Ann Coulter & Rush Limbaugh: Barack's BFFs

The more the world hears from Ann Coulter, the better. 


(CNN) ?
Conservative political commentator Ann Coulter?s 15-minute address at CPAC played more like a stand-up comedy act than a political speech.

Coulter delivered line after line of jabs at President Obama, the Democratic Party and the media ? each met with roaring laughter from the crowd.

The commentator ? who is no stranger to controversy ? first went after MSNBC, calling the hosts the ?alternative prom crowd.?

Pointing to recent comparisons of Obama to Jesus a nd Abraham Lincoln, Coulter said the media has turned from being the people?s watchdog to the ?government guard dog.?

?Maybe it?s just me, but I can?t see Lincoln text messaging with Scarlet Johansson ? and I forget, how many times did Lincoln vote present?? she said, to much applause.

Coulter likened members of the media and Democrats to parents ?gushing? over a newborn baby.

?Having pulled off their rather mediocre 53 percent to 46 percent victory, liberals can?t stop boasting about their new baby boy,? she said.

She said it was interesting that Obama?s ?adorers? in the media compare him to Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, because, ?apparently they can?t think of a Democratic president worthy of being compared to.?

?If [Obama] thinks people wanted change in 2009, wait until 2012,? she said.

Coulter has a long history of making controversial comments about politicians. Following her appearance at the 2007 CPAC, multiple companies asked to pull their ads from her Web site after she used what some observers called an anti-gay slur to describe then-Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

She was also at odds with Sen. John McCain during the campaign season, saying "John McCain is not only bad for Republicanism, which he definitely is ? he is bad for the country."

Sing it, sister.

In fact, if I work in the Obama White House, I do everything I can to ensure the media give Coulter and Rush Limbaugh all the time in the spotlight they so richly deserve because the pearls of wisdom that drip from their lips deserve a world-wide audience.

Nothing, but NOTHING, helps the Obama administration move its agenda forward more than this pair so we wish them good health and even more successful careers than they currently enjoy.

Simply put, I'd like nothing more than to hear their opinions given full airtime on every major media outlet. They should always tell us exactly what they think and we should make sure they're standing beside a prominent Republican when they do because that kind of association should not go wasted. 

If fact, can you imagine what a wonderful couple they would make? Ann & Rush would make just the most delightful little babies. Someone should give him her number... that would ensure future generations of whack-jobs and keep Democrats in office forevermore.

Or at least until people got tired of peace and prosperity and were ready for stupidity, corruption and incompetence again. The timing should be perfect because, by that time, the twins should be ready to run.

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On brainwashing: A comparative study

Ever since the children were born, many have noted the remarkably effective methods I've employed to raise such devoted Hab fans in this bastion of hockey mediocrity, known as Leaf Nation. (As an aside, why one would even want to be a citizen of any country of such chronic underachievement is a mystery to me. I figure it's got something to do with the lack of proper bagels.)

Anyway, I've always conceded my brainwashing and indoctrination methods were not solely of my own creation and freely admitted that I'd borrowed liberally from an organization known as the KGB. From the time the kids were in utero, I've not missed an opportunity to drive home the combined message of divergence between the Habs' glorious history and the sorry tale of woe which forms the legacy of the Blue & White. I make no apologies for this. In fact, I believe it is my duty as a father to teach my children.

And I have done well. My children know what is right. In fact, they are active participants in spreading the word. The other day, Adam announced he'd come up with a word game at school: "Daddy, what rhymes with garbage?"

"Maple Leafs"

OK, so maybe not an A for English but definitely worthy of a trip to Mastermind for some Star Wars Lego.

In any case, I have been watching with a certain bemused detachment as my daughter has been enrolled in another "program" over the past few months; one for which the very notion of thought control was virtually devised. This May, Emily will be taking her First Communion at Blessed Sacrament. 

So there it is: The Catholic Church.

The Granddaddy of them all.

This has been a fascinating opportunity for comparison of our respective methods and I must say, I am impressed. Then again, after 2,000 years one would expect they'd have their act together but still, the attention to detail is nothing short of remarkable. (and any cult-leader will tell you attention to detail is EVERYTHING. One lousy freebie Molson Maple Leaf flag hanging in the back of a closet can ruin years of progress. There can be no room for compromise.)

