Thursday, August 30, 2007

Chinese Law and Order

While in China, we got a few glimpses of what Chinese law and order is all about.

First off, China does have crime. It's a big country, with over 1 billion people--nearly four times the population of the U.S., so there's bound to be a few problems. But China does not have the kinds of serious, violent crimes that plague some parts of America's big cities. Murder is rare. Most of the stuff you read about in the English language Chinese newspapers are fairly petty property crimes. You certainly feel safe walking the streets of a Chinese city at night (in part, you're practically never alone on the street).

We also witnessed, first hand, a police effort to crack down on trademark fraud, which is pretty rampant in China. While leaving a restaurant, we noticed an altercation across the street. A man was screaming and yelling at four police officers in a small leather goods store, while two women tried to restrain him. The police were carrying numerous cartons of goods out of the store and putting them into their police cars. A Chinese relative explained to us that the screaming man was the store owner, that he had gotten mad at the trademark police for asking questions about some of his goods, and so the police had decided to confiscate a large number of items, further enraging the man. Well, at least there's some enforcement.

Prostitution also exists in China. There was a "massage parlor" around the corner from our hotel, and the Curmudgeon's brother-in-law was solicited outside it by an overly made up young lady. "Hello, you want massage; you want sex; hello?" Whether the Chinese police will crack down on prostitution in Beijing before the Olympics, or turn a blind eye to it (on grounds its just another part of the tourist trade) is yet to be seen.

In some areas of Chinese life, the people don't seem too worried about the police. For example, at one point we were on a road jammed up due to construction activity. As vehicles jockeyed for position across lanes, medians and shoulders, a couple of police vehicles trying to get through had no luck. No one moved over for them.

There also doesn't seem to be much in the way of enforcement of speeding laws. Chinese drivers careening down the highway didn't slow in the slightest upon sighting a police car.

When Chinese police do pull someone over for a traffic violation (as we saw twice) it is incumbent on the driver to get our of his/her car and come back to the police officer to discuss the matter and get a ticket.

And when the Chinese need a big police presence, they certainly can get it. When leaving, we noticed that there was no traffic on the five-lane wide inbound airport road. It soon became apparent that a huge number of police were blocking all entry ramps and had closed down the road. After three or four eerie miles of empty highway, we finally spotted a motorcade of some foreign dignitary rushing into town. (You'll sometimes spot the same thing around here on the Dulles Access Road, but with fewer police.)

During part of our trip, Beijing was experimenting with a traffic control program they intend to use during the Olympics, under which most drivers will be allowed on the roads only every other day--even numbered license plates one day, odd the next. When we arrived at the Beijing Airport from Chengdu, our bus driver was not there to meet us, creating a bit of consternation. After a couple phone calls, we found him, on his way--he was quite contrite, as he'd forgotten about the restriction and went out with an even license number on an odd day, without the proper waiver form. He was pulled over by police. The good news is that we made up for the lost time because the road into town wasn't nearly as jammed as usual.

One of the things we didn't get to experience was what it's like to pay a parking ticket in China--could it possibly be worse than in D.C., where the process can take all day?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Larry Craig's Seinfeld Defense: Can You Spare A Square?

Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig is in the death spiral so familiar to us these days, a public figure who's going down, down, down in the media whirlpool.

After pleading guilty to disorderly conduct for his activities in a Minneapolis Airport men's room, Craig is now proclaiming his innocence, but more importantly--for him--that "I AM NOT GAY." His Republican allies have completely abandoned him. (We do hope that fellow GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, also reputed to be a closet gay, will come to his defense.)

For a pretty hilarious take on Craig's "not gay" press conference yesterday, take a look at today's Washington Post column from Dana Milbank, "A Senator's Wide Stance: 'I Am Not Gay.'" (For example, Milbank points out that Craig started his news conference by thanking everyone for "coming out").

If Craig had any balls at all, he'd stop the additional gay-bashing that is a trademark of the Republicans (jumped on by Mitt Romney in dismissing Craig from his campaign and calling him "disgusting") and instead defend the poor men who are so discriminated against that they are forced into sleazy bathroom hook-ups where they risk being arrested.

Don't expect that, of course.

Instead, Craig says he's hired an attorney to review his guilty plea. Sorry, Larry--too late. What good is that going to do you now, even if it works? Your secret is out.

Here's what undoubtedly happened. Craig got caught with his pants down--literally--by a cop in the Minneapolis Airport. It wasn't the first time Craig had done this kind of thing--we'll be hearing about a good many more over the next few days. So, he figured, he might as well plead guilty to a lesser offense and, more importantly, hope that it all was kept quiet.

About any decent attorney, of course, would've told Craig that notwithstanding being caught red-handed--so to speak--the facts could be argued to be innocent. Some kind of misunderstanding. After all, he didn't actually say to the cop, "hey, you want to have sex?" Of course, going to trial would have involved some uncomfortable publicity, but at least Craig would be vindicated by a jury.

In fact, we would have liked to have taken the case. "Your honor, it's well known that President Lyndon B. Johnson frequently went into a bathroom stall and continued to conduct business, talking to others outside. Senator Craig obviously was just trying to strike up a conversation with a regular American to see what he thought about things."

Or better yet, invoke (or evoke, as the case may be) a famous "Seinfeld" episode in which Elaine finds herself in a bathroom stall with no toilet paper. Plaintively asking the woman in the next stall, "can you spare a square," Elaine puts her hand under the divider as the other woman swears she cannot spare even a single square of tissue.

Hey, same thing here. Poor Senator Craig just needed some toilet tissue for his tushy. First, because you never know, he peaked into the occupied stall to make sure there was some toilet paper there, just in case he would need it. Then, sure enough, after entering the adjacent stall, he made the awful discovery that there wasn't any toilet tissue. So he tried to get the other guy's attention. First, he touched the next guy's shoe with his. That didn't work, so he tapped his right foot impatiently (note to Curmudgeon file: when in public toilet, don't tap foot to the muzak!). Still, no response. So he put his hand under the stall. And when that didn't work, he went to what always works for a Senator: he put his business card down and said "what do you think about that." Surely, the next guy over would give him some toilet tissue if he knew it was a U.S. Senator that was in need!

