianciulli. "I haven't taken a vacation since 1985. I work from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., six days a week. . . . It's my obligation to sell as low as I can. When gas prices go up, I lose money. If people think they're being mistreated, they go elsewhere."

Joe Alonzo, a partner at Wever Petroleum, which runs the Schaghticoke Mobil station in Rensselaer County, points out that at the time referenced in Spitzer's suit, he was charging 10 cents a gallon less than the nearest other station.

Cianculli says he sets his price by maintaining a 10-cent margin over whatever Exxon currently charges him for gas.

Wiedenbeck says he always set his price by adding a cent to whatever Wal-Mart and Fast Track were charging. After Katrina, "the supplier was changing his prices two to three times a day," he explains. "You have to be able to afford the next shipment of gasoline, because you have to pay for it before you receive it."

Spitzer says the stations did wrong by raising their prices on gasoline that they'd already bought at a lower price. "If they had gas in the ground, that they paid a specific price for, their costs did not go up, nor is it an acceptable excuse to raise their price," argues Paul Larrabee, a spokesman for the attorney general. Adjusting prices to changing costs, says Larrabe, "is not a defense under the [price gouging] statute."

But that's how small service stations do business, the defendants argue.

"We would have been out of gas if we sold by prices set in the past," said Adam Peska, an attorney for My Service Station. "Besides, whatever [short-term] profits he made were immediately eaten up by the next shipments."

Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, an industry group, says, "There's a longstanding established practice of pricing motor fuel at replacement cost."

He compares it to real estate: If I bought a house four years ago for $100,000, he asks, and I sell it for $100,000 when prices have doubled, "how would I afford my next house in the new real-estate market?"

But the defense attorneys have a better reason for confidence: The statute's simply too unclear. It fails to define the "gross disparity" in prices that it says constitutes gouging. The standard is so vague that someone who wants to obey the law can't know how to obey.

Even Spitzer implicitly concedes this point: He has asked the Legislature to amend the price-gouging law so that prosecution would be more practical.

So why did he bring up these cases in the first place? He insists he's just fighting for the public good. Indeed, he brings the issue up on the campaign trail -- bragging that he's the nation's toughest state attorney general in fighting gas-price-gouging. (In fact, a new Federal Trade Commission study shows that Georgia's AG beat him, having settled with 64 gas stations, to Spitzer's 18 total.)

The defendants see politics in the timing. All three refused to pay the fine demanded in Spitzer's initial letter, instead submitting the requested documentation on their post-Katrina pricing. When they heard nothing more, they assumed Spitzer had decided to drop a weak case.

Then gas prices hit the news again in April -- and so did another Spitzer press offensive, announcing the three prosecutions. In fact, the defendants first heard of the suits from the media.

Spitzer's people managed to alert the press in time for the papers of Friday, April 21 -- but failed to serve any of the paperwork on the operators until the next Monday or Tuesday. ("We attempted to serve these stations prior to the public release of this information," insists a Spitzer spokesman.)

If politics is Spitzer's motive here, he's safe even if the cases eventually get thrown out of court: The proceedings likely won't wrap up before Election Day.

Meanwhile, he can keep on alleging that these small-time gas operators that struggle to stay in business have intentionally ripped off consumers -- a telling presumption for their aspiring governor.
UPDATE: The Morse complaint is here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

TREND WATCH: Proposed NY Bans

List is current as of 5:58 PM, Friday, November 16th ...

New York City:

  1. Feeding pigeons
  2. City Council ads with holiday messages that are taxpayer finance
  3. City Councilmembers using public funds for personal ads
  4. Styrofoam containers in food services
  5. Various contributions to city politicians
  6. Etching acid
  7. High rises in the Upper West Side
  8. 'Stealing' recyclables
  9. Peeping toms
  10. Videotaping in public without a permit
  11. Smoking in cars with minors
  12. The word "bitch"
  13. The word "ho"
  14. Free formula samples for new mothers at city hospitals
  15. Teenage possession of spray paint
  16. Businesses from leaving their windows or doors open while air conditioners are on inside
  17. Dogs from being tied up three-plus hours
  18. Talking/listening/playing while walking crosswalks
  19. Skinny models
  20. The "N-word"
  21. Electric-assist pedicabs
  22. Public pension investments in companies with business in Sudan
  1. pit bulls
  2. trans-fats
  3. aluminum baseball bats
  4. the purchase of tobacco by 18- to 20-year-olds
  5. foie gras
  6. pedicabs in parks
  7. new fast-food restaurants (but only in poor neighborhoods)
  8. lobbyists from the floor of council chambers
  9. lobbying city agencies after working at the same agency
  10. vehicles in Central and Prospect parks
  11. cell phones in upscale restaurants
  12. the sale of pork products made in a processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., because of a unionization dispute
  13. mail-order pharmaceutical plans
  14. candy-flavored cigarettes
  15. gas-station operators adjusting prices more than once daily
  16. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
  17. Wal-Mart
  18. the process that makes steaks pink
  19. subway ads poking fun at outer boroughs
  1. Loud car alarms
  2. Vendors from Ground Zero
  1. Cell phones during public performances
  1. Toy guns
  2. Soft drinks and snacks in city public schools