Yesterday was Reconciliation, or First Confession, as it was known when I was an altar boy. (Oh yes, I learned my lessons well from within the very belly of the organization)

SIDENOTE: During Reconciliation yesterday, as some parents were inexplicably taking video, the priest, Father Larry announced that if parents wanted their children to pose for a photo with him after the ceremony, they could do so. He went on to explain there would be a cost of 25 cents for those among them who are not Habs fans and no cost for Habs fans. Nice touch. Good going, Father Larry, I'm a big fan of your work too.

Today, Sister Mary explained the proper method for receiving communion: "You place you two hands together to form a cup to hold the host and place it in your mouth with your fingers. You chew the wafer and then swallow it."

It is not possible to describe the look on Emily's face when she turned around in utter astonishment that someone felt it was necessary to explain how humans consume bread that had been placed in their mouth. "They must think we're morons."

No, my beautiful girl. They just have their ways. And, just as it is a crime to put anything but mustard and relish on a Forum hot dog, we must be respectful of their traditions. They go back a long way. So, you will place the wafer in your mouth, chew it and swallow it.

And we will move on with our lives.

Go Habs.

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Late Night Torch getting passed

This Monday, Late Night, the show originally hosted by David Letterman, will see Jimmy Fallon slide into the chair behind the desk previously occupied by Conan O'Brien.

I don't really watch much of these shows anymore because, if the TV is on at that hour, I'm watching hockey highlights or The Today Show with genius Jon Stewart but I wanted to - no - I NEEDED to say a few words about this transition because it highlights one of the great mysteries of the universe; namely, how Conan O'Brien has managed to remain on television all these years.

I was a huge fan of the original Late Night with David Letterman.  Letterman's caustic sarcasm and quirkiness was the perfect way for a college student to spend an hour and I still think Dave is hilarious even though the years have tamed him somewhat.

When Conan O'Brien replaced Letterman after the Hoosier's move to CBS, I thought O'Brien's comedy pedigree of National Lampoon and The Simpsons were a good sign of what was to come but, frankly, that hope faded pretty fast.  Someone needs to say this: Conan O'Brien is not funny.  He may be a good writer and I've often thought his humour would translate better in written form but on-stage, dude is just not funny.  In fact, he sucks.  He's no funnier than Jay Leno, a guy who totally lost his edge when he took over the Tonight Show.  Actually, Jay lost it when he began shilling for Doritos 20 years and never got it back.  O'Brien moves into Leno's spot at the Tonight Show and how no one else seems to have noticed his complete unfunniness continues to boggle my mind.

It remains to be seen whether Fallon will be good but he is a Sox fan so that's a start.  In the meantime, the TED book club pile continues to grow...  

Things I Thought or Heard While Serving in Iraq

From McSweeney's:


- - - -

Wow, it's really hot here.

Wow, those guys look really mad.

Wow, I don't want to know where he was hiding that rocket.

Now, that looks really painful.

That is really painful.

Wait, define "infection."

Merry Christmas.

Wow, it's really cold.

Wow, that guy looks really angry.

That spider was really fast.

Wait, define "amputate."

When I get home, I'm going to kill my recruiter.

Do they really call this food?

Adventure, women, booze, parties, and I end up here; I really am going to kill my recruiter.

What about that goat? No wonder he looks mad.

Finally, we're leaving.

Wait, define "held over."

Define "six more months."

I'm going to kill that recruiter.

and just because it's been a while...

Here's another snippet from TED. I'd never heard of Regina Spektor before and I haven't stopped listening to her since I got back. I love her voice.


Derek DeCloet has some advice for Manulife

In his latest piece, Globe & Mail columnist Derek DeCloet addresses the concerns surrounding Manulife which have resulted in the decline of its stock price and he offers this advice: confront your problems head on.

How far has Manulife fallen? Far enough that people have begun referring to the company's power in the past tense.

"These guys had the potential to be a Canadian global champion," says one investor at a Bay Street firm who was a supporter for years, but is now dumping the last of his Manulife shares. "It's too bad."

Had the potential? That stings. Particularly when Dominic D'Alessandro, the soon-to-retire chief, has staked his legacy on creating a world-beating financial business from Toronto. Manulife is bidding on some of the Asian units of its dismembered former rival, AIG. But it will take a lot more than spending a billion or three in Japan or the Philippines to mask a $35-billion decline in value, which is how much the company's market capitalization has shrunk since Sept. 15.

