Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PBS Frontline "Sick Around America": how individuals fall through the cracks

Tonight, Tuesday March 31, PBS Nova presented “Sick Around America” with link here. The show talks about the patchwork of private, employer-based, individual, and public Health insurance programs with many wide cracks through which many people fall.

Karen Iganani, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, did much of the talking. She said that we could make the decision to cover everybody and work back from there. (A related PBS documentary “Sick Around the World” will examine just how five capitalist democracies do that.)

The show covered COBRA early, and said that 90% of people who get laid off don’t use it because it is too expensive. I remember getting my first mailing about COBRA at home in the 1980s while I was employed.

The show explained how individual health insurance works, and how “medical underwriting”, supposedly aimed at preventing anti-selection, cuts out many people. There is also a problem with rescission. There was a story of a woman who bought an individual Blue Cross plan and was told than a breast cancer more than ten years ago did not matter. But she did not mention some minor bleeding on an application, which resulted in denial of her claim After litigation, the plans (and the owning Wellstone company) agreed to pay without admitting wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the documentary, in Michael Moore fashion, points out that insurance company employees sometimes were paid bonuses for rescissions and claims denials.

Another man in Texas declared bankruptcy after losing his health care and then having coronary bypass surgery. He moved back in with his mother in Indiana. On the other hand, a woman moved to San Diego after giving up her job to take care of a mother with Alzheimer’s, and then had catastrophic problems with a supposedly desirable “consumer directed health plan”.

Believe it or not, a few health insurers have shown up at jobs fairs looking for "friendly people" who can go out and sell individual policies, after screening candidates. I can't imagine doing that and telling the truth. Actually, the individual long term care insurance market works the same way.

The show went on to discuss the pros and cons of mandatory health participation plans like Massachusetts. The argument was presented that in such plans premiums for everyone are much higher.

This sounds like a mixture of arguments about “personal responsibility” or “moral hazard” with the Biblical idea of being one’s “brother’s keeper”.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dr. Phil on Craigslist and "The Dark Side of the Internet"; law enforcement and attorneys general want more laws to stop pimping

On a day when the Washington Post reported prosecutions from Internet activity associated with Va Tech and after CBS "60 Minutes" made its alarming report on Conflicker, Dr. Phil aired a sensational program called “The Dark Side of the Internet”, link here. Specifically, the show covered the use of Craigslist by women offering themselves as companions for “donations”.

The show started with an interview with Chicago Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who sued Craigslist for promoting “prostitution”, and ended with an interview with the Connecticut attorney general, who wants a state law requiring customers seeking erotic services to give a phone number and credit card number so they can be tracked down.

But most of the show dealt with Ashley, who started offering the “companionship” in order to earn money to pay student loans. This sounds like the old problem of going for “illegal activity” driven underground when the economy is tough – very much like ranchers growing marijuana when farm prices were too low. Libertarianism offers a solution – legalize it, and maybe tax it, but don’t drive it underground and create an unsavory profit motive.

Dr. Phil also presented a mother whose daughter had done this, and who was attacked by her pimp. Dr. Phil then confronted Ashley with the possibility that she could face similar dangers, as well as the possibility of arrest and a criminal record. The notion that a girl’s siblings could be put at risk if she tried to quit was mentioned.

Craigslist declined to appear on the show, despite invitation; however it did offer a statement from CEO Jim Buckmaster, available on the web page for today’s show.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

CBS 60 Minutes: The Internet is infected (by Conficker); Lions may go extinct

CBS 60 Minutes tonight opened with Lesley Stahl’s report “The Internet Is Infected”.

Watch CBS Videos Online (I've re-embedded the video from the instructions on the CBS site, but as 4/1 I'm still having trouble getting it to play.)

The news story at the “60 Minutes” site is titled “The Conficker Worm: What Happens Next: Computer Worm Could Receive New Instructions April 1”, link here.

Yes, April Fools Day. I remember back in 1996 AOL claimed to have made a probe of Jupiter on April Fool’s Day. But this time it’s not funny. According to CBS, up to 10 million computers around the world could be infected, and no one knows what will happen if they are triggered on April 1.

Most infected computers are in corporate networks. Even CBS got infected, according to the report. One wonders why major corporations are not better able to keep the worm off their networks Symantec, which sells Norton, said that the virus is mutating constantly and that it would have to offer updates every five minutes to keep up.

McAfee lists the virus as low profiled but gives a link to a story by Steve Ragan – “Conficker Worm Fighting Back – new variant disables security measures”, dated March 9, 2009, here.

Much of Stahl’s report concerned incidents with bank account hacking that have happened for a number of years. The report depicted a woman whose bank account was hacked twice despite her anti-virus protection and firewall. The second time she caught the attack in process. But I recall that back in 2004 a printing company in Florida lost $90000 from a Bank of America account to a hack. I had $300 of unauthorized phone charges to a Merrill Lynch charge card back in 1995, and it was never explained.

The CBS report showed Russian teenage hackers, and showed the strike pages of oversease websites that brazenly bragged about stealing money from Americans. In some poorer countries, teenagers are rewarded for the activity.

Back in 1999, I took a one day course at the University of St. Thomas in St Paul MN from work that showed how easy buffer overflow attacks are.

The report also demonstrated that Google marks about 1% of sites it finds with searches as potentially harmful, but presents the results. McAfee SiteAdvisor and Web of Trust (MyWOT) also can label sites from searches.

Bob Simon also reported tonight on the killing of lions in Africa by farmers with a pesticide, Furadan, manufactured by FMC, out of economic stress. Lions in Africa may go extinct because of the practice, but Kenya and other governments are starting to pay farmers for lion kills to discourage the practice.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

PBS Nova: "Extreme Ice Revealed"

On Tuesday, March 24, PBS aired the Nova segment “Extreme Ice Revealed”, directed by Andrew Gersh, featuring scientific photographer James Balog. The website URL is this.

Imagine a landscape that looks geometrically like the American Southwest, but made up of ice and rivulets rather than sandstone. Other moons in our solar system (Europa and Titan) may look like this to some degree. But so does much of Greenland, Alaska, and Antarctica. Ice with air looks white, but when the air is driven out, it turns sapphire or turquoise. Glacier country is one of the few places in nature (besides sky and ocean) where blue naturally occurs in “the landscape.”

But all of this natural beauty conveys the greatest danger: rapidly rising sea levels by melting ice, at least three feet by 2100, inundating the homes of hundred of millions of people, many in the developing world.

The show provided shocking examples of glacial ice loss since 1980 in many areas, including mountains, Greenland, and coastal Alaska. One glacier in Alaska had lost several hundred feet of ice since 1980.

But the most interesting portion may have been the research explaining the sudden draining of summer glacial lakes on Greenland’s ice cap. The ice caps crack, and the water drains down to bedrock, lubricating and loosening the entire ice cap, causing some of it to slide off. In the meantime, a reflexive cycle then brings even more warm water from the ocean to melt the ice further.

One sixth of the world’s population depends on fresh water from glaciers, including mountain glaciers at more moderate latitudes. This builds up to another “inconvenient truth”.

