Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Update: Italian Job

Italian PM Romano Prodi has apparently survived a 'no confidence' vote in the Italian Senate, after losing a vote over the direction of foreign policy a week ago (as blogged here). Another Italian government does not fall...

Jim Nicholson in trouble?

The recent press coverage of problems in the military hospitals (e.g., Walter Reed) and the Veterans' Administration have focused attention on VA Secretary Jim Nicholson. This week's Newsweek has a cover story on the plight of Iraq/Afghanistan vets, a "senior VA manager who did not want to be named criticizing superiors" said the following of Nicholson: "He's a political appointee and he needs to respond to the White House's direction."

More pointedly, Steve Robinson of Veterans for America says, in the same article:
"Why doesn't the VA have a projection of casualties for the wars? Because it would be a political bombshell for Nicholson to estimate so many casualties."

Nicholson did not help himself in last night's report by ABC Anchor Bob Woodruff (blogged earlier here). Confronted with reports that more than 200,000 vets have sought VA medical treatment, Nicholson said:
"A lot of them come in for, for dental problems, others come in for a lot of the, you know, the normal things that people have."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dow's Down...and Down...and...

It will undoubtedly take some time to sort all out, but it appears that today's near meltdown in the DJIA was a function of a computer glitch, as reported by the WSJ:
There was a temporary lag in calculation of the 30 large-stock average due to a surge in order flows as the market continued to tumble in afternoon trading, much like a clogged pipe. Just before 3 p.m., Dow Jones Indexes switched over to a backup system to calculate the average, which nearly instantly registered the huge move.

Jim Cramer blames ETFs. Perhaps this is just the new code word for "program trading", the alleged cause of the (in)famous 1987 meltdown.

Nominees Finish...Second?

Today's Globe article by Scott Helman featuring a leaked (or perhaps lost) Romney campaign strategy memo contains the following:
The plan concedes that, with McCain and Giuliani in the race, Romney is unlikely to be the top pick for those voters looking for a "war/strong leader." His goal appears to be establishing himself as a credible second choice for those voters, but the first pick for voters looking for an energetic, optimistic, and innovative chief executive. (A page titled "Own the future" dubs McCain the past, Giuliani the present, and Romney the future. )

Running for second place, or at least running to be the second choice of McCain- or Giuliani-supporters is a little reminescent of the last Massachusetts politician to run for President:
Bumper Sticker in Iowa and NH: "Dated Dean, Married Kerry."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Bob Woodruff's Recovery

A little more than a week after a devastating WaPo report on conditions at Walter Reed Miltiary Hospital, news of medical care with a different outcome: the recovery (and return to television) of Bob Woodruff. Thirteen months after being hit by an IED in Iraq, a laying in a coma for five weeks, Woodruff looks (almost) back to normal. Here's the story of his recovery in photos. Congratulations to Bob and his family.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Vilsack's Out

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is apparently dropping out of the Presidential race this morning. Much like Senator Evan Bayh, who dropped out just days after declaring, the surprise is that these candidates, having geared up for years to prepare themselves for what is a long slog, can determine in a matter of days or weeks that it's not going to happen. The days of Jimmy Carter meeting individual Iowa caucus-goers ahead of the national press are certainly a distant memory; perhaps a true national primary is now upon us.

Progress in Iraq?

A positive report out of Iraq broadcast this morning on, of all places, NPR. Former Assistant Secretary of Defense (under Reagan) and former Marine Bing West, just returned from a month-long trip to Iraq (his 11th trip to Iraq in the past four years), and argues that three separate wars are going on:
1. One in Al-Anbar province with the local tribes (aligned with the US, because of the attacks Al Queda has made against local tribal leaders) against Al Queda;
2. Shiites vs. Sunni in Baghdad; and
3. Al Queda attacks against the US in Baghdad (and elsewhere).

He sees the professional class in Iraq willing to engage and ask for assistance from the US troops (the only who can be trusted) as a sign that we (the US) is making progress. While West does not say why he was in Iraq in the first place, he is the first positive report in quite a while - it's worth a listen.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Sad news today: former Celtic (and Sonic) Dennis (DJ) Johnson has died. For Celtics fans of a certain age, the acquisition of DJ in 1984 was the missing piece that elevated what had been a very good Bird-led team, to one of the all-time great teams with titles in 1984 and 1986 (with a 67-15 record). Acquired to handle the Sixers' Andrew Toney and the Lakers' Magic Johnson, DJ was part of the last great Red Auerbach trade - Rick Robey (a back-up center who lasted just three more years in the League) for DJ, straight up.

