Saturday, August 04, 2007

For Family of Migrant Farmworkers, a New Season Is Dawning

This Land
The New York Times
August 5, 2007


Minerva Hinojosa and her family migrated north again last month, traveling from the Texas bottom of this nation to its Minnesota top to weed the sugar beet fields of a farmer named Blaufuss. Once here, they each claimed the hoe that felt truest in their hands by carving a telltale mark into the wooden handle.

For Ms. Hinojosa, 22, this is how it has always been: the Hinojosas working the Blaufuss fields, following the rows of beets deep into the green distance, then working back down new rows, their hoe blades getting duller with every hack at the black earth. All for about $22 an acre.

But she also knows how profoundly this migrant life is changing. It hit home a couple of weeks ago when her cellphone trilled while she was working in the fields, her long brown hair tucked under a Texas Longhorns cap.

Holding the hoe with one hand, she flipped the phone open with the other.


Three decades ago, well before she was born, some of Ms. Hinojosa’s relatives began traveling 1,600 miles north, from Weslaco, Tex., to Breckenridge. Jim Blaufuss needed help with his sugar beets, and so a bond between two families was made.

Among those arriving from Texas every season was Eleuterio Hinojosa, a Mexican-born laborer accustomed to traveling far for work, whether to the fields or to the cotton gins that long ago changed the feel of his handshake by taking three finger tops. His wife, Rachel, and their ever-expanding family would join him on those long trips north, including his daughter Minerva, an American citizen who says she has been migrating “since I was born.”

The Blaufuss family eventually built a squat, one-story duplex with air-conditioning on their farm to accommodate the Hinojosas and their many relatives. The workers felt fortunate; not all growers provided housing, and those who did sometimes offered little more than shacks.

The hundreds of migrant families of Breckenridge became a tight but time-sensitive community, here for the sugar beet crop, then gone, some back to Texas, some to Michigan to pick apples. Not all local residents accepted them, that is for sure. But on summer Sunday afternoons, at least, they claimed a town park as their own, for music and barbecues.

“You’d see no white people,” Ms. Hinojosa recalls.

Back then, she was just one of many Texan children running about. Every morning she would take a bus to a supplemental education program for migrant children at the elementary school, overseen by a teacher named Bill Mimnaugh. She studied, played, got fed and stayed out of the fields — at least, that is, until she was about 11.

At 13, Ms. Hinojosa became pregnant. She named the boy David, took a hard look at what kind of woman his mother would be, and went back to school. This meant that every summer she would hoe her rows all day, then head off for night classes at Mr. Mimnaugh’s education program, determined.

Early last month the Hinojosas returned again to that squat duplex in Breckenridge, where they found a freezer full of meat, courtesy of Mr. Blaufuss. “They’re family,” he explains.

But this Texas contingent included only Ms. Hinojosa, her parents, her older brother Jay and her son, David — meaning that the many bunk beds in the house would remain empty.

People in Minnesota say that changes in sugar beet farming, including the use of improved herbicides, have reduced the need for migrants; that adequate housing remains a problem; that cuts in the migrant education program have caused child care and schooling problems for migrant families.

At the same time, the children of migrants are finding different paths, says Jay Hinojosa, 36, who has just changed out of jeans that are damp with sweat. “Some of them pursued education,” he says. “Some joined the Air Force, the Navy. Other family members decided it wasn’t worth it.”

Still, the Hinojosas see familiar Texan faces in Breckenridge, including that of Maribell Molina, 35, who migrates now to work for the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council as a family service liaison for the migrant education program. She says that older migrants return because they need the money, they feel loyal to employers, and they want to set an example.

“To show their kids the value of the dollar,” she says.

A couple of weeks ago the Hinojosas rose again before dawn. Rachel Hinojosa baked the tortillas and made the beans that would be breakfast and lunch. Eleuterio Hinojosa packed the coolers and sharpened the hoe blades with his metal file. Minerva roused David, now 7, and got him dressed. The family of five drove to the field and began hoeing at 5:30.

While David dozed in the pickup’s cab, the Hinojosas hacked at the weeds inhibiting the subterranean growth of the sugar beet, which is used to sweeten your soda, your cookies. After a while, Rachel Hinojosa drove David to the same migrant education program that his mother attended, run by the same Mr. Mimnaugh, who is sometimes called the “Dairy Queen guy” because on Fridays he rewards good students with cool treats.

“The same school!” Ms. Hinojosa exclaims. “I love it!”

The Hinojosas worked their rows, paused to eat, then reached again for their hoes. The sun arced high and hot over the Minnesota flatness. A cellphone rang, and Ms. Hinojosa answered.

“Finally!” she shouted, and the Hinojosas around her immediately knew:

Minerva Hinojosa, daughter of migrants, had graduated with a degree in English from the University of Texas-Pan American, and would be teaching this fall at her alma mater, Weslaco East High School. She is the family’s first college graduate.

Her mother said, “Thanks to God.” Her father said the family should celebrate by hoeing another row. And so they did.

Mortgage Mania Didn’t Grip Everyone

Fair Game
The New York Times
August 5, 2007

THE seized-up United States mortgage market claimed more victims both here and abroad last week. The American Home Mortgage Investment Corporation, once a big lender, closed its doors, laying off more than 6,000 workers. In Germany, IKB Deutsche Industriebank received a $4.8 billion bailout from a government-owned group that said it would cover potential subprime losses at the bank.

In a report last week, Charles Peabody, an analyst at Portales Partners, an independent research firm in New York, characterized the state of the mortgage market this way: “Investors finally realized that there is such a thing as a bad mortgage loan. As a matter of fact, there is such a thing as a whole bunch of bad mortgage loans.”

As a result, Mr. Peabody noted, investors are no longer interested in most of the risky loans that mortgage bankers have been creating lately. Bankers can sell only the highest-grade pieces of those wonderful securities pools that were so popular among investors until about five minutes ago.

That gives two choices — neither one felicitous — to the bankers who originated the low-grade loans. They can either sell them at a loss, reflecting the market’s view of such debt, or hold them on their own balance sheets and watch them decline in value.

It is never pretty, watching a mania come undone. Unless you are one of the folks who never bought into the madness in the first place.

Michael A. J. Farrell, chief executive of Annaly Capital Management, a high-grade mortgage real estate investment trust, is one such man. And with a perspective on the residential mortgage and credit markets extending back to the 1970s, he is an excellent person to consult on what is likely to happen next.

Annaly is an investment management company that oversees a portfolio of strictly high-grade assets. The company invests solely in mortgages backed by government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae. Investors understand that it has little exposure to the current credit crunch and have bid up its shares almost 8 percent this year. The shares also pay a generous dividend of 6.4 percent at current prices.

For his conservative approach, Mr. Farrell confirms that for about two years beginning in 2003, he took plenty of abuse from more aggressive counterparts in the industry and from potential investors who urged him to buy lower-quality assets for their greater returns. Some of those ridiculing Mr. Farrell were the same people who jeered at investors who did not get the new paradigm, espoused in 1999, that any-Internet-company-is-a-good-Internet-company.

“I definitely took heat not only in my professional life but in my personal life,” Mr. Farrell said. “I had people stop me on the street while I was walking my dog saying, ‘Where is your dividend going?’ ”

During the crazy years, Mr. Farrell and his team decided against increasing the size of Annaly’s balance sheet. Investors willing to throw money into anything mortgage scoffed when the company turned them down. “We decided to withdraw from the market until the end of 2005, when we thought investment risk was being recognized by the market,” he said.

Mortgage real estate investment trusts came public like weeds during the boom, of course. But the strategies they use can vary widely. Some originate mortgages — New Century did, for example — and others buy mortgage loans in the secondary market, whether risky or not.

Most mortgage REITs do a bit of everything, explained Jeremy Diamond, a managing director at Annaly. As a result, investors in these companies must rely on their managers to put the right emphasis on credit risk and interest rate risk at different periods in a business cycle.

But because Annaly shuns credit risk, its investors are trusting its managers to bet appropriately on interest rate risk only. In this they are also conservative, holding assets with a duration of six months to two years. They also have one-third of their portfolio in fixed-rate assets, with the rest in adjustable- and floating-rate assets; this allows the portfolio to work well whether rates decline or rise.

“There is no official Annaly interest rate forecast,” Mr. Diamond said. “We manage the portfolio with no significant directional bias because we could be wrong.”

Annaly’s biggest challenge comes when rates plunge, as they did in 2004, pushing mortgage holders to refinance. But it has reduced its exposure to refinancing risk in recent months by raising about $2.5 billion in capital and reducing the premium-priced mortgages in its portfolio. While the company paid an average of $102.50 per $100 worth of bonds in its portfolio in 2003, its average is now $100.50.

When the mortgage market started to regain some of its sense in 2006, Annaly began raising money from investors. It made two stock offerings in 2006 and two more this year. Each time, the deals carried a higher price tag, reflecting investors’ appreciation of Annaly’s conservative business model. Even those who bought into the company’s most recent offering last month — at $14 a share — are ahead. Annaly’s shares closed Friday at $14.98.

Mr. Farrell and other Annaly executives also align themselves with their investors by not taking performance fees as most REITs do. Instead, the executives’ compensation, just 0.12 percent of assets under management, comes out of the company’s revenues.

