Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, February 28, 2009 11:58 am

Quote of the day

Filed under: Quote Of The Day — Lex @ 11:58 am
Tags: , ,

From Warren Buffett, in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, on the inscrutability of the derivatives market: “Participants seeking to dodge troubles face the same problem as someone seeking to avoid venereal
disease: It’s not just whom you sleep with, but also whom they are sleeping with.”

Paraphrase (and a very light paraphrase it is) of the day, from the same source: I didn’t expect the price of oil to drop the way it did, and I therefore cost the company billions.

(h/t: Ed)

Friday, February 27, 2009 10:48 pm

Simple answers to simple questions

Filed under: Simple answers to simple questions — Lex @ 10:48 pm

Q: (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaking to the CPAC convention:)  “Who wants to hang out with guys like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich when you can be with Rush Limbaugh?”

A: I do.

This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

Environmentally devastating luxury …

and it’s not what you think:

The tenderness of the delicate American buttock is causing more environmental devastation than the country’s love of gas-guzzling cars, fast food or McMansions, according to green campaigners. At fault, they say, is the US public’s insistence on extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply products when they use the bathroom.

“This is a product that we use for less than three seconds and the ecological consequences of manufacturing it from trees is enormous,” said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

“Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution.”

Wellnow. This is a dilemma. I know you can buy toilet tissue made from recycled paper, but still.

The article also mentions that facial tissues, especially those with lotion in them, are a growth market. If you’re a once-in-a-while nose blower, you can probably live without fancy tissue. But if you’ve got any kind of disease or condition that makes you need to blow your nose a lot, that lotion can prevent some serious chapping.

Solving this particular environmental conundrum is going to require some serious consumer education, and possibly the substitution of effective but less environmentally harmful products, methinks.

(h/t: Jill)

Teenage wasteland; or, the book thief

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 10:11 pm
Tags: ,

How bad are things in Detroit? So bad that some of the abandoned buildings are schools:

After I finally dig the car out, I drive away from the middle school in which I have just been trespassing. Built in the 1960s in the international style, none of the floor-to-ceiling windows are intact. Earlier I’d walked through one of those windows right into the principal’s office, where four decades’ worth of report cards lay scattered on the floor. There was a stack of yearbooks on the secretary’s desk: 2007, the last year of classes before everyone just walked away. …

After my first visit to the shattered middle school, I am haunted by what I found in one office: hundreds of file folders containing student psychological examinations complete with social security numbers, addresses, and parent information. I sat and thumbed through them. Many contained detailed histories of physical and sexual abuse, stories of home lives so horrifying I still can’t get them out of my head: sibling rape, torture, neglect that defies belief. The detailed reports explained emotional impairments, learning disabilities. There was another box full of IEPs. The dates revealed that many of these students are still in the school system somewhere. I found several of their faces in the 2007 yearbook.

I spend the next few months trying to track down someone who cares. I send e-mails to the school’s former principal, offering to go back and collect these records for her or destroy them. She never responds. I call my mom, a retired special education teacher and erstwhile administrator to determine the extent of malfeasance. Then I call the school district’s legal department and leave voice mails warning them of the liability of this gross violation of student privacy. I never receive a response. I track down the school psychologist to some address in Troy. Nothing. It turns out a daily newspaper reported abandoned records like these within many of the 33 schools closed in 2007 and the district did nothing. No one is responsible. Someone else was supposed to destroy them. The company that had been paid to secure the school never did its job.

So I did it. I went back in to destroy them so they would no longer be just sitting there on the floor for anyone to find.

But the stimulus package was too large and didn’t contain enough tax cuts. You can ask anyone.

In response to comments on the post, the author adds:

What I did was against the law and it was far from an easy decision to make. ultimately I did it because I felt it was more of a crime to allow those records to fall into the hands of someone who might hurt those kids.