Friday, March 27, 2009

LKL probes "smiley face" deaths; Cafferty talks about recession; Anderson Cooper in Juarez

Larry King Live, on Thursday March 26, 2009, offered a fifteen minute discussion of the “Smiley Face” deaths around the northeastern part of the country, ranging from Minnesota and Iowa to New York City.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist, said that there are far too many coincidences in the cases for them to be accidental drownings. There were fly larvae found on some of the bodies, and his blood alcohol would not have been as high pre-mortem as post-mortem. Parents Jack and Pat McNiel appeared on the show; there son was a Fordham University student, and believe that the police simply are wrong, and don’t have the resources to investigate properly.

The FBI has said that it cannot make a definite link between the cases.

Minnesota professor Lee Gilbertson said that most of the incidents have occurred in the winter, when most natural drownings occur during the summer, especially in these states. Gilbertson also noted that the profile of the victims, in terms of physical characteristics, has very narrow standard deviations.

The embedded segment doesn’t quite cover the entire report, but they ran out of time getting into theories of the incidents. There was a general comparison to the Charles Manson cult in 1969 (the tv film “Helter Skelter,” recently reviewed on my movies blog).It was thought that the incidents were coordinated laterally on the Internet (they started in 1997 about the time the Web was taking off), which is not how sleeper cells, as from Al Qaeda, would work. What kind of ideology could explain this? I noticed that the movie “Watchmen” also has a yellow smiley face symbol from the comic books, but the smiley face is somewhat different. But the ideology in the movie was “pre-emption” (of the Doomsday Clock). I don’t see how that makes any sense here. There is another blogspot forum ("They Don't See Through Us") on this with some detailed coverage here. There are many links here to follow, including eventually an ABC Good Morning America interview. The young men all seemed to have reputations for behaving prudently.

The LKL show also interviewed Jack Cafferty, who previously authored “It’s Getting Ugly Out There” now has “Now or Never: Getting Down to the Business of Saving our American Dream.” In his 2007 book, Cafferty had criticized ending the draft and said that we should at least implement mandatory national service! On LKL, Cafferty discussed the sudden loss of his wife to an aneurysm. It can happen to anybody.

Anderson Cooper reported on the critical situation in Juarez Mexico with the drug wars. His blog entry “The streets of Juarez” is here. The report continued on Anderson Cooper 360 at 10 PM. This sounds like a serious national security problem. Will Mexico become a failed state right on our border? Recently, I watched and reviewed the movie “Bordertown” which covers a related problem in Juarez, the kidnapping and murder of women working in maquildoras.

Later, on his Friday (March 27) 360 Program, Anderson presented FBI agents and terrorism experts who explained that the Mexican cartel controls "wholesale" distribution of drugs in the Southwest, and that the Colombian cartel "controls" the Northeast in "Mafia" fashion. The cartels have linked "cells" in major cities, that use street gangs to distribute the drugs to consumers. Anderson's presentation suggests that this organized crime structure explains the extreme violence of some crimes that catch the media attention and that appear to be like "hits".

Libertarians rightfully ask the appropriate question: are we doing this to ourselves by making personal use of substances a crime? Aren't our drug laws based on circular "reasoning" and don't they invite more crime than they prevent?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

PBS Frontline: "Ten Trillion and Counting": Armageddon on the national debt, federal deficit

On Tuesday March 24, 2009 PBS Frontline, with a last minute change on WETA, aired “Ten Trillion and Counting”, a report about the national debt, with Forrest Sawyer reporting. This airing followed President Obama’s press conference. The website reference is here.

The government owes more money than the net worth of the American people, according to the show.

Sawyer starts, after showing some brief Inauguration Day clips, by showing an undisclosed location near the White House where the government pays its bills, and schedules the borrowing of money. The show says about Jan. 21, 2009: “Night turns to day and the picture grows darker.”

One threat is that some day the government will need to borrow money, and no one shows up to buy the bonds. Then it simply will not be able to pay social security and Medicare, or even guarantee bank deposits.

The show goes back to the Bush inauguration, when President George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus.

It actually looks back further, and shows that Ronald Reagan scaled back his tax cuts and actually signed tax increases. The first president Bush was reasonably prudent, but George W. Bush took neo-conservative anti-tax ideology too literally, and feared angering the base of his party. The show then discussed the “Starve the Beast” theory.

Then we cut taxes on the rich during the war in Iraq, borrowing money from China to pay for it, and passed the bill on to our kids.

Bush used a technique called “Reconciliation” to pass his budget bill, not requiring the 60 votes for tax cuts for a process normally used for deficit reduction. This was a perversion of parliamentary procedure, of Roberts Rules of Order, perhaps. Vice President Dick Cheney passed the deciding vote.

The abandonment of “PayGo” or “Pay as you Go” spending pushed through Medicare Part D; Republicans even supported it because of pressure from the senior lobby.

Because of the economic stimulus, the deficit gets worse in the short run, and we may get through the immediate financial crisis, only to have a complete financial meltdown later (maybe on Dec 21, 2012 perhaps?)

The show covers the financial implications of the aging population, as the baby boomers turn 62 (claiming social security) and then 65 (claiming Medicare). This is a demographic tsunami. Add to that the explosion in Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually, there will be no money to spend on anything but “earned entitlements”. Medicare and Medicaid could grow to 20% of the GNP by 2050.

Will we go back to “mandatory family responsibility”?

Obama says that the biggest threat to the nation’s well being is the skyrocketing cost of health care.

The show interviews Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag. The program says that at the current projection the national debt will double by 2019.

There is an argument that “there is always a first time”: just because “it hasn’t happened” doesn’t mean it can’t happen. (Look at housing prices!) Recently China warned us that so much borrowing has them worried. Could the Chinese cut us off?

I'm surprised that the film didn't show the National Debt Clock.

See my review of the film “I.O.U.S.A.” on the movies blog Aug 22, 2008.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A visit to a shoot on of a pilot for "Washington Field"

Today, Wednesday March 25, 2009 a production company did a shot on the Potomac River near Key Bridge leading into Washington DC for the pilot of a new series “Washington Field” about the FBI. The director is Jon Cassar and the creator is Edward Allen Bernero. The production company is CBS Paramount.

People lined up on the DC side of the bridge, overlooking the marina underneath Georgetown University, to watch the shoot.

There were kayaks and police boats on the river, and it was hard to tell what was real and what was a prop. It wasn't clear if the people in the kayaks and boats were the cast or stunt persons. This may have been a difficult shoot. There were supposed to be some pyrotechnics later, around noon, enough that Arlington emergency preparedness issued an email warning. The Arlington Fire Department was available across Key Bridge.

The crew was also due to shoot at Judiciary Square and at the Capitol today or soon.

Eddie Cibrian is said to play one of the roles.

Sorry, "rock star" President Barack Obama was not present for the shoot.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

President Obama holds second primetime news conference on all networks

President Obama gave his second prime time news conference tonight on all the major networks, including CNN, MSNBC, and PBS. He kept the conference to under one hour.