So what does Mr. Farrell, who has been through at least three mortgage market seizures in his career, see on the horizon for the credit markets? More of the same turmoil, alas.

“I look at this sort of like 1990 and 1991,” he said, referring to the savings-and-loan crisis. “Against that background you had a $7 trillion economy that gave birth to the $300 billion Resolution Trust Corp. Now we have an $11 trillion economy and we’ve already seen $2 trillion of market capitalization going away” before many loans in the pools have actually defaulted, he said.

WHAT about the people who argue that the impact of the mortgage mess will be muted because risks have been spread well beyond the banks and into many parts of the financial world? Mr. Farrell takes the opposite view. Spreading the risk beyond the banking system will make the task of fixing the mess much harder.

“Even if the Fed eases, it is probably not going to help the housing market,” he said. “This repair cycle is going to take a lot longer because it is not concentrated in the banking system like it was in the 1990s. Back then, they could repair the banking system by dropping interest rates. Now they can’t bail out rich hedge fund guys in Greenwich.”

With Pasture as His Canvas, an Artist Turns a Purple Heart Green

Our Towns
The New York Times
August 5, 2007


First came a chance encounter at the antique store he and his wife run in Ellenville, 90 miles north of New York City, then a trip to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in nearby Vails Gate, and along the way an idea he could not get out of his head.

So, almost inevitably, there was Roger Baker prowling around an immense, sweltering field of grass and clover here on Thursday in work boots, blue jeans, green plaid shirt and engineers cap, taking swigs from the jug of Leisure Time spring water and contemplating his latest adventure in field carving, lawn mower art and large-form Americana.

By Friday, it was pretty much done, an 850,000-square-foot Purple Heart medal, more than 1,000 feet long, each detail precise down to the seven 36-foot laurel leaves on each side of the three gold stars above the portrait of George Washington.

“Hi,” he said when he made his pitch to Orange County officials in June. “I’m Roger, and I mow the lawn.”

On one level, that’s pretty much it, though, even including the space aliens who carve mazes in Kansas wheat fields, he may be the greatest lawn mower who’s ever lived. On other levels, well, pick your own job description for a guy who carves titanic portraits, most of them visible just from the air, into summer fields, which within days give way to grass, bugs, dust, butterflies and nature’s heedless currents.

Beginning in 2000, Mr. Baker, now 53, has created field portraits ranging in size from 500,000 square feet to more than a million: the Statue of Liberty, Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein, Jimi Hendrix. When last seen in these pages, he was contemplating his next act after a portrait of the late custom motorcycle builder, Larry Desmedt, known as Indian Larry.

His instincts this year were pulling him sax-ward — either John Coltrane or Boots Randolph — until May, when he met Bill Bacon, an official with the Military Order of the Purple Heart, who was passing through Ellenville. Mr. Bacon was planning events in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the Purple Heart medal.

The more they talked, the more the idea of a giant Purple Heart took hold. Mr. Baker visited the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, where the director, Anita Pidala, was instantly intrigued. He made a draw- ing, using as his model the Purple Heart of Art Livesey, 88, of Middletown, N.Y, who was a marine who fought on Iwo Jima in World War II.

And when he and Ms. Pidala found the site 16 miles from the Purple Heart Hall of Honor, off State Road 416, at the edge of Thomas Bull Memorial Park, he had to catch his breath: It was a gorgeous sloping field, thick grasses, even gentle strains of purple clover. “I thought,” he said, “that’s one of the nicest fields I’ve ever seen.”

And so, after getting permission from the county, which owns the park, he began work a week ago, walking the field with his Craftsman Hi-Wheel gas-powered push mower.

He did the detail himself, like the 260-foot-long portrait of Washington, while county workers on brushhogs did much of the large-scale mowing. He gets different colors and shades by changing the height of the blade. The piece will be unveiled today at an 11 a.m. ceremony.

EACH piece is different. The biggest new element in this one is that because of the slope of the land you can see it from the ground — “not perfect — it will look like a bad haircut — but it gives you a sense, and then I know from the air it will be something.”

Mr. Baker, a sculptor, artist, cartoonist and whatever comes his way, has no cellphone and no computer. He’s not political and he won’t make any money from the project. He did it because in a visceral way it hit him like a sudden burst of wind — his attempt, at once large and small, to make sense of and to honor the sacrifice people make in battle.

He said when he began, he looked, as usual, for reasons not to do this one. How about, he was asked hypothetically, the notion that many people won’t be able to think of it apart from the passions surrounding the war in Iraq?

“My thought processes never went there,” he said. “Not one time did that enter my mind. I look for things — aesthetic, personal, artistic, technical — that draw me. What I’m concerned with is my craft and doing this as if it’s the last time I’ll ever have a chance to.”

One thing he loved about the Indian Larry project, he said, was how Mr. Desmedt’s friends and family came to the site, and then walked it as if getting to touch his spirit.

Mr. Baker hopes that happens even more this time — no simple answers or message, just a chance for people to silently traverse a country field to pay tribute, to give thanks, to contemplate heroism before his handiwork disappears.


Chasing No. 300, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Sports of The Times
August 5, 2007

Here in the watched-pot department of baseball milestones, we become voyeurs, observing people as they observe other people.

There on the tube was Bud Selig, looking like a peevish, insomniac owl, perched under the eaves of a stadium, waiting for Barry Bonds to pass Henry Aaron and get us all back to our lives.

If Bud were a Woody Allen creation, he would be Commissioner Zelig, everywhere at once, eyewitness to history, waiting on Bonds to hit No. 756, watching as Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run, but he is only mortal, and he chose to follow Bonds.

A truly omnipresent commissioner would also find a way to watch Tom Glavine try to win his 300th game tonight in Chicago, and might even have split himself, parameciumlike, to commiserate with Christine Glavine as the Mets’ bullpen squandered the lead Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

As composed as her husband, she did not express herself in any way that could have upset anybody, but her worried eyes could have been interpreted as saying: “Oh, jeez, poor Tommy and the rest of the guys. Well, now it’s more packing, more room service, more midday activities for the kids.”

Her stricken face reminded me of another look of desperation back in 1962, although Early Wynn was not as pretty as Christine Glavine, I can assure you of that.

Wynn was the Roger Clemens of his time, a burly old cuss. In 2003, Clemens taped Wynn’s dour mug in his locker, as a talisman of his long march to his 300th victory.

It took Clemens four attempts to gain that victory, but it took Wynn eight starts — more than nine months, doctor — to win his 300th. Nobody would wish this on the Glavine family.

As far as I know, Commissioner Ford C. Frick was not hunkering down in Yankee Stadium on the last Friday night of the 1962 season, as the Yankees tuned up for the World Series. Commissioners were not professional witnesses in those days.

Forty-two years old by then, Wynn had been a great pitcher in his time, coming up with Washington in 1939, helping to win pennants for Cleveland in 1954 and Chicago in 1959, and hitting 17 career home runs, one a pinch-hit grand slam.

Known as Gus, he was one of those ornery pitchers who are no longer allowed to exist. How ornery? Mickey Mantle — who slugged 13 homers against Wynn, more than he did against any other pitcher — once drilled a single right past Wynn’s blocky frame, and big Gus promptly fired a fastball pickoff attempt at Mantle’s bad knees, making him dance at first base, which was how the old boy had won 299 games.

On this autumn night in 1962, Wynn had nothing left. He suffered from gout. His weight was far above the listed 200 pounds. And baseball didn’t have trainers and diets and pitch counts the way it does today.

The Sox gave him a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning, but Joe Pepitone pinch-hit a two-run homer, and Manager Al Lopez had no recourse but to send Wynn out for the eighth. The Yankees clobbered him for four runs, ending his season at 299.

As a boy reporter, I interviewed Wynn, slumped in the clubhouse, probably a beer bottle in his hand, profound disgust all over him. It wasn’t the losing. Heck, old Gus had lost before.

It was the prospect of whipping his body into some kind of shape to trudge out there for another season.

Wynn skipped the tortures of spring training, and his old team, Cleveland, signed him in June 1963. He failed in four starts but finally found a team he might beat, the Kansas City Athletics.

“He didn’t throw as hard as Glavine,” said Ed Charles, who played for the A’s that day and is now a prince of New York for his role as poet laureate and third baseman with the 1969 Mets.

“His fastball, if it reached 80, that was stretching it,” Charles recalled of a game 44 years ago. “He was laboring, throwing nothing but bloopers and junk.”

Wynn staggered five innings, leaving with a 5-4 lead before Jerry Walker preserved the 7-4 victory. He said he had not slept the night before because of the gout, and he was glad to leave the game because “I might have fallen on my face; I was exhausted.”

He never won another game, and died in 1999.

Forty years after Wynn’s 300th, Clemens had his own travails, flying around America accompanied by his family and friends and a flotilla of camp-follower journalists. He won his 300th on his fourth try, and is still going.

Now it’s Glavine’s turn. He is an admirable player, and his wife seems the same.

My advice to the family: Pack light, expect nothing from the airlines and remember the camera is on you at all times. No. 300 will come — with any luck, sooner than it did for old Gus.


Teaching From His Mistakes

Sports of The Times
August 5, 2007

Canton, Ohio

During the past eight days, baseball and pro football fans have listened to inspiring speeches and watched great highlight films.