New York:

  1. Texting while driving
  2. Using I-pods/cell phones while crossing the street
  3. Plastic bags
  4. Nooses
  5. Spectating dog fights
  6. Smoking in cars with minors
  7. Plastic water bottles
  8. Styrofoam used in food services
  9. Thin models

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Why Do I Hate the Candidates I Like?

Readers may recall that an earlier political quiz identified the FunkyPundit as a Brownback man. Well, he's come and gone. And I've since come across a new political matchmaking site called Glassbooth. This time I've most closely identified with ... Tom Tancredo?

What gives? I love Mexicans!

Anyone else getting interesting results?

Question of the Day

Is, or is not, Ticketmaster the absolute worst company in the United States of America?

Having just purchased two $25 tickets from Ticketmaster and receiving a final bill -- after its Orwellian "convenience charge" -- of $72(!!!), I'm now thinking I haven't been ripped off this badly since ... since ... well, since my last Ticketmaster purchase! Actually, there's also last month's Cablevision bill, which is perhaps the only reason why today's answer could very well be, "no."

By the way, this is what I'll be seeing. Everyone of sound mind ought to do the same.

Politicians Being Politicians

For it's impressive distillation of nauseating backslapping, mawkish self-celebration, and dubious factuality into one hugely lame quote, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's comments in a Governor Spitzer press release on New York's self-imposed Kyoto Protocol could go down as a politicians-being-politicians quote of the year:
“Bravo to Governor Spitzer for striking this blow against global warning and greenhouse gas emissions—and for recognizing that with a little courage, being ‘green’ is much easier than people think. Here in cutting-edge Brooklyn, we’re proud of our solar-powered subway terminal at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island, our co-gen co-ops in Clinton Hill, our huge new green roof in Red Hook, our food justice efforts in East New York—the kinds of sustainable initiatives that have the rest of the country saying ‘Brooklyn, NYC, and New York State — How green it is!’”
Yes, that's exactly what everyone's saying.

This Is a Public Service Announcement From The Gza

We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Today's Funk Special

Beck plays "Nicotine and Gravy" at Germany's Bizzarefest in August 2000:

Thanks my friend Pat, this song has been stuck in my head since Saturday night. Now it will be stuck in all of yours!

Huffington's Huff of the Day

In the course of criticizing Democrats for being insufficiently aggressive with Republicans, Yale Professor David Bromwich offers this:
Given the chance to resist as a formed majority, their opposition has, in less than a year, been whittled down to ceremonial remonstrance. And the pattern is now almost ingrained. After all, this was the first president in our history to boast of assassinations: "All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries," he said in his State of the Union address of 2003. "Many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way -- they are no longer a problem." President Bush, in his own words, told us that he was talking about suspects, not men convicted on evidence of a crime. The president made us all his accomplices when he remarked that the murdered men had not been given a legal process. That easy slide into the argot of hoodlums by the leader of the free world was noticed by a few at the time.
No comment.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Americans Want To Hear More About Iraq ...

But the media has moved on. From a Pew Research Center analysis:

News about the Iraq war does not dominate the public’s consciousness nearly as much as it did last winter. Currently, just 16% of Americans name the Iraq war as the news story that first comes to mind when asked what has been in the news lately. In December and January, a period when U.S. policy toward Iraq and President Bush’s troop surge drew extensive news coverage, as many as half or more named the Iraq war as the first story that came to mind.

Despite decreased public interest in the war [this doesn't logically follow the last 'graf -- FP], a growing number of Americans fault news organizations for providing too little, rather than too much, coverage of the war. In particular, the public believes that the challenges and experiences of U.S. soldiers – both while serving in Iraq and after returning to the United States – are receiving too little news coverage.

