Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Were Russian Spies in Cambridge No Way Outed?

Do you remember the plot to the 1987 movie No Way Out? It starred Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, and Will Patton.

Kevin Costner gets his picture taken with Sean Young, and the negative ends up under her bed. Later she is killed in a fit of rage by Hackman, who happens to be Secretary of Defense. Patton his aide finds the negative in cleaning up the scene. Hackman and Patton use the resources of the DOD to track down the person in the photo, under the pretext the guy is a Russian sleeper agent. Turns out (here comes the spoiler) Costner is a Russian sleeper agent!

So here is our 2010 spy story. Two Russian sleeper agents enter the U.S. posing as a Canadian couple. After 9/11 in which Al Qaeda terrorists entered the U.S through Canada, FBI counter-intelligence officers search a Cambridge safe deposit of two Canadians whose identities they suspect may be phony. They find picture negatives in the safe deposit box that were developed in Russia.

As his Russian handler tells Costner at the end: "This bizarre incident has given them their Yuri."

Update: Who keeps their negatives in a safe deposit box? I do. That way if my condo building burns down and I lose all my pictures, I can get them reprinted. Yes, the government can search your safe deposit box without your knowledge, but the government can search your home without your knowledge too.

TV Trucks Spy on Russia Spy Houses in Cambridge

Russia Spy Houses on Trowbridge Street

Another summer, another national scene of the crime for Cambridge. This time it is the two homes on Trowbridge Street where accused Russian spies Donald Heathfield and Ann Foley lived in Cambridge before their Sunday arrest.

What's this? Trowbridge Street is closed to everyone but residents and TV trucks?

No, it's just a public works crew poring cement for some street work. Coincidence?

The condo at 35 Trowbridge Street where Heathfield and Foley recently moved.

Another view. I lived at 33 Trowbridge in the same connected building during the summer of 1985, twenty-five years ago. The window on the first floor left with the partly drawn blind was my bedroom.

The townhouse at 111 Trowbridge where Heathfield and Foley lived for many years and where the FBI cloak and dagger searches and eavesdropping took place.

Their townhouse was among a group of several facing townhouses. Lots of close neigbors, not exactly a quiet location.

Someone is moving. (Heathfield and Foley previously moved to the other location.)

This UPS truck happened to pick 111 Trowbridge as a place to park while the driver went through alll the boxes in back. Another coincidence?

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Russians Are Coming: Emergency! Everyone to Get from Trowbridge Street

I'm walking down Broadway Street early this evening on the way to the Cambridge Public Library. And there is a low flying helicopter overhead. That is unusual in and of itself, but it seems to be hovering over the library. Why is it the helicopter always hovers over the one place in the city you are going?

In fact, the helicopter turned out to be hovering over Trowbridge Street staking out a house on Trowbridge Street where two suspected Russian spies were arrested Sunday evening, and a second townhouse on Trowbridge where the two had until recently lived. Their arrests were part of coordinated arrests of 10 people around the country suspected of being part of the same Russian spy ring. Russian spies? Yes, suspected deep undercover Russian spies.

The two people arrested in Cambridge are Donald Heathfield and Ann Foley, who lived together as a married couple in a $650,000 townhouse on Trowbridge Street before recently trading up to an $850,000 condo also on Trowbridge Street. The FBI says they masqueraded as Canadians to enter the U.S. and then used forged identifies to become U.S. citizens. They have two teenage sons.

Don Heathfield has a website listing him as the inventor of My Future Map offering management consulting services in in the areas of organizational learning, strategy, scenario thinking, global business development and executive education. His website says he was worked with as a consultant with General Electric, AREVA, Boston Scientific, Ericsson, Motorola, Microsoft, Michelin, Philips, STMicroelectronics, SAP, T-Mobile, and United Technologies.

It is also being reported that Ann Foley has a website as a realtor working out of a Somerville real estate office near Union Square. Her bio lists her as a native of Montreal, who lived and was educated in Switzerland, Canada, and France. Her bio says she previously worked as a Human Resources officer in Toronto and ran her own travel agency in Cambridge that specialized in organizing trips to French wine regions for small groups of enthusiasts.

The cloak and dagger part of the story indicates the FBI has had suspicions about the two since 2001, when they searched a safe deposit at a Cambridge bank and found negatives of photos of Ann that had been developed by a Russian film company (should have used Kodak). In 2006, their townhouse on Trowbridge Street was searched without their knowledge, and deleted information on their computer hard disks was recovered and copied. So the implication is that the FBI has spent the last decade connecting the dots and identifying other members of the spy ring.
There has been even more speculation about statements in the FBI affidavit indicating Heathfield had also established ties to former congressional staffers and faculty members of an unidentified university, including an unnamed "former high-ranking United States Government national security official." Who could thse people be?
Heathfield's website lists a master's degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, so it's not hard to figure what university was "infiltrated." If by infiltrated you mean taking classes there and befriending faculty and other staff. One of his Kennedy School classmates, state representative Marty Walz reports getting a $50 donation from Heathfield and Foley in 2004, in response to a solicitation to all members of the class.