I am far more ashamed of stealing the books (again, a crime) but I simply could not stand the thought of those beautiful books turning into what I have seen so many beautiful books in these schools become.

I hope to find a way—legal or illegal—to get more of these supplies into the hands of kids who need them. until I find a way to do that, I don’t deserve anyone’s praise.

I beg to differ.

(h/t: Nance)

Class warfare

Filed under: You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 8:51 pm

Because President Obama’s new budget is intended to do something about the massive upward redistribution of wealth that has taken place over the past 30 years, some people on the right are screaming about “class warfare.” Well, as that noted socialist Warren Buffett has noted, we’ve had class warfare all along, and the rich are winning.

This is particularly important to remember when the subject of Social Security comes up. Remember, back in 1983 the Social Security tax was raised to help build up a surplus to cover the expected cost of the Baby Boomers’ retirement. That money was being put in trust. Now, having cut taxes for the wealthy, which contributed significantly to the deficit, some of those same people on the right are arguing that Social Security benefits should be cut. In effect, they’re looting the Social Security trust fund. Author David Cay Johnston discusses this here:

Remember, folks: Medicare and Medicaid are the big problems right now, not Social Security. Because of that surplus we started building up back in ’83, Social Security’s good for another 40 years, at least. So let’s keep our eye on the ball.

A warning from the distant past

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 8:36 pm

We privatized a bunch of functions in Iraq, and on the Gulf Coast after Katrina. We know how that worked out. And we can’t say we weren’t warned — by my great-grandfather:

“It has always been a favorite fallacy of ‘practical’ men that the graver problems of government can best be solved by farming out its duties to private contract. The fools and the cowards always believe it because it is the line of least resistance; the greedy and bold pretend to believe it because it opens to them the door of opportunity.”

– Hooper Alexander Sr., “The South Mobilizing for Social Service: Addresses Delivered at the Southern Sociological Congress, Atlanta, Georgia, April 25-29, 1913,” ed. James Edward McCulloch


She came, she read, she conquered

Filed under: Victoria — Lex @ 8:19 pm

Victoria is on her school’s Battle of the Books team. In Battle of the Books, teams of students are assigned a list of books to read, then are quizzed head-to-head on info from those books. It’s a little like College Bowl or Quiz Bowl, only focusing on one reading list.

V’s school will be competing in the countywide competition. Today, her team scrimmaged one of the private schools here in town. And her team won, 165-128. Booyah!

Double dope-slap

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:00 pm

It was a bad argument when the Bush administration made it. It was a bad argument when the Obama administration made it. And now the argument that the government should win dismissal, on a “state secrets” basis, of a lawsuit filed against it by the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation because the government was illegally wiretapping that charity without a warrant has been dismissed, quickly and hard:

We agree with the district court that the January 5, 2009 order is not appropriate for interlocutory appeal. The government’s appeal is DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction. The government’s motion for a stay is DENIED as moot.

No kidding. That’s the whole thing.

The suit stays alive. Emptywheel has more. And I’d say the government is in deep trouble.

Thursday, February 26, 2009 8:48 am

Follow the map

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:48 am

Via my friend Jim Brown comes this: a widely quoted Obama sentence, diagrammed:

Note that, like a crossword puzzle, the diagram was done in pencil before being inked in. When you diagram a sentence like this, a couple of false starts or mistakes are probably inevitable.

This brings back ugly memories from 10th grade, although the teacher in question, Ruth Wall, was very good and a perfectly nice person.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 10:25 pm

“Decade of the living dead”

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 10:25 pm

Paul Krugman, Little Miss Sunshine:

Ben Bernanke’s testimony over the past two days gives us our best clue yet about where the administration and the Fed are going with bank rescue. And the answer seems to be … nowhere.

Here’s the thing: By any rational measure, there are a lot of insolvent big banks. What to do?

Well, we can do what we did during the S&L crisis two decades ago, which is to keep putting off the problem while the cost of a fix grows ever higher. In this case, that would mean continuing to inject public money into these banks, money that taxpayers would never see again and that would benefit only shareholders.