Fully 63% say that “the challenges faced by some U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq” have received too little news coverage; about the same number (61%) say that reports about soldiers’ personal experiences have been undercovered.
It's no surprise the media's clammed up on Iraq just as the reasons for hope grow steadily stronger. For the last three years, most major media outlets have invested their personal credibility in the all's-doomed angle. Allowing that this call may have been premature is embarrassing. But more interesting is the implicit conceit that there's no such thing as good news, as World News Tonight anchor Charlie Gibson recently opined:
One item from Baghdad today. The news is … that there is no news. The police told us that, to their knowledge, there were no major acts of violence. Attacks are down in Baghdad and today no bombings or roadside explosions were reported.
Apparently, Americans disagree -- this is news.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Great News in the World of Sports

The bidding war Alex Rodriguez assumed would erupt just as soon as he left the Yankees has failed to materialize.

Save Lives: Bring Back Trans Fats!

Today The New York Times reports that obesity increases a person's chances of surviving various diseases:
Linking, for the first time, causes of death to specific weights, they report that overweight people have a lower death rate because they are much less likely to die from a grab bag of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, infections and lung disease. And that lower risk is not counteracted by increased risks of dying from any other disease, including cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

As a consequence, the group from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute reports, there were more than 100,000 fewer deaths among the overweight in 2004, the most recent year for which data were available, than would have expected if those people had been of normal weight.

Their paper is published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers also confirmed that obese people and people whose weights are below normal have higher death rates than people of normal weight. But, when they asked why, they found that the reasons were different for the different weight categories.

Wouldn't it be ironic if New York City's chief of the food police, Dr. Thomas Frieden, was actually responsible for increased mortality rates owing to his ban on trans-fats?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Nanny Inquisition

The crusade continues, The New York Times reports:
Moonshine is the kind of cozy, lived-in Brooklyn bar that allowed customers to bring dogs inside and meat for the grill outside, both of which, it would come to learn, are against New York City health department regulations. But no one foresaw one violation uncovered during a recent surprise inspection of the Red Hook tavern.

It was tucked within the array of more common infractions on the inspectors’ forms for which Moonshine was cited: the grills, the “live dog” in the bar, fruit flies and “7 mice excreta” in the basement. If widely enforced, it is not an exaggeration to say that the rule would radically change the way thousands of bartenders do one small but vital part of their job every single day.

“A male worker observed having bare-hand contact with one slice of ready-to-eat lime while placing on top of beer bottle for patron in bar,” the citation, dated Oct. 9, states. Bare-hand contact? How else is a bartender supposed to get a ready-to-eat lime slice into a bottle of Corona for a patron? According to the health department, there are two solutions.

Plastic gloves or tongs.

In other words, every time a bartender in New York City puts a lime slice in that Corona with bare hands, he or she is breaking the law. ...

An informal survey of several bartenders on whether they use gloves or tongs when garnishing beer bottles was met with incredulity, ridicule and disdain. But when asked to perform this alien ritual, they did their best with the tongs, gripping the little wedges and guiding them into the bottles. Some fumbled, while others took to it like surgeons performing a transplant. None of them seemed happy with the thought of doing it every day.

The first stop was Smith & Wollensky, the revered brass-rail bar and steakhouse in Midtown where the staff wears sharp white coats. Patrick Ford, a bartender for 35 of his 53 years, was standing behind the polished bar amid gleaming bottles on a busy Tuesday night as he considered how to legally garnish a beer.

“I won’t wear gloves,” he said, his tall frame so thin it seemed his white coat was still on a hanger. “It’s not a doctor’s office. It’s a saloon.”

He fished out a Corona and looked around. “We don’t have tongs,” he said. “I’ll use a fork.”

He speared a little wedge of lime and walked past several amused regular customers, toward a waiting Corona. In his coat, holding the fruit before him, he looked like a mad scientist with a laboratory specimen. The lime addressed the lip of the beer bottle with uncertainty, but when Mr. Ford removed the fork, it stuck there. Men cheered.

“Hey, Patty,” one man bellowed. “Give me a Corona over here! Be sure to use a fork!”

While putting lime in beer borders on criminal, I believe the surgeon general recommends that anyone who would ban the practice be kept at least 100 yards away from any position of authority. It's just safer for everyone.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Around the Web

-- The New York Times is no johnny-come-lately on climate change. One of its first distress signals was printed way back in '95 -- 1895, that is!

-- Here's something as rare as a "smoking permitted" sign: The Wall Street Journal's Hugo Restall spends an entire column waxing rhapsodic on the joys of smoking.

-- The birthplace of Ebenezer Scrooge moves to ban Santa Claus.

-- Be proud: Your tax dollars are financing post-Thanksgiving congressional vacations to Brazil.

