Today is Friday the 13th and Inkblot and Domino have decided they should lie low.  No point in taking chances, right?  My mother's kittens, however, have no such superstitions and were delighted to romp around for the camera.  On the left, Ditto (because he's a carbon copy of one of my mother's other cats) is staring at a bug in the garden, waiting for a chance to pounce.  It came a few seconds after I took this picture.  On the right, Tillamook (because he looks like a piece of cheese) has scampered up a tree and is obviously delighted with the way the setting sun shows off his orange coat.

(And why was I over visiting mom?  Because Tillamook dived into her wall unit the other day, knocked the cable box down the back, and then bolted out of the room.  He was fine.  The TV, not so much.  So I went over to fish the thing out and get it reconnected.  Only time will tell if Tilly has learned his lesson.)

In South Africa, which already boasts one of the world's highest rape rates, black lesbians are being targeted for particularly brutal assaults. The frequent victims of gang assaults and hideous torture, the government does absolutely nothing. One woman spoke of her gang-rapists taunting her with the "classic lesson" they were imparting during her 2003 abduction. At least she survived. And damned if she isn't still living her life as an out and proud lesbian and high-profile "footballer." Where do Third World women find the courage?

The government, even in the case of a rare prosecution, refuses to acknowledge that lesbians are being specifically targeted. Called "corrective rape" by human rights workers (i.e. rape meant to set the lesbos straight), pressure is mounting for the judiciary there to dub attacks on lesbians hate crimes and forcefully prosecute these criminals. Good luck.

FromThe Guardian:

"The partially clothed body of Eudy Simelane, former star of South Africa's acclaimed Banyana Banyana national female football squad, was found in a creek in a park in Kwa Thema, on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Simelane had been gang-raped and brutally beaten before being stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs. As well as being one of South Africa's best-known female footballers, Simelane was a voracious equality rights campaigner and one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian in Kwa Thema.
Her brutal murder took place last April, and since then a tide of violence against lesbian women in South Africa has continued to rise...Now, a report by the international NGO ActionAid, backed by the South African Human Rights Commission, condemns the culture of impunity around these crimes, which it says are going unrecognised by the state and unpunished by the legal system.

If South Africa isn't going to prosecute crime, should the women there, straight and gay, go commando and start parceling out justice on their own?

King Coal

Barack Obama has promised to push cap-and-trade legislation this year, and one way of getting it approved in the Senate is to push it through via the budget reconciliation process, where it would require only 50 votes to pass.  Elana Schor reports that this has run into a roadblock:

In a letter delivered to the Senate Budget Committee yesterday, eight Democratic senators joined 25 Republicans to defend the GOP's right to set a 60-vote margin for passing emissions limits.

"We oppose using the budget process to expedite passage of climate legislation," the senators, including eight centrist Democrats, wrote in their missive.

....Late Update: The eight Democratic senators who signed on to the letter are Robert Byrd (WV), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Evan Bayh (IN), Mark Pryor (AR), Bob Casey (PA), Carl Levin (MI), and Mary Landrieu (LA).

Take a look at those names: six are from the midwest and the south, joined by Casey and Byrd.  In other words, coal country senators.  Nearly all the electricity generated in these regions comes from coal, and a lot of that coal comes from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the #2 and #4 coal-producing states in the country.

This is a dynamic to watch.  The battle over cap-and-trade isn't just between liberals and conservatives, it's also between regions.  You'll find coal-fired electric plants all around the country, but the midwest and the south rely on it much more heavily than the west and the northeast, which generate a lot of their electricity via hydro and natural gas.  Cap-and-trade will raise the price of coal-fired electricity more than any other kind, which means the price increases will hit the south and midwest especially hard.

This letter, then, isn't just a sign that there are some Democratic senators who feel strongly about not bending Senate rules.  It's a sign that Democrats from the south and midwest are probably going to have to bribed to support cap-and-trade.  The big question is, how?  Can they be bought off in fairly benign, traditional ways, or will their price effectively mean the gutting of the legislation?  Stay tuned.

Michael Mania

Big news from across the pond:

Tickets for Michael Jackson's 50 live dates at London's O2 arena have sold out, meaning that a staggering one million tickets to see the singer have been bought in a matter of hours....Those not lucky enough to secure a ticket can head to eBay to buy them second hand, providing they are prepared to pay between £170 and £10,000.

Obviously I'm not a cultural critic or anything, but seriously?  A million people still want to see Michael Jackson?  WTF?

Summers at Brookings

Tim Fernholz highlights a passage from Larry Summers' speech at Brookings today:

The stress tests now underway will enable a realistic assessment of the position of each different institution and appropriate responses in each case to assure their ability to meet their commitments and lend on a substantial scale. And as the President said in his joint address to Congress, “When we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.”

As Tim says, "That answer, I think, will disappoint almost everyone with it's lack of detail, but at least doesn't rule out the various receivership plans people are discussing. Interesting, there was no mention of the public-private partnership that would supposedly be creating a market for the various toxic assets."

