Saturday, July 14, 2007

“You’ll have to please excuse me. I have to go put my head in the oven now…”

Don’t Laugh at Michael Chertoff

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
July 15, 2007

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, President Bush's fallback choice for secretary of Homeland Security after Bernard Kerik, is best remembered for his tragicomic performance during Hurricane Katrina. He gave his underling, the woeful Brownie, a run for the gold.

It was Mr. Chertoff who announced that the Superdome in New Orleans was "secure" even as the other half of the split screen offered graphic evidence otherwise. It was Mr. Chertoff who told NPR that he had "not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who do not have food and water," even after his fellow citizens had been inundated with such reports all day long.

With Brownie as the designated fall guy, Mr. Chertoff kept his job. Since then he has attracted notice only when lavishing pork on terrorist targets like an Alabama petting zoo while reducing grants to New York City. Though Mr. Chertoff may be the man standing between us and Armageddon, he is seen as a leader of stature only when standing next to his cabinet mate Gonzo.

But even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Last week, as the Bush administration frantically tried to counter Republican defections from the war in Iraq, Mr. Chertoff alone departed from the administration's script to talk about the enemy that actually did attack America on 9/11, Al Qaeda, rather than Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the jihad-come-lately gang Mr. Bush is fond of talking about instead. In this White House, the occasional official who strays off script is in all likelihood inadvertently coughing up the truth.

Mr. Chertoff was promptly hammered for it. His admission of "a gut feeling" that America might be vulnerable to a terrorist attack this summer was universally ridiculed as a gaffe. He then tried to retreat, but as he did so, his dire prognosis was confirmed by an intelligence leak. The draft of a new classified threat assessment found that Al Qaeda has regrouped and is stronger than at any time since 2001. Its operational base is the same ungoverned Pakistan wilderness where we've repeatedly failed to capture Osama bin Laden dead or alive for six years.

So give Mr. Chertoff credit for keeping his eye on the enemy while everyone else in the capital is debating never-to-be-realized benchmarks for an Iraqi government that exists in name only.

Just as President Bush ignored that August 2001 brief "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," so Washington, some of its press corps included, is poised to shrug off the August 2007 update "Al Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West." The capital has been sucker-punched by the administration's latest P.R. offensive to prop up the fiasco in Iraq.

The White House's game is to create a new fictional story line to keep the war going until President Bush can dump it on his successor. Bizarrely, some of the new scenario echoes the bogus narrative used to sell the war in 2002: an imaginary connection between Iraq and the attacks of 9/11. You'd think the Bush administration might think twice before recycling old lies, but things have gotten so bad in the bunker that even Karl Rove is repeating himself.

Fittingly, one of the first in Washington to notice the rollout of the latest propaganda offensive was one of the very few journalists who uncovered the administration's manipulation of W.M.D. intelligence in 2002: Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy newspapers.

This time around, he was ahead of the pack in catching the sudden uptick in references to Al Qaeda in the president's speeches about Iraq — 27 in a single speech on June 28 — and an equal decline in references to the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence at the heart of the Iraqi civil war America is powerless to stop. Even more incriminating was Mr. Landay's discovery that the military was following Mr. Bush's script verbatim. There were 33 citations of Al Qaeda in a single week's worth of military news releases in late June, up from only 9 such mentions in May.

None of this is accidental. The administration knows that its last stated mission for the war — "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself" — is as doomed as the Iraqi army that would "stand up" so we could stand down. So now there's a new "mission" — or at least new boilerplate. "Victory is defeating Al Qaeda," Tony Snow said last week, because "Al Qaeda continues to be the chief organizer of mayhem within Iraq." What's more, its members are, in Mr. Bush's words, "the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th."

This is hooey, of course. Not only did Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia not exist before we invaded Iraq in 2003, but it isn't even the chief organizer of the war's mayhem today. ABC News reported this month that this group may be responsible for no more than 15 percent of the attacks in Iraq. Bob Woodward wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday that Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, told Mr. Bush last November that Al Qaeda was only the fifth most pressing threat in Iraq, after the insurgency, sectarian strife, criminality and general anarchy.

So what if the Qaeda that's operating with impunity out of Pakistan, North Africa and other non-Iraq havens actually is the most pressing threat to America? This president is never one to let facts get in the way of a political agenda. That agenda is to avoid taking responsibility for losing a war, no matter how many more Americans are tossed into its carnage. From here on in, you can be sure that whomever we're fighting in Iraq on any given day will be no more than one degree of separation from bin Laden.

Nor do the latest fictionalizations end there. To further prop up the war, Mr. Bush had to find some way to forestall verdicts on the "surge," which commanders had predicted could be judged by late summer. He also had to neutralize last week's downbeat Congress-mandated report card on the Iraqi government's progress toward its 18 benchmarks.

The latter task was easy. The report card grades on a steep curve (and even then must settle for a C-minus average and a couple of incompletes). Deflecting gloom about the "surge" is trickier. It's hard to argue that we're on our way to securing Baghdad, the stated goal, when attacks on our own safe haven, the Green Zone, are rising rapidly, more than doubling from March to May, according to the United Nations.

But you can never underestimate this White House's ingenuity. It turns out that the "surge," which most Americans thought began shortly after the president announced it in January, is brand-new! We're just "at the starting line," Tony Snow told the network morning news shows last week, as he pounded in the message that "we have a new course in Iraq, and it's two weeks old."

Mr. Snow's television hosts were not so rude as to point out that the Pentagon had previously designated Feb. 14 as the starting line of the surge's first operation, and had also said that its March report on Iraq should be used as the "baseline from which to measure future progress." That was then, and this is now. The Baghdad clock has been reset. July is the new February. As we slouch toward the sixth anniversary of 9/11, the war against Al Qaeda has only just begun.

Swamped with such fiction, Washington is unable to cope. Network newscasts are still failing to distinguish the Qaeda Mr. Bush talks about from the 9/11 terrorists. The Iraq dead-enders in Congress and the neocon punditocracy have now defined victory down to defeating Mr. Bush's mini-Qaeda in a single Iraqi province, Anbar. Meanwhile, our ally Pervez Musharraf's shaky regime in Pakistan lets Al Qaeda plot its next mass murder.

The capital's entire political debate over Iraq — stay-the-surge versus "precipitous withdrawal" — is itself pure hot air. Even though felons and the obese are now being signed up to meet Army recruitment shortfalls, we still can't extend the surge past next April, when troops for Iraq run out unless Mr. Bush extends their tours yet again. "Precipitous withdrawal" (which no withdrawal bill in Congress calls for) is a non sequitur, since any withdrawal would take at least 10 months. Rather than have the real debate about how to manage the exit, politically panicked Republicans hope to cast symbolic votes that will allow them to tell voters they were for ending the war before they prolonged it.

That leaves Mr. Chertoff, whose department has vacancies in a quarter of its top leadership positions, as the de facto general in charge of defending us from the enemy he had that "gut feeling" about, the Qaeda not in Iraq. Last week we learned from a sting operation conducted by Congressional investigators that this enemy needs only a Mail Boxes Etc. account, a phone and a fax machine to buy radioactive material from American suppliers and build a dirty bomb.

For all Washington's hyperventilating about the Iraqi Parliament's vacation plans, it's our own government's vacation from reality this summer that should make us very afraid.

Who’s Sorry Now?

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
July 15, 2007


There’s not much lately that we’d like to import from China.

Certainly not the yummy steamed buns stuffed with shredded cardboard soaked in a caustic agent used to make soap. Or the tasty toothpaste laced with an antifreeze ingredient. Or the scrumptious seafood with a chemical kick. Or those pet foods with kibbles and bits of poison.

But there is one thing made in China we could use: mea culpas of high officials.

Zheng Xiaoyu, a top regulator who helped create China’s Food and Drug Administration, accepted $850,000 in bribes from drug companies and became enmeshed in the mistakes that flooded the market with dangerous drugs. Before he was executed Tuesday, he wrote a short confession titled “How I Look on My Mistakes.”

“Thinking back on what has happened these years, I start to see the problems clearly,” he wrote in prison. “Why are the friends who gave me money all the bosses of pharmaceutical companies? Obviously because I was in charge of drug administration.

“I am confessing here that I loosened self-discipline, ignored the bottom line,” he said, adding that he had to confess his mistakes “as an act of saving my soul.”

We would skip the execution — although perhaps there should be ranch arrest for W., and Cheney could do community service passing out condoms at Gay Pride festivals.

But it is time for the lethally inept duo running the country to do some painstaking self-examination and confession. Just as the Communist Party helped the late Mr. Zheng compose his thoughts, I volunteer to ghost-write our leaders’ self-scrutiny:

“How I Look on My Mistakes,” by George W. Bush

The people trusted me with an important position. I didn’t live up to expectations. I let Dick supersize the executive branch and cast Democrats as whiners and traitors. Why did I not suspect that Dick might be power-hungry when he appointed himself vice president? Why did I let him take over my presidency and fill it up with warmongers? I was so afraid to be called a wimp, as my father once was, I allowed Dick and Rummy to turn me into a wimp. I should never have allowed Dick to conspire with energy lobbyists and steer contracts to Halliburton. A tip-off should have been when Dick kept giving himself all the same powers that I had. Or when he outed that pretty lady spy.