The tone of his remarks was somber but somewhat encouraging.

The best part of the conference was the beginning, where he answered an AP reporter’s question on AIG. (ABC's Nightline says that the Associated Press always goes first at presidential press conferences.) He said that were AIG a commercial, FDIC-insured bank, there would have existed orderly ways to resolve its crisis. But because it was not (it is an insurance holding company) Congress had to pass legislation to give the administration powers to deal with the crisis, and there was still more legislation needed to make the progress orderly and give investors confidence. The regulatory environment must be set up so that this does not happen again.

He defended Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s private-public partnerships, and tended to ignore the principled criticisms that the government still has no credible algorithm for evaluating the “toxic assets”.

On health care, he emphasized again the importance of automating medical record lookup, and of reimbursing doctors on performance rather than on numbers of procedures. He mentioned the Fiscal Responsibility Summit that had been held in February in “this room” (the East Wing) but was not specific on entitlement reform other than efficiencies in Medicare through better health care utilization. He didn’t mention the exploding problem of Alzeheimer’s, which made headlines today (as on my retirement blog, or the previous post here), because that is still a “custodial” issue, probably, and hasn’t gotten to the level of public policy debate that it needs.

The president was also asked if the last 64 days was a "color-blind time", and the president said he was totally consumed with repairing the economy. Even the military issues (some very important to me) have to wait a while.

The MSNBC story is by Alex Johnson, and is titled “Obama: long recovery effort will succeed: President says spending plan will ultimately leave nation stronger” here and has videos of the conference.

The CNN story is “Obama defends budget as essential to recovery” here.

Oprah covers extreme longevity with Dr. Oz; ABC covers Alzheimers

Today, March 24, 2009, Oprah Winfrey presented the topic of “Extreme Life Extension” with Dr. Mehmet Oz. The topic had been presented Monday morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The link for Oprah show is here.

The show started with a 50 year old attorney carefully preparing his vegetarian 1900-calorie-a-day food (with nuts and beans for protein), and showing his exercises. He had reduced his weight from 175 to 135 at 5 feet 9 inches. He, like Benjamin Button, started living backwards.

The idea is that severe caloric restriction can prolong life and slow down organ deterioration, especially the circulatory system (an idea already covered in a review of Mark Hyman’s PBS show, on this blog).

Next Dr. Oz showed new technology in organ replacement. The idea is to take the liver, pancreas, or even heart of a mammal (often a pig), remove the cells to be left with a white “matrix”, put the person’s own stem cells on, and grow a replacement organ, which will not be rejected. Coronary arteries could be grown this way.

The research is being carried out at a lab at Wake Forest University in North Carolina – the lobby of which (with sculptures of fresh vegetables) was shown. Some of the funding came from 75 year old billionaire David Murdock, who expects to live to 125. Murdock started with nothing as a veteran after WWII when a stranger gave him a loan to start a restaurant (Murdock was penniless), and he took it from there (again, a “Scratch Beginnings” story as in Adam Shepard’s recent book).

Extreme longevity will pose public policy problems, including keeping people working longer, delaying Medicare and social security, and particularly, I believe, extended family cohesion. Families are weaker than they used to be because of individualism (of which Oprah is an example), but strong emotional ties might be necessary to give people the support they would need for attempts at extreme longevity. Should this be expected of other family members? “As the world turns”, unprecedented problems or conundrums arise that challenge all the assumptions about what we would get to do with our own lives. Technology cuts both ways, it seems.

Oz also recommended a pill with an enzyme from red wine.


ABC "World News Tonight" covered a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington Monday night of families caring for people with Alzheimer's Disease.

The story, by John McKenzie, is "Alzheimer's Disease Booming Among American Baby Boomers; New Report Says 10 Million Americans Will Develop the Disease", link here. The television report covered a young woman changing jobs to move in with her mother with Alzheimers, and covered the issue of relating to someone who no longer knows you or perceives reality as we generally know it.

On "ABC Nightline" March 25, 2009, Terry Moran took his own genetic test, and Newt Gingrich and Sandra Day O'connor appeared. In some families, 1 in 8 people will have the disease by age 65, and 1 in 2 by age 85. Moran described Alzeheimer's as "tsunami" about to hit the baby boom generation. But I don't remember hearing Barack Obama mention it.

Moran said that men as a whole have a 1 in 9 (11%) chance of developing Alzheimer's before death. However I'm not sure if this includes dementia related to heart disease and not to plaques. The genetic test gives a risk percentage, not a black-and-white diagnosis, like it does for Huntington's (as in an episode of Everwood in 2004).

Nightline called Alzheimer's the "Dark Side of Longevity". Indeed it is, and only now does the media get this!

Oprah has previously covered "Blue Zones" on her show. In Blue Zones people achieve extreme longevity without Alzheimer's or dementia. A good question is whether extreme caloric restriction or other lifestyle measures could help prevent Alzheimer's as well as vascular-related dementia. Or do the extended family social connections and reduced "individualism" actually act as a brake against Alzheimer's in some people?

See also my "Bill Retires" blog on March 24, 2009 for a story about the American Alzheimer's Association Meeting in Washington DC this week.

Monday, March 23, 2009

PBS airs "Forgotten Ellis Island"

On Monday, March 23, PBS WETA aired the documentary “Forgotten Ellis Island: The Extraordinary Story of America's Immigrant Hospital”, 62 min, directed by Lorie Conway, narrated by Elliot Gould. The film’s website is here.

Immigrants passed through Ellis Island, in the Hudson River in New York Harbor, from 1892 to 1954. During the earlier days especially, screening of immigrants for disease and (given the values of the time), “undesirable” traits was intrusive. Families were split apart and some people deported.

There was some practice of what amounts to eugenics, and this was much more acceptable in many parts of American and British society before World War II than many people realize; it took Hitler and World War II to turn that kind of thinking around, partially at least, in western society. There was a concern to make sure that immigrants were “fit” to become workers (or their wives and mothers) in industrial society.

The movie explains that mass processing of immigrants reduced with the Immigration Act of 1924, where much pre-screening was done overseas by consulates. The Act allowed much more immigration from northern Europe than from other regions.

The documentary gives harrowing accounts of illness on the Island, such as a death from scarlet fever in the days before antibiotics.

But no epidemic on the mainland ever resulted from an immigrant. As socially objectionable as it sounds by modern ideas of liberty, the work on Ellis Island formed the foundation of a modern public health system.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chris Matthews show takes up the demise of newspapers

Sunday morning, March 22, 2009, NBC’s “The Chris Matthews Show”, in a brief discussion, took up the problem of the demise of newspapers. The guests were Joe Klein (Time Magaznie), Kathleen Parker (Washington Post columnist), Katty Kay (BBC), and Mark Whitaker (NBC News). The link is here.

Joe Klein said that he doesn’t see that a public stock market financed business model probably can not longer support intensive investigative journalism typical of the best newspapers. Publication has become easy (with all the free web content). But investigative journalism requires special “acting” skills, going undercover and working in dangerous circumstances a long time before publication. Ordinarily, low-capital bloggers cannot do this.

