October 28, 2008

SO Reassuring Re- Electronic Machines

My Halloween Costume

Sec. of Treas. Henry Paulson, cum Lurch.

(Mask, etc., by moi; photo by Ben.)

October 27, 2008

Quotes of the Week

or maybe just the day, since things are moving so quickly; but they'd last at least a week during less "interesting" times . . .

From honest posters at a forum I frequent:

"We've seen this throughout history. Those Masters of the Universe are merely pirates and bullies, and they must be firmly dealt with. As in dealt out of the game . . . .

"the people must act. They can't sit around whining, killing themselves, their families, or strangers. They have to get up in the morning, feed everybody, maintain the infrastructure, and stop giving power away to the far-off corporations. We're going to do a Venezuela, eventually. The sooner we start, the sooner things get better." (Thanks, Demeter!)


"Last week I was accused by my some readers of being a socialist. First of all, let me say that 'socialist' is not an insult. Most Scandinavian societies with much better standards of living and far higher life expectancies than ours are democratic socialist. E.g., Canada, Ontario . . . has been named the best place on earth to live by a United Nations survey that weighed such variables as wealth, health, and social justice. So maybe we should all have a more open mind to the idea of social democracy.

"The irony however, is that I myself come from Soviet Russia. No one knows the horrors of collectivist thought and the ineptitude of the communist system better than I. I am actually a big believer in free markets, which through competition produce creative wonderful products and services we all enjoy. What I despise, are rigged markets. I hate Vegas for that very reason, because it provides the illusion of success while creating the reality of theft. Unfortunately, over the past decade Wall Street has adopted the Las Vegas model of business, and we have all been grifted on a scale far greater than any con job ever done. Rigged markets in my opinion are just as evil as collectivist governments because they concentrate the power in the hands of small group of elite leaders that do not reward merit but promote corruption and graft.
(Thanks, UpInArms!)

Our gov't is a long, long way from doing what NEEDS to be done.


(Thanks, snarky!)

October 26, 2008

More Tips to Try to Make Sure Your Vote Counts

Evidence has been coming in fast and furious of all kinds of voter caging and other "dirty tricks" (see. e.g., this CNN story) including electronic machine malfunctions.

Here are a some suggestions, including a few new ones.

First, check canivote.org to try to make sure you haven't been dropped from the rolls for some reason.

Second, there have been reports of misinformation provided to voters re- WHERE they should vote. E.g., a reliable acquaintance in California says that while looking for the best website to tell people to confirm their polling locations, she discovered discrepancies between the CA Sec. of State's website and the League of Women Voters -- and it turned out the LEAGUE's website was the correct one. So best to cross-check your polling location with both your Sec. of State and your local League of Women Voters.

Also, please check with your local elections authority to confirm what kinds of machines will record and tabulate votes if you vote early vs. on election day vs. by absentee ballot, and if at all possible, vote when and where a paper ballot will be generated. For example, in Dallas County, Texas, ALL early voting will be ENTIRELY electronic, without any paper trail whatsoever -- so it will be impossible for there to be any meaningful recount or audit of those votes. On the other hand, on Election Day, many polling places will use machines that generate a paper record of your vote. So, in Dallas County, it's recommended that you wait to vote on Election Day if possible -- but what's best may vary from county to county.

Know what kind of i.d. to bring. You can check on this, too, through canivote.org.

Next, many states offer the option of "straight-party voting"; that is, instead of having to separately vote re- each office on the ballot, you can just select a particular party once to indicate that you want to vote for all the candidates of that party. Some reported electronic machine malfunctions have involved voters attempting to vote a straight Dem ticket who found their Presidential vote flipped to McCain (confirmed by Snopes). So please do NOT vote using the "straight-party voting" option; instead, please go through and vote for an individual candidate for each office on the ballot.

Use video, audio, or photographs to record your vote, and if you encounter a problem, try to record or write down the evidence, such as the names and phone numbers of witnesses, as well as voting machine serial numbers, names of poll workers, and the time of day. And if you do record or encounter a problem, get the word out about it.

At the first sign of a problem*, stop what you're doing and ask to speak to the polling place supervisor (skip the poll worker). Explain your problem. If they try to wave you off, call your main election commission number and ask to speak to the election commissioner until your problem is satisfactorily addressed. Poll workers/supervisors may try to blame you -- "operator error." Remain calm and courteous, but do not leave your polling place until your problem is well-documented and addressed to your complete satisfaction and, if the problem is with the machine, the machine is quarantined. Oh, and you've gotten to vote.

File reports wherever possible. Your local polling place should have incident reports available to you. If they do not, call the main election commission for your county and ask for someone to bring one to you. Make sure that both you and the supervisor sign it. An example of a report is here. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission also lists on their website where you can find out how to file a report in your state.

Also report your incident to the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-Our-Vote, especially if you feel you are being bullied or your incident is not being taken seriously. The ACLU also has a hotline at 1-877-523-2792. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Greg Palast offer suggestions as well in their comic StealYourVoteBack.org.

*Problems can include: machine problems, polling place problems (machines not set up on time), switching or closing of your polling place, voters forced to vote on a provisional ballot, long lines/waits, intimidation, unusual ID demands, poll workers asking inappropriate questions, etc.

October 25, 2008

Damon Weaver Is Too Cute + Cool

The 5th-grader interviews Joe Biden:

Japanese for Obama = Beautiful World

Think Japanese Bollywood, only way geekier.