If only I had kept my promise to go after the thugs who attacked us on 9/11, because now I’ve made Osama and Al Qaeda stronger. I know my false claim about Al Qaeda’s ties with Iraq led to Iraq’s being tied down by Al Qaeda. I see now that my bungled war on terror has created more terror, empowered Iran and made America less secure. Oh, yeah, and I’m sorry I broke the military.

I stained the family honor when I ignored the elders of the Iraq Study Group. I should not have worried that I would be seen as kowtowing to my dad’s friends. The Oval Office is not the right place for a teenage rebellion.

I should not have picked that dimwit Brownie, and I should have trusted the gut of anyone besides that goof-off Chertoff to keep the nation safe. And what was I thinking when I said Harriet Miers should be a Supreme Court justice? That was loony. I’m sorry I made the surgeon general mention my name three times on every page of his speeches. That was childish.

How could I have let Dick bring in his best friend, Rummy, my dad’s old nemesis? Dummy Rummy let Osama escape at Tora Bora, messed up the Iraq occupation and aborted a mission to wipe out top Al Qaeda leaders because he was protecting Musharraf, who was protecting Al Qaeda in the tribal areas. Even though I promised to get rid of dictators who helped terrorists, I ended up embracing a Pakistani dictator who helps terrorists.

I’m embarrassed that the Iraqi Parliament is taking a monthlong vacation in the middle of my surge. Could I have set a bad example when I rode my bike in Crawford while New Orleans drowned?

I’m sorry I keep pretending Iraq will get better if we stay longer. It wasn’t very nice of me to push the surge when I knew it couldn’t work. I just wanted to dump the defeat on my successor. I wish Hillary the best of luck.

If I had left the gym long enough to read about Algeria or even one of T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, then I might have not gotten bogged down in Iraq and let North Korea, China and Russia slide.

Being the Decider is so confusing. I regret stealing the presidency and wish I could give it back.

“How I Look on My Mistakes,” by Dick Cheney

Buzz off.

The Green Road Less Traveled

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
July 15, 2007

Whoever knew — I.B.M. is managing traffic congestion in Stockholm. Well it is, and therein lies a story.

Probably the biggest green initiative coming down the road these days, literally, is congestion pricing — charging people for the right to drive into a downtown area. It is already proving to be the most effective short-term way to clean up polluted city air, promote energy efficiency and create more livable urban centers, while also providing mayors with unexpected new revenue.

Imagine a day when you will go online and buy a pass to drive into any major urban area and the price of your pass will be set by whether you are driving a hybrid or a Hummer, the time of day you want to drive, the road you want to use and how much carbon your car trip will emit. And if there is an accident on the route you normally take, an alert will be sent to a device in your car warning you to go a different way.

Well, that day is pretty much here for London, Stockholm and Singapore — and New York City could be next. In a few years, the notion that you will be able to get into your car in the suburbs and drive downtown for free will be as old-fashioned as horses and buggies.

But what does this have to do with I.B.M.? To make congestion pricing work, you need technology — cameras, software and algorithms that can read auto license plates as they flash by and automatically charge the driver or check whether he or she has paid the fee to enter the city center. (The data is regularly destroyed to protect privacy.) That is what I.B.M. is providing for the city of Stockholm, which, after a successful seven-month trial in which traffic dropped more than 20 percent, will move to full congestion pricing in August.

“In Stockholm, we built a system where we have a ring of cameras around the city — 18 entry points with multiple lanes,” explained Jamie Houghton, I.B.M.’s global leader for road charging, based in London. “I.B.M. Stockholm runs the whole system.”

O.K., Friedman, so I.B.M. is now in the traffic biz. Who cares?

I care, because it underscores a fundamental truth about green technology: you can’t make a product greener, whether it’s a car, a refrigerator or a traffic system, without making it smarter — smarter materials, smarter software or smarter design.

What can many U.S. companies still manufacture? They can manufacture things that are smart — that have a lot of knowledge content in them, like a congestion pricing network for a whole city. What do many Chinese companies manufacturer? They manufacture things that can be made with a lot of cheap labor, like the rubber tires on your car. Which jobs are most easily outsourced? The ones vulnerable to cheap labor. Which jobs are hardest to outsource? Those that require a lot of knowledge.

So what does all this mean? It means that to the extent that we make “green” standards part of everything we design and manufacture, we create “green collar” jobs that are much more difficult to outsource. I.B.M. and other tech companies are discovering a mother lode of potential new business for their high-wage engineers and programmers thanks to the fact that mayors all over the world are thinking about going green through congestion pricing systems.

“Congestion pricing of traffic is emerging as a completely new services market for I.B.M.,” said Mr. Houghton. “I.B.M. is in discussion with major cities worldwide, including some in China.”

Hopefully, if the New York State Legislature acts, New York City will get access to a $500 million Department of Transportation grant for a pilot congestion pricing system. The more U.S. cities adopt congestion pricing, the more U.S. companies will quickly develop the expertise in this field, which is going to be a huge growth industry on a planet where more and more people will be living in cities. Congestion pricing is the only way to make them livable without trillions of dollars of new infrastructure.

As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who’s trying to bring this system to his city, put it to me: “The percentage of your working day spent in a commute will go down and the time you spend being productive and being paid, or simply relaxing, will go up. Also, more people will do business in the city, because they can get to stores, offices or the theater more easily.”

So if you hear a politician say that we can’t afford to impose green standards because it will cost us jobs, tell them: “Hogwash.” The more we elevate, expand and globalize green, clean-power standards the more we play to the strengths of the American economy, American jobs and American-based companies.

A Community Swap Meet, on Your AM Radio Station

This Land
The New York Times
July 15, 2007


Another noon hour is drawing to a close at the small radio station beside the railroad track, 680 on the AM dial, your home for today’s hits and yesterday’s favorites. Listeners have heard the news, weather, sports and a reminder to visit Andy Shaw Ford, across from the Wal-Mart. It’s time again for that thousand-watt form of communion, Tradio.

The host, Dennis the Menace, leans toward the microphone the way he might to confide in his life’s companion. His voice, chain-smoker deep, assumes the broadcasting cadence that tries to evoke folksy familiarity but somehow comes out sounding like God trying hard to just shoot the breeze.

“Well, it’s a good time to do Tradio, so let’s do it,” he says, to maybe 1,500 listeners. “Looking to buy, sell, trade or give away? Well, give us a call, and we’ll try to help you out.”

Remember, the number to call is 586-WRGC, as in WRGC-AM.

And the residents of Sylva, population 2,500, call. So do their neighbors in the surrounding hamlets and hollows of the Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina, where radio signals can come and go like snippets of dreams. For 15 minutes every weekday afternoon, people talk, listen and connect, all through a kind of radio-wave eBay called Tradio.

“Hello there,” says Dennis the Menace. “You’re first on Tradio.”

Callers can say they have a sofa, a car or a goat to sell. They can say they’re looking for a power saw, a bicycle or a goat to buy. They can promote a yard sale or ask that people keep an eye out for a beloved horse that’s gone wandering. Some call so often with the same items for sale that the host, whose given name is Dennis Nelson, hears the voice and instantly knows the rest.

“And I got a lamp for $20,” a regular caller says on this afternoon.

“And some end tables,” Mr. Nelson says.


“See, I remember these things.”

“And a fish tank.”

“Oh yes,” Mr. Nelson says, recalling. “A fish tank — with fish.”

“Yes,” the caller answers.

Programs like Tradio — the Swap Shop, for example, or Tell It and Sell It — appear on small stations around the country. They usually prohibit the sale of bedding, firearms and animal husbandry, and often hint of curious interior lives. Not long ago, a car radio casting for a signal in West Virginia snagged a program in which a female caller was looking to sell a house, 16 acres, a bowling ball and a sequin dress slit up the side.

Here in Sylva, where WRGC’s power drops to 250 watts at sunset, Tradio may well be the most popular program on the air. “We get anything and everything,” says Will Candler, the station’s 26-year-old operations manager. “Matter of fact, I bought a lawn mower off of it. Use it to this day.”

Mr. Candler is also the morning show host and an ad salesman, which is the way things are at small stations: many tasks being handled by a few, all for the thrill of achieving that almost spiritual state of being called “on the air.” The other half-dozen employees at WRGC include the hosts, Dennis the Menace and Frank “The Byrdman” Byrd, with Charlie Bauder on the news and Brandon Stephens, “the Voice of the Mustangs,” on sports.

From Mr. Candler’s modest office in the modest station headquarters, you can see a horse named Kitty grazing in a nearby field and feel the tremble as another freight train grinds its way past to a local paper mill. “It comes about three times a day,” he says. “We try not to have the mike on when it comes through.”

Back to Tradio, sponsored by Savannah Farms Nursery and the Rusty Lizard bar. Down the steps, past shelved rows of thousands of black discs that haven’t spun on a turntable in years — from the Gospel Melody Singers singing about the Lord to Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty singing “You Done Lost Your Baby” — and into the wall-carpeted control room. There, the white-bearded Mr. Nelson sips a Mountain Dew and leans in again as if to share endearments with that microphone.

“Tradio, whether you’re lookin’ to buy, sell, trade or give away,” he says. “Perhaps a stray pet has wandered into your area. Well, maybe you want to try to find the owner. Or, heaven forbid, you’ve lost a pet. Well, we’ll try to help you.”