The consensus seemed to be that private foundations, often not-for-profit and perhaps interest based, would continue to fund extensive investigative reporting. There may be many fewer major newspapers than now, with fewer organizations. One wonders, however, about the health of broadcast and cable news organizations.

Investigative journalism is very crucial for keeping the system honest. Without it, we would not have exposed Watergate, impeached Nixon and gotten him to resign. We would have much more difficulty in getting to what caused this financial crisis.

Chris Matthews also noted that in-print newspapers are important because of the “peripheral vision,” where people see print articles that they did not know about, rather than search online for what they are already interested in. (Remember the days when people got their news partly from Newsreels at the movies?) Young people today have not developed “peripheral vision” for the news and they may be less well off for it.

The show did not discuss initiatives to charge for Internet content, which I wrote about in February here.

Later Sunday Fareed Zakaria, on GPS (“Global Public Square”) interviewed former New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer. Eliot said that we’ve seen “libertarianism disguised as capitalism” and feared that the new danger is misplaced “populism”. He said financial services cannot generate wealth themselves; they are the conduit to send wealth to the creative structures in business. He said that the SEC could have required that sellers of CDO’s have a stake in what they sold. He said that AIG engaged in “creative” accounting to make it look like it had capital that it did not, especially with reinsurance contracts (the notorious credit default swaps).Then he interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates talked about education. Bill called the school systems as a “personnel system”. They both said that schools need to get in sync with what students will need in college and in the workplace. Bill also described anomalies in the teacher compensation system.

Then Fareed interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates talked about education. Bill called the school systems as a “personnel system”. They both said that schools need to get in sync with what students will need in college and in the workplace. Bill also described anomalies in the teacher compensation system.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

History Channel: Beltway Unbuckled: fascinating stories about J Edgar Hoover (and Clyde Tolson)

Tonight the History Channel presented the historical documentary “Beltway Unbuckled” about scandals in American government. (It doesn't mean "beltway bandits"). The film's premise is that the intimate lives of our leaders has a tremendous influence on the course of history, sometimes because of quirks of coincidence. The documentary film starts with an exploration of the Congressional Cemetery. David Eisenbach narrates and Washington Post reporter Ben Bradlee contributes. The link is here.

The first part of the film was the most interesting, because it aired the rumors former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and his homosexuality. Hoover had at one point been inspired by the Dewey Decimal System, a staple in libraries (I remember it’s been taught in high school English all too well in connection to term papers) and got the idea as a teen that he could use coding systems to accumulate information about people, even in the days of low tech. So once he became Director (before it would be named FBI), he would do enormous investigations of everyone in Washington, especially presidents and members of Congress, in order to blackmail them to keep his job. Hoover accumulated information about the Profumo scandal, which is mentioned in Irving Wallace’s 1966 novel “The Plot” and which helped bring down the British government.

Hoover is said to have prevented Senators from impeaching President Kennedy, which contributed to his still being president when he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

Hoover had a life long “relationship” with Clyde Tolson (whom the documentary shows in impressive stills, including hairy chest) whom Hoover gave an associate director’s job. For all intents and purposes they remained connected like lovers. Hoover left Tolson most of his assets at death, and Tolson is buried near Hoover.

If so, Hoover was the ultimate hypocrite. He once dug up information claiming that Eleanor Roosevelt was a lesbian, and that she also had a relationship with another man, leading FDR to threaten to send someone to his death in the South Pacific theater.

Another segment looked at the question as to whether Abraham Lincoln was gay. In his time, it was common for men to be “intimate” with little being made of it. Nevertheless there were stories about his association with James Speed and later guard David Derickson, who shared a house with him north of the White House.

The film described how Andrew Jackson lost his wife to a scandal, and how his resentment of his vice president John Calhoun went back to South Carolina and led secessionism.

It portrays the strain in the relationship between FDR and his wife.

It also discusses the idea that George Washington was childless, and this was considered advantageous, because that meant that Washington would not become a “monarch.” However a possible descendent from a slave was presented. There was a slave. Wes Ford, who was freed for mysterious reasons.

Eisenbach says there is nothing we can do about the possibility that a public official's proclivities will change history. I'd say, just watch the films of Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Ellen" hosts Anderson Cooper, Zach Braff and Andy Samberg; Obama on Jay Leno

Today (Thursday, March 19, 2009) Ellen DeGeneres interviewed CNN anchor Anderson Cooper as a guest. Anderson’s best accomplishment so far in his career, in my opinion, is his series of documentary films “Planet in Peril”.

Anderson talked about his visit to the Oval Office in the West Wing and his meeting with President Barack Obama. Anderson said that the room was very warm, and that the carpets in the White House look like they are ready for replacement – but, as Ellen said, “We have no money”. I wonder if Cooper inquired about ending “don’t ask don’t tell”.

Anderson characterized himself as a “middle aged guy with white hair,” and on Regis and Kelly, he had said that he was a “recluse” so he enjoyed working (rather than partying) in Times Square on New Years Eve. I recall that even Nate Berkus called himself an “old guy” on Oprah in front of the families whose homes he was redecorating. Odd indeed.

Of course, the visit was funny, as they played a quiz show game making up gaglines to indentify celebrities, the last of which was Dr. Phil. Earlier, they showed a still of Chris Matthews dirty dancing with Ellen.

The website for the Ellen show right now offers the video, but the site does not save or archive the shows (for “library use” for bloggers) the way the sites for Dr. Phil and Oprah do, as far as I can see. Instead, Ellen’s site functions more the way the site for ABC’s “The View” does.

Earlier this week, Ellen had quadruple threat (that doesn’t mean quadruple bypass) Zach Braff (“Scrubs” and “Garden State”); oddly, Braff had missed a lower button on his shirt; I wonder if he noticed. Remember the photos in the March 2006 issue of Giant where anonymous arms were about to pull Zach apart.

And on Tuesday Ellen hosted Andy Samberg, the comedy pro from Saturday Night Live (“Laser Cats”), a straight man who made the cover of Out in March 2009, and who had to keep amateur actor Michael Phelps in line during Phelps’s forlorn appearance as SNL host in 2008.

Dr. Phil today had a whmisical show on women looking for "Mr. Right" in dates or a future husband, with one gal insisting that her man be "thmooth." Weird indeed.


Jay Leno will entertain Barack Obama on his show ("The Tonight Show"_ tonight (March 19) from California, on NBC. Los Angeles Times story by Christi Parsons is here.

Obama explained to Jay Leno lucidly how A.I.G. put a huge hedge fund on top of its conventional insurance business, and how it got so leveraged (at a ratio 30 to 1) that it could take down a whole huge corporation and all of Wall Street with it. Obama explained the need for better regulation, more or less the way George Soros explains it. He said that most of Wall Street's chicanery right now is perfectly legal. He also talked about innovation needed in the auto industry.

Obama said that being in the White House is like being on "American Idol" where everyone is Simon Cowell.