October 24, 2008

The 21st Dallas Video Festival, Nov. 6 - 9

This year the Festival will be at the Angelika Dallas, with programming on two screens over four days. That cuts the programs down to roughly half the number included in the "classic" DVF in prior years. Bart struggled with some tough decisions in paring the selections down, so I expect everything that did make the cut this year to be pretty great.

All-Fest Passes are as usual an incredible bargain, just $75 – that's for about 33 hours of programming (there's at least twice that much, of course, but I'm counting just half since you can't be in two places at once), which comes out to about $2.37 per hour – all highly independent stuff, most of which you'll never have another chance to see. (See other pricing options, including day passes and discounts for seniors, here.)

NOTE: I've seen materials from the Festival and elsewhere that mistakenly refer to the Fest as running for three nites. Don't be confused! The Festival runs for FOUR nites, Thur., Nov. 6 thru Sun., Nov. 9, inclusive.

Below are just a few highlights. I haven't actually seen most of these, just thought they looked interesting based on descriptions from the Festival and other sources and on my own, idiosyncratic interests (e.g., I happen to be interested in anything relating to Islamic nations and culture; also, be aware that some of the programs selected may overlap in time).

For more details, see the DVF website (and don't forget to contribute to the Video Association while you're there!)


Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation by Eric Zala
After seeing the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, three Mississippi kids began filming their own shot-by-shot adaptation. Six years later it was in the can and making the art house circuit. Paramount is currently at work on a biographical story of the boys, and this is the ‘Adaptation’ that started it all. 100 min.
Chris Strompolos “Indy” in attendance.

German Music Videos
by various artists
A collection of innovative and pristinely produced music videos courtesy of the Goethe Institute. 60 min.

I'll Come Running

Spencer Parsons
A young Danish man traveling through Texas hooks up with an Austin girl, and even though they're not planning to see each other again, tragic circumstances lead her to his doorstep in Denmark. 112 min.

Science Gone Wild
by Gordon Smith
Amusing, illuminating documentary compilation of ridiculous moments from sci-fi and government scare films of the 50s and 60s, concerning radiation, monsters, space travel, drugs, computers, aliens, and the bomb. Includes clips from classics Killers From Space, The Amazing Colossal Man, and Attack of the Crab Monsters.
Filmmaker in attendance.


A President to Remember: In the Company of John F. Kennedy by Robert Drew
A four-act feature on the presidency of John F. Kennedy. It follows his triumphant presidential campaign as a young senator and the fairy-tale Camelot early years of his presidency with candid photos and clips. Then the burdens of the grave problems of the Oval office end in his shocking assassination. 85 min.

The Wrecking Crew
by Denny Tedesco
A documentary featuring the The Wrecking Crew, a group of studio musicians in LA in the 60s, who played on hits for the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, The Byrds, Mamas and Papas, Tijuana Brass, Ricky Nelson, Johnny Rivers and were Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. The amount of work that they were involved in was tremendous. 100 min.

The Pleasure of Being Robbed
by Josh Safdie
A curious and lost Eleonore looks for something everywhere, even in the bags of strangers who find themselves sadly smiling only well after she's left their lives. They owe her their thanks. Directed by Josh Safdie. 71 min.



Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story
by Stefan Forbes
Feature documentary about Lee Atwater, the original American Political Svengali. To Democrats he was the most evil man in America, but a hero to Republicans in the heartland. He helped reshape politics with his sense of humor and vision of politics as war. He also played a mean guitar that B.B. appreciated. 88 min.
NOTE: This screens at the same time as the London Advertising Awards.

Finding Kraftland
by Adam Shell and Richard Kraft
Hollywood music agent turns his home into a shrine to kitsch and the American consumer culture. He has collected everything from a life-size Kips Big Boy to the model for Willy Wonka’s boat. A documentary for the kid in all of us. 75 min.

Video Art Compilation

A collection of short experimental films that explore alternative approaches to storytelling [curated by Bart Weiss]. Includes:

O.J. is Guilty But Not of Murder, The Overlooked Suspect
by Phil Smith
Internationally renowned private detective, William C. Dear, presents new evidence that he has uncovered in this documentary. This incredible story brings to light some of the pitfalls of a modern day police investigation, while it reminds us that sometimes what we think of as the truth, may not actually be the truth at all. 84 min.
Filmmakers and Private Eye William C. Dear in attendance.

Dance Compilation

A collection of videos that highlight the highs and lows of dance. Featuring three stories about a Ft. Worth ballet company, the thwarted dreams of a prima ballerina, and a comical movement study. Includes:
Guest of Cindy Sherman
by Tom Donahue and Paul H-O
Feature documentary about the reclusive artist Cindy Sherman. The makers of the New York public access show Gallery Beat get to hang out with Sherman and get an insider’s look at her place in the pantheon of the New York art market and culture of celebrity. 90 min. [See also "Cindy Sherman Disavows Guest of Cindy Sherman."]

Screening with:
Color Equations by Pamela Nelson and Robert A. Wilson
An experimental study in color. 5 min.
Filmmaker in attendance.

Present Company
by Frank V. Ross
Living separate lives out of her parent’s basement, about the only thing Christy and Buddy share is their baby. What little that is left of their relationship falls apart in questions about obligations and consequences. 85 min.

The Albert Maysles Award Presentation

The ALBERT MAYSLES AWARD for an emerging documentary filmmaker. Albert Maysles will be in attendance to present his own film, Running Fence, and to award his hand-picked documentary filmmaker Bradley Kaplan. The documentary work of the award-winning maker will also be showcased.
Albert Maysles and Bradley Kaplan in attendance.