I do remember the days of the Cold War in Cambridge, when you would see manned guard houses at the entrance to some of the MIT and Harvard laboratories and at some of the defense contractor facilities around the city. But that level of security mostly dropped away in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Why bother sending deep undercover agents with false identities? I have met a number of young emigres around the city from Russia and other Eastern European countries. They get into classes at the universities, they get access to professors, they get jobs, they get U.S. citizenship. It would seem easier and safer to hide in plain sight, I would think.

Eventually Moscow got impatient: "You were sent to USA for long-term service trip. Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc. -- all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and sent intels."

Here's some interesting bedtime or beach reading that reveals a lot of elements of the alledged conspracy and the methods the FBI used to uncover it:

Unsealed complaint #1
Unsealed compliant #2

Toronto Police Charge Protesters on Last Verse of O Canada

We got this video passed along by American Glob. The protestors are singing the Canadian National anthem, which ends with the repeated line "O Canada, we stand on guard for thee."

Now that line resonates with special pride among police across Canada, who see themselves as the guys standing on guard for Canada. And you've got to admire Canadian politeness, waiting for their national anthem to finish.

Then on the last "thee" the police line charges the protesters en masse.

Here are the English lyrics to the first stanza:

O Canada!

Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Some might want to reflect on the meaning of those words "True patriot love in all thy sons command." Here is some more protester-shot video mocking the police line:

Does U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry Really Want to Be Viceroy?

Well the Rolling Stone article that got General McChrystal fired last Thursday arrived in the mail on Friday, and I had a chance to read the article over the weekend. No suprises, if anything it confrmed my conclusion that this firing was really about to General McChrystal not getting along with U.S. Ambassador Eikenberry:

By far the most crucial – and strained – relationship is between McChrystal and Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador. According to those close to the two men, Eikenberry – a retired three-star general who served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2005 – can't stand that his former subordinate is now calling the shots. He's also furious that McChrystal, backed by NATO's allies, refused to put Eikenberry in the pivotal role of viceroy in Afghanistan, which would have made him the diplomatic equivalent of the general. The job instead went to British Ambassador Mark Sedwill – a move that effectively increased McChrystal's influence over diplomacy by shutting out a powerful rival. "In reality, that position needs to be filled by an American for it to have weight," says a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations.

The relationship was further strained in January, when a classified cable that Eikenberry wrote was leaked to The New York Times. The cable was as scathing as it was prescient. The ambassador offered a brutal critique of McChrystal's strategy, dismissed President Hamid Karzai as "not an adequate strategic partner," and cast doubt on whether the counterinsurgency plan would be "sufficient" to deal with Al Qaeda. "We will become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves," Eikenberry warned, "short of allowing the country to descend again into lawlessness and chaos."

McChrystal and his team were blindsided by the cable. "I like Karl, I've known him for years, but they'd never said anything like that to us before," says McChrystal, who adds that he felt "betrayed" by the leak. "Here's one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, 'I told you so.' "
But what is this "viceroy" business? That position is officially called the NATO Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan. Here is the current occupant, Britain Mark Sedwill, speaking when he stepped into the role last January:

Here is what a New York Times article said back on May 15 about Sedwill:
Mr. Sedwill’s emergence also laid to rest a long-simmering debate over how to structure the civilian leadership of the Afghan campaign. The United States had initially wanted to install a powerful viceroy who would have functioned as a counterpart to the military commander. Previous efforts to install a powerful civilian chief had foundered because of Hamid Karzai’s objections and European fears that a viceroy would dilute the authority of the United Nations’ special representative.
Staffan de Mistura, an Italian-Swedish diplomat, represents the United Nations. Vygaudas Usackas, a Lithuanian, is the European Union’s special representative. That's a lot of Europeans running things on the dilomatic side, and one can surmise that General McChrystal may have run afoul of them as well.

This quote from Mark Sedwill in that article could not have gone down well in diplomatic circles:
I wouldn’t have taken the job if I hadn’t been confident in my relationship with McChrystal. He probably would have sought to block anyone he didn’t have confidence in.
It's the age old question of who runs the overall strategy for a war, the diplomats or the generals. And proof that the Rolling Stone aricle did not come from out of nowhere as it appeared last week.

Spain and Portugal Face Off Tuesday for Iberian Peninsula Cup

With the demise of U.S.A. to Ghana, I've decided to transfer the flag to Portugal.

Spain and Portugal face off Tuesday for the Iberian Peninsula Cup, which may be worth more in bragging rights to both teams than actually winning the World Cup itself. Game time in Cape Town, South Africa is 8:30pm local time, which I understand to be 2:30pm here in the U.S eastern time zone.

Guess I have to take Tuesday afternoon off from work. Isn't the World Cup great!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

John Lennon Lives in Harvard Square

Is that John Lennon performing "Strawberry Fields" in Harvard Square a few nights back?

Recorded in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 24, 2010.

Kevin Costner to the Rescue in the Gulf of Mexico

BP has hired Ocean Therapy Solutions to provide the centrifuge technologies that Kevin Costner has been touting to help skim off the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon well.

The idea is that by using barges mounted with centrifuges to separate the oil from water, skimmers can operate more efficiently with fewer trips back to the dock to empty the skimmings they have collected.

Does it help? Or is it just a PR move? I don't know.

Somerville Theatre Needs to Listen Up to Its Cambridge Fan Base

We went by the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square yesterday, and were glad to see it's got a better batch of movies showing than it has had for the last few weeks. But some Facebook chatter (below) has got us down on the Somerville Theatre.