The president made an unfortunate metaphor, comparing his Leno appearance to the "Special Olympics". Early Friday the White House apologized.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Christian the Lion" videos a hit on NBC "Today" show

On Wednesday March 18 the NBC Today show related the story of John Rendall and “Ace” Bourke, who had raised a lion that they named Christian in a furniture shop in London in the late 1960s. Then George Adamson and Tony Fitzjohn would reintroduce Christian into the wild, while Tony established the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust. Adamson and his wife would raise the lioness Elsa, subject of the 1966 film "Born Free" from Columbia Pictures (directed by James Hill).

The complete story is on MSNBC, by Mike Celizic, is titled “‘Hugging’ lion’s ex-owners reflect on his legacy; Men who reunite with Christian in hit video call it ‘an extraordinary story’”, link here.

When Rendall and Bourke went to Africa in the 1970s, Christian recognized them, even after years, and hugged them and swam with them. Film was taken, and now some of it is on YouTube. More video is on the NSNBC link.

You can find other videos with a boolean search for "Christian the Lion" and "YouTube".

Both men, from Australia, explained that lions are, unlike most cats, social animals, living in prides with social structures resembling those of packs for wolves. Lions and tigers have almost identical genes (essentially they are “races”) except that somehow lions evolved some brain wiring that makes them more social. As a result, males are more distinguishable by secondary sexual characteristics – manes.

Around the house or store, the men say, Christian tended to behave very much a large dog, such as a Laborador Retriever. Christian regards the men as part of his “pride.”

Think about it. It works in reverse, too. In nature, foxes are like dogs with cat personalities.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

CNN LKL entertains Judge Judy; ABC The View: Pinsky on narcissism

On Monday, March 16, CNN’s Larry King Live (with Larry returned) interviewed Judge Judy Sheindlin, who is well known for her syndicated court reality television program, which here appears on Fox. She loves adults who play like kids in the sandbox; at least that’s one of her metaphors. The transcript for the show is here.

One of the most important points in the show was that she believes that people either have violent crime “in them” or not. If you’ve lost your cool once, you may well do it again. People who have it in them to commit financial fraud don’t necessarily have violent streaks; criminal behavior sorts out into different threads. If you have it in you to commit a violent act once, she says, you'll do it again. She predicted that Bernie Madoff will be at least 90 before he gets out of prison, and made the astonishing statement that she was surprised he didn’t commit suicide. (A lot of people wonder if Ken Lay’s (Enron) “heart attack” was real.)

She said that Michael Phelps is a "good swimmer." He's not a hero in her eyes. But if it were not for today's technology, the bong picture would not have gotten out.

Judge Judy says she has never turned on a computer in her life. "People don't want to be private anymore" she said, now that we have the Internet and people like the "fame". They talked about what "wallpaper" is for a cell phone user.

Judge Judy made an interesting comparison between the behavior of AIG executives and octuplet mom Nadya Suleman. Both parties engaged in self-indulgent or self-serving behavior the consequences of which the public must bear. They discussed why contracts are written in such a way that bonuses for bad behavior (that is, for behavior that had led to any short term profits) must be paid.

At the end of the interview she supported same-sex marriage. Compared to almost every other controversy in our world about human rights and “personal responsibility,” the religious objections seem irrational.

On ABC’s “The View” today (Tuesday March 17), the gals interviewed Drew Pinsky, who talked about narcissism (or narcissistic personality disorder) as one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses, because of the times we live in. The discussion started with celebrities exhibiting it. He described narcissism as “objectifying people” and remaining unempathetic to their feelings. He didn’t get into the related but distinct “schizoid personality” or even mild forms of autism (like Asperger’s) where there may be a desire to avoid unwelcome emotional interaction from others except on one’s own terms.

Monday, March 16, 2009

CBS 60 Minutes interviews Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke

On Sunday March 15, 2009 Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve Ben Shalom Bernanke gave a two part interview on CBS 60 Minutes.

The CBS online story is called “Overhaul Regulatory System, Bernanke Says; Fed Chairman Suggests More Oversight Needed To Keep Nation's Economy Safe”, link here.

CBS has provided the ability to embed the video; the first part is here.
Watch CBS Videos Online. The interview is conducted by Scott Pelley.

The second part, and two brief "internals" videos, are easily found at 60 Minutes.

Ben Bernanke explains his own background, growing up in South Carolina and “learning to work”, including at fast food. He decided that his best way to help people was through mastering economics, where he earned his doctorate at MIT and a professorship at Princeton.

He talks about his expertise on the Great Depression, which he claims that the Fed made worse by not expanding the money supply and by letting banks fail.

He believes that really large institutions need a soft landing, where their performing assets can be taken over and sold to other entities that can make and keep them profitable.

As for being your brother’s keeper on the mortgage assistance issue, Bernanke gives the example of living in a wood row house when your neighbor smokes in bed and his house goes up in flames. You have to put out the fire first.

He thinks that markets will stabilize when investors see “progress.”

The video shows the inside of the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, as well as a cash depository in New York.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mark Hyman gives lecture on "UltraMind" and healing "Broken Brain" on some PBS stations

Sunday March 15, WHUT (a PBS station at Howard University in Washington DC) aired Mark Hyman, M.D. and his “The UltraMind Solution: Healing Your Broken Brain.” A typical link summarizing his work is here. This was a “digital over the air” broadcast. His book is titled “The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First (Hardcover) and was published by Scribner Dec. 30, 2008. The Amazon link is here. The broadcast was interrupted by appeals for membership donations to PBS, with books and DVD’s by Dr. Hyman as gifts for the donations; Dr. Hyman stayed on during the pledge donation pitches. Volunteers take the calls. The program was also sponsored by Metametrix, Immuno Laboratories, and Genova Diagnostics, with some funding by the Park Foundation.

The “broken brain” involves symptoms like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and even dementia.

He says that mental illness is reflective of the body. He makes a case for the claim that most juvenile autism and most senior dementia or Alzheimer’s is related to diet and environmental toxins. Milder learning problems like ADD he says are all related to diet and toxins.

There are seven important steps.

The first is your diet, which he says comprises the “information going into your brain”. He said that “those with the lowest B12 levels have the smallest brains.” Really, diet is the key to most of the rest of his tips. We eat too much sugar, too much processed food, not enough whole grains or unprocessed foods. We need to eat our vegetables, without cooking. He prefers home-grown or locally grown foods, outside of the commercial food supply. We should use organic sources. We’ve all heard this before. He claims that proper diet can prevent autism or most developmental problems in children. He advises avoiding all gluten (even those without a specific allergy), and suggests that most people should avoid dairy products. The diet suggestion sounds related to the “sustainability” (or “End of Suburbia”) guidelines that encourage people to consume only food grown locally in order to reduce massive transportation cost and fossil fuel use.