Mr. Nelson, 58, has worked at so many stations over so many years that their call letters seem to run together into one alphabetical jumble. He used to resist his nickname but has since come to embrace minor celebrity; “Dennis the Menace” appears on the shirt he’s wearing and on the front license plate of his pickup truck parked near the railroad tracks.

He lives with five cats in “the last house in the holler” and sees Tradio as a conversation with a community of both the rich and the poor. “We’ll have someone selling antiques,” he says during a break. “And the very next call is someone wanting to sell their chickens.”

Eighty-four degrees in Sylva, skies are bright and “it’s your turn on Tradio.” Someone has a refrigerator for sale, with ice maker. Someone has a 1997 Pontiac Grand Am, in good condition. Someone has 650 concrete blocks but leaves unclear the small matter of delivery.

Dennis the Menace returns after a commercial break. And with that deep, almost unreal voice of his, he invites another of us to join him on the air.

Subprime, Subpar: For Sale?

Fair Game
The New York Times
July 15, 2007

NOVASTAR FINANCIAL, a subprime mortgage originator based in Kansas City, Mo., has had its share of setbacks. That’s not surprising, given the carnage in its industry.

What is surprising? NovaStar’s stock has been on a tear lately, rising from $3.80 in February to $7.63, at Friday’s close. Even though the mortgage lending business continues to sink and shrink, NovaStar’s market valuation has risen.

Perhaps that is because, last April, NovaStar said it was seeking “strategic alternatives” — otherwise known as a “lifeline.” The stock is up about 50 percent since then. Some investors may believe a buyout lies ahead. Last week, there were whispers that the MassMutual Corporation, a financial services firm that trades as a closed-end investment company, might put money into NovaStar.

The two companies are already connected. Babson Capital, a money management unit owned by MassMutual, is a big NovaStar shareholder; it owns about 770,000 shares, or 2 percent of the company. Most of those shares were bought in 2006; the average cost to Babson is $27.85 a share.

Another interesting tie: Howard B. Hill, a managing director at Babson since 2005, was a vocal bull on NovaStar for years, posting messages on Yahoo and other stock boards until about the time he joined Babson. Like John P. Mackey, the chief executive of Whole Foods Market, who used Internet chat rooms to promote his point of view, Mr. Hill has been an avid poster on stock message boards.

Unlike Mr. Mackey, Mr. Hill used his last name while posting. He urged investors to buy NovaStar shares, with the stock symbol of NFI, for its dividend. One post that Mr. Hill made on Yahoo was headed “NFI gets positive returns every year.”

Mr. Hill pretty much quit posting messages about NovaStar after he joined Babson. But on June 6, 2006, he wrote on the Yahoo board: “I’m more bullish than I’ve been for more than a year on the group and NFI, but that’s all I can or will say on that.” NovaStar’s shares were at $31.29 that day.

Officials at MassMutual Financial Group and Babson, including Mr. Hill, declined to comment. NovaStar declined to comment as well.

While NovaStar might appear to be a unlikely takeover target, we all know that anything can happen in mergerland. Still, NovaStar’s business is plummeting, and it faces a number of legal challenges. Its monthly loan figures for June, disclosed last Thursday, show total originations of $254 million, down from $1.06 billion for the same period last year. The company generated an average of $12.1 million in loans each day last month; in June 2006, that daily figure was $48.2 million, albeit with one more day in the month.

Delinquencies among the company’s loans, meanwhile, are rocketing. In June, some 12.4 percent of loans in pools less than one year old were more than 30 days delinquent. That’s up from 5.2 percent at the end of 2006.

Furthermore, NovaStar has problems that other lenders don’t. On June 27, for example, the company lost a lawsuit in California that will require it and two other lenders to pay $46 million. A jury ruled in favor of American Interbanc and its contention that NovaStar Home Mortgage Inc., a subsidiary, used bait-and-switch practices in its mortgage-quote Web site. (NovaStar shut down its subsidiary in mid-2006.) Lanny J. Davis, a lawyer at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe who represents NovaStar, said the company believes the verdict is incorrect and has sought to have it reversed.

On other legal fronts, the company settled a class-action suit in Washington State on June 27, paying $5 million to some 1,600 borrowers who contended that NovaStar hid loan fees, according to Ari Brown, the lawyer at Bergman & Frockt in Seattle that represented them. A $5 million settlement certainly doesn’t cripple NovaStar, but it may just be the beginning of such suits. While NovaStar had only a small presence in Washington, it generated more loans in California than in any other state. And Mr. Brown has also sued NovaStar on behalf of two California borrowers who contend that its loan carried hidden commissions — meaning that the suit may become a class action there.

THE Washington case was settled to avoid unnecessary legal expenses, Mr. Davis said, “but there was no admission whatsoever that any of the claims made in that case were meritorious.” The company maintains that loan fees were fully disclosed to borrowers and that they did not suffer actual damages because they would have had to pay those fees or more in any event.

“Regarding the California case, we are confident it is utterly baseless, its allegations misstate facts and have no merits, and that the transactions referenced in that case were entirely consistent with California law,” Mr. Davis said.

If MassMutual does indeed invest more in NovaStar, it would be a vote of confidence in the company and in subprime lending. Mr. Hill, the Babson managing director, is, as his online postings show, a fan of NovaStar and its industry. On Jan. 24, he published a report on Babson’s own Web site about subprime mortgage securities. Calling the press coverage of the sector “unrelentingly depressing,” Mr. Hill argued for a more upbeat view.

“We look at the glass as being 90 percent full now, with the potential to drop to only 80 percent,” he wrote. “What we find is that people do not generally lose their homes to foreclosure, even if the mortgage balance is higher than the market price of the house. Basically, if they have jobs, they pay their mortgages.”

That rule of thumb worked in previous periods but seems not to be working now. In the more than six months since Mr. Hill wrote his report, foreclosures have risen significantly, notwithstanding strong employment figures.

Mr. Hill declined to talk with me last week about NovaStar, his postings on the company and Babson’s investment. But in an interview with Bloomberg News on Friday he called coverage of the subprime mortgage meltdown “a bit overblown.”

Certainly NovaStar’s shareholders would love to see MassMutual, or anyone whose money is green, throw them a line. But would it be good for MassMutual’s investors?

Supporters See Innocent Man Serving Life

Our Towns
The New York Times
July 15, 2007


He is short, clumsy and mentally impaired, with thick glasses and hearing aids in both ears, given to telling the same stale jokes over and over. His nickname was Mr. Magoo. He once was a dishwasher. He’s now a convict serving a life term for rape and murder.

They are people who befriended him without knowing him: advocates for the disabled, lawyers, writers, a detective, nurses, business people, psychologists, teachers, perhaps 100 in all at different times, a core group of perhaps 25. For years, many of them met every other Wednesday at the Burger King in Wethersfield near here to plot strategy.

They have long since abandoned the Burger King. Some of them have died. But 15 years later, the Friends of Richard Lapointe have not abandoned Mr. Lapointe, who was convicted of crimes they say he could not have committed.

After years of legal setbacks, Mr. Lapointe has a hearing beginning Monday in Superior Court in the Tolland Judicial District seeking a new trial on grounds of ineffective counsel and suppressed evidence. Two remarkable stories will play out. The first is an uphill legal one that reflects the enormous hurdles facing any convict lacking the game-over DNA evidence that has freed more than 200 inmates in recent years. The second is a human one, how the Friends of Richard Lapointe have kept the faith all these years, sticking by a humble dishwasher like family when he was poised to disappear forever.

“These are people responding with absolutely pure hearts, who have put their money where their mouth is, their time where their mouth is, for someone they didn’t even know,” said Kate Germond, a lawyer with Centurion Ministries, which has had enormous success in freeing wrongfully convicted prisoners and is defending Mr. Lapointe. “They’re heroes. They really are.”

The case began on March 8, 1987, when Bernice Martin, 88, of Manchester, was raped, stabbed 11 times and strangled, and her apartment set on fire. She was the grandmother of Mr. Lapointe’s wife and someone with whom he regularly watched Red Sox and Celtics games.

For two years, the case went unsolved. On July 4, 1989, Mr. Lapointe, then 43, was preparing for a picnic with his wife and 9-year-old son. The police called and asked him to come down to talk about the case. He’d be back in time for the picnic, they said. When he arrived he was confronted with a bewildering display of exhibits and evidence, much of it bogus, purporting to prove he was the killer.

He was interrogated for nine hours, until 1:30 in the morning. No recording was made. During that time he signed three inconsistent confessions. He later said he signed them so he could go to the bathroom or leave. The first said he was responsible for the death but it was an accident, and his mind went blank. The second said if the evidence showed he did it, he did it, but “I don’t remember being there.” The third had details of the crime, some consistent with known facts, some not. At a 1992 trial, he was found guilty of capital felony murder and eight other charges. That should have been the end of it.

But one of those attending the trial was Robert Perske, a writer with a special interest in cases involving people with mental disabilities. He watched in horror, convinced that Mr. Lapointe was being railroaded on the basis of coerced confessions. He sent an alert to some friends, who attended the trial, too. When it ended, they raised money for appeals, visited Mr. Lapointe in prison, hired lawyers, generated publicity, organized a forum on wrongful convictions.

They say the case is preposterous, that Mr. Lapointe, a victim of numerous mental and physical infirmities, was not capable of such conduct. They say to commit a crime of astounding brutality, Mr. Lapointe, who had no history of violence of any kind, would have decided to sneak out in a 45-minute interval while his wife and son were upstairs. He would have taken a short walk to Mrs. Martin’s apartment, raped her, stabbed her, strangled her with a ligature that required far more dexterity than he had ever shown and set the place on fire.