Last Sunday, in the quaint village of Cooperstown, N.Y., Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn capped a feel-good weekend at the National Baseball Hall of Fame not with tear-splashed speeches, but, rather, by their presence. In the midst of the controversy surrounding pervasive steroid use in baseball, fans embraced two of the game’s most popular stars.

Nothing, however, could match the emotion here Friday during the dinner for the six players who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last night: two offensive linemen, Gene Hickerson and Bruce Matthews; a defensive back, Roger Wehrli; a tight end, Charlie Sanders; a wide receiver, Michael Irvin; and a running back, Thurman Thomas.

The inductees received their yellow Hall of Fame jackets Friday night, completing the symbolic transformation of great players into Hall of Fame players. Of the eight inductees we watched the last two weekends — Ripken and Gwynn in Cooperstown and the six Pro Football Hall of Famers here — Irvin was the most compelling.

“I used to tell people, ‘O.K., the best get to play in college, and then the best of that best get to play in the N.F.L.,’ ” Irvin said Friday. “This is the best of the best of the best.”

Irvin led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships and compiled great statistics for his position. But he is just as compelling for how he wrestled with — and often lost to — forces outside of football. He represents a sense of realism in an era when we would prefer our sports heroes to kiss babies and pet puppies.

I’m far more intrigued by a flawed star like Irvin.

I am not advocating that we reward poor judgment, only that we acknowledge that poor judgment will happen. In fact, Irvin said he favored the new approach to player misconduct taken by N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell. “He’s trying to help these young guys make better decisions,” Irvin said. “At 21, 22, 23, you make a decision and you think it’s gone and in four or five years, that everybody will forget about it. That’s not the reality, not anymore.”

Everyone has lapses of judgment, everyone makes mistakes, although not everyone’s missteps become public. Irvin’s did.

There was an arrest in 1996 on charges of cocaine possession at a hotel party while celebrating his birthday. He was sentenced to community service, ordered to pay a $10,000 fine, put on four years’ probation and suspended for the first five games of the 1996 season.

In 2000, the year he retired, Irvin was arrested on drug-possession charges that were later dropped. In 2005, he was charged with a misdemeanor after the police found drug paraphernalia in his car. He said that he was taking the items away from someone he was trying to get off drugs and that he cared more about that than about his chances of being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“Of course I have regrets,” he said Friday. “Some of the things that have happened off the football field, I don’t think anyone would raise their hand and say, ‘I want that to happen.’”

On the other hand, Irvin effectively communicates with young people precisely because of his missteps. Mistakes and misdeeds are part of life; the challenge is recovering from them.

“I was the hard-headed young guy,” Irvin said. “Now I’m talking to a lot of hard-headed young guys. It’s not that they don’t want to hear it, they hear it, but it won’t take root until it’s time for it to take root.”

Yesterday, on the greatest stage of his life, Irvin took account of his deeds and well-documented misdeeds. In a moment perhaps unprecedented in Hall of Fame induction history, Irvin humbled himself before his family and before the world.

Irvin thanked his wife for sharing the “for better” part of marriage and apologized for giving her large doses of the “for worse.”

Near the end of his speech, he asked his two sons, age 8 and 10, to stand and recalled the moment last year when he returned from the Hall of Fame ceremony and faced his sons, who asked if did he thought he would ever be elected. Irvin recalled the silent prayer: “I said, Please help me raise them for some young lady so that they can be a better husband than I; help me raise them for their kids, so that they can be a better father than I.”

He added: “Look up, get up and don’t ever give up. And you tell everyone or anyone that has ever doubted, though they did not measure up or wanted to quit — you tell them to look up, get up and don’t ever give up.”

A day before the induction ceremony, Irvin’s mother said she had a vision about her son’s future. “Michael’s got another job to do,” she said. “Michael’s got to preach; he’s going to have to do it before he leaves this world.”

The Right Reverend Michael Irvin.

Has an odd ring to it.

But once upon a time, so did Michael Irvin, Hall of Famer.


Getting Coffee Is Hard to Do

Guest Columnist
The New York Times
August 5, 2007

A coordination problem (a term of art in economics and management) occurs when you have a task to perform, the task has multiple and shifting components, the time for completion is limited, and your performance is affected by the order and sequence of the actions you take. The trick is to manage it so that the components don’t bump into each other in ways that produce confusion, frustration and inefficiency.

You will face a coordination problem if you are a general deploying troops, tanks, helicopters, food, tents and medical supplies, or if you are the C.E.O. of a large company juggling the demands of design, personnel, inventory and production.

And these days, you will face a coordination problem if you want to get a cup of coffee.

It used to be that when you wanted a cup of coffee you went into a nondescript place fitted out largely in linoleum, Formica and neon, sat down at a counter, and, in response to a brisk “What’ll you have, dear?” said, “Coffee and a cheese Danish.” Twenty seconds later, tops, they arrived, just as you were settling into the sports page.

Now it’s all wood or concrete floors, lots of earth tones, soft, high-style lighting, open barrels of coffee beans, folk-rock and indie music, photographs of urban landscapes, and copies of The Onion. As you walk in, everything is saying, “This is very sophisticated, and you’d better be up to it.”

It turns out to be hard. First you have to get in line, and you may have one or two people in front of you who are ordering a drink with more parts than an internal combustion engine, something about “double shot,” “skinny,” “breve,” “grande,” “au lait” and a lot of other words that never pass my lips. If you are patient and stay in line (no bathroom breaks), you get to put in your order, but then you have to find a place to stand while you wait for it. There is no such place. So you shift your body, first here and then there, trying not to get in the way of those you can’t help get in the way of.

Finally, the coffee arrives.

But then your real problems begin when you turn, holding your prize, and make your way to where the accessories — things you put in, on and around your coffee — are to be found. There is a staggering array of them, and the order of their placement seems random in relation to the order of your needs. There is no “right” place to start, so you lunge after one thing and then after another with awkward reaches.

Unfortunately, two or three other people are doing the same thing, and each is doing it in a different sequence. So there is an endless round of “excuse me,” “no, excuse me,” as if you were in an old Steve Martin routine.

But no amount of politeness and care is enough. After all, there are so many items to reach for — lids, cup jackets, straws, napkins, stirrers, milk, half and half, water, sugar, Splenda, the wastepaper basket, spoons. You and your companions may strive for a ballet of courtesy, but what you end up performing is more like bumper cars. It’s just a question of what will happen first — getting what you want or spilling the coffee you are trying to balance in one hand on the guy reaching over you.

I won’t even talk about the problem of finding a seat.

And two things add to your pain and trouble. First, it costs a lot, $3 and up. And worst of all, what you’re paying for is the privilege of doing the work that should be done by those who take your money. The coffee shop experience is just one instance of the growing practice of shifting the burden of labor to the consumer — gas stations, grocery and drug stores, bagel shops (why should I put on my own cream cheese?), airline check-ins, parking lots. It’s insert this, swipe that, choose credit or debit, enter your PIN, push the red button, error, start again. At least when you go on a “vacation” that involves working on a ranch, the work is something you’ve chosen. But none of us has chosen to take over the jobs of those we pay to serve us.

Well, it’s Sunday morning, and you’re probably reading this with a cup of coffee. I hope it was easy to get.

Patriots Who Love the Troops to Death

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
August 5, 2007

GERALD FORD spoke the truth when he called Watergate “our long national nightmare,” but even a nightmare can have its interludes of rib-splitting farce.

None were zanier than the antics of Baruch Korff, a small-town New England rabbi who became a full-time Richard Nixon sycophant as the walls closed in. Korff was ubiquitous in the press and on television, where he would lambaste Democrats and the media “lynch mob” for vilifying “the greatest president of the century.” Despite Nixon’s reflexive anti-Semitism, he returned the favor by granting the rabbi audiences and an interview that allowed the embattled president to soliloquize about how his own faith and serenity reinforced his conviction “deep inside” that everything he did was right.

Clearly we’ve reached our own Korffian moment in our latest long national nightmare. The Nixon interviewed by the rabbi sounded uncannily like the resolute leader chronicled by the conservative columnists and talk-show jocks President Bush has lately welcomed into his bunker. For his part, William Kristol even published a Korffian manifesto, “Why Bush Will Be a Winner,” in The Washington Post. It reassured us that the Bush presidency would “probably be a successful one” and that “we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome” in Iraq. A Bush flack let it be known that the president liked this piece so much that he recommended it to his White House staff.

Are you laughing yet? Maybe not. No one died in Watergate. This time around, the White House lying and cover-ups have been not just in the service of political thuggery but to gin up a gratuitous war without end.

There is another significant difference as well. Washington never drank the Nixon Kool-Aid. It kept a skeptical bipartisan eye on Tricky Dick throughout his political career, long before the Watergate complex had even been built. The charmed Mr. Bush, by contrast, got a free pass; both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and both liberals and conservatives in the news media were credulous enablers of the Iraq fiasco. Now a reckoning awaits, and the denouement is getting ugly.

The ranks of unreconstructed Iraq hawks are thinner than they used to be. Some politicians in both parties (John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Gordon Smith) and truculent pundits (Peter Beinart, Andrew Sullivan) who cheered on the war recanted (sooner in some cases than others), learned from their errors and moved on. One particularly eloquent mea culpa can be found in today’s New York Times Magazine, where the former war supporter Michael Ignatieff acknowledges that those who “truly showed good judgment on Iraq” might have had no more information than those who got it wrong, but did not make the mistake of confusing “wishes for reality.”