But no. The stingy cop who couldn't even spare a square turns around and arrests the beleagured Senator, who then fears that the folks in a lefty-liberal state like Minnesota will certainly misconstrue what happened. So he pleads guilty.

Some country, eh, where a perfectly heterosexual white guy from Idaho, a pillar of the community, a public servant who has done his best to save the nation from creeping gay-ness, can be arrested and pilloried simply for trying to get a square of toilet tissue.

Let this be a lesson to all of us: when travelling, always--ALWAYS--take with you one of those little packets of tissues.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Who's Worse--Vick or Gonzo? And How 'Bout That Larry Craig?

Today's headlines featured the resignation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General and the guilty plea of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on charges of dogfighting.

Which one is worse?
Let's see: Vick entered a guilty plea.
He acknowledged that what he did was wrong.
He accepted responsibility for his actions.
He didn't try to blame someone else.
He accepted his punishment.

What about Gonzo?
Denied he did anything wrong.
Tried to cover up what he did.
Lied about it after the cover-up failed.
Never acknowledged he did anything wrong.
Never took responsibility for his actions.
Tried to blame everyone else.
Wasn't punished (but did resign).
And still doesn't think he did anything wrong.

Oh, and now we have Idaho Senator Larry Craig, one of those pious gay-bashing conservatives, who evidently tried to quietly enter a guilty plea to lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airport men's restroom. Now that the word is out, he says the shouldn't have admitted his guilt.

Apparently Sen. Craig made the mistake of propositioning a male plainclothes police officer, who then arrested him. Here's the pertinent details from CNN, which got them from Capitol Hill's newspaper, Roll Call:

According to Roll Call, the arresting officer alleged that Craig lingered outside a rest room stall where the officer was sitting, then entered the stall next door and blocked the door with his luggage.

According to the arrest report cited by Roll Call, Craig tapped his right foot, which the officer said he recognized "as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct."

The report alleges Craig then touched the officer's foot with his foot and the senator "proceeded to swipe his hand under the stall divider several times," according to Roll Call.

At that point, the officer said he put his police identification down by the floor so Craig could see it and informed the senator that he was under arrest, before any sexual contact took place.

Ick! Ick! Ick!

Now Craig, taking one out of the Gonzo playbook, says the shouldn't have agreed to the guilty plea. Instead, he says the police "were misconstruing my actions." Right. What he really wanted was a bit of toilet paper.

Here's one prediction we're pretty confident of: Craig won't last nearly as much longer as Gonzo did. He's gone. Sayanara Larry.

Our Chinese Family

One of the reasons we keep going back to China is our extensive family over there. Unlike most Americans who visit China and see the various sites from a bus, but have little interaction with everyday Chinese, we spend a good deal of time with these family members, including seeing their homes and learning of their activities. (And eating! In China--as in many societies--when you get together with relatives, it centers around food, lots of it. We'll write later this week about our experiences with Chinese banquets.)

Mrs. Curmudgeon's father, who goes by the initials "S.L.," is our family connection to China.

S.L. was born and raised in the town of Zigong, right in the middle of China's Sichuan Province. In pre-revolution China, S.L.'s father was a salt merchant, Zigong having a long and distinguished heritage as one of the world's leading salt producing regions by virtue of sitting on top of a huge reservoir of salt brine tapped by ingenious Chinese drilling methods. S.L. grew up in China's privileged class, in nice homes with many servants. He was given a first rate education and even travelled a bit--locally, within the province--as a youth. But then World War II intruded with the Japanese invasion of China and S.L. joined the army to fight for his homeland.

He came to the U.S. near the end of WW II, as part of a unit of Chinese soldiers sent to train with American troops for liaison in what, at the time, was expected to be long additional fighting against the Japanese, including in China. When WW II ended and the Chinese civil war and revolution began, he stayed in the U.S., married a bright, rebellious Midwestern red-head from St. Louis, earned advanced engineering degrees, became a U.S. citizen and raised a family.

Left behind in China, however, were a number of siblings with whom S.L. had very little contact or information before Richard Nixon famously opened the door to China in 1972.

In 1973, S.L. made his first trip home--after more than 25 years away--taking his then teenage son with him. It was a tough trip--China was still quite backward and paranoid at the time. But S.L. was able to re-establish contact with his siblings (and his mother, still living at the time), who had all migrated to either Beijing or Shanghai by that time.

Over time, S.L. has established regular contacts with his siblings, all of whom have made at least one trip to the U.S., as well as S.L.'s numerous trips to China. Despite some tough times, especially during the brutal Cultural Revolution period, S.L.'s siblings have been remarkably successful, and their children and grandchildren are now reaping the benefits of China's rapidly expanding economy.

Because all of our trips have included time in China's capital, we've seen the most of S.L.'s sister from Beijing, who turned 80 during our recent trip (the occasion for an entire day of eating and banqueting). Her husband, who was one of S.L.'s best friends growing up in Zigong, long served as the chairman of the Dept. of Philosophy at prestigious Beijing University (pictured below). They live on the campus, and every time we visit they have a somewhat larger apartment with more electronics and other modern conveniences. Their three daughters are all married, with families (one lives in Boston, where her son is a budding tennis prodigy).

On our trip, we took two of S.L.'s grand-nieces from Beijing with us to Sichuan, where they'd never been, to see the old family homestead in Zigong, as well as other parts of the Province. One of the nieces is a rising junior in college, where she is studying computer animation. Our boys were instantly taken with her computer games and the fantastic images she has created on her own laptop. The other niece is entering college this fall as a freshman, where she also hopes to study computers.

The two nieces, both of whom speak a smattering of English, reminded us of young college-age girls here. Indeed, when we went to the beach this summer with the Curmudgeon's niece from Raleigh, NC, who'll be a freshman at Johns Hopkins in a matter of days, she spent most of her time hanging out with a friend, speaking in code, staying up late and generally avoiding the rest of our group. The Chinese nieces were the same--whenever we got off our tour bus, they'd quickly disappear, but always show up on time for meals and our next departure. They appeared genuinely awed at the sights they'd never seen, and like young folk everywhere wondered exactly what their connection was to the legion of more distant relatives who seemed to materialize at every stop.