And then, with no one seeing him come or go, he would have returned home, with no wounds, no blood, no smell of smoke, in time to calmly watch a National Geographic special with his family.

“He didn’t do it, he wouldn’t do it, he couldn’t do it,” said Irv Hargrave, a retired business executive who is one of the supporters.

The jury disagreed. Michael O’Hare, the assistant state attorney supervising the case, said the confessions, a semen sample found at the crime scene consistent with Mr. Lapointe’s blood type and statements he made the night of the murder (which the state contends reflected knowledge of the crime not available at the time) provided ample evidence, and that Mr. Lapointe received excellent counsel. Because of the heat from the fire, no identifiable DNA was recovered.

“I’m sure they’re well-meaning,” he said of Mr. Lapointe’s supporters. “But I don’t believe their beliefs are supported by the evidence, which shows he is guilty and was properly convicted.”

The legal obstacles facing his primary lawyer, Paul Casteleiro, in seeking a new trial are daunting. His supporters could be excused if the whole thing is feeling Sisyphean or worse.

It’s been a long, long road without much to show for it, but some of them met this week to discuss the case and plan what they’ll do if he’s released. Mr. Lapointe still talks about the lobster dinner he ate once at Red Lobster. They’d like to get him a second one.


With the Dolans Involved, Expect More Ugliness

Sports of The Times
July 15, 2007

Just wonderful. Now it turns out that the friendly folks from Madison Square Garden, who have enough trouble qualifying the Knicks and the Rangers among the top 16 teams in their leagues, are glomming in on the dream for a new Pennsylvania Station.

That is all we need. I’ve been waiting four decades for New York to atone for the sin of destroying the beautiful Beaux-Arts train station, and now we learn that the proposed station may have to share space with the cable guys.

The way I read it, a proposed new Garden would sprout like some mutant fungus from the west side of the handsome James A. Farley Post Office, where the new train station was supposed to dwell in spacious grandeur.

The worst part seems to be that the Cablevision folks who own the Garden also want to dominate the east facade of the old post office, with ticket booths and gaudy advertisements of the horrors of the Dolan stewardship.

Instead of inviting travelers into the mystery and romance of rail travel — or at least the prosaic suburban lines — the blighted exterior would urge sports fans to visit the latest and always-suspect version of the Knicks and the Rangers. This is progress?

The proposed next Garden would be part of a rebuilding of the West Side of Manhattan around 34th Street, a very big real estate deal indeed. My main concern, as it was in the mercifully defeated plan to build an impractical Olympic complex in Manhattan, is that public officials do not cave in to the demands of wealthy sports proprietors. Take it from a sports columnist: Sports aren’t all that important in the overall scheme.

New York deserves a second landmark train station to go with the gilded, renovated Grand Central Terminal on the East Side. A spacious new terminal should aim to match the escalators that climb toward the shimmering open-air heavens in the magnificent station in Kyoto, Japan, or the awesome panorama of platforms and shops in European stations like Zurich and Leipzig and Milan.

Knicks and Rangers fans know the ugliness of a train station buried because of greed. The current Garden squats atop the site of the former Penn Station, once a wondrous airy glass-and-steel haven for travelers that was torn down in 1963 to make money for the proprietors of the failing Pennsylvania Railroad, now tucked into the squalid enterprise known as Amtrak.

Instead of a beautiful train station, New York got itself a dump of a sports arena five awkward stories above the ground. The “new Garden,” as I stubbornly call it, forces every sentient being, from lanky basketball players to sturdy hockey players to ponderous pachyderms to Garden patrons, to funnel into dismal little entrances, corridors, elevators and escalators.

Pardon me for sounding like an old-timer, but the previous Garden, the third one by actual count, induced much more of a sense of community, with its famous marquee (N.Y.U. vs. C.C.N.Y. — ask your grandparents) facing Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. Meet me outside Nedick’s, you would say to a friend, but there is nothing that social at the current architectural blight.

It gets worse underground.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. A latter-day Dante might write these words after descending the lower depths to catch the 5:33 to Hempstead or Rahway. The more favored commuters to Westchester and Connecticut get to use Grand Central, where no basketball or hockey teams abide. Maybe there is a moral to that.

Many Knicks and Rangers fans have suffered from the triple witching hour of a ghastly station, an eyesore and lousy teams, particularly in the past decade. Rangers fans put up with no Stanley Cup playoffs at all from 1998 through 2005, but actually won a playoff series this spring and made some enlightened signings afterward.

Knicks fans have seen exactly one playoff appearance, a quickie sweep by the Nets, in the past six years, and last season even looked like a team sometimes, until David Lee was hurt.

Now the Knicks have brought in Zach Randolph to try to coexist with Eddy Curry near the basket, but at least the Knicks shuffled off Steve Francis, the oldest-looking 30-year-old player I have ever seen.

Portland did what Knicks fans demanded for two torturous seasons, buying out Francis’ contract in a heartbeat. For all the shuffling by Isiah Thomas, Knicks fans who renew their season tickets must consider it a mixture of financial speculation, like buying a faltering stock, and an act of faith, like believing in some future lottery nirvana.

There’s not much anybody can do about the incompetence of the Garden management. But Gov. Eliot Spitzer can make a statement early in his term by insisting on the original goal of a world-level train station in the name and vision of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

New Yorkers like to think we deserve the best in everything. We shouldn’t sacrifice or alter the potential glory of a public project for the self-interest of a private enterprise just because of the elusive glitter of two sports franchises.


Web Watchdogs Go Where N.C.A.A. Fears to Tread

Sports of The Times
July 15, 2007

The Buddy List of watchdogs for college sports operates under pseudonyms inside a message-board world that functions as group therapy for cathartic enthusiasts.

In technology speak, call them iFans. They descend upon wildly popular Web sites like with their team musings and debates and, at times, the kind of insider information that can doom a rival to N.C.A.A. purgatory.

It was well past midnight in January 2006 when a user named aggiegrant06 dashed off a thread on that detailed how his girlfriend handed out payroll checks for a car dealer in Norman, Okla. “She didn’t recognize several of the names,” aggiegrant06 wrote. “She thought it was fishy and asked me.”

The boyfriend knew the names in the blink of an instant message: They were football players at Oklahoma. Gotcha, Rhett Bomar. Six months later, after it was determined that Bomar, the Sooners’ sainted quarterback, received money for a no-show job at Big Red Sports/Imports, Coach Bob Stoops tossed him from the team.

Last week, the N.C.A.A., citing Oklahoma’s failure to monitor the employment of its players, handed down punishment, forcing the team to erase its victories from the 2005 season. Oklahoma will appeal.

Aggiegrant06 wasn’t a spy hidden in the bushes, but a chat-room visitor who lurked among hard drives. He was a legitimate tipster, even though his postings on were pulled by the administrator within two hours because the information lacked sufficient evidence.

How can a fan-site monitor measure Internet cred?

“We’re in a strange situation,” said Brandon Jones, the vigilant owner of, a fan site independent of Texas A&M. “We function as editors in trying to determine if something is valid.

“But you’d be surprised. It’s rare when we see something that is blatantly dishonest.”

The iFan, armed with a BlackBerry or an iPhone, a cellphone camera or a text message, is actually better equipped to be a caretaker of college athletics than the sleuths at the N.C.A.A., whose water guns and magnifying glasses leave them best suited to guard a tip jar.

Exactly when is the N.C.A.A.’s investigation of Reggie Bush’s luxury family digs while he was a star at the University of Southern California going to conclude?

The iFan, as an embedded member of the fight-song culture, can be considered more diligent in the oversight of a program than serially incurious university compliance officers who ignore the sudden appearance of Cadillac Escalades in the player parking lot.

Those earnest university officials don’t self-police, they self-protect. The disingenuousness of authority figures on campus leaves those searching for real answers to try an alternate route that, in essence, violates the core tenet of childhood: go ahead, trust a stranger.

An anonymous post on a bulletin board can possess as much veracity as the selective account of an athletic department curator.

“What’s interesting to me, and I’ve owned and operated this site since 1999, is that there is definitely a change in how the site is received,” Jones said. “And I’d say it was about three years ago when we started to cross into a realm of legitimacy.”

It was cyberfans, after all, who uncovered the kegger night indulgences of Larry Eustachy at Iowa State and ratted out Rick Neuheisel’s dalliance in a March Madness pool at the University of Washington.

Team spirit has never been so deliciously interactive. How else would we know if Nick Saban had cozy conversations with prospects this spring — a potential N.C.A.A. infraction for Alabama’s newest Bear Bryant knockoff — if not for a Miami Hurricanes fan site,

“I think it’s funny it came from Miami,” Saban recently told reporters.

An agenda might make a posting suspicious, but not necessarily bogus.

Internet meddlers aren’t Web surfers without a day job killing time in their bathrobes anymore. There are more than 200,000 unique visitors to each month in what amounts to a survey of every demographic on subjects from the popularity of team uniforms to the unpopularity of a coach.

Fan sites are where athletic directors and coaches, boosters and players go to be in the know anonymously.

“It’s the great equalizer,” Jones said. “No one knows who you are, whether you’re wealthy or famous. Everyone is the person next door.”