But those who remain dug in are having none of that. Some of them are busily lashing out Korff-style. Some are melting down. Some are rewriting history. Most seem more interested in saving their own reputations than the American troops they ritualistically invoke to bludgeon the wars’ critics and to parade their own self-congratulatory patriotism.

It was a rewriting of history that made the blogosphere (and others) go berserk last week over an Op-Ed article in The Times, “A War We Just Might Win,” by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack. The two Brookings Institution scholars, after a government-guided tour, pointed selectively to successes on the ground in Iraq in arguing that the surge should be continued “at least into 2008.”

The hole in their argument was gaping. As Adm. Michael Mullen, the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said honorably and bluntly in his Congressional confirmation hearings, “No amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference” in Iraq if there’s no functioning Iraqi government. Opting for wishes over reality, Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack buried their pro forma acknowledgment of that huge hurdle near the end of their piece.

But even more galling was the authors’ effort to elevate their credibility by describing themselves as “analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.” That’s disingenuous. For all their late-in-the-game criticisms of the administration’s incompetence, Mr. Pollack proselytized vociferously for the war before it started, including in an appearance with Oprah, and both men have helped prolong the quagmire with mistakenly optimistic sightings of progress since the days of “Mission Accomplished.”

You can find a compendium of their past wisdom in Glenn Greenwald’s Salon column. That think-tank pundits with this track record would try to pass themselves off as harsh war critics in 2007 shows how desperate they are to preserve their status as Beltway “experts” now that the political winds have shifted. Such blatant careerism would be less offensive if they didn’t do so on the backs of the additional American troops they ask to be sacrificed to the doomed mission of providing security for an Iraqi government that is both on vacation and on the verge of collapse.

At least the more rabid and Korff-like of the war’s last defenders have the intellectual honesty not to deny what they’ve been saying all along. But their invective has gone over the top, with even mild recent critics of the war like John Warner and Richard Lugar being branded defeatist “pre- 9/11 Republicans” by Mr. Kristol.

It’s also the tic of Mr. Kristol’s magazine, The Weekly Standard (and its Murdoch sibling The New York Post), to claim that the war’s critics hate the troops. When The New Republic ran a less-than-jingoistic essay by a pseudonymous American soldier in Iraq, The Weekly Standard even accused it of fabrication — only to have its bluff called when the author’s identity was revealed and his controversial anecdotes were verified by other sources.

A similar over-the-top tirade erupted on “Meet the Press” last month, when another war defender in meltdown, Senator Lindsey Graham, repeatedly cut off his fellow guest by saying that soldiers he met on official Congressional visits to Iraq endorsed his own enthusiasm for the surge. Unfortunately for Mr. Graham, his sparring partner was Jim Webb, the take-no-prisoners Virginia Democrat who is a Vietnam veteran and the father of a soldier serving in the war. Senator Webb reduced Mr. Graham to a stammering heap of Jell-O when he chastised him for trying to put his political views “into the mouths of soldiers.” As Mr. Webb noted, the last New York Times-CBS News poll on the subject found that most members of the military and their immediate families have turned against the war, like other Americans.

As is becoming clearer than ever in this Korffian endgame, hiding behind the troops is the last refuge of this war’s sponsors. This too is a rewrite of history. It has been the war’s champions who have more often dishonored the troops than the war’s opponents.

Mr. Bush created the template by doing everything possible to keep the sacrifice of American armed forces in Iraq off-camera, forbidding photos of coffins and skipping military funerals. That set the stage for the ensuing demonization of Ted Koppel, whose decision to salute the fallen by reading a list of their names in the spotlight of “Nightline” was branded unpatriotic by the right’s vigilantes.

The same playbook was followed by the war’s champions when a soldier confronted Donald Rumsfeld about the woeful shortage of armor during a town-hall meeting in Kuwait in December 2004. Rather than campaign for the armor the troops so desperately needed, the right attacked the questioner for what Rush Limbaugh called his “near insubordination.” When The Washington Post some two years later exposed the indignities visited upon the grievously injured troops at Walter Reed Medical Center, The Weekly Standard and the equally hawkish Wall Street Journal editorial page took three weeks to notice, with The Standard giving the story all of two sentences. Protecting the White House from scandal, not the troops from squalor, was the higher priority.

One person who has had enough of this hypocrisy is the war critic Andrew J. Bacevich, a Boston University professor of international relations who is also a Vietnam veteran, a product of the United States Military Academy and a former teacher at West Point. After his 27-year-old son was killed in May while serving in Iraq, he said that Americans should not believe Memorial Day orators who talk about how priceless the troops’ lives are.

“I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier’s life,” Professor Bacevich wrote in The Washington Post. “I’ve been handed the check.” The amount, he said, was “roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning.”

Anyone who questions this bleak perspective need only have watched last week’s sad and ultimately pointless Congressional hearings into the 2004 friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman. Seven investigations later, we still don’t know who rewrote the witness statements of Tillman’s cohort so that Pentagon propagandists could trumpet a fictionalized battle death to the public and his family.

But it was nonetheless illuminating to watch Mr. Rumsfeld and his top brass sit there under oath and repeatedly go mentally AWOL about crucial events in the case. Their convenient mass amnesia about their army’s most famous and lied-about casualty is as good a definition as any of just what “supporting the troops” means to those who even now beat the drums for this war.


"Hoo boy, am I focked...!!!"

"Up mine...!!!"

Democrats back down on ending tax windfall for hedge-fund billionaires

By Patrick Martin
4 August 2007

In a clear demonstration of their subservience to Wall Street, Senate Democrats have pulled back from proposals to end a huge tax loophole for the wealthiest financial speculators—the billionaires who operate hedge funds and private equity firms.

At a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee, spokesmen for the big financial interests denounced proposals to tax the compensation of hedge fund operators as ordinary income—at a rate of 35 percent—instead of at the 15 percent rate applied to capital gains.

Gargantuan sums of money are at stake in this discussion. Hedge funds and private equity firms have mushroomed over the past decade into enterprises controlling as much as $2.5 trillion in capital. They pay their executives incomes of as much as $1 billion in a single year. Steven Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone Capital, netted nearly $600 million in a single day when the firm went public in June, and his stake in the company is valued at over $4 billion.

While the financial arrangements of hedge funds are arcane, the tax loophole is elementary. Hedge fund managers receive two income streams, typically 2 percent of the fund’s total value and 20 percent of the profits. The 2 percent is taxed as income, but the 20 percent of the profits, called “carried interest,” is taxed at the rate of capital gains, although it is return on the investors’ capital, not on the capital of the hedge fund managers. A bill introduced in the House would define carried interest as income, not capital gains, effectively raising the rate from 15 percent to 35 percent.

While Republican senators denounced the proposed tax increase on general principles, since they oppose any form of taxation of the wealthy, the Democratic senators had to tread more carefully, balancing their loyalty to the financial aristocracy with the need to strike a populist pose and present themselves in the guise of advocates of working people.

The lead was taken by two proven advocates of the moneyed interests, Charles Schumer of New York and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who distanced themselves from the proposal by House Democrats for a tax increase on all hedge fund and private equity operators, and even from the minimal measure introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, which would raise taxes only on private equity firms like Blackstone that go public by selling shares on the stock exchange.

Schumer has made noises about increasing taxes on the wealthy, but in an interview with the New York Times published the day before the Senate committee hearing, he declared, “I am not a populist,” and offered a series of evasions from a straightforward explanation of why hedge fund billionaires should pay a lower tax rate than the janitors and secretaries who work in their Manhattan offices.

According to the Times account, Schumer said that he had promised Wall Street executives “he would oppose a tax increase as long as it did not also apply to other industries, like energy and real estate. Both in and out of Congress, supporters of increasing taxes on hedge funds and private equity firms say Mr. Schumer’s proposal is a ‘poison pill’ that would generate opposition to the measure from powerful groups—the energy and real estate industries—and derail its prospects for passage.”

Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, issued a statement declaring he was “concerned about the potential adverse effects that these proposals would have on capital formation, on job creation, and on institutional investors.” This is just boilerplate to cover blatant favoritism towards the wealthy. Dodd is well aware that private equity firms are implicated in the destruction of tens of thousands of jobs through the takeover of companies which are then “stripped and flipped,” in the gangster-like jargon of the industry.

Dodd’s long shot campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is financed largely by big financial interests, including the numerous insurance companies in his state and the many Wall Street multi-millionaires and billionaires who reside in posh Connecticut suburbs of New York City, like Greenwich.

Other Democratic senators voiced caution about demands to end the private equity loophole. John Kerry of Massachusetts warned, “You’ve got to think carefully” about the potential consequences of such a move, which could have “downstream impact.” He cited the current turmoil in the stock market as another reason for going slowly, observing, “I think you’ve got to think carefully, particularly with this market.”

Kerry even compared the activities of private equity funds to those of small businesses, claiming, “In a lot of these deals, they are required to put up their money.” The Democrats’ 2004 presidential candidate is married to the billionaire heiress Teresa Heinz.