We chose that date because it was the morning that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and the unofficial start of the most serious stage of the financial crisis. You may recall the panic that ensued. Equity markets in New York and Toronto each tumbled more than 500 points, General Electric was smashed, Citigroup plummeted.

Manulife's stock fell all of 1 per cent that day. It was a safe haven, unsinkable. But that was before anyone had a clue to how bad the markets would get or how much equity risk Manulife had buried in its books.

Here's what we know now: That Manulife sold contracts to investors that promised guaranteed investment returns, did not hedge the risk (as other insurers had done), and is thus on the hook - on paper - for a liability that's some $30-billion and gets a little bit bigger every time the market falls again. That's why its safe-haven status has not only been stripped away, but reversed. Now, when the Dow falls 5 per cent, Manulife's as likely as not to drop 9 or 10 per cent.

The big worry is that as the liability grows, Manulife will come scurrying back to raise a lot more equity, diluting its stock again after raising $2.1-billion before Christmas. So it was not a massive surprise to hear Mr. D'Alessandro yesterday declare that, unless Manulife makes an acquisition, it doesn't plan to sell more shares.

The magic effects of that statement of confidence lasted about an hour. Then the stock went right back to tumbling to yet another new low. Now trading at three-quarters of its balance sheet net worth, and yielding 8.3 per cent, Manulife has gone from looking like a global winner to just another stressed financial institution. No wonder Mr. D'Alessandro doesn't want to issue shares - to do so feels like selling at the point of maximum pessimism. So let's examine his options.

Start with the good news: Manulife's an insurance company so there's not going to be a "run on the bank." It still has a triple-A credit rating. There is no risk of a Lehman-style cash crunch. That $30-billion doesn't have to paid out until many years from now, if it has to be paid out at all. The markets could recover.

What Manulife has is not a liquidity problem but a regulatory problem, says Mario Mendonca, Genuity Capital's insurance analyst. Every 1-per-cent decline in the stock market knocks down Manulife's key capital ratio (called the MCCSR) by two points. That means if the markets fall another 10 per cent - who would bet against it, since every major index is already down 15 to 20 per cent this year? - Manulife's ratio will likely drop to about 180 per cent. That's the point at which the regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, begins to get concerned. (At 150 per cent, they intervene.)

Can Mr. D'Alessandro go back to Ottawa and argue the capital rules are too strict? It worked last fall, giving Manulife some breathing room. But one doubts that OSFI will want to be seen as kowtowing to the industry.

Can he get Warren Buffett or someone else to take on some of Manulife's potential liability for a fee? Only at a usurious price. It's like a homeowner in New Orleans who tries to get flood insurance just as a hurricane bears down on the city. Usually the only entity willing to take on such a risk is the government. Might Ottawa be willing to act as Manulife's reinsurer, Mr. Mendonca wonders? But do the Tories want to cross that particular line?

That's why, as the markets keep falling, all signs point to another equity sale, acquisition or not. But Mr. D'Alessandro could actually turn the situation into a public relations victory. He's leaving anyway. He could raise the billions, dilute the shareholders, tell them he's very sorry but he had to do it, and hand things over to his successor, Donald Guloien - much in the same way Charles Baillie took the hit in 2002 so that he could leave a clean slate for Ed Clark when Toronto-Dominion Bank got in some trouble.

Our anonymous investor is wrong. Manulife can still be a global champion. But first it has to convince the market that it's not in denial about its problems.

Yesterday, the rating agency S&P changed its rating on Manulife Financial from AAA to AA+ with a stable outlook. Clearly, Manulife's problems are not those of hemorrhaging US & European financial firms but they are problems nonetheless and financial markets have not been pleased with the insurer's response to date.

Maple Leaf For(n)ever

Well on their way to extending a 41 year Stanley Cup drought by missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season (following a whole season lost to the lock-out); in the midst of the worst economic crisis in 80 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs have announced a 3.5% increase to their ticket price for next season's regular season games.  

That, my friends, is capitalism.

(Members of the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs (L-R) Johnny Bower, Frank Mahovlich and Dave Keon are honoured at centre ice prior to the Edmonton Oilers playing the Toronto Maple Leafs during their NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 17, 2007 in Toronto, Ontario.)

Go Habs.

Banking Crisis in Slo-Mo?