In Zigong we got together with one of those more distant relatives, one we'd met on our previous trip and who exemplifies the potential for success in modern China. In this case, it was the daughter-in-law of one of S.L.'s cousins (maybe even more removed than a first cousin--it's hard to keep it all straight). She and her husband (who was out of town on a business trip) own a chain of department stores--more than 30--as well as some other businesses. Judging by the flagship store on the main drag in Zigong, these are very nice stores and doing quite well. And judging by her five-level, modernly furnished and heavily staffed apartment, we'd say they are doing quite well, too.

Liu, as we'll call the cousin-in-law, is quite a dynamo. Carefully turned out in the latest designer clothes, she made us look like a bunch of frumps. She treated us to a lovely banquent lunch in a private room at the nightclub on the top of her department store, and later that night to drinks in the "beer garden" at the hotel where she also has a part ownership interest. Liu has two children, a boy and a girl, and wants the most for them. She wants them to go to school in the U.S., at a top-30 college. They're being educated now in private schools and taking various preparatory tests. She and her husband want to start a business in the U.S.--exactly what was a bit vague (or maybe lost in translation), and to buy a home near whatever school the kids end up at. We're sure they have the resources to do so. They're also exploring an IPO for their company. They're part of China's new elite, and they're fun to be around.

Back in Beijing, at the end of our trip, we caught up with another of S.L.'s siblings, his sister from Shanghai, who was trained as a botanist and whose husband ran an electronics factory early in the Chinese capitalist revolution. They live comfortably, but not extravagantly by any stretch. Their son came to the U.S. for college and never left--he now lives in Columbia, Maryland with his new Chinese bride and does technology work for a major U.S. defense contractor.

Of course, the visit of S.L.'s other sister to Beijing served as the excuse for yet another banquet, with many toasts and a new round of strange dishes (we enjoyed one that reminded us of the pulled pork barbecue back home).

At these gatherings the Curmudgeon always wishes he could speak Chinese. Or that someone would come up with a device--they will in the future, we're certain--you could clip on your ear that would translate any language into perfect English. We could learn so much more if only we could converse freely with all these relatives. (Occasionally, we'll task S.L. with serious translation duty in these exchanges, but it's tough on him to keep up for very long.) Instead, there's a lot of smiling, nodding and pleasantries, such as "Ni-hau"--Chinese for "how are you?"

There are other relatives we didn't get to see. S.L. has two younger brothers living in Shanghai, and another brother who was in Shanghai, but who passed away a few years ago. One of the brothers has an amazing capacity for language, speaking English, German, Russian, Japanese and both major dialects of Chinese. A metallurgist by training, he's into all kinds of foreign exchange programs with Shanghai. His similarly gifted--and outgoing--daughter lives in Paris where she works for one of China's travel services (and helps us arrange these trips). The other brother is a sports coach, and his strapping sons, whom we've seen little of, are athletically gifted. Next trip, we'll have to go through Shanghai and catch up with that wing of the family!

Meanwhile, it's good to be back home, despite the sweltering heat. We're almost over the jet lag and the boys have been glad to eat food they can easily identify. Soccer season's beginning. School's a week away. Where did the summer go?

Spanish Plunder Anew?

In October 1804 the British sank a heavily armed Spanish treasure trip carrying plunder from the New World to Spain, dumping possibly as many as a million silver dollars into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Portugal.

Recently, private salvagers may have found the treasure of the Spanish ship, the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which today would be worth as much as $500 million. (See "Will Finders Be Keepers of Salvaged Treasure?" in today's Washington Post.) Now the Spanish government, which brutally plundered South America of its gold and silver, claims the treasure--as part of its "cultural heritage" in a lawsuit against the salvage company that found it.

(Spain's attorney in the case is our friend Jim Goold, an attorney at Washington's Covington & Burling, who specializes in treasure cases, an arcane, but certainly vastly more interesting area of the law than most.)

Cultural heritage? Give us a break. Spanish conquistadors stole whatever they could from the natives of South America, murdering thousands, spreading diseases that killed millions more, while exploiting the local resources. (The Spanish were hardly unique in this regard, although their tactics in South America tended to be more brutal than those of some the other European imperialists.)

We'd like to know the true circumstances under which Spanish Rear Admiral Don Jose Bustamente and his officers and crew obtained the treasure they were spiriting off to Spain when the equally avaricious British intercepted them. Did the Spanish enter into a legitimate contract with the locals under which they paid fair compensation for the silver? Or did they muscle in and simply take what they wanted under some interpretation of Spanish law or a charter from the King? We'd bet on the latter.

When confronted with claims of "cultural heritage" we think a court should have the ability to probe beneath the surface. It would be one thing if the sunken ship were carrying artifacts of the Spanish King and Queen (even if made from gold and silver extracted from the New World)--that might legitimately be part of Spain's own cultural heritage. But the mere fact that it was a Spanish ship that was sunk shouldn't be enough for Spain to get its hands on this booty. (Sorry Jim!)

If the facts show that under today's international law the cargo of the sunken Spanish treasure ship would not rightfully belong to Spain, then we see no reason why the salvager should not have just as much a right to the discovery.

Friday, August 24, 2007

What Hurricane Dean Tells Us

The hurricane prognosticators look like they've probably gotten it wrong again this year. Once again, they said we'd have a historically high number of storms this season, but that now appears unlikely.

But Hurricane Dean does tell us something. It shows that when a tropical system of just about any size hits the Gulf of Mexico, it's going to become a superstorm. We saw that in 2005 with Katrina, Rita and Wilma (all became Cat 5's). Then, in 2006, no storms hit the Gulf--a lucky reprieve. So far, 2007 has been pretty quiet in the Atlantic, but when Dean hit the extraordinarily warm waters of the Gulf, it, too, quickly turned into a monster storm.

Dean went off to Mexico and Belize, but our luck won't hold out much longer. If you were to believe the Corps of Engineers, New Orleans is now protected from a Cat 3 storm (don't believe it though). A lot of good that will do there--or in Houston, Galveston, Corpus Christi, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Mobile or points between when a Cat 5--inevitably--slams ashore.

We don't think global warming causes more hurricanes. The evidence is pretty plain, however, that it does cause stronger hurricanes, and that's a problem.

Iraq IS Like Viet Nam

Before we left for China, we noted an op-ed column in the Washington Post by former Bush administration official Peter Rodman making what we called a "delusional Viet Nam analogy" to Iraq: that a hasty troop withdrawal would result in the same kind of chaos that ensued from our withdrawal from Southeast Asia.