The second key is “balancing hormones”, which he put bluntly in terms of loss of gender differentiation with age, presumably important for heterosexuality, at least Masters and Johnson style. He said that not only do women become more like men after menopause, but men become more like women because of andropause, which he says causes men to go bald in the legs and sometimes chests as well as pates. (Actually, this can result from diabetes or reduced circulation or atherosclerosis – especially with cigarette smoking.) The audience chuckled when he said that men often become like women, even in their forties. (“In sickness and in health” should not be a reason not to do one’s best with personal health.) But he also talked about pre-diabetes and insulin resistance from over sugar consumption, which probably causes loss of gender differentiation (depleting testosterone) with age. He talked about “Type 3 diabetes.” I remember in the Army that in the barracks a couple of guys (like “Chickenman”) looked a little prematurely aged, and others said to them, “you’re losing hormones.” To soldiers it was the subject of jokes.

The third was to reduce inflammation. He says that inflammation, particularly in the intestines, contributes to autism. He talked about a bizarre virus called the “borna virus.

The fourth dealt with fixing digestion, and eliminating dyspepsia. Don’t depend of Peptol Bismol. He talked a lot about irritable bowel syndrome. This lecture is becoming a call for gastroenterologists. He talked about hepatic encephalopathy – brain swelling related to liver failure.

The fifth deals with removing poisons. He talked about environmental mercury (as well as lead and cadmium), responsible for a lot of autism and other diseases. He says we consume pesticides and antibiotics from commercial agriculture. He talked about glutothiones as able to remove poisons. He believes that mercury amalgam dental fillings can contribute to dementia, although not everyone needs to do this.

The sixth tip is to boost metabolism.

The last tip is mind-calming, more like the Rosicrucian ending of mental poisoning. This is the only tip that doesn’t come directly from the body or one of the “humors.” The four temperaments (of literature, of music as in Nielsen and Hindemith) definitely depend on the body fluids.

He ended with four steps

Eat right, and use supplements, live “UltraMind” and live “clean and green”. He says “there is no such thing as junk food. There is junk, and there is food.” He also says that people should reduce their use of cell phones and wireless devices (“electrical pollution”).

Fix your body and you will fix your brain. Is he for real, or is he a “health nut”?

Picture (unrelated): from a concert today (reviewed on the "drama blog")

Saturday, March 14, 2009

ABC 20-20: John Stossel slams the bailouts, goes after Barbara Ehrenreich

On Friday March 13 John Stossel did a great 20/20 report “Bailouts and Bull”. The link was here.

The show was in several parts. First, he got opposing points of view on the endless bailouts, and listened to market fundamentalists who say we have to let everything fail and start over. (What would happen to fundamentals like deposit insurance or pension insurance if we did?)

The second part was about private highways. The Greenway (route 237) west of Dulles Airport is a private toll road, but the report focused on Indiana.

One of the most disturbing reports concerned the United States government prosecuting merchants of medical marijuana which the state of California has made legal. The Obama administration may back off on the prosecutions, but this is not yet clear.

The next segment was about government run “universal pre-school”. I wondered where we will find the teachers.

Then Stossel covered the border wall along southern Arizona, intended to keep out illegal immigrants, but it is easy to breach with a ladder.

Finally he challenged Barbara Ehrenreich and her famous “Nicked and Dimed” book, which is often assigned reading in high school (my review is here). Ehrenreich's book comes across as a notorious exercise in "paying your dues." So Adam Shepard (having read her book) wend to South Carolina, pretended to be homeless, got a job with a moving company, got an apartment, bought a used car, and proved that anyone capable can move up in America. He was critical of Ehrenreich for letting herself have it easy as she stayed in motels. His book, from Collins, published Oct. 2008, is “Scratch Beginnings” and is available from Amazon here.

Stossel provided a further interview claiming that the American middle class is still much better off than it was a generation ago, and that much of the pain comes from the fact that expectations have risen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Oprah interviews Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Oprah Winfrey today (Friday March 13) interviewed Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, as a featured guest, alongside Jimmy Fallon (link here). Oprah has another link that explains how Facebook got started.

I don’t recall seeing the baby-faced Mark on television before. He was tightly dressed in an unusually styled black sweater. His manner was somewhat quiet, but his vocal delivery was a bit like that of a young Bill Gates, definitely geeky. (I subbed for an English teacher who warned the kids, "You'll probably wind up working for a geek", something he took from Bill Gates's tips.) He talked about the flexibility of Facebook, and about the ability of users to control privacy and the nature of their experience. Oprah said that, if the population of Facebook users constituted a country, it would become the world’s sixth largest. The show went on to show Oprah’s Facebook page. Oprah has about 270000 fans.

Oprah mentioned that he is a billionaire, but his fortune has slipped a bit below that during the financial collapse. He does not need the advice of Suze Orman. But he says he lives modestly in a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco and doesn’t bother to buy much furniture. His parents (a dentist and a physician) were in the audience. Remember, all this happened after Mark Zuckerberg, then 19, hit the Enter key in his dorm room at Harvard on Wednesday, February 4, 2004 (yup, I looked it up on a java perpetual calendar). Sean Fanning was 19 when he invented Napster alone in a Hull, MA warehouse on his laptop.

Could Mark Zuckerberg be drafted to host Saturday Night Live? If so, would he, like Michael Phelps, act in the skits (with the coaching of pro comedian Andy Samberg)?

It’s easy to imagine making a documentary movie about the founding of Facebook – although it would take some investigative reporting to get at the “truth” behind all the ownership controversy (somewhat discussed in the book Authoritas, by Harvard classmate Aaron Greenspan (review on my books blog July 5 2008 here)).

On the other hand, perhaps Mr. Zuckerberg will become interested in investing in independent film on social or political issues (like that of Al Gore, for starters). Oprah, note, owns a movie company (Harpo).

I did notice that a prank had been played on Zuckerberg’s Wikipedia page today, but it has been fixed. Wikipedia likes to identify notable Internet entrepreneurs as "computer programmers". Well, Jimmy Wales doesn't get labeled that way.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

ABC Nightline: Las Vegas "ladies" go to Christ; Madoff in the slammer

Tonight, ABC Nightline carried on the saga of Bernie Madoff, first speculating as to whether Madoff had gone to sleep on a hard bunk in his tiny cell (there are bunk beds in 8 x 8 cells, shown, but he will have his own cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center). Then the report interviewed a couple in their 60s now forced to pay for a parent’s care when the parent with dementia, in her 90s, lost all her savings to Madoff. This is surely one of the most awful outcomes that I have heard of. There are real consequences for crime, that cannot be undone.

Nightline is hosting a forum discussion on "what would constitute justice for Bernie Madoff" and is also doing the same on Twitter.

Then the show covered former prostitutes turning to Jesus and selling religion to other ladies of the night on the Strip in Las Vegas. One of the women said that “the world throws us away,” but “what you have done doesn’t define the rest of your life.” A pastor has set up a destiny house for women coming out of the industry.

One woman went from making $2500 a night to making $8.50 an hour.