Ron Wyden of Oregon suggested that instead of a one-off increase for private equity and hedge funds, there should be a broader effort to reform the tax system, ending loopholes for other sections of the super-rich. Like Schumer’s diversion, Wyden’s proposal is an attempt to alibi for his abject subservience to Wall Street interests. His sentiments were echoed by Finance Committee Democrat Ken Salazar of Colorado.

Another Senate Democrat, multimillionaire Maria Cantwell of Washington, herself a software executive before winning a Senate seat in 2000, found another issue to divert attention from the windfall for the private equity bosses. Closing the loophole might hurt the financial performance of pension funds for state employees of Washington and other states, she claimed, because pension fund managers have heavily invested in hedge funds and private equity.

The Senate Democrats’ opposition to increased taxes on the super-rich is directly linked to the flow of funds from these wealthy interests into the Democratic Party’s campaign coffers. In the first six months of 2007, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee—headed by Schumer—raised nearly $2 million from executives and employees of private equity and hedge fund firms such as the Carlyle Group and the Blackstone Group, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Private Equity Council gave 69 percent of campaign contributions to Democrats in 2006, after splitting its donations 50-50 with the Republican Party as recently as 2000.

John G. Gaine, president of the Managed Funds Association, the trade group for hedge funds, hailed Schumer as a “guardian of America’s capital market and, more parochially, New York’s economic interest.”

A column in Fortune magazine openly gloated about the likely Senate roadblock to any increase in taxes on the private equity firms: “In another era, this might be a slam dunk for populist-minded Democrats: A new class of billionaires doesn’t pay the same tax rates as ordinary Americans, leaving tens of millions of dollars more in their pockets to spend on private helicopters and ivy-clad boarding schools and Nantucket summer homes. What better example of Republicans favoring the rich? But wait: These new Greenwich/Manhattan billionaires happen to be donors, friends, and constituents of Democrats—not Republicans.”

Most of the Democratic presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, have declared their support for closing the private equity loophole, in order to posture as friends of the working class and opponents of privilege for the wealthy.

The Fortune comment applauded the cynical division of labor between the presidential candidates and their Senate colleagues: “In the end, the powerful Dodd-Schumer duo could put the kibosh on the tax increase proposal, giving the party the best of both worlds, at least for now: Democratic presidential candidates who continue to issue populist appeals to tax the rich, and a Democratic Congress that leaves its new friends alone.”

The Minnesota bridge collapse: One more indictment of the profit system

By Barry Grey
4 August 2007

The collapse of the most highly traveled highway bridge in the state of Minnesota has once again revealed some ugly truths about American society. Occurring during the run-up to the second anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, the bridge disaster has once more left people in the United States and around the world wondering in shock and horror how it is possible that the richest nation in the world enters the twenty-first century with a social infrastructure that is thoroughly decayed.

As of this writing, five people have been confirmed dead from Wednesday’s collapse of the Interstate 35W highway bridge that traverses the Mississippi River near the center of Minneapolis, a major American metropolis. An unknown number of other victims remain trapped in vehicles that plummeted 60 feet into the swirling currents of the Mississippi, and at least 70 were injured.

Like Katrina, there were ample warnings. Numerous surveys concluded that the bridge was “structurally deficient.” Its steel deck truss design, which provides no margin of safety should any major component fail, was discarded for precisely that reason shortly after the bridge was constructed forty years ago.

There are 756 such bridges in the US, and a total of 77,000, 27 percent of the nation’s spans, that have been designated “structurally deficient.”

Media news anchors, commentators and editorialists have noted that the Minnesota bridge disaster is a symptom of a neglected and rotting infrastructure. Many have pointed to the 2005 report card on America’s infrastructure issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the country a “D” and warned of dire consequences unless a crash program were undertaken to fix the problem. Bridges actually fared comparatively well in the engineers’ report, with a grade of “C.” The country’s aviation system, dams, drinking water, electric power grid and hazardous waste system were deemed even worse, and given a “D.”

But the media reaction to the engineers’ conclusion that it will cost $1.6 trillion over five years to repair the infrastructure is to present such a sum as impossibly high. There is no such questioning of the estimated $450 billion already spent on the war in Iraq or the ongoing weekly outlay of $1.8 billion, not to mention the $533 billion Pentagon budget or the $555 billion in tax cuts for the rich enacted by the Bush administration and Congress in 2001.

What is not broached, let alone discussed, is why the nation’s material and social foundation has been brought to such a state. That is not surprising, because the answers constitute a devastating indictment of the American political and corporate ruling elite and the profit system which they uphold.

Whatever the specific cause of the Minnesota bridge disaster, the underlying reason is the indifference, incompetence and negligence of the government, and the fact that the US is a capitalist society, in which the accumulation of vast personal wealth by a small percentage of the population is deemed more important than the welfare of the people as a whole.

The decay of the material underpinnings of American society has gone hand in hand with a relentless assault on social welfare programs and the jobs and living standards of the working population. It is the product of nearly three decades of uninterrupted social and political reaction.

This has involved a sharp reduction in the federal government’s role in maintaining the nation’s infrastructure. As the Wall Street Journal noted on Friday, “In the 1960s, the federal government and the states paid roughly equal amounts to fund infrastructure projects, but state and local governments bear most of the costs these days, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. ‘The commitment of the federal government has been sharply reduced,’ said Felix Rohatyn, a former Wall Street banker and CSIS trustee...”

The ruling elite has been engaged in a systematic drive to dismantle the very limited elements of social infrastructure and a social safety net left over from the New Deal programs of the 1930s. These were implemented under Franklin Roosevelt in the face of the greatest social and economic crisis of the twentieth century, which included not only the financial collapse known as the Great Depression, but also the environmental disaster that produced the Dust Bowl across the Great Plains. The New Deal established regulatory agencies that placed certain legal restrictions on big business and created public works such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, which built dams and levees to curb flooding and provide electrical power.

Despite the howls of protest from Roosevelt’s opponents within the ruling elite, these were not socialist measures; rather, they were reforms instituted to forestall a social revolution from below that would threaten the profit system as a whole.

From the 1970s on, as the crisis of American capitalism deepened, the US ruling elite has repudiated the entire concept of social reform and dismantled, under the banner of “deregulation,” the previously enacted restrictions on corporate activities. The result has been a nonstop plundering of society that has produced an unprecedented concentration of wealth at the apex of society and a level of social inequality greater than in the days of the Robber Barons at the beginning of the last century. Fraud, the worst forms of speculation and outright criminality have become pervasive in the upper echelons of American society.

The president, George W. Bush, personifies the incompetence, stupidity and inhumanity that characterize so much of America’s money-crazed corporate elite. On Thursday, Bush spoke of the bridge collapse, saying, “We in the federal government must respond and respond robustly to help the people there not only recover, but to make sure that lifeline of activity, that bridge, gets rebuilt as quickly as possible.”

Who could not but be repulsed by these empty phrases, two years after Bush promised to rebuild New Orleans and then turned the “reconstruction” into a profit bonanza for unscrupulous corporate cronies, with the result that the worst-hit poor and working class sections of the city remain abandoned and derelict, and tens of thousands of families permanently displaced?

The American political system is dominated by a drive to destroy all barriers to the accumulation of the personal wealth of a financial oligarchy. Taxes are virtually nonexistent on the principle sources of income of the super-rich, such as capital gains and other forms of speculation. No matter how dire the state of the population—health care, education, pensions, housing—and how decrepit the physical infrastructure, it is virtually taboo to even propose increasing taxes on the rich in order to address social problems.

And it is not just the selfish greed of the rich that is responsible for the decay of the social infrastructure. The mass character of modern society, its international interconnectedness and its complexity stand in violent contradiction to the inherently unplanned and anarchic character of capitalism. The rational and humane development of the material and social environment is incompatible with a system in which each capitalist is engaged in a bitter struggle to obtain the largest possible share of the profits generated by the exploitation of human labor.

Hundreds of millions of people in the US rely on complex social systems to provide the essentials of life: food, water, electricity, transportation, health care, education. The failure of these systems reduces the population to conditions of barbarism, as was seen on a mass scale in the Gulf Coast two years ago.

Working people perform the labor that keeps these systems going, but they have no say in their operation. These systems are for the most part owned and controlled by giant corporations, for whom profit, not human need, is the decisive criterion. Those systems that are nominally controlled by the government, such as roads and bridges, are likewise subordinated to profit interests, through the control of the political system by the wealthy elite.

In the case of America’s bridges, the anarchy and irrationality are palpable. There is no national plan for the maintenance of the system. Decisions on repair and construction of vital economic and social lifelines are left to the states and localities, and oversight is divided between all three levels of government.

The most salient and noxious expression of the irrational and socially destructive character of the profit system is the massive concentration of wealth at the very top of society. According to a recent study, in 2005 the top one-tenth of one percent of the US population (some 300,000 people) had nearly as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans.

That the wealth exists to pay the $1.6 trillion which the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates is needed to upgrade the country’s infrastructure—and more—is demonstrated by a few facts. Forbes magazine reported earlier this year that there are 946 billionaires around the world, with a combined wealth of $3.5 trillion. Last December, Christmas bonuses paid to Wall Street executives topped $100 billion. That figure alone is more than twice the annual federal allocation of $40 billion for the country’s roads and bridges.