Screening with: Running Fence by David Maysles, Albert Maysles and
Charlotte Zwerin

A celebration of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's vision; first a four-year struggle, then 24 1/2 miles of white nylon fabric, rising from the Pacific and stretching like a white sail across California. Runing Fence depicts the long struggle by the artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, to build a 24-mile fence of white fabric over the hills of California disappearing into the Pacific. Cost: 3 million dollars. The idea at first must seem the limit of absurdity for the fence was taken down as planned at the end of two weeks and now exists solely on film. There is a struggle between the artists and the state bureaucracy, who want to prevent the fence being erected, even though the ranchers whose land it crosses want it. After four years of work, Christo sees the vision realized. "See how it describes the wind." 58 min.

Also screening with: Preview of Rufus Wainwright: Do I Disappoint You by Bradley Kaplan
A preview of a feature documentary in progress, Rufus Wainwright: Do I Disappoint You is an intimate and revealing portrait of a truly magical, passionate artist in his prime and at the top of his game. The film chronicles stunning performances and behind-the-scenes footage captured live at a one-of-a-kind show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin shot by Maysles Films in the most direct, up-close, and personal style. 8 min.

Mickey Mouse, We Ain’t Compilation

Artists use awe-inspiring animation techniques to treat a variety of adult-oriented subject matter. Includes:
10:00PM – 2:00AM
PARTY at Lee Harvey's


Miss Universe 1929
by Péter Forgács
Lisl Godarbeiter was the first Miss Austria and the first non-American to win the Miss Universe contest in 1929 – held on the Galveston beaches that year. Her cousin, Marci, was secretly in love with her and started making films of her. These films, modern interviews and archive footage tell their story. 70 min.

La Couleur d'Argent (The Color of Money)
by Jean Marie Michel
The 2008 presidential race was the most expensive election in U.S. history. And the entire country got caught up in the race, from the average American to the most powerful figures in the U.S. The country’s special interest groups geared up for battle, from Hollywood to Wall Street to Texas oil tycoons. But the Internet may have made it possible for candidates to finally break free of the generosity of corporate interests. This film takes a close-up look at the battle: a struggle between the American people, who want to choose their own president, and U.S. corporate groups, whose special interests often clash with those of ordinary citizens.

Cinematic Bebop Compilation
A cornerstone of our festival is celebrating the marriage of music and images through the art of the music video.
Here and There Compilation

These videos explore the interplay between people and their environments using disparate visual styles.
Cinematic Surface Compilation

The subject of this compilation is the nature and texture of film itself.
Moral Kombat by Spencer Halpin
This high-def video documentary studies the controversies of the video game industry. Both a history of the development of the games as well as the First Amendment arguments about the more violent games. A serious look that lets developers, politicians and experts have their say. 81 min. You might find it useful to supplement the Wikipedia entry with this from M.I.T. Prof. Henry Jenkins' blog.
Filmmaker in attendance.

Iranian Compilation
This compilation includes two excellent shorts from Iran.
The Texas Show Compilation

The annual Texas Show is a sampling of the finest shorts the Lone Star State has to offer over a broad spectrum of genres and styles. This year's showcase was juried by Ya'ke, Austin-Based filmmaker and educator, James Johnston, underground filmmaker and renowned Vegan Chef, and A.C. Abbott festival director, filmmaker and educator.

10:00PM – 1:00AM
PARTY at The Belmont
; map here.

U.S. Authorities Stake Out "Constitution-Free Zone"

"The ACLU says a 'Constitution-free zone' [has been created] within 100 miles of the US border, where [U.S. authorities claim] the authority to stop, search and detain anyone for any reason. [This violates your Constitutional right to be free from seizure or search unless there exists some "probable cause" to believe you're involved in a crime.]

Nearly two-thirds of the US population lives within 100 miles of the border, according to the ACLU, and the border zone encompasses scores of major metropolitan areas and even entire states."

This summer Craig Johnson, a college professor, participated in a protest against the expansion of the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The next time he tried to return to the U.S. from Mexico, he was handcuffed, arrested, and "'thoroughly and aggressively searched. . . . Every inch and crack and crevice of my body was poked and prodded,' Johnson said. . . .

"Prior to that visit, Johnson said he had traveled regularly between the US and Mexico for a variety of reasons without facing any harassment." But the next time he went, he was subjected to the same ordeal.

"'It took me four months to return to Mexico,' he said. 'Not because I'm afraid of traveling outside my own country, but rather because I'm afraid of returning home.'"

More details at rawstory.

October 23, 2008

Stop, Drop, & Poll: What to Do if You Have Problems Voting

Anecdotal evidence is coming in fast and furious of early-voting incidences including voting machine malfunctions in Ohio, Putnam, and Jackson Counties in West Virginia and Davidson and Decatur Counties in Tennessee, as well as hidden problems with "straight ticket" voting (confirmed by Snopes) in Texas and West Virginia. A more complete list of the problems so far can be found at VotersUnite.org.

It CAN happen to you. If it does, here are a few suggestions on what to do:

1) Video Your Vote.
Use video, audio, or photgraphs, and if you encounter a problem, try to record or write down the evidence, such as the names and phone numbers of witnesses, as well as voting machine serial numbers, names of poll workers, and the time of day. And if you do record or encounter a problem, get the word out about it.