The ABC News story is “Saving Sin City: Hookers for Jesus Target Unlikely Flock Former Prostitute Annie Lobert Tries to Bring Salvation to Sex Workers”, by Ely Brown and Neal Karlinksy, link here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

CNN: Sanjay Gupta interviews Bill Clinton on LKL

Tonight (Wednesday March 11, 2009) CNN’s Larry King Live was hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta (fresh from turning down Barack Obama’s invitation to him to become Surgeon General) interviewing former president Bill Clinton, apparently in Clinton’s Harlem, New York City office. The LKL blog entry is here.

The main topic of discussion was Barack Obama’s plan to move toward universal health care with a $634 billion reserve. Bill Clinton thinks that the country is much more behind the concept of universal care than it was in 1993, as it now has the support of small business and many providers. He says that we could well offer a buyin to a program modeled on the US Congress’s healthcare (that was one of Hillary Clinton’s campaign ideas).

Gupta asked about single payer, which has never gotten much traction in the U.S. Clinton said that waiting lists and excessive delays are a real problem in Canada, although the coverage is good. Britain’s NHS is starting to experiment with some privatization at the margins, as has France, although in different ways.

Later Gupta discussed stem cell research and Obama’s lifting the ban that President Bush had put in during Aug 2001. Clinton said that during his administration only embryos which could not grow into people could be used. He was not clear as to the limitations in Obama’s order, which will raise stock prices in some medical research companies and help the economy.

To close the show there was discussion with John Podesta (Center for American Progress), surgeon Dr. Bill Frisk, and Oprah’s Mehmet Oz.

One major news story surfacing now is that conventional employer benefits may be taxed to help pay for universal coverage.

I'd love to see a reality TV neurosurgery operation by Sanjay Gupta, complete with scrubdown.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Rock Star" Obama gives tough speech on education, carried this morning on CNN

Barack Obama gave a big “rock star” speech on education (to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce) this morning (Tuesday, March 10, 2009), carried live on CNN. It was festive, and seemed almost like it was ready for the Jonas Brothers to give an encore.

He made several major “English theme” bullet points, but the biggest three were that ineffective teachers should be removed from classrooms (following the example set by Michelle Rhee in Washington DC, whom I’m sure he’s met), the parents should turn off the TV, video games and computers (even reading this blog) and get their kids to read some, and every American young adult should have at least one year of education beyond high school.

He wants to reform education from “cradle to career” and criticized over use of standardized or multiple-choice tests, and also criticized low expectations and peer pressure in some minority communities.

Obama also emphasized education as essential to American competitiveness and ability to solve sustainability problems, such as reengineering society for clean energy. The subtext is that education has become superficial, and has encourage greed and superficial efforts to generate phantom wealth, leading to the crisis we have now.

Jay Matthews of the Washington Post has a quick assessment (“Obama thinks big on education”) of the Obama speech this morning here.

The CNN account of the speech is here.

The Washington Times today has a story by Stephen Dinan, "Obama calls for 'accountability' in education" with an embedded excerpt in an AP video, here.

Also, there is a Walletpop list (from AOL and "Neightborbood Scout") of "the 25 Worst Performing Public Schools in the U.S., link here. Some of them are from Obama's hometown Chicago.

Visitors may want to compare this to Obama’s speech on education in Ohio on Sept. 9, 2008 (in the Chicago Sun Times), here.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

SNL presents "The Rock Obama"; Geithner calls all bloggers to come up with The Big Idea

NBC Saturday Night live treated us to “The Rock Obama” last night, as a dream enjoyed by a silver haired Oval Office staffer played by Andy Samberg. “Don’t make Barack Obama mad”. Indeed. Dwayne Johnson’s business dress began to split apart, revealing tattoos and an unnaturally buff bod, as “The Rock” threw other staffers out the window.

In the opening segment, an imitation Timothy Geithner set aside $436 billion for an “idea” to fix the financial system. So, all of you bloggers, if you can come up with the magic formula that will bring all the banks back into health, you get the almost half trillion dollar prize. He even gave the breakdowns by up to five bloggers. Six? He hadn’t done the calculation yet, but he well.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Jobs forum on Larry King Live

Mary Delaney (Personified) , Gloria Allred, Gerri Willis, Lois Frankl, and Tory Johnson appeared on Larry King Live tonight with advice for people who call in about the employment crisis. The blog for the show is here. David Theall read from the user’s questions on the blogs.

The show went on to show “Where the Jobs Are.” The South leads the nation in job creation, particularly in health care; with energy important in Texas. Software engineering is expected to recover on the west coast, despite the Internet advertising slowdown right now. The Washington DC area is expected to add a lot of government jobs and government contracting jobs.

Tory Johnson suggested interim employment and that computer professionals could find short term work with Elance. http://www.elance.com/

Then a woman surviving cancer was presented as having severe debt problems as well as unemployment. She had been a magazine writer and editor and Tory Johnson offered to meet her. It’s interesting that online writing and blogging was hinted as a possible area that will expand, if done carefully and with some specific focus.

The single biggest growth area will be health care. More jobs will involved working directly with people, sometimes in intimate ways, than in the past.

Gov. Tim Kane (D-VA) (and chairman of the Democratic National Committee) then appeared and discussed the effect of Obama’s economic stimulus on the state government.

David Gergen appeared and argued that President Obama needs to focus on stopping the bleeding in the economy before moving on to health care. Gergen said that housing is our worst problem, and that 40% of homes could be underwater by the end of 2009. Gergen said that Obama is too slow with the bank problem and said that Tim Geithner is "home alone" and that the standard for employment in the administration is too unrealistic.

Steve Malzberg (talk show host) called Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner a "tax cheat" and said that the Dow tanked 500 points when he announce his plan.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

ABC Nightline covers recession deals; how about the comeback of the vinyl LP?

Recession Deals to Depend On”, on ABC Nightline on Wednesday, March 4, 2009, ran through all the major consumer bargains, including a Hyundai for under $10000 with a buy-back if unemployed, restaurant deals, and particularly travel. Remember how it was last summer with $140 oil? They were saying that discount fares would end. How that has changed.

Then the segment “Vinyl: The Last Track” presented the return to the vinyl LP record, which started to go out of fashion in the late 80s after CD’s took over (and finally P2P download). The factory at Rainbo Records (in Canoga Park CA) was shown. I remember the days of record collecting: the elliptical stylus, inner groove distortion, warpage, record wear. Back in the 50s we didn’t know better than to use sapphire needles. Some people like 78s (at least they did in the early 60s) and at one time, some classical works were sold on sets of 45s, which became the staple for single pop songs.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

PBS: Discovering the Secrets of the Vatican

On March 3, 2009, MPT on PBS aired a 90 minute synopsis “Discovering Secrets of the Vatican.” The web references is here. The Holy See Benedict XVI has a website here.

Vatican City, with less than one square mile in the heart of Rome, is the world’s smallest sovereign state, with about 800 residents. It has no private property (everything belongs to the Holy See) and charges no taxes. The “prime minister” is not the Pope, but Cardinal Edmund Szoka, who often speaks in the film, and says that balancing the budget is his biggest problem.