And in 2006, the 25 highest paid hedge fund managers in the US had an average income of $540 million, for a total of $13.5 billion. The total subordination of the two major US parties to the financial oligarchy is demonstrated by the unwillingness of the Democratic Congress to end the existing tax windfall for hedge fund and private equity operators, who pay at the 15 percent capital gains rates instead of the 35 percent top income tax rate.

Events like the collapse of the Minnesota bridge are exposing the bankruptcy of the political establishment and the corporate elite, along with their insistence that the unchecked operations of capitalism are the solution to all of society’s problems.

This poses the most fundamental questions before the working class. What are the priorities of society to be: the social interests of the many or the accumulation of personal wealth by the privileged few? It is not a matter of pressuring the ruling elite, or replacing one section of that elite with another. The working class must organize itself as a political force and make itself the master of society. This requires the creation of a new political party of the working class, independent of and opposed to the Democrats and Republicans, and based on a socialist program.

A Family’s Benign Neglect at Dow Jones

Talking Business
The New York Times
August 4, 2007

“The primary reason I was in favor of the deal,” said Elisabeth Goth Chelberg on Wednesday, “is because I did not think that family ownership was ever going to be in the best interest of the company.” She paused for a second, and then offered a small, sad correction. “I mean this family ownership.”

“I just didn’t realize that they were so disorganized,” said Rupert Murdoch on Thursday. He shook his head in wonder. “I thought we would have a rational series of meetings. They didn’t want that.”

Ms. Chelberg is a striking 43-year-old woman who lives half time in Prague, where her husband is an entrepreneur, and half time near Lexington, Ky., where she raises show horses that she rides, with immense success, in competitions all over the world. Rupert Murdoch, of course, is a 76-year-old, Australian-born captain of industry who has spent his adult life single-mindedly building the News Corporation into a dominant global media company.

In other words, it would be hard to find an unlikelier pair of allies. But Ms. Chelberg is also a Bancroft, and over the last three months, as her family flagellated itself over whether to sell its beloved Wall Street Journal to Mr. Murdoch, Ms. Chelberg never wavered. Yes, her family had owned The Journal’s publisher, Dow Jones, for 105 years, and yes, it was a source of immense pride. But her fundamental belief was that her family had long since forfeited the right to own the asset. Benign neglect does not true ownership make.

Ms. Chelberg did not have a vote in the sale to Mr. Murdoch; her 800,000 shares were held in a trust controlled by her uncle, Christopher Bancroft, who fiercely opposed selling to Mr. Murdoch, fearing that he would destroy the paper’s editorial independence. But she played a big role nonetheless. Indeed, it is not too much to say that this all started with her, 10 years ago. And what she started, Mr. Murdoch finished, as enough family members finally agreed to sell to him early this week. As the dust began to settle, I went to see them both.

“I really went to a lot of trouble 10 years ago,” Ms. Chelberg said with a laugh as we sat at her dining room table in Kentucky. She had dug up some papers for me. One was a January 1997 letter to her family, imploring them to “act as the owners we are.” Several were legal bills: $73,000 in January 1997, $94,000 in April. “That went on for two years,” she said with a grimace.

Ms. Chelberg was 33 then, single, a recovering alcoholic whose mother, Bettina Bancroft, had died the year before, leaving her an inheritance. Virtually all of it was in Dow Jones stock, some of which was in trust and some of which she owned outright. Not knowing a thing about the company — not really knowing anything about business — Ms. Chelberg decided she needed to understand this asset she now owned. As she wrote in that same 1997 letter, “I was very disturbed to discover that my investment in what I had been taught to consider an unassailable company had diminished in value — by approximately 40 percent from its 1987 peak to its recent levels.”

Her search to understand what was wrong at Dow Jones caused her to seek out Warren E. Buffett, among others. She learned how other media companies had surpassed Dow Jones. She came up with a list of possible new board members. She even asked to go on the board herself. Her goal was never to see the company sold; rather it was to rouse her family, to make them realize that simply accepting management’s view of the world was not the way to act like owners.

Her attempted wake-up call could have been a turning point for the Bancrofts and the company. In retrospect, she had given her family a 10-year window to grab control of the company, install new management, and give Dow Jones a fighting chance. But instead of being thanked, she and her cousin, William Cox III, who was also talking about management’s failures, were scorned and vilified. She wound up selling the shares she owned outright. The shares in trust, however, she was stuck with.

“We were disenfranchised,” Ms. Chelberg told me; it was years before she and Mr. Cox could even attend family meetings again. Some years later, several other cousins, including Crawford Hill, who would write a 4,000 word e-mail message supporting Mr. Murdoch, tried to raise many of the same issues. The same thing happened. “We all tried to work within the system, but there was no system to work within,” she said.

Last fall, someone representing Mr. Murdoch came to see her and Mr. Cox to discuss the possibility of making a bid for Dow Jones. She didn’t take it all that seriously; over the years, suitors had come and gone. So she was shocked in April when CNBC broke the news that Mr. Murdoch had made his audacious $60-a-share bid for the company.

What didn’t shock her was what stunned the rest of us: the extent to which the family’s dysfunctional nature was placed on vivid and painful display. Christopher Bancroft, who is a board member as well as a trustee, absurdly boycotts a crucial family meeting — and then, even more absurdly, asks Mr. Murdoch to pick up his personal expenses in exchange for abstaining from voting, only to discover that the trust doesn’t allow it. Another family board member, Leslie Hill, decides after meeting him that she doesn’t like Mr. Murdoch, and refuses to take his phone calls after that. The family keeps asking for Mr. Murdoch to up his offer, failing to understand that he has zero incentive to bid against himself. A family matriarch resigns as a trustee the day before the voting. And on, and on.

Watching the family flail these past few months, one couldn’t help agreeing with Ms. Chelberg’s assessment: the Bancrofts simply weren’t capable of owning Dow Jones. They were barely capable of selling it. “We took from this asset, instead of giving to it,” she said, speaking of the hefty dividend that cut into Dow Jones’s earnings. She, meanwhile, had spoken again to Mr. Buffett, who told her that Dow Jones would have trouble competing as an independent company. So did other experts she spoke to.

She acknowledges that Mr. Murdoch could wreck the paper. “But that is a risk you would take with any new owner,” she said. “He has a tremendous opportunity,” she continued, “and I don’t think he’s going to blow it. He’s going to put money in the company, he’ll grow the brand, and he can do things through his distribution channels we never could. TV? We lost that chance 20 years ago.”

Was she happy Dow Jones had been sold? No, she said, but she had made her peace with it. “Ultimately, my love of The Wall Street Journal is what caused me to support the sale.”

WHEN I went to see Mr. Murdoch the next day in New York, he succinctly made the point that Ms. Chelberg had been working toward the previous afternoon. “The first road to freedom,” he said, “is viability.”

What he means, of course, is that a newspaper has a lot better chance of being editorially independent if it makes healthy profits. What he didn’t say is that if the Bancrofts had turned down his deal, Dow Jones’s steady, inexorable decline would likely have continued. But then, he didn’t have to say it. Enough Bancrofts finally understood what their negligence had wrought. That’s why they sold him the paper.

We had breakfast in a small private dining room in the News Corporation’s Manhattan headquarters. Seeing that I had come tieless, Mr. Murdoch quickly doffed his tie and jacket, leaned back in his chair and happily recounted stories from the deal.

Was there ever a time he thought of pulling the offer? I asked. “Yeah,” he replied. “After they sent that letter. It was so insulting.” That was the letter in which the Bancrofts hoped to ensure editorial integrity by giving themselves the right to nominate News Corporation directors as well as a special editorial board for The Wall Street Journal. He swiftly rejected it, and eventually the Dow Jones board took over the negotiations that resulted in the creation of a small oversight board to protect the paper’s editorial independence.

Mr. Murdoch himself seemed unruffled by the need for such an agreement — or even by the accusations that he runs roughshod over the newspapers he owns. “I’m used to it,” he shrugged. He dismissed the idea that he would meddle inappropriately with a quick one-liner: “I won’t meddle any more than Arthur Sulzberger does,” he joked. (Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is the chairman of The New York Times Company.)

My own view is that the chances of Mr. Murdoch wrecking The Journal are lower than you’d think; he needs a credible Journal for his own strategic purposes, and at 76, he surely must be thinking about his legacy. Besides, in The Journal’s cantankerous, provocative, deeply conservative editorial page, he already has the opinion page of his dreams, and one that packs enormous political clout.

Which is not to say he isn’t going to change The Journal. “We have lots of decisions to make,” he said. “How much should we really spend developing the Saturday paper? What should we do digitally? Should we remain subscription-based on the Web, or should we make it free? How much should we spend beefing up political and international coverage? I want it to be more competitive with The New York Times,” he added. “But that will be expensive.”

He suddenly picked up a Wall Street Journal that was lying in front of him, and I could almost see the ink flowing through his veins. “I would like to see real breaking news,” he said. “I like A-heds” — the famous less-than-serious feature that often runs down the middle of the front page, “but I don’t like a whole page of A-heds.”

He scanned the front page up and down. Sometimes his expression suggested deep approval of what he was seeing; but sometimes he frowned, suggesting that he had a different idea of what ought to run on the front page of this great newspaper he would soon own. “I just think The Journal needs a little more urgency,” he said finally.