2) At the First Sign of a Problem*, Stop.
At the first sign of a problem with your machine or if you have any other problem listed below, stop what you're doing and ask to speak to the polling place supervisor (skip the poll worker). Explain your problem. If they try to wave you off, call your main election commission number and ask to speak to the election commissioner until your problem is satisfactorily addressed. Poll workers/supervisors may try to blame you -- "operator error." Remain calm and courteous, but do not leave your polling place until your problem is well-documented and addressed to your complete satisfaction and, if the problem is with the machine, the machine is quarantined. Oh, and you've gotten to vote.

3) File reports wherever possible.
Your local polling place should have incident reports available to you. If they do not, call the main election commission for your county and ask for someone to bring one to you. Make sure that both you and the supervisor sign it. An example of a report is here. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission also lists on their website where you can find out how to file a report in your state.

Also report your incident to the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-Our-Vote, especially if you feel you are being bullied or your incident is not being taken seriously. The ACLU also has a hotline at 1-877-523-2792. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Greg Palast offer suggestions as well in their comic StealYourVoteBack.org.

4) Call the Election Protection Hotline.
Report your incident to the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-Our-Vote, especially if you feel you are being bullied or your incident is not being taken seriously. The ACLU also has a hotline at 1-877-523-2792. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Greg Palast offer suggestions as well in their comic StealYourVoteBack.org.

5) Pledge to Stand Up to Stolen Elections.
Go to NoMoreStolenElections.org and pledge to not concede until every vote is counted -- and counted as cast.

*Problems can include: machine problems, polling place problems (machines not set up on time), switching or closing of your polling place, voters forced to vote on a provisional ballot, long lines/waits, intimidation, unusual ID demands, poll workers asking inappropriate questions, etc.

(Thanks, Uncounted Mary!)

Please share this info.

October 22, 2008

Hand-Counted Paper Ballots

Good article at opednews via the Center for Hand-Counted Paper Ballots. The author observed how it's done in three precincts. Guess what: it works great and saves money.

Political Advertising My Sig. Other Can Relate to

. . . the Obama "Bat-Signal."

(More here.)

October 21, 2008

Happy Halloween

By Aidenag; diy here.

Craigslist Decoys Help Bank Robber Escape by Inner Tube

"In an elaborate robbery scheme that's one part The Thomas Crowne Affair and one part Pineapple Express, a crook robbed an armored truck outside a Bank of America branch in Monroe, Wash., by hiring decoys through Craigslist to deter authorities.

"It gets better: He then escaped in a creek headed for the Skykomish River in an inner tube, and the cops are still looking for him. 'A great amount of money' was taken, Monroe police said, but did not provide a dollar value.

". . . . the robber, wearing a yellow vest, safety goggles, a blue shirt, and a respirator mask went over to a guard who was overseeing the unloading of cash to the bank from the truck. He sprayed the guard with pepper spray, grabbed his bag of money, and fled the scene.

". . . . The robber had previously put out a Craigslist ad for road maintenance workers, promising wages of $28.50 per hour. Recruits were asked to wait near the Bank of America right around the time of the robbery -- wearing yellow vests, safety goggles, a respirator mask, and preferably a blue shirt. At least a dozen of them showed up after responding to the Craigslist ad."

More at cnet news. (Thanks, Ben!)

October 20, 2008

Jail, Not Bail. If You Agree . . .

please contact your reps and favored media outlets.

Everyone knows bad mortgages are not the main problem -- they represent only a small percent of the total wealth that's being sucked out of our economy (see this gummint report; and several sources concur that the actual losses likely to result from bad mortgages alone won't be more than 5 - 10% of the total, if that).

The big losses are in the credit derivatives (if you're not sure what these are, see Financial Sense or MoneyMatters).

I don't mind bailing out poor people who got mortgages they shouldn't have gotten; I do mind bailing out their lenders, who should have known better (that would be McCain's plan, which might ultimately benefit some borrowers but would more directly benefit the lenders by taking the bad loans off their hands).

And I don't even mind bailing out any lenders who did not help create the mess and who bought derivatives in a reasonable effort to insure themselves against losses in mortgage-backed securities they actually owned.

But I DO mind very MUCH bailing out people who bought or sold derivatives NOT to hedge against losses for securities they actually owned but simply as a "bet." These people were engaging in naked speculation, and it is not only morally wrong to require the rest of us to bail them out, it is a huge mistake to shield them from their losses, as a matter of practical policy.

These are the people who lobbied for the deregulation that enabled them to create a mess so monstrous that their best defense now is to claim they don't understand their own creation.

(And note that there's been not just de-reg, but de-funding and de-staffing of oversight; see. e.g., here: "Mr. Lynn Turner, Chief Accountant of the [SEC] testified that the SEC Office of Risk Management, which had oversight responsibility for the Credit Default Swap market . . . was cut in [Bush] Administration ‘budget cuts’ from a staff of [over] one hundred down to one person.")

I've worked hard since I was 16, stayed out of debt, saved, invested conservatively, and I've just watched 25% of my life's savings be vaporized at a point in life when it's doubtful I'll ever be able to recover the loss -- and I'm supposed to bail out the guys that caused this?

I suspect a lot of these people deserve jail, not bail.

But what might make me just as happy would be if each of them were sentenced to work at a minimum-wage job and to have to actually live on it for a year or few. Or maybe even just at the mean average annual wages of U.S. workers.

So much for the rant.