Here's a solid piece from on the surprisingly low number of banking failures that have take place to this point in the economic crisis.

In case you're wondering why, the answer is spelled P-O-L-I-T-I-C-I-A-N-S.

With all the doom and gloom surrounding the banking industry from the toxic assets to the nasty recession, you?d think banks would be failing at a furious pace.

Think again. Since the recession began in January 2008, the FDIC has closed just 39 banks?25 in 2008 and 14 thus far in 2009.

By contrast, more than 1000 institutions were closed during 1988 and 1989 when the savings and loan crisis was at its peak. Another 850-plus failed in the ensuing three years when the S&L crisis intersected with the fairly mild recession of 1990-1991.

In 1933, the government closed all 17,000 of the nation?s banks for a long, bank holiday weekend and some 5,000 never reopened.

If all this doesn?t hold up to logic, then try politics.

?It?s worse than the statistics indicate,? says veteran bank analyst Bert Ely. ?One of the problems is how slowly regulators move in dealing with this problem.?

Sure, there more banks in the 1930s and 20 years ago then than the roughly 8,400 of today, but analysts say that still doesn?t explain the huge difference.

?The regulators are behind the curve,? adds Gerald O?Driscoll, a former Federal Reserve official and Citigroup VP, now with the Cato Institute. ?The regulators are kind of where they were in the late 1980s. Regulators procrastinated, then acted. Regulators become tough when the politicians decide to bite the bullet.?

Banking experts say there are striking similarities between the current period and that of the late 1980s and early 1990s when the federal government went from insufficient stopgap solutions to the savings and loan crisis to a radical overhaul.

?It took a new administration to say we're not responsible, to say we have a bunch of insolvent savings and loans," says Lawrence White, a saving and loan regulator and former White House economist. ?It made it easy for the regulators.?

White points out that it also took a new law, called Firrea, which created sweeping regulatory reform as well as a government entity, a bad bank, the Resolution Trust Corporation, to assume control of the institution?s assets and then sell them back into the private sector.

?In those days we weren?t as lenient,? says George Kaufman, a professor of banking and banking regulation at Loyola University, who consults for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago,  ?I think banks have been well under-capitalized.?

And the longer the government waits to close down troubled banks, the longer it will take to restructure the system, goes the thinking, which will also wind up costing taxpayers more money.

Crisis At The Crossroads

A year and a half into this crisis, analysts say there are signs the government is still in denial about the magnitude of the problem as well as the sweeping, draconian actions needed to attack it. At the same time, they say some officials may be on the verge of a turning point in dealing with the issue.

?Bank restructuring should start with some diagnostic phase, where you triage the winners and losers, put them in buckets, some are worth saving others are not,? says Luc Laeven, a World Bank economist who co-authored a study on banking crises of the last 40 years and the policy responses to them. ?The government shouldn't be in the business of trying to save all institutions.?

The Treasury Department?s decision to start using stress tests on the top 20 banks may be a key development in that diagnostic phase.

?The scope of how to do a proper banking resolution is quite well known,? says Johnson. ?The knowledge base, the data base is there.?


Though Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress Tuesday that outcome of the tests is ?not going to pass or fail?, analysts say if done properly it will help address the problem of how to price the toxic assets and reassess bank capital capitalization beyond the somewhat un-useful existing metrics. In doing so, it will provide the government with more impeachable results in deciding winners and losers.

?They?re going to establish an analytical basis to determine how much capital to commit to banks and at one point to be able to say, 'enough is enough' and we?re going to take this bank over,'? says Ely, who adds the stress test will ?essentially move toward [determining] a liquidation value.?

?There?s this kind of pretense of doing scientific analysis and being impersonal and masking that this is very political," says former Senate Banking Committee chief economist Robert Johnson of the stress tests. ?Shutting them [banks] down is hard to do."

The government used the equivalent of a stress test during in the Great Depression. Those that passed were given the necessary capital in the form of a loan in exchange for preferred stock, which is what the Bush administration decided to do at the urging of Congress.

?If you run it properly, you find out how big the hole is,? says Walker Todd, a former Fed official, lawyer and economic historian.

FDIC Chairman Shelia Bair Tuesday the stress tests needed to be done  ?before we determine what type of additional capital investments the government may need to make."

Where There's Smoke...

There?s are signs Congress, if not the President, is running out of patience with the current approach and is looking for more drastic measures.