The neighborhood is eclectic. Before Robert Gates took office as the nation’s secretary of defense in 2006, he was the president at Texas A&M. People knew exactly who he was — or did they? On, he blended into the fan forum with a secret identity: ranger65, according to The Dallas Morning News. Gates often began his posts with “I’m told” as he went into different issues with Aggies devotees.

Not everyone in a chat room is such an impeccable source of information. But more and more, the message board has become a place where news isn’t made up, but made.

“It’s a paradigm shift in how information is disseminated,” Jones said. “Our viewership continues to increase each year. People everywhere have become citizen reporters.”

Whistleblowers of the iFan crowd are now equipped to investigate what the N.C.A.A. can’t — or won’t.


Viva La Révolution !

“How long yet will the madness of despots be called justice, and the justice of the people barbarity or rebellion?”

-- Maximilien Robespierre: On the Principles of Political Morality, February 1794

Supreme Court term marks shift to the right

By Jeff Lincoln
14 July 2007

June 28 marked the completion of the first full term of the United States Supreme Court of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., replete with decisions demonstrating a dramatic shift to the right in constitutional doctrine. The court handed down decisions removing restrictions on the operations of large business and financial concerns while sharply curtailing access to the courts for average working Americans seeking relief from their depredations, at the same time opening the population up to antidemocratic attacks by the state.

A review of the voting patterns of the individual justices reveals that a clear right-wing majority bloc exercises control over decisions. The New York Times on July 1 pointed out that one third of the decisions this term were decided 5 to 4, more than in any recent period. Of these cases, the four most conservative justices—Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and Roberts—prevailed about 70 percent of the time, while the four more liberal justices—John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer—prevailed in less than one third of the cases.

The victories for the conservative group are due to so-called “swing” justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who voted with the right-wingers overwhelmingly, only breaking ranks in a few cases. In fact, the Times article notes that the person whom Kennedy voted with most often was Alito, the two of them agreeing in 87 percent of all non-unanimous cases. That Kennedy is now considered the “center” of the Supreme Court, a position previously shared with Sandra Day O’Connor—another Reagan appointee—speaks volumes about the political composition of the court.

The Supreme Court decided only 68 cases this term—the fewest in over 50 years, and an unusually high percentage of them involved damage suits against corporations. Each case was decided in favor of the corporation, indicating the court’s decisive turn in a pro-business, anti-consumer direction. The term also included a number of significant rulings limiting First Amendment speech and Establishment Clause protections, restricting abortion rights, prohibiting school desegregation efforts, and restricting the ability of criminal defendants to appeal.

To put the direction of the court into perspective, it is worth drawing a balance sheet of the major cases of the term.

In Gonzales v. Carhart, the Supreme Court upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003, which imposes harsh fines and prison sentences on doctors who perform dilatation and extraction abortions. The law allowed no exception even for the health of the mother and is likely to impose significant hardships on women seeking abortions for medical reasons during their second or third trimester. The five-justice majority opinion was authored by Kennedy and marks the first time that a complete ban on a specific abortion procedure has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Besides calling into question the constitutional right to an abortion, the right-wing justices ignored limits on federal power they used in the past to strike down state civil rights laws and environmental protections.

This term also saw the court reverse much of the progressive advances embodied in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, the court ruled that voluntary racial integration efforts by school districts were unconstitutional, even if intended to prevent resegregation. The decision is a sweeping repudiation of the sentiments that motivated broad masses of working people, both black and white, to mobilize for the advancement of civil and democratic rights under the banner of equality.

The Court dealt a blow to workers who find themselves the victims of pay discrimination. In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, the court dismissed the claim of a female employee who worked for 20 years at Goodyear and was unfairly paid a significantly lower salary than her male counterparts. She won a jury verdict it overturned on appeal. The court’s decision held that a person must file a complaint within 180 days of the discriminatory act or the claim will be dismissed. This contradicts the longstanding position of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that an employee has a new chance to bring a claim every time he or she receives a paycheck with lower pay as a result of discrimination. The new rule makes payment discrimination suits virtually impossible as such discrimination often takes years to discover. Ledbetter, like many of the decisions this term, is one in which the majority worked backward from its desired result, utilizing specious reasoning to deny persons the right to have their case decided by a jury.

In two other 5-4 decisions, the court lessened the guarantees of a criminal defendant to a fair trial by an impartial jury and to have a meaningful review of their trial procedure on appeal. In Brown v. Uttecht, the Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s decision to strike a juror who expressed a moral opposition to the indiscriminate use of the death penalty. The majority opinion noted that the state has a strong interest in packing a jury with people who are willing to have people executed. The Bowles v. Russell decision denied a criminal defendant’s right to appeal because it was filed three days too late despite the fact that he was following the directions given to him by the trial judge.

In a serious erosion of the separation of church and state, the court threw out a case brought by an atheist challenging the use of executive department funds to promote the Bush administration’s “faith-based” initiatives. In Hein, Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., the court held that citizens have no general taxpayer standing to sue if the government is using funds for religious purposes as long as Congress did not expressly authorize the spending. The distinction is absurd, as the legislative branch allocated the money to the executive, and it makes presidential violations of the Establishment Clause immune from judicial review.

In two decisions dealing with other First Amendment issues, the court held that students may be disciplined for speech but that the government cannot limit the ability of wealthy individuals and corporations to influence elections. In Morse v. Frederick, the court held that a school principal could not be sued for suspending a student who displayed a banner with the words “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” at an Olympic torch parade near school grounds, gutting an earlier ruling that students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the school house gate. On the other hand, in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life Inc., the court struck down any limits on the financing of electioneering broadcasts by organizations that act as mouthpieces for the interests of large corporations as a violation of free speech.

In these decisions, largely dealing with the rollback of democratic rights and protections against the prosecutorial power of the state, certain divisions within the court emerge, both between and within the various groups of justices, with dissenting opinions sometimes vituperative.

In an unprecedented move for her, Ginsburg read aloud two dissents from the bench. Other justices noted in their dissents that the decisions of the court were the outcome of changing justices rather than developments in legal doctrine. Breyer wrote in the school desegregation case that “It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.” In his dissent to that decision, Stevens, the most senior justice, noted that “no member of the Court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today’s decision.”

These sentiments reflect growing concern among the more liberal justices that the reckless path taken by the conservative majority ignores the social and political ramifications of such a dramatic change in constitutional jurisprudence.

Within the conservative majority, there is a divide between Roberts, Alito, and Kennedy—whose modus operandi is to distinguish on trivial grounds or carve out exceptions to prior decisions, effectively overturning precedent while paying it lip service—and Scalia and Thomas, who have abandoned all pretense of upholding precedent and want to plow ahead overruling anything they find inconvenient.

Despite disagreements among the justices about how to proceed regarding these social issues, one thing is clear: when it comes to defending the interests of big business, there is a definite consensus as the following cases confirm:

In Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC v. Billing, the court decided in a 7-to-1 decision to dismiss a shareholder’s antitrust suit against several investment banks that colluded to fix the prices for their initial public offerings. The result of the decision is that investment banks will effectively be immune from antitrust liability.

Likewise, in Tellabs Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights Ltd., The court ruled 8 to 1 that persons alleging that companies are engaged in securities fraud or manipulation must show “compelling evidence” of an intent to defraud before they can proceed or their lawsuit will be dismissed.

In a pair of unanimous decisions, the court sided with large companies against the interests of employees and consumers. In Safeco Insurance of America v. Burr, the court created exemptions for insurance companies for notifying customers if they deny or cancel coverage, an action required under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In Long Island Health Care at Home v. Coke, the court extended an exemption under the Fair Labor Standards act to home companion care workers employed by large agencies so that those agencies would not be required to abide by minimum wage and overtime requirements.

These outrageous pro-business decisions were either reached unanimously or with a lone dissenter; all were authored by the court’s “liberal” justices. The New York Times reported that the business community was “gleeful,” quoting an attorney who handles Supreme Court cases for the Chamber of Commerce (Roberts’s former assignment): “It’s our best Supreme Court term ever.”

The Democratic Party played the key role in the current state of affairs by refusing to block the appointments of Roberts and Alito and the consolidation of the right-wing majority. There was never any question about the views of either justice, as each had a long pedigree of right-wing judicial positions. Although the implications of a right-wing majority were clear, there was no serious attempt to oppose the appointment of either justice. With the Republican majority that existed at the time in the US Senate, the only means the Democrats had to stop either nominee’s confirmation was the filibuster. For Alito, only a half-hearted attempt to filibuster was mounted at the last minute, and only after it was clear that such an attempt would not succeed. The Senate then voted 72 to 25 for cloture—41 votes would have defeated the motion—leading the way to his lifetime appointment. In the case of Roberts, not only was no filibuster even attempted, but he was confirmed with half of the Democrats in the Senate voting in his favor.

These most-recent decisions by the Supreme Court underscore a sharp turn to right. The legal opinions rendered by the court are designed to roll back the expansion of democratic rights that it recognized in a previous era, strengthening the repressive powers of the state apparatus, indicating the turn by the ruling elite toward more authoritarian forms of rule. Likewise, the goal of all the justices is to remove any restrictions that may hamper the profit-pursuing operations of corporations and the super-rich, largely by limiting access to the courts by average individuals who seek to challenge the dictates of big business.