Larry Bird called him "the best I've ever played with."

iPhone (TM) Update

Apple and Cisco (as earlier posted) have apparently agreed to settle their trademark dispute over the use of the "iPhone" name to describe (i) Cisco's phone and (ii) Apple's forthcoming cell phone. According to the WSJ,
Under their agreement, Cisco, of San Jose, Calif., and Apple, of Cupertino, Calif., are free to use the iPhone trademark on their respective products throughout the world.

It also has come to light that Cisco apparently failed to make use of the name "iPhone" during the six years following registration, and therefore the validity of any claim that they had against Apple was under suspiscion. A good reason to settle.

Comments from the Public

The public comments on the SEC's proposed new rules for hedge funds (covered in this post: SEC Proposes New Rules) are being reported.

Here's one of the best, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:
"This has got to be unconstitutional if not communistic," wrote M. Joan Conrad, of Naples, Fla.

It's not clear which possibility Ms. Conrad deems to be worse.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blair's End

Near the end of the soon-to-be-Oscar-annointed (for Best Actress) "The Queen" Helen Mirren's HM Queen Elizabeth II has an audience with PM Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), following the 'week' of Diana's death when the Queen, and the rest of the House of Windsor, suffered a catastrophic public relations disaster. The Queen tells Blair, who at the time was not yet a full year in office, that some day he too, would face plummeting polls and a dissatisfied public; and that much like Blair had benefitted (in part) at the expense of the Queen, he would suffer at the hands of some younger, more popular politician.

That day, apparently, is fast approaching for Mr. Blair. Today's news that another 2,000 British troops will be withdrawn from the south of Iraq (near Basra) by the end of the summer, is a sign of the times - a cleaning of the slate for presumptive Labour Party leader Gordon Brown. A lame duck, Blair is mired with Bush-like 26 percent poll ratings, and is referred to as "Bush's poodle" by the tabloids. Even his press operation seems to be slipping - he granted Newsweek 'exclusive access' in an attempt (as the story itself acknowledges) "to rescue Blair's legacy", yet the result is a middling profile, short (just 2200 words) by any stretch.

Like Spain's José María Aznar López (who stuck to a pledge not to run for a third term, but who's hand-picked successor was defeated at the polls in 2004, just after the Madrid bombings) and Italy Silvio Berlusconi (who lost to Romano Prodi), another leader of the "Coalition of the Willing" prepares to ride off into the sunset, a political victim of the Iraq adventure.

UPDATE: Prodi has apparently resigned this evening, having lost a non-binding vote in the Italian Senate on Italy's foreign policy.

McCain v. Bush II

Not such good times for John McCain. First Sibiling Jeb Bush has been steering operatives and fundraisers to Mitt Romney's campaign since last fall. For instance, here's Bush's Lt. Governor:
"Governor Bush said, 'Before you commit, I want you to meet Mitt Romney. He is the kind of guy you will like no matter what,'" said former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings. "The governor was very candid about the fact that he really liked this guy."

A number of former Jeb aides have apparently gone to work for Romney's campaign.

Then, today's political news includes VP Dick Cheney taking McCain's comments over the weekend about Don Rumsfeld to task:

Karl: And I wanted to ask you. You probably heard John McCain again come out and say that your friend Donald Rumsfeld is perhaps the worst secretary of defense ever. What do you make of that?

Cheney:I just fundamentally disagree with John. John said some nasty things about me the other day, and then next time he saw me, ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he'll apologize to Rumsfeld.

Karl: So what's your take on where Secretary Rumsfeld fits in?

Cheney: I think Don's a great secretary [sic]. I know a little bit about the job. I've watched what he's done over there for six years. I think he did a superb job in terms of managing the Pentagon under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. He and John McCain had a number of dust-ups over policy, didn't have anything to do with Iraq -- other issues that were involved. John's entitled to his opinion. I just think he's wrong.