It's great they say the sound system is fixed, but is this just the same person who told us there was no problem with the sound on the night we saw Kick-Ass? Don't feel like laying down good money to find out. So we'll lighten up when they listen up.

Somerville Theatre: Wow, a lady just came in off the street to tell us that the movies we show are "beneath us" - whatever that means. Who does that? Hopefully she will find her way back to Cambridge... June 17 at 5:09pm
Left Bank of the Charles: If you walked from Cambridge with the thought there is always something good at the Somerville Theater and the only choices were Babies, Get Him to the Greek, Sex & the City 2 you might be thinking the same dark thoughts too. June 17 at 11:07pm
Somerville Theatre: Well we happen to like some of those films, and ALL of them have been popular, and two of them are well reviewed, if that means anything. We don't care for snobbery - no film is "beneath" us, as we are a place for the masses, NOT the elite, and always have been. We're a popcorn palace, not a palace of pretension. June 18 at 1:11am
Left Bank of the Charles: If you want to insult your Cambridge customers as snobs, fine, I can go elsewhere to get my Kick-Ass.   June 18 at 3:10pm
Somerville Theatre: lighten up my friend! We're not saying everyone from Cambridge is a snob - but any Somervillian can tell you poking fun at the People's Republic is an old 'ville tradition. :)  We did have a sound issue with Kick Ass in that smaller house, but it was fixed - you won't find better projection staff than here - 100+ years of collective experience in the booth!  June 18 at 3:56pm

Harvard Loves Its Drop Outs to Skip Straight to Selling Out

Speech Bill Gates gave at the Harvard commencement in June 2007:

With the speech broken into 5 parts on YouTube, one can see how much of the initial audience Gates retained though all 5 parts.

PartView CountRetention

With the introduction of his theme of applying our knowledge to reduce inequities in the world at the end of Part 1, 1% of his audience skipped straight to the end and 70% of his audience dropped out. The core audience that watched all the way through was about 8%. That may not seem like a lot, but it may be all that progressives need.

"You think you can hold on to those lofty ambitions of a life of nobility? Still have your ideals do you? Going to use that big brain of yours to make a difference? Going to make the world a better place? Be an agent for change? Volunteer? Going to get a job in the public sector? Sacrifice the big bucks because that doesn't matter to you? Maybe spend a few years in the Peace Corps? Save the Whales maybe? Maybe join the Environmental Defense Council? Recycle? Going to clean up a few rivers like JFK Jr.? Volunteer for legal aid for the underprivileged? Go to Africa? No, you're going to sell out."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

No Joy in Mudville After World Cup Elimination: USA 1, Ghana 2

The scene in Arlington, Massachusetts this afternoon was eerie. The nets were up at the soccer fields but the grass was empty as every soccer fan in the United States of America watched the World Cup game with Ghana, with the winner to go to the quaterfinals and the loser to go home.

With a 1 to 1 tie at the end of regulation, the game went to overtime (or extra-time as the soccer buffs call it). Alas, there was no second miracle on grass and no joy in Mudville:
"Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Harvard Square Does Have Free Wi-Fi

Harvard Square Does Have Free Wi-Fi, as advertised, courtesy of the Harvard Square Business Association. And that's all I have to say at this slow internet speed.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

General You've Never Heard of Is Sacked for Dissing Ambassador You've Never Heard of Either

The news from the White House today is that President Barack Obama sacked General Stanley McChrystal, who had been leading American and other NATO troops in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The official story is that he was sacked for making comments disparaging the White House foreign policy team that were reported in an interview in Rolling Stone magazine. This included comments critical of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Joe Biden, and by implication President Obama. I suspect this is not quite true.

Gates is McChrystal's boss and Obama is his commander-in-chief. Yes, those remarks could be considered insubordinate, a firing offense in the military, but America has a long tradition that you can complain about your boss, as long as you do what your boss tells you to do. The right to complain about your boss, either behind his back or to his face, is deeply ingrained in American life. Whine about your boss all you want, no apology necessary. It's in the Constitution.

So wat was the real firing offense? I suspect that it was the remarks directed toward the State Department concerning Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. And, by extension, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

You can complain about your boss but don't dare complain about your coworkers, particularly if they work in another department. That's off limits. And it's how Secretary of State Colin Powell got pushed out of his job during the George W. Bush administration. That time it was State complaining about Defense, this time it is Defense complaining about State.

Interestingly, Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly came out in favor of keeping General McChrystal on the job. That's likely because the State Department wanted Karzai gone due to concerns about well-documented corruption in the Afghan government. The Obama Administration through the State Department all but openly supported Karzai's opponent Abdullah Abdullah in the Afghan presidential election last year. And they'd like nothing better than to write Karzai out of the post-war picture.

So to the extent there was friction as to goals between Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal, Karzai seems to have allied himself with McChrystal, who had the thankless job of fighting a war against insurgents in a country whose elected leader the U.S. does not fully support. Nor should we fully support Karzai, from what I've seen. Now that balancing act goes to General David Petraeus, hero of the 2003 Iraq liberation and the 2007 Iraq surge who has been called down from his CENTCOM command to take up the fight in Afghanistan.