But while it might be wishful thinking on my part, this strikes me as a slightly stronger statement than Tim makes it out to be.  It's possible, of course, that the stress tests are intended to be fig leaves: they'll deliberately be done using scenarios that make the banks look relatively healthy and in no need of dramatic action.  But the other possibility is that they're intended in just the opposite way: as a fig leaf for the president that practically forces him to take dramatic action.  Note, for example, that Summers didn't simply make an anodyne statement about safety and security, he specifically said that the administration's response would be designed to insure that big banks "meet their commitments and lend on a substantial scale."  That's a stiffer metric than simply being able to meet their payroll.

Like I said, I might be reading too much into this.  But we know two things about pronouncements like this: (a) they're usually very, very circumspect in order not to panic the markets, and (b) they're very carefully vetted.  Summers chose his words deliberately here, and it's possible that they really mean something.

Even though the Veterans Administration and the Pentagon have been working to integrate their electronic medical records systems for over a decade, they still can't fully communicate with each other, according to a report (PDF) by the Government Accountability Office. While the departments have made some progress, the GAO says they "continue to face challenges in managing the activities required to achieve this inherently complex goal." Of the information the departments are able to share, much of it is not readable by computers. Instead, much of the sharing involves what are essentially electronic versions of paper documents, rather than fully sortable and analyzable information databases. Without fully computable data, the DoD and VA are "missing 95 percent of the potential benefits of an integrated system," says Phillip Longman, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care is Better Than Yours.

Cramer Folds

Like everyone in the galaxy, I watched Jon Stewart eviscerate Jim Cramer last night. But it was kind of weird. The conventional wisdom is that Stewart ripped Cramer to shreds — and he did — but he only succeeded because Cramer apparently made a preemptive decision not to fight back. He just sat there and took it. Felix Salmon has the right take:

Jim Cramer was craven and highly apologetic on the Daily Show last night [...] and almost never attempted to defend himself, preferring to go the mea culpa route.

....In a sense, it's a shame that Stewart had on his show the most self-loathing of all the CNBC personalities — but then again he, too, had little choice, since Santelli cancelled on him. But the lesson of this interview is that when CNBC is pressed on the way in which it has hurt America, its response is to capitulate and say "well I guess that's true". Which means that the bigger lesson is simpler still: don't watch CNBC. Doing so will do you no good at all, and will quite possibly do you a lot of harm.

There's a real sense in which CNBC is truly a microcosm of the entire financial meltdown.  Sure, they were irresponsible, and they deserve the hits they're taking.  At the same time, they only succeeded because the more irresponsible they got, the more their audience grew.  Their audience deserves a share of the blame in the same way that the voracious buyers of preposterously leveraged and tranched CDOs share some of the blame with the financial engineers who put them together.  None of this works without a willing buy side, does it?

The world--that is, the world of media, blogs, and the Internet--was buzzing on Friday morning about Jon Stewart's take-down of Jim "Mad Money" Cramer the evening before. The smack-down speaks for itself. But toward the end, Stewart made a point that applies to all media, not just the wildcats of cable finance shows.

Cramer was acknowledging that CNBC had aired oodles of interviews during which corporate execs had not told the truth. He insisted that he had been tough on Bush administration Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. Referring to Paulson, he said,

I've called him a liar...Should we all call them liars? I'm a commentator....It's difficult to have a reporter say I just came from an interview with Hank Paulson and he lied his darn fool head off. It's difficult. I think it challenges the boundaries.

But Stewart was all for pushing such conventional media boundaries:

I am under the assumption--and maybe this is purely ridiculous--but I'm under the assumption that that we don't just take their word at face value, that you actually then go around and try to figure it out.

Meaning figure out if they are telling the truth or not--and, if they are not, you do call them liars.

What's my interest in this slice of the titanic Cramer v. Stewart battle? Well, I once wrote a book immoderately titled, The Lies of George W. Bush. More recently, I wrote a piece noting that the MSM was far too hesitant after 9/11 to call Bush out on his falsehoods--particular on the misrepresentations (or, lies) that greased the way to the Iraq war. That article noted that some MSMers still recoil from the task of branding a politician or government official a truth-teller or liar. Though Stewart concluded this exchange by quipping that he would prefer to be making fart-noise jokes than to be policing financial news networks, it was heartening to see him advance this simple point: if the media doesn't assail leaders (financial or political) who lie, then those leaders can get away with almost anything.

Glenn Beck

It's more and more obvious that Glenn Beck has decided that becoming a male Ann Coulter is good for his ratings.  So his show is now dedicated to saying increasingly outrageous things solely in an attempt to get liberals to denounce him and drive his ratings yet higher.  Conclusion: it's time to start ignoring him, right?
Oh how sad. The venerable conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute--so flush during the go-go years of the Bush administration--is having a budget crisis, reports the Washington Independent. The group that launched so many of the worst neoconservative ideas of the Bush era (remember those guys who wanted to privatize Social Security and bring democracy to Iraq?) has watched helplessly as its long-time corporate benefactors have hit the skids and no longer have the luxury of funding loony political "scholars." Perhaps we should consider this one of the few upsides of the nation's grim economic crisis: a few conservatives are actually going to have to work for a living, or discover the pitfalls of retiring during a bear market!