Karl: And I know we're just about out of time, but I wanted to clarify, Sen. McCain had said that the problem with President Bush is he listened to you too much. So this is what he was apologizing to you for?

Cheney: Yes, yes.

Karl: What did he say?

Cheney: Well, he came up to me on the floor a couple of days later, the next time I was on the floor of the Senate, said he'd been quoted out of context, and then basically offered an apology, which I was happy to accept.

Not exactly a warm embrace of "Straight Talk" by a man who is thought to be closest to Bush 43.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bush, Webb, and Iran

Senator Jim Webb still (apparently) has not received a clear answer to the question posed to Sec of State Rice last month: does the Administration believe it has authority to attack Iran without Congressional approval?

From the early reports on the President's press conference today, it seems that the answer that the Administration is heading towards is "Yes" - that is to say, they would have authority already if it could be 'proved' that Iran were interfering with Iraq (i.e., shipping arms to insurgents).

(Note: A Rice deputy apparently responded to Webb late last month, but not definitively; that response is not readily available on the web.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Gore's Popularity

The "Draft Al Gore" theme has been making more recent appearances in the press recently. And many observers on the "coasts" expect him to get a bounce on Academy Awards night, when "An Inconvenient Truth" is up for an Oscar.

However, recent Quinnipiac University polls in both Florida and Ohio - crucial swing states - indicate that Gore's popularity among voters in those states, at least, is not high. Key numbers from a write up of the poll:
Gore is in a little better shape with the November electorate, but not enough to consider him electable. In Quinnipiac's surveys he was 41-percent favorable, 50 percent unfavorable in Ohio; 46 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable in Florida.

Not good for a man whose argument (esp. vis-a-vis Hillary) would be about "electability."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Coos County

Hillary's first NH appearance this weekend received excellent reviews; great front page coverage in the Boston Globe (the "paper of record" for much of Southern New Hampshire, where the vast majority of the votes are). A subtle but savvy decision was the one to make the first appearance in beleaguered Berlin, in northern Coos County.

Berlin (pronounced with an accent on the first syllable) was in tough shape economically back in 1999-2000. Since then, apparently, the last paper mill (there were 4 at one time) has closed, and the city has hemorrhaged jobs.

In 2000, when she began her campaign for the Senate seat, Hillary eschewed the West Side and spent day after day "upstate", listening to the towns and cities that had been left behind in the go-go-1990s. Perhaps with a parallel, Saturday's visit was one of the places in the coasts (and in NH) that directly mirror the experience of the industrial midwest.

All that being said, Hillary promised Berliners that she wouldn't forget them. Query: how do residents of Plattsburgh and Watertown, and other upstate NY towns that were part of the 2000 "listening tour" feel?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Cheney, Wilson, and the 1% Test

Andrew Sullivan writes about the Libby trial today, and VP Cheney being a key -- if so far, off stage -- player. Sullivan summarizes Cheney's involvement in the attack on Wilson as follows:

Cheney was far more focused on fighting a petty Beltway skirmish in the press over a petty issue in the recent past.

Why? There are only two plasuible explanations I can think of for the disproportionate concern. The first is pure arrogance... Any querying of his position was an affront a man of his arrogance couldn't tolerate - even if it meant risking a huge amount to squash a political bug the size of Wilson.

The alternative explanation is that Cheney was scared - so scared he took a huge risk...But why would he be scared? The most plausible inference is that he knew he had deliberately rigged the WMD evidence to ensure that the war took place...[There] was [a] danger that journalists or skeptics pulling on the thread that Wilson represented could get closer to the much bigger truth of WMD deception. This is a huge deal for one single reason: if true, it means that the White House acted in bad faith in making the case for war...

Sullivan's second insight is supported, in a way, by Ron Suskind's book, The One Percent Doctrine. In the book, Suskind lays out the "Cheney Doctrine":
"If there's a one percent chance [that terrorists are acting], we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response," Cheney said. He paused to assess his declaration. "It's not about analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence," he added. "It's about our response."