When viewed in its historical context, the actions of the current court constitute a wholesale judicial counteroffensive against the Warren Court (1953-1969) and its legacy of democratic legal reforms. Whatever differences exist among the right-wing judges are merely over tactics and degrees. They agree that the constitutional doctrine developed in the postwar period, based on the concepts of individual privacy, secularism, and the right to seek redress in the courts, all of which are embodied in the US Constitution, stands as an intolerable restraint on the ruling elite’s ability to further its own interests.

While there have been periods where the Supreme Court has resisted change and acted as a brake on progressive struggles—most notably during the early years of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”— this is the first time since the decades following the end of Reconstruction that the court has taken a leading role in dismantling gains won in an earlier period. The failure of the Democratic Party to oppose this trend indicates that there is no constituency within the ruling elite that is dedicated to the defense of fundamental democratic rights. Such a defense can only be undertaken by an independent movement of the working class based on a socialist perspective.

See Also:

Spate of antidemocratic rulings by US Supreme Court: Right-wing majority consolidated [19 June 2007]

US Supreme Court curbs workers’ ability to sue for pay discrimination [31 May 2007]

US Supreme Court rules in favor of abortion restrictions [19 April 2007]

Baseballs, Batteries and Bad Ads

Talking Business
The New York Times
July 14, 2007

Is it cheating to write a “grab bag” column in the middle of July, when you’re days away from vacation, and you’re tired, oh-so-tired of waiting for the Bancroft family to make up its mind about Rupert Murdoch’s bid for Dow Jones? You be the judge.

By some odd coincidence, just days after I complained in this space about the iPhone’s battery replacement policy — or lack thereof — I had some trouble recharging my Palm Treo battery. So I went to the Palm Web site, and paid $34 for an extended-life battery. When it arrived, I popped it into the back of my Treo. Had my problem been more pressing, I would have gone to the nearest Verizon Wireless store and purchased it. Gosh. How convenient.

And convenience is what most companies strive for in dealing with customers. Except Apple, which clearly has other priorities. Indeed, unbeknownst to me, just as my iPhone column was going to press a few weeks ago, Apple finally released its battery replacement policy. You can find it on the Apple Web site. (Or maybe not. It’s actually buried on the site.

Anyway, here’s the policy: Because the iPhone lacks a replaceable battery, you will have to send your phone to Apple. If your phone is under warranty, the new battery will be free. If it is out of warranty, it will cost a hefty $79, plus $6.95 for shipping. Apple will also lend you an iPhone while your phone is in the shop, which will cost you another $20, warranty or no. In other words, if your iPhone battery runs down, you have to:

1. Put up $20, (or $105.95 if your iPhone is out of warranty);

2. Wait for the loaner to arrive;

3. Put your data on the loaner;

4. Send Apple your iPhone;

5. Wait for it to be returned;

6. Put your data back on your iPhone (it is erased while Apple is replacing the battery);

7. Mail in the loaner.

Whew. Given how awkward this all is, you have to wonder why Apple didn’t just build the iPhone with a replaceable battery. I’m convinced the answer is that the chief executive, Steven P. Jobs, and Apple’s design chief, Jonathan Ive, are design snobs, who care more about form than function. Larry Keeley, the president of the design firm Doblin Inc., wrote me an e-mail message after he’d seen the innards of the iPhone, which several Web sites have now published. The battery, he told me, lacks the normal metal jacket, making it “thinner and lighter, while also making it more difficult for consumers to handle or dispose of.” He added: “This is clear evidence that they are optimizing the INSIDES of the phone to the OUTSIDE form factor that they have designed. It is far more common and much cheaper to design the other way: pile up all the components you have to stuff inside, then figure out the sexiest box that can contain them.”

It takes a special chief executive to make Patrick Byrne of look good, but the C.E.O. of Whole Foods, John Mackey, has managed to pull it off. Like Mr. Mackey, Mr. Byrne makes regular appearances on Internet chat boards, and he even uses a pseudonym (“Hannibal” is a favorite) just as Mr. Mackey did. But unlike Mr. Mackey, he’s never hidden the fact that he’s the author of the posts. One of the worst things about the Internet is that it allows people to assume other identities and do and say things they would never do or say in “real life.” For a chief executive to assume a fake name to trash competitors and promote his own company is reprehensible. If he wasn’t the company founder, my guess is that his board would have fired him by now. Meanwhile, I’m no lawyer, but when someone in Mr. Mackey’s position talks down a company that he then tries to take over — doesn’t that come under the heading of “stock manipulation?” Just thought I’d ask.

Does anybody actually look at the ads that run alongside Google’s Gmail service? I know I don’t. True, the ads are what make it possible for Google to offer free e-mail, but they quickly become little more than white noise: your eye automatically shuts them out.

And when you do you peek at them, they are often hilariously wrong-headed. The ads are supposed to use algorithms to find things you might be interested in, based on words in your e-mails. This, of course, raised concerns from privacy advocates, who feared that Google was becoming Big Brother. But a few days ago in an e-mail exchange I had with my editor, who wanted to know when I would deliver this column, the four ads on the side were for, “worry free watering,”, and “Are You a Celebrity?” On the one hand, there is something comforting in this; Big Brother would sure do a better job. On the other hand, weren’t these targeted ads pioneered by Google supposed to be superior to old-fashioned mass market print and TV advertising? The Gmail example isn’t exactly clinching the case.

Don’t you think that tattoo removal is going to be one of the big growth industries 20 years from now?

This Monday, the magazine industry is going to be hit with a very large postal increase: 11 percent to as much as 20 percent annually, depending on the magazine. Every time there is a big rate increase, it is accompanied by lots of teeth-gnashing, but this time it’s worse than usual. Small magazines are up in arms, contending that they are being hit, quite unfairly, with much higher increases than big magazine companies like Condé Nast and my former employer Time Inc. The Nation went so far as to build a fund-raising campaign around the rate increase, which in its case is 18 percent and will amount to an extra $500,000 in postage a year.

David Corn, The Nation’s Washington correspondent, wrote a letter to the magazine’s subscribers asserting darkly that the increase was brought on by “the sort of institutional Washington corruption I often cover.” He continued, “Postal regulators have accepted a scheme designed in part by lobbyists for the Time Warner media conglomerate.” Sounds pretty nefarious, doesn’t it?

But as with most good conspiracy theorists — or political fund-raisers, for that matter — Mr. Corn hasn’t let the facts get in the way of his alarmist prose. What is really happening is that the Postal Regulatory Commission has decided to radically change its approach to periodical mailings. Under a 1970 law, every class of mail, including periodicals, has to not only break even but help cover the overhead for the Postal Service. “Magazine are facing declining circulation, but the costs of mailing magazines keep going up,” said Dan G. Blair, the chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission.

So Mr. Blair — with, yes, the strong backing of Time Inc. and the other big companies — decided to reward efficiencies. Magazines that were bundled in ways that reduced work for the post office got a price break; magazines that didn’t had to pay a higher percentage. Clearly, the new rates are intended to force all magazines to become more efficient mailers — even little ones like The Nation.

Is there really something wrong with that? When I spoke to Mr. Corn he said that ensuring a diversity of voices and opinions, critically important in a democracy, should never depend on mailing efficiencies, which are always going to favor the big boys. And he’s right. But the real problem here is not the supposed perfidy of Time Inc.; it is the fact that the Postal Service has to break even.

But why? Aside from defense, it is hard to imagine a service that more appropriately belongs to government; the Constitution itself gives Congress the power to “establish Post Offices and Post Roads.” If The Nation should be complaining about anything, it is Congress’s unfortunate requirement that the Postal Service has to have a break-even “business model.” Still, I can understand why it would prefer to blast Time Warner. It’s so much easier to raise money when you can point the finger at a good corporate villain.

On Thursday, we’re going to get our first real indication of whether the options backdating scandal is a mountain or a molehill. That’s when Judge Charles Breyer of Federal District Court, who is presiding over the criminal trial of Gregory Reyes, the former chief executive of Brocade Communications, has said he will rule on whether to throw out the case. He may well.

Mr. Reyes has long argued that he is innocent because he didn’t profit from any of the backdating; he was doing it to help lure and retain employees during the bubble years. But that’s not likely to be the judge’s rationale. During a hearing on Monday, the judge implied that the prosecution hadn’t proved that Mr. Reyes knew he was committing a crime when he backdated options.

If Judge Breyer does dismiss the case, there will be a giant chorus in Silicon Valley singing, “We told you so.” Ever since the options scandal broke, the techie community has claimed that it was much ado about nothing — a trumped-up, post-Enron scandal given life by corporate goo-goos like, well, me. A venture capitalist once told me that during the bubble years, lawyers and accountants routinely advised boards that backdating was no big deal. More than one technology executive told me that options backdating was nothing more than a product of sloppy bookkeeping. I’ve always thought it was more than that; at a minimum, it was an example of the way many Silicon Valley companies felt that the rules didn’t apply to them. Of course, if the Reyes case gets tossed, maybe they don’t.

Do Major League ballplayers really have to throw every single baseball into the stands the minute it so much as touches dirt or ash? Twenty years ago, that’s wasn’t common practice — at least not in my memory — but now all you see is ballplayers tossing balls to little kids in the stands whenever they catch one. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) I wonder how much more it costs, per major league game, just to cover the cost of the baseballs. I’ll have an answer the next time I write one of these grab bag columns.