Or we can bite the bullet and call a zombie bank a zombie bank. That means forcing reality upon the shareholders (that reality being that their shares are worthless), nationalize the insolvent banks temporarily, get them in running shape again and then eventually sell them back to private interests, with proceeds benefiting the taxpayers.

Certain people on the right toss word “nationalization” around like it’s some kind of unprecedented horror (and there’s some evidence that their doing so is influencing public opinion). It’s not. For one thing, it’s how the Swedes dealt with a similar banking crisis several years ago, and everything turned out pretty much OK there, so it’s not a horror. For another, we’ve basically already nationalized AIG, so it’s not unprecedented.

I like free markets as much as the next guy, but I also like for taxpayers not to be stuck with the tab for the screwups of private interests, particularly large and wealthy ones. The administration and Congress need to do whatever it takes to fix this mess, quickly and with as little cost to the taxpayer as possible. Continuing to give cash infusions to banks that would never pass a solvency test is only putting off, and making more expensive, a day of reckoning.

Trust-busting for the new millennium

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 9:59 pm

As an involuntary shareholder of AIG, I’ve been a tad resentful of the notion of some corporation or other being “too big to fail.” It seems to me that if any corporation gets so big that the taxpayers must bail it out for the good of the greater economy, then that corporation has grown too damn big and the government — yes, the government — should step in and break it up.

Right now, antitrust law seems to be based on an assessment of market share … and the political whims of whichever administration is in power. Reasonable people can disagree on how much market share one corporation needs to win before the good of the public and the economy dictates that government step in. But reasonable people also can agree that if a company poses a risk to taxpayers if it goes bad, then we need to eliminate that risk.

How do we do that? I’m no economic expert, but the only way I can see to do it is by government’s altering such companies in ways that would let them fail, if fail they must, without cost to the taxpayers. (Doing so also would eliminate the moral hazard that comes with the knowledge that a taxpayer-funded bailout might be available, perhaps thus providing an incentive for companies to be better-run.) But maybe there are other ways to eliminate the risk to taxpayers that I haven’t thought of. Thoughts?

UPDATE: And then there’s this utter screwing of the taxpayers. I want somebody to bring this up the next time somebody starts talking about waste, fraud and abuse in the stimulus program — not that there’s anything wrong with pointing out waste, fraud and abuse in that program, but some people only seem to focus on w/f/a in certain types of programs: the ones that benefit those other than the rich.

Best. Book review. Evah.

Filed under: Fun,Y'all go read this — Lex @ 7:51 am
Tags: ,

Ari Brioullete of Kensington, CA, reveals “The Secret.”

I once wrote  a very snarky review of Brett Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho.” It won an award from the N.C. Press Association. Yet I can only stand in awe of Brioullette’s genius.

(h/t: DivaGeek)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 8:40 pm

Not only truth, but also justice

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 8:40 pm
Tags: ,

If you love America and love the rule of law, you’re gonna want a cigarette after this:

We urge Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a non-partisan independent Special Counsel to immediately commence a prosecutorial investigation into the most serious alleged crimes of former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Richard B. Cheney, the attorneys formerly employed by the Department of Justice whose memos sought to justify torture, and other former top officials of the Bush Administration.

Our laws, and treaties that under Article VI of our Constitution are the supreme law of the land, require the prosecution of crimes that strong evidence suggests these individuals have committed. Both the former president and the former vice president have confessed to authorizing a torture procedure that is illegal under our law and treaty obligations. [waterboarding -- Lex] The former president has confessed to violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

We see no need for these prosecutions to be extraordinarily lengthy or costly, and no need to wait for the recommendations of a panel or “truth” commission when substantial evidence of the crimes is already in the public domain. We believe the most effective investigation can be conducted by a prosecutor, and we believe such an investigation should begin immediately.