Guess the White House was reading Rodman's piece. Trotting out some Right Wing Revisionism on Viet Nam, Bush now embraces the Viet Nam analogy he has so long opposed. The Right now claims--at least Rodman does--that Nixon was "forced" to withdraw from Viet Nam by Congress, right at a point where we were about to turn things around. That then led to a bloodbath after we left.

We won't repeat here what we said about Rodman's reasoning--instead, see what we said before in "Right Wing Blather On Iraq Troop Withdrawal." The fact that Bush has picked up this drivel just shows how isolated he is over there in the White House bubble. It's no surprise--Bush is hardly a student of history, he doesn't read anything serious, he avoided service in Viet Nam and he would do anything--ANYTHING--to rationalize his bungled occupation of Iraq.

Iraq IS like Viet Nam. It's a quagmire. We can't "win" because we don't even know what we're fighting for. And our intervention there has only made things worse.

Wary on Mortgage Bailouts

No big surprise here: quite a few of the Democrats running for President have proposed various sorts of vague mortgage bailout programs to assist those faced with foreclosures in the current real estate meltdown.

We're wary of these plans, to say the least. Most likely, any such program--which would be too little, too late in any event--would benefit the wrong people. Who, exactly, are the "victims" of the mortgage crisis?

One group is investors who hoped to make a quick buck "flipping" houses in the white hot real estate market that, until recently, existed in many locales. Using easy credit, they bought multiple properties, but got caught with their pants down when the market--inevitably--crashed. Should they get bailed out? NO.

Another group is new homeowners who purchased their properties with no money down, paying "teaser" mortgage rates well below market prices. When the teasers went away, and their properties failed to appreciate rapidly, they found themselves unable to make the payments. Should someone who put no equity into a home and lived their for however many months at less than the comparable cost of renting be "compensated" for their "loss"? NO. Yes, they're back to renting, but really, they never owned anything to begin with.

Then there are the fraudsters, who bilked unwary lenders out of billions (by some estimates) in various mortgage scams. Neither they, nor the lenders who all too willingly facilitated their schemes deserve to be bailed out.

What about the folks with bad credit who, quite predictably (that's what a bad credit risk is all about) ended up defaulting on their payments? Are they any worse off than they were before?

Of course, somewhere in all this mess are some hard-working people who were duped by unscrupulous mortgage brokers and lenders into risky loans that blew up on them when interest rates rose, and who stand to lose significant equity they put into their properties. These are the folks who deserve sympathy. But do we really think some kind of Congressional mortgage bailout program is going to reach many of them?

Bailing out bad mortgages will only encourage more bad lending practices. What we are seeing now is a much overdue correction in the market. The best thing that could happen would be for existing federal agencies, such as Fannie Mae, to find ways to help homeowners trapped with rapidly rising interest rates on adjustable mortgages. What these homeowners need is a way to refinance, inexpensively, to a stable fixed rate, assuming they can afford the payments. (Unfortunately, the same lenders who were all too willing to hand out money to such homeowners in the heady days of yore are now unwilling to let them refinance.)
The government CAN help out here, but without creating some large bailout boondoggle.

Arlington's Green Board Members

This week's Arlington Sun Gazette, our local weekly, did the public a useful service by listing some of the steps the five County Board members are personally taking to sustain the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (See "Doing Their Part For The Environment.") It appears that all are taking a few simple, reasonable steps to do their part, including replacing most of their light bulbs with compact fluorescents.

The Gazette has also asked the Board members for data on their electricity usage and how it has changed over the past year. That's a good question--we'll see if there are any Al Gore hypocrites using far more than their fair share of resources!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Olympic Fever In Beijing

We're back from 11 days in China, facing a bit of jet lag. It was a good trip, though. We were fortunate to get a broader slice of Chinese life than most Western visitors. We'll do a series of posts on China since we're in the August doldrums here in Washington anyway.

We started in Beijing, the Curmudgeon's fourth trip there, the first of which was in 1989. Today, Beijing, the host city for the 2008 Summer Olympics, is in a feverish state of preparation. The city has been completely transformed since that first trip nearly 20 years ago, the result of China's embrace of capitalism and an unprecedented streak of 9-10 percent annual GDP growth.

Back in 1989, Beijing was a dingy city of 10 million people, most of whom got to work by bicycle, foot or bus. At night the city was dimly lit. Most people in the central city lived in low-rise hutongs--densely packed cinder-block buildings connected by a labyrinth of narrow alley ways. Further out, old 5-8 story apartment buildings reminiscent of New York's old tenements dominated the cityscape. Being driven around in a car as a privileged western tourist was easy on the uncrowded streets.

In 1989, the only shopping worth doing was for Chinese crafts--the regular department stores were filled with unstylish, low quality goods serviced by indifferent employees. A small number of nice hotels catered solely to foreigners. Arriving at Beijing's international airport, you felt like you'd been put into a 1950 film as you walked down a stairway from your plane and into a giant, confusing hall where you'd be processed through immigration and customs by stern-looking government agents.

Today, Beijing is all about the Olympics. The city center is composed of modern, gleaming high rise apartments, hotels and office buildings. Streets are brightly lit. The automobile has taken over--there are an estimated 3 million cars on the roads each day. With the cars has come smog--a chalky ozone haze settles over Beijing on most summer days. Brand new, state of the art highways criss-cross the city, just as jammed with traffic as I-95 in Northern Virginia (but much more nicely landscaped). [We'll do a piece later on the chaotic drivers of China.]

China has its own immigration problem similar to ours with illegal aliens. In China's case, it's immigrants from the countryside to the cities, or from the economically depressed interior to the booming coastal areas. Beijing's population has bloomed to 18 million now, of whom about 5 million are lacking in the permits they are supposed to have to live there. Like here, officials decry the illegals at the same time local businesses--especially construction--would collapse without them.

Modern hotels no longer cater just to westerners--a growing middle class of Chinese now can afford such luxuries. This is a good thing for foreign tourists, because it means nice accommodations are being built at other tourist sites around the country. [More on the growth of an indigenous Chinese tourist economy later.]