Even in a Dark Hour, the City’s Rebirth Awaited

About New York
The New York Times
July 14, 2007

For a 20-year-old, the end of the world can often be annoying. The evening of July 13, 1977, I stood in the vestibule of an apartment building on the East Side of Manhattan, ready to swing open the doors, to accept deliveries of dry cleaning, to announce guests: a college student working as a fill-in doorman.

The woman from the sixth floor got off the elevator — always friendly, and tonight, for the first time, dazzling, snugly wrapped in a black cocktail dress and cantilevered fore and aft on high heels. As she was much older than me — probably 26 or 27 — she would have been thoroughly intimidating, had she not been so ready with a smile.

“Wow,” I said, very needlessly. “You look great.”

She winked, and slipped into the warm dusk.

That was the night the city went dark, then was lit with fires; that was the summer a shadow named Son of Sam, a serial killer who turned out to be David Berkowitz, stalked the young and killed them. And that was the era when responsible adults openly spoke of closing half-filled schools and shutting down subway lines, of shrinking the city to keep it from vanishing altogether.

Only the deranged or visionary could have imagined on that summer night in 1977 that New York in 2007 would be fat, happy and standing-room only; perched here in 2007, many would find it hard to believe that 2,000 stores were burned or looted inside of 24 hours.

Yet history throws its own light. It is possible now to see that the restoration of New York had already started, even 30 years ago. By the late 1970s, 75,000 immigrants a year were arriving in New York; twice as many people were moving out of the city, but by 1980, the surge of new people from foreign countries, and the birth of their children, had shifted ground. New York started to grow after the blackout. Not only was the city not dead, it was beginning to thrive.

But that night was scalding. People tied chains to cars and ripped away the pull-down gates on stores. On Fordham Road, the guards at the Crazy Eddie electronics store protected it by parking trucks on the sidewalk and climbing on top with rifles. Until a few years ago, the charred hulls of stores that were ruined that night could be seen along dead commercial strips in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

At a movie theater on Queens Boulevard, people screamed and thought of Son of Sam, who had killed not far away. In fact, he did not go out that night; the blackout was too scary for even a serial killer. Meanwhile, doctors performed emergency surgery in the parking lot of Brooklyn Jewish Hospital; 600 people ate dinner by candlelight at Windows on the World; a crew filming “Superman” outside the old Daily News building on 42nd Street lent their klieg lights to the editors so they could see the pages they were laying out.

Before the lights went out, I stood at my post in that East Side building. The woman in the black cocktail dress came back with her arm hooked in that of a man wearing a business suit. I pulled open the door, and she smiled, then whispered something in his ear.

He nodded, and immediately dug into his pocket and handed me $5.

She tugged down on his arm, shook her head, and whispered in his ear.

He gave me $5 more.

What was this for? I tried to refuse. She brushed me off, and led the man forward to the elevator.

Not long afterward, the street light flickered. Then it vanished. The lobby went dark. I climbed to the top floor — 15 or 20 stories — then walked down, calling at each floor to see if the elevators had trapped anyone. Luckily, no one was in them.

By the time I got back to the lobby, the man who had been visiting the woman on the sixth floor was leaving, alone and paying no more tolls. A few minutes later, the woman arrived in the lobby. She was back in a half-hour, with someone else, a half smile on her face. It slowly dawned on my 20-year-old brain what her line of work was. Life was going on.


What Might Have Been, and What Still Is

Sports of The Times
July 14, 2007

With Barry Bonds on the verge of becoming baseball’s career home run leader, legions of baseball fans lament that an ogre — their word, not mine — is going to be the keeper of the sport’s flame. Many wish it would have been Junior.

Ken Griffey Jr. certainly would give a lighter touch to a home run vigil that alternately seems like a death march and a death watch as Bonds approaches the record.

Griffey is approachable, an easy conversationalist; he’s a family-first kind of person.

But, alas. This is sports: unscripted drama. You can’t choose who you’d like to have a date with destiny. And Griffey, for his part, has been philosophical about his juxtaposition with Bonds.

“Every superhero had a villain, or somebody they didn’t like,” said Griffey, who is a friend of Bonds and has been vocal about supporting Bonds’s home run quest. “Not everyone gets what they want, not everyone gets what they deserve.”

Experts like to predict which young player will break what record. Now the talk is that Alex Rodriguez will be the next to break the home run record. In an industry built on the vagaries of a fragile body, these predictions are foolish.

Back in 1994, 1995, we thought that Griffey would be the one to break the home run record. Experts also thought a Mariners team that had Randy Johnson and Rodriguez would be a championship dynamo.

Back then, Seattle was Camelot. The Mariners were young playoff contenders and Griffey was being favorably compared with Willie Mays. He had the same “Say, hey” jubilation, the effervescent smile and hat turned backward that embodied the joy of the game.

In reality, I think of Griffey’s baseball life as much closer to Mickey Mantle’s: awesome talent, sabotaged repeatedly by injury. The signature of his career was the promise of youth marred by a succession of tough-luck injuries. Part of it was his playing style. He had a reckless abandon, crashing into walls, diving and going all out. Some of it was bad luck: a slip in the shower, a break while wrestling with his son.

The miracle of Griffey’s career is its resilience. After an intense four-year battle with injuries, Griffey has bounced back yet again. He was the top vote getter for the National League All-Star team. Fans sent a strong message: Junior was missed.

Griffey started and starred for the National League in a losing cause. The performance reminded so many of why we missed Junior play the game of baseball. It reminded us of what he could have done.

“For a couple of years it was touch and go in terms of the public feeling confident to push my name out there for the ballot for the All-Star vote,” said Griffey, who went 0 for 4 last night in the Reds’ 8-4 victory against the Mets. “What the vote said was, ‘Hey, we’d like to see this guy again, he’s been healthy, he deserves to go, he’s put up some good numbers, we want to see him.’ ”

But he has also not played on a championship stage since his days in Seattle, and the lack of a championship, or anything even approaching a championship moment, has left Griffey frustrated.

He has not asked for a trade, but is open to one if the stars align. He has everything else: oodles of money and great statistics (he is tied with Frank Robinson on the home run list). He has scars as well that attest to how hard he has played the game.

Griffey is healthy now, he has declared himself fit and back, ready to be a force. But what kind of force can Griffey be in Cincinnati? The team is miserable, hopelessly out of contention.

Griffey’s presence in Cincinnati was, in large part, a family move. He wanted to play closer to Orlando, Fla., where his family lived. Seattle had been Camelot, but after a decade with Seattle — 1989 to 1999 — Griffey asked for a trade. The Mariners shipped Griffey to the Reds.

He picked Cincinnati because the city fit his travel requirements: a three-hour flight from Florida.

“Sometimes you have to do what’s best for your family, not what best for you,” he said. “As a dad, I’ve got to be around; my dad was real supportive of me growing up. I wanted to be that way toward my son.”

While Cincinnati flounders, Seattle is a contender, and Ichiro Suzuki, who replaced Griffey in center field, signed a lucrative contract extension. “Would I do it all over again?” Griffey said. “Yes.”

All I want to see is a healthy Griffey playing in the postseason. He returned to Seattle recently and was treated as a long-lost hero, with standing ovations and tributes usually reserved for a retiring player. Perhaps there is a Griffey in Seattle’s immediate future.

He was 29 when he left town for family considerations. “Now I’m 37 and my family said, ‘You go where you want to.’ ”

Griffey and his wife have three children. The oldest is 13, the youngest 5. His wife has given him the green light to go if the getting is good. “She said, ‘If they feel they want to trade you and you find the right fit, we’ll go anywhere.’ ”

If the Reds truly have the best interests of baseball at heart, they’ll trade Griffey to a contender. Baseball could use a ray of sunshine.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Poor Kids Living in a War Zone

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
July 14, 2007


The colorful playground outside Frederick Funston Elementary School has swings and sliding boards and a heartbreaking makeshift memorial for the 13-year-old girl who was shot to death in the playground a few weeks ago.

“It’s difficult out here,” said a woman who sat on a bench, watching her two small boys scampering around the playground.

What she meant was that there was nothing particularly unusual about schoolchildren getting blown away in Chicago’s black and Latino neighborhoods. Since September, when the last school year started, dozens of this city’s public school students have been murdered, most of them shot to death. As of last week, the toll of public schoolchildren slain in Chicago since the opening of the school year had reached 34, including two killed since the schools closed for summer vacation.

“That’s more than a kid every two weeks,” said Arne Duncan, the chief executive of the city’s school system. “Think about that.”

The girl killed in the playground was Schanna Gayden, who, according to the police, was shot in the head by a gang member who was aiming at someone else. Blair Holt, a high school junior, was shot to death on a city bus. Another teenager was killed as he walked home from a library.

Lazarus Jones, a 13-year-old computer-lover who was looking forward to beginning high school in the fall, was jumped by several members of a gang and beaten to death. Twelve-year-old Laura Joslin was stabbed to death, police said, by an 18-year-old girl on Thanksgiving Day. Victor Casillas, 15, was killed in a drive-by shooting.

And so on.

This should be a major national story, of course, and it would be if the slain children had come from more privileged backgrounds. But these are the kids that most of America cares nothing about — black, Latin and poor.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper covered the story. He said of the kids, poignantly: “Their names should be known. Their lives should be honored. Their deaths should be remembered.”