I have to say that I thought General Petraeus was already in charge of the Afghan war from his CENTCOM perch. A main force for the push this summer is the 101st Airborne Division, which Petraeus himself commanded back in 2003.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Free WiFi May or May Not Be Available in Harvard Square, Herrell's Ice Cream Definitely Is Not

When I first saw the free WiFi pendants flying in Harvard Square a couple of weeks ago I wasn't sure if they were new or had been there for years. But I did know would have to try my hand at live blogging from one of the Square's many outdoor cafes.

So tonight I took out my new Windows 7 laptop and cozied up outside my second-favorite ice cream parlor. Alas, I could connect to the free network but could get no internet connection. And the diagnose connection problem feature was no help whatsoever. To get additional help, you need an internet connection. Talk about your Catch 22s.

And why did I go to my second-favorite ice cream parlor? My favorite, Herrell's Ice Cream, a fixture of Harvard Square since the 1980s, has closed. Harvard Square still has at least four remaining ice cream shops, so I'll just have to make do.

You can read this obsequious note, but the important thing is that they plan to open a restaurant to be called First Printer in its stead. It promises to have a moderately priced menu of classic American and traditional New England fare. And a liquor license.

This site on Dunster Street was the location of the first printing press in British North America in 1638. At least they didn't take the history too seriously and open a print and photocopy shop.

Where can you still get ice cream in the Harvard Square? There's Baskin Robbins on Bow Street, J.P. Licks on Massachusetts Ave., Ben and Jerry's in the Garage on JFK Street, and Lizzy's Homemade on Church Street.

But where can one go for a smoosh-in, the concept Steve Herrell introduced of mixing various toppings such as crushed heath bar, Oreo cookies, M&Ms, nuts, and fruits into the ice cream? There was something magical about the way Steve slapped the ice cream down on the counter, hand-sprinkled the goodies, and smooshed it around with those big serving spoons.

Northampton, Massachusetts is now the smoosh-in capital of the world.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Did Alvin Greene Get Arrested for SIPWB (Sharing Internet Porn While Black)?

Don't worry, no porn will be shared in the telling of this story.

We're digging into the Alvin Greene story down in South Carolina, where the Democratic primary winner for U.S. Senate faces obscenity charges. That led us to this post on a Mother Jones article comment page:

"But how do you get arrested for showing a dirty picture to an 18 year old woman? Probably by showing it to a white woman in SC."

Alvin Greene, to his credit, has not made any public accusation of racism or racial motivation in connection with these felony obscenity charges. Still, reviewing some video makes us wonder what is really going on here, and if any law was actually broken.

Exhibit A: the accuser suggests that what really offended her was that he thought his pickup line would work on her.

Exhibit B: the accuser's mother comes across as a real helicopter parent. In another interview, it comes out that it was mom who called the campus cops.

Exhibit C: one of Alvin Greene's high school classmates describes him as a nice guy who was shy and reserved. (She also says she ran into him campaigning at the local Wal-Mart.)

Exhibit D: Alvin Greene displays his characteristic message discipline in one of his first interviews after his primary win. On the obscenity charges, all he will say is "no comment." But he also makes it clear he considers his experience with the criminal justice system unjust.

Exhibit E: the arrest report indicates that the incident was captured on security camera footage. That has not been released yet by the police or the University of South Carolina. What story would that tell?

Now I am not saying that the accuser or her mother are lying, and I can see how a college freshman could have been a bit freaked out by the experience (and perhaps freaked out big time in discussing the experience with her mother). But I don't see the crime that is being charged, and that goes on the police and prosecutors, not the accuser.

The South Carolina statute cited by police provides:

"(A) It is unlawful for any person knowingly to disseminate obscenity. A person disseminates obscenity within the meaning of this article if he: ... (3) publishes, exhibits, or otherwise makes available anything obscene to any group or individual ..."

That sounds pretty harsh, but unless it is illegal to sell or give another adult a Playboy or Penthouse in South Carolina (it is not) you're going to need to be caught watching something on the internet really hardcore to be justly prosecuted under this statute. Run of the mill pornography is just not illegal.

And what is the penalty for violating this statute: "A person who violates this section is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, must be imprisoned not more than five years or fined not more than ten thousand dollars, or both."

And that raises the intriguing question: Did Alvin Greene, unjustly accused of a heinous crime and facing the possibility of a $10,000 fine (not to mention 5 years in prison), realize that for that same $10,000 he could run for one of the highest public offices in the state of South Carolina?

Alvin Greene served in both the U.S. Airforce and the U.S. Army. The Alvin Greene army of one aims high!

Alvin Greene Exhibit D: The Accused Stands up for Justice

Alvin Greene gives one of his first interviews after winning the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate on June 8 and the question of the obscenity charges was asked.

Q: Did you do it?
A: I have no comment.

Alvin Greene has maintained remarkable message discipline. He keeps coming back to his central theme that he wants to get South Carolina back to work and get South Carolina's priorities in order. But he also talks about his 3-issue campaign: jobs, better education for our children, and justice in the judicial system.

In another interview he talks about how South Carlina spends twice as much on prisons as on education. That is the priority he is talking about getting in order. And it doesn't go to far to suppose that a feeling of personal injustice may well be what got him into the Senate race. So it's also remarkable that he is trying to stay above that and is not trying to play the race card.

Alvin Greene Exhibit C: The Character Witness

A high school classmate of Alvin Greene's describes him as a nice guy who is shy and reserved. And she ran into him campaigning at Wal-Mart, which might explain why the elite media in South Carolina never saw him campaigning.