The practical lesson I hope you're taking away from this experience is that we MUST re-regulate. It is not realistic to expect the foxes to guard the henhouse; nor is it realistic to expect consumers or even "sophisticated" investors to guard against sophisticated financial schemes. There is nothing patronizing about this; it's simply a fact: I and I suspect most other citizens simply do not have the expertise or even the time to investigate my depositary bank's claimed assets, let alone my other investments, the way a financial professional might -- any more than I have the expertise or time to evaluate scientific research on new drugs, or to capture and try criminals. This is the kind of stuff government is for.

The problem is not too much gummint; it's who owns it.

The problem is not that us Uhmericans are over-taxed; it's that we and our gummint's coffers are being looted (e.g., and this is just a trivial e.g., per ABC News, less than one week after the gummint committed $85 billion to bailing out AIG, the company spent $440,000 on a retreat for its execs, including $150,000 for meals and $23,000 in spa charges -- but hey, looting's stressful).

Moreover, forking over all the bail-out money we can print will do nothing to restore confidence in U.S. markets, either at home or abroad, so long as the same players are free to engage in the same schemes.

Only re-regulation can restore such confidence. We MUST restore Glass-Steagall, transparency, and accountability.

Forgive me for adding, please see my closely-related post from April Fool's day earlier this year, if you haven't already, here. As I mentioned,

Others reviewing the details of the plan are even more concerned. Mike Whitney writes that, though the proposals are being billed "as a 'massive shakeup of US financial market regulation,' . . . [we should not] be deceived. [They] are neither 'timely' nor 'thoughtful' . . . . In fact, it's all just more of the same free market 'we can police ourselves' mumbo-jumbo that got us into this mess in the first place. The real objective of Paulson's so-called reforms is to decapitate the SEC and increase the powers of the Federal Reserve. . . . "

"If Paulson's plan is approved in its present form, Congress will have even less control over the financial system than it does now, and the same group of self-serving banking mandarins who created the biggest equity bubble in history will be able to administer the markets however they choose without the annoyance of government supervision. That's exactly what Treasury Secretary and his pals at the Fed want; unlimited power with no accountability." More here; see also The New York Times.
I'm hearing darn little from our congresscritters on re-regulation. It's time to start letting them know we'll settle for nothing less.

Here's a little video:

Economics 101

Please note certain parallels to the U.S. now.

October 17, 2008

Higher Technology:

The Emergency Party Button. I need one.

Watching the whole thing through is rec'd.

You might also enjoy the Blender Defender, designed to deter cats from hanging out on the kitchen counter.

(Thanks, Ben!)

October 16, 2008


The vendor's site admits, "[b]rand of hose undisclosed as it was not originally made for men."

I don't foresee ever actually dating a guy who wore them, unless as a joke; but I actually think they're kinda hot.

More Re- Election Fraud

Here's a tip. Many states offer the option of "straight-party voting"; that is, instead of having to actually vote re- each office on the ballot, you can just check one box or whatever for a particular party to indicate that you want to vote for all the candidates of that party.

Please do NOT do that. Please go through and vote for an individual candidate for each office on the ballot. Investigation has shown that the electronic voting machines seem to be particularly error-prone when you vote straight-party. Blackboxvoting.org has stated, "[v]oting machine miscounts of straight party votes were proven by California researcher Judy Alter in the 2004 New Mexico presidential election; in Alabama Democrat straight party votes were caught going to a Republican; and [in] Wisconsin a whole slew of straight party votes disappeared altogether. Both DRE and optical scan machines are vulnerable." (Note, blackboxvoting.org is not my preferred source of info on this subject, but the general idea is consistent with other sources.)

Also, obviously, we NEED a landslide in order to overcome the cheating; but even if it becomes plain that we'll have a landslide in Obama's favor, cheating will still occur for TWO reasons:

1. Even if the presidential election can't plausibly be stolen, thousands of Congressional and other offices can be.

2. There is value in rigging elections to appear closer than they really were, because it sets precedents for interpreting the reliability of results in subsequent elections. E.g., if a Dem wins a certain office in a certain county by 2 points when the exit polls predicted 6, and in a subsequent election, the exit polls predict a Dem win by only 3 points, a Repub win by 1 point seems more plausible based on the previously-established historical discrepancy. Note that this since electronic cheating is believed to have been going on since the 2000 elections, we probably already have several cycles of distortion -- much of the country may be a lot blue-er than we realize.
Election reform must be a top priority of the next administration. We must have paper ballots, and the tabulation must be an entirely open process supervised by representatives from all parties and subject to complete audit.

UPDATE: Snopes has confirmed the risks of straight-party voting; see also VotersUnite ("Misprogramming has often caused voting equipment to tabulate straight-party votes incorrectly. . . . in prior elections, misprogramming caused straight-party votes to be dropped or counted for the opposite candidate, for example, in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. . . . Straight-party vote-flipping has already occurred in this [2008] election on two different e-voting machines in Texas -- the ES&S iVotronic in Dallas and the Hart InterCivic eSlate in Houston.") Also see another, excellent new RFK article via Rolling Stone (Thanks, Craig!)

Roden Crater,

James Turrell's land/sky art installation and masterwork, begun in 1978 and currently scheduled to be completed in 2012. The project is supported by Dia; it's site on the project's under construction, too.

As of this writing, the video lacks sound, but the visuals are worth it, esp. starting ca. 1:44.

October 15, 2008

The Last Debate.

Ok, it's all getting pretty tedious. Just, pls, VOTE.