The Vatican has its own post office, and that is a huge tourist attraction and money maker, as people want to mail something with a Vatican postmark. The film showed its printing press, which has been in operation since the 1500s.

The film makes a field trip to the Papal summer residence on a small mountain outside of Rome (but not within the boundary of the state).

A very interesting part of the film shows the regimented lives of the colorful Swiss Guards. They must actually come from Switzerland and have a minimum height. They remind one of the Honor Guard in the United States in the incredible military bearing required, even though the uniforms here are colorful. The guard members are shown being given mass.

The film shows the Sistine Chapel and a little about the process of electing a Pope and signaling the end with a smoke plume.

This is a special place, a different kind of world that gives a legitimate “advancement” to men who believe they have a different calling and who abstain from what most men need.

The film shown tonight is a combination of films offered on a DVD set for sale.

Monday, March 02, 2009

CNN Larry King: Ben Stein lays down the law; CNBC: Hank Greenberg: Okay, can we end mark-to-market, negate CDS's?

On Monday March 2, 2009 Larry King Live examined the financial crisis, particularly the record low for the Dow today (since 1997, below 7000).

Let’s cut to the chase. Ben Stein made the most telling comment. We must fix the financial system now. He says

(1) End mark-to-market accounting requirements (from FASB).
(2) Negate all the liabilities for credit default swaps as a matter of public policy

I’m not sure who has the authority to do this, and how you extend it on an international level.

But Stein is right about one thing. The banks, perhaps inspired by the repeal of part of the Glass-Steagall (with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) in 1999) played roulette with the savings and assets of ordinary investors (including, indirectly, pension funds) to put profit in the hands of speculators. It is the speculators, Stein maintains, who should, as a matter of public policy, endure the expropriation.

Would this work? I’d love to get comments on this (including from Mr. Stein, if he finds this blog). Why is it so hard to eliminate mark-to-market? Can we just wipe out CDW debts at once?

Presumably Stein would want to repeal some of the 1999 deregulation.

Radio talk show host Ed Schultz appeared, and supported the Obama stimulus package. Later Don Peebles and Dave Ramsey appeared.

Ali Velshi appeared and explained why there is little choice about bailing out AIG. Although AIG insures many operations in business (the largest business risk insurer, including liability for motion picture production companies, important to me!), but it imploded by gambling on credit default swaps. Stein wants to negate the swaps. AIG's potential liability for CDS's could be as high as $250 billion. Velshi appeared on AC360 along with David Gergen, where the D-word was raised (25% chance of a "mild depression").

Earlier, Bobby Jindal, Republican governor of Louisiana, appeared. He also supported repeat of mark-to-market, and was critical of spending and talked about the threat that China could call in our debts some day. The discussed Rush Limbaugh’s rant on Saturday, and whether Limbaugh wants Obama to "fail".

Earlier today, CNBC’s Mary Bartarimo interviewed former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg on “Closing Bell” today (story by Karen Reynolds) transcript link here.

This one portion of the interview is very critical:
Greenberg: I think you have to deal with the toxic assets.
Bartiromo: Right. But we don’t know how big the hole is.
Greenberg: Okay, but take them off the books, put them in a good bank./bad bank, and the bad bank will run off in time, and much of that will recover. It’s a matter of timing. Look, the worst thing that was done was having mark to market; the way it was done when you have a think market, it’s very difficult to say that is the market. That was done improperly. As far as I know, FASB was working on a plan to have mark to market applied differently for different businesses, but they didn’t come out with it in time, so they came out with this. It was very destructive.”

I want to know, can we change “mark to market” quickly and is doing so the right public policy?

Update: March 5, 2009

Christopher Grey, of Third Wave Partners (maybe Peter Weir's "Last Wave"?) takes the opposite position from Ben Stein, claiming that we should not suspend mark to market or give regulatory forebearance, but should let all the unsound banks fail now, and be taken over by the FDIC and nationalized completely. He says investors should stay out of financial,s period. His "The Street" column "Opinion: Avoid Financial Stocks & Zombie Banks" is here. He calls suspending mark-to-market the financial equivalent of "don't ask don't tell".

So, Larry King or Anderson Cooper, will you invite this columnist to your show?

Picture: Amish cottages in Charles County, MD

Sunday, March 01, 2009

NBC "Meet the Press": Gates compares Obama, Bush; panel: no hard choices on sacrifice yet in budget; CBS 60 Min: Catching Madoff

NBC's “Meet the Press” today offered an interview by David Gregory, who stayed on as Secretary of Defense (from the Bush administration) when President Obama came into office.

Gregory asked Gates if working for President Obama provided a “different” experience. He said yes, and that President Obama is much more “analytical” than was President Bush. (I was told that I was "too analytical" in one of my debt collection job interviews back in 2003! I have good company now.) Obama will seek the view of every person in the room in a meeting. (I can imagine that this thoroughness will get interesting when President Obama gets around to trying to lift “don’t ask don’t tell”).

Gates said that he have a signed “contract” to remove the actual aggressive combat forces from Iraq by August 2010, but he seemed to waffle a little on the length of time some forces would need to remain.

The second half of the program presented former Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN), Mike Murphy, Dee Dee Myers, and former Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-FL). (The guest list is here.) There was an instructive comparison between the Obama administration and the Clinton administration, which gets credit for the economic boom of the 1990s. But a couple of panelists said that it was the Republican “revolution” in Congress in 1995 (even with Newt Gingrich as a strident, polarizing figure) that provided Clinton with the “balance” that he needed for economic health. Instead, Obama seems to be redoing the entire philosophy of government and preparing a much more interventionist administration.

There was also a comment that no significant sacrifices of earned entitlements have yet been proposed, and that further discussions about Medicaid, Medicare and social security are indeed in order.

Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square (GPS) on CNN today presented Martin Wolf, of the UK’s Financial Times. Wolf said that the economic stimulus package promoted by Obama was far too timid to work (we need to put money in people’s hands so that they will spend it), and that the major banks need to be completely restructured. He says that the uncertainty of how much value remains in the contagious “toxic assets” eating up the CDO’s will keep investors depressed. Someone has to make up the loss: a combination of the government and investors. There is no other logical possibility. The transcript should soon appear here.

Later on Sunday, on CBS 60 Minutes, Steve Kroft interviewed Harry Markopolos, The Man Who Figured Out Madoff's Scheme: Tells 60 Minutes Many Suspected Madoff Fraud; Says SEC Is Incapable Of Finding Fraud” link here. Markopolis, shown riding on trains around Boston, said that he “proved mathematically” out that Madoff had to be a fraud as early as 2000, in a few hours, using differential and integral calculus and linear algebra. But the SEC would never listen. He said that the SEC is staffed with lawyers who know the regs but who don’t know finance or mathematics. It seems that with mathematics it should have been easy to prove that the CDO’s and CDS’s would blow our economy up, too.

Anderson Cooper then reported on “Mexico: The War Next Door”. I wasn’t aware before that Anderson now is on CBS, too. He will also give a similar report ("This is not the Mexico I remember") on CNN tonight, here.