Their senior yearbook lists the following extra-curricular activities for Alvin Greene:

Black Heritage Club
Future Farmers of America
Library Club
Mock Trial Club
Student Council
Prom Committee
Air Force JROTC
ROTC Officer
ROTC Colorguard
ROTC Drill Team
Big Brother
Junior Civitan

Turns out their Manning High School class of 1995 is having a 15-year reunion this weekend. I'd love to be a fly on that wall. What are you up to? Well, I'm running for U.S. Senate and facing trumped up felony obscenity charges. You?

Alvin Greene Exhibit B: The Accuser's Helicopter Mother

The mother of Alvin Greene's accuser also gave an interview. She comes across as a real helicopter parent who is having trouble accepting that her 18-year-old daughter is now an adult.

"This is about the fact a man that would solict in my opinion a child, it was a matter of six months that defined whether she was a child or not as far as the legal system goes."

"Just because of 6 months being 17 or 18 he was allowed to get away with it then."

And then there is this gem:

"Why is there a section of the Constitution that allows federal positions to judge themselves instead of being vetted like you have to do to be in a state office? And I think there should be an Amendment to our Constitution that requires all government offices whether be they state, local, or federal to be properly vetted and their backgrounds checked out even before they are allowed to file."

This sounds awfully close to the arguments the birther conspiracy theorists have made.

Alvin Greene Exhibit A: The Accuser

The University of South Carolina freshman that Alvin Greene is accused of showing obscene internet porn is interviewed the day after the June 8 primary.

"That was what really offended me. He thought that would work on me, like a pickup line."

"He's not a regular American."

Note: the local TV station that filmed this in silhouette was careful that you saw enough of her forward to see that she was a white woman. She did later appear onscreen in an interview for Fox News.

Kesha Rogers Rallies Texas Democrats to Lyndon LaRouche's Battle Cry of Freedom

Kesha Rogers is a young African-American woman running for Congress in Texas (Tom Delay's former district). She won the Democratic primary with 53% of the vote.

Here Kesha and her campaign staff sing the Civil War song "The Battle Cry of Freedom" with the rousing words, "down with the tratiors, up with the stars." On the subject of stars, Kesha wants NASA to colonize Mars. On putting down traitors, she wants to impeach President Barack Obama.

Kesha is clearly running as not your average Democrat: "I have fought long and hard on behalf of the ideals and principles of the true Democratic Party best represented by Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon LaRouche, even at the expense of happily putting myself at odds with the now discredited 'mainstream' leadership of my party."

Yes, she has marked herself as one of those crazy LaRouchers. The district includes southeastern Houston and its southern suburbs. A Mars colonization project would bring a ot of federal money to the NASA facilities and contractors in and aorund Houston, so maybe she is not so crazy after all.

But can she win the general election in November? The Texas Democratic Party is going to give her no help at all, which might be the best help of all. And this district could be considered crackpot friendly as it did repeatledly elect Ron Paul and Tom Delay. So, yes, she can.

Alvin Greene Takes a Flyer in U.S. Senate Race in South Carolina

Here is the campaign flyer that Alvin Greene distributed in campaigning for his primary win on June 8. Alvin is now running against incumbent Republican Jim DeMint in the race for U.S. Senate for South Carolina.
On the face of it, it is very succint with excellent bullet points.

Let's Get South Carolina Back to Work!
  • Creating Good Paying Jobs for South Carolina
  • Better Education for our Children
  • Justice in the Judicial System
Alvin M. Greene
  • Born and Raised in South Carolina
  • Graduated form the University of South Carolina
  • Air Force and Army Veteran

The Check that Made Alvin Greene Famous

Here is the $10,440 check that Alvin Greene wrote out on March 16 to enter the South Carolina Primary for U.S. Senate, which he won on June 8. There has been a lot of speculation and controversy about where he got the $10,440, with the suggestion it was some mischevious Republican political operative, or not the act of a sane man in Alvin's circumstances.

I hold to the theory that Alvin was playing the pot odds. The U.S. Senate seat pays $174,000 for a total of $1,044,000 over the six year term of office. The filing fee is just 1% of the potential paycheck. With even just a 1 in 100 chance of winning, that's a good bet.

Note: A lot has been made about "Alvin M. Green for Senate" being handwritten at the top of the check. The story from the Demoratic state party chairwoman explains that. Avin Greene tried first to pay with a personal check, which she refused to accept because it was not a campaign account. He left her office, opened a new bank account, transferred funds into it, and came back the same day to pay with a new check. That check was necessarily a blank starter check because the account had just been opened.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Speculating on the Future of BP after the Gusher

It has been two months after the accident on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

This week, BP's top executives got pilloried in Congress. They had it coming even if it wasn't entirely fair. And BP agreed to establish a $20 billion compensation fund for damages caused by the oil gushing into the Gulf from BP's damaged well.

So what does the stock market think? BP's stock price has been on a downward slide as each successive attenpt to cap or stem the flow have failed. But this week it showed signs of stabilizing.

There are several publicly-owned companies involved in the disaster:

BP P.L.C. (BP) - owns 65% of the well. Says Standard and Poor's Analyst Christine Tiscareno: "Despite BP's shares being technically undervalued, in our view, we believe uncertainty will remain until the escaping Gulf of Mexico oil flow is capped." BP is down 48%, a loss to shareholders of $92 billion.