-- Councilman James Oddo, fresh from his long, lonely and hard-fought battle to ban metal baseball bats, has another big idea.

Friday, November 2, 2007

An Eco-Warrior of Convenience

Today Mayor Bloomberg is delivering the keynote address at a Seattle climate-change conference sponsored by the United States Conference of Mayors. He will propose taxing carbon emissions, which will be levied upon companies -- not individuals themselves -- which is an important distinction.

A recent New York Post analysis of Hizzoner's real-estate portfolio and travel style found that no one holds a candle his massive energy consumption (well, except for maybe Al Gore). His personal carbon footprint equals that of "18 average Americans, 53 Europeans or 404 Guatemalans."

His (conservatively) estimated 364 annual tons of smog-inducing carbon dioxide is equivalent to "keeping 69 cars a year on the road or lighting the Empire State Building for 4 days," The Post reported.

Besides his spacious Upper East Side townhouse, the mayor owns five homes: a country house in Armonk; a farm in North Salem, both in Westchester; a four-bedroom condo in Vail, Colo.; a palatial flat on London's posh Cadogan Square, and a sprawling, 6,000-square-foot beachfront spread in Bermuda.

Together, the properties boast enough square footage to swallow two mansions like the 10,000-square-foot one owned by former Vice President Al Gore, one of several leading climate-change critics rapped lately for being voracious energy users themselves.

Bloomberg's carbon footprint swells to epic proportions when you include his penchant for reaching his far-flung getaways by one of the handful of private jets owned by his financial information firm, Bloomberg LP.

Fortunately, this chief of the Green Police has a get-out-jail card.

A City Hall spokesman said the mayor has chosen instead to donate to worthy causes -- "public health, the arts and education" -- while seeking "broader change."

Beyond taxing businesses guilty of producing the energy Americans demand, Bloomberg has also proposed city-specific policies: energy quotas on Gotham's private sector, mandatory hybrids for all cabbies, an $8 motorist tax for driving in Manhattan, new taxes on consumers' electricity bills. He's even threatening to devastate Gotham's natural landscape by planting one million new trees.

In other words, by forcing New Yorkers to consume less, the city serves as Mayor Mike's personal carbon offset.

How convenient.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Huffington's Huff of the Day

It's a long one, but totally worth it. "Writer, director and producer" Bob Cesca says its time to put President Bush's nominee for attorney general, Michael Mukasey, "out of his misery":

It shouldn't be this difficult. Waterboarding is torture. Holy shit. How disgraceful is it that Americans have been forced to define waterboarding and various other torture techniques in the first place? Yet thanks to the Bush administration here we are anyway, and the Mukasey hearings haven't even really enumerated the syllabus of other enhanced interrogation techniques presently listed on the American torture menu.

Why is Mukasey and the White House being deliberately deceptive? Naturally because we're torturing detainees. Right damn now.

And if that makes you feel safer, then you're an idiot.

You're an idiot for fearing Filet-O-Fascism in the first place, since, despite what Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee say, the Filet-O-Fascists are absolutely not the biggest threat America has ever faced. Not by a long, long, long shot. Giuliani, Huckabee and the other fear-merchants are, in effect, inflating the egos of al-Qaeda by elevating their strength and capabilities to a level more dangerous than Nazi Germany or the Cold War Soviets. Talk about emboldening the enemy.

No comment.

Speaking of Sharon Jones ...

In the latest Harp Magazine, Andy Tennille, the brother of a FunkyPundit friend, has a feature on the Daptone Records' origins. In the beginning, label co-founder and Dap Tones bassist Gabe Roth struggled to find an audience for vintage soul and funk:
Obsessed vinylphiles were always looking for old, limited-edition pressings of rare funk and soul 45s, the more obscure the better. A few months later, Desco issued The Revenge of Mister Mopoji by an unknown group named Mike Jackson & the Soul Providers, heralding it as the long-awaited reissue of a soundtrack to an obscure ’70s kung fu movie.

“It was a fake reissue of a soundtrack to a kung fu movie that never actually existed,” Roth confesses with a sly grin. “We would go to record shops in New York to sell the album and store clerks would tell me, ‘I don’t want that. I got the original.’ There was no original soundtrack; there was no fucking movie to begin with. It was unbelievable. That’s when I realized how full of shit most of these people were.”

Should you have an interest, the whole piece is available here.

Funk's Video of the Day

Hot off the editing reels!

It's my hero, mentor and life-long love, Sharon Jones, with her hit "100 Days, 100 Nights" off their new album of the same title. According to the director, it was filmed with two vintage TV cameras purchased off e-Bay for $50 apiece.