Myself, I’ll miss the A-heds if Mr. Murdoch decides they should disappear. But I won’t view it as the End of Journalism as We Know It, nor will I view it as evidence that Mr. Murdoch is destroying the editorial integrity of The Wall Street Journal. Rather, I’ll view it as an example of a new boss who has strong views about what people want from a newspaper.

And if the Bancrofts miss the A-heds? They can’t say they weren’t warned.

Charity Work, ‘American Idol’-Style

About New York
The New York Times
August 4, 2007

Seven years ago, during a gripe session in the teachers’ lounge, Charles Best and others counted up things they needed. Books. Pencils. An occasional field trip. And they talked about a fact of life: generous people would be glad to give money to buy supplies, but not necessarily to write a check that would vanish into the maw of the school system.

Mr. Best, then 25 and a social studies teacher in the Bronx, set up He got his colleagues to post wish lists of small projects — one needed a set of dolls for a lesson on teenage pregnancy — and he corralled students to help him match donors with causes. It was like an online dating service, or a wedding registry, except one for pencils and SAT review guides.

Yesterday, Mr. Best, in jeans and sneakers, walked across a loft on 36th Street in the garment district. The room was filled with people ordering supplies for schools, checking out requests, sending thank-yous: the mechanics of getting a job done.

Once serving just the Bronx, where Mr. Best taught at the city’s Wings Academy, the DonorsChoose network now takes requests from eight states and four cities. Come September, the Web site will be open to every public school teacher in the country. So far, it has matched $13 million in donations to 28,000 school projects; 22,000 more are lined up. Most are from schools serving the poor.

This weekend, Mr. Best and his colleagues will be watching another Web site, not their own. American Express is running a contest for its customers to select a good cause that will receive $1 million to $5 million. DonorsChoose is one of the final five, along with a forestry program, solar and wind energy projects, a national parks restoration effort and support for clean drinking water in poor countries. (More details are at

The contest is built on the “American Idol” model, Desiree Fish, a spokeswoman for American Express, said yesterday. “It’s part of a marketing campaign.”

That part has worked: The promotion, which included commercials with Martin Scorsese and Ellen DeGeneres, has brought attention to American Express. And it helps explain why some people will pay money to watch dogs fight: The public loves its gladiatorial battles.

As the American Express contest enters its final weekend, the top two vote-getters are the water purification proposal and Mr. Best’s project. Winner takes all.

Which means that American schoolchildren who need books so they can learn to read are fighting it out with African children who need clean water so they don’t die from diarrhea.

At the same time that Mr. Best was starting DonorsChoose seven years ago, Greg Allgood, a public health specialist, was trying to market Pur, a water-purification product made by Procter & Gamble. It was to be used in the homes of people in poor countries. The product was so cheap to make that the company had to sell vast quantities to make its profit margin acceptable. It did not sell enough.

This was not a new deodorant failing: About as many people die from bad water as from H.I.V. or malaria, and most of them are under age 5.

Mr. Allgood persuaded his bosses at Procter & Gamble that they should continue to make the product and sell it at cost. “It was, and is, a not-for-profit effort,” he said, the first in the history of the company. He formed a group in the World Health Organization ( that promotes home water treatment. He worked on water purification after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, in Kenya after recent floods.

After Mr. Allgood entered the American Express contest — he proposed support for nonprofit projects involved in water purification — commentary at the American Express Web site suggested that his entry is part of a stealth Procter & Gamble marketing scheme. The company is just starting to sell Pur in the United States.

If the water project wins, Mr. Allgood said, not a penny will go to Procter & Gamble, but to Unicef, which does use Pur now, but will conduct a competitive process to choose among four methods of successful home water purification. And if the school charity wins, Mr. Best said, the voters can choose which classroom projects to fund. American Express, it seems, wins either way.


Haunted by Seamus

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
August 4, 2007

Most high-profile politicians acquire weird little bits of biography that you just cannot shake out of your mind. A reporter once told me that he sat next to a member of Congress on a trip, while said lawmaker kept eating mayonnaise out of those little packets they give you at fast-food restaurants. Even if this guy someday single-handedly resurrects the Equal Rights Amendment and shepherds it through 37 State Legislatures, when I look at him, a corner of my brain will always think condiments.

Then there is Mitt Romney, a candidate most of us don’t really know well yet. (A disconcerting number of well-informed people seem to believe his name is “Mort.”) Yet he could become the Republican presidential nominee. It behooves us to pay attention, to mull his Iran plan and deconstruct his position on health care.

But every time I see him, all I can think about is Seamus the dog.

Seamus, in case you missed the story, was the Romneys’ Irish setter back in the early 1980s. Mitt used to drive the family from Boston to Ontario every summer for a vacation, with the dog strapped to the roof in a crate.

As The Boston Globe reported this summer, Romney had the entire trip planned so rigidly that every gas station stop was predetermined before departure. During the fatal trip of ’83, Seamus apparently needed one more than the schedule allowed. When evidence of the setter’s incontinence came running down the back windshield, Romney abandoned his itinerary and drove to the closest gas station, where he got a hose and sprayed both dog and station wagon clean.

“It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management,” The Globe said.

Well, you could spin it that way. Imagine George W. Bush staring blankly at the windshield, the way he did during his My Pet Goat moment. However, how many people out there are troubled by the idea that we might have a president who wouldn’t let his kids go to the bathroom unless it was time for a preauthorized rest stop?

Romney has already come under considerable fire from animal rights groups over the Seamus incident. “They’re not happy that my dog loves fresh air,” Romney snapped back. He said that just recently, in Pittsburgh, although Seamus had actually long since shuffled off this mortal coil.

Is it possible that Romney is trying to dodge the Republican YouTube debate because he’s afraid someone will ask him about his method of transporting dogs across long distances? Perhaps we could have one sponsored by the A.S.P.C.A. instead.

Most of the candidates from both parties have pets. In fact, so many of them have golden retrievers or labradors you can’t help but wonder if they rent them. (John Edwards, ever the conspicuous consumer, has one of each.) This could be an excellent opportunity for John McCain to catch a break, since he seems to have the largest menagerie. Although counting each of the fish individually was a bit much.

McCain also has a ferret, which could provide ample opportunity for lively discussion with Rudy Giuliani, a well-known ferret-hater. Few of us who lived in New York City during his ferret-banning crusade can forget the day a ferret owner confronted the mayor on a radio-call-in show. Giuliani, in tones of Dr. Phil on steroids, urged him to seek psychiatric care. (“This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness.”)

Animal-lovers around the nation may also be interested to know that Giuliani’s second wife once asked for $1,140 a month in dog support for Goalie, the family retriever. Or that the third Mrs. Giuliani is a former saleswoman for surgical staplers — a profession that involves demonstrations of how well the product works during unnecessary surgery on dogs.

The Giuliani campaign has dodged the question of whether Judith Nathan Giuliani ever was involved in this kind of activity, which usually ends badly for the dog in question. This week a spokesman said he didn’t know, adding: “In the 1970s that was an acceptable medical technique,” which I think we can probably take for a yes.

Once we settle all these issues we can get back to health care. Although every time Mitt Romney walks on stage, a sodden Irish setter is going to flash before my eyes.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Columbine Syndrome

Guest Columnist
The New York Times
August 4, 2007

Have you followed the series of articles in The Times about Joshua Komisarjevsky, the Cheshire, Conn., 26-year-old who, on early parole for a long string of late-night home robberies, teamed up with an accomplice and broke into a nearby house, sexually assaulted a woman and at least one of her young daughters, beat the father with a baseball bat and left them all to die in a fire? (The father alone survived.)

Buried in a report on Tuesday was a sinister detail that piled on a broad insult to all the gruesome injuries, victimizing a whole new set of people who should have had no link whatsoever with Komisarjevsky’s crimes. It was that, while pleading for leniency for his client’s earlier break-ins, Komisarjevsky’s lawyer, William T. Gerace, had in 2002 told a judge that the young man suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the learning disabilities dyslexia and dysgraphia as a child.

A.D.H.D., dyslexia and dysgraphia — invoked as logical potential causes for home invasions and theft? I don’t know if you all find this as appalling, offensive and cruel as I do. Perhaps you shrug it off as the work of a defense lawyer doing his job. I just can’t do that, because I know that Gerace isn’t alone in supporting and promulgating the view that kids with problems like A.D.H.D. — and depression and perhaps soon, thanks to this case, learning disabilities — pose real dangers to society.

Call it the Columbine Syndrome. Ever since the news got out that school shooter Eric Harris was taking Luvox, an antidepressant, kids’ mental illness and eventual mass murder have been linked in the public mind. This past May, the journal Psychiatric Services published the results of the first large-scale nationally representative survey of public attitudes about children’s mental health. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they thought children with major depression would be dangerous to themselves or others; 33 percent said they believed children with A.D.H.D. were likely to be dangerous.

This despite the fact that scientific studies have shown only a modest relationship between mental health issues and violence, “a relationship that is largely attributable to co-occurring substance abuse,” wrote a team of authors led by Bernice A. Pescosolido, a sociologist at Indiana University. “Unfortunately,” they concluded, “public perceptions that mental illness and violence go hand in hand may be more important than the evidence.”