One can now find modern shopping malls in Beijing and other Chinese cities, not all that much different from our own. We took a break from Chinese food one evening--mainly for the kids' sake--to dine at the Sizzler Restaurant (an Outback Steakhouse was across the street) in the food court of the mall close to our hotel. Most of the other diners were Chinese. While waiting for someone at the mall's entrance, we noticed that quite a few of the patrons were rather chubby for Chinese, no doubt the leading edge of a future obesity problem there (although we never saw anyone close to the massive size you encounter among Americans every day). [Our female travellers were appalled to find, when buying clothes, that they were size XL, or XXL, in Chinese stores.]

The Beijing airport today is as modern as Dulles, Heathrow or Narita, with the exception that you'll get your luggage a lot faster in Beijing than at Dulles. As soon as you get outside with that luggage, however, you'll have your first encounter with China's ubiquitous "hello people"--these are the poor folk from the country who try to get by selling things, or services, to foreigners, with the standard greeting of "hello" followed by whatever they're selling. At the airport, it's "hello, luggage" as old ladies grab your bags and carry them to your bus in the hope of a tip, much like New York's old squeegee guys--doing something for you that you really didn't need. You'll soon run into "hello, hat" (a cheap Olympic cap), "hello, shirt" (Olympic t-shirt) and so on and so forth. As with the homeless here, it's important not to make eye contact with them.

The city is plastered with Olympic posters, and there is a fury of contruction going on to get ready. We drove by the main Olympic site, where most venues are nearing completion, yet much work remains to be done. While we were in town, a number of Olympic "test" events were underway, including cycling (in the hills near the Great Wall), beach volleyball, badminton and much more. At the same time, the city conducted an experiment under which half of all private autos were banned from the streets each day--odd numbered license plates could go one day, even the next--to see whether it would help reduce congestion and pollution. The experiment was deemed a success, but we wonder: yes, it was better, but it was still congested and hazy, nonetheless.

Down the street from our hotel (the Novotel Peace Hotel, about three blocks from Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City) we found an interesting nighttime festival in a city block of outdoor food stalls under colorful red lanterns. The fare will make for some interesting dares among western tourists headed for the Olympics: take your choice of goat head, fried scorpion, beef boiled in urine, intestines, sea horses, and our favorite, fried cockroaches on a stick. Have a few drinks before you go down there!

Despite a concerted effort by the Chinese to correct the problem, visitors will probably still encounter a few "Chinglish" signs--amusing translations of Chinese into English, such as "Many Accidents Happends This Neighborhood"--a sign seen along major highways to denote a frequent accident zone. Or the sign pictured here. (One of the interesting things about China is just how many signs are in both Chinese and English--a practice that long predates the Olympics.)

Fortunately, most of the work on renovating the major tourist attractions in and around Beijing is pretty much complete. Last time we were there--in 2005--everything from the Forbidden City to the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven was shrouded in bamboo scaffolding. Now it's all in pretty good shape--at least until the pollution settles back over everything.

Visitors to the Olympics should find an enthusiastic city ready to greet them. And ready to sell them stuff. Lot's of stuff. Apparently everybody in Beijing expects to get rich in some way or another. We're not going--that's why we went now--but we anticipate most who do will have fun if they can get over a little congestion, a little haze and lot of "hello, [fill in the blank with any item that can be sold]. Let the Games begin!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Curmudgeon In China

Dear faithful readers:

We'll be in China for a bit--why wait for the Olympics? So we're not likely to post again--although we could surprise you if we find a good internet cafe--before August 24 or so. Do come back to see us then.

Beckhamania Strikes D.C.

What we ought to be writing today is about D.C.'s silly fairweather soccer fans, who barely turn out to support the home team, going crazy and turning out in swarms just to catch a glimpse of fading British soccer star David Beckham.

But we can't do that, because we were among the silly ones.

Yes, the travelling David Beckham circus came to town yesterday and we had virtually front row seats. Even before the warm-up acts--the D.C. United and L.A. Galaxy teams, ostensibly playing an important league match, serving as an excuse for 47,000 people to show up and ogle Becks--the Washington Post chronicled every bite of the Brit's stay in Washington, documenting his consumption of a porterhouse at Morton's and his coffee (coffee? thought this guy was English!) in the morning. (Really David B.--Morton's?--that's like the McDonald's of you rich guys, as there's one or two in every city. Next time you're here, let us take you out for a real steak at Ray's The Steaks.)
But back to the "game." There was much pomp, and much circumstance. Tickets traded at high prices on E-Bay. Frantic parents paid big sums to get their kids on the field in the pre-game, in the hope of getting close to the center of the Galaxy. (Those big sums, in turn, went to a charity that helps underprivileged kids go to regular soccer games.)
If you go to a typical D.C. United game, the fans tilt decidedly Latino. But with Beckham as a draw, all the white kids and their parents from the 'burbs (yes, the shoe fits here, so we'll wear it) braved major traffic jams to get to creaky RFK stadium.
It was glorious. A full stadium, with the bleachers bouncing up and down, just like the good ol' days of the Redskins, when they were winners, before they moved to sterile Fed-ex field. In the first half, D.C. United, a streaky team that can come up with some real stinkers, played some of its most inspired ball all year and took a 1-0 lead on a terrific strike. Too bad they were at the other end of the field from us.
Meanwhile, Beckham sat on the bench. Then, he got up and stretched. Cheers, cameras flashing. Then he did some jogging back and forth. More cheers and flashes. Oh, is there a game going on?
In the second half, when D.C. United was attacking our end of the pitch, they played poorly--too defensively. Still, the 1-0 lead held up. Soon, it started to rain, big cold drops at first, then heavier rain, which looked all the worse coming down through the field lights. A red card for one of the Galaxy players--now they're playing a man down.
The rain became steady, soaking us, but taking away the sticky film of sweat that had settled in earlier in the stifling heat. Then, a huge roar from the other side of the stadium. Becks had taken off his shirt. Now we see him. He's putting on his #23 Galaxy jersey!! The sign goes up showing a substitution. Huge roars as Beckham trots onto the field. Forget about the rain, man, Beckham's playing. Get out those camera phones!
And so it went. Becks played about 25 minutes--more than in any other MLS game so far. He didn't look like he was doing much--trotting around, taking it easy. Wouldn't want to make that ankle injury worse.
Oh, and now we have a Galaxy free kick. Beckham's taking it. WOW! That was some kick--maybe this guy's for real.
Notwithstanding their poor play in the second half, D.C. pulls out the 1-0 win. And afterwards, Mrs. Curmudgeon and our neighbor friend get their wish: Becks walks toward our end of the field and casually slips off his shirt, posing for the photographers and paparrazzi that had to ask for directions to RFK Stadium.
Okay, so despite the traffic going in and the 40 minute wait to get out of the parking lot after the game, despite the rain and the heat, it was a lot of fun. Who knows, maybe we'll even go back for a game when Beckham's not around.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Virginia Transportation Plan Begins To Unravel

It wasn't that long ago that Virginia's political leaders, on both sides of the aisle, were applauding and backslapping over passage of a long-awaited, long-debated transportation bill that would provide billions of dollars for overdue transportation projects.