Signed By:

Center for Constitutional Rights
http://ccrjustice.org

The National Lawyers Guild
http://nlg.org

American Freedom Campaign Action Fund
http://americanfreedomcampaign.org

High Road for Human Rights Advocacy Project
http://www.highroadforhumanrights.org

After Downing Street
http://afterdowningstreet.org

Democrats.com
http://democrats.com

Gold Star Families for Peace
http://cindysheehansoapbox.com

Ann Wright, retired US Army Reserve Colonel and US diplomat
http://voicesofconscience.com

Delaware Valley Veterans for America
http://delvalvets4america.org

Voters for Peace
http://votersforpeace.us

Wisconsin Impeachment / Bring Our Troops Home Coalition
http://impeachwi.com

Backbone Campaign
http://backbonecampaign.org

CODE PINK: Women for Peace
http://codepink4peace.org

Velvet Revolution
http://velvetrevolution.us

Justice Through Music
http://jtmp.org

Progressive Democrats of America
http://pdamerica.org

Brad Blog
http://bradblog.com

Cities for Peace
http://citiesforpeace.org

National Accountability Network

Northeast Impeachment Coalition
http://neimpeach.org

Republicans for Impeachment
http://republicansforimpeachment.com

Op Ed News
http://opednews.com

Marcus Raskin, cofounder of Institute for Policy Studies, member of editorial board of The Nation, member of the special staff of the National Security Council in Kennedy Administration

The Progressive
http://progressive.org

Peace Team
http://peaceteam.net

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
http://afterdowningstreet.org/vips

Defending Dissent Foundation
http://defendingdissent.org

Grassroots America
http://grassrootsamerica4us.org

Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored
http://projectcensored.org

Peace Action
http://peace-action.org

Grandmothers Against the War
http://grandmothersagainstthewar.org

World Can’t Wait
http://worldcantwait.net

United for Peace and Justice
http://unitedforpeace.org

Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
http://space4peace.org

War Crimes Times
http://warcrimestimes.org

Veterans for Peace 099
http://veteransforpeace.org

Veterans for Peace 26
http://veteransforpeace.org

Veterans for Peace
http://veteransforpeace.org

Naomi Wolf, author of “End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot,” and “Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries”

Iraq Veterans Against the War
http://ivaw.org

Daniel Ellsberg, Truth-Telling Project
http://ellsberg.net

More like this, please. Why? Because we don’t need a truth-and-reconciliation commission when we have a criminal-justice system perfectly capable of handling investigations and prosecutions a lot more complicated than this one would be.

The constitution makes clear that Congress and the executive branch have an affirmative duty to uphold the law. That means you don’t let criminals walk free just because they happened to hold office for a few years.

Monday, February 23, 2009 8:19 pm

Open up

After promising more transparency in his administration than we got during the Bush years, President Obama is playing a tune from the Bush songbook:

The Obama administration, siding with former President George W. Bush, is trying to kill a lawsuit that seeks to recover what could be millions of missing White House e-mails.

Two advocacy groups suing the Executive Office of the President say that large amounts of White House e-mail documenting Bush’s eight years in office may still be missing, and that the government must undertake an extensive recovery effort. They expressed disappointment that Obama’s Justice Department is continuing the Bush administration’s bid to get the lawsuits dismissed.

During its first term, the Bush White House failed to install electronic record-keeping for e-mail when it switched to a new system, resulting in millions of messages that could not be found.

The Bush White House discovered the problem in 2005 and rejected a proposed solution.

Recently, the Bush White House said it had located 14 million e-mails that were misplaced and that the White House had restored hundreds of thousands of other e-mails from computer backup tapes.

The steps the White House took are inadequate, one of the two groups, the National Security Archive, told a federal judge in court papers filed Friday.

I’ll grant the possibility that making some of those e-mails public could harm national security. But one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit is the National Security Archive, which, I suspect, knows how to handle documents relating to national security.