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (APC) - owns a 25% non-operating interest in the well. Says Standard and Poor's: "the maximum insurance APC can collect is $162.5 million. Given the ongoing severity of the event, we believe APC's financial liabilities could be much higher." APC is down 42%, a loss to shareholders of $15 billion.

Mitsui & Company (MITSY) - owns a 10% non-operating interest in the well through its subsidiary Mitsui Oil Exploration Co. and MOEX Offshore 2007 (MITSY's share is 7%). Says Mizuho Asset Management VP Takashi Aoki: "The impact of the liability cost has been more than compensated for in the current share price." MITSY is down 25%, a loss to shareholders of $7.5 billion.

Transocean, Ltd (RIG) - operated the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Says Standard and Poor's Analyst Stewart Glickman: "We think RIG still bears legal risk for crew members killed or injured, and potentially could see indemnities voided if the courts make a finding of gross negligence against RIG for its role in the accident." RIG is down 39%, a loss to shareholders of $11 billion.

Halliburton (HAL) - provided oil field services for the well. It seems to have been largely exonerated, at least by the stock market, although its oilfield services business will undoubtedly be affected. HAL is down 15%, a loss to shareholders of $4.5 billion.

And what about the stock market itself? It's down 8% since the disaster. How much of that 8% can be atrributed to the disaster verus other factors cannot be known. The energy industry as a whole is also down by that same percentage, so clearly nothing that has happened in the Gulf has changed the relative profit equation in our economy's need for energy.

So the total loss to shareholders of the companies involved is $130 billion. Even assuming $16 bilion of that is due to the general market decline, that leaves $114 billion. Why is that so much more than the $20 billion BP compensation fund?

Certainly, shareholders have to shoulder the costs and damages of the accident, and also the damage to the company business which can both be financial and reputational. Still, it appears the collective opinion of the stock market thinks it knows something that the rest of us don't.

It could be that the stock market thinks there is a 50% chance that BP stock will largely recover its value, and a 50% chance it will go to $0. Of course, the stock market doesn't itself think. The market's individual participants do the thinking and their collective opinion, which could be right or wrong, is what makes the market.

Or the stock market may figure that with the shares beaten down to 52 cents on the dollar, there's a 90% chance someone will come along and offer 60 cents to buy the whole company. If the underlying values then recover to 90 cents, that's a 30 cent profit for a cool $57 billion, just not for the current shareholders.

Care to speculate? You can see from the trading volume numbers that there has been a gusher of trading in BP stock these past few weeks after several weeks of lower volume.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

John Gerard Opens Harvard Square Folk Lunch Thursday

John Gerard opened the season for Club Passim's summer outdoor concert series in Harvard Square.

John Gerard can often be found playing the streets & subways of Boston and Cambridge, and also such venues as Pub Church at the Dugout!, Club Passim, and Tommy Doyle's.

To take in Folk Lunch Thursday, be in the alleyway between the two Harvard Coop buildings (and between the Border Cafe & Club Passim) at high noon on Thursday.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is Alvin Greene a Plant for the Hatfield Clan?

Camille McCoy describes her encounter last October with Alvin Greene, which is the subject of outstanding felony obscenity charges against him. Alvin Greene won the South Carolina Democratic primary for U.S. Senate last week.

OK, as she describes it this went down pretty much as I had thought. Guy meets girl in freshman dorm computer lab. Guy talks to girl about football. Guy shows her internet porn depicting woman on man sex. Girl is uncomfortable and asks guy to leave. Guy suggests they go to her room (i.e. that they leave together). Girl declines and goes back to her room alone. Girl calls mom. Mom calls campus police.

What's not clear is how the campus police caught the guy. Was he still sitting there in the computer lab watching the porn? My guess is that he is getting charged for what the police saw him doing on the internet, not what may have occurred earlier.

And Shepard Smith also explored the "no harm in asking" point of view:

"I'm trying to be fair about this. All right. You're not technically underage. He showed you some pictures you didn't like. You walked away. If that was the end of it ..."

I do have a new theory about where Alvin Greene may have gotten the money for his primary filing fee. It wasn't a Republican, it was a Hatfield. That Hatfield-McCoy feud has been going on since 1865. Well, the Hatfields sure put a good one over on the McCoys this time.

Vic Rawl Blames "the Software" for His Loss to Alvin Greene

Yes, blame the software not the voters and certainly not your campaign.

Some Vic Rawl quotes from the interview:

"It's not the voting booth, it's the software that runs the touchscreen non-paper controlled machines."

"Talking to an expert is very interesting unless you are one."

"I campaigned diligently from March 1 until the primary date."

"This isn't an appeal, this is a protest."

Jonathan Stewart Piles on the Alvin Greene Story

By the way, when stripping out all the Daily Show links I noticed they had this linked to their Tea Party videos, but this video is not actually there. So is it possible that MSNBC, CNN, and The Daily Show are worried Alvin Greene may be part of the Tea Party movement?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jillian Looses It in Cambridge

A Cambridge family got more than a little tough love in episode 2 of the new NBC show Losing It with Jillian:

Here's the story: Debra Jones’s life has been spiraling out of control ever since her husband died suddenly six years ago. As a single parent now and the sole breadwinner, she’s struggling with working long hours on the job, running a household, and raising a 12 year-old and 10 year-old. Her house is a wreck, her weight is out of control and she’s caving under the pressure to juggle all of her responsibilities.