It was not a terrific bill. It looked like a donkey with elephant ears and trunk and a pig tail. It was a "compromise" that pretended to avoid raising taxes, while actually doing so in a most inequitable manner. Nonetheless, most citizens of the state initially were pleased simply because, at long last, there would be money for projects that already are way behind. Governor Kaine backed the bill, with all its flaws, figuring it at least solved the transportation crisis.

Not surprisingly, however, the Rube Goldberg funding mechanism behind the bill is beginning to unravel. Two pieces are in significant danger in the courts. The first is the enormous fines imposed on "bad" drivers--up to $3000 for a traffic violation. The explicit purpose of these fines is to raise money, not punish bad driving. (We're all for cracking down on bad driving; but this mechanism, which falls disproportionately on lower income citizens and will clog the courts with traffic cases, is not the right way.) Two courts have now found that provision unconstitutional, under the equal protection clause, because the fines do not apply to out of state drivers. (We're not sure that rationale will hold up on appeal, but there are other legal attacks as well.)

The second is the taxing authority handed over to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority--a transparent effort by Republicans to avoid responsibility for tax increases. Loudoun County supervisors have voted to challenge the constitutionality of the Authority's new authority, and now another group of conservatives, including Prince William GOP Delegate Bob "Taliban" Marshall, have initiated a wider ranging suit as well. (See "Lawsuit Adds To Roads Bill Challenges" in today's Washington Post.) This aspect of the transportation bill is clearly vulnerable in the Virginia courts. (For Marshall's nickname, see our post, "Virginia's Taliban: Bob Marshall")

All of which gets back to a more fundamental issue: Virginia, particularly NoVa and Hampton Roads, clearly needs greater transportation funding (Richmond is fine, having robbed the rest of the state to build many a road project). Typically, when there is such a need, government raises funds, through taxes on the folks who will benefit from it, to pay for it. That's the "common good." The conservative wing of the Republican Party in Virginia, however, is so tied up in the dogma of low taxes that it has become dysfunctional when it comes to simple issues of good government: getting the best services for the least money.

The proper solution would be for party leaders on both sides to step up to the plate and say, "y'know, we have a problem--we need more roads; and the solution is to increase the gasoline tax by a few cents a gallon to pay for it." Yes, it's a tax increase, and there would be a bit of moaning and groaning. But given that Americans have fairly quickly adapted to $3 gas, without abandoning their SUV's or starting a depression, people would adjust in an instant. And at least there would be a nexus between the tax and the service (transportation projects).

That may happen someday, but not as long as the current myopic gang in the General Assembly is in power. Let's hope that changes in November. (It won't be Marshall and his cronies who get voted out--it will be more moderate Republicans facing wrath from their more moderate constituencies.)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Global Warming Deniers

Newsweek has a nice little cover story this week on the global warming denier industry: "Global Warming Deniers--A Well Funded Machine."

Basra Slides Into Chaos

Not too long ago, Dick "In Denial" Cheney pointed to Basra, Iraq as a place "where things are going pretty well."

British troops are in the process of pulling out of Basra, which is an almost entirely Sh'ite city. As they do so, Shi'ite militias are battling each other for power. As today's Washington Post reports, "[t]hree major Shiite political groups are locked in a bloody conflict that has left the city in the hands of militias and criminal gangs, whose control extends to municipal offices and neighborhood streets. The city is plagued by 'the systematic misuse fof official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias.'" ("As British Leave, Basra Deteriorates")

We can expect the same--but worse (throw in Sunnis) when the U.S. leaves Baghdad, whether that's in a few months, or a few years.

Here's some food for thought for history buffs: after four years of Civil War in the U.S., northern troops occupied the South for another 12 years, until 1877. After the disputed Presidential election of 1876, a "compromise" was reached under which the last remaining federal troops were withdrawn. Immediately thereafter, whites enacted Jim Crow laws that remained in effect for nearly another century.

We can stay in Iraq as long as we want. When we go, scores will be settled.

Warner To Retire, Leaving Door Open For Warner?

Right wing pundit (and exposer of CIA agents) Bob Novak reports that Republicans expect Sen. John Warner to announce his retirement soon, which would pave the way for a strong run by former Virginia Governor Mark Warner.

Could Virginia really go from two GOP Senate seats to two Dem Senate seats in just two years? We say yes.

Monday, August 06, 2007

What's Really Happening In Iraq--Improvement Is Not "Victory"

A week ago, the right wing blogosphere got all excited about a piece in the New York Times by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack entitled "A War We Might Just Win." O'Hanlon and Pollack are no apologists for the Bush administration. They reported on a recent trip to Iraq in which they found U.S. troop morale relatively high, the quality of Iraqi troops improved, and security in at least some parts of Iraq--those they were selectively taken to, we might add--better.

At the close of their upbeat report, however, O'Hanlon and Pollack delivered the bad news (widely ignored on the right):

"In the end, the situation in Iraq remains grave. In particular, we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation — or at least accommodation — are needed. This cannot continue indefinitely. Otherwise, once we begin to downsize, important communities may not feel committed to the status quo, and Iraqi security forces may splinter along ethnic and religious lines."

Now, are things really going all that well in Iraq? It's always hard to tell. Given how bad things have been, it's certainly possible to have improvement and still be awful. And that's the way it looks.