And it’s likely that the vast majority of these e-mails, if they do any harm at all, will do no more than momentarily embarrass the writers. That’s a small price to pay for a government we can keep an eye on.

Holding those e-mails back was wrong when Bush did it. It’s still wrong now under Obama.

Sunday, February 22, 2009 5:51 pm

Quote of the day …

Filed under: Quote Of The Day — Lex @ 5:51 pm
Tags: , ,

… by Jane Hamsher of firedoglake:

“I like to watch CNBC because it’s like someone took Spengler’s Decline of the West and made it into a cartoon.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009 5:18 pm

Just in case you think the country has been et up with sanity …

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 5:18 pm
Tags: ,

… go read this.

Sweet mother of Mary. Some of these people are probably my neighbors.

(h/t: the other, saner Pam)

Friday, February 20, 2009 7:25 am

Et tu, Obama?

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 7:25 am
Tags: , ,

With very few exceptions — Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin comes to mind — leaders of both major political parties have been reluctant to discuss the U.S. torture of detainees, many if not most of them innocent.

Barack Obama came closest to taking a firm stand. This past April he said, “if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law.”

There’s no “if.” We already have plenty of evidence that there was torture and that it was approved and ordered at the highest levels of government — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush himself, who told ABC News last year that he had signed off on torture.

Americans want these crimes investigated, and Obama supporters are particularly stressing that issue. On the site on which Obama has been soliciting questions and suggestions for his administration’s agenda, the top question under “additional issues,” the catchall for topics not found in other categories, was this: “Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor – ideally Patrick Fitzgerald – to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?”

Problem is, Obama apparently plans to continue the practice of “rendering” suspects to other countries for questioning, that question quite likely including torture. Doing this would constitute violations of both U.S. law and humanitarian treaties, thus making Obama as much of a war criminal as are Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Is that really where Obama wants to go? For the country’s good, I hope he rethinks this and returns the U.S. to the rule of law. Our military and our criminal-justice system, the greatest on the planet, are quite capable of addressing terrorism issues without turning suspects — and remember, in most cases that’s all they are — over to third parties for torture.

We’ve had enough war crimes. Let’s put a stop to them. Otherwise, Obama could become just as deserving of prison time — or, depending on circumstances, the gallows — as his predecessors.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 3:22 pm

Both parties are guilty

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 3:22 pm
Tags:

Here’s an indication that 1) both parties are complicit in torture and 2) at least some people believe both should be held accountable. Count me among them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009 9:52 pm

The dangers of cat ownership, cont.

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 9:52 pm
Tags:

Finally, proof of what I have long suspected — that cats don’t lick you out of affection, they do it merely to dislodge edible flesh from your bones:

funny pictures of cats with captions

Because we were running out of bad news

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 6:15 pm
Tags: , ,

Paul Krugman guesstimates that the four biggest commercial banks have a combined market cap of $200B — and that’s including shareholder belief in the likelihood of a bailout — and problems totaling about $450B. He adds:

Given these numbers, it’s extremely hard to rescue these banks without either (a) giving a HUGE handout to current stockholders or (b) effectively taking ownership on the part of we, the people. Of these, (a) would be politically unacceptable as well as bad policy — but the Obama administration isn’t ready to go for (b), because it’s not in our “culture”.

I say our culture needs to get over it because the nationalization train left the station at least as far back as AIG, if not sooner.

UPDATE: Now even Alan Greenspan is saying that nationalizing some of the banks may be the “least bad option.” So if Bush used Greenspan for political cover for the 2001 tax cut, I see no reason why Obama shouldn’t do the same if — or when — it becomes necessary to nationalize some banks.

New line of work

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 5:39 pm

Kind of wish I’d had this option in my back pocket when I took the buyout. But I guess I’ll be OK.

(h/t: Ed)

One more thing he says wrong that I’m going to miss when he starts saying it right

Filed under: Hooper — Lex @ 5:06 pm

His favorite candy: peanut Enamems.