The Alvin Greene Story: Just a Political Science Major Playing the Pot Odds

South Carolina is having the most fun this political season. First it was the Nikki Haley story, she is running for Governor. Now it is the Alvin Greene story, he is running for U.S. Senate.

Alvin Greene won the Democratic primary in South Carolina last Tuesday with 99,970 (58%) votes against 69,572 (41%) votes for his opponent Vic Rawl. Vic ran a traditional campaign spending about $250,000. Alvin spent nothing but the filing fee. Vic was an established political figure, Alvin was a nobody, and so everyone has a theory about how this happened, from race voting to Republican dirty tricks.

Here's my theory: Alvin Greene ran the better campaign and deserved to win.

First of all, you need to get to know the two candidates, both of them. There has been a lot in the press about Alvin Greene but not so much about Vic Rawl. So watch these clips (no need to watch the whole clip, 10 to 20 seconds will give you the drift).

Here's Alvin Greene in a nice suit, nice tie, nice U.S. Flag lapel pin.

Skip to 2:12 for the start of the interview with Keith Olbermann. There is something refreshing about the way Alvin Greene gives Keith Olbermann Yes or No responses.

You don't even need to watch this one to see that Vic Rawl wants to throw the book at you. Talk about projecting an image of big brother.

More books. Vic Rawl's own bio says he reads 150 books a year, which is 3 per week. And isn't that slogan "Our New Senator" just a bit presumptuous.

Keep in mind that the two Alvin Greene videos were interviews with investigative reporters probing into what they see as a suspicious election result. The two Vic Rawl videos were filmed and posted by his campaign, presumably putting his best foot forward.

Do you get the picture? Vic Rawl is dull and slightly scary, and he spent $250,000 transmitting that message to the people of South Carolina. Alvin Greene comes across as reasonably intelligent if not terribly articulate, but did not do much public campaigning so that did not get communicated to the voters.

What I'm saying is that running no campaign was better than running a very bad campaign. Genius. And just how bad was Vic Rawl's campaign? Well let's look at his view count on YouTube, where he posted 6 videos:

Jim DeMint is not serious about SC590
We Are Required to Work Together138
I'm a Democrat, but I'm South Carolinian260
Why I'm Running...338
Meet Vic Rawl114
Vic Rawl Enters Race for U.S. Senate436

That's not a lot of traffic, and when you consider that most of it probably came in the last week after the reporters and bloggers started digging into the story, that's essentially no traffic.

And what about Vic Rawl's establishment credentials? He has a long resume but currently sits on the Charleston County Council. That's right, he's a county councilman. Is that even a full time job? Not exactly the usual platform to make a run for statewide office. The truth is that South Carolina is a Republican state, and running against sitting Republican Senator Jim DeMint was likely going to be a losing proposition for Vic Rawl.

But back to Alvin Greene. Some news reports have portrayed him as an unemployed veteran living on the edge of homelessness and mental illness, and some type of sexual predator who is facing charges for felony obscenity. Of course, the electorate didn't know all of this on primary election day, which demonstrates both the ineptitude and hubris of the Vic Rawl campaign and the genius of Alvine Greene's strategy of not visibly campaigning.

But that story doesn't quite hold either. The Washington Post reports Alvin Greene graduated in 2000 from the University of South Carolina with a degree in political science. Yes, that would make him an educated amateur.

He left the military last August, after service in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army, with he has described as an involuntary honorable discharge. The Washington Post also reports the Pentagon says he was awarded the Air Force Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Korean Defense Service Medal.

Now he's 32 and living back at home with his father. You can't call that homeless. Yes, you can call that unemployed, but in my experience it is common for men and women just discharged from the military to go back home while they figure out what they want to do. Like running for political office.

Vic Rawl, in addition to finishing over 150 books in the last year says he also enjoys travel, golf, hunting, and off-shore fishing. That doesn't sound employed either.

So what about the sexual predator charges? An eighteen year old woman at the University of South Carolina (his alma mater) says she encountered him in the dorm computer lab where he was watching porn on the internet. I hate to break the news to you folks, this would not the first time a college computer was used to watch porn.

And then she says he asked if they could go upstairs to her room. That's not my idea of courting, but the inconvenient truth is that sometimes the woman in that situation says Yes even if most of the time she says No. Courting by porn is one of the things Anita Hill accused Justice Clarence Thomas of, and he was confirmed to the Supreme Court by the U.S. Senate.

That only a obscenity charge is being discussed (no trial or even indictment yet, and Greene maintains his innocence) pretty much proves that no assault took place. You can argue that 32-year-old men have no business propositioning 18-year-old women, but that doesn't always turn out bad like with Prince Charles and Princess Dianna.

That brings us to the $10,440 filing fee that Alvin Greene had to pay to enter the U.S. Senate primary. He says he saved it from his military wages. Others say some Republican trickster likely gave him the money. Both explanations are believable. Remember, he's back living at home with his father so wouldn't have a lot of expenses.