October 14, 2008

How to Keep People from Stealing Your Obama Signs

Goats, Bread, and Circuses

"You have two goats. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four goats back, with a tax exemption for five goats. The milk rights of the six goats are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven goats back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight goats, with an option on one more. You sell one goat to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine goats. No balance sheet is provided with the release. The public then buys your bull.

* * * * *

"First of all, here's what made all this such a surprise. For years, when we've wanted to fund Head Start, children's healthcare, higher education, job training programs, or infrastructure maintenance, we've heard endless arguments in Congress concerning the scarcity of funds to pay for these things. We don't even have money for disaster relief, one of the basic services for which taxpayers in any country expect a return on their investment in their government.

"So here we thought we hardly had any goats left, let alone enough for everyone to have milk and cheese and cabrito, and we were all going to have to learn to live much more austerely. Then we discovered that we did have goats, but only very briefly.

"We have, or had, as it turns out, 700 billion goats that we did not know about. We never would have known of the existence of this veritable windfall of goats except that the financial sector in this country wanted them. They demanded them, in fact, claiming a complex and dire emergency in which a cataclysmic economic meltdown would occur if we did not turn them over, immediately and without question."

More here.

"'Bread and circuses' (or Bread and games) (from Latin: panem et circenses) is an ancient Roman metaphor for people choosing food and fun over freedom. It often appears in commentary that accuses people of giving up their civic duty and following whichever political leader offers to satisfy their decadent desires." -- Wikipedia.

Translation: Goats = our hard-earned dollars. Circuses = the corporate media, including sports, Brittany, etc. Bread = what they're now making the mistake of taking away from us.

October 13, 2008

Ponies & Unicorns for All

(Notice, all the little black dots are looking at you? {click on image to enlarge.})

Those Who Cannot Remember the Past are Condemned to What, Again?

“ . . . to repeat it.” — George Santayana, Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, Scribner's, 1905, p. 284. (Can you believe that's not in Bartlett's? Seems like hardly anything is, anymore.)

Per the person who posted this, "Richard Whitney, President of the New York Stock Exchange (emphasis supplied), warns of the risks both to country and to capitalism posed by government regulation in the form of the the National Securities Exchange Act. This [was] four full years before he was sent to Sing Sing Prison for embezzlement."

The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 provided in part,

"It shall be unlawful for any person . . . [t]o use or employ, in connection with the purchase or sale of any security . . . or any securities-based swap agreement . . . , any manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance in contravention of such rules and regulations as the Commission may prescribe as necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors."
15 U.S.C. § 78j(b), Sec. 10(b). See also Wikipedia on the Glass-Steagall Act, another law passed in the wake of the crash of '29, esp. the section, "Repeal of the Act."

For historical perspective, see the "Timeline" section at Wikipedia on the '29 crash. However, some commentators think the current situation has more in common with the 1873 crash.


Digital Conversion PSA

(Thanks, Ben!)

October 12, 2008

Optimist: "The age of Reaganism is over,"

Per Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and director of the Earth Institute at New York's Columbia University, as reported by Reuters. "'The no-regulation, low-taxes (philosophy) has broken the back of our economy. We now have to get serious about reconstructing normal government that pays its way and a normal financial sector that's properly regulated.'"

I hope to h*ll he's right; but there are a lot of obstacles.

October 11, 2008

Too fun:

costume contacts. They've got lots of others.

World Bank Under CyberSIEGE Since April

World Bank Under Cyber Siege in ‘Unprecedented Crisis'
By Richard Behar.

"The World Bank Group’s computer network — one of the largest repositories of sensitive data about the economies of every nation — has been raided repeatedly by outsiders for more than a year, FOX News has learned.

"It is still not known how much information was stolen. But sources inside the bank confirm that servers in the institution’s highly-restricted treasury unit were deeply penetrated with spy software last April. Invaders also had full access to the rest of the bank’s network for nearly a month in June and July.

"In total, at least six major intrusions — two of them using the same group of IP addresses originating from China — have been detected at the World Bank since the summer of 2007, with the most recent breach occurring just last month.

"In a frantic midnight e-mail to colleagues, the bank’s senior technology manager referred to the situation as an 'unprecedented crisis.' In fact, it may be the worst security breach ever at a global financial institution. And it has left bank officials scrambling to try to understand the nature of the year-long cyber-assault, while also trying to keep the news from leaking to the public."

More at the Media Channel -- and by the way, the Media Channel is fighting to stay alive right now; pls consider donating!

October 10, 2008

If you cd use a little eye candy

. . . compliments of the universe: "Cat's Eye Hubble Remix
Staring across interstellar space, the alluring Cat's Eye Nebula lies 3,000 light-years from Earth. The Cat's Eye (NGC 6543) represents a brief, yet glorious, phase in the life of a sun-like star. . . . . " (more here).

Watching my retirement portfolio is like

(go to about the 2:40 mark) . . .

. . . only not so sure about the happy ending.

Current U.S. Admin's Message:

"Please Stand By."

Obama Foresaw Opponents' Attacks

October 8, 2008

What is crashing is . . .