Suskind, p. 62. The Cheney Doctrine, which Suskind claims drove much national security policy during the period after 9/11 until today, may have played a part in the decision to go to war in Iraq. Suskind writes:
[T]he key rule - that the United States woudl treat a 'one percent chance' of a country passing WMDs to a terrorist as a 'certainty' and be forced to act - was never spoken. Such a disclosure would have provoked a widening debate over Iraq.

p.166. A one percent chance means that something is 99% likely not to occur - which triggered the need to hide or otherwise manipulate evidence to 'prove' Iraqi WMD. Which brings us back to Sullivan's point.

Where Did the Duke/UNC Game Go?

Despite advertising to the contrary,ESPN apparently bumped the Duke/UNC game last night, from EPSN (where it was scheduled to appear) to ESPNU (which most basic and even 'first tier' cable packages do not carry. If one were a Duke or UNC fanatic, it had to be frustrating to not have any warning that the game would be covered only by occasional "look-ins" on ESPN.

Of course, more frustrating for Dookies, who were on the short end of the 79-73 score.

: Apparently, as Boston is now a "ACC Market", ESPN's showing of the game was preempted. Who knew that having BC join the ACC would have such an impact?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The National Primary

Dick Morris argues today that the traditional primary venues of Iowa, New Hampshire, and (now) South Carolina are being replaced by a 'national media primary' that will declare the "winners" of each party long before any one goes to caucus or to the polls. Key quote:
The old model — a Jimmy Carter labors in obscurity in the Iowa vineyards and then is discovered nationally after he wins there and sweeps all remaining primaries — is quaint but obsolete. Now you have to win the American Media Primary of 2007 and then your victory is ratified in the primaries and caucuses of 2008.

Morris is correct in stating that the national media has pulled the process further and further forward. We have developed, in essence, a two separate Presidential campaigns, with the primary being decided in the early part of the Presidential year, followed by a pause (while both prospective nominees go back to their donors to raise money for the fall), and then a furious general election that begins in the late spring and continues, at least in 2000, until just before the Electoral College meets.

But Morris' argument hinges on a distortion of the 2004 record, which is the most relevant for the brave new world of the National Primary. Morris claims that if the front-runner is in control on Labor Day, he/she will coast to the nomination. Yet on Labor Day 2003, Howard Dean had (seemingly) seized control of the race, and was the target of all other candidate in the debates that began that month.

Moreover, Morris writes:
Kerry’s victory in Iowa a few weeks later [in January 2004] was no more than a projection on the Iowa screen of the results settled at the national level the previous month.

While it was clear by December of 2003 that Dean was in trouble (he was clearly hurt by the capture of Saddam Hussein on December 13th), it was far from clear who would benefit; Edwards appeared to be surging and captured the Des Moines Register endorsement just before the caucus. The final margin (Kerry 37.6%, Edwards 31.1%) could have gone either way.

Morris is clearly onto a trend with the 'nationalization' of the primary process. But as for the being the front-runner on Labor Day - ask Howard Dean how that worked out for him.

Update: It should have been mentioned that the most likely way that Giuliani could win the GOP nomination is for a MSM-driven national primary to occur. Here's what conservatives are writing about Giuliani now.

Apple and IP Rights

Two bits of news related to Apple this week.

First, on Monday, Apple announced the resolution of its ongoing battle with Apple Corps (the Beatles' record label) with regard to teh use of "Apple" in connection with music. Originally a trademark dispute, the two sides reached an agreement in 1991; however, with the expansion of Apple's business into music and music delivery (via iPod/iTunes), Apple Corps brought suit on an apparent breach of the 1991 settlement. The new settlement gives Apple rights to use "Apple" in connection with music, and licenses the name back to Apple Corps in certain areas. The guess here is that in addition the license rights, Apple Corps received a hefty check. Next step: getting the Beatles' music on iTunes. And then turning to resolution of the Cisco dispute over 'iPhone.'

Second, yesterday Steve Jobs released an open letter calling for a music industry-wide move away from Digitial Rights Management (DRM) software. Jobs states that when Apple went to license music from the major labels, it was required to create, update, and monitor use of the music and protect it via DRM; as the result, music sold through the iTunes store will only work on Apple products (iPods). (Apple argues that providing the 'keys' to permit DRM on third-party products will result, inevitably, in the disclosure of the keys to the public and therefore the 'unlocking' of the DRMs.) Moreover, as Jobs also points out, the labels' sell millions of CDs to the public without any DRM at all. (Apple, by the way, calculates that only 3% of the music currently loaded onto the world's iPods was purchase through the iTunes store; but that 3% still equals 2 billion songs.)