Kind of like his favorite pasta: puzghetti.

Mental shortcuts

Filed under: Quote Of The Day — Lex @ 5:00 pm
Tags: ,

Quote of the day, from commenter jrcjr at that festering cesspool of liberalism known as Balloon Juice: “It’s going to take me a while longer to stop assuming a conspiracy first. It saved a lot of time over the past 8 years or so.”

Calling the waaaaahmbulance for bank CEOs

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 3:44 pm

In all this talk about bank bailouts the past few months, I’ve been wondering who in the pluperfect hell was looking out for my interests. (I am, among other things, now an involuntary shareholder of AIG, so I do have some skin in this game.) Somebody must be, because somehow, this little bit of populist law-writing managed to slip past the GOP and Blue Dog succubi and make its way intact into the stimulus bill:

The bill, which President Obama is expected to sign into law next week, limits bonuses for executives at all financial institutions receiving government funds to no more than a third of their annual compensation. The bonuses must be paid in company stock that can be redeemed only when the government investment has been repaid. …

Unlike the rules issued by the White House, the limits in the stimulus bill would apply to top executives and the highest-paid employees at all 359 banks that have already received government aid.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. And cue the whining in 3 … 2 … 1 …

“This is a big deal. This is a problem,” said Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist for the nation’s largest financial services firms. “It undermines the current incentive structure.”

These would be the financial-services firms and “current incentive structure” that got us into this mess in the first place. Plus which, I’m sorry, but you want a bonus to, you know, do your job? So pardon me if I’m not a total believer in the judgment, competence and integrity of those for whom the troubled and troubling Mr. Talbott speaks.

But wait! There’s more!

The stimulus bill also would require the 359 financial institutions to hold a “say on pay” vote at their shareholder meetings until the government funds were returned. The provision, which activist shareholder groups have sought in recent years, is essentially an annual up-or-down vote on executive pay packages …

Oh, snap!

… and would be nonbinding.

Aw, crud.

A common argument from executives against reining in huge Wall Street bonuses is that it would cause the most talented to flee to hedge funds and private equity groups. The free market, they say, should dictate pay levels.

Ah, yes, that free market again. That would be the same free market that just gave us the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Now there’s a finely tuned and reliable barometer. Have you people not yet figured out that blind free-market ideology doesn’t work? Hell, even Alan Greenspan has finally wrapped his head around that. But then, as everyone has said about Alan Greenspan, including Alan Greenspan, he’s smarter than you.

Here’s the deal. If you’re going to work for an outfit that I and other taxpayers own, insure, prop up and bail the hell out, then you can just suck it up. You’re probably still overpaid as it is. If you were so hot to make all that money, and if there really were all these jobs in private-equity firms and hedge funds, you’d’ve been gone by now anyway. So sit down, shut up and do your damn job.

9/11 and Continental Flight 3407: Tragedies and a family feud

Filed under: I want my country back.,Sad — Lex @ 2:51 pm
Tags:

It’s a small and often sad world.

In 1982  and 1983, I worked in New York for a small public-relations firm headed by a remarkable woman named Valerie Lucznikowska. The daughter of a Polish immigrant, she handled PR for Cartier before branching out on her own to do work for private industry and such organizations as UNESCO. All that was before she got her bachelor’s degree, which she followed up with graduate study at the London School of Economics.

Valerie and I have stayed in touch ever since I left New York. The morning of 9/11, she and I were chatting on AOL Instant Messenger when I alerted her to the Twin Towers attack — she was getting ready to head uptown for knee surgery and hadn’t had her TV on.

She lost a nephew, Adam Arias, in the attack. Since then, she has been active in a group called September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, whose site says: “By developing and advocating nonviolent options and actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism.”