Another study released in March found about one in five parents saying they would not want children with A.D.H.D. or depression as their neighbors, in their child’s classroom or as their child’s friends.

It’s deeply ironic that at a time when more than ever is known about children’s mental health needs and more methods than ever exist to help kids with behavioral or emotional issues, the stigma attached to those problems won’t budge. Instead, our brave new world of diagnosis and treatment has spurred new kinds of myth-making and prejudice. Chief among them is the idea that a diagnosis of A.D.H.D. is an escape hatch for selfish and permissive modern parents who are too lazy to discipline their badly behaved kids and prefer instead to medicate them into compliance.

There are very serious consequences of trivializing conditions like A.D.H.D. There is real harm done by instrumentalizing disorders — whether it’s in the service of a legal defense, as in Komisarjevsky’s case, or more generally to buttress ideological arguments about the decline of the American family. The more the disorders are banalized or made ridiculous, the more parents and kids dealing with them are stigmatized. The net result of this stigma, according to numerous studies, is that families don’t seek the help they need. And children with A.D.H.D. need help — not because they’re at risk of becoming rapists and arsonists but because, untreated, they’re likely to be in for a lifetime of frustration and unhappiness.

Health officials at a local psychiatric hospital apparently tried once to put Komisarjevsky on antidepressants, but, according to The Times, his parents refused, saying their son needed to deal with his problems “on a spiritual level.” I don’t know whether Komisarjevsky’s behavior stems from sickness or from evil. But I do know there’s something sick, in general, about turning kids with difficulties into actors in the morality play about family life that’s forever being staged in our time.

The Opinionator

August 3, 2007, 5:54 pm
At YearlyKos, (Sigh) No Naked Bloggers
By Chris Suellentrop
Tags: , ,

The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg is blogging from the liberal netroots gathering known as YearlyKos. Ezra Klein fears for his carefully crafted blogosphere niche. (“So should the rest of us retire? Compared to Hertzberg, we’re largely illiterates.”) Hertzberg’s initial reaction to the Kos Krowd: “I admit that I was expecting this crowd to look weirder. Not hippie weirder, though I did expect a bit of that, but nerdy weirder. So I was surprised at how extraordinarily normal everyone looked.”

The equivalent of the blogosphere in the 1960s and 1970s, Hertzberg says, was the “underground press.” Hertzberg attended several of “the ramshackle underground-press convocations that took place from time to time.” The fashionable look there was decidedly not normal: “The stereotypical look then was rock roadie or medieval wizard for men, groupie or earth mother for women.” Hertzberg adds:

On my bathroom wall I have a photograph taken at one of these underground-press convocations. It shows a crowd of a hundred or so undergrounders in a discussion circle. I’m in the middle, in shaggy haircut, Lennonish eyeglasses, and turtleneck, earnestly making some point (probably about the need to avoid alienating the great mass of Americans). And, sure enough, if you make allowances for a certain number of extravagant mustaches and batik prints, the crowd does look kind of normal, most of it. Except that three of the young women listening (somewhat skeptically, I have to admit) are stark naked.

No one naked around here. No chaos at YearlyKos. No “sweet smell of marijuana,” as the straight papers used to refer to it. No demands for revolution. No denunciations of bourgeois democracy. The Democratic National Committee Chairman is listened to respectfully and cheered enthusiastically.
What explains the new bourgeois left? Hertzberg’s theory: Because Vietnam was, “as Bob Dole might say, a ‘Democrat war,’ ” there was only one way to protest it. “You had to go to the left of the Dems,” he writes, “and if you hadn’t happened to have already acquired a moral/political compass, you might keep going till you ended up at the feet of Chairman Mao. This war is an all-Republican affair. And this generation, thank God, is perfectly content to stick with Chairman Howard.”

Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum concedes that “there’s a lot” to Hertzberg’s interpretation, but he also thinks Hertzberg is missing something: “the netroots isn’t a bunch of kids. In fact, the age distribution is pretty normal.”

Drum adds, “What’s happening now isn’t a youth revolt, and it’s not powered by free love, free acid, or fear of being drafted. It’s powered by a lot of bog ordinary moderate liberals who have been radicalized by George Bush and the Newt Gingrichized Republican Party.”


August 3, 2007, 12:50 pm
‘Hero’ Worship
By Chris Suellentrop
Tags: , ,

We can’t all be heroes: Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks is perturbed by the post-9/11 habit of referring to everyone in uniform as a “hero.” “The empty rhetoric of heroism is everywhere these days,” Brooks writes. She adds:

Before you run me out of town on a rail, let me be clear: I respect the service and sacrifice of the troops. It takes guts to volunteer for the military. Injured service members deserve top-quality care, and the families of those killed deserve our deepest compassion. Soldiers, firefighters, police and many others accept risk and privation to serve the public, and we should be grateful.

But it’s a big mistake to mix up the idea of service — or the idea of sacrifice and suffering — with the idea of heroism.
Referring to every firefighter and every soldier as a “hero” obscures the feats performed by the truly heroic, Brooks suggests. She writes:

Take Jason Dunham, a 22-year-old Marine corporal who, in 2004, threw his helmet and then his body on top of an Iraqi insurgent’s grenade, saving the lives of the Marines around him. Dunham died of his wounds and became one of only two soldiers in the Iraq war to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration in the United States. But in a world where every service member is a “hero,” how many Americans have heard of Dunham’s fatal courage?

There are plenty of other genuine heroes whose names will never be recorded, like the utility workers described by a Cornell University research team: On 9/11, “they went into the flooded Verizon building just north of World Trade Center 6, risking electrocution in chest-deep water and kerosene to shut off the building’s massive circuit-breakers by hand.” But when each of the thousands of stockbrokers and secretaries in the World Trade Center qualifies for the “everyone’s a hero” award, why bother to identify those whose actions were unusually selfless?

August 3, 2007, 10:13 am
Praise From an Unlikely Source
By Chris Suellentrop
Tags: ,

The Wall Street Journal editorial page isn’t exactly a target constituency for a Democratic candidate in advance of the presidential primaries and caucuses, but a Journal editorial nearly swoons over Barack Obama’s statement [$] that, as president, he would target Al Qaeda in Pakistan if General Pervez Musharraf won’t: “Obama is taking heat from liberals and conservatives alike for his comment that he wouldn’t hesitate to send U.S. troops into Pakistan to capture or kill Al Qaeda leaders. Actually, it’s the best thing we’ve heard yet from the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois.” The editorial adds:

Incidentally, Mr. Obama’s words — assuming they are sincere — indicate that as President he would have overruled former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who in 2005 is reported to have vetoed a U.S. commando raid into Waziristan on grounds that it might have destabilized Mr. Musharraf’s government. The Senator describes that decision as “a terrible mistake,” and anyone who wants to run to the right of Rummy on counterterrorism can’t be all bad.
(The editorial also embraces the “grown in office” cliché that conservatives usually denounce as a liberal term for Republicans who move to the left: “By distancing himself from his party’s pacifist wing, Mr. Obama is growing up as a candidate.”)


August 2, 2007, 2:23 pm
How to Examine Gonzales
By Chris Suellentrop

The Washington Post editorial page says Alberto Gonzales should not be impeached, nor should a special prosecutor be appointed to determine whether he perjured himself before the Senate Judiciary Committee though the editorial does add the caveat, “at least not yet.”

Instead, the Post editorial proposes, Solicitor General Paul Clement should refer the matter to Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, “an independent watchdog who has not been afraid to take Justice officials to task on overzealous intelligence-gathering, among other things.” The editorial continues:

Mr. Fine and the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility are already investigating apparent contradictions in the testimonies of Mr. Gonzales and former aide Monica M. Goodling over the U.S. attorney firings. And since at least last November, the inspector general has been examining Justice’s use of the surveillance program. The investigation into whether Mr. Gonzales perjured himself about intelligence matters would dovetail nicely with work that the office is already doing.


August 2, 2007, 10:25 am
Edsall’s Got a Crush on Obama
By Chris Suellentrop

Barack Obama’s speech outlining a muscular antiterrorism policy wasn’this “Sister Souljah moment,” says Thomas B. Edsall, political editor ofThe Huffington Post. But that’s only because Obama has already had atleast two Sister Souljah moments, Edsall suggests.

The speech was “part of the Illinois Senator’s larger campaign strategy, demonstrating his willingness to break from liberal orthodoxy — defying teachers’ unions, proponents of racially based affirmative action, and Democratic constituencies wary of the use of force,” Edsall writes. He later adds, “Although little noticed, Obama has been challenging influential Democratic primary constituencies at a rate of about once a month, building what now is a significant record of dissent from key party factions. He has taken on civil rights groups, the National Education Association, and the powerful lobby opposed to any changes in Social Security benefits.”

Like Bill Clinton in 1992, Obama is “seeking to establish his political independence from Democratic party interest groups, refutingstereotypes which might encumber his candidacy,” Edsall writes.

And unlike many political observers who have emphasized Hillary Clinton’s sizeable lead so far, Edsall also thinks that Obama’s campaign is having “unprecedented success”: “Despite Hillary Clinton’s institutional and organizational advantage, Obama has moved from running 20-plus points behind Clinton at the start of the year to a current deficit of only 12 to 13 points, compared to John Edwards’ 18 points lag behind Clinton today.”

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