Here's a terrific piece from yesterday's Washington Post Outlook section, a first hand account from a Dr. Mohammed, a dentist who lives and works in Baghdad, entitled "A Week In The Death of Iraq." It sounds a lot more like "No End In Sight" than "A War We Might Win."

Dr. Mohammed, who also writes a blog called "Last of Iraqis" ( ), gives us a look at one week--a recent week, the same week the Iraqi national team won the Asian soccer cup--and it ain't pretty.

"I walk to my job at a government clinic 15 minutes from my home at the intersection of a Sunni and a Shiite neighborhood. We've had lots of bombings nearby. On my way, I see the hulks of burned-out cars. Barbed wire and concrete blocks line the streets. The ground is strewn with bullet casings. Death is in the air. A car passes me slowly in an alley, my heart beats rapidly and I pray that I won't be kidnapped or asked what sect I belong to."

Dr. Mohammed is afraid of the guards who work at his clinic. Most of the time they have no electricity, unless they pay someone on the neighborhood. He pays $120 a month for eight hours a day of electricity through such an arrangement. To get fuel at a gas station requires a six to eight hour wait. He's afraid to drive his BMW anywhere in town. It's 120 degrees out, but he cannot wear shorts because the Muslim militias don't allow it.

On Thursday, an explosion rocks his house before dawn. When he gets to work, the other dentists are all sitting in the courtyard--there's no electricity because the clinic's generator is out of fuel. The director hopes to get more fuel in a month or so.

Thursday night, he and his wife take a taxi to see his father-in-law. "The driver, as usual, is afraid to enter the neighborhood" and lets them off at a gate in a nearby square. "As we make our way to my father-in-law's house, a confrontation starts behind us. We dash into an alley. I relive in my mind what happened the previous week: A sniper from the Iraqi National Guard shot at us and forced us to cower in a ruined building for what seemed like hours."

Just as he's going to bed at this father-in-law's home, "there's an explosion in front of the house, followed by gunfire all around. We rush downstairs, where it's safer, and sleep on the floor. We spend another day full of nonstop explosions and gunfire at my father-in-law's before heading back home at noon on Saturday."

Even Iraq's dramatic soccer victory leads to mixed results--in Baghdad, two are killed and six wounded by rounds falling from the sky from people firing weapons in celebration; and dozens are killed in other parts of Iraq in violence surrounding the celebrations. On the other hand, Dr. Mohammed wanlks down a "death street" to find a celebration of Iraqis of all sects. "An Iraqi National Guard convoy rolls through, with soldiers dancing on top of the Humvees. I laugh out loud and feel safe for the first time since returning to Iraq [he and his wife had briefly fled to Jordan, but could find no work]."

A couple days later, however, Dr. Mohammed is back in usual mood. "After I finally go to bed at 3 a.m., after the neighborhood generator stops, the eternal questions start up again. Will it ever end? When will I die?"

While O'Hanlon and Pollack may have been cautiously optimistic after their guided tour of Iraq, Dr. Mohammed's stark account of life for an average Iraqi citizen shows the reality on the ground. We're far from "victory" in Iraq, whatever that is.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Legal Briefs: Insurer Katrina Victory; White Spaces

Sensible Victory For Insurers On Katrina Flood Claims

Insurers won a major victory late this week in litigation over Hurricane Katrina claims--the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that homeowners insurance policies don't cover residential property damage claims caused by flooding. Instead, flood damage is covered by a separate federal program. (See "Big Insurers Win Ruling On Katrina Levee Break")

The homeowners, along with New Orleans' Xavier University, had argued that the damage to their property was caused by "negligence," as in the negligent design of levees that failed during Hurricane Katrina. Nice try, said the Fifth Circuit, but flooding is flooding.

This is a good decision for you and us. Virtually all homeowners policies exclude flood damage. By the same token, homeowners in flood zones can obtain flood insurance under a federal program that we and you ALREADY subsidize.

Yes, flood insurance is pretty expensive. But there's an easy way to avoid that cost: don't live in a flood zone. Most of New Orleans is a flood zone and, by golly, the residents there should have a pretty good idea--from past floods--that sooner or later they're likely to get inundated. So, buy flood insurance. (Or don't live below sea level.)

For the rest of us, a contrary ruling from the court would've meant we have to subsidize, via higher rates, the folks who gambled--didn't buy flood insurance--and lost. Of course, we're still doing a lot of subsidization with the billions in tax money being spent--much of it misspent--down in the bayou to rebuild in the same flood prone area with the same inadequate levees.

White Spaces

In other legal news, the Federal Communications Commission said this week that testing it conducted of mobile electronic devices that tech companies wanted to unleash into the "white spaces" of telecom spectrum being vacated by over the air television would interfere with digital television and wireless microphones.

Why are we telling you this? Because it is a victory for Mrs. Curmudgeon, who has been representing a wireless microphone manufacturer in the battle over allocation of the white space spectrum. (See our prior post: "The Day The Music Died")

Friday, August 03, 2007

"No End In Sight"--Sobering Documentary

Last night we went to see "No End In Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq," a documentary film that chronicles what went wrong at the outset of the War.

It's a terrific piece of filmmaking. Anyone with a desire to get a better understanding of how and why we got where we are today in Iraq should see No End, which is playing is select theatres around the country.

No End makes its point largely through interviews with Americans who were involved in the initial efforts to reconstruct and administer Iraq after the War. These are hardly liberals who opposed the War. Most were government employees trying to do a good job.

Among the interviewees is former General Jay Garner, who was tapped by the Bush administration to head up the post-war reconstruction effort; former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; Ambassador Barbara Bodine (in charge of Baghdad right after the invasion); and Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

(Ambassador Bodine has a great statement: "When we were first starting the reconstruction there were 500 ways to do it wrong and two or three ways to do it right. What we didn't then understand was that we were going to go through all 500.")

It's a tale of incompetence and recklessness at the highest levels of the Bush administration. No End focuses on three critical mistakes early in the occupation that had enormous impact. The first was to allow the wholesale looting of Baghdad and Iraq while American soldiers literally looked on. One of the best moments in the film is a juxtaposition of images of massive looting--taking whole government ministries down to the studs--against Defense Secretary Rumsfeld saying "stuff happens," and laughingly deriding the media for showing the same clips of some guy carrying out a vase, while Rumsfeld smirks and asks "how many vases are their in Iraq."