Members of the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday peppered Bernanke with questions about the government support, suggesting the government was delaying the inevitable.

?Wouldn?t it be better to close some of those banks rather than continue propping them up?? asked Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the panel. ?Aren?t you sending a message that we?re going keep propping the up??

Senator Richard Shelby
Senator Richard Shelby

Bernanke responded by implicitly referring to the stress tests, saying the ?first step is to get clarity, the transparency, ? what he called ?the assessment?. The next [step] is the capital.?

The biggest banks ?are never going to get to the point where that [insolvency] occurs because you keep injecting capital, ? said Sen. Robert Corker (R-Tenn.).

"There is no commitment by any means to never shut down a big bank, absolutely not, but I do believe that the major banks we have now can be stabilized,? Bernanke added.

Similar thinking got the government into trouble with the S&L debacle, say analysts, when capital injections and regulatory forbearance deepened the crisis.

?We believe the quickest and lowest cost solution to the government is to close down troubled financial institutions, regardless of size, extract the toxic assets and sell the good parts of these financial institutions to private investors as quickly as possible,? the bank analysts team at Friedman Billings & Ramsey?s wrote in a Feb 23 research note.

FBR says bad assets could be put into a RTC-like entity and estimates the process could take six months to a year for the large institutions to be healthy enough to be sold back to the private sector

They argue concerns about nationalization are misguided because bank debt guarantees, TARP funding and credits wraps, most if not all of which have been used at the biggest problem big banks, Citigroup and Bank of America, constitute ?soft? nationalization.

Kaufman says Citigroup and Bank of America ?technically have failed? already because they needed ?government assistance.?

Citigroup Center
Mary Altaffer / AP
Visitors to the Citigroup Center exit the building , Tuesday, April, 12, 2005 in New York. Federal law enforcement officials said Tuesday, April 12, 2005, that three men have been indicted on charges they targeted for attack the stock exchange, the Citicorp building in New York and financial institutions in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

There?s also a growing sense in some quarters of the banking committee that the problem really turns on a few big banks and is not yet industry wide.

?The sentiment is Citigroup has failed, so lets tear down the faced and deal with Citi,? says Robert C. Schwartz, a partner in the law firm of Smith, Gambrell & Russell, which represents community banks in the Southeast. ?It just adds angst and uncertainty into the system.?

Schwartz says the 30-plus community banks his firm represents don?t have a ?toxic assets problem? but are worried about what they call the ?second wave?, managing a bank through a tough recession.

That?s partly evident in the number of banks classified as problem ones by the FDIC.  Troubled assets on their balance sheets rose from $78.3 billion to $115.6 billion in the third quarter of 2008.  The number of troubled institutions jumped 38 percent to 117, the most since 1995.  Only 14 banks, however, wound up failing in the 1995-1996 period. (Fourth-quarter data is due out Thursday,)

Analysts say small banks, even regional banks, are not the problem or the threat.

?It?s the biggest banks that need the bailout,? says Walker, and those hold the vast majority of the estimated $4.54 trillion in FDIC insured deposits.

Conventional wisdom says these banks are too big to fail, but that?s different than being taken over by the government for a period of time, then sold back to the private sector in whole or in parts.

Analysts say the Obama administration is struggling over how to take more aggressive steps in dealing with the banking industry problems because of vast public outrage over both the bailout efforts to date and excessive executive compensation.

The President appeared to take a first step in his speech to Congress Tuesday night, saying "I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions...But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job - our job - is to solve the problem."

?They know that the clock is running,? says Johnson. ?He?s [Obama] got to decide what to do. Not deciding can look powerless.?


There is no doubt these are difficult days. Many people, myself included, occasionally fall into the trap of getting stuck in the moment and not remaining open to all the great stuff going on despite the difficulty of the times.

Here's a recipe for feeling better: Watch the Charlie Rose interview with Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, technology investor and you will feel better. This man spends an hour discussing all the cool stuff going on in the world of tech and how it will make our lives profoundly better in the comig years.

Even better, he does so calmly, rationally and without a shadow of doubt that it will come to pass. Sometimes, you just need something to remind you to snap out of your rut and look for it. 

Yes, these are difficult days. But they will pass.

Where were you in 1997?

I only ask because markets ended the day where they were 12 years ago. 

I sincerely hope you've made more progress in your life over that time than global equities have.