McCain <i>Almost</i> Makes It Official

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, says he'll announce his presidential candidacy after a trip to Iraq on "The Late Show with David Letterman," Feb. 28, 2007.

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John McCain is running for president! The Arizona senator broke that non-startling news – actually, he announced that he planned to make an official announcement in April – in an appearance Wednesday night on CBS' Late Show with David Letterman.

"This is the announcement preceding the formal announcement. You know you drag this out as long as you can," McCain told Letterman, in what The New York Times called "the latest example of how the customs of presidential campaigns are changing."

A late-night talk show might once have seemed an unusual venue for a politician to announce, er, almost announce, he's running for president — but not anymore.

"Not all that long ago," The Times said, "an announcement was a defining moment in the evolution of candidates, in which they truly opened their campaigns. For 2008, on the other hand, candidates have been not only announcing but also preannouncing on Web sites and various television shows and in random interviews."

The Washington Post said McCain may also have "additional motives for using the late-night comedian's show" to make his declaration, as recent polls show him losing ground to his chief Republican rival, ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

McCain advisers said, however, that the decision to appear on Letterman "was not a direct result of concern that Giuliani has gained ground in the past two months but rather part of a long-planned strategy to make his intentions known around this time."

Doubts Raised On U.S. Intel On Korea Nukes

While North Korea is pledging to give up its nuclear program under intense international pressure, a front-page article in The New York Times is raising questions about whether the nuclear confrontation with Pyongyang could have been avoided in the first place.

The Times reports U.S. officials are "publicly softening their position" and "admitting to doubts" about intelligence estimates that led the U.S. to accuse North Korea in 2002 of secretly enriching uranium to create a bomb.

That accusation, The Times says, led the U.S. to " cut off oil supplies, and the North Koreans responded by throwing out international inspectors, building up their plutonium arsenal and, ultimately, producing that first plutonium bomb."

"The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizable arsenal if this had been handled differently," a senior administration official told the paper.

If the White House had the same doubts five years ago that it has now, two administration officials suggested, "the negotiating strategy for dealing with North Korea might have been different" — and the current showdown, conceivably, avoided.

Some Big Winners On Wall St.

Not everybody lost out in Tuesday's 400-point-plus stock market plunge. The Wall Street Journal reports that among the "winners" was "one of the more renowned traders in recent Wall Street history: John Meriwether," who "formerly ran Long Term Capital Management, the hedge fund whose collapse in 1998 nearly triggered a global financial crisis."

Meriwether now runs JWM Partners, a $2.6 billion fund, JWM Partners, which, the Journal says "was up after markets closed Tuesday."

Meriwether "benefited from bullish bets on the yen and Japanese equities and U.S. Treasury bonds, according to people familiar with his results."

Another winner was Greg Lippmann of Deutsche Bank, who has made about $250 million for his bank in recent months by "betting against an index of subprime-mortgage loans, which plunged more than 7% Tuesday before rebounding a bit" on Wednesday.

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