"the paper edifice set up as 'insurance' against default, meant to insulate the issuer against risk, and which then was turned into a profit center for larger institutions. Somebody owes somebody for every default; and that somebody is then owed by somebody, and so forth and so on down the line. The market in these things is opaque: no one knows who has what potential liabilities; in a number of cases, even the chiefs of firms involved probably do know the real exposure of their own companies. No one knows what someone might be called upon to settle up immediately; no one knows what financial firm can be relied on to make a payment tomorrow, or next Monday. The sum total of these various paper obligations is several times the total amount of real money on earth: the truth is that they cannot really be liquidated, certainly not all at once, which means that their purported value is merely an elegantly engraved fiction. When the market in them functions they are not usually liquidated, they are simply matched against one other and cancel one another out. But doing so requires their being taken at face value, or a regularized rate of discount, and maintaining them in this state requires ready access to credit for those holding them."

(Thanks, Magistrate!)

October 7, 2008

Does McCain Have a Problem with, Shall We Say, Dark Horses?

I so need one for my next party . . .

Sorry, everyone; Reuters replaced the video that used to be here with another about something much less important, like the 678-point drop in the Dow today (10-9-08), and I can't find the original video on their site. It featured a monkey working as a waiter in an asian restaurant.

"'Yat-chan first learned by just watching me working in the restaurant. It all started when one day I gave him a hot towel out of curiosity and he brought the towel to the customer,' [said] the 63-year-old owner of the tavern, Kaoru Otsuka . . . .

"'It's amazing how it seems to understand human words,' said 71-year-old retiree Miho Takikawa . . . ."

(Thanks, Ben!)

In Case You Didn't Notice, Congress Also Passed a $619 Billion Defense Bill

October 6, 2008

On a Lighter Note . . .

McCain as The Penguin:

Must See Re- the Current Economic Crisis

Naomi Wolf sums it up as of ca. Oct. 4.

Rep. Brad Sherman re- threats of martial law as of ca. Oct. 2.

Naomi Klein ("Mr. Risk Goes to Washington") as of ca. Sept. 24.

Naomi Klein as of ca. Sept 22.

(Dates above are the dates the videos were posted on YouTube, but I believe they are within a few dates of when the videos were recorded.)

While Lehman Pled for Federal Rescue,

. . . its execs were simultaneously securing their golden parachutes.

Lehman's CEO Richard Fuld, who testified before Congress today, has already taken home close to $480 million since 2000. Said Fuld, "I feel horrible about what's happened" -- but he didn't offer to return any of the money.

Another great post from HuffPo; thanks to Kadie for the pic!

UPDATE: Per Bloomberg, Lehman's "'key' money managers will get retention bonuses valued at $400 million when their investment-management business is bought by Bain Capital LLC and Hellman & Friedman LLC.

"Bain and Hellman on Sept. 29 agreed to buy most of the asset-management unit from bankrupt Lehman in a deal that values business at $2.15 billion, about half the buyout firms' initial bids. The purchasers will deduct the employee awards from the amount they pay the investment bank for the assets, Lehman's lawyers said today in a court filing.

"Under the proposed arrangement, which a U.S. bankruptcy judge must approve, Lehman employees and portfolio managers will get 16.8 percent of the equity in the purchased assets. The awards are valued using the 'gross purchase price' of $2.15 billion, which includes assumption of liabilities, according to the filing."

October 5, 2008

I have to blog this for personal reasons.

(I do wish they hadn't cut the recording when they did; and thanks, Ben!)

Even 60 Minutes Gets It Better than Congress

It was NOT the bad mortgages, really. The much larger problem was the unregulated, uncapitalized bets placed on top of them. As the last interviewee says, "it's a crime." For which individual heads need to roll, imho -- WITH seizure of all ill-gotten gains, pls; and we'd better start finding them because you can bet they're mostly off-shore already.

Watch CBS Videos Online

October 3, 2008

$100,000 Reward for Info Tying Rove to Election Rigging.

"Citing testimony from [Republican] technology expert named Stephen Spoonamore, Velvet Revolution [the group offering the reward] accuses the Republican Party of rigging elections for years by using [computer expert Michael] Connell to exploit electronic voting systems.

"Spoonamore filed an affidavit warning that the coming presidential election will be stolen by the GOP unless [the election fraud] is exposed. A colleague of Connell, Spoonamore [wrote,] . . . .

"'Mr. Connell is a devout Catholic, . . . . He has admitted to me that in his zeal to 'save the unborn' he may have helped others who have compromised elections.'

"The statement by Spoonamore also ridicules the Diebold voting system as 'riddled with exploitable errors.'"

More here.

Seems like a small sum for someone to risk their life -- heh, heh.

October 2, 2008

A Few Key Concerns Re- the Bailout Bill

This is a very rough draft, but I thought impt. to get it out.

We may well be at a make-or-break moment like few our country has faced before. So pls try to digest this sufficiently to pick out a few points you can relate to and call your congresscritters NOW.

Under the Bailout Bill, Paulson's Authority to Buy Bad Debt on Behalf of Taxpayers Is NOT Limited to U.S. Firms, or Even to Debt Secured by U.S. Properties

As stated by Rep. Brad Sherman (CA) on CNBC (video here):

"The Bank of Shanghai can transfer all of its toxic assets to the Bank of Shanghai of Los Angeles which can then sell them the next day to the Treasury. I had a provision to say if it wasn't owned by an American entity even a subsidiary, but at least an entity in the US, the Treasury can't buy it. It was rejected.

"The bill is very clear. Assets now held in China and London can be sold to US entities on Monday and then sold to the Treasury on Tuesday. Paulson has made it clear he will recommend a veto of any bill that contained a clear provision that said if Americans did not own the asset on September 20th that it can't be sold to the Treasury.