Valerie was among relatives of victims of the 9/11 and USS Cole terror attacks who were invited to meet Feb. 6 with President Obama to discuss his plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and to delay and review the process of military commissions. (She appeared on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” to discuss that meeting.) Also there was Beverly Eckert, the widow of another 9/11 victim. She and 48 other people on Continental Flight 3407, plus one person on the ground, died Thursday when that plane crashed.

Since that meeting, some of Arias’ other survivors seem to have taken exception to Valerie’s position, which is that the U.S. should follow its own Constitution and law in dealing with terror suspects, and even more to the notion that she might be speaking for Adam. Some right-wingers have begun criticizing Valerie, criticizing Obama for talking to her and/or taking the side of those family members who are criticizing her, implying in some cases that Obama should have met with them but not Valerie.

My take? With all due respect to Adam Arias’s other relatives, and with all due regret for their loss (which also was Valerie’s loss), we’ve had seven years to listen to people who thought Guantanamo Bay was a good idea. We’ve also got seven years’ worth of empirical evidence to prove it was not, that Guantanamo led directly to Abu Ghraib and that Abu Ghraib led directly to more would-be terrorists. Bush either never got that or never cared (the latter, I suspect). Obama gets that. The surviving Ariases, bless them, apparently do not. I do not agree with Peaceful Tomorrows that violence is never the answer; I’ve met too many bullies to go along with that. But generally it ought to be the last answer, and in the past several years far too many people have displayed a sick, sad eagerness to make it the first. Memo: Terrorism does not mean we have to piddle ourselves like startled 3-week-old puppies.

Some of the wingnuts also have attacked Valerie personally. Having known her as long as I have, I feel confident in saying that she has more integrity in her little finger than all her critics combined.

Keeping food safe

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 11:23 am

Aw. Apparently the guy who ran the peanut company in Georgia that distributed salmonella nationwide has become a bit of a recluse after his “Turn them loose!” e-mails were, um, turned loose.

That just suggests he has a little bit of shame left. But a little bit of shame isn’t nearly good enough. I’d say a manslaughter charge or nine (as of the linked article) would fit about right.

It has been fashionable for a long time to believe that the market will cure all ills. This is a nice ideal that doesn’t come close to squaring with the facts. Government has an essential role to play as impartial referee, particularly in such issues as consumer and worker safety in which consumers and workers, respectively, have little knowledge and/or leverage. We’ve had our own experience here in North Carolina, most prominently with the Imperial chicken-plant fire in Hamlet, with what happens when government abdicates its role.

So shed no tears for Stewart Parnell. Save them for the people who were sickened and killed, and their families. And whenever anyone argues that the market can take of such issues on its own, maintain the highest skepticism. Your life or the life of someone you love might depend on it.

Social Security in the crosshairs. Again.

Filed under: You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 10:49 am

William Greider has been working the how-taxpayers-get-screwed beat for about three decades now. Here, he shows how the term “entitlement reform,” which you probably heard a lot in the debate over the stimulus bill, has become, once again, a stalking horse for those who want to kill Social Security.

Do entitlements need reforming right now? Well, sure, Medicare and Medicaid do. Notes Greider,”Those programs do face financial crisis–not because the elderly and poor are greedily gaming the system but because the medical-industrial complex has the profit incentive to drive healthcare costs higher and higher.”

Social Security? Not so much. The Congressional Budget Office says it’ll be solvent for another 40 years or so even if we do nothing, thanks to the surplus the fund began building up back in ’83 to cover the expected retirement expenses of the Baby Boomers. (And one thing we could do that wouldn’t cost most of us a dime extra is to raise the cap, currently about $107,000, on income subject to the Social Security tax.) Yes, that money has been used by the government to make deficits look smaller, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone. It just means the government still has to pay it, something the more-tax-cuts crowd just despises because it essentially means they can’t take money out of other people’s pockets:

Follow the bouncing ball: Washington first cuts taxes on the well-to-do, then offsets the revenue loss by raising taxes on the working class and tells folks it is saving their money for future retirement. But Washington spends the money on other stuff, so when workers need it for their retirement, they are told, Sorry, we can’t afford it.