But it's not crazy to put down that money. The U.S. Senate seat is a job, and Alvin Greene needs a job, carrying a $174,000 annual salary plus benefits. Over the six year term that's $1,044,000. So the filing fee is just 1%. If he has a 1 in 100 chance of winning the seat, that's a good bet. Genius, I tell you. Genius.

Alvin Greene was not the only no-name on the ballot in South Carolina, there was also a woman named Susan Gaddy (white, if that matters to you). Susan Gaddy had a web site, which remained blank throughout the campaign (OK, maybe she didn't have a web site). And she had a blog, which had exactly one post: "Welcome to my blog, and thank you for choosing to learn about my campaign." She got 69,907 votes, which was also more than Vic Rawl.

And what about Senator Jim DeMint? He got 340,901 votes on primary day, more than twice his nearest competitor, mystery man Alvin Greene. And now everybody in South Carolina knows who Alvin Greene is. Vic Rawl had no real chance, no one knows what chance Alvin Greene has. Sometimes the voters say Yes to the outsider. Genius.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kick Standing It Old School with a Schwinn Varsity

A friend called today and said he wanted to check out a bike he found on Craig's List. And what a bike it was, a classic 1971 Schwinn Varsity. Orange.

These bikes were loaded with features. The solid heavy steel frame. The chrome fenders. The kick stand. All those features would be eliminated in the 10-speed racing bike frenzy of late 1970s and 1980s. All in the name of reducing weight and increasing speed.

We drove out to central Massachusetts to pick up this vintage baby, which was in very good condition. Always bring a buddy for a Craig's List rendezvous.

The classic Schwinn nameplate.

The rear derailleur. These days the hipsters are switching these out for fixed gear, with just a single speed. That's very hard core, but unless you plan to take the bike out of the city and into the hills, you're just posing.

Here we have the side pull brakes. Cycling purists would later insist on center pull brakes, as theoretically pulling more evenly and releasing more smoothly on both sides of the tire. And we have an electric light that runs off the rotation of the tires. It may add a bit of drag, but no batteries required.

The factory seat bag and the factory seat, both with the Schwinn nameplate.

The Varsity is a great bicycle, even if a whole generation of bicycles was designed to be "better" than the Varsity, which is indeed the sincerest form of flattery. I rode its sibling, a red 5-speed Schwinn Collegiate across the state of Iowa on RABGRAI, twice.

Here's the vintage deal. You get more exercise off pedaling the heavier steel frame. The fenders will protect your work clothes if you are using it to commute on a rainy day. The brakes stop the bike just fine, and gears come in handy if you need to climb a hill. And the kick stand? Magic.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mississippi Girl Don't Change Her Ways

This Mississippi girl has only been in town 4 months, but already she is queen of the dog park at the corner of Putnam and Summer Streets in Somerville.

Well, I spent a few months on YouTube
They put my face on the big internet screen
But that don't mean I've forgotten where I came from
That's just me chasing dreams

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Most Hopeful Street Sign in Cambridge

Blind people, you can drive. You know you can. No more excuses, just get in your car, buckle up, and go.

I ran into this Blind Drive sign today on Garden Street in West Cambridge, just around the corner from my apartment. The cement was still fresh where they cut the new hole for the sign post in the sidewalk. This comes on the heals of running across the most politically correct street sign in Metro Boston just last month.

And to what do we owe this new intrusion in the neighborhood. It didn't take long to figure out that this driveway has an obstructed view of Garden Street.

Someone very thoughtfully cut down the big tree and constructed the lot fence to taper down as it approaches the street. Then someone very unthoughtfully let their bushes grow up above the height of the fence. You'd think trimming the bushes would be a no-brainer, although maybe the For Sale sign explains that. Much easier to have the city pay for and install a new sign.

Now I don't want to start a feud between my neighbors, but it seems to me this problem could have been solved quickly with a pair of pruning shears. And if in the next week someone does some 3am stealth clipping, I swear it wasn't me.

The Nikki Haley Story: Some Lies Don't Tell So Well

Well if you have been following the story in the South Carolina Governor's race, you know that the front-running Republican Nikki Haley faces a run-off primary on June 22. And people are still talking about allegations from two players in the South Carolina Republican Party that they had affairs with her.

Here is Will Folks, the blogger with a story to tell. And what a vague story it is: "Several years ago, prior to my marriage, I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki." Which could just mean that he tried grab her in some inappropriate way (if you were to even credit his story that much).

Here is Larry Marchant, and his story is as fishy as the pink tie he wore to the TV interview for his 15 minutes of infamy: "I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki Haley. What happened was, one time, one of those things. ... I spent the night with Ms. Haley, and we had sexual relations. We had sex."

Now we know South Carolina is a randy place, but we didn't know that phrase "inappropriate physical relationship" was in such common use down there.

And here is Nikki Haley. She is an attractive woman, even at age 38. And she helped build her mother's upscale clothing firm into a multi-million dollar company.

And I think it is pretty clear from the pictures above and below, based on our long cultural experience of what it means to be a beautiful, wealthy woman, that Nikki Haley did not have any sort of affairs with either of these two men.

Nikki Haley has been married to Michael Haley for nearly 14 years, and they have two young children. Michael is an employee with the U.S. Army and an officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard.

But women in politics seem to be fair game for all sorts of personal aspersions that would get one punched in the face or laughed out of town if aimed at a man.