As the leader in portable music (and looking to extend that lead with the iPhone), Apple has the most to benefit from elimination of a DRM regime that seems flawed to begin with; and what is good for Apple, in this case, looks like it would be good for consumers as well.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Oden vs. Durant

The local Boston Celtics are in the midst of a record-breaking losing streak that could not come at a worse time for the region's fans -- it's been two weeks since the Patriots were eliminated from the Super Bowl tournament and still almost ten more days until pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers. As C's fans have been turning their eyes to next summers' draft, the two main objects of attraction are both freshmen: Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.

Oden has been known for several years, as he attracted attention while still in high school. At 7'0" and 280 pounds, Oden is a throwback - a traditional back-to-the-basket center in the mode of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Adbul-Jabber. Although he has been hampered so far by an injured wrist (he missed the first part of the season with the injury, and since returning has been shooting free throws with his left hand, at a 60.1 % clip.)

Durant has become the flavor-of-the-month since exploding with a 37 point, 12 rebound performance in 3 OTs against Oklahoma State three weeks ago. Last night again in a losing effort, he had 28 points and 15 rebounds, and received the unrelenting praise of color commentator Dick Vitale. At one point, Vitale indicated, he would find it hard to imagine a NBA GM not picking Durant no matter who else was on the board available.

Durant will be a hot commodity when he becomes available for the NBA. He fits into the new prototype forward mode: he's "long" (6'9") and "athletic", like Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James. And at age 18, he has range to the college three point line.Bill Simmons writes:
These guys [Oden and Durant] are mortal locks to be franchise players, on the order of LeBron or Yao. We knew Oden would become the best college center since Patrick Ewing, but nobody was prepared for the 6'9" Durant, an unfathomable cross between T-Mac and Plastic Man who can score facing the basket and from 25 feet away. I'm not ashamed to admit I'm in love with him. Platonically, of course.

But like James, who's developing a reputation for coasting through entire road trips (which is a sharp criticism in a league with, how does one say, "intensity" issues for the first 40 minutes of most regular season games), Durant's flaws are apparent. Texas Coach Rick Barnes mentioned Durant's "need to work on his defense", which is putting it delicately. Texas hides Durant in the back of its zone (in the middle on the 2-3, and he seemed to be avoiding A&Ms major low post threat (Antanas Kavaliauskas) when Texas played 1-2-2. With long arms, he did create steals and loose balls when off the ball, but backed away (perhaps to avoid foul trouble) when playing the ball.

But the biggest concern about Durant has to be his physical makeup. Generously listed at 225 pounds, he seems slight even among Big-12 players - and disappeared at times last night. His game reminds one most of Tayshaun Prince, a fine role player on a NBA championship team, but not a #1 or #2 pick overall. (Prince is listed at 6'9", 215 lbs.; he was picked #23 overall in the 2002 draft.)

Finally, while the NBA has long been moving to the KG/T-Mac/Melo model of big men who move to the perimeter, championships are still won by teams with old-school centers. Since 1998, the last year of the Jordan era, teams anchored by Shaq and Tim Duncan have won 7 of 8 titles (the exception being the 2004 Pistons, who won with banger Ben Wallace in the post.)

There's no question that Durant will sell sneakers and tickets when he gets to the NBA. But if you have the #1 pick next summer, the smart money says pick the horse who you can build around: Oden.

Assuming both men declare.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Post-Announcment Iowa

Drudge is reporting that Hillary has "Jumped a to 17-Point Lead Over Edwards In Iowa Poll."

However, upon further inspection the American Research Group (ARG) polls shows little movement, if any, among the major contenders from December (before any of the major announcements) to January(post-annoucements):
January numbers:

Clinton 35%
Edwards 18%
Obama 14%
Vilsack 12%

In December, the numbers looked as follows:

Clinton 31%
Edwards 20%
Obama 10%
Vilsack 17%

The margin of error in the latest poll is +/-4%.

The biggest 'mover' in the poll, on a percentage basis, was "Undecided", which jumped from 8% to 13% (an increase of 63%). Perhaps "likely Iowan caucus goers" realize that there's still a year to go before caucusing commences.