Federal budget analysts try to brush aside these facts by claiming the government is merely “borrowing from itself” when it dips into Social Security. But that is a substantive falsehood. Government doesn’t own this money. It essentially acts as the fiduciary, holding this wealth in trust for the “beneficial owners,” the people who paid the taxes. This is the bait and switch the establishment intends to execute.

I’m not very sure why Social Security is such a frequent target of the right. Maybe because it’s the most important and enduring legacy of FDR, their bete noir. Maybe because it’s such an annoyingly popular example of how the government can, in fact, do something right. But the fact is that it does work; that privatizing it, as Bush proposed in 2005, would really have screwed a lot of people last year; and that right now it really just needs to be left alone while we tend to more pressing issues. That’s not kicking the problem down the road. That’s prioritizing, something rational grownups do every day. Just know that not everyone with a dog in the Social Security fight is a rational grownup.

Friday, February 13, 2009 10:43 pm

What works, what doesn’t and how to know the difference

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 10:43 pm

Back before I left the N&R, I wrote about how some drugs don’t work and others work no better than the cheaper alternatives. That article also mentioned a bill that would create a Comparative Effectiveness Institute that would give the health-care industry hard data on what works, what doesn’t work and what works best. There’s a crying need for something like that because roughly a third of the $2 trillion-plus America spends annually on health care covers stuff that doesn’t work or for which there are cheaper alternatives.

Apparently there was a similar provision included in the stimulus bill, only some legislators wanted to remove it. But Paul Krugman says that provision is still hanging in there. Good.

Looking forward AND backward

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 10:36 pm

Both President Obama and his Republican adversaries have suggested that digging into some of the Bush administration’s violations of law might be too politically divisive for the country to stand and that we should move on.

Apparently they didn’t ask the country:

Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the “war on terror” broke the law.

Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.

Even more people want action on alleged attempts by the Bush team to use the Justice Department for political purposes. Four in 10 favored a criminal probe, three in 10 an independent panel, and 25% neither.

The ACLU and other groups are pressing for inquiries into whether the Bush administration violated U.S. and international bans on torture and the constitutional right to privacy. House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and his Senate counterpart, Patrick Leahy, have proposed commissions to investigate.

It seems the American people, like Obama when McCain said he was suspending his campaign to go to Washington to help deal with the bank crisis, understand that our government is capable of doing more than one important thing at a time. (Like looking into the use of steroids in baseball.) And torture and illegal politicization of the Department of Justice are important things.

The ball is in the House Judiciary Committee’s court.  Let’s hope its members know what to do with it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 6:10 pm

Dere go de judge …

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 6:10 pm

… to do, I hope, some extremely hard time:

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.

The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.

In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.

The is the kind of thing that could make even Franz Kafka goggle in disbelief.

It would be nice to think these judges will do the hardest of time. And this is the kind of thing that makes you wonder whether we shouldn’t dispense with the courtesy of hiding from the general prison population the fact that one among their number is an erstwhile corrupt judge (or corrupt law-enforcement officer).

One other thing: More than one lawyer I know who has handled juvenile criminal cases pro bono tells me that because of the secrecy of the juvenile-court system — a secrecy intended not to ruin the adult prospects of kids who have made, and learned from, a mistake — that system desperately needs better oversight.

(h/t: DFL)

UPDATE: Via the Wall Street Journal’s law blog, which calls the story one that “defies intellectual discussion or debate and just sort of slugs you right in the solar-plexus,” comes the news that these judges may be looking at less than eight years in prison. They pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit tax fraud. What I’d like to know is: Where are the charges of racketeering, false imprisonment and kidnapping?

And would someone please explain to me why public-corruption cases, which undermine the very fabric of our government and society, don’t merit the death penalty, particularly in cases such as this in which there are innocent victims?

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