But that was an exception. Outside of Chicago, very little reporting has been done on this horrifying wave of murders. The truth, of course, is that Chicago is not alone. It may be jolting, even in our blood-drenched society, to have so many students from one school system killed over the course of a single school year. But most people know (and take for granted) that boys and girls growing up in America’s inner cities often have to deal with conditions that can fairly be compared to combat.

“There’s just a tremendous amount of passivity and a lack of public outrage,” said Mr. Duncan, a fierce champion of efforts to control the relentless arming of Americans — young and old, rich and poor — with firearms.

“No one even talks about all the kids who are shot but not killed,” he said. He mentioned a 7-year-old who was shot at a family barbecue. “The amount of trauma these kids and their families are living with is just staggering,” he said.

We know at least some of the things that need to be done about the slaughter of poor children in the U.S.

Mr. Duncan is surely right when he says that the easy availability of guns is roughly the equivalent of spraying gasoline on an already fiery situation. The effect of the guns is to make a bad situation much, much worse.

Beyond the guns, apart from the horrifying fact that they might meet up with a bullet at any time, poor youngsters are suffering from a ruthless pattern of abuse and neglect that has lasted for many years.

Too few have been afforded the benefits of a quality education. Too many are left to their own devices because of an absence of after-school programs and other kinds of activities — clubs, sports, art and music programs, summer camps — that can enrich the lives of children and shield them from harm.

Summer jobs programs have been decimated by the federal government.

And in far too many cases, the very people who should be caring for these youngsters the most, their parents, have walked away from their most fundamental responsibilities. Fathers, especially, have abandoned their young in droves.

Life is not fair. Society will not make these vulnerable youngsters whole. We all have a responsibility, but the kids desperately need those closest to them to step up, especially the ones who gave them life.

History, Principle and Affirmative Action

Guest Columnist
The New York Times
July 14, 2007

On its face, the affirmative action case decided on June 28 by the Supreme Court turns on whether two school districts in Washington and Kentucky violated the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection guarantee when they assigned children to schools on the basis of race.

But the underlying issue is whether the court should be attentive to history and the societal consequences of its decision, or should turn a blind eye to those consequences and attend only to the principled protection of individual rights. The plurality opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, strongly affirms the latter position, citing Justice Anthony Kennedy’s declaration (in Metro Broadcasting Inc. v. F.C.C., 1990) that: “Our Constitution protects each citizen as an individual, not as a member of a group.”

From this it follows that while groups may suffer disadvantages in the course of history, race-conscious efforts to ameliorate those disadvantages sacrifice constitutional principles, which are timeless, to the achieving of a result that is considered good by the ephemeral standards of the time.

Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged that the motives for race-conscious policies may seem benign, but he quoted Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s admonition (again in Metro Broadcasting) that “ ‘Benign’ carries with it no independent meaning, but reflects only ... the current generation’s conclusion that a politically accepted burden, imposed on particular citizens on the basis of race, is reasonable.” By “independent meaning,” Justice O’Connor meant a meaning independent of history.

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens accused the majority of ignoring history and thereby obscuring what is at stake both now and when the 14th Amendment was passed. He is particularly incensed at Roberts’s invoking of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) in the concluding paragraph of his opinion. “Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and not go to school based on the color of their skin.” Now, the chief justice said, it’s happening again.

Stevens retorted with irony and anger: “The chief justice fails to note that it was only black children who were so ordered.” That is, Brown and the 14th Amendment were not responses to an abstract principle of equality, but efforts to redress a historical injustice inflicted on one race by another. You don’t redress that injustice by barring attempts to mitigate its consequences.

The plurality, according to Stevens, failed to see that “a decision to exclude a member of a minority because of his race is fundamentally different from a decision to include a member of a minority for that reason.”

No it isn’t, replied Justice Clarence Thomas. “Every time the government uses racial criteria to bring the races together, someone gets excluded, and the person excluded suffers an injury solely because of his or her race.” He equates the minority’s arguments with those traditionally made by segregationists, who, he says, “repeatedly cautioned the court to consider practicalities and not to embrace too theoretical a view of the 14th Amendment.”

The conflict between the accidents and practicalities of history and the principle that race consciousness should not drive government policy is restaged around the distinction between de jure and de facto segregation. The distinction, Roberts explains, is “between segregation by state action and racial imbalance caused by other factors.” The results of these other factors — individual choice, economic inequalities, historical biases — may be regrettable and include de facto segregation, but in Roberts’s view, they should not be remedied by law.

Why? Because history, not government did it, and what history has done, history, not legislation, should undo.

That’s all very nice on paper, declares Justice Stephen Breyer in dissent, but it simply ignores “the long history and moral vision” that stretches from the 14th Amendment to Brown and beyond — the vision of “true racial equality,” not as “a matter of legal principle but in terms of how we actually live.” In other words, my principle — true equality — is more principled than yours.

This move of Breyer’s shows that while I have framed the opposition as one between history and principle, the identification of principle is itself the work of history, and history can always go the other way. This is Stevens’s point when he slyly reminds Roberts of one of his own recent pronouncements: “history is written by the victors.” In short, there will be another day. Count on it.

The Opinionator

July 13, 2007, 4:06 pm
Supreme Court Dreams
By Tobin Harshaw

While Iraq, global warming and surgeons general dominated the front pages this week, the steady rumbling sound you heard echoing through the blogosphere was all about the now-finished first term of the John Roberts’s Supreme Court. The gauntlet was thrown down most brazenly [$] by Jeffrey Rosen in The New Republic, who asks the big question: “The polarization inspired the four liberal justices to write some of their most passionate, incisive, and memorable dissents. But how pessimistic should liberals really be about the future of the Court?”

Rosen’s answer is cautious, but not panic-inducing for Democrats. Other liberals are far more skeptical: “Rosen now wants us to believe that he was making some kind of point about political realism,” replies Matthew Yglesias, “but that’s not what was going on. People were writing, in the face of the evidence, that Roberts marked a clear break with Scalia. And we’re seeing that he unquestionably is a break in prose style but he makes the same rulings.”

Scott Lemieux at Tapped goes further. “The Alito/Roberts method is, if anything, even worse for liberals than the Scalia/Thomas one: it achieves the same results while attracting less public scrutiny,” writes Lemieux “It’s worth noting that Alito and Roberts did not join the one “narrowing” opinion of any substantive significance: Kennedy’s refusal to go along with the ‘color-blind’ majority in the school desegregation cases.”

David Sirota looks back in anger: “Back when George Bush was nominating people like John Roberts and Sam Alito to the Supreme Court, I wrote a series of posts (here’s one) wondering why Democrats and progressives weren’t focusing more on what these two right-wing nominees would do to basic economic policy. Now, with them on the court, we get an idea why I was so worried about this.”

While Tom Goldstein at Scotusblog looks forward with hope: “My ultimate predictions? Kim Wardlaw (2009, for Souter), Deval Patrick (2010, for Stevens), and Elena Kagan (2011, for Ginsburg).”

The wishful thinking from the left was largely in reaction to Linda Greenhouse’s article in The Times about efforts on the left to build “a long-term strategy built around an affirmative message of what the Constitution means and what the enterprise of constitutional interpretation should be about.”

Ann Althouse can see why the idea of a “heroic” court is tempting, but thinks it doesn’t pass the reality check. “This grand vision for a Court that would expansively and actively enforce rights will be seen by present day voters as a political proposal,” she writes on her blog. “If people today really want that vision, they can get it from the political branches. They don’t need a reactivated liberal Court. The liberal lawprofs’ dream seems to be that you could get people to believe that the expansive vision of rights is the proper way to do constitutional interpretation and they’d be willing to go along with that even if they didn’t want these rights enough to support enacting them into law through statutes. But what are the chances that people today would allow liberal academics to convince them of such a thing?”

Indeed — and in any case, liberals can do all the plotting they want, but it doesn’t look like Messrs. Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas are going away any time soon.


July 13, 2007, 9:25 am
Seekers of the Middle Path
By Tobin Harshaw

A Third Way on Iraq? “Moderate Democrats and politically vulnerable Senate Republicans who want change in Iraq — but fear being lumped together with the anti-war crowd — have been desperately searching for an alternative,” reports Martin Kady II at CQPolitics.

“Thirteen senators are pushing to modify the defense authorization bill (HR 1585) by adding the recommendations by the Iraq Study Group. Those include a redeployment of troops — from combat status to trainers of Iraqi forces — but without binding timetables. Neither Senate party leader has embraced the measure … The resistance from party leaders, however, is one of the reasons senators have embraced the measure: It offers them cover from both sides of a divisive debate.”

The Times’s editorial on Sunday that had no interest in compromise, calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, has generated plenty of discussion. Victor Davis Hanson, writing at City Journal, takes his shot: “It is rare that an editorial gets almost everything wrong, but ‘The Road Home’ pulls it off. Consider, point by point, its confused—and immoral—defeatism.”

Amazon and Oprah: “If you’ve written a book anytime in the last ten years, you’ve probably become intimately familiar with your sales rank — it doesn’t reveal how many copies are selling, but it’s instant feedback on how well you’re promoting your book,” notes John J. Miller at The Corner.

“Does your rank improve when you appear on TV? (The answer is almost always yes, though some shows are much better than others.) How about when you write an op-ed for a major metropolitan paper, or appear on a local radio station? (Much more ambiguous.)”

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