"Hundreds of billions of dollars are going to bail out foreign investors. They know it, they demanded it, and the bill has been carefully written to make sure that can happen."
See also this.

"It's the Derivatives, Stupid"

Much discussion I've heard talks about this bill as if it enables Paulson merely to buy mortgages, or interests in mortgage pools, and suggests that even if the loans are bad, they're only partially under-secured, so there's no way we'll lose more than a portion of our money and we might even come out ahead if we buy these assets at bargain prices.

This is a red herring.

Paulson is NOT limited to buying mortgages and interests in mortgage pools. Bad mortgages are only a small part of what he can buy, and they are only a small part of the problem -- only 5%, according to the gov't's own, recent report; derivatives are 95%.

These derivatives are basically shallowly secured bets. So, the much larger problem is the layers of leveraging on top of mortgage pools. See here:
“I think the $700 billion will be like a drop in the bucket because the total credit market in the U.S. is something close to $60 trillion. Then you have the CDS market – credit default swaps – of around $62 trillion. Then you have the whole derivatives worldwide worth about a notional $1,300 trillion. So the $700 billion is really nothing and the Treasury is just giving out this figure when actually the end figure may be $5 trillion. . . the problem is not that home prices have gone down; the problem is excessive leverage.”
I guess this is why the serious analysts I've read worry that this bill will do no more than delay our day of reckoning.

Why No Serious Discussion of Alternatives?

Such as:
1. The "Trickle Up" plan.

2. The progressive Dem plan described here.

3. Bill Clinton mentioned during his most recent appearance on The Daily Show that when faced with a similar situation, instead of buying bad assets outright, which sticks taxpayers with 100% of the risk, in a similar sitch under the Clinton Admin. we made LOANS which bore INTEREST. Note that under general legal principals, the first people to get paid off are lenders. Next, investors. Last, owners. So this approach would incentivize the people we're giving the money to get their houses in order and give significantly better assurance to taxpayers that both their original investment and possibly even some kind of profit will be recovered.

4. George Soros thinks we should buy equity, not bad assets. As suggested above, this approach would afford taxpayers more upside for less risk.

5. See also here.

6. And here ("In a Sept. 24 letter to congressional leaders, 166 academic economists [including three Nobel Prize winners] said they oppose Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's plan because it's a "subsidy'' for business, it's ambiguous and it may have adverse market consequences in the long term. They also expressed alarm at the haste of lawmakers and the Bush administration to pass legislation.")
The Secret Pink Elephant

The Fed has been massively inflating the dollar as our only way out of this mess. Citizen wealth won't be eviscerated JUST by busted home values, or by hits to our savings though portfolio losses, or even by the bailout. We'll suffer as much or more through losses to our buying power.

(I saw this coming when we invaded Iraq while cutting taxes. There simply was no other realistic way to pay for it all.)

Elimination of the Mark-to-Market Rule

See here. Elimination of this rule means that the values claimed by companies for their assets need no longer have any basis in reality. Even assuming the new rule requires companies to estimate values reasonably and in good faith, proving that management understated values unreasonably or in bad faith will be all but impossible, since everyone agrees it's impossible to determine the values for assets for which there's no market (assuming you dismiss the notion that no market means the value is zero), and no one knows just how bad these debts are.

There will no longer be any meaningful basis for investors to evaluate companies' assets. Investors who understand the change won't want to invest in U.S. firms, and investors who don't understand it will basically be defrauded.

Elimination of the Up-Tick Rule

See this and sources cited therein.

Obviously, we need MORE, not less oversight, regulation, and meaningful DISincentives for bad behavior

. . . but this bill does NOTHING to bring those about; in fact if anything, it continues the trend
initiated during the Reagan administration toward dismantling such protections. The Glass-Steagall Act should be restored, as well as the up-tick rule and other protections.

The Secret Hot Pink Elephant

All financial institutions would prefer a free-for-all; but perhaps now we have the chance not only to re-regulate our own markets but to persuade other countries to regulate theirs, too. This would not only ensure a level playing field for our own markets and institutions, but promote fairness to investors, large and small, world-wide.

Who Will Administer the Assets We Buy?

We'll be buying the worst of what "professionals" have stuck themselves with, but we won't have the stronger assets to help us carry any losses and we don't now have the professional expertise to deal with what we'll be buying.

People talk about this as a "liquidity crisis"; but there would be no liquidity crisis if those who created it weren't seriously worried that what underlies it is a bunch of big losses. These "assets" will require active management.

And does anyone really imagine the government as run by the current administration is going to deal with these assets more efficiently than incentivized professionals?
Not really. As The New York Times reported ten days ago,
"Even as policy makers worked on details of a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Wall Street began looking for ways to profit from it.

"Financial firms were lobbying to have all manner of troubled investments covered, not just those related to mortgages.

"At the same time, investment firms were jockeying to oversee all the assets that Treasury plans to take off the books of financial institutions, a role that could earn them hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fees."

But aren't those the same people who drove the system off a cliff and couldn't fix it on their own dime?

Did You Know . . .

That Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was Chairman of Goldman Sachs during the period for which it was investigated for fraudulent activity by Elliott Spitzer? (See Wikipedia on Paulson and Spitzer.)

UPDATE: Hm, looks like as of 10-15-08, the Wikipedia info on Paulson has been edited . . . no longer any mention of investigation of Spitzer's investigation of wrongdoing under Paulson's management of Goldman Sachs; instead, it says, "
Paulson led government efforts to avoid a severe economic slowdown."