The second mistake was de-baathification, an order prohibiting members of Saddam's Ba'ath Party from holding any office in post-reconstruction Iraq. Garner, who was on the ground, opposed the order, which was made by officials in Washington with no conception of the vaccuum that existed in ordinary government at the time. While it would have been correct to bar the very highest Ba'ath Party officials, the order out of Washington struck far too deep and threw tens of thousands of ordinary government employees, teachers and technocrats out of jobs without having anyone to replace them.

The third mistake was completely disbanding the Iraqi Army, an order that Garner, the State Department AND the American generals on the ground thorougly opposed, but that was made in secret in Washington with little consultation. That move immediately caused several hundred thousand men to become unemployed. At the same time, U.S. forces had not secured dozens of Iraqi munitions dumps and armories, which were soon looted of weapons by the former soldiers.

One of the stars of No End is Col. Paul Hughes, who served as Director of Strategic Policy for the U.S. Occupation in 2003. He was shocked at the decision to disband the Iraqi Army because, at the time, he was in direct talks with numerous high-ranking Iraqi military officers who were offering to bring in large, intact units--including full divisions--to help restore order. Hughes had data on 137,000 soldiers who could be used and was getting more.

When the Iraqi officers heard of the order disbanding the military, they begged Hughes to reconsider, making clear that the alternative was an insurgency. There was nothing Hughes could do. Imagine his frustration as the insurgency blossomed over the next few months.

The arrogance of the Bush team--Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rice--in making bad decisions while ignoring advice from experts and folks on the ground, comes through loud and clear.

The film might have been better if it had someone who would back up the Bush administration--who'd explain the reasons for these bad decisions (there were reasons, some even good, to at least partially support some of the decisions that were made).

The movie also gives us an unlikely insight into the current presidential contest. Many are critical of Hillary for her nuanced answers to questions, particularly on foreign policy. Obama (and others--we'd include Richardson here) like to give glib, easy-sounding responses. Maybe on the campaign trail that's how it has to be.

But in real life, most decisions, especially of this sort, are not black and white--they require nuance. The devil is in the details. No matter what the rationale, it was stupid, utterly stupid, to disband the ENTIRE Iraqi military after the war. It was bound to cause anarchy, and it did. But one could have argued for a more nuanced policy in which senior military officials would be carefully scrutinized, whereas career officers would be presumptively kept on.

The same goes for the other decisions--yes, some senior Ba'ath party members had to go. Create a commission of Iraqis to help figure out which ones. Yes, we can't stop all the looting, but we have to stop as much as possible by declaring martial law and taking a stand.

At the end of the movie, you feel dirty. You can't believe that Bush and Cheney are still in office. You can't believe that some people still defend them. But mostly, you feel like we owe an apology to our troops and to the Iraqis, for screwing it up so badly.

Here's the trailer for the movie:

Edwards' Downward Spiral

In response to a recent post briefly noting that John Edwards' campaign appears dead in the water, one of our commenters wrote: "Edwards has a good chance of winning Iowa. See Friday's Post. Edwards is in a statistical dead heat in Iowa. If he wins or finishes second their and backs it up with first in S.C. then that's your nominee."

Let's examine that.

It is true that in today's Washington Post-ABC News Poll, Edwards is in a three-way tie with Clinton and Obama. That's NOT good news for Edwards. Although Iowa polls are notoriously tricky--trying to figure out who'll actually vote in a caucus is tough--until recently Edwards had a good lead in most Iowa polls, with Hillary second, Obama well back and no one else registering above 2% (unless you included Al Gore).

In the past month to six weeks, however, Edwards has steadily slipped in the polls, Hillary has stayed about the same, Obama has risen and Richardson has risen. Edwards has no momentum at all in Iowa. Essentially, his early lead, built on four years in the state following a solid second in the '04 race, has evaporated. We think a lot of the remaining Edwards supporters in Iowa are going to start making a decision between Hillary or Obama and Edwards will continue to slip.

The same is happening to Edwards in the early primary states and in national polls. In South Carolina, Edwards has never come close to leading any poll, and he's not likely to do well. Hillary and Obama are both well-liked in SC and most Democrats there don't have the time of day for Edwards.

In New Hampshire, Edwards is in free-fall, falling behind Richardson in some polls.

Edwards is also falling among the Netroots--he peaked in the monthly Daily Kos poll four months ago, and has been sliding ever since while both Obama and Hillary move up.

Part of the recent slide is because of Edwards' disastrous poverty tour. He's not RFK, and poverty just doesn't resonate as an issue today. The rest is that Edwards has no substance. He's had no job over the past four years besides running for President. He may be the son of a millworker, but he's building an energy guzzling 28,000 square foot house. Yes, RFK came from a wealthy family with several large homes, but at least he didn't build them himself while he was doing his poverty tour.

We don't know who the Democrats will nominate. But we are pretty sure it won't be John Edwards.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Richardson Up, Edwards Sinking

The latest from the Richardson campaign, which has plenty to cheer about:

SANTA FE, NM -- New polls show Governor Bill Richardson jumping into third place over John Edwards in Arizona, and within two points of Barack Obama in Iowa.

"We are not surprised that voters in a Western state like Arizona are gravitating toward Governor Richardson. They share the same core, Western values like moving aggressively toward energy independence, respecting our environment, maintaining fiscal accountability, and growing the economy," said campaign manager Dave Contarino.

The polls, by American Research Group, show Governor Richardson moving from four percent support to nine percent in Arizona, putting him ahead of John Edwards among Arizona voters, and surging from five percent to thirteen percent in Iowa. In addition, the Iowa poll shows Governor Richardson in first place among independent voters with twenty-five percent support.

"We're excited by this momentum in Arizona, a key February 5th state, and it matches what we're seeing across the country," said Contarino. "Our campaign continues to gain support.

Governor Richardson is working tirelessly to advance his plan to get all of our troops out of Iraq, leaving no residual forces. He has the strongest energy plan of any candidate in the race. And he has the experience to turn plans into realities. Americans are responding."A recent CNN poll shows Governor Richardson in third place in New Hampshire.

We might add that the WSJ/NBC national poll released this week had Richardson up to a respectable 6%.

Meanwhile, Edwards seems dead in the water, listing and in danger of sinking. We don't think he has anywhere to go but down.